All That Technology….

There is nothing wrong with still liking a flip phone, and actually, there are still a few models that precede those. When I say “nothing wrong” I mean in having a preference. The issue, as often happens, becomes the problem of maintaining older technology no matter what the item is. Try finding someone to repair an eight-track tape player these days.

With all the gadgets that will be unwrapped tomorrow, those who know how to use them will probably squeal/smile with pleasure. In some cases, the recipient will politely respond, not certain of what on earth they are going to do with “this thing”. For older people, there is a range of, “I’ll give it a try”, to “I really don’t want to mess with this.” That kind of reaction is genuinely nothing personal, but it is something to keep in mind when looking for technology that will make an older person’s life easier. That can very well be true or it can be a source of frustration. The point is that first, the individual has to want whatever the result is supposed to be. Let’s take the e-book reader as an example. The features of being able to increase the size of the font at a press of a button, order something within a matter of minutes, and not need more bookshelf space are great. But if an individual is not comfortable with ordering on line and can’t quite figure out how to use the functions without someone there to help, that’s not such a good deal. And yes, the phrase, “If I can do it, anyone can,” is simply not always correct. Each person has their own way of learning, and more importantly, retaining new information. Spiffy technology might be just the thing, but you do have to be prepared that it also might not be the answer.

Why Amazon Reviews Are Important….

It’s been a while since I posted about this topic, but a recent discussion brought it to mind. Independent authors are very much like out-of-the-way restaurants. You know the kind – they can’t afford to be in a prime location, the food critics aren’t likely to know about them, and they aren’t going to have a robust advertising budget to blanket their target market. Yes, social media is a tool, but if you’ve never tried to actually use social media for promotion, you will find that what marketers will happily point to as successful campaigns usually equally ignore those that fall flat. The simple fact is word-of-mouth combined with actual quality are still the best ways for any “unknown” to become known

Book reviews, even if they are only a few words, on Amazon, Good Reads, or whatever you’re preferred on-line book seller is continues to be especially important to little-known authors. People can find a lesser-known author through various means, but when they do, their question is  – “Why should I take a chance on this?”. As most of us know, the description of a book only gets you so far. When they see positive reviews though, that can make a difference in taking a chance on an unfamiliar author. You hope the outcome is a new fan who then helps spread the word.

The downside of course is people can and certainly do post negative reviews; some of which can be painful. It’s part of the life of an author to accept this risk and read those reviews to see if there is a valid point. There is a saying, although I don’t know who to attribute it to, of something like, “No two people ever read a book in the same way.” I  have been quite surprised over the years when speaking to groups to have characters or scenes interpreted in different ways than I intended. It too, is something you learn as an author.

 

Ah, Nutcracker….

In costume for Trepek with one of the other guest performers

There was a time when I barely gave the ballet, “Nutcracker”, little if any thought. I mean, I appreciated it as a holiday tradition and I remember the year my nephew was old enough to attend. They were in Houston so of course it was a highly professional performance and my sister still fondly recalls the event. It is indeed a great way to introduce a child to ballet with the wonderful array of characters and the variety of dance. Since son has been in the dance world I have come to more appreciate the other value of Nutcracker.

It is the money-maker for a lot of studios, but set that aside for the moment.What I’ve learned is that as a private studio grows, it’s expansion can be related to the quality of the Nutcracker performances. Can it be held in some sort of theater? Can they bring in one or more professional dancers to ply thea key roles? If so, these two points can be used in advertising their ballet programs.

The performing company our son dances with ends their fall season early enough in November to allow the dancers to take on guest roles for those studios who can bring in professionals. Since he does the Russian Dance so well, that has been a staple for him although he’s done many of the other parts, too. His first real contract was to perform the Russian Dance with the Delta Festival Ballet in New Orleans. Several years ago I put together a family trip to see him and it may be  time to do so again. They almost always schedule their Nutcracker for the weekend before Christmas which means like this year, he will be flying home Christmas Eve. It will be his third performance of the season (one Christmas Carol and two Nutcrackers) and this is why we don’t bring them for Christmas. Since rehearsals and sometimes an extra performance begins right after Thanksgiving, they are generally exhausted by the time the last one is over. The couple of days of rest before we fly them in gives them all a chance to catch their breath.

Tricky Leftovers….

With social gatherings in full swing, my husband has given up trying to get me to properly calculate the amount of food required for guests. I am a little better than I used to be, but it is marginal, shall we say. I totally believe in the “better too much than too little”. That of course pretty much always results in leftovers; some of which can be passed along to guests and others not. I have also done posts in the past about the creative use of leftovers. However, the culinary reality is not all leftovers do work well with reheating and transformation of them can be tricky. One of the most difficult to deal with is a pastry wrapped item or anything with a “crisped” topping. If you reheat in a microwave as most of us do, the topping will be soggy. If you re-heat in the oven, you may be able to preserve the topping by carefully using the broiler, but whatever is underneath might not be warm enough.

In general, I go with a two-step process. I start by taking whatever it is out of the fridge and let  it come to room temperature. Yes, I know the Food Police say don’t do that, but so far, illness has not resulted. If it something like a casserole, I gently remove the topping and set it aside. (By the way, this process is likely to detract from aesthetics.) I have the oven at 350, cover the casserole tightly with foil and try a 20-minute reheat. It might take longer depending on the density. Oh, I also spread it out as thinly as possible in the dish to help with reheating time. Then I remove the foil, replace the topping and either lightly dot with butter or sprinkle in Parmesan cheese if it is compatible with the dish. Four to seven minutes under the broiler will usually work, but you do have to watch it because the timing isn’t exact. Re-crisping is good – burned not so much.

Although this process isn’t good for everything, I have had a lot of success with it.

 

Do People Change?…..

Musing thoughts ahead. I had an interesting discussion the other day about whether people change. As I’ve posted in the past, holidays can provide a chance to reach out to family or friends where estrangement might have occurred. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should, but it is a common thought this time of year. For the sake of this post, let us assume you have a strained relationship you want to considering trying to recover. The first question is who made the break? Second question is was the break acknowledged or simply happened and “isn’t talked about”? If an individual isn’t actually aware of the break, addressing it can be rather awkward. On the other hand, that could also mean it’s easier to deal with because the other person might say, “Of course I didn’t mean to hurt/upset you? – or – “No I’m not upset with you – why should I be?”

Moving into the more complicated situation of both parties being well aware of a strain, now comes the, Do People Change? In all seriousness, that depends on what is meant by change. Maturity usually has an impact. Other life experiences can have an impact. The decision to want to change for whatever reason can have an impact. In some cases, a person doesn’t change exactly, but perhaps perspective does and that can make a big difference. In some strained relationships, time elapsing does allow perspective to change and hurt to diminish. And with diminished hurt – healing can follow.

On the deeper level, do I think genuinely mean people change? No. Do I think people who behave in a mean manner can? That’s another perhaps. After all, isn’t that why we enjoy the movie, “A Christmas Carol”?

Decorating For Christmas…..

We keep our decorations up until after Three Kings Day, 6 January

I do and always have appreciated people who go out of their way to decorate for the holidays. By the way, that does not mean I like having Christmas items in the stores next to Halloween, but that’s not the point of this post. I’m fine with using Thanksgiving weekend for decorating, although we rarely start before the second week of December. We’re pretty modest in our efforts, especially compared to those who have all sorts of outdoor lights and displays. Back when we had a spare artificial tree, we did put one on the front entrance. When that one finally became rather ragged-looking, we didn’t replace it and Hubby decided he wanted to swap to a live tree in the house. We do also have a cute table top “Cajun Tree” given to us years ago by my sister-in-law. It has miniature alligators, crawfish, and bottles of Tabasco as ornaments and there have been a couple of times it was our main tree if we travel over the holidays.

Having room to store a lot of decorations is one issue. More to the point though is having to rearrange so much stuff to make room is one of the real reasons I limit what we do. The other is I’m fine with taking a few hours to get everything up. Spending at least a day and maybe longer for the elaborate lights, etc.,. isn’t anything we want to deal with. During the many moves we made in the Army, Hubby’s final assignment was in Puerto Rico and that was where we learned about Three King’s Day (Jan 6th). It’s a very big holiday throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America and that became our new point for leaving decorations in place. I do admit if we had the space (as does my sister), I would have multiple small trees so I could do themed decorations for each one. We’ve put together quite the collection of scuba, ocean-themed and tropical ornaments and that’s generally what winds up on the tree.

Hubby was scheduled to teach a scuba course today and his student had to cancel so top of his to-do list is going in search of a tree at one of the places where it is also a fund raiser. Sometimes they sell out early, but that’s where he likes to start.

 

Not A Holiday Movie….

As much as I love a couple of the holiday movies and have posted about them in the past, the other day, the original “True Grit” was on. It was such a quintessential John Wayne role in his older years and while there are only a few lines I really enjoy, there is one scene in particular I have quoted from for a variety of situations. In the event someone hasn’t seen the movie or it’s been quite some time, a very young Robert Duvall is bad guy Ned Pepper. He has a small gang and a young girl, Maddie (Kim Darby), has engaged the services of the older, very gruff Marshall Rooster Cogburn (John Wayne) to help bring Pepper to justice. Much of the story line is about having adequate True Grit to handle someone like Pepper and his gang and the unlikely pairing of Maddie and Cogburn. Cogburn has a patch over one eye, a fondness for whiskey and few kind words for anyone.The duo becomes a trio when Glenn Campbell joins them as a Texas Ranger also on the trail. There are of course many challenges to face.

Deep into the movie, Cogburn is on horseback across a meadow from Ned Pepper and three of his cohorts, also on horseback. Pepper had previously kidnapped Maddie and was using her as a bargaining chip to get away. In learning Maddie is safe, Pepper makes the case Cogburn should move aside because one against four isn’t good odds and the girl is okay. Pepper calls out, “What are your intentions?”

“I am to kill you in one minute or take you back to Fort Smith to hang at Judge (something or other)’s convenience. What do you have to say to that?”

“I call that bold talk for a one-eyed, fat man.”

Cogburn sits straighter in his saddle, draws a second gun and shouts, “Fill your hand you son-of-_____!”, and charges forward.

It’s not a totally happy ending which I won’t get into, but there have been times in my career or other endeavors when I have made decisions to tackle something that falls into the category of, “bold talk for a one-eyed fat man”. And there were times when the odds were not favorable and things didn’t work out well. In other cases it did. The words, however, have held special meaning since I saw the movie all those years ago.

Those Amazing 50ths…..

There is good reason to celebrate when a couple makes it to a 50th anniversary. (Yes, I know 50 years doesn’t mean it’s a great marriage, but those aren’t the couples I’m talking about.) Both sets of grandparents had their Golden Anniversaries, although I was only able to attend one of them. (Neither quite made it to their 60th) Some friends will be at their 51st tomorrow and another couple had their 50th yesterday. At the moment, I can’t recall how many of my aunts and uncles ticked over that mark, but it’s definitely more than one pair. I’m not sure what my sister has in mind when they reach their 50th in a couple of years. One other couple is planning something big for their upcoming 60th.

There are thousands of sayings about marriage – what it takes, what makes it work; all kinds of advice. Few marriages are without some degree of conflict and whether a couple can smooth them out varies a great deal. “We refer to them as our practice marriage,” one couple says of their respective first spouses. Then there is the couple who married, divorced, re-married, divorced, and re-married. I lost track of them after that and am not certain of the ultimate outcome. I have, as I’m sure everyone has, know those who have been on the brink and then something happened to cause them to step back and be glad they were able to do so. Health is the factor that can’t be controlled of course as with my parents. So for all that have passed, or are approaching, the milestone of 50 years of marriage – congratulations!

 

Another Memory Triggered……

I don’t recall exactly what show we were watching the other morning when the subject turned to the oil well fires set in Kuwait as the Coalition advanced during Desert Storm. After Saddam Hussein had control of Kuwait – which he did quite rapidly – he didn’t know for certain how firmly that proverbial “Line in the Sand” would be drawn. Without getting into a lot of details, the King of Saudi Arabia opened his country to allow the initial forces to enter in a defensive posture. That was the Desert Shield portion. As plans were being drawn up for the offensive action to re-take Kuwait – that was the Desert Storm part. In the midst of many terrible atrocities Iraqis were committing, orders were given to dig trenches in the oil fields and fill them. Among the other threats, Hussein said he would torch the trenches and the oil wells. According to a source I trust, the Emir of Kuwait said something like, “I can rebuild my country once I have it back.”

And so, early one morning as the lightning fast attacks of Desert Storm were pushing the Iraqi military back, the threat was carried out. I think the number of wells set on fire was around 700 and I don’t know how many trenches were. The headquarters I was in was at least 150 miles away (probably more) and the sky was as dark as if twilight was setting in. It was incredible to see and an environmental disaster of staggering proportions. The sky was affected throughout the day and may have been longer. I also don’t recall the number of special crews they brought in (many American of course), but if you watch the old movie, “Hellfighters”, it’s a good depiction of what it was like for months on end. The fires were set the latter part of January and early February and the first ones weren’t extinguished until early April. The effort took until November to complete. Like so much of what happens in war, it accomplished nothing other than to inflict deliberate damage. It didn’t stop the advance of troops or provide a negotiating point. In situations like these, this is why you demand unconditional surrender.

Friends Gathered Around….

Despite our efforts to gather “loose” friends for Thanksgiving, I just found out we missed one. It was a situation where both individuals had to work, but their schedules were such they couldn’t celebrate together and I didn’t realize that or we would have certainly issued the invitation. We did have a lovely dinner though with a beautiful fried turkey and all the trimmings you could ask for. I really have to get the recipe for those sweet potatoes au gratin. Which brings up an interesting point. Later, when we were down to four, we were talking about the sweet potatoes and it turned out none of us like the sweet potato casserole topped with marsh mellows. Hubby and I prefer strictly savory, and one person prefers pecan and brown sugar topping. Oh, and speaking of toppings, I was successful in doing the low-carb green bean dish only to discover Hubby really wanted the traditional. I have leftovers though and will get some of the famous crunchy onion topping and make him a special dish.

I have two friends who couldn’t attend and I will be delivering leftovers tomorrow to each of them. I will be sure to make turkey soup this coming week. Last year after Christmas, I messed up, didn’t get to the soup in time and therefore wasted a lovely turkey carcass. I haven’t decided yet on the final turkey dish, but there are several we enjoy. Pot pie is always easy of course.

Although rain had been threatened, it held off and we were able to dine outside. With more than six, it’s our best option and we can fit up to ten at that table. It’s a bit tight and does work better with eight. We can set up for more inside, but it requires rearranging furniture and is a bit of a pain.