Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Farmer's Market Autumnal Farewell

Today is the final Sunday for our little local Farmer’s Market. Like the leaves on the trees, the vendors have been dropping off one by one since October. Only a few hearty souls are left; all the more vibrant and appreciated for their tenacity.

Small though it is, I love our market. Farmer's Markets are everything that is missing from our modern daily lives: authenticity, craftsmanship, and connections. Connections with the craftsman that create; the faces and names of families that grow our produce. I've never had to coax a proprietor to talk. It flows easily from them, as they radiate pride in their wares. The fruits and vegetables are as good as they get, crunchy and full of flavor, not only because they came from a farm just a bit to the southwest of us, but because I put our money into the calloused hands of those that tended those crops.

The only similarity between the vendors is the rectangular footprint of their stall. Everything else is wonderfully distinct from neighbor to neighbor. One man sells wooden squirrel feeders and the next stall is selling distilled spirits—free samples. Which is next to an incredible bakery that makes spicy biscuits and gravy, and amazing breakfast sandwiches of shaved roast, egg, cheese with tangy sauce on a crusty roll. Another sells eggs, but they're all sold out. A forbidding old man has crates of sweet smelling apples. My favorite place to buy plants starts, Our Little Farm and Nursery, is now selling their produce. The OSU Extension Master Gardener patiently awaits the call for her expertise—don't worry, I'm coming. Another craftsman builds beautiful furniture from old oak fermentation barrels. The aroma from the Kettle Korn lures passer-bys in and the gyro guy fills them up. The wood fired pizza stall is a toasty place to warm up your hands while you wait for your three dollar slice of cheese and pepperoni—hunks, not rounds.

Toddlers squeal and escape from their parents, to be chased down and planted on Dad's shoulders. Dogs wind their leashes around their owner's legs as my girls attempt to pat their heads, while dodging licks and bouncing paws. Delicious smells float on the notes of the band, delighting my senses.

We sample some Ambach beer while chatting with the proprietor about his brewing techniques. My favorite is a variety that he infused with old, fermenting, cherries he found in a cask. The cherry flavor is a subtle afterthought of the rich beer. A flavor that would be impossible to reproduce because of it's whimsical nature.

Our tummies rumble. Today we dine on Gyros, Fetzer Sausages on a stick, and a warm buttered biscuit. Our girls dance in circles to the notes rising and falling from the banjo, loosed by the artist bent over it.

Until next year...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Parenting Book Review: The Explosive Child

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Ross Greene - ©2005

If you have one, you already know it. My daughter Boots, isn't quite as extreme a case as some of the kids described in this book, but she falls into the categories of inflexible with low frustration tolerance.

This book teaches parents how to work with these special case kids, for whom traditional punishments and rewards method of discipline simply doesn't work. Their kids want to do well, they know you disapprove of their actions, but they can't seem to control their emotional outbursts and behavior towards you, siblings and friends when they're frustrated; which for these kids is a lot.

Boots will have a meltdown when she puts her sock on upside down, or she can't find her shoe, or Berzo approaches her when she's playing, or if she isn't able to go to the store right-this-minute for whatever it is she needs. Her brain circuitry overloads and shuts down. When the smoke clears, Boots is red faced, embarrassed and sorry.

The author is compassionate, not only to the child's plight but the parents' as well. He describes three conflict resolution strategies, Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Plan A describes the approach in which parents impose their will backed by scary consequences. This is the way most of my generation was parented. Plan C's approach is to let the child have their way to avoid an upset. Which is the way many of us parent today. Then he unveils, Plan B. This step involves both the parent and child putting their concerns on the table, then finding a "mutually agreeable solution." Wherein parents act as a "surrogate frontal lobe", in effort to stimulate development in their child's.

There is much more that goes along with this. For example, parents need to allow the child to be the first to propose a solution, knowing it's not likely to be agreeable. The parent affirms their child's willingness to put forward a solution then calmly points out that not all concerns were addressed. The child tries again. Then the parent asks if they could make a proposal, and so on and so forth. It takes effort and self-discipline on part of the parent to not just default to Plan A and use authority to push it through, -Kaboom!- but to step back and teach your child to navigate these problems—a necessary skill which will be exercised every single day of his/her life.

The book also covers many common parent concerns, such as, what happens in the "real world" when others aren't going to be using Plan B? The author responds with, "I don't expect your fighting with her a lot will help her live in the real world. On the other hand, I do expect that helping her stay calm enough to think clearly in the midst of frustration will be very helpful to her in the real world. If you think about what the real world demands, it's a whole lot more about resolving disputes and disagreements than it is about blind adherence to authority." Indeed.

I'm a big fan of Conscience Discipline as described by Becky Bailey in her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline.  Happily, this methodology fits right in with her plan. This is simply more focused on spirited kids with low frustration tolerance for the purpose of stabilizing their frequent blow-ups.

And—it works. When I have the self-discipline to use it, it really, really, really, works. Not only is my home more peaceful, I'm teaching my daughter how to be assertive, calm, how to consider everyone's agenda and to propose solutions that meets everyone's needs. As soon as she sees she's not going to be forced to eat Plan A, and Plan C is definitely not going to happen, she embraces Plan B and surprises me with her creative solutions.

After all, we all need to have some say in the course of events in our life.  Childhood is the only time we expect people to be happy prisoners of benevolent dictators. I hated it when I was growing up, but being naturally passive and easy going it was easy for me to internalize my feelings. Not so with Boots.

I'm glad she's challenged me to seek out these skills.  Learning to be calm, assertive, and to consider everyone's concerns equally (including my own) when seeking a solution to a dispute?  Yes, please!

I love you kiddo.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Book Review: Happy, Happy, Happy

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Phil Robertson ©2013

Duck Wha?
Since I tuned out of live TV about six years ago I sometimes feel as though I've become some weird hermit; minus the rags and ratty beard. So you'll not be surprised that I had never heard of Duck Dynasty until our neighbor loaned this book to Charley.

One evening when Charley was putting Danielle to bed I was looking for something quiet to do and spotted this book. I circled it a few times, heard that feeding call, quack-quack-quack, lowered my landing gear, tilted my wings and skidded to a landing.

This book covers the life of Phil Robertson, A.K.A., The Duck Commander/Redneck Extraordinaire. There are several strong themes throughout this book. The value of hard work, love of kin-folk, following your passions, Jesus, and of course—the joy of blowing the heads off ducks.

1950’s or 1850’s?
Phil takes you back to Vivian, Louisiana, where he had a subsistence based upbringing. They hunted for meat and sport, grew vegetables and fodder for their livestock, and foraged for wild berries. Although they lived in the 1950’s, it may as well have been the 1850’s. He and his five siblings were lean and mean, working hard and expending leftover energy playing football together.

Poor Folks?
Phil’s high school sweetheart, Kay, told her mother, “They might be poor, but they don’t know they’re poor.” That’s because they were the best kind of rich, rich in siblings, rich in freedom and natural wonders to explore, rich in intimate knowledge of the land it's animals and how to use them for subsistence.

Poor? Hardly. A poor upbringing consists packed in houses, no freedom, and a postage stamp yard. Hundred dollar sneakers and iPads are poor substitutes for natural richness and a long leash. But, I digress…

Married Kids, Having Kids
Phil marries his high school sweetheart, Kay, while still in high school. After graduation he starts college at Louisiana Tech on a football scholarship.  He is an eighteen-year-old husband and father, and soon begins to resent his young family for denying him the carefree, party lifestyle the other college kids lived.

A Flock of Geese Flaps It’s Wings...
Phil had a very successful career as starting quarterback for the Bulldogs, until one fateful preseason camp when a flock of geese flew overhead. “What am I doing out here?” he thought.  He walked off the field and never returned—trading in a lucrative future as a pro-football player to be close to the ducks he loves to hunt, the fish he loves to catch, and freedom to pursue them.  Who does that?!?

From Phil’s shadow emerges the second string quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, who went on to start the next three seasons for Louisiana Tech.  After graduation, Terry went number one in the NFL draft in 1970.  He became the first quarterback to win four Super Bowls rings.

From the Darkness
Phil earns his Master's Degree in teaching and starts a teaching and coaching job that Kay hopes will saddle him with enough responsibility to settle him down. But his new boss turns out to be a partyer too…

Things are dark for the Robertson family as Phil drinks, drugs and hunts his way through his twenties. After he assaults the owners of the bar he manages, he becomes a fugitive and leaves his family. Kay turns to God to help her through this time and prays for Phil. He shows up one morning slumped over the steering wheel in his pickup truck. Kay writes, “ His face rose up, and there were big tears streaming down his face. I had never seen him cry... He said, ‘I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I can’t do anything. I want my family back.’”

Into the Light
Phil finds God, and since he’s a man to never “...do anything halfway...” he becomes a scholar of the Bible in effort to understand the true meaning of the Scripture, to enable him to help those who have struggled as he has.

He and his wife Kay buy a property dubbed, A Sportsman’s Paradise, after the birth of  their fourth, and last son, Jep. Phil gave up teaching to become a commercial fisherman. Enabling him to provide for his family’s necessities, while nature provided the real richness he desired.

If it Sounds Like a Duck—It’s Probably Phil
Always his passion belonged to the ducks he loved to separate from their heads. His knack for imitating duck calls was a talent he had as a child and honed over the years. He knew he could sound more like a duck than anyone else, and likewise he could build a call that did the same. So that’s what he did. His entire family supported the effort. Upon his retiring from the business, Phil’s son, Willie, took Duck Commander to what it is today.

My Take
I don’t agree with all of Phil’s political views, and I think that a woman who isn't a good cook—like me—can still be a good wife—like I hope I am. Nevertheless, I’m envious of this man and his faith. I'm envious that he knew himself well enough to know that a career as a professional football player wouldn't make him happy, happy, happy.  That he had the faith in himself to convince his wife, who was caring for three sons, that he should give up his comfortable teaching job to move into the swamp and fish for a living.  Had he made the practical decisions, like we are all conditioned to make from early childhood, he might have been too distracted or "busy" to follow his passion to his calling.

Now he’s a legend and has provided a legacy that employs many of the Robertson Clan today—doing something that they love: making duck calls, saving sinners, and blowing the heads off ducks.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: Sway

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Amber McRee Turner - ©2012

Sway is a story about a ten-year-old girl, Cass, whose mother falls from a hero’s pedestal and lands right in a steaming pile of lies and adultery. Confused and hurt, Cass blames her father for pushing her off that pedestal.

Together, Cass and her father embark on a journey in a RV he bought from National Lampoon's Cousin Eddie, dubbed The Roast, through the American South to bequeath upon the citizens of towns with an old shoe-marked off ramp, the magic of Sway. Step right up, grab a sliver of soap, emblazoned with the initials of the historical figure, lather up and absorb the former owner's best qualities.

Through their adventures changing the lives of others, Cass realized that the hero she needed was the one who, “...snags a ten-year-old’s favorite pajamas because you’re there to tuck her in every night with your calloused hands.”

A lovely story full of lively southern flavor and character. Uplifting and simple—a pleasurable read.

Book Review: Nineteen Eighty-Four

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
George Orwell - ©1949

This is the most alarming book I have ever read.

 I was moved by Farenheit 451, another dystopian novel, but it didn't rattle me like 1984. I now can see why it has left such an indelible mark on our culture. Big Brother is watching, Newsspeak, Ingsoc, doublethink… *shudder*

The structure of this possible 1984 makes the most sense as a vector from war weary 1940's England. Orwell writes about the never ending wars with continuous bombing, the citizenry being required to hate the enemy, the Ministry of Information (which spreads dis-information), Ministry of Plenty (which controls food rationing), ration cards, revolutions gone bad, people being punished for spreading anti-war messages. I think Orwell’s invention, Ingsoc (English socialism), is a derivative of the terrifying result of failure of the Russian revolution. All these things were heavy on the minds of the populace during that time.

I'll never hear the phrase "Big Brother is Watching" with the same indifference. Invasions of privacy didn't bother me because I never felt I was doing anything worthy of attention. Amy has purchased diapers and cat litter twice this month and receives regular calls from her husband at eleven in the morning. Snooze-fest right? But, what if my life was suddenly objectionable to a the government and all of the ways I've accepted invitations to peer into my privacy could be used against me? What I've watched on Netflix, what books I've downloaded from B&N using my membership. What states I've bought gas from on my credit card. My posts on Facebook and pictures I've uploaded. Book reviews I've posted—like this one? What if I don't hate our "enemies” enough? What if I don't like something the president said? What if all of this data could be aggregated by a super algorithm and my fate was decided by the output?

In Orwell's 1984, those guilty of thoughtcrime, perhaps your face twitches into an expression deemed unorthodox, were collected by the Thought Police and left in the tender embrace of the Ministry of Love. Wherein lies the secret of Room 101 and the Inner Party.

The sole desire of those in power is to keep it.

Never before has the right to free speech and privacy seemed more precious.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book Review: The Three Musketeers

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Alexandre Dumas - ©1844
As a person who read The Count of Monte Cristo twice, I was ready to devour this book and have The Man in the Iron Mask for dessert.

The story started out strong. D’Artagnan is an honorable fellow from the French back-woods of Gascony, riding his half-dead yellow nag across country to Paris in hopes of joining the venerated Musketeers of King Louis XIII. On his first day in Paris he manages to get in a duel with each of the legendary Three Musketeers. The Three Musketeers show up to second each other during their respective duels. They soon join forces to fight off the guardsmen of the villainous Cardinal Richelieu who are attempting to arrest them for illegal dueling. Together the four men bested five of the Cardinal's guard; uniting them as brothers.

Yes, loving this so far! Then things get weak for about 700 pages.

It was too much like a theatrical play where the drama is over played. This kind of thing: For this insult, I will avenge my honor—to the death!! Also, D’Artagnan burned with all consuming love for Mme. Bonacieux then shortly after she was captured by the Cardinal's forces, he burned with love for the villain, Milady; ill using her handmaiden to get to her. These romantic endeavors and intrigues go on and on. Blah.

I thought the Three Musketeers would be more about—The Three Musketeers! Athos, Porthos and Aramis—all for one and one for ALL! Sadly, these guys only pop in now and again to liven things up. I thought there’d be tight plots and subplots, with more action.

I had no idea that d’Artagnan was the main character.  Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the sub-title “Book One of the d’Artagnan Romances”.  So what's so bad about d'Artagnan? You ask.  Excellent question, I was just getting to that.  Aside from the fact he has a name that is annoying to type, D'Artagnan suffers from perfect character disease.  A vicious disease attacking the character's depth and rendering the afflicted unlikable by imperfect people such as myself.  D'Artagnan is a great guy, he's handsome, young, an amazing fighter, compassionate, suave with the ladies, loyal, earnest—he's perfect—perfectly boring.  Perfect characters are for NY Yankee fans.

Another problem was that this book was originally written as a serial novel. I had the same issue with The Tale of Two Cities. I think of 19th century serials as today’s television series. Imagine sitting down to watch a movie and putting in Downton Abbey; with the expectation of getting one cohesive story. It’s frustrating. The twist and turns later in the story don't really relate as well as they should to earlier parts of the story and it goes on and on and on. Had I read this story one episode at a time, eagerly awaiting next week's episode, I would have liked it more…

BUT somewhere in the last one-third of the book the villain extraordinaire, Milady, is captured. Then Dumas' stellar writing returns, complete with his ingenious plots. I flashed through the rest of the book and it ended in a most satisfying way. He tied up all disparate story-lines with excellent plot twists, action, and brilliant character revelations—and best of all—d’Artagnan was hardly there. The book ended leaving me wishing there was more. In a book of over 1700 pages, this is saying something. I’m glad I slogged through the 700 or so pages of d’Artagnan mire. The payoff was worth it.


There is another d’Artagnan romance novel between this one and the one that contains The Man in the Iron Mask—I’m leary. If it were less a d’Artangan romance and more Athos, Porthos and Aramis, I’d dive in. What to do? What to do?? I could skip it and jump to the story I want, but then I might miss nuances in the later story, and I hate missing nuances… The brilliance of a story is in the nuances, particularly when written by one such as Dumas...