Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Fresh Start

How would you like a fresh start for the New Year? I heard in the news about an event in New York last Saturday called Good Riddance Day which takes place every year on December 28.  “A Cintas mobile shredding truck was set up on the Broadway Plaza in Times Square,” the report stated,  for the public to rip to pieces all physical evidence of humiliating, embarrassing and depressing moments in 2013 for a fresh start in the year to come.”  People came with whatever they could literally shred that represented things they wanted to leave behind as they enter the New Year. According to the New York CBS News report, “Good Riddance Day is inspired by a Latin American tradition, in which New Year’s revelers stuff dolls with objects representing the past year’s bad memories, and set them on fire.”

New Year’s Day serves as a natural marker for us to think about what changes we would like to make, how we would like to do things differently in the coming year. It is a time of those infamous New Year’s resolutions. Although I often take stock of my life at the coming of the New Year, I have never had much success with New Year’s resolutions.  The story about Good Riddance Day, however, did remind me of a similar action that I took years ago. I had had a particularly trying year. I got out a legal pad and made a list of all the things that had occurred that year that had tried my strength, tested my patience, and left me exhausted physically and mentally.  I don’t remember if I burned the list or just wadded it up and tossed it, but I do remember that I was declaring the reasons why I was glad to see the year go out. I was also saying to myself that the coming year would be a better year. I still look back to that event with gratitude, because things did take a turn for the better.

I hope your year ahead will be a turn for the better, and that you can leave behind those things that have been a pain or a drag for you this year.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday Music: Eclipse (John Denver)

Tomorrow, December 31, 2013,  John Denver would have been 70 years old. "Eclipse" is one of those songs with an environmental theme that appeared on Denver's Back Home Again album released in 1974. That same album included a number of other songs that became signature hits including "Annie's Song," "Thank God, I'm a Country Boy," "This Old Guitar," "Back Home Again," and "Sweet Surrender."

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Apollo 8

This week marked the 45th anniversary of the historic Apollo 8 flight which was the first time humans had orbited the moon. "Earthrise" is an iconic photo that was shot during that moon mission. NASA has a fascinating seven-minute video on YouTube commemorating that event and explaining how it was an accidental sighting and how the photo might otherwise never have been taken. I took the occasion of the anniversary of "Earthrise" to write this week's haiku. Typically, a haiku draws inspiration from nature. This one is indeed a natural setting, although a view not ordinarily seen.

               Apollo 8

     Our first moon orbit;
          we explored far reaches, yet
          turning, saw ourselves.

                                ~ CK


Friday, December 27, 2013

Press Release from "The Vidalia Onion"

I'm trying something new with another blog called "The Vidalia Onion." I am not stopping the Not Dark Yet blog site and The Vidalia Onion ("fake news rooted in the South") will only be occasional and will be satirical in nature. It all started when I wrote a satirical news release and sent it out to some friends. Someone suggested I create a blog site for such satire. You can see the initial post at  http://thevidaliaonionnews.blogspot.com/ with "The Vidalia Onion Grants Prestigious Queen Victoria Award to Mississippi Native Sons." If you have ever been in online discussions or listened to religious debate, you might find it entertaining.

The Vidalia Onion Grants Prestigious Queen Victoria Award to
 Mississippi Native Sons
(Disassociated Press Release)
On November 31, 2013, The Vidalia Onion gave this year’s Queen Victoria Award to Jim High and Don Manning-Miller for their efforts in taking religious dialogue back to the 19th Century.  Concerning the award, The Vidalia Onion’s Lawrence Brainbalm said, “Some of us here in Georgia really hated to see the 19th century go – that’s why we honor something 19th century each year with the Queen Victoria Award.” Continue reading....


Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday Music: John Rutter's Nativity Carol

My introduction to John Rutter was in the recording, The Holly and the Ivy: Carols from Clare College. I love Christmas music and this album became a favorite and made me pay attention to the work of John Rutter who is one of the most notable composers and choral directors living today. Rutter has certainly made his mark in sacred choral music.  “Nativity Carol” is one of Rutter’s compositions and appears on The John Rutter Christmas Album.  It is performed here by the King’s College Choir, Cambridge


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Moon and Stars

Moon and stars at night
                                          call the soul to distant planes,
     inward and outward.

                                  ~ CK


Photo: "This view shows the thin crescent Moon setting over ESO’s Paranal Observatory in Chile. As well as the bright crescent the rest of the disc of the Moon can be faintly seen. This phenomenon is called earthshine. It is due to sunlight reflecting off the Earth and illuminating the lunar surface. By observing earthshine astronomers can study the properties of light reflected from Earth as if it were an exoplanet and search for signs of life. This picture was taken on 27 October 2011 and also records the planets Mercury and Venus." (European Southern Observatory)

Credit: Babak Tafreshi at http://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1210a/
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday Music: Hard Times Come Again No More

Here is a perfect blending of traditional American music and traditional Celtic music. Stephen Foster was a prolific song writer in nineteenth century America whose songs were quickly embedded into the culture. "Hard Times Come Again No More," is perhaps one of his most enduring compositions. On this recording, it is performed by Scottish singer Paolo Nutini along with the traditional Irish band, The Chieftains. Nutini's voice gives the recording the pure earnestness of an ancient folk song. Near the end of the piece, the bagpipes and drums give the song a quintessentially Scottish flavor.

The song is from the Chieftains' 2012 album, Voice of Ages.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Killing the Prophets

The unusual appearances of snowy owls: a visual parable for our time

 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
                                                                                        ~ Luke 13:34 (NIV)

A prophet is not someone who foretells the future per se. A prophet is one who warns a society when it is headed in the wrong direction, being able to see the logical outcome if a certain course is maintained. There is the passage quoted above in which a city is portrayed as a killer of prophets. If such a statement rings true, it is because when acting as a group, people are usually not receptive to anyone saying they have to change their way of doing things.

Last week, the news item came to my attention that airports are facing the unusual dilemma of the appearance of snowy owls. At JFK Airport, two snowy owls were shot and others chased away. The reason such drastic measures are being taken is that the snowy owls are interfering with air traffic. One ornithological expert is quoted as saying “it’s unusual for snowy owls to migrate in such large numbers to the area.” Perhaps the snowy owls are part of the earth's own prophetic movement.

For years – for decades – there have been voices in the community speaking out against the environmental destruction that has been coming at the hands of modern progress. Sometimes, when necessary, we heeded some of the voices by implementing pollution controls and better forest and land management. Overall, however, we have continued to march ahead, depleting non-renewable resources, pouring chemicals onto the land, and cutting down rain forests. The U.S. cannot bring itself to ratify an international conservation agreement, perhaps out of fear of reprisal from business corporations and “job creators,” or perhaps it is just a reluctance to change our view toward the environment. Still, the voices of warning persist.

Voices of warning have come from environmental groups, but there have also been voices from the environment itself. Frogs in the tropics began dying, ice shelves in the polar regions began melting, and the ozone layer began shrinking. We witnessed ominous colony collapse of honey bees. Those who had ears to hear and eyes to see made note of the trends.  Scientific experts made dire predictions. Some listened, but the machinery of modern progress did not slow down. There was too much money at stake, too many jobs in the balance, too much promise of quarterly financial gain.

Now, in an unusual move, snowy owls stand as a majestic warning. We must turn from our present course. Our airlines are not in sync with the natural rhythm of the earth, our addiction to fossil fuel is spiraling out of control. We are on a collision course. We can turn now, or we can wait until resources are depleted. We can find a lifestyle more congruent with our environment, or we can wait until the land is too irreparably scarred to support the human community.

The snowy owl appears to demonstrate the possibility of stopping for a moment. Maybe we could ignore the frogs, but surely we will pay heed to the stately beauty of the snowy owl. Except stopping is not an option for our fast-paced self-important lives. Sadly, killing the prophets remains a tried and true option for a proud people on the move.    

Photo: Snowy Owl
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

*    *     *

Further reading:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Hawk

The swift red-tailed hawk
                                                          watches from his vantage point.
                                                          Beauty  –  stealth  –  danger.

                                                                             ~ CK


Photo: Red-tailed hawk
Credit: Mark Bohn of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why Employers Should Not Be Saddled with Providing Healthcare Benefits

It is often difficult to have a rational conversation these days about healthcare. People often speak in near-doctrinal terms when expressing their views on healthcare delivery. To question their views may bring on a plethora of accusations about one’s loyalty, faith, or patriotism. Here are seven brief reasons why I think that the provision of healthcare should not be left to the realm of employee benefits provided in the work place.  
  • Employers, especially large companies recently, have shown a reluctance to grant employee benefits by shifting to the use part time employees. Moreover, some companies now claim that they cannot do more job creation as long as healthcare coverage is required.
  • Small companies (with fewer than 50 employees) are not required to offer health coverage at all.
  • When healthcare is linked to employment, the unemployed have very limited  healthcare  options. I know a case in which a man became ill and was diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately, he had decent health insurance. Unfortunately, when he became too sick to work he was terminated from his job. With his termination from his employment, he lost healthcare coverage while he was in the midst of fighting his illness.
  • In the global economy, U.S. companies are competing with companies in other countries where employee healthcare is not part of the employer's operating budget, making it more difficult for the U.S. to stay competitive. This makes it more likely that U.S. jobs will continue to dwindle, increasing unemployment rolls. (See The Wall Street Journal's break down of employer's benefit costs here)
  • Employees’ income is often at the whim of employers and at risk in times of recession and corporate cost-cutting measures. At the very least, their healthcare should not be at the whim of employment circumstances.
  • A healthy workforce is good for business, therefore good for the economy. It stands to reason that access to healthcare should be available to all potential workers as well as all current workers.  
  • Part of the government’s role is to foster an environment conducive to enterprise. Roadways, bridges, water supply, postal service, and education are a few examples of what the government does to foster a productive community.  Providing access to healthcare is another important factor in insuring an adequate workforce and fostering a healthy environment for business and industry.

A Society that Works

There are three things that make for a society that works for all of the people: access to education, access to transportation, and access to healthcare. When a society can insure that its populace has access to education, transportation, and healthcare, there will be a higher level of productive participation on the part of its citizens.  Industry and society can only benefit if there are better educated workers whose health needs are addressed and who have adequate transportation. Just as the private sector alone cannot be expected to build a society’s infrastructure, the private sector cannot be expected to adequately provide for the population’s healthcare needs.  When we can learn to take the burden of healthcare off individuals and employers, as in a single-payer healthcare format where all are covered, then we can make better progress as a society.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams (Kingsfold)

Last week the music of Thomas Tallis, the father of English church music, was featured. This week it's the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams who played a primary role in establishing English sacred music in the 20th century. Himself an agnostic, he took on the task of revising the English Hymnal and the result was both solid and magical. He had long collected English folk tunes and incorporated many of those tunes in hymns he composed for the hymnal. Kingsfold is a wonderful example of the fusion of English folk music with English poetry. As such, "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say" has been included in Celtic celebrations as well as in Christian hymnals across many denominations.

Vaughn Williams may have been an agnostic, but that was surely reflective of the times that he was born into and the world in which we live today. He had a compassionate, humanitarian spirit and an ear for beauty and harmony. Kingsfold, set to the text by Horatius Bonar, 19th century Scottish poet and churchman, beautifully and transcendently declares our discovery of "this dark world's light."

(For further reading: Why Ralph Vaughan Williams should he as revered as William Shakespeare, by Simon Heffer, The Telegraph.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Sunset

 With the setting sun
     comes the call for inward sight
     to pierce dark corners.

                                 ~ CK


Photo: Railroad Park in Birmingham, Alabama
Found at "Mule Wagon" on Pinterest

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Recommended Recipes: New Orleans Style Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

Every now and then, I will enjoy a bit of bread pudding.  A while back, I decided to try to make the dish myself. I went online and looked at a few recipes and decided on this one by Emeril, found on the Food Network site. Since the recipe makes a large dessert (9 X 13 inch baking dish), I waited for a potluck opportunity to try it out. I must say that it was a complete success! Everyone who tried it raved, and there were no leftovers. One person mentioned that the whiskey sauce almost required a designated driver, but I don’t think it was a complaint.

I was pleased with the flavor and the texture. In fact, this recipe is better than any bread pudding I have tried before. The texture was very light, the flavors were delicate and delightful, and the sauce definitely added to the enjoyment. To prepare the dish, I went out and bought a 1-pound loaf of Italian bread at Winn-Dixie. I then followed the recipe exactly (except I didn’t use freshly grated nutmeg – I just used the ground nutmeg in my kitchen cabinet).

This recipe is from Emeril Lagasse, originally appearing in Emeril's Potluck, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2004. The original recipe can be found here.

Prep Time: 10 min
Inactive Prep Time: 45 min
Cook Time: 1 hr

Level: Easy

10 to 12 servings

  • 12 to 14 cups 1-inch cubes day-old white bread, such as French or Italian
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • Confectioners' sugar, for garnish
  • 1 recipe Whiskey Sauce, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the bread in a large bowl. Grease a 9 by 13-inch casserole dish with the remaining tablespoon of butter and set aside.

Combine the heavy cream, milk, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and raisins in a large bowl. Whisk to mix. Pour the cream mixture over the bread, and stir to combine. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes.

Transfer the bread mixture to the casserole dish and bake until the center of the bread pudding is set, 50 to 60 minutes.

Garnish the bread pudding with confectioners' sugar and serve warm with warm Whiskey Sauce.

Whiskey Sauce:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3/4 cup bourbon or other whiskey
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
In a 1-quart saucepan set over medium heat, combine the cream, milk, and sugar. Place the cornstarch and 1/4 cup of the bourbon in a small mixing bowl and whisk to blend and make a slurry. Pour the slurry into the cream mixture and bring to a boil. Once the sauce begins to boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Remove the sauce from the heat, add the salt, and stir in the butter and the remaining 1/2 cup of bourbon. Serve warm.


Photo: Bread pudding -- this is not a picture of the pudding I made, but was found at Wikimedia Commons. I don't feel bad about that because the photo used on the Food Network site is not Emeril's bread pudding either.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday Music: Thomas Tallis

"Thomas Tallis was born near the beginning of the fifteenth century and very little is known of his early life. After a succession of appointments as a church musician, he spent most of his vocation in service to the Crown as musician to the Chapels Royal under four successive monarchs, both Catholic and Protestant. Although always a Roman Catholic, Tallis had the political savvy to survive the shifts in ecclesial loyalties and the musical acumen to respond to the changing needs of the Church of England. He is regarded as the father of English Church music since the Reformation."

The beautiful choral work, "If Ye Love Me" is presented here with a mesmerizing visual borrowed from Disney's Fantasia.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Before the Frost

Before the first frost
     lilies continue to bloom
     like Solomon’s robes.

                           ~ CK


Photos: The last blooms of the season - Lillies at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Ala.
             (in early November)
Credit: Charles Kinnaird

Monday, November 25, 2013

Monday Music: "Thanksgiving" by George Winston

"Thanksgiving" first appeared on George Winston's December album (Windham Hill). My first time to hear this was on the Windham Hill 1984 Sampler.That album remains one of my favorites, and George Winston has continued to display and artistic, emotive touch on the keyboard in his subsequent recordings.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Distant Memory

 Fallen autumn leaves
      soften the ancient pathways
      of wartime wagons.

                                    ~ CK


Photo: Wooded trail at Tannehill State Park, site of Tannehill Ironworks, a major supplier of ordnance for the Confederacy during the Civil War
Credit: Charles Kinnaird

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering JFK

John F. Kennedy
Official White House portrait
Many are sharing their thoughts and memories of JFK on this 50th anniversary of his tragic assassination. Many of you have your own memories of that day. These are my thoughts and memories of what I knew as a child growing up during those times. 

Has There Ever Been a Time Like This?

I was six years old when John F. Kennedy delivered his inaugural address that cold January in 1961. I remember watching it on TV with my family. I could tell from the adults in the room that this was an important event. I think I even remember hearing those words, “ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” but I may be remembering clips of that speech that have been aired so many times and in so many venues since that day. I must have picked up on the excitement of that period because I can recall asking my parents, “Did we have a president before President Kennedy?” That question resulted in a mini, age-appropriate civics lesson about our country. I now realize that my question about whether there was a president before JFK was emblematic of the times. John F. Kennedy, with his energy and charisma, sparked a widespread interest in both knowing how the country works and in giving back in public service. Thinking about a child’s heart and the way a six-year-old views the world, another way to ask my question would have been, “Has there ever been a time like this?”

Dark Days as Well

There were troubled times as well during JFK’s 1,000 days. I was a second grader when the Cuban missile crisis was in play in October of 1962, and I can remember those days. We talked about it at school, though we spoke as the seven-year-olds that we were, reflecting what we picked up at home. There was worry about the Russians and fear of war. One of my classmates said, “They have a bomb so big it will blow up everybody.” That did not make sense to me, but my friend assured me, “That bomb could kill everybody – even YOU!” Fortunately, that crisis was resolved and we were soon carefree school kids again.

Another factor to the times was that there was an anti-Kennedy sentiment in the rural Protestant South where I grew up. Some of that suspicion, I suppose, arose from the President being Catholic, but most of the animosity, I am sure, arose from moves to implement Brown vs. the Board of Education.  Racial integration was being resisted; our own Governor campaigned on segregation and famously stood in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in June of 1963 to prevent the registration of black students.  Everyone knew the times were changing, virtually no one was admitting it.

I often heard classmates scorn President Kennedy. I wasn’t sure why they were expressing such disdain because I liked what I saw of him on television. As a child, of course, I grasped little of the politics but I always liked the image the president projected. At the time, school milk cartons carried the faces of American presidents along with a short biography. Some of the kids cut them out and collected them. Occasionally, someone would find a milk carton with JFK’s picture on it and ceremoniously stomp it into the ground. This was reflective of the animosity felt in the South toward Kennedy.

Then Came that Day

On that fateful day, shortly after the lunch period at school while we were in recess out on the playground, someone came with the news that the President had been shot. The initial reaction of some was to think it was a joke. I saw kids dancing and celebrating, thinking they were acting out that same old ceremony of stomping a milk carton into the ground. Then when we realized that it was no joke – this was actual fact, a somber and fearful mood settled over our third grade class.

I was the one who broke the news to my own father. He came to pick me up after school. My dad had been running errands and did not have the radio on. Furthermore, in those days of vacuum tubes, most people didn’t keep the television set on all during the day. As we were walking to the car, I asked him if he had heard that the president had been shot. He didn't know; my dad heard the news first from my mouth.  In the 50 years since that day, I don’t think I have stopped to consider this until now, but the moment is clear in my memory. What does it mean for a boy to be the one to tell his father that the President has been shot? I think what I wanted most was to let the news rest in my father’s capable hands so I wouldn’t have to worry. What followed at our house was just what was happening across the country. We turned on the TV and kept it on to find out as much as we could.

Unlike any time in our memory, television coverage continued nonstop over the course of the next few days. My brothers and I turned on the TV on Saturday morning expecting to watch cartoons. Instead, there was continuing news coverage. News was not supposed to be on TV on Saturday morning. We kept watching, hoping that we would eventually see our cartoons return, but instead we saw Lee Harvey Oswald shot down on live television.

Making Our Way

We watched the president’s funeral on television – the President who was first to take advantage of the television medium and use it to his advantage was now the center of a televised national mourning. After the grief, we had to learn to move on. We had to learn to live with ordinary leaders and lack-luster times as we proceeded through the cold war, civil rights, the Viet Nam War, student unrest and racial strife.  

As we have moved on, we have lived with the nagging thoughts of what might have been. In the process, we have understandably given John F. Kennedy a hero’s status. We have held up what we see as his strengths: a space program, a quest for peace, the directive for racial equality, the call for a higher national purpose. The most important thing that I take away from the Kennedy phenomenon is that however he may or may not have embodied these ideals, these are the values that we as a people insist upon holding up as the national ideal. That has been encouraging to me though the years: that however we have lived up to or fallen short of those ideals, when we ascribe traits to our presidential hero, these are the values we insist upon. For that very reason, there is hope that we can make it, because these are indeed our values. We can make it, as JFK said about the mission to the moon, “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” 


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dylan the Welder

Dylan the Welder*

Bob Dylan is a welder
Taking words
That have been scattered
And misused
And putting them through the fires
Of humanity’s forge.

It takes a hot pen
To bind mythic thoughts to modern ways;
And a fiery riff
To weld common chords to forsaken phrases,
Fashioning a memorable song of love or theft or ruin.

It takes a spark that was lit by subterranean fires
To ignite the passions
Of a restless generation
Until they gather on the streets
Or courthouse lawns
Or the National Mall
To sing of how many roads.

It takes the fire of human consciousness
Erupting without summons or awareness
To fashion songs that can
Shake a tambourine
Survey a watchtower
Foretell a hard rain
Or catch a slow train.

It takes old embers
To join hands with
Blind Willie
Hattie Carroll
And the sad-eyed lady.

It takes new fire
To speak to the hopes of a young woman
In a world that is spinning
Or the dreams of an old man
When shadows are falling.

Bob Dylan is a welder
Fashioning new gates
From worn-out words,
Burning old hopes
Onto new frames.

It takes ancient fire
To fashion timeless tales
Of joy and struggle,
And a luminous eye
To forge a song that is true.

                              ~ Charles Kinnaird

*The inspiration for this poem came from an online article telling about how Bob Dylan keeps welding supplies at his home in Malibu where he creates iron gates from scrap pieces of metal. Some of his welding work is now on display at London’s Halcyon Gallery.

(photos by John Shearer via Daily Mail)


Monday, November 18, 2013

Hilda of Whitby

The ruins of Whitby Abby, founded by St. Hilda

Hilda of Whitby, born in 614 in Northumbria, was a spiritual leader, abbess at the monastery at Whitby, and advisor to kings and commoners. Her preferred practice was centered in Celtic Christianity, though she brokered a peaceful transition when at the Council of Whitby, King Oswy decided to bring Northubria in line with Roman tradition. She also nurtured and encouraged a stable hand named Caedmon to sing his songs in his native Anglo-Saxon, thus she assisted in bringing forth the first English poet.

St. Hilda’s feast day is November 17 in the Roman Catholic Church, but in the Episcopal Church her day is celebrated on my birthday, November 18 – which is why on this day I am more Anglican than Catholic. I take some time on this day to honor the Celtic heritage, feminine leadership, and the poetic voice.

Read more at:


Monday Music: Beware of Darkness

Ben Gerson of Rolling Stone claims that "Beware of Darkness" may be the best song on George Harrison's  All Things Must Pass, commenting on its "enigmatic" music and the combination of "warning" and "affirmation" in its lyrics.(from Wikipedia). Here is a stellar performance by Eric Clapton from the Concert for George.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Canada Geese

Mighty travelers
     who ride the wind and weather
     glide with quiet grace.

                            ~ CK


Photos: Canada geese relaxing at Aldridge Gardens in Hoover, Alabama
Credit: Charles Kinnaird  


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

It Was Worse than Making Bears Use Charmin

A Rat Named Percy

We have this pet rat named Percy. It’s interesting how we came by this wonderful pet. When my daughter was in college, she had a couple of pet rats – both female. She named them Aamina and Lulu. Through her experience, my wife and I learned about the joys of rats. My wife says they are like kittens that never grow up – they remain cute, playful, and inquisitive.

Aamina, a hooded rat
Lulu, a Russian Blue Dumbo ear

Rats only live two to three years, and after my daughter’s rats had died, we thought about the possibility of acquiring another one. Soon the opportunity presented itself when we learned of a rat who needed a home due to his owner’s impending move. The rat’s name was Percy, and a fine rodent he turned out to be!

Social Time
Rats are social animals and require at least 20 minutes of hands-on interaction every day. Percy seemed more accustomed to men, so from the time we acquired him, it fell to me to be his “handler.” It was not a difficult daily task. From the moment Percy was delivered to us, I could see that he was fine animal with a healthy sense of being. When they live together, rats spend time grooming each other, so I began to take some time each day giving Percy some comforting strokes. We had learned from our daughter’s experience that when holding a rat in one’s lap, it helps to have a cloth bag that they can run into for security. She had had a denim bag that she kept treats in for her rats when they took refuge there. My wife bought a cloth bag specifically for rat handling (its original purpose had been for a sewing bag).

It didn’t take long for Percy to learn to relax in his bag when I took him out of his cage. I held the bag in my lap where I would pet Percy (always after I was finished walking the dogs at night). Sometimes Percy will eat a few treats, then poke his head out for some strokes from my fingers. Other times he settles down right away and enjoys being held and petted. Often he will close his eyes and drift off to sleep, sometimes even rolling over on his side. After a time of quiet cuddling, he will come out of his bag to look around. Usually he will sit up and groom himself for a while before roaming about on my lap and looking out at the room.

And Then the Potty Training

When my daughter had her rats, she had them trained to use a little litter box, which was a small ceramic dish with gravel in it. They didn’t use the litter box exclusively, but most of their droppings would end up there. When we first got Percy, I put the little ceramic litter dish in the cage, but he gave it no notice. My daughter advised that I should give it some time and see what part of the cage Percy preferred to “do his business” in, then try the litter pan again.

Months passed, and with my weekly cleaning of Percy’s cage, I noted that most of his droppings were in the right rear corner near the exercise wheel. A couple of weeks ago I decided to give the litter pan idea another try. When I cleaned the cage, I carefully placed the ceramic dish with special potty litter in the right rear corner that had become Percy’s favored doodle spot. Instead of taking advantage of my homemaking improvement, however, Percy was quite confused as to why there was this obstacle right where he was accustomed to doing bathroom business. He got busy pushing the aspen bedding that covered the floor of the cage this way and that. He made mounds of aspen shreds underneath the ladder to his bedroom; he fashioned drifts on the other side of his exercise wheel. He looked for new places to doodle since his usual spot was now occupied with a ceramic dish. His whole world was disrupted!

I told my daughter the next time she called home that Percy just wasn’t getting the litter pan concept. “Oh, just put some of his droppings in there, he’ll eventually start using it – it may take a year to get him used to it.”

“A year?” I thought. “That’s half the poor fellow’s life!” I told my wife I thought I would just go back to our usual rat cage arrangement and let the aspen bedding take care of things. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep up the litter pan project. “Why get into that power struggle?” my wife asked.

Picking Your Battles

Why indeed? Yes, my wife was right. After all, who knows what problems might arise over potty training issues? Some say that Hitler’s problem was that his mother potty trained him too early. That was it; I would no longer entertain any thoughts of trying to control where Percy went to the potty. That would be worse than making those bears use Charmin.

And what about those bears on TV? From time immemorial, bears would always squat in the woods. We even have a smart-alecky response in our language based upon that fact. Then along comes a toilet paper company making a decision that bears really need to use sophisticated paper products for their daily dumps. Well, those bears may look cute on television commercials, but why do we make such domesticated demands upon wild creatures? We should have known there would be consequences to such power issues. You may have heard about the recent phenomenon of bears breaking into people’s cars and shredding the interior. Well, there you go. We did not see such passive-aggressive destructive behavior from bears before Charmin’s humiliating attempt at making bears live with our notions of proper toileting habits.

So now Percy is once again living a harmonious life, true to his rat nature. He sleeps in the daytime, gets up for meals of lettuce, fruit, seeds and food pellets. He chews his sticks, roams around at night and runs on his exercise wheel. He enjoys cuddle time with his human friends in the evening, and he doodles where he chooses. Life is good.

Percy looks out upon the world
Percy awakes

Oh, and if you don't believe the part about bears trashing cars, take a look at this video. That's one bear I would not want to sit down with to watch a Charmin commercial.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday Music: Gabriel's Oboe

The Mission is definitely on my top ten list of all time favorite films.  Ennio Morricone composed the soundtrack, and "Gabriel's Oboe," is the main theme for that 1986 film. Here it is performed by Yo Yo Ma from his 2004 album, Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Morricone.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Saturday Haiku: Ducks

Their security
     is in groups. Their comfort zone
     is on the water.

                            ~ CK

 Photo: A flock of ducks on Roupes Creek, Tannehill State Park near Bessemer, Alabama
Credit: Charles Kinnaird

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