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.

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