Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hello Kitty and Ring-Come-Ditty

Stories out of two news reports on the same day:

This morning the shocker was that the head of "Hello Kitty" announced that she isn't a cat. She's a little girl. From London, even.

Silly us. How could we not know? After all these years, yet.

Wait a minute: check the calendar. Nope, not April 1st. Maybe a publicity stunt? How's the corporate bottom line been doing lately?

Let's examine the product again. Hmmmm.... whiskers on each side of the mouth... perky ears on top of the head... yep, looks like all the little London girls I've ever seen all the many times I've been over there. Oh wait: I've never been. Somehow I have managed to live my entire life imagining that all the little girls in London looked exactly like little girls here and elsewhere, resembling cats only on special occasions like Halloween. Apparently, between myself and the head of the Hello Kitty company, one of us seriously needs to get out more.

The other story comes from MPR. It's state fair time. Translation: every media conglomeration in the state is reporting from inside the fair, the number one absolutely mandatory story to cover being fair food. After a panel discussion this noon on good and bad foods, favorites and hates, one speaker opined that we all have one food from our childhood that may not have been good but the nostalgia makes up for it and we continue to enjoy eating it throughout our adult lives.

He got it half right. There is a food from my childhood that - no may about it, simply was not good. The part about nostalgia and continuing to eat it, well, forget that part.

Mom called it ring-come-ditty. Or at least that's how she pronounced it. No clue where the name came from. I have my suspicions where the actual dish came from though: the depression. A lot of Mom's cooking came from there. A breakfast staple, for example, was a slice of white toast on a plate covered with a sprinkle of sugar (a spoonful if we could get away with it) and a bit of milk poured over it, called Yankee Pudding. A few decades ago I heard it referred to as Depression Pudding. But hey, sugar!

Mom's cooking had a lot of hallmarks that I believe hail from the depression. It was cheap, usually had many ingredients from cans, had little flavor, and tended to be seasoned only with salt and pepper. Not too much, though! The only spices  in the house were a few basics used in baking: vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves, nutmeg and ginger for pumpkin pies. Sage came out once a year for turkey stuffing. Words like basil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, peppers, may all have been a foreign language. Onions were occasionally present, not as a spice but as a vegetable, battered and deep fried in rings when there was also fresh-caught fish to go with  it. That she did very well.

Ring-come-ditty was a simple dish, carefully prepared. There were four ingredients, evenly layered in a casserole dish before baking in an oven. The layers were crumbled saltines, stewed tomatoes, cream style corn, and bits of fried bacon. They were repeated, and covered with a final layer of cracker crumbs. Lest you think, "Bacon, yummm!" just be aware that she could manage to do the whole hotdish with at  most 4 slices, or almost enough to actually taste. All the liquids would soak into the bacon, eliminating flavor and crispness, before sogging up the cracker crumbs.

Somehow we ate it. It wasn't spectacularly bad or disgusting, just completely blah. She usually cut the stewed tomatoes into small enough bits that I could choke them down without having to actually chew, and thus taste, them. I guess we were hungry - enough, anyway. Certainly we'd been taught to eat whatever was put before us with no waste and few complaints, a rule that held with only one major exception. Ask me someday about boiled potatoes. They, like ring-come-ditty, are neither served nor eaten any more. And nobody suddenly comes upon hiding places with old dried boiled potatoes, such as the framework under the kitchen table.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Moment in the Life

I'm beginning a listing phase. I get this way when all the tasks that must, must, MUST get done are starting to pile up and deadlines loom. It is, after all, less than a month now till retirement. And that's immediately followed by working an auction, hosting a big party (retirement, all-fall-family-birthday, and sayonara), getting a rental minivan, loading up all the stuff we want to take down to Arizona this year since I'm selling the house to Paul and moving the remainder of my stuff into what has been only Steve's room, heading out with help from Steve, Rich and Brenda on Tuesday morning for a 3-day drive, then heading back with an empty minivan for another but solo 3-day drive, picking up Jordan, and flying down with her the next Monday. Then there's work on the house down there (just the cheap stuff, like painting, minor repairs, cleaning, planting), doing some touring of that very scenic state, and flying everybody but Steve and me back. He will need to be registered ASAP for his fall vote in Arizona. We'll need groceries,  more community center passes for swimming....


See what I mean?

Some of the tasks are done. Books are packed. More empty boxes are piling up ready for clothing, personal supplies, food, dog supplies, etc. Then there are the things that are more optional, depending on space left over. The rental is arranged, as are all the airline tickets. Utility companies need to be called for start-ups, and I need to double-check the date on vehicle insurance transfer to be sure there is not a one-day gap. Paperwork on the house must be completed, meaning I need to nag the attorney. Mail and subscription addresses need to be changed, and an absentee ballot filled out for what is likely my last vote in Minnesota.

Yes, we are hanging our addresses officially at different times, and voting in different states. He's already gotten his AZ drivers license. I'll get mine the day after the election, car license too.

There's more to do, more to add to the lists. But right now, I'm still working, and it's time to get ready for it.

Hmmm, make motel reservations, list TV shows for the DVR down there, list chores for while I'm driving back..........

Friday, August 15, 2014

Friends Don't Let...

Just a quick note to our government:

Friends don't let friends... bomb schools.

Or hospitals.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Destabilization: There and Here

You know Iraq is all our fault, right? Maybe not individually, unless by some fluke one of the governmental authors of that fiasco has stumbled upon this blog. But we, as the USA, our fault. And one of the things that caused the mess has been brought home to roost.

So what did we do? First, go for the neighbor, Iran. We rolled right over their functioning democracy (That's right. You believe we did that?) and deposed their duly elected government and imposed the Shah on them. Much as our news stories of the day glorified him, he was a monster. When they finally dumped him, we decided to arm Iraq, and then just to keep it interesting, plus bring more profits to arms manufacturers, because it always boils down to money after all, we decided to arm Iran too. Yep, we armed both sides. Those are mostly still in play.

ISIS wouldn't be the problem it is today if we hadn't laid the groundwork, first, by arming everybody, and second, by going in and replacing the leaders of their governments. That includes Saddam Hussein. He was awful, but he was a secular leader and kept the fanatics from imposing their cruelty on the rest of the population.  For those of you rooting for the Christians over there, in case you forgot, under his rule they were safe. Jews too. And whichever sect of Islam was the "other" from anybody's point of view.

And we had to go and throw arms into that mess. No, we're not alone in that. Russia did her part. Eventually anybody who could jumped on that bandwagon. Couldn't miss out on their share of the profits.

Here's a little lesson in the difference between strategy and tactics. If your strategy is to destabilize a nation or an area, then your tactic for best effect would be to throw weapons into it. Think about it. If I'm pissed off and want to retaliate, without arms I'm pretty much limited to my fists and knives, or whatever rock I can hoist and throw. Kinda limits the extent of the violence, having the wonderful effect of also limiting the retaliation violence too. At some point it is just too much effort to keep it going at any level above a slow simmer. Life goes on.

If you add arms, my little spat gets blown up (hah!) into something major. I can kill dozens, hundreds, thousands, if not directly then by ruining their ability to support, feed, and shelter themselves because there's nothing left. My spat becomes war and drags everybody in. Life doesn't go on.

What you are seeing all through the Middle East right now is the inevitable result of that decades old decision to arm both sides, and ongoing decisions to keep it up, governmentally or privately. Somebody's getting rich off it all. A lot of Somebodies.

Now, bring that back home. There are forces at work here doing the same thing. It's not another government this time, at least I don't think so. Not unless you go for the idea of corporatocracy being our new wanna-be government, not so far fetched. The rich here are trying to get richer. Since the rich are running massive corporations, the way to accomplish what they want is to cut costs. Thus all the screaming about taxes, about labor costs, about regulations. Hell, we even passed laws requiring them to maximize profits.

They just can't really maximize profits in a stable, informed, educated, middle-class society. If we were that, we'd demand fair wages, sharing business profits via taxes to maintain roads, water, education of the workforce, etc. Slavery, or as close as they can come, works much better for them, or at least in their short-term max-profit world view. If our water gets poisoned, or we can't breathe properly, or our food is tainted, or we don't live past 45 or so, our maximum productive years from their perspective, well, that's no issue for them. We don't need to think to push buttons, so let's kick art out of the schools and lower education levels under the disguise of national standards testing. So long as their trucks can get through, the roads are good enough.

As long as we, our society, is destabilized, we won't fight their tactics to maximize their profits.

Have you noticed the abundance of guns out there? The daily shootings, the crazy laws, the paranoia?

Now ask yourself: just who is destabilizing us?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Final Straw

Everybody finally got home, caught up on sleep, and came over last night for ice cream and a session of filling me in on what happened. It wasn't sudden or unexpected. In fact, I'm amazed they stuck it out as long as they did.

It can mostly be summed up as bad management. Rich and Brenda were given all kinds of responsibility for getting the concessions up an running, and keeping them running, without any authority for supervising underlings who were causing problems from indifference to job standards, abusive language towards supervisors, mistreatment of each other, theft from the boss, all the way to hygiene issues. When issues were actually witnessed by the owner, back-up of their attempts at correcting problems was seldom offered. They detailed incident after incident, but I'm leaving it with a summary. There was worse.

Nepotism was a big part of it. It had been for years, but the person they considered the worst and most protected by the owner Jeremy had finally left at the end of last year. Things had maybe started to look up. Then this year's crop of temporary hire employees were mostly kids and needed supervision way beyond what their ages said they should have required. Not bad enough, more family members were hired on.

Jeremy's mom is apparently the kind of person you'd love on your side. She just wasn't actually helping her son's bottom line. She'd tell customers who ordered two separate units of cheese curds that if they ordered one larger one instead, they'd get as much and save money. See? You'd love her. But each time she cost her son $8.

I met Jeremy's dad up at Cambridge when Steve and I dropped in to visit Rich and try out the new bacon cheese curds. (Yum!) He was pleasant enough, but what I now know happened behind the scenes was that Rich made sure he was the only person handling our food. Last night it was explained why.

Rich and Brenda were absolutely not allowed to correct Jeremy's dad in any way whatsoever. He'd been in the business for years. He just didn't believe in hand washing. That wasn't the worst of it. What Rich witnessed, and Brenda heard her lemonade customers discussing loudly while they waited in line after witnessing it themselves, was his practice of using a towel to swat flies down on the floor, then using the same towel without any cleaning to wipe off the counters the cheese curds were served from!

Oh, I'm sorry. Were you eating? Did you make it to the toilet in time before throwing up? I'm sure you can understand why this was their line in the sand, refusing to be associated in any way with potential illnesses arising from this practice they were not even allowed to criticize, much less change.

So now they're home, scouting out their next move. Jeremy will have blackballed them from many of the potential jobs in the business they could have gone to, with owners happy to have a pair of responsible employees like them. Apparently he has that kind of power.

Meanwhile, bills are due.

Monday, August 4, 2014


I'm still waiting for them all to arrive back here. I won't be reassured until I see them all, and then they figure out their next step.

It started Friday night. It had been a hellacious day - make that week - at work. My body had simply had enough by about 7 PM and I went to bed, thinking to sleep through until morning. I'd even developed a fever, not to go with any kind of bug, but just my body's way of saying, "Enough already!" It took the third full cycle of my cell phone ringing right next to my head for me to recognize the sound and decide it required a response. By then my phone had stopped ringing and I heard Steve's phone ringing in the living room.

Somebody really needed to reach someone in the house. By the time I finally sat up and put my glasses on to read the phone display, still taking a while because my eyes were still blurry, Steve was   heard explaining that I was sick and he'd taken a pain pill rendering him unfit to drive. He was walking down the hall as he spoke, saw me sitting up with the light on, and handed me his phone.

It was Rich. He was looking for a ride home. Details were sparse, and many bounced right off me. I gathered there were problems with his boss and he wanted a ride home from Howard Lake where they were set up for the week. Paul was working overtime Saturday and was also not available to head out to pick him up. Rich finally agreed to try to cool down over Saturday and check in with us again Sunday.

Last night Steve took off in his van to go pick up both Rich and Brenda plus all their gear, run them down to Rochester to pick up her car from where she leaves it over the summer while they're on the road, and then all would return here. Last I heard from Steve was last night when he called to reassure me he'd connected with them in Howard Lake. As soon as the place closed down, they'd be leaving.

Few more details were forthcoming. I'd originally been concerned that Richard quitting would result in the two of them splitting up. That bothered me almost more then his sudden unemployment after years of working with the carnival. Though seasonal, it's been reliable, at least until now. There've been problems along the way, but the two of them have weathered them and supported each other through them. When Brenda got fed up, Rich encouraged her to stick it out, and vice versa. That ended this weekend. Both of then had had enough, including three weeks unpaid. The fact of their consensus was enough to reassure me that this was the right move.

UPDATE: Steve just called. No sooner had the two of them loaded their gear and driven off last night than their boss started calling and texting them on both their phones. The calls were ugly and got threatening. They were both smart enough to save them all. They shared them with a cop when they got to her car about five minutes ahead of the tow truck the boss had called to have her car hauled off. It had already been disabled with two flattened tires. They will be fixing or replacing those this morning once the stores open, and the cop wants a copy of the receipts to get them fixed. Meanwhile everybody spent the night in a Super 8 and are still safe, as Steve reassured me briefly before his cell battery ran out. I'll know more tonight.