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Wednesday, March 20th 2013

12:03 AM

New Lighthouse Images---Always be ready with your Sketchbook!--Plus a little Lighthouse story or two...

  • Mood:
Several years ago, when my children were going to classes at the local JEA (Jewish Educational Alliance), a teacher there saw me sketching one day while waiting for the kids and asked to see my sketchbook. She hadn't realized I was an artist and was excited to ask me if I ever painted lighthouses. Now, I've done many different kinds of artwork, but usually, if there was a lighthouse involved it was part of the background, but I personally adore lighthouses--something about those spears of light projecting out into the night sky over the ocean feels inspirational to me--so we talked about what she was looking for. She had three favorites in mind and wanted 3 small paintings of them, matted and framed for her dining room, which was apparently decorated in a lighthouse theme. I do regret that I was not able to find the notes as to WHICH  lighthouses she asked for, but I DID find the digital copies of the paintings and have added them (with a watermark to prevent someone else using the images) and have added them to the Potpourri section of the site--now you can get the images on T-shirts as well and they look wonderful on white!

Another little lighthouse story. When I moved to Beijing in March 2003 I absolutely loved the city, however, in a few months I found myself missing the ocean. A close friend took me on a trip to QinHuangDao which is a smaller city on the eastern coast. We arrived at night, and, after dropping off our luggage at the hotel, took a walk down to the beach. There, stretching out it's brilliant beam like a great sword of protection into the night sky, was a lighthouse! It suddenly struck me that here I was, on the other side of the world, and there, miles and miles and leagues across the eastern ocean was the western coast of the United States--it was amazing and suddenly made me yearn to see the Tybee Island Lighthouse (at Tybee, just outside my home city of Savannah, GA). I found myself weeping there on that dark beach in China, loving where I was, and yet also missing my old home--if someone had handed me a plane ticket to Savannah, I would not have taken it because I was actually quite happy in China---it was like a second home to me--so I was feeling this double intensity load of emotion all at once: missing home, and yet overwhelmed by a sense of homecoming right where I was. I never forgot that moment....

These images from the original paintings which were sold to the Jewish lady teacher, are now available as prints, in a 5-card set (with envelopes) AND on T-shirts. If you love lighthouses, or know someone who does, won't you pick one up for yourself or a lighthouse lover near you! Light blue or pink or grey shirts are available for an additional $2--just make a note on the Paypal page!

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Friday, March 5th 2010

8:29 AM

Favorite Quotes

  • Mood: contented


"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are
dreamt of in your philosophy."
(Shakespeare)


[The above quote is one of my all time favorites which I've used in signatures, paintings, letters and, of course, my blog. It says so much in just a few words, and is full of depth and vision. I love that it was also used in one of my favorite movies of all, "L.A. Story" with Steve Martin--a twin soul story if ever there was one!]


"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained."
(Marie Curie)

[I found this quote in a biography written by her daughter, Eve, when I was 9 years old--it has inspired me and guided me ever since.]

"Art is not a pastime but a priesthood."
(Jean Cocteau)

"I want to do it because I want to do it."
(Amelia Earhart)
[I think this is about the best answer one can give to people who question your decisions!]

"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."
(Richard Feynman)

[He was a rare genius, full of power, humor, wisdom and curiosity--this is but one of his wonderful quotes.]

"A woman knows the face of the man she loves like a sailor knows the open sea."
(Henri de Balzac)
[This one I have always loved for the sheer romance and truth of it.]

"An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it."
(Gandhi)

"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong."
(Gandhi)


"Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend."
(Beethoven)
[He is for me, one of God's greatest Gifts--an incredible, shining star in the firmament! I have read 6 of his biographies, and his music can move me like no other composer.]

"In the middle of the journey of life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard a thing it is to tell what a wild and rough and stubborn wood this was, which in my thought renews the fear!"
(Dante Alighieri)

"Fundamentally the particle is only an abstraction that is manifest to our senses. 'What is', is always a totality of ensembles which intermingle and interpenetrates each other throughout the whole of space."
(David Bohm)

(speaking of her Visions)
"And I saw no difference between God and our Substance: but as it were all God."
(Julian of Norwich)

[This blessed anchorite and mystic has much to say on the nature of God that, though ancient, seems somehow fresh and brilliant in this modern world--I highly recommend her writings.]


"We should highly rejoice that God dwells in our soul and still more highly should we rejoice that our soul dwells in God. Our soul is made to be God's dwelling place, and the dwelling place of our soul is God who was never made."
(Julian of Norwich)

(on Love)
"Your apprehension draws from some real fact
An inward image, which it shows to you,
And by that image doth the soul attract:
And if the soul attracted, yearns thereto,
That yearning's Love. (XVIII.22-26)"
(Dante Alighieri)

"Consider that men WILL do the same things nevertheless, even though thou shouldst burst."
(Marcus Aurelius)
[Though let's be fair and say that we ladies are the same way!]

";I have been here before./ But when or how I cannot tell:/ I know the grass beyond the door,/ The sweet keen smell,/ The sighing sound, the lights around the shore."
(Dante Gabriel Rossetti)

[He is one of my favorite artists--I simply love his beautiful colors and the radiant lady he painted over and over. His poetry, his spirituality always intrigued me--this quote vibrates delicately with the knowledge of Reincarnation.)

"Degrees of value are objectively present in the Universe. Everything except God has some natural superior, everything except unformed matter has some natural inferior. The goodness, happiness, and dignity of every being consists in obeying its natural superior and ruling its natural inferiors."
(C.S. Lewis)

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Tuesday, March 2nd 2010

3:56 PM

Owning your own home...a Dream Revealed: 2010 Home Buyer Tax Credits

  • Mood: happy
  • Music: Mozart

Having a home of your own, I mean REALLY owning your own house, is a wonderful dream of so many people, including myself. I never could decide if I wanted one in the city or the country, in the middle of the woods or by the ocean. My ideal home would be by the ocean, on a cliff high enough to  be safe from flooding and storms, but with a path that led gently down to the beach. The house would be two story, with an old-fashioned Victorian elevator with ornate ironwork, and a beautiful set of stairs where each step was comfortably big enough for my size 10 1/2s to fit. It would probably have gables, and of course a big porch surrounding it, as well as a balcony for each of the six bedrooms. The kitchen would be large enough for a butcher block workstation with shelves in the middle, and a breakfast nook to the side--lots of cabinet space, with Spanish tiles on the floors and decorating the wall as well. There would be a bathroom for each two rooms, but the master bedroom would have it's own bathroom with his and her sinks & vanities. Big walk-in closets. A big studio facing north with a sky-light and wooden floors. In fact, I like wooden floors in all the house excepting the kitchen and bathrooms. NO wall-to-wall carpeting please! I hate to vacuum and steam-clean!Just think, with the new 2010 Home Buyer Tax Credits I could make all this a reality! Nothing like having a dream come closer to make the head spin!
I think I would also like a platform near the back of the room where I could set up a telescope to watch the stars, and have room for picnics. There would be a big back yard with plenty of gardens, a pavilion, a section with the gas grill and a couple of picnic tables, and a small pond too. There would be trees all around the property embracing the house and keeping it cool in the summer. A large bay window in the living room with a window seat--a fireplace with a long mantelpiece in the living room as well.
If you too dream of your own home, it's not as impossible as you think. There is a new home tax credit that can help you realize your dream. If you are a first-time buyer, someone who has not owned a home in the last 3 years, or a current homeowner who has lived in the house for the last 5 consecutive years out of 8, you can use this incredible new credit--the deadline,though, is April 30, 2010 (close by June 30, 2010-- Coldwell Bankers has a clear and helpful video to show you how, as well as the complete information you need! Just click here to view it!
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Monday, March 1st 2010

1:33 PM

Temple Grandin: A new HBO movie & an Inspiration

  • Mood: amazed and happy


I will be the first to say that HBO's special movies do nothing much for me. I've watched a few and they were, meh, OK, nothing to grab you. However, recently I came across one called "Temple Grandin", and resolved to watch it because of my son Merlin, who has Asperger's Syndrome, a higher functioning form of autism. I was totally amazed, entranced, and fascinated with this story and how Claire Danes completely immersed herself in the role--you do not really see HER, but the character she is playing, whom she brings to life very vividly. Temple Grandin was born with autism, which kept her cut off from the world around her and unable to speak until she was 4 years old. At the time she was born, 1947, autism was still a fairly new diagnosis and its discoverers still struggled with understanding the nature and causes of this disorder. Her mother refused to be held by the precept that autistic children should be institutionalized, and decided to work with her at home, and by her intense efforts in teaching her to speak and write, her structuring of her daughter's time and forcing her gradually into more and more contact with others--all of these an expression of her love and commitment--she made a real difference in Temple's life. Her story is an inspiring and even breath-taking one which I recommend to anyone who has or knows an autistic person.

Because of Temple's autism, her inability to read human emotions and  tones, she gravitated more toward animals, specifically cows, horses and dogs, where she began to see that her disorder actually gave her a deeper understanding of their minds--she felt more comfortable around these animals who wanted only her attention and company, than around humans with whom she had little in common. She spent her summers at her aunt's ranch, where she gained much experience in the nature of the animals, and at her boarding school she excelled in the handling and understanding of horses. The movie shows all of this in a clear and sympathetic light.

Because severely autistic children cannot bear human touch (though some can be trained to accept a handshake or a touch on the arm), many of them go crazy when a parent or anyone else attempts to hug them--their brains are wired in such a way that the hug is too much input, too much stimulation and it sends them often into tantrums of rage. Still though, they are human and require some kind of nurturing touch to grow and thrive--Temple developed a 'hug machine', sometimes called a 'squeeze machine', based on those used to hold and calm cattle when they are being inoculated. She used it to comfort and calm herself when she was overly stressed at school or home. These machines hold the kneeling person with panels on each side, and the chin rests on a soft strap--the sides are closed either by a handle or a special machinery outside. At first, the Freudian psychologist at college interpreted her need for the machine as sexual--though in the movie (as well as in real life) Temple presents a singularly asexual persona. She researched the use of her machine and presented a paper on it to her professor and thus earned the right to have it in her college dorm room without complaint. This all led to her first degree in Psychology.

Her interest and compassion for cattle provided her with her degrees in animal husbandry and she overcame enormous challenges for a woman in a man's business, especially one who was battling autism. The movie is very open on how she was treated by the men in the cattle industry, though it is not one-sided; you also see that her way was made a little smoother by clear-sighted men who seemed to understand that she had a special talent with the animals that made up their world. Her story is really incredible and interesting to watch. Her premise is based on animal welfare, as she plainly states, not animal rights--animal welfare concentrating on the fair and humane treatment of those animals we use as pets, meat and on farms. She eats meat and acknowledges that this is the lot of animals like cattle and pigs, and yet she carries her own special brand of spirituality as shown in the movie: just BECAUSE we end up eating these animals, we owe them a certain amount of respect: they do not need to be treated badly in their short lives, but handled with compassion and understanding.

 Through her keen visual acuity and inventiveness she created an animal dip which kept the cattle calmly moving through it, instead of mooing, jostling, bruising themselves and even, sometimes, drowning. She saw that they preferred to move in circular and curving pattern, not to be forced in straight lines, that they became easily distracted by light and shadow and needed smooth, high walls to walk  through. She also developed a humane alternative to the cruel slaughterhouse methods of herding terrified cattle, who gave off toxins which tainted their meat, through a gentle walkway--the cows would quietly walk through this, stand still, and be peaceful even at the moment of death. Some animal rights activists denounce this, but she is firm in her belief that her method is compassionate and useful--she saw the overall view that we owe the animals we eat that peaceful death before we consume them. One of the things that impressed me was that she saw the connection between their lives and God, that she constantly asked, "Where do they go when they die"--she was genuinely concerned  about it, even asking this question when her favorite professor died.

Her curving cattle dip design

Her slaughterhouse walkway design


Temple's overcoming of many of the challenges of autism made her a internationally well known speaker about the disorder. The movie includes a moment at an autism conference where she draws the audience to herself by her questions and comments on autism. The people are amazed and the many overstressed and frustrated parents of autistic children drink in her words like desert  travelers at an oasis. There is no cure for autism, and yet, through her own life and work, her studies in psychology and her development of the 'hug machine', she gives these people hope that their child can make it in the world, can become useful to themselves and others, and live a full life. On her website you will find a number of books she has written on the subjects of animal welfare & treatment, of understanding the minds and hearts of animals, as well as works on autism.

This movie led me  to do hours of research on Temple Grandin, and later, to have my son Merlin sit down with me and watch it--I wanted him to see her difficulties and struggles, similar and also worse than his own, and how she overcame so many of these obstacles to become a person who could support herself and also reach out to others to help them understand better the autistic and the animal. I hope that you can see this movie for yourself, and be touched by it. I believe it to be the bests that HBO has produced in a long, long time.

* * * On a personal note, my son, Merlin, who has had such a problem finding and keeping work, of dealing day to day with the public, began to make a definite, self-impelled effort to become employed. I believe was inspired by her story. After seeing this, he made up a stack of postcards advertising himself as a worker in plumbing, construction, lawncare and many other areas, stood out in front of Home Depot and Lowes, where he eventually he found a gentleman with a sound & communications installation business who hired him to work. His level of energy, his self-respect and mood have greatly improved--he felt himself trapped in so many ways--willing to work, desperate to work and earn his way in life, but no one would hire him. The fact that he thought up this method of advertising himself, and set out determined to do it makes me so proud. I hope that, in some way, Temple Grandin's story was a help to him.
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Saturday, February 27th 2010

9:51 AM

Human dignity and the Animal World--In praise of our Differences

  • Mood: peaceful
  • Music: buddhist chants


In the last 50 years or so, I have seen a gradual but definite fall in the levels of respect of humans for their own humanity. People seem to equate humanity with the animal kingdom, comparing us to greater apes with an opposable thumb, seeing our more bestial side (wars, genocide, suicide bombings, etc. have made this only too easy), and –with the rise of reality TV, there is now an open theatre for humanity’s stupidity, ignorance and vanity which gives credence to the theory that we humans are just another form of animal. What people forget to see is the good, thoughtful, nurturing side of their fellow humans, the part of us that is uniquely able to reason and to change our environment, and so they do not take into account the dignity of being Human. Whether one takes the view that humans have inherent dignity because it is God-given, or because of our innate ability for creativity, morality, justice and self-knowledge, it is plain that humans ARE different from animals. Yes, we share their physiology, we can be classed as mammals, but to me this shows only that we have a common creator, not that we belong to the Animal world. The difference between even the smartest chimpanzee and the dumbest 3rd grader is even greater than the difference between that chimpanzee and an amoeba.


While I sympathize with animal rights activists, I can also see the harm their work is capable of—yes, it is sad that rats and monkeys must be afflicted with diseases and experimented upon, however, if that experimentation saves the lives of our children, that makes the necessity a moot point. Activists tend to emphasize the likenesses between ourselves and the animal kingdom as a way of promoting sympathy for their own cause, which is, essentially, a good one—nothing shows the dignity and intelligence of a man or woman like the way in which they treat animals and even their fellow humans. If someone is cruel to an animal, or to another human, especially those who are helpless, such as children, the elderly or the disabled, it will lower them in the estimation of their fellows. However, it is a failure of those activists that they often equate the value of animals and humans, and in doing so make us all doubt our own specialness.


When an animal looks up at the sky, it does not ponder the greatness of the universe, wonder about the composition of stars or see his own puniness in comparison to the infinity of space. Humans are unique in this aspect. A chimpanzee, when it uses a stick to dig ants out of a rotten log, indeed uses a tool, but that tool will never change—it will not become iron or bronze, or be improved mechanically or sold to make more tools. A male peacock, for all his gorgeous feathery display, does not think to improve the beauty of his surroundings, he simply shows himself for the benefit of finding a mate. A dog who uses his different tones of barks, growls and howls, does so to gain food, protect his space, or communicates his physical needs to his owner—he is not able to improve his growls into a song, compose music to howl by or write a novel to show how he feels about his environment and family; his verbal ability is extremely limited and has specific goals which will continue his existence and health. Improvements and innovations are the domain of humanity alone.


Another aspect of our two species is that an animal, other than moving to a new area of the woods or ocean, does not change his environment in any meaningful way—he remains trapped by his inabilities. Human kind can build a new house, design a better environment, if only by planting a garden, and can dream of better surroundings. Animals do not dream in the way of humans—they may reenact their daily activities during sleep—hunting, running, mating, fighting—but they do not have the complex psychological theatrics running through their brain that humans do. Our dreams, both as we sleep and as we daydream, can also cause major changes in our lives—to obtain a better job, find a new partner, live in a different country or develop latent skills and talents—our dreams, infinite and varied as they are, are both impetus for change and a catalyst which can transform our daily lives and perceptions.


It is to our credit as humans that we can even consider the ‘feelings’ of animals, that we can work to make their lives better or their time on earth more meaningful—to love an animal, to care for it, to empathize with it, is to bring that animal into a higher state of being: Love changes. Animals can develop deep attachments to those humans who are kind, who actually care about them, and, I believe, in doing so, they lift themselves from the animal group soul to a higher place—interacting with humans can be a way to improve both their own lives and the lives of those who love them. This is a great Gift. I have been asked over and over when a beloved pet dies if their owner will see them in the afterlife, and I always answer with a resounding YES—because in loving and attaching themselves to a particular human, those pets have risen above their simple daily survival mode and been transformed—they can move beyond incarnation from the animal group soul to abide with that beloved human. Our dignity as humans is only enhanced by the care and love with give to our animals.


We live in a world where our interactions with other humans and animals can both upgrade our own lives or bring them into brutal alliances where both are lowered by cruelty and exploitation. This capacity for true good or true evil is OUR unique Gift. We must learn to see the higher level where we exist as special position, apart from our physiological likeness to the animal world—a place where improvements to our species, our creativity and generosity, our awareness of Creation can better the lives of our fellow humans. We must accept that that innate dignity gives us a responsibility to use our differences wisely and well. Animals are trapped by their own instincts for survival but we humans can do much to make their lives and the lives of those around us, more satisfying—we cannot do this if we lower ourselves to the standards of the animal world—we can only improve and make innovations to this world through our own dignity and specialness as Humans.


 

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Tuesday, February 23rd 2010

4:50 AM

Two fun & interesting history books on Food & Beverages by Tom Standage

  • Mood: tired (it's late!) but amused

I just recently finished these two very interesting books by Tom Standage, and wanted to share them with my readers. The subject of both is the ways in which food and drink have manipulated mankind’s history--while it may seem a light subject, upon reading these, you gain a fuller understanding of the huge influence that sustenance has wielded.

 

In the first book “A History of the World in Six Glasses”,  Standage sets the 6 important beverages as:

*BEER

*WINE

*LIQUOR

*COFFEE

*TEA

*COKE

You may not realize how very long beer has been around, but the ancient Egyptians made it from their barley and it was considered an everyday drink for most of them. Standage presents the ancient story of Gilgamesh as containing references to beer, its importance in ritual, and traces how it made its way to Europe to became the national drink for Northern Europeans. Wine is the next covered, and he goes into great detail, beginning mostly with the Greeks, continuing with the Romans and spreading throughout the Middle East and Southern Europe. It’s interesting to note that for centuries, the Greeks and Romans diluted their wine with water, and considered drinking it straight to be barbaric. Liquor, especially rum made from the dregs of sugar production, is seen as a major influence in the slave trade. Coffee is the stimulator of the Age of Reason, a caffeinated beverage that induced intellectuals to discuss and explore and open minds throughout Europe. Tea was the fuel that kept the Industrial Revolution running, and Coke is the very image of America that spreads our culture worldwide even today. All in all a satisfying and entertaining history, well-researched and just plain ole FUN to read!

 

In “An Edible History of the World” one can see how mankind moved from a hunter-gatherer society to one where agriculture was the mainstay, and how the growing of cereal crops such as corn, rice, barley, maize and millet sustained human life for millennia. Standage shows how the growing and storage of crops led to those storage places as temples of worship, and how food was used in warfare and for a show of political power. He also explains how these cereals began as wild foods that humans eventually began to genetically engineer for larger yields—fascinating! Corn was originally grown in Central America and made its way west after Europeans began conquering the native peoples. Potatoes, a seemingly age old staple, came from Peru, and were not accepted at first by westerners—like the tomato, they were considered poisonous, but gradually took over in Europe because they preserved the population from starvation during famines. He also covers the beginnings of food preservation by canning, which greatly increased the storage time and also led to a rise in population. I highly recommend both of his books as very educated without being stuffy, as humorous without losing the seriousness of the subject, and simply filled with interesting connections between food and human history. Read these and you'll have some really choice trivia to enliven any gathering!

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Saturday, February 20th 2010

3:41 AM

Lost in Translation - Weird Signs in China

  • Mood: happy
My friend Bao Huai sent these to me recently--not sure if he took them himself or what, but he and I used to laugh over the absurdities of "Eng-rish" signs in Beijing, so he thought I'd enjoy them. Yeah, I love China, love Beijing and all that jazz, but I still have to laugh at some of the surreal results that translating into another language will bring up there. I wish I'd thought of taking such photos myself, because, believe me, they are EVERYwhere!

(Undoubtedly this is for the delicious baozi, dumplings stuffed with vegies and pork--but oh, that slip of the dictionary makes it more dangerous to consider for lunch!)

(This would be totally weird to most folks but pity the poor she-male/drag queen!)

(No, Chinese do not in general eat dog--though some in Guangdong province might--this is just another strange translation of godonlyknows WHAT!)

(I cannot even begin to translate what they actually meant--care to take a gander?)

(This appears in subway stations a lot, always with mangled translations)


(Um, maybe they mean 'Fresh Herbs'???)

AND PRESENTING MY PERSONAL FAVORITE!...
(From a construction site, but oh, WHAT the imagination can contribute!)

Hope you had a laugh for today! And to my Chinese friends, I'm sure our signs in Chinese would be just as weird, don't worry! Love y'all!
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Monday, February 15th 2010

12:14 PM

Happy Valentine's Day + My Favorite Couples!

  • Mood: warm, good


Ah, Valentine’s Day! I absolutely love it! Every year I look so forward to the day, even when I didn’t have a beloved to celebrate with—and now that I DO, I love it even more. There’s something about all those red hearts, pink roses, white lacey cards, diamond jewelry advertisements and heart-shaped cookies that just sets my heart aglow. Even though my children are grown and out, I still love to shop for Valentine’s Day’s goodies for them—chocolate hearts or lips, flowers, fun Valentine knick-knacks, lipglosses for my daughter, glowsticks for my son, cookies, and of course, the perfect card. This year was no exception. For Raul I don’t usually buy candy, because he’s not really into sweets, but I try to get him something I know he’ll like:  this year it was a great, thick cargo coat with grey flannel lining, to keep him warm in these frosty cold Southern winters (and yes, it DOES get cold down here). He gave me a lovely pair of 10k gold earrings, which I’ve been wearing a lot lately!


This year we celebrated a little early with dinner and a movie (Avatar) on Friday, relaxed on Saturday, and then went to Jimmy’s birthday party on Sunday. It was a small affair but really fun! Some of my favorite people came, including Rosemary, Ricky and Jennifer (Iris’ kids).


(Iris singing a Peruvian Birthday song to Jimmy)

I fixed a big platter of Spanish deviled eggs & olives, and Iris brought her famous chancho (Peruvian pork)—Maria supplied the wine, cake, candies and cheese tray, and we all hung out, laughing, talking and taking photos.


One of their neighbors had had a birthday party a little earlier in the day, and he brought over a bucket of oysters, complete with oyster knives and sauce, and the guys had a field day, slurping them up and getting’ razzed by all the ladies because oysters, as you may not know, are considered an aphrodisiac!


After the party we all went our separate ways to celebrate privately with our honeybears,--which was, of course, my favorite part of Valentine’s Day!

   

This time of year brings to mind those particular couples that I keep close in my heart—couples who have been together many years, some have raised children together, some not, but all of these seem to me to have an especially close bond. It does my heart good to see them together because they're not shy about showing their love and tenderness for each other—you feel this so strongly when you're with them, and it’s a pleasant and hopeful thing to be around. Hopeful, because so many couples these days seem to grow angry, bored or just plain stale after a few years, and end their marriages on these least complaint. These friends of mine genuinely enjoy each others company, and so, when you're with them, you enjoy being around them too! They make any gathering more delightful, more fun, more interesting.


Would they ever divorce? Well, I make no predictions, of course. These particular couples, however, seem to me to be such happily mated, caring, warm and loving people that I take them as an example of what a wonderful marriage can be. It would shock me greatly if any of these ever broke up—really, when you’re around them you just could not imagine such a thing. I know many married couples I like, and I intend no insult to those not included here—these are just the ones that strike me as being the closest, who are still in love in spite of their differences and many years together, who still seem to have that subtle glow of romance and aura of affection and tenderness. So, I’m presenting them here, to honor what Valentine's Day is really about….Love you guys!!!

(Of course I have to include Raul & me, cuz even though we have had only 3 years together so far, it feels as if we have been together much longer, and cannot imagine my life without him! Te quiero, mi amorcito!!!)

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Saturday, February 13th 2010

1:02 AM

Never forget your Guy-Buddies, Ladies!

  • Mood: happy
  • Music: Hindu Chants

 (Iris & her buddy Gary)

Ok, as I was uploading that last entry, it occurred to me that I was writing about only my female friends, and that I really needed to acknowledge—with a big hug!- my wonderful male friends, especially those ones who have been with me so very long, and whom I could hardly imagine life without! I know there are those who say that men and women cannot be friends, but I am here to tell you, that just ain’t so, folks. My guy-buddies have been a source of warmth, friendship, laughter, help and emotional stability for a long, long time, and, other than a brief let’s-try-and-date with one of them, they are all platonic, lovable and a joy to my existence.

(At one of Iris' parties with Carlos & Gary)

Now, I’m a thorough “girly-girl” according to my friends: I love perfume, high-heels, Victorian teas, long skirts and spiral perms, and yet, I need those male pals around—not to pet me or praise me, but to just hang with, talk to, and feed the need for the brother I never got to know (Mark, another long story). I was always closer to my male cousins than my female ones, and my favorite was my gay cousin Paul, tall, dark and handsome, with a fine mind, a creative spirit and the craziest sense of humor this side of Bette Midler on crack. I guess he was the original inspiration for seeking out male friends, and I never looked back!

(Alvin, Sobeida's hubby with his fake beard, and Rosie's John, at Halloween--two great guys that always make a party better!)

At social gatherings, except with my mom & sisters (where the vibe is distinctly female, bitchy and rather loud), I tend to be drawn to the area where the guys are smoking, bullshittin’ and laughin’, while the beer bottles go round and round. I like to hear their deep voices, smell the pipes & cigars, enjoy their naughty, politically incorrect sense of humor, and even try my hand at some Spanish translation with my Latino buds. I just like being around all that intense male energy! When I worked at the Catholic school, it was all women teachers, with one small exception of the computer tech who came in once a week, and I just craved some masculine vibes around there—all the bitchy, paranoid, suspicious females and their intrigues, their fake nicey-nice smiles, and jealousies just drove me NUTS! Oh, what I would have given for one tall, hefty, warm-hearted, red-haired football coach, or perhaps an insouciant, intellectual, black French teacher to laugh with! But alas, none appeared while I was there.

(Wayne, looking really young, holding my daughter, Melantha)

I’ve had my red-haired guy who was like a brother, Wayne, in my life since my daughter was a baby. He was dating my sister Lori at the time, who later threw him over, but somehow he just kept hangin’ around the family, and eventually just became part of it. He’s a chubby Santa of a guy now, with his beautiful red hair and  beard almost completely white, but he still thrills over the new Star Trek movie with me, and grills one of the best damned steaks around. My kids love him, and he has always been a part of their lives as they've grown. He's a warm-hearted guy who loves his family, his brother and sister & their kids, and is the best Uncle ever. I always feel so comfortable and at home in his little carriage house apartment, and we've spent many an hour there drinking whiskey & Mountain Dew and watching episodes of Babylon 5 or Star Trek. We're planning a cook-out at his place before this February ends and I'm bringing his favorite red-potato salad!

(My Georgy, a few years back, with his hair still black and curly!)

George I met through my daughter’s real father, who I dated in school—they were best friends and David kept saying, “You gotta meet George—I just have this definite feeling you two would hit it off big time”—and we did! He walked into the livingroom at David’s house one weekend, I looked up, somehow “recognized” him immediately (though I’d never even seen a photo) and said, “Oh, there you are! It’s so good to see you again!”—at which he answered,”Yes, it’s great to see you again too, it’s been SOOooo long!”—everybody fell OUT, but honestly, that’s how it went! He was a spiritual guru of mine for years, an emotional pillow to cry on, and just the best friend a girl could ask for.

(Mikey at a party at their house-full of good beer and good cheer!)  Mike—or Mikey, as I like to call him—is my friend Iris’ hubby, and one of the sweetest guys I know. He obviously adores Iris and I love being around the two of them. He’s Peruvian but was born in Chicago, and has a distinct dry humor and sense of self that definitely belongs to the home of Da Bears! He’s a damned good step-father to her three kids, a hard-workin’ guy, and he’d give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. I love his smile, his way with a rum and coke, his patience with family politics and the way he turns into a big kid when he gets really toasted. He, Iris, Raul and I are usually the last ones to leave a party, and he is just a great guy to hang around with. You can talk to him about anything, and whatever scrapes against his American no-nonsense masculinity, he’ll letya know right off! But he is always humorous, never unkind, and has a level head when you need one. Besides Raul and my Grandpa Bland, he's one of my all-time favorite Aries!

(BH at "1001 Nights" in Beijing)

Bao Huai is a good friend of mine in China—a bisexual, bizarre and intense Scorpio with a gift for language & self-promotion. He held the most fabulous parties with a rainbow of international guests, and was continually promoting me as his famous American-Beauty/Artist/Psychic friend all around Beijing. He is multi-talented, intellectually curious, and veers between extreme sexuality and Buddhist asceticism--he also has interesting taste in decor (love his apartment!). We met when I first moved to Beijing, and we spent many hours drinking and partying at The Elephant, a favorite Russian club of ours. He calls me his "non-physical soulmate and soul-sistah". We had some great times together and still write to each other--his letters are always a treat!

(Danny & I at his Halloween party last year)

Danny you may know if you have looked through my studio website, Angel Illuminations (http://www.angelilluminations.com) -his portrait is right on the homepage and is included in the Portraits section as well. I met him 3 years ago at the Savannah Greek Festival, where I saw this dark, beautiful young man standing by his mom, and decided right away I had to PAINT him! He ended up coming to lots of our parties, meeting Iris and Sobeida and Rosie and just being a never-ending source of drama, humor, creativity and fun—he’s also a GREAT drag queen!


Last, but not least, is my computer Genii, Falko. We met back in 1984 through a guy I was dating, Philip—Falko was the computer tech at the engineering firm where Philip worked. We went there one night so Philip could work on his project for an hour or two before we went to dinner—he told me to go in and talk to Falko because we had so many interests in common, and indeed, we did! We ended up gabbin’ for 4 hours! He later upgraded the computer that Wayne had given me (my FIRST one), and taking into consideration I was a single mom on a limited income, said he'd take just a home-cooked meal for payment--that started a fine tradition that holds up even today. He would come over for a visit, fix the computer, and end up with me and the kids, chatting for hours around the table. His wife wasn’t that fond of cooking at the time, so he seemed to really enjoy the meatloafs, spaghetti, German sausage and desserts, and would usually stay late, talking, laughing, and teaching—because he is, at heart, a Teacher, a sharer of knowledge. He is also one of the kindest, more loyal and honorable men I know. He has been such a help to me over the years, a good friend, and a source of joy in my life. Recently I learned he had cancer, and wept as if he were my own brother—which, in a way, he is!

I love all my guy-buddies dearly, and these are only just the top 6! They have loved me, stuck with me, kidded me, teased and put up with my quirkiness for years, and I adore them, each in his own way. Any woman would consider herself lucky to have friends such as these, and honestly, I just don’t know what my life would’ve been like without them. Double hugs, youse guys!

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Thursday, February 11th 2010

11:33 AM

All about Friends

  • Mood: happy
  • Music: Buddhist chants


I was watching “The Women” (2008, w/ Meg Ryan et al.) the other night and immediately thought of something I wanted to write about. Friends. Such a lovely word, eh? Did you ever stop to think of the different kinds and levels of friendship we indulge in? How about the “shit-to-goodies-ration” (thank you, Sylvia, for that pungently descriptive phrase)--the measure of the good to bad in the relationship? As Sandy (Terri Garr) says to Michael (Dustin Hoffman) in “Tootsie”, “No, we are not friends. Friends. I don't take this shit from friends. Only lovers.” I’m kinda the opposite—shit I take from my friends, no WAY would I take from my husband. Would you let your boyfriend call to say he’s coming over for lunch, then never show up or even call? Would you put up with your guy smokin’ dope on your back porch at Christmas time, when you live right around the corner from the police station? How would you react if your best friend forgot your birthday? Or borrowed your favorite embroidered Mexican blouse which you KNOW you will never see again? I can tell you—if my husband borrowed my things and lost them, or forgot my birthday, there would be hell to pay. And yet, I’ve dealt with those same things from girlfriends. When is enough, ENOUGH all ready?


Maybe it’s chick thing. Women put up with a lot to be close, so they can say that ‘Yeah, I have a BFF’. Because our friends know us in ways that perhaps our mates do not—women pay attention to details. “Yeah, that’s a lovely necklace he got her for her birthday—if she were skinny and 16 again!”“I could tell you’ve been feeling depressed, so come on over here RIGHT NOW and I’ll fix you a glass of iced mocha coffee with whipped cream & chocolate shavings—and don’t forget the whiskey!” “No, I didn’t forget she hates cilantro in her salad—I made this one especially for her!” Like picking out a pair of shoes for you—the backless kind with the perfect 3-inch chunky heel (she knows you hate high spiked heels now) and in just the right shade of pale yellow (because she remembers that you are totally into this light butter yellow shade this summer). That’s a valuable thing, a precious commodity! So, we put up with amazing amounts of crap to keep that ego-nurturing in gear.


Then there are the different kinds of friends and how they mix. There’s the party-hearty-vaguely-white-trash gal with whom you love to hit the bars (and once, long ago, you shared some fine herb with) whom you would never ask to lunch with your educated and funky artist friends. There’s the manic, talkative, immensely interesting friend who would probably give you the shirt off her back, yet somehow would not mix well with the old college friend with whom you were close-to-for 20-years-but-now-don’t-talk-to-much. There’s the interesting Avon lady with the fabulous deals who spends an hour or so talkin’ shit and laughin’ at your house, but who would probably be bored with the conversations you have with Chinese students at The Sentient Bean. Or the emotionally fragile and very conservative cousin who is warm-hearted, but who would be scandalized at your Latin parties where you drink way too much and dance salsa at 3am. I mean, there’s levels of friendship, recipes of mixtures that work, and some that wouldn’t.

(ewww, I know, so cutesy, but I wuv-em!)

I’m grateful for all my girlfriends. There are friends who are younger than me, like Rosemary, age 18, a curvy Peruvian chick with a kind Virgo heart, who LOVES Dr. Gregory House almost as much as I do. My lovely, lively, fun-loving group of Latinas who make every party so special, each birthday so memorable--even though my conversational Spanish sucks. The school nurse who was my mother’s age who confided in me at work and always remembered I loved Chick-Filet for lunch. The artist friend who liked my artwork, and gave me a place in her gallery shows. The 10-years-older Leo who inspires me and talks my ear off, remembers I smoke Pall Mall, Menthol 100s and loves McDonald’s Hot Mocha in the afternoon. So many friends through the years I couldn’t name them all. I thank my lucky stars for them. They have driven me nuts at times, irritated the helloutta me, sometimes even overdosed on my couch—and yet…I could rarely call them boring. And, one and all, they had that special touch of closeness, attention to detail and warm heart that I love, so that, always, whether they are down the block or half-way round the world -in spite of their frailties—and whether or not we "are speaking" at the moment--I still love them and call them Friend.


(Jennifer, Iris, Moi, Rosie & Sobeida @ my birthday party last year)

(Me & Sylvia @ Boo's birthday party, about 2002)

P.S. Any entry on friendship would not be complete without my daughter, Melantha Naomi--she is one of the crystalline JOYS of my life and she is definitely one of my BEST friends, always has been, always will be. She holds a high and special friendship in my heart. My niece Annie, who is my sister Lori's daughter, I always said SHOULD have been mine. I think of her as a friend as well, and am happy when she confides in me.


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Monday, February 8th 2010

4:08 PM

Enjoying another Pisco Day!

  • Mood:
  • Music: Salsa!

(The Peruvian Association of Savannah put on the party on February 6th, 2010)

Once again it’s that first Saturday in February, and that means we celebrate Peru’s National Pisco Day, and my Peruvian husband and our friends all gather to dance and party and feast and enjoy each other’s company while celebrating that wonderful white grape brandy—the national drink of Peru! We all met at Sobeida’s neighborhood clubhouse, brought Peruvian goodies to eat, and Raul was the DJ. He played a great list of salsa, meringue and other Latin music all night, and helped create a cheerful atmosphere.


 He had also made a pan of papas rellenas, a Peruvian dish of mashed potatoes stuffed with beef, olives and eggs, then deep fried—needless to say, they disappeared fast! It IS wonderful to have a man who cooks, yes, indeedy! At New Years, for Jorge’s party he had made them as well, and even cold, they are SO good, that they were all gone in about 10 minutes!


Well, we hauled ourselves out in cold, rainy weather to go and though it was like sitting in a freezer sometimes, when we went out to smoke, it was still a great night.


Rosemary, Iris’ daughter came as well, and I was so happy to see her! We sat outside a lot smoking and talking, while another couple of young people joined us. We got into this conversation about anime and how teens love the style, at which point I had to interject some information—many American kids adore anime and go to sushi bars here, and end up crazy about Japan, but they do not research the history of the country or look very deeply into it. I’m all for Asian culture, but when they asked me why their Chinese friends hated Japan, I gave them a history lesson.

(Me & Miss Rosemary)

Iris had us all toast with Pisco Sours, which are always delicious. The original recipe calls for pisco, plenty of fresh lime juice, fresh egg whites and sugar, then place the mixture in a blender, pour it out and sprinkle a little cinnamon on top-magnifico! That night they used a pisco sour mix, then put on a bit of Angostura bitters—another way of drinking it (but my favorite is with FRESH lime juice), then Iris performed a Peruvian dance with the Pisco on the floor, swirling around the bottle and generating much applause.



Our friend John and his Peruvian wife Rosemary also came, with their two precious little ones. John is about my daughter’s age, and he’s one of those guys who may be considered a little freaky in the evening at parties, but is all business during the daytime—a lesson he has been instructing Merlin in! His kids are so pretty, with smooth olive complexion, and we often kid him about the amount of his genes that apparently were subsumed by Rosemary’s—they both look just like her!


Iris serving delicious Peruvian dishes: Cau cau, papas rellenas, papas a la huancaina, arroz con leche and much more!


The two best lookin' ladies in purple that night!


Our girls just wanna have fun! Sobeida & Iris livin' it up!


Sobeida and Iris both chose black and white outfits, along with Rosemary in black & silver--I think we all made some good lookin' Latinas (with me as an honorary Latina-by-marriage!)


The hostess toasts the DJ--Salud!


We had a great time, and I maintained a nice buzz all through the evening--which is a goal of mine at these get-togethers. Not drunk! Just sort of pleasantly inebriated. One warning though. When the rum ran out I had no recourse than to find something else (NOT beer) to nourish my party-buzz, so I mixed a big cup of pisco and Coke---EEEEEGADS! It was awful! Even after I added a teaspoon of the pisco sour mix, it was barely tolerable...bleeeeeeh! Something about the taste of pisco is just diametrically opposed to COKE! It may be a white liquor, like rum or vodka, but don't make the mistake of mixing it like them or you WILL regret it!
We ended the evening by drinking a chocolatey, half-frozen, coconut milk and cream confection that Alvin, Sobeida's husband had brought along--it was superb!! I'll post the recipe here if he lets me have it later! I love Pisco Sour Day!


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Monday, February 1st 2010

2:53 PM

Experimenting with Chinese-style illustration

When I was living in Beijing, I sent my daughter four books of ancient Chinese stories, including "Moonlight Pavilion", "The Peach Blossom Fan", and a couple of others--she never did read these, though they have English on one side and Chinese on the other, and gave them back to me in November. These contain small black and white illustrations in a distinct linear style that I always loved. One of my best points in drawing is a certain strength (and sometimes purity) of line, and I always find it easier to whip up a quick line drawing than do a soft sketch. I was looking up images during Christmas to paint on the scented-candles-in-a-jar which I gave to some folks as gifts, and ended up grabbing a couple of those Chinese books into the studio. One of them, "The Moonlight Pavilion" contained a line drawing of the two main male characters: Tuoman Xingfu (on the left) and Jiang Shilong (right). Something just struck me about the clean lines and quick impression and so I stopped my painting for a bit to quickly sketch out the picture. The result is what you see here. I may put up a couple more later, because I really enjoyed doing this one! Your opinions are welcome!




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Friday, January 29th 2010

10:51 AM

Ouija & Chinese Spirit Writing--Comparisons & Warnings

  • Mood: curious, thoughtful
  • Music: Enya


Recently, my friend Bao Huai in Beijing sent me a letter asking if I’d heard of fairy writing or sand writing, which he thought was similar to Ouija. Bao Huai is writing a movie script about a haunted garden in the Forbidden City so he wanted to have his sources straight. I’ve often wondered where the Ouija board came from and how old it actually is. Given that most ancient societies had some way of communicating with spirits, I thought it unlikely that the Ouija board was a “new” invention. Upon doing my research I found that the Chinese have something similar, begun sometime around 1000 years ago. It is called 扶乩 (fú).

I’m sure most people know about the “game” Ouija, which is not actually a game, but is a board with letters and numbers, the sun and moon, Yes & No, printed on it. It uses a device called a planchette--a triangular plastic piece on 3 very short legs (tipped in felt to make it move smoothly) & a clear window through which you can see the letters/numbers. Two people use the planchette, placing their fingertips lightly on one side or the other, and then ask questions of the spirit world.


Fuji is the Chinese version, probably the ancestor of Ouija, which requires two people who hold either a peach/willow twig, or in some areas, a basket shaped rather like a turtle shell with a pointer—they are called ‘jishou乩手 "planchette hands". The Chinese call upon a ‘shen’ "spirit; god" or ‘xian’ "immortal; transcendent", usually a specific entity, rather than simply addressing whatever spirit happens to be around at the moment (like many Westerners do). Since Chinese writing uses characters, not the ABCs, a table or special flat box, covered or filled with a shallow layer of sand is used instead of a flat board—the planchette will then write the characters in the sand. There are three essential helpers who are thus needed to operate this medium:  1) a ‘dujizhe讀乩者 "planchette reader" who actually reads off the characters as they are written; 2) a ‘chaojizhe抄乩者 "planchette copyist" whose job is to write down and record what is written; and a ‘pingsha平沙 "level sand" who smoothes out the ‘shapan沙盤 "sand table" when the next character needs to be written.


The Chinese, when using fuji, are very careful and respectful of the spirits they are addressing, and before this ritual is performed, incense it lit, spells are recited, and a charm written on a special yellow paper, called a ‘piao’, that calls up the specific spirit, god/dess or immortal. They understand that performing fuji is a ritual fraught with great importance and deserving a somber attitude, unlike most Westerners, who take the Ouija board as a kind of party game. I think it is interesting, as well, that the Chinese consider that the planchette is not moved by only the gods OR by the ones holding the planchette, but is moved by the mutual cooperation of both. During the Song dynasty, fuji was also used to summon the spirits of dead poets, who would compose poetry for the participants, so it was not always used to ask questions.


Now as to the Ouija board: it is the descendant of various means of divination that arose during the mid to late 19th century during the Spiritualist movement. The board that most people are familiar with today, with it’s natural wood color and black graphics of the sun, moon, etc. was made popular by the game company Parker Brothers. Ouija was very popular in the 1920’s and 30s, and even the great illustrator Norman Rockwell painted its use on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.


To anyone thinking of using the Ouija board, let me issue this warning: IT IS NOT A GAME AND IS NOT TO BE USED LIGHTLY FOR ENTERTAINMENT!! I say this from the depth of my own experiences with it, and those of my family. Keep in mind that there are many, many worlds beyond the one which we perceive moment to moment, with entities who are fully functional, active and eager to communicate with us. Would you go out into the dark night, blindfolded, and grab anyone who came your way and drag them into your home to answer questions? I think not. However, this is what most people who use the Ouija board do when they just sit down and start calling out to the spirit world.


If you feel you must use the Ouija board, take a hint from those people who have been using something similar for the past thousand years, the Chinese. To convert this into Western terms: draw a circle of white chalk or salt around the table and chairs where the board is to be read. You would draw the circle, leave a small space for you and your partner to walk into it, then enter and close the circle. Light incense and use a WHITE candle for purity. Say a prayer of protection and call on the power of the WHITE LIGHT to watch over and surround you. Announce that ONLY spirits aligned with the White Light may enter the circle. Compose your requests respectfully, then put your hands to the planchette. If at any time during the session you contact a spirit who is cursing, hypersexual, blasphemous, vengeful or angry, TAKE YOUR HANDS OFF THE PLANCHETTE, dismiss the spirit, and immediately ask God/dess to protect you—I also visualize angels surrounded me and my partner.


After the session is over—whether the spirits were negative or positive--, and this is VERY important, call on the power of the White Light once more and thank, then DISMISS the spirits who have answered you. ONLY when you feel the air around you is positively charged and clear, should you break the circle and walk out. I cannot stress this enough—to use the Ouija you must take these precautions, which are actually the bare minimum. I may write later on an incident or two that happened in my own family, but for the moment, do yourself a favor and play it SAFE.

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Monday, January 25th 2010

1:41 AM

"Poorly Made in China" or why Chinese products are sometimes Dangerous

 

Anyone who reads my blog knows how much I love China, her people and culture. I read a lot of books, from novels to marketing, history to economics, and more, on China and I would like to talk about one of these: Paul Midler’s “Poorly Made in China”. Now, this is not an indictment against the Chinese—keep in mind there are multiple levels of reasoning behind why things work the way they do there, and I blame neither the Chinese nor the Americans behind the recent incidents in the past year or so of various items that have proved to be contaminated or poorly constructed from Chinese factories. What I want to do is simply present some of the facts and let you in on how things like melamine in dog food or lead in Barbie dolls may come about. His book, along with Alexandra Harney’s “The China Price” will open your eyes as to why these problems occur. It is a complex story that I will only partially divulge here, but I encourage you to read these two books if you want the details.

 

Americans (and other nations, but I’m dealing with my own people here) want low prices, as low as we can get, on many items we buy every day, every week—our economy is riding out a recession and times are tough. When our importers found that China was quoting extraordinarily low prices for their products, many retailers hastened to sign contracts without really getting to know the culture or the people they were buying from—and this leads to major problems. Midler, who is a sort of liaison between Chinese manufacturers and Western importers/retailers, uses the example of one of his bigger clients to show how these problems occur. When the “China Price” is quoted to the Westerner, he was amazed, wondering how they could give such a low price. The Chinese manufacturer, a fairly new business called King Chemical, wanted the business of this big importer, and even set up a temporary fake factory, full of busy workers, to impress him. New manufacturers will do anything to get that first order—once they can say, I work for THAT big company, other orders will follow. They give a low, low price per unit to get that business—in this initial phase of negotiations the Chinese are helpful, happy, eager to please. So, the importer/retailer sends them the specs for the product line—in this case, it was a line of personal care items such as shampoo, body wash and lotions. Very specific instructions from how the bottle and label should look, to the chemical composition of the products are given to the Chinese manufacturers—be assured of that!

 

The manufacturer takes a profit loss on these products, and so he had to begin, very subtly at first, to shave off a small amount of plastic from the bottle, or use a cheaper brand of chemical or scent, make the label a bit smaller—all things that would not be noticed right away. The more they scrimp on the original design, the more money they save to go into their own pockets--Midler used bottles as one example. In the beginning, the first couple of shipments were perfect, and then things started to get a little dicey.  Eventually, after a few months, there were complaints from the retail stores that the shampoo bottles were not holding up, the walls of the bottle were too thin and broke during shipment causing a mess—at one point the bottles were not much more than slightly stiffened bags! In another case, the shampoo had begun to gel up instead of flowing smoothly, especially in cold areas of the country. The Chinese way is to keep things pleasant and not to cast blame too much OR accept blame either.  Thus when confronted with these problems it was difficult, to say the least, to get an explanation, especially if the Chinese seemed at fault. King Chemical even refused to show their product ingredients recipe to the importer! This situation is known as “quality fade” and it is nearly impossible, with the low quotes, to avoid this problem in Chinese manufacturing. Most factories do not have on-site Western monitors to keep up with how the products are made, and, in their opinion, if something needs to be fixed, the onus is on the importer/retailer. When the shampoo turned out so shoddy that it could not even be sold in China itself, the importer was expected to take care of chemical testing studies and pay for them himself. Such studies are extremely expensive, and most of the time, folks, the importer/retailer passes the responsibility onto the consumer, and hopes he won’t notice the difference.

 

Another problem, one of sanitation and contamination, is addressed in Midler’s book: he notices a young man with scaly, red, peeling hands filling body wash bottles, and asks the manager why that worker is still on the line--this, to the factory manager, is a cultural/moral dilemma—why take that worker off the line? He is fast and does good work—if you take him off the line he will perceive it as an insult or a punishment, so, he stays! Midler says he stopped using body wash after this, of any kind! This is all just the tip of the iceberg, folks. This problem of “quality fade” reaches into all areas of industry, from buttons that pop off your sweater because of cheap thread, to cheaply made metal parts that cause your cell phone to break down, or melamine-laced dog food that kills your pooch. Our importers/retailers are so eager to get that low price, and the pressure to keep it low is huge for the Chinese manufacturer, thus, the game goes on.


(Workers who lost fingers while working in their factory)

Not mentioned too much in Midler’s book is the case of the workers, the killer hours (usually 16 hour shifts, 1 or less weekends off a month), poor safety measures,  bullying and exploitation, health problems, crowded living conditions. When you look at the “China Price” for any item, these things should be taken into consideration as well. It is not a case of “sneaky” Chinese trying to put one over on greedy Americans—there are, as I said, many levels of reasoning and before judgments are handed out, it is best to do a lot of research.


Other excellent books on this include Leslie T. Chang’s “Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China” ,  or James McGregor’s “One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China”, both excellent and informative books, easy to read and memorable as well.

"In the end, as much as the responsability seems to lie with Beijing, it also lies with the global consumer. Our appetite for the $30 DVD player and the $3 T-shirt helps keep jewelry factories filled with dust, illegal mines open and 16-year olds working past midnight."     Alexandra Harney, “The China Price”

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Wednesday, January 20th 2010

3:25 AM

Assault on Innocence--Dream Ballet from "Oklahoma"


This afternoon my daughter Melantha came over for a visit, and brought “Oklahoma!” for us to watch—it’s a family favorite and I loved every minute of it! If you have seen the original Oscar & Hammerstein movie with Gordon McCrae and Shirley Jones, you know how it can bring a smile to your face. One of my favorite parts of the movie is the Dream Ballet sequence, where Laurey, pondering over what to do about her two beaux Curly and Jud, takes a whiff of the ‘Elixir of Egypt’ and falls into a dream. The parts of Laurey and Curly are taken by two professional dancers and the whole sequence is played with no words, only music, ballet and evocative gestures. Laurey is a Maiden, virginal, sweet and naïve, and though the dancer who portrays her is perhaps not quite as young, she manages to delicately convey the character’s innocence. You see her being courted by Curly, then amongst her friends who are preparing her for the wedding.


 A white veil floats from the sky, the maidens gather it up, and take Laurey off to don a lovely white wedding dress. She walks up to her beloved, with her head bowed under the white veil, however it is not Curly who lifts the veil, but the corrupt and evil Jud Fry. He drags her off to a saloon filled with beautiful but hard-faced women dressed in black & dark-colored dresses with low necklines and shortened skirts, patterned stockings, and elaborately styled hair dressed with tall black feathers.

I always relish the complete contrast between the Maiden Laurey and the Whores. She runs for help from woman to woman, from man to man at the gambling tables, but receives only stares—in this nightmare no one will help her. She knows nothing of such women and their lurid lifestyles--her expression is horrified and a little dazed.


Three of them, two short red-heads and a tall, dark woman with a cold face, walk up to her, to a rendition of Ado Annie’s “I Can’t Say ‘No’” made up of squawking brass horns—they lift their ruffled skirts to expose long legs sheathed in fancy stockings, shaking their petticoats at her with a smirk on their faces. Laurey looks shocked as the tall dark one drags her up, rips her white dress off her shoulder and tosses her to Jud—the woman then walks away with a roll of the shoulders as if to say, “That’s how things are, babe—get used to it!”


There are men who hang around the bar, groping the women—the backdrop is deep glowing red, with a fiery black chandelier hanging down from the ceiling—the grinning men grab the whores and dance crazily with them hillbilly style, and at one point they hold the women up like stiff, painted dolls. The whores hold up their legs and spread them open--even with ruffled panties, the idea is very plain—their rigid poses, arms squared and draped loosely at the elbow, legs up, heads tilted to the side, expressionless face tells us exactly what they are: puppets, sex toys used by the men; pretty, lifeless playthings who serve as receptacles for male Lust. All the time Laurey is watching horrified, yet somehow fascinated.


One of the men grabs her and throws her to the group of whores, who make her join their dance, though she does so with her hands covering her eyes. Then Jud, thinking that she is now ready to be ravished, takes her roughly by the arm—she escapes him and runs up a tall set of stairs that seem to lead nowhere, but actually are the entrance to the whore’s hallway of rooms…Laurey is trapped--Curly comes up to try and defend her but is strangled to death by Jud. . Jud seizes her and carries her off. The dream ends in a haze of red smoke.


I remember seeing this movie when I was young and innocent, and though, by modern standards, the sexuality of the movie and the brutality of the Dream Sequence Saloon scene is rather muted, it came through very clearly to me. I was wide-eyed, watching the Maiden in her white dress being surrounded by ‘bad women’: vampiric, hard as diamonds, yet darkly beautiful. I felt the pull of the dichotomy presented—yes, sex is a shadowy world where women, no matter how beautiful, were used by men—and yet I also hoped for that noble and handsome prince/cowboy to appear in my life to save me from the profane passions of the users, the cads, the perverted. It is a powerful part of the film and always made me sit up and take notice.

** I have shortened the description of the dream sequence here, but I suggest you rent the movie and take a look at it. It is highly symbolic but perfectly presented: the music, the backdrops with glowing red (lust) or a swirling cyclone (representing death and destruction), the costumes, the gestures, the choreography—all of it just superb!

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Saturday, January 16th 2010

12:05 AM

A new interest--the Stock Market--and a great company: Origen Agritech

  • Mood:

A good friend of mine, Mary Ann R., was a successful day-trader for many years until she sort of burned out on it and went back to teaching for a while. These last few weeks she has been telling me a lot about stock market trading and I've been doing some research on my own. One of the things she recommends is picking 3-6 stocks and watching them like a hawk for 6 months -minimum!- before even attempting to trade. In other words, LEARN the stocks, up and down, backwards and forwards, research them all over the WWW, in chatrooms, Forbes, Yahoo, Motley Fool, wherever you see them online. Find out all about the CEOs, the upper level officers and the history, the splits, everything. Recently she was watching a stock, Origin Agritech, listed as SEED on the NASDAQ, a company in China that is creating hybrid seeds, mostly with corn, rice, cotton and canola. The office is in Beijing, but the Chinese name of the company, Ao RuiJin, indicates perhaps it was started in RuiJin county, Ganhou city, Jiangsi province, which is eastern China, somewhat near Fujian.

I think this is going to be a company to watch. Here is some of what I've found, which I posted in a letter to Mary Ann last week. She had been seen the company sitting at a low of $2.15 a share and wanted her daughter, who does all the  trading now, because she felt it was going to go up. Unfortunately her daughter did not want to deal with a Chinese stock and missed an opportunity to make a LOT of $$ because the stock zoomed to over $12 a share (this was in November 09). However, Mary Ann has continued to watch and study the stock--the following is an email I sent her on it:
<<Have you been reading up on SEED? Seems that the low you saw, then the big high was not the first of it's kind--Origin's shares reached all-time highs of more than $17 in early 2006 before beginning a long slow descent and then crashing in early 2009, sinking to less than $2. The company's been around since 1997 according to the profile on Yahoo--though a Businessweek article states that Origin was created from a merger of Chardan China Acquisition Corp. & privately-held State Harvest Holdings Limited on Nov. 8, 2005. According to the message boards, it's still a decent, but volatile stock--better for day trading than long-term investing though. Last Monday Fidelty disclosed in an SEC filing that it had acquired nearly 3 million shares of Origin Agritech, so I'm sure that was the source of last week's spike. However, just to play the devil's advocate here, Bill Nasgovitz, of  Heartland Advisors value fund, sold his entire stake in Origin in late 2009 -- some 3.8 million shares, or 16.7% of the company--because, he says, he thinks the stock price has run too high. The analyst Joe Giamichael, of Rodman & Renshaw, however, is backing Origin all the way.

Two thoughts to consider...

On the negative side--TWo years ago China and Japan had a run-in over GM rice which was said to have been poisoned by a dangerous insecticide, leading to a verified 10 deaths in Japan (from rice dough used in dumplings). The scientist at the heart of the scandal, Zhang Qifa, who is described as "China's leading biotechnology scientist", is associated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, an institution that Origin works closely with. Although there are no apparent ties between him and Origin, any whiff of impropriety on its part and the damage to Origin's reputation could be irreparable.

On the positive side--China has laws prohibiting any foreign company from selling GM seeds domestically (except for cotton seed), so that is going to knock out the biggies like Monsanto and DuPont from operating as competitors to SEED.>
>
Now, I should say, right off, I am a total NEWBIE to the stock market investment scene, though I have done a lot of studying lately and have 5 books waiting for pickup at my local library. This is  the first entry I've ever done on stocks,and there will probably be more later on, as  discover interesting companies and other information. I am sailing in unknown waters. NO, I don't plan to invest right away, but when I do I will go with Scott Trade--$500 to open an account and only $7 for each trade--can't beat that! I'll do all my own research. Watch this blog for more upcoming info and news!

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Saturday, January 9th 2010

9:04 PM

Remembering Hunter S. Thompson: Mad, bad & dangerous to know

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Many readers I'm sure are familiar with the comic strip 'Doonesbury', Trudeau's iconic and compelling pseudo-saga of 60's characters that age with time, and experience life in all it's craziness--Mike Doonesbury,  Zonker, Joanie, Rick, BD--but my favorite, all-time character in the series was always Uncle Duke, based on the look, life and times of the infamous writer, Hunter S. Thompson. I never tired of reading about Duke's insane exploits, and would devour any Doonesbury book that contained anything about him. Thompson hated the character, based on an alias of his, but I always found him entertaining in the extreme.  I discovered Hunter S. Thompson's work back in the early 1980s and never looked back. I was amazed by his piercing mind, crazed view of life, chaotic talent and vitriolic commentaries, and ended up collecting all his books. 
Well, recently, while roaming through my files after I got my computer back from the shop--in bigger, better format--I found an image I'd created to commemorate the death of Hunter S. Thompson. I was living in Beijing at the time, and saw online that he had killed himself--not entirely surprising, but still shocking in its own way. I am including the illustration here, along with the first and last paragraphs of the article I wrote the night I found out the news.

<<

The Great Gonzo’s Comet Explodes Over Colorado  
24 Feb 2005
 
 Ding, dong, the King is dead! Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, that mad, bad and
dangerous god of Gonzo journalism, has finally cashed in his chips. On the
cold, grey morning of February 20th he stuck a pistol in his mouth and sent
his brains hurtling the length of the leopard-print carpet of his Woody
Creek mountain compound in Colorado -- a death that amazed, but
 somehow did not surprise, those who knew him well. For a man whose hallucinatory
writings and vodka-soaked vitriol incited writer’s envy and high political
teeth-gnashing, who spent fine afternoons shooting propane tanks with a .357
Magnum, or dosing himself with the pineal extract of male iguanas, his was
the ultimate Exit--not for the Grand Gonzo sad days of depression and
despair, wasting away in a hospital after an accident had almost crippled
him last year. Even his final request, to have his ashes shot from a cannon,
has given fans one last chance to salute his individual brand of bad
craziness.
****<these are the 1st and last paragraphs only--copyrighted 2005>
Did the great Gonzo fall prey to despair? Did he accidentally shoot off
one of the many guns he had stashed around the property, as some have
suggested? Was it a fatal loss of courage or a lightning strike of insanity?
Looking back over his life and work, I believe he decided it was simply time
to leave this crazy place, his physical body just crashed and burned for the
last time, like an exploding star, and could no longer support that
simmering and poisonously gifted mind. My only real surprise is that he
didn’t take the house and family with him, in a grand flaming finale. He
left a glowing streak across the sky and a corpus of work that will cause
generations to wonder, be appalled, amazed, disgusted, fascinated and reach
for the next book a sadder but definitely wiser person.
 
 "I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone," he
once said, "but they've always worked for me."
 
 Copyright 2005 Cheryl Baisden

And just for the helluvit, a few of my favorite Hunter S. Thompson quotes...
"A word to the wise is infuriating. "
"America... just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. "
"For every moment of triumph, for every instance of beauty, many souls must be trampled. "
"If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism. "
"The Edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. "
 "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side. "
(and one of my personal favs...)
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. "


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Thursday, January 7th 2010

4:37 PM

What I've been UP to since the computer was down...a holiday Retrospective

  • Mood:
  • Music: Music from the movie "August Rush"

Well, since my computer was blitzed from mid-November on through my birthday, I’m going to put up a few photos, just a few, to show what I’ve been up to through the holidays. I kept pretty busy, but somehow didn’t take a lot of photos this year. It was a rather slim year financially, and worrying about getting together good presents for everyone, rent, groceries, etc. kept me away from grabbing the camera I think. In November Raul and I attended the Paso Horse Festival in Cochran, GA, where I helped serve at Iris’ Peruvian food booth. She was dancing the marinara with the vaquero on horseback, and also danced another version with her son, Ricky.


The festival was up at Andrea and Angel’s ranch, Rancho Loma Linda, and gathered quite a few folks to enjoy the horse show and rides. I had a lot of fun educating the gringos on the delights of Peruvian food, like Iris’ chanca sandwich, aji de gallina and anticuchos (see 2 July 2009 entry), selling the hell outta some chichi morada (sweet purple corn drink) and tembleque (Puerto Rican coconut pudding). Iris looked wonderful in her white dress and ornaments, and Andrea, who usually dresses pretty casual for the ranch (jeans and t-shirts, boots) put on a gorgeous pink dress with long skirt, ruffles and lace for her ride. When everyone had left, we all had a ball drinking Pisco and Rum, munching on chancho sandwiches, laughing and riding ‘round the ranch on the golf cart. Andrea was so kind and let us spend the night up at the ranch house, where Raul stayed up late fixing anticuchos for the next day’s festival booth.

 

Thanksgiving was a small affair this year. Like always it was a big decision as to WHO was having the dinner—my sister Lori was out (she hates having anyone over and also hates to cook)—Mary was working all day at the port—Boo and Mer had decided to give it one last year at their Grandma B.’s house and went to dinner with their dad (no kids this year, boo hoo!), sooooo, I decided to have a little dinner with my old buddy Falko, his wife Suzy, his mom Margot and her boyfriend Angel. It was a relatively small dinner for me, but then, I love to cook and dinner just isn’t FUN unless you have at LEAST six people at the table. I set up the lovely china with the yellow flowers and gold trim, the gold flatware, and made a little arrangement for the table. Margot brought me a box of those wonderfully delicious little hazelnut-cinnamon cookies, made in Germany, white icing—such a treat! Suzy had baked 2 big pans of her fruit breads (filled with apple or cranberry or blueberry)—so good for breakfast (still have half a big pan left in the freezer).


The turkey was so tender it almost fell apart, but I threw the grapes and orange halves on the platter anyway and hoped for the best. The vegetable dip was a big hit too, as was the sweet-potato casserole, and of the huge pan of dressing (which somehow escaped the photographs!), I had only a small square left—it’s a policy of mine when giving big dinners to make sure everyone has a nice plateful of goodies to take home, and the dressing was a favorite this year. Oh, and Raul made a very handsome Head of the House Turkey-Carver!


***A little note aside here…I remember, when I was growing up, my mom would always rise early on Thanksgiving, and one of the first things she’d do is put the giblets and turkey neck on to boil in a big pot, along with celery and onion halves. I eventually figured out that this was for the broth to make the dressing, and have continued the tradition myself. Also, the divine smell of onions and celery cooking in butter would make the mouth water—she always cooked this early too, for the dressing, and would toss them together so they could flavor the breadcrumbs. I absolutely love this smell! When I boil the giblets and neck of the turkey (for about 3 hours, with bayleaf, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper), it makes a rich broth for the dressing—then I take the meat off the neck, and chop the giblets very fine to add to it (no chewy chunks, ewww). It gives the dressing a subtle meat flavor and herbal fragrance that really makes the meal more grand.

 

Every Christmas I do a lot of baking (though not as much as usual this year), but the most fun we have is with the Christmas cookies! Instead of the traditional sugar/butter cookies, this year I made homemade gingerbread—from a magazine which published McCormick’s Spice Company’s recipe—and they turned out PERfect! Boo was working so Merlin and I sat there and rolled out and decorated all the cookies—about 7 ½ dozen in all! We used Cookie Icing in the tube (red and white), with touches of purple gel icing, raisins, red and green sugar sprinkles and rainbow sprinkles.


As you will see from the photo, we created quite a spread! Merlin, being his usual lovable weird self, decided to make some of the cookies his own special way—including a couple of wounded teddy bears, a Xmas Squid, and what was supposed to be a bell, but turned upside down to make a face with a bloody mouth…Deck the Halls, folks! His buddy Corey came by later and made it a point to scarf the weird ones (for which I was thankful!).

 (Mama earlier in the day @ Cracker Barrel)

Christmas this year was odd. My sister Mary had the party at her house, but was in too much of a hurry to do anything special with the food (we ended up snacking back at home)—she’s working a lot at the port and didn’t have time, I guess. But we did have everyone there—my family took most of the photos—and she was so sweet to Raul—made him sit in the special lounge chair she’d just bought for herself, fixed him a plate, and made sure he was comfortable and supplied with a big rum and coke. 

(That's me and Boo, then Lori and her son William below)


The only one missing from the group was my Mary’s daughter Crystal who has moved to New York state with her boyfriend. I’d made my sister’s gifts this year: found these fantastically great smelling scented candles in a jar at A.C. Moores—just as sweet and strong as Yankee Candle Co.’s stuff!—took off all the labels, then painted things on them that would  go with each sister’s tastes: Mary’s had was pale green (lily of the valley scent), with a white Chinese fan painted on it, with pink flowers (matched her bathroom curtain), and I also made her a plaque with a poem by my favorite Chinese poet DuFu—I painted it Chinese-style and wrote the poem in Chinese (translation on the back)—she really loved it!

(My sister Mary & her guy, Ron)

Lori’s was painted with a basket of apples, and her plaque also had apples and dogwood on it –it was a sign that said “Welcome to Lori Ann’s kitchen”, which she also loved. One of Mama’s gifts was a plaque with the Family Tree painted on it (the roots were her mother and father, with her siblings included), leaving room for the children of her three daughters—and hopefully, later, our grandchildren. It made me feel good that they loved their gifts. Later, at home after the party, Christmas eve EVE, Merlin, Raul and I gave each other our presents, then went to bed early—Raul and I had to get up early Christmas eve to drive down to his brother’s home in Florida—we spent Christmas with them and his sister and her husband—more on that on a later post!

 

New Year’s Eve I officiated at the wedding of one of Melantha’s old friends from school, Marlina, and her man Stephen--Melantha was her Maid of Honor. They had a sort of Goth/Renaissance wedding held at a “castle” in Ludowici, GA. The cake was also a castle, made by Marlina (who works at the Kroger bakery). When I get more photos I will show them here—for now, here is just one. Raul and I attended two New Year’s parties, one on Dec. 31 and one on Jan. 3rd (Saturday)—no photos here but a lot of fun! More info later when I get photos from our friends!

 

My birthday is Epiphany, January 6th, and though it was much quieter and leaner than last year, my daughter made it special in her own way. She, Denise (her roommate), Merlin and I had dinner at Carabbas, a fantastic Italian restaurant here, and ate like kings! The shrimp scampi there, big, tender shrimp cooked in a lemon-garlic-butter sauce is to die for—Melantha tried it for the first time and had the same reaction I did when I first ate it—eyes-rolling-back-in-your-head GREAT! We came back here for the dessert, a rich chocolate, raspberry-filled, cream-cheese iced cake, with coffee and rum & cokes! I also now have the fifth season of ‘House’ to enjoy!

 

So that is some of what’s been going on in my life while my computer was being fixed up by my computer genii, Falko. I hope everyone’s holiday was special and full of JOY! God bless you all!

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Saturday, January 2nd 2010

12:27 AM

A note to my readers...and a word of warning

  • Mood: miffed, frustrated
  • Music: none (this comp. has no sound card)

Since just after my last entry, an incredibly evil, deep-seated VIRUS began destroying my computer. One of my oldest friends (and my computer genius extraordinaire!) Falko, gave up in despair one night while he was over here working on it and had to just take it home to deal with--said he'd never, in all his years of working on computers, seen a virus that embedded itself so deeply and stealthily into a computer's file system. My laptop was practically decimated. He is now rebuilding another computer for me and transferring my files. Right now, I'm working on my husband's computer, which has none of the art programs, language programs or even MSWord for me to work on my blog. However, I will be starting my entries again this week.

As a word of warning--I was looking at an episode of "Fringe", from the first season, at a reputable looking site (I'll have to get the name of it for you later,something like ReelView) and suddenly porn buttons pop up on my desktop, and a window, that LOOKED like it came from my anti-virus program--I clicked on a couple of items and the virus embedded itself in the base files of Windows and could not be eradicated. Falko, after getting rid of it 6 times (with the Internet turned off), found that, as soon as the Internet was turned back on, the virus would propagate itself once more. So, he took the computer home and managed, after some intense work sessions and much brain sizzling effort, to get rid of it, but it ended up almost destroying the operating system, and made certain pre-existing problems worse, so ....now I am waiting for the rebuilt computer--no laptop this time, a good solid harddrive with monitor and keyboard--to arrive.Until then, I will continue to post, though perhaps not quite as heavily as before--also, with no art programs, I cannot produce illustrations much either. BUT,  I WILL continue!

Talley ho!

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Friday, November 13th 2009

2:20 AM

Rich, Fatty & Delicious - Red Braised Pork (Hong Shao Rou)

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Another delicious dish from Cecelia Chiang’s cookbook—this time Hong Shao Rou, otherwise known as Red-Braised Pork, or Red-Cooked Pork. This rich and aromatic dish is a favorite of northern Chinese, especially in Beijing, during the dark, cold winter months. It is sometimes cooked with about a cup and a half of whole peeled chestnuts, which was apparently Chairman Mao’s preferred way. HongShao Rou is often served on a bed of pickled veggies, or, in nicer restaurants, on a bed of lettuce, but I think the best way is with a bowl of steamed white rice (‘sweet rice’, or ‘sticky rice’), a side of crispy greens and corn cakes. A note on the corn cakes—I found that in China the corncakes are made without salt (I could never figure out why), and fried crispy in oil. They tend to be a bit thicker and heavier than the ones we make here in the south, but they go really well with this dish. I remember a little place about 20 minutes bike ride from my apartment in Beijing, where you could get an absolutely perfect, melt-in-your-mouth Red-Cooked Pork, served on a bed of pickled veggies, with corn cakes, and a delicately steamed Grass Fish with ginger sauce. Riding out there on my bike, shivering in the frigid night air, watching the stars glide by, the people and packages and carts moving in and out of the hutongs (alley neighborhoods) was a memorable experience for me. Since this dish was so rich, I only had it about 4 times or so a year, but it was such a pleasure each time. The ingredients, though simple, produce an intense, complex flavor, and the tenderness of the pork was heavenly.

 

Here are the ingredients for Hong-Shao Rou—


You may have some trouble finding pork belly in your local supermarket, but talk to the butcher who can probably order a few pounds for you, or seek out an Asian or Chinese market. The dish calls for PORK BELLY, NOT pork maw, which is the stomach inside—the belly is from the OUTSIDE of the pig. It keeps well in the freezer, and in the cold months it can be quite comforting to know you have a supply on hand whenever the craving for red-cooked pork arises! The meat is fatty, very tender and the outer skin, though it seems tough and hard to cut (at least for my poor old knife!), will cook up tender and tasty. Fresh ginger is an absolute! Powdered ginger just will not live up to the proper strength and flavor! Shaoxing wine gives the dish an intensity and the dark soy sauce (I use mushroom soy sauce here) gives the dish it’s characteristic color. Use a good quality brewed soy sauce, like Kikkoman for the main soy sauce. The recipe is as follows—

2 lbs of pork belly

1 24 oz bottle of ShaoXing cooking wine

1 cup of soy sauce

3 TBSP dark soy sauce (like the mushroom soy sauce)

Fresh Ginger root --Six good slices (do NOT peel)

3 pieces of rock sugar OR 3 TBSP sugar

 

You will need a very sharp, good quality knife--cut the pork into one inch cubes—don’t skin the pieces, the skin will become fork tender as it cooks. Cut six good slices from the ginger root and set aside.

 (pork after cooking for 10 minutes, then rinsing)

Put the pork into a heavy pot and cover with cold water 2 inches over the meat. Cook on high for 10 minutes until the foam arises to the surface of the water—skim foam, pour meat into a colander, discard water. Rinse meat chunks with cold water, wash out the pot and place them in the pot again. Pour in the bottle of ShaoXing wine and the ginger slices, then cover with just enough water to 2 inches over the meat. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a medium simmer and cook for 50 minutes until meat is fork-tender. Pour in the soy sauce, uncover and cook for another 30 minutes. As a last addition, pour in the dark soy and sugar, stir well, and cook another 10 minutes on a little higher heat until sauce thickens. Pour into a large dish and garnish with chopped green onions. Serve with rice.


I stir-fried two bunches of Chinese oil cabbage (you cai) with two cups (packed) of fresh bean sprouts and a TBSP of minced garlic, in 1 TBSP sesame seed oil and 1 TBSP vegetable oil. When oil is heated well, stir the vegetables around to coat, stir-fry for 3 minutes, then pour ½ cup of chicken bouillon over it. Stir until cabbage is slightly wilted, but still crispy, then pour into a bowl—this makes a great accompaniment with the pork dish. Let me know if you cook this dish and how it went--comments welcome!

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