Monday, December 12, 2011

Cheese, a Wisconsin Love Affair

Close your eyes and imagine cheese. Cheese on a burger, on pizza, in macaroni and cheese, in sandwiches, on crackers for times when you watch the football game. Cheese is milk gone to heaven. The website for dairy products producer Organic Valley calls it “milk’s attempt at immortality.”

Cheese is ancient and modern. It is made from milk. It lasts a lot longer than milk. Today we can find many kinds of cheeses in our grocery stores, including natural, process, artisanal and artificial cheeses (I think these are called cheese foods). It gives us cheeseheads. It is a large part of Wisconsin’s economy. I have heard that Wisconsin produces more mozzarella than any other state, and that the only, or almost only, producer of limburger is a factory in Monroe, Wisconsin.

I like cheese, but my taste for it is not very broad. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about pizza, but focus primarily on cheddar and Swiss cheese. Writers of cookbooks seem to focus on these, too.  Cookbooks for gourmets might be an exception. I use cookbooks for what I call plain cooking.

A plain cook can make many entrees and side dishes with natural cheddar cheese.  A good basic cheese sauce will dress up macaroni, potatoes, broccoli, omelets and many other foods. It’s easy to make. Simply direct your browser to , where there is a video called “How to make cheddar cheese sauce.” That recipe is a bit fussier than mine, but it gives the essentials. That website also gives a lot of interesting information about cheese. Interestingly, while I was watching the video about cheese sauce, a notice appeared at the bottom of the video screen, which said, “Four heart attack signs,” compliments of ads by Google. Wonderful pairing.

Not everyone is in favor of cheese.  Some people don’t tolerate milk products, and some are vegans. Some are doctors, like Dr. Neal Barnard, who states in his writings that people should get control of their health, and that means not yielding to the seduction of cheese. Dr. Barnard wrote a book called Breaking the Food Seduction: the Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings—and 7 Steps to End Them Naturally (St. Martin’s Press, 2003). He devotes a chapter to cheese, called “Opiates on a Cracker.” Yes, opiates.

Dr. Barnard says that researchers found in cow’s milk traces of morphine, codeine and other opiates. That’s an eye opener. It’s just enough to create desire to go back for more (p.50-51). He suggests that cheese, among other things, is making our nation fat. “…a typical 2-ounce serving has at least 15 grams of fat and about 200 calories—before it even touches your sandwich” (P. 53). “If just one of those pounds of fat lingered on your waistline, adding an extra pound to your weight year after year, you could explain nearly the entire weight problem the country is experiencing—that is, the average American is now gaining about 1.5 pounds per year, and our collective cheese fetish may be a big part of the explanation. If you’re looking for a simple way to trim your waistline, breaking a love affair with cheese can help enormously” (p.53-54).

According to Dr. Barnard, dairy products and cheese seem to be triggers for arthritis and migraines, and   avoiding dairy products can reduce the risk of some forms of cancer. Need I say more? That’s the health story. I don’t know if it is true.

Then there is the economic story. Wisconsin is about cheese. Government boards promote cheese. I don’t know if the government pays farmers to bring their milk to the cheese factory, as it pays farmers to grow corn and soybeans without considering health ramifications.

People continue to enjoy cheese. Take a look at the dairy section of your grocery store. It has shredded, grated, sliced, chunk cheese. The freezer section has pizza and cheesecake. Cheese is big business. Cheese is delicious. Thanks, Dr. Barnard. I still respect your ideas. Have another slice of cheese. But don’t overdo it. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Cherries Dolores

Food and family go together sometimes. It may be true that we are what we eat, but I think it also is true that we eat what we are. Cherries Dolores is a dessert that comes straight from my parents’ lives in Door County while I was growing up.

My parents liked to entertain with fish boils. Real fish boils are done outside over a wood fire. As a person transplanted from the Chicago area, my father experienced local fish boils and quickly learned to produce them himself. We had fish boils at our summer cottage at Clark’s Lake, and after we moved to our home on Bay Shore Drive where we had a large yard on the bay, we had fish boils in our yard.  My father was the fish boil chef, and my brothers and I were assistants. My mother made salad and dessert. Both parents prepared the potatoes and onions prior to the cooking event. The fish was lake trout, and after trout became unavailable, whitefish. The guests were friends or business acquaintances. Once we entertained Governor Warren Knowles and people in politics.

 I don’t remember a fish boil without cherries Dolores. My mother’s name is Dolores; it is named after her for lack of another name for it. She gave the recipe to the world in her 1989 cookbook, Door County Recipes Old and New : and a Little Local Lore, by Dolores Allen, illustrated by Kathleen Whitt.

This dessert is easy to make. It is good anytime, and when served at a fish boil, it ends a mostly white main course (fish, potatoes and onions topped with lots of melted butter) with a tart, colorful burst of flavor.  

Cherries Dolores

1 stick soft butter
1 ¼ cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
Mix well and press firmly in the bottom of a 9-inch square cake pan. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees until a delicate golden color. Cool well before adding next layer.

Middle Layer:
1 package vanilla pudding and pie filling mix (not instant).
Prepare according to package directions. Cool well. Spoon onto the cooled crust.

Top Layer:
1-lb. can tart cherries (2 cups)(unsweetened)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ to ¾ cup sugar
Combine in a saucepan and cook until thickened and clear. Chill before spooning over the pudding later. (One can of cherry pie filling may be used instead, if you wish.)
Top with 2 cups of whipped cream or whipped topping. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

My comments:
In order for this to work, I think we need to either double the middle and top layer ingredients, or halve the crust and make it in a small baking dish, about 6 x 8 inches or 7 x 7 inches. I say this because when I follow my mother’s recipe, the middle and top layers barely cover the layers below. More dessert is needed to fill the space. If we make half a batch of crust and use the smaller dish, it works quite well, but it serves four to six people rather than a large gathering of people. I loved my mother, but I think she didn’t remember what she had been doing all those years correctly when she put it on paper.

Also, I prefer real food over manufactured mixes, so for many years I have made the middle layer out of vanilla cornstarch pudding rather than packaged pudding mix. I don’t know if packaged pudding mix is still available in the grocery stores. Recipes for vanilla pudding can be found in many cookbooks. Be sure to make it thick enough to hold its shape after chilling or the layers will collapse.

The cookbook is out of print, but it is available at some public libraries in Wisconsin, the Door County Maritime Museum in Sturgeon Bay until they run out, or (used) from Our family has run out of copies. Needless to say, my opinion is that this is the best cookbook in the world.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving--Our National Holiday

Thanksgiving is almost here.  It is one of our two major national holidays, the other being Independence Day, July 4. We have more, but these seem to be the two primary ones.

I think of Thanksgiving Day as part of an interesting progression of secular to religious holidays in American culture. July 4 is political without religious overtones. Thanksgiving is technically national, with thanks given, to God, for the blessings of being Americans in the most wonderful nation on earth. Christmas is technically a religious holiday, with celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and much secular activity.

I see something going on here.  Our national constitution long ago set the stage for separation of church and state. The first amendment clearly states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”  Today we have two religious/secular holidays that celebrate the Christianity of our nation, while celebrating secular issues such as turkeys, Santa Claus, home decoration, gift giving and much enhancement of our economic system.

Thanksgiving Day is a big day of patriotism. Schools are closed. People travel to be with their families. Big dinners are prepared and eaten. Sometimes we think about what Thanksgiving is about and why our nation celebrates it. The national mythology tells us that it is about the European settlers sitting down in peace with the Native Americans, to have dinner in friendship. Friendship prevails.

Well, maybe. The Europeans came to our continent with the assumption that they “discovered” it and it was theirs. Yes, but they discovered that people were already here. Here is a quote from a history book by James W. Loewen, in Lies My Teacher Told Me:  “Thanksgiving celebrates our ethnocentrism. We have seen, for example, how King James and the early Pilgrim leaders gave thanks for the plague, which proved to them that God was on their side. The archetypes associated with Thanksgiving—God on our side, civilization wrested from wilderness, order from disorder, through hard work and good Pilgrim character traits—continue to radiate from our history textbooks.” (pp. 95-96, paperback edition)

Thanksgiving is about giving thanks. Thanks for making us white, for our land takeover from the original owners (native tribes), for our immense wealth, and for our being the greatest people on earth (empire). It’s about a huge dinner, usually turkey. It’s also about shopping. The day after the holiday is the biggest shopping day of the year, the inauguration of the Christmas shopping season.

I notice that we have a group of candidates who want to be our next President. I see that religious credentials seem necessary for a President, and in particular, “acceptable” Christian credentials. Some people made much over the myth that President Obama might be a Muslim; he isn’t. Some people are worried about Mitt Romney being a Mormon.  People like to believe that our founding fathers were all members of established churches. I ask, why is faith being dragged through a country that has separation of church and state? Might some people rather want to see our national leaders acting on Christian principles rather than giving lip service to church membership while advocating violence such as two needless wars?  Is this what Thanksgiving is about?

Individually we have much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my family, my deceased parents and husband, and my children and grandchildren. I am thankful that we have enough to eat and a roof under our heads. I am thankful that I have enough money to sustain my life. I am thankful that we live in a society that doesn’t oppress me, although it oppresses some other people. Many Americans are not this well situated.

Bring on our next religious/secular holiday: Christmas.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Frittata For One Or Two

Frittata for One or Two

I like frittata. Frittata is an Italian omelet, according to Joy of Cooking (1997). I hope it is. I was glad to learn that pizza is an Italian pie, so maybe it is true. I give Joy of Cooking credit for telling me what frittata is. Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook didn’t bother. They just went ahead with telling us how to make it, whether we know what it is or not. What we have here are two ways to deal with life: learn what it is or just go ahead and live it.

Frittata has many good qualities. It is easy to make. It tastes good.  It requires no exotic ingredients unless you choose to use some. It is a good way to use up leftover meat and vegetables. Preparation takes little time, although it requires some vegetable chopping and cheese grating. There are two ways to make it: broiling or baking. Frittata is a good example of culinary flexibility. When we are cooking for one or two, we find that we can make a smaller version than the cookbooks offer.

On the other hand, if we don’t have an oven-proof skillet, we won’t be making frittata.

Here is commentary from Joy of Cooking, in its recipe for zucchini frittata, which is not the only frittata in the world. “Frittatas are cooked in a heavy skillet over low heat until they are firm—not runny like a French omelet—and they are left open-faced, not folded….we recommend popping it into the oven or under the broiler to cook the top side. Served in wedges, frittatas are delicious hot, warm, or at room temperature.”

My version of frittata is based on, but not identical to, the one in Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook, 1989 paperback. It requires a medium size oven-proof skillet such as an old fashioned cast iron one.

3 eggs
About 1 cup chopped vegetables (I used celery, green pepper and onion today) (whatever you have in the refrigerator);
Meat (optional); I used one leftover bratwurst, cut in small pieces
1-2 tablespoons fat such as butter or bacon drippings (cholesterol isn’t an issue here)
About 1 cup grated cheddar cheese (I know, more cholesterol)

In an oven-proof skillet, saute the vegetables and meat in the fat over medium heat.
Beat the eggs and pour them into the skillet. Distribute the cheese over the top. Bake at 350 degrees about 15 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

That’s the easy way to do it. For cooks who like to do it with other cooking methods, Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook gives directions (paraphrased):

1.        After putting the eggs into the skillet, over medium heat, cook it and run a spatula around the edge, lifting the mixture to let uncooked eggs flow underneath. Do this until the mixture is almost set and then put it under the broiler, 4 or 5 inches under the heat. Broil it until the top is just set, about 1 to 2 minutes.

2.       You can microwave it. I do not recommend doing this and have not tried it; I prefer real cooking. Cook the veggies in a pie plate in the microwave oven until they are tender. Pour the beaten eggs over the vegetables/meat mixture. Cook on high for 3 to 5 minutes, lifting cooked eggs every minute and letting uncooked portions flow underneath. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Packer Fandom

It’s football season. Wisconsinites are crazy about the Packers. The Packers are the religion of Wisconsin. I like the Packers, even though I think professional football is ritualized violence. Our Super Bowl champion gladiators are very popular.

Packer fans are loyal. It’s impossible to get a season ticket for home games. Lambeau Field is always filled, and the fans stay until the end even when the team loses. The traffic jams in and on highways leading to Green Bay on game day are enormous, except during the game when no one is to be seen on the roads. I have heard that area churches rent parking spaces to handle the stadium’s overflow crowds. People without tickets sit at home and in the bars, huddled in front of their television sets and radios.

At this time of the year,  stores abound with Packer merchandise; a few days ago I had no trouble finding a team keychain. Even the babies are decked out in Packer clothes. People of all ages go about their business wearing shirts with their favorite players’ numbers; quarterback numbers are best sellers.  I’m still waiting for merchandisers to bring forth a Packer toilet seat; they haven’t done it yet as far as I know, even or especially during losing seasons. I have seen Packer crying towels.

Broadcasters love the Packers, and I think the Packers love sportscasters. When Rick was in radio broadcasting, the team gave him a free spot in the press box with plenty of food, a seat for me where everyone else sat, a golf outing, other public relations events, and plenty of interviews. Vince Lombardi kicked Rick out of the dressing room, which meant he was one of them. I still have Rick’s press credentials for the Ice Bowl. He went; I didn’t have a seat for that one. I have heard that broadcasters no longer receive free seats for their loved ones, but I am sure that the Packers continue to romance the media. In return, we hear about the Packers 365 days a year in Green Bay, and almost as often in Madison, on our local television stations. (We have the Badgers in Madison to talk about, too.)

Bret Favre took the team to the Super Bowl; everyone loved him until he decided to retire, which became an annual event for him. When he unretired and became a Minnesota Viking, Wisconsin’s ire overflowed. He became another Benedict Arnold. (Read your history book to learn about Benedict Arnold; he wasn’t a football player.) The formerly beloved Favre took some much publicized sexual missteps, and his popularity among fans disappeared. No more annual retirements for him.

How soon we almost forget. Now Aaron Rodgers is the hero, along with the long haired Clay Matthews. News media reported recently that some people want to name a Green Bay street for coach McCarthy.

We’ll have another game in our winning season Sunday. Be sure to tune in.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Autumn Haiku

Brown red gold gray green;
Ice Age Trail, late autumn day;
Wondrous tapestry.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Happy birthday, Dede

Forty-seven years ago yesterday, October 2, 1964, my life changed forever. On that day I became a mother for the first time. My beautiful first daughter, Dolores, entered the world. Everyone was happy.

I brought that new life into the house in the woods on Bay Shore Drive on that beautiful fall day, with my mother to help, and I thought, What do I do now? I knew almost nothing about parenting. Rick knew even less. I asked Mother how to change a diaper. She said she didn’t remember. The small amount of teenage babysitting I had done had been with children, not infants. What a beginning.

I had asked my doctor some basic questions, and he had said to ask my mother. Those were the days when new mothers didn’t have books to consult or classes to help prepare. I didn’t have friends nearby to scare me with their new mother advice. I barely knew how to hold a baby. At the hospital the nurses had shown me how to breastfeed. They also had told me that if I ate vegetables in the cabbage family, it would make the milk taste bad. Really super instructions.

Somehow, Dede, (her nickname then), Rick and I made it as a family. Dede had some interesting times in her first year. She got her first tooth at four months. Sometime later she got her head stuck between the slats of her crib, an old crib with widely spaced slats. Rick was at work, so we were home alone. I held her head and wondered if we would have to stay that way for the rest of the day; it was morning. Miraculously, her head slipped back into the baby side of the crib. We replaced that crib with a better one.

Dede was a beautiful, bright child, interested in everything. She walked at one year and never looked back. When she started walking, she kept going. After her brother John was born, she regarded him as a new toy. When Mary came along, she was competition. Dede was more neutral about the arrivals of Libby and Sarah. School came easy, although she never studied and seldom did her assignments. She wrote perfect tests and said she didn’t need to do all that homework; she knew the material. She showed musical talent, singing around the house as a toddler and later playing piano, trumpet (briefly) and French horn. She didn’t date much as a teenager. She dated more as a student at UW-Eau Claire.

Dede married, gave birth to two wonderful daughters, Katie and Dana, got divorced, and lost daughter Katie to type one diabetes when Katie was sixteen. She gave higher education another try after having given it up sometime before she married Bill. She took up library work.

She still is interested in everything. She has long term friends. She stays connected to her family.

Happy birthday, Dede. I love you.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bean Soup for One

I know we can buy bean soup in cans. But I am still championing the old fashioned way to make soup. When I make bean soup, it has no artificial or exotic ingredients. Everything is real, inexpensive and easy to find in the grocery store. It’s perfect for retirees who like to stay home all afternoon. It’s easy to make and it tastes good.

This soup has another characteristic. It’s just enough for one person rather than an army. Your big fat cookbook is likely to start you out with a pound bag of beans and at least six cups of water. It assumes you are feeding a hungry family. It also assumes that you can find your large kettle. My challenge was to create just enough for me and none for my freezer.

I love the way the cookbook authors extol soup making. They paint word pictures about soup. For example, The Blue Plate Diner Cookbook, by Tim Lloyd and James Novak (Prairie Oak Press, 1999), says: “Soup is good food….In the process of making soup, you will fill your home with fantastic aromas. You will be using mostly fresh ingredients, eliminating most chemicals and preservatives.” Monte’s Blue Plate Diner serves good soup, including navy bean soup. Of course, it says to use a six quart pot. Joy of Cooking, revised edition, 1997, talks about soup (without a recipe for bean soup): “If any food seems inherently calming, and even consoling, it is soup. Soup feels good when the weather gets cold. It restores our spirit and our vigor.” Recipes from the Farmer’s Daughters’ Restaurant, located in Door County if it still exists, glows: “Year round, soup is a winner. You will be greatly rewarded if you jump on the soup wagon. It is amazingly uncomplicated and you will be delighted at how quickly a delicious homemade soup can appear on your table and how rapidly it will disappear.” Then, of course, the book continues with the instruction to find a soup kettle that holds ten to twelve quarts. The book’s recipe for navy bean soup starts with six cups of dried navy beans. Ok, it is a restaurant, so it gives restaurant quantities.

When I am cooking for one, I am fending for myself. Even the library isn’t very helpful. I decided to try to make one bowl of soup, and I succeeded. Here it is.

Bean Soup For One

1/3 cup dried beans, such as navy beans or great northern beans
1 ½ cups water.

Place beans and water in a 1 quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for about 2 hours. Add a small amount of water if it cooks dry. Crush beans slightly with a fork or potato masher. Then add:

About 1 cup chopped or finely diced onion, celery, carrot
1/2 tablespoon maple syrup (real, not artificially flavored syrup)
1 slice bacon, cut into small pieces (don't cook it first)(yes, it is fatty)(or use ham)(or whatever)
Salt and pepper to taste.

Cook it for ½ to 1 hour more. Continue to add water as needed.
I ate it with slices of Swiss cheese and celery sticks, and that was a meal.

Note: I don’t soak the dry beans for hours before using them. If you think you should, it’s ok with me.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Apple Crunch Dessert

It’s apple season again. This morning I went to the west side farmers’ market and brought home some macintosh apples. Many apple varieties are ready for buyers, but I seldom waver from my preference for good sour cooking apples. It didn’t take me long to make the big decision to make one of my favorite desserts, apple crunch.  Goodbye diet. Hello good taste. This is even better than potato chips.

The recipe is adapted from my favorite old fashioned cookbook, The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer (8th edition, completely revised by Wilma Lord Perkins), Boston, Little Brown & Co., 1948. I have worn out this book. The front and back covers are detached and tape is holding some pages together. It is my cooking bible. I love everything in it, including the fact that my mother had it first and passed it on to me when I got married. My adaptation is to cut it in half, to suit people like me who live alone and don’t plan to eat the food for a week.

Apple Crunch, or Apple Candy Pie (serves about two)

2 cups sliced tart apples
¼ cup water
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
¼ cup butter

Place apples in buttered baking dish, about 7 by 7 inches or so. Yes, that size dish really exists. Pour water over the apples. Blend flour, sugar, cinnamon and butter with fork or knife. Pat over apples or stir into apples. Bake in moderate oven (350 degrees) about 30 minutes, until apples are tender and crust is brown. There isn’t much of a crust if you stir the flour mixture into the apples, which is what I do.  Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

For more people, double the recipe.  For more information about macintosh apples, click the following link.

Monday, August 29, 2011


I have lived through the demise of buildings that were significant in my life. Some burned. Some were demolished. I feel a sense of loss when I think about them. The most recent loss is the home in Green Bay where Rick and I raised our five children for sixteen years. We left it in 1990, but when I heard this year that it had burned, I felt that some part of us had burned with it. I drove past it not long ago. An earth mover was moving dirt around on the houseless lot. I stayed for a few minutes and said goodbye. Goodbye to a house that had lasted a hundred years. Goodbye to all that had happened there.

Here is a list of buildings in my life, that now are gone, plus one I never saw.

1. Central School, Park Ridge IL. After my kindergarten year, the city tore it down. I transferred to Roosevelt School.

2. The Episcopal Church in Sturgeon Bay, where my family went after we moved to Sturgeon Bay when I was ten years old. It was in an old house. A new building was constructed, and still stands. The old house was torn down. No more worship in the living room. (It really was a good idea to replace it.)

3. The house in Milwaukee with our apartment upstairs, where Rick and I began our life together. It was demolished and Riverside Park was expanded into its space. Goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Camarata, our landlords downstairs.

4. Our home in the Preble area of Green Bay. Sometime after we sold it, the city rerouted East Mason Street onto what was Cass Street, and away the house went. The new street was constructed through the lot. The last time I saw that house, it was in a newspaper photograph. Its owner was moving it across the Mason Street bridge to a new location. We lived there with our babies Dede and John.

5. Sturgeon Bay High School. It stood educationless for a number of years before it was demolished to make space for the city’s new city hall/fire department. Needless to say, the education that took place there was relocated. When I arrived in fifth grade, the building housed kindergarten through high school. As time went on the city built new elementary schools, new middle school and new high school. They built the high school on a piece of property that was home to my grade school friend Laurel Paschke. Goodbye to her old home.

6. Our family home in Green Bay on Quincy Street, described in the first paragraph.

7. Barns on the farm of my father-in-law in Arena. While he was alive, the sheep barn burned. He was retired and had not long to live when it happened, so no sheep were in residence. Later, after the farm was sold, the main barn burned. Friends told us.

8. Uncle Otto’s store in Winona MN. I never saw it, but my mother and grandmother lived above it when my mother was a child. Last year my brother and I looked at the spot where it had stood. It now is a parking lot.

Ashes and rubble. Buildings come and go. Impermanence is all around us. The World Trade Center departed. Shopping centers have come and gone. I’m glad I have a brick from my high school.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Natural Bridge State Park

A couple of days ago I visited the most unassuming state park that I have ever seen, Natural Bridge State Park. Wisconsin State Park System, the state’s brochure, even makes it seem like more than it is. It calls the park’s claim to existence “a breathtaking natural sandstone arch created by the eroding effects of wind and water.”

It’s In Sauk County, somewhere between and west of Sauk City and Baraboo, in the beginning of the Baraboo Hills. It’s small, apparently unstaffed (unless the staff office is in the pit toilet building, which it isn't), and without amenities beyond a parking lot and the aforementioned pit toilet building. Oh, and a small box that invites us to pay money into it. In my opinion, these characteristics are all positives while being a bit surprising to one who is used to the more elaborate state parks in Door County. No park office. No picnic tables. No campground. No recreational water. Yes woods and a few trails. A few small signs.
The park is about a natural formation in a rock outcropping like those at Wisconsin Dells, that is a natural bridge or a big hole in the rock formation, depending on how one thinks about it. It’s beautiful, hidden in the woods so the hiker doesn’t see it until he/she is right in front of it. I stood there looking at it and thinking about what this would be like if it was right in the middle of Wisconsin Dells instead of in the quiet overgrown rural woods. In the Dells, promoters might at least run a little train around it and offer parachute drops off the top, which is thirty-five feet high.
It’s a very good, unusual formation. It’s not surrounded by tourist hype. The park boasts nothing else except a log building in disrepair and a small stone building, both along the road. People who need to have their entertainment provided will be puzzled here and maybe say, “But there’s nothing to do…”
I drove about an hour to find this little park. I thought I was the only person in it until I returned to the parking lot and found a man there using his cell phone. Very undisturbed. I like it. has more information.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Medical Advice. Huh?
Good Housekeeping Magazine Owes it to Millions of Thyroid Patients to Get the Story Right

Wednesday July 27, 2011.

It appears that Good Housekeeping published a misleading article. Or did it? That's the problem with medical commentary these days. The experts don't always agree. Sometimes they rarely agree. I learned this firsthand in my life. I discovered that I couldn't always believe what I was reading or what a doctor told me.
The topic of the article cited above is hypothyroidism. There is disagreement among medical professionals about treatment and drugs for hypothyroidism and other medical conditions including cancer, heart disease prevention, diabetes and others.
Once upon a time I went to a doctor, who correctly told me that I had (and still have) hypothyroidism. She prescribed a drug, levothyroxine, to treat it. So far so good. At that time I still believed in advice from the conventional medical people.
Some years later, I was advised that my blood sugar was getting high, but not given advice. Later, I was told that my cholesterol was high, but not given advice. So far no advice, no drugs. Later still, a doctor strongly recommended that I take a drug to lower my cholesterol.  At that point I started to do research. Yikes and hoity toity, had I ever been fooled. I discovered that conventional doctors' opinions are not the only ones out there. I learned that eating the "healthy" American typical diet is an invitation to disease, especially diabetes. I learned that there is a large group of people who have written intelligently about the dangers of taking drugs to lower cholesterol, and that high cholesterol isn't the cause of heart disease in most cases. I learned that I might have better outcomes if I changed my thyroid medication to bio-identical. Then I discussed these things with my doctor. And my next doctor. And my next doctor. We weren't on the same planet.  Then I read about cancer treatment that didn't include chemotherapy. I'm glad I don't have cancer.
The article cited above points to (but doesn't actually say) the need for us to do our own research on conditions we are told we have. We also need to weed out the quackery if we can discover it, or embrace what a conventional doctor might call quackery. The citation above is from a website dedicated to information about thyroid conditions, operated by a woman who is not a doctor, and who did her own research. She has published books.
I'm not taking the drugs the doctors recommended, other than one for hypothyroidism. It took me about ten years and several doctors to finally locate a doctor who would go beyond what she had learned in medical school or from seminars presented by drug companies. I'm a lucky one.
I believe that people should be able to trust the medical advice they are given, and that that advice is likely to improve their health. (I am not optimistic about advice from doctors at this point.) I have several books about statin drugs that are very informative. After reading them and other information, I wouldn't touch a statin drug. I have several books on diabetes, which interest me because I have been trying for several years with success to keep my blood sugar under control without drugs. It amazes me that there are plenty of contradictory books about diabetes, some suggesting low to no carb diets, others recommending low glycemic raw vegetable vegan diets, and one promoting a high carb diet. They all explain the science. Even Dr. Robert Atkins explained the science. The doctors laughted at him too.
I'm glad to get advice from doctors when emergencies come up. They're very good with emergencies. But let's treat chronic conditions with open minds.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Visiting Boston

I went to Boston last week, on a bus with twenty-five other people. We took in the mythology of the beginning of our nation’s revolution, some Americana and some local culture. Then we came home. My companions on this trip were the other people who took the trip with me. After having taken a few previous trips with Jack, our driver, he was like a familiar friend. He even hugged me and other women goodbye at the end. Jan, our tour guide, was a winner, too.
We spent more time on the road than the three days in Massachusetts. It was worth it for the most part. The scenery in New York State and Massachusetts is beautiful. The mountains and hills are largely wooded. Some panoramic views looked spectacular.
In Boston, I enjoyed our tour of the USS Constitution, the oldest operative US Navy commissioned ship. It was known as Old Ironsides because cannon balls would not penetrate its keel. Next to it in dry dock was a navy destroyer. The old and the new together. The Constitution is in very good shape for its age, which the guide told us and I immediately forgot. She said it held five hundred men in its active days. Pretty crowded, even for small guys who took turns sleeping in hammocks. I was the last person to get back onto the bus because I wanted to stay and look at the boats.
Equally fascinating was our day at Lexington and Concord. A local guide took us to the relevant historical sites where battles too place. She was very good at bringing us into the events that might actually have happened as reported. Mythology here seemed more important than historical accuracy, although she said it all happened. We stood where the shot heard round the world (the expression was coined by Emerson) happened as the alleged beginning of the revolutionary war. She also told of some of the events that led to it. She said that the battle of Lexington and the Battle of Concord each lasted about five minutes. The patriots lost and Lexington and won at Concord.
We visited Paul Revere’s house in Boston, which has been restored. Fireplaces and old furniture. Revere’s midnight ride was recounted. I have read that Longfellow invented many of the details of that ride, although at Lexington our excellent guide pointed out that he was captured before he got to Concord. Longellow left out that part of Revere’s adventure. Related to this, we also visited the Old North Church in Boston, which is an Episcopal Church, where the alleged “one if by land and two if by sea” was said by Paul Revere before he rowed across the river, borrowed a horse and began his famous ride to warn the settlers that the Regulars were coming.
Americana meant stops at the Lucy Desi Center in Jamestown, NY, and the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockwell, MA, both on the way to Boston. Both were interesting in different ways. Lucille Ball’s hometown is Jamestown. The center captures her and Desi Arnaz’s life on television. In Stockwell, Rockwell’s original paintings are exhibited, I ate this up. He captured Americana on covers of the Saturday Evening Post, and the original paintings are in that museum. He was criticized by some for giving us sentimental art, but his art captured mid-century America very well. He was an excellent portrait painter. The museum has a room of his dog paintings. Dogs are present in the paintings but are not the subject of the paintings. There are photos there of Rockwell positioning dogs as models for a photographer, next to the corresponding paintings. Did we think he painted everyone and everything without models?
Local sights and tastes included dinner at Cheers, which was mediocre; the view from the top of the Prudential Building, about 50 stories high; tour of Boston Harbor in a boat; tour of the Charles River on a World War II duck; tour of part of Harvard University; an afternoon walking on the Freedom Trail mixed with time at the Quincy Market; plenty of clam chowder; other undistinguished meals here and there. On my own I located and dined at Legal Sea Food in Boston. I couldn’t forego a good lobster dinner in a city famous for seafood. And wonder of wonders, I had no beans in Beantown.

I had a good time. I took no photos. I am home now.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Speaking Christian -- Book Review

Here is a book about words. The full title is Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power—and How They Can Be Restored. It is by Marcus J. Borg, well known Bible and Jesus scholar and author of many books.
The book is written in understandable language. It’s interesting and thought provoking. According to Borg, the purpose of the book is to “exposit an alternative understanding, one that draws on the Bible and premodern Christian tradition….it compares and contrasts the contemporary meanings of Christian language with their often very different biblical and traditional meanings.” He points out that Christians often misunderstand the faith as presented in the language of the New Testament, because the words have taken on newer meanings than were intended originally.
Each word or phrase has its own chapter. Borg tells how the word is used today and what it meant in the Bible and the early Christian community. He presents a short essay (two or more pages) about the word or concept, with occasional personal anecdotes. This is not a dictionary, not written in alphabetical or encyclopedia format. It moves from one word to the next, so that one can pick it up and not need to read it in sequence.
Some chapters are Salvation, the Bible, God, God’s Character, Jesus, Mercy, Righteousness, Sin, and Heaven. I was impressed with the chapter about Mercy. He offers official dictionary definitions to show what most people think it is, and then goes into its historic origins, turning it into something like compassion. Of course, he has to explain compassion, too. Mercy in scripture and Hebrew associations is not about a person in power granting clemency to someone with less power. The Mercy chapter is just one example of the way Borg deals with the words of Christianity.
“Heaven and hell” Christianity gets its day, too. Borg doesn’t buy it. He says that that framework emphasizes the afterlife, sin and forgiveness, and is the main reason that many people are Christians. Borg, as a liberal Protestant, explains that the Kingdom of Heaven is here on earth now and not just about going to heaven later. Borg doesn’t agree with a lot of the teachings with which Christians have grown up. He seems lukewarm about the Trinity, the afterlife, and about the divinity of Jesus.
There is a lot in this book. Borg correctly points out, “Christians in this country (and elsewhere) are deeply divided by different understandings of a shared language.” It is available from

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mowing the Lawn

I enjoy gardening. Yard maintenance in the woods is a different thing.
I came to the cottage this week for the purpose of mowing the lawn. You might ask why someone would drive more than 200 miles to mow the lawn, even if it was a foot and a half high with tassels on the tops. Even though we were hoping the deer would eat it so it wouldn’t be so tall.
I own this somewhat off-the-grid place on the shore of Lake Michigan with my brother. It has been for sale for six years since our mother died and left it to us. Most of my adult children and my two brothers’ adult children use it like a woodsy timeshare. Once in a while one of them will mow the lawn and cut firewood.
To date this year, however, I am the only person who has been here, although Sarah came with me for the long Memorial Day weekend. So I am responsible for the lawn for now. When Sarah and I were here last, we were unable to start the lawn mower. It’s only about thirty years old and might be the oldest mower on this island. I think my father bought it, and he died in 1992. Maybe he bought it when he bought the cottage in 1970. Is that a reason for it not to start? Apparently yes.
I came here to deal with it. This morning I stuffed the mower into the back of my little Toyota Yaris. Did I mention that it was raining? I took this heavy albatross to Dave’s Garage, without calling him first, of course. Dave and this mower are old friends. My husband took it to him at the start of many growing seasons when it wouldn’t start. Dave had us on file. Dave tuned it up for about $76. While he was doing that, I went to Mann’s Mercantile and looked at new lawn mowers. Just under $200. Hmmm.
Sometime during the morning the rain stopped. It stayed cloudy and wet. By 1:00 the mower was home and it was somewhat dry in the woods. Somewhat. The mower started right away. I mowed for a long time, starting with the driest places, which were the once gravel driveway and the sparsely grassed front yard facing the lake. You might know the expression, the grass is always greener over the septic tank. It’s true. Beginning with the septic tank, it was all downhill, not geographically but humanly. The grass was wetter and thicker. The grass over the plumbing mound was very wet and very thick. Mowing was hard work.
Usually I enjoy mowing the lawn. Not this time. I did it because it had to be done. When the grass is a foot and a half tall, it’s time. It was hard work pushing through grass that preferred to fall down instead of being cut, grass that gave me greenish wet shoes and jeans. I worked up a huge sweat. Finally, the mower stopped. It wasn’t out of gas. It was smoking. It had given up, I think. Most of the mound remained unmowed. The mower and I came to the same conclusion. It was time to stop. I found gobs of wet mulch in the underside, impeding the blade. I put it away.
I don’t think I’ll mow tall wet grass for a while again. The deer can have it.
(I must get back onto the grid to publish this. I’ll join the people on the lawn of the library, where people use its wi-fi when the library is closed. That is, if it isn’t raining again.)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Things That Matter

I like many things, from avocados to zucchini. Not just food things. While enjoying my morning walk today, I thought about some things that make life worth living for me. I recognize that the things I like best are also good for people as a whole.

Here are the things that matter to me.

1. Faith. It shapes us as we grow throughout life. I believe that we Christians should look to what Jesus did and said as reported in the New Testament. We should not be distracted by Christians who forget that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Faith means ordering our national behavior to avoid wars. It means loving our neighbors as ourselves, and not using our fellow human beings for our individual or national selfish purposes. I believe that individually, locally and nationally, we should respect the faith of others who practice their faith differently. Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, was reported to have said that he admired Jesus but not the Christians.

2. Relationships. Family matters greatly. Good family relationships strengthen us. They support us in our need. They give us environments in which to nurture each other. I love my five adult children, four grandchildren, brothers and their wives and children and grandchildren. I loved my husband even through stormy years together. A permanent partner is important for health and happiness. Good friends are few but satisfying. Family and friends are not to be manipulated but honored. When we offend our family or friends, it is important to mend the relationships. I have offended my family and friends but not ended the relationships. On the corporate and national scenes, we have seen examples of abuse of relationships throughout history. What must a person do to his or her relationships in order to become President? How many Presidents and politicians and celebrities have dishonored their wives through infidelity? How many worship power?

3. Health. Good health makes life worth living. I order my life around the hope of long life without disability or chronic illness. Our American medical system is a good thing when we have emergencies or life threatening illnesses. It isn’t very good in the way its benefits are distributed. I am thankful for Medicare and hope our politicians do not destroy it. Many opportunities are available to encourage good health. A large amount of material on health is available to us in books and on the internet. I think it is hard to navigate through all the contradictory information. Yet we have opportunities to make decisions about our health. I believe that many Americans live their lives with obesity, degenerative diseases including heart disease and diabetes, buying time with prescription and nonprescription drugs, while losing the health battle. I also believe that these conditions are preventable; my opinion has been voiced by many doctors and other health professionals. I believe that if what I said above about faith is valid, the United States should provide all Americans with a single payer medical care system. I also know that the issue has become one of politics rather than caring for one’s neighbor.

4. Food. Food is related to health. Good food promotes health; bad food promotes illness. I like to cook. I like the taste, color, texture, and smell of food. I like having farmers’ markets in Madison where I can buy fresh vegetables and frozen grass-fed meats. I enjoy eating in good restaurants. And I recognize that there is a big land mine in all this. The joy of variety in supermarkets brings with it the possibility that we will bring home bags of processed and genetically altered “foods” that are likely to bring on poor health. The wide availability of fast food for a stressed and hurried population makes bad food easy to consume. Michelle Obama has given visibility to obesity among children. Who will win, Michelle or our unhealthy economics of food production? Some people find themselves depending on junk food in fast food restaurants and convenience stores. Of course they get sick.

5. Brains. An educated population can make wise decisions. It doesn’t always do it, but it can do it. An educated population is likely to make informed choices about living. I value my education. It’s not just about finding jobs, although that helps, but it is about being human. A good public school system is important for everyone. A good university should not be out of economic reach for people who want to be educated. The internet provides a great deal of educational material. Good libraries offer reading materials for all kinds of people without discrimination. They need our support. It is no accident that I chose to be a librarian.

6. Mobility. We can travel, move into different homes, enjoy walking in the woods. Our country offers good highways that take people everywhere. Many cities have transit systems. Individually, we have crutches, walkers and wheelchairs. If we have money, we can see the world. If we don’t have money, well, too bad. At least we can walk around the block. Much of our mobility depends of money and government policy regarding how to go from point A to point B. Roads or railroads or airlines? We have come a long way with mobility. I am thankful for mine.

This is dedicated to Andrea, my granddaughter, whose high school graduation ceremony is today. I hope she will care about these things as she begins a new part of her life.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


High profile spousal infidelity has been in the news a lot lately. Right now it centers on New York Rep. Anthony Weiner. A short time ago the focus was former Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger. Before them we heard about others, including Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Virginia former Governor Mark Sanford, Prince Charles, President Bill Clinton, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, President John F. Kennedy (not publicized at the time), President Franklin D. Roosevelt (less publicized and a long time ago), and many more. They all had wives.

Publicly most of the men offered apologies. Privately they had to deal with the damage to their marriages. Their wives responded in a variety of ways. Some stayed married. Some didn't. But does a public apology mend a relationship?

Whenever a famous unfaithful husband is exposed publicly, I feel the pain that I assume their wives feel and felt after being betrayed in their relationships. I feel it because it hits me close to home. It happened to me, too, a long time ago. We are a large sisterhood.

Do those men excuse themselves by saying their sexual activities were their wives' fault, or they did things that technically were not sexual intercourse? Are their public apologies designed as attempts to retain their celebrity or power status? Is it all about narcissism?

Now that we have prostitutes (for Eliot Spitzer), oral sex (for Bill Clinton), subsequent death of spouse (for John Edwards), cybersex (for Rep. Weiner), phone sex (for many others), we are aware of the many ways for vulnerable men in high positions to take risks that can lead to their public destruction and the permanent changes to their most intimate relationships.

One televised image that stays with me is of Hillary Clinton, then First Lady, walking near, not with, her husband after his famous speech in which he acknowledged that he had sinned. Her body language said to me that Bill would have to deal with this episode in their lives himself.

Don't these men think about the pain they cause by thinking with a body part other than their brains? Do they think women are playthings to be used? Does power entitle them? Will they ever "get" it?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sugar, Fat and Salt

Incompatible? I think so. Today I’m noticing the pairing of ice cream and obesity. This is a meditation about ice cream and overeating.
While I was on the road to and from Minneapolis last weekend, I listened to the audio version of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, by Dr. David Kessler. It’s a book about how sugar, fat and salt lead to the obesity epidemic in the US. Today I ate Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream. Most of a pint carton. I had read the book before, so I knew what I was doing.

Phish Food ice cream tastes very good. Ben & Jerry tell us on the label that it is All Natural. I think they have created something delicious and unnatural. In the framework of the book by Kessler, this dessert represents why people get fat. Kessler’s book isn’t about Ben & Jerry’s; it’s about sugar, fat and salt in addicting combinations. It’s also about how corporate food processing companies and fast food and chain restaurants exploit our appetites. It’s about the science behind it. Kessler points out that the processed foods of today are more complex than they were thirty years ago. They contain sugar and fat and salt in several forms, which he calls layering.

Phish Food ice cream is largely a combination of sugar (in various forms) and fat, with some salt. The description says it is “Chocolate Ice Cream with Gooey Marshmallow, caramel Swirls & Fudge Fish.” The carton also says, “…we made the marshmallow nougat chewy and the caramel gooey.” This adds up to an irresistible product that contains five fats and four sweeteners on its ingredients list, with salt listed twice. Do I want to eat liquid sugar, corn syrup, sugar and corn syrup solids, combined with cream, coconut oil, butter, egg yolks and milk fat? Apparently a lot of people do. And it’s called “all natural.”

Kessler points out that it is the way the sugar, fat and salt are combined that makes the difference. Food scientists have experimented a lot to create foods that taste good, look good, and make the consumer want more. They market them in appealing ways. Combined with that, many people eat away from home and snack throughout the day. Successful snacks contain combinations of these ingredients. Of course people are getting fatter after they fill up on them.

In addition to ice cream, I like potato chips. They have less sugar, although the potatoes aren’t innocent. They have plenty of fat and salt. French fries are a lot like the chips. There are other sweets that many people like and I manage not to eat very often, such as cake, pie, cookies, chocolate and cheesecake.

Kessler’s book is about food science. Kessler was commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He knows his stuff. Ben and Jerry know their stuff, too. They and Kessler are on the American dietary collision course. I have read that two-thirds of Americans now are overweight or obese. We shouldn’t wonder why.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Value of Libraries


Below is a National Library Week editorial by State Superintendent Tony Evers.

Wisconsin’s public, school, academic, and special libraries improve the state’s economy and the quality of life for residents of our state. Libraries have always been a source of community pride, and they are especially valuable in today’s knowledge and information-based world. Strong Wisconsin libraries support a stronger Wisconsin economy.

Our state is struggling with high unemployment and shrinking paychecks. This difficult economy requires smart investments and careful spending. Wisconsin libraries are models of frugality, using technology and working cooperatively to reduce costs and share resources. In fact, Wisconsin is first in the nation in per capita interlibrary loan, which saves taxpayers an estimated $100 million annually by sharing resources rather than purchasing more copies of library materials. The cuts proposed in the 2011-13 budget strike at the heart of library efficiencies. Elimination of the requirement that communities continue to support their local libraries will threaten Wisconsin’s resource-sharing services, creating a system of haves and have-nots.

Libraries are one of the best investments a community can make. Libraries help families cope with tight budgets by providing Internet-connected computers, books and other materials, and professional assistance at no cost to the user. Libraries support a competitive workforce through literacy programs, partnerships with job training programs, and other resources that help children and adults learn to find, evaluate, and use information they need for their education, health, and careers. Studies show that good school libraries effectively improve student performance. And, research has shown that libraries return more than $4 to the economy for each tax dollar invested.

In recognition of the importance of libraries to our economy and the services they provide to their communities, the American Library Association and libraries across the nation are sponsoring National Library Week, April 10 to 16. No matter your interest or need, libraries and library staff members are there to help. In honor of National Library Week, I encourage everyone to visit their local library to take advantage of the wonderful resources that are available, and to thank their librarians and library staff for making information and education accessible to all.

State Superintendent Tony Evers National Library Week proclamation is at:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Who Is Jesus - Book Review

Who is Jesus?: Answers to Your Questions About the Historical Jesus. By John Dominic Crossan and Richard G. Watts
If you’re looking for a readable book that tells about Jesus with some controversial ideas, this is it. It’s not a biography of Jesus. It’s not strictly traditional, although it covers traditional teachings about Jesus. It focuses on the Jesus of history, the Jesus who was born, taught, healed people and died on the cross. It comments on the Christ we find in Church, known as the Christ of Faith. The Christ of faith is the Christ made known by the people who knew him and lived after him as they tried to make sense of the things Jesus said and did.
The short book is written in a question and answer format with information given in small segments for readability. Chapters present good questions, including: Why Not Just Read the Gospels? Son of God, Son of the Virgin Mary? What Does John the Baptist Have to Do with Jesus? What Did Jesus Teach? Did Jesus Perform Miracles? Did Jesus Intend to Start a New Religion? Who executed Jesus and Why? What Happened on Easter Sunday? How Do you Get From Jesus to Christ?

John Dominic Crossan is a biblical scholar who was on the faculty of DePaul University and member of the Jesus Seminar. He collaborated with Richard Watts to introduce basic questions and conclusions of Jesus research to general readers. While I find that generally Crossan is not easy to read, this format makes his thought quite accessible to ordinary people. In the introduction, Crossan says, “We sent it out in confidence that many will find it helpful, precisely because it has grown out of the struggle of ‘real people’ to reconnect with Jesus by meeting him in the setting of his own first-century world.” Richard Watts was a pastor in a church in Normal. Illinois.

One theme that appears in Crossan's writing is the cross-cultural aspect of events in the stories of Jesus. He refers to the cruel domination of the people by the Roman Empire and the collaboration of the Jewish authorities in the domination. For example, this comes out in his explanation of the events around the cruxifixion at the time of the Passover. He points out that Jesus' "cleansing" of the Temple was a symbolic act. He says, "The Temple was and had to be the seat of collaboration with the Roman occupation authority. The High Priest had to be, whether he liked it or not, the link between his colonized people and their imperial overlords. In such a situation, any Jew...could have performed an action like that of Jesus. It was a symbolic destruction of the Temple as hopelessly and irrevocably contaminated and compromised. Was it the house of prayer and sacrifice or the seat of collaboration and oppression? Was the High Priest legitimate or even valid and what did such invalidity do to the house of God?" (p. 102-3). This act led to his execution by the Roman Empire. Jesus was a political dissident.

While saying the cruxifixion definitely happened, Crossan says that he doesn't think the Resurrection of Jesus is a historical event, although he believes that it exists in that Jesus continued and continues to live in the people. He says, "But maybe resurrection is simply a word-picture of Jesus' continuing presence among his followers....somehow Jesus was still with them [his followers]. So they struggled to find a way to express that powerful and empowering presence of Jesus. That way was the Easter story."  Make of this what you will. Crossan is a scholar of the historical Jesus.
The book is now new. It was published in 1996. It is available through

Friday, February 25, 2011

Wisconsin Politics

This is unbelievable in the history of Wisconsin. But it happened.

At 1:00 this (Friday) morning, the Wisconsin Assembly abruptly passed a controversial budget repair bill in a 17-second vote. Not everyone had time to vote. It caught many Democrats off guard as it came at the end of sixty hours of debate and ten days of citizen protests inside and outside the Capitol building. The next step is for it to go to a vote in the state Senate.

I am very troubled about this, as are thousands of Wisconsin residents. This will not benefit the people of Wisconsin. It will benefit the rich and powerful. It is no wonder that thousands of people have protested at the Capitol for ten days, including seventy thousand in one day alone, and many have been sleeping at the Capitol in their protests. We aren't even all talking about the same thing. Trust in government and among legislators is gone. Bipartanship doesn't seem to exist.

Several scenarios have been playing here. Governor Scott Walker has repeatedly said publicly that this bill is designed to cut the budget in order to address a significant budget shortfall.  Democrats in the legislature have pointed out that the real issue is the governor's desire to get rid of collective bargaining benefits for public workers and break the unions. The public employee unions have agreed to the proposed financial changes but will not concede about collective bargaining. The third scenario appears to be Governor Walker's political goals for himself, independent of any budget situation. This became evident in the broadcast of a prank phone conversation between Walker and an out of state blogger who said he was David Koch, a billionaire supporter of Walker.

In the phone conversation with "Koch", Walker showed that his primary allegiance was to Koch and the agenda of several conservative governors, which is to bust the public employee unions. Walker said he had considered planting troublemakers in the crowds of peaceful protesters but didn't do it because it might damage him politically. Walker and "Koch" agreed that they had a "vested interest" in the pasage of the budget repair bill. You bet they do. As I understand it, the bill gives Walker the right to sell Wisconsin power companies to anyone at any price without having to consult the elected members of the legislature. It seems that Koch is a major player in the power industry. Payback? Hmmm. In addition, Walker revealed his strategy of trying to trick the state senators into being out of the room during a recess and then taking a vote without them present, in the belief that once a quorum was present, business could be conducted even if a quorum was not there. This way the vote would pass. Is this legal? I am not an attorney. Is it ethical? Hardly. Is it like the vote that happened in the Assembly at 1:00 this morning? Yes.

That's not all I'm bothered about. This bill, if passed in the Senate, will give control of Wisconsin's Medicaid and Senior Care programs to Walker and one of his appointees. Here is Wisconsin's own death panel. It is likely that thousands of vulnerable people will lose access to medical services if this happens, in order to save money.  That's not all.  Public education funding will be greatly reduced and many teachers laid off. Layoff notices have already started to be issued in the state. Wisconsin transit systems will lose their federal aid because in order to get it, they must go through collective bargaining. A Madison bus driver told me that this would mean that several of the state's small transit systems would have to close. Again, this is a blow to vulnerable people who depend on buses.

I don't know when our state government has been this polarized. This dysfunctional group of leaders needs to go to counseling. As events have unfolded, the triple scenario of issues has played out.  For ten days, thousands of people have demonstrated at the Capitol, the vast majority in opposition to the bill. Walker supporters have said that these were out of state people who were brought in. Not so. When I was there, most were Wisconsin people in support of teachers, UW employees, nurses, and police and fire department people whom Walker exempted from the collective bargaining prohibition (who supported him in his election campaign), and others with union signs.

In the beginning, Walker did not have a budget crisis. According to reports, when he took office, he put through the Republican controlled legislature provisions that gave a large amount of money to business interests. In this way he created a budget shortfall and then used it to move along his agenda. This happened after he gave back federal funds to run a railroad line through Wisconsin.

After he proclaimed the budget crisis and presented his budget repair bill on a Friday (Fridays are good for not being noticed by people due to the weekend), apparently in hopes of passing it before the public would know what had happened, the State Senate tried to convene and discovered that fourteen state senators were not there, so the Senate could not do any fiscal business. They sent police to find the senators, which seemed heavy handed, and came up empty. We soon learned that the senators left the state in order to slow down the bill and allow discussion. This was a peaceful form of protesting about the way the governor was doing business. They said he would not discuss the bill with them. He was quoted in the media as saying that he would talk to them but would not change his mind. We don't know when they will return. They say they will return when Walker is willing to have real discussion.

As time went on, the Senators stayed in Illinois and were seen on national television. National television came to Madison when John Nichols of the Capital Times and The Nation magazine brought Ed Schultz of MSNBC's The Ed Show here for two days of local coverage. I was there. Other media began to notice.

The Senate was unable to pass the bill due to the absent senators, but the Assembly was in session. A long public hearing occurred, rallies went on inside and outside the Capitol. They debated for about sixty hours, mostly without sleeping. Republicans saw the large number of Democratic amendments as a way to stall and defeated most of them. Then debate was stopped and the vote taken abruptly. It passed. A significant number of representatives did not have time to vote in the seventeen second time period.

Even if the Republicans succeed in passing this legislation in the Senate, and the regular budget bill that will come up in a few days, I think that for the Republicans it will be like winning the battle and losing the war. It will be a sad state of affairs if the moneyed interests pull the strings of government to advance their interests. The middle class is disappearing, and this is one part of the drama. The war could be won when these people try to be re-elected.

Robert Reich, economist and member of Bill Clinton's administration, pointed out on television and elsewhere that the way out of state and national budget woes is not to reduce government services, and not to give tax breaks to the rich and put more tax burdens and deprivations on the middle and lower classes. It is to expect the rich to pay their share and thus put more money into the economy via increased spending by the ordinary people who would be taxed less. If they don't have jobs, they can't contribute to the economy.

Thanks to Rep. Tammy Baldwin and former Sen. Russ Feingold for supporting the people. Thanks to Facebook for being there as a means of communication for many people. I hope Governor Walker has a few sleepless nights over this travesty. Thanks to Ed Schultz of MSNBC and Air America for his ongoing support. Thanks to John Nichols for bringing MSNBC here to tell the world. Not many thanks to Pres. Obama, who has said almost nothing in support of the Wisconsin people. He promised in his 2008 campaign to be with people when their rights could be taken away. He turned out to be a false messiah. I think the native Americans were right. They said that government couldn't be trusted.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February Blizzard and God

We have had a lot of snow this winter. Today we are having a blizzard. I think it is powerful and beautiful and dangerous for some people. Big snowstorms snarl traffic and sometimes cause people to freeze to death. They also provide lots of snow for winter sports enthusiasts to enjoy after the storm. Who would think that there are several points of view? With this in mind, I decided that it was time for our blogging reporter to interview God, with no irreverence intended.

Since God was very busy dealing with situations in the world, including possibly WikiLeaks, we were able to speak with Reepicheep, a representative of the Kingdom of Heaven.

1.  What is God's opinion of the currrent snowstorm?
    God loves its performance, although God is concerned with people caught in it. You probably know that you can talk to God directly at any time, although you might not recognize God's responses.

2.  Why is God blanketing the country with all this snow and wind?
    Snow is part of the natural process that God put in place. This is not about punishment for allowing homosexuals to be treated as equals. It is good to remind people that big storms tell us something about God, and that is that God is in charge of the weather.

3.  Is God in direct communication with God's prophets, the meteorologists?
    No more than God communicates with anyone else, although God appreciates their gifts in telling people about storms. Meteorologists use science to tell the weather rather than relying on God most of the time.

4.  Why did God create snow?
     God prefers not to divulge everything. Come to heaven and find out.

5.  What is God doing about people who are in the storm and have accidents or deaths?
    God is concerned about them and is sending them wisdom to do the right things. And as a heavenly mouse, I remind you that the mice are having a hard time in this, too. Some of them are lucky enough to endure the storm in people's houses, or barns, or other shelters, but some of them are not. Mice are God's special creatures. It could be worse for you people. You may remember that for a while in Narnia, where I lived, it was always winter and never Christmas. God gave you Christmas. You people think you are everyone.

Ahem. Yes. Thank you for talking to us today. We'll see God in church.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Big Events of 2010

Before the new year gets any older, it's time for my comments on the 5 most important events of 2010. Most of them happened in the United States. Some are political; some are natural. Needless to say, other things happened, and not everyone will agree with my choices. Here's the list, not necessarily in order of importance or chronology.
1. Earthquake in Haiti.
2. Oil spill in Gulf of Mexico.
3. "Health Care" law reform.
4. Supreme Court decision giving allowing unlimited corporate spending in federal elections.
5. Recall of a half billion eggs suspected of salmonella contamination.

My list does not include actors who abuse their partners or go to rehab, engagements in royal families, professional sports, Michael Jackson (who seems to continue to live in the news), the ongoing story of the economy, jobs and real estate, and other natural disasters.

The Haiti earthquake stunned many Americans. Maybe it's because Haiti is near the US. An earthquake like that could hit one of our cities. Many people sent money and people to help with the disaster. Unfortunately, the most recent report I heard said that only about a third of Port-au-Prince has been rebuilt, and a huge number of people continue to survive with little help. Where did all the donated money go?

The oil spill severely damaged the gulf. Lots of money and manpower went there to help. The last news I heard was that shoreline habitat is still oil soaked, but some beaches apparently are cleaned up. Where did BP go? We will live with the consequences of this for a long time. Forget about "drill, baby, drill."

The "health care" law, in my opinion, really isn't about health or care. It's about medical services and money. I support it because it offers increased access and provisions about freedom from pre-existing conditions. Like some others, I question the requirement that everyone have "health" (medical) insurance, and I don't know why the people who want to repeal this provision connect it with repeal of pre-existing condition provisions. I don't think this law is socialism any more than universal public education or local police and fire protection are. In any case, this is a major change for Americans.

The Supreme Court decision about funding elections can change the way people are elected. Corporations can pour money in to elect people who support their positions, with little or no concern for the good of the people. I see this as government by corporations and not by the people. We have already seen that legislators will give their support to the causes that help them get re-elected. It's dangerous for democratic processes.

Why do I think the egg recall is big? I didn't list all the automobile recalls. This recall is about people's need for food that won't sicken or kill them. Factory egg production provides eggs and other foods on a huge scale. Since this event, the government has passed new food safety legislation. I also believe that the Food and Drug Administration needs to have enough inspectors to do their jobs related to this.

I hope that 2011 will give us good news.