Ready To Celebrate Christmas

The Christmas mood has settled in over our home.  Much like the fog outside it seems insulating and perfect.  A couple more gifts to wrap, and some more cookies to make are all that remain to be done.  Relaxing and enjoying the tree and the meaning of the season will be at the top of our agenda.    With another major winter storm aiming for Wisconsin we are glad to have all the shopping completed so we can stay off the roads during the bad weather slated for this weekend in Madison.

I hope that all of you have a Merry Christmas! I will be back to blogging on December 26.

Below you will find my Mom’s favorite Christmas song.  I thought this a good place to post it.

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Impressive Icicles In Madison, Wisconsin


I got up this morning thinking that I would write something political for my blog.  But then I noticed the beauty of the sunrise.  Shortly thereafter while walking around the neighborhood the incredible icicles that hang gloriously struck me as just perfect additions to all the homes.  So I offer some pictures of how the melting snow from rooftops provides joy on a cold winter day.  And how it makes a blogger forget about politics!







I saved the best for last!

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Jesse Jackson Speaks With Passion In Madison At The Capital Times Birthday Party


“Bush and I have one thing in common, and that is that we both came in second.” 

The laughter that filled the room at the Monona Terrace in Madison following that comment by the Reverend Jesse Jackson Wednesday night had a bittersweet sound as many in the crowd knew in their hearts that the country would have been well served by having him in the Oval Office.  Jackson joined about 300 attendees to celebrate the 90th birthday of Madison’s progressive afternoon newspaper, The Capital Times.  John Nichols, the associate editor of the paper, held an insightful and illuminating conversation with the civil rights activist, and two time presidential candidate that lasted about an hour.

In the conversation Jackson presented his experiences as a template (my word, not his) for how others could not only run campaigns, but also run the country once elected.  And with 20 years for us to reflect on his efforts in 1984 and 1988 to be President, we must admit he presents powerful arguments for his style of campaigning,  and the issues he fought for.

The struggles with the power centers within the Democratic Party have frustrated Jackson for many years.  While working to elect an African-American mayor in Chicago he was told by the likes of Senators Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale that they both needed to “support their allies”, meaning they would work for the entrenched Chicago machine candidate.  When Jackson heard the “allies” comment he asked them, “Well who are we?” meaning the black voters that had supported the Democratic Party for decades.  Years later Jackson would spar with the centrist and mushy Democratic Leadership Council, which was an organization hoping to stem the liberal tendencies of the Democratic Party.

But through it all Jackson understands that counter-culture politics is the force that keeps the nation moving in a progressive direction.  Whether it was striving for union rights, civil rights, or health care rights for AIDS patients, the counter-culture politics that he marshalled is the path that he wishes more politicians would embrace.

John Nichols started his introduction for Jackson on Wednesday by describing him as “the most successful diplomat”, and the record of Jackson’s achievements, along with his thoughtful views over the decades, prove Nichols to be correct.

When asked to sum up his diplomatic approach Jackson said, “I tried, I talked, I asked.”  The audience understood what he meant.   As Jackson spoke of his overseas work the crowd nodded in agreement, and when he mentioned Ronald Reagan and the American flier held captive in Syria in 1983 there was laughter.

Robert Goodman, a Navy flier was being held by President Assad, and Jackson asked President Reagan if he could travel to Syria to seek his release.  Reagan told Jackson not to go, but just in case Jackson did go and succeeded, Reagan wanted to make sure Jackson brought Goodman back to the White House for pictures!  Jackson used the diplomatic approach he had long advocated; he tried, talked, and asked.  In the end a very pleased President Reagan met Goodman at the White House.  And as a side note I think we all recall that Jackson looked mighty good on the White House grounds too!

Jackson observed during the conversation with Nichols that American foreign policy is often one of contempt, and not respect for others in the international arena.  He urged more discussion among nations, and a deeper appreciation on our part for the rampant poverty that impacts so many around the world. 

When asked about the current presidential contest underway in America he had one blunt criticism for Mike Huckabee, the former Governor of Arkansas.  Jackson said that it was wrong for Huckabee to attempt to force Mitt Romney to take a religious test.  “It is the most unfair part of Huckabee’s campaign.”  He then reminded the crowd that most lynchings in the south took place after Church on Sunday’s, and the ones doing it “were not Mormons.”

Wednesday evening as I listened to Jesse Jackson I recalled how during the 1988 presidential election I wore his campaign button on my jacket.  I had been a supporter of Jackson in 1984, but was not able to campaign and work in his behalf to the degree I had wished.  But in 1988 I was living in Madison, and had more opportunities to help make a difference.  At the time I was working with a State Representative from northeast Wisconsin who was more conservative that I was.  While with him in the district one day he asked me what his constituents might think about me wearing my Jackson button.  I told him that I hoped the voters might ask about Jackson so I could tell them of the message he offered for America.  This seemed to make the Representative mighty nervous, as he knew I was serious.  He never talked about the button again, though I knew he thought it might harm him among some conservatives.

Now these many years later as I listened to Jesse Jackson speak I am again reminded of how much better off we would all be had he been our President.  “Run, Jesse, Run” was more than a slogan in the 1980’s.  If was a real piece of hope in American politics.  Wednesday night for an hour some of us recalled what hope felt like again.

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The Anticipation Of A Winter Storm In Wisconsin


There is something about the news of a winter storm that brings out the child in each of us.  Tonight as I write it seems almost a pure thing.  Innocent and fresh.  Some of us give into those feelings more readily than others.  I admit it is easy for me.  Yet if we all are honest with ourselves we must admit there is a wonderment to the news of a winter storm watch for Saturday. 

There is no way that the news of sleet, and half a foot of snow, does not conjure up warm memories of childhood.  The building of a snowman, followed by a steaming mug of hot cocoa, is a part of our childhood.  So if we enjoyed those moments so much at one time in the past, why do so many not embrace them as adults?

My dad and I talked this evening, and he spoke of how “real pretty the trees are” after a snowfall.  And he is right of course.  He has come to the point in life where he can slow down, and not be required to be ‘somewhere’, but instead can just relax and watch the snow.  But the truth is many folks, regardless of age, can do the same as my Dad will this weekend.  The fact that the storm will marshal its way through Wisconsin on a weekend means most of us have no real reason to be anywhere but home. 

So lets slow down this weekend, and take a trip back with memory to our childhoods.  Remember how we went to sleep with the grass brown, but were awakened to a blanket of white?  Recall how we looked out the window and went WWWOOOWWW!!   Remember how we had to find a way to eat breakfast real fast so we could get outside and enjoy the snow?  Recall making that first snowball and throwing it as far as we could hurl it?  And how many of us lingered outside even after we were wet and cold?  There was just nothing better than to be outside in the midst of winters best.

As adults we have no reason not to relish the snow (and the anticipation of it) as we once did as kids.  Plan a meal Saturday that requires putting something in the oven that will not only warm your home, but also will create a wonderful aroma.  Put your favorite Christmas album on.  Plan to make a batch of cookies.  Get a few neighbors together, and go for a long walk as the snow falls.  There are many sights to behold after Mother Nature paints the landscape white.  The hush and calm that covers the city, much like the snow itself, is one of the side effects of a winter storm. 

This weekend never think of the car, or the roads.  Think not once of the mall, or the movie theater.  Just get back to the childhood memory of how the snow once was all that mattered, and how nothing could make the day any better than to have a snowstorm hit your backyard.

Don’t miss the pretty trees, or the quiet as the snow falls because you need to be ‘somewhere’.  Enjoy the moment.  Enjoy our winter storm.

You will feel better on Monday morning if you take my advice this weekend.

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Our Tree Is Up And Decorated


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Mom’s Angel Cookie Recipe


This recipe is well over 50 years old.  It is a winner, easy to make, and very tasty!  They are great to eat just out of the oven, and they also store well for the late night munchies.  If you make them I guarantee that you will be back in the kitchen soon to whip up another batch.  They do not last long if you have kids at home…even big kids aged in the 40’s!

When I was a boy these cookies became my favorite, and no Christmas season would be complete without several batches being made.  This year I made some for Thanksgiving, and more baking this month means that friends are going to be getting cookie tins with these inside.  And everybody gets the recipe, so the tradition of these gems continues.

Every year at about this time I called my mom and asked if she had done any baking yet.  I always seemed to call before the cookies were made, but soon thereafter they were always in the cupboard where they had been placed since I was in the third grade.  If they can leave a memory like that in a 45 year old, it must mean they are good!

Angel Cookies

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

2 cups shortening

2 eggs

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp. cream of tarter

2 tsp. baking soda

4 cups flour

Mix sugar and shortening.  Add eggs and beat.  Add flavoring.   Add dry ingredients.  Shape into balls the size of a walnut and roll in colored sugars.  (As the years went along my mom at times left this out, and it did not detract from the yummyness.  I also recall that as a boy my mom placed the sugars on the cookies midway through the baking process.)  Place 2 inches apart on a greased baking sheet.  (Not the non-stick kind.) Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. 

As the recipe notes it “Makes a pretty Christmas cookie.”

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Giving Thanks In 2007


The lady in the little bakery shop did not know me, and I did not know her.  However as I reflect back on 2007 she holds a special place in my heart exactly because we did not know each other.

It was a sultry day in early August as James and I took a break from visiting at the Stevens Point hospital by taking a walk down the main street of their city.  It was once a bustling place, where as a boy I loved all the folks who strolled along with packages, doing so with a purpose in their steps.  But things were different now.  The huge mall that dominated the street once promising to bring vitality to the center of the city had instead only brought malaise.  Just a few others walked along slowly as we did that afternoon.  We looked in a few windows, and ambled along.   James and I had no desire to be there, and only our nervous energy fed our footsteps.

I spotted the little bakery that was located not far from the bookstore that I had spent money and time at as a teenager.  Inside the bakery, sweet smells made it seem that time had stopped.  They were the smells of everything that was still right with the world.  We looked over the plain donuts, jelly filled rolls, and others coated in sugar.  The lady behind the counter asked how we were doing, and noticed that we looked tired.  “These will perk you up,” she said as she pointed to the items in the glass cases.

James and I had been racing between Madison and Stevens Point for many days, sometimes packing an overnight bag, other times buying shirts and toiletries on the run so we could stay at a motel.  In the rush that day we had not even thought about stopping at a TYME machine.  And the bakery did not take cards.  My pockets had some loose change that I dug out and counted.  There were a few pennies in a container on the counter that I added to my coins to make it all work out.  I explained sheepishly that I was a bit frazzled, and offered my apologies for using her pennies to buy our sweets.

Seeing my discomfort James explained our time in Stevens Point was spent visiting a sick loved one in the hospital.  They talked for a minute, and she wished us well. We left the peaceful smells of that little shop, and walked back outside to a bench a few feet down the street to sit and eat.

I was pointing out to James all the changes to the shops along the street since I was a boy, when the lady from the bakery walks up to us with a small bag of goodies from the bakery.  She handed us the bag, told us we needed to stay strong, and that she would be praying that everything turned out fine.  And then she left and walked away.

Now I know on Thanksgiving we are to remind ourselves about all the things we are thankful for.  We usually list the country we are blessed to live in, those who love us, our good health, and all sorts of big themed ideas.  While all that is certainly true for me as well, I have often thought these past months about that single lady at the bakery, and how thoughtful she was to us.  A brief moment of her time, a gracious act on her part, and the lasting warmth it has on my life.

When logic and reason were missing in our summer of sadness and chaos, a complete stranger proved that there was still goodness and hope around us. Talk about something to be thankful for!!

After the upside down summer James and I have settled into a routine at our new residence in Madison.  As such, we walk a great deal for exercise and relaxation.  On these walks I have encountered a homeless lady that I see over and over again.  While there are many homeless folks in large cities, she just stood out for some reason.  The first time I saw her she was sitting on State Street with her back against a doorframe with her belongings scattered around.  I walked past her, but several yards later turned and walked back.  We had made eye contact as I had passed, and the sickly eyes were similar to others I had seen this year.  There was no way I could not have returned to her.  This time my pockets had cash in them, which I gave to her.

I see her often at night as I walk to meet James after his work at the college.  She sits on a bench near the Capitol and seems so alone.  She does not seem sad or angry but just lost, and somehow resigned to her fate.

I stop each time I see her on my walks and give her some money, though there is no recognition from her that we have ever met before.  And there need not be any. 

The lady does not know me, and I do not know her. 

It is just my way of saying thanks.

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Grand Ole Opry Star Hank Thompson Dies


Last year James and I attended a concert featuring the legends of the Grand Ole Opry as they preformed at a local venue while on their nationwide tour.  One of the traveling group was Hank Thompson.  With aged hands he gently took my guitar and added his signature. Only the legends get a space on the guitar. 

Today it was announced on CMT that Country Music Hall of Fame member Hank Thompson died late Tuesday (Nov. 7) at his home near Fort Worth, Texas, following a battle with lung cancer. The 82-year-old singer, songwriter and bandleader last week canceled all of his tour dates after being hospitalized. He played his last concert on Oct. 8 in his native Waco, Texas, when Hank Thompson Day was declared by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Waco Mayor Virginia DuPuy.


 Neither of his parents even dabbled at music, and Thompson told writer Rich Kienzle that growing up, country was the only music he listened to and the only music that anybody he knew listened to. Radio from Dallas and the Mexican border stations featured such diverse groups and artists as the Light Crust Doughboys, the Carter Family and Cowboy Slim Rhinehart. The records he actually preferred were by country’s more traditional early stars — Carson Robison, Vernon Dalhart and, of course, Jimmie Rodgers. Then movies brought him the thrill of a cowboy who sang like Jimmie Rodgers — the great Gene Autry. Thompson got his first guitar at age 10 and began aping all these musical favorites. Peg Moreland and Ernest Tubb became radio favorites during his years at Waco High School in the early 1940s.

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