22 April 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: V is for Valor

I grew up in Memphis riding and eventually driving on a portion of Tennessee State Route 204  known as Singleton Parkway.  It runs from Macon Road north to Hwy 385 near Millington.  It is named in honor of Sgt.Walter Keith Singleton, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for combat action in the Gio Linh District, Quang Tri Province of Vietnam, during which he was killed on 24 March 1967.  Singleton risked his life to save wounded comrades pinned down by an enemy position in a hedgerow.  Singleton seized a machine gun and single-handedly assaulted the enemy nest, killing 8 and clearing the position, being mortally wounded in the process. 

Tony K. Burris earned the Medal of Honor for his actions on “Heartbreak Ridge” during the Korean War.  Despite being wounded several times, he led multiple assaults on Hill 605, deliberately exposing his position to draw enemy fire and direct return fire.  He died personally leading a charge, throwing his last grenade and rallying his unit to capture the position.  One of 28 full-blooded Native Americans to receive the Medal of Honor.

Benjamin Kaufman, one of 22 Jewish-American Medal of Honor Recipients, received the award for action in the Argonne Forest, France on 4 October 1918 during World War I.  Despite being temporarily blinded by a gas shell and forced to evacuate to a field hospital, Kaufman borrowed a uniform and returned to the fighting,  single-handedly capturing an enemy machine gun nest with one arm and an empty pistol.

But you don’t have to be a soldier to display valor.

One of the most iconic images of the 20th century is a lone man, armed only with a couple of shopping bags, standing in front of a line of Chinese T59 tanks in the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.  Known only as “Tank Man,” Tank Man his identity has never been conclusively proven, nor is his ultimate fate known.  Some observers report that he was hustled away by the Chinese government’s euphemistically named “Public Security Bureau.”  Others claim the two figures who led him away were merely part of the protest crowd.  Whoever he was, Chinese government had, according to eyewitnesses, ordered tanks to simply plow over such protestors before, having a very utilitarian view of its citizens, so it was a pretty risky move.   Perhaps it was the open forum and tank commander’s knowledge of the presence of many international observers and cameras that spared his life.  Perhaps it was the bravery of the tank commander alone.  His fate is not known, either, but worldwide recognition of the Chinese crackdown could not have pleased the Chinese high command.

Reese is two years old.  At an age when a typical child’s greatest challenges are potty training and learning to operate door knobs, Reese is receiving chemotherapy for a brain tumor, discovered in May 2013.  Reese is the April Patient of the Month at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.  Hang in there, Reese.

11 April 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things:U is for Ulster

Ulster is the traditional name of the area of the United Kingdom now known as Northern Ireland.  About a thousand years ago, I traced my ancestry back as far as I could and hit upon a fella named John Stafford, who was born in Ireland in 1721 and came to Virginia in 1754.  That’s about all I know about him, but I fixated on that small factoid to decide that I’m Irish.  Never mind that it’s 9 generations back.  And I have no idea where in Ireland John came from, but since I’m protestant, I decided he must have been from Northern Ireland.

Ulster was one of the original firths (fifths) of ancient Ireland, known as Cúige Uladh in those times.  Northern Ireland today remains a part of the United Kingdom and the site of bloody, sectarian violence with the predominately Catholic Republic of Ireland over religion and independence.  It was formally created in 1921 by an act of Parliament prior to the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922.  The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 made it largely self-governing, and the violence of the mid-late 20th century, marked by the activities of the terrorist Irish Republican Army and its more mainstream political wing, Sinn Fein in response to anti-Catholic and anti-republican discrimination by the predominantly Anglican unionists, has largely subsided.  Of course, it’s not as simple as all that, but those are the high points.

Its most prominent symbol, used by both republicans and unionists, is the Red Hand of Ulster.  Legend holds that the kingdom at one time had no rightful heir.  It was agreed that a boat race would be held and the first one to touch land would be king.  One of the contestants was said to have severed his own hand and thrown it on shore, thus winning the kingdom.  

06 April 2014

Special Update: A to Z Challenge

If you stopped by looking for the "A to Z" April challenge, I must offer my humble apologies.  Time simply got away from me and I just don't have enough of that precious commodity to devote to the effort right now.  I'm still working my way through the alphabet with my "Favorite Things" theme, and hope to wrap that up soon.  My twitter feed will feature a number of bloggers that are in the challenge, so keep an eye out there, and good luck to the scores of bloggers participating this year!

04 April 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: T is for Tea

Camellia sinensis.  Its leaves were likely first brewed in the Shang Dynasty in China sometime between 1,600 and 1,046 BC, but tradition points to a much older origin, with Shennong, the traditional father of agriculture in Chinese lore.  Long thought (not without modern scientific confirmation) to have medicinal properties, it became known as a pleasant and stimulating beverage owing to its caffeine content.

It is perhaps the most Southern of beverages, excepting perhaps bourbon, and simply must be consumed with another Southern staple; cane sugar (the four basic food groups of the South are butter; brown sugar, cornbread, and bacon).  It’s virtually all I drink.  The recipe is simple, but exacting.  A glass of unsweetened iced tea and a packet of sugar is NOT sweet tea.  Real sweet tea cannot be made once it’s cool.  You have to put the sugar in while it’s hot. 

Sweet Tea (1 gallon)
2 cups boiling water
1.5-2 times the number of tea bags it says on the box (make it strong)
1.5-2 cups plain, white cane sugar (no substitutes)

Brew the tea as normal, but let it steep longer (you want strong tea).  Remove the tea bags (squeeze them out, don’t waste the liquid in the bags) and add the sugar while the tea is still hot.  I bottle it straight and refrigerate it; adding ice waters the tea down, but I like it very strong and very sweet.  It’s not quite syrup, but it’s sweet.

(Full disclosure: I use a fake tea-flavored enhancer like Mio (heresy!).  It’s not great, and certainly not real sweet tea, but for just one person in a household of 4, there’s no room in the fridge for a jug of tea, and I drink a LOT of it throughout the day.  The convenience is just too good to pass up.  And yes, I know the fake sugar (sucralose) is no better, and maybe worse, for you than sugar, but I can’t carry around a five-pound bag of sugar to make it one glass at a time)