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When All Else Fails Try Duct Tape

September 14, 2014
duct-tape-rolls

The troubled space flight of Apollo 13 has been chronicled in a movie starring Tom Hanks.  A real-life drama in space began with the unforgettable words, radioed back to earth by Jack Swigert, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here!”

On route to the moon, the command module was shaken by an explosion. The crew evacuated the space capsule and entered the attached lunar landing module, using it as a lifeboat. The square carbon dioxide filters from Apollo 13’s failed command module had to be modified to fit round receptacles in the lunar landing module. The challenge was the proverbial problem – how to fit a square peg into a round hole. Without the modification, the three astronauts would have perished in space.

On the ground in Houston, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration responded. Ed Smylie, chief of NASA, and mission control engineers, designed the modification using duct tape. Following the directions relayed from Houston, the Apollo 13 crew made the repairs using their own roll of duct tape. The filters started working, saving the lives of the three astronauts on board. Later, Ed said that he knew the problem was solvable when the crew confirmed that duct tape was on board the spacecraft.

“I felt like we were home free.” Ed Smylie, a native of Mississippi, quipped, “One thing a Southern boy will never say is ‘I don’t think duct tape will fix that.'” Read more…

REMEMBERING 9/11

September 7, 2014
Sept 11

Though I have taught in the Religion Department at the University of South Carolina Upstate as an adjunct professor for the past several years, this fall is the first time I am teaching the introductory level course, Comparative Religion. In the opening lecture I made it clear to the students that we will approach the study of world religions with respect for all people regardless of their faith orientation. This is a necessary prerequisite if the journey is to lead beyond tolerance to a genuine understanding of faiths other than our own. In my opinion, this approach is a much needed corrective to our current national mindset.

Perhaps never before in my lifetime has there been a more intense atmosphere of doubt and suspicion in our nation. After the atrocities of Adolph Hitler’s Germany, many Americans were guarded in our encounters with people of German heritage, even our fellow citizens. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, many Americans became suspicious of people of Japanese origin.   The Cold War kept us on edge in our dealings with those of Russian descent.

Yet how deprived we would be without the musical compositions of Germans Telemann, Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Schumann. Think of our poverty without the music of Russians Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Stravinsky or the writings of their countrymen Tolstoy, Nabokov, Chekhov, and Dostoevsky. The art and culture of Japan has long enriched American life. While we have had legitimate reason to regard the governments certain countries at certain times as enemies, we have also found among those same people individuals who have made our lives better.

On the anniversary of 9/11 Americans will pause to remember the day when the twin towers fell in New York City, the Pentagon burned in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania became a charred grave. It is impossible to erase the mental images of the destruction of these important landmarks. Even more difficult is our overwhelming sense of loss and grief even after these years.

In worship services and symphony concerts, at baseball games and football games, at community events and candlelight vigils, we will remember.   The violent acts of al-Qaeda terrorists that turned our commercial jet planes into instruments of war changed our lives forever.

But, this was not just an attack against America.

The 2,977 victims who died that day were not only Americans. The World Trade Center brought together people from all over the globe. More than ninety countries lost citizens in the Twin Towers alone. This horror was unleashed not only against America. It was also against the world.

We remember not only those who died, but also the more than 6,000 who were treated for non-fatal injuries. We remember the spouses and children of the victims, the parents, the siblings, and the friends who, even now, fourteen years later, continue to grieve.

We remember the heroic men and women who worked to save, rescue, recover, nurse, feed, and console the victims.  Some gave their lives in the effort, becoming victims themselves.  Many others have since become causalities of war, protecting and defending our national interest.

Like most of you, I remember that day well. I was driving to Morningside Baptist Church on the morning of September 11, 2001, when my wife, Clare, called me on my cell phone. “You need to turn on a television when you get to the church,” she said.

I telephoned the church office. The staff already had a TV on in the office.

When I arrived a crowd had gathered. We all watched in dismay as the second jet plane struck the second tower of the World Trade Center.

The events of that day were confusing and confounding. President Bush was reading to a group of children in Florida when he received the news of the devastation. I, along with many other Americans, will never forget the expression on his face.

I had been asked to open the luncheon meeting of a civic club later that day with a devotion and a prayer. As I considered what to say to that distinguished group of community leaders, a hymn kept coming to mind. My devotion was brief. My prayer included some of the words of a favorite hymn by Martin Luther:

Though this world, with evil filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.

The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure….

The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still;

His kingdom is forever.

Hatred is the motive behind terrorism. Terrorism evokes fear. Fear is the root of prejudice. Prejudice creates adversaries. An adversarial relationship promotes hatred. This vicious cycle must be broken. Otherwise, we become like the terrorists; and they will have defeated us.

A few days after September 11, 2001, Clare and I drove to Greenville. We had seen reports that indicated that Americans were reacting with hostility toward Muslim citizens of this country as well as people who looked like Muslims. Non-Muslim men who wore turbans, like the Sikhs, were victims of violence. Palestinians, even those who were American citizens, had come under suspicion and even under attack. About one third of all Palestinians are Christians and make up the majority of Palestinian refugees. Many have come to America and have become citizens.

Clare and I have often enjoyed eating at the Pita House in Greenville. The restaurant, owned and operated by a Palestinian family, serves sumptuous Middle Eastern food. We wanted to visit them and let them know of our support. When we arrived, the establishment was decked out with American flags. I spoke with the brothers who are the owners. They felt the same horror and grief that other Americans felt. Yet they feared that they might be targeted by those who had become so suspicious and fearful.

Those who died on 9/11 will help us remember an important truth. No one lives, suffers, or dies in vain.   Even as we remain vigilant in a world of terror, such acts of hatred will not defeat us. Love is the greatest power in the world. We cannot allow terror to lead us to suspicion and hatred. Our best response to the atrocities of 9/11 is to become more loving toward all people. It is the only way to conquer fear and hate within the human soul.

The words of a prayer by South African Bishop Desmond Tutu ring true:

Good is stronger than evil;

Love is stronger than hate;

Light is stronger than darkness;

Life is stronger than death.

Victory is ours, through Him who loves us.

 

LABOR DAY

August 30, 2014
rosie the riveter

“Dr. Kirk, tomorrow is the day!” the young woman exclaimed. A petite blue-eyed blond, she stood in line with her tall lanky husband at a local restaurant. I couldn’t help but notice that she was in a family way. The Biblical description is “great with child.” She had on a tee-shirt featuring Rosie the Riveter with the motto, “We can do it!” and she was very pregnant.

“And what is tomorrow?” I asked.

“Tomorrow is labor day,” answered the young husband.

“Yes! Tomorrow morning at six o’clock we have to be at Labor and Delivery at the hospital for the arrival of our first child.”

“Get some rest.” I advised. “There is a good reason they call it going into labor.” I spoke out of my experience of being with Clare for the births of each of our five children. I can attest to the fact that the labor of giving birth is hard work.

My dad, father of eight, used to say, “If men and women took turns having babies, no family would have more than three. There’s not a man on earth who would go through that twice.”

Labor Day as a holiday for workers was first proposed in May 1882 by a carpenter, Peter J. McGuire of the American Federation of Labor. After witnessing the annual labor festival held in Toronto, Canada, McGuire thought such a celebration was needed in this country. Others say that Matthew Maguire, a machinist, first proposed the holiday while serving as secretary of the Central Labor Union of New York.

Whether McGuire or Maguire, Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894 when the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve the legislation. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law. By that time thirty states already celebrated the day. South Carolina was not one of them.

When I was a boy it was never a holiday at the lumberyard. I remember it as the day the Southern 500 stock car race was run in Darlington, South Carolina.

Now Labor Day is a reminder of how I learned to work. Read more…

SMOKEY THE BEAR

August 24, 2014
smokey-bear-illustration

You have to admire a guy who goes to work every day in blue jeans to tackle one of the toughest jobs on Planet Earth. He accepts his assigned task without complaint, with a passion for his profession that is undiminished, and with a repetition for loyalty and faithfulness that is unblemished. The amazing thing is that he has been on the job, 24/7, for seventy years. Commendable in every way this is a fellow of few words. He utters only one sentence, but for seventy years his message has been loud and clear — “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

Smokey Bear is an advertising mascot created in 1944 to educate the public about the dangers of forest fires. During World War II, the Japanese Empire developed a wildfire strategy that met with little success to set ablaze coastal forests in southwest Oregon. Later in the war, in 1944 and 1945, the Japanese military launched approximately 9,000 fire balloons into the jet stream. As many as ten percent reached the West Coast of the United States. Elementary teacher Elsie Mitchell and five of her students were killed by one of the bombs near Bly, Oregon, on May 5, 1945.

Though the U.S. Forest Service fought fires long before World War II, the war brought a sense of urgency to the effort. Since most able-bodied men were already serving in the armed forces, none could be spared to fight forest fires. Fire prevention became the goal. The hope was that if Americans knew how wildfires would harm the war effort, they would better cooperate with the Forest Service to keep fires from starting in the first place.

A bear was chosen as the emblem of the fire prevention campaign. His name was inspired by Joe Martin, a New York City Fire Department hero who suffered burns and blindness during a bold 1922 rescue. Joe’s nickname, Smokey, was given to the bear.

Smokey’s debut poster was released on August 9, 1944. In the first poster illustrator Albert Staehle depicted Smokey wearing jeans and a campaign hat. The hat was like that worn by the National Park Service Rangers. Their hat was derived from the cavalry who protected the early national parks. In the poster Smokey is pouring a bucket of water on a campfire. The message underneath read, “Smokey says – Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires!” The more familiar slogan, “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires”, was created in 1947 by The Advertising Council. Read more…

WATERMELONS GALORE

August 17, 2014
WATERMELON

Last week Clare and I took an afternoon to cruise the blue line highways of the Upstate. We made a special effort to find good homegrown tomatoes. We stopped at several roadside stands and found delicious heirloom tomatoes at several of our favorite places. We also found a few figs, an abundance of late summer peaches, and early fall apples. At every stand we saw watermelons galore.

My mother was allergic to watermelon. Even a small spill of the sticky pink juice on her kitchen counter caused her to break out in hives, so we never had watermelons in our home. You no doubt have heard the wise old saying, “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” In our family that was the gospel truth.

As far as I know it is next to impossible to eat watermelon without the juice running down your chin and off your elbows. If we had watermelon at all it was in the backyard where everything contaminated by watermelon drippings could be washed away with the garden hose.

My brothers and sisters and I were, of course, exposed to watermelon in other circumstances. Most of our cousins enjoyed the summertime fruit and looked forward to a big wedge of watermelon with the same anticipation as a cone of homemade peach ice cream.

Elaine was one of my classmates at Cooperative Elementary School. Her birthday was right after the beginning of the new school year. She invited every student in Mrs. Pearl Fairbetter’s fourth-grade class to her party.

Even though I was scared of girls, Mama said I had to go to Elaine’s party. She was our neighbor. Not going to her party would be rude. Reluctantly, I went. There were thirteen girls there. I was the only boy who attended.

I guess Elaine’s daddy felt sorry for me. He told me I could help him cut the watermelon. That was just fine with me. I liked watermelon, and I didn’t like girls. Turns out the girls were too prissy to eat watermelon. Elaine’s daddy said I would have to eat the whole thing by myself. I ate as much as I could. I got as sick as a dog. I have never liked watermelon since that day. Read more…

A FLURRY OF HUMMINGBIRDS

August 9, 2014
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) - male at Bee Balm (Monarda)

This far into summer I notice that when I take a few minutes to sit quietly, I invariably become aware of a faint humming sound. It might be emanating from my car. The source may be my computer. The sound could come from a home appliance. Humming sounds can be natural occurrences. Whales and dolphins beneath the ocean, many varieties of insects, and even the pulsating of heavenly bodies can produce distinctive hums. Some people hear a constant hum caused by the flow of their own blood in the small vessels of their inner ear.

We might well ask, “What is that humming sound?” This time of year it could be a hummingbird.

The first week of August brought a few days of blessed relief from the oppressive heat and humidity of our dog day afternoons. On Monday of last week I enjoyed a second cup of coffee with Clare on our screened back porch overlooking the flower garden. Hummingbirds provided the entertainment while we read the newspaper. The tiny, feathered creatures put on quite an aerial display as they competed for the sweet nectar of the flowers and the sugar water in our feeders.

At the end of the day, as the sun was setting, Clare and I again sat on our own back porch.  We were treated to an amazing air show.  As we enjoyed our supper, we witnessed an incredible display of aerobatics.  Agile flying machines were buzzing our yard, staging mid-air combat maneuvers that would impress even Air Force top guns. Late summer is the prime season for hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are always interesting to watch. Their activity increases as the summer days grow shorter.  Their excited pace and almost perpetual motion are at once fascinating and wearying to the observer.  Read more…

KIRK’S SPICY FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

August 6, 2014
Fried Green Tomatoes

This is a classic Southern recipe. There are many variations. This is our favorite. Warning: This preparation is messy.

4 Large green tomatoes, (all green, no pink, hard as a rock)

2 Eggs

1 Cup buttermilk

1 Cup all-purpose flour

1 Cup cornmeal

Crushed red pepper flakes

Garlic powder

Coarsely ground salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Red pepper hummus

Jalapeño pimento cheese

Sour cream or goat cheese

Vegetable oil for frying

Dredging:

  • Slice tomatoes 1/2 inch thick. Discard the ends.
  • You need to use four bowls.
  • Into the first bowl pour only half of the buttermilk, and dip tomato slices.
  • Into the second bowl put the flour only, and lightly dip tomato slices covering both sides.
  • Into the third bowl whisk eggs and the rest of the buttermilk together, and dip tomato slices covering both sides.
  • In the fourth bowl mix cornmeal with red pepper flakes, garlic powder, coarsely ground salt, and freshly ground pepper, and thoroughly coat tomato slices on both sides.

Cooking:

  • In a large skillet, pour vegetable oil (enough so that there is 1/2 inch of oil in the pan) and bring to medium heat.
  • Place battered tomato slices into the frying pan in small batches, depending on the size of your skillet. Fry a few at a time.
  • Do not crowd the tomatoes. Give them plenty of room. They should not touch each other.
  • When the tomatoes are lightly brown, flip and fry them on the other side.
  • Drain them on paper towels.

Serving:

  • On individual plates, spoon a heaping tablespoon of roasted red pepper hummus.
  • Place the first fried green tomato in the hummus.
  • Stack the fried green tomatoes three or four high with a spoonful of jalapeño pimento cheese between slices.
  • Top with a dollop of sour cream.  Goat cheese is also good on top.
  • Enjoy!
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