Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Wee bit of a Feud in Caithness

Ackergill Tower
 
Ackergill Tower located in Caithness, Scotland, is now operated as a fancy hotel and reception center.


I started writing this with the idea that I would tell some tales about haunted castles in Scotland, as I am fascinated by tales of ghosts and also by castles (haunted or not). There's no shortage of haunted castles 'across the pond', so I had lots of material to choose from. 

While reading about Ackergill Tower/Castle, located in Wick, Caithness, in the extreme north eastern part of the land of Scotland, I was impressed by the creativity of the Keith Clan at a long ago fracas known as "The Battle of Champions", between their clan and the neighboring Gunn Clan. I was also surprised to find out that these clans had feuded for 500 long years and only in 1978 did they finally sign a friendship treaty with each other. The Hatfields and McCoys have nothing on these determined Scots!

The Tower at night.

 The story has it that beautiful Helen of Braemore (a member of the Gunn Clan) was kidnapped (woman-napped?) on the eve of her wedding to another man by the Chieftain of the Keith Clan. Helen was imprisoned in the highest room of the tower and rather than submit to the advances of her abductor she jumped to her death. Her ghost, with stylish black hair, and all dressed up for a party in a red ball gown is seen roaming around the tower.

The rude behavior of the Keith Chieftain started a feud between the two clans which went on and on, so the two clans decided to duke it out for good with each other near the Chapel of St. Tears.

"After long quarelling between the Keiths and Guns, it was agreed that riders on twelve horses each side should meet at the Chapel of St Tayr, near Ackergill, to adjust all their differences."

(Quote from Robert MacKay, who wrote an account of the battle in his book the History of the House and Clan of the Name MacKay (1829), wherein he quoted from historian Sir Robert Gordon (1580–1656).



So...riders on twelve horses from each clan were to meet and put an end to the quarrel once and for all. The Gunns arrived first and as their rivals had not yet made an appearance at the appointed place, the twelve Gunn riders decided they would go into the chapel and say some humble prayers, (no doubt for divine intervention in their favor, of course). While they were in the chapel, the riders from the Keith Clan arrived, only instead of sending one man on each of the twelve horses (as assumed), they sent two men riding on each of the twelve horses and promptly made short work of the rival clan members in the chapel. (Those Keiths really knew how to think outside of the box.)

The 'creativity' of Clan Keith at the battle turned out to be a more interesting story to me than the one of Helen's sad ghost roaming the halls of Ackergill tower (nothing personal, Helen).


 





Thursday, March 10, 2016

Mangia! Mangia! Who wants dinner?

 
I have a foodie friend and neighbor. He is part owner in a few restaurants. He is building another restaurant a few miles from where we live. One of the things his company publishes are cookbooks, and he often gives me a variety of cookbooks which he has had published.  Every year he hosts a neighborhood shindig where we get together and have a homemade pizza fest cooking delightful custom made pizzas in his outdoor wood fired oven. He is a lover of Italian food and likes it when I tell stories of my Italian heritage. He's been asking me for my recipe for tomato sauce. Call it whatever you want...spaghetti sauce, pasta sauce, Italian sauce, gravy, tomato manna from the Gods, etc. No matter what you call it, to me and my family we call it delicious comfort food. To any self respecting Italian or person of Italian heritage it is how you show love for your family, (both immediate and extended) --by cooking delicious food for them.

outdoor brick oven

     So, thanks to this enterprising and one of a kind neighbor, I have written down the recipe that I learned by heart from my Mother and my Nonna Lucia Fastiggi. And...just to set the record strait according to Lucy you're eating macaroni, not pasta, and you put gravy over it not sauce!! (Also...she always carried a pocketbook, say pocabook, not a purse.) Like any died in the wool person from New York or New Jersey she and Grandpa happily retired to Florida, with a few thousand other Easterners and lived happily ever after till the good Lord called them home.

     The one thing I have added to the recipe is the use of my home canned, home grown, pesticide free garden tomatoes instead of using store bought canned tomatoes (but feel free to use that if you do not have a garden). I always plant about a dozen Roma and other assorted types of tomato plants in my vegetable garden. It is an annual ritual at the end of summer to bottle all the delicious tomatoes that we have been blessed with. I use a water bath and add salt and lemon juice to each quart bottled. Nothing beats our home grown tomatoes. You can even make this sauce with fresh tomatoes but you must peel/skin all the tomatoes first, then make the sauce, which would make the process take up most of the day (but your taste buds will thank you later). 
Roma tomatoes



Please top your spaghetti with real actual Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese. Don't ever let me catch you sprinkling on that disgusting stuff that comes in a green can that is labeled cheese. Go to a deli or the deli section of the grocery store and get real grated/shredded cheese (yes even Wal-Mart carries it in the deli). Even better, go to a place like Costo and buy a delicious hunk of cheese and grate it yourself. I'm telling you a delicious chunk of cheese like that does not last more than a week in my house. Guess I've raised some good little Italian offspring around here. 
Real parmesan cheese!

 Grandma Lucy's Spaghetti Sauce

2 quarts of whole or quartered canned tomatoes (or use 2, approx. 16 oz., cans whole tomatoes)
1 tsp salt
3 peppercorns
2 small cans tomato paste
1 chopped onion
4-6 cloves garlic (crushed or diced)
1 tsp Oregano
2-4 bay leaves (remove before serving sauce)
1 tablespoon sugar
Basil, and Italian Seasoning to taste
6-8 qt large dutch oven/saucepan
Italian sausage, meatballs, or braciole (Italian pork roll- pounded/flattened pork chop stuffed with herbs and garlic cloves and tied with string...put it in the pot to cook with the sauce.)

**Make this sauce when you have 2-3 hours to spare because it is best when simmered slowly over an extended period of time.

**If you like chunky tomato sauce leave the tomatoes whole, if you want a smoother texture crush the whole tomatoes in a blender before using.

**If you are using meats, brown in saucepan with the onions and garlic first, then add to the saucepot. Brown meats (if using) and onions and garlic in saucepan. Add a little good olive oil while browning. (Really good olive oil can be found by mail order at Redstone Olive Oil.com or The Olive Press, if you live in place without a lot of Italian influence and delis like me.)

** For variety you can add chopped green pepper, if your family likes it, or diced porcini mushrooms to the sauce. Occasionally I even add some herbs de provence to the pot.

Into dutch oven add everything listed in the recipe and simmer for at least 2 hours. Serve with any kind of cooked pasta you like. Top with grated cheese. Also can be used to make baked ziti, lasagne, stuffed shells, manicotti, etc. Make sure you have some garlic bread to sop up all the sauce that is left after you eat your spaghetti! 

Mangia! Mangia!

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Federico Fellini

"Everything you see I owe to pasta." - Sophia Loren

Speranza mi da vita - Hope gives me life


   

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Genetic or Ancestral Memory...

Our DNA does not fade like an ancient parchment; it does not rust in the ground like the sword of a warrior long dead.  It is not eroded by wind or rain, nor reduced to ruin by fire and earthquake.  It is the traveler from an ancient land who lives within us all.”   Bryan Sykes

 
Food for thought...

Have you ever heard of Genetic or ancestral memory?

Psychologist Carl Jung called it racial memory, feelings and ideas, traits, intuitions, inherited from our ancestors as part of a collective unconscious. It is a generally agreed upon principle that we inherit physical traits from our parents; height, eye and hair color, body shape, propensities for certain diseases or conditions. Why not the possibility that we can inherit certain memories, ideas, or wisdom also from our parents or even grandparents? Animals inherit instinct, can humans inherit some kind of instinct too? If your mother was frightened by a house fire when she was a child can that explain your otherwise unexplainable innate fear of fire, even though you have never experienced one in your own house? Can memories be encoded on the dna within us?

Sounds like a good idea to develop a novel around, doesn't it?

The 1988 movie, "Altered States" explores this idea. The main character experiences the memories of his ancestors.

Maybe it has something to do with deja vu, maybe what some people feel are memories from a past life are really memories from their ancestors that have somehow been transferred to them from their dna.
Brown-Crested Flycatcher


Here are some examples of genetic memory in the animal kingdom. Sparrows, thrushes and warblers have to learn their bird song from hearing other birds, but bird species such as flycatchers know how to sing their songs without ever hearing other bird songs. The songs are intricate, and even when the bird is raised in a sound proof room it can still give the complex bird call of it's species. It has never heard or learned it, it just knows it.

Monarch butterflies make a mind boggling 2500 mile trip from Canada to Mexico for the winter season. They return in the spring. But did you know it takes the butterflies three generations to complete this round trip? Butterflies returning to Canada have never been there before, how do they know the way? It's not like a salmon returning to where it was spawned. Does the butterfly inherit the knowledge of how to make this daunting trip from it's ancestors?
Monarch Butterfly


An interesting study from Emory University School of Medicine shows that some dna information can be chemically changed by the experiences parent mice have and that they do pass this chemically changed dna onto their offspring.

Mice were taught to have an aversion to a special smell, the smell was something like cherry blossoms. The offspring of the mice that did not like the smell inherited the same aversion to the smell, even though they were not taught to fear it by scientists. They were born with a built in distaste of the same smell their parents did not like. It was discovered that chemical changes occurred in the parent mouse dna that the offspring also inherited. Because of those chemical changes, the offspring also disliked the same smell. The same experiment was done with nervous or neglectful mothering by mice.





                "Darwin and Freud walk into a bar. Two alcoholic mice — a mother and her son —
                sit on two bar stools, lapping gin from two thimbles. The mother mouse looks up
                and says,  “Hey, geniuses, tell me how my son got into this sorry state.”
                                         “Bad inheritance,” says Darwin.
                                         “Bad mothering,” says Freud."

                        (Grandma's Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes, Discover, June 25, 2015.)


The nature vs. nurture debate has gone on for years, these two avenues of thought are essentially opposite one another. Now scientists are learning that some experiences actually have the power to change the make-up of the proteins surrounding our dna. These types of conundrums are what the field of Epigenetics studies.

Scientists used to think that these kind of genetic changes only occurred in the womb, before a person was born. But they have since come to realize that the molecular structure of dna could be modified also as an adult. These modifications can result in changes that, for instance, can lead to cancer.

A Duke University study showed that when female mice are fed a specific diet rich in the methyl chemical group (which changed the structure of the female mouse dna) that the offspring permanently inherited changed fur. It was like a mutation, only it did not change the actual dna, it changed how chemicals attached to the dna. The altered attachments were inherited by the offspring.

Professionals who study behavioral epigenetics are learning that traumatic experiences in our recent ancestors past have the ability to alter the molecular structure of the dna. For instance, if you are a person such as a "lost boy" from Africa whose parents or grandparents survived genocidal massacres, or someone wo grew up with abusive or alcoholic parents you may have inherited genetic "scars" from you ancestors whose genetic structure was actually modified because of those experiences. 



This modification can have negative and positive effects on the person who inherits it.

Scientists Michael Meaney and Moshe Szyf did experiments with the mothering of rats, the offspring of the rats inherited altered dna of their mothers from the type of mothering they had (either very attentive or neglectful mothering) when the scientists injected chemicals into the brains of the offspring rats that changed the altered structure to a more normal structure, the behavior of the rat offspring changed. This possibility shows amazing promise. When the scientists first tried to get their research paper about the rats published they were met with cries of "That's not possible." "We refuse to believe it." Their research did finally get published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, entitled "Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior." (June 2004).




Sources:
Genetic Memory: How We Know Things We Never Learned by Darold Treffert




There are also several books about Epigenetics. One I've recently read is: 

Epigenetics- The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance by Richard C. Francis







Saturday, January 30, 2016

Library food for thought...

Should libraries be used as a public resource to assist and offer day shelter to the homeless?

Typical American public library with an abundance of books and comfortable furniture.

Sleeper in the library.

 I recently read an article about how some public libraries are being utilized in some communities as day-time shelters for homeless people. Many of these libraries are in urban areas. How does a public resource, like a library, walk the fine line between giving all members of the community services and not being a place that is used or abused in a negative way and serving the rest of the community that may not be homeless? For me, the jury is still out on this one, so I am throwing this question out to you. Large libraries such as the San Francisco library now offer outreach services to homeless patrons and employ social workers to address the needs of the homeless.

Let's start by listing some pros and cons that can be seen from reading up on the subject a bit.

Some Pros:
A portion of society that has been marginalized can be less marginalized.

Outreach programs (provided by the library or organizations that wish to assist the library, can put those that need social services in touch with them).

Reading is a good way to gain knowledge, knowledge is a valued commodity in most communities. Libraries offer a vast amount of things to read/listen to, learn about, etc.

Knowledge gained from frequenting the library may help those who are unemployed or underemployed gain needed employment.

Simple kindness and compassion- to help someone who may be cold and needs a safe place to pass a bit of time.

Libraries or services found in the library can help otherwise disenfranchised persons change their lives for the better.

Persons can learn and practice computer skills and apply for jobs if they do not have access to the internet by using the library computers. 

Sleeping in the library.



Some cons:
Other patrons feeling unsafe when using the facility.

Hygiene issues such as body odor, or bedbugs infesting the furniture.

Unauthorized use of bathroom facilities for washing and changing clothes.

Loitering or camping on the grounds and using the landscaping for public urination when the facility is closed.

Possible intimidation of other patrons/ begging near the entrances.

Is being a day shelter a real part of the mission of the public library? (What is the mission of a public library in this day and age?)

Libraries are funded by taxpayer money and/or property taxes, should they be serving non-tax payers to the detriment of the tax-paying patrons? Is it a detriment after all? 



Some stories to illustrate that I did not just pull the pros and cons out of the air...

When applying for employment the vast majority of employers have an online application process. It has become difficult to just walk into a store, hospital, school, etc. and ask for an application. I have faced joblessness twice in the past three years and even when I did walk into a place of business to ask about hiring and getting an application, I was told to check the website. Individual states do offer services and skill classes as part of their government services, should the library do this too or is it a duplication of services? Is it less intimidating to go to the library than to a government office such as Work Force Services or whatever it is called in other states?

Library outreach providers say they can have a positive impact on this under served portion of society.

A female reporter pretended to be homeless to get the scoop on what it was like to be in that position. When she asked to stay in the shelter at night she was told by the shelter worker she would have to give sexual favors to be granted a place to sleep.

There has been complaining from more regular types of patrons at libraries where the homeless are seeking day shelter, that they have felt unsafe while using the library. They have been intimidated by those patrons, are witnessing inappropriate behavior in bathrooms, are assaulted by offensive smells and put off by messy and or disruptive people while trying to use their public library.

Libraries have had to have exterminators called in to eradicate bedbug infestations in the furniture, have had to make rules that sleeping bags and other large items cannot be brought inside.
Libraries have had to institute behavior and hygiene guidelines for patrons frequenting the facilities.

Many libraries are built as architectural wonders, incorporating art and state of the art building materials inside and out. These facilities can cost a pretty penny. Should these facilities be used or abused in such a way that they become a stain (or drain), rather than an enhancement to the community?

Personal experience has shown me that a substantial number of homeless persons do frequent libraries. For about two years every time I went to the Family History Library in downtown SLC, the same guy with disheveled hair and funny clothes was always there. I assumed he was a homeless guy who had an unusual interest in history or just felt like it was a pleasant place to pass the day. He never had a personal computer or any notebooks to copy or store information in, he was just there. Occasionally he would read something. He was messy looking but I never felt unsafe or experienced any bad smells (which seems to be a frequent complaint at libraries where the homeless hang out). He left people alone and was not disruptive, so the workers just let him be.

The architecturally savvy downtown Salt Lake City Library.

I rode the train into downtown for a few years to get to my place of employment and it was a regular thing to get asked by homeless persons hanging around the station if I had some spare change I could give them. Our city had a 'free-fare' train zone to encourage downtown visiting and shopping, and many homeless would ride on the trains, back and forth, in the “free” zone to keep warm or to go to the fancy new downtown library (which was located in that free zone) They hung out there until the shelters opened up in the evening. Certain patrons at the library would take possession of an group of chairs and hang out or sleep there. I just stayed away from those places when I visited the library.

I smelled body odor and dirty clothing on the train, yes from the homeless, but in reality anyone can have b.o. or dirty clothes whether they are homeless or not. A few times I felt intimidated, there were some places you did not go, in particular a certain city park, because of sleeping on benches, uncleanliness, and a rather unsavory element. Suburbanites have the option to just hop into their cars and go to a more acceptable park if they so desire, the homeless (and usually car-less) do not. Some places in the city were just left to the itinerant wanderers who always seemed to be in good supply there. Those particular places were located within easy walking distance from where the shelters were located.

I had an extended stay in Monterey, California last summer, while there, I frequented the library. I love books and also needed some specific information that could be found there. At the library I encountered homeless and non-homeless people. There was an abundance of sleeping rolls and backpacks littering the entrance and the few tables outside the doors were all occupied by scruffy looking men that I assumed to be homeless, hanging around the area. When the child I had with me, needed to use the bathroom we had to go on a wild goose chase to find it. It was hidden away on the second floor. Was that just because the building was made that way or was it by design? Who knows. Public bathrooms (and non-pay parking) in Monterey are darn hard to find.

Here's a statement from the American Library Association:

"People experiencing poverty or homelessness constitute a significant portion of users in many libraries today and this population provides libraries with an important opportunity to change lives.  As the numbers of poor children, adults, and families in America rises, so does the urgent need for libraries to effectively respond to their needs." 


Articles for perusal:



A sampling of public comments listed after some of the news articles I read about this subject:

1. “I am very sympathetic to the plight of the homeless but am concerned about diluting the
primary mission of libraries, which is to encourage reading and make books available to the
general public. I love the American library system and volunteer but wouldn't want to see
libraries used as homeless shelters.”

  1. “I really, really dislike walking my children past the homeless guys who sit in the leather chairs next to the children's reading room. A multi million-dollar library turning into a homeless shelter. Totally wrong.”

3. (In response to the above comment.) “The things you've witnessed are merely the results of
years of neglect of the problem of homelessness. You might dislike it but it's probably the
wrong emotion. Shame, might be better, shame that the world's richest nation cannot spare
enough money and compassion to provide for its poorest citizens.”

So...................tell me what YOU think..................................



Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Teaser Tuesday 2016.3

Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum (Historical/Real Crime/Non-fiction)


                     Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

"Now finally the police had a real theory, one that seemed to work: the Jacksons had been overcome by cyanide gas, seeping up from the basement." (pg 66)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Teaser Tuesdays-2016.2

Getting you interested in reading some books that are new to you! Teaser Tuesdays are all over it....

Just finished this wonderful modern Gothic work by Wendy Webb.....set in the US, Michigan, on an island in the middle of the Great Lakes.

“Truth seeks the light of day, needs it just like we need air, and so it finds ways to seep out of the sturdiest, most skillfully hidden boxes-even those buried deeply in the hearts of the dead.” (The Tale of Halcyon Crane pg. 4, by Wendy Webb)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Teaser Tuesday Book Quotes...Classics

This weeks quote from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare:

Friar- "Hold, daughter. I do spy a kind of hope, which craves as desperate an execution as that is desperate which we would prevent..."

Juliet- "O, bid me leap, rather than marry Paris, from off the battlements of any tower..."

1968 version of Romeo and Juliet

More modern version featuring Leonardo di Caprio as Romeo.