The Year of Moving Forward

The Year of Moving Forward
At our 4 person wedding reception in DC

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

People are like snowflakes

In the current issue of the New Yorker is a column (The Talk of the Town) titled "All alike, " about snowflakes.

In elementary school we learned that every snowflake is different. I caught snowflakes on cold microscope slides and tried to examine them with magnifying glasses and maybe a cold microscope, I don't remember, but I do remember seeing for myself that every snowflake that fell from the skies above Vestavia Hills was different, based on the dozens that I saw.

I wonder if that was my first venture into statistical analysis, using "dozens" to draw conclusions about "millions," but I digress.

The New Yorker article mentions a sign in the Starbucks at Forty-second and Sixth, that reads, "Friends are like snowflakes: Beautiful and different."

I don't know if that sign is a Starbucks standard, or unique to that store - in my one venture into a Starbucks during the Holiday Season this year, I was more focused on deciding between my perennial favorite that includes caramel; or my new BCFF (Best Coffee Fave Forever) that includes peppermint and foam.

And while we often watch the snow fall and exclaim about BIG snowflakes we must realize that those huge flakes are really collections of small snowflakes that have stuck to one another on their way to earth.

These big snowflakes falling in front of our entryway are actually plastic replicas from the Dollar Tree, and they are all alike. (Photo by Paul Davis)

Again I have strayed from my chosen theme for this post, but its so easy to stray when speaking, or writing, or pondering, about snow.

Adam Gopnik, the author of the article, did some research, and discovered that snowflakes are really snow crystals and that (gasp!) they are actually all alike at creation.

Gopnik quotes Australian science writer Karl Kruszelnicki, "As a snowflake falls, it tumbles through many different environments. So the snowflake that you see on the ground is deeply affected by the different temperatures, humidities, velocities, turbulences, etc, that it has experienced on the way."

Gopnik also suggest Starbucks change their sign to read, "Friends are like snowflakes; more beautiful each time you cross their paths in common descent."

I would expand that thought a bit. It's not just friends that are more beautiful. Strangers, as well, in fact, all people are beautiful, as this photo of an overpass in Birmingham (by Jennifer West) attests. This is from Magic City (The graffiti was recently vandalized and soon after painted over).

Try to remember that as you board the bus, or crowd into an elevator, or fight the crowds at the mall, or battle for position on the interstate. We are all, beautiful.

Here's a video of two snowflakes created with dominoes. And what happens to domino creations?

And here is Enya, "Amid the Falling Snow." The star of the video is Luna, however, a Dutch cat experiencing her first snow.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Doing the Methodist thing

I have volunteered to make some cookies and some slaw for Discovery United Methodist Church for Wednesday night when they are assisting with feeding the homeless at Firehouse Shelter, and Bobby and I will serving that evening as well.

Almost 3000 people are estimated to be homeless in the Birmingham area. Firehouse Shelter can house more than 175 men. More than 90% of their clients leave their programs for permanent or transitional housing, or for needed medical treatment.

Firehouse Shelter is the only agency in the area that serves three hot meals every day to its homeless guests. (There will be hot food - more than just slaw and cookies - Wednesday night).

This is one of those things that the United Methodist Church does; a program to help those less fortunate, whatever the reason, without judgment.

Earlier this month Tea Party founder Judson Phillips posted this on his blog. You can read his entire hateful and misinformed post here.

When I was in Washington this past Friday, I walked by the United Methodist Building, next to the Russell Office Building. The sign in front of the United Methodist Building said, “Pass the DREAM Act.”

I have a DREAM. That is, no more United Methodist Church.

He goes on to label the UMC the "first church of Karl Marx." He criticizes the Methodists for being anti-war, for promoting a healthy nation and for allowing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be a "member in good standing".

Never mind that Jesus was a socialist, who advocated for the poor, who was deemed the prince of peace, and who welcomed all.

As United Methodists we do our part to improve the world, to promote peace, and are concerned about those who are less fortunate, and then act on that concern.

Phillips' blog post is just another Teabagger rant that we should read, in order to be informed, but then ignored.

Contact Discovery UMC or me if you want to lend a hand by cooking some food or serving on Wednesday.

Christmas 2011

With Christmas 2010 already a memory* I have my sights set on Christmas 2011.

An idea has sprung up in my mind for a different type of Christmas decor by a visit yesterday from my young niece, up visiting from Florida. She has a memory of a "ghostly experience" from the last time she was here. I can't say anything more, but look forward to something different next December. (Now I just have to figure out a way to remember to do it!)

*Christmas 2010 is not really just a memory, it is still with us. Paper and ribbons still litter the floor. Candies and remnants of cakes are still on the table. Turkey and dressing is still in the refrigerator. And gift cards are still waiting to be redeemed.

Many people experienced their first white Christmas. The National Weather Service said Birmingham did not have a white Christmas, but tell that to all the people who made snowmen and had snowball fights on Christmas day. In Bessemer, we had pretty snowfall on Christmas day, but it didn't stick (or "lay" as they say in east Tennessee where I used to live).

But north of here there is no doubt they had a white Christmas. This picture was taken standing in the road between the house and garden on the farm in Morgan County, on Christmas morning.

"Frost on the pumpkin" is supposed to be heard in October or November when we have our first frost. These pumpkins are left over from Halloween.

Here in Bessemer we had more snow on the day after Christmas than we did on Christmas day.

My niece had never seen snow so this was a treat for her.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas message

This Bessemer Opinions column was first posted in 2009. It is worth repeating.

In Gardendale a business had written on their sign, “Not Xmas. Keep Christ in Christmas.”
Every year undereducated Christians rant about liberals trying to remove Christ from Christmas. Others defend the use of the word.

Even Martha Stewart got in on the act, as she attempted to educate her readers in an article titled “Traditional Xmas Breads” in the December issue of her magazine. In describing the recipe for Christopsomo, a Greek bread with strips of dough across the top that form a cross, or “X”, she writes, “The Greek letter X, or chi, is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ and was used as an early abbreviation. Hence the word Xmas.”

So, Xmas was not some term dreamed up by solstice worshiping heathens or bottom line worshiping retail moguls. It’s a valid, shortened word with the same meaning as Christmas.
Instead of arguing about words, we should all be thinking about the message of the season, “Peace on Earth. Good will to all.”

It’s really quite simple. Since Jesus was born on that cold morning, the world has had a path it could follow that would lead to peace.

But right now our country is involved in two wars and other skirmishes are occurring across the planet. Arguments can be made both for and against these conflicts.

And we are at war among ourselves as well. Racism, sexism, homophobia and class warfare keep us at odds with our family members and neighbors.

“Let there be peace on earth. And let it begin with me,” a popular Christian song begins.

We have a decorative piece sitting on a mantle, a faux stone with the words “Peace on Earth” inscribed. A metal turtle is crawling up the stone, as if to indicate that peace might be slow in coming, but will get here nevertheless.

As Christmas approaches, remember the lonely soldier in the deserts of Iraq or the cold mountains of Afghanistan. Think about the homeless person who because of unfortunate circumstances, poor judgment, or mental illness has little hope. And consider the young people in our community who may be surrounded by family but feel unloved and lost.

We can spread tidings of comfort and joy by reaching out to these people and in doing so we will bring peace on earth a little closer.

Peace on earth, and merry Xmas to all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas eve eve

As Christmas approaches a lot of good stuff appears on the internet.

Well, a lot of crappy stuff does too.

Some of you are on Facebook. Here's a graphic where you might find yourself.

Here are a couple of videos that I wouldn't have seen if not for the internet. The first one is "A Social Network Christmas," produced by Igniter Media and portrays how the Christmas story might have played out on Facebook, had it been around back then. Very creative.

Many of us have suffered loss during the past few months. The holiday season is known for being difficult for people who have lost a loved one. My family is dealing with this right now.

Remember the news reports of gay teens taking their own lives after being bullied or harassed that were so prevalent earlier this year? Such deaths are still going on, but the media has tired of that story I guess. But each of those kids represents a family that was shocked to find that their love one was so distraught that they saw no way out. Those families are dealing with the memories and the guilt, and the absence of their loved one right now. Let's not forget that Christmas can be a horrible time for some who previously thought it was the best day of the year.

LeAnn Rimes joined the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles last week, and honored those young people who are no longer with us with this song.

Be nice this Christmas. And be strong.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Water sports

First, let me correct something I wrote yesterday.

Regarding the new Dollar General distribution center, the property is on Lakeshore Drive but not at the previously cleared corner I described. The article in the Birmingham News led me to that conclusion. At any rate, it's good for Bessemer. And we still wonder what the corner development will be.

Second, some weather predictions are mentioning the "S" word for Christmas Day. Birmingham has never had a White Christmas. Could be a once in a lifetime event. Or, it could a wet, dreary, "who wants to roller skate in this weather" kind of day.

Remember getting roller skates for Christmas? The kind with a key that has to be used to tighten the skates on your feet? I do. My kids got roller-blades.

One Christmas, after I was grown, and living on Cherokee Lake in east Tennessee, I got a trick ski for Christmas.

That's not the trick ski, and the picture wasn't taken on Christmas, but it's me skiing on Cherokee Lake, one of the few pictures of that activity.

One Christmas break during college a group of us took a trip to Cumberland Island off the coast of Georgia, where we backpacked and camped for several days. Here's a picture (in keeping with the water theme) of one of my friends and me on the ferry going to the island. I'm the woolly one.

And here I am, once again in Georgia, rafting down the Chattooga River, a trip we took more than once during my college days. Remember the movie, Deliverance? That's me in the front of this raft. All of the people in this raft, other than our guide, are veterinarians. This picture wasn't taken at Christmastime.

Here's Brad Paisley. This video, Water, has some scenes of water skiing that bring back some memories of some crazy stunts we tried. Fortunately, no photographic record exists of those antics.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bessemer's future lights up

An indication of the good things to come in Bessemer is the announcement by Dollar General that they are building a distribution center in Bessemer, just a bit from our house.

We've been noticing some site work at the property on Lakeshore Drive at Highway 150. Years ago the site was cleared, something awful was found there during that work, and the property sat unused until a few weeks ago, when some access work began to be done.

Correction: the new facility is not at the site that has been prepared. I misunderstood the newspaper article, which stated "at Alabama 150 and Lakeshore." Turns out, the Dollar General site is a little further down Lakeshore. Anyway, it's good news for our part of Bessemer. And, inquiring minds are still curious about the previously prepared site.

The facility will bring about 550 warehouse jobs and 100 dedicated trucker jobs to Bessemer.

This development would not have taken place without the new council and mayor working together to land it. Other sites were in the running, but quick and heavy action beginning on day one of the new administration sealed the deal. Council president Jesse Matthews praised the council and mayor's actions, saying it took the "newly elected officials to bring this center to the city."

City attorney Shan Paden said that he had heard positive comments from county and state officials about how the council and mayor had worked together on the project. This is in contrast to the way things worked under the previous administration.

Thank you Mayor Gulley and the Bessemer City Council for working since day one to make this a better place to live. There's a lot of work still to be done, but we are moving in the right direction and this gives us hope for the future.

Also, the Bessemer School System has fixed some problems, and won't be losing $1.7 million in state funding as previously feared. Still, you need to return phone calls and emails!!!

Enjoy Shawn Mullins - Light You Up.

Monday, December 20, 2010

DADT fright

President Obama's stock has gone up, as his "promise" to get Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed on his watch is taking place.

Whenever progress by an oppressed group takes place, those who oppose such actions ramp up their rhetoric, and that is certainly happening now.

American Family Association radio host Bryan Fisher said that other countries that allowed gays to serve openly in their armies only did so because they knew they could depend on the might and the strength and the power of our military. He said they could depend on us to intervene and "wherever necessary to pull their fannies out of the fire and squash the forces of tyranny wherever they raised their ugly heads around the world."

Now, he says, "Those days are now gone. We will no longer be able to bail out these other emasculated armies because ours will now be feminized and neutered beyond repair, and there is no one left to bail us out. We have been permanently weakened as a military and as a nation by these misguided and treasonous Republican senators, and the world is now a more dangerous place for us all."

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was just as bad. "Today is a tragic day for our armed forces. The American military exists for only one purpose - to fight and win wars. Yet it has now been hijacked and turned into a tool for imposing on the country a radical social agenda. This may advance the cause of reshaping social attitudes regarding human sexuality, but it will only do harm to the military's ability to fulfill its mission"

The Alliance Defense Fund has released a statement, " "The Senate's cave-in to pressure from activists to impose homosexual behavior on our military will place our troops' religious liberties in unprecedented jeopardy. Indeed, the first official casualty of this hurried vote may well be the religious freedom of chaplains and Service members."

This is all just hype with a purpose of raising money from those easily frightened.

"Impose homosexual behavior on our military?" Who in their right mind thinks this repeal imposes any sexual behavior on anyone? What it imposes is a sense of fairness, and justice. And it takes away the requirement that someone who swears to integrity must lie in order to serve.

My idea of a (male) Marine is a tough, well disciplined guy, for whom thoughts of sex are far from the front of their mind. I have a friend, gay, who is a former Marine, who is 6 foot 5 inches tall and weighs 230 pounds. He is solid muscle, and tough as a rock. He served in Iraq. He was a leader among the men he served with (and they knew he was gay). I would put my money on this man against any straight Marine you can find.

I have another friend, straight, who is a former marine. Oddly enough, he and my other friend share the same first name. He is tough also, not quite as big, but just as tough and disciplined. He also served in Iraq. He told me it makes not an ounce of difference who is next to him in combat, as long as he could shoot straight. He is sure he served with people who are gay, and it doesn't bother him. Every Marine, by definition, should feel this way. If not, maybe he doesn't have any business being a Marine.

The crybabies are concerned about troops in combat, but here is the deal. Since there are already gay men in the military, how does this policy change make any difference? A gay Marine is not going to suddenly declare, "I'm gay," in the foxhole and make advances on his fellow fighters.

And they worry about the showers. Well listen, and listen closely. Straight men have showered with gay men at the gym, in the NFL locker room, at work places, in high school, in coal mines, in the MLB locker room, in the barracks, at the YMCA, in the doctor's lounge, at the pool, at the auto plant, in middle school, in the NBA locker room, and at the Country Club, and while the gay men might take a look at the straight men, in all honesty, the straight men are looking too. And I know this because straight men compare themselves to others. That's just a fact. So if a straight man, military or not, is being looked at by an unknown gay guy, what difference does it make if it is a known gay guy? Grow up.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, my idea of a military man is someone who is disciplined enough, and mature enough, and secure enough, to not be bothered by this. And those who are, maybe they should step back and examine their own sexuality and insecurities, and they might be surprised with what they discover.

And for someone like me, a citizen who depends on the military for my freedom, I am just thankful that we have men, and women, who are willing to step up to the task of serving this way, and I don't mind of they are straight. Or gay.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Bessemer schools deficient

I had a little confidence in the Bessemer School System even though they don't return phone calls and they don't respond to emails and they don't reply to written letters and they avoid people who enter their hallowed domain. Oh, and they ignore state laws about anti-bullying policies.

But all confidence has now left as they have ignored the State Department of Education's directive for bringing the system's vocational school up to standards.

Now the state is threatening to cut $1.7 million of the system's state funding for ignoring them.

I guess I could have told state schools Superintendent Joe Morton to expect to be ignored. I'm not ready to name names, but there is certain individuals in that brick building that have ignored every thing I have sent to them, and this article has reminded me of that.

Because of their ineptness the system has closed their hospitality and tourism program, and their automotive technology program. Students in these programs would have been prepared to enter the workforce, or to continue their education in those fields.

Now the business management and administration program; the family studies and community services program; and the cosmetology program are in danger, each program having specific deficiencies that the system has chosen to ignore, thus putting more Bessemer students at risk of not being prepared when they graduate from high school.

Photo credit Michelle Williams Birmingham News

The Bessemer School board is blaming Superintendent Michael Foster (who has not once responded to my attempts to communicate with him over the last several months) for all of this. Certainly he is to be held accountable, but the board has been watching all this happen too.

The board has reprimanded Foster. I say let the citizens of Bessemer reprimand the Board both for allowing this to happen, but also for ignoring the bullying that goes on at Bessemer City High School and at Davis Middle School.

Too bad we didn't know about all of this before our city elections, maybe we could have had some changes there too.

Don't Ask Don't Tell Haiku

I admit it. I follow the Washington stories a little too closely. Often if I am working at home I have the TV on in the next room and can hear MSNBC so when a critical vote is taking place or a particularly interesting comment coming from a legislator I can run in there and watch. I'm a political wonk, or at least I would be if I were younger (by definition a wonk is a young person).

If I must deliver myself from the world of politics and social progress, I change the channel to Adult Alternative music and have in the background music by such artists as Dave Barnes (Little Lies):

or T J Moss Band (It's Over):

Anyway,last year I made it a point to be in front of the TV on Christmas Eve to watch the Senate vote on Health Care Reform.

Tomorrow the Senate is supposed to vote on the Dream Act and on Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal.

Supposedly Reid has 61 votes for DADT repeal, but not for the Dream Act.

The votes are being scheduled for Saturday because a Democrat Senator's prostate gland has got to go next week. He's having pre-surgery testing done today, but will be on the Senate floor on Saturday, and out next week.

Only mean spirited Republicans would think that denying legal status to someone who has laid their life on the line for our freedom is cool.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would give conditional legal status to qualifying undocumented youths who attend at least two years of college or join the military, provided they arrived here under age 16 and meet several other strict criteria.

But recall, most Republican Senators also think it is cool to have those fighting for you to lie about themselves if they are gay or lesbian. I wrote a poem.

Don't Ask Don't Tell Haiku

We serve with honor
Life on line and we could die
For this we must lie

Anyway, there is so much going on tomorrow that I can't sit around waiting for the Senate to act. Santa's got some shopping to do.

But I will have my Android with me, so I will be able to follow what is going on and at least give a shout out on Facebook if something good happens.

And on Sunday, don't forget "Hollywood Holidays: Songs from the Silver Screen," a collection of seasonal songs from the cinema by the Magic City Choral Society, at 6:00, at the Alys Stephens Center. It's Free!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Lame ducks

I usually don't write the title to my post before I know what I'm going to say, so this could go anywhere.

I mean, I could write a post about the Oregon football team, and from there pile accolades on Auburn and Cam Newton and Nick Fairley and Gene Chizik.

No one expected Auburn to be in the position they are in today; a number one ranking in the BCS and a confirmed date to play for the national championship in January.

But we watched them win their first game against Arkansas State, and felt good. Then we watched them win their second game, an SEC game against Mississippi State, and felt good. Against Clemson, we felt some good fortune was being bestowed on the team, with an overtime win. Against South Carolina, (the first time), we knew there was some magic. And so on.

My point is, our confidence in our team developed over a period of several weeks, until we had no doubt we could win our final regular season game against Alabama, and follow that with a huge win over South Carolina in the SEC championship game.

Now we face the Ducks. But these are not lame ducks, they are fast paced offense, high flying, high scoring ducks. Auburn is favored by 3 points.

So if I am to write about lame ducks, I guess it will be the ones in Washington.

And because Democrat senators, led by majority leader Harry Reid, want to pass several important pieces of legislation before this congress adjourns, they may have to limp right up until Christmas Eve.

Oh horrors, Republicans scream. "Disrespecting" of one of the "holiest holidays" said Republican minority whip Jon Kyl and "sacrilegious" said Republican Senator Jim DeMint.

But our troops can fight for us on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and our loved ones (or ourselves) can work on Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day (nurses, doctors, police, firefighters, convenience store attendants and others).

Harry Reid does not take such insults sitting down.

I don’t need to hear the sanctimonious lectures of Senator Kyl and DeMint to remind me of what Christmas means. . . . Some of my Republican colleagues have the nerve to whine about having to stay and actually do the work that the American people pay us to do. We make large salaries . . . we could work as most Americans do during the holidays. . . . It’s offensive to me and millions of working Americans across this country for any Senator to suggest that working through the Christmas holidays is somehow sacrilegious or disrespectful.

And remember, it's because of the Republicans' purposeful slowdown of the legislative process that these bills have not been passed already.

And because of the Republicans, the American people have not developed a confidence that the lame duck session will pass meaningful legislation. Every day is a surprise.

But look. We've given the Republicans every thing they asked for in the Tax bill, (which was not a compromise by any stretch of the imagination). If we don't at least get the arms control treaty passed, and Don't Ask Don't Tell repealed, and get the DREAM act passed, Democrats, and most Americans, will be hugely disappointed.

So come on Harry, get moving. Give us something to celebrate this Christmas. Even if we have to wait until Christmas Eve. The rest of America is working. We see nothing wrong with you all continuing your work as well.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Right wing radio talk show host Heidi Harris has posted her version of the 12 Days of Christmas.

Nativity scenes belong in the home, not in schools. There are also live Nativity scenes in front of churches in the Birmingham area.

Most Nativity scenes are sort of off a bit anyway. The wise men didn't arrive when Jesus was an infant, and certainly not at the same time the shepherd was there with his sheep.

Anyway, we have a collection of Nativity scenes. I started collecting these years ago, and am mainly interested in old traditional types or in artistic interpretations of the "event." Here are
some of our Nativities.

This was the first Nativity scene I owned. I received it as a gift from my brother and sister in law.

That was the brother who often hid baby Jesus from the Nativity that we had in the living room each year when we were growing up, until Christmas Eve or Christmas Day when the baby would appear! When this set arrived back in the 1980's prior to Christmas, Jesus was in the box.

This one we bought at the Mikasa store at Watermark, a store that is no longer there.

Like many of our Nativities, this one came from an estate sale. Why is Mary so often portrayed wearing blue, and Joseph wearing purple and brown?

This piece was created by a local artist (whose name I don't know) from clay.

This is an unusual and modernistic crafted piece. I have no idea who made it.

Very traditional, except this piece is only about 5 inches square and 3 inches tall. The figures are an inch to an inch and a half tall. Mary in blue, Joseph in purple.

This folk art type piece came from Peru (via Ebay).

This is traditional and has the stable created out of bark and moss. We have a couple of these. Mary in blue, Joseph in purple.

A much simpler bark and moss scene. Mary in blue, Joseph in purple and brown.

This tiny Nativity is about 2 inches tall and came from a dollar store. Glitter in biblical times?

These figures were purchased in New Orleans at a flea market type junk store in the Marigny district. I think they survived a fire.

This cast metal set is odd in that the animals are GIANTS.

This was sculpted by my artist friend Phyllis Gibson. Her works on canvas and in clay can be found at several galleries around town. Baby Jesus was missing for a few hours after Phyllis gave me this and I had it on display at the cat clinic. As it turns out, Jesus had been knocked off the shelf and had fallen into the mop bucket. Now we know how those sins got washed away, I guess. These pieces are tiny. The nickel gives you an idea.

These pieces were carved by local furniture maker Bobby Michelson.

We have others, but there just isn't room to display all of them. If parents such as the talk show host (assuming she is a parent) would instruct their kids at home and not depend on the schools to teach them about the birth of Jesus, then we wouldn't need this argument about where the scenes should be displayed.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Making a Red Velvet Cake

Bessemer Opinions hasn't been the same since the demise of radio station 100.5, but now we have a link to Birmingham's Mountain Radio over to the left, so you can listen to good music while cruising the site.

I'm still not back into the political sphere full fledged yet, so I'm not going to comment on Montgomery or Washington today. Instead, I'm treating you to some Red Velvet Cake.

I came across a new recipe by Keri Fisher in Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking edition.

Did you know, that in spite of the massive amounts of red food coloring used today, the base red color comes from a chemical reaction between the acidic ingredients (vinegar and buttermilk) and the natural cocoa powder? (Don't use Dutch processed cocoa, it won't rise properly in this cake). The acid allows the anthocyanin in the cocoa to be released in its red form. This is the same reaction that makes hydrangea blooms pink when in an acid environment (as opposed to blue in an alkaline environment). Could we make a blue velvet cake? I might do some experimenting.

Buttermilk powder and natural cocoa

I made one slight change to Keri's recipe. Instead of using fresh buttermilk, I used Saco Cultured Buttermilk Blend powder, after being convinced that powdered buttermilk is just as good to use in recipes, with no reduction in quality; assured. It's easier to have buttermilk on hand this way, for biscuits, cakes, pancakes.

In this recipe you combine the dry ingredients (which for me included the buttermilk powder), the liquid ingredients (which for me included an extra cup of water to replace the liquid buttermilk), and the cocoa and red food color in separate bowls. I also learned that weighing my flour and sugar (when weights are given in the recipe) yields more accurate measurement than measuring by cups.

Flour, baking soda, salt, buttermilk powder

Eggs, water, vinegar, vanilla

Cocoa and food coloring

Cream the butter and sugar and then add the other ingredients like you would for any cake, alternating dry and liquid, and ending with dry. Then mix in the red cocoa mixture.

In the past my Red Velvet Cakes have been either 3 layer or a bundt type with a glaze. this recipe calls for two layers but could easily be made a three or 4 layer (many recipes call for splitting the two cooked layers and making 4 that way).

Whip up a fluffy batch of cream cheese frosting and you have a product that Keri describes as living up to both the "red" and the "velvet" in its name.

Cook's Illustrated doesn't have this recipe up on its site yet. After I've tasted this cake and decided whether further changes are needed, I'll post the recipe on here.

The finished product

If you are in the right place at the right time this evening, you can have a slice of this cake.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A look at the future

It is almost 4:00 in the afternoon on Friday, December 10, 2010 and as I type this Senator Bernie Sanders is carrying out his promise to filibuster the tax cuts to the wealthy bill that the obstructionists are using to hold the country hostage.

A little while ago, I heard him listing some CEO's that will benefit, and the only one I remember was the CEO of Wells Fargo. I remember them because I am having a huge issue with their bank, since their takeover of Wachovia here in Bessemer.

Anyway, let's say a CEO gets a tax break of $900,000, which is rounded from a figure that Sanders mentioned. We already know that it won't help the economy, based on the economy we have watched over the last 8 years while these same millionaires were getting this same tax break.

And we know that tax breaks that are not paid for contribute to the deficit.

Now, let's put 2 and 2 together and see what we get.

An increase in the deficit, caused by the millionaires, that the millionaires will not be paying down, because they don't pay the taxes, and that leaves us, the middle class, to pay what should be their deficit liability.

So this is what those Republicans that you Democrats who didn't vote, or didn't work to get Democrats in office, are doing for us.

And seniors! Remember that $250 check that you heard about. Blocked by those same Republicans that you helped put in office.

The Republican leadership has vowed that they will block all legislation until the tax breaks for their wealthy funders is passed.

They won't give Grandma $250 unless and until they give the CEO's $900,000.

Just get ready, America. You voted for this, and it's only going to get worse in 2011, when the Senate and House are infiltrated by Tea Party folks.

Here are some predictions.

They rich will get their tax break, either in the lame duck or the Daffy Duck session that will follow.

Obama will be blamed for the resulting increase in the deficit.

Republicans will demand that Medicare and Social Security be slashed.

Social programs that we commonly refer to as the safety net will be slashed.

The poor will get poorer.

The rich will get richer.

The middle class will shrink.

When taxes finally do go up, and they will, it will be the middle class and the poor that is affected and not the upper class.

That will mean that of every dollar you earn, that you will have less of it in your pocket to spend.

And all of this is because we (Democrats) were disenchanted with what was going on in Washington and we stayed at home on election day; and we (gays) were disgruntled because of the President's lack of leadership on our issues so we stayed at home on election day; and we (the rest of America) were fooled by the Tea Party into voting this change across our country, so they turned out on election day blindly voting against the fictional enemy, and elected an even greater enemy than they could have imagined.

That the American people could have been this, this, uh, stupid (it's the only word I can think of to describe anyone who would vote for the Republican party as it presented itself before the last election) is almost unbelievable to me. I mean, these are the same people (Americans) that thought it was OK for people to own other people - that's pretty stupid isn't it? And the same people that thought it was OK to segregate people racially - that was pretty stupid, wasn't it? So we are known for doing stupid things and having stupid beliefs.

Here's a new single from Erasure, a remix of their old hit, A Little Respect. Proceeds from this tune go to the Hetrick-Martin Institute, the home of the Harvey Milk High School, in New York, and the True Colors Fund. Get it on iTunes. h/t to JoeMyGod.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I'm not at all happy about President Obama caving in to the Republicans and their definition of compromise on giving tax breaks to those who make over $250,000 a year.

Another campaign promise broken, that's how I see it.

What he and the Republicans he's in bed with don't understand is that those wealthy individuals would still have been getting the tax break on their first $250,000 of income, like everybody else, but they wouldn't be getting the special treatment on their additional income. And 80 per cent of Americans agree that they should not be getting the tax cut.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is threatening to filibuster the measure, and I say go for it.

Even if it delays the defense bill that includes Don't Ask Don't Tell and everything else in the lame duck session.

And I don't want to hear any complaints from progressives or Democrats or gays or anybody else because the fault of the matter lies with you. By not exciting your voters and getting them out to the polls in November, you empowered the Republicans and virtually assured the nation that nothing progressive or positive will happen during this session or the next two years.

The President and the Republicans are wanting to add $900 billion to the deficit. I'm not a deficit hawk by any means, and it wasn't high on my list of priorities going into the 2010 elections. But that's all the Republicans were talking about, and then the hypocrites turn around and sponsor a measure that adds $900 billion, and bring the president along with them (so they can later blame him for increasing the deficit even further).

Giving those tax breaks to the rich do nothing to stimulate the economy. I mean, these are tax breaks the rich have had for 10 years and they did nothing to help the economy during that time, so what makes them think they will help during the next two years?

Well, today is the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death.

We old hippies and others still imagine the world as a better place, and have faith that someday we will get there. Just not as quickly as we hoped.

Here's Lennon's song "Imagine," performed on the show "Glee," by members of a choral group from a school for the deaf who were invited to the Glee school to practice and perform, and joined by some of the regulars on the show. Bet you've not seen the song performed in this manner.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Some of you heard this voice at our house this week as the cd American Indian Christmas was part of the music lineup.

Jana is a Native American singer and she has recorded 10 Christmas favorites in 10 different Native American languages. This is O Holy Night sung in Navajo.

The cd can be ordered from Southwest Indian Foundation, and probably other sites as well.

Just in case you want to see some of her regular music, here's a video from her cd, New Moon Born. You can find it at Southwest Indian Foundation also. This is a great song too, and nice video.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Tonight is a free film screening of the documentary Bullied followed by a panel discussion. The film is being presented by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and is sponsored by the UAB Safe Zone and Co sponsored by the UAB Gay/Straight student alliance, the Alliance for LGBT Equality at UAB, UAB Chi Sigma Iota, and Alabama Safe Schools Coalition.

The film will be shown at Hill University Center Auditorium at UAB, 1400 University Blvd, at 7:00 PM November 30 (today).

Here's the trailer to the film.

Don't miss this opportunity to see this important film. It should be shown in every school, and Southern Poverty Law Center will see that you get a copy for your school.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Our One Mile coming to Bessemer

Are you interested in hiking or biking along established trails? Now's your chance, if you live in Western Jefferson County, to let your voice be heard.

I attended their kick off meeting in October. Here's a review of that meeting.

Our One Mile will hold a meeting on Tuesday, November 30, at Lawson State Community College, Bessemer Campus, from 5:30 to 7:00.

They want to know where you live, work and play.

Our One Mile will connect places that matter most throughout Jefferson County through greenways, trails, and sidewalks. You will be able to walk, bike, or roll from your home to desired daily destinations such as parks, schools, libraries, churches, or shopping areas. You, your family, and the rest of your community will have a safe path to travel to these locations in a new way - without a car.

Our One Mile is an initiative of the Freshwater Land Trust, funded through the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership. This Spring, the Partnership received Federal funding to combat obesity and to improve tobacco cessation efforts throughout the county—all part of their mission to make the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone. Our One Mile will improve the community’s health by creating a comprehensive and implementable greenway master plan for the county, identifying both shovel ready projects and the funding to make them happen. The master plan is expected to be completed in early 2012.

Here's a short video about Our One Mile.

Our One Mile from jason hamric on Vimeo.

So take a few minutes Tuesday at 5:30 and be there. For your health. For your community.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Response to Western Star bigotry

Bessemer's Western Star is published by Trib Publications, Inc., and their president, Bob Tribble, exhibited his lack of education and his bigotry in a recent editorial. You can read it here.

Three letters appeared in today's Western Star in response. One is from me, the others are from Elisa Macon and Trey Noland. This will make for a long blog post, but I am posting all three letters here. Click "Read more" to view the letters.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The vigil and the editorial

Over the weekend I spoke at the vigil held in memory of Tre' Juan Figures, the 12 year old Anniston boy who killed himself one year ago after being pressured by gang members to join their group, and bullied because he wouldn't join.

The speakers were Jason Childs, founder and director of Center for Progress in Alabama, State Representative Barbara Boyd, Grace Episcopal Church (Anniston) Youth Minister Andy Harris, and myself, Joe Openshaw, Interim Chair for Equality Alabama.

Jason Childs speaking at the vigil

Jason Childs organized the event to honor Tre's memory and to bring attention to the continuing problem of bullying in this state.

State Representative Barbara Boyd told of her own experiences with bullying as a child and encouraged others with her story of success and how she overcame the perils of her childhood.

Andy Harris spoke about the choices we make stressing that we can (and should) choose kindness. He also spoke of his parents, both of whom took their own lives.

Jason Childs shared that when he was asked why he was holding a vigil for a child he didn't even know and was asked what Tre' was to him, he had to answer, "Nothing. That's the problem."

He explained that he will never know the difference this boy could have made as an adult, what he would have become, what the world is missing because of this loss, what the true cost of his untimely passing is.

I spoke about Equality Alabama's efforts in getting Alabama's anti-harassment policies strengthened, and said that this one tragedy was enough, we don't need another tragedy to remind us that something needs to be done.

Here are my remarks.

Tre Juan Figures Vigil

Tre's mother gave an emotional interview to the media. Here is Jason Childs and Veronica McGee, Tre's mom.

Here is a story about the event on ABC 33/40, and here is one from CBS 42, where you can read about or watch video of Ms. McGee.


Also over the weekend my editorial that I wrote for the Mobile Press-Register was printed and posted online, here.

The editorial also covers bullying among teens, but also the bullying that occurs in the military because of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Thank you Frances Coleman of the Press Register for asking me to do this.

This editorial has gotten at least 38 facebook posts, by far the most of any Press Register editorial of late, including those concerning the oil spill. To me this means that this is an issue of major importance to the public. The more people that read and understand these issues, the more pressure will be put of our state legislators and school board members, and on congress regarding DADT, to make a change. Please share.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Business as usual

Bessemer Opinions poll responders are pretty smart, it seems.

I asked what would happen in Congress over the next two years.

39% said it would be business as usual. Only 3% predicted the Republicans and Democrats would work together.

Of course, the new congress is not even seated yet, but the lame ducks certainly aren't showing an indication of cooperation. Get the Tea Partiers in there and there won't be a chance of cooperation.

Republicans are blocking an extension of unemployment benefits in the house. This is their way of saying "Merry Christmas," to 2 million families that will have no assistance coming to them during the holidays.

I predict the more compassionate Democrats will still be able to get the benefits passed...probably a week after they expire at the end of this month.

Now let's see if the Republicans are willing to compromise on the tax cuts. They can't give a few billion to struggling families, but they are willing to give hundreds of billions to the nation's wealthiest.

There are many studies that show unemployment benefits act as more of a stimulus to the economy than tax breaks because those receiving the benefits spend the money on goods and services thus creating a need for production, while tax breaks to the wealthy obviously don't create jobs. I mean, look around you. Those tax breaks have been in place the entire time our economy was spiraling down, and while we have been in the slow recovery, and they aren't creating jobs now, so why should we think they would if they are extended?

I shudder to think what America will look like after the new congress begins to dismantle the economy. Let's enjoy ourselves while we can.


Twenty two year old Adele is set to release her second album, 21, in January 2011 (February in the U.S.).

This album has heavy influence from the American south and country music. She had never been exposed to country music until her group took a tour through the south.

She's a Grammy winning songwriter and powerful singer whose video's I've featured before.

Here's a song from that album, performed November 16 on Later...with Jools Holland.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

In a cave

The Alabama Baptist Convention yesterday passed a resolution calling on President Obama to "abandon his efforts to normalize homosexuality in the United States Military."

I don't know what to say. Me? Speechless?

I mean, it's to be expected from a group that doesn't accept that science and medicine consider us normal and that, as their newly elected leader said yesterday, "are often characterized by what they condemn, such as homosexual behavior."

If the Baptists would only treat homosexuality like Jesus did. Oh, wait. Jesus didn't say anything about it. Not a single word. (Other than his interaction with this gay man). Are you listening, Baptists?

I am about ready to propose a resolution opposing Southern Baptists.

Since they seem to live in cave, metaphorically, I will send them this song.

Mumford and Sons - The Cave

So make your siren's call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say

Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it's meant to be

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Today's council meeting


At last week's Bessemer City Council meeting a lot of numbers were thrown out. One was that the Library account, which is funded by the 3.5 mil library bond passed by voters years ago, had a balance of $1.4 million.

Upon further investigation (get used to hearing this term), it was discovered that there was only $764,987.19 in the account.


Upon further investigation, it was determined that on September 20, 2010, that $325,000 was transferred from the account, and on October 14, 2010, $450,000 was transferred from the account.

Both of these transfers were made in order for the city to meet payroll and payroll expenses. The transfers were authorized by former mayor Ed May, but were not authorized by or known to the city council. There is some question as to the legality of the transfers, both from the standpoint of granting authority, but also as to whether the money, voted on by the citizens to be used for library purposes, can be used for other purposes.

Council President Jesse Matthews suggested that the mayor look back further to see if such transfers were made during previous years.

Mayor Ken Gulley has asked the council to meet with him in a workday session on fiscal issues. He said some "harsh decisions" will have to be considered but that he will not "sugarcoat" or "exaggerate" the situation as he informs the public.

Judges speak before council

Today is Judge Annetta Verin's last day as a Bessemer municipal judge, and she and Judge Scott Roebuck, Bessemer's other municipal judge, spoke to the council about their duties, their dockets, and what the council should look for in a candidate to replace Judge Verin.

Judge Verin was recently elected to a Circuit Court position.

Judge Roebuck watches as Judge Verin speaks to the mayor and council

Judge Verin suggested that her replacement be someone who has (1) practiced law, (2) has a passion for the job, including domestic violence, (3) have certain qualities, i.e. honesty, integrity, dignity and respect. Judge Roebuck agreed and added that a judge should have a vested interest in the city and in the community. Both Judge Roebuck and Judge Verin live in the city of Bessemer.

I know some who have applied for this position, and I know who I would place in the position if I were in a position to do so. Someone who meets all those qualifications. I'll let the council members know.