Crazy people.

Is mental illness afoot in the land? If you say, “Spiders are crawling up the wall! Can’t you see them?” And I say no I can’t but here, let’s take a picture of them; if there are none in the picture will you believe they’re imaginary? And you say, well, OK, and I take the picture and there are no spiders, and you say you cast a spell and made the spiders invisible! Does that suggest disordered thinking to you?

It does to me. Which is only my way of saying the people who are today saying, “Sure, Obama’s school speech is innocuous now. What do you think it looked like before brave patriots stood up and objected, huh?” Those people? Sound insane.

But I’m keeping my mouth shut. I sent an e-mail to my local school board about the administration’s decision on the speech. (They’re delaying it for later use — defensible under the circumstances — but allowing for parental opt-out, which… isn’t.) I hope I struck the right note of arch douchiness; I described myself as disappointed and disillusioned, which I think is just perfect for notes like these, a little bit of parallel redundancy to underline one offense with another. There’s something about writing a j’accuse letter that makes me want to use phrases like “I think not.” You just can never de-smug them entirely.

OK, then. Summer’s mostly over, and the past week — the last week of Kate’s vacation — was lovely. We went to the pool Sunday, and I made an appropriate end-of-summer gesture: I went without sunscreen. Ask me how much I regret my sun wrinkles. Yeah. About that much.

Meanwhile, I spent a chunk of a relaxed weekend catching up with a bit of neglected culture. First, “In the Loop,” one of those movies so small it barely exists, but god, funny as hell. Set in the U.K., Washington and New York in the drumbeat before the Iraq war, it’s sort of a meaner, blacker, harder-to-understand “West Wing,” with Aaron Sorkin’s politics sucked out and extra funny pumped in. I only caught about a third of it, cloaked as it was in thick Scottish burrs and English slang, delivered at a blistering pace. I think I’d need about two more watchings to absorb it all.

The action begins when a somewhat dim British politician tells the BBC that war is “unforseeable,” a word that puts the prime minister’s office into a tizzy and incurs the wrath of Malcolm Tucker, the p.m.’s chief of communication, so gloriously profane his rants edge into poetry. (When the minister steps further into the goo by saying, that sometimes a country must “climb the mountain of conflict,” Tucker accuses him of being a “Nazi Julie Andrews.” It’s the flat-A sound in “Nazi” that kills.) Soon said politician is off to Washington and then to the U.N., trailing aides far smarter than he is, if only at the fine art of ass-kissing and jockeying for favor.

If you have a decent on-demand cable service, you’ll find it on one of the IFC channels for about six or seven bucks. Definitely worth it.

And I got a good way into “Closing Time,” Joe Queenan’s memoir of growing up with a father so drunk and brutal he could only have fathered, well, Joe Queenan, the celebrated master of mean. Reviews tell me this story ends without the customary weepy reconciliation between father and son standard in alcoholism memoirs, and that’s what intrigues me — the bleakness that lies at the heart of a man who can honestly say his father beat him so hard, so often and so unjustly that he finally thrashed every last shred of love out of his own child. The NYT critic notes:

There will be truces near the end, but when the family attends the old man at his deathbed, there is precious little warmth or nostalgia. Two of his daughters consider their father “beyond redemption,” and their mother refuses, for herself and those daughters, to be listed in the obituary. The son feels neither love nor respect; he is there only because “having a bad father does not give anyone the right to be a bad son.” Three years later, the anniversary of Joe Sr.’s death passes unnoticed. “My father was dead,” Queenan writes, “and I did not miss him.”

As grim as that sounds, it’s still a vastly entertaining read.

And now it begins. Fall. Still weeks of warm weather ahead, but for all intents and purposes, we must put away our white shoes and put our noses back to the grindstone. I’m packing the sunblock and thinking of projects. How about you?

Posted at 1:34 am in Movies, Same ol' same ol' |

81 responses to “Crazy people.”

  1. moe99 said on September 8, 2009 at 2:13 am

    I’m going to do a pre-emptive strike on the word count mavens out there just waiting to tell us all about how Obama only talked about himself, and offer this word count of Ronald Reagan’s speech to schoolchildren lo these 20 or so years ago:

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  2. Dexter said on September 8, 2009 at 2:16 am

    I know what you mean about watching a movie several times to grasp the dialogue. I tried watching “Miracle at St. Anna”
    and the captions were so tiny I had to move closer to the TV to read them, so it came on again and I recorded it and am re-watching it to get all the dialogue.

    Fall is my fave season, as it is for many. I like trips to orchards, and I like to listen to football on old-school AM and FM radio while biking. My wife likes to take a “Sunday Drive” during foliage season. Monday we took a little drive to Independence State Park just to watch the river meander along, and to walk the dog.
    Raking leaves is another angle on Fall altogether…I hate it. I have discovered I hate it less if I just rake a little each day. It’s like when a man shaves—is it easier to shave once a day or once a week? I shave and rake every day.
    I like Fall vegetables and pretty gourds, pumpkins, and the rustle of the wind in a dry corn field just before corn-picking time. There’s nothing like the pungent smell of silage being loaded into the silo on the farms, either.
    The Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market in the Kerrytown district is a great place to find rare specimens of mostly-forgotten apples, and those people who sell dried flowers are amazing. Always grab a jug of Kapnick’s Orchard apple cider, too.

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  3. Connie said on September 8, 2009 at 7:11 am

    Edmund Burke would not call today’s republican party conservative?

    This line made me chuckle: Federalist partisans accusing that “atheist” Thomas Jefferson of a plan to burn down all of the churches in the United States. Sound familiar? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

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  4. Michael said on September 8, 2009 at 7:31 am

    Nancy, My son, who attends a European owned and operated school brought home the note, that parents wishing their child not to hear the president need only contact the school and the children would be sent to the playground for an extended lunch/recess. Now there’s a trade off for you. It also mentioned that the “lesson guides” distributed ahead of the speech, would not be used.

    As for the Queenan book, I have no interest in reading, but heard some of the press tour and was struck by the same twist. No redemptive group hug at the end? Please give us a full report when you have finished.

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  5. beb said on September 8, 2009 at 7:47 am

    You know what’s scary? It’s Obama giving an eduction pep talk, it’s that my daughter has seen “Supersize Me” in school at once a year for the last three years. She’s also seen “Tropic Thunder” whose eductional value escapes me, and I forget what other filns she’s mentioned. What kind of an eduction is that? And if they’re build an eductional plan around movies they ought to show films like “Blazing Saddles” and “Dr. Strangelove.” Blazing Saddles tells you everything you need to know about race relations in 90 minutes, while Dr. Strangelove is about as close as anyone *not* born in the 50s will ever come to understanding the “Cold War.”

    I was shocked to discover that “Mad Max” had been dubbed into American for its original release. Who knew Astrualian was so hard to understand. But I can understand why some British cinema could and ought to be sub-titled for the Anglo-impaired. “In t5he Loop” sounds like George Bush all over, just set in England.

    Don’t know a thing about Joe Queenan but the idea of a movie about a bad father that doesn’t end with a reconciliation seems like a bracing slap of reality. Some people are just irredeemable.

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  6. coozledad said on September 8, 2009 at 8:40 am

    My wife got stung by yellowjackets Sunday and spent a little bit of the holiday resting her swollen arm by searching the web for Democrats in our sector. She found a Godless Liberal farm nearby, which is encouraging. We’ll be able to grease our AK-47s and read Che together as we await the boots-on-the-ground phase of the dorkalypse. Unfortunately, she also found a bunch of homeschooling Glenn Beck fetishists. It’s like a club for women who can use their labia minora for a sack to pick string beans.There are men, too, many of whom stress that they have lots of time to teabag, now they’re only employed part time.
    I wonder if part of their homeschool curriculum includes the idea that surplus populations lead inevitably to entrenched caste systems that do not favor the stupid, those without connections, or tow headed kids with rickettsia and strabismus.

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  7. Connie said on September 8, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Look, it’s Sarah again, and I think he/she is threatening to shoot us all.

    Edited: It was there, I saw it, it’s gone. My comment tells you enough about what you missed.

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    • nancy said on September 8, 2009 at 9:59 am

      Which is why I spammed her sorry ass. Carry on.

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  8. Jeff Borden said on September 8, 2009 at 10:32 am

    I wonder if Sarah is Dwight in drag??

    I live in Chicago, but you don’t have to travel far to run into the same kind of lunatics who continue to make Glenn Beck a wealthy man. Up in Arlington Heights, where last year a Republican politician named Mark Kirk addressed students on the need for more oil and energy exploration, they are not letting kids watch the speech live because some of the parents raised hell about “indoctrination.” Boy howdy, nothing says indoctrination like a speech on the importance of working hard in school delivered by a man who is a symbol of what can happen when a young person of modest means works their ass off.

    While we shout at each other about health care reform, gay rights, abortion, defense policy and other issues, I wonder sometimes if we are even aware of how much ground we are losing to other nations in the field of education. And when you have significant portions of the American electorate arguing for inclusion of creationism into the curriculum, for exclusion of books ranging from authors as varied Mark Twain to Judy Blum, for excising of civics lessons if they are not vetted by the Heritage Foundation, how can we expect to raise students who not only have learned facts, but the ability to think critically?

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  9. ROgirl said on September 8, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Isn’t it funny how extremism, no matter what the cause behind it, no matter what the political position, no matter what the location, blends together in a mass of loud, angry, violent, non-reality based, non-fact driven activity whose goal is to intimidate, frighten, demonize, shut down and destroy anything that opposes it?

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  10. LAMary said on September 8, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Tropic Thunder shown in school? At what grade level, and for what reason?

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  11. Connie said on September 8, 2009 at 11:19 am

    When VHS first became available in my library the teachers complained that they couldn’t reserve them for a specific date like they had been able to do with 16 mm films. And I could never figure out how any of the movies they wanted fit in any curriculum.

    As part of a series of long range planning surveys we surveyed high school teachers. All they wanted from the local library was daily delivery of movies to their schools.

    Not as bad as what I heard a few years ago from home schoolers as part of a series of focus groups relating to a new main library building plan. They wanted their own special room, with their own dedicated librarian, and special rules. My reaction? When you chose to give up your local public school you also chose to give up a school library and librarian.

    Crabby today. My $22,000 parking lot repair that turned into an $80,000 plus parking lot replacement finishes today. And the new concrete must sit undrive upon for 10 days of curing. I am quite sure this is the point at which complaint calls will begin.

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  12. coozledad said on September 8, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Charles Boustany (R-Hotbed of Education) is going to issue a “rebuttal” to Obama’s school speech. I guess he’ll advocate being born to some wealthy prick who can wedge you into an internship with some racist in the Senate, who’ll get you a job berating people with talent while you steadily drink yourself to death.
    I went to school with an intern for ol’ Jesse Helms. His dad was a sort of circuit preacher who routinely showed up at our junior high school and gave a sermon including some semiliterate doggerel from which I can only recall one verse.
    “Oh Lord! Forgive me when I whine.
    I have two legs. The world is mine!”
    We soon set about deconstructing this as
    “Oh god, forgive me when I bitch
    My dad blows Helms. He’s fucking rich!”
    “I seen a boy without a neck
    But Helms’ll write his dad a check!”
    I expect Boustany will do something similar.

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  13. Jolene said on September 8, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Actually, cooz, it’s the health care speech tomorrow evening for which Boustany is going to deliver the rebuttal. It’s interesting that they’ve chosen someone even less well-known than their last rebuttal speaker, Bobby Jindal.

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  14. Sue said on September 8, 2009 at 11:59 am

    My husband was camping this weekend, so I checked out the first two seasons of Upstairs, Downstairs and watched it in between canning tomatoes. When my husband got back last night, instead of going to watch football on the other tv like a good boy, he insisted on this “togetherness” thing and sat down to watch with me. Since he came in during a conversation between Thomas the Welshman and Rose the Cockney, he didn’t last five minutes. He couldn’t understand a word.
    I love fall, I just hate what comes after. Fall colors bring big tourism bucks to Wisconsin and the weather people also forecast fall color peaks during the season.
    And Connie? I’m with you on homeschoolers, although I know I’m not being fair. Listening to a grim-faced mother working Jesus into a math lesson finally did it for me. This was after several years of watching various other grim-faced mothers using their older female children as caretakers for the newest baby and several toddlers, while they bitched to me about the library not having enough “appropriate” resources. To me it’s nothing less than a closed society which these kids, especially the females, will not be able to escape without a lot of relationship damage. Or maybe I’m not being fair because I saw the most extreme, and in my opinion, most unhappy examples. Not a single mother I ran across ever seemed happy.

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  15. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on September 8, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Find Rafe Esquith’s book “Teach Like Your Hair Is On Fire” for a list of great movies to use in a 5th grade classroom; as i recall, “Tropic Thunder” wasn’t on his list, but the book came out a few years back. Maybe it’ll make the updated pb.

    Watch “The Hobart Shakespeareans” on dvd to learn more about him, and have some hankies handy, but in a good way. (He runs his classroom with two rules: Be nice, work hard. It’s all about problem solving.)

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  16. Peter said on September 8, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Jeff B, don’t worry too much about how we fare compared to students of other countries – NYT, among others, had an article some time back about the German school system being far crappier than what it appeared.

    That’s not to say you shouldn’t be worried about what we’re cranking out – you just shouldn’t be worried about how we compare to foreign brands. On the other hand, producing shallow thinking adults is what leads to xenophobia, which leads to simplistic thinking, which leads to Sarah Palin, which leads to armed conflict on flimsy evidence, which probably means we should be VERY afraid.

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  17. jcburns said on September 8, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Great to watch kids react so positively to the Obama speech. His words made me want to go stand up for the kids who are bullied in my class. But..uh..then I remembered I was in my fifties. In half an hour, will tune in to the Apple reality distortion field and drink some fine iPod kool-aid.

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  18. coozledad said on September 8, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Thanks, Jolene. One day I’ll learn to read past the lede.
    I was just infatuated with the idea of a Republican response to the school speech. Sigh.

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  19. LAMary said on September 8, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    I think schools should show Baz Luhrman’s film of Romeo and Juliet. Some do already. I love that movie.

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  20. jeff borden said on September 8, 2009 at 1:05 pm


    Well said and spot on. It’s the strain of anti-intellectualism embraced by so many these days that gives me great pause, not that the European Union will eclipse us in the classroom.

    Also, I was thinking more of the Asian nations, to be honest, which used to send us their brightest students, who would then stay and build careers in the U.S. With the standards of living rising quickly in China and India, they can now return to their homelands, depriving the U.S. of their talents in mathematics, engineering and the sciences.

    The Senate released a report a few years ago arguing that America would face a severe shortage of engineers within a quarter-century if our own students didn’t start embracing the academics needed to become one. I’m not one to talk. Math and science classes nearly consigned me to the academic scrap heap so vast was my ineptitude in those arenas.

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  21. Dorothy said on September 8, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    I love that version of R&J too, Mary.

    We got to see “Julie & Julia” yesterday and enjoyed it very much. Another one I can recommend was the rental “Frozen River” with Melissa Leo. But I wish I had passed up “Gran Torino” in favor of “Sunshine Cleaning.” Torino was a big disappointment.

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  22. Jean S said on September 8, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Dexter, I read “shave and rake” as “shake and rave.” I dunno, maybe you can work all four into your daily routine.

    I am cooking up some Walla-Walla onion marmelade tonight, plus freezing some green beans. This being Orygun, we had us some rain over the weekend, and I need to check the poor old tomatoes. And they were doing so well, too…

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  23. jeff borden said on September 8, 2009 at 1:47 pm


    “Frozen River” is one of those movies I wanted to scream about, to push people into theaters to see it. I’ve rarely seen a film so accurately depict the desperation of those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder holding on for dear life. Not only was Melissa Leo relevatory, but the young Native American woman was superb. No sweet tea and frosted cookies ending, either, but a harsh and realistic take. It’s an excellent film in every way.

    I’m plugging “The Hurt Locker,” which we saw over the weekend. It is more suspense tale than war movie, though there are scenes of terrible violence. The writing, the direction and the acting are spot on. The Oscar talk about young actor Jeremy Renner, who plays the guy who gets a buzz from the proximity to danger, is not misplaced. He’s convincing as hell.

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  24. nancy said on September 8, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Gran Torino was a huge disappointment for me, too. But if you watched to the end, Dorothy, you saw our famous lakefront. If I hadn’t been vacationing in Clint Eastwood’s hometown that week, maybe I’d have ridden by on my bicycle.

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  25. Rana said on September 8, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    how can we expect to raise stu­dents who not only have learned facts, but the abil­ity to think critically?

    You assume that the people in charge want a citizenry of critical thinkers…

    (Yeah, I’m feeling cynical today.)

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  26. Julie Robinson said on September 8, 2009 at 1:56 pm

    Did anyone else dislike the Luhrman R&J when it first came out? I was too attached to the Zefferelli version, which I must have seen at the impressionable 11 or 12. Viewing them again years later it is Luhrman who holds up for me. Although Zefferelli broke new ground casting leads who were close to the age they should have been. Before that all the R&J’s were in their 40s or older!

    On our way up to Chicago on Sunday we heard a show our local public station doesn’t carry, by NPR-ex Bob Edwards. It was the third of three on education and he interviewed the Hobart Shakespearean teacher. I came home to put the DVD on the Netflix list only to see it’s already on there. He also spoke with the author of a book about Multiple Intelligences, who our daughter had told us about from her education classes. We’ve recently identified our son as a kinetic learner, which wasn’t too surprising since he was the classic hyper kid when younger. So that book goes on the library queue. It was a great show–topical yet avoiding all the crap about presidential socialistic indoctrination in our schools. I’m in a news blackout today because I’m so sick of it, and I agree with Jeff B that it’s a huge distraction from where our energies should be focused.

    What is onion marmalade? I’ve never heard of it. We have us some rain here in Indiana too.

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  27. Jean S said on September 8, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    marmalade. dangit, I knew I misspelled it.

    onion marmalade is TheBestStuff Ever on sandwiches. If the wonderful wide world of yells loudly enough, I’ll post the recipe.

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  28. Jeff Borden said on September 8, 2009 at 2:19 pm


    You asked about the New Zealand wines we tasted the other day. The standout was Stafford Lodge savignon blanc, which hit us in the wheelhouse. Highly recommended for seafood by the wine steward who was running the show. The price is a couple of bucks higher than Kim Crawford, which at Binny’s Beverage Depot usually goes for about $15 per bottle.

    I think about anything coming from the Marlborough region is probably worth trying. Kim Crawford gets a lot of mentions these days, but the Stafford Lodge is evidence there are many other quality wineries in the area.

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  29. Julie Robinson said on September 8, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    *loud roar*

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  30. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on September 8, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Yelling! I’ve had an onion/hungarian pepper marmalade that made my eyes water in two ways.

    I think i said this here before, but if you liked Luhrman’s “Romeo+Juliet,” you have to see Ian McKellen’s “Richard III.” Truly stunning.

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  31. LAMary said on September 8, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    I have a learning question. Last night my older son asked me if I knew how to play Spades. I told him that I’ve played it but I’ve forgotten how. The thing is, I forget how to play card games almost as soon as I finish playing them. Teach me how to play, I’ll learn very fast and do well. Next day I’m unable to explain how to play that game. I remember parts, but not the whole thing. Anyone else have that sort of issue with some specific learning thing? I feel like I’m missing some part of my brain.

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  32. Jeff Borden said on September 8, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    I couldn’t deny a certain fascination with Luhrman’s “Romeo and Juliet,” particularly how the film did not modernize the language, only the surroundings. Thus, when the Bard’s words called for someone to raise their “sword,” we saw an automatic pistol with the brand name “Sword” on the barrel. Not great art, but maybe it drove a few more youngsters toward Shakespeare.

    Plus, I’m a huge Shirley Manson mark, so the song by Garbage (“Number One Crush?”) iced it for me.

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  33. Dorothy said on September 8, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    **ROARING LOUDER THAN JULIE** My husband made pepper jelly this year and I brought it to the office two weeks ago to share. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I tried it on top of cream cheese on crackers, and it was fab!

    I did watch Gran Torino to the end, Nancy. My daughter, however, turned it off after 30 minutes when they rented it a couple of weeks ago. My son sent me a link for a preview of a wild new movie coming out in November. Has anyone else seen the preview for “The Men Who Stare at Goats”? George Clooney is in it, along with Jeff Bridges, Kevin Spacey and Ewan McGregor. It looks hilarious.

    Editing to respond to Mary’s question about cards. I think I’m a little like that, too. I have to be re-introduced to card games from time to time. Our family loves to play Canasta. But I zealously guard the old instruction book my mom has had for year, because I always have to look at the instructions before we start a game! I haven’t played Spades in years but I’m sure I’d have to re-learn it.

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  34. Julie Robinson said on September 8, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Oh yeah, Ian McKellen rocks, whereas Clint Eastwood only knows how to channel Dirty Harry.

    Card games are also hopeless for me. Does it go along with spatial intelligence? My DH can find his way around anyplace after just a day or two, even if it is years later. I need the map and directions almost every time.

    Pepper jelly? *roars like a lion*

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  35. Sue said on September 8, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    While we’re roaring for recipes, anyone have a recipe for pepperoncini? I only found one recipe in Recipezaar and it doesn’t look right. We even grew the right peppers and now we can’t find a recipe.

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  36. paddyo' said on September 8, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    LA Mary, I, too, have that unfathomable inability to retain card-game directions. Solitaire and basic poker are about the only ones to stick — not that I play either very often (OK, a little Spider Solitaire on the computer at home sometimes to de-buzz after a buzzy day). Hearts, gin, rummy, gin rummy, cribbage, bridge, etc. Is it simply that we don’t PLAY card games much anymore?

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  37. Deborah said on September 8, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Michael G,

    Writing this from the Sacramento Airport. Nice town! We took your advice and parked on 16th, walked up J St. to 28th. We ended up eating Friday night at Tappa the World. Excellent food. In the morning we went back to J St. and sat in Pete’s Coffee shop working with our computers until we had to leave for Calaveres County (famous for jumping frog scams), to a town called Angel’s Camp. It was a fun weekend. The big trees were amazing.

    Won’t be back in Chicago till midnight.

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  38. Jenflex said on September 8, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Julie: Yes on the Zeffirelli take of R&J…if for no other reason than I got to see a naked male fanny in ninth-grade English. I haven’t watched it again…there’s no way it could live up to the way I remember it.

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  39. coozledad said on September 8, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Sue: For pepperoncini I’d use a table salt or calcium chloride brine. Vinegar solutions overpower the taste of the peppers.
    I can’t remember card games either. And the more baroque they get, the less likely I am to even get the point of suffering through them. Has anybody here ever tried to play bouree, or whist? Seems like bouree is played with two standard decks of cards. I think you have to be drinking port and smoking cigars to actually play.

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  40. nancy said on September 8, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Whist — bid whist, anyway — is huge here among African Americans. They have whist clubs, whist tournaments, the whole bit. No one can really say why, other than it was a southern thing taken around the country by Pullman porters. You see little storefronts all over Detroit that, if you look closely are bid whist social clubs. They generally play two nights a week, and on Friday, they go all night.

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  41. LAMary said on September 8, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    I play solitaire on the computer, sometimes blackjack, but anything else, no. I don’t think it’s about spatial skills since I’m good on those. The in house Brit says it’s like my lack of skill at algebra. I don’t see algebra as relating to anything concrete so I can learn it, use to pass a test, and forget it. Geometry I’m fine.

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  42. Rana said on September 8, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    LA Mary, I have that problem with card games as well. About the only ones that I can reliably remember the rules for are Old Maid and Solitaire. All the others I need refreshers on, even if I’ve played them before.

    I’m like this with standardized tests too – I am really, really good at learning the material, acing the test, and then dumping all the information out of my head shortly afterward. Unless it gets reinforced regularly, my brain’s pretty good at trashing what it considers useless information.

    Unfortunately, things like jingles are apparently the Most Important Stuff Ever, because my brain clings to those with a vengeance.


    I’m better at retaining concrete information than abstracts as well. For abstract stuff to stick, I have to tie it to something physical – a song, a picture, written over and over by hand, that sort of thing. This is why, math- and science-wise, I did fairly well until I reached advanced college calculus and encountered the concept of “k-dimensional space” in college physics. My brain just didn’t know what to do with that, and I had trouble coming up with some sort of visual/tactile hook to hang it on. Maybe I should have composed a ditty?

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  43. Kirk said on September 8, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    The only times I have played euchre, I’ve already had about six beers, so I never remember how to play. Only once do I remember being confident that I knew what was I doing playing that game. That’s why we play 31, the card game for drunks invented by drunks.

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  44. nancy said on September 8, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Spades are like hearts in reverse — the object is to take tricks with spade trump cards, not get rid of them. I could probably get back into it with a quick refresher course; in high school one year my posse played it so often we finally decided to put it to rest once and for all with a marathon final tournament. Haven’t played since “Spades to Insanity,” but it wasn’t difficult.

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  45. moe99 said on September 8, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Thanks, JeffB!

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  46. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on September 8, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    Mille Bornes, anyone?

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  47. Dorothy said on September 8, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    I want to learn how to play bridge, euchre and one more whose name escapes me at the minute. Damn I hate getting old!! My younger sister plays it – she and girlfriends get together to do this – someone help me out with the name of this friggin’ game….

    BUNCO!!!! (I love the Google so much it’s pathetic)

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  48. Jolene said on September 8, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    Whist was popular in the small ND town where I grew up. My parents and their friends had card parties in their homes, and community organizations (the PTA, the American Legion and such) had card parties as fundraisers. No one does that there anymore. Killed by TV and all the other forces that have suburbanized rural America.

    I played when I was growing up, but am not sure I could do it now. I enjoy games a lot, but the ones I like most are the ones that allow lots of room for chat and, ideally, humor. Like most people here, I’m better w/ words than numbers, so I like Scrabble, Boggle, and other such things.

    Mille Bornes is a good game. Have played it and liked it, but would have to be reintroduced to it now. Scattergories is a fun party game, as it gives rise to ridiculous answers that make people laugh, but also permits real competition so there’s a reason to care.

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  49. Danny said on September 8, 2009 at 4:22 pm

    We had a drinking game we played in college. We’d watch Bob Newhart and every time some character uttered the name “Bob,” everyone drank. Nuanced, eh?

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  50. Danny said on September 8, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Mary, I keep thinking the descriptor for the Brit should change from “in-house” to “in-bed.”

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  51. coozledad said on September 8, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    We picked up a mah-jong set at a junk store. My wife says it’s basically rummy, but the betting is an intrinsic feature of the game. I liked it because of the tiles and the abacus-like chips. But again, it’s one of those games where the other players are constantly having to ask me to spit the pieces back out.

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  52. Sue said on September 8, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    I don’t know if it’s local of all of Wisconsin, but sheepshead tournaments are big around here. The basic requirements seem to be an ad in the paper and a VFW hall. I have no idea how it’s played. Sounds kind of barbaric. Another thing advertised a lot around here is something called a “smoker”. Again, afraid to ask what it is, and I’ve been here almost 30 years. I imagine card games are involved. A VFW hall seems to be a requirement for this, too.

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  53. Danny said on September 8, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Sue, after you cure the pepperoncini’s in the brine or vinegar, dump the solution and put in olive oil and maybe some other herbs or spices. The Santa Barbara Olive Company used to have these, but last I checked, they no longer carried them. The olive oil just smooths out the taste marvelously. It still has bite, but just the right amount.

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  54. Jolene said on September 8, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Sue, smokers can also be held in Knights of Columbus halls.

    Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about what a smoker is: An informal social gathering, excluding women, either professional or informal in which tobacco products may be freely used (archaic since late 20th century)

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  55. Connie said on September 8, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Kirk in my family 31 has always been the game for a big group that includes all ages from kids to grandmas.

    The first thing I learned at Michigan State was how to play euchre.

    The Zefferelli R and J is a great memory for me. First hour 8th grade phys ed so often involved planning girl movie outings. I also remember us going to 2001 A Space Odyssey. Not too far into it Linnea said this is too wierd and put on her sunglasses. Then she decided that wasn’t enough and put kleenex under the lenses. She watched the rest that way. I’m not sure is watched is quite the right way to put it.

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  56. Sue said on September 8, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    Holy Smokes! That KofC smoker needs to be infiltrated because I want to meet Juan Muldoon & Kyle Chamberlin, Former Notre Dame Leprechauns, or maybe it’s only Kyle who is the leprechaun and Juan Muldoon is a guest speaker just because of his awesome name. I am really sorry I missed it.

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  57. Colleen said on September 8, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I spent a lot of study time in college on Euchre. Now we’ve have some friends we try to get together with for dinner and cards once a month.

    My aunt and uncle introduced us to Hand and Foot. Uses five decks of cards, but is pretty fun.

    Add me to the list of those who have to have card games re-explained….

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  58. Jen said on September 8, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Euchre is hugely popular here in Indiana, but I never learned how to play it until recently because I came from a non-card playing family. The only card game we play is 31.

    However, I married into a family that LOVES to play cards at every gathering, so I’ve been learning. My father-in-law taught me cribbage, which is insanely popular up in Minnesota, where he’s from. He’s also taught me a ton of other games, but he has to explain the rules every time. I think I’m finally getting the hang of Euchre.

    I tend to suck at pretty much any game, except for trivia games (like Trivial Pursuit and Scene-It) and Scrabble. I am not a brilliant strategist, that’s for sure.

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  59. Kirk said on September 8, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    Yes, 31 is more fun if about 10 people are playing. As the game progresses, the losers can start another table.

    In the group I usually play with, couples aren’t allowed to sit next to each other.

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  60. LAMary said on September 8, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Rana, I’m the same on standardized tests. I study, do really well, forget everything immediately. Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit I play for blood.

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  61. Dexter said on September 8, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    Smokers. Pilot Joe may have attended a few of those Notre Dame Smokers held in Garrett…smoked sausage and kraut, beer and craps, and two or three ND players always showed up…been a long time, but one player later was a tight end for the NY Giants and one player was Jay Case, who was a pal of the smoker organizer, Duke D. of Garrett. High stakes craps table equals bad feelings. Whoa…what a night that was.

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  62. coozledad said on September 8, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Dexter, Michael G: I used to work with a couple of guys who served with the Rangers in Vietnam. They told me the Australians would always ostentatiously put their automatic pistols on the table before a game of cards, and frequently displayed human ears on their web belts. Another guy told me the real badasses were the South Koreans, but I don’t recall hearing anything about them playing cards. I never knew whether they were just jerking my chain.
    And while I’m at it, in the mid nineties there was some video reissue of an early 60’s Frank Sinatra show that was very carefully shot, almost a precursor to Scorsese’s Last Waltz. I was watching it on a bank of televisions in a hardware store. It rocked. Does anyone happen to know when that was made, or if you can access it on the web?

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  63. MichaelG said on September 8, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    Excellent, Deborah! Glad you had a good time in Sactown. I love tapas. I could nibble all night.

    Cooze – I saw people of all sorts carrying ears. They dry up real fast. It wasn’t my thing. I got your Australian stories and your Korean stories including eating Korean mess hall kim chee. Maybe one of these times I’ll post something.

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  64. Jolene said on September 8, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Today’s news you can use from the WaPo—

    8 Questions About Health-Care Reform

    Here’s How Some Americans Might Fare Under Reform

    Full coverage of healthcare reform

    And on a (somewhat) lighter note—

    Hank Stuever and Tom Shales on this fall’s new TV shows

    Stuever’s review of The Last Truck, a documentary re the closing of a GM plant in Lorain, Ohio. Sounds good, if not exactly cheerful. On HBO tonight.

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  65. jeff borden said on September 8, 2009 at 6:59 pm


    I worked with an ex-Ranger who had served with the Montangards in the mountains and they were allegedly big on collecting ears. The guy I knew kept three bottles of formaldehyde on his mantle, which he claimed contained ears. The formula was so murky it was nearly impossible to tell exactly “what” was in there, but this guy was enough of a lunatic that I pretty much believed him. He drove a burgundy 1967 Camaro with a caved in roof, which he damaged in a fit of pique when said Camaro would not start. We never really figured out what he thought would be accomplished by jumping up and down on the roof a few times except to screw up a fine automobile, but it was generally considered prudent to just accept his stories with a nod and a smile and not ask any questions.

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  66. LAMary said on September 8, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    It’s interesting that the we’re talking about Viet vets with ear collections today. My high school had no problem with having a returned vet address the whole student body. He told gruesome stories about Viet Nam, showed us his ear collection and some other souvenirs, and made incredibly racist remarks about Asians. Knowing my fine little home town, I bet they are among the districts who complained about Obama addressing students.

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  67. brian stouder said on September 8, 2009 at 7:46 pm

    I asked our 8th grader, and he told me that one kid brought a note from mom, and had to leave the room when the President of the United States addressed them.

    But the puzzling thing was that our 5th grader’s teacher never showed it, at all.

    Aside from that, back in the day we used to play euchre, and spades – and isn’t there a bidding component in spades? Can’t recall; but we also sometimes played penny-ante poker, which taught me two things: games take on a decidely more exotic flavor when there’s money at stake; and, when actual paper money goes into the pot (a rare thing), it ain’t fun anymore.

    Nowadays, the fellows and I gather twice a month and play board games – mostly so-called “Euro games” that tend to have colorful pieces, beautiful boards, off-beat themes, lots of humor, and enough rules that a good “rules lawyer” (ie – not me!) can find a clever way to sail away with the win. Most of them factor out luck, so that players who are sharp will win, and people who are there to socialize – won’t!

    I almost never win(!) – but I always have lots of fun…and interestingly, the next day I always have a very clear idea what I SHOULD have done, when I think back upon the night before. The thing is, when you’re in the middle of a game of, say, Galaxy Trucker

    or Settlers of Cataan, or (a personal fave) Tigris and Euphrates

    you aren’t thinking about work or wing-nut idiots or the funny sound the car started making…one’s mind is consumed with playing the game.

    (but I do love Hearts and Freecell on the computer)

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  68. moe99 said on September 8, 2009 at 7:55 pm

    I saw part of the President’s address today at the body shop where the Subaru is getting fixed. Since it was in the suburbs (which are fairly conservative) I made sure to tell everyone what a great speech it was. Only problem was the other customer there was African American and he seemed to already agree with me.

    Could not believe it was on Fox News. I thought they weren’t going to cover it.

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  69. MarkH said on September 8, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Cooz —

    I suspect the Sinatra program you saw was this one:

    It is available on dvd, just him, a big band and two different conductors, Riddle and Jenkins.

    However, there are at least three tv specials that could be the one you’re asking about, filmed between ’60 and ’65. They’re listed on his imdb entry.

    My Viet Nam vet buddies do very little talking about their experiences, but, when discussing how tough/brutal the South Koreans were, they do agree on one thing: they took no prisoners.

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  70. Dexter said on September 8, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    LAM: I was the media spokesman for our Vietnam Veterans Against the War contingent in Fort Wayne. I was invited to speak at South Side High School to a history class. This was set up after another member of our group called the principal of the school, who set it up with the history teacher. It was a very cool deal. I just told the students what I thought of the racist, imperialist war of genocide against the people of Vietnam. Of course, I was too heavy-handed with those kids, who obviously had never heard this angle of the war being presented to their virgin ears. I pulled no punches, and I answered some girl’s question of “but we’re protecting our country from communism, aren’t we?” with a bombast of what I am sure sounded like National Liberation Front propaganda, or whatever.
    Yeah, the scene was cool, but I was too hot-headed to be taken seriously, I quickly realized, and of course we were blackballed from ever speaking to kids again.
    I saw guys wearing strings of dried ears, but when I first saw them, I thought they were fake; I couldn’t allow myself to believe that awful truth.
    Christ, that whole experience was weird enough on a daily basis as it was.

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  71. nancy said on September 8, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Dorothy, you’re probably thinking of bunco. I’ve never played, but I’m told it’s one of those hen-party things.

    My friends and I dispense with the cards and just open the wine. Cut to the chase.

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  72. Dexter said on September 8, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Alright…I gotta get this off my chest. Overall, the ROK (Korean Army/Marines in Vietnam) get high marks for soldiering in the Vietnam war, but when I was there, they were apparently tired and they were pretty much hated by the grunts who served in the region I was in. They only wanted to go out on helicopters. They went on stand -down for long periods between missions, driving US commanders who needed help crazy with anger. This can be left for military analysts to expand the search if they so desire. I was only there a year, and that was the year the Koreans (ROK) were slacking horribly. The “head General” when I was there at MACV in Nha Trang was Major General Charles P. Brown, and this is a quote from him:
    “The ROK’s spent relatively long periods planning regimental and division sized operations, but the duration of the execution phase is short.

    The planning which leads to requests for helicopter assets to support airmobile operations is poor. This assessment is based on the fact that the magnitude of their requests for helicopters generally is absurdly high. Without disturbing their tactical plan one iota, their aviation requests can always be scaled down, frequently almost by a factor of one-half . . . .”

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  73. coozledad said on September 8, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Thanks, Mark. I hope these will ultimately migrate to Youtube.

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  74. coozledad said on September 8, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Damn, Dexter. That’s the way history ought to be written. That’s elegant.

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  75. Connie said on September 8, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    I’d never heard of Bunco before moving to Minnesota, and definitely got the impression it was a hen party thing. Our card drawer includes a paper cup full of pennies that will serve any size group for 31. Except no matter who wins the pennies go back in the jar.

    Our current favorite is a game called Apples to Apples, purchased in a box with two different sets of cards and no board. Has to do with which of the noun cards in your hand are the best match for the adjective card laid by the dealer. The dealer gets to decide who wins the round. It really is another fun game for any mix of ages. I have learned that almost any group that plays regularly has added some of their own rules. One of ours is: Sean Connery always wins.

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  76. beb said on September 8, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    LAMary @11: It was sophomore year in high school, class was economics, a sub was teaching that day and the subject, supposedly was consumerism. I’m not sure how the movie fits in.

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  77. Kirk said on September 8, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Pennies? We play 31 with dollar bills.

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  78. Joe Kobiela said on September 8, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    Yep went to quite a few of those N.D. smokers, I won a Carling’s black label jacket at one of them. I still have it. Use to buy Carlings in Kinderhook Mich for $4.00 bucks a case, back in 74-75-76, partied hard in Steuben county. I found out you never bought Beer you only rented it.
    Pilot Joe

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  79. coozledad said on September 9, 2009 at 1:31 am
    Sorry, it just bears repeating.

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  80. Jean S said on September 9, 2009 at 2:21 am

    Dexter: We are not worthy.

    And for all you rip-roarin’ recipe requesters, here it is:

    Sweet Onion Marmalade

    Use Walla-Wallas, Vidalias, Maui Sweets or the equivalent (aka the Texas version, the name of which I am not remembering).

    This makes about 7 half pints. Use a water bath to can. Ten minutes at sea level; 15 minutes for 1,000 to 6,000 ft; 20 minutes above 6,000 ft. And if you don’t can? Just slam those jars into the refrigerator.
    About 2 1/2 lbs onions, enough to measure 7 cups when chopped. (The original recipe calls for elegant strips that are about 1/4 inches thick by 1 1/2 inches long. Very nice, but no one will sob if you just chop ’em up.)

    1 1/2 c apple juice
    3/4 c red wine vinegar
    1 T finely minced fresh garlic
    1 tsp. salt
    1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
    1/2 tsp. yellow mustard seeds
    1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (oh, go crazy if you need to)
    4 c granulated white sugar
    1/2 c firmly packed light brown sugar
    1 1.75-oz Sure Jell for Lower Sugar Recipes (light fruit pectin)
    1 tsp. butter or oil (this helps minimize foaming)

    Place the prepared onions in a 6- to 8-qt heavy-bottomed pot. Add the apple juice, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt, white pepper, mustard seeds and red pepper flakes. Mix thoroughly.

    Measure the white sugar into a bowl, then remove 1/4 cup and set aside in a smaller bowl. Add the brown sugar to the larger amount of white sugar and set it aside.

    Add the pectin to the smaller amount of white sugar, then stir this into the onion mixture. Add the butter or oil. Place the pot with the onion mixture over high heat; bring it to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Immediately stir in the remaining brown/white sugars.

    Bring it back to a full rolling boil and then boil for exactly 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and skim off foam, if any.

    Can as per usual (or store in refrigerator).

    To give credit where it is most certainly due: This originally ran in The Oregonian, in a column by Jan Roberts-Dominguez. She noted: “Delicious over cream cheese or brie as an hors d’oeuvre, and as a condiment for pork or grilled chicken. Whisk a little into sour cream to use as a dip.”

    I would say, “Add it to your average turkey sandwich and be prepared to bow and thank the Walla-Walla Gods.”

    Cheers, gang.

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