Michelle Obama and gift-giving

That awkward moment last Inauguration Day when Melania Trump presented Michelle Obama with a gift is back in the news. The Mooch recently appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and described the moment this way:

MICHELLE: Well, there’s all this protocol. I mean, this is like a state visit. So they tell you, “You’re gonna do this; they’re gonna stand here.” Never before do you get this gift. So I’m sort of like, “Okay.”

DEGENERES: (guffaws)

AUDIENCE: (laughter)

MICHELLE: “What am I supposed to do with this gift?” And then my husband saved the day. See, he grabbed the box and took it back inside. But everybody cleared out. No staff, no one. I — I was like, “What do you do with a box?”

Doesn’t the Mooch know YouTube is forever? You see, just 8 years before, she presented Laura Bush with a gift prior to the same ceremony.


Taking stock on the 26th day of 2018

Here we are nearing the end of the first month of a new year. The weather has been a roller-coaster, the 20-year-old is back at college, and the beard has taken on an identity of its own. So here are the things I’m immersed in at present…

Wondering: Are the Phillies going to be any good this year? They rattled a few sabers in the off-season, and so I’m wondering if a .500 record in 2018 is realistic. Pitchers and catchers report in less than a month. Also, I want to go see a game at Atlanta’s new ballpark sometime. (If it’s against the Phillies, I will go incognito.)

Winning: All the time in Trump’s America. Our 401(k)’s are soaring, the economy is en fuego, more people are working, our standing in the world is increased, illegal immigration is way down, ISIS is more or less defeated, and a monolithic scandal involving the Obama administration and deep state is brewing.

Wishing: Spring were here. Granted, wishing for the next season doesn’t make it come any faster. But we have had some spring-like days here lately, and the days are already noticeably longer.

Waiting: Lord willing, Mrs. Lefty and I are headed to Memphis the second weekend in February to see the 20-year-old and also go to a basketball game.

Listening: Sometimes I break out the classical recordings when I want it quiet. It makes for good reading. Lately, I have discovered the Chiaroscuro Quartet, a group of European musicians who have already recorded several albums of classical music. When I’m running, I listen almost exclusively to Rush. Sometimes I’ll slip in something different, but most often it’s “the guys.” Right now, I’m listening to Rush in Rio, a live album they recorded in 2002 during their Vapor Trails tour. It’s nearly 3 hours long. And when I’m driving, it’s almost always SiriusXM “Real Jazz” on channel 67.

Reading: I haven’t bought any ebooks in a while. I’ve finished reading a number of them without adding new ones, opting instead to revisit some of the classics. At the moment, I’m reading Love & War, the second book in John Jakes’ Civil War trilogy, Moby Dick, or, the Whale, by Herman Melville, and an Andrew Jackson biography (paper copy).

Watching: Almost nothing. Mrs. Lefty and I watch an occasional movie (most recently The Words on Amazon Prime Video, which now has an app for Apple TV). The only actual TV show I ever watch is Nashville on CMT. Every once-in-a-while I attempt to talk Mrs. Lefty into cutting the cord, but she won’t hear of it. Sometimes I watch Memphis basketball if I’m not working. Also, I’m casually working my way through Ken Burns’ jazz documentary series for the 5th or 6th time. It never gets old.

Running: I went through a running nadir recently for a host of reasons. After running a half-marathon on December 2, I forced myself to take a week off. And then there was an illness which sidelined me, and then a prolonged cold spell which further limited my running days. However, with the warmer weather lately, I was able to log 21 miles during a 7-day stretch from last Thursday through this Wednesday. It’s the busiest week of running (outside of half-marathon training) that I’ve had in a while. So this month I’m going to do my best to meet my monthly goal of running 50 miles. (I did not meet my goal last month, partly by design.)

Grooming: The beard. I’m no longer growing a beard, because it is grown. Now I’m keeping it groomed, experimenting with various lengths. The only negative feedback comes from the 20-year-old, but I suspect his is borne out of jealousy, since he can’t grow facial hair the way I can.

Capitalism vs. socialism

In capitalism, you have the wealthy, middle class, and poor. It is considered evil by socialists, who prefer an economy where everyone is poor except for a tiny well-to-do ruling class. When members of the well-to-do ruling class need reliable health care, they go to capitalist countries. That intellectual elites tend to espouse the virtues of socialism is best expressed by the Steely Dan lyric, “The things that pass for knowledge I can’t understand.”

Taking stock on the Ides of December

Today is December 15. We are nearly halfway through the final month of 2017. We are ten days from Christmas and six days from the winter solstice, after which the days will start getting longer again.

This is one of those times when it is appropriate to sit back and take stock.

Reading: I am a book juggler. I never read just one book at a time. Right now, I’ve got three going at once. They are, “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” by Fanny Flagg, “World Without End,” a monolith by Ken Follett, and “The North and South Trilogy” by John Jakes.

Listening: My two latest discoveries are both jazz albums. They are “Civilization” by Tony Williams (1987), which I came across while listening to Real Jazz on SiriusXM, and “The Blues and the Extract Truth” by Oliver Nelson (1961), which I discovered while streaming a jazz channel on Apple Radio. Both have left me wondering why it took me so long to find them.

Cooking: Yesterday I made a batch of broccoli cheddar soup. I have concocted this recipe several times in the last few months and yesterday’s was my best effort yet.

Traveling: I have been to Memphis 10 times since July, and thought I was done for awhile after the St. Jude half-marathon back on December 2. Then, lo and behold, Memphis got invited to play in the Liberty Bowl on December 30 for the first time ever, so we’ve worked that into our post-Christmas trip to West Tennessee.

Running: Yesterday was just my 2nd time to run following the half-marathon. The combination of a self-imposed week off after the race, cold weather, and illness have kept me bottled up. But your body has a way of telling you it needs a break. Lord willing, I will start training for the next half-marathon on March 1, so until then, I’m planning on “maintenance running” only, where I more or less run a 5K every other day.

Needing: I don’t need anything. Even with Christmas approaching, it is always a struggle to come up with ideas for useful things. All the wonderful expensive objects of desire advertisers tell me I need in order to experience the perfect Christmas don’t do it for me. I don’t need any gadgets. My car runs just fine. Our TV’s still work. And my running shoes are still relatively new. There is a peace that comes with being able to face the advertisers and photos of shiny new things without the slightest whiff of desire. (Okay, I did ask for a couple of new long-sleeved shirts for work.)

Relishing: Health, a 10-2 season by the Tigers (darn that UCF), President Trump and all this winning, family, church (I thoroughly enjoy being part of the media team) and our current series in Ephesians and also the life of Joseph.

Seeing: Christmas lights. My sweet wife enjoys seeing Christmas lights. I’m not into excessive Christmas displays at home (to her dismay), so last week we visited the Opryland Hotel to stroll through their highly-decorous indoor jungle, and earlier this week I took her to the Cheekwood Botanical Garden to see their lights.

Wishing: The cold weather would turn warm. Yes, I know, it’s winter. (Well, technically, it isn’t even winter yet.) There is a time for all seasons. There is a time for things to grow and a time for them to lie dormant, and this is the time for dormancy, cold, and short days. There’s nothing I can do about it. So I accept it because I’ve got no choice. Still, day after day of soul-crushing cold weather has me longing for spring, which is still several months away.

Feeling: I have been ill for over a week. I had some sort of viral illness last month and was hoping that would assuage the sickness gods for a while, but now I’ve come down with sinusitis and it does not go away without a protracted fight. Otherwise, count your blessings, dear readers. Practice contentment regularly and it will literally change your outlook.

Praying: A friend of mine from high school named Bob had a deep stroke almost a month ago and has been incapacitated ever since. This is quite shocking because he’s a few months younger than I am and has two children at home, one of whom is still a toddler. Every day I get updates about his progress. It seems that there’s something to rejoice over with every status summary, but he still has a long, difficult road ahead, and no one knows how much of the former Bob will return. This is one of those things that causes a person to take a good, hard look at his life and ask himself, “What if?” The world can be a harsh, difficult place and we take too much for granted. But for the grace of God go I.


The ancient family recipe

Four weeks ago tomorrow, I was at the funeral of a very dear aunt in Jackson, Tennessee. (That’s where much of my mother’s side of the family lives.) Following the service, her son — that would be my first cousin — suggested we all get together around Thanksgiving to make this year’s ravioli. Yesterday was that day.

As I mentioned in a blog post on Sunday, my great-great-grandparents emigrated from Italy during the late 1800’s. They were Giuseppe “Joe” Megaletti Reverdito (1858-1940), born in Cortemilia, and Angelina “Lena” Caroloni Savoria (1863-1919), born in Piana Crixia. Both towns are located in northwest Italy, between Genoa and Turin. They would have sailed from the port of Genoa. They settled in Memphis, Tennessee. It is probable that they did not marry until after immigrating to the United States. Once here, they shortened their surname to “Ditto.”

At any rate, the ravioli recipe belonged to Joe Ditto. (That is also his rolling pin you see in the upper left photograph.) It has been altered somewhat from generation to generation, although we try to stay as close to the original as possible. For many years, my grandmother — their granddaughter — made the ravioli. She would make so many that we would enjoy them for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. We don’t know how she did this by herself, because it is a laborious task. She passed away in 1999. Since then, various members of the family have make the ravioli. Yesterday, it was the “grandkids” who gathered to make the ravioli for the very first time. (There are six of us first cousins of my generation, and we still refer to ourselves as “the grandkids.” Four of us six were together yesterday. At one point, there were 4 generations of one family present.)

The filling consists of ground pork, spinach, onion, garlic, and a few other odds-and-ends.  The cousin I mentioned before had already prepared the filling. So our task yesterday was to make the pasta, roll it out, then fill and cut each ravioli. I have made pasta before by hand. It’s just flour and egg. The dough is tough and quite challenging to kneed and then roll out. (Imagine trying to roll out a sheet of leather.) After moving around and experimenting with various components of the “assembly line” we had established, we finally settled into a groove and pressed more than 300 ravioli in about 5 hours (including an hour break for lunch).

For the first time ever, we used a ravioli press (pictured below). Heretofore, they had always been cut by hand. (The elders were mortified.) But my cousin found a press on Amazon and we used it without the slightest feelings of guilt or betrayal.

The ravioli were laid out carefully in storage containers for freezing. We’ll enjoy them when we get together again a few days after Christmas. The ravioli will be served with a meat-and-tomato based gravy that will probably be made the day of. It has been years since I last enjoyed the old family recipe, and never had I helped make them until yesterday.

Overheard at the ravioli making:

“We should start our own YouTube channel.”

“We have just improved upon a perfect recipe.”

“All that’s missing is [our grandmother] to tell us everything we’re doing wrong.”

“What is the word she used for the leftover bits of pasta?” (Googles “Italian word for scraps of pasta”) “It says ‘scarti di pasta.’ We’ll go with that.”

“Of course [our grandmother’s] version [of the ravioli history] was probably embellished, but it sounds good so we’ll stick to it.”


“How did she do this all by herself?”

“They made and sold these to rich folks in Memphis during the Depression.”

Reading from my grandmother’s autobiographical tome 803 Carson Street, “they used to set these out on the back porch because it was colder than the icebox.”

Six generations of Memphians

My 20-year-old is the third generation of his family to attend the University of Memphis, but he is the 6th generation to live in the Bluff City. His great-great-great grandparents immigrated from Italy during the late 1800’s and settled in Memphis. They both died there. Their daughter and her husband lived in a house on Carson Street in Memphis (photographed below in 2012) from the 1920’s until their deaths in 1972. Their daughter, my grandmother, lived there, too. My mother lived part of her childhood in Memphis, although not at the Carson Street address. I lived there from 1991 until 1994. And now the 20-year-old lives there. That’s six generations of the same family literally wedded to one city during the course of a century (a little more, actually).

The Carson Street neighborhood, sadly, is not the same as it once was. It is part of what is now known as Orange Mound, a semi-depressed area of high crime and general poverty about a mile west of the UofM campus. The house was constructed in 1920 and the address 803 Carson Street is engraved in family lore. I’ve never been inside, as it passed out of the family after the deaths of my great-grandparents some 45 years ago.

48 Eve

All those born on November 17, 1969 are currently enjoying the eve of their 48th birthday. Congratulations to you all for making it this far. May you enjoy many more.

The number 48 is a highly useful number. Unlike 47, which is prime, 48 can be parsed many ways.

For example, 48 is 4 dozen.

It can be written as, 72-1.

– or –

48 x 1
24 x 2
16 x 3
12 x 4
8 x 6
2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 3
42 x 3

In 1980, Mike Schmidt, who was my favorite athlete growing up, hit 48 home runs for the Philadelphia Phillies. it was his career high, and also stood as a franchise record for 26 years. That was the year I got into baseball.

The only prime number that is divisible into 48 is 3.

Half the number of months that will ultimately be spanned by the presidency of Donald J. Trump is 48.

The year ’48 was also the year of “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.” Except that it wasn’t. Incidentally, that was 69 years ago, and individuals born in ’69 are turning 48 this year.

If you go 48 years back from 1969, you’ll find yourself in the year 1921. In other words, the years 2017 and 1921 are equidistant from 1969.

An NBA game lasts 48 minutes.

Until 1959, there were 48 states in the Union. That’s how we got the catchy phrase, “lower 48” (or “contiguous 48,” for those who prefer longer words).

Also, the ratio of the ages of a person turning 48 and a brand-new 16-year-old driver is 3:1, and Hillary blew a 3-1 lead.


seriatim (adv.) — taking one subject after another in regular order

multifarious (adj.) — many and of various types

cyclothymia (n.) — a mental state characterized by marked swings of mood between depression and elation; bipolar disorder

gaucherie (n.) — awkward, embarrassing, or unsophisticated ways

grippe (n.) — old-fashioned term for influenza

lapidary (adj.) — relating to stone and gems and the work involved in engraving, cutting, or polishing

perdition (n.) — (in Christian theology) a state of eternal punishment and damnation into which a sinful and unpenitent person passes after death

barcarole (n.) — a song traditionally sung by Venetian gondoliers

sylph (n.) — an imaginary spirit of the air

coccyx (n.) — a small triangular bone at the base of the spinal column in humans and some apes, formed of fused vestigial vertebrae

confiture (n.) — a preparation of preserved fruit

badinage (n.) — humorous or witty conversation

spume (n.) — froth or foam, especially that found on waves

parry (v.) — ward off (a weapon or attack), especially with a countermove

neophyte (n.) — a person who is new to a subject, skill, or belief

carrion (n.) — the decaying flesh of dead animals

garotte (n.) — a wire, cord, or apparatus used to strangle someone

sibilance (n.) — (of a speech sound) a hissing effect, for example s, sh

[category Words)

Quote du jour (Jurassic Democrats)

This is Rush Limbaugh from Wednesday’s show discussing Mrs. Clinton’s new blame-everyone-but-herself book:

Didn’t Spielberg direct Jurassic Park? You would think that the guy who directed Jurassic Park would have been able to do something with Hillary Clinton. If you make dinosaurs come to life and even make them kind of lovable and likable. I mean, admit it. Didn’t you kind of like the Velociraptors in the lab, and didn’t you kind of want one for a pet? Should have been able to do something with Hillary to make her more likable or more exciting.


Fall approaches

Today has been the first day this season that has truly felt like autumn. It has been cloudy and rainy all day.

This afternoon, I was grilling on my deck and noticed several leaves falling from the trees.

Four days ago, we moved the 19-year-old back into his dorm at the University of Memphis to begin the fall semester of his sophomore year.

Three days from now, Lord willing, I’ll be back in Memphis for the first football game of 2017.

The days are growing progressively shorter. It’s getting noticeably darker earlier each day.

Of course, we haven’t officially transitioned over to autumn just yet. It’s still August and we still have several summer-like days awaiting us in September. But all the signs are there, just like clockwork.