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Monthly Archives: August 2015

Flashback: The Rack

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The rack has been used as a torture devise since at least AD 65; it is still in use today, except that now it’s a piece of equipment found in a chiropractor’s office, with padded joints and supposedly-comfortable straps…  I called this a flashback, as I personally experienced the rack for six years, three times a week, twenty minutes at a time, as a child (followed by electric shock, all in the name of medicine).  Just looking at these images makes my back hurt!  To read more about the history, just click on the bottom image.

Torture - Middle Ages, the Rack torture-the-rack-granger

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Thoughts on War and Murder: The Outcome is Up to Us

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I don’t often make personal commentary on this site to historical issues; they are what they are, and distance from a time as foreign to me as it is to most of my readers makes any commentary either a moot point or comes from a skewed perspective.  But I make an exception this time, because I see a horrific history beginning to repeat itself and that demands my attention, and yours, as we still have it within our power to prevent it from perpetuating, or to at least change the outcome.

Below is a photo from an interesting article on the topic of the de-nazification of Germany after World War 2.  I would encourage you to read the short article it is attached to, by clicking on the image.  I must say that reading the comments below that article is just as eye-opening; most of the people who commented did little more than spout their ignorance, splashing it out and displaying it for all the world to see.

German soldiers react to footage of concentration camps, 1945

German soldiers react to footage of concentration camps, 1945

But there is a holocaust happening today, and in America it has become a multi-million dollar industry, its running costs paid for largely by Americans’ tax money.  I’m sure most people have heard of, or seen, the Planned Parenthood scandal videos (if you have not, do take the time to Google them, watch them, and form your own opinion about them).  There are not one or two, but a dozen or more of them; undercover videos of PP execs talking about the murder (abortion) of humans, and the parcelling out of human organs and body parts for sale; the callous way they can speak of such atrocities truly smacks of what die-hard Nazis must have been thinking, or even voiced.  I am fairly certain that if Hitler had known how to generate money from selling body parts out of the death camps, he might have had a lot more silent supporters in the West.  That sounds harsh, but greed for power, territory or money is at the heart of most wars and genocides.  Now you may not agree that abortion is murder; but what else is it, if a human life is premeditatively and violently ended?  If a human female is pregnant, the pregnancy will not produce an elephant or a litter of kittens.  A disturbing difference between the reactions of the soldiers then and people now is that today we are becoming visually jaded; photo manipulation is an assumed tactic in media such as magazines and ads; if we saw models for their true forms and conditions, we’d more often than not be appalled or sickened, or at the very least shocked by imperfection.  So when an unmanipulated video or photo comes our way, a gut reaction is to mistrust it; but that should not prevent us from searching out the truth, and informing ourselves nonetheless.

Another borderless war is raging; it is a war that has had its victims since the arenas of Rome and Nero’s human torches:  A war against Christians.  In recent months the atrocities have been escalated by ISIS, with countless beheadings, tortures, rapes, kidnapping of Christian men, women and children to sell into slavery or forced into brutal “marriages” with ISIS soldiers (who likely torture, rape and kill them in short order).  The war has long been perpetrated in China, where some Christian pastors have been in tortuous prison, in conditions most people would not even consider keeping a dog, for forty years or more.  Just because of what they believe.  Years ago the West made a marginal fuss about human rights issues there; but since China has opened up to become a lucrative trading partner, all criticism on that head has been silenced.  No crime was committed by the Christians, they are no menace to society, and yet they still rot in Chinese prisons, holding firmly to their faith (I won’t go into the very valid reasons why they hold firmly, in this article).  On the contrary, where Christians are, sanity and reason tend to enter a society or a crisis; they are the first responders in most catastrophes, with churches organizing food, shelter, aid and counselling for the traumatized before most other NGOs can get their boxes together.  They are the ones mobilizing volunteers to rebuild homes, pick up the pieces, and put things back together long after other aid workers have left.  Yet the horrific persecution continues, and is largely ignored by the western press; instead, celebrity nut-jobs get more coverage and they dare to call it “news”.

I will not draw my own conclusions from the thoughts in this article; I reserve my firm convictions for my inner self, and leave the conclusions to you, the reader.  But please form your own opinion!  Don’t let it be formed by the news media, popular interpretation of events, or social media buzz.  Future generations will look back on this current generation and see these defining moments, and condemn us as failures, or laud us as history-shapers.  Become informed about these issues; for only when a people are informed can an intelligent solution be found for current issues (which leads people of conviction to action), and only then will the danger of a tragic history repeating itself be thwarted.

A Grain of Mustard

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MustardYesterday my husband and I discussed mustard (as one does).  Specifically, he had been on Google Earth and mentioned that he saw rapeseed fields near Dijon; I replied that they were more likely to be mustard fields.  He was under the impression that mustard was a bush, or a tree, and we wondered if there might be varieties of the plant that ranged in size, especially if left to grow wild.  And thus, a bit of research into the mustard plant ensued (naturally).
First, a bit of history on Dijon mustard:  Originating in 1856, the first Dijon mustard was made by substituting green (unripe) grape juice for the more typical vinegar, though today that unripe grape juice is a spade called a spade, white wine.  Surprisingly, 90% of the mustard seed used in local Dijon production comes (mainly) from Canada – so those yellow flowering fields near Dijon could be rapeseed after all!

Dijon Hand-Painted JarDijon, France doesn’t just make the eponymous mustard, but has dozens of speciality mustards; when travelling through a few years ago, we picked up jars of orange mustard, fig mustard, lavender mustard and tomato mustard.  They often come in hand-painted pots, though plain glass jars are common as well.  The word mustard itself comes from Old French mostarde, which comes from Latin mustum, meaning “new wine”.  This may also be related to a Swiss-German term Most, meaning apple juice that’s nearly fermented; it’s often sold in the autumn from farmer’s shops, if they have an apple orchard from which to produce it.

Mustard seeds come in white, brown or black.  White seeds contain fewer volatile oils and so are milder than brown or black.  Years ago I consulted a doctor for remedies I could recommend to singing students who often struggle with sore throat issues; she told me to have them put 1 teaspoon of dark mustard seeds into a hot foot bath and soak the feet for 10-15 minutes; the mustard oils draw out the infection.

Mustard, as a condiment, was likely first made in Rome, appearing in cookbooks as far back as the 4th or 5th centuries.  They probably exported the seeds to France (Gaul), and by the 10th century monks were experimenting with recipes.  Grey-Poupon was established in 1777 between the partners Maurice Grey and Auguste Poupon.

So were those French fields rapeseed or mustard?  Well, actually, both:  Rapeseed is a bright-yellow flowering member of the family Brassicaceae (mustard or cabbage family).  While both rapeseed and mustard are harvested for their oils, they are as similar as mustard is to cabbage; rapeseed oil is the third-largest source of vegetable oil in the world, while mustard seeds are usually prepared as mustard condiment (though mustard oil is also popular in cuisines such as Indian).

Now we know..!

What a Buttload!

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Now, now… if you thought I was going to be rude, you don’t know me very well.  While I am certain that the term “butt” has led to countless jibes and jokes down through the centuries, it is (among other things) in fact an English measuring unit for wine.  A Buttload of wine is a unit for liquids which contains 126 gallons (~276 litres) which is one-half tun (252 gallons), and equivalent to the pipe (the latter also referred to the large container used for storing liquids or foodstuffs; now we rather use the terms cask or vat).  That they needed a term for a unit of wine that massive may seem odd at first; but when you remember that the water they had to drink was the same water that flowed downhill from the landlord’s latrine, the cows in the pasture, and the washer woman upstream, wine, beer and ale (depending on which harvest climate you lived in) was by far the safest thing to drink.  If wine was available in your area, it was stored in barrels and thus was drunk relatively young; also, to counter the effects of drinking it at every meal, wine was often diluted 4 or 5-to-1 with water; that took all of the buzz out of it (and added who knows how many bugs that they were drinking wine to avoid in the first place…).  Now you know.  What a buttload off my mind… I think it’s time for a glass of (undiluted) wine.

A Buttload of Wine

Happy Lammas Day! Happy Birthday, Switzerland!

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The original Thanksgiving day, Lammas has a centuries-old tradition in some English-speaking countries.  “Lammas” comes from the Old English hlafmæsse, meaning “loaf mass”, and was a celebration and a time to give thanks for the harvest.  Everyone would bring a loaf of bread to the church on that day, made from freshly-harvested wheat; it would then be blessed by the minister as a symbol of giving thanks for the entire harvest.  Perhaps this is the Eucharistic overtone admitted by J.R.R. Tolkien* in a private letter concerning the Lembas Bread of the Elves; this bread might have been based on Hardtack texture-wise, but the name itself is a quite clear connection to Lammas. 

In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles it is mentioned several times, and there it is referred to as the “feast of the first fruits”. To read more about this celebration, click on the image below.

And before I close, I will also say, “Happy Birthday, Switzerland!”  Today is our Founding Day, the first being in 1291.  Fireworks, here we come!

Breads, Harvest, Lammas Day

*Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-31555-7

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