Hamlet on the Potomac

Hamlet…..how I love that play; I estimate that I taught Hamlet to 40-50 classes, maybe more. [“Taught” means spending four weeks reading and explaining the play, line by line.] Recently, I came across two articles which use selections from Hamlet to comment on George Bush. It is no secret that I loathe George Bush, his dreadful war, his Imperial presidency, and his attempts to take away numerous freedoms using the pretext of his imaginary war on the idea of terror. The first article below, by Robert Sheer, is a superb parody of the famous “To Be or not to Be” soliloquy. Shakespeare can and should be studied to understand the issues in our world and to learn how issues/scenarios are resolved. Symbolically, it is all there, if we can only face the truth and see past the moment to the resolution…i.e..Shakespeare tells us how the issue will be resolved. Paying attention is sometimes way too painful.

Robert Scheer: Brooding Prince’s Soliloquy

And from The Huffington Post: Bill Robinson, “Where Bush Got His Twenty Thousand.”

The New Kitchen

Whatever possessed me to purchase a cooktop stove?? There is no hope that I will ever keep this thing clean, though I understand a special razor scraper can be purchased to scrape off the black markings which develop. However, the worst aspect is all the food I have burned. I have ruined two pots of bean soup in two days. Max finally suggested that I should make bean soup in the crock pot; I think he is tired of buying new bags of beans and the smell reminds him of a cooking disaster when he was in college. The burners on my old electric stove only half-worked, half the time. Thus, I could start cooking and wander off with no harm. The new stove works–consistently. I wander off—and dinner is burned.

The stove is part of the kitchen remodeling project, an adventure in mess/exhaustion/confusion/disruption/disorder which took up our entire fall. Scheduled to begin in late September, the project finally got underway the Monday after Thanksgiving and was completed on December 12. The old 1920’s kitchen, original to the house, was completely gutted and new wiring, lights, cabinets, floor, and plumbing were installed. Of course, this necessitated packing up the old kitchen and storing the boxes in the living room and wherever they could be squeezed. Then, we camped out for two months, rummaging in boxes to find necessary items, while waiting for the contractor to begin. Once started, the project moved right along and we only did without water one weekend. The big task turned out to be washing everything—dishes, pans, silverware, food stuffs—before restocking the cupboards. Sadly, a number of boxes remain unpacked. 

I am a lackluster housekeeper, well….shiftless might be more accurate, but even I was appalled at the evidence of mouse parties which appeared when the old cabinets were pulled out. Those little mice had been having frolics in my kitchen. We knew they were there; we could hear them and occasionally one left evidence in a drawer, which then required washing everything in the drawer. This fall, I found a dead mouse one day when I opened the cabinet under the sink. He was inches away from the package of mice poison, having obviously gorged himself and then keeled over dead. Even worse was the little mouse who was caught in the trap in the cabinet under the sink and cried for a while before he died. I was so distraught that I left the house until Max could take him away. It would have been kinder to have killed him, but I could not do that either.

Worse than the mice, which have long had nests in this old house, were the rats. When we first moved in, back in 1984, the boys and I heard scuffling under the refrigerator. LOUD scuffling. We suspected a rat and put out rat poison. This idea was hard for me to grasp, as, well—I had never encountered rats before, not even when I lived in the slums of Lafayette my first year at Purdue or later in cockroach city, aka Married Student Housing. Our house is on the edge of town in a nice older neighborhood—not a place I expected to find rats. On a few occasions, there was evidence, such as a chewed leather button, that the rat was loose in the house. One day, we had been gone for a while and when we returned, the rat made a dash for it, running from under the refrigerator towards the living room. Dan, who was about 13, had the presence of mind to grab the fireplace tongs and smite the rat dead, right there in the living room. Dan—-a good man in a crisis.

The new kitchen is sealed tight and all the old mouse holes have been plugged, covered, or removed. No more mouse parties. The new cabinets, counter-top, and floor are beautiful, way too nice for the likes of us. Max was shocked, though. He stood in the middle of the kitchen, a galley type in which three is a crowd, and exclaimed, “It’s the same size as before.” Too, too, true.


I do not watch the shopping channel. While I used to enjoy trips to the mall when I was younger, today I consider them torture: too far to walk, no place to rest, and the place reeks of perfume. My idea of getting through necessary shopping is to send Max to the grocery, as he likes to check out what is happening. My other plan is to order everything on-line and let UPS or USPS deliver it. The shipping charges get high, but gas is expensive, too, not to mention the time shopping takes.

That said, I ventured to the mall the other day, hoping some shoes I wanted were on sale. They were not, but I purchased them anyway, not wanting to waste my time and effort, which mean more to me than money. I also looked at handbags. When I was a girl, my grandmother advised me never to spend more than $3 for a purse. Good thing she has passed on, as she would be stunned at prices. I boldly looked at what I thought were the more expensive bags, priced +/- $100, when another display caught my eye. There the bags were $250 and more. I hastened away. The next problem was size. For months, I have been reading the cartoon “Cathy,” which has spoofed the large size of stylish women’s purses. Well….I see she was not kidding. Those things are whoppers. Several, loaded with chains and gewgaws, were so heavy that I could barely lift them. I have suitcases the size of some of these purses. I was not tempted to purchase one, deciding I could make do with the dozen unstylish purses already stuffed in my closet. One of my other issues is never throwing anything away.

Exhausted from my tour of the shoe and handbag departments at Dillard’s, I got in my car [no kidding—this mall is a mile long] and drove around to the other end to shop at Penny’s, where the stuff is no junkier and the prices are lower. It was fortunate that I decided to drive around, as I bought a large rug which I could barely drag to the car, instead literally bouncing the bag along the floor, wishing for a strong man, as I trudged to the car.

With my last bits of energy, I drove to McDonalds, it being 3:00 pm and breakfast long forgotten at 9:00 am. I munched a bag of fries in remembrance of those countless trips to the mall when my children were young—and the final destination was McD’s.

Southern Indiana

Recently I read on a political blog written by someone on the East Coast that Southern Indiana, a Red State, hotbed of rednecks and KKK members, was a dangerous place. I could understand the “rednecks” part; it is rural in Southern Indiana and Indiana is a “red” state. However, the 9th Congressional District just dumped its Republican rubber stamp congressman Mike Sodrel and re-elected Democrat Baron Hill, who had served three previous terms before being beaten by Sodrel in 2004. It’s not all “red” out here.

The KKK was rampant in Southern Indiana—about 100 years ago. There are remnants, I hear, though they are a disrespected fringe. In my small town, a christian-hate group from Campbellsburg called the Old Path church annoys the community with anti-abortion, anti-fag protests on the town Square, complete with placards, chanting and taunting, and gruesome pictures of fetuses. This year the Old Path church group taunted children who were lined up to talk to Santa at Salem’s Santa House. When I was teaching, I read numerous student essays about the horrid protesters; the students were appalled at the demonstrations, especially the large posters of aborted fetuses. There is limited local support for this group’s point of view.

Salem, like many small towns across Southern Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois, was settled in the early 1800’s by Quaker families, among other Protestants, many of whom came up from North Carolina to escape the developing problem with slavery. The Quaker or Society of Friends church in Salem still meets, as does the one in Orange County. Salem is the site of the Blue River “Hicksite” church, a “liberal” group that pulled away fromother Quaker groups. The late Dr. Elton Trueblood, a famous Quaker scholar, grew up in Washington County, part of the local Trueblood family. Many local families are descended from these early Quaker settlers, including my two sons. I will point out the obvious by saying that people of Quaker persuasion and descent do not join groups such as the KKK. 

Other religious groups that settled early in Southern Indiana include the Presbyterians and Methodists. The Salem Presbyterian Church was founded in 1817 and the Salem Methodist in 1816; the Baptists were here early, too. These churches were served by circuit riding pastors who were out on the frontiers very early in the foundation of the country. Pointing out the obvious again, members of such churches do not join the KKK. Mega churches are making their way into Southern Indiana life, but again, their members are not inclined to violence. It’s really quite safe out here.

Back in the late 1980’s and the 1990’s, every summer Max and I used to travel to Maine and New England. We found rural Maine to be very similar to rural Indiana. However, in conversations with the Maine locals, we discovered people who thought we lived in log cabins in Indiana and still had problems with the local Indians. Sadly, the Indians were run out of Indiana by the U.S. Army shortly after the time of Lewis and Clark—and log cabins, while featured at many state parks, are not used for habitation. Well, that is not exactly true—lots of people now build expensive log cabins with trees hauled in from places like Georgia.

When Jim played basketball at William and Mary, we had similar conversations with East Coast basketball parents, who regarded us as total “hicks from the sticks.” It suited me to let that judgment stand; I certainly did not want to be like some of them. Conversations about possessions and status bore me to tears. W & M team players who came out to be groomsmen in Jim’s wedding enjoyed driving around the county, shouting “cows! horses! pigs! sheep!”—as they viewed the local farms. City boys from places like New York City, they had never seen rural settings. Several East Coast basketball recruiters were astounded at the beauty of rural Southern Indiana, in contrast to the over-populated coast. Washington County has 27,000 citizens and seems fairly well populated to me, especially in contrast to areas in Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and other Western states. 

Perhaps the uneven media reports play a part in making Southern Indiana seem dangerous to East Coasters. Nutcakes like John Lewis of Old Paths church receive lots of press [his activities Google right up], while the peaceful daily life in our area goes unreported. Oh…..scary things happen. My mother once tracked Max and me down in Clarion, Pennsylvania, where we had stopped for the night in route to New England. [She never would admit to how many motels she called]. We arrived at our motel to be handed a message to call home immediately—-rather startling since we did not have a reservation. When we did, we discovered that bombs had been planted all over Salem and things were in an uproar. We watched the news reports on national TV that night, called our children and ascertained that they were safe, and decided to proceed on to Maine. When we came home two weeks later, the ATF were still camped in Max’s office.

Several of my former students are now living and working in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Indianapolis, Chicago, and other urban places. They seem to be thriving, able to move from small town life to urban areas with aplomb. Maybe some of the “coasters” should visit the Heartland. The people here are fine folks—and it really is quite safe out here.

The Amish

Several times a month, I drive the back road, a “blue highway,” from Livonia in Washington County to Orleans in Orange County. Four Amish farms line this road, with others back along the side roads. I always slow down, out of courtesy, but also to observe. I love to see the large draft horses. Occasionally, I will chance to see a male Amish teen or young adult standing on a large wagon, driving a team of six huge draft horses in the field or down the road. They always stand—-which requires strength, agility, and sure-footedness; this kind of “driving” looks dangerous to me. Many times I pass buggies with families or small groups of men or women and children. The women wear black bonnets and capes, the men have black hats with short, flat tops and black coats, and the headgear of the children matches the adults’. I always wave as I pass buggies–and they wave back.

Today, a bright day, sunny and clear, was laundry day at all four homes. Rows of clothes lines were filled with clothing in muted colors: black, blue, brown, green, and white. I saw a woman hanging a row of socks—probably her fifth or sixth load from the look of the line. All the black and dark blue pants hung together, as did the dark work shirts. The white shirts hung on another line, all carefully washed separately.

I enjoy the sights of the “old life”—the twisted corn stocks in rows in the field; the tall hay mound in the barnyard which is slowly being eaten away as the winter progresses; the horse walking in a circle to power the saw in the lumber yard; the tiny children who tumble about the yard in their long clothing; the buggies and wagons that sit in the open space between the barns and the houses; the flocks of chickens in the barn yards; the horses and cows in fenced enclosures close to the barns; the large gardens and grape arbors.

A few times I have seen some Amish men and women at the chiropractor I visit in Orleans. Trying not to be rude, I watch them carefully. One older woman, plump and grandmotherly, held a baby and quietly talked to the baby’s mother in a German dialect. Two Mennonite women, their hair in nets, stopped to chat and the Amish women switched to English. Their clothing is fascinating. The black bonnets are molded or stretched around rigid frames–and block side vision. The bonnets sit rigidly on the chairs when removed. As soon as the Amish women come inside, they remove their bonnets, revealing small white nets that hold their hair. The dark blue or black dresses have long, fitted sleeves, a fitted waist, and a full gathered skirt. Over-collars in a V shape are fitted to the waist and held by straight pins. One would need to move carefully, if one were not slender. The dresses have plain or tucked fronts. The dresses do not look comfortable—no stretch or ease in the plain cotton fabric. However, the slender women look elegant in these simple dresses that modestly flatter female figures. The woman I saw hanging laundry appeared to be wearing a skirt and blouse, rather than a dress. The clothing worn to town is more formal than daily work clothing. The men wear vests over their shirts as they work. Both genders wear black leather boots and shoes. Many of the women that I have seen take care to be neat and well-groomed. In addition, they are kindly and pleasant, greeting strangers with smiles.

Something else I have noticed is that Amish children are always accompanied by adults. I have never seen an Amish child out in public, walking alone. However, I have seen many children in Salem out on the streets, even late at night, without adults around. The Amish seem to have the concept of integrating people of various ages into a community, while too often in the rest of American society every age group is segregated. Anyone who has read Lord of the Flies knows that separating children from the support and direction of responsible adults is a bad idea.

The Amish farms are neat and well-maintained. Their homes are two-story framed farm homes, typical of those built one to two hundred years ago. The style is simple with plenty of windows and a porch or two. The houses are white or gray, with small yards shaded by trees. One home I pass has a line of gourd bird houses hanging in the yard, positioned so that they can be viewed from a kitchen window.Good neighbors, the Amish add an important element of history and good citizenship to our community.