Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Caught in the Middle

This has nothing to do with food. It may have to do with the politics of computer software companies and it may require theology to resolve. It is more a rant about what happens to the innocent end user when no tech support wants to accept responsibility.
I get my Internet service through Comcast. At the time I signed up, I transferred all my email to Comcast. I also have a gmail account because I often have trouble getting my comcast email. Today was one of those days. I got email this morning on my comcast account, but, this afternoon is a lost cause. I cleared my history because that is always the first thing tech support asks you to do. Still no email. Ultimate answer from lengthy exchange on Comcast Live Chat? It is a Foxfire problem. Use Internet Explorer because we have demonstrated you can get your email on Internet Explorer. Or contact Mozilla to fix their problem that prevents you accessing your email using their browser.
After a long wait for Firefox Live Chat and a brief, very unproductive interaction, the answer, contact Comcast because they have a problem.
Real end result? The end user has a problem. Use a browser you do not want to use or give up on all the folks who wanted to contact you.
Back in the day, companies would bend over backwards to help you get your work done because they realized you had alternatives. Now we have very little that passes for customer support and a lot of tech support that will blame anyone they can.
In a failing economy, perhaps this tech support experience is an indicator of an underlying problem. Companies exist to take your money, not to provide a service or even assurance that their product will function as advertised. The employees are insecure about their employment and unwilling to do anything beyond their minimum. End users get frustrated and rush to any alternative that promises a solution. In the end, companies lose customers and customers distrust companies. Could this be part of the reason companies are failing?
If you want to reach me by email, send it to my gmail account. It works!

Update: I have no idea what happened, but my Comcast email reappeared. The comments about customer service and the end user being caught in the middle stand.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What I Asked My Congressman

Here's the message I send my Congressman. Pity I started it the way I did, but I do doubt that anything I say will make a difference to my Congressman.
I realize you are a Republican and this email is probably a waste of my time. However, I am one of your constituents and I have definite opinions about health care. I'm a baby boomer and my husband is just a couple of years older than a baby boomer. Like most people our ages, we have been looking forward to retirement. Unfortunately, retirement looks to be almost impossible. I do not work outside the home and, with the economy, my job prospects are a bit skimpy! My husband can not retire because our health insurance is through him. Sure, he can buy health insurance unless the lump in his neck is cancer. Then we will both be in a position of being uninsurable because of pre-existing conditions.
Our health care situation is out of control. Insurance companies control what procedures doctors can order and what medications doctors can prescribe. Frankly, I don't think the government can be any worse. Did you know that there are two preparations for a colonoscopy, both cost the same amount, one forces the patient to drink a gallon of nasty tasting liquid but is covered under insurance, the other requires the patient to drink just 1/2 gallon of nasty liquid but costs the patient $50?
I am sure you know we have one of the most expensive health care systems in the world (considering all funding sources including private insurance) and that we rank 37th or worse in quality of health care. There is no reason we cannot have the best health care in the world and still save health care dollars, but it will require that everyone work together. What I see on the news and read in the Congressional Record (and yes, I read it) is one party trying very hard to improve this country and another party saying no. Please, Representative Coffman, say yes to your constituents who want health care reform; not tort reform, but real dollars in the pockets, health insurance cards in the wallets health care reform. Don't worry about the insurance companies, they will learn to compete or they will fail. Worry about the people who live in your district and want changes in how we do health care in this country!
Our high health care costs are not exclusively the result of lawsuits and making it harder to sue if your doctor commits malpractice will not help appreciably with health care costs. Somewhere, somehow, Republicans determined that the majority of the attorneys representing people in health care related law suits vote Democratic and they are determined that Democrat lawyers are the root of all evil. That is just not the solution.
My insurance company will spend thousands of dollars on people looking for ways to not cover my health care costs and raise my rates to cover unnecessary employees. My health care costs are higher because doctors have to hire people to push the insurance companies to pay for the things they say they cover. Those are far greater costs over time than lawsuits when a doctor tells a patient that a pain is all in his/her head and, when the patient gets a stage 4 cancer diagnosis, sues to recover some of the costs insurance did not cover. We need to look to France and Great Britain and even Canada where the health care costs are lower and the quality is as good or vastly better. The Republican line is an outdated look at Canadian health care before they got the bugs out of the system with scary stories about long delayed health care. Fact is, those scary stories exist everywhere and there are more of them in the U.S. than in most other countries, particularly if you consider the many working poor who have no health insurance at all.
Isn't it a pity that the scare tactics are working again?
Received an email from my congressman supposedly responding to my email. Clearly, given what I said in my email, it was a canned response including the following lovely response to my anti-insurance industry comment:
Government can play an important role in fostering the continued prosperity of the private health insurance market and the valuable services they provide. No doubt, government has a role to play in taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves by providing a safety net via the Medicare and Medicaid programs. I support tax incentives for individuals to purchase private health insurance. This would be equivalent to what a business receives for enrollment of their employees. By providing this relief, we can expand health insurance to more Americans while also protecting the free market's ability to compete over your business.

So glad I had some influence on my Congressman -- not! Let's promote and support the health insurance industry that has my family paying more than $600 in copays this month alone!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Perfect Mojito for Dianne

When she heard I was headed for an open house at a bartending school, Dianne Draper asked me to learn to make the perfect mojito. Here, Dianne, is the answer from Tom Lucas at Estrela.
Four good size lime wedges go into the mixing glass before you tear four or five leaves of mint. Tom says tearing the leaves is crucial. One visitor at the Estrela open house said she did not like mojitos, but was shocked at the difference when the mojito is made with fresh mint leaves.
Muddling squeezes the juice out of the limes and marries the juice with the mint.

The rum comes next.
Some simple syrup, Lots of ice, a spritz of soda water, garnish with mint and lime and you have a magnificent mojito!

Estrela Bartending School

I like a good mixed drink every now and then. I used to be a G&T kinda girl. I had a daiquiri flirtation for a while, but I just couldn't stop worrying about the calories. Robert's something of a margarita connoisseur, so I've shared quite a few of those in his quest for the best margarita in Colorado. My current mixed drink of choice is the gin martini and it is a hard thing to find. That said, it never occurred to me to wonder how the bartender learned his or her craft.
About a week ago, I got an email from a friend inviting me to an open house at his new bartending school. Tom Lucas was manager of the Cherry Creek Grill for a while and still lovingly describes some of the signature dishes there. I knew he loved food, but we'd never discussed mixology. Turns out Tom can mix a drop dead gin martini!

He did a respectable margarita for Robert.

Robert's comment was good, but not the equal of the Original Margarita. In Tom's defense, Robert didn't order an Original Margarita, the recipe for which is:

Margarita (1948 Original)
* 1 oz. Cointreau
* 2 oz. Tequila, white
* 1 oz. Lime Juice
The true authentic margarita invented by Margarita Sames in Aculpulco in 1948. Shake with ice and pour into a coupe glass with a lightly salted rim.
Estrela has two classrooms, one is a classic bar for the mixology classes.

The other has comfy couches, tables and such and will be used for wine appreciation classes, wine and food pairing instruction and other enrichment classes. And, none of my pictures did it justice. Sigh...
So, Estrela is going to be quite an interesting place with two general categories of instruction. The first, and main, purpose is preparing people in the art of mixology. Tom has an appreciation for the whole experience, the wood smoke that draws a diner into a restaurant, the fun antique game on the bar that attracts a patron to order a second drink while mastering the game, the well-told story (ask him about the Al Hirt poster in Jillian's office across from the bar). The second purpose for Estrella is enrichment -- Wine 101, food pairing, and such. These classes are a relatively inexpensive $50. I'll be signing up for the food and wine pairing very soon now!

Dinner before Zen

Some of us in the Adult Ed program have developed a delightful ritual of dining together before our experiences of various faith traditions. Before our visit to the Zen Center of Denver, we couldn't resist a restaurant in the wonderful Highlands neighborhood of Denver that is rapidly developing a reputation as a foodie mecca. We settled on Highland Pacific and we were not disappointed. I wish I had taken a picture of the Artisan Cheese Plate that my friend across the table ordered because it was just the epitome of cheese plate with the fruit and nuts garnishing the plate -- very rustic and appealing.
I wanted the Pasta Primavera

but I couldn't resist an order of carrot fritters served on a bed of apple cabbage slaw.
The pasta was classic with pea pods, asparagus, mushrooms and red peppers dressed in a light olive oil. The carrot fritters belew me away! The hint of cardamom was incredible and the spicy dipping sauce really turned this into a reason to drive half way across town! It is pretty much typical of me to enjoy a dish, then go home and replicate it with my own twist. Highlands Pacific Carrot Fritters are a dish I don't want to improve, I just want to eat again and again and again...
We were a large group, requiring two pictures to record:

From the Bells of Hindu to the Zen of Buddhism

After all the bell ringing and chanting of the Hindu Temple which so intrigued us a few days earlier, the Zen Center of Denver was, well, Zen. Lorraine Heth was a dream to work with as we prepared for the experience. She gave us valuable basics like what clothing to wear. Sensei Ken Morgareige embodies all the calm and tranquility one might expect of a Zen teacher. He gave us many insights about meditation positions as well as answering all our questions. One question he probably gets a lot was "How do you know what to think about in your meditation" The answer? "Most people count breaths."
It seems much of the enlightenment one associates with Zen Buddhism comes from consideration of a series of questions done in preparation for a meeting with one's teacher. Ken led us through the process as part of our tour. While we were developing some stiff muscels learning the positions of meditation in the Grand Zendo, some members of the Center were practicing a discipline of Zen in archery, a concept that intrigued several of us. We got to see some of that going on in the course of our tour.
The journey from our meal to the Zen Center always slows some of us down, but most of us gathered for a picture at the entry of the Zen Center.

The building's history is an interteresting story. Completed in 1927 for the Christian Scientists, it is rumored that Mary Baker Eddy was present for the building dedication.

Friday, July 17, 2009

RIP Walter Cronkite

America's Most Trusted Man told the news of my life -- JFK's assassination, Martin Luther King Junior's assassination, Bobby's murder, the space program, the Vietnam War. All the major stories of my youth were covered by Walter Cronkite who was a find journalist/anchor. Nothing ever happened until Walter Cronkite told us about it.

We didn't always have a TV, but, even when we didn't have a TV, I remember the entire neighborhood gathered around someone's black and white television absorbing the information that Walter Cronkite had to impart.
When I decided to go to journalism school, Walter Cronkite was my model. Not that I planned on a broadcast career, but he was, first and foremost, a journalist.
He informed a country of crucial information. He calmed a country torn to shreds by three successive assassinations in the mid to late 1960s -- two Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr. He soothed our fears through race riots and wars and threats of wars. He chronicled the space program.

R.I.P Walter Cronkite!

Upcoming Food and Beverage Events

Robert and I are heading off this evening for an open house at a new bartending school, Estrela. I admit I never considered how folks learned mixology, but now I have a chance to learn! I'll share my new knowledge soon!
Also, my friend, Jackie, has another one of her great cheese events coming up. Keepin' it Local (A Colorado Wine & Colorado Cheese Event) is scheduled for Tuesday, July 21st 5:30 – 8:00 p.m., at Embassy Suites Denver Tech Center, 10250 East Costilla Avenue, Centennial. Paul Bonacquisti of Bonacquisti Wine Company – a Denver winery – will walk us through several pairings of his creations with Colorado artisan cheeses. The cost is small -- $10 (and this includes a $5 donation to Food Bank of the Rockies!) Call Jackie at 720.220.3210 for more information and to reserve your seat.
I'm an active volunteer at Covenant Cupboard, a food pantry that is a coalition of three different churches -- Covenant Presbyterian, Good Shepherd Episcopal, and St. Peter Lutheran. We get food through the Food Bank of the Rockies, so I'm up for supporting them, especially when it involves wine and cheese!
A sneak peak! I heard from some 9Cares, Colorado Shares folks that there will be a pet related event coming up that may involved reduced cost vet services among other things and will follow the 9Cares, Colorado Shares model. I don't have details, but I will pass along info as I receive it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Episcopals Vote on Gay Ordination

Running a church is incredibly complex, particularly when the church does not march in lock-step. And no one ever described the Episcopal Church as marching in lock-step! I think the more common phrase has something to do with herding cats! That's always the risk when individual members are encouraged to consider Bible, tradition and reason. What might seem simple -- considering the Bible -- is not simple when the church includes literal interpreters, liberal interpreters and everything in between. Then comes tradition. My tradition? Your tradition? British tradition? American tradition of freedom? Native American tradition? And do we even want to think about the variations that can come up with the concept of reason?
The Episcopal Church is in the midst of our once every three years General Convention. Thousands of Episcopalians are gathered in Anaheim, California, to do the business of the church. Just like the U.S. Congress, much of what they debate and vote on are fairly minor details, but some are rather significant. This year, the deputies and Bishops are considering a significant change in how health insurance is organized. With Congress looking at an overhaul of health care across the nation, one might wonder why the Episcopalians are worrying about health insurance, but...
What always gets the coverage lately is the sex. Why does it seem that all major controversies have to do with sex? We are incredibly concerned about what happens behind the bedroom door or the consequences of what happens behind the bedroom door. We get all in a twit over the role of women in the church, a church's teachings about abortion and anything having to do with homosexuality. In this case, the Episcopal Church is a complexity of how gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are included in our church. Folks are picking and choosing segments of Deuteronomic law they feel must be part of the discussion, others are looking at the impact our canons have on the people in our pews (or not in our pews). And there are always considerations about the impact of the U.S. church on others in the Anglican Communion. The bulk of craziness on the matter seems to have begun in 2003 when a question of timing meant that New Hampshire's selection of a new Bishop had to be ratified in a vote at General Convention. Usually, when a diocese chooses a Bishop, that selection is ratified, or not, in a series of votes among the standing committee members. That was the case this year when northern Michigan's selection was rejected. It gets some note in church publications and such, but the general media rarely gives it much attention. If, however, a diocese chooses a new Bishop within a certain number of days before General Convention, the ratification gets thrown in with everything else at convention and might get more attention. As we learned in 2003, ratifying the election of a partnered openly gay man gets a real firestorm of media attention. There are those who think Gene Robinson would not be Bishop today if his election had gone through the usual process. Others think it was engineered to force the church into taking a stand. Whatever the case, we've been in a continuing state of controversy ever since. Inclusion of practicing homosexuals as full equals in our church in the United States apparently caused difficulties for others in the Anglican Communion, particularly for some of those in the Southern Cone -- South America, Africa, etc.
Leaders of other parts of the Anglican Communion demanded that the Episcopals be kicked out of the Communion. Meetings were held, tempers flared, poachers started interfering in U.S. churches. The U.S. church and the Canadian Church were pushed to undo the actions they had taken to be inclusive.
At the 2006 General Convention, the Episcopal Church offered a moratorium on gay bishops and same-gender blessings. This pleased almost no one with GLBT folks feeling they got the short end of the stick and the people we were trying to appease from other provinces of the Anglican Communion not appeased. And, to make matters worse for some in the Anglican Communion, we elected a female Presiding Bishop.
For the last three years, southern cone provinces have continued their interference in the Episcopal Church and LGBT folks have felt like second class citizens of our church. And now, the General Convention is again looking at a series of proposals regarding the role of GLBT folks in the church. At the moment, a measure to allow discernment and ordination of GLBT people is passing both houses. Other measures, including some that would allow blessings of same-gender relationships, are yet to come.
My personal take on the issue is rather simplistic -- my relationship with God is unimpaired by your relationship with God. God is a God of abundance with love and acceptance for all who want it. I have no patience with a God of scarcity whose love is so limited that your relationship with God might threaten my relationship with God. We sing about it all the time -- "Our God is an Awesome God," "Amazing Grace," "How Great Thou Art" -- our all-powerful, all-loving God has room for all and our churches should be the same.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Grilling a New Justice

I'm listening to Judge Sonia Sotomayor as she addresses the Senate Judicial Committee. I didn't hear every word of every Senator's speech leading up to her speech, but I did hear much of the speechifying. I heard more than a few references to activist judges and "making law from the bench." Ever the cynic, I could not help but think of the times the Supreme Court has chosen to rule on situations that really did not require their involvement as appliers of the Constitution -- how ballots should be counted in the state of Florida, whether a feeding tube should be reinserted or not. In each of those cases, I think the Supreme Court stepped outside of its Constitutional role to cast, if you will, a deciding vote in a matter that should never have involved them. You may know I've been reviewing the Supreme Court decisions of the past year. I'm not an attorney or a Constitutional scholar, but, to my ignorant mind, there were several times they made law rather than interpreting the Constitution.
Let's be honest here. The people talking about activist judges and making law are conservatives. Many of these same people had no problem asking the court to be activist in the Schaivo case or to make law in the 2000 election in Florida case. These are people who would love for the Supreme Court to make law limiting a woman's right to privacy in a way the Constitution never considered. To be frank, they have no problem with activist judges making law from the bench if the laws and action support their goals. These are supporters of the laws made this year by the Supreme Court because the laws benefit their largest campaign contributors. I'm really not much different. I want the Justices to interpret the Constitution the way I do and to make the decisions with which I agree. The difference, of course, is that I am not a US Senator elected to represent all the people in my state.
Most of the cases the Supreme Court hears have to do with fairly precise points of law. They are not exciting cases on abortion, voters' rights and such, they are plodding pedantic decisions on who can be heard in court, who has status under the law, etc. Actually, many of the decisions send things back to lower courts, telling those courts who must be included in the case or what points of law are applicable.
From my view, I want Supreme Court justices who are fair and impartial in their support of Constitutional principles. I sort of want the justices to apply a judicial version of the Episcopal three-legged stool of Biblical authority, tradition and reason. I want justices who apply the Constitution, understand the role of tradition and apply the reason to know the difference.
So now the speeches are over for the day. Judge Sotomayor's comments were so brief I might have missed them entirely while moving laundry from the washer to the dryer or using the toilet. She gave a very limited overview of her phenomenal resume, spending almost half the time of her speech recognizing her mother. She was humble and straightforward. After listening for hours to Senators polishing their personal egos and pushing their personal preferences, it was refreshing to hear the Judge give a simple and succinct statement of her history.
Tomorrow, we'll hear questions and answers. Certain Senators will push their personal agendas, perhaps even selectively quoting phrases of the constitution like Biblical literalists picking and choosing the words to put in Jesus' mouth. Tomorrow will start the parry and thrust of liberals and conservatives, some taking words out of context to make their points, others dancing in the limelight almost oblivious to their real roles.
It hasn't always been this way. For many years, Supreme Court nominees sat out in the hall until they were called in to answer specific questions. In most situations, they were not called in until they were confirmed. For many years, there was no immediacy of media. Reports of Congressional actions took weeks and months to spread throughout the country. For many years, the media and their cameras were kept outside the chambers and fed limited details until decisions were made. It is good that the workings of Congress are more accessible to U.S. citizens, but watching the pontifications of those elected to look out for us can rather turn one's stomach, can't they?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Friends, firetrucks and Hindus

In stereotypical Episcopal fashion, half the group was at Lagarto's early, hoping to hit the happy hour before dinner. We were quite the crowd with long-timers, newbies and everything in between. Some of us knew each other very well and others of us were just meeting for the first time. We settled in with our drinks, waited for a few stragglers, turned in our orders and... covered our ears! The fire alarm went off just after the last of us ordered our meal.
We never did find out what the problem was, but soon after the siren stopped, the firetrucks arrived!
Soon there was a pair of firemen in full gear wandering in and out of the kitchen.

The menu at Lagarto European Cafe, 10146 West San Juan Way, LIttleton, CO 80127, Phone: 303.973.6169 is varied. There were traditional Polish dishes, courtesy of the owner's mother, Mediterranean delights, pasta dishes and even nachos!

The hot pepper relish situated in the middle of the plate of Mediterranean Quesadilla was piquant, but lovely! The vegetables served with the Wiener Schnitzel looked interesting, but Robert had snarfed them down before I even got to ask for a bite! We had to leave before the music started.
Frontage roads can be tricky and the one for the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center on Wadsworth is no exception. It took a while for all of us to find a way onto the frontage road and into the parking lot. We had been led to believe we would probably be the only ones there except for our hosts, but we wound up dropping in on a monthly prayer service that we found fascinating, if very confusing to our uneducated minds. After the service, the High Priest took us aside to answer our questions and various men wandered through offering us fruits, a fruit salad eaten from our hands and bowls of rice, blessings from the service we had just observed. It was hard to understand what was happening in the service because we did not understand the language of the chants, but observing such a service was far more informative than simply reading about it or hearing about it. Several of us were struck by the elaborate sculptures of the gods displayed at the front of the worship area. The particular prayer we visited involved pouring juices, yogurt, milk, spices and such with arranging fresh fruit. The sculpture was then washed. A curtain gave privacy for that part of the service and then the sculpture was adorned with fresh flowers and again offered arrangements of fresh fruit. It was quite attractive and a far more organized ritual than one might think. I actually viewed the service as being somewhat like our liturgy.
Everyone was quite gracious to us. One member of the Temple is a convert from Christianity and he was able to offer us additional insights as he discussed his decision to become Hindu.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The God Within

Visiting a Hindu Temple, exploring zazen, experiencing Friday noon prayer in a mosque... It is an interesting summer. As I have worked to put together an experiential program on the world's religions, I've been struck more by the commonalities than by the differences. We're talking Hindu, Zen Buddhism, Judaism, Orthodoxy and Islam. At first glance, there is not much in common there. The Hindus have more than a hundred gods to whom they can address their concerns. The Zens look within rather than outside to find something greater. One God, no God, many gods... One life, eternal life, successive lives...
And yet...
In each case, there seems to be a very human basic need to know that this is not all there is, that there is something greater than the individual human being. I haven't fully formed my reaction to this aha moment of almost universal searching, but I thought it was worth noting.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Dinner with Friends

Can there be any better evening than sharing a good meal with friends? Our dear friends, the Eichenwalds, were through Denver Wednesday on their way to Vail. We used to get together often when we lived in Lawrence and Kansas City was just a couple of miles down the road. Now our meals out are longer because they are more rare. Howard and Sonia once despaired ever having grandchildren, but they are now proud of the six little ones.
Our restaurant of the evening was Barolo Grill and it did not disappoint! Sonia spent part of her childhool on the shores of Lake Como, so Barolo had great potential for her with all the dishes from the Piedmont region. Howard and Sonia started with Vitello Tonnato alla Piemontese which I did not catch with the camera until they had begun enjoying:
By the time I got the camera going, there was just one little example of the veal that they pronounced as wonderful.
I loved the chef's salad, Insalata Verdure Fresca, from the tasting menu: I am not much of a radish eater, but these were sliced so thin that they were almost like a spice with the green beans, carrots, broccoli and such.
Robert chose the Cammillo:
We got so caught up in our conversation that I completely forgot to take pictures of our main courses. Part of our friendly culture is that we share extensively -- "Try this, it's wonderful." Robert loved his Salmone d'Avario, a seared salmon with artichokes and match stick potatoes. Howard seemed to enjoy his pork tenderloin which was served with curried mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe instead of the advertised asparagus. I had Gnocchi con Courgetti e Pesto and was happy I had chosen a smaller portion. I love pesto and this was a good pesto, but it overpowered the patty pan squash and zucchini so that I only knew I was eating the vegetables by the texture, not by the flavor. A larger portion would have been just too much over the top as well as being just too much food. I wish all restaurants offered smaller portions. Sonia chose the Tajarin con Funghi from the tasting menu and it was a deceptively simple dish -- just sauteed porcini mushrooms and shaved parmagiano reggiano over thin pasta -- that made a marvelous dish of delicate flavors! The pasta was slightly overdone, but that can so easily happen when a table is ordering pastas and main courses to be served at the same time. I've got some porcinis and morels ready to try my hand at a similar dish for our dinner tonight.
I did manage to remember my camera just after our first bites of dessert. The Eichenwalds gelatti was not so photogenic as the Sampson's Creme Brulee
which, by the way, was advertised as being for two but was more than enough for us even after Howard had a few samples as well!
We had a great evening with wonderful conversation, excellent food and good service. What a shame they live 500 miles away and much of their holiday time is devoted to the grandchildren! And thanks to the Barolo Grill for a lovely meal!