Monday, December 11, 2017

Through the Fog of Time

The creek of our childhood Photo: Ileana 2015
As we age, humans tend to mellow out and nothing that had previously been that important matters anymore in the grand scheme of things. All struggles, frustrations, successes, victories, defeats, losses, and gains, dissipate in the fog of time. Regrets and memories of opportunities lost, of physical pain, of mental anguish and frustration diminish, replaced by arthritis, loneliness, and loss of loved ones. The struggle is still there for billions of others, very real and painful, but it seems almost irrelevant to us.

Romanians just lost their King Michael to old age, very old age, and their last hope that a monarchy might somehow right all the wrongs that had plagued the country politically was dashed and died with him. There won’t be another king. Some mourned him, most did not even know he existed nor cared. Like here, these citizens are part of the #resist movement yet they have no idea what they are resisting.

Yesterday I met one of my first cousins I adore (I have 27) and his lovely daughter Elena for lunch in a town nearby in Virginia. It was surreal. If you had told me 39 years ago that someday in the future, in a state far away, thousands of miles away from my former home in Romania, I would see one of my first cousins again, I would have been extremely incredulous and would have laughed, a physical impossibility.

Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
Yet here we were, reminiscing about our childhood, how fast time flew, how my aunt passed away a week after a severe cough had plagued her for months, and the second stroke that killed my uncle while gardening. We compressed almost four decades of life, weddings, baptisms, burials, disputes, schools, professions, and family into two hours, surrounded by spouses, children, and grandchildren. Good food and beloved company are always relaxing.

He asked me about retirement, teaching, accomplishments, life in America, and it almost seemed like we were talking about someone else. What teaching accomplishments? It was just a job that paid me well. No teacher of the year for me and certainly no thanks for a job well done. I was not a Democrat, nor a communist, how could I possibly succeed in education and thrive? Mediocrity and collectivist politics ruled around me in academia. My cousin was shocked.

I told him about all the communists in education in America and he was almost incredulous. How could any rational human being possibly think that a Marxist ideology that killed 100 million people around the world can even remotely be considered in this beautiful country built on free markets, not oppression and tyranny?

My cousin had to work in difficult places around the world in order to bring home enough cash to build a beautiful villa for his family. Two of his three beautiful daughters moved to America, just like I did, in order to find freedom and opportunity for success that had been denied to many still in Romania, twenty-eight years after the “fall” of communism. They joined the five million other Romanians who immigrated around the globe in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

We talked about adjustment and assimilation, learning the language, becoming an American citizen and losing my Romanian citizenship, how it was so much harder for an older person to learn a new language and how little my mom learned in 37 years. Cousin Ionel learned Russian in school and found it much easier to learn and speak than the English language, even with the Cyrillic alphabet. Russian is very phonetic, it is pronounced the same way it is written, no wild variations as in the English language, he added.

We reminisced about fishing and swimming in the crystal clear river in his village, a river now so shallow that it looks more like a creek. The landscape was more verdant as more trees grew around it, seeded by the blowing wind. A nicely paved rural road now runs nearby, no more gravel roads, picking up dust every time the bus drove through.

Now every home has a nice car, food on the table, no lines, and a well-stocked country store, owned by his brother. The store stocks fresh meat and vegetables, frozen food, fresh bread, wine, sugar, cooking oil, flour, and anything a cook might need. There is even a gas pump on the side of the road. No gas station around it, just the pump. Bringing free markets to Romania changed the pastoral and isolated life for so many.

We talked about growing up. Cousin Ionel had three brothers and one sister. At meal time there was never enough to eat, it was a free-for-all. My aunt placed a large bowl of food in the middle of the table and the meal began after a very brief mandatory prayer, no portion sizes, whoever ate the fastest, got more to eat first. Poor Gigi, the runt of the family, was always left behind and hungrier than the rest. Even so, there was still not enough to nourish five growing children, we were still hungry and thin when we finished a meal, he said. I used to watch them eat so fast, wondering why my aunt did not give them each equal portions. As an only child, I only had to share food with my mom and dad. We were always hungry ourselves but I did not have to fight siblings at mealtime.

I looked at our table laden with food which we did not prepare but we could afford to pay someone else to prepare for us. Ionel and I never saw restaurant food when we were children and young adults. If it did not come from mom’s or grandma’s kitchen, we went hungry. Later in life, as we gained freedom of movement and our financial fortunes improved, we were able to taste our first restaurant meals and foods we’ve never known existed. Ionel is so cosmopolitan when compared to most people that he will eat any food put in front of him. He traveled around the globe through various jobs and sampled many cuisines and so did I.

It was sad to see him go, to say good-bye, almost as surreal as getting on a plane and finding yourself on the other side of the globe in mere hours. We were together for brief and happy moments, found our common roots, reminisced, but then we were lost again in the fog of time. A few photographs were the only proof that we celebrated today the memories from another life, far away from our humble beginnings.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Why Do We Give Gifts on Saint Nicholas Day and on Christmas?

Thomas Nast Santa Claus, Wikipedia photo
The Christmas tradition of gift-giving is tied by many to the Wise Men who gave Jesus Frankincense, Gold, and Myrrh. Frankincense was a perfume used in Jewish rituals of worship. Gold was the symbol of Kings, and myrrh was a perfume used on dead bodies.

The historical Saint Nikolaos of Myra was a fourth century Greek Bishop of Lycia. He is said to have given secret gifts of coins to those who left their shoes outside, a practice celebrated on his feast day, St. Nicholas Day on December 6 in the West and December 19 in the East. He is the model for Santa Claus. The patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and students, he is revered by Anglicans, Catholics, Lutherans, Orthodox, and by some Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches.

Saint Nicholas comes in Europe on December 6. Children put their boots outside the door, polished and presentable, in hopes that St. Nick will fill them with candy, not switches. In some parts of Germany children are “kidnapped” in a jute sack and given a pretend “spanking” for their bad behavior or poor school performance during the year.

On Christmas Eve, French children leave their boots in front of the fireplace, to be filled with gifts of candy, nuts, and small toys hung in the tree by Pere Noel.

Romanian kids find small gifts under their pillows, candy, chocolate, oranges, flannel pajamas, or a small toy brought by Mos Craciun (Old Man Christmas) or Mos Gerila (Old Man Frost), the communists’ version.

The Italian La Befana tradition dates back to 13th century. A benevolent old woman with magical powers, she travels on her magical broom to bring gifts on January 5, on Epiphany Eve. The custom of Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) has not been around that long in Italy, only since WWII.

La Befana travels throughout Italy in search of Baby Jesus, bringing gifts to children. The three Wise Men had asked her to go with them to find Baby Jesus but Befana refused at first. She changed her mind and tried to find the Three Wise Men in search of Jesus but was not successful.

La Befana goes down chimneys all over Italy to bring “caramele” (candy) or fruit to good children and “carbone” (coal), onions, and garlic to naughty children. Children leave their stockings and shoes out in hopes to find candy on January 6. To appease La Befana, children leave out notes, food, wine, sausages, and even broccoli.

Russian children receive their gifts under the New Year’s tree from Father Frost (Ded Moroz) accompanied by Snow Maiden (Snegurochka). Father Frost carries a staff, wears valenki (felt boots) and travels in a troika (sleigh pulled by three horses). Christmas is celebrated on January 7 because the Russian Orthodox Church lives by the old Julian calendar which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar.

Sinterklaas is the Nordic version of the historical Greek bishop and gift-giver of Myra. An 1881 drawing by Thomas Nast solidified the modern image of Santa Claus in our culture, along with Clement Clarke Moore’s poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

Hanukkah or the “Festival of Lights” is celebrated by Jewish people for eight days in remembrance of their military victory and the miracle of the oil supply for the Temple. Family and friends eat holiday treats, give gifts to children, and play the dreidel game. Last year Christmas and Hanukkah overlapped for the fourth time in 100 years.

We give gifts for many other reasons at Christmas time. We are obligated by family customs, job duties, commercialism, consumerism, and societal expectations to overwhelm children with the latest toys, gadgets, and games. A few more traditional parents give books, food, and candy.

Compensation for a job well done is an opportunity for gift-giving, thanking a person for their hard work, for the long hours, dedication and exceptional effort all year long. Some gifts are for bravery in the line of duty or selfless sacrifice in saving another human being.

Exhibition is my least favorite reason to give a gift. It is a well-to do person asserting their wealth by giving away vast amounts of money publicly. Some prefer to remain anonymous but most choose the venue of all-out publicity for their generous gifts.

Compassion is the anonymous way of giving to a person you don’t know and cannot ever thank you for their gift, a person in need who has prayed for a miracle to save them from the abject poverty or the difficult situation in their lives. Gift-giving is always more rewarding in such a charitable circumstance.

Appreciation for someone you know or love who has overcome a professional hurdle after years of difficult effort is a wonderful opportunity for a gift. Reminding someone in your life that they matter and you care about them.

Duty is giving thoughtless gifts to family members, a boss, or colleagues, usually re-gifting  unwanted items received in previous years from relatives and colleagues who also felt a sense of duty to send a present to someone they did not care that much about nor did they put much thought into their generosity.

Love is the gift of togetherness, a symbol of the union of two souls who have found each other after years of searching. It is also the gift to beloved family members.

Tradition is the gift on December 6 when children in Europe put out their boots to receive switches or candy from Saint Nicholas.

The guilt of something from the past, the fundamental belief that wealth and good fortune should be shared at Christmas time is gift-giving driven by the need to share.

Giving a gift in the expectation of receiving one in return, a favor for your gift, a quid pro quo of sorts, is buying benevolence and acceptance into a group.

And then there are those Christians who would like to celebrate Christmas but are too poor and oppressed by their totalitarian governments who forbid them faith-based public displays and celebrations. They are just happy to be alive, to enjoy a good meal with their families, to have food, electricity and heat, and to be able to go to church on Christmas Eve.  Those are priceless gifts.


Saturday, December 9, 2017

United Nations Mandates "Sustainable Tourism"

Venice, Canal Grande
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2016
During my twenty-two visits to Venice, I saw and heard the frustration and disdain locals have for tourists. We were not just an imposition in their daily lives, crowding their beloved city, their favorite restaurants, water buses, museums, operas, blocking their narrow alleys, their canals, and often entrances to their apartments. We caused wakes with our huge cruise ships and further destruction to their already fragile buildings, infrastructure, and ecosystem.

But we were a necessary evil that helped many Venetians live off tourism. They complained about Americans who trekked yearly by millions to see La Serenissima, yet have allowed economic refugees to invade and take over their businesses. We were even blamed for their demographic suicide.

The group Italia Nostra (Our Italy) wants the Italian government to ban cruise ships in the harbor and to require large groups to book their visit ahead of time. Posters around the city make it abundantly clear that some residents do not welcome tourists at all. Academia predicts that “the native population could be zero as early as 2030.” Apparently cruise ship visitors increased five-fold and rents have increased accordingly, making it impossible for locals to afford a place in the city.  

I know that apartments in Venice and elsewhere in Italy are passed on from generation to generation, few renters move away. Apartments are seldom available for rent and it has little to do necessarily with the influx of tourists. Perhaps this may be true for potential new Italian residents who wish to move into the city. Like any metropolitan area, especially one so desired, rent is going to be high no matter what the circumstances.

According to Condé Nast Traveler, the famous Santorini Island in the Cyclades began in 2017 limiting the cruise ship visitors to 8,000 per day during the peak season.

If the United Nations succeeds in their desired control and implementation of “sustainable tourism” around the globe, Venetians may get their wishes sooner than they had planned.
And, like everything else the United Nations does very badly, the “sustainable tourism” control will wind up hurting Greeks or Venetians more than whatever damage Americans and Mother Nature itself may have caused to their fragile eco-system, waterways, and way of life. 

If you have wondered if there is any area that the U.N. technocrats might not wish to control, the answer is no. They now want to control tourism by adding it to the U.N. 2030 Agenda as “sustainable tourism.”

In case you are wondering how the U.N. can do this, bypass the U.S. Constitution and Congress, how can they regulate and control tourism, remember how, at the local level and without any legislative input from Congress, United Nations has been able to implement its Agenda 21/2030 via property rights modifications at the local and state government level, using progressive realtors, architects, local politicians, “visioning” committees, ICLEI, other regional planning committees and the excuse of global warming, Smart Growth, Green Growth, and Sustainable Development, the lynchpin of U.N.’s 1992 Agenda 21.

From page 8 of the Sustainable Tourism document, “Governments need to enact laws to make the respect for human rights binding for companies and investors working nationally and internationally and to ensure access to legal remedies, as stipulated in the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.”

The United Nations has found tourism as a novel way to milk the capitalist system of money. This 16-page brochure explains that tourism is “one of the most important economic sectors worldwide, with one of the highest growth rates.” Using globalism and environmentalism, U.N. and its third world affiliates in need of more free cash infusions, seek to control this resource as well because, in the process of tourism, first world travelers cause serious CO2 emissions, “with serious consequences for climate change.”(p. 5)

It does not matter that their half-baked scare-mongering theory and tactics have been proven wrong time and time again, they continue with the global warming alarmism, with no backing of real science, just “consensus.”

Companies, investors, governments, and World Tourism Organizations focus on the positive economic effects of tourism. “The 2030 Agenda, however, combines poverty alleviation and sustainability, economic development, environmental and social justice.” Tourists will be thus controlled and travelers will have to pony up more taxes to eradicate world poverty.

U.N. seeks to transform tourism by designing it at the local level in such a way that they can control anybody and any entity engaged in tourism, including the global strategy of emissions reductions, especially in international aviation and shipping. The bottom line, consumers will be picking up the tab and will be fleeced for their tourism. (p. 8)

U.N. aims to reduce carbon emissions by abolishing any “subsidies for climate-damaging means of transport and sources of energy and by forcing prices to reflect “the real costs, including social and ecological costs.” (p. 8)

According to A. J. Cameron, “they will use every means possible to achieve their selfish, unlawful, immoral, and inhumane agenda. They use market-tested verbiage to obfuscate their ultimate agenda. Erik Schmidt thinks most people are stupid, and, unfortunately, the majority of people prove him to be correct. There is nothing good about the U.N., yet it keeps advancing the agenda against little push back by Americans. Never underestimate the greed and lust some men and women have for everything everyone else has!”

Tourism is the new vehicle to swindle Americans and U.N.’s third world bureaucrats know this. Since 1992 Rio conference, technocrats from 178 countries have worked feverishly and tirelessly toward the goal of globalist control under the U.N. umbrella, in-between champagne and caviar dinners at conferences they attend regularly in the world’s most desired tourist destinations, flying in jets spewing their carbon footprint and CO2.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Christmas, the Season of Faith, Family, and Charity

Caroling in Romania, 1841 Photo: Wikipedia
Christmas was my Dad bringing home proudly a scraggly fir with sparse branches - fragrant with the smell of winter, tiny icicles hanging from the branches, miniature crystal daggers, melting on my mom’s well-scrubbed parquet floor. I never knew nor asked how he could afford it from his $70 a month salary that barely covered the communist subsidized rent, utilities, and food. No matter how bare the branches of my Christmas tree were, it was magical to me.

We decorated it together with home-made paper baskets filled with hard candy, raisins, and small butter cookies, crepe paper garlands, small pretzels, an orange wrapped in fine tissue paper coming all the way from Israel, a few apples dangling from a string, and 12 red and green 3-inch candles clipped carefully away from overhanging branches that could catch on fire.

Mom’s hand-stitched table cloth made a convenient tree skirt. Two metal bars forged by hand helped Dad nail the tree to the floor at the foot of the couch where I slept in the living room that doubled as my bedroom.

I fell asleep and woke up every morning setting my eyes on the scented tree. It lasted two enchanted weeks before the dried needles fell all over the floor.

Christmas was lighting one of the 12 candles for a few minutes every night, careful not to set the tree on fire, basking in the soft glow while Daddy’s twinkly eyes were beaming with pride that he made his family happy once more. We were rich with love and God’s blessings.

Christmas was standing in shorter lines for freshly baked bread, butter, milk, cooking oil, flour, sugar, and the small pork roast mom always baked in the gas oven. Grandpa’s homemade smoked sausages with pretzels toasted on the stove top were always on the menu. Grandpa used to joke that life was so spectacularly good, even the dogs ran around with pretzels on their tails. Pretzels were sold by big bags, hard and stale, but toasting them on the stove made them taste just baked.

Christmas was Daddy opening the ceremonial bottle of red wine freshly brewed that year by cousin Mircea from Grandma Elizabeta’s vineyard grapes.

Christmas were the village carolers in hand-sewn folk costumes coming door to door, trudging through 3 ft. of snow, pulling a plough decorated with a real fir tree, singing traditional songs and snapping their whips in spite of the Communist Party moratorium, forbidding the observance of such religious traditions.

Christmas was sneaking at midnight to the village Orthodox Church with aunt Leana, the singing deacon, lighting candles and praying, surrounding the building when the crowd overflowed its tiny confines into the yard and the cemetery. The cold chilled us to the bone but the inside eventually warmed from our bodies, the candles, and the excitement of prayers and closeness to God.

Christmas was eating with my Mom and Dad, feeling full, happy, and loved in our tiny apartment, sometimes sharing meals with family members who had traveled far to be with us. The spare wool comforter aunt Nicuta had woven, a blanket, and set of sheets painstakingly hand washed would make cozy beds on the floor for the tired traveler – no fire place to light up, just the coils of steam heat which the government generously made sufficiently hot during Christmas to make up for the cold misery during the winter.

Christmas was peering in the shop windows at the glass ornaments we could not afford but I wished I had. They were made in Poland, whimsical fairy tale characters, no religious symbols of any kind, they were “verboten.”

Every Christmas I longed to have the same doll in the window at Omnia department store, dressed with miniature detailed  clothes, real curly hair, blue eyes, and eyelashes. I never asked my Dad because Mom said it cost three months of his salary. I still had my raggedy cloth doll aunt Stella, the village seamstress, had made for me when I was two years old. When my first child was born, Dad mailed her a large doll similar to the one I had longed for. The doll was so big, it stayed in a corner untouched. My spoiled children had too many other toys to play with and never appreciated the sacrifice their Granddad had made in sending such a gift of love.

On Saint Nicholas Day, December 6, I would put my boots outside the door, hoping that they would be filled with candy in the morning and not coals. Grandpa had a wicked sense of humor – he would sometimes fill one boot with switches and another with candy and a chocolate bar. Chocolate was always in short supply and hard to find.

Grandpa never bought a blue spruce - we cut a fir tree from the woods. We were careful not to cut down a tree that had bird nests in it. We decorated it with garlands made from shiny and multi-colored construction paper. We cut strips, glued them in an interlocking pattern and voila, we had our garland. For ornaments we used walnuts and shriveled apples from his cellar, tied with Grandma’s red knitting wool.

The warm adobe style fireplace built from mud bricks mixed with straw cast a dancing glow on the tree decked with  tokens of food, something our heathen Roman ancestors did during the celebration of Saturnalia. On December 17, the polytheistic Romans celebrated Saturnus, the god of seed and sowing, for an entire week. As Christians, we celebrated the birth of Christ and the religious traditions in our Orthodox faith, in spite of the communist regime forcing the transformation of Christmas into a secular holiday.

On Christmas Eve, after we ate Grandma’s traditional Christmas supper, roasted pork, sarmale (stuffed cabbage rolls with ground meat and rice), and mamaliga (corn mush with butter cooked in a cast iron pot), we went to the midnight service at the Orthodox Church not far from her house. Sometimes it was a sloshy trek and other times it was icy and slippery. If we got lucky, a heavy snow would turn our walk into a winter wonderland with dancing snowflakes shining in the weak street lights. We had to bundle up well – the church was not heated and we circled it three times during the procession with burning candles in our hands. I always wore my flannel pajamas under many layers of warm clothes. To this day, pajamas are my favorite garment – cozy and comfortable, keeping my body warm.

When my children were born, Christmas became a tradition of toys and happiness seen through squeals of innocence and twinkly eyes when unwrapping a favorite game, book, toy, stuffed animal, or bike. I taught my children to be charitable and to share with other children who were less fortunate than we.

I decorate my Douglas fir with beautiful lights and shiny ornaments now. My heart fills with loving and longing memories of glowing Christmases past and of family members lost who made our Christian traditions so special.

I hope and pray that American Christmas traditions will be passed on to future generations to light up the season of faith, family, and charity.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Bon Appetit

Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015
Americans' weight has been inching up each year and blood pressure increased thanks in part to a sedentary lifestyle and to the amount of sugar and salt in food. Manufacturers also hide ingredients they should list on the packaging under the label of "natural flavoring." The deception is massive.

How do you hide sugar? By giving it different names such as "high fructose corn syrup, cane crystals, dextrose, evaporated can juice, agave nectar, and fruit juice concentrate." In doing so, the amount of sugar does not appear as the number one ingredient on the list. Walter Willett, M.D., said that the Food and Drug Administration might require food labeling to show all types of sugar contained and print them on the package as "added sugars."

Items listed such as "carmine" or cochineal extract" are actually bug powder. FDA considers it safe, unless you are part of the small group of people who are allergic. Instead of bug powder, manufacturers could use petroleum-based chemicals such as Red No. 40 or No. 3 which have been proven by some studies to cause hyperactivity in children and cancer in animals. Most people would probably choose bug powder if they had a choice.

Among unlabeled ingredients are pesticides which are generally present in most foods. Packaging, such as particles of cardboard and chemicals that leech from the cardboard are also present; BPA, an industrial chemical linked to cancer, also leeches in the liquid food stored in such containers, including water stored in heated environments above certain degrees Fahrenheit.

I often wondered if the bottled water stored in the desert heat in the Middle East war zone contributed to the rise in military men and women cancer rates by 50 percent. Someone should definitely do an extensive study of their records and their whereabouts. Every time my spouse took chemo treatments, I asked everyone present what type of cancer they were given chemo for. The common denominator was a thoracic area type of cancer, most people were very young, and the trace marker test revealed that the cancer was environmental. One had a bizarre and very rare appendix cancer.

If you think you are eating high fiber foods, you will be surprised to learn that they contain "fake" fiber, not naturally occurring fiber from whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Such "fake" fibers may be listed as "chicory root, maltodextrin, and polydextrose."

I've heard from a friend of mine who was a big eater of peanut butter how disgusted he was when he found out what's in his beloved peanut butter. He stopped buying it commercially and started making his own from peanuts he cleaned and pressed himself. Insect parts are present during manufacturing process and "peanut butter can have up to 30 insect parts per 100 grams."

Nanoparticles are not required to be listed on packaging but manufacturers use them to increase shelf life of food. They are so small that they pass through cell walls. Nobody really knows how nanoparticles affect our bodies.

Chicken which is now shipped to China to rendered and packaged and shipped back to the U.S. is not as safe as people think. A 2012 study found what kind of drugs the chicken ingested before they were slaughtered: antibiotics residue banned in poultry, caffeine, acetaminophen (Tylenol), diphenhydramine (Benadryl), fluoxetine (active ingredient in Prozac).

Ninety percent of seafood is coming from other countries and we have no idea what the contaminants are. Videos from China have shown packaging houses injecting fish and shrimp with silicone to make them look plumper and fresher. The FDA inspects "less than 2 percent of our seafood imports." The EU, by contrast, inspects 20-50 percent of imports.

Robert J. Davis recommends farmed salmon from a good farm because it has "more heart-healthy omega-3s than wild salmon."

Packaged sliced cheese are mostly not cheese, they are made of milk protein concentrate and whey protein concentrate. They are thus called "pasteurized prepared cheese products." If ice cream does not have at least 10 percent milk fat, it must be called "frozen dairy dessert." Greek yogurt that is labeled "whey protein concentrate" or "milk protein concentrate" on the ingredients list is not strained naturally to make it thick, things have been added to thicken it.

In processed foods, salt is the "miracle ingredient" because it preserves the food, helps exacerbate the sweet taste, and hides bad flavors coming from the manufacturing line. Flour, sugar, and oils are mixed in large vats. Salt, flavoring, coloring, and other "fairy dust" is added to make the product look and taste close to something we would mix at home. They add sun dried tomatoes, vitamins, anti-oxidants, and extra fiber in order to claim that the finite product is good for you.

Do manufacturers go overboard with their ingredients? The FDA lets them be their own safety testers and there are no mandatory guidelines. Melanie Warner said, they don't even have to tell the FDA what "new additives they are using."

Additionally, FDA inspectors have a vested interest in companies that sell synthetic products to food manufacturers. Manufacturers self-police and FDA steps in only if customers complain.

If you like sourdough bread, you will be surprised to find out that the bacteria came from rodent feces, said Rob Dunn, biologist at NC State University.

Strange claims from Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham, who invented graham crackers to reduce libido, blamed meat, white bread, and alcohol on "excessive sexual desire." Very bland at first, it was turned into the sweet treat after this death. (Libby O'Connell)

Even though we complain about the price of food we buy in grocery stores, Americans spend the lowest amount of their income on food, about 5.6 percent of their disposable income.

Katherine Talmadge recommends Triscuits because they only list three ingredients, whole-grain wheat, oil, and salt. Finn Crisp and Wasa brands are also recommended for having 100 percent whole grain and low amounts of salt. Cereal's nutrition is destroyed during processing so manufacturers must add vitamins and minerals to it.

If you are leery of pasta, like I am, get regular pasta and not whole wheat. Kantha Shelke believes that whole wheat pasta has more starch than regular pasta because of the grounding process. Better yet, search for a pasta with a low glycemic index, especially if you are borderline diabetic.

Organic food is not necessarily better and healthier in light of e-coli contamination from animal fecal fertilizer; it is certainly very expensive for most people. Fresh fruits and vegetables in season are the best and, if you are not sure what you eat from the store or from a restaurant, cook more at home.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Twenty More Years of Socialism and No Good-Byes

Photo: Ileana Johnson 2015 ASTRA
When I left Romania after twenty years of frugal subsistence and tyranny under Ceausescu’s communist regime, I thought the nightmare was over, I was moving to America, the land of freedom and opportunity, and everything would be all right. All I had to do is study and educate myself as fast as I could.

There were so many opportunities to succeed! I worked very hard and I eventually transformed these opportunities into success. Nothing was given to me on a silver platter and I certainly did not have white privilege, on the contrary, I was told time and time again when I looked for a job that I was not a protected minority. I watched classmates with lower grades and ability, who learned to milk the rigged system, get jobs they did not deserve simply because they had a different skin color.

Something did not feel quite right in the academic environment I chose. I felt that I had escaped one nightmare 7,000 miles away, leaving behind forever my beloved family, and jumped into another bad dream, one run by American academics and administrators.

If I were to survive, I had to learn new skills to cope in the more covert communistic environment rigged in favor of tenured liberals who protected, rewarded, promoted, and tenured nobody else but more liberals.

I am not sure I could endure it today, considering the appalling communism in the American academia, on every American campus, where free thought and divergent opinions are not allowed; the faculty and administrators are no longer hiding their communist agenda. Campuses have become breeding grounds for future anarchists of America who are carefully shaped and selected for their robotic ignorance of anything of value and vitriolic aggression.

I had spent my last contract weeks in 2008 in the vaunted hallways of academia shredding every Economics lesson I had ever taught to my college students and to my gifted 11th and 12th graders in a southern school, in preparation for my retirement.

By shredding all my papers and lesson plans, I somehow wanted to erase the twenty years of frustration and pain I had experienced with some of my socialist colleagues and one administrator after another who were eager to serve the collectivist cause of social justice rather than merit, uniqueness, and excellence. In retrospect I wish today that I had kept the lessons. I also left behind all the foreign language dictionaries and many lesson plans I had developed. I am sure they were thrown out as soon as I had vacated my office and turned in the key.

I was not surprised that none of my colleagues moved a finger to celebrate my retirement. But an active parent, who appreciated my teaching, organized a collective celebration for me, two other retiring colleagues, and an administrator.

At the time, I was the longest serving teacher since the founding of the school. I walked out the door, without fanfare, a thank you for my service, good-byes, appreciation, or even an “I love myself” certificate or plaques that were so generously given to my colleagues over the years. In the grand scheme of things it does not matter anyway.

I did not realize how bad it was until the liberal newspaper whose owners also controlled the mass-media in the small town, refused to run a paid ad about my retirement. It is impossible not to know in a small town who all the prominent teachers are, especially someone like me who did not promote their societally-regressive agenda which they euphemistically named progressivism. At the same time, they ran free one-page news stories on the retirement of the administrator after four years of “service” and of my two colleagues. I was persona-non-grata no matter how I sliced reality.

The sad reality was that a few highly progressive families in town owned pretty much anything of value, including the minds of current and future Americans.

Most of my former students, with few notable exceptions, became devoted liberals, lawyers, feminists, doctors, advocates for social justice, heavily involved in global citizenship efforts, international non-profits, and teachers who proudly impart Common Core “values” to their students, the new generations of “progressives.”

I was one of the best paid teachers in the state at the time, not because I was the darling of the socialists surrounding me, but because I deserved it and few if any could replace me. I could teach four entirely different subjects with ease and knowledge, Economics and three foreign languages. Nobody else could match that skill or take it away from me.

I walked out the door with a sense of personal accomplishment in the face of so much adversity but also of regret for my twenty years of service that I wasted on progressive ingrates. By the time they reached my classroom, most of the students had already been thoroughly indoctrinated into socialism/communism as a perfect societal ideology.

The moment I walked out the door, a sense of freedom overwhelmed me - I had successfully survived the second communist phase of my life. The first one was escaping from communist Romania in 1978.

The small southern town was a safe place at the time to raise a family even for a single parent like me. Colleagues had asked me repeatedly how I could be anything else but a Democrat, when I was a teacher, a woman, a single mom, and a foreigner.

We were not legal immigrants in the late seventies; we were foreigners/aliens with a green card. I did not mind the term “alien” as long as I was not going back to the communist Iron Curtain and the oppressing life. I still don’t find the term offensive today. We were alien to these lands and to its customs.

It was not an auspicious time to be a foreigner/alien then. Nobody fawned over us, we had to have legal papers to be in the country, and we had to be healthy. In other words, we were properly vetted because legal immigration was strictly enforced and was not meant to benefit the immigrants but the American people.

There were not exactly many Romanians in the south, we were pretty much oddities coming from a faraway country that nobody had any idea where it was geographically located, nor did they care. That feeling extended to my American children who eventually felt frustrated and perhaps understood the feeling of isolation, of being different.

When they were smaller, they would beg my mom and me not to speak Romanian in public because people stared at us. My children were quite embarrassed to speak a foreign language fluently but they appreciated that skill as adults. Many families would not allow their children to play with mine and we were followed in stores as if we were going to rob it at gunpoint.

They did not know how many times, while I was pushing a stroller with mom, we were asked to leave mom and pop stores as our business was not welcome there. I swallowed my pride and went about my business. Mom, even though she did not speak English, intuitively understood the insults. But we did not allow that offensive and ignorant behavior to define who we were. These people were not xenophobic; they were ignorant and fearful.

But one store welcomed our business with open arms, and the owner’s son became our friend to this day. Of Jewish faith, perhaps he understood more than he let on the difficulty of being different in a small southern town.

Times have changed and now illegal immigrants and economic refugees from non-Christian lands rule the country; southerners and Americans in general bend over backwards to please them, rolling the red carpet and spreading their hard-earned wealth to economic refugees through generous welfare programs. I wished they had extended just a smidgen of kindness to us; we would have felt so much better.

I was lucky to find Lois and Harold, with their two lovely daughters. Through a twist of fate, they became our adopted family. We had spent many holidays with them and visited them through the years. I am not sure I could have adjusted so well to southern life without their help and advice.

There were other legal immigrants like us and they were treated the same. We formed our own club and helped each other the best we could with advice, food, clothes, rental money for expensive apartments in a college town, adjustment to a foreign life, and translation services for citizenship papers.

We cooked ethnic foods and had monthly pot luck suppers in the homes of those who were lucky enough to have afforded to purchase a home. Most of us were poor students hailing from communist and other totalitarian regimes, often struggling to raise and feed a family in a small apartment or a tiny rented house.

To my knowledge, those friends I made became contributing members to our society and, I am almost certain, they never promoted utopian communism.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017


Piz Buin Photo: Wikipedia
Coco Chanel made tanning fashionable when she returned from a vacation with glowing skin. Up to that point, the rich wore hats, long sleeves, and parasols to shade them from the sun's rays. Having pale skin was a sign of nobility and wealth; it meant that those people did not do manual labor in the outdoors.

In 1938 a Swiss chemistry student named Franz Greiter suffered severe sunburn while climbing Mount Piz Buin on the Swiss-Austrian border. In the process of trying to heal his bad sunburn he invented an effective sunscreen which is still sold today.

I often wish we had sunscreen when I was growing up. I might have to make less trips to the dermatologist in my old age. During summers in Constanta at the Black Sea, we would get so sun-burned every year and used, after the fact, plain yogurt to draw out the heat from burned skin. When we could not find yogurt, which was often the case, the skin would bubble up painfully and several layers of burned skin would peel off. Who knew at the time that we were exposing ourselves needlessly to potential skin cancer?

I saved my ex-husband’s life with several tubs of plain yogurt. He thought the northern hemisphere sun would not be as strong as the southern sun, but it was, especially for those with very fair skin like him.

My friend Mary, even though she always wore hats in the sun, and, as a black person had lots of melanin in her skin, died of melanoma. My former mother-in-law also died of melanoma. She was partly Native American and her tribe was particularly susceptible to certain cancers.