Something We Can All Agree On – (Please, read to the end)

Dear Democratic Leader Pelosi:

I write to you here because as I do not live in your Congressional district,  my attempt to email you failed.

Congratulations on your election to remain the House Democratic leader.

Having said this, please know that I am removing myself from this email list, sadly. I am personally surprised at my fatigue in all things politics, especially now, after this month’s mid-term elections, when my Party’s numbers in Congressional representation have been reduced so significantly. And while I want and need to stay informed, I feel that there is a constant free-for-all in the emails that are sent to me. I am done with the emails that sensationalize everything, that always request a contribution, and that appear to divide the gap between the two parties even further.  

I received the news that you have been re-elected as House Democratic leader, and was asked for a contribution. I am always asked for a contribution, no matter what the news. I appreciate your hard work and tenacity, but, (and yes, there is a “but” here) must all emails include a request for money? Perhaps an announcement, and a call to rally would have been sufficient, and not tipped me over the edge. I am unsubscribing to these emails.

Here’s why I am tired — through this constant barrage of emails, the appearance is that elected representatives from both houses cannot do their jobs without airing dirty laundry, without constantly asking for money, without inane and sensational “Subject” lines that are at best humorous, and at worst, infantile and embarrassing. I am tired of reading multiple times a day that all is lost. I am also tired at the lack of respect for the offices of representing citizens; that respect has been whittled away by infighting, and also by these so-called “chummy” emails. Remember, citizens get these emails multiple times a day. Representing the people of the United States is serious business, and the behavior of elected officials as portrayed in these missives is unprofessional. This goes not only for the legislative branch, but also for the executive branch. Compound this constant campaign of ridiculous emails with the work that is not getting done in the beautiful and historic chambers in the Capitol building, and one might begin to understand why voters, well, I can only speak for myself here, why I am tired of the way business is being done today,

While something deep inside me knows that money is needed and campaign reform laws are paramount, I have been worn down to the point that I can no longer spend energy every day sorting through these missives, reading accounts of how the political parties continue to fight and how nothing is getting done, and then cringing as I am asked for and yet another contribution. 

Again, I sincerely congratulate you, Congresswoman Pelosi, and I wish you all the very best. I appreciate your hard work and tenacity and service. I also hope that a sense of decorum can be re-established, that people can see that the Congress is willing no longer to use the citizenry to jump in and take sides as if this were a big sporting match where we shout each other down. I fear that we have become a laughing stock. I look forward to a day when, while entrenched in vehement disagreement, there will be some respect for each other and for the electorate.

As you prepare for a new Congress, my thoughts are with you as you attempt to negotiate policy in a profound climate of non-partisanship, and urge you to take a new tack. I also urge your party members to do the same. Who knows? Perhaps this is something to which both sides can agree.

Respectfully,

Kathleen M. Galgano

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Lessons Learned

Last fall, when the government shut down, I blogged daily and submitted my Kathy’s Musings pieces, and many more formal letters in email form, to elected officials on both sides of the aisle. These missives were respectful in nature and tone, even when I pleaded with officials to end the nightmare. While I knew that my grassroots kitchen campaign, one citizen’s efforts to halt the shutdown, was most assuredly in vain, I figured it might be worth the effort if only to demonstrate that a tone of civility, a spirit of cooperation, and a sense of decorum are all still possible.

In due course, I received the standard “form” reply emails from the officials, thanking me for my interest, and would I like to receive updates from their offices? While it would have been nice to have spoken with staff members during the shutdown, the sheer numbers of furloughed staff, and the fact that emails rarely receive responses within a day or two, made it understandable that these replies came long after the shutdown ended. But sure — Why not? I could keep up with political news, and so I clicked on the “Yes” button to receive legislators’ updates. During the shutdown, I did come by one most appreciated response. One evening I was cooking dinner, and answered the house phone. Did I want to listen-in to a live Q and A session/ townhall meeting in progress with the Representative? This was the same Rep I had written to earlier, describing a specific heart-wrenching, shutdown-related situation in her district, which neighbors mine. I wasn’t able to ask any questions, but I welcomed hearing a live voice.

When all was said and done, my letters and hard work were not the catalyst for ending the shutdown, but I had achieved my goal. I had communicated my ideas, sentiments, facts, and accounts of how the shutdown wreaked havoc on real people to readers in the U.S. and countries around the globe. In my letter-writing campaign to representatives and senators, I maintained a sense of decorum. I never engaged in name calling even though the press was having a field day describing the jabs emanating from Capitol Hill. And, I refused to give up on my quest, even though I was tempted. I urged readers to join me in my campaign to contact legislators, and many did; political involvement and activism is always a good thing. In addition, I was happy to receive email replies from the reporters I contacted, having informed them that I had quoted their information and facts in my blog pieces. I received advice from the people I connected with, and I especially enjoyed talking to folks at the Los Alamos National Bank, a fiscal organization I highlighted for coming up with a way to help furloughed citizens.

And since the shutdown, I have been receiving emails from many Congress members. I like being informed, and I don’t have to agree with all the politics to keep up with the news. However, there is fallout from my kitchen campaign, and I should have anticipated it. Every single day I receive email after email from political organizations and elected members requesting I join them in either signing a petition or contacting someone to fight a particular cause, or that I donate money, or both.

Okay. Since I’ve put myself on lists, these emails are to be expected. True, but I’m fairly certain I haven’t hit this many “Yes” buttons. I delete a lot of these missives without opening them because I’ve come to recognize the authors’ names and their respective political groups. I understand how campaigns work; I, too, asked my readers to barrage their reps’ inboxes during the shutdown.  I describe these daily email campaigns this way: Hit ‘em often, Hit ‘em hard!, and Act Now! — We’re on the brink of disaster! And somehow, it seems that we are always on the brink of one kind of disaster or another.

These campaigns are successful. I know because at some point I receive emails thanking me for my contributions, even though I haven’t donated a dime. The typical requests don’t ask for a lot; usually, it’s a request for three bucks, or five, but sometimes it’s for more. When there are fiscal deadlines, I get tons of emails, and I truly wish the authors would adhere to some semblance of decorum. I bristle a bit when I receive an email from the President addressed to “Hey, Kathleen.” In the back of my head I can hear my childhood friend’s grandmother saying, all those years ago, “Do not address me as ‘Hey.’ I do not live in a barn.” And the President frequently signs these personal emails as “Barack.”

Leading up to midnight, June 30, 2014, my Inbox was filled with many, many passionate pleas for donations. Some of them were going to be triple-matched; political campaigns must have learned something from public broadcasting membership drives, with the announcer chanting, “Call in the next five minutes and your donation will be matched!” Well, these Congressional campaigns needed, demanded, implored me for contributions. The subject lines of some of these emails read: “We keep emailing,” “Another Email?! (DON’T SKIP),” and “Things are getting a little loopy around here.” (The “loopy” email shows a video of a bunny running around a person’s legs. That was a strange one.) In one series of requests, I could have won a chance to meet the President. These came along with the “We need you,” and “LAST CHANCE,” and “We’re Running Out Of Time,” plus the personal plea, “Don’t sit this one out, Kathleen.” Then there were the subject lines that were all doom and gloom: “TRAGIC Conclusion,” and “Devastating Losses.” The one that really got me was the “All Hope is Lost” email.

Tell me, if all hope is lost, why the heck would I donate a dime? The definition of a “lost cause” is, well, a lost cause! Then there’s the drama. If a campaign purportedly is being outspent by $9 million, the amount is written in the emails like this: “$9,000,000.00.” I’m guessing the author was hoping people might read this as $900 million instead of $9 million? Well, if that’s the case, would a potential donor actually think a three dollar contribution would make a difference? Hmmm, well, maybe. After all, I was hoping my miniscule kitchen campaign might make a difference.

So here’s what I’ve learned in a nutshell: 1) The President and I are good buddies; 2) I have so impressed political campaign organizers that they believe I can save the day, every day, and that I’m personally able to make contributions, large and small, multiple times a day, every day; 3) It’s okay to dump decorum, and 4) It’s also okay to barrage legislators’ inboxes with requests for everything, all the time.

Lessons learned. Got it!

Kathy Galgano

July 7, 2014

HOMEWARD BOUND (THANKSGIVING PART III of III)

This piece is dedicated to the memory of our dear friend, Patrice.

I needed two shopping carts to collect everything on my list, and this didn’t even include the turkey. I had ordered a beautiful bird at the mom and pop grocery store near my job; years ago only a handful of markets sold turkeys raised without hormones. That wasn’t the main reason I selected what I now call my “Save the Whale” turkey, however. These birds were fresh, not frozen for weeks on end, and my guests said they could taste the difference. That’s all that mattered.

Looking for ideas in my cookbooks, I landed on this one recipe for stuffing (we had never called it “dressing”), and immediately stopped turning the pages. It’s true that aromas can trigger very powerful memories, but I was instantly transported to another place and time merely by perusing a list of ingredients. Immediately, I was a kid with my family visiting Manhattan for the day. We’d see the sights and the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in December, and then would stop to buy a wonderfully warm pretzel from a street vendor. On freezing days, I found these carts a bit of inviting warmth. I can recall the enticing aroma wafting from that stand. It was the chestnuts. Vendors scooped the warm nuts into little paper bags before handing them over to the customers, and I breathed in this drifting essence. I looked down at my page; I would recreate this memory. Roasted chestnut stuffing was on the menu.

Friends began to arrive early Wednesday evening. They brought cheese, crackers and chips, and wine, tossed their coats in the bedroom, rolled up their sleeves, some donning aprons, and grabbed peelers, knives and cutting boards. They were eager to get to work. Throughout the evening, the “Slicers and Dicers” peppered me with questions. “How far down do we need to peel the acorn squashes?” I answered, “You want to peel down to the bright orange.” “Got it.”

Next question: “What do I do with these chestnuts?” “We’re supposed to prick them with a knife before roasting them in the oven.” “Like this?” “That looks about right,” I said. Then I added, “Here, I’ll help you.” I was looking forward to working with the chestnuts. I had even called my dad about preparing them. In response to my question, Dad had said, “Prick them with a sharp knife.” That corresponded with the recipe’s description.

Next I heard, “Are you sure you want us to do two bags of potatoes?” “Sure, just peel ‘em all.” “Okay! You’re the boss.” I figured people would want seconds, right?*

“Do you want the bread for the stuffing cubed like this?” “That looks great,” I answered. We played music, sipped wine, and conversations filled the kitchen, dining and living rooms. There was the inviting expectation of a holiday in the air, and it just felt right.

With this group toiling away, I prepared the standard pre-Thanksgiving fare. When I gave the word, we quickly cleared the table and sat down to a dinner of pasta and meatballs, salad and garlic bread, just like all those times years ago with our friends who had moved to Germany. One time, a neighbor’s cat had wandered in our partially open patio door; the kitchen was so cozy and warm. Hours later, when only a few of the Slicers and Dicers remained, and we began to rearrange furniture for the next-day’s feast, a surprised, long-forgotten sleeping cat jumped down from his perch on a kitchen chair, hidden by the tablecloth. We had truly extended our family of friends that year.

So I had the chestnuts in the oven. The potato “KP” team was on a roll; I grew up believing that “KP” meant “keep peeling.” I was stirring the large skillet of sizzling sausage, diced celery and onion, and at some point would add the diced apple and fresh herbs. The chestnuts would be shelled, chopped and added, too. Early on Thursday morning, I would toss this savory blend in with the bread and eggs, and then stuff the enormous bird. While from year to year I may have changed recipes for stuffing or side dishes, there are a few established components of my turkey prep that I will never alter. An entire bottle of chardonnay gets poured into the bottom of the roasting pan, and I choose from fresh herbs, rosemary, sage, thyme, growing in my garden. Very early on, my visiting cousin had explained to me the value of draping bacon over the bird. The bacon drippings baste the main course. When our guest list included people who didn’t eat pork, I switched to turkey bacon. As I was stirring away that night, making one mental note after another, I glanced at the clock. It was time. Grabbing a potholder, I opened the oven door and began to smile. Just as I had hoped, I was back in New York City, next to a little cart filled with warm pretzels and chestnuts. What heaven. I knew the aroma was starting to drift because I heard a few others murmur “MMMMM.” Not bad for a first-timer, I thought. As I began to draw the tray out of the oven, it happened.

POP! POP! Chestnuts exploded in the oven. What a show! My dad had warned me that if they weren’t pricked deeply enough, the steam inside would cause them to erupt. I smiled again. Dad was 3,000 miles away and right again. I lingered in front of the oven. After a few seconds of all quiet, I withdrew the tray. More POPS! There were a few shrieks; I think they were mine. Bits of chestnut hung from the ceiling. They clung to the refrigerator, the walls, the floor, a few guests, and me. Nobody was burnt, thank Goodness, but what a mess! We were all laughing hard now, but I had gotten my wish! In all the years that I have been making Thanksgiving dinners, I have never lived that moment down.

Dinner was delicious, and there was good reason for this. Over the years, so many friends and visiting family members have pitched in, not only to complete the Wednesday night prep work, but to cook entire dishes, and to stir, mash vegetables, season foods, create desserts, prepare the cranberry sauce from scratch, make roux for the gravy, heroically attempt to keep up with the growing mound of pots and pans, and most importantly, remember to add charcoals to the grill each hour. And as carving is not my strongpoint, yearly I have relied on one guest in particular to help me. As the turkey rests on the counter, and I spoon the stuffing from it into a bowl, we all stop to enjoy the crisp smoky bacon that basted the turkey. Now that’s a fitting hors d’oeuvre.

Some years, we’ve rented tables and chairs and extra linens, even chafing dishes. With the extra tables, we have formed a giant “H” configuration in the living and dining rooms so everybody can be seated. The largest group was 34 people. Sometimes, I’ve knocked on neighbors’ doors requesting oven space because the briquettes weren’t catching in either grill (one grill for each bird.) A few times, the turkeys were done ahead of schedule, and my electric warming tray came to the rescue. The year we hosted 34 people proved to be one of those “Help! They just aren’t cooking!” years. My sister and her family were visiting. When my sister asked what she could do to assist, I quickly responded: “Play! Please play.”

My niece calls her mom a “human jukebox.” What a fitting description. While I was frantically checking my watch and chanting, “Cook, Turkeys, Cook,” my sis was leading the guests in an impromptu sing-along on our yard-sale-purchased upright piano. Who knew two opera singers would be in the crowd that year? The crew in the kitchen started to hum, too. After playing popular show and movie tunes, my sister segued into Beatles’ songs. The animated group was really into their pre-dinner show now. When I heard, “Deck the halls with boughs of holly,” I couldn’t even imagine the appetite this gang had worked up. The place erupted in cheers when I delivered my sing-song, long-awaited message: “The turkeys are done!”

Every year there comes a time when several of my returning guests approach me individually, and whisper, “Are we going to do it again this year?” I smile. My response is always the same. “Yes!”

Returning guests can’t wait to see the faces of new guests as they experience this time-honored tradition. It is the moment we have long awaited, or dreaded, perhaps. It is our signature Thanksgiving experience, and so we crank up the volume, loud. As the bowls of heavy cream make their way around the table along with the whisks and my ancient frilly pink apron or my moo cow apron with little cloth bovine ears on the bib, guests are inspired to work by the appropriate, mood-setting tunes. Well, that’s the idea, anyway. Booming is the Devo classic, “Whip it.” Guests recite, “Whip it. Whip it good.” The bowl gets passed to a newcomer. Someone places the apron on their neck. While whisking away, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” comes up next on our personal Thanksgiving hit parade, again played at eye-popping decibels. It’s likely that not everyone has had a chance to whisk, and the bowls of cream aren’t quite ready. Now people are dancing to Weird Al Yankovic’s wonderful spoof, “Eat it.” Guests clap and groove to the beat. It’s a raucous affair.

Imagine this scenario as experienced by quite an elderly woman who spoke not a word of English. Our dear friend’s daughter brought her boyfriend and his grandmother for dinner. We had never met. A little unsure of what she would think, I went ahead with the tradition and just kept my fingers crossed. As the music rocked the room, she was the life of the party. Another time, a friend brought a guest whom we were excited to meet, but as I was behind schedule, I hugged each of them and handed over a large bunch of freshly washed parsley. “I’m so happy you came,” I told them. “Now, can you garnish all the plates with a sprig, please?” Another year a friend brought a colleague from Japan to our home. Experiencing his first Thanksgiving, this engineer settled in at the piano and played magnificent jazz. Somehow, guests found just enough room between tables and chairs to dance before dinner. It was a thrill.

Other years, it wasn’t just unlit charcoals that created drama. When the kitchen sink stopped up, we couldn’t run the water without catching it in pans lest we’d need to call out the rowboats. That year my husband’s family was here. Not only were my sister-in-law and brother-in-law fabulous cooks, they were quite handy with tools, too! Another time we had a small flood in our basement. No little plumbing issue is going to put a damper on Thanksgiving. One year I had to set-up a booth at a crafts fair I was participating in, to be held on Friday. Our family of friends took care of everything!

One neighbor really jazzed things up one time. Guests watched him as he walked back and forth in his yard outside our dining and living room windows. First, he wore a red wig. The next time he walked by, he modeled a different one. I don’t know how many wigs he owned, but he sported a different one with each pass. We were dining on seconds before somebody finally said something. Then, everyone howled. While they were perplexed, guests figured they should be polite, so they had said nothing. At my urging, my sport of a neighbor had advised me that he would “come up with something” for us that day.

Just like the Thanksgivings of years ago, everyone here always inquires about each other’s family living in other parts of the country. Over the years, many of us have lost loved ones back home, and sadly, we have lost one of our own, a dear friend with whom we shared every holiday and who always graced us with her presence, her spirit, her smile, her sense of humor, her great conversation, her friendship, and her incredible desserts. While we miss her, we feel her presence through time spent with old friends.

Unlike the Thanksgivings of years ago, we no longer think of ourselves as “transplants,” or “orphans.” We no longer play “Homeward Bound” with each meal. Each year, when our house is brimming and the living room windows are steamed up because of all the cooking, we build on the treasured memories of years past, and know that we are home.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everybody!

*Note to self: Making 20 lbs. of mashed potatoes is ridiculous.

Kathy Galgano

November 18, 2013

Bruised By Shutdown, But Still Chuckling

I’ve been having a little trouble jumping into thoughts of whimsy these past few days; the shutdown has left me tired and bruised. Yesterday I nursed a headache, and today I tried to write something humorous, but it wasn’t forthcoming. This isn’t to say there hasn’t been humor – on the contrary, there have been many a smile generated by this mess. I’m still shaking my head in disbelief that political pundits barraged my Inbox with requests for contributions, for instance, while each passing day, things just worsened. Was this a joke? I was supposed to hand over money to a cause supporting a politician when the politicians got us into this mess in the first place?* It’s a sad commentary, I grant you, but there’s humor in it. Nope, nice try! My purse strings stayed closed. You have to give ‘em points for shameless spunk, though, right?

Here’s another one. On the morning after the shutdown ended, I read a request by an organization under President Obama’s name to petition Congress to get to work on the immigration bill because, the request said, “my voice counted.” Naturally, the request was followed by the customary appeal for money. Now I had just heard the President on the news, twice!, say: “… all of us need to stop focusing on the lobbyists and the bloggers and the talking heads on radio and the professional activists who profit from conflict.…”** Had somebody not turned on the news that day? The irony of it continues to make me shake my head in disbelief. No problem. Sure, I’ll support an important issue through an organization where people are paid to stir-up reaction and create action under the President’s name right now! Oh, and I’ll send you money, too! I’m so happy the President wants you to do this, even though he just said that nobody is to listen to this kind of thing. The image conjured to mind was the scene from The Wizard of Oz: “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

Here’s the person who is really going to laugh – the one who is hired by political groups to write memos to tell them what’s in the news!

 

*NOTE: Yea, I know what you’re thinking. It wasn’t all the politicians who drove us into this, right? Well, the fact remains that the 113th Congress is comprised of two full chambers of elected representatives and so, ultimately, it’s the 113th Congress’ combined fault.

**Read the President’s remarks here: http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2013/10/obama-hits-bloggers-radio-talking-heads-who-profit-175330.html  “Obama hits bloggers, radio ‘talking heads’ who ‘profit from conflict’” By Dylan Byers, October 17, 2013

Kathy Galgano

October 19, 2013

“There is no distinctly American criminal class – except Congress.” Mark Twain – Day Fourteen of Shutdown

After Fourteen Days of pondering this mess, what comes back to me time and again is not just that Congress has shut down business, and killed the paychecks of tens of thousands of employees, and hurt families as well as local economies, and put the kibosh on scientific research, and turned its collective back on people who need help the most, and even gotten the head of the IMF to say that if we don’t do something right now, the world could slide into another recession.* At least I can wrap my head around that part of this mess because I can see the damage the shutdown is causing. Just this weekend a friend told me of a conversation he had with a disgruntled TSA agent at an airport; this security employee was supposed to have received a paycheck. And I shake my head in deep sadness and shame when I read that someone can’t start a cancer trial right now. This whole mess is one long nightmare and gets worse with every ticking second.

What comes to me is that every time I hear a Congress member** interviewed on the news, I get this unnerving fleeting twinge of something in my gut. I think it’s just that I can’t expect the news to get worse, and yet it does, but I know deep down that’s not it. What unsettles me is that I’m fed up with the attitudes of our congressional members.

Every time I hear somebody say something like, “I don’t know how much we can do,” or “It’s all about the other side,” or “We’ll see what happens,” or, “I need them to…,” or even something like, “I think we can get around to something by Thursday,” I cringe. These people, these men and women elected to Congress, are the only people who can do something about this mess. If they were in school, the teachers would be sending emails home and making phone calls because of destructive, non-caring attitudes. I would never hire a person who can’t put his or her best foot forward and articulate an outcome and then work to achieve it, in a positive fashion. No professor or high school teacher would be satisfied with the work of the current 113th Congress if the job at hand were to be graded as a class group project. They’d fail miserably.

When I hear these sound bites, it’s like people have all the time in the world and it doesn’t matter if congressional members negotiate and solve the issue today or tomorrow or ever. Heck, Congress is getting paid; that’s the law. (There’s an online petition circulating which I have signed; it demands that congress members be stricken of their pay during the shutdown. It’s a great show of force for the public and I urge you to sign it, but know that congressional salaries will remain.)

What also gets to me is that congressional members (as a body, not necessarily individually) not only feel like they are under no critical deadline, they just don’t care, again, as a body, and that is what’s causing most of my angst.

Well I care. And I think the public should start sending invoices to Congress for lost wages and for lost business and for all the economic resources lost to citizens because of this stupid business. Yes, my language is getting stronger. I still caution my readers to maintain respect to the institution of the United States and to use verbiage that gets to the point without dropping to the level of disrespect. As I always say, somebody has to take the high road here and be a role model to kids. It might as well be us.

* I watched NBC’s Meet The Press yesterday, October 13, 2013. Here’s what the Washington Post wrote:

 “IMF Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, warned on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that a failure by the United States to make scheduled payments to investors “would mean massive disruption the world over. And we would be at risk of tipping yet again into a recession.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/senate-leaders-begin-to-negotiate-as-other-efforts-to-end-impasse-crumble/2013/10/13/498f4202-341a-11e3-8a0e-4e2cf80831fc_story.html?tid=pm_politics_pop

** (I refuse to call Congress members “leaders” or “officials” right now.)

Kathy Galgano

October 14, 2013