Little B&B on the Prairie

 

Mama_Mary_Schmucker_bed_and_breakfast_lg

 

Slowly but surely, my friends are all finding their way to Lancaster, and I look forward to seeing all of them. When they visit, I convert my bedroom into a guest room. It’s still full of my stuff, but the sheets are laundered and the bed is made. That makes it a guest room.  For special guests, I might even vacuum. Since I have a queen-sized bed and I live on North Queen Street, I’m calling it the Queen Suite on Queen Street. Catchy, huh?

My most recent guests were my Scrabble-playing friends, Barbara and Jim. It was their second visit, but the first time that they stayed in the Queen Suite. The last time they were in town, Barbara had injured her leg and was in a wheel chair, so they stayed at a handicap-friendly motel nearby. I know that they both love to eat, so the first time they were here, I went out and stocked the refrigerator full. Then they showed up with enough groceries to feed an Ethiopian refuge camp. Naturally we didn’t finish it all, so after they left, I wound up finishing everything, and within a month, my belt was buckled about 3 holes beyond where it had been before their arrival.

This time they stayed here in my house, but knowing the way they travel, I didn’t stock up too much food ahead of time. I had the eggs and breakfast items I knew we would need, but little else. I guessed right. They showed up with everything in the supermarket except the boy who bags the groceries.   Oh well, there goes my New Year’s Resolution to lose weight. I was just glad I had notches left on my belt to accommodate the weight I expected to gain.

Jim is a handyman, by trade, and the last time he was here he fixed a major problem with my kitchen sink. So, when the handle on my toilet broke a few days before their arrival, I just bought the parts I needed and left them on top of the tank. “The handle’s not working so you have to open the tank and lift the handle manually,” I said knowing that Jim wouldn’t be able to resist fixing it. I was right again. The very first time he went to the bathroom, he fixed it and had it working like new. If you’re anywhere near Secaucus, NJ and need anything fixed, I’ll give you his number. He does everything…Plumbing, Electric, Carpentry, anything. If it breaks, he can fix it, and he does terrific work at a very reasonable price. (Free, for me, ‘cos I’m special!)

We had lunch, and then they ordered out for a pizza for “dessert.” I wondered if the few spare notches left on my belt would be enough. Then we settle down to a game of Scrabble before dinner. The games of Scrabble I’ve been playing with Crazy Debbie had lulled me into a false sense of security. I never lose to her. Now I was swimming with the sharks, though, and I got my ass kicked in the first game. Basking in the glory of victory, Jim was ready for dinner. No, I protested. Let’s play another game first. “Okay,” they said, and Jim proceeded to win again. Then we ate some more.

After dinner, I finally won a game, and then it was time for a snack. We played some more Scrabble and talked about the old days. I broke out a few picture albums, and Barbara broke out her FaceBook pages of pictures. Another snack and it was time for bed.

Breakfast is a major production, and Jim is the producer and chef. “Do you have any more frying pans?” he asked me. “There are two on the stove,” I responded. “Isn’t that enough?”

“No,” he said and gave me a look like I must be joking, thinking that two frying pans was enough to prepare one of his gourmet breakfasts.

“Look in the oven. I never use it. There might be something in there.”

He found what he needed, and was off to the races. Pretty soon we were sitting at a table heaped with scrambled eggs, home-fried potatoes, various meats, toast, bagels, and pots of coffee.

After breakfast, naturally, we played more Scrabble. Jim piled up two more victories, and so did I. Then it was time for dinner. When my friend John visits, he likes to go to the Onion Café. When Geralyn visits she likes to take me to the upscale Belvedere Inn. When Marianne visited with her family we went to the family friendly Alley Kat. Maria prefers Italian food, but she will eat anywhere that serves Pinot Grigio wine. My brother and our mutual friend Jimmy usually like a barbecue in the backyard when they visit. For Barbara and Jim, I picked out a special place for people who really love to eat a lot of food, Fat Pigs.

“Fat Pigs?” they both questioned.

“Don’t get nervous, the name refers to the menu, not the customers. It’s a sports bar for people who love pork. They put bacon on everything.   I think you can even get bacon and pulled pork on the vegetarian platter.”

We spent the evening there.

They packed their car in the morning, but Barbara was still 0 for 7 in the Scrabble games, and I was one win behind Jim, so we played one more for the road. Barbara finally whooped us.

They headed back to New Jersey and I took a nap. Managing a Bed & Breakfast is hard work. LOL

So, if you’re ever in the Lancaster area, you might want to consider staying at the Queen Suite on Queen Street, especially if you’re a good cook or good at fixing things.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

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I Think Therefore I Am, I Think

“I’ve looked at life from both sides now, from near and far and still somehow, it’s life’s illusions I recall. I really don’t know life at all.”

-Joni Mitchell

 

I heard about a Philosophy professor years ago who began a lecture by saying that, “Ancient man believed in many gods.” That part was true. The Greeks had a pantheon of gods and goddesses, Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Ares, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, etc. The Romans had Jupiter, Neptune, Mars, Apollo, Vulcan, Mercury, and more.   The Norse had gods like Odin, Frigg, Thor, Balder, Tyr, Njord, and many, many more. Then, the professor continued, “Now, we know that there is only one God.” The learned professor had unwittingly made a giant error of logic. He had presented his personal belief as a fact, without any proof that it was indeed a fact, which it wasn’t. None of us KNOW for a fact how many Gods there are, if any.

It’s winter. I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors. To give the hours greater value, I’ve been listening to a lot of audio books. Recently, I listened to a fascinating biography of the Monk Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas. I learned that when an African-American minister named King had studied the famous monk he was so impressed with him that he quickly changed his own name to Martin Luther King, and he changed his son Michael’s name to Martin Luther King, Jr. Since Monday is the day we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I thought this might be a good time for me to learn a little something about the monk after whom he was named.

The only thing I knew previously about Martin Luther, the monk, was that 400 years ago he defiantly nailed his 95 Thesis to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church and kicked off the Protestant Reformation. The first thing I learned while listening to Eric’s book was that this fact, just wasn’t true. Yes, he had posted his thesis on the church door, but the church door in those days was like a community bulletin board, and most likely Martin Luther’s paper was one of many papers politely pasted to the door, not one defiantly nailed there. I also learned that the purpose of the paper was not to break away from the Catholic Church, but to initiate a debate in ways to improve the Church that Luther loved. The lesson for me, was that there are worse things than not knowing something. The bigger problem is all the things we think we know, that just aren’t so.

Monk Martin Luther had a problem with the concept of indulgences. The Catholic Church teaches that good souls go to Heaven, bad souls go to Hell, and slightly soiled souls go to Purgatory, where they are laundered and made ready for Heaven. Most souls need a bit of freshening up, so most souls go to Purgatory. The time a soul spends in Purgatory depends on just how dirty it is. It could be days. It could be centuries. It could even be for ages. So, the Catholic Church, which wanted to raise money to build churches and buy statues and gold chalices, got the idea of selling indulgences. Donate X amount of dollars, and you will reduce your time in Purgatory by X amount of years. It was a big hit. The money was rolling in. So, naturally, the Church decided to expand the program. In addition to buying indulgences for yourself, you could donate money for dead relatives and friends. Do you want your poor mama to spend centuries in Purgatory? Of course not. So, buy indulgences for everyone you know. Martin thought this was a pretty sleazy way to run a church, and he hoped to get the church to drop the program. The Church, eager to keep a good thing going, felt that Monk Martin, was a lousy salesman for their team, and they branded him a heretic.

The book reads like an action adventure and I am gobbling it up. I just have one problem with it. The author does a great job of presenting Luther’s argument against the corruption and greed of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, but he makes the same type logic error as the professor I mentioned in the first paragraph. Frequently, instead of saying that Martin Luther fervently believed that God would be for or against something, he states that Martin Luther KNEW that God would be for or against something. Maybe I’m a bit oversensitive about the semantics of the language the author uses, but I get a little bit skittish when people profess to KNOW what God is thinking. Besides, that’s not the job of authors. That’s the job of TV Evangelists, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned during my time on Earth, it’s that the more I learn, the more I realize how little I really know, especially about God.

 

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

 

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

 

Earl

 

Declassified

Top Secret

I’m currently listening to an audio book by Liza Mundy called “Code Girls.” It’s the recently declassified story of the women code breakers in World War II. The book is basically a big thank you to the unsung heroes, who were not given much credit in their day, because, primarily, the work they did was Top Secret, and also because they were women in an era when women were not all that welcome in the military.

Codes and code breaking go back centuries, and most wars had their spies. The United States had its fair share of spies, until their number was greatly reduced during the Herbert Hoover Administration. President Hoover believed that “Gentlemen do not read other gentlemen’s mail.” Years later, the sneak attack bombing of Pearl Harbor taught us that Governments entrusted with protecting the lives of their citizens had damn well better start opening and reading the mail of those who threatened that safety.

At the beginning of World War II, while all available men were quickly being trained to do the fighting, the U.S. Government hired women mathematicians to break the enemies’ codes. Part of the training included informing them that the work they were doing was Top Secret, and that if they made any breach in this secrecy, they just might find themselves in front of a firing squad. Thus warned, the young women didn’t even tell their mothers what they were doing, and they remained unsung heroes until just recently.

I was drawn to this book, because I, too, had once been involved in the field of intelligence gathering when I was in the Navy. I worked on the Top-Secret Spy in the Sky Program. We were not threatened with facing a firing squad if we revealed our mission, but we were informed that a breach of security would entitle us to free room and board in the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. Fortunately, the Spy in the Sky program was declassified a few years ago, so I am now free to talk about it.  The Discovery Channel even had a show about it a few years ago.

We’ve all heard the admonition, “Loose lips sink ships,” and during my training we were treated to a few anecdotes about just how costly a slip of the tongue can be. My favorite was about the Cuban Missile Crisis, which I remembered well from my days of hiding under school desks to protect myself from atomic bombs.  You probably already know that American spy planes flew over Cuban and photographed the installation of Russian missile sites there, but do you know why President Kennedy sent the spy planes there in the first place? That’s the part I learned during my training.

The Intelligence community monitors all sorts of foreign communications, and one day they intercepted a telegram sent from Russia to Cuba. It was a simple thing, along the lines of “Happy Birthday, Ivan. Love, your wife.” Seems pretty harmless, because Cuba was a vacation spot for many Russians, but why didn’t the wife go on the vacation trip with her husband. Maybe the man wasn’t on vacation after all. Who was he? A little research turned up the fact that he was a Russian missile scientist. What was a Russian missile scientist doing in Cuba? Are the Russians building missile sites in Cuba? A few passes with spy planes and we had the answer. They were, and as Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes would say, the game was afoot.

So far, my favorite story from the Code Girls book concerns the Battle of Midway. The Japanese had already delivered a crippling blow to the American Navy at Pearl Harbor. Now they wanted to deliver the coup de gras somewhere else. The “Code Girls” deciphered a Japanese message that the Japanese were planning a major attack on “AF” on a certain day. So, we knew when a major attack was coming, but we didn’t know where. We didn’t know what “AF” stood for. The Japanese had used secret two-letter codes for all the major targets instead of spelling out the complete names.

To get the Japanese to tip their hand, the women had the Navy send out different false messages from the most likely targets. One of these messages was sent from Midway declaring that they were desperately low on fresh water. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. intercepted and deciphered a coded Japanese message that they had learned that AF was running out of fresh water. That confirmed it. We now knew that AF was the secret Japanese code for Midway, and the Navy rushed everything they could to Midway. The historic victory in the Battle of Midway became the turning point for the U.S. in the war in the Pacific.  It also became a blockbuster movie.

On January 3rd I celebrated the 47th anniversary of my Honorable release from active duty. I’m glad that the Spy in the Sky project was finally declassified and I can stop worrying about going to Leavenworth for being a blabbermouth. I will wait a while before telling any revealing stories about the program, though, just in case the Intelligence community is monitoring this blog.

 

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl