THE POWER OF WORDS

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image courtesy of inspiredmarketinginc.com

English is a mongrel language. It has been influenced by conquerors and conquered alike. It borrows and cherry picks terms from around the globe and embraces them as if they were its own progeny. But for all this dynamism, English is also a very limited language. Unlike some other tongues, we do not have subtleties of meaning built into our lexicon. I fear that this is particularly true of this most modern form of English. Take for example the word is love. We love our dear ones. But we also love our favorite entertainers. Likewise we love chocolate. Even in disgust or disappointment we say, “I love it!” as a sarcastic expression of our utter revulsion at something. Small wonder that ours is described as the most difficult language in which to achieve fluency.

One of the axioms of my life is that words have power. The words we choose affect how we look at the world as well as how we interact with it. This brings me to an interesting point. Have you noticed that, in the decades since the end of the Second World War, we’ve seen military terms insinuate themselves into our every day speech? Terms such as tactical, strategic, mission, interdict , attrition, deploying [as in assets, resources, new technology, etc], surgical strike, and collateral damage are all commonly used in advertising, corporate documents, self help books, – well – the list goes on virtually forever.  It seems to me that his militarization of our language is fraught with potential consequences. My all time least favorite is the expression, “war on”.  I think that this attempt to describe an all out effort to effect change is among the most dangerous expressions in militarized American English.

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image courtesy of workcomma.com

Of all the sages throughout time who have written on the topic of war, perhaps the best known in our country is von Clausewitz. Among other aphorisms, he said that, “War is merely the continuation of politics by other means.” and that it is “an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.” War is not diplomacy. Diplomacy strives to achieve at least the semblance of an equitable balance of needs and interests. War, which is the failure of diplomacy,  seeks to clearly define a winner and a loser; an us and a them.

In war there is an absolute need to bolster the will to win by denigrating, demonizing,  or dehumanizing one’s opponents and their supporters. If a warring party looks upon the “enemy” as being human, of value, even empathetic, they weaken their ability to compel the fulfillment of will through violence. Only the most egregious, the most recalcitrant, those most beyond reason are deserving of violence. And that’s what has spurred my thoughts about declaring “war on” everything.

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image courtesy of fuckyeahdrugpolicy.tumbler.com

Having a war on poverty, disease, drugs, or whatever, provides us with a focus for our efforts. What worries me most is the tendency to see people in poverty, on drugs, with disease as being part of the problem rather than casualties of it. Thus, through this process of extension, they become only worthy of our contempt, not our empathy or our assistance.

I cannot imagine anyone actually aspiring  to be impoverished, addicted, or afflicted. It is inconceivable that some child would write in their ‘when I grow up I want to be’ assignment , “I want to be homeless, drug addicted, or have a disease.” Yet, when we declare ‘war on’ these social ills, we run the risk of effectively relegating their victims to this kind of rubbish heap thinking.

-Fight_Syphilis_and_Gonorrhea-_-_NARA_-_514250

image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

So what can we do? I suggest that we all try, in our daily thought and speech, to eschew these militarized terms. Let’s all make the effort to recognize these problems for what they are, social ills. And lastly, let’s all turn our minds to finding effective, social methods of addressing them. Remember, our Nation’s founders argued against the establishment of a standing army. They certainly forbade its use against our own citizens. Instead, they urged us in the preamble to the Constitution to “provide for the common good”. Rather than making war on social ills, let’s make those founders proud by applying industry, charity, and education to redressing them.

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YES BUT, WHY’S THE RESPONSIBILITY GONE?

Road's going straight ... Bike's going straight ... Time to look for beach umbrellas, right?

Road’s going straight … Bike’s going straight … Time to look for beach umbrellas, right?

This morning’s news had a story announcing that our state is amending its distracted driving laws to include specific prohibitions against using smart phone functions while driving a car. In addition to texting and talking, the new amendments now delineate prohibitions against driving while surfing the Internet and engaging in social media; among other activities.

(SARCASM ALERT!) But wait, isn’t this an infringement on our individual rights? I mean, what’s wrong with shopping for shoes or updating my social media site while whizzing along at highway speeds (or while negotiating overly congested traffic)? It’s not like I’m a dunce or anything (or my personal favorite, I’m a responsible person – it’s everyone else who’s a cretin.) Really, I’m just practicing for how I can “optimize my time” and “multi-task” once those self driving cars arrive on the scene. No need waiting to the last minute, right?

Make no mistake, we’re all for individual rights. If we weren’t, several of our peccadillos might put us at risk of censure.

But along with rights come responsibilities. After all, we live in a society. We live among other beings. We enjoy individual rights but we also share collective responsibilities. Chief among them is the obligation to not permit our rights to put others in peril. When we ignore or abrogate those responsibilities, someone needs to step in – for the common good.

This concept is so integral to the principals of our nation that the Founders enshrined it in the very first sentence which is the preamble to the Constitution.  They wrote, “We the people of the United States, in Order to … promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…”.

Articles_of_Confederation_1977_Issue-13cIs it really a caprice that promoting the general welfare precedes securing the blessings of liberty? Probably not. The country was founded because the pre revolutionary government failed to promote the general welfare.  When the Articles of Confederation were adopted by the Congress in 1777, they took a stab at redressing this but the mention of common good did not appear until Article III. It was a wartime document by a revolutionary body and, as such, mutual defense and setting aside the threat of oppression came well before things like common welfare.

Following independence from Great Britain, the Articles, which still defined us, provided no over arching authority to help shape the common good. The accent on states’ rights and local interests lead to interstate rivalries and conflicts which threatened to severely damage or even sunder our new nation.

It is probably reasonable to infer that the framers of the Constitution, fearing the possible loss of all they had fought for, recognized the clear need to provide an arbiter to calm the rising tide of discord among the increasingly fractious “firm league of friendship” created under the Articles. Hence, the positioning of the the common welfare in the preamble rather than the body of the new document.

It's tasteless but funny. Admit it, you laughed at the same joke in the first Police Academy movie!

It’s tasteless but funny. Admit it, you laughed at the same joke in the first Police Academy movie!

What saddens me is that, in a world where we want to save the whales and eat granola; where we’re “one Nation under God” with all the moral principals provided for in Scripture; where we think ourselves as being so advanced and civilized; we can’t seem to acknowledge that our individual acts may have far reaching consequences for others – even those nearest and dearest to ourselves.

I had hoped that by the time we reached the 21st century we would have evolved (and I’m speaking of socially here) to a point where we might actually be able to act upon our higher principals and delay gratification long enough to not wreak havoc on our fellow beings – without someone having to write it into a specific law.

I challenge all of us to rise to the aspirations of those who gave birth to this nation . Let each of us, in our daily lives; our personal actions, provide for the common good by acknowledging our responsibilities toward one another.

FRITTATA: A SIMPLE, ELEGANT, & ROMANTIC MEAL

Four simple ingredients. The gateway to a romantic and satisfying meal.

Four simple ingredients. The gateway to a romantic and satisfying meal.

As Valentine’s Day nears, it’s time for another romantic recipe. You may remember that last year we explored the wonder of a sweet omelet. I don’t know about you, but omelets can sometimes be a bit tricky. Not making them, but folding them so they come out looking right. That’s where the omelet’s Italian cousin come in handy.

The way I see it, a frittata is nothing more than a variation on the omelet. Or should I say an improvement on an omelet. Not only do they do away with the ‘futz factor’ when it comes to folding but  they also have kind of a multi-use function built right into them.

We have been given to understand that a slice frittata is a common lunchtime meal enjoyed by millions of Italians every year. Now, when I first thought of eating room temperature eggs, my mind rather rebelled at the idea. I mean, sweet Japanese omelet (Tamago) is one thing because it’s part of my sushi regimen but cold frittata? Let me put your mind to rest dear reader. A room temperature slice of frittata and a green salad make a wonderfully satisfying and extremely tasty meal.

You can literally put anything into a frittata. We have made ham, onion, and Swiss cheese (think Quiche Lorraine without the pastry crust) ground beef, bacon, onion, and cheddar (the infamous cheeseburger frittata), and even cheese and onion with warm red enchilada sauce over it (it’s a cross between cheese enchiladas and chiliquillas – that delightful egg dish from Mexico). Today we share with you one of our favorites. It is loosely based on an omelet from Fat Albert’s.

Permit me to digress a moment here. If you are ever in Portland, OR and are in need of the best breakfast in town; head over to the Sellwood District and treat yourself to a meal at Fat Albert’s. They have really good coffee, biscuits so light that they should come with a restraining net to keep them from floating off, some of the most creative egg dishes on the face of the planet; all served up in a friendly neighborhood atmosphere. This is not the place for you if you’re in a rush. It’s a small café with limited staff. Everything is made to order so it takes time – but time that’s worth it.

Our frittata is inspired by their ‘Kim’s Fav’ omelet. It makes four servings so, breakfast and lunch or a light romantic dinner for two. Like we said, with a green salad (and a glass of crisp white wine), you’ll have a romantic dinner (or picnic) that leaves you sated but not weighed down.

THE ‘KIM’S FAV INSPIRED FRITTATA

  • 4 eggs
  • half an avocado diced
  • about a  cup cubed ham (you can also use several rashers of medium crisply cooked bacon here)
  • about a cup of cubed sharp cheddar cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your broiler.

Using a 9 inch pan that can safely go from stove top to broiler, pre-warm it on the stove top with sufficient oil, ghee (the best because it doesn’t burn and gives a buttery flavor to the frittata), etc to help form an egg ‘crust’ that doesn’t stick to the pan. (as always, we recommend using cast iron. It cooks better and gives you a lovely ‘crust’ which you really want here.) Keep the pan temperature to the medium low side. You don’t want the eggs cooking too quickly. We cannot emphasize this enough. If the pan is too hot, the frittata will be ruined.

Take the cubed ham, cheese and avocado and toss them in a bowl until they are fairly evenly mixed. Be careful to not mash the avocado.

Just before covering. Note that the egg is already setting on the edges.

Just before covering. Note that the egg is already setting on the edges.

Lightly mix the eggs. The secret to tender scrambled eggs and perfect frittatas is to NOT overbeat the eggs. Just break the yolks and mix them until they are yellow threads throughout the whites.

Get everything to the stove side before proceeding.

Pour the eggs into the pan.

Quickly add in the cubed ingredients and give them a stir with a fork. You just want to kind of coat the cubes with egg. This is important to getting a good texture to your frittata.

Cover the pan with a lid and let it cook about 3 – 5 minutes on medium low. The edges should look like soft scrambled eggs and the center should still appear a bit liquid.

Remove from the stove top and pop it under the broiler. Check it frequently (burnt eggs are a horror!)

The broiler is going to firm up the top of the frittata and give you a lovely browned all around ‘crust’.

Be careful to not overdo the cooking time on frittatas. They don’t need to be cooked until it looks’dry’. All the cubes of cheese and avocado become very hot and cook the surrounding egg to done but not dry.

Remove the frittata pan from the oven and let it sit on a hot pad or cooling rack for a couple minutes before cutting. This allows the egg to finish firming up. Again, the virtue of cast iron cookware. Cast iron gets so hot that it continues to cook even after being removed from the heat.

Browned and ready to cut. This was made in a 9" skillet and will serve four very nicely.

Browned and ready to cut. This was made in a 9″ skillet and will serve four very nicely.

Take a pie server and gently tease the edges of the frittata away from the pan sides. This will ensure a cleaner and prettier edge. Cut the frittata into quarters, garnish with chopped fresh parsley, and serve.

Frittatas are very rich food. A relatively small slice goes a very long way. Consider serving with fresh fruit or crusty buttered toast at breakfast time.

This is a very simple yet romantic and elegant dish to serve and enjoy. Happy Valentine’s Day and remember to experiment with different fillings for your frittatas. Maybe a Joe’s Special with spinach,  onion, mushrooms, ground beef or sweet Italian sausage, and cheese? Or…..

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

New Year's Resolutions: or The Origin Of Multitasking - A Guide to Across The Board Failure

New Year’s Resolutions: or The Origin Of Multitasking – A Guide to Across The Board Failure – image courtesy of rack.3.mshcdn.com

As we wind down to the end of the winter holiday season we find ourselves thinking about the tradition of New Year’s Resolutions.  You know, that time wherein we repave the road to Hell with a new layer of good intentions; many of which are liable to fall by the wayside in fairly short order.

Most of us compose lists of reforms and aspirations that are exhaustive to say the least. We cast an eye back on the preceding 11 months and tend to define our next year’s efforts based on the past year’s shortcomings. We resolve to diet, get more rest, avoid junk food (I recently saw a posting that asked, “If it’s truly junk food, why don’t they make it taste like junk?” – good question – that could be a real boon to dieting), get more exercise, etc., etc., etc..  Shortly after we make these solemn declarations, we all too often find ourselves straying from them (i.e. abandoning them) because of some situation, temptation, justification, etc., etc., etc. (is it just me or am I in close touch with my inner King of Siam s portrayed by Yul Brynner?)

This topic came up at our recent open house. (DIGRESSION ALERT!) We invited our friends and neighbors in for a bit of light refreshment and conversation. These kinds of things are always a bit nerve wracking for us because, as in all else in our lives, we have a fairly diverse and eclectic group of associates. One always wonders, “Will ‘A’ get along with ‘B’?” or, “Will ‘C’, who is very shy, come out of obligation but feel left out of the festivities?”

What it really looks like for most of us. - image courtesy of getfitblackgirl.files.wordpress.com

What it really looks like for most of us. – image courtesy of getfitblackgirl.files.wordpress.com

Anyway, despite our fears of generating a social faux pas of epic proportion, the event came off quite nicely. People seemed to enjoy meeting each other, exchanging ideas, and so forth. Somewhere along the course of the evening one of our neighbors, a woman of considerable life experience and wisdom gave us something to think about. As I said above, before becoming self distracted, the topic of New Year’s resolutions came up.

When asked if she had her list drawn up, she calmly replied, “Oh, I don’t do that anymore.” It was almost like an old E. F. Hutton commercial. Conversation ceased. Everyone cocked an ear toward her at the pronouncement of such a cultural heresy.  Unfazed by the sudden silence, she announced, “I don’t make a list anymore. I just choose one thing.”

Now, this is the point where most people went back into party mode and resumed their conversations or started new ones. I think they did that because she and her husband were the people most advanced in years of all the attendees. Perhaps there was the assumption that:

  1. People of advanced years have their act mostly together, OR
  2. People of advanced years don’t have time for long lists of reforms, OR
  3. People of advanced years don’t give a squat. They’re set in their ways.

Any way you slice it, the people who ceased listening at that moment missed one of life’s true pearls of wisdom. She went on to explain to a few of us that she doesn’t make a “list”. Instead she makes a single resolution and then spends a year focusing on it. In doing so, I should imagine she builds a solid habit from the reform and thoroughly integrates it into her life.

Imagine how much we could improve and reform our lives if we spent a whole year, single mindedly pursuing such a course. It takes 6 months to form a habit. So what would happen to our exercise regimens, our diets, our self improvement schemes if we took them in turn, devoting an entire 12 months to them?

A New Hope (for real personal success and reform) - image courtesy of optimistnet.com

A New Hope (for real personal success and reform) – image courtesy of optimistnet.com

And how much more successful would we feel about ourselves if we actually succeeded at our “short list” agenda rather than looking back next December, and seeing the litter and wreckage of this December’s list?

We don’t know about you, but our list just got pared down to a single thing. Which is good because, not only does it help ensure success in the coming year, but it gives us more time to pop another cork on a bottle of bubbly.

We thank each and every one of you who have read our rambling thoughts this year. Here’s wishing you a truly prosperous and successful 2015.

ODE ON A STINKY CHEESE

At this time of year, our daylight time have shrunken to around seven hours long. Here among the tall trees, that is a bit shorter. Rain is battering against the windows, driven by southwestern winds. At times it’s so intense that one can barely see a few yards.  Mercifully, because the storm is moving in from the southwest we are riding what is popularly known as the Pineapple Express. Temperatures are hovering around 55° outside which means that we’re getting our precipitation in a liquid form and we haven’t needed a fire in two days. (It’s a really well sealed house which holds the heat from daily activities very well.)

So, why this weather report from the wilds of western Washington? Simple; the onset of winter weather heralds the beginning of soup and stew season. Warm liquid goodness filled with yummy bites of vegetable and meat just make the season better.

Creamy, warm goodness and easy to make

Creamy, warm goodness and easy to make

One of our favorite soups is very quick to make but tastes as if it took hours. It hails from the Williams Sonoma ‘Lifestyles’ collection; a wonderful creamy mushroom and chicken soup.  (Whether you’re an experienced chef or a novice cook, this series offers some truly wonderful recipes.  If you can find these thin volumes – buy them. You will not regret it.)

Now, those of you who know us well will recall that for Jim, a recipe is more a guideline or suggestion. Such is the case here as well. He set out to make the soup for lunch today (I told you it was quick!) and had what our British cousins refer to as a brain wave. Usually, the soup is made with heavy cream but, in prowling the fridge, he came across an aged bit of cambozola cheese. This is a creamy, soft cheese that has been described as being like a cross between brie and gorgonzola. Like brie, cambozola ages as it sits. This block was well enough advanced that it held few prospects of being smeared on crackers or crostini.

Cambozola. Hey, it's blue cheese. It's great! image courtesy of pennmac.com

Cambozola. Hey, it’s blue cheese. It’s great! image courtesy of pennmac.com

Remembering that our British cousins make a lovely dish called Stilton and Mushrooms, he thought, “Why not cambizola and mushroom soup?”

I suspect that most cheese soups were derived from the discovery of a stinky bit of leftover cheese combined with a thriftiness that militated against throwing it out. Hence, beer and cheddar, etc, etc, etc. Anyway, here’s the recipe for today’s luncheon soup.

CAMBOZOLA AND MUSHROOM SOUP

  • 1 pound crimini mushrooms or similar brown or “wild” mushrooms. Consider porcini, morel, or shitaki. Also, dried mushrooms that you have rehydrated in hot water work very well. Add the water to the soup in place of part of the broth. It’s fabulous.
  • 1 small shallot
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 quart chicken stock or broth
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • ½ cup Port, Maderia, Sherry, or Sweet Vermouth (we used the latter)
  • about 4 ounces of cambozola cheese
  • a bit of butter for sautéing the shallot and garlic
  • a bit of olive oil for browning the mushrooms
  • the diced meat from one leg and thigh of the infamous Costco rotisserie chicken, or equivalent
  • the equally infamous Trader Joe’s Everyday Seasoning to taste (optional but I can’t understand why you’d leave it out – it’s wonderful for brightening the taste of almost anything!)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped flat leaf Italian parsley

Finely mince the shallot and garlic. Sauté in the butter with a bit of salt, pepper, and every day seasoning. As the shallots become translucent, add the stock soy sauce and wine. Increase the temperature and watch the pot for when the soup is just about to boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and carefully drop in chunks of the soft, ripe cheese.

If you have a stick mixer, use it now. Blend the mixture until it is smooth and creamy. If you don’t have a stick mixer, carefully transfer the soup to a blender and, working in batches so it doesn’t erupt all over you and the kitchen, blend the soup until smooth.

Add in the chicken which you have chopped. Let the chicken heat through and ladle the soup into bowls. Garnish with chopped Italian parsley.

That’s it. The whole process takes about 30 minutes and it tastes amazingly wonderful and comforting. Serve it with a crusty bread or a simple salad (or both if you’re so inclined) An added benefit is that this, like all soups and stews, is a great way to use up leftovers and reduce your overall food bill.

NOTE: If you prefer a thicker soup, you should make a roux by melting a couple of tablespoons of butter in a pan over low heat and slowly stirring in slightly less than an equal amount of flour. Your butter/flour mixture should be the consistency of thick jam. Be careful to not let this brown or burn. You’re thickening here, not making gumbo that cries out for a toasted roux.

When your roux is done, remove it from the heat and proceed as above. After you have blended the soup smooth, add in the roux. Since the gluten is already dissolved in the butter, it won’t make the broth lumpy.

Well, that’s it for now. Gotta run and start marinating the fish for tonight’s dinner, Brazilian Fish Stew. Believe me, even if you hate fish, you’d love this rich tropical stew. If there’s enough interest in that recipe, I’ll post it later. Feel free to vote in the comments section. Cheers mates!

IMPRESS YOUR FAMILY & GUESTS

The holidays are upon us and, if you’re like we are, you want to show the people around you that they are special. Here are two very easy recipes with high WOW! factors that can be done with minimal effort.

 

Home style cottage cheese. Quick and so simple to make. The taste is unbelievable!

Home style cottage cheese. Quick and so simple to make. The taste is unbelievable!

Quick Home Style Cottage Cheese

Ingredients (makes about 2 pints)
  • 1 gallon pasteurized skim milk (we made ours with whole milk and it worked just fine)
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup half-and half-or heavy cream

Directions

Pour the skim milk into a large saucepan and place over medium heat. Heat to 120 degrees F. Remove from the heat and gently pour in the vinegar. Stir slowly for 1 to 2 minutes. The curd will separate from the whey. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Pour the mixture into a colander lined with a tea towel and allow to sit and drain for 5 minutes. Gather up the edges of the cloth and rinse under cold water for 3 to 5 minutes or until the curd is completely cooled, squeezing and moving the mixture the whole time. Once cooled, squeeze as dry as possible and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the salt and stir to combine, breaking up the curd into bite-size pieces as you go. If ready to serve immediately, stir in the half-and-half or heavy cream. If not, transfer to a sealable container and place in the refrigerator. Add the half and half or heavy cream just prior to serving.

Our brother-in-law, who grew up on a farm in Indiana, says that this tastes just like the cottage cheese his grandmother made. We don’t know about that but it is the best cottage cheese we’ve ever tasted; mostly because it actually tastes like cheese!

This second offering comes from a New York Times article we found a couple of years ago.

Soul Food ChutneyRecipe

adapted from Art Smith’s Back to the Table. Smith is executive chef and co-owner of Art and Soul restaurant in Washington, D.C.

This has become a family favorite. People actually argue over who gets to slick up the bowl!

This has become a family favorite. People actually argue over who gets to slick up the bowl!

Ingredients Makes about 3 1/2 cups
  • 1 large navel orange
  • 1 bag (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 2 Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (this year we substituted about 1/2 cup of dried tart cherries. It works well!)
  • 1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 stick (3 inches) cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted* (sometimes these go into our chutney, other times not)

Directions

Grate the zest from the orange and squeeze the juice.

Bring the cranberries, pears, orange juice and zest, ginger, sugar and cinnamon to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, until almost all of the cranberries have popped and the juices are syrupy, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a container and cool completely. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight to marry the flavors. Remove the cinnamon stick. (The chutney can be prepared up to 1 week ahead.)

Just before serving, stir in half of the almonds, and garnish with the rest. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

*To toast nuts, spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Cool completely before using.

Well, we’d love to hang around and chat a bit more but, there’s a lot to do before Thursday! Enjoy your holiday with family and friends. Happy Thanksgiving!

PARDON: MY MANNERS?

image courtesy of tcdn.teacherspayteacher.com

image courtesy of tcdn.teacherspayteacher.com

Thank you.

You’re welcome.

Pretty easy, right?

At one time or another we were all taught that the proper response to ‘Thank you’ is ‘You’re welcome’.  It’s one of those basic  tenets of our society; like washing your hands – which is another rant but let’s save that for another day.

So why is it that we’ve lost (abandoned?) this simple convention? If you listen to any interview, from any source, you inevitably hear the interviewer say. “Thank you (fill in the name, position, etc., etc. HERE).

To which the interviewee replies, “Thank you (fill in the name of the interviewer, etc., etc., HERE).

When this happens – and it almost always does – my poor brain gets trapped in a waking nightmare of an ever escalating spiral of ‘over gratitude’.

I have been told that, in some cultures, there is a conscious effort to gain ascendancy over another person through lavishing every more elaborate gifts upon each other. Finally, the party which does not go bankrupt achieves the undying servitude of the ruined party (or some such nonsense. I love hyperbole because it helps me be lazy and still make my point.)

We’ve all seen the same thing happen with the payment of compliments. “I love your hair.”

Is met with, “Really? It’s not as long and silky (not silken -as it should be- but silky, kind of like mouthwash is ‘minty’ rather than  mint flavored, etc., etc., etc.) as yours is. I love your silky hair.”

This then prompts the next oneupsmanship salvo, “Silky? Really? I think it’s too limp. I wish I had your hair’s body.”

Well, enough of that but, you get my point. No one can let it rest. We HAVE to keep escalating. It’s as if we are driven to prove that we’re humbler, kinder, more grateful, more complimentary than anyone else.

Helpful hint here folks: It’s not a competition. There are times when we’re going to be on top and times when the other person is going to be there instead of us.

Unfortunately, because this habit has become so pervasive in our culture, I find myself slipping into it. When I do, I almost fall down kicking myself in the backside. I’ve even been known to backtrack and apologize to the other person before responding again with the appropriate rejoinder.

Perhaps that’s the attraction of Steampunk for us. It hearkens to a time when it was fashionable to exhibit more genteel manners. When paid a compliment, the recipient merely replied, “Thank you.”

In cases where a soupçon more gratitude is required the respondent may add, “You are too kind.” or some other such enhancer. But that’s the limit. Once the compliment is paid and acknowledged, the conversation moves on (or ends, as the case may be).

But in today’s ever more competitive world we can’t seem to do that. However, if and we realize this is a fantasy, but if you wanted to break the oneupsmanship of gratitude cycle, how might you respond?

We’d love to hear an exchange where the interviewer says something like:

“Well John, that’s all we have time for today. Thank you so much for coming on our show and discussing your new book, All About Conversation.”

And John replies:

“You’re welcome Melissa. It’s been a pleasure to speak with you.”

And that’s it. Nothing more is said between them. Melissa may go on to explain that John’s book is available at bookstores, published by so-and-so press, available in ebook form, or whatever else but the conversation with John is at an end. And a gracious end at that.

As a parting shot, I want to make it clear that this is not a new problem. It stretches back for quite some time. If you don’t believe me, watch the clip below. It’s from the 1937 Marx Brothers film A Day at the Races. (The true insanity begins about 57 seconds into the clip.)

Actually, it doesn’t matter if you believe me or not. Watch it anyway. You probably need the laugh.

Thank you for reading this.