Monday, September 30, 2013

Do You Get the Flu Vaccination?

Flu season is approaching, and each year we're urged to get vaccinated.

We're told that each year somewhere around 36,000 people in America die from the flu.

I get my vaccination each year. It seems to make sense. And it's been years since I've had flu.

However, I know many people are “afraid” to take it for various reasons.

How about you? Do you get the vaccination? Why or why not? Is there a big push where you live to get vaccinated?

Here are a few facts:

The flu shot is continually updated, because influenza is a rare type of virus that is constantly changing. There are three types of the flu — Influenza A, B and C — each one with its own viral strain that replicates and changes independently from the other types. 

Seasonal strains of human influenza change constantly, which is why people can catch the flu multiple times.

But there many other subtypes of influenza to which humans are immune. They reside mostly in birds, although every once in a while a strain will suddenly develop the ability to infect people. "A virus like that gives people no time to develop protection or immunity, so almost everyone is susceptible," says Dr. Carolyn Bridges, an influenza expert at the CDC. "When that happens, we have a pandemic."

The following is from Time magazine:

“Influenza is a disease of modernity: the faster people travel around the world, the easier it is for the virus to spread. There was no evidence of influenza among Native Americans until after Europeans visited North America. Pandemic outbreaks occur about once every hundred years, although it's hard track outbreaks that occurred before the 18th century due to incomplete medical records.

“The disease hits big cities first — because that's where people generally travel — and then spreads to surrounding areas. The last major pandemic occurred in 1918 when an Influenza A strain jumped from birds to humans and killed an estimated 20-40 million people (3% of the world's population). 

The pandemic struck during World War I and warring nations worried that the enemy might use the virus to its advantage, so most news reports of the outbreak were censored. Spain remained neutral during the war, and its accounts of the virus's horrific symptoms caused the illness to be nicknamed the "Spanish flu," even though scientists now believe it originated in the United States.

"This wasn't like normal flu," says Frank Snowden, Yale University's chair of the history of science and medicine department. "Physicians were horrified by what they saw. People's lungs filled with this terrible frothy fluid. They were literally choking to death. It was ghastly." Symptoms appeared so suddenly that victims sometimes died within just one day. The flu hit World War I soldiers especially hard; some historians believe more soldiers died from the flu than from the war.

The influenza virus was discovered in the early 1930s, and scientists developed a working vaccine by the 1940s, when it was first used on soldiers during World War II. 

In 1976, an errant outbreak of swine flu at Fort Dix, New Jersey, caused scientists to worry about a possible pandemic, so President Gerald Ford announced that the federal government would vaccinate the entire U.S. population. Unfortunately, several hundred people developed Guillain-BarrĂ© syndrome, an illness characterized by nerve damage and paralysis, after receiving the vaccination. The Ford family tried to alleviate fears by televising their flu shots, and in the end 40 million Americans were vaccinated for a strand of influenza that only had a handful of documented cases of human infection. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Downton Abbey: Countdown to Season Four

Hey, all you Downton Abbey fans in the U.S.  Season 4 premiers January 5, 2014. Our friends in the UK are lucky enough to be viewing it already.

A trailer has been released for the fourth series and it shows Mary deep in mourning following the death of her husband Matthew Crawley.

You can go to PBS for other information related to the upcoming season. There you'll find a Countdown Clock, if you happen to be counting off the days until the first installment arrives.

Highclere Castle, the setting for Downton Abbey

If you're like me and really like movies and books set during this period (pre-WWI and post-WWI), then I highly recommend to you the book I'm now reading. It's called The House at Riverton by Australian author Kate Morton. It is her debut novel and set in England between the wars. 

If you're a huge Downton Abbey fan you'll adore this book! An aristocratic family, a house, a mysterious death and a way of life that vanished forever -- what's not to like. It's told in flashback by a woman who witnessed it all and kept a secret for decades.

Will you be watching Downton Abbey, Season Four in January? If you're lucky enough to be watching it already, what do you think (although don't tell us what happens, please!).

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Wiliam Faulkner

William Cuthbert Faulkner (1897– 962) was an American writer and Nobel Prize laureate from Oxford, Mississippi. He is known for his novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays and screenplays.

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He is mostly known and acclaimed for his novels and short stories, many of which are set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, based on the county where he spent most of his life.

The thing about Faulkner’s writing is that you either love it or hate it.

Sometimes he’s difficult to read because of his frequent use of “stream of consciousness,” considered at the time an experimental style. This was in contrast to the minimalist understatement of his contemporary Ernest Hemingway. 

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Faulkner often wrote highly emotional, subtle, cerebral, complex, and sometimes Gothic or grotesque stories with a wide variety of characters including former slaves or descendants of slaves, poor white, agrarian, or working-class Southerners, and Southern aristocrats.

From the early 1920s to the outbreak of World War II, Faulkner published 13 novels and numerous short stories. This body of work formed the basis of his reputation and led to him being awarded the Nobel Prize at age 52. 

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His prodigious output, mainly driven by an obscure writer's need for money, includes his most celebrated novels such as The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), and Absalom, Absalom! (1936). He also was a prolific writer of short stories.

Sartoris genealogy
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Back when I was in college and taking a class in Southern Literature, I had a professor who was somewhat of a Faulkner scholar. He provided this list of the order in which to read Faulkner’s saga of the Sartoris family, and I have kept the list all these years:
  • The Unvanquished
  • Sartoris
  • There Was a Queen
  • Light in August
  • The Hamlet
  • As I Lay Dying
  • The Sound and the Fury
  • Absolum, Absolum

Sartoris is the first of Faulkner’s tales set in Yoknapatawpha County, and introduces many of the characters that appear in his later fiction. The Unanquished takes place before that story, and is set during the American Civil War.

Here’s a quote from Faulkner I like:

“The South's the place for a novelist to grow up because the folks there talk so much about the past. Why, when I was a little boy, there'd be sometimes 20 or 30 people in the house, mostly relatives, aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins, some maybe coming for overnight and staying on for months, swapping stories about the family and about the past, while I sat in a corner and listened. That's where I got my books."

Faulkner as a young man
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What I find sad these days is that stories from a family’s past are no longer told to the younger generation, or at least it seems that way to me.

I believe it's important to instill in children the stories of their past. Do you agree? Did your family sit around and talk about the past times? Do you do that with your children/grandchildren?

I think it's time I got back to reading Faulkner. If you've never read his work, I think the short stories are a good place to start. I especially like A Rose for Emily. You might try that short story before tackling the Sartoris saga.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Got Bread?

A story today on National Public Radio today about bread got me to thinking about a post I’ve wanted to do for some time now -- about bread.

This campaign slogan is plastered on billboards and inscribed on bread bags in 130 cities around France. Rough translation: "Hi there, did ya pick up the bread?"

It seems that the French bakers’ lobby has launched a campaign urging French people to eat more bread. Imagine that! A country known for its baguettes, croissants and other scrumptious bread products – and the French people just aren’t eating it any more – at least in the amounts they once did. Read the story here.

What has caused this decline in bread consumption? According to the NPR report, many French people don’t eat a sit-down lunch any more; people, especially the young and those who live in cities, eat sandwiches or skip lunch and snack.

Imagine that! Having access to all that wonderful bread and choosing not to eat it!

I have gone through periods, especially after travels to other countries, and even other cities in the U.S., when I’ve longed to replicate the breads found there. The crunchy exterior of baguettes:

heavenly croissants:


and pain au chocolate. 
Ah, heavenly tastes!

I’ve delved into breadmaking myself at times, with mixed results. Now I just try and seek out artisan loaves becoming more common now in shops near where I live. But they are few and far between.


Publix supermarkets do a pretty good job of producing French baguettes and the long skinny French loaves. The Atlanta Bread Company also has good breads, and I like to eat there when I'm in town and bring home some of their delightful pastries.

A loaf from Publix. This is a very good bread.

Pastry counter at Atlanta Bread Company; bread in the cases in the background.

I love good bread and could almost exist on it and nothing else!

Here are a few fun bread facts I found (Credit)

  • Wonder Bread was first sold (in the U.S.) in 1921, and later became one of the first to be sold pre-sliced, being marketed  nationwide in 1930. This led to the popular phrase "the greatest thing since sliced bread", upholding a paragon of American innovation. (Just a personal opinion of mine, but pre-sliced white bread packaged in cellophane represents all that's wrong with bread in this country.)
  • Bread is probably the one food eaten by people of every race, culture and religion.
  • It takes 9 seconds to harvest enough wheat to make about 70 loaves of bread.
  • The "pocket" in pita bread is made by steam. The steam puffs up the dough and, as the bread cools and flattens, a pocket is left in the middle.
  • Each American consumes, on average, 53 pounds of bread per year.
  • An average slice of packaged bread contains only 1 gram of fat and 75 to 80 calories.
  • A family of four could live 10 years off the bread produced by one acre of wheat.
  • One bushel of wheat will produce 73 one‐pound loaves of bread.
  • Breaking bread is a universal sign of peace.
  • In 1997, Kansas wheat farmers produced enough wheat to make 36.5 billion loaves of bread, or enough to provide each person on earth with 6 loaves of bread.
  • Farmers receive approximately 5 cents (or less) from each loaf of bread sold.
  • Napoleon gave a common bread its name when he demanded a loaf of dark rye bread for his horse during the Prussian campaign. "Pain pour Nicole," he ordered, which meant "Bread for Nicole," his horse. To Germanic ears, the request sounded like "pumpernickel," which is the term we still use today.
  • Bread is inexpensive, relatively speaking. At an average cost of about $2 a loaf, bread is a strong nutrition value for the dollar.
  • Folklore: Hushpuppies are pieces of fried cornmeal batter which are a great southern tradition. Years ago, pieces of the fried batter were fed to hungry dogs that begged for food. After the scraps were given to the dogs, the owner would say "Now hush, puppy."
  • Fortune cookies are not a Chinese invention. They were invented in 1916 by George Jung, a Los Angeles noodle maker.
  • The sandwich is named for the Fourth Earl of Sandwich (1718‐92), for whom sandwiches were made so that he could stay at the gambling table without interruptions for meals.
  • 3,000,000 - the number of cases of pellagra, a nutrient deficiency disease, recorded before the enrichment of grain foods in the 1940s. Today, cases are nearly nonexistent in the United States.
  • 1,500 - the number of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches the average American student will have consumed upon graduation from high school. (Source: Great Food Almanac)
  • 925.5 Million - the pounds of snack crackers sold in 1997. (Source: Snack Food Association)
  • 193 - the number of sandwiches the average American eats a year, with ham sandwiches as the all‐time favorite. (Source: NPD Group)
  • 53 - the number of pounds of bread the average American consumes.
  • 45 - the percentage of Americans who mistakenly believe that bread is fattening. (Source: Gallup)
  • 0 - the number of studies published by Robert Atkins, M.D., (Atkins' New Diet Revolution); Michael Eades, M.D. and Mary Eades, M.D. (Protein Power); Barry Sears, Ph.D. (The Zone) or Richard Heller, Ph.D. and Rachael Heller, Ph.D. (The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet) that shows high‐protein, low‐carbohydrate diets are safe and effective.
Do you eat lots of bread or bread products? Which are your favorites?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Billy Reid: Fashion Designer

Billy Reid is an American fashion designer known for his classic styles in high quality fabrics featuring unusual accents - "low-fi Southern-bred luxury," according to Reid's website.

His line is primarily men’s clothing with a spattering of women’s clothing as well. Many androgynous leather bags are available, which is naturally what caught my eye when I visited the store.

(Forgot to check the price on this one!)


The company headquarters and flagship store is in downtown Florence, Alabama, in a turn of the 20th century bookstore. The shop is downstairs and upstairs is his design studio. 

Reid has grown from the initial flagship store in Alabama, and showroom in Manhattan, to ten storefronts including shops on Bond Street in New York City, Dallas, Nashville, Charlotte, Charleston, Houston and Atlanta.

Fall 2013

Spring 2014

Fall 2013

Nice men's leather loafers

 K-Swiss/Billy Reid sneakers
Around $80

Men's Shirts

Men's distressed leather jacket

Ladies coat, dress and top

Ladies Car Coat $895

Ties galore

Men's Jackets

Decorated T
How Southern is this?

His style has been defined as "classic American style with a Southern flair; classic but with a modern aesthetic." His line is known for its excellent tailoring and a philosophy of sustaining traditional crafts such as leather-working  both in the United States and in Italy.

A touch of Southern charm extends beyond the clothing, as stores are notable for their atmosphere of faded elegance, including Persian rugs covering dark hardwood floors, worn velvet antique chairs, artwork and animal trophies, antique chandeliers, framed family photographs and antique apothecary cabinets.

You walk into the flagship store and it feels as if you are stepping into his home.

Reid's clothes are sold in many Bloomingdales and Nordstrom stores across the US. 

What a unique idea for dressing rooms:

Old distressed doors

Walls decorated with old photographs

Reid worked in the design industry for many years, launching his label, Billy Reid, in 2004. He has won many awards, including GQ’s “Best New Menswear Designer in America, ” CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize, and CFDA’s “Menswear Designer of the Year” award.

He has collaborated with Coach, J. Crew, Gap and possibly other companies for certain items.

Billy Reid
Google image
Locally, Reid is known as a “bon vivant,” reflected in his love of good music, good food, and conversation. He has supported and promoted local talent – from bands to chefs to craftsmen to artists to photographers.

From some of the chatter I overheard in the store, Reid is a favorite stop for musicians and bands from Nashville and other places. I heard it said that Mumford & Sons, an English folk rock band, had shopped in the store the day I was there.

Read more about Billy Reid and view his collections here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Muscle Shoals: The Movie

On September 27, the movie Muscle Shoals will open in theaters. It is a documentary film that tells the story of a tiny town in North Alabama that was the breeding ground for some of America’s most creative and defiant music.

Be sure to go to the above site for more information about the documentary

Sundance movie trailer

A group of unassuming, yet incredibly talented, locals came together and spawned some of the greatest music of all time: “Mustang Sally,” “I Never Loved a Man,” “Wild Horses,” and many more. During the most incendiary periods of racial hostility, white and black folks came together to create music that would last for generations and gave birth to the incomparable “Muscle Shoals sound.”

For more than a decade, beginning in the late 1960s,  the area – a seemingly unlikely breeding ground --  reigned as the “Hit Recording Capital of the World.” More hits per capita were produced here than any other music center, and there were scores of gold records from dozens of artists.

The critically acclaimed movie documentary captivated audiences at the Sundance Film Festival in January. It is an inspiring story told through interviews, archival film footage, still photos and music clips featuring the creative forces and eccentric talents who recorded some of the most enduring and influential music of all time

At its heart is Rick Hall who founded FAME Studios. Overcoming crushing poverty and staggering tragedies, Hall brought black and white together in Alabama's cauldron of racial hostility to create music for the generations. He is responsible for creating the "Muscle Shoals sound" and The Swampers, the house band at FAME that eventually left to start their own successful studio, known as Muscle Shoals Sound.

As the word spread about the electrifying musical chemistry in this unexpected place, the likes of Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Staples Singers, the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Simon and Garfunkel magnetically followed suit. Interviewing an incredible roster of musicians, director Greg Camalier unearths a rich history of this unheralded gold mine of American music.

Greg Allman, Bono, Clarence Carter, Mick Jagger, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge and others bear witness to Muscle Shoals' magnetism, mystery and why it remains influential today.  

Rolling Stone editor David Fricke described the song "I'll Take You There" by the Staple Singers as the "epitome of the Muscle Shoals Sound."

 "I'll Take You There" was a number-one single by the soul/gospel family band The Staple Singers, released in February 1972. The song spent a total of fifteen weeks on the charts and reached number one on the Hot 100.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

“No Problem” is a Problem

I had to smile this morning when the CBS Sunday Morning aired a piece entitled, “No Problem”: Yes, It’s a Big Program."

Reporter Bill Flannagan stated my sentiments when he said he’s sick and tired of the reply “no problem” when a “thank you” is the appropriate reply.

If you work in a shop and a customer thanks you for selling him something, don't say, "No problem." He's paying for the item! I think the appropriate response here would be, "No, thank YOU!"

He made a distinction, saying it’s an OK reply to “thank you” if it means “there’s no need to feel indebted.”

But I part ways with him on the exception: I don’t think the reply “no problem” is appropriate here either. Why not just “you’re welcome”?

It’s a very cute story and you can read the entire transcript here or view the video.

".... if you work in a doughnut shop and a customer thanks you for selling him a coffee, don't say, "No problem." He's paying for the coffee!
Just say, "You're welcome -- Bill Flanagan
Credit: (Sturti/Getty Images) via CBS

Friday, September 13, 2013

Conspiracy Theory: The Moon Landings Were Fake

More than forty years after men first landed on the Moon (July 1969), polling indicates that 6 percent of Americans believe the landings were faked – that they couldn’t have happened.

Neil Armstrong standing on the Moon July 1969 (Apollo 11 mission)
Credit: NASA
These nonbelievers study photographs from the moon missions and see studio fakery. They see a photo of the American flag waving in the vacuum of space and claim fraud. They note the risks of traveling through radiation belts and contend astronauts couldn’t have survived.

If they are correct, it’s all a large conspiracy that would have involved more than 400,000 people who worked on the Apollo project for nearly ten years -- astronauts, scientists, engineers, technicians, and skilled laborers. Can that many people keep a secret? 

Launch of Apollo 11
July 16, 1969
Credit: NASA
It probably would have been much easier to land on the Moon than to generate such a huge conspiracy to fake the landings!

To date, nobody from the United States government or NASA who would have had a link to the Apollo program has said the Moon landings were hoaxes.

And yet they walk among us, the doubters.

So why is it that so many people believe this, and other conspiracy theories? They can't all be paranoid schizophrenics. New studies are providing some eye-opening insights and potential explanations.

If you, like me, are interested in knowing why people get on the bandwagon for any conspiracy theory that comes along, you’ll want to read this Scientific American article that offers some insight.

And for a full discussion on the Moon landing conspiracy theories, and the counter-argument that proves each theory wrong, read this Wikipedia article.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of posts about some of the more well known conspiracy theories that continue to circulate among us!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Conspiracy Theory: Paul McCartney Is Dead

Conspiracy-minded Beatlemaniacs say Paul McCartney secretly died in 1966 and the other Beatles covered up his death – hiring someone who looked like him, sang like him and had the same personality.
Paul then
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Paul Now
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The story goes that on Wednesday 9 November 1966, McCartney stormed out of a session for the Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, got in to his Austin Healey car, and subsequently crashed and died.

In fact, the crash never happened. Between 6 and 19 November 1966, McCartney and his girlfriend Jane Asher were on vacation in France and Kenya.

However, a couple of relevant incidents did take place. On 26 December 1965 McCartney crashed his moped, resulting in a chipped tooth (seen in the videos for Paperback Writer and Rain) and a scar on his top lip, which he hid by growing a moustache.

Additionally, on 7 January 1967 McCartney's Mini Cooper was involved in an accident on the M1 motorway outside London, but the car was being driven by a friend; McCartney was at a party in Sussex.

The origins of the myth
The first known print reference to McCartney’s death was an article in a September 1969 edition of the Times-Delphic, the newspaper of the Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. The author later claimed that he wasn't the original source for any of the information in his article. He claimed he was writing for entertainment purposes only, got the information from a fellow student, who in turn said he got the story from a musician who had heard it on the Californian west coast.

The rumors gained momentum on 12 October 1969, after an on-air phone call to radio WKNR-FM in Michigan. The caller, identified only as 'Tom', claimed that McCartney was dead, and instructed the DJ to play Revolution 9 backwards, where the repeated "number nine" phrase was heard as "turn me on, dead man."

Listening to the show was an arts reviewer for the student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. He used clues from the radio program along with others he had invented himself - including the name of William Campbell, the alleged replacement for McCartney, to write a story.

It was published in the Michigan Daily under the title McCartney Dead; New Evidence Brought To Light. Although clearly intended as a joke, it had an impact far wider than the writer and his editor expected. The writer admitted later he made the whole thing up.

Shortly afterwards, a one-hour special called The Beatle Plot, fueled the rumor; and it was well on its way to become a national, then international, story, inspiring fans to pore over their albums for further clues. "Clues" that confirmed Paul was dead were on the Abbey Road album cover photograph.Further reading 

Abbey Road cover
Google image

A British version of the rumor is believed to have existed prior to the American one, with fewer details. The sources are unknown, but the notion of McCartney dying in a road accident appears to have originated there.

Life Magazine cover
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Rumors started to decline after Life magazine’s cover in November 1969, which pictured Paul, Linda and their children.

In a Public Policy Polling Report in April, it was found that five percent of those polled (in this case, U.S. voters) believe that Paul McCartney actually died in 1966.

So there we have it: another conspiracy story. Or could it be called an Urban Legend, Hoax or Misinformation? Take your pick. But an interesting story, nevertheless!

The next and final post of this series: The Moon Landings were Faked.

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