Steinbach Smoking Men From Germany

For me, the Christmas Season begins with the re-emergence of my Steinbach Smoking Men. Out comes “The Real Bavarian,” “The Mushroom Man,” “The Bunny Rancher,” and all the rest. Each adorable folk character is an incense burner. Some are also music boxes playing German folk tunes. img_0225Their bodies come apart in the middle where you place a cone of incense, light it, put them back together, and then watch the smoke spiral up out of their open mouths.img_0243

For thousands of years the burning of incense has been used in religious rituals. The rising smoke is symbolic of offerings and prayers rising up to Heaven. At Christmas time we are reminded of the “three wise men” or Magi, img_0242who brought precious gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh from the Far East. Frankincense and myrrh are both aromatic resins used to make incense and perfumes. They were costly exotic commodities that flowed along trade routes for centuries out of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

But for as many years, incense has been an important part of pagan rituals. It was burned in sacrifices, and used to purify the home and drive out evil spirits, as well as to draw in good luck and good fortune. Long before Christmas, ancient Peoples celebrated the Winter Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year. rlm4wq96h_0-chuttersnap

Because the Solstice marks the meteorological turning point of that trend, numerous rituals of fire and light became associated with what must have seemed a magical time of the year to ancient agrarian cultures. As most of us know, these pagan rituals eventually merged with many Christian Christmas traditions.candle-light

Christian and Germanic customs together with superstition made people believe that the evil spirits of the “Raunaechte” (longest nights of the year) could be driven away by noise and light. Once the devils and evil spirits had left the house fine incense was burnt to bless hearth and home. Written in chalk over the front door would be the letters C+M+B believed to be a magic spell that would keep evil away throughout the coming year. The letters stood for: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, traditionally the three names given to the Magi.

As medieval piety grew in Germany in the 1600’s, folk artists created new forms to burn incense that were religiously acceptable. In particular, toy makers in the Erzgebirge region, (the Ore Mountains), began to carve wooden folk characters that were also incense burners and thus the “smoking men” were born.

The Steinbach family has been making German folk art for 5 generations. They proudly manufacture these “smokers” in charming detail. Few stores in the U.S. import them but if you visit one of the many European Christmas markets this time of year, you will have many to choose from!

Dear readers, do you have an event or ritual that marks the beginning of the Christmas season for you? Would you care to share it with us?

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A Table For One

Even as the taste of turkey and pumpkin pie still lingers, we launch into the biggest food season of the year with Christmas just around the corner. So in keeping with all things Food, I thought it would be a good time to tell you about my good friend Anne’s fabulous website about all things food related in and around The Port City. Appropriately named, Portcityfoodie is a go-to resource for information on restaurants, interviews with local chefs, food events, recipes and so much more. Be sure to check it out!

Recently, Port City Foodie published the following post that I wrote for them about “adventures in dining solo” which I call “A Table For One.”

Hey, all you “Seinfeld” fans, remember the episode where Elaine pretends that a janitor’s closet is her apartment just to get Chinese food delivered? If you don’t know the story, Elaine is craving the “Supreme Flounder” from China Panda. After placing her order she learns that they cannot deliver to her apartment building because her side of the street is not in their delivery zone. However, the building across the street from her’s is in the zone.

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My friend Joy outside restaurant in China Town, NYC

To beat China Panda at their own game, Elaine finds a janitorial closet in that building, duck tapes the apartment number “1Q” on the closet door, and waits inside for her food. Upon learning of her charade, Jerry asks incredulously, “You’re pretending to live in a janitor’s closet just to get this flounder?” To which Elaine replies, “It’s better than eating it alone in the restaurant like some loser!”

Ouch! Hopefully none of us single people would go to such extremes to avoid eating alone in a restaurant, or would consider ourselves losers if we did. But Elaine knows, and most single folks would agree, that there is a certain stigma attached to dining out alone. Lunch alone isn’t a problem. Nor is sitting alone in a booth with your laptop at a free wi-fi cafe. But when it comes to dinner, especially at a full service restaurant, we hesitate, reluctant to enter an environment that seems to advertise our oneness in a sea of couples.

Ok, so you say dining out with another person or a group is just more fun. Yes, I prefer it too. But the question I ask myself is this, do I let my singleness keep me from exploring all of the delicious dining experiences to be had in our area?

Not long ago I took my dog out for an early evening walk on The Loop at Wrightsville Beach. I passed by Poe’s Tavern at 212 Causeway Drive and decided to stop for dinner, as I had always thought it looked like a charming place from the outside. (I am also a sucker for anything with an Edgar Allen Poe theme.) img_0193
Because I had Chuckles with me I was relegated to the outside patio. As the hostess escorted me to a table that could easily have seated 8 people I thought, “I know I’m single, why must you emphasize it?”

While sitting there staring down my expanse of empty table, waiting for my fish tacos to arrive, it occurred to me that I should write about my experience. Maybe it would resonate with readers. I soon realized that I could turn my solo dining into a kind of field research project over the next several months and share my stories; the good, the bad, and the funny, with all of you Cape Fear Foodies. I’m hoping that I might inspire many of you to do the same and I hope you will in turn share your stories with me.

Dear readers, do you have a good story about dining alone that you would care to share?

 

The Best $7 I spent in New York

Because Thanksgiving is traditionally a time to reunite and celebrate with family, I’d like to share with you a thrilling discovery I made about my family last November while visiting Ellis Island. Did you know that 100 million Americans alive today can trace an ancestor back to Ellis Island?

Visitors to the National Park (E.I. is a part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument) IMG_2338can tour the beautifully restored great entrance hall where 12 million immigrants passed through between 1892 and 1954.

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Me and Joy in The Great Entrance Hall

Downstairs you can research your own ancestor’s arrival in the American Family Immigration History Center. Your $7 buys you an hour to search their computer data base that contains ship passenger manifests for arrivals during that historic immigration period. Over 7 million manifest pages! The data base also includes information on some 6500 ships that brought these immigrants to America, primarily from Europe.

I was thrilled to find my Czech grandfather, Karel Kamis, on the passenger manifest of the SS Kalserin Auguste Victoria that sailed from Cuxhaven, Germany, on April 17, 1913, arriving in New York on April 26th.

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Third Class manifest of the SS K.A. Victoria 4/17/1919

The detailed manifest notes on these 3rd class “steerage” passengers are incredible, all hand written I might add! Personal information documented for each passenger as they embarked included: age, occupation, ethnicity,village, relatives, literacy, how much money they had in their pocket, and whether or not they were anarchists.

I also discovered a second immigration by my grandfatherHe sailed on the SS Niagara from Bordeaux, France on Sept. 20, 1919 and arrived in NYC on October 1st. The cool thing was that upon his first arrival in 1913, his nationality was listed as Austrian and his ethnicity Bohemian because before WWI there was no Czechoslovakia, the old Kingdom of Bohemia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

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My grandfather, Karel Kamis

Upon his second arrival in 1919, after the War, his country of origin was listed as Czechoslovakia, because that was when those lands became an independent country. History documented before my very eyes!

Interested in doing your own Ellis Island ancestry search but no plans on the horizon to visit NYC? No problem! You can search online at LibertyEllisFoundation.org. This Thanksgiving, if your family relations are less than stellar and it’s difficult to find dinner conversation that everyone can agree on….try generating some enthusiasm for making a family history discovery. You might just start a new tradition.

Dear readers, do you have some family history and/or heritage you would like to share? We would love to hear about it! Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

What Is Sexual Assault?

Much has been said of late about sexual assault so I decided to educate myself about how the law defines it in my state. My good friend Alice, a brilliant and respected attorney, sent me the NC Statutes regarding Rape and Sexual Assault. You can read them in their entirety here:  NC General Statutes – Chapter 14 Article 7B  For the purposes of this post, I am limiting my focus to Sexual Battery.

In understanding the Statute, certain Definitions are given and, once again I list here those most pertinent to this post and you can click the link above to see them in full.

  1. (5)  “Sexual contact” means (i) touching the sexual organ, anus, breast, groin, or buttocks of any person, (ii) a person touching another person with their own sexual organ, anus, breast, groin, or buttocks, or (iii) a person ejaculating, emitting, or placing semen, urine, or feces upon any part of another person.
  2. (6)  “Touching” as used in subdivision (5) of this section, means physical contact with another person, whether accomplished directly, through the clothing of the person committing the offense, or through the clothing of the victim. (1979, c. 682, s. 1; 2002-159, s. 2(a); 2003-252, s. 1; 2006-247, s. 12(a); 2015-181, s. 2.)

I now skip to:

§ 14-27.33. Sexual battery.

(a) A person is guilty of sexual battery if the person, for the purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, engages in sexual contact with another person:

  1. (1)  By force and against the will of the other person; or
  2. (2)  Who is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless, and the person performing the act knows or should reasonably know that the other person is mentally disabled, mentally incapacitated, or physically helpless.

(b) Any person who commits the offense defined in this section is guilty of a Class A1 misdemeanor. (2003-252, s. 2; 2015-181, s. 15.)

I have been a victim of sexual assault at least three times in my life. I didn’t know it at the time it was happening because I was young, naive, uninformed, and completely unprepared to respond to such an assault. But I knew something was happening to me that I did not encourage or willingly participate in. Something that made me feel violated.

One day while going up the stairs in my high school, a male classmate reached up and grabbed my ass. Naturally I pulled away as he laughed, and I ran up the stairs thoroughly embarrassed.

Also while in high school at a friend’s house, her father cornered me and tried to kiss me when she left the room. Luckily I was able to pull away, and I made sure that I was never in the room alone with him again. It felt terrifying but how could I tell my friend that her father was assaulting me when I didn’t even know how to define it?

While in college, my boyfriend’s grandfather copped a feel of my breast after he “sweetly” pulled me down to sit on his lap. Of course I jumped up horrified but was too embarrassed to tell my boyfriend that his sweet little old grandfather had just assaulted me when his back was turned.

My point in all this? Groping, fondling, unwanted touching, whatever you want to call it, IS sexual assault. The victim and the assailant may be fully clothed. Not by my opinion, but by the law. Considering that I am just an ordinary person living an ordinary life, it got me wondering how many other women, just like me, have also been victims of this kind of sexual assault during their lifetimes? I think if all women were honest, the number would be staggering.

Why is this so? I believe it is because we live in a society that does not have a mindset of zero tolerance regarding all forms of sexual assault. Everyone seems to agree that rape is abhorrent and wrong but groping is viewed as innocent male “horseplay,” something that boys and men can laugh about in the “locker room.” It doesn’t really “hurt” anybody and it isn’t a “big deal” so women should just “get over it.” 

And many women do endure it and are silent on the matter. Especially since in most instances boys and men take advantage of young naive girls and women who are in some way in their control or under their power of influence. Males also use the element of surprise and assault women in public places catching them alone and off guard.

So what can be done? First of all, women can end their silence if they have been a victim of sexual assault because speaking out is an act of  empowerment. (This is happening now among online social groups like pantsuit Nation.) Secondly, men and women of integrity can work to raise our standards of decency and respect by demanding a zero tolerance of any form of sexual assault. Not only of ourselves, but of our school and business leaders and especially our elected officials. Religious leaders, here-to-for virtually silent on the matter, should be the most vocal and outspoken advocates of a zero tolerance society.

Finally, we must teach young girls to know what sexual assault is and to know their rights should they be a victim.  We must give them tools to help them protect themselves, make them pro-active and prepared. We must embolden them to speak up and not be silent. We must all lead by example.

Dear Readers, have you been a victim of sexual assault? If so, without details would you share something of your experience? What are your thoughts and suggestions on how we can work together to end our society’s casual and cavalier tolerance of sexual battery?

Let’s keep this discussion going among our family, friends, co-workers, and elected officials. Please share this post via email or Facebook.

 

Poem: Election Day by Walt Whitman

ELECTION DAY, NOVEMBER, 1884.

07550_150pxIf I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest
scene and show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara—nor you, ye limitless prairies—nor
your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite—nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic geyser-
loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones—nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes—
nor Mississippi’s stream:
—This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name—the
still small voice vibrating—America’s choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen—the act itself the main, the
quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d—sea-board and inland
—Texas to Maine—the Prairie States—Vermont, Virginia,
California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West—the paradox and con-
flict,
The countless snow-flakes falling—(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:)
the peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity—welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
—Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify—while the
heart pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails. 

                                                                                                                    

Library Love Affair

I just drove past my local library. The parking lot was a sea of cars, as it is an early voting site here in town. A polling place, just one of the numerous things you can do at the library. img_0126Our libraries offer so many services and are the source of so much information that it begs the question, “What can’t you do at the library?

Case in point. I had been driving around with a bag full of used batteries in my car with the intention of recycling them at some point. I stopped one day at the library to pick up some books on reserve, and as I walked in the side door, there in front of me was a recycling bin for used batteries!

But perhaps my most favorite thing about my local library  is their biannual used book sale.  img_0058And I don’t mean they sell a bunch of old library books that no one has checked out in a year, but really great books that people have donated. Amazingly, I bought all of these books for about $25. I found several books on my Amazon wish-list and at least two Pulitzer Prize winners. I got reference and history books, travel guide books, novels and short stories. I even bought a few to give as gifts. Most books were in very good or brand new condition.

So, that’s my experience, what about you dear readers? What thrills you about your local library? What cool things have you found there?