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November 25, 2010

Stephanie Salter: After the turkey and before the pie, a round of giving thanks

TERRE HAUTE — As my colleague Alicia Morgan wrote last week, there is no downside to taking time out now and then to list and truly appreciate our blessings. Given that today is this nation’s unique, official acknowledgment of thankfulness, I’ll share some of the people and things for whom and which I am thankful. May you be inspired (in agreement or disagreement) to create your own list.

In random order, I am deeply grateful for:

• U.S.-style democracy

Elections seem to get uglier (and more expensive), tens of millions of Americans don’t even bother to vote, and big-bucks lobbies buy access to our so-called public servants, but even this flawed system beats tribal wars, coups or “divine right” dictatorships as methods for changing leadership.

That fact makes for a domestic stability that puts us in rare company and allows us to weather all sorts of economic and social ups and downs. No small deal in the big scheme of things.

• The Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio

The enemies of both tend to be folks who never watch or listen to these true voices of the people — PBS and NPR acquire most of their operating funds the old-fashioned way: They beg the public for them during pledge drives. Instead, an angry talking head will fixate on a controversial program, hammer on it until several angry politicians start hammering, and angry loyal acolytes will buy the lie that controversial programming is all there is to PBS or NPR.

In addition to concerts, travelogues, genuine investigative journalism, children’s programs that aren’t stupid or violent, historical and scientific analyses, informative (but fun) game shows, health and medicine programs, and examinations of religion that invite believers to learn, think and articulate their faith, PBS and NPR offer terrific entertainment. One favorite from each: “American Masters” and “This American Life.”

• Newspaper readers

I have extolled your virtues before and thanked you profusely, but if you are reading this as we speak — especially in a hold-in-your-hands, recyclable, paper format — I count you among my most precious blessings. You may be a disappearing breed, but you are a choice one.

• Recyclers

Whether you do it curbside via Republic Services and/or you haul your stuff to collection sites such as Indiana State University or Goodwill, you are making the world a better place.

A recent recycling summit here in Terre Haute for businesses and institutions found widespread enthusiasm for commercial recycling, with companies such as Walmart and Sony seriously pursuing a zero landfill footprint. The summit organizer, Trees Inc., has all the data from the one-day event if you’d care to inquire, and there likely will be a similar summit down the road for individual and small, private group recyclers.

• Chef Chris Kraut’s amazing “Prep Kitchen” in the delicatessen department of Baesler’s Market

A magician with locally grown produce, meats, fish and poultry, Kraut built a following at the now-shuttered Button Wood restaurant at Sycamore Farm B&B on East Poplar Street. Now, thanks to the ever-entrepreneurial Bob Baesler, the chef is turning out delectable and hearty dishes and dinners to go.

Kraut is sensitive to the seasons and cooks as well as anybody under a toque in Indianapolis and maybe Chicago. He creates everything from a butternut squash/coconut milk curry soup to perfect, made-from-scratch chicken parmigiana. His array of appetizers is a wonder. The only thing his fans have to do is take the food home, follow reheating instructions and share a Hoosier gourmet repast with family and friends.

• Land lines

I don’t care if Americans are dropping them by the thousands, I am grateful that line-and-pole telephone service still exists. Before we started bouncing human voices off satellites and listening to them 24/7 through toy-sized cell phones at our ear, we tended to focus more on engaging in a telephone conversation.

We had to; even with a cordless phone, there is only so much multitasking one can do when one must stay fairly put in a house or an office. (Doing the dishes during a phone call is a far cry from navigating the 465 bypass around Indy.) Sitting down and devoting time and attention to a person on the other “end” of a call is a superior form of communication to hit-and-miss, hot-ear, dropped-call cell service. Besides, the more mobile we are, the more we start looking for other things to do while we are talking. It’s our distractible nature.

• The Sisters of Providence

No doubt, it helps to have a bona fide saint on your side, but the sisters on the west side of the Wabash River were elevating humankind long before Mother Theodore Guerin’s canonization.

Often, I think of all the violence, fear, ignorance and venality in the world — and the image of the SPs arises as a potent antidote.

Just about everyone who sets foot on the campus of St. Mary-of-the-Woods College or on the sisters’ surrounding land knows the area gives off a healing, comforting vibe. The alpacas and horses there are happy, the organic plants are contented, the human out-patients in rehab therapy are hopeful, and the nuns remain remarkably resourceful, forward-thinking, spiritually deep dames. This corner of Indiana is beyond blessed to have them in our midst.

• The eternal mystery of the human heart

Specifically, I am talking about a widowed man of grandfathering age who has lived well, learned much, amassed a fortune in love and respect from his family and friends, but who defies logic and decides his future happiness lies in a never-married feminist of grandmothering age, independent ways, liberal politics and ink-stained life experiences.

Here’s to the inexplicable.

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com

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