photo by Sheri Dixon

Thursday, July 29, 2010

And Just Like That...

...three good things in a row.

Three REALLY good things in a row.

Our banker gave us the thumbs-up to go ahead and build our little cabin on our land- something that's been on hold pending the sale of our current house that's been for sale for FIVE YEARS- right after we bought our 'we could live here forever' land 3 miles from where we are now. And while it would be better to have our current house sold before building, our debt to income ratio INCLUDING both house payments (old house plus new yet-to-be-built house) was only off by 3 (three) points. That 3 points, coupled with the 2 (two) points our credit score was lacking were all that's been holding this project up, and bless his heart, our banker shook my hand and told me that they'll do it in-house because we've been good customers for over 15 years and it's just time for us to do this.

And the benefit is that we get to build the new place, move stuff over there that we KNOW we want to keep, sort thru the rest here at the old place, have a big honkin' yard sale, and donate/dumpster the rest without any "live in an apartment/store all our stuff" phase that new-home construction after a house sale generally entails. Which is good, because I truly don't think either Ward or I could survive that mess.

We may have buyers for our current house, and they are not in a hurry to move out of their old house, which would afford us to do exactly the above scenario, then transition smoothly (two words that are rarely found next to each other in our family conversations for most of the last decade) into selling this house.

On our way to dinner with the above folks, the doctor at MDAnderson called to give us the results of Ward's recent scans- All Clear. No cancer there, they'll see us in 4 months for the next scans. That. That right there, was the Other Shoe I was mortally afraid of having not just dropped, but slammed up against our heads in the wake of the Loan Approval/Pending Buyers One-Two that we'd received earlier.

And it didn't happen.

The Good kept coming.

We met our neighbors at the restaurant and I told them the Three Good Things. They grinned from ear to ear and asked me "Can you stand so much good news all at once?"

I told them that quite frankly it scared the shit outta me.

Dot looked at me and said "Just GO with it".

And I'm trying. I'm taking deep breath after deep breath and each one clears a few more moldy cobwebs from my lungs, from my heart.

Maybe it's finally Over. Maybe that almost 6 weeks in Houston filled with fear and terror and sheer relentless hell were the Final Tidal Wave of the 8 years that started with "It's just a little skin cancer", and my family has finally landed tattered, worn, twitchy but still firmly intact into the Calmer Safe Harbor of the Sea of Life.

Ward poked Alec and said "Look at your mom, son".

Alec, a little startled, whispered "What's wrong with her?"

Ward said "Nothing son- she's smiling".

And I am.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Shit Just Happens

Something I've heard my entire life when an event defies explanation, when it won't fit neatly into how life generally works or what they taught in Sunday School, all that other stuff fell into the "Shit Just Happens" category.

The problem has always been, with me anyway, that I don't really believe it.

I believe in rules of sensible progression. I believe in the rising of the sun every day and the rising of the moon at night. That dogs have puppies and chickens hatch out chicklets. That eating healthy makes you healthy and eating crap robs your body of nutrition and vitality. Natural order. Cause and effect.

In a world ruled by Mother Nature, things go along pretty much that way with mutations and accidents that can be racked up as "unusual events and occurrences that go counter to the normal order of events"- literal Freaks of Nature- no one's fault, things to be worked around, or over, or through, but nothing that ruffles the overall outcome of the Universe as We Know It, or our role in the same.

Here's where it gets weird.

Sunday School teaches differently. On Sunday mornings we dressed in our best clothes, had a hasty breakfast of sweet-rolls-in-a-tube frosted with orange-in-color-and-flavor frosting (which was actually a treat, hence my remembrance of it), and made our way to church, where we learned that while we have free will, there are consequences for each and everything we do- not only for us, but for all those around us, specifically those we love.

Because God is Watching.

And like Santa, He's keeping track of not only everyTHING we do, but everyTHOUGHT we think. And He rewards and/or punishes us accordingly. Holy Moly, Batman.

Years ago I had an acquaintance in the world of raising and showing purebred Shetland Sheepdogs (those little Lassie-dogs). She was very devout and said she prayed over which champion dog to send her bitches to for breeding. Even back then, when I was an active Sunday School teacher, Vacation Bible School organizer and Christmas Pageant reception leader, I thought "Wow. Now I know why there are children starving to death in Africa- God's looking through the latest Sheltie Reviews". Because I figured God had better things to do and he gave us the Big Brains so we could take care of the small stuff.

I guess the Idea of God is there to make sense of the stuff we can't fit into Natural Order, and while that's great, it's also very dangerous both in a big way, and in little ways.

When Hurricane Katrina washed away most of New Orleans, there were many people who found comfort once they could say (with a mixture of relief and vengeance) "This was God's punishment on this city of Sin and Evil- Mardi Gras every year, VooDoo down in the bayous, and God's final straw was the planned convention of Homosexuals".

When an earthquake flattened most of Haiti, the same voices came forward with "proof" of Haiti's century-old pact with Satan- this was simply Satan's time to cash in.

Wars the world over are fought and won (or lost) according to whose god is more righteous- fighting for God is an easier pill to swallow for mothers hugging sons goodbye than fighting for oil, or dirt, or anything that's not worth the loss of a Soul.

On a tiny individual scale, God Keeping Score takes Cause and Effect to a whole different level.

Good things happen to Godly* people. Bad things happen to evil people.

*You can't say good things happen to good people, because unless they believe in your god, they're not REALLY good and will, unfortunately be in Hell with all the bad people. Shit Happens.

When the above goes wrong (and it goes wrong ALOT), it can be explained by "Only God knows a person's soul and intent- we must believe that the good person has lessons to learn that pain/suffering/maybe even dying will bring them, and the evil people will meet a bad end, although it may be in the afterlife".

Just what the hell am I getting at with all this rambling?

I'm tired. I'm tired of always feeling like anything good that happens to me and my family will be immediately followed by a bad thing of equal or greater value and I'm very angry, at over half a century old, of having that "anything good that happens comes from God and anything bad that happens is your own flawed humanly doing" mentality so instilled into me that I'm seriously, admittedly superstitiously, mortally afraid of anything good that happens to us-

I live in fear of the Other Shoe.

I just finished a book the other day- still thinking on if I'm going to recommend the entire book- it wasn't a book I entirely enjoyed or thought very well done, but THIS part was outstanding.

The main character had been through many attempts at getting pregnant, up to and including all the invasive painful fertility treatments, her marriage on the rocks, her psyche a mess, her self-worth shattered, and she was at the therapist's office.

The therapist told her "You have every right to be angry. You have every right to sadness". And the main character totally lost it. She screamed at the therapist "I don't WANT the right to be angry and sad- I want the right to be HAPPY".

I almost dropped the book.

I want that.

I want to be able to have something good happen to my family and not have to smile while swallowing the bile of the palpable, clawing fear that it's all a big cosmic set-up.

I want to believe, absolutely and completely, that Life goes along in pretty much a natural order- that the sun comes up and the moon comes up, that dogs have puppies and chickens hatch chicklets, that most of it is good- that good things happen because Life is good, and that all of that will occur no matter what my tiny small self does or thinks.

That doesn't make me feel helpless or powerless or unprotected in a big world full of dangerous things that can't be explained or any of that other stuff Sunday School tried in its (sorta twisted way it looks to me now) to protect me from.

Because frankly, I AM tiny. I AM just one tiny speck on the planet- and caring for my family the best I know how is enough. I don't WANT the responsibility of the quality of our existence hinging on whether or not I believe the right thing or pray the right prayers or give up the right sacrifices to make good things happen.

I want the security of knowing that when bad things happen they ARE Freaks of Nature that can be worked around, or over or through, and then on to the next good thing.

That Life is Good- not a series of Good Things bought and paid for by Bad Things.

Shit Just Happens, but I and my family have the Right to be Happy.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

She Loves Us, She Loves Us Not

We love the museum.

I know, there are alot of museums in the world- which one am I talking about?

All of 'em. We love ALL museums.

Huge serious big city museums. Little hole in the wall quirky museums- whatever they got, we wanna see.

One of the perks of our forced encampments in Houston for appointments at the cancer hospital has been to be immersed in the museum district of the 5th largest city in the US- and the best of these has to be the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

I didn't know alot about Houston 5 years ago.

One thing I really didn't know is that a good number of scientific exhibits come first not to either coast- New York or Los Angeles- or even to the Field Museum in Chicago, but to Houston.

We've seen some incredible things, some on permanent exhibit, some traveling exhibits- and the traveling exhibits have included three Big L's-

Lucy- the petite missing link hardly 4ft tall, who made Houston her first stop on a worldwide tour- her first trip out of Africa, ever. The great thing about these big exhibits is that they aren't "just" about the Main Course- there was a good hour's worth of history, art, stories and artifacts that led up to entering the darkened room with little Lucy's remains and re-creation. Shes so tiny, so fragile, you can't help but love her.

Leonardo- touted as "a dinosaur in the flesh"- Leonardo is not a fossil, but a mummy, thanks to the makeup of the mud he fell into trying to avoid an attack from a larger lizard (the theory according to the wounds on his body). Leonardo is a duck-billed dinosaur and actually still has skin, and tissue, and, unaccountably, the same jowls as our big floppy drooly pyr who lives on the porch. Again, there was a long series of facts, murals, fossils and information leading up to Leonardo himself- "outsides and all" at the end- the soft jowls begging to be stroked, but inaccessible through the case he's in, and you really can't help but love him.

And now, there's Lois.

Lois is a Corpse Flower- and the museum has had her for over 6 years. She's never bloomed...till now. There aren't very many corpse flowers, and those that are not in Sumatra are in botanical gardens or museums. The first explorers who came across these flowers in the wild left them a wide berth- their stench and size seemed proof enough that here were, in fact, man-eating plants.

Lois started her bloom a few weeks ago, then stalled, and is now verrrrrry slowwwwwly opening.

They're not really sure why it's taking Lois so long to open up, but the (insensitive) newspeople on the local stations have re-named her Slowis.

I have a theory.

Right across the street from the museum is the Pabst Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park, a wonderful theater we had the good fortune to see an excellent production of Cats at a few months ago. Weekend before last, the Papst Outdoor Theater hosted a production of Little Shop of Horrors. Shortly before rehearsals started, Lois popped up. But no one did anything with this amazing coincidence.

And the play went on without her, ending it's short run Sunday night.

Lois isn't Slowis, or being picky about the temperature or humidity in the Cockrell Butterfly Center- Lois is depressed because she was totally passed over for a lead she was, by all definitions, born for.

We went to see Lois Tuesday- and she was impressive even still in barely-opened bud form- right at 6ft tall she's almost as tall as Ward, and a good head (stamen?) taller than Alec. There are t-shirts, buttons, a Lois-cam and a large fan base all waiting for her to open. Alec was very disappointed that she didn't stink yet- and I told him that if she opened before we left, we'd go back to see her. We watched the Lois-cam religiously, but it never did happen before we headed home.

In spite of the non-stinkitude and closed petals, Lois is rare, and amazing, and so very special- you just can't help but love her.

And we don't ever take for granted that we've seen these three L's- incredible things most folks won't see one of, much less all three.

We may not have much in the way of money, and we've never been to Disneyworld or even Six Flags. But we have seen, up close and personal, Lucy, and Leonardo, and Lois.

And we gotta love THAT.

Lois-cam (for just a little longer, I'll bet)

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Writer's Block Fairy Tale

Once Upon A Time there was a middle aged, frumpy hippiechick who typed words into a magical black box. Even though she was sitting deep in the beautiful Pineywoods of East Texas, through the wonder of the interwebs, these words flew up and out of the magic box, and wafted all over the world, settling into other magic black boxes and were (mostly) enjoyed by the (tiny) throngs of readers who followed her adventures.

Sometimes her words were humorous and made people laugh, sometimes they were sad and made people cry, alot of the time they were very angry and every so often they were words that get children's mouths washed out with soap.

One day the words stopped coming.

Just like that.

It had happened once before, when her husband was very ill and the words up till then had been all cheerful and humorous. For a long time she didn't feel funny, or happy, or even remotely fine.

She was sad, and worried, and the words were afraid to go near her.

At the time, she was so sad and worried, she didn't even notice.
At the time, she was so sad and worried, once she noticed, she didn't even care.

Now it seemed that the words were afraid again- even the bad ones.
And this time, she did notice, and she did care.

Not that there wasn't anything to write about- they had just had a little road trip and seen and done alot of neat stuff that could've used up some happy traveling words.

They were back at the cancer hospital for scans and rechecks and although her husband's graft looked great, he was still very thin and kind of weak and there was that annoying spot on his neck that refused to heal, so that could've used up some worried anxious words.

She was very tired and had spent the better part of the last few days driving, so that could've used up some exhausted maybe partially garbled up words.

Things at work had been stressful and needlessly awful and that could've used up some angry fed-up words.

The gardens were growing, the puppy was adorable, her son had done fabulously well at his tae kwon do tournament, and her husband was still and would always be her Knight in Shining Armor, so that could've used up some contented grateful words.

And they'd gotten some good news on the New House front- as well as some people who would hopefully fall in love with the Old House- positive and tangible moves forward in a part of their lives that had seemed to be spinning in circles forever, so that could've used up some hopeful cautiously optimistic words.

But instead, she sat at the magic black box and started first one story, then another, then another, and she proclaimed them all Stupid, and hit the Off With Their Heads Delete Key in disgust.

Finally she threw up (her hands in frustration), decided she was just too tired and had too many thoughts swirling around willy nilly hither and yon without any damn semblance of order in her mind causing all the words to scatter and stampede into nonsensical little twitchy clumps, and even though she had promised herself she would write something every few days and it was now beyond that by several days

she gave up.

The End.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Kicking and Screaming- And Not in a Good Way

It's been so nice being home.

I've almost got the house back in order.
I've almost got work caught up.

Ward's healthier, heavier (up to 154 from his low of 141, but still 4 pounds shy of his hospital discharge weight of 158- a weight they classified as "extremely emaciated"- and about 40 pounds shy of perfect). He's getting stronger every day, and the last few weeks has been going to out-patient physical therapy instead of having the home nurse come in.

Alec's getting back into the swing of school, art class, tae kwon do and chores.

Yep, sure has been nice.

Time to go.

Nine hours from now we'll be loading the car and heading back to Houston via Jackson Mississippi (I know the abbreviation, I just like typing the whole word) where Alec will compete in the World ITA Championships- his 3rd world championship tournament and his 10th (I think) tournament in 4 years.

Then we'll head to Houston for re-checks and lab work and scans on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

So this week has been collecting our house sitters, getting work situated to work without me for another week, all the mess that goes with leaving home for more than a day.

I've not had a chance to do alot of news-scanning or thinking about much other than those tasks at hand- things to keep my son's life as normal as possible, my farm cared for and my employment justified, for Ward to once again endure things that we hope with all our hearts and minds will show and reassure us that my husband's cancer has not returned, that he is healing properly, that we'll be safe to come home till the next scans in four to six months.

As we've lived now for years- from scan to scan. Appointment to appointment.

Little things frighten me. Like the incision from this last surgery on Ward's neck that refuses to heal.

Because life is so fragile, no matter how big we try to make ourselves appear.

Typing this tonight, bone tired yet not ready for sleep, I listen with half an ear to some Celebrity News Show- and they've got close-ups of poor misunderstood Lindsay Lohan getting sentenced to 90 days in jail for being a terminal, perennial screw-up.

She's in tears and so frightened at the prospect of incarceration. For 90 days.

And I confess to being less than charitable.

I want to slap her upside her spoiled little head and tell her to stop sniveling and get her sorry little ass to jail. Then to rehab. Then, if she's very lucky and smartens up, on to the rest of her life.

90 days?

A walk in the damn park.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bargain Book Discovery- Tied to the Tracks

Tied to the Tracks by Rosina Lippi

is a really fun read that just happens to combine two of my favorite elements-

tales of the South, since I'm a happily adopted Southerner and fully appreciate and enjoy the Southern Belle way of making the best of horrible situations along with encouraging the menfolk to think they are in charge of...anything,

and tales of the interplay within Italian families both blood-bound and extended, and the strong women who tend to dominate that social circle as well, albeit with less finesse and subterfuge.

The book takes place in New Jersey. And Georgia. And though the main story line has to do with the filming of a documentary, the chapters weave in and out of the differences between the South before the Civil Rights movement and the South of today (not much changed in some ways), the differences between the cultures of the North and the South (not much different in some ways), and the differences between homo and heterosexual relationships (pretty much exactly the same, actually).

The characters, every one of them, are likable and amazingly non-stereotyped considering how very easily that could have happened given their backgrounds and circumstances.

The only times the book bogged down were a few very gratuitous sex scenes- they just seemed forced and disjointed (puns not intended) in relation to the narrative before and after them- almost like an editor had said, "You need to spice this part up a little bit Here...and Here".

Writing sex scenes is tough. Sex in real life is generally not the stuff of either porn nor Harlequin Romances, but an act of comfort, love, bonding and even (if done right) humor.

It's almost embarrassing for me to be cruising along through a book happily and then BANG! yer right inside not only their bedroom, but yea verily inside their undergarments...

I understand it's a grownup book, with a grownup story, and grownups have sex.

Grownups go to the bathroom, too, but I don't need to have the details shared with me during the telling of the story. I can assume all on my own that sometime in that 300-400 pages they WILL be peeing. I don't need a descriptive account of it.

Enough of that.

Tied to the Tracks is a well-written and enjoyable summertime diversion that takes place over a 4th of July Jubilee Week in small-town Georgia- a week that includes tons of Southern Comfort foods, the traditions of generations, and a parade through the live-oak lined streets. That there are things even the townspeople don't know about each other- things they'd never DREAM of, no matter how many juleps they consumed, just makes it all the more funny...and heartbreaking.

Who could ask for more from a summertime book?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

An A/C-Free Summer...By Choice

Not exactly true, as we do have window units in the bedrooms- but they don't get turned on till bedtime, unless it's over 100 degrees and even THEN not till after noon.

Oh. And except in the rarest of cases, the window is still open (it's on the shady side of the house and behind a big bush) and the door is ajar as well. I can't stand that stuffy, cloying, clammy conditioned air. I need a breeze.

Otherwise, though, we're A/C-Free and love it. Summer in Texas is hot. Summer in Wisconsin was hot. Most of the time, if you live north of the equator, the summer months are going to be hot. That's sort of the definition of summer- those months that are hot. Winter is the opposite.

I hate winter.

Summer in Texas can be blazing blinding blast-furnace burn your lungs hot, no doubt about it. Last summer was a doozy (or so I hear- through the worst of the hottest parts we were in Montana where I was freezing my tail off). And it can be deadly if you don't take precautions- but those precautions don't necessarily have to include using enough electricity to cause rolling brownouts across the countryside.

Most of the "Summer Tips" I see on the TV are pretty basic, even though they're delivered with the serious intensity generally saved for things like flu epidemics, elementary school hostage situations, or the latest breakup/marriage/overdose/underdress of some Hollywood chicklet.

Drink lots of water. Really. Not Coke, or beer, or coffee, or whatever fitness liquid that's currently in style- water. This is the one I personally have trouble with. I don't get thirsty. For anything. I have the hydration instinct of a gerbil. And what's with the cases of water? There's that faucet thing in your kitchen? If there are questions about the safety of your municipal drinking water, get one of those little screw-on-the-faucet filters, or if you're feeling REALLY fancy- get a Berkey water filter. Use re-usable bottles.

Although I'm ambivalent regarding the Water Bottle thing. I think they're fine in the car on long trips, or running errands, but they really should stay in the car- I see people walking everywhere inside, outside, even on what are clearly 5 minutes away from the car errands sucking on their water bottles. If I'da said "Mom- I'm thirsty", an hour after leaving the house, she woulda said "See? I told you to get a drink before we left". and that would be the end of it.

Do all your outside work early in the day or in the evenings. Do as the critters do and follow the shade. See your dog out there with one paw dangling in his water dish and the rest of him in a freshly dug hole in the cool earth under the big tree? The dog who looks puzzled when you call his name, chases his tail and is surprised each and every sunrise by the big shiny thing in the sky? Ya. If you decide to take your power walk or mow the lawn between the hours of 11am and 6pm he's smarter than you are.

Sit in the shade outside, and in front of a fan inside. Take advantage of cross-breezes wherever you are. If you are lucky enough to live in a house that's pre-central a/c vintage your house probably has windows and doors that cross-ventilate- give a straight path for air to flow into, through, and out of the house. Make sure all these are open and not blocked. An attic fan is a stellar way to move the air in the house around and the hot air up and out.

On a hot Texas afternoon, the air is sharp with heat, with dust, with the aroma of the sap inside the pines boiling. Things I'd miss in a closed-up house.

If your house was built with central a/c in place, good luck. You likely have a lot of dead end airspace that really does no good to keep cool with. A fan in the window can help some. But ya. If your house was built with no intention of depending on outside breezes, most likely it was built for Style Over Function. Sucks to be you.

Embrace your sweat. Hmmm...Sounds kinda racy- here's what I mean. Summer is hot. Heat means getting sweaty. Sweat never kilt anyone. In fact, if you're hot and you STOP sweating, you're in trouble and need intervention from heat stroke. What I mean is summer is the time to anticipate that you'll be sweating, and dress accordingly. Shorts. Tank tops. Flip flops. Little or no makeup or Hair Product. It's ok to sweat.

When we were kids we expected to be hot in summer and cold in winter. Somehow we've become a people who can only function if it's 72 degrees.

Our family actually has a tough time in the summer going into places with air conditioning- we freeze our hineys off. We're acclimatized to the heat. Movie theaters? Don't speak to me of the frozen tundras of movie theaters...

One bonus, of course, is that our electric bill in the summer is only for a few box fans and a tiny window unit or two. While our neighbors' and friends' bills require a good five Ben Franklins every month, ours is one Ben, and maybe the left ear of another one.

The main bonus is being able to stay connected with Outside. The summer night is filled with the cacophony of crickets, frogs, owls and coyotes. Daytime is one songbird after another- the Ultimate Playlist. This afternoon we've got thunderboomers rolling through and the birds are subdued with each of Thor's echoes rolling under the clouds- stilling the leaves on the trees.

I smell rain. And earth.

And it's good.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Looking for Shiny and New- Boring Old News Need Not Apply

I love turning my computer on in the morning.

The first thing that happens is it makes little chirpy happybird noises. Then the weather comes on screen, followed by the Yahoo start page and the day's top headlines.

You've seen this- on the right is a box with the top 10 things people are typing into their search engines for more information on. For weeks "BP" or "oil spill" or "gulf of mexico" were right in the top 5. Then as the whole deal dragged on and on and on it became very apparent that we as a nation have collective ADD- we can't stay focused on anything for too long if it stays the same- even if it's horrible like non-stop hemorrhaging of oil into the waters of the Gulf.

Because here's the thing.

It hasn't changed. It's still the same (awful)footage of gushing brown/black yack spewing up from the bottom of the dimly-lit ocean floor. Every day makes it more awful, more disastrous, yet because nothing has happened to make it EXCITING for us again, we've become bored and turned away.

'Round about Memorial Day "oil spill" was sandwiched between "gas grills" and "family activities".

Now it's not there at all. It's dropped right off the radar of things most googled and been replaced (as of July 3rd) with (in order, no less)-
Elin Nordegren
Lindsay Lohan
Hugh Laurie
Victoria Beckham
Gas Grills
Carrie Prejean
Designer Sunglasses
Steve Jobs
Family Activities

Apparently what we need is something to remind us it's still there- not enough to, yanno, hurt anyone, but enough to regain our tiny shallow attention spans.

Like a giant fissure opening up from the fractured ocean floor and hoards of glow in the dark purple fanged eels spewing forth, or the tar balls washing up onto the beaches melding together into the spitting images of various saints- SOMETHING that would catch our fancy, tickle our interest get us back to making this front and center again, where it sort of belongs.

On accounta it's gonna affect all of us everywhere for a very long long time.

But we live in a Sound Byte Society and the media knows just how much we can absorb at one time and plays the news accordingly. Because if we get too depressed, too outraged, too despondent, we might, just maybe, turn the news off altogether. And that would make the advertisers very sad.

As an example- the top stories for easy viewing and digestion today are as follows-

"Retail Chains on the Ropes"- a sobering view of the top 10 large stores, some of them like RiteAid or Zales, household brands, that are floundering, perhaps fatally. The economy is so bad that not only the luxury items as sold by Zales, but our daily needs items as sold at the corner drug store, aren't enough to keep these bastions of consumerism afloat.

That's bad.

Next is "Millions of Jobs Lost Forever". *Wow*. What a sobering bummer THAT is. Reminding us that the recent recession(s) have eliminated alot of jobs from the days when Life was Good and everyone deserved not just a chicken in every pot, but a brand new house to cook it in and a brand new SUV to haul it home from the store with.

That's REALLY bad. Wait. Gimme a minute...

The third top story is "Schwarzenegger Slashes Pay", a happy little ditty of government budgets actually making headway at becoming not only less wasteful, but possibly even being able to being balanced- where could this plan possibly go wrong?
It could go wrong by every California state employee going just that much deeper into debt or disappearing for good under the waters of foreclosure and defaults that this pretty substantial cut in pay they're all being faced with will accomplish.


Finally- just as we reach our limit of gloom, there she is as the 4th most important story we as Americans need to pay attention to- full page and in all her glory- "Britney Spears' Fashion Blunder".

And Boy Howdy does she deliver. From the inexplicably cleated neon sneakers to the knee high tube sox to the short shorts and tank top that shows (and not in a good way) her "foundation garments" underneath, and in one shining moment all those unpleasant bad economy feelings are vanquished as we take a quick glance at what we ourselves are wearing and being able to conjure up relief, smugness, satisfaction and yea verily even superiority because even if I'm wearing Goodwill flannel jammie pants and my rattiest tie-dyed in high school 35 years ago t-shirt, I'm stylin' finer than Ms. Spears right at this particular moment.

So really. How bad can all that other stuff really be?

News-like website 1
American Consumer 0

Sunday, July 4, 2010

America's Birthday From Uncle Pete's Porch

I grew up in Racine Wisconsin, a mid-to-large sized town squished in between Milwaukee and Chicago and clinging to the shores of Lake Michigan.

We were lucky, awash in family traditions for every holiday- and surrounded by kith, kin, inlaws and outlaws, relatives immediate and twice or third removed.

The most memorable Thanksgivings were at my Aunt Nora's house (Nora being my grandfather Norman's twin sister- his introductory line was always "This is my sister Nora- we were womb-mates"). Having a large family and small house, the unfinished basement was taken over for the day by folding tables and mismatched table cloths, one table designated as "the kids' table". My cousins (first and second) and I would hide out in the upstairs bedroom- the one all the coats were tossed into- and hover around the heating vent- you could hear every word the grownups were saying downstairs. That the conversation was mind-numbingly boring to children was not the point.

In later years, as the cousins all married and dispersed, Aunt Nora stopped hostessing it. Also, Uncle Bud's obsession to breed the first ever solid black guppy filled their basement with fish tanks. There was one enormous tank in their upstairs living room with nothing but gigantic, well-fed angelfish. They got the guppies that "didn't make the cut".

Christmases most remembered were at my grandmother's (Norman's wife) and the same rules applied- basement dining and upstairs spying, with many surreptitious forays to sniff the candle that sat on grandma's vanity- on the shelf to the right, a beautiful purple vanity lamp was on the left shelf complete with dangling crystals. This candle was in a white hobnailed holder, covered.
Years later, I found the exact same scent in a Yankee Candle- called (ironically) "Home Sweet Home" and I called my grandmother excitedly. She had no recollection of the original.

But the best holiday was the 4th of July- the day we got up early, dressed in layers, and partially drove, partially walked (a different distance each year depending on how close we could get)to Uncle Pete's Porch. Uncle Pete (actually GREAT uncle Pete- he was my father's uncle) and Aunt Bena lived on the corner of Main and St. Patrick in a huge rambling old victorian house with gigantic porches- the one facing Main St. came in very handy on the 4th of July- a perfect spot to watch the parade.

Though we'd arrive wearing long sleeved shirts (sometimes sweatshirts), by the time the parade was in full swing, we'd be stripped to our tank tops, the porch east facing and the sun full on us. Mattered not- we were above the bustling crowds that lined the parade route from Goold to 14th St.- through downtown and over 2 draw-bridges, and we were the lucky minority who had access to bathrooms, a refrigerator, and in later years, even air conditioning.

Aunt Bena would ply us with cookies and lemonade, and Uncle Pete would talk about his many years working for the Wink Soap Company. Aunt Rose (Uncle Pete's sister) would sometimes be there, and if we were very lucky, our Cousin Peter, who'd spent several years in the Peace Corp in India. Occasionally Cousin Pat would be there- the Unmarried Quiet One. Aunt Rose always said it was such a shame...she had such a pretty face...

The parade in Racine is big. In fact the Journal Times (where my grandfather Norman was comptroller for many years, my father a news photographer for many years, my mother a switchboard operator when she was in college and finally where I worked in circulation for a while) states that it's the largest parade in the midwest.

There are marching bands, politicians, fancy cars and shriners. Little bed of the pickup floats along side confetti-ed professional floats for the big corporations that call Racine their headquarters- SC Johnson, JI Case, InSinkErAtor. Garage bands sponsored by the many corner taverns and one old guy playing a calliope whose been part of the shindig since I was 4.

I miss the parade, and have yet to find one here in Texas that compares.

I miss having family around- Ward's is fragmented, and mine's all up yonder. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas I become restless, guilty, looking at my boy who has no huge family gatherings to line his childhood memory parts of his brain with. But not guilty enough to brave the cold, the slush, the ice and the snotcicles.

But I realized this year, I CAN give him the 4th. I CAN brave the nasty cold of a July morning in Wisconsin to give my son the parade. Although Uncle Pete's Porch doesn't belong to Uncle Pete anymore, both Pete and Bena being gone, I can give my boy the parade, and his grandparents, uncle and aunt- my folks and brother and sister-in-law.

And the night of the parade, I can give him fireworks on the shores of Lake Michigan- shot off of North Pier and visible from the lighthouse beach, Shoop Park beach, the Zoo beach, and all the way to Pershing Park. In the flashes you can see the flotilla of fishing and sail boats that are watching from on the water.

Next year. Independence Day in Wisconsin- to give my son roots and memories, history and family.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

There's More Than One Way To Skin A Cat

Their eyes pierce straight into our hearts and chill us to the bone.

Images on the screen of armed recruits being trained for wars far away make us uneasy, upset, dismayed and disturbed because the bodies housing the steely eyes and grasping the automatic weapons are tiny. Child Warriors.

Ripped from their homes by force, or given up in despair by parents who have nothing to feed them and no hope of anything later today, or tomorrow, or next week, or ever, the pint-sized soldiers try to find their way in a world that is very dangerous, unbelievably hard, hellishly unforgiving.

And we wonder how something like that could happen- how could an entire society turn its back on its young people, allow- even encourage them- to become pawns of war.

How can they not protect them, do something that would allow families to stay together and be strong, live well, not just survive, but thrive and become instruments of true honor and strength and hope.

And all the while the training of child troops continues- the boys becoming sometimes quickly, sometimes inch by inch, immune to pain and fear and that little voice inside that says "STOP! Killing is wrong".

And after a while they pull the trigger without thinking,

without pausing,

without feeling a thing.

Luckily, we are very far removed from that sort of de-humanization. We live in the lap of luxury, the land of the free, the home of the brave, by the Grace of God, Amen.

That sort of horror could never happen here- we're too smart, too blessed, too wealthy, too in tune with our family values.

So we tuck in our children at night- our children who will not be torn from our arms violently, who we will not abandon due to lack of food, or water, or shelter.

Our children, most of them, will go every day to either day care or school- safe places where they "do their work" while we do ours for many hours each day until we pick them up and go home- after the extracurricular activities are finished and errands are run.

Our children, most of them, have more worldly possessions than most adults the world over- thanks to us and our culture of consumerism, and after dinner and after homework they wrap themselves in their solitary rooms surrounded by tv's and computers and playstations and cell phones.

And we sit in the living room, or in front of our own computer screens- staring mutely and with horror at the babies overseas who are being blatantly trained to kill without thought, without fear, without regret.

while our children sprawl in their rooms filled with technological wonders, and they plug in the latest video game and face virtual foes and monsters, some imaginary and some human and the graphics are amazing, the images indistinguishable from "real life". The first few minutes are spent acclimatizing to the scenery and the creatures and the rules of the game.

But after a while they pull the trigger without thinking,

without pausing,

without feeling a thing.