Friday, December 31, 2004

The Most Beautiful Reflection

If I get the chance to sit and think on New Year’s Eve, if I’m not expending all my energy cooking for and cleaning up after my sister and her kids (grumble, grumble),  the first thing that enters my head is the memory of New Year’s Eve 1975. (My god, that’s twenty-nine years ago!) I was sick that day, running in and out of the bathroom all afternoon with a mild case of the Tijuana two-step. (More information than you wanted, I know, but it’s relevant to the story…) My new boyfriend and I (we had started dating a week or so after Thanksgiving) were invited to a party at my best friend’s house. Though I didn’t eat, and couldn’t drink (waaaaah!) we went anyway. It wasn’t much of a party. Maybe a dozen people huddled down in the basement of the ancient house my girlfriend and her…domestic partner…had purchased a few months earlier. I can’t even recall who was there, what we did, whether there was music, or games. What makes the evening memorable is that it was the night my husband asked me to marry him. He was drunk…I was not. So, I said, "Sure, dear!" figuring he had no idea what he was saying, and was never going to remember any of it in the morning, anyway. Reality set in the next day when he asked me, "So, you’re still gonna marry me, right?" Whoa! Say what? Commence panic-stricken back-pedaling.

After the initial freak-out period, and setting and re-setting the date a couple of times, we DID finally tie the knot before the year (1976) had run its course. By Valentine’s Day, husband had moved out of his parents’ home and into an apartment with a roommate; and though I didn’t "officially" move in with him until months later when we got our own apartment, I just…didn’t sleep at home anymore after that. I think it was the middle of June when I sat down on the foot of my parents’ bed as they were changing out of their work clothes one evening, and said, "Well, I guess we're going to get married in October…" Dad tried to look serious, as befitted the occasion…but he was beaming (he'd always liked this boy…) My mother must have shit a brick: Sixteen weeks to plan the wedding. I was too starry-eyed to notice.

Most women I know can accurately cite the anniversaries of all the milestones in their early relationships with their partners. I don’t remember any of that stuff. I didn’t run home and make note of the exact dates. I remember this---the date of my first and last marriage proposal—primarily because it happened on a day that was easy to recall. Still, it’s a lovely memory to have, tied as it is to a day that one traditionally ponders one’s blessings. I’ll always have the beginning of the greatest partnership of my life to look back upon and smile on New Year’s Eve.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Batting Around the "R" words

2004 is slowly drawing to a close. It’s perilously close to that time for reflection and resolution. Ha! One of my major problems is that I reflect way too often; at the drop of a hat, actually, throughout the year. I’m so busy analyzing yesterday, that I miss today…and forget to anticipate tomorrow. If I wasn’t so allergic to making resolutions, I would resolve not to indulge in quite so much reflection.

I think I may need to change my tune regarding resolutions. For the past decade or so, I’ve completely thrown over the idea of making resolutions for the new year. All I could see was that I would most likely be setting myself up to fail. I’ve been so prone to failure these last ten years, I had no desire to create new yardsticks by which my daily failures could be measured.

How negative does that sound? But that was the space I was in. Emphasis on the word WAS. I think the past year has seen me finally crawl out of that hole, to a place where I can perch, enjoy today, and survey the possibilities of the future. As well as the mistakes of the past, from enough distance that I can see the larger picture. Pick out the valuable lessons, and leave the rest behind.

When I first set my mind to thinking about what I had "Done" in 2004, I was ready to be disappointed. My current situation—not working, and not doing a very good job of making the most of my free time---has left me with feelings of worthlessness and frustration. As I dug a little deeper into the treasure chest that is 2004, I realized that I have accomplished some things of which I should be very proud. And some things happened that should be celebrated. Rub off the soot of today’s discontent, and you find some rich treasures wrapped in the days, weeks, and months of this year. Here are some of them:

January: Husband and I joined Weight Watchers. By May, I had lost thirty pounds and reached my goal weight of 118#. In October, husband attained his goal weight of 187#, shedding more than 60 pounds. We were not the most gung-ho of members, but we learned some things about nutrition and made some life-style changes that will put us in good stead for the rest of our lives.

February: Had a fun Valentine’s "wine tour" vacation with husband and my sister and brother-in-law. Weather was cold and a bit raw, but with all the wine…who cared? In fact, we had several good times of sharing with my family, throughout the year. This may not seem like a big deal…but my relationship with my family has drifted to such a sorry state that any positive interaction with them is to be celebrated. And so I do.

May: For only the second time in almost twenty years, members of husband’s family trekked out to Oregon to visit the far western outpost of the clan. We did a decent job of intensive entertaining, husband was beaming, and a good time was had by all.

Summer months: We had a decent season with the business, despite getting rammed by the weather at several events. I made some changes to the menu and to some systems that simplified the operation and made us more profitable, made good contacts at some new events that went well; all in all, a year of learning and growth for Café de la Rue, pointing us in the direction of future greatness.

August: Husband embarked upon the "dining room door" project… Said project was satisfactorily completed within less than two months. This was some kind of speed and efficiency record for a home improvement undertaking in our house. And it looks darn good, too.

Late summer to autumn: I surprised myself with a burst of political fervor surrounding the election. I still believe that this was one of the most important elections of my lifetime. And I don’t think the American people dropped the ball, either. I think it was stolen out of their hands (again.) Only this time when the order went out to secure a state for Mr. Bush, it went with the addendum that the votes should stack up overwhelmingly enough in Bush’s favor that calling for a recount would be politically untenable for the opponent. (Hey…I spent the first thirty years of my life living a stone’s throw from Chicago. It’s not like I’m not aware that political manipulation of the voting franchise is practiced in this country…) It is my fervent hope that, one day soon, enough evidence will be gathered by some brave soul willing to stand up to the frightening clout of the Bush the administration, to expose them for who and what they are, and bring them to justice NOW, when the American people, and the people of the world, could most benefit from it. How I would love to show the world that we Americans know how to keep our own house in order! What better demonstration that democracy works?

(Look at that…just get me started on a political bent and I can hardly keep my hands from flying over the keys…even if I do have to stop and correct manicure-related typos every three words…! :-D)

And how could I tick off the highlights of 2004 without including the best thing of all—Coming to Terms With Middle Age. The events and accomplishments of the year have seemed so much more…real…because I’ve been able to recount them here, as if I were writing letters to good friends. Friends who have helped me see some things more clearly, who have applauded when I did something good, or gently admonished me when I did something stupid. Friends who have given me the priceless gift of reading the things I have to write. I can never adequately express how much I treasure this journal experience. Thank you all for being THE highlight of my year.

Tomorrow, I will write about the things I want to accomplish (dare I say the "R" word?) in 2005.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Is It Two Days After Christmas?

I caved in to a pre-New-Year's resolution and took the dog for a long walk up the hill behind the house.  I have been SUCH a couch potato the last six weeks, I feel like I'm losing all the residual muscle tone I possessed.  I've vowed to walk with the dog every day...she needs it, and I need it.  So far, we've managed one in a row.  Gotta start somewhere, I guess.

It was a lovely winter day in the Columbia Valley.  I enjoyed one of the spectacular views I get to see when "the mountains are out..." (a term, I'm told, that only die-hard Pacific Northwesterners understand.)  Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams were all out this afternoon.  An occasion, really; we can go weeks in the fall and winter without seeing them at all. 

Okay, so it's December 27th.  Two days after Christmas.  Already, at least 50% of the outdoor Christmas lights I enjoyed three days ago have been stripped down and packed away.  What's up with that?  When I was a kid, we used to leave our decorations, outdoor lights, tree, the whole nine yards, up until January 6th.  Christmas wasn't just the day.  All that time between Christmas and Epiphany was "the Christmas season."  These days, we're in such a rush to dive into the next thing, whatever it is, that we ditch Christmas forty-eight hours after crooning "Silent Night." 

I don't know...maybe the season has simply shifted.  We didn't put our decorations up the day after Thanksgiving in the old days.  So maybe the season is STILL a month long, it's just shifted ahead by two weeks.  Our attention span can only be so long, I guess.

Another phenomenon I witnessed today was Oregonians' fascination with washing their cars.  When the sun comes out in the winter, it doesn't matter if it's 35 degrees outside, fastidious car-owners of Oregon WILL wash their cars.  Today, on my three-mile walk around town, I encountered this ritual being played out no less than half a dozen times.  The sun was out, but it was surely no more than 45 degrees outside.  One young twenty-something couple was bustling around their driveway literally half-dressed:  He, shirtless and with his pants half down his butt, revealing his designer boxers, and she in short shorts, a lingerie tank top, and no shoes...cavorting around for all the world as if it was the middle of summer.  Meanwhile, I was trotting past with my dog, wearing a hoodie, my leather jacket, gloves, and wishing I hadn't let vanity talk me out of wearing my hat.

I'm sorry...I don't feel the need to wash my car in the middle of winter.  Too many years of living in the midwest, where that idea was so completely unthinkable, one would have been laughed out of the neighborhood had one attempted it.  Here in western Oregon, you KNOW if it's clear today, it's sure as hell gonna rain tomorrow.  So what, exactly, is the point?

I have to laugh sometimes at the Oregonian psyche.  Many of us are convinced we live just slightly north of Orange County.  Shorts, Birkenstocks, tank tops, t-shirts, and car-washing are as appropriate in mid-December as mid-July.  I'm convinced that less than 50% of the population owns a winter coat.  Me?  I come from Chicago. My native state imparted some basic knowledge that I look upon as necessary to survival---for instance, that goose bumps so large you could sand concrete with them indicate the need for a coat.   That when your hands freeze into the shape of T-Rex claws, this would be the time to put on gloves. And perhaps when your be-sandaled toes turn blue, with a slightly black tinge, you should think about putting on real shoes.  With socks, if possible. 

I attribute Oregonians' lack of common sense about winter clothing to the chronic ingestion of various intoxicants (past or present. ) Seems a likely explanation to me...      

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Old Friends


Cradled from the crate
Shed of their Kleenex robes
Carefully
Lovingly
Hooked on a safe branch

They’re tarnished
Crackled
Ragged

Irreplaceable
Like the memories they carry
In their fragile glass shells

Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Gift


A few days ago, I searched my mind, in vain, for the memory of my most cherished Christmas gift. I’ve never been a good or gracious receiver of gifts; more often than not, the packages under the tree, once stripped of their merry glittering paper and spirals of ribbon, have not quite measured up to my definition of magic. I’ve known the reality of holiday let-down since I was about eight years old. Were my expectations too high, or were the offerings under the tree really as mundane and unimaginative as they ultimately felt?

Finally, though, reading a friend’s journal entry about the wonderful gift of snow for Christmas, in a southern town where such an event is truly magical…the memory washed over me in a wave. And I wonder how I could have forgotten. My most wonderful and treasured Christmas gift? My life.

Ten years ago this Christmas, I was walking down one of the most frightening paths a woman can follow. After years of palliative treatments for severe "female problems," I was scheduled to go under the knife on December 14, 1994. My doctor had determined, from an ultra-sound, that I had a huge mass surrounding my right ovary. The dreaded "C" word had come up in the consultation. I asked if he could avoid doing major surgery by getting a biopsy first; Eldad (my doctor), sweet man that he was, looked truly distressed as he replied quietly, "If it IS cancer, and you rupture it, then you spread it…" There was no choice but to submit to major surgery. And no way of knowing, once I was put under, what news I would hear on awaking.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to know you are going to die. I don’t have any idea how I would live, possessing that information. But I DO know what it’s like to be weeks, days, hours away from possibly facing that reality. And I know I was scared to death. The only thing I could do, from the day the surgery was scheduled in my doctor’s office, was try to go on as if I believed there was nothing to worry about. That I didn’t feel sick enough to have a cancer that large eating away at my vitals. To function on a brave, logical, calm level that never appeared to consider the possibility of impending doom. To wear this façade, fragile as an eggshell, feeling like it could shatter at any moment from the pressure of the panic beneath. And to have this thing… this heavy, dark shadow, with no substance, yet packing the weight of an elephant, constantly looming on the edges of my consciousness.

Here in Oregon, west of the Cascades, it snows maybe once a year; many years, it doesn’t snow at all. And if it does, in its capricious Oregon-weather way, it rarely falls before Christmas, when the wonder and beauty of it would balance out the transportational inconvenience. A week before my surgery in 1994, it snowed. We had just finished hanging our outdoor lights. We had acquired a brand-new holiday novelty---Christmas lights designed to hang in icicle-like drapes from the eaves. Ours was the only house in the neighborhood to display this new-fangled marvel that year.

Snow. Magical Christmas snow. I bundled up and toted the video camera outside (one of those huge ones that you needed a bearer to carry around for you). Lacking a sled, husband broke down a cardboard box; we slogged to the top of the street that ran past our house, and skidded back down, mostly off the box—two forty-year-old adults, not a kid in sight, hooting with laughter, sliding down the street again and again. Everything about that snow was a little brighter, a little lovelier…there was a nearly hysterical edge to my determination to make merry that evening.

The elephant that was the shadow of my unknown prognosis, followed me everywhere, nudging me to enjoy while I could. There was that real possibility, unvoiced and barely acknowledged, that this could be the last snow I would ever see.

A week later, as I lay struggling to shake off the anaesthetic fog after surgery, the first thing I was aware of was Eldad, standing by my shoulder and saying, over and over, "Wake up! You don’t have cancer. Do you hear me? You don’t have cancer! Everything is all right!" until I worked my paralyzed mouth into what I thought was a smile, looked him in the eye and nodded my head. As I drifted back into oblivion, I caught a glimpse of the elephant heading out the door.

That Christmas, I could barely stand upright long enough to decorate the tree. Last minute jaunts to the mall were given up in favor of resting in the recliner wrapped in a cozy throw. Husband spoiled me mercilessly with a huge pile of presents under the tree on Christmas eve. I felt weak, tired, and puny, but it was, hands-down, the best Christmas morning I can remember. Raising my head off the pillow, the only thing hanging over it the feather-light knowledge that this would not be my last Christmas after all.
This is my contribution to judith heartsong's December Artsy Essay contest...

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Carols Round III

Posting this verse, I’m disproving my own theory that all the great old Christmas hymns were written by bible-thumping Protestants. The words to this carol were penned by a Catholic poet, at the request of his parish priest. The writer was so impressed with his own work, he sought out a friend to create a melody for them; a friend who just happened to be a popular composer of the day. A man who made a living composing scores for ballets and operas. That explains the hauntingly beautiful melody…certainly one of the loveliest of all Christmas songs.

This almost scores one for the musical sensibilities of the Catholic Church…except that, ten years after the song was written, and had become one of the most popular carols in France, the Church banned it because the lyricist had embraced socialism, and the composer was a Jew. In the end, the story serves to demonstrate all the more the pigheadedness and complete musical ineptitude of the Church when it came to songs written in anything that wasn’t Gregorian Latin.

Luckily for the song, it caught the attention of a Unitarian minister in Boston, who translated it into English. As an abolitionist, he was especially moved by the verse I have posted above. It became a Christmas anthem for the abolitionist movement in America during the Civil War.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Ho! Ho! Mew!

Yes, I will be posting another carol verse tomorrow.  Too much to do today.  Got the fifth and last tree into the house, unbound and decorated.  Wonder of wonders, husband helped me out with it.  He sat in the chair and posed "Trivial Pursuit" questions to me while I put the lights and garland on, but he stepped right up and helped hang the ornaments, once I had sorted through them and weeded out the ones that had seen better days (We have a lot of ornaments that I have acquired from every craft show under the sun over the years. They often come out of the box after their fifth or sixth season in the crawl space looking...less than fresh.  I have learned that hot glue does NOT last forever.  Some day I'll sit down and re-glue all the ones that have come from together.  But not today...)

I received the following in an email from my sister today.  Anyone with animals, particularly feline animals, in the house at Christmas will step up and shout amen! after reading this.  I found it absolutely hilarious, and extremely apropos, considering we recently acquired our seventh and eighth cats.  The adult cats are bad enough...but the babies!  Their sole mission in life these days is to eat Christmas. 

Anyway, here is

"The Twelve Cats of Christmas"

On the first day of Christmas;
when I brought home my tree,
My 12 cats were laughing at me.

On the second day of Christmas;
I saw beneath my tree,
Two mangled garlands,
and my twelve cats laughing at me

On the third day of Christmas;
I saw beneath my tree,
Three missing Wise Men,
Two mangled garlands,
and my Twelve cats laughing at me.

On the fourth day of Christmas;
I saw beneath my tree,
Four males a-spraying,
Three missing Wise Men,
Two mangled garlands,
and my twelve cats laughing at me.

On the fifth day of Christmas;
I saw beneath my tree,
Five shredded gifts,
Four males a-spraying,
Three missing Wise Men,
Two mangled garlands,
and my twelve cats laughing at me.

On the sixth day of Christmas;
I saw beneath my tree,
Six fallen angels,
Five shredded gifts,
Four males a-spraying,
Three missing Wise Men,
Two mangled garlands,
and my twelve cats laughing at me.

On the seventh day of Christmas;
I saw beneath my tree,
Seven half-dead rodents,
Six fallen angels,
Five shredded gifts,
Four males a-spraying,
Three missing Wise Men,
Two mangled garlands,
and my twelve cats laughing at me.

On the eighth day of Christmas;
I saw beneath my tree,
Eight shattered ornaments,
Seven half-dead rodents,
Six fallen angels,
Five shredded gifts,
Four males a-spraying,
Three missing Wise Men,
Two mangled garlands,
and my twelve cats laughing at me.

On the ninth day of Christmas;
I saw beneath my tree,
Nine chewed-through light strings,
Eight shattered ornaments,
Seven half-dead rodents,
Six fallen angels,
Five shredded gifts,
Four males a-spraying,
Three missing Wise Men,
Two mangled garlands,
and my twelve cats laughing at me.

On the tenth day of Christmas;
I saw beneath my tree,
Ten tinsel hairballs,
Nine chewed-through light strings,
Eight shattered ornaments,
Seven half-dead rodents,
Six fallen angels,
Five shredded gifts,
Four males a-spraying,
Three missing Wise Men,
Two mangled garlands,
and my twelve cats laughing at me.

On the eleventh day of Christmas;
I saw beneath my tree,
Eleven broken branches,
Ten tinsel hairballs,
Nine chewed-through light strings,
Eight shattered ornaments,
Seven half-dead rodents,
Six fallen angels,
Five shredded gifts,
Four males a-spraying,
Three missing Wise Men,
Two mangled garlands,
and my twelve cats laughing at me.


On the twelfth day of Christmas;
I looked at my poor tree.

Twelve cats a-climbing,
Eleven broken branches,
Ten tinsel hairballs,
Nine chewed-through light strings,
Eight shattered ornaments,
Seven half-dead rodents,
Six fallen angels,
Five shredded gifts,
Four males a-spraying,
Three missing Wise Men,
Two mangled garlands,

And my twelve cats still laughing at me...

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Holiday Road Trip

I have been MIA the last four days...  Thursday morning, husband and I made the five-hour drive down to Oregon's "Bay Area--" a population center (if you can call it that) about 3/4 of the way down the state from where we live in the far north.  There is an Oregon State Park in that area--Shore Acres State Park, to be precise-- which started out as the estate of a late-nineteenth-century lumber baron.  His mansion and most of the buildings have fallen victim to fire or storm over the years, but the formal gardens remain, and they were deeded to the State of Oregon sometime in the early part if the twentieth century.  Every holiday season, the formal gardens are decked out with thousands of lights...a most spectacular show.  People from all over the U.S., and several foreign countries, visit each year (according to the little flyer put out by the "Friends of Shore Acres.)  

The real trick when planning a trip to one of these outdoor Christmas extravaganzas is picking the right weather.  Which, in the Pacific Northwest in the middle of December, is an iffy proposition at best.  We got drowned out at "The Grotto" (where they deck out the grounds of a Catholic monastery in Northeast Portland), and frozen nearly to death by the evil gorge wind the year we went to visit the "Zoo Lights" display at the Oregon Zoo.  More often than not, we peer at the lights show at PIR (Portland International Raceway) through pea-soup-like fog. 

We've been to Shore Acres twice before to see the lights, the last time was seven years ago.  And, though we lucked out and didn't get rain, we froze our butts off both times.  So, we packed layers upon layers of clothing to wear to the park last night.  Would you believe, yesterday afternoon, shopping in the nearby town of Bandon-by-the-Sea, we were squinting into a winter-weak yet naked (NO clouds to hide behind) sun, tying our sweaters around our waists, and sipping wine at a sidewalk fish shack! It must have been no less than 68 degrees in mid-afternoon...  I felt like I was in Cali-flippin'-fornia!  The fickle Oregon weather gods had decided to flash a benevolent wink in our direction.

Wish I had got better pictures, but I neglected to bring my tripod, so most of my pictures were...less than okay.  But here are some of the best...hope they're big enough to get a decent idea of how absolutely breathtaking the display was.  It was a total Christmas fairyland.  Wished we had brought a picnic and bottle of champagne... Nah...probably too crowded for that, anyway.  Ah, but it was lovely!   

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Merry Christmas...

...from the Hairy Butt!

This and That

Look, folks! We’re getting perilously close to the 10,000 mark on the old hit-o-meter here. And it only took me fifteen months to get there! Not that I ever look at it :: nose growing another inch :: Truly, I don’t think it’s an accurate reflection of my readership, since half the hits are from me…

I only have time for a quick entry today. I was sick nearly unto death yesterday, and I don’t feel all that much better today. Except that the fever has broken and I actually have the capacity to get out of bed… I believe husband and I have been victims of what is officially called "the flu…" The thing they don’t have enough vaccines for this year…though we wouldn’t have been in line for one anyway. Jeez, I haven’t been so sick in years, not since I had pneumonia six years ago. Looks like it’s going away a lot quicker than the pneumonia did thank God. I’m too old to deal with this kind of illness anymore. Being pre-menopausal, pre-menstrual, and arthritic daily lay me low enough. Piling the flu on top of that was nearly deadly! Or it felt like it, anyway…

Even though the thought of food for the last twenty-four hours has been enough to send me running swiftly in the other direction (if I could get out of bed), there is something going on in our little village of Scappoose that is really bothering me. It seems a perfect local demonstration of something that is very wrong with American culture.

Two weeks ago, the local grocery store in town, went bankrupt and locked its doors. It finally lost the battle with the big, bright Fred Meyer that was built down the road about five years ago. Apparently, the little market put up quite a struggle…and rather than reading the handwriting on the wall and selling out before things got desperate, they played it right down to the wire. Which means that they were locked up, presumably by a utility company, their bank, or other creditors. With all the merchandise still on the shelves. The produce, the meat, the dairy, all left sitting on the shelves or in the fridges.

So, what’s wrong with that? Well, last I heard, Oregon has one of the highest, if not THE highest, hunger rates in the country. We have a huge number of people who require food assistance every single day. But in the name of…what? The law? Commerce? Bank practice? …we’re going to let thousands of dollars worth of food sit inside a building and rot because somebody didn’t pay their bills. How much of a waste is this??? All hail, Capitalism!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Watch For Stray Lightning Bolts...

I may have ferreted out the reason behind my less-than-enthusiastic attitude toward Christmas this year. Events political and personal over the past year have served to confirm and expand my religious agnosticism. I think about the season…about what it is supposed to celebrate; and I am split completely asunder. One half of me wants to plug in the tape of Christmases past—the one that has always brought the charm and warmth of nostalgia to the season. The one that is expanded upon every year, with fresh memories and new traditions. The one that contains the continuous thread of the background of the holy story I was practically born knowing. The birth of a saviour. Peace on earth. Good will toward men. The joy of giving—people demonstrating in their gifts to each other, their understanding and appreciation of the gift given to all mankind by their Creator.

But this year….this year is different. It’s painfully obvious that peace on earth is a commodity that the human race doesn’t even value, much less aspire to. Good will toward men? There was precious little good will to be had between fellow Americans of differing political views during the past twelve months. So we couldn’t possibly be accused of trying in any way, shape, or form to spread good will beyond our own borders. If the hideous mess in Iraq represents the best we Americans can do at spreading something over the earth, we surely are hopeless as a society. And we have turned God and religion into weapons of mass destruction. We use Him to destroy other countries. We use Him to destroy each other.

So the other half of me looks at the state of the world this Christmas, and completely loses the last vestiges of faith and hope I might have cherished despite my personal estrangement from the Almighty. Everybody, at one time or another, questions the existence of God. But how serious are those questions, really? Don’t you always keep in the back of your mind the knowledge, the certainty, that there is a God who knows you are questioning, but understands and forgives? (Or the fear that He is towering above, winding up the lightning bolt to heave down and reduce your heretical ass to a pile of ashes…)

For me, this year, that last recognition of God as Iwas taught, is fading. I can see the "god" that most human beings follow credibly being a creation of the human mind. A super embodiment of instinctive human tendencies toward violence and dominance. We invented "god" as a means to create order in our societies, since we couldn’t be trusted to understand and control our own behavior. We understand the concept of the most powerful individual being in control. So we created an all-powerful being that sees all, knows all, and will exact the ultimate punishment if certain rules of an orderly society are not followed. And the thing that all sentient beings fear above all is death…so the reward for following the rules became eternal life.

Frightening, isn’t it? I haven’t altogether discounted the existence of a Supreme Being, or of a realm that exists beyond the borders of our physical existence. There are too many clues, too many hints to the reality of a spiritual world…which suggests a plane so vast and powerful that it regularly "leaks through" to our own plane. But I’m convinced that our concept of "God" is very much our own poor attempt to explain and relate to a power as far beyond our ability to understand as we are above an amoeba’s. Within the tight borders of our own understanding, we envision a god that is a lot like us, only bigger. We even preach that we were created in God’s image… Doesn’t it seem just as likely that, in fact, we have "created" God in ours?

So, you can see how Christmas might be a difficult concept to deal with, for someone who indulges in such heathen contemplation. I wish I could find comfort just indulging in the rituals. But it all feels as fragile as a blown egg. Just a shell, useless without the yolk of the faith which those rituals protect. My husband, who has moved to another room so as not to be present when the lightning bolt hits, says I "overthink" things. I sometimes wonder, though, if the human race isn’t guilty of underthinking God.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Christmas Hymns II

This was one of the second wave of Christmas songs that I learned. Less like a lullaby than the carols I'd known practically from the cradle-- "Silent Night", "Away in the Manger." More intricate musically, and a more mature message in the lyrics. Which was mostly lost on me until I became familiar with the words beyond the first verse. I never cared much one way or another for it until I learned what we now know as the second verse...but is actually the third verse of this Christmas poem written by a Unitarian minister in Massachusetts in 1849 as part of his Christmas Eve message for his flock. I love the imagery here of the "cloven sky" and the "peaceful wings unfurled."

It crossed my mind to post the now-unused second verse here, but I thought that might be cheating. It does, however, contain the meat of the message of the song, so here it is:

Yet with the woes of sin and strife,
The world hath suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled,
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not,
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

 

     

Thursday, December 9, 2004

Gotta Go...

I have a "to do" list as long as my arm today.  I have to go out and preview a restaurant equipment auction.  I have to stop by the plant where my husband works and see if they have any stuff in their employees' factory sale that would be of use in my ongoing decorating efforts. (Since husband is an "executive," it behooves us to display the company's products in our home.  But getting him to bring me anything is like pulling teeth.)  I have to go by PetSmart and pick up Lucy's collar, which they forgot to put back on her after I had her bathed just before Thanksgiving.  I have to swing by Jacques Pennois (JC Penney) and pick up the percent percent percent percent off diamond ring we "pre-bought" last week (since it was before the actual sale date, they wouldn't let me take it home that day. No problem. It's only thirty miles one way back to the store! Tsk!)

Actually, I WOULD be excited about the opportunity to spend the day out of the house...if the weather didn't look completely sucky, and if I wasn't coming down with my annual case of the Christmas Crud.  I always come down with at least a cold just before Christmas.  Used to be, in my mall-slave days, I could blame it on working 75 hours a week.  Now, I think my body just does it out of habit...

While I'm out, I need to stop by some church and beg, borrow, or steal a hymnal.  Wouldn't you know, I don't have a single music book in the house that has all the words to all the Christmas carols I wanted to write about.  For years, I kept an old hymnal from our old church in a box in the closet.  Last spring, I did my white tornado act through the office, and out it went.  Why is it that, six months after you throw away something you haven't even looked at in ten years, it's the one thing you absolutely have to have?  And, oh, have you ever tried to buy one hymnal?  If anybody out there knows the secret to that transction, I'm all ears (eyes?)  

Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Presents


This past weekend, we were in Eugene. Two weekends in a row surrounded by my family. I feel like I deserve a medal. Or a lobotomy.


The Christmas after my Dad passed away, I decided to try to put together a new holiday diversion…as much an effort to take our minds off missing him as anything else. I bought tickets for everyone to a holiday concert, and put together a pre-concert feast. The guests were charged with bringing an ornament for each other member of the family, for an ornament exchange. Wonder of wonders, the new tradition caught on. On Sunday, we had our sixth annual.


The sight of my sister’s dining room table awash with little wrapped packages gave me a little slap upside of the head with Christmas spirit. (My attitude so far this season has been decidedly Grinch-like…) As I down-loaded this picture, I tried to think…what was my favorite Christmas present I had ever received? You want to hear something really pitiful? I couldn’t think of one!


Not as pitiful as you might think, maybe. Since I was old enough to tuck the five-dollar bill my mother handed me safely into my pocket, and strike out on my own up and down the aisles of Woolworth’s, the greater thrill of the holidays for me has been the gifts I was giving, rather than what I was going to get. I always wanted my present to be the best that person received that year…or at least something they needed, loved, or would use. I took much more pleasure in watching people open the gifts tagged "To: XXXX, From: Lisa," than in tearing into my own booty under the tree.


Still, there must be a present I have received on one of the last forty-nine Christmases that brightened my life above all others. I just can’t think of it. Help me out, here. Maybe an example from somewhere out in journal-land will jog my memory. What was YOUR favorite Christmas present of all time?


P.S. I will post another song verse later in the week. Currently doing some research...

Saturday, December 4, 2004

Christmas Hymns

When I was in grade school, the Catholic Church started going through "big" changes. They kicked out some saints, axed "limbo," and decided that Protestants weren’t necessarily going to hell. They overhauled the liturgy, in an effort to make Catholic worship more "user friendly." They turned the altar around so that the priest faced the congregation when he was saying Mass…we all appreciated feeling more a part of the action rather than spectators… And, of course the biggest change—Mass was to be said in English rather than Latin. Songs! We needed hymns! In English. In a hurry. Which is always what they sounded like to me. Like they were scratched together in a hurry. The only one I ever liked was "Holy God We Praise Thy Name."

Later, when husband and I started attending a Pentecostal church, we got a crack at the "old" Protestant hymnal. And I realized that those guys really knew how to write hymns. The melodies were lovely, but the lyrics…they knew how to pack a whole lot of fire and brimstone, transcendent worship, or gung-ho evangelism into every song.

It was during that time that I became familiar with the second or third verses of some of the Christmas carols I had been singing all my life. The writers of those songs packed SO much theological meat into them. They went beyond the sweet little baby in the manger…told the story of redemption, told what Christ’s birth really meant to mankind. And it didn't end with "peace on earth, good will to men," though that is all we seem to grasp of the real meaning of Christmas anymore. While we march all over the world spreading democracy. In this country, I think we really mean "peace in America, good will toward…anybody who looks, acts and worships like me." But I digress.

I just love the poetry and imagery in some of the old Christmas carols. So I thought up a little game for this holiday season. I’ll post the words to a middle verse to a Christmas song. You guess the song. This shouldn’t be too hard. And meanwhile, we’ll all get a chance to become familiar with these beautiful hymns, and contemplate what they really mean.

Today’s verse:

This is an easy one. I think my favorite recorded version is on Amy Grant’s first Christmas album. I’m showing my age, I know…

 

Thursday, December 2, 2004

Holy Cow

McDonald’s and KFC are really taking the heat for America’s expanding waistline. Yes, their menus are fat and carb-laden. And the prices are such that we lazy Americans let them do the cooking for us, rather than put out the effort to create healthy meals in our own kitchens. And this is the fast food industry’s fault, why? But last night, I got to see why America’s rich people are fat.

We had planned on grabbing a salad or something light after our concert last night, but the show didn’t let out until almost 9:30. A steakhouse isn’t the kind of place we normally seek out, since being introduced to the joys of Weight Watchers; but it was late, we were HUNGRY, and Morton’s was right across the street. In my mind, I was still entertaining the idea of ordering the lightest thing on the menu, whatever that might be. Obviously, I had never been to Morton’s before.

You sit down and get your drinks. You settle in to wait for them to bring your menu, and start to wonder what’s up when it isn’t promptly plopped down in front of you. Then, your waitperson rolls what looks like a dessert cart up to your table. Which actually contains an entire cow hacked into huge chunks. Waitperson proceeds to launch into her oft-repeated spiel about Morton’s menu, pointing to each mountain of meat and describing the cut, the weight, and how it is best prepared. Struck deaf and dumb by the sheer enormity of what they considered a portion, I missed most of what she said, except the "48-ounce" part. Great merciful heavens, that’s three pounds of meat! Those "steaks" were every bit as big as the pot roasts my dad used to cook for Sunday dinner, for a family of seven. A Weight Watchers’ portion of beef is four ounces. Each of those steaks was enough meat to feed me and the husband for almost a week.

As waitperson was winding up her lecture, husband pointed to a steak and said, "Now this is meant to be for two people, right?" To which she replied, "Nooo….all of these are single portions!" Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a look at the three large men sitting at the table next to us, digging into the gigantic salads they had ordered as a warm-up to their actual meal. I felt like I had bought a ticket to a food orgy.

Husband ended up ordering their "petite cut" rib eye, which was at least a pound of meat, if not more. I decided to order the one chicken dish on the menu, the portion of which was three breasts. Breaded, pan-seared, and served floating on a puddle of beurre blanc. It was delicious. But lowfat, it was not.

We now have 1.75 chicken breasts, half a rib-eye steak, half a portion of "potatoes Lyonnaise" (potato chunks pan-fried with bacon and onion), and even a dab of creamed spinach residing in a plastic container in our fridge. There’s more fat in that one little clam shell than in the rest of the contents of the fridge combined, I’m sure. I seriously have to wonder why any eating establishment would make unadulterated gluttony part and parcel of their mission statement. And why this is such a successful concept, that there is a "Morton’s" in nearly every major city across America. Sometimes two. Perhaps the patrons would be doing themselves a favor to check out McDonald’s…

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Where's Martha When You Need Her?

I hate to sew. And I suck at it. I imagine one has everything to do with the other (I hate, therefore I suck.) It is also my misfortune that I am saddled with legs that are fully four inches shorter than the perfect 5’ 8" model that every pair of pants in the world was created to fit.

Sometime in late September, I purchased a beautiful pair of formal pants at Nordie’s (on sale, of course, for less than half the MSRP.) Black crepe with wide legs, and panels of fabric in front and back that make the whole affair look like a skirt. The panels float gracefully around your legs when you walk…or they’re supposed to. The thing is meant to be tea-length on a normal person. On me, even in heels, they drag on the floor. So I’m doing this float-float-trip-rip dance around the fitting room. No matter! I’ll just wear different shoes! Into the cart they go.

I get them home, and find I don’t own a pair of heels that will hold this garment off the floor (and if I did, I couldn’t possibly navigate them.) So, it becomes obvious to me that if I ever want to wear these pants, I will have to hem them. Not one to get a jump on anything, especially when it comes to sewing, I hang them in the closet until such time as I will absolutely have to deal with them.

Well, the time has come. We’re going to a concert tonight. Not that we haven’t had tickets to said concert for weeks. But I physically can NOT pick up a needle and thread unless I am faced with a hair-on-fire deadline. And we won’t even talk about my sewing machine. I use it so often that every time I touch it, it’s like its first time out of the case. I can never remember from one session to the next how to wind the bobbin or which way it goes in the machine. I invariably end up twirling, winding, pumping, ripping and dialing randomly until I can get the thing to sew a seam. And even then, I often get to the end of a particularly long and arduous stretch, to find I have sewn a perfect top of a seam, with no bottom thread to hold it together. Or the thread from the bobbin gets so tangled that the machine will stop dead in the middle of a run, as if I was urging it to sew through plywood. Not wanting to subject my delicate crepe pants to that peril, I though it safer to reach for the needle and thread. "Safe" being a relative term.

How hard can it be? Pin the bottoms, check them for length (without stabbing self with pins…so far, so good.) Thread the needle (this is where it starts to get difficult…I can’t see squat, and I’ve got to steer these stupid acrylic nails.) Less than twenty stitches in the bottom of each…um, flap?…and, voila! Piece of cake! NOT! The thread continuously twists, knots, and puckers. When I try to produce a knot, I trip over my nails. My "help" keeps going after the spool of thread, the pins, the seam ripper…anything that rolls or is shiny. What would have been a twenty-minute job for a normal person stretches to an hour-long battle of nerves. But in the end, I am victorious. They look…well, not great. But at least I won’t be tripping over them and dragging them in puddles. Did I mention that, when I bought these pants, there was another pair that was similar, but slightly different? And that I couldn’t decide which one I liked better, so I bought both? After today’s hijinks, the other pair will most likely spend the holidays in the back of the closet…

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Ghost...


I’m having trouble making the holiday cheer genuine this year. Recently, I found I needed, for the sake of my sanity, to relegate the past to the past, and consider today the first day of the rest of my life. I think that may be the problem. The holidays are all about nostalgia. Christmas really is for children, and we adults can’t help but realize it anew every year, when we go looking for the magic and find we wouldn’t be able to recognize it if it bit us in the ass. So we take these little journeys to our yesterdays, trying to convince ourselves that Christmases past really did hold all the wonder and enchantment we would like to remember. But when we examine the actual historical record, we find that perhaps those long ago holidays weren’t all that magical.
I remember snow, and Midnight Mass, and coming down the stairs early early on Christmas morning to be greeted by a living room piled high with gifts surrounding the tree. The quintessential sixties Christmas tree, with the multi-colored C7 lights (the ones with the twisted black and red cords); the lead tinsel (which the cat would consume and then cough up in sparkling puddles on the rug); the "heirloom" ornaments that my parents had amassed over twenty years of marriage. I remember "I spy an ornament," and the unique vinyl smell of brand-new baby dolls. I remember "cut-outs," and coloring books, and an apple and an orange stuffed in the toes of our stockings. Which we had laid out on the back of the couch before going to bed on Christmas Eve, because we didn’t have a fireplace.
But I also remember, for weeks before every day marked in red on the calendar, how my mother would turn into a total harpy, absolutely going over the edge from the stress of having to prepare the house to entertain over the holidays. Christmas was as much a time to dread as to anticipate. Later, when I was a teen, and she had started to drink…that made the holidays that much more enjoyable. As I reached my last years in high school, Christmas was about seeing how quickly you could ditch the family and go off and be…well, anywhere but home.
So, in the end, how many years really hold the magic that we long for as grown-ups? Five, maybe, if we’re really lucky? Between the ages of, perhaps, five and ten? That’s where my treasured memories lie, anyway. And I’m nearly fifty now. Five out of fifty. Why are those five SO important? SO vivid? SO wonderful that I’ve spent the forty years since, wishing beyond reason to have them back again?

Monday, November 29, 2004

Pictures

Nanner nanner...didn't fall.

I did, however spend eight hours outside creating beauty. Or something. It wasn't raining (yay) it wasn't icy (double yay) but it was cold. Well, by Oregon standards, anyway. About 38 degrees with a biting breeze that pulled the wind chill down to about 25. Presently, I'm basking in the heat from the pellet stove in the family room--which is turned up high enough to bring the temp in the room up to nearly eighty, and I'm still sitting here wearing an acrylic turtleneck sweater and a sweathirt. I stopped shivering about an hour ago. Probably would have warmed up a little quicker if I hadn't gone outside three times after dinner to take pictures to post here to prove I am still alive. Never say I don't make great personal sacrifices for the sake of my craft. (It is now raining, by the way...don't know how it could possibly be raining, as the air temperature is surely below freezing...) So, anyway, Holiday Job One is satisfactorily completed.

Wish Me Luck

All together now…."WHEW!!" Company is gone and I am on my own again. But it’s not like I can sit back and watch TV and pop bonbons into my mouth. (Since I gained three pounds over the weekend, I don’t intend to be popping much of anything into my mouth for the next couple of days…) I did a terrible thing yesterday…the husband decided that he needed to have a "sit and veg" day after the company left, and I let him suck me right into that vortex. We sat on our dead asses and watched hour after hour of sappy holiday weekend television specials. Now that my brain has been properly turned to oatmeal, I’m in a state of mind where I can commence my "speed-decorating."

I really wanted to get the outside lights up yesterday, at least the ones where you have to climb around on the roof. I am not comfortable playing "mountain goat" up there all by myself. But, then, what could the husband do if I started to fall? Stand there and watch me disappear over the edge? I suppose he could call 911 after I hit the concrete… Nevertheless, I am going to suck it up and get out there in about 45 minutes (I am mentally ticking off those minutes, gathering up my courage…) and do the deed myself. If you never see another entry here, you know what happened… I promise pictures if I am not dead or in traction.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Sneaking a "Quiet" Fix

Here it is, 9:00 am on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  I am sitting here on the john, with the computer in my lap, typing away... (a little trick I stole from the husband, after dissing him mercilessly the first time I caught him at it.)  But right now, this is about the only place in the house where I can be assured of privacy.  And I couldn't even be sure of THAT if I hadn't locked the door...!

Much as I look forward to this opportunity to have the whole famly together under my roof, my normal everyday life does NOT prepare me for the constant hubbbub of having a house full of people.  I guess you could say I'm becoming quite the old fart.  I spend a lot of time on my own, and though it can be a somewhat lonely existence, I am on the whole quite comfortable by myself.  So much so that when I DON'T get my quota of "alone time," I get a little rattled.  To put it midly.

Well,  my fifteen-minute "toilet vacation" from the melee is just about over.  Now, I have to decide whether I want to rejoin the human race, pull on my bathing suit and go out and sit in the hot tub with the group, or stay inside to get caught up with the endless straightening, dishwashing, laundry, and zookeeper duties.  Hmm...where did I put my suit....?   

 

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Holiday Wishes

           

Some Places To Go....

Please go to Jackie's Journal and read her entry for today.  It's just beautiful. I haven't yet found the peace inside of me, since the upheaval of the election, to go to the places in my mind where this kind of writing comes from...

Also, for those of you with access to "Brainsurfing," I added an entry to it today (which has a pretty funny story attached to it, which I will explain in my next entry...)  But, for some reason, it isn't sending out alerts these days.  So go take a look if you're so inclined...

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The "Professional" Cook Does Thanksgiving

I literally spent the day in the kitchen. I’ve never done that for a holiday before. And, when I look at the fruits of my labors, they don’t seem to be much to show for twelve hours of galley slave work. I created one batch of homemade salsa and one batch of spinach dip for pre-Thanksgiving-dinner munchies. Aside from the chopping, thawing, draining, and mixing, these recipes were pretty straight forward, so I managed to sail through them almost unscathed… "Almost" because I ignored the conventional admonishment to wear gloves when seeding and chopping the jalapenos. Found out you definitely don’t want to do that the day after having a manicure. Terminally burning fingers!

Unfortunately, I had less luck with my baking projects. Since I consider myself a baker by profession, I probably shouldn’t admit this. I tried some new recipes, and purposely did my baking today, instead of Thanksgiving morning, or the night before, so that if I had disasters I had time for "do-overs." And I did.

I owe my lack of baking success largely to my attempt to come up with desserts that are low-fat but still edible. The two I made today, I tried to modify to cut out as much fat as possible. My first gingerbread turned out like a flat brick of slightly damp sawdust, and my premier attempt at pecan pie ended up with this thick brown skin over the top. Come to find out you can NOT replace the eggs called for in the pie recipe with egg substitute...I knew something was wrong when, thirty minutes into its baking time, my pie began to look like a brown leather "jiffy pop." It dutifully sank after I took it out of the oven, but, unfortunately, the leather didn’t magically disappear. Had to start all over again, using honest-to-god real eggs…and since the "lowfat" quotient was now in the crapper, I decided to throw in half a bag chocolate chips as well. Husband and I ate the reject…it tasted fine. It just didn’t look like something you would serve to company. And then, of course, I had to keep trying samples of the gingerbread---the first batch in order to judge it a reject, and the second batch to make sure it was really edible this time. How many "points" did I use trying to come up with low-fat desserts for the holiday? Can you say "counter-productive?"

I also managed to guilt one of my sisters into bringing a vegetable dish for Thanksgiving dinner, along with her home-made cranberry sauce. Which means, on Thursday, we’ll be down to the bird, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, and the rolls. Maybe I won’t be stuck in the kitchen all day,,,   And since I'm nodding off trying to write this, I guess I'd better quit here and get some shut-eye.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Holiday Handicap



Here they are, my major holiday indulgence. Well, one of them, anyway. Wonder of wonders, the girl who did my nails last year was still working at the little salon down the street. Yes, it IS the same salon where I got the haircut from hell last April. But I didn’t see the point in holding that against the manicurist. So I went in and got my nails done
***On Sale*** for $29. Not bad, since I seem to recall they cost me over $40 last year.
And now, I’m sure everyone will be relieved to know, I am definitely typing-impaired. I guess I’ll have to give up those long, impassioned political rants until after New Years when I ditch the nails. I’ll have to fill my page with pictures of Christmas stuff. Along about January 5, I’ll bet that y’all will be "Christmased" to death, and will welcome a nice political rant or two!

And in TODAY'S News...

Five Dead, Three Hurt in Wisconsin Hunting Dispute

By JOSHUA FREED, AP

BIRCHWOOD, Wis. (Nov. 22) -- A deer hunter shot and killed five people and injured three others in northwestern Wisconsin following a dispute about a tree stand during the hunt's opening weekend, authorities said.

What a perfect illustration of exactly what I was talking about in my last entry.

Our constitution requires that we allow people to go off into the woods armed to the teeth with semi-automatic weapons. Background checks? Waiting periods? Outlawing of certain kinds of extremely dangerous weapons? Unconstitutional! After all, those deer can be tough…gotta have the ability to pump as many bullets into ‘em as it takes to bring ‘em down! VERY sportsmanlike!

I can’t wait to see the fur fly between the NRA and the gun control lobby on this one.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Few...The Proud...

I’m amazed at how the military, the media, and the population at large are springing to the defense of the marine who killed the unarmed Iraqi insurgent in a mosque last Saturday. We are supposed to "understand" that what this man did was caused by the horrors of war, by the trauma he had suffered through things his unit had recently experienced, by sleep deprivation…you name the excuse, we will float it out there. I’ll admit, I included a reference to the incident in one of my previous journal entries, even though I had not heard the full story. This evening, I went to Slate.com, and found an article (http://www.slate.com/id/2109904/) which described the incident, then went on for several hundred words in an attempt to defend it. I’m sorry…I couldn’t see how the authors (Owen West and Philip Carter) made the leap from the actual fact of the shooting, to the excuses they made in the subsequent paragraphs.

"A Marine shot an unarmed insurgent in a Fallujah mosque on Saturday. We know this because we saw it. The digital video footage of the shooting—recorded by NBC reporter Kevin Sites, who was embedded with the Marines—is running nearly continuously on cable news channels worldwide. We heard it, too. A Marine says: ‘He's f___ing faking he's dead. He's faking he's f___ing dead.’ The Marine comes into view with his rifle shouldered. There is a rifle shot. An Iraqi leaning against a wall slumps, leaving a blood stain behind. According to CNN, another Marine says, ‘Well, he's dead now.’ "

Am I the only person in America that finds this absolutely abhorrent? The authors begin the article with this description, and then proceed to tell us why what the shooter did was not a war crime, but simply an error in judgment. First of all, they suggest that the shooting is not counter to the Geneva Convention, because the marines were not yet certain that the mosque was "theirs," so the man couldn’t really be considered a prisoner. Then they go on to describe the horrors of battle, the "kill or be killed" atmosphere, the sleep deprivation suffered in a protracted offensive, and on and on and on.

So now I’m supposed to feel sorry for this marine, this professional soldier, who has benefited from arguably the finest military training the world has to offer. I’m supposed to assume that he was ill-prepared for the reality of battle stress, did not know enough to understand whether the battle was still being engaged, had not been trained in the finer points of treatment of prisoners, didn’t have enough moral foundation, or at least common sense, to understand that you don’t shoot an unarmed man. Especially not while the cameras are rolling.

If it had been some nineteen-year-old draftee who had pulled the trigger—a frightened boy who was wallowing in war up to his neck—I would be willing to allow all these excuses, and more. But, no… This atrocity was perpetrated by one of "the few…the proud." If this is an example of the finest fighting force on earth, the one that is supposed to be the staunchest defender of American interests throughout the world, then I am very, very disappointed. And embarrassed, and frightened, and saddened. But I can’t say his actions are not reflective of a decay that has swept across our land. We no longer recognize what is good or fair. Gratuitous violence is so pervasive in our culture, we don’t even know enough to be outraged by it. Life is all about winning at any cost. Give up everything—your friends, your family, your moral fiber, your humanity—to make sure you are the last man standing. That is what commands respect in American culture today. And you never take responsibility for a negative outcome. You blame it on society, your parents, your superiors, the victim, the weather… We’re becoming so skilled at pointing the finger at the other guy, it has almost replaced baseball as the national pass-time.

All I can say is, "WAKE UP, AMERICA!" Open your eyes, look past what you would like to see, or what the Bush machine would like you to see. Our military is broken. Our relationship with the rest of the world is broken. Our ability to recognize goodness and fairness, and to walk that walk, is broken. We’re running our country into the ground by promoting a culture of fear, hatred, domination, and selfishness. Our military is a reflection of our values around the world. WE shot that man in cold blood in a mosque in Fallujah. Will we defend and excuse it, or will we take responsibility and punish it? And will we take steps to rehabilitate our culture, so that we don’t continue to send soldiers abroad to broadcast such evil in the world?

Friday, November 19, 2004

Foreign Policy

Headline on the AOL Welcome Screen this morning:

Will Iran Be The Next Iraq?

For a moment, an icy finger of fear and dread stabbed into the pit of my stomach. But after I gave some thought to the Bush Administration’s track record, my fear melted away.

First of all, one has to remember that the American media are throwing this problem in the president’s face. They are merely acting upon their latest mission statement: "Create fear, panic, controversy and sensationalism wherever and whenever you can. And, oh yes, see if you can squeeze a few lines of news in somewhere." But, to give the media a slight nod, Mr. Bush himself handed them the interpretation of his administration as the hard-line WMD watchdogs of the world, when he settled upon the search for and destruction of such weapons as his raison du jour for attacking Iraq. Who can blame the media for assuming he must now apply that hard line to his administration’s dealings with nations like Iran and North Korea, who actually pose a real WMD threat to the world? Or for at least throwing these nations into Mr. Bush’s face, just to see what his reaction will be.

Truly, I don’t think Iran is as much of a problem to the Bush administration as we would like to believe. Mr. Bush has already shown himself perfectly capable of contradictory foreign policy. Have we forgotten how he literally turned his back on North Korea’s saber-rattling, while at the same time ramming his obvious intention to attack Iraq down the world’s throat? It isn’t much of a leap to realize that WMD were never the real issue in Iraq. What does Iraq have that North Korea does not…and the United States needs very badly? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

It could be argued that Iran, being a middle eastern nation, might stand a better chance of falling victim to Mr. Bush’s hard-ass foreign policy. Attacking Iran, which has been looked upon as an enemy nation ever since the Carter administration, would probably even play well with the American people—the hawkish, bloodthirsty faction, anyway…which seem to hold the reins these days. But there is another very real obstacle to an American attack on Iran. We don’t have the manpower. We are hard-pressed to scrape together enough military presence to clean up our own mess in Iraq. We donned our big-ass boots and stomped into what we thought was a mud puddle, but turned out to be wet concrete. Which has since hardened and has us firmly stuck in the urban battleground of Iraq.

So, don’t think it is by accident that the Bush administration has handed the Iran question to the diplomats of "Old Europe," who are actually doing a credible job at the negotiation table. Funny how France and Germany have suddenly become our wise allies again…

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Field Trip


Yesterday, I ran an errand that sort of made me feel like an eighteen year-old again. I drove over the state line to buy liquor. Only this time I wasn’t trying to circumvent the drinking age in my home state…I was just looking to stock up my liquor cabinet for the holidays without having to take out a loan.

Back in the olden days, when we lived in Chicagoland, you could just drive down to the Jewel and throw a bottle of whiskey in your cart, along with your milk and frozen peas. Or, there were always the gigantic free-standing liquor stores, that were the size of small department stores, if you really needed to load up. Prices were kept dirt cheap by virtue of the fact that the stores were all competing for your liquor buck.

Out here in Oregon we have state liquor stores, which carry a small, prescribed inventory of hooch, charge outlandish prices that are set by state regulation, and close at 8pm sharp. And you can forget buying liquor on Sundays. They seem to think that they are saving us from ourselves—if the stuff is hard to come by, we won’t indulge our lust for demon rum. However, you can buy all the beer or wine you want at the 24-hour grocery store down the street. So we are a state of beer-a-holics and winos.

There is a state liquor store about a mile from my house, but I decided to investigate the prices on the other side of the river, in Washington. So I loaded the dog in the car and went on a field trip. You have to drive about thirty miles one way to get to the closest bridge over the Columbia, but it’s a lovely drive this time of year, and it’s not like I have a day-planner full of other important appointments. I did a map-quest thing for directions to the closest liquor store…even so, I managed to drive around Longview for about 45 minutes before I finally found the place. It turned out that Washington has state-run liquor stores as well…but the prices were somewhat more believable. Of course, if you add the cost of the gas I burned getting there and back, I probably didn’t save a sous. Oh well.

The sun came out, and I got to enjoy the fall colors on the drive.  (I could have kicked myself for forgetting my camera.) Also found a beautiful park in Longview that runs along about six blocks in the older section of town. I think it’s built alongan old mill race…it had a lovely expanse of glass-like water running through the middle of it, anyway. And bright-robed trees leaning over the water primping at their reflections. And, oddly, every other building along the way was a church. I started out admiring a building that was half red brick and half dark stained wood, with arched doorways and an alpine-looking roofline, that turned out to be the First Christian Church. Two doors down was the Lutheran Church, and then another church, and another. The crowning glory was a gorgeous light brick building that held a huge square bell tower against the blue of the autumn sky. I was thinking it must be a monastery or some kind of Catholic edifice. Above the great wood door, etched in the stone, it said "Community Church." I would have loved to learn the history of that building. It didn’t look like any community church I’ve ever seen.

Dog and I took the tour through about half of this wonderful park. For some reason, it spoke to me of my roots in the midwest. Must have been all the brick…you really don’t see that much brick construction out here in the west. A pang of homesickness struck my heart…in my mind’s eye, I could see the pond glazed with ice, surrounded by snowdrifts, and covered with skaters. I do love living in the Pacific Northwest, but it does lack a certain "Currier & Ives" quality this time of year…

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

How Can We Be Silent?

I noticed a lot of people read my last entry, but not too many people commented on it.  I feel like I've broken some kind of rule.  Everybody is sick of the divisiveness caused by the election.  Believe me, I tuned out of the election rhetoric weeks before the actual event.  I couldn't stand the constant sniping and negativity swirling over the airwaves, either.  But the horror of the Iraq war did not abate on the morning of November 3rd.  It keeps on going, from bad to worse to unbelievable.  How can we, in good conscience, shove this abomination to the backs of our minds, in the name of restoring unity in this country?

What really frightens me is that, as the situation in Iraq deteriorates, it seems to have the effect of convincing people that Mr. Bush was justified in invading.  People are adopting the attitude that the factions in Iraq are so lawless and bloodthirsty, that we needed to go in there and show them how civilized people behave.  And how IS that, exactly?  Like the soldiers at Abu Graib?  Like the marine who murdered a wounded enemy in cold blood?  Are we naive enough to think these are isolated incidents?  The flow of information out of Iraq is being tightly controlled.  If news of these "few" atrocities performed by American forces has leaked through the information blockade, how much more of this must really be going on?

I hate that the American military can no longer even pretend to be the good guys.  I hate that we can no longer claim the moral high ground among nations.  Most of all, I hate that the man on the American street has developed such a lust for violence and vengeance, that he no longer cares that we have lowered ourselves to, or below, the level of the most contemptuous of our enemies.  Who cares what we do, as long as we win?  As long as we can pay back some of our 9/11 anguish?   

And we're supposed to shut up about this.  In the name of unity.  It's all I can do not to stand in the streets and scream at the top of my lungs... 

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Abomination

 

Updated: 01:38 PM EST

Aid Worker Held Hostage in Iraq Believed to Be Dead

Videotape Appears to Show Murder

By ROBERT H. REID

BAGHDAD (Nov. 16) -- Al-Jazeera television said Tuesday it received a videotape showing the slaying of a woman believed to be hostage aid worker Margaret Hassan. Hassan's family in London said they believed the longtime director of CARE in Iraq was dead.

 

How well do President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, and Vice President Cheney sleep at night?

Yes, it IS their fault this woman is dead. This is the cost of "pre-emptive" war. Margaret Hassan’s work, and her life, were violently pre-empted, as a direct result of Mr. Bush’s lust to establish a US presence in the oil fields of the Middle East. Bush, Cheney, and Blair killed this woman as surely as if they held the gun that shot her in the back of the head.

Yes, Mr. Bush. The WRONG war. In the WRONG country. At the WRONG time. You WILL be judged for this. Perhaps not by the sheep who re-elected you. Perhaps not even by history. But surely by the God you claim is on your side…

"...the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."  Luke 12:48 

 

Short and Sweet

I have about seven minutes to compose a quick entry.  Now that my business in "on hiatus for the next few months, I've been suffering from a debilitating lack of structure in my life.  I don't function well at all when I have nothing pressing to do.  I seem to need deadlines and schedules to keep me moving. After about a month of feeling scattered and unmotivated, I sat down last week and wrote myself a schedule, complete with actual times blocked out for certain activites.  Worked like a charm.  I got a lot accomplished last week, including painting my dining room (the Dining Room Door Project is at last successfully completed.  It took, what, about two months?) 

My watch just "beeped" 7:00.  Which means I have to wrap this up, hop out of bed, and start my day.  The first hour of every morning, I have to don my "zookeeper" hat, and deal with feeding, medicating, and cleaning up after the furry horde.  Having so many animals to keep track of at least gives me some measure of job security.  

Above is a picture I took last week on an incredibly nice day for the middle of November.  Took the dog for a walk and dragged my camera along.  Autumn is a protracted affair here in the Pacific Northwest.  There will still be leaves clinging to some trees at Christmas.  Oops...five minutes over time already.  All right, I'm going... 

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Give It Up For The "Nerds"

Last night, we went to the season-opening performance of the Portland Youth Philharmonic. We managed to find a cheap ticket deal while cruising the "Portland Events" calendar online. Our "cheap tickets" were front-row center; which, if you’ve ever attended an event at an "intimate" venue, you know are a little awkward. You’re basically almost eye-level with a platoon of black-shod feet, and you’re peeking under pianos and between chair legs to take advantage of your "close-up and personal" view of the orchestra. I started out griping about the seats, but as the concert progressed, I changed my tune. No heads in front of us to lean around, and all the foot room we wanted. And I really enjoyed being so close to the young musicians.

Those kids are truly amazing. At one point, my husband leaned over and asked me, "How many combined hours of lessons and practice do you suppose we’re looking at here?" The conductor and music director, Mei-Ann Chen, partially answered this question when she explained that the young piano soloists had basically "given up their summer" practicing their piece—Francis Poulenc’s Concerto in D Minor for 2 Pianos and Orchestra. I was not familiar with the composer or his music, and usually I don’t care for "modern" orchestral music. But the piece was pleasant in places, dramatic in others, and, it seemed to me, very complicated for two teen-aged pianists performing with no sheet music in front of them. To say I was impressed is an understatement. And after intermission, the two medal-winning soloists picked up their other instruments—violin and cello—and joined the rest of the orchestra for the second half of the concert. Did I say "impressed?" How about "gob-smacked?"

Of course, the evening’s entertainment got me to thinking…where were the media? Why were there not press and photographers and TV and radio personalities hovering around, focusing on the talents and dedication of kids like this? Why are they camped outside places like a grade school in the inner city, where police are taking heat for "tazering" a six-year-old who was holding them at bay in the principal’s office with a shard of broken glass from a broken pictureframe? If you think about it, this showcase of outstanding youth, which barely filled the seats of a small auditorium, spoke volumes about our society in America—both the good and the bad things about it.

That there are enough such kids to even populate an orchestra is a good thing. But, one would have had to be blind not to notice that at least two out of three of the young musicians were of Asian extraction. Though this says good things about Asian-American culture, what does it say about the rest of us? A hundred years ago in this country, music was considered an integral part of a "classical education." Rudimentary mastery of an instrument like piano or violin—or even accordion!—was as much a part of growing up as going to school (uphill both ways in the snow) and sandlot baseball games. Learning to play required an investment of discipline and dedication that we don’t require of our kids today. OR of ourselves. Are they too busy? Are we? Doing what, exactly?

I have to admit, my parents dropped the ball on this one. Musical instruments and/or lessons were considered "luxuries" that we couldn’t afford. Fifty years ago, our parents were already becoming so brainwashed by our consumer culture that the importance of exposure to the arts was being steadily eclipsed from their everyday lives. Our society has filled that void with…what? A pop music culture that has throngs of adolescents drooling over icons like Brittney Spears and Eminem? You know, I’m sure there are plenty of kids with real talent out there, playing to empty seats in concert halls. But the media would have you believe that what there is, what is all-important to today’s teens, are those semi-talented children making more money than God, trotting around onstage half-naked, performing acts that showcase an almost pedophiliac sexual suggestiveness. Or violence that should have put them behind bars or in padded rooms long ago.

So, let’s hear it for the "classical music nerds." The ones in the slightly ill-fitting formal wear, sporting "violin hickeys" just under their jaws on the left sides of their necks. They started out life like any other kids. But they’ll have a foundation of education, discipline, manners, and international experience upon which to build the rest of their lives. Wouldn’t we all like to give our children these toolsin today’s world?

Thursday, November 11, 2004

'Tis the Season

From the time I outgrew the kiddie seat in the shopping cart, I have loved to shop. Clothes, jewelry, home décor and garden goodies are my biggest cravings. I LOVE clothes. If I won the lottery, I would have to buy a house just to store all the clothes (and shoes) I would stockpile. It’s a good thing I don’t look like Cindy Crawford, or I would have gone broke years ago draping myself in designer finery. Luckily, my short, slightly dumpy figure doesn’t really lend itself to "haute couture." And after spending a score of years treading concrete floors for ten or twelve-hour shifts, my feet are too persnickety to tolerate much in the way of fancy shoes. But that doesn’t mean that the quest for the perfect outfit or pair of shoes hasn’t become a favorite pass-time! I crave fine, "petable" materials—like satin, fleece, and velvet (you can keep your scratchy old wool or cotton sweaters. Give me acrylic—soft, colorfast, and wash and wear.) I love silver, gold, or anything that catches light and turns it into a shower of sparkles, whether on fabric, around my neck, or on my fingers (or feet!) Try and make me walk past a jewelry store window without stopping, goo-goo eyed, hypnotized by the "pretties" in the case.

When I was in junior high, there was only one indoor shopping mall in the whole of the Chicago area--a quirky little oddity with two anchor stores and maybe a dozen smaller shops in between. By the time I graduated high school, there were at least half a dozen malls, large and small, within a half-hour drive in any direction. (Twenty-first century retail philosophy has turned the malls—the ones that are still standing—into dinosaurs. "Big box’ stores like Old Navy, Linens ‘n’ Things, and Barnes and Noble, and huge "outlet store" centers, are the present fad. And the newest thing is these trendy little "shopping villages," or whatever you want to call them. Little groupings of high-end stores cunningly arranged to look like the downtown of some quaint hamlet of a bygone era. Long on charm and short on parking. And you have to walk outside to go from store to store. Excuse me, but in the Pacific Northwest in the middle of a sodden winter, I don’t find that particularly charming.)

Of course, being the "mall groupie" I am, Christmas was always the crown jewel of the calendar year. It’s like the shoppers’ Boston marathon. All the shopping you do the rest of the year is merely training for this one event. Or, it used to be. I’m middle-aged and childless. By my age, most women have shopping lists that have grown exponentially with the numbers of their progeny. If Christmas is for children, it doesn’t have much relevance for me in that respect. And we’ve been doing the "draw a name" thing with my sisters and their husbands for years, so there’s no help there. (On Thanksgiving, we put everyone’s name in a bowl, each person draws a name, and that’s who you buy for. The result is that each person is charged with buying a gift for a fifty-ish sister or brother-in-law who basically already has everything.) And, between my husband and me, holiday shopping has been distilled to which expensive home improvement we are going to embark upon this year, and call it our "Christmas present" to each other. Eminently practical, but utterly devoid of magic. Bleah!

So what’s a shopping junkie to do with herself of a Christmastide, when there’s no shopping to be done? It’s really pretty funny. I have to literally tear myself away, with a big sigh and eyes nearly welling with tears, from displays of shiny Christmas wrap, fancy ribbons and packaging gewgaws. "Now, you don’t use those, anymore, dear. You know buying them would just be a waste of money…" (Not to mention I have stacks of the stuff left over from decades ago, when I actually did still buy and wrap gifts.) That rules out a second aspect of "The (Retail) Magic of Christmas."

Still, I can’t not shop. So, I see a new pattern emerging. Christmas ornaments. I love them. I can’t have enough of them. I already have so many that I would need a twenty-foot tree to accommodate them all. And since I don’t have a twenty-foot ceiling in any room in my house, I have solved that problem by simply adding Christmas trees. Two years ago, we inaugurated the "bedroom Christmas tree." This year, in the family room, where I have been making do with a little three-foot table-top model, we are upgrading to a full-size (albeit "slim profile") artificial fir. I’m even thinking of getting a couple of those pre-lit "corner" trees…one for either side of our new glass door in the dining room. Over the top? Absolutely. But until I can drag myself to a twelve-step-program for shop-a-holics, I have to channel thatretail addiction somewhere. And it’s CHRISTMAS! "It’s only once a year, Mr. Scrooge…!"

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Twofer

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. ---Plato

Okay, so I haven't entirely abandoned political commentary.  This is a little message of inspiration for those of us who are smarting about the election and wondering what we should do now.  And a reply, of sorts, to those who are exhorting us to sit down, shut up, and line up behind the President.

Monday, November 8, 2004

Moving Ahead

Eight of my last ten entries have been of the political bent.  Not surprising, given the high-pitched emotions surrounding last week's election.  "Our side" came up short, to the crushing disappointment and disillusionment of many of us.  Days after the election, I was still steaming along, cranking out the political commentary.  It took a huge piece of my personal sky falling on my head, to bring me back to myself.  I've decided it's best to crawl back inside my own skin and tend to issues a little closer to home for awhile.

We're finally getting a taste of more seasonal weather.  Our first frost didn't come until the night of the election...but old Jack has returned every night since then.  Mornings have been cold, foggy, and frosty, which makes for a dark, half-blind, slippery commute for the husband.  The sun generally makes an appearance around mid-morning, its slanted post-equinox rays providing the perfect spotlight for the trees that are still enrobed in their autumn brocades.  I've been trying to get outside and just bask in it.  It's actually been an uncommonly long dry spell for this time of year, and one needs to get outside and soak up the vitamin D when the opportunity presents itself, this time of year in the Pacific Northwest.

Appreciating the little things, the exquisite little gifts that life holds when you take the time to look for them, has helped me to dispel the heaviness of my surprisingly personal reaction to the election. Friday night, husband and I called a "date night."  We dined at our favorite little Chinese place, and then moved on to a quiet antique bar in Old Town (St. Helens!) for a drink and dessert.  Back home, we sat on the floor in front of the fire, with kittens tumbling over our laps, and one jealous canine and six big kitties vying for a little of Mom and Dad's attention.  All I could do was sit there and smile, near to tears.  I felt like I was living in a Christmas card.

Husband and I have decided to make a real holiday of the Christmas season this year.  We're going to go out and about and enjoy the yuletide entertainment offerings of the greater Portland Metro area.  Tickets to several concerts have already been ka-chinged to the VISA.  (I will not be wanting to see that bill in January...)  I'm going to drag out every sequin, diamond (cubic zirconia?) and bangle I own, and wrap myself in velvet, satin, fleece and/or leather depending on the venue and the weather.  It's going to be celebrate the season, or die trying!