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 d├ęcor 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! 

 

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Mandate? I Don't Think So...

They’re telling us that President Bush has received a "mandate," by virtue of receiving more popular votes than any elected president in history.

What they’re not publicizing is that John Kerry also received more votes than any elected president in history. Including Ronald Reagan’s "landslide" victory in 1984.

2004— George W. Bush-59,247,194

John Kerry-55,710,000

2000-- George W. Bush-50,456,002

(Al Gore—50,999,897)

1996-- Bill Clinton-47,402,357

1992--Bill Clinton-44,909,326

1988--George H.W. Bush-48,886,097

1984--Ronald Reagan-54,455,000

Lots of people cared deeply about this election. Lots of people cared enough to turn out in record numbers to make their voices heard. NOT just Republicans. NOT just people who stood strong for four more years of wars, unbelievable deficits, building discrimination into our state constitutions, and turning our nation into a Christian theocracy.

The Democrats, the "Libruls" turned out, too. People who wanted to stand up and be counted for change. People who wanted to see Mr. Bush fired for his hand in the huge backslide this country has taken in the last four years. LOTS of people. More than 55 million of them. What are you going to do about us, Mr. President? Pretend we don’t exist? Pretend that now we’re going to "get behind you" because you lied and arm-twisted your way to a popular vote victory (your first?)

No, sir, we aren’t going away. We aren’t shutting up. And we aren’t jumping up on the bandwagon behind you. Nearly half the country vehemently disapproves of the job you have done so far. And we are going to continue to work as hard as we can to thwart you at every turn. Since we love our country, we have no other choice.

Patriotism is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime. 

--Adlai E. Stevenson

I posted this comment in Tressa's journal just before 9:00 yesterday morning. Scant minutes after the election was conceded to Mr. Bush:

"I can't wait for them to start going around polishing their "mandate" from the voters."

And, of course, here’s a little comment made to the press shortly thereafter:

"President Bush ran forthrightly on a clear agenda for this nation’s future, and the nation responded by giving him a mandate." –Vice President Cheney.

Ugh! Can I call them, or what?

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

It's Over. Or NOT...

This morning, in the pre-dawn darkness, I lay awake, dreading the news of the election results. Wanting to know, but not wanting to know. Wishing I could put it out of my mind for one more hour, and close my eyes to a pleasant dream. I tossed, turned, threw a pillow over my head as my husband was getting ready for work. Finally, I sat up and turned on my laptop. With my pulse steadily picking up speed, I signed on to the internet. I just wanted to get it over with…find out for certain who had won. And, lo and behold, they didn’t know. At 6:00 this morning, west coast time, the news-folk were still loath to declare a winner. Once burned, twice shy, I guess. A novel concept for today’s media.

I decided I would let the dawn be the omen. If we had a spectacular sunrise, no matter who won, things were going to be all right. A rainy, drizzly, weeping dawn would foretell of dire consequences for our nation. Funny thing…I knew the forecast was for sun today…knew the rain had stopped and the clouds had scuttled away before we went to bed last night. I think I was creating a scenario in my mind where my "good omen" daybreak was more than likely to happen.

But we didn’t have a spectacular sunrise. The day dawned bright and brittle. The sun just marched up over the horizon, cold and hard in the east. And it frosted last night…the first frost of the season. The bright hard rays of the rising sun glittered off the sodden masses of my garden flowers that were killed by the frost. So, tell me…what kind of omen is that?