Thursday, August 25, 2005

Anticipation

God willing, and Northwest Airlines remaining viable until after flight 595 from Minneapolis/St. Paul touches the tarmac at PDX tomorrow night, my brother-in-law will be visiting with us for the next two weeks.

My sister Joyce died a little over ten years ago. Yet it’s been inconceivable to me to stop thinking of her husband as my brother. I was thirteen years old when he became part of my family; nearly forty when the tie that legally bound him to us passed from this world. That tie didn’t simply evaporate when my sister died. How could it?

My "brother" K and I have had our struggles. Decades ago, when he was nuts and I was a teen-ager, we had a pretty spectacular falling out. But damned if he didn’t come to me, just a couple of weeks later, hat in hand, and apologize for what he had done… I was nineteen and he was twenty-nine. Think about that, for a minute. So many men can’t find it within themselves to apologize for anything, ever. That was how much he loved my sister, and my family, and me, I think. What seemed at the time to be one of the most tragic episodes of my life, turned into one my most cherished memories.

When my sister was dying, it was I who flew back home to try to "be there" for her family. Though my presence during that awful time ultimately estranged me from her daughters, it drew K and me even closer. For a little while, we were the only two people on earth who came anywhere near to understanding each others’ grief. Though much of the bond remained unspoken, it was there, nonetheless.

And yet, I’m slightly apprehensive about this visit. In spite of the history, I’m wondering what remains of the emotional attachment we once had for each other. It has been ten years, after all. Three days after my sister died, I reluctantly tore myself away from his grief to board a plane and return to my own life, such as it was. Since then, I’ve only seen him a handful of times. We’ve flown back to the midwest for family reunions; he flew to Oregon for my father’s funeral. But, being the middle-aged old farts we are, ten years seems like no time at all…

I love this guy. And, you know, that brings a whole set of complications of its own. Because, more than anything, I would like to see him find another partner…someone who could love him as my sister did, and that he could grow old with. But then, there’s a part of me that kind of fears that possibility. Because, ifhe DID meet a wonderful woman with whom he could share the rest of his life (he’s only just sixty years old…), where would that put us? Is there a place for the late wife’s family in such a picture? I don’t know. It’s selfish of me to wonder. What I truly want is for him to be happy.

At any rate…tomorrow, we pick him up at the airport (we hope) and commence trying to show him a good time for the next fourteen days. And,in spite of all my characteristic overthinking, I’m really looking forward to the next two weeks.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Riding Off..


Mt. Jefferson at dawn, from Timberline Lodge

Wednesday night, 11:30 pm. Mounting my horse, preparing to bid adieu to my week in the Editor’s Picks limelight. I’d like to say thanks to everyone who stopped by. Come back if the mood strikes. Now, I’ll just ride off into the sunrise…

Electronic Trauma: Life at HP

Today, I will be looking at the world through a sleep-deprived haze. Did the whole hormone (or lack thereof)-induced insomnia thing last night. I was up deleting picture files from my laptop at 4:00 this morning.

My laptop! (Hugging it to my breast and doing a happy dance…). I thought it was dead, or at least seriously ill. It had stopped talking to its AC connection, and therefore would not work on regular power, and the battery was swiftly dwindling. With as much as I have beat the poor thing (the screen is sort of hanging on by one hinge, I have torn out one of the parallel ports on the back, I could construct an entire bag of Frankenstein snack food with all the crumbs I have dropped into the keyboard) I figured something inside had gone loose, and if I took it to the local computer guy, he could fix it. Funny thing about these guys, when there’s something wrong that they can’t fix (which is just about anything) they hand you an estimate sheet of what it would cost you to buy a new computer (through them, of course), charge you $50 for nothing, and send you on your way. I picked up my poor, suffering machine and took it home to die. As long as I could still get it to eat a little (the AC connection worked sometimes if the cord was held at a particular angle…) I could use it gently in its last days until it quietly gave up the ghost. Sunday night, I determined it had stopped eating for good. Augh! The anguish!

Monday morning I was on the HP website, constructing my NEW laptop, which I could ill afford, but could not live without. I had whittled it down to a little under $1000. Pressed the "buy now" button, and was directed to the "financing" site. Typed in all my most personal information, clicked on "process," and after a few moments, was greeted by a screen that said I would have to phone them in order to answer some questions they had about my credit information. Let me say now, husband and I have impeccable credit. People are usually falling all over themselves to get us to take advantage of their financing and spend our money with them. I was pretty peeved about the "You need to call us" thing. So I thought, well, I guess they really don’t want my money. And I stormed away from their virtual counter.

At my left hand, there sat the old ‘puter, gasping… Down to its last 23% of battery power, and no way to resuscitate it. With tears in my eyes, I went on line to HP tech support. Where I basically self-diagnosed that I should try purchasing a new AC adapter. Mr. Support Geek recommended a certain part number that was going to cost me $90. Holding the thing in my hand, struggling to make out the tiny print (it’s obvious these things were not made for anyone over thirty to fix…) I discovered a different part number. Punched that number into the "order parts" search, and found the replacement part that was actually meant for my machine…and it was forty dollars cheaper than the one I had been told to order. Were the parts interchangeable, and was Mr. Support Geek just following company policy of recommending THE most expensive fix to the dopes who are stupid enough to contact tech support? Or did he actually make a mistake and recommend the wrong part? I don’t know, but neither explanation inspires confidence…

The story does have a happy ending. I ordered my new AC adapter on Monday and it arrived by Next Day Air on Tuesday, without my asking for special shipping. The folks at HP must at least have some idea of what electronics junkies we have all become. I tore into the laptop lifeline box, ran upstairs and hooked up my poor, languishing notebook. You could have heard the "Woo-hoo" on the next block when the little amber "battery charging" light blinked on. It lives!

The screen is still hanging on by one hinge, one of the parallel ports on the back is still shot, and it seems to have forgotten how to write CD’s. But, by golly, it greets me in the morning with that lovely blue "Windows XP" welcome screen. I think it has a few more internet miles and journal entries left in it. Just goes to prove that one of my parents’ old Depression-inspired maxims still holds: "Drive it ‘til it dies."

Monday, August 22, 2005

9/11, Iraq, 9/11, Iraq, 9/11, Iraq, 9/11, Iraq.....

"As he did in last year's election campaign and more recently as war opposition has risen, Bush reminded his listeners of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 - reciting the date five times in a 30-minute speech."

Will our illustrious Commander-in-Chief EVER stop beating this dead horse?????

Belief

I sat down to write what "I believe," but not one concrete, irrefutable belief rose to the surface of my mind.  They've been sat on, shot at, sliced and diced so much over theyears that they no longer float.  Besides, what earthly good are those beat-up, vaporous commodities I call "my beliefs?" What positive result could come from my crowing about them?

We use the words "I believe" so often as clubs…weapons… They are the yardsticks by which I measure my own worth, and build myself up to lofty heights; and by which I measure your worth, too, and find you wanting. You don’t believe exactly as I do? Your unbelief threatens and mocks my belief. I cannot know you. I cannot abide you. We are enemies.

Beliefs are not forever. The grit of the passing years changes them, refines them, erodes them. The explosion of a new political reality obliterates some, spawns others. The chafing of people closest to my heart, building and embellishing their own beliefs, reshapes or erases beliefs I thought etched on my very bones. Not an easy transformation. It hurts. Yet, if we don’t submit to that molding and changing, we turn to stone. Dead, impenetrable, cold, immovable stone.

What do I believe? I believe that rather than piling up and polishing my own beliefs, my time is better spent researching and admiring yours.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Here's My Heart

 

I would like to welcome anyone who has visited "Coming To Terms…" on Alphawoman1’s recommendation. Mary and I have been keeping up with each others’ journals almost since they dug up the foundation thereof…I think Mary first commented here on October 9, 2003. My journal was a little less than one month old.

I have had a, shall we say, tenuous? relationship with the AOL editors almost since I began my journal. I tend to be…not too nice to them. In return, they tend to ignore me. Sort of a "don’t ask, don’t tell" relationship. I suppose it could be worse. They haven’t "tos’d" me or accidentally deleted my journal. But I think they tagged me as, "Don’t mess with that one…she bites!" Which has been fine with me. So, the "Guest Editor" program was the ONLY way I was ever going to be an editor's pick. And I am honored and humbled to have made it to the list of a guest editor of the stature and intelligence of Aphawoman1. Thank you, Mary, from the bottom of my heart.

Once I realized that people who had perhaps never stopped by before might be reading, I really wished I could reprint all those entries I wrote in the first few months, that nobody (nobody but Mary, anyway) ever read. That would be pretty tedious, though, wouldn’t it? However, on my sweep through j-land this weekend, I have discovered that Scalzi’s assignment for this week has been to dig up your favorite entry in your own journal, and post a link to it. Okay….I can do that. Let me first say that I am NOT one for never going back and reading my own writing. I often spend an evening delving into my archives and perusing my old entries…trying to see if they still have any meaning, if they still resonate. If they look stupid now that I am, presumably, past the place I was in when I wrote them. I’ve found that I am inordinately proud of most of what I have written in my AOL journal. But here, I think, is probably one of, if not THE best, post I have made. Enjoy.

http://journals.aol.com/mlraminiak/ComingtotermswithMiddleAge/entries/495

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Tag, I'm It

As I emerged from my post-horrendously-busy-weekend stupor, I seem to remember something about being tagged to share my love of reading. By somebody named, uhhhhh….Cynthia. That’s right. It’s all coming back to me now…

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with reading all my life. Apparently, I was the last chick in the nest—all my older sisters were in school—and I was heartbroken that I couldn’t go to school, too. In order to keep me from driving her nuts, my mother taught me to read. It was 1959. I was four years old. I don’t remember this, but my mother loves to tell the tale. She also tells the story about my walking right up to my first-grade teacher on the first day of school, and bragging, "I can read!" Sister Assunta patted me on the head and said, "Of course you can, honey." A few weeks later, she remarked to my mom, "Oh, boy, can she read!"

I would like to say that my early indoctrination into the exciting world of the written word inspired a life-long love of literature. Well…no. It so happens that I am also an extremely high-energy person. Okay…the word fidgety has been applied to my particular affliction. The drive to be in constant motion is not conducive to spending long hours closeted with the world’s great literature. I did read quite a bit when I was in grammar school, and always above grade level. But, no, I didn’t delve into books like "Wuthering Heights" or "Jayne Eyre" at the age of ten. In fact, I didn’t even read all the "Little House" books until I was an adult.

In high school, I devised a way to get through English class, get A’s or B’s, and never actually READ the books we were assigned. Between Cliff Notes, films, and just soaking up the classroom discussions, I faked my way through Shakespeare, Dickens, Salinger, and Hemingway. I think it was a control thing, as much as anything. I just hated the idea of being required to read something. And I doubly loathed the practice of sitting around dissecting every word in any given piece of literature. A few months ago, I wrote a post that summed up my feelings about the "literature" thing.

"I have no desire to ever write a novel. Does that make me not quite a writer? I have nothing against "creative writing." I love poetry. I use it as my outlet for the purely artistic side of my writer self. But I never had any patience for all the literary machinations that go into writing fiction. I truly believe that one of the reasons I never went to college was that I was afraid I would be subjected to too many classes that consisted of having a gun put to my head to read all the most boring epics in the history of humanity, and then participating in the excruciating process of dissecting every bit of meaning, real or imagined, from these narcotic stories. Faulkner? Snore…Single sentences that filled entire pages. Dickens? He was paid by the word, for God’s sake. Tolstoy? Please! War and Peace?

"Now I’ve gone and revealed one of my deepest secrets: I have no literary class. A deadly admission for a writer. I read fiction. But I read it for the stories. For the pure escapism of it. For its ability to immerse me in a persona, place and time that are not me, here, now. Any attempts at formulaic "Meaning of Life" symbolism generally go right over my head. I religiously avoid novels that contrive to teach me something. I really don’t want to have to think that hard about the fiction I read."

Still, I DO have a bookcase, and I do have a stack of reading material on my bedside table. My "life list" of favorite books is not stocked with timeless masterpieces, but I like what I like, and the ones I really like, I read over and over again.

One whole shelf of my bedside bookcase holds reference materials on plants, gardening, and home improvement. I often crack these open for "bedtime" reading. My current favorites are Tree and Shrub Gardening in the Northwest, and Sunset’s Northwest Garden Guide. My collection of garden books represent probably 75% of my reading time these days. And cookbooks. I subscribe to "Light ‘n’ Tasty" and "Cooking Light," and the last few issues of those publications can usually be found on my night table or in the bathroom.

That bedside bookcase is pitifully small and cramped. Only the books that I really love are allotted space on it. These would be my collection of the works of Rosamunde Pilcher (The Shell Seekers, September, Going Home…) and Maeve Binchy (Circle of Friends, The Copper Beech, The Glass Lake…), and C.S. Forrester’s "Hornblower" series. A moth-eaten 1936 edition of Gone With The Wind. The Bridges of Madison County—a gift from my late sister.

On the bottom shelf are Helen Hooven Santmeyer’s fifty-year labor of love, "And Ladies of the Club…"—easily the fattest book I ever read; The Nun’s Story and Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede, which speak to my longtime fascination with the monastic life. Then there are old, thrift-store copies of Those Who Love and The President’s Lady, representing my love affair several years back with the novels of Irving Stone. I also went on a Michener kick about fifteen years ago…Centennial, The Source, Chesapeake, Hawaii, I’m sure I read one or two others that don’t immediately come to mind. And my two copies of the RSV bible, holdovers from my Pentecostal days, squat unassumingly on the far side of one shelf. I think I keep them more for their historical value than anything. I haven’t yet got back to the point where I can actually read them again.

And…I’ll never admit to the stack of paperback "crotch novels" in my office bookcase. Somewhere, in some box out in the garage or something, I have a bunch of sci-fi novels based on the original "Star Trek" series, and, believe it or not, The Man From U.N.C.L.E and The Girl from same (how many of you out there remember that stuff!?!)

There you go, Cynthia! I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to put together much of an entry about my favorite reading material. And no, I guess it doesn’t rival the library of Congress for diversity or sophistication. But it’s mine, and I’m sure it speaks volumes about me. I’ll be kicked out of the Intellectual Snobs Club now, for sure!

Oh, and now I have to "tag" someone else.  How about Jackie (Pixels, Politics, Posies and Pussycats), Lisa (Wearin' My Heart on My Sleeve), Meredith (Another CountryHeard From), and Gayla (So Much More.)  Okay, ladies, I 'fessed up about  my literary lameness.  Time for you all to further prove precisely how lame I am.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

More Doors

Last week, I saw a girl who used to work for me, back in the nineties. She was the first of my "crew" who really was young enough to be my daughter. She was seventeen…I was thirty-seven. The first time in my life that I didn’t just FEEL old. I WAS old.

She showed up at the festival Thursday morning with her four-year-old and two-year-old in tow. Full of news of her little family, and of the other girls of the crew. She mentioned casually that she had turned thirty…and I shared that I had just celebrated my big 5-0. I realized that what sucks about being fifty is that, twenty years ago, I was thirty. Already old. Twenty years ago.

I used to hear from my girls several times a year. Then, it was just Christmas and special occasions. It has deteriorated to one time a year, when I am doing the festival and they know where to find me. Each time, there is less to say. Less to share to which the other person could relate. I brought up my blog…to which she asked with a bemused smile, "What’s a blog?" Finally, we have migrated to totally different worlds. I felt that door closing…

…And another opening. Today, my email had a message from someone I had never heard of, through "Classmates.com." In five years, the only people who have contacted me through "Classmates" have been looking for the other Baldwins in the yearbook. I could have deleted the email. Was about to, in fact. But I changed my mind and clicked on the link that took me to the message. Turns out it was from a friend from the old neighborhood—one of my bridesmaids, no less. Someone who I had wished to find, found me. I wrote back. Opening the door to a world of memories fifteen, twenty years older than the ones I closed the book on a couple of days ago. The world turns, the clock turns, sometimes forward, sometimes back. Sometimes both directions at once.

Zzzzzzzzzzz.....

I woke up at 6 this morning. Looked at the clock, gave it the raspberries and went back to sleep. Woke up again at 7:20. Neaner, neaner. Rolled over and checked out once again. Resurfaced at 9:15. Grudgingly, I dragged myself upright, guessing I may have made up for one or two of the sixteen hours of sleep I lost over the weekend. Fifteen-hour workdays, with four or five hours of sleep in between. I’m almost ready to say that I’m too old for that crap anymore…but the weekend was such a financial success, that I’m more likely to be crowing that, by God, I’ve still got what it takes.

Despite several challenges, we had a great event. The weather was beautiful the first two days, then showed its fangs and turned beastly hot on Saturday and Sunday. This did not seem to deter the patrons much, as we continued to do record business, only now we were doing it from an 8’ x 20’ sauna.

Today I am tired. And I am stupid. But I have $17000 in a zip-lock bag under my mattress. (Not really. I used to do that. In the early days of our success at the Scandi, I used to love to just sleep on top of all that cash… But my husband, McGruff, nearly had apoplexy. So these days, it zooms dutifully off to the bank.)

I have been trying to keep up with my journal reading and commenting. There are ideas for a lot of posts floating around in my head, including a "Tag, You’re It" entry inflicted upon me by Cynthia J . But at this moment, I haven’t got two brain cells that are active enough to rub together and create anything more inspiring than a yawn. Give me a little more recovery time and I’ll be back…

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Scandi

Unbelievably, it’s mid-August already.  Who hit the fast-forward button on 2005?  This is the phenomenon of middle-age with which I am least comfortable:  the days just fly by, faster and faster.  The more dear they become, the fewer you know you have left, the more they kick it into overdrive and speed by.  Yesterday, my niece looked at me quizzically when I said that a shirt she had bought at the local resale shop would be perfect to wear for a Christmas event.  I said, “I know, for you, Christmas seems like a long time away, but for me, it’s, like, tomorrow.”  And so it goes.

But if the years have to go by so fast, it is good, at least, to have special things scattered throughout the seasons that I can…well, watch fly by with a smile on my face, anyway.  This weekend, we are in Junction City for the Scandinavian Festival.  Above all others, this is my favorite event, and the one that got me started in this business sixteen years ago (another gasp and sigh when I ponder that number…)  Perhaps not completely coincidentally, the Scandi is also the only event we do all year where we make any money.  A lot rides on maximizing our success here.   I’ve toiled for weeks to make product, order signs, spiff up the trailer, gather costumes, tweak the menu; as I sit here clackety clacking away at 6 am, all is in readiness for a day of bang-up business.  

The anticipation and stage-fright that kicked me out of bed at 4:30 this morning will, I hope, be enough to keep me on my feet until 10:30 this evening, when I'll pack the stacks of bills into my back pack and heave myself behind the wheel of “Little Red.”  The drive back to my sister’s house after a fifteen-hour day is magical.  Junction City is out in the middle of Lane County’s mint fields.  This time of year, the mint is ripe and smells heavenly.  The huge irrigation cannons are set to do their work after the sun goes down.  The misty smell of mint on the damp night breeze is what we call the “Scandi smell.”  In days when I am old and decrepit (tomorrow?) and can no longer whip the creaky bonesinto shape to ply my trade, I’ll come back to Lane County in August, and drive down River Road after dark.  And let the memories wash over me like a tonic.  

Monday, August 8, 2005

It's Late....

I tried to go to bed at a decent hour tonight. Forty-five minutes later, I was sitting on the bathroom floor, painting my toenails, as my restless mind wandered. In my freshly-painted bare feet, I padded down the hallways of my memory. Those hallways that have stretched and stretched with each passing year. More like highways than hallways, now. Miles long with rows of doors, right and left. So many doors I avoid like poison…and keep safely locked against the times I may misstep and wander too close.

Behind those doors are my brightest memories. Of my sister, my dad, my family as it used to be. All the things, the very important things, that have gone away and will never return. Not too long ago, those were the only rooms I lived in. Even after the sweet memories had soured to constant pain. How many years went by before I realized I had to move…had to leave them behind, because the pain had become my life. So I packed up. Moved out. Locked the doors.

But sometimes, like tonight, I boldly walk up to a door and stop. Who knows why? An old picture, a phone call, an email, one too many glasses of wine… I put on my "what the hell?" armor, turn the knob and fling open the door. It bangs against the wall and gives me just enough time to steal a memory, a moment, before it slams safely shut again. And I take that memory, that little snapshot--of Joyce playing cards in her green velvet bathrobe; or Dad sitting in the stern of the boat, steering into the next fish-laden cove; or the girls (my nieces) laughing and mugging at a backyard barbecue--and savor it. Until the tears rise, and I have to stuff that picture back under the door and walk resolutely away. But, each time, I get to look a little longer before the ache becomes unbearable…

Thursday, August 4, 2005

"Never Again..."

Tomorrow (August 5) I’ll go to downtown Portland to witness, if not participate in, an undertaking called "The Shadow Project." This is a yearly memorial of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that, for all intents and purposes, ended World War II. And destroyed, at the same time, the last vestiges of mankind’s innocence. Go here to listen to an excellent Oregon Public Radio piece on Portland’s participation in the Project.

The words "Never Again" have become the all-encompassing post-script to World War II. These days, we use them as an excuse to inflict more war and violence on the planet, under the pretense of keeping the world from spawning "another Hitler"—in Yugoslavia (Slobodan Milosevic), in Panama (Manuel Noriega) in Iraq (Sadaam Hussein) and on and on ad infinitum. It matters little that these smaller, weaker versions of evil incarnate bear little true resemblance to the huge malignancy that was Adolph Hitler. It suits us at given times to paint them with the same brush.

Have we ever applied those words "Never Again," to the World War II phenomenon to which they SHOULD most apply? To the use of mankind’s most heinous weapons? We don’t, as a nation, talk about that too much. When it comes to discussion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we put on solemn faces and declare that it was a terrible thing to have to do, but it was the only way to end the war. And that Japan or Germany would have had no qualms about dropping The Bomb on us if they had developed it first. I don’t propose to dispute the veracity of those statements. The arguments have all been made, and will probably be debated until the end of time. What bothers me is the belief that, since it was the United States of America that first used the ultimate WMD, it is somehow okay. That we were then, have always been, and always will be, the guys in the white hats. I would argue that the mere possession of that kind of power changes the color of your hat, over time…

It’s been sixty years since the U.S. perpetrated that hideous carnage upon two cities in Japan. Sixty years during which wehave, inexplicably, managed to keep from using similar weapons again. (This may the only concrete proof of the existence of a Supreme Being…) But, unfortunately, we did not stop perfecting, refining, and enlarging the weapons of ultimate death that we have.

Doesn’t it frighten anybody anymore, that in the bowels of our country, we hold the capability to destroy this planet many times over? Is it that all of us baby boomers grew up with that dark cloud over our heads, and we’ve just become desensitized to it? Is it that, since the demise of the Soviet Union, we think we can rest easy because the capacity for ultimate destruction is "in the right hands?" Is it that we think we don’t have to worry about it right now, since our current enemy doesn’t possess nuclear weapons? And how long can we hope that will be the case? Imagine a nuclear bomb in the hands of terrorists who have no respect for human life, not even their own. It’s certainly only a matter of time.

For all of the war-hawks out there who believe that we need to run all over the globe inflicting our values and way of life on the rest of mankind… For anyone who believes mankind could wage a "limited" nuclear war, and that would somehow be okay, as long as we don’t totally destroy the planet… For anyone who believes that we are going to root out and kill all of the terrorists before they get their hands on the technology with which we believe WE control the world… Think about what it will be like to be vaporized in your own home. To be reduced to a "shadow" on a wall or a floor. Or, worse, to become one of the living dead, wandering through hell with your clothes in shreds, your hair on fire, and your flesh falling in chunks from your bones. If you think you are safe, if you think only folks in desert lands halfway across the world should be sweating that fate, go to "Ground Zero." Reflect upon the place where two tall buildings once rose above the New York skyline. Do the words, "Never Again" hold a little more meaning for you now?

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

In Deepest Sympathy

This is for Kat, who today suffered the shocking loss of her sister and her nephew in an automobile accident. (((((Kat))))) We love you, dear friend! Our hearts break for you...