Monday, August 30, 2004

Electoral College Rant

I have been thinking about the election in November, and feeling disgruntled with the Electoral College system. Oregon has a measly seven electoral votes. This is 1.3% of the total electoral votes available. 2.6% of the votes needed to carry the election. Neither candidate gives a rat’s butt about how the voting goes in Oregon. They’re going to concentrate their time and resources on the states that are likely to make a difference—like Florida [27], Michigan[17], and Ohio[20].) We Oregonians might just as well live on the moon. This is a little hard to swallow when you’re feeling as passionately about the outcome of the election as I am.

Setting off to compose this rant, I decided I should go searching for some information about the Electoral College. It’s been a long time since I studied the Constitution, and I was a little hazy on the details. Like whether the Electoral College was part of the original Constitution, or created by amendment. (Turns out it WAS included in the original document, and then was modified some by the 12th Amendment.)

One of the things I felt most frustrated about was that my vote, here in this beautiful but unpopulous state with its 7 electoral votes, doesn’t count as much as say, a vote in California, with its 52. If I went out tomorrow, and signed up every eligible voter in my state, got them to vote overwhelmingly for one candidate or the other, we would STILL only swing that puny 2.6% of the winning vote in either direction. If fifty people showed up to vote in California, whoever won their majority would walk away with a whopping 10% of the total electoral vote...20% of the number needed to win. If every voter in Oregon marked their ballot for one candidate, those fifty voters in California would wield more than seven times the clout that my millions of Oregon voters had. Am I the only voter in a lightly-populated state that feels disenfranchised by the system?

So I did a little internet research. Hooked up to This is a little info/essay on the Electoral College published on the Federal Elections Commission’s website. It gave me the information I wanted, but, of course, not without an editorial slant.

First of all I was surprised (pleased) to be reminded that the framers of the constitution had NOT instituted the Electoral College because they thought the everyday voter was too stupid to be trusted with a direct vote for president. It was in fact yet another compromise between the states’ rights/federalization factions, and the rural/urban factions of the young country. It also addressed the problems of centralizing the election in a nation of the sheer SIZE of the United States. Think about it---even the first thirteen states, spanning the eastern seaboard, were an area much bigger than most of the nations of Europe, with only a fraction of the infrastructure of Europe. Our founding fathers were trying to come up with a system that would speak to these issues, AND prevent any one populous area of the country from being the font from which all presidents sprang.

After documenting the history and an overview of the function of the College, the article goes on to put forth arguments in favor and against abolishing it. Can you guess which side came out looking most reasonable? It was an interesting piece of debate…but I’m not sure I swallow it…

This is a line from the official FEC website:

"…the distribution of Electoral votes in the College tends to over-represent people in rural States. [Italics mine.] This is because the number of Electors for each state is determined by the number of members it has in the House (which more or less reflects the State’s population size) plus the number of members it has in the Senate (which is always two regardless of the State’s population). The result is that in 1988, for example, the combined voting age population (3,119,000) of the seven least populous jurisdictions of Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming carried the same voting strength in the Electoral College (21 Electoral votes) as the 9,614,000 persons of voting age in the State of Florida. Each Floridian’s potential vote, then, carried about one third the weight of a potential vote in the other states listed."

Being a resident of an "over-represented" state, I would use the above fact to support MY argument that we are under-represented. The electoral votes of SEVEN less populous states (jurisdictions) were cancelled out by the electoral votes of ONE more populous one. How exactly does that cause Florida to be under-represented? Again, I would argue that if two hundred voters showed up to the polls in Florida, their 200 votes would carry as much weight as more than 3 million combined votes in seven other states. Looked at from either viewpoint…it’s STILL a malfunction of the Electoral College System. Each vote does not count for one vote. My vote carries a different weight here in Oregon than it would if I lived somewhere else.


Hate to do this to you, guys, but this is

To be continued....



Winding Down

We took Lucy to the beach yesterday. Stopped in Astoria, where it was cool, damp and misty. Browsed through their "Sunday Market"—they cordon off three blocks of their downtown every Sunday during the summer for this open-air market. Mostly produce, baked goods, and bead jewelry. Some cute little cottage industries are starting to appear, under the sodden canopies. The market has really expanded since the first time we visited it about two years ago. Bought a little baby peach pie and brought it home…we’ll have it for dessert tonight. Well, at least I’ll have it. Husband is still working to drop the last few pounds to his "Weight Watchers" goal. He’s already lost over fifty pounds and looks great. I have to say, he’s aged better than I have…
From damp and gray Astoria, we headed down the coast about ten miles to Seaside, where it was sunny, warm, and just lovely. It was like a completely different day. We walked on the beach…it was crowded, as Seaside was the terminus of the "Hood to Coast" run that took place this past weekend. There were scads of folks hobbling around town on blistered feet, or cruising about in their painted-up "support vehicles." But, all Oregon beaches are just about endless, and if you walk far enough, you get away from the masses. We threw the ball for the dog until she was so tired we had to drag her back to the car. In Seaside, many of the local businesses leave buckets of dog water on the sidewalks as a courtesy to potential (human) patrons. After eating a ton of sand down on the beach, Lucy emptied at least three of these on our walk through town back to the car.
I’m enjoying a little three-week hiatus between events for the business. Our last one, the North Plains Garlic Festival, was just this side of a disaster. The last one of six in a row, and I was really hoping for some good things. Then, at about 6pm on Saturday night, the heavens opened up.
We got a monsoon the like of which I have never seen in August in Oregon in the twenty ears I’ve lived here. In fact, it started on Saturday and rained for a week, which it never does here in summer. Needless to say, my hopes for decent business at the festival were literally washed away. We didn’t really do too bad, considering it was our first year and the weather SUCKED. But I really was hoping to catch a break…
Our next event is in Coburg---the Antique Festival. It’s a one-dayer, but it surprised me last year…it was one of our best events of the season. I hope we can repeat our success this year. I’ve changed the menu a bit, and changed some things around so that we shouldn’t keep running out of food like we did last year when it was busy. Hopefully, that will mean an even better performance…but I’ve given up trying to predict these things. I always guess wrong.
So, once again, apart from the Junction City Scandinavian Festival, the business has enjoyed a "so-so" year. I made some changes to the menu and the operation that made it so we squeezed more profit out of the dollars we DID bring in, so that was good. But my new goal, rather than to have most of the year off, and then do a rush of events in the summer (which leaves me exhausted and beat up), is to have at least one job a month year-round. We do about twelve events a year now, most of them during July, August, and September. That, of course, is mostly when the kinds of festivals/fairs we do take place. But I’ve assembled the equipment to be able to do indoor events, and that opens a whole new world for us during the rest of the year. By george, I might just make a real business out of this thing yet. (With all the money, blood, sweat and tears I’ve invested so far, I guess it’s about time…)
One result of this new business strategy is, I won’t be going to school to get the incredibly expensive "Le Cordon Bleu" Patisserie certificate that I was lusting after last spring. There won’t be time, and I SURE don’t have the money. After investigating financial aid, and finding out that there is really a negligible amount available to me as a "rich" middle class homeowner, my second thought was, that if the business had a really good year, I could pull the money from there. Well, I sure didn’t make an extra $20,000 this year (I wish). And I just couldn’t justify adding another $200 or more monthly payment to our list of responsibilities right now. Especiallysince we are fairly certain that, with the exodus of manufacturing jobs overseas, my husband’s job will probably be going away within the next few years. We need to get rid of our debt, not add to it. When he loses his job, and we go bankrupt, then I can go get that spendy certificate on the government’s dime (LOL!)

Friday, August 27, 2004

Why I'm NOT a Writer

After spending hours on end at the keyboard hacking out that "series" of entries that just kept going on and on and on… I realized why I could never be a writer. I don’t have the physical stamina for it. Writing is a completely sedentary activity that takes an amazing amount of physical aptitude… And, whatever it takes, I ain’t got.

My ass is just killing me from being on it so much, and I’ve developed a permanent stabbing pain behind my right eye from staring at the screen and the keyboard (of course I can’t type without looking at the keys!) I dropped my laptop on the floor, which caused a temporary malfunction that made me have to BANG on the "s" key to make it work…(clickety-clickety-clickety-click, click…shitMASH…clickety-clickety-MASH..) I fully expect to wake up tomorrow morning and wonder why the ring finger on my left hand is swollen and bent.

I have a desk. In fact, I have an entire office, with two desks. One of which was specifically set up as the parking place for this very laptop that I am now sitting on the FLOOR of my bedroom typing away on. Too much freedom with a laptop, by golly. You can’t chain me to no stinkin’ desk anymore. I write in bed. Or draped across my leather easy chair. Or downstairs in the family room on the couch. You’d think that would make the marathon sessions easier, right?

Wrong. After a two or three-hour session at the keyboard in bed, with six pillows stacked up behind me, I can just barely throw my legs out over the edge to the floor. Standing completely upright can be accomplished in no less than ten seconds. And then I hobble down the stairs on one foot and one stump of wood, because something invariably suffers from a serious interruption of blood circulation when I sit for such long periods of time.

Nope, I’ll never be able to become a "Writer." My creaky old, middle-aged bones just couldn’t handle it.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Families VI---The Wrap-up (Finally)

This "series" started out as an attempt to draw parallels between families and their problems. I wanted to show how families were different, but their problems had common threads to which we could all relate. I started collecting my thoughts about the problems of MY family. But then, I felt the need to set the historical background for those problems, because I believed the times themselves had a huge effect on my family’s problems, and those of others of my generation—the Baby Boomers.

Suddenly, I was writing an exposé on the Boomers, and the generation that gave rise to them.  The thing just sort of took on a life of its own from there...(ACK!)  What I’ve learned is, we are a complex generation, children of an equally complex group.

It has been a trip, though, to open up the cupboards of my memory and dust off all the old pictures and memorabilia. And to open up my family’s closets and see if the skeletons are still there. I realized that the only real skeleton we harbored was my mother’s drinking. I don’t know how that rates on a scale of one to ten of "bad things I’ve had to deal with in my life." Compared to what some other people have been through—here in journal-land, I’ve read references to multiple divorces, being farmed out as a foster, physical or sexual abuse, or worse. In comparison, I guess having a mother who became a closet drunk doesn’t really stack up.

But we ARE the sum total of our experiences, good or bad. Who is to say what we would be without the bad things that have happened to us in our lives? The "Greatest Generation" probably would not wear that appellation without having suffered through a crushing Depression, and then a horrendous World War. The Baby Boomers were forever changed by images of the Viet Nam war being piped into our living rooms, knowing that young men were dying there, not sure why, and knowing we, or our brothers, cousins, neighbors or sweethearts, could be next. Not to mention our awareness of the fact that, through the wonders of modern warfare, human beings now had the capability to turn the entire world into a cinder, cutting short not only our own young lives, but the lives of every living creature on the planet. Pretty heady information for young people to have to process…

Without my mother’s drinking problem, I surely would have been a different person. Some of my strongest personality traits, developed as a result of Mom’s drinking. I learned to abhor pretense of any kind (Dad’s way of dealing with Mom’s problem was NOT to deal with it.) I became anal-retentively honest (Mom used to sneak booze, everyone knew she did it…but then she would lie about it. My entire world view changed, once I knew she could, and WOULD, lie…) Still, in writing this, I realized, maybe for the first time, that her problem was not a product of the times. It was just HER, and the fact that she couldn’t play the hand life dealt her without some kind of anesthetic. How many of us have walked that road in our lives?

I know I’ve been hard on the Boomers in this piece. But I feel I have the right to bitch, because I’m one of them. I may succeed and fail at many things in my life. I may gain and lose a dozen titles. But one thing they can never take away from me is my birthright as a card-carrying member of the Post-War Baby Boom. We soared to lofty heights, and sank to dismal lows. In the end, I’m proud to throw in my lot with my g-g-g-g-generation….

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Our Sympathies Go Out to Lisa

Please join me in offering sympathy to Lisa (Wearin' My Heart On My Sleeve).  Her papa passed away today after a long illness.  Lisa and her family have been helping him to die at of the hardest, most heart-wrenching things in the world to do.  Our hearts go out to you, Lisa.  You are in our prayers tonight.

Families V--More on the Boomers

I can hear the indignation of all the Boomers sizzling in the air. "We were not spoiled. I don’t know what planet YOU grew up on, but MY parents didn’t bend over backwards to give ME everything!" Oh, no?

I’m writing from the point of view of someone who was anything BUT rich. Remember, there were five of us kids, and we were a one-income family, until my parents had been married almost twenty years. We wore hand-me-downs (remember that series of portraits I mentioned? Over a span of years, the same dress appears on Donna, and then on Chris, and the next year on Lauren!) When we absolutely had to have new, it was "Topp’s" or "Community Discount"—the sixties Chicagoland equivalents of Wal-mart…in fact, not even quite up to Wal-mart quality. K-Mart was a big step up for us, when it became ubiquitous in the late sixties.

My parents were experts at shopping the sales. They would sit down with the weekly ads, and plan their routes through three different grocery stores as if they were strategizing for D-day. One year, Dad acquired a monstrous second-hand chest freezer from the hospital—the size you could easily freeze a half-dozen corpses in (a scary thought, considering where it came from…). From that day forward, if there was a really great sale on, say, chickens or frozen peas, Dad could, and would, sock away enough of these commodities to last through to the next century. Millions of advertising dollars were wasted on us…brand-name foods never made it through the front door. Those two or three extra pennies the companies tacked on to the price of their goods to pay for that advertising, put them as far out of our reach as if they were caviar or champagne.

Those same advertising dollars were pissed away by the toy companies. Just about every toy we owned was a cheap Hong Kong knock-off of the American brand name stuff. We had 12-inch fashion dolls, but they weren’t necessarily "Barbie." If it talked, walked, or ran on batteries, it didn't appear under our Christmas tree. We learned to ride on old, beat-up, rusty second-hand bicycles with fat tires, coaster brakes, and "touring" handlebars (the like of which I would give my right arm to own today!) Do you remember paper dolls? (We used to call them "cut-outs…") And coloring books? We had these in abundance…because they were CHEAP. But they were also FUN. We spent hours keeping ourselves amused with what amounted to scraps of paper and our imaginations.

Were we rich? Not by any means…not in the financial sense, anyway. Were we over-indulged? I don’t think so…the folks couldn’t afford it. But we were indulged. We took for granted things that our parents never could… Things as basic as the home we lived in, and the Catholic school education that my dad scraped to make ends meet in order to pay for. No, we didn’t wear designer duds or take trips to Paris (or even Disneyland) in the summer, and we didn’t have the keys to a brand new Chevy presented to us on our sixteenth birthday. BUT, we didn’t have to quit school at twelve and go to work to KEEP that roof over our heads. We didn’t have to walk down to the corner butcher shop and beg for a bone for the dog, and then take that bone home and throw it in a pot for supper. We didn’t have to watch our schoolmates die of polio, influenza, scarlet fever, and a host of other childhood scourges. Our parents, and American society at large, made damn sure that we didn’t have to worry about those things.

We were freed from the burden of having to sweat about our basic sustenance. Those things were provided for us. When we began to come of age, and it was time for us to grow up and away from our parents, what could we set our sights on achieving that they hadn’t? They had assured that we were healthier, better-housed, better-fed, and better-educated than they had been. We were able to stand up and look around at our society, because we weren’t bent over the grindstone. We looked around, and we didn’t like what we saw. In fact, due to the miracle of television, the images appeared right in our living rooms…

We saw prejudice and race hatred. Poverty and inner-city decay. A war halfway across the world that decimated the ranks of our siblings for a hazy political cause. "Good Ole Boy" politics that disenfranchised millions of citizens of every color. Brown air and black water. The specter of a mushroom cloud rising over a ruined world. The "Greatest Generation" had done their best to prepare us for anything the world could throw at us. They had given us the tools to be comfortable in the world they knew. Which was not the same one that stared us in the face as we peered over the bent backs of our parents.

So, there we were. Young and strong and angry. Educated, but not wise. Too young, really, to throw ourselves headlong into the world we were presented with, and be an effective force for change. But we did it anyway. The fact that there were so many of us acted as both a catalyst and a battering ram. Part of our motivation was to distinguish ourselves from the herd. Individuality became almost a religion. We were determined not to let our parents’ society do its "cookie cutter" work on us.

The shear bulk of our ranks busted the seams of our parents’ social traditions. We heaved aside segregation, social class structure, ethnic insularity, economic divisions, gender bias…that was GOOD. But we also chucked marriage, sexual morality, basic etiquette, respect for our elders, self-control…that was NOT so good. I remember it as a time when anyone over thirty was the enemy; that attitude saturated every aspect of life. Even so, we did accomplish some great things. We manned the important political movements of our time: Civil Rights, World Peace, Equal Rights, Ecology. We used our great weight to push through a lot of positive social change. The world couldn’t help but take notice when the awesome numbers of us lined up behind any cause we chose. There were just so many of us, we overwhelmed the establishment.

The negative side of the coin was, we abolished our parents’ social niceties, and didn’t erect anything to take their place. As young people will do, we chafed against the rules our parents lived by, and we decided they didn’t apply to us. I have no clue where we got the idea that we could all just live together, play nicely and get along, without rules. I suppose we hadn’t lived long enough to experience or understand the selfish, contentious, sometimes brutal instincts of human beings. The primitive instincts that societal rules and traditions were meant to keep in check. We overran and became "The Establishment", at a time when we were too young and callow to really understand what we were doing—setting up the future social structure of our nation. When we Boomers, many of whom are grandparents now, step back and ask, "How did our society get SO screwed up?" we can’t absolve ourselves of a large portion of the blame.

I’ll wrap this thing up tomorrow, I hope…  

Monday, August 23, 2004

Families IV--The Boomers

Ah, to come of age in the sixties and seventies. Those of us who did it…were we lucky, or cursed? Was our time any different, any scarier, any angrier, any richer than our parents’? Or our children’s? I can’t speak to the latter, having never had kids of my own. But how did the Boomers’ teen-age compare to that of our parents? And why did it leave us SO screwed up?
In fact, I can’t really say I’m well-versed on my parents’ generation, either. Due to what I think was a heavy dose of reserve passed on to them by THEIR parents, my folks were never very forthcoming with tales about their childhood years. If times were hard…and I’m sure they WERE, what with the Depression, disease epidemics, the events leading up to the war…you didn’t dwell on those things. You sucked it up, stuck out your chin, and kept going forward. Always, there was the "American Dream" before them, the carrot dangled in front of them that kept them moving, putting one foot in front of the other, always pressing on toward that promise of something better, something they could actually GET if they worked hard enough. People believed that back then, especially my mother’s people—those first generation Americans whose parents had left the "Old Countries" in Europe, where the class structure would never allow them to advance beyond the peasant life, no matter HOW hard they worked. They came to America, they worked their butts off, and they made something of themselves. Because they could.
Though Mom’s extended family, in the "old neighborhood", eventually built up tiny real estate fortunes, Mom’s immediate family had it rough. Her dad was ill…in and out of hospitals for her entire young life. He died of tuberculosis when she was seventeen. Not only did Mom’s family NOT prosper in the way of her aunts, uncles and cousins, but Gramma had to provide for the family by cleaning houses for a living. I imagine my mother saw this as quite a stigma. Also, Mom’s two older brothers both had to quit school before ever reaching high school, in order to bring home money to help keep the roof over their heads. Not exactly the "American Dream" for the Feil family. Is it any wonder that Mom grew up with a monstrous "poor relation" complex that she couldn’t shed, even after marrying my dad and moving to the affluent suburbs on the North Shore of Chicago (not that WE were affluent, but the address was very chic…)?
Dad had it slightly easier, economically, growing up. The Baldwins made their home in small-town Oregon. Grandfather worked for the railroad for something like forty years—great job security in those days, even during the Depression. So they were never poor or hungry, nor did the specter of losing their home ever hang over their heads. The dark side of Dad’s childhood was the personalities. Again, if it was bad, we didn’t hear the details. But the mood and tone of the stories we did hear when we were kids, suggested that Grandmother was a force to be reckoned with, very controlling in a passive/aggressive sort of way. The fact that Mom and Dad ended up moving back to Chicago, after going west and trying to live among my father’s people after the war, was very revealing…
These were my parents’ individual stories…distinct, but, I have the feeling, not all that much different from the stories of any of their peers from that era. Hard times, hard work, and living through and beyond the pain of everyday life, were the continuous threads that connected all the folks of my parents’ generation. The thing that they derived from this, the credo that both blessed and doomed their children--the Baby Boomers--was that they were going to make damn sure their kids had it easier than they did. Their children would not have to work, sweat, sacrifice, and cry as much as they did when they were growing up. What they didn’t realize was that it was those very things—the sweating, the sacrifices and the tears—that formed them into what we call today the "Greatest Generation." Without having to endure those things, WE would become…something less.
Let’s face it, folks, we were spoiled. We were raised by people whose main goal in child rearing was to give their children the things THEY never had when they were growing up. They were, for the most part, emotionally distant, because that was how they had been brought up. But they were going to give us all the THINGS they never had when they were kids. Were we content with that? Did it make us happier kids?
Did it point us toward clear goals as we approached adulthood? Of course not. We wanted more. On some unconscious level, we understood that our parents were squandering their life’s blood to give us things they never dreamed of having when they were kids. But it wasn’t enough. We wanted more. We developed a hunger for the abstracts. We wanted "love." We wanted "peace." We wanted equality and understanding. We wanted the world to change for us. And we were a huge enough force to create all sorts of havoc in pursuit of that end.
To be continued…

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Families, cont'd

1968 was a year of huge changes in our family. My oldest sister got married (Joyce, three years ahead of the pack, bought into the "perfect 50’s/60’s family" aspect of our early lives, and married at 21.) Donna, the second oldest, graduated from high school and got her drivers’ license. My parents began a search for a new home (after fifteen years in the house in which we were all raised, they decided, on the basis of their status as a "two-income household," to go for an upgrade.) And my mother began her journey into thirty years of alcoholism.

I have always seen my mom’s drinking problem in terms of how it related to ME. How it robbed ME of the "normal" teen-age that my sisters had. How it cut ME off from her, and put ME out on my own, far before I was ready. How it made ME grow up much faster than I would have liked to. Yes, in my mind, it’s been pretty much about ME.

I’ve made one or two half-hearted attempts to "understand" why Mom started drinking, why it became such a problem for her. When I was growing up, my parents rarely ever drank. Only on special occasions, and then, only with very strict limits. In our old neighborhood, there were several couples who used to sit around in their back yards on hot summer afternoons/evenings, drink copious amounts of beer, and get totally blasted. Mom and Dad were summarily disapproving. They let us know in no uncertain terms that this was completely unacceptable, and only "PWT" (poor white trash---though they didn’t use THOSE words…) engaged in this type of behavior. I was young…I was only thirteen when Mom started drinking in earnest. I have to ask…what was I supposed to think?

It’s only now, this very minute, while I’ve been assembling my thoughts and history for this narrative, that I’ve had an "ah-ha" moment about Mom’s drinking.
I had been ready to blame Mom’s drinking on the times. On the fact that she had mothered a brood of young, rebellious, do-your-own-thing hippies. But, the truth is, as hippies go, we were really pretty tame. My older sisters, Donna and Chris, smoked a little pot, went to some concerts… Agitated to go "downtown" during the Democratic National Convention; hoping to be maced, I suppose, by Mayor Daley’s police, in solidarity with thousands of their peers. (They were not allowed to go…) Ditched a lot of school based on the credo of apathy toward (or rebellion against) "the establishment." (Donna graduated anyway. Chris….didn’t.) They were about as rebellious as suburban kids got. But I don’t think that is what drove Mom to drink.

It was the change. I started out enumerating all the changes that came about in my family during that year. Joyce getting married. Donna graduating high school. Parents looking for a new home. And I realized…Mom doesn’t DO change. Never has. She wants her comfortable routines. Wants all her ducks in a row…in the same row they’ve ALWAYS been in. We joke about that, now, my sisters and I. But I have to think…maybe that was, that ALWAYS was the reason she took to the bottle. Too many changes. Too much uncertainty in her life. It could be argued that this is what life is all about…change and uncertainty. Forward movement. But there are people out there that just do not handle change well. And my mother is one of them. Of course, it’s only been in the last ten years that I have realized this. Precious little good that did me, thirty years ago.

Mom’s drinking should be put where it belongs, in the past… The sticking point for me is, she started drinking at a time in MY life designed to have the maximum impact…I was thirteen. Poised on the edge of womanhood. Teetering on the precipice of puberty. A time when a girl needs her mother to be there… (Hah! Mom wasn’t "there" for any of us when we reached puberty. Our story is much like many of our era…when we started our periods, Mom was "there" with a pamphlet about menstruation, a box of "Kotex" and a sanitary belt. In fact, I didn’t even get that much…I guess Mom figured that my older sisters would educate me. They didn’t….but I figured it out somehow…)

I have to wag my head at how personally I take my Mom’s alcoholism. What a "poor me" attitude I have about it. How I feel like I was cheated out of the "perfect" childhood that my older sisters---especially Joyce---got. At the same time, I have to have a little sympathy for myself, seeing that it all went down during a very impressionable time for me. I will leave this---the issue of my Mom’s drinking---here. It won’t be the last time I will think about it, or wonder how much it changed (ruined?) my life. But families are about more than that…

To be continued....

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Families, cont'd.

Let’s think about the women of the "Greatest Generation" for a minute. During the war, these gals were asked to man the assembly lines, manage  busy offices, ride the range, weld cars, build airplanes…to basically hold down the economic fort while their male counterparts were overseas, or serving the military in some capacity. For a few shining years, gender bias in the workplace was put on hold, and the women were given as much responsibility (though surely not as much pay!) as they could shoulder. And then came 1945, and victory. No more war. The girls were admonished to lay down their welders, their microscopes, their typewriters, their independence , and go back to doing what girls were supposed to do. Unless you were rich, brilliant, very talented, and/or had a hide as tough as a rhinoceros, your "career path" was now going to consist of landing a husband and shortly thereafter, producing offspring. And for the most part, that’s what they did. They got married, had kids, made homes, and raised their families because that was what was expected of them.

My mother was particularly fertile, and managed to crank out quite a brood in short order. Imagine creating five children in eight years. This would put at least one, often two, perhaps three of them in diapers at once, during a span of about ten years. Consider getting over that hump, and having no time to catch your breath before the first one hit puberty. Imagine having multiple teenagers in the house for another decade. Wouldn’t that be enough to drive you crazy?.

I’m sure there are thirty-something super-moms out there that are saying, "Well, of course it wouldn’t drive me crazy. My best and highest calling is to be a mother, and in becoming one, I have dedicated my life to the ultimate good of my children… and blah, blah, blah." Trouble is, I don’t think the couples of my parents’ generation ever invested that much science into having a family. They didn’t even consider that they might have a choice in the matter. Or that parenthood was a calling to which they might not be particularly well suited. They did what society expected of them.

Think about it. All over the country, young women got a taste of what it was like to be independent, self-sufficient, competent in the big, bad, world…and then were told to go home now like good girls and go back to playing house. It’s not too hard toimagine that they might have felt cheated. That they couldn’t exactly concentrate on being super-moms, because they felt like society had sold them out…used them when it needed them, and then threw them back into domestic obscurity. These were the mothers of the "Baby Boom"--- the mothers of one of the most amazing population explosions in our history. And THEIR history had turned them into something irreconcilably different from their own mothers. What they needed was a double dose of domestic genius…what they GOT was the distraction of the siren song of "career." And WE, the members of this gigantic blip on the population scale…we gave them the hardest time we possibly could.

I offer the above as partial explanation for why the "perfect" families of the fifties and early sixties degraded into the generation that coined the word "dysfunctional." Why we boomers chose to shake off the anonymity of being part of the faceless horde into which we had been born, and burst forth behind the banner of "Do Your Own Thing." And why my mom started to drink, just as I, the last in the line, started off to high school…

To be continued….

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Wandering around in journal land, reading other people’s thoughts and rants, I’ve learned something about families. Chiefly, that no two are exactly alike, and yet there are common threads that run through every one, to which we can all relate. The one universal truth that governs them all, I think, is that there’s nothing simple about family relationships.

When I was very young, I took for granted that my family was perfect. Dad went out to work every day. Mom stayed home with the kids. We attended Catholic school. Went to Mass on Sundays. Mom and Dad never fought, rarely even exchanged cross words in front of us. Once a year, we had a photographer out to the house to take formal pictures of the five of us. (Dad kept a couple of these pictures, framed, on the desk that he had at the hospital for 35 years. I remember, after I was married, visiting his office and there were those pictures…easily fifteen years old by then.) On family outings, we looked like five little stairsteps…from 13-year-old Joyce, to 10-year-old Donna, 8-year-old Chris, 7 year-old Lauren, down to skinny little 5-year-old me…trailing around behind my parents, taking in the "sights" of the City of Chicago as if we came from another country. Summers, we visited my grandmother, who lived in the tiny town of "Lake-in-the-hills." With pails and shovels from the five and dime, we played in the sand, and learned how to swim in the warm, shallow waters of this little lake that wasn’t much bigger than a pond.

Gramma died when I was five. Mom went back to work full-time when I was nine. Life changed… We had more money, with Mom working, so we were able to start taking real vacations, once Dad went out and acquired enough camping equipment to outfit a small army. We discovered the North Woods, 6 hours north of our Chicago suburban home, and spent many weekends kicking around the trashy tourist shops of Eagle River, Wisconsin. And being held hostage—until we by god caught some kind of fish--in the 12 foot aluminum rowboat that Dad bought second-hand from the proprietor of one of the campgrounds we frequented. (That boat now sits in my driveway…we are determined to spiff it up and take it out on the channel, in honor of Dad…someday. Even if it never sees water again, I can’t bring myself to part with it…)

My sisters and I became latch-key kids. We were responsible for getting ourselves home from school and doing chores before Mom and Dad got home from work. I have to say, we never WERE very successful at this…the chores part, anyway. We got home okay, but we spent the afternoons watching TV—at first, the local after-school cartoon programming; later, the late afternoon soaps---"All My Children," "General Hospital," "Dark Shadows." And eating. We used to swipe money out of Dad’s change bank, go down to the "Convenient Food Mart" at the corner, and fill our bags with penny candy and ice cream. An entire pint of strawberry ice cream cost 35 cents---37 cents with tax. Quite a find! I don’t know why I didn’t weigh 500 lbs. by the time I was twelve.

We had a real family…a normal family. Or so I thought. We were so fifties, even in the early sixties. So post-war baby boom. But, let’s not forget, the boomers of the fifties became the hippies of the sixties. For some reason, we couldn’t deal with being perfect. With being happy. We tore ourselves away from that perfect place, And we dragged our parents right along with us.

To be continued….

Monday, August 16, 2004

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Out of Touch

I feel like I’ve been on another planet for the last few weeks. I’m living the gypsy life of traveling with my concession business, working fourteen- and fifteen-hour days all weekend long, then using the first couple of days of the following week to try to catch up on my housework and my SLEEP. I haven’t watched television or read a newspaper in days. My van radio is tuned to loud rock and roll or oldies… thoughtful news commentary from NPR just doesn’t cut it to keep me awake on my umpteenth drive up or down Interstate 5---dragging one or the other trailer, or both, to or from the next event on the schedule.

I missed the last half of the Democratic National Convention, haven’t kept up on the latest squabbles in the tug-of-war between the right and the left to win the hearts of the voters in November. I’m going to miss the first half of the Olympics, AND Senator Kerry’s campaign swing through Oregon, which I REALLY wanted to attend. Oh, well, you have to make a living somehow. If only I felt that was what I was actually doing…

I did get my head above water long enough to get this snippet from Cynthia’s journal. Now, somebody please tell me if this DIDN’T actually happen. I only read about it on the AP website, but since I’ve been out of touch with any other news media over the last several weeks, I didn’t hear the story verified anywhere else:

Bush Insists His Administration Seeking 'new Ways to Harm Our Country'
The Associated Press
Published: Aug 5, 2004

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush offered up a new entry for his catalog of "Bushisms" on Thursday, declaring that his administration will "never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people."
Bush misspoke as he delivered a speech at the signing ceremony for a $417 billion defense spending bill.
"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we," Bush said. "They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."

No one in Bush's audience of military brass or Pentagon chiefs reacted.
AP-ES-08-05-04 1228EDT

My first reaction, of course, was to laugh my ass off. This man should NEVER try to make off the cuff remarks. At least not if he wants to sound even minutely credible. Every time his handlers lose control of the reins, he comes up with statements like this.

But after I ruminated on the remark a bit, it didn’t seem so funny. I think this is what they call, in psychiatric circles, a "Freudian slip." Because, when you get right down to it, "thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people" is a fairly accurate description of what has been going on in the oval office for the last three and a half years…

Thursday, August 5, 2004

MY Anniversary Tribute

When I started my journal on AOL, almost a year ago (September 25, 2003, as it states on my sidebar) I didn’t realize I was getting into, almost on the ground floor of, a "movement." I don’t know if it was yet a community back then. I got my first comment on my third entry. But it would be two months before I would see regular comments appearing on my journal. Mary and Donna were my first two recurring readers…

How can I describe how it felt to write something, and, for the first time in my life, actually have someone READ it? I had been keeping paper journals since I was in high school. All those years, I wrote and wrote and wrote, words for MY eyes only. I would often go back and read what I had written. And I would appreciate it as decently legible, valid…even poetic at times. But that was only MY judgment. I may not have known it then, but I yearned for someone, ANYONE, to read my thoughts. How I wanted to communicate with someone other than myself!

I have never been a "joiner." Back in the late sixties/early seventies, when and where I grew up, there were the "jocks," which included the cheerleaders, pom-pom squad, and anyone else who went to pep rallies and screamed their hearts out for the school, the team, the status quo… And there were the rest of us. Those of us who would have been social outcasts in any other generation, were a movement unto ourselves. WE, the unpopular masses, were the cool ones. We were the "silent majority" who had our own ideas about life, popularity, and what things were REALLY valid. Back then, during the anti-Viet Nam War era, counterculture was where it was at. And I was counterculture. But even that social stratum had its rules. "Joining" was out. "Individuality" was in. Apathy was key. You didn’t acknowledge or care about anything that was the accepted "norm." Think for yourself. Do your own thing. That "anti-establishment" philosophy has followed me all these years. It’s become a very integral part of my personality.

So, thirty years later, when I began to realize that, by creating my AOL journal, I had actually joined something, it was almost a turn-off for me. As much as I wanted to write things that other people might actually read, the idea of being part of a "group" tended to drive me away. In my experience, "groups" were things that were established to exclude certain people. I wasn’t completely certain I wanted to belong to one.

And yet, one of the long-held, fervent desires of my heart was being realized. People were actually reading what I had to say. And commenting on it. It was a high from which I have not been able to wean myself since the first comment appeared on my journal eleven months ago.

Yes, I know…I have been one of the chief detractors of the "Editor’s Picks" and the "Journal Awards," and anything else that smacks of turning the community into a contest.. But I want you all to know how much I DO appreciate AOL Journals. The community. The support. The love. The opportunity to communicate.

Happy Anniversary, AOL Journals. And many more!

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

All Kinds of Stuff

I spent the day furiously cleaning the house.  Working four fourteen-hour days in a row didn't give me any time to keep up with housekeeping.  I couldn't even keep it up to MY standards, which are not very high.  And I had a house full of people...two of my sisters had come up from Eugene to help me out at the Fair, and my sister Lauren had brought her two kids plus an extra along with her.  The house looked like crap the whole time, and I was embarrassed about it, but there was nothing I could do.  I was NOT going to drag myself home at midnight and short myself another couple of hours'sleep for the sake of my "Suzy Homemaker" status.  As it was, I was so sleep-deprived, I was barely functioning by Sunday evening.  I could have used a "day off" today, but I couldn't just sit here and look at the mess.

Whilst I was scrubbing, vacuuming, laundering, and straightening, a dozen ideas for journal entries popped in and out of my head.  I'm still too tired to delve into any subject at any intelligent length.  So I'll just spit a few random things out here for general consumption.

*I spent some time pondering "county fair politics."  I already related the tale of the strange Kerry philosophy.  There were other things that happened at the fair that really made me stop and think.  There was the annoying, high-pitched, nasal voice of the rodeo announcer, screeching after the singing of the national anthem to begin the show, "ARE YEW PRAAAWD TO BE UHN UHMAIRICUHN??!!!??"   I don't know why that makes my blood boil. I think it's because I truly believe that my feelings about my allegiance to my country---my "patriotism," if you will---are a very private and personal thing to me.  They are not something that I should need to wear on my sleeve, or scream about at public functions, in order to make them valid or acceptable.  It's something that's too important to treat like a football cheer.  And I shouldn't be made to feel like my love for my country is in doubt if I don't stand up at a rodeo and scream like an idiot about it.  And yet, I knew that if I was sitting in that crowd, people would be judging me, and finding me wanting, if I didn't.

*And speaking of judging, it was very strange, having people walk around with the "Bush/Cheney" or "Kerry/Edwards" stickers plastered on their persons.  I found myself thinking of the "Bush" people as the enemy, and the "Kerry" people as kindred spirits.  Where did THAT come from, and how can I get rid of it?  AND...though I hate to admit it, I was reluctant to express my own political affiliation  by wearing a "Kerry" button, because I was afraid it might have a deleterious affect on our already anemic business.  Talk about having the courage of your convictions! Or not...

*I got to meet Marcy, who lives in Hillsboro, which is the home of the Washington County Fairgrounds.  We had previously planned to meet several times, and I kept wimping out.  (This is how uncomfortable I am with social situations!)  Finally, Marcy took matters into her own hands and came to ME.  I cannot say how much I appreciated having her stop by.  She is SUCH a sweet person, and so is Rick, her husband.  I'm hoping that we will be able to get together again, in a month or so, after the nutsy part of my season is over with.  I'm sure we'll have fun together.  AND she brought me some of her great homemade soap.  Between my (stumbling)food concession business, and her budding soap conglomerate, we should be named the "AOL J-Land Entrepreneurs of the Year."  Or something. 

*I have to say an unqualified "Thank you" to Jackie  , my dear friend from down south about 120 miles.  She doesn't write LONG entries, but they are straight arrows, right to the point.  I was bitching about my relationship with my older sisters about two entries ago, and she came up with a quote that brought me up short and really made me think: "Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back-in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are
wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you. - Frederick Buechner"

*Visiting Amy's journal, I became aware of a small controversy involving Kas of  Hestia Academy for Young Wild Women.  Apparently, some small-minded tight-asses on the journal message board decided to dis Kas's journal because of her "vulva" entries.  All I can say is, "Oh, go lay down!"  If you don't like the subject matter of a journal, don't read it.  I have found Kas's journal absolutely fascinating.  She is a living example of who I might have been if I had enough courage to actually LIVE the things I am passionate about.  If we are looking for cookie-cutter personalities that fit the mold of what we think a "proper" person should be, then maybe we shouldn't be wandering around in the world of journals, where people from all walks of life, all belief systems, all races, creeds, colors, and sexual orientations, share their takes on life.  To me, the journal community is a journey to expand my experience, not a search for others who conform to my ideas of propriety.  But, I guess, to each his (her) own...

Now, I suppose I should go to bed. I've gotten so used to this "four-hours-of-sleep-per-night" thing, that I'm really not tired.  Thinking of all the things I have to do tomorrow, though, I realize the thing to do is to TRY to hit the hay.  G'Night!   


Sunday, August 1, 2004

The Everyday Voter

Only have time for a quick jot this morning.  Doing another killer event where sales are dismal.  Three BAD events in a row...I think I'll have to kill myself on Monday morning, to save face!

We are at another county fair.  The fairs all have their requisite Democratic and Republican Parrty booths.  Lots of people walking around with their political leanings advertised on red, white, and blue stickers on their shirts, or lawn signs tucked under their arms.  My husband got into a political discussion last night with a Kerry supporter (who was probably a little worse for several beers on a hot day...)

The guy told my husband he had a son in the marines over in Iraq.  Said he wanted someone in the White House who "knew what it was like;"  NOT someone who lied to get into office, and then lied to drag the country into the war in Iraq.  So far, I was liking his philosophy.  Then he started spouting some weird stuff:

"Take a look at Kerry.  Put a beard and a top hat on him, and who does he look like?  Abraham Lincoln!  And what are his initials?  JFK!  Two of our greatest presidents!  So there's no doubt he's gonna be the third!"

Um...what?  Why do people have to get themselves SO convinced that a candidate is practically the second coming, and that's why he has earned their vote?  Kerry's okay....Kerry's fine.  I'm sure he'll do a good job if he's elected.    He's a decent senator, with a history of standing up for some things that I back , and caving in on other things that I don't.  The convention did a good job presenting him and his party to the American people.  But, Senator, he is no Abraham Lincoln.  Or John Kennedy, for that matter.  His major appeal for me is that he is NOT George Bush!

How I wish we could get through this election without resorting to dumb-ass reasons to vote!  There is too much going on in the country today to base decisions on this purely emotional drivel.