Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday Thoughts

From Thanksgiving on, the entire holiday season has nothing but pitfalls and dead ends. While everybody shouts 'Merry' or 'Happy', nothing in the season feels happy. Guilt and anxiety hover everywhere.

In the past, shopping, started early, with and without lists, provided the remedy for the season's malady. In the present, shopping is no longer an option.

First, we live on a fixed income, and that is reason enough to give up shopping. Second, shopping for adult children is never pleasant. Their taste is hard to determine; and even if I divined what it was that they would want, the item would not be inexpensive,and kind to my budget.

Another reason to give up shopping is the fact that shopping is addictive. The more you shop, the more you want to recapture the excitement and shop again. Shopping gives us all a big high. And once we begin to get high, we want to keep that up.

The best reason to give up shopping is to live like a mature individual, one who realizes what's important in life, and is not easily persuaded by advertisements.

We want to enjoy togetherness, sharing stories and recipes that tell the stories of our family and connect us to each other through generations and centuries.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Holidays-Fretting and Fussing, Oh My...

I'm a happy camper the entire year. As holidays approach,however, I begin to fret. When company is expected at any other time, I just run the vacuum and voila, the house is set.

But not around the holidays. Now, every room in the house has to be addressed-cobwebs and curtains and extra soaps. And the decorations have to be hung to set the mood-pumpkins and gourds, turkeys and pilgrims for one month, and then, quick change to poinsetta and fir, garlands and tinsel. There is so much fuss just dressing the house that I lose any desire to do anything else, see anybody, bake the traditional pies, or choose the Christmas tree for the living room.

And that's not even the half of it. Presents need to be bought and shipped to those who can't join us for the day, and stockings need to be stuffed for those who will make it to our house, literally over rivers, and woods. The children who are closest have to cross the Willamette, the Umpkua, the Smith, the Coos, the Coquille, the Sixes and the Elk, all wild rivers that might get too bloated during rainy season which starts in September and ends in May.

And then there are forests, the entire Coastal Range that might necessitate chains certain times.

If there is a big storm, as the one last year at the beginning of December that blew off the roof of our high school and shut down Highway 101 for a few miles up and down the coast, and flooded half of Oregon to the point that the National Guard had to help people evacuate,( unfortunately the National Guard and the Reserves are still in Iraq, so the lay volunteer force was called in), under those conditions even the local stores and gas stations and utilities are wiped out. Then, nobody can connect with anybody and we just survive.

Then the spirit of the holidays invaded everyone. People were out on the highway chopping trees and clearing roads, at the high school, packing books in the library that had lost a roof, clearing debris from playgrounds,churches,businesses.

Neighbors fired up their BBQ and cooked for anybody in their block that needed a hot meal. They finished cutting down the felled trees in their yards and started out on the neighbor's. The fretting and the fussing connected us all and heralded the warmest of holidays.

These are probably the ancient memories in the songs we sing, the rituals we bring out every year, to be reminded that we have survived, and we can celebrate yet another season.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Books we Read

My mother used to say, tell me who your friends are, and I can tell who you are. Or something similar to this, only in Italian. Associations have always been important in making us feel part of the group, accepted and loved and protected. I go a step further: tell me what you read, and I can tell what you think of yourself in a deep sense, the kind of person you really admire.

That brings me to books, the associations we make with ideas, the associations across time, across places and geography, across languages and cultures, across tribes. Books, and music and film, all tell a great deal about who we are.

I belong to a reading group here in town with nine members. So, during the year, we read nine books together, and share our thoughts with each other. WE also discuss other books we read on the side, as in 'if you liked this, then...'. We do not view things the same way, nor do we make ourselves read something we don't like at all. It has happened that I chose "Magic Seeds" by Naipaul thinking everybody was going to be just amazed at the depth and breadth. I was wrong. Perfectly intelligent beings can disagree on what makes a book good. Obviously, I was crushed. How could anybody dismiss this book?

In a few weeks, the group will discuss another book I chose, "What is the What" by Dave Eggers, a biographical account of the Lost Boys of Sudan. The book is over 400 pages, and my guess is that it is too heavy of a subject for most of the group. So, why did I choose it?

We choose books for the same reasons we choose different friends at different times in our lives. We want to be adventourous in our youth: we choose friends who dare to break the rules, dare to stretch their wings. WE may not have the same courage but we admire that quality in others, and hopefully, by association, it will rub on us.

At this stage in my life I no longer have to maintain my professional skills, choosing books that help me understand teaching and learning, children and their special needs. I'm hungry for adult themes, and sweeping vistas. I want to learn about the world and my place in it. I want to understand, and learn about others' understanding, too. I want to read books that tell me what the news doesn't cover, what the history books will gloss over.

"What is the What" will do that, and much more. It will remind me that I, too, was an immigrant, confused and hopeful, frustrated with my progress. This is both a private story and a public outcry for action and compassion and understanding that everything in this modern world is inextricable.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Gift Giving

Gigt Giving has become less and less personal. Because of convenience, I have chosen to send gift cards to my relatives in California. I got no satisfaction what-so-ever, no-how, zip. The holidays came and went and the bills came and were paid, and absolutely no holiday spirit was ever felt. But the cards were the easiest way to handle presents for people whose tastes and desires were not easily understood. When I asked my grandchild how she used her gift card she couldn't think of anything in particular that she purchased. So, she got no satisfaction either.

This year it will be different. Even with the slumping economy and a tight family budget. I will choose a present for everyone that I want them to have. Even if they don't like it, and that is entirely possible given the fact that I do not live close to any big shopping center and my sense of style has shriveled a bit since moving to this isolated place, I will have the satisfaction of maintaining holiday routines.

I will stop at the Wool Shop where my neighbors spin wool from their sheep and process it into beautiful caps and scarfs. Local farmers and ranchers can ship fabulous jams and chutneys made with local fruit. Or, I can stop at the art council's shop and pick up one of a kind jewelry, or pottery, or painting. If I drive just a bit south, there is a smokehouse that packs tuna fished just miles from our port.

Or, I can give them the legacy of sharing memories. I've always wanted to send them recipes and family stories that go with them. This might just be the year that I get to be thoughtful about sharing the spirit of the holidays

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Down on the lake

Lake Garrison has a thin dune separating its waters from the Pacific Ocean. Every winter since we've been here (six winters now) the dune is erased, crushed by waves an winds; then, the lake becomes a lagoon for a few years. We get almost 80 inches of rain every year, mostly in the winter, and between the marine layer, the fog, the rain and the sea spray, we are sorrounded by water. Within a few miles, three wild rivers flow freely to the Ocean. Water Everywhere.

Still, we have a water shortage. Our town's infrastructure is old, very old. Of the water we process, we lose 50% due to old pipes and leaks. Our water treatment facility needs an overall. But there are too few of us to afford a new system. We are paying for a sewer system that was totally destroyed during a winter storm before it was paid up. And we are paying for a newer system as well. Our water and sewer cost equal the cost of food on a monthly basis.

Many small towns have these problems. They seem idyllic and pastoral; but, without some government or state subsidy ( we did get a grant to rebuild our sewer system) they will cease to be vital and die out.People will move out, forced to live in congested settings.

In the next few years retirees will move to small towns and will be hit hard by the cost of maintaining such communities. Are all small towns disappearing?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Our days

This last election will be remembered with vividness and pride, an election that will frame and define a new future. We were all conscious of what is at stake, the paths we are forging. I wonder if our parents had the same self-consciousness in their days.

They experienced World Wars, the Great Depression, victories and ideological struggles, births and deaths of nations. Did they realize how each of those events would change the course of history?

We are sharing these thoughts in a more democratic way than ever before. As I read various blogs- my recent favorites: cheriblocksabrow blog; sixtyup blog; eggsmcgeeze blog; I'm excited about this age, this time. This is a good time to share, to record, to seek new insights and become more active civically.

Misquoting Shakespeare: "The future,dear Brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves".

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Trick is to Hang On

Whatever happens in the next presidential term, the trick is to hang on to our sense of collective pride, and good will, and not become greedy for instant solutions.

The appointed Cabinet will help the new president flesh out his plans and proposals. The trick for them all is to hang on to the fundamentals on which Obama ran, fundamentals like fair play, hard work, good will in solving our collective problems.

For the rest of us, the trick is to keep an active interest in politics, not as a game or a strategy, but as a function of the poly-the city-the collective good.

The next presidential term will ask us to pass bonds, re-adjust taxes and align legislation that will consider the common good in all actions. The trick is for us all to hang on and have faith in the democratic process.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Electing a President

Many people did their part in this election, working tirelessly to elect their candidate. Everyday people had a chance to get involved, meet their neighbors and encourage each other to vote and be involved. I know people who had not voted for decades who cast their ballot to elect Barack Obama. And these people were not young.

That's what democracy is all about: a give-and-take dialogue combining knowledge and insights, seeking solutions above blame. Elections remind us that our future is in our hands, that a democracy needs citizens who look at possibilities, and help create a more perfect union.

We need to maintain this lesson in our day to day lives, by being involved in our city councils, our board of education, our county commissions. The health and welfare of our communities depend on our staying informed and debate solutions.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A New Era

President-elect Barack Obama addressed the nation last night and set a new tone for the White House. Changes are coming. Yet, we all feel a sense of peace and resolve, a wonderful sense that things will be o.k. now.

For the last eight years the Republican Party's tactics and policies have marginalized too many people and concetrated power and wealth among few. The economy had been slipping, and the tax cuts for the wealthy have not helped.

Opportunities and sacrifices await, two wars, economic slump and a planet in peril.

Our addiction to news and polls will wane. We'll become active, roll up our sleeves and mold the new America. We'll become informed and committ to be watchdogs.

Most of all we are ready to work hard.