Sunday, March 29, 2009

Another of Life’s Little Metaphors…

I was standing at my anti-cross-contamination work station—the top of the chest freezer in the corner of the kitchen—far away from any clean dishes or other food. Up to my elbows in chicken, egg, flour and bread crumbs. Suddenly, every light, fan and motor surrounding me went off, on, off, on again…and then a final plunge into silence and darkness. Except for the hiss of the burger sizzling on the grill. And an ominous sound like a Flash Gordon ray gun coming through the wall to my left.

Shocked exclamations from the dining room hovered at the edge of my consciousness while I held my salmonella laden hands in the air, waiting for the lights to quit their foolishness and go back on so I could finish up and get the dinner special in the oven. Then the louder sound of Dee's voice from the hall near the back door cut through my expectant confusion.

"Oooooohhhh my God! Lisa, I think we're done for today…."


"I think we're done. Come here and look…"

"Why? What's that noise?"

With my germy, eggy, crumby hands held up in surrender, I navigated, squinting, out into the brightness of the dining room with its walls of full-height windows. Dee stood at the back door with a look of fascinated horror on her face. A few hundred yards down the block, at the neighborhood high-voltage transfer station, a giant ball of pink-yellow power-flash danced and pulsated and threw sparks ten feet in the air, emitting that loud ray-gun sound I'd heard coming through the wall.


Well. Yes, indeed…it did look like we were done for the day.

Tuesday. Senior Night. Ten percent of our week's business expected to begin toddling through the doors in less than two hours. Negated by the ill-timed flash-bang of some terrorist squirrel.

It's amazing how slowly one's mind seems to grasp such emergent situations. Those protracted moments of fumbling at the controls… The panic button starts to flash and glow fluorescent orange. You struggle to ignore it and sort out the saner possibilities. What eventually triumphed were the orders in the kitchen which had been paid for, and needed to be completed and sent out. And I had to wash the salmonella off my hands, move my chicken out of the way and go do that. All in the half light of the bright dining room filtering into my windowless kitchen.

As I returned to stumble around in the gloom, bits of conversation filtered back to me from the gathering crowd at the back door. Gasps and oohs and aahhs and "Did anyone call 9-1-1?" Speculation about how long it would take to fix. After five minutes that seemed like an hour, the fries came up and the orders went out. Dee and I looked around at the dark kitchen, then went outside one more time to check out the continuing fireworks display down the road.

I started sifting through a mental check list. Without power, we had no soda and no espresso machine. We had some drip coffee left, but no ability to make more once that ran out. We could make food…the grill, fryer and ovens were still functioning and cold sandwiches wouldn't be a problem. But one had to assume the fire extinguishing system would be out, along with the ventilation. How dangerous would it be to continue to cook with gas under those conditions? Plus, not knowing how long the power would be out, we could not afford to keep opening and closing cooler doors. Once the contents rose to a certain temperature, the health department would require that we throw everything out, and I couldn't chance that just to try and save one night's sales. And dishes would be a nightmare…in the dark, with no dishwasher.

Dee and I looked at each other. "Well, we have to close, I guess."

That decision made, you would think that I could have just rolled up my sleeves, dug in and made it happen. But the stack of corollary decisions that now confronted me in my poweless kitchen just seemed overwhelming. What should I do with this chicken if I'm not going to cook it? How am I going to cool down this soup and this marinara so I don't destroy what cold air remains in the fridge? Should I change out all the pans in the sandwich table, or just take the utensils out, slam the lid and lock the cold air in? We have to call the night crew and tell them not to come in. Should I let the husband do the provision shopping he normally does on Tuesday, or tell him to bag it because we don't need more stuff we might not be able to keep cold? And what about this mountain of dirty dishes…and no dishwasher?

And behind all those issues that needed immediate attention, the dread of worse possibilities that would require more drastic planning ballooned like an aneurism. I so wanted to panic, but I knew there were too many tasks before me right now to waste energy on dire predictions. So I rolled up my sleeves, cleaned away my chicken mess, puzzled out where to put everything, had Dee call the rest of the night crew, and addressed myself to the heap of dishes that would now have to be washed by hand. In the dark.

Piece by piece, from the largest prep kettles to the stacks of silverware, every item went meticulously through the cycle. Scrub in hot soapy water, going over each piece like a blind person, feeling every surface. Rinse under hot water in the center sink. Load it into the sanitize water, soak, then pull it out and set in the drainboard. Start a new sink full while that batch air dries. A boring and tedious task under normal circumstances, raised to a new level of excruciating by the adverse conditions. Wash, rinse, sanitize, dry. Wash, rinse, sanitize, dry.

The dish tank became my center. My homepage. Some new problem would enter my mind, I'd wander away, bark some orders at Dee or at my husband over the phone, look around helplessly, almost allowing the panic to overwhelm me…and turn back to the dishes. Wash. Rinse. Sanitize. Dry.

At one point, Dee came back into the kitchen with the newsflash that the first responders over at the power station had moaned that this would take days to fix. Days. My soapy hands stopped scrubbing, I rocked back on my heels. "Oh my god, Dee… Do you know what a disaster that would be?" Tonelessly, without feeling. I couldn't let myself feel it. I would have started screaming and never stopped. I paused for a long minute. Wrestled that panic, threw it to the mat. Then I bent over the sink once again. Wash. Rinse. Sanitize. Dry.

For two hours, I soldiered on. Washed dishes. Scrubbed counters. Washed dishes. Scrubbed the grill. Washed dishes. Thought ahead, but not too far: We have power at home. Plug in the freezers in the garage. Get ready to load out the food. Wash dishes. Now they say they'll have the power back on some time tonight, but they don't know when. Wash dishes. The mountain became a hill. Then a pile. Then a few scattered pieces. And then, just the silverware.

As I set the last basket of silverware into the sanitize water, in a perfect anti-climactic fillip…

The lights came back on.

Too late to save my dinner service.

But my inventory and my sanity and the night's sleep I would have lost fretting about it, all out of danger now. Relief far outweighed anger or disappointment at the afternoon's turn of events. We locked up and headed home to enjoy the unexpected treat of a night off.

There's a moral here, I realized. A bit of wisdom for all of us facing the uncertainty and looming panic of our faltering American economy:

Just…carry on.

Keep on doing dishes in the dark. The lights will come back on sooner than you think.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters...

Today I did something I've wanted to do for a long, long, time: I helped build a Habitat House for Humanity. This is an annual volunteer project at the company where I work, and this year I decided I'd do it. I invited Chris and Stephanie to join me, and they accepted, and were as excited as I was about doing this. They were at my door at 6:30 this morning. After loading our gear into my car (we brought our own gloves and Chris brought knee pads; everything else was provided), we made a quick stop at Starbuck's for some necessary sustenance before starting on the hour long drive to Fort Worth.

We arrived at the site at 7:45. It was overcast and bitterly cold; in fact, there were snowflakes in the air when we arrived. The house was framed in one day (yesterday), and looked like this when we arrived:
house BEFORE IMG_1537

Stephanie was amused that we could see through all the walls when we arrived. We've had a lot of rain recently, and the site got very muddy so the ground was covered in straw to keep us from having to slip and slide in the mud. Our job today was to sheath the house in OSB (oriented strand board). To warm us up, one of the crew chiefs set us to work unloading lumber from the storage shed as soon as we arrived:

Next, several of us we were given carpenter's pencils and assigned the task of marking the center of every stud in the entire house on the foundation (the vertical mark beneath the "X" in the photo below).

Doing this enabled us to locate the studs behind the 4' x 8' sheets of OSB that we were fastening onto them. Nail guns aren't allowed on Habitat sites, but the sound of a dozen or more hammers pounding away was sufficently loud that some of us used the provided earplugs:

Work progressed surprisingly quickly, and eventually we broke for lunch.

Then the sun came out, it warmed up, and it was time to go back to work. It was a lot of work to fasten the OSB to the center of every stud every six inches or so with #8 nails. Some people worked the top of the house, on ladders, and others did the lower work. That's Chris up on the ladder on the far right in this photo:
finishing up the sheathing  IMG_1604
After the house was sheathed in OSB, it began to be wrapped in Tyvek, which was fastened to the OSB with staples:
Everyone who works on a Habitat House is invited to sign their good wishes for the homeowner on studs that are used in constructing the house:

Eventually, we were done for the day. We cleaned the site, putting away all tools and lumber, and then posed for a pic in front of the house, now sheathed and partially wrapped:
the motley crew IMG_1617

Was this a cool way to spend a Saturday, or what? A few facts about Habitat (taken from the website):

It was founded in 1976 by Millard Fuller and his wife, Linda. Since then, Habitat has built more than 300,000 houses around the world, providing safe, affordable housing for more than one and one half million people in more than 3,000 communities worldwide. Habitat offers a hand up, not a hand out. The houses are not given away, they are purchased. The cost of houses varies from around $800 in some developing countries to an average of $60,000 in the United States. Average time from start to finish in the US is 10 working days, which usually takes about 6 weeks to accomplish, as the work is done mostly by volunteers, who average 2 days a week. For obvious reasons, electrical work, plumbing, and sheetrock is subcontracted to professionals. In addition to a down payment and monthly mortgage payments (mortgages range from seven to thirty years), Habitat homeowners are also required to pitch in and put sweat equity into not only their own house, but other Habitat homes.The house we worked on today is for a single, childless woman who has worked for the probation department in Fort Worth for five years. She was there today, working with the rest of us. She said without Habitat, she'd never be able to own her own home.

At the end of the day today, we were exhausted, but Chris and Stephanie and I loved doing this. If you have the opportunity to do this, I recommend it. The only thing you need is willingness to participate. For more information, click on the Habitat for Humanity website.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Bring Back the Pinto

Back in the day, everything I owned fit inside a Pinto. Every little item I needed to make it in the world could be transported to where ever I needed to be in an afternoon, depending on how long the trip. My plants, my record player, my records, my suitcase with several pairs of bell bottom jeans, books I could not live without, shoes, boots, coats….all in the back of a Pinto.

The time arrived when dormitory rooms were a distant memory, and I had graduated from renting a room with a bed. The time had arrived to start collecting and acquiring things. I bought an antique bed (well, maybe it was just an old bed) for $100 and along with my boyfriend, spent a considerable amount of time refinishing it and transforming it into a thing of beauty. Other things followed; a stereo system with some gigantic speakers, a rocking chair, a couch, a dresser, a comfy restaurant booth that fit perfectly into the farm house kitchen. A pot belly stove called a Warm Morning, another $100. The name was horribly misleading for not once did I wake up to a warm morning but only to a filthy black monster demanding to be shaken down and the smoldering banked coals nursed back to life as the dog, another acquired thing, sat and watched in fascination.

Despite many (hundreds) moves, many yard sales, numerous trips to scattered Goodwill's and local churches and straddling two places that I can realistically call home….I once again find myself dumbfounded and overwhelmed by the impending move to Mississippi and the massive amount of stuff I have once again accumulated.

I think, would’t it be nice to just walk away and take only what would fit in the back of a Pinto?

Cross posted at JAHG

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

On Responsibility and Learning the Lessons...

You remember the seventies, don't you?

Oil embargo; running out of gas in the gas lines… Prime rate soaring over 20%; mortgage interest rates in the double digits… The economy was pretty much in the crapper back then…probably worse than it is now, in spite of what the media would have you believe. To all those thirty-somethings who seem to be running everything these days, the 70's were forever ago. They don't remember it, so it didn't happen. But it was not that long ago, folks. I remember. And I'm not THAT old.

I was married in 1976. We bought our first house in 1978. We had no savings, and we did not get a wad of money from Mom & Dad for a down payment. We got an FHA loan at something between 11% and 12% interest. Our payments were $550 per month.

But do you know what? During that time, my husband and I, on the salary of a K-Mart Department Manager and a restaurant Kitchen manager (combined gross income of around $20,000 annually) bought a house and two brand new cars. On credit. Credit that we could afford. In a credit system that would not let us overextend. We never missed a payment.

I clearly remember the qualification process for our first mortgage. No solid work history? Forget it. House payment that would constitute more than 25% of your gross income? Not gonna happen. Credit was so strictly regulated that one small thing like a late payment on a credit card could scrap the whole process. You were cautioned not to let any large deposits that might look like loans for the down payment appear in your bank accounts during the qualification period. Debt-to-income ratio was minutely scrutinized. Too many credit cards or car payments would immediately scotch the deal. And bankruptcy? You were screwed royally if you had filed bankruptcy. You couldn't buy a candy bar on credit for at least seven years after a banko.

Fast forward to the 21st century. The economy is in the crapper again. Only this time, it's because we decided to send all our jobs overseas and base our economy on the consumer frenzy that would result from flooding the market place with cheap foreign goods, and then throwing away the rule book when it came to credit. People moved into houses they couldn't afford, strapped with two mortgages from the outset—one for the down payment, and another for the rest. People signed on the dotted line for credit cards with insane interest rates, just so they could be the first on their block to own the latest cel phone, computer, flat-screen television or gaming system. And then, when THEIR job got sold to the Chinese or Indian middle class, they ran up thousands of dollars in fees, got repossessed, declared bankruptcy…and started all over again, without missing a beat.


A local radio station has been running commercials for debt consolidation services—one business that is sure to be booming these days. They sound like this:

There you were, just trying to help your family get ahead, and suddenly, you're overwhelmed with credit card debt. Where's your bailout?

Did you know that most debt consolidation services are owned by the CREDIT CARD COMPANIES???

Learn how YOU can become debt-free in only a few months. We don't just reduce your debt…we eliminate it.

As if the credit card companies were the bad guys. As if there's some legitimate reason why YOU shouldn't be held responsible for the debt you have racked up trying to live like the Other Half. We used to call that "having a champagne taste on a beer pocketbook." Stupid. Irresponsible. Something from which no good could come. Only for the last ten years, it has been the ideal rather than the cautionary tale. Drink all the champagne you want! You DESERVE it! You can pay for it later...

Maybe we were lucky in the "olden days." The system would not let us borrow more than we could pay back. There were checks and balances in place that protected the system and US. Now, consumers—many of whom do not have the benefit of having been schooled by the old system, or have chosen to forget the lessons—have to BE more aware. We cannot afford to think, "Well, they wouldn't lend me the money if it wasn't okay." Yes, they would.

The credit companies have trashed the "modest profit from responsible lending" business plan. They've become speculators. Gamblers. Betting that the profits they could rake in by freeing up credit to a ridiculous degree—basically lending money to anyone who is breathing—would outweigh the losses they might take in bad debt. Our whole economy was built upon that great, gaseous balloon of lending money that didn't actually exist to people who were not likely to be able to pay it back. Not just AIG and Citicorp. You and me and the guy next door.

We ALL have a lot of soul-searching and re-directing to do. We all have to reacquaint ourselves with the concept of self-discipline rather than self-indulgence.

It will be interesting to see if we can…

Thursday, March 19, 2009

be safe...

Reading about actress Natasha Richardson’s tragic death, I came across an article by Bonnie St. John, Rhodes scholar, amputee, and paralympic skiing medalist, on the merits of skiers wearing helmets. She admits that for years she refused to wear a helmet herself, for various reasons, but says that her view changed forever when she realized that her daughter wouldn’t wear one if she didn’t. That made her decision simple, she says, and now she always wears a helmet when skiing.

Having fallen off a cliff and suffered a skull fracture that nearly killed me when I was just six made me aware at a tender age of how quickly accidents can happen, and when I became a mother I spent endless time researching everything from high chairs to car seats to bicycle helmets, to find the safest ones for my kids. We never made a trip without everyone buckling up, and if we were taking a friend who refused to buckle up or who unbuckled while I was driving, well, pulling over to the side of the road and turning off the air conditioning and sitting there, silently, in the Texas heat soon persuaded the rebel to buckle up again. And everyone wore bicycle helmets, including all my little cub scouts when I was a den mother.

But accidents happen, and one afternoon when he was 12, Mike, who was riding through a grocery store parking lot with Chris and a friend, hit a divet that sent him over the handlebars of his bike. He was wearing a properly fitted, approved helmet. He wasn’t going fast, but he landed head first, hitting the curb, and he hit it so hard that he cracked his helmet and knocked himself out. A doctor who’d stopped to pick up a loaf of bread saw the accident, and almost before Chris and Ben could react he was on his cellphone calling an ambulance, and then, having gotten my number from Chris, called me to tell me what had happened. The grocery store is five minutes from my house, and I arrived just as the ambulance arrived. Mike was still out cold. When he came to, in the hospital, he didn’t know me. After numerous tests, we spent a harrowing night in the hospital, with Mike sleeping fitfully and drifting in and out of reality. Much of the time he didn’t know me, and he certainly didn’t know where he was or why he was there. But by the next day he was better, and the next afternoon he was released.

For several weeks he had some difficulties with speech, specifically, I noticed some projective aphasia (a speech impairment where one can't produce the right word). I remember one night I asked him what he wanted for dinner, and he said, “A firetruck!” with no idea that what he’d said didn’t give me a clue as to what he wanted. But Mike was incredibly lucky. In time, everything healed and there were no long term effects.

No one knows whether a helmet would have saved Natasha Richardson, of course. But it certainly wouldn’t have hurt her. By all accounts, she was a wonderful person as well as a wonderful actress. What a loss.

Signs of the Times

Yesterday, one of my employees whispered to me that she’d “heard on the grapevine” that one of our competitors has not paid their rent in four months.

News like that is such a mixed bag. Your first impulse is to pump your hand in the air and hiss, “Yessss!” One less piece into which to cut the shrinking pie of “dining out” dollars! This is never bad news. But just as you ball that fist and are about to thrust it over your head, the thought hits you: “What if…?”

What if that was me? My restaurant? My rent?

And in these times, it all too very well could be. “There but for the grace of…um, the Universe…”
So you unclench your fist, clap your hand to your side, and instead gulp down the cold lump of fear that has suddenly risen in your throat.

The Café is okay, for now. Sales suck, and the only way to get people in the door is to practically give the food away. But the steel trap I sprang on my controllables—labor and food cost—seems to have staunched the hemorrhaging from the bank account. Luckily for us, the combination of a timely business model (low labor, low food cost, low price) and a sympathetic landlord (who used to own the business and is sentimentally invested in its success) have us well positioned to weather the economic storm. If it doesn’t last too long.

Still, you have to wonder…will I be one of the lucky ones left standing when the economic fallout quits falling out? It sure doesn’t feel good, after the hellish toil of the last thirty-three months, to be thinking in terms of being lucky to keep the doors open, rather than about the growth and the returns we’d hoped to be anticipating by now.

It’s a good thing we have not yet gotten to the place where we need the income from the cafe to survive. But husband’s job isn’t looking too good these days (just this morning, he had to break the news to his staff that they were being cut to four days a week…) So it’s hard to say how long we’ll continue to enjoy that entrepreneurial limbo. We’d hoped to have five years to develop our concept (to figure out what the hell we are doing and get it to where we can actually make money doing whatever that is) before we needed to depend on it for an income.

Looks like we may not have that much time. And this is NOT the climate in which you want to arrive at that conclusion.

But what is there to do except get up in the morning, ignore the news and unlock the doors…chanting the mantra that “Today could be the day it all turns around…” It helps to continue to go through the motions. And don’t let yourself stop looking for the good times that must be just around the corner.

(Cross Posted from Hot Flash Cafe...)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


There’s a fair amount of fertilizer is flowing from east of the Mississippi; at least our little side project results in a product we can use.

What do you get when you cross kitchen fruit and veggie scraps, other miscellaneous scraps, a big soup pot, and an old dehydrator that looks like a microwave? Well, if you mix in Lilly Miller compost maker or a similar product and wait about a week; you get free fertilizer.

We’ve been running a sort of experiment for the last couple of months. One that has allowed us to cut our garbage service back to every other week. There’s only mom and me so we weren’t generating a lot of garbage anyway. The local garbage hauler has an excellent program so we recycle as much paper, metal and glass as we can. There’s a yard debris pickup program as well. But, the yard debris doesn’t include kitchen trimmings and that was what was making up about half of our garbage. I guess you could call it the down side to cooking from scratch. You do get a fair amount of peelings and trimmings.

There are some things that we don’t include in this little experiment. No meat or poultry scraps and NO potato peelings. If you don’t compost potato peels properly you end up with spuds coming out the wazoo. Once you have potatoes in the flower beds you will have potatoes FOREVER. At least it seemed that way at the time. It took us several years to get the last batch cleaned out. Those volunteer potatoes were really good, though. They were especially good with peas and little green onions. J

Ok, back to the fertilizer. The starter is a dry, granular product that has the bacteria that starts the decomposition process and some fertilizer. Mix the peels, coffee grounds and trimmings with about half a cup of the starter in the pot, make sure it’s fairly moist and stick it in the dehydrator. Run it during the day and give it a stir once in awhile. You don’t have to run it very high, 100 to 120 degrees depending on how ummm, aromatic the mixture gets as those little bacterium do their jobs. You can buy kitchen composters. But, we had all these things already, so play with what you’ve got and see what comes out before shopping for new.

It takes about a week to turn the fresh peelings into a not quite disgusting pot of almost fertilizer. Out that batch goes to the garden; in comes a new batch. Roses seem to love banana peels and coffee grounds especially. And it’s a good thing that it only takes about a week because by then we have enough orange peels, coffee grounds, banana peels, onion tops and the like to start a new batch. Makes the garden grow and the worms seem happy for their lunches. At least when it quits raining and the sun finally comes out.

So far we have five primroses, some rock cress, two andromedas, the last pathetic crocuses, and a few daffodils.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Getting P.O.'ed at the News

I’m convinced that our intrepid media are more than marginally responsible for the economy’s continuing downward spiral. They delight in imparting everything, down to the tiniest, goriest detail; confident that we, the sensation-starved public, will gobble down every poisonous morsel and beg for more. And we do.

With that in mind, I’ve had to limit my exposure to those tainted offerings, lest I simply give up, lock the doors of the café, walk away and go live in my car—the one that has been paid for since 1985. Business is down, but we haven’t gone broke yet. Customers come in, food goes out, and the bills get paid on time. So it’s no good for me to start obsessing about all the gloom and doom the media are spreading around. Not yet, anyway.

And yet, despite my best efforts, one of those deadly stories will get to me every couple of days. And my best defense…is a good offense. I refuse to get scared. I choose to get pissed instead.

So, what did I choose to get pissed at this time? Well, I read the news about AIG using the second infusion of federal bailout money to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars in “bonuses.” I came upon this information via a long, involved story in the New York Times. Wherein I learned that AIG claims, and independent lawyers seem to confirm, that they “have no choice” but to pay out these bonuses.

Have no choice? Excuse me? On how many levels is this absolute horse puckey?

“We promised these bonuses back in 2008, before the economy tanked.” First of all, it has always been my understanding that bonuses are paid for good performance. Bonuses are paid to employees who have contributed above and beyond the call to increase a company’s profits. It can’t be news to you that not only has your company tanked, but it has taken a good portion of the American economy with it. Exactly what, then, have these guys done to rate a “bonus?” To the tune of several hundred million dollars? The very fact that the government has HAD to pump billions into AIG’s coffers should summarily disqualify any employee from receiving a “bonus.”

And if that federal bailout money did not have some kind of clear directives attached to it as to how it could be used, somebody REALLY screwed the pooch.

“We need to pay out these bonuses in order to retain our best employees.” Hello! Your “best” employees are responsible for one of the biggest economic disasters in the history of…economy. I personally would be telling them not to let the door hit them in the ass… And, by the by, where are they going to go? There’s a recession on, dipshits. No one is hiring. Bonuses or not, you’re very likely stuck with them. FIRE their butts. Or let them sue. DON’T GIVE THEM THE MONEY.

All I could think when I read that stupid article was, if someone is so convinced that this money HAS to go out, and they, in turn, have convinced the government that there is nothing they can do to stop it, we have bigger problems than just a broken economy. The rich (and don't insult me by claiming that someone who receives a million dollar bonus is not rich) WILL have their money, if they have to snatch the last dollar out of the hands of a starving family to get it. Something is so fundamentally broken here that it’s going to take generations to fix. If it can be fixed at all.

And that…

THAT scares me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


this entry a couple of years ago I never imagined the economy would get this bad. The only good things I can see coming out of the shambles around us is the chance to totally rethink how we interact with each other.

I’m a logger’s daughter. That might have something to do with a lot of my basic attitudes. If my dad had been a farmer, a miner, a trucker, or a sailor the result would probably be the same. They’re all people whose jobs depend just as much on environment as skill. You can plan all you want but you can’t beat the weather. Fire, flood, storm, lightning, or hail. You can’t beat ‘em. You can only try to work around them. People who work in nice safe offices can afford to hang on to the illusion that they can control their destiny for a little longer than some of the rest of us. At least they could until their jobs started getting outsourced or mechanized too. Or the stock market tanks and takes some if not all of their retirement savings with it. (gee I really wish that last sentence didn't look so prophetic.)

I had a pretty happy childhood but we never had three good years in a row. It’s kind of like the joke about the farmer who wins the lottery. When somebody asks him what he’s going to do with the money it’s “farm until it’s gone. ” Heck, dad never worked a full year in all the years I can remember. If it the woods weren’t closed down because the winter weather made it impossible to get the timber out, they got closed down for a stretch in the summer when it was too dry to run the equipment. And when the forest ranger came by and said “closer ‘er down.” You turned off the machinery and headed for the landing. Yeah, if things were closed down too long, the guys qualified for unemployment, but it was nowhere near what they brought home from working. And every three or four years there was chunk of wood with dad’s name on it. In a lot of ways it’s a miracle that he managed to last almost twenty five years working in the logging industry. At least he walked away, even if he was limping and his back was pretty much wrecked.

Until dad was disabled, mom was a stay at home mom. And she was a very busy stay at home mom. Three kids, a garden, canning in the summer, sewing all year round, three meals a day, laundry. There were times in the winter when they had to hang dad’s wet weather gear and pants on the clothes line and hose them down before they could be brought in the houseand run through the wringer washer. Oh, and we didn’t get a dryer until after kid number two was out of diapers. Heck, I think I was in senior high when we finally swung an automatic washer. But, there was always time to go to the park in the summer. There was time to make cookies and other goodied for birthdays and Christmas.

I’m not telling this story to make anybody feel sorry for us. It’s just the way it was. Since Oakridge was pretty much a timber town, that’s how it was for most folks. We had a roof over our heads, food on the table, warm coats when we needed them, warm beds, a car, you get the picture. And when you look at most of the world you realize now that we were rich beyond the dreams of too many of our fellow travelers on this little blue ball. When I look back, we were about as happy as anybody else in town. There were good days, there were not so good days, and there were a few down right crappy days. The only clothes that came with labels on the outside were Levi’s jeans. We hadn’t gotten to the stage where you’re sold the idea that you should pay for the privilege of being a walking, talking billboard for some designer or store. We hadn’t bought into the idea that wearing clothes with no writing on them made you less of a person.

In the last couple of years my company has been heavily involved with one of these motivational gurus. You know the kind, visualize it happening, believe it’s going to happen and it will types. Folks like these always seem to have specials during the PBS begathons. To say nothing of Dr. Phil and his clones. Since it’s up to you to believe hard enough to make it happen if it doesn’t it’s your fault. You didn’t try hard enough. Never mind that the deck favors the house and makes you happy may be totally unique to you. What you recognize as success may not work for any of the other six billion people on the planet.

I’m starting to wonder if that was part of the problem with the last administration and some of its policies. Especially the war in Iraq. It was certainly the tenor of the president’s statements. Just keep believing it will work and you’ll reach your goal. Maybe it’s no accident that a lot of these gurus started out as salesmen. And no accident that the shrub’s degree was in business not the law or political science. Only now they were trying to sell “happiness,” “teamwork,” or “democracy” as if these things came in little tins with labels. Happiness by the ounce. Democracy by the pound.

If you’ll recall the opening statement of the Declaration of Independence, while we have the right to “pursue” happiness, there is no guaranty that we’ll actually achieve it. Or that we’ll have the wisdom to recognize it when we do find it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Go Ahead...Give It back!

First, we heard certain Republican governors whining that they “didn’t need” federal bailout money and planned on either giving it back or refusing it altogether. It seems one of the big sticking points was that in order to accept certain moneys, the states would have to amend their unemployment policies to include part-time workers. Oh, by all means…we can’t extend benefits to part-timers. We’ll just overlook the fact that some people have to work two or three part-time jobs in order to make ends meet, because our 21st century service-based economy does not have an adequate number of full-time, living wage jobs available. Those jobs—along with the factories and the mills—are all in Asia now…supporting the Chinese and Indian middle class.

The situation kind of reminds me of the joke about the drowning man who refused a life ring, a boat, and a helicopter because “God was going to save him.” When he ultimately drowned and arrived at the Pearly Gates, he asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?” And God said, “What do you mean? I sent you a life preserver, a boat and a helicopter…”

Now that we’ve got that bit of insanity out of our system, the banks have decided to get into the act. Today, I spied an article at The New York Times about banks—big and small—contriving to refuse or send back bailout money. It seems that the Obama administration has put “onerous” conditions on banks accepting federal bailout funds. Things like suspending evictions and offering distressed homeowners the opportunity to refinance. Things like requiring banks to allow shareholders to vote on executive compensation packages. Terrible, awful, reprehensible things to require of a bunch of rich ***holes standing in line with one hand out and the other with fingers crossed behind their backs.

The banks have become so enamored of their unencumbered, unrestricted, unregulated status that they just can’t allow themselves to be controlled in any way. They were all in favor of the “Give us the money and we’ll figure out how to use it” style of bailout. They were overjoyed to stand in line with their stack of bags at the ready to fill up and then stash somewhere that no one would ever see it again (probably in the Swiss bank accounts of their highest executives…)

But now…what? We’re going to try to tell them what they can do with the money? We’re going to try to hold them responsible? We’re going to try to coerce them into some kind of social accountability? Well, then they’ll just have to sputter and turn all red in the face and cry “Socialism! Government control! Ack! Ack!”

All this crap about “socialism” that’s being bandied about these days… I have to ask: Why is it that any time government steps in to try to benefit the poor—or, god forbid, the over-burdened, under-appreciated middle class—the right-wing blares the “S” word like an air-raid siren? What is so wrong with the idea of the government “of the people by the people” making sure the people get a fare shake from time to time? Why does it so infuriate the “haves” when the “have-nots” steal a tiny, cap-gun-sized pop of their thunder?

In the end, I have to wonder: if all these banks are standing in line to give the bailout money back, how much did they need it in the first place? Because I really can’t believe that they’re willing to face certain doom rather than accept money with “onerous” conditions attached to it, just on principle. How does the saying go? Fool me once ($800 billion in unregulated bailout money from the Bush Administration), shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me...

Facebook "Friends"

It seems the internet is becoming more and more our social hub. As we baby boomers were getting out feet wet in the blogging world, our children were building their next generation internet universe on Facebook. As Facebook became more popular with people of all generations, I shied away. Partly because I didn't really get it, and partly because I know my children snickered about any adults being on Facebook. I know they felt like it was their cyber space.

I opened an account about a year ago for one reason. My niece Amelia asked me to so I could see the photos she posted there. OK....I welcomed the avenue to keep some kind of tabs on her, so I signed up.

That was that...until just recently. I got a couple of very unexpected invitations to become friends with people I know from real life. These were people who I'm very fond of, but don't communicate with near often enough. I waded further out...I posted a picture of myself and started checking my page more regularly. The whole "wall" concept still was odd to me, and posting a declaration of "what I'm doing now" just seemed kind of stupid. However, I couldn't resist searching for other people I knew but had lost touch with. I found a few, to my delight. I also learned that a few of my AOL blog buddies are also on facebook. Now that we're Facebook friends, I feel more connected to them than I have since I was forced to move from AOL to blogger.

I'm up to 21 Facebook friends now and I'm starting to get it. I still don't post "what I'm doing now" too often, but I do appreciate getting notes from my friends on my wall and it's easy to quickly write a one or two line note to them in response. Or, if someone writes on the wall and I want to respond in private, it's one click to an email.

I have to laugh when I encounter someone who has 629 friends. How can that possibly be? In those cases, I do wonder about the point of it all. I'd expect that a good number of those "friends" are strictly internet connections. And, I don't think that new relationships can develop via Facebook the way they did when we first started blogging. Those short one or two line posts are great for exchanging information with someone who knows and understands the poster. But, I can't see that you'd ever get to know someone that way...certainly not like we did by reading each other's heartfelt and/or very opinionated blog entries. To me, it's sort of like walking down the street in Manhattan, randomly handing out your cell number saying "please, be my friend"

I recently heard a discussion on NPR about Facebook, and how it is beoming an important business/networking tool. It will be interesting to see how it all evolves. You'd sure have to be careful about what you post. I would imagine that adults will use it in a very different manner than our kids do. We should know the perils of posting information/images that show our "wild" side. I'm afraid the kids may have to learn that the hard way. We grew up with a notion that we needed to protect ourselves from the possible prying eyes of Big Brother. The kids seem to be happy to fully expose themselves (figuratively and unfortunately, sometimes literally) to any or all who surf by their Facebook page. We were never going to trust anyone over thirty. They seem to trust everyone.

So, I officially admit, I'm cautiously on Facebook. If anyone wants a Facebook friend, I'm there. Part of me dares not reject it. Slamming to door on what is undeniably part of the wave of mainstream culture seems to be a first step into old fogeyism. I have no interest in going THERE.

But Twitter???? Now, what the hell is that?

Sunday, March 8, 2009


After a long and depressingly cold winter, I came home from work yesterday to a weak sun shining on this little gem in the flower box in my front yard...

first daf

...and, of course, this morning, I awoke to the tiniest, almost undetectable but unmistakable, trace of

SNOW on the grass.


Friday, March 6, 2009

Saving Face But Not My Own February 10, 2006

Odd ... three years later ... I remember this day and this entry as if it were yesterday. I'm weeding out my old journal and eventually plan to delete the 851 posts of five years on AOL-J. This is a post I feel worth sharing more than once in my life time. I hope you do too.

I'm not sure where this entry is going as I write. More than likely it will jump around a bit as I try to corral my scattered thoughts. I do know where it will end up. It will end up with me saving face, but not my own. Some lady's face. In the grocery store. She seemed innocuous enough. She was beet red-faced. She needed to be saved.

:::sigh::: Why me?

I know that I am sick to death of this happening. It's not like we're a freak family or anything. We don't have blue, pink, green, purple or orange hair. No facial piercing -- no naval or nipple piercing. No split tongues, no dark menacing clothing. No spikes or leather jewelry. No nothing out of the ordinary. We're normal. Average. Right? Two arms, hands, ears, two eyes, a mouth, a nose, a chin. Two eyebrows. Two legs, two feet. Neatly trimmed hair. Your typical casual outfits. We fit in. Apparently not.

I'm worn out from coping and dealing. Ah-ha! But it's in my job description. I am a mother and mothers are on duty 24/7. That hunk of rock in the pit of my stomach, the one I refuse to let into my heart? Well, it got a little larger today. Not once, but twice. It grew a little last week too. And the week before. And the day before that week. It's grown from a grain of sand many years ago to a rock large enough to make my stomach flip-flop and give me butterflies. But not the good kind. These butterflies are more like hornets that have had their nest knocked around.

I am at the grocery store. Or anywhere. I am accompanied by and with Emily. Different Emily. But not funny looking Emily. Different looking Emily. But not funny looking. We walk up and down the aisles paying little attention to those around us except for the stranger contacts you make when excusing yourself or avoiding a carriage collision. We chatter and make choices and talk about what it is we are purchasing. But I am really quite in error here. I pay no attention to what's going on around me. I'm focused on the job at hand and I am teaching Emily the simple, normal things she needs to know. She, on the other hand, is paying close attention to everyone around us. She is watching and learning and experiencing.

It comes as no surprise to me when she asks me, 'Why little boy/girl lady/man looking at me? Him/her staring at me!" I simply reply that they are looking at her because she is pretty. Some days I say she is cute. Some days, beautiful. You have such beautiful blue eyes, they can't help but look. It is always because they are attracted to her by her good looks, regardless the descriptor used.

Who's the dope here?

Not Emily. She used to accept my comment as chapter and verse. Not so anymore. She knows that she is different than other people. She knows that she doesn't look the same as others. Now when someone stares, we have to have a discussion about being polite and not staring. We have to discuss how people don't mean to be rude, but sometimes they are. We have to discuss her differences. Not at home where I would like to discuss it, but rather, right out there in a public place in the middle of a grocery store aisle with people walking by. Eavesdropping. Good. I hope they learn something from the experience.

You know, Emily doesn't want to be different. But me? I wouldn't change one thing about her. Nope. Not a one. She, on the other hand, wants to drive, to go out alone with friends, to have a boyfriend and go to the prom, not with 'kid like me' but with 'those kids'. Who knew she could be so smart? Don't ever underestimate the brain power of an individual with Down syndrome. They may be slow movers and slow thinkers, but they are smart and deep thinkers.

Three kids with Mom. Mom, like me is focused on the task at hand.... tug at my sleeve. Stage whisper, "Mom, girl looking at me. Why?" Because you are the most beautiful girl in the store. "She rude." She doesn't mean to be, honey. Just ignore her. Don't look. "I no like it."

A thought runs through my head, 'me neither.'. Keep moving, don't pay attention, just get the groceries and get away from that little girl. Not that the little girl is wrong. Or bad. Or rude. She's seeing someone very different from herself. There is no one to tell her why, what, how.

It's taco night at our house. We head up the aisle for taco items. There is another mother with two little ones. A girl, about two, a boy probably four years old. They are riding in one of those nifty fire engine grocery carts. I noticed them but only in terms of trying not to ram their cart in the narrow aisle. Pretty blond mom with two pretty tow heads. ... tug at my sleeve. Stage whisper, "Mom" What Emily? "I'm no look funny." No, you don't. I continue to browse the items. Why can't I find what I'm looking for? Stage whisper, "MOM!" What Emily? Emily, just helped me find the right taco sauce. "MO-OM" What?! "He picking on me. " Who? " That boy." Emily, don't pay any attention. It's okay.

Now I begin to tune in to what is going on.

There's the mother, squatting down looking to pick up an item on the lower shelf. She is behind her carriage. Her little boy is looking at Emily. Loud voice, "Mommy, that girl is funny looking! " Whisper, "Michael, that's not nice. She's not funny looking." "YES SHE IS! SHE IS FUNNY LOOKING!" Normal voice, "Michael. She is not funny looking and you are being naughty. You'll hurt her feelings."

Too late lady. Damage is done and today I am out of damage control. But let me just look into the bottomless pit of my pocketbook and see if I can come up with some more. JUST FOR YOU. Mom grabs her item and stands up. She looks at me. She looks at Emily. Honestly, I would've moved on if her carriage wasn't parked in front of the item I was looking for. "I am SO sorry." "Don't be sorry. He's a little boy. He's just telling it like he sees it." "I am soooooo embarrassed. So very sorry. I don't want him to hurt her feelings." "Oh, she's tough ... getting tougher. She'll be fine."

I would have liked to stand there and yell at her kid! I would have liked to stand there and yell at her! I wanted to sit on the floor in that aisle, gather Emily up in my lap and have a good cry with her. Right there. In front of all those shoppers. I don't. I say, "He doesn't mean she's funny looking. Not like a clown or a funny face. He means she's different looking than say, you or I." "No harm done." Stammering a bit, "I'm so very, very sorry." "Really," "Don't be sorry. Explain to him what is different about her. Try teaching him about people that are different than he is. He has no knowledge of Down syndrome or people in wheel chairs or with canes. He didn't have the 'right' word to use, so he used funny. That's all."

I am so tired of -- people. I understand why this occurs with children. They don't have the same experiences as you or I. They aren't exposed to the hard, cruel world. What I don't understand is why an adult can't take a minute or two to explain to a child what it is they are seeing. "He uses a wheel chair because he can't walk." "She has a cane because she is blind" "What he's doing with his hands is sign language because he can't hear." Young children don't need the long version. A simple statement does the trick. You might get a question or two. An honest answer will suffice.

"I don't know" is never wrong when you add, "but I'll find out."

Let me be honest. I would rather someone walked up to me and asked me, "what's your daughters disability?" than to have them walk on in continued ignorance sputtering an explanation to a child.

Ask me. I'll tell you.

I'll introduce you to Emily. She'll charm the daylights out of you.

You will be richer for the experience. Your child will too.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Call to Post

Answering the call to post from Lisa I thought I would write about something I love best. That is to go to the library and wander around the shelves and let the books speak to me. I have found so many wonderful reads this way that I just have share it with ya'll! You do not have to marry the book as in Amazon or Borders, but just date it a little, maybe a dinner and movie and if you are not feeling it, if there is no connection, no chemistry, you just take it home and walk away, no obligations, no regrets.

Yes indeedy, I do love the library.

Recently on one of my wanderings through the non-fiction section I happened upon "Confederates in the Attic" by Tony Horowitz. What a fabulous find! Last summer I went on a Civil War (or war between the States as us Southerners refer to it) jag and read a ton of books in this genre. Then I took a long break until I came across this wonderful read.

It made me examine several attitudes I have developed in a different light. I made a trip to the Shiloh Battle Field in southern Tennessee mainly due to the interest this book piqued in meto have a look. I was not disappointed. I was able to even recall some of the history and the narrative from the book which resulted in several abbreviated lectures to Joe.

Then, while wandering around the shelves last week I found "The Year of Fog" by Michelle Richmond. I was taken in by the description on the book cover highlighting her interest in photography and how it was woven into the novel. Once I read the first few pages, I could not put the book down. I was not able to read it in one sitting, but If I could have, I would have. What a heart rendering story about an almost step-mother loosing her fiances daughter! Holy crap!! Was she stolen, kidnapped, or washed out to sea? I am from this moment on a Michelle fan and only yesterday checked out her 2008 book.....I just started it, I'll report later.

I also found "Paint it Black" by Janet Fitch, who also wrote an Oprah book club sensation which was then made into a movie,"White Oleander". "Paint it Black" was another book I could not put down. I have this "thing" about tagging parts of books I really like. Be it a phrase, a paragraph, a sentence, a thought, a recipe, things like that. This book was filled to the brink with post it notes!! I love the imagery she created with words. Books "vomited from the shelves", the waitress had a hair do "like a decorated wedding cake"...stuff like that. Thought I enjoyed the first two thirds of the book, the last part went slow. I kept waiting for it to wrap up.

Last year I arrived at the conclusion that I read to escape the demands of life, to dive into the lives of of others was often a replacement for my life or lack of. When I realized what I was doing, I put on the brakes. Now I am trying to be more paced, more discriminating.

Truth is, I spend too much time in libraries and pawing through book bins at the Goodwill's in Louisville (books 50 cents!!).

I try to avoid escape, but escape finds me.

Things I Cannot Do

Yes, it would be much more life-affirming of me to create a post about “Things I CAN Do…” It’s just that, in the past few days, I’ve received some fairly unsettling—if not downright painful—reminders of things I can NOT do. Such as:

Defy Gravity:
As a small (5’3”) person in a world built to accommodate those of larger stature, I’ve spent my life climbing, stretching, clambering and rappelling. My kitchen at the café has an inconveniently tiny footprint; but it does have twelve-foot ceilings. Ergo, most everything is stored…UP. Though I’ve spent most of my life performing “See-If-You-Can-Reach-This” gymnastics, at this point in time, I’m about twenty years older and twenty pounds heavier than I was in my prime. Monday afternoon, I discovered how not “sticking” a dismount can cause soft and not-so-soft parts of my body to come into ungraceful, painful contact with the concrete floor.

Enjoy Live Classical Music: Monday morning, on a whim, I tuned to Portland’s classical music station. Where I learned that Itzhak Perlman would be playing with the symphony that very evening. A little email back-and-forth with my husband produced tickets to the event (score!) and I looked forward eagerly to the evening. Later, I came to realize that my level of latent exhaustion makes it impossible for me to sit in a darkened theater surrounded by lovely music and…stay awake. I nodded out through most of the last twenty minutes of the Brahms symphony. I’m glad, at least, that we did not have $100 tickets…

So, this week so far has been a carnival of reminders that, at fifty-three, I do indeed appear to be losing a bit of my youthful edge...

Sunday, March 1, 2009


For TJ.

There was the day we watched the seagulls ride the wind. We’d given up and retreated to our van in the parking lot above the dunes at Washburn State Park. It was one of those days on an Oregon beach when the wind was blowing so hard you felt like you were standing still even though your feet were moving.

The gulls were loving it though. They’d fight their way up the beach against the wind; and a moment later there would be a grey white blur as they let the wind carry them down the beach. We spent nearly an hour watching those birds surf the wind.

Sometimes it blows so hard the roar past your ears is almost as loud as the breakers and you nearly fall over when you finally get behind the dunes.

Find a place to stand on one of the Oregon headlands: Heceta, Sea Lion Caves or Cape Foulweather. Blue sky meets blue ocean and the wind blows. Oh, how it blows. Close your eyes and lose yourself in the wind.

NOTE: Cape Foulweather is one of the highest points on the Oregon coast. It’s located between Newport and Depoe Bay and Captain James Cook named that chunk of basalt in March of 1778. It was the captain’s first sight of the west coast of North America and the weather that day was truly foul.