Saturday, December 27, 2008

Merry Start of Winter and Happy New Year!


This Christmas season snow in has given me time to reflect on personalities of people and I have decided that there are two that I will focus on in this blog entry. The first one is the person who really does enjoy being indoors quite a stretch of time watching movies, reading books, and hanging out with family. The other personality type is the one who keeps busy, usually staying out of the house, and is always wishing for time to sit and read, watch movies, and hang out for hours on end. This person thinks that if they had the time, they would really enjoy this break from busy living.

I fall into the second type. Mostly I am very busy running hither and yon and always wishing that I could slow down and just be lazy. During this snow season, I have had plenty of time to do just that. It was great for about a half of a day and then I was done. I couldn't believe it, all of this time to relax and all that I wanted to do was be out and about and busy doing whatever it is that I usually do. I even relished going into work for an extra day ( I am short on vacation hours at this point so that was a good thing).

Now the snow is melting. We are getting back to our regular routine, sans school for the kids and work for my husband. I am busy getting things ready so we can vacation out of town for a few days. Ironically I don't really feel like I need a vacation because I haven't been all that busy, I don't feel like I am vacationing from anything. The thing that I will miss most about the snow is the way that it covered everything and made it beautiful. As I look out my window, the birds are industriously scratching and foraging for seed, they are very hungry and seem to be glad to get back to their regular routine as well. The snow is rapidly melting in the downpour of Pacific Northwest rain. The other thing that I will miss most about the snow is the option to be lazy even if I don't act upon it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ode to the Beagle By, Myself

Ode to the Beagle who lived next door,
brown spots, white body, look at him soar.

Pleading brown eyes, on the floor sittin',
can I please have some of what your gittin'.

Waiting patiently at the back door, let me in,
I promise I won't go on the floor!

Oh the beagle, so full of vigor in youth,
he helped his owners cut parenting tooth.

Living for walks, socks, and on the floor dining,
always able to get his way with some soft whining.

Wandering the neighborhood, looking for more,
sitting on my porch, wanting to come in the door.

Little beagle always good for some lovin,'
holdin' and fast belly rubbin'.

Lately he had been a bit slow,
Walking with his head hung low.

The leash tugging energy was not as strong,
he used to walk the leash holder to the next scent along.

The special brown towel-covered lounger,
always inviting a deep snooze for the scrounger.

Yesterday the beagle took his last energetic stroll,
and came home tired from his romp in the snow.

This well-loved canine will be missed by all,
big brown eyes, subtle grin, and howling call.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter Weather and Christmas Songs

Whoever wrote such lyrics as:

let, it snow, let it snow, let it snow

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas

on the lane snow is glistening,

a beautiful sight, we are happy tonight

walkn' in a winter wonderland,

and other such lyrics about being cozy and warm inside

and spending time with family

while the delightful snow rains down outside

did not live in the 21st century. I am amazed at how ill equipped we are to deal with bad weather in our modern life. Where I live, we are gripped in the fist of the worst snow weather that this region has seen in probably over 60 years. Another point for global warming! Because we don't live in a snow-friendly environment, really hilly with snow turning to ice every night, nobody is prepared. While I like the notion of the "cozy indoor family nest," our family "nest" tends to drive each other crazy after a few days. Forget the friends and family, no one can get to each others houses and our out-of-state relatives have chosen to stay out-of-state for the holiday, leaving only the "cozy nest of just us five". This will also be the year that my kids will have to suspend belief in Santa, all of those carefully chosen and early ordered gifts have been stuck in transit. We haven't seen mail or a delivery in five days. I am trying to embrace what these song writers must have felt at the time that their music was written. It was maybe a simpler time in many ways, people lived closer together and didn't rely on cars, planes, and trains to reunite. As my children enjoy a less present laden holiday without grandparents, for the first time since their birth, and I enjoy cooking and cleaning the kitchen and sharing yet another day indoors with my "cozy" brood, I will try and remember, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful and, whether I want it to or not, it will snow, it will snow, it will snow.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Winter Storm Warnings

As I write this, the weather forecast is warning of more snow (we already have tons!) and possible power outages. The power outage part really makes me nervous. A couple of years ago there was a major wind storm in Seattle. We live in the heart of a fairly urban area, close to downtown, and we were without power right before Christmas for seven days. Our house was a chilly 45 degrees, we were eating all of our meals out, in fact we were staying out all day everyday in order to be warm. My husband was out of town for business when it first happened and had a hard time getting home. Soon, after about three to four days, all of the houses around us had power. Ours was the only grid in the neighborhood without power for a full week. This is because of a huge fir tree that fell on the power lines a couple of blocks from our house. It took the power company FOREVER to get out and remove it. I know other areas were harder hit then us, these were mostly rural. It was depressing when our friends who lived 45 minutes to an hour out of town had their power back before us. It was also frustrating and depressing to see lights on in all of the houses around our area while we remained chilly and dark at Christmas.

I remember last year, when I got out the Christmas decorations, I had a bit of post traumatic stress disorder when I saw them. It took me right back to that hard time. People in this area have changed because of that storm. Generators are now sold out as are batteries and fire wood. This happens now every time we have a possible loss of power warning. People now assume that they will be out of power for days and days. I am included in this group and have drug out most of our camping equipment in case we have to "camp out" in our house for days on end. So here I sit in the Pacific Northwest, hoping for the best and wanting more than anything to get through the next two nights in light rather than dark cold.

Friday, December 19, 2008

My Favorite Holiday Movie

Yeah, I know that it is corny, but I love this one. I did take a few years off of it though, even favorites can have a shelf life. I renewed my interest, several years ago and now I watch it every year. My kids don't even like it as much as I do. I will watch it again this year, probably by myself as everyone else is burned out.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

Yesterday school was cancelled in our district. A huge snowstorm was predicted, come nightfall the streets remained clear and dry as a bone. The kids were disappointed, no snow to play in. We did fill the day, however, with such events as the Madagascar 2 movie, library, and swimming. Everyone went to bed (after decorating a few Christmas cookies), tired, but disappointed in the lack of white.

Today is an excellent day. We had a huge snowfall in the night and the snow is still falling! It is a true rarity for us to get this much good snow (i.e., not melted or turned to ice by the afternoon) at this low of an elevation in the Pacific Northwest. The kids have had a great time sledding, building snowpeople, and making snow angels. The kids and I even went on a cross country ski excursion right from our front door. I don't remember ever being able to do that. As I write one of my young ones is still out playing, adding the finishing touches to a snowperson masterpiece. The other two are sacked out, taking a much needed rest. I am really glad that I got those Christmas themed marsh mellows when I last went to the store, they have been a real hit with the hot chocolate. Another thing that is really great is talking to my neighbors. It seems like once the weather turns in the Fall we all rush inside. Today is a day for being out and it feels perfect!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gun Control Nonsense

I had time to read the paper this morning and the headlines were full of a possible ordinance for the City of Seattle, making guns illegal in the city in all buildings not just government ones. Now I think having sound gun control policies in place is a good thing. However, this proposed one is just another band aid on the whole gun problem in this country. While I support gun control, I am also keenly aware that the right to bear arms is written in our constitution and while city, state, and federal governments throw band aids at the gun "problem" the real issues, that are more difficult to solve, continually get ignored.

This proposed ordinance came about because of an incident at the Folklife Festival in Seattle where a gunman shot some people. This gunman was 22 years old, had a history of drug abuse and mental illness and had a concealed weapons permit. He was in an outdoor area so even with this proposed ordinance, the gun that he carried that day would be legal (the ordinance would only apply inside buildings). Was it the fact that this young gentleman had a gun in hand the reason that he shot people? Perhaps, others with a history of mental illness in our fair city have used other weapons at hand when they are out to harm others. The sabre wielding maniac in the University District comes to mind. I don't know what the laws are against owning sabres, but I have a feeling that it wouldn't have stopped this guy.

The city government now wants to band aid this problem with a puppet ordinance, one that wouldn't have even stopped the crime that it is meant to address if it had been in place at the time. I read headlines about gun control, I don't read headlines about what the government is planning to do to help with mental illness and the subsequent homelessness and substance abuse problems that often occur in these situations. Those are real problems. If they were addressed successfully, we may see lower statistics in gun crime.

I am humored when people in this country look to Europe as an example that we should follow in terms of lower gun crime statistics. Thankfully, the article today did not mention lower gun crime rates in Europe. This could be because the rates are going up, especially in France. The gun crime rates are going up in France because of immigration and more diverse peoples living together in poverty (does this sound familiar)? These are four reasons why I think gun crimes have been lower in Europe since statistics started being tracked several decades ago.

1) Traditionally European countries have been more homogeneous. Unequal groups of people living together in poverty have lived together in poverty for a long time and have learned how to get along with one another. As noted above, this is changing. If different groups of people did not get on well when living in their own country, it is unlikely that they will get along when living in close quarters in a new country.

2) Europe has better health care all the way around. If you want to get help for your mentally ill or drug addicted loved one, you can do so without getting a second mortgage on your home.

3) In Europe people are not as bound by political correctness as we are here. We avoid saying the obvious "your loved one is mentally ill, needs help, and is scaring me and my family" for fear of offending someone. That isn't so much the case overseas.

4) I think that there is underreporting in terms of gun crime in Europe. I know there is for automobile accidents. I saw this first hand, two cars slammed into each other in a village that I was visiting in Italy. The drivers got out, shook their fists at one another, and yelled. Then each returned to their beat up cars and drove off. I suspect that a similar protocol is observed in lesser gun crimes, when homicide or serious injury are not involved. Rather than observing the American way of "how much can I get by going to court over this," people may tend to work things out between themselves.

I think that Bill Murray, a screenwriter, quoted in the Seattle paper today said it best in regards to this goofy proposed ordinance, "The ordinance will marginally increase safety for residents but make the city much safer for criminals."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Naughty or Nice???

I think that Herr Drosselmeier is being very naughty!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Santa Lucia, 2008

This morning my eldest child got up all on her own to an alarm that she set for really, really early. She prepared Lucia buns, got her crown set up and on, and poured juice and milk, then she walked through the house and woke us all up by singing the Santa Lucia song.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Happy Santa Lucia!

My eldest daughter and I will be up at O dark thirty tomorrow morning to celebrate this family tradition. The Lucia buns are rising in the kitchen!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Life is how you see it

The church nearest to my house has the following posted on their reader board:

"Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful"

I have been thinking that it could also be stated as:

"Life does not have to be wonderful to be perfect"

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Gift Giving Fiasco

My husband, children, and I recently went to see some friends who just had a baby. They are Chinese and are returning to China in a few weeks. Like every good American we brought a baby gift albeit a small one as they are moving overseas in a few weeks. They didn't open it while we were there. As we were getting ready to leave, the husband went out to the garage and came back with gifts for my husband and I and gifts for each of our children. We eagerly opened them then and there and thanked them profusely, of course.

Later I googled Chinese gift giving etiquette and found that we had really messed up. There are several different relationships defined by the Chinese. The one between friends is called Guanxi: Throughout much of Chinese history, the fundamental glue that has held society together is the concept of guanxi, relationships between people.

This is the definition of Chinese gift giving between friends:

Gifts are an important way of creating and building guanxi in China.
Chinese etiquette requires that a person decline a gift, invitation, and other offerings two or three times before accepting. It is expected that the giver will persist, gently, until the gift is accepted. Be sensitive to genuine refusals.

Chinese and Westerners differ in the approach to gifts. In the West, a sincere thank you or a thank you note is an acceptable way to extend appreciation. In China, a more tangible form, or gift, is preferred.

Never give a gift that would make it impossible for the Chinese to reciprocate-this would cause a loss of face and place them in a very difficult position.

The Chinese usually do not open gifts at the time they receive them.
When receiving gifts from the Chinese, do not open them unless they insist.

Based on these rules, we must have seemed really rude. Somewhere, in the deep recesses of my mind, I knew we were screwing up. I just couldn't remember on the spot what to do correctly. It is one of those difficulties we face, living in a melting pot society, there are so many more customs to try and remember.

Monday, December 8, 2008

White Christmas - Choreography

This is my favorite dance in this movie.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Cards

I like to send Christmas cards. As I was addressing our cards the other day I was thinking about how much work I could save myself if I just switched to an e-card and let everyone know electronically how our family was doing. My Christmas cards don't offer a whole lot of detail, usually a greeting and updated photo of the kids. But there is a reason that I don't want to do this electronically, it is because I like to get cards and I like to send them. I am old enough to remember when e-mail and text messaging were not the primary modes of communication between people who were long distance from one another. I remember actually receiving letters in the mail, letters that sometimes I even got around to answering. Nowadays all that I receive in the mail are a few bills (those that aren't electronic) and junk mail. It seems as though there is never anything nice. Even event invitations are typically sent through evite and not paper invitation. I get excited when I actually see something in the mailbox that looks personal, someone took the time to send it via snail mail. I think that it means something. Even though my cards may not say a lot, they are a way to say "hello, " in a way that people may not be using at all fifty years from now. It is personal and means something for me to send it. I only hope that getting those cards in the mail every year means something for the receivers of those greetings as well.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Pill Boxes and Hat Bottles By, Myself

Maggie sputtered and coughed as she slowly awoke from her drowsy nap. Her eyes took in the blur of the small room. In the corner, a television quietly droned. The peach colored curtains were parted slightly, letting in the filtered sunlight of late afternoon. Maggie’s head was positioned at an angle, one of the pillow supports had fallen away during her nap. Maggie felt like she was falling. She tried to will her left hand into moving, to reach for the small red call button. Why do they make these damn call buttons so small? Maggie thought. Maggie scanned the horizon of her crème colored bedding. Trying to look left, Maggie saw the black partition that emerged every time she tried to use her peripheral vision on her left side, the black blank that let her see only nothingness when her artist’s vision used to be so full of color. Moving her eyes to the right, Maggie spied the elusive call button, the small red orb protruding from the long white cord, snaking around her bed rail. Flailing as she reached, Maggie put all of her effort into nabbing the call button with her right hand. This wasn’t easy to do. Dense hemiplegia caused her left side to be heavy and useless. Where there was once lineless beauty that captured every boys attention at the dance hall on Saturday nights, there were now deep wrinkles with sagging mouth and eye. Maggie knew that she drooled. The nurses were constantly using fresh towels to wipe at her mouth. They seemed to know how much it bothered her even though she couldn’t really feel it. With a huge effort, Maggie attempted to lunge for the call button without supporting herself. This effort caused her to land with a crash against the metal bed rail. Maggie felt the cold against her cheek and tasted metal in her mouth. The right side of her face felt wet. She was crying again, over nothing, the tears just came, they always came. Maggie tried to tell people, but knew that they didn’t understand. In her mind she was saying, “I have just had a massive stroke, it makes me emotional.” It came out as “Daaaaaat, daaa, daaat doo doo” or some other ridiculous combination, never real words, causing Maggie to sigh frequently in exasperation over her inability to communicate. Maggie felt something hard and small in her right hand, as she peered downward through the bed rail, she realized that she had captured the call button. This new, small joy made the tears come even harder.

“Oh, Mrs. Smith, let me get you fixed up.” Jerusha, the most attentive nurses aide by far, was always quick to answer Maggie’s calls. She was different from the other nurses aides who let call buttons ring like chimes up and down the halls while they sat at the nurses station drinking soda and gossiping. No, Jerusha was always prompt. She took pride in her work and made sure that all of the residents in her care were toileted, cleaned, and cared for. “Now Mrs. Smith,” Jerusha continued, “You can’t use your left hand. That’s why I put the call button on your right, next to your hand. Quit trying to reach over with your left hand and you won’t have these nasty falls.” Jerusha patted and smoothed and adjusted the sheets. She had the bed pan in and out from under Maggie before Maggie even realized that she had used it. “The occupational therapist will be in this afternoon to help you learn how to transfer to a bedside commode. Then we can be done with these silly bed pans.” Jerusha winked at Maggie like this would be a good thing. Maggie was horrified by the thought of sitting by her bed on a toilet where any old passerby would be able to watch her go about her private business. Jerusha seemed to read her thoughts. She put her large, dark chocolate hand over Maggie’s and gave her a squeeze. “I can tell that you are a real lady. Don’t worry, they won’t leave you out here. They’ll pull the curtain.” Jerusha gave the curtain that went around Maggie’s bed a little shake. “See just like in the hospital, you will have your privacy.” Maggie noticed the hat when she looked up at Jerusha to communicate a wordless “thank you.” There it was, a little red pillbox hat, with a small piece of netting that just covered Jerusha’ forehead. Jerusha had stuck a small peacock feather in the ribbon that was wrapped around the hat for added flair. “I see that you like my hat.” Jerusha reached up and patted the hat, perched lightly atop her tight afro curls. “That was my grandmammy’s church hat. I like to wear it now and then because it seems to make everyone happy.” Jerusha flashed a brilliant white grin. She stooped closer to Maggie and whispered, “My grandmammy was like that, always bringing cheer everywhere she went. You remind me of her.” Maggie started to respond, “Doooo, daaat, daaa dooo,” Jerusha gave her a quick hug and was off to spread her loving care and cheer to the lucky residents assigned to her this shift.

The hat, the hat, the hat, something about that hat, Maggie inwardly cursed her ageing memory addled more by this recent stroke. After another nurses aide, a rushed and solemn young African (at least he looked African to Maggie) fed her dinner in bed, Maggie remembered the hat, her hat, hidden somewhere in the recesses of her attic at home, the brilliant blue pillbox hat. It looked just like a Tiffany’s box with netting. Maggie kept meaning to clean out the attic. After Joe died, she dealt with cleaning out the house, his office, and study room. That had been an overwhelming task. Joe had been a collector, never throwing anything out in their fifty years of marriage. Joe’s death had been quick, a massive coronary infaraction, he was dead 24 hours later after all of the heroic acts of medical science had failed to save him. Maggie was alone in the big Cape Cod house. Her children tried to make her move out. Once the strokes started, she had no choice. Assisted living was cramped. It took her back to her days of living in a college dormitory only without the freedoms and with the added discomfort of being set in her ways and routines, but not being able to live them.

Maggie wished that she knew what had become of her house and the stuff in it. Her son, Jack, had come around with some papers for her to sign when she first moved into the assisted living facility. She had been too tired and wasn’t up for a long conversation of legalese. Jack had gone away, disappointed in her and mumbling something about getting rid of assets and the high cost of medical care. Maggie didn’t know much about those things. Joe had handled all of the finances. Jack tried to help her sort things out in the years following Joe’s death, but she never really understood it. She had to remember to ask Jack or her daughter, Ruby, about the house the next time they came to visit.

Over the course of the next several days, memories of the bright blue hat played at the corners of Maggie’s mind. “Paintbox, paintbox,” she had shouted emphatically when learning to use the commode with the occupational therapist. “Pink-it, pink-it,” she said rhythmically while learning to use a walker with an arm support during physical therapy. Speech therapy was the best because the therapist always made an effort to try and understand what Maggie was really trying to say. She got close, “Pill bottle, pill bottle,” she had chanted in speech therapy. She had really meant to say, “Pillbox, where is my beautiful blue pillbox hat?” She couldn’t form the words even as she thought them in her mind.

Maggie awoke in the middle of the night. It had come back as if in a dream, the story of the hat and its importance. This was how her memory worked these days, sometimes empty and, at odd times, full. That hat was a gift from John, her first and maybe her only true love. They had met in high school, promised to each other when they left for college. Maggie knew why she had tried to forget this story so often throughout her life, buried it deeply all of these years along with her grief. The hat was the last thing given to her by John before he left forever, dropped out of college, joined the service and was sent to the South Pacific. At first there were letters, love letters that made Maggie blush to remember them. Because both of their names started with “J,” Maggie had lived in fear of accidently calling Joe, “John.” She had put John away in the dark corners of her mind. Over the years she remembered gifts as she had run across them, a scarf, a bracelet, a handbag. John had been sentimental and eager to please her and win her heart. Maggie’s family was poor and the nice things drew her in, but she did love him. The grief that she felt when he didn’t return nearly ate her alive. Joe returned though and Maggie thought that his love would be enough to see her through. The damp spots on her lap robe grew and spread like raindrops in a puddle, Maggie couldn’t stop crying.

The next day, Jerusha was back caring for Maggie. “You seem so sad today Mrs. Smith,” Jerusha commented as she combed Maggie’s hair and helped to put her dentures in. When Jerusha bent down, Maggie brought her right hand up to touch Jerusha’s tight black curls. “You miss my hat? I’ll wear it again soon just for you my dear Mrs. Smith.” Jerusha looked warmly at Maggie. Maggie’s dark mood persisted, even a visit from Ruby, bearing fresh tulips, Maggie’s favorite, was not enough to cheer her. Talk of Ruby’s daughter’s up coming wedding made Maggie feel worse. She knew that Ruby and her granddaughter, Rosa, both wanted her there. Maggie was dreading it, the drooling octogenarian wheeled around and cajoled by everyone. They would quickly lose interest in her gibberish and she would spend the evening alone in a corner unable to eat or go to the bathroom. No, it would be better to stay here at the care center and skip the wedding all together.

Jerusha was on Maggie’s wing a few days later. The sight of grandmammy’s red feathered hat was enough to make Maggie smile a bit, however brief. Jerusha caught her eye, “You really like this hat” Maggie nodded, she hoped that her head was making a “yes” movement, these days she could never be sure what her body was doing. “Do you want to try it on” Jerusha removed the hat from her own head and placed it atop Maggie’s gray hair. “Now don’t you just look smart. I wish that I had my camera. We will have to get you a hat of your own.” Maggie’s ears perked up when she heard this, “Blue box, blue box, “she stammered, trying to get the right words to come out. At least she was using words even if they weren’t always the right ones. Jerusha said, “I’ll see what I can do about getting you a hat of your own Mrs. Smith.” She gave Maggie’s arm a quick squeeze and was gone. Maggie knew that Jerusah did her job well, but she had never seen her move that quickly before.

That night Maggie’s dreams were a blur of hats, all kinds of hats making their way through the centuries with bows, feather, flowers, netting, and ribbon, always ending in a bright blue pillbox hat, a beacon from a long dead lover. Maggie had a sense that John was calling her, asking her to not be afraid and assuring her that he would be on the other side, waiting. She was ready now she told him. John appeared to her, young and strong, dashing in his military uniform with an enigmatic smile and dark, laughing brown eyes. He placed the hat firmly on her shiny long blonde curls, took her hand, and together they flew out of the night.
“What’s in here?” Rosa blew the dust off of yet another of grandma’s boxes. Grandma had died one week before Rosa’s wedding. They had carried on with a gay celebration in her honor. Grandma had always loved parties and pretty things. Rosa tried to imbue as much of her grandma’s spirit as possible into the wedding. Since she had returned from her honeymoon, she and her mother had been working non-stop, taking apart a home that had taken grandma a lifetime to build. A young couple had just bought the house they were ready to begin re-modeling, settling in, and making a home here for themselves. Ruby stood next to Rosa as Rosa pried the lid off of the small white box. Inside, wrapped in tissue paper turned yellow by time, was a perfect bright blue pillbox hat. “What a unique color,” Rosa commented as she gently lifted the hat from the box. “Strange, I never saw mom wear that. In fact I never saw her wear a nice hat.” “What’s this?” Rosa reached down into the ageing crackled tissue and pulled out a faded note card: On leave Nov. 20. Stop. Wear hat. Stop. See you in crowd. Stop. Have surprise. Stop. Love, John


Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ten of my Favorite Reads for 2008

1. Keeping the World Away, Margaret Forster
2. The Matisse Stories, A.S. Byatt
3. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
4. Caspian Rain, Gina B. Nahai
5. The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
6. One Train Late, Andy Summers
7. Diary of a Grumpy Old Woman (A Year in Big Knickers), Judith Holder
8. Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
9. The Knitting Circle, Ann Hood
10. Last Child in the Woods-Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv