Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Jumping off the Merry-Go-Round

I'm spinning on one of those playground toys that goes around and around.  If it slows someone jumps off and pushes it faster and faster before jumping back on.  Sitting in the middle, the centrifugal force makes my head roll around in slow motion, nodding forward then leaning back and then forward and back.  I'm dizzy, but it is going too fast to jump off.  It slows and I want to make the leap but just then it is pushed again until the scenery is just a blur and I don't dare escape.

The Christmas lights went up just after Halloween this year and now on the last day of December they are being replaced with Valentine's day decorations.  Store shelves that only a week ago held last-minute discounts on Christmas supplies are now draped in red and pink with hearts and chocolates and cardboard cupids.  Next the Easter bunny will rest briefly on those shelves.  Before we know it the stores will be a blast of red, white and blue as we approach that uniquely American July day of celebration.  Then it is back-to-school clothes and supplies, just about the time we are ready to start wearing shorts and swimsuits in the summer sunshine.  And on and on it goes.

My e-mail box was loaded with Black Friday deals, then Cyber-Monday price-slashing followed by discounts that grew deeper and deeper as Christmas approached.  By evening on December 25th, the ads had switched to after-Christmas deals at "rock bottom prices."  Some people shop on the 26th to get cheap gifts they will give a year from now, stocking up on half-priced wrapping paper and Christmas cards that will be stored away and forgotten when it comes time to use it all.   And soon, about three weeks into actual Winter, the spring clothes will be out and it will be a frenzy of winter clearance sales.

My Oprah magazine arrives promising that 2014 is my year to shine - inside I will learn how to "brighten everything from my mood to my style, one easy tweak at a time."  There is a diet quiz that I can take and on page 130 I'll find "Oprah's Foolproof Stress Cure."  There is The secret to a great makeover and an "inspiring, powerful," new novel that Oprah has discovered.  I am worn out just reading the front cover.  Oprah has such high expectations.  Inside I am introduced to a few of her favorite things, a "Gratitude Meter," and a plan for finding joy.  Phew!  In this single issue I might find the power to really get my life together.

I want off.  I want to stop spinning.  Who is pushing this thing anyhow?  Clearly corporate America alone has the strength to make the Merry-Go-Round spin faster and faster without stopping.  And I have realized that every time I buy something that I don't need, I am adding strength to the push.  Each time I see an advertisement and believe that my life will be just a little bit better if only I had one more..., or a newer version....or a smaller or bigger or faster or shinier - whatever, I help the Merry-Go-Round spin.

And so I am going to focus on getting off of this thing.  I am tired of being dizzy and all this head bobbing is clearly not good for the mind in the long-term.  I want to put my foot out and drag it in the dirt to try and slow the rotation enough to jump off.  I won't take advantage of the after-Christmas or winter-clearance offerings.  Even if a shirt is only $10, that is $10 I don't need to spend because I already have too many shirts that I never wear.  I don't need more books on my Kindle - I have enough to keep reading for a year or two and even at $1.99, I don't need to add to my collection.  When I run out of things to read I'm sure I'll find a deal or two that will help me re-load my library.

I am not making any resolutions for 2014 - even that is some idea thought up to make us all feel inadequate so that we spend more money trying to feel better about ourselves.  Joining gyms, buying into diet programs, spending hundreds of dollars on containers so that we'll be more organized - if I want to get fit, lose weight or manage my junk, I can do that in March, or perhaps October - there is nothing powerful about January 1st.

So my effort to slow down the Merry-Go-Round is not a resolution, it is more of a leap towards greater peace.  I know what makes me happy (in no particular order):

Time with Sam
Growing my own herbs and vegetables
Visits from the kids
Time with small groups of friends

None of my truest happiness depends on things.  There is not a discount available that will enrich any of the activities listed above.  I'm letting my Oprah subscription expire- even that I tried to do a year ago but I was sent deal after deal until I finally bit.  She offered me a bag of some sort if I renewed my subscription at the low price of $12 for a year, but I had to hurry because there was a limited number of bags.  I kicked myself when the cheap, and not very attractive, bag arrived and then the monthly dose of what-I-should-be-doing hype.  Not this year Oprah - I'm on to you and I am also done with you.  I'm certain I will find more joy on my own than in the pages of a perfumed periodical.

I suspect this will take time.  If I put my foot out while spinning at a fast speed I might catch it on something and have to climb back on for a few revolutions.  I know that dragging my foot will kick up dust and those on the Merry-Go-Round might yell at me to either get off or get back on.  But I will do it.  I can't shake the image now and I feel empowered at the idea of eventually walking away while most will continue to spin and spin until they can no longer think straight.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Body in the Water

As I approached the intersection I noticed two police cars parked on the bridge across the street. "Crime Scene" tape blocked the sidewalk so I crossed to the other side of the street and then crossed to the bridge.  A crowd was gathering above the stream and curiosity got the best of me.  Once past the police cars and crime tape, I jogged across to where others were standing.  A small group of smokers leaned along the railing looking into the stream.  I asked one woman what was going on and she gestured with her cigarette, "there's a body in the water."  I looked, while dodging the smoke that drifted towards me.  Sure enough, there was a body in the water.

If I had seen it on my own it would have taken a few minutes to recognize what I was seeing.  It was face down, snagged in a tree limb that had washed down stream in the fullness of the spring current.  I noticed that the back was broad and commented, "It looks like a man;"  the woman gestured again pointing out that it was only wearing a "G-string."  Sure enough, there was a thong. It was then that I fully realized that the body was naked, except for the thong, and that the pale grey color was actually skin and the broad back was the result of bloating.

I left the smokers and walked around the park imagining life-stories that would end with a body naked, bloated, snagged on a tree limb in a foot of water.  Was she a hooker?  A drug addict?  A run-away.  Did anyone miss her?  Had her life been considered disposable by others? How does a person end up this way?

Headed back to work I saw that the group was still gathered so I stopped to see if they knew anymore.  By now the stench of death hung heavily in the air.  I wanted to get away from it, but that seemed disrespectful.  I got to the railing just as the firemen climbed into the water with the yellow body bag.  They struggled to free the body from the tree limb and eventually flopped it into the bag.  I noticed that the arms and legs were thin; I couldn't see a head.  The woman next to me declared, "It doesn't have a head!" 

Back in the office I checked the "Statesman Journal" online for an article about the dead body.  The same day a man drowned in the Clackamas river and that was reported, but nothing about my dead body. 

It wasn't until the early hours of the next morning when I woke in the dark and pictured the body that I felt at all creepy about it.  And only for a minute.  Mostly I felt sadness, curiosity, fascination and an odd sense of honor.  I felt honored to have been able to witness this person's end.  I felt like I wanted to extend some sort of respect and dignity to whoever it was.  I wanted their life to have mattered in some way, to someone.  I didn't want them to be forgotten.  I'll never forget.

The next afternoon there was finally a story in the paper.  It turns out the body was a man.  So much for assuming that only women wear thongs.  He was described as 5' 6" and 144 pounds.   Much smaller than he appeared while bloated.  That explained the thin limbs.  The description said he had no teeth.  Which means he DID have a head.  There was no physical trauma to the body so homicide was not suspected.  So much was different than what I thought I had observed from only a few feet away.  The police asked for help identifying him as he did not match any missing person reports.  They thought he had been in the water "for some time."  I was sad.  How could you be dead for "some time," and not have anyone file a missing person report?

By the next day he had been identified. He was a 28 year old transient.  His name was Lole Rubio Zendejas.  His family came forward based on the description and the police were able to get a fingerprint.  He had a long rap sheet and had a reputation for jumping into this same stream to get away from the police.  He had been a drug addict.

Many would probably lose interest at this point.  A homeless druggie, oh well.  The news stories focused on the irony that he had used the stream to evade police.  But I thought about his mother, and his sisters, and his cousin who was quoted in the paper talking about how they had played as kids.  At some point in his life he had been loved and cared for.  But by the age of 28 he had been given up on.  He was homeless; how does that happen unless your family has given up?  His cousin said that he thought he had been clean for 7 months.  What happened?  Did he use again and just go for broke and this is how it ended?

It has been a week now and I continue to think about him throughout the day.  Life is precious in many ways. But it can end so easily.  I place such value on the lives of those I love, and on my own life.  Safety, health and exercise are priorities to me because I want to care for my body.  I want to live a long life.  I think about how I spend my time and whether or not I will make a positive contribution to this world.  But life can be taken from us so easily. 

Our bodies are just shells that house our spirits for a time.  This thing that we groom and dress up and fuss over is temporary.  Under the best of circumstances it will age, get wrinkly and spotted; flesh will sag and hair will turn grey.  Many are taken before their bodies deteriorate. 

What I saw in the water was not Lole Rubio Zendejas.  It was just a body.  I hope that his spirit has found some peace and that his family will sense that.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Three Years and One Week

On October 26, 2009 I sent off a letter and $20 to the US Immigration and Naturalization folks in search of the date when Sam's grandfather became a US Citizen.  This was the piece of information needed to determine if Sam was eligible for dual citizenship.  The following August we received the letter back verifying that Sam's father was born 4 years before his own father, Salvatore, became a US Citizen.  Sam was eligible!

That was the start of the journey and with the great assistance of Peter Farina (italyMondo.com) we were able to gather all of the required documents.  A trip to Italy in the fall of 2011 helped to speed things along, and two weeks ago Sam was fingerprinted by the representative from the San Francisco Italian Consulate.

Today, three years and one week after that first inquiry, Sam has received his Italian passport!  And with that, I can now apply for citizenship as well.

I'm excited!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

My Pacific Northwest Mediterranean Life

I am not living in Europe - yet.  Sam is now officially a dual Italian/United States citizen, and I have all but one document required to apply for Italian Citizenship through marriage, but there are no plans to move across the pond in the near future.  Nevertheless, I do my best to live as I imagine I would if I was living in Italy, or Spain.  I see myself either in a small village with a garden plot someplace on the edge of town, or in a simple country house with a garden and chickens and olive and fruit trees.

Here is Salem, Oregon I have a garden and blueberry bushes and raspberries, and a fig tree.  What I don't have is enough sunshine, but we are able to produce some great vegetables and fruit during the summer-like window we do get.  This year we were fortunate and enjoyed sunshine from mid-July until last week.  The pepper crop was huge and we have tomatoes piled in bowls all over the counter.  For at least three weeks in late August and into September we ate aubergines with every dinner - mostly slathered in olive oil and grilled to a crisp.

Numerous batches of San Marzano tomatoes are dried and bowl after bowl of gazpacho has been eaten.  Pepper ristras dried in the sunshine for several weeks, and now they hang in front of the sliding glass door, in case the sun shines again.  The figs were not abundant this year so we ate all of them fresh- right off the tree, competing with a creature-of-the-night who stole the low-hanging fruit before we got to it.

I even hang my laundry to dry on a rack like the ones we used in our various apartments around Italy.  Some days I drag it out into the sunshine, but most of the year the clothes are hung to dry behind the couch, near the overhead heating vent.  Still - I enjoy the ritual of hanging my clothes.

And to top off my efforts to live like an Italian peasant - this past Friday I spent the day picking grapes at a local vineyard.  While throughout Italy the Vendemmia was being celebrated with harvesting, stomping and drinking, and in Spain families were coming together for the Vendimia - I worked in the pouring Oregon rain for seven hours along with about 10 other middle-aged white folks - all members of the particular winery's "wine club." 

It was hard work, exaggerated by the rain and wind and chill, and two days later the back muscles continue to reminisce.  While we slowly labored up and down the rows of dark pinot noir fruit, the hired work crews came and rapidly stripped the vines of the tight, sweet clusters of grapes.  The men and women are paid by the bucket and they defy the limitations of the human body - running up and down the rows, somehow holding the five gallon buckets between their legs while they cut clump after clump of ripe fruit.  The crews move from vineyard to vineyard, each individual doing the work that ten of us together would accomplish that day.  While we were motivated by the adventure - the fun of participating in the process, and by the promised t-shirts and wine at the end of the day, these Mexican workers are motivated only by the need to earn money - much of which they will send back to family in Mexico. 

I was reminded of my childhood.  Dad was a mushroom farmer and I would occasionally pick mushrooms beside the hired workers.  I was paid 25 cents a basket and it would take me a longgggg time to fill a basket, while the men around me were a blur of white as they pulled up the mushroom and cut off the stump, dropping the mushroom into one basket while the stump fell into another - all in one flowing motion.  I respected the men who worked for my dad.  They were patient when I practiced my very limited Spanish with them - but they were there to work, and they never failed to show up and work hard.

And so I will continue to seek out tastes of what I imagine a life in Italy would offer.  I cook Italian meals, I read books and blogs about living in Italy and I practice my Italian - just-in-case we make a move.  And I am blessed to have traveled to Italy (and Spain) several times, and will go again. Right now though,  I will have an espresso and try to battle the chill that reminds me that I am living in the Pacific Northwest and not near the Mediterranean.  Yet.

The photos loaded
In weird sizes. I need to learn more about the iPad blogger app.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pro-life should mean Pro-life. Period

"Only in America can you be Pro-Death Penalty, Pro-War, Pro-Unmanned Drone Bombs, Pro-Nuclear Weapons, Pro-Guns, Pro-Torture, Pro-Land Mines, and STILL call yourself 'Pro-Life'." ~ John Fugelsang

Today, in response to a discussion about the recent reversal of the Komen Foundation’s decision to stop supporting Planned Parenthood and the idea that pro-life should include defending all life, I was told by a “pro-life” Christian:
I will not agree that the murder of innocent babies is comparable to the death penalty. Whereas those who have been legally convicted of a crime that is legally punishable by death, innocent babies are legally sentenced to death simply for the crime of being. There is no moral equivalency at all here.

This has caused me to reflect.

I suspect (and I have no researched statistics to prove this) that the majority of men and women on death row were once an un-wanted fetus. Probably conceived under difficult and un-planned circumstances, abused while still in the womb by alcohol and drugs that were being pumped into their unformed bodies and brains, and born into horrid worlds that we cannot even imagine. At what point did their life become less valuable than it was when he/she was a fetus?

Was it when their mother dragged them by one arm up to the grocery check out counter where she paid for Coke and Twinkies and chips with food-stamps? Or perhaps it was when they sat down next to one of our clean and cheery daughters in first grade and said “Fuck-you,” because that is the language they were used to hearing day and night at home.

Maybe their life became less valuable when they showed up dirty, without breakfast, not having done their homework, with head lice in the second grade. Or was it when they were suspended for having a fist-fight in the hallway at school because someone had made fun of their dirty clothing?

Maybe it was when they couldn’t go on the sixth grade class trip because mom didn’t sign the permission slip since she was passed out drunk the night before.

Did their life become less valuable than that of a fetus the day they started dealing drugs or turning tricks – having dropped out of school without anyone noticing or caring; now left to find acceptance, perhaps love, in any way possible?

Or was it the day that they used a gun and killed someone? Had they now reached the point where their life was worth less than that of a fetus?

Now on death row having lived a life of neglect, abuse and rejection – never having been asked how their day was or what they were learning at school, or whom they wanted to be when they grew up. Having lived a life where the only affection they ever experienced came from mom’s boyfriend or a stranger who was there to take away any innocence they had rather than to offer love. Now; now as they sit in a cell a horrible angry animal. Now their life is worth less than when they were a fetus.

The final human interaction they will experience is being strapped to a gurney where someone will give them the injection that frees them from the life of pain they have lived and caused.

That is much more moral than abortion?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Animal Medicine

Today while cleaning out files on my computer I found this, written about 10 years ago just after separating from my second husband. 

Hawk, as you soar above me, what do you see? 

I see the road behind you. It is a long road with many turns, dips and side-roads that dead-end. I see the path you followed and I see where you could have gone instead. I see the places where you chose to go one way at an intersection and avoided tragedy that waited down another un-chosen road.

I see the wounded travelers that you have helped along the way. I also see those you didn’t help because you were focused on avoiding falling rocks, or eroded sections of the road. I see the narrow places and the steep drop-offs where it took all you had not to go over the edge. I see the loose gravel where you started to slide, but managed to climb back up and resume your journey.

I see the road ahead; there are many roads and frequent intersections. I see dangers ahead on some of the roads, and I see smooth, scenic stretches on others. I don’t know what roads you will choose. They all have places where trees, or over-hanging rocks, or tunnels make is impossible for me to see the terrain. Each road has flat stretches, hills and gullies.

I see where you are standing now. You are in one of the most lovely places on your journey. I am glad that you stopped here to rest. I see the path that parallels the one you are on and from what I see ahead, you were fortunate to jump from the one path to the other.

There is so much to see where you are standing. Rest in the cool shade; bathe yourself in the pure waters. Sleep on the soft moss and drink from the fresh spring. There is no need to hurry from this place. There are no enemies approaching. Take as long as you need to rest; replenish and delight in the beautiful place your life has found.

Otter, why do you play so much when you need to focus on survival? 

What is the purpose of survival if there is no time to play? I survive only so that I can play and I play so that I can survive. Food nourishes my body; I eat only what I need. Shelter provides safety for my family and a place to rest. All other time and space is to be celebrated and enjoyed.

It is the time spent playing that gives energy for my other responsibilities. During play the food I eat turns to muscle and fat which are needed in order for me to survive. When I float on my back I rest so that I have the reserves needed later to hunt and to care for my family.

Without play my life would be short. I would be worn out; too tired to defend myself or my family from predators. I would not have strength or energy to find food. I would not know the joy of being an otter.

I needed this message today.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Character is higher than intellect. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

A couple weeks ago I found a sticky note on my car window when I went to drive home at the end of the work day.

I scratched your car. Backed into it. Left side, front tireish. Have meeting, here's my # ....

I looked for the scratch, wondered whether it was her left or my left, looked again and, sure enough, there was a slight smudge on the bumper. I was stunned. Who does that anymore? Who actually owns up to backing into a car, especially if the damage was minimal - really I would not have noticed until I washed the car again (sometime next summer!) I called the number and it was one of our students (I work at a university). I suspect she thought I was a tad wacky as I went on and on about how much I appreciated her doing the right thing and leaving a note.

But then I got to wondering...why did this make such an impression on me? All she did was the "right" thing...but it was at the end of a week where I had been equally stunned by people NOT doing the "right" thing, which is the more common behavior these days.

The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out. ~Thomas Babington Macaulay

I have always had a very clear sense of the absolute rightness or wrongness of certain behaviors. I credit my mother for this. I vividly remember being gathered up with my brothers to drive back to the milk store, twenty minutes away, because my mother realized that she had been given too much change. She told me once that her father would not park at a meter that still had time on it from the previous person because he did not believe that you should get something for nothing. He would have been benefiting from the expense of another.

A high-school friend recently reminded me of a talk that I gave during my senior year. This was a Christian school and all seniors were required to give a chapel talk once during the year. Apparently I spoke about integrity and I told the story of a man who had a job interview over dinner in a restaurant. At the end of the meal the man took a couple pats of butter (the kind that sit on the tiny square of cardboard with a square of waxy paper on top) and slipped them in the pocket of his jacket. The interview had gone very well, however he did not get the job. If he would take advantage of small things, how could be be trusted with great responsibilities? I don't remember the talk and I have no idea where I got that story from, but I found it amusing that I have always been this rigid. And then I was thankful. I called my mother and thanked her for the example she was to me even as a small child first developing a sense of right and wrong.

Does this mean that I have lived a life of unfailing integrity. No. Hardly! I have not always been honest. I have gone long periods living dis-honestly, but the conflict that caused inside landed me in therapy: for years. But even then, I had a rigidness about certain things and my own actions fell short of who I really was.

When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion. ~Abraham Lincoln

I believe that at the core, people are good. Small children have a sharp sense of being "good" or "bad." But in time this internal compass gets beaten up until for many it no longer points in the right direction and that intrinsic guide gets lost. From the start I told my kids to pay attention to how they felt inside. When they would do something, good or bad, I would ask how it made them feel. But I believe many kids are numbed because regardless of what they are feeling inside, they are seeing the contrary lived out around them. Or they are directed only by the fear of consequences, so they learn at an early age to succeed at hiding things, rather than to just do the right thing.

But this is all on my mind because of the unethical behavior of some adults. I have recently witnessed a person in a significant position of authority come up with a neat little plan to take advantage; to get something for nothing, and this has required the "buy-in" of several others. The work-arounds required make it clear that those involved know this is absolutely wrong, perhaps illegal, but clearly the small gain is worth that risk? Regardless, it is just wrong. I need to determine what to do with my knowledge of the situation.

God grant me the courage not to give up what I think is right even though I think it is hopeless. ~Chester W. Nimitz