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Sleep on in Peace Now

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All now is in preparation for our 2nd annual Christmas party. Last year we invited friends near and dear to gather clad in Ugly Sweaters to add to the mirth.

This year the theme is “Fiscal Cliff Be Damned – Let’s Make Merry.”

It’s a fine excuse to whisk away the cobwebs, straighten up the nick-knacks, spiff up the pillows, shine the glass and basically not think about anything — I hope. My plan: “If I break this up room-by-room one each night this week, the place will be in fine shape by the weekend and food prep will rule party day.” The sweep-up keeps my body busy and my mind focused on trivial details before I attempt to sleep.

So I start with the master bedroom – shifting this and that, clearing the raft of clothes piled from the last laundry load, making order of the child-made craft collection we’ve accumulated through the years, adding a beloved photograph to the memory wall, tackling the bookshelf where some disorganized elf has come to play (uh, that’d me me), finally making my way to the reading corner and its comfy chair. Under the ottoman sat a mass of stuff I did not recognize: daughter Marjorie had evidently hefted some items in one night after school or confirmation, I know not which. There I found her Action Bible, some worksheets from a month ago, that library book we had looked for high and low and finally had paid for in desperation so she could attend the school dance. A few other books rounded out the lot, except for one more item — the treasured school photo compilation sheet from her Kindergarten year – 2004-05. I pause. The memento reminds me of what my invented busy-ness was set up to avoid.

Smiling back at me were her 24 classmates and six adults – the principal, two teachers, two aides and the school nurse. I know them all. Bright, fun, curious, serious, squirrely – The Mrs. L&D class had it all. There’s Abby who froze with stage fright during the nursery rhyme play; here’s Austin who farted on my leg while reading aloud one day; Rebecca shared Fruit Loops that one time; Alexia’s art was sublime; Gabby lived up to her name; garrulous Matt was just the same; Madison’s pig tails were her calling card while Reece looked like a boy honor guard. I love and cherish the memories all. Last girl on the keepsake photo montage was our little Mo – tiny in shape, big on personality, showing her 6-year-old shy grin. She’s the girl who continues to steal my heart, test my patience and dash me with her confidence. Eight years later we look at one another eye-to-eye.

fallen petalI think of her classmates growing up too, making their own way in life, gaining friends, learning more day after day, and all that is ahead for them. All week I’ve had the children of Newton, CT in my thoughts – the sadness there is beyond my comprehension. But seeing our daughter’s class brings the suffering closer. A leap of imagination and her class is theirs. My empathy for the people who loved those dear ones deepens. Oh! The children of Newton belong to me, too.

XXXIV

Sleep now, O sleep now,

O you unquiet heart!

A voice crying “Sleep now”

Is heard in my heart.

The voice of the winter

Is heard at the door.

O sleep, for the winter

Is crying “Sleep no more.”

My kiss will give peace now

And quiet to your heart—

Sleep on in peace now,

O you unquiet heart!

— James Joyce (Chamber Music)

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I’ve Gotta Make a Dress

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SewingDiaryBatch53_imageIt’s a constant refrain in my brain over and over this time of year – “I’ve Gotta Make a Dress.” Sometimes it’s a suppressed whisper, other times a downright command. I’ve Gotta Make a Dress!!
What’s really weird is that I don’t even sew, at least not since junior high school, and I probably never will learn that vaunted skill.
So, what is this dress business? Carol, a dear co-worker from a couple of jobs ago, taught me this idiosyncratic phrase. Her tale was thus:  she had a million and one things going on one holiday season when a sweet church lady called to tell Carol that in addition to the full-time job, full-time family and full-time Christmas load, Carol would need to make a dress for her daughter, Sarah, to wear in the church play. The Church Lady gave Carol time– a couple of weeks — but Carol kept putting that dress off. In her scurrying and hurrying Carol would remember, “I have to make a dress.” Until the thought was waking her up at night, “I have to make a dress, CRAP!”
In her fun and goofy way, Carol taught me this coping mechanism, this mantra that means in essence, I’ve got a lot to get done in a short amount of time. When stress hit work, she had all of us saying, “I gotta make a dress.”
For a Food Bank marketing person this is truly the time of year when your head is spinning and you run from one event to another, fielding requests, talking to people who want to engage in what you do. It’s also the time of year that your family has more events, more commitments, more church, more life.
I relish this time, I really do! My phone rings near constantly at work; I stick a barrel in my car two or three times a week or wheedle a co-worker to make a delivery to some excited giver. I feel popular! I know I’m part of a customer service team bringing in the much-needed food to feed up to 97,000 people in our service area a month. With about 250 food drives going simultaneously, it’s no wonder that just short of Christmas I dream not of snow falling but of food bank barrels – I’m holding up walls of them, they’re flying overhead, my family can’t move because the house is filled with them.

That's life - a work in progress.

That’s life – a work in progress.

It’s my fourth Food Drive Season and each year I learn more, do more, talk more, drive more and sometimes, sew more. The difference this year is some temporary help has come our way to make it so I can help market more. What use is a barrel sitting in some corner with no food in it? Let’s get the word out, tell the world FOOD DRIVE SEASON!
Just because it’s our food bank’s busy time, doesn’t mean the personal commitments of the Christmas season and let’s be honest, everyday life will cease. We’ve got meals and desserts to make and share; laundry to do; ugly sweater parties to grace with just the right ensemble; Advent skits to learn; lessons to plan; crafts to make; rehearsals and concerts to attend; people shuttle to and fro; a house to decorate; presents to find and wrap and give; secrets to keep; house to clean; letters to write and meetings (all kinds) to attend. Thank the Lord for a husband and partner who picks up my utter slack, or Christmas at our home would be a pathetic mess.

Always good advice.

Always good advice.

Then there’s the second job I have that has a deadline each December 31 that brings more flurry to my mailbox and to my door. That brings scores more people to interact with, emails to write, explanations to be made and more tasks for me to remember.
This all to explain the dress is not quite made and my blog has quite sad, too, having had no attention from me for the past month or two.
I’m not complaining or ranting or moaning, you see. No, no, not me! I just can hardly wait to see how pretty that dress will be.

Mom’s (still) Blazing, Burning Trails

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She’s always been her very own self.

That’s one of the best things about my mom.

Centered. Wise. Curious. Determined. Funny. Caring. CREATIVE. Fun. These are all the other adjectives that I use to describe her. But to start, she knows who she is, period. I certainly don’t know if she could be as kind and plain wonderful if she weren’t so self-assured.

Born about the time of Gloria Steinem, mom was ironing shirts and making her own patterns for clothes in our dining room when women were becoming part of the civil rights movement, and she did her part right here in our state to enable the passage of the ERA to assure equal pay for equal work in our nation.

The amendment never passed, but not because she sat around hoping someone else would jump up and do something.

She came out against nuclear waste dumping in the state of Nevada long before it was chic and had a slogan. She just couldn’t bear the thought of toxic waste traveling through the state and then being entombed here for all time to infiltrate the atmosphere. In essence, her stance was an environmental one.

Part I and II illustrated by Mom

A fourth-generation Nevadan, she knows the people and landscape of our state so well that she jumped at the chance to illustrate “You Know You’re A Nevadan if….” Some years back.

Though she was baptized a Republican, she finally embraced the way she was voting all along and registered Democrat at the age of 69. Since she always voted for what she believed, she just made it official.

She was married to Dad for 48.9 years before he passed away and has had her super boyfriend for nine years. However, neither one of these guys has been able to corral her. She’s traveled the world – Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Australia.

Just recently mom said to me, “You live and you live until you die.”

So when she asked the four of us “kids” a few weeks ago, “Guess where I’m going?” We had a variety of answers – Egypt and Hawaii being the top hunches — we didn’t come close. The answer my friends: Burning Man.

Of all things, mom went with the local Rotary group comprised of ladies and gentlemen. Just a day trip – probably the perfect way to see the counter-cultural festival whose principles include radical inclusion, gifting, de-commodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy all set on the Black Rock Desert in Nevada northeast of Reno.

The Man burns Saturday night of the fest.

A few of her friends tried to wave her off going – “You don’t want to go out there, it’s just a bunch of damn hippies.” I don’t know for sure, but I think she just wanted to see what it’s all about, being an artist and all, she’d seen some pictures and read some stories about the folks who work all year to create some really spectacular art. And then in some cases, burn it.

Being a virgin burner, she didn’t take a bike out there, to travel around to many of the art installations. That’s too bad; maybe she would have seen more. But she did ride on a couple art cars to get around and she took a walker. Yes, a walker. Her boyfriend needs one to get around, so she thought it would be good to have one if she got tired. And she did. Listen, Black Rock City is 60,000+ people and is perhaps 36 square miles in area. With her walker, for that alone, she attracted attention – burners would stop their bikes and ask to take her picture and told her she was the oldest person they had seen out there (gee thanks! They’ll see someday, she’s still a 20-year-old on the inside. Send a picture to us when you get your first wrinkle, buddy!) But having her picture taken was a fun way to meet people and find out about them.

Yes, she saw some naked people. Mostly attractive young-ish topless women and as for guys, the only naked ones were all about 55 years old and above, she thought, “Hmmm. I guess there trying to show they still “have” it.

All that nakey stuff was just a sideline though, compared to the giant art installations slashing out from the flat, black desert floor. Gigantor objects such as Wall Street, a sinking ship, Char Wash, front porch and the EGO Project in addition to The Man, which gets burned Saturday night changed the landscape temporarily.

She and friends stayed for the burn, wondered why you might go to all that effort to build something only to burn it up, and then struck out for home.

Perhaps the burners who go need to get out there to rediscover who they are or find out for the first time. But not mom; she doesn’t need outside affirmation. She’s glad she went. She loved the experience and I know that mom knows that she is who she is, who she is. I love her.

Hero in the Household

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For the past 7 months we’ve had the privilege of having a hero living in our midst. Last year we had a famous English author and in 2010 we shared our space with an international fashion designer. No, this isn’t the Ritz, it isn’t even the Betty Ford Center. Our daughter, Marjorie, has been a Young Chautauquan for the past five years.

In the late 1870s through 1920s, Chautauqua (She-taw-kwa) was the adult education movement in the U.S. taking its name from the shores of Chautauqua Lake in upstate New York where it was born. The format “hit the circuit” with performers raising a tent under which to perform music, provide religious education, give political speeches. The backbone of the presentations were lectures. The tradition died off for some 70 years as radio and television became the pervasive form of entertainment in America. However, in the 1990s, Humanities programs across the US re-introduced this concept with a twist: a Chautauquan today is a scholar who portrays a significant figure in history by delivering a dramatic monologue in costume and in character. Following the presentation and while still in character, the Chautauquan answers audience questions about the life and time of his or her own character. This allows the audience to have a conversation with, say, George Washington or Louisa May Alcott. Then the Chautauquan steps out of character to take additional questions from the audience creating a unique learning experience for both the audience and the scholar.

Marjorie’s group, the Silver State Young Chautauqua Program chose the theme Heroes in History for 2012. For her, this meant one person – a hero to her mind – Miep Gies.  The Dutch citizen (Austrian by birth) who was raised as a foster child in the Netherlands applied for the post of temporary secretary for the company Opekta in Amsterdam. The company sold a pectin preparation used for making jams. She initially ran the complaints and information desk and became a close friend of the owner, Otto Frank. In 1935, after refusing to join a Nazi women’s association, she was nearly deported but avoided that uncertain fate by marrying her longtime fiancé Jan Gies. The two became the trusted protectors of Otto, Edith, Margot and Anne Frank and the van Pell Family. Miep became a close friend of the family and was a great support to them during the two years they spent in hiding. She retrieved Anne Frank’s diary after the family was arrested and kept the papers safe until Otto Frank returned from Auschwitz. She gave Otto the diary that has helped millions worldwide to identify one person – Anne — one family – the Franks — with the 6 million who died in the holocaust.

Meip GiesBringing history to life and giving life to history, is all of these things: fun, educational, personal, fulfilling, challenging. For Marjorie the research is at least ¾ of the fun. Because of her love of books, she thrills in going to the library, finding resources, talking to librarians, making of mission of finding first-person resources and fleshing out the stories. The main source to her work this year was “Anne Frank Remembered,” a memoir by Gies. Workshops for five months help the young people create the characters and prepare them for question and answer time. The performance piece takes Marjorie into new realms and this year, because Anne Frank (played by special friend Jade) is onstage with Miep, the process has been cooperative and instructive.

And now it’s show time. The young historians present their characters this week under the big tent as part of Reno’s community-wide Artown celebration. More information about the festival is here.

As for us, the heroine will live on in our hearts. Getting to know this character has brought home Miep’s notion that “even an ordinary secretary or housewife or teenager can, with their own small ways, turn on a small light in a dark room.”

Thank you Miep for making a safe haven, for shielding the persecuted, for comforting the hidden, for preserving the memory and for serving as a caring example of how to be.