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That was then.

Your Treasure Buried

Tempted to Tarry.

The mountain rumbles.

You can feel it. Beneath your feet. In your chest. As you extend the awning over your courtyard.

A change. There is something cataclysmic under the surface.

Should you move? Take cover? Go to higher ground? Maybe you should visit a distant relative, whether the journey bodes pleasant or not?

The mountain coughs. Spews smoke.

Your children are playing in the street, some sort of ball with changing rules and shouts of laughter. Pull them from the game?

Business is being conducted. The magistrate’s marble hangs importantly over the lintel. Surely, if the village required shelter, he would sound the call?

FullSizeRender (1)A few tiles fall from a roof across the corsia. Shoddy workmanship? No, for the earth moves.

There is a moment, that paralyzing space that comprises fractions of seconds, where you realize that choices are few. What to take? What to leave? To whom do you call?

Pompeii in Ashes.

I have always had a fascination with the visceral story of Pompeii. That fleeting moment where decisions are made to leave, to flee, to stay, to ride it out, captures me. My breath is suspended. What would I have done? What would I do?IMG_2785

I am a terrible material creature. I like my things. I collect. My children know that there are separate collections of holiday decorations, china and dishes, art, and ephemera. By its very definition, ephemera is not meant to last. Why hold on?

Families, time immemorial, have saved the remainders of clans, tribes. We dig for reminders. We crave connection. We want to know that we have and do belong. We wish to leave, for posterity, that which we could not take with us.

Your treasure buried.

Today, I saw the buried treasure of the city of Pompeii. Certainly, there were surviving urns from trade vessels. Marbles and cement, statues, busts, lamps, urns. Wine casks. Pieces of floor and of frieze. Signs, like the one chiseled by a mother to her son upon his death. And IMG_2777amazingly fragile glass. How, precious flask, did you survive twenty-eight feet of ash?

And gold jewelry, the adornment of adults and of children. Was it not so hot that a child’s bracelet would melt? Or was it meant, historically, to be left behind?

I ask myself, what would I take, were I on the run, fleeing for my life? Today’s Syrian refugee experience requires the same question and response. And what, if I knew that my household life would be embalmed for all time, would I wish to be buried?

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Thanks to the Kelsey Museum, at the University of Michigan, for its free exhibit. 

Leisure and Luxury in the Age of Nero: The Villas of Oplontis Near Pompeii
February 19–May 15, 2016

 

 

 

Idealist: a swear word?

The other night, in my graduate class on philanthropy and development, I was called “an idealist.”

 

We were talking about what philanthropy entails. Is it okay to be a philanthropist and use your money as leverage? An example: Andrew Carnegie (I’m sending you to an NPR article* for more information) leveraged his money to spread libraries across America.

 

He believed that reading–the ability to read and access to reading materials–would lift Americans out of poverty and increase American prosperity. It had worked for him, you see. As a child raised in poverty, he read each and everything on which he could place his hands. He attributed reading with his own success.
When he proposed his offer of libraries to communities, he agreed to provide the mortar and brick to build the structure, but communities would have to show strategic proof that they would staff, heat, light, care for, and keep the library in working order. His money was leveraged in this way.
This is the defining difference between charity and philanthropy. Charity alleviates. Philanthropy seeks solutions.
I said that, in thinking about the money that our class will give away (we are a part of PhilanthropyLab.org and have been gifted $25K to distribute according to our agreement), I felt a responsibility.
Is it really enough to give money, if you’re not directly involved, to the extent that your circumstances allow? Is it okay for me to believe that students need tutoring resources outside public school venues, provide money, but not offer to tutor?I certainly have the resources to tutor. Is money enough, if I want the game to change?

 

 

And so, I was called an idealist.

I called my oldest daughter on the way home to see if she agreed, or how she felt about having a mom that was an idealist. I told her I was considering whether or not I was going to own it. She did not seem shocked or concerned.

I also had to look it up. I thought that it meant considering ideals as a norm: one has ideals and one lives up to them (or tries). As a pragmatist is pragmatic, a pessimist is pessimistic, and idealist would be working toward ideals.

Surprisingly, the first thing that popped up was not a definition, but a website called IndeedJobs/Idealist (Indeed.com/Idealist). Next was a group entitled Action Without Borders (www.idealist.org/idealist), which claims to show 100,000 volunteer positions for idealists, like me.

I had no idea. (Apparently, I just have ideals, not ideas.) There must be many of us. Legion.

When I finally got to Dictionary.com, I was slightly surprised. (See the entire definition, below). Being an idealist is not as laudatory as it sounds. “Impractical”? “Seeing things as they should be, rather than they are”? Sounds like fighting words to me.

I decided I liked it, right then and there.

It also said “a writer who treats subjects imaginatively.” Okay. Although, why this is a trait of an idealist, I’m not certain. Are pessimists not also imaginative?

I’m not sure how the attribute was meant, but I’m going to keep it. I would like to see the world as it could be, not as it is, currently. If you’d like to call yourself an idealist, you can join me.

 

Carnegie Library
Carnegie Library
Wynchwood Branch Library
Wynchwood Branch Library

 

*There’s an audio version of the NPR Carnegie Library story. You might enjoy a listen (from 2013).
 ________________________________________________________________
From Dictionary.com
[ahy-deeuh-list]
noun
1.

a person who cherishes or pursues high or noble principles, purposes, goals, etc.

Antonyms: pragmatist, skeptic, cynic.
2.

a visionary or impractical person.

Antonyms: realist, materialist.
3.

a person who represents things as they might or should be rather than as they are:

My friend is an idealist, who somehow thinks that we always agree.
4.

a writer or artist who treats subjects imaginatively.
5.

a person who accepts the doctrines of philosophical idealism, as by representing things in an ideal form, or as they might or should be rather than as they are.

Happy at Halloween

Happy at Halloween.

Happy at Halloween

It’s a widely known fact, at least between my family and friends, that I love getting ready for the holidays. It could be a childhood thing. We had some good ones: ones that took us back to the farm, into the arms of family, filled with food and faith.

It doesn’t really explain, though, why I love to decorate for them.halloween 006 People do, I know, but most of theirs appear sweet and bright and sparkley. My collection seems a little macabre, a little dark, a little creepy for little kids.

For quite a few years I was a Quester, so I was surrounded by members’ vintage and antique pieces. Some are lovely enough to make you weep, true art within the collectors’ homes: old candy containers and Belsnickles from Germany, paper ornaments from Beistel, celluloid statues. Except for a few pieces in moderate condition, I could not enter the market.

halloween 009But even before that, and certainly after, I’ve continued to assemble collections of Halloween and Christmas that are slightly vintage, slightly primitive, and a whole lot haunting. Oh, I have Easter, too, but it’s a lighter, springtime affair that tends away from the stories of haunting, of want, of characters that frighten, like ghosties and jack-o-lanterns and an old man who sees you when you’re sleeping, who knows when you’re awake.

Likely, my vivid imagination has allowed me to develop a world where past legends and lore collide with colonial decor.halloween 002 I love to read about Victorian holiday traditions, to picture children carrying carved turnips and gourds in an era when science hadn’t explained away the bogey-man and left something more terrifying – truly evil people – in his place.

No small thing, I also like that Halloween exists for candy and for children, and for celebrating the harvest after the bounty of summer. One is not required to assemble one’s family, buy gifts, then frenetically entertain. halloween 023On Halloween night, as the sky deepens into purple, then black, in the brisk chill evening air, we light our porches and encourage mini ghouls and goblins up for treats. It’s magic.

If you try, you can feel an arm reaching out from the past, through the  murky shadows, grasping hold, connecting us.  I’m happy at Halloween.

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Shots of our house. My kids like it best at this season.

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One cat that doesn’t scare Katie.

 

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Kickoff

If I were a kicker, right now, I would be wetting my pants. Or, at least, hyperventilating.

Heaven knows, while I watched my husband plow through the front line of his second Masters degree, I hadn’t much sympathy. We were up against a wall; his career field had become as empty as the losing team’s locker room, a fact that was confirmed by MESC research. “Retooling,” a word imagined by spin geniuses, was mandatory.

I watched him in his huge green chair, nicknamed “World Headquarters,” as he studied, attending EMU as one of 13 full-time students in the MSW Class of 2012. He kicked ass, but I fully expected it of him. Am I not a loyal wife?

If you don’t know me well, you don’t know what a college education means to me. I am the first child on my father’s side to complete college. Neither of my parents finished, although my mom’s brothers graduated and I count them among the most intelligent men I know.

When I applied for school, my parents were barely married anymore. No one helped me. There were no trips to see the campus, no promises of a fun-filled college career, and no possible way I was traveling anywhere abroad.  I applied for a student trust fund for ‘gifted’ students through a local bank via essay application and interview, and landed it. Armed with money (at a 1% interest rate – why does no one offer these to today’s students? ), I headed off to school.

College wasn’t a star player’s camera shoot for me. I started with a 3.8 GPA. My dad moved out of state, got married without my brother and I in attendance, and never looked back. I filled that hole in my life with marijuana, partying, and a “who the hell cares” attitude.

Except, I did. About three semesters into my “devil take the hindmost” living, I found it did not fit. It was uncomfortable, chafing around the neckline and strangling my love of learning. I buckled down.

When my trust fund bank found out my dad was out of state, they required another friend or family member in state to co-sign my loan. Lacking one family member in Michigan, I called all my neighbors from a phone in my then boyfriend’s, now husband’s, parents’ bedroom and begged prettily.

Dick  and Francis Swing took a deep breath and agreed. I was never late on my loan repayment, not once, even when I was so broke I ate rice, baked potatoes, and rice, in appreciation for their faith.

I graduated in three and a half years. It was hell. I had no money. My freshman year, after my dad left, I had left (symbolically?) a bag of pot in my mom’s car during the rebellion and she cut me off from even an occasional five dollar bill in the mail, not that she had many to throw around following the divorce.

My final semester, I had precariously balanced my limited funds and had come up $100 short. I called my dad – I never had received a dime from him, up  until this point – and asked for a graduation gift. He agreed, somewhat reluctantly.

And you’ll never guess what happened.

It got lost. No, it’s true. But he didn’t believe it and he wouldn’t send me a new check for several weeks. I called my grandpa. I asked for $100 that I promised I would repay as soon as possible. He was not much for lending, but he did it.

In the meantime, checks were bouncing right and left, as I had paid bills in anticipation of this (now) meager amount. NSF funds almost did me in. I cried almost every day, the last semester of my college career, until the money hit my account.

Just before graduation in December, my dad’s check arrived in a plastic bag from the US Post Office. “So sorry. Machine malfunction.” No recourse.

Even my husband, whom I love and support with my life, was encouraged in his undergraduate career. When he graduated, he got a new car. God! Like a game show. I would’ve sold my soul for that kind of support. Because the economy at the time was fragile, his parents enabled him to return for an MBA. I’m not sure he even wanted it, although he had his own demons and wanted to do the right thing by enrolling.

I love learning. I just love it. I have tried, in the only way I know, to impart this feeling of urgency to my own children, but I don’t think they feel it. How could they? Their own parents made it through. Although we are not well off, they have had people standing by, willing to co-sign loans and hand over gas money. But I don’t know that they have ever attended college with the burning fire in their guts that I had. And have.

When I applied to attend U-M, I was almost paralyzed with insecurity. I took the GRE, but my math skills were abysmal. I’ve been accepted NGC (no degree credit) to see if I can make the grade. If I do well, if the instructor sees me worthy and able to attend, they will change this status and admit me.

Second string. This is my Kickoff.

People say it will be fun. That being in the classroom will be enjoyable and…fun.

Not for me. That girl is still inside, the one who tried to treat it lightly and could not.

When I finally got my act together, I graduated cum laude, with a major and two minors. My mom and her boyfriend came to the celebration. My dad did not. My own boyfriend’s family brought me earrings, the only present and acknowledgement I received.

I would be lying to say I do not understand the insecurity and fear on some of the first-year students’ faces. It’s our Kickoff.

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Photo note: I borrowed this photo of the WMU Broncos 1977 football team. I was looking for 1978, my freshman year, as I knew several of the players at that time.

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I should say that this time around, I have multitudes of support from my husband, children, family, friends, colleagues – even Katherine Madden, my admitting advisor in the School of Education at U-M. Thanks to you – and you know who you are – for this. It makes my kicking leg a little less wobbly.

Player

There’s a certain point in time, when you’re a kid, that you think you are such a player.

Nobody confirms this. Why you believe it with such certainty is beyond me. Except that around eight years old, you haven’t usually been knocked around too much in small town Ohio. At least, not in the 1960’s.

You could ride just about anywhere on your bike. The world was your oyster.

You were flying high with confidence on two wheels. So were your friends. We roamed, like the Little Rascals, but cooler. Beach Blanket Bingo was swinging. Surfer music was just coming into style. Rock and Roll detractors, who frowned on Elvis’ pelvic thrusting (this phrase was a gem for an eight-year-old, thank you, grandma) had no idea what to do with kids who listened to Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild.

I still remember the first dirty joke I learned from the Andrews kids next door:

It’s this boy’s birthday (he’s probably eight) and he gets a full cowboy costume as a gift (cowboy movies were also big, at least on rerun at this time). He suits up and heads on over to get himself a birthday ice cream sundae.

He walks up to place his order with the girl (no P.C. language those days) at the window. She runs down the list of items:

“Vanilla or chocolate?”

“Vanilla.”

“Chocolate or cherry topping?”

“Cherry.”

“Whipped cream?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want your nuts crushed?”

(With cocking gun motion and clicking trigger sound), “Do you want your boobs blown off?”

Insert eight to ten pre-teen children, busting apart with laughter. Sorry if I’ve offended, but this joke still draws laughs in some crowds.

At any rate, you were a player, until you were shrunk down to size, usually in a family setting. In mine, this was at Jim Beach, on the northern Ohio border, every summer. My entire family on my Dad’s side, which included six cousins, would assemble for baby oil, grilling, skee ball, and summer fun.

The cottage we rented had a player piano.  Here, over scrolls of famous music which I don’t recall, Debbie, Kim, Kelly, my brother and I would pump the poor thing for all it was worth, just to listen to That’s My Weakness Now.

“She’s got gold-tipped butts.
I never liked those gold-tipped butts.
But she’s got gold-tipped butts
and that’s my weakness now.”

I always knew, because I was good with vocabulary, that the butt in the song wasn’t my gluteous maximus, but it didn’t matter. Anything with the b-word was good enough for us. Insert more giggling and laughter.

uncle johns orchards 8.23.2014 1
Uncle John’s Orchards (owned by the same family for over 100 years), just outside St. Johns, MI.

Today, on our way back from moving Anne into her new apartment, we stopped at Uncle John’s Cider Mill, just outside of St. Johns. If you go upstairs for the donuts, which was our particular purpose (sugar cinnamon), there’s a player piano you can instigate for a quarter.

This is the best deal around for a time machine, especially when it’s played by skeletons (they’re decorated for Halloween hoots and hollers).  Inside the rollicking instrument, a tiny tambourine and cymbal go off on cue. The barn smell is redolent of memories-gone-by, ancient wood, old straw, and sunshine. But the piano, oh, the piano. I wish, no matter how far away, you could come and hear it.

You’d be a player.

 

Home Economics

Here’s a course series whose return is overdue: home economics.

In my childhood, when women’s careers were transitioning from homemaker and mother to teacher, nurse, and secretary, this formerly popular field of study took a back seat on the bus.

Struggling to hold on to study, middle class values, 4-H exhibits at the county fair and Girl Scouts badges were the venue to show off your savvy dime-saving techniques and home-canned or cooked products. Back then, your ingredients truly did cost less than the pie in the bakery. Your blouse truly was cheaper to sew than to buy.

My first home ec (shortened by cool and groovy kids everywhere) project was a blue-ribbon nutritious lunch box, complete with sandwich (probably bologna), cut celery and carrots, fresh fruit and snickerdoodles* (cookie recipe below), made by me, of course. There was something in my thermos – I don’t recall what drink. My lunch box had to be enticing and meeting the needs of the (then) four food groups (meat, grain, dairy, fruits/vegetables).

This is the first lunch box I remember.disney-school-lunchbox I carried it two years and switched it out for a Miss America lunch box with a magnetic game on the back – no more Goofy bus driver for me.

Times have changed, but I think we’ve raised a generation of people who are not as good at managing their home economy.

This is not a “la, how things are worse” article. We’re better at technology and we have to be. We’re better at travel, we have faster communications, we have made amazing engineering and scientific strides. I just don’t think we’re as good at making homes.

Brand-spanking-new is the currency of the day. DIY projects are so complex, you need to watch a video to pull them off. Our appliances can no longer be mended – you have to dump them and head to the store. While there is a foodie/fresh movement, the majority of Americans eat poor diets largely because prepared is easier and cheaper than fresh, especially if you don’t know what to do when your veggies are wilted.

I actually have a recipe for flat Coke cake. Agreed, it doesn’t make my 4-H nutrition list, but think of the ingenuity!

Along with preparing my visually enticing lunch box fair project, I had to cost out the amount of my food selections. What are you spending? Is your lunch affordable? If you eat this many lunches a month, what is your total lunch cost? To this day, this is the kind of math at which I excel, because it’s exciting to now I can come within budget.

My own kids swipe their debit cards and rarely balance their checkbooks. All three are thrifty and manage money well, but I think this is more a product of our unemployment and dire straights than a true mind for home economy.

There’s room for a new approach: how do you stop big box stores from owning you? In middle school, it could be how you avoid debt, pay back bills, side step the never-ending credit card.

In high school, students could figure out when you know you can afford a home. How much home? Is it better for you to buy or lease a car? How much will that baby cost? What are the best values to buy, to build, to make yourself?

And how do you sew on a button?  This is still a valuable skill.

Home economy is what enabled Bill and I to pay off our home, while he was in school and I was working for lower wages than I made just one year before. It is compromise, cost-cutting, and calculating.

While our population may have sophisticated jobs, they are often missing the basic skills of running a household. It’s a great project for teenaged students, who think they know everything. Let them run a house for a couple of semesters. We’d all be better off for it.

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Post script: In the old version of Life, the job you landed determined the house you could afford, the paycheck you got and all sorts of home economies. The new one does not.

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*Snickerdoodle Cookies (from my 4-H recipe card)

1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. soda
2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/2 tsp. salt

Cream shortening and sugar, add eggs and vanilla. Sift dry ingredience together and add to creamed mixture.

Mix 3 Tablespoons sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a bowl.

Roll cookie dough in balls and roll them in sugar cinnamon mixture. Bake for 10 minutes at 350° on ungreased cookie sheet.

 

Calling Things Home

My grandpa taught me how to call the cows in.

They’d be out in one pasture or another, but when milking time comes due, you call them home. The particular phrase changes from one dairy farmer to another. You just have to be consistent and start when they’re young. They’re motivated to come back to the barn, just not particularly smart. Once a few start moving, the rest see the trend and move along, too.

Our call was, “Here, bossy!” I don’t know why someone would call their cows bossy. They are a little dogmatic and don’t like to change directions, but I never had one try to boss me. You just nudge their side with your knee and they move.

At any rate, calling a herd is a heady experience for a kid. You are, quite literally, moving mass across space and time.so much love

What calls people home?

Holidays, to be sure. Responsibility. Memories.

Sometimes, we want reparation. Forgiveness. Love.

Today, my dear friend Julie posted this video of a farmer, calling his cattle in:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=qs_-emj1qR4.

It’s called “Serenading my cattle on trombone.” No wonder they all came running. No one could do this unless they were having a really good time. Who doesn’t want to answer this call?

I may have to take up the trombone.

Post-script: Apparently, Eddy Arnold and Slim Whitman made “The Cattle Call” a top county hit. Maybe we should’ve stuck to calling our herds personally. There’s no app to replace that.

*Photo Credit: “Cattle Calling”|flikr/caseydang

Creature Comforts

What was your favorite childhood toy? When did you get it? Why?

Our birthdays were relatively modest. You went to a local store, maybe Woolworth’s, and picked out a stuffed animal. One year, for me, it was an Airedale terrier. We played at a farm on weekdays and on weekends, we had the fort my dad built in the back yard. There were bikes and bushes and a field behind the house, between Woodlawn Drive and Babyland, the children’s area of Woodlawn Cemetary. A reservoir was around the corner and a river was a good hike down the way.

Toys, throughout the year, didn’t seem too important.

Christmas was another story. For whatever reason, this particular season made my parents pull out all the stops. We would get the JC Penney and Sears catalog in the mail, heads together, pouring over them and creating gift lists right up to the last minute, when my mother would declare a decision must be made and a letter sent to the North Pole.

I’ve just started researching the gifts we received, wondering if my dim memories make them better than they were or if it truly was the glittering world I recall. My brother and I have many memories of bountiful gifts surrounding our silver-spray tree, lighted by a primary-colored spinning light wheel. Even when my mom made a change to a “decorator” fake tree with coordinated bulbs, the effusive display of toys remained.

I’ve got some photos, below, of some of my favorites. It’s funny to find a thing that has faded, almost past recall, and see its reality. One item like this is the dishwasher.

My dad took me with him to the “Big Toy Box at Sears” when I was eight. We walked all the way through, creating a painstaking inventory of each isle. What were my favorite toys? Why? Did I have a reason for the dollhouse over the Barbies? He took my responses very seriously, because on Christmas morning, December 1968, every item I favored was under the tree: the giant stuffed Snoopy, the vinyl dollhouse with tiny satin chaise lounge and faux velvet-seated dining chairs, and the dishwasher.

In case you’re wondering, I did not even think of the dishwasher as an extension of feminist chores, even though, at that time, I was still hand drying while my mom washed. To me, it was the ability to hook it up to the faucet, whipping water around a plastic dome of tiny plastic plates and cups, that held appeal. Maybe more girls would enjoy appliances if they were presented with the scientific principals, rather than the gender-biased roles assigned to them?

To this day, the joy of my parents on Christmas morning makes me nostalgic, like very little else in my childhood. It was a moment of wonder, of endless possibility, and of family united. You’d think that I would think of this later in the year. It seems that in December, I’m too busy and caught up in the must-do and must-happen and must-see.

Maybe I have this pull because around this time, the Christmas catalog would arrive and the anticipation would begin. Did the toys make everything right? Not by a long shot. But there was a moment, with smiles all around, when creature comforts seemed enough.

[Request for indulgence:  to my friends who do not celebrate Christmas – – it’s not about the holiday. It’s about that time, that perfect magical time, when family is all that it can be. I hope you can find this in your space.]

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