Saturday, July 28, 2012

Midnight Flight from Khartoum

Today is a big day!  A reunion, after twenty-six years, with several families my first husband and I met in KhartoumSudan. Our reunion brings forth acute memories of nervousness, fear, and an amazing feminine determination to see rough times through by banding together.

Larry and I came, as all oil people do, to get rich.  Sometimes you have to endure a little hardship, like power losses,  and food or water shortages.  Khartoum was classified as a hardship post. We felt prepared to handle those hardships,  we would be well rewarded by The Company generous holiday times and salaries.

Our family set up a variety of plans of what to do "if something happened".  Depending on circumstances, the plan might be to meet up out in Ga'al'a, the Eritrean refugee camp a few miles away; another might be to go directly to the Nile and just head North, away from Khartoum. The third and more drastic plan, was at the recommendation of a "spook": if political unrest indicated hostage taking, was to turn ourselves into the Russian Embassy rather than to a western one.  We might become political pawns, but we would have a lot of people aware of our circumstances.  The fourth plan was for tonight's occasion.   I continually drilled the children about being asleep, and if I came to their rooms while they were asleep, woke them and said “It’s time now,” it meant we would be leaving.  They were to quickly and quietly get up, get dressed, get their school back packs and pick their favorite Care Bear.  

On that night in April, 1986 Larry and I were hosting a Canasta game with John Carter and Gary Hagstrom.  The Chevron walkie talkie was babbling away on a nearby table as it always was.  We were on "yellow alert" meaning don't go downtown, stay away from crowds.  Yellow alert was no big deal, red alerts were.  The American School closed, and dependents were advised to stay at indoors at home. 

"Attention Chevron and Contractor employees, please switch to Channel Three"

Oh oh.  There goes Canasta. i bet John or Gary have to report in for some emergency thing. My first thought was disappointment:  here I was all ready to lay my concealed hand down and win the card game catching these three with big fat penalty hands.  

We  laid our hands down as Larry got up and changed the radio channels.  He pushed our cards aside and put the radio on the table.  Our children were sleeping upstairs, in dreamland beneath their Mickey Mouse sheets. 

"An incident in Khartoum has changed status from yellow alert to red.  Dependents please remain in your homes until a Company van comes by to take you to the airport.  An emergency Lufthansa flight is on it's way.  All dependents will be taken to Frankfurt and will make their own connecting flights home.  Please take one suitcase per family.  Employees are to remain in country until further notice."

I tore my eyes away from the radio and looked at Larry, to make sure I understood the communique. His face was ashen.  Gary and John were already out the door and off to their respective homes to advise their house help.

Our emergency suitcase was packed and waiting by the bedroom door.  Twice yearly it was updated with current size clothing and shoes for the children. Steven would turn six in June, and Rebecca would be ten in July. The freezer held an emergency amount of American dollars and our passports in a plastic bag tucked between two blocks of minced beef and wrapped in foil. 

We had no housing in the States to return to, no family, but we did have an old boyfriend of mine who lived with his Dutch wife in Holland.  That was only about 8 hours away from Khartoum, so we determined this would be the best place to sit out in.  Whatever the emergency was, it would probably be over in about three or four days.  We had no way to call and let Pat and Corrie know we were on the way because international lines were extremely difficult when times were good.  I would call them from a hotel in The Hague, less than ten minutes by train from their house.  

And so I went upstairs, moved The Suitcase to the landing then went to the room the children shared to waken them. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cavemen, Manners and Court Etiquette

Recently, an interaction between of a group of middle-school boys and their school bus monitor, a 68 year old widow made the news. 
 She may have been a working elder, perhaps trying to make her way through the now elusive golden years in arguably the worst-ever decade of America History.  Sadder, she may have volunteered for the job to just keep other people’s children safe.  Instead she was subjected to a vicious verbal assault by a group of pre-teen boys.  

It is heartwarming that the public came to her aid and admirable that the thoughtless youngsters actually made their sincere apologies.  I give kudos to the boys for manning up and rectifying such a heartbreaking moment in their young lives.

I will call the boys’ behavior “Mob Mind”.  It is something I experienced twice in my young years of the early 1960s.  I’m first to admit that the good old days theory is a nice idea, however, they aren’t all that they were cracked up to be.

Mob Mind is a crazed condition, and happens most often at sporting events.  It might be related to delayed development of the frontal lobe in young people.  Current research indicates people may be lucky to make it to their 26th year when actual judiciousness finally sets in.  

I believe has a lot to do with not having  "manners", a word used for respecting and caring for fellow beings, and it needs done long before a child enters school.

1)  All children need tools in order to successfully navigate their lives.  A household agenda of civility and manners; respect and caring needs to be instilled by the time they are walking.   This would be those “yes please, thank you, pardon me, may I” phrases with which children are received with approval from the rest of the world.  Pre-school children are known for being amiable and cooperative, and professional mimics!  They are fixated on mirroring what they see and hear.  Parents, please do walk the walk;  and talk the talk.    What your child sees, our world gets.

2)  Encourage the older child to develop and respect an inner sense of responsibility.  Teach them as they move into elementary school that they need to rely on their sense of respect, of honor, "as Our Family always does."  Let them take pride in moving positively through their world.  Teach them it is their responsibility to sound the alarm, their duty to alert the school, church, or call 911 when they see certain acts, like bullying, and physical or sexual violence. 

I find it amusing that although I was reared in a welfare family, my brother and I learned all the above as toddlers.  And by the time we were ready for kindergarten we knew to stand up when a lady enters the room; if you are a gentlemen you remove hat on entering a room; you give up your chair as a seat for a lady or an elder; the gentleman opens the car door for the lady, and seats her in the restaurant, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.    

Mother took things a little further, though, and taught us how to curtsy and bow.  I assume she fancied us being presented to royalty one day.

She may not have been able to provide a lot of real necessities as we grew up, but she was able to give us the most priceless tools for navigating society and the workforce:  how to comfortably give respect, and employ some very Victorian manners!  Well, it worked for us both, and I have passed along most of what she taught to my own children (sans bow and curtsy) and to my grandchildren.

All my life I wondered about the ways man civilized himself.  I once hoped to get a degree in archaeology after taking Physical and Cultural Anthropology.  I envisioned myself landing a job in the Olduvai Gorge with Doctors Louis and Mary Leaky, sifting sand in my khaki shorts and pith helmet; finding shards of bones, brushing dirt from ancient footprints. 

Cultural Anthropology particularly fascinated me.  How did they civilize themselves?  There must have been lots of death.

I envision the cave man coming out of his cave early in the morning to go hunting with his club or his rocks.  He has a mate, and maybe a couple of children still sleeping in their cave, trusting Papa will not be an idiot and get himself killed by annoying other hunters.  

I am certain that on meeting another human, Papa adopted a submissive, or at minimum a respectful posture, hoping to establish some mutually beneficial relationship based on marrying off his female offspring, trading, or just staying alive. 

Inspired by that thought, I searched online for the "origins of etiquette" and found Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette.  I learned that Miss Emily’s Great-Grandson, Peter Post has written 5 books on etiquette, so obviously much of the world still acknowledges this social requirement. 

I searched further and found some support for my caveman theory:

1) 2,600 years ago the first “book of etiquette” was written by Ptahhotep, who was a city administrator under Pharaoh Djedkare Isesi.

2) 3,300 years ago mankind’s first written form of communication, Cuneiform, was developed, probably in Persia and it represents the origin of all written languages.

3) 5,000 years ago, in Mesopotamia, records of stores of grain and other agricultural products were kept by using forms of clay tokens or coins.

It took my imaginary caveman a very long time to get from just trying to feed his family without getting killed, to honing the social posturing that would keep him alive, and eons later keep him out of prisons.

I think it is time to go back to respectful interactions between people, not the short hand, short changing quick hits of “social” interactions.  

And, it is especially important to our youngest ones, who hold our future in their hands.  We adults are either somewhere on track, or nearing the end of the track of our own lives.  

Our youngest ones desperately need the tools to do as we have done and are doing.  Or, in far too many cases, to undo the worst of what we have done.


Friday, June 15, 2012

My Little Ratty Cat

Good-bye, Bootie

Boutros Boutros Kitty came to me one day at the tennis courts, a tiny handful of long black fur with a white blaze on her chest and four matching boots.  I felt her watching me from the shrubs near my car, peeking between the branches as I unloaded my tennis bag.   She was so tiny, so beautiful, and so friendly that I just knew she was somebody’s much loved pet.  I filled a little pet with water and put it near her shrub in case she was thirsty.  I felt certain she would go home before my match was over.

The little cat was still in the shrubs though, water was gone, so I refilled it then drove home and swiped some cat food from my other three cat’s supply, drove back to the courts, and put it in the bushes with her water.  This went on twice daily for over a week when finally my son Steven brought me to my senses.

“Mom, let’s just bring the Court Cat home.  We have two cats; one more won’t make much difference.”

We named her after the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Boutros Boutros-Ghali and brought her home, where we lived with a Rottweiler named Andy and a little Australian Cattle Dog, Mary. Andi had reared Mary since puppyhood and they ruled our house. 

Jack, our elder cat, was a feisty, opinionated calico.  She and her silver-haired offspring Smokey were there to greet this tiny kitten.  Jack, the matriarch, demanded the same respect from this youngster as she got from her offspring and from our two dogs.

Smokey, with his long silver hair and his laid-back-hippie ways, eyeballed the kitten from a distance, and went back to sleep.  He was nobody’s boss.

In the end, Jack got little respect from Boutros.  Each time she chastised Boutros and turned her back to make a regal exit, the kitten swatted Jack on the rear end.  Her Regal Self would stop, turn and hiss at the kid and that was the end of the confrontation.  This ritual was repeated until Jack made her transition.

Jack and Smokey were content with sheltering in the garage or sunning themselves on the cement of the rather large and fenced side yard.  At night though, all cats slept in the garage safe from raccoons or skunks.  They never dreamed of coming into the house where dogs resided with people.

Boutros immediately established her Superior Catness over our canines by leaping onto their haunches as they squatted to take a wee.  The dogs lived their lives on the look out for the little black and white that terrorized them from behind the flower pots, and the little cat shared the backyard with them.

In time, young Boutros decided the front yard was her personal territory, taking on any dog who dared to walk down our street.  She was as beautiful as she was a tough: this tiny cat challenged all dogs, stalking them if they came too close to our property.  She once shredded an unsuspecting pit-bull’s nose. 

She remained a dainty eight pounds, and knowing she was gorgeous, seemed to pose in front of the vibrant flowers we had in our front gardens.  A visiting artist painted a picture she took of Bootie and our flowers.  The painting was hung in a gallery in San Francisco.  I wish I knew where, it means so much to me now.

1996 was the year when my son moved out to live with his father, leaving me a note in the mail box and a decade and half of grief.  It was also the year my daughter presented me with an unexpected grandson, a sweet and loving little boy who never knew a day without Boutros.

It was also the year that I finally agreed to step out onto the tennis courts “to just hit a little” with my future husband, and the world of competitive sports revealed itself to me.

In retrospect 1996 was a year that brought on some of the very best and worst times of my life. Perhaps we just have to reach a certain age before the real and unpredictable heartbreakers happen; have to reach a certain age to realize you are never too old to give new challenges (like tennis) a go.

Time rolled on. I remarried; and Andy, Jack and Smokey all lived nearly sixteen years before making their transitions.   My daughter and grandson moved out and began to make their ways in the world; my son remained trapped somewhere where I couldn’t seem reach him.   I continued nudging him with cards, notes and phone messages.  Let him know that he remained in my heart and that I would always love him.

When Rottweiler Andy passed, my long time neighbor demanded get a new partner dog for little Mary.  You see, my neighbor had been coming into our backyard to sit with our little cattle dog while we worked.   “Mel! Mary’s wasting away in grief!  It’s not good for her, she gonna die if you don’t get her a partner!”

So, my husband and I loaded Mary into the car and took her with us to various shelters and “tried on” possible partners.  At a shelter in Berkeley we found a tall black and white goofball with the impossible name of Mysticka.  We brought her out to see how Mary reacted, and to the shock of the shelter workers and us, the two dogs immediately sat down butt to butt and leaned into each other.  They looked at us as if to say “Well, let’s go already!”

Mystica, now dubbed Bisbee came home with us, and the two dogs doted on each other.
Bisbee gave all the garage cats respect, and life settled in with everyone understanding boundaries. 

Boutros claimed the entire front yard as her realm, and policed it as any good black and white should.  She chased away offending dogs, including the before mentioned pit bull with the shredded nose.  Our home was well guarded by our pets.  

Little Boutros “Bootie” outlived Jack, Smokey, Andy, Mary and Bisbee.  They all made their transitions in their sixteenth year.  So it seems fitting that she too went at the end of her sixteenth year.

But in her last six years she found her own personal dog, a shelter dog named Lulu.  Lulu is a Border Collie, a black and white longhair just like Boutros, with the same blaze and feet. No doubt Bootie took to Lulu because they were kin, wore the same tartan.  Or, was it because Lulu had been raised with cats and respected them?  They became partners, running shoulder to shoulder and chasing neighborhood cats from our back garden.  

Bootie began using Lulu’s doggie door, with great effort for a cat who never weighed more than eight pounds. I sometimes found the two snoozing on my bed.  They sunned themselves in the back yard every day, but at night, Bootie always wanted to go back to the garage, to the cave where cats slept.

She passed yesterday.  We just weren't prepared, were not expecting a trauma.  It was a sorrowful accident involving my grandson’s loveable dog Roscoe.  Nobody knows how or why he picked Bootie up, we only saw him walking with her held gently in his mouth.  She was still alive, but had three punctures in her chest.  We made the decision to let her pass on, be euthanized.  So, a few hours later she was let go. 

In 1970 I lived and worked in San Francisco.  Our flat was in the Outer Mission and my husband, Larry, was in the Navy, based out of Alameda across the bay.  We had a couple of cats, Angie and Barfie, and when Larry was stationed on the east coast I stayed behind, kept my job so he would process out and return to San Francisco, college and our future.  

But someone knew I was alone in that flat.  And they knew we had an expensive collection of records, recording system, turntable, speakers and such.  Thre times they broke our doors down, cleaned our flat out.  When I moved out I could not bring our two kitties.  I took them to a pet store and the owner promised would try to keep them together and find a home for them.  I made the mistake of turning around as I walked out the door. I saw their big eyes pleading with me not to abandon them.  

I left, hoping for the best because I didn’t know what else to do.  

Their eyes have haunted me ever since, still bring grief to me. I am crying now recalling something that occurred  nearly a half century ago.  I see and feel their terror, my grief, my pain.  They taught me a huge lesson.  Animals are creatures of emotion as much as any human.  When they are disregarded like a pair of dirty old socks they are wounded as deeply as any human child would be.

Since then, my much loved pets never leave their lives in the company of strangers, alone, in fear and harsh surroundings.  I will be the last thing they see.  They will feel my familiar arms and my lap; hear my voice saying I love them.  And their last breath will catch the scent of me.  

This is the least I can do for all creatures that bring such joy.  In the end, grief is all about love.  We are fortunate to grieve.  It is clear evidence that we have known, created, and experienced Love.

Bootie, my little baby ratty cat, you are the cat of my heart.  Thank you for all your devotion, your affection, and your trust. 

And, little cat, show some respect to Jack, okay?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Three Year Old You and Three Year Old Me

June 2, 2012, by golly:  twenty days from my son’s 33rd birthday; forty-five days from my daughter’s 36th birthday.  Aw, it seems like just yesterday that they were scrubbing around annoying each other.  We have been through a trial, me and my kids, but in the end everyone is doing good things.  Miracles will happen if one lets them.

Divorce is a nasty deal to drag children through, but dishonesty is simply cruel.  Children always detect parental dishonesty: because it gnaws at their self-esteem.  A parent’s dishonesty, particularly against the “other” parent mostly handicaps the child:  

“How can I love that parent when this parent says he/she is bad?  Does this make me bad, too?”

They can absorb it, and if it is negative they can  retain a  sense of unease regarding the person judged as well as The Judge.  Sometimes adulthood gives them  perspective; other times the adult child never comes to terms with the misguidance.

Children haven’t the acumen to make sense of untruthfulness. I might add that untruthfulness eventually vet's itself to the detriment of the originater.

A good friend of mine, upon reaching the ripe old age of 70 was saddened when she realized that for the better part of a century she harbored ill feelings about both father and mother.  Dad  was demanding, critical and controlling; Mom was a spineless, yet opinionated, wuss.  She and her sibllings never knew who was "right".

“Mom simply refused to stand up for herself, or for us!” was the way Ingrid put it.  She decided a good way out would be to marry at fourteen and produce a number of her own children.  Through her marriages, I think she did very well:  all her offspring made it through the ups and downs of living in good spirits, and their extended family remains strongly intact.  More importantly, her youngest generations are making solid choices, not reactive choices. 

According to Ingrid, she spent decades in what I now call “judgmental bitterness”.  Then one day the bitterness evaporated as a new thought occurred to Ingrid: 

“Hey! I have allowed Three-Year-Old Me to make opinions that guided me through my entire life!”  

With that thought she changed her attitude toward her deceased parents, herself, family and the world at large.  Old dogs learning new tricks, indeed!  And when she shared this insight with me, I began to examine my own life, which brought me to a very happy place: the balance of the difficulties and gratitude for same.

Is Your Three Year Old You still ruling your roost?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What a Way to Wake Up!

Imagine!  Adam Levine! … and it goes like this:

“I’ve got the moves like Jaggar! I’ve got the moves like Jaggar! I’ve got the moo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ooves like Jaggar!”  and I think I might have even been dancing in my bed.

So, I hopped out of bed and fed the dog, the cat and the fish; made me a pot of kaghwa. It is Arabic: the original word for coffee – we have quite a number of “English” words that originated in Arabia, but the Arabic Numerals that we were taught in school are all wrong!  

Years ago in Khartoum I couldn’t understand why our 3 in Arabic looked more like a backward 7 if we used Arabic Numerals in the west.  None of the numerals matched our numbers: our the zero was a dot; their 0 meant 5.The answer is, I found out a quarter century later is that our numerical system is descended from the Hindu “Arabic” System!  Who knew?  Apparently not our teachers.   It gets worse from there:  Hindu Arabic uses V both right side up and upside down which in my book makes a big fat plate of spaghetti  out of the Roman Numeral System, I tell you.

Those were the days, though, in Khartoum.  Who would have guessed I would end up there.  It is a far cry from my wine country with carpets of green vineyards which turned impossibly impudent reds in fall.   There, in my valley, yellow mustard grass grows taller than an eight-year-old child beneath what must be the bluest skies in the world. 

Khartoum shocked me.  My first immediate impression was of a world lacking in color.  I saw variations on shades of yellows and tans: thick, dirty and glowing yellow above me, air I could taste on my tongue.  I saw never saw sun against a blue sky there.  We had no shadows.  The sun tried hard to send light through pulverized sand in the air, and failed.    Buildings loomed in shadowy shades of mottled tans, and in the tradition of poor countries like the Sudan of the 20th Century,  awkwardly constructed, beat by the desert winds, and without décor. 

The only brilliance I saw during those first days were the occasional red and white Marlboro cigarette shacks.   I was new to international travel, and was dismayed that my country’s representative in the Sudan was cigarettes.

Against all that desert yellow, I learned a hunger for my home.  The valley that stayed alive with color throughout all seasons, even the stark patterns of winter were inspirational.  I learned that indigenous art is relative to nature’s bounty:  when one sees color and pattern, one repeats it in creative design.  We create what we see, and the art I found in the Sudanese souks was testament to those who by sheer creative determination produced pieces of cloth and carvings of wood or ivory no visual inspiration.  Did they create from memories past?  Did they hear stories handed down from ancestors?  Artists will always produce, and so in Khartoum it was in monotones of their personal surroundings.   I learned to throw away my criteria, judge less, and appreciate the artful effort on its own terms.  That dingy sand and rock was the world I learned to walk in, learned to respect, and grew to love.

Learning, walking, respecting, growing and loving are desert gifts. Thoughts came easily of  spiritual men who went to the desert for 40 days.  Clarity comes when there are no distractions, and it is easy to meditate in the desert. 

Adam Levine, you certainly took me for a ride this morning, with those moves like Jaggar.  Thanks!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Jamie & the Dimond Merchants

My Dear Sarah,

Remember, I’m using your collective name again, when you inspire me to go off on a flippin’ tangent.  I do try to keep my feathers as unruffled as possible, but Sarah, Glass Steagall and Brooksley Born are painfully near and dear to my heart. We need to keep important information near our frontal lobes so we can make better decisions!

When it all went over the Pali, in September, 2008, I was sitting in the wee hours of England watching BBC and thinking “Oh my God. The US market is asleep!   They have no idea!  And the hoard of clappers “open up the market” by clapping mindlessly… gosh, they would be better off by pushing prayer wheels & praying!”
Jamie Dimond and his team of Gems have had a real rip, haven’t they!  Like many, I’ve reviewed “how could this possibly have happened???” and believe me, Sarah: it started decades ago.  

President Eisenhower saw the dangers and warned us about the military/corporate complex in 1961: don’t use war to support our economy ever again.

But, shoot, we already had “advisors” in Nam, with plans for more.  I was in it too, at the age of seventeen:  my boss printed arms catalogues for the Army: made millions on the war in exchange for having his son shot down three times and developing a heroin habit.

I’d gone to school since kindergarten with his son, and used to write him while he was in Viet Nam.  When he came home for the final time, heroin won his personal war, so he went to prison for a while.  I used to write him in prison, Sarah, then our lives took other directions and all of a sudden more than twenty years passed.  

Then one day when my own children were teenagers I ran into him in our home town, with his adorable little “Curley Head” toddler.  Here he was, clean, self-employed, a wonderful wife and was simply gaga over his little girl.

He said he had to thank me for writing him while he was in prison, and for turning his life around.  I was clueless and wondered how could I have helped him. Then he reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet and showed me a tattered and worn Monopoly card, reading “Get Out of Jail Free”.  I was aghast – I didn’t even remember sending that to him!    

But my friend hugged me and said when he opened my letter and saw the card he laughed for the first time since he went to prison.  He laughed until he cried.  When he stopped laughing and crying, he made the decision that if he could laugh like this while in prison, he was certainly going to make it outside prison.

His father wasn’t the only one who profited hugely from the war: I was earning enough money to support myself and my mother off my job. I was part of it too.   

I suspect the company continued on doing armaments catalogues through the next series of wars, making more money off killing.  Defense contracters to take care of  food, clothing, medicines and guns become billionaires.  War, if it's won or lost by the taxpayer's money always makes billionaires out of contractors.  It's a business proposal, a mission statement they provide our military decision makers, our MDS as they no doubt refer to themselves in the Alphabet Society of American Government (A-SAG).

Back to the story now, Sarah:  a Hollywood Cowboy came into office and things started to change with his dream about trickle-down theory of taxation.  Some people say today they think it really was a "tinkle on"theory, not real good...Everything was about unsound economics and selling the myth of The American Dream: which was simply cheap credit and fast living.  The dream worked until it was killed.  And so here we sit, all of us, whether we lived fast or not.

I developed a private “dossier” on the regulations that “disappeared” over the decades to make this economy what it became.  Sorry to say, it was Clinton’s last minute deregulation of the Glass Steagall Act of 1933 that threw us into the fire.  But, you remember, don’t you Sarah:  we were so distracted by news updates about that young girl and her stained dress we were not paying attention. If we Americans would have been adults, we would have realized the repealing that act, would allow big banks, investment companies and insurance companies (Jamie and the Boys) would be enabled to build their false economy based on basically as they call it:  Betting.  They deliberately and skillfully manipulated the markets in order to max their profits.  While we Americans diddled ourselves with granite, en suites, exotic vacations, gas-hog cars, Miki Dees & stainless steel they gambled on our economy for personal profit.  Why not: nobody cared, for the first few decades, anyway.

Brooksley Born warned us in the ‘90s and no body believed her. She could have saved our country, but I guess we weren’t ready yet.  All is not lost Sarah! You can sign the petition for the “new” Glass Steagall Act if you like and hopefully prevent this from ever happening again!  

And by the way, Sarah, please know who your Representatives are and please keep their phone numbers handy.  They need to hear from you if you want them to behave!  You probably have kids, Sarah, think of our congress as our children:  supervise them at all times!

I have to say, I was tweaked when I found that much of Jamie’s “gambling” was done by computer algorithms!  In other words, when a stock or bond hit a certain number, computers were set to automatically buy/sell immediately. Jamie and the Boys weren’t watching of the market at all!  They just set up some computer guidelines then went down to the bar and let the computers do their work. Kind of like me and my crock pot!

Some people are concerned that what Big Business did to our economy, (which The Suits still believe is pretty hot-dam wonderful) is also being applied globally to drinking water, agriculture and other commodities.  (Have you heard about Pink Slime?  Beef Glue? )  You may have guessed, I’m one of the concerned.

So: here we are, and the tear-down is starting.  I’m seeing way too much fear out there over something we really never did have:  WE JUST CHARGED IT, SARAH!  That’s all we did…

It won’t be scary once we get a grip that the last half of the 20th C and the first two decades of 21st C were just smoke in the first place.  The dream really was a dream: one with quite a price tag hidden.

I just had a flash of the first half of the 19th C in America:  the endless bounty of this country: resources, agricultural land and abundances all for the taking; followed by a hideous Civil War over economics.  Then in the first half of the 20th C, we repeated the blood spilling in 3 more wars.  Some people became mercenaries and found wars being fought by others to join in.  

We busied ourselves with the plundering of natural resources for profit and continuing our warring in the last half of the 20th C, then took ourselves into a whole ‘notha level of war:  war on our environment.

Is it possible, Sarah, that Jamie and The Boys showed up for a real purpose?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Roar Firemouth, Write That Book

I decided I needed a break from the book the last couple of days, and  this morning it woke me up in the middle of a dream.  I mean I saw my book in my dream.  It was laying down, not filed, on a wooden bookcase, wearing a nice dust-cover, glossy bright yellow.  Instead of a proper title, there was an image of a piece of 3-hole binder paper with book titles scrawled in heavy black ink then lined out.  They were scribbly notes, some on lines, others almost vertical, a visual mess:  

Now That They Are All Dead (I have carried with me for decades while I waited for my elders to pass on)
Hand Me Down Rage  I became aware of the anger both my parents (must have) lived, and how it affected we kids. 

Circles of a Life I became aware of completions:  people appearing, unexpected connections, and resulting in unusual, sometimes spontaneous, always benevolent situations.  

A Nightmare in Bali, 1983:  I suffered my first adult episode of PTSD. 

 Bob Geldof got me Arrested!: for taking photos in a refugee camp with a news journalist. A description of our rollicking escape from gunfire in  the Sahara Desert.  (The Geldof connection made it happen!)   Oh oh - maybe it should be called Bob Made Me Do It!

Abu Dhabi Airport: 1985: an unforgettable child  lives in my heart today. 

Last day in Riyadh: an emotional final day in our home in Riyadh.

A Hole in Her Heart: Where I came from: my mother's history makes a good beginning.

Roar, Firemouth!   It too woke me up from sleep last summer.  At first I thought it was another book title knocking at my dormer door. I sat up in bed then knew I had to get to the computer immediately.  I now have a lovely sign posted on the wall that I first see when I wake up.  Roar Firemouth!.  It is my personal get-to-work call and it gets me out of bed and doing the necessaries before sitting down to create what I always hope will be an eloquent passage.

A Hole in Her Heart  may be the title I will choose.  I came into an understanding of my poor deceased mother thanks to my genealogical investigations of her family, which revealed  a sad and lonely story.  She was a toddler when things went awry and never was able to make sense out of it.  What does a baby know about what's going on?  They can only feel.

Through my search sites I found her sister's son, who kindly sent me his original family photos so I could scan them and share with my family.  He told me about my mother's life from a different perspective, a very different perspective, proving that little was known about her and how she was (not) cared for as a child. I  found more about this from newspaper articles around the turn of last century.  

Fortunately the discord between Mom and me  was sorted out . That's really a  candy-coated way to describe our violent history and the final moment of violence. I was sixteen and she broke a heavy wooden coat hanger over my head.   I grabbed her by her elbows and I threw her across the room.  Shortly after we began a brief but remarkable relationship.  This part seems to be what I most want to write about:  how bad things happen and how they can be righted but it is not always done in your time frame, your lifetime.


Monday, May 14, 2012

La Triviata: a Melange of Thoughts

I have been up and writing for several hours this morning, then I finally took a break and read my on-line newspapers. During the Bush Murdock Years I developed the habit of not relying on our local no-news, I checked out first the Sydney Morning Herald (they are almost one full day ahead of us) then of course BBC and The Guardian; lastly American news. In recent years I check for balanced reporting. Besides, they have views of the globe and the various temperatures spinning around between shows and I'm getting very good at my geography AND, I can now tell temperatures in Celsius! See: RT saves money by not having a staff of show-boats and very infrequently runs commercials. Now that I think about it, years ago when we lived in Africa, we were advised by the "spooks" in town to not rely on VOA, but to tune our shortwave into BBC for more accurate reporting.

France has an interesting approach to TV. All commercials run for a half hour after the program ends.
It is so pleasant to watch a full show and just leave the room when the commercials are running.
They also have some pretty strange commercials, too. I can't forget this one and didn't understand the language, so it was truly perplexing! A lovely woman is waits for an elevator. It opens, and a man in a suit is standing and nods to her. She walks in, tears off all her clothes, throws them at him and gets off on the next floor. Well. I sure wasn't going to buy any of what ever they were selling.

Generally speaking, the US no longer has honest news. Not that it's really dis-honest! It just is no longer straightforward. Instead it's five minutes each of weather-traffic-sports or blab interspersed with fifteen minutes of sales pitches, then a tease about some horrific wreck/abduction/murder to be seen later that day. As if! The screen is full of women, thank you Women's Rights movement, but now they act like giggly comediennes, and mug the camera like wannabe models at a casting call. So to save my blood pressure I do mostly my news-ing online.

The Huffington Post they covered Jamie Dimond and his JP Morgan Hustle today. It 's a worthwhile read, and touches on some subjects near and dear to me as well as some truly tender spots that make me want to cry, no - bellow "what?????" I'm confident we'll work it all out. I'm also quite confident we are in for a very interesting ride.

Long ago I made a conscious decision to the effect that if I can't "do something" about "something" then I will find something I can about.... like rehashing my Sunday so here goes:

I went to services at the Center for Spiritual Living and came out refreshed, renewed, even singing. Then I headed north to meet my college roommate from the 1960s for a few hours.

We reunited two years ago after me "nudging" her for over 40 years. She was going through a bad time, like many of us do and it took her a while to be in the mood - over 40 years, actually. Sometimes relationships just go that way with friends, and with family. And, it usually isn't about you, or about me or anyone else. We all need space to sort things out in our own time framework. No one can give the signal until they are ready. Well, neither can I for that matter. I just keep nudging, cards, letters, phone calls every 3 or four months to let them know I'm thinking good stuff for them. I'm here to tell ya IT WORKS! Yes, I've had more than one beloved in my life who needed to "go it alone" for a while. A long, long while.

After several hours, my roomie headed North and we promised we'd get together soon. When I came home, my husband and our dog Lulu went over to my daughter's home and picked up Roscoe. Roscoe is also an adopted pooch. He doesn't get "out" to play much, so I like to take him to the dog park We keep this a secret from his family!

And, now, I'm off to work a little on Ancestry! Through this endeavor I am re-learning history, gaining insights regarding human behavior, and, of course genealogy! I found a bucket full of cousins and shirt-tail relatives, even people I meet in stores and restaurants who are closet genealogists too! It could be the red eyes that tip strangers off: "Oh, hi, I say, are you by chance a genealogist?"

Saturday, May 12, 2012

UGH.  I had a whole blog started about my adventures in Ancestry Searching and how I became fascinated by the plagues that struck Europe and why my eldest of all elder ancestors, a Swiss/German man by the name of Clewi became my end man in 1350 .  I went back to check a fact and Windows snuck in and started "fahting about" as my Best-Brit friend used to say,  and shut me down!  Never had a chance to save the blog.  Darn. it really was fabulous, too.

Anyway, so my searching for 15xGG FatherClewi kind of got me interested in the Middle Ages, maybe because I'm reading Thomas Cahill's book:
Mysteries of the Middle Ages, the Rise of Feminism, Science and Art from the cults of Catholic Europe. 

My husband made a comment that he believed  that the Dark Ages were the religion related ones.  Well. What can one say about that?  He is solidly planted in the 1950s and the Beat Generations brand of Atheism.  He did give up smoking in the 1970s, which proves that he can have an open mind now and again.

Anyway, I decided to see if he was right and looked it up in my 30-year-old Time Life Series book on Ancient Civilizations and found the Barbarian's story which absolutely floored me.

Let me tell you about this raggedy band of ten or fifteen thousand Scandinavian villagers who on December 31, 406 were fed up with freezing-ass-cold dark and nasty weather, packed up the wives, kids and farm animals and were on the move in a Southward direction.  That New Years Eve permanently rocked our world!

It was so cold that the Rhine River was rock solid that night and they crossed it on foot!  They carried on, for the better part of a century plundering and pillaging the  villages along the way  until they stumbled upon a bankrupt and crumbling Roman Empire.  They saw an opportunity and over a few hundred years pretty much sacked it  These were the Dark ages, and the people who brought it on are dubbed the Barbarians.  Brutal outlaws: whole families of them.  And their outlaw cows, too!

But it was about toppling the rather corrupt Western Roman State, and it did interfere with the classical culture they had built.  The Western Roman State made themselves vulnerable to persons looking for an opportunity in my opinion!

It happens that these crude and brutal Barbarians were filled with uncommon ideas such as sexual fidelity, individual rights, law, and traditional democracy.  And their gift for organization was spread throughout Europe.  It does appear to me that we might see some rough weather regarding the Barbaric Organization in Europe at the moment..

My brain is popping with thoughts about this idea of sexual fidelity which today seems to be little more than a  lapel button some people wear to pretend who they really are.  I figure it was much easier and more fun to stay home with the mate and have a jolly good time than to quietly dig your way out of ten feet of snow to go have a date with that hot momma ten miles away!

Twenty-First Century taste for a Smorgasbord 'O' Love Partners seems very crass when compared to Barbarians.  I wonder what they would think of modern humans.  The only real difference is that.. hmmm, Religion happened  on the way to Western Civilization!

So.  Could my husband have a point? And........will I tell him??

NOTE:  regarding Mr. Cahill, I've read several of his books.  They are  fast reads considering the abundance of factual information they contain.  He is foremost a lively,  entertaining writer and I solidly recommend him.  Understand:  if  Cahill can get Melanie so turned on to history, he's doing something right.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I just saw the end of a segment of Charlie Rose on Public Television.  He interviewed Stanford Professor Sebastian Thrun who is  very concerned that only 1% of the world is eligible to get a quality Stanford level of education.  He is concerned about the uneducated masses who cannot afford a $40k per year education, which seems to get discounted by much of our countrymen, well at least the privatized Student Loan companies these days.

 His point is that the system in US as well as Europe is geared toward restraining people from if they don't jump through hoops:  If you get a C you won't get accepted to a good college (unless you have a Presidential father who can grease your way in.) Hmmm, remember Einstein?? 

Thrun proved his point by teaching free courses via pod casts to tens of thousands of people.  Free. No Dollah. He has started something and it may well be the catalyst we need to re-direct our future and give some real tools to the next generations.  A podcast is currently available for free that will teach us to build our own search engines in seven weeks.

Thrun calls sit Udacidy and he's very excited about it. And I frankly am astonished on one hand that it is not thoroughly incorporated into our educational system!

IMAGINE!  I could finish up my 40+ year old dream of getting a degree in physical and cultural anthropology!  For Free.

Just when I was getting frightened about the lack of education available to young people (college tuition has gone up 600% since the 1950s) the miracle of the darned Internet that I often gripe about shines a light.!

BTW:  Stanford has a class that will take a not too computer savvy novice like me, and in seven weeks I will be able to build my own search engine. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Second Beautiful Day

I am doing our genealogy and have had good success, but there are several mysteries still unsolved regarding who and how and why of my ancestral lineage.  I have traced them back to the middle ages.  Imagine me:  I was told by my mother that we were on her side, English, French, German, Portuguese, and that she recalled an event when she was young concerning a chateau in France.  The government contacted the family to see if they would like to pay the back taxes on it and regain title to it.  We didn't.  I personally thought this tale was a lotta hoo-daaa.  Everybody wants to be a princess or a peer with a reference to real estate:  Sir Wanton Necksqueeze, 4th Baron of Sillysocks, and his wife, The Lady Debutante.  

Well, I found the chateau story was possible, but the chateau would have been near Basel, Switzerland which borders France. Later some took residence and employment in Zurich, no doubt a more powerful city to rule from.   My maternal ancestors were deep into religion and government.  Government and religion are very good ways to earn a comfortable living, just like today: get everyone else to pitch in to support you.  

But their issue of mixing up church and state ultimately became the reason for establishing MY County.  When Peter the Goat Herd is passing the coin chest around, one wants to see no special perks for some special members of the congregation.  My people, Puritans, sailed first to England and then on to the colonies.  It was a treacherous, crowded three month trip with an uncertain destination.  Brave people, committed people our ancestors were. 

My mother's side is very difficult. I'm not finding anything for her grandmother.  Even the name was apparently "wrong".  She was referred to only as Little Grandma Ellen .She was about my height 5’5” when everyone else in her family was nearly six feet, and so it continues today: my kids and grand kids passed me up long ago, girls growing nearly 6’ and boys between 6’2” to 6’4”.  Grandma Ellen had a lovely first name: Claircy Ellen!  I found a reference in the Mormon records that her mother also was named Claircy.  What a crisp, clean and enchanting first name.  But....where did she come from?  I cannot seem to break through here:  the family name is Lee and there are umpty-dozen Lees who arrived in California prior to the Gold Rush.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Haha on Me

I did a whole blog this morning regarding Rachael Maddox' appearance on Dave Letterman show last night and instead of saving it deleted it.

I must  get a copy of her new book called Drift which she was promoting.  Loved one of her comments:  we should never let people who have a vested interest in a passing a particular piece of legislation vote on anything.  

We really have got ourselves in a fix with the real entitlements including "Unions" for civil servants jobs.  What a dirty joke for the next generations.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gentleman Jack? NOT!

It’s 3:45 am and I’m blogging.  I woke up to a fierce level of pain (sciatica) in my left hip and leg about two hours ago, so I stayed in bed for a long time trying to work it out.  I’ve been working on reviving my hip flexors with one of those Styrofoam rolls for the last couple of weeks and have had some success.  This morning, though, I don’t know what the heck happened.  I am usually a very good sleeper.

I lay in my warm bed for a long while, recalling my brief but stellar tennis career.  Boy did I ever have fun for about 4 years!  I guess I was thinking about it because yesterday my 16-year old grandson asked if I would hit some balls with him when the weather clear.  I kind of think it’s cute:  the baby boy wants to play tennis with his Gran!

A not so gentle man, by the name of Jack introduced me to the worst kind of tennis match I ever had.  It was my first “real” match, playing in real mixed doubles tournament, with my friend’s husband for my partner.  Bill and I were total greenies, and had played social mixed doubles where people understood that we 50-something newbie’s weren’t going to be much of a challenge.  Anyway we wanted to compete and what an introduction we got to Dirt Bag Tennis!

We came onto court, introduced ourselves and shook hands – tennis is such a gracious, polite game I’m getting the warmish just thinking about it.  We flipped a coin for who serves first then assumed our positions.  I played ad court (the one on the left) because I have a natural back hand; Bill played deuce court (the other one), and we won the toss for first serve.  

Bill served to Jack, who then drilled the ball hard into my chest.  It shocked me.   It was painful.
And I became Gentleman Jack’s game plan for the match.  Every time he got the ball he slammed it at me, hitting face, legs and chest way too often.  I was scared and furious and trembling tearful and shaky.  I held the racquet in front of my face for protection.

Our spouses were furious, and other spectators were jeering and Partner Bill asked if I wanted to withdraw.

“No Billy.  I’m going to try to teach him not to do this to me.  But I’ll be playing mostly off-court.”  I felt my voice tremble.  

“What do you mean by that?” 

“Just cover your side, Bill and let’s go get meat,” and Bill grinned. 

Dead Meat was a game a group of us Seniors collectively invented for our Friday night Newbie Social-Slam Club.  It meant trying our inexperienced best to steal points while drinking a measurable amount of homemade wine from Gordon’s Jug.  Over a dozen folks showed up to celebrate the coming weekend with this mixed doubles debacle.  We played non-ad sets of 4 points each.  

Players rotated in when a person on court screws up a point in any way.  That person is then booed off the court to the wind jug with the other three yelling “You’re Dead Meat!”  and a new person rotates in.  We always had a steady group of 50-somethings Seniors willing and ready for our fast-moving, barbarian tennis.

So on this wine-less day Tournament Day when Bill served, I stood about a yard off-court.  I could hear the crowd of twenty or so mumbling about my strategy.  Bill served, but now Jack could not return to me…because he was forced to hit it out and would lose the point.   So he returned to Bill who then lobbed the ball back to Jack’s partner, and she returned the ball nicely to my side of the court…. at which time I zipped in and returned it to her and left court.  She sent the ball to Bill; he “inadvertently” slammed it at Jack’ shorts.  Jack blocked it clumsily and sent me what I learned later was called a “perfect sitter” at the net.  

I saw it in freeze time, the yellow orb dangling over the net.  I ran on court backed by fury and without aiming hit it as hard as I could.

I heard a yelp as Gentleman Jack’s racket hit the court.  And I realized the fans were roaring; cheering me on!  This was terrible form in a tennis tournament!  Egged on by the crowd and Jack’s brutality I continued playing Dirt Tennis: remaining off court until I thought I could get the ball, and then aimed as best I could at Jack’s crotch. I got a couple of shots at his pants before we lost dismally.

I was fifty years old, and extremely new to tennis and thanks to Gentleman Jack, I never again experienced fear on the court. Being able to persevere under attack gave me great confidence. 

My tennis career was stellar, and like a comet: fast and very, very short. 

In the very beginning, I took a series of lessons by a pro that worked for our city recreation department.  Paul Sheppard taught me one serve that he promised would win me lots of “free points”.  It’s called a pronated serve, and he knew what he was doing.  Few people could return it, and to this day I don’t know why.  I don’t know what it looks like to receive: nobody else has my serve.  Opponents have told me the ball just doesn’t come up from the bounce.  

I went to the cub with my then fiancé who played USTA competition tennis.  I was impressed with his teams going to District and Sectional championships.  I joined USTA as a 3.0 player and learned all the basics of court etiquette and scoring, etc.  And no matter whom I played with, my partner and I rarely lost.   I really wasn’t playing seriously; in my mind I was just having fun.

I found I had lots of time to myself being a newcomer to tennis.  I got bored with hanging out, waiting for Gary to hit with me so I took a bucket of balls, a couple of hundred and went down to the lower courts to practice serves.  At the time it was Paul’s pronated serve, the only way I knew how to serve.  I practiced serves for literally hours.  I worked on getting my ball toss really high, using a tree branch above one court as a target for the right ball height.   

My work attracted the attention of some of the club’s highest ranking National Champs who spent time with me teaching subtle varieties of grips and stances.  Their tips and my work paid off handsomely when I started to compete in doubles.  In retrospect, I had about 15 different serves using the same toss.

It was so fun during the first year or two, playing competitively.  And then during the Indian Wells Tennis Tournament which we attended for about ten years, I had the opportunity to hit some volleys against the Australian pro Mark Philippoussis!  I actually put one or two away on him. And I got to take a number of tennis clinics at Shadow Mountain Resort in Palm Desert, we stayed there for several seasons.  

I had no understanding how consistent my serve was until I had taken a few clinics at Shadow Mountain.  One day during serve practice the resort pros pulled me out and asked if they could test my “consistent serve” in front of the class by blind-folding me to see if I could get the ball over the net and into the service court.  I did several times in a row, and they put me in their teaching video.  They asked me in front of the camera how I developed such consistency and I answered it was those many hours and hundreds of balls all by myself on an obscure court, waiting for someone to play with.  Not what most people wanted to hear, I’m sure!

I ended up being in other training films demonstrating net volleys, overheads as well as “consistent” serving.  I thought the pros were just being kind and truly had no understanding that my skill level was notched up in a number of ways. 

Back home, when higher ranking teams asked me to fill in I thought they were just being kind.  I had no concept of anything other than just having fun with tennis and I guess I was innocently quite bold about inviting the better players to hit for a while with me.  They always did.

I paid no attention to my ranking on USTA’s website, because I didn’t consider myself a serious player.  My husband was always checking it to see the record of the next team he was playing.
I suppose he checked mine, but he never mentioned it, never told me that I had an excellent record of 24 wins, 2 losses.  I found it out by myself.

When opposing teams invited me come on board and play for them, I thought that was sweet.   Eventually I was recruited by a team in a nearby town that had been to District and Sectionals Championships and really wanted to make it to National Championships.  Two years later there we were, in Tucson, Arizona, ranked fifth in the Nation.  

I even have a small collection of trophies of my own now!  I do get a kick out of how funny how life is.  How quickly it can take one down from a huge high into crash and in just a matter of weeks.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

One Thousand Days

I feel as if I've come out of a drugged sleep. I’ve spent three whole years of digging myself out of a hole, barely doing life-maintenance duties?  Well, yes.  I chose which need is to be done this day in order to get by the next day. I discovered how and why "pain-brain" works: when I'm in great pain, my attention will be totally focused on ME getting relief, not listening to someone else’s instruction/commentary or to watching television – even less who is singing on television! If I'm focused elsewhere I’m branded forgetful, something we baby-boomers are very edgy about.  I learned it is my responsibility to say "Working on pain -hold that thought -be back later!"

I assumed I was fighting depression, but now I believe it was compression: because now, in 2012 I feel younger, lighter and am able to move so much easier. I'm not younger, but dang it I am much lighter in weight and spirit and am moving faster and easier than in the past decade.  I caught myself thinking of hitting a few balls on the courts yesterday.

So what did I learn in my thousand days? You might profit from my experiences:  1) avoid those who make me feel depressed; 2) So, you invited him/her/them into your space?  Ew - don't take it to heart, just breeeeeatttthhhe.  It will bore him/her and he/she will go away!  3)  I faithfully watch America's Funniest Videos daily:  it makes me laugh and is a Wonderful Total Release; 4) hugging my pets, dancing with my Border Collie; and 5) doing my best to get out in the sunshine & garden.  I require sunlight and in Northern California for the past three years guess what we have had a serious lack of?    5)  That second little glass of wine at the end of a tough day is guaranteed to set me up for even creakier joints the next day. One is Fun; two is Boo!  Often I stop with none, now.

My Great Compression gave me a chance to worry no longer about being one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who'd expected to work 'til we are seventy-ish and are now no longer required in the work force and all of the I don’t know what to do’s around this sad situation.  I found alternative works that have boosted my morale and my outlook on life in the field of writing.  So I'm now going back to blogging and will make certain not to pick subjects which serve to irritate me like Politi-caca, Econo-caca, and Eco-caca.

I will do only what I can do something about!  Redirecting my planet's Political/Economical/Ecological mess is NOT in that arena other than spreading awareness in general conversations (different from general conversions.)

I believe existing PEE frameworks must continue to buckle and fold.  I plan on being alive and useful for our rebuild.  Rebuilding is one of the things I do best.