Gratitude II

So a little more than a year ago, I wrote a blog post about gratitude to help me counteract all the Cheeto flea nonsense. After a couple of serious blog posts, I’m feeling the need again — we’re still in this mess, perhaps deeper in. So this time I want to declare gratitude for my siblings. It started with a tossed off invitation (when was the last time you were able to get any 5 people together spontaneously?). Then with a bit of luck, flexibility, coordination, and good humor, my 2 sibs, 1 sib-in-law, and I were able to drive up to Maine, stay at an adorable set of cottages on the Maine coast, and meet our brother to hang out and take a tour of his work of art and labor of love, the renovation of a beautiful old house. I won’t say how long the artist has been at it, but This Old House ain’t got nothin’ on him.

As you may recall, this is the brother who is also known as Sir Mark Beocat, the legend of feral cat spaying. You can read his amazing 3-part epic tale here. My sister Julie had an award made to commemorate the cat adventures, and we presented it to him at the end of our tour. Oscars eat your heart out.

We often comment on how different we all are. 4 states, country, city, suburban, and 4 lifestyles. But we generally like each other’s company, at least for several days at a time, can make each other laugh, shake our booty to the songs from the 70s and 80s, and we try hard to not get up into each other’s grill. I’m thankful for that.

It also turns out that we are really good at managing caring for our parents, with a shout out to sister Sharon and her hubby for doing a lot of the heavy lifting, to Julie as a close second, to Mark who fixes anything that needs fixing. I’m the back up, as I am managing the kid.

It’s in our family culture to be overly polite and accommodating, and then have maybe a side of dishing. But here’s the cool thing that happened on the way to middle age. We’ve all become a little more real to each other. Saying more what we really want and need, rather than just going along when it might have been better if we didn’t. And we work hard to hear each other and not judge.

That’s wicked cool. So thanks guys. Let’s keep laughing, grooving, and talking.

As a random aside, we went to the Black and Tan, an Irish Pub in Augusta, which has an extraordinary list of beers — yours truly sampled Hidden Cove Booty. How could I not? I have it on good authority from the men folk, that the photo below, also a form of gratitude,  was in the men’s room to help out those who may have had too much beer. As our brother-in-law said, it’s proof that you don’t buy beer, you only rent it. Cheers!

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Don’t Fall Asleep in the Snowdrift

This is a really bad time to be a person who tries to find humor in everyday life and write about it. It’s also a bad time to be a person of color, an immigrant, a woman, or  basically anyone who is not in agreement with the Cheeto flea and his minions. Or maybe he is their minion. It’s hard to tell — this shit gets confusing.

The current crisis of the immigrant children warehoused like, well, let’s just say it — the prelude to Jews and gays and other non-Aryan people sent to the Nazi death camps, is wrong on every single level. It scares the hell out of me. It exhausts me with pain and anguish. I can’t imagine what these families are being put through. And it also pisses me the hell off.

Hey, Cheeto asshole, you know what you get when you treat children like worthless animals? The ones who survive learn to hate, and they find acceptance in groups like ISIS and other religious extremists. And then they find ways to hurt the people and the country who made them. This is so basic, I get paralyzed thinking how Cheeto and the minions cannot know this. And by the way the Bible is not a tool for making policy, but if you want to quote shit, how about this? “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.” And the kids will come back and give you back 10-fold what you gave them.

I want to go numb. This new, next level of WTF-ness  is so relentless, and seems to be getting worse.

So, I have very little humor for you, but rather, I hope I can give you inspiration. I receive email once a week about practical things to do, put together by Jen Hofmann called Americans of Conscience Checklist. You can sign up for it here. 

In this week’s email she talks about being overwhelmed by this whole putting kids in cells thing, and included an inspiring article about why we can’t go numb now. The writer Dahlia Lithwick writes, “And this is the scene in the movie where even though you want to fall asleep in the snowdrift, you need to get up and walk around. … Because “going numb” is the gateway drug to acceptance.”

So hang in there. The article also calls for us to “Choose for yourself. Sure, tune out that which makes you feel hopeless. But hold onto what motivates you to act. Find all the humans you can find who agree with you and make calls and register voters.”

I’m focusing on social justice. I’m trying to do it in with honey, rather than vinegar. But maybe at this point, all that really matters is that you do something.

Photo credit: Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Association.

 

 

Who Are We Not Seeing?

I spent the weekend celebrating Gay Pride with my friends. The parade gets longer every year, seemingly with more corporate sponsors, which is both a blessing and a curse. Great to have more support, as long as those companies truly work toward equity and not just give lip service about all kinds of diversity just to gain a target market. During the Obama years, the Pride discussions among my friends centered around what the parade had evolved into. Originally started as an angry protest in response to the police raid in 1969 of a gay club called the Stonewall Inn in New York City, the parade had over the years become a fun, social event. Or just like many other parades. Well, at least here in gay Massachusetts. As rights and acceptance were gained, the gay identity also became mainstream, and there was also a loss — less pushing the boundaries, protesting, challenging the status quo. I haven’t seen a really good group of outrageous drag queens at the parade in years.

Cheeto flea changed all that, or perhaps merely gave voice to the fear that was bubbling just under the surface around gays and “other.” For better or worse, showing up to the Gay Pride parade feels essential again. It’s important to continue to be seen and heard.

Indeed, we seem to be spending much more time these days talking and yelling at each other, and not listening very much. I do it too. Because we all seem to have our panties in a twist about something, maybe listening is too high a bar start with — to just shut our pie holes for a few minutes and listen. It’s biological after all, once our panties are twisted, the heart rate increases and the amygdala gets activated, the part of the brain responsible for the instinctive “fight or flight” response, which pretty much reduces us to our caveman/woman state. Lash out first, and ask questions never. Plus, many of us have stopped actually listening to the people we love and like, so what chance does a stranger with an opposite opinion have?

So maybe we should start with something simpler, such as looking. No, strike that. I mean start with seeing. We look at things all day, but do we really see them? Or see them for what they truly are? When a dog crosses your path, do you see that actual dog, or are you seeing the one that nipped you when you were 5 playing on the neighbor’s swing set? Because of a recent pigeon experience, when I see a pigeon, I’m not seeing the one in front of me, I’m seeing that damn one that hit me in the face, and I want to stomp on the one in front of me.

And I think we have all felt invisible to others at some point, but let’s put that in the parking lot, or as we call it round these pahts, the pahking lawt. We do this in some meetings I go to when you’re trying to figure out how to solve one problem and related problems pop up. However, if you try to deal the new problems, you’ll never solve the first one. Let’s jump off one bridge at a time, shall we?

OK, consider these two examples of not being seen:

  1. I work with a doctor who is also a senior leader of our organization, and he was on vacation at a ski resort this winter. He told a story of how he was standing outside of the resort, just getting some fresh air, and not 1, but 5 men in a row tried to hand him their keys, mistaking him for a valet. Never mind that valets tend to have jackets clearly marked with the word “valet” or the name and logo of the resort. These drivers were looking, but not really seeing. Well, what they were seeing was a Black man standing in front of a ski resort. I know, I know. Let’s just put racism in the pahking lawt for now. If 1 guy does it, you can call him out. We like that kind of example, because then we can point to that 1 person, call him or her a bad apple, and declare it isn’t me or the people I know. But 5 White guys in a row? That’s what you call “systemic.” As in, it ain’t just a few bad apples, honey. A good first step would be for them to take 5-10 seconds to collect enough information to not make a jerk out of themselves. We can assume they know how valet works because they freely handed the keys to their expensive cars to an utter stranger. So, c’mon people, go beyond your assumptions and really see the person in front of you. Notice that person has no traditional markings of a valet because he’s wearing a plain ski jacket. Then look around to find the actual valet. See? That took 5 seconds. Easy peasey.
  2. The second story was in the Boston Globe. It’s about how many business people who retired on the Cape have taken jobs parking cars at the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket for something to do. “Beyond paying them minimum wage or just slightly above to stand out in the heat and the rain, the job offers these retirees new insights into how differently low-wage service workers are treated.” These retirees are pleasant and chatty and believe in good customer service, but most people barely acknowledged them. Most of these men are white, so we’ve removed the racism card. What remains is not seeing the person providing a service. Sure, the article says most people trying to catch the ferry are stressed. But what if they took 5-10 seconds to get out of their head and acknowledge the person parking their car? They might have a pleasant exchange (the workers are pretty happy — they are retired and doing this for fun!) that would send them off on their vacation on a happier note. At least some of the business people have had some insight, and we hope are getting better at really seeing the valet and others now.

OK, I can feel myself protesting that I rarely do that, and I’m starting to sputter about all the times I’m not seen, yadda, yadda, yadda. OK, I’m putting myself in the pahking lawt, and asking myself straight up:

Who don’t I see?

The person cleaning the hotel rooms, building cleaners in general? The store clerk? The older person struggling to get up a steep step because I’m in a hurry and helping would take time?

For today, or for this week, as you move through the world, spend 5-10 seconds to consider: who aren’t you seeing?

 

This and That

Hello my dear friends. I had a busy weekend, which means today you get a “Sandy’s random pictures” blog. Lucky you.

Last week I was walking along the Charles River and came upon this:

The first thing that popped into my head was this:

OK, so it’s not an exact match, but the general idea is very much the same: let’s cut off all the extra bits! I had a warm fuzzy feeling, because that particular scene always fascinated me as a kid. Who knows why — kids are weird.

But then my adult brain kicked it. What the hell is this trim job all about anyway? Clearly this tree was touched by people. It is now spring and there are no sprouts to be seen anywhere on this Max Tree. With apologies to Monty Python, I believe we can safely say Max Tree is no more. It’s expired and ceased to be. It’s a stiff and off the twig. This is an ex-tree.

So why did the humans not just cut Max all the way down? Who knows. Maybe they were fascinated by that Grinch scene too.

Looking out from my deck last week, I got to see this:

Squirrel chillin’ on top of a telephone pole. You may recall earlier this spring, I posted a photo of a squirrel napping. It was on a branch right above this pole.

Pole-top squirrel stayed there for several minutes, which is like a week in frantic squirrel time. Seriously, these are some of the laziest squirrels I’ve ever seen. Or maybe they have achieved work life balance. That may be it, because pole-top squirrel then stayed in this position for another few minutes, which I think is the yoga position, Down Squirrel.

That’s good form in my book.

Now for you Lord of the Rings nerds, which I am one, I have a special treat for you. At work my computer has a little light on it. When the computer is working properly the little light blinks rapidly with happiness.

This does not happen often.

Instead it does what I first started to call the “Dead Eye,” as in “The Dead Eye is staring at me again.” The unblinking light staring me down as my computer grinds to a halt. Email freezes, Word documents laugh while I type away and nothing appears, and the PDF never opens.

The Dead Eye made me think of Sauron. I too felt the dread that Frodo felt on his difficult journey whenever the Dead Eye appeared. It was pretty frustrating until I just gave in, taped a picture over the light, and accepted it was Sauron. Maybe Mini Sauron:

And for our final entry in the Sandy’s random pictures blog, I apologize in advance, and leave you with this little gem #thatisnotadress or #youforgotyourpants

Have a great week!

Wine Whine

I’m all about doing my errands to and from work, so the other day I popped into a new wine store on my way home. That the sandwich board said something about cheap wine was merely a seal on the cork. Turned out to be more like a snake in the grass.

I walked into a sleek, white space, and it’s not just me saying it. The Google blurb calls it a “sleek liquor store.” It also says it has wine tasting machines that dispense samples, which must be well-hidden. Or maybe I was so distracted by the sleekness, I missed them. Sleekness apparently means bottles must be stored upright, 6 bottles high, with an additional 4 inches high of space per bottle. That is approximately 2-3 more bottles high than I can reach. I’m pretty sure no one under 6 feet tall could reach the top shelf. If you want to force customer interaction and make me ask to get a bottle of wine, move your business to the South. Ain’t no New Englander got time for that. Especially those after a long day at work. See, if we New Englanders want help, we’ll ask. If we want to chat, we’ll go visit a friend. Got it, Sleek?

As I was puzzling over the overwhelming display, a young one came out of left field, or actually from the left side of the store, and startled me. He of course asked if I needed help, and when I said I was just looking, he said something curt and turned away. That would have been a good time to offer the wine dispensing machine, my friend.

But personally I think it was because he knew damn well the wine rack system was incomprehensible without his guidance, and he was mad he didn’t get to explain it. Note to young hipsters: if I have to spend any time figuring out your wine storage system, you’ve probably already lost me. And maybe you didn’t want me in the first place, so perhaps the feeling is mutual. Fair enough.

Now there are occasions when I’m buying for another person, and I love nothing better than saying to a wine store person, “I need a wine to impress a Frenchman who is rather picky in his wine choices and drinks only reds, preferably grown in sandy soil.” They love that shit, believe me. And depending on the friend, I don’t mind spending money.

But today I was just buying for me, looking for a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc. But the Sleek Wall of Wine didn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to it. There was a sauvignon blanc over there and another up here. I wondered if it was like a bar, with the “top shelf” stuff higher up and the bargain stuff at the bottom? Or maybe it was alphabetical? Nope. Then I notice 2 big labels: 1W and 2W. They were sitting near each other, with no explanation. Was it code? A bad rhyme ? 1 wine, 2 wine, red wine, white wine? Cripes, now I need a key or decoder ring? I glanced around, but didn’t see a key posted anywhere. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to ask the hipster now. This was war.

That’s when I realized there were no price tags. What fresh retail hell is this?

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So, you’re going to make me ask you to recommend a Sauvignon blanc and you’re either going to hand me a $30 bottle or ask me what my price range is and just like the real estate agents do, you’ll make sure to stay in my upper range. Hey, hispter, what’s in your 2/$15 bargain bin? Oh, wait, all this sleekness discourages a bargain bin, despite your “come hither” sign about cheap wine. What a scam.

At this point my head was spinning, and not in a good way from drinking too much wine, so I left. I was pretty sure there was another wine store before I was going to get on the train.

Sure enough, several blocks later, I saw a little store with wine and groceries. Ahhhh. Familiar wooden racks, wines displayed on top, and the extras directly beneath, laying horizontally snug. And hey, looky here! Three Sauvignon blancs next to each other and 2 from New Zealand. All with sticker prices. Fan-fucking-tastic.

I picked a bottle, handed the nice man my 10 bucks, and was on my way.

I do wish Sleek Wine Store all the best. I’m sure you’ll be great down South.

Markle Sparkle

While I have always professed my love for those pasty Brits — tea time, little cakes, stiff upper lip, did I mention tea time? — I confess I have paid less attention lately. My main connection was the Queen Mum, godresthersoul, because we shared the same birthday. That and I also hope to have a daily gin and Dubonnet or something equally classy like she did when I’m 101.

She left us in 2002, and I carried her torch for a good bit, but then life kind of got in the way of royal worship — small child, divorce, getting my life back. It’s all so time-consuming that I had begun to neglect my beloved royals.

There was a brief resurgence for me in 2011 when William and Kate got married, but I realized I like the old queens better. Queen Elizabeth just keeps hanging on — you really have to admire her. Yes, Kate and William are beautiful and charming, but they are young. They have miles to go before they have the gravitas of the Queen Mum or Queen Elizabeth. Charles, I just sort of feel sorry for. My dear old man, you are very likely never going to be king, but have fun with Camilla and your charity work. It’s good to keep busy.

The royal babies started coming, and I’m not much of a baby person, so my attention drifted once again.

Then the 2016 elections happened, and I’m pretty much in my news-free bunker most of the time, except to pop my head out now and again to see what’s what. But mostly I’m trying to get up to speed on social justice, and how I can counteract the Cheeto flea.

I heard bits and pieces about Meghan Markle — some sort of family brew ha ha once she and Harry were an item. Still, it was not as compelling for me as being 101 and drinking gin while wearing a perfectly poised hat. I have priorities.

Of course this past weekend you’d have to be a complete hermit to not know the wedding happened. But I still didn’t watch it or know much about Meghan. But people remember that I used to be such a fan and poked me enough that I looked her up. Very late to the party, I learned about her African-American heritage and how her culture was skillfully woven into a traditional ceremony. And let’s be clear, the Brits invented Western tradition, so even deviating a tiny bit is a huge accomplishment.

And that’s the other thing too. I can no longer call them pasty Brits. And that’s cool — I’m a bit pasty myself, so I always got a kick out of calling out people who are paler than I am. But of course they are just as diverse as we are in the states. Let’s hope they don’t get their knickers in a twist over it like we seem to be doing.

But you know what is even better than all that? Guess when Duchess Meghan was born? Yup, on the Queen Mum’s and my birthday. So guess who is going to be paying attention now. Yes, it’s all about me, so shut your tea and cake hole. And Duchess, pull up a chair. the Queen Mum and I got a nice gin drink waiting for you.

Photo credit: Hindustan Times

Take a Walk on the Quiet Side

The weather finally cooperated enough that I could get out and explore my new neighborhood a bit more. A few weeks ago, I went for a long rambling walk in the Forest Hills Cemetery in the Jamaica Plain area of Boston. Established in 1848, it was conceived and designed as a cemetery and a public park, one of the first in Boston. To quote the brochure:

“Horticulture was an important scientific movement and economic driver in 19th century America, improving commercial agriculture, landscape design,and the quality of life. The Cemetary’s founder, Henry A. S. Dearborn, was one of the leaders of this movement and his design of Forest Hills … marked the culmination of his career.”

I don’t know why people of that era felt the need to use all their initials, but I do thank Henry for his work and vision. While the brochure has a detailed map and a self-guided walking tour of many of Boston’s leaders in government, art, medicine, activism, and entrepreneurship, I just felt like wandering wherever my interest took me. I have plenty of time to be more methodical later and see who’s who. This first trip out in spring, was about feasting my eyes, ears and nose on the green trees and plants, the art work, and the art-inspired headstones.

One of the first things I was drawn to was this unusual spherical stone:

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I’ve never seen that in a tradition cemetery. Not that I spend a lot of time with them, but you know how you look over as you’re walking or driving by one and remember to be thankful you’re still on this side of the sod. Yeah, never saw a round stone. It’s such a cool design, and there were family names printed around, so it’s also very efficient. This one belonged to the Sawyers. I know that old grave designs are highly symbolic, and it took me a while to find what the sphere might mean, one website said the circle usually represents the unending circle of life and eternity. I like that. Maybe I’ll take an official tour and ask.

In the meantime, just like when you learn a new word and start seeing it everywhere, my eye started to find other spheres, perched precariously, on these bases, and yet still so soothing to look at — wishing your clan peace, Kendigs:

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Or more solidly anchored into eternity — peace to you Connors:

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And after walking among the sea of primarily English, Irish, and Western European names, this was a beautiful stone to come upon — diversity ha! Not just the name, but a colorful stone and beautiful Chinese writing:

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Since those who have passed on can’t speak for themselves, and I don’t want to make assumptions about any of them, I will give the last word to this little fellow, who like me was just hanging out and enjoying a beautiful sunny day in a quiet peaceful place.

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