Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year Resolutions

I like New Year’s. It’s like absolution in the Church. You get to start over and try again. I don’t mind resolutions even if I believe that I will probably break them. Mine are always the same: lose weight, get organized, and be more frugal with my money. It’s good to be reminded of what we need to do to improve ourselves for no one is above improvement and last year my resolution for keeping better track of my money means that I now have more than $1,700 in savings that I did not have at this time last year. That’s being saved for a 40th birthday trip for my daughter.

Orthodox Jews get organized and clean for their New Year’s and it is probably a good thing. To that end I am excavating our refrigerator. It’s a fairly new one and appears quite large on the outside, but inside is another story. It is only with creativity that we are able to get leftovers in there. Unfortunately, it is our fault, not that of the refrigerator. Things get shoved to the back and forgotten and I’ve a pretty good idea that I’d have more money if I ventured back there more often. I’ve spent the last two days pulling and pitching and washing. I’ve doubled our space and plastic ware. I am hoping that getting the kitchen organized will gradually spread beyond its borders to the rest of the house. Unfortunately, I’ve got my middle son working against me. He’s cleaning his “art room” which means dragging everything out to the living room to organize it. Moreover, the New Year’s plan is to turn that room into a bedroom for our grandson.

My New Year’s Resolutions include:
1.) Eliminating as much chaos as possible from the house. This means working on the clutter.
2.) Bringing as much peace into my life as possible which includes the house.
3.) Finding new ways to stretch our money farther since my husband’s job ends the end of January.

New Year’s 2010 is coming in on a Blue Moon. That has to be fortuitous. May 2010 bring health and happiness to everyone.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Letter

December 2009

It is hard to know where to begin this year which marks the end of the first decade of the century. We’ve seen Josh & Jamie’s wedding back in 2000 and our fiftieth birthdays in 2001. In 2002 we lost my father and over the course of the decade most of our aunts and uncles. In August of this year the children lost their paternal grandmother. In 2003 Frank & Ana lost most of their possessions in a fire and we were thankful to have them alive and healthy. This decade has brought the births of three grandchildren and all the “firsts” that entails. Of course I would be remiss were I to not comment on the big first back in January when the first African American was sworn into office. We still have our fingers crossed that this will not be simply Bush 2.0.

New Year’s will not only mark the end of a decade, but the end of an era for us. After 30 years as an air traffic controller on February 1st Dave will leave that part of his life behind when Lockheed shuts down Seattle Flight Service. This prospect brings with it a host of hopes, emotions and memories. I do not think it is easy for Dave to leave behind something that has been such a big part of his life for…well, such a big part of his life. Had this happened a couple of years ago or a couple of years hence we might have felt a little less tenuous now. I will continue to work for at least two more years as last year we made a commitment to Frank & Ana to stay in Gig Harbor another three years and have two left on that promise.

We will be together for Christmas as Nadir has arrived from CA for the holidaze and we are all celebrated together with my mother at our house in Ilwaco on the 19th. Christmas Day will be at home with our household and the 26th we go to Dave’s folks place in Bothell. Nadir is returning to school when he returns to CA and will be attending Foothill College in Los Altos which I am told is an excellent institution.

Josh and Jamie continue to work from home. The recession hasn’t been kind to graphic designers, but Josh has managed to pick up some work with Tacoma Metro Parks and his poster for First Night lat year won an award this Spring. In September Linda started Kindergarten and in November Lydia took her first steps. She was already a climber so they are in trouble now! For the Day of the Dead Josh had a painting of his was included on an altar of another artist. We all went to see the exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum and had fun painting skulls and making paper flowers. Check out my blog about it.

Frank is in his fourth year of teaching and third teaching art at Clover Park High School. Ana home schools Gabriel, who also takes violin, gymnastics, and home-school PE. The day after Christmas Ana and Gabriel are flying to Brazil for two months with Ana’s family. These separations are always hard, but it is lovely for them to get to spend time with Ana’s mother and improve Gabriel’s Portuguese. Ana will not be sorry to miss the cold months of Winter.

Besides working fulltime at Gig Harbor High School as a Resource para educator, I continue to write two of three blogs, the “In Your Neighborhood’ blog for the Tacoma News Tribune and my personal blog, “The View From My Broom.”

For the first (and possibly last) time in this century there was a Frieze Family reunion. I got to be with all of my first cousins for the first time since 1976 at least and many of our children were able to come. I missed all the faces that were not there, but it was sweet to see my cousins and very gracious of my aunt and uncle to host the party in Shelton. It meant missing our forty year high school reunion, but I’ve seen the pictures. They were a bunch of old people!

The next ten years will doubtless be filled with great changes for us, some good; some bad. Come what may, it will be an adventure. We hope your holidays will be filled with blessings and abundance that continue on through the New Decade.


Christmas is a State of Mind

Christmas is a state of mind not a particular day. Anyone who believes that Jesus is the reason for the season or that he was even born in December is living under a rock or in the Bible Belt which is pretty much the same thing. The Winter Solstice is the reason for the season, hijacked like so many other things by the Church. That’s cool, but we shouldn’t lose sight of what actually makes the season special and it’s not the number 25.

I think we convinced my mother this year. In the past she has accused us of spoiling her “high holy day” by engaging in activities that didn’t fit her Christmas ideal. That right there is a big problem with the season. Everyone has high expectations of recreating the magic they felt at Christmas when they were children. The problem is that a lot of us are not children anymore and when the expectations are too high we end up disappointed. Ninety percent of the success of the celebration of the Yuletide is the mindset.

We live 150 miles from my mother. My children are grown with families of their own. They have a lot of people they want to spend time with at Christmas. In-laws and outlaws (my ex-husband) and assorted aunts, uncles and cousins. Everyone vies for a celebration on the 24th or 25th creating a marathon of driving and eating, eating and driving.

Sometimes things like weather prevent us from being with my mother at Christmas. Last year it was the snow. I was supposed to go and get her and bring her to Gig Harbor, but Mother Nature had a different idea. Last year Christmas Day went down in my book as worst day ever. It started out with opening Santa gifts at home which wasn’t too bad, but then having to rush around and dress so we could go to brunch at my Tacoma son’s. That was delicious, but just when I would like to have settled in for a long Winter’s nap or even a nice chat with my ex’s current wife we were off on a terrifying drive to Bothell for my in-laws’ Christmas celebration. I love these people, but I was already tired and scared by the time we got stuck in the snow and had three brothers-in-law with four-wheel come rescue us and ferry us to the party. What a mess! I have, hands down, the best bunch of in-laws on the face of the Earth, but just wanted my own snug home by the time we arrived. This year that celebration will be on the 26the to my great relief and my husband's insistance.

This year it is the fact that my daughter-in-law Ana, a member of our large household, is leaving for Brazil on the 26th to see her own mother and there is always chaos attendant as she prepares to go. Having her sleep on the floor just so my mother can be here didn’t seem the thing to do so I struck on a better plan. We all went to her. Granted it was five days early, but I think I convinced her that what really mattered about Christmas was having everyone together at once and creating the atmosphere of Christmas.

We have a house at the beach six blocks from the apartment building where my mother lives. At Thanksgiving my husband had put up our artificial tree, much to the delight of our grandson who was there. Two weeks ago when I’d gone down to take my mother shopping I got out my glue gun and a collection of big pine cones and glued them to twine which I strung around our kitchen which also serves as our dining room. I put a huge roast from Costco into the fridge and crossed my fingers that the snow wouldn’t spoil our plans.

As soon as my husband and I were home from work we loaded up my Neon with food, gifts, the dog and my daughter Amy and headed for the coast. In the morning, with Christmas music playing, I made Chex Mix which began the smells of holidays for us. I use Cheerios in mine because that’s the original recipe from the 1950s and the way my grandmother made it. Amy wanted chocolate pie and since I can deny her very little we went to Sid’s, the local grocery store, and bought pudding mix and a pie shell. She helped me stir the pudding (instant is grainy) on the stove. Then disaster struck when a bottle of seasoning salt fell out of the cupboard and destroyed the pie shell. With no time to go replace it we layered the pudding with the crumbled shell in a pretty bowl. Amy loved it anyway and I’ve promised to try again for Christmas Eve which will just be her, my husband and my youngest.

We got the roast in the oven just before my youngest arrived, followed soon by my oldest son and his family with a babe just taking her first steps in life. Middle son and his family arrived last as he’d been packing suitcases for the coming trip to Brazil. Dave peeled the potatoes and mashed them while Uncle Nadir (the rock star of the family as far as his nieces and nephew are concerned) kept the little ones entertained. The wine was uncorked and the Christmas tunes kept coming with the babies asking when were we going to open the big pile of gifts under the tree.

After every gift had been unwrapped and jammies were on we watched Amy’s video of Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, which is one of my favorites, before I gathered up my mother’s gifts, bags and walker and set out for her apartment. Then I remembered that I had promised her a return trip to Chinook to look at the lights on a particular house there. She has always loved going for rides in the car, especially to look at Christmas lights. We were not disappointed. For a tiny burg, the citizens of Chinook now take their Christmas lights seriously and we even saw carolers going from house to house. All that was missing was the snow and for that I am thankful.

I think that Christmas came on the 19th there at our house in Ilwaco. It is the only time I will be with all of my children this holiday season. It looked, sounded, tasted and smelled like Christmas and even though it was not on my mother’s “high holy day” will go down in my books as the best Christmas ever. The children were all in a good mood (which might be accounted for by the wine) and not a cross word was spoken and what better gift is there for a mother? Regardless of what the rest of the season holds I’ve had a wonderful Yule. The only down side is I left my camera down there and can’t share a single picture.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Lists and Gifts

Our family draws names each year for gift giving. We started the tradition when the children were married and in college and have continued it as they’ve had children of their own. Everyone gets to open something and no one should be too overwhelmed with shopping. One of my daughters-in-law would like to eliminate it altogether—the gift giving that is. Her family doesn’t give gifts except to the children. We all give to the babies, but I think a person can spare a bit of time to find something special. It need not be expensive, just show thought.

I made them draw names in August. All but Ana groaned. She agreed with me that it was good to have several months to find things. She is the consummate bargain and Goodwill shopper. She was smart because I got her name and have been hunting things for her ever since. She will be delighted with the box of “stuff” I’ve amassed. Nothing extravagant, just little things I thought she’d like such as a colorful pair of boots from Fred Meyer, some balsamic vinegar, a book by a Brazilian author (she’s Brazilian), some smelly soap. When you spread the buying out over months you can come up with a pretty sweet box and Ana never did make a wish list.

I started harping on wish lists right away. We email everyone in the family our lists because in theory we don’t know who got our names. We usually figure out who got who by Christmas, but it’s supposed to be a secret. The lists are handy at birthdays, too, so Jamie ought to keep that in mind when she campaigns for the abolishment of Christmas gifts. My husband has been after me about my Christmas list. I emailed it to him once, but he lost it. Besides, when I bought a new Crockpot for the family at Costco Dave said that he would wrap it and that was my gift from him. Somehow I’ve hornswaggled myself into buying my own gift! Just the same I’ve sent him my list again and will report after Christmas how I made out.

My list went something like this:

Time with my children ß I will get some of this Thursday when my own baby comes home from CA.

Peace on Earth

Freedom from chaos ß only my messy children who live with us can provide that.

Something consumable. ß I have enough stuff to dust


Candles and/or soap smelling of lavender or lilac

Anything on my Amazon wish list

Besides my draw gift I also buy for my Special Needs daughter, my mother, Dave’s parents, and Dave. I’m almost done. Amy still believes in Santa Clause and I’m not about to burst her bubble.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Christian Communism in Oregon

Last weekend I journeyed to the Willamette Valley of Oregon for a weekend spent in the past. I stayed in Mt. Angel at the home of my lifelong best friend and we spent Friday evening pouring over her collection of elementary school class pictures. Hers have remained remarkably intact compared to mine. She always was more organized than me. Organization is something I struggle with constantly. Between the two of us and the younger brother of a classmate who happened to be on Facebook that night, we identified nearly every student and noted their names for posterity.

The next morning was frigid so we bundled up to go the short distance to downtown Mt. Angel for the Kristkndmarkt, an outdoor market of food, crafts, and fun in honor of the season. After purchasing pastry, bread and some handmade items we dropped our purchases at my friend’s house and headed to Hubbard, another rural Oregon town, and to Old Mother Hubbard’s Bazaar. There we found many Christmas gifts and treats. My favorite was the chocolate covered hazelnuts. I’m not sharing those. They sit on my dresser where I can have three or four each night.

From Hubbard we went a few miles to Aurora, one of the settings for the Jane Kirkpatrick trilogy we read this summer based on a real life Christian utopian community of the nineteenth century. Kirkpatrick’s novels are labeled as Christian literature, but I would beg to differ. Unlike other authors of that genre, Kirkpatrick does not beat you about the head with the Bible, but bases her stories on historical events relevant mostly to the Pacific Northwest. I became intrigued when my friend Nikki told me that the story began in Missouri and journeyed West to the banks of the Willapa, a body of water I know well on the East side of the Long Beach Peninsula which is my other home. I can well imagine how hard life in the wild woods of that part of the world.

Eventually the story moves to Oregon Territory where the Colony of Aurora was founded and where remnant buildings and houses remain today. The Utopian society of Aurora, Oregon was established by Dr. Keil as the site of what was to be his last communal settlement. Keil was a charismatic Prussian tailor and self-styled physician who began preaching soon after his arrival in the United States in 1831. He attracted a following for his fundamental Christian preaching which centered on the Golden Rule and his belief, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. Although a Christian, Keil was influenced by the writings of Karl Marx.

Dr. Keil named the town Aurora Mills after his daughter and in recognition that it already possessed a saw and grist mill which Keil had purchased from the previous owners.

Nearly 600 people, almost all German and Swiss emigrants, established and lived in the Aurora Colony, a Christian communal society, from 1856 to 1883. Christian communal living in the Aurora Colony was carried out by individuals who were members of specific family groups, and this was notably unlike other Christian colonies that practiced

We toured the Colony Museum and visited two of the many antique shops that are housed in former colony homes and business before returning to the museum for our candlelight tour. The tour was not exactly what we expected. It was really a tour amidst a melodrama recounting the occasion of one of the rare marriages at the colony. Marriages were rare and some courtships lasted into the tens of years because of Dr. Keil’s stricture on celibacy which appears to have been good for the congregation, but not for him. I suspect that Dr. Keil had issues and as we all know these utopian communities rarely work out long term and those that demand celibacy are doomed to failure. We had hoped to see more of the home our heroine finally got, but had to be statisfied with ending the melodrama in her parlor.

The picture that Kirkpatrick paints of the Keil Community in all its incarnations isn’t romanticized. Emma Wagner Geisy, who was a real woman, grows from a rather silly young woman into a desperate one and ultimately into a very strong and balanced one, despite living in unusual circumstances. That’s why I liked the books. I enjoy reading about strong women.

Nikki bought a map of a walking tour of Aurora which we intend to do someday when the weather is more hospitable.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Date Which May Not Always Live in Infamy

Today is a hard day for me, one of the special days when I particularly miss my dad. He was nineteen and his brother twenty, fresh off the farm in the Missouri Ozarks and stationed at Kaneohe Naval Air Station on December 7th, 1941.

My father left behind an autobiography in which he describes laying in his grandmother’s yard trying to take a nap in the sun, but bees kept buzzing around and annoying him. He waked up to find himself in his bunk at Kaneohe and that the bees were Japanese Zeroes.

His first thought when he looked out at the flames already rising from the tarmac and hangar area were for his older brother who had been on duty there overnight. He pulled on his dungarees and bolted out the door looking for him. It was chaos with sailors running every which way trying to find a means of shooting back. The wounded were walking around dazed and the scene was surreal to my dad.

After helping pull a PBY from a burning hangar, he finally found his brother and together they mounted a 50 cal. machine gun in the waist hatch of a PBY what was empty of gas and being worked on. While Dad fed the ammo, his brother trained the machine gun on the Zeroes, successfully shooting down one, possibly the first “kill” of WWII, but in the confusion of that morning, nothing is certain.

What is certain is the fact that December 7th 1941 changed the lives of those two boys and a lot of others forever. My father wrote of a disconnect that happened that day as he was catapulted from boyhood to manhood and the sense of loss of innocence. He said that it changed him forever. For one thing, Dad was scheduled to take a test for Annapolis on December 8th, a dream he’d had since childhood. December 7th changed all that and the course of his life.

I have a picture of two baby-faced boys standing in a bomb crater with their 50 cal machine gun (after the first wave they were made to move it to the crater which was less of a target than the PBY), my father with binoculars and my uncle shielding his eyes from the Hawaiian sun, both with their eyes on the sky. I had seen the picture when my father found it in the National Archives, but I didn’t fully appreciate the impact it had to have had on them until I had teenage boys of my own and realized that they had been babies.

Moreover, I had a new appreciation for what my grandmother went through. She had been in Missouri visiting her parents at that time and had lain awake with her cousin listening to the radio reports and wondering if her two oldest children were dead or alive. Back before email, cell phones or even good long distance, it could take days and weeks for people to get letters and telegrams. She immediately returned to her home in Vancouver, Washington by train and reached there before a telegram from my dad and uncle arrived telling the family that they were alive and well. In the meantime it was erroneously reported in the Greenfield, Missouri weekly paper that the boys had been killed. A lot of misinformation came out of the chaos of that day.

Now December 7th goes unnoticed by the general population. The Greatest Generation is disappearing into history and the Baby Boomers are graying. Someday the words “Remember Pearl Harbor” will have about as much meaning as “Remember the Maine.” That only ads to my sadness this day.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Importance of Being On Time

Punctuality is seen differently in different cultures. On the Long Beach Peninsula you are lucky if a tradesperson shows up on the appointed day and flabbergasted if they are early. We call that “Beach Time.” Last Friday I called the electrician there who had rewired our house to complain that our living room fixture was dangling by the wires instead of firmly fixed to the ceiling. We were told that everyone was out repairing lines from the storm the previous Saturday. I asked if they could put me on the list just in case someone had time on the way home and imagine my surprise when two guys showed up just as we were sitting down to dinner!

On Whidbey Island they call the lateness phenomenon “Island Time.” On reservations it is called “Indian Time.” In Argentina it is an affront to the host and hostess to show up to a party on time as they likely will still be dressing. But for the vast majority of working Americans showing up on time is expected. In Western society being late tells people who don’t value their time.

Most employers want you to appear at the appointed hour and to get their full measure of work from you. I used to show up early for work, as much as 45 minutes. I liked having time to settle in and get my bearings before the students arrived, but the district does not pay me until the stroke of 7:30 AM when school starts and as my aversion for the job has grown so have I come later and later, but still am there on time.

Which brings me to students and their parents. Out of the approximately 1,600 students at Gig Harbor High School something in the neighborhood of 130 are tardy for the beginning of the day. This does not take into consideration those who are tardy to class the rest of the day, just the ones that come anywhere from a few minutes to an hour late. Maybe it is only because Gig Harbor is an upper middle class community, but the majority of parents excuse their child’s tardiness, even when it is habitual. What are we teaching our children about a work ethic?

When I complained about a student’s habitual tardiness to the school’s “Behavior Interventionist,” he informed me that an employer will be more flexible than I am. I don’t know what alternate universe this guy is operating under (he has been counseled himself for his own tardiness), but in the real world we do students, even Special Education Student—perhaps particularly them, a no favor by not teaching them to be on time or that there are consequences to tardiness. Maybe my student should consider moving to Argentina.

Okay, that’s my rant for the day and the view from my broom.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

No one need be surprised that President Obama is widening the war in Afghanistan. Even before he declared his intention to run for president he never made any secret of his belief that Afghanistan was the war of importance that had largely been forgotten by the Bush Administration’s obsession with Iraq.

So now we are to send 30,000 more Americans to fight for democracy to be instituted in a country with no history of it and purportedly to make the United States safer. It was the Bush Administration’s policy to prosecute war in Iraq and Afghanistan with no inconvenience to the American public. During a recession it is time for Americans to be inconvenienced by the war. I believe that the American government should return to selling war bonds to Americans. If our government feels that keeping the Taliban and Al-Qaida out of Afghanistan will make the United States safer it is time for us to directly support the war with our pocketbooks.

After 9-11 I thought the government would institute rationing of gas and spend real money in overcoming the Middle East’s real stranglehold on the United States—oil. I thought that we’d be called on to sacrifice to protect our country as my parents generation did during WWII, but President Bush didn’t want us looking too closely at the reasons we were going into Iraq or how he ignored Afghanistan. Maybe the time has come for us to step up to the plate.

Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee David Obey is leading an effort to impose a tax to pay for the war. According to The Week, Obey’s “Share the Sacrifice Act” would impose a 1% tax on income between $30,000 and $150,000 with wealthier American’s paying higher rates. The Bush policy of hiding what the war was costing in terms of dollars and lives (by not showing returning coffins) put Americans at a distance from the war. A war tax or campaign to buy war bonds would give the public a real sense of the cost of the war and of participating. Maybe it would meet with opposition, but it is time that Americans became aware, on a daily basis, of the cost of war. Only then will they decide to put their full weight behind the war or demand that the United States withdraw.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Chasing the Storm

On the night of December 2nd, 2007 the coast of Washington and Oregon was slammed by hurricane force winds that left a wake of destruction reminiscent of the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s or the atmospheric explosion of a meteorite. The infrastructures of the communities that dot the coastal region were devastated. Roads were rendered impassible, power lines were down everywhere as were telephone lines. Flooding was rampant in communities built near the sea. My mother lives in Ilwaco, Washington at the mouth of the Columbia River and for three days we were out of contact with her. Although phone lines were down we knew that she was sitting in a cold dark apartment. As soon as the roads onto the Long Beach Peninsula were opened we drove down to see what we could do to help her. By the time we arrived her ordeal of no power had just ended so we got her some fresh groceries and promised that should any other such storm that promised so much devastation be headed toward her we would come and fetch her away.

Last week the coast was pummeled by storm after storm. Mother came through the first four with her lights only being out for 2 and a half hours. I became complacent. Friday night I checked the NOAA website and it looked like the storm predicted for Saturday night wasn’t going to be as bad as that which they’d had on Monday. Sunday morning we woke to the news that the coast of Washington had been slammed by a storm that had been much more severe. From a Facebook friend who lives in Ilwaco we learned that not only was the power out (her parents have a generator), but that it was a major BPA line that might take as long as 3-5 days to repair. Although the phone lines were not down this time, we were out of contact with my mother because her corded phone was malfunctioning and her cordless phone had no power. The question became what should we do?

After making phone calls to PUD, the Pacific County Sheriff’s Department, and my cousin who lives down there I came to the conclusion that I had no choice but to drive down and rescue my mother from her cold dark apartment. How I was going to get her down the stairs from the second floor I would deal with when I got there. A check of the DOT website indicated that the roads were open so my husband and I hopped in the car and were off. Clearly this storm had not been anywhere as devastating as the 2007 storm. The more inland communities appeared to have power although during the day it is difficult to tell which houses had lights on. When we got to Montesano we stopped for a bathroom and snack break and that is where we were when my aunt called to say that the power had just come back on. She’d spoken to my mother who was fine. At that point we could have turned around and gone back to Gig Harbor, but we decided to complete the trip and take her the telephone. Although we will be going to Ilwaco for Thanksgiving the fact that the coast has had storm after storm the past week my knowing that my mother now has a phone that should work even if the power goes out again.

Life on the Washington/Oregon coast makes being prepared a necessity. It is difficult to care for an aging mother from 150 miles away and the time will come when we will have to move our mode of operations to Ilwaco. We are wrestling with out desire to live their fulltime vs our desire to help our children who live with us. Can’t put a cute grandson to the curb, but don’t like leaving a great-grandmother sitting in the cold for days at a time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Aunt Bee's Sweet 'Tators

Today I continued my Thanksgiving preparations by baking yams. When we were living in California my mother cut out an ad (or maybe she saw it on TV) and ordered a copy of Aunt Bee’s Mayberry Cookbook. My mother loves to cook and loves cookbooks. Not only does this particular cookbook contain literally heart-stopping recipes, it also has pictures from Andy Griffith’s Mayberry show. Because the recipes are very down home, but very unhealthy, I don’t use the cookbook much, but at holidays I figure calories and fat don’t count. Several years ago I was fishing around for a sweet potato recipe that did not involve marshmallows because my husband thinks that they are disgusting prepared that way.

To me Thanksgiving is a time when it is okay to eat those old fashioned high calories dishes so I pulled out Aunt Bee’s and discovered “Raleigh’s Budding Executive Sweet ‘Tater Casserole.” This recipe is not exactly sugar free; on the contrary, but there are no marshmallows so I made it. My husband says that it’s still pretty sweet for a side dish, but the children fell in love with it. I use yams only because they are prettier. I also double the recipe because it will generously fill a 9X13 inch pan and maybe leave you some to have with leftover turkey. I’m freezing my yams for transport to Ilwaco next week where I will put the whole thing together, but I have also baked the whole thing ahead and frozen it.

Raleigh’s Budding Executive Sweet ‘Tater Casserole

3 C. cooked, mashed sweet potatoes (my daughter-in-law has taken canned yams in her suitcase to make this recipe in Brazil and it worked fine.)
1 C. white sugar
2 eggs
1tsp. vanilla extract (if you use imitation, which you shouldn’t, use twice as much)
1/3 C. milk
½ C. butter
1 C. brown sugar
1/3 C. all-purpose flour
1/3 C. butter
1 C. pecans—chopped

In a mixing bowl combine the sweet potatoes, sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk, and ½ C. butter. Beat until smooth. Turn the mixture into a casserole dish. In a bowl combine brown sugar, flour, and 1/3 C. butter. Crumble the mixture over the potato mixture and sprinkle with pecans. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. You can do this while the turkey is standing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Thanksgiving Memories

Next to Halloween, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. What I like about it is that Madison Avenue hasn’t figured out a way to commercialize it. Oh sure, Safeway and Fred Meyer will try to get you to spend a lot of money—$150 this year—to get a free turkey, but for the most part they have had to resort to whipping up the buying frenzy for the day after Thanksgiving in what has become known as Black Friday. We are untraditional in that we don’t participate in Black Friday because that is the day we celebrate Thanksgiving.

We started doing that a number of years ago when the children lived in Tacoma and there was only one bridge across the Narrows. Apparently every grandma with family in Tacoma must live in Gig Harbor or the Olympic Peninsula because it took the children two hours to make a twenty minute trip. Finally, my middle son asked if we couldn’t just have dinner the next day. It seemed highly unorthodox, but we quickly discovered that the turkey and stuff and all of the trimmings tasted the same on Friday as on Thursday and a new tradition was born. Now we have moved our celebration 150 miles to the Long Beach Peninsula where my mother, her sister, and my cousin live. It’s a logistical battle plan to get everything to our old Victorian in Ilwaco, but otherwise my little extended family is alone and resort to Thanksgiving at Denny’s or something equally as sad.

I asked some friends what their favorite Thanksgiving memories are. One said that her brother made a “pie” of marshmallows, peanut butter, candy bars and every other sweet he could get his hands on when he was a child. Another said that her mother let her and her siblings chose their favorite food and prepared everything from tacos to spaghetti for Thanksgiving.

One of my favorite memories is of one of our first years during our stint in California. The holidays made me more homesick than I was on a daily basis, missing the green of Washington and my extended family of uncles, aunts, grandparents and my dad. We had only my husband’s cousin, who being from Iran was a little fuzzy on what Thanksgiving was supposed to be, so we did what we could to make the day seem special. At the time I was working shelving books in a library and had brought home a book of children’s poetry just before this one particular Thanksgiving. My middle son decided to read a poem to entertain us after dinner and I still remember him getting dressed up in his best clothes and putting on a red bow tie. Suddenly the thousand miles between California and home shrank and Thanksgiving came to where we were. It was priceless.

Our first Thanksgiving back in Washington was pretty special. After some help from my cousin we were able to secure a house to rent in Chinook. My uncle in Beaverton, Oregon had sent us a turkey and the Elks in Long Beach gave us one, too along with boxes and boxes of food. Our table groaned that year and my mother’s sister and my cousins and their children all gathered at our house and it was reminiscent of years long ago at my grandparents in Vancouver.

When we began taking Thanksgiving from Gig Harbor to Ilwaco we began another tradition that just happened as a result of the long, usually dark, drive from Gig Harbor to there. Wednesday afternoon after school I would take my daughter and my youngest son, the dog and the turkey and whatever else we needed and we’d head out. After stopping to eat along the way I’d turn on KGO talk radio. That’s a San Francisco station that I got into the habit of listening to during our six years in the Bay Area. Bernie Ward was the late night host and the night before Thanksgiving was always a discussion of cooking turkeys. While Amy slept in the backseat, Nadir and I listened to all the calls and all the ways people were cooking their turkeys. Because KGO has such a big broadcast tower they would get calls from all over the Western and Southwestern United States so there were lots of opinions. We made our trek this way several years in a row until one year Nadir cooked the turkey himself after having soaked it in brine.

Buying our 15.5 pound organic turkey yesterday was bittersweet because now Nadir lives in the Bay Area and won’t be with us this year, but I can already feel the merriment next week will bring as most of the rest of us gather in our old house. We have friends whose only child lives elsewhere and have been adopted by us. They are in charge of the turkey and have been ever since they persuaded us to let them barbeque one. It was and always is the best turkey I’ve ever put in my mouth. They have trucked their Weber all the way from Gig Harbor to give this gift of a succulent bird to us.

As with most other Americans, my weekend will be filled with preparing for next week. One of the beauties of Thanksgiving is that it is something that every American participates in. Since it is not a religious holiday, no one need feel left out. I know as I bake my cornbread for stuffing and make my sweet potato casserole to be frozen and then driven, that there are others baking pies and polishing silver. We are a part of a huge celebration of remembering our blessing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Getting Twice the Husband at Half the Income.

For about a year we have been living with the knowledge that my husband’s job was going to end. The only question was when. Dave works at Seattle Flight Service briefing pilots on the weather and filing flight plans. This is a job he’s done since he was in the Army in the 1970s. During the 1980s he went to work for the FAA when Regan fired all the air traffic controllers. He’s been at the Seattle facility since 1989. Three years ago Lockheed Martin won the bid to take over the flight service section of the FAA. The result of this effort to save money has been reduced staff, inferior equipment, and unhappy employees. Fortunately, Dave had enough time in with the FAA to retire from the government before he went to work for Lockheed Martin. We’ve not touched his retirement which has gone into an ING account. We all know how well the economy’s been doing so we are not going to be living in the lap of luxury.

Over the past year the skeleton staff at Seattle Flight Service has been rife with rumors and interpretations of everything Lockheed did, trying to discern which facilities were going to be closed and when. We’ve joked that they’ve done everything to read the minds of the Lockheed executives, but hire a gypsy to read tea leaves. Yesterday, as Dave says, the hammer fell. February 1st has been set for the closure of the Seattle facility. Scheduling the closure just before the Olympic in British Columbia is as mysterious as everything else Lockheed has done since they took over.

Twenty-ten promises to be a very different year for us as I gain twice the husband at half the income. I intend to share our journey with you and the decisions we make. Our first is to not panic. Last year we made a commitment to my son, daughter-in-law and grandson, who live with us, to stay in Gig Harbor for three more years. That is to give them time to develop a little nest egg toward a place of their own when we sell the family home and move to the coast. We’ve two more years on our commitment and intend to make good on it. We just have to pull together. And there's always the Top Ramen. Hee, hee. Just kidding.

A Quilting Blog to Comfy Up With

Blogonia buddy Lorraine Hart sent me the link to a new blog, An Appalachian Quilter’s Blog. It is managed by a semi-retired councilor and quilter who also has a book blog. According to her profile she lives in the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, fifty years in the past, in “Mayberry” and not far from the real Mayberry the show was based on. I am adding her to my list so when you visit here you can see if she’s got something new and click right over to the blog.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Swimming in the Stream of Consciousness

Yesterday when I went out to walk Loki in the morning darkness, the wind was singing in the Doug Firs. I love the sound of the wind in Doug Firs and I felt that I could stand outside much longer than I had. It made me think of another storm long ago when I stood outside listening to the wind in other Doug Firs. My reminiscing about that night drew me into the stream of consciousness and I floated back to a very different part of my life.

The Fall of 1987 the children, my mother and I were living on Top Ramen in a drafty old house in Chinook, WA after having run away from my Iranian in-laws in CA. Despite being frightened, desperately poor, and much of the time without a car, there are things from that period that I find myself getting nostalgic over. When you’re living on the edge, small things can take on a heightened sense of importance.

After six years in CA I was very glad to be back in WA. It is not that I hadn’t attempted to love CA. I had, but no matter how hard I told myself that it would be my home for the rest of my life, on some cellular level I don’t think I had ever believed it. I was homesick in every fiber of my being for six years, so even being cold and poor I was happier in a house with no phone or cable two blocks from the Columbia River where the East wind could bring the bitter wind out of the Gorge, racing for the ocean.

So, frequently when Autumn arrives, I think back to that one we spent in Chinook and how different our lives are now. I would not return to those days for the world, but I do long for the simplicity of that time, minus the Top Ramen. This morning the wind in the trees took me back.

Come out into the storm,
You said to me,
And listen to the wind
Singing in the fir trees.

You stretched your arms
Toward the blackened sky
While Doug Firs swayed
In the Autumn storm.

A warrior you were,
Come back with
Wounded spirit
That fed on the energy
Of the tempest.

For a moment then,
Outside in the dark,
The drafty old house on the river
And meals of Top Ramen fell away,
As we danced with the trees.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Virtual Farming

I play Farmville on Facebook. My husband thinks it’s kind of cool. My son Frank and his wife think I’m nuts, but my youngest plays, too and gives me tips as to how to make the most of my virtual farm.

Saturday morning on NPR Scott Simon interviewed Dean Takahashi, a blogger who writes in the Bay Area about gaming and technology, about the Farmville phenomenon. It turns out that I’m one of nearly 64 million people who have a little virtual patch of earth. Three of my coworkers play, too. They, along with my son, are my virtual neighbors on Farmville. One stopped me in the hall last week and we chatted about the blessing and curse of technology. “We just end up fertilizing each other’s fields,” Pat said. “I know,” I told her, but I really enjoy it!” “I do, too,” Pat laughed. We concluded that we’d each like simpler lives, but would never give up our technology.

I’ve spent the weekend thinking about why I like Farmville. In his interview with Takahashi, Simon theorized that while farms are declining in the United States, people yearn for what appears to be a simpler life. A fanciful simpler life. That’s part of it. Personally, in my early 20s having a farm was my fantasy. It never happened, but I can have a virtual farm on Facebook. Are you ever too old to pretend?

Hard core gamers are not attracted to Farmville. It’s not action packed. It’s like…watching vegetables grow. It’s only as competitive as you want it to be. Mostly you’re competing with yourself to get the most out of your plot to be able to expand and to “buy” things for your farm. The game is free although you can spend real money to get some of those things. I never would do that. I’m shooting to get to level 26 so I can buy the farm house I want. When I have enough “money” I will also expand my farm so there’s more room for crops and animals.

And you get to help your neighbors. You fertilize their gardens so they get more “experience” which translates into virtual money and you also get to send them gifts of animals, trees, and farm equipment. In most games the idea is to obliterate your neighbor. I like the gentleness of Farmville and it helps me to unwind after work. It’s a place where I have some control (the animals will walk around if you don’t make them stay or contain them) and it’s replaced solitaire on the computer for me.

For a long time I resisted signing up for Facebook, but it’s been a wonderful way for me to connect with old friends and new, and play games.

Excuse me. I have to go harvest my blueberries and decide what to plant next. Gotta get that farm house!

A Rambling Rose

Reader’s who followed the posts I put up for Pat Kurz, Tacoman and Gig Harbor High School teacher, who spent a semester during the 2007-08 school year teaching in China, will be happy to know that Pat has continued to write. I am here to introduce her blog, Roseman’s Ramblings. Among her talents as teacher, writer and gamer, Pat is a gardener, particularly of roses (hence the name). In her blog she examines life as a Baby Boomer in a new century. She’s eclectic and gritty. She tells it like it is.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembering Veteran's at Tahoma National Cemetery

My father was a survivor of Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway. He served his country as a civilian aeronautical engineer during Operations Red Wing and Hardtack. The plaque that memorializes him is a thousand miles away in the Missouri Ozarks. I can’t take him flowers for Veteran’s Day, but since both my husband and I have the day off from work and like to do something meaningful to honor those who have served (so did my husband in peace time) we decided we would attend the ceremony at Tahoma National Cemetery in Covington, WA where the father and brother of my best friend are buried. Our families have known each other since we were very little girls and I knew she could not attend herself as she lives and works in Oregon. She did not get the day off.

Gail’s dad was a pilot in the Army Air Corps during WWII, flying a Liberator over Germany. He went on to be a Boeing Test pilot and carried his love of flying into retirement by building his own airplane. Both of his sons became pilots, one for the Air Force and one for the Army. The younger son, Neal, whom we took flowers, did two tours in Vietnam as a chopper pilot. His sudden death this Spring was the latest loss in a string of them for the family. All are buried at Tahoma.

I hate the fact that commercial enterprises turn Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day into sale days meant to line their pockets. I sent Amazon a nasty email at Memorial Day because of that and emailed the History Channel complaining because they turned Memorial Weekend into a Monster Quest marathon. Having said that, I was disappointed to find that Safeway had not made up any very patriotic looking bouquets and had them cobble together a bouquet of red carnations and one of baby’s breath into two, which the floral department clerk tied with red and white ribbon. It would have to do.

My girlfriend had suggested that I wear red, white and blue for the occasion which proved a problem since nearly everything in my closet is purple. I dug out my red jumper, generally reserved for Christmas and Valentine’s Day, and a white blouse. Carefully I pinned the WWII Sweetheart pin my mother wore onto my red sweater. No matter that they divorced when I was 18. For me it symbolizes my love and honor for my father.

Because it had been extremely rainy all week I asked my daughter-in-law to help me find my good umbrella. The sun was out, but I wanted to ensure that it would stay out. It turned out that it was a wonderful day for a drive and to wander around Tahoma National Cemetery. With my girlfriends directions we found first her father’s grave and then her brothers. People are buried in the order they arrive at Tahoma. Spouses can be buried together, but there are no “family plots.” After we had placed our flowers and taken pictures we walked to the flag area where there were formal ceremonies going on. When a cloud obscured the sun and the ceremonies were winding down we moved toward the car.

On our way out of the cemetery we stopped and paid our respects to Dave’s friend from the FAA, Chris Beal. Chris emigrated from England right out of school and joined the U.S. Army. He went to Vietnam because he wanted to really feel like he was giving to his new home country. He became a citizen and stayed in the Army to retirement. After the military he went to work for the FAA from which he also retired before his death in 2007.

Back in Tacoma we went out for a late lunch in Old Towne. The ladies went to the Hawthorn Tearoom and the fellas across the street to the Spar for fish and chips. Our timing was perfect in that we all finished at the same time and the weather was deteriorating by the time we got in the car to head home to Gig Harbor. It was satisfying to have participated in the ritual of taking flowers to soldiers and to remember my father, even if he is buried so far away. I still have some of my father’s ashes that I’d intended to take to Pearl Harbor, but am now thinking of asking the VA if we can put them at Tahoma. Then his family would have someplace closer at hand to go for Veteran’s Days.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Day of the Dead

This post is a week late. My excuse is that we’ve all been under the weather to a greater or lesser degree in our house and actually it was a little more than a week ago that I began to feel punk. Better late than never, my mother always says so here goes.

On the 1st of November the children, grandbabies and I attended the Tacoma Art Museum’s “Day of the Dead” exhibit. Left to my own devices I probably would have stayed home and might have been the better for it, but my oldest son Joshua had a painting that was part of one of the altars in the exhibit and it being a sunny Sunday after Halloween I felt that as a mother and someone who truly feels the nearness of the dead at this time of year I met Josh and his family at their home in Tacoma and we drove to the park and ride where we rode the little train to the museum. It would have been easier to park at the museum, but five-year-old granddaughter Linda wanted to ride the train and since it was free we decided to indulge her. Frank & Ana brought five-year-old Gabriel in their own car and parked at the museum. Although they had to pay for parking, the entrance was free that day so it made up for the parking.

In the lobby of the Tacoma Art Museum was a bright sand painting welcoming us and the dead who were being honored. The Day of the Dead is a largely Hispanic practice, but after attending the exhibition daughter-in-law Ana and I have decided that it will become our family practice as well.

Upstairs were the altars. Some were created by individual artists, some by groups including school classes. As we walked around looking at the imaginative things on the altars, most decorated with marigolds, the traditional flow for the Day of the Dead. Each altar was as individual as the person for whom it was created. The artist who had created the one that Josh’s painting of a skull was incorporated into had placed many, many corks on it as well as an empty beer bottle. We concluded that her grandfather was fond of drink, but his picture in uniform from WWII was respectfully displayed in the middle. There was no judgment.

Besides the display of altars there were activities. Granddaughter Linda first wanted to get her face painted while the rest of us waited in line to decorate sugar skulls. Children and adults alike enjoyed creating colorful sugar skulls to take home. Another room was given over to the making of tissue paper flowers which the children enjoyed.

Downstairs in a small performance room dancers and bands performed. Being a small room there was not room for all those who would have liked to see the performances. The babies sat on adult shoulders and got to see some of it, but when the press of the crowd became too much we all wandered off to look at other museum exhibits.

The day was a great success. My high school art teacher son got ideas for next year and his Clover Park students and Ana and I came away with ideas for an altar in our home next year. To have the opportunity to go to the museum for free and to experience the Day of the Dead exhibition was wonderful. I highly recommend that more people take advantage of the gift Tacoma Art Museum give to citizens by making this event (and others) free.

Two tired museum goers ride the train back to the park and ride.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The massacre at Ft. Hood is tragic and possibly a demonstration of how difficult it is to live up the ideals of our founding fathers as outlined in the Constitution and to which we aspire. There is no possible justification for the actions of Nidal Hasan and one could strongly make a case for people with personality disorders being draw to the psychiatric and psychologically professions, but there is something in American society that disenfranchises citizens who are not of Northern European dissent.

With the exception of the Native American population we are a nation of immigrants. Some families have been here for more than 400 years, some, like Hasan’s, since the 1950s, some since the Vietnam War and many we are “welcoming,” with more or less success, as a result of the wars the United States is currently embroiled in. Unfortunately there is an element in this country that because they descend from that Northern European stock thinks that other immigrants, legal and illegal, is changing the fabric of the United States. That’s true, but it doesn’t follow that the change is bad. If we aspire to be the land of equality and opportunity we surely ought not to be the land of stagnation. Each person who comes here with aspirations of bettering themselves not only are following in the footsteps of those who arrived on the Godspeed or the Mayflower, but bring with them new colors and traditions to enrich what is already here.

There are cries from some quarters to “take back the country” meaning roll back the clock to the 1950s or farther where only certain people enjoyed the freedoms of the Constitution. Instead, it is the liberal minded people who need to rally for taking back the ideals upon which this country was founded and be having tea parties of their own demanding that every citizen be given a fair shake at pursuing happiness in health.

During WWII the United States Government rounded up Americans of Japanese decent and put them in concentration camps for the duration of the war. One of the few tickets out was for men to join the Army as part of the 442nd, the mostly highly decorated unit in American military history, all the while their parents, wives, sisters, nieces and nephews were living through one of the country’s most shameful episodes. Following 9-11 I feared that the hysteria over people of Middle Eastern decent would cause the Bush Administration to do something similar. My own fear was personal since my youngest son is of Persian decent. Fortunately Bush kept his concentration camp small and located on the Island of Cuba.

The American media are not guiltless in perpetuating stereotypes of people who don’t fit the European model. For years Hollywood used Italian Americans to play grunting American Indians or even more ridiculously blue eyed Jeff Chandler who played no only Cochise, but Jesus as well. Even if you suspend your disbelief to swallow the notion that there was a time in this country when whites believed that all the Indians were gone, I have no clue where Hollywood thought the Jews had got to since many of them were heads of studios. Since they were still being excluded from country clubs maybe those movie moguls thought it better not to rock that boat. Now we have a new movie, Prince of Persia, based on the video game of the same name. Who has Hollywood cast as the prince? A Swede. Go figure. Persians have a hard enough time getting Americans to understand that they aren't Arabs. Now they have this whole Swede thing to deal with.

Unfortunately, much of the bleating masses in this country get their history and cultural lessons from movies and television including the faux news on FOX. Those entities have the power to shape American opinion even if they claim only to entertain and can do more to damage the American aspiration to live up to the ideals of freedom, democracy, equality, opportunity and rights.

As the two American holidays of Veteran's Day and Thanksgving draw near, it is up to ever right minded American to do whatever they can to ameliorate injustice where they find it and pray that there is no backlash from this most recent tragedy in Texas.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Working for the Ideals

Yesterday my husband Dave and I chose to spend part of Halloween standing on a street corner in Tacoma, demonstrating for equal rights for all citizens. Those who put Initiative 71 before the people sought to over-turn the State of Washington’s “everything, but marriage, law” passed last year. Just when it seemed that Washington had struck a blow for fairness and enlightenment, the unenlightened Born Again Hypocrites in the state thought that they’d make and end-run around equality.

What drew us out despite our overwhelming belief that 71 will pass was the experience last weekend of a coworker who had demonstrated in front of Border’s Books on 38th in Tacoma. He was verbally abused by a church group demonstrating to reject the initiative. The story made its way around the local Facebook community and another rally was born. We were all excited when Dave decided to go across the street and stand with the Reject group. He left when they brought out a bull horn, but the Tacoma Police Department made them put it away.

Dave and I fail to see how allowing committed couples to make decisions about end of life issues, inheritance, and benefits impacts their lives. If anything, we see it as strengthening of the entire community of Americans. We also honor every American’s right to an opinion and free speech so we were respectful of the Slavic church group who showed up with their “one man, one woman, protect the children,” but really can’t understand how Initiative 71 is damaging to anyone’s children or marriage, especially since it has nothing to do with marriage. Of course they had the “slippery slope” theory which also doesn’t hold water since the fact that the heterosexual couple down the street gets a divorce or our homosexual friends are allowed to marry, impacts our marriage not in the least.

One of the beauties of American democracy is not only the right to free speech, but freedom of religion which means that no one can force their religious values down the throat of any other citizen. The Declaration of Independence was about the ideals of equality, opportunity, liberty, rights and democracy. We did not begin as a nation adhering to all of these ideals for every citizen, but we are an ever evolving society, seeking to make the dream come true for everyone.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Poet's Hart

Drum roll please! It is with a great deal of pleasure that I bring to you dear reader a wonderful new blog The Poet’s Hart featuring the poetry of my dear blognian Lorraine Hart. Lorraine is a poetess, wise woman, photographer, writer, singer/song writer, expat-Brit who lives out on Key Peninsula at Home in Northwest Washington. I would like to add that she is my treasured friend. Check out her stuff!

Pumpkin Caving

Monday was pumpkin carving night for our family. First we needed pumpkins so GrandDave took Grandson Gabriel and his Aunt Amy to Patterson’s Fruit & Vegetable stand to pick out pumpkins. It would have been cheaper for GrandDave to go to Fred Meyer, but that doesn’t have the cache of something closer to the farmer and Amy loves Patterson’s. She keeps track of the turning of the seasons by the state of this Gig Harbor institution. She knows they will close after Halloween until the day after Thanksgiving when they will open with Christmas trees and a Santa waving from the corner on weekends.

Had either Gabriel’s mother or Amy’s mother been the one taking them to get pumpkins there wouldn’t have been the tonnage that GrandDave took away from the stand, but we were grateful that he was off from work and could be in charge. Amy & Gabriel thought that everyone in the family needed their own personal pumpkin and that bigger was better. After they’d picked out huge ones and GrandDave had loaded them into the trunk of the car they celebrated with sandwiches at Subway and movies from Hollywood Video.

The actual pumpkin carving occurred at Josh & Jamie’s house in Tacoma following Gabriel’s and cousin Linda’s gymnastics classes. There plastic garbage bags were cut open and spread and the carving begun. We only got three carved, one for each grandchild, before we sat down to a wonderful supper of curried chicken and rice and salad. GrandDave escaped actual carving that night by keeping baby Lydia out of the pumpkin goo since everything she comes in contact with goes into her mouth, but he’s been working on getting the rest of the gourds carved. The clock says he’d better hurry!

Last night the elementary school near our home did “trunk or treat.” When my youngest was in elementary school they had a Halloween carnival put on by the students and parents. The Born Again Hypocrites have since pressured the school into ending this tradition so since we are a somewhat rural area where trick or treating can be a dark and dicey proposition some of the parents willing to brave the invocation of Satan came up with the “trunk or treat” that just doesn’t do it for us. Parading around a parking lot isn’t the same as going house to house. It may be less mess than the carnival, but isn’t as much fun. We are opting instead to go to Tacoma to the Proctor District where there are neighborhoods with real sidewalks and where they close a business district street just so the little ones can have a safe, yet fun Halloween experience.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Art Imitating Life

Since it began in January 2005, my husband and I have been fans of “Medium” starring Patricia Arquette who plays Alison Dubois, a profiler with the Phoenix police department who’s ESP and dreams help solve mostly murder cases. It wasn’t until Dave and I were perusing through Half Price Books that I discovered that Alison Dubois, her husband Joe and their three children are real people.

Being something of a fan of what some folks would call “whoo, whoo,” naturally I had to buy Don’t Kiss Them Goodbye, Dubois’ book about her talent and work helping law enforcement as well as acting as a medium between people and their loved ones who have passed on. Besides, it’s the perfect time of year to be reading about someone who claims the ability to communicate with the dead.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Remembering the Roots of Halloween

Among the many egregious things the Christian Right has attempted to do is to eliminate the celebration of Halloween from public schools and public life. Chances are that every one of these so-called good Christian folks trick or treated themselves as children. This anti-Halloween movement seems to have begun to get noticed in the late 1990s when the rumors that Halloween was a Satanic holiday began to circulate.

It is true that like most of our holidays, Christian and secular, that Halloween has its roots firmly planted in the pagan past, but the association with Satan or the devil or his minions is entirely a fabricated by the Church to keep the people frightened. Our European pagan ancestors and those who practice paganism today do not even believe in the existence of the devil, much less worship him. That is not to say that there are not some disturbed people who do worship the concept of evil, but they have nothing to do with paganism or Halloween.

The celebration of Halloween in the United States is all about costumes, trick or treating, and sometimes mischief. My father told of boys tipping over outhouses and pranks of the like. What most Americans don’t realize is that Halloween or Samhain marks a sacred Celtic Day marking the end of summer and ushering in the dark half of the year. The eve refers to the day before All Souls day when the souls of those who had crossed over were honored and which the Christian Church co-opted as All Saints Day.

This ending of a season and the chance for introspection is a perfect time for transformation. The Autumn season is ideal for turning inward and examining what we would like the coming Spring and rebirth to be.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Passing By the Woods

With a tip of my hat to folks like Guy Holliday and Lady Lorraine Hart, I turn my pen to poetry because it's been three long weeks of loss.

Passng By the Woods

This afternoon
I drove past
The woods where
Peter took his life.
Left by the sign
A make-shift memorial
To someone
Who wanted
A permanent solution
To a temporary problem.
And my heart aches
For a soul gone
Too soon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Street Corner Poems on Aloha and 20th

I am always excited to share blog spot I’ve “discovered” because I love to write and I love to read so here I am again. I would like to introduce to you a retired officer and gentleman who grew up across the street from my husband and eight blocks from me in Bellevue. I was friends with his older brother, but I’m happy to catch up with little brother Guy at an interesting time of his life.

Guy is a retired captain in the U.S. Navy who lives and writes in Seattle on Capitol Hill. Another brother gave me the heads up on what he’s up to all these years later. I am always in awe of poets because I haven’t the gift. If you’d like to see what a Puget Sound neighbor is writing click here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Worst Nightmare Continues

We lost another young person at school last night. That it happens at all if far too often, but it feels like it is becoming too common. I don’t believe that there were any suicides during my 13 years of public school education, but my mother says that there was at her high school when she was a senior. Since I have worked at the high school level there have been five in ten years.

The school community and greater community mourn with the family and all ask ourselves what are we as parents, educators and a society not doing to prepare our children to live this life? The deaths have cut across economic, academic and social groups. The young man we just lost was not part of the disenfranchised. He was well liked, smart—in all AP classes—involved in school activities—wrestling and debate—and seemed funny and outgoing. A bit of the class clown.

But what about the under achievers who frequently self-medicate with alcohol or illegal drugs? What are we neglecting to say or do or see that would prevent any student from slipping into dispair so dark that they believed they could not climb out?

The administration at school has had to walk a knife edge, wanting to acknowledge the students’ and community’s loss without glamorizing the act itself; honoring the genuine grief of students and staff, but not setting the student body into a cycle of despair. There were tears and hugs today as the shock sunk in. What did we miss?

Choked with tears, one teacher told his class that they don’t realize how important each of them is to the staff at school and encouraged anyone dealing with seemingly insurmountable problems to talk to a friend and particularly a teacher or councilor before taking a step that takes those who love them with them.

If burying a child is my greatest nightmare, having the death be at their own hand would be even more devastating. It would be a temptation to give myself the luxury of slipping into madness. My heart aches for the family.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mystery Aboard the Tippecanoe

This story was previously published on the Tacoma News Tribune blogspot "In Your Neighborhood." It is my father’s story and I believe it to be true although so far I’ve not been able to verify the incident that occurred on the U.S.S. Tippecanoe when my father sailed on her from San Diego. Although my father liked a good joke as much as the next person and maybe more, I believe that he was deadly serious when he told this story. Deadly. It would have made a good story for the old "Lights Out" radio program so turn off the lights and enjoy a scary story to tell in the dark.

My father was eighteen, in the Navy and stationed in San Diego that January of 1941. He had been ordered to report aboard the USS Tippecanoe for transport with Patrol Wing One. Dad would be joining his 20 year old brother whom he'd followed into the Navy. Life in San Diego had been vastly different from the hills of the Missouri Ozarks for the brothers. My father anticipated his assignment as an adventure. He didn’t realize the trip there would be an adventure in itself.

The young men of Patrol Wing One, fresh from basic, were greeted by a surly coxswain in a motor mac from the U.S.S. Tippecanoe, when they in their spanking whites a contrast to the grubby boat and crew, who snarled, “Airdales,” and an expletive, the Naval Air Corps not being seen as real Navy by sailors stationed aboard a ship.

My father tried to ask the coxswain what sort of ship the Tippecanoe was. “You’ll find out soon enough, Mac. She’s a rusty old bucket and the crew is a bunch of goof-offs! I think they moored her out on Point Loma so she don’t clutter up their nice clean harbor!”

The Tippecanoe was an oiler of pre World War I vintage and the dreariest old bucket in the Navy fleets of auxiliary and support ships. The seamen were disappointed that they would not be sailing with a more stately ship.

Instead of taking my father and his crew mates to the pier where the Tippecanoe was moored, the coxswain laid the whaleboat alongside the platform at the foot of the steep sea accommodation ladder where the motor mac tossed their bags with a bow hook. Not an auspicious beginning. The men had a difficult time negotiating the ladder carrying their heavy sea bags with hammocks lashed around them.

Once they had achieved the main deck and had properly saluted the colors aft and the officer of the deck, a burly CPO identified himself as the boson, Larzenarski who took their orders. He left them sitting on the cofferdams in the hot San Diego sun for more than thirty minutes before a seaman appeared and led them to their quarters.

Just as they were laying out their hammocks and horsehair mattresses on the steel bunk frames, Chief Larzenarski came down the steep entry ladder. His weathered round face was set in a perpetual scowl.

“Listen up, you people,” he growled. “You goddam airdales ain’t in for no pleasure cruise. You are temporary ship’s company of the Tipsoo assigned to the deck division of which I happen to be the chief.

“Your division officer is Lieutenant Williams who is one mean s.o.b. that goes strictly by the book. Watch, Quarter, and Station Bill is posted on the bulletin board aft by the mess compartment. Check it out.

“Uniform of the day is dungarees unless otherwise posted so get out them whites before evening chow. As long as you are aboard, you are in the working Navy.!”

It was 1600 hours, the end of the work day so Dad and his mates changed into dungarees, finished stowing their gear and went topside. At the stern they found the mess compartment and the bulletin board the CPO had mentioned and found the grim coxswain of the motor whaleboat sitting against a bulkhead stropping a wicked looking belt knife on the leather of his shoe. The name stenciled on his blue dungaree shirt was “Sullivan” and there was the badge of a second class petty officer in stencil on his left sleeve. Dad dropped down beside him.

“Hi, Sullivan. Some ship.”

The coxswain eyed Dad piercingly, but some of the antagonism went out of his sour face. “Yeah, some ship! This here old bucket just been reactivated from the reserve fleet. Standard Oil had her. She’s a pile of junk and you’ll find out most of the crew are either the dregs of the Navy or are reserves. Only thing worse than an airdale is a reserve!”

“Chief Larzenarski doesn’t seem very friendly,” Dad observed ignoring the affront.
Sullivan snorted bitterly, “Friendly! Bastard is the meanest sonabitch on the ship. Wasn’t for him, I could make chief and be the boson’s mate myself. I was first class and he got me busted! Ten years I got in this canoe club and he gets me busted for bringing a little booze aboard. I’d like to see the sonabitch go over the side some dark night!”

Sullivan tested the sharp edge of the knife by shaving some hairs from his forearm while Dad said, “Larzenarski says Lt. Williams is a mean s.o.b. How about that?”

The coxswain sheathed the knife.

“He is and he ain’t. Regular Navy ring pounder out of Annapolis, but he must have fouled up somewhere or he wouldn’t be on this old scow. Yeoman says he been passed over once for promotion to lieutenant commander. Hard man and Navy regs is his bible, but he don’t seem to have many friends. He’s the ship’s first lieutenant and division officer of the deck gang. He’ll ride the hell out of you just like Larzenarski and you won’t like him, but you gotta respect him.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the P.A. system. The boson’s pipe shrilled and a bored voice said, “Now hear this. Chow down.”

The next day Patrol Wing One found out that the Tippecanoe would not sail for two more weeks. In the meantime the ship would be subjected to an admiral’s inspection. To make the old ship ready, both Lt. Williams and Chief Larzenarski drove the men unmercifully. Paint parties went over the side to scrape the worst rust spots, coat them with red lead, then apply a fresh coat of navy grey. Everyone scraped and painted the ship from bow to stern except for the brass. “If it moves, salute it. If it don’t move, paint it!” became the rule. And all the brass was polished.

By the time of the admiral’s inspection came the transformation of the old ship was amazing. Decks, bulkheads, and side plates were resplendent in fresh grey paint. Every bit of brass gleamed in the sunlight. Quarters and all other below deck decks spaces had been scrubbed and painted. The ancient brass washbasin in the head gleamed like gold. When the inspection party was piped aboard, the entire crew had been mustered in immaculate white uniforms and shined dress shoes. At that moment Dad was proud of the old Tippecanoe.

Two days after inspection the Tippecanoe’s engines rumbled into life and the P.A. system blared, “Now hear this. All hands, man your special sea details

Dad had been assigned to the first crow’s nest watch on the high foremast so he scrambled up the seventy feet of steel rungs welded to the foremast to the small, waist-high metal can that was the foremast lookout.

Below, the ship’s crew not assigned to sea details manned the rails in non-dress whites. The mooring hawsers splashed into the water and with a “whoop, whoop” of the ship’s horn and a blast from the sire, Tippecanoe backed away from the pier, where a few wives and children waved, and headed to sea.

On February 13th they put in at Long Beach, CA to take aboard a full load of fuel oil. The next day they sailed for San Francisco where they arrived three days later where they got no liberty. Dad had to be content with looking at the lights of the Barbary Coast and gaping upward as the Tippecanoe slipped beneath the main span of the Golden Gate Bridge. They came upon a tug and barge waiting for the ship and the tug transferred the tow line of the barge to the Tippecanoe. Now they had a barge in tow.

Three days out of San Francisco they ran into a wicked gale that they later found out was one of the worst in that area in three or four years.

That third evening out the sky was leaden at sunset and the ocean was dark grey with a froth of whitecaps and spume from a wind that came off the port bow. The horizon was indistinct. The dark grey of the clouds simply merged somewhere into the darker grey of the angry ocean. Neither was there a sunset glow to fit the old saying, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.” Dad figured there must have been a blazing sky that morning as the wind was rising rapidly to gale force. Even with the stabilizing influence of the tow, the ship was rolling and pitching so that they had to sleep with a grip on the bunk rails and their toes hooked on the bottom rail.

Dad had barely gotten to sleep when the watch petty officer woke him. He had the twelve to two watch on the port wing of the bridge. The watch petty officer warned him to wear his peacoat and watch cap as it was cold and wet topside.

When Dad emerged from the foc’sul hatch he found the watch P.P. was right. It was raining and the wind buffeted him as he struggled through the blackness along the catwalk above the main deck over which green water was breaking in the dark. Rain drops and salt spray stung his face in the fifty-knot wind. The whitecaps towered well above Dad’s head from the catwalk level as the heavily laden Tippecanoe slugged her way through the mountainous waves.

Dad reached the bridge at 23:50, ten minutes before eight bells when the watch would change so he ducked into the dimly-lit bridge before relieving his man on the exposed port bridge wing. He looked at the chart spread on the navigator’s table at the rear of the bridge and was impressed by the ferocity of the wind. The line of their course was actually going backward because of the wind. With the drag of the towed barge, they’d lost ground for six or eight hours.

Dad reported to the watch officer and began his watch amidst the wind and rain of the gale.
The two hours of his watch were interminable and miserable. In the wind-whipped blackness Dad was pelted by rain and spray from the waves that broke level with the bridge and the bridge was forty feet above the waterline. Other than the red running light, Dad cold see nothing but blackness abeam and could barely make out the bow of the ship. Every thirty minutes, as required by regulations and custom, he reported to the watch officer, “Nothing in sight. Port running light burning bright, sir.”

Sometime during the first hour of his watch Dad saw a dim figure moving along the catwalk. The individual was wearing the hat of a chief petty officer with the visor strap under his chin against the wind. It was apparently Larzenarski on a round of inspection of the decks, but he did not come to the bridge and Dad could not be sure. The figure went out of sight in the darkness toward the stern. Dad thought for a minute that he saw someone else move back there, but in the driving rain and spray it could well have been an illusion.

The next morning the weather had cleared a bit, but the wind was still at gale force. Green water was still breaking over the main deck and, periodically, over the fantail that was held down by the tow hawser to the heavy barge. The deck division was told to stand by for muster in the mess compartment instead of on deck.

Chief Larzenarski did not show for muster. It was held by Sullivan. Afterward, scuttlebutt was that Larzenarski was missing. A search of the entire pitching, rolling ship was made and no trace of the abrasive CPO could be found. Dad found himself remembering the figure in a chief’s hat that he’d seen on the catwalk during his watch and presumed that he had gone down to the fantail to check the tow cable and was swept overboard.

Dad was still wondering if he should report what he had seen when the stern and very disliked division officer, Lt. Williams, appeared in the mess compartment. The men came to attention and, after he had told them to stand easy, he said, “Men, the tow cable is chafing and needs to be lengthened. I need four volunteers to go to the fantail with me and do the job.”

There was a prolonged silence. The men of the regular ship’s company simply looked down at their hands. Dad noticed that the officer was wearing dungarees and he had said “go down to the fantail with me.” Even though the word was “never volunteer for anything” Dad suddenly blurted out, “I’ll go, sir.”

Another member of Dad’s unit volunteered and not to be outdone by airdales, two of the ship’s company rose. Dad was surprised that one of them was Sullivan. Dad kicked off his shoes and stripped off his socks because he felt that he would have better traction barefoot. The lieutenant led them out onto the wave-washed fantail.

The fantail was clear except that every fifth or sixth wave was large enough to crash green water over the deck. When the big waves came all the men could do was hang on with both hands until the water subsided. Dad found himself next to the officer as they struggled with the heavy wire cable.

When the water subsided Dad realized that the lieutenant was no longer beside him. He had lost his hold on the cable and was hanging half over the scuppers holding the bottom chain of the lifelines with one hand. Dad believed that another wave cold take the lieutenant over the side so he let go of the tow cable and lunged for the lifelines. Dad caught the upper cable with his left hand and held out his right to the officer. Williams seized it with his free hand and, as the ship rolled back to port, dragged himself back aboard. Without a word the lieutenant checked that the cable stopper was secure and led the men back to the shelter of the mess compartment. There he said, “Well done, men.” Then turning to Dad he said, “Get some dry clothes, Frieze, and see me in the wardroom in fifteen minutes.”

When Lt. Williams had gone in a low voice Sullivan said to Dad, “Goddam, airdale, whyn’t you let that bastard go—we’d have been rid of him and Larzenarski both!”

Clearly Sullivan was pleased about Larzenarski’s disappearance and would like to have Williams thrown into the bargain.

Officer’s country was strange to Dad so he rather timorously made his way to the ward room amidships after getting some dry dungarees and a clean white hat. The lieutenant, hair still wet and a towel about his neck, was sitting alone at one of the tables.

“Help yourself to a cup of coffee, sailor,” he told Dad. “You earned it. And sit down a minute.”

Dad thought it sounded more like an order than an offer so he drew coffee into a china cup and sat on the edge of the chair opposite the lieutenant who eyed Dad a minute.

“Just wanted to say thank you, Frieze. There are probably men on this ship that would not have offered me a hand. I am fully aware that many of the men think I’m a mean s.o.b.”

Dad was embarrassed and could feel his ears and face getting red. Remember, he was just a kid.
“Wasn’t anything, Sir. I reckon you could have made it by yourself.”

“Probably so, but you did offer me a hand without waiting to see.”

Dad was at a loss and stammered “Well, uh, I didn’t know how soon the next big wave might come along. Ain’t as if I saved your life or something.”

“Right,” the officer said briskly, “and you’re not going to get a medal or anything but I will see that there is a note of commendation in your service record.”

Lt. Williams looked down at a paper on the table that was the watch list from the previous night and changed the subject, “You had the twelve to two on the wing of the bridge last night.”

“Yes sir.”

“You know that Chief Larzenarski is missing, apparently overboard during the storm. Di you see anything on deck during your watch?”

A sort of montage flashed into Dad’s mind—the dim figure in a chief’s hat on the catwalk going aft, what could have been the shadow of another man back there, and the gleam in Sullivan’s eyes when he told them at muster that the hated CPO was missing. Dad also recalled the way Sullivan had cursed the CPO the first day his crew came aboard, but he knew he should not attest to anything of which he was not totally sure.

“Well, sir, yes. Sometime around 0100 or thereabouts I saw someone who I think was wearing a chief’s hat going along the catwalk from the bridge aft toward the stern. That’s all I saw. It was dang dark out there. I figured it was the chief checking the decks.”

“No one else?” the lieutenant asked.

“Not that I could swear to—too dark and too many shadows. Couldn’t see good through the rain and spray,” Dad told him.

Lt. Williams dismissed Dad and the ship’s log recorded that Chief Boatswains Mate Larzenarski was apparently lost overboard while carrying out his duties on the ship. For the rest of his life Dad wondered about Coxswain Sullivan and his knife. After Larzenarski’s disappearance, Sullivan’s first class rate was restored and, being the ranking petty officer in the deck division, he was made acting CPO for the rest of the voyage. Every time Dad looked at him he wondered if Sullivan had been responsible for it.

On March 2nd they sighted land on the far horizon. By muster at 0700 the next morning a grey Navy tug met them and just after noon on Dad’s 19th birthday. It was March 3rd, 1941 as the Tippecanoe steamed through the anti-submarine net at the entrance to Pearl Harbor, the Territory of Hawaii.