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.