For Me, This is Hearth and Home

bw-central-park

Central Park in November (L. Liwag)

Thanks Be To Thee

I never did learn how to make those wonderful homemade biscuits that my Aunt Ronnie used to make for Sunday dinner. In fact, my only attempt at homemade biscuits turned out to resemble something more like unleavened bread that the tribes took into the desert as they wandered for 40 years. That’s pretty much how most of my baking efforts have turned out. I’m just not much of a baker. I can cook up main dishes no problem, no recipes, just a pinch here and there, which is why it frustrates my daughter when she asks for recipes from me because I cook by smell and texture, but baking? That’s just not my forté.

The only time that I ever baked anything successfully was in the 9th grade when I had to make something for French class, and my father helped me to make boucheé, little cream puffs. My father used to be an amazing pastry chef in his heyday, which is why getting him to make anything in later years took an incredible amount of coaxing, but this was worth a grade, so he helped me, and I turned out these incredible, flaky pastries filled with a delicate cream. Of course, I was only able to do so under his guidance. Ask me to replicate such a feat today, and you would get tiny little bricks filled with something curdled. Hence, I do not bake.

Today begins the cooking for a huge dinner for Thanksgiving: turkey and all of the trimmings, which we shall cart over to my mother’s house to eat at her dining room table because my new dining room table is still in a box in my shed because my living room and dining room still haven’t undergone the planned makeover from last year. Don’t even get me started on that particular subject. To say that I am completely uninterested in this meal and its preparation is an understatement. I am leaving said preparations to my wonderful husband, and my daughter, who is trying her hand at making a turkey for the first time ever. She is learning how to make dinner one dish at a time each year. Last year, it was the homemade mashed potatoes. I give her credit for her willingness to learn.

If it were up to me, you can guess what I would be doing: hiding deftly under the covers in my bed, surrounded by the dogs, who would have no idea that today is any different from any other day, so they are perfectly content to sleep in all day with me, given half the chance. But that is not allowed, so I must put on something festive and sit at the table and try to make it through a family dinner with my mother without losing my patience or my sanity.

In anticipation of this wonderful event, I have decided to try to prepare myself mentally by doing my personal Charlie Brown list of things that I am truly thankful for in my life, having already done a list of things that I am thankful for as an American. I will put aside my cynicism, dig deeply, and promise to be honest. So once again, here is a list of things for which I am personally truly thankful:

  • My family still has a roof over its collective head. We may be three months behind in our mortgage, but we are still holding onto the house. For that, I am truly grateful. We are not living in a shelter, or our car, or in a tent city. I am not being disingenuous here. I know that today, many people will be lined up to be served the kind of meal to which we will be sitting down at a nice table to have the privilege to eat.
  • I am grateful to have my family, as dysfunctional as we all are, I love them all. I know that I talk about them as if they are crazy, but I wouldn’t trade any of them. My heart is torn all of the time in fear and worry over what will become of us, but I know that the reality is that our problems are relatively small in comparison to what many other people are facing. We have a place to live, food in our pantry, clothes to wear, cars to drive, computers to use. We have so much more than so many others. We forget that even though times are hard, they could be tremendously harder.
  • I am thankful for my health. In spite of the constant pain, it could be worse. I don’t have cancer. I don’t have some rare blood disease. I do have health insurance. Yes, it is costing a lot to maintain, but at least I have access to it.
  • I am grateful that I have ears to hear the music that I love so much, eyes to see the pictures that I love to take and share, fingers to write the words that flow from my heart and my brain.
  • I am truly thankful that somehow, I have a gift for words that allows me to sit down at this keyboard, and the words just flow, unimpeded most of the time. It may not be a gift of greatness, but I feel that it is a gift nevertheless.
  • I am happy for the few true friends that I have. I don’t think that you really get many real friends in life.  You get lots and lots of people who come in and out of your life for different reasons, but true friends, only a few. And I love and respect the ones that I have.
  • I am so glad that I reconnected with my family in Germany. I have missed them, and I am really glad that they are back in my life. Not to mention being very glad that I am still very close to the rest of my ex-family-in-law. They have been my family-in-law forever. My sister-in-law has been more like the sister I never had. I have known her since middle school, and we are still very close. I am very thankful to have that relationship and thankful that she lives to close to me. My ex-mother-in-law is still my other mother, and she too, live only two miles from me. So I am very fortunate to have extended in-laws—Corey’s family and my ex-in-laws. Sometimes, the in-law clichés are just that. I divorced my first husband, but not his family.
  • I am thankful for books. That might seem like an odd thing to some people, but I could not live without books. I must have new books to read and old books to reread. Books have kept me company since I was a very young child. At times, they have been my only solace. I don’t know how I would exist if I did not have books constantly in my life.
  • I am grateful to have this outlet in which I can express myself and ponder different things everyday. It has come to be such a big part of my life now that I do not work full time. It has made me much more disciplined about writing. If I do not write every day, I feel as if something is missing. If there is no entry posted for a day, it is probably because I have been unable to get out of bed on that day because I am feeling too spent, and then I spend the entire day feeling guilty for not writing. On those days, I really miss my laptop.
  • I am thankful to have worked on the Obama campaign. Many of you may be tired of hearing about this, but it was one of the best experiences in my life to know that I contributed in even a small way to helping a great man get elected to the highest office in this land. I only wish that I could have been more involved and done more from the beginning. And I regret that I won’t be there for the inauguration, but I think that the size of the crowd really would overwhelm me.
  • I am so glad that I completed my second master’s in Publishing. I have a real sense of accomplishment for doing that because there were times when I thought that I wouldn’t be able to go to one more class because of the long drive and the pain. But having Corey here to help me really made a difference. I just wish that I could work on a doctorate now . . . 
  • tillie-closeup
    Tillie Listens Closely
  • I am wonderfully grateful to have three great dogs. I love dogs. Most of the time, I think that dogs are better than a lot of people that I know, in large part, because dogs take the time to look at you when you are talking. Seriously. Talk to a dog, and then talk to a person. Notice which one pays more attention to you. Dogs read people’s faces, and they react to them. Cats could give a damn if you are having a bad day. My dogs have been having a really hard time lately with my crying spells. They are unaccustomed to my crying, so when I cry, they all start to talk at the same time. The smallest Jack Russell, Alfie, whines. Shakes, the horizontally tall one, tries to get me to lie down on the bed, and Tillie, the lab, starts to weave in and out of my legs. It’s hard to cry when your dogs are overreacting, which I think is the point. I love my dogs. And if Sarah McLachlan doesn’t stop with her animal shelter commercial accompanied by her song “Angel,” I may end up with six more dogs because it’s really getting to me (which is the point, I know). She’s sinister, that Sarah Mac.
  • I’m thankful to have a spouse who still loves me in spite of my best efforts to become a hermit. He brings me hot tea and massages the knots out of my back and never seems to get too exasperated with me even when I would have been exasperated long ago.
  • And finally, I’m grateful that even though this has been one of the worst years of my life, I still have my true love, my family, my dogs, my home, and my sanity (somewhat).

And on that note, I think that for now, I will close. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. There will be more later. Peace.

The Sour Milk of Human Kindness?

I freely admit that I am a curmudgeon. I am impatient with people who purport to be intelligent and then open their mouths and prove otherwise with but a few misspoken words and phrases. I detest sweeping intolerance of entire groups of people simply because of their beliefs or their sexual orientiation, and I cannot abide bigotry, racism, sexism, or someone telling me that I am going to hell because I am not of the same religious belief. All of that said, believe it or not, I can also be the best friend you have ever had and your most loyal supporter. I cry at sad movies and am completely overcome by beauty in nature.

When our boys were relatively young, we took a detour through Washington, D.C. in the evening to show them homeless people living over the subway grates to stay warm in the winter. They had never seen such a thing before, and I wanted them to know that such things existed in this, the wealthiest country in the world. I sat through Schindler’s List with my children so that they would know what horrors we have witnessed in this world, and even though we have said “never again,” I explained to them that it has happened yet again and again in places like Rwanda and Bosnia and in other corners of the world. And I told them that sometimes the world watches, and sometimes the world helps, but I had no answers as to why some people seem to matter more than others.

I have explained to my children about bullies and heartlessness and name-calling and the long-lasting effects that such things can have, and I have prayed that they would never become these people and that they would never become the victims of these people. I have warned them against becoming immune to violence by not being able to distinguish between what they see in movies and video games and on television and then what is real life as I am just as fearful as the next parent about what affect video violence is having on this generation that does not seem to feel fear.

In spite of all of this, I cannot answer my son when he asks me why there is no human decency in this world. I have no answer to such a deep question. But more telling, I have no answer as to why he would be asking me such a question at such a young age. What could possibly prompt a 16-year-old to wonder such a thing? Has my cynicism jaded him already? The ironic thing is that I do believe that their is goodness in the world. In spite of W and his war, in spite of men like Dick Cheney who have no soul, in spite of CIA-trained terrorists who have turned their training back on us, in spite of car bombs that kill and maim without a target, in spite of thousands of flag-draped coffins that have come home, in spite of anthrax and sarin gas . . . in spite of all of these abominations, I do still believe that their is goodness and kindness, and good and kind people in this world.

There are people who will offer you that four cents that you need for your bill when you are in line at the grocery store. There are people who will hold the door open for the man with the walker coming in to the bookstore. There were the people, at least 10, who stopped and asked Corey and me if we needed them to call a tow truck, when we were stopped by the side of the road when the truck broke down. I’m sure you all have some kind of similar story to tell: a neighbor who is always there to help, a total stranger who helped to push your car out of an intersection, someone who picked up your tab for coffee at Starbucks for no particular reason.

And I’m sure, you also have your own tales, personal or otherwise, about a person who was careless with someone’s feelings or indecent for no particular reason other than to be an asshole. Or maybe that person was you. I’ll share two: When I was sixteen, I was walking home from my best friend Sarah’s house, and some guy in a black Camaro came barreling down the street and flew head on into a flock of ducks. At that time, wild ducks roamed freely in my parent’s neighborhood. I watched in horror as ducks flew into the air, feathers went everywhere, and carcasses landed at my feet. The driver didn’t stop. I reacted normally for me. I started running after him, screaming at the top of my lungs. My father ran out of the house, as did several of my neighbors, including one of my friends. The driver finally stopped the car at the corner of the street, and I started pounding on his window, screaming at him. I never even thought about who he was or what he might do to me. I just demanded that he go back and clean up the dead ducks, after I told him never to drive through our neighborhood that fast again. Astonishingly, the driver apologized to me, turned his car around, and went and cleaned up the pile of dead ducks. My friend put his arm around me and walked me to my porch where my father was waiting. My whole body was shaking as anger coursed through me. I couldn’t believe that anyone could be so callous. My friend couldn’t believe I could be so angry as to not even think about what I was doing in running after a stranger’s car. My dad just took me in the house and gave me a cup of tea.

The second incident is far less dramatic, but something of which I myself am ashamed. I was in high school, and there was someone in my class who had a very pronounced overbite. One day, I turned to a friend of mine, and I said, “she is soo ugly.” My friend paused and replied, “I can’t believe that you would judge someone based on how she looks.” I’ll never forget that. She really put me in my place, and boy, did I deserve it. That girl that I was commenting on was extremely nice and had never done anything to me. Who was I to judge her, and she might have heard me. I was being just plain mean.

So getting back to the main question: Why is there no human decency in this world? Is there? I’d like to believe that there still is. I’d like to be able to show my son that yes, there is still decency in this world, in large ways and in small ways. But mostly, I would like to be able to enfold him in my arms, hold him in my lap, and shut out all of the bad things that would make him think that there is none, but I know that I cannot do that any more. He is coming into his own, and unfortunately, he has hit a rough spot that is causing him to be anxious and to feel some of the pains of this world. And this is the part of parenting that genuinely sucks because mommy kisses are no longer magic. Would that I could kiss his eyelids and make the bad images go away with his sleep as I did when he was but a baby.

Brett
Brett

Nothing prepares you for the times when you are absolutely powerless against to come between the world and your child, no many how many times you might encounter such a situation, and I hope that you never do, but if you have a child, you will. To say that I would give anything for him not to be feeling this way does not begin to embrace the helplessness I feel. To know that I have passed on to him this predisposition for melancholy (what a polite way to put it) does nothing to assuage the guilt. So I sit by and watch him closely, offer to listen, this boy/man, so much like my father, the one who holds everything deep within, the one who I must read through his eyes.

Yes, there is goodness in this world, just as there is pain. But human decency begins with the decent. That is what I want for you to understand.