Monday, October 10, 2011

My Sister the Chicken

Jeanne C Hardy was an amazingly unique person.  Yes, she would have been proud to be remembered as a chicken. She paraded through town that way, as a matter of fact. She clucked down the main street of her small town purposefully one summer, marketing her newsletter and her many other writings. She put together the costume, prepped her handouts, then laughed when a neighbor dressed up as a rooster and chased her down the parade route.

Jeanne was a professional writer. She did everything she could think of to support her passion. She made her living from writing, although it didn’t make her rich. She lived her life with such amazing energy, creating truly rich story after story. She hit on the concept of group journalism in the ‘80’s..... She created a newsletter called The Spotted Chicken Report and solicited memberships instead of subscriptions. Members were a part of her marketing plan. They sent in items to publish, from all over the country, and publish them, Jeanne did. She was interested in her members and shared news about them in the letter. She celebrated their victories and raved about their accomplishments. She ended with a personal piece. Over and over, the readers would say, “when I get my “Chicken” in the mail, I sit down immediately and read it. It makes me feel wonderful.”  Not “the chicken,” but “my chicken.”  I felt that way too, and opened them eagerly.  I was every bit as thrilled as any member when she put in a bit about me.

What was it that attracted people to her writing?  Well, it was simple and personal and funny. She had a sense of humor that glorified common experiences so they became poetic and important. Everyday occurrences, well there was no such thing. Every event, or nearly so, was food for fond elaboration.  She loved a funny story, and found them hidden where no one else could see. Her simple theme mesmerized folks living in a complicated world. She was not a country hick, she had been born and raised in a large city. She was earthy and practical, honest and good spirited.

The motto of the Spotted Chicken Society was No Chick Kicking. The intent was to save the world, one spotted chicken at a time. What is a spotted chicken? was the question.  A spotted chicken is any chicken that has been observed, she answered.  Of course it was kindness she was peddling.  She wrote and quoted articles, recipes, quips and poetry that followed that theme. She had Spotted Chicken Conventions for her members at her cabin in the country. She thought up activities to foster ideas on protecting Spotted Chickens. She had chicken paraphernalia up the ying yang, gifts from readers. She had more than one chicken costume.

There’s much much more to say about my writer sister and her fabulous trek through life, now after nearly 10 years without her. She died of lung cancer in 2002.  (She said she thought that was a good year to die.  Even, balanced. The digits kind of looked like a bra, fostering her feminist inclinations.)  I miss her all the time. Her odd viewpoint, her interest in every possible subject, her resourcefulness, her intelligence, her love for her 4 sons and her granddaughters. Her interest in every relative and each and every person she met. But mostly I miss her love.  Her great endless capacity to love.  I don’t have to feel selfish in that yearning, for I know that others are missing her too, still.  The world is just a bit cooler without her wacky, heart warming chicken perspective.  Fill her shoes?  Never. Conjure up her wit? Nope. Impossible.  Love her and miss her? Yes.  That’s it.  Sometimes, and my family all will concur, desperately.

Orchard Memories 1986

These apple polishers and tractor driver (Tasha) searching for her hat gathered one day at the Canyon Park Orchard.  Apple maven Susan on the right was directing operations for her sister in law Barbara and niece Holly in rubbing the bloom off the gorgeous orbs.  The farm held 5 acres of apples, two houses and a large pond in front of which sat the apple stand where customers bought from the selection of 37 varieties of apples from 2000 dwarf trees. The action was quick and constant. Apples were harvested, sorted, polished, boxed, labeled. Earlier in the year there was much ado about pollinating, fertilizing, mowing, thinning, watching the weather. The first row of trees was right outside Susan’s kitchen window and the beautiful apple blossoms filled her whole view........

 The whole apple production process was great for kids and visitors who only got a glimpse of the incredible work it took to take care of 2000 apple trees that produced giant, crisp apples. Selling season was very quick in October. Boxes of apples flew off the hill into the hands of waiting customers.  In the beginning both farmers Susan and Tom worked outside jobs to help support the fledgling business. The work was hard and wearing but they loved it.  They loved seeing the fruits of their labors! The unusual varieties of apples attracted the attention of scientists and media and they had more than one story done on their operation.

Making apple cider was an October celebration. The honey from the bee hives was delicious. Tractor rides for the kids was a regular feature, and 25 years later, new grandsons get the privilege. The orchard is gone, pulled down by the problem of apple maggots, and the trees rotted in piles and are now only a memory, and part of the earth.  A pretty pasture and vegetable garden anchor the hillside.  Two weddings were conducted there. Little kids still run through the property which farmer Tom has rigged with places for pushing toy dump trucks through dirt pathways, a fort in a wagon with a pulley and basket, a swing on a stage that has held musicians and diners.  The farmer couple like to sit on their wide front porch, in a house constructed so many years ago by their nephews, and watch the vines creep up one tree and across to the others, making a quiet, secluded place for contemplating life and its surprises.

A Quick Primer on the Basics of Our Rights

The American Constitution:  the 1st Amendment from the Bill of Rights: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Thomas Jefferson said: Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, [the people, in the 1st Amendment,] declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.  

He also said: ... no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

The original Constitution,  Article 6, at the end of the third clause: ....but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

When the Constitution was written, the individual states were writing their constitutions too, and included references to freedom of religion.  The men had lots of different takes on the subject.  The Declaration  of the Independence for the country says: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Some Empowering Inspiration....?

When soldiers opened fire on a crowd that was taunting them over government tyranny, five men were killed. This became known in the press and forever as The Boston Massacre.  It was 1770.  John Adams, a lawyer fighting for American independence, defended the British soldiers, at great peril to the success of his own career.  The only American lawyer willing to take the case, he said he was firm in the belief that no man in a free country should be denied the right to counsel and a fair trial. He was convinced, on principle, that the case was of utmost importance.  He would be hazarding his hard earned reputation, and in his words, “incurring a clamor and popular suspicions and prejudices.”

David McCollough wrote the above in John Adams, Simon and Shuster, 2001. ........ I often wonder about the principles that led to our American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, since I read such a wide variety of opinion about how our Constitution was formed, and about our current loyalties to that document. McCollough has unearthed detailed information about the original ideals, through the writings and letters of John Adams, who later became our second President, 1797-1801. It appears that much of the dignified, respectful resolutions toward freedom and individual liberties came from John Adams.  At least, he was best equipped and disposed to collect the ideas and write it all down.  But the thinking on the Boston “Massacre” was his own. The words compel, given the current growth of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Protesting crowds, however high the intentions, can lead to violence.  Much depends on the police:

John Adams: “We have entertained a great variety of phrases to avoid calling this sort of people a mob. Some call them shavers, some call them geniuses. The plain English is, gentlemen, [it was] most probably a motley rabble of saucy boys, Negroes and mulattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jacktars. And why should we scruple to call such a people a mob, I can’t conceive, unless the name is too respectable for them. The sun is not about to stand still or go out, nor the rivers to dry up because there was a mob in Boston on the 5th of March that attacked a party of soldiers…Soldiers quartered in a populous town will always occasion two mobs where they prevent one. They are wretched conservators of the peace.”

He described how the shrieking “rabble” pelted the soldiers with snowballs, oyster shells, sticks, “every species of rubbish,” as a cry went up to “Kill them! Kill them!” One soldier had been knocked down with a club then hit again as soon as he could rise. “Do you expect he should behave like a stoic philosopher, lost in apathy?” Adams asked. Self-defense was the primary canon of the law of nature. Better that many guilty persons escape unpunished than one innocent person should be punished. “The reason is, because it’s of more importance to community, that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt should be punished.”  (To me, this translates to innocent til proven guilty and if there’s a doubt let them go. So why are our prisons so full?)

“Facts are stubborn things,” John Adams told the jury, “and whatever may be our wishes, our inclination, or the dictums of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”  The jury remained out two and a half hours. Of the eight soldiers, six were acquitted and two found guilty of manslaughter, for which they were branded on their thumbs.  John Adams later said the defense was “one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered my country.”

I support the Occupy Wall Street movement. Who wouldn’t?  Federal Reserve Chairmen Ben Bernanke said "Like everyone else, I'm dissatisfied with what the economy's doing right now. They blame, with some justification, the problems in the financial sector for getting us into this mess, and they're dissatisfied with the policy response here in Washington. And at some level, I can't blame them."

My investments are shrinking with everyone else’s. But I’m not ready to hit the streets, because of the potential personal danger.  I am an old lady, not very strong. I don’t know if this is cowardice or not. Thought I’d write about it first and see what happened next.  I find the words of John Adams most inspiring and practical. They make sense.  He said: “The preservation of liberty depends upon the intellectual and moral character of the people.  As long as knowledge and virtue are diffused generally among the body of a nation, it is impossible they should be enslaved…”  That’s us, folks. Not a mob, but intelligent, moral people.  I do have a Bank of America account I can close.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Old bones and smart phones!

I have long cherished my smart phones, and before that, my PDA, for remembering tasks and schedules. I'm 68 now, and as I get ever older, my memory sometimes frustrates me. If I let a mental request set for a bit, the needed piece of information always appears, though sometimes beyond the time of usefulness.  Smart phones seem a perfect tool for older (or younger!) people when they begin to forget names and tasks. That can be embarrassing.  I love my smart phone; I refer constantly to the brain in my back pocket.  I can look up pretty much anything I need.  But there are even more advantages.

I have been reading 1776 and John Adams by David McCullough , and told son Scott how exciting it would be to see the places in Boston mentioned in the books..........  Scott called this morning and used Tango on his smart phone to show me, between conference meetings, the Boston streets as he jogged along the Freedom Trail.  I got on my laptop and looked at Google maps to follow his course. When he could give me street names, I could see his exact location on my map and give him tips to navigate. My IPhone doesn’t allow data searches while I talk, as his Droid does, but tracking him on my computer w Google maps, and talking to him on my cell phone worked fine.  I love this. The technology gets more fun all the time. My IPhone told me he was 2400 miles away, but we talked as though he were across town.  I saw the State House, Bunker Hill Monument, Paul Revere’s house.

On Scott jogged through the heart of the historical city, and came to the Atlantic Ocean. Just two days before he had been at the Pacific Ocean near his home. And now the Atlantic. It seems pretty darned remarkable to this jaded techy granny, that I could be there electronically.   My smart phone buddy keeps my grocery list and reminders for paying bills, has my schedule, the up to the minute stock market report, weather report, all my photos in gorgeous high resolution, Google maps, my IPod contents, a compass, a flashlight, a dictation app, a bar code reader, some kids’ games, Google Earth, Netflix, all my contacts, and a lot more. I can watch movies or the news on it. The images are clear and crisp.  It’s a gol-darned computer. There’s nothing missing that I can see. And when I want to look up any fact or detail about any topic, I have an Internet search app. Oh yeah, and it’s a phone.

And the kids and technology!  Oh my!  My 3 year old grandson is very well acquainted with his parents smart phones. Tech is part of his life. And this morning my grandson and I had story time via Skype and my laptop and his Mom’s laptop. He is only 3 and he knows how to stay on screen, and how to put his show and tell item within camera range.  Today, story time over, with him in CA and me in WA, we “blew” good bye kisses to each other. I’d blow at the screen and he’d “fall” off his chair, and he’d blow at the screen and I’d “fall” off mine. This worked an adequate number of times. Now what part of the brain, heretofore unaccessed in all of human experience, was awakened in us? Blowing kisses to a screen and reacting as those we were together.  Mind you, this little boy is 3!  For the granny side, I’m thinking those new tech synapses, heretofore lying dormant, will fill in the gaps for those poor fading connectors in the deep byways of my noggin. Hope so.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

October: time to work and play smart!

Little Lemon Cakes
My 401(k) just dropped thousands of dollars. (Aug-Sept 2011) I refused to look at my account until the end of September and had a wonderful birthday month!  (I’m now 68.) It was full of friends and excursions, swims in the pool, creative cooking, hosting one graduation party, sewing projects, massive room rearrangements with the help of nephew Gregg Hardy, a trip to Mt. Rainier, some overdue furniture repair, and great good life changing news from relatives and friends. The weather was calm and warm, with only mild hints of the Fall to come. I really settled into the retirement thing this month.

One major inspiration for all that energy was a birthday present from son Scott and daughter-in-law Kimberly, Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, a #1 New York Times best seller....... Gretchen’s (I feel I know her!)  writing style grabbed me and held me til I just had to get up and try some of her ideas.  In a way it’s hard to finish her book because her ideas take me away from reading her book!  Her credentials as a lawyer and published writer inspire my respect. She does not profess to be an expert, however, just a detective in finding what really brings happiness.  She tries this and then this, and takes note and proceeds. The creativity is immense and rubs off on me. And she collaborates with her readers, an attractive to me method.

Find handy baskets for storage of sewing items?  Buy a comforter on sale? Get rid of unwanted stuff? Finally get a new bicycle helmet?  These things all lead to larger projects via the energy created from simple accomplishments. And the projects and rewards are endless.

Gretchen’s discussion of the rewards of creating her blog   brings me back to mine. The effect of imagining others reading my words makes me take myself seriously, a very good thing. I don’t like being wishy washy in public and a potential observer brings me increased drive for clarity.  I come to better know my own mind. Also, as I looked around in Blogger, my blog creator, I easily experimented with a new template.  I want to make a good looking blog.  And what the heck, if it doesn’t work, I’ll try something else!

I’m poorer now, but still ok with the finances. And October is a blank slate.  The challenge of being more cost conscious in October and November will bring its own creative aspect. I intend to work and play smart!  (Read Gretchen’s book—you’ll talk like this too.)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Letters From Grampa Joe - excerpts 1972

My grandfather wrote letters to his large, extended and wide spread family for years. A retired Yakima hop farmer, he had taken up the task after my grandmother died. He used carbon copies on his typewriter.  Some came pretty faded but readable. He was faithful--every week the letter came.  Written in his 70's and 80's they are pure Grampa Joe.  Here's one:

Grampa Slavin's Family Letter  January 6, 1972

Grampa Joe's house on Slavin Road

My Dear Ones:
Family letter writing has come around again. I always feel a little closer to my family when I communicate this way. Why?  Because I feel my letter lingers longer about your homes, visiting with other dear ones about the house. I keep a copy of these family letters. In a way your could ask me the second time, just what I wrote, if you should lose the letter down the sink.

My, my--24 hours later.  1AM Sunday.  To St. Josephs for confession with Ted. Of course I did not need to go. But as long as Ted needed to go I felt it would not hurt me either. Confession is always a beautiful heart warming experience. Ted then treated me to a Sambo low calorie supper. We then drove to Uncle Tony's for one hour of talking mostly about Sister Jean's memoirs. At 8:30 evening we also visited Aunt Laura, talking about all our Grandchildren; also the changing of Sister Nun's dress styles. I found Laura and Ted old fashioned along this line. Aunt sputters over this idea, while Ted, squints his eyes, pulls his ear and drops a tear for a goodbye-yesteryear.

Ted has gone to bed 2 hours ago. I suppose cuddled under a new electric blanket. Ted told me, never to cover over an electric blanket. It felt so light and comfy. How about that? Is Ted right? Let me know. There are a few times when I do not know everything. YES?

Wind just started to blow. Light warming winds has been the last three days ---has been chasing cold blasts back north over the mountains. I hope Spokane and Plentywood will soon enjoy some of this warming weather too.

The kittens think Ted is a little queer yet. They do a little more rubbing on his pants leg now and then. In a way Ted has charmed the Kittys. Now if the Kittys can charm Ted, tomorrow, this household will be one big contented foursome. 1:30 Saturday nite. Must say goodnite, until tomorrow afternoon.

Goodness and the way we go. At 1AM Tuesday morning. Ted goes at 7pm. Monday evening. and such a pleasant 3 days we had together. We discussed probabilities, possibilities and successes and failures in Grange and basked in the glory's of its successes. As Fred Yahn, Chairman of the 1972 Annual Convention Committee said  "This turnout today at Broadway Grange Hall is fantastic. It seems like every one is anxious for June to come to show off Yakima Grangers brand of hospitality." Sure, WE pot-lucked that day at Broadway. Thanks, TED, for all the meals you treated me to at Sambos. Your coffee tasted so good at breakfasts, I couldn't put it down.

April 14, 1972

.......Here I am Tuesday, 2AM 24 hours late and off schedule. Never to catch up, never.  I know you won't mind for an 80 year old pal to be a little slow when he tells you how lost he was in happiness with Ted and Neita here to enjoy -- just 30 hours and they were gone. Back to their nest farther West.

When Ted and Neita left the house for Seattle they were stopping at Fruitvale Grange hall to a banquet honoring the State Grange Executive Committee who had spent the day familiarizing themselves  with the convention facilities........Neita had on the dress she wore at my 50 year surprise party. The dress looked delightful in its simplicity and Neita looked beautiful in the thing. No wonder I married her Mother. There is no difference between the girls, except Neita has a more talented husband. I don't envy Ted. I do wish my Anna was around too. I'll confess up. Neita has a prettier neck and shins. 2AM Better go to bed. I could talk all nite about my two Girls - Neita and Anna, and all next day about my Sunrise Montana Sweetheart in Plentywood.  (Joanne O'Toole)

Love, Your brother Joe

Oil by Joe Slavin

Thursday, May 26, 2011

I’m Retired. Go Around Me

After almost two months of not working, I still feel like I have been set free!!! I retired on April 1, 2011 after 33 years at my job. The job changed over time, but the company was the same. It was a grand place to work, serving the elders of our community, and because of the modest pay, fulfilled my need for community contribution 100% of the time. But now that is done.

I could have worked longer to bolster my nest egg, but wanted to retire and improve my health in order to still be alive to eat the egg! Well, fine. The days now are so….peaceful and satisfying. I have had outings and talks with friends and family, started classes at the Y, started writing my memoirs, enjoyed walking at whim along the creek below my condo. I have done an uptake on my appreciation for line drawing and music, the domestic arts and creative writing. I feel like a different person!

I keep wanting to pinch myself, (I don't--that would hurt) and trying to form words to describe the way in which I look at the world in such a different light. I wonder every day at my new ability to 1) not rush to the next thing, whether task or play, 2) be able to stop doing with such heartfelt relief paid work that was so much a part of who I was, 3) change course in random activities, ignoring efficiency, at a moment’s notice, 4) sleep as much as I want; the feeling of being tired all the time going away, and 5) spend little money with no problem! I don’t know how long this attitude will last. I know my activities now bring me happiness. Being busy with just the common occurance gives me energy.

Although I managed a computer department and liked the digital world very much, I also have enjoyed, over my life, the pleasures of homemaking. Studying home economics was always a treat, particularly when a link was made to the way my ancestors were domestic. Fascinating! It’s been years since I could find satisfaction in doing really excellent work. Time constraints associated with computers and probably my brain power or diminishing enthusiasm eliminated that pleasure. But homemaking is slow-making. Ahhh!

There is a fine line between resting and busy-ness to create satisfaction. I don’t have a sense of contributing to the world in the way I had imagined I did at work. But I contribute to the lives of people in my life. Maybe that has as much or more impact. So I must recognize that as contribution. Last night I watched Oprah's last show, in which she said with wonder that she could stop at Starbuck's on the way in to work and enjoy that simple pleasure. She said it twice, awed by the difference in perspective. I understood exactly what she meant.

My financial adviser says I might take a year to decompress. My daughter says that was true for her too. People ask me questions that sound to me like they worry if I’m keeping busy enough, and here’s the truth: I’m not!! How I love to go slow, and putter, and meander! Maybe later will come a craving for a faster, more productive pace, but the end of 33 plus years of marching to someone else’s drum must be bringing me this great pleasure of release. Filling my days with the imagined needed activities just seems like more insistent drumming. Now I don’t have to cut corners to meet a deadline. I can pretty much let life happen at its own pace. I have ideas bubbling gently in my head about ways to make some extra money, but for now, ahhhhh!! I am just enjoying it for what it is for as long as it lasts. (Smile)