Salvaging Our Future: True Resource Management

I don’t like seeing anything go to waste. Not anything. Does this stem from the stories many of us heard as kids as we sat stuck at the dinner table until we cleaned our plate because “children are starving in Africa”? Or is it wise management? Or perhaps guilt and wisdom combined. Children starving in Africa created an early awareness that resources are not infinite for everyone. Now, several years later, we’re aware that infinite resources are no longer a given for anyone anywhere.

I reuse, recycle, and recreate everywhere I can, and get great satisfaction from such efficiency. I do believe, however, that many of the young adults stepping in to take over the running of the world find this tendency quaint, old-fashioned, or just plain annoying. They are aware of basic environmental stuff, saving trees and recycling containers, but do they get that resource management just starts there?

My nephew was recently hired to film a documentary about a man who salvaged scraps from restaurants to create good meals. His mother observed, “I do this almost every night, and no one is making a documentary about me!” I do, too, and–no film crews. According to my sister-in-law, this is a hot topic, with recent articles in The Wall Street Journal about top chefs holding competitions to make meals from scraps and in the The Washington Post about using scraps, along with less than perfect agricultural specimens in support of the farmer. I love these ideas, but do the perhaps 20-something and 30-something writers and editors now in charge really see using leftovers to create another meal as a breaking new trend? Generations coming up behind me so totally immersed in having their meals, and beverages, prepared by someone else, at Chipotle or Starbucks or wherever, only to throw out the leftovers, and buy a new meal next time hunger strikes that they can’t fathom this type of efficiency and creativity? Say it isn’t so! I made a conscious decision not to follow the path of my parents’ generation, not to color my family’s dining times with bleak pictures of children starving in Africa. But now I’m thinking, maybe we all should have bleakened a meal or two by bringing the focus back to the starving children in Africa, or India or China, for that matter.

When my husband and I began to search for a home around Pittsburgh as newly-weds, we drove along the old highways south of the city past mile after mile of buildings, bricks and steel, crumbling and going to seed because there was land available in newer areas that could be developed in a flashier more contemporary way. We did not move anywhere near these wrecks, but the waste of all the resources to develop these now crumbling and abandoned structures was disheartening. The sadness pervaded the very air in these towns, and stayed with me…while I stayed far away.

We bought a house, a new one in a newly-developed area, and soon I was not driving around crumbling towns or spanking new ones; I was parenting my young son at home in my new neighborhood. As I joined with other formerly working mothers in my neighborhood for play dates with our toddlers, I began envisioning a new type of employment service, an exercise that intensified when I moved to a Boston suburb with a now school-aged son. My neighborhoods were busting with mothers professional in so many areas. Lots of work experience, multiple undergraduate degrees, masters and doctorates we were, filling up that sippy cup, or driving the carpool. We wanted to be hands-on Moms, but many of us would have also loved the mental challenge, and value, of working…not to mention the income. I dreamed of an employment service that matched parenting moms with corporations who valued their abilities and wanted them as flex-time employees or consultants.

But the problem wasn’t just lack of an infrastructure to bring the two camps together. There was no serious pervasive interest in or value placed on all this talent languishing away around the swing sets. If you had a contact from when you were working full time, you were good. Otherwise, forget it. I discovered that anything I had done or written more than 24 months ago (and the fact that it had been in different states didn’t help) didn’t matter. What had I done in the last two years? That was the only truly important fact. Really? So rather than valuing my years as a writer amassing experience, and clips, once I’m home with my child not writing every week for money for a few months, I have also forgotten everything I ever knew and lost every ability I ever had? How does this make sense?

Now someone like me is apparently an even bigger buzz kill for potential employers: I’m over fifty. I’ve got more to contribute to any organization than I did in my twenties or thirties, as do my female, and male, colleagues. Do we bring different qualities than younger counterparts? Or course we do. That’s the point. We may not be as speedy. We may not want to multi-task because we know better. We may not be as technologically savvy. But we may very well be more organized. More skilled. More able to identify a problem with more experience in solving it. More stable. More dependable. More “we” then “me”.

And how about more joyful? Some of us can work now because we want to, not because we’re worried about paying our bills or because we have to prove ourselves, but because we like what we do, we’re good at it, and we want to contribute. Lowered stress frees up a lot of energy to fire synapses. When I hear repeatedly about ageism in the workplace, employees being phased out because they are in their fifties—oh, horrors—the creative efficient resource manager in me wants to tear my hair out, again. More waste. More horrible, and unnecessary, waste.

Our best way to navigate forward, for the environment, for the economy, for our humanity, is as a multi-aged, multi-experienced team. Holistic management of all our resources, animal, vegetable, mineral? Now that’s a trend to follow…

 

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Living Beyond the Detours

In 2015, I am hoping to embrace failure. This is the path to finding my true calling, or so innumerable self-help articles proclaim.

I’ve tried to feel good about failure. I’ve talked it up to friends and family members when looking for a positive spin in an unintended, and unwelcome, situation. But unless you’re Richard Branson, or some other successful visionary innovator with plenty of successes already in line, we find it hard to get jazzed about failure.

I don’t like the word. I’d like to retire it. When Oprah interviewed Justin Timberlake for her Master Class series, he chose not to use the word. But I can’t exactly come up with a word that fits for me, only that comes close. A word along the lines of redirect. A word that means new beginning. Failure seen merely as a road sign—road closed; find another route.

I don’t mind getting help with road directions.

You’re trying to get to the oyster hatchery? WHOA! Are you going the wrong way! You needed to take that right on Turnbuckle Road about half an hour ago, right after you got on Route 9000. Now that you’re here, though, you need to…

Directions noted, with appreciation, I can step on the gas and follow the new track.

But missed turns and helpful direction aren’t so clear, or welcome, once the subject is something other than streets and mileage…

Why now? In 2015, for the failure thing? Because I’m increasingly aware of how easily protection mode takes over, how we tend to keep on the roads we’ve traveled, and more or less figured out. We’ve worked hard, raised our children, have something put away for retirement—we made it this far; we’re okay. Safe-ish. Almost secure. Now what. Keep holding on with all our might? No risks? Avoid challenges? Stay away from anything that’s not a sure bet? Okay. Is life basically over then? Just coast now to the finish line? I’m observing myself, and family and friends at my general stage in life in grand protection mode. Try that? Really? What if we fail? We don’t want to fail. We’ve worked too hard to not be failures. And we haven’t liked it when we have failed. We feel – less than.

And so, we encourage our own atrophy.

Can we break that cycle? Can we change our perspective? What if we are okay with failure? With something not going the way we’d planned? We’d hoped? Then can we try something we’ve never tried before, even if we’re not sure we’ll be good at it? We could…go after that job we really want. Go back to school. Change careers. Be that artist. Tackle that project. Start that business. Be that innovator. Follow our path. Hit a detour. Go around it. Live. Right?

So 2015, here’s to embracing failure. And living beyond the detour sign…

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The Breadwinner Wears a Bra (or Maybe She Doesn't)

When I was growing up, we didn’t know of many other families where the mother was the head of household and chief breadwinner. I can only think of one, and that was a friend, her mother and grandmother who lived together, but whose main source of income was alimony from the dad.  My mother did not choose this role; it came to her after Dad died, leaving her in charge. There was some life insurance money, but that didn’t go too far in raising six young children. In addition, our household included our grandmother, Memere, main cook and child-care provider, and my Uncle Dick, who worked at a vending machine factory and helped to support Memere. He was a couple years older than my mom, and did all the yardwork, snow removal, and transportation needs, as well as recreation guide but he was not the main decision maker in our house.

Mom, on her salary as a nurse, bought and sold two houses and a condo; many cars over the years (chiefly station wagons); paid for groceries, clothing, and all the various lessons we children undertook. She was, of course, the banker and bill payer for the family.  Pretty much all expenses, expected and unexpected, were paid for by her. On her retirement from nursing, after forty years, she told us a story I’d never heard before – that her father was reluctant to pay for her nursing school education, because “she would only get married, have children and quit”, which was true, initially. Poppy died before he saw his daughter resume her career.  I didn’t know until quite a bit later that the salary my mother made upon retirement (about $40, 000 in the early 1990’s) was the highest of any of my friend’s mothers, or pretty much any other woman I knew.

 Now, that situation has changed, dramatically. The women’s movement may have not achieved equity in all areas, but there are more women in the work place than ever, and more in charge of their financial lives at home.  Some are widows, mostly older. Of these, a fair number were not prepared for running a household on their own, and struggle with practical and financial matters. Many women are divorced, now heads of their own households. If they do get alimony and child support, they are still working jobs to cover expenses.  And a surprising number of my generation, and following, are chief breadwinners, even if their spouse is living at home, who may or may not do childcare for the family.  Most of these families, with the woman bringing home the main income, don’t live too high on the hog, and many of the women still do a lot of the household management as well.

 The upshot of all this is still playing out. I can’t help but think it’s a good thing for girls to understand all the business end of running a household, at least being capable of taking charge if needed. A question arises, did the couples of divorce split in part because the woman felt she could go it on her own, in a situation she might otherwise have stayed in in another generation?  Ever so slowly, it seems, some of the political and business leadership is changing over to women, who are clearly capable.  But I can’t help but think back to my mom’s situation, and how exhausting it was, the neverending responsibility, and I’m grateful I don’t have to contend with that as she did. I do wonder, too, if the women who are “on duty”, in charge, responsible, may have lost some of the energy needed, the “green place” of retreat, that artists need to create. That is, they have so much more direct experience in their lives, but perhaps less chance to reflect upon it and share.

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Strange Interview

Thank goodness there have been only a couple of times in my life that I have had to send out resumes and set up interviews to find a job.  One period of job searching occurred in 1980 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The reason I was living in Milwaukee and looking for a teaching position is a long story. But, suffice it to say, I had already taught elementary school for six years in the Boston public school system and found myself in Milwaukee with no job, no prospects and no connections.  So, I combed the newspaper for  teacher openings, sent out my resume and garnered a few interviews.

During this process I received a letter in the mail that I had  been granted an interview at the Indian School for a 3rd grade teaching position.  Having grown up in Ohio and then spending my post- high school years in Boston and New York, I had never actually known a Native American.  But, I needed a job and the position sounded very interesting.
I called my sister who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico – home to many many Native Americans – and picked her brain about what I might say to my interviewers about my limited experience with their community.  My sister even gave me a couple of well- known names in the Native American “world” to drop into my conversation.
On the morning of the interview I arrived at the small wooden school building surrounded by playing fields on the north side of Milwaukee.  I was  very nervous, but had nothing to lose and a lot to gain so I forged ahead.  The lady that greeted me told me that I had to wait a few minutes until they were ready for the interview to begin.  They?  I didn’t know the procedure and had no idea who They were.
After about 15 minutes I was brought into a darkened room.  The shades were drawn and the lighting was dim.  I could see two Native American men in chairs facing an empty chair obviously meant for me.  Off to the right side of the room were two more chairs with Native American women sitting in them – fast asleep.  The two women never stirred; they slept through the entire interview and were never mentioned by the men.  There was absolutely no explanation as to who these sleeping women were. The men ignored them and so did I.  Were they the wives of the two men  simply brought along for the interview, but not part of the process?  Were they also interviewers who had fallen asleep out of sheer boredom? 
The two men asked me a series of questions for about half an hour.  I told them of my education, my 6 years of teaching experience.  I explained to them that my sister was an attorney in Santa Fe and through her I had met some Native Americans.  Although total BS, I added that my sister knew this Native American and that Native American.  Of course, much of this discourse had absolutely nothing to do with me.  But, I wanted to come across as a person who believed in the goodness of all children – especially Native American children.
I was told that the interview was over rather abruptly.  I said my good-byes to the two men while averting my eyes from the two sleeping women.  I remember thinking that the room was so dark that I wouldn’t know my interviewers if I ran into them on the street.
I left the school with no hope of getting the job.  I thought that I was probably ill prepared to work with folks who thought it was all right that two women were asleep in the interview room. They probably wanted a Native American teacher – someone who really knew the community and could relate to the children better than me.  I was probably just a token white candidate and they had no intention of hiring me – thus the lack of explanation about the snoring women.
A week later I received a letter that the job was mine and I would start in 3 weeks.  
Real Estate Hint – Underground oil tanks are no longer legal.  If you still have an underground oil tank, it must be removed under full supervision of the local Fire Department before you can sell the house.  If an oil tank was removed from the property in the past you may be asked to produce the certificate from the fire department.  This may be problematic if the tank was removed 20 or 30 years ago.  If you can’t find the fire department’s certificate of compliance, check with your attorney.
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Affirmative Action for Women? A Business Loan for New You

Here we have an excerpt on the topic of women in business (in the 1980’s) or really, the impediments to starting and financing a small business, in this case a fitness center for women.  Not so long ago….  Got me wondering, if affirmative action may be of benefit to minorities who have started at a disadvantage, how about women of all kinds, at a disadvantage in the business world pretty much forever?

From: Blue Eyes In Black Wonderland  (Nora and Anita are waitresses at the Grand Marsh Inn. Anita dreams of starting her own business with a partner, Shelly, while Nora hopes to work there when it opens.)
 
     She met Anita at the end of the shift, carrying their plates into the break room, mostly deserted by the time they got there. In spite of working so hard, Nora had little appetite for the pork chops in an apricot, mushroom sauce.

            “This thing is turning into such a headache,” Anita began, after a short prayer. “But I am determined, one way or the other, that this is going to happen.  We haven’t forgotten you.  This time next month the doors will be open, I promise.”

            “So, what’s the hold up, anyway?”

            “Oh, it’s too stupid.  I can hardly even say it without getting all steamed up.  I told you about the bank loan, right?”

            Nora nodded, chewing slowly. 

            “I’ve had my savings and checking account with this bank since I was ten years old.  I have saved up quite a little sum over the years, and I have never bounced a check.  But they won’t give me credit, not on my own.  They’re saying I have to have my father co-sign the loan for me.  I’m thirty-five years old!  Ugh!”

            Her eyes were blazing. But now Nora knew how old she was, if she was telling the truth….

            “What about that other woman, Shelly?” Nora asked.

            “She’s just recently divorced and all her credit was in her husband’s name.  They said we don’t have enough credit in our own names.  She’s got to get her father to co-sign, too.  It’s humiliating, and it’s wrong.  We’re not irresponsible.  We’re….we’re mothers, for God’s sake.”  Then she blinked. “Forgive me, Lord.”

            This was all very interesting to Nora, who had little knowledge of the business world. 

            “So, will they?” she asked. “Will your dads sign the loan?”

            ‘’Well, yes they will.  But that’s beside the point.  And that’s not even the worst of it. When we take over the lease of the store at the strip mall, the landlord says he won’t meet with us unless there’s a responsible male present.  Just in case ‘we don’t understand’ what we’re doing.  It makes me so mad, I could spit. But I keep having to tell myself, ‘keep your eyes on the prize’, just do whatever has to be done to get started, and give the rest over to Jesus.”

            Nora nodded in sympathy.  If it was as difficult as this just to get started, she wondered if they really were going to be able to make it.  For a moment she sat silently, wondering about this whole thing about credit and loans. And then there was an interesting image of Jesus sitting in at the meeting about leases and fitness equipment; maybe he could be the responsible male.

            “I hope it all works out,” she said. “Just keep me informed and let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

            “Thanks, sweetie.” said Anita. “I will.”

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Thank You, Jane Austen

Another excerpt from BEBW, while I’m working on queries. This exchange between the two sisters, older and younger, comes, it appears, right out of Sense and Sensibility. That’s what happens from reading Jane Austen so intensely when I was younger. Looking back, I see how many of my themes and ideas, even characters, are borrowed from literature I’ve read, sometimes in the deep past, without really knowing it. Then I console myself that Shakespeare took a lot of his material from other sources, and so many authors have used things from the Bible and mythology. So, why not?

(Nora has left college and come to live with her older sister, Grace, a physical therapist, after a family financial crisis.)

            “Surprise!” Nora said as Grace opened the door. “I’ve got news.”

            “Oh?” Grace came into the living room, taking a seat and putting down her purse.

            “I got a job, the very first one I applied for.” Nora snapped her fingers. “Just like that, starting Wednesday. Can you believe it?”

            Grace looked dubious, and then, strangely, a little disappointed. “Well, all right then,” she said, nodding and running a hand through her short, dark hair. “So, tell me.”

            “Waitress — at the finest establishment in town, the Grand Marsh Inn.  They had an ad in the paper.” She paused. “What?” Nora said.  “What’s wrong with that?”

            “Nothing is wrong,” Grace said. “But…here’s the but.  I found something at the hospital that might be really good, too.”

            Nora said nothing, unable to imagine what it could be.

            “Medical records. There’s an opening right now. I talked to the woman in charge.  They provide training and health insurance. Plus,”and this appeared to be Grace’s ace card. “They will pay for a couple classes a semester, in anything related, business or health care. It’s pretty wide open.”

            “Oh,” said Nora, trying not to laugh; it seemed so unlikely.  “Not bad. What’s the pay?”

             “Five dollars an hour to start. Plus the benefits. You could probably move ahead quickly – you’re a quick learner.”

            Nora made a face. “Not as good waitressing!”

            “No, not right away.  But will you get insurance at the Inn?”

            “Well, no; maybe later.” Who knew about stuff like that? Who cared?

            “Then you better not end up in the hospital.”

            Medical Records?  Nora turned to look out the window at the late sun in the trees. How boring, not to mention lonely.  The picture that came to Nora’s mind was a basement room with metal shelves, no windows and artificial lights. And there she was, reaching up and an avalanche of files falling on her head.

            “Grace,” she tried again. “I understand what you’re saying. But I really want to try this waitressing job.  It seems like such an interesting place — all very elegant and high class.

Grace shifted on the sofa. “I realize Medical Records sounds pretty dull to someone like you. But it’s a good way to learn about the hospital and the health field. I could see you in Patient Services or even a Social Worker some day.” She smiled encouragingly. “You could still do theater on the side. Maybe you need to thinking about developing marketable skills, at least something to fall back on.”

Her tone was so somber, not like the old, can-do Grace.  Something was wrong. It didn’t add up.

“Come on, Grace,” Nora coaxed. “Things will work out, eventually. We’ve been down before, after Dad died, and then things got better. Besides, you know Mom always encouraged me to follow my heart and pursue my dreams…..” she fluttered her eyelashes, “to be a theater artist.  She wanted to be a singer; that was her dream. And then she gave it up for marriage, kids, blah, blah, blah.”

Grace looked away, toward the calendar on the wall – mallards on a marsh. “Mom called me, too,” she said, finally. “She asked if I could pay your tuition.”

Nora sat up with a start. “No!”

“But I couldn’t. I paid cash for my car.  Had I known, I might have financed it. But that money is gone.  I’m sorry.”

“Don’t say that, Grace. That’s not right. She shouldn’t have asked you.”

“Nora,” her sister said, lifting her hands from her lap — working hands, no jewelry, no nailpolish. “There is no money, not now, and probably not for a long time

As bad as that?  Nora had really not known, living in her sundrenched world.

Grace cleared her throat. “She also said that she regretted she had no skills to make money outside the home. And that, maybe she wouldn’t have married Gordon if she hadn’t felt the need for support after Dad died.” Her eyes widened. “Here’s the bottom line:  we’re on our own; there is nothing else.”

 

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Cyber-library

We have all watched as industries have become computerized.  The banks went to ATMs to cut back on tellers.  The travel agency industry all but died when we started to order airline tickets online. My own industry, residential real estate, has changed dramatically now that folks can look at pictures and videos of houses on their computers.

But, now I am watching as my local libary systematically moves away from professional librarians to machines.  Libraries made a leap into the age of technology with their online system making it possible to reserve books and videos while sitting in your own living room.  This was a boon to readers and avid movie watchers like me.  I no longer had to waste a visit to the library only to find out that the book I want to read is out and all I can do is wait for a phone call from a librarian to let me know when it comes in.  Now the computer will notify me when my book or video is waiting for pickup.

And not only that, I now get email notices when I have 2 days to return an item to the library before I will incur a fine.  I love that!  It has all but eliminated any late fees.

But that’s not all.  A few months ago I noticed a little machine sitting on the side of the checkout desk.  I inquired what the machine was for and the librarian took me through the paces of checking out my own books.  It even prints the slip with the due dates. There wasn’t a big sign or an attempt to show the public how to use the machine unless you asked. It was like the library had a secret that they didn’t want to share.

This week I noticed two new systems at the library.  The first one was a real shocker!  The shelves  of young adult books located directly across from the main desk had been transformed into shelves loaded with items that were reserved.The shelves were sorted by the alphabet presumably so you can find your own pre-ordered book or video by your last  name.  Aha!  They used to keep reserved items behind the desk so it was necessary to ask one of the library ladies to fetch an item for you.  Now we – you and I – can retreive our own reserved books and movies and check them out ourselves – no librarians needed.

The other thing I noticed this week was a computer pad lying next to the scanner on the main desk.  When I took my stack of books to be checked out – deciding for no real reason to use a live person instead of the little machine – the lady put the entire stack on the pad and voila! it scanned all the books at once and printed out the due date list.  No more scanning of each book separately. Oh my!  Now a machine can scan an entire pile of books at once.

I knew the 5 ladies behind the desk were doomed. 

” Oh, I see we can pick up our own reserved items and check out our own books.  Are you worried?”  I  tentatively asked the librarian as she handed over my books.

That launched the poor soon-to-be-obsolete librarian to start her rant.  She told me that she loved her job; all the librarians did, but it was obvious that the public library wouldn’t need them all.  She told me that she didn’t expect to be fired, but the town had not filled an empty job slot when one of the librarians retired recently.  She compared the library to the automobile industry – “You know they used to have people actually build the cars and now they have people watch the machines that build the cars.” 

I sympathized with her explaining that my industry had changed too now that houses were shown on the computer.

“Well, they’ll always need some librarians.” she said.

“Yes, someone will have to restock the shelves, order the books and oversee everything, but they won’t have to check books out anymore.” 

“I know.  Furthermore, they just purchased a cash register.  We have never had a cash register before.  We took care of collecting fines and keeping track of the money – and we were almost always right.  Now they make us use the cash register.  Pretty soon all fines will probably have to be paid by credit card.”

“Yeah.  You’re right.  I’m so sorry.”

And I am sorry.  It is hard to watch people disappear and machines take over no matter how efficient or cost effective they are.  And, I thought of all the college students who are majoring in library science and how they might have a hard time finding a job.  It’s a shame – a real shame!

There is one little caveat to this – I was speaking with a fellow Concordian recently and we were complaining about the librarians.  We both felt that they could smile and even chat with us about books.  I visit the library at least once a week and almost always in the late afternoon.  Of the 5 ladies I see regularly only ONE has ever spoken to me about the books I take out and she has not only recommended books but we have also exchanged opinions of books that we have both read.  Only ONE; the others rarely smile or say hello; one in particular always has a very sour expression on her face as though I am interruping something she has to do that is more important than checking out books.  So, although I hate to see the librarians dwindle down in number, I do feel that they could have garnered more sympathy over the years if they had taken a little bit of interest in what the public is reading. 

Real Estate Hint – The other day I entered an offer for my buyers in a multiple offer situation.  There were 3 offers coming in on the property including ours.  The first thing I told my buyers is to sit down at the computer and compose a letter of two to three paragraphs telling the Seller why they wanted to purchase the home.  In this case my buyers wanted this particular house not only because they thought it was beautiful but also because the wife’s brother lived on the street.  It worked!  Their offer was accepted.  Yes, the buyers offered the Seller a very good price, but they beat a cash offer with a quick closing.  The Seller liked the idea of selling to buyers who had family in the neighborhood!

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Love Is In The Air


Valentine’s Day means floral design for me. I do love flowers. I did sit down for a lovely dinner of take-out with my husband, but once we’d cleared the table, after a few busy days on my feet, the only thing I felt like getting on top of was the couch. Any holiday that falls during basketball season has to fight hard for attention in our household anyhow–my husband was quite content to tune back in to college basketball, while I put my feet up and watched Downton Abbey. Sweet day indeed.

Snowed out of Boston on the weekend before, I had come home from a four-day trip a day late and had to hit the ground running to start Valentine’s week, so by the end of Friday, I was spent. Saturday, I was dragging through overdue cleaning and grocery shopping, my eye on getting everything done until I just had one task left: the laundry.

I LOVE doing laundry. I sort everything out into baskets by colors and temperatures, line the baskets up in the second-floor hall way where the laundry “closet” is, fill our energy-efficient washing machine with clothes, pour in a splash of environmentally friendly detergent, and then I am free, finally, to slip under the soft comforter on my bed with a good book and read away to the comforting hum of the washing machine. The dryer may be the appliance of choice to comfort a baby, but for myself, I choose the washing machine. What’s better than being curled up in the land of counterpane, knowing that while I’m discovering what intrigue the Borgias are up to in fifteenth century Rome, or the family mystery a new bride has been pulled into on the windy shores of St. Simmons Island, Georgia, HOUSEWORK IS BEING DONE.

In a traditional household, the person most likely to get the least nurturing is the Super Mom, and that is definitely me. I run around taking care of everyone else and most everything else, and my family has no problem accepting this as the routine. Still and all, we Super Moms do like being cared for, too, and the washing machine is just the one to do it. In fact, I was disappointed when Sunday rolled around and I discovered I was out of laundry and therefore, out of an excuse to be pampered while I slipped back under cover to read. The dishwasher is downstairs, not close enough to the retreat of bed, and that whole dish process doesn’t give me the same satisfaction. The dishwasher is on the small-side (see blog: Dishwasher Woes), and a bit fussy (see blog: Dishwasher Woes), and also happens to be super, super quiet to the point it is hard to figure out if it is doing any work at all. The dishwasher was not the place to turn.

But in a pinch, I’m nothing if not resourceful. I’ve heard more than enough stories from friends and relatives of being without power for days, even weeks, after storms, and we’ve lost power here, too, for long enough that I do not take the furnace for granted. Okay, so I have to work a little harder when I get under the comforter and pick up my book, but…ah, there it is, the hum of the heat blowing out of the vents, the noise of the furnace doing a household job, and taking care of me. Love is in the forced hot air.

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To Clean Refrigerators And The Like

I am much better these days at keeping my refrigerator produce drawer clean. I’m mostly vegetarian so my produce drawer can become quite full, including some pretty squishy vegetables like tomatoes, and some prone-to-rotting choices like peppers and cucumbers. Shielded by, perhaps, a triple pack of lettuce, or a bag of celery or baby carrots, some of these likely offenders can filter down to the bottom of the drawer, become forgotten, and start to dissolve into decidely slimy results. But I’m keeping the drawer clean these days, wiping it out and getting rid of any potential offenders before they offend. In fact, I’m not just keeping up with the produce drawer; I’m doing much better with keeping the entire refrigerator clean.

This is of import because…?

Because I never question why God designed a world where twinkly-eyed three-year-olds die of cancer. Where an exuberant young mother dies giving birth to her firstborn. Where a newlywed husband gets hit and killed by a drunk driver. Where a considerate teen gets shot and killed by countering a mugger. For some reason, I can accept that there is a grand design, and that a person’s time here is finished exactly when it is supposed to be.

What I do question, often and always, is why did God make it so easy for those of us living to obsess on everything that is wrong? What we haven’t done? What we can’t accomplish? What it looks like we will never succeed at now?

These are the kind of thoughts I find myself, and my friends, all competent women living lives full of a myriad of successes, focusing on:

I’ve haven’t gotten over to my mother’s to help her with fill-in-the-blank. (No thought given to the hundreds of times and hundreds of helpful tasks she HAS completed for her mother.)

I sprained my ankle weeks ago and I haven’t done the rehab so I can’t run like I could when I was 12. (She doesn’t really need to run like she was 12 anymore, and if fact, doesn’t even like to run.)

My house/car/office/purse/laundry/junk drawer/you-name-it needs to be cleaned. (Forgetting every other item and locale that she has been keeping clean.)

I keep trying to leave work early enough to see my son/daughter’s fill-in-the-sport game, but I’ve missed every one. (Yup, she’s a bad mother, making a living to keep food on the table, the car on the road, a roof over her children’s heads, not to mention sports equipment in their hands.)

And this is before we get to the subset of the writer’s life.

I’ve rewritten the beginning page 30 times, and it still sucks. (According to her.)

I still can’t figure out plotting. (Maybe she’s not quite James Patterson yet.)

Every time I start revising, I can’t get beyond the first chapter. (Perhaps that is because she saves no time for herself to do the revising.)

I’ve come up with 20 titles, and none of them are good enough. (And on and on and on…)

I realized several years ago that however difficult, the key to successful aging (assuming this is not an oxymoron) was going to be accepting what is no longer part of my life, and rejoicing about what is a part of my life now at this age that was not a part of my life at an earlier age. 

So there it is. The refrigerator. I’m doing a good job keeping my refrigerator clean these days.

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I wish to God I never saw you, Mag.

Last
week, I went into Boston with some friends and
we saw the tent city of Occupy
Boston
, the people protesting Wall Street greed. It’s
about jobs, I decided, and the slide of the middle class into economic
insecurity. It can happen. I’ve been there. So have many people, but not in such large numbers since the Great Depression. It made me think of “Mag”, a poem I used to
teach at the community college, written by Carl Sandburg about a man who can’t
support his family.

MAG

I wish to God I never saw you, Mag.
I wish you never quit your job and came along with me.
I wish we never bought a license and a white dress
For you to get married in the day we ran off to a minister
And told him we would love each other and take care of
each other
Always and always long as the sun and the rain lasts anywhere.
Yes, I’m wishing now you lived somewhere away from here
And I was a bum on the bumpers a thousand miles away
dead broke.
I wish the kids had never come
And rent and coal and clothes to pay for
And a grocery man calling for cash,
Every day cash for beans and prunes.
I wish to God I never saw you, Mag.
I wish to God the kids had never come.

A good
poem to teach: simple language, repetition, no obscure references except bumpers (trains/boxcars); specific, concrete details: license and white dress, rent and coal and clothes. There’s that alliteration
we like: bum, bumpers, broke; and long…last. 
And a beautiful image of love, “always and always as long as the sun and
the rain lasts anywhere” – isn’t that just the “better or poorer” part of the
wedding vows?  And, not least, the strong, clear emotion. I liked to offer this in comparison to the lyrical lines of Yeats,
“He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven,” – also from a man to his beloved.

And, I
always used to joke, what about that name, Mag? 
Kind of like nag?  Kind of like
“Maggie” in Rod Stewart’s Song: “Oh, Maggie, I wish I’d never seen your face?”

I tell
them it is a love poem. But what has happened to the love? Listen, I say, to
“bum on the bumpers a thousand miles away dead broke.” How does that
sound?  Bam-bam-bam – that’s the sound of
a man punching his wife – since he can’t express his anger, his frustration,
his failure and humiliation in other ways. 
Or, he becomes verbally abusive. Or he leaves his family high and dry.
Because he can’t do his part to “take care of each other always and always….”.

I thought
the lines were safely dated, but they ring true today about people I know.  If Wall Street greed brought everyone more
jobs and more prosperity, I could understand how the wheels of capitalism must
be allowed to turn freely. But it doesn’t. It brings larger gaps, more social
problems, suffering and violence.  And
doesn’t it damage the souls of those who accumulate wealth they can never spend
in some kind of crazy gamesmanship with other rich people, while others
struggle to provide beans and prunes to their children? And watch love turn to bitterness?

 

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