My gummy valentine

I have been looking for chocolates (this month candy buying is big for obvious reasons).  But instead of dropping cash for a small box of exquisite chocolates, I want to create a surprise bowl for the entire family that is made up of the odd, the sentimental, and the small production candies.  I remember my mother loving the Cherry Mash mound, with the bright pink soft core and the nubby peanut and chocolate cover.  I still like Necco Wafers.  Husband fondly recalls the Marathon bar (not a small company candy, but out of production it seems from M&M/Mars since 1981). 

So where to get them?  I was perusing the Wall Street Journal today and saw a piece on small candy companies that still produce in the United States.  Steve Almond (www.stevenalmond.com) author of Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America, writes about the demise of small candy companies and the plethora of strange and wonderful confections that have fallen by the wayside as a result.  He also writes about those who survive, such as:

  • Chase Candy Company, candy purveyors since 1876. St. Joseph, Missouri, makers of the Cherry Mash among others.  1-800-786-1625, info@cherrymash.com

• Necco Wafers, Clark bars, Sky Bar, Conversation Hearts: They’re all manufactured by New England Confectionery, founded in 1847 and based in Revere, Mass. 781-485-4500 

• Goldenberg Candy, of Peanut Chews fame, founded in 1890 and based in Philadelphia. The Goldenberg family sold out to another family-run company, Just Born, (known for Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales, Marshmallow Peeps) in 2003.  1-888-645-3453

• Nashville’s Standard Candy, founded in 1901, is the maker of Goo Goo Clusters, a round cluster of peanuts, caramel, marshmallow and milk chocolate.  615-889-6360

• Sioux City, Iowa, is home to Palmer Candy, founded in 1878 and maker of, among others, Twin Bing, a pair of candies with pink cherry-flavored filling surrounded by crushed peanuts and chocolate.  712-258-5543

• Sifers Valomilk Candy is a five-generation (founded in 1903), family-owned company in Shawnee Mission, Kansas.  

• Idaho Candy in Boise, was founded in 1901 and makes the Idaho Spud, Old Faithful Bar and Cherry Cocktail.  1-800-898-6986

• Annabelle Candy in Hayward, Calif., makes Big Hunk, Rocky Road, Look, U-NO and Abba-Zaba. Founded in 1917.  510-783-2900

(This list does not include the wonderful “small batch” chocolatiers which have come into popularity in the last several years, such as Scharffen Berger, Rubens Belgian Chocolates, Richart, Recchiuti, Payard, Burdick, etc.)

It’s strange to think that in the 1950’s there were thousands of small candy companies in this country.  There were all sorts of odd, often regionally popular confections.  Mostly sweet, some savory, and many with strange names.

 As the big three candy companies in the U.S. (already having spent the latter half of the twentieth century buying out as many small companies as possible) Hershey, Nestlé and Mars, streamline their product lines it seems to me small candy companies become more necessary.  Vendors for the products matter too, and I have found that the Vermont Country Store carries many of the small production wonders (and if they don’t, they will readily try to find what you want if you ask them).

So get on the net, and order some weird candy.  Forgo the easy appeal of the bags and boxes in every store, and go for the difficult to find (I like a velvet box as much as the next person, but don’t need another one to store paper clips in).  Make candy a treat again, not just an everyday habit made of the lowest common denominator in flavor and style.  Let me know about your own regional small candy companies too!

Even if Valentines Day is as much a commercial concoction as Mother’s Day, it can be a reason in this bleak, long winter to have fun.  

The pleasure of beautiful things

Advice for the retail world:  make it an experience again.  Not the “rarified air” experience, like so many haute couture lines that opened retail shops in the recent past, designed by those who seem to think shopping should be like going to an art gallery, with the same high prices, cold air, and tomb like ambience lacking in any human presence (to their surprise, they lack the requisite robotic and emaciated shoppers as well).  No more the grab and go of malls either, or should I say teenager theme parks complete with heavy browed security to prevent those ever looming petty thefts and feared eruptions of violence.  These bastions of cheap consumerism, garish color and sound, and the worst edibles known to man, anchoring neighborhoods surrounded by big box stores, acres of asphalt, and exchange-name restaurants proffering the same fare trucked in every week are dying. The experience is run run run, acquire without thought, and keep going.  It is exhausting, boring, discomforting to observe and perversely, makes me both sad and glad to see it all go.  Change is difficult.  Atrophy limb by limb, week by week, while weeds peek up through the sea of black, and the workers left in stores that remain walk to the only source of sunlight, the front doors, and peer out. 

If retail is to have any presence in the future, re-examining what obtaining goods is about might be useful.  I do not intend to raise dairy cows, so I must procure dairy goods from suppliers (dairy farmers themselves, and I am lucky to be able to go to the farmers market or visit a local dairy if I choose) or the “middle men”, the grocers.  I can go to the Wal-Tar-K’s and pick up toothpaste, a tarp, and milk at the same time or I can go half a mile to a neighborhood grocery store; small, with a surprisingly wide variety of goods, cheerful and funny employees, and quirky promotions.  The experience of the latter is infinitely better, and the overall grocery bills the same. 

For other things, objects I do not buy on a regular basis, I had been retreating to the internet.  Shoes, clothes, and toys in the sizes, materials, and styles I wanted were available, even if the experience was the same as reading a catalog.  Then wide spread information theft arose, and already this year we have had our credit card company send us new cards because, they announced to us, our information had been “compromised” (read: stolen) by a retail merchant.  I am going back to cash, which helps me stay on a budget, and clearing out all my internet information.

I wonder about the pleasure of beautiful things.  Not only obtaining them, but observing them, seeing them, feeling them, and being surrounded by them in a retail space.  I suggested to our local Apple store manager that she put in a coffee station, as they already have the big circular bar to service patrons and Apple stores offer instructional chits that patrons can use at their leisure– go in and learn when you choose.  She replied that the mess would be horrifying.   She is a nasty old woman who is rude and condescending, and chalks up her lack of business to people not using her brand of machines.  She is a delusional idiot, like so many business managers at all levels.

If this contracting economy is teaching us anything, it is that the days of buying for buying sake is over.  Encouraging it any further is stupid, and the self-sufficiency and recycling of products (gardens, second hand stores, people learning to fix things) that is rising up is a good thing that may help us reformulate what it means to “have” anything at all.

Service, the idea that knowledgeable people with a good attitude can help you when you buy something, needs to come back.  Loyalty from consumers because a store backs up the things it sells (without hassle), because objects are easy to find, in stock, help is always ready, and provides the intangible social and informational resources buyers need (as we regularly experience at our local hardware store) all this should be valued again; not sheer loyalty for “brand” because it is marketed as chic, or used to be dependable, those superficial reasons of buzz, not truth. 

Spaces for social interaction need to be considered.  Think of department stores of mid-century, when there were comfortable places for people to rest, literally rest, have a coffee, or chat.  Also offering “public facilities” that had anterooms with mirrors and chairs (let’s add baby changing areas in ante-rooms of BOTH sexes too, with truly safe tables and disposal methods), a gateway between the intimate and the public.   Think spaces for truly examining items, not simply crammed together racks of confusion that dwarf individuals with claustrophobic environments.  Spaces organized with consideration for the process of appreciation and the ability of patrons to freely move, even two at a time are needed.  The old calculation of “items per square feet or inch” is useless to everyone but bean counters.

Think about spaces where light and sound could be calming, without feeling like generic elevator music; imagine spaces that encouraged patrons to be patrons, not just consumers.  Imagine learning to save and spend money on things you need, and to learn how to appreciate the things you want.  How to look, how to see- as John Berger has said.

Growing up I had an annual shopping trip with my grandmother.  She always made sure to teach me, to remark upon the quality of the items we saw.  Were the seams finished?  Was a blouse cut to a fit?  Were the sheets multi-thread?  Were the towels sized well?  Were the shoes leather, and sewn correctly?  With the raise of an eyebrow, she would dismiss much of what she saw.  A child of the depression, she knew it was not worth it to buy shoddy goods.  Even if it meant you only bought a pair of shoes rarely, you bought good shoes that fit, and clothes that would last, as well as appearing beautiful.

Of course, I had to live through my own young adulthood.  I squandered cash on stylish, but foolish items.  I learned.  I also learned that a terrific, barely used black wool swing coat that fit as if it were made for me, although made thirty years ago (and I checked the thread- it was well made and had not deteriorated) was one of the best things I ever bought, for five dollars.  A vicuna over-coat here, a vintage skirt there.  Quality fell out of favor as resale became a mark of shame.  No more.  There is great pleasure in beautiful things, in quality, and the experience of learning about them.  Retail, take note. 

This all points to a more local point of view.  Locally or regionally made and produced items, lower shipping costs, higher dependability, less production and consumption for a cycle of “throw away”, and responsibility to the deeply interconnected nature of commerce is necessary.  To have buyers, those buyers must be employed.  To have service, workers must make fair wages with life sustaining benefits of time and insurance.  The cries that objects will be too expensive if we do this are lies. There are trade offs in where expenses go, and, as we are learning the hard way, no manager or administrator (read: CEO.  They are only titled managers at best, nothing more) is worth the outrageous salaries they are often paid.  There are plenty of bright, energetic, dedicated people of all ages willing to work hard for fair wages who can run companies.

Also, encouraging farmers to grow such things as industrial hemp (no THC), and other fibers, and milling them regionally actually SAVES money.  The whole fast buck lie is falling down, and only those who want to steal the last pennies off the corpse are the ones screaming that any other model of capitalism is socialism or “worse”.  It is a complete lack of imagination, a lack of responsibility, and a lack of honesty that drives them; all this, and fear.  I have compassion for the fear, we are all afraid of change, the unknown.  I have no tolerance for the hatred, the thefts, and the willful ignorance that slows down progressive change for the better.  The hateful rants of the fearful greedy is a position not only immoral, it is ugly.  If beauty is truth, and truth beauty, then maybe we all ought to do a lot more thinking, and talking, about what truth is right now.  The pleasure of beautiful things will only come when we know that they are truly beautiful, worthy, and have the time to consider them wisely.

An open letter to Warren Buffet and Bill Gates

It has been said in many research reports that the way to improve the lot of the world is to educate women.  “Sure” I have heard in response, “because those models assume what women will do AFTER they have been educated.”  Yes, they have fewer children, are more capable of combating illness and disease in their homes and communities, and yes they feel empowered to become leaders in their immediate locales.  But lest we forget the lessons of Iraq and much of the Middle East as it became awash in fundamentalism (or our own country for that matter), women can be bloody PhD’s and get persecuted for their “education”.  That makes them very capable, don’t you think?

I do believe the formal, scientific and humanistic education of women is essential.  Do not get me wrong.  But there must be attention paid to what happens after said educations.  In the U.S. I know many educated women, highly educated in fact.  They are capable, responsible, funny women on the whole.  Several have blazed their own paths in areas not traditionally run by women.  But there are still power games, sexism, and established ways of doing things that prevent many of these women from getting their best done.  Hence the proposal for Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, two good friends who pride themselves on being practical, innovative people.

Consider that one of the criticisms of the U.S. is that it has slipped quite a bit in how well educated, literate, and scientifically able it’s people are on the whole.  Consider that innovation in products is a lament.  Any anthropologist with a brain in her head can tell you to go to the source of problems, and ask what the people directly involved think and do.  So Mr. Buffet and Mr. Gates- form a think tank.   Hire my friend Carolyn who has worked for IBM research her whole life and is tired of that wage slave arena.   She is very smart, disciplined, and experienced at being a creative problem-solver.  Hire Jennifer, an experienced anthropologist who moved across the country because her job and her husband’s could not be reconciled (she had to give up hers).  She is a practical, innovative, smart woman who is underutilized.  Hire me, who did PhD work in cognitive/educational psychology and is off the academia ladder.  Hire more women in their 40’s looking for transitions, those educated women in engineering, anthropology, psychology, education and the like, those very capable women who are underutilized in their ability to improve the lot of the world.  Go ahead and write the mission statement, and let them shape it.  Have them meet in a physical space on a quarterly basis, and produce white papers on topics of everyday objects, how to green and innovate, and frame problems in the best ways to think about them.  Save money on other regular meetings by- here’s Mr. Gates investment- meeting virtually the rest of the time.  The real innovation for women is respecting their complex family lives.  Many are either caring for aging parents, their own children, or have extended lives into their communities that require actual physical presence most of the time.  Let them do their job as a group for 3-5 years.  Then look at what they have produced.  Kill the project if you don’t find it useful, tweak and extend it if you do.  Oh, and pay them living wages as employees of the think tank.  You will, I am betting, find this project more worthwhile than you ever anticipated.  Funding for research in the U.S. is at a low point, and this project could spawn others.  Take a chance gentlemen.  What have you got to lose?

 

 

RIP.Off.City.

Remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  The always-quaint burg of Sunnydale in the story, with it’s hidden recesses of evil?  Here in this idyllic little burg I inhabit, owning a motorized vehicle is the several thousands of pounds of flesh that keeps on being taken.  I have never had even a marginally good experience buying a car.  I have bought two in my life so far (both new), and despise the process. I do all my homework, bring a male, wear pink, and still get treated like an idiot, and forced to go through some terrible passion play that car dealerships script out that lasts about as long, and is as agonizing.  Suffice it to say, I can’t stand car dealerships, and not just for the agonizing pain that ultimately cumulated in my turning over thousands of my dollars for the privilege.  The first was paid for via a bank loan, the second all in cash- yes, all in cash.  I was not purchasing some dream car, or some adolescent fantasy vehicle.  Both times I purchased durable, practical autos that I intended to drive until they would not go anymore.  The experiences 15 years apart, they were almost exactly the same.  I searched for almost a year, visited many places, and ultimately nothing had changed.  

My Mazda B220, the dark blue stealth machine with the cap, was a true friend for 15 years through my single life.  Two years ago Husband and I purchased a Kia Sedona mini van.  Dark blue again (Husband picked the color, I did not care), it has been a good family workhorse but for the abysmal gas mileage. My mother gave me her 92’ Toyota Corolla before she died, and that’s our back-up car.  In the ‘burg, I have had such problems with our local dealership (who also sells the Kia’s, and while forced to service them, makes it clear they are reluctant to do so), I refuse to go there any more for service. They have also skinned my 71 year old father on his T100 (which he keeps in pristine condition) so many times it makes me want to scream.  Options?  Sure, if I drive over an hour away through the hills only to get the same scripts and role offers. I would LOVE to play the devil sometime, switch it up- and force them to pay egregious amounts of money while being insulted for attempting to make minor repairs.  Yes, attempted.  The number of times they have caused more problems than they have solved have been shocking- well, not really.  I expect them to try to skin me now.

These may well be national matters, this culture of auto dealerships, as well as the in-bred habits of the auto and oil industries, which have stagnated fuel innovation for the last 75 years.  But the local skinning is both a state and regional scam. Let me explain.

In the ‘Burg, the state of VA has made a pretty deal with the combustion engine devils.  All the lower forms of hell are in on it too, from the shade tree mechanic to the slick dealerships.  It is the “inspection sticker” scam.  After moving here, we were told we would have to pay our moving taxes in more ways than one.  The first way was the rookie moving tax on our car.  Sure enough, there was pain in order to get the small “we saw your car and it runs” sticker for our window, thereby avoiding massive fines if we didn’t and got caught (beware the several times a year state cop drag nets set out to do just that- I swear it seems to be around a full moon. Forget drunk driving; the horrors here are not paying to get a worthless inspection sticker).  We were told by three separate repair shops that there were things wrong with our car we knew were not (different problems identified at each hell mouth), and we must have repairs made repaired BY THAT SHOP before they could “let” us have the sticker.  So the first shop slapped a “not approved” sticker on our window as well.  Scarlet letter cum flag, “woo-hoo!  Oh Mr. Policeman! These people refuse to be shafted! So scam them some more!”

I was furious. I called various information chains only to find out that the regulation of this sticker business and approving of the stations that can hand them out is done by- you guessed it, the state police.  Who gets the revenue from the sticker? The state police.  Who is allowed to charge what ever they want, however they choose, and skim that cream off the process without any fear of being prosecuted for malfeasance?  The shops.  Because if you wish to complain, your paperwork must go to the state police.  What crazy motivation could the state police possibly have to follow up anyone’s complaints about a shop scamming for stickers?  As long as the shops keep sticking folks for repairs they do not need, the police get their cut (if they don’t they simply withdraw a shop’s ability to hand stickers out, thereby cutting into a shops revenue base), and the citizens (unless you have a relative who is one of the devils) get stuck every time- the cycle is complete. Classic government fraud in action. 

Once we were in the cycle, it happens EVERY YEAR.  We searched and searched for shops that would only demand a small patronage, such as the changing of wiper blades and tire rotation on some such.  The total bill (the basic sticker cost is $15) usually runs around $50.  People tell me we are getting off cheap.  I let my blades go bad before the due date of the sticker, because I know if I don’t I’ll get charged for them anyway.  Sigh.  Don’t forget the state auto taxes which seem to follow no sound process of charges (which the DMV refuses to explain), or the yearly “car tax” that is so insane in the application (how they determine what to charge changes and varies more than highway maintenance in VA) that I have yet to find anyone who understands the who what where and why of the several hundred dollar charges (the how is simple- pay it or you get fined).

The local scam is the yearly city sticker, and the separate property taxes (can’t buy the one without having paid the other).  It’s a revenue scam that works well for the city.  Local police will pull citizens over to check it, and do at several key times in the year (catching unwary college students is easy pickin’s).  The sticker (prominently placed along side the inspection tattoo, both required to sit right in the center of an auto front windshield; safety first my flabby behind) serves no function but to announce that you paid your pound of flesh to the city, from which said revenues can be used to fatten the wallets of local developers, make cushy the life of the arrogantly corrupt mayor, or other such crucial city functions.  Many municipalities across the country have done away with the city sticker; the ‘Burg has not, and clearly will not any time soon.

My great grand father, who saw the creation of personal automobiles, and the entire arc of the auto through the 20th century, had this to say.  “If it can’t get you from point A to B, then it is worthless.” He did not want bells and whistles, not even a radio (prescient, considering all the studies done recently showing the direct causality between distracted drivers and accidents). Air conditioners were for sissies. If you knew how to work on your own machine, you were a smart person.  I wish I could work on mine.  The vast array of bells, whistles, computers, specialized tools, and general high tech junk makes this impossible, to the auto manufacturers benefit.

I read that Viggo Mortensen drives a 1950 pickup because he knows he can work on it.  The man can afford what ever he wants, and his own garage mechanics to service it (see Jay Leno), but he chooses the truck.  Good onya I say.  My father had a 1950 Ford pickup when I was a child, and I still have happy dreams about that truck.  If I can ever afford one, it will be mine as fast as you can say curmudgeon in the dungeon and I will learn to repair it.  It may only seem like symbolic independence, but my boys will also learn not to be afraid of machines or the industries that produce and control them.  Get thee away, Satan, and all your minions; ok, ok, after I pay all these governmental fees.  Who ever thought the reality of evil would be so mundanely manifested in our everyday lives; and less the hovering red eyes of a terrorist or paranormal being?  Our collective obsession with capitalistic status and the resulting consumption orgy of the past hundred years has been shameful, and only served to dumb us down into ignorant, useless consumers.  In this time of peak oil, it is good to remember amid the sunny streets of tract mansions and gas-guzzlers, that we are the instruments of our own destruction.  

Oh, yeah, and here’s a little bit of irony to serve as a reminder to those who live in this ‘burg– don’t forget much of that government flesh will not be sliced off or will be significantly cheaper if you drive a vehicle with ANTIQUE tags (ever seen a rusted Chevy chevette labeled an antique?  They roam, they roam).

Anyone got a cherry’50 Ford they want to sell cheap?

Where’’s my dime bag of Garam Masala?

Have you ever seen two grown people searching feverishly for a small bag?  Calls of “Look in the pantry!”  “I did!”  “Look behind the backup flour and sugar!” and  “I DID ALREADY!” ring through the hall.  In our family, creating food is our central addiction.  Husband may say books are my dirty little secret, but I have dislodged many, many volumes from my stash since we met (don’t look too closely at the basement storage room, those boxes I can’t part with). 

The food processor, ice cream maker, and KitchenAid mixer are three of my favorite objects.  They do not sit on the counter to display any expertise, but are usually covered with schmutz, cords flung awry.  These are working tools; metal machines with big motors.  This is my version of Tool Time, and when seeing muscle machines I find myself drooling and muttering ‘Gruh, gruh”.  But I am not a cooking wimp, given to throwing any little spice into my coffee grinder.  I use the granite mortar and pestle as well, pounding and grinding, then mixing, cutting, and warming over a small flame (Toasting spices can be very effective, especially before pounding up).  It is not just the consumption of our creations, these infusions into our body chemistry that we enjoy.  Making food is a creative pursuit for us, and as Anthony Bourdain has said, an expression of love.  Love for a process, materials, and ultimately the experience of sharing a meal.  There is a reason “home food” is a term we associate with our mothers, fathers, aunts, and holidays.  It is an expression of simple pleasure, and of love.

We do not have an orderly kitchen, but usually a clean one- a distinction people who like to cook, or have small children understand completely.  The cycle of used dishes and pots is constant, and each new day brings cleanliness, clarity, creativity, then clutter.  The cycle of addiction is truly hard to break.

Part of the reason the West has food and appearance issues is the weird juncture of the love of food and the crappy food we are marketed, and subsequently buy.  The movement to buy food locally, and as organically as much as possible is one I applaud.  I never used to like red meat much, and did a simple comparison test recently.  Steaks of the same cut were purchased at almost even prices; one from the usual feed lot “finished”-cross country shipped- hormone stuffed-mega grocery chain bin, the other of the grass fed, pasture living, little drugs, recently butchered, organic variety courtesy of one of our local farmers market people.  Husband, the defacto grill cook, cooked them rather rare and slapped them on a plate with a slight dusting of salt and pepper.  I usually don’t like rare meat.  A few bites of each and it was clear:  the local, “happy cow” was significantly better.  I don’t like the metallic taste red meat has, and it was missing entirely from the happy cow.  The other steak was metallic tasting, and had a strange other flavor too.  I am told the manipulations animals go through in our modern “production” (from embryo to flesh stripping) cycles creates high levels of stress hormones in the flesh that do not taste good.  I believe it.

As a child we had a steady number of nine cows.  One a year was hauled off to the local butcher (and usually one of the cows had a calf to replace it) and in return we got the standard small white packages with scrawled writing to identify the parts.  The first bull Dad took away, Red, was a bit of a shock.  Try explaining to a six year old where one of her favorite animals went, and expect some surprise.  I did not speak to Dad for several days.  It didn’t help that I abhorred (and still do) liver.  After waiting for what seemed an eternity for a meal one day during one of my growth spurts, Dad sauntered into the living room with a hunk of cooked meat in his hand, greedily taking bites out of it.  “This is that bull you won’t eat.  Mmmmm.  Good steak. . .you want some?” He hands me down the hunk, and I took a big bite.  “Bleah!”  I spit the bite out yelling,” That wasn’t steak- that was liver!”  He and mom laughed about that for years.

We had a garden, and every year it was more of a circus than an orderly enterprise.  One year my previously urban mother planted rows and rows of melons, not realizing how they reproduced.  Most rotted in the field, or were stealthily stacked next to the doors of friends and neighbors.  One year all the corn fell over, and another year the onions all rotted.  By contrast, mom’s baked goods were never in doubt.  The granddaughter of a professional baker, she had picked up many of his ideas and skills.  Her recipes are sparse notes, missing the changes and footnotes she held in her head, like most cooks.  I have yet to have at any restaurant, bakery or home the equal of her cakes, pies, cookies, or especially, her éclairs.  No matter how poor we were, she could manage to whip up an amazing dessert.  It was as if, in the vast rural wasteland into which she found herself, she would create her own small, private oases of momentary bliss and offer them to us.  Her offering of love.  She wasn’t always good at saying it, but she could show it.  The battered red apple cookie jar was never empty, and now it sits proudly on my counter tempting my little boys with what lies hidden inside.  It had been my Grandmother’s, and she had given it to my mother.  Love can come in the most subtle of ways, and remain in memory through the tokens we live with.

Of course the abundance of food we have in the US is a double-edged sword. There are enough articles clogging the newspapers about obesity (but don’t look too closely at how the BMI index was created or how it’s used), and not enough about how to can veg and fruit, and eat locally.  When talking to a fresh young Coop-extension agent recently, he admitted he knew little to nothing about the local food movement in all it’s manifestations, or organic produce and meats.  Still worse, he came from a mega poultry and beef industry family in TX, and had learned nothing from his grand folks about the small doing, of raising food, processing it yourself, and keeping it.  I find his educated, empty mind a travesty, if not a waste of my tax dollars.

We are not foodies who seek out the truly exotic.  I get my highs from small things, like the basil fresh from my garden with my fresh red tomatoes (no cast iron tasteless rocks), or in winter the fresh rosemary that grows near the lavender bushes sprinkled on a locally obtained pork roast; or eating breakfast eggs from “happy” chickens, as our neighbor likes to call his crazy bug eating, free range dinosaurs.  We share our tools, our materials, and the results with our friends.  In kind, we have had the luck to taste real Korean fish stew, exquisite Japanese vegetable dishes, Thai carrot butterflies, a northern Indian curry, and other dishes I am not well versed in cooking, or know how to tweak myself.  This is love: taste, experience, creativity, community, memory.  Who wouldn’t do unusual things for love: satisfy the addiction for sensation; slake thirst and hunger, while having substantive human connections?  Remember that the next time the anonymous dealer who parades his wealth via TV ads entices you with the promise of crisp fries, or easy satiating.  With just a little more effort, you could have so much more.  One more trip to the local international food mart and I’ll replenish my supplies.  I’ll scrounge my change dishes and get that small bag, that magic that will help transform the daily habits of life into bliss.  Who needs big pharma or illicit drugs when we can cook?

 

A new project

It seems fitting to post this on super tuesday.  Do you know your doctor?  Do you know your post-person?  Do you know your plumber?  Are there six degrees of separation between you and anyone interesting who is not a celebrity?  Do you want to begin to do something small, to participate without baggage, to begin to learn and care about the things that may only be superficial right now?  Pass it on. Expect to be rejected most of the time.  And keep doing it. Breakfast.Lunch.Dinner.

Equals across the table

Your family is invited to a meal at  (your name)  home

on the date and time of your choosing.

Please RSVP to:  (email, phone and mailing address)

at your earliest convenience.

____________________________________________________

 

When was the last time you made an honest effort to talk with someone very different from yourself?  How might a casual meal and conversation shared between disparate people bridge distances of position, diversity, opinion, and inform both?  Can a simple meal connect strangers, neighbors in a global community?

Our current world is both a small and complex place, often isolating and intimidating.  With a simple, sincere, transparent, and curiosity-based exchange such as a meal we believe we can begin to cross boundaries and learn about others.  There is no publicity, no material gain to be had, no hidden agenda.  What is intrinsically exchanged during the meal is the reward, harkening back to the most basic social meaning of breaking bread together.

We are opening our home, our lives, and ourselves as part of the experience and expect nothing in return but respect and sincere engagement.  The basis we work from when meeting strangers is to treat them as we would neighbors; people we are tied to as community members, but do not really know.  It is the effort to know and understand someone, and explore our combined worldviews that is the point, the root purpose of the meal.

Food restrictions regarding health are respected, but otherwise guests are offered “home food”; that which can’t be had in restaurants and is by its nature special.  We serve what we usually eat, using mostly local, organic materials.  For example, pot roast and mashed potatoes, roasted carrots, pies and cakes made from scratch, or omelets, toast and coffee might be offered depending on the meal.  Our core family members (4) are your hosts, and no other people but your family will attend. 

It is too easy to assume we know how other people live.  Small snippets of information disconnected from lives cannot capture enough to understand each other.  The biases that result from our assumptions have far-reaching implications.  We know the effects of ignorance in our lives, and want to dispel it.  We know the joys of curiosity, and we want to engage it (and yours) as part of this life-long project.  Please come be a part of this effort.  Sit a while, relax, talk, and have a meal with us.

Why you?

(short description of why we find the persons interesting, and why we think they ought to know us in some cases, such as state senators)

Who we are (your info here):

Both of us come from modest, midwestern backgrounds.  We have been discussing who we would like to have dinner with for years, developing a loose list of people we think are interesting.  Further discussion of this led to the formation of B.L.D., which is a blend of the personal, social action, and art in a life-long pursuit.

We hope that this project might encourage others to go beyond their constraints, their contacts, and reach out into the world in a simple, deeply human way.  We are equals across the table, our preconceptions put aside, and connections to be made.  As part of our efforts, we take a digital photo of all of us together, give you a copy, and keep ours in the B.L.D. book.  These artifacts are not intended to be shared, or profit made from them, and we use the photos as neighbors would: to recall friends and events, and as documentation to track our lives.

The lure of a distant horn

As far back as I can remember I have enjoyed the sound of train horns at night.  On the farm as a child, the tracks ran on the far edge of our field, and the howl of the coyotes would often presage the rich sound of a train horn. Everywhere I have lived, I have heard these horns and found strange comfort in the sound.  As I sit in the calm and cold of my living room, I hear the horn from a train less than a mile away. 

I am told by my father that he took my great-grandfather to a central office in Kansas City where he had been ordered to turn in his gun and his badge from his days as a payroll guard on the trains.   The trains he worked ran the mining and lumber routes winding through southern Missouri, Northern Arkansas, Eastern OK and Kansas.  I was reminded of the old western films, where pay trains got held up, and men hopped off with hands in the air while the bad guys robbed them.  Most of this was a fiction, but guards on trains were not.  Great granddad cried as he slumped in the office chair, laying the items of his former self on the desk.  My father was embarrassed, and wished he could just jump up and grab the gun and badge, pull his grandfather along and leave.  It was one of the few times he says he ever saw the elder man broken.  Great granddad loved trains, and so did his son, my grandfather.  My grandfather had elaborate miniatures set up in his basement, and worked as a rail postal clerk, his dream job.  He died as an accident in the great train yards of Kansas City’s Union Station, during the height train travel and shipping.  I have often thought about all the blood, energy, and money that went into building the railroads of this country, how quickly they fell into disrepair, and how the rails are a viable means to again transport people and goods, in the face of a looming oil crisis. 

I can’t say I am obsessed with trains, but I am with the sound of the horns at night, and with travel.  I have what I like to call “itchy feet” (no relation to fungus).  It is a fascination with travel, the idea of travel, and the ever-pressing need to get out and go places.  I currently reside in a valley that is approx. 30 miles wideby 175 miles long.  It is hemmed in on one side by rows of mountains with 4,000 ft peaks, which take close to 7 hours to get through going west on narrow black top roads.  On the other, a single, long line of “mountains” barricades the valley, with peaks of about 3,000 ft. on average.  From there, the land quickly slides down into marshes, then to the Atlantic Ocean.  I have felt claustrophobic ever since I moved here.  The first year I back-roaded obsessively, coming to know the strange knots of roads that seemed to twist and turn without logic, always circling back into the valley.  I built knowledge of this geographic prison that rarely requires a map. Then, I got bored.  I traveled up into Pennsylvania, and into West Virginia.  It still seems like a very small region to me.

When we came here to find a place to live, we stayed in a KOA.  A nice woman and her family were in the pool with us and we asked if there was a grocery near by. “Oh yes!”  She replied, “The food line is just down the road” and proceeded to describe where the food line was.  I usually do not have trouble understanding people with accents, but I shot Husband a seriously perplexed look.  “Food line?”  I said.  “Yes-  foodline.  FOOD LINE!”  She smiled and said it louder as if I were either deaf or stupid.  Husband finally got it, “Oh! Food Lion!”  Grinning with relief and triumph that he had understood and I had not.  The woman just smiled and nodded (I thought to myself that Food Lion was one of the dumbest names for a grocery I had ever heard.  So too Price Chopper with the axe logo, and several other names, but that’s another essay about the identifying vagaries of regional stores.).  Later she asked where we were from, and said with pride that they always vacationed at the KOA’s around town, and that she had never been out of the COUNTY in her life. Yes, the county- not country. I clarified, believe me.  She was a nice woman, but honestly I can’t imagine never leaving the county.  Not by choice anyway.  Husband says my sense of direction is partly to blame for my itchy feet, as I don’t really fear any aspects of travel.  I take great joy in the packing-as-Tetris game, as well as the planning of a trip in such a way to leave room for random experience.  And yes, I have an excellent sense of direction.  Growing up my father used to backroad often, and say to me, “We are lost.  How do we get home?”.  We were never lost of course, but it was a good way to train a child to have a sense of direction and the skills needed to get around.

About 12 years ago on my first trip through the upper East Coast, I got off the highway at one point and wandered around a medium sized city and found a terrific restaurant in an out of the way place.  I was by myself for the entire trip, which took me up to Montreal, and through many cities.  Husband and I happened to be on a stretch of that same route a few years back, at a mealtime.  Without telling him, I pulled off as I had years ago and found a restaurant I had been to on the original trip.  No mistakes, but drove right to it through multiple back roads and turns.  Even I was surprised.  Dad has the same disease, and has made a competition out of trying to find a road I have not been on, then getting me to drive it with him.  He has yet to find a road I am not familiar with and it irks him to no end.  Worse, a couple of times I had not actually been on the road, but figured out where it was and what it connected to with enough accuracy that he was fooled.  No small feat in the always-curving roads (and changing names) of The Valley. 

Not that I don’t get “lost”, but as Husband assures me, lost is a relative term.  Lost for me is not quite being sure in a 5-mile radius of where I am.  I know the block so to speak, but not the detail within it. Hence, I can get to a point of reference pretty quickly by following my instincts and using my skills.  This happens when I am going someplace new, or after having studied maps. Husband still gets lost in our town.  People ask him for directions and he shrugs, saying, “Ask her”.  Or, he will try to tell someone he has a lousy sense of direction and they do not believe him.  He often has to explain the terror he feels when he gets a couple of miles out of town.  He has absolutely no mental map of where he is.  He tells me The Valley is especially difficult for him, and that he misses the Midwest, where he could count on the grid structure of roads.

We sorely miss the orderly squares of the Midwest, the big sky, the rich soils, and the deep rivers.  The spaces between villages and the loud, powerful thunderstorms that can rage for hours.  I did not indulge in drugs or other vices as a teenager, with the exception of driving.  I lived on my bicycle until I turned 16, and then I backroaded, completing ever more distant trips.  There are very few dirt roads or blacktops in an approximately 150-mile radius of my old hometown that I do not know intimately, having taken great pleasure in random stops for food at diners, noting unusual architecture or geography, and reveling in historical, arcane, and natural sites.

The valley we live in now gets very little snow, and almost no storms.  My husband and I lie on summer evenings and listen wistfully when a small electrical storm passes by, whispering shared memories of great storms we have known.  We also listen to the sound of the train horn as it makes regular passes, and silently hold one another’s hand.

My sons get out their wooden tracks and build routes, putting their tiny engines and cars on the track and pushing them along with “chug a chugs” and an occasional “whoo-woo”.  Trains maintain strong symbolism, a battered romance, and an enduring promise that is evident even to children.  My father took his mother and our family with him on a nostalgic train ride this past fall through West Virginia.  The train was a pastiche of various old trains, some cars from the 1930’s, some the 50’s, and some later.  We had a meal in the dining car (a salvaged early 50’s model), and then adjourned to a cheaply refurbished 1930’s deco car, with wavy seating looking out wide windows.  It was an interesting trip, and the two little boys enjoyed themselves very much. The static scrambled voice on the loud speaker gave historical information as we wound through a valley, and the mostly geriatric riders all smiled indulgently at the boys as they hooted and walked about the train.  I only caught the faintest echoes of what rail travel must have been like, as if some ghost from the past were just out of the corner of my peripheral vision, never quite coming into view.  This was not the train of my imagination, of family stories, or of the horns in the night.  This was more like the wooden track and cars my sons play with.  It offered little insight into what haunts me about the sound of the horn, or helping to cool the itch in my feet.  I know trains are a faulty business now, mostly shipping goods across country, and not without the usual scary bunch of train “hobos”.  Amtrak is a sorry excuse for rail travel, not the least because the heavily federally subsidized system offers tickets to non-citizens at half the cost for citizens.  When I pursued this issue with Amtrak, I was told, “Well if you went to Europe you would get cheap tickets”.  This in no way explains the expensive and non-rational ticket prices.  I had been looking into getting Dad a ticket to visit his sister in Washington State, and was shocked by what I found in the limited routes and outrageously expensive tickets.  He did not believe me at first, recalling when rail travel was like bus travel, and about as expensive.  “That was 50 years ago, Dad”  I said, also telling him it made no sense to me either.  Call or write your congresspersons, your senators, people.  This is a rip off, and the whole system needs to be developed.

I grew up with autos for travel, not the train. The early oil “crisis” of the 70’s created the cars I drove, and I avoided owning a car (and came to know Greyhound very well in college) for a long time, and did not need one when living in the city.  It was not until I turned 27 that I owned my first auto, and had that truck for 15 years before I gave it away.  It was my buddy, my trusted companion who got 35 mpg in town and up to 42 on the highway, and never failed me mechanically.  It was my turtle, with the camper shell and rolled up futon in back.  It was a Mazda B2200, the stealth bomber in which I never got a speeding ticket, and I miss it.

When I turned 30, I made a trip to New Orleans to give my first paper and explore the region.  Many trips else where and a few years later, I was invited by some friends who happened to be from the Nambe pueblo to come and stay for a while.  I took off in my pick-up and drove out.  After a long visit, I decided to continue west, winding through Flagstaff, down to Phoenix.  I entered at night, and when I got up in the morning and looked out the window I was convinced I had died and gone to hell- the landscape looked like something out of my old Catholic school catechism, some woodcut landscape Dante had imagined.  Then I wandered west to L.A., along the whole route visiting friends and relatives.  When I headed east again I camped in my truck, but for Vegas one evening, which was enough to last this woman for a lifetime.  The north rim of the Grand Canyon was a revelation, and the blacktops out of the Kaibab into Colorado are burned into my soul. I camped and followed the “million dollar highway”, then the back roads down into the high plains of Kansas, always behind a string of huge thunderstorms.  I regret not being able to do that again, but keep saying I will soon. Husband is an excellent wing-man and CAN read a map, and I miss the days when we traveled together to the upper Midwest, out to Colorado, down to Georgia, and other points U.S.  Our eldest even remembers hotel rooms, cabins, and tents, saying,“Let’s go somewhere” from time to time, spinning out tales about when we traveled with him.

The train horn sounds again, and I feel the call to get up, to go. But it is late, one of our tiny guys has the flu, and the house needs to be cleaned in order to remove the small blue engines from the floor to avoid the sure pain they will cause if I step on them.  Money is tight, and I console myself with the knowledge of a conference trip in the near future. “Goodbye” I find myself whispering to the train.  Good night moon, bye bye train, some other time.  These feet will have to itch just a little while longer.

 

If it seems too good to be true. . .

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is; or never mistake the opinion of the many for good sense, taste, or judgment.

First, let me say that I love my husband.  Second, he is human.  He does bone-headed things like we all do.  Trying to tape the vacuum cleaner back together once it had been bounced down the stairs (ah parenthood), then acting like it still worked (instead of spewing grit out of every crack and orifice it now had) was pure denial.  So when I in good faith tried to use it in the bedroom, then put the kids down for a nap- surprise!  gritty bed.  The other vacuum is forty years old, and wheezes like an old man with emphasema but Husband won’t get rid of it.  The Hoover upright is 15 years old and works about as well as I do with a mouth full of straws.  The low boy that got bounced, well, is absolute refuse now.  I put my foot down and said, “I’m going to Costco with Dad to get a vacuum.”

So I took my over-seventy year old father for his first trip to Costco.  I had not been since I got our membership this past summer.  All the parents in the play-group looked at me stunned last week when I said I got our membership after four years of not having one, because we were not that impressed the first time.  “Oh I just love Costco,” several people piped up, listing all the things they bought.  Well, I had gotten the damned membership and needed that vacuum, so I decided to go explore and took Dad along. 

Hence, the Visit.  Here is what I learned:

1. When one gets a big wholesale type club membership, one expects to pay less for items.  These “clubs” even market themselves this way.  While walking around with Dad, we noted that almost every durable good we saw was a former model of that item–something that was not produced anymore, or something we knew from experience we could get cheaper elsewhere (on the internet or in another store).  Also noted: DVD’s?  $18.99 for a film I just got for $11.99 on Amazon?  Come on!!  OOOh, an 80 gig Ipod Classic for $249?  Oh my, I can get it on Apple’s web site for that- and engraved for free!

2.  I walked around and did the math in my head (call me a geek, I can take it) for every grocery item I was considering and found that I could get it significantly cheaper elsewhere in town, especially when it was on sale (such as garbage bags).  Bigger is not better, or cheaper.

3.  Variety in selection has no meaning here.  Think Big Lots with only two types of labels.  The Costco label dominates, and the only other brand available (it is never the same across objects) is often some strange name, and in a size that is utterly useless unless you run a large foster home.

4.  As all the “I hate Costco” web sites point out, the other shoppers do tend to be of two types: over-weight poor folks who think they are getting a deal, and thin, upwardly mobile types who are buying for a business or party.  I guess we were the odd “gawkers”, a small minority of people who go in, stay away for years, go back once, then never again.

5.  Costco has little cubicles when one exits, wherein the company is trying to save money by expanding their on-line ordering system.  Let me get this straight:  the selection is still minimal, the prices still laughable, and you want me to buy sight unseen?  I don’t need a membership for that.  I can do better in the same style on the Internet already.

6.  At check out, the clerks are rude.  I am not alone in noticing this, so I mention it.  “We don’t take Visa”,  sneer.  Ok, so I didn’t read the fine print you snot, here’s your cash- and I am never coming back.  Who won’t take Visa now days?  That’s like saying “We take Diners Club but nothing else”.

7.  Bring your own bags, or grab a barely functional used box out of the bin at check out.  Fine.  Save the earth and all that.  But at a store like this, people tend NOT to bring their own bags and watching folks try to load super-sized containers of everything into their carts, THEN into cars- it’s pathetic.

8.  Lines are long.  Long, confusing, and slow.  And there are lines when you go in so some sour faced woman can check your card, lines to pay (where they check your card again- what, did I rip my mask off like some cut rate Batman villain and say “AH HA!  Fooled you!” between the mayo and the weenies?), and lines to exit- where a different sour faced person compares your receipt to your cart.  On our visit, the exit monitor managed to embarrass my cart pushing, white haired old father when, not being able to read her store’s own lingo, she harassed him about the vacuum.  When he pointed it out to her on the short list of items (five), she nodded and waved him past as if we were then free to cross the demilitarized zone into the West.  

9.  Yes, I got a vacuum.  They only had three to pick from.  A very cheap, bag style upright (49), the Infinity (a Dyson knock off) in a model no longer made (179- and I could have gotten it for 120 on line), and an older model Dyson (499).  I got the Infinity.  It works.  It is a pain to clean, and has gotten iffy reviews for less than stellar motor power, finicky performance if one does not clean it every two times (and cleaning it is a b****–this thing has more strange, flimsy, unwieldy parts than a Hugo), bad belts, and possible overheating.  Greeeaaaaaaat.  I am keeping the receipt.

10.  There seems to be no useful logic to the layout of the parking lot, or the store.  AND the geriatric sample people at the end of every other isle creep me out.  Shouldn’t they be watching grand kids, enjoying some sun, playing rummy, those sorts of things– instead of wearing rubber gloves and hair nets, looking bent and tired and trying to remember details about the snacks they are pushing?  I am sure someone, somewhere, thinks it all makes sense.  Maybe they liked playing Candy Land a lot as a kid. . .

In sum, I lost money getting a membership to this “club” because I won’t go back.  But experience is a good teacher.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  No third time.  Oh yea, what did Dad think?  His strongest rejection: the shake of the head, no words and a profound look of disgust on his face. 

What do I think is a better option?  Certainly not the mega-super-WalTarK’s dominating every ‘burg in the country.  No, I’ll take my well stocked, unbelievably well informed, kind and usefully staffed local Ace hardware right up the street and my whacky little residential, family owned grocery store right out of 1955.  When I say little, I don’t mean bodega sized.  It is a grocery store, complete with deli, fresh veg, meat department, frozen foods, the lot.  Until last month it still offered green stamps.  It has a “cheap meat” section where we get good cuts close to the sell-by date (often even the organics), and freeze them.  It has friendly cashiers.  It has amazing fried chicken (small batches, you can watch), and the best deli ham and turkey in town.  Limp vegetables and aging meats are used as much as possible by the deli for the hot meals which vary from day to day, and are sold in small portions at reasonable prices, a boon to the elderly people who frequent the store.  It carries the regular brands, and a few funky ones I can’t find anywhere else but really like (Red Rose tea, and a company that produces canned veg, using label designs circa 1964!).   Staff and customers cut out coupons and tape them to items for folks to use, and a ubiquitous hot dog cart is always just outside, the food donated by the store, run by a shifting set of charities (Boy Scout troop ## one week, the Word of Hope Thrift the next two- you get the idea).   It was built in what is still a residential area, and we can walk to it.  A Giant corp. arm called Martins invaded the other side of town this summer, but I still prefer my little store and Kroger for organics and general shopping.  Even Food Lion has good “cycle” sales (think toilet paper, freezer bags). 

All in all, I like small-ish stores that are easy to navigate, offer good prices, and which don’t require me to spend my monthly gas ration to get to them.  Call me a dinosaur.  If any investors are reading, I’d also like to open up my own old-school grocery, like the one my great-grandmother and I walked to.  It was down the block from her house and it was small, with an ornate wooden screen door, metal signs and ceiling, and a curved glass candy counter.  In addition to this sort of aesthetic, I’d like to be able to carry all local produce, as much as possible being organic.  Only open 7-7, and closed on Sundays.  I can dream can’t I? While I wait, there is always my quirky local store.  At least until the ninety-five year old owner dies. . .maybe old ideas will come back into fashion.  With gas prices and a looming recession, they might come back into necessity.

Lines at Christmas

So it’s the day after Thanksgiving.  We try to go out for breakfast, and find the only parking lot without circling Detroit vultures is a diner thirty minutes away.  It’s a nice drive at eight a.m.,  hence not a problem.  Then I send my husband off so I can try to get some work done, and after deciding he’ll implode if he takes both kids- he leaves me with a cranky, tired, twenty month old and takes the three and a half year old. Do I get anything done?  If you have children, you do not need to ponder this question.

When he finally returns, after filling the older child up with scone and popcorn in their travels, he tells a tale of woe trying to find brown socks on a day when “lines went from the cash registers to the backs of the stores and there were no parking spaces- at one in the afternoon! I thought all the crazies would be gone by then.  So I went to the hardware store.  No lines.”  Then a  “Harrumph” of triumph.  No socks either, but a few other things on his list I guess.

I have to say I am surprised.  I have always heard about black Friday and avoided it.  I didn’t think it was so bad, I mean really.  Get up at four a.m. on a day off to go score a Barbie VW for 1/3 off the regular price?  Do people honestly get flat screen tv’s for a steal on this day?  I shrug and think: like graduation in a college town, it’s just another reason to stay off the streets.  A few years back I got an email about a movement to boycott the day entirely.  Sure I thought- do what I would do normally and feel morally superior for it.

I drink a cup of tea, watching sunshine stream in the window past the lopsided, recently erected facsimile of a pine tree complete with finger smudged and tampered ornaments.  I think that the Libertarians and the Scientologists ought to get together.  The operating belief systems seem to be very compatible, even if the historical roots are a little wacky.  I just got a chance to read about the founding and perpetuation of Blackwater hired guns forces, and how they operate the business of killing.  The yak they spread is self-defined as libertarian; offering no health, death, or other benefits but a base rate per day check to former military types. 

I heard from the investment director for Husband’s retirement funds (the only “option” he is allowed by the way, being a state employee) that he is a proud, die hard libertarian.  Not the brightest of bulbs either, and both features leave us awake at night, sweating at the thought of where we’ll be in forty years.  Capitalism is its own animal in this United States, and has always had an uneasy relationship with notions of Democracy.  The fun house mirrors that are currently paraded as foundational ideas of “democracy” scare me.  Capitalism needs no image revision, no celebrity.  It is alive and well, scoring billions for the rich and flat screen TV’s for the reaching working class (which includes just about anyone who has to report to work now, given how wages have stagnated, health care costs, etc.). 

Libertarians have a great shtick- work hard, get what you deserve.  Taxes are a joke; society will function fine without public support for any programs.  Kill the government and most of our problems will go away.  Being a libertarian has become a highly popular, and even cool label for people to claim in recent months.  Between Hillary, Obama, Guiliani, and Fred (“just Fred”), a lot of people are discovering libertarianism as the anti Democratic-Republican option.  “Money-Lite!  The perfect diet option for your government needs!”  Who would run under this label is another issue.

Then there is the club that would-not-have-most-as-members, Scientology.  The shtick is good- if you work hard, and obtain “clarity” (a mash up of self knowledge, self importance, and networking with people the club deems important), you’ll get what you deserve and be able to feel self righteous about it, moral even.  See?  Operating assumption very similar, and gaining just as much celebu-popularity.

Oh- and we must not dismiss the ever popular, mega-church evangelical call of “God wants you to be rich”.  The mantra of those Christian Amway salespersons in the 70’s and 80’s, it is still a popular way to sell religion and membership.  Only in this variation, it seems to be appear to be good, appear to work hard, and you’ll get what you deserve.  The details are a little fuzzy, and can be written off to the convenient last minute option of redemption no matter what one does in life.

Notions of charity, goodwill, social responsibility, and “do unto others” seems to be, well, missing from all of these operating positions.  As every inflatable crèche goes up this weekend from mall to church side yard, I wonder what relation any of our cultural practices and identifications has to do with the basic teachings of Jesus. In my lazy, over-simplified way I distill biblical morality into two principles, or “Do’s”:  Do unto others as you would have them do to you (a very complex notion, and includes issues of social responsibility), and the old testament rule of Care for the earth and all that is in it.  The big 7 Deadlies and the 10 Don’ts hawked by everyone from G.W. Bush to your local plaid or frock wearing, comb-over minister still matter but if the 2 “Do’s” are adhered to, it seems that the Deadlies and Don’ts follow as a matter of course, and need a lot less attention paid to them.

Running to get bargains?  Well, as the film Wallstreet made famous, “Greed is good”, right?  The Libertarians, Scientologists, and Disney-esque (Ah, Steve Jobs and the Pixar take over- another rant) Supersized Mega Churches might blush a little, but nod their collective heads in agreement.  Go get those bargains you Free Americans you! 

I don’t claim to be any better or less muddled, but different.  Ok, different sometimes, by choice, when I can. But right now I have to take an insulin crashed toddler upstairs to lie down.

Black Friday indeed.