Anne Notations

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fall back

Remember to set your clocks back this Saturday night, kiddies. It's the time change I actually like: we get an extra hour of sleep. Of course, we pay with early darkness for the next few months, but at this point it's nearly dark when I get home around 6 pm anyway.

Autumnal stuff:

Grasses and foliage at the end of our road.

Looks like a poinsettia, no? It's foliage on my hydrangea bush. I love the wine-purple color of the leaves in fall.

The Brant geese are back! Lots of soft honking in the evenings. Must brace myself for hunting season. (Yes, that is the Jamestown Bridge arching in the distance. And a container ship at Davisville.)

Andrés has talent with a camera. He took some sweet black-and-whites of Caroline last Friday. She turns three in a month – hard to believe.

Hi ho, it's off to parents weekend at Syracuse we go – tomorrow. I hope the independent daughter will let mom get her arms around her at least once this weekend. She pretty much has no choice. *evil witch cackle*

Happy Halloween, everyone! Save me a Reese's PB cup, please.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The ‘S’ word

The latest Republican desperation move to discredit Barack Obama is to hiss that most nerve-racking of charges against him:


Ssssssssssscary! And sssssso unAmerican. –Or is it?

This morning I came across a blog post by a homeschooling mom from Virgina in which she deconstructs this straw-man hobgoblin and points out that not only have we met the socialists, to a large extent they are us. Brilliant.

I keep hearing, "I enjoy living in a capitalist country and I want to keep it that way! Don't you take my capitalism away from me!" Sister, you don't live in a capitalist country. Sorry. That has already been taken away from you. Along with children working in mines, tenements made out of cardboard, and unregulated air pollution.

Is it just killing you that the terrible socialists with their wealth redistribution gave Medicaid to babies in poverty? After all, they didn't earn it. Their mothers couldn't afford it. In your sparkling, elegant capitalist society, they wouldn't have it. You want to be in charge of spending your own money, not giving it to the government to redistribute to the poor! Do you wish we could go back to a time when generous churches and noble private citizens were responsible for picking up the tab for those babies? Because you know what? They didn't.

The big businesses of this country did not suddenly one day wake up and say, "Hey, let's give those workers two days off a week. They've earned it!" They did not just announce, "You know, it's Tuesday, let's set a minimum wage!" They didn't establish a 9 to 5 work day just because 9 and 5 are good numbers for them. It goes against profit and the free market to be kind, safe, and fair....

Are you afraid that Obama the socialist is going to make … your food safer, give you more city parks, make your air cleaner, make your workplace safer, give more people voting rights, establish more vacation days, or something awful like that? Are you afraid he's going to keep us out of foreign wars, stop writing huge checks to big businesses, and improve our schools? Wow, yeah, that's terrifying.

For the record, I'm not against capitalism at all. Communism as Marx conceived of it runs counter to basic human nature, in my opinion, and has been shown to degrade into spirit-numbing totalitarianism when large countries attempt to put it into practice. I firmly believe in the amazing power of market competition, the vitality of the entrepreneurial spirit, and the floats-all-boats advantage of a free market. I believe hard-working citizens should have the chance to prosper and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

But unbridled capitalism can be cruel and morale-squelching, too, once the very rich begin getting exponentially richer than almost everyone else and those on the lower portion of the economic totem pole find themselves sliding deeper into debt and ill health.

So I'll take my capitalism with a leavening sprinkle of socialism, please. I'll sleep better when everyone has some basic form of health insurance at a cost that doesn't outpace their mortgage and grocery bill combined. I'll recognize that in a country this large and complex, there is no one right and pure principle that works across the board. Our society needs a leader who can tolerate ambiguity and gray areas, who can select the best of various economic and political philosophies and create policies that work in these anxious, crazy times. And by now you know just who I think that man is.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

‘Stretch your hands wide’

Ghanaian Msgr. Bobby Benson with parishioners at St. Sebastian Church, Providence, on October 19.

These are grim times for many in the U.S., what with the stock market busted, banks belly-up, and joblessness at a 20-year high. In my own little family, the two male adults are without steady employment; it's been 18 months now for Michael and a bumpy year of part-time jobs for Andrés.

At church I pray that my men will find their next full-time jobs … quickly. Inevitably our priest's Sunday homily, or the announcement of some seasonal community-service project, reminds me that many are in far worse straits.

Sometime in the late 1990s, after we had started attending St. Sebastian's, a visiting priest from Ghana came to study hospital ministries in Providence and ended up living in the capacious brick rectory with Father Randall, and serving unofficially as our assistant pastor. He was Father Alex "Bobby" Benson, a charismatic man on a mission: to bring succor and hope to the impoverished people of his home country, particularly to those who suffer from the pandemic of HIV/AIDS.

In 2004: Melinda, Kevin, and friend Juliana with Father Bobby at a reception in our parish hall.

For several years we parishioners basked in Father Bobby's extroverted presence and learned to decipher his rapid-fire Ghanaian English, in which "th" sounds like "d", among other variants. Children in particular were drawn to Father Bobby, and ours were no exception: at the coffee hour after 9:00 Mass, they and their friends would swarm around the ebony-skinned priest, who unfailingly interrupted his adult conversations to lean down and respectfully greet them by name, ask about school, give them his full attention, his whole self in that moment. Children, I believe, have built-in B.S. detectors, and in Father Bobby they perceived the geniune article: a grown-up who sees the face of the divine in each person, no matter how young, small, or infirm.

Selfishly, we were bereft when Father Bobby eventually returned to Ghana and resumed his pastoral work there. Our better selves knew that Africa needed him much more than the prosperous East Side of Providence.

Every few years since then, Father Bobby has made a brief return to Rhode Island, always an occasion for our Community Outreach Committee to organize a coffee hour between the Sunday morning Masses. These visits are a win-win: We get to experience Father Bobby's charism in person once again, and he gets to hit us up for money for his life's passion: an AIDS care and respite center he founded in 1998 in Koforidua, in the eastern region of Ghana, called Matthew 25.

Matthew 25 ("What you did for one of these least ones, you did for me") is a sanctuary that provides care, information, and a place for HIV-infected people to receive counseling and engage in small cottage industries to support themselves. The center also tries to educate the community at large about AIDS to lessen the ostracism experienced by HIV-positive people. And, frequently, people come to Matthew 25 to die in the presence of comfort and faith.

Matthew 25 headquarters in Ghana.

As Father Bobby – recently promoted to Monsignor Benson – told a reporter last year, Matthew 25 aims to feed and attend to AIDS sufferers "so that they will feel loved and needed." He asked that good people everywhere "stretch your hands wide and respond to the needs of all those who need help."

Last Sunday Father, err, Monsignor, Bobby was at St. Sebastian's again. Approximately my own age, he looks older, more thinned-out than on earlier visits, perhaps because he is continually in motion: erecting new buildings, saying Mass, raising money, visiting partner parishes in the United States like ours. Kevin insisted on coming to Providence with me for the 10 a.m. coffee hour, followed by Mass: "There's just something about Father Bobby … he's so … cool," he tried to explain.

October 2008: Kevin, age 16, with Msgr. Bobby at this week's coffee hour.

"Cool" he is. We came, we hugged, we talked, we listened, we watched a slide show and a video about Matthew 25. Elderly white ladies and young parents alike fawned over the newly minted monsignor, asking questions and writing checks. Children swirled around his feet.

Handmade Ghanaian objects and cloth were for sale at the coffee hour, all proceeds going to Matthew 25.

In the end, I too opened my hands and gave a little, "a little" being all we can afford this year. Thanks to Father Bobby we are now the proud owners of a $10 woven bookmark and a $10 Ghana bracelet that fell apart as soon as I took it off at home that evening.

It's funny how being $20 poorer can make you feel richer.

Matthew 25 runs on the proverbial shoestring, and the need is immense. If you feel moved to support Father Bobby's work, you can visit the center's Web site. (Donations are tax-deductible and are managed by St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Boca Raton, Florida.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Three's a crowd

Dude, seriously. What are you thinking?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Back in (the photo) business

Green buoy, Warwick Neck Cove
Photos look better if you click to enlarge them.

For six weeks I have been without my camera. My trusty Canon PowerShot G5, source of many photographs on this and my sunset blog, slipped from my fingers as I rushed to leave for our night of pro soccer and David Beckham, hit the floor with a sickening crack, and was done for.

This afternoon my new camera – a G10, the latest version of Canon's versatile point-and-shoot series – arrived via UPS. It's a bit smaller and flatter than its predecessor, but it takes much higher-resolution photos. I took it with me for a walk with Daisy at around 4:15, along the beach heading east to Warwick Neck cove and back. Attempting to take photographs while holding a muscular, tugging dog on her leash is never ideal, and I returned with some duds. But I also quickly reawkened my eye for light, color, contrast, texture, and pictures that tell a story.

My photography is amateur in all senses of the word: It is something I do for the sheer love of it, and my results are far from professional. Wearing a camera on a strap around my neck as I amble around this small point of land, however, brings my walks into sharper focus, no pun intended. Suddenly every quirky detail causes me to pause and look through the viewfinder; every ray of slanting late-afternoon light through the cottony heads of the tall marsh reeds calls to me. The startling green of a channel buoy draws out the soft colors of fall foliage on the opposite shore. I am back at home in my element.

Late afternoon, Oakland Beach

Autumn arrangement near the town boat landing.

Boo, the beach is closed. (Wall of restroom building, Oakland Beach.)

Weeds sprawl at the end of our road.

A man and his best friend passed this way.

Never forget: The 9/11 memorial garden at Oakland Beach.

A little witch next door – and her froggie. (?!)

View from our front porch. I love the tassels on our ornamental grasses: shimmery metallic in the setting sunlight.

Light and shadows near the beach parking lot.

Seasonal reflections: the sunset mirrored in our front window.

Comic relief

Did you hear a huge sigh? That was me – and probably tens of thousands of other Americans who have desperately needed an antidote to this fall's relentless campaigning, attack ads, debates.

Last night we got it.

If you haven't yet watched video of John McCain and Barack Obama speaking in the best "roast" tradition at a tribute dinner in New York, please check it out here.

It was an equal-opportunity laff fest. There was also respect, some dignity, and a bracing dash of self-mockery thrown in. Hallelujah!

A sample:

"I can't shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me," Mr. McCain said, turning to the far side of the stage. "I'm delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary."

Mr. McCain assured those in the ballroom that his rival was not fazed by being called, "That one," during the second presidential debate.

"He doesn't mind at all, in fact, he even has a pet name for me: George Bush," Mr. McCain said.

And from his erstwhile opponent:

"I was originally told the venue would be Yankee Stadium. Can somebody tell me what happened to the Greek columns that I requested?" Mr. Obama said.

Later, he added: "I do love the Waldorf Astoria. I hear from the doorstep you can see all the way to the Russian Tea Room."

Laughter: the best medicine. Our bruised, anxious country needs all it can get.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Now for something a little different

Found this beauty under the butterfly bush in the front yard. Our resident praying mantis had a tasty meal.

By virtue of having Friday off (and no Caroline this week), and tomorrow being Columbus Day, I'm enjoying a four-day break. Thursday night, I resolved to put politics and the economy out of my mind as much as possible to restore my soul and get myself to a less crabby place.

The weather has cooperated magnificently, donning its early-October finery all weekend: clear sunny days in the high 60s, cool nights in the 40s, ridiculously blue skies, hushed mornings, pleasantly breezy afternoons. In the fields around us, the sumac is turning scarlet and the grasses beige. The ornamental grass clumps we planted in front of our house in June grew immense and then, a few weeks ago, hoisted giant grain tassels high above their foliage. As the sun moves westward each afternoon, the tassels catch the light. With each toss of the breeze they glimmer, silver and bronze.

This morning while walking Daisy by the beach, I saw the autumn's first returning flock of Brant geese paddling into Greenwich Bay. We walked around the entire point, across the far beach and over to the city boat launch ramp. Fishing and pleasure craft came and went on the sparkling water. At the baseball diamond, where a men's softball game was going on, we met a young woman and her dog, who looked like Daisy's first cousin: same size, ears, coloring.

Michael and I got out twice to the movies; we saw Eagle Eye and Body of Lies, both the sort of intelligent action thriller that we enjoy seeing together.

Fall inspires me to cook heartier fare. Earlier last week I made a big crockpot (slow cooker) full of Portuguese kale and chourico soup that lasted us several nights. Friday I made stuffed cabbage, Polish-style, also in the crockpot, substituting ground turkey for beef. We've had it two nights in a row and there's enough left for someone's lunch tomorrow. These are things Melinda would never dream of eating; one small bright side to her being away at college is that I can prepare soups, stews, and casseroles for the menfolk. Tomorrow I'm roasting a large chicken, and from the leftovers and carcass I'll make soup for later in the week. I also have more ground turkey to make our favorite meatloaf.

How about some good news?

• Kevin is taking medication for his ADD, and also really trying hard. He has turned his grades around from numerous failures last spring to honor-roll-caliber grades so far this fall. And he's excited about it. I am so happy for him (and relieved; I can't deny how very relieved I am).

• Last week for the first time in nearly a year, I purchased gas – at the Gulf station on Smith Street near the RI State House – for under $3.00 a gallon: $2.99. The recent drop in fuel prices is perhaps the one silver lining of the current recession for us common folk.

• I'm not sure if this is good news or a terrible embarrassment, but it's entertaining and relaxing: I got caught up (or should I say "sucked in" – ha ha) in the current pop-culture frenzy around the Twilight young-adult vampire novel series. The movie based on the first book will open November 21, and I'm already planning to see it. The books are somewhat silly and pretentious, but whatever; I'm immersed in the saga of plain-jane teen Bella and her exquisite vampire boyfriend Edward and her ardent werewolf/Indian admirer Jacob. Tonight I'm in the middle of the third book, Eclipse, which I had to run out and buy at Target today. Look, when I get into something, I really get into it! As popular literature goes, the series is more akin to a Nancy Drew mystery than to the sophisticated, lush prose of Anne Rice's first three vampire books, which are (to me) the gold standard of the bloodsucking genre.

• It had been nearly two years since I last saw Los Lonely Boys in concert. Peter, Andrés and I went up to Boston on Sept. 13 for an afternoon and evening with this awesome band: a screening of portions of their documentary, Cotton Fields and Crossroads, at the WGBH studios, followed by a Q&A with the brothers; a signing event at Newbury Comics in Quincy Market; and a concert at the Paradise Rock Club that night. The concert venue was small; we stood near the stage, which was only about two feet high, within arm's reach of Henry and Jojo. Henry's guitar talent, impressive all along, has reached new heights. For an encore they played Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile," and my hair nearly stood on end with the thrill of it.

Henry (left) and Jojo shred their way through "Voodoo Chile." This awesome photo was taken by Andrés from our front-row vantage point. Click to see it larger.

• Finally, for your entertainment, I present this timely comic strip (click it if it's too small to read) ...

…and its real-life analog: a video Kevin shot from the second-story deck in July while we adults were blissfully occupied in the back yard with Melinda's graduation party. The voices cheering our young daredevil belong to cousins. Pardon the F-bomb at the end! I was aghast when I first viewed this, but now it amuses me: Boys will be boys. Andrés is an experienced rock-climber and has learned the correct way to fall. Ready? Ready?

Friday, October 10, 2008

A thousand words

I promise I won't blog again (or at least not often! ha ha) about this presidential election. And I want to clarify that I believe this country is good and strong enough that we can work through crises no matter what individual occupies the White House. (After all, we've survived eight years of the man now considered the worst president in U.S. history.) Not for nothing did the Founding Fathers design a government with checks and balances.

However, the desperation of the McCain-Palin campaign has given tacit license to those Neanderthals among us who embrace ignorance and slander – who devalue the rightful primacy of thoughtful debate by gleefully promulgating such travesties as this billboard in West Plains, Missouri:

I'm not afraid of these racist jerks. But I'm sad to realize just how vile the worst of America can be.

We may not be Jedi, but we're better than this.

Shout-out to Ian for the billboard link and inspiration.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Wordless as the flight of birds

Sorry, friends. I am mute. Dumb. Words stick inside my chest; I can feel their pressure like a stone next to my heart. There is just too much unthinkable stuff to think about these days. This isn't one of my periodic pity-parties. I'm just stating a fact: I've lost my writer's voice.

Here we are in a recession, heading for a depression it seems, and the presidential election process is careering crazily from pony show to horror movie. A winky-winky Barbie doll who says things like "You betcha!", "Joe Six-Pack," and "gosh darn it" for vice president? Gag me with a snowshoe. A $700 billion bailout of Wall Street? How can anyone even count that high? I'm speechless just trying to contemplate it. I'm terrified wondering how such a sum will be paid, and what it means for our children.

I really do have some other things to share with my blog-reading friends. Some continuing bad news (Michael is still unemployed, 1.5 years now); some new bad news – I broke my beloved Canon G5 camera and have not gotten a replacement yet; some good news – Kevin is doing well in school and seems like a different person since his ADD diagnosis and starting on a med to help him focus.

During the past month I've done some fun things and reached a new level of victory over my old driving phobia. My pulse is racing from the pace of my job. I'll get through it. Fall is always a crazy-beautiful season for me.

Tonight, the concept "mute" immediately evoked the first lines of a favorite poem I still remember from decades ago. Since I'm not doing so well speaking for myself, I'll let the poet take over. Tonight, I will just be.

Ars Poetica

by Archibald Macleish

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown --

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind --

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.

A poem should be equal to
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea --

A poem should not mean
But be.