One of my favorite songs from My Fair Lady extols the virtue of the “street where you live.” While I don’t have Freddie outside serenading Eliza, I do live on a street that I love. I thought I would post a picture of the three houses to our east with our white house in the foreground. Here you can see the sidewalks I insisted on having when we bought our house. You can see many more salvaged bricks between our lawn(carefully hand weeded by my husband to protect the birds) and the sidewalk. On the left is the street that connects us to the main road at the far end of the picture. Because of its location, our street is plowed every 30 minutes or so during winter. Our wires are all overhead, including electric, cable and phone. The lopsided tree in the distance was pruned to avoid the power lines in case of a limb toppling storm.
We know all the people in these houses, despite dire warnings that Americans don’t know their neighbors. One is an electrician, another a motor vehicle department worker, another a widow of a projectionist. We look out for one another, especially making sure that the widow is safe, taking turns plowing her walk and driveway in the winter. My husband knows many more of our more distant neighbors from the time he spends hand weeding the front yard.(“Why don’t you just use weed killer?” a frequent question.)
At the end of the street to the top of photo there is an intersection with a small group of shops: a convenience store, a barber shop, a liquor store and a Chinese take out. Just a few more minutes away one can walk to a dollar store, a bakery, a nail salon, and a pizza parlor. And with a few more minutes walk(maybe 10 minutes in all) you arrive at a large grocery store, a drug store, a Home Depot, a pet store, a craft store, a party store, a clothing store and several fast food restaurants. I wanted to live in a house that was walking distance to whatever we might need, and ours suits my demand. The location also works for many of our neighbors without cars who frequently walk by our home on the way to the shops.
Upscale? Not at all. Exciting? Rarely. A perfect place to live.
I always thought that I was pretty informed about the world. I knew more geography than the average American, I had a basic grasp on U.S. and world history. I knew that the United States was just one out of many countries that housed good, thoughtful, responsible citizens. Still I have learned so much more since I began following blogs from around the world. It turns out that I still held fairly one dimensional views about a lot of places.
Take New Zealand, for example. I have never been there, but friends have told me it is the most beautiful country they have ever visited. I knew that it had a rapid response after a mass shooting. So in my limited view, it was a great place free of problems. Then I read a New Zealand blog where the writer mentioned the homeless situation in New Zealand. What? Homeless in New Zealand? I promptly went on line and read about the very real problem of homeless people in New Zealand. My view had to widen.
Then there’s Kashmir. I had never even thought about Kashmir until I started following a blog of a college student who wrote there. He had only intermittent access to the internet since it kept being shut down. That got my attention of course. How could the internet get shut down in what I thought of as the free country of India? And of course now Kashmir is the focus of much news reporting, only recently coming from the local people who once again had their internet access cut off. I have no position on the India/Kashmir tangle, but I never even knew it existed before I kept a blog.
I have acquired book lists, song titles, movie recommendations, and recipe ideas from following others. But I am most grateful for the international community which took me out of my–as it turns out–very parochial view. Thanks everyone.
I have always loved having a back yard. Perhaps this began in my childhood with the first house I lived in as a child. Outdoors always gave me a sense of freedom to play, to dream and to read. Even though I now find comfort indoors, I still love having a back yard, if only to gaze out upon as I go through my day. Fortunately, my husband loves working outdoors and has turned our back yard into a true oasis. Here is a third view of the yard, this time highlighting the brick walkway he made from salvaged bricks, the picket fence he made from boards, the blueberry fortress and in the far back corner the grape arbor, reinforced by salvaged boards. The scruffy patch of lawn shows the work of our dog!
We live in a single family neighborhood, with one house for each lot, usually at least 50′ by 100′. In Oregon, where I spent the first fifty years of my life, this was the most common type of housing. Recently, however, Oregon has changed their laws. In any town over 25,000 people, single family zoning will no longer be allowed. Talking recently to an old friend in Portland, I learned that the idea of single family neighborhoods is now considered “out of date” and a “new paradigm” of multi-family housing is now preferred. I guess this resulted from the great numbers of people moving to Oregon and expecting to find a place to live. But the character of the state will be vastly different from when I grew up there.
I am glad that here we are still surrounded by individual houses with yards. I enjoy the pride each homeowner takes with their little “estate.” No one near has much money, but all are happy to have a place of their own to call home.
St. Francis stood alone on his granite rock for the early summer. Happily, he is now surrounded by zinnias and four-o-clocks. Fortunately the woodchuck didn’t work his way down this far on his destructive journey through my flower bed.
We go to a Catholic church which is run by Franciscan Friars, in our case three Fathers and two Brothers who live together next to the sanctuary. As I have written before, we are located in downtown, an area with few residents in houses and a number on the street. We feed sandwiches every day to whoever comes to the window, and hand out socks in the summer, hats and gloves in the winter, and food gift cards, bus passes and medical co-pays year round. Some believe we are enabling drug addicts, but now and then one of these street people gets clean after several years of contact with the Friars. Many of these men and women also attend Mass. No questions are asked of anyone who wishes to come to our table.
St. Francis, founder of the Order, gave up all riches to tend to the poor and rebuild the church. His message was always of love, peace and compassion. Our Friars stress the same, with no threatening God, no excluding Jesus, no condemnation of those who are “different”(whatever that means–different from whom?) I am pleased that my St. Francis gets to be framed in beauty each late summer. He deserves to “walk in beauty.”
After writing about fire engines yesterday, I looked out at the yard and was in awe of the display of fire engine red cardinal flowers. My husband loves this variety and loves that it spreads covering all sorts of areas he would otherwise have to weed. Here they are flourishing under our dogwood tree. To the left of the photo is a gigantic honeysuckle vine which nearly obliterates the picket fence supporting it. In the far left corner you can spy part of the blueberry fortress that protects 18 blueberry plants.
It’s high summer here at last. The first tomatoes are ready. We just returned from the farmer’s stand down the road with a sack of ripe peaches. My husband picked another quart of blueberries–nearly the last of them. Mid-August supplies the two ingredients needed for his favorite Peach Blueberry Pie. I will make that tomorrow.
I have always enjoyed August. July seemed endless this year with record temperatures and high humidity. No matter how hot August gets, September is around the corner. And the weather seems to always cool off just after Labor Day. So here’s to perfect weather, perfect peaches, perfect blueberries and a raucous display of cardinal flowers. Life at its simplest and best here in Connecticut.
Hearing a fire siren this hot August night, I remembered hearing a siren in Pike, New York in 1958 on another hot August night. That siren was calling the volunteers to get to the station, get on their truck and rush to a fire. My grandfather said, “Let’s go see what is on fire!” Very excited, the four of us piled in the car and followed others to the fire. I had never heard of doing such a thing, but the scene was full of other onlookers as well as the volunteer fire brigade.
No one was hurt, though the house burned down. It turned out the woman had left paraffin melting on the stove and gone outside “just for a minute.” She had planned to seal her jelly jars with the paraffin, but lost her house instead. We all chatted about how easy a mistake that was to make. No one seemed anything but compassionate. Most people knew the farmer’s wife and knew all the firefighters too. A small town getting together to witness a tragedy.
In 1871 my grandfather’s father had just moved from a small Minnesota town to the big city of Chicago. He was caught up in the great Chicago fire with no way to let his family know he was all right. It was a scary time for his family until he managed to get out of the city. I am sure my grandfather heard stories about that fire many times as he grew up. Surely that excitement lingered when he heard the alarm in 1958. This wasn’t Chicago ablaze, but we could see a fire first hand just as his father had. And it was an unforgettable experience for the four of us. Only my grandmother disapproved with her “Oh, Niles!” (his name) spoken whenever she found his “country ways” less than admirable.
The above cartoon from The New Yorker illustrates an aspect of marriage that John and Julia Gottman, of a marriage institute in Seattle, say is the “single greatest predictor of divorce.” Contempt occurs between people and at the moment is widespread in the political arena. But what sets contempt apart from dislike or anger?
Contempt claims a moral superiority over another. Often it extends beyond a single target to a whole group of people. At the moment it seems that half of Americans are contemptuous of the other half. If the Gottman’s view of divorce applies to nations, we are approaching a civil war. What would it take to pull back from this toxic precipice, whether at home or in the public sphere?
We could start with the simple statement: “you may have a point.” Contempt is much easier. It provides television stations with viewers. You can choose your program to suit your own particular contempt targets. It can be amusing when we watch comedians skewer those we disagree with. It can stroke our egos when we look down on another part of town, another kind of dress, or other people’s habits. Contempt really tempts us because it gives us a chance to feel superior. And feeling superior can feel good.
Instead of saying “how could anyone believe anything that stupid?” (one of my standard expressions) I am going to try a new approach. Why does the person believe that? Is there any merit in their point of view? If there isn’t, can I share another view with the person? Not, clearly, if I go into any conversation with contempt at the ready!