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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Because it's Tuesday (Sept. 27, 2011)

Am I dressed up because I have an event to attend? No. So why the outfit? Because it Tuesday. Hey, polka dots are fun any day of the year. But the timing of this blog piece is no accident. I finished making this dress yesterday and thought I'd share my enthusiasm with the half-dozen people who read my stuff.

If you recall earlier posts from a few months ago, you know I finally dipped my toe into the world of sewing this summer. And it is awesome. Of course, sometimes it's not. I have been reduced to tears a few times, yes, because I so want to be good at it and sometimes the sewing machine doesn't understand what I want to do. But when the machine and I are able to work out our differences, it brings me a lot of joy.

Normal people use patterns to make dresses. But you know I have my own ideas about things. I conjured up this idea in my own cluttered brain, and it turned out pretty well. It's so fun for me to dream up an idea and turn it into reality/colorful wearable art. It's completely my creation and I dig it.

And yes, I do think bike riding in a dress and semi-high heels is a good idea!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Neighborhood (Sept. 22, 2011)


What does that word evoke for you?

Yesterday I found myself in a part of town I like, one filled with older houses and trees and a sense of community, and I pondered the concept of neighborhood. Sometimes, a neighborhood evolves not as a function of city planning but out of a hard-to-pinpoint, slow-developing something. I’m curious about what influences a neighborhood’s character. What is the connection between an area’s past and its current personality?

These days, planned communities are common. They have a cohesive feel, and oftentimes, Homes Owners’ Association rules and fees. The similarities among the houses and the landscaping contribute to that unified look. It does feel like a neighborhood, a collection of houses that goes together. On the other hand, individuality is limited by rules about which color your house can be, and whether you can drape towels over the balconies (I’ve heard this is a big no-no!).

But neighborhood goes far beyond how the surrounding buildings look. Is the neighborhood you choose to call home an extension of self, a reflection of who you are, or for some, who you want to become?

I felt a little nerdy checking the dictionary’s definition of “neighborhood,” but I often wonder if my interpretation of an idea matches its literal definition, or whether my feelings about a word have taken on a life of their own. Definitions include “region near” and “a section lived in by neighbors and usually having distinguishing characteristics.” Another source acknowledged two aspects of the word, its “specific geographic area (as well as its)…set of social networks.”

The very fact that the word includes “neighbor” means something, too. Yes, a neighbor is someone who lives near you. But the terms “neighborhood” seems to have an affectionate undertone. It implies a connection to the place, a sense of belonging.

This leads me to ponder further. Do we want to live near people we think are like us? For some, yes, although others seek diversity in where they want to live. When I was twenty-three I moved to a more urban neighborhood and I loved how unpretentious it was. There were laundromats on the corners, not fancy car dealerships. There was a higher crime rate but I felt safe and never had trouble there.

For the last eight years I’ve lived in an area of rather modest, mostly 1-story homes. There are things I like about my neighborhood as well as a few things I dislike, but the pros outweigh the cons. I like that it’s not pretentious. People are hard-working. Most of my neighbors cut their own grass and wash their own cars by choice. They aren’t too self-important to hang their own holiday lights. They lend things to neighbors. They meet at the park to talk with other parents or dog-owners. It’s not a place where your nearest neighbors (if you even know them) are far away. This isn’t an area where a team of gardeners manicures your acres, servants walk your dogs, and you lounge around managing your stock portfolio. This neighborhood is anchored in the real world. It’s a place where people care about their houses, do certain home repair themselves, plant their own gardens and then share tomatoes with their neighbors. People meet in the street and chit-chat. We make friends at nearby garage sales, and buy drinks from kids’ lemonade stands. I’m comfortable here and that’s important to me. Maybe some of my neighbors aren’t as fond of this area as I am. Maybe they aren’t here by choice. But there are those of us who love the normalcy, the lack of pretention. We are neither in competition with the Joneses nor are we afraid of who lives nearby. We are part of something. We care about the area. We want safety without showiness. For me, a down-to-earth neighborhood is not a consolation prize. It is the reward.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11 (Sept. 11, 2011)

Today I woke up and in some ways it was like any other day in Southern California. The sun came out after a while. I took a morning walk, washed dishes, cleaned up many messes, made phone calls. Normal stuff.

In many ways, though, today can never be just another day. It’s 9-11, and that date always will mean something to us. I grappled with the idea of doing something in remembrance of this day. Did I need to do something public? I wasn’t sure. I don’t believe that you have to participate in a public remembrance in order to recognize the significance of this date. You can remember privately, if that’s how you work.

On tv there was footage of people at the brand-new fountains at Ground Zero in Manhattan, where the names of those who died are etched into stone. The fountains pour into the ground, the void, as they call it because of the void left by their deaths. It was very moving. There was footage of people reading their family members’ names: moms, brothers, uncles. An almost ten-year-old boy read his father’s name. He never got to meet his dad, but he thanked him for the gift of life.

I put our big flag up outside, and then put up ten more: six medium ones and four tiny ones I’d made before July 4th. I wore a red t-shirt and put little two flags on the stroller before I set out for a walk. The footage from Manhattan and Washington, DC had impacted me. With my flags and clothing I was participating in a public way, and I felt good about the outward expression of what I was on my mind today. I decided to go to one of the local commemorations.

I went to the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier. I wasn’t sure what the event would involve but I wanted to show my respect. Nearly 3,000 people participated, which is a good-sized crowd in my book. I like the symbolism of this number’s nearly matching the number of people who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Names of those who died were read, followed by a bell’s toll. It was sobering to hear the names. The statistics are one thing. But it becomes so much more real when you hear victims’ names.

Various people spoke, including Mayor Jerry Sanders. Former military members gave brief speeches. Three planes flew overhead in a missing man formation. Some people were dressed in patriotic colors. There were girl- and boy-scout troops there, with their patch-covered vests. Many members of the military as well as police and fire fighters were there in dress uniform. A giant flag suspended from two fire engine’s aerial ladders moved in the breeze, the bright sun making its colors especially vibrant. Our flag is much more than a bunch of fabric. I know that, but I really felt it today.

I felt good about going today, making the time to show my appreciation for the freedoms we have here. The tone at the commemoration was that of respect and gratitude and I was glad to be there to express my appreciation for those who served us ten years ago, as well as today.

9-11. It’s a sad day and it always will be. But it was a day of pride and unity, too.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Power Restored (Sept. 9, 2011)

Yesterday’s eleven-hour power failure had me thinking about time in a different way. I thought about the passing hours every time I looked at a battery-powered clock and wondered when the electricity would be restored. Most days I have too little time. The clock races. Yesterday it trudged.

I never feel I have enough time. One could consider the power failure a gift of time, but I didn’t see it that way. When I say I need more free time, I’m talking about time that I choose to use as I please, where, when and how I want to spend it. When a power failure occurs, it’s not according to your timing preference. When there’s no electricity, there’s no possibility of using your newly “free” time to catch up on emails, download and label photos you’ve been intending to get to, or do many of the things on the to do list. Even if we don’t need electricity for every human activity, we need light to do lots of our daily chores (I wasn’t in the mood to see if I could separate clean laundry by candlelight).

Haven’t I yearned for a less frantic pace? Yes! But I wanted it on my own terms. I want to option out of things, not have things optioned away from me, without my choosing! When I’m in a waiting room, I don’t consider it found time, as I sit while the clock ticks, ticks, ticks. Who considers it gifted time in the endless DMV line? When I have the option to do a million things, I never have enough time. Yet when I suddenly have unexpected time due to a power failure, I want the option to do what I want. You can have one or the other, but not both. More time or more choice. An inverse relationship. But I want it all!

We’re so lucky to have conveniences like electricity. Of course, I am among those who get so used to having it, that when it’s suddenly snatched away with no warning, I feel the loss acutely. It doesn’t feel like a convenient luxury when you’re used to using it dozens of times a day. It feels as essential as oxygen or water!

At 2:22am the power came back on. It woke me up, and I gleaned a little extra delight in the timing. The symmetry of 2-2-2 seemed symbolic of a prize, like a perfect match on a slot machine. Jackpot! And when you feel the loss of electricity, having it restored really is a prize. I’m never very excited about electricity unless I’ve sat in the dark, awaiting its return.

With the return of electricity comes the return of my own power. I can choose to turn on lights, tv, microwave, oven or anything else when I want to. Or not. I can decide how to spend my time, rather than waiting to be granted choice again. Power restored, indeed.