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book review: "Born on Third Base"...

Sunday, June 24, 2018
... written by Chuck Collins, published by Chelsea Green of White River Junction, Vermont in 2016. I had  no knowledge of him before the interview on public radio some months ago, but he has several other books listed, most co-authored with others who have common philosophies or goals. The sub title explains: 'A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home and Committing to the Common Good.'

Collins was born into wealth, the great grandson of processed meat producer Oscar Mayer (I was surprised to discover there actually was a Mr. Mayer, thinking he was invented like Betty Crocker.) As a young adult Collins had a number of opportunities to experience life that changed his perspective as a member of the upper-crust of American society. He began to realize how fortunate he was to have the advantages that created his inherited fortune. Then he told his family he wanted to give his inheritance away. After his dad made every effort to persuade him otherwise, the funds were put in a grant-making foundation to give it all away.

Collins toured the country with the father of Bill Gates, meeting people and talking about the necessity for an estate tax on the ultra-wealthy, to fund government programs. One of his books was co-authored with Bill Gates, Sr. Others authors he worked with are mentioned in this book as having an influence on his philosophy, lifestyle and writings. He has met with people nationwide in small groups, explaining and discussing his vision: inequities/advantages given to so many as others are born with disadvantages that are often insurmountable.

Middle class citizens are often provided with benefits, passed along by their parents who were able to take advantage of government loans for home buying, free tuition under the GI bill, start up funds at absurdly low interest rates for businesses, and other gifts from well-established relatives. They see themselves as 'self-made', but without being aware of the benefits of being born into these circumstances. Otherwise they would struggle throughout life like many minorities who were not fortunate enough to have the family support those baby-boomers did. Even the people across the nation working in agriculture, growing crops or livestock benefit from federal subsidies, that have been in place for years. Family farms over many generations have long taken advantage of government support - free grazing of cattle/horses, sheep on public lands, payouts for not growing certain crops. Gifts from the Uncle Sam.

Individiuals we often think of as struggling: small business owners, or farmers are the recipients of government loans or subsidies that give them a leg up. Folks who receive a financial advantage for a lifetime then pass along a legacy to future generations. Whereas minorities/immigrants will often lag behind with jobs/skills and income, unable to set aside savings or invest in home ownership. An endless struggle just to break even, provide for families with minimal resources.

Collins did not specifically say this, as it might not be something he ever considered: but I believe much of the inequity in our culture/society is due to the fact that the US Constitution was written by white men. They were not deliberately small minded, but just the opposite - desiring to give everyone opportunities to be free from the demands of monarchy, successful, establish a comfortable life (by their standards.) But they were men. White men. Men who were the wealthiest in the nation at the time, who had also been blessed with many advantages simply due to their birth circumstances, the families they were born into as English citizens. Men who would never see females as equals. Men who would always look down upon women, as inferior, second class humans.

Being a 'one percenter' means deliberately ignoring the other ninety-nine. Being aware, but unwilling to see the struggles of those who want to change and improve their lives. Collins lives in a neighborhood in Boston, where he has a family, employment, and makes an effort to connect. He tries to help neighbors, friends, small business owners: helping them develop plans and methods to have a small but positive impact on society and their world/environment.

"People who are privileged in our society, for a variety of reasons, don't see the wind at their own back, nor do they see the headwinds that other people encounter. If you're like me, judgments toward others run though your head all the time. Why don't you work harder? Why don't you exercise? Why don't you eat better food? In these hasty judgments I often forget all the privileges that have come my way. From healthy food and suburban open space to enrichment experiences, I had a mammoth boost long before kindergarten. But like most people in my circumstances I somethings forget I was born on third base. It is easy to think I got here on my own." (page 60.)

quick trip...

Friday, June 22, 2018
... to south Carolina today, with a stop at the Quik Trip convenience store in Commerce for my number one addiction: curb store cappuccino.  Then veering off to wally world in search of an interesting/colorful plant to take along. I usually take Homer something blooming: an amaryllis bulb to put in a pot and watch grow at Christmas, geraniums in the spring, lantana that will bloom for months in the summer. Something growing and something good to eat: sweet rolls or pastries.

Going to Greenville to visit my pen-pal, as I try to go once a month to see Homer. He seems to be slowly slowing down, not as energetic or peppy as he has been in the past. But he's also not as young to have the energy to show pep. Left Decatur this morning about six a.m. heading north to I-85. With the plan to be well away from the chaotic bedlam of twelve-lanes-wide traffic by the time everyone who was on the wrong side to town tries to right the problem. Uneventful drive across northeast Georgia and into Carolina.

We had a good visit, including me planting some zinnias he had started with seeds he saved from last year. He had put them in a little rectangular plastic tub, with some good dirt and watered often. They were pretty desperate to be transplanted, having grown so tall they were all flopping over. I asked if he would let me put them in the ground, in a little strip of land between his driveway and chain link fence surrounding the lawn. It is a place where he has planted annuals for several years, including some sunflowers that grew amazingly large heads. Such huge blooms the stalks could not hold the heads up, so heavy and laden with seeds they were all facing down, towards the dirt. He won't have gigantic sunflowers this summer, but I hope at least half of the little zinnia stalks we relocated will survive to give him bright colorful flowers all summer. Attracting bees and butterflies in abundance.

When I started back to Georgia, there was a place where traffic slowed to a crawl. Reminding me of the most awfullest ever experience of trying to get back into the metro after the solar eclipse last August. When it took me ten hours to drive 134 miles, me and everyone else in a two-hundred mile radius. This time, this trip: we slowed to seven miles per hour for about ten miles. Finally getting to the spot where two vehicles were pulled off in the median, both banged up, along with a sheriff's cruiser with blue lights flashing. After that: no other difficulties. Then I noticed about four million cars inching along heading in the other direction, all leaving town, highly frustrated by traffic and profound lack of progress when all they wanted was: Home. Meanwhile, us who had been inching for ten miles finally speeding up, heading back towards the city were able to speed up  again.

I got all the way back into town before the rains came. A frog-strangler timed perfectly for me to be off the road. Probably qualifies as a flash flood, but I was in the house and done with driving before the drenching started.

for many years...

Tuesday, June 19, 2018
... a volunteer for a local organization with maybe three employees, and a continually changing roster of community supporters who go through a series of classes to learn how to offer support for victims who call the Sexual Assault Hotline. The supporting volunteers are required to take twenty four hours of training before they can be placed on a roster that takes calls day and night, through an answering service. Or go to the hospital when a victim is taken to the ER for an exam and interview with public safety to provide a friendly face, supporting the traumatized victim and provide information to help with understanding of medical and police procedures.

All this to report I had more calls on transferred from the hotline today than I have had since the first of the year. Generally on the calendar for two days each month, taking calls funneled through a commercial service to avoid giving out personal numbers. Responding to people with concerns or interest  dialing the hotline number, patched through to who ever is on call for a twelve hour shift. I usually take two Tuesdays. I might get one call a month during those two twelve hours I am on the list to take calls from people looking for counseling, or information, or support, or wanting to know how to go about reporting an assault.

I got four calls this afternoon in about thirty minutes. Either very lucky or Very Unlucky. Two of the calls were from the same person. She wanted help with going someplace to pick up some personal items, and needed transportation. I knew that funds are available to help victims with travel, so asked her for a phone number -which she refused to give. She said she was homeless, and could not provide a number or location. Meaning she was at the local shelter and did not want anyone to be privy to the address or the number she was calling from. I had to wonder how she expected us to send a taxi if she would not tell anyone where she was or how to get in touch.

Looking back, I am guessing that the need for transportation was only a very small part of the problems she is facing. She offered the number for Aunt Viola, but that failed to work out well enough for the Center to meet her needs. It is a sad situation -  I can't imagine the stress of being homeless, not having a dependably safe spot in your life to call home, even on a temporary basis. Making me really thankful for a house, a home, all the mod.cons. that go with homeownership, electricity, water on demand, HVAC.

you should try...

... this recipe I sort of made up. I readily acknowledge that The Man Who Lives Here is not hard to please - he will eat almost anything I put on the table, has never been hard to please. It has gotten more difficult in recent years to cook for him - because I find it hard to cook for only one person. After many years of feeding the people I grew up knowing, starting as a teen when my mom was guiding my cooking experience, then cooking for little people who eventually turned into adults and now have their own kitchens, I've always prepared food for multiples.

There was a time when I was cooking for a larger crowd on Wednesday nights, when we attended a small church that had fellowship dinners about six months of the year. Beginning when we were paying someone to prepare the meals, a lunchroom worker from the public schools. But over time as the attendance began to decline, income decreased, I became the chief cook and bottle washer, with some degree of assistance from daughters and fellow Presbyterians. Just multiplying the ingredients for recipes I was familiar with that had fed my family over the years to have enough for forty or fifty mouths.

Cooking for one is not easy to master, but I am catching on. I found an interesting recipe for one serving involving pork chops in the Richmond newspaper, but have yet to remember to purchase one chop to prepare. Plus if it is as good as the ingredients make me think, one chop will not be enough for The Guy Who Loves To Eat.

This recipe I am providing is an adaptation of one I read on line as a result of getting too frequent emails from Kraft Foods. It was for a meal you can have ready to put on the table in fifteen minutes. My version is not quite that speedy, as I used plain raw rice rather than the RTU/shelf stable stuff, that comes in a bag ready to micro for thirty seconds and eat.

I think the recipe as I recall called from 2/3 cup of salsa: use the kind you normally buy. We don't eat anything spicy so mine is always mild, but if you like the one with fire, go for it. Add enough chicken stock to make two cups. Or water if you don't have stock on hand. I certainly won't judge you for that. (Remember that the proportions for cooking rice are 2:1 - twice as much liquid as rice, so if you are making for a crowd, just double everything.)  Brown the raw chicken pieces. (I cut a breast into thirds so it would cook quicker - you could leave it whole or cut into thinner slices like 'fingers'.) I added a diced onion and diced green bell pepper - you can or not. After the chicken is browned, add the liquid and rice. Cook till the rice is tender.

The Man Who Lives Here has learned he better say Thank You after he has a home cooked meal. But when he sat down recently to the chicken and rice cooked with salsa, he repeatedly said how good it was. So I did it again tonight. Took a frozen breast out and put it in a bowl of water to thaw for about twenty min., then sliced it into thirds, and put it in the skillet with a little olive oil. Saute the veg., then add liquid and rice. Cover. That's it.

a call from a friend...

Monday, June 18, 2018
... last night after I went to bed, but before nodding off. I think I have to read myself to sleep, and will always have some printed matter in  my hand when I am hopeful of catching some zzz. On the couch, or in the car (when Not Driving) or putting myself to bed much too early at night. When I know I have to be at work at 5 a.m., I set the alarm for four to be semi-civil by the time I get there.

My phone rang at about 9:45 last night: surprising that I had not crashed, but I will admit to a power nap when I got off work shortly after 2:00. I jumped up to answer the call. It was a friend who lives out in the country, in a very rural area east of town. She and I became acquainted when I started talking to her as she was shopping, a customer in the store where I work. We've met several times at a local eatery and had lunch and a most agreeable visit. Plus she invited me to come to her house out in the piney woods once, for lunch with her mom who lives nearby, still independent and spry at 93.

J. was calling me because she had spent the day with her mom in the local ER. A tedious and brutally frustrating experience for healthy people, so doubly so for anyone with medical problems seeking assistance. Her mom was having a hard time breathing, and struggling so to the point of exhaustion, she knew help was needed.  After being at the ER all day on a weekend, probably surrounded by people who use that resource for primary care, the mom was admitted as a patient. Likely poked and prodded with multiple needles wanting numerous blood samples until she felt like she was completely drained dry.

J.  wanted to go home at some point today and was unwilling to leave her 97-year-old mom alone for the time it would take to get some chores done. Her own set of health difficulties create the necessity for maintenance and routine care, something that needs to be addressed every day. Plus she cannot drive, so has to wait for her husband to get her where she needs to be. She asked me if I could come and sit with her mom, to give them an opportunity to drive about an hour to get home out in the hinterlands, do the necessary chores and get back into town. I had no plans for today  - other than the profoundly unpleasant, undesirable chore of hiding all the stuff in the carport to be ready for the painters on the morrow - which I would have been delighted to avoid entirely.

So I spent my afternoon talking to J's mom, reading while she napped, helping her to the facilities, cutting up her pork chop at dinner, and raiding the vending machines. I took my computer, but lack the necessary tech. skills to get connected with the universe, so nearly finished my library book. I was a bit concerned that I might exhaust my limited supply of reading material and be forced to resort to back issues of trashy People magazine from 1998. Fortunately - that did not happen, and I was relieved of my responsibility around 6 p.m.

They came in looking refreshed - as a shower and a good meal can do. And hopefully a bit better prepared to spend another night in the most uncomfortable chair in the world, but at least with a toothbrush. I hope this venture will have a good outcome, and they will soon all be back at home in their country lives.

it will be great ...

... such a good idea when it is completed, but just thinking of what it takes to get from here to there gives me headache. I am dreading it so much, you can see I am typing, for all the world to see instead of putting into action. Someone thought it necessary to get the inside of the carport painted, and has put effort into making that a reality. Of course, The Man Who Lives Here is not actually doing it himself. But he is willing to pay someone to get it accomplished: called contractors to come/look, provide estimates, and expects the work will start tomorrow.

Well, 'Fine For Him' is what I am thinking. All he has to do is observe, be a Sidewalk Supervisor - plus of course, write the check when the work is finished. I am the one who is delegated to move all that stuff. Boxes of old shoes to recycle and Buckets for storing home-made potting soil. Wheel barrow, shovels, rakes. Ladders and Crates. Flotsam and Jetsam. Garbage cans and Recycling Bins. Banker's Boxes full of ancient tax documents and Baskets full of potential Girl Scout projects. More boxes full of collectibles and memorabilia from parents and Crates of ancient hand tools from my granddad, crusted with rust but still workable for the original purpose.

We all know how it easy it seems to sort through someone's possessions and appear to be heartless in paring down, donating, trashing all the things it takes a lifetime to accumulate. When push came to shove and the time ran out for finding a good home for a house full of memories, I thought I did a pretty good job of parting with things I knew I had no place for in my life (or house.)  But these remaining things, the last physical bits of my parents years and years of living in one place are really difficult to part with. Maybe I need for someone else to come and be that pushing, shoving, forceful person who can say: 'This goes here, that goes there, this is trash or put it in the thrift store box.'

I have procrastinated long enough. It is pretty obvious that if I have not found a place to put them in my house and life, it is apparent I do not need to hang onto these bits and pieces of the past any longer. It's so hard, looking at things my folks loved and cherished for years and turning my back on the past, memories, knowledge of the space things took up in their lives...

laughed out loud...

Saturday, June 16, 2018

...while driving last week, on my trip to FL, and again on Wednesday. When I was traveling across south Georgia and twirling the buttons on the radio looking for some decent radio stations. This one broadcast from some place in the wilds of south GA was playing decent music, but kept inserting commercial advertising. Public radio is bad enough, always asking you to donate your car or support their programming. I can ignore the pleas from NPR pretty well, but the stuff on commercial radio is so loud and insistent, it is hard to tolerate, so I am constantly twisting the button to find music instead of yakking.

This one station sending out a signal from some town in the southwestern part of the state had a commercial with a man shouting about 'green eggs and hams, green eggs and hams.' After I heard it a couple of times, I realized he was advertising for a Dodge dealership and what he was actually saying was 'green eggs and Rams'. They were having a big sale on trucks, and if you buy a Dodge Ram pickup truck, the dealership will throw in a Big Green Egg outdoor grill/cooker as a bonus. I laughed and laughed.

Even wrote it down while driving, which made it nearly indecipherable to read when I tried to figure out what the note was about. But I heard it again last Wednesday, as I apparently got in range of that same radio frequency. The man was still shouting about his truck sale and promise of a barbecue if you come in and get a pickup. At the end of the script there is something about 'could-you-would-you... which made me laugh all over again. As would any parent who has read those Dr. Suess books so many times lulling children to sleep it became embedded in the brain.