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Archive for March, 2009

My grandmother was a generous woman. With only a 6th grade education, she managed to pull herself out of the poverty of rural Georgia to study for her hairdresser’s license and run her own business. Later she would work at Gracewood State School and Hospital helping those she saw as less fortunate than herself. Elise was a pretty woman and always sought to live a better life. She was a lucky Sun sign, the 9th, Sagittarius — surprisingly unlucky when it came to men.

Her last husband was a good man though. She met him when she lived with us in rural Pennsylvania for a few years in the 1960’s. I was in junior high; we shared a room. At that time, we had 9 people in a small rambler with 3 bedrooms. It’s something we didn’t think much about then, how small the house was, how little privacy we had. We were a close family; I was a brooding teenager. I found solace in riding my brother’s mini-bike down the hill behind the house, shooting hoops on the uneven backyard slope, a net my step-father put up for me, and hiding under my headphones, lost in the music of Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, and Chicago.

Elise didn’t like the cold. Neither does my mother for that matter. But after 43 years of living in the North, Amelia has learned to tolerate it. My mother and grandmother did not always see eye-to-eye. Even though they loved each other deeply, they often disagreed on style, clothes, and how to raise the kids. It wasn’t for my grandmother to say; she was living in my mother’s home. But that didn’t keep her from voicing her opinions. I held a soft spot in Grandmama’s heart. I think it’s because she took care of me around age 2 while my mother worked to support us. Mom is a hard worker. I think it’s something she passed down to us kids.

I was sad when Grandmama moved back to Georgia. She met her last husband Raymond in the same state where her father was born, not all that far from Coatesville, Pennsylvania. Raymond agreed to move to Georgia with her and that’s exactly what they did. North and South have always comingled in the family tree. I don’t remember seeing her often after that (but I remember all the names of the streets she lived on). I grew up, moved out of the house, 4 hours away to college, then 2000 miles to live in the Pacific Northwest. I alienated myself from family and old high school and college friends. I was angry and wanted desperately to figure out who I was without the ties of the past. It took over 10 years.

During that time, I wasn’t in as much communication with my grandmother in Georgia. I was looking for steady work, rode my bicycle through the winter streets of Missoula to drop off job applications, hiked the Bitterroot Mountains, helped friends build their cabins. Grandmama would call to check on me. Elise was a worrier. I tried to tell her I would be alright and not to worry. Eventually, she stopped calling as much. I was 30 years old when she died. I remember getting the call from Mom that Elise had had a heart attack. She survived and came home from the hospital; I called and talked to her one last time.

A day later, she went into the hospital again and did not come home. I remember the sinking feeling of knowing I’d never get to see her again, to ask her all the questions I wanted to ask. If only I knew then what I know now. If only it had been the wiser 50-something person and not the selfish 30-year-old that made that last phone call.

What I have learned is that being close to someone doesn’t require that you see them all the time, or spend time together. Sometimes blood is thicker than water. I knew she would be there if I ever needed her, the same way Aunt Cassie was there for her. My biggest regret is that I didn’t go to my grandmother’s funeral. I have always carried a nagging guilt about that. Why did I make that choice? Money, time, shame, scared to face the relatives I knew would be there after so much time away. Why did I isolate myself so from the family?

I had to grow up. It’s that simple. I had to forgive, learn gratitude, do emotional work, mature. I had to let go, in order to pull close again. Sometimes it’s just too late to go back.

My grandmother was a strong woman. As is my mother. I like to think I carry some of that inside me. And every time someone says I’ve got strength or courage, I think of them. The smell of Elise’s perfect red lipstick, the lavender talcum powder she fluffed after her bath, the Phillips Milk of Magnesia on the edge of the bathroom counter, the jagged scar from her hysterectomy, a long, long time before laser surgery, the sweet perfumes she wore near the end of her life, the way her curls smelled like hairspray. All this and so much more.



-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC — GRANDMOTHERS

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Her name was Romey. Not her real name. Romey was her nickname, the name on her checks. Where she was from you could use your nickname in your checkbook.

She carried a leather purse, hard leather tooled with elaborate scenes. A man on a horse or flowers set among borders. I think she had more than one, they came from Mexico, and when she died I purposely arrived a day late to the divvying out of her belongings. Nothing she had left could make up for what I lost, but when I saw the purse unclaimed I asked for it.

I’m named after her. People ask me all the time where I got my name. Mom just yesterday told someone that Grandma had wanted Mom to name one of her children after Grandma. Mom waited until she ran out of kids, and knowing I was the last chance to fulfill Grandma’s request, Mom gave me the name.

We all thought it was an ugly name when I was young, a name similar to other old lady names—Velma, Erma, Mona, Ramona—except worse because no one had heard of it. Now we know it’s a beautiful name.

I got her curly hair, too. Mom always says I must have got my hair from Grandma. And her sometimes bad temper. And her love of gossip.

She loved reading National Enquirer. The intrigue of alien babies born to earthling mothers. She insisted that the funny little redhead who showed up in deviled ham commercials and talked with a lisp was actually an old lady midget. She’d read it in the National Enquirer.

She taught us to make butter and play Black Jack, and it dawns on me that she was a pioneer woman, living an isolated life on a ranch with her kids and chores and when she got old, her soap operas and plants and apricot poodle named Dukie.

She taught us to all turn the faces of Abraham Lincoln on our penny bets to face the dealer, so that Lincoln would send the evil eye and prevent any possible stroke of luck the dealer might have. It worked; Grandma always won at Black Jack.

She had the bluest eyes, they got lighter the older she got. People ask me how I birthed a daughter with green-blue eyes when my own and Jim’s are brown. I carry Grandma’s blue eyes in a recessive gene, I tell them. Her curly brown hair, her smooth olive skin, her fiery temper, her name, and the hidden jewel of her light blue eyes.

She cooked, she knitted, she sewed quilts from old dresses. I have a blanket that covers the fashion trends of her day: paisley prints and flowers and Day-glo orange, pink, and yellow.

I still regret the time Tina and I bugged her for days asking if she’d leave us this thing or that thing when she died. We were young, 13 and 14, or 12 and 13, and we got on a kick, loving all of Grandma’s ranch house knick-knacks. She was annoyed with us, and still we persisted, pointing to a painting of a horse or an ashtray or a wooden bowl. Can I have that one, Grandma? How ’bout that one? And that one?

Later Grandma gave me a wool blanket that Grandpa had brought her from Mexico. I was in my 20s. I wonder if she remembered the time we wanted to take her with us in bits and pieces thinking we could hold on to her forever.




-related to Topic post:  WRITING TOPIC — GRANDMOTHERS

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Popsicle Shadow, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Popsicle Shadow, inside the vault at Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.








Popsicle shadow
lights up old Diamonds bank vault
not an inside job










-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, March 29th, 2009

-related to: haiku 2 (one-a-day), Diamonds & Light (Summer Solstice), and the Vintage Series

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Mississippi Drive-By, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Mississippi Drive-By, sunset on the Mississippi, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.








Spring thaw spills over
Mississippi’s swollen banks;
Red River rages










I’ve been thinking about rivers this week as the Red River border between Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota spreads out over the land. Happy for Spring, this mighty south to north flowing river is swelled and overreaching her banks, leaving human devastation in her wake. The Red River stood at 40.71 feet shortly after 8:15 a.m., down a bit from the 40.8 feet at the stroke of midnight. That’s nearly a foot higher than the Red River has ever before reached in recorded history.

Rivers have minds of their own. And the Red River is a rebel. I remember a 1970’s flooding of the Susquehanna River when I was in college in Pennsylvania. Everyone was evacuated to higher ground; we were out of school for a week. My hometown hosts the mighty Mississippi, a river that writer Mark Twain knew intimately. He wrote about her history and human habitation in Life on the Mississippi. He also had this to say about trying to tame her:


The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise…

       – Mark Twain in Eruption

The same appears to be true of the Red River. This week, citizens of the area have lost homes and businesses swallowed up by the river. Thousands of Midwesterners in the Great White North rose to the occasion, sandbagging between the echoing dribbles of basketball’s March Madness. Cheering for the home team kept their minds from spinning, a kind of in-the-moment relief.

But yesterday, officials in the flood-plagued Minnesota community of Moorhead asked about one-third of their households to evacuate ahead of the rising river. Moorhead along with neighboring Fargo, North Dakota, a city of more than 90,000, are preparing for further evacuations. The river is not expected to crest until Sunday afternoon, an all-time high of 42 feet. Thank goodness the cold weather this week left the Red frozen to the bone, unable to push the higher limits that were predicted.

Our prayers are with our communities to the North, though the odds may not be. It has always been this way with rivers; and so it shall always be. And if it’s true what Twain says that “we form our opinions of our country from what other people say of us,” then Midwesterners will always go down as a people who show up for each other when the chips are down. Middle of the country. Middle America. High regard for the land, the rivers, the habitat, and the people who commingle there.



It is strange how little has been written about the Upper Mississippi. The river below St. Louis has been described time and again, and it is the least interesting part. One can sit on the pilot-house for a few hours and watch the low shores, the ungainly trees and the democratic buzzards, and then one might as well go to bed. One has seen everything there is to see. Along the Upper Mississippi every hour brings something new. There are crowds of odd islands, bluffs, prairies, hills, woods and villages–everything one could desire to amuse the children.

Few people every think of going there, however. Dickens, Corbett, Mother Trollope and the other discriminating English people who ‘wrote up’ the country before 1842 had hardly an idea that such a stretch of river scenery existed. Their successors have followed in their footsteps, and as we form our opinions of our country from what other people say of us, of course we ignore the finest part of the Mississippi.

 – Interview in Chicago Tribune, July 9, 1886, from Mark Twain Quotations


- For up to the minute coverage, photographs, and history, read about the Red River Floods of March 2009 at these links:


-posted on red Ravine, Saturday, March 28th, 2009

-related to posts: haiku 2 (one-a-day), susquehanna haiku, savannah river haiku

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Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice in a San Francisco club, photo © 2009 by beeca. All rights reserved.

I am so obsessed with celebrity that even though I don’t know who this man is—my sisters and niece tell me he is famous—I am posting his photo on the blog. And not only is he famous—he is retired NFL player Jerry Rice, used to play for the San Francisco 49ers—but because he was runner-up in the second season of Dancing with the Stars, losing to Drew Lashea, who I also didn’t know but am told was in a boy band with brother Nick, who used to be married to Jessica Simpson, I am now connected through six degrees of separation to Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys. (I don’t know who he is either, and my niece just reminded me that since they are both of football fame, Tony and I are probably connected through three degrees, not six.)


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The White Chair, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

The White Chair, St. Simons Island, Georgia, July 2008, all photos © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.








white chair on hard sand
pale footprints leading nowhere
dreaming of Georgia










Post Script: I had a dream about Georgia last night, swimming with the Ancestors. It reminded me of this beach at St. Simons where Liz, Mom, and I hung out for a few hours last July. The sand is so hard and compact, you can easily ride a bicycle. It was hotter than any Minnesotan can ever imagine. The breezes off the Atlantic Ocean offered quiet relief.

Liz found the most beautiful living shell; a rainbow appeared. We went back to the motel where one of Mom’s cousins waited. She had driven to St. Simons to meet us. They had not seen each other in years. There in the motel lobby, we spread out a giant paper copy of the family tree. Nicholas smiled down.


-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, March 26th, 2009

-related to posts: haiku for the live oak, St. Simons Island haiku, black-eyed susan haiku, Georgia’s Scottish Highlanders (On Tartan & Targe), haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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Close Gates, outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Close Gates, elevator shaft outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



On Friday, February 27th, 2009, I became a national statistic — I lost my job. Like most writers, I write for a living. I also have a part-time bread and butter job that helps pay the bills. In January, when all of the temporary employees at the corporation where I worked were laid off (except me), I saw the writing on the wall. A month later, after a 5-year stint at a company that paid well, offered independence, flexibility, and respected my work, poof! I was gone. Monday of the same week, 45 permanent employees got the ax; some had been there 25 or 30 years.

In Minnesota alone, 55,000 people lost their jobs over the last year, a staggering number that, according to one news station, could fill two Metrodomes. The second week of March, when I put in my claim for unemployment, the Minnesota Unemployment website crashed from the volume of new claims. It’s predicted that 72,000 more Minnesotans will lose their jobs through 2010, including 15,000 in construction, 42,000 in manufacturing, and 15,000 in professional and business services.

Of course, Minnesota is not alone. The national unemployment rate was 8.1 percent in February 2009, seasonally adjusted, up from 7.6 percent the prior month and from 4.8 percent a year earlier. In February, total nonfarm payroll employment decreased by 651,000 over the month and by 4,168,000 from a year earlier. According to a CBS article at the WCCO website (a local news channel that has also experienced layoffs) the February job loss numbers look something like this:



February 2009 U. S. Job Loss Numbers


Temporary help services ……………………………78,000
Factories ………………………………………………168,000
Construction ……………………………………………104,000
Retailers …………………………………………………40,000
Professional and business services  ……………180,000
Financial companies ……………………………………44,000
Leisure and hospitality firms …………………………33,000



At times, I’m scared. Some nights I can’t sleep. And the reality of not having steady income slips into my thoughts on a daily basis. It puts added strain on my relationship, even though I have an understanding partner who is loving and supportive. Responsibilities shift, and any part of my identity that is wrapped up in what I do for a living takes a beating. The structure of my life has completely changed.

I had to create new daily rituals to keep myself from spinning. I spent the first week unemployed scrambling to make changes to money-related items I used to take for granted: research guidelines around continued health insurance, apply for unemployment, reduce payments on my car insurance by checking with my agent about a different policy. I updated old copies of chronological, functional, and artistic resumes. I’m still working with the temporary agency that on the very day I was laid-off, closed their nearby office and consolidated to downtown Minneapolis.

Yet I remain optimistic. The flip side of the coin is that I’m a writer, an artist and photographer, with all the usual complaints about not having enough time for my creative pursuits. Now I do. I have been given the gift of time. What will I do with it? Will I be tossed away, fret and fume, worry that I don’t have a job? Or see it as an opportunity, a gateway to reinvent myself, to focus on my writing.



   Freight Only, elevator shaft outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Freight Only, elevator shaft outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Freight Only, elevator shaft outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.Freight Only, elevator shaft outside Diamonds Coffee Shoppe, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



It depends on which day you ask me. I realize there are probably many other red Ravine readers who are going through layoffs, are stressed-out or down about money. Not knowing how they will pay their mortgage or put food on the table. What about people who have been out of work for many, many months. Or have taken jobs they would not ordinarily take, just to have money coming in.

How do you deal with the pressures of not working (or working but not making enough money to make ends meet). Is there anyone who has been laid off, lost their savings, posted their resume 1000 places and gotten no bites. If you are a writer or an artist, how are you coping with extra time and no money. Is it easier to work on creative projects? Or harder because of the stress. How is it affecting your children. What about health insurance?

When I start to feel crazy, my practices help sustain me: red Ravine, Writing Practice, mandalas, haiku. It’s helpful to get up at the same time, shower, get dressed, and eat lunch at noon. I do business related items, then have time to write, refill the well, revisit creative projects. But that nagging Monkey Mind. What if I’m in the same place months later?


      Gateway, Summer Solstice, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Gateway, Summer Solstice, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.  Gateway, Summer Solstice, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, photo © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Open Gateway, in the flow, Summer Solstice, Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 2007, all photos © 2007-2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



The unemployment rate is predicted to peak out around 9.5 percent next Spring. Yet the state of Colorado shows a decline in layoffs for the first time in 6 months. It’s true that 91.9% of the population still have their jobs. And a few areas such as education, health services, and government, which boosted employment last month, have been spared. F. Scott Fitzgerald might say that a “vast carelessness” has caused this money mess. But maybe there is a silver lining. Is the glass half empty or half full? What do you say?



Resources:


NPR Announces Cuts To Staff, Programs
MPR Midmorning: February Layoffs Take a Toll
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Mass Layoffs in February 2009
WCCO U.S. & World: Unemployment Hits 8.1 Percent, Highest Since ’83
Denver Business Journal: Mass Layoffs Decline in Colorado for 1st Time in 6 Months


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, March 24th, 2008

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC – JOB! WHAT JOB?, Make Positive Effort For The Good

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