Saturday, August 30, 2008

slow goodness

I sometimes feel bad that my kids don't get the full "summer vacation" experience that I remember. We had to wake them up early 3 days a week to take them to their babysitter so I could work, and it seems most of the other days we were tightly planned and we were constantly on the go. We really didn't have a lot of slow-moving summertime days. It's that slowness that I remember when I think back on my summers. Summer is synonymous with slow, isn't it?

To indulge my happy childhood summer memories - here are things I remember from my summers:

Shoes were not an option. I had feet that could walk across coals by the end of the summer.

My sisters and I would spend all day outside developing and acting out intricate storylines for tales spanning Alice In Wonderland-like fantasy to dramatic plots involving escapes from orphanages and mobster-like gangs chasing us through our neighborhood adventures. The empty lot across the street was an entire country with jungles and deserts and caves and we were its reigning royalty.

Hand-cranked ice cream. I remember our whole extended family getting together and my grandfather orchestrating which cousin cranked next. It was a pain in the ass, but by the end, that sweet peppermint ice cream was the most heavenly thing I'd ever had. I loved the way there'd be a hint of the rocksalt taste that would inevitably find its way into the ice cream.

Throughout the summer, I remember our Colorado vacations, trips to the beach, camping trips, trips to the zoo and to parks, but I seem to remember that most of our days were of that slow, unplanned variety.

This weekend, we finally seem to be having some of that good summer slowness and unplanned days, and it's been great.

The kids spent all day Friday (ALL.DAY.) cozied up in the massive fuzzy pillows they made with their babysitter earlier this summer, and their feet propped up on the arms of the couch either watching TV or reading. (Kudos to me for letting them be that lazy!!! After all, that's the point, isn't it?) That evening was spent in the driveway of dear neighbor M sitting around their firepit after indulging in chicken wings and beverages of choice. Saturday was defined by slow evolution. E had a Girl Scout camp clean-up at the camp down the road from us, along with sweet neighbor-girl "Treehugger." I was driving them home, and they convinced me to let it evolve into a trip to the swimming pool, afterwhich evolved into a trip to Wendy's for frosties and chicken, afterwhich evolved into lounging on the playroom together playing with toys, afterwhich evolved into a sleepover.
Aside - I find it so interesting to watch E these days. She is equally happy hanging out with 13 year old neighbor girl listening to music and talking about boys, and hanging out with 7 year old Treehugger, playing with Littlest Petshop toys and living in a world of Let's Pretend. What a great place to be!
This afternoon, we're having a family from down the road over for s.l.o.w.l.y smoked ribs (yum) and peach cobbler. This is a family I've been wanting to get to know better for a while, and funnily enough Linda (the mom) and I simultaneously told each other we'd like to get our families together sometime soon. We have absolutely no plans for Monday (Labor Day) at this point. I'll let the day tell me what it should be.

School starts Tuesday, and we'll be back in our fall routine. I'm looking forward to it - I've written before about how much I love the start of autumn. But for now, it's summertime and we're going to take it out with one big slow hurrah.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I'd be surprised if there were anyone out there who had not heard the news story about the orphaned baby humpback whale found abandoned in a harbor near Sydney, Australia. It's been on the news for several days. Before I continue, I will openly admit that this damned story had me in a puddle of tears. We were just out on the Gulf of Maine on a whale watching trip, and saw several humpbacks. The mother-calf bond for whales is very strong. Babies stay with and are fed by their mothers for about a year. The mental image of this lost baby whale bonding with a yacht to the point of attempting to suckle sent my fragile emotions right over the edge.

The whole continent of Australia, and much of the world, it seems, has been entranced by this story as it has been relayed via news feeds and blog updates. When you show the world a solitary and lost innocent in need, everyone becomes the face of charity. We really wanted to find a way to save that baby whale. We absolutely yearned to find a way to help. We can debate the reasons for this charity another time - whether its really altruistic (doubtful) or if it's an attempt to bolster our own esteem by feeling good about ourselves (probably more likely).

Edit - At reread, that last bit is just too pessimistic. There are lots of reasons for charity, whether it be altruism or mothering/nurturing instinct or genuine concern or the need to feel satisfied with ourselves. I hereby edit that cynicism out. Mostly. -End Edit

In my opinion, the ultimate motivation for our need for charity is academic and is not really that important. Yet when faced with other versions of this same story - stories of innocents in desperate straits - stories that are seen on this plant on scales of quantity and need that are simply unfathomable, the collective charitable outcry seems to be quieted.

This phenomenon is quite common, and also quite understandable. A local news story will appear that highlights the plight of a local family that lost their home in a fire or perhaps it describes the situation of a local elderly woman who cannot afford to pay her electric bills on her social security income. Invariably, our charity gushes out and the money rolls in. It's heartwarming to a point, but I've always thought of it rather like a lottery. For those few families lucky enough to be highlighted as the "story de jour," this charitable outpouring is likely a lifesaver. But I wonder how those human-interest families were picked and the cynical side of me wonders how much potential entertainment value ultimately plays into those decisions.

From the singular local scale to the broader picture:

The July 2004 UNICEF Report on AIDS states that in Sub-Saharan Africa,
...Between 1990 and 2003, the number of children orphaned by AIDS increased from less than one million to an estimated 12.6 million.
... Even without the impact of HIV/AIDS, sub-Saharan Africa already had the largest proportion of orphaned children. In 2003, 12.3 per cent (43 million) of all children in the region were orphans, nearly double the 7.3 per cent of children in Asia, and 6.2 per cent of children in Latin America and the Caribbean, who were orphans. Botswana has the highest rate of orphaning (20%). In 11 of the 43 countries in the region, more than 15 per cent of children are orphans. Of these 11 countries, AIDS is the cause of parental death between 11 and 78 per cent of the time.
UNICEF projects that in 2010, msomething like 1 in 5 children in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe will be orphaned.

The 2006 US census estimates the percentage of children living below the poverty level to be 32.6% in the District of Columbia and 29.5% in Mississippi. The average for the entire U.S. is 18.3%. On a personal note, I have a hard time believing that U.S. Census counts give anywhere close to an accurate accounting of the homeless, so I view these numbers as lower limits.

My point is there is no shortage of human innocents (children) that are is desperate need. To the contrary, the magnitude of orphans and children in need on this planet is so well beyond the threshhold of comprehensible that "overwhelming" is an understatement. If I try to wrap my brain around the idea of 1 out of every 5 children in Sub-Saharan Africa having lost their parents and living in countries marked by poverty and malnutrition and AIDS, I implode. I haven't the faintest clue as to the true needs in these situations, much less what actions I could personally take that even begin to help. It seems that pulling out my checkbook and writing a check to a humanitarian organization borders on slacktivism.

It's not that hard to understand why we allow these problems to exist without constant attention and charitable outpourings. We feel like we can help one family. We can make a dramatic difference in the life of one elderly lady. We can hope to help one lost baby whale. We like to feel as if we can actually make a difference in the world. But to imagine that we can make a dent in global poverty, for instance, is not realistic.

Personally, I think it's even delusional to imagine we can make a real difference. I think the scale of need on this planet is well beyond the reach of well-meaning armchair charity. (I include myself in this category. I do not mean to give offense here - this is just my interpretation of the magnitude of the problem). I don't even believe that the collective actions of millions of armchair activists acting on local levels can make a dent in these bigger issues. These are problems that must be addressed on national and world scales. The best we can do on a world scale, in my opinion, is to support the government representatives that will take action to help.

Despite this pessimism, I am not against helping locally. Whether it's true altruism or it's because it makes us feel better for being charitable doesn't really matter. We can't make a dent in world problems but we can make a difference in the family down the street. And that's OK.

The Australian authorities euthanized the baby whale today. She was too injured and too young to be able to help while in captivity, and their efforts to help her find another pod of whales with a lactating mother that could adopt her didn't work.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

some more photos from our trip

The whale-watching trip we took into the Gulf of Maine was fantastic. We sited several humpbacks, a couple of finbacks, a shark and several porpoises.

As we were heading back, the marine biologist on our boat mentioned that we might enjoy stopping by the Whale Museum in Bar Harbor. I assumed it was a plug for the gift shop there in some sort of consumerist-based agreement with the whale watching company. My E, however, was adamant that she wanted to go. We found the museum on our walk back to the car - it was a smallish looking place in a strip of shops. Despite my preconceived bias, I was pleasantly surprised. It was, in fact, one of the best small museums I've seen. In particular, I was very impressed with their complete and quite accurate section on climate change. The museum was created by students and faculty at the College of the Atlantic. Excellent. If you're ever in the Bar Harbor area, it is definitely worth a stop.

More wildlife:

At Halibut Point State Park, Cape Anne, MA: A baby seal came up on the seaweed to hang out with us while we explored the tidal pools (seastar).

Scrambling to more tidal pools in the fog and rain at Acadia...

And of course lobster in Kittery, Maine...

lend me your ear

When you really pay attention, it's amazing to discover how few people are really good at the art of listening. There have been a number of instances over these last few months where it seems as if I'm whispering into the wind when I try to engage in conversations. It's really quite disheartening to feel invisible, especially as I noticed it was happening in all walks of my life. Fortunately, before I definitively decided that I was a major loser and before the minor bruises on my ego grew too large, I noticed that it frequently happens to others as well. I think that despite living in the age of "easy conversation" - text messages, email, IM, twitter, facebook, and blogs - we have simply forgotten how to really listen to each other. It's a passive and gentle art, and one that takes patience and concentration. I suppose it's no surprise, then, that it is rare to find in today's fast-paced society with the focus on instant gratification.

It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak, and another to hear. - Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

That's me and E swimming in Walden Pond a couple of weeks ago, after walking around it to find the location of Thoreau's cabin.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

blame it on the rain

Beach volleyball phenom or democratic strategist?

Singing sensation tot "not cute enough for prime-time" or "16-year old" gymnast still with missing baby teeth?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

we're home

at the beach near J's home...

Acadia National Park on a wonderfully foggy morning.

I'll post more about the trip later. Suffice it to say that J and Asli and their families were the most wonderful hosts ever. Maine/Acadia was as wonderful as I remember. Even with all that vacation wonderfulness, I have to say that it's also very very good to be home.