Saturday, February 25, 2012

A loss to the senses

Two of my favorite things in life are books and fabric. I can remember how in my high school study hall, held in the library, I was overwhelmed by all the books surrounding me, especially Carl Sandburg's Lincoln series, which I coveted for years until one day, through generous friends, I received my own precious set.  I still enjoy going to libraries and bookstores. I love the smell of books, the feel of my fingers around their edges, the physical motions of turning the pages, the heaviness or lightness of the book in my hands.  I had a friend once who had an intriguing habit of signing his name on the book's page that represented his age when he read it (e.g., if he read the book at age 41, he would sign page 41) for a small bit of personal historical documentation.   Of course, a book's primary purpose is for information/education or pleasure, and that in the end only depends on the written word, no matter how it is packaged and sold.

My other love is fabric - all kinds - quilting fabric as well as fabric to sew into clothes.  If I had to have lived in any place other than my home growing up, I would have divided my time between the library and Hancock's Fabrics.  Again, the overwhelming sensation of entering a fabric store is familiar to quilters and seamstresses - the overpowering sense of color that jars the senses, the smell of all that new fabric, and, of course, the ultimate in sensation, which is the feel of the fabric.  From denim to velvet, cotton to tweed, I have always loved to "fondle" the fabric.  Again, fabric's purpose is in its use, regardless of how it is packaged and sold.

I find the tactile, olfactory, and visual stimulation from these objects heartwarming.  Both collections of books and fabric make my head swirl and calm down at the same time.  Both demand a response from my imagination - how will I take what I am reading and make use of it in my life?  This book has the power to the life-changing for me!  It can transform me, it can make me healthier, it can make me relax and laugh and it can open my eyes and be aware, and, yes, it can make me cry.  Every book, good or bad, demands a response from me.

It's the same thing with fabric.  On the bolt, it sits there without purpose, but people who sew don't see it just on the bolt or folded on a table; we see it as a dress, a blouse, a skirt, a pair of pants, a Halloween costume, a curtain, an apron, a stuffed animal, part of an incredibly beautiful quilt, and countless other ideas overpowering our creative brains.  Fabric certainly demands a response - before it is ever cut and bought.   Sometimes there is no idea or plan, but the fabric itself is so appealing that you buy it as an object whose future is uncertain and entirely open.  Sometimes the fabric just calls to you...and you respond as if in a trance.

I thought about these two classifications of things I love this week as I am reading the news on my iPad and browsing through and  Oh boy, am I in the digital age or what?  And the news I read yesterday?  A local bookstore chain in Maine is going out of business after decades of existence.  There's a Mr. Paperback in Ellsworth and it's our only local bookstore.  Immediately I felt guilty.  I used to spend a lot more money there before I bought an iPad.  Now I read most of my books digitally.  In fact, digital book reading was cited in the article as one of the reasons for the closing - people just don't read regular books much anymore.   The iPad is so convenient - no matter where I am or what I'm doing, my books are by my side.  Of course, holding an iPad is not anything like holding a book, and as much as they try to simulate the book experience by "swiping" pages that "turn" and giving you options to "highlight" and "write" notes, it's still a computer.  It has none of the character of a book, and certainly none of that ink and paper aroma.  There's no variation between a heavy book and a light book - they all weigh exactly the same: the weight of an iPad.

And the fabric?  That's been a bit harder for me.  Our Joann's Fabrics in Bangor is the only large fabric store in our area, and even this, there is a limit to what they can carry, especially since over half the store is dedicated to other crafts, scrapbooking, etc.  I'm very tempted to get some fabric online, but even when I enlarge the sample fabric picture, I'm still looking at a computer screen.  Colors may be off, you can't really see what it looks like, and you certainly can't touch it.  But I know many people who have been exceptionally pleased with fabric purchases from well-established Internet sites such as these.  Certainly in Maine, choices are limited in everything locally.  We're kind of "at the end of a dirt road" in the world of shopping.  The Internet is a godsend for people in out-of-the-way places who would never be able to enjoy the choices it provides.  Joann's seems to do a brisk business, and I am hoping they are around in Bangor for a long time, but you never know.

I love technology, really I do.  I love my iMac and iPad and can't imagine life without them.  But I'm sad this week, because I have the niggling feeling that we have lost something in the process.  The very thing that drew me to "in-person" interaction with my beloved books and fabric is shifting; it is disappearing as fast as the brick-and-mortar bookstores themselves.  The ad with the catchy tune, "The touch, the feel of cotton...the fabric of our lives," is hard to measure against when one is peering at a square of fabric on a computer screen, trying to read a definition of something that can't really be defined in words because yes, it has to be touched and felt and interacted with in a very intimate way.

I'll probably be buying some fabric online soon, and I'll still be reading my books on my iPad, but I'll be the first to admit - it's just not the same.  I fear something precious is disappearing from the landscape - and it's a loss to us all.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Same Age

It has dawned on me this week that I have now surpassed the age my mother was when Daddy died.  The above picture was taken on Easter, 1979, and it shows my parents with their granddaughter, Rachel, who at this point was close to her 1st birthday.  Daddy would be gone within in about a year, as he died shortly before Rachel's 2nd birthday.  Mama was 55 and Dad was 63 at the time of this photograph.

If I ever needed to have an inkling of what Mama went through at that age, this realization would do it.  I can't imagine being a widow at 57.  I can't imagine the sudden shock of suddenly being on my own, the sudden awareness that the "until death do us part" of the marriage vow had actually come to fruition.   It would be devastating.  She at the time of his death had two daughters in their 20s and one small grandchild.  She would live to see 3 more grandchildren born, and later (at the present time) 3 great-grandchildren.  She would experience decades more Christmases and anniversaries and birthdays without her partner by her side.

That would be heartbreak enough, but to understand Mama, you have to understand how dependent she was.  Daddy was the bank teller; Mama had stayed home to raise Joy and me ever since we were born.  She didn't have to pay bills or write checks or do taxes or even do much driving. He did all that.  He even wrote the Christmas cards!  She felt assured he would take care of her, as he did, her whole life - and it ended up being his whole life.

Of course, most everyone knows the statistics that the husband will probably go first, but that doesn't help when it happens, especially if you are middle-aged and caught off guard with little warning.

I know my sister Joy and I miss Daddy terribly - and I can imagine how much more that applies to Mama.   Oh, she managed well, even better than we expected, living independently, with some help from Joy and social contacts such as good friends from her church.  She's a survivor.

But it can't have been easy.  Now as I am caring for her here, I am looking at her with fresh eyes, knowing that here, at my very age, she was still trying to navigate a world turned upside down.  And here she is now at 88 years old, again trying to navigate her world turned upside down again, because after her accident, she is now dependent once again on her family, this time her daughters and sons-in-law.  It is a sacred trust on our part, one to Mama, one to Daddy, that in his absence we are to make sure she lives out the rest of her days in security and love.  In 1980, Daddy just passed the torch.  I hope we are worthy of carrying it forward on a rocky, frustrating, sometimes difficult but amazing journey.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Before The Bite

Eating - as essential to our life as breathing and sleeping.  Yet, what/when/how to eat has dominated and confused our society with each passing year.  The act of eating should be simple, but it has become unfortunately very complex - and in the journey towards simplicity, complex is not a welcome word.  After much research, I've concluded that there are many reasons why the whole food thing is so confusing.  It's not easy to eat anymore, and here's why:

Misleading information on what is healthy.   Uh-huh, we're supposed to believe what the experts tell us, right?  Experts like the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, American Dietetic Association, USDA, etc.?  There have been more flip-flops in the "guiding wisdom" offered by these and other so-called expert groups than can be found on a California beach.  We have a DVD of old TV commercials, and one of the saddest ones is an ad for margarine - good for the heart, more healthy than butter, they said.  Years later, we discover margarine with its transfats is one of the worst things you can eat.  Eggs are bad for the heart, they said earlier.  Now eggs are one of the most nutritious items on the menu!  Wonder bread builds whole grains are the answer!  Wait - even whole grains are not heroes...(more on that later...)  Unfortunately, you can't just assume everything you hear, even from the "experts."  Do your own research, which will lead you inevitably to the fact that...

We've screwed up our food.  Oh yeah, we've really made a mess of things.  Antibiotics are given to cows who are force-fed corn when their stomachs aren't made to digest corn.  Growth hormones are given to many dairy cows.  There are fast food joints on every block.  And get this:  The wheat you buy and eat today is not the same wheat grown generations ago.  It has been genetically modified and tweaked so much that the ol' amber waves of grain are patented by Monsanto, et. al., and their "patented seed" is blowing into the farms of organic farmers, so everything is pretty much contaminated.  We've overfished the seas, and what's left is filled with mercury and other pollutants.  Pesticides cover everything.  Fruits and vegetables are grown to withstand a lot of travel and handling without bruising - not for taste and certainly not for nutrition.  Crops and animals are grown by large-scale industries who control the majority of our food supply and who appear to have little in the way of ethics. Which brings us to....

We have become aware of our food sources.  At first, this seems like a good thing, right?  Recall, however, the story of the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve were happy and naive in their own little world until "their eyes were opened."  In other words, they received the blessing/curse of knowledge, and they had to deal with that knowledge.  Anyone who has not heard of "Food, Inc" or "Fast Food Nation" or other books and movies has either been leading a sheltered existence or has deliberately avoided the ugly truth.  Our daughter and daughter-in-law are vegans for ethical reasons, but even from a purely health reason, to allow some of the "food" on the market into our bodies is pure insanity.  Descriptions and pictures of animals standing in their own waste, calves taken from their mothers and/or killed, chickens whose beaks are cut off so they won't peck each other from the anxiety of being stuffed in a cramped space, turkeys bred to have such big breasts that they can't even walk, - well, it's not a pretty picture and it is certainly not appetizing.  I'm not a vegan, not even a vegetarian - but it's getting harder and harder to eat the way I've been eating guilt-free.  I, of course, try to find my own way, meaning....

Everybody, literally every body, is different.  Whether you're allergic to peanuts or gluten, whether or not you can easily digest milk - you have to find out what works for you - a way of eating that is sustainable, where you can maintain a healthy weight and keep your body at optimal performance.  There is no one-size-fits all.  There will probably be compromises along the way.  Not everybody has the same system, or....

Financial resources.  Yep, you knew money has to figure in somewhere, right?  Organic food costs more, grass-fed beef costs more, vegan ice cream costs more.  Your budget can only go so far so you have to make some hard choices.  As our daughter posted on Facebook recently, our government kindly subsidizes the very crops and industries that are harming us - so we can get that cheap "food."

Eating - something that should be simple and instinctive - has become a burden so emotionally draining that it gives me a headache just to think about it.  Before the first bite, we have to consider the conventional wisdom versus our own research, the contamination of our food supply, the ethics of how our food is raised, our own body's reaction to what we eat, and how much we are willing to financially invest in our health.  It's still an ongoing journey for my husband and me to figure this all out, but if anyone hears of a magic pill I can take once a day so I can quit eating altogether, I'd appreciate a heads up.  What a bummer!  The next thing you know, we'll have problems with the simple act of breathing....oh dear.