Thursday, December 29, 2016

Annus Horribilus

And it goes like it goes and the river flows
And time it rolls right on
And maybe what's good gets a little bit better
And maybe what's bad gets gone

This is how I am summing up 2016.  This is the chorus of "It Goes Like It Goes", the slightly eerie Oscar-winning theme song to Norma Rae.  Because if 2016 taught me anything, it's to continue to expect disappointment while constantly hoping for better. 

No doubt, 2016 will go down as one of the worst years at least in my lifetime.  Not before in my 50 years on Earth has a 365-day period produced such challenging and disappointing loss.  I've never been so glad to see a year come to an end.  If the last 8 years has taught me anything, it's that there is always hope.  And I look to 2017 to provide and fulfill that hope to a reasonable degree.

This year started off with such promise.  We celebrated New Year's Eve in NYC with our friend, Tim - a person who embodies hope and wonder.  We saw a few Broadway shows and I reconnected with Kathy, a dear college friend and former housemate.  I vowed then to reconnect with all my lost college mates, but I didn't follow through.  And I think that pretty much sums up 2016 - full of promises that were not fulfilled, both individually and collectively.

2016 could have been one of the greatest years in our country's history.  But instead, it showed us and the world how backward we still are as a country while we laid out plans to not only stop social growth, but to roll it back by decades.  Again, I'll look to 2017 to hopefully prove that wrong.

Since January 1, 2016, I gained and lost 2 jobs, and my current one is on shaky ground thanks to the policies of the incoming presidential administration.

I fought (and continue to fight) a long health struggle.  Nothing major like dealing with heart surgery or fighting back from a stroke or dealing with cancer.  Thank God.  Most of my year was fighting something as mundane as a sinus infection that simply would not go away.  For the last 7 months of the year, it's been headaches, malaise, horrific odors, and the constant battle between stuffy or runny nose.

I missed a few planned vacations with my husband because I was too sick to travel.  My entire summer was spent at home, save for forcing myself to attend a cookout now and then so that Kevin wasn't doing everything without me.

It was another year of my Dad slowly progressing into his own world due to dimentia.  Another year of him living in the nursing home and Mom visiting him two times a day every day.  Another year of their lives stagnating, living apart, and feeling helpless and hopeless.  Again, I call on 2017 to provide clarity.

2016 took many wonderful people from us.  On a personal note, the loss of Judy, my mother's best friend, continues to resonate with so many people.  My posting about her ended up being the 3rd most read post of my entire blog, following the two posts about Carol Burnett.  And rightly so.  Judy was an amazing woman full of love.  Her absence made this past Christmas that much more bleak.

There were certainly rays of sunshine during this year: the marriages of family and friends help lighten the levity of the rest of the year, doing their parts in keeping hope alive; our trip to the Baltic Sea and the wonders that brought; seeing family when we could and friends as often as possible.  There were certainly simple joys throughout the year.  And certainly another year of life is enough to be grateful for.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Sound of Metaphor

Last night, we watched The Sound of Music on TV.  Like most Americans, I've seen this musical a hundred times.  It was the first movie my parents took us to.  I must have been 5 or 6, but I remember sitting in The Palace Theater on Main Street and watching this movie, and being so taken by it that my parents bought me the soundtrack album.  The cover folded out with colored pictures and a complete write-up of the show.  My boyhood crush on Julie Andrews was in full-swing.

Watching the movie last night, I couldn't help but be struck by the fact that the characters are a metaphor for our times. So who are YOU in this movie? 
Are you Maria who sets out to accomplish an impossible task and succeeds despite experiencing some failure? 
Are you Captain Von Trapp who stands up for his convictions no matter the consequences? 
Are you the nuns who sacrifice their safety for what is right? 
Are you Baroness Elsa Schraeder who initially fights for what she wants but eventually, and somewhat easily, concedes defeat and accepts the status quo?
Are you Leisl who wants more from life and is struggling to move forward despite being restricted and caught between dueling sides? 
Are you Rolf, easily swayed and intoxicated by power from a leader who offers empty promises but taps into your need for self-importance?  And who is gullible enough to join a militant faction while telling his near-age mate that she's being naive? 
Are you the Von Trapp children who are disinterested with social conformity? 
Are you Hans Zeller loyal to the party no matter what ugly turn it takes?
Movies, specifically musicals, are meant to transport us someplace else, to temporarily forget our problems and live in a world of magic, dancing, singing, and love.  But I couldn't help but feel that at least this time, The Sound of Music was too eerily current.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Granny's Dishes

When I was a boy, I spent many weekends with my Granny at her house, which was mostly within sight of my parents' house one street over.  I ate many meals with her and I always loved her dishes.  They were the only thing I actually would have loved to have when she passed away in 1987, but they went to my uncle who had been living with her at the time.  He eventually moved away, got married, then divorced, became infirm, and then passed away himself a few years ago.  Where Granny's set of dishes eventually went is anyone's guess.

My recent acquisition: 
Kenro Holiday Collection
Back then, Granny bought her dishes a few at a time from a traveling salesman who would come to the house on a regular basis.  I don't know how she bought them (all plates first or all one color, etc), but I know it was in pieces - not all at once like we do today.  That's how she bought a lot of things.  I remember as a kid watching her talk to visiting salesmen who were selling just about anything.  That's how things were done back then.  With 9 kids, it wasn't like she could just go shopping, and there weren't many stores in her very rural neck of the woods.

So resigning to never actually owning her set, I decided to just buy a set for myself.  All I knew from my own mother was that they were melamine dishes from a company called Melmac.  So I set out to find them.  And I learned that Mother was half right.  The company that made the melamine dishes was actually named Kenro, one of the great melamine manufacturers that outlived most. One may argue it was their timing or their keen ways of marketing and management that sustained them during economic change.  

Kenro was named for it's owners and inventors, Kenneth Welch (president) and Roger Sacia (vice president).  Their first plant, in Freedonia  Wisconsin at 200 Industrial Drive (established in 1953), turned out 24 hours worth of plastic products, and 2 Million dollars in annual sales by 1958.  The company was so overwhelmed, a second location in Galesville, WI was in swing by the end of 1958, set to open in February 1959.  By 1959 a lot of earlier plastics companies were on their way out due to rising production costs and a general lack of love for melamine by consumers. Kenro's successful lines were Holiday by Kenro, Debonaire Melmac, and various kitchen plastics.  Granny's dishes were the speckled Holiday by Kenro line, specifically red, turquoise, yellow, and white.

Kenneth and Roger decided to patent their technique for METHOD AND COMPOSITION FOR THE PRODUCTION OF SPECKLED PLASTIC WARE on April 6, 1954  This patent would technically prove them being "first to patent the speckled ware" although they weren't exactly first to invent it.  The diagram at right is the patent for the set's sugar bowl, considered futuristic in its day.

Identifying Kenro items is easy, since most items are clearly marked on the bottom.  What may be confusing is dating. Some will list patent numbers on them, and some will say patent pending. The patent pending is obviously older and scarcer because the company had applied for a patent, which wasn't granted for the items before production began.  Later items show the original patent which does not necessarily mean they were produced on that date of the patent, but is simply referring to their original patent. You will see script and print backstamps for Kenro.

So now, after several years of scouring Etsy, eBay, and just about every vintage retail shop in every city we've visited the last few years, not to mention the numerous times I made a bid on eBay only to lose out at the last minute, I was FINALLY able to purchase a large set of Kenro Holiday dishes for my very own.  They arrived earlier this week and are instantly among my personal treasures.  They aren't Granny's, but they remind me of her especially today, December 14th, on what would be her 107th birthday.

Still not completely sure if these will be every-day dishes, used for special occasions, or never used at all.  But buying something I may never use isn't like me. I do plan on adding to the collection - not insanely, just a piece here and there as I find it.  Kenro Holiday dinnerware is a lot like melted plastic popcorn: so much of it was made that it's hard to know what all is out there and available.  And like those window decorations, I'll buy what I like when I see it.

But for now, I'm just going to sit at the dining room table and enjoy the view.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Years Of Dental Pain

T'was three weeks before Christmas and all through my mouth
Was a mess of great doing; my teeth work had gone south.

Oh screw it, here's what's going on.

I'm sure no one can quickly forget that my 2016 was dominated by one story.  The year will no doubt be remembered as "The Year of the Sinuses".  On my last visit to my ENT, he told me that the root of my problem (pun intended) was a tooth root that had broken off in my gum and punctured my sinuses, allowing bacteria from my mouth to get into them and cause recurrent infections.  But of course it did.  So now a trip to the dentist was in order if not downright necessary.

I'm not proud to admit that my last dentist appointment was in July 2005.  Problems with my teeth have been brewing for many years and I've just not done anything about it.  I guess I figured that there was no real hope of saving my teeth, so I just planned on waiting it out until I would need a mouth full of implants, partials or full-on dentures.  My siblings all have great teeth, but no amount of  dental hygiene was going to prevent mine from deteriorating.  And I figured that as long as the front ones still looked good, I could buy time.

I don't know why, but there is a lot of emotion centered around my face.  When I went to pieces on my first follow up appointment with my ENT, I remember telling Kevin that I would have a similar reaction going to a dentist.  I don't know why this is.  I don't recall having a bad experience with a dentist per se.  Perhaps some of it is the fact that over the years, I've quietly dealt with some severe pain in my mouth as teeth broke off, nerves became exposed, and gums bled.  And also, perhaps some of it - or most of it - is just plain embarrassment.  I don't seem to have this same problem when my eyes are examined; there's just something about my nose and mouth.

Back in July 2005, though, I took steps to fix everything.  I scoured DC for a dentist whom I would be able to trust and would work with me to fix my issues.  I remember the dentist asking me what my greatest fear was.  I said, "Having to leave this office without teeth in my mouth".  He said, "What if I promised you that would never happen?"  And I felt better.  So we made appointments to get things done.  My goal was to have it all complete before I moved to Chicago in September.  And then I had a heart attack, which nixed everything.

But now it's time to take care of it.  Indeed my health depends on it.  So I did about a week's worth of research and found a dental practice.  I met with the dentist and I trust him - for the most part.  I shared my fears and emotional distress and we talked through it.  I go in for a cleaning this week, but the real work will start in January when my dental insurance renews.  Not surprisingly, I need a lot of work done.  But the goal is to save as much as possible and then deciding if I want to do anything cosmetic.

Here's hoping 2017 doesn't become "The Year of the Teeth".

Friday, December 02, 2016

Burning The Flag

The American flag is one of the many symbols America uses to identify itself. It's steeped in tradition and even has it's own little fairy tale of a story about its origins. Americans love the story of Betsy Ross’s making the nation’s first official flag. For 150 years now, the tale of the plucky, practical Philadelphia seamstress has occupied a comfortable niche in the country’s patriotic pantheon alongside the stories of Paul Revere, the Minutemen, and Valley Forge.
Ross is so beloved and so deeply embedded in the nation’s memory that somehow it seems unpatriotic, if not vaguely treasonous, to cast doubt on her story. The truth, however, is that nobody can prove that Betsy Ross had anything to do with the first official Stars and Stripes.  There's truly no good historical evidence that she had anything to do with its creation, but we like believing it anyway.  Even the Betsy Ross House, now a Philadelphia museum honoring her, promotes her story but encourages visitors to decide whether it’s “historical fact or well-loved fiction.”
But at it's core, the flag is just a symbol. That's all, just a symbol; a thing. It's not living. It means nothing, really. So if someone wants to exercise their 1st Amendment right and set fire to the flag and burn it, so what? It doesn't hurt anyone.

We've become a nation so bothered by the actions of others that we are neglecting to check ourselves and be accountable for our own actions; a nation of Christians who simply refuse to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ; a nation of people who would rather record the wrongdoings of a person rather than step in to stop them or, better yet, engage them in conversation as to why they are acting the way they are. And why? Because despite screaming about how much we care, we really don't. We don't really care. We don't care if our actions affect another person. We don't care if inaction hurts another person. We don't care if our beliefs infringe on the beliefs of another person. We don't care. As long as we get ours, we don't care.

We elected a man to the presidency who thinks it's okay to sexually molest women and young girls.

We don't care.

Hate crimes in New York City have risen by 31% compared to this same time in 2015.

We don't care.

There's been an outbreak of about 900 hate crimes since the election in November.

We don't care.

Our country has no gun laws, save for the American right to bear arms, bear meaning we have a right to keep them and carry them, but not necessarily a right to purchase them; an amendment that was written at a time when the country had to call on private citizens to defend itself against invaders. Not the case anymore. Anyone can buy a gun. Anyone can use a gun. Anyone can be shot anywhere at anytime, including children in schools and students at universities and people simply going about their daily lives.

We don't care.

Our police officers are killing - KILLING - Americans. They're not maiming them to prevent running away, not shooting them in the arms to disarm them - killing them. It seems an officer's first response is to kill someone, not slow them or stop them in order to understand motives and actions. We will never have answers to the thousands of questions we have when something goes wrong.

We don't care.

A Texas-based company wants to run a natural gas pipeline through Sioux territory in North Dakota that could contaminate their drinking water as well as traverse their sacred burial grounds, and despite environmentalists' claims that the pipeline could ruin the ecosystem.

We don't care.

People in Flint, Michigan haven't had clean drinking water since April 2014. It's so bad, it's called a crisis by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. But there's no outrage about it. Why? Because...

We don't care.

So I don't understand all the hullabaloo about setting fire to a piece of material. It means nothing. When people are suffering and grieving and unable to live their lives and we don't do anything about that, why on earth would we rise up because someone burns a flag that has come to represent division, hatred, and intolerance? I love my country and I am happy, thankful, and proud to be an American. And I will fight with whatever tools I have to help get it back on track. But as far as burning the American flag goes...

I don't care.