Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving—Can We Make the Moment Last?

We're a ridiculously festive group at Thanksgiving.  But could we have this much fun every week or two? 
Steve Lambros photo.
Just before turkey day, I met a Columbian woman at an upscale women's consignment shop.  Somebody wished me a happy Thanksgiving, and I responded enthusiastically. The Columbian overheard my gushing and wanted more info. I told her that my family and friends were planning three days, three nights at a remote rented ranch in Southern Oregon, where we would endlessly feast, play games, and party. This got her attention.
Fine-feathered Ferron presents his fabulous fowl.
Steve Lambros photo.
This is what we do in Columbia! she exclaimed. Except we do this every week, not just for special occasions! Upon questioning, it came pouring out that Colombians, at least in her family, live differently than we do. They start work between 8 and 9 a.m., retreat for several hours in the afternoon, return to work around 5 or 6 p.m. and stay til 9 p.m., then they go out for dinner! Families congregate to feast and party most every weekend. The culture, she told me, is geared to the notion that life revolves around family and friends, not around work. Kids are included, and so are old people.
Spirited game of pole bangin' ensues while another group plays baci ball during Thanksgiving weekend.
Steve Lambros photo.
We work to LIVE! Not live to WORK like you Americans!
She said that numerous family members migrated to the USA to attend top-flight universities, but returned with advanced degrees to gratefully live and work in Columbia to be near their families and resume their "work to live" family-centered lifestyles.
You people are crazy! she said. Way too much work without enough enjoyment. She also related, after my questioning, that old people are cared for within the family. Old people don't live alone, and we don't have those retirement homes! she sputtered.
So. I have just returned from that three-day Thanksgiving celebration, which was as wonderful as anticipated. As one of the "family" wrote:
I am always in awe of the unscripted synergy and harmony of this group of diverse, single-minded, creative, intelligent, philosophically quizzical, spiritually hungry and purposeful livers of life. . . .From the bounty of the barnyard, gardens, river and culinary inspiration of the chefs, the endless varietals (homegrown especially) and brews to be enjoyed, the innumerable dance moves (and lack thereof...) to the seamless prep and unscripted cleanup teams, this annual gathering is AMAZING!!!!!!
Ok. There's no question that Thanksgiving is fabulous in general and especially for this group. But could we celebrate in like fashion every week or so?
Yes. We could.
But does the fact that we can't due to geographic distance and obligations mean that our priorities are screwed up and we are living to work not working to live?
I believe that we, and another 20 or so friends and family who were not present, are tuned in to the way of life described by the Columbian. Not that a lot isn't screwed up in the USA. 
We who are retired, or close to it, live a different reality than our kids. We're at least financially stable. We have health insurance. We have pensions and promise that we won't be destitute in our dotage. We have worked hard for decades, but don't feel it's been in vain. 
Our youthful family and friends have no such assurances in a hyper-competitive work culture where job benefits disappear as jobs migrate out of the country. However! They're better off than many of us were at their age. Our two sons certainly are way farther ahead of the game than PK and I were around age 30. The young people we know are fortunate, for sure.
 Mother and son dance action in an accidental triple exposure. Party down!
I'm sure the Columbian idealizes her culture. But I'm also sure she doesn't realize that many of us in the crass and work-crazed USA  have forged friendships and families to ensure that Thanksgiving isn't an oasis as much as a model for multiple gatherings throughout the year. Not every week, perhaps, but we're already planning for the next great time. Our young people can't join us as often as we'd like, because they do have to work and raise their kids and so on—and they live too far away—but I'm confident that we're setting a great example for how to proceed once roots are established and a foundation is set.
Acting goofy on a hike in the hills around Whisper Canyon Ranch, Thanksgiving 2011..
 All I can say is that when I gave thanks at Thanksgiving, I really meant it. And on and on it goes.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Old friends..... like bookends

Here were are with some of our "old" friends after a spring Rogue River trip in 2008 (PK and me on the far right). Some of us are getting grey around the gills, long of tooth, and short on synapse. I'm not naming names, except for me. Our kids are grown and gone, many of us are grandparents, and we're advancing reluctantly into the next stage.
Do you remember this great Simon and Garfunkel song?
Old friends, old friends sat on their parkbench like bookends A newspaper blowin' through the grass, Falls on the round toes of the high shoes of the old friends . . .[ Ls from: http://www.l Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a parkbench quietly?  How terribly strange to be seventy. Old friends, memory brushes the same years, silently sharing the same fears
When I first heard that song (and wept) I was just 20-something living in St. Paul, Minnesota, and my best friend was Marcy. I imagined the two of us as crones in voile dresses with wispy hair staring down the specter of 70. And here we are, lookin' at it.  Marcy lives not far away, although I rarely see her, but I remember and value the intensity of our youthful alliance. I dare say that neither one of us considers ourselves "old." Marcy has developed an incredibly creative life and business, and I can't imagine that she's obsessing about old age. Or is she?

When you enter into a friendship, you never know where it will lead or how long it will last. PK and I have lived for nearly four decades in the same spot (except for 4 years when we  defected to a nearby town to spare our youngest kid the local high school.) Anyway, we've been rooted in rural Southern Oregon since 1973. We didn't mean to stay, and were, in fact, planning an adventure to South America, but baby Quinn! came along, then jobs and entanglements, then baby Chris! and lo, 38 years passed. Thirty-eight years.

When you're young, you have no idea how this can happen, and probably don't believe it will. But it does, in an appalling flash, and the days and months and years form a dark distant cloud to which you have limited access. You look into the mirror, into your photo archives, and the faces of your adult children and say, What?! 

Except, of course, if you have had the same friends for nearly 40 years, and maybe even a few going back to high school, and you can sit around like old-timers and rehash the shared memories of when you were young, your kids were small, or maybe before you had them, or when you did this or that river trip or camping excursion, or when you shared meals and games and adventures that helped to shape the kids into who they are today. And also you into who you are today—we're all still works in progress.

Our now-adult children are amazing, of course. Even kids who have struggled share rich common experiences that helped to lift them into adulthood. I recognize that PK and I and our two sons have been incredibly fortunate to have long-term family friendships and live on the edge of so much accessible wilderness and a piece of land that has fed and sustained us through many seasons.

But there's more to old friendships than reveling in those great times. There's the going forward together, whether we want to or not, and honoring in one another the inevitability of gray hair and wrinkles and, dare I say it? physical decline and maybe even cognitive lapses.
 Old friends, memory brushes the same years, silently sharing the same fears.
There's the continued joy in sharing with one another our adult children's lives and the sweetness of grandchildren, as well as the maturation of our friendships. Same goes for our childless friends. We're all sharing now the transition from middle age to seniorhood, and for me, frankly,  it sucks.
I'm adjusting to this inevitability with my old friends. We're all in various stages of denial and acceptance, and riding our bikes, walking our butts, and doing yoga like crazy. We'll stave this off, right?!

I never thought I'd be here, climbing the hill to 70. Or is that descending the hill? Of course it is descending. I need to stop kidding myself. At age 66, I have lived more than half of my life.

Spending quality time now with my almost-96-year-old mother reveals how it is to be really old. All her "old' friends have died, or have been left behind as she's moved from independent to assisted living over three states during the past decade. Her dearest friend, my father Floyd, died in 2006 at age 93. She has no deep ties to anyone but family, but she has new friends, a handful of wonderful people who do what they can to enhance their own lives and hers. New friends are good!

But there's no replacing old ones. For at least 20 years, PK and I, along with some others, have kicked around the idea of establishing the Purple Sage retirement home, where we could live commune-style, take charge of our aging selves, and kick some butt. Despite lively conversations, we have yet to make a move. It's too complex, and besides, we're not there yet. It seems unlikely the Purple Haze will ever happen. For now, my friends, let's stay connected, hold hands into the future, and ski our withering flanks off this winter.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gardening in November? It's the leeks.

Leeks in November. They were completely ignored for three years. PK thought they might be goners. But no.
Mucking around in the dirt a couple days ago, after the rest of the garden had been yanked up and spread  into the field to melt down, I decided to dig up a clump of leeks, just to see what they look like. Several years ago, a gardening pal gave us clots of leeks, which we stuck into the ground and ignored. I noticed this summer that they had gorgeous white flowers and made a note to check out the action below the soil.
A clump of leek bulbs striving to reproduce.
Here's what I found about a foot down. Numerous leek bulbs, all the way from small onion-sized to thimble-sized, full of vigor and sprouting. Not at all expired! I broke up this clump and saved the largest bulbs for cooking.
Leek bulbs seem a lot like shallots. They're very delicate and best eaten cooked rather than raw.
To the right, a couple of jalapenos and tomatoes All went into a chicken soup.
 The smaller bulbs I gave away at my yoga class, along with advice that they could be planted now in the deep trenches advised by gardening gurus. Truthfully, I haven't found any info about planting leek bulbs, just info for sowing seeds or baby leeks. But why wouldn't leek bulbs work? I plan to dig up another clump and establish a real leek bed, trenches and all, before the rains begin. That means I need to hurry. Wet weather will arrive any day now. I'll have to wait til spring to see the results, but waiting and patience is what gardening is all about, especially in November.