Sunday, August 2, 2015

Making Summer Memories: Our Long Lake, MI Vacation

The cabin from the lake, the lake from the cabin. 
We discovered a hidden gem of a vacation spot.  Michelle and I had been looking at Michigan lakes north of us for a few weeks, when she mentioned it to a co-worker who knew of someone who knew someone who rented a cabin on a lake.  The cabin was on Long Lake, not north but due west of us near the Indiana border, in Reading near Coldwater, MI. Never heard of it, but it was only an hour and a half away. Perfect distance! We checked it out online, the lake and the cabin, liked it, thought about it for a day. Michelle decided to go for it.  I helped by saying "Let's do it!"

And so we spent a wonderful week, the last week of July 2015, in a small but cozy cabin with every amenity and great caretakers, a short car ride away through pretty countryside, and situated on a picturesque lake that could be on the cover of  a "Travel Michigan" magazine.

The kids played in the water every day, most of the day.  We played yard games around the cabin. Josh drove to Toledo to work his 5-10 pm UPS job, then come back at night a few times; he loved it. Alli came with her German Shepherd Kato for an afternoon and overnight. Julia came on Friday to pick up Philip, and got to cruise the lake on the pontoon boat we all enjoyed. We lit the fire pit near the lake at sunset, watched the stars fill the sky and a full Blue Moon rise. We sat in awe, relaxed, blessed. We roasted marshmellows, novices at making a fire at first, better by week's end with Alli's help.  And what's a camp fire without s'mores! Michelle made sure we had them. She and the boys used the paddle boat several times, then found the pontoon boat even better for cruising around the lake, seeing the pretty houses and gardens, spotting turtles, watching swan and geese glide by. Kyle was our boat captain, but Josh, Philip, and even Chase, took turns at the helm. They all loved the water. Couldn't get enough. Their lake paradise, and ours.
From top left, the Capri drive-in; Julia & Philip on a pontoon cruise; the boys in the boats and in the water; lake views, a Blue Moon, our cabin from the pontoon; and me watching the world go by.

Philip on the dock at sunset
and moon rise.

We also found plenty to do around Reading and Coldwater, Michigan, historic towns on the old trails west.  We went to a real outdoor drive-in movie, the 1950s Capri, which the kids found fantastic and I remember fondly. We went "antiquing" at an old barn, where the boys each found something special. Philip adopted an old teddy bear, got a small glass kitten for his mom, and found a little wind-up ghost toy for me, such a special gift. What an eye for his Nana Franna's wind-up toy collection, inherited from friend Barbie Britsch! Kyle discovered antique Coke and Vernor's bottles, vintage designs, great logos. Chase hung onto an old toy car.  We went to Adventure World for go-carts and miniature golf.  We stopped at a roadside farmer's stand for fresh corn, peaches and blueberries, devoured in one day pretty much.  We ate outside every day, on the lovely deck with a gas grill, usually joined by the friendly neighborhood dog Blackie, a laid-back black lab.  The kids made new friends a few houses down. Hours of  water play, delight, fun and, for the grown-ups, pure relaxation.

"We're making summer memories," Michelle reflected, as we sat by the fire, watching a gorgeous sunset. The clouds pink, the colors golden and pastel.  "Maybe we could have a cabin like this one day," Josh added. "Something to dream about," I thought.  "We're making dreams, too," Michelle said, as if reading my mind.  "Dreams can be realized. Dreams can come true."

For sure our Long Lake, MI vacation will stay with us for a long time, long enough for some dreams to become precious realities for my children and grandchildren.

Some early fall colors emerging, their reflection shimmering
in the golden light of the clear lake. 

Long Lake, MI is a series of lakes connected by various channels and canals.
 It's clean and clear, reflecting the landscapes and foliage.
We even saw the full moon shimmering in the lake.  In the lake! Amazing.
Mesmerizing.  The bottom is marshy close to shore, with plenty of seaweeds,
but people who know the lake swim out towards the middle. The kids didn't mind
playing near the shore at all. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Wealth and Income Gap: Who has faith in the American voters?

"You have to connect the dots
and understand how many troubling
things are interwoven." Robert Reich
"Despite what many Americans assume, the United States actually has some of the lowest and longest-stagnating rates of economic mobility in the rich world – significantly lower than many European countries. This fact should be of concern to both Democrats and Republicans as it hinders this country’s economy.
How has this happened? For a start, the minimum wage has lost much of its purchasing power, and hasn't kept pace with inflation. Indeed, the minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is lower now than it was in the late 1960s, while wages at the bottom end of the scale have fallen in recent decades, even as worker productivity has grown."   Sen. Alan Lowenstein, D. CA, to CNN, Feb. 2015
I've been following this issue of the ever-widening wealth and income gap in the U.S. for some time. Sen. Alan Lowenstein and other politicians have too, along with journalists and commentators. I'm paying more attention to Robert Reich's articles on the issue.  It truly is a shocking disparity and as Reich and others note with alarm it is destroying the middle class, imbalancing our economy, and harming our democracy. It is benefitting a few huge corporations, mega-banks, multi-national giants now merging into fewer and fewer monopolies, and billionaire employers and individuals who have amassed unlimited wealth and unlimited political power to call the shots for the rest of us.  It's scary.

Reich says it has taken America right back to the late 19th century, when the rich ruled. He's right.  And so are his conclusions that we need to take back our rights to a decent life and the American dream, where ordinary people and workers have a living wage and the giants are restrained.  People who work should not be poor.  Economic growth is not growth if it hurts workers and benefits only a few billionaires. Reich concludes:

"...As we learned a century ago, markets don’t exist in nature. They’re created by human beings. The real question is how they’re organized and for whose benefit....Ever since around 1980, even though the economy has doubled once again (the Great Recession notwithstanding), the wages of most Americans have stagnated. And their benefits and working conditions have deteriorated.  This isn’t because most Americans are worth less. In fact, worker productivity is higher than ever. / It’s because big corporations, Wall Street, and some enormously rich individuals have gained political power to organize the market in ways that have enhanced their wealth while leaving most Americans behind. /That includes trade agreements protecting the intellectual property of large corporations and Wall Street’s financial assets, but not American jobs and wages./Bailouts of big Wall Street banks and their executives and shareholders when they can’t pay what they owe, but not of homeowners who can’t meet their mortgage payments. /Bankruptcy protection for big corporations, allowing them  to shed their debts, including labor contracts. But no bankruptcy protection for college graduates over-burdened with student debts./Antitrust leniency toward a vast swathe of American industry – including Big Cable (Comcast, AT&T, Time-Warner), Big Tech (Amazon, Google), Big Pharma, the largest Wall Street banks, and giant retailers (Walmart)./But less tolerance toward labor unions – as workers trying to form unions are fired with impunity, and more states adopt so-called “right-to-work” laws that undermine unions.  / We seem to be heading full speed back to the late nineteenth century. 

He's right, but who's listening?  Not enough of us. Not the majority of Americans, who seem to be suckered into sideshows and media dramas.  This is where I am sinking into despair. The facts don't matter.

Will Americans wake up and face reality, or will they fall in line behind big money politics and continue to vote like sheep being taken to slaughter. Will they see beyond media hype and hysteria, beyond inflated rhetoric and hate? Will they listen to the facts, open up, gain some perspective, at the very least vote their own self-interest?

It's all up to the American people. I must say I am not as hopeful as I once was. These are the same voters who elect contentious, extremist politicians to their state legislatures and to the U.S. Congress, the house and the senate.  The same voters who have given us Rep. John Boehner, Ted Cruz , Scott Walker, Joe Cotton--elected officials who will not compromise, who have no respect for the presidency, who slant the truth to their own ends, who are bought by the NRA and the Koch brothers and wealthy corporate lobbyists.  America is in trouble.  And the enemy is within.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

One of Everything Left

By the time you get to my age you have one item of every pair of everything you ever owned still left.  One wine glass of a once-lovely pair. One mug by that nice Nantucket ceramic artist. One earring from every set I once treasured, gold, pearl, opal, silver, handmade. It's even so with my candles, although there's less sentimental attachment. So I've stopped looking for pairs. Now I hold on to the single trophies of a lifetime and marvel at the memories.

"It's okay to wear two different earrings," my daughter says, as I search in vain for the match to the opal pair I got in Australia.

"Seems like I've lost one of everything I own," I tell her. "Like these earrings. Like these mugs."  We sip our coffee and ponder the thought. I'm drinking from an old stoneware set, my daughter from a pretty Christmas set.

Later, at dinner with my friend Judi who lives below me, "Judi down under" I call her, we share wine in two lovely wine glasses that were gifts from years' past.

"This is such a pretty wine glass," Judi says of the delicate crystal she raises.  "I like yours, too."

"I have one of everything," I lament.

"Couples don't last forever," she laughs.  "In any case, at our ages we don't need things.  Memories will do!"

I'll drink to that.  And light a candle from a once pretty pair for good measure.

"I like that Delft candlestick holder," Judi says.  "Thanks," I reply.  "It's from a set my mom had. I broke its mate."

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Armed Camp USA

Photo, David Goldman, Getty images/AP on yahoo.
Mother Emanuel AME church, 21 June 2015. 
An NRA board member, Charles Cotton of Texas, had the gall to blame Rev. Pinckney, also a state Senator, for the racist murders that took place in Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC.  "He voted against concealed-carry....Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”  

With the confederate flag flying high in the background of these obscene murders, the NRA fired its propaganda gun to let us know that the answer to violence is more violence, the answer to guns is more guns, the answer to murder and hate is to arm everyone, everywhere.  "No gun-free zones."

If the people in that Bible study group in that church had had guns, then what? Well, according to Cotton, who displayed incredible moral turpitude, they would have been able to shoot back.  That's right, to shoot back at a guy they could not ever have imagined, in their wildest dreams, would be there in the first place. But the church would have been a safer place; sure it might have become  a battleground of self-defense, but eight people would have survived the onslaught. Alas, Rev. Pinckney himself was shot dead because he didn't carry a gun, and had voted against "concealed carry."  Yep, he "expressly" voted against "concealed carry," America.  That would make it legal to hide and carry weapons into churches, restaurants, school, theaters, shopping malls, and other public places. The reverand shot himself in the foot, as it were. Too bad.

Really? Do you really believe this kind of thinking? So low, and so vile? Is this what America is buying, over and over again? Is this what we are allowing to continue after every tragic demonstration that guns kill innocent people who don't think like Cotton and the NRA?

Can you imagine Rev. Pinckney hiding a gun in his jacket pocket or his pastor's robe every day before going to church or the legislature or Bible studies or family gatherings, in case he might be murdered by a madman with a gun? Do you imagine his even thinking such a thing? Would anyone in his Bible study group think like this?

Do you want to live every day as if you might need to shoot someone before they shoot you? Do you want to take a gun with you before leaving your house, wherever you go, in a ritual like brushing your teeth?  Do you really want to live like this?

Who thinks this way?  How many Americans really think this way?  Why would any of us, living in an advanced country in this century, want to live this way?

The NRA is selling a sick, twisted ideology. It wants to turn our country into an armed camp.  Armed Camp USA. The United States of Arms.  It's profitable for gun manufacturers and gun sellers, multi-billion dollar industries, but it's totally twisted for the rest of us.

Why are we buying it? Expose it for what it really is.  As twisted as the white supremacist who went into that historic African-American church with a concealed weapon and the intent "to kill blacks."  As twisted as the racist who sat with his intended victims for an hour, surrounded by loving, accepting people, then firing away.

The NRA should be brought down with the Confederate flag.  Wake up America. This can't be the kind of country you want to live in.

On gun control laws:
“This is not a matter of any single mass tragedy or any words the president can say,” said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "The bottom line is, Congress so far has failed to act because it is filled with too many craven and irresponsible politicians who are nothing more than lap dogs for the corporate gun lobby.”   Read more:

Thursday, June 18, 2015


"I've had to make these statements [of condolences and tragedy] too many times...time to address the issue of gun control."  President Obama on Emanuel AME church massacre, in grief and sadness.

Emanuel AME Church, Charleston,
Evil entered the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC, last night, an historic African-American church that goes back before the Civil War.  A symbol of freedom to this day. A sacred place.  A young white man with a gun, a boy really, shot nine men and women praying together. "I want to kill black people," he announced. The face of evil, and so young. It shocks me. 

The theologian Reinhold Niebhur preached that evil exists in the world.  Always has, always will.  All we can do is fight it as best we can, over and over, generation after generation, crime after crime, war after war, murder after murder, hate crime after hate crime.  

It's hard for me to accept this reality. I tempered my utopian idealism long ago, but I still quiver and quake in the face of evil. How could a kid, the age of some of my own grandchildren, be so filled with hate at such a young age, and how did he get a gun? How could he sit in a Bible study group in a church, pray with people for an hour, then open fire.  Nine good people killed, including the Church's pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney.  An insane presence in their midst, a sick, angry, rageful child turned killer.   Would any of us have even suspected such violence in this place in this time from this boy?  

We've made little progress in dealing with mental health issues in our society, even less in passing laws to limit weapons of war on our streets or guns in the hands of the insane, children, the anti-social, the hate-filled.  Just the opposite.  The NRA has been busy, and successful. Many state legislatures are passing laws that defund mental health programs and loosen gun restrictions, allowing just about anyone to carry guns into restaurants, stores, public places, for example. Wander through Walmart's with a gun  Give a gun to a kid. It's okay.  In fact, the South Carolina legislature itself recently passed a law making it legal to carry guns into restaurants.   Aren't our legislators and our elected officials liable too?   I'm glad President Obama chose to raise the question, with justifiable anger and sadness. 

Maybe some good will come of this once the grieving has passed and the healing begins.  Maybe all good people will band together against racism and hate, against relentless gun violence, against the silent killers of the soul that encompass race and class and poverty.  It's what the Rev. Clementa Pinckney would want, this wonderful man and leader who walked in the footsteps of Martin Luther King and our civil rights pioneers.  The photos of the Charleston community, which I find engrossing and fascinating, show an outpouring of grief, silent vigils and gatherings that include people of all races, backgrounds, faiths, and ages, all coming together to mourn. Is this a sign of hope? Will any change come out of this latest tragedy?    

For a history of the Emanuel AME church:

Friday, June 5, 2015

Ukraine Uniting

    "For most of the 20th century, Ukraine was the victim of two equally malevolent empires—Germany and Russia. Germany's contribution to Ukraine's devastation was the two World Wars; Russia's was the imposition of Soviet rule and the concomitant destruction of Ukraine's peasantry and elites. 
     Unsurprisingly, a constant images in 20th-century Ukrainian commentary is that of their country being caught between a hammer and an anvil./ The 21st century may be witnessing a fundamental break with Ukraine's tragic geopolitical position. While Russia is acting according to its historical script, post-Holocaust, post-unification Germany appears to be emerging as Europe's benevolent hegemon."    Newsweek, May 30, 2015

This is one of the most succinct descriptions of the 20th-century Ukrainian experience I've seen.  Ukraine's modern history in a nutshell. It is a tortuous, conflicted history, between a rock and a hard place.

Putin's relentless aggression against Ukraine, his orchestrated "hybrid war" to destroy and destablize the country, so shocking to the world and most of all to Ukraine itself, is more than the resumption of the Cold War.  It's also a return to the geopolitical stage of the early 20th century, the World Wars and their aftermaths. Revanchism and patriarchy together, personified in one man.

In part this history also encompasses the issue of why a Ukrainian national identity has been so fragile. It's something I thought about when I lived in Starobelsk. Ukraine has had a hard time cementing itself together, building on its unique cultural traditions and shared visions.  There's wasn't much "E pluribus unum" in Ukraine. I struggled with that.

Today I think this is changing.  With the illegal Russian invasion and occupation of Crimea and Putin's criminal aggression in the Donbas, Ukraine has become more unified than ever. War has reinforced the transition.Ukraine has to survive.

This is one of the ironies of luddite Putin's revenge, so backward-looking. Ukraine is finding its unique identity, finding its voice. It's a work in progress, but beyond Putin's relentless Reign of Terror in the east, beyond his lies and cynical propaganda campaign, a new Ukraine is emerging.

I believe president Poroshenko is trying his best to make it happen. He is addressing corruption and the economy. He seems to be honest and commited. I believe it's what the vast majority of people across Ukraine fervently want, peace and prosperity.  Not all of Lugansk and not all of Donetsk oblasts are in the hands of Putin's army and terrorist proxies, not yet.  The areas now occupied are not free, not autonomous, not strong.  They are decimated and destroyed; millions have fled. They are Putin's wastelands.

Sadly, Putin's War continues. Mariupol and the Azov region are in danger. Minsk 2 meant nothing from day one, when the terrorists destroyed Debalteseve and then gloated over it.  "Our trophies," they laughed. Minsk 2 is only a hook for politicians to hang their hats on.  Nothing more.  The war never stopped and Putin is now stepping it up, a tragic pattern of destruction, orchestrated with glee. His criminal gangs, biker gangs, hoodlums, and soldiers (not acknowledged even to their families) are destroying everything in their path.

Only Putin can stop the war, but that's not going to happen. It exposes his paranoia, betrayal, and evil.  He is a mad dog. There's only one glimmer of hope on the horizon as far as I can see.  The longer Putin's War lasts, the more unified the rest of Ukraine  will become.  In the long run, Putin will lose, and take Russia down with him, and Ukraine will be victorious.  

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A "New Deal" for a New Ukraine: Uses of the Past

Every nation has to deal with its past. In the USA, we have to deal with slavery, the Civil War and its ugly Reconstruction era in the form of Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, lynching, oppression. We have to deal with the extermination of the native peoples of this land; the triumph of an often-heartless capitalism and the rise of poverty; with the inequality and injustice that contradict our ideals as well as the reform movements that seek to address them.

These realities may be open to interpretation and revision in changing contexts over time, but they can't be erased. Some people still fly the Confederate flag. Others say it's a symbol of  racism.  In truth, it is all a part of the story of America, the good, the bad and the ugly.

So it is in Ukraine. Today, the government in Kyiv wants to eliminate all vestiges of its Communist past.  Change street names, topple statues of Lenin, forbid signs of the Stalinist era. Yes, Ukraine can destroy the symbols, but it cannot so easily destroy the memories or the history.

The History Museum in Starobelsk, the University, Lenin Park. It's all changing, and it's all  part of Ukraine's history.  
Ukraine must deal with its struggles and its achievements. It must deal with Stalin's "Holodomor," the Gulags, the support of Nazis and the overzealous outrages on the part of some Ukrainians against Jews and Poles. It must deal with discrimination against Roma and others, Babi Yar, the Crimean Tatar.

Ukraine Cultural Traditions. The
Starobelsk calendar.
I understand the impulse to deny, and also the need to redefine.

I remember thinking when I served with Peace Corps that Ukraine needed a national identity. I was surprised, for example, that English Club members didn't know their national anthem. Inspite of this, a strong sense of Ukrainian cultural traditions flourished.

As an historian, I'm wondering about Kyiv's current focus on symbols, as well as the wisdom of spending money to build a wall between Ukraine and Russia.  Such priorities will not fundamentally change anything that matters the most to most Ukrainians.

I'm thinking that instead of focusing on symbols and walls, Ukraine needs to focus on how to help its people. Basically, like the theme of Bill Clinton's first presidential run, Ukraine's motto should be "It's the economy, stupid."  It's not easy to implement, especially in wartime.

Still, even during this Reign of Terror, the economy remains a basic need for the country as a whole.   I wish President Poroshenko would make this a top priority, along with rooting out the corruption that acts as brakes on progress.

How about a "New Deal" for Ukraine?  Make jobs, create opportunities, put people to work on infrastructure, building and repairing roads and transportation systems; encourage entrepreneurship and small business development with tax incentives; support the work of NGOs and the economic development efforts, such as tourism, of small towns and cities. Organize a Works Progress Administration (WPA) and put artists to work. Create new murals, new parks, new symbols, new hope.

Maybe this kind of  "New Deal" would help Ukraine become the united nation it was meant to be, with a bountiful economy and strong national identity that embraces differences and uses its past to create a strong future.  This might well be the best defense against Russian aggression in the long run as well.

"If Ukraine manages to pull out of the deepest crisis in its history and re-emerge as a functioning democratic country with a liberal economic model,  it will do more to undermine Russians' passive support for Putin than any Western pressure ever could." Bloomberg, 4 June 2015, on Yahoo.  

Some information:
http;:// On the New Deal and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) that put artists to work during the 1930s Depression.