Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Past and Present

Photo: Michelle's house all ready for trick-or-treaters, the sunset shining in the windows; getting ready to brave the night, with Philip the Transformer, Kyle the soldier, Chase a pumpkin for his first Halloween, and monster Josh. And off they go!

Last year at this time I was teaching members of the Starobelsk English Club about Halloween, its history and traditions, trick-or-treating, making masks. We had a great English language lesson and fun, too. Ukrainians love dressing up in costumes and the idea of masking, but I don’t think that the Halloween tradition as we know it will ever transfer to Ukraine.

This year I am watching the popular holiday unfold in my own family. It’s a wonderful Fall ritual with ancient roots, a time for trekking through fallen leaves, carving pumpkins, looking for witches, ghosts and goblins. It’s an occasion for dressing in wild and wacky costumes and, for the kids, going door to door in their neighborhoods asking for treats of candy, and more candy, or threatening, gently, tricks. Tricks? What tricks? Well, I remember covering trees in rolls of toilet paper, writing on windows with wax crayons, blowing car horns, or starting bonfires with piles of leaves.

There's another side to Halloween, too. According to a study by the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend $6.9 billion on Halloween costumes, decorations and candy this year. Wow! It’s not only fun, it’s a commercial success, too, like Christmas almost. Ukrainians would never do this kind of spending.

My family certainly makes a contribution to this retailers’ dream.

For me it is also a bittersweet time, because my Dad started sliding into a coma during the World Series (he was always an avid fun until this time), and died on the night before his 63rd birthday, the night before Halloween. The family, from Ohio and Florida, gathered in grief in Rochester, New York. We agreed that the show must go on, however, that we would honor the tradition for the sake of the kids. My children, Elissa and Michelle (12 and 9 at the time), and my sister’s children, Kaaren and Allyson (11 and 8 years old), carved pumpkins, dressed up in my mom’s clothes, put on lots of her makeup, and went trick-or-treating with my brother Loren, always a good sport and beloved by his nieces. I’ll always remember that Halloween with mixed emotions.

Now, in 2011, I am watching the tradition pass on from generation to generation, my grandkids as excited as their parents once were when they were young children, getting into their costumes, anticipating the spooky night.

Then off they went, a fearful monster, a brave soldier, a magical "transformer," and a plump little pumpkin, off into the cool night as the setting sun cast a golden glow on the performers. It brought a smile to my face to see their anticipation and pure joy.

As it did to my mom when she went trick-or-treating with her son, my brother Loren, he a soldier, as Kyle was this night, and she a flapper. Mom recorded the moment in a poem. Last year we read mom’s poem together at the English Club, to great applause and admiration. This year I share it with friends and family. How lovely the memories, how precious the time, how connected the past to the present.

Armed and Unarmed
By Roselynn Curro

It’s dark and crispy cold,
a silence fills the trees.
Soft sounds, faint lights
and smell of burning leaves.
Suddenly, war hoop cries,
and bands of ghosts appear.
Howl. Howl.
Tricks or Treats.
They charge, attack and disappear…
Hurry, hurry, time to go.
The conqueror's battle won.
Tired flapper, weary soldier,
the ghosts all had their fun.
Deep the night, frosty cold
My soldier leaves his gun.
Welcome sleep, contented smile.
I’m his mother, he’s my son.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Saint Petersburg-Sylvania Connection

Photo collages: At Gust Farms, a family affair; with Chase; discovering Sylvania; at the Toledo Museum of Art.

My friend Sandie from St. Petersburg, Florida, recently visited me in Sylvania for a week. Sandie grew up outside of Washington, DC, in Maryand; lived in New York City for many years (still calls it home); and is now living in paradise.

Well, it’s not always“paradise” she corrects me. She misses the changes in seasons, the light and colors of Autumn, the cool crisp air. She misses pumpkins and chrysanthemums, which she says are hard to find in St. Petersburg.

So we had fun strolling along Main Street USA, visiting family and friends, having tea at the Dragonfly, lunch at Chandler’s Café, dinner at Jenna's, and shopping at the boutiques, art and antique shops along the way. We also toured my old neighborhood, the Old West End in Toledo, a feast of beautiful Victorian and
early 20th century architecture, where my daughters Elissa and Michelle grew up. We walked to the nearby Toledo Museum of Art. We took a nice ride into the Michigan countryside,
to Gust farms, an annual ritual for Michelle and
her kids, who go there to get their pumpkins, apples and cider, take a hayride, see the foliage and farm animals. We enjoyed all my grandkids, great grandson Philip, and our newest bundle of joy, Chase.

It was good to catch up with a special friend who was also a close friend of my brother Loren. We picked up from where we left off the last time we saw each other, which was in May in St. Petersburg. Next it will be my turn to go down to Florida, and what better time than during winter in Ohio, when St. Pete really is paradise!
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Anger and Angst

Flickr photos by Michael Barkson, Boston protest signs; bottom right, by "Virginia Organizing."

There is real pain and anger in America. The Occupy Wall Street protests, spreading like wildfire across the land, from New York to LA, embody it. The issues are varied, but the anger unites. The protests are harnessing the rage, grew out of it, and sustain it.

It’s the Tunisia effect in America, criss-crossing patches of anger and powerlessness exploding in all the places they have been simmering for a long time.

It's not at all like the Tea Party movement, contrary to what the president and vice-president have declared. It's about powerlessness and loss--loss of jobs, hope, the American Dream. I find it appalling that Obama equates a movement for economic justice with a movement for "me first, and the rest of you, forget it, get over it, tax the middle class not the rich, government of, by, and for the rich, not the poor, take care of yourself and I'll take care of me." Has Obama really lost touch with the anger and frustration that is driving new protests? Does he really believe it's like the Tea Party, "not that different"?

Hopelessness either drives you inward, to despair and depression, or it pulls you out, to the streets, in search of kindred spirits who understand. It's disenchantment exposed. It's private angst finding a public outlet.

"The American dream is under assault,” Bill Clinton said recently. I think he's right. This is the common theme of middle America today. I feel it myself, and so do many people I know. Workers used to dream of good-paying jobs, stability, home ownership, a better life for their kids, some security in retirement.

No more. And what’s worse, nothing seems to have taken it's place. What dreams? It's dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest.

It’s no fun living in survival mode, and that’s what too many Americans are experiencing now. It drives you to a lower level of existence, takes precedence over spiritual growth and
the soul. If you’re in survival mode, surviving is all that matters.

If you have nothing to gain and nothing to lose, why not take it to the streets, shout out the rage, ease the pain, and see what happens. There are no other options in a "survival of the fittest” social fabric where a sense of “the common good” no longer exists, has been intentionally, deliberately undermined and shoved to the margins.

Paul Krugman, my favorite economist, calls it "the financialization of America," and reminds us that "it wasn't dictated by the invisibile hand of the market. What caused the financial industry to grow much faster than the rest of the economy starting in 1980 was a series of deliberate policy choices, in particular a process of deregulation, that continued right up to the eve of the 2008 crisis" ("Losing their Immunity," NYT, 16 October 2011, about the "whining" Wall Street financial industry).

And "not coincidentially," Krugman continues, "the era of an ever-growing financial industry was also an era of ever-growing inequality of income and wealth. Wall Street [buttressed by federal government policies including reduction of taxes on the wealthy] made a large direct contribution to economic polarization...." Government "bail outs" saved Wall Street, but there are no "bail-outs' for ordinary Americans, for those losing their homes, losing their jobs, losing their shirts; not even jobs for people who want to work, who don't want "hand outs." And so the anger mounts.

In another interesting NYT article (17 October 2011), journalist Mark Lacey reported from the field about protests in Los Angeles:
“There may be no common manifesto or list of goals — something that has drawn criticism from both inside and outside the movement — but there is one common thread: anger. Some have looked for jobs for months; others have lost their homes to foreclosure. Angry; they are all angry. 'What brings me out here? Outrage — outrage with what’s going on in this country,' said Lucy Horwitz, 79, who participated in Occupy Los Angeles. 'Right now, the first issue on my mind is that corporations can buy congressmen.'"

Many Americans can't buy food, let alone congressmen. I know several hard-working people, single moms in particular, who put in over 40 hours a week for minimum wage or just a little over that, and have to do what they hate most, get food stamps to feed their families. After rent, utilities, car gas, daycare, medical care, and student loans or other obligations, there's nothing left. The working poor. The food stamp nation. No wonder "outrage has found resonance with millions of Americans," Krugman concludes.

Where will it lead? I don't think anyone knows for sure. The protests offer an option to doing nothing. They offer a glimmer of hope, maybe, for economic justice in the face of enormous odds and insatiable corporate greed. But they seem to be more about "hear our anger" and "let's seen what happens," than about lofty expectations. Great expectations, afterall, lead to great disappointments. This is what the protestors know, this is what drives them.

It's a David and Goliath story. It's captured our imagination, if not our dreams, and that seems to be the only certainty for now.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fall Festival in Sylvania


Fall Festival Parade, Sylvania, 16 October 2011, and below, family enjoying Fall together: Elissa & Alli with Chase, the newest center of our universe; Elissa, Philip, Alli & me with Chase; Elissa, me, Tony & Alli holding Chase.

Last year it was Pokrova, the harvest festival in Ukraine. The university put on a show of traditional music, dancing and costumes, and offered an array of traditional Ukrainian food. Delightful and delicious! It was a blue-sky day and the yellow leaves of the white birch trees glistened in the sun. It was as if the world were covered in gold.

This year it’s the Fall Festival in Sylvania. We had perfect fall weather last week, and the foliage was lovely, but this day it is cold, grey and rainy. Elissa brought over two of my favorite boys, Josh and Philip, all bundled up, which warmed our spirits. I got out the drinks and cookies, and the boys went for the toys. We watched the parade down Main Street from our front porch, too. Front row seats!

We didn’t have these kinds of fall festivals in Florida, but Halloween was big, very big, in
my historic Old Northeast neighborhood and around downtown St. Petersburg. The grand houses and bungalows were beautifully decorated, as elaborately as Christmas decorations, and neighbors gathered on front lawns. The weather was warm and balmy, sea breezes floating over the Bay under a glorious full harvest moon. It was one of the best times of year to walk around the neighborhood and bask in its beauty.

The autums of our lives are filled with wonder, no matter where we live, no matter what our age.

Here in Sylvania, it means harvest time, harvest moons, colorful trees and fire bushes, apples and pumpkins, bright chyrsanthymums, shorter days. For this Fall festival, it’s a time to gather--a front- porch kind of day. This is Main Street America at its finest, and we are blessed.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Injustice in Ukraine


Photos: Julia Tymoshenko at her trial in Kyiv, Ukraine (Wikipedia photo), and Vera Flyat at a "Know Your Rights" meeting in a rural village outside of Starobelsk, with an educational booklet created with funding from a Peace Corps Small Project Assistance (SPA) grant and later a democracy grant from the US Embassy to continue the project and expand outreach.

I am usually hesitant to address hot political issues in Ukraine, but the trial and sentencing of former prime minister Julia Tymoshenko is so blatantly politically motivated that it’s hard not to speak out.

Amnesty International proclaims that the charges against Tymoshenko are not "internationally recognizable offences" and that she must be released. The charges include “abuse of office” for making some gas deal with the Russians in 2009 when Ukraine was facing a gas crisis. It may or may not have been a good political decision, Amnesty Internatlonal argues, but that’s for the people, not the courts, to decide. "Criminalizing" political decisions is a sure recipe for injustice. "The trial highlights systemic problems within the justice system in Ukraine, and the conduct of this trial casts doubt over the independence of the judiciary,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Deputy Director (see Amnesty International website news and reports). The European Union has expressed outrage, as has the US and other countries.
Tymoshenko plans to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Closer to the heart of Ukraine, my former counterpart in Starobelsk, Vera Flyat, director of the human rights NGO Victoria, shared her disappointment with me but says it was not an unexpected decision given the rotten political climate in the country now. Another election is around the corner, she said, and the current president, Victor Yanukovitch, wants Tymoshenko out of the way. “This recent action shows there is no justice
in our government. It shows the people are electing leaders who are not for the rights of all the people,” she says. Many media outlets in Ukraine seem to agree.

This is why Vera works so hard, so tirelessly, to educate Ukrainians about their human and legal rights, about the nature of government injustice and oppression, about police criminality, about the endemic corruption of the legal system. The project we worked on together, “Know Your Rights” (знай свои права) was precisely about these issues.

Vera's heroic efforts continue. She says she will not give up the fight. There are many others throughout Ukraine who, like NGO Victoria, are fighting injustice from the bottom up. Vladymir (Vovo) Scherbechenko's Eastern Ukraine Center in Lugansk is another example of the vital grassroots work taking place beneath the veneer of politics as usual. My PCV friends can offer many more such examples from around the country.

I have such faith in the goodness and fairness of the Ukrainian people that I know change for the better is on the horizon. Vera’s work will not be in vain. Meanwhile, the corruption and injustice are sapping the energy and hope of the people. “You’re just an optimistic American,” my friend Natalia D used to tease me. But Vera and Vovo keep on going, keep on fighting. That's where hope for the future of Ukraine lies. It will take warriors like Vera and Vovo to inform and arouse the electorate and to turn the government around so that it truly serves the people. It's just a matter of time.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cousins

Enjoying a beautiful fall day in Sylvania with cousin Linda and her husband Kermit Evans. We visited new baby Chase and dad Mike at Michelle's, went for walks, sat and chatted on our front porch, had dinner at my place with Elissa, Julia, Philip and Josh. The cousin connection!

After a visit from my cousin Linda and her husband Kermit, I realize that next to siblings, cousins are the closest ties we have to our parents. My mom and dad’s sister and brothers' children
connect our family across generations, across time.

My mom’s sister, my Aunt Loretta, is 94 and although she is going strong for her age, she is getting up there too. I remember my mom talking about growing up with her sister in Rochester. My aunt's two children, my first cousins Skip and Maria, died young, tragically, after years of struggle with MS. Maria’s children, Roz, Kris and Dan (I think that makes them first cousins once-removed), live in and around Charlotte, NC and remain connecting ties. Aunt Loretta and Roz visited in August, a fantastic Luchetti reunion. I felt closer than ever to my mom, who died on March 31, 2003.

My mom’s first cousins are mostly gone, but one of her favorites, Bill Form, a retired Ohio State University professor of Sociology, is also 94 and lives with his sociologist wife Joan. A day trip to see cousin Bill in Columbus was a top priority during Aunt Loretta's visit a few months ago (photo right, very special to all of us).

The children of my mom’s first cousin Nan King and her husband Allen--Ron, Maribeth and Fern--are thriving in New England. We gathered in New Hampshire for a memorial service for Fern’s husband Dr. Bob Meyers in August, a sorrowful gathering but also a chance, all too rare, to catch up. First cousins once-removed and second cousins are important family connectors, too.

On my Dad’s side, the Curro family, I am closest to his brother Sam’s children: Leo, a biologist and retired professor, married to Kathy, retired school principal and community activist, living in Canton, New York; and Leo’s sister Linda, married to Kermit, who still lives in Rochester, where we all grew up and remember many family gatherings. They remain our "original hometown" anchors. My brother Loren, who always called Rochester home, loved visiting them (and my dad's gravesite), as he loved going up to New England to see the Form/King cousins.

Linda and Kermit just visited me in Sylvania. We hadn’t seen each other since I left for Ukraine. We had a wonderful time reminiscing and just being together, catching up in person, talking about our children and grandchildren.

How important cousins are in our lives! That’s why I love it when the children of my children get together. Now that I’m here, it happens more often, as they gather around me, their Nana. The cousin connections will stay with them for a long time, after my generation, like my parents’ generation, has moved on to its final journey.

My grandkids are trying to figure all this out, by the way! Who's Linda now? Who's Aunt Loretta and Roz? Who are you visiting in New Hampshire? It's a chance to talk some family history with them, to let them know they are part of a great chain of being, a great extended family stemming from their grandmother's mom and dad, and their parents, their great-grandparents and great-greats, to let them know they are the legacy and the ongoing line of our family traditions into the future. And all this is just on their grandmother's side of their present family, which in some ways is even more complex, and very fascinating. Some day they will have lots of stories to tell their children.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Still Missing Loren

PHOTOS: Loren and me in Costa Rica, crossing Lake Arenal, with the stunning volcano behind us, which we watched in all kinds of light but it never put on a show, and the famed town of Monteverde in front of us,
with its lush Santo Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, a major eco-tourism destination. What beauty and joy we shared on this trip.

Life gets better, but grieving doesn’t. Or maybe it takes more time, or more than time.

I miss my brother Loren. I want to talk with him, see him, hear him. My sister and I have lost our favorite political
guru and ranter. We could say things to each other that we wouldn’t say out loud to any other living soul, and be forgiven, understood, even encouraged! We could say the most outrageous things that came into our heads, without screening. We laughed a lot as we went over the top on our favorite demons.

How I wish my spiritual twin was here with me in real time. Is he with the angels? In peace? Conversing with the goddess he worshipped? I want to believe it, but I have my doubts. I can almost hear Loren correcting me as I say this. "There are no ends in nature" he is saying. "Only beginnings."


Life Gets Better


The generations enjoying life, and little Chase's daddy and grandma enjoying Chase, our newest family member!

There was a time when a sad divorce wrecked havoc in the life of my family. It was a difficult time. But as the years passed, so did the self-blame, the depression, the disappointment, the "what ifs"
My kids, who got the brunt of the divorce, have had the blessed time to deal with the painful aftermath. I started a new chapter in my life, actually several new chapters. Sadness evolved into gladness, for all concerned. That’s why it was nice to have a family reunion at Casa de Michelle last night, when Elissa and Michelle’s dad Loren and his wife Joy, with their cute dog Dandy, came from California for a visit. Joy's 96-year-old mom Roz was with us too, and I had the rare and wonderful opportunity to talk with her about her dad, who came to America from Russia. Time heals most wounds, if you let it. Most of all, the kids and grandkids receive and witness the love. Life gets better,
if you take life as it comes.

Daily Life Survival Kit

This Survival Kit by jubewong, flickr photo. Adding a stuffed animal is a great idea.

When I was a PCV in Ukraine something new happened every day. I learned to expect the unexpected.

I found myself out of my comfort zone most of the time; I just grew to live with it. The language was one thing, the pace of life another, gaining trust to work together another. Some ideas floated, others touched ground. Accidents sometimes happened, like breaking a bone, or .changing schedules, to take a less drastic example. The best-laid plans could turn topsy turvey at any time. Being "in the dark" was a common experience.

We relied on PCV friends when things got rough, when a project fell through, miscommunication led to misunderstanding, frustration mounted. PCV Meg Thornhill and friends offered a “PCV Survival kit” for such times. I added a few items. I think we could use this kit anytime, for daily life anywhere on the planet. Fill your backpack and add what you need!

Mounds candy bar, for the mounds of information you take in and give out
Crayons, to color your day
Bandaid , for when you hit a rough patch
Lifesavers, for when you have “one of those days” .
Crackers, for an upset stomach when your driver is going 90 mph around bends on a winding road, and passing on a wing and a prayer to boot
H2O for when the car heater is turned on to protect the engine in 100 degree weather, and you have two more hours to go to reach your destination
Clothespin, to remind you to “hang in there”
Dictionary, because you always need one, whether it helps or not
Wool gloves, for handling wary colleagues with care
Pair of socks, handy after walking through inevitable puddles on unpaved roads
M&Ms, to treat yourself
A mint, to remember you’re worth a mint to the people you’re serving, and they are worth a mint to you!