Saturday, January 31, 2009

My Husband Went to Prison!

It's true. But he's back now. He got up bright and early this morning (Saturday) and headed to the California Institute for Women in Chino.

Cornerstone, the theater company K works with, took their original play about the criminal justice system, "For All Time," to perform for the inmates. The play was based on conversations with some of the prisoners as well as with victims of crime.

I saw the play when it was performed here a few months ago and I found it pretty affecting. But K's report of today's events blows away anything that could be experienced by an audience member removed from direct experience with certain harsh realities. People heard their voices heard, their stories told. For some of them, this might have been the first time they felt any validation of their experiences. Who knows how this failure to feel validation led to bad choices in their past? Who knows how the experience of validation may lead to better choices in the future?

There are those who might question whether resources should be spent on providing theater to the incarcerated community. But lives are changed through this kind of work. And what is the point of a criminal justice system, if not to change lives for the better?

I love the videos on YouTube of the dancing Filipino prisoners. And while that is a very different use of art than "For All Time," that warden also found a creative way to reach people who mainstream society would just as soon forget.

Art is powerful. Art is useful. Those who haven't been exposed to the arts often denigrate its role in our society. When school budgets are cut, it's arts programs that are the first to go. We always ask if a presidential candidate can ensure national security. But doesn't national security begin from within? - with a (well) educated electorate?

If great societies are remembered for their arts and for their wars, for which would you prefer us to be remembered?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Another Clash of Federal vs. Local Rights

My stepdaughter, K the Younger, sent us this video of a local community fighting for its right to retain one of the benefits of small town life -

As someone who, in my omnivorous life, was seriously allergic to cats and now only somewhat allergic, I suggest the complainer in question switch to a vegetarian diet and see what happens.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

More Price Than Promise?

Regarding my last post on The President's Inaugural speech, NV at This D*mn House pointed out that the cited passage is a call for accountability. Personally, I was drawn to the part about challenges as satisfying to the spirit. But I liked NV's connection to accountability because it seemed pertinent to two of my earlier posts, about my neighborhood's problems with tagging and with litter.

The President's call for responsibility is called the price of citizenship. But he also referred to the promise of citizenship.

So perhaps therein lies the answer to my questions about why my local perpetrators of tagging and littering do not feel responsible for their actions. Perhaps they do not see themselves as accountable for or to their community because their community has not been accountable to them. They do not see a future for themselves in which they are likely to benefit from their responsible actions. They are much like the foreclosed upon homeowner who trashes his house just before eviction. Without a stake in the value of the property, why not take out anger and frustration on the property?

As stupid as John Edwards was about his personal life, he was right about one thing - there are two Americas. In the U.S. we don't like to talk about social classes or class divisions. But whether or not we talk about it, there has always been two Americas. It is likely there will always be two Americas. The reality of it will be become more obvious in the year ahead.

The distinction in the U.S. may be more subtle than in other countries. Perhaps our class divisions are less a matter of wealth or ancestry than of personal beliefs and aspiration. After all, I did not grow up in a neighborhood of privilege. But I did grow up with expectations and it was those expectations, both my own and those of my parents, that made all the difference in my life.

We can try to exact a price for citizenship in our expectations of greater personal responsibility. But we must also be cognizant of fulfilling the promise of citizenship, lest we create a class of vandals.

Before buying a house, I was dubious about the legitimacy of ownership. Do we really ever own anything? But since then, I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter if you really own anything. What matters is the belief that you own. And in America, what matters more is the belief that you can own. Whether it's large or small, whether it's now or later, the potential must be there.

And maybe that is the duty that We Who Have, have to Those Who Have Not - to make the promise that the potential is there for Them as well as for Us.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Price and the Promise of Citizenship

"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task."

Good luck to the new President. Good luck to us all.

May history reflect well on us.

Monday, January 19, 2009

So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good Bye!

At last, the day has come, the day we’ve awaited for eight long years. As Sinead O’Connor sings, "the last day of our acquaintance." Tomorrow will be the first inauguration of an unambiguously elected U.S. president in a generation. Never before have I seen such enthusiasm for a new president. Aside from the musical production on The Mall, I see the signs and banners hanging on homes in neighborhoods in all social strata. Everyday I hear it from people I talk to.

If we gain nothing else from the promises that have been made, at least we have regained a sense of hope that democracy can function and the voice of the people can be heard. We believe again that our process works. In that, despite all that has happened in the past eight years, the White House’s outgoing occupant is a fortunate man.

Charles I should have been so fortunate.

Louis XVI should have been so fortunate.

Nicholas II should have been so fortunate.

On my recent trip to London, at the Tate Modern I saw a display of Soviet-era propaganda posters. I was so taken with this one that I had to write down the translation:

Cleanse the Party of all class enemies and hostile elements,
degenerates, opportunists, double dealers,
careerists, self-seekers,
bureaucrats and morally decayed persons.

Not that I am inclined to give advice to that Other Party, but they might take a word of advice from their favorite arch nemesis.

I’m just saying, if the shoe fits . . .

Sunday, January 11, 2009

'08 Roundup or Baby, It's Cold Inside

I've neglected the blogging. Between an iffy router situation and the need to get the most out of my holiday break, I was offline for most of the holiday season. To get up to speed, here's a brief synopsis of the past month or two:


It was just the two of us, but I used the day as a test run for making a big meal in the new kitchen. We were left with more food than we could possibly consume but I got to figure out the workings of my new stove, which performed beautifully. There are some cosmetic details to finish in the kitchen, so there'll be no pics for a while, but the big news from Thanksgiving is that we used the fireplace for the first time!

We didn't have tile but it kept us warm, and since it's the only heat source in the house (other than a portable electric oil heater in the bedroom) the fireplace did its job.


Since my family was coming for Christmas (when this plan was hatched, we thought the interior work would be done. Oh well.) K made an extra effort to finish the cosmetic work on the fireplace before their arrival. That meant a new mantle, created by K himself out of lumber that was leftover from some framing that was taken out when walls were moved.

It was made from redwood that would be a shame to waste. It's a very unconventional mantel but it really works with the house, especially considering that we've chosen to leave one part of the framing exposed -

To put the finishing touch on the fireplace, the tile work was completed -

K was about to do it himself, but while checking out a tile cutter at HD, he was approached by a couple of men who said they could do the work at a reasonable price. They lived up to their promise, doing not only the fireplace, but also the kitchen back splash and the back entryway floor. It's not complicated tile work, no designs or fancy edging, just simple slate 1 x 3s. But we're both happy with the results and K was free to get to other projects while the tilers did their thing.


It was cold. Almost like camping cold. We've been cold before, back in the day when we had those horrid louvered windows.

Now the problem is that the new windows, which were installed in the spring, needed to be stained. It's a big job so K took some time over the holidays to do it. Which meant that they had to be removed, conditioner applied, stain applied and wax finish applied. And of course, each application of anything needed about 4 hours to dry.

So for about three days we were held hostage in the house - the cold house. We celebrated the new year with a bottle of cold bubbly and big pieces of cardboard stapled to the frames where windows would be.

But it makes a huge difference. Even though the moulding's not up yet, the new wood stain makes the whole house seem more like a real home and less like a construction zone -

Ok, I think that's enough updating for now. I'm just waiting for one switch plate and some grouting and I'll show off the kitchen.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Yet Another Downside to the Economic Apocalypse

FAT. Yep, the most dreaded of three-letter words is another side effect of our disastrous economy. I yet again bring you the news you need with this article telling how we're all doomed to put on weight if we try to save money on food. In the U.S., poverty is fattening.

In spite of what should have been obvious to the experts, no one predicted the current collapse. Maybe they were watching the wrong indicators. Maybe they should have been watching me. I've been putting on weight for years.

But I don't blame the economy. I blame remodeling. I blame having a gross kitchen that looked like this for our first 5 years here:

Seriously, how could anybody be expected to cook food in this thing? After we tore it all out we didn't have a kitchen at all for nine months. We had a shop sink and a stove and kept a few dishes in the oven. We dined out a lot.

But those were the days of the housing frenzy and the building boom. We weren't the only ones remodeling. Shouldn't we all be overweight already? How much more weight can we gain?

Am I the only one "remodeled" by remodeling?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Upside of the Economic Apocalypse

If anything good comes from the meltdown, it's the end of the McMansions. According to this article, modest homes in established neighborhoods may once again be safe from McMansionization with the collapse of the market for giant buildings to house giant egos. There are silver linings.

With my house at just under 1100 square feet, I confess I'd like a little more space. I'd love a laundry room instead of a washer and dryer alongside the deck. I'd like a home office that didn't double as a guest room. I'd like a linen closet and a butler's pantry.

But then I'd be spoiled. My house started its life at half its current size. It had a nice little backyard that was eaten up by the addition of a second bathroom and a second kitchen (when the house was duplexified.) I suppose it was the McMansionization of its day. And I confess that I have benefited from the sins of the past. We would never have bought this house at its former size - with one bedroom and one bath, smaller than our former apartment. While the cosmetic flaws were disastrous, it was the size of the second kitchen and its potential to become a decent master bedroom that sold us. Plus, there was the lure of the second bathroom, a rarity in homes this age of comparable size.

So, there are silver linings.

Now I have to go watch HGTV. My Big Amazing Renovation is on.