Tuesday, August 22, 2006

benign neglect

My late summer garden has slipped into a state of benign neglect. The butterfly bushes and other late bloomers are still attracting a ballet troupe of butterflies, but the basil is flowering too freely and the deer have greedily gobbled all the peppers and tomatoes before we mere bystanders could make one more satisfying homegrown salad. Where the weeds aren't popping through, the squirrels have dug in and planted a whole new contingent of nuts. But I have other concerns that needed tending.

Today my 31-year-old daughter-in-law left for Afghanistan on reactivation orders. In October, my 35-year-old son will be back on active duty again in Iraq. They leave behind their family, their new home, their civilian jobs. They join many others who have served repeatedly during this anxious era while our politicians, too many of whom have never elected to serve their country in any way that discomforts them, debate whether we are at war, how to conduct our offense or defense, or whether we even have a dedicated enemy. Meanwhile, the rest of us cautiously rely on the ratings-driven press to present a balanced and informed assessment of reality while we live our daily lives, too often voicing determined opinions but fearing to venture even once on our own to find the on-site truth. Ironic that the press, pursuing the appearance of legitimacy, temporarily embeds itself with the military but otherwise eschews actual public service.

Has the freedom of democracy made us benignly neglectful of its responsibilities? In all the years I've lived and studied overseas, never have I met someone who didn't admire and envy Americans for the potential of their lifestyle or their ability to reach out and help anyone, including their erstwhile enemies. Yet those same admiring people also repeatedly pointed out -- and still do -- that Americans have an astoundingly provincial outlook for a superpower because we don't know history or geography, let alone culture and religion, for all our declarations of freedom to know.

We advertise ourselves as a classless society with a strong work ethic that provides endless opportunity to prove the value of each citizen. Yet we leave at the back door those citizens who serve to keep our opportunities alive but don't receive the big bucks or press adulation/notoriety (our only measures of value?) -- and we firmly shut all doors on any suggestion that we too take a turn at defending what we say we believe. Today, once again, I ask myself why. Do we think democracy needs no more tending than a fading summer garden that is attracting the appetite of deer and squirrels?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

endless coastline, highways, scrapbook stores

Back from L.A. all too soon -- with whispers of terrorist plots swirling at our heels but not yet impeding our flight. Ironically, my checked baggage was inspected on the flight to L.A., confirmed by a lengthy printed disclaimer absolving the inspectors of any responsibility. Not much to find in my boringly repetitive but extremely efficient 60-something uniform of black cotton tees with khaki linen capri pants.

LA Skyline from Checkers Hotel windowToday I feel lazy and languorous with the rhythm of ocean waves still pulsing in my mindset as I try to change coasts again. My quick trip yielded three days of glorious Pacific coastline interspersed with visiting as many local scrapbook stores as I could reach. At Santa Barbara Scrapbooks on downtown Chapala Street, inventively situated between the entrance and exit columns of a city parking garage, I found a most interesting new (to me) product line called Go West Studios, with etched acrylic monograms and alphabets and French Country coordinates. At Scrap Session on W. Pico Boulevard in LA, located in office space up the stairs behind the storefronts and down a hallway, and with only brief minutes to spare before catching my plane home, the engagingly helpful owner deftly demonstrated the new Cricut machine for me. Scores of independent scrapbooking stores in Oxnard, Ventura, Northridge, Santa Monica, all around L.A., but my favorites were the ones with independent personalities reflecting more than just a desire to sell (although my suitcases -- and my husband's -- were seriously full on the flight home).

The most pleasant surprise in scrapbook retail terms was that my LSS in Chantilly, ScrapbooksPlus, has almost as much space as the carries-just-about-everything two-story Scrampers on Sepulveda Boulevard in Torrance. As one of the few remaining independent scrapbook stores in this VA area, ScrapbooksPlus bravely battles against the local tide toward chain store subsidiaries.

LA Public Library domeOf course I forgot to take photos while drinking in the coastal scenery. Even the endless lines of RV campers parked literally nose-to-butt in the sand along the beaches below the coastal highway didn't alert me to whip out my new camera. All I can claim are a few photos from my Hilton Checkers hotel window over the immediate sloping LA skyline, including the colorful dome of the LA Public Library. At the library I was pleased to find the enlightening exhibit Building Books: The Art of David Macaulay in the Getty Gallery. Like me, Macauley attended RISD in Providence, RI, and my youngest son has enjoyed all his books. If you are not already familiar with him, I highly recommend this Caldecott Medal-winning artist's works for their humorously inventive social and historical presentations, not to mention the great drawings.