Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #5

Today I am thankful that I can walk. I went for a walk, in fact, today -- a lovely jaunt of about two and a half miles around Brian's Grand Rapids neighborhood (where we are holed up for this holiday week). I love walking. Lately, I have been going for more brisk walks, setting out to do so, because working from home as a freelancer has me a little stir crazy. I never used to be one for spending much time at home. I always enjoyed my commute, moving around and doing things. In evenings I liked to be out and about, even for random things, instead of plopping down on the couch. I still prefer this. But working from home and being behind in work and organizing and finances and accomplishments really puts a damper on my preferred lifestyle. So at the very least, I walk.

There are walkabouts, there are walks-for-hunger-and-breast-cancer-awareness, there is walking the dog. There are artists' walks, a la Julia Cameron (love those!) There are lots of random reasons people walk. And then, there are people who can't walk. Also, there are people who can walk, but don't walk.

I am very thankful that I can walk.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #4
(And, this is my 500th blog post!)

What an exciting milestone! I started this blog a little over five years ago when I resigned from my Borders career (ahem) and went to Korea to teach English, hence the triple entendre of the title. And now, here I am, on post #500 - and thinking about heading back to Korea soon! Isn't life interesting?

Today I am thankful for - you probably could have guessed this - reading! If you check out my literary supplement blog you know I have been known to babble to the interwebs about the books I read, but even without the bloggage I just love, love, love books. I also am thankful for being able to read other things - magazines, directions, road signs, contracts, maps, and so on. I am routinely blown away, if I stop to think about it, that humans created written language. I even love to read about reading and language. I marvel at how writing is a talent and a skill and a love of mine, and what that means about the physiology of my brain. I marvel at how much enjoyment a book can bring. I can't imagine a world without War and Peace, among other great works of literature. Reading. Reading reading reading!!!! I am thankful for it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #3c/#3d

Grandpa Curtis September 1915 - September 2010
Is it weirdly cosmic that three of my grandparents were born in August except the one born September 1st? I'll leave that to the astrologers. I actually just recently blogged about the passing of my mother's father, because he died two months ago. I can't even believe it has been two months already. Grandpa Curtis was a legend. A golfer extraordinaire, a faithful companion to his dog(s), a man who supervised the construction of power plants across the nation and may well be partly responsible for the electricity powering the computer on which you read this. A jokester (in a sly, sardonic way), a teller of stories, a man who famously "hasn't been to a movie theater since Patton in 1970" but was among the first in our family to pop up with an AOL address back in 1996. A man who has seen much of the seas (in the Navy) and all of the U.S., except that he doesn't count Texas. Grandpa has pined away for Grandma from the day of her death in 1997 until his dying day this fall. Grandpa made us all frustrated and sad when he acted as if he was alone on his island of suffering that no one understood, but we also were grateful to him for keeping her memory alive. I can honestly say that on some deep, cellular level I thought Grandpa would be around forever, and also that I am glad he got to live as much life as he did.

Grandma Napikoski
August 1922 - May 2007
I moved to Boston in November of 2002, and after a life in the Southwest/West I was now close to the New England side of the family for all sorts of holidays - they even get together for Easter and stuff, good Catholics - and other random occasions. The only regret here is that I didn't have a car while in Boston. Now that I knew the way (can we say Route 2?) I could have zipped out to Millers Falls every other week on my days off. Instead I was forever hitching rides with my aunt or cousin who lived elsewhere in Massachusetts. Anyway, I got to spend time at Grandma N.'s house with actual adult conversation. It was the sad time of her life, because Grandpa was gone and her health started declining more rapidly as well. But we talked. Many of the things I did were not part of her world: I constantly jabbered about Dante or traveling to Cuba or politics or teaching in Korea or whatever. She would comment matter-of-factly about career, marriage, saving money, settling down and other traditional notions of success, but she certainly listened and offered support to everything I said. I was glad that we reached a point of laid back, comfortable conversation.

Grandma Napikoski liked to knit. She was a talented, prolific knitter. She did other crafts, too - very crafty, especially with the fabrics. When I entered the downsizing portion of my life, the t-shirts I never wore had to go, but I wanted to somehow keep the ones from special events, high school plays, and the like. Grandma made me a fabulous quilt out of my t-shirts. I think she really liked the project. She was involved with her church in that tiny little New England town and made a gazillion crafts every year for their holiday sale.

Thanks to my sister, who now has three kids, I got to watch Grandma Napikoski be a great-grandparent. I liked seeing the delight in her eyes around multiple great-grandchildren, and I'm glad my sister made the effort to travel across the country to see her. Grandma really wanted to stay in that house in that tiny town up to the very end. She was basically the last holdout to not get online and join the emailing, but we always exchanged tons of letters and cards, and I'm glad we kept doing that. I like letters. We kept writing when I left New England for New York. Grandma N. passed away at the end of my first year of law school. I'm sad that my aunt saw to it that the big old house got cleaned out and sold right away, because the visiting-Millers-Falls era of our life truly came to an end.

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #3b

Continuing my thankfulness for grandparents, here's...

Grandpa Napikoski August 1919 - July 2002
I knew Grandpa Napikoski, my dad's dad, less than I knew any of my other grandparents. I feel bad about that. They lived in New England and I lived in the Southwest until the year he died, actually. Grandpa loved fishing and he loved the Red Sox. My early memories of him are going out on the fishing boat (with no idea what I was doing, really, but it was still fun) and him smoking his pipe. I totally have no problems smelling pipe smoke - maybe because I have pleasant associations with it.

I was fascinated by their New England house which from my perspective had four stories (including attic and basement) because in Arizona almost everything was on one level only. I was most fascinated by his cellar full of tools and just lots of stuff. I am sad that he died just two short years before his beloved Red Sox broke their curse to win the World Series. The first time I went to a Major League baseball game (not counting spring training) was when he took us to Fenway Park. I wish I knew more about his wants, hopes and dreams in life. He worked for years at the paper mill there in Millers Falls, Massachusetts, and made sure he provided for his family and sent his five kids off to college. When I visited them at age 3, 8, 11, they would always plan fun activities like big lobster dinners or a boat ride up the Connecticut River. He asked the usual questions, "How's school?" and the like, but I was shy and didn't know what to say beyond a few answers. I realize now I should have just babbled. Why not? Babbled and listened, too. They flew out to Arizona to see us a few times during my teen years, and I'm pretty sure I sat through the obligatory dinners and then rushed to the other room to call my high school best friend and talk about dumb stuff. I did attend the grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary party in 1997, the first time I really related to my grandparents and the aunts/uncle/cousins on that side of the family as a person and not as a silly child. I'm glad I had that experience.

I was on a road trip, coincidentally, from L.A. to Boston in the summer of 2002. When the traveling companion and I reached Boston, where she was moving, we planned to drive out to western Massachusetts to visit my grandparents before I had to fly back to L.A. One thing led to another and after a couple days in Boston we had only one more evening. Meanwhile, my grandpa had gone into the hospital. He had been in and out of the hospital for a few things, and I thought nothing of it, except that it was a little weird to bring a friend to introduce to them to the hospital, but still, we tried to make a go of it. It was raining, those long summer New England rains. I didn't have a clue that I should take Route 2, so we took the Mass Pike to Route 9 somewhere in the middle of Massachusetts and then drove on that as the wet and visibility got worse. I had a vague idea, based on being driven around by my dad on various visits, what to do when we got near Amherst, but it was taking us forever and getting later and later. I was confused at Deerfield, even though I kind of recognized a parking lot, where we stopped to ask directions and call them. It was 9 o'clock and I wondered if it was too late to even go to the hospital. I called the house but got no answer. After more fretting, we ended up driving back to Boston, aware that we had blown the plan, but I knew I'd be back in Massachusetts in the next few months and I would just see my grandparents then, when we had more time. The next morning, as I was packing my suitcase, my grandma called and I got on the phone, ready to babble an apology for not making it out to visit the night before. Instead, she told me grandpa had died. I called my boss in L.A. and said - Yo, I am going to this funeral, sorry I've already been on a three-week vacation but it's getting extended.

My grandpa's father and grandfather came from Poland. They shortened the name Napierkowski to Napikoski in the U.S. A lot of that family didn't have offspring. My dad's sister's kids have all sorts of different last names, and my sister changed her name when she got married. I wouldn't change my name anyway, but I do feel like I'll be one of the few people with the name Napikoski in this world, and I like to think I will leave some creative legacy that spreads it far and wide.

Next up: Grandma Napikoski

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #3a

Today I am thankful for my grandparents, all four of them, and thankful I got to know them while they were alive. They died in 1997, 2002, 2007, and 2010; therefore I was at very different stages of adulthood for the final years of each of their lives. I was also suspiciously available (i.e. with no full-time job to which to report) at the time of each of their deaths--I'm not sure what the cosmic significance of that is, but it certainly meant that I was able to go to each of their funerals and reflect on their lives. (This was going to be all one blog entry, but I discovered I had a lot of babbling to do about each grandparent, so I'm splitting it up into four.)

Grandma Curtis August 1918 - October 1997
My mother's mother, Geraldine Curtis, was a fantastically accomplished musician, particularly as a piano player. From a young age, she dazzled the people in and around her home in Payson, Utah, with her talent. She could play anything and everything, she could play by ear, and she sang quite a bit with my grandpa, too. She also suffered from severe arthritis that wreaked havoc on her hands and fingers, eventually bringing her to the point where she could no longer play. When my sister and I were young, we spent lots of time at the grandparents' Sun City, Arizona, house and always wanted her to play the piano. She would do so on Christmas Eve, playing any Christmas song we wanted to sing as if it were the easiest thing in the world. I play a little piano - it's not the easiest thing in the world at all, for me, and I certainly can't bust out everyone's requests without blinking an eye. I imagine she was already in great pain during the 1980s, after years of arthritis, but she pushed through it to at least make Christmas Eve magical and special for her granddaughters. Eventually that stopped, and we would all sing or do other Christmas Eve stuff, and everyone mourned the loss of Grandma's music and they still talk about little else when she is mentioned.

There was even more to her, though. She was funny in a quiet, offbeat way. For example when my mom informed her I was traveling off the beaten path to Cuba, news that provoked responses in others ranging from angry political to cautious I-would-never-do-that homebody, Grandma's comment was, "That Fidel Castro is so ugly." Hey, she was entitled to her opinion, eh? Grandma also kept up on the pop culture of the day via People magazine and she had an impressive command of soap operas. One day as a bored adolescent I was at her house and decided I was going to start watching a soap opera. This was going to be a diligent project, so I had to get all the facts from the beginning. I selected The Young and the Restless, probably because a)it was on and b)it was not General Hospital or Days of Our Lives, the ones all my friends/classmates/their sisters/their mothers watched, and I wanted to be different. I turned on Grandma Curtis' TV and she totally started telling me the back story of each character that appeared. I think she hadn't watched it since the 1970s, but it's really easy to pick up with those things, as any soap opera viewer knows. She had all the dirt - it was a great time.

I was still a young, young adult when Grandma died, and I was just getting my life in L.A. started. I felt terrible that I had not got to know her even more than I did. At the same time, she was there for every phase of my life: she made up a mini-mythology with a legend for each family member that just thrilled me as a toddler, she came to my elementary school and junior high band concerts, she cooked roast beef and got out the box of wind-up toys when I came over, she attended my play at the high school summer theater workshop I attended in Utah and a friend of mine who was also there heard her whispering excitedly to my grandfather "There's Linda!" when I made my entrance, and she and my grandpa came to sing with me and my mom in the Messiah chorus one December, probably the last time I (willingly) stepped foot in a church. I remember sitting in Barnes & Noble for hours the week after her funeral reading about arthritis and trying to figure out what life meant.

Next up: Grandpa Napikoski

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #2

Today I am thankful for airplanes. I didn't mean to make this so technological invention heavy; tomorrow I'll do one about people. But I am really, really thankful for airplanes. Every time I fly I sit in quiet, grateful awe that I can get to any country in the world in one day. It's ridiculous. The airline passengers around me and their complaints and stress are so unfounded, and so unfortunate. I wish they would "stow it" as Mel would say. If they are unhappy about their security checks, their airfare, their leg room, their stupid carry-on bags, their precious few minutes of delay sitting at the gate, and so forth, why don't they just go to the bus station? Seriously. Get over yourselves, folks. You can go ANYWHERE. Fast. It's a miracle, and you should be thankful for it, too.

This year, in May, I was able to realize my goal of traveling to Tajikistan with Habitat for Humanity. Tajikistan! If I had attempted to travel there from Chicago in May 1910, I might still be on my way back in November. If I had set out in May of 1810, or 1710, I might still be on my way *there* in November. I owe my world travel to airplanes. I think about this all the time. I think about the Mark Twains and the Thomas Jeffersons and the Marco Polos and the marauding forces of the Roman Empire who had to invest far more effort and time than I do to travel the world.

I am completely, totally, enthusiastically thankful for airplanes.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Thankfulness #1

A lot of people are using their Facebook status updates this month to post each day a different thing for which they are thankful. I am not doing this because not only do I tend to keep my FB status a bit less sentimental than that, but I also don't generally do anything that predictable with my status updates. However, with the actual week of Thanksgiving upon us, and because I need to write a blog entry to procrastinate some other work I'm trying (not) to do, I decided that I could use this blog to say thankful things.

Appropriately enough, today I am thankful for --> the internet. Email. Wireless networking. Our whole glorious global age of communication. I was thinking about this earlier as I stood in my kitchen eating chips and salsa. (The chips and salsa have nothing to do with it, really, but I'm just setting the scene.) I dislike talking on the phone. It's not something I dislike because it's unpleasant (like carrot cake) or stupid (like Twilight) or because I'm morally opposed to it (like war, or WalMart), but I just really freakin' do not enjoy the telephone. I grudgingly use it to conduct business, as efficiently as possible, but I just can't tolerate phone-calls-as-leisure-activity.

Of course, to some extent calling a friend or family member can be a "task" in the sense that it is a necessary thing to do in order to accomplish something else -- such as finding out how they are doing, or making plans. However, almost everything I need to do in this lovely, fabulous world in which we live, I can do with a specific email or a text message. And a great deal of keeping up on others' lives in a general sense is accomplished by Facebook (and blogs, for those of us who are really awesome). There are those pesky few who can never seem to reply to e-mails or who - seriously - still don't send/receive text messages. But overall, I am saved by the internet from having to use a telephone to invite people to events, find out about the birth of babies, ask for advice, network, let people know I'm thinking about them, recommend a book, find out someone's current address, etc. I LOVE IT. I can dimly recall the world in which friendships were maintained largely, if not only, via telephone. Ugh. Back then, I wrote a lot of letters. Is it any surprise that I so greatly enjoyed the gang-of-friends life in the college dorm? We just wandered out into the hall to see what was happening. None of this pesky telephone stuff.

Thank you, internet! And no offense, Alexander Graham Bell. It's nothing personal.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

To All Who Say Their Desire for "Change in Washington" Motivates Their Voting Choices Today

First of all, if you want to "change" everything and therefore you cast your vote for Republicans, all Republicans, and only Republicans, then your logic fails me. What it seems you really should be doing is voting against every incumbent. Logic: get some! It's free! And yes, I also made fun of Democrats who voted for "change" in 2008 (and used it as a campaign slogan) here and here because it sounded just as dumb then.

Secondly, another great way to change Washington? Third-party candidates, my friends. Or, third and fourth and fifth. The Greens and Libertarians come to mind; stop dismissing them and then complaining that Washington is "business as usual."

Finally, when I hear my friends and people on the radio and other random squeaky-wheel strangers talk about how after these past two years they are tired of it all and just need to vote the "ruling" party out, I think back to 2002 and 2004 when we had a murderous administration headed by monsters who were not only profiting from wars they had lied their way into (and which they had plotted from their first days of taking power), but also actively torturing people around the world and who to this day continue to detain, torture and kill thousands illegally, unethically and unconscionably. Then I realize that these crimes were not enough to motivate my friends, people on the radio, and random squeaky-wheel strangers to "change" things and vote those thugs the hell out of D.C., and I am shocked and saddened to see where everyone's priorities lie.

No thanks to anyone in the U.S. "news" media, I might add, for all of the above folly/murder.

Happy election day!