Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sharing -- Both Sides of the Equation

In the spirit of the coming holidays, I've been thinking about this behavior of giving and receiving. I could start with my own household and myself, with something shamefully trivial.

Another ancient relic is soon to be gone -- our 15-year-old RCA television, which has a bulky outer shell like the first generation of desk-top PC's. Last evening, Mom and I were watching some of my favorite recorded reruns, and, poof, the picture was gone. Coincidentally, some family members were about to drop by to hash out the details of Thanksgiving dinner.

Long story short, "that side of the family" has decided to give us a new television for single, early holiday gift. I was grateful, especially since it's also a practical solution to their yearly gift-giving quandaries.

My mom, not so much. Since that conversation, she has gone into another spin of anxiety and guilt. She repeatedly states that she "couldn't possibly accept" our relatives' gesture, up soon by questions to me as to how she can "help pay for this." Nothing that anyone could say yesterday could dissuade her, so we let the matter drop for now.

We've all heard that exasperated rhetorical query, "Didn't your mother teach you to share??"

As we approach the holiday season, we will see and hear much about "reaching out to those in need." That's a sentiment that needs repeating, no matter what the economic climate, or news of any recent natural disaster. Lack is one great cross-cultural equalizer, but so patience and generosity.

The truth is, there's more to just distributing goods or services. What do you do when an individual or group is too proud (yes, this happens more than one would think) to receive what is offered? Or when do our cultural prejudices get in the way of one human helping another? Or bureaucratic red-tape, or greed?

I was raised in a family in which asking for help of any kind could either result in kind assistance -- or, in the next moment, being shamed for being "weak," "stupid," "helpless," or "taking handouts." My memories are too many to go into now, but, suffice it to say, they have forever influenced my own thoughts on sharing.

If it impacted me, than surely it did Mom, too.

We all bring our colored lenses to the issue of generosity. Consider the surviving Depression-era demographic, who survived worse than our current recession, and vowed to scrimp, even after they were well-off again. Occasionally, we hear of families in our own neighborhoods who are now on food stamps. Do we ever just breathe scared sighs, and pray that we're not next? Sometimes, we often just don't know of the situations because personal pride is all these folks think they have left, and so they suffer in plain sight. I recall how awful I felt when I saw a "Foreclosure" sign in front of a house in the midst of our "nice neighborhood."

Being generous, then, means more than just being free with material resources. It means being aware, courageous, and open-hearted. It also calls for tact and sensitivity, because usually a person does better when a vote of confidence in his or her ability to move forward. That's called empowerment, a gift to everyone involved. Does anyone remember the Bette Davis movie, The Corn is Green? All her star student wanted was "a push over the wall." Sounds good to me...

Whether it's getting my Mom to happily accept the new television, or taking others' life-or-death needs to heart at any time of the year, sharing is something that we--and I--always need to keep in mind. Maybe it's time I got my own vision checked...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Two Wonderful Views of the Past

Exhibition Detail: Decades of Dissent: Democracy in Action, 1960–1980 | Skirball Cultural Center

After I've put the menudo in the crock pot next Sunday, I want to take my cerebral sweetie by the hand and take him to the above exhibit, which is at the Skirball through February 17, 2013.

According to the article in this morning's Los Angeles Times' "Arts & Books" section, these are originals, with all the handmade details, rips, handwritten entries, and all. Seeing these items will probably take me back to the springtime of 1973. That's when my then- (and now deceased, RIP) boyfriend and I joined a ragtag band of antiwar protestors (and arguably anything "anti-establishment") to a trip to the heart of San Francisco and a rally on the Federal Building steps. One of our group's projects, while we weren't marching, yelling, and engaging in a few now-cringe-worthy activities, was to silk-screen posters for our cause(s). Whenever I see an old silkscreen device anywhere, I think of those few days with much nostalgia...

Another venue, summoning much less adrenaline-fueled memories, can be seen at the Heritage Square Museum (heritage The article spotlighting the Colonial Drug exhibit can be seen in today's "California" section of the Times. Sid Simmons is 90, and curates this display of his father's massive collection of vintage pharmaceutical bottles, posters (advertising goods such as "Cocaine Toothache Drops"), and the like. Old George's accumulation might, in the hands of other families, be seen as evidence of hoarding, but his sons had another visions.

I seem to remember my grandmother having a bottle of Lydia Pinkham's tonic (for "female complaints") in her room. When I get to this exhibit--and I will on some Sunday--I'm betting I might see some of this on display. Below is a photo of the still-working Lydia Pinkham Memorial Clinic, which is one of the wonderful sights I saw on my self-guided tour in 2008 (of Boston, Salem, and lots of points in between). That's a topic for another time and another post. Now there's another place teeming with wonderful visits to the past!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

New Food Frontiers, an Antidote to Boredom!

My gentleman friend will not be visiting this weekend, due to an overwhelming work-related schedule. As much as I pine to see him, I will utilize his absence to catch up on my own "stuff," and prepare for my next crock-pot venture, homemade menudo, made complete with beef tripe, pigs' feet, serrano chili, and all manner of intriguing spices. Drawing confidence from my recent beginner's success in cooking, I hope this dish will be an impressive surprise for him.

During a break in my work day yesterday, I went to the Vallarta Supermarket in North Hollywood. Along with the kindness and courtesy of the staff, I appreciated the various aromas--novel to me--as I stepped through the front door. I got what nonperishable ingredients I could, and used the opportunity to scope out the meat counter. I will know, next weekend, just where to find the 3 pounds of tripe, and what the pigs' feet look like before I ask the butcher to chop them into small, casserole-sized pieces. Because Mom is not the most adventuresome soul, I plan to serve it up, telling her this is a "Mexican stew," and only give details on the ingredients if she presses me.

The same anticipation goes for Thanksgiving. This is my first time "doing Thanksgiving," albeit with help from relatives pitching in with various courses. Originally, I'd wanted to be fully heretical and serve roast beef in lieu of turkey, but my gentleman friend talked me out of this; besides, I think my son's in-laws are hard-core traditional enough that they would be sorely disappointed without "the bird." Honestly, though, I'm not much of a turkey fan.

Okay, if I can't get my way about the main course, I'll be deviant in other ways. Instead of the run-of-the-mill, store-bought stuffing, I've found several fresh ideas from, like a stuffing with apple, celery, and a number of spices; or one with sausage. It's the family style to always go with "what we've always done," and I want to make some appealing changes. The green bean casserole can make way for one with other vegetables, for visual as well as taste appeal. Plain old biscuits, begone, and make way for tomato-and-bell-pepper bread.

I've heard many people say that Thanksgiving, a holiday to joyously celebrate family, is so often turned into drudgery. Me, I want to see how fun it can be.