Entries in A-Ranting We Will Go (15)

Sunday
Jun172007

Crusade

I'm hopping mad.

Saturday morning, I went to our local independent bookstore to pick up a birthday gift. I had noticed in recent months that the shelves were looking a little bare, but when I had asked about this, I'd been told that the store was 'between shipments' or 'doing inventory.'

On this visit, the pickings were sparse indeed. As the cashier wrapped the book I'd purchased, I fixed her with my best gimlet gaze and said, "The shelves look bare. Should I be worried?" She hesitated, then replied, "Yes. The store will close in the fall."

I was devastated; this has happened to me before. When we lived in Manhattan, my beloved Shakespeare & Co. eventually found it could not compete with the volume and tactics of Barnes & Noble and closed its doors forever. When I lived in San Francisco, A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books was a favorite hangout; I recently read that it is also folding.

Why is a local, independent bookstore important to me? For the same reason I buy the bulk of our food from local farmers whenever possible. I value the human connection. I like supporting people who are intimately involved in the work that they do, that have specialized knowledge born of hands-on experience. I contrast the experience of buying a book from someone with whom I can trade recommendations and reviews with the typical Borders/B&N experience vividly depicted by Desmond at the Rag and Bone Shop in this post. (Follow the link; it's a great story.)

Our town is charming. Main Street is lined with shops selling antiques, art, hiking gear, and clothing to a vibrant tourist trade. It also features a great pizza place, a tolerable Chinese take-out restaurant, and a pretty good French bistro, among other restaurants. But the two places I patronize most frequently are The Country Goose, an eclectic gift shop run by a quirky Welsh woman who happens to have a terrific talent for making up gift baskets; and Merritt Bookstore.

I know that I might sound like a snob; be that as it may, because it's really not about that. It's about getting what I want as a consumer. When I visit Lenore at The Goose, she asks about my kids; I ask about her dog. She knows my taste and shows me new things that will fit my gift-buying needs. Her service is impeccable; it has to be, because her business lives and dies by it. It's the same thing at Merritt. I know if I ask the manager about the latest Barry Underwood or Umberto Eco, she'll have interesting things to say, and she'll give me her honest opinion.

The last Harry Potter party in our town was fantastic. Our kids and lots of their friends dressed up and visited different shops on Main Street that had HP-inspired activities going on. Near midnight, everyone gathered at Merritt, drank punch and ate cookies, and visited while waiting for the magic moment when the boxes could be opened.

Once the clock struck twelve, everyone got his or her copy without the screaming and trampling I've read about at larger, less personal stores. After that, about forty of us--kids of all ages--gathered in the garden behind the bookstore, and staff members took turns reading the first chapter aloud. It was an enchanted evening, pardon the pun, and my kids can't wait for the next one occurring just a few weeks.

One of the reasons I hope never to move away is that we have virtually none of the faceless strip mall sprawl that makes so much of American suburbia look alike: the Applebee's next to the Wal-Mart next to the McDonald's next to the Old Navy. Our town is unique and aesthetically pleasing, and I want to do everything I can to help it stay that way. That means voting with my dollar.

Merritt has two other branches that have thrived for many years; my guess is that this is because they are farther up the Hudson, thus farther from the stiff competition provided by big box stores. I also am betting that Amazon is a player in our bookstore's demise.

I confess that I have used Amazon quite a bit in the past. It's hard beat the convenience, and the prices are pretty great if you conveniently forget about the shipping costs. I've even had their advertising widgets on this blog since nearly the beginning, mainly because I wanted a way to display what I'm currently reading. I'll admit, though, that I thought it wouldn't be a terrible thing if those widgets earned me a little cash.

Well, they're gone now. I've discovered Library Thing. I spent a few leisurely hours this afternoon cataloguing a portion of our large collection. It was like looking through an old yearbook, revisiting these old friends that are my favorite books, one by one. Now they'll appear randomly on my sidebar. (If you happen to click on them, you'll be taken to Amazon's site, but any cash generated thereby will go to support Library Thing, which seems like a really cool service so far. But if you see something intriguing, call your local store instead!)

I'm cutting myself off from Amazon from this day forward. For the next few months, when I need books, I can order them online on Merritt's website and save myself the shipping by picking them up at the store downtown. I know I have some local readers; please find it in your heart to do the same! And spread the word; perhaps we can convince the folks at Merritt that they are very much needed and wanted after all.

Wednesday
May302007

In Which I Forbear Whinging

I was going to have this post be text-free, but I want to experiment, and I didn't want the experiment to be the fabled 100th post. This happens to be post #99.

I'm dragging my feet over all the things I need to have done by noon on Friday. Why the deadline? Because. So I need to get on the stick. On the dreadmill this morning, I had the bright idea of posting my To Do List here so that, even if I accomplish all of this through the sordid motivations of shame and fear, at least it will be done.

I'll highlight items in red as they are completed.

Finish skirt.
Finish shirtwaist. Took WAY longer than I had anticipated.
Finish sunbonnet. NOT a cakewalk; no wonder milliners were in high demand.
Make apron.
Sew snaps on petticoat.
Sew buttons on P's shirt.
Buy groceries.
Buy diapers.

Check kids' church clothes.
Re-pack church bag.
Wipe out spice cupboard.
Wipe down fridge shelves.

Make whey.
Grind wheat.
Make bread.
Make lentil soup.
Make pasta sauce.
Make cobblers.
Make scones.
Make cookies.
Make muffins.
Pack.
Get out kids' insurance cards and write down emergency phone numbers.
Do laundry.
Send A's package.
Buy J's gift.
Buy C's gift.
Give P her stuff.
Clean up desk.
Get 72-hour kits out from under bed and put on hall closet shelf.
Fix Miss Spider book.
Teach ARP class.
Teach Temple Prep class.
Water seedlings.
Plant cherry tree and sea buckthorn trees. Christian dug the holes.
Spray roses with organic fungicide.
Pick up Tess's ice cream cake. The awesome Julia, owner of Blue Pig Ice Cream, will deliver it Sunday morning.
Wrap Tess's presents. Difficult, since they haven't arrived yet.
Refuse to panic.
Change sheets.
Plant lily and snowdrop bulbs I forgot about until I started cleaning my desk just now.
Make sure car is clean.
Transplant geraniums. (Actually, they are pelargoniums.)
Purge Daniel's drawers of tiny stuff to make room for box of hand-me-downs.
Go to bank. Patrick did this for me.
Go to grocery store AGAIN. Patrick did this. Thanks, hon!
Tidy linen closet.
Tidy bedroom closets.

Have you noticed that I keep adding stuff to the list? No matter; I'll get it done.

Updated 6/1 at 12:04 p.m.: Well, I got close! The bulbs and pelargoniums will keep until I get home. Cross your fingers that Tess's presents get here this afternoon or tomorrow; her birthday is Sunday, and we're having her party right when we get home Sunday afternoon.

Thanks to you all for your encouragement! It means so much to me. I'll be back online Monday morning.

Friday
May042007

Interesting Times


Here I am with Mom, leaning against the bumper of Dad's antique car somewhere near our apartment in Hollywood. Mom is visibly pregnant with Stephanie, which means this photo dates from mid-1968. Check out the bumper sticker: that was for Bobby, not his big brother (though we are fans of his, too). Bobby was assassinated in June of 1968 in Los Angeles; I can't imagine what it must have been like for my parents, having their political hopes stolen away in such violent fashion.

I thought about two of RFK's many memorable quotes last night. Here is the first one:

Whenever men take the law into their own hands, the loser is the law. And when the law loses, freedom languishes.

Patrick and I normally have our Date Night on Thursdays. But last night was the monthly Town Board Meeting in our little corner of the world, and a pressing concern of ours was on the agenda. We forewent the pleasures of romance in favor of civic duty.

Our library, which is private, has survived for a long time on a very small endowment supplemented by yearly gifts from the town. While in past years this Board has been generous in response to the library's growing needs as overhead and circulation have increased, the library hoped the community would support a guaranteed budget in order to meet its expenses with a little less stress. The voters agreed; last November, a referendum regarding funding for our town's library was passed.

To date, however, the Board has refused to give the library the budgeted money. This has been met with disbelief and outrage on the part of the library and its patrons and has elicited many letters to the editor of our tiny newspaper. Several citizens came to last night's meeting with prepared statements in support of the library; others were there with questions for the Board Members.

Patrick was one of the latter, and thank heaven he's such a gifted litigator. Emotions were generally running high last night, but under Patrick's genteel yet persistent questioning, along with that of a neighbor, the whole story began to come out.

It now seems clear to us that the Board never thought the referendum would pass, since it called for a 120% increase over gifts in previous years. When it did pass, the shocked and embarrassed Board realized it wouldn't have the money this year and began casting about for a way out.

An exit strategy was formulated by a lawyer hired by the Board, who, after digging around for a while, discovered that a technicality had been overlooked in the election. Public notice of the referendum must be published by the County Board of Elections in the local paper twice before Election Day; the B of E unfortunately only published notice once. As a result, according to the Town's lawyer, the election results were null and void. The Board has refused to fund the library based on this man's opinion.

The B of E certified the election despite its oversight regarding notice, and during the 30-day window allowed by law, neither the Town nor any private citizen contested the legality of the election or the results. Therefore, the library feels the referendum should stand and that the funds should be disbursed. The library has now had to hire a lawyer to bring a suit against the Town; its funding now lies in the hands of a judge.

Also clear to us last night was that a lot of this furor could have been avoided with a little humility on the part of the Town Board. A simple apology and a plea for time to work out the problems could have worked wonders with the library's staff. Instead, the Town Supervisor has been on the attack, citing the small percentage of voters who voted either way on the referendum as proof that the library was trying to put something over on the town's population.

The library, however, ran several full-page ads in the paper, much larger than the four-line legal notice the B of E was required to run. Signs were up in supporters' yards; the library had flyers available at its front desk detailing the particulars of the referendum. Of the approximately 10,000 residents of our town (I don't know how many are registered, voting adults), about 4,000 voted last November. More than half of those voted one way or the the other on the referendum, a statistic consistent with typical election results.

The Town Supervisor got more than a little self-righteous, saying that he represents all 10,000 residents, not just those 'few' who voted in favor of granting the library's request. He expressed concern that their voices weren't heard in the election. If they had wanted to be heard, though, they could have driven the half mile to the fire station or the VFW and cast their ballot, don't you think?

One councilman complained that despite repeated requests, the library had not shown the Board its budget, again implying secrecy on the part of the library. While I think it was not a smart PR move by the library not to disclose its budget, it was not in violation of any law or requirement. Local governments, which hold the purse strings, can often censor the libraries' decisions, actions, and contents through simple lack of funding. I can understand why our library would want to retain its independence even as it increased its dependence on public funds.

We townsfolk were heard, mostly graciously, for two hours on the subject; the meeting concluded at 11:00 p.m. Though we were tired and frustrated, Patrick and I felt confident that the Board got our message. The library is important to us, an almost sacred space dedicated to knowledge and freedom of information. But more important is our right to vote and to have our vote respected, and our right to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions and decisions.

We'll wait to hear what the judge says, hoping that he'll rule in favor of the library. But if the Board's opinion is upheld, we'll work hard to get a new referendum up for consideration this fall. We'll get through the disappointment by keeping in mind the second RFK quote I remembered last night:

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.

Monday
Mar262007

The Impending Trek


For Youth Conference this year, the kids ages 14-18 in our congregation are going on a living-history-type Pioneer Trek on June 1-3 in Cockaponset State Park in Connecticut. The youth leaders hope to recreate for these teenagers what life must have been like for the Handcart Pioneers.

The kids will be pulling handcarts 10-14 miles, then camping, cooking and eating, and (I'm quite sure) sleeping like the dead until early the next morning, whereupon they will get up and start all over again. They'll be wearing clothing of the period and will be separated from all of their beloved electronic paraphernalia. It should be quite an experience.

Patrick and I have been asked to be 'parents' to one of the groups of the youth. We are to travel with them and provide physical guidance and spiritual leadership along the way. To say that I am not excited about this trip would be a considerable understatement. Frankly, I don't see the point.

If I were in charge and had the goal of having the youth get a bit of the flavor of real frontier life, I wouldn't try to fake something. I'd have them build a real house for a real family with Habitat for Humanity. Or clear a piece of real land, chopping down trees and pulling stumps, for a real community garden. Or have them grind real wheat and make real bread by hand in a stone oven, then distribute it to the real poor. Or something where the exhaustion of really hard labor would be compensated for by the satisfaction of having really served someone else. Teenagers don't get enough of that kind of thing, in my (real) opinion.

But I'm not in charge, and I'm trying hard to quell my rebellious nature and keep my covenant of support for the church leaders, so I'm just moaning a bit right here and now. There. No more negative words from me on the subject. Now I'll buckle down and get ready for the trip. Because there is a lot to do in the next two months.

Patrick and I need costumes. Last night I browsed through some pattern websites, and here's what I have come up with. Patrick will wear this (he'll need three) and these (we're allowed to spurn authenticity in favor of proper hiking shoes). I'll make this for myself, with three different shirtwaists. I'll also be sporting this and this. Yes, you can trust me to find an excuse to knit something new.

I also need to brush up my recorder and pennywhistle skills for campfire entertainment. I'll be practicing the hymns from the 1835 Hymnal. I'm hoping my friend Karen (who has a much better attitude than I do) will bring her guitar, so that we can make merry together.

I'll be keeping to the running schedule I've been on, even though I know it would take marathon training (which I'm not doing) to be able to handle the Trek gracefully. But every little bit helps, right?

I need to prepare stories of pioneer ancestors--one of mine and one of Patrick's (he asked me to do his, and I agreed; he's got plenty more to do before then). Which to choose? We each have several colorful candidates with faith-promoting histories to relate.

Last but far from least, I will be praying for a change of heart and an outlook suitable for leading impressionable youth. Anything you want to add in that regard would be very welcome. Westward ho!

Thursday
Mar082007

Base 10

The party seems to be winding down (or at least passing me by). But I'll keep with the theme until it's officially over tomorrow. As I've traveled around the bloggerhood for the first time this week, I've noticed that many people post lists from time to time. It seemed like a worthy exercise, so I thought I'd give it a try (well, I tried it for the first time yesterday).

Bothersome:
1) No one seems to know the difference between 'lie' and 'lay.'
2) No one seems to care. This is far worse than 1).
3) No one understands my love of the smell of skunk.
4) I have acne at the age of 40.
5) My basement is a dungeon, yet I don't clean it.
6) Hobo spiders
7) FlyLady is great, but I'd rather do housework the Samantha Stevens way.
8) The food at Taco Bell doesn't taste good to me anymore. Has it changed, or have I?
9) Though I am a fast reader, writer, and knitter, I wish I were much faster.
10) The abominable smell of the otherwise miraculous cream that healed the cracks in my fingertips overnight

Rantworthy:
1) The mess that is the war in Iraq
2) Aspartame, sucralose, and the entire diet industry
3) Socially acceptable addictions: careers, coffee, shopping, TV, etc.
4) No one, not even the Left, realizes that there is a Religious Left.
5) Muffin tops--why, people why?
6) Rampant consumerism-my own included-(a subset of 3))
7) Not enough people are listening to what Al is saying.
8) Not enough people are doing anything about it.
9) Not enough people believe that what he's saying is true.
10) The prime directive of an overwhelming number of businesses has gone from providing goods, services, and/or civic functions to kowtowing to shareholders.

Funniest ever:
1) The people who live in my house
2) Carmen Trevino. And Jen Klonsky. Especially when they are together.
3) Jon Stewart
4) Will Ferrell
5) The Upside Down Show
6) Monty Python
7) The Freshman
8) The Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition
9) E.F. Benson's 'Lucia' series
10) Jasper Fforde's 'Thursday Next' series

Things that make me whisper, "Allahu akbar":
1) Grace
2) Patrick's smile
3) The light in my children's eyes
4) The gloaming
5) Chocolate lace cake. Mrs. Leibowitz's chopped liver with gribenes.
6) A new book by an author I love
7) Cold water for drinking, hot water for bathing
8) Symphony No. 5 by Ralph Vaughan Williams
9) My garden
10) This poem. And this one.

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