Thursday, June 21, 2012

Me and silver

Losing my mom 2 years ago had a component that's probably universal.  Regrets.  They're a stupid way to live, considering that linear time is going to keep marching forward, but maybe it's inevitable that I not only miss some of the things we shared but badly miss some of the things we could have shared but didn't.

For every special occasion, Mom and Dad's wedding silverware came out of the hutch, got polished up and got placed at the dining room table.  And with the approach of every special occasion, I made sure my mother knew how much I despised the silver, the polishing, and the formality, and would never, ever have such things as part of my life.

Kid, teenager, Young Woman, endlessly I hauled out the same snide comments about the silverware and she'd smile and preempt my beaten-to-death joke :  "Yes, yes, I know, when I'm gone you're going to melt it all down into ingots and sell it."

No, she didn't smile because she knew I'd come around.  She smiled because she never took material things all that seriously.  She mentioned my distaste for the silverware to a friend just a few years ago.  She really thought I hated it, and there's a good reason she thought so.

I thought I hated it, too.

And maybe she and I share responsibility for our complete lack of understanding about the silverware and why I claimed not to want it.  With some communication we might have uncovered the real problem.

Because what I actually hated was silver polish.

It seems unfair to name the brand.  It was a good product, it was all there was back in The Day, and it did the job.  Nobody had invented anything better, or at least nothing else was commonly publicized. The brand is still around and I think they solved the stench problem awhile back, so it no longer needs to be dissed.

But back then, W------ Silver Polish had a nasty, sour smell.  And taste.  As the pre-holiday polishing job got underway, it formed a nauseating little atmosphere of sulphurous sourness in the kitchen, where she polished the utensils, and maybe it was my imagination, but I could taste the stuff on my dinner fork, a sour-ish encore to every bite of turkey or rice.

I doubt if anybody liked the smell, but it may be that I'm just built to react strongly to it.  The smell gave me the kind of headache that in turn causes queasiness.  However mild both sensations were -- and they were.  I ate and socialized normally through the meal -- still, it took a form of Formal Dinner self-control for me to sit and eat with the smell clinging even so gently to the whole table spread.

To her end, she thought I hated this silver that she cherished.  For so long, I thought I did too.

Possibly she suspected that my dislike had eased some when she gave me this pitcher about 10 years ago.  I've positioned it so you can see one of its dents, center-bottom.  There are more dents, and lots of scratches.  It's silver plate, and she kind of waved it off, saying, "Would you like that?  Now, it's not any good, but you're welcome to it."  And I responded with a happy "Yes!"  Plate needs care too and so, by my taking something silver when she offered it, I hope she knew I would at least treat her flatware with respect.

But I doubt she knew it would ever be real love, and it is.  The pieces are beautiful, and she loved it, and for her sake and its own, I love it too. I probably would have loved it long ago if i'd known that my problem was NOT that silver was an inherently sour and nauseating metal, but that W------ Silver Polish was making it act on me like kryptonite.

She'd undoubtedly get a big kick out of seeing me spot this little tray in a thrift shop and actually want it. This too is plated and came cheap, but I loved the shape and the clean, classic design, and finding my initial on it closed the deal for 10 bucks.

Spending the present regretting the past simply piles up more lost minutes squandered, but still, sometimes, I wish....

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In which we discover that we're supposed to clean our birdfeeders

I don't just mean knock out the old crud, or even hose the feeder out periodically.

I mean, really clean them. With a 1/9 bleach-to-water ratio : one part bleach, to 9 parts water.
Every month.

Is this one of those things that everybody knows about except me?  I expect not.  So here's what we learned today, and if my readers decide to clean their feeders, even at somewhat less frequent intervals, it's bound to be beneficial.

Today we stopped at our storage unit and a little finch was standing there in the drive.  The car driving by didn't inspire him to fly away, so as Larry went to check the unit, I said I'd walk back down the alley and check on the bird.

I made Bird a little nervous but no matter how close I got, he didn't bolt, which worried me.  Then I noticed his eye.  I carefully picked him up and he stood calmly on my palm, then transferred himself to my index finger and perched.  Now I could see both eyes, badly infected.  He couldn't see at all, and had gotten trapped here in this tunnel of steel buildings and concrete.

I walked back down to the car  -- most of the way down that concrete drive you see behind me -- with the bird perched tamely on my finger.  And we tried to decide what to do.  The bird got tired of all this and flew away, but in blind random spirals, and landed on the other side of the building where he hopped in desperate circles until we picked him up again, and drove him a couple miles down to the local vet that specializes in wild rescues.  As Downy's friend Mojo would say, they are Sooperheroes.

It is utterly cool to have no Boss docking us for getting back late from break time.  Tourist season is on in full and Larry had a tedious driving job while I sat with my fingers forming a little cage to keep the little guy from taking off inside the car.

Back home, Larry did the research.  This bird had conjunctivitis.

There are undoubtedly many places they can contract this disease, but one source of it is unclean bird feeders, which can harbor the bacteria.  As we'd just seen, an otherwise healthy bird can die without the use of its sight.

It had never occurred to us to actually bleach-out the feeders, ever, much less every month.

What we're thinking about doing is getting a second feeder for each station, so we can switch them out without leaving the station unsupplied for a couple days.

We've even found that they take awhile to accept a new feeder placed in the same spot as one it replaced, and, though I'm guessing, I figured the new store smell had to weather off.   So even at one-tenth strength, wild birds might reject the bleach smell and it probably needs to be thoroughly soaked away after the germs have been soaked away.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Graduation Speech. Yeah, that one.

The topic is "You're not special."

Like thirty million other bloggers, I'm sure I have something Special to say about it.  Jumping on the sound-byte of the minute bandwagon.  Blast it, I just did that and here I am doing it again.

The speech.  Here it is.  12 minutes-plus on yahoo video, just so you know.

I can agree with so much of what he said, and still think he said nothing new or important.  Is he terribly innovative for finger-pointing at a society in which every participant gets a trophy and every student gets a "Great Kid!" bumper sticker at McDonald's even if he/she didn't qualify for his school's actual Student of the Month, which started the whole sticker mess?

Not really.  True, he pulls out the wit and a little bit of the insight.  And true, he says in the middle of the speech that "Everybody's special so nobody is" and then redeems that at the end with "[Recognize that] you're not special, because everybody is" which is more like my philosophy.

He's OK at seeing that the patient is sick, but not very good at diagnosing the problem and therefore even worse at offering a cure.  These kids do indeed need to find a different source of inner fulfillment, and learn that it really is more important to see the world than to have the world see you.  He says some good stuff.   The self-esteem-movement generation might have a harder time shifting to a deeper focus than will later generations, who will be raised with what we've learned from the trophies-for-all silliness.

(The first of which is that the kids know exactly how meaningless something everybody gets is.  So it's not like getting it actually strokes their egos much. Does anybody think most kids can't figure out when adults are being patronizing?)

I'm more inclined to critique the whole phenomenon of contempt for a product -- that product being the kids raised in the self-esteem bubble --  that we've worked so bloody hard to create.

I too hate the attitudes he complains about:  the entitlement, the carefully created (BY parents, teachers and product-pushers)  attitude that kids have to do and work for and achieve nothing and should have accolades anyway;

that a kid needs to never, ever, feel less-than, even when s/he absolutely has done less than another kid;

that hurt feelings, when the other kid gets a ribbon or an honor, are actually harmful to any child who didn't earn one herself.  Not an impetus to try harder, set goals, blahblah, but a psychic wound at a deep level that risks making her just crawl under the bed and suck her thumb till she's thirty.

The over-use of awards and honors comes from a fundamental misunderstanding about self-worth.  Very few people have been taught the difference between "what I do" and "who I am."  Very few people realize that the embarrassment or grieving experienced by a kid who lost the trophy is NOT causing a lack of self-worth.  It is, and should be, a cause of feeling that s/he didn't try hard enough, didn't learn the task well enough, or in some cases is not really talented enough to get as far in the field as another kid.  If he hasn't been raised to have true self-worth, then sure, losing an honor will pluck that string, but losing is the pick, not the string.

Accepting that the other kid who's a champion swimmer is just built better for swimming doesn't blast a child's sense of self to smithereens.  Those tears are gutwrenching to watch, but are just part of learning who he really is and growing into his individual powers.

The trick is to know, and then to teach the child, that "You're not as good a swimmer" and "You're not a good enough person" are two radically different things. It's about something you do, not about who you are.  It's the same knowledge that needs to be applied to mistakes and even to deliberate naughtiness.  "You did something wrong."  Not "You are bad."

What this has to do with the speech is that:

(1)  If this diploma is actually another meaningless thing that everybody gets, then he's indicting the school a whole lot more than he's indicting the kids who navigated a system they didn't create.

If the school is a reputable one, then I suspect this graduation is a real achievement.  Likening these graduates to those of violent, deteriorating schools from which students graduate barely able to spell is probably plain inaccurate, and those gold tassels for higher achievement mean something, too.  He makes much of numbers, but numbers shouldn't alone devalue effort.  The definition of ordinary can change.  Up or down.

(2)  The importance of instilling good self-esteem is not fundamentally wrong.  It just needs to be done with the aforementioned knowledge of what true self-worth really is, and that hurt feelings and disappointment do not necessarily indicate damaged self-worth. Sometimes they're a lesson to try harder and sometimes they're a lesson to try something else. Feeling the discomfort of contrast is a crucial part of learning.

(3)  The kids didn't make the bad award rules or riot and throw Molotov cocktails demanding trophies and stickers.  They took the direction, and the stickers, that they were given.  To show contempt for them, after this ignorant system processed them into the Everybody's Special corral, is ridiculous.

"You're special!"
"I am?  All I did was show up."
"That's special!  You're special!"
"Cool! I'm special!"
"No, you're a little slacker nothing."

is Theatre of the Absurd.  Hello, grownups?  Who made the rules?

And you did it with good intentions.
And in ignorance.
Now do it better.