05 October 2008

Warm Reminders of Roberta, Thoughts on Cause and Effect and a Happy Birthday Shout-Out!

Of Palin...and an Exceptional Parrot

One year for Christmas, I believe it was 1993, Tim bought me an African Grey Parrot. She was a mere eight weeks old and was still being hand-fed which is really the perfect age to establish a close bond with an African Grey. In terms of sheer intelligence, African Greys are the "Einsteins" of the parrot world. They're vocabulary and gift for mimicry is simply astounding. Not only can they repeat complete sentences, they can do so in a voice that will make you swear it's the person they are imitating.

I remember many times in Florida, hearing Roberta scream in a voice that sounded more like Justin than Justin, "Mom! Come here Mom! Quick!". I would race down the stairs more times than I care to admit, knowing full well Justin was in school, thinking..."Oh no! Is Justin OK?". I mean, her mimicry was dead on! Roberta would also take great delight in calling the family dog, a big lumbering yellow lab named Blossom, who would fall for Roberta's tricks, same as me. Blossom would scamper from wherever she was, thinking one of us was calling her, only to find a room devoid of any human family members, and a parrot perched on top of her cage, looking innocent, though I always figured Roberta must be thinking..."what a stupid dog! fell for it again, did you?". Roberta probably thought the same of me.

I must confess something; Roberta had a Republican handler, though she didn't have index cards.

Did you watch the vice-presidential debate Thursday Night? Were you one of the lucky ones to catch a wink or a shout-out? I have to give credit where credit is due. I can't imagine how Sarah Palin pulled herself together amid such low expectations and managed to stand up there before a huge television audience and, at the very least, form complete sentences in a quasi-coherent fashion. I have to give her credit for showing up, no question about that. She didn't look terribly addled and certainly seemed to warm up to the bright lights, even though she dodged or simply refused to answer most of the questions. Ms. Palin was poised, showed some style and even some down home "Joe Six-Pack" humor, but I don't think you win debate points for that.

Aren't we just finishing up with a "regular, Joe Six-Pack" kind of guy? Hey, I voted for Bush and I have to tell you, that didn't work out so well, did it? It feels to me like "Joe Six-Pack" turned out to be "Bud Extra Light". I dunno, I think we've had enough of that. It hasn't worked out so well, has it?

And one more thing, watching the VP debate brought back fond and affectionate memories of Roberta, my smart, feisty little maverick of an African Grey. Most of the time, I'm sure Roberta had no clue as to what she was saying, but we, "her handlers", used to coach her and feed her lines and, let's give a parrot credit where credit is due, she would pick up a great deal of her repertoire by passive listening to rote phrases. When we moved from Florida, we gave Roberta to our vet tech who loved that bird. It was sad saying goodbye to her. We never got around to teaching her how to wink or send "shout-outs", but I'm betting she could have mastered that as well. What an awesome parrot. Darn right you betcha she was!

One of the things that make me so unnerved to consider the very real possibility that Sarah Palin might wind up as commander-in-chief, are index cards. What will happen if, when she's conferring with world leaders, she looks down and doesn't have the right note card? If our collective well-being lies in our leaders being experienced, educated and have an solid understanding of foreign and domestic affairs, I would like to think they have more to lean on than an index card. A "house of cards" is a flimsy defense. It doesn't convey a level of comfort for this writer. Frankly, it's something that's scared me for, how long has she been at this, five weeks? Like, yeah.

Another point that struck me in the VP Debate, is Ms. Palin's dismissal of the importance of determining the causes of global warming. She wasn't as much noncommittal as she was totally incurious in discovering the key practices that have imperiled our environment. Gov. Palin was reluctantly agreeable that we needed to discover ways to protect the earth and try and reverse some of the damage that's already been done, but to completely find no valid reason or desire in discovering the exact causes of environmental devastation made me happy that she's not in charge of something like cancer research.

Can you imagine if the world of oncology was interested only in treating the symptoms of a disease without discovering the etiology? What if there was no cancer research? We would have made absolutely no significant gains in lowering mortality rates, survival statistics or improving quality of life. It is from research and cellular detective work that new weapons of cancer destruction are created - learning how to use monoclonal antibodies, harnessing the body's own biological immune system which allows us to move away from bombarding fragile systems with toxic chemicals and radiation. The face of cancer treatment has changed significantly because of research and ongoing discovery. Many treatments are now tumor-specific because researchers have studied the disease process and it is only in adding to this knowledge that gains will continue to be made. Specifics matter. Points of origin teach us essential information so that we don't repeat past mistakes. Knowledge is power.

The same principle is true for just about everything. We can't repair this economy unless we look deep into what has created the recession; sloppy lending practices, a Wall Street that fed corporate CEO's scurrilous salaries and bonuses; teaching our kids to live on a "credit and carry" basis, rather than pay for it as you go and if you don't have the cash on hand, you don't really "need" it. The line between our "needs" and "wants" has become unforgivably fuzzy.

When I was a little girl, and even after I wasn't such a little girl and had my own family, I would watch as my Mom would be putting away the leftovers, and I would laugh almost in a punkish, glib manner, as she would save even 3 or 4 tablespoons of leftover corn, beans or even spaghetti sauce. I'd think, "how silly she is. saving a few bites of something when all she has to do is just open a new package next time.". I could never understand (and certainly didn't bother to try), why my parents saved EVERYTHING (and I do mean EVERYTHING). Things in our home weren't replaced until they were completely and totally inoperable and even then, they would be deconstructed to their essential parts with the thought that "this piece or part might come in handy someday...". I remember being chastised not too long ago for idly tossing away the empty inner plastic wrapper that had contained cereal, only to find that my Mom had fished it out of the trash and washed and rinsed it because "it makes a great wrap for vegetables or cake. you can do all kinds of things with these great wrappers! Better than those expensive Ziploc bags!". I'd shake my head again and again, never quite getting it.

In fact, my parents are children of the last "great depression" and obviously, it wasn't all that much fun and anything but "great". My mom and dad recycled long before it became fashionable and not because they were scratching for money. It made good sense to them and, as is often the case they were, and are, right. I remember years ago when my Mom got a new dining room table but rather than get rid of the smaller one, she simply had my dad saw off the legs of the older, smaller one, sanded and painted it and was proud as punch of her newly appointed coffee table. And it is still our coffee table. I would never have thought of doing that and to my parents, such DIY money-saving tricks are like breathing. They learned from the school of "how many uses can we think of for this?", employing creativity, cost efficiency and style, not to mention the satisfaction of knowing they are being prudent stewards of their money and the earth.

For far too long, we've become a nation that thrives on consumerism and now our consumerism is beginning to consume us, but to those who have lived through tough times before, this new economic downturn was never a matter of "if", but more a function of "when".

Guess what? It's "when".

I never fully understood that growing up under the tutelage of Barbe & Maxine Cook would teach me such incredible life lessons, but I am profoundly grateful. I remember last year when my Mother beamed as I created a pot rack from an old bicycle wheel. In some small way, I imagine she must have been thinking..."there may be hope for her after all.". I believe I got a gold star that day.

Now, the upshot of tough times is that it causes us to change and, generally speaking, this is usually for the better. While we may be a country of rampant consumers, we're also an inventive lot, and that will no doubt serve us well in the coming months and years. Human beings generally don't change their ways unless they're in pain or, at the very least, feeling a modicum of discomfort - this is true of alcoholics, addicts and yes, even out of control spenders with an addiction to credit. We learn things when we face tough situations and some of the greatest gifts spring up from those times. America is in the middle of a redirection which is probably long overdue. If we can get out of our own way, work hard and think before we act, we'll probably be just fine.

However, I will submit to you, that if Maxine Cook were to find herself the winner of the North Carolina Lottery tomorrow (which would never happen because she's never bought a lottery ticket in her life) and presented with a check for 29 million dollars, I would bet the farm that it wouldn't change her habits one bit. She'd still save the cereal bags, those last few bites of vegetables and though she might buy a new piece or two of furniture, you can be certain she would find a useful purpose for the one retired. That's as basic to my parents nature as their goodness - it is who they are. Living around these two is a daily eduction and I'm a pretty blessed daughter.

Take Me Home...Road Trip!

We held a formal family council this weekend and came up with the idea of visiting Justin and Stephanie for Thanksgiving and yes, that means we will be spending the holiday in West (by God) Virginia. I can't wait! Well, mostly, I can't wait to see my son, but also, I can't wait to walk around downtown Charleston with him, revisiting my old haunts, seeing the streets I used to know so well, walking on the grounds of the capitol, looking at all that has changed and what has remained the same, in the company of my favorite (and only) son who will turn 22 six days before Thanksgiving. We're all looking forward to it. Now all I have to do is figure out who I can get to come in my house and take care of my six aquariums and 3 cats. Cassie may be going with us, though she doesn't know it yet. I have to check with Justin on that but I can't bear the idea of leaving her behind and besides, she's never visited WV. Cassie, like Justin, is from Amarillo, Texas so I'd like to show her that part of the country. We shall see.

On the automotive front, the car is still in the sick bay of Aamco and release isn't slated until at least Tuesday or Wednesday. I'm over the initial shock, I guess, but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it. What can you do? You grit your teeth and what I do is think of all the things that could be worse and, as it turns out, there are many things that could be far more distressing. My family is healthy, we're all fine and still very blessed in the things that count most. I keep reminding myself of this. I know it's true.

Not to belabor the point but there was one moment in the debate, however, which I didn't find "adorable" or cute. Remember when Senator Biden was talking about his family, and understanding what it was like to sit by the bedside of a child, not knowing if he would live? Biden became emotional when he described this, clearly overcome from the recollection of that painful memory. When it was Gov. Palin's turn to respond, she launched right into lauding the maverick ways of John McCain. There was absolutely no reverence or even one kind word of empathy regarding what her opponent had just shared.

The next day, I wondered what the press would have had to say if the roles had been reversed and it was Gov. Palin who had opened up in the debate with a similarly personal and painful moment from her own past and what if Biden had ignored it and launched into peppering Sen. Obama with a flurry of accolades. You can bet it would have made a ripple in the MSM (mainstream media). He would have been labeled cold, uncaring or worse.

I guess those mavericks don't have time for much compassion. It's kind of a shame, really, because it seems that in a time when the economy is tanking and we're in the middle of a dangerous war, with so many Americans forced to live without health insurance from their employers, that we could use all of the compassion we can muster. Times are hard and it doesn't cost one penny to care about each other. That's the kind of "bail-out" that has to come from within. Congress can't fork that over and it shouldn't be in short supply, but apparently it is.

Republican, Democrat, Independent or undeclared, no matter where any of us fall on the political spectrum, we're in for some interesting days as election day nears. What we learn in the next 30 days, in terms of plans, campaign tactics and tone, will be paramount in making an intelligent, wise choice as each of us head into the voting booth. It's a real soul-searching time for Americans on so many fronts. No matter who's side we eventually land, let's pray that whoever inhabits the White House has the wisdom, Faith and spiritual guidance to lead us back to where we need to be, and can coalesce us into a united front on the right path.

And one last thing - today is the birthday of one Tim Parker! Happy Birthday to you and best wishes for an exciting new year!