Sunday, September 27, 2009

Not Exactly What I Expected

Fall is definitely here, but its not what I expected. I pictured blue skies, brisk temperatures, and brightly colored leaves gently settling into crackly piles on sidewalks. We both looked forward to taking walks in the crisp, cool air. Instead, it rained steadily for six of the past seven days. What leaves have fallen quickly washed down the drains or clustered in soggy piles everywhere. And the temps went from hot to cold. Whoosh. Just like that.

Apparently, Little Rock's rainfall is already 12 inches or 25% greater than normal for 2009. And everyone keeps telling us that this weather isn't typical for Fall. I don't know what to think.

Today was much better. There was some sun. The temperature reached 60 for awhile. And I spent some time outdoors, raking leaves and sweeping my deck. It was nice.

We spent a happy hour this morning at the Fall Foodie Fest. Mick had created a free poster and T-shirt for this event and we went to see how it turned out. It was pretty well attended, despite the gray skies and chilly weather. Local chefs had been invited to create dishes using local produce from the farmers market. They came up with a nice range: I ate a delicious apple pie and a fabulous cheese and sausage quiche. Mick had stir fried kale and tomato/gorganzola soup. Really tasty.

Speaking of local chefs: Katie's deal with the Capital Hotel chef fell through after she delivered chickens that were too big. Her birds were about 5 lbs each, and he could only serve them at 3 or 3.5 lbs. She actually had to go buy another freezer to reclaim and store the 100 birds she'd delivered to him a couple days ago. These are her last birds of the season, and she'll have no trouble selling them to other people - including me - but the whole exchange made me appreciate the complex path from farm to restaurant table. I mean, consider all the variables that a farmer must manage (including breeding) to deliver a bird that meets such precise specifications! No wonder they say that small farmers have a hard job.

Honey visited our office while Katie was freezer shopping yesterday. And so here are this week's gratuitous pictures of her. She loves watching the Wiggles on her grandpa's fancy computer and taking all the items out of my purse. Thankfully, she also likes putting things back into the purse when she finishes looking them over. Now this family time, of course, is the payoff we expected to have when we came here, and we're delighted with it. Just delighted.

Anyway, we optimistically made reservations for ourselves next month at a lodge in the heart of Arkansas leaf-peeping territory. Maybe the weather will be foggy and wet, or maybe we'll finally see the crisp, clear Fall that we've been dreaming about. Either way, I won't complain.

Hopping in Little Rock

I guess when the weather starts to cool, people start to gather themselves because dozens of events were on offer this weekend in Little Rock. There was a 100-mile bike ride ending on the same street where Katie's farmer's market is held. That whole area was blocked off for the riders and their fans, and people were selling stuff on the sidelines. We managed to get our vegetables and visit with Katie at the market, despite the hubbub, but it was a challenge.

The Clinton library sponsored a Saturday morning art program with kids drawing chalk murals on the sidewalks. We could have joined 150 other volunteers doing a landscape makeover at the Little Rock Zoo. There was also an event called Worldfest promoting cultural diversity and held in conjunction with the anniversary of the integration of Central High School by the Little Rock Nine (as they're known now) in 1957. That event featured music and speakers from around the world.

We decided to check out the Hillcrest Harvest Festival since it was right in our neighborhood. A chili contest was the main event, but people were also selling stuff, gathering signatures (for health reform and carbon caps), and showing off antique cars. We wandered around among our neighbors, enjoying the fine weather and all the people-watching. Lots of grey-haired seniors, parents with babies in strollers, young adults sporting tatoos and skateboards, and matrons leading their dogs through the crowds. I was heartened by all the diversity (for a change).

For us, the day's main event was when our next-door neighbor, Kevin Kirby, took the stage with his group, Battery. Kevin's wife is a nurse named Carole Ann and they have two kids, Gus (age 7) and Bess (age 3). His wife told me that she used to put headphones on the kids to protect their ears when they were listening to his band. But the street was an ideal place for a kid-friendly performance this afternoon: toddlers were dancing in front of the band while the rest of us tapped our toes and nodded in the sunshine. People sang along. It was very fun. Here is a fun video of Kevin playing in his backyard.

I guess the fun will continue throughout the fall. Next month, for instance, the Certified All Arkansas Farmers market will have a "Fall Foodie Fest" to remind consumers about buying locally grown foods. Mick made them this beautiful poster. Do I dare to point out the Arkansas dragonfly that Mick added to this poster? It's a local, too.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Blue Bubbles

Imagine snorkeling in an ocean that has nothing but blue fish. They are perfectly nice and pretty to look at, but gee, you would miss all the other kinds. That's what it feels like here. Its blue faces in the newspaper pictures, blue parents dropping off blue kids at the neighborhood schools, blue people filing into churches on Sunday morning, and blue joggers dashing past them. And when you see someone who is NOT blue, they're probably cutting the lawn, bagging the groceries, or serving the food for someone who IS blue. Its a blue bubble here.

Just this morning, someone wrote to our local newspaper saying, "Democrats have a cash-for-clunkers plan for the elderly: when your parents get too old and sick, the government will pay you to pull the plug on them." I can't imagine why anyone would believe that government officials could be so diabolical, and the letter writer probably can't imagine why anyone would trust and value government like I do. We are just not swimming in the same water.

I lived in a homogeneous bubble in Berkeley, too. I met almost no one in Berkeley who served in the military, didn't go to college, or couldn't afford to own a computer. And in my Berkeley bubble, it was hard to imagine that some people have never been on an airplane, never listened to NPR, or never subscribed to a newspaper.

When they learn that I moved to Arkansas from Berkeley, everyone says, "Oooh, culture shock!" And yes, jumping from that bubble into this one is indeed very shocking. But am I naive to hope that we can do away with bubbles someday? Am I thinking this way just because I miss my Berkeley friends as much as I do (which is a lot)? For whatever reason, I am determined to find common ground with my new neighbors, and to befriend them if I can. Maybe they like pie as much as I do? Or mocking birds? Or grandchildren?

In fact, the kids are my secret hope for the future. Katie and Leo (and their friends) relish pointing out whenever I'm speaking from inside some bubble or other. Each of them has already ventured far enough to value different voices and viewpoints. I trust that they'll avoid getting stuck anywhere because both are veteran bubble busters already.

Here's a picture of Leo checking into his new apartment at UC Irvine, where his roommates are Indian-American and Chinese-American guys. Non-Hispanic white kids like Leo make up only 27% of the students at UCI. He already inhabits a world far more diverse than mine, and so does Katie.

And here's a picture of dear little Honey with her first fistful of crayons. Hummmmm, I wonder what she will draw with them.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Feels Like Fall . . . Almost

Mick and I keep hoping Fall will start soon, and that the hot sticky weather will change. Everybody tells us how spectacular Arkansas will be in the Fall, and we're certainly ready for it. Instead, it was still 80+ degrees when we took a walk after dinner last night, and the mosquitoes were out in force. We must be patient, I guess.

This week we went to the Perry County Fair with Katie and Honey and celebrated a couple of firsts: Honey's first merry-go-round ride, Mick's first taste of funnel cake, and our first view of a pig catch, which involves a dozen children chasing a handful of piglets around a rodeo ring. The kids who catch a piglet (or chicken or calf) get to keep and raise the animal, so this is serious business for them. It was really fun to watch.

Unfortunately, my little pocket camera could not catch the main action so instead we photographed the toddlers watching from the sidelines. Honey is closest to the camera, Lilly Gill is next, and then a little boy we don't know. They all three really enjoyed the show.

Leo goes back to school next week. And many of my dearest friends sent children off to college this month, too. George's Catherine went off to Boston University, Christina's Hannah is settling in at Macalester college in Minnesota, and Alicia's Anthony is getting comfortable at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Everybody please join me in raising a toast to the success of these fine children at their respective colleges, and to the terrific parents who will be sorely missing them for the next few months. I hope they find a much improved economy when they graduate.

When he goes back for his second year at Irvine next week, Leo leaves behind his Arkansas girlfriend, Kathleen. She is a horticulture major at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. They met at Heifer ranch this summer and are celebrating their one-month anniversary tonight. They're determined to maintain their relationship long distance, and I know we all wish them the best of luck with that!

Its easy to feel Fall in the air with all these fresh starts taking place. I hope the weather soon catches up - and the economy - so that we can all truly celebrate when the holidays come upon us. Hear! Hear!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Space, Time, and People

Pictures have been hung on the walls, curtains on the windows, and books are settled onto their shelves. We've got the new phone numbers, library cards, drivers licenses, car registrations, and health insurance policies. Even our magazine subscriptions are dutifully arriving at the right place. It feels like the move itself is finally finished.

And all of a sudden, time has opened up for me. This week, for example, I had whole stretches of time with no to-do list, and after so many months of relentless, detailed tasks and puzzles to solve, I found the openness more than a little disconcerting.

I went to the library and picked up a book called, The Not So Big Life, by Sarah Susanka. Years ago, her book called the Not So Big House radically changed my thoughts about what kind of house to buy here in Arkansas. Instead of the lavish southern mansion I had imagined, with sun rooms and screened porches and music rooms and walk-in closets, I wanted a tidy house. Something with energy efficient windows, good attic insulation, and low-flow toilets. Something I could clean myself, with room for the clothes I actually love to wear instead of the ones I'll never wear again in a million years, no matter how much I enjoyed wearing them fifteen years ago.

So here we are in this lovely little house. And now, there is the question of what to do with my time.

Happily, there is a little work: I got a new business planning project last week. A very exciting project. But even with that job ahead of me, I inhabit a strange gap between all the ways I spent time in California and all the ways I could spend it here. I sit on no committees, belong to no organizations, and have no obligations. It makes me think about how I would like to spend time, given this fresh start.

Obviously, spending time with family figures high on my list of priorities. Here is this week's gratuitous picture of Honey. There will always be a slice of time carved out for Katie and her family, Leo when he's here on his school breaks, and we also scheduled a trip to visit my dad.

Exploring Arkansas will also take some time. We took a spin through some of the downtown museums on Sunday afternoon, and I look forward to driving the back roads this Fall when the leaves are turning.

Walking has become my favorite way to take a break by myself. And as I walk around my neighborhood, I ponder: what's missing now? What's the next thing to do, now that we've moved?

I realized that I'm earnestly looking for two missing pieces: meeting people my own age, and finding new ways to contribute my energies towards fixing the world.

Last weekend, at the Buddhist center, we met a guy who just started a local magazine (!) called New Sixty. In exchange for some free publishing tips from me, he promises to introduce us around town. And today, at his invitation, we went to a "Slow Food" potluck lunch at the farmers market. The lunch was hosted by people working to get healthy, local food into the public school lunchrooms. We ate well, met some fine folks, and signed all their various petitions. Here are some pictures. Could Slow Food become a cause that engages us here? Could these be our new people? Maybe. We'll see.