The Death of The American Dream

August 1, 2008

This economy is so frightening!  Nearly all of us are affected in some way by the situation in this country, and it is rarely in a good way.

Last night I had an eye-opening conversation with a young mother.  She works in day care, and is currently job hunting.  I naively thought that this was one field that would not bear the brunt of a sluggish economy, but I was wrong.  When a two-parent household has one party laid off, the children no longer need day care.  When both are still working, but money gets tighter, one of them will switch to nights, thus negating the need for day care.  This woman must find a job where she is allowed to take her kids to work with her when school is out, because on her salary, she cannot afford day care for them.

This appears to be a true barometer of the situation, and as mentioned, one I had never considered.

I am aghast at the job market, or lack thereof. The Bush administration can spout figures about new jobs created, etc., but as always, statistics are made to be manipulated.  Every wage earner who loses a one hundred thousand a year job may have to take two jobs to pay his bills. A job created!  People who once earned a decent wage and had great benefits may now need a second job to afford insurance. Another new job!

More and more companies are reducing their staff to part-time positions, especially in retail.  Fewer full-timers means fewer benefits.  To cover a 40 hour shift, there may be 2 or even 3 employees where there was once only one. More jobs! When WalMart comes to town, they hire 300 people, and brag of jobs created. No mention that they are menial, low-paying, un-benefitted jobs.

I think this country is in deep shit, bluntly put.  The divide between the wealthy and everyone else is huge, and getting larger all the time.  In No. America in 2006, there were 3 million millionaires, and there were 38,400 people with a value over 30 million dollars.

Yet the median income is somewhere around $46,000.  So it takes a whole lot of poor people to counteract those super-rich ones.  In 2005, there were 36.5 MILLION people in the US alone below the poverty level. It is also important to note that the poverty thresholds are ridiculously low.  At present, a single person must earn less than $10,400 to be considered “poor”.  So the folks making $11,000 a year are not in the ranks of the poor. They don’t count.  Try telling them that.  Try renting an apartment in New England on double that, and you’re in trouble.  If we were to calculate those living below a “decent living wage” scale, the numbers would be monumentally higher.

All of these statistics may bore you, but this is the most important issue we are facing in our society. If you remember world history, most revolutions take place because the poor uprise against the rich.  In the French Revolution, the nobles were beheaded.  Can you see that kind of anger brewing in this country? I can.

I am a very fortunate, middle class woman, and yet I am now very close to living on the edge.  I have a decent-paying job, and own a home, but my husband lost his job last fall, and is now working part-time at not much above minimum wage.  We now need all of our money to pay for the basics.  That is not a great feeling while we are so close to our “golden years”.

I am afraid.  Not only for myself, but for all of us baby boomers who are watching our investments dwindle, while the prices at the supermarket rise, and the cost of heating our home becomes prohibitive.  And, yes, I am afraid for myself as well. I am not comfortable facing the unknown.  I worry about the potential for violence in our cities and the loss of the comfortable life we have enjoyed.

For many Americans, the American Dream has died.

Advertisements

Knowledge is Painful

July 7, 2008

I am cursed with intelligence and a deep sense of logic.  I’m not Mr. Spock, mind you – way too emotional for that – but it pains me that our world is so illogical.  I want there to be justice, and fairness, and I want things to work out as they should.  Of course that is silly.

A very wise man once told me that knowledge equals obligation.  If you know something, you have a moral responsibility to address it in one way or another.  He was not suggesting that I personally could solve the world’s problems, but that as a thinking creature, I could not disown, or detach from, the knowledge I had gained. I think the discussion was initiated by the horrors in Bosnia in the nineties.   Women were being raped as part of an ethnic assault, and I was literally losing sleep over it.  A deep depression was initiated by the understanding that human beings can be cruel and violent, and that innocent victims were powerless to fight it.  I was powerless to fight it.

My friend told me that if we know of a horror, we are obliged to do something about it.  What does this mean?  Do I send money to relief organizations?  Is a care package of any value at all?  Should I write to my congressmen and senators demanding intervention?  Is it enough to know, and to speak out? What???

I am not strong enough to fight the evil in the world on a personal level.  It overwhelms me.  But how can I sleep at night while these horrors exist, if I have done nothing?

My daughter has spent the last 4 weeks volunteering in New Orleans, helping with the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. (http://katrinanoyes.blogspot.com/)  I so admire her willingness to put herself in a situation where she not only believes in helping, but is actually doing something.  She is young, and strong, and socially responsible.  By comparison, I am a failure. I send money to food banks and other charities; I support human rights and environmental organizations.  My heart is in the right place, but my actions do not follow.  I cannot put myself in harm’s way.  I am a coward.

But I also see the hopelessness.  I believe there is nothing I can do that will matter.  How small of me to feel this way, while my daughter sweats in the oppressive heat of New Orleans in July.  I know that if we help one person, or one family, we have succeeded, but I struggle with an inability to get past the big picture. I see a world of pain, and torture, and neglect, and abuse, and am paralyzed.

I believe human beings are a seriously flawed species, and it is just a matter of time before we destroy ourselves and anything else in our path.  I truly believe this.   We destroy the gift that is the earth, and we destroy one another.  I think it is a flaw in our makeup.  When Mother Nature created man, she gave him free will, but forgot to give him common sense.  When she gave him a competitive spirit, she left out a sense of fair play.

We shall be the only species thus far that becomes extinct through our own actions.

This depresses me beyond belief.

Top Chef – My Take 5/28/08

May 29, 2008

Top Chef, May 28, 2008

High Steaks

Well, I think this is one of the calmest episodes of Top Chef that we’ve seen yet.  The Quick Fire Challenge, though it had two parts, was pretty straightforward and went smoothly.  I was, like most of us, disappointed to see Stephanie do poorly, but she has never excelled at Quick Fires.

First the chefs had to butcher a big hunk of beef to the exacting standards of Chicago chef Rick Tramonto. Then they packed them up and returned to the Top Chef kitchen where they had to prepare the steaks. All of them looked pretty rare to me, though Antonia’s looked best.  But Spike was channeling his grandfather, the butcher (and his mother is a chef?), giving him a quick fire win, along with an advantage in the EC, which was squandered when he chose to work with frozen scallops. Not a good choice.  The other chefs all recognized that, so why didn’t Spike?

On to the Elimination Challenge…  and what a good one it was, though I must say, the atmosphere is still pretty calm.  I expected a little panic, or a meltdown, or a temper tantrum.  And I am a bit ashamed to say that I wanted to see Lisa burn some rice. But alas! All was well, and there were no real bombs.  This was truly a challenge of degree… some excellent dishes, and some just kind of okay dishes.

The chefs had to create an appetizer and an  entrée to be served at Tramonto’s Steak and Seafood and the “special guests” were previous winners Harold Dieterle, Ilan Hall, and Hung Huynh. (Good to see Harold and Hung, but Ilan could’ve stayed home, in my opinion.)

Richard performed well, as always. His hamachi and sweetbreads appetizer impressed the judges, and his filet with potato puree, turnips and brussel sprouts, deconstructed (what’s up with that?) was good, though not great. Richard seemed more nervous that we’ve ever seen him in this challenge, which kind of confused me. Also, his plate was kind of messy looking, which is surprising as well.

Lisa’s performance made me have second thoughts about why everyone dislikes her so much. She was pretty likable tonight, and her food was good. If only she could take that sour look off her face at judges’ table! The chilled and grilled shrimp appetizer sounded delicious, but apparently did not go over well. As an entrée, Lisa made a New York strip steak with a spicy apple and caramel sauce, with peanut butter mashed potatoes! Peanut butter mashed potatoes? I can’t quite imagine it, but apparently they were quite good, and elevated Lisa in my opinion. Unfortunately, her steak was not terribly well prepared.

Antonia made a warm mushroom and artichoke salad with a poached egg, topped with a bacon vinaigrette. Sounds weird, but who knows. The judges love well executed eggs, and a bacon and egg combo sounds pretty cool. Her bone-in rib eye with potato gratin did well, with the gratin winning raves all around. If her appetizer had been more innovative, Antonia might have won tonight.

Spike blew it big time. Choosing frozen scallops was an absolute waste of his advantage, and using them in such a simple dish only highlighted the problem. Had they been in a creamy sauce or a salad preparation, he might have slid through. Adding canned hearts of palm at the end only exacerbated the problem. And though he butchered the meat well, his preparation of the tomahawk steak with an overly sweet sweet potato puree was less than stellar. Spike has the unique ability to turn an advantage into a disadvantage like no one I have ever seen.

Stephanie showed incredible maturity and class in this episode. There was no sign of the nervousness that has plagued her in the past, and she put out a great meal. The first course of crispy sweetbreads with a golden raisin and pine nut sauce sounded yummy, and the main dish of tenderloins (perfectly cooked) with salsify puree, wild mushrooms and apple sauce was well-rounded, well-executed, and interesting enough to shine. I love this girl! She can cook, and is a delight to watch. Go Stephanie!

And then there was judges’ table.  Spike, Spike, Spike, don’t you know that “defend your dish” and “act like an ass” are not the same thing?  At least he was insightful enough to admit to the others that he had acted dumb.  You don’t call the guest judge out on what was in his freezer! Duh.   He shoulda made a soup!

But that’s the way it goes, and yes, Lisa has squeaked through one more time….

Off to Puerto Rico!

I Vant To Be Alone

April 7, 2008

Yes, I want to be alone.  Whenever things get me down, I want to hunker down, go into a cave, and be by myself. No one calling me, visiting me, or asking for anything from me.

I guess you could call this depression.  But as a lifelong borderline basket case, I know this is not the case.  I am not so much depressed as sick. Sick of the world as it is. Sick of life and all the inequities it presents.

I want to visit Oz, minus the Wicked Witch.  Actually, minus Glenda the Good Witch, too. She’s rather annoying.

Or perhaps move to Celebration, Florida, the town established as a part of Walt Disney World, where I can live a Disney life…

I want to be alone.

I want to have a little cottage by the sea.  I want to wake each morning, sit out on the porch and sip on my coffee.  Then, if I feel like it, I will walk along the beach, stopping to pick up pretty stones or shells, and occasionally a piece of seaglass.  Mostly brown (beer bottles, don’tcha know), some white, some green.  Very, very rarely, a piece of blue.  Blue seaglass is a prize.

My days would be filled with reading and writing and walking, cooking wonderful meals, and sitting in a rocking chair on the porch. Bored? Never.

But this, unfortunately, is the real world. I have a job, five days a week at 8 a.m..  I have a mortgage, and a fuel bill.  I want to move south, but, clearly, my timing sucks. The real estate market is pretty close to dead. A great time to buy, but to sell? Not so much.

I’m studying Ayurvedic healing, and attempting to meditate.  I’m reading, and learning, about eating whole foods and breaking away from the modern addiction to plastic food.  I am trying to be healthy.

Yet each day is a struggle.  I want things to turn around, but let’s face it, ain’t gonna happen no time soon.

I can be a better me, but I can’t see a better culture.  We as a species are destroying the gift that is the earth.  We are by nature selfish and competitive and greedy.  We do not ‘love one another’.  For me, the only salvation may be to leave it all behind, to go and find that cave.

Because, truly, I want to be alone.

Reading

March 29, 2008

Writing about reading… hmmmm…..

My son has started a WordPress blog, and he wrote today about reading. He did not love reading as a child, but he has come to love it as an adult. That pleases me immensely. My two other children are readers also. It makes me know I did that right, anyway.

When they were little, I read to them. Every week the supermarket had a Sesame Street book on sale, and we collected the whole series. We had all the Little Monster books, and Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, and Disney.

But there is one book that was special, and I recently bought a new copy, because it means so much to me. This is “The Monster at the End of the Book”, featuring Grover from Sesame Street. I must have read that book a hundred times or more, and I would do the voice of Grover, making the kids laugh every time. I can still recite many of the lines from memory, and I bet they can, too.

Now that is a memory worth preserving. Maybe the next time we are all together I will read that book aloud. I bet we will all still laugh, though I may find also that I cry, just a little bit.


13700047.jpg

What A Winter!

March 24, 2008

img_0002.jpg

More Lighthouses

March 24, 2008

In my ever expanding quest to see and photograph as many lighthouses as possible, I found 3 new ones yesterday.

The first one is The Clark’s Point Lighthouse in New Bedford. It sits atop a Civil War site called Fort Taber, part of a beautiful park and walkway right on New Bedford Harbor.

This is the first lighthouse I’ve seen that sits ontop of another structure.

From the walkway at Fort Taber, I spied this little one out in the harbor. It’s called Butler Flats Light.

img_1849.jpg

In Mattapoisett, north of New Bedford along Route 6, we found Ned’s Point Light. This one is set firmly on land, surrounded by another really pretty park. I must go back when the weather is warmer and have a picnic!

img_1841.jpg

Plymouth, Massachusetts

March 10, 2008

There are pros and cons of living anywhere. Cost of living, weather, jobs, the economy – these things are very much on my mind now, as my husband and I are seriously thinking of leaving New England for someplace warmer, and cheaper.

Massachusetts has never been cheap, but our expenses keep climbing, while our income does not. Yet the idea of leaving behind the beauty of this area is hard for me, though I know other places are lovely as well.

calm.jpg   

I am an ocean girl. I love living near, and spending time, at the ocean. I can sit for hours just breathing in the salty air, feeling mellow and complete. Even when it’s cold, the beauty is there.

stormy.jpg

I think I shall have to find another place near the ocean. It is where I belong.

                              me.jpg                                        

Backwards is Not Forward

February 22, 2008

I had one of those light bulb moments this morning. You know, when you all of a sudden see something that should have been clear all along, and you say “Ah-ha!”

I was listening to the news in my car, and they were discussing the accusations that John McCain had an “inappropriate” relationship with a young woman eight years ago. My first thought was “Oh, jeeze, they’re trying to smear him,” and I was disgusted. Then I thought, “Who cares?” His wife, surely, and his family, but come on.

This is the 21st century, and it appears that we as a nation and a culture are moving decidedly backwards. Our last president was reviled for having an “inappropriate” relationship with an intern, and yet the current administration can lie, cheat and steal, showing favoritism to certain big businesses, and dismantling environmental laws intended to save the earth.  Science has shown us that we are in big trouble, and yet our leaders call it a hoax. They prefer a public which is blind, and which wants all the amenities of the good life without paying the price. Better to think about a candidate’s sex life than his policy on global warming…

Europeans laugh at our obsession with the sex lives of our politicians.   They are miles ahead of us in stem cell research, all because so many Americans mistakenly confuse science with religious morality, and who thrive on misinformation and ignorance.

In 1620, the Pilgrims arrived in this land seeking freedom to practice their religion without persecution. Then there were the Puritans, with ever stricter rules on human behavior. When the founding fathers established the United States of America, they clearly set down a plan to separate these rules from the government’s purview. As an extension of the Pilgrims’ desire, they declared a separation of church and state, so that all citizens of the new country could worship as they pleased.

Yet in the beginning of this new century, we Americans have seen a strange phenomenon: some very vocal religious souls are trying to impose their beliefs on our legal system and our government. The neo-con movement gained pride and strength by preying on the fears of the ignorant and joining together in their hatred of anyone who is different from them.

The attitude toward gays is a perfect example. Homosexuality has existed for as long as there have been human beings. Yet some folks feel that they must rid the world of this perceived evil, and they will go to amazing lengths to deny others of their rights.

Well, I appear to have drifted, but that light bulb moment… The culture of the USA is going backwards. Instead of gaining insight, and increasing tolerance of others, we seem to be narrowing our view of what is acceptable!   We no longer strive to be the first with a new technology, or the leader in medical research. How could this happen?

Is it possible that we peaked as a nation in the 60’s, when there was optimism and a growing potential for greatness?  Are we destined to fall behind the rest of the world in science, technology, trade, education and even life style?  John F. Kennedy gave our nation hope, and the perception of a Camelot.  So what happened? We now have more millionaires than one could imagine, but we also have a shrinking middle class, and a growing number of working poor.  The American dream is out of reach for more and more of us.  Our social services and our health care have fallen sadly behind much of the world.  Even our infant mortality rates are high!

In a country where so many have so much, and many, many more have too little, there is something seriously wrong.

Instead of moving forward, are we going backward?  Are we reverting to puritanism with all of its rules and dictates?  Are we dismantling our Constitution and Bill of Rights to strengthen that upper echelon of citizens?  The executives of insurance companies get richer and richer, all while people are being denied the health care they need.  Corporations post record profits while polluting the air and water, and lowering the standard of living of their workers.  A ten dollar an hour worker faces a salary freeze while the CEO get a 12 million dollar bonus.

What used to be called “the greatest country in the world” has ceased growing.  We are reverting to a place where ignorance and fear controlled our lives, rather than knowledge and wisdom.

This makes me incredibly sad.

How Did I Get Here?

February 13, 2008

Yesterday I was 35.  Had 3 kids, a husband,  a home, and a dog.

Today I’m 56. Kids are grown, different husband, no pets, another home.

How did that happen?

Me, at 56.

I’m confused.