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Pull Up a Chair

4:55 am in climate change, Culture, Environment by Ruth Calvo

Snow is my scenery, and source of the water.

(Picture courtesy of Ruth Calvo, back yard.)

Please don’t hate me because I have well water.  As many of you know, I’ve made the move in the dead of winter from Texas to northwestern Pennsylvania. It’s a lovely change, and lately I even am getting my wish to have snow all around, on the trees and on the ground. The effect is soothing as long as I’m not having to drive long distances in it, and the good effects on crops in spring is much to be wished for.

When you are on well water, it’s pure and fresh, and there’s no wasting it – provided you’re not in a water table that’s been ruined by fracking. I’m on a family’s longtime farm and the water is incredibly good.

It wasn’t the reason for my choice, of course, but how many of us have been able to experience this kind of luxury? Do you ever wonder about your own needs for water, and how it can be supplied in your future?

A good friend that I visited this summer with spudtruckowner, who shares his home with me now, lives in Portland OR.  There much news is addressing the potential for losing their water supply for months, if the overdue earthquake happens to them.    Of course, the constant rain there makes it less than catastrophic, but the same situation in our drought-stricken areas would be very serious.

Driving here I came through Oklahoma, then Arkansas and Missouri, where winter usually sees the lakes refill after the hot summer, but it’s not happening this year at the rate usually experienced and water tables are below normal.   Some of our Great Lakes are at their lowest ebb on record.

While growing crops is not an activity most of us depend upon, we all enjoy the effects of sufficient water that produces our vegetables, and goes on to feed our herds.   Have you been taking any measures to cut your use of water?   I recall many years ago when we all were being asked to fill toilet tanks with something solid to lower our water use.   A marble collection I used went forgotten when we sold the house, and I still joke about knocking on the door someday and announcing that I lost my marbles.

We are used to water shortages in the SW.   Have you been to the desert, and did you get the warning before you drove through it, to take a lot of water along?    When cars weren’t generally air-conditioned we drove at night out of safety considerations, as well as for comfort.   A friend of my youth loved to drive out of Corpus Christi at night, to the wonderful sight of oil refineries lighted up like a big festival.

I’m used to keeping a week’s supply of quart jugs full of water, in case of a tornado.   Here that won’t be necessary.   While I still shut off the water to brush my teeth, it’s no longer part of everyday conservation needs.

Have you become more conscious of saving the planet’s fresh water over the years?   In our childhood we weren’t conscious of our own role in making our lives livable.   That’s changed for me, I don’t use a lot of plastic, and I cut down my use of daily water, plus I avoid packaging for natural substances and food.   We’ve all have done this sort of readjustment.

I’m still restraining use of water, and wonder if I’ll ever get used to having enough, and all of it good.   Yes, I’m having a wonderful time learning.

Do you have unexpected good things you learn to live with?

Pull Up a Chair

4:53 am in Culture by Ruth Calvo

Jolly Green Truck

This week I am the owner of a monster truck. At least it seems like that to me.

Through a series of events, and needing something I can use to carry large household items in, I found and had this baby (pictured above) fixed up. Now I’m feeling a tiny bit overwhelmed.

Many of the things we learned growing up were roles we play as girls or as boys, and something about opening the hood of a truck is just intimidating.  Yes, I can find the oil, and add water, and even windshield washer fluid.  This is a pretty basic engine, too.   It just isn’t natural to me, though, and I think many of the things that we might do perfectly easily are things we weren’t at ease with, because we learned to be dependent on others to do them.  I know Margaret has worked with those engines that just scare me, and is totally at ease in them. What an advantage we have when we get comfortable doing things that not too many ages back were not “women’s” or “men’s” roles.

I talk to fathers online who are at perfect ease in the kitchen, taking on daily cooking for their families.  We trade recipes with nonquixote, and know his daughter knows that her meals will be ready and healthy because he takes care of that.  When I look into the motor of my truck, I’m probably having something of the kind of moment men first have when they take on that job.

I remember being amazed to learn that my father- in-law of long ago got up in the morning, ground and made the coffee in that household.

A few months ago, I visited some of his relatives with spudtruckowner, south of here in Texas.  One of the relatives is a police officer and while we were there I was asked to help out by sewing a patch onto his uniform that was loose. I was happy to do it, but it makes me smile. I’m a woman, so I sew things. How many men actually would not hesitate to pick up needles and thread and sew things? Some things like taking out the trash, we may turn to the men for.

Living alone, of course, there is no choice. What you don’t do doesn’t get done. Paying the bills was men’s stuff when I was growing up, and naturally without being able to do that I’d be in big trouble. I do wonder if my father, or yours, would have been comfortable paying them online? There are a couple I don’t have online, color me spooky, but I have reservations about doing a few things online; also, I check in with other offices when I pay county and city taxes and utilities.

Okay, lay it on me. What about that monster truck?   And what do I not know, and need to know, to take care of it? I’m thinking I want to give it a nice, mammoth trunk and tusks. Maybe it would feel more like my own if I do.

Photo by Ruth Calvo.

Pull Up a Chair

4:55 am in Culture by Ruth Calvo

Our votes at play.

(Picture courtesy of Coventry City Council photostream at

Good morning, firepups, I think we’ve earned a right to celebrate a real milestone victory today. Many of us have been involved in the election we just had the pleasure (for most of us anyway) of winning, and this PUAC gets a special dispensation. Talk about your election experience, today.

What did this election mean to you? For my part, I am relieved that the President was returned to office, even though I live in an area that saw complete rejection of progressive ideals. I credit voter suppression for waking up voters throughout the country. Early voting here turned out long lines, and the people in line with me on the first day of early voting were an amalgamation of types not usually seen at the Chamber of Commerce here in flyover land, North Texas. What did you see at your polls?

Hearing the losing side blame Hurricane Sandy for votes cast for supporting those leftie institutions, FEMA and Red Cross, gives me a real charge. Seeing divine intervention against themselves, now there’s your ultimate admission of guilt. What are your best laughs about the losses our corporate welfare promoters experienced on election day?

It’s not sheer politics to talk about what we did, and what we learned that we need to do, to take our gains forward. Did you do actual groundwork, community service like making phone calls and knocking on doors, to get out the vote?

Giving positive messages to the people you see most, comments about what we need from leadership, even criticism about offenses like voter suppression are a guidance we also are able to give, to encourage our contacts to make a good choice when they go to the polls. Talking online, emailing with your friends, encouraging those less engaged to see what their vote means, those are helpful too. Thanks, I think your country is better off for that help.

Now that we’ve gotten through this election, one that was particularly fraught with the possibility of disaster, what can we do to make the gains we’ve made work toward continued good?

Have you ever served your community or local government? Most work on those local bodies is done by volunteers, and it might be a very good time to check into what openings are out there.

I did a volunteer stint on the Commission on Arts and Humanities in Maryland, when I lived there, reviewing the activities presented for funding by various arts bodies in the state. We found out that the majority of funds were being used in one city that had placed a large number of representatives on the various arts committees, and regions in outlying areas got no more than token grants. Those of us from the neglected areas organized hearings to distribute funds more evenly, and brought in representatives from many theatre, literature and arts groups around the state to make a claim for fairness. While all of us wouldn’t be comfortable agitating for fairness, when public funds are involved it can make us act uppity for the right things. Yes, we did get a more fair distribution of the taxpayers’ funds.

There are boards in local government for planning, development, libraries, schools – how about taking a look at your local government openings for volunteers. You can be a public servant, and don’t even have to be such a troublemaker as I can be.

When we see the push against simple fairness that we’ve experienced during the drive to this last election, we have to get involved in some way. Here at Firedoglake we’re staying informed, and making our voices heard. Thanks for your positive influence. Spreading it around is vital to this country’s future as a bastion of democracy, a democracy that will always work against those who want to pervert it to their own gain.

(Picture courtesy of ennuislife at

Polling place in Chicago

Pull Up a Chair

3:54 am in Culture by Ruth Calvo

Snake Oil

(Picture courtesy of opacity at

Recently I ran up against an exercise of ‘salesmanship’ that I suppose we all encounter a lot, reminding me there are lots of ways of making a living we can be glad not to have to practice. Usually when we go shopping for something, we’ve a need to fill. Sadly, there are some among us who have gotten themselves into a bind that makes them go about misrepresenting what they’re charged with getting us to think we need.

I am thinking about buying a small truck since I do a lot of traveling. It would be safer on the highways than my tiny compact car, and I could take more with me and thus do more extensive traveling – and also pack more too. I did a run by a local grocery store parking lot where the back area has long been an informal flea market for people selling their old cars.

I took down a few numbers and then asked a friend with some knowledge of mechanics to help out. One of the little trucks seemed overpriced for what it was, but the seller told my friend all sorts of really amazing qualities the truck had that made the price seem reasonable. The truck sounded like a great find.

I thought it over, and a couple of days later I went back by the market area. To my total shock, there were now three different little trucks of that variety, one even with dealer plates, that the guy was now selling. The person I’d taken for an owner seeking one sale appeared to be a used car salesman using the place to push his goods – masquerading as an enthusiastic owner turning over his own car/truck.

It may be a good little truck, but I have to wonder about someone doing a job that makes him need to misrepresent yourself.

I admit I personally never suffered so much sheer need that I took a job pushing something that was useless or bad for people. Having to fool someone so I could make my own living could be pretty destructive I realized. Have you found yourself being pushed into doing something that was all about selling others on something they didn’t really need -or want?

I do remember a family member who was out of work who answered an ad for salespeople for vacation time shares. The sales manager who interviewed him told him a sad truth about what he’d be doing. He asked “Can you meet up with a sweet old person and take something he doesn’t need, doesn’t want, and can’t afford, and shove it up his ***?” That’s the description of sales at its worst that stays with me to this day when I see something of questionable value being dangled before me as great stuff to have.

There are sales gimmicks that become legend, and I’ve heard about the sales of the alcohol laden elixir Hadacol since I was a little girl. In small town U.S.A., during a previous age, salesmen went door to door selling the famous energizer to unsuspecting housewives as just-what-you-wanted-to-give-you-a-lift when you felt poorly. The resulting rehabilitation of addicted housewives turned the art of selling snake oil into a bad joke on whole communities.

Have you gone looking for something you needed only to find that you were being sold a ‘bill of goods’?

We mostly have been fortunate enough to never have had to push anything really bad to make a living. I don’t know if I could, but haven’t been forced to, either.

I ran into a lot of bad feelings some time back when I was working on the campaign of a longtime friend. We went to a training session for campaign work, and I commented publicly that I thought the really important part of the business was choosing a candidate that was worth electing. Oops. That was not supposed to be said aloud, I guess. We were supposed to be learning about selling, not producing.

Have you found yourself being asked to sell what you felt uncomfortable about?

I really do need those velvet dice to hang on the rear view mirror, though.

Pull Up a Chair

3:53 am in Culture by Ruth Calvo

There was a great full moon last night, and I do hope you got out to enjoy it. You may have read that this is the last blue moon before July 2015, if you think a blue moon happens when two full moons occur in a month, which happened just last night. But blue moon has more than one meaning. It is sometimes the second full moon in the month, or it can be the fourth in a season (which usually is three months so a year has three), but in any case, it doesn’t happen often.

The seasons can have more than one meaning too, depending on your experience. In N.TX. where I  live, the summer is punishing, and I don’t like to see it come along.   Even though there are pleasant associations with vacation, it’s just too hot for me to enjoy, and closing up the windows is not greeted with pleasure.  I much prefer September, happening today, and am so happy to see the Harvest Moon coming, at the end of this month.

There’s a beginning of fall here in PA, where I’ve been visiting all summer. The leaves at the tips of the trees are turning.  That’s something that always makes me glad.   Of course, usually I don’t live where the cold is a problem.   When I hear people talking about the fall being a sad time, harbinger of winter, it’s surprising to me. Of course, my Texas winter doesn’t really start until January and lasts about two-three months.

When fall comes here, in NW PA, the windows close down. In N. TX., where I live and where I will be returning in a very few weeks, the windows can go up.  I escaped the bad times, the heat dome that toasts the N.TX. area during summers, and I am so happy that I did.

Fall may be the time for planting, especially for putting in my iris tubers and spring blooming plants. It’s the time I always look forward to cooling off enough that I can go out and take walks, breathe the cool air, even get some sun.    Here up in the north, it’s about bringing in crops, especially the wonderful sweet corn.

When I spent a summer in Maine, I heard that there were two seasons – winter and August. When I lived on Okinawa as a child, I didn’t have winter at all.

Is fall something you look forward to, or does it make you dread the cold to come? Or is it the heat of summer you want to see leaving now, after a particularly nasty one?

We all have something we’d like to consign to once in a blue moon, and make that seldom as possible.  My choice of season to have least of is the summer.

Last night's blue moon

Pull Up a Chair

3:55 am in Culture, Environment by Ruth Calvo

Have you had the pleasure of introducing someone to our vast western lands who is from the East and never experienced it before? That’s been a real treat for me.  As most of you know, I’ve been on a trip with a friend, visiting other friends, and have driven from Pennsylvania to Texas, then on to Oregon through what are presently dry western states, with occasional smoke from wildfires.

Have you been on a real, lifesized, road trip? This was one, and it added immense amounts of experience for all of us. The idea has appealed to me since having a few expeditions with friends that were shorter, and with less expansive scenery. While it’s always great to see the amazing sights our world offers, having some friends along can be added fun. I do recommend that if you can, you try it.

If you have only seen pictures, you haven’t seen the vastness of our deserts and mountains, either. Standing there for yourself is an experience like no other I know.  They don’t call it “Big Sky Country” for nothing.

Of course, there are other really amazing experiences that a person has to have for themselves. If you’ve never been to the ocean, and sailed on it, you really ought to. While I’ve never been in a wetsuit and skin diving, I have family and friends who tell me I should. Going to Machu Picchu is out of the question, as I could never make the climb, but that’s another experience that looks like it ought to be added to your life, if you can manage it.

Where have you been that ought not to be missed? Do you have pictures, and would you like to share them?

Everyone I talked to along the way has agreed that they’d seen the pictures, but until they actually stood there with the incredible scenery of our western lands around them, they hadn’t seen it.

Family trips are great, too, but I find that as an adult, with adults, the experience of finding stirring beauty in our surroundings resonates a bit more. We’ve been parents, or the ‘adult in the room’, and while it has good points, I think it has the effect of making us teach when sometimes it can be better to learn. It may be that kids are too perfect a foil, and everything makes them awestruck. For me, at least this time, experiencing things as an individual made things strike home.

Age may have something to do with this trip, as well, as I’m sure when I see things I quite likely won’t see them again. You may not be where I am, in being retired and doing things that were always on my mind that I needed to do sometime, and now is that time.

I do hope you get there, wherever it is that you really, deeply want to go. Read the rest of this entry →

Pull Up a Chair

3:55 am in Culture by Ruth Calvo

Returning Honor to His Name

A lot of you know I was offline last weekend because I had a great chance to go visit the American Native Museum the Smithsonian has located on the Mall in Washington, DC. Most of you also know I’m an archaeology nut/addict/enthusiast. My heritage is fascinating to me, and I adopt all the heritage I can dig up, or that has been dug up for me.

On my first visit to the exhibits there, on the native tribal cultures we found on this continent, I was struck particularly by description of the collections that did not pretend they were come by honestly. On labels to exhibits of potlatch gifts, the admissions that they had been confiscated from the tribes because of objections to their religions and practices were a pleasant surprise. Being honest about our errors is not a common human tendency, and I am delighted curators were up to that information being given to the public.

On this visit, I really was impressed to find an admission that a chief’s name had been mistranslated. For years our histories talked about “Young Man Afraid of His Horses,” the name that should have given him honor used instead to demean a tribal leader. Tosunka Kokipapi (Tȟašúŋke Kȟokípȟapi) means that his horses struck fear in others’ hearts instead.

What sort of history did you learn in school and from the things you studied that you’ve been able to correct and learn right when you came across the true story? Have you learned something from research or from things you came across that showed you a completely different story or background than what you believed previously?

It’s easy to think of something we were taught as being the whole story. I went to high school in Virginia and remember being taught that the Civil War was fought because of economic abuse by the north, and I was made indignant at our southern sufferings.

Yesterday I read a letter written home in 1851 to the family I’m visiting, about an experience by a young woman who’d traveled to Bonham, Texas, about half an hour away from where I now live. She had seen a beating of an older black man by a woman who owned him, who she made furious by telling her that her behavior was not Christian. Her handwritten letter talked about facts, and belied what I was taught as a student. I’m incredibly glad to find true experiences that give me insight from all directions, but this is so close a revelation in my own immediate family and friends that it’s earthshaking in ways.

Have you learned from surprising coincidences, from close family and friends’ sharing their stories with you, something valuable in your own life and experience?