Tuesday, June 28, 2011

El Centro

Today we went to El Centro. It is just what it says. The center of town, just down the hill from La Plaza de Simon Bolivar, the historical plaza present in every town colonized by Spaniards and now dedicated to the great liberator of northern South America.

I like going to El Centro. It’s so... Bogotan! There are more people packed into those 3 or 4 city blocks than in the entire state of NM, I think. I’m still a little scared to go by myself, but I really wanted an ollita, a small pitcher shaped pot used here mostly to make hot chocolate. And my companions were after other bargains because that’s what El Centro is - streets lined with stores and vendors of daily things - not artsy and not meant to be anything “typical” of the culture - just cheap daily things. But I bought a thing to juice oranges or lemons, too, for 75 cents. It’s not really a daily need in the U.S. I found my ollita, which I never found at home, for $4. I saw a great cast iron griddle (the kind you cook tortillas on), but resisted the temptation to pay $10 because I didn’t want to carry it home. Keep in mind - 9 out of 10 of the kitchen stores are lined up together, across the street from 9 out of 10 of the clothing stores, and around the corner from 9 out of 10 of the shoe stores. Makes price comparison a lot easier! Anyway, El Centro may be bargain center, but for me, it personifies Latin America, where costs are costs, not results of a huge chain of people passing merchandise. The same vendor that calls you to buy (a la orden! a la orden! resounds throughout the street) may sell at half the price.

Which brings me back to the people. I stood for a while at the entrance to one store, watching people. Keep in mind the entrances are garage doors that have been raised. The aisles inside are one person wide, the sidewalks outside lined with carriers of merchandise, including blankets with lottery tickets spread across. I watched a few people bicycle, some homeless men digging through the trash for food or something they might possibly recycle, two or three taxis fighting their way through the hoards of people in the street, where a man would open the door for his wife, pile in her 6 or 8 black plastic bags, and give the driver directions. Carts drove - well, were pulled or bicycled - up and down the street, filled with fresh cut mango and pineapple in plastic glasses, or bottles of “Big Cola.” One gentleman entered with bags of pork rinds hanging from a stick, calling out for someone to buy. Women who clearly were tired of being mothers and appeared tired of life in general dragged their dirty toddlers down the street beside couples in suits and heels. The police are more spread out in El Centro, two or three with arms in holsters on every street, but usually hanging out together.

It’s sad in some ways. I didn’t dare bring out my camera, though I desperately wanted pictures. Being robbed here is not that unexpected. On the other hand, I wonder if in America we’ve veiled ourselves from real life. We’ve robbed people of the chance to make a living by their own ingenuity and labor and masked the problem of poverty with band-aids of food stamps and health care. And how often do all of rub shoulders in search of... anything?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ten Ways to REALLY Annoy Your Child's Teacher

(I was going to say the top ten, but I'm learning more every year).

10. Ask if your child is the only one who gets in trouble in the classroom.

9. When told that your child has disrupted a quiet classroom, ask why the teacher thinks this is abnormal.

8. Explain to teacher that your child’s bad behavior/academic struggles are due to his insecurities about being in the classroom.

7. Lose tests and report cards which students are told to return to school with a signature.

6. Call teacher's cell phone at 10:00 p.m. because your child just started her homework and can’t find her spelling list. (Teachers believe children should be sleeping at 10 p.m. on school nights).

5. Do not sign the agenda sent home every night (do not look for said spelling list in agenda, though it is written there weekly) then complain about poor communication.

4. Respond with “OK, Uh-huh,” to all of the teacher’s weekly phone calls, including agreements to sign said agenda; do not sign, but complain about poor communication.

3.Request homework for child’s absences, or request that teacher gather and list work not completed in class, then send child to school with said homework, not begun.

2. Request extension for said homework, then send child to school with said homework, not begun, or without said homework at all, ever.

1. Continue process for incomplete work, then question why child’s grades are low; be sure to attribute this to the teacher’s poor communication.

Monday, June 6, 2011

On family history, domesticity and life that is REAL SIMPLE

“Who’s this?”

Laughing, I looked over as I picked up my three year old nephew who was bending down the corners of his hat and explaining that “me with Gra’pa.”

It was a friend of my parents speaking, a gentleman I’d only met once before. I’m sure he had more questions than that one. We were standing outside a set of wire and panel corrals that formed a corner in the pasture. Inside, 150 head of bawling mother cows were milling about, looking for their babies, or a place of escape. I’d just dismounted so my dad could use his “good horse” for separating calves from cows. Unsure about mounting his colt, I left Dad with my two brothers and the neighbor and instead climbed the fence with my 6 year old nephew to greet the variety of spectators and participants who’d come to stand along the fence of the dusty corral and wonder when they could enter.

I introduced Ryan to the gentleman, trying to explain the various family relationships. Ryan’s “Gra’pa” was actually his great-grandfather, Ryan’s mother was the lady bringing the trailers and she was married to one of my brothers; yes, the other little boy belonged to them, too. The gentleman asked how we all managed to be there to help with this branding. I thought a moment.

“Well. This is what we do for Easter. So it’s the one holiday where we all come home and get together. We think it’s fun. And it’s usually on my dad’s birthday so that’s nice, too.”

“You are so blessed,” he responded. “What a family history.”

I hadn’t thought about it that way. It is a history, a legacy of time, commitment, and shared experiences that families are looking for these days. Most people have to plan some sort of get-away, a vacation, in order to unite family members who are all going their own way. I read about it. I read in Real Simple how to make memories that last. I don’t think my parents every consciously tried, but here we were.

I thought about it several times that day - when my little brother’s horse bucked him off so my big brother got on to teach him how to do it. When both were mounted on bucking horses and my dad was standing trying to figure out how to convince them to try it another day, another way. When Ryan came to sit with me while I flanked a calf and 6 yr. old Logan stood with his Mumzie (my mom) helping him place the branding iron in position under the brand Grandpa had just placed. When my sister-in-law and I successfully “thunked” a big calf... When all of us lamented the unusual absence of my sisters, who happened to be away this time.

A family history, yes, and a history based on - work. Time. Together. Working.

That’s simple. In branding, we all come together, we’ve always come together, to work. I read the magazine, Real Simple, every time I go to the chiropractor. Sometimes I moan to my dad about how complicated my life is, but when I read that magazine I think, “If that is a life that is “real simple,” mine must be not even worthy of definition.” They devote articles to ways to politely avoid phone calls and help children see favorite TV shows without interrupting family time. We use the off button on the TV - and I often leave my phone in another room if I’m busy with a face-to-face relationship. They offer meal planning so that as a busy young professional you are “not eating Chinese takeout 6 nights a week.” I find leftovers a great stand-by, take-out (not Chinese!) only a treat of traveling long distances. They suggest 2 minute ways to beautify your life. I really love looking out the window, or straightening a cluttered shelf. They offer relaxation techniques: herbal teas, bubble baths, wines. I’m pretty happy to sit in the rocking chair.

Simple is a comparative word, really. I wish life were simple. I wish I knew exactly what I would be doing a year from today, even a month. I wish I hadn’t had flight changes; I wish I could read people’s emotions when I know conversations aren’t flowing smoothly. Sometimes I even wish children were like machines that, if the same force is applied, they would always react in the same way. That would be simple.

But it’s not. Is there a simplicity that can be reached? What are we longing for that we read a magazine encouraging us to plant flowers or write a note? I wonder if it's the same joy I find in domesticity. At 8:00 pm tonight I walked in the house after planting vegetables in my flower bed (that’s simple!), my jeans covered with as much mud as was under my fingernails. I puzzled for a moment - concluding that I would shower BEFORE I cut the honeydew. I have a ladies’ Bible study group coming tomorrow night, so I washed the sinkful of dishes and decided that finishing the curtains for my classroom could wait until Wednesday. Domesticity is so... simple. My plants may not grow, but it will not be because I hurt their feelings. My curtains may not turn out, but at least they will not cost me a fortune to fix. And it’s easy to keep honeydew fresh in our modern refrigerated age. Unlike our modern age of a million paths to success and a technology for each, the actions of domesticity have an almost immediate, visible, and very predictable result.

Domesticity is like my family history. It’s the lost art of real living. It’s dealing with reality instead of theory. It’s the satisfaction in a job well done. Family history is made in face to face relationships, in seeing tangible results - just as the joy of domesticity is in that immediate, predictable outcome. Simplicity is the longing of the human soul to accomplish, to find joy without complication. That's what we have in family history, what I find in domesticity; I guess it's really just work. And relationships take work. Avoiding technology takes work. To relax fully, we first have to work. God gave Adam and Eve the task of caring for the garden long before they sinned; work was not part of the curse. Rather, real work, with a right attitude, is that which makes life

Real simple.