Monday, December 29, 2008

Back to the Basics on Christmas

So much has happened since I've last written, everything from President George Bush handily ducking shoes to Israel going nuts on the Gaza Strip. But, through all the political BS, here I am in the cold freeze of winter. I really recommend finding a cold climate to chill in for awhile, it really calms the hot nerves of uncertainty. Suddenly, keeping the house warm, the drive cleared, the chain saw and the generator ready, and the cupboard stocked are all that matter. Sharing with the neighbors and the extended family- from rides to recipes to snowplows to saws to sewing machines- becomes the focus, and the national news may not be turned on for days, depending on how much snow is falling.

This part of Northwest Montana doesn't have enough money to keep the roads as cleared as they do in New England, so it took a bit of getting used to. The family has spent more than two thousand dollars on three vehicles worth of snow tires to get us around safely this winter. But one broken bone in the hospital, caused by sliding off the road, would far exceed that, and we haven't slid off the roads, though lots of people have.
The economy out here has been trounced. The aluminum plant is shutting down, a sand and gravel and cement company has shut down, the plywood companies have laid off, the tooling companies have laid off, the subdividing and building business has slowed to an idle. People are sober and grim, especially young teens and college students. They've never heard their parents sound so desperate. For Christmas, we decided our major presents would be donations to some of the local institutions that are now faltering. We donated dozens of turkey Christmas dinners to the Samaritan House, the homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Kalispell. The director told me, after showing me the super clean facility, that there are 400 homeless people in Flathead County, most of them young couples with children.

We had a fun happy Christmas with a Charlie Brown tree cut from our property. The family came over for present opening, a turkey dinner and an afternoon of sliding with our nine year old granddaughter. We made a rule that you had to scream all the way down the hill. We didn't drive a mile. We didn't go see new movies that were opening. We didn't move from our own little world. How relaxing. As a challenge to being laid back, I wore my PJ's all day, even under my snow suit out in the fresh cold air.

The day after Christmas, we received the e-mailed announcement from Kazakhstan that our son and his wife had a successful court day, and were granted permission to adopt the little two-year old girl they have been visiting for three weeks. Now, their four year old boy will have a little sister. And I will have a new granddaughter. I cannot wait to meet her. What a wonderful piece of holiday news! She will be arriving in this country in a few weeks, and her new Grampie and I will be traveling to Cape Cod to welcome her. She's from a land that is as cold as it is here.
It's still snowing out there. The horses love it, they gallop around knee deep in soft white stuff, and the dogs come in dragging snowballs on their fur. We have boots, mittens, and snow pants drying in rotation. We have good books to read, and modest little jobs that will pull us through. And it is beautiful beautiful beautiful.
Check out Grampie sliding, below.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Good things and bad things

Don't be afraid to buy a tree for Christmas. They are a "green" cash crop, and the farmers that live near me are meticulous in their care of the trees. They've got the rotation down to a science, and I am amazed by the precision of different sizes of trees growing in different fields. These farm grown trees are much better for the planet than factory produced artifical trees, believe me.

Happy "I did it" day to me. I have completed my eighth edit on my first novel, and at last, after four years, I am satisfied and shopping for an agent. The work has left my little computer here in Bigfork, and been electronically transmitted to several agents in Manhattan. I now have visions of my novel flitting around the skyscrapers of Manhattan like a little yellow finch, and I wonder who is going to open the window and let it in. But, it is off. And so, I am moving on to the NEXT novel. In the meantime. . .

So much is happening! So many questions asked and answered. I couldn't sleep on Friday night, wondering if anyone in the nation could figure out what needed to be done to save us from a re-run of the Great Depression. And then our Pres To Be made his Saturday remarks on infrastructure and education and other avenues of redemption. And so, now I can sleep again, because Obama has named avenues, which I hope are open to travel soon.

In Montana. . . always a startling assortment of news. W.R. Grace has been on the front page lately. Yes, easterners, the W.R. Grace of A Civil Action, where John Travolta played high profile attorney Jan Schlichtmann. The chemical company was accused and found guilty of dumping toxic waste in Woburn, MA, and causing the poisoning of drinking water and the deaths of children. Remember that movie? 1999? Great movie.

Well. . . . some things you just don't move away from. Here in North West Montana there is a town named Libby. W.R.Grace had a vermiculite (sort of light and fluffy type of mineral related to asbestos) mine there, knew that the substance was dangerous, never told the miners, and bagged the stuff up and shipped it around the country as insulation, called Zonolite. I remember my Dad kneeling in the attic under and eaves and pouring bags of Zonolite down between the studs of our New England farmhouse. It was dusty. The mine was in operation for 70 years. The EPA knew all about it, too.

A government study that ended in 1998 showed that death by asbestos related causes was 40 to 80 times higher in Libby than expected. The cemetery was full of former miners and their family members. Two hundred deaths are attributed to the mine's activities. The whole town was covered with dust, you see. It took a major battle to have the place declared a super fund site, but it finally was, in 2001, by a reluctant publicty seeking governor. She had been so pro-industry and anti-people that she really had to be held to the fire and face the people of Libby.

Well, la de da, this past week a class action suit has been settled, and old WR will be paying out millions of dollars (140 million in all) to a trust fund to pay people who can prove and have the receipts and/or the empty bags that they used Zonolite in their homes, and their health has been damaged. The catch is, each family or household can only receive a maximum of around five thousand dollars. Our EPA has made no formal announcements that the time bomb of Zonolite has been poured into millions of homes across the US. You just have to know about it.

Other news from Montana: (sorry, but it seems to be all about death right now)

The full reintroduced and growing wolf pack in the Hog Heaven area, south west of Kalispell, had to be killed this week. They were hungry, and had killed cattle and llamas over the last two months. More than a dozen wolves were shot. There was no place to relocate them to, given the wolf growth across the state. Sad, but the ranchers aren't sad.

And finally, some good news about death. Montana just made history by being the third state in the nation (Washington and Oregon are the other two) to de-criminalize physician assisted suicide in the case of terminal illness. Ten years ago on Cape Cod, I remember how much my mother suffered for months after she couldn't even stand, couldn't even lift her hands up off her chest. And how she begged for mercy. But it was illegal to grant her wish, so she had to continue suffering in the most horrible manner as she died of lung cancer. And she never smoked. She just kept asking, "Why, why, why?" And so, BRAVO to Judge Dorothy McCarter, who issued her ruling on Friday that a mentally competent person who is terminally ill can now make a choice and die with dignity in the state of Montana. Of course, there will be a battle, and some people will want the suffering to continue. But, I am happy that finally, the legal system is beginning to see the light in realizing that it is inhumane to force people to go through extreme pain and debilitation at the end of their lives. Judge McCarter's decision was based on the right to privacy. The case had been brought by a man with terminal cancer who sued the state because he wanted to be able to make the choice as to when it would be the right time to die with dignity. BRAVO to the Judge.
It's been warm out here, with not much snow. That meant it was hard to track the deer during hunting season, which is now over. The deer take was down by 20 percent, the lowest take since 1997. (25,000 hunters with tags, 1543 deer taken, 147 elk) That means a lot of hungry deer will be munching in my yard this winter. Now if we could only get the wolves and the deer together. . . This management of large wild animals is quite the thing, and not easy. There are only about a million people here in the state, and the state is huge huge huge, and still, there can never be perfection.
The ski areas are not open yet. This is unheard of . . . the slowest snow start for over fifty years.
But. . . this weekend it is supposed to drop in temperature down to 35 degrees below zero. From 40 degrees today to there is a 75 degree drop that I don't want to be outside for. The water heaters are in the horse water, the barn is ready, I guess we are ready. Wow, Montana is really something.

Curious about Libby? Here's a good book:

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Snow on the mountain tippity tops

It's December, and the turkey left-overs have been vanquished. I'm really going to miss the cranberry sauce that Little Bear made. First she took the hand-picked wild cranberries that had been sent to her by her Provincetown grandmother. (Thanks, Gramie M., that made the day!)Then Little Bear made up her own recipe transforming the berries into a delicious strained cranberry sauce that she poured into a heart mold. The whole thing was carried out in top secrecy with her Grandpa Jim, but it involved boiling, lots of sugar, a pinch of nutmeg, a half teaspoon of cinnamon, and two or three strainings. It was the best cranberry sauce I've ever tasted.

I'm already planning to cook another turkey, but I don't think I'll be able to replicate my granddaughter's secret recipe for the cranberry sauce.

In the meantime, we have heard the news that another little one may soon join the Cape Cod side of our family. This news has been a possibility for quite some time, but now I am finally typing our hopes out on my keyboard. My son and his wife and their son have recently traveled from Cape Cod to Kazakhstan (in the former USSR) to visit an orphanage for several weeks. A child has been chosen- a little girl. If all goes well, my grandson will have a sister soon, and we will be an international family. I know there are red tape hurdles to jump, so we are thinking positive thoughts for all to go smoothly, and I will be buying a birthday present for a little two year old in January. So much to look forward to!

Temperatures: Here in Bigfork, Montana: 19 degrees F. Wellfleet, Massachusetts: 51 degrees and breezy. Kazakhastan: 19 degrees. The members of our family are all sharing the same temperature today, while back home on Cape Cod, the weather is impishly warm.

Bigfork, MT: We've got snow on the mountain tops up in back of our house- this is called the Swan Range, which is to the east of Flathead Lake and Valley. Very pretty. Pretty high. Pretty cold. But down here, no snow in my yard yet. Yet is the key word.