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How about a cup?

In spite of the ubiquitous coffee houses and chains in 2020 United States of America, I have concluded that the coffee drinking habit that I enjoyed for many years has all but vanished from our social scenes. On a weekly (often daily) basis, I had one or more of my contacts – business, social, personal, family or otherwise – contact me to join them for a cup of coffee. At this point, I can remember only one occasion in October when that took place.

Some of that phenomenon may be associated with my relocation from Denver where I lived for thirty years. With that base, I had many more people who were likely to get in touch and ask to share a cup of caffeine and conversation. One of my most cherished friends and I have spent countless hours sharing some coffee and indescribable moments. Except for him, however, the coffee social engagement is seriously absent.

Think about all the jobs you’ve held in the past ten, twenty, thirty or more years. If you’re at all like me, many of those jobs and their hiring moments were heavily associated with coffee drinking. One of them quickly comes to mind. In this case, my insurance consultant position linked me with a manager who would invite me to go to the local coffee joint at least two or three times a week for the years we shared a workplace.

While I have no need or desire to contribute to the Starbuck, Caribou or other coffee chain incomes, I do miss the unique camaraderie associated with, “Let’s go grab a cup of coffee.” Yes, I acknowledge that I am a serious coffee drinker who has gone to the trouble and expense of grinding my beans every day. But this is way beyond that status.

Maybe I don’t have the right folks in my life right now. If I were still in Denver, I can immediately conjure ten people whom I could call to join me for a coffee connection. Seems to me that I need to get busy at re-establishing the network of those who appreciate my hobby and favorite habit. It’s well worth perpetuating. Shalom.

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Jeans

Looking around in a restaurant, I recently speculated on the eternal and ubiquitous presence of jeans. While we can call them a number of ways, they are the one fashion item that is always visible, regardless of the social context or demographic.

What is it about jeans that make them the acceptable or preferred clothing for everyone? We see them in restaurants, theatres, movies, schools, workplaces and everything in between. They are in cities and farms, small towns and large cities and on the bodies of the whole range of incomes, from rich to poor.

It was reported recently that jeans have been replaced in elementary schools by leisure or active wear. While I see these, especially where jeans are prohibited every day except Friday, they never seem to achieve the popularity of their predecessors.

In terms of history, jeans have been around since 1873 and were invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss. The name was derived from the city of Genoa, Italy, where jean was first produced. But what is it about our jeans (blue jeans, dungarees, overalls, jeggings, etc.) that makes them so universally accepted?

They are less expensive than most pant products, unless you opt for the high-end very glitzy versions. Jeans are comfortable, durable, versatile and can be worn in virtually any setting by dressing them up and down. We see them being worn by seniors, Baby Boomers, millennials, children, toddlers and babies. Other than underclothing (sometimes optional????), this is the only item of clothing that has been consistently popular.

My feeling is that we all feel comfortable and acceptable in our favorite pair of jeans. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I was not allowed to have jeans while living at home and the first thing I did when arriving at my college venue was journey to the local Army/Navy surplus store. In those days, it was imperative that jeans were tight-fitting and I remember lying on the store floor in order to zip the chosen item. That process has since been deleted.

We’ve progressed quite a bit since those days but I still pick my well-worn jeans for weekends and after school. There is no need to question that tradition, especially because I think it’s a venerable one. Shalom.

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Courage

For reasons that I can’t completely explain, I’ve been thinking about the word “courage.” Like so many other power words, courage suggests many people and events to me. The first of these is our American flag, the stripes of which are red, representing valor, another word for courage.

Teaching children courage is not part of any curriculum that I’ve seen; more importantly, it falls under the heading of life choices and values that are the underpinning of formal education. It takes courage to stand up to bullies and defeat their purposes. It also takes courage to get up and get out of bed each morning in order to get to school. If you’re less than competent at a subject or at school in general, the courage required to compete with other students is formidable.

 

Maybe it’s my Holocaust/World War II research that causes me to ponder the mysteries of courage. A particular type of courage is mandatory to stage a revolt in the Warsaw ghetto or in Treblinka. You know that you are unarmed, weak and disorganized, combatting a force that has put you in the state of incarceration and imminent death. Suffice it to say that I am in awe of this courage, as much as I attempt to face my life courageously.

We need to do a better job at commending our fellow citizens and our children at their displays of bravery. It takes guts to confront a bully, whether you are the bullied or not. It also takes bravery to stop in your tracks to find a new career or discipline because you’re unhappy or unfulfilled. And kudos to you for walking away from a relationship that is hurtful or abusive.

Thankfully, it’s been a while since we celebrated only those public personalities who were the best looking, had the most money or had the greatest performance talent. We must now continue to recognize those who had the discipline to stay with something until success occurred. This may be in the science laboratory, the operating room or the kindergarten playground.

Evidencing courage can only create more. And as one who has always cherished independence and being unafraid to voice my opinions, I must believe that our world can only benefit from those who are determined to stand up for themselves. Shalom.

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Before and after

Before we moved to New Mexico, I believed that –

The state was a huge desert.

There were more Indian reservations than unoccupied land.

We would be as isolated from our neighbors as we were in Colorado.

The school district would be less welcoming than in Colorado.

The student population would be primarily disadvantaged.

Albuquerque is a small town compared to those in which I have lived.

There would be no significant traffic.

 

One year later, I am pleased and delighted to discover that –

This is a diverse state full of mountains, hills, trees and magnificent sunsets.

There are a number of Indian reservations but traditional residential                    communities dominate.

Our neighbors have been friendly, communicative and eager to help.

The school district in which I teach is filled with friendly, committed staff.

Many of the schools in which I teach are in advantaged neighborhoods.

Albuquerque is still a smaller town than Denver or San Diego. But it is rich             in history, extraordinary restaurants and diverse cultures.

The traffic is substantial but manageable.

We have one of the highest crime rates in the country but our neighborhood is watchful and vigilant.

 

The Land of Enchantment is a wonderful, place that invites guests and new residents. My new musical endeavor is gratifying and enjoyable. And because snow here is a rarity, I awake almost every morning to brilliant blue skies and a lack of precipitation. The lesson, as always, is that visiting a place can never fully disclose its beauty. Shalom and the happiest of holidays, regardless of what you celebrate.

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Greetings of the season

Amid all of the acts of kindness, charity and goodwill that we observe during this and all holiday seasons, I find myself having more cautious reactions than normally to the holiday hype. The best example I can muster at this point is Black Friday, a holiday that was endlessly publicized for weeks before and after it took place. While I understand that people love bargains and want to buy something special for someone special, I find myself impatient with the endless advertising.

After Black Friday, we had Cyber Monday and Green Monday. While I’ve never measured the amount of advertising per television program as it compares to actual program content, I would wager that it is close to equal. Before and after programming, we have every organization in our world advertising for the holidays, including insurance companies, car dealers, loan sharks and wig stores.

Please be assured that my frustration has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that this is not my holiday. By no means do I want the celebrations to end nor do I feel that people ought to treat those who don’t celebrate Christmas any differently than the rest of the population. But don’t you think that I have the right to wish someone (anyone?) a Seasons’ Greetings or Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas if I so choose?

Some people feel very strongly that those two expressions must be replaced with Merry Christmas or the entire spirit of Christmas is violated. Before I object, I admit that my perspective is impacted by the fact that I don’t celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas. But I do have the right to choose my words of greeting or seasonal best wishes.

In any case, for fear of sounding like the ultimate bah humbug curmudgeon, I have just finished wrapping what seem like mounds of packages and completing a stack of holiday cards to friends and family. What I suppose that I am requesting is good taste, both in advertising and everyday courtesy. If you choose the holiday season as a political or religious discrimination venue, it doesn’t matter what religion you follow – you’re tasteless. And on the other side of the equation, I am just fine with any kind greeting that you may send my way. Shalom.

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Sacred space

Driving through Arizona on a less-traveled, two-lane highway affords a luscious assortment of sights. In addition to the mountains, the bountiful cacti are a delight. Saguaros are everywhere, as are prickly pears. And the Joshua trees redefine our notions of trees.

Unfortunately, this vast, pristine beauty is contaminated by the trash of thoughtless travelers. Stopping to snap some photos, we observed a large space that was covered with debris, ranging from plastic and glass bottles to discarded rags and paper of every variety.

My first thought is about the homes in which these inconsiderate slobs dwell. Maybe some are quite tidy. They wait until they are in a public space to unload unwanted items.  Or maybe they live in trash heaps and feel justified in recreating their domestic worlds. In either case, I resent defacing our environment with unsightly junk.

At no time, in no space, have I ever tossed trash out of my car (or home) window. When I see signs posted regarding penalties for littering, I always wonder if any are ever issued.

If you ever make the unfortunate decision to litter while in my space, it is likely that you will hear a protest from me. Yes, I realize that doing so could result in a compromise to my physical safety. But this vast and indescribably wonderful country does not deserve to be defaced.

We are all responsible for the world we occupy, including keeping it free of junk. For as long as I have the ability to assist others in preserving and treasuring our land, I will passionately do so. Shalom.

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Lessons

One of my primary objectives as an educator is to learn something while I am in the process of promoting learning. The best part of that is the fact that my students are usually unknowing of the wisdom that they are purveying.

First example: Watching kids on the playground, I see a child rolling around in the dirt. He’s wearing an expensive outfit that has Nike insignias on it. His message is, “I’m having fun, regardless of what I’m wearing” or its logo.

The next lesson was from a larger child, probably a fifth grader. It was still recess but he was disinterested in running around or swinging from metal devices. He was lying on his stomach, totally unaware of his peers, engrossed in a math lesson. To me, he’s hope for the future of our intellectual communities.

Another playground participant was thoroughly involved in a series of gymnastic moves on the equipment. What was unusual about her was her (unfortunate) obesity. She was either too young, too self-confident or too oblivious to the peer pressures of many fifth graders to care that her potbelly was hanging for all to see. Maybe it’s an advantage to act without caring who’s looking.

And finally, there was my young man from a class that I taught several weeks ago. As we all left the classroom at that time, he had hugged me and stated without reservation, “I am so glad that I had the chance to meet you.”

Today he ran up to me in the cafeteria as I was preparing to leave the school. He called out to me and asked if I remembered his name. Of course I did, a fact that pleased him very much. As we parted, I told him that he was a remarkable young man and that he must never let anyone tell him differently. Then I assured him that I would never forget him, to which he replied with total conviction, “I am the son of an Army captain!” That pretty much says it all. God bless these United States of America. Shalom.

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Timeless

What is it about traveling down a highway or state or county road with no other traffic that’s so memorable? You’re free of tailgaters and dawdlers behind and ahead of you. But there’s something far more meaningful in the journey.

For one, it removes all obstructions between the magnificent vistas and me. Depending on the time of day and cloud quantities, the mountains are purple, beige, pink or brown, along with the deep, delicious leafy trees.

Along with that, you can pay more attention to the sights along the road We have the Busy Bee Cafe, Crazy Beaver Bar and Grill, bowling alley and miles of roadside sunflowers. If you’re fortunate, you can spot live wildlife. We see antelope, raccoons, migrating birds and various flavors of deer. The farm and ranch critters are entertaining as well. Horses appear in many sizes and a wide range of hues. Cattle are also interesting, especially if you can spot calves grazing while warily staying near a grownup.

Ultimately, the cars and trucks and RVs and motorcycles are intrusions. The mountains and fields preside, altering their shades, shapes and sizes. Happily, most of them are immune to human contamination.

Driving through America is always part education, part awe for this country’s diversity and timeless splendor. While the occasional wildfire may clear an area of tall trees, bushes and saplings erupt, reminding us that nature always prevails.

The same lesson applies to changes in season – while the spring and summer growth is plush and golden with exploding lushness, fall and winter emphasize the evergreens that are tall, stately and resistant to all of nature’s whims.

Whatever you see is better than Dodge tailpipes or political bumper stickers. Our human contraptions and contrivances never compare to our surroundings – a fact never clearer than when you have the road’s glory to yourself. Shalom.

 

If I may assist you with your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure and privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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Abundance

What is it about cornfields that inspires and invigorates me? While every plant is unique, every one of them stands tall, welcoming the sun and contributing its presence to the corn community in which it stands.

It seems to me that the acres of corn are symbols of the land of America on which they are planted. It also enriches me to find beauty in the familiar or fundamental realities.

While I don’t think that I’ve ever walked through a cornfield, I would love to do so. Being vertically challenged, I suspect that it would be easy to get lost in the stalks and surround myself with their green, leafy majesty. My guess is that they smell earthy and corny, as they work hard to produce their cobs of delicious kernels.

Corn’s little neighbors, soybeans, are equally prolific and energetic. As soy products have become more popular, these crops have proliferated. They are short but mighty, lending their dark green color and density to vast acres of this country. As is the case with corn, the soybeans work diligently to produce their offspring and feed the occupants of this world.

What’s the point of this, you ask? For one, it’s the process of finding the extraordinary in the mundane. But beyond that, the richness of these fields is as powerful a sight as a crowd of Americans who gather for a cause in which they believe.

There aren’t too many parts of this wonderful, vibrant country that I don’t find majestic. Having grown up in a very large city, I am as comfortable in Chicago as I am in small mountain or country villages. You could conclude that I’m simply proud of being an American, cherishing its peaks, valleys, landmarks and cornfields with the same zeal. Shalom.

 

If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure and privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

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A broken fork

The lunch alternatives were few, once you deleted fast food and travel centers. Our choice was about a mile off the highway and the number of cars in the parking lot suggested that this was a popular local eatery.

Entering the restaurant, no tables were either cleaned or unpopulated, so we stood briefly, and the owner came by and cleaned a table. Our server eventually arrived to take our orders, after we waited for menus, drinks and silverware.

While I spend no time as a restaurant critic, it soon became obvious that this would not evolve into a cherished eating place. Floors were seriously dirty; food was absolutely mediocre and our orders took at least thirty minutes to arrive. Admittedly, the prices were reasonable, and our lunches totaled less than $18.

Amazingly, the patrons kept coming through the doors. Their standards were apparently quite low, or their options were few. As we were finishing our meal, I noticed a large wooden spoon and fork hanging from one of the walls. One of the tines of the fork was missing.

No-one thought to remove or replace it and it occurred to me that it was a symbol of this diner’s eating attempts that were missing a vital component – a tine or a commitment to quality. We’ll do better next time and as we drove out of town, we noticed at least two alternatives that probably had neither broken forks nor a nonchalant approach to cuisine. Shalom.

 

If I may assist with any of your writing endeavors, it will be my pleasure and privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.