Helen of Marlowe's Blog

The Last Straw – or The Last Macaroon

Posted in "North Carolina", NC, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on March 27, 2012

A few weeks ago, my husband went for his morning walk, and came back home with a real live  Flannery O’Conner character.

Bob has a route that he takes, total round trip almost 3 miles. About a mile or so from our house is an apartment complex, but he doesn’t walk past it.  No particular reason, just that he stays on the main sidewalks.

So I’m out in the front yard pulling weeds. Bare hands. You might think that part about my bare hands is an insignificant distraction, but just wait –-

OK, I see my husband walking down the street, heading back home, and wonder about the red-headed boy walking beside him. He gets to the yard, says, Helen, this is Dillon.  Dillon lives in the apartments over on Del Monte.

Turns out Dillon had an opportunity to make $30 by mowing a neighbor’s yard – not a neighbor we know, one several blocks away. Bob said Dillon needed to borrow our lawnmower in order to mow a yard …

Next thing I know,  this stranger –well, Bob has known him 10 minutes– this stranger  is walking up the street pushing our lawnmower. A couple of hours later he brings it back, says thank you, and walks off into the sunset.

A few days later, I’m home alone and Dillon rings the doorbell. He really needs money, he’ll do anything, we must surely have some work for him. He suggested he could clean the gutters, and I asked how much he would charge. He said $25. I thought of my husband having to do that, thought that really, it probably is  a big job, and Dillon said the gutters look like they need cleaning…  so I said ok.  It took him 15 minutes! I gave him the $25, because a deal is a deal, but realized I should have asked him first how long it will take.

I make a mental note that I hope we don’t see this kid again, but I know there’s not much chance. So far we’ve lent him our lawnmower and paid him for a chore at the rate of $100/hour. He’ll be back.

A few days later, Bob and I are sitting on the front porch eating our black bean veggieburgers and sliced avocados, and Dillon walks up the steps, sits in a third rocking chair without being invited, and tells us he needs $45. Needs bus fare to visit his grandmother in Virginia. It’s about 3 pm, and that’s not an insignificant detail either.

We don’t need any work done. Jeff has helped me with heavy yard work for years, and Doug mows the grass. But seeing that he’s not likely to leave happily, I ask him how much he charges per hour. He says, Whatever you want to pay. I said, Last time you were here I paid you $25 for fifteen minutes. He says, Oh, yeah, sorry about that. And he says he’ll work for $20 an hour. Except that really, I don’t see anything that I want him to do. And if he needs $45, that’s more than than two hours worth of work that he’s asking for and we don’t need anything done.

Well, we’re not heartless, so next thing I know, I’m handing him a bow saw and showing him some wayward limbs. He (sort of) finishes that in ten minutes, and then asks if I’d bring him a glass of water. I go in to get the water, and then show him where I’ve been weeding, pulling weeds, tossing them into a bucket, and carrying them out to the compost pile. He can help me with that, although I’d rather be finishing my black bean veggieburger and then working on my own plans that I had for the day.

Dillon says he really would rather not do weeding, if that’s ok, because he has no gloves and he’s afraid of spiders, and besides he’s needing to get to the bus station by 4:30. And by the way, would I mind going in to my computer and ordering his ticket for him? This is getting to be a bit unsettling, but next thing I know I’m out telling him that I went to the website and didn’t see any place to reserve a ticket without a credit card, and besides, he is supposed to work for two hours and he came here at 3 pm and he expects to be on a bus at 4:30? And he still has to walk home? He says maybe we could take him home, but he still has to pack, but that won’t take long. He has no way to get home, and he won’t get there in time to pack if he has to walk. I asked him how he plans to get to the bus station, and he said, Do you think you could drive me?

I’m totally out of my league here. It seems I’ve agreed to pay him $45 to work for two hours between 3:00 and 4:00 pm (but not weed because he’s afraid of spiders) and then take him to the bus station, after I reserve a ticket for him. I’m thinking of the things I meant to do today, but nothing on my list is getting done because I’m fetching water and calling the bus station and finding make-work for him to pretend he’s doing. So I go in and tell Bob that really, I don’t want him to do anything else, I just want him to go. I want my day back. Just give him $45 and tell him to go on to Virginia and visit his grandmother. Bob agrees, and we scrounge around the house putting together $45 and I take it out to him and tell him he’d better go or he will miss his bus. I tell him yes, just go on, and at 4:15 Bob will come get him and take him to the bus station. He points out that Bob doesn’t know where he lives (or even who he is), so Bob will have to take him home to find out where he lives. Well, he’s got me there – this is too much for me.

So now Bob has agreed to take him home, wait for him to pack, and drive him to the bus station. As Bob was getting ready to leave, he started putting macaroons into a plastic zip bag. I had made the macaroons the night before.  Bob said we don’t need all these macaroons, and this boy won’t have time to eat …

Human interactions throw me

Posted in "North Carolina", NC, Religion by helenofmarlowe on June 2, 2021

I noticed, as I drove into the muddy parking lot, a gray-bearded man on a motorbike, blocking my way.  But I was in no hurry. I had two hours free.

And so I sat patiently, confident he would notice me soon and move over.  And he did.

I parked and wended my way over mudpuddles and into the NC Botanical Gardens of Chapel Hill.

While standing at the entrance, looking at the familiar table of cut stems in bottles identifying What’s Blooming,  I heard a voice behind me asking,  Do you know what this is?

A man with approximately half a century’s experience on this earth, with longish gray beard, longish gray hair, wearing a cap with earmuffs, held out a stem of white wildflowers.  No, I told him,  I don’t.  I recognized the man I’d seen on the motorbike.

It’s the most common plant around here, he said. You must know!

Seeing none, other than the stem in his hand, I was tempted to ask whether he is quite sure it’s the most common plant around here, but instead I asked whether it might be a kind of aster.

You don’t know? he said. You don’t see! That’s the problem, you don’t see!

Yes, I agreed, we often don’t see what’s around us.

No, he said, you, you don’t see!   I see it everywhere.  It’s the most common plant here in the area, and you haven’t even seen it!

I looked around.  Is it here, in the garden?

He didn’t know, and asked me had I been here before. Yes, I told him,  I come here every year.

Then you should know whether it’s here or not.  Does this botanical garden have trees? he asked.

Stifling the impulse to give the obvious answer (look around) I said that I guess the garden has native trees in it.

What’s that ring, the ring around your neck? he asked.

Oh — it’s something that works rather like a sun dial. It tells the time, but only, I think, if the sun is shining.

How does it work?

I’ll have to remember … See these markings? You turn this dial, line it up with the month and the day and … let’s see … and the sun …

You don’t use it to tell time? he asked.

No.

How long have you been wearing this?

Well, an hour, today, but I’ve had it several years.

And you haven’t learned how to use it yet?

I did know — I have to remember …

Do you have memory problems?

Well, I have to look at it again — I’ll remember …

You won’t.  You’re hopeless.  Here put it over my head — I’ll take better care of it than you will.

No.  No –It was a timepiece, my son gave me this, you can tell the time of day … someone, I forget, historically, it’s a replica of …

Do you have memory problems? Copernicus?

No, I said, not that long ago. It’s a replica of a timepiece used by …

Who?

I’m trying to remember —

You won’t remember. You’re hopeless. You don’t even see the flowers around you.

It was Eleanor Of Aquitaine — she gave it to Henry, so they could meet …

Give it to me.

No.

You don’t need that — you don’t even know how to use it.  Slip it over my head …

No, I won’t.  See the building there, you can just see the roof from here — there may be someone in there who can tell you what this flower is.

Do you think they’ll know? he asked. It is THE most common plant in this area.  And it’s blooming all over the place. It’s tall, it’s more than six feet tall, and it’s blooming, and you don’t see it!

Are you walking this way? Let’s go and see if someone in there can identify it.

Wait, he said. I want to see these on the table — maybe it’s here.

ok — I’ll walk ahead.

And then I walked on, as he examined the bottled stems. I walked toward the areas most likely to have people, but it was a chilly, misty, breezy day, and few visitors were about.

A few minutes later, I looked toward the building I had directed him to, and I saw him carrying his white wildflower through the open archway.

I turned and walked out the entrance, never actually getting into the gardens. I walked back to my car, wondering what I will do for the next two hours.

I turned north onto NC 501. A shopping center ahead. I pulled into Southern Seasons, parked, walked inside, picked up a shopping cart and walked aimlessly through the aisles. I looked at all the bright shiny teapots, the cutlery and coffee pots, candles, candy, cork screws and cheese boards, and realized — remembered? — that there is nothing here that I want.

Human interactions throw me.

As I drove back to the hotel, I began to have thoughts — hopes? — that maybe I’d see him again. And maybe, with a second chance, maybe I’d get it right next time.

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Senate Enablers

Posted in "North Carolina", Government, Government Politics, NC, Politics, Trump, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on January 27, 2020

(My Letter to Editor published in Winston-Salem Journal. Foxx, Burr,and Tillis are, alas our NC representatives.)

It seems that every elected Republican in America is afraid of the bully in the White House. This will be their legacy.

I have a question for Representative Foxx, Senator Burr, and Senator Tillis.
If our next Democratic president — and there will be one, if this Republic stands — is impeached, will you defend the act of withholding crucial documents that Congress has a right to review?
Will you defend the next Democratic president if duly served subpoenoes are ignored and witnesses are ordered not to testify?
Will you defend the next Democratic president’s presumed right to follow this president’s lead in ignoring the immoluments clause of the constitution while possibly enriching — how can we know? — the White House family?
Mr. Trump promised that he would reveal his tax returns. He has not.
He promised he would put his assets into a blind trust. He has not.
He has called on his supporters to find out the name of the whistleblower, even though whistleblowers are protected by Federal law, and the whistleblower’s revelations have all been corroborated.
Many of Mr. Trump’s abuses of his office have been to the advantage of Russia.
Is this the legacy you want?
I voted against Mr. Trump, as did the majority of American voters. And I fear that we are witnessing the crumbling of the United States of America under the leadership of an
authoritarian would-be dictator, just as we are witnessing the crumbling integrity our own NC representatives who tremble in fear of Mr. Trump’s tweets.
I suggest that Mr. Trump’s supporters change their hats to read MRGA – Make Russia Great Again.

Epilogue to AT&T

Posted in "North Carolina" by helenofmarlowe on October 12, 2019

Epilogue:
A few weeks ago AT&T sent my final bill.
It was 93 cents.
I pay bills on line, and my bank would not write a check for less than a dollar.
So I sent them a dollar and forgot about it. Actually, I wondered if they would send seven cents in the mail, but didn’t really think they would.
Today, we went to our mailbox and found an envelope from AT&T.
It’s a pre-paid Visa credit card.
It is pre-loaded with seven cents.
We must call a number to activate the card, and then decide how to spend our seven cents.

Losing the Earth

Posted in "North Carolina", Ecology, Environment, Planet Care, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on August 16, 2018

Have you read the NYTimes Sunday magazine, “Losing Earth” by Nathaniel Rich, Sunday, August 1?
It is very long but worth reading. It begins, “Thirty years ago, we had a chance to save the planet.” But, he says,to save life on this earth now will take a revolution, “But in order to become a revolutionary, you need first to suffer.”
The glaciers, he says, are gone. “We are now looking at the tipping of the first domino piece — glaciers — in a complex system of domino pieces, natural systems on earth. And we are losing options for action. It is too late to save the glaciers.”

Rich’s criticism of us, all of us, is distressing. He says, “We know that if we don’t act to reduce emissions, we risk the collapse of civilization. We also know that, without a gargantuan intervention, whatever happens will be worse for our children, worse yet for their children and even worse still for their children’s children, whose lives, our actions have demonstrated, mean nothing to us. Could it have been any other way?”

That’s harsh, and distressing, but what can we say in the face of the evidence.
A harsh indictment of us, and we as a species will be found guilty.

Perhaps there would still be time if nations stopped carbon emissions, stopped cutting forests, required canopy trees in all large parking lots, required green roofs on new construction, banned factory farming of cows, chickens, and hogs, and banned single-use plastics, but they won’t, and there’s not much of that that we as individuals can control. Not much, but some.

Some of these things we can do without our indifferent government leaders. We can encourage our local councils to support
green roofs and to require trees in parking lots, and to provide city property for community gardens. We can stop eating
factory farmed animals and fish and stop using single-use plastic bags and drinking straws. Take your one carry-out containers
to restaurants for bringing leftovers home.

Friends, this is important. Turning out your lights and taking shorter showers is not going to do it.

The Perspective of Time

Posted in Literature, poetry by helenofmarlowe on August 4, 2017

If I could go back in time
and speak to my teenage self,
I thought last night,
I would say to her
When you are 70,
You will say happiness is
lying half asleep at 5:00 a.m.
listening to soft, gentle
snoring on your left,
listening to a woodthrush in the distant woods
and hearing the early songs of wrens
and cardinals and towhees through four open windows
on your right,
with a yellow cat curled up at your feet.

Helen Etters
3/4/17
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Living in the Anthropocene

Posted in Ecology, Environment by helenofmarlowe on July 5, 2017

We’ve all heard the oft-quoted aphorism that if you don’t vote, you don’t have the right to complain.

I’ve never subscribed to that stance.

But there is a parallel philosophy that is harder to dismiss.

If we decry the hunger of 1 million people on this planet, and the trashing of the oceans and the destruction of the rain forests, the extinction of species and the wasting of water – and yet we choose to participate in the causes, do we have the right to decry? Or must we say, Well, I sort of care, a little bit, but not much – not enough to give up some of the pleasures I’m accustomed to.

I have this on my mind because a friend sent me a link to a November 10 New York Times article,

Learning How to Die in the Anthropocene, by Roy Scranton.
A brief excerpt:

The biggest problem climate change poses isn’t how the Department of Defense should plan for resource wars, or how we should put up sea walls to protect Alphabet City, or when we should evacuate Hoboken. It won’t be addressed by buying a Prius, signing a treaty, or turning off the air-conditioning. The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is  already dead.

Our leaders ignored the warnings while there was still time.

And still, most of us are choosing, not from necessity but because we like the taste of other animals, to continue unraveling the web of life on this planet that we will leave to our children and grandchildren.

We know that greenhouse gasses accumulate in the atmosphere and remain there for centuries as they are slowly absorbed by plants and oceans, and yet we continue the destruction of the rain forest, the lungs of the planet.

There is much information about the connections between eating meat and climate change, some of it published by the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. Here is a 4-minute video that the UU UNO makes available on its website.

http://climate.uu-uno.org/topics/view/524759010cf264abcd860045/#resources

It’s  taken from this  slightly longer (12 minute) video.

Some of the points made in this video (video number 5 in the list of resources):

While we are being encouraged to change our lightbulbs and drive hybrid cars, the united nations found that raising animals for human food contributes more to global warming than all the planes, cars, and trucks on the planet combined. Forty % more.

You can leave your shower running for 24 hours a day every day of the year and you would still not waste as much water as when you include meat in your diet.

Many of us recycle paper because we want to save trees. But the number one reason for cutting down trees, including the destruction of the rain forest, is to clear land for grazing meat animals and growing corn to feed to animals that we will slaughter and eat.

40,000 people on this planet starve to death every day! This does not happen because there is not enough food for everyone – this happens because, while people are starving, we are wasting enormous amounts of food to feed cows, pigs, chickens and other animals so that we can satisfy our desire (not need) for meat.

Today, we look back on behaviors of humans in previous centuries and wonder how they could participate in some of the cruel practices common to the culture in early American history.

Now, we persistently put our frivolous desires above the indisputable needs and rights of many who go hungry while we support a meat industry that metes out to us vastly more of the world’s resources than is our just portion.

As we continue to eat animals even knowing that a vegetarian diet is healthier, and knowing that factory farming is the greatest contributor to water pollution and climate change, and knowing the pain and suffering inflicted on other sentient beings who want to live, I believe history will judge us harshly.

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Democracy in North Carolina

Posted in "North Carolina", Government, NC by helenofmarlowe on December 26, 2016


Why did NC bother to hold an election?

We, the people of NC, voted for Roy Cooper, a Democrat, to be our next Governor.
In response, our legislators called emergency session and hurriedly, without
public discussion, passed bills that undermine the will of the voters.
The people voted for a Democrat to replace a Republican on the NC Supreme Court,
so the legislation will require constitutional challenges, now, to go to the
Republican majority Court of Appeals before a case can be heard by the NC Supreme court, where our votes created a Democratic majority. The legislators stripped our new governor of the power to appoint a majority to the state Board of Elections.
They stripped the governor of his ability to name members of the boards of state universities. They reduced the number of state employees the governor can appoint from 1,500, under McCrory, to 425 for Governor Cooper, and they will require Cooper’s appointments to agencies to be approved by legislators.
A Democrat won the office of Governor, so the Republican legislators will stop him, to the extent possible, from being able to perform the duties of the office he was elected to.
Andrew Reynolds, a Professor of Political Science at the UNC Chapel Hill and an expert on democracy and democratic systems, says that NC can no longer be considered a democracy.
This institutional brinksmanship in NC is being discussed on national news, the entire nation is looking at how we are losing our democracy in NC, and we must, in all seriousness, ask whether our elections matter and whether we want our democratic rule of law to continue to be eroded.

Think it doesn’t matter who is president?

Posted in "North Carolina", Ecology, Environment, Politics by helenofmarlowe on October 7, 2016

I have heard intelligent people in recent weeks say that it doesn’t matter who the president is. It troubles me. I want to say to them, imagine if Al Gore had actually taken the White House when he won at least the popular vote and maybe the electoral vote. Do you think the US would have gone to war in Iraq? Think about all the repercussions of that misguided decision to take our country to war.

And climate change: If Gore had taken his place in the White House, we would be much further down the path to dealing with climate change, which is surely the most urgent issue confronting our world.

One of our candidates has said that climate change is a Chinese hoax. He has said that he will get rid of the EPA. EPA doesn’t just invent regulations, it enforces laws passed by congress. (He has also said he’d tear up the Paris climate agreement. Perhaps he doesn’t understand that he can’t do that, but he can take our country out of it.)

As The Guardian says, “Scrapping the EPA … would cause an unravelling of basic protections of air and water. …Trump is demagoguing. It plays to the far-right base but it would have enormous consequences for people’s health.”

And, from The Washington Post,

But more prosaic powers also present grave dangers. U.S. prosecutors have enormous discretion to investigate, or not investigate, and Mr. Trump would appoint his attorney general and a raft of new U.S. attorneys. These have to be confirmed by the Senate; but if you take comfort in that, simply imagine a Gov. Chris “Bridgegate” Christie at the Justice Department, or a Newt Gingrich — who, in Mr. Trump’s thrall, has advocated expelling any American who believes in sharia law — as homeland security secretary.

If Mr. Trump wanted to wield the IRS against that Chicago family; if he tried to use U.S. diplomats to help his hotel business in Russia or Azerbaijan; if he barred disfavored reporters from the White House; if he ignored a judge who told him, say, that immigrants had to be given hearings before being deported — what recourse would Americans have?

We should take comfort in the polls which show Trump unlikely to win. But then,look at the surprising Brexit vote, and the surprising Colombian vote against the peace agreement. Polls can make very very wrong predictions.

Think it doesn’t matter who is president? I go back to Al Gore, and the reminder that we would not have had the war with Iraq, and we would be working seriously on climate change, if the candidate who won the people’s vote had taken his place in the White House.

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Empirical Data on the Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

Posted in "North Carolina" by helenofmarlowe on September 23, 2016

Resources on the Benefits of a Plant-Based (Vegan) Diet I. American Dietetic Association, “Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets” “It is the position of the American Diete…

Source: Empirical Data on the Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

Armed America

Posted in "North Carolina" by helenofmarlowe on July 25, 2016

Published in Winston-Salem Journal, Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Readers’ Forum: Sunday letters

Correspondent of the week

HELEN ETTERS, Winston-Salem

Armed America

Protests over police brutality? Mass killings? This is America.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that guns kill 30,000Americans per year. Less than 3 percent of these are self-defense.

This is America. This does not happen in Canada or Australia or Spain or any other industrialized nation. This is America! In other countries, police approach a car or a suspect and don’t have to wonder whether this person is carrying a gun. They assume the citizen is not, and that is almost always correct. In America, police approach a car or a suspect and they assume the person they are stopping, for perhaps a broken turn signal, is likely carrying a gun.

They have to fear for their lives every time they stop someone for speeding, and when they expect that the citizen probably has a gun, they are more likely to use their own. When our own NC state legislators prevent the public from seeing the police-cam recordings, they only make matters worse.

As Ronald Reagan said in May, 1967, “There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”

If we don’t like this armed America, if we want to protect our police officers, if we want a safe country, then we have to get rid of the guns. Get rid of the guns.

Helen Etters
Winston-Salem
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