Financial Crisis and Cashmere Hats

“I don’t like to be in this position, asking for things and, you know, answering to the American taxpayer,” Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson informed the Senate banking committee yesterday.”  I Come to You, Cashmere Hat in Hand  Dana Milbank

Some of the blame for the financial crisis obviously lies with the cult of “positive thinking”  which encouraged people to buy houses they should’ve known they couldn’t afford.  The greedy lenders did know better, but didn’t care.

I’m a strong believer in the power of positive thinking, but it only works if we’re also in touch with reality. It’s okay to have my head in the sky as long as my feet are still in touch with the ground.

The word “cashmere” in the title of Milbank’s column in the Washington Post immediately brought to mind a recent experience of mine (I, thankfully, still have a home with my daughter and her family while awaiting repairs to my own house, caught in the recent flooding in Cedar Rapids). All of my winter coats were sequestered in the basement waiting for fall, and of course they are now in the city dump.

Last week I happened into Goodwill, which has become one of my favorite stores, and a few winter coats had come in. One fit me perfectly and was in a color I like, and was also a perfect fit. The label said “manmade cashmere” which obviously means fake. But that’s okay, since I’m not used to real cashmere anyway and the cost of the coat fit my budget.

I’m now ready for cold weather and the leaves have begun to change to gold and brown. I’m watching for the red leaves, my favorite, to begin highlighting the foliage, as I walk Winston.

And while I walk Winston I think about things. Like what in the world is this country coming to, and what is going to happen on November 4th, after all the mud-slinging is at an end, and we have to make a – Gasp! Choice!

I’m merely a retired woman with hopes and dreams for my grandchildren and their future. Thankfully, my own children have done well – on their own, I might add–and are great parents. They will handle whatever comes up in the future. My own time will be drawing to a close so I’m resting from my labors, and just trying to fit the pieces together.

My children were born in the Sixties, during the Uranus conjunct Pluto generation, and, like Palin and Obama, are in their forties. I’ve always been amazed by them, their independence and involvement in the larger world, and always enjoyed listening to them debate at the dinner table, sometimes heatedly, exchanging ideas.

But I’m getting away from my subject. The “cashmere hat in hand” to cover Paulson’s bald head, I presume, speaks eloquently to the current crisis created by greed. I have no gripe with anyone preferring and/or being able to afford a cashmere hat. I even enjoy shopping at Goodwill. But I’m glad to see a little humility expressed, at least in a small way, by one of the greedy.

Back to the Present: What the River Really Left Behind

Love thy neighbor as yourself, but choose your neighborhood — Louise Beal, Silent Screen Actress (August 8, 1867 to November 18, 1952)

On Friday night vandals came out of their murky holes to roam the dark alleys where our empty houses sit and sigh for our return. After cutting the screen they broke the upper pane of glass in my kitchen window, but apparently did not gain entrance as the window was still locked and we found no sign of the intruders inside. Directly across the alley John’s house peers darkly at mine through other pieces of shattered glass as if the neighboring houses are commiserating with each other.

When I arrived at the house on Saturday, John had started mowing my lawn, refusing to accept payment from me even though he does professional lawn service as a sideline. “I wish I could move to the country away from people like that,” he exclaimed, after telling me about his window. It was only later that I discovered my window had also been broken.

While I waited for Cathy and Jim I admired the new front door they had installed on Friday. The door is a glistening white with a half-moon window at the top which mirrors the shape of the overhang, although we had no idea that it would when we chose it. Sometimes serendipity comes in seemingly trivial ways.

I have often called my house another Blessing from the Universe, ever since I moved into it after my retirement eight years ago. I was filled with new hopes and dreams of living out my later years in peace while I became more acquainted with who I really am–before I am no more–at least in this earthly body. I’ve always craved alone time to think and read and ponder, and during the past years in this house I’ve learned to let go of many old perceptions and to make room for new understandings.

As the shattered windows of mine and John’s houses sadly contemplate each other across the alley, I speak to other neighbors, here on this Saturday afternoon working hard to restore their homes to livable conditions. Hoping to either return to their homes or getting them ready to sell so they can move on from their current temporary shelters to other permanent places.

The entire neighborhood is being remolded by the aftermath of the flood and the neighbors who eventually return will feel the loss of those who leave. But rebuilding is a long process; it will be awhile before we all settle down into normal living once again. It helps to count the little blessings each day brings, such as the sandwiches and drinks thoughtful souls from churches and organizations still hand out, showing they haven’t forgotten us.

But for today’s little blessing, I’m reminded of when I first saw the house, the porch light shining beneath the overhang, welcoming me to this new stage of my life. So tomorrow I will get a new light to go with the new door and let it shine even brighter than before.

One Month Later: the Cedar Rapids Flood

Once the city’s hold on building permits was released a few days ago for those of us living in the 500 year flood plain, I finally quit holding my breath (which is good as I was turning blue) and realized I had been up to my old tricks again, balking every time I heard the words “flood victim“.

I blame my mother, because she taught me that although everything had a reason, only God knew what it was, and that it was all good even when it was bad. God never makes a mistake. Thus she espoused throughout a lifetime of poverty, having been left a widow with eight children at the age of forty-two. And although I’ve often felt guilty for having so much when she had so little yet I also remember our family prayers and how she thanked God every day for what little she had. She never owned a home of her own and lost most of her material possessions after our dad died.

While I was growing up, my mother’s early teaching made it hard for me to complain, and I still guiltily reprimand myself when I grouch, although it happens less and less as I grow older, since, like my mother, I realize how much I have to be grateful for. “God lets mothers grow old so they can pray for their children,” she told me not long before she died, “always remember to pray for your children.” And I do, and I also give thanks every day. As I’ve said before, my children are truly my Blessings from the Universe, and if they hadn’t taken charge after the flood as soon as they were allowed to get into the house, I would’ve floundered.

Unlike Candide, I do not believe this is the best of all possible worlds. Heaven knows it could be much better than it is (although that is a subject too broad to broach) but most of our problems are caused by our own decisions and indecisions and their consequences. Many consequences, however, cannot be foreseen. How was I to know when I bought my house that the “500 year flood” was only eight years away and my house was in its path? And who would’ve dreamed the river could be so horribly destructive?

But I refused to be a victim. If I blamed the river, the fates as it were, or whatever else was at hand to blame, I would’ve been accepting victimhood. So (in my own mind) I took charge by seeing the flood personally as a sign for another change in my life. Not that it wasn’t true, but it changed my attitude, which is where everything begins. (Naturally I also had the luxury of doing this because my children were dealing with the awful mess the river left behind). It’s also true there were astrological signs in my progressed chart and transits which fit but they could’ve been manifested in a number of different ways. Even Astrology, which has been most helpful in my life, did not help me foresee this disaster.

What use, then, is Astrology? It’s useful because, along with what I learned from my mother I also learned from Astrology a very different way of looking at my life than at what is most obvious.

Many times we get in a rut and it takes something earthshaking to snap us out of it. Yet, once we get past the necessary actions and the grief for what is lost, we often see something new emerge. For some of us this may take years, but some day we will look back and see the flood as a turning point.

In my last post I was thinking of simply repairing the house, selling it and moving to an apartment–wondering out loud if I should. Later I saw that my anti-victimhood had taken hold, making me a victim of my aversion. I had also described how much I loved the house.

After reading the post, Cathy said to me–cautiously, in case I’m living in LaLa Land–that with the newness of everything we have to replace, the house won’t be the same. The same old house, I said, just with new stuff in it. Sort of like me.

The worry lines left her brow.

After the Cedar Rapids Flood: Making A New Choice

Last night we went to my daughter Cathy’s for a family gathering and a spaghetti dinner. In the living room she showed me my curio cabinet, cleaned up but empty since, after washing everything carefully, she had wrapped each treasured item and stored it for me–except for the beautiful clock her brother had brought me from Germany several years ago, which graced a place of honor high on a bookshelf nearby.

My youngest grandchild, Teresa’s son, who is four, pointed to the clock with excitement. “Grandma! Your clock!” He had always enjoyed watching it through the glass doors of the cabinet as the small balls, swinging from delicate chains, moved in a circle beneath the clock’s face. It was one of the few things in my house he couldn’t touch, although I would sometimes take the clock out of the cabinet so he and his five year old sister could watch the movement reflect the light on the mirror below the balls.

My military son, his wife, son and daughter, were with us as we celebrated being together again. This morning they headed back to Florida where he is stationed, and later Cathy called me to say the city has finally relented and will be issuing structural permits so we can fix the basement in order to proceed with other repairs to the house.

For several weeks I’ve been full of questions–for myself. I must, of course, repair the house and FEMA has, thankfully, provided some money towards that. But afterwards–is the destruction to my house a “sign” that it’s time to make another major change in my life? Fix the house and then sell it? Move to an apartment? Where I won’t have to buy new appliances? After all, I turned sixty-five four years ago. My children worry about the stairs. But I love the house and can be quite sentimental about the things I love. I love older homes, the taller than average ceilings, the sense of other lives that have been lived in those same surroundings–perhaps giving me a sense of times past. One might call it an aura that surrounds old structures.

Maybe it’s because my fourth house of home in my natal chart is ruled by Saturn and as a Capricorn I am very familiar with Saturn. In many ways its astrological significance has guided my life until now. On the phone a month before the flood I said to my son that sometimes I felt as if I had already lived three lives. I reassured him I felt no premonition my life was soon to end, although, let’s face it, the road has grown much shorter, but only that I was picking up vibes about a possible new direction, also shown by transits to my chart. My children are used to such comments from me.

So I wonder now, since the flood, if it is decision time again. Many things from the past have been cleared away including much of my genealogical research. Some of it I could reclaim if I was motivated to do the mind-boggling work. But I’m almost relieved to let it go. When did it all become a burden and why didn’t I recognize this and move on? Of course much of the research went into my family book. But many of my Astrology books are also gone. Had I already gleaned what insight they held for me?

I wonder if others who suffered losses from the flood question its meaning in their lives. If for them too, a new choice lies on the horizon, one that will fit with what was left. After the flood.

The Cedar Rapids Flood and Winston the Pooh-Chon

Having recently noticed that someone else has named their blog Walking Winston for their pug, I decided to change the name of my blog to glorify my own Winston’s mixed breed.  He is half poodle, half bichon and known to my grandchildren as Winnie the Pooh-Chon. He weighs nineteen pounds, which is seven pounds more than the breeder said he was supposed to grow to but I love every ounce of him.

When I ask for a kiss he gives me a quick smack as though to appease me but also letting me know he’s not easy. He’s a little Scorpio, born on the same day as one of my granddaughters and both are strong, independent and brave, except Winston is afraid of the vacumn sweeper, from which he runs and hides under the bed.

He will walk on his hind legs for a treat but will only come when he’s called after slow deliberation.  If he’s in his hidey hole under the bed a treat is not enough to bring him out. Say the word “walk” a few times and he runs out with a big grin, tail wagging, looking for his leash. 

When we arrived at my daughter Teresa’s house on June 11th ahead of the flood that later entered my house Winston was ecstatic, but as time moved on he began giving me that questioning look, like “I like to visit but this is ridiculous, when do we go home?”  How do I tell him that his favorite resting place on the back of the sofa by the window, from which he viewed the old neighborhood, now rests at the city dump?

Since the flood Winston and I have been welcomed into my daughter’s guest room, where I have my own microwave, a small coffee pot and my computer.  When Robert’s parents came for an overnight his dad also brought his power washer and a generator so he and Robert could go to Cedar Rapids to clean mud out of my house. While they thus labored, Robert’s mother and I caught up on woman talk.

It’s great to have caring, sympathetic in-laws along with family. They didn’t even mind that my Squatter’s Rights meant they had to sleep on the sofa-bed.

Winston and I are both blessed.

 

After the Flood: Grateful in Cedar Rapids

I recently experienced the one thing that would make me forget–and care even less about–the latest political claptrap. In fact, I haven’t watched Fox News or CNN for at least ten days. My focus has been captured by our local news in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

My new focus began the morning of June 11th when my sister-in-law called from Detroit to see if I was okay. “I’m fine,” I said, surprised. I had awakened that morning without the enticing smell of coffee wafting through the house since I was fasting until after the routine drawing of blood for “my numbers.” So my doctor could tell me if, in fact, I’d been behaving as I ought to — starving to death and walking Winston every day for the past three months (for my own exercise, of course).

Pauline had seen on the national news that downtown Cedar Rapids was flooded. Oh no, I said, they must’ve been talking about Cedar Falls, which was recently flooded. Of course sandbagging had been going on locally but that happens when it rains a lot, just as a precaution. I had listened to the news with only one ear — it’s like that siren that goes off periodically where they say don’t be alarmed, it is only a test.

I blame my inattention that morning on the lack of coffee as it takes at least two cups to get my brain working, but within a few hours after Pauline’s call I was headed for Teresa’s home in Coralville. It was my day to spend time with my darling grandchildren. I also took along a couple of changes of clothes, just in case the flooding river reached a street I had to cross on the way home and I had to stay a couple of days.

But I forgot to wear my hearing aids.

I still didn’t think the water would reach my house because I live in the 500 year flood zone. Doesn’t that mean a flood only happens in that area once every 500 years? My insurance agent told me they don’t even suggest flood insurance for people there. Why should I worry?

Within a couple of days my street, near Czech Village, came under mandatory evacuation.  My wonderful, amazing granddaughter Jessie, and a friend, broke into my house (her Mom couldn’t find her key) to retrieve my hearing aids. And that thoughtful young woman also retrieved my computer for me! My computer would’ve been a terrrible loss; it holds so many family pictures I scanned in, along with other irreplaceable records.

The only furniture saved on the first floor was, miraculously, my glass curio cabinet (six feet tall) containing treasures my children have given me over the years.  On the other side of the same wall my fridge had fallen against the kitchen stove. Yet,  when my daughter Cathy took the mud-encased cabinet home and washed it and the contents up, not one of the glass shelves or other treasured items were broken.  They were also able to save the framed family portraits and other sentimental treasures on my walls, including a mother’s day card they had made for me when they were small. The water (which reached a level about two inches above my kitchen countertops) had stopped before it reached them. I am eternally grateful.

Many people had it worse than I did, losing everything, whereas my second floor was spared any damage, so I still have my bedroom furniture and most of my clothes and linens. Although many things were lost that I valued and I will have to replace the furnace, stove, refrigerator, washer, dryer, television set, living room and dining room furniture, my desk and bookcases (although I now have only a few books to fill them) these are only utilitarian things.

My children and their mates and even my grown grandchildren pitched in to clean up as soon as they could get into the house, hopefully before the mold could set in.  They tore out the wet stuff: walls, sodden carpeting, ruined furniture, as well as the furnace, water heater and appliances–the rudiments of living. A huge heap of trash waits in front of the house for the truck to take it to the dump.

Teresa has been keeping a running reportage on their progress on her blog Flesh and Spirit if you want to see pictures of a flooded house and its aftermath. It’s not pretty and I cannot even imagine the shape I’d be in right now without their long hard labors  So my heart goes out to those who have suffered through this disaster, and especially if they don’t have family members with the dedication and energy, and time from their own needs, to help.

As you know I study Astrology and I also believe that everything happens for a reason. Not that I know what the reason is but perhaps more understanding still waits in my future. Was there a sign in my natal and progressed charts and the transits? Yes, but who would’ve known that it would manifest in this way? All I could tell was that a major change was coming involving my home. I thought of all kinds of possibilities, some of them much scarier than what manifested. So, I have to be honest and admit that I feel a sense of relief that it was only material things. My children and their families are all safe and have proven, once again, that they are, as they’ve always been, my Blessings from the Universe.