Thursday, January 26, 2012

Home in our hearts

Nobody really questioned why we'd want to be back here in Illinois for Christmas. After all, Galva is about as close as we can get to smack-dab in the middle between one son's home on the Minnesota prairie near Fargo and the other's address in North Carolina. Our big, barn-like house is a perfect place for a crowd at Christmas. And we were lucky enough to pack them all in for the holidays.
They're all gone now, of course, and few questions and comments have begun filtering our way from friends and neighbors:
"What's the weather like in North Carolina?"
"Have you been thinking of heading back south pretty soon?"
"I thought you'd be gone by now."
"Are you crazy?"
I imagine the recent concern as to the number of bats in my personal belfry has to do with our continued presence here in the midwest during the hit-or-miss weather phenomenon known as winter. As many readers know, my spouse and I have been spending at least half our time in an alternate universe called the North Carolina beachfront for the past year. And while the NC coast is not subtropical, it is generally quite a bit balmier than even the mostly mild winter we've been experiencing in the Land of Lincoln. My youngest grandsons are wondering where their beloved grandma is, and have, surprisingly enough, even indicated some mild interest in the whereabouts of the curmudgeonly coot known simply by the ominous, not-entirely-inaccurate moniker of "grumpa." So, you can understand why I've started, as the James Taylor song says, to have "Carolina on my Mind."
Yes, it's been almost exactly a year since we embarked on the interesting experiment I call "bicoastal" living, whereby we've split time between Galva and a shoreline house on North Topsail Beach, the north end of a skinny, 26-mile barrier island off the coast of the Tarheel State. Since then, we've been either there or here, with a few sidetrips to visit our other kids and grandkids, plus stops along the way in places like Nashville, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and many other points in between.
It's been fun.
It's been interesting.
It is, I think, what we always dreamed about when we thought about the future. And while there are plenty of other ideas on our list of things we'd like to do, a chance to be a part of our young grandsons' lives is well-nigh irresistible for grandma, and even grumpa, too.
So we're going to head that way in a couple of weeks or so, but before we do, we've still got a little stuff on our respective plates. Like a few happy rounds of the sort-and-pitch process that takes place every time we have a day or two to attack the basement-bound bins, bags and boxes filled with pictures, letters, newspaper clippings and other family flotsam that haunts my wife's very being.
She: What are we ever going to do about all that stuff down there?
Me: How about we wall over the door and pretend we don't even have a basement.
We need to take one more trip to northwestern Minnesota, where we plan to deliver a snowblower to son Colin, who, surprisingly enough, hasn't really needed it yet this winter. There are taxes and other paperwork to deal with, plus the ever-changing-but-always-growing list of things we absolutely must take east with us, despite our efforts to keep things in that living space as simple as possible.
Of course, it would be easier to leave if we didn't love it here, too.
Because even when it's cold, our hearts are warmed by the familiar faces and places that abound around here. We love our friends. We love our house. We love our town.
She, apparently, loves the basement, too, while I desperately love my 1994 Isuzu Trooper.
And while "love" is a powerful word to describe Max, the recalcitrant housecat, we're even sort of glad to see him when we return to the Galva half of our back-and-forth schedule.
But we gotta go.
We want to go.
Grandkids await, as do long walks on the beach and oceanside sunsets. The Blue Heron who fishes out back has been wondering where I am. The pelicans who patrol our beachfront need me to watch them as they dip and dive and glide. We're happy and excited to be returning to people we love and a place we consider our second home.
We've missed them. We've missed it.
But we'll miss you, too.
We always do.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

One hundred years from now

I don't know where--or how--my brother finds all this stuff. Though I consider myself a fairly apt searcher and discoverer of fascinating and unique facts and material on the world wide web, he tops me fairly consistently, posting links to a veritable plethora of good and interesting stuff.
Recently, a note via his Facebook page led me to a 1900 Ladies' Home Journal article entitled, "What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years."
The article was written by one John Elfreth Watkins, an engineer, novelist and journalist who, based on his predictions, became known as "the seer of the century."
The beginning of the 20th century was an exciting time, with the world teetering on the brink of technological advances that almost make some of our own big ideas seem a little silly in comparison.
Some of what was new in 1900 included phonographs, light bulbs, typewriters, skyscrapers, diesel fuel, aspirin and the first overseas telephone call. In 1900, a train could cover the same distance in six days that a covered wagon traveled in six months, and the idea of the automobile was just beginning to catch on. Though they traveled twice as fast as horses, only 8,000 cars and about 10 miles of paved roads existed in America in 1900. The 1900 Paris Exposition displayed amazing things like moving sidewalks, a wireless telegraph, powerful telescopes, and the first escalator. And back in the U.S.A., two brothers named Wright made their first trip to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to begin manned glider experiments.
Given the tone of the times, it's easy to understand how Watkins and his collaborators would come up with some of the ideas listed in the article.
Though some of the technical details differ, he was spot-on in predicting technologies very similar to modern-day television, cell phones and digital photography, but missed the boat a tad by promising "peas the size of beets" and strawberries as large as apples. He got it right when he predicted electricity would be used to provide light and heat to speed up the food growing process, and also accurately called for central heating and air conditioning systems, though he thought the hot and cool air would enter homes via "spigots" connected to a centralized HVAC plant. He was a little overcautious when he speculated that the average lifespan would increase to 50 years, but wholly overestimated the energy of folks of the future when he said "everybody will walk 10 miles" daily as part of a lifetime program of exercise and fitness. Water power was his suggested mode for a electricity generating system that would completely replace coal, while automobiles would be cheaper than horses, and "airships" mostly limited to military use.
Watkins also declared an end to flies, mosquitoes, mice and rats by the year 2000, while also predicting near extinction for horses and virtually every sort of wild animal, except those in zoos. And while he might have been wrong about bugs and beasts, he came much closer when he guessed at our dependance on take-out meals, refrigeration and hermetically sealed foods.
But perhaps most interesting to me was his prophecy that spelled an eventual end to the letters C, A and Q.
"They will be abandoned because unnecessary," he stated. "Spelling by sound will have been adopted, first by the newspapers. English will be a language of condensed words expressing condensed ideas."
Gosh, sounds an awful lot like texting to me.
But here's the thing.
What would you say if you were asked to predict the future? What do you think will be going on a hundred years from now?
Some say we'll travel to Mars, and it seems almost certain that there will be increasing climate changes here on earth. Other predictions deemed likely by some sources and/or experts include ocean farming for both fish and algae, communication through thought transmission (synthetic telepathy, yikes!), immortality technology (whatever that means), control over the weather and brains wired to computers for faster, more efficient thinking.
Well, good enough, I guess.
But I'd like to think we will have used those computer-aided brains for a few other reasons, as well.
Like a solution for worldwide hunger and an end to unending war. For universal healthcare, with real breakthroughs in medicine that are available to all. For clean air and water and sustainable, non-polluting forms of energy. And, most of all, for a world society that finally has the good sense to get along.
Seems like maybe that was the plan, all along.
Maybe, in a hundred years or so, we'll get it right.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Something about January

The Roadtripper: from Western Illinois Family Magazine


There's something about January.
Christmas is over.
Carefully, regretfully, we take down the holiday decorations that have brightened our homes and pack them away for another year. The house seems bare. The house seems quiet again.
Outside, the north wind blows and it snows and snows.
There is no sign of spring, no chance of it for weeks and weeks, for even a January thaw is merely a brief respite between winter blasts.
But in the midst of the cold, dark January days and nights comes little blessings.
Hot coffee. Warm socks. A car that starts in the morning.
The landscape takes on a shining grey-white sheen that is stark and surreal and splendid all at once.
Children pull on Christmas skates and whirl and fall and laugh and scream on bumpy circles of ice, while grownups toughen to the cold and walk in the frigid air, laughing and talking and remembering snow days and yesterday's sledding thrills down breakneck hills.
Slowly, we awaken to the possibilities.
Places to go, people to see, things to do.
But there's no rush, no holiday deadlines. You are, once again, able to move at a pace more to your liking and do what you want to do.
And if you really do want to do more than gaze out the window and sip hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire, here are a few ideas...
• Build a igloo with the neighborhood kids, making blocks by packing snow into a medium-sized box.
• Help your kids set up a hot cocoa stand on your corner.
• Read the book you got for Christmas.
• Shovel your neighbor's sidewalk.
• Set up a "Birds' Christmas Tree" in your backyard by decorating your discarded tree with strung popcorn and berries, and any stale leftover breads, cakes and cookies from the holidays.
• Make a reasonable New Year's resolution and actually stick to it.
• Organize an all-day "film festival" with friends and family, with each person sharing their favorite movie on DVD.
• Make homemade soup, bake bread, or do both, just for the wonderful way it makes your house smell.
• Invite friends over to share it.
If you're looking for things to do beyond your own hearth and home, it's Children's Month at the Galesburg Civic Art Center, with opportunities for kids to create and display their work. Other Galesburg-area activities for January include a performance by the world-famous Luther College Nordic Choir, a Magic Tea Party and a Toy Story party, the Galesburg Symphony Society's Tenth annual Casino Night Gala & Silent Auction, International Fest at Knox College, and a January Luau at Sandburg Mall. The Galva Arts Council's second-Saturday coffeehouse provides a warm circle of light, music and laughter every month.
Some say January is the longest, coldest month of all. I say, it can only be that way if you let it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The new view review

When you leave town for a couple of months, you expect a few things to change while you're gone. Seasons turn, so fields, trees, gardens and lawns appear to be a little different. Maybe there's a house down the street with a new paint job, or a neighbor with a new car. You look at your friends, and maybe someone's got a different haircut or a new pair of glasses.
And usually, that's about it.
After all, two months is really a pretty short span of time in the whole scheme of things.
So even though I knew it was coming, I wasn't really prepared for what's happened to the landscape between and around Galva, Bishop Hill and points west.
I refer, of course, to the fast-growing field of wind turbines that is sprouting throughout the countryside hereabouts.
Now, let me start right off by stating that I'm pro-windpower.
I believe in alternative energy ideas.
I believe in energy sources that will make us less dependent on those who have less than our best interests at heart.
I believe, too, in energy producers that don't pollute the air or water, or threaten to blow us off the map.
And I even kind of like the way the giant windmills look, with their awe-inspiring height and graceful, slow-turning rotors. Admittedly, I might feel differently if I had one in my backyard, and I understand how some Bishop Hill residents might be a trifle concerned about the contrast between the ultra-modern structures and the 19th-century image of the historic village. But even if I wasn't crazy about the new look to the landscape, I'd surely prefer it to some of those other energy producing alternatives, like coal mines, oil wells and nukes. Moreover, Invenergy, the alt-energy company that's building the new wind farms, has recently dropped a cool half-million-dollar "investment" on its home base of Bishop Hill, with the money to be split between the village and groups like the Bishop Hill Heritage Association and Arts Council. Add that to the three million dollars in property taxes the company will pay this year, which will help support important entities like schools and libraries, plus the two-and-a-half million landowners will receive for the land leased for the towers, and you're looking at a much-needed, just-in-time kick in our economic pants.
And, of course, there are the jobs and related activities that have provided a welcome boost to stores, gas stations, hotels and restaurants, with a nice roster of good-paying, full-time jobs on the horizon for the future.
Change is probably inevitable, no matter what. And innovative ideas are often what drive that change, whether we like it or not. But just in case you feel like wind power is a little too new-fangled for your taste, consider a comment made by a well-known Illinois politician when he was running for office.
“Of all the forces of nature, I should think the wind contains the largest amount of motive power … Take any given space of the earth’s surface, for instance, Illinois, and all the power exerted by all the men, beasts, running water and steam over and upon it shall not equal the 100th part of what is exerted by the blowing of the wind over and upon the same place. And yet it has not, so far in the world’s history, become properly valued as motive power. It is applied extensively and advantageously to sail vessels in navigation. Add to this a few windmills and pumps and you have about all. As yet the wind is an untamed, unharnessed force, and quite possibly one of the greatest discoveries hereafter to be made will be the taming and harnessing of it.”
Who said it? You might have heard of him. He was running for president back in 1860, and delivered a lecture titled "Discoveries and Inventions" while on the campaign trail.
His name was Abraham Lincoln.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Happy New Year's Resolution

It's a brand-new year, which, for some, means a brand-new set of rules and resolutions to try and live up to.
I guess the whole concept of a clean slate every January first is pretty darn irresistible to a lot of folks. I confess, though, that I don't often participate in the first-of-the-year race towards personal perfection, but I know that many do. Yes, all around us, people are determinedly dieting, carefully cleaning out dresser drawers and lovingly lacing up the new running shoes they got for Christmas. And that's a good thing, because every little bit helps, even if the selfsame folks find themselves back to eating Snickers for breakfast, vainly searching for socks, and driving two blocks to the post office by the Ides of March.
Oops. Did that sound cynical?
I guess so, but only to the extent that I think that if you truly feel you need to get skinny, organized or in shape, you should just quietly get down to it when the spirit moves you, instead of waiting to make a public pronouncement of your intentions as the ball drops in Times Square. But just in case you really are looking at January first as a starting point for something new and different, here are a few ideas I think we all might pay attention to this year and every year.
•Learn to play well with others
For some reason, we seem to have entered a period when simple civility is entirely passé. My personal theory is that the many remote styles of communications in use--like texting, email and social media sites--have fostered an artificially interactive culture where people seem to feel free to say things that they'd never dream of saying face to face. The many icky examples set on TV and in the political arena just enhance the mean-spirited trend. So, how about taking some advice from a leading American philosopher of the 1940s, Thumper, the Rabbit:
"If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all"
•Bake more bread, make more soup.
Or, in other words, slow down and keep it simple. It's so easy to get caught up in our gadgets and overwhelmed by all the sensory input that surrounds us. So here's an idea: Unplug for a day. Go outside for awhile. Look at the sky. Count the stars. Read a book. Write a letter. Have some soup.
•Have a little faith.
Not to proselytize in the pages of your morning paper, but has it occurred to you that there might just really be a power greater than you out there? A power greater than your Ipod and your Blackberry, even? While it's possible to think that sunsets, snowflakes, babies, wildflowers, music and chocolate chip cookies all came about as a result of some evolutionary accident, it's even more fulfilling to believe that they're all a part of a heavenly master plan put into motion by someone who loves us.
Works for me.
Happy New Year.