Build Your Community

From Merriam-Webster:

“Community is a unified body of individuals: such as the people with common interests living in a particular area, a body of persons of common and especially professional interests scattered through a larger society, a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social, economic, and political interests.”

As a youth, I did the now-unthinkable thing of riding my bike up and down our country road, knocking on neighbors’ doors and spending time with them. So when my father needed something for his farm or neighbors’ needed something for their farm and he talked about farmers helping farmers, I understood what he meant. They were not strangers to me.

As a young adult, I served a year of missionary work with NET Ministries and traveled the country with a team of five men and five other women. We lived together, ate together, and worked together. There was support and effort made to maintain a positive relationships. Some relationships become deep and lasting. Others passed and that season of relationship has ended.

I moved to Minnesota to return to the opportunity to live in that kind of community of women through St. Paul’s Outreach, living together, eating together, praying together, with a shared faith. For a year, I lived in that household. The following year, I found a roommate, and we rented a house, sharing faith but also aesthetics, a Christmas tree, stories about the boyfriends we would go on to marry, and our vision of what life could or should be like as we moved forward to those new stages of marriage.

To the east coast and back, my husband and I traveled after marrying. We returned to California. My parent’s friend owned the first home we rented on the west coast.

We moved again, with the support of my parents. And again. And again. Each time, with gratitude we soaked up the wonder of amazing neighbors when we faced times of crisis.

After ten years, for the first time, it feels like we have found not just friends or neighbors, but community, two, in fact.

One came through the nature of this town. I interviewed a business owner, who told me she had just been on the phone with my husband to set up music lessons, whose husband did electrical work for us when we moved. The next week, I attended a play, directed by the man who, along with his wife and twenty other people, helped us move in because we called a local church to ask for help. Each time I come to town to share the stories of the people who live here, I meet people who read this column, or have known my parents for decades, or I’ve known through a Facebook moms’ group for years, or people I knew as kids running around the hall at a church dinner.

The other community comes from our parish. A group of homeschooling families, seeking a way to connect our children, looking for educational and social opportunities. We see each other weekly, visit after mass, and throughout the summer interact at co-op opportunities.

It comes with age. Moving past the desire to be best friends. Understanding friendships evolve and change. Understanding that no relationship can feed every need. If they serve a few facets, then it’s a boon.

If you’re suffering from a lack of community, consider this.

It takes visibility to form community.

People need to see your face. Put yourself out there. Find groups with common interests, whether volunteering at the Carnegie Art Center, Historical Society, or Lions Club. Or find subgroups or committees at work. Or find the local playdates or co-ops or library storytime.

It takes stability to form a community.

Make your attendance consistent and give it an important spot in your calendar.

It takes intentionality to form a community.

We live in a transitory world, show you’re invested where you’re at. Talk to people. Take an interest. Ask questions.

It is possible, even as people leave and the world keeps rushing around us. It takes time. It takes patience. And a little bit of trust that the people are out there until finally, we build a community.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

The Hidden Cost of Luxery


Some days, the days at home with the kids grow long. I turn to Facebook for mental stimulation and personal connection. A woman posted a series of photos in support of babywearing: the art of holding a child hands-free by a type of sling or carrier. Around the world women carry their babies, accomplishing tasks most American women would find impossible to do while holding a child. She intended the post as a positive affirmation, a “sí se puede” of motherhood.



Image may contain: one or more people, outdoor and water
Source: Traditional Babywearing



This generation of young mothers swings the pendulum away from the previous generations of American parenting which said you spoil the baby by holding it too much.

We did not need to hold our babies. We had bassinets, strollers, rock ’n sleeps, swings, and bumbo seats. We returned to work; our children went to childcare, or we stayed home and let the chores go. We successfully completed a day of laundry and may or may not have dealt with with the laundry mountain built from four loads out of the dryer. The dishwasher got loaded while the kids watched a movie or after they went to bed. The dishes were washed eventually. We can reuse a pot from time to time if we only boiled pasta in it.

To pass the time we listened to podcasts while we folded. Then we went for a walk for local library programming.

Some mothers recommend babywearing, but without a colicky baby, I did not really need to. After all, the Moby wrap was impossible to get on and off easily, the buckles got confusing in that thrift store carrier, the sling hurt my shoulder. If she could lay in the swing, I would let her.

Among the many comments at this amazing set of photos from all around the world, one woman pointed out that for many of the women in the photos, they had to work. Childcare was not an option; a bumbo was not an option. They could work or they could starve.

I do not know that the labor market in the United States supports women working with their infants alongside them. If a woman must work out of financial necessity, she is expected to find childcare. If a woman works because she loves her line of work, she is expected to find childcare. The burden rests on her. If she cannot afford childcare, the government will subsidize it. Once the child is school age they can be dropped off early and picked up late, extending the hours allowing the caregiver to work.

Between the stay-at-home mothers and their gadgets, we do not have to “wear” our babies. The women in the photos do not have the luxury of the choice: to wear or not to wear.

We do.

Proponents of baby-wearing wax poetic over the benefits: strengthens the bond, facilitates development, reduces flat-head syndrome, boosts milk production, caregivers can be hands-free to get stuff done, fosters closeness.

There is a hidden cost of luxury.

Whether we speak of baby-wearing, dryer usage, relying on pre-made meals or take-out, or communicating through social media and text messages, modern technologies can facilitate the loss of things that benefit relationships, health and community. We thought it better to do without them in the name of convenience.

Walking flowers to a neighbor unannounced, visiting a grandparent who cannot hear you on the telephone, digging up carrots with children, or line-drying the sheets are all inconvenient.



Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash



But the research bears out the benefits of walking, exposure to nature, growing your own vegetables, and saving electricity. In the name of research, we could jog on a treadmill in sweat-wicking exercise gear to get in our steps, fly to a Disney Resort for some nature and buy a rustic chic chicken coop and vertical herb garden pots for homegrown goods, or we could do it the simpler way, the way others around the world (and maybe in our own neighborhoods) still do out of necessity, the way that forces us to turn to and rely on our neighbor.

Further comments on that post revealed there is a lot of help from others to make it possible for these women to wear their babies while they work.

We gain time the other way, but what do we lose?

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Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.


One Inspires Many


Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch


At the Bookworm Literacy booth during Love Hughson, my 8-year-old, at my strong encouraging, selected “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Anderson. One character, the Finn Woman tells her reindeer, “I can give her no greater power than she has already,” said the woman; “don’t you see how strong that is? How men and animals are obliged to serve her, and how well she has got through the world, barefooted as she is. She cannot receive any power from me greater than she now has, which consists in her own purity and innocence of heart.”

My daughter asks me, “it ‘The Snow Queen’ real?” She is very concerned with the line between the real and the unreal.

“No, but even though the things in it did not happen, it teaches us lessons that are true,” I answer.

“Barefooted though she is,” the Finn woman described the girl. Gerda, the child protagonist, owns a pair of red shoes which she offers first to the river, thinking the friend for whom she searches is drowned. Her barefootedness comes out of sacrifice.




Later she is given warm boots and removed them when she entered a warm house. Leaving in haste, she is mounted on the aforementioned reindeer, forgetting her boots.

Her barefootedness comes from the simple forgetfulness of a child. Even in the rain, my children can still manage to climb out of the van barefoot. Their eagerness is their virtue, though not yet tempered by the prudence and careful planning of age.

Barefoot though we are, we all go forth to do what we can. What drives the barefooted person forward? Connection. Relationship. A sense that I am not alone in the world if I can do one thing to help another.

In towns and communities where volunteering is commonplace, where many an event provides many an opportunity, where schools require students to earn citizenship points, it can be easy to reduce the motivation to, “I want to help the community.”

Gerda might have said the same of her friend. Why would she travel the cold world over, meeting strangers and risking adventures?

She might have said, “Because I love him.” Believing him alive, she will not give up so long as there was a need.

Gerda and her friend, Kay lived next to each other. Their windows faced each other and they played together. She watched his personality change and then he disappeared. She noticed.

She noticed and she acted, even if her actions could change nothing. Her connection to him, his presence in her life, her love for him, moved her to act.

Fairytales are useful things when they simplify nature. It is true we are all complicated sorts, but why not condense our complication to barefootedness? Then we can see the effect of good in terrible situations.

Her goodness inspires others to help her. She begins the mission, she persists in the mission, even though she endures suffering. Because of the purity of her intention, others help her along the way.

There are leaders among us in our community. They see the need; they begin the mission. Barefoot though they are, they move forward, and that inspires others to join in. I might not have noticed the need in this insulated life, but the gofundme page, the Love Hughson website, the signs about town, wake me up a little.

The best leaders bring others and their ideas together. Project leaders bring their skills, their ideas seen in the windows that face their own and connections that make them care in a special way about that project. Then others join in.

And thus, we help the community.

Ask for Help

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch


He is six. He is the spitting image of his paternal uncle as a child. I suspect he regularly experiences nuclear explosions in his blood for the amount of energy he gives off. The boy bounces, runs, climbs, and speaks at an excessively high volume. Everything he does is done intensely. He feels everything. He expresses everything.

So when he asks for something, it is not enough to merely ask. He must plea. Calls and requests come pouring out of his little mouth and little lips with a cry and a whine. It is as if he thinks, believes with all his heart, the thing he longs for will never come because we said, “wait.”

When he asks, he either has already begun to believe it will not happen or he demands with complete assurance his need will be met. If I have forgotten his request because I am elbow-deep in unpacking another large U-haul moving box, he does not suspect it will be forgotten forever. He is convinced.

A good friend grew to trust me and rely on me in college. His car battery died in Modesto near the junior college. I was at home, twenty minutes away. When he called and asked for help, I inquired, “did you ask anyone walking by if they have jumper cables?” The thought had not occurred to him. You see, growing up, for him, there was no one to ask for help. He learned to rely on himself. Every man for himself, they taught him.

Ask my father a question. If he does not know the answer, his first inclination is not to “Google” it, as mine would be. He will begin to generate a list of friends he knows who might know the answer. He grew up in a world of community, of neighbors, of solidarity.

Some days it feels like that world is slipping away from us. Who can I ask for help? Friends live far away. Schedules are full. Families are small. Weekdays are filled with children. Weekends are filled with family times…or sports…or trips.

One generation raised another with the individualistic belief: I should do it myself. It I cannot, I should hire someone who can. We used to ask friends to help us move thinking they would reciprocate and we could one day help them. They never asked. They did it themselves. Or they hired movers.

What do we expect when we ask for help. Are we convinced the answer will be no? “He is probably too busy…she’s got too much on her plate…”

What lies beneath those excuses we put into the mouths and hearts of others? Do we believe people would help us if they could? Do we believe we are worth helping?

We reached out during this move; we asked for help. A church in our community responded with more generosity than we ever could have imagined. It was a church we do not even belong to. We did nothing to earn it. We cannot repay it. Yet they gave freely.

Because we asked.

Acts of kindness are not meant to be random, my professor said. They are deliberately done for those in need, whether we know them or not. It is right to give more to those we love, with whom we have a relationship.

Relationships begin in the smallest, most intimate circles: a spouse, a family, one’s closest friends. Then the circles grow to include a neighborhood, a church community, a civic organization, a town. When they grow so large, we know little about those in the circle, but they are still ours. They still have value. We are still bonded in the relationships of community.

I want my son to see that although the world is not the same as it was generations ago, relationships still matter. He can ask for help. There will be an answer.

Why Should I Attend my Parish Festival?

We don’t have to know our neighbors.




We don’t need to know about the little community events.




Our children will survive if they never see a Ferris Wheel in real life.




We can know nothing about the cultural roots of the person next door.




And we can live without any sense of wonder and awe.




But how much better if we can, like a child, see the world as it is, bright, beautiful and connected. For the child able to live in a world of security with stable attachments, the world is their playground, everything is made to amaze them.

We can live that way to

if we open our eyes

and try

are you ready for spring cleaning?

Some lighter fare today while California is drenched in the pineapple express…my lawn overfloweth…

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch

I do not know if I can look at spring-cleaning the same after reading “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

 “Well, now that’s off our hands, we’ll start house-cleaning tomorrow, bright and early.”…

Everything in the house was moved, everything was scrubbed and scoured and polished. All the curtains were down, all the feather-beds were outdoors, airing, all the blankets and quilts were washed. From dawn to dark Almanzo was running, pumping water, fetching wood, spreading clean straw on the scrubbed floors and then helping to stretch the carpets over it, and then tacking all those edges down again.

Days and days he spent in the cellar. He helped Royal empty the vegetable-bins. They sorted out every spoiled apple and carrot and turnip, and put back the good ones into a few bins that Mother had scrubbed. They took down the other bins and stored them in the woodshed. They carried out crocks and jars and jugs, till the cellar was almost empty. Then Mother scrubbed the walls and floor. Royal poured water into pails of lime, and Almanzo stirred the lime till it stopped boiling and was whitewash. Then they whitewashed the whole cellar. That was fun…

The whole cellar was fresh and clean and snow-white when it dried…”

With the advent of warm air and sunshine, especially after a wet and oddly-chilly March, our bodies pick up on a renewed out-of-doors energy. We have been cooped up too long. The windows must be open.

With the gusts of April breeze blowing the curtains, it is time to breathe new life into a stuffy home.

We accomplish this, by moving the furniture.

Is spring cleaning your goal or just something you hear about on television and in ancient children’s books about farm life? Perhaps it is something you intend to do, but never quite get to. Perhaps you learned long ago cleaning was not your forte so you outsource the process.

Whatever your ability and time, I recommend an examination of some areas. In Hughson, April is the perfect time.

Closets: go through your closets. Do you wear everything in there? Are there pieces you hate but cannot get rid of? Put it in a bag and do not look back. Same goes for every other storage space you have. It is amazing how unnecessary or unwanted things accumulate because of limited garbage-can space. Plan to donate, mend, or sell during the City-Wide Yard Sale.


Photo by sahar kanyas on Unsplash

vacuum, shampoo, mop, whatever it takes to get those mites out. Work based on the time you have. Start from the ceiling then work your way down to the floor.


Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash

change up the décor, shop your storage closets for new ideas. First, take everything down, then put it up in a new way. Switch objects from one room to another. Don’t love it? Never use it? Donate or sell at your yard sale…of give to your neighbor to sell at hers.


Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Before binging on bins at Target, start with cardboard boxes as drawer dividers and cabinet organizers. Find out what you need, how the space will work best. When you’re done, recycle your boxes at the City Wide Clean-Up day or, if they are still in good shape, post on as free moving boxes.


Photo by Kathryn Anne Casey for the Hughson Chronicle

it intimated me for so long. I cannot say I love it, but the delight in seeing something grow is restorative. If you do not love dirt, bribe an old-enough child to weed, hire a neighbor kid or a professional gardener to get you on the right track. The pleasure of walking outside and noticing a flower here or a tomato plant there helps us refocus from our busy lives to the smallness of the moment.



Make a shopping list and list of projects as you work.

You do not have to accomplish everything in one day. Make a list of what your house and family needs this spring and break it into bite-size chunks big enough to accomplish and small enough not to overwhelm.



What good is all the work if we do not take a moment to savor the goodness of life, of home, of community and the beauty of spring.

Where does community come from?

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch.


College made finding community easy. I lived with people. They socialized with people. I socialized with people. College was a social atmosphere. After one year, I found my group and the places I liked to go.

Working made finding community not too difficult. Side by side, I sat with my coworkers with similar interests and we bonded over the joys and difficulties of our work. Working with people, I was ready to go home and be with only my family. I was done socializing.

When I made the decision to stay-at-home, both of these sources were gone. As I made progress along the path of adulthood, I learned friendships must become deliberate. I still saw friends from work, but we make appointments now to get together. Otherwise, time seems to disappear.

But where can I go where I just see people without the pressure of giving them all my attention? It has taken a number of years, but I think we have found it, for our life right now.

I rely on some old friends and some new. Seasons of life bring different seasons in friendship. A couple work friends, a couple college friends form my inner circle.

Social media became the source for me to maintain contact with friends of shared interests. We enjoy discussing art, literature, church and culture.

We sit outside and visit with neighbors who are in a neighborly mood. I meet a few people, wave to a few people, and have seen a relationship with next-door neighbors grow. These hobby friends and neighbors form another circle.

Through our church community, we meet new people. When you sit side-by-side, in front or behind the same people week in and week out, you start to learn something about them. Unfortunately, we often do not learn their names. They are in the same boat as us, and when we do, they can form lifelong friendships. They become a type of family.

In the church and city, there are charitable organizations we can join. I find my time limited by parenting, but new ways are emerging. In these organizations, I find the mix of ages and backgrounds we need to keep us intellectually on our toes. Generations can learn from each other.

There are also third places. Third places are places where people gather on a regular basis. Like the church pew, they start to recognize and learn something about the people around them. Do you go to Hamilton’s on Sundays, Coco’s during the week, or Samaritan Village every Saturday?

The catch to all this community building, is we have to come prepared to build. Our tools are an openness to meeting others and a willingness to take an interest in others. What do I mean by openness? No only a willingness to wave and say hi, but to be willing to sit without our phone or electronic device. Staring at a screen communicates to others we are busy, talking to us is an interruption. It may be only a manner of passing the time, but to others, it puts up a wall. We are unapproachable in these casual settings. Earbuds function the same way. We have to engage with the world apart from digital activity in order to be able to connect with others in a real way.

We also must take an interest in others. If we go with our own script written out or spend the listening time planning our response, we will appear distracted and be unable to grab onto what the other person is talking about. People want others to be interested in them. Showing that interest builds trust. Trust builds friendship. Friendship builds community.

It is not easy. When the rest of the world seems otherwise engaged, not interested in us, when we have become habituated to distraction or just are so tired of the world we do not want to socialize, it is not easy. But like exercise, we need it. It may be hard to get started, to reach out, shake a hand and ask a question. But we need it. And they need it. And it makes the world a better place.

Building Community Drop By Drop

Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch


Berkeley, Charlottesville, North Korea, Mexico, Florida, Texas, Montana, Oregon, ISIS, health insurance, climate, UN, opioid epidemic, university protests…the list goes on and on of areas in our country, in our world, in our newsfeed in crisis. Two days ago I sat with my mother on her porch and we talked about how these seem to be particularly dark times. Yesterday, my neighbor told me the news:

“Stanislaus County deputies found 64-year-old David Brichetto of Oakdale dead in a white, four-door sedan parked along Geer Road, just south of Yosemite Boulevard. Brichetto had sustained injuries indicating he had been killed by someone.” (Fox News, 9/18/17)

There was a time when a little town far away from everything else as disconnected as the miles that lay between it and its neighboring town. It might be a newsworthy event to travel from one’s rural retreat to town to buy supplies. I have never lived in such an era.

With the Internet and social media, we find ourselves with access news from all over the world in towns we could have lived and died without ever having heard of just a few decades ago. The world is smaller, they say. Then why do we seem so far apart?

A veteran sat on the side of the road selling tools and asking for work. I asked my parents about this man. Someone they knew had hired him. He was a good man and a good worker, but not able to do heavy manual labor.

Until he died, I never knew his name.

Loneliness is the epidemic of our times.

It affects children who sit alone playing video games. It affects stay-at-home parents who feel isolated in their own neighborhoods. It affects empty nesters whose children moved out-of-state. It affects aging persons whose suburban housing developments have no benches to rest on during a morning walk.

Small doses of loneliness can give us opportunities to recharge, reflect and consider the big questions of life. Long-term loneliness and social isolation, “the discrepancy between what you want from your social relationships and your perception of those relationships” puts our brain in survival mode, neglecting activity in the areas used for empathy, increases depression, and decreases life expectancy (Entis, L., “Chronic Loneliness Is a Modern-Day Epidemic,” Fortune, June 22, 2016.)

Specialists on the subject say terrorists want people to panic, to turn against each other, to cause terror. In natural disasters, nationally funded aid often struggles to get through the waters. People survive by helping each other, sharing boats, delivering pizza. When we come together, we can make it through dark times.

For children ages two to three, parallel play is satisfying. For older children and adults, it is not enough to be side-by-side with another person, absorbed in totally different activities. Our brains and bodies crave personal engagement. We need to be heard and understood. We need to hear and understand.

The speed of our cars, fears of urban legends, and the news cycle itself keep us moving past the man on the side of the road. Keeping safety in mind, what could we have done differently? Perhaps, by myself, not much.

But if I invest in my town, if I am engaged in my local church or community group, maybe I could have had a place to invite him.

Some people who live alone go an entire day without speaking to anyone. Maybe this will be the year I take my children to sing Christmas Carols at Samaritan Village, a community-minded retirement center. I should keep an eye out in my neighborhood. Maybe there is an elderly neighbor I never see. Maybe we could take that neighbor cup of lemonade when we have our lemonade stand.

By ourselves, we cannot change the world. The world will change drop by drop. Mother Teresa said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”

I do not want to live in my own little world. Each tragedy or crisis in the world is a call to remind us how much we need each other, and when we work together, leaving no person forgotten or behind, we can accomplish great things.

For more meditations on communities and persons unknown, check out this review by Stephen Greydanus on a new film, Unknown.

Revisiting Young Ladies Institute (YLI)

As a 16-year old girl watching Felicity and 10 Things I Hate About You, there was nothing that drew me to the Young Ladies’ Institute (YLI), a large, active women’s organization at our local Catholic Church. My mother was greatly involved. With all the jokes about how young the ladies were (they were not) I did not understand this organization.

Like many other high school graduates I knew, I petitioned for financial support, a donation for missionary work, a scholarship for college, both of which received. YLI was a good organization. I thought nothing ill of it.

College and marriage took me to the midwest and east coast, far away from YLI which spans the west. Returning home, looking for projects to fill my housewife lifestyle. I volunteered to create the monthly newsletter.

In this way, I learned about the program to which my mother was greatly committed. I learned the events, the works of mercy performed, the offices and annual tasks. Every woman I interviewed had this to say about YLI, “I love YLI because they were there for me in my time of need…”

As life goes on, the structures of our relationships change. I found myself looking for friends who were able to be a part of daily life. I longed for a community I could plug into with like-minded women.

In the last two years, crises mounted. We were in need. YLI came to our aid through meals, donations, and putting together the most beautiful funeral reception I could imagine. Walking into my mother’s kitchen, seeing platter after platter of brightly hued fruit after burying my baby was a relief I did not expect. It was Beauty after Sadness.


These women served and washed dishes while I talked with friends, hoping this would be the end of our grief. They did not do this only because they are my mom’s friends. They did it because they are my sisters, my YLI sisters. Despite my lack of involvement, they were there for me as no single individual could be.

Meanwhile, I considered the benefit of the parish in a small town, as put forward by Rod Dreher’s in The Little Way of Ruthie Lemming. Our friends can be like-minded, but in our lives we need to be confronted by people who are different: older, younger, married, single, with kids, without kids, wanting kids, not wanting kids, working, unemployed by choice or circumstance, conservative, liberal, faithful to the Magisterium, spiritual-but-not-religious, and so on. In adulthood, it does us no good to live in a bubble. For some, social media and steaming-on-demand create quite a secure bubble. We see or hear only what we want.

Then one evening, I decide to attend the YLI meeting in order to flesh out that month’s newsletter.

There are three young women there, all younger than me. I gravitated towards one, sitting on the outskirts with her infant. Feeling the need to explain my lack of involvement (too cool for the old ladies group), she scrunches her nose, smiles and says, “I like it. It’s fun.” When the meeting begins, I see what she means.

First, I felt like I was in Bewitched at some committee meeting. This gave me a sense of continuity with history. Housewives did not just stay at home mothering. They volunteered. They plugged into not just their children’s schools, but community groups, local nonprofits, programs that benefit the neighborhood. This is one fall out of a majority of mothers going to work. Neighborhoods wane because no one except paid employees has the time to improve them.

Secondly, Robert’s Rules of Order govern the meeting. A strange sight for a teenager, I see how that this structure is necessary. How else could you bring 18-year-olds and 80-year-olds together in one room? Without the structure, they would speak a different language. Like the Church, this order makes it bigger than the personalities of the leaders and the age.

Lastly, I cannot think of many tasks I like more than watching people interact. This was food for the mind and fodder for my humor.

I thought to myself, this could be it. This could be what I have been looking for. My community, right here.

And in the end, it provides more opportunities to tease my mother. That makes the experience priceless.

Black Friday: A look ahead

Black Friday. That ominous day for some, a thrilling adventure for others. Every Thanksgiving we made the eternal long drive to my aunt’s house in Redding. In reality the drive took three hours. We spent several days there. Thanksgiving was spent cooking, sitting around, eating, watching professional and college football. That evening, individuals waded through the thick packet of advertisements and joked about what ridiculous toy they would go after, just for the hunt. Friday morning, more ads were gone through. The gentlemen left early for the hunting ground, returned, and lounged around the house. Later on the ladies left and went to departments stores, a discount store with a little bit of everything, and lunch. It was relaxing, fun and not too expensive. We’ve lost most of our traditions but Black Friday, for me, remains a day, stress-free and nostalgic, with deals to be had.

But that’s easy for me to say. I’m an extrovert. I like the crowds, feeling like I’m in the wild, and I like the sentiment it brings me: the memories, the mess of ads on the dining table Friday morning along with turkey leftovers for lunch. It’s like that for a lot of people.

But Black Friday can be an ugly day. It sounds like an ugly day, named after Black Tuesday and the stock market crash. Who would want to join in that? So stores began the rumor that it is named “black” because the stores “go into the black” aka, go out of debt. Myth! No, it’s a day that many feel demonstrates what is most regrettable about American culture: materialism, madness, greed.

Now Black Friday encroaches on our whole weekend. Black Friday, Small Business Saturday (which I whole-heartedly support), Cyber Monday, and, what-to-call-it, throw-out-tradition Thursday? I feel that retailers have an amazing amount of power in American society, through advertising, through the raging desire to score a deal. Thanksgiving, once a day of family feasting, once a day of revelry, once a day of sitting around a television watching football, once a day of traditional gender roles (women in the kitchen, men around the aforementioned TV), once a day of mythological pilgrims and Indians and Mayflowers (remember that one?), retailers do their best to usurp every opportunity possible to “make a buck, make a buck.”

So social media groups start up, boycott this, boycott that. Because we couldn’t just…stay home that day, right? We have to throw out the entire thing. I love point made that movie theaters have for ages been open on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day, as are drug stores, hospitals and all kinds of organizations and businesses. So regarding the complaint about employees being with families, is it fair to complain now when so many other employees have been through it for ages? I’m not saying Thanksgiving should become a shopping day, I don’t think it should be, but we should look at the big picture.

I do often wonder if we only perceive society coming to this. I mean, communities used to be driven by communal groups within their community. So what you knew is what your neighbors knew and what the banner across Main street said. Now, what do we know? We know what we choose to read online (social media, carefully selected new sites that align with our views or at least do not wildly offend them) and whatever is advertised. Speculation of the number of advertisements the average American is exposed to each day varies widely. Needless to say, it is a lot, especially with widespread advertising online. We are again and again picking up messages that shopping and sales are where the activity is at on Thanksgiving, no longer at dinner. For myself, I think this impression is caused more by the uproar over stores opening on Thanksgiving than the stores themselves. For good or ill, social media is a powerful thing.

I prefer the positive fight. How about, instead of “Boycott Black Thursday,” ending the day with a block party? Imagine if we connected more deeply with our communities with big family celebrations, church gatherings or, as I mentioned already, block parties. Is it simple? No. Are our gatherings set up for it? Likely not. But it’s a good idea, right? I’m sure it would help if family lived nearby or something. We’re so huddled into our little homes in our little suburbs that we rarely see what happens outside. So we see advertisements and group after group lamenting the loss of American culture through shopping, evil materialism at every turn. It’s a problem, but there is a vacuum in our society and retailers are just making the most of it. We have to build up society if we want to save it. We can’t do it if we won’t sit outside a spell and see our neighbors.

So take it to the front porch this year (if it doesn’t snow). I hope you won’t be sorry. God bless you and your November. Let the holiday madness begin!