Advent Calendars: Count Down to Christmas

The first of December is the start of the Advent season and at our house the bringing forth of the annual advent calendar.  Advent means “coming”. The idea is simple: Count down the days in December leading up to Christmas Eve. Advent Calendars come from Germany where Christians marked doors with chalk and later created special calendars to count the days to Christmas.

When I was little, we had two Advent Calendars, one for me and one for my older sister.  They were simple cardboard with pictures covered by little flaps. Each flap had a number, 1 to 25, marking the days until Christmas.  My mother kept the same two calendars for many years and just switched them up.  I’m not sure if that was because she was thrifty or because we needed to save the money.  As a kid I always felt we had plenty of funds, but maybe not.  My dad was a small businessman, selling ladies shoes in a small Wyoming town.  While we lived comfortably, we certainly weren’t wealthy. Really, the repeat calendars were great because they served the purpose of starting holiday festivities early.

IMG_0133Nowadays, I get new calendars for my kids and my husband from Trader Joe’s.  They are less than $2,  filled with little pieces of chocolate and help mark the season and remind my family that I am the keeper of the family traditions.  My husband eats all of the little candies at once.  My son misplaces the calendar, remembers the calendar half way into January and gets a late Christmas treat.  My daughter who is fastidious opens each box on the appropriate day and has 25 days of Christmas treats.

The variety of calendars is fascinating.  There are basic picture calendars like I grew up with, legos, Hershey Kisses, beauty boxes, and varieties of tea. For those who want to celebrate the Yule Tide season daily, there are calendars with little bottles of whisky, wine and beer. For families who want to build a regular advent tradition there are expensive wooden calendars and hand sewn varieties which can be displayed prominently and refilled with treats and surprises every year.

If you don’t have an advent calendar by now it’s probably a little late to find one.  But I would recommend putting on your shopping list for October/early November 2020.  You can vote for President and then buy a calendar to hopefully celebrate ushering in a new administration.

25 Years of Christmas Memories

My son, Scott’s, first Christmas, we had a professional picture taken at JC Penney’s in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  He sat on a gaily wrapped package, dressed in a little red vest, bow tie, and dress slacks.  His outfit is complete with moon boots, a Wyoming staple. He wore those boots every day his first winter walking.

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Scott’s first Christmas, 1994

Kayla, my adopted daughter from China, arrived at our Boise house in the spring 2000.  She was 8 months old.  When her first Christmas rolled around, it was easy to have her join Scott in the Penney’s photo studio for our annual Christmas photo.  The photo studio in Boise was much fancier than Cheyenne.  In Cheyenne, there was a camera set up in front of a tree background in the open store.  In Boise, there was a separate studio where 4  minions snapped pictures as a steady stream of children dressed in party clothes paraded through.  The children marched up on a stage and sat on small boxes.  Parents could choose from a variety of backdrops.

Our most exciting year, Scott and Kayla were sitting on the little stage and suddenly disappeared behind the backdrop.  Apparently, the little present had held one too many children and just gave out.  As the mom, standing behind the camera I was stunned.  The backdrop flopped back down but my kids were nowhere to be seen.  They were on the floor behind the little stage, unhurt.  This incident required me to sign a whole series of reports. I received several calls from Penney’s insurance to make sure that no damage had begotten my children.

When we had Scott’s first picture taken, I had a friend who suggested we send out the picture as our Christmas card.  Hard to believe but 25 years ago this was actually an innovative card.  Christmas cards to relatives and friends were still the “in” thing.  This same friend said she had a friend who had sent pictures for 18 years than duplicated all the previous cards when the child graduated from high school.  This crafty friend sent relatives a photo album of all the Christmas pictures. When I started on the Christmas photo project, I planned to assemble them in the same manner.  Sadly, that time has come and gone.  Scott has graduated from high school, college and now works in Seattle.  Kayla graduated from high school two years ago and is at Montana State University in Bozeman.

In recent years, I debate whether to print cards.  After all, everyone sees what you are up to on Facebook.  My Christmas list has drastically reduced as family members and friends pass or move and don’t provide forwarding addresses.

Today, I bought my Christmas stamps.  The purchase was an act of intention committing me to printing 2019 cards.   The digital world makes it so much easier.  If we aren’t together for a picture, I can go online, pick out a frame with individual shots and make it look like we are at least in touch with each other.  This year we were all together.  We went to Hawaii in May and we spent Thanksgiving together in Buffalo, Wyoming.  My husband, Pete, and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with a trip on the inner passage of Alaska by ferry. We have lots of memories to share.

Now I have to brave the crowds at Costco to pick up the cards. Why bother in the current cyber world?  I decided to continue the tradition one more year because 25 years of family Christmas photos is really a lovely gift to my husband and me.

Thanksgiving

turkey dinnerWe are headed to Buffalo, Wyoming for Thanksgiving this year.  Our trek is elaborate.  We start out on Tuesday and head to Bozeman, Montana.  We spend the night in Bozeman and pick up our daughter, Kayla, who is a sophomore at Montana State University.  We also drop off her snow tires.

Then we soldier on to Billings where we stay in a suite that has a 24-hour airport shuttle.  This is an important feature because our son, Scott, is flying in from Seattle and arrives at midnight when most things in Billings are closed.  Assuming everything goes as planed, he arrives at our room about 12:30 am while the rest of us continue snoozing peacefully with visions of turkey drifting through our heads.

If Billings goes anything like last year, we will be running around late looking for tofu turkey.  Scott is a vegetarian and we left our specially bought vegan plunder at home.  We raced in the only vegetarian market in Billings just at closing (8 pm) and bought a supply of frozen veggie turkeys.  Scott landed on time but crashed through the dark room waking everyone up.  But who am I to complain?  He made the sojourn from Seattle after work on a cigar plane (one seat on each side) to a small airport, landing in the middle of the night, just to join the family.

We get up on Thanksgiving day and drive two and half hours to Buffalo, Wyoming.  The town is about 4,500 people;  about half of whom are Koziseks. The Koziseks have manned the sheriff’s office and police force for years. The next generation is now serving.  There is such a crowd that last year we had dinner in the basement of the Baptist Church.  We didn’t fit in a house.  A large number of the family were left out because my nephew’s wife was entertaining her extended family at their mini-ranch.  We dropped by for a visit and couldn’t get in the door so many people were in attendance. The thought of all of us together in Buffalo is mind boggling.  My husband’s family are all avid hunters and fishers and believe in standing for the flag at football games.  We always have lots to talk about except politics.

My husband, Pete, lost his younger brother who lived in California last spring.  Our Thanksgiving group will be slightly smaller and a lot sadder this year.  The California brother was the big arranger of family reunions and his favorite place was Disney Land.  We have toured the Magic Kingdom on a number of occasions in a Kozisek crowd.  My husband used to laughingly refer to his California brother’s family as the “Disney Nazi’s” because we did Disney from sunrise to fireworks every day.  I fondly remember the trips because Kayla was little and got passed around a lot. I got a break from child care and the pleasure of adult company.disneyland

Over the years, what I have found most remarkable about all these visits is the goodwill.  We are very different people but at Thanksgiving and in Disney Land we seem to be able to find common ground.  I have learned that love and gratitude grow with age.  In the Kozisek family, there is always plenty of both to go around.

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Random Thoughts from Easter 2017

I awoke to a glorious Easter Sunday in Boise! Always a blessing to get up and greet the sun.  We’ve had a winter that didn’t seem to want to end. There was snow just last Thursday.

Our minister told a packed house; “Anyone who likes to garden has faith. It is an act of faith to put a seed in the ground and look forward to it springing forth with new life.”  Let’s get out there planting little sprouts to bring hope to ourselves and others.

Five years ago I would never expected to see police in uniform on duty with a bomb sniffing dog at church.  Now we are getting to use to it.  We had one at the Cathedral of the Rockies at Christmas too.  This time the policeman was extremely kind to everyone and the gorgeous German Shepard was very photogenic.  Fortunately, their presence was not needed.

We always buy flowers at Easter from the church youth group to help support youth mission trips in the summer. The pink and blue hydrangeas have thrived in my back yard. The one we go this year practically shouts, “Look at me!”

I buy the Calla Lilies in honor of my daughter Kayla, both the lily and Kayla have roots to China but grow well in Idaho. This year I am blessed to have both flowers and daughter grace my house with beauty.

This is the twenty-second year I have hidden Easter baskets, a family tradition. I will miss it when Kayla goes away to college, one more year of baskets.  We learned this year with Scott home for a while that you are never too old to bite off the ears of a chocolate bunny.

My son is off to Seattle May first to expand his world and hopefully hunt down a good first job.  We are all very excited for him.  The purpose of parenthood is to raise children who can float by themselves.  I will miss his good humor, beautiful photographs  and noise around the house.

Our male tom cat, Satch, had a good Easter. He discovered a box in the house just his size, always a delight.  The weather was perfect for cats to lay outside and soak up sun.

Easter is a time of new beginnings. May this year bring out the very best in you and your family.  Thanks for reading.

On the hunt for the perfect college I find myself questioning long held beliefs

My daughter is a high school junior. We have spent recent school breaks and long weekends  touring colleges. I started this project with the concept that we are fortunate to have resources.  We have saved enough in a 529 plan for Kayla to go to the University of Idaho and only be responsible for incidentals.  Kayla is Asian. The last couple of years she has begun feeling the pressure of being a rare exotic flower in a sea of all white. She will frequently mention to me that we are once again in a room of Caucasians.  Her father and I decided we needed to kick up our savings a notch to allow Kayla to attend an out-of-state school with a more diverse student population.  My husband is 70 and still working and I am 66 and retired.  Increasing the college fund actually means reducing our retirement savings.  I realize these are the same trade-offs most families make but they probably have fewer resources and are at least 10 to 20 years younger.

Idaho is part of the Western Undergraduate Education program (WUE) which means that at participating schools, you do not pay full out-of-state tuition rather you pay instate times .5 This assumes the student has adequate test scores and grade point average. Kayla meets all the achievement criteria.  Kayla has toured Montana schools twice.  They don’t offer better diversity than Idaho. Montana is, however, slightly more liberal. Montana schools’ tuition aligns with Idaho’s.  We have also toured Nevada-Reno, more diverse and a brand new campus purchased by large donors, demonstrating money makes such a difference. UNR is in a price range with Idaho slightly more diverse but not as academically well-rated.

Kayla has always wanted to go to Colorado State. We attended an immersion program over President’s weekend and she was delighted.  I was a little less delighted because the in-state tuition and room and board is topping out at $100,000. The  WUE tuition is $125,000, significantly above our slight bump-up in tuition.  As the financial aid officer was reviewing costs, one mom started crying in the back.  She asked, “What if my daughter can’t meet achievement scores?”  The financial aid officer suggested loans.  I  was satisfied we could probably make this work by increasing our savings the next 2 years and continuing to pay for Kayla’s college costs the next four years (mind you my husband will be 76 and I’ll be 72 when we get Kayla through school).  I said to the financial officer as I was walking out door, “If we come up with $125,000, this will fund 4 years at CSU for my daughter?”  He says, “Probably not, with inflation the cost is more likely to be $140,000.”   That sum of money is about the same amount as we sold  a 3 bedroom rental house  in Meridian last year.  It was a number that made my heart sink.  We are too well off to qualify for any type of financial assistance.  I don’t expect the public to be paying for my daughter to go to a state school.  But I do think that public colleges are  too expensive.  As my husband says, our tours have made the University of Idaho look like a great value.  CSU rates slightly better than U of I on academic criteria but not substantially better for almost twice the cost.

We are now taking a spring break to tour California schools. I call it our fantasy land tour.  I have three girls with me including my daughter.  One has a trust fund and can afford to go to any school she can get into. One is having trouble funding her meals on the trip though she has excellent grades.  I am paying for everything but food. We are staying in hotels where breakfast is provided so she only needs to cover lunch and dinner.  She asked to come on the trip because she has never been to California.   I am sure she will probably qualify for financial aid but not enough for the high cost of California schools.  Then there is my daughter.  We think she should be somewhere with high academic standards and where diverse populations are welcoming and abundant (sounds like California to me).  But when we looked with my son six years ago, there was a gap of $60,000 annually between the scholarship he received and the cost of the school where he wanted to go.  We said we wouldn’t pay it and he ended up at Idaho.  He has graduated now and we are hopeful a college education will help him land in the middle class as it did my husband and I. But I don’t know that for sure.  He has yet to land a job on the west coast where he wants to go for the same reason my daughter wants to go out of state, more diversity and more liberal thinking.

What I do know is if upper class, highly educated professionals find the cost of education daunting it must be terrifying for most families. I think we need a well-educated workforce. To achieve that, college needs to be accessible to most people.  That means public universities need to have a reasonable tuition for the middle class.  I don’t agree with Bernie Sanders that college should be free for everyone.  But I do understand why his message resonated with college students trying to make their way through school while studying, working, and carrying large loans.  I think public colleges need to be affordable.  If that means, my husband and I pay more taxes to make that happen so be it.  We need a workforce of the future that is well-trained, creative, and not dragged down by debt.

 

Trump’s Terminating Political Appointees is Routine News

Political appointees serve at the pleasure of the elected official, period. End of story.   In my early years in government, I was one of these exotic creatures who can do as they please as long as their elected official is willing to support them and remains satisfied with their work.  I even had three possibly four Department heads over me who wished me gone. I served at the pleasure of a Democratic Governor for ten-years in upper management.  The Governor respected my work and knew my family (personal connections are essential to success in political jobs). This Governor even nominated me for a national award for my work with troubled youth.  I was subsequently selected as the national winner by the National Council of Women of the United States from all the nominees throughout the nation and flown to New York, put up in a hotel on Park Avenue viewing Central Park and featured as the main speaker at their national lunch; a heady experience indeed for a young naïve, highly-educated professional woman from Wyoming.  This Governor never promoted me to head of the Department, my dearest desire because I had the administrative credentials but he knew (though I didn’t understand it at the time) I didn’t have the political connections.

I accepted a position as Cabin Secretary of a similar Department in Montana working for a newly elected Republican Governor. I was brought in from another state because there were major complaints of sexual harassment by male Department executives. A thorough housekeeping was in order.  The Governor and his personal staff didn’t know me well but respected my administrative acumen.  I did manage to reorganize and clean up the mess I inherited but at great personal cost to me.  It is hard to work in an environment where those around you are untrustworthy and you can find your name in the paper any morning.

After 4 years, a new Governor was elected. The existing cabinet was all asked to submit our resignations the day after the election, effective at the end of my Governor’s term. We all did so. I subsequently met with the new Governor and he told me that I had done a good job, “but these positions are like hair spray, and there was a shelf life.” I had apparently outlived my shelf-life because I was terminated.  Out of a job, I was recruited by head hunters for several other political jobs. There are always places where someone’s friend appointed to a high position has made a huge mess and the politician needs an independent executive to help clean up.  However, without the correct political connections, it was clear to my husband and me that taking any of these positions would lead to a life dependent on the vagaries of politics and whims of politicians.  The political appointee is not judged by their skills or aptitudes at their job but rather by their ability to please their boss, be on the right side of news stories and not upset the politician’s base.

I have been surprised by the brouhaha around the recent request by President Trump that 46 Obama-era prosecutors resign. While many things in the Trump administration have upset me, this request is actually standard when political parties change power.   The political appointee has two choices either carry out the wishes of the politician who selected them to the best of their ability or resign.  Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’s refusal to implement the Trump Travel Ban didn’t surprise me.  I wouldn’t have supported it and neither have the courts.  However, what did surprise me was that she didn’t immediately resign.  Rather she said she wouldn’t implement it and waited to be fired.  She had to know that she would be terminated.  She was not appointed by Trump, she didn’t embrace his politics and she didn’t want to help him implement his campaign promises.  The high ground in this scenario would have been to resign and clearly state to the President, the press and the American people the problems that she saw with the immigration executive order.  Taking such a tack, she could have explained her inability to maintain her integrity if she continued to serve in the role of Acting Attorney General. Understanding and maintaining integrity  in political roles is essential to sustaining Democracy.  Instead, Yates opened the door for President Trump to attack her and seize the high moral ground with incendiary language such as “betrayed” and “weak on immigration” when the moment was hers to win.  Instead, I fear Trump followers ended up feeling the federal bureaucracy was once again out of control.

I am not a Trump fan but when the press makes headlines out of routine politics as if it is some horrendous scandal, the media is contributing the charge of “fake news.” All of us need to focus on the issues that make the Trump administration different and outrageous and not pretend that routine political patronage is something out of the ordinary.

We are all immigrants through time and history

“Every day is a journey and the journey itself is Home”

(Matsuo Basho, Japanese Poet 1600’s)

There are approximately 11 million people living in the United States illegally. The question is not so much how did they get here but why did they get here and why historically have we offered these individuals a home.  We have invited many people to come to our country and serve in positions that we are unwilling to take.  I heard an Idaho Dairy farmer on public radio before the election say he was voting for Trump. The farmer employs illegal workers, Mexicans, who have been in Idaho working on his farm for many years.  When asked about Trump’s plans for deportation, the farmer explained that Trump wasn’t talking about removing his workers; Trump was talking about removing the criminals.

A Wall Street Journal  article, March 4th , 2017 entitled “Time Makes Migrants of Us All” argues that in a global economy rapid change means that at some point in time, even if we never travel afar we will feel foreign. This week, I was visiting with several older women who were discussing how difficult it is for them to keep their computers up to date and how stymied, frustrated and panicked they feel when their computer isn’t working.  My attorney recently had his office flooded by Idaho’s ongoing winter.  Removing the water and remodeling his office has totally disrupted his work flow.  My kids laugh at me when I refer to “The Google” or the snappychat (still a foreign entity to me but certainly a prime purchase on the stock market last week).

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Neanderthals exterminated by interaction with humans.
If we take a longer historical view  and accept that we are all on life’s journey together than we are all immigrants forging our way forward towards a new future. We all came to American from somewhere.   I read an article this fall about the drama in our DNA. If we really analyze our DNA and look at human development through the ages,  human evolution is a scientific soap opera. The drama of human history revolves around climate waves of decimating cold and surging heat.  History includes killer romances. Humans and Neanderthals apparently had love affairs in which the human DNA proved toxic to the Neanderthals. Interbreeding proved a disaster for the Neanderthals who never recovered decimating the race in the course of millennium.  Humans went on to become stone tool makers, who were also artists (40,000 years ago).

We moved from hunting and gathering to farming in the Fertile Crescent, planting crops and domesticating animals. We learned to digest milk and metabolic fats. We got taller, developed lighter skin and eyes in the colder climates.  Leprosy and TB emerged and threatened us as did the plague and flu.  We are all carriers of this genetic history.  The fact that we are here means that our ancestors were survivors.  Among us today 2% of us have DNA that goes all the way back to those Neanderthals who we wiped out 50,000 years ago.  Their genes are still with us.

A rudimentary look at my own family tree suggests many opportunities for diversity. My son is a fifth generation Wyomingite.  My great grandfather moved to Wyoming territory as a miner. His tiny one-room mining cabin in the Snowy Mountains still isn’t accessible by road even in the summer.  Hard to believe that a mountain man living high in the Rockies by himself didn’t do some womanizing at some point in time.  He later became a railroader when the Union Pacific came through Wyoming, served on the first territorial legislature, and eventually killed himself.  No one ever said why.  His wife took to traveling all over the nation by train. My grandmother and grandfather were both highly educated for the time. Grandmother was one of the first classes of women to graduate from the University of Wyoming.  My grandfather held an engineering degree from the University of Michigan and served as Wyoming’s first Highway Engineer.  On the surface, our Wyoming lineage looks extremely homogenous, Caucasian builders of a new state but just like Thomas Jefferson’s family, I can’t swear there aren’t other branches that are more colorful than we are.

My dad’s family is even more likely to have a dramatic history.  He grew up in South Carolina on a plantation that was downsized by the time I was young. The big house remained but the land had been sold off and other houses built around it.  My grandmother still had “colored” help (her terminology in the early 1950’s).  I don’t think my grandmother ever learned to cook.  The history of long-term southern families is thwart with secret interracial mixing.  I can’t image that ours is not the same.   I have an adopted daughter from China and my sister has an adopted daughter of Mexican/Native American descent.  So if the historical roots of our tree are not diverse,   the new leaves are bright indeed.

When we as a country talk about sending people home, maybe we should first think about where our home is. I don’t mean our literal home but where did we come from in history.   Where would we be now if our ancestors had been sent home or couldn’t develop the genetic structure to continue forward?  Even in our life time, are we not all immigrants in the new global high tech world?  Have we not had to learn a new languages to dwell among the ever evolving technology.In this life time, have we not journeyed far from the party-line rotary dial telephones and manual typewriters to the new frontier virtual reality?

Is my home Ashtree Way, Boise,  Idaho, the United States, the world, the 21st century, or all of the above?

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