Happy New Year?

I received a notification informing us that donations to Michigan food banks will no longer be tax-deductible after December 31, 2011, which coincides with the expiration of federal extended unemployment insurance programs.  The expiration of federal extensions will immediately drop 2 million unemployed from the rolls and millions more will follow as state benefits expire in 2012.  Also heralding in the New Year, Michigan will reduce unemployment compensation to a maximum of 20 weeks from 26, the standard of all states for more than 50 years.  Because unemployment compensation is designed only to cover living expenses, it is commonly accepted that all of these monies are promptly dumped back into our lagging economy.  A doom and gloom outlook for the unemployed and needy has been the forecast for a few years now, but the perfect storm of 2012 will add to poverty statistics at a head-spinning rate.  My inclination to seek out positive and humorous perspectives about any given situation has become more challenging, but I think I can do it for the remainder of 2011.

With the holiday season approaching my thoughts predictably turn to what I am thankful for and what Jesus gifted me with on the day he was born.  If there were ever a time to relish the present, it is now.  I plan to savor Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts with my family members who are currently healthy, fed, housed, and humorous.  My focus is on blessings that money cannot buy nor replace, such as loving and supportive friendships and a stable marriage.  We will give what we can, not for the benefit of a tax deduction, but because we appreciate the need to share our bounty now more than ever.  People are pulling together, one of the few upsides to our economic climate, and I believe we will experience more brotherhood in the coming year.  While Christmas commercials and electronic ads are inundating a broke America in a futile effort to pry money from near empty wallets, we will buy gifts from local crafters, small businesses, wineries, and breweries.  2012 promises to be a challenging year, but I plan to have a rocking good time during what remains of 2011 and adopt a Scarlett O’Hara attitude of not thinking about it today.  Helping me to delay thoughts of next year is The Michigan Beer Cellar, the only micro-brewery in Michigan that is also a winery and artisan distillery,  conveniently located only a few blocks away.

The Village

Relocating from the city to a village surrounded by apple orchards and woodlands has been a positive experience, for the most part.  The culture is simpler here; a local art revue with centerpieces of apple sculptures, a Celtic Festival, the annual Town & Country fair, and the small building whose only function is as Santa’s house during the three weeks of Old Fashioned Christmas, epitomize our small-town community.  We know our neighbors and everyone except one snotty couple waves to us when we turn onto our street.  If we want to know the happenings around the village, or even if we don’t, Johnny from across the street is a better reporter than those on the evening news, often delivering tabloid-type tidbits such as who drinks too much, who was arrested or picked up by an ambulance, and which relationship just broke up.  He inherited his reporting skills from his dad who will eagerly entertain us with both saucy and factual history dating back forty years.  They are the reason I pull our shades down the moment darkness arrives.  There isn’t anything gossip-worthy happening in our house, but privacy makes for more comfortable evenings.  Thanks to those two and the rest of our slightly less watchful neighbors, I do feel safer here than I ever did in the city where it seemed the primary goal was to avoid eye contact.  They tell me that most people do not lock their doors, but spending my formative years falling asleep to sirens instilled security habits that cannot be overturned.

My husband fits in here more than I do, probably because he grew up surrounded by seven acres of farmland and woods where he and his playmates had free rein.  He adapted instantly, often performing acts of kindness such as snow blowing the neighbors’ driveways simply because there is a foot of snow and they brighten our days with their waves and smiles.  They return the favor, too, showing up if they hear a hammer or power tools and snow blowing our driveway after a morning blizzard.  It is a sweet joy to discover a clean driveway when you are imagining and dreading hours of work during your commute home.  Our next-door neighbor Linda feeds our cat when we go on vacation and baked my husband cookies as a thank you for his thoughtfulness.  I can wander over there with any question or request and she and her husband Don are unfailingly helpful.

The tellers at the bank and clerks at the grocery store, gas station, and video rental recognize me and exchange friendly chit-chat when I am out running errands.  It takes a little longer, but a few minutes are a trivial price for the personalized service and feeling of belonging that they gift me with.  Slowly, but effectively, they are wearing down my unnecessary defenses.

The village has changed since we moved in eleven years ago.  Streetlights were replaced by retro-style lamp posts downtown where our village taxes also paid for brick walkways and benches outside tiny mom and pop shops and restaurants.  A couple of years ago they installed a traffic light by the new energy-efficient high school and a long-time resident opened a hugely popular Mexican restaurant that attracts folks from the city.  I can handle the rate of change here.  This village is my respite with the biggest disruption being the children playing at the park across the road.  I can face the world outside of our village because of the comforting balm of home that I begin to feel when I drive past Potato Joe’s farmer’s market sign which always sports common-sense quotes such as the current, “A clear conscience is usually a sign of a bad memory.”  Makes sense to me.