Supporting Main Street

This morning, as I sat at the reception desk at our local co-working facility, I heard a friend marvel that he could still get his Amazon purchases delivered before Christmas. He was talking to his computer in the other room. I know he and his wife well enough to imagine what he was buying. They have been married for several years and have one daughter. They are both wonderful, intelligent people. I guessed that he was buying books. They are expecting their second child any day now. I giggled and called into the next room, “You know, you could get your purchases today if you went directly to a store.” And then I added, “The Book Seller on Mill Street will gift-wrap for free.” I knew that our local bookstore would wrap gifts for free because I had just bought his two-year-old daughter a book there.

 

When my sister recently asked me about a birthday gift, I suggested a gift certificate to the movies. She asked me which gift card to buy and if she could just pick one up at a local grocery store. I had to laugh. “Our movie theater is locally owned,” I told her. They show first-run movies but they still sell paper gift certificates. She sent me a check.

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In Nevada County, California there is still an existing charm that, in many other places in America, has sadly faded. There is no Walmart in our entire county. There are only two Starbucks Coffee shops and only two McDonald’s Restaurants. (McDonald’s filmed a commercial in Nevada City, the county seat of Nevada County, in the 1980s. To this day, there is no McDonald’s in Nevada City.) Our county stretches just 50 miles from Sacramento on our western border and reaches to the Nevada State line on our eastern border. While many other rural counties in America have yielded to a Walmart mentality, Nevada County is still holding out.

 

This time of year is fraught with rampant consumerism. We mark our holiday celebrations with gift-giving and exchanges. For a lot of people, this time of year can be overwhelming and stressful. Often times, we are rushing around on our lunch hour trying to find a bargain. More and more we hear about “Black Friday deals” and the subsequent insanity that takes place in the parking lot of big box stores the day after Thanksgiving. Generosity shouldn’t have to be a death-defying event. It certainly shouldn’t feel like a chore. Selecting gifts for loved ones should bring a person joy.

 

Grass Valley and Nevada City are the two central towns in Nevada County. Nevada City has a population just over 3,000 and Grass Valley has a population of 12,860. Their down town centers are only three miles apart but each town has their own unique tribute to the Christmas season. For Grass Valley, they have the Cornish Christmas Festival on Fridays from Thanksgiving to Christmas. In Nevada City, there’s the Victorian Christmas Festival. Both festivals are quaint and beautiful. The festivals are street fairs dotted with vendor booths, lights and decorations. The festivals bring in shoppers and attract jovial carolers. Both festivals support local artisans and vendors. They both offer unique and beautiful gifts, as well as a wonderful experience.

 

If you are a city-person or a crafter reading this blog, you are probably wondering how two small-town festivals, in two sparsely populated towns in the Sierra Foothills, are able to survive and support local businesses and local artisans. It’s simple. In Nevada County, Main Street matters.

 

I used to have no idea what it meant to shop locally and buy locally. I figured that if a store was just a block away, it meant that the store was “local,” even if everything in the store was made in China. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area before moving to Sacramento and living there for a decade. Even thirty years ago, when I was a child and living on the furthest outskirts of the Bay Area, our local pizza shop was bought-out by a major chain. In major cities, small businesses were already being shuttered, even before such news was making regular headlines. I didn’t really know what it meant to support small businesses until I moved to Nevada County three years ago. I didn’t know that shopping and buying locally was a viable and thriving endeavor.

 

In major metropolitan areas, a place called “Jose’s” isn’t likely owned by a man named Jose. No one walks into a “Jose’s” in a city and expects Jose to come out and ask you about the menu. In Nevada County, Matteo’s is owned by Matt and he is there almost every evening. Lefty’s is jointly owned by two left-handed individuals and they are the main cooks for the restaurant. Sergio’s Cafe is owned by Sergio and he is often at the restaurant. (Seriously. Check out the Yelp reviews.) There are several other examples. In fact, almost all of the stores in Grass Valley and Nevada City are locally owned. And by “locally owned”, I mean that the people who work there live and buy locally.

 

In an effort to impress our loved ones and show them how much we care, we often forget about the gifts that people remember and love the most; we often forgo art and simplicity for things and the extravagant. We buy stereos instead of art supplies. We buy perfume instead of candles. We buy DVDs instead of tickets to a play. For me, the greatest Christmas gift I ever got was a hand-crafted train-themed quilt from my step-mother. My other favorite gifts involved experiences: a local art class, a trip, a visit to a museum.

 

I’m not sure about the greatest gift I ever gave. Last year, I gave my best friend a scarf that was hand-knitted and hand-spun from local alpaca fiber. I gave my mom a picture of me in a decorated picture frame. I bought my partner gift certificates to local businesses and restaurants so that we could go on dates. We gave our 12-year-old niece a lime-green, Justin Bieber-themed backpack that was made in China.

 

It is becoming easier and easier to buy our gifts from far away. The popular choice is often the simplest choice. We can have Chinese tea shipped to our homes. We can buy vanilla beans from Madagascar at our grocery stores. We can sit at our computers and simultaneously buy clothing made in Indonesia, toys made in Korea and gadgets made in Japan. Often times those items include cotton grown in Uzbekistan, plastic manufactured in Canada and silicon mined in South America. And then, once we buy those products, we can ship them all over the USA, to Oregon. Kentucky and to Florida. Click, click, buy.

 

In a global economy it is becoming harder and harder to identify and make local choices. Even if we are crafting, knitting, or sewing from our homes, our supplies often come from international countries. Many small towns are bombarded with big business. Many small businesses are bombarded with international goods.

 

This afternoon, I went to one of the independently-owned, local bookstores in town looking for a 2014 calendar. I found a calendar from a local business called “Mud and Pearls.” It’s a business that offers classes focused on natural building, tool demystification, and homesteading skills. The calendar depicts women in non-traditional roles. As I quietly thumbed through the calender and considered to buy it, I suddenly heard a woman’s voice behind me. She said overly-sweetly, “Would you like me to sign it? I’m miss October.”

 

I turned around to put a face to the voice. I thought I had recognized it. It was my friend’s wife. I smiled and hugged her. She thanked me for the book I had bought their daughter.

 

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

 

“Buying gifts!” She said enthusiastically.

 

I bought the calendar. I didn’t tell her that her husband was shopping Amazon.

 

I am lucky to live in a community that makes a distinct effort to support locally-manufactured inventory and locally-made goods.

 

But, to be clear, we don’t always make local decisions. Sometimes we buy from the internet. Sometimes we travel to big box stores. Sometimes we buy socks and underwear and six-packs of cheese raviolis. Sometimes we buy stereos and Justin Bieber Backpacks. Sometimes we buy eight gallons of olive oil. Sometimes there are items that we need to buy not-locally.

 

Even so, we are able to have small-town festivals and maintain small-town charm because, most of the time, the members of our community support small-town investments and small-town manufacturing. Sometimes we need meaningful gifts. Sometimes we need Christmas. Most of the time, we need Main Street.

 

Doing The Right Thing

A few months ago I went to a bar with my partner and some of our friends. It’s not my ideal choice for a hang out but one of my favorite bands was playing: My partner and I went to see A Thousand Years At Sea at the Old Five Mile House, just outside of Nevada City.

Let me set the scene: We opened the door to lively fiddle music and a large beverage area. It was a standard set up for a bar, plus extra dining seating. The room was decorated in fine, dark wood and romantic lighting with a lovely fire place at the far end of the bar. It was actually a nice place, not the dive I had expected. The tables and chairs were sturdy. There were little details that stood out. The food was served with white, cloth napkins. The flatware was heavy and reasonably ornate. The salt shakers on the table were upscale and original. The place wasn’t entirely populated with drunken locals. There were tourists and visitors.

My partner took a seat and I walked up to the bar to order a club soda and a glass of wine. The two women next to me were in a passionate discussion about a break up. It was a strange scene. Because one was hanging on the other, I initially thought that they were a lesbian couple.

One woman was wearing a peach dress and the other was in jeans and a red shirt. The one in a dress (I will call her Peach) was comforting the woman in the red shirt (I will call her Red). Red was crying and had obviously had a few too many. Peach was consoling Red through her misery. Peach said something about Red’s ex-boyfriend. From what I gathered, he didn’t deserve her. Both were attractive women and drew a lot of attention from the other patrons. I could see several people trying not to stare.

The bartender was a friendly brunette, very attentive and knowledgeable. I watched her answer questions with authority and ease. She looked sideways at Peach and Red but didn’t seem overtly concerned. They were drunk. It came with the job.

I got my drinks and walked away from the bar. I sat across from my partner in a nearby seat. I listened to the wonderful music and and started to write postcards.

The Old Five Mile House isn’t just a bar. It’s a restaurant with really good food. We weren’t sure what to expect because the place is almost in the middle of the woods. We ate dinner before we arrived and regretted doing so upon seeing the menu. They serve what you would hope for at a fancy restaurant. The food looked incredible. Goat cheese. Chutneys. Fresh salads. Grass-fed meat. All the food looked and smelled amazing; Next time we visit, we will order dinner.

From where I was sitting, Peach and Red were in my line of sight. I kept looking up from my postcards and couldn’t help but notice their night unfold. Red became visibly drunker and Peach became less willing to tolerate the progression. Red was clearly having a hard time. Peach was clearly over it.

After three or four songs from A Thousand Years at Sea, Peach got up to leave. She was done entertaining Red’s progression. Peach hugged her friend and left.

Maybe I just imagined it. The air seemed to tense when Red was left on her own. I glanced sideways at the table next to me and they seemed to watch Peach walk out the door while they held their breath.

Red order a slurred drink of water. Maybe the rest of the patrons were thinking what I was thinking. The water came and I watched Red drink a few sips. She subtlety swayed at her seat, forward and backward, looking downward as she sat in her chair.

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I went back to my postcards, trying to ignore something I had little control over. I welcomed the amazing music and enjoyed a few more songs.

Pizza and salad and steaks gathered in front of the other people around me. Someone at the bar ordered a glass of Chardonnay. An older couple walked through the doors, looking like tourists. The band kept up with their flawless set.

After a while, Red lifted herself from her chair and gathered her purse. She stumbled forward and walked around the tables and out the door. The entire place looked at each other and then looked out the window to make sure that a taxicab was pulling up.

When Red got in her car, the bartender bolted out the door.

Everyone in the bar could see the whole scene through the window. I was dumbstruck. I saw an older women across from me take a long sip of her soda and sigh dramatically. There was a moment of disbelief and, as we started to understand that Red was going to attempt to drive home, we all looked around at each other as though Donald Duck had walked up to the bar and ordered a vodka-tonic.

We couldn’t hear a word from the scene outside but we could see the tawny-headed bartender arguing with the drunk girl as she sat in her driver’s seat of her wagon with the door open. The conversation might have started with, “Are you fucking kidding me???”

An older gentleman, and his wife got up from their dinner and went out to help. Those of us left in the bar talked about starting a collection to get the woman a cab.

The bartender came back inside and returned to her station, visibly and rightfully angry. The older couple continued to council the woman outside.

From what I could gather, this wasn’t Red’s first offense. There were other people at the bar who had seen her before. But it didn’t matter. Even if Red had driven home drunk on other occasions, on this occasion, people were concerned.

Red sobbed from the view of the window, in her driver’s seat, until she finally relented her phone. The couple helping her assisted with phone calls. Several calls were made before the man helping came inside.

He told us that Red’s father would come to collect her. The other woman stayed by her side.

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When all was said and done, Red was escorted away. Someone drove her home. When her ride came to get her and tucked her away in the passenger seat, the entire place blew a collective sigh of relief. People went back to their dinner. A man went to put another log on the fire in the fire place.

The night could have ended a number of ways. It could have ended in some stranger’s death and some drunk girl’s revelation. It could have ended with first responders and road side assistance. It could have ended with another mother with a lifetime membership to MADD.

Instead, it ended in community. It ended with everyone safely home.

It is always better to do the right thing.

Facebook Etiquette for Parents of Adult Children

Deciding to be friends with a parent on Facebook is a difficult decision for many adults. Even though our posts on Facebook are fairly public, when it comes to our Facebook profiles, we like to think of ourselves as autonomous, free-thinking individuals inhabiting our own personal “Speaker’s Corner”. It is a place where we can rant about politics, lament about our relationships, whine about work and brag about our successes. Facebook, for many of us, is an every day live-feed that is reminiscent of the autograph section of a high school yearbook. It’s something we are proud of, but it isn’t necessarily something we want our parents to see.

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If you have attempted to “friend” your adult son or daughter on Facebook and haven’t received acceptance yet, don’t take it personally. Many adult children have a lot of concerns when it comes to their parents seeing their Facebook profile and interacting through Facebook’s feeds. Most of us accept our parents’ “friend requests” because we are afraid we might hurt our parents’ feelings or because we have taken for granted our parents’ tech-savvy ability to check up on us.

Parent-child relationships can be difficult to navigate in real life. The added element of Facebook can be terrible for many of those relationships. More and more, I am seeing my friends block their parents from Facebook altogether in order to avoid hurt feelings, misconceptions or socially awkward situations.

Facebook isn’t designed to lend itself to parent-child relationships. It is hardly suitable for lasting friendships. Facebook is often a forum where long-term friends become irate at each other for superfluous posts about pop culture or off-color political commentary. It is a place where people often feel dishonored and discredited. It is a constant source of misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Yet, people indulge in Facebook because it is a wonderful way to keep in touch. We can see pictures of recent engagements and births. We may hear of a friend’s passing or learn about nearby neighborhood happenings. We can get up-to-the minute news coverage and, at the same time, look into what our old high school clubs are up to. It is a constant source of information.

For many adult children, it’s that constant source of information that we are worried about. Parents: heed this, there are some things that you are better off not knowing. It was true when we were teenagers and it is still true today.

Parents, if you are determined to be friends with your adult children on Facebook, and you hope to stay friends in real life, I offer these tips:

  1. Set ground rules. Maybe I’m thinking too highly of parental-child communication. Maybe I’m being too idealistic. Still, I hope that parents and children can communicate about Facebook before attempting the deep complexities of having a Facebook relationship. Parents, ask your children what their boundaries are. Children, make your wishes known through clear and concise communication. You may be surprised about what this forum has to offer. You may be even more surprised about what the Facebook limits are.
  2. Do not parent on Facebook. If you think your child is making poor decisions, make a phone call or send a private email. Do not comment on a photo or status update indicating your concern or disapproval. Your child is an adult and can make his or her own decisions. You may see something on Facebook that you don’t like but that doesn’t mean you can control it.
  3. Do not, under any circumstances, grandparent on Facebook. If your adult child has children of his or her own, do not offer any unsolicited advice on Facebook. Don’t council. Don’t advise. Don’t help. Don’t make comments like, “You gave my grandbaby an ice cream cone for breakfast??” All grandparent commentary on Facebook is viewed as unwarranted micro-managing. It is completely unwanted and creates ill-will. If you want to be involved in the raising of your grandchild, schedule a visit.
  4. Do not come to your adult child’s rescue on Facebook. It doesn’t matter how much you love your child or children. Do not intervene in a Facebook conversation with offerings of, “Now kids,” or, “Just breathe.” You do not know the context of your child’s relationship with the person who may seem like their aggressor. It could be their boss at work. It could be their best friend. It could be their landlord or next-door neighbor. If you see a Facebook argument ensuing between your child and another Facebook friend, do not take offense. Let your child make a case. It doesn’t involve you and it doesn’t need your protection.
  5. Don’t make friends with your kids’ friends on Facebook. It is okay to accept a friend request from a child’s friend, especially if they grew up together and especially if their parents are mutual friends of yours. However, don’t search your child’s friend list and invite their friends to be your friend on Facebook. Even as adults, your children still want their own autonomous friendships outside of your interaction.
  6. Don’t tag your children in any pictures and especially don’t tag your children in pictures that they are not in. When you “tag” someone on Facebook, in most cases, the tagged picture gets published on their Facebook feed for everyone to see. How would you feel if your child uploaded a bunch of pictures to Facebook and tagged you when you had bad 80s hair or terrible 70s sideburns? If you upload pictures that you are hoping your child sees, upload them to your page and then send your child a private message to alert him or her. Don’t use the tagging feature as a way to get your child’s attention. (The only exception to this rule might be when you are uploading and tagging picture’s of your child’s child. Still, use discretion. If in doubt, consult with your adult child before you start tagging pictures of your grandkids using their parents’ profiles.)
  7. Don’t embarrass your children on Facebook. If you have ever wanted to start a post with “Remember that time when…” stop yourself. None of us want to rehash the time we peed our pants on Christmas morning. We definitely don’t want to relive being stood up for prom. Even lesser offenses can be excruciating when made public. Adult children have tried to establish their lives beyond childhood and adolescence. Many of your child’s friends now didn’t know them when they were awkward and zitty. Further, if your adult child told you something personal over the phone, it is not okay to follow up over Facebook. Never write things like, “Are you still fighting with that girl?” or, “How did it go with the gynecologist?” No matter how cute, endearing or concerned it might seem, don’t publicize something that could embarrass your child.
  8. Don’t use pet names. In print, pet names are degrading and weird. It’s okay to use sweet references on the phone or in person but pet names don’t translate on Facebook. Calling someone “baby”, “honey”, “pumpkin”, etc. is immediately creepy or demeaning when it shows up online.
  9. Don’t write things on a Facebook thread that do not apply to the subject of the thread. If your adult child updates their Facebook status or posts an article, all following commentary should be related to the original subject. For example, if your child posts “Looking forward to poker night with my co-workers tonight”, it’s okay to write a comment such as “I once won $300 playing blackjack in Vegas. Good luck!” Similarly, if your child writes “I can’t wait for Thanksgiving!”, it’s okay to comment with “I’m making pumpkin pie.” It is not okay to write an unrelated comment such as, “Did you get the pictures I sent you?”, or “Your father bought a new couch.”
  10. Don’t reveal critical milestones on Facebook without having a personal conversation with your children or family first. It is never okay for your family to learn about something important on Facebook without first hearing it from you. Don’t use Facebook as a forum to announce things like, “I’m getting remarried”, “We’re adopting child”, or “I have been diagnosed with breast cancer.” Your child or children may, at times, seems aloof or unavailable. Facebook is not the place to shock them into caring. Facebook may paint a different picture about relationships but there are still many things in life that are sacred and require direct communication.
  11. Don’t confuse a promotion with an invitation. This one is a tough issue and often heart-breaking. For parents of adult children who perform (in a band, on stage etc.) those individuals may use their Facebook profile to promote an engagement or performance, but may not actually hope for their parents’ attendance at the event. Often, an entire “friend list” receives an invitation as a point of promotion. Don’t assume that you are invited. Of course, as a parent, you want to support your child and their endeavors, but there are times when your presence may be unwanted. For example, I had a friend who was recently in a raunchy and violent performance of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. The show was over-the-top and included the caveat “Warning: first six rows may get wet.” While he appreciated his mother’s support, the performance wasn’t exactly welcoming of parental opinion or participation. When the show was promoted on Facebook, it was for publicity, not to entice parental involvement. Be clear about the events you’re attending and get clarification about whether or not your attendance at the event is appropriate.
  12. Don’t use your child’s Facebook page as a tool for passive-aggressive family communication. For example, if you and your child’s other parent are no longer together, your child’s Facebook profile is not the place to make a scene about it. Similarly, if you don’t like your in-laws, don’t put your child in the middle of it by making off-color comments. Don’t foster jealousy or create guilt-trips if you have several children on Facebook. It is never okay to say things like, “See! Your brother comes to visit me!” or “I’m so thankful that my daughter decided to spend Labor Day at OUR family’s cabin.” It is hard enough for adult children to make family decisions about how to divide time amongst loved ones without getting a wrath of comments on Facebook.
  13. Don’t take things personally. This will be the hardest rule to adhere to. Just do the best you can. Adult children often have to make tough decisions about who to spend Christmas with, where to take a vacation, or how to grab a quick lunch when time is a constraint. You might learn from Facebook that your child stopped through town but decided to have lunch with a friend instead of you. Don’t interpret your child’s decisions as a personal insult. Human relationships are complex. It is very possible that the friend solicited your child’s advice or needed someone to talk to. It could have been a business opportunity. Don’t ever assume that your child did something on purpose to hurt your feelings.