Thursday, August 26, 2010

August , 2010: Home to US

Even as this Blog was first intended to communicate experiences traveling beyond the U.S. to those in the U.S. wanting to know about them, it seems good that it now may serve as a means of communicating experiences in the U.S. to those beyond its borders who may want to follow life as it unfolds here. To the many who have touched our lives during the 35 weeks which precede this entry, this Blog will now shift its intent to sharing with them (each month, not each week).

The featured photo this week is of our home, located at 1037 S.E. 80th Ave., Portland, Oregon, 97215-3010 U.S.A.. Currently four of five Sonnleitners live here: Kristine (wife), Shaman (son), Mira (daughter), and myself (Michael). This month saw daughter Sonrisa and her boyfriend Arron move out and into their own apartment. Also now residing here are Chris (son`s friend), Naomi (Mira`s friend), and Stefan (nephew). This full house also enjoyed guests this month from Oakland, California (Ian) and Copenhagen, Denmark (Karoline). Mira and Naomi had stayed a few days with Caroline while traveling in Europe! Let all friends find hospitality here whenever they visit this part of the world!

Those following previous Blog entries may be interested to know that Mira and Naomi arrived home to Oregon on August 2nd, with Kristine and I arriving (as planned) on August 8th (after spending a week in the Chicago area visiting her family and friends). In Chicago we stayed with Kris` mother (Pat), overworking her aging washer and dryer with our dirty clothing, causing mechanical failure! (Perhaps we should continue the practice of hand washing and air drying, as we had our dryer break down also in Portland within a week of our return!). In Chicago we shared quality time with 2 (out of 4) of Kris` brothers, 3 (out of 5) of Kris` sisters (plus their families), as well as with 6 Uptown friends hosted by her former roommate, Sr. Joellen McCarthy and 7 others arranged by Kris` spiritual companion, Rose Amberg. BUSY!

Upon arriving in Portland, the marathon continued. It took a solid week to unpack and feel settled back into our family home. Having been gone for over eight months, it is not surprising that we still have not found items that may have been lost or otherwise still in hiding. Another week was needed to become accustomed to driving an automobile again (with our van breaking down three times, requiring $480 in repairs)! One of the breakdowns literally involved the breaks failing (while I was driving alone on Friday the 13th!) -- with creative use of emergency break and downshifting managing to narrowly avoid a collision. Grateful to remain alive, I was also pleased to be able to spend seven hours picking 115 lbs (about 50kg) of blueberries -- which have been frozen to help supply us with fruit until next year. During the last week of August we were able to share with our adopted daughter Margarita, who returned with her baby and stepson from a month in Mexico where she met her husband`s family for the first time.

Remember our first Blog entry (Week 1 last November)? I was there pictured holding my newborn grand daughter, Hanelynn: Now she is 9 months old!

Taking time to share with our many friends at Ascencion Catholic Church (including two birthday parties for children of families we are especially close to), Kris` sister Maria and her family, as well as several faculty, staff, and former students associated with my work at Portland Community College also added to a social life which seems more active than when we departed for the Fulbright adventure abroad. All this activity may well have eased our culture-shock upon returning.

Speaking only for myself, I am reminded of the feelings that were mine upon returning from India after my first 6 month visit in 1971-72. If anything, the materialism so abundantly visible in the U.S. then is even more pronounced now. Having been quite happy with basic needs being satisfied during these months of traveling out of a backpack and suitcase, I am reminded of the proliferation of wants (as distinct from needs) which rules many lives in this country. Shopping in a supermarket here reflects the comfort most people take for granted -- and the choice of an entire aisle full of breakfast cereals! Cannot 2-3 of the healthier types suffice? Instead, we have sugar and cocoa most everything -- and wonder why we get overweight and have diabetes running rampant! For now I will not venture into a shopping mall: the experience would be unnecessarily depressing.

As one means of coping with my feelings, I have decided to join Muslims who are fasting during the month of Ramadan. Mohammad`s original idea was to promote empathy with the poor by taking no food nor liquids while the sun shines for 30 days. It was a fine idea, which can also help remind us of the difference between needs and wants. As we watch news of the continuing impact of monsoon flooding in Pakistan, for example, accepting a little discomfort ourselves (and making a donation to help some of the over 20 million people affected) would seem a good thing. It is in this context that I have appealed to several friends in India and elsewhere to respond with generosity: Are we not all one human family? Why should be allow national boundaries (or even historic animosities) to divide us? What would Gandhi do? Jesus do? Buddha do? Mohammed do? Pious words mean little without action.

It is in this frame of mind that the task of filing my tax returns was undertaken. Postponed by filing an extension while I was in India, I was greeted by yet another IRS letter threatening seizure due to my past patterns of civil disobedience. This time I was told they would demand $2,600 from my 2009 tax obligation – even though the 2009 tax returned had not been filed! A pre-emptive first strike on me as a military tax non-payer (ha)! According to my calculations, their math was $1,800 to high. No doubt this disagreement over my duties as a citizen will provide fuel for much correspondence. For my part, such disagreement is of as little importance as whether or not you agree or disagree with my tax resistance: the main issue is one of conscience. To kill, threaten death, or prepare to harm others are actions I intend to support as little as possible. Refusing to cooperate with unjust laws is only a small consequence of trying to build a foundation of peace for the human family. What do you think?

In the months to come, I hope to hear from many of you. Please feel free to comment on this Blog site: You may also write directly to my personal email at: My responses will be as time allows.

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