Leprechauns, QAnon, Elvis Presley, Flat Earth, Trump and the 2020 Election

We all see things differently and it fascinates me. I look out the window and I see two squirrels playing in the uppermost branches of a tree. My husband looks out the same window and admires the expanse of green grass. He is looking down. I am looking up. Both of what we are looking at is part of a larger world.  Neither of us is looking at something that isn’t there. We are just choosing to focus on different things. 

Then I think about the QAnon people.  These are people who see the United States government as  an association of wicked devil worshippers who take delight in molesting children and killing babies. They see things that are not in plain sight.  They tell nonbelievers they are privy to special information and we should be frightened. I’m frightened they think former President Trump is their savior. They were convinced he’d seize power, take over the government with his loyalists and become U.S. President for a second term.

We label them conspiracy theorists.  We call them a bunch of loonies, but several have been elected to serve in the U.S. Congress.

I once remember being fascinated by a classmate in high school who almost convinced me that the 1969 Moon landing and Moon Walk was all filmed in a movie studio. “We never actually went to the moon,” he said, “It cost too much money. It was all a hoax.”  He told me in great detail how everything was carried out and he seemed so sincere I almost believed him for at least an hour, until I thought of other stories like the one that people told about JFK not actually dying. “He was whisked away to a private hospital.” Or the people that said for years that Elvis Presley was still alive. 

Alternate versions exist of every event, including the recent November presidential election.  Currently polls show that 80 percent of registered Republican voters think that Trump won.  They may not be pure QAnon followers,  but they are adamant that the circumstances of our recent Presidential election were irregular, and that dead people and aliens were allowed to vote. They claim if properly vetted, the votes counted would show that Donald Trump was duly elected. Even though the votes in several states have been counted two and three times. Even though they have no hard evidence. What they have are some altered video tapes and mislabeled photographs posted on social media.  Sixty courts have thrown out their cases. 

If you repeat a lie over and over again, does it begin to sound true? 

Once upon a time many people believed the earth was flat. They also believed that the earth was the center of the solar system. Some people still do believe the earth is flat.  Based on what they see, feel and observe they are not convinced of the world’s spherical shape. There is actually a Flat Earth Society.

This could be why some people don’t believe there is a coronavirus. If they don’t get sick and they don’t know anyone who is sick with the coronavirus, they can choose to believe it is something scientists made up to scare us.

This all goes back to what do you want to see when you look out the window. I see neighbors walking their dogs and wearing masks to prevent transmission of a contagious virus. I see people waving hello to each other and I hear them talking about sports events and kids’ plans for school. We’re all trying to get along.  

I think of ways to distinguish one day from the next, to make each action and moment count. It’s a challenge.  All around me a global pandemic is raging and before it is over at least  500,000 people in the United States will die.

If I want to chase after something fantastic I can conjure up images of leprechauns hiding a pot of gold each time I spy a rainbow, and as Valentine’s Day approaches I can imagine Cupid filling his quiver with magic love arrows. Perhaps tiny people live in the corners of my house or our universe is just a piece of dust on someone else’s leaf. We’ll never know for certain whether some fantasies have a basis, but in my reality the United States conducted a fair election. The votes were certified and Joseph R. Biden Jr. is our president for the next four years. Welcome to the Democratic Country of America.

Slide over the arrow and you’ll see a different view….

How to Get Published

 The Global Pandemic is a Blessing and a Curse for Creative Writers

The coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives in many ways. More people are reading. Yes, in addition to binge watching their favorite flicks and listening to online concerts, they are reading books and magazines and listening to podcasts and poetry. They have the time, while confined home or cautiously trying to navigate social distancing, to read.

Writers have reacted to the “new normal” by either taking advantage of the solitude to become more prolific or suffering from writer’s block. I’ve found myself in the first category and have committed myself to the practice of writing each day. Sometimes I write for twenty minutes and sometimes for three hours. My day is not complete unless I’ve put part of a story into words. 

The economic instability created by the pandemic, in addition to family responsibilities, provides challenges and reasons for why many writers are being forced to put their writing lives on hold. But even if you give yourself ten minutes a day to write one beautiful sentence, it is possible to take your mind over to that “other world.” Write a few more sentences and you might craft a fine piece of flash fiction. 

So if you’d like to get some of your short stories, poems or essays published in literary magazines—what is the next step? I have a publishing history; but newspapers, magazines and information websites give me a different set of credentials. To succeed in the literary world I had to see myself as a novice and act accordingly.

Every week new magazines are founded and others stop publishing.Take the time to do the research,  and you will discover magazines that are starting out, eager for contributors. Most likely there will be less competition when you submit. 

Duotrope is a subscription service that helps writers locate publishing markets. Others sites to check out include The Review Review and New Pages. And there are many bloggers who make it their mission to list available publication opportunities every month. Search social media and find groups to join and follow them on Facebook and Linked-in to learn of opportunities. 

Submittable is a platform used by many publications to track submissions. Most publications charge a nominal submission fee to cover the cost of the platform fees. Other publications charge no submission fees or have a “tip jar”. Writers can use the Submittable platform and their  Submishmash newsletter to find publishing opportunities. Still other publications accept submissions directly through their email or use another submission tracking application. Be prepared to spend hours assembling a list of potential markets for your work.

It doesn’t matter how wonderful and perfect your submitted work may be, prepare yourself to be rejected. Every magazine has a different idea of what they think is good and what they want to print.  One magazine may only be interested in nonfiction and another only pieces under 500 words. Take notice of whether they are looking for pieces that are experimental in nature and whether they favor mixed media that may combine art and photography with words or traditional writing that is set in a particular region. Always you will be asked to send your very best work, and do. Each week hundreds and thousands of writers send their pieces for publication consideration to literary magazines. The competition can be intense.

While pieces are rejected because their poorly written, many are rejected because they don’t resonate with the editors. Everyone has different tastes. Read what has been published in a magazine and ask yourself if you like the work. If you don’t like what they choose to publish, why would you think they would like your submission?

If you have the time and inclination, you can volunteer to be a reader at some of these publications. In many cases, the editors don’t initially read the submissions. It depends on the publication, but often a team of readers initially cull through the submissions and they decide what is worthy of passing up to the next level. If you become a reader for a short time, you’ll see the process close up and gain a better understanding that will help insulate you from feeling totally depressed each time a rejection email arrives.

Most of these print and online publications do not pay their contributors for first time North American serial rights. Sometimes they pay a small honorarium. Creative writing is not a money making proposition. The income, even for bestselling authors, is sporadic. Your goal is to share the art you’ve created. And in order to be read by a large audience, you’ll want to build up a list of publishing credits.

When you read other writer’s work you admire, look up where they’ve been published. Read online interviews with editors of literary publications to understand what they are looking for and how they judge the quality of submissions. A literary magazine devoted to mermaids, and there is at least one, is not going to be interested in your story about a dog in the mountains, regardless of the power of your story. A magazine focused on recovering from substance abuse, is only going to be interested in pieces that relate to their mission. 

Pay attention to the submission guidelines. For one year I was a reader for the Stonecoast Review, published through the University of Southern Maine Stonecoast Writing MFA Writing program, and we read everything blind. Writers were asked to remove all identifying information about themselves from the manuscript. Immediately rejected were pieces that contained the author’s byline, regardless of the quality of their poetry or prose. I was surprised by how many published writers ignored the directions and put their name and their credits on their submission.

If the directions tell you to single space and put your 50 word bio on your submission follow their directions, and conversely if they tell you don’t indent then do what they ask. Otherwise they probably won’t consider your work.

I’m not a big success—yet, but I’m working at it and thus I’ve accumulated half a dozen literary publishing credits. That’s a start and you have to start somewhere. The restrictions of the Pandemic can provide you with the time to write new work plus review and revise older pieces you’d like to see published.

The more times you send out your pieces and the more pieces you send out, the more likely something is going to get published. I recently read a Facebook post from a writer who shared the news that a story she’d sent out 52 times was finally getting published and she was happy she hadn’t given up. What a thrill to read, “We loved your story and we would be privileged to publish it,” in reference to a piece that had been previously rejected several times. It’s happened to me more than once.

Getting published is hard work. But so is writing. Persistent effort yields rewards.

Welcome to Banana Republic USA, Previously Known as the United States of America

I wasn’t planning on writing about politics this week. But then there was that phone call to Georgia.  A recorded conversation, the U.S. President telling Secretary of State Raffensperger to believe a fantasy—that Trump won Georgia by a landslide and thus the Republican thing to do would be to change the Georgia voting results.  

The bizarre behavior continued Wednesday  January 6th with an attempted coup. Trump told thousands of his supporters, despite the fact that every state in the union had already certified their election results after multiple recounts and judicial challenges, “The election has been stolen from me.” He repeated his lies over and over again directing the demonstrators to take back The Capital.

The results: five people dead, scores of people injured,  and a federal building ransacked and looted. Members of the mob who invaded The Capital took selfies of themselves parading around with Confederate flags and planting their feet on legislator’s desks. The majority of participants appeared to be white males. They thought their behavior was cool, normal, justified. The police response was slow and lethargic. I wondered what would be the response if the demonstrators were primarily black and brown.

The goal of the rioters: prevent U.S. Congress from the final acceptance and certification of the state electoral votes. 

Wednesday night we got a phone call from our son who lives in Jakarta, Indonesia. “Are you safe?” he said. “I’m seeing photos of armed vigilantes in the streets.” 

This is how we appeared to the world. A country in chaos.

The irony to me is chilling. One dozen years ago when my son decided to work in Indonesia, I was concerned about  Indonesia’s political instability. Now he is worrying about the instability of what was once considered the most stable and powerful country on the globe, the United States. First we do a horrific job handling the coronavirus. We have more cases and more deaths than any other country. Now we are politically fractured and the tenets of our Democracy are being challenged. And what are the challengers planning to replace democracy with but a dictatorship based on deranged fantasies.

I keep hearing the phrase, Banana Republic. We are no better than a Banana Republic I’m starting to say. This led me to research the exact meaning of the term, coined by one of my favorite writers 0’Henry.   

O’Henry is famous for his short stories but he also worked as a journalist. He created the phrase in 1901 to describe Honduras and similar countries like Honduras who were politically unstable and under the control of a plutocracy composed of business, political, and military elite who exploited a large and poor working class. Economic monopolies that steer all the profits into the pockets of the ruling class is a primary characteristic of a Banana Republic. Starting to sound familiar? Think of who has been contracting the coronavirus and their access to healthcare, food, and shelter. 

A Banana Republic is a country largely dependent on the exportation of one limited resource product, such as bananas. There the similarity with the United States ends, because we do have multiple resources and a manufacturing economy that continues to reinvent itself.  Take note, it was the President and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers representing 14,000 member companies  across industrial sectors, who immediately called upon Vice President Pence to invoke the 25th amendment and remove President Trump from office. Political stability is needed. While we continue to be a thriving nation on some levels, our situation is precarious.

If there is any way to prevent Trump from running for United States President in 2024, Congress or the Judicial branch should take the appropriate steps. In the short term, I’d like to see him removed for his seditious behavior, but I also worry about the future. Impeachment should prevent him from running for President a second time. According to some scholars, it is possible for  proceedings to continue after January 20th when Joseph R. Biden, Jr. and Kamala Harris are sworn in as President and Vice-President. 

So here I began the blog not intending to write about politics, and now readers, if you agree with me I urge you to contact your elected representatives and let them know how you feel.

One American’s 2020 Recap

Happily I say good bye to 2020, picturing the year in the shape of an old wheezing man struggling to stand straight in his black tails and top hat. The last moments of his life are spent hooked up to a ventilator inside an overcrowded ICU, separated from family and friends. Waving at him through the safety glass I grieve. But I also feel a sense of relief. The year is behind me and we can all start  over again with a clean slate.

2021 is a brand new baby I cradle in my arms—representing my hopes and dreams. She focuses her eyes to the light around her, so different from the dark womb, and listens as I recite my wish list, a list that includes: quick and fair distribution of the coronavirus vaccines to at least 75% of Americans, resumption to pre-pandemic levels of business and commerce, new jobs to put folks back into the workforce, and accessible and affordable healthcare for all. 

This past year has made me painfully aware of just how old I am. Maybe not quite old enough to participate in the first round of vaccine shots, but old enough to be cautious of where I go and who I interact with, causing me to cancel travel plans and do the majority of work and social interactions virtually. I already knew I had more years behind me than in front of me, but 2020 has been a year when I’ve set out intentionally to accomplish as much as I could and that meant a dedicated commitment to my chosen art, writing.

In January 2020 I received my MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast Program at the  University of Southern Maine. For the first time in my life I donned a cap and gown ( having skipped high school and college graduation ceremonies) and walked across the stage with my fellow graduates to receive our degrees. Little did I know then, how fortunate I was to be able to be one of the last graduating classes at any institution in 2020 to participate in an in-person graduation ceremony. To look into the faces of my classmates as I delivered a few words about my educational journey and to embrace staff and faculty could never have been replaced by images on a screen.

Completing the project of renovating a 1923 house purchased 3 years earlier, had a deadline when we scheduled our daughter Alexandra’s wedding celebration for March 28, 2020.  In order to get it ready for the planned festivities, we pushed forward to advance the sale our old house in 2019 and move into our new house in 2020.  Finally, we were able to move-in in by the second week of March; but the world started closing down. Was the symbolic glass of our lives half empty or half full? 

My husband Peter and I were both sad to call off the party. This was our only daughter—an occasion we’d been looking forward to, but we had to remind ourselves that everyone in our family was safe and healthy. We wanted to keep it that way. When so many people were sick and dying, ours was a small sacrifice.  We had so much to be thankful for including our “new to us” home. 

For over a month everything went on pause. Most of the businesses in Maryland closed, but because my husband’s business—an insurance agency—was considered essential, it could still operate behind closed doors. Safety protocol was put into place that included plexiglass barriers and mandatory masks. Staff meetings became virtual.

Waking up in a sweat, worrying about whether that slight cough or dry throat might me a sign of infection became a regular thing. My son Christopher sent me an elderberry syrup that we took faithfully until it ran out and then we switched to vitamins. Early on I remember reading that if you keep your throat always moist, the virus was less likely to take hold. All kinds of strange ideas were circulating and when we first entered a grocery store last spring we wore disposable gloves in addition to our N-95 masks.  Now I’ve given up on the gloves, but immediately wipe down my hands with sanitizer and my hands are chapped from the number of times I wash them with soap and water during the day.

Everyone has their own protocol. One friend thinks it’s okay to dine outside in a restaurant with friends, another will socialize if they stay ten feet apart and bring their own food. We’ve just been happy to talk from afar with our masks on or visiting by video conference.

On whatever side of the political divide you stand, this has been a year for the history books. A year when the entire world has been devastated by a deadly virus for which there is no definitive cure and a year when the democratic traditions of the United States were challenged and came close to being dismantled. 

My MFA graduate thesis was the first 150 pages of my novel tentatively titled “Diogo’s Garden.”  I’d finished the entire 300 page second draft but knew it needed more work. Throughout 2020 I’ve continued working on it steadily, revising it multiple times. I’ve continued to take classes, workshop and take on other writing projects to gain perspective. Determined to put a few publishing credits on my vitae, I’ve submitted short stories, creative nonfiction, and flash fiction and my tenacity has been rewarded. In 2020 my creative work has appeared in print or digitally in the following publications: Change Seven, Lunch Ticket, Raconteur, and the love story anthology Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts. I also learned I’ll be appearing in the 2021 issues of Thin Air and The Dribble Drabble Literary Review.   

My visits with Alexandra and her new husband Joshua who live in San Jose California have been totally virtual, while I’ve seen grandsons Caleb age five and Eli age two, who now live with dad Christopher and wife Laura in Gloucester Point, Virginia —from a safe distance. An unexpected surprise was the news from my eldest son Justin, that he and his wife Suci were expecting a baby to be born before the end of the year. They live in Jakarta and I was both excited for them and scared.  Will they all stay safe from contracting the virus and are the medical facilities as good as in America? 

That was my train of thought in the spring before I fully comprehended just how poorly the U.S. response to the virus was being handled. By the late fall, the United States was leading the world in cases and deaths. 

Herman Bear Mojo Patrick was born on December 22nd 2020 . He is now safely home with his family, and while I would love to hold him in a close embrace, I have to satisfy myself with pictures.  It is possible that we will be able to visit his older sister Adinda Mojo in the Netherlands where she’ll be a college freshman, before we make it all the way to Indonesia. 

I’m  trying to thinking positively about the hard work of our dedicated scientific community which has developed several effective vaccines in less than eight months. More are on their way. Until then I’ll continue to wear masks and socially distance.  I’m waiting to hear the words spoken by the airplane pilot granting permission to unsnap your seatbelts, “It’s safe to move around the cabin.” I want to hear the “all clear” it’s safe to move around the world now!

2021 I welcome your arrival. Glad the year is new. Let’s make this new year a better one.

Ride the wave of a new year

A 2020 Recipe for Roasted Wild Goose

We had a goose for Christmas dinner. A wild goose. A goose that arrived to the house, tucked under my husband Peter’s arm. The first goose of the season, his reward for standing in icy cold water in his waders for hours, watching for wild Canadian geese visiting Maryland’s Eastern Shore to fly over and down.

If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll want to stop reading here. But if you enjoy, like I do, to occasionally partake in a meal that includes a portion of excellent meat—this blog is for you. 

Unlike a farm raised goose, a wild goose is extremely lean. The meat when cooked to a temperature of 170 degrees is dense and grayish red. While naysayers dismissively describe the taste as gamey, thereby implying the flavor is strong, I disagree.  The meat is flavorful, and when prepared correctly, an excellent change from boring farm raised poultry.

Peter with his bounty– a Canadian goose for Christmas dinner posing with our dog Chloe. It was our job to get the bird ready for roasting.

The process of getting this goose ready for our dinner table was a two-day affair. Anxious to return mid-day on Christmas Eve with his bounty, my husband did not have the bird professionally cleaned. Thus it was his job to remove the feathers and gut the interior. I began searching for instructional videos on my computer and learned that the best and easiest way to pluck feathers is to do it when the goose has just been killed, in the field while the body is warm and you’re waiting to get another shot. 

Many hunters, particularly in America as when compared to the United Kingdom take two shortcuts. One is to skin the goose and thereby not have to worry about plucking feathers and errant quills. The other shortcut is to cut out only the breast, which contains the majority of the meat. A few incisions with a sharp fillet knife can extract two fine meat fillets.

This season, due to a reduced population in Maryland, hunters are limited to one goose per day. We agreed we would roast the whole goose. If you have a skinless bird, the recommendation is to cover it with strips of bacon to keep it moist. We had no bacon and no desire to go shopping, thus we were definitely keeping the skin.

At home, Peter pulled out the feathers.  Some quill stumps were left behind, and the next step is to singe the bird with a blow torch while hanging it over a garbage can.  We didn’t have a blow torch. Peter used the flame from the gas burner on the range. The result was less than perfect. However, we decided to go forward with the next step, which is multiple cold water washings and rubbing the inside and outside with salt.

We put the goose in the refrigerator, to cook the following day. I read many recipes online and decided to create my own. First I squeezed fresh lime juice all over the skin. Second, I placed inside the cavity; four large cloves of garlic, fresh rosemary, several pieces of carrot and two quarters of a large onion. I set the goose, breast side up on a roasting rack set inside a large pan, pieced the skin with a large fork and I spread carrot shavings and thin pieces of celery over the breast and legs. I cooked the bird slowly at 325 degrees and basted it with a chicken, onion, carrot broth every thirty minutes. 

The result was a Christmas dinner feast for two! In the Chesapeake Bay spirit, I made oyster dressing—something I hadn’t had since childhood. The oyster dressing, homemade cranberry sauce and string beans all made a nice counterpoint to the wild goose meat and the plate looked festive with a touch of red and green. Video calls with our three children around the globe and a long walk with our dog Chloe to burn off the calories from all those Christmas cookies, rounded up our December 25th activities.  And now I’ve got to start researching more recipes for the leftovers. I’m considering: Wild Goose Tacos, Goose and Ginger Stir Fry, Goose Curry, and Goose, Pear and Pecan salad. Stay safe and keep vigilant. We’ve made it through the first 10 months of this global pandemic but we still have more months to go.

roasted wild goose with cranberry sauce and oyster stuffing.

A Simple Tool That Might Be Your Magic Bullet

Each time I hear a delivery truck I look out the window because I’m waiting for a package. Not the typical package associated with the holidays—a fancy wrapped present or gourmet food—I’m waiting for a pair of handles I ordered to use with my exercise equipment.

 Over the past 9 months I’ve assembled enough equipment to create my own home gym. 

In Pilates lingo, we call them “props”. Anything that can help you achieve the correct posture, the right position, or provide feedback is loosely referred to as a prop. So, when I grab a pillow to sit higher on the mat when seated with outstretched legs to touch my toes, the pillow is my prop.

During a global pandemic, we all need “props”.  Not necessarily for  exercise, but to face the challenges of living and working confined within a limited space. Any device that can provide help in getting work done or maintaining emotional balance is an aid, a prop. 

What props do you use? I know the ones I’ve come to rely on, my computer for one. We lost power a few weeks ago and I was pleased I’d fully charged my laptop. No internet for a while, but at least I could work on pieces of writing I had in my files and read old emails.  My second go to prop is the internet, crucial for connecting to the outside world with video calls, texts, and emails. 

The third  prop is a list. The list of professional work duties to accomplish, to be checked off as they are done, is fundamental. Working alone, one tends to get distracted by the sounds of the washing machine and squealing wheels of delivery trucks.

Pilates Stick, Enhanced Two by Four, Magic Circle, Large Exercise Ball.

For indoor exercise I started out with a yoga mat, large exercise ball, set of weights, yoga blocks, foam roller, and a couple of resistance bands. My favorite Pilate’s Studio, Chesapeake Pilates in Annapolis, Maryland, launched virtual classes in response to the temporary closure of gyms and work-out studios. Owner Stefanie O’Rourke got busy purchasing camera equipment and thinking up new props she could make herself that would simulate the work-out achieved in the studio. Her creations include a two by four piece of wood covered with foamy material, to help students work on their balance and strengthen toes and feet. 

After borrowing one from the studio, I purchased what is called a Magic Circle. Its purpose is to help you focus on using the muscles in your legs and buttocks as you bend and stretch and do a series of exercises that include the jack knife and roll over. Then a few months ago, several  “Virtual Students” were encouraged to purchase what is called a “Pilates Stick”. Held in place by the pressure of a locked door, two bungee cords approximate the tension of the springs on a piece of Pilates equipment called a Reformer.  It’s not the same, but it reminds your muscles of what they are supposed to be doing.

And that’s what we’re all doing, reminding ourselves of what used to be normal, as go through the activities of each day.  Most of us are  trying to be the best humans we can be, while waiting for the doom and gloom hovering over us to dissipate. Today I plan to bake more holiday cookies because the smell of warm cookies in the oven lifts my spirits. Tomorrow I’ve got another virtual Pilates class. Hope the next delivery truck brings me my new handles.

Decorating the Tree with Hope, Good Will, and Shalom

I grew up in a secular Jewish household. Our immediate family celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas, but our Christmas tree was always tiny. Sometimes it wasn’t a tree at all, but just several branches of evergreen placed inside a large water-filled ceramic crock. The decorations were colored balls of glass and candy canes. I’d visit other people’s houses and admire their large trees with carved wooden ornaments, glass stars, and tinsel. When I have a home of my own, I told myself, my tree will be tall and I’ll have unusual decorations that I pack away to re-use and enjoy year after year.

Fast forward to Christmas 2020 the year of the Coronavirus. Eager to spread the positive feelings of Good Will and Peace on Earth, my husband Peter bought our tree early—before Thanksgiving. He intended to select a tree that would touch our ceiling, but to do that we’ve set it on a pedestal. The tree stands centered behind our large front window where it can be seen and enjoyed.

Decorated back and front with several strings of colored lights, as I unwrap my boxes of ornaments I relive the past. Many remind me of past Christmases and people who are no longer in my life. A tree ornament is a “safe gift” to give co-workers and during my years writing at various publications I’ve accrued painted glass birds, snowmen, and angels. My husband Peter collected sailboats, sheep, and Santa ornaments. One year, when friends from the church choir came for a party, they brought ornaments in the shape of musical instruments. A Napoleon and Josephine I purchased from the Nature Company, no longer in business, resemble small dolls. Stuffed butterflies and tiny Santa’s riding in sleighs are remnants of the inventory from a giftshop I once owned in the 1980s. 

Smiling children’s faces look out at me from several of the tree branches. My daughter and two sons all made a series of ornaments in school, in theater productions, and in Scouts which I’ve faithfully saved. Added to those, are newer ornaments with the handprints and footprints of grandchildren. 

God'd Eye Decorate Christmas Tree

While still in college I hosted “Decorate the Tree” parties. Everyone brought an ornament as a gift and in this way, I was able to quickly amass a large collection of ornaments, when I started with none. The handmade glazed cookie dough, paper, and cardboard creations did not withstand eventual decomposition, but one ornament from that era did miraculously survive. I still have the little miniature quilt stretched across sticks of wood with the embroidered “Merry” made by my artist friend Dena Blum. I’ve lost touch with Dena, but the word “Merry” still graces my tree.

The oldest item in my collection is a Huichol Indian God’s Eye I purchased in Mexico at age fifteen while traveling with my parents. The wool is disintegrating, but I like to wire it up on the top of the tree in place of a star. The Indians attach items as a form of prayer to their God’s Eyes, for example the might use a ball of cotton to symbolize clouds if they need rain. I’m still debating what symbol I could attach to my God’s Eye to represent healing and eradication of disease. 

 The entire tree, we currently call a Christmas Tree, represents everlasting life. To life or in the words of my Jewish ancestors L’chaim, Healing, and to Peace Among Us All in the coming year 2021, I extend to my readers a Holiday greeting. 

Maintaining Traditions or Playing it Safe? Chasing That Wild Turkey.

Friday lunch was turkey on rye bread thickly spread with cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing, lettuce and mustard. It was my last little bit of the turkey we’d been eating all week. For seven days we dined on traditional turkey with all the fixings—dressing, parsnips, string beans, and gravy. One small turkey for two adults. Alternate choices were turkey vegetable soup and Thai style turkey curry over rice. In the year of the coronavirus, holiday or no holiday, we dine alone.  

The numbers of infections in Anne Arundel County Maryland keep escalating. I put up a post on Facebook offering some statistics from one of our local hospitals and I don’t think anyone read it. Bad news is not welcome. The hard fast reality is that our local hospitals may have to start prioritizing patients. Two weeks ago,  November 24, the two county hospitals, according to the Annapolis Capital Gazette, had filled 85% of their acute care beds with COVID-19 patients and 75% of their intensive care beds.  The CDC however, recommends that hospital occupancy remain below 70% so as not to stress the system. That was more than two weeks ago and more and more people are being hospitalized.

Yet life goes on. Traditions are important. They provide a certain pattern for our lives. I consider what I’ll prepare for Hanukkah and Christmas. Now that there’s room in the refrigerator, I can buy a brisket and get more carrots and onions along with the ingredients for potato latkes and matzo ball soup. For Christmas dinner it would be nice to have a duck or a goose. Although I cannot stroll with friends singing Christmas carols, the tree in our living room is bedecked with lights and I can listen to “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” while wrapping gifts to mail.

 Schedules provide structure, if only to keep me sane. I make a to-do-list each day and check things off as they get accomplished. At least two walks, to exercise our dog Chloe, and to stretch my legs and get fresh air is part of the routine. While my husband Peter is once again working from his office, I work from home. Each day includes some house cleaning duties: vacuum, dust, scrub—organize some wayward shelf or closet.  It doesn’t matter what I put on my list— print out and file documents, write a press release or edit pages, do some bookkeeping—the list provides a sense of organization and accomplishment. 

At this time, our local governments are strongly urging all residents to wear a face mask whenever they leave their home for any reason. Social distancing is also an important element of preventing the spread of the virus and I have noticed that when I’m taking a walk wearing a mask, others tend to get the message that I’m trying hard not to get or spread the coronavirus—even if they may themselves not have a mask on. They move away from me. 

Do I need to wear a mask when I’m driving alone in the car, or walking early in the morning when there’s no one in sight? No, but I always keep one in my pocket. 

About a decade ago, I stopped mailing out huge quantities of Christmas cards because more and more people were emailing their holiday greeting and many were using social media to create personalized cards and videos. This year with so much to be personally thankful for—the good health of my family and myself, a home, and a job—I’m thinking about returning to my old tradition if I can just find those physical addresses!  

We need to get through the next few months, and by spring with the help of vaccines and consistent leadership from the top, we can start putting this nightmare behind us. But until then, it is keep wearing the masks and taking precautions to stay safe.

The Turkey that got away!

A Pandemic Distraction. Give a Book for Xmas. Nadja Maril’s Favorite 2020 Reads.

Like so many other people in America, we went ahead and bought a Christmas tree—early. Other years we try not to push the season, but this year is different. Between the pandemic and the contentious presidential election, one thing all Americans are agreeing is the need for self-indulgence. We need some fun and that includes pretty things to look at like green garland, tinsel and lights.

Our local newspaper published an editorial suggesting that everyone start putting up their Christmas lights early and to make them as spectacular as possible because driving around admiring Holiday Decorations is a safe activity. I guess it’s safe, as long as no one breaks their necks climbing up on ladders stringing up all those bulbs and wires. To keep things simple, we decided  set up a large Christmas  tree in  the front window. 

No one is coming to visit for the holidays, due to concerns about spreading the virus, so there won’t be many gifts underneath the tree.  Knowing that so many people are without jobs, means a good portion of my gifting this year will be donations to charities, particularly food banks. When sending out packages I’m trying to remember the small merchants struggling to stay in business.

A good gift for just about everyone on your list is a book, but the question is which book and where should you buy it? While the big online book sellers provide fast and easy service, smaller merchants are struggling to survive.  As a Stonecoast writing MFA program graduate (University of Southern Maine), I am a fan of Kelly’s Books To Go,  a specialty merchant that makes a point of stocking the published  books of  Stonecoast faculty  and alumni.  Just outside Baltimore, Maryland  one of our largest independent brick and mortar stores is Ivy Bookstore and pre-Pandemic they featured author book signings and reading events.  Spend a little time online researching in your area, and you may be surprised at what you find. It’s a treat to be able to phone or email a business and interact with an actual person.

Reading and writing, nurture my spirit. The gift of an excellent book is something that I always love to receive and to give. I am always reading, and my reading includes listening to books on tape. The listening enables me to complete various household tasks and provides a different experience from the focus on the page.  

This  past year, since the onset of the pandemic, I made it a point to try and study work of authors whose work I had not read. I’d like to recommend some of my favorites. 

A good memoir, in my opinion, exposes the writer’s vulnerabilities on the page holding nothing back. The following four: On Earth We are Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur, Heavy by Kiese Laymon, and  Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T. Kira Madden; all do that in different ways.  What I’ve noticed in these four stories, written by males and females of different sexual and racial identities, is that they are all written for or to the author’s mother. If you only have time to read one of the four, Vuong’s prose is the most poetic and the imagery is chilling; but all four books  have different strengths.

Novels can take you to another time and place, and with the Global Pandemic raging around me, I was delighted to take refuge within several that were located in exotic places and spanned multiple generations. I recommend The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia (translated from Spanish) that is set in Monterey, Mexico during the late 19th and early 20th century, Barkskins by Annie Proux, set in Canada and the United States and begins in the  17th century ends in the 20th century , The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman set in St. Thomas in the early 1800s and  The History of Love by Nicole Krauss which commences in the 1930’s and weaves a intergenerational story that spans the globe. Proux’s tale provided me with great insight into the ravages of colonization and the timber industry, while the Murmur of Bees and Marriage of Opposites include elements of magical realism that enrich the storytelling.

 I’m always on the lookout for innovative approaches to writing a fictional narrative. The following four titles : Girl, Woman, Other by Beradine Evaristo (recipient of the 2019 Booker Prize), Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell (just released in July), A Visit from the Goon Squad from Jennifer Egan (2011 Pulitzer Prize)  and Trust Exercise by Susan Choi (2019 National Book Award) provide the reader with added insight as a result of the writer’s willingness to experiment. The stories of all four of these novels are woven from the points of view of multiple characters and the storyline is stretched out over several decades. I loved all four of these novels, but was particularly intrigued with the manner in which Choi addressed the larger theme of power balance between men and women with her story structure that reminded me of a Russian Matryoshka doll. To say more, could be a spoiler so I will leave it at that.

A dozen books, one for each month! Support writers, publishers, and independent booksellers by giving books as gifts. Did you discover a favorite book this past year? Share it. While many social media posts  tend to distract and divide us, books can help us gain deeper insight in understanding ourselves and each other.

Books sustain us.

Tell the Truth—Are Americans Honest? What Happened to Being a Good Sport?

We were meeting for a family hike a two weeks before Thanksgiving. Our one opportunity to safely socialize before the holidays.  I wrapped up coloring books and crayons as gifts. Which book for which child?  Caleb is five and Eli is two. Mysteriously the stacks, once opened shifted. Caleb claimed the zoo animal book I’d intended for Eli.  Unabashedly he insisted it was his present. 

He’s only five years old. He’s got the sweetest smile and such rosy cheeks. Could I blame him for asserting his preferences? Even if he wasn’t playing by the rules, he was being honest in showing what he wanted? But we live by a certain  set of rules.  At an early age, most of us are taught not to cheat. 

Children test the limits inside the house and at school. Adolescents test the limits in the larger world. What can I get away with? Who is going to stop me?

Is that how people rationalize cheating? If I can get away with it, then its okay.  

Who is always honest? I think all of us at one time or another have cheated. Maybe it was as simple as glancing at someone else’s answer on a test  at school or taking an extra turn at a game, when no one was looking. We were kids.

As adults, the stakes are higher. Sometimes it comes down to the bare necessities of survival. Earning a living. At one time I was an antique dealer. In my twenties I began exhibiting and selling at shows around the United States and customers would ask, “How’s the show? Doing well?” I’d answer honestly. For me, a new dealer, business was slow.

 I couldn’t figure out why all the other dealers, even if they were new to that particular venue, were always having a “great show” and making so many sales. But they weren’t. Not actually. They were lying that first day or two because they knew that no one likes a loser. The psychology was, if customers thought you were successful and had a following, they’d feel more confident shopping in your booth.

So I had to learn how to sound upbeat and happy, even if inside I was worrying how I was going to pay my booth rent. I learned how to lie and say “business has never been better” and I started writing up sales tickets. A soft lie, yes. But a shading of the truth nevertheless.

 We’ve all lied at one time or another. Many of our lies, are attempts to make ourselves appear more accomplished or more attractive than we actually are. Have you noticed there’s often a dramatic difference between the profile photos posted on a social media site and the present day appearance of the actual person? They look so much younger and thinner. And what do we say about ourselves when seeking employment? A few years ago I took a look at a colleague’s resume posted on a social media website and was shocked at what they wrote. Accomplishments I knew to be untrue. Common practice?  Where to draw the line between shrewd and duplicitous?

Americans want to be winners. No one remembers the game was close. In the end they remember who won.

So I guess that’s why the people we voted in as our political leaders, think its quite alright to try and figure out a way to throw away thousands of ballots. If it makes their candidate the winner. 

But wait. What if the ballots their voters cast for them were thrown out as well? I cannot for the life of me figure out how Americans supporting democracy would vote for someone like Lindsey Graham who has no respect for the democratic process. But I’m willing to  accept the outcome of the South Carolina electorate although I wish Jaimie Harrison had won. 

 From an early age we are taught sportsmanship. It’s an honor to play on a team. The benefits are great. When a player is injured on the field, in youth sports, everyone sits.  If the coach decides they need to take a break, leave the field with an icepack, the other players clap to acknowledge their support. Both teams clap, because they respect the sport. It’s bigger than the individual teams.

 Good sportsmanship means playing by the rules. No pushing, shoving, kicking. No fouls. 

 Being elected to uphold the American constitution as President or as a member of Congress is an honor. You are serving others, all the American people –not just your specific supporters. You are part of a team working towards a greater good. Given everything that’s happened in the political landscape over these past few years, it’s obvious that foul plays have gone out of control. A daily dose of lies from the current president is now commonplace.  We’ve got a sore loser in the White House who is refusing to concede and we have a Republican Senate led by Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham that is supporting his divisive unpatriotic actions. 

I think I’ll go wrap up some more gifts for the Holidays. Maybe a copy of the American Constitution for the Senators—if they’d actually read it. 

A Bedtime Story About a Grump Like Trump

Have you ever hosted a party, and been stuck with one guest who just doesn’t want to leave?  Have you ever had this one person in your home, who just doesn’t seem to grasp the party is over. You start clearing the plates, clanging them around in the kitchen and then start taking out the trash, convinced they’ll get the message but they make absolutely no move towards the door.  This individual, is a boisterous person accustomed to being the center of attention. They go and refill their glass and start telling another boring story to anyone who will listen.  Meanwhile you keep dropping not so subtle hints, “Can I get you your coat?” or “I really have to get up early in the morning,” but somehow they don’t appear to get the message. It’s as if they’re speaking in another language. Do they even speak the same language? 

Well once upon a time, this very thing happened in the town of Democracy. Unity was just trying to have a party for everyone, so no one would feel left out, so she invited the entire nation. She worked hard to cook the most delicious food in every different flavor because she knew that people have different tastes. She and he and they invited musicians from small towns, farms, prairies, mountains, and big cities to play music and everyone was singing and dancing.  They brought their children as well as dogs, cats, and other pets to join in the festivities. 

But there was this one guest, who just wouldn’t dance. He sat and watched and criticized and made fun of everyone else, claiming he could do it all better than they could.   When they asked him to get up to lead a song, he refused.  Truth was he couldn’t carry a tune because he was tone deaf. And when a grease fire broke out in the kitchen instead of getting up and helping join the fire brigade to quickly put out the blaze, he ran in the opposite direction. He didn’t want to singe his hair.  

Oh, thought Unity to herself, this is so sad. If only those people in the corner would stop listening to his stories. He tells the most fantastic tall tales and lies about how everyone in the world is out to get him and they believe what he says. And he keeps repeating that he is so brilliant and amazing.  Yes, amazing. Every other word he uses is “amazing”. He must have a very limited vocabulary.

 “Well it’s been a long day for me,” she said, “And it’s time to leave. Did you bring a coat?” she asked the guest in the corner who was looking grumpy.  

 “But I’m not finished,” he insisted, attempting to rearrange the orange poufy hair on his head.

Unity turned to her friends, “How could we, a nation, ever have invited him into our house? He is telling anyone who will listen, that his fun can’t be over this soon.”

The unwanted guest pounded his fists on the table.  “If I don’t always win then someone is cheating.”

The others shook their heads, “What is this lunatic talking about? We live in a democracy.”

“Who wants to help me wash dishes?” said Unity.  Then she whispered, “I can almost hear him dare us to take matters into our own hands and push him out the door. But I am too gracious a hostess to do that.  I will calmly wait.”  

Despite the grump’s hope that in their frustration to get rid of him, some guests would resort to violence, they linked arms together singing “We Shall Overcome”. 

We hope that Unity and Democracy will not have to wait too long because we have a country to re-organize with liberty and justice for all.  Mr. President it’s time to start saying your “good byes.”

Is This What it Feels Like to Live on a Spaceship? Or Don’t Get Too Comfortable Just Yet

Finally, the ominous clouds of anger and divisiveness are starting to fade, I told myself getting out of bed this morning. The United States will have a leader who sees citizens as human beings; not as his followers or his enemies.

 Inside my head, Paul Simon’s song “Was a Sunny Day” was playing. The weather outside matched my mood. 

While my preferred candidate for United States President, Joe Biden, did not win by a landslide; the race had been called and he’s won more than the needed number of electoral votes. Now we can focus on dealing with “the common enemy;” the novel coronavirus. Recently in Anne Arundel County Maryland where I live, we had the highest number of new reported infections yet—175 cases. Like many places around the globe, the United States is facing its third wave of infections, which is causing me to be evermore vigilant in choosing what activities I feel are safe. Most of my work and socializing is done virtually.

I think of all the science fiction movies I’ve watched, where the voyager in space interacts with family, colleagues, commanders, and foes on a computer screen. The stories where the space traveler has not seen people in the flesh for months or years. In some stories, the traveler becomes so desperate for human contact she spends hours watching old family movies and archived tapes.

My house is my spaceship. From the comfort of my living room, I interact with the world. The facetime, the zoom meetings, the social media posts all connect me with my fellow humans. They all provide band aids for the problem of living in a time of a global pandemic. But the craving for human touch doesn’t leave us. I am alone in my house with my dog. Do they allow pets on spaceships? I think of that Star Trek episode, “The Trouble with Tribbles.” The Starship Enterprise crew brings the cooing creatures aboard as pets and havoc ensues. Although they have each other to interact with, the Enterprise crew members crave other physical experiences. So much of what I do now is in the virtual world.

This weekend, however, the exceptionally warm weather and the leaves on the trees turning orange, red and yellow demanded in-person observation. We donned our masks, got in the car with our dog Chloe and drove down to Beverly Triton Nature Park in Edgewater to enjoy the woods and water—all in one place. Many people were there, also out enjoying the day, and the majority were wearing masks and practicing respectful social distancing. 

It is so easy to let your guard down, particularly when you are in a good mood. And I pine for all those things I miss. Yes, I can still press my hands into the soil in my yard to plant a garden and walk around the neighborhood, greeting friends from a distance; but so much has been taken away. I think of the last time I went to the Spanish Ballroom in Glen Echo with my husband Peter to go ballroom dancing. The live music that featured saxophone, horns, piano, bass, and clarinet echoed through the hall, and when we grew tired of doing the rock step and fox trot, we stood and listened. Stood and watched some of the expert dancers with their sequences of steps, turns and twists. Admired the zoot suits and the crinoline skirts. 

Some evenings we dance around the kitchen, listening to music played on our “smart speaker.” I consider searching on YouTube for a dance lesson so maybe we can practice some steps, but I’d have to roll up the rug to dance while watching the screen on my computer.

Thanksgiving 2018, we were flying to California, excited to meet our daughter’s fiancé (now husband). Alex and Josh showed us around Mountainview, California and we drove together over the mountains to Lake Tahoe. There we stayed in a snug A-Frame cottage, witnessed the first snow of the season and played “Cards Against Humanity.” Exploring on our own, Peter and I got on the train to visit San Francisco and walked the city, deciding to to eat lunch near Fisherman’s Wharf. We found a restaurant that looked like it had been transported from the 1960’s and we tried one of their specialties, tiny fried shrimp with fresh lettuces and heirloom tomatoes on a bun. Could I make this at home? Part of the fun of traveling and eating in restaurants, is tasting new preparations of favorite foods and being inspired to create reproduce some of those recipes.

How can I make this Thanksgiving satisfying, with only the two of us physically sitting around the table? I remind myself I am lucky to have a significant other, my husband, with whom to share this necessary partial separation from society. 

One day, we will get through this pandemic. Until then, those of us who take the time to read the science and pay attention to the statistics, should continue to set a good example for others. We should continue to be vigilant and limit our in-person contacts when possible. Soon— in another 72 days— we will have new leaders. I am confident that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will set an example for others to follow and provide guidance and financial support to carry out safe practices. Until then, we are still on our own.

Walk in the Edgewater Maryland

Let’s Think About Sean Connery While We’re Waiting for Election Results

Summer reading for Dad during my childhood was easily financed with a little spare change. Ten cents in the 1960s could purchase a used paperback at the thrift shop. I scanned his library: murder mysteries, detective novels Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming. Reading late into the July and August night, I preferred gothic romance and science fiction.

But I did like stories about espionage. Enter James Bond movies and our father daughter trips to the Provincetown movie theater. Popcorn, warm and salty in the box.  It was just me and Dad at the newest James Bond movie with Sean Connery because Mother didn’t like that crap. She preferred the art cinema with provocative films in black and white.

Yesterday I heard the news. Sean Connery dead at age ninety. He lived a long and prosperous life, a hard worker from childhood. As a boy in Scotland  he delivered milk for three hours before school. At age thirteen he was working fulltime until he signed up for the Royal Navy and retired from sea at age 19. He learned the craft of acting from the ground up, by reading plays and watching others perform.  Not confined to playing the handsome leading man, he signed on for various character roles as he aged. He played a trained killer in the 1974 fantasy “Zardoz” and  the charming corrupt grandfather in  the 1989 neo noir crime film “Family Business”.  In 1987  he won the best supporting actor Academy Award for his performance as an honest cop on the corrupt Chicago police force in “The Untouchables”.

When Dad and I stood in front of the glass ticket window in front of the movie theater, I held Dad’s hand and smiled to show my braces. “Under twelve?” the lady would ask. 

Sometimes lying was okay. Especially if you were on a secret mission—to save the human race from nuclear disaster.  

Co-conspirators.  Admission to the movies for children was fifty cents. Adults paid $2.50. Twelve or under twelve? The two whole dollars we saved would pay for our snacks. 

Penny candy still existed. With ten cents I could purchase an entire bag of treats. Stashed within a paper sack, slowly I could savor one red licorice stick or a paper of pink and yellow Dots. At the movie theater in summer wearing shorts, I felt as if I was sitting on scratchy old carpeting. I didn’t mind. 

Thirteen, Fourteen years old and skinny, it was easy for me to pass as a child as we continued to see James Bond movies that starred David Niven,  George Lazenby and Roger Moore.

Oh that handsome Sean Connery!  I was just a kid, developing my sensibilities of what I found pleasing in a potential love match.  Maybe because he was my first James Bond, he was the best. That rich deep voice with just a hint of an accent. So self- assured, as soon as he appeared on screen; he took charge.  But wasn’t that what he was supposed to do? He was a movie star.

In another week, maybe we’ll know the results of Tuesday’s November 3rd election. I already voted weeks ago. It’s challenging not to worry.  Too old, due to the risks of the coronavirus to knock on doors or work at polling places, I wait. To stay busy I unpack our winter clothes.  I read speculative fiction.  For the ultimate in escapism, I recommend watching an old James Bond Movie. One of my favorites, maybe because I like the name, “You Only Live Twice.”

Young Sean Connery and Old Sean Connery

How Do We Celebrate Halloween in 2020? Try This.

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. I love opening up the door and being surprised by fairy tale princesses, swashbuckling pirates, ghosts, and goblins. It’s not going to happen this year and I’ve been thinking about how to distribute candy, colorful pencils or whether I should be giving out small vials of hand sanitizer.

“You are no fun,” my husband says. “Children want candy. Who wants a pencil?”

“I like a well sharpened No. 2 myself,” I told him. “A nice roller pen, however, is even better, but I understand the preference for sweets.”

We’ve considered setting up a table and using a long broom handle to deliver goody bags to recipients, but that seems too complicated. Probably the delivery of some goodies to neighbors the day before will have to suffice. It would be nice to wear a costume when I do that, but I’ll already be wearing a mask anyway. 

Donning a costume is part of the Halloween mystique and in my house during childhood we had plenty of costumes. We had a huge trunk  with antique dresses, coats, and trousers as well as boxes of lace and fabric trimmings. Some Halloweens I chose to dress up in three different costumes: one for school, one for trick-or-treating, and another for parties. That year I was  a 1920’s bride, a devil, and my favorite book character, Jo March from Little Women.  I wore the devil costume to school and no one could figure out who was that person behind the mask because I’d hidden my hair with a scarf.

For several years, Peter and I made a tradition of going out to dinner on Halloween in costume with one or two other couples. We’d usually pick costumes related to current events.  In 2010 Peter was one of the Chilean Copper miners stuck underground for months.  I wore a suit and a witch hat with the banner, “I am not a Witch” portraying Tea Party  candidate Christine O’Donnell who was running for Senate in Delaware. (She lost to Chris Coons in the general election.) Several bars sponsored highly competitive costume contests and it was exciting to stand outside and speculate on who might be among the finalists. 

Dressing up in Costumes on Halloween Night
Halloween with friends in 2011

This year, if  I were to enter a costume contests and I could figure out a way to create a spinning Lindsey Graham head on a pole to characterize his inconsistencies in following the rules he created as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee,  maybe I’d be a finalist. Or maybe I’d be disqualified for inciting a riot.  But seriously—I’m hoping that after the election and after this is all over, I’d like to be able to have a kind and civil conversation with everyone; regardless of their political leanings. Many of us have been disappointed in different ways and it is time to move forward as united not opposing states. 

With such a contentious election coming up  on November 3rd it is a good thing that Halloween will be celebrated in a more subdued fashion. If people start walking around the city dressed as the candidates, it could get ugly. I worry about people’s reactions after the election results are ratified. There will be winners and losers.  Not everyone will want to accept the results.

At the start of the Pandemic, I witnessed many acts of kindness. Folks volunteering to shop for others, donating food, and offering support to struggling small businesses and charities. Six months in and many Americans are growing fatigued.  We’ve grown irritable. Tired of standing in line to enter the grocery store. Tired of waiting in their car before entering the doctor’s office. Tired of teaching their children at home. Tired of waiting months to visit in person with relatives and dear friends. Tired of readjusting masks that make our faces sweat and fog up our glasses. Tired of paying attention to the marks on the floor in stores telling us where to stand. Tired of singing the Happy Birthday song twice through each time we wash our hands.

The need now, despite our fatigue, is to focus on what many of us do have—a place to live, our health, and food in our bellies. Our fatigue is miniscule compared to what is being experienced by those who have lost their jobs, their livelihoods and members of their family.

Assistance money is currently in short supply and it’s going to be a long cold winter. Some people won’t even have the dollars to pay for heat and warm clothes. Make a special donation to the food bank or local shelter for Halloween and keep making those donations.

While Halloween may have originated with the intent to scare off restless ghosts, Dia de los Muertos (translated as Day of the Dead) celebrates the lives of our deceased ancestors. In the honor of all the 220,000 plus people who have died it is time to join together to make our world a better place for the living. We can’t physically reach out our hands to embrace our fellow citizens, but let’s try to listen with open minds and think before we speak. Hurtful language serves no purpose except to anger and incite. Always there are things on which we all can agree. 

My husband Peter and I picked that yellow pumpkin we’ve grown in our garden and set it on our front steps to join two large pots of orange and purple mums.  The colors around us are warm and soothing.  I’m looking forward to the election being behind us and finding a path toward healing.  

Get Ready for a Different Kind of Holiday and Why it Might Be Time to Open Your Heart

I was tempted to put on my gloves this morning, especially when I picked up our dog’s cold soggy leash, wet from her dragging it across the grass while chasing the ball. Fall is here and the pumpkins on our vine are growing big. One in particular, looks large enough to set on the front steps—but it has not turned orange.

 Normally I would be making my plans for Thanksgiving, perhaps purchasing a plane ticket, but this is not a normal year. It’s week thirty-one after the initial onslaught of the Coronavirus in the United States and in Maryland, the infection rate is holding at 3.09%.  But in some parts of the nation the number of cases  has started to rise and I worry the third wave will soon hit here. More people indoors during autumn and winter means a higher rate of transmission of the disease.  My prediction at this time is that my husband and I will be spending Thanksgiving by ourselves, perhaps with a video camera at the table. Christmas will probably be even bleaker. I tell myself we just have to make it through to spring and gradually with the availability of a vaccine for frontline workers and better treatments, things will start to turn around. 

Like many  families in America, our children’s lives have led them to settle in different places. The physically closest, second oldest son, lives four hours away in Virginia.   During the summer I was visiting my two grandchildren, ages two and five, virtually every week on Zoom—reading them books—  but now they are in school and their days are busy.  Exposed to more social contacts, they may be carriers of the virus. Is it safe to visit in person? In theory, with a superfluous amount of energy my husband and I could leave our house at sunrise, partake in a socially distanced visit, and drive home in the afternoon. Or we can just continue to visit by computer. I’m certain many families are in a similar situation.

My eldest son lives with his wife and teenage daughter in Jakarta, Indonesia. His wife is pregnant  and due in December. He’s sent us ultrasound photos and I’d love to be there to hold this new grandson in my arms, but for now I am just wishing he arrives into the world safely. Perhaps when he turns one year old, we’ll be able to celebrate together. Initially I was worried about them living in a Third World Country during a global pandemic—a multi-island nation prone to floods and earthquakes— but at least in Indonesia, citizens have enough sense to consistently wear masks.

In some ways, my daughter living in northern California, is living in the most dangerous place.  Within three miles of where she and her husband live, up until a few weeks ago there have been raging forest fires , and they’ve been told to be ready to evacuate. Thick with smoke,  at intermittent intervals over the past few months the outside air is hazardous to breathe and they are not allowed to use their stoves. Confined indoors they worked from home and ate cold food.

This is the daughter we were planning to have a big wedding celebration for at our house in March with the entire family. We’d sent out the invitations, made the arrangements but of course had to cancel our plans due to safety concerns. She still has not had the opportunity to wear her fancy wedding dress with the long train or throw a bouquet, but she and her husband have started their married life together with hopes that one day we’ll still have that big party.

Compared to many Americans we are the lucky ones. We have a lot to be thankful for.  The precautions adopted to stay safe from contracting the coronavirus are a small inconvenience. Many people don’t have enough to eat or a place to sleep. 

Whenever our family gathers together to celebrate a holiday, we go around the table one by one and share one or two things we are thankful for. So here it goes. I am thankful for my health and the health of my family. I am thankful I have a safe place to write each and every day.

With gratitude, I challenge myself each morning to do one thing a little better than I did the previous day.

House decked out for the fall
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