Dear Abby Dear Someone Please Give Me Advice

    I’ve been reading advice columns as long as I’ve been reading the newspaper. I began by reading Ann Landers in the Baltimore Sun.  When living in California and Massachusetts I was reading Dear Abby, further elaborated on by that wonderful John Prine song “Dear Abby”.  What better advice can there be then, You are what you are and you ain’t what you ain’t?

Reading the advice column became part of my morning ritual, along with cereal and coffee. I’d spread out the newspaper, and in between jostling the rest of the family out of bed and putting together the children’s lunches, for a few minutes I’d read and escape. Nothing else puts it all in perspective like reading about other people’s problems. Suddenly whatever you’ve been grappling about— the friend who will no longer talk to you, the boss at work who keeps piling extra work on your desk, the sister-in-law who always criticizes your cooking— doesn’t seem all that bad.

Over the decades, doling out advice has become more specialized and includes columns written by everyone from psychics and therapists to social scientists. For middle-of-the-road advice, augmented by clever cartoon illustrations, I read Dear Carolyn (Carolyn Hanley Hax) in the Washington Post. On Sundays I often read the column Social Q’s in The New York Times by Philip Galanes.

Most of the time I read my newspapers online. A few years ago, I started subscribing to the Washington Post’s “Dear Carolyn newsletter.” The column was starting to bore me, (too many similar questions and unsatisfactory solutions), until I noticed the option to add my own comment. But better than adding my own two cents was the opportunity to read what everyone else was saying. The reader response was so much more interesting than Carolyn’s advice. What I’ve observed is that advice giving has become a collective phenomena.

The reader response was so much more interesting than Carolyn’s advice.

A recent example was a question related to a friend enhancing a photo, that included the letter writer, before posting it on Facebook. The letter writer did not want themselves “artificially altered” to appear younger and more attractive than she really was and was uncomfortable with the compliments she’d been getting from well-meaning friends on social media.

The conversation jumped from our attitudes towards embracing youthfulness, to the perils of vanity, to the pressures exerted by social media platforms to look drop dead gorgeous at all times.  Others grumbled that the letter’s subject matter was a complete waste of time.  Certainly this was not a problem to solve. Just ignore it and move on, was the general sentiment. 

Another day and another letter writer was  a “Co- Maid of Honor” disillusioned with the behavior of the bride, who had no time to talk with the other “Co-Maid of Honor” in the days leading up to the wedding, who it turns out was trying to cope with the death of her father. The result: the grieving member of the wedding party was “disagreeable.” What to do? How to go forward” Could their friendship survive?”

-The readers reactions varied from: What a useless group of people and why did they bother with a formal wedding anyway? to Well of course you should talk to the bride about how you felt observing it all go down to —-You should reach out supportively to the grieving “Co-Maid of Honor”.

Photo by Kampus Production on Pexels.com

Often the comments go completely off-topic. The writers use the platform to share remarks about a personal event that feels similar to them, they want to vent about. A spouse who repeatedly corrects his wife in front of others becomes the ex-wife who always re-did the Christmas decorations after the husband initially put them up. The commenter shares how happy they are in the present, taking over control of their life. Others comment, providing positive reinforcement.  These types of iterations provide further commentary on some of the challenges we all face in sustaining relationships. In our post pandemic world, where many of us still approach in-person interactions cautiously, the online community provides an outlet for many. Are they seeking advice or validation or perspective? For the writer, the topics provide plenty of conflict, rich material for storytelling. Here’s a story I wrote, published by  Defunkt Magazine Volume VII  that provides plenty of conflict called Tenants on page 33. Here Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril. Thank you for reading.

American Feast Days. Thanksgiving Vs. Christmas

  

Thanksgiving, I remember my mother telling me, takes on a special meaning to immigrants because it celebrates their ties to America. More important than Christmas, because everyone—Jewish, Moslem, Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian—can  remind themselves what they are thankful for in their own way by focusing on family, friends and food. Yes, the traditional main dish is usually turkey, but you don’t have to serve turkey. Plus, the side dishes provide options for just about everyone’s taste. I think of Thanksgiving as a feast to be shared.

This year’s Thanksgiving, however, to me seems rushed because the Christmas decorations are already up all over my town. Holiday shopping for gifts is in full swing as people scramble to buy items for folks on their shopping list before prices go up and items sell out.  The focus has jumped forward to giving and getting, skipping the all important “thanks.”

What happened to a celebration of the fall harvest? I’m not ready to give up the yellow, orange, and purple mums on the front steps.  Long ago when I owned an antiques shop I used to set out cornucopias and arrangements to gold and crimson leaves in the front display window in November. Now I take note that the store display windows two weeks before Thanksgiving already have flashing lights and Santa hats.  One of our family traditions was to set out a platter of assorted nuts and fruit as a centerpiece on our Thanksgiving table. I wonder how many households are decorating their Thanksgiving table this year with an arrangement of red berries and evergreens. Maybe they’re already hanging Christmas stockings and that “Elf on a Shelf”.

Yes, I get it. As a result of the ravages of the Coronavirus Pandemic, there’s a pent up demand for in person gift exchange; but Thanksgiving is really the better holiday. People matter not things.

Thanksgiving was officially declared a National holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln as the civil war was coming towards a close  with a wish for peace, unity and harmony.  It’s a good reminder to think on, as United States citizens continues to grapple with opposing belief systems concerning the right to bear arms and a woman’s right to have control over her own body.   Much has been made of the so-called original  Thanksgiving Feast shared by the Wampanoag Indians and the Pilgrims, but whether such a feast took place is questionable. The Pilgrims who landed on Cape Cod and settled  in Plymouth, Massachusetts had one primary intention, to take the land as their own  and convert the regions into a settlement of  farms and European style homesteads. They neither paid fairly for what they took nor did they treat the stewards of the land, the native Indian nations, with respect. The United States still has many amends to make for their behavior towards the native people who still reside among us, but giving thanks and trying to learn from our past mistakes is a beginning.

Turkey is the centerpiece dish on the Thanksgiving table because wild turkeys were plentiful in New England in the mid 1600s when the pilgrims landed.  Instead, you could serve venison, lobster, or fish if you desire to harken back to colonial times. The original turkeys were scrawny creatures, but in the 21st century they come in all shapes and sizes. Free range or butterball, fresh and frozen. The internal temperature ( best measured  by inserting a meat thermometer into the thickest portion of the thigh and also under the wing) should read 165 degrees when serving.

My mother owned a massive rectangular turkey cooker, a battered two piece steel pan and lid shaped like a box. We always had a huge turkey, approximately 25 pounds to accommodate guests and leftovers.  Sometimes Mom put too much water in the bottom. She wanted her bird to be moist. The stuffing would suffer and I’m not a fan of soggy stuffing.  However, because stuffing was so popular she usually prepared an extra casserole  of stuffing cooked separately and crispier, sometimes with oysters on top.

I love homemade mashed potatoes but they can be labor intensive. If you are hosting the dinner, my recommendation in not to  overtax yourself with too many last minute preparations.  A simple recipe I learned from my mother were oven browned potatoes. Parboil potatoes. Slip off their jackets. Roll them in oil or grease and let them bake around the turkey. Crisp on the outside, they easily disintegrate in your mouth once you take a bite. Delicious with salt, pepper, and rosemary.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

The best Thanksgiving feasts include dishes that appeal to a variety of tastes. Sweet relish. Sour pickles. Hot mustard. And then there are the desserts—many different pies. Pumpkins, native to the Americas have become imbedded into the New England Thanksgiving tradition. More southern in tradition is the pecan pie and the sweet potato pie.

Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV on Pexels.com

My universal favorite is a an unsweetened apple pie. And here is my very simple recipe. Make your pie crust in the food processor using the steel blade.   For each single crust: 1 1/4 cups of flour, 1 stick of cold butter broken into  ½” pieces and  1/2 tsp. salt into the processor and have ready a glass of ice water. Start to pulse and as soon as the mixture looks like tiny peas ie. course damp meal and start adding a little bit of ice water—just enough, so that the mixture loosely forms into a large ball and immediately stop. The less you work the dough- the flakier it will be. Chill for 45 minutes in the refrigerator and roll on a floured board until one inch larger than your pie dish. (You can make this in advance and freeze or refrigerate for a few days.) Lay your rolled out disc onto a greased glass or metal pie plate.

For the filling: 45 minutes before rolling out the crust, peel and slice five cups worth of crisp tart apples (your favorite variety) and put the apple in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of brown sugar ( if desired) 1 tablespoon flour, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and mace. When ready to bake, place the apple piece mixture inside the bottom crust. Dot top with pats of butter. Place the upper crust on top and slit a few vents for steam. Use the edge of a fork or a pie crimper to seal the edges. Bake for approximately 10 minutes in a preheated 400 degree oven and then 45 minutes  at 350 degrees (set at convection if available). Because oven times vary, use your eyes and remove the pie when  the crust turns a light golden brown. To protect the crust edges from getting too dark, cover edges with a strip of tin foil. (Cut out the center of a very large foil circle to cover only your crust edges).  Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream or a slice of sharp cheddar.

Happy upcoming feasts and celebrations.  If you love food stories and you haven’t read my latest published piece, “Love in the Kitchen” here it is. And don’t forget to follow me on twitter at SN Maril.

The Creature in the Basement and Other Secrets

Everyone loves a mystery.  Whether it is locating something hidden or unveiling the true villain, when we read something, book or blog, we want to be entertained.

I’ve always found animals to be very entertaining. I love to watch them and I love to interact with them. Animals, any sort of animal, can be a great literary to

Recently I was reminded how important pets can be as literary characters when reading A Town called Solace by Mary Lawson (on the 2021 Booker Prize long list). The star of the novel, as far as I’m concerned, is Moses, the cat. Moses belongs to Mrs. Orchard (Elizabeth), one of the three narrators of the story.  He serves as a connecting force between his owner, the little girl (Clara) who lives next door, and Liam, a middle aged bachelor  who comes to live in Elizabeth’s house.  Moses is very shy and hides from strangers. Perhaps one could say the same about Elizabeth, Clara, and Liam.  If I reveal more I’ll spoil the plot.

            An animal does not need to narrate the story, as in “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein, they just need to interact with the other characters.  In the famous Shirley Jackson short story “The Renegade”, the family dog Lady is guilty of killing the neighbor’s chickens. How Mrs. Walpole, new to the village, interprets her dog’s actions and the appropriate punishment is at odds with the reactions of both the townspeople and Mrs. Walpole’s two children.  In this story, the dog is the source of conflict instead of resolution. The tale is chilling, and if you haven’t read any Jackson lately, it may be time to rediscover her prose.

Creatures are all around us, from the squirrels gathering nuts for winter in the park to our own pets who have kept us company during our intermittent pandemic lock-downs. Throughout history, animals have provided companionship to humans living in isolated places. Rescue dogs, cats, along with rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs could become stars in the next story you write.

Looking for a different sort of writing prompt? Start with a creature and put it some place unexpected. What is it doing there?

 Or, if you’re more of a reader than a writer, it’s interesting to take notice of the different functions a pet can perform in a story: marking time by when they are walked and fed, alerting danger by their reactions, or providing a respite to conflict with their  affection.

For writers, pets become part of our routine.  My Labradoodle Chloe, keeps me on a schedule and is a guarantee I get lots of exercise. She likes a long walk in the early morning and another long walk after her dinner. She has her idiosyncrasies, her obsession with “the ball”. She nudges me when she wants attention. She’s fun to write about and a comfort to hug.

                If you don’t have a pet, what kind of pet is right for you? A good way to find out, if you did not grow up with pets is to volunteer at an Animal Rescue Shelter. Shelters are always looking for people who will walk dogs and spend time interacting with the animals waiting to be adopted. Observing an animal in the care  of different people can be helpful in gauging their social ability to connect with various humans.  So what are you waiting for—start writing.

Or if you’d like to read my latest published short story, “You Meet the Strangest People Hitchhiking” courtesy of Pigeon Review, here it is.

Follow me on twitter at SN Maril. Thank you.

Onion Soup, Recipes, Writing and the Five Senses

We’re cleaning out the garden. Stripping out the last of the tomatoes before the frost arrives and I’m thinking up ways I can use up some of the many onions in the large net sack on the bottom shelf.  It’s soup weather and already I made chicken soup with the bones of a roaster last week.

Maybe it is time for onion soup. Remarkably easy to make, all you need are lots of onions, broth, butter and a little flour. A  very sharp knife to chop all those onions—Vidalia onions are best. Or you can cheat and use the sharp blade of a food processor if you cut your onions into quarters if you cooking for a crowd. Caution, keep the action of the food processor brief. The best onion soup has a variety of onion pieces in different sizes.  Dust the onion in flour and sautee in butter until soft and simmer in broth. (I use vegetable broth, but beef or chicken work as well.) One cup of broth for each onion.  For a hearty meal, toast French bread and place a slice of gruyere cheese on top and then pour the soup on top of that.  Yes, I know the “professionals” put the soup with the bread and cheese under the broiler—but this is so much easier.

We use five senses to experience the world: taste, touch, smell, sight, sound.  If you don’t like onions, find them disagreeable, you won’t want to read about onion soup.   But writing about onions, their many layers and they way they can make you cry if their juice squirts into you eyes while slicing, provides rich material for describing a character or a scene. This must be why so many writers love to write about food.

Already with food, we’ve got the smell and the taste to draw on.  Plus presentation (sight), in other words how does that food look on a plate? How does it feel on your tongue? (Touch) Small  children judge what they want to eat based on the tactile sensation, an interesting topic to explore.

 As a child I disliked avocados because I found them unpredictably slimy. The ones available in the market on the east coast were a little too ripe. Now I feel differently and I describe an avocado as soft but yielding, as a prepare to mash it into guacamole.  The final sense is sound. The sound of the crust crunching as you break apart a baguette.  Or the sound of a chip once it is  loaded with guacamole, breaking apart as someone eats it.

Always important is point of view.  What one character in a scene thinks  about food might be entirely different from another. The bowl of spaghetti with meat balls, that tastes so good to one person may taste too salty or spicy to you. Perhaps the meatballs contain raisins, and you find them too sweet, even if the raisins are first soaked in red wine.

Recipe break. A simple meatball or meatloaf recipe calls for walnut pieces, raisins soaked in red wine, bread crumbs, and ground meat –beef, pork, veal, turkey or a combination. You could even try plant based alternative “meat”.  Mix in a beaten egg plus oregano, basil, parsley and salt and pepper to taste.   Depending on how many people you are cooking for, the ground meat should be proportionally 5/8’s of the total mixture.

Suffering from writer’s block? Jotting down your memories of food is a great place to start scribbling.

If you are inspired to cook up some homemade soup as a result of reading this blog, remember the most crucial element is time, lots of time. Good soup is simmered slowly, sometimes for one or two days. As with a piece of fine writing, the ingredients cannot be quickly thrown together and boiled.  The flavor must gradually be released. But when it’s ready, a cozy feeling of satisfaction will settle  into your belly as you take that first sample and you’ll know it’s finished.

Follow me on twitter at SN Maril. Read a flash piece I wrote about Basil, published in Miniskirt Magazine here.

Four of My Favorite Books to Help you Become a Better Writer

I just started listening to Chuck Palahniuk’s Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different for the second time.  I wanted to remind myself again to put into practice some of many sage tips he gives to writers.  Tips that include: use multiple points of view, active verbs, short sentences, and nonverbal communication to  reduce dialogue.

Being read, being published is the end game, but it’s the act of writing which is for me most important. Before we write we read. It’s my love of reading that drew me to writing. What better charge is there than finding the perfect assemblage of words to create in someone else’s mind— a feeling, a scene, a story.  I’m addicted.

This is why I write. It’s the creative process I become emerged in that has me hooked. It’s an art form that evolves. And I always want to improve my craft. This means I’m always challenging myself to try different approaches and learn from other writers.

Each writer has different visions of what they’re striving to convey, but for me I’m seeking to find new ways to describe a scene and the inner thoughts and motivations of my characters. I listen to books on tape and also like to read words on paper. Helpful are a number of books on my shelf.  About fifteen years ago I picked up Steven King’s bible for writers, On Writing, published in 2000. I bought it on the remainder table for one dollar. I think initially “literary writers” were dubious that the king of pop fiction would have useful advice, but now in 2021 his book is a favorite. Open the book to the section entitled “Toolbox” and you’ll receive sound advice like, “Remember the basic rule of vocabulary is to use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful.” In his section entitled “On Writing” King explains that he gets his writing impetus not from imagining What if?. “ A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me. The most interesting situations can be expressed in the What-if question:

What is vampires invaded a small New England Village? ( Salem’s Lot)

What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went berserk and started killing everyone in sight. (Desperation)

Both Palahniuk and King emphasize the importance of reading other writer’s work, one of the best books to guide you in this is Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer (2006).  The book covers all the craft elements so important for all creative writers: close reading, words, sentences, paragraphs, narration, character, dialogue, details, and gestures. What is most invaluable, in addition to all the books she cites throughout the text, is the reading list at the end. Yes, we may all be readers, but it is important to seek out unfamiliar authors who are masters of their craft. Best sellers come and go. Books fall in and out of favor and an important authors are forgotten. While many of the authors and books on her list I was familiar with, I got introduced to Elizabeth Bowen, Henry Green and Denis Johnson (Yes, Denis Johnson who I selected for my in depth research MFA research project) thanks to Francine Prose.

Try not to repetitively read the same authors you like. Discover old and new talent.

I’ve got a number of books on writing in my library, John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction,  Jon Franklin’s Writing for Story  and The Half-known World on Writing Fiction by Robert Boswell, but it seems that all these books are written by men. As more women and people of color take leadership roles in publishing, perhaps we’ll see books on writing from a more diverse group of authors. Meanwhile I will close with talking about one more favorite book, number four on my list. I’ve read Unless It Moves the Human Heart by Roger Rosenblatt (2011) several times.  Rosenblatt’s book shares the writing process from the teacher’s viewpoint as he interacts with his students at Stony Brook University. He taught classes in poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction and what ensues is a thoughtful introspective dialogue that stimulates the reader to look at their own work with fresh eyes.

In closing I will repeat again for emphasis, read as well as write. You are never finished learning how to be a better writer. So what are you waiting for?  Have you written, revised, and re-revised some stories today?

Follow Nadja Maril on twitter at SN Maril or read one of her short stories published this year. Here’s the link to Lovely in the literary magazine Instant Noodles.

Modern Love Rejections and Lessons

The first New York Times Modern Love essay I ever read was entitled “Finding God in a Hot Slice of Pizza” ( 2017) Written by Tova Mivis, it impressed  me with its depth and honesty.

I was preparing to start  my MFA program in a few months (January 2018), and I’d quickly become facebook friends with several members of USM’s Stonecoast writing program faculty, seeking to follow their publishing successes and advice. The link to this essay had been posted  on Facebook by writer, Aaron Hamburger.

This is the kind of writing to aspire to, I told myself, a golden ring of sorts to reach for.  If I could write such a powerful essay, what a place to get published, The New York Times!

Another Modern Love essay, “Now I Need a Place to Hide Away” (2006) written by the ineffable Ann Hood, was on the reading list of a Stonecoast seminar focusing on the use of pop culture elements, led by  writers Elizabeth Searle and Suzanne Strempek Shea. Once again I was reminded that writing a Modern Love essay was on the list of projects I wanted to accomplish.

The Modern Love column was started in 2004 and has surged in popularity to become a podcast and a Amazon original series, now in its second season.  But  it was the onset of the 2020 pandemic, that started me towards becoming a weekly reader of the Sunday Times style section. I clipped the columns I liked and studied them. Not everyone was a gem. In fact I became increasingly disappointed at the number of Modern Love columns I considered mediocre. True, I ‘d set the bar high, but I had the increasing sense that many had been selected because they met certain demographic requirements.

 The New York Times has readers from all over the world and thus the responsibility to present a vast variety of perspectives has to weigh heavily on the shoulders of the editors.  The pressure to be mindful that all age groups, religions, socio-economic groups, skin colors, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientations  were represented seemed to be playing a role in what was getting published. Plus I had to consider sphere of influence. If someone was famous and had a literary agent with connections, wouldn’t their essay be given special consideration?

About a month ago my husband and I  reconnected with some old friends, and over dinner Judy and I started comparing notes about the “writing life.” She told me about an online class she’d taken, sponsored by Catapult called “Making Modern Love” taught by Jessica Ciencin Henriquez. A reader of Catapult, I’d seen the class advertised. “Was it helpful,” I asked, “Did you submit a story to Modern Love?”

“Yes,” Judy said, “And if was rejected.”

“Well don’t feel bad, “ I said. “ I’ve had two essays rejected, pieces I felt really good about. Pieces other writers I respect assured me were good, however I figure it’s like winning the lottery. And glutton for punishment, I’m actually starting to sketch out an idea for a third attempt.”

We laughed. And a few weeks later in the shower, I thought of what I supposed was a unique idea, Modern Love Rejects. Someone should publish all the great Modern Love essay rejects. There must be hundreds of them, I told myself, but I thought to google first to make certain someone hadn’t already thought of the same idea.  Already, in the Literary Magazine world I was familiar with two literary magazines that had been founded, partially in response to limited publishing opportunities for new talent, Rejection Letters and Unfortunately.

Within minutes I found several references to Modern Love Rejects and mentions of site  planning to publish an anthology. as well as a page on Facebook,” Modern Love Rejects”, and a twitter account under the same name.  But all these efforts that commenced in 2011 and again in 2016 have been abandoned. According to my messaging back and forth with the former administrator of the “Modern Love Rejects” Facebook page, “we just didn’t get enough submissions.”

It was hard for me to fathom the idea that not enough writers were interested in re-submitting their Modern Love Essays, but perhaps they’d found other homes for their work.  As serendipity will have it, a day later I received a text message from my writer friend Judy. “Here’s a site,” she wrote, “publishing Modern Love rejects.” The address took me to Hobartpulp.com who has started publishing on Modern Love rejected essay online on Sundays. “But how much honor is there is being published as a reject?” wrote Judy.

I visited the Hobart site to read some of the essays. Evidently a lot of credentialed writers, with numerous publishing credits to their name see no downside in being published as a Modern Love Reject. The world is a tough place and sometimes you just have to satisfy yourself with less than you initially hoped for.

While I’m not convinced that titling these essays as “rejects” is the way to go, there is definitely an interested in writing and reading pieces about human connections. Love comes in many shapes and forms and it is at the root of everything we writers are passionate about.

Going back to my computer I started working on my third essay attempt, and decided I better ask my friend Taylor, who happens to be a voracious reader, if he minded my mentioning his name in  my tale about dating as a young widow.  “Modern Love?” he said, “I’ve never heard of it.” 

Perhaps what I thought was so important an accomplishment may not be so important after all.

Want to read more by Nadja Maril? Follow her on twitter  SN Maril. Check out one  of her short stories here   or an essay here.

Mint Recipes You’re Going To Love

I have a love and hate relationship with mint. It’s one of the most useful herbs to grow, but its ability to take over a garden can be exasperating. I’m tempted to plant it in a remote corner of the yard or grow the mint in a pot, however we use mint at my house for a myriad of things and I’d hate to run out.  So it is growing right next to our back door, and if I keep harvesting, it doesn’t get out of hand.

My love of mint began in childhood when I’d find a patch of wild mint and pluck a few leaves to chew.  Our family would drink plenty of ice tea in the summer and we’d brew the tea very strong, and then pour it over ice.  Lemon and sugar were usually added. Mint leaves made the iced tea special.

These days I add fresh mint to my glass of iced seltzer water or plain water along with a thin slice of lime. The mint brightens the taste.

Mint is a crucial ingredient in several alcoholic drinks, the Mojito and the Mint Julip, but why stop there?  Add a few berries into the mix and all kinds of delicious drinks, alcoholic and nonalcoholic, can be created with the use of a muddler( a small baton that works like a pestle to release flavor) to create your own signature beverage.

To make your own homegrown mint tea, thought to be good for digestion, cut bunches of mint to hang upside down away from direct sunlight to dry. You may want to protect the herb from dust with a paper bag, as the process can take a few days or as long as two weeks. You’ll know the mint is ready when the leaves are dry and crumbly. Store in an air tight container in a dark cool area. You can use the dried mint directly in cooking. For tea, you’ll need to use a tea ball or strainer.

From mint pesto to mint sauce, mint has an affinity for lamb and peas.  Try adding some finely chopped mint leaves and butter to peas for a treat. Mint also bonds well with brocoli.

An easy recipe, for homemade mint sauce uses hot water to release the flavor of the mint.    You’ll need:

a large bunch of fresh mint

5 Tbsp of boiling water

3 Tbsp of white wine vinegar

1 ½  Tbsp of sugar.

 Chop up the mint leaves and place them in a bowl and sprinkle the sugar on top. Then pour in the hot water. Let it cool and then add the vinegar.  Adjust the flavor to your taste, adding more mint or water. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, but if you are serving leg of lamb it will disappear quickly.

Another easy way to use fresh mint leaves is to toss them in with boiled new potatoes. Try this recipe.

New potatoes  ( a little over a pound in weight total) washed and scrubbed

1 medium size red onion finely chopped

Shredded leaves from one bunch of mint

2 Tbsp of capers

3 Tbsp. of olive oil ( extra virgin)

2 Tbsp of red wine vinegar

½ Tsp. of  sugar

Combine the onion, mint, capers, oil, vinegar, and sugar in your serving bowl. Boil the little potatoes until done, when they can be easily pierced with a knife (about 10 minutes). Drain the potatoes and pour them into the bowl and toss gently until they are coated with the other ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.

I’ve been focusing on food and beverages, but last but not least are flower arrangements. I like fresh flowers, and whether I clip a few blossoms from the yard or purchase some mums or daisies at the store, I’ve been adding sprigs of mint. The mint adds additional green foliage and a fresh scent that brightens the room.  

So now that I’ve shared some of the many uses of mint, I’ll dash out the door to pick some more. Have a good week. Follow me on twitter at SN Maril and read my most recently published short story “The “C” Word” in the online journal Medicine and Meaning here.

Decking our Homes with Jack-0-Lanterns to Chase Away Our Fear of Death

Ghosts swing in the breeze, hanging from tree branches. Orange lights flash on and off in the dark. Tombstones erupt from the grass and pumpkins appear on doorsteps. A maze of spiderwebs have draped themselves over porch railings, windows, and porticos. The month of October, in the days leading up to Halloween transform my neighborhood into a place haunted by giant spiders, witches, and ghouls. Each year the decorations vary, depending on the latest decorating fads. One year it was oversized inflated pumpkins, another year it was the witch smashing into the side of the tree.

Scary. This is the goal. The carving of malevolent faces into pumpkins and the display of anything creepy outside your home was intended to calm the ghosts roaming the earth on October 31st. The creepier the better.

The celebration, from which Our Halloween evolved, is the Gaelic holiday Samhain. During Samhain, the curtain between the living and the dead was lifted for one night. Dressed as ghosts, some people would go door-to-door to ask for food. Trick or Treat.

This year, with the number of Covid-19 infections decreasing, children will once again be knocking on doors. As we scurry to create or purchase just the right costume and pull out the scary videos and books to create the Halloween mood, I’ve been thinking about why it is we’re so fascinated with creating more fear in our lives. Isn’t the world frightening enough as it is?

As a writer, I scan the list of call-outs from the hundreds of online magazines publishing stories, essays, and poetry. A sizeable market exists for writers who have the knack for composing something short and frightening. Several journals specialize exclusively in publishing the unusual, the fantastic. Others shift their themes according to the season, and this is currently the season of witches, goblins, and the harvest moon.

How many of us have had a ghostly experience i.e. an encounter with something we couldn’t quite explain? A premonition. An odd coincidence. I’ve had conversations in my dreams with the dead, but the significance of the interaction fades upon waking. Not enough, in my estimation for a story—but maybe if I stretch the truth. Change the impact of the encounter from fading memory to obsession. This is how stories sometimes begin.

I recall fairy tales I loved as a child, and see their patterns now as a way of coping with situations that are troubling: the evil stepmother, the jealous siblings, the inequity of rich and poor. As scary as it might be for Little Red Riding Hood to be pursued by a wolf, how comforting to be rescued by the woodcutter. But even better is to be alert and vigilant, aware of the ruthless wolves in the world, so as not to trust them.

The weather patterns—rising seas, forest fires, volatile hurricanes and tornadoes— all cause me to see our planet as struggling to produce enough clean water and food for its inhabitants. It’s a reality I cannot ignore. That’s why I’m frightened. Too many citizens in the world have stopped paying attention. The fantasy world is fun to escape into, but not a permanent solution.

Halloween in part evolved to cope with our fear of death by enabling us to suspend our belief in what is real and unreal. Anything can happen. Reassured by our feeling of power, enjoy the season, but let’s not keep our eyes closed too long. Look around, savor what we have and let’s figure out how not to let it slip away.

Ode to the Tomato

There’s a color, tomato red.  Intense, it is the color tomatoes turn when ripening on the vine during a hot dry summer, but never the color of the tomatoes my mother purchased at the supermarket during my childhood. Those tomatoes, lined up in a plastic container and wrapped in cellophane, those tomatoes were a pale anemic orange straining towards red. They were mushy and tasteless.  Probably made more tasteless by being stored in the refrigerator.

Rule number one, if you must buy tomatoes out of season, do not refrigerate because by setting them out on a counter or putting them inside a brown bag—they may have the opportunity to naturally ripen.

Rule number two, when purchasing tomatoes try to buy ones that are organically grown, not inundated with pesticides. Commercially produced tomatoes have been selectively bred to have thick skins, not easily cracked or bruised. They are picked while still green and unripe, and then gassed with ethylene to turn “red” while in the warehouse or in the truck. Not actually ripe, it is no wonder they lack flavor.

In May, my husband Peter purchased eight tomato plants and installed them around our patio.  He trimmed, fertilized, and watered them. I harvested. The crop has been so bountiful I’ve flavored omelets, stews and sauces with cherry tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes and  made many batches of gazpacho. Guests never left our house without a tomato or two. This week my flash piece, “Tomato Harvest Management” was published in the Literary Magazine The Birdseed—a tribute to my tomato summer. You can read it here.

Now our crop is fading. A few cherry tomatoes continue their cycle of turning from green to orange to red. The larger tomatoes are staying green. Green tomatoes dipped in egg, flour and cornmeal and then fried, are delicious. But it is possible to naturally coax green tomatoes to produce their own ethylene by placing them in a brown paper bag or box and adding a ripe banana (bananas release the most ethylene gas of any fruit).

Before the crop slowed down, I made several batches of stewed tomatoes to stash in the freezer. The stewed tomatoes can be part of a homemade pasta sauce, spread over chicken to create chicken cacciatore or used as a sauce over baked or grilled fish. ( My recipe is provided at the end of this blog.)

So what’s the fuss about homegrown tomatoes, besides the incomparable taste? Although the stem and leaves of the tomato plant can be toxic, as it is a close relative of the deadly nightshade plant, tomatoes contain a substance called lycopene that helps protect them from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.  An antioxidant, lycopene fights “free radicals” that can damage your cells and affect your immune system and may also help lower blood pressure as well as bad cholesterol.  Tomatoes are thought to be rich in antioxidants, flavonoids and are rich in vitamins A and E. Lutein and zeaxanthin in tomatoes are good for eye health and may also help fight asthma.

Tomatoes come in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes, but it is the fully ripened tomato that  contains the most beneficial amount of lycopene, flavonoids and other nutrients. Raw  tomatoes have their health benefits, but nutritionists have found that the properties of cooked tomatoes can be easier for your body to absorb particularly if a small amount of olive oil is added. So enjoy tomatoes both in salads, sandwiches and in sauces. Here’s my recipe for delicious stewed tomatoes.

Recipe for Nadja’s Stewed Tomatoes

You’ll need:

  • 6 large tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove pressed and chopped
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 pepper to taste
  • Two sprigs of fresh oregano chopped or 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • A small posy (At least six large leaves) of fresh basil chopped
  •  

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Wash your tomatoes and make an incision with a sharp knife on the bottom of each one.

Prepare an ice bath by filling a bowl with water and ice and set it in the sink.

Using large tongs or a meat fork, drop the tomatoes one by one into the boiling water and leave each tomato in for approximately two minutes. The skin should begin the pull away from the flesh slightly. Then drop the tomato into the ice bath to finish the process that will enable you to easily pull away the skin from the tomato. 

On a nearby chopping board, quarter the tomatoes and try to remove as much of the seeds and the tough parts of the stem, which in some heirloom varieties can be white in color and very stiff, but expect a little to “slip into the bowl”. What you are removing, add to your compost heap. Cut them into smaller pieces if desired.

In a large skillet, pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom and prevent your vegetable from initially sticking. Start sautéing the garlic and onion. Add the celery, peppers, herbs, spices and tomatoes. Cook at a simmer until the vegetables are soft and the textures and tastes have blended.

Use immediately or keep your stewed tomatoes in a sealed container in the refrigerator for a few days or freeze them to use in a few weeks. Add sautéed mushrooms and green olives for a wonderful sauce for fish. Add a little chili pepper for creole shrimp.

Writers, Writing, and a Road Trip with Stephen King and Billy Summers

Road Trip. The night before we begin a long drive, stretching five hours or more; my husband and I select a book. I listen to books all the time, when I’m sorting laundry, putting away dishes, filing papers, and my tastes are varied and far-ranging. I read to learn and to expose myself to alternate ways of seeing the world. As a writer, I consider it part of my job.

 I challenge myself to steer away from the familiar in search of new authors. It’s easy to stick with the same author, once you find someone you like, and I admit I have a soft spot for Margaret Atwood and Elizabeth Strout. But that’s exactly what the publishing industry expects from most readers. It makes marketing easy for them. It’s one of the reasons writers trying to land their very first book contract, must claim their writing resembles the work of another more successful author. “Unique” is not a recommended word to use in a pitch to a literary agent. Although it is the unique and groundbreaking work of a yet undiscovered writer, that keeps the literary world fresh and vibrant.

My husband Peter listens to books also, usually when mowing the grass. He tends to favor formulaic authors like Michael Crichton and John Grisham. There is, however, one writer we can both agree on—Stephen King. Although King can be formulaic, he’s got enough of a far-ranging imagination, to always throw in something unexpected, and his plot-driven stories are fast paced and entertaining.

Just out in on Audible is King’s newly released Billy Summers. The short synopsis describes the plot as being about a killer for hire (a vet with a conscience) who is about to take on his very last job, before retiring, when just about everything goes wrong. I downloaded it, expecting a story similar in complexity to his 2014 novel Mr. Mercedes. Instead, I was surprised by the added layer of a memoir being written within the novel as well as additional characters and villains that enter midway through the plot.

I don’t think I’m giving away spoilers if I reveal that the cover story for the hitman Billy is going to be that he is a writer, with a literary agent (mobster) who sets him up in an office to complete his novel. Of course, only writers will know that such as premise is laughable, unless the hitman was a celebrity with a large following anxious to purchase anything with his byline. But that’s part of the inside joke, because Billy Sommers has somehow found the time to read and study literature extensively in between deployments to Iraq while also collecting comic books. In one of the early chapters, Summers is currently reading Emile Zola’s third novel Thérèse Raquin and thinking about the characters as he scans an Archie comic and poses as a simpleton for the benefit of his employers who might be threatened by his intellect.

The book Billy begins to write, his memoir, begins with an inciting incident (this one I won’t reveal) that sets him on a path towards his future employment as a hired assassin. Several references are made to The Hero’s Journey, a book by Joseph Campbell, that outlines the mythology template for storytelling. A favorite reference in writing programs, a “call to action” takes place and the hero or heroine sets out to accomplish a task, finding the holy grail or rescuing the princess in the castle. In the process of his/her adventure they are transformed. It’s the classic “Coming of Age” story. And within Billy Summers, is also imbedded a “Coming of Age” story, although Billy is a middle-aged man.

The trauma of a broken family and the trauma of war identify the protagonist as a wounded warrior. He’s seeking human connection. To become whole, the quest must commence. The healing process begins when Billy starts writing.

Billy’s life has been defined by a society that values entertainment and money above all else. It’s the good guys against the bad guys, but sometimes the lines get blurred. The storyline takes a few too many detours and at various times I found myself questioning the plausibility of a character’s action (not a good thing). But all in all, it was diverting entertainment, 16 hours and 57 minutes worth. It was a nine hour drive north last week and another nine hour drive back—so yes, Billy Summers by Stephen King was just about the perfect length!

If you have a book you’d like to recommend for shared listening while traveling, please do. Follow me on twitter at SN Maril. And read my latest published essay in the literary journal Invisible City here https://www.invisiblecitylit.com/nonfiction/the-land-holds-my-memory/

Delta Blues Summer

How was your summer?  A friend asks a seemingly innocuous question and then it hits me, summer is over. Fall—as soon as the air in Maryland begins to turn crisp—is about to commence. And how was my summer? I ask myself. Sort of okay, nothing bad, but disappointing, I think. The build up towards the fourth of July was the promise that we’d all be able to relax, and have fun without worrying about getting sick. Instead, the Delta variant of the virus arrived and cases have surged.

Despite all the doses of vaccine available to all Americans, only 55% of the eligible population has bothered to become fully vaccinated. The others claim the possible mild side affects are enough of an excuse not to get the jab, even if it means they could possibly die or infect others who could be more vulnerable. It doesn’t matter to them, as long as they can pretend everything is okay and not pay attention to the numbers of people filling up hospital beds.  The last time I checked the statistics, 674,000 Americans had died from Covid-19. As a result of the number of people in hospitals, elective surgeries have been postponed and medical care has been delayed or unavailable for people seeking care for medical emergencies that include strokes, heart attacks, and seizures.

At the very least, I’m of the opinion that those who make the choice not to get vaccinated (unless there is an actual medical reason why they are not a good candidate for inoculation) should bear the financial responsibility for their treatment, if and when they contract the virus. Currently the vast majority of people in the ICU’s are unvaccinated. Need I say more?

Stepping down off my soapbox, I have to remind myself there are things I have no control over and that I need to focus on what I can enjoy—the sounds of the birds calling to each other outside my window and the smell of fresh basil, mint, and rosemary growing in my garden.

I have been able to socialize with friends this summer; small dinner parties, not large gatherings.  Each day I write something; a few sentences, an essay, a story, or a revision of a work in progress. Each day I read and listen to the work of other writers, discovering new voices and reconnecting with old ones. In the news is Sally Rooney’s newest novel, but I just finished her first—Normal People. Currently I’m enjoying Maggie O’Farrell’s  novel, Hamnet. Skillfully O’Farrell transports the reader to the Elizabethan era and interweaves the stories of multiple characters in a compelling fashion that has me alternately breathing in the scent of lavender as well as the rotting stench of open sewage and death. The Bubonic Plague is one of the characters of the novel, which has me circling back to thinking about the way humans cope with disease.

Always it is easier to explain away what is unpleasant and disturbing. Plague? What plague? When death arrives in the 16th century or the 21st century, it cannot be ignored. Those of us who are doing our best to stay safe, and not accidentally infect others, keep up the good work. We will continue to do our best and enjoy what we can as we do our part to make the world a better place.

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In Search of an America Willing to Stand Together

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This has been a week for looking back and reflecting, as we honor the 20th anniversary of the event we call 911.  A day in American history, when four airplanes were hijacked and used as weapons to kill 2,977 Americans and injure 6000 more, it’s important not to forget.

If you were alive on that day, you probably remember exactly what you were doing  on September 11, 2001 at the time the first plane flew into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Many of us were at work when we received a call from a family member or friend telling us, Turn on your television set. Of course we thought it was an accident, a mistake. No one could intentionally carry out something so sinister, but we were wrong. We watched the news, horrified, as we witnessed more crashes and deaths.

That very afternoon I was among the dozens of people standing in line to donate blood. All of us were looking for something to do, some positive way we could help those who’d been attacked.  Maybe they needed blood in New York City or at the Pentagon, because surely we were at war with talk of more attacks to come.

We scanned the skies nervously, but all was quiet. In the United States, all planes were grounded until September 14th.  I remember chaperoning my daughter Alex’s second grade class on a trip that week down to Jug Bay Wild Life Sanctuary in southern Anne Arundel County, Maryland,  and listening to the calls of the geese; noting how eerily silent were the skies.  Baltimore Washington Airport, a busy travel hub, was not so far away; but no one wanted to get on a plane. We were scared.

Yes, there were hate crimes. Muslims, Sikhs, and persons of Arab and South Asian descent, suddenly became targets of vicious attacks by ignorant vigilantes seeking to lay blame on someone for the 911 attacks. However, in my community, the overwhelming sense of people trying to band together to think of ways to help the victims and to be kinder to each other prevailed.

We were under attack, and we needed each other. We remembered that together we stand.

Now twenty years later we are under attack again. It’s not a foreign power or a group of  terrorists from another country trying to tear apart the United States, it’s a deadly virus. Six hundred and sixty thousand Americans have died from the  Covid-19 coronavirus. Globally 4.55 million people have died from Covid-19. This deadly virus has torn apart families, ravaged businesses, and crippled our educational institutions.

Instead of joining together as a nation to defeat our foe, many of our so-called leaders are doing their best to sabotage the battle for their own personal gain. More interested in seizing power and enlarging their bank accounts, they are willing for Americans to die. They are against taking public health safety precautions, hiding behind the idea that we shouldn’t enforce common sense rules that restrict personal freedom. The lives of our friends, families, and neighbors are at risk. But there are those only thinking of their personal comfort.

Perhaps wearing a mask is uncomfortable or getting a vaccination might result in an elevated temperature or headache for a day or two. This is a small price to pay, when others are struggling to  take a breath or to walk, as a result of contracting the virus.  Young children and those with compromised immune systems are unable to be vaccinated, but healthy adults can be vaccinated. This is a war. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices.

We have several vaccines that are affective and no shortage of masks, but despite enough vaccine to inoculate every American adult, only 51 percent are fully vaccinated!  Conspiracy theories and fables are just that, outlandish falsehoods.

I think about to those of us waiting to donate blood on the afternoon of September 11, 2001. We were old and we were young. Him, her, and they. Our political and religious affiliations were irrelevant. We just wanted to help. To show our support, united and standing with America.

Follow me on Twitter at SN Maril and read my latest flash piece at https://www.thedribbledrabblereview.com/

Women’s Rights Under Siege in America

It’s a scary thought to imagine living in Texas these days.

If you are a Texan  and you feel you need protection from physical harm, it’s relatively easy to purchase and carry a gun.  But what if you are a woman and you want to protect your rights?

The Texas legislature has decided that once a woman is six weeks pregnant and a fetal heartbeat can be detected, her body is no longer under her control. It doesn’t matter if she was a victim of incest or rape. It doesn’t matter if her mental or physical health is at risk. Her personal freedom and the right to protect herself from harm is irrelevant to the majority of state legislators in Texas. It doesn’t matter to them, because in their eyes she no longer has the standing to decide the future of her body. She’s just a container, and the beating heart inside is what counts.

I’m not a constitutional scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems to me that due process as expressed in the fourteenth amendment of the United States constitution just got trampled over by a group of ultra conservative legislators in Texas. Doesn’t the fourteenth amendment state, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Meanwhile, the majority of Supreme Court Justices are letting the Texas law stand, because their religious beliefs align with the idea that once an egg is fertilized, regardless of viability outside the womb, that life is sacred. The United States was founded on the idea that there be a separation of church and state. Not so anymore.

Even more insidious, is who is going to enforce this new law? It’s expressly not going to be the police or officers of the court because the Texas law states, and I quote, “ any person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local government entity in this state, may bring civil action against any person who: (1) performs or induces an abortion in violation of this subchapter;” In subsequent language the bill expresses that private citizens can bring civil action against anyone who helps aid someone in the process of obtaining an abortion after the six-week mark.  This means that in theory, anyone who sets up a ride service to transport women to New Mexico to enable them to possibly obtain an abortion, could in theory be sued by another citizen for their actions.

Not only are the accusers’ court costs and  legal fees taken care of, but they are paid a $10,000 bounty fee as a reward for their help in enforcing said law.

The whole concept sets up a dystopian society of spies for the pro-life movement that will reward nefarious behavior. And this idea of having private citizens be the law enforcers, is being studied by other states who are considering enacting similar legislation. Our society is already painfully divided between those who believe in the vaccines vs. those who do not, those who are willing to wear masks and those who refuse to wear masks, as well as those who recognize the peril of global warming and those who do not. The list goes on and the most obvious divide is the one between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots. Women, without the financial means to pay for and access healthcare because they are spending long hours working and caring for dependents, will be the ones most severely impacted by this legislation.

While they may try to reassure themselves that they are merely doing what they think is “God’s Work,” the Texas citizens taking on the role of “law enforcers” will be operating like members of the Gestapo or KGB. Whether they will admit it or not, they will be benefitting financially by preying on the weak and the poor.

A woman’s womb is her own. It does not belong to society. Decisions connected to pregnancy are personal decisions, they are not the business of the state nor the business of neighbors or members of the clergy.

This is a sad week, a sad day for America. We are going down a path that will further divide us, at a time we need to look for ways to knit our nation back together as we continue to battle a pandemic and a stressed world succumbing to overuse and pollution.

Despite the efforts of many state legislatures to restrict access to the voting polls, it’s important that everyone who cares about justice, personal freedom, and democracy continue to vote and encourage others to do the same.

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Travel Challenges, A Changing World and a Quest for Space

Space. I’d like a little more space around me, standing in line waiting to board the plane. At the grocery store, they suggest customers stand three feet apart while waiting to check-out at the cash register.  Socially distance is the catch phrase. But to load an airplane with passengers, time is measured with dollar signs. We hold out our smartphones and paper slips with our barcoded boarding passes. Tuck the edges of our masks around the edges of our nose and chin.

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It’s been 19 months since I’ve boarded an airplane. January 2020.  Pre- pandemic, I was worrying about a snow storm, the weather in Portland, Maine. A member of the last MFA class at  the USM Stonecoast writing program pre-pandemic, to graduate in person, physically walk across the stage and hug my teachers. What a privilege to be able to shake hands with my program directors, to be able to spontaneously embrace.

It’s been 20 months since I’ve seen my daughter in person.  During the Christmas 2019 holidays we addressed wedding invitations, a marriage celebration cancelled due to the pandemic. It is the miracle of digital technology that has enabled us to visit—  by video camera. I’ve toured the house she  and her husband rented last year.  We chat by text, phone  and email.  Spend an hour visiting virtually and it almost feels, almost like you’re sitting in the same room.

But it’s not enough, and we long to see them in person. We’d like to see the new house they are renting. Meet the dog they adopted. Cautiously my husband and I assess the travel situation.  Maryland to California. We have no choice but to fly.

Reports on the news will tell you flying is grim. The labor shortage and escalation of extreme weather—tornadoes, floods, forest fires, hurricanes— translate into flights consistently being cancelled. My husband tells me horror stories relayed to him of vacationers stranded overnight, unable to make connections.  I try to find a direct flight and a direct flight does not exist. Did it ever exist? I honestly don’t remember, but I’m not too enthusiastic about changing planes in Dallas, Texas. Texas, one of the current hotspots for the coronavirus. The best day and time, very early in the morning, is the most efficient route to San Jose. Deal with it, I tell myself.

My husband and I arrive way too early, following the recommendations to allow plenty of time, but at least at 5:00 a.m. not many people are walking around the Baltimore Washington Airport terminal.

The planes are only two thirds full going West, and my husband and I have an entire row to ourselves. Mid -flight, we order our  beverage by number. The choices are coke, diet coke, 7-up, water or coffee. The snack is a tiny bag of pretzel sticks. The airlines were stingy before, but due to Covid-19, snack service is even more streamlined.  We both order #4. Alcohol is not served. This probably helps to cut down on unruly passengers.  As required, everyone wears their masks. I wash my hands thoroughly at every opportunity.

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In California, everyone must mask up any time they enter a building. I also see more people wearing masks outdoors than in Maryland. Some are wearing N-95 masks to filter the air because the smoke from multiple forest fires is severely impacting air quality. One day of our visit, the four of us plus dog drive to Santa Cruz,  to walk on the beach and inhale cleaner air. This is the state of our planet. As I write this, Category 4 Hurricane Ida,  is destroying homes, businesses, and lives. Again and again I am reminded to live in the moment and savor what I am fortunate to have.

Fully vaccinated, we made the trip safely back and forth in both directions. I’m glad we made the journey. But for the next 10 days I’ll be watchful. Incidents of breakthrough infections are possible.

Back at the grocery store, filling my cart to restock the refrigerator, I try to maintain several feet of space between myself and strangers. I recall an earlier time when distancing was not something I thought about, but the world has changed and I’ve changed with it.

The happy four at Santa Cruz beach

Avoiding Death By Practicing Kindness

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A friend and colleague was brutally murdered three years ago, along with four other journalists at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis.  Her death was a shock. The entire community mourned. She didn’t go down without a fight, witnesses saw her confront the gunman, attempting to stave off the execution style attack on the victims, but she died anyway.  And we remembered Wendi Winters and kept living. 

Less than a year later, another writer friend died unexpectedly. Also a friend of Wendi’s, Carolyn Sullivan had just completed revisions on a historical novel she’d been researching, and it seemed particularly cruel of fate to take her out of this world before she had the chance to pursue its publication.  Her death was also a shock, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least her death had not been violent. And we remembered Carolyn and kept living.

Since January 2020, 4.35 million people have died in the world from Covid-19, 620,000 in the United States.  As I write this, the number keeps increasing. How does one grieve the loss of so many people? Even if I don’t personally know all those people who have died, the numbers are staggering and the effect on the psyche of their families has to have repercussions on our planet.

For the death of Wendi, there is someone to blame. A deranged man out for revenge decided to kill whoever was in the Capital Gazette offices that day. He will be punished for his crimes.

But who can I blame for some of those  hundreds of thousands of deaths from Covid-19?  Viruses happen all the time, bad ones every hundred or so years. But it is how we handle the onset of a pandemic as a society that determines how many of us will survive.

Sometimes it is just bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time when a drunk driver slams into your car or statistical chance if a member of your family is ravaged by heart disease or cancer.  If you are a religious person, you’ll say it is the will of God. 

But then there are the choices we make. The choices to care about those with whom we share this earth. Decency. Kindness. Doing everything in your power to keep you family, neighbors, and community safe means following public health protocols. Deciding not to wear a mask because it makes your face sweat, or avoiding the vaccine because it might give you a bad headache—are shabby excuses when people continue to die. And the people who are dying in the United States now are the ones who decided not to get vaccinated. 

Death will arrive at our doorstep sooner or later, but we owe it to one another to protect our community from unjust death. Now that we have the knowledge on how the Coronavirus is spread, primarily through respiration, we should be wearing masks when prudent and keeping current on our vaccinations.

It’s not a question of politics, it’s a question of life and death.

Read Nadja’s latest piece of fiction, “The Perfect Picture” and follow her on Twitter at SN Maril.

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