April 2021 – Another Pandemic Spring

April 20, 2021

The nation is waiting anxiously today for the verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin. I have been listening to the news on and off as I work this morning and I’m struck by the level of anxiety. 

I feel as if there’s a bit too much attention being given to the anger that could erupt if Chauvin is acquitted. I can understand that there are worries about it and that businesses might take steps to board up their windows and city and state leaders have to think about the eventuality.

But what’s not being discussed much is the reason why that anger would erupt and possibly become violent. Why do our citizens of color have such anxiety as they await the outcome of the trial? Why do so many have trouble believing that they can get justice, particularly when it is a white cop on trial for killing a black man?

I’ve written about these issues before. If you’ve read my posts you know that I believe that systemic racism is real. Our fellow citizens deserve better from all of us and our nation will ultimately break under the weight of the hypocrisy of professing equality when our citizens of color live under a different reality. 

Mike Eliott, the mayor of Brooklyn Center where Daunte Wright was killed last week said yesterday, “It’s not safe to drive in Minnesota while you’re Black. If we see police behind us, we’re afraid. We’re trembling. That is a kind of terror that no citizen of the United States should ever have to face.”

*… a kind of terror that no citizen of the United States should every have to face.*

Think about that. 

Peggy Flannagan, the Lt. Governor of Minnesota who is white is one of those trying to come to terms with this. She recently said she is “grappling with the stark reality: Minnesota is a place where it is not safe to be Black.”

I grew up in Minnesota. We’re all supposed to be “Minnesota nice.” But that’s not how it really works, is it? I don’t recall hearing horribly hateful remarks when I was a kid. I once would have said that I didn’t think we were racist in Minnesota. But I didn’t really understand what it was all about. And people were so lily white where I grew up that  there seemed no need to talk about black people. No need to think about them really. So what did I know? Nothing. 

But, if you weren’t white, you had the experience of the Mike Eliotts of Minnesota. The reality was that it wasn’t safe to be black in Minnesota and it probably isn’t safe to be black in America. You can’t convince me that there isn’t a higher level or risk for a black kid growing up today in America. It doesn’t matter where he or she lives, what their folks do, what their education or income is. They’re black. And they are less safe because of it. And that sucks.

Like the Lt. Governor I still struggle to come to terms with all of this. I struggle to think that my obliviousness — my indifference — contributed to the problem. I hate to accept that implicit bias colors my views and expectations of people when I go into the world, and I recognize it is something I have to work to overcome. My guess is most of us do. 

We want to believe that the verdict today will be about the law and justice and an honest judgement of whether the facts as presented fit the elements of the crime charged. It shouldn’t be about whether Chauvin is racist. It’s about where he broke the law. But we just can’t separate this case from race, even if we want to. 

If he is acquitted, you know it will be seen by many as yet another example of a system that protects the white man when he abuses or kills a black man. That is how it will be seen, fairly or not. And our history is so checkered with prejudice and abuse that we really can’t dismiss those concerns.

One story I heard today talked about the cousin of Emmett Till and her conversation with the brother of George Floyd. Emmett was 14 years old when he was brutally killed in 1955 by a couple of white men in Money, Mississippi. The story is pretty clear. They made Emmett carry a 75-pound cotton gin fan to the bank of the Tallahatchie River and ordered him to take off his clothes. The two men then beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head and then threw his body, tied to the cotton gin fan with barbed wire, into the river. All because he talked to a white woman in a store, apparently. The assailants were her husband and brother and they were acquitted by an all-white jury.

You could call it a travesty of justice. But that’s just what justice was like in Mississippi in 1955 and many would argue that this is what justice still looks like, with greater degrees of subtlety, for people of color in America today. It’s not just about being safe, it’s about equal treatment under the law and if you look at conviction rates and other statistics you have to conclude that if you have to go to court it’s a hell of a lot better to be white than black in America, even today.

So maybe, in addition to worrying about what might happen if Chauvin is acquitted, we can all spend a bit of time asking why people of color don’t trust the system, why they are angry, why they are scared, why every day is a challenge, and why the struggle for justice never seems to end.

We wait and we hope for a new beginning. But the baggage we carry is even heavier than the cotton gin fan was for a 14 year old kid. I don’t know if we will ever overcome it but we have to try. All of us. 

Stay strong, stay safe and stay healthy.

April 19th, 2021

It’s a cold and damp day here in Haymarket as I write this. The weather is supposed to improve but at midday it’s still the kind of day where the chill feels as though tis settling into your bones. That can be countered. Throw on a hoodie, turn on the fireplace, grab an afghan — you’ve got a shot at countering the fickleness of spring. 

Warm clothes and a hot toddy don’t do quite as much good when it comes to countering the chill that can seep into our souls though, as we consider just how much stupidity and craziness is out there. Today’s case in point, the actor who portrayed Jesus some years ago in Mel Gibson’s the Passion of the Christ, is now speaking at gatherings of far-right crazies passionately making the case that Hollywood celebs and the cabal of Washington politicians they always like to point to are still out there killing kids. They somehow then harvest the adrenaline secreted by the children in the form of a chemical called adrenochrome as they fear imminent death. This in turn is used depending on what brand of crazy the speaker happens to be – in satanic rituals, in youth/virility potions or in a medical cure-all elixir.

This idiocy isn’t new. Variations on this sort of blood sacrifice theme have been with us for centuries. THE DARK AGES were rife with plague, fanaticism, and accusations that Jews secretly fed off the blood of children. Today we once again struggle with a form of plague and there’s no question about the fanaticism of a segment of our society. So the resurgence of crazy ideas isn’t so surprising. They are always there lurking, like a virus perhaps, to rise again when the conditions are right.

My guess is these things will always be with us, but they chill the soul nonetheless. The fact that there are people who allow their fear and hate and envy to drive reason and common sense from their heads is, in and of itself, as frightening at the ideas that they replace reason with.  

I don’t know if there are more crazies than in the past, but it feels that way. Of course, the internet makes it easier for the stories to spread so perhaps they are just more visible, but I tend to think the combination of demographic and generational change, changing economic realities and demagogic politicians who seek to exploit and perpetuate fears, all contribute to it. And then add the pandemic on top of it and you’ve got a recipe for a modern day dark age. And even if that might be overstating it a bit, you’ve got to agree, few are going to say that we’re experiencing a new Age of the Enlightenment.

As a reminder that we’re not exactly living in an age of reason, take a look at the recent polls about attitudes on vaccinations. It’s really striking how many ignore reason and facts and science in favor or the white hot passion of their political beliefs. And what do we see? Well, it turns out — no surprise to me — that white republican voters, more than any other group, say they won’t get the vaccine. They don’t want to wear masks. They want their “freedom.” They just want to get back to normal. 

Well, so do we all, but unlike some of us, almost half of the Republican surveyed say they are aren’t willing to be part of the effort to get us to a point where we can ALL be safer, and more confident, about getting back to normal. The reality is that If we end up with 30 or 40 percent of our citizens who won’t get vaccinated, COVID will remain a threat. It will surge again and again. And it will spawn variants that can be dangerous to us all. And, as a result, we won’t be able to get back to anything that looks like normal any time soon. It’s almost as crazy… almost… as believing there’s a vast conspiracy to kill kids to harvest their fear.

I guess there’s a certain cyclical nature to some of these things. Societies are tested, they experience stresses and strains, and eventually are reshaped. The world has had holy inquisitions and witches were burned at the stake, We’ve seen mindless, hate-filled genocide, we’ve seen people swept up in the “red scare and McCarthyism.”  We’ve seen the Klan and their modern adherents march in the streets of Charlottesville spewing hate and prejudice. 

So, I guess its no surprise to realize that there are still folks who deny that COVID is real or who self-righteously proclaim that they won’t be getting vaccinated.  

I don’t get it. I really don’t. And although there’s not a hot toddy for that chill my soul gets when I look at the craziness, I remind myself that for all the crap, mankind has seen the Renaissance, we’ve seen the age of reason, we’ve seen the rise of democratic values and, in our own lifetimes, a commitment to human rights, to women’s rights and to addressing injustice in our own society and the world, that were not there before.

There’s plenty of good to counter the crazy. Yesterday I got a healthy dose of hugs and love from grandkids and that’s the best vaccine of all for keeping soul and spirit strong and glowing. 

And now I’m going to go turn on that fireplace and let the rest of the world go by.  It’s Monday, after all. There’s only so much we should expect of ourselves.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 18, 2021

Folks have said, again and again, that even if we’re “done” with the pandemic, the pandemic isn’t necessarily done with us. We have a crisis in Michigan that could be replicated in other states. I guess it could be fourth wave. I’ve lost count. There will still be suffering and loss. And even though we in the US are doing remarkably well in terms of vaccinations compared to much of the world, the rest of the world remains in crisis and we can’t just ignore this. 

India is running out of vaccines even as they see a new surge. They’re imposing curfews and trying desperately to get things under control. (I know because the latest shipment of “The Ambassador’s Dog” from Delhi has been delayed by the curfew). Europe is in crisis again (still) as well. Please, don’t think it doesn’t matter. We can’t build virus proof walls to secure us. We can’t hide from the rest of the world. And the more the virus continues to spread the greater the risk of new variants that will put even those of us who have been vaccinated at risk.  

Almost certainly booster shots will be part of the equation. Almost certainly COVID will remain part of our lives for the foreseeable future. So we can’t turn a blind eye to the rest of the world. We can’t pretend it doesn’t affect us. It does. 

On a different “rest of the world” story, I heard Dana Bash on CNN interviewing National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. In talking about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, she voiced the concern that many folks have about a Taliban takeover that leads to dramatic repression for women and girls. It’s a legitimate fear. But I wish, instead of implying that this will be our “fault” because of our withdrawal, I’d really love it if we as a nation could have a thoughtful conversation about how we see our role in the world. Are we, as a nation, prepared to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely to prevent such abuses?  

Are we willing to put the lives of our own men and women at risk to defend fundamental rights for women in Afghanistan?  And if the answer is yes, what about in other countries where women and girls, and boys and men as well are denied fundamental human rights? When do we act? Where do we act? This is more than just a question about Afghanistan. And even if we were to all agree that defending these rights is consistent with our values, even if we all agreed that we care about these issues, this still doesn’t tell us how to solve the problem. The choices aren’t easy and they come with costs either way. These are the sorts of issues we have struggled with for years. We need to decide who we are, what values we prioritize, and how willing we are to act on those values.

That discussion about values and priorities is needed more than ever because we need to decide who we are going to be as a nation. Trump and Trumpism have not disappeared. We need to make a choice. The  crazy QAnon congresswoman from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, along with Matt Gaetz of Florida (under investigation for sex with minors, sex parties, drugs, etc) and another far right member fo congress Paul Gosar, are just some of the new America First caucus in Congress. They’re all about the Trump agenda. They believe we’re a uniquely “Anglo-Saxon” (that is, “white”) nation and that their job is to protect the “true” America. Their views are nativist, racist, and – to me – deeply troubling. But Trump was deeply troubling to me so these acolytes and their messages shouldn’t be a surprise.

We need to decide who we are. Not everyone will agree. But we need to decide on a path, or priorities and on our identity. These are not easy questions and there are not easy answers. But it’s a conversation we need to have. 

I, of course, don’t have a role to play in all that, though, all of us, as citizens, have a voice and we should use it. We should reach out to our legislators. We should talk to each other. I hope we will.

But not today. Today the sun is shining. Today the grandkids are coming over. Tacos are on the menu, though I’m going to make some baked ziti, vegan style, just because I want to. We’ll enjoy the fact that the adults are vaccinated and we can all be together again. And for today that’s enough for me.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 17, 2021

It’s now become pretty routine to write daily. I’m at 402 days today. It only took three tries to get Alexa to figure it out for me… lol. She seemed to have some trouble keeping track of the dates I posed to her.  

That’s 402 days of musing and offering perspectives (Ok… sometimes they look a bit like rants) about how life has unfolded during — and despite — the pandemic. Maybe some day one of our grandkids will find it interesting to get a glimpse of our lives at this time. Through a health crisis that continues to afflict us. Through a time of political turmoil that has brought out some of the worst in our society. And through what I think we’ll look back upon as a time of change — transition.  

If you look at our leaders you know that it won’t be long before we have a new generation take the helm. Whether they’re ready or not, it’s inevitable. Whether Biden or Trump, McConnell or Pelosi, Grassley or Schumer… they’re all looking at 70, or in Grassley’s case (along with many others), at 80, in the rearview mirror.

Our nation is going to change. And it’s not just age. It’s the composition of our society that is also reshaping who we are. It’s a shift in social attitudes towards race, and gender, and sexual identity, and what is important that is driving change too. Many political leaders, particularly those who are the most conservative, continue to cling to positions that the majority of Americans reject. The time for change is coming. And I for one can’t wait.

I think that there’s an awful lot that will have been changed by the pandemic as well. These are changes that were likely to come in any event but they have been accelerated. Everything from rethinking health care, to the nature of work and the workplace, to how technology can build bridges and create a new sense of community. I think younger Americans in particular will reexamine the question of what is important and we’ve been reminded that the inequality that is hard wired into our system — economic, racial, and social inequality — has to be addressed before it destroys us.

I’m hopeful that changes will come even though I know that there are those who will cling fiercely to what they have known. There are forces in our society that will resist change, resist a more equal and inclusive America, and we may see greater discord for a time as a result. But the tides of change always win. They are inexorable. And the pace of change, driven by incredible and mind boggling (at least for us older folks) breakthroughs, will only accelerate — perhaps heightening the tensions associated with dramatic and rapid societal shifts in the process. 

I saw a headline today on a story that said “Americans choose freedom over lives.” It was about the determination of some to keep gun laws as lax as possible, but it could also have been about the pandemic. We’ve seen the same thing play out there. But it’s not really “freedom” we’re talking about. It’s about folks who want to have all the benefits of living within a society but who don’t believe that they have any of the responsibilities that come with it. 

We have formed a social compact and it requires us to be respectful of each other. To compromise, to give as much weight to the well-being of all as we give to our own desires and preferences. The second amendment, for example, isn’t some god-given commandment set in stone. There is room for us to find approaches that end the madness and still allow responsible gun owners to hunt or have a weapon at home if they really believe that it makes them safer.  

There is room for us to find ways to help businesses, to gather responsibly as communities practice faith or enjoy moments of shared experience without mindlessly spreading a deadly disease. We can sacrifice for a period of time to secure a safer and better future. We can figure it out. But we have to be able to talk to each other. We have to be willing to try.

We could end up failing, of course. The voices who rely on fear and division and anger to erect a wall to keep out change could create so much chaos that we spiral out of control. But I don’t believe they will or, if they do, that we won’t ultimately overcome it. The commitment to true liberty, to decency, to justice, and to equality are deeply engrained in most of us. We’ve never had our commitment to those values tested, perhaps, at least not in the way those who fought fascism and intolerance in the last world war did. But, if put to a test, I think that those are the values that will allow us to overcome those who would take us down a very different path.

I’m going out now to weed the front yard, clean up the last of winter’s detritus and allow spring to take full hold there too. It’s time for growth and new life… and new hopes.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 16, 2021

Yesterday was a nice day off from thinking about the world. I ignored the news. But, sadly, it’s still there.

And even more sadly, it appears that, as we try to return to normal in the US, it means a return to the insane gun violence that scars our souls every time. Last night eight more people were gunned down for no reason. They died needless and tragically. 

Why? We’ve had 45 mass shootings in which at least four people were killed or wounded in 30 days. 45 in 30 days. There are no words to adequately express how lost we must be for this to go on without us feeling such outrage that we rise up and demand change.

The latest string began when eight more people died in the spa shootings in Atlanta. That was March 16. The murders in Atlanta, and the killings last night in Indianapolis bookend the following. Read the damn list and tell me that we’re not a nation in crisis. And it won’t change unless enough people make it impossible for politicians to ignore. It won’t change unless we insist. This is insane. Read…

— April 15: Washington, DC

Four people were shot, including a teenage girl, Thursday in Northeast Washington, DC, affiliate WRC reported.

— April 13: Baltimore

Police said a dice game turned violent when two shooters opened fire on a group, injuring four, according to CNN affiliate WJZ-TV.

— April 12: Chicago

Four people were shot, one fatally, and a fifth person was hit by a car in a shooting early Monday on the Eisenhower Expressway, affiliate WMAQ reported.

— April 11: Wichita, Kansas

One person was killed and three others injured in a shooting at a house party at an East Wichita Airbnb, as reported by CNN affiliate KWCH.

— April 11: Seattle

A toddler and three other people were injured when suspects fired into a business parking lot, according to CNN affiliate KIRO 7.

— April 10: Memphis, Tennessee

One person was killed and three others were injured, including a mother and child, after gunfire was exchanged in a Memphis neighborhood, according to CNN affiliate WHBQ.

— April 10: Koshkonong, Missouri

One person was killed and three others injured in a shooting at a convenience store, according to CNN affiliate KY3.

— April 10: Waterbury, Connecticut

Police responded to calls of a weapons complaint and found blood trails and four injured victims, reported CNN affiliate WFSB.

— April 10: Allendale, Michigan

An incident outside a house party resulted in four people being shot and one critically injured, according to CNN affiliate WWMT.

— April 9: Fort Worth, Texas

One person was killed and at least five others injured when people in two vehicles shot at each other on a Fort Worth, Texas, freeway Friday night, officials said.

— April 8: Bryan, Texas

A gunman killed one person and wounded at least five others — four of them critically — at a cabinet manufacturer, police said.

— April 7: Rock Hill, South Carolina

A former NFL player killed five people — including a prominent doctor, his wife and their two young grandchildren — before killing himself, authorities said.

— April 7: Milwaukee

A 26-year-old man was charged with the shooting that killed two people and injured two others at a gas station, according to CNN affiliate WDJT.

— April 6: Detroit

One person was killed and three others injured after gunfire erupted from a car, according to CNN affiliate WDIV.

— April 5: Baltimore

Five victims were taken to a hospital with multiple gunshot wounds, Baltimore police said.

— April 4: Monroe, Louisiana

Police responded to Bobo’s Bar, where they found six victims with gunshot wounds, according to CNN affiliate KNOE.

— April 4: Birmingham, Alabama

An argument between two groups of men devolved into more than 30 shots fired at a park on Easter — killing a woman and wounding five other people, including four children, police said.

— April 4: Beaumont, Texas

A man arrived at a home, threatening several people with a firearm before shooting four victims, according to Beaumont Police.

— April 3: Wilmington, North Carolina

Three people were killed and four others injured in a mass shooting at a house party, according to CNN affiliate WECT.

— April 3: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Two men were arrested and charged with attempted murder after five people were injured during a shooting outside an Alabama bar, police said.

— April 3: Dallas

In what police said was an apparent murder-suicide plot, 21-year-old and 19-year-old brothers made a pact to kill their parents, sister and grandmother, according to CNN affiliate KLTV.

— April 3: Quincy, Florida

Seven people were injured by gunfire near a nightclub after a fight broke out into gunshots, according to CNN affiliate WCTV.

— March 31: Orange, California

Four people, including a child, were killed and another person wounded in a mass shooting at an office complex in Orange, California, according to authorities.

— March 31: Washington, DC

Five people were shot in Washington, the DC Police Department said. The incident started as a dispute and ended with two people dead and three injured.

— March 28: Cleveland

Seven people were shot at a Cleveland nightclub, according to CNN affiliate WOIO. The victims, four men and three women, were all between 20 and 30 years old, and police believe several people fired inside the nightclub, the station reported.

— March 28: Chicago

Four people in an SUV were shot on the I-57 expressway, according to CNN affiliate WLS. All were taken to hospitals in critical condition.

— March 28: Essex, Maryland

A man fatally shot his parents before shooting three people at a convenience store, killing two of them, CNN affiliate WBOC reported, citing Baltimore County police. The suspect died by suicide.

— March 27: Chicago

Four people were shot in Chicago’s South Austin neighborhood, according to CNN affiliate WBBM. The victims, who included men ages 42, 53 and 64, were near a sidewalk when they were shot, the station reported.

— March 27: Yazoo City, Mississippi

At least seven people were injured in a mass shooting at a nightclub, CNN affiliate WLBT reported. At least six people were shot and another person suffered a laceration, the station reported.

— March 27: River Gorge, Illinois

A shooting on a party bus left three people injured and one dead, according to CNN affiliate WLS. Police say the occupants of another vehicle fired at the bus while stopped at an intersection, the station reported.

— March 26: Virginia Beach, Virginia

Three shootings in the city left eight people injured and two dead, according to the City of Virginia Beach.

— March 26: Chicago

A gathering in Chicago’s Wrightwood neighborhood turned into a mass shooting, according to CNN affiliate WLS. Two gunmen opened fire inside the gathering, wounding seven people and fatally shooting a 26-year-old man, the station reported.

— March 26: Norfolk, Virginia

Police responded to a shooting that left four people wounded, CNN affiliate WTKR  reported. The victims — two 18-year-old men, a 17-year-old girl and a 21-year-old woman — sustained non-life-threatening gunshot wounds.

— March 26: Memphis, Tennessee

Five people were shot, the Memphis Police Department said on Twitter. Three victims were pronounced dead at the scene, two were taken to a hospital in critical condition, and one was in non-critical condition, the tweet said.

Michael Tucker, the man identified as the suspect, was found dead in a motel in Nashville Thursday. Police spokesman Don Aaron said it is believed Tucker died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

— March 26: Philadelphia

Outside of the Golf and Social Club, police say two suspects shot seven people, CNN affiliate WPVI reported. Video released by police shows two suspects approaching a gathering crowd and opening fire.

— March 23: Aliceville, Alabama

A shooting reported at an Aliceville home left two people dead and two injured.

— March 23: Boulder, Colorado

Ten people, including a Boulder police officer, were killed in a shooting at a King Soopers supermarket, according to police.

— March 20: Philadelphia

One person was killed and another five were injured in a shooting at an illegal party, CNN affiliate KYW reported. “There were at least 150 people in there that fled and believed they had to flee for their lives,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said.

— March 20: Dallas

Eight people were shot, one fatally, by an unknown assailant, according to police.

— March 20: Houston

Five people were shot after a disturbance inside a club, according to police. One was in critical condition after being shot in the neck, and the rest were in stable condition, according to CNN affiliate KPRC.

— March 18: Gresham, Oregon

Four victims were taken to the hospital after a shooting in the city east of Portland, police said in an initial report.

— March 17: Stockton, California

Five people who were preparing a vigil in Stockton, in California’s Central Valley, were shot in a drive-by shooting, the San Joaquin Sheriff’s Department said. None had life-threatening injuries.

Across the nation. There’s too many damn guns, too many assault rifles designed for battlefields that fuel the carnage on our streets. And they’re too easy to get. It has to end. It has to. Most of these shootings didn’t even make the national news. After all, what’s one more bar brawl that turn into a gunfight? What’s one more party where folks drink a bit too much, say a few thoughtless words, and then guns get pulled and people die? That happens every day in America, right? We shouldn’t be too concerned, right? 

Bullshit.

And meanwhile a 13 year old kid died on the streets of Chicago when he was shot by a police officer. There were shots fired, it was 2 AM, there was a chase and the boy may have had a gun, but, if he did, he appears to have tossed it. It appears from the body cam footage at least that when he raised his hands, as ordered, they were empty. The officer didn’t seem to be facing an immediate threat. But he shot the boy. After the kid raised what seem to have been empty hands. Why?

Why did Daunte Wright die. Maybe he shouldn’t have resisted and maybe he shouldn’t have tried to get back in his car. He did have an outstanding warrant that had apparently involved illegal possession of a firearm and fleeing the police. That would rightfully make an officer very cautious, but was Wright a threat at that moment to the officers?  Was there a weapon involved? The officer who killed him reportedly mixed up her gun and taser. Even accepting that, the standard of care that we have to ask our police to exercise in using force would seem to demand that they be able to make this distinction. Even in moments of stress. It doesn’t seem she was facing a threat at that moment. So why? 

You might think I’m mixing apples and oranges. Going from mass shootings to police killings. But these too are about guns. I’d hate to be a cop in today’s world. I’d worry every day about the guns flooding our streets and the craziness. And if we don’t think that those fears, along with an inbred systemic racism, aren’t part of the problem I think we’re missing something.

It’s easy to blame the cops. It’s easy to blame lax laws. It’s easy to blame this on troubled people, on bigots, on hate, on prejudice. We can point fingers in so many directions. But it’s still OUR society in which this happens. OUR chosen leaders who won’t act. OUR fellow citizens who think that their right to own assault weapons is enough to turn a blind eye to 45 mass shootings in 30 days. We’ve got to choose who we are and who we will be. And it can’t be this.

So I’m ending the week with a rant because I’m scared by what we’ve become and worried about where we’ll end up. Enough. Down from the soapbox and on to the weekend.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 15, 2021

It’s Tax Day. At least that’s the way it usually works. I guess there’s a grace period due to the pandemic, but I filed a while back so that isn’t really a major concern. However, if it gives others a break, great for them.

It’s also my birthday. Facebook gave that secret away. It’s not as though I consider it a secret in any event. The passage of the years is something we all share in. And each season of our lives brings new joys, new challenges, new anxieties, new adventures and more. There’s nothing we can do to change the passage of time and I see no reason to worry about it. Today is my 68th birthday and I’ll embrace the start of my 69th year with the same spirit of wonder that I embraced my 8th or 18th or 28th (which occurred a few months before I joined the Foreign Service!)

I hope, of course, that there will be many more birthdays to embrace ahead, but, barring some incredible miracle of medical science, I know that there are far fewer that lie ahead than those that I look back on with such gratitude for all that life has brought my way. Whatever the number of my days, I’ll treasure those moments I have and the time spent with all those I love.

And, even though Facebook keeps us from having any secrets, it also opens the door for us to hear from so many friends that we are seldom in touch with. Just scrolling through the birthday greetings, brief moments of connection though they may be, I smiled and felt blessed that folks took the time to just say hello. And I laughed because the greetings seemed to track with the passage of the sun through the sky. There wasn’t an exact correlation between the timing of the messages and the start of the day in Kathmandu or Sweden or Washington DC, but there was a degree of synchronicity. It was just one of those little things that catch your eye and make you think.

I had to laugh as well at a few that were uniquely creative or unusual — though all were appreciated. So thank you to all who took the time. I was touched and I want you to know that your messages didn’t go unnoticed even if there’s not nearly enough time to respond to them all.

I fear though, I will disappoint some today. I know we’re led to believe that with the passage of the years we get wiser, but I think I just get more wrinkles. In any event, I have no particular words of wisdom to offer. And, instead of trying to dredge something up that might pass for cogent thought, I’ll let myself dwell for a bit on all of you who have reached out, on those who I love who are no longer with me to share a day of celebration

At 68 and counting, I’m the luckiest of men and I know it. No complaints.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 14, 2021

It’s a rainy day here in Haymarket. Feels a bit chilly and damp and my old bones are liking chilly and damp far less these days than in years past. But that, I guess, is inevitable. So we carry on.

Today there’s a lot of buzz about the decision by President Biden to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by the September 11. I’m puzzled by the choice of that date as his marker. Not sure about the signal it sends or how it will be spun, but the date matters less than the decision itself.

I can’t say I’m puzzled by that. We’ve been there 20 years. We went in to deny Al Qaeda a safe haven. We’ve stayed because… I don’t know. We wanted to leave Afghanistan in a better place. But I wonder if that was ever realistic. Afghanistan has been called the Graveyard of Empires for a reason. The British, the Russian, and then the Soviets, the US — all have tried to pacify or control or democratize and reform Afghanistan. All have essentially failed.

There’s an honest question of what we can hope to achieve and what interests we serve by staying. Leaving, however, is also fraught with problems. The Taliban could very well sweep into full power. Though, if the history of the nation is any guide, you have to wonder how long that would last. But, while it does, the nation will experience new chaos, girls and women will suffer repression, human rights will be trampled on, and it will be ugly.

The question is, are we supposed to stay in order to prevent it? If we did, would we ever be able to leave? Some folks voice a frustration that if we leave the sacrifices of the American forces who have died or been injured there will have been in vain. But do we ask even more to sacrifice without any real prospect that more deaths and more injuries will drive change?

Of course we stand, as a nation, for human rights. We have acted to protect the vulnerable. We believe in democracy and the rights of women and girls. We will be appalled by a surge of abuses in Afghanistan. But Afghanistan is not the only place where abuses occur and where ugliness and violent repression is the background against which life unfolds. We can’t fix it all by sending in our troops. We can’t fix it all by a display of power. So what’s the answer?

Even as we stand in support of human rights and human decency it doesn’t mean that we have to send our sons and daughters to “fix” every place in the world where there are abuses. And even if we wanted to, it probably wouldn’t work. And make no mistake… even if abuses and ugliness will almost certainly follow our withdrawal those abuses aren’t our “fault.” That should be laid squarely on those who perpetrate the abuses. On the Taliban, on corrupt leaders, on brutal warlords, on centuries old conflict between tribes caught up in cycles of vendetta.

I’m no expert on these issues, but I recall that when I served in Pakistan in the early 1990s we watched similar divisions tearing at the society in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal and we’ll see it again. It’s never really stopped. And there will be troubles ahead and the world may be shocked and appalled, but I’ll be damned if I know the answer.

I don’t fault Biden. I don’t applaud the choice either. It’s a tough decision and a tough problem and there’s no good answer. But whether it’s the best choice or not, I give him credit for making a decision. Someone had to do it.

So, that’s my musing on this rainy Wednesday. I’ll close with this Gary Larson cartoon, from which I did a cross-stitch design many years ago. Even then it captured for me the challenge of diplomacy that was based on throwing our weight around. We end up on our keisters as often as we do on our feet.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 13, 2021

I’m sitting at a Shell station as I type this because the car is due for it’s annual inspection. I only bought it late last June but the inspection was done some months before so, here I am. It’s a diversion. Just one of those tasks we have to do. And a chance to catch my breath after a busy morning.

As I sit here, I was checking the odometer. 4200 miles. In a bit more than nine months, that’s all I’ve driven the car. How the world has changed. In a normal year it would have been twice that… at least. And that’s assuming no road trips. 

But things are starting to open up. I know that COVID numbers are still bad but there is an inexorable movement, it seems, towards normalization. We seem to have made the decision that we’ll live with this disease, and the consequences of resuming life, no matter what. And we’re hoping that as the number of vaccinations increase we’ll overcome what is still a rough patch.

And, for those who are vaccinated, I think there’s a sense that “I’m probably going to be OK.” I’m one of those. I’m going to take care, and be sensible, and do my bit to be responsible to others, but slowly I’m embracing the idea of getting back to engaging the world more directly than just from a virtual connection.

I do think we’re making considerable progress even with the surges we’re currently seeing.  And increasingly, we’re going to come to a point where the continuing cases are being driven by those who choose, for whatever reason, not to get vaccinated.

I’m not going to get into a rant about the anti-vaxxers. And I know that for some folks there are real reasons, aside from conspiracy theory and unreasoning paranoia, that affect their choices. But, at the end of the day, folks are going to have to live with their choices and the risks that go with them. The risks of vaccination — which continue to be incredibly low it seems — or the risk of contracting COVID with all that entails.  

And, we can’t and won’t, all stay home even longer just because a segment of society chooses not to get vaccinated.  

Of course, the longer things go, and the more vectors there are for the disease to continue to advance, the more risk there is for all of us from possible mutations. But that’s a “to be seen” risk. For now it seems possible to manage risk and begin to move forward.

So, it’s off to Minnesota in May to see Joe and Jess and offer some help to my mother-in-law. And it’s North Carolina in June to give a couple of lectures in Highlands at the Center for Life Enrichment. And there’s got to be another Texas trip before long to see little Gus (and Tony and Nat of course).  And we’re slated for Nepal in September and I’ve been asked at least about some lectures in the Caribbean late in the year. Lots to think about but one thing is certain; this year is looking different from 2020.

The car is ready so it’s time to go. 

Happy Tuesday. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 12, 2021

More tragedies today. What happened yesterday in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, might well have been a tragic accident. But Daunte Wright is dead nonetheless.

The police may indeed have been trying to taze him, not shoot him. And yes, I get it that he had an outstanding warrant for possession of a firearm and for fleeing from the police. It would certainly lead the police to act with caution. 

But our track record as a nation is such that you have to ask – you have to wonder – if Daunte Wright had been white might that have ended differently? How many times in the year do we hear about unarmed white men dying at the hands of police at a traffic stop or in any other circumstance? How often?  

It’s so depressing. And if you’re white and want to believe that the color of Daunte Wright’s skin didn’t matter — OK.  Believe it. I’m not convinced though.

Much like the black Army lieutenant, Caron Nazario, who was stopped in Windsor, Virginia, last December. The story seems to just be coming out. He was pepper-sprayed, forced to the ground handcuffed all for no apparent reason. Oh yeah, he was black. He was in uniform, driving his new car with the temp tags clearly displayed, but he was stopped for no plate. He was scared to death of what might happen as two officers confronted him with guns drawn. He had reason to be, it seemed.  

Tell me if HIS experience wouldn’t  have been different if he was a white Army lieutenant in uniform. No… on second thought… don’t even try. You’d be wasting both our time.

And the tragedy continues. Details are just coming in but there was another school shooting today. This one in Knoxville, Tennessee. Again, as with all the other incidents in recent days, the issue isn’t who the killer is, what his politics are or what grievances convinced him to act. The issue is with the damn guns. They’re everywhere. And they’re just too easy to get. 

Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee spoke out right away — she said she was heartbroken. She said she was praying for the community. Good for you, Senator. But she also reportedly has received over $1.3 million from the NRA and those prayers of hers haven’t convinced her to vote for any kind of meaningful gun control legislation so, Senator, keep your prayers. And all those other legislators who offer their thoughts and prayers too… you all know where you can stick them. 

Enough. Really. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 11, 2021

It’s a sunny morning but rain is on the way. There’s probably a lot I could do with that as a metaphor for something or another but… nah. It’s just the weather report.

I don’t know what the day will hold other than rain at some point. The challenge is, there are so many paths to follow — or perhaps so many rabbit holes to descend into — it’s hard to know which one will win out.

I had five false starts writing even this piece this morning. Every time I said to myself, OK, do your journal entry, I got sidetracked with a random thought. One of those… “oh yeah, I wanted to check on publication statistics, or how much DOES a new heat pump cost, or does Qatar Airways have HEPA filters” moments.

I did finally begin, though, and the good news is that I can now answer questions on any of those topics if you’re interested. And, even if you’re not, FYI, the average book sells 200 – 500 copies and 1,000 books sold lifetime is great. Good thing I never checked statistics before writing “The Ambassador’s Dog!”  Of course, Jane Vance’s incredible illustrations probably tipped the scale for us. Something worked, in any event. We’ve sold 2,400 and the first reprint is finishing up at the printers as I write this.

Heat pumps vary in price but the unit that covers our sunroom and part of the basement is in need of replacement. It’s one of the joys of home ownership. And our HOA inspection was just completed. The driveway needs work, shutters need painting, windows need sealing, light pole and mailbox have to be painted, etc.  Another of the joys of home ownership. I’d rethink the whole proposition but this HAS become home over the past five years. The VA-based grandkids see it as Nana and Papa’s house. A place where they have their room to stay in. Where the candy dish sits in Papa’s office waiting for them. It’s an anchor of sorts. And it’s big enough for our own kids to come visit with spouses and partners. It’s big enough for all the pups. It’s big enough for our stuff and we’re not ready to sort through and give up paintings and Tibetan furniture, and sculptures and African granary ladders or Pakistani camel saddles quite yet. It’s not just stuff. It’s our story. And so we’ll end up replacing the pump, the last of the three original units of the HVAC system, and carry on. 

And Qatar Air? They do use top of the line HEPA filters on the planes. That’s a good thing since we’re hoping to fly on one of them later this year. We want to get to Nepal. It’s been too long, and we need to revisit one of the places that has been so very special in our lives for so many reasons. We hope that five months down the road circumstances will look favorable. Our tickets are fully changeable/refundable but we hope we won’t have to take advantage of that provision. We want to meet our publishers in Kathmandu. We want to visit projects that Engage Nepal supports. We want to talk with the children and families these projects help. And we want, perhaps most of all, to just see old friends and to renew that sense of connection to a special place. We will also visit Boudhanath Stupa, a wellspring of tremendous spiritual energy. We feel it every time. And we both long to be there.

Truth be told, I long to be in the world again. We are taking care. We are being measured. But I have watched a few friends who have opted to travel — even during the heights of the pandemic — and have wanted to join them. Our choices were different. For us, the desire to be here for our kids and grandkids and to not put them at risk after we returned from adventuring (pre-vaccine) was very much part of the consideration. But the equation is changing as those we love are vaccinated too and getting back to the world. Well, how great will that be.

In any event, the rabbit holes I’ve already explored today gave me something to think about, and write about. So, no complaints. And there is plenty to fill the day ahead… cooking, writing to literary agents, working on that oral history that STILL has 70 pages or so to edit, and more. 

So, off to do what needs to be done.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 10, 2021

Nine year’s ago today, I hiked a trail in a remote corner of the world..  and my life changed.

I met a dog. A puppy actually.  Most of you know the tale and how that pup became Lo Khyi, the Prince of the Mountains who is with me still.

More than once since then I have wondered what would have happened to that little pup if I had gone my way, not hearing him call out to me. 

Obviously, his life would have been far different.  And so would mine.  Lo Khyi reminded me on that April day nine years ago, and he reminds me still, that our actions, our choices in life, truly do matter. 

Even though the world around us may be changing beyond recognition, we can still have an impact on that world in countless ways, large and small, and at all seasons in our lives. 

We all may see the world differently – it would be a dull place if we didn’t – but what matters is that we engage in a way that reflects who we are and what we care about.

For me, the story of Lo Khyi is my daily reminder that our choices matter and have an impact that transcends a single moment in time.    

Maybe you’ll pick up a stray pup on a lonely trail somewhere. 

It is never too late.

I’ve attached a file with a short “memoir” I wrote a few years ago about that day, along with pictures.  This is what gave rise to the book, “The Ambassador’s Dog.” It was fun to reread it on this rainy Saturday morning. 

And if you want more, you can always order your copy of “The Ambassador’s Dog” at our Shopify store (I’ll post the link below). The next shipment is due in about a week!

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

A Meeting on a Trail

Shop now

April 9, 2021

It’s a rainy Friday. That’s not really a bad thing. Rainy days are a free pass in some ways. I don’t have to feel guilty if I don’t walk the dogs and if I’m sleepy I can blame it on the weather.  And, even better, the idea of drifting off in my chair doesn’t seem nearly as wrong on a rainy day as it does on a sunny one. Yes, rainy days have their place. No complaints.

I’m hoping that the seeds I planted… grass, herb, and flower… all are given a little boost by the rain. Sunday is supposed to be a rainy day too. Again… not a bad thing. Spring showers, a bit of sun, and soon the garden will truly come to life. That’s always nice.

I’d rather focus on that than the news. On the positive side, I was thinking about how little President Biden is intruding on my consciousness. He’s working hard, that’s clear. In my view, he’s got his priorities straight and he’s tackling the most compelling issues head on but not forgetting equally important priorities. He’s doing what we expect a president to do. But he doesn’t dominate every news cycle, He’s not in our face. He’s not sparking outrage at every turn. It’s such a joy in comparison to life under Trump.

But, aside from being grateful for the lack of bombast and shoulder to the wheel work-ethic, I have to say that looking at the news is pretty disheartening. More senseless killings, including an older couple and two of their grandkids, 9 and 5. Gun violence in a Texas town where one resident said it “is always peaceful and safe.” Not anymore. And don’t tell me how it’s not about guns but about mental health issues. 

Sure, we need to help those with emotional or other problems, but just look around… people with mental health problems aren’t slaughtering the citizens of the UK. Or Japan. Or China. Or Australia or Germany or Spain. We see the comparisons all the time. We’re not the worst in the world but that doesn’t excuse a level of gun violence anywhere from 10 to 100 times greater than comparable nations. Either we give a crap or we don’t. Far too many don’t. Until someone we know or love is lost in a random shooting by another gun-wielding killer. Ugh.

And the COVID news it truly disturbing we see the US following Europe and another nations towards a new surge driven by the B-117 variant. I can say “no worries, I’m protected,” but more than 80 percent of us are not. That’s 250 million or more of us who are still at risk. And this time it’s the younger people who are filling the hospitals and emergency rooms. It’s crazy, especially because we know what needs to be done. And the more people become infected with new variants, the greater the risk of further mutations that could put all of us, even those who are vaccinated, at risk. We know how to manage the worst of this. We really do. We’ve learned. But we ignore the advice, ignore the warnings, and we’re off and running on another cycle of tragic illness and death. So needless.

It just makes me sad. So many lives lost that don’t have to be lost. And there’s something about what we’ve been through over the past year or more that has me feeling raw… more vulnerable… as I think about love and loss. It makes me treasure the moments we have all the more. Makes me want to hug those I love. Makes me want to be sure that they know how I feel. Makes me want to ensure that the grandkids know how special they are. And it makes me wish we could just get it together. That we could make these needless deaths go away, we could spare another family from the pain and the loss.

It’s the kind of reflection that suits a rainy day. 

And so it goes. I’m glad it’s Friday. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 8, 2021

It’s 4 pm. I know because there are lights that turn on automatically and because Max, with his built-in alarm clock, declared it was time for dinner. 

Another day is almost gone. I’m not sure what I’m taking away from it. It’s been busy, but that’s not any newer than Max barking at 4 pm. But, like any day, there’s always something that comes along that sparks a question or refection.

I turned on the radio today and I heard the tail end of an NPR program about people’s favorite lesbian bars. I had to smile. You wouldn’t have heard that program when I was kid growing up. You wouldn’t have heard it on the airwaves 40 years ago when I joined the Foreign Service and I’m not certain that you would have heard it even as we entered the new millennium 21 years past. But today it is part of our lives. We don’t think twice. And that’s change and progress worth noting. Some people wish it was otherwise, I know. And some of those are folks who just can’t accept the way the world has changed and never will. I get that. They can turn to another station.

But there are some out there who will make it ugly. There are some for whom this will be another battle in the culture wars that have been fueled by the likes of Donald Trump. I wonder how much of this, for Trump and the others who seek to lead the battle, is about exploiting the anxieties and fears of those threatened by a world in transition. I wonder if Trump and those others know that these are losing battles. I would think that they know deep down that their’s is a losing proposition. They should be smart enough to see the obvious — they can’t turn back the hands of time, they can’t change the drive towards decency, and equality, and fairness, and inclusion. They won’t win.  

But that doesn’t stop them from seeking to profit from the fears and anxiety some feel. And it doesn’t stop them from playing to the very worst in some of the most hateful and racist and sexist in our society. So they call for battle… they urge their supporters to close ranks in preparation for a showdown. They take pleasure in making it ugly, I think. That’s what they’re good at.

And today I saw bits and pieces of the trial of Derek Chauvin. That too is something we might not have seen fifty or thirty or twenty years ago. In those days, the white cop might have knelt on a black man’s neck as he died before his eyes. But it wouldn’t have been caught on dozens of cell phones. It wouldn’t have sparked outrage. Even if questions were raised most folks would have looked the other way. The persistent racism we saw as a nation would continue unimpeded. But that too is changing. 

We can’t declare “no more” — I think few of us are naive enough to believe that the deeply engrained and often unconscious racism that is part of our nation is finished. But I believe that we are moving forward and Trump and his ilk can send all the dog whistles they want. Although some will respond gleefully, cloaked in the sense of superiority that clinging to white privilege gives them, on that front too, I believe, that progress is being made and that we won’t stem the pressure for change.

A bit later I turned the radio on again. There was a story about the Florida politician that Matt Gaetz apparently conspired with in exploiting underage girls for sex cutting a deal with prosecutors. I have to believe that this isn’t going to end well for Gaetz. And it shouldn’t end well. But there would have been a time when men abusing girls, men exploiting them, would act with impunity. When their actions would be excused, condoned, or ignored. But that too is changing. Not completely. but significantly. And that too is good.

So, that’s what I’ll take away from the day. For all the challenges and the heartaches and ugliness that we might encounter every time we look at the news, change is in the wind and it’s moving in the right direction.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 7, 2021

The day has started reasonably calmly.  Appearance, however, can be deceiving.  I’m sure chaos lurks under the surface.  But I’ll try to glide over the water like an African jacana tiptoeing across the surface of a lake stepping from lily pad to lily pad. That will be my mantra for the day…”be like the jacana —  stay above the chaos.”

It’s a bit after 8 AM.  I’ve been at work for an hour or so already. Trying to get my work for State out of the way early so I can tackle the tasks that await in the garden.  I have to remove that fencing I wrote about yesterday, plant some seeds before the rains come (April showers bring May flowers, right?).  There’s a lot to do this week for Engage Nepal. And as always, plenty to do with the book. The first 2400 copies are essentially all gone… just a handful left… and now we’re getting ready for the next shipment of 1500 that should arrive in about two weeks.

And then, of course, there are all the things that add color to our lives. The time spent experimenting with a new recipe, learning a new song on piano or guitar (not that there’s been time for that of late!). There’s the time spent just going for a walk. Or tending to the houseplants, or stitching young Gus’ Christmas stocking.  

It’s all about balance… like that jacana. How I want to know it’s secret. How DO we find the right balance. How do we keep ourselves on that even keel and not get sucked into the chaos and lose our way… lose our sense of what is important. 

The jacana doesn’t rush unduly even when it moves quickly It moves with a purpose, with balance… with mindfulness if you will. That’s a term you hear so much of lately and it means, I am sure, different things to different people.  I’m not certain that I’ve decided what it means to me. I guess it’s about being present in the moment as I tackle a task. Even knowing that there are many others waiting my attention, I bring my focus to what I am doing at this moment of time. If we are going to invest our energy, let’s make it meaningful. Let’s make the effort matter. And let’s know why we do it. Let’s know what is important.

That’s why I make the time every day to write, even a few words. It has become a part of my day when I pause. I focus myself. And I choose to make this important and meaningful, at least for me. It’s good for the soul.

And know excuse me…I have to move on to the next lily pad.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 6, 2021

It amazes me how full the days can be. Yesterday and today feel as though they have been nonstop. That’s why I’m taking time now to regroup. It’s a bit after 6. It was a glorious day, but I didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I had hoped. So now I’m sitting out on the deck, watching the birds, sipping a glass of wine, and writing. Gyptse Jane is sitting on the deck, with her front paws on the step below her. Watching. Not for anything in particular, just watching.  

Max was on the step below but now has come up to nuzzle my arm, hoping for some attention.  Gracie has opted to stay inside and Lo Khyi, the Prince of the Mountains, is at the top of the backyard hill surveying his domain to ensure all is well. 

None of the dogs are too bothered by the cardinals swooping in for dinner or the flurry of the doves’ wings as they settle onto the feeder. The sparrows are a bit careless in their feeding and small pieces of food fall over the side of the platform and hit the squirrel baffle underneath. The soft ting is pleasant, especially as there’s no breeze right now to allow the wind chimes to give voice.

It’s a peaceful scene and a peaceful moment in a busy day. We’ve been catching up on dentist and doctor’s appointments deferred during the first year of the pandemic. A trip to the post office to send a book off to an American publisher who is, at least, curious. And then there was time spent doing some work for State, working on Engage Nepal, doing the bookkeeping work on the book, dealing with the county on our business license and taxes and lots more. Not exactly fun, but productive. So much that needs to be done and some days are just like this.

I had hoped to get outside to continue the work I’m doing to prep the yard for spring in all its glory. Already the rhubarb is starting to grow, the honeysuckle is showing signs of life, the bleeding hearts are rising up, and we’ve got pink hyacinths blooming. Over the past few days I dug up the remaining thorn bushes — not as daunting a task as I feared. I set the bird feeders more securely in place. I cleaned off the pergola and raked up the mulch that washed down the hillside in the early spring rains. I cleared the space for the new plantings that will go in later this month. And then I started to fill the planters with marigolds and geraniums. And in the ground are gorgeous mounded petunias and perennial primroses that are so pretty and strawberry plants now adorn the birdbath. 

I dug up the back garden and then in went new lemon grass and dill. New basil (three varieties( and mint — spearmint, peppermint, pineapple mint and strawberry mint. New surprises every time I answer the siren song of the garden center. There’s more to come. This is just the start. I have rocks to reset, a fence to remove now that the garden is established on top of the hill and Lo Khyi no longer races from side to side while on patrol.

Last night my back was sore. My muscles far too tight. So much so that the chiropractor assumed I deliberately trying to give his business a boost when I showed up for my appointment late yesterday afternoon. But it’s worth it. Last year the garden was a bright spot in a sea of worry. Now it’s a harbinger of hope. Despite rough patches that are sure to come yet with the pandemic, there is hope that something that looks like normalcy awaits us. 

The garden has enough faith that the world won’t end that it is determined to continue. I guess we can do the same.  

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 5, 2021

Yesterday would have been my brother Dan’s 77th birthday. We lost him way too early to brain cancer.  He was only 61. He was on my mind much of the day.

So I thought I’d share a memory. God knows, I’m tired of writing about the news. I was feeling yesterday that I was in a rut. But then I realized that much of what ends up being “front of mind” for me is the news and it’s not me, but the world, that’s in a rut. The same stories. The same problems. The same anger and frustrations. The same failures to address the issues that matter. So enough. Today I’ll travel down memory lane instead.

The date was November 27, 1966. My brother Dan pulled up in front of our house at 2077 Jefferson Ave, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was driving his old 1950’s Cadillac. Not sure of the exact model but this picture comes close.

I remember that the engine was noisy and it was a stick shift — my Dad’s cars were always automatics. The inside was beat up a bit, but it still had a “feel.” It WAS, after all, a Caddie. And, from my perspective as a 13 year old kid-brother it was pretty darn cool.

Dan was 21 years old at the time. The eight-year difference in our age meant that we hadn’t been playmates or particularly close growing up — though we did share a bedroom for many years when I was small. And, in truth, at that point in our lives he was a bit of an unknown to me. I know he had had a rough few years after his best friend was killed in a biking accident while they were roommates at St John’s College. But, even if I didn’t really “know” Dan at that point in his journey, he was still my big brother.

And that was enough to make this day special. Just as it had been when I was smaller and he gave me a glimpse into the world that he he shared with his buddies — the big kids. Whether it was him letting me into one of the shacks he and his friends had built out of scrap lumber or tolerating my “help” when it came time to create the backyard skating rink in the winters, I treasured those moments of connection.

And now…my big brother had invited me to go with him to a concert. My first ever. The Lovin’ Spoonful were at the peak of their popularity and we were going to go see them play at the Minneapolis Convention Center. It was a Sunday afternoon.

I couldn’t have been more excited. Not only to see the Lovin’ Spoonful play…but because my big brother was taking me. At thirteen that trip across the river to Minneapolis and the Convention Center seemed pretty magical and intimidating all at once; the crowd, the noise, the excitement. But Dan had it covered and I just followed his lead.

To this day, I don’t know what led him to ask me to come with him but, because he did, it made my first concert my most memorable, without a doubt. There have been better musicians and probably more dynamic performances that I’ve seen over the years but that doesn’t matter. It was me and my brother. And it was cool.

I don’t recall what we talked about. In those days, I talked a lot (and yes, I know, I still do). Dan less so. Certainly later in life he learned the art of asking questions…he was often non-stop. I think he was interested in hearing the answers, but also, the more questions you ask, the less you have to talk about yourself. Not sure if that was his strategy but it worked for him.

But that day, as we sat in the Convention Center, we didn’t have to talk — just listen. They played “Summer in the City,” “Do You Believe in Magic,” Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind,” “Other Side of This Life,” and “You Didn’t Have to be So Nice” to name just some of the set list. Oh….and they played “Daydream” too (a song I used to play on the guitar while our sister Chris sang and our Dad thought it was about the best thing he’d ever heard — but that’s another story).

In the music that day we began to find a certain common denominator that became an even stronger connection over the next few years. It opened doors for us to know each other in ways that I might not have expected but for which I’m grateful and that musical connection was important in giving us a way to build our relationship as I started to grow towards adulthood.

I remember Christmas 1968, for example, — the Beatles White Album had came out late in November and was one of the gifts waiting under the tree.And Dan and I sat down the basement later on Christmas Eve listening to it together, critiquing the songs and just enjoying the experience of sharing something special together.

It wouldn’t be the last time we compared musical notes or shared artists we liked. Chicago, Gypsy (from Minnesota), Blood Sweat and Tears, Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills and Nash…so many new bands were coming on the scene.. It was an amazingly rich time musically and I can remember conversations about them all with Dan. The questions gave way to commentary and insight. His passion was clear.

As I grew older we found more ways to bond and to know each other better (including intensely competitive racketball gams) and, for all our differences, I like to believe we were close. And I miss him.  But I’ll always be grateful that he took the time to take his little brother to a concert over a half century ago. I’ll never forget it. Miss you bro.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 4, 2021

Happy Easter.

The world looks a bit less troubling this Easter than it did last year as we contemplated just how bad the pandemic might get and the craziness of all the denialism we were seeing. But now we’re still dealing with challenges compounded by COVID fatigue. People are just tired of masks, of not traveling, of not hugging, not socializing, not living the lives we love. 

And, of course, we all get that. I know… I feel it. But there’s also no denying that we are facing a new surge that will take more lives and cause more heartbreak. It’s so frustrating to many. It’s projected that at least 60,000 more people will lose their lives in the next few months. I know we’ve become inured to these numbers — few even talk about the death toll from this pandemic any more, but we hear that we’re vaccinating at record rates and we are. The Biden administration has gotten things going on that front over 4 million vaccinations the other day… a new record. And the average of late has been 3 million vaccinations a day. That’s impressive too compared to where we were a few months ago when we were still measuring total vaccinations in the tens of thousands.

But these new variants are a threat. Pandemic fatigue is a threat. Anti-vaxxers are a threat. COVID denialism is a threat. And feckless political leaders, who if we’re honest, are mostly Republicans still caught up in the web of lies and nonsense spun by Trump, are a threat. 

I’m really hopeful that in a few more months we’re going to be in great shape. But the reality is that we’ve played catchup to this disease for a year. And there’s no guarantee another new variant won’t emerge posing new threats and sparking new fears. Still, I’m not going to borrow trouble. I’m going to believe that we’ll eventually get this under control. And I’m grateful that our immediate family, at least, has escaped this experience unscathed, and when Joe and Jess get their second shot in a couple of weeks all of us will be protected. 

Meanwhile, I was glad to see that Major League Baseball has pulled its All-Star Game from Georgia over concerns about the laws they’ve passed to restrict voting rights, because there’s no question that voter suppression was the intent. Good for them. Dell is voicing concerns about similar efforts in Texas. Other corporations are showing a growing commitment to protecting our democracy. We saw it when many of them stepped up and decided to pull support from politicians who were part of the web of lies that sparked the attack on the Capitol and we’re seeing it now on this issue. 

We need more of this. I hope we’ll see it and I hope it won’t just be for show but rather that it will reflect a sustained commitment and another step on a path towards a better future for our kids and grandkids. 

And on that note, we are off to walk the dogs, then I’m going out to work in the yard and enjoy this beautiful day, and then, when we’re done, there’s a delicious quiche (fennel, leek, dill and peppers) and a wonderful curried veg stew waiting. It’s all good — that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 3, 2021

Good lord. When will it ever end. Another multiple death shooting — this time in North Carolina. When I saw the report is was still a developing story. No details yet. But we don’t really need them. Whether it was a hate-filled domestic terrorist, a jihadist, a racist, or an angry and unbalanced individual just determined to cause others to feel the pain they do — it doesn’t matter. 

There will always be haters and there will always be those with mental health issues. And there will always be criminals and murderers. And as long as guns, are so readily available, as long as rapid fire assault weapons are as easy to purchase as a deer hunting rifle, and as long as we allow politicians beholden to the NRA to block meaningful efforts to address the obvious crisis we face as a society, these will continue.

I know I’ve written about all this before but it is front of mind at the moment and so I’ll say it again. Because the next thing we know, we’ll see another school terrorized and children murdered. We’ll see a church or synagogue attacked. Or we’ll hear about dozens of men, women and children gunned down for no reason in a shopping mall and we’ll all make noises of outrage — again. But nothing happens. How is it that we as a society can be so indifferent to all of this? Because we are. We say we hate it but where is the nationwide effort to bring change. 

As a nation we decided that women’s rights had to be recognized and we drove change. We decided that LGBTQ rights mattered and now there’s same sex marriage and more protections in place all the time. Enough people were outraged by Donald Trump’s behavior in office that 80+ million of us said enough. We made the effort to vote, to support the campaign to unseat him and to act. But yet we accept the fact that the gun violence in our society is out of control. 

Other nations look at us with bewilderment and shock. No one has the level gun violence we do. No one makes it as easy as we do for people to murder on a scale that shocks the sensibilities of any rational person. It’s insane. And we’re all complicit in it if we don’t act. So I’ll donate again to the fight against gun violence. I’ll vote only for candidates committed to action. And I’ll hope that somehow, some day, we awaken enough of us to act. 

Talk all you want about the second amendment. It’s not holy scripture. It’s not a divine revelation. It was intended to address a concern about citizen militias and was shaped by our early history — our revolutionary experience. It was ratified in 1791. I like to believe that 230 years later we can reexamine the “right to bear arms” when the world has changed, our society has changed, and the weapons that people seek to bear have changed.  

As Buffalo Springfield sang, “There’s battle lines being drawn.” This is just one of the lines in the culture war, in the redefinition of who we are and who we will be. The song’s title as any of my generation would know is “For What It’s Worth.” To me, it’s worth a lot.

Guns, racism, climate change, social and economic equality… they’re all part of the battle, and they are all worth fighting for. 

Another shooting. Not how I’d choose to begin my weekend. But life doesn’t always give us choices about things like that. But, what we can choose is how we respond. We can.

Enough. There are books to pack (always it seems), food to cook, yard work to be done, newsletters to be written and more. A busy Saturday to navigate.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 2, 2021

It’s Friday. And I’m glad. 

It has been a busy week since we got back from Texas and I’m tired tonight. That’s why I usually try to write earlier in the day. 

The week ended on an upbeat note, though.

I was happy to learn this morning that a project, long-delayed by COVID, may be ready to move forward in Nepal. We are working with a community of people with disabilities and they are designing and manufacturing wheelchairs designed by people with disabilities in Nepal to be used by people with disabilities in Nepal. If we can help them have the gift of mobility, if we can help make it easer for them to contribute all that they have to offer, that will be a good day’s work. 

So that was good. 

And mid-morning there was a trip to the grocery store. I may be strange, but I do enjoy grocery shopping and, in particular, today I needed to restock after having been away — produce in particular. And, as someone whose family was in the produce business and who worked in that industry many, many years ago, I still enjoy wandering through a produce department. And today, the produce department at Whole Foods was freshly stocked with wonderfully fresh choices.  Peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, leeks and fennel. Basil and dill and green onions and tomatoes. Add in some clementines and limes, and strawberries and avocados, Some greens, including some really lovely red leaf lettuce.  

To me THAT was fun. I know that’s not everyone’s idea of a good time but for me… it was a nice break on a Friday morning. And now I’m set for the weekend. I’m set to make a fennel, leek and pepper quiche. I’m ready to make curried vegetable stew. Ready for a nice vegan sandwich spread. And more. 

That was good too.

And today I had a call with a producer for a talk show on Minnesota Public Radio. They had listened to the Here and Now interview and they apparently want to expand on it. Not just about the book but about a life in diplomacy and how a kid from Minnesota ended up on the journey that led me to where I find myself today. It was a fun conversation. Talking about Lo Khyi, about how engagement in the world matters, and about how at each stage in our life’s journey there’s always more to know, more to learn, more to share.

It was a busy day, with work for State, work for Engage Nepal, and more. But those bright spots helped to leaven and balance all the rest. Helped to provide a glide path to the end of a week full of work, of book sales, of trying to keep up with grandkids, and so much more.  

It was a busy week. It was a good week. And I’m glad it’s Friday. 

Here’s to weekends. There’s reasons we love them!

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

April 1, 2021

Another mass shooting. I wish it WAS an April’s Fool joke, but, of course, there’s nothing funny about this. Even if it was a joke. It’s an American horror story that plays out again and again. Too many guns, too easily obtained, by people too ready to kill. 

I want to tell a tale that is lighter. Happier. But it can be hard. 

I will say that my spirits are slightly lifted by the scents filling the house at the moment. There’s a wonderful Thai stew on the stove. Onion and garlic and ginger. Peppers and celery and snow peas and baby corn, bamboo shoots, carrot and broccoli and a bit of jalapeño. Wonderful spices:  kaffir lime leaves, organic red curry paste, lemongrass, vegan mushroom sauce, a touch of golden mountain sauces, vegan Worcestershire sauce, just a bit of red sriracha sauce, a touch of brown sugar, and because it had a bit of a kick, some vegan sour cream and yogurt combined to soothe the palate a bit.  

Yep… much rather talk about cooking than guns and death on the streets. 

What else. Tonight I’ll read over FaceTime to our two eldest grandkids. We’ve almost finished “The Tale of Despereaux.” I love reading books to kids. I love sharing a good tale. So tonight we’ll spend 30 minutes or so together doing that. 

That too makes me smile and is an antidote to the grim news of surging COVID numbers — again — and another senseless round of murders — again.

And today we’ve managed to arrange for “The Ambassador’s Dog” to get back on Amazon after a short hiatus as we waited for more books. It should be available again in a day or two. And we’ve got about 75 of our first edition books left in stock from the most recent order of 400. The next batch are at the printer in New Delhi. Fingers crossed for an early completion of the order. The process has led me to have any number of conversations with folks who have fallen in love with the book. It has been so very gratifying. The feedback is always welcome but knowing that the story touches people just makes me happy. Lo Khyi and I are just days away from the 9th anniversary of our meeting. I’m glad he came into my life. 

And that too makes me happy. So I’ll try to dismiss the thought that there are too many idiots roaming our streets armed with weapons of war that can do horrible things to their innocent victims. Weapons which do not belong in the hands of private citizens — the second amendment notwithstanding. When will sanity prevail? 

While I wait, I’ll continue to cook, to read to kids, to write, to share our book and find all those things that bring joy. It feels like it’s all I can do.

And so we begin another month in year two of the pandemic. Happy April 1st.  

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.