February 28, 2022
Today would have been the 78th birthday of my eldest sister who we lost to cancer five years ago. It’s been even longer, 15 years, since we lost my older brother who was a year her junior. As we get older there are so many who were major parts of our lives who are no longer with us. There comes a point where there are fewer and fewer with whom I have shared memories. We not only miss those we’ve lost, but recognize that there are few who can refresh our own recollections or fill in the holes in them. I miss them all.
Of course, all this is another reason to write. To capture memories while I have them and am able to share.
Today, we were at the Van Gogh immersion experience. It was pretty great. I won’t go on about it because it’s one of those things you just have to experience. I couldn’t help but reflect, on the emotional pain that seemed to be such a regular companion for Van Gogh. And from that pain came so much that was beautiful and powerful and that has touched millions over the years. He was only 37 when he took his own life. So sad.
So many people live with emotional pain and turmoil. Some are lucky enough to have those who love them and who help them to find their balance again. Some are lost, and suffer and disappear into their darkness. Even with help, some cannot find their way back to themselves and happiness. And that’s heartbreaking.
There’s more heartbreak, though, for us to come to terms with today. In Ukraine, civilian casualties mount. The Russian lies about not targeting civilians can be seen pretty clearly to be just that… lies. And, I guess it’s good that social media and the internet help us to know the reality, but it’s so hard to watch. A mother’s tears as her nine year old daughter dies in the back of an ambulance. The little girl, clutching a stuffy sobbing inconsolably at the door of a train. Her world has been totally torn asunder. It was hard to watch. Or the young boy, trying to be so strong, but unable to keep tears from welling as he talked about how his father had stayed behind in Kiev, to sell things and help the heroes and maybe — he said with a voice shaking with fear and loss — fight.
It’s hard to watch the war unfold. Shattering in many ways.
And then you hear more of the news… the new UN report on climate change. That news isn’t good either. It’s hard to know if we can avoid disaster. I worry about the legacy we’re leaving. According to the report, half the world is now living in danger zones where climate change impact will be severe. Food and water shortages are more and more likely to become a norm and 14 percent of species will likely become extinct. Fourteen percent.
When the hell are we going to get it? How bad do things have to be before we commit ourselves both to our humanity and our planet. What is happening in Ukraine should not be possible in a modern world but, of course, it is. And we’re so busy politicizing everything that we let our tribal fights keep us from tackling problems that could destroy our nation and our planet.
Wow… to listen to me today you’d think that this was a Monday. Oh yeah… it is. But unless we act, unless we change, there are going to be a whole hell of a lot of days that feel like Mondays.
I’m hopeful though. Amidst the tragedy of Ukraine we see people who have courage and faith and the power of their beliefs to sustain them. They aren’t unique. All of us can find that strength and determination and commitment to our beliefs and I believe that in most of us there is the courage to act on them as well. We’re going to need it.
TIme to prep for my talk tomorrow. It’s time to wind this Monday down.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 27, 2022
It’s a peaceful Sunday morning. The day stretches ahead of me, unspoiled and full of possibility. There’s only so much you can squeeze into a single day, though, and I’m not looking to fill every moment with a laundry list of tasks. But, at the same time, it’s always good to have a chance to clear the decks before diving into a new week that promises to be particularly busy.
Tomorrow, there’s the Van Gogh immersive experience. I’m looking forward to that. Just getting out and doing things is always good. Then on Tuesday I’m speaking via Zoom to an eldercare group. It’s nothing huge and dramatic but I am happy to do it. It makes me think of my Mom who lived in a care facility in her final years, and I know she was engaged and dynamic and eager to learn. So, if I can give the audience on Tuesday some food for thought as well as bring a few smiles — why not? And the facility is very kindly directing the small honorarium associated with the talk to Engage Nepal — so they deserve my best effort.
On Wednesday, it’s our daughter’s birthday. Our kids, of course, remain our kids no matter their age and birthdays deserve celebration. We hope to be able to do that with her and her family whether it’s on Wednesday or if they all come for dinner on the weekend. Family time, though, is always great.
I’m most excited, though, by the prospect of a laser procedure on my right eye on Thursday. I’m not sure that they will actually do the procedure on Thursday but I’m hopeful.
It may seem an odd thing be excited about, but my right eye has been increasingly non-functional for months. I hadn’t realized how bad it had become because my left eye worked hard to compensate, but I finally realized just how blurred and muddied my vision has become.
Fortunately, it should be an easy fix. Apparently, I have a wrinkled capsule… a common development, that can be sparked by cataract surgery (mine was almost a decade ago). The existing capsule, which sits behind the new lens that is inserted during cataract surgery, ends up wrinkling. This in turn distorts vision and keeps light from easily entering the eye. It sounds like an old man’s problem. Perhaps it is.
I had no idea that was going on and was reconciling myself to ongoing vision challenges. I thought my eyes were just getting old. So, I’m thrilled that there may be an answer that works. I’m tired of struggling to see the screen as I type or feeling as though my eyes are constantly at war with each other.
Apparently, the specialist I’ll see can use a laser to cut a hole in the capsule. That will allow light to flow in and resolve the distortion and blurriness. It’s amazing what modern medicine can do. Fingers crossed that it all works out.
Of course, although I say the week promises to be busy, “busy” is relative, isn’t it? It’s certainly not “busy” in the sense of being “busy” when I was ambassador. Then my days were filled with meetings, events, speeches, and more. Having a dozen events in a day, wasn’t unusual. It was just life.
So, having only a single scheduled event each day doesn’t compare. But, just because each hour isn’t scheduled, doesn’t mean my day’s aren’t full.
Today — at least — certainly will be robust… Gyptse Jane is eyeing me up, watching every move, anticipating that at some point I’m going to throw on a jacket and we’ll head off on our walk. But the blog won’t write itself, so I’ve got to get this done first. The presentation for Tuesday requires a bit of care and thought too, and there are donors to be thanked, funds to be raised for our efforts in Nepal, and plenty more. I want to practice piano, work on my Spanish lessons, and continue work on my latest cross-stitch project. Then there are all the projects — from family history to exploring other writing ideas — that are clamoring for attention if only there is the time.
In any event, in rereading what I’ve written, I see that I have a roadmap for action for today. it’s time to get to it.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 26, 2022
The house smells good this afternoon. I’ve been cooking and we’ve got Ethiopian food on the menu tonight. We picked up an order of shiro — not that mine isn’t good (because it is, lol) but because with it came the injera, which is nice to have with the meal. We also got an order of gomen (the cooked collard greens) because I didn’t have any greens that would work well on hand. I did make the atakilt wat though, and a dish called ye’difin misser alicha, which is lentils in a garlic-ginger sauce. I didn’t think the spicing was quite up to what we like, so I fiddled with it a bit. In any event, it’s all going to be tasty if the scents we’re enjoying are any indication.
Meanwhile, I’ve been on the phone for quite a bit trying to resolve a long-standing customer service issue. When you’re on the phone with a customer service representative for an extended period of time, it can often go downhill pretty quickly. This did not — both because the person I spoke with was knowledgeable and sincerely wanted to help and because I was determined to accept the world as it is and work with the problem rather than rail against it. The latter is sometimes more satisfying but, perhaps, less productive.
Less important than the problem (which I hope is on its way to resolution), was the chance to connect with a total stranger and be reminded of how much we all have in common. As we waited for various queries to be answered we chatted about our day, about writing, about children, mental health issues and more. I learned the young lady had a two year old, and immediately thought of our own, even-younger, grandson. We both had written books, we are both selling on Amazon, and we are both trying to tell stories that mattered — at least to us.
You don’t expect “connections” when you’re calling with customer service complaints, but they can happen serendipitously — like much in life. Perhaps she’ll buy our book. Maybe I’ll buy hers. And I’m still pondering the idea that her two year old likes the “texture” of words. That’s a concept I want to explore. But he’s right. There is texture to our words and the rhythms we create with them.
We talked about all sorts of things. We’ll likely never speak again. But, for a brief time this afternoon, we were connected as we shared ideas and perspectives. It was totally unexpected, but welcome. It doesn’t matter what her political views, her faith, her color, or her pronouns are. None of that had to be known. Sadly, too many of us let one of more of those things skew our perceptions of others before we have a chance to realize how much we actually share.
Anyway, I was afraid that having to make that call was going to bring me down after a peaceful afternoon in the kitchen. Instead, it gave me food for thought and a moment of connection that was kind of nice. Go figure.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy
February 25, 2022
The world can look pretty grim sometimes. The video today of a Russian tank deliberately running over and crushing a passenger car that was trying to get out of its way was… disgusting. Miraculously, the woman survived. She looked like she was aged. Pretty sad.
I was interested today to see the speculation about why the sanctions we’ve imposed aren’t even stronger. They suggested that there is worry about the costs to western economies, that not all the allies were on board, that they wanted to leave a way to step back from the brink. All are reasonable considerations and probably played a role.
There are SO many choices and considerations, it seemed to me it might also have been a matter of keeping some options in reserve and leaving room to escalate. And that’s what Biden did today as he began to extend the sanctions to Putin personally. Other Russian officials will also likely be targeted. The Brits banned Aeroflot from landing in the UK. The Russians in turn banned British Air from Russian air space.
This is going to go on for a bit.
Buckle up for the ride.
Meanwhile, here at home, we seem to be moving in fits and starts to a world where masks will be in our back pockets but not always on our faces. Slowly we’re going to be adjusting our lives to cope with a world where COVID is always with us but no longer a pandemic. And, although there have been those who have been trying to rush the new reality, there are others who will be much more cautious. The pandemic will leave a legacy of fear and anxiety that won’t be “unlearned” quickly.
Lots to think about. But you know what? I’m not going to do it tonight. It’s time for Jeopardy.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 24, 2022
War. I could stop there. What more can I really say that isn’t being said on every channel and in every newspaper and on every online news outlet? There are first hand accounts, footage of the unfolding invasion streaming across the world, and there’s the testimony of terrified civilians who never dreamt their Russian brothers would do this to them.
It’s all pretty overwhelming and it is not made any easier by the fact that the entire world (or at least most of it) saw it coming.
It’s not the first time we’ve see war in our lifetimes of course. Images of the war in Vietnam were part of my childhood. They are hard to forget. And there have been so many conflicts since then. War in the middle east, including the Gulf War and our invasion of Iraq. There were the wars in Afghanistan, bloody fighting in Africa, in Latin America, in Asia. We’ve seen genocide and hatred and naked power grabs on display. But we’ve seen nothing like this reckless and shameless aggression by one of the world’s nuclear-armed superpowers.
This must be what the world looked like to my parents, or my grandparents, as Hitler’s armies moved across borders invading their neighbors and bringing war to Europe and ultimately the world. They would have watched it happening, but these days we have a ring-side seat to the horrors of war in a way they never did.
We get a far more personal look at the fear and anxiety wracking a mother trying to be brave for her kids, or the father preparing to go to war to defend his homeland from an unprovoked invasion. And today the arsenals we are seeing deployed are even more powerful, more varied and more deadly than they were when the Nazi’s goose-stepped across Europe. It’s ugly and scary you can’t help but feel despair that the world has once again come to this.
Most of us are frightened for the poor people of Ukraine and outraged at Putin’s ruthless decision to strip their nation from them just because he can. We’re appalled that, in the world order he seeks, the size of our armies or the reach of our missiles is all that matters. It’s unsettling to say the least but, sadly, it is not without precedent. Mankind does not learn.
In the face of this, we ask what can we do? We aren’t prepared to confront Russia militarily on its doorstep and, although that may be heartbreaking for the people of Ukraine, the realities of the world and our politics and our own security concerns constrain us from entering the fray directly at this point. But, at the same time, we know that standing by, aloof and indifferent, is a danger too. History has shown us what happens when bullies are not made to face the consequences of their behavior. And if we don’t draw the line in the sand now, we will have to draw it later and the costs only get higher.
The risk of missteps and unintended escalation created by Putin’s aggression — and by our responses to it — are real and they’re frightening. I think that the sanctions and the unified response that we and our allies are structuring is the right thing to do — both morally and in terms of our own national interest. But, when you’re dealing with a ruthless autocrat seeking ever more power and driven by visions of restoring the “glory” of the empire that was the USSR, who knows how he’ll respond.
When the sanctions start to bite, when Russia’s economy starts to falter, what will Putin do? If the oligarchs start to waver as they too are targeted by sanctions, will Putin blink or strike back? If ordinary Russians refuse to be gulled by Putin’s lies and false narratives how will he seek to cow them? Just how bad can this become and on how many levels? It’s scary. But turning our backs isn’t an answer either. We can’t turn our backs on the commitments we have made globally to democracy and human rights. If we do, we are little better than Putin.
It’s easy to say that. But I don’t have to make the policy choices or fight this fight. And I recognize that there are no good or easy answers. There is no predicting what is to come.
Certainly I have no words of wisdom that can cut through the uncertainty and worry. But, just as chronicling a personal perspective of the pandemic experience mattered to me, so too does sharing that same personal perspective on this latest assault on our sensibilities. I think it is worth recording, whether for my grandkids or their children, or just because I have to sort out how I am feeling and this is my vehicle for doing so.
Telling our stories, matters. I believe that. But to tell them, we must first know what they are. What they mean to us. And, when I sit down to write, that’s what I seek to figure out — what these events that shape our lives, be they big or small, mean to me and those I love.
For almost two years as we have been buffeted by a devastating pandemic, suffered through frightening and hurtful divisions in our nation, and struggled with a world that seems to have lost its bearings. And I’ve worried that our sense of shared humanity and our commitment to decency and compassion and respect for human dignity are being diminished more every day by those who care only for themselves and for privilege and power.
I feel the need to preserve my own story for whatever it is worth. And so I write.
Take a moment, tonight, to breathe, and to find a few minutes of peace. I think we all could use that, and I certainly do.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay centered.
February 23, 2022
First, it’s Happy Birthday to Gus. Although we celebrated on the weekend in Texas, today is his actual birthday. We FaceTimed and his sweet little face lit up when he saw his Nana and Papa. He’s such a happy kid he likely would have smiled at anyone grinning and waving and clearly enamored of him — maybe. But I’m going to believe that it was about him recognizing and being excited to see us. Yep. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Second? Ukraine, I guess. I can’t believe that Trump, Tucker Carlson and others are spending more time applauding Putin, lauding him as a great strategist, or preparing the apologist argument for accepting the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They seem eager to support, or at least excuse, a brutal invasion by Russia of a neighbor. They seem to have forgotten who we are as nation and what we stand for. I guess it’s not a surprise given the way that Trump pandered to Putin throughout his Administration but still…. It’s just not right.
I am impressed with the scope and the speed of the administration’s action so far. And even more striking is the manner in which our allies have joined us in an orchestrated sanctions effort. That doesn’t just happen. It requires a coordinated effort and the hard work of diplomacy. And it requires leadership. And that is what the U.S. has provided for decades and seems to be doing fairly effectively once again, despite the ground we lost during the Trump years.
It’s going to get ugly and we should care about what this means for the world in which we live — and not just because gas prices are rising.
Third… I’ve got nothing. Certainly nothing as wonderful as little Gus’ birthday or as deeply troubling as the incipient invasion. I’ve just got another day on the journey. But it felt like a good day. I had occasion to think about how important simple acts of kindness and compassion can be in life. Our legacy can be found in such acts of kindness. Who we are endures far longer than what the things we did. It’s good to be reminded of that.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 22, 2022
There’s a lot I don’t want to write about tonight. I don’t want to spend time sputtering about my frustration with the increasingly complicated, multi-factor, special passcode, check your texts, verify your identity log-in process to do almost anything online. Once we thought doing so many of our daily tasks online would be a time-saver and make our lives easier. Increasingly, it feels like we’re going the wrong way on that front. Of maybe I’m just getting old and cranky.
Nor do I want to write about how customer service on the phone only seems to get worse. The hold times are longer than ever and, if someone DOES deign to answer, they never seem to have a clue as to what they’re talking about. And the automated systems that the companies want to steer us to are, in so many cases, unable to do the tings they are intended to. But, ranting about the things that make me crazy, and there are many, will only get me spun up. Nope. Not going there either.
The thing is, there’s so much these days that tests our patience, that frustrates us and often angers us. The political toxicity is part of it too, of course. The legacy of the Trump administration — he WAS a toxic and angry leader and still is full of grievance and anger. So are so many of the Trump clones. It has changed us.
Last night, I saw an add for a show called Neighborhood Wars. It seemed to be a celebration of violence. Warfare targeting irritating, even obnoxious neighbors. The line between staged political drama and staged “entertainment” is ever more blurred and none of it is pretty.
I am doing my best not let all this shape my mood.
Gyptse Jane tried to keep me engaged in the moment. She thought I wasn’t sufficiently in that moment with her so she paid a little visit to my office. The evidence of her efforts to bring my attention to the moment can be found below. It could have thrown me off my stride, but no… I had another dog’s example to keep me on track.
For me, my walk with Lo Khyi this morning was an hour of peace. We strolled. We stopped. He sniffed and I waited. We took our time and let the day wash over us. He’s incredibly calm. Very zen-like. There’s a lot I can learn from him. A lot I have learned. Of course, he’s got an advantage over me, having come from the birthplace of Buddha, and imbued with the sense of spiritual and mystical that was pervasive in the remote Himalayan valleys in which he was born. It’s just part of him. I kid you not.
For example one of our favorite places in Kathmandu (and on the planet) is Boudhanath Stupa. It’s a venerated shrine and a place of power and of peace. You feel it on every level, but particularly as you watch all the pilgrims who have journeyed there, circumambulating the stupa. Aways moving clockwise around this blessed place. Lo Khyi, who like many of the pilgrims is of Tibetan stock, has all of that built into his DNA.
You may think I’m kidding, but I’m not. He’s not only a spiritual being at peace with himself, but every night, when it’s time to go to bed, he’ll get up, and instead of turning and walking a few feet to his left to mount the stairs he has to — has to — walk instead all the way around the stairwell, the long way around (in a clockwise direction) before ascending the steps. Sometimes he’ll do two loops before making the climb. But it’s always clockwise. All he needs are mala beads around his neck.
He’s a dog worth emulating.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 21, 2022
Well, we’re back home in Virginia, a bit earlier than planned, but it’s good to be home. The good news is that Gracie is likely going to be fine. It does very much appear to be the vestibular syndrome, akin to vertigo in people, it seems, that has her a bit off balance. The nausea seems to have subsided, her anti-seizure meds — that she has been on for about 18 months — still seem to be doing the job and, with a bit of time, she should recover fine.
It’s nice, though, to get back to routines, that have brought a rhythm to my days. I appreciate that. I love travel. I enjoy the new and the unexpected. But, when not traveling, it’s nice to make my days rich and meaningful. The dog walks, or stretching, or meditation, or finding time for music.
And to sit and write, with Gracie snuggled up against me, just seems right.
It’s good to be home. The day is beautiful. It felt like spring. I know that winter isn’t over but I’m going to enjoy this while it lasts. If nothing else, winter will make itself known when we head to Iceland in just a bit less than four weeks. Can’t wait for that.
Not too much else to offer tonight. No pictures of an adorable one year old. No Donut Taco Palaces. Just the comfort of being at home, with a quiet evening ahead to enjoy.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy
February 20. 2022
Flexibility in life is truly important and a life in the Foreign Service certainly prepared us to shift gears at the drop of a hat.
Early this morning — about 6:30 — the phone rang. It turns out that one of our pups, little Gracie, is having problems. Until today, she hadn’t had a seizure in about 18 months or so (after having a scary few rounds of them after dental work). Today, though, she had what appeared to be one. We’re not sure why. She’ll be turning 14 in just a few days and we know that she won’t be with us forever, but she’s one of our pack and part of our lives.
So, by 8:30 AM, we were packed, the flight home was changed, the hotel reservations canceled and we were reoriented. All good.
We had planned to spend Monday and Tuesday exploring a bit and were looking forward to a night in San Antonio. Instead we’ll be comforting little Ms. Gracie tonight and likely heading to the vet tomorrow. We want to be there for her even if I’m not sure that there is a lot we can do. Fingers crossed.
Our flight, though, isn’t until late this afternoon which at least gives us time to see Gus before we leave. That’s a plus, for sure. There was giggling with him and following him around the house (he didn’t know his Papa could crawl as well as he can) and there were songs and cuddles and he fell asleep in his Papa’s arms again as I sang to him. Couldn’t ask for more.
And, in between, we’ve talked to multiple emergency vets, enlisted our daughter and son-in-law’s help, and have an immediate plan to get the initial assessment and hopefully treatment. Fingers crossed. As we sit at the airport the vet who is observing her thinks it may be idiopathic vestibular syndrome — fairly common in older dogs and readily recovered from — and the initial attack often mimics seizure. Still, it’s time to head home. Our pup needs us.
The plane is at the gate and Virginia here we come.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 19, 2022
The sun is starting to set on what proved to be a very successful “Gus’ Birthday” Saturday. Although his actual birthday isn’t until Weds this was a perfect day to celebrate. All the grandparents could gather along with other family and a very few other close, and vaccinated, friends. It was a lively day and Gus was a trooper throughout.
He should have had a meltdown or collapsed after all the stimulation, but he kept on going and smiling. So interested in everything and he has learned that when he claps his hands in delight we’ll all join in with cheers of raucous acclaim for the little guy.
We are so grateful to have had the chance to be here. We’re lucky. Very much so. As we watched our youngest family member open his gifts, I couldn’t help but reflect just how lucky. I know that there are far too many families who are struggling and for whom celebrations like this are just something other people do. And as I listened to the latest reports from Ukraine I wondered how many little ones who are approaching their first year will see their second. How many families’ lives will be forever altered by a Russian invasion.
Let’s hope that this won’t happen. I fear it will.
Our son Tony and I chatted a bit about this as we went to pick up Gus’ incredibly cute tiger birthday cake. We know enough to be grateful for the lives we have and, although we won’t stop recognizing the unfairness and challenges of the world we all share, we need to be able to also appreciate moments like today. And we did.
It was a lovely day. And now, as the day winds down, as I relax and relive the day, I’m savoring a really delightful latte from a new coffee roaster that we found. And tomorrow, we’ll spend much of the day, I’m sure, with a rested and rejuvenated Gus. And THAT is something to which we can look forward.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 18, 2022
There’s always something special about travel. There really is. You never know what is going to capture your imagination or be a highlight of your day. Tonight I’m intrigued by the Donut Taco Palace I. What, you might ask, is a Donut Taco Palace and just how many of them are there? Is there a DTP II? DTP III, or IV, or even V? I don’t have a clue. But it’s fun to ponder.
Does it sell both donuts and tacos? Does it offer glazed tacos with sprinkles? Or carne asada raised donuts? Or is it truly a Palace made of various culinary treats? It could, of course, merely be a shop that has chosen to sell — together — donuts and tacos. I’ve heard of worse combinations. I don’t really know. I just know that seeing a sign like that on a nondescript building that offers me no other clues gives my mind permission to wander down whatever path it chooses.
So, tonight, the Donut Taco Palace I is the subject of my musing. I could just stop and go inside but that would remove the mystery. It’s more fun, sometimes, not to know.
What is NOT a mystery is the current status of young Master Agostino Owen DeLisi. THAT little sweetheart is just about perfect. Although he was just diagnosed with an ear infection last night, you’d never know it except for a bit of redness around the eyes and a drippy nose. Even those look cute on him.
He is the sort of kid that has a smile for everyone, but I can’t help but feel that he has a special smile for his Papa. And his Nana. And his Texas grandparents as well. He seems to know that’s all he needs to do to twist us around his little finger.
But, of course, we are more than willing to be his attentive and adoring audience. It matters so much, even at this early age, that children feel the unconditional love of their parents, and grandparents and aunts and uncles. If we’re lucky — if we’re blessed with loving families (and I know that, sadly, not everyone is) those families ground us and sustain us. They give us confidence and courage and belief in ourselves.
That is what I hope Gus has learned intuitively in his first year of life.
Tomorrow we’ll gather to celebrate his first birthday and I’m thrilled we can be there to be part of the day. And maybe… just maybe… someday, on another visit when Gus is just a bit older, we’ll go together to visit the Donut Taco Palace (I, II, or whatever). I’m sure, as a native-born Texan, a glazed donut stuffed inside a taco will be right up his alley.
For tomorrow, though, we’ll be happy to share pizza (for the adults), cake (which I’m sure Gus will relish mightily) and the joy of family. And THAT will be more than enough.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 17, 2022
These moments when we’re suspended between the earth below and the heavens above should be a marvel. How DOES this work? I can read all the explanations about the physics of flight and they make perfectly good sense, but still, there’s something about this that, when you think of it, borders on the magical. But many of us take it for granted. We shouldn’t though. It still amazes me every time we take off.
Some day, of course, this experience will be ancient history. An incredibly low-tech version of whatever marvel will come after to move us through space and — who knows — perhaps time. What waits for us to discover along the time space continuum? Hmmm. Makes me wonder. I’m not given to flights of fancy (pun intended), but as we look at what mankind has done so far you can’t help but think that if we can dream it we can, some day, create it.
So yes, some day our current form of air travel will seem as quaint and limited as the phones of our youth seems to us today. I mean, for heaven’s sake. They just sat there. They couldn’t move with us. They were bulky and wired it. Their component parts unscrewed. (What kid didn’t pull the speaker out of the mouthpiece more than once just trying to figure it all out?) They couldn’t entertain us or educate us. All you could do was… talk.
OK, they did have a number you could dial to check the time of day. And they had real operators you could talk to who helped you call “long distance.” Who of my generation doesn’t recall being told to be quick when talking to grandma — it was “long distance,” after all, and those calls were expensive and added separate charges on your bill.
Today, of course, it seems silly to even call our phones “phones.” Now we walk around with highly sophisticated computers in our pockets and don’t think twice about the fact that the “phone” we just dropped is more sophisticated and more powerful than some of the computers that first put man into space. To our grandkids it’s normal. For me? I’m still convinced there’s at least a bit of magic mixed into the science.
But the phones and the apple watches and all the devices wouldn’t matter half as much, though, if they weren’t connected to the Internet. The worldwide web. That’s the true marvel of my lifetime perhaps. It continues to transform the world. Every day we’re using it to power our lives.
When I was a teen and I went out at night, my parents had no way to reach me. No cellphones or texts or gps tracking. They had no clue. Today, we’re always connected most anywhere. Today I can reach out to my kids or grandkids with nary a delay, but I can as readily chat with a friend halfway around the world in Nepal or Uganda.
The way we learn, engage, communicate, research, have all changed. We’ve had to learn how to deal with information overload — how to filter it, prioritize it, and assess it. We do business on the internet. We become self-published authors and commentators. We get our entertainment and our news on the internet. We take music lessons online. We have self-help and DIY videos galore. Mack the plumber guided me through the drain replacement I did the other day. My god, how the world has changed in just a few decades.
I don’t think any of us can really assess what it means. We’re still living through it. But it is clear that everything is changing. The way we are perceiving and engaging the world is changing constantly and that, in turn, will continue to change us in fundamental ways.
As with so much in life, we’ll have to decide whether the good associated with these changes outweighs the bad. It’s hard to know. But there’s no going back so we’ve got to go forward. We can try to course correct for the excesses and abuses while enhancing the ways our lives are enriched and made safer, better, and healthier. But we have no choice but to continue riding these waves that always seem to be accelerating. I hope we can keep our balance.
Today, though, not only am I hurtling through the sky at some incredibly ridiculous speed but, for about 150 minutes or so, I’m somewhat disconnected. The internet is working sporadically on the flight. I’ve got this, though. I grew up in a disconnected world. I don’t need YouTube to entertain myself. A book will do just fine. And I don’t need the web to give me minute by minute updates, I don’t need a constant stream of tweets to keep me updated and I can even manage being disconnected from my messages and email for a bit.
They’ll be there when I land. And I’ll be glad to be reconnected. I admit it. I like the connections, I like the engagement, I even like the cacophony and discordance it brings at times. It’s a bit like being in the swirl of life as people stream through Times Square or in a busting market in Hong Kong. But… for these few moments… there’s peace in being disconnected.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay connected.
February 16, 2022
I’m puzzled. It seems that no matter how I approach the day before a trip, there is never enough time and always too much to do. I’m not sure why that is true, but it seems to be a reality that is immutable as bugs at a picnic.
I want to be “ready” and that means — to me — being organized on the home front. And there are plants that need to be watered and talked to before leaving them behind. And I would have been consumed with guilt if I hadn’t walked Lo Khyi and Gyptse (Leija walked the two little pups, so all had an outing). I tried to finish the taxes (the gods keep trying to thwart me), complete prep for the Iceland trip, and take care of a few loose ends at my State Department gig. The tasks that lie ahead for me on the Engage Nepal front come next.
But, as I try to tick items off the to do list, the phone calls keep coming, the texts keep appearing, and somehow new tasks get added to the bottom of the list even as I complete a few at the top. It’s a constant challenge.
Days like this always seem a bit frantic, but we always get through them. And, no matter whether 10% of the tasks are resolved or 99%, the clock moves inexorably toward the time we have to leave for the airport. And I know that come hell or high water, and no matter the status of that task list, we WILL leave. Those things that were left undone will wait until we return and as the plane doors close, they’ll recede to the back of my conscious mind. A change of scene awaits. Our son and daughter in-law await. Baby Gus awaits.
Those tasks really CAN wait. Except the packing. THAT task maybe does need to stay front of mind yet tonight.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 15, 2022
The threat of war in Ukraine seems undiminished tonight. It’s a troubling prospect to say the least. I’d like to be able to tell our grandkids that the ugliness of warfare was a thing of the past but, of course, it isn’t.
Russia sees the expansion of NATO as a threat. It is, in a way. The more the nations that border Russia feel confident of their future and their security the less Russia can bully them or dictate the nature of their relationship. That is not good news for Russia, it’s true. But it doesn’t justify invading a neighbor and bending the government to your will or, perhaps more simply, installing your own puppet leaders.
Sadly, however, if you’re Putin, winning through intimidation seems like a reasonable proposition. Russia’s investment in an upgraded military wasn’t just for fun. after all. He has tremendous military capacity and seems unafraid to use it. He’s ready to bully, intimidate and — if he needs to — invade Ukraine to establish Russia’s dominance.
It’s a dangerous situation. Putin seems determined to test the resolve of the United States and our allies. And if it leads to war, he seems more than willing to accept that. He seems untroubled by the thought of all those who could die. He’s a bully and a thug and if the world stands by and does nothing as he threatens Ukraine he’ll only be determined to do more.
Biden has been pretty unequivocal about the costs we’ll seek to impose. And I’ve been struck by our unrelenting media campaign that has included an almost unprecedented willingness to share intelligence. He hasn’t allowed Russia to control the narrative and, on this front at least, it would seem like maybe we’re throwing the Russians off their game. Diplomacy is not dead and if the costs look high enough, and our resolve unrelenting, Putin may yet back down. (Though, of course, he’ll claim it was never their intent to invade anyway.)
Unless the world has changed dramatically from the days when I served, our diplomats around the world are seeking meetings with their counterparts in the nation’s where they are assigned and trying to build support for our efforts to counter Russia. It’s a serious business.
If Russia does opt to invade, I wonder if we’ll get a look at some new elements of warfare. Will we see videos of carefully scripted and produced “incidents” flood the internet and then be used by Russia as “justification” for a military response to provocation? Will we see cyber warfare (which Russia has honed in attacks on many nations, including our own) devastate Ukraine’s economy, its infrastructure, and it’s ability to function? War is changing as new technologies come into play.
We’re probably even more accomplished than ever in finding new ways to kill, to destroy, and to dominate. Not sure that’s a hell of a lot to be proud of. And there probably couldn’t be worse news for the people of Ukraine.
Fingers crossed for diplomacy.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 14, 2022
Today my Dad would have turned 99 years of age. We lost him, though, 21 years ago. He was 78. Ten years older than I am today. That particular fact doesn’t rattle me. I intend to live to 100 (smile) so I’m not worried. I do miss him, though. And, as I think of how much I love our kids, and how much I cherish watching our grandkids grow, I don’t want to miss a moment that I can share with them. I wager my Dad felt the same.
I think of how much I’d love him to see the wonderful adults our children have become. I’d love him to know our grandkids and it feels just a touch more poignant to me tonight as our youngest grandchild, little Agostino DeLisi is only nine days away from his first birthday. I wish Gus and Sofie, Leo, and Luca all could have known my Dad. They would have loved him. Kids just gravitated to him. Felt so comfortable with him.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I’ll put a link to an old blog posting about my dad below for those who knew him.
Meanwhile, as I said, I do intend to live to 100, but we all know that there’s much we can’t control in life. Today, I was reminded of that. Over the past months, my right eye has seemed to get progressively worse. I have some challenges with my eyes, and have had partial corneal transplants in both. But this was bad. The blurring of my vision is no longer sporadic. It’s constant. Nothing helped and the doctor today was not seeing an immediately apparent answer.
As I sat, waiting for the drops to dilate my eyes, I did more research and of course it was hard to ignore the possibility, discussed on some medical sites, that the blurriness could be caused by a brain tumor putting pressure on the optic nerve.
Like I said, there are some things that we can’t control and knowing that I have lost two siblings to brain cancer, it was a concern that had a grounding in a heartbreaking family history. That is NOT the cause, (and I really didn’t think it would be), but it makes you think, and it reminds me that we need to be grateful for each day and each moment we have with those we love.
Meanwhile, it turns out that the cause of my blurring vision is a “wrinkled capsule” behind the eye lens — a condition that often results from cataract surgeries. My surgery was nine years ago and this problem has been slowly developing since then. However, a careful laser procedure, that I hope to have next month, should essentially cut away a section of the increasingly opaque capsule and take care of it.
So, I’ll find joy tonight in memories of my Dad.
But it’s also the day we have designated as Lo Khyi’s birthday as well. We know it has to be close and what better day to choose for Lo Khyi to celebrate. After all, when he was a pup his eyes were a brilliant, penetrating blue — like my Dad’s — and the instant connection with that pup leaves me wondering if my Dad might not have had something to do with this from another plane. It’s fun to consider at least.
So, Happy Birthday, Lo Khyi, too. And to Gus… half blind or not, Papa is getting on a plane soon and we’ll celebrate your first birthday together in style.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 13, 2022
I’m prepping this morning for an interview about our work at Engage Nepal. Whenever I do something like this I hope that somehow I’ll find just the right words to inspire others to join us in helping people in need. I hope that perhaps a successful business leader will pledge to become an annual supporter or that we’ll get a surge of folks who want to become monthly contributors with small but meaningful donations. But, inevitably, it seems I’m disappointed.
Still, I try. I may not succeed but at least I try. Over the past five years we’ve managed to provide a half million dollars in assistance, so we’ve had some success, but there’s always more to do and last year our coffers were drained as we, along with so many wonderful partners on the ground in Nepal struggled to save lives in the face of the pandemic. This has been more than a health crisis. The social and economic impact of the pandemic has been devastating and children, in particular, are vulnerable and at risk.
So we do what we can, and as I prepare for the interview I’ll let hope kindle once again. Maybe this time I’ll find the right words that will inspire others to join us. Maybe.
I did another interview last night. That one was for the Amelia Indie Authors Virtual Book Festival. I’ll post more details during the week. The online festival with be this coming Saturday, the 19th. It should be fun and I’m thrilled that they have accepted “The Ambassador’s Dog” as one of the books in the festival lineup.
The interviewer treated me as an author. I still struggle at times to convince myself that my small offering of “The Ambassador’s Dog” qualifies me as an author. But I guess it does. I’m on Amazon’s Author Central pages, so it must be true, right?
I have long said that diplomats have to be storytellers. We tell the story of our nation, of our values, and weave into the narrative the vision of the world we hope to create. I guess it’s not that much different from what I do at Engage Nepal.
Storytelling is powerful and it matters. And I realized, when the book festival interviewer asked me if there were more books to come, that I hoped maybe there would be.
I don’t know what I would choose to write about, but I know that I’d like to do so. And yes, Leija and Jane Lillian Vance, I know you’ll tell me that there’s more of Lo Khyi’s story to be told and you’re probably right — but there are other stories too.
The thing is, we all have our stories. Stories drawn from life, stories that live quietly in our dreams and our hearts, and stories that at times are ferocious in their demands to be told and shared. It just comes down to the question of whether we will share them and how.
Our world, of course, is a different one today from the ones in which an elder might sit before the fire at night and tell stories that preserved and gave life to the traditions and the ethos of the tribe or community. But, although the way we share our stories may have changed, their importance has not.
Even if no one ever reads a word that I write, I find that sitting daily to tell a bit of my story, no matter how mundane, has become an incredibly important part of my life.
To reflect on our lives and to find the time each day to chronicle the journey reveals a bit more of myself to me. And if sharing memories and moments, and frustrations and aspirations, starts conversations or sparks reflection for others, that is good too.
So, I’ll go and get ready for my interview. I’ll think of the story that I will tell today and, whether it will lead to donations and support or not, I’ll be richer for sharing it. That’s the beauty of storytelling — as long as it’s a story you love, a story you care about, telling it — sharing it — matters far more than how it is received.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 12, 2022
Tragedy can strike unexpectedly, and even if it’s not your own pain or loss or fear, you feel it nonetheless.
Last night, at about 1:30 I was awakened by what, in my sleep-fuzzed mind seemed to be the sound of two… explosions? Had the windows shaken? I wasn’t sure. More noises followed. Gunshots? Fireworks? A distinctive popping sound for sure. Then more, muffled, explosions. Longer than the popping sounds, more resonant, but not as loud perhaps as what woke me. Lo Khyi, always sensitive to thunder and fireworks stirred and tried to resettle, whimpering softly. Then I heard what I thought were voices and then sirens.
Something wasn’t right, obviously.
Peering out of bedroom windows yielded a lot of smoke, but no real answers. Downstairs, though, the windows had come alive with the glow from the red lights on the firetruck outside in the street. Then came another, and another. The firefighters streamed down to the end of the cul-de-sac. We went to the back of the house and the eerie glow was disconcerting. Getting into the yard, though, we saw a truly frightening sight. On street behind us, where the backyards of the houses abutted ours and those of our other neighbors, flames and smoke filled the night sky.
Bright lights lit the scene — I assume brought by the firefighters. Their sharp, bright, light created striking contrasts to the orange tongues of flame licking at the night sky. The firetrucks’ light bars added shades of red to the row of arbor vitae lining the fence that separated our home from one of our neighbors. It was surreal.
We don’t know the folks whose home was destroyed. We don’t know if they are safe. Did they have kids? Did they have pets? I don’t know. We’ll want to learn more details. But it’s not our personal tragedy. We are only on the fringes of what, for one family here in Haymarket, was a devastating night.
In a different time in our nation’s life, it might have been more likely I would have known the family. When I grew up, neighborhoods were communities in the true sense of the word. People knew each other, supported each other, and built friendships. You had your local drugstore and grocer and dry cleaner and butcher and more. Life centered around your neighborhood and in the people in it. That’s just not as true in today’s world.
But, though we may not know the family whose home was destroyed, we can still feel empathy and ask ourselves how we can help. Even if no one was injured, and we’re hoping that’s true, what a crushing loss. My folks lost almost all their things in a condo fire years ago. I remember how challenging it was for them. It will almost certainly be true for our neighbors too.
We watched the tragedy unfold up close and personal and felt the fingers of fear brush our own hearts. Might it spread? Is there a gas line that could blow? What IS going on? All those questions went through our heads as we watched the flames relentlessly destroy the home of our unknown neighbor. Was it the home of the woman with the dog and with whom I had chatted while walking my own pups? Or the family with the two kids who I had seen playing in a front yard?
You realize it could have been your home, your tragedy.
Many of us have experienced tragedy, and when we see something like this unfold we’re reminded of our own times of loss. Ultimately we find our way forward. And, although we are forever changed, both life, and we, go on.
I hope that will be true for our neighbor as well. And, perhaps, there will be some opportunities to help and to let them know that, even if we are strangers we are also part of a community that cares. At least on this very local level, our shared humanity is far more important than who you voted for, which tribe you belong to, your faith or your color.
It was a night of drama and for reflection. In the blink of an eye, your life is changed. You are redefined. Last night as we watched the firefighters fight to bring the flames under control, I was devastated for our neighbor, but grateful it wasn’t us.
A return to sleep was a while coming.
So, today’s blog entry (which I think is my 700th? 701?) is brought to you by “Gratitude.”
I can’t think of a better sponsor. There’s always much in our lives to be grateful for and remembering that, as often as we can, is good for the soul.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 10, 2022
There are days where it would be nice to find a wonderfully peaceful tropical island, hunker down, and wait for the craziness to end. Wild and raucous debates over masks. Should we quit using them? Can we quit using them? Where do the raging debates about personal freedom vs. social good and public health end? I’ve got no idea.
What do we do with the insanity on the Ambassador Bridge? Inflation at a 40 year high. Supply chain issues. They say we’re spending $275 more per month. Groceries are up. Gas is up. Utilities are up. It’s hard.
There’s a lot of things that are driving this, but the cacophony is deafening.
Then there’s California, where record high temps in California are fueling yet another dangerous wildfire. One exhausted firefighter lamented that we no longer talk about the fire season. Now it’s the fire year.
If we look beyond our borders we can worry about war in Ukraine or about Iran’s expanding uranium stockpile that will shortly be sufficient to build nuclear weapons. And don’t forget Korea with its new missile tests.
Oh yeah. There’s the story that the documents taken from the White House by Trump contained classified material. So, will all the Republicans who bordered on apoplexy over Hillary Clinton’s email chant “lock him up” about Trump? Of course, Trump, being Trump, has to top Hillary no matter what. Apparently, there are reports of the White House toilets that were discovered clogged with papers — classified government documents that Trump decided he didn’t like so what do you do? Tear them up and toss them into the toilet, apparently.
We already know from the National Archives and countless other reports that Trump routinely tore up documents. It’s not a huge leap to imagine him tossing them into a toilet to make sure folks don’t see things Trump didn’t like. So, of course, when we hear that the White House records and logs from January 6 that were sent to the House committee have gaps, well… I don’t know about you, but I hear toilets flushing.
How do we manage to keep responsibly informed about what is going on in the world and not let it send us fleeing from that same world? And that’s why I want a tropical island as my ace in the hole — or a mental health equivalent of one!
Onward we go.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 9, 2022
There is something so joyful in watching our pack start their day. Little Gracie, even at 14, is vocalizing and bouncing and prancing as we come down the stairs. Gyptse takes up position at the sunroom windows studying the yard to assess any possible targets of opportunity (squirrel, rabbit, or even birds) that she can roust, and Lo Khyi takes position at the door alongside Max both eager to be on their way.
When I throw the door open, they collectively rush out onto the deck and then down the stairs and into the yard. They’re excited to greet the day. Almost every day. (Extremely rainy days may dampen their enthusiasm a tad.) It lifts my heart to share that moment with them.
It feels so good, I’m carefully avoiding news this morning. It’s still not 9 AM and I really don’t want to find reason to be less hopeful about the day. Because I can’t help but feel that there is promise in a day like this. An unexpected surprise might await. A chance meeting, like encountering a pup on a trail. Who knows what lies ahead. But there is promise of something. I feel it.
Maybe it’s just the promise of renewed growth and the energy of spring which, although it is still a ways off, is being hinted at by today’s weather. Indoors, my plants seem to have already gotten the message. I’ve got a lady slipper in bloom and the jewel orchid blossoms are still strong. Each plant in my little sunroom jungle is looking healthy and content. That’s true in my office, as well, where one of my more unusual violets is in bloom, offering a splash of purple that catches my eye each time I glance around.
Meanwhile, outside, the bird feeders are repositioned and full, the result of some yard work yesterday, and my feathered friends are enjoying the fruits of my labor and offering aerial dances by way of a thank you. The sky is a brilliant blue and, although temps are still below freezing, you can tell that it’s temporary. It is warming every minute and before the day is out we’ll hit the mid-50s. You can’t complain about a day like this. You just can’t.
It lifts my spirits and, despite the craziness in the world, it’s the kind of day where I am determined to look beyond the nonsense and just live my best life.
When I opened my phone this morning I was reminded again of just how good that “best life” can be. It showed my “memory” photos (which I’ll share below). It had chosen shots from three years ago, as we explored Milford Sound on New Zealand’s South Island. Sailing into waterfalls as we explored the Sound on a rainy, misty day was an incredible experience. And being reminded of that trip gave me even a bigger lift to know that, in a tad more than a month, we’ll be off to Iceland for new adventures. It does the heart good.
Even the scale wanted to cooperate today. It was down further and, with each pound I drop, I know my spine and my knees and my hips are ever so grateful. Almost 30 pounds and I’ve done it in a measured and careful way. Rather than feeling deprived, I’ve felt empowered. And now I’m beginning design consultations for the tattoo that will be a gift to myself to celebrate what I consider to be an achievement worth marking.
Committing myself to a healthier life, that will let me enjoy all that still lies ahead, has been important to me. And seeing the tangible results on the scale, and in terms of blood pressure (which consistently runs well under top end goal of 120/80), is equally rewarding. The bonus in terms of energy and overall well-being is good too.
Anyway, days like today just make me want to move. So I will. Dog walk ahead.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 8, 2022
I’m beginning to feel as though I should be calling these entries the “YoYo Chronicles.”
It’s up and down, day in and day out. Should we feel hope or despair? Is the pandemic over or lulling us before it strikes again? Are we the nation we think we are when, during black history month, historically black colleges and universities get bomb threats instead of accolades?
You get the drift. I find myself thinking of the parable about cooking the frog. If you turn up the heat gradually, the frog won’t know it is being cooked, before it’s too late. We, I worry some days, are the frog.
On a day to day basis, it seems there is always SOMETHING that is troubling. But, when we string all those days together, we’ve got a cumulative mess of bad stuff that sadly, we’ve become so accustomed to that we may not know our goose (or frog) is even being cooked.
Political discourse is ugly. The worst I’ve ever seen. The consequences of climate change are devastating already and they’re going to get worse. We have a pandemic that has now killed almost 6 million people globally and infected almost 400 million. We are watching, in real time, as Russia masses troops on Ukraine’s border. Even if it is intended as a display of force to cow the Ukraine into accepting Russian domination if not control, is a hugely dangerous a game and it has the potential to morph from danger to disaster and death.
Our world is changing, physically, politically, and in terms of the values and priorities societies and nations espouse.
Fear and anxiety drive our disputes — whether over masks or guns or immigration or much more.
The list goes on. The concerns I’ve touched on are illustrative, not exhaustive. It’s not a perfect picture, by any stretch of the imagination. I worry that my generation may have been blessed to live in a world that was better than the world my kids and grandkids will know.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Technology can change much. A new generation can change much. WE can change much — if we care enough to do ii AND if the water, that is growing warmer each day, doesn’t lull us into apathy.
And, if you don’t want to believe we’re seeing the unprecedented happen on every level. Permit me to offer evidence.
Today Mitch McConnell actually called out the Republican National Committee. He unequivocally declared that the January 6 attack “was a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election from one administration to the next. That’s what it was.”AND he faulted the RNC for censuring Cheney and Kinzinger who, in his view, were entitled to act on their beliefs and not just conform to the RNC’s litmus test of Republicanism
There’s a lot going on behind the scenes of course. It’s about a struggle for the soul of the Republican Party and about the party’s strategies for this year’s congressional elections. It could get ugly. BUT with so few Republicans leaders willing to speak the truth for McConneli to defy Trump, and the RNC (where Trump wields huge influence), was impressive. I have to give him credit. And THAT by itself, might tell you that the world is indeed a bewildering place. And maybe it is a reminder that there is hope to be found in surprising places. I’ll keep looking for more.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 7, 2022
We’ve been watching “Alone.” It is totally insane and inspiring at the same time. It’s from the History Channel which seems a bit odd since it’s a program about man against nature. Though in many ways, it may be more about man and woman against themselves.
It’s an interesting premise. Ten individuals are dropped, entirely on their own, into some of the most daunting wilderness settings. They are allowed only limited items and no food. The one who lasts the longest wins $500,000. The money is a motivator, but in each season we’ve watched so far, it fades in importance.
It is fascinating to watch folks grapple with being totally alone, facing huge challenges, and struggling to survive day after day. Folks have lasted as long as 87 days in the seasons we’ve watched. Over the course of their battle it is fascinating to watch the soul searching, reflection and growth that these folks experience. Since they are alone, they have to film themselves to document what they’re going through. Their engagement with the camera is fascinating to see as well.
Of course, it IS crazy. If nothing else, they are living cheek by jowl with black bear and cougar or puma and wild boar. As fall gives way to winter, protein sources become scarcer, the weather becomes more devastating, and the contestants increasingly gaunt. They’re monitored periodically by medical teams and they have the ability to “tap out” and be rescued at any point.
Some last only a day. Others, as noted, stay there, alone, except for the predators and other wildlife, for more than two months. Just watching them and their choices is fascinating, but I am wowed at times by the skills they bring. Some of the shelters are incredible. The ingenious tools, the fish traps, the boats they build, and so much more.
Watching these folks, using the most limited range of materials, reshape their environments is so interesting. I admire their skills, their grit, and the strength of character that seems to define those candidates who last beyond the first weeks. And watching the women and seeing how differently they approach the experience than the men is also thought provoking.
They settle into their new lives, following routines of survival. Find wood, boil water, find food, prepare food, tend the fire, create their camp. It’s a lot of work. But it seems to free the mind for reflection. As they talk to the camera, over time, their persona seems to change. In their first few interactions they seem to be conscious that a TV audience will view them. But as time goes by they seem more and more to be talking to themselves. It is honest and heartfelt. And, as the participants learn more about themselves, and their priorities, they change.
There’s a whole lot going on in “Alone.” Adventure, drama, fear and adrenaline rushes on the one hand and deep reflection on the other. This truly is one of those experiences where it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.
Now I know that some would scoff at that statement and might characterize it as some sort of “new age” nonsense. Even some of the participants on “Alone” might scoff. Some of them are macho survivalists with no time for this sort of introspective musing. But, as the weeks go by, even they are dramatically changed by the experience.
I guess that’s part of the show’s appeal to me. It’s fascinating to watch folks manage change in their environment and in themselves — perhaps because that is what so many of us are doing in our own ways every day. My destinations continue to change as the journey continues. And I’m not in a hurry to reach them.
Like “Alone” it is all about the journey.
And, like “Alone,” the journey is addictive — and I’m hooked.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 6, 2022
There are days when I feel totally disappointed at my inability to find that hidden hole in the time-space continuum, that wrinkle in time, or some sort of Dr. Who-like device that would allow me to add time to the day. I’m not greedy. I’m not asking for a dozen hours. Three or four would do nicely, however.
I always am challenged by these days where the hours allotted quite simply are not enough to complete the tasks that I started the day determined to master. But… the world doesn’t end. I realign my expectations for tomorrow and, assuredly, life goes on. And while I may be frustrated at jobs unfinished when the day ends, I know that it’s not because I wasted time. To the contrary. The day felt full, productive, and I stayed busy and engaged throughout. That’s not a bad thing.
Maybe it’s better that I am not a Time Lord of some sort. Far better to master our expectations, be grateful for what we can achieve and make the minutes we DO have in the day meaningful. It’s no fun to end the day saying I should have done more when I can be pleased with what I have done.
In any event, one of the things that was “done” was cleaning the kitchen after efforts there today. (And, if you’re wondering, it was a really tasty dirty rice and fun vegan “egg” salad that makes for a protein-loaded treat in a sandwich or on toast.) As I was washing the dishes, the song “Cockeyed Optimist” from “South Pacific” was in my head. We had watched it weeks ago on a whim. It had been years since I’d seen it. It’s no “Sound of Music” but I guess it captured those moments as the war in the Pacific slogged on with the outcome still very much in doubt.
What did my parents think of their world, I wonder? A world at war. A world in which, even if they didn’t know the full range of atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis, the grating ugliness of the Reich’s world view was on full display. And the Japanese had, in a single blow, shattered our vision of fortress America, protected by the broad oceans, and able to remain aloof from the rest of the world if we chose to. And then, as the reality of the death camps became known, as the brutality of war, including our choice to use an atomic bomb on the Japanese homeland, had to be confronted, how did they not despair?
The song says:
I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we’re done and we might as well be dead,
But I’m only a cockeyed optimist
And I can’t get it into my head.
I hear the human race
Is fallin’ on its face
And hasn’t very far to go,
But ev’ry whippoorwill
Is sellin’ me a bill,
And tellin’ me it just ain’t so.
It ends, with Mitzi Gaynor, who played the part of the cockeyed optimist, Ensign Nellie Forbush from Little Rock, Arkansas, declaring…
“But I’m stuck like a dope
With a thing called hope,
And I can’t get it out of my heart!”
It’s sappy, but there’s some truth there. The world had to look scary, and ugly, and you had to wonder what the future held. We talk about man’s inhumanity to man and we worry about what could be. They were worried about how they would survive what was.
In my parent’s world there were those who sympathized with the Nazis. There were anti-semites and racists who thought we were on the wrong side.
So why am I surprised to find that there are still anti-semites and racists and Neo-Nazis who would love to take us in a different direction today. We might, with cause, worry that the human race was falling on it’s face, just like the song. But their generation refused to give up.
At the end of the day, perhaps they were like Nellie. They were stuck with hope.
Maybe I’ll stick with it too. There are worse ways to deal with the world.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 5, 2022
I’m ready for Iceland.
It’s a chilly day today with the windchill temps in the 20’s, but I’ve got my gear and I think I’m as ready for the cold weather as I can be. I walked with the pups and the addition of a warm buff around my throat that can be pulled up to protect my face was the final piece. I’m ready.
The plan is to travel the latter part of March. Not too worried about COVID given that we’re vaccinated and boosted, but there’s always the chance of picking up a breakthrough infection and then not being able to get on the plane to come home for a few days. It’s a chance we’re willing to take.
When we’re there, the average temps will range from the 20s to the 30s — very manageable.
There will be enough hours of daylight to travel about the island in the daytime to see it’s incredible natural beauty and enough hours of darkness to have a good shot at the aurora borealis. Seeing those magical lights dancing in the night sky is a huge part of why we’re going and, although there’s no guarantee we’ll see them, our trip coincides with the vernal equinox which should increase the odds, they say. We’ll see.
Today, though, is a quiet Saturday. There’s stuff that I can do, of course, but there’s little that I feel compelled to do. I can go and sort through all the cross stitch patterns (there’s one I’m looking for as a possible new project). I can go play piano or guitar or I can just sit and read. Or, I can flit from one task to another like a hummingbird sampling the flowers in the garden, never really committing to anything, but giving the appearance of being busy nonetheless. We’ll see where I end up.
The day is already slipping away. Somehow it’s going on 3 o’clock. Maybe I’ll let the dirty rice I was going to make go until tomorrow which also promises to be a relaxed day.
Meanwhile, just when you think our politics can’t become more perversely twisted, the Republican National Committee apparently is so caught up in the spell of Trump and the big lie that they have now characterized the investigation into the January 6 attack on the Capitol as — get this — “…persecution of ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse.”
This was part of the RNC’s decision to censure Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the only two Republican lawmakers who were willing to serve on the panel and whose determination to act on their beliefs rather than their political self-interest is, sadly, a scarce commodity these days — especially in Republican circles. Two Republican senators criticized the RNC move, Romney and Kennedy, and so did Maryland’s Governor Hogan. Good for them. Their words should be applauded and we can recognize that it took some degree of courage to even say the little that they did. But it isn’t enough to save the Republican Party from descending ever further into the fever dream of Donald Trump and his allies.
We’ve seen the attacks on voting rights by Republican legislators in states across the nation. We’ve seen them attack the electoral process that has served us for centuries as “fraudulent and broken” without offering any evidence to support their claims. We’ve seen them attack the teaching of “critical race theory” and pass laws that make it a criminal offense for teachers in schools to even suggest that racial discrimination in the US is a long-standing issue with roots deep in our history. And, although they complain mightily about what they call a “cancel culture,” they have no problem with canceling the voices of authors they don’t like (look at the book banning that some are pushing), nor do they worry about seeking to cancel the voices of folks like Cheney and Kinzinger, whose view differ from theirs.
Yep, it’s a right fine mess. It was interesting to see RNC members first pass the censure and then try to “clarify” their language about “legitimate political discourse.” Sorry, friends. That just doesn’t work. You can’t throw chum in the water and, when the sharks start to circle, say that you really weren’t expecting them to be drawn to the blood. The RNC decided that appeasing Trump and the wing of their party that feeds on anger — and for some — aggression and violence, was the first order of business. At least have the courage to own your choices.
But they want it both ways. And, at least in their circles, people allow them to play that game and few dare call them out.
I can’t help but believe that we’re all going to be called out sooner or later. We’re all going to be asked to decide what we believe and, more importantly, whether we’re prepared to stand up for those beliefs and act to defend them.
It would be nice if we could set politics aside and just do our best for the nation, but that seems to much to ask. There are too many out there for whom this has become a blood sport and even a devastating pandemic has not pushed us to unify for the common good. We all saw what the first year of the pandemic looked like and although we’ve made progress there are still those who believe that some parent in rural Virginia should get to decide whether his kid should wear a mask to school rather than the public health leaders and educators who have to face the crisis. That a parent “knows what’s best for his/her own child” our governor here declares. Maybe so. But some don’t have a clue about what is best for the other kids, or the teachers, or the rest of us who also struggle with the disease.
Sigh… I didn’t mean to write this much but, GOD, the stupidity and the nonsense and the deliberate fueling of fear and anger just makes me crazy.
Enough. Today we passed 900,000 fatalities from COVID.
Forget the politics. Don’t dwell on how many of those deaths could have been avoided with better leadership or more responsible personal choices. Instead, just pause and offer a prayer or reflection for the 900,000+ families that have suffered the loss of a loved one.
It’s time for a lot more compassion and a lot less division. It can’t hurt to try.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 4, 2022
Well, here we are marking another Friday night. There’s really nothing earthshaking for me to offer today. I did turn on the news. Hmm. Should I get excited about Mike Pence declaring that Donald Trump was “wrong” in suggesting that Pence could have legally overturned the election? Naw. We all knew that already. And Pence, who spent four years essentially licking Trump’s boots and fawning obsequiously, doesn’t suddenly become a hero for saying simply Tump was “wrong.” Not too exciting.
There are reports that Trump and Congressman Jim Jordan talked extensively the morning of January 6. Yawn. Jordan is another Trump acolyte, purveyor of the Big Lie and apologist for January 6 and Trump’s role in in it. Can’t get too excited about that story either.
I DID kind of like the story about the parrot that stole a family’s Go Pro and took off with it, filming its escape route in the process. That was kind of fun.
But largely, today, I focused on things at home. The morning was working, and email, and working out and the afternoon was about kitchen experimentation and improvisation. I stole a bit from multiple recipes and added a few nice tweaks of my own to make a vegan pot pie. Getting the consistency, and the flavors, right, while not breaking the calorie bank can be a challenge — especially if you want both a bottom and a top crust. Those crusts can be deal breakers. They’re tasty and flaky and full of (vegan) butter.
I’ve got further experimentation to do, but I’ve got to say that today’s effort came out pretty tasty and a decent sized serving is still under 500 calories. Not bad. The challenge, though, was estimating just how far my filling would go and how much dough I would need. I could have used a bit more filling and a bit less dough but the filling was sufficient for two double-crust pies in 8 inch pie pans and the excess dough was enough to make the crust for a quiche. So I added that to the list this afternoon. The kitchen smelled SO good.
Looking in the fridge, there will be further opportunities in the days ahead. Pizza, dirty rice, and a lasagna are all on the horizon. We’ll see what else. You just never know where inspiration will lead. The other day we had some cilantro that was starting to age. A few minutes later there was coriander chutney. I didn’t have quite enough coriander and there was no mint so it became a coriander-spinach chutney but that’s OK. Not every kitchen would have all the spices, but here cumin is a staple and I always have things like amchur powder and chat masala and kala namak on hand. They make experimenting that much easier. And the somewhat sharp flavors of the chutney were delicious this afternoon when paired with apple and asian pear slices. First time we tried it. Won’t be the last.
And so it goes. I could happily spend my days cooking and dodging all meaningful social commentary, but I need more folks nearby to help eat all that gets produced in our kitchen. The freezer can only hold so much. Still, it is a wonderful chance for a bit of creative expression and, for me, it is often a zen like process. From the prep to the cleanup, each part of the process has its place and I enjoy it as the afternoon flows from one step to another.
So, I’m sitting here feeling comfortably sated and, even though I drink very little these days, tonight I’m even having a glass of wine to ease into the weekend. It has been a good week. No complaints — or at least none worth worrying about.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 3, 2022
Four years ago today I got my first retirement tattoo. Three years ago today we were in New Zealand cruising around the Bay of Islands on a thunder trike as we ended a lecture trip cruising the South Pacific. Not that many months later in 2019, we were on another cruise where we explored Singapore,Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam in between lectures. And what a time we had exploring Hong Kong at the end of that trip.
I miss doing things. It’s been a far different story for most of us since 2020 began.
There’s promising news, of course. We haven’t been in lockdown for a while now, and since getting vaccinated a year ago we’ve had opportunities to travel some, though, not internationally. But if I’m really honest I’d say that’s not good enough. I want normal. I want to go get a new tattoo. I want to travel. I want to be out in the world. I want adventure.
There. I feel better. I got that out of my system. And yes, I’d like some vegan cheese to go with my whine.
Obviously, I know I’m not alone in feeling restless and antsy. But once in a while you just need to let it out.
I feel… I hope… that we’re about to turn the corner, but we’ve been down that road before and been surprised by a new surge of COVID. So, even as I think that we’re going to start moving in the right direction, the patience I pride myself on is in short supply.
Maybe part of my angst is fueled by the realization that as we get older travel isn’t going to get easier. So, I resent having lost out on two years (so far) of chances to have new experiences. I know that there’s no one to blame — and I believe that our two years of carefully managed living has been the right thing do — but I don’t have to like it.
That said… there’s a trip to Texas for Gus’ first birthday coming up, and the trip to Iceland that was cancelled in March 2020 is slated to happen once again in March. Maybe there are new Facebook memories to come. I sure hope so.
For tonight though, I can at least enjoy the memories from February the 3rds of the past and dream of the trips to come. For now that has to be enough.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 2, 2022
As I typed the date, I remembered it was Groundhog Day. Enjoy! Who knows, maybe tonight I’ll watch the movie. It IS something of a classic.
When you get down to it, that film was about looking at the world — and perhaps more importantly, ourselves — with a new perspective. That seems fitting today since I thought that if I wrote early today, I might find a new perspective as well. So, here I am sitting at the keyboard early this morning while the house is still quiet and the dogs are still feeling lazy and content after their breakfast.
Perspective has been on my mind for a few days in any event. I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to go through our days without really seeing the world around us.
I’ve commented before on how important it is to surround ourselves with things of beauty. How our lives are richer and better because of it. But, if we don’t really see them… if we don’t stop long enough to let them touch us… aren’t we missing the point of having them?
As I look around at all that we have acquired over decades of roaming the world, I know that they aren’t just things, they’re the story of our lives. Each one has meaning waiting to be found in the memories that they represent. But, when seen every day over the span of decades, the objects themselves blend into a familiar landscape filled with objects that we recognize but no longer “see” in the truest sense of the word.
So I’ve been reminding myself how, now and then, I need to stop for a moment and truly see them and allow the memories, and in some cases the sheer whimsy that they represent, to warm me and make me smile.
As I write this I’m sitting in my office here at home and as I look around I’m overwhelmed by all that there is to “see” in just this one room. The stories it tells could entertain for days. It could be like having my own Scheherazade spinning tales for one thousand and one nights, if I would only pause for a daily reflection.
On the wall, as I look to the right, is a Tibetan panel with a tiger, a snow lion and dragon. It is one of my favorites of the Tibetan pieces we picked up while in Nepal. You can feel the raised scales of the dragon and the texture of carvings along the side. I can imagine each of the images telling me it’s tale. I know in my heart that their stories would be exotic and likely mysterious.
Next to the panel, peeking above a Tibetan cabinet is a carved giraffe. He may be far from the African savannah, but he still reminds me of days spent in the bush. Days that were some of the best I can recall. If I pause and engage that giraffe he can evoke the sense of peace and just sheer joy I’d feel riding across the plains in the warm amber light of the late afternoon in the African bush.
My eyes look left. Here there are ostrich eggs, and a bronze oil lamp in a lotus shape. On the wall there’s a tomahawk framed in a glass case (don’t want the grandkids messing with that!) that was a gift from the special forces teams that helped us in our pursuit of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s resistance army in Uganda.
On another shelf there are metal figures from Orissa striking poses while below them sits the tiffin I got in Bombay back when it was still called Bombay. There are mementos from the Marines who guarded our Embassies, including a K-bar knife which sits below the kukhris gifted to me in Nepal. There are African masks and walking sticks, buddhas and rudakshra seed malas, odd mementos that I’ve had since my teens.
On the wall there are contemporary paintings I love, along with more mundane but nonetheless treasured prints like the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster that traveled the world with me for years and graced office wall after office wall. And there’s another poster, titled “Every Dog has His Day” that joined me on my journeys too. I told myself that some day I might be the dog pictured in the poster, seated at an elegant banquet table while served by an attentive butler. But now, looking back, I realize that every day of adventure and growth I experienced was “my day.” I was, and am, one lucky dog.
As I write this morning, l lift my gaze and see not only an American flag that flew over our Embassy in Asmara when I was Ambassador there and alongside it a beautifully crafted American eagle, wings spread, holding our flag in it’s talons. It was a gift when I was promoted into the Senior Foreign Service. I’ve cherished it for over two decade and it been with me ever since.
There’s more. On the file cabinet behind me a Sri Lanka demon puppet is perched and I swear it keeps an eye on me as I write. And if I cast my gaze higher, on the top shelf of the built-in bookcases there are two mighty Bedfords — replicas of the jingle trucks from Pakistan which, if I pause long enough to consider them in all their glory, can transport me back to Islamabad in a heartbeat.
As I glance to my right I see my grandmother’s watch draped on a small stand. It is attached to the long chain which allowed her to wear it around her neck and I’m realizing as I looked at her and grandpa’s pictures from Sicily — perhaps a wedding picture — that she was wearing it in that photo. To have it here, with a few other nicknacks from her and grandpa’s home, opens yet another book of memories.
There are shelves on the walls replete with photos and commissions and awards, including photos with Barrack Obama and Bill Clinton and Colin Powell and other vips. They’re great reminders too, but I hope that they don’t mind playing second fiddle to the books of pics with
our kids and our grandkids that lie within arm’s reach.
The antique teak bookcase or the drop-leaf desk that share the space in here with me take me back to India where I bought them on my first tour. The ammonite fossil from Mustang that serves as a paperweight evokes memories of the trek where I met Lo Khyi. Like almost everything in the office, it too can be a time machine transporting me in this case to the Tibetan plateau. I can see the peaks, feel the wind, recall the exertion it took to work my way up the trails. And I remember sitting outside an ancient monastery, my back against the wall, exhausted from the climb, and, looking back over the path on which we had come, wondering how it was that I had come to be in that place at that time.
I guess maybe that is what I will take away from this morning of remembrance: it’s important to take the time to look back along the path on which we’ve come.
I know that we get busy and the things that surround us, even the ones we love the most, will often just be the backdrop to our days. We can’t be in the moment every moment. We can’t pause and lose ourselves in the beauty of each painting on the walls (there are a lot of them), nor can we travel the road of our memories constantly. We can, however, take the time now and then to truly see what is around us. To appreciate and to remember why these things mattered to us then and why they matter to us still.
I realize that my office is jam-packed and, to many, it could appear to be an eclectic jumble. And that’s just the office. If I wander around the rest of the house with it’s camel saddle from Pakistan, the Swahili hand-carved day bed, the countless Ganesh images, the singing bowls, the jumble of African trade beads, the Turkish and Eritrean lamps, the multitude of carpets… well, you begin to get the picture. It’s not just my office that is eclectic.
But, to me, it’s not a jumble or a mystery. It’s a roadmap of my life and my history. And it is good to revisit the waypoints on the journey. It’s good to remember and appreciate all those experiences that helped shape who I am today.
“Groundhog Day” was about someone having to do it over and over and over again until they got it right. Too bad for him. I’ll use the day instead to relive moments where I did get it right. Moments that warm my heart and ease my soul. They can be found in every nook and cranny here at home. They wait patiently. I just have to remember to look.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
February 1, 2022
Happy February! Wow. How is it that we are through a month of 2022 already?
I’m not going to dwell on the nature of temporal reality. That’s more than I’m up to in any dimension. But still… where did January go?
February started reasonably well, I think. The weather, here in northern Virginia at least, was sunny and comfortable enough. No complaints. The dogs were perky — even frisky — on their walk. Leija joined me and all four came along — it was a real family outing.
I didn’t deliberately avoid the news, but I certainly didn’t seek it out. That just seems healthier overall. I worked. I worked on a piano piece. I did a little cooking. And mid-afternoon, after the walk, we both worked out and, for me, the workout was followed by meditation. That seems healthy too.
I’ve been pretty consistent over the past four months in my practice of mediation. It is becoming a habit — like walking and stretching — and for me it has become important to me. Cultivating a peaceful mind is not a bad thing and I know that my average blood pressure has not only been exceptionally good, but that average has dropped every single month for the four months that I’ve been steady in my practice. THAT can’t be coincidence.
I’ll admit to being just a bit surprised that I’ve been able to embrace this effort as fully as I have. It’s not that I question the underlying philosophy or challenge the science that validates the physical impact of meditation practice. But, as those who know me will attest, I’m a planner. A list maker. A scheduler. It’s a crazy world and I try to control what I can, little that it may be, so the idea that I am prepared every day to surrender control to my “unconscious” brain seems a bit out of character. But I do. And it’s good.
I really don’t have much else to offer but I’ll confess I’ve been musing on a very different topic today that deserves at least a mention. Maybe one of you has some insight: what has happened to cash; to the idea that cash is king?
I have had the same few bills in my wallet for a couple of years now. They are permanently creased. It seems as though these days cash not only isn’t king, it’s not even a member of the royal family any more.
We all saw it coming, of course, and the pandemic accelerated it. No one wanted to handle cash. But boy… how much things have changed. For me, cash now sits primarily in the little dashboard drawer so we can respond if someone in need is on the next street corner. Will we ever use cash again? Are birthday cards, with a bill tucked inside for a grandchild, a thing of the past?
Today we had a need for a penny. I found one, but it took a bit of effort. It used to be we’d end up with a pocket full of change in the course of a week. The coins would find their way to a dresser top, or a jar or a piggy bank of some sort. They were ubiquitous. And now they, like their paper cousins, are relics — or at least, almost.
It just seems so odd that something that was once so important in all of our lives may be a thing of stories to our grandkids.
In any event, nothing earthshaking in any of this — just a bit of musing as the day draws to a close.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.