July 2021

July 31, 2021

Another month comes limping to an end. COVID confusion continues to plague us all. Guidance is shifting, cases are rising, and the fundamental questions of who is at risk, when to wear masks (or not), and what the future holds, befuddle us all.

Then there are red tide issues in Florida killing marine life. There’s the ongoing political gamesmanship that is unrelenting (and unbecoming) among our purported leaders. It’s frustrating, irritating and sad. Very sad.

A former colleague said to me today that she is finding it hard to feel enthusiastic about America. That was even sadder. For years I was one of those who was enthusiastic about our nation. I looked at the work we did, the difference we sought to make in the world, and the lives we truly touched. And I was proud to be part of the effort.

It’s much harder today, though, to hold our nation up as an example. There are an awful lot of rough patches for us. It’s hard to tell the world what we stand for because we can’t seem to agree on it ourselves. I wonder when — or even if — that tide will turn.  

There were many who, over the four years of Trump, carried on the business of our government even as Trump himself tore down our institutions, undermined our respect for each other, and abandoned value-based leadership for transactional engagements. They saw us turn away from allies, embolden our enemies, ignore critical issues like climate change and step away from our commitment to human rights and human decency. But still they served with quiet dignity and determination, remaining true to core values that defined us as a nation. They deserve our thanks and our respect.

And even those of us who no longer serve know we don’t have the luxury of just ignoring the world. We have to be more engaged than ever in this struggle to define ourselves. The choices are stark. Trump and his cronies want a very different world than many of us do. And until those choices are made clearly and definitively it will, perhaps, remain a challenge to be enthusiastic. But I hope that my colleagues who still serve will continue to try and that all of us will as well.

Still, there are moments when we are reminded that it’s not all doom and gloom and struggle. There are moments, over a meal with family, or with friends who are like family, that we know that caring for each other and drawing strength from each other is the key for moving forward. And today, over such a meal, I was reminded again of the simple pleasures of the little things. The joy to be found in a little boy’s laugh as I shared with him the art of blowing the wrapper from a straw… ok lots of straws… across the restaurant table. 

Us old dogs may not have a ton of new tricks, but there are times when the old ones still work just fine. And that’s probably enough for the last day of July.  

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 30, 2021

Another week draws to a close. A late afternoon visit to the chiropractor was in order after 10 days on the road. Was there a need for a few adjustments? You betcha. Long flights, long drives along the coast, long walks along the beach, long hikes through forests and up mountains.  

My back isn’t always as happy about these adventures as my head is. But that’s ok. And I know that challenges like that will only grow in the years ahead. There’s not a hell of a lot I can do about that other than adapt. And adapt I do. But we don’t stop. Can’t stop. That would be tantamount to giving up. And there’s too many years of adventuring ahead to do that. 

But this weekend isn’t about adventuring. It will be about catching up with Renuka (a friend for many years and my office manager and partner in Washington, Nepal and Uganda) and her daughter Priya who we have known since she was just a little baby 20 years ago. They’ve flown in from Cape Town on R&R and we’re delighted that they will spend at least part of their time here in Haymarket. It’s a good reentry point.  

The weekend will also be spent getting the Prince of the Mountains ready for his surgery early on Tuesday morning. The poor guy is still struggling. His torn cranial cruciate ligament is not giving him any rest. His recovery is going to be slow by all accounts. He’s going to need a lot of support. We’re going to do as much as we can to care for him. The experience of using a sling to help balance his 100+ pounds will be, um, interesting, to say the least. 

Beyond that… time will tell. It’s an unscheduled, unstructured weekend so far. And there’s always a bit of adventure in that. 

But now, I will throw together a salad and then we’ll warm up the quiche I made earlier, and friends, food, and fellowship will offer us the perfect ending to the week. Sounds like a plan to me.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 29, 2021

There’s a lot to be said about being warmly welcomed home. When we walked in the door the cacophony should have set off seismic warning alarms along the entire east coast. Even our ever-dignified Lo Khyi did a modified prance (bad knee and all) and his tail actually wagged. Something you seldom see from the prince.

Everyone was a touch needy. Max claimed a place on the bed, Gyptse wormed her way in for a snuggle and Gracie was never far from a hip, or a leg, or even a shoulder blade as she burrowed in the blankets in the middle of the bed all night long.

It’s nice to know you’ve been missed. And I have to say that we were as happy to see those silly dogs as we were to see our own bed. They’re our pack. And we’re honored to be part of it. 

At least one, if not several, of the pups kept me company as I unpacked. I’m one of those who wants to get unpacked quickly. Much like whenever we moved — I was eager to get unpacked and get organized. I need to bring order to the things I can control in my physical environment before I can comfortably shift my focus to the external tasks. So, unpacking proceeded quickly and this morning the last of the trip items were tucked away. Cameras and binoculars stored, electronic cables and charging blocks stashed in a travel bag for the next trip, and hats and jackets back in the closet. 

Having prepared the ground, so to speak, I then had to get my head focused on work. I was not really ready to jump in, but I did, enjoying, at least, that I have the luxury and relative safety of working from home.  

The COVID numbers are crazy. We’re back up to 62,000 cases a day. Those numbers are close to last summer’s surge so we’d be fools to blow it off. And these cases are largely among the unvaccinated. We are seeing a slight uptick in vaccinations as well, which is good, but there is still too much to deal with. We’re putting mask mandates back in place. The Federal work force is being told they have to mask and they’re being pushed hard to get vaccinated. Disney is going to go back to requiring masks. Many states and school systems are starting to require masking.

If feels like we’re losing ground. And even as things are getting worse and numbers are rising we’re seeing the Smithsonian reopening (masks required) and the Lollapalooza music fest in Chicago (proof of vaccination). I’m not sure that the measures that they are taking will be sufficient to keep some of these things from becoming super-spreader events. This just doesn’t feel promising.

Biden today urged states to try and incentivize folks to get vaccinated. He floated the idea of $100 for vaccinations. Some communities are offering young people Apple EarPods if they get the jab. I get it. We all do. We need folks to get vaccinated and as a society we’ll be better off for it. I don’t blame leaders, desperate to keep us from sliding back into the COVID abyss, for pushing in every way to keep us safe and on the right track. 

But still… I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it’s just a bit irksome to think that we have to pay some of these folks to do what is right, what is smart, and what will keep them safe. So many of us stepped up and got the shot. We wore (and wear) the masks. We maintained social distance, gave up time with our grandkids and holidays with those we loved because it was the right thing and the smart thing. No one gave us incentives. No one had to pay us. And yes… it’s a bit annoying to think that for the greater good for all we end up having to pay the foolish, the selfish, and the indifferent, to step up and do what any citizen who cares should do.

I hope the efforts to kick up the vaccination numbers are successful for all our sakes, but I hope that those who have to be paid to do the right thing get a $100 parking ticket the day that they get they second shot. It’s the least that karma can do.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 28, 2021

The engines rumble, you can feel the vibration, and then suddenly you’re airborne. I know we can take this all for granted but it’s still pretty amazing. And we can text, write, and surf the web while watching CNN or ESPN or HGTV or more. I know our kids and grandkids take this for granted, but when I was a kid flying was a big deal. A special occasion.

You look out the window and see the country unfold before you. It’s not painted red and blue. There aren’t lines drawn on the ground. But reading the news today reminds me that a few days of walking along beautiful beaches or hiking through redwood groves can’t erase the deep divisions we see in our nation.

The pandemic has exacerbated them, no doubt about it. But when did we lose our way so completely that we reject science and race to embrace lies and nonsense? To be clear, Trump DID lose the election, he will not be reinstated next month, the ugliness of the attack on the Capitol was real and COVID is real too. And dangerous and deadly and a threat to our nation and our future.

Florida is seeing the virus surge out of control yet again, but Ron DeSantis is enshrining fiction over facts. He wants to run for President so why not steal a page from Trump’s playbook? Don’t lead. Lie. It’s easier. Tell folks what they want to hear not what they need to know. Offer a Trumpian perspective in which common sense public health measures are portrayed as “giving in to COVID.” As if COVID was a sentient foe that was gauging our response. It looks for avenues to spread and for people to infect and the 80 million+ Americans who have chosen not to be vaccinated have given this disease the oxygen it needs to survive.

I get it that folks don’t want to have to wear masks again indoors. I get it that requiring masks in schools is guaranteed to push buttons for a lot of folks. For those of us who did get vaccinated and who have done all that has been asked of the public to try and control the disease it’s frustrating as can be that we now have to deal with greater restrictions again because of those who won’t act in the public good. But that’s the reality.

I worry about infecting others, including those of my grandkids who can’t be immunized yet. I worry that the longer we give this pandemic the freedom to attack us the greater the risk of a new variant — capable of defeating our immunizations — becomes. And, as with so many of the threats posed by this pandemic, these issues could have been avoided if only science prevailed over politics. 

Trump and his acolytes want us to believe that vaccinations are attacks on our personal freedom. They compare it to the actions of Nazi Germany or the Taliban. I could pretend that this is just political rhetoric or hyperbole, but we all know that it is more than that. Lives are being lost, countless people are at risk. Yet Trump and the far right media play games with the truth, discourage people from being vaccinated, and hope for chaos and discord — which is where his brand of politics thrives.

Man… those redwood groves look pretty good about now. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

June 27, 2021

Today is our last day in California. And, even as we wandered through San Rafael, which is a lovely small town, thoughts inevitably began to turn toward home. And I’ll be glad to get home. That always feels good and the pups have been waiting patiently.

Still, it’s so nice to have had at least a bit of time to NOT be thinking of home, or the dogs, or commitments and demands on your time. The power of unscheduled days should not be underestimated. I had barely gotten myself to the stage where I was letting go of the day-to-day and now we’re swinging right back into it. The day is coming, though, when there will be more days that are shaped by what I want to do than those that are shaped by what I have to do.

The long flight back home will be transition time. My only complaint is that the transition time starts at 0300 as we get up to make it to the airport by 4 for our flight at 6 AM. It will be a long day with a layover in the Twin Cities, but at the end of the journey is a peaceful space, a familiar bed, and four excited pups.

3 AM comes way too soon, though, so no more writing tonight.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 26, 2021

What a lovely day it has been. The drive to Carol-Anne and Bill’s home was through China Camp State Park. What a beautiful way to start the day. Deer, wild turkey, views of the bay — so pretty. 

We then set off from the Changs’ home and Bill drove us all (including the kids and 10 month old pup Wyatt, through Mill Valley and up the slopes of Mt. Tam. Mount Tamalpais is the highest peak in the Marin Hills, which are part of the Northern California Coast Ranges and overlooks San Rafael. It’s only about 2500 feet high but it afforded some pretty inspirational views. 

After having explored Mt. Tam we headed down the other side to Stinson Beach for lunch and a wander along the beach. Then we took a longer journey than we bargained for down to fog-shrouded Pt. Reyes lighthouse.  That was deemed a success by all, including three teenagers who can be the harshest critics of all, and there was something about the fog and the setting that just seemed right. We returned via Fairfax, CA, where the 1960s seemed alive and well. It was a sweet little town to wander around and watch the yoga class in the park evolve into some sort of dance/exercise circle urged on by a drum group. The words “natural” and “organic” were seen in many windows, and the Fairfax Scoop even had vegan strawberry ice cream.  Score. Our kind of place.  

It was a wonderful day of touring, of being with “family,” and of just letting the conversation flow lazily across matters of consequence and, at times, matters of total nonsense.  

It was relaxing, energizing and exhausting too.  A busy and very nice day. One again, though, it’s already late as I write this so I’ll let a selection of pictures from the day provide the final word.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 25, 2021

I’m late writing today. Good thing we’re in the Pacific time zone or I’d have totally missed out on day 501 of writing. Here I’ve still got two hours and I’ll need only a fraction of that so all is good.

I’m tired tonight. It was a long day of driving from Trinidad to San Rafael. We stopped en route in Duncan Mills a small spot along the Russian River where you can find Poet’s Corner, which bills itself as the smallest bookstore in the country.

I can’t attest to that, but I can affirm that it is a small little space that is wonderfully rich and eclectic in its offerings. And among them, now, is “The Ambassador’s Dog.” 

The owner, Stephanie Culen, met Jane Vance and her dear friend Sandi Passalacqua recently while Jane was visiting in Healdsburg and the conversation touched on Stephanie’s bookstore and our book.

Jane shared a few links about the book and told Stephanie enough of the history that she was intrigued and since we had a few copies with us on the trip we dropped them at the Poet’s Corner this afternoon. One sold before we left the shop. It could be a good sign.

From there we continued on to San Rafael where our dear friends Carol-Anne and Bill have recently moved along with their three wonderful kids. The connection we feel with them all is proof for us that family is not defined solely by blood lines. Shared values, shared experiences, shared affinities all tie us together. We’ve watched their kids grow, we’ve been enriched by the time we have shared together, and they hold a special place in our hearts. If that’s not family, what is?

So late afternoon flowed into evening as we sat and talked and admired their new home and just enjoyed our reunion. That’s what family is about.

Tomorrow we’ll go adventuring together and that reminds me I need to close. Sleep is required if I’m going to have the energy to keep up.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 24, 2021

500. That’s today’s count on blog posts. 500 consecutive days of writing. It wasn’t a conscious plan… it has just happened. Much like ending up with four dogs. lol.

And what a way to begin day 500. Sitting on a hilltop outside of Trinidad, California, at the home of dear friends Dan and Bryan. Leija had worked with Dan at the National Park Service and Dan and Bryan not only visited us in Nepal but were on the trek where I met Lo Khyi. They share an important part of our history.

Their home is flanked by stately redwoods and pines and so many wonderful plants and bushes including rhododendron. And there is a fantastic deck that looks out over the forest that slopes down toward the sea, yielding a wonderful view of the ocean. There are birds and fox and skunks and critters of various sorts. It is peaceful and it is beautiful and a wonderful way to start the day.
It will be a peaceful day. If there’s news going on in the world that is worth noting, don’t tell me. I’ll catch up later. Unless there’s a meteor speeding towards a crash into California. You can let us know about that one.

Otherwise, we’re off to a farmers’ market. Then perhaps a visit to a nearby redwood grove that is particularly beautiful. Maybe a drive along the sea. And I’ve volunteered to make a vegan quiche tonight so there will be a touch of cooking as well.

A comfortable 60 degree day in a beautiful setting enjoyed with friends. Day 500 is pretty good. Hope yours is too.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 23, 2021

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep…”  I remember reading those words from Robert Frost — or at least having them read to me in 4th grade. Mrs. Schuffman was my teacher. She cared about poetry. And that love of poetry, of words, of meaning, is something I have carried with me since childhood. She touched a chord for me. 

I thought of those words today as we drove through redwood forests, along the “Avenue of the  Giants” as we made our way north to Trinidad, CA. I’d add the word “silent” to the adjectives that Frost chose though. Stopping along the way, in the deep shade created by these incredible giants, was powerful. 

The sunlight struggled to penetrate the dense canopy and even when it found an opening it was fractured by the leaves and branches and the effect of the dappled light painting a patchwork pattern on the trees and ground was mesmerizing (and at times almost disorienting). But the silence. I noticed no bird song, no wind rustling the leaves. Just a deep, deep peace. 

There’s something about being surrounded by ancient guardians of the coast that forces a degree of reflection. Some of these trees may have stood for 2000 years. Most are hundreds of years old. I wonder how many were logged before we decided to protect them rather than profit from them? Today our interaction was defined by us marveling at them while they regally ignored us. May it continue to be that way forever.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.\

July 22, 2021

Glass Beach. Laguna Point. Russian Gulch State Park.  Another day spent wandering along wind swept beaches and seaside cliffs.  The air smells of the sea and eucalyptus — a combination as good as any incense.

Black oystercatchers, ravens and white crowned sparrows join gulls and cormorants flying by or posed for us perched on rocky outcrops. California ground squirrels — who were as bold as brass as my mother would have said — shadowed our moves and you couldn’t help but figure that, despite admonitions not to feed the wildlife, more than one visitor had helped to embolden these critters with treat or two along the way.

The self-taught botany lessons continued too.  I guess if I’m not pleased with the outcome I have no choice but to blame the instructor.  Still, we identified more plants  along the way and although I know you don’t have to memorize their names to enjoy their beauty it is still fun to know a bit more about the life surrounding us. It reminded me a bit of learning about fynbos in the Cape provinces of South Africa. Today we encountered wild radish, bull thistle, Menzies Goldenbush and dwarf checker bloom. Then there were Coast Indian paintbrush, Sticky Monkey Flowers, (I’m NOT making this up), California blackberries, and silk tassel bush. I am astounded and intrigued by the all the different varieties. 

It has been fun. I wasn’t sure when we arrived how we would fill the days but day’s don’t always have to be “filled.” Sometimes it is enough to just enjoy them as they pass.  And that’s what we’ve done. 

At the Stanford Inn where we’re staying they have a fascinatingly eclectic mix of books on sale and to read as well. I pick up one and then another and get intrigued with each different subject and story line. More of the same when poking about the bookstore in Mendocino. Who, for example, can resist a title like “Reality is Not What it Seems” by Carlo Rovelli (a physicist). 

I want to read everything I pick up. I want to take classes. I want to start new journeys. At some point I have to start carving our more time like this week. Those days will come. Sooner or later I’ll get to a retirement that looks retirement. I know I’ve got a ways to go. But I see it beckoning. 

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve enjoyed staying engaged but there need to be more days that are just enjoyed rather than filled.  I’ll work on that.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 21, 2021

It’s kind of nice to be able to say… I’ve got nothing.

The day was as relaxed as days get. An exceptional breakfast — so many incredible choices and all vegan — as we gazed out at the forest-covered hills that border the Big River as it flows into the Mendocino Bay. Swallows and martins went zipping by, a llama in the paddock below welcomed the warming sun, and soft music played in the background. It was a morning to linger over breakfast. And we did.

After eating we headed out stopping first at the Mendocino Headlands State Park.  We hiked the beach front along the river bank to where river and ocean came together. The sun-warmed sand felt good on our feet despite the cool temps (high 50s at the time) and our imaginations were fired by the creatures that we saw emerging from the shapes of the driftwood that gave the expanse of beach character and distinction.

Then we went to the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse museum. The museum displays were fun, the lighthouse (still operating) was distinctive and the walks along the cliffside trails gave us wonderful views of ocean below. There’s something about being at the ocean… the ebb and flow of the water, the competing shades of blue, the frothy surge of the incoming waves. And as we walked we could see the seals lounging on the rocks below as sea gulls and cormorants went winging by on what seemed to be urgent errands.  

The trail was bordered by even more coastal flora and identifying it was a fun task as well. Among the new plants I learned about were sea figs, Henderson’s Angelica, Seaside Buckwheat, Mediterranean Beach Daisies, California poppies and Red Valerian.  

We then drove up Hwy 1 to Fr. Bragg — time to get some of that expensive California gasoline (over $4.00 a gallon) and then we headed back into Mendocino. It’s much smaller than I expected but it’s a sweet little town. We wandered along the streets popping in and out of shops along the way. It was fun to see their offerings… from food and clothing to beads and books and more. It was a fun walk and then we stopped at the organic grocer and grabbed a few small things — including some plant-based ice cream sandwiches. By then we needed some energy and heck… it’s ice cream! It’s never a bad time for ice cream.

It felt good to return to the room and just catch our breath and get ready for the dinner that awaits. And in all of this… no work calls. No work email. No listening to the news. Just the sea, the sun, and all the time we needed to appreciate them. It was a good day. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.  

July 20, 2021

The day started with a ramble around the town square in Healdsburg. Today was the farmers’ market so the plaza was full of folks selling produce, fresh flowers, and more. It was a pleasant interlude before setting off for Mendocino. 

Serpentine does not begin to describe the road as we made our way through small little towns like Cloverdale, Yorkville (all of 300 some people) or Boonville, and Navarro. And along the way there were groves of incredible redwoods. The sun filtered through the small openings creating an incredibly dynamic play of shadow and light. We were glad the road forced a slower pace… it was a stretch that called for meandering, not rushing. 

This afternoon we took the time to explore Mendocino. It seems like a quiet little seaside town. It was a chance to wander along the bluffs strolling along the wildflowers. There was sage, and brighteyes and… surprisingly… wild cabbage, and more.  I didn’t recognize them all, but it was fun to stroll along the outcrops above the bay, savoring the scent of eucalyptus and the sea air. 

The next few days will be a chance to step back. No rushing anywhere. And here at the Stanford Inn the food is all vegan — gourmet vegan. Can’t wait for breakfast.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 19, 2021

The drumbeat of concern over the impact of COVID on those who aren’t vaccinated, and the implication of their choice for those of us who are, continues to sound louder all the time. It seems crazy that we’re having this discussion still, but it seems crazy we’re so disinclined to learn the lessons from the last time we went through this. We saw new waves of the Spanish flu in 1918-1919 and the later ones were worse — as it is now with COVID — and they were largely the result of folks refusing to heed the advice of the experts. And now, when we know even more, we’re doing the same damn thing all over again. 

There’s only so much we can do to protect ourselves from stupid. And stupid is what threatens us now. More than a virus, our own arrogance and foolishness and virulent partisanship will be our undoing. 

It’s a hell of a backdrop when traveling. God knows, we’re being careful as can be still. Masking up in public. We STILL haven’t eaten inside a restaurant since this began. Using hand sanitizer. Trying to keep our distance, but THAT’s a neat trick in the airport. We were in four of them yesterday and they all seemed as busy as ever — if not busier. 

I want to believe that this is just a surge and we’ll manage it, rather than the start of another much more challenging wave with an evolving disease that puts us all back into a challenging spot but who knows. Nothing about this pandemic has been what we might have expected so far so why should it start now. I hope we’ll all just continue to be careful, and smart and safe. I think of our grandkids, three of whom are too young to be vaccinated yet and then my frustration with those who blithely go unvaccinated grows all the more.

The experts are being pretty stark in their assessment. Get vaccinated or get infected. And getting infected may mean an even more virulent and life-threatening illness. 

We’ll still enjoy our travels though. It’s just such a nice change to be away. We spent the night in Sebastopol, CA, a sweet little town near the much smaller town of Graton with it’s two block “main street.” Leija lived in Graton many years ago when Tjiama and Thanen were little. They used to hike into Sebastopol for swimming lessons at the Ivey pool and black bottom cupcakes for a treat afterward. Their school is still there in Graton and the house where they lived and the pool in Sebastopol, too. The cupcakes, sadly, are gone but there were any number of sweet little shops and cafes. It was a walk down memory lane for Leija and I was happy to accompany her. 

It is a challenge, at times, to remember events that are decades in the past and there are times when revisiting the scenes where those memories played out helps the wisps of memory to coalesce again into a clearer remembrance. I feel that way at times when visiting St. Paul.  

The vegan breakfast options were slim… one that we hoped would be good was closed due to staffing shortages (another gift of the pandemic), but we found the Cozy Plum Bistro in Santa Rosa, which is exclusively plant-based, and we had a delicious taco salad. So good.  

And now we’ve meandered a bit further north… though, not far… to Healdsburg, here in the heart of Sonoma wine country. Tonight it’s a reunion with Jane Vance who is also visiting here, and her good friend Sandi Passalacqua and Sandi’s husband Tom. They’ve invited us to join them for dinner and I believe we’ll sample a bit of the wines from the Passalacqua Winery. What could be better than old friends and new and a bit of the fruit of the vines that dominate this area transformed into an elixir that is best when shared with companions.

The challenges of yesterday’s travel are already eased. A glass of wine will wash them away entirely along with worries, for today, about COVID.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 18, 2021

Well, for all that I love to plan travel, I never said that plans always work out. There are things that you just can’t control at times and when your flight is delayed there’s not a whole lot you can do. But it meant, unfortunately, that we missed our connection and that can be a bit of a challenge when you’re crossing the country. There are only so many flights. So we arrived in Detroit after the flight to San Francisco had left. It didn’t look great.

At one point it appeared we might not arrive until 11:30 pm (instead of 2:30 pm) and there was no guarantee of seats together. After a bit of patient outreach (not letting the frustration show too much) and with throwing in an extra stop in Minneapolis (why not, what else is there to do?) we managed to get ourselves an arrival time of 8:30 pm at least part of that will be in comfort. Better than nothing.  

It is a long day in a mask and I’ll admit that it’s a bit off-putting to have been on the go for over 8 hours so far and to still be in the eastern time zone. Still, tonight I’ll lay my head down in California. Or at least that’s the plan. Still, as I said before, plans are funny things. But this time… 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 17, 2021

We all know the film Groundhog Day, right? It’s one of those films so many of us have seen that it’s a shared cultural reference. Well, the news about the pandemic with so many worries about another surge and new waves makes it almost feel like Groundhog Day. How many times are we going to go through this cycle of repeating news stories?

Well, Lo Khyi, the very loyal boy that he is, got wind of the Groundhog Day syndrome and he decided to act. The problem is, Lo Khyi can be quite literal. So, when he spotted a groundhog in the garden today, he took matters into his own hands.

Now this is a dog with a torn cranial cruciate ligament. He’s limping and hurting but actually seems to be coping pretty well. And the way he moved to remove the invader from his territory… it was akin to the way he confronted the cane rats that would emerge at night to haunt the garden in Uganda. Or the way he took on and conquered the opossum in our garden one night last year. 

In other words… he’s still got it. The groundhog, against whom I held no personal grudge, is no more. Lo Khyi captured and vanquished him. And before we get too sentimental about the poor little groundhog, let me just say that they aren’t so cute up close. I know because I am complicit. I removed the evidence. That critter was good-sized — filled a big shoebox and had some heft to it. Bigger and heavier than any squirrel and he had wicked looking claws and teeth that were clearly sharp enough to do some damage. But Lo Khyi drew on the tricks he learned confronting the cane rats and got the job done.   

No Groundhog Day here in Haymarket.

I feel badly, of course, for the groundhog. The life of any sentient creature deserves respect. Dog, cat, butterfly, groundhog, snake, frog, whatever. But all the Disney tunes about the Circle of Life kind of gloss over the fact that all creatures have their roles to play. There are reasons some are predators and others are prey and Lo Khyi did what his nature told him to do. And he did it very well. And that boy is pretty proud of himself today. He had a bit more swagger in his step and a gleam in his eye. You could tell he was truly, truly happy. 

When he went back outside I think he might have been a bit disappointed to find his trophy was gone. But he knows. He did his job. It may not have been a squirrel but it was still good.

Right now, I’m happy for Lo Khyi to have all the small victories he can. Not only does he have the bum leg, but in doing pre-surgical testing we have found some troubling results that raise serious concerns about possible lymphoma or leukemia. More testing is underway. We’ll deal with whatever the news is as we always have… together. Right now I’m refusing to dwell on it. Time enough to worry once we know the facts.

For now, we’ll enjoy each other’s company, savor the special moments, go for rides together (he loves car trips) and let the circle of life play out as it will. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 16, 2021

An afternoon nap inside an MRI tube is not my first choice of how to spend my time, but what the heck. It’s a Friday and that’s one way to ease into the weekend. 

I’m no stranger to MRIs over the years and this one, for my cervical spine, was a chance to look at just how bad the bone on bone arthritis in my neck is these days. Add in a couple of X-rays of the rest of my spine to see how the fusion is holding up after almost ten years and how my very uncooperative SI joint is doing and you’ve got a thrill a minute Friday afternoon.

It made me reflect, though, on some of the changes in medical technology. The MRI wasn’t a routine diagnostic tool until the 1980s. They were game changing then. Today they’re old hat. Enough so that I can indeed fall asleep inside the cocoon they provide despite the banging and clanging and whirring. The ear plugs help, of course, and my eyes are closed throughout because who wants to really see just how close the space you’re lying in really is. So maybe it’s my body’s way of coping with the whole process, but I almost always drift in and out of the experience which today lasted about 30 minutes.

No matter how you feel about the process, though, the images we can obtain these days are incredible. MRIs, sophisticated CAT scans (they didn’t have those when we were kids either), and so many other tools. I just wish that maybe they’d come up with some of the technology we saw in Star Trek for a painless blood scan or to administer a shot. Or how about something truly transformational for dental work. There’s still no better way to remove tartar and plague other than hand wielded probes and scalers? No better alternative to plastic wing X-rays that dig into your cheek and gums as you hold them tightly in place with your teeth?

Yeah… you ponder lots of things as you go through an MRI.

In any event, that was the last task of the day. I haven’t accomplished all I wanted, but I’ve done enough. And, I remind myself, I’m retired. I get to go off on a trip on Sunday without worrying about what did or did not get done. So I will.

And, far more exciting than an MRI is anticipating a trip. I even enjoy the packing process. Making sure you have what you need. Toiletries, medicines, cables and plug-ins, camera batteries, the whole deal. Clothes too. They’re always good to have along, right? But temps may range from highs in the 60s along the coast from Mendocino to Trinidad to the high 90s elsewhere. So even those choices will take a bit of thought.

That’s tomorrow. Tonight it’s a red curry stew and maybe a movie. Hello, weekend.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 15, 2021

It’s a Thursday and if there was a word to describe me this morning it was “oblivious.” I was totally disconnected. Hadn’t read news, listened to news, or watched it. My world was largely defined today by my desk and the walls of my office.  

I took a break to rid the basement of a spider that creeped Leija out. I welcomed brief interruptions by the pups. But my morning and early afternoon were all about focusing on the projects around me. And then, when I stopped, it was almost as if I had to shake myself back into awareness.  

So, I clicked on a browser and went idea shopping. Oh, how I wish I hadn’t. There’s plenty of disturbing new out there. But what is more disturbing than learning that the pandemic may have led to the demise of… the salad bar?

Now I admit that there were some pretty sad salad bars out there. But a really good salad bar is not to be scoffed at! I enjoyed the mix of greens and crunchy veggies and maybe some fruit and onions, and peppers, and olives, and banana peppers… etc etc. You get the idea. I like salad bars. LOL

But now folks are worried about sanitation. More folks working from home has meant fewer quick trips into a nearby grocery store for a lunchtime salad. The economics of the salad bar have changed for those who offered it, and that, coupled with the health concerns that have lessened demand, all find the salad bar possibly slipping to extinction.

I’m not convinced there won’t be a comeback at some point but who knows. What we do know is that there’s a lot more than salad bars that will never be the same again. The world is changing in so many ways. It really is fascinating to see and we won’t really know the full impact of the pandemic for many years to come. It has changed patterns of behavior, our ways of interacting, our sense of vulnerability, our idea of the workplace, and education. It has recast priorities and made us rethink the idea of connection. There’s a lot to ponder.  

But I’d kind of like to do it over a great big salad. For some of us, change comes hard.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 14, 2021

It’s hump day.  Supposedly it’s downhill from here to the weekend. It didn’t feel like it today. Instead, the tasks continue to pile up. It always seems that way as you prepare to go away, though. There are all those little things that you want/need to take care of. And so the days are busy and the hours pass by in a wink.

That’s better, though, than having the hours drag by, I imagine. Though I’ll admit, I don’t think I know what a day like that would feel like. 

Right now I’m sitting quietly for a few moments. The late day sun is streaming into the office window behind me warming my feet, and hand and back… wherever it lands. It is a welcome visitor. Just an hour or so ago the sky was dark and rain was lashing the same window.  But the mood is different now.  

That sun feels comforting. Hopeful. A reminder to look up from the tasks and just breathe. A reminder to cherish moments of quiet. The art of turning off the world around you, though, is not one that all of us have mastered. Being in the moment and not worrying about the next task is something to aspire to.

I can do it, but at times it take a conscious effort to disconnect. There are other times, however, when I’m trying to play a complex piece of music, or I’m stitching a piece that requires careful concentration, when you get lost in the process. 

With the sun warming my feet and an unscripted evening awaiting I just might find a few moments like that tonight.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 13, 2021

Today President Biden launched a spirited defense of voting rights in America. I don’t see it as partisan… I truly don’t. There’s no guarantee that when we open voting and try to make it easier for all the voters to participate that things will fall the democrats way. And even if they did now, a few years down the road things could very well be different. They usually are in politics. There are swings and shifts and realignments. It’s the nature of the beast.

What I don’t like, though, is stacking the deck, and that is what most of the new laws that are being passed with sanctimonious warnings about voter fraud are really about. We all can see that. iI’s just that many folks on the right won’t admit to it. They don’t really want to say out loud that they are trying to make it harder for black and brown-skinned folks to vote. They don’t want to say that they are trying to make it harder for lower income folks to vote. They want to pretend that all of that is just a coincidental outcome not a designed effort intended to keep Republicans from being swept out of office. 

Outlandish gerrymandering, restrictive laws. Republicans know that their core constituency is dwindling and that politics are shifting. They know that the Trump core is not enough, so they try to change the game. It’s pretty disgusting.

So meanwhile, the Texas governor doesn’t like it when Democrats play the game the way the Republicans do and continue to try and block the new restrictive law that the Republicans are trying to pass. So he’s threatening to arrest the state lawmakers for their decision. Shame on him. Republicans are being obstructionist like the Democrats in Texas but no one is threatening to arrest them.  

It makes us look foolish. Like a banana republic unable to engage in honest political discourse and unwilling to trust the American people to make decisions honestly and fairly. You have to worry that our system is failing. We have to right the ship. 

And meanwhile what else are we seeing? Oh, gee… its a surge in COVID cases in almost every state, many seeing a 50% increase over the week before. No, we’re not approaching the horrific numbers we saw in January, but an increase isn’t good however you slice it. And it’s exactly what the experts predicted. Surges driven by the Delta variant and hitting those who are not vaccinated. Hospitalized patients are younger, many in their forties, and they are as sick or sicker than at any time since the pandemic began.

Then there’s the continued drought and devastating heat in the west with wildfires again out of control — seemingly far earlier than ever. 

Hmmm… a breakdown in our democratic system, armed rioters storming our Capitol, droughts and devastating storms, a pandemic that we can’t tame, lies being touted as truth… add in a plague of locusts and we’ve got it about covered.

I’m not a pessimist, but I will say that it would be easy to become one with all the challenges before us. But we’ve overcome them before and will, I hope, do so again.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 12, 2021

If you’re familiar with the movie “Up” there’s dog named Doug who is easily distracted by the mere mention of “squirrel.”

There are days that I feel like Doug. I sat down over an hour ago determined to write my blog. But now, as I finally get around to doing so, I’m not quite sure that I know WHAT I was going to write about.

I think I might have planned to rant a bit about the shock of discovering — ok, more like reconfirming — that I’ve lost a bit of flexibility along the way. OK… a LOT of flexibility.  

But geez… I swear that Apple+ Fitness pretends to be senior friendly. They even offer things like “core for seniors” or yoga or dance for seniors. But then, they smack you with some really unpleasant realities.

So, I did a rowing workout (really challenging) and then the core for seniors. And THEN I tried the dance program. They had me moving to merengue and cumbia rhythms. That’s fine and good. But did NO ONE ever mention to Apple that some of us seniors have hip flexors that are as tight as the rubber bands that used to propel my balsa wood toy planes as a kid? Holy cow… some of those moves had my hips howling for mercy.

I did close my exercise ring though! 

That wasn’t what I was going to write about originally. But before I could remember WHAT I was going to write about, I got distracted by messages. And by emails. 

And then I remembered that a friend had commented the other day when I posted some pics.  She observed that I had not included the pic of an Osprey that I had snapped when we were visiting their family in Chestertown over eight years ago. But thinking of that reminded me that our daughter and son-in-law and the grandkids, just Sofie and Leo then, came with us and we spent the night. 

It was great fun. But those memories got me looking for photos of the kids. And then I remembered I was supposed to look for the ospreys. And those made me look for another bird photo that came to mind. And while I was looking for that pic  saw a pop-up notification with a headline about the COVID response and that reminded me that I wanted to check what Fauci had said today about booster shots which then got me wondering whether we should bring our vaccination cards with us as we travel… Well, you get the picture. 

One distraction after another. One thing leads to the next. And, more often than not, I’m happy to go with the flow. I get to my destination… or at least A destination… eventually. 

So, for Bronwyn, here are a couple of osprey shots and a few others from that lovely weekend eight years ago. And maybe… just maybe… tomorrow I’ll remember what I was going to write about.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 11, 2021

Another week begins. I don’t think I’m going to open up the news this morning. I’m just not in the mood to read about billionaires competing with each other in a race to be space tourists.  

OK. Perhaps if I had billions to spend I’d decide to give it a try too. I do like to travel and that is kind of the ultimate trip. 

But… really? Do we care if Branson or Bezos is the first to go? I’m all for space exploration. But this isn’t about space exploration. It feels more like a media driven story that Branson and Bezos are fueling with some sort of macho rich guy competition. So they get the headlines and national coverage and the story is breaking news that even warrants a “special report” breaking into regular programming. 

I’m not overly impressed.

I do appreciate that Bezos and Branson do charitable work as well. Bezos has launched his earth fund with an investment of billions. And both of them support a variety of other causes which is great. 

But we don’t get the same breathless coverage about those efforts. And that’s too bad. Those things ARE meaningful. They do matter.

I just heard this morning that this is the earliest ever that we’ve already had five named hurricanes. And the season is just getting started. The drought in the west, the searing temperatures that have caused huge disruption to life in the northwest, the marine life that has been cooked alive on beaches in Canada, the horrible winter storm that cost billions in Texas early this year… the facts are clear.

Our world is facing an ever more threatening climate crisis. Water crises, food crises, killing heat waves, superstorms (cyclones, hurricanes and more). 

So what matters most? Fighting climate change or creating a platform for commercial space travel? 

I don’t think that many of us are lining up to spend $250,000 for a suborbital flight. There may be other dimensions of this that will serve us all well in the long run too. But right now, as these companies try to justify the expenditure and explain why this is more than a game for the wealthy to play (and so far I’m not buying it) you have to ask what priorities matter.

The networks are covering the moment when Richard Branson gets his “astronaut wings” (like a kid who has flown in a plane for the first time). It may get them ratings, but it won’t change the world. 

It would be great to visit space perhaps, but we had better make sure we have a planet worth coming back to. And right now, we’re not doing such a good job on that front. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 10, 2021

I was remiss when it came to the kitchen this week. We had tasty leftovers from last weekend’s Indian kitchen blitz. Dal Makhani, vegan “butter chicken,” veg korma, coriander mint chutney, “seekh kababs” roti and paratha, and brinjal, garlic, lime and date/tomato chutneys and pickle.  All vegan. And for a starter there was the mulligatawny which was the best vegan version yet.  It was good.

But today I ventured back into the kitchen lest we let some of our goodies in the fridge go to waste.  We’re off to a reunion with friends from our Uganda days this afternoon, so I made a creamy spinach, artichoke, fennel dip, that will come with us. In addition, I threw together a quiche with cauli, broccoli, artichoke and some onion and peppers, and then a potato leek soup to which I added the rest of the fennel. That will keep us going for a day or two.

Later in the week it may be another go at vegan Ethiopian dishes. My efforts a couple months ago were surprisingly tasty, so why not give it another shot. The goal is to use up what’s in the fridge prior to leaving for California. Looking forward to a trip, but we still travel with a bit of trepidation given the pandemic. 

I know we’re fully vaccinated and that should be enough, but the masks are coming too and taking care is the order of the day. The thought we could end up with a new virulent variant that overwhelms the vaccines is troubling and it’s not an idle concern. Science tells us that it can happen. And that could change everything… again. 

And then there’s the conflicting information we’re hearing about whether a booster is going to be needed or not. After being whipsawed so much in the first year of the pandemic with constantly changing information to bewilder us, I’m feeling more than a little gun-shy. 

But we’re fairly confident that the California trip will be manageable and vaccination rates there are high overall. It will be fun to just be on a holiday. A week to go. Better get all this food eaten. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 9, 2021

It’s a Friday afternoon and a rain storm blew in from nowhere. It’s beating a rhythm on the windows and roof and giving the grass and flowers a good soaking. That’s one less task for me.

I am getting ready to shift into weekend mode but want to write the blog first. 

The ongoing debate over our decision to withdraw our forces from Afghanistan has flared up a bit because of Biden’s remarks the other day.  He was blunt and realistic.  And I agreed with him.

It has been twenty years. We went with the goal of seeking out Bin Laden and depriving Al Qaeda of an operating base. We did that. But then our engagement morphed into something broader. Al Qaeda had thrived there because governance had failed leaving them a free hand, and we were reluctant to leave without helping Afghans to put something better in place. Better governance, a more open society that valued the role of women and girls, a more stable and secure environment in which to shape a future. All were laudable goals but they were not as readily achieved as driving Al Qaeda to hide elsewhere.

We did our best to drive change, to empower Afghans to shape their own destiny and to end a cycle of violence that has plagued the nation for years. We didn’t succeed.

People criticized Biden as being cavalier in bluntly suggesting that what the Afghans do best is fight and if the enemy isn’t a foreign power, like us or the Russians, then it’s each other. They suggest that we shouldn’t just assume that endless conflict will be the fate for Afghanistan, but I’d be interested to hear what they think the fate will actually be. Conflict has been the norm for so long and after twenty years of trying we haven’t changed much of anything. So why do folks object to Biden acknowledging what seems to be a simple fact?

Biden said,”I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.” And, the thing is, the outcome probably wouldn’t be different at all. 

What will happen if Taliban takes total control? It will likely be ugly. Very ugly. Women and girls in particular will be at risk. And already there are those who are asking if it will be the US’s fault because we left. And if bad things happen then we’ll hear even more that the US is to blame because we pulled out of Afghanistan. 

But that’s not fair, of course. We cannot stay there forever. We can’t solve very problem, right every wrong, defend against every injustice in the world. I wish we could. It would be wonderful. But we can’t. We have always had to make choices about how much we can do, and where and when we act. And, if the Taliban commit heinous acts the blame needs to go where it belongs — on them.

Biden is making a difficult choice, knowing that bad things will likely follow. That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong choice. Right or wrong, though, it’s a touch choice. 

But that’s what leadership is about. It’s about making the hard choices. Doing your best. It’s about trying to make the best choice for America.  

Biden said, “So let me ask those who wanted us to stay: How many more — how many thousands more of America’s daughters and sons are you willing to risk? How long would you have them stay?

“Already we have members of our military whose parents fought in Afghanistan 20 years ago.  Would you send their children and their grandchildren as well?  Would you send your own son or daughter?”

Would you?

When does it end? Biden has decided it needs to end now. I can’t say that he’s wrong.  

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 8, 2021

If you had asked me when I started writing my daily blog as a kind of COVID journal, whether 484 days later, I’d still be writing and it would still be about COVID, I might have been incredulous. But these days, of course, I’m not.

It’s disturbing to think that we have to worry about the way the disease continues to wreak havoc in many countries that have not yet acquired enough vaccinations. In those nations, the disease keeps indiscriminately infecting people and, over time, mutating. Experts worry that it will continue to do so until we get a variety that breaks through the vaccine barrier, spreads globally – as it tends to do – and puts us all right back where we were a year ago.

But, what really boggles the mind is that here in the US, where we have the vaccine supply and we have the systems to deliver it effectively, we risk creating the same sort of crisis thanks to those parts of the country which have been particularly vaccine resistant and where, as a result we’re seeing the virus spread dangerously again.

That’s the worry. So the administration is making an all out push to try and convince folks to protect not only themselves but the nation as a whole from the crisis. But many people just won’t listen. And yes, there may be some good reasons why a small percentage of folks not only won’t but can’t be vaccinated, but far too much of it seems to be political. The correlation between those areas that supported Trump strongly and low vaccination rate is pretty clear. The map below shows some of the biggest vaccine resistant clusters.

And the problem is compounded by Trump acolytes like Marjorie Taylor Green still carrying on with her dangerously stupid rhetoric, calling committed public health workers “needle Nazis” and continuing her horrific track record of trying to equate the horrors of the holocaust with efforts that have been made to protect our nation from a deadly pandemic that continues to claim lives every day.

There is no question we are at risk. We have seen new variants emerge already that are even more contagious and more deadly than previous versions. What happens if there is a more deadly, more contagious variant that is also resistant to current vaccines? We know what is needed to give ourselves a chance at bringing COVID to bay and turn it from potentially existential threat to a manageable health issue. The vaccines are here and we, in America, can be the model of hope people thought we would be all along. Instead, we abysmally failed the first tests posed by the pandemic and we paid the price in terms of a death toll that we never envisioned 18 months ago. In year two we’re shifting that picture, but it’s not just up to the government. It’s up to us as well.

I fear that the politically inspired culture wars have made getting vaccinated as much of a political statement as wearing masks. And that’s as stupid as stupid gets. Let’s hash out political differences at the ballot box, but whether red or blue, get the jab, protect yourself and those you love and even those you disagree with. This is a time when we can all win — but I fear that’s too sensible an approach.

Instead, I worry that a third of our nation will continue to wait too long, will put us all at risk, and may just end up sacrificing themselves or a loved one on the altar of vaccine resistance. I just hope that in doing so they don’t end up keeping us from seeing our kids and grandkids and other loved ones once again.

484 days from today I want to be exploring the world, not still writing about COVID. Fingers crossed.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 7, 2021

Last night the president of Haiti was assassinated as he slept in his bed. Armed men stormed into his house and killed him and shot his wife as well. She has been airlifted to Florida in an effort to save her life.

The country is in crisis as rival gangs, in their struggle for dominance, have compounded the the social, economic and political crises that have the country on the verge of collapse.

There was a time when we would have looked at this and shaken our heads bemoaning the state of affairs in these nations that struggle with governance and felt quietly superior. WE didn’t have issues like that. We were stable, democratic, law-abiding. We were a model for the world.

I have to say that I’m not convinced that we still are. I would like to think that, but events of the past few years have forced me to reconsider. We’re not beyond hope and there are still things to admire about the U.S., but we have a way to go to recover our standing as a model of democratic values and good (or at least reasonably good) governance.

You look at the images of protests on the streets in Haiti. Tires burning. Marching crowds. Armed groups seeking to overthrow the government. Attacks on leaders. Does ANY of that ring a bell? Does it feel familiar in any way? 

It does to me. And the idea of armed gangs of thugs out to advance their own agenda, disregarding government or the good of the nation is not one that we can suggest is inconceivable here at home. We see the extremists groups. We’ve seen them plot against Michigan’s governor.  We’ve seen them attack the Capitol. We’ve seen them stand poised with the automatic weapons — menacing and angry. And we hear the stories about FBI warnings of continued planning for insurrection and violence. 

I don’t believe that Haiti’s fate will be ours. But it’s not impossible — and that’s the point. There could indeed come the day when we stop and ask ourselves how did we end up here? And that’s the hell of it. What did we think would happen as we let lies triumph over truth, as we preferred fiction to facts, and when civility and comity became the exception rather than the norm?  What did we think would happen when we allowed the free press to be portrayed as an enemy, when we let our intelligence professionals be vilified and ignored, and when we tolerated bullying and abuse of the most vulnerable by leaders who should have protected them? 

I’m not writing this because I feel pessimistic or cranky. It’s just a story that made me think and that reminded me that nothing is guaranteed. We have to fight for our nation and for our fundamental beliefs and we have to have our eyes open to the dangers that face us. Otherwise some day it could be that even the Haitians will look at us and shake their heads and say “Oh, how the mighty have fallen.”

Let’s not let that be us.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 6, 2021

There’s always the unexpected, isn’t there. We can have our day all mapped out and then we watch as it unfolds far differently from what we expected. Today has been one of those days that unfolded differently.  

That’s OK. I know that for some people, as they age, familiar routines provide a welcome grounding. For others, though, it is the change in routine that provides the spice in life. Now, I’m not suggesting that I’m aging… god forbid. But I would say that the unexpected, even if disruptive, is a welcome part of any day.

Equally welcome is the chance to feel engaged in the world around us. Today I’m working with a partner that has a supply of KN-95 masks that we seek to ship to Nepal and donate as part of the effort to forestall, or at least minimize, the third wave of the COVID pandemic there. BUT, KN-95 masks are being counterfeited, and I learned today that over 60% of the KN-95 masks in the US may fit that bill. 4

I’m still doing the research to determine if the masks we have are in that category. And, even if they don’t actually filter 95% of all particulates, they may still be good masks for day-to-day use. But we need to know, and as irritatingly unclear some of the FDA language may be for a layman, and as challenging as it may be to navigate through the bureaucratic web, it keeps me focused. It also makes me appreciate the complexity of managing the pandemic, maintaining standards and protecting the public welfare.

Of course, I didn’t plan to have to spend time on such research. I wasn’t expecting to be responding to emails about art shows, or running out at midday on unanticipated trips about town — but so it goes. When you are retired (or at least semi-retired) you can afford to be relaxed about how your day unfolds. I’ll just make a new plan to address tomorrow the things I missed today.  

Unless, of course, there are new unexpected challenges. 

Either way, it’s all good.  Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 5, 2021

I’ve been a bit lax in following up on the weekly StoryWorth questions that started as a gift from our daughter 18 moths ago.  It’s been about 75 weeks, I think. I’ve done 42 stories.  Actually, I don’t think that’s too bad. But I can do better.

So today, I thought I’d look at one of them. It asked me about the best photograph I’ve ever taken. Now THAT’S a tough question. In part, because I’m probably nothing more than an average amateur photographer. I enjoy it, and I know how powerful really good photography can be. But I’ve never really studied the art of it, never learned all the technical rules of f stops and apertures and white balance.  

I WANT to learn more. But I have to take the time and make the effort to work at it. And that’s a bit of a challenge with all the other things that we have going on. But some day…some day I’ll get there. It’s good to have things to aspire to and to keep learning so I’ll keep trying.

Meanwhile, I have to answer the question, I guess. The first photo that comes to mind is a shot of an Abyssinian Roller that kept flying down to scavenge on the ground right next to a few lions lounging under a tree in the Kidepo game park in northeastern Uganda.  I kept trying to get the bird in flight as it flew back up into the tree. Below is one of the shots that came from that

There are so many other pictures, though, that I’ve taken that I love. Not because they were so photographic marvels but because they captured something that mattered to me. A moment, an image, a smile… there’s always something. I’m attaching just a few of the shots that I treasure.

And, as I ponder getting on the road again and think about all the photos that are waiting to be taken I realize I’d better start working. Who knows, maybe the best photo I’ve ever taken is still waiting for a close encounter with me and my camera.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 4, 2021

I was watching CBS “Sunday Morning” and they reported on a story I had read about a few days ago. A couple was struggling with the husband’s early onset (age 53) Alzheimers. He forgot he was married to his wife and started courting her and eventually asked her to marry him. She accepted. They had a wonderful day. He was present. Lucid. And then the next day he forgot all over again.

In the day-to-day of their lives, more often than not he won’t be present. But his wife said that at least she would have the memories of that special day and I couldn’t help but think that is what we say when someone we love dies — “At least I have the memories.”  

However, this woman’s husband is alive and in the same room with her. But nonetheless, in so many fundamental ways that defined him and their relationship, he is gone. She has to be content with the memories, because new adventures together aren’t in the cards.

The story resonated because, as I get older I see folks I know struggle with Alzheimers or other types of dementia and it seems so heartbreaking and devastating. To watch as you slowly lose yourself and your memories and your connections to those you love. So hard.

I know that there is so much that changes with the passage of years that we have to accept. But there is something in the thought of losing my memories and my sense of self that shakes me. The idea of not knowing those I love; seeing myself slipping away and knowing I can’t stop the process; not being able to comfort those I love — all are troubling thoughts and there are times, like this morning, when you think about these things. But you can’t dwell on them either. 

Aging is a universal part of the human conditions but we all experience it in our own ways. Some of us deal with physical maladies, others with cognitive challenges. I’d opt for the former if I had a choice, but that’s not how it works. There’s really no knowing where out paths will take us. So I guess, like all of us, I’ll just have to take things as they come. Time will tell. Those are concerns for a future day,

Instead, today, there are other things to reflect on as we celebrate our nation’s independence. Barbecues and fireworks and 4th of July ‘blowout sales” can cause us to lose sight of the meaning of the day. But it can’t hurt to reflect for a moment about how differently we would have viewed this day two hundred years ago when the struggle for our independence was still a “lived experience” that was fresh in folks’ minds. 

Or what meaning might we ascribe to this day if we had lived through a devastating and destructive civil war that had exposed fragility of our union? 

Or how did folks feel about the 4th of July in the years of WWI and WWII when their fathers, husbands, or son fought on the battlefields in Europe? 

And to those who had lived through earlier times of crisis, today might feel familiar. Although the challenges we face as an evolving society are daunting so too were theirs. And yes, find an effective and meaningful response to the challenges is all the harder because we are so divided as a society. But those who came before saw intense divisions too.  

So, these unnamed shapers of the democratic legacy we have inherited might be able to appreciate the challenges before  us but I wonder, though, if they would find us too cavalier about the blessings of liberty and our democratic process. I wonder if they might even worry that we lack the resolve to preserve it. 

I worry about that as well.  I guess time will tell on that one too.

Happy 4th of July. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 3, 2021

It’s a beautiful morning. Comfortable, low humidity, sunny skies. Nice.

I’m tackling this early today while I’m still full of energy and hope for the new day. The energy will diminish a bit as the day goes on, but the hope can stick around. Every day is full of new opportunities, new ideas, and new plans. If you’re vaccinated at least.

We keep thinking that we can move on from the Coronavirus and if you’re fully vaccinated you can at least have a shot at doing so. Those who aren’t face a different reality. The problem, though, is that they don’t see it.

There are many reasons why folks might not be vaccinated. But, it seems that the majority of those who have opted not to act are also those who complained about masks and social distancing. They were aggrieved when their favorite watering hole was closed and they bitched and moaned as if the public health measures were tyrannical efforts to deprive them of their freedom rather than a desperate effort to save lives and forestall a tragedy on an much greater scale than what we say. 

To many of them the pandemic is a hoax and the deaths of over 600,000 of our fellow citizens is an inconvenient fact that they can just ignore or offer outlandish theories to explain.

And many of them still live in their world of denial. But their denial doesn’t matter to the pandemic or to the Delta variant. 

So, just as we clearly have two Americas when it comes to how we feel about our democracy, about racial justice, about distribution of wealth, support for families, and about the “big lie,” so too do we have two Americas when it comes to COVID.

And the America of these deniers and anti-vaxxers is about to get grimmer, I fear, because they want to do all the “normal” things that those who are vaccinated are now able to do. They will go maskless, they will go to large gatherings, they will travel and eat and drink… and they will also be prime targets for the opportunistic and so very virulent Delta variant.

If they choose not to get vaccinated they should also choose to exercise a greater level of care and restraint in their choices. But they won’t. They don’t want to accept that the Delta variant is waiting and that they are more at risk than ever. They don’t want to hear that most of the deaths that have occurred from COVID over the last six months have been people who were not vaccinated. But whether they deny it all or not, that’s their reality.  

I’d rather have mine.

I try to respect people’s right to make choices about their lives, but this feels like it’s more about politics and the culture wars than it is about vaccines and their efficacy. In the past, we might have come together on an issue like this. We might have felt a duty to act. We might have felt that we were doing this to protect our friends and neighbors and that we had a responsibility to be part of the effort to stop the spread of a dangerous disease. But I guess it depends on which America you live in these days. And that’s a sad state of affairs.

And now, the kitchen calls. Veg korma, vegan ‘butter chicken,’ and other goodies need to be created on this pretty Saturday morning.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

July 2 2021

I’m done for the day.  Totally. Done. 

It was a good day., though.  I worked this morning, catching up on all sorts of things.  Then I went shopping and running errands, All was accomplished. It was a pleasant day.

It became even better when I got back home. Then it was time to get creative in the kitchen. There’s seldom a recipe that I don’t tweak.  I enjoy cooking, as I know I’ve said before. For me there’s a yin and a yang to it.  

On the one hand there’s a process. It’s about thinking through the ways to tackle multiple recipes at once, it’s about the knife work, Physical efficiencies. Turning the work into a dance, shifting from one task to another and back again. 

But it’s also about the intuitive. Feeling your way around the recipe. Experimenting. Knowing what spices might work. It’s kind of zen like. It’s like trying to be Yoda in the kitchen lol. And, once in a while, those experiments just happen to work. Who’d have imagined. 

With that in mind, today, I think I made the best version yet of a classic dish that I’ve loved since I lived in Bombay back in the day when it was still called Bombay.  

I prepared a couple of other dishes as well and there will be more tomorrow. I’m planning to blow a week’s worth of calories in one night…but it will, I hope, be worth it. But that depends on my Yoda-ness as I tackle four more dishes tomorrow. 

But now I can sit and relax for a bit as the day winds down.  So I’ll take a pass on lengthy commentary tonight and ponder with pleasure the three day weekend ahead. Enjoy.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.  

July 1, 2021

I had hopes of writing earlier today but it was not to be. It was a little of this and a little of that and before I knew it it was time for Jeopardy. I’m a fan. Big time. It has been interesting to watch with the various guest hosts since Alex Trebek passed away. Many of them have done good jobs, but it’s still hard to imagine who will replace Alex as the new permanent host. 

Having said that, the game remains just as engaging as ever. I have fun playing along. Of course, it’s easier when you’re sitting at home and not on the spot in the studio but… I could take some of those dudes. I just know it.

But, I digress. My real task tonight is not to defeat the reigning Jeopardy champ but to settle on recipes for Saturday. Our dear friend Jane Vance and her son and his wife are coming over. COVID made sure that our in-home entertaining was sharply curtailed, so I’m not sure we’ll remember how to entertain. But we’ll try. 

I will confess that I’m looking forward to time in the kitchen. My back just has to hold up. I’d list the menu here, but Jane reads this blog so she’ll just have to wait. It will be Indian – themed and I wouldn’t hold true to my entertaining roots if I didn’t make our guests guinea pigs for at least one or two new recipes. They would be wise to come hungry. There is going to be a lot of food and hunger always makes the food taste better anyway. (I hope that the food will stand on it’s own merits, but it doesn’t hurt to get any advantage you can!)

Just because Jane and her family are special, though, we’re going to share our last jar of Patak’s Brinjal Pickle/Relish with dinner. It’s only fair though, Jane introduced us to that particular delight along with Gil Harrington on a visit to Roanoke. It’s hard to find around here, but we’ve got another six jar pack on the way. 

It has been so busy lately I haven’t had much kitchen time and I’m in the mood. I like every bit of the process from choosing the recipes to shopping for the ingredients to reveling in the scents of the spices. In the next few days it will be garlic and ginger, cumin and turmeric, garam masala and cardamom, fenugreek, masala chaat powder, and more. 

Can’t wait. 

But now, as we start a new month, let me close with a public service message. Please, study the image below and take it to heart. If you have a dog, take the time and talk to them before it’s too late. The tragedy of dogs and alcohol. Don’t let it happen to you and your pup. 

And that’s all for a Friday’s eve. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.