March 2021 – It’s Been a Year!

March 31, 2021

Another month comes to an end in the era of the coronavirus pandemic. I don’t even know what to say about it. The month of March passed in a blur. When I was a kid in Minnesota, we’d say that March would come in like a lion and go out like a lamb. Not sure that we can say that this year in Virginia. March was… undistinguished. No weather events to speak of. No particularly dramatic political news. It was just another month. The 13th of living life COVID-style. And yes, we all know it is getting old but all you have to do is look at the reports from Europe and the trend lines here to know it’s not over. India and Pakistan, too, are seeing some frightening surges. It’s all still a mess. But there’s hope at least, and if we all keep on getting vaccinated, AND if we stay smart, maybe we can avoid another round of heartbreak and loss.

Meanwhile, I have to ask… has the world just gotten ever crazier or is it just that the news highlights those stories that are most disheartening.  The Floyd case being back so prominently in the news ensures we’re reminded that we have so far to go before we can say that we are a truly just, color-blind society. Then there’s the story about the guy who brutally attacked and kicked the Asian woman who now lies in the hospital with a broken pelvis. And there’s that tale of Matt Gaetz of Florida — the little mini-Trump — and the allegation about a 17 year old girl with whom his relationship may have been SO inappropriate.  

On that last story, I want to reserve judgment. Let the facts come out. But I have to say that his defense of himself on Tucker Carlson’s program was so bizarre that even Carlson had to shake his head. And Trump is apparently launching his own social media-style platform — he can’t stand not being the center of attention, but how outrageous will his next lies have to be to get the spotlight on him. He wants to be center stage all the time… even if it’s only in the guise of a clown.

Then my heart wanted to break as I watched two police officers berating and verbally abusing a little five year old black boy who had left school. Yes… one of the officers was a black female. I still don’t think this would have been the same story had the child been white. And irrespective of the racial overtones, for any adults to terrorize and scream at and threaten a child that way. What is the world coming to. What makes them feel that it’s ok for them to act that way? I wanted to weep for that little boy, hold him, and tell him it will all be OK. Our grandson Luca turned 5 today. The thought of his world being made to feel so frightening and ugly is so distressing. Shame on theses cops. There’s no excuse.

There’s no excuse for Trump, or Gaetz, or those particular cops. Or the guy who attacked the woman, or George Floyd’s killer, or for the shooters in Atlanta, or Boulder, or so many others who feel they have a license to lie and hate and take their anger — whatever its source — out on others.

It’s wrong. And god knows I’m sick to death every time another story appears. We’re better than that. We are. I believe it. And we need to tell the tales that prove it. They’re out there. They should lead the news. And let Trump and all the rest disappear into the miasma of their unrepentant hate and bother us no more.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 30, 2012

Here today, gone tomorrow.  It’s an old phrase. We can employ it in a variety of ways. Today, it was about books.  400 arrived. 265 left. Whoosh. Getting good around here at the whole filling orders thing. It didn’t hurt that our granddaughter helped a bit and her mom and dad pitched in yet again when they came to pick Sofie and Leo up from their sleepover.  Between us all, we fill all the orders in less than six hours from the time the UPS truck pulled up in front of the house. 

Of course, my back is a bit annoyed with me. Lifting boxes with 50 books at a time is a younger man’s game, I’d suggest. But what the heck I’m enjoying the experience.  We’ve got all of 135 books to get us through the next 3-4 weeks while we await our next reorder — the first reprint of “The Ambassador’s Dog.”  We had someone in France reach out today. They not only would like to order some copies but they wondered if we’d like to translate it into French-Breton and Tibetan! Another customer, who got her first two books on Monday, ordered 30 more today to give as Christmas presents because she fell in love. It’s really gratifying to get that kind of a response.

I’m tired though… and it’s already 9:30. I’m not going to write long. 

Earlier today, had I begun to write in a timely manner, I would likely have focused on the pandemic that IS still with us. And although all our kids and their partners have gotten at least one shot or are fully vaccinated, many out there are not. And the disease hasn’t quit.  Numbers are on the rise again in over half the states in the country.  The experts are pleading for us all to be smart, take care, and wait. But folks don’t want to listen.

Yes, it’s true that we traveled to Texas to see baby Gus but we were fully vaccinated and we still flew with masks and face shields (we were in the distinct minority with the latter).  We didn’t eat out. We didn’t go anywhere without masks or without distancing… but there were more than enough who are ready to pull the plug on precautions.

And there are way too many so-called leaders who think that giving people the news they want rather than the guidance and direction they need is what leadership is all about. It’s not about winning popularity contests. It’s about being strong, doing what is right, and exercising judgment.  Not a strong suit for some of these folks.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll get a chance to focus more on current events. Tonight I’ll just say it was fun to have the kids with us, great to knock out those book orders, and I’m pretty sure I’ll sleep well tonight.

I hope everyone does.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 29, 2021

The day has slipped away. It’s been busy and reasonably productive, but there’s always more that has to be done. Some of it will just have to wait, however, because our two eldest grandchildren are visiting for a sleepover!

Last week, of course, we had time with our youngest, Gus. But having Sofie and Leo over today is another part of the joy of being grandparents. Gus didn’t have to interact… he just had to lay there and be sweet and let us hold him and he had done his job. But with Sofie and Leo we get to share stories, hear their perspective and marvel at the changes which the past year has brought. The increasingly wry sense of humor, the evolving relationship between big sister and not-SO-little brother, and their deepening understanding of the world around them. It’s fascinating.

Sofie today summed the past year of school in this COVID life (all virtual) succinctly — it sucks. I thought her comment was spot on… though it was the first time I heard her use that phrase. She is, indeed growing up.

I KNOW they have to get older. Their little brother Luca is turning five this week and I swear it was just yesterday he was as tiny as Gus. Sofie and Leo are both in double digits. And I really am intrigued to see how they will grow and what their lives will be like. But our own children grew to adults far too quickly. I wish it wasn’t going to be true with the grandkids as well.

They’ll always be our little ones in our minds, though. And that’s something. AND… even with Sofie and Leo, the words “ice cream” still work magic. Who can ask for more than that.

So, Happy Monday, and thank god for ice cream. Baskin Robbins awaits. Stay safe, stay strong, stay healthy.

March 28, 2021

Man. I think I’d rather remain immersed in a world where the snuggling of babies and shutting out all that is nasty and mean-spirited and threatening is all I had to do rather than get back to reality. 

In fact, after the last few days with our month-old grandson, I found myself convinced, or at least hopeful, that the sheer power of presence and connection and love could keep Gus safe and secure. And I don’t believe I’m wrong about that. It IS important to have the unconditional love and acceptance of our parents and grandparents to provide a safe haven when the world seems bleak.

I hope that having love of that sort will ensure that it will be many, many years before Gus feels that the world is a scary or bleak place.

But this morning, as I fly back to Virginia, I am looking at the news I’ve avoided over the past few days that I spent focusing on Gus and I’m reminded that crazy and stupid don’t just disappear.

And as I read the headlines, I have to ask: how stupid can some people be? Did the leader of the Michigan Republican Party REALLY think it’s OK to talk about assassination of the Republican Congressmen from his state who voted for the articles of impeachment against Trump? Did he REALLY think it acceptable to call the three top Democratic women leaders in the state witches and talk about burning them at the stake? Really?

And do Republicans in Georgian truly feel comfortable with racist innuendo and slurs when passing legislation that clearly had one real purpose — restrict the voting rights of minorities in the state? What does that effort, and the efforts by Republicans in so many states across the nation, say about the future they see for our nation. How equal and fair and just would America be if they have their way?  

And then there’s the former president, who in a pathetic effort to remain relevant is again spreading his lies. Gee… to think I didn’t realize that the mob that stormed the Capitol were “hugging and kissing” the police. They were “zero threat.” Gosh… I thought that an officer died, that day. I thought 137 were injured defending the Capitol. I thought the mob that was zero threat was seeking to hang legislators, were the ones spraying police with chemicals, beating them with whatever they could get their hands on, and were ugly and hateful in their attacks, especially on police officers of color.  

But I guess I’m wrong. Trump said it is all a lie and that the attackers and police had a great relationship.  

Bah. I hate even thinking about him and his lies. But it can’t just be ignored either. This is part of the world in which we live. This is part of what gives rise to legislation that goes against all our democracy stands for as one segment of our society seeks to perpetuate white privilege and the injustice and inequality that goes along with it. This is what gives rise to the rhetoric of violence and hate and misogyny.

The GOP leader in Michigan said he should have been more careful in his choice of words but never suggested that his attitude and beliefs needed a fundamental reexamination. He doesn’t get it. Most of the folks like him don’t. And Trump empowers them with his lies. He makes them feel it’s OK to be hateful, cruel and reckless. Trump did it. And his fans flocked to him. And so it goes.

I hope that this will pass with time and as inevitable generational change allows new attitudes and beliefs to come to the fore. 

Human nature being what it is, it won’t be all rainbows and unicorns I know. But I hope that Gus, Sofie, Leo and Luca — OUR next generation — will inherit a world that is different and better. And, until then, maybe we’ll hold them a little bit closer for a little longer and believe that the power of our love really CAN be a buffer — at least for now.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 27, 2021

It’s back to Virginia in the morning. I’m going to miss this little boy. We don’t have the luxury of Gus living just thirty minutes away as we do with Sofie, Leo and Luca.

But it is what it is. When Sofie and Leo were little we were living in Nepal and then in Uganda.  That was 5 and a half years during which the.engagement was on trips home and on platforms like Skype. Not great connections but better than nothing.

When we arrive home, there will be the welcoming committee of the four pups and, even if they aren’t a substitute for cuddling a newborn, they offer their love freely and they too are a special part of our lives.  

And the coming days will be busy. We have about 150 orders to fill which will eat up about 230 of the 400 books arriving in Tuesday’s shipment. There are more coming behind them and now we’re starting the quest for a literary agent and a possible US publisher in earnest. And, if that doesn’t work, we’ll continue as we have… which has been its own adventure.

So another week awaits. I guess perhaps tomorrow I’ll write while sitting in the airport at Atlanta or on the plane. But today I’ll stop here in order to enjoy a bit more time with Gus, reminding him, with a whisper in his ear…”don’t forget your Papa.” I certainly won’t be forgetting about him. Until next time, Gus. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 26, 2021

It’s a beautiful day in Austin. Sunny blue skies. Temps will reach the 80s and there’s nice breeze. My son says this is the perfect time of year and he may be right. We just took a walk with the baby and now sitting out on the patio listening to The Beach Boys. It takes me back as we hear songs from the Pet Sounds album that was such a standard on my play list as a teenager.  

God… it’s over a half century since it was issued. I guess THAT is a reminder of how the years have passed. It happens.  

There was something satisfying today in just having time with my son — who I haven’t seen for 14 months thanks to the pandemic — and his son. Just as there are in the moments when our daughter and her family who live only 30 minutes from us, come over. And we hope to visit Minnesota soon to see the last two of our flock.  

It’s times like these that reaffirm for us what is truly important in our lives. I learned long ago that family first isn’t just a slogan you offer in the workplace. It is about how we view the world and about what we prioritize. 

And today my heart was eased a bit to learn that Tony and Nat here in Austin and Joe and Jess in Minnesota will all get their COVID vaccinations in the coming days. With that, all the adults in the family will be vaccinated. The worry about everyone’s well-being over the past year has been a constant. Not always front of mind perhaps, but always there. And knowing that everyone has been vaccinated will be a relief. 

It doesn’t mean that all worries go away. We see that COVID numbers are surging still. We still see 1,000 deaths a day and 50,000+ new infections per day. The new variants, which aren’t so new any more, are driving the rise in infections and we still aren’t out of the woods, but I’ll take a fully vaccinated family over a non-vaccinated family any day of the week.

So today it’s all about family — from those of us whose memories are stirred by Pet Sounds to those like Gus who are hearing the musical stylings of Raffi… and his Papa… for the first time. The ties of love, of memory, of shared experience that make a family — those are the things that are foremost for me on this sunny day in Texas. 

It’s a good way to end the week.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 25, 2021 

It’s a busy day. Even here while supposedly relaxing in Texas with Gus.  

The world isn’t intruding TOO much… but it’s waiting. 

I didn’t, for example, have a chance to listen to Biden’s news conference, but I read about it. I’m not shocked by the array of issues. There are problems and challenges aplenty. And they only touched on some of them. It’s no wonder that so many Americans just tune out. They can’t keep up, can’t keep track, and can’t see the solutions. It’s a tough proposition.

I can’t help but find myself drawn to the discussion of public policy, foreign policy and political issues. I’m kind of a policy geek. Not one that is sure he has any answers, mind you, but the kind that is fascinated by the complexity of the questions and feels the need to try and understand on some level what it all means. So, in a sense, that keeps my mind busy… but that’s barely a blip on my radar screen right now. Thinking about policy is the least of my concerns. There are just too many other things going on. 

We’ve got a shipment of 400 books arriving in the coming days. About half of them are already sold. So we are moving on to the first reprint of “The Ambassador’s Dog,”which will begin at Archana Printers in New Delhi on Tuesday. And while that happens we have to explore the options for an American printing as well. Then there’s the marketing. We may follow the Here and Now interview with another on Minnesota Public Radio if they follow-up on their recent inquiry and we’re exploring other ways to promote the story and, in particular, get it into bookstores. What an interesting and convoluted process that is!

Then there’s the challenges of dealing with Amazon… words can’t describe my frustration on that count. Another reason to explore getting a US publisher perhaps. Let them deal with Amazon. I hadn’t necessarily expected a reprint nor the volume of orders that had to be filled a week ago. If that sort of thing is in the cards again we’re going to need a new business model.

Then, while thinking about the book, answering emails, working on sales and pondering whether there is a sequel waiting to be written, I was asked today about possible lectures on some cruises in the Caribbean later this year. Hmm. That’s a tough call. Everyone on board will have been vaccinated, but still… hmmm.  The urge to travel is there. The urge to get back into the world. And I haven’t ever traveled in the Caribbean. This requires a touch more thought.  Not just from a health standpoint, but preparing those lectures is a bit of work — at least for me. I want to get it right. I want folks to be interested and I want to spark discussion and consideration on issues that matter. It doesn’t just happen. I’m already preparing a couple of lectures for a speaking gig in Highlands, North Carolina in late June. So a portion of my time has to be allocated to that work as well. 

Then there’s my work as a consultant at State. That too has kept me busy.  A few hours a day still is a few hours a day. Even more demanding though, is my work on behalf of Engage Nepal. We continue to grow and there’s more than one evening in the week that finds me still sitting before a computer working on the tasks that have to be managed. And, starting in April, I’ll be supporting three young, part-time, team members who are going to help us with research, marketing, and social media. I hope it will be a rewarding effort but, along with working with partners in Nepal on our projects, trying to do fund raising, and managing the day-to-day tasks of running an NGO, this is a job that keeps me busy even without all the other tasks. 

And that’s just work. There’s more to life than work. There’s the garden, and the dogs, and exercise and music and cooking and reading. And, and, and… there’s never enough time or energy. But today the non-work hours included “Gus time.” THAT was very therapeutic to say the least. 

So, now more than ever in my life, balance is all important. I’m watching our son and daughter-in-law rebalance their lives now that Gus is part of them and I realize that the effort to get the balance right is one that we deal with at every stage in our lives.  

As a result, I’m working harder than ever to cultivate that aura of zen-like tranquility that I’ve always preached to my colleagues about. I know that all the tasks, all the challenges — at least those that truly matter to me — will get managed. They always do. And, although I may have too many tasks that “truly matter” that’s still ok with me. They add a texture and complexity to my life that makes me think and stay engaged. And THAT is not a bad thing at all.  

So here’s to busy days, full lives, and things (and people) that truly matter. We could do worse.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 24, 2021

I’m on the road. It seems to me that I should get a pass on writing while traveling, but a little voice inside tells me I have to. So I will.

The cool part is that as I write I can look across the room at my sleeping grandson rocking in his swing. The peace of a baby in sleep. I have to believe it is a sleep without care or worry. How wonderful.

I would wish for him that his world will always be without cares and worries, but that, of course, is not something any of us can expect. Still, I want to believe that there is still a chance that I can be part of making the world a little bit better for him, a little bit safer, a little bit saner.

Yes, the big issues are big and complex. But we can make a difference at the margins and if enough of us work at the margins the progress we see may well be more than the sum of the individual efforts. So we try. 

Climate change is one of those issues. There’s so much we can do to help on this issue and there’s no doubt — none — that our failures will haunt the future of our grandchildren. They deserve better from us. How hard is it for us to make conscious choices about our carbon footprint. How hard is it for us to be responsible in our purchases, to look at packaging, to think about the waste we create, to make the effort to recycle, to reduce emissions, waste less water and so much more. We can do it and if we ALL would act. It would help. 

Sure, there are also big police issues we must address and without those changes our own actions may seem like small change. But we can’t use the political roadblocks as an excuse for us to do nothing. Like so much, it begins with us. 

And the same is true of gun control. I don’t want my grandchildren living with the threat of gun violence at their schools. I don’t want them to deal with the seemingly endless strings of senseless mass killings. This is NOT normal. It does NOT have to be. It doesn’t make us special as Americans to hold onto a macho vision about gun ownership that leads to thousands dying every year at the wrong end of a gun.

When will we find the courage to change? Sandy Hook, Parkland, Las Vegas, Dayton, Miami, Virginia Beach, El Paso and more. And now the attacks in Georgia and Boulder. When will it end? We express our horror and dismay and call for change… and then nothing ever happens. 

We say THIS time, enough is enough. But obviously, that’s not true. We see school children slaughtered… young lives ended and others scarred forever… and all we get are words but no action. This is a hard nut to crack as we seek to overcome a mythology that equates gun ownership and freedom and the timidity of politicians afraid of offending the NRA and its supporters.

This is another of those fundamental divides in our nation and if we can’t find a reasonable path forward together then we have to choose a side. Will we fail our children and grandchildren? I don’t want this to be part of the future for the grandkids. We shouldn’t ask them to live with the constant cycle of horror and sadness. 

It’s hard to think about this as I watch Gus stretching and waking up so innocent and ready to face the adventure that each day offers him. The constant exposure to new sensations, sounds and experiences that is part of a newborn’s lot. So all I’ll say is that we have to do better for all these kids. We owe it to them.

Now it’s time to get me some snuggles.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 23

Today, our youngest grandson, Gus, is one month old. And today, he meets his Nana and Papa DeLisi.

Gus, however, lives in Austin, with his mom and dad, and THAT means travel. A journey.

Now, I’ve always thought of myself as an intrepid traveler. There were few adventures offered over the years that I declined to take. The chance to see the world… to be part of it. Whether a road trip here at home, a short hop across a few states, or a trek to a remote corner of the Himalayas, the adventure always called — and the call was answered.

And each trip is an adventure. Even the small ones. Who knows what might await around the next bend. Who knows who you’ll meet or the experiences you’ll have. I’ve always loved it. BUT… travel in the age of COVID. Hmm. This too is an adventure.

We’re only part way through it. I’m typing as we sit in the Atlanta airport awaiting the flight to Austin. But I’ve got to say, traveling masked — and with face shields on — the flights at least — are… different.

Dulles airport wasn’t so busy. They had signs on escalators and walkways promising that they had been sanitized for our safety. Some shops were open. Some closed. The same is true here in Atlanta.

There was hardly a soul at the check-in at Dulles. Few folks in line to catch the train to the terminal after we breezed through a TSA precheck that was totally empty. It was a bit odd. But it was the same old process. That much felt familiar.

On board the aircraft, folks were all masked — but when the snack was served (water and goldfish crackers and a Cliff Bar) some of the masks were removed. Overall, though, folks followed the rules and there was no fussing, but some seemed to have selective deafness when instructed about the process for orderly, socially-distanced, de-planing,

Atlanta seems quite a bit busier, but seems akin to Dulles. The trash cans open automatically to receive your deposit — no need to touch those surfaces, at least. Soap and towels in the restroom are touch free too. All good. There are also folks sitting at the restaurants eat and drinking and talking without masks.

Much as we have seen in the past year, people across the country view the pandemic differently. Some believe that they’re part of a social compact and have a responsibility to and for each other. Others just say “screw you” and do as they damned well please. All in all, I’d say travel this way isn’t terrible. But it’s harder and less pleasant. Eating and drinking are a pain. It’s hotter and harder to breathe but not horrible.

Again… it’s manageable. AND at the end of the journey we’ll meet Gus (and see Nat and Tony) and it will all be worthwhile. Can’t wait.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

March 22, 2021

I saw a news notice streaming across the top of a website a little while ago. It said “White House press secretary Jen Psaki holds a briefing.” I barely blinked. It is striking how quickly that sort of thing has become normal again. How quickly we forget the concerns of the past four years where the norm was for the White House to abuse the press, avoid the tough questions, and refuse to address the issues rather than hold almost daily briefings.

The world looks so different two months after the inauguration of Joe Biden. But there is still so much to do and to manage. I watched the clip of Tony Blinken’s meeting with the Chinese the other day. It was a tough session. And we’re taking some pretty tough stands vis-à-vis Russia as well. THAT has to be a shock to Putin after having been so gently cosseted for the past four years. 

Biden is sending a signal early. There’s always time to be conciliatory later, but it seems that the issues we have with both nations — ranging from human rights and cyber attacks to a refusal to engage constructively within a rules-based international order.

I’d note the irony of the Chinese criticizing us for our failings in the realm of human rights, but when we look at the systemic abuses faced by our citizens of color and the climate of hate and intolerance that has grown in recent years we can’t be surprised if we are called out for our own failings.

I never pretended over the years that we were perfect, but our own challenges didn’t stop me from urging better human rights behavior from foreign partners even while acknowledging the work we had to do ourselves. But, if we refuse to admit to our own imperfections and, worse, if we refuse to tackle the issues of systemic racism and inequality on many levels, then the charge of hypocrisy directed at us starts to ring true.

China’s record of horrific abuses directed against its Muslim Uyghur community are clearly established despite Chinese denials. But if we’re unwilling to address our own systemic racism or the anti-Asian violence that has grown so much in the past year then how can we expect the world to be impressed by our demands that China stop its actions. 

Tough issues. I was listening this morning to more reports about the flood of unaccompanied minors at the border — something I wrote a bit about yesterday. The criticisms and questions are absolutely legitimate. But we also have to recognize the added challenges of managing this during a pandemic when the network of shelter homes is under much greater strain. The problem of course is compounded because Biden has made it clear we won’t turn these children away pending reviews of their status — unlike the Trump administration that just said no and left the children with no options but to wait in camps in Mexico or journey back to the homes they had fled because of danger and violence.

So what do you do? Take the criticism for holding the children longer in Homeland Security facilities while trying to get them into shelters or turn them away and put them at risk as they seek to navigate a dangerous environment on their own.

In many ways, it is just a different dimension of the same problem we’ve grappled with for years. But if we’re going to err, I guess I’d still rather that we err on the side of decency and compassion than out of callous disregard for the well-being of those kids.  

The bottom line is that there are never easy answers to any of these question or to the choices that confront us. And I am no expert on immigration nor have I ever had to work directly on China or Russia issues or most of the horrifically complex challenges our leaders face. I do believe though that, at the end of the day, our choices have to reflect our values. For four years under Trump those choices generally reflected beliefs and attitudes that I not only did not share but often found to be a betrayal of the values on which our nation was founded and that shaped my years of service.  Now, under Biden, I recognize our nation again and, even if his choices create new problems, I hope we remain true to our beliefs even as we strive to do better in implementing them.

Meanwhile, for me, it’s time to turn my sights on Texas. Tomorrow we fly to Austin just in time to mark grandson Gus’ first month birthday. There’s a lot snuggles that have been missed in that first month. We’ll be masked and face-shielded on the plane. And before meeting Gus we’ll be showered and clothes will be changed. But meet him we will. The snuggles will happen, and he’ll be treated to a variety of the songs that were sung to me by my mother (who in some cases got them from hers) and that I sang to Gus’ dad. He can’t be denied the rich musical heritage that includes “Puddin’ Head Jones,” “Five Little Fiddlers,” and “Little Man You’ve Had a Busy Day” to name just a few. Oh yes…Texas calls. Gus awaits.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 21, 2021

It has been a busy day. The final 150 books have been packed and shipped, making room for the shipments of 400 and later another 1,500 that are coming next! Yikes. So, if you waited too long to get your copy, hope is not lost. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, in addition to dealing with the books, I tackled one of the three thorn bushes that were part of our garden when we moved here. They have become true nemeses. But one has been fully defeated. Not only were they all pruned back to nothing, now one was totally removed. I dug it out, roots and all, and opened up a great new hole for my latest bird feeder.

We’ve had so many avian visitors of late. It’s been fun to look out the window as I pack books and see three kinds of woodpeckers, finches, nuthatches cardinals and jays, wrens, chickadees, and more.  AND… our bluebirds, who like to nest in the little roof that covers the slide in the backyard that the grandkids still love, are back. I saw a pair… I’m sure they are the same pair… at the feeder a few times now.  

And, although the new feeder came with a squirrel baffle, I have no illusions about outwitting the squirrels. Instead, now I feed them too. They get fat, they drive the dogs crazy, and they eat more than their share probably, but I kind of enjoy watching them navigate the feeders. Maybe I go through the food a bit faster but that’s OK. We all have to eat, right?

And meanwhile, I’m eager to see what spring will bring in the garden. I have ambitious plans for the season and will watch them come together over time. When I was a kid, spring always seemed such a time of hope. That sense of renewal after a Minnesota winter was so strong. That’s what I’m feeling again this spring. Hope. It has kept raising its head ever since the elections last year. 

I know, like Punxsutawney Phil, spring might be a bit skittish. It has run for cover more than once. But I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will soon emerge into the full sunlight with all the swagger of a cock of the walk. We’ll see.

The progress on the pandemic is still tentative with plenty of things to worry about. But there is progress. And the children overwhelming Homeland Security’s ability to cope on the southern border is becoming a crisis and will be a test for this administration. Their heart seems to be in the right place and there’s no sense that we’ll see a repeat of children in cages, but we still have to offer care and we have to manage all the complexities of this immigration crisis. I give Biden and his team props for much that they’ve done already and for the new tone but governance is an unforgiving business and they need to get this latest challenge under control.  

We knew they were going to inherit an overwhelming array of problems. Biden knew it too. My guess is that he’s not surprised. But, that doesn’t make it any easier to solve the issues. I hope they get it right. And soon.  

Although there’s still more to do, I’m breathing easier this afternoon than I have all week. More challenges ahead but there’s a beautiful afternoon to enjoy this first Sunday of spring. So THAT is what I’ll do next.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 20

I’m reminded so often that, no matter the challenges we face, there are so many others whose burdens are greater, whose lives are harder, and whose difficulties seem overwhelming. But they persevere with grace and determination.  All we can do it our best to match their dignity and strength.  That’s my hope…even at this stage in my life.  We can always do more. We can always do better. We can al ways try.

The demands on my time these past few days remind me of just how precious and important that time is. It is a recurring theme for me, I guess. As frustrated as I become when there’s never enough hours in the day, I have to be glad, I guess, that my life is full, my interests varied, and that my days are as full as they are.

There’s still a ton do with the book sales and with it’s future.  A second print run is in the works and my granddaughter today told me — ordered me — to write the sequel. I don’t know. Maybe. A year ago I might have been doubtful. But who knows.

Meanwhile, plenty to do in the next few days. I’ll be setting up a new bird feeding station tomorrow (if time allows), I have work to do for State, work to do for Engage Nepal, work to do to get ready for our trip to Texas on Tuesday to meet young Gus (and, of course, bring hugs and kisses to Tony and Nat who have made the transition to parenthood like a couple of troopers!). 

There’s no time for slacking. The next 48 hours will be full.  I can sleep on the plane. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.  

March 19

One of the elves helping me to pack up books…so far about 150 tonight… reminded me that it was getting close to midnight and that it was time to write my blog for the day. I guess she’s right. She’s my daughter, after all, and somehow has come to believe that she is always right! I’m sure it’s a trait that is a throwback to a long forgotten ancestor. It CERTAINLY isn’t anything she inherited from me.

I’ve heard bits and pieces of the news today. More debate about racism and violence. Growing tensions as President Biden takes a much harder line with the Russians and now the Chinese. I’d like to hear a bit more. I really feel like I need to catch up but at the end of the day it will probably be the same stories just wrapped up a bit differently.I also am hearing that some of the COVID numbers are starting to pick up again.

This is still such an uncertain time with so many challenges for us all. By tomorrow, thinks will start to get back to something a bit closer to normal. All the orders have been entered into the database and by the time tomorrow midday rolls around I expect we’ll have shipped out close to 1000 books since the madness began Monday afternoon.

To have sold out the first printing in a bit over three months isn’t too bad. Our publisher in Nepal still has about 400 of the first run that he’s sending us. We’ll be able to meet our backlog and have a few left over to hopefully get us through until the second edition print run reaches us. (Yes…we’ve decided to stock a few more.

As I said the other day, it’s a great feeling to see the story shared across the nation. I hoe we’ll be able to touch a few more folks with this simple but beautiful story.It’s been fun to have a single-minded focus for a few days. But all the other dimension of life will reassert themselves. And it’s back to that rich and varied tapestry that makes up our existence in an ever-changing and complex world.Five minutes to spare before the day ends.

Time to post.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 18

So, it was another hard day. Overall, I’d say I’m a hard worker. It’s that Minnesota ethic. You just do it. Whatever needs to be done. And for the past few days since the Here and Now interview aired it has been a nonstop whirlwind.

Everything else except the most essential of concerns has been put on hold. The sales we get via Shopify are automatically added into our database bu now so the Amazon orders. The 900 or so that we received via Amazon have to be added manually and that alone is a huge challenge.

Then there’s the packing and hand shipping….we’ll have done over 1100 books this week by the time it is done. Cottage industry in spades.

I know, of course, I’m not as young as I once was. But that doesn’t diminish the drive or the determination. If a job has to be done it has to be done. You just do it.

I see that reflected in our kids too. They all have a tremendous work ethic. It’s not all work and no play … but it is about getting it done. Doing “the needful” as I used to hear colleagues in Bombay say when I was a young foreign service officer 40 years ago!

SO…the needful will be done. It’s going on 2 AM here. I kind of went over the blog deadline for today but I bet I’ll be excused.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 17, 2021

Happy St. Patrick’s Day for those who can lay claim to a drop of Irish blood and even to those who, like me, cannot. There’s still a few minutes left in the day and I can keep my daily blogging record intact with a few words posted now.

It has been another day of trying to ride the wave of the tsunami of orders that has overwhelmed the small enterprise that is “The Ambassador’s Dog.” Processing 900-1000 orders (numbers aren’t final yet) takes time when. you’re not Amazon. But It’s a labor of love.

And I have to say that I’m glad to have had the distraction of that labor because just a glance at the headlines is so distressing. The rise in anti-Asian violence makes me heartsick. It’s hateful, and so wrong, but the haters take their cue from all the other racist and hateful conspiracy theories that are out there. And there are far too many voices that want to encourage, embrace or coast along with the wave of hate because it makes them feel better about themselves or because it might win them followers or votes.

It won’t change either, I fear, until enough of us feel so much revulsion, and let it be known with our voices, our votes, and our decisions about how and where we spend our money, that those who are part of the hate crawl back deep into the shadows because they can no longer walk in the light with decent people.

Maybe that’s wishful thinking but I am so sick of the ugliness and pain that they bring. I have minutes only left in the day. And there are still more orders to process. Only a few more days of crazy, I think…but what a ride.

I wouldn’t recommend a green beer before bed but if you must…enjoy.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 16.

Help. The NPR interview was great.  But there IS too much of a good thing. We are overwhelmed with orders and with outreach and with total craziness.  We may be out of books soon. It’s hard to imagine that the entire first printing could be sold out but it’s possible.

So, that’s kind of cool but fulfilling these orders is a huge task. But, as we do so, it’s fun to see all the cities that we know…and so many that we don’t know… swim past us, order after order.  It’s a journey through America. Truckee, Glendale, Sondita, Klamath Falls, Portland, Colfax, Crockett. Albany (but not New York). Orders from Alaska and Hawaii and all of the lower 48 I think. It’s fascinating. But exhausting.

It’s humbling to think of a tale I’ve shared being read across the country though. It’s also a sweet thought.

But those books won’t pack themselves. So it’s back to the assembly line. 24 hour shifts. All hands… and paws… on deck.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy. 

March 15, 2021

It has been a heck of a day. In a good way, mind you.  But a little bit crazy.

This morning around 10 AM I got an email from Lisa Mullins at NPR. Lisa had kindly moderated a conversation with Jane Vance and me in a Zoom program about “The Ambassador’s Dog” for the Delaware Public Libraries earlier this month. It was lots of fun and the link is still on the Ambassador’s Dog webpage.

I guess Lisa thought it was fun too because the next morning she pitched the team at Here and Now at NPR about doing a story about the book and Jane’s and my collaboration. She got the green light and a few days later the three of us did another Zoom audio interview. And this morning, Lisa was reaching out to let me know that the interview was going to air today on the Here and Now broadcast.

I may have done a lot of interviews and speeches over the years and I’ve been on TV and radio more than once. But I have to say that it was still exciting to be interviewed by Lisa and to hear her talk about our book on a national broadcast. It’s not about publicity — though it was great for the book. It’s about being able to share a story that I care about. 

I’ve had to ask myself many times since I wrote the book why I cared enough to take the time to do this. Why it mattered to me. I didn’t do it to make money — neither did Jane. My guess is that few authors or illustrators are driven by the expectation of making a bundle. But it is about sharing a part of yourself and sharing a story that matters. A story of hope. And a story about dreams coming true. A story about being able to hear the unspoken, about embracing the serendipitous, and about remembering that there is beauty and wonder all around us if we are open to seeing it.

I always said that diplomats are, at heart, storytellers. And to me there’s joy and excitement and power in the telling of a story that makes me feel alive. 

Yes… there may be a few of you who roll your eyes at all this. And that’s OK. But when I think about what matters in this book, it’s those messages. That’s what resonates for me. And I think that is what has resonated for so many of the readers who have told us how much they loved the book. And I think that that message is what drove sales of over 500 more copies today. 

Like I said. A crazy day. So we’ve been processing orders, packing boxes and shipping books. I’ll admit we didn’t expect quite so much excitement. But it’s pretty cool. And to be featured on the Here and Now website is kind of cool too. The link is in a comment below.  

So now the question is… do we do a second printing? We aren’t out of books yet, but suddenly we realize that could happen. Decisions loom. It’s quite an adventure. And knowing that hundreds more will be part of the Ambassador’s Dog’s pack makes me feel it was all worthwhile. 

The journey has been one “meant to be” moment after another. And still it continues.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 14, 2021

A busy day lies ahead. It’s not just that we are having our daughter and son-in-law and (3) grandkids coming over – though that makes things busy enough. But there’s work to do to make the house ready for company. There’s food to be prepared. And perhaps weighing on me the most this morning is the work that’s waiting to be done for Engage Nepal.

When I agreed to lead the Foundation five years ago we had virtually nothing. So, in some ways, there was no pressure. I hoped to build something enduring but that was iffy. Most non-profits fail in the first year or so. But I said I’d try. And I have.

It started almost as an intellectual exercise — how do I build a non-profit, how do I make this work, how do we raise funds, what do we seek to achieve? Tons of questions. But, over the past 5+ years those questions have given way to progress and Engage Nepal has slowly taken shape. 

It’s no longer an intellectual exercise. It’s a commitment. It’s real. I’ve been surprised by how very personal it becomes. We don’t do huge projects in child nutrition and maternal health or agricultural development like those I oversaw as an Ambassador. Those were great and had a real impact, but they were not personal like this. Now, when we feed a malnourished kid, or help her Mom find new work, or we bring a computer to children being left behind, or we tackle the health care challenges faced in a village in a remote corner of Nepal, we KNOW who we’re helping. We see the faces of those with whom we partner. I see the smiles of the kids who got warm winter clothing or who are getting new school uniforms. They are real. We can help. It becomes personal.

I’m touched as well when I see communities that reach out to us. Communities that just want to make a difference. People willing to offer their labor to make a library for the kids a reality. That scrape together the funds to do the second floor if only we can help with the first. Farmers who promise to bring in the materials to be used for roofing. That’s personal too. Our partners trust us and ask only that we believe in them. That we offer a hand. 

So, although this blog isn’t intended to be a vehicle for outreach.  I recognize that in sharing it on FB it isn’t a strictly personal journal. I know it’s read, but I write less for an audience and much more for myself. But now and again, that line blurs as when I joined the chorus of folks last year urging people to vote, to engage, and to help drive change in our nation. And so today I’ll ask too. I’m asking that you take just a moment today to ask yourself if you can help Engage Nepal and the kids and moms and communities with whom we partner.

We’ve got five new projects we’re undertaking in the next month. An ambulance for a forgotten community, a community library, schools in Gorka and Solukhumbu in need of support and or rebuilding and a project that will give twenty women in a single community the training that will allow them to know the dignity of earning and supporting their families. Those are just for a start. In all of these efforts, we’ll be joined by the communities and other non-profits in making these dreams come true — it does take a village. The library, in particular, is a project I want to do. I know how much it meant to me as a child to have the world of books to inspire, to guide, and at times to offer refuge. I want the kids of Shankharapur to have that too. 

I don’t expect to find an angel donor who will say, here’s the $45k you need for these efforts. After five years of seeking, that kind of angel still eludes me. But there’s a small group of us who give every month. Ten dollars, twenty, or more. I’ll put the link to sign up to be a “Champion for Nepal” (a monthly donor program) below. (Yep, it’s easy and automatic after you sign up.) I hope a few of you might join Leija and me (and I’m grateful to say all of our kids and many other friends) in being part of that group. It really isn’t all that much, but it matters. A lot.

So please. Consider yourself asked. Monthly or even a single contribution to help us build a community library will really help. (I’ll put a link for one time donations below as well.)

I won’t hold it against you if you choose not to click. Most folks don’t. We’re busy. We have other causes we support. Money is tight. I know that there are many reasons. And I’m accustomed, after five years, to the reality that fundraising isn’t easy. But I can hope. It’s what keeps us going.

So happy Sunday and thank you.

Stay safe, stay strong, stay healthy.

To be a Champion for Nepal: click here

To make a gift to the Year of the Child campaign: click here

13, 2021

Well, I’m late today. It’s already 6 pm as I start to write. But I have plenty of excuses. It was a busy and beautiful day.

Had to go to the post office… books to mail. And there was a stop at Needles in the Haymarket.  About to begin my next project — little Gus needs his hand-stitched Christmas stocking from the Shepherd’s Bush collection. I stitch and then Leija transforms them into the stocking with lining, backing and piping from her extensive fabric stash. Everyone in the family has a special stocking thanks to our joint efforts, and Gus will be no exception.

Another was a stop a Michael’s to pick up needed supplies to finish up another project, also for Gus, but the details have to be withheld until it is hand delivered upon our arrival in Texas in just another ten days. After that it was the grocery store — a few things to pick up for the a dinner tomorrow with… drum roll please… daughter Tjiama and son-in-law Joe, both of whom have been vaccinated (as we have), and with Sofie, Leo and Luca our other wonderful grandkids with whom we’ve had, of necessity, only limited contact over the past year. Can’t wait for that!

And then the afternoon disappeared. I was working in the garden, installing a different arrangement for feeding the birds. That felt like… work! Yikes. At least that’s what my back told me later this afternoon. And then there were splinters to remove a couple of splinters before I could venture into the kitchen to make a big patch of vegan chili! I start with a great recipe from friend Peter Shin that I’ve revised just a bit — as I do with almost any receipt I encounter — to make it mine.

It has been a day filled with nothing special, but all of it felt like it was worth doing. It felt normal. It felt right. Have there been dramatic developments in the world? Maybe. I’ve not listened to the news or opened a news website. All I know is that in this little corner of the world, it was a peaceful day, the sunset has been pretty nice, and it may be an early night (in other words bed before midnight or 1 AM, lol) because we lose an hour as it is, and tomorrow will be another busy day of “normal.” “How lucky are we?” as my sister Debbie always used to say.

Time for chili.

Stay safe, stay strong, stay healthy.

March 12, 2021

There’s so much that has changed in the past year, but it’s not just the world around us. I’d wager that we have changed as well. 

There’s a new caution. A greater awareness of risk. We’ve rewired our brains to a certain extent and now, as we begin to venture out, shielded a bit by the aura that surrounds us after we lay claim to the holy grail of being fully vaccinated, we respond differently than we did a year ago. I can’t imagine what it will feel like going to an airport. It was odd enough to go to the Apple Store in the Fair Oaks Mall for a quick laptop repair yesterday.  

So strange. From being able to find easy parking to the structured, temperature-taking, order of the Apple Store to the free-wheeling, “come on in” attitude of other shops, it was all an adventure in learning what changes have occurred and in curating, to a degree, our response to them. You ask yourself about your comfort level, your willingness to accept risk. I’m trying to internalize my reactions… ask how I’ll handle the next outing. 

All the experiences that were part of the routine before I’m now regarding through a new lens. Will I be more cautious overall or will I ultimately want to jump into a “roaring 20’s-like mode?” A century ago they had survived WWI and then the Spanish flu pandemic. We have survived the Trump years and the COVID-19 pandemic. And like those who threw themselves into the hedonism and flamboyance of the Roaring 20’s, will we embrace part of a new, throw care to the wind, and live for the day, approach to life?

I may not be inclined to buy into the flamboyance and unrestrained devil-may-care attitudes of a century past, but there are more fundamental changes that have taken place. I’ve been reminded of what’s important. I’ve been forced to ask myself where and how I want to spend my time. We’re reminded that time is indeed a most precious commodity and not squandering it matters. 

I was asked recently if I missed being full-time in the workplace. Could I envision returning? The answer is a resounding no. I’m not sure if I would have been as certain a year ago as I am now. But I know that I’m at a time in my life where my choices need not be dictated by the workplace or by earning a few more dollars. It’s time for other things. It’s time for beaches and sunsets and gardens and music. It’s time for wine, and laughter. It’s time for family and for watching grandkids grow. It’s time to see places still unknown. And the past year has left me with no doubt that those are things I want to shape the years ahead. 

And, when I glance in a mirror I have to laugh. My beard has never been as long — even after a recent trimming. My hair is longer than it has been for years — even after my first salon trim in 13 months. I can’t recall the last time I wore a tie. Jeans have replaced dress slacks. Hoodies have replaced suit jackets. And the dress shoes in my closet seem disappointed to have been relegated to the role of bit players at best.

Yep. There’s a lot that has changed. Me included. I would have preferred to have arrived where I am via another route — preferably one that would have been pandemic free — but I’m glad to have made it through to this part of the journey. And whether they’re roaring or a bit more reflective, the 2020’s are full of hope and promise. I can’t wait to give them a whirl.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

Roaring in the '20s Members Show Prospectus, The Mills Station Arts and  Culture Center (MACC) at Mills Station Arts and Cultural Center (The MACC),  Rancho Cordova CA, Visual Arts

March 11, 2021

It was one year ago today that I made the commitment to write daily.  Foremost on my mind was the pandemic and the uncertainty about how our government would manage the pending crisis. Today, it appears that, although there are still challenges to be met, we have turned the corner and are facing the future with ever increasing optimism about bringing COVID-19 under control. 

We lost far more people than we should have. We have faced a greater degree of financial dislocation, primarily for the most vulnerable in our nation, than we needed to. And we saw leaders who cared more about politics and polls than they did about the human suffering that so many have endured.  

A year later, well over a half a million people are dead. Many more suffer from the long-term consequences of a dangerous new disease we still struggle to understand fully. Most experts believe that as many as 100 million of us may have been infected — we’ll never know because of the inadequacy of testing and the reality that many cases are mild or asymptomatic. With that as a base, and with the rapid rise in the number of vaccinations, herd immunity is in sight which is great… but we’re STILL seeing 1,700+ deaths a day. And as some states rush to return to normal — prematurely, I fear — we still have to face the risk of a surge.

What a year it has been. Politics and the pandemic went hand in hand and the bitterly fought election campaign and then the hotly contested election were as much a part of the story as the virus. Writing daily as we faced these issues was cathartic. To be able to speak out and express my anger, frustrations, and fears about what was happening to our nation and the failure of leadership we saw was an important outlet. 

I’ve since seen some of President Biden’s nominees having to find ways in their confirmation hearings to placate Republicans outraged because the nominee had been sharply critical of them and their party during the past year. I felt sorry for them, but recognized that if they were going to be effective in their new roles they would have to work with members of both parties on the Hill and calming the waters, even apologizing, was necessary. I get it. 

But I’m glad I’m out of it. I would find it hard, if not impossible, to return to the days of carefully weighing and measuring every word. And it would be even harder to be told I had to apologize for calling out folks like McConnell or Cruz or Graham and so many others who abandoned their principles for politics. They were directly responsible for enabling and supporting the actions and attitudes of the most destructive and hateful president to lead our nation in my lifetime and they put our democracy and future at risk. I have no regrets. I offer no apologies. And, at this point in my life, I can’t imagine pretending otherwise. 

I think that the daily reflection that has been part of writing a blog had reaffirmed for me what is important in my life and looking back over the 365 entries so far reminds me of the tremendous range of feelings the year has brought. So much to deal with in such a short time. I doubt that this year will be as dramatic, but time will tell. I’m eager to see where it will take us.

And now… just for fun… here’s both a cartoon to share from one of my favorites — Gary Larsen’s “The Far Side” — and to accompany it, here’s the first post I wrote a year ago today!

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.


March 11, 2020

The market dropped again today…we’re now officially in a bear market after many years of constant growth.  When measured against the countless ways that this disease is going to change our lives the market losses seem minor.  But these market slides are fueled by concerns about real economic slowdowns that won’t feel minor as they start to hit.  And, as it is, we have seen more than $5 trillion in value wiped out. 

What dominates the news, though, is the trauma and heartbreak in Italy where the virus continues to spread in a frightening way. Chancellor Angela Merkle in Germany cautions that 70% of the nation could become infected. The WHO has declared a pandemic. Not a surprise but still …. it kicks things up to a new level.

Here in the U.S. there are worries that numbers could reach 100,000,000. It’s inconceivable. Even if it was 10 million…or one million…it would be shocking and frightening. Tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands or even a million or more could die. Doesn’t mean that they will…but it’s a grim prospect.

The elderly are particularly vulnerable and — according to the demographic measures — that includes those of us in our 60s.  

This is the third day I’ve worked from home.  Day three of social distancing.  Of being conscious of hands near face.  Being conscious of hand washing…of being careful ….knowing that there are not enough tests, not enough respirators, not enough protective gear…not enough leadership.  South Korea, China, Japan, Italy, the UK — all are doing more testing and taking more proactive steps.   We lag far behind.  At our peril. Some of the best advice may be found in one of the links below…Cancel EVERYTHING. I fear we will do too little and take too long before we act. By then, the damage will be done.

  The news reports a bit over 1000 cases — but, without testing, we really have no clue at all.  Every guess is that the number is far higher and we’ll see an exponential spread in the coming days.  

And, as conservative pundits and news outlets offer a narrative that suits some political agendas but does nothing to serve the public interest, we see their listeners scoffing at guidance that pleads for caution. They think they know all the answers and, flaunting the arrogance of their willful ignorance, they act with reckless defiance — putting us all at risk in the process.

 Where could this lead?  I am not sure I want to consider this tonight.   Breath deeply.  Keep Calm.  Carry on.  And love those who matter in your life.


March 10, 2021

It’s one of those days where there’s not much to write about that matters to anyone but me, perhaps. But that’s OK. This isn’t a commercial blog, I don’t have advertisers who expect me to write on a particular theme, or to have so many readers. It’s not about readership. But, in making the decision to share these posts, I have hoped that some of them might at least spark a conversation on topics that touch us all. And, as we begin to experience the full impact of this pandemic the need to stay connected became all the more important and this act of sharing was, for me, part of that connection.

These days feel particularly busy, but when I think of the things I could jettison to make life a bit easier, writing every day isn’t among them. Today is day 365 of writing daily and sharing. It has been an adventure. But completing one year of writing no longer has any particular significance. It’s a benchmark, perhaps — a measure. But it doesn’t signify much else. It’s not an ending. It’s not a transition point. It’s just a marker on a continuum. 

Today is the last day of any year that will mark the first time I’ve done a blog on that day. But second times can be good… and thirds… and fourths. I’ll keep posting them, I think, because it does spark conversation and it does keep me in touch with some of you who read this. But whether I post or not, this deliberate act of forcing my mind to settle enough to express something… usually something that is front-of-mind… is good. It has become an important part of my day. In some ways it is a bit of “mindfulness” practice and I think I’d be less if I lost this.

The experience of the past year of COVID constraints has helped many of us to realize what truly matters. Family. Connections. Experiencing the world. I am waiting to hear the CDC guidance for those of us fortunate enough to be fully vaccinated. We’ll try to comply as best we can because it’s important to be part of our broader public health protection efforts. But, as I consider the current guidance advising against non-essential travel, I had to ask myself what essential means. 

I look at kids rushing to the beaches for spring break. Folks who had to get out and gather… including travel… for the Super Bowl. Hmm. All things considered, I think that wearing double masks, keeping distance and being as smart as we can will allow what I consider to be truly essential travel — a trip to meet our newest grandson, Gus. I hope that the CDC will agree. But, no matter, we’ll be careful, we’ll be smart, we’ll do our best to protect everyone we meet. But Gus is essential. Family is essential. And we can’t wait to meet him.

So, as my last “first blog” ever on March 10 draws to a close, I look forward to year two with hope, renewed energy and clarity about what matters to me. And Gus… hold on… we’re coming soon!

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 9, 2021

So it’s Tuesday. A busy day. Work for State. Work on the oral history. A board meeting tonight for Engage Nepal. Bird feeders to fill. A workout to fit it. A Zoom call this afternoon. There’s always something.

And I will admit, I’ve not felt as compelled to check the news routinely to see what outrageous developments have come to pass since I last looked. Unlike the Trump era, there are fewer “in your face” acts of self-serving political grandstanding and bullying and nastiness. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to pay attention any more.

Just in the past two days we’re seeing continued efforts by Republican lawmakers in Georgia and Iowa to make it harder for folks to vote.  And it’s not just there. It’s happening across the country in states with Republican-led majorities. And I’m sorry if it seems like I’m always picking on the Republicans, but sadly — and I mean that it is sadly disappointing — they keep inviting the scrutiny and criticism that follows.  

It would be different if they had a case to be made. Their arguments, I’m afraid, ring hollow. They say that they are fighting to protect the integrity of our elections. So they want to do it by making it harder to vote. They want to make absentee balloting harder. Mail-in balloting harder. They say that they’re concerned about fraud and abuse. But they don’t prove that it exists. They don’t provide evidence of a problem. But they do try to build on the big lie… the idea that the last election was stolen by rampant fraud so we have to fix it.  It’s pretty evident that what they’re really trying to do is to cook the books. Make it harder for minorities to vote. Make it harder for workers to vote. Make it harder for students to vote. And I hate to say it, but it seems that the goal is to make it harder for anyone that’s not white and affluent to vote. 

We faced determined battles across the country to advance voter suppression in the name of voter reform. The last ditch efforts of a party that not only sees the demographic tide turning against it but that has retreated so far into the corner of the extremists and conspiracy theorists that it’s only hope is to undermine our democracy by doing its best to make the right to vote the right for white citizens to vote. That’s sure as hell the way it feels at least.

Show me the evidence of flaws and problems needing reform and we can talk. But unfounded allegations and specious claims aren’t evidence. And that’s all we’re seeing. It’s scary, and insidious, in the same way that politicized redistricting is when it is used to create crazily skewed voting districts that make sure the power of minority voters is dissipated like smoke on the wind.  

These are the same legislators who think mail-in voting only works when it’s in a Republican dominated state. The same legislators who oppose making Election Day a holiday. Who don’t want to make it easier for working folks to vote early so that they can avoid missing work. They oppose any voting reform that expands access to the process. Instead they want to make rules ever more stringent.  

Yesterday I heard that the Georgia law would make it a misdemeanor to offer free water to folks waiting in line to vote…and we’ve seen how long some of those Georgia waits have been. Ten hours in some cases. And the law does that… but it appears that it only applies to offering the water within 150 feet of a polling place. Or so it seems. Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in our opposition to bills such as this and cite the outrage of denying voters a simple bottle of water — but we too need to be sure of our facts. 

There’s plenty to stand against here without resorting to the hype and nonsense of the other side. And we really do need to care.  These are the actions that can tip elections and disenfranchise too many of our fellow citizens in the process.

I know I’ll be told this really isn’t about white privilege. It isn’t about racism or preserving the power of the most privileged in our nation. But I’d argue any objective assessment leads us to the conclusion that it’s absolutely about racism and power and not about protecting the voting process. And it ticks me off.

It’s ironic in some ways that as the trial of George Floyd’s killer gets underway the debate is once again being reignited about systemic racism because a princess — Meghan Markle — and Harry, her prince, are feeling its sting. I am not questioning the pain they have experienced or the blind racism they have encountered from those who seek to preserve the archaic institution that is the Royal Family as it is rather than seeing it become part of the real world. It is no less painful to suffer from systemic bias and racism as a celebrity princess than it is for any person of color in our country or in the UK who encounters it. But it takes a princess — or a brutal murder — to energize the debate while every day people of color suffer from its pernicious impact on their lives.

I saw a story today about three professors at Alabama Southern University who a few years ago attended a costume party. One dressed as a confederate soldier. Another in an outfit that had a noose as an accessory, and the third used a whip. Cute. Are these three professors overtly racist? I have no clue. But the fact that they could choose these costumes and not think, not realize what message they sent — if that is what happened — tells us just how deeply ingrained implicitly racist images and attitudes are in our society. Two of them have already apologized for their poor judgment. One said “In retrospect, I can see why someone might find the image hurtful, and I regret this attempt at humor that clearly failed. It was not my intent to hurt or be offensive, and if anyone is offended by this picture, I apologize.”

Right. He can see why someone might find the image hurtful? No kidding. And an “attempt at humor?” Don’t get me started. 

Make no mistake. This is still part of America in the 21st century. The Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, folks waving Confederate flags as they attack our Capitol, are part of America in the 21st century. And Republicans seeking to undo our democracy by restricting the most fundamental of our rights — the right to choose our leaders in a free, fair and open election — are also part of America in the 21st century. We need to see this effort for what it is and we need to stand against it, and press instead for what is right and fair for all our citizens. That too is being an American in the 21st century. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 8, 2021

It’s another Monday. I’m still wedded enough to the working world — even though with a greater flexibility than in the past — to feel its rhythms. And, although Mondays don’t always foretell five days of drudgery ahead — actually there was little in my career that I considered drudgery — they do require use of time management skills to juggle all the tasks.

It seems that there are always sacrifices on the altar of time and what has slipped the most in recent months has been time spent with music. When I can, I’ll at least put some music on to play play.  And god knows I have an eclectic, and at times overwhelming, collection of music that has touched me in one way or another over the past 60 years to draw upon. 

Some of it is evocative or a particular time in my life. Some touches the heart and reminds me of love and loss. Other selections get adrenalin flowing and feet tapping. Some music leads me down unexpected paths sparking reflection  And then there are the pieces in which you just get lost in the beauty of melody lines that intertwine in unlooked for harmonies.  No matter what the genre, I marvel at the power of music to move me and to touch me, and I always feel richer when I add it to my day,

There’s a difference, of course, between just having music on as background noise and truly listening. It’s the latter that I love. The immersion. The surrender to the power of the notes and harmonies, to the movement and rhythm, to the point and counterpoint of competing voices. But that doesn’t just happen — you have to take the time to listen.

And finding the time to play music is even harder. I can cook or do some work around the house and still give the music I’m listening to the attention it deserves.  But I can’t sit at the piano and play without shifting my focus solely to that task. That’s one of the joys of playing. You stop fretting about this as you work to tell the story that is a piece of beautiful music.  

I’m not, and never will be, a particularly gifted musician. But you don’t have to be gloriously gifted to love making music come to life at your fingertips. Whether playing the guitar — which I’ve engaged with on and off since I was a kid — or sitting at the piano, which is a retirement pursuit, bringing music to life even in it’s most rudimentary form just entrances me. I relax. I enter the moment. It’s a true joy. But it’s one that has too often been lost of late in the face of so many other demands on my time. 

I need to recalibrate. To adjust and prioritize. But the challenge is that there is nothing on the list that isn’t of interest or value. The work I do I enjoy. Helping folks in Nepal. Still serving our nation in a small way. Marketing a story I love. Cooking. Walking the pups. Tending a garden. Feeding the birds. Reading. Writing. CrossStitching. All of it is part of my journey as my 60s advance towards 70. And I don’t want to NOT to do any of it.  I just need longer days. 

We have a painting I love by Gary Myers, called “The Daughter of Time.” It’s dreamlike. Peaceful. And it’ makes me long to meet her along the shore of the peaceful sea on which she paddles. Perhaps she’ll introduce me to Time and we can cut a deal. I’d like that.

I guess that’s a good place to close. The clock tells me I have something on the schedule in eight minutes so Monday musings must end. But I will try to sit down at the piano this afternoon and, if I’m determined enough, I can make that happen.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

The Daughter of Time

March 7, 2021

I wonder if I grow more impatient as I age. I hope not, because patience has always been one of those qualities that I like to think I’ve embraced and cultivated over the years.  But as we grow older we realize that time is a finite commodity and the supply that remains to us no longer seems as inexhaustible as it did when we were 20. 

That’s perhaps part of the reason why it seems that older family members might at times seem less patient with delays, obstruction, or foolishness. We are inherently crankier, but we don’t have the time or desire to deal with the nonsense. Tomorrow can be too late. We live perhaps more in the moment. 

I’m reflecting on all this because I realize how irritatingly impatient I feel today as I look at the images I’ve attached. The photos are a replay of the same damn images we saw a year ago. Once again it’s time for spring break and once again thousands of young people are flocking mindlessly to the beaches in Florida and elsewhere. Maybe they think by gathering and leaving the masks behind they show how fearless, or bold, they are — THEY won’t be told how to live their lives. 

Perhaps that’s what they think, but I don’t really know. All I can say is that, to me, all their determined partying does is show to us just how feckless, thoughtless, and stupid they can be. Why not just carry banners saying: “Let’s go spread the pandemic. Let’s put ourselves and others at risk. What the hell. It will be fun. What the hell. We’re young. It’s our right to be fools.”

Ok. I know that may be unfair and that it may be too sweeping in its judgment.  I don’t mean to condemn all young people. But, truly,  I can’t believe that we’re witnessing this AGAIN. This pandemic isn’t over yet and we shouldn’t have to patiently accept behavior that endangers so many others while we wait for people, including these kids, to finally get smart.

A recently completed multi-year study of the education system highlighted, among other things, the need to spend more time teaching our youth about democracy, governance, history and civics. This study began before the QAnon crazies began to replace fact with fiction and long before we saw the growing threats to our democracy that manifested most dramatically on January 6. There was a recognition that our youth don’t understand who we are, what makes us a functioning society. I wonder how many have ever been asked to consider what “e pluribus unum” really means, or ask themselves about their responsibility to their families, their communities, and to their fellow citizens.                      

Looking at how oblivious these kids on spring break seem to be, I’d argue that the study got it right. We need remedial civics… now!

It’s not just young people, though, who are part of the problem. I am just as impatient with those of our fellow citizens who are in a rush to swell the ranks at “burn the mask” rallies. I know that pandemic fatigue is real, but it doesn’t excuse stupidity or self-destructive choices. If you hate the restrictions so much, why do you rush to engage in behavior that makes it all the more likely that they will need to be reimposed or kept in place longer?  

Most would say how much they respect our first responders or medical professionals, so why, why, why, put them at even greater risk? I don’t understand how short-sighted these folks can be. And meanwhile, new would-be political demagogues seek to exploit them à la Trump, while other political leaders pander to them shamelessly solely based on their calculations about their own self-interests.

I want this over too. But I’m not impatient about the science telling us we still need to take care. The facts are the facts and I can live with that. 

I am becoming impatient with those who even after a year continue to disregard the facts. I’m impatient that we as stupid when it comes to spring break 2021 as we were in 2020.  I’m impatient that they put us all at risk just as the UK variant comes to the fore and threatens another surge. And I’m impatient that their irresponsibility will prolong the pandemic and mean that more of the limited supply of time will have to be spent either at home or distancing myself from those I care about and from the world I love to explore.

And, for a patient guy, that’s a lot of impatience. 

A new week begins. 

Be strong, be safe, be healthy.

March 6, 2021

A while back I did a lengthy series of interviews with the State Department Historian. It was an oral history that will one day be buried somewhere in the national archives along with countless other such documents. That’s all fine. It will be of minimal interest overall but if, some day down the road, someone is interested in our efforts to pursue and capture Joseph Kony, or in how we stood up forcefully in defense of our values when Uganda passed horrific anti-gay legislation, it will be good that they can have a direct accounting to draw upon.

For me, though, it will be fun to have my copy of this record. More than some future student of history or policy, perhaps there will be a grandchild or great-grandchild who will enjoy learning a bit more about what our lives were like and what the work looked like. And if not, nothing is lost, the record at least will be there.

So, I’ve been editing the transcript of the interviews. It’s 330 pages or so. I was taken aback by that, but I guess when you’re talking about 35 years of service it’s not necessarily surprising. But, what surprised me even more was just how much editing is required! I like to think that as a speaker I’m at least reasonably coherent. But, when reading the transcript of the interviews, it seemed a jumbled mess of words at times. It wasn’t that I was non-responsive or babbling. But the precise transcription of what was a free-wheeling, and often stream-of-consciousness conversation, suffers when we strip away the human interaction that was part of the conversation.

I realized how much our oral articulation of thoughts is shaped, enriched, and enhanced by inflection, facial expression, body language, eye contact, and even hand gestures.  (Some of us, we must remember, are incapable of actual speech if our hands are tied behind our backs!)  A transcript that just records words doesn’t convey emphasis or sarcasm or wry humor. It misses so much. It misses the reflective pause or the cues that signal a digression is about to shift the flow of conversation for a moment.

And I guess all of that hits me all the more because I’ve spent so much time in the past year engaged in written communication. Here, on this page, I can reflect, choose my words with care, go back and recast them, shape my arguments and thoughts, and then share them without having to worry about the anarchy that seemed to govern my oral communication in the interviews I did with the historian. 

So, I’m editing. Not all that much, mind you. I want to preserve the sense of a conversation. But editing in order to ensure that the points are clear, that sarcasm isn’t mistaken for sincerity, or that humor isn’t misread as something else. I’m at page 200 or so. Getting there. Slowly, but surely.

I wonder as well, though, how those words that I spoke — or the words that I write today — will be viewed down the road. Our standards of the acceptable and appropriate and the culturally and socially correct shift over time. Just ask Dr. Seuss. I don’t want to get into the cancel culture vs anti-racist, anti-sexist, or anti-anything else debate. But I’m wondering whether, even if we remove all the symbols, all the books, all the films, all the… everything… that reflected the realities of a period in time… warts and all, we’ll be any closer to solving the problems we face in today’s society..  

Racism, misogyny, cultural bigotry, stereotyping are, obviously, very much with us today and they’re not just a function of an era gone by. I guess I’m inclined to think that we should perhaps focus more time and effort on what WE do NOW and what WE say NOW, than on worrying about what someone wrote in another age about an image that Dr. Seuss created in the 1950s.

There were books that my mother read to me that would now certainly be judged as inappropriate. I think of the Uncle Remus tales or Little Black Sambo — the story of an Indian boy’s encounter with tigers in the jungle. That title alone, of course, sets our teeth on edge today and can spark outrage. But it was written in 1899. It reflected the realities of the time. A time when racism ran so deeply and pervasively through white societies that it seemed to them the divine order of the universe. A time when it was “the white man’s burden” to lift those of color out of “paganism.”

I’m not convinced, though, that we gain all that much in rooting out the vestiges of past examples of racism or hate when we still face these issues in our own societies today.   

I’m not saying that we enshrine or promote those past works that were racist or inappropriate — intentionally or not. I’m just arguing that we might spend far more time looking at ourselves and our current world.

And make no mistake, this isn’t just about white Americans. It’s about all people. In all countries. Over the years I saw racism and discrimination practiced not just by white skinned people but by people of all colors and a variety of faiths and beliefs. 

I think we need the past. We need to be honest about the realities it reveals about the best of our nature and the horrible worst. And we need to be honest about the present in which abuses and horrors continue in many nations and we never raise our voice.

So yes. I hope we don’t spend too much time dissecting Dr. Seuss while the bookshelves groan with the weight of the volumes filled with diatribes that extol fascisms’ virtues, that make the case for white identity and white supremacy and that question the values on which egalitarian societies in which we can have discussion such as this are built.

Yikes. I didn’t know my musings on editing an oral history would take me down this path. But that’s the pleasure I find in writing daily. It’s always a bit of an adventure. And if you’ve wandered down this path with me, I admire your perseverance.  Now, go and enjoy the weekend. I’m going to.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy,

March 5, 2021

I have to ask myself this morning why the Republicans in Congress are so determined to obstruct the COVID relief bill. Given the pain and damage inflicted by the pandemic, given the risks that we still have to forestall, given how vulnerable so many are, is this bill really SO outrageous, SO big, SO costly that every single Republican in the Senate has concluded that it poses a greater threat to our nation than doing nothing more? Is this bill really a greater threat than the pandemic? I’ve not seen a rationale or coherent explanation about their resistance to the bill that justifies the silly efforts to delay it. 

Is it really essential to force the clerks to read aloud all 600+ pages? I know that in politics elected officials want to show their supporters that they did everything possible — that they pulled out all the stops even when you know you won’t succeed. Democrats have done the same thing. But in a time of crisis and when people are hurting as much as they are, isn’t this one of the times where we just do what’s good for the people and not for the party? 

Ugh. It’s frustrating at times. And I can’t help but feel that these lawmakers don’t really “see” the working men and women, they don’t see the folks who fill the countless low wage jobs, they don’t see the families who are suffering and who are desperately waiting in line at food banks. The elites — and that includes these legislators — don’t experience the pain — and it becomes that much easier for them to treat this as an intellectual exercise. Suddenly they want to focus on their new-found commitment to fiscal responsibility (something that didn’t worry them as deficits skyrocketed over the past four years under Republican leadership) rather than on the needs of people who are hurting. 

And so it goes. I understand the politics. But my patience with the nonsense seems to be harder to find as the years pass. I grow tired of waiting for change and for the realization of the promise that our nation stands for. I grow tired of waiting for us to wake up and step up to the dangers of climate change, to the threats of gun violence, to the pernicious and persistent evil of systemic racism. So when I see what seems to be abysmally politicized silliness on Capitol Hill I get crankier than I used to. I’m less willing to shrug my shoulders and say “it is what it is.” That just doesn’t seem good enough.

But I’m also still idealistic enough to believe that if enough of us care, beat the drum, speak out, and lead in whatever ways we can we will make progress. We will make a difference. It’s worth trying.

And now, the kitchen calls. I have had a delayed reaction, I think, to the second COVID shot and my left arm and shoulder are hurting in significant albeit odd ways. I’ll live though, and the discomfort won’t stop me from making homemade Ethiopian food. Food IS the great cure. And I know I’ll feel better working in the kitchen than sitting here typing. The spiced oil I’ve prepped (a vegan alternative to spiced clarified butter) is cooling and I’m ready to jump in.  

So, happy Friday and happy weekend.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 4, 2021

It’s truly interesting how the pandemic has accelerated what is going to be inevitable technology-driven changes in our lives.  

In the past 24 hours I’ll have done a book chat for “The Ambassador’s Dog,” a webinar on disaster risk reduction and preparedness for the State Department, a check-in call with a former colleague on Messenger Video and two conference calls on Microsoft Teams. Add in uploading the video from yesterday’s book chat to YouTube, a bit of social media engagement (including this blog) and some online banking and other work for Engage Nepal, and I may as well just be a byte or a bit or whatever form is most appropriate when your work and life takes you farther from the physical world and ever more into the virtual one. 

Webinar today was “business casual” dress. Whoa. I actually had to dig into the closet to find a jacket to wear… but that didn’t mean I couldn’t stay in jeans and socks without shoes.  It’s a brave new world.

But no matter what we wear at our web meetings, it is inconceivable to me that we wouldn’t be wearing masks in our personal interactions. Inconceivable to me… but not apparently to many. We now have 19 states with either no mandates or they are lifting them. Most recently Mississippi and Iowa joined Texas and Florida in declaring it’s time for masks to end. Would you be surprised if I told you that I’m pretty sure the governors of all those states are Republicans? 

The sad thing is, we’ve been here before. Republican leaders fought masks, fought distancing and fought shutdowns multiple times in the past year, disregarding the advice of public health experts and contributing mightily to our nation plunging into the worst health care disaster in our lifetimes. One that continues to plague us, continues to exact huge economic tolls, and that continues to force us to live the virtual life I talked about above. 

And even more sadly, those ostensible leaders didn’t learn. And they threaten to drive us into another surge that will lead to more deaths and more chaos as they once again ignore every bit of scientific expertise that says this is the worst time to jump the gun on easing restrictions. Are they that foolish and ignorant or do they just not care? Do they really believe that requiring the wearing of masks in the midst of a deadly pandemic is such an infringement on the personal liberty of their voters as to make it a reasonable choice to put all of us at risk?

How many times are we going to repeat the same mistakes and deal with the same consequences as these folks play politics with the nation’s health? 

Meh. I’ve had it. It’s been a busy day and a long day. A nice green salad, loaded with veggies and good things is calling to me. Time to start chopping and time to start chilling. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 3, 2021

Just how much do you want a change of pace? In Australia, Qantas Airline’s guess is “a lot.” They’re offering mystery flights. A day long adventure — you’ll be back in your own bed when the day ends — but they will whisk you … somewhere, to do…. something… and give you and 120 others a neatly curated one day outing along with a “sumptuous” meal. 

I’m almost tempted — even though I’m not in Australia and even though negotiating a sumptuous vegan meal as part of the offering might be a bit more challenging. The idea of doing something different; something a bit silly and a bit of an adventure, sounds pretty good right now.

And silly is a word that came to mind today as I read about how Amazon was trying out a revised logo that they ultimately had to change. Some critics thought the jagged ends on the piece of blue packing tape, that is so iconic on Amazon’s boxes, looked too much like Hitler’s mustache. I’ll post the image below of the before and after versions of the logo. I get it that folks have lots of concerns, that I share, about Neo-Nazis and anti-Semitism and white supremacy groups but… really? We’re going to focus our concerns on the blue packing tape on an Amazon logo? It just seems to me that we have enough real issues to address on this front without manufacturing them. 

One of the real issues, that is right up there with systemic racism, is the sexism and gender bias that persists in our society. I’ve got a daughter and I’ve got a granddaughter. They deserve better — far better — than to be paid less because they don’t have a Y chromosome (and that, of course, is STILL an issue). And they sure as hell shouldn’t have to deal with unwanted sexual advances and harassment from anyone — and that includes Governor Cuomo in New York. I don’t know what happens to some men. I don’t know how they lose sight of what is right and wrong. 

Holding a position of power means we have an even greater responsibility to act with integrity and decency. It doesn’t give us a free pass to be bullies, or harassers, or predators. It just pisses me off no end. Cuomo should know better. And so should all the men in positions like his. But they never learn. And I know it’s not just men in positions of power who abuse their “male privilege” for want of a better term. There are plenty of men for whom sexual aggression and harassment is a power trip. And despite all the outcry, they don’t seem to change. I hope that my grandsons will be part of a different generation, but I wonder how we effect true change.

And shame on those who seek to politicize this. Democrats who are running and hiding as much as Republicans ran and hid from Trump’s outrageousness. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. We can’t have different standards depending on what political party you support. And I don’t get how Senator Kristen Gillibrand could be one of those leading the charge against Al Franken for his sexist and disrespectful behavior but not be more outspoken about Cuomo’s. This sort of feckless political hypocrisy is why folks become so disillusioned with leaders in both parties. 

And finally, on another subject, I’ve been struck by how something I touched on yesterday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s stupid declaration that Texas was rolling back all COVID restrictions, is another crystal clear example of those who put politics over principles and common sense. I’m sure his anti-science decision to open Texas 100% resonates with his base, but it flies in the face of every warning about the risk of yet another surge and those warnings are growing more pronounced by the day. 

But Greg Abbott apparently knows better… and like other governors who have played to the gallery rather than making responsible, albeit hard, choices, he will likely contribute more to expanding the ongoing crisis rather than resolving it. Several friends have commented that he should be forced to visit hospital ERs across the state and explain to the nurses and docs there what he has done and why. He should be forced to watch what they endure as patient after patient struggles to live but ends up dying without family to comfort them. 

This is one of those critical moments when our choices will decide whether we forestall another horrific surge or descend again into the maelstrom of suffering and death that another wave of the pandemic will bring. Let’s choose well.

All I can say is that Qantas mystery flight is sounding pretty good about now.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 2, 2021

It feels like we’ve been dealing with the pandemic forever. It really does. And I just want to move on. But I’ve been a believer in listening to the science for the past year and I can’t ignore the concerns being voiced by the experts. They’ve been right far more often than not. When they’ve erred it has been in underestimating the challenges this novel coronavirus is capable of posing rather than being alarmist.

For those of us who have been vaccinated it might be easier to tune the conversations out, but being vaccinated doesn’t mean that we’re immune to possibly contracting COVID, even if it might be a milder case. You still have to take care because there are far too many whose mild cases have turned into long-haul cases sometimes with very serious and debilitating consequences. The reports are scary but even more so is the fact that we just don’t know why some become “long-haulers” and what it is that the virus is doing to them.

That is troubling. And it’s not clear whether being vaccinated protects you against a long-haul scenario if you are still unfortunate enough to contract a mild case. It’s a question I don’t want to dwell on but you can’t ignore.

And then there’s the issue of the variants. Again, we hope that the vaccine will protect us against the variants but it’s not clear to what extent.  And it depends on which variant and on whether we see a new surge that makes it easier for the variants to mutate even more. Yet another worry.  And I know we all would like to believe that the progress we’re making with the vaccines will nip this in the bud. But…

The fact is that a month ago, the UK variant was in single digits when testing was done on samples of newly infected folks. Today it’s 20-30% of the newly infected cases that have been tested are infected with that variant. And Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, one of the leading infectious disease specialists fears that if we follow the pattern of what we’ve seen in Europe, that number will rise to 50% in the next few weeks — and then take off from there.

This is the new surge that Dr. Osterholm and Dr. Fauci and Dr. Walensky and all the Biden COVID team are having nightmares about. In Europe it forced a new shutdown that has now gone on for a month and still the surge isn’t controlled. They fear, with good reason, that the same thing will happen here. And can you imagine if it does?

Yes. We’re all tired. And we want to stop talking about it. And we’re thrilled when our governors say the cases are coming down so we can ease mask restrictions, open bars, permit gatherings, and go back to school. Texas Governor Abbot did just that today. And I bet it feels damn good to many in Texas. It’s also foolish. And in doing that, he — and other leaders who are taking similar steps — only make it that much easier for these new variants to come roaring back and to hit us as hard as they have hit Europe.  aAnd we’ll probably be following the Europeans into a reimposition of restrictions and shutdowns as our own nation faces yet another surge in this continuing crisis. 

Can you imagine how hard it will be to get the doubters, and the tired parents, and the antsy kids, and the independently minded college kids to believe that we’ve got to impose restrictions once again? We’ve been terrible to begin with. I wonder how bad it will have to become to once again get people’s attention.

The science tells us that there are rocky paths ahead.  And sadly — to steal a line from Dr. Osterholm — we’ll wait until we wrap the car around a tree to start pumping the brakes. That’s what we’ve seen before and that’s what we’ll likely see again. And there will be many more infections, many more long-haulers, and many more deaths than we had to face because of it. And if we open the door to further mutations of the virus that starts to reduce the efficacy of our vaccines we’ll be stuck in this cycle far longer than any of us dreamed.

Am I an alarmist? I don’t think so. But I am alarmed. As I have been again and again over the past year, and as events played out, the alarm has been with good reason.  And now, even with a far more responsible government in place and a plan and vaccines and things actually happening, there is still reason for concern, I think. So I write, and I vent, and I worry.  

And hell… it’s only Tuesday.  

Waiting to see what else the week brings.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

March 1

Happy March. Spring is just a few weeks away. Hard to believe we’ve been through the entire theater of the seasons during this pandemic. The cycle of nature continues. It offers certainty and stability. It is something we can count on when there is so little else that we can, it seems.

Actually, I guess there are other things we can rely on. We can rely on Donald Trump to be outrageous and dangerous in his attacks on our democracy, and he was true to form yesterday at CPAC. I don’t want to make the mistake of dismissing him — that happened back in 2015 and then became Presidential. We sure as hell don’t want THAT again. But at the same time I’m not going to allow his lies and vengeance-driven rhetoric to get me spun up. Four years of that crap was enough.

He attacked the courts, including the Supreme Court justices he named. They didn’t genuflect and accept his lies, so now they’re weak and lame and cowards. He attacked Republicans who have spoken out against him. He attacked Democrats. He attacked mail in voting, early voting, and any aspect of the process that makes it easier for us to exercise our rights. He perpetuated the big lie and he doesn’t stop. He’s disgusting.

This is the man who failed to win the popular vote either time he ran. This is the man who never had an approval rating of 50% or better. This is the man who was impeached twice. And this is the man who continues to seek to divide our nation. He stood before the crowd and recited his enemies list and seems determined to turn the Republican Party into his own little mob family, loyal to him as the capo di tutti capi.

And still, the loonies living in their alternative realities and diving deeper into the world of conspiracy theories, are convinced he’ll be back. Maybe on March 4. And, when that theory that asserts that there will be second inauguration fails too, there will be yet another new whack job explanation. Today I actually heard one woman arguing that Joe Biden isn’t real. That he always wears a mask because the “fake face they use for him” has a problem with the lips not moving properly when he speaks. She was so convinced. So sincere. And oh so delusional. Those are the folks that support Trump. I heard two other women declare they don’t trust the government, they don’t trust the courts, they don’t trust the FBI — they only trust Trump and his supporters. How sad and scary is that!

Yet, even as Trump spoke to the CPAC convention of the crazies, even as he tried to rally them around his plans for vengeance and validation of his lies, he still could garner the support of only 55% of the participants in the straw poll at the end of the event. It’s amazing it could even be that high… but the fact that it was the best he could do at this event in some ways offers a glimmer of hope that some are seeing him for the small, small man that he really is. Time will tell, but enough of him.

And I can think of another certainty — in addition to seasonal change — that we can rely on. But, sadly, like Trump and his divisive politics, it too is troubling. It’s the certainty that, even as COVID continues to assault us, too many leaders want to pretend that we’ve turned the corner and all is OK. The fact that we have plateaued at 70,000 new infections per day is still scary. We have to understand just how bad that is. How dangerous. We still have a long way to go and the new variants are dangerous and could see us spiral out of control again. The President, Dr. Fauci, Dr Walensky and her team at the CDC, and countless other experts aren’t making this stuff up. We have made some progress. The vaccines are so promising. But we can’t let our fatigue and hope for a brighter future allow us to delude ourselves that the future is now. 

We have to heed the advice and the warnings. Only now, after having had both vaccinations, and wearing double masks and taking the greatest of care, did I allow myself to get my first haircut in more than a year. Everyone was masked. Numbers were limited. Sanitizer was everywhere and being used and stations were cleaned between clients. It was probably safer than in the grocery store and it reaffirmed my confidence that we can manage elements of this crisis and be smart and safe. It isn’t “normal.” But we can figure things out. 

We have already done a lot. But we can’t stop thinking and taking care and being careful. We have to figure out what works, what is safe, what is smart. We still have to take care of each other. We need to have each other’s backs. 

I hope that that will be something we can count on too. 

Stay safe, stay strong, stay healthy.