November 2021

November 30, 2021

Deep breaths. They help. And there are times when we just need to stop and breathe.

I’m glad I’m at the point in my life where I can take the time in the day to do just that. I know that not everyone can. I look at our kids and see how busy their lives are and know how much more challenging it is for them to find that time. And I know what that is like. That was me not that long ago.

Even in my semi-retirement I have found it hard to bring the competing interests in my life into balance, but in recent months I’ve been able to make sure that even if my interests and obligations aren’t neatly in balance, the one thing that remains a priority is time to breathe. For me that translates into time to walk, time to stretch, time to meditate. I am determined to give myself the gift of those 90 minutes or so every day. I deserve it. We all do.

And god knows, when we look at the news, the ability to take deep, cleansing breaths and stay centered is more important than ever. There’s still too much crazy out there. And too much that is tragic. And we seem to accept it all too readily. Finding the inner calm to not let the news plunge us into emotional tailspins doesn’t mean we shouldn’t allow a bit of rage to enter the equation over some of it. 

Today, for example, more children died in another senseless shooting in a Michigan school. Tell me how that makes sense in any civilized society. Or more to the point, tell me how it makes sense that reasonable gun control measures are still an elusive dream rather than the law of the land. I think of my grandkids and pray they never know the fear that the kids at this high school knew today. And I pray that they won’t face the heartbreak of dealing with the murder of three classmates and the injuries of many more because of some 15 year old with a gun.

And then there’s Lauren Boebert, a Republican legislator from Colorado, who persistently and consistently attacks Minnesota legislators Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. I can’t believe that if Omar and Tlaib were white and Christian we’d hear Boebert calling them black-hearted and evil women, or equating Omar with a terrorist bomber. I’d say that with all the other problems out there, Boebert’s prejudice and hatefulness doesn’t amount to much but, of course, it does. When our leaders perpetuate lies and stereotypes, when they fuel and exploit fears and division, they create the environment in which ugly things happen. We’ve already seen it and we’ll see it again, I fear, especially with folks like Boebert fanning the flames.

And then, in the ‘we really need to take a deep breath’ category, there’s the Omicron variant of the COVID virus. We don’t know for sure how that is going to affect us, or our lives, but every indication is that it isn’t something that can be ignored. Will more lives be lost? Will the economy be disrupted further, will schools be affected, will the most vulnerable be placed further at risk? 

There are some worries there. A lot of potential problems. But we know the drill. We know how to be smart. We know how to wear masks, wash our hands, and keep our distance. I know we may not want to, but we know how to do it. Breathe. It will help. Really.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 29, 2021

I’ve been preoccupied today. It was an early morning as Tony, Nat and Gus were preparing to depart. I got them to the airport in plenty of time, got Lo Khyi to the vet for an injection, got books to the post office and UPS for shipping, and added a few hours of work for State. 

In between there was a bit of housework — getting ourselves back to normal now that it just us and the dogs again. And there was, of course, the dog walk this afternoon and then stretching. Doing my best to keep ahead of my back pain. It’s a constant challenge and I’ve come to realize that I need to be diligent and consistent to have any chance of doing that. So I do my best. It’s just a matter of reprioritizing.

But all that was just a prelude to the real work of the day. Prep for tomorrow. Prep for tomorrow, you say? You must have already noticed your inbox being inundated with Giving Tuesday appeals from all the big charities. Tomorrow it will be crazy. And that’s what I’m prepping for. Not to compete — I don’t have the resources to do that nor the desire. But I do have the desire and the determination to try my best to raise the funds I can for Engage Nepal. It matters. 

I’ve been making this effort for six years now. That’s hard to believe. And each year we’ve been able to do a bit more, we’ve been able to make a difference for families in need, for kids at risk and for those whose voices are not readily heard. 

To try and help is a choice. It’s one that works for me. And a few times in the year, I ask friends to consider whether it might work for them too. Not only is the pandemic still a threat to so many in Nepal but the struggle to recover is going to be a long one. so I am going to ask your help. 

I’ll share with this post a video made by a young man — a college student — who has been working with us as an intern. I want you to see and hear his take on what we do. It’s been so gratifying to see how he has embraced the effort. Been touched by the desire to part of something more than himself. I hope you’re touched too. 

Some of you who have given before know that feeling. I hope this year you’ll consider doing so again. It matters. It really does. I’ve seen the impact your compassion has had and I’ve been touched by your kindness — and so have the people in Nepal. 

Others may not have considered giving because you haven’t been asked, Consider yourself asked. Please.  Every little bit helps. 

If you enjoy the blog, consider giving as a thank you for whatever pleasure you may take from it. If you want a tax deduction (we are a 501(c)(3) chart), we can be one of your choices. Or, if you just want to make a difference on a day of global giving, we’d be honored to be your choice.

I’ve got a matching grant challenge already — $1000 from a donor who is willing to make that gift if we can match it. So you can double the impact of your giving if you help us meet the challenges or you can offer a challenge of your own.

Or, if you choose to donate $150 or more, you’ll get an autographed and “pawtographed” copy of “The Ambassador’s Dog” sent to the recipient of your choice.  Whatever it takes, we’ll do it. The question is, will you?

Here is the link to donate. Think about it.

And with that, it’s back to getting ready for tomorrow.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 28, 2021

How nice that son Tony and his wife Nat and baby Gus are all visiting still today. It’s his birthday and it’s great to be able to be together to mark the day. It was 39 years ago today that he was born at Breach Candy Hospital in Bombay, when we were assigned there. A lifetime ago it seems.

I was 29 years old at that time. And now here he is, with a son of his own. Our kids do that to us. They grow up, they have children and lives of their own. It’s the way of the world. And 39 years later I’m grateful to have this time together with the baby of the family and his and Nat’s baby.This long weekend gave us lots of time with kids and grandkids. Even our missing kids, Joe and Jessica in Minnesota, were with us via FaceTime on several occasions. An in-person hug from them would have been nice, just as those we shared with all the rest of the clan were, but at least we are connected, we care, and we prioritize taking the time to be in touch. That’s not always true in families so I’m particularly pleased it is the case for us.

Life plans to kick things back up to speed again tomorrow, and I guess I need to be ready. the wise course, then, is to not write long tonight. Instead I’ll post a few pics of some of my favorite people in the world and call it a day.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 27, 2021

It’s hard to get back into the rhythm of day to day when family has gathered. We don’t do one-day holidays well at all. Usually we end up with 4-5 day extravaganzas. This has been no exception. We’ve got the whole gang with us and we’re going strong. 

Today though was pretty special. I learned about “brag tags.”  I even was recipient of a couple from my 5 year old grandson, Luca. Perhaps if you are lucky enough to have a five year old in your life you already know about brag tags. A brag tag is awarded in recognition of the good choices we make and Luca took the time to recognize his family today.

I got a “Keep it Up” brag tag and a “Big Heart” and “good job: one too.  Some were associated with the putting up of the Christmas tree. Some, perhaps, with making homemade pizzas for the gang. Others received brag tags too.  Not indiscriminately, but with care and thought from Luca.

Maybe we should be a bit more like a five year old. Luca seemed to know that as much as our own good choices matter, recognizing the good choices of others is what truly matters. Maybe there’s something to that.

The pizza was followed by another rousing game — this time of “Trapwords.” Sofie asked me to be on her team because “you’re competitive and I want to win.”  LoL.  No idea where she got the idea of me being competitive. Sheer balderdash. But we played. And it was fun. Even though we didn’t win. It was fun.

And now, some hours later, it’s creeping up on 11. Dogs have been out for the last time I and I’m ready to call it a night. Give yourself a brag tag. Make good choices. And enjoy family time when you can get. Its’ pretty special. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 26, 2021

It’s already going on 10 PM. Of course, it would have been nice to write the blog earlier, but there are kids and grandkids. Family time has to take priority. There’s little more important than that. 

It was a lazy day. We walked the dogs, and the baby, and despite the nip in the air, all did well. I worked a bit. I finished a grant application for Engage Nepal. We watched the Sound of Music because… well, just because. And we ate, of course. The leftovers have almost been inhaled. I guess the food yesterday was good.

I thought of my Mom today as we ate some of those leftovers. I remember her telling me countless times about how she and her dad, who I never knew, would sit up late this day after Thanksgiving waiting until the stroke of midnight to tackle some leftover turkey. In those days, of course, Catholics didn’t eat meat on Fridays, and Mom and grandpa bonded over the prospect of a hot turkey sandwich. I think they bonded over more than that, of course. My Mom always spoke of him with such love and affection. I wish I had known him. He died a few years before I was born. He sounded like my kind of guy.

I always hope that for our grandkids I’ll be “their kind of guy,” too. Having time with them is something I truly value. They’re silly and goofy — at least the older ones — but that goes with the territory. No complaints from this end. Even at their silliest, they’re ours. And I love them. And, at times, we can be just as silly as they are. 

Today we had rousing games of “Poetry for Neanderthals” which was really amusing and then, tonight, we all, with the exception of baby Gus and five-year-old Luca, battled through an evening of “Cards Against Humanity (Family Edition). And, even though it was a family edition, there were enough references to poop and pee and butts to ensure that Luca was hugely amused throughout the game. And even those of us who are ostensibly beyond all that couldn’t help but chuckle — more than a little bit — at some of the silliness that ensued. Raunchy and outlandish perhaps, but we had fun. And that’s how memories are made. 

So writing had to wait for games and for family. And that’s the way it should be.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving,  I’m not sure that there is that much more to say. 

I’m SO full. And I had dessert. Several. Unaccustomed levels of sugar are at war with the lassitude that follows satiation. I’m not sure which side will win.

I haven’t eaten this much in a day in months, but I have to say it was worth it. It tasted like… Thanksgiving. The candied yams were just as my Mom made them and I always think of her at Thanksgiving. She was a good cook and took such pride in what came out of her kitchen.  I think she would have nodded approvingly. It was such a nice melding of flavors. From the yams, to the Italian sausage (vegan) dressing, to the grilled green beans with their smoky and a spicy flavor profile it all came together so well. 

I’m sure every family has their favorite treats and their own traditions. All I know is that I’m thankful we were together, today, and so very happy to have been able to share in Gus’ first Thanksgiving. Decades from now, will he look back at photos from his first visit to Nana and Papa’s and his first meeting with his Aunt Tjiama and Uncle Joe and his cousins? He’ll have heard the stories often enough, I wager, that he may be able to “remember” the event as it was shared with him through those photos by those of us who were here with him. Isn’t that how families keep lore and traditions alive?  

There were some memorable moments, particularly as Gus “stood” on the table in front of my place and orchestrated cheers and applause from us all as he eagerly waved his arms together like a conductor taking charge. And each time he’d turn and look at me and smile as if to say, “look at what I can do, Papa.” He’s a keeper. As are all the grandkids. And, having all four grandkids together for the first time, made this Thanksgiving the best of all. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 24, 2021

The house is almost eerily quiet. It won’t be that way in a few hour’s time perhaps, but it is as I write. Lo Khyi, who is sensitive to change, seems to suspect something’s up. Maybe it was the way we’re moving about the house with determination and focus. Task-oriented. In any event, he’s moving with a purpose too. Antsy, it seems.

As in many homes around the nation, there’s a lot happening. I won’t recount our plans again. Suffice it to say that the house is ready and a good dent has been made in the cooking plans. All good. 

Making sure all was ready, I looked around at our house, loaded with the treasures that we collected over a lifetime of adventure. I felt that, as crazily eclectic as it may be, it’s “home.”  It’s comfortable, and warm, and rich in stories. And that’s how I want the grandkids to remember Nana and Papa’s, and that’s how I want to introduce little Gus to our lives.  

I hope that when the kids look at a singing bowl, a tribal chief’s chair, a camel saddle, a  granary ladder, or a khukuri displayed on a shelf, they feel a sense of wonder and of curiosity. I hope that it leads to questions, and that the questions give rise to… stories. Like I said, it’s all about a home rich in stories.

Who knows, maybe we’ll write some new ones this weekend. You never know.

Enjoy the Holiday.

Stay strong, stay safe stay healthy.  

November 23, 2021

There may be news out there that is compelling and demanding our attention but, if there is, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what it is. For the next day or two the rest of the world has to wait in line behind “family.” Tomorrow, Tony and Nat and baby Gus arrive, as do Tjiama and her husband Joe and grandkids Sofie, Leo and Luca. Our Minnesota contingent, can’t join us, but Joe and Jess will be with us in spirit and I have no doubt, we’ll eat their share of the food. No slackers in our family.

Truly, though, we’ll be preoccupied with family, including all the dogs. But, in addition to the sheer joy of being together, I have a campaign to prepare. Thanksgiving dinners don’t just happen. It takes the planning of a master strategist. That’s how I think of the effort, at least. It’s not just cooking, it’s coordination. There will be several of us at work in the kitchen. Just managing space, and sharing the burners and the oven and the microwave, will require the instinctive feel of a master juggler.

Fridge space is going to be at a premium. There never seems to be enough space when you need it. 

And, even if there’s enough space, room to prep means nothing if the timing is off. Who wants the mashed potatoes to become cold lumps of starch because they sit far too long, while waiting another couple of hours for the turkey — or the vegan equivalents — to finish. Oh yes, putting all the pieces together is a tactical challenge.

Somehow, it all happens. Seldom does it resolve with the elegance I picture in my head, where we move together in graceful pas-de-deux throughout the kitchen, but at the end of the day it does all appear on the kitchen island where the plates wait to be piled high. I know it will all work out but it still needs at least a modicum of organization. And that’s where I come in.

I enjoy the planning almost as much as the cooking. Almost. Today I got a start on the latter. I prepared two quiches to provide non-Thanksgiving food for tomorrow night. I prepared the vegan Italian sausage and combined it with the onions, celery, apple, and cherries, and more that will be the base of the dressing, and on Thanksgiving morning it can combine with the cornbread to be one of the first in the oven.

I also prepped the acorn squash that will be — and don’t raise your eyebrow until you taste it — the base ingredient for creating a chocolate silk pie. That I can probably do tomorrow, too. Perhaps I can at least prep the wild rice casserole and I can also do the “turkey” roast which is made from seitan and is incredibly tasty with a wonderful texture. On Thanksgiving Day I’ll pan-brown it and add a bit more flavor thanks to the marinade I’ll use, but having the roast itself done in advance will be a plus.

I’m not cooking the whole dinner. But I’ll do plenty. Son-in-law Joe has several items, including a couple of pies and the Mac n’ cheeses (vegan and non) that the kids want to have added to the feast. And he and Tjiama will tackle the mashed potatoes and gravy. Tony, who also knows his way around the kitchen, will prepare the “real”turkey breast for the non-vegan/vegetarians in the crowd and I’ll draft one of them to help grill the green beans, too. 

Between us all, we’ll get it down. The plan is taking shape. And as son Joe is fond of saying, teamwork makes the dream work. And it does.

Last year none of this happened, of course. A pandemic got in the way. And of all the things I’ll be thankful for the most powerful is that this year, with care and thought, we will be able to celebrate as a family. Sure it will be hectic and challenging, and with the kids and seven dogs it will also likely be noisy. But the best times are. And, as we sink into our food coma sometime late in the afternoon, it won’t matter if the plan worked, if the strategy was right, or even if every dish is perfect. We’ll be together and that will be more than enough.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 22, 2021

It’s a new week and as I start this the sun has broken through the clouds and the afternoon holds some promise. I don’t have much time to write, though, so perhaps this will be finished long after the sun sets. We’ll see.

I have a few errands to go run shortly and, as I do so, I’ll be doing so masked. That’s not earthshaking new, obviously. Lots of us are still masked in public even though we are fully immunized and boostered as well. It just seems to make sense. To me at least.

But there are also a ton of folks running around who have abandoned masks — if they ever used them in the first place. There are 80 million who haven’t had the common sense, or the community spirit, to even get the first shot. It’s pretty disheartening. Although the daily case rate in the United States is about half of what it was this time last year — which is good news — it is up 16% from just a week ago, and that’s not such good news. Minnesota —where we’re bound in a few weeks to see Joe and Jess — is among the top states with the most cases per capita, but there are a number of other states that are seemingly in a rush to keep up.

None of this is a huge surprise. We expected a surge again as winter came along but, with so many unvaccinated, we face not only the specter of continuing deaths and holiday tragedies, but there’s also the worry that we’re providing space for the disease to mutate and once again set us back in our efforts to defeat it once and for all. So, I’ll keep wearing my mask, thanks, and hope that we eventually get beyond this virus.

There’s another virus spreading too, though. It also has been with us a while but it is also becoming more virulent. It’s being spread by folks on the extreme right whose vision of America is so intolerant, so white, so lacking in compassion that it scares me more than I can express. And the latest outrage comes from Tucker Carlson as he spreads a narrative of fear and discord that, oh yeah, is also total bullshit. 

I’m disgusted, of course, by the so-called documentary, “Patriot Purge” which he recently released. In it he seeks to portray our government as plotting to attack and purge the true patriots in our nation, including those wonderful folks who brought us the devastating attack on  the Capitol last January.  

It is filled with images of violence and bloodshed from the Middle East. Captives having their throats cut. Bombings. Casualties. It’s also filled with images from January 6. The images inspire fear and anxiety, and then Carlson appears. He tells us that’s it’s all a deceit. It’s part of a conspiracy by our government to deceive us and to frighten us. He says it is an excuse so that they can turn the FBI loose on the “true patriots.” It’s an excuse to allow the military to “purge” its ranks of those who Carlson portrays as the real defenders of America. 

You know who he means, right? Those noble folks who wanted to hang the VP, kill legislators, and attacked police? Those wonderful lovers of liberty who prefer bullets to ballots. In perpetrating this fiction, in telling us we can’t trust in the military, or the FBI, or any of our institutions, he sets the stage to continue the effort Trump has begun when it comes to elections. Why should we accept the results? Why should we believe that they are free or fair or reflect the will of the people.  

And why should we believe reports that come out of the January 6 probe in Congress? It was all a lie — a false flag operation planned to make those poor “patriots” look bad. There’s an Orwellian quality at play here and it’s disturbing as can be.

Slowly but surely Carlson and others like him undermine all that has made us strongest as a nation. Our faith in our democracy and our institutions is being steadily eroded and those we once looked to to protect us are now portrayed as our enemy. 

This is the path of radicalization, and that’s a path that a kid like Kyle Rittenhouse chose. We can’t count on the institutions to protect us — so we better grab our guns, take to the streets, and do it ourselves. 

It’s propaganda, pure and simple, and it’s dangerous and frightening. It feeds and empowers a radical conservatism that brooks no opposition while pundits like Carlson and political opportunists like Trump seek to exploit the divisions they create. 

This too is a virus that continues to spread across the land. Trump helped energize it. Carlson and others in the alt-right media do too. Sadly, we don’t have a vaccine to protect us from this danger, as insidious and deadly in its own way, as COVID. But hell, even if we did, you know that those most vulnerable to this message of fear and hate wouldn’t take the shot no matter what. 

Two viruses. Both dangerous. Lots for us to think about.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 21, 2021

11/21/2021. There’s almost a pattern there.

Perhaps there is, and someone with one of those special kinds of minds can see it. It’s interesting to think about how differently we all DO see the world. We all have different triggers, different connections, different sparks for our creativity.

Perhaps it’s a wonder that we ever find our way to common ground. I could try to make a case for our shared humanity transcending all. I certainly felt at times as I traveled and worked as a diplomat that there were common bonds that linked us no matter where in the world we lived.

With some inevitable exceptions I could make the case that folks everywhere tend to love their families, want good things for their kids, they want them to be safe, and happy and healthy. And I guess that it seemed to me that people wanted the chance to be heard and, dare I say it, even respected. It doesn’t hurt to listen and engage, but that’s harder today than it used to be. Too bad.

I know that was kind of a random start to my writing for the day but it was just a stream of consciousness flow. Sometimes it’s fun, or at least less stressful, to just allow one thought to morph into another and another and another.

I’m too tired tonight for a carefully considered exposition on just about any topic. It’s been a busy day. We’re getting ready for Thanksgiving. It will be a not-quite-full house but certainly full enough. By mid-week we’ll be six adults, four kids ranging from nine months to 12 and a half years and… god help us… seven dogs. Of course, I can’t say much about that given that four of them are ours, but still… it should make for a lively Thanksgiving.

So, much of the weekend has been about cleaning, and organizing and then, this afternoon, about shopping. The menu is planned and, as is always the case in our family, there will be too much food I’m sure. But we’ll eat ourselves into a food coma and enjoy every bite along the way.

I think I live with a basic fear, perhaps part of my Grandma DeLisi’s legacy, that you can’t ever put too much food on the table. You show love through food. Food defines the family. That was just part of growing up. And so, I’ve got a feeling that the table will groan under the weight of the food and we may groan a bit as well. But that’s how we roll.

Let the cooking begin.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 20 2021

Today was a sad day. We had to miss the memorial service for a dear friend who passed after a struggle with cancer. He was a very good man. 

I feel as though we can’t really afford to lose the good ones in our lives, but we can, at least, hold our memories of him dear. So the day became a day of remembrance in part. Not just of our friend, but I thought of all those who are gone from our lives. And that’s ok. It’s good to remember both the pain of the loss as well as the joy and love that we shared. Sometimes in the craziness of our daily lives we don’t get that chance. I took it today.

And, while letting my thoughts wander to those I have lost, I also had the occasion to reflect on all those that, gratefully, I have not. — al those in my life who share their love and their support and their friendship. As I did, I realized how fortunate I am. And it struck me that what we share, and what we embody, when we come together in remembrance, are compassion and empathy. 

Those are important qualities that seem In such woefully short supply in our society as a whole, yet it is so simple to extend them to those we love. 

Perhaps we would be wise to try and extend them — compassion and empathy — to those who may not be part of our lives but are nonetheless part of our world.

So, with a nod to Sesame Street, today is brought you not by any particular letter, but by Remembrance and Compassion.  

Stay strong , stay safe, stay healthy,

November 19, 2021

Last night I wrote that I wanted to be a rabble-rouser. That I believed that change is essential, lest we fail as a nation and as a society. It has happened to nations before. Nothing lasts forever. Change is a constant. But I hope that change will make us better, more moral, more just, more tolerant and more decent. It may not. We’ll see. But change, there will be.

And the news of the day brings me back to those thoughts about change. 

I know that many feel outrage tonight over the verdict handed down today in the Rittenhouse trial. I get it. I feel it too, and it doesn’t feel right. 

I’ll admit, though, that I didn’t follow the trial in detail. I didn’t have the responsibility that those jurors faced in having to make a decision about this young man’s guilt or innocence, or the application of law to the particular facts of the case.  And I have to remind myself the trial wasn’t about racism or racial justice nor was it about the radicalization of American kids, that leads them to see danger and threats from all those who are different from them. 

Maybe I wanted the trial to be about those things, but it was not. 

I wanted the trial to lead us all to feel nstinctively that what happened was wrong. On every level. It was wrong that Kyle Rittenhouse, a seventeen-year old kid, could so easily get a gun, or that he was so caught up in a culture that glorified it. 

It’s wrong that he felt it was OK to take it across state lines and insert himself into the situation in Kenosha to “protect property” from protestors outraged over the Jacob Blake shooting. And It’s wrong that it was so easy for him to do so. 

But the jury can’t be asked to figure all that out. They were just supposed to decide whether the case against Rittenhouse was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. The jury deliberated for four days They made their decision. They did not believe that the prosecution made the case. I’m not going to condemn them for doing their duty. 

And, although we may not like the verdict, we should accept it. I know that there are folks for whom their outrage will make it hard for them to do so. But I believe we should accept it, nonetheless.

If nothing else, I’d ask that we look back and think about where we were a year ago.  Many of us were appalled then too. But then it was was because Trump wouldn’t accept a verdict we liked — the verdict of the people. He and his supporters thought that they were justified in their outrage because the outcome was, in their view, “wrong.”  They thought that their views trumped the rules and the laws (no pun intended, really) and convinced themselves that they were fully justified in attacking the Capitol. They thought their dislike of the electoral decision was sufficient reason to disregard the rules. It wasn’t 

These rules about elections and jury trials are part of a process that allows us to live together despite our differences (much Iike the conventions and rules In Congress that I wrote about last night).  When a jury rules, we have to accept the outcome.  Not just when we like It, but even when we don’t.  Any other choice leads us to chaos. 

That chaos may be coming, I know. Some days it feels closer than others. All the more reason, then to be outraged and angry and seek to effect change. But, let’s be careful in defining the change we seek. If in seeking change we abandon fundamental precepts that allow us to function as a society, then we risk more than we know. 

I am sure that the commentary on this outcome will be wide-ranging and you will easily be able to find someone that reinforces your own point of view. I won’t try to compete with them in eloquence or outrage or analysis. The debate will rage and there are those who’ll proclaim this kid, who took two lives, to be a hero. Others are convinced he’s a demon. To me he’s a symbol of the dysfunction that defines us.

So tonight, it isn’t the decision of the jurors that troubles me most, it’s the fact that we are a nation that can no longer find a common ground on which we can stand together. 

I’m saddened that we seem to be unable to find shared values help us move us forward in times of trouble. 

I’m saddened that we’re a nation in which, had Rittenhouse been black or brown, the outcome very likely would have been different. 

I’m saddened that we can’t escape the role that guns play in our origin story — the myth we have created about ourselves. 

And I’m saddened that these issues divide us into angry camps rather drive us to reflect honestly on why we are, where we are.

So today, you’ll get no beating of war drums from me nor screams of outrage. There are plenty who can and will provide you that if that’s what you’re looking for. I’m sobered and saddened more than I am angry. But I remain convinced, more than ever, that something has to change. Not with the jury system. But with us. Within us. And if it doesn’t we will, ultimately, break.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy. 

November 18, 2021

We’ve got the fire on tonight. Even though it was in the 70s during the day a front has come through and there’s a marked chill in the air as the rain is making its presence known as it patters against the window. It’s a good night to be at home. And my guess is it may be an early night. My neck, which is loaded with arthritis, has chosen the past few nights to act up. It can cause some pretty significant headaches depending on how I position my head and, obviously, I’ve not managed that well of late. Maybe tonight will be better. 

These things are inevitable. The longer we stick around the more we have to learn to manage our bodies and our health in new ways. There’s nothing wrong with that. It just requires that we learn some new approaches and study a bit more whether its about nutrition, or supplements, or just which nerve being stressed is causing that pain in your back or backside. Yep. There’s plenty to learn. But I don’t want to sit back and do nothing. I think we can maximize our potential for functionality, but you have to work at it. Hell. What else is more important?

On the news tonight I saw a story about an 105-year-old woman who started running at 100.  Now there’s something to shoot for.

It was good to have a feel-good story because, as usual not all the news was so upbeat. I talked about Gosar last night and his ugly cartoon tweet that combined the worst of misogyny, racism, and partisan excess. Tonight we heard about the judge who, in sentencing an admitted rapist who had attacked four teenaged girls, announced that he thought incarceration was not warranted. The guy got 8 years probation.

If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. Probation. Rape. Four young girls. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out that his decision is bonkers. By any definition. 

It’s when we hear stories like this that our faith in the system erodes. As when we see legislators playing games and preferring stunts over deliberation. As when we see a President who lies with impunity. Or as when we see a killer slaughter kids in school and then listen to politicians offer their hopes and prayers while they take money from the gun lobby and do nothing to make us safer or saner as a nation.

I could be pragmatic in my approach. It’s the “way it is” is an honest answer perhaps but it’s not a good one. We can say that the judge is “only human.” We all make mistakes. But — I’m sorry — we should expect more, demand more, of those who lead or who are supposed to be models of wisdom. When leaders fail, when judges are fools, and when ugliness prevails and no one speaks out, how can we just accept it as the “way it is.” Where is our outrage and our demands for fundamental change?  

I don’t want to be pragmatic. I want change. Because if we don’t, we will break as a society. Who would think that I’d be a rabble-rouser at this age? But it seems right. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 17, 2021

It’s been another busy day and there’s still much to do. I bring it on myself, of course, but still… you’d think I’d learn.

It was around 5 pm and dusk was starting to gather around us as Lo Khyi, Gyptse and I made it back from  a 2 mile hike that started far later than I wanted. As we settled in back at home, I pondered what I would take on tonight and I realized that I didn’t HAVE to write this blog. No one is forcing me to. It’s a choice.

But it really isn’t. And that surprised me. I was truly resistant to the idea of not writing. It’s not the part about posting this or sharing it. The world would live without another day of rambling. But I want to believe that, as I make choices to shape my life at this stage of the journey, I’ll stick to them. And writing every day was something I committed myself to. I don’t want to disappoint myself.  

This is something that for years I often told myself I should do, but I was always too busy. There was always something else that was more pressing. But then along came the pandemic. “Busy” was redefined and so was “time.” So, in many ways the pandemic opened the door for me to make good on the idea that had been bubbling for so long.

So, there wasn’t a choice. I couldn’t bring myself to jettison this daily time at the keyboard, and so, I’m writing.

I could stop here. I’ve done the needful. But it’s hard not to comment, for a moment, on the move in the House today to censure Paul Gosar. I wrote about him and the truly ugly cartoon he put out that depicts his avatar killing AOC and attacking the President. He was censured today and removed from his committee assignments. I applaud the decision to move to censure. I really do.

But I’m saddened that, out of the 209 Republicans who voted on this issue, 207 of them apparently felt that what Gosar did did not warrant punishment. 207 thought his depiction of himself killing a female colleague was not worthy of rebuke. Have we become so jaded to acts of violence in real life and in fiction that we can’t see the indecency of Gosar’s act? Or is it that we have become so tribal that we place party over what simple common sense tells us is right and just? OK… that’s rhetorical… we KNOW that, under Trump, we lost all shame in our politics and the pervasiveness of acts of violence has numbed us and makes Gosar’s video seem, to some, mundane.

But there was a time when the standards of behavior were far higher and when we would have been shocked by the idea that a legislator would publicly threaten another. There was a time when there would have been far more Republicans to vote to censure Gosar. But sadly, not today.

This isn’t a partisan issue. It’s about decency. It’s about respect. It’s about creating an environment of civility and enforced decency that allows even the most bitter of political foes to engage together in the same chamber to do the nation’s business.

That’s the way it once was. Or that’s what I believe. Maybe that was just an illusion. I don’t know. But it’s the way it should be.  It’s a sad day when we’re applauding a one-party censure vote that, in the past, would have likely have been overwhelming in terms of bipartisan support. 

Maybe I’m totally out of touch. Perhaps it is quaint that I still think civility and respect should matter, but I do. So I’m disappointed more often than not these days. Hmmm. On refection, maybe I should have chosen not to write, after all.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 16, 2021

It’s 8 pm and I’m just sitting down to write. It’s been a busy day. I got side-tracked for a bit cleaning the basement. We’ll have a full house at Thanksgiving and need to be ready!

Then I had to do some planning for Giving Tuesday, which comes up two weeks from today.  We’ve got some significant projects that merit funding. Finding really good projects is a challenge. Finding the funding is tougher. After that I had to spend some time thinking about a presentation I’ve been asked to do tomorrow on how municipalities in developing countries can get funding. The latter part of my afternoon had a theme I guess.

So now I have to write some more. But what about? I asked Gracie who’s snuggled up next to me on the chair for ideas, but she just was no help. Hmmph. I’m left to my own devices, I guess, and that’s never good.  

I didn’t listen to the news or open it up in a browser so no inspiration there. I’ll just have to wing it. But then, that’s nothing new.

What struck me this morning is that when I got up to face the day, my first thoughts were not about how sore I was. That’s always a good thing. And then I did something that was, for me at least, a departure from the norm. I didn’t look at my phone first thing. Normally I do.

I stretched a bit and as the day began I wondered why I am always so eager to connect to my devices but ignore the chance to connect to my body. To stretch, to move, to be in the moment. You can roll your eyes if you want to while you shake your head thinking I’ve gone around a “new age” bend in the road. That’s OK. But for me, I valued the far more peaceful, less jarring way to start the day. 

If I can set aside the “screens” when eating, something I talked about the other day, why can’t I delay it in the morning for a bit as well? It seemed to make sense. It felt… right. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

When I was more fully engaged in the workforce a bit later, checking mail — checking in — first thing in the day always seemed so important and it probably was. Then. But maybe not now.  Time to rethink. We’ll see what happens next. I might just get too mellow for words.

That’s all for tonight.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 15, 2021

The day hasn’t really been too bad for a Monday. That has been welcome. I’ve got more on my plate than I know what to do with. And there’s still so much more I want to do. As always, there are not enough hours in the day or days in the week. 

The good news is that a greater part of my day is filled with things that I’m trying to prioritize.  There hasn’t been a day in recent memory where I haven’t walked at least a mile and a half to two miles. Almost every day has also included time for stretching. Meditation has been part of the equation as well. I want to see how much stretching and yoga can help offset the unending challenges posed by misaligned disks, inflamed nerve roots, and the muscles that they shock into spasm.

There are so many things that might help us to manage our aches and pains as well as the stresses and anxiety of life. But so many of them require a committed and sustained effort to measure their impact. Diet and exercise are good. They have already brought me to the verge of a 20 lb loss. That’s good by itself. But there’s more to do. And, as we age, we find that there are other things we need to do, that our bodies change, that there are new challenges and considerations.

What vitamins go with other vitamins? What supplements make sense? What meds do we really need and how much can we manage without? My blood pressure is as controlled, and as low, as it has been for years just because I’ve included drinking hibiscus tea daily into my routine. That’s another prescription that the cardiologist (who recommended the tea in the first place) knocked off the list. The meds for reflux have been done away with too. A bit of care in the diet has that under control too. NSAIDs for pain management? Those are gone too. After too many years they were taking a toll on my kidneys. And so I try to find the alternatives for pain relief that makes sense. I know of some who swear by turmeric paste and that has become a regular of late to see if it works for me. We’ll see.

Getting it all right and in balance though is a challenge. There aren’t many docs I’ve met who really look at this holistically or who assess the interactions as all the pieces come into play. We add calcium and vitamin D to strengthen our bones or magnesium to ease muscle spasms and then there’s the B-12 — one of the few vitamins the vegans cannot get through their diet.  There are other vitamins and supplements, and there’s that turmeric paste, and there’s so much more that goes into wellness and health. But how do they all interact? What is healthy? What isn’t? And what makes the most sense?

The idea of holistic or integrative health care that looks at all the pieces in the puzzle and how to put them together in the most effective way for each of us is not mainstream. It should be. And ultimately, it will be. But the journey and the learning process are fascinating, and for now, that’s good enough for me.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 14, 2021

How does it happen that so many in our nation would rather believe fantasy than fact? The truth, I know, can be boring. It’s much more satisfying, perhaps, to create a narrative that neatly, even if bizarrely, incorporates your view of the world into a tale that demonizes your foes  and that ultimately sees them vanquished. 

There are always some who are eager to believe the fictions that make them feel best, or that justify beliefs that are outside the norm. There just seem to be more of them than ever. White supremacists create their own vision of the world. So do climate deniers. Pandemic deniers, Anti-vaxxers. Big lie proponents. 

To hear them tell it, god meant for white people to rule… the planet is doing just fine, thank you… this whole COVID thing is just a fiction, as was the slaughter of little children at Sandy Hook or the holocaust. There are those whose lives revolve around a commitment to one or the other of these lies and some weave them all together into a broader story that helps them create a vision of the world they’d like to see, not the world that is.

This propensity to enshrine fiction over truth was bolstered by the Trump presidency. We offer as a truism the idea that all politicians are liars, but we know, or we should know, better than that. Some are less direct than others. Some lie, yes. But I can think of few leaders who abused the truth more than Trump. From day one when he insisted his inaugural crowds were the biggest ever (they weren’t) to the last days of his term as he maintained that the elections had been stolen from him by massive fraud (it wasn’t), falsehoods and fictions were his constant companion.

He never even flinched at the absurdity of offering “alternative facts.” For him truth was not an absolute. It was malleable. Whatever he wanted it to be. And it’s frightening how readily so many, including the overwhelming majority of Republicans, eagerly believed his most blatant lies or dismissed them as minor failings that they could look past as long as it meant they held power, or they got the next Supreme Court Justice installed. He changed the norms and we let him. 

I realize that this is already more than I intended to write when I sat down. I had initially been focused on a few of the latest conspiracy theories and was wondering why people are so eager to believe them. Anti-vaxxers are driving some of the craziest tales out there. They claim, for example, that the crowd surge that killed eight and injured hundreds at the Travis Scott concert at Astroworld was caused by COVID vaccines. They assert that the vaccines contain graphic oxide (they don’t) and that allows people to be controlled by magnetic forces associated with the music. Some suggest that Scott is a demon and the incident was Satanism (which, of course, they also tie to the Democratic Party). Others suggest that the tragedy was actually a test to see how well people could be controlled by the magnetic forces following their vaccination. It’s crazy.

Others out there are apparently convinced that the vaccine caused the death of three giraffes at the Dallas zoo. And yes, it’s true that three giraffes there have died recently. But no, none of them had been vaccinated. 

Still others are crowing with satisfaction about how the CEO of Pfizer has been arrested by the FBI for his role in falsifying the data on the efficacy of the vaccine. Serves him right, the dirty liar except… wait… what? He wasn’t arrested? Nope. He didn’t falsify data? Nope. The reports are all BS? Yep, that’s about right.

Then there/s a crazy tale that JFK Jr. who died when his plane crashed in 1999, is really alive. Apparently he’s been working as a financial advisor in Pittsburgh. But a crowd of conspiracy theorists gathered in Dallas on November 2, convinced that that was the day he would reappear. More than that, he supposedly has been a Trump advisor and either will a) be elected President and then give the presidency to Trump or, b) he will be Trump’s running mate in 2024.

Shockingly, JFK Jr. did not reappear. But, for the believers, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong. You just adjust the fantasy and set a new date for the miracle to happen. In their world the Trump-Kennedy ticket is coming. Oh yeah. Just you wait.  

Even more disturbing than these misguided fictions, though, are the cynical and deliberate lies being told to spark discord or derail vaccination efforts. A prime example is the doctored video  being circulated that has VP Harris ostensibly claiming that those being hospitalized and dying from COVID were all vaccinated.  What she had actually said was the exact opposite. It was about unvaccinated folks falling ill, being hospitalized and ultimately dying in numbers wildly disproportionate to those who are vaccinated. But all you have to do is change a few words and you have flipped the message on its head. 

And those who want to sell the lie know that there is a market for it. They know that there are plenty of folks out there who are eager to believe it. They don’t want truth. They just want to be reaffirmed in their belief that COVID is a fraud, that vaccines are dangerous, and it’s all about the government seeking to control us.

It’s disturbing, especially, I guess, for old dogs like me that are unwilling to learn new tricks. I remain convinced that whether we like them or not, facts are facts, and that the truth matters. We don’t get to reinvent them to suit our beliefs. It doesn’t work that way. Or at least it isn’t supposed to. 

But sadly, over the past few years, with Trump’s example leading the way, many in our nation have been empowered and emboldened to disregard facts and truth. And doing so makes it so much easier to construct a narrative that is far more satisfying to them. The fact that it’s false is at most a minor inconvenience, if it is recognized at all. And, when we create our own version of reality and our own facts, it becomes easier to deny that problems exist in our society than to try to fix them. It’s easier to ignore the vulnerable among us, than to help them. And it’s far easier to portray those who are different from us as a threat than it is to embrace our shared humanity.

That’s what happens when the truth becomes malleable and facts are what we want to them be rather than what they are.

And, although I wish it was a warmer 70 degrees today, the fact is that it’s only 45. I guess I’ll just have to accept that and throw on a jacket as I walk the pups and that is exactly what I’ll do rather than dwell further on the nonsense that poses as reality for so many.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 13, 2021

I guess it’s a miracle that I’m still here. It seems like every time we turn around there’s something else we discover that should have killed us off long ago. The latest news, shared by a friend (thanks, Patrick) is a study by Consumer Reports of spices. It warns of the various spices out there that have high levels of lead, arsenic and cadmium. That’s not good. But most of the spices they looked at were generally OK and the brands I often use were generally good but there were some… oregano, thyme and basil in particular, that tested poorly no matter who produced them. 

I guess I could ask the question, “Why?” The article didn’t explain really — and I’m not one to just declare bullshit or say that I’m not going to worry about it but… I’m not going to worry about it much. My family, in my paternal lineage, is Sicilian. If the oregano and basil are a problem today, I wonder how they were when I was a kid. I probably should be loaded with arsenic by now. But if I am, no one’s caught it yet.

God help me though, if they start telling us that garlic and onion and ginger root (fresh, not dried) is a threat to our health. I’d REALLY be in trouble then. Tonight I made Ethiopian food — four different dishes and even some homemade injera which wasn’t horrible for a first time effort. Fortunately, no thyme, oregano, or basil were called upon, though plenty of other spices were. Along with the holy trinity of onion, garlic and ginger.

So our spices are out to get us. Depending on the reports you read, so is wine, other forms of alcohol, sugar, sugary drinks, salt, processed foods of all sorts, tuna, cigarettes (of course), red meat… the list goes on and on. 

All of those things were once part of my life. They aren’t any more, at least not in any significant way. But I’m still here. And of course we’ve all gone through the litany of things that didn’t kill us when we were kids… the lack of seat belts, the failure to ever use sunscreen, roaming to the farthest reached of the neighborhood and beyond without adult supervision, and games outdoors that just might have involved objects capable of being thrown or otherwise launched,  that were often hard, and potentially dangerous. From chestnuts to rocks you used the “tools” at hand.

I probably shouldn’t have survived. Most of us shouldn’t have. But somehow we did. Does that mean I think we should disregard seat belts? Smoke a pack a day? Drink ourselves silly every night? Of course not. We’ve learned a lot, we’ve changed, we have ways of being safer and we should take advantage of the advances. 

But with so much to worry about, from gun violence to climate change to the intolerance and anger that plague our society, whether I should live in a world without thyme is not in my top ten of challenges for the future. (And if you want to play with that last comment, knock yourself out.)

Every day when I write I end with the mantra to stay strong, safe and healthy and we should use all the information and wisdom and new discoveries at our disposal to try and do exactly that. But I’ve made it this far and I start getting a bit crotchety at the thought of more things to worry about. Maybe my spices WILL be my undoing. Who knows. But there are, I’d wager, worse ways to go.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 12, 2021

It’s Friday again. You’d think that at this point in my life I wouldn’t draw the distinction so sharply between the workdays and the weekends but it still feels good.  

I could convince myself to find a topic to write about. But I’m just not willing to work that hard this early evening. Even I’m not interested in hearing about my day. LoL. There was little new, exciting, or out of the ordinary. 

Even watching the news I’m not inspired to write. The story about all the folks who are quitting their jobs is interesting. 4.4 million quit in September. Meanwhile over 10 million jobs are empty and companies are desperate to hire folks. There’s a disconnect. The pandemic has changed us and our priorities. It is changing the way things work. It has also changed how we think about work and the workplace and our place in it.

There’s a lot to think about. But not tonight.

There’s all sorts of political news, but there always is. Trump continues to tell lies. Steve Bannon is indicted for defying Congress. I just can’t bring myself to dwell on them tonight either.  

And then there’s the BIG story; Brittany Spears’ conservatorship has been dissolved. I don’t care. I just don’t. Much as I can’t get too worked up about the stories about the Royals. I get it some folks care. I guess I don’t have that particular gene. 

But, my worry gene is sufficiently active to note that once again COVID cases are on the rise. There have been plenty of stories about a two month cycle so with that, and with the advent of winter, and with the folks who haven’t been vaccinated (still over 100,000,000 people) or those who have only been partially vaccinated (another 30,000,000) the pandemic has fertile ground to continue to spread and evolve. 

We’ve lost our sense of what is unfolding, but after 20 months over three quarters of a million of us have died from COVID here in the US. Just under 770,000,000. Remember when we were shocked when we hit a 1000 deaths? It wasn’t that long ago.

This too is worth talking about. But not tonight,

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 11, 2021

Today we honor our veterans. And that, of course, is right. In the past I’ve saluted my father and those of his generation who served in WWII. I respect and am so grateful for those who stood up in the face of the horrors of the Nazi regime. There were others who answered the call in Korea and in Vietnam. Even though many of my generation struggled intensely with the rationale for, and the morality of, the Vietnam war, I still can respect those who were willing to serve. And not all service is in combat, but those veterans deserve recognition too.  

I know, of course, that not all who serve do so in one of the military services. And this day, of course, is meant to honor them. But, I feel I have to do a shout out to all of my foreign service colleagues, our USAID colleagues, and those civilians from an array of agencies who also have served our nation overseas and who have faced threats to their lives — and lost their lives —  in service to our nation. Thank you to all who serve. You deserve to be recognized.

Of course, the pandemic experience has also led us to think more about what service looks like. It is the doctors and nurses and all the other healthcare workers who have faced risks every day. There were the first responders on the streets, the workers who kept the stores open and the truckers who brought the goods the stores needed. The list is long.

And while today may be about military veterans it made me think about service and about how, much to my surprise, it has come to define my life in so many ways. I spent most of the day working on a grant request to help children in rural municipality in Nepal where poverty is the norm and this particular community has often been among those who are left behind. I hope we’ll be successful in our efforts. It seems to me that’s what I should do at this point. Give back. Serve others. Try to help. Why not?

We serve in many different ways, including simple acts of kindness that make our communities richer, that make people feel seen, that offers hope. There is so much we can do to make a difference. There’s a satisfaction in service that is undeniable and we should be proud to serve others in whatever way we can. There’s growth there and joy too. It’s good.

So, I wish I could understand those who pervert the whole idea of service. I’m not going to belabor this, but Paul Gosar, the Republican legislator from Arizona, has the chance, as a national legislator, to serve our nation with honesty and dignity. He might have different values but all these legislators have such an incredible opportunity to making a lasting contribution, but he has chosen to let his service become ugly and hateful. And what demonstrates this more clearly than the anime video Gosar posted on Twitter that had a figure with his face killing… yes killing… Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and attacking President Biden as well. 

There’s no justification. No weasel words that make this OK. He perverts the meaning of service and demeans the position and ultimately the institution. And when the leaders of his party refuse to condemn this they debase their party and they insult all of us who have served our nation because we believed our values matter more than our differences.

So thank you to our veterans and to all who serve — despite those who deal in hate and division.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 10, 2021

There are times when I sit down and there’s nothing to say. Other days, I’ve got lots of ideas buzzing about, but trying to impose order on them is as tough as keeping a group of preschoolers in a candy store under control. Not, of course, that I’ve had that particular experience but I can imagine the challenge.

Today is one of those “buzzing thoughts” days. I always hate that. I feel like I should give more care to the articulation of my arguments. Some days the thoughts deserve a thoughtful, even scholarly (who am I kidding) essay. Instead they just come tumbling out. I hope that my points are clear and cogent, but no matter, the ideas are out of my head and on the electronic equivalent of paper and once that happens the buzzing, at least, softens to a more manageable hum.

This morning I saw an interesting interview on PBS’s Amanpour&Co. with two of the actors in Dopesick which is airing on Hulu. It’s a powerful recounting of the effort to hold Purdue Pharma to account for driving the opioid crisis with lies and fraud. It is powerful and troubling. Even now, after admitting fraud and agreeing to pay out billions as a consequence, the Purdue family faces no real accountability for the lives they knowingly ruined. It’s a sad commentary on the power of big Pharma, of corporate capitalism, and the ability of those with money to influence politicians and even the regulatory process. 

The most disgusting thing perhaps — though it’s hard to choose from among so many tragedies — was their successful (for some time) attempt to blame the problem on those who became addicted. They were weak. They were drug users. They had some sort of moral flaw, perhaps. It wasn’t the drug, or the deceptive and dangerous marketing. It wasn’t the lies to the doctors or the callous disregard for patients or public health. Nope. The drug was good. It was just the fault of weak individuals.  

That’s what we get from those who have the money to create their own version of reality. It’s not the shameless promotion and glorification of alcohol that is responsible for the rise in alcoholism and drunk driving and all the rest. It’s the fault of those who drink. The rise in cancer deaths and heart disease weren’t the fault of big tobacco. Nope. Blame someone else or something else, although the truth was clear to the tobacco companies for years. I watch the shameless advertising ploys luring people to the online betting sites. We know where that will lead. Of course, they end their ads urging people to gamble responsibly and offering links to get help for gambling addiction. But their whole effort is geared towards fostering that addiction and when it destroys someone’s life they can shrug and say we warned folks, we did our part. 

It’s all about the money. And we, as a society, watch it happen. It’s sad and it’s also frightening. 

And in recent years, the fossil fuel companies and the big polluters have also been trying to tell us that the narrative isn’t really about them and their profits. Climate change? They encourage, and support, politicians who tell us that climate change doesn’t exist. Pollution isn’t a problem. The environment is fine and why don’t all those hysterical tree huggers and liberals just shut up? That’s a dream come true for the fossil fuel companies and they pour plenty into the effort to keep that narrative alive. But they are more subtle when they need to be. They also have taken pains to shift the mindset. They’ve led many of us to believe that somehow climate change is OUR fault — at least in part — and it is up to us to reduce our carbon footprint. It’s not them. It’s us. We need to do more. 

They’ve been successful in shifting the dialogue from their bloated profits and the devastation that fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions are bringing to our planet to a narrative that isn’t about them as much as it is about us. They’ve tried, and often succeeded, in convincing us that it’s up to us to fix the problem. But it isn’t. Every one of us could triple our personal efforts and it still won’t solve the problem if fossil fuels continue to dominate and manufacturers and others don’t change the way they operate. But no one has been willing to tackle the hugely contentious and transformational policy changes needed to solve a truly existential problem for us. 

Biden has made a start but when we look at the fundamental changes we will have to make to how we work, live, and engage the world, it truly is daunting. From air travel or the cruise industry to the transportation sector, power generation, automobiles, etc. What would happen if we tried to tax the fossil fuel producers and the greenhouse gas emitters at a level that truly captured the costs they inflict on us all? THAT would shift the picture dramatically. But what politician will lead the effort? Fire and brimstone will be their lot. The ads, the lobbyists, the legions of lawyers. Sweetheart deals for regulators and campaign contributions for the political foes of reform. We know the power of money. Just ask the Sacklers, the family that owned Purdue Pharma. 

And if they bend a few rules, if they get caught breaking a few laws or spreading money around indiscriminately, the fines they may have to pay are just the cost of doing business. They can afford it. It’s chump change to them. Even the billions the Sacklers will have to pay out over the coming years isn’t going to force them to change their mindset. And, for others like them, instead of being determined to reform themselves and big Pharma, they’ll just be determined to ensure that, unlike Purdue, they don’t get caught. 

It sounds cynical. And perhaps it is. But we have a fundamental problem with the role that big money and corporate capitalism play in our society that we need to examine. I’m not a firebrand socialist, marxist, or any other kind of “ist.” I believe that our nation was built on enterprise and capitalism and opportunity and effort. But there have also been times when those forces have spun out of control and needed to be fixed. I think, though, that these problems will take more than legislative fixes,.

It is hard to get our heads around this. The problems are too big. We feel as though there is nothing we can do to influence them. So, it’s easy… and it seems justified… to throw our hands up in despair and dismay. Still, we must act in whatever ways are open to us. The challenge, though, is that it is more about changing the system through our votes and political engagement than it is about whether we recycle or drive an electric car.

Anyway, I don’t have the answers. And I’m sure that the problems are more complex, pernicious and dangerous than I fully realize. But hell, it’s worth thinking about. Watch Dopesick. Or check out “The Argument” podcast from the New York Times for November 10, as the panel talks about climate change and what we can do about it (or not). They’ll get thoughts buzzing in your head too.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 9, 2021

Tonight, if I get this blog entry written quickly, I’ll finish my work on Gus’ Christmas stocking. I started sewing the charms that give these stockings a special feel onto it last night and there aren’t too many left to go.

I’ve written about this before, but it thrills me to be part of making this stocking for Gus. I had no idea when I started stitching these stockings that this would become a mission — a way of sharing love — and that I’d create one for every child, spouse, and grandchild (and a few others here and there along the way as well).

I fear we are increasingly losing the art of the handmade in our nation. At least that’s the way it seems. Maybe we don’t have the time or the patience that hand-crafted work often requires.

I can’t tell you how many hours have gone into the stockings that grace our family’s various mantles across the country. There are other projects as well that have taken ages, especially with the demands on our time when we lived overseas, But it’s not about the time it’s about the painstaking effort put into each stitch. The effort to get the tension right, to ensure that the directions of the crosses are consistent, to blend the flosses for a richer color palate, to master the specialty stitches, and more.

Other crafting endeavors require different skill sets but most require a degree of commitment and effort and time. And I think that there are fewer folks in America today who make that choice. For me, it’s therapeutic. My focus has to narrow, I have to give myself over to the process. I’m pretty sure that my heart rate slows, and different parts of my brain take over.

It’s good. 

I saw a show yesterday on PBS, “Craft in America.” It was a fascinating show. Looking at three different folks committed to their craft. Talking about their journey and their process and you could tell that it filled their lives. They were so engaged. So creative. Their stories inspired.

Apparently there are several seasons. I’m going to have to run them down. 

Their work is powerful. Unique. Distinctive. Driven. I think they had to do what they do. Obviously, I don’t fall into that category. But my own little part of crafting still matters to me. And I hope that some day the kids and the grandkids will look at those things that we have made and will see not just the object but the love that flowed into each of the thousands of stitches. 

I think that every crafter imbues their work with a bit of themselves. I think we imbue them with love.  And then, when we pass them on, not only our love but a bit of our self goes along with them. 

So I’m going to finish imbuing Gus’ stocking with all the love I can. It’s all about the love and I hope that is what he’ll remember.

Back to work.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 8, 2021

Today, Max, the eldest of our four-legged pups, turned 14 years old. He’s a sweet boy, one of the best. He has these incredibly vibrant brown eyes that are rich and lustrous and that shine with life. We think he’s a schnauzer-beagle mix. 

I remember when he came into our life. He was born in 2007 in West Virginia where his litter was dumped at a shelter — one where they killed unwanted dogs. He and his litter mates were rescued first by a group here in Northern Virginia and Max, in turn, was rescued by us.

At the time we had two other dogs, Woody, an English Cocker who became part of our lives in Sri Lanka, in 1994, and Gabby, our little Bichon from South Africa who joined us three years after we moved to Botswana. Neither was a spring chicken, but we knew that Woody was nearing the end of his journey. It seemed right to find a new pack mate so Gabby wouldn’t be lonely.

We had decided to look and almost immediately found Max’s litter and went to meet them. With Max it was love at first sight. We were told he’d be available in a few weeks and we eagerly awaited his arrival. The challenge was that they brought the little guy a day early before we could prepare a space for him for the daytimes. It’s times like that when it’s good to be the boss and better yet when our office was in an annex across the street from the main State Department building. I brought Max to the office with me that day. He strutted his stuff on the office manager’s desk, he was playful and nervous and just what you’d expect when a puppy decides to explore the world. 

And when I had a meeting with another Ambassador and little Max pooped at his feet, it was okay because it MY pup pooping in MY office. Of course, I also knew, from my own Ambassadorial experience, that having a title doesn’t spare you from the crap that life throws at you. If anything, the title ensures you have even more to deal with. So I wasn’t about to let a little accident disrupt the meeting. I’m not sure what my colleague thought of it all but I’ve had worse meetings and so, I wager, had he. 

Max has had his share of adventures traveling with us to Nepal and Uganda. He’s been “our boy” for years — long before his “little” brother Lo Khyi (who outweighs him by 75 pounds or so) came along to claim a share of the title.

With his wild and uncontrolled coat, his baying beagle voice, and his indomitable spirit he’s brought us joy and love for 14 years. I hope he feels he’s received as much in return.  

He’s aging, but hell, I know what that feels like. His hearing isn’t so great, he snores at night, and he gets confused from time to time but he’s our boy. So it’s all okay. 

Today there were two dog walks. We took Max and Gracie, who will turn 14 in February, for a birthday walk in the afternoon. He’ll get a few extra pets, a few special treats, and lots of reminders about how much he’s loved. Here’s to Max and to more birthdays to come.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 7, 2021

Such a beautiful day here. We’ve had great weather all week. It’s nippy, with lows in the 30s but that is feeling refreshing and nice. I’ve walked the dogs and taken time for myself already today. Leija and I ran to a few grocery stores in search of odds and ends. One store might have the brand of English muffins we like and another the vegan tzatziki dip. Our shopping often gets spread out over multiple days and we seize the targets of opportunity if a doctor appointment or visiting the grandkids takes us within range of a store that just may have what we need in stock.  

We’re not too picky, but I’m surprised at how over the years more and more of our cart is organic. And I was bemused today as we were stocking up on even more produce. We eat so much more in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables and I’m always pleased with how little goes to waste. I think we’re getting better both at shopping and meal planning. I don’t find it too challenging to come up with a menu on any given day whose primary focus is on using up something that may be moving too far towards the far end of the freshness scale.  

We’re making more of an effort of late to truly enjoy all that organic freshness. We’ve come to realize how easy it can be to eat a meal and never really taste it. And in the process we then end up eating more than we need as well. The culprit is screens. TV screens. Computer screens. iPad screens. Even iPhone screens. Although our consciousness is often engaged in the virtual world, our bodies eat in the physical one. And when our mind is not present when we eat we lose out.  

Now some of you are probably fully civilized human beings who would never think of eating in front of a tv or any sort of screen. I don’t fall into that category. Nor, according to one survey, do a staggering 88% of the respondents. Staring at a phone, or the computer, or your tablet, is increasingly the norm. At home, at the office, on the go — no matter the setting — it’s no longer “soup and sandwich” that go together as the old jingle said. Now it’s “screen and sandwich” or “email and sandwich” or maybe “You Tube and sandwich” or “Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and sandwich.’ The point is that we have become a nation of “zombie eaters” with increased tendencies towards day-long grazing, mindless snacking, and less than healthy choices in what we devour with minimal awareness while we work or surf the web.

I know that I have often rushed through my day tackling items on my to do list. Multi-tasking is absolutely in my wheelhouse. I can answer an email as I eat dinner and be watching the news in the background as well. Of course, I don’t really “taste” the food I’m eating. I miss out on flavor, on texture, on the scents, and the mouth feel, and all the rest. And many zombie eaters also miss out on the signals our body sends to tell us that we’re getting full. We just keep grazing. And the pounds add up.

I’m thinking back on times when I sat down to a meal in a restaurant and just enjoyed the food and the company and conversation. Was the food really better than what I made at home or was I just more aware of it? 

So, over the past week or so, screens have been black when it is time to eat. I’d like it to become a habit. Perhaps it will. I can report that everything seems to taste better when I take the time to focus on eating. Taking the time in the course of the day to step back, even for a few minutes, from being connected, and connecting instead to something as fundamental to our health and well-being as eating seems right. And I am relishing my food far more in the process. 

Folks talk often about the importance of “being in the moment.” That’s hard to do when you’re multi-tasking, managing multiple screens, and dividing our attention among so many competing voices. Just which moment of those many simultaneously occurring moments will you choose to be “in?”  

Bringing my attention — my full attention — back to the act of eating is probably helping with my continued weight loss efforts, but eating without screens is more than that. It is reminding me that there are so many parts of our lives that are on auto-pilot and that they compete for attention with all the other things we are juggling simultaneously. Maybe it is time to slow down, to focus on the things that matter, and carve out small islands of peace in our day. It’s worth thinking about.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 6, 2021

Today was a nice day. Even a good day. Totally uneventful by anyone else’s measure but good for me, nonetheless. The pups and I hiked along for two miles while the temps were still in the thirties. It felt good. Brisk and energetic. A good way to kick off a Saturday. 

I did a core workout, a yoga practice, and then took fifteen minutes to just be still. I was feeling quite zen-like but had failed to ensure that messages on our family text group were turned off for a bit. So, as I was wandering somewhere in the most peaceful pathways of my mind, I suddenly heard a voice boom in my ears announcing that “Tjiama liked Tony’s image.” Ah yes.  Startling, indeed. But it was nice to realize it was Siri’s voice echoing in my head and not an unexpected connection with the divine that jolted me back into the day.

Yep… a bit of fine tuning still required to create the perfect meditation space but I’m getting there.

I ended up next in the kitchen where I threw together a few dishes. A chickpea-coconut curry was complemented by dal makhani. I roasted a ton of root veggies… potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, carrots, onions, fennel and, a new one for me, sunchokes. I also roasted a tray of onions, peppers, celery and shiitake to add to the mix. The sunchokes in particular had a really distinctive flavor. Fun. 

And just as good, all of those foods, together with a bit of rice and some chutney, still were very much in my calorie wheelhouse for the day, yet it was filling and satisfying on every level. Oh yes. It was also tasty.  

But, as rewarding as kitchen therapy always is, the day was made even better by… dare I say it… my taking an hour or two to totally rearrange the spice cabinets. That’s right. Cabinets. Plural. I use a lot of different spices. And yes, I may sound like a total geek, but rearranging the spices was indeed my idea of a great time. Order from chaos (that I have created over the months). Consolidating, organizing, and trying to ensure that the spices I need most often are closest to hand. There were seeds galore, poppy, methi, ajwan, mustard, coriander, and more. There were my basics: cumin, turmeric, garam masala, cardamom, and more. Paprika and smoked paprika stand side-by-side. Saffron. Star Anise. Ancho Chile powder, chipotle, crushed red pepper, cayenne pepper, lemon pepper, and peppercorns galore. There was fenugreek (leaves and powder), ahinga powder, chat masala mix and curry powder. And I can’t forget the   basil, marjoram, oregano, sage, thyme and rosemary. Then there was the garlic and onion powder and all the different spice mixtures we use that allow us to minimize the use of salt.

There WERE a lot of spices. Those are just some of the most commonly called on. There were also kaffir lime leaves and powder, galangal powder, five spice powder, berbere, an umami spice mix, a cajun blend I mix and keep on hand, along with a similarly home-made shwarma mix.

I love my spices. I do. I’m a kitchen geek and make no apologies. And NOW the cupboards are a thing of beauty. I took even more pleasure then eating dinner knowing that when I venture into the kitchen next the spices will be as ready as I am to jump into a new kitchen adventure.

And now, I’m sipping a cup of tea, amazed the day has disappeared already. As I said, a good day.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 5, 2021

It’s Friday afternoon. Somehow that seems to be a good time for reflection. 

We’re a year past the 2020 election but sadly it still drags on as though it was somehow still an open question. We’re still struggling to find our way back to something that feels right. Normal. But it’s hard.

There’s a song that Bonnie Raitt sings, by Joe Henry. I don’t know much about Joe Henry but I’m listening to him even as I write. I like what I’m hearing. The song, though, that drew my attention today was “God Only Knows.” No… not the Beach Boy version from my teen years. 

The first verse caught me today as it has often before.

“Darkness settles on the ground 

Leaves the day stumbling blind 

Coming to a quiet close 

And maybe just in time 

We’ve almost lost the heart to know 

How to keep our best in mind 

We’ve almost lost the heart to know 

How to keep our best in mind.”

To me that feels like where we’re at these days. We’re tired. We’ve been buffeted by anger and toxic rhetoric. We’re scared — at least I am — by red-faced and angry folks with guns. I’m scared of those who don’t care about the vulnerable, who scream at school board meetings, who rant at nurses. I’m scared of leaders who would rather believe conspiracy theories than deal with the reality that our world is changing. Change can be frightening but that doesn’t mean it is bad or wrong. 

It all wears you down. And I feel like it’s true: we HAVE almost lost the heart to know how to keep our best in mind.

“… God only knows that we mean well

God knows that we just don’t know how

But I’ll try to be your light in love

And pray that is enough for now

I’ll try to be your light in love

And pray that is enough for now.”

That sounds like today too. We mean well, but we just don’t know how to move forward. We’re stuck and we’re struggling to know either what is best for us a nation or what is best for us personally. I guess that’s part of the reason I’m so focused these days on change and growth. We begin with ourselves. So let’s be kind to ourselves, let’s keep “our best in mind” when it comes to who we are as individuals, as partners, as friends. Let’s start there and maybe, just maybe, that will be enough for now.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 4, 2021

I’m making the time to write now (later afternoon) since we’ll be out this evening. Our eldest grandchild, Sofie, will be appearing tonight in the “Sound of Music.”  She won a spot in the nun’s chorus for this production by a local theater company. The schedule of rehearsals, and now performances, has been pretty intense for a 12-year old but she seems to be thriving. Great grades at school and now this chance to further give expression to her love for theater and singing. It’s such a joy to see her thrive.

So we’ll go to the play. We haven’t missed too many of any of the kids’ big events over the past five years. From softball games to plays to tae kwon do tests or whatever. That’s been one of the great joys of being back in the area and “retired” enough to have some flexibility in terms of schedule. Being part of the kids’ lives has meant so much to us. 

Now we’ve got Gus in Texas as well.  We’ve already been there three times since his birth in February and Tony and Nat will bring him to us to share in his first Thanksgiving. And we’ve already bought our tickets to travel back to Texas next February to celebrate his first birthday.  As he gets a bit older we’ll be even more challenged to keep up with his big events, but we’re determined to find a way to be in as much of his life as we can. We’ll make it work but won’t worry about it too much now. There’s plenty of time for that and who knows where we’ll be in a year or two.

Truly, at the end of the day, these are the things that are important though. I’ve thought and written a bit lately about how to allocate the too-few hours that the day offers in a meaningful way. It has been interesting to me, though, to see that as the time I’ve devoted to activity (to include walking, core strengthening, yoga, etc) increases my weight continues to drop, my energy levels seem higher, and my general sense of well-being seems better. That’s an allocation of time that you have to say makes sense. 

And it helps so much when I see a tangible, measurable difference. I’m the type that needs to understand the science or the mechanics behind these things. If I am going to invest my time, I want to know why and also know that it “works.”

My Apple Watch tells me with those measures. It tracks my respiratory fitness during cardio and I’ve risen to above average over the past weeks. That’s a change I can track. It tells me my daily steps, stairs climbed, number of workouts, and calories burned all have trended higher, week on week, for 7 -12 weeks now, depending on the category. Success encourages success. 

And now I’m allocating another segment of my day, to the practice of systemic relaxation for the body and meditation for the mind and spirit. The impact of these may be harder to measure but we’ll see. I’m willing to commit myself to a focused practice for a period of a month or two and then see how I feel. Much as committing myself to a committed and focused approach to nutrition had yielded both changes (downward) in weight and energy levels (upwards), I hope that I’ll find in two months that this newly added commitment is bearing meaningful results that I’ll feel, even if not all may be readily quantifiable.

This isn’t just self-indulgence — though there’s something so nice about building in time to focus on the mind-body connection and explore “awareness” in different ways. This is all part of a strategy. In part, it’s a strategy for pain management (I’ll never again have the spine of a 20-year old and from my neck to my S-I joint I’m reminded of THAT almost daily). But it’s also a broader wellness strategy intended to give myself the best possible chance to do the things that are important; to have the time with family I love, to have the energy to explore the world, to study new ideas, and hell… even to write this blog.  

But, no matter the end results, the effort, the journey, the experience, all have much to commend themselves. So I’m all in. We’ll see where it leads. And that, perhaps is one of the greatest appeals — not knowing where this may take me, not knowing what might seize my interest and imagination. 

Sometimes the very best journeys are the ones you start without a set destination, but with a desire to just experience what we find along the road. This feels like one of those. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

November 3, 2021

The news, which I keep avoiding, is all abuzz with the election results. Already wrote about that last night. The final outcomes held no real surprises. Moving on. 

I’m not saying I’m not going to comment on politics or current issues. That’s kind of in my DNA and I can’t resist thinking about and writing about such things. But if I do, I truly want to find a way to avoid the anger and toxicity that is out there. I don’t know what the answer is going forward, but we can’t continue to be driven by seeing the other side as the enemy. I do believe that. But I know that things could get worse before they get better. And I can’t do much to change that. 

So, I’ll also spend more time trying to insulate myself from the worst of it. There’s more than enough to keep me busy and engaged. There are so many avenues to explore. So much to learn about. There’s so much potential for growth.  

I’ve already begun the process and as a first step I decided I need to prioritize me. Health. My well-being. And, if I do it right, I’ll stick around to see the transformation that our kids and grandkids will bring to the world. It can get better and it will. I’ll start by trying to live a life where kindness stays center stage — at least in my small slice of the world.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

November 1, 2021

I am so glad to have had the experience of spending time at the Himalayan Institute.  It was such a shame, though, to have to leave. 

It’s not that I’m not happy to be home. That’s always good. The pups make a great welcoming committee. And it’s good to be back in a setting that is familiar and comfortable. And, in theory, I don’t mind getting back into the “real” world.

But that world can, at times, be pretty damn irritating. 

You see, I made the mistake of turning on the radio as we drove, and the news, from which we were largely shielded over the past few days, made me just want to turn around and go back to the Himalayan Institute. Joe Manchin is still being a self-righteous twit. He’s making agreement on the infrastructure bills even more difficult than it already is. But then the progressives in the Democratic Party aren’t much better. If they blow this, and they seem determined to find a way to do so, they’ll deserve whatever electoral consequences come their way. I care about the principles at stake in today’s political battle, but I can’t stand what the process has become. I can’t stand that, thanks to both sides, our system of government has become so dysfunctional that it seems incapable of making any meaningful decisions. 

And I was made even crankier because of the Virginia governor’s race. When the coverage turned to that, I ended up just turning the damn radio off. I’ve been so turned off by the unceasing ads and the constant and unrelenting emails that have clogged my inbox. And they keep coming, hour upon hour, despite repeatedly unsubscribing. They have nothing to say about vision or values. They just create and fan fears in order to justify their appeals for more and more money.

I’m tired of the negativity and of the fear mongering. And I’m worried that, more than ever, money determines the outcome of elections. 

It’s enough to harsh anyone’s buzz.

The issues are too important to allow apathy to replace engagement. But I can’t help but feel angry and frustrated by this nonsense and I’m all the more perturbed because it was all so much “in my face.” I would have welcomed a far less disheartening “reentry” after a weekend of peace, but I guess the yin and yang of the universe cannot be denied.

As an Ambassador, in moments of stress and irritation, I more than once said to my colleagues, 
“We will now cultivate an aura of zen-like tranquility.” And THAT, is exactly what I’ll try to do with the remainder of this Monday. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.