October 2021

October 17, 2021

Well… I didn’t get the chance today to make the quinoa brittle that I’m so curious about, aside from that, it was a really nice autumn Sunday.

The temps never got above the low sixties today and the bright sunshine of this morning gave way to the purplish gray clouds that were scudding across the sky much of the afternoon. But, as I worked today on a grant proposal for livelihood training for the women of a marginalized community it Nepal, I could see through the arch window over the front door a bright bit of blue peeking through. The cloud that had parted to allow that glimpse was lined with silvery light as the sun sought to reaffirm its hold on the day. It was just a reminded that, indeed, every cloud does have a silver lining.

Our daughter and her husband and the three Virginia grandkids came over for a while. It was so nice. The kids seemed to be in good spirits and seemingly were happy to be visiting at Nana and Papa’s. There’s nothing like a hug, and an “I love you” from any one of them — and even better when it’s from all three — to touch the heart. It was fun. Of course, there was a bit of previewing of Halloween costumes… no silliness though — no, never.

And getting the grant submission done, too, brought a sense of accomplishment. It will be even more gratifying if we win the grant. Fingers crossed.

I didn’t bother with the news today and I won’t. I’ll focus this evening on working on our Texas grandbaby’s Christmas stocking which is almost 75% done. It’s a labor I enjoy in any event and when it’s for little Gus it’s even better. The last two I did were for our daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law to be. It’s nice to have another chance. \

Beyond that, there’s little to talk about. Even trying to avoid the news, the Virginia gubernatorial race is inescapable. The candidates are unrelenting in their ads and their efforts to energize their respective bases. For me it’s a no-brainer as to who to vote for — I already did — but my enthusiasm is low even though it is an important race in terms of national political impact. The Democratic candidate espouses values I share, but I’d be hard pressed to know it based on the campaign. I have no idea as to what he wants to stand for or to do. It’s all about filling us with fear about the other side. The Republicans aren’t any better, of course.

That’s what electioneering has become in America and I find little to like in that. And no matter how many times you hit the unsubscribe button, fresh pleas for money appear every day. No, make that every hour. It’s mind numbing and, like many, I don’t even bother to read them any more.

On both sides it’s all about the money with no time left over to talk about what you care about or what you believe in. It has all come down to blue or red, no matter what’s in your head or your heart. I don’ think it’s just this race either. It’s what our process has evolved into and it’s not healthy or good for democratic governance. The need for a fundamental reassessment seems more compelling than ever, but I don’t know how we’ll get there.

That, however, is a worry for another day.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 16, 2021

I just forced myself to climb out of a rabbit hole of my own creation. You know how it is. You have a thought, open up a browser, and start to click. Soon the clicks spiral. Ideas spark and you jump from one link to another. The chain of connection grows ever-longer leading you in unexpected directions. There are times, when it’s done, that you end up at the far end of the rabbit warren you created and may not be able to remember where… or perhaps even why… you started the journey.

You can lose hours that way. And today I had to shake myself loose because, at least right now, I don’t have hours to spend. Rain will be moving in and, before it does, I want to walk Gyptse a bit. Lo Khyi already had his morning turn, but Gyptse is my walking “machine” these days. An intrepid hiker and determined explorer she gets into a zone and is as single-minded as I was a few minutes ago as I unrelentingly followed link upon link, ideas bubbling up.

What led me into the ocean of information that is the internet?  A search for recipes. It started with a search for high protein, high fiber vegan snacks. It ended — for the moment — at a review of the merits of buckwheat groats for what sounds like a lovely buckwheat bread recipe. 

I’ve learned that I can do pretty well on protein on a day-to-day basis eating a well-rounded plant-based diet. Anyone who has read my posts over time will have seen that we eat pretty darn well. It’s not just greens and beans. It’s not mounds of tofu. It can be fine dining and  richly complex meals full of flavor and nutrition. 

But it requires thought and effort — as any thoughtful eating does. It’s too easy to consume foods that are high in sugars, salts, and oils. Processed food producers know how to spark the receptors that will keep us eating their products, adding to pounds on the scale, cholesterol in the blood, and elevated readings when we take our blood pressure. No bueno.

So recently, on my wellness journey, I’ve been even more aware of the importance of how we nourish both body and mind. Today I was focusing on the body. Over the past couple of months I’ve lost 14 pounds. Dropping another dozen would get me down to my weight when I joined the Foreign Service. I wouldn’t mind seeing what that’s like and how much better my back or hips or knees might feel. 

I’ve been using Noom as a tool. I find it always helps me to have things that focus me, keep me  “aware” of my eating and my choices. And the results have not been bad at all. It’s not about dieting. But it IS about making considered choices and, in the process, I’ve been reminded about how much eating can be mindless and habitual. It’s not about fueling our bodies or satisfying our hunger. It’s just unconscious grazing. My goal today was to find snack options, preferably things I can prepare myself, that will both fuel and satisfy and leave me feeling satiated longer. Thus, the search for high protein, high fiber, snacks that can be grabbed instead of chips (the Pringles-like, Good Crisp Company Classic Original Chips are my kryptonite).

I found some very interesting options that need a bit more research. It could be fun to experiment a bit later today when the rains come. But first, now that I’ve emerged from the rabbit hole, it’s time to walk, and then there’s a grant proposal I’m working on for livelihoods training for Chepang women in Nepal. 

As usual, I don’t suffer from too much time on my hands, but I do lack for enough hands and enough hours. So I’d best get to it. That rain is heading our way, but Gyptse Jane and I still have enough time to share what may be one of the best parts of both our days.

Happy Saturday.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 15, 2021

Tidsoptimist. A person who’s habitually late because they think they have more time than they do.

At least that’s the definition offered by various sites from Collins Dictionary to Reddit. It is purportedly a word of Swedish, or Norwegian, origin. It depends on who you want to believe. The majority say it’s Swedish. 

It doesn’t matter, of course. 

The question is… are you a tidsoptimist? I guess I’d have to dig a bit deeper. Does the operative part of the definition a tidsoptimist center on the idea of believing we have more time than we actually do, or on the habitually late part?

If the latter, I must part company with the tidsoptimist community. Being on time, or at least trying to be on time, is part of my DNA. I invariably give myself more time than I need when heading out for an appointment. It’s just common courtesy to be on time. Even if others drop the ball, I don’t want it to be me that’s late. 

But, I realize that I desperately want to be a tidsoptimist when it comes to the part about believing I have more time than I do. I never want to skimp on that assumption. I am going to keep on assuming I have a ton of time… and I’m going to continue to make plans for how to use it!

There are more trips to take. More time with our kids, more days with grandkids, more hours shared with friends.

So I’ll just assume that I’ve got thirty or forty more years. That seems a reasonable estimate. There’s lots to do, you know.

I’ll stop here. I guess I didn’t have as much time to write as I thought. But wait… does that mean… oh, never mind. It’s Friday night. I don’t care.  

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 14, 2021

So yesterday Captain Kirk returned to boldly go where no 90 year old has gone before. That was pretty cool. But equally cool was a story rom the other day about the unexplained radio signal that scientists discovered coming from the Milky Way.

The signals, dubbed ASKAP J173608.2-321635 to match coordinates identified with it, are unlike any of the astronomical signals we have identified and classified over the years. There are enough oddities — variables — in how it appears and when it appears that the astrophysicists are reportedly “baffled.”

It has to give you pause. The question has been posed often enough, of course — why should we assume that we are the only life form in the universe? No matter your theory of belief or faith, why would we presuppose that out of all the other bodies in the universe only our planet supports life. It seems kind of silly when we think about it.

Yet despite the distinct possibility, some might even say probability, that other life forms exist, few of us spend much time speculating about what might lie beyond our ken. It seems the realm of imagination… of science fiction. It is speculation and assumptions and, even if plausible narratives can be constructed, how can we give credence to one over another? It is truly unknown.

So we focus on what we can control… or at least that over which we allow ourselves to believe we have control. But life, as we learn over time, is full of surprises. So, who knows? 

It’s fascinating, and a bit scary, to think about how folks might react given the wildly different values and perspectives we see at play in our society today. How would it change one’s beliefs, your sense of self, your perspective on the universe to learn that we are not alone or unique. Think of how wildly conspiracy theories might run and how the fear that we see so manifest in our own nation — the fear of loss of power and privilege — would be fueled to new heights.

Of course, there are so many scenarios that might play out it’s pointless to speculate. But it’s not totally foolish. We see people rail against changing technologies, against changing social mores, against those who are different in their appearance, their beliefs, their identity. Looking at the world around us doesn’t give me confidence that we would all be ready for the mystery of ASKAP J173608.2-321635 to be unraveled.  

As might have been clear from a bit of last night’s post, the idea of what lies beyond, of what mankind might encounter as we move beyond the blue, has intrigued me since childhood, as it has for so many. But looking at the world around us today doesn’t give me confidence that we would all be ready for the mystery of ASKAP J173608.2-321635 to be unraveled. But me… I was born ready. Really. 

Anyway, it seemed to merit musing about as day gives way to twilight.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy

October 13, 2021

I really don’t know what kind of guy William Shatner is, and I don’t know that I care at this point in time. He’s a 90-year old dude who went into space. And the fact that he was once Captain Kirk… yes, the James T. Kirk… well, how can you not root for him.

Shatner isn’t Kirk setting forth on behalf of the Federation. But he did pretty good for an old guy. And when he came down, he was more eloquent than most of us would have been at his age after a journey to space on a more than slightly phallic shaped rocket. (I KNOW that there are plenty of paths I could take here… we’re sticking to the high ground, people!) 

Anyway, one of Shatner’s lines that I loved was “I never want to recover from it.” But he went on. He talked about the stark and sharp line between the nurturing blue of the world and the cold, deep and unending blackness of space. I was struck by how much HE was struck by their juxtaposition. 

So, it’s easy to be critical of billionaire space tourists and their toys. But, if in the course of developing the technology and modalities to make space accessible they make the future that we grew up with real — then that could be a good thing. I think that what upsets at least some of us of a certain age is that we grew up with the unspoken idea in the back of our minds that the world would keep getting better. We believed in science but we also believed that, in addition to science, we’d ultimately find the wisdom, the strength, and the vision to come together. We just had to keep working it.

We didn’t necessarily think about it in those exact terms, but the idea of a united mankind exploring space and shaping a future with competence and courage was the essence of Kirk’s Star Trek. So, if these billionaires help us to move towards that future — and they are — then more power to them, I guess.

But, more than that, Shatner had something powerful to say. He argued passionately that “everyone” needs to have this experience. To see our beautiful planet in all it’s vulnerability. He wants us all to understand that climate change isn’t just an artificial construct we get to fight over in the culture wars. It’s real, and this beautiful, nurturing world that is surrounded by the dark needs us to care, to be good stewards. 

We aren’t going to get everyone into space any time soon, but in the years ahead this will be less and less a news story and more and more just a part of life.

Seeing the world from 348,000 feet changes your perspective, I think. And the experience seems to find the poet in the souls of those who have seen the world anew. Every time. Who knows, maybe by the time I’m ninety I’ll get a chance to find out for myself. We’ll see.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 12, 2021

“Of COURSE, I’m lying on the couch.  What… you think I’m a dog, maybe?” I can’t swear that’s what I heard Lo Khyi say to Leija last night, but I’m pretty sure it was something like that. Look at the pic. You tell me. 

He’s got a good life, our big boy. And that’s OK. He deserves it.

Meanwhile, as he lounged around the house today, we had appointments at the dentist. I’m not one who fears dentists. They’ve never caused me any inordinate amount of discomfort or pain. But that doesn’t mean that I LIKE them. Maybe it’s my dentist. Maybe there are others who are more modern — but I’m not sure that’s the case. This guy is relatively young (i.e. he is younger than me, but that’s not hard to do these days) and I don’t think that he’s chosen to be “old school.” I just think that dentistry still exists in a time warp somewhere between the Middle Ages and my childhood.

With all that has changed in the world around us, and with all the advances in technology, you would think the practice of dentistry would have evolved too. I mean… come on… bite wing x-rays? A far-from-subtle form of torture I’ve never understood. 

Are we truly not capable of medical advances that eliminate the sharp-tipped instruments and the poking and prodding and scraping?  Why isn’t there touch-free, pain-free, tech magic that catapults dentistry into the 21st century. I’m just sayin’ — there should be. 

The same is likely true of other branches of medicine, and if the tech advances aren’t there right now, I have to believe that a lot of them will be in the years ahead. The world will keep on changing and I hope we’ll all be beneficiaries of new ideas and new approaches. We’ve got a good shot at some of them at least and, as breakthroughs continue to change the face of medical care, our odds of living even longer to take advantage of them also increase.

In the interim, we do what we can… as I hope for us every day… to stay safe, stay strong and stay healthy.

October 11, 2021

I know we frown today on celebrating Columbus Day. And I get that the messaging and learning that can grow from looking at Indigenous People’s Day in a meaningful and thoughtful way makes more sense and is more important for a society like ours that still clearly struggles with issues of race, ethnicity and identity. 

After all, if we’re going to make it a national holiday, let’s make it worthy of being one. I’m not sure what we ever really found in celebrating Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of America. I’ll just say, though, that I feel a slight sense of loss as another of those things I was taught in school, and that was part of my childhood, is now judged to be unworthy of our attention. I don’t bemoan the loss per se, but it’s a reminder of how much our world changes the longer we live. 

Our grandkids could care less of course. But there were all of us who learned the song about how “In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Columbus sailed the ocean blue In fourteen hundred ninety-two. For many weeks he was at sea. With sailing ships that numbered three…”  

That’s one version. There were others. All were wrong, but the story that was told resonated for me as a kid. The idea of these three ships and ninety sailors setting off to find a “new world.” It was exciting. The sort of thing from which great adventure tales are born. And of course, Christopher Columbus was Italian.

For a boy who grew up in a community where those of us who were of Italian descent were few, it was kind of cool that someone from my father’s ancestral nation discovered America and even had a holiday named for him. And again… I can now acknowledge that this was all a matter of winners (the whites) getting to write a very different version of history than we would have found, had it be written by any of those for whom this land was home long before any European came close to our shores.

These days, of course, I don’t care about Christopher Columbus. But I can’t help but be aware of yet another reminder of how our world is changing and how those of us of a certain age must keep unpacking our “reality” and our “history” and reevaluating it to remain relevant, or at least to try and understand the world in which we live as opposed to the one we remember. 

I felt that same disconnect when a new generation of listeners decided that “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” — a song I had heard from countless artists over decades of Christmases — was a song condoning if not advocating date rape and male dominance. I get it. I can understand that. But when I grew up it was just a song. 

We have learned that even the most innocuous tales and songs of a different era may be unintended (or insidiously subtle) vehicles for messages that are racist or misogynistic or hurtful to one group or another. And a Christmas without “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a small price to pay for another step towards greater understanding and respect. 

Still, I can’t help but think that if I have to recalibrate each time our understandings of the world around us changes, so do others. And many of them may be more resistant to those changes than I am. I admit that I still struggle not to call the Washington Football Team the “Redskins” or call the Cleveland Indians the Cleveland Guardians. I’m not opposed in principle but old habits die hard.

And, for some people, the resistance to change is more determined and, in many cases, a very conscious choice.  I think many of them see today’s world as stripping away and rejecting the very cornerstones that support the foundation of their own upbringing.  They see their very identity as under attack in a world that constantly moves to embrace new understandings. 

For them, this is far more fundamental to their identity than Chris Columbus was to mine, and those cornerstone beliefs are far more important to them than any holiday song. The world of today is so different from the one in which they came to adulthood that they hold on to the past, fight the change, and draw the battle lines.

These are the folks who once were oblivious to the statues in their town square or a nearby park. Those bronzed figures on horseback were little more than a gift for pigeons for year but they have now become symbols in the culture wars.  Overnight the fight to protect those statues became a cause celebre for those who revel in their antediluvian identity. So many of the  ugly, sexist, racist, and ignorant rants that have become a substitute for discourse jn our society seem rooted in the beliefs of those unwilling to look at the world and their lives in a new light.

I wish that wasn’t the case, but I believe it is, and there are politicians who will exploit that. Eventually, that segment of our society will give way… the years will pass, there will be fewer and fewer who are determinedly clinging to a past that no longer can be justified. But for now they hang on.

I’m sure that most of them resent the changing of today’s holiday and they think those of us who just accept the call to rename the “Redskins” are just wusses.  

I’ll live with the changes and try to be part of the world that is, not the world I once new. So, goodbye Christopher Columbus, and hello Indigenous Peoples Day. Besides, either way, it’s still a holiday.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 10, 2021

Well, I have a policy of truth in advertising, so I have to do a clarification. Friday I did NOT make the vegan Irish Soda Bread Scones. I ended up making the butternut squash soup that we enjoyed yesterday instead. Getting it done in advance of yesterday’s lunch seemed a good idea. But TODAY I did make the scones. And they were really good. Mmmm.

That’s all the cooking I’m doing today, though. There are plenty of other things I want to catch up on today, including various emails which I should be answering. As I scrolled through my emails, I marveled not just at the junk — and there’s so much of it — but also the number of unsolicited messages that have at least a degree of substance. Some of them merit a response.

Whether it’s from someone who read and appreciated “The Ambassador’s Dog” or a possible donor who cares about things that are unfolding in Nepal, and I feel it’s only polite to answer. Still, there are a lot of emails, only so many hours in the day, and I am… supposedly… retired. I’ve got to work on that.

I’ve got to get back to it soon, but stopped because I had a call from our “niece” by bonds of affection who has a project due on which I can offer a bit of help. It’s nice when family (defined broadly, as it should be) gives you a chance to be part of their life one way or another.

To me that’s a gift. Maybe that’s why I try to answer those emails too. If someone takes the time to reach out, to engage, the least I can do is respond. And although I may grouse about too many emails from time to time, I like being engaged and I do appreciate the idea that perhaps I still have something of value I can share. So I won’t complain too much. But I will stop writing this so I can answer those messages, do an upcoming zoom call with friends, and take a few minutes for quiet.

Happy Sunday.

Here’s to a day of quiet contemplation, catching up, and Irish Soda Bread Scones.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 9, 2021

For some reason the opening lines of “Piano Man” by Billy Joel are echoing in my head.  There’s no particular reason. It’s five o’clock on a Saturday — not 9 o’clock as in the first line of the song. And there’s no “regular crowd” to shuffle in. But it doesn’t matter, our minds do what they do. Why DO you wake up some days humming classic oldies like “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavor (on the Bedpost Overnight)?” I don’t know. It just happens.

But it IS five o’clock on a Saturday and while it may not have been a regular crowd, it was, perhaps, even better. Today we had dear friends who aren’t regulars, since they live in Norway, but who are part of our lives nonetheless and they were in town, vaccinated, and available to join us for lunch! It was so nice.

We’ve known Marcella and Arman since we were together in Eritrea starting back in 2004.  Arman was my Norwegian counterpart, and he and Marcella were part of the wonderful group of friends who made our first Ambassadorial gig truly memorable. What a great time we had together and when we had the chance to visit them in Vestby, outside of Oslo, a bit more than three years ago, it was a chance to catch up in person (though we stay in touch through modern technology even when not together).

So, it was exciting today to have them come over. It was their first time to meet our current pack of pups and to visit us in the US. There’s something pretty wonderful when time and distance don’t dim the bonds of affection and connection. And it’s always good to see folks you care about in person and to recognize that although years have passed, we’ve weathered them without too much wear. It’s reassuring.

And, as much as I enjoy cooking, what makes it so much better is to share a meal with others. One quote I’ve seen says that “Food brings people together on many different levels. It’s nourishment of the soul and body; it’s truly love.” I tend to agree. Or there’s this one: “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… The people who give you their food give you their heart.”  That’s supposedly from Cesar Chavez. Whether it is or not, that quote is spot on too.

Today I tried a new butternut squash soup recipe that I thought came out particularly well, and, in addition, there was a quiche filled with fennel, leek, peppers, tempeh bacon, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes and more. Some fresh sage and thyme enhanced the flavors, the crust came out well and it was all vegan. And I know kale isn’t everyone’s favorite, but the shredded kale salad that we had today is one of ours. Shredded dinosaur kale, with a pecan & vegan parmesan topping and a bit of green onion, grape tomato, and dried cranberries/sour cherries, with a vinaigrette dressing. It really is pretty good and paired with the quiche… mmmm. We ended our meal with a bit of fruit salad and a home-baked cookie or two.

Good food, the chance to reminisce, to reconnect, and to just share a day with friends. It was lovely. Days like this don’t come along as often as we’d like, particularly in the midst of this pandemic. All the more reason to treasure them.

I’m grateful for days like this. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 8, 2021

It’s a late afternoon. The clouds have rolled in. It’s not quite autumnal in terms of a chill in the air, but it’s not hot either, and the clouds definitely have the look of fall about them. I was just out walking two of the dogs and realized that in the course of our journeys it gives me a chance to actually see and feel the changes as the season unfolds. The leaves that were once rich greens now with spots of yellow and brown presaging their drop to the ground. Not all leaves are beautiful in the course of their seasonal change, but I’m glad to witness their journey, too. 

So, thanks to the dogs for getting me out. It would require a new level of discipline to get myself up and out the door and exploring the neighborhood if I didn’t have the dogs to convince me that a walk is in order.

It was a long day, but I sat down to play the keyboard tonight as well. I had been consistent about playing for some time, but I let that get away from me this year. So I’m getting back into it. Relearning takes time but not as long as starting totally anew. I’ll get there. But it will take an effort. That’s an effort I hope I’ll make successfully. Like writing daily, or walking the dogs, sitting down at the keyboard or with the guitar is another thing that relaxes and refocuses me. All the more reason you’d think I’d make time for it, but there are only so many hours in the day. 

And with that reminder, I realize that all week long I’ve been wanting to try making Vegan Irish Soda Bread Scones. It’s still early enough to whip up a batch and that is what I’ll do.

Happy Friday

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 7, 2021

Well, another day on the roller coaster. It appears that the Senate has a deal to kick the can down the road on the debt ceiling. That’s a good thing I know… it spares us more manufactured drama in the short term with real possible human costs. So that’s good. But you just know that we’re going to get the same nonsense, but with funding the government and raising the debt ceiling again, in December. It’s kind of nonsensical.

And then the day was full of more news that wasn’t really new or even a surprise to anyone. There’s more and more reporting about how Trump tried to use the Justice Department to overturn the election and stay in power. His efforts to subvert democracy ran deeper and were more threatening than anything we could have imagined. The constitutional crisis he would have unleashed is unlike anything I recall seeing in my lifetime. But he doesn’t care. And there’s not a thing about this that is surprising or new. We all know who and what Trump is. It is hardly newsworthy despite being shocking and appalling to anyone who loves our nation. What I do find newsworthy, though, is the fact that he is still the front-runner for the Republican Party. How can that be? I don’t understand it.


I maintained my equanimity, though. But then I was really challenged by one of my pet peeves. I didn’t let it throw me. Really.

Here’s the deal. We have Sirius XM Radio in both our vehicles. I’m willing to spend $10 a month for the channels that I like to listen to, including the news channels and a handful of music channels. I could live without it, but it’s easier than streaming it over bluetooth or other options. But every year they automatically renew my subscriptions at some outrageous price. And every year I’m forced to contact them and tell them to cancel the account

And then the Kabuki Dance begins. Every year. I keep telling them to cancel the account. They offer another deal. I tell them to cancel. They offer again. And finally, after the same nonsense that I go through every time, the deal is done. I’m right back at the same place and the same price we began at.
Why make their customers go through this every year? They don’t build goodwill, that’s for sure.

But, even being forced to play that particular game was not enough to put me into a spin. It was a full day that felt right on so many other levels. I worked. I got a haircut. I didn’t even dwell on how surreal it seemed to sit in the barber chair and seeing my reflection, masked up, looking back at me. Nor did the fact that the woman cutting my hair was also masked up. A picture I would never have imagined once, but today it is what it is.

The day went on. I knocked a few items off my to-do list, but refused to worry about the items still on it. There’s always tomorrow. And the day after that. I’m not going to let myself focus so much on what lies ahead that I don’t appreciate what happens today. Right now.

So I went in the kitchen for some culinary therapy. I put together a Thai coconut, cauliflower and carrot soup and made some Indian “Butter” Tofu and there was still time left over for a second walk, this time with Gyptse, and for stretching and a daily calm period for reflection.

Yes, it’s later than I wanted it to be when I finally got to writing this blog. And yes I still want to work on Gus’ Christmas stocking, but it’s all about taking things in due course. The stocking IS up next though, and my day will feel right if I end up working on a labor of love. So that’s what I’ll do. And we’ll start all over again tomorrow.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 6, 2021

It’s a hard time to know whether to hope we’re making progress on the COVID pandemic. We like to think so and overall I have to believe we are. The numbers are down again and that’s promising but there are still plenty of tragic tales. And deaths continue to rise. I heard the President today put the number at 700,000. Mind boggling, isn’t it?

And the fact that cases are decreasing doesn’t mean throw away your mask. We’ve been at this long enough now to have data showing the pandemic seems to work in two month cycles. So, good news now doesn’t mean it will still be true in December. Now there’s a thought for a Merry Christmas.  

Nonetheless, it seems we’re making progress on the vaccination front. Slowly but steadily we’re seeing those who resisted getting vaccinated changing their minds. The horrible toll among the unvaccinated in recent months may be part of it. But so are the mandates. Whether federal or local or employer-directed, these mandates are forcing otherwise reluctant folks to get the jab. And that’s good for all of us. Despite the vitriol directed against mandates by the anti-vaxxers and the personal freedom advocates, we’re chipping away at the resistance. 

And, although I get the personal freedom arguments, to an extent, my personal freedoms aren’t absolute and when my personal choices put the health, the well-being, and the lives of others at risk, then something has to give. Any time we make the choice to live within a community we are accepting some constraints on our personal freedom to gain other benefits. We want education and health care. We want fire and police protection. We want sensible laws that protect the water we drink and the air we breathe. We want sewage plants and electrical grids and internet connectivity. Those are just some of the benefits that have brought people together in communities and that are delivered by governments. 

You just can’t have it both ways. You can’t say I want all those benefits but refuse to comply with measures you don’t like even if they are for the broader good of all. Get with it, get over it, and get the jab for God’s sake.

But it’s hard to make the case to these folks that they should act responsibly when the example they see from our leaders tells them otherwise. The latest example? The debt ceiling debate. First, let’s be clear. This isn’t about the cost of Biden’s agenda. This is simply about ensuring we have the authority to pay on the debt that many of these same Republican leaders voted to create under previous administrations, including the 8 trillion dollars of new debt under Donald Trump.

Mitch McConnell and his cronies not only voted to create additional debt but blithely voted, three times under Donald Trump to raise the ceiling. And they had the grudging support of the Democrats who weren’t willing to play chicken with the American economy and the well-being of countless citizens. Whether Democrats acted to do what was right or just because they didn’t want the political heat, they did it. 

Today, though, those same Republicans who blithely increased the debt ceiling thrice under Trump won’t do it under Biden. There’s no reason that I can see other than political game playing and brinksmanship. I’m disgusted and we all should be. It’s worse though. The Republicans said they want the Democrats to own this vote. Ok, the Democrats are willing to do so. They are able to unite sufficiently on this issue at least to deliver the 51 votes needed. So now the Republicans are opting to filibuster to keep the Democrats from doing exactly what the Republicans challenged them to do.

To them it’s about politics. But as of October 18, if the debt ceiling is not raised, we will not be able to honor all our debts. Some, yes. All? Not at all. We don’t know yet what we won’t be able to do, but make no mistake, this is serious. This isn’t about being short a few bucks. This puts the social security payments that countless seniors depend on at risk. Military salaries and/or benefits. The stock markets could tank. This could get ugly and dangerous. It’s stupid.

We’ve seen this game before. I try not to get too spun up. I know that a solution can yet be found, a compromise reached, or the Republicans will blink at the last minute. But this brinkmanship is dangerous and miscalculations happen. And the example that the unyielding partisanship sets influences civic dialogue on so many issues — including vaccinations. Extremism begets more extremism. And inflammatory, all-or-nothing rhetoric becomes the norm rather than something to be eschewed by responsible leaders who seek to reconcile what, in the past at least, were honest differences on policy.

I’m not prepared to bet on the outcome of all this. All I know is that the partisan food fights demean us and hurt us at home and abroad. There was once a time when the Senate was considered a great deliberative body and our practice of democracy was a model to the world.  No longer. And that’s perhaps the saddest thing of all.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 5, 2021

I was punctured this morning. Two needles, that felt pretty darn good sized, injected corticosteroid into my SI joints. With a few preliminary numbing shots it wasn’t too bad. And I knew what to expect having been down that road before. But it’s been a while. I could tell by just how bad my back has been feeling. 

There’s no guarantee that the shots will help but it’s worth a try. That, PT, stretching, walking, all can help. And, if they don’t, it doesn’t change that much. Hurting or not, we have to move. Dogs want to walk. The yard needs tending. Destinations around the world call out for visitation. Whether my back hurts or not. Or my neck. Or even an occasional knee. Body parts do wear down. 

The day could come when it gets too tough. There are folks whose health precludes global wandering or even performing the “activities of daily living.” Perhaps that day could come. You can’t control everything, but you appreciate with each passing year how important your health is. And it’s a fool’s game not to try and take care of yourself and tip the odds in your favor.

That’s another reason why I’ve been as focused on wellness as I have been. Both intellectually and physically I want to be as “alive” as I can be. No guarantees but certainly worth the effort. 

But for this afternoon, I’ll treat my back gently. I’ll stimulate the brain instead. I’ll write. I’ll work. And maybe I’ll visit with the piano keyboard that I’ve been neglecting a bit lately. It deserves some attention too. 

Then, tomorrow, it’s back to the dog walks and the stretching and getting back on the PT schedule. And, even if 25 gauge needles become a regular part of my life, if they keep me traveling the world or dancing at a grandchild’s wedding when I’m in my 90s, that will be more than ok. It will be perfect.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 4, 2021

I did two dog walks today. The first was with Lo Khyi. Since his surgery it has become a habit for us to take a morning walk. First they were just to the corner and back. Now they are farther afield and take longer. The fact is that Lo Khyi is a slow strolling dog. He takes time to smell the roses. And the trees, the mailboxes, the light poles, the bushes, the grass, and… well, you get the picture. A walk with him forces me to slow down, too, in order to give him the chance to sniff to his hearts content. And then, when he’s ready, we return home at a much faster clip. He’s ready to return.

Gyptse Jane is a different story. The poor girl gets a bit crazy if she joins me on the walks with Lo Khyi. She doesn’t pull, exactly, but she’s always at the end of her leash, eager and ready to move. So these days I walk her separately. Our pace is quicker. She moves with focus and determination. She wants to travel. There is little that can distract her on her journey.  It has to be a scent that is enticing as hell to get her to pause even for a moment or two. She ensures I get a good “workout walk” in if I just let her set the pace. I think she’d trot along by my side with me for as long as I let her. She’s a good girl.  

The dogs love being out. They don’t ask for much, other than a walk and a bit of time with their people, and they give so very much in return. It’s fun to be with them. 

I’m late writing again today. It was, after all, a Monday.  And it felt like that.

There’s always Tuesday.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 3, 2021

It’s supposed to be feeling more autumnal, but today was a far cry from that. I remember weekend apple-picking trips with the kids where we shivered and longed for gloves. Not today.Today we went to an orchard not far from Delaplane, Virginia. You don’t know, Delaplane? Heck, it’s not far at all from Paris. They may not be thriving metropolises, but the hills, and rolling fields, and forests were are all lovely on a Sunday morning.

The trees offered a few hints of colors to come. But today wasn’t about leaf peeping. It was about getting some local apples fresh from the trees. I’ve always loved the less common varieties of apples. I remember as a kid eating Prairie Spy, Haralson, Cortland and others. For me a crisp, juicy apple is an almost perfect fruit. Luca, our five year old grandson, feels much the same. He is a Honeycrisp aficionado. But I hope that today we found a few other varieties that will please him as well.

Now I won’t swear that all three of the kids approached apple picking with unbridled enthusiasm. One of the pics we took — that I won’t share — captured the epitome of pre-teen weariness on Sofie’s face. She wasn’t thrilled about all this. Leo was perhaps agnostic but was willing to give it a try with reasonably good humor.But then, there were bugs. Not wicked bugs or biting or attacking bugs. But gnats. And flies. And butterflies and some bees too. I barely noticed. And some kids wouldn’t either. Some are intrigued by bugs. Like them, even. These three kiddos… not so much. And it was warmer, even as early as 0930, than it has a right to be in October.

You could say the morning was not a rousing success. But I’m not sure I’d agree. As the kids get older, outings with them will be far different from when they were four or five. But we’re still together, we create memories, and there will come a day when the kids won’t remember the heat or the bugs — they’ll look back instead and smile.

And whether every element of the day was perfect, it doesn’t matter. That’s not what is important. We did get apples — Ida Reds, Cameos, Spitzenburgs, and Staymans — and they are crispy, tasty and fresh. But we also were together and, after the rough, warm and buggy start, the kids and their mom and dad came back to the house. There was playing out back and hanging out, and, before leaving, a stop at Papa’s candy dish. The same one that adorned my desk for almost half my Foreign Service career. There was a newly vegan candy dish as well for Leo who has been steadfastly vegan for few months now.

Anyway, I hope there may be more trips to apple orchards in the years ahead. Traditions matter.

October 2, 2021

There are days when there’s just not much to say. There was a lot of cleaning and lifting and hauling. That’s about it. Oh yeah. Sorting too. Decluttering — a bit. That was also on the agenda.

What there was not, was time for thinking, reading, listening to the news. I was so absorbed in the day, in the process, that I didn’t think about writing. But then I did. It’s a habit so deeply engrained by now that alarm bells go off if I don’t write something. That’s a good thing, I believe.

The discipline of writing every day becomes an anchor. And that’s good too.

I’m tired tonight, though, and there’s a busy day tomorrow. So what the heck, I’m done. But, at least I wrote.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

October 1, 2021

A new month. And it begins with a spectacular day. Low seventies for a temp. Low humidity. Blue skies and a nip in the air. 

The autumn flowers are out, and an assortment of purple and rust-orange mums now adorn the steps leading to the front door. Lo Khyi had a decided spring in his step as we walked this morning, the cool morning temps suiting him, and me, just fine. A glorious start to October.

I was struck to realize how good I felt too. Over the past two months I’ve been much more active than I was during the past pandemic months. I’ve lost weight and I’ve been conscious of what I choose to fuel my body. I think it has made a difference. Less sugar, fewer snacks, almost no alcohol. Daily cups of organic hibiscus tea, generally iced, has kept my blood pressure at record lows even without meds that I used to take.  

But it’s also how we nourish our minds. There’s no question, for me at least, the steady diet of Donald Trump’s harsh and divisive rhetoric, his reckless and self-serving choices, and egomaniacal narcissism all wore on my emotional well-being. It was heartbreaking to see the damage he did to the nation I have served for four decades. 

His departure from my daily news feed has helped tremendously. But I realize that just as it is important for us to consider what goes into our bodies, so too does it matter what we read, what we listen to, and where we focus our attention. I find that even ten minutes of peaceful reflection a day can help me remember where my priorities lie and recognize what matters most to me. The events in the world around us deserve our attention, but not to the exclusion of the simple, more immediate things, that give our lives richness and joy. 

I’ve taken such pleasure of late in both the daily photographic memories that Google and Facebook serve up. They lead me to reflect on how fortunate I have been, the richness of the experiences that have filled my life, and — most importantly — how very very lucky I have been to know the love of family. Many of the pics are of the kids, or the grandkids and those may be best of all. And when coupled with almost daily pictures of one or another of the grandkids, including Gus who is too new to the clan to be in the “memory” photos, I know that there is much for me to focus on besides the latest outrage from those I consider my polar opposites in terms of political philosophy.

Today, as I was driving, Buffalo Springfield’s “I Am a Child” came on. The weather and the song, took me back. That song was a frequent part of the playlist of my teen years. And when I hear it play, especially on a morning like this, I think of glorious autumn and spring days when I’d skip school and drive along the St. Croix River in eastern Minnesota. The sense of freedom, the chance to reflect and wonder about life, and the future, (and to think about girls, of course) was special. And today, the time to do the same thing (minus the thinking about girls) is still important. Life and the future still are mysteries that require our engagement and it’s a hell of a lot more fun to think about than the list of worries that just seems to grow with each day’s reporting of the news.

I’ll continue to feed the body and the mind as nutritiously as I can. I like the payback. And meanwhile, here’s to beautiful days, to those we love, and to the music that refocuses our energies. It’s a good way to end the week.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.