October 31, 2021
It’s Halloween, and although we’ve loved the experience here at the Himalayan Institute we wish at the same time we could be at home and see the grandkids as they venture out in their costumes. We’ve at least got pics. And, if we were home, we’d be handing out candy to the neighborhood kids as well. We don’t know the kids but that doesn’t matter. It’s still fun to be part of the process and to share the moment as they parade around in the costumes.
The staff here at the Institute had their own Halloween party and the kids who live here on the campus with their parents dressed up and got their treats. Perhaps a trick or two as well, though I didn’t personally witness any!
Many of the guests who had been here for weekend programs have already left but we have something in the morning and we’ll leave for home around midday. So tonight we had that chance to be observers, even if on the fringes of this community rather than our own.
In our neighborhood most folks seem to just go their own way. I remember walking the dogs one day, a few years ago with our Ugandan “daughter” Suzanne. She looked around at all the well-kept yards and big houses and asked, “But where are the people?” She was right, of course. There were no signs of life. Although the houses were not surrounded by walls, they might as well be. Each an island. And, although there might be polite discourse if dog-walking islanders meet in passing, there really isn’t a sense of community. No spirit of belonging.
The community here at the Institute has that. They share a worksite, housing area. And, more than that, they are part of a community that shares core beliefs and similar world views. Or so it seems. A small enclave of unity of vision in a nation that is singularly divided.
Of course, I’m probably overstating this, but I do believe that there is much that the staff here share. Just as those who chose to attend the programs here are probably far — far — more likely to have an openness to change and to life in general than not. And it has made me think again, as I have much more of late, of the power and importance of community.
It’s not about living in an echo chamber or hunkering down with like-minded souls to take a stand against the barbarians (those who see the world differently) preparing to storm the gates. But it is about finding a place where you can share ideas freely, where people care about each other, where we can help others when they need it and perhaps be helped in turn. Finding your “people” matters any time. And it doesn’t mean that there needs to be a commonality of views, but hopefully there is a shared heart. If you know what I mean.
I realize that we had something very much like that in the Foreign Service. And certainly we have it in our lives through our kids and grandkids and the power of connection there. And we find it in a far-flung network of friends who are like family and folks about whom we care. But it would be nice, in the years ahead, to expand our own sense of community. To be part of something vibrant that is intellectually stimulating but also fulfilling in other ways. It’s out there and we’ll find it… if it doesn’t find us first.
And that’s a good place to stop. Although there’s no 6 AM wake-up tomorrow (no yoga to greet the day on Monday) it was a full and busy day that finds me welcoming the thought of an early night tonight.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
October 30, 2021
I thought I had a basic understanding of yoga. I thought I had a sense of what Ayurveda was all about. And meditation. We all know what mediation is. Don’t we?
Obviously, I’m setting something up here, but heck… you have to build to the great reveal, right?
OK. It’s not a great reveal, but our first full day at the Himalayan Institute has been so educational, a bit overwhelming, and flat out exhausting. It’s 6:53 pm as I type and I’m ready to call it a day!
It really has been interesting, though. A lot to think about. The science and philosophy in all of this is fascinating. They fit so well into the Institute’s holistic health emphasis that drew us here in the first place. Their approach, although welcoming much that western medicine can and does offer, recognizes that there are other paths to healing and wellness that can be every bit as important.
The idea that the body’s ability to heal itself can be nurtured and strengthened is worth embracing. And striving to give ourselves and our bodies the tools we need to prevent disease and illness, rather than waiting until we fall ill and then trying to treat it, just makes sense to me. And why would we reject the idea that nourishing body and mind and spirit mindfully and equally can be important to our physical and mental well being.
Nothing we’ve discussed today with doctors and teachers here is by itself revolutionary, nor is it a panacea that offers a cure to all that ails us. It is, however, a thoughtful approach rooted in science and experience that can complement, enhance, and at times offer alternatives worth pursuing. As I listened to the careful explanations, the measured articulation of the pros and cons of these approaches, I couldn’t help but compare it mentally with a cardiologist I had seen a few years ago. In talking about cholesterol, I emphasized the importance — as I saw it — of a plant-based diet in terms of heart health. Without belaboring the point, the answer I got was to largely dismiss my dietary efforts and tell me, in essence, “we’ve got a pill for that.”
So many docs I’ve met over the years (though certainly not all) don’t talk about diet. I’ve never had one talk about the importance of breathing, or talk to me about the nervous systems and their role in our wellness efforts or discuss heart rate variability as a tool to inform our understanding. Today, though, in a session focused on resiliency and our bodies’ ability to manage stress, using fascinating biofeedback techniques, we talked about it today.
Perhaps that is what I liked best about the day. The dialogue about health, about possible approaches and the ways the medicine we know and rely on can be complemented and enhanced by an array of practices that are natural, accessible, and that hold much promise. At least in my view.
From simple changes in breathing to therapeutic massage it was a good day, and an intellectually stimulating day. And at this point in my life, I’m more prepared, and probably more open, to finding ways to integrate many of these approaches into my life than I might have been a decade ago when caught up in the crush of the day-to-day.
What can it hurt? Nothing. But it can offer additional pathways to improved health for body, mind and spirit. I want to learn more about the science and the physiological impact of these things. And why not? It’s exciting to learn and grow and explore at any age. And that’s may be what I’m liking best of all.
So it will be an early lights out tonight. Yoga is at 7 AM tomorrow and I intend to be there.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
October 29, 2021
I realize that today, like so many days, there’s plenty out there that captures my imagination or my attention or even my passions. So many things I could choose to write about. The pair of infrastructure bills are huge and so desperately needed, yet the news is consumed with the process and the politics, not their import. The human infrastructure bill in particular could be monumental. Pundits want to detail all that has been cut from it. But I don’t think anyone ever believed we’d see a $3.5 billion piece of legislation get through this Congress — perhaps any Congress — without a huge amount of wrangling and compromise. The point though is that it is STILL a $1.75 trillion package with provisions that make a huge, and fundamental statement, about the direction we’ll go as a society. This will change the lives of so many and has the potential to be as transformative as the New Deal, or the Great Society programs. Right now folks see a bunch of trees. We need to think about the forest. And if this passes, it opens the door to revisit all the items that were cut from this version. Paid parental leave, free community college and so much more. A step at a time, but make no mistake, this first step is not a baby step. It’s a giant one.
Or I could write about the Trumpian revenge campaign as he continues his targeting of those Republican lawmakers who voted their conscience rather than offering fealty to “The Donald.” If indeed he drives them from office, and his acolytes replace them, and if indeed the Republicans win control of the House in next year’s elections, what can we expect? Nothing good, I’d wager. The Democrats over the years were the ones to lead the way on the New Deal, on the Great Society, and now on Biden’s Build Back Better, Again and again, they’ve prioritized caring for the most vulnerable and the social safety net that any society should offer its people.
I am trying… I really am… to think of a similar program that the Republicans championed and passed. We can debate big government vs. small, the federal role vs state and local leadership — and we did debate those things in the past. They were part of the tension between the parties. A healthy tension. But now the divide is more primal in some ways. It’s about the pursuit of power, it seems, and its use to divide and exclude but, most importantly, holding on to it to protect wealth and status. It’s about using power to promote the interests of a segment of society over the interests of all. Elitism vs. pluralism.
I could pontificate on these themes and many others. And I know that I do at times because ideas and issues still cause all sorts of things to fire in my brain. But I don’t want to get bogged down on these weighty subjects, on which I’m merely an observer with opinions rather than any kind of expert. I’m shifting my mind in different directions today.
Tonight, as I type, we’re at the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. We are at a Pause and Renew retreat. Tomorrow, we’ll be up at 6 for mediation and prayers in the shrine here. We’ll do Hatha yoga (or at least we’ll try) and we’ll do an integrative health consultation with the doctors here. There will be training in resilience, and individual guided meditation as well. There will be massages intended to help heal and not just pamper and there will be time for reflection. No TV, and I’ll use the internet sparingly. It’s time to look within and to think about wellness. To take advantage of this setting, this time and this day, and see what fits within my life or whether my life needs to shift further to fit with what I learn. Time will tell.
New adventures can be intimidating at the start. They can also be fascinating and enriching and powerful. We’ll see where this one fits in on the adventure continuum.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
October 28, 2021
Today was a busy day. There were things to do for State, for Engage Nepal, and for… myself. That included a delightful conversation with a group of lovely folks who are part of the Capitol Hill Village. I was joined by our dear friend and partner in creativity, Jane Vance, whose illustrations of The Ambassador’s Dog combined with the narrative to create a thing of beauty. The Capitol Hill Village group was interested in memoir writing and what led to Jane’s and my book. But as so often happens, as we talked the conversation led down byways that moved us ever closer to things we care about, that we believe in. Even things that define us.
I think one of the best things about the past 6 years since I left Uganda and retired is that it has led me to moments like this. There have been so many new experiences, different communities to engage, and new directions for my energy. And in the process, I’ve been challenged to reconsider my priorities and even redefine myself. It’s been an interesting process and it continues.
In talking to the group today, we chatted a bit about community. What it means, how it has evolved, and just how important it is in our lives.
I enjoyed thinking and talking about all this. It felt like the sort of thing we’re supposed to be able to do in retirement. It had a great “feel” that put me in mind of this poem by Kabir that I first posted a dozen years ago.
ALL THE WAY TO HEAVEN
Neither the Vedas
Nor the Qur’an
Will teach you this:
Put the bit in its mouth,
The saddle on its back,
Your foot in the stirrup,
And ride your wild runaway mind
All the way to heaven.
“Ride your wild runaway mind all the way to heaven.” I like that. A lot.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
October 27, 2021
Over the past year and a half, I’ve thought about the passage of each day and, more than once, in the face of news that is often grim and troubling, I’ve been sustained by an intrinsic optimism. I tend to think that is part of who I am — or at least who I strive to be.
But it’s hard some days not to be sorely troubled by the trend lines.
Now you might just suggest that the older I become the more curmudgeonly or the more resistant to change. That happens to some. Some folks become querulous, perhaps hiding their fear about aging or declining health behind petulance and contention. So I take care… I really do… about voicing worries and complaint.
Today though, I was troubled by the stories I read about the Kyle Rittenhouse trial. It’s more than the judge’s pretrial ruling. He apparently won’t allow the prosecution to refer to those men that Rittenhouse killed when he came across state lines to Kenosha Wisconsin after the shooting of Jacob Blake last year. That night, as protests spiraled out of control, Rittenhouse shot and killed two men and wounded another when he opened fire on the protestors.
A jury will decide his guilt or innocence. I’ll leave the debate about facts to the trial. I don’t have the first hand knowledge to speak authoritatively anyway. But the judge has apparently ruled that the prosecutor can’t call those who died “victims.” It’s a “loaded, loaded word” in the judge’s views. But gee, apparently the judge doesn’t mind if the defense calls those who Rittenhouse killed “rioters” or “looters.” Apparently, the judge doesn’t think THOSE are loaded, loaded words? And, the judge may be ruling out evidence about mindset — such as video of Rittenhouse talking about how he’d like to take his gun and kill criminals. There’s a Proud Boy connection possibly as well. Maybe there are reasons to exclude all of it, but it sure feels like the judge is not as carefully impartial as we might expect.
The Rittenhouse case, though, has become another rallying point for many who see him as a symbol. A hero to those who believe guns and violence and intimidation are the answer. These are the same folks who want to intimidate lawmakers and leaders as they brandish their automatic weapons and pose like American jihadists. They are the same folks who threaten school board members and their families. They are the same folks who target public health workers with death threats. They are the same folks who similarly threaten and intimidate poll workers who are at the heart of our democratic system.
That’s what bothers me today. A lot. It’s not a new issue. It has bothered many people besides me for ages as we’ve watched the country slide down this slippery slope until guns and violence and threats are an acceptable norm rather than a reason for outrage. And those who think it’s ok to threaten and abuse a public health nurse or a volunteer election official face no outcry from the Republican officials who think that they can ride this tiger to victory.
There have always been those in our nation whose first answer, when confronted by the uncertainty of change, is a recourse to violence. And commentators wring their hands and talk about guns and violence and how even vigilantism are part of our cultural DNA. Maybe, but that makes it awfully easy to blame it all on something beyond our control. Bullshit. We can change our culture. Hell, we have to or we’ll become as anachronistic as typewriter ribbons or flash bulbs. It’s not pretty. Change won’t come easily. But, if indeed we’ve seen times where violence and prejudice and fear held sway in our society, so too have we emerged from them and reaffirmed other parts of our DNA… parts that truly do value the fundamental precepts on which our nation is built.
It may be hard to see where the path to a nation where common decency and mutual respect help guide our interactions even when we disagree, but that is where being an optimist comes in. I do believe that there are enough men and women of good will, of courage, and principle to help us find the way.\If you think I’m wrong, and it’s all too far gone, you’re entitled to your opinion. I’ll refer you, though, to the following lines from “South Pacific. I’ll adopt them as my anthem for now.
“When the skies are brighter canary yellow
I forget ev’ry cloud I’ve ever seen,
So they called me a cockeyed optimist
Immature and incurably green.
I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we’re done and we might as well be dead,
But I’m only a cockeyed optimist
And I can’t get it into my head.
I hear the human raceIs fallin’ on its faceAnd hasn’t very far to go,
But ev’ry whippoorwill
Is sellin’ me a bill,
And tellin’ me it just ain’t so.
I could say life is just a bowl of Jello
And appear more intelligent and smart,
But I’m stuck like a dope
With a thing called hope,
And I can’t get it out of my heart!
Not this heart…”
With thanks to Rogers and Hammerstein and cock-eyed optimists everywhere.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
October 26, 2021
This morning it was an early trip for a doctor’s appointment. I was the chauffeur. And, as we drove down I-66 with the sun turning the clouds a brilliant gold, I remembered what it was like to drive every day along that freeway into Washington when assigned stateside. It wasn’t horrible — though some days it could be pretty awful. But it was a wearying round trip when made day after day and week after week. And days when the traffic was intense (most of them) or the weather bad, it was far from a stress-free trip. I don’t miss it.
And I realized, that although some might suggest that I have failed retirement abysmally, this hybrid version of it that I have settled into has removed many of the less enjoyable dimensions of the work-a-day world. Dealing with traffic is a rare headache now and not an everyday reality. I get to turn off the alarm — or not to set it all, as I often do — without a second thought. I don’t have to do personnel evaluations, I don’t have to curb my tongue, or weigh every word (at least not as much as I once did).
And knowing at the end of the day I still have a tremendous degree of flexibility in shaping how my time will be spent is pretty good too. So I’m grateful for this morning’s car ride. It helped to freshen my perspective about life these days. Being able to hit refresh once in a while is a particularly good thing.
The rest of the day was not anything special. A bit of work. A nice walk with Gyptse Jane. A few hours committed to Engage Nepal. And there was time left over for the kitchen. It was a simple meal. But pretty damn good. I tried a new recipe, that I immediately tweaked a bit, for Vegan Pasta Alfredo. I used riccioli pasta and the Alfredo sauce was incredibly tasty. The onions and garlic formed the heart of the sauce. The raw cashews provided the creaminess. Some pepper, a touch of salt, nutritional yeast and lemon juice were in order and the veg broth that has also enhanced the flavor or the onions as they cooked down, made it… well, saucy.
It was good. And, in anticipation of our travel on Friday to the Himalayan Institute, I wanted to use up veggies in the fridge. So fennel, broccoli, celery, carrots, onions, peppers and mushrooms were chopped, spiced and roasted. As the minutes passed the kitchen filled with wonderful odors and the roasted veggies, combined with the pasta, and with (for me) a touch of sriracha sauce… oh my. It was good.
It was a simple day. But those are some of the best.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
October 25, 2021
So, riddle me this, Batman… what do Walker, Miller and Parnell have in common? A baseball double play combination of legend? The names of three of the four horsemen of the apocalypse? Nope.
How about three guys who have last names that could be first names? Well, yes. That may be true. But not quite the answer I’m looking for.
Ex-football legend, Herschel Walker, is running for the Republican Senate seat in Georgia. Former Trump White House aide Max Miller is running in Ohio. And former Army Captain Sean Parnell is doing the same in Pennsylvania. All three are also running with the enthusiastic endorsement of Trump. They’re his chosen candidates and his hope, of course, is that if elected they will be part of his advance legion of acolytes.
These three have hit all the right marks railing against the Big Lie and the grievances Trump believes have been inflicted on him. So it’s not surprising that Trump is pushing for them. He has the right to do so.
Sadly, though, all three men have something else in common. Records of threatened and actual violence against women (in fairness, Mr. Miller only faces allegations of sexual abuse — those from his former White House colleague, Mr. Trump’s Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham.
So. There you are. Trump knows about their records. And you have to believe he doesn’t care. In today’s world most other politicians would not want to endorse candidates like these knowing that their alleged and actual actions toward women would be a burden on their electoral chances.
Now, I don’t want to be too cynical. There are some who would not endorse these men on principle. Because they don’t accept casual misogyny and violence against women (or against anyone). I am not suggesting that Trump selected these candidates because of these charges, But I am saying that Trump didn’t care enough about the message he would send to women, about the example for young people. But Trump isn’t a values guy from anything I’ve seen.
I hope that Trump’s trio goes down to defeat. We need new leaders with new attitudes and a new commitment to a nation where violence and abuse and extremism aren’t applauded and rewarded. It just ticks me off. But at the end of the day, it’s up to all of us. We still have the right to choose. Let’s preserve it.
Perhaps we need the counterpoint of Trump acting out of his self-centered narcissism to remind us of the crossroads at which we stand and the choices before us.
Other news? Sigh. Trump attacked John McCain… again. If people won’t love Trump, I guess he needs to tear down those that people do love.
It all would be so sad if it wasn’t so troubling. But then, today is Monday. What else should I expect.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
October 24, 2021
Does that count as a blog entry? Or does it need to be longer? How long is long enough to count in the great universe of blog writing? I don’t know the rules, but my guess is I need a few more keystrokes to make this a legitimate entry.
I have come to enjoy writing enough, though, so forcing out a few more words won’t be much of a burden. Some days it is easy. If nothing else, you can journal about impressions and ideas shaped by the day. Today, though, I was largely immersed in matters that, while of interest to me, would likely hold little interest for anyone else. So you kind of rule out writing about them. Doesn’t leave me much to write about, though.
Of course, it would be a bit different if I had chosen not to post these idle rambles of mine. Then I guess I could write about the mundane and the irrelevant and things only I care about and it wouldn’t matter. It would be just for my eyes. But even I might not want to read about it later.
So, maybe it’s good that the choice to share these posts has pushed me to at least think before putting fingers to keyboard.
No matter what comes out, though, when I write it’s less about topics and more about the conversation — and I’m always having a conversation as I write. A conversation with… someone… something.
Now, admittedly, I haven’t decided if, at the end of the day, I’m just talking to myself. Perhaps I am. But that’s OK. Many of us have internal conversations about all sorts of things. I just put some of them into writing. And, while it usually works out reasonably well, if it doesn’t I at least have the option of just giving myself a good talking to.
Enough for a Sunday night.
Stay safe, stay strong, stay healthy.
October 23, 2021
Today is our youngest grandson’s eight-month birthday. Happy Birthday, Gus. He’s such a sweet and happy boy.
Beyond being another milestone for Gus in his first year, it was one of those days where there was a lot I could do. The question was what I would do because, as always, there wasn’t enough time to do it all. So I was interested to see what I’d choose to prioritize.
I started slow, weeding through the excess of clothes in my bedroom closet. There were suits galore… even a couple that had been tailored in Pakistan thirty years ago (that still fit, I will add). But I don’t need all those suits anymore and slowly I’m making the choices because there are others who can use the suits, the ties, the dress shirts, and more. Can I let a few of these go? I can. There was, and is, plenty to sort through still, but I’ve made a start in recent days. And I’ll keep going.
Little by little. It’s time to go through things, though, and to streamline. Why not?
Dog walking was also high on the list. The time spent walking has in some ways become my zen time. Today it was three miles again. I’ve walked 65 miles with the pups so far this month. That feels good. But I know that last year, I wouldn’t have made this a priority. These days I do. It’s interesting to note how choices shift over time.
Some of it may be the pandemic. Some of it may be aging. But it’s all about rethinking and reassessing, What really matters to us and why?
There’s a lot to consider.
Another top choice today was to cook. That’s not new. I’m making up for lost years in the kitchen. For much of my Foreign Service career I seldom had the time or opportunity or, often, even the need to cook. Living overseas, and especially as an Ambassador, we had people who could cook. That was then. This is now. And now I cook. And today just felt like a good day in the kitchen.
A vegan red curry stew was the first to inspire me… oh geez, it IS good! And I took great care today to track exactly what I did because I also wanted to track the calories. All that deliciousness for only 170 calories a cup. Loaded with fresh veggies, baked tofu cubes (I’m an extra-firm tofu proponent) and lemongrass and basil from the garden. The season may be ending but there’s still bounty there. Add in some red lentils and you have protein galore.
I also threw together a quiche. I think that my crusts are getting better, They were always good (I say immodestly) but now they’re even better. And loaded with veggies too. I’ve been using a lot of fennel, celery, leek, and peppers. There’s also roasted broccoli, there’s tempeh bacon, sundried tomatoes, fresh herbs, a bit of vegan cheese and Just Egg — which has become such a staple in the kitchen. And so have the quiches that it helps me to produce. We love having them around and we freeze a few pieces for a quick breakfast treat for dinner on a busy night. Like the stew, they’re pretty tasty.
And then I finally… finally… after trying for a few days to give this recipe a try, I made the quinoa brittle. I have to tell you it is so nice and has multiple variations. And wow… so delicious. I think we’re going to have to try some of the variations and, when eaten in moderation, it doesn’t cut into the continued weight loss efforts.
Those were good priorities for today. And now, as the day winds down, I’m still contemplating the idea of choices and how they define us. I saw Rudy Giuliani’s disturbingly sad video where he used an Abraham Lincoln face filter on the computer to “impersonate” the 16th president to attack the Democratic candidate for governor here in Virginia.
One person said Giuliani found one last shred of dignity to lose. And he did. Here’s a man who was once so admired and respected. A man who was once a credible presidential candidate. And now he has become a caricature and a target for mockery. He’s brought it on himself. But why? What has happened to him? How did he come to this?
This may be as much about aging and losing one’s self, as it is about politics. I don’t know. I just know that looking at the video didn’t enrage me nor did I feel like being amused at Giuliani’s expense. It just seemed tragic and sad.
And, of course, as all us Baby Boomers grow older we realize that there some things over which we have no control that will affect our health and our future. So our choices in regard to those things we can control become all the more important. We just watched a show about a group of seniors who have done that — they made a choice to take a comedy class and do a comedy show. Jo Firestone was the comedienne who was their teacher and they filmed the classes and her interviews with them as they told their stories, talked about THEIR choices, and why the foray into comedy mattered to them.
The desire to push themselves to move beyond their comfort zones. To act on dreams. And just to laugh.
I liked their spirit, their choices, and their courage. They were a good antidote to the Rudy Lincoln blues. “Good Timing with Jo Firestone” on Peacock.
Stay safe, stay strong, stay healthy.
October 22, 2021
We had grand-parenting duty (ok… I have to laugh… the auto correct just tried to change that to “grandpa renting.” Seems a bit of an odd concept but, if there IS a market for rental grandpas maybe I could have a little side hustle… who knows?)
Anyway, we had grand-parenting duty this afternoon and went in to meet Leo and Luca as they got off their school bus. It was nice to have a bit of time with them and with their older sister and her classmate who were already home. We discussed immigration (Sofie is studying that in history) and library books, and Luca read us a particularly silly one he had brought home, while Leo worked on a comic book he’s creating about the immune system. It was nice to hear all that is on their minds and to just be together. Much better than during the height of the pandemic.
We are making progress of course on that front. We’ll be forever changed by this, but we’re finding a new rhythm that may not be what we knew but that is infinitely better than staying at home in isolation. Soon the kids will be immunized and we’ll breathe a huge sigh of relief about that. And we’ve been bolstered-up and feel as protected as we can hope to. Still masking in public, still taking care, but the “fear factor” has been reduced.
Of course, there are those who never have feared this pandemic as they should have. And they still don’t. It’s inconceivable to me that there are still 64 million folks, give or take a few, who are eligible but still have not been vaccinated at all.
That’s down by about 30 million over the past two and half months but it’s still a crazy high number given the constant reminders that this disease can easily kill you. By now, with almost 3.5 billion folks vaccinated globally, you’d think that the safety argument would be laid to rest. So what the hell are these 64 million thinking? Some of them are still ceding their autonomy over their own choices to the politicians who have catered to their fears and prejudices so effectively.
There’s a weird kind of symbiotic relationship between that segment of society and figures like Trump and all those who echo him. They all coexist in the bizarre political universe they have created for themselves where they don’t have to be burdened by science or facts as they reinforce each other’s sense of grievance and their frightening certitude that they know all the answers.
That, of course, is part of national politics today in ways that are hurting our democracy and our hopes for the future. I heard an interesting conversation today in which a thoughtful conservative was debating a similarly thoughtful liberal about the human infrastructure bill. The liberal commentator sought to evoke images of the Great Society program of the 60s under LBJ. Programs like Medicare and Medicaid. A refocusing on education and public transit. Many of the bills that emerged were transformational, much as many of the elements in the human infrastructure package could, and hopefully will, be.
The conservative countered that those programs passed only after hearings and debate and give and take. She bemoaned the fact that the only discussion about the Human Infrastructure Bill seems to be among the democrats and complained that it lacked the hearings and debate of the Great Society programs her counterpart was comparing it to.
It would be a fair point IF we were the same nation that we were 60 years ago. Once hearings and debate and compromise were the norm. Now hearings are far more about political theater than meaningful fact-finding, debate is reduced to partisan diatribes, and compromise is non-existent. Mitch McConnell made certain that not one Republican — not one — supported the very moderate Voting Rights Bill pushed by Joe Manchin. Politics has always been hardball. Now, at least in the Republican camp, it has gone beyond that. it’s winner take all, take no prisoners, offer no aid. It’s about how your side scores, not about what we achieve. And so, no, don’t try to compare the process that produced the Great Society to the very different one we see unfolding today. It was a different time. It was a different America.
I’ll stop here. It’s been a stream of consciousness sort of post. Some days I just go on auto-pilot and see what words come out. I kind of wondered where this would lead… in this case I got grandkids, COVID, and politics all in one entry. A trifecta of sorts.
Stay safe, stay strong, stay healthy.
October 21, 2021
I may not write much again tonight, but sometimes one thought leads to another and things just kind of snowball. I’ll try not to let that happen. I want to be able to relax yet, work on Gus’ Christmas stocking (I’m nearing completing), and maybe watch “Dune.” The novel was first published in 1965. I was twelve, an avid reader, and the book soon found its way into my hands. I read it multiple times but it had been many years. It was unusual, creative, and a story that captured my imagination. It might make for a fun evening as I stitch.
Beyond that, I was disappointed today with the vegan steak I made. I had made a roast some months ago from vital wheat gluten and it was really good, The steak tonight… not so much. The texture — the mouth feel — wasn’t right. It didn’t have to mimic steak but it did need to stand on it’s own. It didn’t. Ah well. Anyone who has spent any time in the kitchen knows that there are winners and losers. This was the latter.
I was also disappointed today as we have to deal with even more of the nonsense we are seeing so routinely in the halls of Congress. The voting rights bill is being stalled by the Republicans. They continue to employ the same strategy they did in their efforts to make Barack Obama a one-term, filibuster everything. Let almost nothing pass, and make every step forward a battle royal. And the Democrats continue to fight with each other. Like the thoughtful Republicans (yes there are some of those left) vs. the Trump wanna-be’s, the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party are also standing in opposition to each other. And nothing gets done.
These are tough times, I know. There are tough issues, scary issues and issues that will change the world forever. And we’re failing — our Congress is failing. And it has been for a while. We’re failing when it comes to climate, when it comes to infrastructure, when it comes to ensuring we remain a land of opportunity, and giving everyone a fair shot at the future. But nothing happens. Yep. Disappointment.
I worry that we’ll watch, doing nothing, as the world around us falls apart. And sadly, although I am sure that there are plenty of folks out there who have ideas about political reform and even revolution that might bring vitality and effectiveness back to the system, you wonder if there are any proposals that a) make sense and b) can be truly transformational. I’ve not heard of any truly mainstream discussions that have captured the imagination of folks in a meaningful way.
Those conversations need to be encouraged and sustained. And, although it can be hard to believe that we’ll see a meaningful change, we have to be open to the possibility for it — to the need for it. I wonder what the world our grandkids will inherit will look like.
I don’t have that answer. But I know that the world for our grandkids will at least include a hand-stitched Christmas stocking jointly created by their Nana and Papa.Stay safe, stay strong, stay healthy.
October 20, 2021
It’s been a busy day and, frustratingly, a few hours of it were spent with State Department IT folks. You can’t work remotely if you can’t access the system. So my day got a bit bollixed up. Such is life.
I’ve got a recipe for vegan steak I’m keen to try (made with seitan) and we have some nice potatoes and the makings for a great salad. That will be tomorrow I guess.
Anyway, the day got away from me. I focused more on work than on any of the many notifications that pop-up in the corner of the screen. So now it’s late and I’m not going to write much.
The viral news story is the very ugly tale of the woman who was raped on a train outside of Philadelphia while more than two dozen bystanders reportedly watched and did nothing other than maybe videotaping what unfolded. The investigation continues and it may be that one of the passengers made a call to police. Maybe it is not as bad as it seems. But the fact is, the woman was raped, and nothing was done.
What does it mean for us as a society? How badly have the bonds that held us together as a community deteriorated? As horrific as this story is, I don’t believe that it is who we are as a society, but we can’t deny it is PART of who we are. As are racism and sexism and other ugly realities. None of these things are the totality of who we are, but they force us to ask hard questions about who we are going to be. What choices are we going to make?
I still believe that there’s far more good than not in America. And I believe that there’s decency and courage and strength and humanity on display every day too, even if they don’t make the news. But still, there’s much that just isn’t right. It’s a sad thought.
So, a Wednesday ends. Enough for today.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
October 19, 2021
The day after Colin Powell’s death, a man who once was the President and desires to do so again had this to say: “Wonderful to see Colin Powell, who made big mistakes on Iraq and famously, so-called weapons of mass destruction, be treated in death so beautifully by the Fake News Media,” Trump wrote. “Hope that happens to me someday.”
There are SO many angry retorts one could make. Some would be mean-spirited. Deserved, but mean-spirited. But what do we gain? Really, will lashing out further against him change him? This is the same man who WHILE President could not even find the common decency to be gracious when another American icon, John McCain died.
There are those who don’t agree with all that McCain did, I know. And General Powell’s passing is already sparking a relitigation of the second Iraq war. And those debates and questioning and challenging can be healthy, if we can find a way to do so thoughtfully and respectfully. But there was nothing thoughtful, or respectful, or kind, in what Trump said. And that’s sad. Discouraging.
This morning I heard a woman at the doctor’s office where I had an appointment almost scream her outrage at the TV when an ad called those “very good people” who marched with their Confederate flags and swastikas in Charlottesville “white supremacists. “Stop with the bullshit about white supremacists” she called out. Her anger, and her belief that somehow these folks were being unfairly characterized — by people like me, I guess — was apparent. Or the folks who are outraged that they have to get a shot that can save their lives and the lives of those around them. Folks who are outraged by so very much. It’s a bit scary.
With people like Trump there isn’t an honest debate. Only a winner takes all, and I want to be the winner, mentality. It has led us to ugliness and elevated the politics of grievance while decoupling facts, science, and rationality from the thinking of so many.
We can, as Michele Obama urged us, “go high” in response. And we can’t let the anger consume us. We should strive to do better, to address racism, and sexism and economic and social injustice, because that’s what we need and we should be offering the hope of a better future and not just a message of fear about a return to the darkness of Trump’s politics of narcism and nativism.
I don’t want to spend my days trying to wade through the ever deeper pools of toxicity that ooze across the landscape. So I said, essentially, the hell with it. I grabbed a hat, my earbuds, and some poop bags, and headed off with Gyptse Jane and the Prince of the Mountains for the park.
Now, an hour later, we’re back at home having sniffed countless new odors, hiked trails we hadn’t visited recently, and allowed nature and movement to work a silent detox. I highly recommend it.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
October 18, 2021
Like many, I felt a tremendous sense of loss this morning when I read the news about Secretary Powell. Even if you had never met him, you knew as you listened to him speak, that this was a man of integrity, decency and compassion. And it wasn’t just his words. His actions too were always on a par with the values he espoused. I felt honored to work as part of his team.
The press will be full of well-deserved tributes to the Secretary from people who knew him far better than me. But even those of us who mostly admired him from a distance felt that we knew the man. He wasn’t just the Secretary. He was a leader who inspired and he truly empowered those around him to lead with honor and pride. He loved our country and he cared for the people who joined him in service. And he will always have a very special place in my heart.
It was Secretary Powell who presided over my swearing-in ceremony as I prepared to go as a first-time Ambassador to Eritrea. Perhaps it was his military background — the military gets the leadership piece much better than the State Department — but he knew the responsibility that goes with a command position and took the time to empower and support those that he sent out as his “field commanders.” And he knew that these ceremonies, vesting authority in a new Ambassador, had more than symbolic importance. He also knew, though, that on a personal level this was a truly special day for a career officer. And he wanted to acknowledge that.
Maybe it was his own experience in rising through the ranks of the military to ultimately become National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Secretary of State. Maybe it was just that he was a good guy. My guess is it was both. But the Secretary gave me a great gift that day when he swore me in. The gift of his time, his encouragement and his validation as I stood there before so many people who mattered to me.
Secretary Powell knew that that day in the Ben Franklin Room on the Department’s topmost floor, it wasn’t just colleagues that had gathered but my wife and kids, my mom, my siblings, and many other loved family members and treasured friends. And, in his kind and gracious remarks, he made my service come alive for them.
Few folks really understand what life is like as a member of the Foreign Service and fewer still truly understand the risks and the sacrifices the men and women who accept the challenges of working in a dangerous and trouble-filled world. That day, though, Secretary Powell helped my family to appreciate the responsibilities and the joy of service.
He spoke about my time as a Dipnote (we sang and danced our way into our colleagues’ hearts during the Gulf War when I served in Islamabad). And he explained to the guests how Leija and I had led colleagues off for a wilderness adventure in Botswana’s isolated Central Kalahari Game Reserve. He observed that I had characterized it as a team building exercise. “Uh huh… sure.” he said with a twinkle in his eye, teasing us about our radio handles for the journey — Wagon Master and Den Mother. And, of course, ever the master of a quick quip, he turned to Leija and observed wryly that he assumed that “wagon master” must have been hers.
He laughed — hard — when I reminded him in turn of his own appreciation for diplomacy through dance, best exemplified when he performed to “YMCA” while at an ASEAN meeting in Jakarta (dressed as the construction worker in the Village People ‘s classic hit).He was the kind of guy. Laughing at himself, relaxed, confident in his leadership and happily willing to give an hour of his time to help a new Ambassador feel valued, empowered, and appreciated. He was so gracious, taking the time to chat with my mom sitting in her wheelchair and thanking her for sharing her son with our nation. My mom was star struck. I think we all were.
There have been plenty of Secretaries who haven’t prioritized doing that sort of thing. Plenty who delegate all but a few of the swearing-in ceremonies to others. But Secretary Powell knew the importance of moments like this. And even more, he cared for his troops — he truly did – and we knew it. And loved him for it.
I learned a lot about leadership from watching him and listening to him. He didn’t just talk the talk. He walked the walk in every way that mattered. He acted on his values, stuck to his principles, and allowed honor, compassion and decency to inform his actions. And, as we look around today at the dearth of true leaders, we know that his passing is a true loss indeed.
I know I’m not alone today in feeling bereft. But I know that for me, and for so many others whose lives he touched, even if just in passing, his voice and message will not dim.
Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.
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.
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.
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.
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.