Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Holiday Humor

It's a good thing we put our Thanksgiving turkey in an oven bag, because the temperature in the oven refused to go over 275 degrees F. Aden and I kept peering at the display and I wrung my hands frequently as persistent clicks by the oven refused to signify those desperately-needed five-degree jumps. "Don't worry," she said. "The turkey must just be blocking the heat from the thermometer." I prayed she was right; the stuffing and mashed potatoes were done, the boys were starving, and all we needed was the turkey and the gravy.

At the two-and-a-half hour mark, we finally opened the oven door to a decidedly temperate oven. No blast of heat fogged my glasses, and when I looked at the meat thermometer it was barely 150. My cries of despair (and the smell of the turkey) got Rob off the coach and he came to inspect the situation. He switched the oven from convection to conventional, went to the fuse box to play with switches, and then peered intently within. "The bottom element is broken," he finally said. "Did you know about that?"

"No!" I shouted as I tore hair from my head. "We baked three desserts yesterday without a problem, I don't know what happened."  At a loss for alternatives, we placed the bird back in the oven and I watched over it for another two hours as it slowly cooked at 275 degrees.  Thanks to the oven bag, we finally got the inner temp up to 170 on the meat thermometer and proceeded to tear the bird apart in a graceless display of unskilled carving. The restless natives devoured Thanksgiving dinner approximately three hours later than I had planned. 

The following day we bought our big Christmas tree. I already have two artificial trees up and lit, desiring more light for the dark days of Covid winter. The Douglas fir is a lovely eight feet high, and I purchased new white lights to illuminate it. "Trying something new," I told Rob when he raised his eyebrows at the price of the LED strings. "I need more light this year."

Aden helped me string the lights on our tree; we had two 58-foot strands so we managed to place a high density of bulbs on every bough. When we plugged turned the lights on for the big reveal, the resulting pale blue glow nearly blinded us.  Dismayed but undeterred, we decorated the rest of the branches with baubles and memorabilia, none of which you can actually see when the lights are on. I took Rob out across the street and we discovered the tree shone brightly through our shuttered front window, illuminating the entire living room and the front yard.

A Griswold start, then, to our holidays, but it's certainly a time for light and laughter. Zoom calls with families, replete with family jokes, contributed to the humor and to the surreal feeling of the end of 2020. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Thanksgiving Prayers

Aden's Covid test came back negative yesterday so she will come home this afternoon to celebrate Thanksgiving. In a few minutes I will attempt to thaw my small turkey in solidarity with home chefs across the country. We won't be seeing anyone outside of our immediate family unit, so Zoom calls and cooking rituals will have to take the place of in-person connection.

Our family will change our usual dinnertime grace at the Thanksgiving meal to include the following two prayers. My mother sent uplifting verses from Emerson, which I've included first. The second prayer was recommended by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. The "Cadet Prayer" is bracing, fortifying. It raises our awareness and appreciation of the people around the country who are choosing the "harder right instead of the easier wrong." Both leave me feeling grateful for first responders, all healthcare workers, election officials who did their job and stood up to power, and for each of you.

Thanksgiving Prayer

For each new morning with its light,

For rest and shelter of the night,

For health and food, for love and friends,

For everything Thy goodness sends.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

West Point Cadet Prayer

O God, our Father, Thou Searcher of Human hearts, help us to draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth. May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural.

Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretence ever to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.

Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.

Guard us against flippancy and irreverance in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer.

Help us to maintain the honor of the Corps untarnished and unsullied and to show forth in our lives the ideals of West Point in doing our duty to Thee and to our Country.

All of which we ask in the name of the Great Friend and Master of all.


West Point Cadet Prayer

Monday, November 23, 2020

Gratitude Vs. Despair

 "As we approach the holidays dominated by losses, uncertainty, and human depravity, we can still be open, in a gentle way, to noticing what is good in our lives, who or what is holding us, a child's smile, a poem, someone's love, perhaps spirit." - Thandiwe Dee Watts-Jones for CNN

"And when the weight of the suffering in the world feels like too heavy a burden -- this world that's so impossibly beautiful and unbelievably sad -- I remember the advice of Edmond Burke. 'Never despair,' he said. 'But if you do, work on in despair.'" - Sy Safransky in a November letter to subscribers of The Sun

Every night, before reading soothing fiction on my Kindle, I write at least five items in my gratitude journal.  The number five has some significance, a high enough number to force my brain to recognize good fortune, perhaps.  And it works, generally, inducing a surprising sense of well-being before I lose myself in fiction and then dreams. Themes emerge and reappear over the years, gratitude for friends and family, health, children's accomplishments and resulting growth and self-confidence, my husband's equanimity and hard work.  I know that I am extremely fortunate, but at times (like the present) my personal stability does not outweigh the cares of my community and country.

The weight of suffering in our poor, mishandled world threatens to sink all those who are paying attention. Health care workers barely have time to breathe or eat, let alone plan a Thanksgiving meal and Zoom with family. Corrupt politicians have lied and misled millions of people into believing an alternate reality, one where the virus doesn't even exist. Perhaps because of these lies, this inability to live in truth, the coronavirus map gets darker by the day as public health officials invent new shades of red or purple to convey the seriousness of the pandemic.

As Sy Safransky noted in his letter to subscribers of The Sun, this world is both "impossibly beautiful and unbelievably sad." This Thanksgiving week as we muster brave smiles for our families, count our individual blessings, and pray for those who need divine assistance, we inhabit both sides - the beautiful and sad - simultaneously. My emotions swoop and dive, my determination to make the holiday special for the children buoys me for a morning of frantic to-do's before I crash and nap to escape the despair that comes on suddenly, like a food coma. 

It's not really gratitude vs. despair, not "either/or" but rather "both/and." The emotions run on different tracks at the same time, and I have a foot on each train (a difficult feat for someone lacking in flexibility and coordination).  On the gratitude side, I give thanks for every one of you and know you are all so vital in this complicated web, this world that is struggling. We must keep going, working on through despair, taking time for gratitude when we can and believing we can somehow maintain our balance through 2020 and get to the other side.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Why Aren't We Celebrating?

 "In fact (at the time of publishing), 78,664,742 Americans voted - an unprecedented number - for a duo that aims to represent all people, our democracy, and its potential to serve the common good. What statement of the nation's conscience over the alternative of tyranny, xenophobia, and self-dealing."

- Jen Hoffmann, Americans of Conscience (Newsletter)

"I thought there would be more celebrating."

- Board member of our local Indivisble chapter, November 17, 2020

I am torn between conflicting poles. The first is a desperate desire to retreat and replenish my spiritual and creative energy, to detoxify my brain from the barrage of negative news generated by 45 and his cronies.  The second is a driving need to increase my activism and move toward positive change, based on the news and needs of the moment. The election of the Biden - Harris ticket was a good start but we can't wait to capitalize on it. 

A yearning to provide my children with a decent planet and positive future generates both desires. I need to act to mitigate this current disaster in our country, but I also need space to imagine positive solutions, move toward utopia rather than slide toward the dystopia we catch glimpses of outside our quarantine windows. How can we find mental energy to dream bigger and imagine better if we are bogged down in current headlines?

My morning reading of the news generates passion and quotes enough to fill several blogs, but leaves me barren in terms of generating alternative solutions. I'm working on a children's book with my mom, set in rural Wyoming in the late 1940's.  Unfortunately, with news of Trump's latest mis-deeds scrolling in a perpetual news feed across my brain, I struggle to visualize my characters in northern Wyoming, have a hard time generating dialogue or action that does not relate to our immediate, desperate straits.

And make no mistake, we are still in desperate straits. While encouraged and emboldened by the wonderful results of the presidential election, the current occupant of the White House, our toddler-in-chief, still refuses to concede and begin the important work of transition. Our Arctic is being sold off to oil companies for drilling, senior aides are having to drag Trump back from bombing Iran's nuclear sites, and the coronavirus is causing a humanitarian disaster in our country. Teams from Doctors Without Borders have been deployed to various locations in the United States, a shocking example of how far and fast we have fallen. Instead of donating to their efforts in Africa or Haiti, I find them in the state next door.

So how to manage the dichotomy of engagement and removal? Some friends alternate periods of action with news fasts, yoga and bubble baths. I tried that over the weekend and made some progress, though not enough to generate periods of creativity. It appears that I will have to learn how to manage both sets of train tracks and master switching from one to the other, from ramping up my activism to clearing the mind for creativity, and that the situation may be required for some time. The engineer in my brain must get busy, because failure on either track is not an option. 

PS - If you are interested in activism this week, I am including the link to the current Americans of Conscience checklist (here).

Thursday, November 12, 2020


 "While the election is behind us, the work continues. Democracy is a daily journey."

- Emily Cherniack, Founder of New Politics (CNN Next Steps)

"Trump is denying reality and impeding a lawful transition in ways that diminish the United States before the world, that make our country less governable and that risk inciting violence. This is presidential vandalism."

- Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, Nov. 12, 2020

When Daniel was a toddler, he was prone to temper tantrums and I was prone to anger as I watched them. On a January day early in 2009, he threw a fit in Macy's as Rob and I attempted to post-Christmas shop at the major markdown sales. Rob was purchasing clothing at a register with William and I told the boys that Aden and I would head out to wait in the car. Daniel had a choice to wait or walk, but chose to do neither. Instead, he came out into the crowded hallway between suits and belts and began to wail as I walked toward the door, throwing his little body down on the linoleum and pounding his tiny fists. What did I do? I walked away, knowing that his father was close by and having no patience for the fit of impotent rage.

Ring any bells? Our democracy is currently being held hostage - and vandalized - by a corrupt and selfish man with the maturity of a two-year-old. With the exception of a slender few, Republicans are failing to confront him with the truth - that he lost. There is no possibility of his lawsuits against the states succeeding and there is no chance that his margins of failure will be decreased by recounts to any significant level.  Would that our country's leadership could just walk away from his fury, move on and walk out the door to the future. Instead, many are supporting his futile efforts to establish a alternate reality.

I would like to recognize and congratulate the Republican senators, governors and leaders who have acknowledged Biden as the President-elect - I believe there are four or five out of 50+. The remainder should be forced to resign their office as they are failing to live up to their oath to serve this country and its Constitution. I have Republican heroes, including John McCain and - recently -  Mitt Romney, but I swear to you on my life that I will never vote for a Republican again if they don't stand up to the imbecile in office.

Kristof writes in his current article that polls suggest 70% of Republicans don't believe we had a free and fair election. Do you know why? Because alt-right social media, following their so-called leader, purveys untruths day and night, claiming fraud and stolen votes despite a complete lack of evidence. The subject makes me feel more sick than even headlines about the runaway coronavirus. No surprise there - the leaders of our country have left this ship completely rudderless as they deal with untruths, alternative realities and presidential ire.

Democracy will be an ongoing struggle for at least a generation. For those of us who fought for Joe Biden and down-ballot candidates and measures, we are just at the beginning of the fight to uphold the values of the Constitution and America's place in the world. Don't get too comfortable in your easy chair, don't put away your walking shoes or your dialing thumbs. We won this election by five million votes and we may all need to be out in the streets in order to make our victory a reality.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

A Pyrrhic Victory

 "...the reason your mom is laughing so much tonight is because she's drunk, and the reason she's crying is because she's drunk." - Maya Rudolph as Vice President - Elect Kamala Harris on "Saturday Night Live," November 7, 2020

"Pyrrhic victory - a victory that is offset by staggering losses." - Google

"Trump is a demagogue who .... makes people feel proud of things they had been made to feel ashamed of, even if they should have been ashamed." - Bret Stephens, New York TimesNov 9, 2020

I was in my car when I heard that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had been declared winners of the 2020 presidential election. Tears erupted and my grip on the steering wheel grew shaky as I gasped for air. The tension of last week flowed out with the salt water and when I parked at the grocery store I had to slump over the dash and breathe for a few minutes before I could leave my car.

Dazed and pleasantly shocked, I gathered random groceries; cheese ravioli for a family that can't eat dairy, ground bison, shots of turmeric (to combat the evening alcohol), and chocolate zucchini bread with coconut whipped topping for celebrating. As the Natural Grocers' employee checked my disparate items I whispered, "Did you hear the news?" and when she stared at me blankly I told her that Biden had won. Her eyes widened and smile lines broke out above the mask. "That's the best news I've ever heard," she said, "thank you."

An avalanche of positive texts, fireworks-and-flags gifs, and excited exclamation points filled the rest of the day. Our TV was on CNN - unheard of in our house where we typically eschew all forms of televised news - and we drank champagne during the acceptance speeches, when I cried all over again. The first woman in the white house, the diversity of the first and second families, the happiness of the people, it all overwhelmed me. I was not drunk - at least not on alcohol - but I was laughing, crying and dancing.

And yet there was a dark side to the celebrations. Our lame-duck President, our "dic-tweeter" (as my friend Tim says), is categorically incapable of acknowledging defeat. He cannot admit to being a loser and will never agree to leave office in any sane or rational way. Leading senators are supporting his futile claims of fraud even as all living US Presidents, world leaders and even some admirable congressional Republicans (Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse) congratulate Biden and Harris and prepare for a welcome new chapter.

It's extremely difficult to understand how 70 million Americans could vote for a sociopath, a liar, and a greedy narcissist whose pathetic inability to lead has cost over 230 thousand Americans their lives. He seeks only to enrich his bloated self and his grasping family. Why did this dishonest shyster seem preferable to honest old Joe for such a  huge number of our fellow citizens?

One reason, described by Stephens in the NYT, explains how Trump gives people permission to express feelings they have previously been made to feel ashamed of (racism, misogyny, hatred of liberals). I had to look up the word "demagogue," which means someone who "seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument" (Oxford Languages) and certainly Trump is a good example. The freedom to express hatred has, sadly, been liberating for many even as it has hurt, scared or even killed many targets of that hatred.

Stephens and his co-author Gail Collins also explain the votes for Trump through the lens of the urban - rural divide. Collins says "If you look at political divisions that way, they seem more reasonable - less selfish and arbitrary. If you live in an urban area, you're continually reminded of how much we need government to keep order and provide services. If you're rural, everything seems to be put on your own back, and government spending just seems intrusive." (NYT). That rational explanation appeals to the part of my brain that keeps screaming "Why?!"

Lastly, James Hamblin (The Atlantic) explains how Trump sold his failure on the virus response to so many people by illustrating how "when we are sick or threatened by disease, we seem uniquely susceptible to scams."  Quacks like Trump offer an easy solution, a comforting - though false - truth that is easier to believe than the cold rationality of scientists and medical professionals. The fact resonates with me. When I was desperately ill with a unique auto-immune problem I tried everything under the sun to heal, including far-fetched modalities such as "tapping" or so-called professionals with ESP who could diagnose and cure me over the phone.

If a charismatic leader sells you his (or her) false truth you are comforted regardless of rationality. People buy into the person of the leader rather than pay attention to the truth (or lack thereof) in what that leader says. Stephens concludes, "orienting your sense of truth around a person can be more comforting than doing so around a nebulous, uncertain, or otherwise threatening reality." It's easier not to think.

So we have 70 million people who have abdicated the need for careful thought revolving around the person of Donald Trump, who refuses to vacate the White House or acknowledge the legitimate victory of his opponent. My brief weekend celebration has faded into memory as headlines once again generate tension and stress. Yesterday the lame duck fired his Secretary of Defense - what will happen today? No one can predict what will occur over the next seven weeks, but it's certain that our work to restore hope, truth, science and empathy is far from over.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Where are the Aliens When You Need Them?

 "I suppose we have to believe the arc of history bends towards justice but it certainly takes some incredible hairpin detours."

- Marina Hyde, November 4, 2020 (The Guardian)

At Rob's request, we watched a documentary on UFO sightings and alien encounters a few days ago. I was incredulous at first, but the evidence for alien vehicles and even alien "persons" mounted to such an extent that I had to suspend my disbelief. The climax of the documentary was footage of the Ariel School in Ruwa, Zimbabwe, where a large group of students saw a landed UFO in 1994. Not only did they see a vehicle, but they reported communicating with a strange being. These beings told the students that humans were on the wrong path, that technology was dangerous and that we needed to protect the earth. Then they left.

Bear with me here. In the show, numerous experts made the case that more advanced forms of life had visited our planet many times with the intent of highlighting how foolish and dangerous our nuclear weapons stock was to life, as well as letting us know that we are "on the wrong path." For some reason, that's all I could think of as election results trickled in over the last two days and I watched the divide in our country grow deeper and more treacherous.  Where are these advanced life forms now? We are apparently in grave danger as a country and as a planet, wouldn't this be a good time for them to make a pit-stop in a battleground state? They could give us a gentle shove, or violent push, in the right direction.

This idea didn't ring any bells with the checkers at Trader Joe's yesterday, as we mused collectively about the nerve-wracking vote counts. Of course I could only see their eyes over the masks, but there were no sympathetic smile lines or warm chuckles when I finished my (semi-joking) explanation about how the aliens should come save us. They just scanned my cart for alcohol, gave a sigh of relief that the plastic partition separated us, and got me checked out as fast as they could.

I guess we're on our own here, and though the voting and vote-checking process has gone more smoothly than I anticipated, my nerves are shot from watching the endless parade of states that are "too close to call."  Marina Hyde of The Guardian mentioned, in the same article referenced above, that Trump had more support in 2020 than he did in 2016 - in counties with the highest number of COVID fatalities. What to make of that?

I can't predict anything in 2020 and it seems that the experts can't, either. In a world where hairpin turns are the norm and unseen dangers lurk behind every flip of the calendar, it seems apropos that we ask for help from aliens. If I just replace my election yard signs with advertisements to use the lawn as a landing strip, we could either get the scoop on how to fix things, or just leave with the little people when they go.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Election Day, 2020

 Waiting is the worst, especially for those of us cursed by a lack of patience. My stomach jumps every time I see a headline flash on the phone or a text notification from one of my political friends - I wonder what fresh disaster has befallen us now? Today is a big day, but it won't give us the results with finality that we long for.  My favorite prayer, from Teresa of Avila, has this line, "Patience attains the goal," and I'm struggling to keep that in mind.

Yesterday I threw myself into volunteering. I distributed literature, monitored polling places from the safety of my car to make sure there were no signs of trouble (there weren't), and spent two hours texting voters in Colorado to make sure they had their ballots in. The text script provided for volunteers started with the cagey line, "Are we still on for tomorrow?" The vast majority of recipients responded with confusion, but one spunky individual responded to the unknown number with this: "We sure are - and I bought a sexy new outfit."  I hope she wears it to the polls today.

It's difficult to believe that four years have passed since the shock, anger and despair of the 2016 election. Harder still to grapple with the awareness that today is not the finish line, for any of us. I've made a vow not to post anything on social media for the next month or so, to stay as calm as possible with friends of all beliefs, and to be kind. Parts of that vow will be challenging for me, but our country will have to survive the aftermath of this desperate election year no matter what the result, and now is a good time to start practicing the values that I've been seeking in our elected officials. Good luck to our country, and to us all.