Another New Year

I’ve fulfilled the most important of my New Year obligations. I’ve eaten all the holiday chocolates so we can start 2023 eating healthy. Sure, it made me a little speedy for a few days, but that helped me complete another first-of-the-year task—making Happy New Year cards to send to friends/family. This task wouldn’t have existed here in January if I’d gotten around to making Christmas/Solstice cards in December, but I didn’t. And I really needed all the chocolate I could get my hands on because my design for this year required multiple steps.

First I had to write a greeting with passable calligraphy. Luckily, my standards for my own calligraphy are not high or I’d still be working at it. I had to carve and print multiple linoleum blocks and slice construction paper into one inch strips with the paper cutter. There was some surprisingly tricky paper folding, and I had to squeeze out blobs of rubbery glue to hold miniscule googly eyes. And after several days of this, there was still the signing and addressing of envelopes. The chocolate ran out before the project, but I made it.

But I felt a little flat after I slid all the stamped cards through the mail slot at the post office.

Then a friend saved me. He sent a video of a Jesse Jackson speech from 1988. Hopeful, uplifting, inspiring words! and so welcome in this cynical political climate.

So, my top New Year’s resolution is to maintain hope and encourage some smiles. Maybe my silly cards do both.

Big Foot

I have an enormous capacity to suspend disbelief, especially while reading. As long as poor writing doesn’t jolt me out of my mesmerized state, I happily follow along. This allows me to enjoy a cozy mystery or a romance novel or fiction dipped in magical realism. But it is not useful when reading a newspaper article.

This morning’s Washington Post article “Why you should almost always wash your clothes on cold” had me nodding along, all in. Oh, yes! Cold water is good for everything. Powdered laundry detergent only! No dryer sheets!

Luckily, there’s a comment section below the article where other readers snap me back into the bigger picture. Thank you FishyBulb for reminding me that my carbon footprint is nothing compared to the 80-90% of CO2 emissions from energy production, industry/agribusiness, transportation, and building. “You could disappear every house in the country and we’d still have 90% of the problem,” FishyBulb writes.

Yes, I can slow the spinning dial on my electric meter, save wear and tear on my clothes, etc., following suggestions from the WaPo article, but, as the book The Big Fix explains, “the world will not be saved by conscientious green consumers.” The climate change problem is too big for that.

The Big Fix outlines the cause of the problem and instructions for green citizens. “We need to focus, together, on a relatively small number of public policies that can, over time, bring about sweeping change.”

Little changes—like hanging our laundry out to dry—are helpful, but the emphasis on our individual carbon footprints encourages us to feel smug about those sheets flapping in the breeze while distracting us from our primary responsibility to push for substantial changes. (FishyBulb says the carbon footprint concept is marketing from polluter BP to absolve themselves from responsibility.)

I hoped The Big Fix would provide an alternative to wallowing in despair. And it does. The authors explain our climate change problem and offer instructions for us citizens to meaningfully address that problem.

One of my actions: A letter to our county officials that explains my husband’s plan for efficient operation of our trash collection behemoths. Adoption of this plan would mean less noise in the neighborhood, less maintenance on the trucks, and less air pollution. What he and I might do next depends on what response we get from the county.

And where did I learn of this helpful book?

From a newspaper, of course.

UnFriending God

Facebook is a disappointment.

I thought it would be a good site to see faces of friends and family and their friends and families and photos from their vacations or their new haircuts or hair colors or pets or gardens. A place to read updates on the Doings of friends and acquaintances and favorite authors. A great source of inspiration from artists of all kinds.

But – alas! – politics.

And religios jingoism.

Were I more tolerant and less impulsive, I would ignore fact-challenged political memes. But sometimes I don’t. I am guilty of posting links to point out fallacies and offering explanations with context and background. And what thanks do I get? Abuse and insults. Probably what I deserve since no one has ever replied “OMG! You are SO right!” and I’ve never replied that way either so what did I expect? No one’s mind is changed by Facebook comments. Facebook is set up to elicit reactions, not thoughtful discussions. (Apparently, so am I.)

So when I see a meme such as: “When you kneel down to God, he stands up for you. And when he stands up for you, no one can stand against you.” and my better angel prompts me to ignore it and scroll on down the page, I find myself further roused by “Heaven has strict immigration laws. Hell has open borders.”

My eyes skim over these sentences and my brain leaps into arguments. This simplistic stuff can drive me nuts.

One of the entities generating these memes calls itself God, as if it is the sole manifestation of the category. So when I blocked that particular Producer of Memes, I blocked God.

Why can’t we all stick to personal news on Facebook? That would bring us all closer together.

But don’t expect me to stick to it. The political stuff I post is spot-on and everyone is grateful when I share it. And MY religious views are not offensive.

Right? Right?

Memorial Day

Driving to the veterinarian’s office to pick up pain meds for our elderly arthritic Lab, I saw something I had never seen before — a front yard full of patriotic inflatables.

Super-size blow-up Christmas decorations are a common sight around here, rising from the ground even before Thanksgiving. There are more Halloween inflatables every year, and even Easter inflatables are not an uncommon sight. But patriotic inflatables? That’s a new one, for me anyway.

Plus, it’s May and isn’t Memorial Day supposed to more somber than celebratory? The 4th of July is weeks away. Assuming no incidents involving sharp objects, will plastic Uncle Sam still salute passing traffic through July?

Back at home, trying to describe this display to my husband and a son and his wife, I remember there were six or seven figures but can only remember two of them — the above-mentioned Uncle Sam and a giant red-white-and-blue top hat.

“What else was there?” I say. “What else could there be?”

Gleeful suggestions of “Mt. Rushmore!” “George Washington!” and “Abraham Lincoln!” are rejected as not quite hitting the mark.

“A plastic blow-up American flag!” Hilarious, we all agree.

“A tank!” is not found specifically patriotic.

“Fireworks!” is an inspired suggestion and sets us off in all directions (pun intended) with “exploding fireworks” pronounced the funniest and Uncle Sam riding a rocket that literally explodes as it zips into the sky as the most outrageous.

My husband attempts to change the subject to a baseball game he watched from the stands earlier in the day, a young pitcher who hit a ball high into the air where it wavered in the wind and —

“Apple pie!” our son says.

“Yes! An inflatable apple pie!”

“With a baseball smooshed right in the center,” son adds.

Three of us laugh and laugh. Husband/father is not amused. Baseball is serious stuff.

But so is everything else. This has been hammered home during these months of the pandemic, Black Lives Matter and the January 6th coup attempt. These are serious times.

The next morning, my husband points out what an appropriate metaphor red-white-and-blue patriotic inflatables are. Plastic. Full of air. Basically empty and likely to deflate with a sharp poke. Like so much of what passes for patriotism these days.

For months, it’s been too hard to write, too impossible to believe I have anything worth saying. Am I just virtue signaling? pontificating out of blind ignorance? I can question myself into immobility.

In the meantime, I stubbornly hang our flag on clear days, even though I refuse to pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth. I cling to the ideals the flag represents with the hope the collective We will yet carry that standard into a state of liberty and justice for all.

(P.S An exercise, if you wish. Can you identify examples of privilege folded into this text?)

More Books

I devour historical romances. The historical details and events may be carefully researched, but the plots are not moored to reality. This is perfect because I am not looking for reality when I read historical romance.

One of my favorite authors is Georgette Heyer. Heyer wrote for an earlier generation so her books never impose 21st century norms on the heedlessly rich of the past. Her fictional lords and ladies reveal their character through their treatment of lesser beings — like servants or shopkeepers. However, none of them apologizes for obscene wealth acquired from cotton, indigo, or sugar plantations or extracted, with the help of the British military, from China or India. In real life, these are ill gotten gains. In Heyer’s books, the wealth just IS and the source is never examined. The plots are light-hearted with clever banter and amusing characters. No mental exertion required.

I like a romance that glosses right over such concerns so, as the reader, I am as untroubled as the heroine is when accepting a glass of champagne from a liveried footman. When I want challenging reading, I know where to look.

Some contemporary authors feel compelled to create heroines who found orphanages, schools, or hospitals for the indigent. Or heroes who are exemplary landlords and lawmakers on the right side of history, right along with their wise investments. Often, this kind of main character, one who could stand up under modern scrutiny, will pull me right out of a story. It’s a tricky goal for a writer: a main character with access to unlimited wealth who is one of the good guys. (It is nice when anyone recognizes injustice, but it ruins escapist fiction when the reader can’t escape.)

Lately, I’ve set aside my historical romance. I now read with ulterior motives. Submissions to literary agents often require a list of “comp” titles, published books whose readers might also buy the manuscript under consideration. So I’m reading lots of cozy mysteries to find comp titles for my unpublished novel, Thrift Store Daze,  which is also a cozy mystery.

Mostly, I am not entertained.

The ones I toss aside after ten pages or three chapters, resemble Mad Libs — just fill in the blank for your plot and start writing your scenes.

Example: (Obnoxiously nosy but thoroughly lovable main character) and her (quirky animal companion) move to (picturesque town) where she opens (cute shop or trendy service). She meets (Gay or POC friend) and (hunky neighbor) who is a (cop or carpenter etc.). She eats (tasty sweet thing: recipe included) and stumbles onto a murder scene. Body is of (person nobody liked). Incredible coincidences allow her to untangle the motive and nail the killer.

Historical romance novels are also predictable and trite. I think fantasy is easier for me to swallow when it’s set in the past. I get annoyed with the main characters in contemporary cozy mysteries who are too much like people who annoy me in real life.

Do I even like cozies? Oh, yes.  I like the Agatha Raisin and Hamish MacBeth series by M. C. Beaton. But I would never claim my book could sell like Beaton’s books do. Arthur Nersesian’s Mesopotamia is a ride you don’t want to miss, though it starts out a bit dark. Food of Love: A Comedy About Friendship, Chocolate and a Small Nuclear Bomb by Anne R. Allen is not exactly a cozy mystery but it’s close and it’s funny.

The right books are out there somewhere. I am still on the hunt.

Please! Point me toward a cozy mystery that I will happily read all the way through — if you can.

Familiar Songs Part 2

Whose history is it anyway?

A friend gifted me with The American Songbook Treasury, copyright 1964. As I was pounding away on the piano this morning, aiming for a livelier rendition of “Sweet Betsy from Pike,” an observation popped into my head: My friend Mary might not find the verse that begins “The Injuns came down in a wild yelling horde” amusing. Mary holds tribal membership.

My father used to tell me that folk music in pre-radio times reported current events to the illiterate masses. (I formed the childish idea that songs were the only form of news for most people.)

According to the Song Treasury, “Sweet Betsy” was popular during the California gold rush days and reflected “the hardships of our westward-bound ancestors.” So there’s our point of view.  In 1849, Betsy and Ike would have been among 25,000 -30,000 others following the lure of gold across the plains. No wonder the song was popular. But that viewpoint leaves out those of us who have ancestors who traveled east over the Pacific to California or who tried to stay where they were (e.g. those “Injuns).

When history represents only one point of view, usually that of the victors, any inconvenient details that don’t support the narrative are left out. Leave out the indigenous peoples populating the plains, and the doctrine of Manifest Destiny triumphs.

But there was a lot going on in that vast stretch of territory between Pike County, Missouri, and California. Who was living there? Why were they harassing Betsy and Ike?

Too often, we swallow our news in whatever form it presents itself, like it’s impartial. Even “Just the facts, ma’am” requires a context.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy slid their distorted “facts” into textbooks and enshrined their version of history in innumerable monuments and statues. Their narrative found fertile soil in a nation overgrown with racism. The UDC were technically on the losing side of the Civil War but they triumphed in maintaining white supremacy through pen, marble, and noose. They were the ladies embroidering KKK robes by lamplight. Their descendants are among the beneficiaries of an exploitive economic system that still serves Whites over everyone else. A few weeks ago, the UDC memorial building was fire bombed. It is not possible to feel much sympathy for the property destruction.

In this age of video, us White people are forced to examine our trust in official reports. Obnoxious, hostile, and violent police officers are usually outside of our personal experience. But video shows us how Black citizens die for minor infractions. The police spokesmen sing those same old songs, “Resisting Arrest” and “Drunk and Disorderly”. Will you believe them or your lying eyes?

People are singing new verses to old songs as they march in the streets, wearing masks and social distancing. And somewhere, someone is composing the Sonata for the Pandemic on an out-of-tune piano.

The World Expands

“How old were you when you first experienced integration?”

That was the question Margaret Edds asked at the beginning of her talk on her book We Face the Dawn several years ago. I didn’t have to think hard to answer it.

I was eighteen. I left my all white town for college, never having had a conversation with a Black person. Now, here I was, one of thousands of young people in a multi-racial, multi ethnic crowd. Inside that swarm of bright-eyed, energetic people bursting with opinions and perspectives, I felt the world expand. This was what I’d been missing in high school.

I (mistakenly) didn’t consider myself a product of white supremacy — I was better than that! — but I knew that my light skin tilted the scales in my favor. I benefitted from institutional racism.

My little sundown home town is in Ohio but now I live in the capitol of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia. Like many other U.S. cities these days, Richmond’s streets and parks are filled with protestors coalesced around the Black Lives Matter movement. The towering monument to Robert E. Lee and the Lost Cause, now colorfully contextualized, is a focal point for unrest. A few blocks away, the headquarters of the Daughters of the Confederacy was fire bombed.

A friend’s comment struck me: “These young people aren’t going to put up with what we put up with!”

HOLD ON!, I said to myself. “HAVE I been putting up with stuff?”

Well, duh — YES! I’ve been well aware that BPOC are abused and disrespected by our white dominated society. But — here’s an example of white privilege — I didn’t have to think about it everyday. My efforts to ameliorate conditions were piddling at best. This tree has to come out by the roots.

If I don’t want to put up with it anymore, what do I do now? Being nice is not enough.

I turned to a trusted advisor — Google. I read articles and watched YouTube and listened to podcasts.

I bought the Me & White Supremacy workbook and am using it as best I can.

I’ve donated to two bail funds for protestors and set up a monthly donation to Friends Association for Children. Founded with the help of Quakers in 1871 to care for newly-freed orphans, Friends still serves a primarily Black community. I increased our long-standing monthly donation to the Southern Poverty Legal Center.

I’ve written to my county supervisor to urge creation of a civilian review board for our police department and asked others to do the same. If we stay on it, it will happen.

I am deliberately choosing books by BIPOC*. I’m following Black authors and book reviewers on Twitter and YouTube.

It’s not very much and it’s not enough. But I’m learning. At the very least, I might avoid offending  BIPOC through ignorance.

Are you also white? How are you responding?



*Black, Indiginous, People of Color







Those old (somewhat) familiar songs

IMG_0114Do you remember old songs with pleasure? Really old songs? One hundred years old or more?

I do. I don’t know why I remember them or where I first heard them. I’ve never been a fan of barbershop quartets and I wasn’t in the school choir. But I’ll sometimes hum that big hit of 1892 — “Bicycle Built for Two.”

My last piano lesson, pre-coronavirus, was February 1, and I have been practicing the same two assigned pieces every morning since then, right after I pull the quilt up over the bed and before breakfast. After weeks of daily exercise, my fingers fall smoothly on the right keys for all the chords, without crashes. The harder piece begins to sound like music. The other piece is a march so even through fumbles, a steady rhythm saves it. 

But I have to practice something besides those two pieces.

Happily for me, a friend, learning I was taking piano lessons, passed along her childhood copy of  The American Song Treasury – 100 Favorites and it was right on top of my piano, staring me in the eye.  Almost every song inside is familiar to me.

But not some of the words. A cheerful tune does not guarantee cheerful verses.

Sure, things are great for Daisy Belle and her anonymous groom on that tandem bike, but what’s really going on in “There is a Tavern in the Town”? Turns out it’s not a jolly drinking song at all. It’s a song of betrayal ending with a grave.

And that haunting waltz, “After the Ball is Over”? It’s the heartbreaking story of a man’s true love, lost to him through his own mistrust, and how she died and he never loved another — as told to his little niece. Now there’s a bedtime story any little child would enjoy!

“The Man on the Flying Trapeze”? The handsome aerialist steals the singer’s girlfriend. “Listen to the Mocking Bird” is a tearjerker. The Sweet Hallie of the song sleeps in the valley and the mocking bird sings over her grave. Oh, also weeping willows (of course). “Camptown Races” glories in the joys of gambling. “Billy Boy” is about a child bride, unsavory (to say the least) from today’s perspective. But the tune is catchy.

Nursery rhymes can be problematic for me, too. Is Bobby Shaftoe trustworthy? What the heck is going on with the Spanish nut tree? Where do I stand on the politics of “Goosey, Goosey Gander”?

Because I never learned to carry a tune, I don’t condone these verses with my own voice. Why wreck a good tune with off-key singing?

If only I could refrain from thinking, the music would sound even better!


You give me reason to live

Chicken clucking about elderberries

Good produce did not grace my childhood.  We had bananas and red delicious apples and two kinds of vegetables: canned or frozen. Mama’s choices were limited. She didn’t keep a garden and she didn’t have a car to search out better grocery stores or summer produce stands. 

There were watermelons, of course, and those were wonderful. And for a few days in the summer ripe pears fell from a tree in a neighbors’ yard. We kids brushed the wasps off and ate around the rotten spots with juice dripping off our chins.

After I married, my in-laws supplied us with bushels (literally) of fresh vegetables. I took up gardening, too, though not on the same scale as my in-laws. Green beans snap louder when you pick them from your own vines. And we live close to a farmers’ market piled high with all the produce I don’t grow. And, oh, the fruit! The glorious fruit.

In our kitchen, right now, there is watermelon, three kinds of peaches, nectarines, small yellow plums, apricots, blackberries, red raspberries, blueberries and sweet, plump cherries.

Spring through fall is a parade of fruits at Lakeside Farmers’ Market, from the first strawberries through the last kinds of apple. The peaches taste better every year. To smell of a ripe white peach is reminiscent of a rose. It is no work at all to eat three of the little donut peaches in a sitting.

Today, in our own back yard, birds are plucking elderberries off the bushes, the figs are fattening, and the persimmon tree sports squat green globes. Egg-shaped fruits ripen on  the passion flower vine, but our June apples are long gone, baked in a pie.

Are you feeling depressed and discouraged from an overdose of The News? Are your brain cells discombobulated from Too Much Screen Time?

Cleanse your mental palate with a peach! Savor a miracle of creation. The right peach can rekindle your appreciation for the world.




Endangered Species or Evolution?


A friend’s email begins: “Thank you for your real mail note sometime ago.”

I am sorry that my friend feels her email message is somehow Less Than a snail mail note. If an infrequent email is the best way for her to send me news of her life, she can be sure I am happy whenever that email pops up in my inbox.

Of course, “real” mail has the distinct advantage of being tangible.

Real mail can be crushed in anger and lit with a match. It can be ripped up in frustration — used as lining on the bottom of the parakeet’s cage — soaked in tears or treasured for years.

My own emails can take on a cold tone I never intended. My friend of the email above, in contrast, writes in a way that even Comic Sans MS font cannot diffuse the warmth and personality.

Email is great for factual messages — date, time, place — but usually too dry for nuance. A group email to my bookclubs is so much more efficient than individual phone calls.

Text messaging my have the same built in limitations as email but it also has easy-to-use emoticons, the hieroglyphics of the modern age. A smiling cat face humanizes any message (sometimes inappropriately!). And texting is so immediate, so of-the-moment, that it can’t be beat for sending out a “We are running five minutes late” kind of message. Take THAT, snail mail!

It’s nice to live in an age with so many choices, but, I confess, I do like snail mail. A handmade card, a lovely paper, inked script in lavender or orange — snail mail can be a small treat for the senses.