Promises, promises

img_2835-1Yesterday was the thirty-fifth anniversary of the day Mark and I got engaged. We always celebrate this day; this year we had a delicious, leisurely dinner on the terrace of a local restaurant. The palms overhung our table, the crescent moon shone up in the sky, and the Mediterranean splashed and frolicked in front of us. It was a lovely night.

Of course, because of who we are, there’s a funny story attached to our engagement. Although we’d only been dating three and a half months, Mark and I were pretty serious in May 1985. Late in the month we shared a romantic weekend in New Orleans. I thought Mark might pop the question on that trip, but no dice – which was fine, because we had a great time. But I was a little puzzled.

Fast forward a couple of days. Mark was moving, and I agreed to come to his apartment after work and help him pack boxes. We had a quick dinner at his place, and then he went back to his office in downtown Houston to make revisions on a document and give the new draft to the word processing pool (remember them?) to turn around. Kind soul that I am, I stayed at his apartment and packed boxes. I remember in particular that I packed the contents of the bookshelf in Mark’s spare bedroom. One volume really grabbed my attention. It was the alumni notes from Mark’s 10th high school reunion, which he’d attended shortly before we met. Mark’s entry included his educational achievements and work history to date, but the note at the end was what got me going. It proclaimed, “And girls, he’s still single!” I specifically recall looking at that sentence and thinking, “Not for long, if I have anything to say about it.”

Anyway, Mark eventually returned, and he asked me to take a break and sit on the couch with him. I complied unwillingly, partly because I didn’t like that couch (it was an atrocious green and white brocade, and lumpy to boot), but mostly because I wanted to keep on packing. Focusing on the latter issue, I was contemplating how to induce him to get rid of all the wire coat hangers he’d accumulated in his coat closet when he finished whatever he said before and ended with, “So, will you marry me?” Okay, that I heard, but I was so startled that I burst out with, “What? You’re kidding!” and then proceeded to laugh uproariously. Poor Mark. It was not my finest hour. When I finally managed to stop laughing and looked at my sweet, mortified suitor, I recovered enough to get out some sort of affirmative. Despite the laughter, he didn’t rescind the offer, and next weekend we went shopping for the middle ring you see above. No, he didn’t show up with a sparkler. Being a smart man, he knew I’d want a say in what kind of ring I got. (P.S. There is a story about the top ring, the solitaire wrap, that I got for our 20th anniversary. It involves cold water, marijuana, cave tubing in Belize, and one of the reasons I’m especially fond of the state of Pennsylvania. But we’ll save that tale for another post.)

When I started thinking about this post, I’d intended to stop here, after adding just a bit of verbiage about how happy we are and how grateful I am for this lovely man. But while both of those things are still true, between then and now George Floyd was brutally murdered by a now ex-police officer in Minneapolis. And as a privileged White person, I feel that I can’t just write a fluff piece here and call it a day. The inhumanity and the horror of this act, and the commonplace nature of the destruction of Black bodies, makes that impossible. George Floyd sat at our dinner table under the Spanish palms last night as we talked about him. Sandra Bland drank a toast with us. Trayvon Martin sampled my hake and Mark’s salmon. How can they not?

See, it’s all about promises. When Mark and I got engaged, we made promises to each other. Yes, I will marry you. Yes, I will love you. Yes, I will be true to you. We turned those promises into vows in September of 1985, and the vows turned into the love, laughter, children, friends, and  mutual support of the last three and a half decades. But what, I wonder, do we promise our African-American citizens?

John Locke said that our social contract, the mutual promises made between the state and the people in it, includes protection from harm and fair enforcement of the law. Up until the last few years, I believed that, more or less, the American version of this social contract extended to all persons. But I can no longer deny the evidence of my own eyes and the witness of people of color. The social contract described above extends to me, because of my race. And equally, tragically, it fails to extend to people of color. The promises made to them look a lot different, as far as I can tell. Those promises seem to be that their lives are expendable, their very existence is subject to a White man’s adrenaline-addled whim or, perhaps, calculated desire. I can’t imagine bearing that knowledge day in and day out. I can’t get my head around living in a place that hates you. It has to be a nightmare. So while I’m horrified that rioting has occurred in response to George Floyd’s murder, I also am beginning to understand where the impetus to riot comes from.

So here we are at the last paragraph, where I usually try to tie up some inspiring thought with a cheery epigram. I’m sorry, folks, but tonight I’ve got nothing but a broken heart at the broken promises our country has made. I love Mark, and I love the USA. But my soul is sad and heavy. May God have mercy on us all.

Curtsying in the bathtub

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One of the most fun Christmas presents I ever got was a Magic Eight Ball. Do you remember these devices? You asked a question and turned the ball over. A little multi-sided die inside the ball would float through the liquid in which it was suspended and show you an answer. Options on the answers included, if memory serves, yes, no, it is most likely, outlook good, signs point to no, and cannot predict now. The eight ball was a must for sleepovers, because you could huddle with your friends and ask about life’s critical issues, such as the accuracy of reports that X and Y had actually kissed each other or whether Z liked you. We had lots of vaguely scandalous fun with the Eight Ball. And if you think about it, as a source of information it probably was about as good as half of what you see on Facebook.

One thing I never needed the Eight Ball for, though, was making decisions. For better or worse, I’ve always been a decisive person. I remember many years ago when our daughter Jane was a toddler and we were in San Francisco on vacation. A friend who lived in that lovely city had joined us for the evening and was walking with us as we returned to our hotel near Union Square. We were low on milk, which Jane enjoyed first thing in the morning and which we could stash in our room’s minibar. So as we walked by a small store selling drinks, snacks, and the like, I ducked in to buy a pint of milk. When I emerged from the little space, our friend was shaking his head. “I’m impressed,” he said. “When you saw a store, you just went in and got what you needed. I would have stood on the sidewalk and tried to decide whether this was the closest store to the hotel and whether this was where I’d get the best price.” This is me in a nutshell. If I overpaid by two cents and carried my pint of milk one more block than I might have needed to, I’m okay with that. We had milk. (P.S. There were no stores nearer our hotel, as it turned out.)

So imagine my surprise last Thursday when I found myself dithering over the question of whether to attend my book group meeting on Friday. I’d read the book and wanted to discuss it. But the organizer wanted the six members to meet in person at a cafe; what’s more, I’d have to ride the bus to get there. Small in-person meetings and bus rides are permitted now, with masking and distancing, but the prospect made me nervous and left me torn as to whether to attend. Is there such a thing as FOGO, which I guess is kind of the opposite of FOMO? Anyway, I couldn’t make up my mind and drove Mark crazy by repeatedly enumerating the pros and cons. Ultimately rain intervened and spared me the choice, because we opted to meet by Zoom instead of in person. But I noticed my unusual state of indecision; apparently it’s an unexpected byproduct of the pandemic.

In all fairness, we’re all probably a little bit at sea now. It’s like in the Star Trek episodes (and there are many) where the Enterprise has to navigate through space or time or the innards of some menacing galactic creature where there are no landmarks. What’s safe? What’s risky? What’s downright dangerous? Familiar guidelines and practices have become obsolete – impractical at best and life-threatening at worst. Perhaps indecision isn’t that surprising, under the circumstances.

I know I need to decide how to forge ahead, though, because life moves on even in the midst of uncertainty. So I’ve decided to make my COVID decisions one at a time. First up is the question of how to greet people. The kisses on both cheeks we had learned to give and receive here are history. Handshakes and hugs also are out. The “live long and prosper” Vulcan greeting, speaking of Star Trek, doesn’t make sense to some of our acquaintance, and even people who know what it is sometimes can’t make their fingers respond in kind. And I don’t dare use the University of Texas “Hook ‘em Horns” sign, because that means something truly different in Europe than it does in Austin. Getting arrested is not in my quarantine plans.

All is not lost, though. The namaste hands together greeting is a contender, but overall I’m leaning towards curtsying. It’s pretty and sweetly nostalgic in a Jane Austen kind of way. However, it’s also difficult. So I’ve been practicing curtsying in the bathtub, with a non-slip mat under my feet and shower enclosure walls to balance on if I start to wobble. It’s kind of fun, except when my knees creak. Following the example of Cinderella’s stepsister, I suppose I need to rub some unicorn oil on my joint to stop the offending sound. But Carrefour appears to be out of this salve, so I’ll just have to live with the noise as I keep practicing. 

This is all goofy, I know. Even as I savor my bathtub silliness and my dreams of unicorn oil, I’m aware that many serious decisions lie ahead. We’ve all got to learn how to live in our new normal. Personally, I’m going to have to dig down and find my old decisive self, the one who apparently has been quarantining somewhere else but who needs to show the heck back up now. And it’s no use asking my Magic Eight Ball for guidance. About ten years ago the die got stuck in the answer window, and now it perpetually advises me to “Ask again later.” So I guess it’s up to each of us to sort out the available information, take a deep breath, and move forward. God help us all as we do.

Mask and ye shall (not) receive

img_2817The day before yesterday was American Mother’s Day – hence the card. Being COVID-conscious, Mark skipped shopping and printed this one. We also had a really fun Zoom chat with our kids, and the five of us played an online game of Clue together. It was a great day.

The day also gave me an opportunity to reflect on motherhood and what kind of mom I am. Now, I admit to having made my share of parenting mistakes (and probably part of somebody else’s). But one thing I did do right, or at least I hope I did right, was to say yes whenever that was possible. As a parent, you have to say no to a lot of what your child asks for, so it seems fair to say yes when you can. Actually, what it seems to me to be is kind. And don’t we want to be kind to our kids and hope that they, in turn, will be kind to others?

Most times when we’re kind, I suspect, it doesn’t take much effort. I remember one soccer game with our daughter Mary when she was little, maybe five or six. In the car on the way to the game, she announced that henceforth she was no longer Mary, but was Mary Gloria. (No, I don’t remember whether she said “henceforth,” but even at that tender age it was entirely possible that she did.) For those unacquainted with the naming practices in our family, it may be worth knowing that both of our daughters have my last name as their middle name, so this Gloria business pretty much came out of nowhere. The only Gloria she knew personally was the mother of one of her friends, so perhaps it was an homage to that lovely lady. Or maybe she’d decided to be more like her dear friend Mary Dawn, who always went by two names. I’d list the possibility that it was a sudden bout of religious fervor, as this sounds sort of Catholic, but we’re Methodist, and so for us the Virgin Mary only headlines at Christmastime and makes cameo appearances at Cana and the cross. So such a spiritual awakening seems rather unlikely.

Anyhow, wherever that came from, suddenly I had a new child in the back seat. It would have been possible to get huffy and insist on the name we picked at birth, but it seemed to me that there was very little downside to giving in on this one. It’s not like she wanted to be called something objectionable, like “Mary Serial Murderer” or “Mary Buttface.” Besides, fads like this tend to come and go with kids, and it seemed unlikely that she’d trot off to college in a dozen years or so as Mary Gloria. So I allowed as how that was fine, and we turned into the parking lot for the soccer game. True to my word, all my shouted maternal encouragement during that game was addressed to my darling daughter’s preferred appellation. “That’s the way to kick, Mary Gloria!” “Great block, Mary Gloria!” “Good save, Mary Gloria!” The other parents may have thought I was bananas, but who cares? The game ended, my red-faced soccer warrior got her cool-down popsicle, and we made our way back to the car. As we pulled out of the parking lot, she informed me that she was reverting to her original name. And so I’d done an easy thing that made her happy.

We had similar experiences with our daughter Jane. For example, for about a year when she was four or so, the only cereal she would eat was a combination of Kix, Cheerios, and Rice Chex. This made breakfast a tad more complicated than it might otherwise have been, but it was a little thing we could do to make her happy. 

The point of these tales is that doing something small is often all that’s required to do a kindness. This is why it’s incomprehensible that many people in the USA are livid at the prospect of wearing masks in public. To me, this is an easy way to protect those around you from something that could kill them. The arguments I’ve seen online defending the no-mask position seem absurd. Consider “You can’t tell me what to do with my body.” Actually, we do this all the time. Prohibitions on assault, battery, rape, and the like all tell us to refrain from doing dangerous things with our bodies. Then there’s “I have a right to go into any business I want dressed however I want.” Well, that’s dumb. Virtually any restaurant, for example, will refuse to serve barefoot patrons. It’s a health and safety issue (where have I heard that before?). This argument is particularly perverse for ardent supporters of private property rights for businesses. If Dollar General insists on masks in its stores, it’s their right, right? And don’t get me started on the legislator from Ohio who refuses to wear a mask because it hides the image of the God who created him. Carried to its logical end, this argument will lead this guy to walk around naked, and that’s not okay with me. There are parts of God’s image I’d really rather he kept tucked away.

So here’s my simple plea: wear a mask in public. It’s easy and it’s kind. Keep this virus from spreading. Please mask, so that we may not receive.

 

 

 

Not the apocalypse they wanted

img_2799I try to read just enough news every day to stay informed without being driven crazy. This balance has been hard to find lately, as reports of protesters clamoring for their God-given right to go to Applebee’s instead of staying home to avoid spreading dangerous infections fill not only news sites but also my Facebook feed. My friends are pretty much incredulous in the face of these folks, and I have to admit that I agree that the protestors appall me with their lack of knowledge and empathy. But I do have a theory about why they’re protesting.

Over the years, I’ve interacted with a fair number of people on what I consider to be the far right. Many of these folks hold extremely conservative views of Christianity, and virtually all are solid fans of the current administration. And they seem to me to have one thing in common: they like to be scared. They secretly relish fearing government takeovers and the wrath of God, in equal measure. Every era seems to have its favorite boogey men. When I was a kid, people talked about being afraid of Communism, the Pill, and fluoridation of the water supply. When I was in college, it was the Trilateral Commission, Scientology, and hairy-legged feminists.

We’re still living with delicious worries about the Rapture, which I first tumbled to in the 1980s and 1990s. In one notable family visit during this period, an in-law offered to amuse our kids by supplying them with a copy of the children’s edition of the Left Behind series. (That discussion went well, as you can image.) And this next bit Is slightly off-topic, but I do want to note that the men (and they were all men, which probably explains a lot) who decided what to include in the Bible pondered long and hard about putting in the book of Revelation. They stuck it in at the 11th hour. I maintain that this decision was an ill-considered last minute one, sort of like when you’re packing and decide to put just one more thing into your suitcase. That’s how you end up taking dress shoes on a hiking trip or why you include six pairs of tweezers in your shipment of household goods to Spain. As with five pairs of those tweezers, we would be better off if Revelation itself had been left behind.

Anyway, our list of demons du jour includes government takeovers and COVID-19, the latter mishmashing left-wing media, gays, China, Bill Gates, and the World Health Organization. People are brandishing firearms and badly-spelled signs at rallies in state capitals in the USA. They’re doing this because they are determined, impossibly, to force their way back to what life was like a few months ago. They are using the weapons they know and cherish: guns, claims of fake news, and right-wing Christianity.

The problem is that they didn’t get the apocalypse they wanted.

Lots of these folks have been preparing for an apocalypse for years. They have canned food (and one suspects, a great deal of the toilet paper that recently flew off the shelves in stores), generators, and arsenals. They’re ready for the battles that they’ve goggled over in movies and play-acted in video games. The plot involves saving people by being the best-armed badass in the neighborhood and protecting grateful and very good-looking women and children by laying down blazes of gunfire and explosions. Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis, back when they were good-looking, are the archetypes.

But our disaster is way off-script. You can’t shoot a germ.

Think about it. It’s kind of like putting up a Christmas tree, complete with lights, tinsel, presents, and carols in the background, just in time for Easter. The protesters’ equipment just isn’t terribly helpful, except maybe for the toilet paper. This isn’t an apocalypse you defeat by emulating action heroes. This is one you defeat by inaction and patience – by staying home, by standing in lines six feet apart waiting your turn to enter a grocery store, and by wearing a little fabric mask, not a maniacal expression, on your face.

The heroes of the pandemic are similarly lacking in derring-do. Medical personnel, for example, have brains and not necessarily brawn, education and not necessarily wise-cracking street smarts. For heaven’s sake, they wear scrubs and not ragged t-shirts. They pack N95s instead of AK-47s. And the other heroes of this pandemic? They’re also dramatically un-dramatic. They operate cash registers at grocery stores, fill prescriptions at pharmacies, and deliver Amazon boxes. They drive trucks, not crazily across a desert like Mad Max, but slowly and carefully through the near-deserted streets of cities. Even the police are a disappointment. People who violate stay-at-home orders are not taken down in a hail of gunfire. Instead, officers write tickets, all while wearing uniforms that now include surgical masks and blue Latex gloves. It’s enough to make Bruce Willis weep.

So I think what we’re seeing is anger at having been dealt a loser apocalypse. For my part, I’m all right with that, since I possess zero skills that would come in handy during a violent disaster. I can tear apart an argument but have no clue how to disembowel a zombie. I have shot a gun once, during target practice at a girls’ camp. However, that was before my vision needed correction, so shooting things now might be problematic. I might be able to drive Mad Max’s truck, but only if it had an automatic transmission. Good cup holders also would be a definite plus. And I’d probably signal as I was turning wildly to evade my pursuers – it’s a deeply-ingrained habit – thereby giving away my intended escape route.

I’m okay with this state of affairs. After all, I’m one of those people who closes my eyes on roller coasters and hasn’t seen a scary movie since 1980, when for a week I had to sleep with the lights on after seeing the movie The Shining. And, in the end, the parts of the Bible I cling to don’t come from Revelation. Instead, I’m thinking of the story of Naaman in 2 Kings. Remember this one? Naaman, a Syrian general, suffered from a skin disease and, understandably, wanted to be rid of it. He finally came to the prophet Elisha and asked for a cure. Elisha apparently was busy binge-watching Netflix or something when Naaman showed up, so all he did was send a message to the waiting dignitary to go wash in the rather unimpressive River Jordan. Naaman was not thrilled with either Elisha’s non-appearance or the simplicity of the proposed remedy. He wanted a bigger show for his healing. Finally persuaded that doing something easy wouldn’t be beneath his dignity, Naaman bathed in the river and was healed. Here’s a hero for our times. Let’s do the simple things that will save us all, like wearing masks and stay home doing Nancy Drew jigsaw puzzles. Let’s make this our kind of apocalypse.

 

 

 

Keep Easter Weird

img_2806 ‘Twas the day of Easter, and all through the town/Not a human appeared going up or down. Or something like that. I know that the forerunner of my ditty is from a different holiday, but there’s certainly no one out today.

This circumstance may be unusual at Easter in the USA, where kids will be hunting Easter eggs and creating colorful confetti messes with cascarones, but in Spain the quiet and solitude today are downright weird. Typically even the humblest village would have a procession with large floats carried on poles supported by cadres of folks who train all year for this joyous duty. Onlookers in bright clothes would line the streets to pay reverent homage, celebrate the Easter story, or just enjoy the spectacle. But this year the country celebrates Easter in lockdown, and we are all attending Zoom church in our pajamas instead crowding into a sanctuary in our Sunday best. This holiday, is, in short, weird.

Now, we’re all doing our best to celebrate the miracles of resurrection and rebirth. Electronic Easter greetings abound, and several friends have posted lovely pictures of decorated eggs and beautiful flowers in their homes. Mark and I are doing our bit. He picked out “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” on his guitar this morning, and we had chocolate flavoring in our morning coffees. We’ve been to a couple of virtual services already and plan to attend the one our Austin church will do in a bit. And displayed above are the butterflies we’ve made and hung in our living room. Mark strung them up last night as I talked with a friend in the USA.

Hanging strings of butterflies is a tradition of our home church in the capitol city of Texas (a city, I might add, whose unofficial motto is “Keep Austin Weird”). All through Lent, butterfly shapes cut from colored paper are available in the pews. Congregants write prayers on them, and the butterflies go into the collection plate that’s passed during the service. Those butterflies are deposited into urns, which represent cocoons. Between Good Friday and Easter, the butterflies are strung onto cords that are then hung, criss-crossed, above the pews in the sanctuary. The colorful prayers of the people emerge and grace our worship space for several weeks. The one exception was the year some bridezilla who’d rented our sanctuary decided that our butterflies looked tacky and, disobeying strict injunctions to the contrary, cut them all down. If she thinks love on the fly is tacky, I wish her and her groom the best of luck. They’re going to need it.

No one is celebrating Easter in our sanctuary this year, but our senior pastor has urged us all to uphold our tradition and display butterflies in our home. This suggestion presented a problem for us; Mark and I don’t stock colored paper, and stores here that would are closed. We ended up raiding the paper recycling bin for colorful pasteboard. The pink butterflies are from a cereal box, the yellow ones from a three-pack of tuna, and the orange ones are from a picture of a cheese pizza on a pizza box. My personal favorite is the red one, which came from a box of baking powder. The shapes are a bit wobbly, as I cut them freehand. But never say I went to first grade for nothing!

So this holiday celebration is quite out of the ordinary. But if you think about it, Easter is weird, too. The Bible tells us that finding an empty tomb came as a surprise, first to the women and then to Peter and John. Mary also generally probably didn’t confuse Jesus with the local cemetery gardener, although given the circumstances she gets points in my book just for still being upright. We usually celebrate Easter with pomp and some degree of glitz, but at its heart, the day is just flat bizarre – in the most wonderful way possible, of course.

So Mark, the butterflies, and I are keeping Easter the Easter tradition of weirdness, along with the rest of the lockdown world. May the promise of rebirth as ushered in on the oddest day ever infuse each and every one of us. Keep Easter weird, my friends. And stay safe.

Zest

img_2802When I was a kid, I watched wwaayy too much television. Most children like to play outside, but Southeast Texas’s humidity and mosquitoes discouraged that desire in me. So I read, played dolls, and watched TV. I may in fact have been the only kid whose main concern the day before kindergarten started was that I would miss my soap operas, “The Edge of Night” and “The Secret Storm,” while Mrs. Tompkins was teaching us colors, numbers, and how to stand in a straight line to walk to the playground. Happily, my mother volunteered to keep me up to date, so it all turned out okay.

Of course I’ve forgotten most of what I saw, which is probably good. But the power of Madison Avenue is evident in what I do recall, because my memories are mostly of commercials. The award for the most obnoxious ad goes to one for Bold. In it, an unsuspecting housewife was on trial in front of a male judge. She was charged with “improper laundry,” which “wasn’t clean and white, when you could be washing bright” with Bold detergent. This makes me cringe even now.

There were happier commercials, though, and one of them was for Zest soap. Do stores still sell this brand? The ad I remember came with a snappy little jingle: “Zest has changed! Zest is zestier! Now feel cleaner than you’ve ever felt before!” Now, I never actually used Zest. My mother claimed I had sensitive skin and therefore only could tolerate Camay. (Having sensitive skin and naturally curly hair were my two most feminine accomplishments as a child.) But skin notwithstanding, I begged for the mysterious wonder soap. Its name was the key. What a great word is Zest! It means enthusiasm and vigor and love for life. Who wouldn’t want to bathe in that? I wanted to be zesty.

Imagine, therefore, my surprise when, as an adult, I learned that flecks of citrus peel were also called zest. Still loving the word, although no longer craving the soap, I even bought a zester for my kitchen. It’s a tiny grater on which I’ve skinned many a finger trying to generate enough zest for a recipe. (Before you ask, I do take care not to bleed on the food.) My zester currently resides in Texas, so in Spain, I cheat and use the food processor. And we have such gorgeous citrus here that I’ve become, well, obzest. The pictured muffins were made with lemon zest, and I put orange zest in my cereal most mornings. We have a lot of celery left over from a batch of soup, so I’m making a celery pasta sauce that’s topped with orange zest. Waste not, want not, right?

Yet there’s another kind of zest that I need right now, that we all need right now. Being hunkered down, even in the best of circumstances, can bring on a bit of melancholy. That’s why we need zest, enthusiasm, love of life. Mark and I are trying to invest time in activities that we love and which bring us joy. Our plans for hearing an opera at La Scala are scuttled for the time being, but the Met is streaming past performances that are really amazing. We spent an evening with MacBeth and his lady the other night, and the production was fantastic. It brought us joy. I’ve baked muffins and bread and made vegetable and creamy celery soups. This makes me happy. And since there’s no one currently living in the other two apartments on our level of our building, we’ve taken over the elevator lobby as a dance floor. Mark hooks up the speaker to his iPod, and we swing dance and two-step on the terrazzo while light filters in through the frosted glass window. This makes us both really happy. It puts zest into our days.

So maybe today will bring you television, or muffins, or a swing dance. Who knows? Whatever the day holds, I certainly wish you safety, but I also wish you joy. May there be much zest in your life.

 

 

 

All of me

img_2799Like most of you, I’ve been finding ways to amuse myself during our COVID-19 quarantine. The picture attached to this post shows you one thing that’s been occupying my time. This puzzle is a compilation of covers from the first 56 Nancy Drew mysteries. I devoured these books as a kid and am surprised at how many of the plot lines apparently have been nesting in some obscure corner of my brain for the last several decades.

This paragraph is a complete tangent, so if you want to stay with the main theme of this post, just skip on. No offense taken. But as much as I loved Nancy Drew, my favorite girl detective is still Judy Bolton. The Judy series ran roughly contemporaneously with ND, although it differed from its more successful sister in several ways. One difference that I always appreciated was that Judy, unlike Nancy, was not a perfect person. She had a temper, acted impetuously, and bickered with her older brother. She also grew older and changed. We meet her in high school in the first book, The Vanishing Shadow. By the time the series ended, Judy had graduated from high school, worked as a secretary, gotten married, and started to take on issues such as the plight of many Native Americans (The Spirit of Fog Island) and anti-Muslim violence (The Search for the Glowing Hand). We had to go see the Dragon’s Mouth at Yellowstone since Judy had traveled there in one of her books. 🙂

Back to the Nancy covers now! I’m loving the puzzle. Putting each piece in place is satisfying. That’s because the picture is only complete when all of the pieces are there. It takes all of them to make the picture perfect. I’m reminded of the old song, “All of Me.” You may already be familiar with it, but this song is worth another listen. I know it mostly from the Willie Nelson version, but the Billie Holiday rendition grabs me like no other. The song may be on the old side – it was written in 1931 – but its wise message endures. Give completely. If you’re in a relationship, give yourself fully to another person. Once you’ve decided on a course of action, commit yourself. When you read or listen or admire, focus.  “You took the part that once was my heart/So why not take all of me?”

Given that perspective, I’m taking this song as my anthem for our COVID-19 experience. I’m all in on lockdown. There’s no cheating to run out and look at the sunset, even if the police are nowhere in sight. There’s no quick run over to a neighbor’s place for a chat, even if the neighbor is in my building and the visit would be undetectable. We all have to do this to protect ourselves and everyone around us. As with my puzzle, if one piece is missing, if one person cheats – the picture is imperfect. And with COVID-19, imperfection could be disastrous.

We will get through this time and look back on it, perhaps, with a weird fondness. Most of us have never experienced anything that binds us so much, that shows us how we truly are all in this together. Remember that “All of Me” became a hit during the Depression. This was another time when we saw how interconnected we are and rose to the occasion to weather it. We can do this. It just takes all of me. It just takes all of us.

 

 

 

 

I’ve got a little list

Mark and I are fortunate to share a lot of interests, one of which is opera. We have seen lots of opera and operetta performances over the years. But among those that stand out in my memory is The Mikado, which we saw at Houston Grand Opera many years ago. The fact that we were seeing Gilbert and Sullivan’s clever composition would have been great in and of itself, but we had the added pleasure of watching Eric Idle of Monte Python fame play the role of Koko and sing his version of “I’ve Got a Little List.”

A little G&S background may be useful here. Koko, who was scheduled to be executed for flirting, finds himself instead to be appointed as Lord High Executioner. He’s ordered to execute someone – pretty much anyone – by the end of the month or face dire consequences. Lacking an obvious candidate besides himself, Koko sings a famous and much-parodied number with a list of people he would consider executing. The original list includes people who interrupt quiet conversations, play the banjo, or laugh in an irritating way. Tradition allows Kokos to substitute more contemporary concerns for the ones the original Koko articulated. So, in due time, tabloid editors, subprime lenders, elderly aunts who insist on being kissed, and Bill O’Reilly’s dermatologist have made the list.

I honestly don’t remember what was on Idle’s list the night we saw him perform, but the song has stuck with me. That’s probably because I’m a list person. My mother instilled that in me; she always had lots of lists going. The grocery list, for example, lived for as long as I can recall on top of a half-wall between the kitchen and breakfast nook in our house. My favorite of her lists was the one of Thanksgiving preparations I found when my sister and I were cleaning out my parents’ house after they’d both died. Item 1 was “Shampoo Kathy.” I guess she was more interested in making lists than updating them. Fair enough!

My most recent list springs from my need to find some control and order in the unstructured, uncharted territory of COVID-19. Many of my Facebook friends are noticing how different life feels without the routines of school, job, church, volunteer work, meetings, and the like. I feel it, too. And So here’s my response, i.e., my daily list:

1. Do a devotional reading

2. Exercise for 30 minutes

3. Do something creative (The pot you see below is full of improvised bean soup – that’s today!)

4. Have social media time (But not too much)

5. Write an encouraging Facebook post (This is today’s)

6. Practice Spanish on Rosetta Stone

7. Make donations (Check out animalrescuesite and freerice)

8. Pray, meditate, or do both

9. Listen to music or sing

10. Read, play games, put together jigsaw puzzles, or do some combination of these

11. Organize tomorrow

12. Be grateful

Some days I complete my list; some days I don’t. It’s not there to beat me up. It’s also not exclusive. For example, the apartment mulishly refuses to clean itself, and every time we eat a meal some gremlin puts dirty dishes in the sink. But my little list is a starter, something of a touchstone in an unusual time. So here’s the question: what’s on your list?

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A hell of a thing

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Before you ask, no, this isn’t where we are. We’re back in Spain, tucked up and locked down in our cozy apartment. But this is my favorite picture from our recent stay in the USA; I took it in New Hampshire in February. We had a big snowstorm while we were there and spent a few days nestled in another cozy apartment, reading and watching movies and being all hygge. So at least we’ve had some practice for what’s going on now!

Much of our time in New Hampshire was occupied with attending candidate rallies in anticipation of the early primary in that state. Trust me, there was no social distancing going on there! But it was fun to be packed cheek by jowl with other folks out to see the candidates. Amy Klobuchar was our favorite, and it will be interesting to see where her career goes from here. After New Hampshire, we flew to Texas and our beloved home in the Hill Country. We had a great visit. There’s nothing like seeing family and friends, eating barbecue and Tex-Mex, and shopping for used books at Half Price.

All of those normal activities now seem like they happened to someone else. The world is experiencing a pandemic that is killing many people and sickening many more. This experience has brought to mind something our daughter Jane used to say when something happened that was important but hard to describe: “That was a thing that was a hell of a thing.” This pandemic is a hell of a thing.

COVID -19 has changed the landscape, literally and figuratively, for all of us. We’re now in a country where time outside is limited to trips to get food or medical care and to work. Oh, and people with dogs may walk them briefly outside. (Is some enterprising soul renting out dogs?) After we flew in yesterday, I made a quick run to our nearest grocery store for essentials. Happily, the store was fully stocked. The one difference in the store’s operation was that customers are not allowed in the produce aisle. Instead, you tell a store employee stationed in the aisle what you want, and they get your items and hand them to you. Everyone was kind and patient.

But today we’re in our apartment, listening to the sound of the waves crash on shore. No chatter from the restaurants and bars below interrupts the hypnotic rhythm of the sea. That part is actually quite soothing. I’m doing laundry and unpacking. Mark and his friend Rick just finished a videoconference in which they rewrote the lyrics of “I’m a Believer” to deal with COVID-19 issues. We’re lucky to be here.

Why are we in Spain instead of the USA? It certainly was a lot of trouble finding flights here; we had several cancel on us and ended up in cramped coach seats instead of our typical, more spacious Economy Plus ones. We also had a seven-hour layover in Toronto and shelled out for a sojourn in one of the airport lounges. We saw people everywhere with face masks and plastic gloves on, and restaurants and bars were mostly closed in the airports. It was a tiring trip, although for the most part people were kind and patient. Let’s put it this way: I was so jet-lagged by the time we got home that I failed to finish my glass of wine last night before heading to bed for 12 hours.

So why did we choose to return to Spain? It’s because of, not in spite of, COVID-19. Health insurance in the USA is so expensive that we don’t maintain an ongoing policy and instead buy travelers’ health coverage for our stays there. But our policy for this trip was expiring on March 22, and re-upping coverage was not an option. Our Spanish policy covers us up to about $30,000 in the USA if we get sick or injured there, but that amount will buy you about half an emergency room visit.  We figured that if you need to ride out a pandemic somewhere, you might as well do it in a country with one of the best health care systems in the world and complete health insurance. And while Spain is reporting many cases of the virus, it’s also taking strong steps, such as the ones described above, to flatten the curve. So here we are, and here we’ll be, at least for a while. And isn’t this a thing that is a hell of a thing?

Grab bag

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After Christmas, I got to thinking about all of the wrapping paper I’d used over the years. We give a fair number of gifts, so our contribution to the world’s paper waste stream has no doubt been a large one. Of course we recycle what we can, but it occurred to me that using gift bags would be better. Unfortunately, conventional gift bags are made of paper, too, and really can only be reputably reused a couple of times. I therefore decided that making cloth bags for at least most of the presents would be a project for me in 2020. I don’t have or even know how to operate a sewing machine, but this little cutie above is the first of my hand-sewn efforts. I’m rather proud of myself!

Truth be known, I really like opening bags, boxes, and the like to see what’s inside them. I love looking through attics and garage sales and jumble tables to see what’s there, assuming no objectionable creatures make an appearance while I’m searching. Finding a bit of this and a couple of thats can be fun and, often, useful. It’s amazing what can be handy.

I’m finding the process of learning Spanish to be similar. My Spanish definitely has seams that are not quite straight and an amateurish top, but, like my bag, it’s remarkably functional. I can shop, read most signs, ask for rudimentary directions, and find the bathroom the vast majority of the time. Of course, it helps that many people here in Torrevieja speak at least some English. Both the Spaniards and folks from other parts of Europe generally have enough English to do about what I can do in Spanish, if not far more. It’s a point of pride to have several languages.

To work on our language skills, Mark and I do Rosetta Stone lessons online and practice Spanish in two language groups. One meets on Tuesday and is fairly basic, but the people are great, and I always learn something and have lots of fun with friends in the process. Our Thursday group is a bit more serious. It has a theme of the week, sent out over What’s App by our leader, Mara. Each participant (except for one lady from Wales who never says a word, but she seems very nice) prepares a small response to the theme in Spanish and English. For example, one week we talked about a risk we would take. (Mine was going inside the Great Pyramid at Giza, in case you’re interested. I don’t like dark, enclosed places, but this would be worth the inevitable bad dreams that would follow.) Several of the people in these groups know multiple languages. Inevitably, little conversations in Spanish, English, French, Italian, and German pop up, and those are just the languages I can identify. People are rightly proud of being polyglots and want to learn more.

Which brings me to something that happened on Facebook a while ago. I’m still thinking about it. There was a discussion on a friend’s page about speaking English in public in the USA. A friend of my friend- not someone I know – argued that it was justifiable to demand that people speak only English in the USA, because “If you were in Italy they’d get mad at you if you didn’t speak Italian, and if you were in Spain they’d get mad at you if you didn’t speak Spanish.” I normally don’t argue with strangers on Facebook, but I just had to respond. I said that this had not been my experience while traveling in Italy and most certainly was not my experience spending lots of time in Spain. He never replied to my comment, so I have no idea whether it had any impact at all.

All of this makes me wonder why such a big, diverse population as the American people would include so many folks who espouse the English-only stance I saw on Facebook. Is it actually a big deal if you can’t eavesdrop on the two women in front of you in line at the grocery store? Kidding aside, are we really that insular? Do we dislike education that much? And do we honestly think that the world shares our opinions on this subject? People generally are proud of what they know. Why aren’t we proud that people in our country know lots of cool things, including languages other than English? It beats me.

I’ll close this post on the grab bag of language with a fun factoid about a dead Mediterranean language. No, it’s not Latin; it’s Sabir, a Mediterranean lingua franca used from the 11th century up into the 19th century. It was apparently originally a commercial language used by merchants and sailors who needed a common tongue to do their jobs effectively. Later it was used in diplomacy and even shows up in a play by Moliére. Sabir borrowed from Portuguese, French, Spanish, Italian, Genoese, Venetian, Catalan, Occitan, Berber, Turkish, and Arabic to create a tongue that was understood and used throughout the Sea’s many cultures. Apparently you can take free online lessons in Sabir on Memrise.com, but we’ve mostly lost this useful tool. That’s a pity and a cautionary tale. How grateful I am for the many beautiful languages around the globe!