Category Archives: Challenges

Where are you going?

When you’re in the car with us and you ask, “Where are we going?” whoever’s driving points out the windshield and says “That-a-way!” It gives immediate direction but doesn’t tell you how fast or what the ultimate destination is. Not Helpful, but it’s technically correct. If you are in the car and not driving, will the ultimate destination be something over which you have control? Will the speed and the options for the quickest route, the one with the least traffic lights, the one with the least traffic, the scenic route, the one where you don’t get lost or anything else about the actual travel be anything you can influence? Maybe, if you whine loud enough. Most likely, however, you, as just a passenger on this madcap adventure, have no part in any of the decisions.

For the sake of perspective, let’s say we all get together to discuss traveling to a State Park for a weekend. You and your friends decide on the weekend and one of you gets assigned the task of reserving a spot for you all to stay. Some of your friends have tents, some have campers, some want to rent a cabin. You can’t agree so you all pick a landmark to meet together at a specific time. You, intrepid leader, LOVE this park and you want to get there early and stay in the park, but your son decides he doesn’t want to get up that early and opts to ride with his best friend who’s leaving after work that day. You don’t believe that’s a good idea because you know what his friend’s car is like and do not trust it or the driver to get to the right place in a reasonable time. Your son argues that he’s perfectly capable of handling anything that comes up and is familiar with all the ins and outs of getting to this park as he’s traveled with you on numerous occasions. Finally, you agree.

You arrive at the campsite and set up and have a wonderful lunch. You fly kites and think, “My son would love this! But he’s not here.” You go on a short hike and take pictures of the beautiful views, and note, “My son would be telling me where to stand to get the best framing.” You get back to camp and start supper. “My son would be recalling all the crazy adventures we had trying to cook on some of our other trips.” At the appointed time you go to the meeting place. You wait, and you get a phone call from one of your friends. “We decided to stay in the motel tonight and were so tired we took a nap and can’t get there for another hour.” The wife gets an IM from her friend, “We couldn’t fit all the stuff in the car and had to rent a trailer and it took us three hours to get all the paperwork done and the thing packed. We should be pulling in some time in the morning.” Nothing from the son. You wait another hour, and none of the rest of your group shows up, so you call them and text them and IM them. One rings and rings and informs you that their voice mail is full. Another replies, “Was that this week?” Another just doesn’t answer the message. So, disappointed, you go back to your campsite. Still nothing from your son.

You inform all the people on your current list, the one that includes all the people who say they are still coming and even your son whom you assume is coming that you will meet at the big dining hall at the welcome center for breakfast. The next morning, you go to the dining hall, and you reserve a table for 10 and sit and wait. After an hour’s worth of waiting and 3 cups of coffee, you decide to order anyway. You finish your breakfast and still no one shows up. You contact them all again. The one in the motel decided to have the continental breakfast since it was free, and were unable to find the campsite so they went back to the motel. The one with the trailer pulled in to discover that there wasn’t a reservation in your name or theirs. They had traveled to a different RV park with a similar name. You tell them it was a State Park, not an RV park, and they’re mad and frustrated and decide not to waste any more time on this and head home. Still nothing from the son.

You go to see the bow and arrow demonstration. Then you go horseback riding, and then head to the main event with the old-time melodrama followed by fireworks. Still nothing from the son. The next morning, you enjoy watching the sunrise, have a great breakfast of pancakes, bacon and eggs and coffee, clean up, and leave the park with fond memories and some amazing pictures.

You get home and there’s your son. He’s lying on the couch, his arm in a sling, bandages around his legs and face all swollen up.

He got to his friend’s house and nothing was packed, but he didn’t know that. He threw his go-bag into the back of the car and they headed off. “I had never traveled to this park in the dark, so none of the landmarks looked the same. He didn’t have a map, and the gps kept sending us down unpaved roads that bounced the signal around. At one point we were near the town, and it bounced to fifteen miles on the other side of the river and kept telling us to return to the route. We turned down a gravel road that turned into a rock road, that turned into a suggestion of a road and ended up axel-high in mud. We had to go to the farm house and have the farmer pull us out with his tractor. I wrenched my shoulder when we were trying to get the car out. We got back onto a paved road but had no idea where we were and started to argue. He confessed that he didn’t care if he met up with his parents and didn’t want to go on the trip in the first place. I said I’d promised you I’d be here and he kicked me out of the car!!!! About then is when I noticed that my phone was out of charge. I headed off to where I thought I’d last seen the town.

“I was hungry so I got some stuff out of my pack to snack on and sat down on the edge of the road. I ate some and since I was exhausted from trying to move the car and walking, just fell asleep next to the tree. I was awakened in the middle of the night to hear these weird sounds. Raccoons had gotten into my snacks. I wasn’t thinking straight and I tried to grab them away and the raccoons were not happy and wanted to bite and scratch me. I didn’t know they could run that fast. They tore my legs up some, but not as bad as the raspberry bushes I crashed into. I fashioned a sling for my arm as the shoulder was really hurting then, and then grabbed the ace bandages and wrapped up my legs. Does blood come out? I got to the town about 4 in the morning, and found a motel. As I looked like some sort of hobo, he didn’t want to rent a room to me. I reached for my credit card to pay for the room and realized my friend had used it to fill up his car and STILL HAD IT. I had $12 in my wallet. The guy sent me to the police station to see if they could help me get my card back–meaning, they’re not going to do anything to help you or let you sleep in the lobby!

“I went down to the police station, and they didn’t believe the credit card story. They sent me to the homeless shelter. I had to fill out all sorts of paperwork and they wanted to know if I was abused and did they need to send CPS over. That unknown number that called you about 6 this morning was them and they didn’t even leave a message. I got a few hours of sleep, but I didn’t want anyone to touch my wounds as I wasn’t sure they had any medical training at all. There was no place to charge my phone. I borrowed one and called my friend, Bobby to come and pick me up, and he came for me about noon. We went to the city park for lunch, and he discovered, you guessed it, a bee hive. It was in the slippery slide and he decided it wasn’t safe for little kids and he was going to knock it down. No amount of screaming on my part made him change his mind, and then suddenly both of us were screaming. The cops came and recognized me and told me in no uncertain terms to get the heck out of their town as I was a trouble maker. Bobby dropped me off here and went to his doctor for the bee stings he got on his arms, torso, and face. Can you take me to the doctor?”

We all have free will. Had the son gone with his you, his family, he would have enjoyed some wonderful experiences. But even though his plans were to go to the same location, his means of transportation was not reliable. The timing was off causing him to travel this well-known route in the dark. His friend wasn’t motivated to go and had not made any preparations. The difference in the perspective caused the boys to argue and may have ruined the friendship. All these unpleasant experiences were associated with a destination that the son had previously thought was a fun place to go. None of the things he was expecting came to fruition. The joy he sought was time without stress with his friend, and he got time with a lot of stress instead. He thought separation from his parents would give him more autonomy and yet he was subjected to the same powerlessness because his friend was driving. His friend, being young and inexperienced, did not know how to prepare, how to plan, how to set a goal and reach it. He was expecting his friend to be as knowledgeable and calm and cool under pressure as you.

When we go our own way, and it’s not God’s way, we may get to the same destination, but not in the same shape.

Don’t let her hear you…

I’m assuming it’s a she. I’m not sure. I think Friction is a She because she has an evil, vengeful sense of humor. I’m going to call her Frieda Friction. Later today, March 6, 2021, I will be giving a humorous speech detailing her dealings with humanity. I don’t think she wants you to know.

There may be scientists that will dispute my findings, but ask them about the coefficient of friction. You cannot figure that out when you have both hands full of things that will break if you drop them. (And you will drop them.)

She IS Flighty and Fractious. A Fiendish Fraud. Without a doubt she has a Foul Effluvia of Falsehood at her fingertips. Her intimations display a Freudian Figment of Feverish and Fervent Foolishness. If you depend on Friction to act a certain way and it is to your advantage that she works this way, She will always do the complete opposite! Since sitting down in my chair to write this, it has gotten inches lower, even though it is locked. It depends on friction to hold its position. My pen has spontaneously rolled off my desk twice. I guess that could be Newtonian fiction, but that is another blog and I don’t need Newton and Frieda ganging up on me today. I walked by a cabinet that I have successfully navigated for over a year, but this time my sweater caught on something and my background fell down. I pulled out the leftover roast I made yesterday, and it slipped through my hands as if I had no friction ridges.

“PHA!” I say. I will give this speech regardless of the mounting resistance by things unseen and misunderstood for a millennia. I will take the abuse and rant and rave ineffectually until my message is spread worldwide. If you don’t hear from me for a while, assume they’ve taken me to a safe place with birdsong and lots of padding.

This is WORK!!

I am a teacher. I have been teaching for 50 years. But I am also a coach. What’s the difference? When you’re teaching, you are giving information that your students don’t have. You’re solving problems by giving them a technique they can use: teaching them a new note, a new fingering, a new position. Introducing a new scale or scale pattern, a new cliche, a new ornament that enhances the music is still teaching. But what if they know all that? That’s when you get into coaching.

When you’re coaching, you’re working on interpretation. As a teacher, you can give your unsophisticated student your interpretation. I heard Pablo Casals, famous cellist and conductor, teaching an orchestra, in fact a really sophisticated orchestra, the interpretation of a Bach piece. It was fascinating. They will never hear that piece again without comparing it to the interpretation they got from him that rehearsal. But they didn’t come up with the interpretation, Mr. Casals did. With a well-trained orchestra or quartet or individual, the interpretation is arrived by discovery. Sometimes all it takes is a little background into the piece or the composer. Other times it requires that the student become more aware of the rhythmic and melodic elements of the piece. Still others require the student to look inward as to how the music speaks to them personally.

I am working with a new student on guitar. He is NOT a beginner. One of his previous teachers was a guitarist from a Famous Band (at least in the Midwest). Oh dear. I have never played in a famous band. But I have been teaching for 50 years. And I have started coaching although not so much in music because I deal with mostly beginners. I actually coach my son when we talk, but it’s practice. I coach club coaches in the art of saving clubs in Toastmasters, and due to COViD-19, there are a lot of clubs teetering on the brink of dissolution. But this is the first time I have coached a guitar student of this caliber.

My coaching coach had us do an experiment. We had to coach the people sitting at our particular table how to juggle. There were jugglers in the room, but not every table had a juggler as one of its members. Therefore, you had non-jugglers teaching other non-jugglers how to juggle. Blind leading the blind. Total disaster, right? And you would be correct. Then our coach helped us to ask the right questions instead of giving suggestions. Ahhhh. Different approach–coaching instead of teaching. What is the first problem we had to solve? Too many things to keep track of? Unable to think fast enough? It was different for each student. Then instead of telling the person what to do, that person was asked what they could do to solve that particular problem. They already had an idea on what could work, and just needed to refine it. Et Voila! We now had 4-5 people at each table that could now juggle. What made this a brilliant exercise is that we saw coaching in action. We were actively coaching. And now our clients were seeing results. Why now? Why not before? It was the difference between teaching and coaching. Teaching assumes the student needs information they do not currently have. Coaching assumes that the client has all the information they need to solve the problem.

So here I am, sitting with this advanced guitarist, knowing I cannot show him information he doesn’t already have. He has brought in some of his favorite music. I notice he stutters at the beginning of every measure…repeating notes he has already correctly played without changing anything in fingering or plucking. I explain that sometimes the hand is playing before the brain can catch up, or sometimes the brain races ahead and forgets that it hasn’t finished what it had started. It’s like baking cookies. You have all the ingredients laid out and you’re mentally greasing the pans and you look down and don’t remember if you put the salt in. Do you start over? Do you taste the mixture? Do you assume you haven’t added the salt? Do you check for little salt crystals on the counter top or at the top of the package? Now all that thinking ahead has you at a disadvantage. What if you worried about adding the baking soda? It looks like flour so you can’t tell by looking, and it doesn’t have a strong taste so you can’t tell by tasting…Uh oh. In the other scenario, you’re on your 12th batch of cookies, and you’re on automatic. Your hands have already added all the ingredients and your brain says, “Are you sure you added the eggs?” Do you remember getting them out of the fridge? Was that this batch or the last batch? In both cases, the brain is not in the moment. Now I have related this story to my student and ask him, “Is your brain ahead or behind your hands? How can you get them in sync?” He slows down, microscopically. Miraculously (well, it seems that way to him) he no longer stutters. He now has a practice approach that will aid him in this week’s assignment.

My Mind is Exhausted! Why? Because I had to be in the moment with him. I had to listen critically, to watch his hands, to compare it to his music. Using my extensive experience in music literature, I pointed out some patterns he may not have been aware of, and asked him to play them with a new emphasis and compare it to what he had been playing to determine which brought out the best underlying thought in the music. Then we both had to be in the moment and concentrating very hard on the feeling and interpretation of the phrases. After he went home, I had to take a nap!

Here’s the thing though. He was early in the afternoon. The rest of my students were influenced by the way I had to teach earlier. I asked them more questions. I did some more coaching in interpretation than I usually did. I explained how this approach to practice was more beneficial. “When you made that mistake during practice, did you just repeat the mistake over and over again? If so, were you practicing the act of fixing instead of eliminating the problem? You were, in effect, getting it wrong really really well. What would be a better approach to actually make this mistake go away?” At the end of the night, I was completely drained. I was very tired, but now my brain was in passing gear! I was exhilarated and exhausted at the same time. I can hardly wait until next week!

Miyagi-dough

I got to visit my granddaughters this weekend. There was a teaching moment. Unintended consequences 101. Welcome to Miyagi dough.

We were making stained-glass cookies. Those are cookies with the center cut out and filled with crushed jolly ranchers. The candy melts and looks like stained glass.

Their stand mixer was either broken or still in a box somewhere so we were using a hand mixer. Cookie dough is not good for a hand mixer as it tends to burn out the motor. So before you add the last 1 1/2 cups of flour, you have to start mixing by hand. We used a scraper. You start at the farthest edge of the bowl, scoop down to the bottom, scrape to the right against the side of the bowl and then fold it over. Then you give the bowl a quarter turn to the right and do it again. My granddaughter is 12 and taller than me and can easily do an overhand serve in volleyball. She is not a weakling. Her arm got tired. I told her to do it left handed.

“My left hand is weak and stupid.”

“Noooo, don’t give yourself that rule! It is strong, but unused to doing things independently.”

“It doesn’t work!!!”

“Yes it does, it’s just awkward right now.”

Gradually she started getting better with her left hand.

We got cookie dough on our hands and did a flick into the bowl…right handed and then left handed. It didn’t always go where we planned. There was much giggling coming from the kitchen.

The pan spray for the cookie sheets was on the top shelf of the cabinet. She was able to reach it if she jumped.

I started to laugh…”Wax on, Wax off…”

She asked, “What does making cookies have to do with anything?”

“You know that elbow move you use to keep people from stealing the basketball? Stir the cookie dough!”

She tried it and looked astonished.

“You know that wrist movement when you throw a free throw? That snap when you do a kill shot over the net in volleyball? Flick the dough.”

Her eyes got wide.

“You know that jump for jump shots and blocks in both basketball and volleyball?”

“NO! Reach for the pan spray?!!”

“Yup.”

“So then during the basketball game, if the opponents are playing press defense, you yell from the sidelines, ‘Stir Right, Stir Left!”

“And when they’re on the foul line?”

“Flick the DOUGH! And then when I’m doing my jump serve or a block??”

“Grab the Spray!!!!”

This will totally change the games for her. I would guess she’ll be making lots of cookies now.

Do I have to turn this car around?!!!

How many of you are parents to elementary age kids? Have you ever used this phrase during long trips?

The difference between long trips and being at home is that everyone is in a confined space and going someplace. When you arrive, there is adequate space to run around and play and hang by your knees from some terrifying precipice. But while you are in the car, you can play car games or listen to music and that’s it.

Since we had 3 kids in the family, I, as the oldest, would sit in the middle of the back seat to separate my brothers. This did two things: it mitigated my cigarrette-smoke-induced car sickness, and it kept my brothers from beating each other to a pulp. By the time they were in upper elementary school, they’d graduated to “He put his fingernail on my side of the car,” (hence putting me in the middle to prevent that) and “He looked at me funny!” You could predict with 98% accuracy that this would begin about forty-seven minutes into the car trip. If left unchecked, the animosity would escalate into name calling and tears. Why tears? Because if they started threatening each other, my dad would attempt to paddle them while simultaneously driving the car and he wasn’t specific on his targets. If he did not, I would ball up my fists and hit each boy in the chest in a single move that would impress Chuck Norris. Either way, there would be tears. (Because I never got caught doing this, I rarely got in trouble at the same time as my brothers.) Nevertheless, my dad would pull the car over and tell them to be quiet before he gave them something to cry about. He had a technique of spanking that was somehow related to his skill as a percussion instructor. There was this snap of the wrist that would sting…

What did my brothers call each other? Booger-head, ugly-face, stupid, meanie, nose-picker… They had limited vocabularies.

We find ourselves in a confined space, going nowhere, and having differences of opinion. Of Course, we have differences of opinion! We all have different cultures, different growing environments, different experiences. We have the benefit of having lived through our own private hells. We have seen the beatific and the horrific. We are now adulting. (Adulting never used to be a word. Adult was what you aspired to be as soon as you discovered you could walk from here to there but had to hold hands when you crossed the street.) We do not have the luxury of being “sent to our rooms” because our rooms still have modes of communication. So we find ourselves in an enormous car as part of 328 million people in the back seat.

What brings this up? I’m seeing people who are parents and grandparents NAME CALLING! That’s right. But now they have bigger vocabularies, though, in most cases, not more extensive imaginations. We see people bullying others who don’t agree with them. We are seeing people shoving and pushing others and threatening violence and not a clue what they’re fighting for or against.

Remember when we misbehaved and we got grounded? We railed against the total injustice of it and tried to sneak out the window or send messages to our friends to break us out. There was always someone like the Fonz who would influence the “bad” side. Well, we got grounded because we did something stupid that endangered us or the people around us. Well. Duh! If you had the flu, didn’t you stay home from school and everything else? If the only thing you had to do was put on a mask to go out, wouldn’t you have done that? Well, we went out in the middle of a pandemic with no protection and no sense and got grounded, and the first thing we did was rail against an all-powerful government. Doesn’t that sound like teenagers? Yeah, throw those books on the floor and stomp around your room. The adults are watching the news and drinking wine while the kids are locked in the bedrooms.

Oh and our parents would tell us what to think when we were young, too. “Danged WPA! Look at these political cartoons in the paper! The country is going to the dogs I tell you!” Then we’d listen to the news and get a running commentary from our folks. After graduating from high school, we were expected to listen to the news and make our own decisions.

Well, now the commentary is coming directly from the newsmen. You tune into whatever politics you like and get their version. You find the same facts as every other news provider, but you get a completely different interpretation. We don’t ask questions regarding what we hear, we just want to know is that news or fake news? How can there be fake news? Isn’t that against the ethics of the news organizations? What escalates the situation is that people are NOT doing their own thinking and are lashing out at everyone around them with no big sister to chest punch them into submission. They are using unreliable sources of information. They’re taking rumor for truth. They’re ignoring rational thought and logical debate and have descended into elementary school behavior! You are ADULTS!

You WILL get along and you WILL be nice to each other or I WILL make you VERY uncomfortable! Don’t Make me turn this car around!

It’s Dark out

“Dear Diary, today the sun didn’t rise. We’re hoping it’s just a temporary thing” ~Writing prompt from Ben Fegan

I got up at my regular time, but it was still dark. This is normal for this time of year, but usually I can see some greyness in the sky. As I sat in my computer room watching the church service, the pastor brought up the fact that although it is after 8:00 AM, we should be seeing some light come through the stained glass windows. He then offered a prayer for our current conditions.

I looked out my window, and there was no sign of a sunrise at all. I contacted my daughter who lives in Pennsylvania and asked her if the sun was up over there. She said there wasn’t even a glimmer. I was starting to get worried. I checked outside again to see if I could see any clouds. Stars. The moon was in the east. I looked at the weather to see if there was a giant storm or some other weather event. The TV newscasters were going nuts about this. The weather channel people were saying that the clouds were still moving, and the storms and weather fronts had changed but not disappeared.

They had people all over the globe reporting the never ending sunset, the perpetual noon, and the day of darkness. Scientists and experts were being interviewed for explanations, and the universal answer seemed to be a shrug and an “I don’t know!” There were people having candlelight vigils, prayer meetings, another run on toilet paper, conspiracy theorists… Not a single person had a good explanation for the phenomenon. Whom do you consult when something so unexplainable happens? Climatologists? Survival experts? Spiritual leaders?

We started thinking like SciFi writers. But people in our family rarely think like anyone else. We needed to know where it was noon on the planet, so we looked at the live cameras online. The best we could figure was that it was “stuck” over the Pacific ocean, not directly over Micronesia, but close. That meant that the ocean was absorbing all the heat from the sun and gradually it would start causing more evaporation. On the other side, the Atlantic ocean and most of the other continents would become cooler. It became clear that soon, the only habitable land would be where it was early morning and early evening. There would be enough light to allow plants to grow, and not so much that they were fried. Those places that were in the dark would soon have no access to the sun’s heat and basically freeze. The plants would die, the food sources would dry up, the water would be caught up in ice, and no one would be able to live without light and heat for very long.

The other thing that nobody considered, except those in the far north, is that days of continuous light can drive you just as crazy as days of continuous dark. The westernmost part of California, BC in Canada, and Alaska would soon be the only areas in the US that could sustain life in North America. Western China, Mongolia, Central and Eastern Russia, all these sparsely populated areas would be habitable for those in Europe and Asia. Parts of Western Australia, SE Asia, India, might be habitable, but places like Hawaii, Eastern Australia, Japan and Korea, would be burnt to a crisp.

Our first priority was to see if there was someplace we could move in order to survive, but we had to find out why the Earth had stopped spinning. How do you restart a planet?! Monday, we decided on Alaska and started loading things into our cars. I took my yarn and needles because with cotton thread and wool, I could make clothes suitable for the weather. We emptied our savings accounts and started driving. Our youngest and his wife and her sister and father loaded up 5 cars and we started our convoy. Our middle son and his family loaded up their cars and the grandparents and kids and started about the same time we did. There were lots of tears because TVs, books and favorite toys and movies had to be left behind. We planned to pick up our daughter and her family in Kearney 3 hours later. But there was an intense argument because so many of the relatives were unable to move due to age and health, and the rest didn’t want to leave them alone. She told us that when a decision was made, she’d let us know. I cried my eyes out because I didn’t want to leave them.

My husband, stoic that he is, reminded me that it would take a long time for the effects to be fully felt, and by that time, we’d have a place to live and possibly room for the rest of the kids as well by the time they got there. I got a text from our other daughter and they were flying to Vancouver which was on the edge of the habitable zone. She suggested that we get plenty of toilet paper so we’d have some currency when we got to Alaska. Gallows humor. They had some friends in Vancouver they could stay with until they could find a place.

It seemed strange that nobody on TV was telling people to move, and when we got on the road, it was nearly empty. This seemed mighty suspicious! We spent the night in Cheyenne, WY. Our oldest boy had managed to get a bus ticket to Cheyenne, but he wouldn’t arrive for another day. It was decided then that my hubby would lead the convoy up to Alaska and I would wait for our oldest and catch up to them later. We figured that the kids wouldn’t be able to travel as long and they’d stop sooner. We agreed to meet in Vancouver.

It has been three days without sun and people were starting to get quite anxious. Finally, an investigative reporter nailed an astrophysicist and asked, “What aren’t you telling us?” He looked down at his notes then stared out past the crowd of reporters. He looked down again and sighed. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it will be one of two things.” He sighed again, then looked past the crowd and nodded. He cleared his throat, and hesitated. Then he sighed again. “We’re either going to get a new moon, or we’re going to be blown to bits.”

You could hear a pin drop.

“About three years ago, a massive asteroid passed very close to Jupiter and disrupted the orbit of one of its moons. The moon broke free and we really thought it would be pulverized in the asteroid belt. It did get hit a significant number of times, but it didn’t break up and continued on its trajectory. Mars is on the other side of the sun at this point, so there’s nothing to run interference between this moon and our planet. Now the moon that is approaching is much smaller than our own, and though it didn’t even have a name when it left Jupiter, it still is of significant size. Should it hit our moon, it would disintegrate it and of course the fallout would be an extinguishing event. If it should hit our planet, it would also be an extinguishing event. If, however it were to be captured by our gravity, it would significantly change our moon’s orbit, our orbit, the tides, and the climate of the planet. But the Earth would resume her rotation.” Just then, the sound system went dead, and 3 heavily armed men grabbed the scientist from the lectern and rushed him out of the building.

We sat there in the motel in Cheyenne just staring at the TV. Then the set went black. We went to the lobby and did a facetime with the rest of our kids, except for the oldest who did not have his phone on. It was decided that since we didn’t have a timeline for whatever event was going to play out, we’d continue to Vancouver and meet up with the rest of the family. We figured that at least we’d get to see the sun one more time before everything went to hell. Instead of leaving me behind to wait for the oldest, we figured one more day wouldn’t change our chances. There were still no urgent messages to move to the light edge, so maybe people would not panic.

We were wrong. You could hear the rioting starting within hours of that announcement. They were looting and vandalizing the downtown areas of all the major cities. “Let’s steal this 72-inch TV so we can watch the moon coming in to destroy us!” That made no sense, but then people don’t make sense. It was 8 AM next morning at least according to the motel clock. It looked like 8 PM the previous evening. We went out to find something for breakfast. None of the restaurants were open and the grocery store was boarded up. We returned to the motel and had the “Hot Breakfast” they advertised. Hot was oatmeal. Everything else was cereal and fruit and yogurt. Even the coffee was only lukewarm. We dug out some cards and played some games and talked and told stories. The next day, our oldest arrived at the bus station and we went to pick him up. He just had the one suitcase and we fit it in the back of the car. Then we headed toward Vancouver. We got stopped at the Canadian Border…no passports.

“You’re kidding right? The world’s going to end and you want to check our passports?”

“Well, sorry sir. You may have heard that the world isn’t going to end after all and then where would we be? Canada all crowded with Americans, that’s what! No, eh, I’m not going to be responsible for that you know. Sorry.”

We noticed a commotion at one of the other entry points. Suddenly 10 cars just zipped through the gate. We weren’t the only ones that noticed, and soon another bunch of cars changed lanes and went through the same gate. Then a second gate went down. We looked at our attendant and he was staring at the line of cars and the gates starting to remain open. “You know, I don’t get paid enough to stay here at the end of the world and then get shot, eh? Enjoy your stay in Canada.” Then he lifted the gate and our little convoy went through. We all tipped him $20 as we drove through. Just then we heard a gunshot and everyone started speeding away from the gate. We went into town to find a place to stay.

Twelve years in Vancouver now. We now have Man in the moon and Boy in the moon. The little one is farther out than our big one but it still messes with our tides. The latest report is that a Day is now 167 hours. We’ve heard that the temperature on Hawaii has dropped into the 100 degree range and things are starting to grow again. Our home state in the Midwest is thawing and believe it or not, the big old trees are still living! Congress is looking to pass a unified time bill so everyone can be on the same page. They expect that it may only be 3 days in committee. Is that Three-167 hour days? I guess we’ll see.

I’m Depressed

And the first question that comes up is this: “Why?”

Depression doesn’t need a reason. It is an emotion that doesn’t necessarily have any tangible relationship to an event or a time or a person. When Ann Frank was hiding, every morning she had a reason to be depressed, and she chose to be happy. Nobody Chooses to be depressed. We search, in vain, for a reason why we’re depressed and think, might be SAD–Seasonal Affective Disorder. We could believe that we miss our relatives and friends that have passed away. We could be discouraged that we couldn’t find presents for everyone, or that we didn’t get the presents we wanted (or thought we deserved.) But when you really look at it, depression comes; it stays; it messes you up; and then it leaves.

Well-meaning people try to distract us from this feeling by asking you, “Why are you depressed? You have everything to live for!” Then they list all the things you should be thankful for. Now you’re GUILTY and depressed. Or they get out the Dad jokes to try and lift your spirits. Now you feel ungrateful and your brain hurts because of the bad puns. They try to take you out on the town, but you don’t feel like putting on pants. You can’t get up the enthusiasm to do anything. You can’t even get into your favorite book. The worst is when they put on some sappy Hallmark movie so you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Mocking is the first thing that comes to mind.

Why is “Die Hard” considered a Christmas Movie? Why do people consider Hans Gruber’s drop from the top of the building the beginning of the Christmas Season? Was Hans’ great, great grandfather Franz Gruber–the man who wrote Silent Night? No? It’s because the only cure for depression is murder and mayhem and/or music by the Blues Brothers.

If you know someone that is depressed, do NOT tell them how they’re supposed to feel. It’s an emotion that is not easily directed. It’s like love. You cannot direct love in a way that you end up with the prom queen who happens to be a millionaire or toward the Stunt double for Dwayne Johnson. Telling a depressed person how to feel adds to the depression. Don’t force them into jolly devil-may-care activities because they Don’t Care. They don’t want to get out of bed or go through the effort of Going Someplace to Do Something. Don’t make them explain themselves. Do you think that depression has a cause and can be “cured” by getting rid of the cause? Depressed people don’t know why they’re depressed. You wake up with a malaise like you wake up with a stuffy nose. You can’t go back to the instant where you breathed in that virus. You have no idea where or when it was. Same with depression.

Watch some murder and mayhem and mock the characters or the action or the continuity. Listen to some rock and roll or jazz or blues or classical music. Be there with the person. They’ll be all right.

What will you do with YOUR stimulus check?

Listening to NPR on our way home from Oklahoma, they had a guest financial adviser for the benefit of their listeners.

There are two different audiences they were appealing to: First was the listeners to the NPR station, and since it is basically news and discussion of current events, their avatar would be a middle aged couple, white-collar workers with a bank account and a steady job and an appreciation for the arts. The second audience was that of the adviser, so she was looking at an upper middle class couple with a bank account and a certain wisdom about finances…the kind of people that might be looking for a financial adviser instead of getting all their information from Facebook.

Herein lies the problem. The adviser was talking about what to do with the $600 we may be receiving for Covid 19 relief. News flash: Most of the people in her audience were not actually affected by the Covid 19 restrictions. Who was? Blue collar workers, but the blue collar workers not deemed essential. Frontline people such as janitorial staff, healthcare workers, people in transportation (truck drivers and such), grocery stockers and frontline cashiers, and the fast food industry are essential people. These are people who cannot get time off due to sickness because missing 1 paycheck determines if there are lights and heat in their homes. People who were furloughed, laid off, or fired are missing house payments, meals, utilities, and transportation. $600 will just be a drop in the bucket.

What did she say? “You need to replenish your savings. If you don’t have an emergency fund, put at least 3-6 months’ worth of income into a fund to tide you through this emergency. You should probably use it to reduce your debt, or contribute to your IRA.”

What? Replenish savings? Most people have no savings account, let alone an emergency fund. The worst affected blue collar workers make about $2000/month so 3-6 months would be $6000-$12,000. If they are normal blue collar workers, that much in savings would go to a down payment of a car or a TV set, or a vacation or a wedding. The idea of having that much money in reach and not using it is inconceivable.

What? Reduce debt? $600 wouldn’t cover 2/3 of a debt payment let alone reduce the total debt. People without jobs are INCREASING their debt because now everything has to go on a credit card. They have no cash! They’re paying for McDonald’s with a credit card, gas, utilities, groceries… They will do that until they max out the card and without jobs, the collection companies will be horrible.

What? Contribute to IRA? Most blue collar workers may have a 401K at work but after being out of work for this amount of time may have already borrowed against it. Very few blue collar people have an IRA in addition to a 401K, and most 401K plans that have matching funds available from the company use a paycheck deduction. You can’t deduct from the paycheck if the worker is not getting one. Further, 3% is about average for the match. 3% of $2000 is $60, so though the upper limit on 401Ks is about $19,500 per year, you cannot contribute $19,500 if you’re only making $24K. Figure then about $1440/year with the match or $720/year without.

What DO you do with that $600 check then?

Triage. I have been there, done that. Do NOT put it in the bank. Cash it and put it in your mattress. Use the cash to pay for groceries. You might be eligible for utilities help and you may have to make accommodations with your lender to help you cover your rent or mortgage payments. The cash is in no way, shape or form to be used for anything but groceries, not fast food or entertainment of any type. In the mean time, find out what you can trade. Do you have some helpful skills that can be traded for things you need? One guy I know had a whole bunch of trees he needed cleared out. He had this other guy with a chainsaw come to clear out the trees and paid him in firewood. One girl in HS was walking dogs in exchange for bread and eggs. One lady was making home-made bread in exchange for a pound of hamburger. (Well, it was deerburger since the partner in the exchange was an avid hunter.) This one kid in junior high was trading knitted caps with a buttons in the back for mask strings for frozen dinners. Be creative. Offer some of your services to people who are working from home…cat sitting to keep the cat from walking on the keyboard, dog sitting to make sure it doesn’t interrupt zoom calls, baby sitting after school. Tutoring the kids that are home-schooling pays pretty well. Can you cook for people who are still working? Can you deep clean the house since it is now their home and their business? Have them pay you in cash or barter.

Have no doubt. The economy is still running, and the people with money are getting more money, but not all the economy is visible. Some is underground. Goods and services are still being exchanged for value, but the value may not be in currency.

What a stupid response!

Do you ever find yourself responding to a friend who has been sucked into some bizzaro conspiracy theory? Now if you’re like me, I tend to hang out with people who are roughly in my intellectual range. I question everything, I redo the statistics, I do independent research (not just wiki…) and I think things through. I therefore assume that my friends have also done their due diligence.

For instance: in the 2016 election, Mrs. Clinton beat Mr. Trump by 3 million or so votes and the dems were screaming that we should go directly to popular vote and eliminate the electoral college so the rightful person would be in charge of the country. But, of course, we adhered to the established voting practices and the winner of the electoral college ballots won: Mr. Trump. The Republicans were smirking since they won the round. But Mr. Trump did not have the populace behind him. He had some very vocal supporters and he did everything controversial you could imagine, and history will have to judge how he affected the USA during his presidency.

Then, in 2020, Mr. Biden beat Mr. Trump by 7 million or so votes. In addition, he won the electoral college votes. Now the republicans are saying there was something shady when Biden only won 16.7% of the counties and still got the highest popular vote in history. Won? Well, on the map, it only shows those counties where he got over 80% of the vote as “winning” and they don’t show the counties that Mr. Trump won at all. The counties that Mr. Trump got 80%+ were low population counties. So if you consider the charge that the percentage of counties won by Biden was lowest on record, it doesn’t take the raw data into account. Counties don’t have individual votes, so the percentage of counties means nothing.

States have electoral votes based on the population of the state. So even if Mr. Trump had 80% of the most counties, if the raw population vote was insignificant, then the state’s vote for Trump would have no measurable impact on the final counts. The Electoral college was 306 to 232 in both elections. Trump got the 306 versus Clinton in the 2016 election, and Biden got the 306 in 2020. Where’s the controversy in that? Why is this so impossible to believe. Biden won the popular vote by 7 million votes, and won the electoral college 306 to 232. How is this stealing an election?

The election was in November and now it’s December. Why is this still an issue to discuss? If this next 4 years is anything like the last 20, congress will be in an adversarial relationship with the president and nothing will get done. They will whine and cry and conspire and drag their feet and things will not get done. You remember they spent 8 years debating his right to be president. (He was twice elected to the office even though the opposing party’s main focus in the first term was to Guarantee that the president didn’t Get a second term and they failed.) They insulted him and his family and fought him tooth and nail on every single issue. Then the moment Mr. Trump took office, he started reversing all the work that the previous president had done. I imagine they will be doing this for the four years Mr. Biden is in office instead of thinking of the citizens first. They insulted Mr. Trump and his family all four years and fought him tooth and nail on everything HE did.

This is not how a democracy works. This is how it locks up and gets paralyzed by inaction and infighting. They are not serving us at all. We have checks and balances…Executive, judicial and legislative branches to make sure no one has too much power. Well they left out the media–news and social and that skews everything.

Get this straight: Whether you voted for the winner or the loser, Mr. Biden IS your president. He is not going to send the National Guard into your bomb shelter to take away your guns, assign all your money to the lazy-assed Millennials and those drug-crazed welfare scammers. It takes too long for there to be noticeable changes in the fabric of society. The stuff that HW Bush did is just now being noticed, same with Clinton, George W, Obama…Delayed effects. Anything that Biden does will not be significant for much later in this decade. Oh, and scary thought: Those Millennials will be running the country soon. Better train them up. They shouldn’t think that the President is the person to whom everyone must rise against as an evil dictator that must be dethroned in his first 90 days in office.

Boxes

I remember, decades ago, when my Dad was cleaning out my Aunt Ba’s apartment. I wasn’t there, but he came home and described her apartment in St. Joe. He said there was a path from the front door to her favorite chair, and another to the bathroom, and a little path to her bed. He was explaining how Auntie would pick up a little box of hairpins and move it to one side of the room, then she’d find another set and move them to another corner of the room. She had these tin boxes of hairpins spread all over the apartment, but she could never find them when she wanted them. So if she found herself trying to put up her hair and no hairpins, she’d go out and buy another box.

She had magazines and newspapers stacked up on every flat surface. She had books and pictures in files and on shelves and in boxes. She had rare photos of her family, unidentified with no dates or places. She had library books from the NYC library that had been removed to make room for new books and given away to the librarians. She had hankies everywhere, most in original wrapping.

I remember my Aunt Ba. She was my great aunt, my dad’s mother’s sister. Her name was Bernice, but she preferred Ba (Bay). We would take walks through the college campus and she could name every tree and could identify every bird by its song. She was one of the first people to hike in Yellowstone after it was made a park. She never married.

She always ate at the counter because she was afraid my mom was trying to poison her. She was kinda weird like that. Her clothes were always neat and clean, and her hats were perfectly placed on her head. The seams in her stockings were always straight. Her vocabulary would shame English professors. Every Christmas, for most of my childhood, she would send a suit or dress from Sacs Fifth Avenue, a stuffed animal, and several books. The clothes were always itchy, but the books were read and cherished. The stuffed animals were hugged until they fell apart. She had traveled and explored and read and studied and I could never get enough time to talk with her.

Last year at this time, I got the word that unless I renovated my house, I would not be eligible for a refi loan. My original got sold and these goofs were giving me bad terms. I needed to get out from under that. They took pictures, then gave a list of demands. I cried for a long time…it was an impossible task. We had to redo every single room in the house with the exception of the bathroom.

We filled FOUR 20-yd dumpsters of stuff. I have another dumpster out there now to get rid of all the stuff from my garage and my office and my bedroom and my living room that were artfully hidden when they came to reinspect it for the “after” pictures. I found myself standing in the garage with a water bottle, a Panera gift card with no idea how much is on it, a tiny glass jar, a couple of family pictures and I’m stuck. I don’t know where those things go. I’m standing there and decide to lose the jar, and of course, it misses the bag and breaks all over the floor. I am paralyzed. I don’t know whether to go inside or stay out. I don’t know what to do with the water bottle, where to put the pictures, and I see myself taking things out of one miscellaneous box and putting it into another miscellaneous box. Net difference? 0. The garage is closer to being organized and emptier, but we still would never get a car into it.

I dread having my kids dig through my stuff after I die.

“Why does she have 9 trumpets? and 4 trombones?”
“Who are these people in the pictures?”
“Who has 40 empty picture frames?”
“Why does she keep the notes from the August 2009 Toastmaster meeting?”
“500 skeins of yarn? No? You found another stash?!”
“Did you know Grandpa Rounds was a mason?”
“Oh Look! is that Jimmy Hoffa’s wallet?”

Marie Kwon says to toss the stuff that doesn’t spark joy.  All of it sparks joy!

I have 78 rpm records of Toscanini directing the NY Phil playing all 9 Beethoven Symphonies. I have baby pictures of my brothers and me. I have plaques and plaques and plaques of my unimportant accomplishments. I have over 1000 books. Getting rid of things petrifies me.