Amy Abbott

Oct 042020

October 4, 2020 —  Earlier in the week, I walked into our kitchen in the afternoon to find my husband in his pajamas, eating lunch.  I wore the pink flannel nightgown I had slept in the night before.  Two p.m.  I noticed that husband Herman was eating clam chowder out of a saucepan.

“We’ve completely deteriorated as human beings,” I said, “We’ve become animals.”

Herman said, “I did this because it’s one less dish for you to wash.”

Honestly, I couldn’t argue with that.

We’ve now been in quarantine since March 6.  Eight months? A hundred months?  What day is it?  Who am I?  How did we get here?  And like my life in 2020, there’s no narrative arc in this piece, just some ramblings and observations from where we are. We both fall into the high risk category.  He’s the shopper.  I only go out to doctor or dentist.

I know that I am beyond fortunate to have a roof over my head with enough space that my Beloved and I don’t drive each other crazy.  He is now fully retired, having completed his 32-year-career at a  local university.  And just in time, as the chaos of the world hits everyone, including small, private universities that struggled before the pandemic.  Herman has an online antiques business ( and it keeps him busy enough that I get the free time I’ve learned to appreciate since my retirement three years ago this month.

We are cautious, but this week we made a six-hour round trip to a park in Greencastle, Indiana, to meet my father, my father’s girlfriend, and my baby brother.  We had not seen them since January 11th when we celebrated my brother’s 60th birthday and retirement.  My Dad will be ninety in December, God-willing.  In the months since we’ve seen Dad, he is more frail and his short-term memory is somewhat diminished.  But we’ve been quantaintining and he has been doing the same, so we enjoyed two of the best (masked) hugs a father and daughter could enjoy.  I cannot find words to express how joyful it was to see him.  He cried when we left, and my heart hurt.  But I am exceedingly grateful that my brother drove them to the park.

Even on a Tuesday in the middle of October when the park wouldn’t be crowed, I made sure we had shelter. I rented a shelterhouse. There was a sign on the shelter that MY NAME had reserved it..  But when we arrived there were about 10 or 12 elderly women having a Bible Study.  Oh, this could be delicate.  What would Jesus do?  Jesus would kick them out, as I did.  Actually, I gave them the option to stay in the large shelter.  But, they left almost immediately.  Was it the way I looked?   I wore my hot pink Heidi hat, the one with two braids that I bought in Iceland.  I had on clip-on, pop-up sunglasses on my purple, rhinestone-laden, new cateye glasses,  fingerless, arthritis gloves, and an oxygen tank strapped to my back.

This time, and possibly henceforth, I was wearing appropriate Foundation Garments. Now, you must be a woman of a certain age to get what I’m saying here.  This is what your mother or grandmother  call a bra.  Women of a certain age and of a certain size called it a Foundation Garment.  It’s what keeps The Girls of a certain age in line, shall we say.

I have known to refer to my rack as the “boobal region.”  For most of my incarceration in suburbia, I have gone without Said Foundation Garment, and this has caused unfortunate consequences.  I am now back wearing the blasted thing which keeps The Girl in their rightful place, because of the following event.

Last week I went into the kitchen to make a simple turkey and cheese sandwich with mayonnaise.  I put two slices of bread on a plate and covered one piece with mayonnaise.  On the other side, I placed a piece of Swiss cheese and turkey breast. I reached over the sandwich fixings to take out a handful of green grapes to eat with my lunch. At that moment, I created a work of art so fine that Jackson Pollock would likely rave about it.

The creation was a result of my not wearing what I should be wearing and something on the counter that shouldn’t be on the counter.

I have learned my lesson.   I’m moving forward, my career as an artist over.

All three of these incidents happened earlier in the week.  Every day I’ve sworn I was going to write about them.  But in this universe of horror, time flies by so quickly and escapes me.  Today, I said, today is the day, but as someone who wears oxygen for pulmonary issues, I got all caught up in the story about whether POTUS had dips in oxygen.  It’s not often this is talked about and I was interested.  It made me wonder what my daytime oxygen was, so I checked it and it was 89.  Damn, I thought, that’s pretty bad considering I’m on three liters of oxygen.  I did my pursed-lipped breathing and I checked it again, and it was only 92.  Then I started to get upset and worried about it.

At my last visit, my pulmonologist increased me from 2 to 3 liters.  These numbers were freaking me out.  I went out into the kitchen to check on a stew I’m making for dinner.  I passed Big Tanko (the 40-lb machine that I’m tethered to in the house) and noticed THAT HE WAS NOT TURNED ON.  Yes, this is a cautionary tale.  I am slowly losing my mind, but I’m fully dressed, oxygen saturation at 99% (just checked in) and grateful that those are my biggest problems. -30-



Sep 092020

September 9, 2020 —  I huff and puff up white marble staircases of the Doge’s Palace, over-the-top gold ceilings high above. Even on a rainy day, the gold-leaf reflects a shimmer in the mighty stairwells.  We cross over the Bridge of Sighs and see Casanova’s home in captivity, a lightless cell where he likely contemplated his conquests. The tour of the Palace is over, and we want to return to our hotel on the other side of Venice.

Friends told us not to come to Venice.  The Grand Canal, they said, is so dirty. We laughed, reminding them that we live a mile from the Ohio River, with its coffee-colored water that contains everything toxic from Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, and down river to us. Today is our third and last day before we go to Lake Como.

It’s raining as we step out onto the walkway to St. Mark’s Plaza along the seawall.  There’s a slight October chill in the air, a reminder that colder weather isn’t far away. My husband opens his black umbrella and covers both of us. Bluish-brown waves from the Venetian Lagoon crest over the wide sidewalk, forcing tourists to cling to the ornate outside wall of the Palace. Moored vaporetto’s and gondolas whack against the seawall, boats covered tightly with tarps sealed like plastic wrap over leftovers.

We fan out once reaching St. Mark’s, tourists scattering in all directions for safe places, hotels, restaurants, Harry’s Bar for the original Bellini. The pink lamps – five on a post – cast a spell on the plaza in the light rain.  Did Lord Byron see these same lamps in the rain? Where was his safe place to get out of the weather? Seagulls perch atop each lamp, as if arranged in advance, one bird to one lamp. The plaza itself is devoid of the usual crowds.  Tables are shoved to the side, their accompanying chairs upside down on them, puddles coagulating around each grouping.  A growing mist settles from the lagoon over the plaza, fingers of dampness reaching into dozens of little streets in three directions.

My husband has a headache, and we need to find a Pharmacia.  Which street will we choose? We quickly ascend steps in the rain, steps by now slippery. Most of our fellow tourists have disappeared.  We pass little restaurants, shops selling elaborate masks, crystal-colored rhinestone, and maroon feathers—no Pharmacia.

We cross small canals as we chart our course for the hotel, hoping to find headache relief along the way. We find ourselves near the Rialto Bridge.  Haven’t we crossed this already?  Are we walking in circles?  Asking directions with a language barrier is fruitless.  We follow the signs to the bridge over the Grand Canal nearest our hotel. Weren’t we just here? Three-hundred bridges in Venice, and to us, they all look the same, except for the famous Rialto with its distinct shape.  We find ourselves in a more touristy area – there’s a Hard Rock Café.    Ugly Americans in business also as out of place as the Starbucks at the  Louvre. Why are my expectations for Europe so different from our much younger America?

We find a Pharmacia, and my husband and the pharmacist negotiate his need for headache relief.

Finally, something looks familiar, a big bridge over the Grand Canal.  But we’re on the wrong side. We cross and believe we are getting closer.  A turn and another right beside a smaller canal, and the Hotel Papadopoli is ahead, sanctuary on a rainy day.


Aug 312020

August 31, 2020 –  A strange parallel exists for the years 1968 and 2020.  Much was written two years ago for the 50th anniversary of that seminal year, marked by assassinations, upheaval in the streets, and a contentious presidential election.

Our grandparents bought us a new RCA Victor color television set for Christmas 1967.  The set had four legs and a 26-inch screen.  Television programs on the three networks began broadcasting in 1965.  How excited we were to watch The Flintstones and The Jetsons in living color!

The excitement was short-lived.  In January, the North Vietnamese began escalating the war in Vietnam with what would later be known as the Tet Offensive.  In just two days at the end of the month, 232 American GIs were killed as the Communists took over Saigon.

Our family watched Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on the NBC news each night. For the first time, we saw the brutality and blood of this unpopular war, all in “living color,” as proclaimed by the NBC peacock.

Anti-war protestors marched in the streets in many cities and college campuses, especially after the “My Lai ma

ssacre,” where ground troops from Charlie Company killed about 500 Vietnamese villagers, on a tip that Viet Cong was in the area[1].

Several weeks later, Lyndon Baines Johnson announced on a nationally-televised evening speech, “I shall not seek nor will I accept your nomination for President.”

Four days after this speech, Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis. He was visiting the city to support a sanitation worker’s strike and shot and killed by James Earl Ray.  Rage rose throughout the country.  In Indianapolis, the capital city of my state, Robert Kennedy spoke to the  crowds who came into the streets after the assassination of King.  Kennedy’s healing words likely kept the protests from becoming riots.

RFK made several trips to Indiana for the May primary. On one trip, his motorcade traveled up to Indiana 9 from Indianapolis.  For reasons unknown, the motorcade pulled over near Duck-Creek Boone Elementary School in rural Madison County.  My husband, a fifth-grader, and his classmates shook hands with Robert Kennedy.  Kennedy was shot the night of his victory in the California primary, in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel.  He died the next morning, June 6.

With Kennedy out of the race, Hubert Humphrey, the current vice president for LBJ, moved forward as a candidate.  According to a reporter from New York Magazine, Humphrey was approached personally by Anatoly Dobrygin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States, with an offer of support in his campaign.

From the magazine, “In 1968, Moscow feared that the staunchly anti-communist Richard M. Nixon would be elected. To forestall that, the Kremlin decided to reach out to Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Hubert H. Humphrey. As Anatoly Dobrygin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, revealed in his memoir, “In Confidence,” two decades ago: “The top Soviet leaders took an extraordinary step, unprecedented in the history of Soviet-American relations, by secretly offering Humphrey any conceivable help in his election campaign — including financial aid.”[2]

The Republican in the race, former Vice President to Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s, was Richard M. Nixon, who ran on the “law and order” ticket.  With Nixon’s election came a new breed of Republicans, those elected through the “southern strategy,” a successful attempt to wean southerners away from traditional Democratic leanings.  Many southerners were unhappy with the passage of the Civil Rights Act and began to vote Republican. During his campaign, Nixon refused a query about how he would handle the war, stating that any comments on his part might undermine the current president.

The Democratic convention in Chicago was upstaged by violence outside its doors.  Thousand of college students and anti-war protestors came to the Windy City, only to be met by Mayor Richard Dailey’s violent police response.  The TV screen was filled each night with bloody scenes, as groups like the yippies, the Black Panthers, and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) marched in the streets against the war.

I remember the convention clearly as if it happened yesterday. Because it was in Chicago, only a few hours from home and a place we frequently visited, it felt close. Humphrey was ultimately chosen, only to be defeated by a jubilant Nixon, likely because of the war in Vietnam.  (History tells us that Nixon didn’t cut back on the war and that his “Vietnamization plans” and peace talks were ineffective.  Many more young men would lose their lives before the fight ultimately ended years later.)

Two young medal winners at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Tommy Smith, and John Carlos, were thrown off the U.S. Olympic team after bowing their heads and raising a black-gloved fist (the Black Power symbol).  Their silent October protest, which today might be seen differently, made them heroes in the black community and shunned by everyone else.

If Americans watched evening television in the 1960s, most were limited to three network channels.  My family lived in a rural area served by the UHF band and three network channels.  No PBS channels existed yet.  And our service depended on a functioning antenna, stuck high on the roof of our home.  So, we watched political speeches, the conventions, and the Olympics, and we would watch the election night coverage when Nixon beat Humphrey.

Finally, though many people don’t even remember it, there was a pandemic.  The “Hong Kong” flu was derived from the Type the flu that still sickens many people each winter.  More than 100,000 Americans died.

Fifty-two years later, cable and streaming offer watchers multiple options. Americans don’t view the same three voices I heard as a child., ABC, NBC, and CBS.  Though the year 1968 may offer parallels to our current year, we perceive our current year through entirely different lenses and many more voices.

So many terrible things happened in 1968, and many naive American eyes were opened by witnessing violent activities and their aftermath.  Yet, for many Americans of color, this did not represent a change.  Persons of color had experienced Jim Crow, the burning of Tulsa, and the Colfax riots, and lynchings, and horrendous injustice.  Just this week, the New York Times featured the Colfax events in Louisiana.  In 1873, 150 men were murdered by a militia, ignoring the 13th and 14th Amendments and the Civil Rights law of 1866.[3]

The years offer parallels, but what lessons can we learn?  Does violence accomplish anything but beget more violence?  I must admit I’m terrified as we move into the last third of the year, as our discourse and actions become more unhinged.  I was 11 years old, a fifth-grader in 1968, and now I’m a near-senior, retired, and white-headed, still watching “in living color.”

I can’t look into a crystal ball and predict what the future will hold.  But, by looking at the past, we can gauge some clues.  Today we look at the Vietnam War period as a blemish on our history, an unnecessary war where 55,000 primarily middle class and poor Americans lost their lives.  The “law and order” president ended up resigning, and many of his aides and assistants went to prison.

I remember one more moment about 1968, another television program where the world came together.  But, this time, it wasn’t to watch bloody American carnage. On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 astronaut read from the Bible, the Book of Genesis, as he looked back toward the earth, on a trip around the moon.

To see the earth as Borman and his crew, William Anders and Jim Lovell must have been a fantastic, life-changing scene.  And due to technology, we who are earth-bound shared in the glorious moment.  Years later, in Florida at a hospital fundraising event, I heard Lovell speak of his gratitude that he was on that trip. He describe the emotions and the colors of seeing earth from where no man had seen our blue planet, frp, 180,000 miles away.

For the 11-year-old viewer, watching on the RCA color television, the view of earth from above was mesmerizing. Do you remember?  Did you watch it live?  Did you feel the smallness of our blue orb and the largeness of the universe?  Did you feel more connected to fellow earth-riders?  I did, and I never looked at the world the same again. Today we have the Hubble telescope, and we can see universes beyond universes, but in 1968 Borman’s “Earth Rising” meant for the first time, the world saw itself as it is.  In our living room, we have a poster made from a Hubble picture, of endless stars stretching into an endless universe and universes beyond.

Can we see ourselves today as we are?  Can we honestly look at our planet and know that we’ve done our best?  Think about these things as you cast your vote in the presidential election.  What will you leave for your children and grandchildren?






I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

Feeding America link


Aug 302020

I live in a suburb.  I am a white woman. I don’t want anyone to assume they know how or what I think.  I am an individual.  I’ve been called a member of the Me Generation and a Baby Boomer, often in pejorative ways.  I acknowledge my own lifelong privilege because of the circumstances of my birth.  I am not a perfect person by any means, and I make mistakes.

I want you to know who I am, today, August 30, 2020.

I believe in God, the God who gave us Her son Jesus.  I believe we should follow Jesus’ example as outlined in the four Gospels. I believe that my Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish brothers and sisters were also created by God, though we all reach Her on different paths.  Had I been born a Hindu child in India, instead of a Lutheran child in Indiana, would God be less God to me?  Of course not.

I believe in Mother Nature.  We were given this beautiful blue orb and we’ve not taken good care of it.  It is our responsibility — whether we are sowers of seed or consumers — to stop harming our planet.

I believe that Black Lives Matter.  And I believe we have to say Black Lives Matter Every. Single. Day. until people understand why it is important.  White people have not experienced the deadly consequences of the systemic racism caused by our ancestors that still happens today. This has to stop, and I believe those who ignite the fires of racism today must be stopped.

I believe that it is every American’s right and privilege to use their franchise.  Those who don’t bother to vote need to shut up and not complain about our government.  And there are not always perfect choices.  Should we eliminate the good because it is not perfect?  No, or nothing ever changes.  I believe in a peaceful transition to power after an election. I’ve watched every inauguration since I was a child no matter what political party takes power.  This ceremony, on the steps of the United States Capitol, sets us apart in the world as we all celebrate the new president, whether we voted for him or not.

I believe in a strong and educated police force.  I believe police who commit crimes against other citizens should be accountable for their actions.

I believe in the right of protest as outlined by our United States constitution.  I do not support those who would incite violence, loot, or carry illegal weapons to a peaceful protest.  I do not believe guns should be carried at a peaceful protest.  I support the second amendment, and I believe that automatic weapons are weapons of war, and unnecessary for sport or home protection.

I believe in science.  Science is based on facts.  Science can co-exist with faith, because “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1 NIV.  Many scientists admit there are some questions that cannot be answered. But for those questions that can be answered, we turn to science.

I believe that all children deserve to be raised by a parent or parents. I believe we have harmed many immigrant children by separating them from their parents or guardians.  Our country was founded by immigrants.  My family came from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany.  Very few of us are full-blooded native Americans.  How can we look at immigrants any differently that our own ancestors?

I believe in capitalism, but not today’s capitalism where a small percent of our country’s overall wealth is held by the top one percent.  Several generations ago, Americans lived by the maxim, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”  Strong unions protected the middle class.  Real income adjusted for inflation has not increased  for the middle and lower classes in half a century as it has for the rich.  This chart from Advisor Perspectives shows that middle income since 1970 has increased by under 40% while the top tier has increased by 140%  Supply-side economics didn’t offer the great trickle-down it promised.

I believe that a society is judged by how it cares for its most marginalized citizens, whether they be poor immigrants needing asylum to escape gangs, or individuals with disabilities who cannot work, or our senior citizens.

I believe in a free and active press.  Unfortunately, social media and 24/7 cable news has upped the profit game for media.  Media owners need a profit to stay in business, but I’m afraid the price is a toxic media environment where the lines between news and opinion have been blurred.

I believe that love is love.  Why am I more entitled, as a heterosexual, to marry as I wish?  I’m not.  Thankfully, the law has been changed and members of the LGBTQ community may marry as they wish.

I believe that love is the most powerful force on earth.  Great things have been done in the name of love, or as Mother Teresa suggested, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”  I fall short on this item every day, but I’m working to be kinder and more compassionate to others.  In a world filled with hate, it is a challenge for me but I try to remember the example of those who came before me.

On November 3, we will vote for President of the United States.  I hope you will look deep inside yourself, and consider what you believe. What are your basic beliefs and how will you implement them by your vote?  What is important to you?



I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

Feeding America link


Aug 242020

August 24, 2020 (revised for length 8/26/2020) — With the Presidential election just over two months away, I want to share why I am voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.  I suspect many won’t get past my headline, but I ask you to bear with me.   I need to tell you a little bit about me before I explain the choice I’ve made.

Politics has always been a great joy in my family. My parents were Rockefeller Republicans, middle-class, middle-ground moderates, a group of voters that no longer exists. My family watched political conventions of both stripes with the same enthusiasm we reserved for baseball.   I cast my first vote in 1976 for Gerald Ford, who told us our “long national nightmare was over.”

In  discussions with my father around the 1980 election, we agreed we both felt uneasy with Ronald Reagan.  Both of us voted for John Anderson, an Illinois Congressman who left a safe seat to challenge Mr. Reagan.   I couldn’t bring myself to pull the lever for the Gipper.  I liked George H.W. Bush, and voted for him in two elections, 1988 and 1992.  I felt the Vice President had fallen in line with Reagan, despite calling Reagan’s signature supply-side economics policy “voodoo economics.”   I voted for Bob Dole in the 1996 election; Dole was one of the last moderate Republicans.

By the year 2000, much had changed in our society from when I entered the workforce in 1980.  The promise of supply-side economics didn’t lift all boats equally.  Wealth didn’t trickle down into education, with the cost of public and private colleges skyrocketing, and the student loan industry standing by with outstretched hands.  Wealth didn’t trickle down for healthcare consumers.  Prescription prices went up over the moon, insurance premium costs grew, and many two-income homes couldn’t take in Grandma, who spent down her life savings and went to a nursing home on Medicaid. Wealth didn’t trickle down for most people.Unions had become less popular, so blue-collar workers had less protection, while CEO salaries rose exponentially.  And for all workers, benefits changed.  That bank of vacation days you earned and your sick leave were combined to make “Paid Time Off.”  If you were lucky enough to stay healthy, you could take paid vacation. If you had an excellent corporate job, with good benefits, good for you.  Reductions in force became the norm at all levels of employment.

I did not vote for George W. Bush.  Junior was a different man than his father; he didn’t seem like a smart or serious man to me. And his politics were more extreme than his father’s.  Both Bush, the Younger, and Democratic nominee Albert Gore, Jr. were gaffe machines, and I wondered how they would fare with their finger on the button.  Despite a crazy election cycle complete with the new term “hanging chads,” Gore accepted the December 2000 decision by the Supreme Court, with the traditional peaceful transition of power from Clinton to Bush. After 9/11, George the Younger did an outstanding job of uniting our country in an awful time, only to ruin his legacy with tens of thousands of military and civilian deaths by taking us into two costly, lengthy, and possibly unnecessary wars.

(I suspect whether to send American soldiers into harm’s way is the most difficult decision a President has to make.  I understand there are times when there is no choice. We rushed into Iraq based on false information.  We are still in Afghanistan.  History will be the ultimate judge of those decisions.

August 25 is the anniversary of the Allies liberating Paris in 1944.  Americans swell with pride in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe about our achievements in supporting the Allies in World War II. We saved the world despite our being late arrivals to the war.  Churchill, as Prime Minister of England, begged Franklin Roosevelt, our President, to send planes, equipment, money, and finally troops for the cause.  Until Pearl Harbor, there was little support for a second “Great War:” the memories of “The War to End All Wars” still fresh in American minds.)

The Republican party I knew as a child and young person does not exist and had moved from center-right to far-right.  The party had lost its way from the party of family values, and the part that wanted balanced budgets.   The funny thing, to me, is that I feel like I was standing still, and the party I knew moved without me.  That’s when I became a registered Democrat, albeit a moderate one.  No political party is perfect. But the Republican party no longer represented by values.

This year I will cast my vote for Joseph R. Biden for President of the United States for these reasons:

Experience: Joe served in Congress for many years before Barack Obama chose him as Vice President.  In an ever-more-bipartisan world, Joe has the history and wisdom to reach across the aisle to build consensus.  Joe worked closely in partnership with President Obama throughout his eight years.  Joe knows that a “good economy” just doesn’t mean a rising stock market. Joe will be a president for all of the American people, not just a few in one party.  Joe also enjoys world-wide respect from foreign leaders he knows on a first-name basis, a good place to begin his foreign policy as President.

Character: Joe has a spine of steel, but a heart of empathy.  He’s been through several tragedies in his life, including the death of his first wife and infant daughter in a car accident, which also left their two sons gravely injured.  Joe also lost his son, Beau, to brain cancer, the same kind that killed senators, Ted Kennedy, and John McCain.  His personal tragedies have shaped the person Joe is.

Empathy:  There’s an old trope that we judge a society by how it treats its most marginalized citizens.  During the convention last week, Joe asked a young boy from New Hampshire to speak.  This young man has a stutter, as does Biden.  Decades of practice have helped Joe work through his stutter.  Because of his personal experience, Joe reaches out to children who have this issue.  The courage of that young boy filled me with joy.  As the parent of someone on the spectrum, this busy man takes time to talk to children who share this disability is fantastic.  Joe is also empathetic and kind to veterans and their families, as he and his family know what it is like to have a loved one fight overseas.

Other issues:

  • Climate Change:  Joe will return the U.S. to the Paris Climate Accord.  Congress first held a hearing about climate change in 1981, which was nearly 40 years ago.  It’s past time for us to be fully on board to reduce our carbon footprint.
  • Healthcare: Fix the Affordable Health Care act.  I know that many of my more progressive friends want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, but I think the whole system is too fragile right now.  Let’s fix the ACA and figure out how to do Medicare for All correctly.  Regardless of what he inherits on January 20, he will have a plan and take decisive action about dealing with COVID.  He has demonstrated in 2009 that he can step up in a terrible situation, as he assisted President Obama with economic issues.
  • Choice of Veep:  Kamala Harris is a strong choice, and certainly qualified to step in on day one, should something happen to Joe.
  • Global:  Joe supports and understands the long-term political consequences of fostering allies like NATO.

Joe has demonstrated by his behavior that he’s not dismissive or threatened by strong women.  Joe commits to ending systemic racism and supports the LGBTQ community, as I do.

He is not perfect.  He has said and done stupid things in his career.  And he is four years older than our current president.  Frankly, I would rather have a nominee in both parties that’s closer to my son’s age than mine.  But Joe Biden will be a leader because he is a leader.  And think about the things he will not do.  I don’t need to list them for you; you know what they are.

Regardless of whether you agree with me or not, please vote.  This is a privilege earned by the blood of those young men who stormed into Europe on D-Day in June 1944 and went on to liberate the City of Lights.  Take your franchise seriously.  America is depending on you.




I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

Feeding America link

Aug 222020

August 22, 2020 —  Something strange happened to me Wednesday evening.  I cannot explain it.

We were watching either the DNC or Major League Baseball.  I honestly don’t remember because I was listening to an Audible book on my phone and playing a video game on my tablet.  My husband and I watch the Boob Tube together every night and sit at opposite ends of our

My mom’s hands on baby Alex 1990.

comfortable reclining couch.

Both of us have been known to fall asleep there, especially after a large meal.  I do not think, in retrospect, that I was sleeping.

I rested my right hand on the end of the sofa. I felt a hand resting on top of my arm, patting me slowly. This was a familiar gesture from my mom. She died at age 79 in February 2012 after battling dementia for more than a decade.  I couldn’t see her, but I could feel her comforting, warm hand on my arm.  It was Mom’s left hand, and she wore her tiny diamond ring between two gold bands so thin they had been soldered together.  While I saw the wedding set in my mind, I knew at the same time that they were in a drawer two rooms away.

My eyes, or my mind’s eye, followed up the course of her arm, and I saw her smiling at me, in a simple green outfit I remember from the 1990s. Her smile was glorious and so welcome.  At my conscious level, I know she has passed on, and I know she couldn’t be standing there, because of the table where I saw her.  Was I asleep?  I can’t say.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that it doesn’t matter to me, because in my mind’s eyes she touched me, and I saw her smile.

People on my dad’s side of the family are dreamers, and I mean literal dreams.  Some of us talk in our sleep, sleepwalk, and have crazy, mixed-up dreams.  I have these dreams, but I never dream about my mother.  My inability to find her in dreams has disappointed me since her death. After my maternal grandmother died a quarter-of-a-century ago, I often saw her in dreams.  Sometimes these dreams were grand, like the first one after her funeral.  I dreamed that my maternal grandmother was swimming on north Clearwater Beach, a place that was special to both of us.  The dream was so vivid–I could feel the cold water splashing at me, I could hear her voice telling me she was beautiful, and I could sense the hot sun on my back.  That dream was in 1994, and I can remember it like it happened last night.

I accept the traditional Christian version of heaven and hell, though I widen the lens because I believe there is only one God, and all roads lead to Rome. I am quite curious about “the other side,” but have no answers.  I’ve always been curious about it, but I won’t know until I know.  I remember having long discussions with a former pastor about “will we know our loved ones on the other side?”

Curious about how others see it, three times in my life, I’ve consulted psychics and seers.   The In Clearwater, Florida, several friends and I hired a psychic to come to my house.  She arrived two hours later.  She is going to tell my future but can’t find my house?  The second time was in New Orleans, Louisiana, and after one Hurricane I didn’t pay much attention.  The last time was recently on a whim, referred by a friend.  This person says she talks to the dead on the “other side” but she doesn’t predict the future. What she said is for another time.  Mostly, I’ve found it to be smoke and mirrors. But I don’t know.

I’m not sure it matters whether it was a dream, or a vision concocted by my mind.  I don’t care.  I accept it as a gift.



I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

Feeding America link




Jul 232020

Birthday dinner at maternal grandparents, 1962

I celebrate another trip around the sun today.  Either I’m 36 (what my head says), or I’m 163 (what my body says). Since my mother died, the week before my special day is always filled with weeping and grief.  Though this mini depression happens every year, it still surprises me.  This year was no exception, and mixed in the salad was a sadness about not being able to see my father, who will be 90 in December.  Stir in his deteriorating short-term memory, and I felt like crying.

Today I woke up grateful, happy to be alive, thankful we’ve had my Dad for so long. I’m ready to start a new year. God willing, Herman and I will celebrate another anniversary this fall, and our son is happy in his life out east.  We have shelter and plenty of food and exciting hobbies. I’ve already been showered with Facebook messages, texts, cards I will open this afternoon, and profoundly touching email messages from the Mazda dealership and the Ball State University Foundation. Oh, and I must not forget the email from Pat and Vanna and the Wheel Watchers Club.

I will grill sirloins, followed by several Zooms with dear ones, culminating in one with our son.

We miss our son every day, but are thankful he has a wonderful life, even so far away from us. Losing our annual June baseball trip was hard.  While I didn’t attend the games, I enjoyed our meals together and late-night bull sessions about everything under the sun. A never-to-be-spoken-of-again unfortunate incident with a Tall Boy and the Hot Sun ended my baseball career 23 years ago today at Riverfront Stadium.

One of the many losses of this pandemic has been the Great American Pastime, Major League Baseball.   I could not have predicted how much I would miss baseball, how it is the rhythm of my life, and the background noise of every summer. It’s the thread that weaves my father to my husband and our son. When I became engaged to a Reds fan, my Cubs-fan-to-the-death Dad said, “Well, at least it isn’t the American League.” I used to say that the perfect moment of death would be sitting about halfway up between home and third base at Wrigley, below Harry throwing out his mic to lead the singing crowd, and drinking a cold beer. In marriage, I had to accept the horror that was Riverfront Stadium.

Today, on my birthday, is the official start of the 2020 baseball season.  The Cubs played last night, and the Reds don’t play until tomorrow, but the World Champion Nationals (my third team after the Reds and Cubs) play today.

Backyard party, 1963, L-R, Gail Germann Murphy, Mom, Carla Sheeler Mitchell, Shelby Schoeff, me, Paula Bok, Lorie Bollinger, Melonie Kreider Sroufe

A summer birthday offers both disadvantages and advantages.  As a child, I couldn’t have a party at school.  Back then, before the Peloponnesian War, children brought homemade cupcakes to school to share with the entire class.  My mother, who was the queen of birthdays, gave the best parties, the iconic little girl party with pink party dresses. She wasn’t the most excellent cook, so she had a friend, Blanche Hathaway, make an angel food cake with boiled icing. Never heard of boiled icing.  It’s the best, sort of colorless and turns hard like fondant, but not as sweet.  We played games with Life Savers and string, and whatever my mother, who was a teacher, could make from home.

Even as we age, we like for the world to stop and give us recognition for our special day.  Of course, that doesn’t always happen.  My 21st birthday was spent at Lutheran Hospital, where my grandfather was being treated for a heart attack.  On my 45th birthday, we had to short-circuit a vacation because our water heater broke and flooded our basement.  Several years ago, on my birthday, my father gave my husband and I our 164th tour of Purdue University. We were glad to be with him, though neither of us attended Purdue.

The good ones have been outstanding.  On my 35th birthday, I saw an all-Gershwin musical “Crazy for You” at the Schubert Theatre in New York City.  On my 52nd birthday, I saw a revival of “West Side Story” again in New York.  This was the Tony-winning production, using Spanish for the first time.  Back at the Schubert for my 60th birthday, we saw Bette Midler in a stunning revival of “Hello, Dolly.”

On my 18th birthday, shortly before we all left for college, my friend Gail and her mom surprised me with a birthday luncheon at their home.  On my 50th birthday, I hosted a fundraiser/celebration for friends, and we raised more than 4K for playground equipment at the Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center, where our son attended pre-school.  I have a beautiful picture from that day, hanging on my office wall.  That day was filled with much love.

While I hope to live many more years, one never knows.  If a bus hits me tomorrow (highly unlikely since I rarely leave home.) Let’s start over; if a meteor smashes through my office window, I have lived the best life because I’ve never doubted that I’m loved.  Everything else is a bonus. And, honestly, I would accept another tour of Purdue, if only if we could be with Dad today, (“That’s where the Dairy Barn was 70 years ago!”) Thank you, my dear ones, for all the wishes today, and especially, for love.



Jul 062020

August 2019 at the gym

July 6, 2020 — Today was my third session back at the hospital’s cardiopulmonary gym since the pandemic started. I’ve been going to this remarkable place since late spring 2019 when I began the cardiopulmonary rehab program. After my “graduation,” I started in the after-program. I’ve had asthma for 29 years, which had morphed to chronic asthma, which had morphed to severe asthma and several other related problems of my lung. I initially lost 25 pounds over the first six months and need to lose at least another 25. Honestly, weight loss isn’t my primary reason for being there; the exercise is to strengthen my lungs and my mental agility.

I’ve learned so much from the staff and the other patients there, strategies for dealing with life on oxygen. For example, I used to struggle with taking a shower.  I learned that I could do several things, take my oxygen into the shower with me (as long as it doesn’t get wet), get a shower chair (which I’m not ready to do), or sit down on the commode to towel off.  Now, why didn’t I think of that?

Aspects of my disease that I struggled with or caused me shame were everyday talk in rehab.  I used to arrive 15 minutes before class for the bull session.

Who had the best portable concentrator?  Where did you get that backpack?  Who is your doctor?  How do you like Dr. X? How do you handle the hot, humid weather?  How are you doing today?

I missed the gym and especially the people for the past four months. I had stopped going last November when the flu was rampant.  I returned in February, and the gym was shuttered in early March. Since it is a physician-referred rehab program, everyone who exercises there has a heart or lung problem. There are also several pre- and many post-transplant patients. (The pre-transplant patients wore masks before the pandemic.) I have some eye problems, so I feel uncomfortable walking in our hilly neighborhood, so I didn’t exercise. From May through the beginning of October, the air quality here is also terrible.

So, as soon as I received the information that the rehab program was opening, I was psyched. My first day back was last Monday. I stood in a socially-distanced line to get into the hospital.. Masks are required; if you don’t have one, the hospital gives you one. I signed-in, had my temperature taken, answered questions, and got my daily “hall pass.”  One of the regular questions is, have you had a bad cough today?

I said no, though I’ve had a bad cough all day, every day for the past quarter-of-a-century.  I wanted to quote Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride” to my questioner, “I do not think it means what you think it means” about my cough.

I punched the elevator button with my elbow and went to the gym’s floor.

I thought I had prepared well. We are required to wear our oxygen into the gym and then switch to a green hospital canister. The canister is continuous oxygen, instead of the pulse oxygen of my portable oxygen concentrator. Continuous oxygen is better for breathing, especially when exercising. (At home, I have a super-sized concentrator that pumps out continuous oxygen into tubing that goes all over our upstairs and even down the stairs to the family room. The big tank is known as Big Tanko, and weighs 41 lbs.)

But, I hadn’t quite figured out the logistics, with the new pandemic rules. There aren’t enough hands to change from one oxygen to the other while dealing with a mask. I had made a mistake. Usually, I would unplug the six-foot tubing from my portable concentrator and plug directly onto the hospital’s tank. In the age of COVID, that was a bad idea, so I brought a clean tube from home in my bag. I brought an easily cleaned plastic bag. But to take my old tubing off and put the new tubing on, I HAD TO TAKE OFF MY MASK. That’s a no-no (so I did it quickly). I wasn’t near anyone, but I still felt terrible about it.

I did do something correctly. I brought the bag, needing a clean place for my concentrator (I call him ‘Lil Tanko.) ‘Lil Tanko, who weighs six pounds, might get contaminated. He has a fabric cover that can’t be washed. I usually put him on a chair, but that seemed risky. I put ‘Lil Tanko inside the bag and hung the bag on the coat rack.

Exercising in a mask is a challenge, and the first two times, I struggled. I knew my strength and stamina diminished, but I was hoping to make progress rapidly. Today, I figured a way to improve my stamina. The oxygen in the green tank is cool, while the room air is warm, sometimes even a little stuffy on humid days. I could use the “One crocodile, two crocodile” breathing technique I learned on my first day at the gym.

Breathe in through your nose and say to yourself, “One crocodile, two crocodile.” Breathe out and repeat.

Please don’t do it too fast or you’ll hyperventilate, especially in a mask. I made a conscious effort to breathe regularly (always a good plan), and today was a better day. (My concentrators give off a nasty beep if I’m not breathing often enough, but the inert hospital canisters do not.)

Only half the typical class was allowed in, so it wasn’t crowded, and yellow signs noted the machines we couldn’t use.

Today, a man next to me nearly passed out on his treadmill because of his mask. He didn’t have it over his nose, which isn’t allowed. I told him about the one crocodile, two crocodile thing (which also works with alli-ga-tor), but he wasn’t doing well. The nurse came over to talk to him and remind him about the mask.

He wasn’t someone I met before so that he may have been a new person, first time at cardiopulmonary rehab. I hope he is okay. (Because of the HiPPA laws, you don’t know why people are at this gym unless they tell you. Nor can the staff discuss patients. Several of my classmates have disappeared, and later I’ve discovered their obituary in the newspaper.)

I finished my work-out and reversed my procedure from before, cleaning all my equipment with the wipes provided, and cleaning my hands and everything I touched.  I took an extra wipe to use to open the gym door and hit the elevator button.  I used it for the inside elevator button, hit “1”, and went to one of the four markers in each corner.  An older man came running in, and the door almost caught him.  I quickly moved to the front of the elevator, and held the door for him with my leg and stepped back to the rear of the elevator.

Immediately he took off his mask.

“I can’t breathe in this thing,” he said.

I didn’t know what to say.  We are in a hospital.  He is there as a patient (patients must be unaccompanied) or an employee.  I didn’t see a nametag. The floor he was on has only physician’s offices and the rehab program.

He put the mask back on.

I don’t live in a hot spot (today), but it made me mad.  I want to go back to the gym, and I’m taking care of myself and others.  But, I think I’ll start using the stairs.



I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

Feeding America link



Jun 282020

She was not my mother.  Jean Germann had three smart and beautiful daughters, one five months older than me, the other two bookending my younger brother.  Still, Jean was a huge influence during my childhood.  To borrow a cliche, she was from “the village” who raised me.

Earlier this week, Jean left this world for the proverbial better place.  After family greeted her, I think my mom may have been among Jean’s friends at the head of the receiving line.  Our families were intertwined for several generations, and Mom and Jean had a beautiful friendship.  Jean was one year, less four days. older than Mom. They often celebrated their spring birthdays with a special meal or party.

Our two families have a history, unlike any other in my life. We went to church together, as did her paternal grandparents and my maternal grandparents. We attended the same school, K-12.  Our fathers participated in Purdue alumni events, Lions Club, and men’s activities at church.  Our mothers were in the same book club and women’s activities at church.  We spent time together as families when we were younger. (Going to church together didn’t mean we waved at each other once or twice a month on Sunday mornings. It meant Sunday School, Saturday School (confirmation class), Vacation Bible School, St. John’s Players (theatre troupe), Mother-Daughter banquets, Fish Frys, Rally Day, church camp, Walther League, singing with the Reformation 450 choir.  Church was the center of everything.)

Both families moved back to my mother’s and Jean’s husband’s hometown months apart in 1957.  My lifelong friend, Gail, was born early in that year.  My parents moved back to mom’s hometown in June 1957, weeks before I was born.  My father tells of an evening he and mom visited the Germann’s South Whitley apartment, probably for visiting or a game of cards.  The baby, Gail, was fussing and fidgety.  I wouldn’t arrive until late July, so Dad had no experience with babies.

Dad smarted off, “Doesn’t that child have a bedtime?”

He would soon get his comeuppance when his baby was colicky. There are a thousand funny stories like that. And while I have no record of what was said, I can just hear Jean, throwing her head back in a hearty laugh and commenting to Dad when his firstborn behaved, well, like a baby!

A significant memory for me that no one else may remember is going to see “Mary Poppins” in Fort Wayne on Palm Sunday 1965.  For those who aren’t from the Midwest, Palm Sunday 1965 featured hundreds of tornados and many deaths, particularly in north-central Indiana.  From my childish perspective, I remember meeting the Germanns in front of the theatre (probably the Jefferson), and the girls had new matching plaid tennis shoes.  (My mom only let me have plain colored shoes.  I was envious and mad.  I was seven.)  The movie, of course, was memorable and remained a favorite (don’t much like the sequel.)  But the ride home was also significant, and I wonder if it was for the Germann family,  traveling west in their green station wagon on Indiana highway 14.  The sky was the color of mustard with a streak of purple.  South Whitley was spared, but many Indiana towns had terrible damage.

We were always welcome in the Germann’s home, a comfortable two-story brick house from the early 20th century.  The house features a wide and spacious screened front porch, a place to talk or read.  Mom and Jean would trade off on watching each other’s children, so my brother and I spent much time there. The Germann family was more athletic than my family, so there was usually an outdoor activity involved.  Jean was the cornerstone of most activities, and what I respected so much about her was her ability to include everyone.  Compared to her thin, athletic daughters, I was uncoordinated and asthmatic.  But that didn’t matter.  She always encouraged me.  I spent hours with the family, sometimes going camping with them.  Often on weekends, we would go to one of the lakes in Warsaw for an afternoon, or later to the Germann’s A-Frame on Loon Lake.

Gail, Amy 1962 What were we reading?

Gail and I remained friends, though, as we arrived at high school, our interests diverged, and we made different friends.  She went to Valpo, traveled around the world on a once-in-a-lifetime trip with her aunt, uncle, and cousins, and married a Purdue grad who farms in Whitley County.  Gail and Pat have two wonderful children. I went to Ball State, moved to Florida, married another Ball State grad and moved back to Indiana where we raised our son. She studied biology.  I studied journalism and history.

Remarkably, we’ve written letters, and in old-fashioned parlance, have been pen-pals, since our twenties. Today, when we speak or write, I feel like we haven’t communicated for ten minutes.  There’s that much history, that much love, lovely ties that bind us together.

There’s something that Gail didn’t know about my relationship with her mother, that I only told her last week when we spoke about her mother passing.  Jean had been a teacher like my own mother and had an interest in the arts.  I started writing poetry and little stories about age ten, typed on my mom’s manual Royal typewriter.  Not very much of it was any good.  Maybe there were threads of promise in the hundreds of typewritten pages I produced.  Who knows?  At some point, I was too embarrassed to share with my mother.

Jean, who always asked me about myself and made me feel special, inquired about my interests.  While she may have regretted putting a toe in that deep water, I never knew that. Until I was probably fourteen or fifteen, I shared — er, deluged her with — my poems and stories in notebooks.  And she commented on them, critiqued me, giving encouragement and instruction.  Can you imagine what this meant to me?  Can you imagine what this still means to me?  I wish I still had the notebooks.  I destroyed them when I went to college.   (The same people who screamed when I threw all my newspaper clips away last year are likely apoplectic by now.  In both cases, there were hundreds and hundreds.)

Every child needs people outside their home who believe they are special, or who make them feel that way.  Jean was not the only one for me, but she was the most special one to me. I’ve tried to encourage others in my life, based on the wonderful example I saw in Jean and so many others.

In a different world, we might call her a social influencer.  A person of faith, Jean was a woman who made a massive difference in the world.  She sustained a long-term marriage to her husband, Al. Together, they raised three children who are lovely human beings who also contribute to the world. Jean enjoyed a litany of abilities, which she shared.  She taught in parochial and public schools and worked at a public-school library for two decades. She coached tennis and encouraged many other players. Jean had a great sense of humor, which could occasionally be wry. She was a  friend of many, including my mother, and I know she was warmly welcomed by those who preceded her. Jean was a precious person who, despite the overwhelming tasks of her own busy life, reached out to an awkward child who wasn’t quite sure of her gifts.






I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

Feeding America link

May 262020

After a perm. 1964.  Lucky Chatty Kathy had curly hair and didn’t need one. 

May 26, 2020 — I wear my hair short, in the same Pixie cut I wore as a toddler.  My hair is unreasonably thick and unruly, and five cowlicks means it goes where it wants to go.  My hair doesn’t grow longer, just wider.  My mother — God rest her soul — tried taming it by sending me to her beautician frequently in my childhood, only for hilarious results after a permanent (which thankfully did not live it to its word.)  For me, the key is getting my hair cut every three to four weeks. And keeping it in that darned Pixie cut.  Hey, it worked out for Julie Andrews.

The last time I had my hair cut was the end of February.  I’ve looked like a Chia Pet for about two months.

Having read about all the safety features in place at my walk-in salon, I decided today would be the day.  In discussing my intentions with a friend yesterday, she suggested it’s a good time before the state moves into less restrictive requirements for salons.  At that point, other customers might not be masked and the salon might be full again.

I arrived 30 minutes before the doors opened.  Although the shop has an app for scheduling, the app wasn’t live yet.  But, I staked my place as first in line.  Three women with obviously gnarly toes (I’m just making that up) waited in line for the nail salon next door.  The door featured signs outlining the rules of the salon, mainly, without a mask no one would be served.  There was discussion and grumbling from the other people waiting at the door. One man, who said his wife was a nurse, got into an argument about gloves with another person in line.  “They don’t do any good at all,” the man said.  “Ask my wife.”  He wasn’t wearing a mask, but to get inside the salon he had no choice.  And there was no requirement for gloves, but I was wearing them.  (I realize I am not a surgeon, but what I do is wear them, try very hard not to touch my face, and douse the gloves liberally with hand sanitizer when I get back in the car. Having been unable to purchase hand sanitizer, I made my own with rubbing alcohol and aloe gel.  It smells like hell, so now my car smells antiseptic and funky.)

At precisely 9 a.m., the door opened and out came a masked woman carrying an I-pad.  She registered me and the four people behind me by our phone number.  I was immediately taken inside past a table with hand sanitizer and masks.  She told me that no one was allowed in the salon without a mask, and the salon was happy to give one to clients.  The room had been transformed since my last visit.  The check-out area had plastic barriers between the multiple registers and where clients stand.  Half the chairs had been removed.

As I started to walk to the back when the shampoo bowls are, the stylist told me, “We can’t wash any hair.  It’s gets us too close to the face.”

This face was directed to her chair.  I asked her if I needed to take my mask off, and hold it on with my hands.  She said, “No, I’ve been trained to work around the ears.”  She was all business.  There was no conversation.  As soon as I sat down, the started cutting.  I’ve gone there for four years, so almost everyone there knows me and how I like my hair (the simple Pixie cut).

In less than five minutes she was finished.  She handed me the mirror to check it it, and it was fine.  Yes, it was a little shorter than usual.  Okay, I looked like I had just been buzzed by an irritated corporal at Fort Benning before deploying to World War I.  I tipped her well and

View from the back side, 1964.

returned home. It didn’t help that when I arrived, Herman began singing “Over There.”

My hair is not a huge problem.  The longer version of it didn’t make me hungry, or in poverty, or losing my house because I missed a mortgage payment.  It was a minor irritant, and thanks to the magic of quarantine, I won’t be seeing another human except for Herman.

I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

Feeding America link

May 232020


For many, a small silver lining in these months of unprecedented global disease is  time for reading.

I’m usually not a fan of fiction, and I prefer non-fiction and primarily narrative history. But since I was in junior high school, I’ve enjoyed the secret pleasure of apocalyptic novels.  Do you remember reading “On the Beach?” in high school?  Or maybe you saw the movie.  There’s been a nuclear war, and Australia and New Zealand are the remaining outposts of civilization, except for a reoccurring radio signal from the State of Washington.  The red sports car crashing, the cyanide pills, the radio signal from the Northwest United States, all of it sticks in my mind fifty years later.

In the era of “Duck and Cover,” there were so many others, “Alas, Babylon,” the almost iconic look at post-nuclear central Florida written by Pat Frank in the fifties. I loved this book because I was remarkably familiar with Florida and could relate to their surroundings.  (An aside, I got to know his son, Patrick Frank, who was also an Open Salon writer 2009-2013 and loved talking with him about the book, written when he was a child.)  I remember my horror when reading that MacDill Air Force Base blew up.  “Failsafe” is another that was immortalized in a movie with Henry Fonda. And the book Dr. Strangelove made into the movie “How I Learned to Love the Bomb.”

Later came the entire “Mad Max” genre, the “Planet of the Apes” quintet (I watched all five of them at a drive-in one night in college), “War Games,” “The Matrix,” and “Cloud Atlas.”

These books led me  to tomes about bioterrorism, or how Mother Nature has gone awry.

As COVID climbed out of its hidey-hole and encircled the world,  I thought about all the books I’ve read during my lifetime.  Plagues have been with us forever, and people have been written about them for as long as there have been viruses.  Daniel Defoe wrote a classic book on pandemics in the 18th century, and Albert Camus wrote one in the 20th century.  In my lifetime, I started at age 12 with “The Andromeda Strain,” which was made into a scary movie.  There’s “Love in the Time of Cholera,” “Station 11,” “The Vermillion Strain,” “Oryx and Crake,”   There are also legions of books that deal with a combination of civilization-ending maladies, such as “The Leftovers,” “The Disappearance,” “Lights Out Cyber Attack” (by Ted Koppel), and “2030” (a strange book by Albert Brooks, of all people.)  I also recommend “The Hot Zone,” which is a non-fiction book about Marburg, a former of Ebola.

If you want to dig deeply into the subject, read Laurie Garrett’s endless book, “The Coming Plague.”  While it was written a quarter-of-a-century ago, it is still valuable reading.  I’m not quite through it yet.  I “read” on Audible because of eye problems (save my tired eyes for writing) and the book is 41 hours.  I can’t say I am even halfway through the large book.

For me reading a book about the pandemic during a pandemic is not scary.  I’ve had nightmares about real life, but reading these books is just fascinating.  I’ve learned strange details that probably only matter in a game of trivia, like Russians don’t get flu shots, they use a nasal spray.  I’ve also learned that I wouldn’t want to be on a submarine, during a pandemic, or during any normal time, for that matter.  Tight quarters.

I just finished a book called “The End of October” by Lawrence Wright.  Wright is a journalist, has written for many  national papers plus “The New Yorker.”  He is probably best known for the 9/11 work, “The Looming Tower,” about the rise of Al Qaeda.  Wright’s new book was likely written when the COVID virus was still sitting in nature waiting to jump to human beings.  But, the book is scary in its prescience.  Humanity gets a hemorrhagic flu, one that like Ebola, can cause death within 24 hours.  The virus is spread to the millions of Muslims at the annual Haj in Mecca, the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage that many in the Islamic faith attend.  Because the virus is spread through those of the Islamic faith, this adds another twist to the book, making it also a geopolitical thriller.  The hero is a CDC scientist, who was also a veteran of the Ft. Dietrich, Maryland, lab where the U.S. once worked on the most horrendous killer strains of viruses.

This book is a page-turner, but if pandemic novels bring forth your fear, don’t go there.  We all have enough IRL to keep us up at night.  For me, however, I don’t  have the same reaction to fiction as I do to the NBC “Nightly News.”


I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

Feeding America link

May 192020

All Creatures Great and Small–We moved to our present home in the mid- nineties, and, it is May 2020. And what happens in May besides Mother’s Day and usually Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500? It’s the annual return of Fat Bastard, 25th anniversary season.

Baby Fat Bastard, Spring 2019, Current Residence, Inner Mongolia

As my husband gazed out the kitchen window this morning, there was the re-incarnation of Fat Bastard, the wretched varmint that has tormented us since we moved here. Because we attract so many varmints here, Herman has named the place Squirrel Vista. Greg The Ground Hog Guy has been summoned and will commence the Varmint Relocation program tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Fat Bastard arrogantly stood on his hind legs glowering back at us. I’m praying to all that is holy that it is NOT a mama and that we do not repeat the Great Ground Hog Migration of 2019 in which a mama, a papa, and four little Fat Bastards bothered us for weeks. Greg ultimately helped the critters enter the secret relocation program, which he said was thirty miles away. (Or up the street in the woods, who knows?) Strange times, indeed.

Not Another Tequila Sunrise–I am not much of a drinker, though I may have the occasional margarita or champagne drink. By occasional, I mean about three times a year, at weddings, or a random Thursday. Last night we ordered from a local establishment and I ordered a cocktail. Because of state law, the mix part is sent iced, in a plastic cup and an airline-sized bottle of Jose Cuervo accompanies it. (I am not dangling, I mean the bottle of tequila is the size of an airline drink, not the actual airplane, though it has been done. See below.)

When I got home, I took the lid off the Styrofoam cup with the mix and ice inside, opened the tequila and poured it in. It poured out over the top, so I picked it up and drank from the cup. This was not a good idea. Turns out they had given me a frozen margarita, not the rocks one I ordered. It was so cold that the tequila just sat on top of it. So for the first time in my life, I drank a tequila shooter by accident. Needless to say it was a surprise! I can’t say I enjoyed it straight. There was a little bit of tequila left in the bottle, so I stirred up the frozen concoction and sipped the rest. Lesson learned.

I know there are people reading this who will remember a certain party on October 22, 1980 where Jose Cuervo was present all evening in the form of many, many tequila shooters. A person, who will remain nameless, flew across the room at one point, later falling into the bathtub after failing to pull up pants after sitting on the throne. This person received a gash to the head and was rescued by another member of the party (who later described it in great detail). This injured person was unable to attend classes the next day, and has a tiny scar too near the eye, to remember the event. For the record, I was already graduated and living 90 miles away. My record of No Tequila Shooters stood until yesterday. Strange times, indeed.

Who the Hell are you?–Even though of us lucky enough to have first world problems have lost our minds a little bit. My brother, now retired, was sitting in his living room one day last week when a knock came to the door. He answered and saw a masked woman, a tall, slender woman with long hair. Her eyes twinkled as she handed him a box and said, “I brought you some candy.”

Brother, whom I called “Bother” as a child until I knew it was the wrong word and still sometimes call him that, said to the woman, “Who the hell are you?,” a greeting that would have made our late mother cringe. Mom swore exactly one time in her entire life. Once. (I was there, I heard her say it.)

The woman at the door turned out to be Bother’s daughter-in-law, his only son’s wife. In my mind, this brings up a lot of unanswered questions. Is my brother used to attractive, masked women knocking at his door? Why was he unable to recognize his DIL? Had he been day drinking tequila shooters? I admit, she lives two hours away and she was certainly out of context.

She revealed herself. She was traveling with a co-worker back from a business trip to Cincinnati and had stopped to buy candy at a candy store in Lebanon, Indiana, a family favorite. Strange times, indeed.

Nearer My God to Thee–Meanwhile, my nearly 90-year-old father managed to lock himself inside of his Luxury Liner of a Car, a late model beige Buick Park Avenue. (If you want to see what this car looks like, visit any senior facility. Three-quarters of the resident’s cars will be late model beige Buick Park Avenues. Trust me on this. These low riders are incredibly uncomfortable and move like a Sherman tank through the city.) Dad has been on lockdown, and shouldn’t be driving because of poor vision. But, he is concerned his battery will go dead.

Every three or four days, he ventures outside the facility. While he can see his car outside his first floor window, facility rules mean that he has to walk up to the front of the very large campus and go out the front door. All residents are tracked, and to date, there are no COVID cases in the facility which houses multiple units including memory care, rehab, skilled beds, assisted living, patio homes, and independent apartments, where Dad lives.

Last Sunday he went out to start his car. He didn’t tell anyone he was going out, but the front desk knew. The car sits in an unlighted carport, and it is difficult to see if anyone is inside the car without being right on top of it. Dad got inside the car, started it up. The battery was dead. Dad started to get out of the car, but the electronics in this old car kept him inside. The door locks stayed locked. The horn didn’t work. Dad was stuck inside the car. When he told us this story later, he didn’t tell us whether he was inside the car for five minutes or five hours. We are quite thankful it was not a hot day. Rescue came at an unidentified time from an unidentified person.

When things happen, Dad will “test” his story on me, probably because I live 200 miles away. He tested the story the same day on our adult son, who lives 1,100 miles away. Our son gave it to him good, and Dad promised to tell a friend when he was going out again. My brother and I talked about totally removing the car to my brother’s house two miles away as he has an extra bay in his garage. Dad didn’t want that. My father has been large and in charge all of his life; he doesn’t see that changing. I get that. I don’t like changing things in my own life, either.

So, for now, his great ship stays at his dock, awaiting the day this pandemic is over. Strange times, indeed.

Stepping Off the Moving Sidewalk–At the end of this month, my husband will be officially retired from the university where he’s been a research librarian and faculty member for 32 years. When I retired in 2017, it was a dramatic change. It felt like one day I was riding or running on one of those moving sidewalks at the airport. I jumped over the side, and do you know what? The sidewalk kept right on moving, as if I had never been there. My husband’s retirement is completely different. On March 6, the world just stopped for him. While he consulted with students and faculty online for the balance of the semester, it wasn’t the same.

Since he can’t hear very well, he wasn’t able to hear my screaming ,”Get the hell out of my house,” which only lasted a few weeks. (Think Munch’s “The Scream.”) We’ve spent our lives together since college, so we are used to each other idiosyncrasies (not that I have any.)

Life at this stage is more interesting. I can’t see well, and he can’t hear well. He opens jars; I find the spoon for him that’s been in the same drawer for 25 years. He kills the spiders; I clean the kitchen. We both clean the toilets and do the laundry. We laugh almost all the time, at each other, at the world, at our ridiculous selves that seem much dumber than when we first met in 1977, sure of our place in the world.

George Lindsey as Goober Pyle from “The Andy Griffith Show”

Typical conversation from the last five minutes,

Me: “Was there any mail?”, noticing he was coming into the kitchen from a door that leads outside.

Him: “No mail today.”

Me, “Hmmm. Must be a national holiday. Maybe it’s National Goober Pyle Day.”

Him: “What?”

Me: “You are deaf.”

Him, “No, I just don’t know what the heck you are talking about.”

Happy National Goober Pyle Day. Judy. Judy. Judy. Strange times, indeed.

I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

Feeding America link

May 152020

I wasn’t really clear on how dirty our old world was, until we entered this new normal. Now, everywhere I look, advertisements try to convince consumers that their service or product is the cleanest. What does this say about our former life?

The car dealership where I bought my last car is running a commercial that touts the cleanliness of their showroom. I remember buying my car, just like it was yesterday. I entered the showroom, and was approached by a salesman. He asked me what I was looking for, and I responded, “I’m interested in that red sedan over there behind the pile of rancid buffalo dung.”

And who doesn’t remember ordering pizza. Now one of the national chains advertises that no one touches the pizza after it comes out of the oven. Don’t you remember the good old days when you stood in line to pick up your pizza at a counter that was covered with dirt, rotten eggs, and half-empty bottles of motor oil? You watched as your pizza came out of the oven and every employee in the place stuck an ungloved hand, palm down, in the middle of your pepperoncini and sausage. After each employee fondled your pizza, it was handed to the greasy man in front of you in line, and each of his six snot-nosed children touched the box. Ah, those were the good old days!

Many local organizations advertise that they use spray cleaning products which are safe for humans. Why it is, then, that workers shown spraying mist into the air of a particular space, are suited up as if ready for a moon walk? As someone who has lung disease, I was once harmed by a co-worker who sprayed a chemical on herself in my office that keeps clothing from sticking to your body, While she was wrinkle free, I was writhing on the floor in a bad asthma attack, unable to breathe.

Now I realize we have a virus to kill. But the uber-emphasis on cleaning makes me wonder just what we were exposed to before. Did people not wash their hands before? During cold and flu season, were we not mindful of shaking hands, touching doorknobs in public places, or pressing elevator doors?

That is, of course, a rhetorical question. But maybe some unexpected good will come out of it. Because we are all so fearful of COVID, perhaps next year’s influenza season will have fewer casualties as we’re all reminded of the rules of good hygiene.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a nice toxic mess brewing in my kitchen sink, so I had better don the space suit and get after it.

 wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

May 142020

Cooking is not my strong suit. I’m very good, however, at eating. As we wait for the locusts and the rest of the plagues to arrive, we have to have something to eat. I’m the cook; my husband is the shopper. In these strange times, this means he’s the one who goes to get the pickup at the grocery store. We are fortunate that we are both retired (well, husband May 31), and don’t have to go anywhere.

My mother was many wonderful things, but she was not a good cook. She didn’t believe in butter, only whitish-oleo-margarine (which I have not eaten since I moved away at 18). Both of my grandmothers were good cooks, my grandmother McVay far better. She made homemade yeast rolls, pies, and sometimes cut up potatoes for homemade French fries for my brother and me. My husband can work his way around the kitchen, but he doesn’t really want to cook.

Since we are blessed to have food and many aren’t, and since I hate to waste food, I try to use up what we have. This is why yesterday husband Herman made homemade buttermilk biscuits. The buttermilk was going to celebrate its birthday (what we call expiration date) so we needed to use it. This also meant that today I made two loaves of Amish cinnamon bread (recipe from Vanessa Seijo, thanks V).

(And just so you know, we DO sing Happy Birthday is milk gets a little stinky in the carton and we have to pour it down the sink.)

The biscuits Herman made were, without a doubt, the best biscuits I’ve ever eaten in my life. So fluffy, so light, yet plump, but with a crispy bottom. And no baking soda taste like at breakfast joints. I am ashamed to tell you that yesterday I ate five in two settings. Now I am fluffy and plump (but no crispy bottom.)

Since I made the bread today to use up the buttermilk, Herman came barreling into the kitchen, picked up the bag of leftover biscuits, and noticed that no one has eaten another one. He counts his damn biscuits!

Then he says, “What? You don’t like my biscuits?”

This made me laugh out loud. He was his mother, made over as a sixty-ish, long-haired man.

My late mother-in-law made the most delicious pot roast. No one has ever accused me of eating too little. Once at her home early in our marriage, I had a nice helping and a hearty second helping, and she said, “What? You don’t like my pot roast?”

That apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

May 062020

Not opening business will cost more lives due to suicide and drug overdose — POTUS May 2020.

Is it any wonder we stay up late at night and watch hours of “Fraser” on the channel with the disgusting lovey-dovey romance movies? The news is bleaker with each passing cycle.

Flipping channels this morning, I heard Governor Cuomo (D-NY) report more than 200 deaths overnight. The number has been much larger in New York, but 200 deaths is an astonishing number. The arc of the influence and lives of 200 lost souls is nearly incomprehensible for me. Another stat that jumped out at me this morning—more than 600 deaths overnight in the U.K., a county so much smaller than the U.S.A.

The arc of the influence and lives of 200 lost souls is nearly incomprehensible for me.

I’ve repeatedly heard that we are in a “Sophie’s Choice” moment. Do we want a full economy or no deaths? There is no choice. Whether we all hunker down for months in underground bomb shelters or attend stadium rallies, the virus is still in control. Scientists are learning more every day, but the virus is still new, or “novel” as implied the name, novel coronavirus. We have no idea how long it will last, if it will go away, if immunity exists for those who have been ill or exposed.

And realistically, we have to open society. It’s not possible for everyone to stay hunkered down forever. Most people don’t have that first world privilege.

But isn’t it HOW we open up?

The government released federal guidelines, yet only a few of the 40 states opening up met/meet the initial recommendations. Are you ready to attend a college graduation with thousands of other people? Or even go to your local theater? What about your religious services?

There’s really only one way to accomplish a reopening. And that’s with testing. We (hopefully) have years to figure out what happened; now we need a national moon shot to develop enough tests for 330 million Americans, and perhaps, a chance to save the world. I agree that vaccines are important and I applaud those working on them, but I believe testing and the supplies that go with them, should be at the forefront of our efforts. And yes, we’re going to have to multi-task.

My husband and I are retired, so we have the privilege of hunkering down as we wish. Not so much for our adult son or working-age nieces and nephews. With testing, we can open up and have a chance against this new virus. History will first record the number of deaths, not the Dow average.

I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you aren’t a frontline worker, you can support them or others. Send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.

May 022020

Week Seven or is it Nine of Quarantine here in beautiful Paradise, Indiana. Who knows what day it is? Those of us privileged to be retired live in a haze of “no time.” But getting a prescription involved contact with the Real World Out There.

I have various problems with my lungs, so I am hunkered down for the duration. My husband is an insulin-dependent diabetic, so he is also careful. We’ve picked up or had groceries delivered. Occasionally we pick up food at a drive-up, donning masks and gloves. We also visit our local CVS for prescriptions, and that’s about it.

I get bronchitis at this time almost every year. My doctor has a protocol for my management which involves nebs 4x daily, diligence on regular inhalers, an antibiotic, and Prednisone. Sometimes I get a shot of both, but not this time as my physician is primarily doing Telemedicine. She told me that her main goal is to keep her patients out of the Emergency Room.

I support her goal, though for me it means taking oral steroids instead of the shot. I’ve been taking Prednisone for the 28 years I’ve had asthma, and in the last year or so, the oral tablets have caused my heart to palpitate so much I feel it is coming out of my chest. The doctor dosed the pills in a different taper to see if that would help. But first I had to get the pills.

Normally I send Herman out to CVS, but my insurance changed April 1st and this would be the first prescription on the new insurance. I called the pharmacy and they were so busy they preferred not to take it on the phone. So off to CVS I went.

The traffic was not different from any other Friday in our little corner of the universe. At CVS’ neighboring Starbucks, at least 20 cars lined up for the drive-up.

My car was about ten back from the window when I arrived at CVS. The parking lot was full. I observed that most people were wearing masks, and some wore vinyl gloves. When I got to the window, the pharm tech was also wearing a mask and gloves. Maybe my anecdote is irrelevant because I visited a pharmacy, but it made me feel like we’re looking out for each other.

My home is in southwestern Indiana, in a primarily rural county of 70,000 people. We’ve had 15 deaths, all of them but two in the same nursing home. We have less than 100 cases.

Indiana, however, currently has a hot spot in Cass County, north central Indiana. About half of my cousin’s on my father’s side and my one remaining aunt live in this county, where nearly a 1,000 people have tested positive for COVID. Many work in a meat-packing plant that employs 2,000 people. In a county of less than 40,000 people, I suspect that many employees drive from adjacent counties.

The hospital in Cass County is small and has only nine ventilators. As a child, I visited my paternal grandmother there in her later years. People with more serious illnesses are generally sent to hospitals in Lafayette (where my nearly 90-year-old father lives a mile from my 60-year-old brother) or the web of tertiary hospitals in the Indianapolis metro area.

I worry about my cousins and their families. Dad is the youngest of his parent’s children and the only one of the siblings left, so many of my first cousins are older than I am. My aunt (who is the widow of my blood uncle) was basically homebound with health problems prior to the COVID outbreak, and her adult daughters and their spouses provide what she needs. Except a hug.

This was written mostly for myself, so that I can remember what things were like on May 1, 2020. My family is nomadic and most of the younger generation are still working from home or going into shuttered offices with few people who can socially distance.

Like many others, our family includes people abroad, including China, Sweden, England, and Turkey.

  • A relative who is an engineer is trailing an epidemiologist through meat-packing plants all over the country and doing statistical analysis for him. They work closely with the CDC.
  • A relative who was getting his master’s degree in Beijing, China, happened to leave China for the Chinese New Year and can’t get back. He is living with his parents in Virginia, working online.
  • A deceased in-law’s brother spent three weeks in a hospital, mostly intubated, and finally rallied after very difficult times. He is now in a rehab hospital. His partner was also hospitalized and is now at home.
  • My nearly 90-year-old father, who has some minor age-related dementia, is struggling with nearly every aspect of his solitary confinement. Yet, his senior center in north central Indiana has reported no cases of COVID among the 300-plus residents and staff. This is a miracle when so many facilities are struggling. Stay in your apartment, Dad. Keep up the good work.
  • Friends from California have lost two very close friends a few days apart from the virus in the Los Angeles area.
  • Another friend’s cousin went to New York to help. She’s a nurse, and among many who have willingly put themselves in danger.
  • My cousin from east London was visiting family in Florida and is “stuck there” away from her family in England.
  • Our nephew is a physician, and his county is adjacent to the Indianapolis area, where there have been numerous outbreaks in nursing home. We pray for him daily.

Everyone could write this column. COVID has affected all of us in various ways. Families struggle to home school their children. I would be a very bad teacher. I once substituted for my son’s confirmation class, and thought it would be cool to have Springsteen’s Post 9/11 CD playing as the students entered. One of them said, “Quit playing that music by that old man.” (This was in 2001.) Not great teaching vibes here.

I worry about the women who are pregnant and will deliver in this madness. While many will choose an at-home birth with a midwife, some women have no choice but to deliver in a hospital. The reasons vary from finances to a planned C-section. Most hospitals have the maternity section in a different area of the hospital. But new moms worry. They worry when pregnant and they worry big time after the baby is born. It’s a natural part of the process, that I, as someone who had severe post-partum depression, can see easily going off the scale in these perilous times.

As I said, I wrote this mostly for myself to remember in a year or five, what this was like. But I also wrote it because friends on Facebook ask in general, “Tell me what your situation is like” and I’ve read a number of those posts.

Here in Paradise (that’s the name that shows up on a Facebook map, the spot about three miles from here) we are hunkered down, well fed, well rested, well read, and clean. Our time together reminds us very much of when we were first married, and mostly we get along well (except when he asked me where something is and it’s been in the same place for the 24 years we’ve lived in this house.)

I wish you all peace and comfort. And if you can’t get out and help, send a note, send an email, call an old friend, and donate to your local food bank.


Apr 222020

When this Whole Nasty Bidness started, I did what any other red-blooded American would do, I ordered a boatload of coffee. We can do without a lot; but we cannot do without coffee.

Perhaps I should have studied more chemistry, because I failed to consider the properties of matter in my decision to buy only coffee. Matter has three properties. Correct? Coffee is a liquid, and carried to its logical consequence, it can produce gas or a solid.

But I did not consider that in my quest to find coffee; I did not order extra toilet paper.

For six weeks now, we’ve ordered groceries successfully via Instacart from our local grocery. It’s gone very well, in spite of a few substitutions. But there hasn’t been a week when there’s been any toilet paper. None. Nada.

I’ve read all the articles about why the supply change isn’t working, but shouldn’t it have caught up by now? On a regular basis, I check about six web sites. As a back-up, I’ve purchased baby wipes (and learned the hard way hat they should not be flushed. Imagine the delight my husband felt when I woke him up at 3 a.m. to finish the job I could not complete, plunger in hand?

Friends have not been helpful, except for those two gracious souls who have volunteered to give us some of their stash. They both know that when I’m down to one roll, I’ll be sending out an All Points Bulletin. But other friends will say things like, “Schnucks had it last Thursday at 2 p.m.” “Aldi’s had it last weekend.” I have failed the time travel test to go back in time to WalMart at 3 a.m. last Sunday when apparently truckloads of White Cloud arrived.

I’ve been ordering the blasted stuff online and currently have three orders pending. One order is (and I swear this is true) from Afghanistan and is made from bamboo. My husband doubted me, saying there was no bamboo in Afghanistan. I guess that’s why it is taking so long. The other two orders are from Amazon, one has an arrival date of May 5 to 26. Just this morning I found a company that will have it to me by April 29. We’ll see.

We had a secret stash — a 12 package megaroll CVS premium. Then we heard the pleas of our only child who lives in an urban area with one CVS and one grocery store in walking distance. He doesn’t have a car, and lives in a “hot spot” area where taking the train or a bus to find toilet paper is probably not a good idea. Like his mother, he has orders placed online.

Parents out there: what would you do? Would you risk your own life to go to the Post Office and spend $12 to send your secret stash to your only child? Of course not, but you would send your husband to do it.

We gave our kid money for a big birthday so he could have a trip to New York with his girlfriend and see “Hamilton.” That didn’t happen because of the virus, but I swear he was more ecstatic about the arrival of the toilet paper than the chance be “in the room where it happened.”

I can relate. We have been talking about going to NYC this fall to see Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in the 35th revival of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man.” Honestly, I’ve seen “The Music Man” on Broadway and would trade it all in a heartbeat for Hugh Jackman to come to my door, bearing a 24-pack mega roll of Cottonelle or Charmin. As Jackman walks up the steps to deliver my treasure, Sutton Foster will sing, Til There was You, though The Shipoopi, might be more appropriate. Would it be too much to ask for the Charmin bears to dance on the driveway?

Yes, there IS trouble right here in River City. It starts with T and continues with P, and that stands for Toilet Paper.

Apr 132020

If my brother or I complained that we were bored as children, my mother went off on a tear.  “You aren’t bored. You are boring. Look around you. You have every possible way to entertain yourselves from dozens of toys to the great outdoors.”  (Or something like that.)  Her point was that being bored is a choice and a luxury. 

So, I put Barbie in a Keds shoebox with GI Joe (my brother’s toy) and sometimes Johnny West (but never the three of them together) and watched what happened.  Amazingly, Barbie gave birth to a giant baby who was four years old, a Chatty Cathy with black hair who looked like me.

Chatty and me 1964

Mom, I sure wish I could talk to you today about real boredom.  I think you may have met your match with this Solitary Confinement. I suspect if you were alive today, I would find you asleep in your recliner with a copy of Ideals magazine across your lap.

Today when I was reading the directions on how to make twice-baked potatoes, I rejoiced at the end.  Why?  Because the recipe said, “use a meat thermometer to check the temperature.”  In my head, I heard myself saying, “Wow! I get to use my meat thermometer.”  Now, doesn’t that just most pathetically scream “BORED?”

All last week I made lists of possible skits for Saturday Night Live.  (Yes, I live in this little fantasy world where I write for SNL.)  Saturday night the show was on semi-live.  I’d be danged if they didn’t do a skit on Zoom meetings, which was one of my ideas. (Likely one of those ideas that floats out in the ether.)

I never used Zoom until about two weeks ago, and now it’s a daily thing. I organized a group (and we’ll meet again) of writers I know.  That meeting could have been a skit.  I was worried about my hair. #Iamsosuperficial

Six other screens popped up. Two of the women, around my age, were wearing headbands.  Headbands, another icon of my childhood.  As an adult, I believe the only good reason to wear a headband is to hold your hair back when vomiting. Several women had “in-between” hair, meaning they are in between The Salon and Looking Like Me (totally white-headed). (Honestly, it didn’t matter.  Hearing their voices and seeing their smiles mattered.)

Lorne Michaels still has not called me, though I had two other ideas for SNL. Kate McKinnon plays Dr. Debbie Birx of the Co-vid 19 Task Force and does strange things with scarves.  Let your mind wander.  Debbie Birx?  Dressed entirely in a flag scarf?  How about Debbie Birx up a flagpole flapping in the breeze?  Debbie Birx as semaphore?  I picture her on the HMS Britannia, which we visited. (I’ve been spending much of my fantasy life on past vacations.)

Semaphore flags, HMS Britannia

The final concept for SNL was just stupid and a product of too much time on my hands.  A friend mentioned she was making masks out of those airplane sleep things you get in business class (or so I’ve heard since I’m always in the cheap seats.)  In this sketch, people make masks out of the sleep masks, except they are wearing them in a grocery store over their eyes as they would on a plane.  They knock over stacks of giant boxes of Post Bran Flakes or Kellogg’s Special K.  Okay, so it wasn’t that funny. I guess you had to be there. Would it be funnier if it were stacks of Mega-Roll Toilet Paper made from Afghani Bamboo (which is something I ordered on Amazon and will be here in six weeks)?

I am bored.  My mind wanders.  I am supposed to be writing a book about the history of my family farm.  About two-thirds of it is written. Curiously, I stopped at 1918 when researching the Great Influenza pandemic wasn’t that fun anymore. 

But I find ways to fill my time, often riddled with bad judgment.  Is it a good idea to cut one’s hair with fingernail scissors at 1:30 a.m. in a semi-dark bathroom, when not wearing your glasses or oxygen?  Probably not.  At least I can blame the hypoxia. And it will give my friends something to look at during our next Zoom call. (Which may not happen since I insulted most of them earlier in this piece.)

I will likely be fine because I’m able to shelter in place.  Here comes the serious part. Not everybody will be fine. There are two Americas, the America, my family and I live, in which we are retired or can work at home and don’t want for much (except toilet paper.)

Even adrift in my sea of privilege, I recognize and support the other America. The one in which people who often don’t have paid sick leave care for our family members in senior facilities, deliver our packages without protective equipment, work in American food production from growing and selling to delivery.  Even when I can’t go out, I can tip well, support organizations and people who need my help, reach out to friends, and help society by staying at home.

I hear my mom’s voice. “Those essential workers are not bored. They have to work, and they also have worries you do not have.”

Except for the idea that I would become a morning person, Mom was almost always right.

Apr 052020

In the small town where I grew up, many people had access to multiple generations, aunts and uncles, grandparents, second cousins once removed.  My maternal grandparents lived six miles away on a farm, but were away a few winter months, as snowbirds in Florida.  It certainly wasn’t Walton’s Mountain, at least for us, but there was family around.

My family has become nomads. My 89-year-old father lives in a retirement home 200 miles away, while our only child, our 30-year-old son, lives in the Washington D.C. metro area 1,100 miles away.  My brother (who is a widower) lives two miles from my Dad, but his son and son’s wife live two hours away from him in Chicago.

I call my Dad every day.  He is frustrated on a variety of levels.  The facility won’t let him visit his girlfriend, age 85, and she can’t visit him. They break the rules almost every day. My father is an extreme extrovert, and withers up without other people, especially his girlfriend. Dad is also worried about his car, a boat of a Buick from the last century. He parks it in a carport that he can see from his apartment window. 

However, the only unlocked door to the massive facility is the front door, and residents can come and go but are interrogated upon return.  Then, the Powers That Be take a temperature.

Dad just had to check on his car earlier this week and walked his Frankenstein walk (refuses to use his cane) out the B wing, up the main hall, out the front door, around the B wing to the back where his car miraculously started.  He came back around, growled as they took his temperature, and returned to his apartment.  He called me immediately because he was so proud of what he had done.

Did I mention my Dad can’t see out of one eye at all, and my brother and I are doing everything in our power to get him to stop driving?

Dad told me what he had done and was not at all pleased when I said, “I hoped you were going to tell me that the car had been stolen.”

He was not amused.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my husband of 35 years, and I are doing fine.  We met in 1977 and were first friends, and later entered this long and happy relationship.  As friends, we used to live on the “college schedule.”  Our college routine involved taking as many night classes as possible, sleeping in until at least 10 a.m., drinking a lot of cheap beer (Wisconsin Club, five dollars a case).  His apartment never ran out of toilet paper, because one of his roommates regularly stole it from the nearby college Student Center.  I won’t name names, but you know who you are.

A few things have changed.  We purchase our toilet paper now.  We don’t drink, and if we did, it wouldn’t be cheap beer.  My husband is an insulin-dependent diabetic, and never takes a drink.  I have one occasionally, but it’s no fun to drink alone, so I save it for special occasions like Christmas Eve or Thursdays or National Potato Day (a nod to fans of Otis Campbell from “The Andy Griffith Show.”)

My husband’s retirement date is May 31, but he’s been working online since spring break.  His employer, a local university, moved everything online.  I guess at some point he’ll go back and clean out his office in these strange times.

So we’ve been staying up until about 2 a.m. either watching old movies or listening to audiobooks.  We have plenty of food now, though the first few weeks were like getting food from the former state store in Soviet Russia, the GUM store, where customers stood in line to get whatever they had.  No bread?  No toilet paper.  No milk?  Sure, we’ll take frozen okra.

In addition to my husband being diabetic, I have chronic lung disease, so both of us need to stay in our hidey-hole.  We’ve both been out a couple of times, masked and gloved to the gills.  I picked up a Walmart order and didn’t open a window.  The clerk put the order in my trunk.  I have a sedan, so I felt safe doing that. The husband had to go to the University Clinic to pick up meds.  They opened the door and handed him a bag.  Easy-peasy.

We’ve had one little blip, that for many of our friends and neighbors was a huge blip.  Two F-2 tornados whipped through Henderson, Kentucky, across the Ohio River, and then into several neighborhoods in Newburgh on the evening of March 28.  Mother Nature can be a bitch, and this time she tagged for the third time, a dear friend who is going through chemo and has been fighting cancer for more than two years.  This same friend has also been involved in several other Newburgh tornados.  Thankfully, people have contributed money for her repairs, and she immediately had a crew of construction folks cleaning up her area and tarping her roof.

The storm hit a number of Newburgh neighborhoods, including Ridgewood, the neighborhood immediately across from us, about half a mile away.  My husband was watching TV and said, “It’s time to go to the basement.”  I did turn my computer off and then went quickly to the basement.  We heard nothing.  Then the power went off.  We each had a tiny flashlight with us.

The power didn’t come back on for thirty hours.  Since I am on oxygen, that was a little bit scary.  I was able to call my provider, Deaconess DME, and they had a big 12-hour emergency tank out to me first thing Saturday morning.  (I don’t wear it all the time, plus I had a charged portable tank for the daytime. But I must have it on for sleep, dangerous to go without it.)  Our power came back on early Sunday morning.

Both of our phones went dead sometime Saturday, and the husband found a full charger somewhere in the basement.  Lesson learned here: always keep a charger or two plugged in.   

Those were thirty very long hours.  We were so lucky that our house did not get hit (although I will say, we’ve lived here 25 years, and every tree that could have fallen in a storm has already fallen, or we’ve taken it down after storm damage.)  We feel exceedingly lucky.  Our dentist had part of a tree blown through their second-floor bedroom window.

We were worried about my oxygen, the stability of the husband’s insulin in the refrigerator, and whether our basement would flood since the pump wasn’t working. We have a history there.  Knock on wood.

It is incredible what sitting in the dark for thirty hours can do for one’s perspective.  We are almost giddy to have power back, even if we cannot go anywhere  Thank heaven for small favors.

And technology can make us like the Walton’s.  In a few minutes, we will celebrate our son’s thirtieth birthday with a Zoom party with family. Not as I would have planned, but fantastically better than sitting in a dark room, playing board games with flashlights.

Dec 042019

Today is my father’s 89th birthday. He’s outlived his mother’s death age by three years; his father died 84 years ago when Dad was five. He’s outlived all five of his siblings, even a nephew and niece and several grand nieces and nephews. Dad is a person who is bound and determined to squeeze the last juice out of life’s lemon. As Dylan Thomas tells us, Dad will never go gently into that good night.

Last Friday (the day after our entire clan had spent a wonderful Thanksgiving together), my Dad had an early morning heart attack while using the NuStepper in his gym. An ambulance arrived within minutes and off we went.

Dad was scheduled to have a stress test (chemical) on Monday but chest pains over the weekend suggested to the cardiologist that Dad go directly to the Cath Lab for an angiogram. Boom! Three blockages at 100%, 85%, and 85%. Of course, he is feeling much better getting the newly oxygenated blood through three new stents.

Happy Birthday, Billy Gene.

Fort Wayne Botanical Gardens 1963

Twelve years ago, Dad had a heart attack and was taken to the same hospital and had the same cardiologist. The doctor put in six stents in 2007, and we knew that stents generally last about a decade if one is lucky. And everything under the sun can go wrong. And for many individuals, it does.

A new clinical trial summary was released just last week called ISCHEMIA from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which looks at the effectiveness of stents in a stable heart (which Dad doesn’t have, and of course, he is elderly.) It appears everything happened correctly and luck was again on Dad’s side. The doctor told us Dad could have died during the stress test.

Now he is the Bionic Man with nine stents. I do not take one day of the last 12 years for granted, even his crabbiest stubborn days (a prelude for my son). Dad gained a new granddaughter when his grandson married, witnessed another become an Eagle Scout. He attended both grandsons’ graduations from high school and college. He cared for his ailing wife and honored her in death. And he kept right on living, gardening, reading, socializing, active in church and community activities, and attending more reunions that you can imagine.

Eleanor Roosevelt said Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift. Today, Dad’s 89th birthday, is indeed a gift. Every new day he gets is a gift. And knowing Dad he will use them fully, though this week he will miss the Purdue concert, the retired ag teachers luncheon a six-hour round trip), and teaching a class at Purdue (yes, I said teaching a class at Purdue.) They still asked him and he still goes. He’s been “retired since 1988.