Sunday Morning

I know that it’s Sunday morning and you have a God-given right to be left alone … but here I am anyway. Let’s face it, you clicked on something to get here, so face up to your part in all this. Ever hear of folie a deux?

Folie a deux (‘madness for two’), also known as shared psychosis or shared delusional disorder, is a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief, and sometimes hallucinations, are transmitted from one individual to another.

Wikipedia

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First of all, here’s more on Dr. Seuss and taking books away, by Ross Douthat, a generally morose but occasionally thoughtful columnist. He thinks that liberals should care more about what is going on.

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Another page in the movement toward alternate foods made of stuff we didn’t even know existed. For instance, do you know about the supremely hardy extreme fungus from Yellowstone National Park that is taking off right now? You don’t? Your ignorance could stop right this minute, should you so choose. Up to you. But know this – there might be, right this minute, a fungus burger out there with your name on it.

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From The New Yorker

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One of Billie Holiday’s signature songs was Strange Fruit. Biography has a short piece about the song and how singing it probably shortened Holiday’s life, while it certainly impacted her career. A sad story of the bad things that bad men in government can do and of the power of music to frighten them.

If you’re up for it, here is the song, sung by Ms Holiday herself.

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At The Store

Yesterday Robin and I went out for lunch. Together. To a local BBQ joint. Both of us ordered a hamburger. It was delicious. But it had been … I don’t know … more than a year since we had done that? Without even trying, our consumption of red meat has fallen so far off that we are no longer even counted by the Beef Producers of America as existing humans. Purged from the rolls we have been.

Cutting down on ingestion of this product line has been made easier by the fact that this genre of foodstuffs is in the most expensive section of the grocery store. Our local City Market has two uniformed officers stationed at the “Beef” section, wearing full riot gear, intimidating dark glasses, and carrying AR-15s with the safety off. They have been trained not to answer questions from customers, much like the guards at Buckingham Palace. One of our pair of guards was recently indicted by the FBI for having played a role in the insurrection in Washington DC on January 6 of this year. He was seen clearly on video to be selling street tacos on the steps of the US Capitol. Apparently he has been charged with nourishing rioters who were engaged in the performance of a felony. It’s a test case and he is being represented by the ACLU on first amendment grounds.

Because we are just down the highway from the ski town of Telluride, our food markets get a lot of trade from that economically advantaged population. Ergo, we actually have a small Wagyu beef section in our local store. Thus, although we live in the middle of ranch country we must import a proportion of our beef from Japan to feed those Tellurideans, whose palates are so refined that they cannot handle the Angus beef that is served to the hoi polloi here in Paradise. And who can blame them, really? Living among the ordinary folk is already quite a burden.

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From The New Yorker

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The entire national Republican Party has been rounded up this week and shipped off to a reeducation camp for group instruction and psychotherapy. In its present form the party has been declared a national menace by the Surgeon General, Dr. Windsock Carapace. Their symptoms include extreme moral turpitude, stage 4 mendacity, complete susceptibility to any and all conspiracy theories, and just plain being dumb as a load of fenceposts.

Dr. Carapace admits that this is a drastic measure: “But it was either that or have them put down. The nation can’t function with so many incompetents in the mix. Generally speaking, Congress will still work as long as the completely useless category does not get too high, but within the present-day Republican party we are at 96% and that is an unacceptable level.”

The nation’s chief doctor then added that once they have been rehabilitated, they will be neutered before being released. “Can’t be too careful where the national interest is concerned, we don’t want to be right back here in another generation,” said the esteemed physician.

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Have I mentioned that we are in the throes of a small home remodeling? The bathroom off the master bedroom just wasn’t making us happy anymore, so we called upon our neighbor Ed to come to our rescue. Ed is a contractor who does this sort of thing, and is an interesting mix of characteristics that is rarely found in modern humans. He is reliable, honest, and highly skilled. Almost takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

It took a while to get the project started, but once Ed showed up it was get out of my way and let me work. We should be able to use the room in another four or five days, and until then Robin and I are sharing the small bathroom on the other side of the house that I normally employ. This is quite a small space, not the palatial one that Robin is accustomed to, being about the size of the typical phone booth (you remember those, n’est-ce pas?). It is so small that I cannot have a full bar of soap in the shower, but must cut them in half.

But Robin is nothing if not a game gal, and the only complaint that I have heard from her in this whole affair was one day earlier this week when a plaintive cry of “Why me, Lord?” could be heard through the bathroom door. I wasn’t quite sure which of many possible calamities she was bemoaning, and did not have the courage to ask.

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Peter Piper Picked A Peck … et al

I tried a new recipe this past week for potato soup, and the soup itself was just okay. What was a pleasant surprise was a sub-recipe for making pickled jalapeños, which you then used as a topping when serving the soup. Those jalapeños were v.e.r.y tasty, and could be used on other soups, sandwiches, scrambled eggs, etc. Here’s how you do it:

Thinly slice two jalapeños, discarding the seeds if you like. Put slices in a bowl and squeeze in enough lime juice (2 limes) to cover them. Add a pinch each of salt and sugar. Let sit at room temperature while you make the soup. (The jalapeños can be prepared up to 5 days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator; they get softer and more pickle-y as they sit.)

I mean, you can just sit there and eat the darn things right out of the bowl.

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On Saturday I was talking to my brother Bill on the phone as he described how absolutely miserable he was in the sub-zero wind chills of his day there in Faribault MN. Snow was swirling on the highways, discouraging traveling more than necessary distances. Just before we terminated our conversation, he made the mistake of asking how my weather was at that moment.

I told him it was 48 degrees and blue skies here in Paradise, and the closest we ever get to a polar vortex is reading about it in the papers. I swear you could hear his face fall. I wasn’t going to bring it up, not being a man given to gloating, but … he asked.

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Our second dose of Covid vaccine is coming up on Wednesday. Some of the folks who received their first immunization at the same time that we did a month ago are starting to natter about possible side effects of the “booster shot.” Listening to them, it’s like being back in elementary school, where the rumors of what that “booster shot” was going to do to you were rampant. Up to and including your arm falling right off in the classroom, so that you had to pack it home at the close of the school day.

Just to be on the safe side, I’m going to offer my right arm (I’m left-handed) this time as the injection site, just in case … you know … it falls off.

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Our new Subaru has some technological stuff going on that is amusing. It knows when you are crossing a lane divider and beeps at you unless you have clearly signaled a lane change. It also will not allow you to tailgate, but maintains a safe and predetermined distance between you and the car in front of you.

Now if you put these two together, it means that on the highway you can put the car on cruise control, take your hands off the wheel, and it will drive itself. Now it’s not a “self-driving” car in any real sense. It doesn’t know where you’re going, for instance, and will just keep cruising down that traffic lane forever.

However, when you do take your hands completely off the wheel, the car knows it, and sends you a message to put those damned hands back where they belong. But, like I said, it’s amusing.

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One night a long time ago, during my single period, I was up late watching television when an entertainer came on and stole the show with his performance of I Go To Rio. I hadn’t heard of Peter Allen before that night, and after watching his routine I was a fan. I didn’t know that he was gay at the time, but I do remember thinking that this was a guy who really knew how to wear orange.

Here’s a video of a real showman, from 1978. Died in 1992 of AIDS-related cancer.

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Winter Stuff

One of the most common birds that we see on our exercise walks along the Uncompahgre River is none other than the American Robin. There is a large contingent of them that do not travel south for the winter but enjoy the pickings right here in Paradise. So we can’t use them as harbingers of Spring, can we? I like the bird … they seem to have a good attitude about things in general, perkiness being a strong quality of theirs.

Unfortunately for the females of the species, physical beauty is not handed out in equal portions.

The male robin is brighter in color than the female. His eye ring, bright beak color, and black head all show this bird is a male. The female’s feathers look washed out and faded compared to the darker, richer colors of the male. The female robin must be well camouflaged in order be safe from predators as she incubates her eggs. This is why females of many bird species are not as bright in color as the males.

Journey North.org

It is quite different for humans, where the female is so often the more colorful one. Perhaps this is because human females don’t have to sit on nests for weeks at a time. I suspect that if our species did have nesting as part of our reproductive scheme, that we males would be pressed into service in equal measure, in keeping with modern societal trends.

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A Dick Guindon cartoon

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Earlier this week an avalanche swept across a group of backcountry skiers near Silverton, burying four of them. One was rescued, but three others were only found several days later. This raises the season’s death tally here in Colorado to eight, all of them skiers.

I find it hard to feel sorry for these folks. They put themselves out there, rolled the dice once again on that particular day, and this time they lost. Backcountry skiing is a risky business, and they knew it when they put on their skis. Who I do feel sorry for is their families and for the rescue workers who went out to try to find and save them, putting their own lives at hazard.

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BTW, do you know about “auto-chains?” I hadn’t heard of them until this morning. Some of the truckers here in the mountains have devices mounted on their vehicles that … well, here’s a video to show you what they do. Pretty interesting, even to a non-trucker.

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On Friday Robin and I traveled to Grand Junction for a day’s getaway. We decided to have lunch at Café Rio, an Ameri-Mexican place that we’ve enjoyed in the past. But this was in the time of Covid, and things were different.

At Café Rio you move in a line and indicate to the workers what your choices as you shuffle along. But now the staff was behind a layer of Plexiglas so thick that without shouting in a clear soprano voice (which neither of us had) you could not be easily heard through our face masks. Both of us finally gave up trying, and just nodded our heads whenever the worker would point at a pot. In this way both of us obtained tasty food, but neither of us got what we had planned.

Some days you just roll with the punches.

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Gastronomic Dispatch

Maybe pizza news is nothing to some people, and if that’s true, I feel sorry for them. Because of all the foods that are nourishing to the soul, pizza easily tops the list. That first bite after the pie reaches your table which is always too hot because you couldn’t wait and the molten cheese bonds permanently to your now wounded mouth and doubles down on the burn … aaahhhhhhh, sweet mystery of life, I’ve found thee!

So what’s the news? Well, Pizza Hut is going to start serving up Detroit-style pizzas, and they are making a huge deal about it.

The chain is launching a new Detroit-style pizza, which ditches the traditional round shape for a rectangular crust with cheese to the edges that’s popular in the Michigan city.

CNN.com Business, 1/26/21.

Ho Hum, we residents of Paradise can say to this bit of marketing. It’s not that this isn’t a truly delicious and appropriately greasy entry into the pizza races, but we’ve had it all along out here at the Brown Dog restaurant in Telluride. And I know that residents of my old stomping grounds in Yankton SD will take serious umbrage at this heresy, but the Brown Dog has replaced Charlie’s as selling the best pizzas in Christendom, IMHO.

[May I be struck dead by lightning if this isn’t so. Perhaps that’s a bit strong … how about … may I develop serious heartburn if I’m not telling you true.]

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Looks like another impeachment trial is coming up in February. Even though old what’s his name is no longer POTUS, it seems that calling on a mob to storm the gates of government is just not done, and there is a need to teach a lesson here. Not so much for our former Supreme Leader (why can’t I remember his name … ?), because the man seems incapable of learning, but for the rest of us.

I know that I can certainly use the reminder. There have been so many times in my life when I wanted to roll open the sunroof, stand up and stick my head out to yell out A Bas Les Batards!* but it was the fear of being pelted by rotten fruit that held me back. If the weather warms up a bit, I might just head out for Washington DC during the trial with a bushel of mushy apples in the back of the Forester just in case I get a clear opening. I need to get pretty close, my throwing arm isn’t the deadly catapult it once was .

*Down With The Bastards

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From The New Yorker

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Is There Life Without Bacon?

[Only slightly edited version of a conversation inspired by comments made at yesterday’s lunch,
where cream of broccoli soup and a simple greens salad were the déjeuner du jour. ]

J: You know, I could go vegetarian today, and never look back. Look at this nice meal, and after I put away a meatless meal I always feel good, I never have that heaviness and the ‘Oh lord I ate too much again’ feeling.

R: You could, eh?

J: Yes, and I think that it would be easy. There would be a transition where we’d have to make a serious effort to acquire a repertoire of vegetarian recipes, though, because my head is already full of meat meals that I’ve been eating all of my life. I’d have to learn ten ways of cooking brussels sprouts, for instance. Like I learned ten ways to cook a pork chop.

R: Would you give up dairy?

J: … No, I don’t think so. While it is true that the cows are being exploited in dairy farming, no one would be killing them. The same with chickens and eggs. So I would be an ovo-lacto-vegetarian. That’s it … no beef, no pork, no chicken, no turkeys … that would make a personal impact, wouldn’t it?

R: How about fish?

J: You know, I could probably continue to have fish in my diet. I admit that I don’t have the same feeling about fish that I do about warm-blooded creatures. As long as I watch for bones and don’t eat too many from mercury-laden pools, I would be alright. So what would I be … ovo-lacto-pisco-vegetarian?

R: What about bacon?

J: ……………………………………………………. Okay, I would be an ovo-lacto-pisco-baco-vegetarian, and that’s it! Gawd, I feel better already!

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Recipe for the soup that inspired the dialogue.

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Robin and I have watched two movies in the “Christmas” genre in the past week, both of which we can recommend. I think that I already mentioned Klaus, the really superior animated film on Netflix, but the other night we tuned in to Jingle Jangle, a musical. This movie has a couple of production numbers which were so energetic that I had to lay back on my fainting couch to rest for an hour after viewing them.

It is also on Netflix. Both of these films are suitable for kids. And adults.

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Storms – What’s Not To Love?

It’s been more than a year now that I’ve been making food for our cats. I had come across a slurry of articles extolling the virtues of doing so, mostly to avoid some of the nightmare situations that pop up in the news from time to time where a pet that is fed only this or that commercial food develops some damaging or fatal nutritional deficiency.

The recipes for preparing the food are primarily based on chicken, which is ground and then mixed with a vitamin/amino acid/mineral supplemental mixture. Sounded good. Poco liked it. Willow totally ignored it. But I continued to provide the concoction to both animals and over time Willow came around. Still being mistrustful of the safety of feeding only a single food (and one that I made, to boot), I continued to offer commercial varieties alongside the homemade stuff.

Then something interesting and unexpected happened. Poco is about 14 years old, and has developed some of the infirmities of age, including arthritis. Slowly over the years he had slowed down more and more, to the point where he was rarely running or climbing. Within a few months of starting the homemade food, both Robin and I noticed considerable improvement in his mobility, which was not something we were anticipating at all. Improvement that persists. Not that he is scampering about like a new kitten, but he is so obviously more comfortable than he was that there is now no question of our stopping these feedings – even if we should tire of the minor mess of preparing them.

All this time I had been using an attachment that came with our Kitchen-Aid mixer to grind the chicken, which was putting a strain on the machine. It was never intended for regular strenuous usage like this. So this month I made myself a gift of a sleek and powerful tool that is pretty much dedicated to grinding food for our pets.

May I present the Weston #12 grinder >>>>>>>>

I’m not suggesting that anyone out there follow this path. When you are conducting an experiment of the n=1 variety, it’s basically nothing more than an anecdote. And there are concerns about feeding a raw diet to any pet. But in this house, our old friend is enjoying life more these days, enough so that we’re not about to go back to our old practices.

[And in the bargain I have something new to play with. The instructions that came with the Weston suggest strongly that I not allow my long hair to dangle anywhere near the device, nor should I wear a tie while working with it. No problem on either account. I don’t even know where my ties are, and my tresses have completely lost the ability to dangle. ]

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Many of the places where Robin and I like to go on our exercise walks are down along the Uncompahgre River, which is about two miles from our home. Yesterday as we trucked along in 34 degree gray-sky weather, we came across a guy standing out in the river fly-fishing. I had to admire his grit in doing so in such chilly weather, and he was suitably attired in waders and boots and quite a lot of clothing to keep his core warm.

But I found myself wondering about one thing. Tying knots. Whenever I have fished in colder weather, this has been a stumbling block for me. You can’t tie a knot with gloves on, and you if you take your gloves off and plunge those digits into freezing water you only have a short time before they don’t work and need to be warmed up all over again.

Even in the best of weather my sausage-like fingers are not the greatest knot-tying tools to bring along on a fishing trip. There has been more than one occasion in the past where I wished that I could have secured the services of a knot-tyer who did nothing but sit in the boat with me until I needed him.

And it’s not that I don’t practice tying those darned things. In the YouTube age there are scores of videos to show you just how to construct a proper Palomar knot or Perfection Loop or Uni-knot, even to the point of offering animated lessons which couldn’t be clearer. But in none of them is the person doing the deed using the ten bratwursts I must work with. Additionally, it would seem that I have only rudimentarily apposable thumbs.

So looking at this man standing in an ice bath and fishing with tiny flies that will likely need to be changed during the course of the day, I was filled with both admiration for him and a personal wish to get back to our warm vehicle as quickly as possible. While my cold-weather manual dexterity leaves something to be desired, I am a master at making good use of heated spaces.

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A Dick Guindon Cartoon

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Living in the Uncompahgre Valley has a lot going for it, as long as you are comfortable with the semi-desert environment. There are no hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados or other severe natural disturbances to worry about (not that they haven’t happened, but soooo rarely). Winter and summer temperatures avoid the extremes found elsewhere in the country. In our six years here I would say that the word that best exemplifies local weather is moderation.

As a result the area is a draw for older folks who resent being blown across the street and into buildings by violent winds, or falling into gigantic cracks in the earth that weren’t there a moment ago. These were not the reasons we moved to Paradise, but life is a tad easier when you don’t have to remember which basement wall to huddle against as a tornado moves through your homestead. This is a good thing, especially since so many homes out here have no basement, including our own.

Storm on Lake Superior

But this morning I was thinking about the exhilaration that storms have given me for as long as I can remember. And how long it has been now since I felt in peril from them. When I lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it was a fifteen-minute drive to the Lake Superior shoreline when thunderstorms moved in from the west. I would drive out to watch them, to get the spray in my face as the turbulent air took water from the tops of the huge gray-green breakers coming in and threw it at me. Of course I was safely on land, and might have felt differently if I had been out on a boat at those times. But the sense of the awesomeness of the world was never keener than in moments when I was not quite safe. To fully experience the realization that natural forces could crush me like a berry under a boot at any time, no matter how special I thought I was.

When tornados approached and the sirens went off, I was often the last guy into the basement. Not because I’m putting on some sort of macho display, but because I wanted to see it. I wanted to feel that odd stillness of the air around me while the skies went berserk. I understand those idiots who we see out on the shore on television news programs, romping in the face of hurricanes. I know why they are there, and it has nothing at all to do with common sense. For those nincompoops and for me, it is definitely an adrenaline rush. A feeling that I can’t describe, that is completely other.

That sense of danger is missing from Paradise. Oh, I can easily frighten the bejabbers out of myself if I want to by hiking on trails that teeter along ledges in these mountains that surround me, but that’s different. I can go or not go … I have a choice. The awesome thing about the turbulent moments that I have been describing is that they happen whether I want them or not. They are out of control.

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Sacrifice For The Good …

There are a lot of frustrating moments involved in reading the Times of New York on a regular basis. It’s worth it, of course, because then you are able to say “I saw in the NYTimes this morning,” a phrase that immediately stamps one as a person of culture, discernment, and general superiorness (at least to one’s own way of thinking).

But you have to wade through quite a lot of dross to sort out what you came there for. You have to read about hundreds of plays that you will never see, poetry readings that you will never attend, restaurants where you will never be seated, and excellent-looking movies that will never make it across the Rockies.

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You end up reading all-too-frequent love letters to NYCity written by residents of NYCity who really can’t imagine why the rest of the country has to exist at all and what kind of dullards would ever live anywhere but NYCity? There are the stories about weddings that you missed where the couple was too charming for words, real estate that only the 1% could aspire to owning, and a food column that is at least one-third about the intricacies of which wine you should be buying at which shop (wine may be a lot of things, but it isn’t food).

So when I say “I saw in the NYTimes this morning,” I hope you all realize the sacrifices that I make in reading this newspaper just to be able to name-drop an article or two each week.

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There is a song by the group Talking Heads that deals with those of us who don’t live in NYCity. It’s called “The Big Country,” and the chorus goes like this:

I wouldn’t live there if you paid me.
I wouldn’t live like that, no siree!
I wouldn’t do the things the way those people do.
I wouldn’t live there if you paid me to.

The Big Country, by Talking Heads

I have liked the song since first I heard it, snobbish little ditty that it is. It is almost perfect in its attitude, and helps keep my sense of humor honed.

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I saw in the NYTimes this morning that there are people lining up to be upset about Joe Biden’s cabinet picks. Of course they are. They should be. We really aren’t simply divided into red and blue factions, but to all shades of those two colors, each with its advocates for a point of view.

So when Biden picks a retired four-star general for Secretary of Defense, he stirs up any shade of blue that thinks the man is not as civilian as he should be to hold this post. After all, we have a long-established principle involved here, the control of the military by civilian authority. I think personally that this principle is a good thing, and find it helpful to be reminded of it through the present controversy.

Whoever Biden picks for whatever cabinet post will not please all of us. It’s possible that when they have all been selected that each will be a disappointment to you, or to me, in some way. From then on, we will watch to see what they do, won’t we? I wasn’t happy when Robert Kennedy was chosen by his brother as Attorney General, even though I liked JFK. I thought – NEPOTISM – in all caps. But in his abbreviated career his actions pleased me in too many ways to count.

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It’s not common knowledge but my navel is off slightly more than one centimeter to the right. And I lay it all off onto the medical/industrial complex.

When I was retiring from practice, I had excellent health insurance, so I decided that before I left for parts unknown that I would have as many of my defects repaired as time would allow and my insurance would cover. It turned out that I had a hernia in many of the places that a person can have one, and they totaled three. So I visited a surgeon of good repute and we made the required arrangements. One of those defects was at my umbilicus, where during the repair the physician would tunnel in and patch the problem area with … I don’t know … some burlap or pieces of recycled radial tire belts.

The surgeries were all small ones, and I went home a happy man. Until I took a shower later on, and noticed that I was no longer symmetric. Either my navel had shifted to the right or my entire body had shifted to the left, but something unplanned had happened. At my first post-op followup visit, I brought this up to the surgeon.

I don’t know if you noticed, doctor, but my umbilicus is askew.

Why, so it is. Has it always been that way?

No, not until my surgery.

Have you proof of this?

Yes, many photos in my family albums show an admirable centering.

Well … ?

I didn’t want to talk bout legal action, but I remember reading about a woman who had a similar problem after plastic surgery, and she received a handsome settlement.

I know of the case. Of course, she was an attractive woman in her forties, while you are a rather plain man in your sixties.

Your meaning, sir?

There’s not a jury in the country that will think that the proposition that you are less attractive than you were holds any water. In fact, the case could be made that you are now more interesting than ever.

So I should be grateful?

Indeed you should, especially since there will be no additional professional fees involved.

Thank you so much, doctor, you are exceptionally kind and considerate.

Don’t mention it. On your way out, could you send in the next post-op patient? He’ll be the one whose right ear flops about something terrible.

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Hot. Spice. Baby.

Well, darn if my present favorite hot sauce company hasn’t gone and been acquired, and made the news by doing so. Just as the article in CNN online relates, I began to see Cholula’s distinctive bottles in restaurants several years ago. I tried them there, liked them, then added them to the condiments on our dinner table and never looked back. So far I’ve sampled five of the flavors offered, and they have all been excellent.

But in case you are looking for something to sear your palate and fry your tongue, I suggest that you don’t go to Cholula. It’s spicy but not a blast furnace by any means. What I find attractive are more the subtleties in its flavor, rather than the heat, which is modest. You won’t be able to brag about how many Scoville units you just ingested, not if you ask for the bottle with the wooden top (although I have not tried the “sweet habanero,” so cannot vouch for that one).

(No payment was offered or accepted in return for this endorsement. However, that does not not mean that it wouldn’t have been welcome. I can be bought so easily and cheaply it would make your head swim … )

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Thanksgiving Day arrived and went away on schedule. We entertained a single guest, the gentleman across the street who is a near-shut-in due to health issues. He lives alone and we felt would be a safe person to share a space and a meal with us. We also thought that we would be safe for him. In both cases there was some very small risk, of course, but probably less than we experience when grocery shopping.

The meal was a testament to tradition. No side journeys into the wide world of gastronomy for us, not on T-day. At a time when the rest of life is upside-down, who needs more variety than that?

Our menu was this: a large roasted bird symbolic of a large symbolic Thanksgiving feast hundreds of years ago, mashed white potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, stuffing crammed with the legal limit of butter, cranberry relish, pumpkin pie, and all the while I carried a gigantic can of Reddi-Wip at my side, holstered. I do have a permit to legally carry such a can, and want you all to know that I am a responsible Reddi-Wip owner, and would only use it for nutritional purposes.

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Fighting The Good Fight Department

The Rotting of the Republican Mind by David Brooks

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A little bit about the song “Thanks For The Dance,” from the album of the same name by Leonard Cohen. It is his last album, finished after his death through the efforts of his son.

The songs on the album comprise “sketches” left over from the sessions for Cohen’s last previous studio album You Want It Darker that were finished by Cohen’s son Adam Cohen in a “garage near his father’s old house”.  Regarding the tracks, Cohen noted: “Had we had more time and had [Leonard] been more robust, we would have gotten to them. [We had] conversations about what instrumentation and what feelings he wanted the completed work to evoke – sadly, the fact that I would be completing them without him was a given.”

Wikipedia, Thanks For The Dance

I played the song while Robin and I were preparing dinner yesterday, and Robin said that it made her feel so sweetly sad, and how could it not? The song itself is a meditation on aging and life which is all made even more poignant because Leonard never got to hear the beautiful tune he wrote. At least not in its final form. The man spun gold from the straw of life, and left all of that treasure behind, for us.

Thanks for the dance
I’m sorry you’re tired
The evening has hardly begun
Thanks for the dance
Try to look inspired
One, two, three, one, two, three, one

There’s a rose in your hair
Your shoulders are bare
You’ve been wearing this costume forever

So turn up the music
Pour out the wine
Stop at the surface
The surface is fine
We don’t need to go any deeper

Thanks for the dance
I hear that we’re married
One, two, three, one, two, three, one
Thanks for the dance
And the baby you carried
It was almost a daughter or a son

And there’s nothing to do
But to wonder if you
Are as hopeless as me
And as decent

We’re joined in the spirit
Joined at the hip
Joined in the panic
Wondering
If we’ve come to some sort of agreement

It was fine, it was fast
We were first, we were last
In line at the Temple of Pleasure
But the green was so green
And the blue was so blue
I was so I
And you were so you
The crisis was light
As a feather

Thanks for the dance
It was hell, it was swell
It was fun
Thanks for all the dances
One, two, three, one, two, three, one

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From The New Yorker

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Dumb and Dumber

My old home state of South Dakota is making the wrong sort of headlines these days. For those who aren’t familiar with prairie politics, it is basically a state run by Republicans. This hasn’t always been a bad thing, but perhaps the fact that the political gene pool is such a small one is catching up with them, because during the time I lived there each year watching the legislature perform was increasingly like viewing reruns of Dumb and Dumber.

Unfortunately the decline in the IQ of the leadership seems to have continued since I left the state nearly seven years ago. And now South Dakotans are suffering because of it. Literally, suffering. Governor Kristi Noem can now take credit for leading the state into some of the worst Covid-19 numbers in the country. However, the abysmal statistics have not caused her to waver in her anti-scientific-knowledge crusade even as the death toll mounts.

Wear a mask? You can if you want to, you silly person, but thank God that here in SD we still have our freedoms, and this means we are free to spew deadly germs into the faces of our fellow citizens if we so choose. (I have freely paraphrased the governor’s public pronouncements, here)

Of course, she couldn’t do all this harm by herself. Just like her hero, P.Cluck, she is enabled by the Republican majority in her state with its willingness to belly up to the bar and pass the Kool-Aid around. And the voters, don’t forget the voters.

The word “stunning” has been used so much this past year that I hesitate to employ it yet one more time, but what this nurse in the video below has to say pretty much qualifies as an example. Her stories of patients who had so completely bought into Cluckist rhetoric that they believed that Covid was a hoax, a liberal straw-man, not a serious issue, on its way out, etc. etc. So much so that when they were told that it was killing them they refused to accept their diagnosis. How could they be dying of a hoax?

It’s stunning, is what it is. Lordy.

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From The New Yorker

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I actually fixed something yesterday. The tempered glass protective cover on the face of Robin’s iPhone had been damaged, leaving criss-crossing cracks to look at instead of that much preferred smooth surface. When I called the Verizon store where we had purchased the phone they told me the cost of repair would be $50.00.

For removing the damaged piece of glass and replacing it with a beautiful new one. Fifty bucks.

Well, my strong cheap streak went into high gear right away, so I began looking into doing it myself, and found a whole world of how-to-do-it videos on YouTube. I also found that if I were willing to do just the teensiest bit of work, that the cost would be around $14.00 for not one, but three new pieces of tempered glass, one to use as the repair and two to put away for another day.

So Mr. Clumsyhands went to work and mirabile dictu, I did it in about five minutes total time. Piece of cake. No problemo. Easy as pie.

Now just where is that bomb you wanted disarmed? I’ll be right over.

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It is definitely soup season here at BaseCamp. One of the great things about the colder weather is that bringing out the kettle and heating up the kitchen as broth and vegetables and herbs do their excellent thing together is actually enjoyable.

We have a number of old stalwarts that we first make each year, and then we begin to try new recipes. Our most recent addition to the library was made of a mixture of white beans and squash. Really, it is awfully tasty, and it freezes well.

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Good Morning, Starshine

Help! I’m being buried in a tsunami of wistfulness and I am not a strong swimmer! And it all started with an obituary in the Times of New York about an actress and singer named Lynn Kellogg.

Kellogg came into prominence as a performer in the musical Hair, which was definitely a “thing” when it appeared in 1968 on Broadway. Although Hair was an ensemble work, her songs were among the most memorable, at least for me. Listening to them this morning … all I can say is that it would have been better to take that trip in small doses rather than one big gulp.

By the time the music from Hair had drifted from Broadway all the way out to the Minnesota prairie it was 1969, which was kind of a big year for yours truly. It was the year that I participated in my last anti-war march in Minneapolis that year, accompanied by a pregnant wife, pushing a baby in a stroller, and trying to keep two pre-schoolers from wandering off and into trouble.

My son Jonnie was born on the last day of my pediatric residency, June 30. In mid-July I was inducted into the US Air Force, and later moved my family to Bellevue NE, which would be our home for the next two years. And although I never saw the stage musical, the music from Hair was playing in the background for these events and pretty much all others during that year.

So over on the right are some of Kellogg’s songs, and in the video here is the cast singing “Let the Sunshine In.” Lynn is the blonde woman who begins the number.

Unfortunately Lynn Kellogg died of Covid-19 this past week, at the age of 77 years. Who knows if hers, and how many of the other 247,000 Covid deaths have been unnecessary, and for which we have P.Cluck and his minions to thank?

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Of course, reminiscing is tempting for a lot of people, not just we dotards. Here is an article from CBS Sunday Morning on the 50th anniversary of Hair, along with another video clip which was taken from the Tony Awards show in 1969.

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Our lovely fall weather continues here in Paradise. Geese are beginning to gather on the local ponds, but so far I’ve seen none of those majestic vees passing overhead while pointed south. Their watchword must be why should we leave when we have it so good where we are, I guess?

Thanksgiving is now just 9 days away, but we are not panicked. We’re having it at our home this year, and are making plans for a crowd of two. It makes it so easy to pick just the right sized turkey, so today I am going to the deli and getting “one pound of that torn-apart and then glued-back-together sliced turkey, if you please.” It doesn’t require roasting at all, and if one wants to serve it warm, why, a few seconds in the microwave and you’re good to go. We do love our mashed potatoes, so I will purchase a single Yukon Gold, which should suffice. For stuffing, how about Stove Top mix, where you can measure out exactly what you want?

We will, however, not skimp on pie. We may make two of them, because why not? And we’ll have at least two full cans of Reddi-Wip ready to blast away, maybe more.

(All of the above is facetious, except for the observations on pie. While we will scale back a bit from previous years, there is no reason to let coronavirus spoil all of the fun, is there?)

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No Love, No Tacos

Here’s a simple little story that was a total day-brightener for yours truly. It’s about La Carreta Mexican Grill, a small restaurant in Iowa that mixed politics with business and some of the blowback that resulted. My hat’s off to Alfonso Medina for his clear thinking in these murky days. This guy is the sort of citizen that will help bring us out of the mess we’re in. Someone who believes in the promises of America and acts upon those beliefs.

A man who is closing his place of business on Election Day so that his employees can vote, while he himself volunteers as an election worker. (BTW, he is also paying those employees their salary on that day.)

I wish we lived closer to Marshalltown IA … how could their tacos not be excellent?

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BTW, about Mexican restaurants. My first visit to a new one is always the same. I order their beef tacos.

I think of my “system” as a sort of biopsy of the kitchen output, if you will pardon the clinical comparison. It tells me what I need to know about the place. If that simple, uncomplicated item is not savory, if the sauces are lacking in interest and authority, if the shells are stale … why bother with the Camarones a la Diabla? They are very likely to be an expensive disappointment.

Oddly, one of my favorite tacos was served up not in a Mexican establishment but at the salad bar in the Bonanza restaurant in Yankton SD. I say “was” because try to find a Bonanza steakhouse anywhere today. There are only a handful left in the U.S., victims not of Covid-19, but of rising beef prices and changing dietary tastes.

We have a number of Mexican-themed dining places here in Paradise, most of which are interchangeable and unremarkable. Close your eyes and you wouldn’t know which one you were in. They have the same offerings, the same plastic menus, the same unadventurous menu items. No one with chiliphobia would be threatened by what what comes out of their kitchens.

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I have lived in Montrose for nearly seven years, and before that in Yankton SD for several decades. In all that time, I have not had what I would consider a thorough physical examination. The kind that I was taught to do in medical school. The kind that picks up problems when they are smaller and potentially more treatable.

Now, for me personally it has not been a disaster. I can fill in a lot of the gaps with my own self-exams, at least of the places I can reach. I can stand in front of a mirror and check probably 90% of my skin surface. In this way I try to avoid nasty surprises. Otherwise the physicians that I have encountered have basically looked at only what I was complaining about, and usually in a more superficial way than I was taught to do.

My present doctor, who seems a capable person, has never asked me to undress, but listens through my clothing to my heart and lungs, a poor second to placing the stethoscope directly on the skin. I could have a skin lesion the size of New Jersey and she wouldn’t know it unless I brought it up. During my very recent brush with a serious problem (and although I am soooo grateful for the excellent care that saved my personal bacon), no one ever did a complete neurologic exam, or looked at the rest of my body for indications of possible reasons I might have had a stroke at the tender age of only 80 years. This in spite of the fact that my disease was of the central nervous system.

On the other hand, I had two CT scans, an MRI, an echocardiogram, and beaucoup lab tests. It would have been hard for any occult disease process to make it past those inquisitors, so I am not too worried.

My own training was at a very different time, I admit. A time when we were much more dependent on the physical exam to help us come to a diagnosis. The CT scan, the MRI, and the echocardiogram were yet to be discovered. So it would seem that extensive and time-consuming physical examinations are not prized the way they once were, and maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe they are only artifacts of a dinosaur age of medicine.

But god forbid that these physicians ever have to go to work on a day when the electricity is off.

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In the Humor section of the New Yorker this week was a series of caricatures of “other otuses.” This was one of the most tasteful of the lot.

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Today I will haul myself to Grand Junction for a visit to the Stroke Clinic. I have a few questions for the neurologist, and also wanted to give him the chance to see me with pants on. I am a much more impressive person when fully clothed, and in the name of full disclosure, I think he deserves to know that.

Otherwise I am doing well and the only change in my life is a single new medication. I have no problems that I didn’t have before my adventure of two weeks ago, and those basically come down to remembering where I put my car keys and to zip up before I go out in public.

Yesterday I was on the phone with friend Bill H. and he asked if Robin and I planned to cut back on our explorations and hikes because of this hour-long brush with an alternative reality. The idea being that we might be sometimes hours away from the terrific care that I received this time. And in the case of a stroke, everyone knows that hours is too long.

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I have given that a lot of thought, and decided against making big changes. If I were to push this line of thinking all the way I’d have to rent an apartment across the street from the hospital and have my groceries delivered, just in case … . So we plan to live our lives as before, not out of some false sense of bravado, but because making sure that we’re never more than an hour from a stroke unit doesn’t work out well in real life. We will minimize the risks where we can, but there is really no risk-free existence, is there?

The number of ways that life could catch any of us unawares is infinite. So we all cover the bases we can, and then we lock the door behind us and go out into the that uncertain world, anyway.

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A Brief Posting

Sunday night I couldn’t sleep, and a motel room is just too small when that happens. There is no good place to go. Even the light from a computer screen is enough to wake a sleeper and that wasn’t going to work out. So I left the room and went driving at 2 AM. Out in the countryside, along the lake road. I pretty much had the territory to myself, and it was all familiar. The wall by the Gavin’s Point Dam, the dark Missouri River reflecting any lights in the neighborhood, the quiet place that is Lake Yankton. I knew every turnoff and turnout.

I wasn’t alone. I saw two young raccoons at the side of the road and slowed so that they could cross safely. I saw a white cat streaking across the highway in front of me, and right behind it was a red fox. The fox screeched to a halt before entering the road, having made the calculation that my car was too close and coming up too fast to take a chance, and so lost its opportunity for a feline breakfast.

Around 5:00 I returned to the lobby of the motel, where the coffee pots had already been put out for us, and settled back in a comfortable overstuffed chair. Then two Yankton policemen came in. Somebody had begun to phone in a 911 call and then hung up. Their system could tell that the call had originated in the vicinity of the motel, so they were checking what they could check. I had to tell them twice that I was fine and had not called them, but they still looked at me like I might explode at any moment. They then put a question or two to the woman at the desk before they left the building.

So I felt reassured, having people care about my welfare, even when they were armed and wearing Kevlar vests and didn’t know me from Adam. Life is good.

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We did get in a supper at Charlie’s Pizza, and although the personnel were unknown to us, and Covid had rearranged the seating somewhat, the pizza was every bit as good as we remembered.

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Saturday Scramble

Margaret Atwood is something else, isn’t she? When I went looking for a particular quote of hers that I vaguely remembered, I found no less than six pagesful of them in BrainyQuote. There are some really sharp ones in there. The one that I had originally sought was this:

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”

Margaret Atwood

The thing that brought this saying to foggy mindedness was a book review in the Times of New York of The Bass Rock, by Evie Wyld. The book’s theme is violence against women by men, which is as tried and true a theme as ever was. (I used to cringe whenever this subject came up yet one more time, being a lifelong member of the perpetrator gender, but as in so many other areas I found that ignoring it didn’t make it go away.)

This above all, to refuse to be a victim.

margaret atwood

I personally believe that this violence will not stop, or be significantly reduced until the topic has been laid out in front of us, bloody and raw, in a public square where we must walk by it daily and cannot turn our heads away. (How’s that for a metaphor?) Until we men are all absolutely sick to death of hearing about it and decide en masse to do something.

In this it is like the painful awareness of the systemic violence against people of color of that is today confronting Caucasians everywhere and around every corner so that we can only ignore it by complete denial of the nananananana variety. When we males (whites) as a group finally acknowledge the whole ugly mess as one we made and need to clean up all on our lonesome, it will happen.

The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose.

margaret atwood

I think that I might have to read this book. The sharper among you may have noticed that I am not perfect yet, but I believe that there is still that outlier of a chance that I may still get there one day. No one will ever notice when I do, of course, because I will have become the quiet, flawless, and empathetic listener that I was meant to be.

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Warning! Watch at your own risk! The following short video is known to cause liberals to smile broadly, and even right wingers’ faces to crack in painful ways. It’s all about the shoes. Oh, yes, it’s also about a real person with a sense of humor, something of which the red-right is seriously short.

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I’ve never been a big Martha Stewart fan. Back a few years, when you couldn’t turn your head without seeing her face on television, billboards, or magazines, I chuckled slightly when she went to jail for a few months for cheating. Although I admit that I did respect her for not prolonging things, the way a very wealthy person is able to do seemingly endlessly, when she decided to drop the legal maneuvers and do her short time in the calabozo.

So when I read yesterday that she is bringing out a line of CBD products for both humans and pets, I smiled. Yes, we’ll soon be able to chew our way to health or whatever it is that CBD can do for us and we will know that they are being sold to us by a very reliable ex-con. Because there has never been a question about Martha’s super-reliability.

I smiled again when I read who her partner (and old friend) was in this new venture, because he’s someone we already know as well. It’s Calvin Broadus. Calvin Broadus, you ask? Why, that’s his birth name. You may know him better by his professional name, which is Snoop Dogg. (I couldn’t make this stuff up, folks.)

We will be in very good hands, here. Madame Stewart’s ironclad WASP-y solidity, and Mr. Dogg’s long personal experience with the hemp family. Love it.

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Eggs and tomatoes go together so well, and there are scads of recipes out there of various combinations. Recently I experimented with something so simple and delicious that in the last seven days I had it three times for breakfast. Three times. It’s really only a variation on Chinese stir-fried eggs and tomatoes, but I humbly offer it here.

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I ran across this on YouTube and I found it to be helpful and inspirational. I have a well-developed tendency to think in stereotypes because it’s so much easier. After all, that way I can deal with people in large groups, rather than as individuals. So when a bunch of Southerners come out saying that Black Lives Matter, it gives me a chill. Now I actually have to think, which can be quite painful for me, and makes me crabby.

BTW, I should mention that I am not a neutral party, being the proud son of a union man who grew up during a time when that meant sometimes dodging the billyclubs and fists of the goon-armies of the rich.

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Fighting the Good Fight Department

When A Heart Is Empty by David Brooks
Trump Wasn’t Oblivious, He Didn’t Care by Paul Krugman

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I am presently re-reading Awakening the Buddha Within, a book that I first came across when I decided to see what the deal was with this thing called Buddhism. The book still interests me in its presentation of the main points of this “religion,” and also irritates in prodding me to accept karma, rebirth, and miraculous ideas that some schools of Buddhism adhere to. I am not a particularly good customer for miracles, it turns out. It’s one of my enduring quirks. Please notice that I said enduring, not endearing. This facet of my personality can be quite maddening to some.

It may well be that I am missing a great deal of the magic and beauty of life by insisting on a less colorful rationality, who knows? Even if this is true, I already find so much to admire out there … the world as I see it is so much more beautiful than it needs to be.

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A translation of the lovely song “Djorolen” goes like this:

“Cries out in the forest
The worried songbird
Her thoughts go far away
The worried songbird
Cries out in the forest
The worried songbird
Her thoughts go far away
For those of us who have no father
Her thoughts go out to them”

Here, Kitty Kitty

In my continuing efforts to try to satisfy the nutritional needs of the two furry gourmands who live at the same address that I do, I am daily swinging from elation to depression. No matter how eagerly they ingested the “Grilled Chicken with Liver” paté the last time I opened a can, today they may walk as carefully as members of a bomb squad might do to the same dish, give it a quick sniff, and then exit through the cat door, completely ignoring it.

And then the mess sits there gathering dust and developing an unattractive tough surface film that after a couple of hours pretty much guarantees that neither of the pair will ever eat it. They will then stand beside the rejected dishful and begin to complain that they are being ill served and would I please give them something to eat that is not revolting or poisonous?

The same goes for my homemade ground chicken mixture. It is vet-designed to contain everything that a cat needs to be healthy and happy, with proper attention paid to all of the known mistakes made in the past with regard to feline nutrition. Most days Willow will not touch it but Poco will clean his plate. Some days both cats act like they haven’t been fed in weeks and gobble it up with unseemly haste. Then there are the days when it doesn’t pass the sniff test at all, and both critters walk scornfully past their food containers and out the door.

Cats do scorn awfully well.

Ah well, it was so raising small children as well. They would have been happy with one bowlful of Lucky Charms (that toxically-sweetened and garishly-colored monstrosity of a cereal) after another, rotated with occasional platefuls of Kraft Mac n’Cheese or Spaghetti-Os at all meals and on all days and for years. It was when I tried to pay more than lip service to nutrition that I ran into trouble with them.

There are certainly no guarantees in parenting or pet care. My advice to the younger citizens of America is to acquire children or cats only after long and careful consideration.

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Yesterday our weather did an abrupt 180, going from sunny and nearly 90 degrees on Monday to 55 degrees and a cold drizzle on Tuesday. Wednesday morning is much the same. If I were in charge of things at the Celestial Department of Meteorology I would never do it this way. Humans are much happier when transitions are gradual. In fact, you can slip some pretty ugly weather into their lives if you do it one step at a time over several days or weeks.

My idea of the perfect September is 75 degree days while I walk about the town watching the leaves turn beautiful colors, each leaf remaining quietly on the tree for at least three weeks until the breezes finally carry them away. Maybe we’ll get some of that perfection, but here we are on the ninth day already … the gods better get cracking, is all I’ve got to say.

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It would appear that P.Cluck has completely taken leave of anything even remotely resembling decency, probity, or his senses. His public rantings are uglier than ever, his personal psychopathies more nakedly displayed. Who, I ask myself nearly every day, are these citizens who still eagerly follow him? Are they as degenerate and corrupted inside as he is? Is that what’s going on?

I am not able to sort it out, but the wondering makes me very sad some days. I very much want to think better of my own kind, but then I see pictures of the rallies chock-full of demented-looking Caucasians, applauding his vicious brand of nonsense.

My (distanced) mentor Thich Nhat Hanh would probably say that if I had grown up with different parents and had a different childhood that I might be in those stands wearing my MAGA hat and clapping my hands right along with them. And he would probably be right. But acknowledging that doesn’t make these people less dangerous or their attitudes less difficult to deal with.

On some days life is easier than on others, isn’t it?

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We are continuing to enjoy Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, on Netflix. It’s that little Japanese series (with subtitles) I mentioned a few posts back. It is sooo low-key, sooo kind-hearted, and if it occasionally wanders a little to the melancholy side it is never a downer. It’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, and that covers a lot of years of television.

You owe it to yourself to watch at least one episode. It will do your heart good. And you might find that your chopstick technique improves as well.

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Open Carry

We returned to the Uncompahgre Plateau on Sunday afternoon and found all of our gear intact and undisturbed. Packing up took less than half an hour and the camper is now safely stowed at home, our stuff cleaned and put away. End of story, right? Not quite.

Robin has stated that she’s done with camping for the year, maybe for good. Who can blame her? This year alone she has been buffeted by gales that wrecked tents and forced us to huddle behind trees. She has been chilled in a car with no blankets or sleeping bag to protect her. Her husband has plopped her evening meal into the dirt, and now a drunken mob made sleep impossible and created serious concerns about safety.

Perhaps as time passes these fresh scars will heal and she will see the positive side of this sort of activity once again, perhaps not. Either way, she’s a game girl for going along with me all of these years without plunging a dagger into my sleeping form and being done with the whole enterprise.

As for myself, I have been dealing with some odd thoughts that popped into my head. For the briefest of moments while packing up on Sunday, I wished that I had been armed on that Saturday night. This was the internal dialogue:

What sort of insanity is this? You think to bring yet another handgun into a world that already brims with them?

But if I’d had one, perhaps we would have felt more safe, more comfortable.

And what would you have done differently? Stood in the road leading into the campground in your fleece pajamas like a version of Walter White daring a bunch of drunken hoodlums to pass?

What if they’d taken up your challenge? What then?

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I don’t know, I just …

You would have been a fool, that’s what. There could have been only a very few outcomes. That this sodden sorry group of miscreants would have run right over you in a fit of intoxicated bravado is the more likely. Another is that you might right now be sitting in some hoosegow staring out at a world forever changed for you because you did have a firearm and you used it.

Way less likely is that the mob would have been instantly chastened and would have sent a delegation to beg your forgiveness, then packed up their pickups and driven off into the darkness to spend the rest of the evening sobering up and pondering their misdeeds, pledging never to do such loutish things ever again.

And so it goes.

Most of my life I’ve not been a physically imposing person, and since I possess the martial arts skills of an amoeba my planned strategies for dangerous confrontations included first trying to talk myself out of the situation, and if that failed, I planned to run. I realized that this would work better against knives than bullets, but there you are.

Then the years started to pile up and eventually I had to come to grips with the fact that running wasn’t going to cut it any longer. The knees, you know.

So then what? By age eighty I had never come up against a life-threatening confrontation, not really, so what was I worried about? Well, all those articles that are published describing how certain unscrupulous persons prey on seniors preferentially, that’s what. That’s when the handgun fantasies first started creeping into my daydreams.

Like so many other unwanted mental safaris that my mind goes on, I put this recurring one aside each time with a rueful smile. As I will with this last episode. But I fully understand the pull that fear can produce, and why others might choose differently.

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A good story here. Seeds that were 2000 years old have borne fruit. And delicious fruit at that.

Happy news.

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Saturday the skies were the most beautiful shade of intense blue. Sunday they were hazy and the blue much less vibrant. Monday that hue was completely obscured by smoke, and our sunrise was a red one. This time they tell us that the smoke has traveled all the way from California. All day long the San Juan Mountains south of us were invisible, and on our drive up to the Black Canyon for a hike, the viewing was transformed.

In the photo Robin is walking on the Upland Trail and you can see the reddish/chocolate color of the sky. What smoke does do well is to reveal layers of hills in the distance, setting off each one from the one behind it in a striking fashion. A lovely effect, that.

Poor California. Each year the blazes seem worse. Even though we are not without our problems with wildfires here in Colorado, it is not on California’s scale.

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Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury …

I received a jury summons this week, scheduled for September 9. After never, ever, receiving such a summons for the first 74 years of my existence, I have now been sent three of them since moving to Paradise. The first two came to nothing, with the proceedings being called off the day before I was scheduled to appear. So I was not holding my breath on this one. I am impressed with the power that these people have to compel us ordinary citizens. Should I suggest to the court that they bugger off and leave me alone, I’m pretty sure that they would have a proper bouquet of unpleasant remedies to deal with my behavior.

So imagine my delight when I re-read the fine print on the summons and discovered that if I fell into a high-risk Covid category as defined by the CDC, I could be excused from appearing. It further suggested that I call a telephone number, which I did so quickly that the summons hadn’t hit the desk before I was connected to one of the sweetest telephone voices I had ever heard. She told me that I was indeed in a high-risk group and that I now had two choices. I could opt out for six months, or for forever.

My dear, I responded, we will still be masking up six months from now, so why waste time with Option #1? Just give me the lifetime exclusion and we can be done with this delightful little conversation. And so I am now out of the pool, until and unless the powers that constitute the court system decide to change their minds.

It’s their game, of course. They get to make up the rules as they go along.

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On Friday morning I read that eight University of Nebraska football players are suing the Big Ten because the fall season has been called off. I can understand the frustration of young athletes who see their chances at professional careers in the game being adversely affected by such a decision. This has to hurt.

While reading the piece, I recalled that when I lived in South Dakota, just across the river from the fine state of Nebraska, there was a standing joke that went around. It went like this:

Question: What does the “N” on the U. of Nebraska flag stand for?
Answer: Nowledge.

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From The New Yorker

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One of our appliances gets very little use in this viral age, and that’s our Weber gas grill. We might have lit it up once in early Spring, but that was all. It’s a medium-sized grill, too wasteful to use it for only two people. And so it sits there lonesomely under cover, probably wondering what it did wrong last year to deserve such shabby treatment.

For us, grilling outdoors is a social occasion more than anything else. People gather around the device and kibitz to their hearts’ content. Why are you doing it that way? Do you use it much? I wouldn’t put so much sauce on, but that’s just me. It’s comments like these that can cement relationships or sour them.

Once upon a time daughter Kari asked me: What it is about men and cooking on a grill? I blinked at her for a second or two and then responded with just the slightest tremble in my voice: Meat and Fire … Meat and Fire.

It doesn’t get more primal than that.

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Saddle Up!

Saturday morning we took our first bicycle ride since Robin’s fall a couple of months ago. Down to the Farmer’s Market we rolled to round up some of the finest peaches and sweet corn on the planet. Rode back home extra-carefully so as to bruise neither the fruit nor Robin.

All went well, and that’s a good thing because we’d both love to add those regular rides back to our exercise/fun schedule. Especially with the promise of cooler days in September. This summer of consistent high temperatures has definitely required some coping strategies. A lot more time indoors than we’re accustomed to.

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The Democrats have put away the party hats they never got to use, and are going about the everyday business of working toward getting their people elected. The Cluckian Party, which replaced the Republicans somewhere along the way, is gearing up for something of their own next week.

Because the stuttering young man who had been befriended by Joe Biden made such a favorable impression this past week, the Clucksters are trying hard to find someone (outside his immediate family) whose life has been bettered by contact with his Serene Orange-itude, but they are not having any success at all.

Word has it that they are willing to settle for hiring a few shills if they can find some that are convincing enough. So look next week for a line of suspicious-looking people throwing down their crutches and declaring I Can Walk! I Can Walk! after coming into the presence of P.Cluck hisself.

As for myself, I am allowed to watch only one political convention per year by order of my personal physician, Dr. Imperviosa Sanguinaria. Between us we selected the Democrats’ get-together as this year’s winner. It’s a matter of my blood pressure, she says. So whatever the Cluckians do, I’ll have to wait for the summaries a day later to find out. Or perhaps a week. Or two.

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From The New Yorker

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Several years ago I scanned some ancient photographs that Robin’s mother, Dorothy, had been keeping around in various shoeboxes. You know, the way everybody did before digital cameras came on the scene. Now I have them in our library, even though I know very few of the people in the pix, and that goes for Robin as well. I don’t quite understand it, but I enjoy studying antique photos, even when they are of people I don’t know.

Believing that everybody deserves their one day of fame and exposure, I will share a few of these vintage photographs with you.

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And lastly, this Sunday morning, something fierce. One woman’s poem chosen by another poet, and all purloined by me from the Times of New York.

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Some Girls

By Alison Luterman and Naomi Shihab Nye

This poem had already been selected when Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed on the House floor her unforgettably powerful response to misogynistic insult. Now I read it with pride for brave people who speak out publicly for respect and justice, for passionate poets like Alison Luterman, for the people who live through “every kind of exile” … for all the awkwardness of trying on “new wings.” And for a country that has prided itself on being so forward-thinking without ever electing one of those girls to be even vice president, much less president. This poem feels like an anthem for “ferocious mercy” to come. Selected by Naomi Shihab Nye

Some Girls

By Alison Luterman

Some girls can’t help it; they are lit sparklers,
hot-blooded, half naked in the depths of winter,
tagging moving trains with the bright insignia of their
fury.
I’ve seen their inked torsos: falcons, swans, meteor
showers.
And shadowed their secret rendezvous,
walking and flying all night over paths traced like veins
through the deep body of the forest
where they are trying on their new wings,
rising to power with a ferocious mercy
not seen before in the cities of men.
Having survived slander, abuse, and every kind of exile,
they’re swooping down even now
from treetops where they were roosting,
wearing robes woven of spider webs and pigeon
feathers.
They have pulled the living child out of the flames
and are prepared to take charge through the coming
apocalypse.
I have learned that some girls are boys; some are birds,
some are oases ringed with stalking lions. See,
I cannot even name them,
although one of them is looking out through my eyes
right now,
one of them
is writing all this down with light-struck fingers.

Travelers

I’ve noticed that without any intention at all my musical selections over there in the sidebar have more or less settled into a mellower groove. There is so much noise elsewhere these days, so much shouting over one another – verbal violence to match the more physical variety being played out in the streets. Most mornings I have no wish to add to the tumult. However … I make no promises. I could break into something raucous at any time.

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I’m still making my way through the book White Fragility, page by painstaking page. I believe that I have found my sorry little self in every chapter, if not on every page. It turns out that reading it is akin to having a mental boil lanced, and that is a tender process. But I have confidence that when the probing stops I will be the better for it. Or at least I will understand more than I do today. People of my seasoned years may seem irrelevant to what it happening out there … but perhaps not … as long as we can vote, march, picket, and give aid and comfort to the enemy. My old and dear friend (who has never met me) Thich Nhat Hanh is fond of saying, if you want world peace, be peace. And one can do that at any age.

As long as the barricades aren’t so high they trigger my acrophobia I may be of some use in the struggles ahead of us. Ahhh yes, friends, there are some dandy struggles to come, even if Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris are solidly victorious in November. The cruel hearts of those rough beasts that slouched their way into Washington will still be beating, and dealing with them will require our best attention.

And to address systemic racism, troubled economics, a very nasty virus, not to mention climate change and working once more with the rest of the world … I think Joe and Kamala will not want for things to do.

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Poor Mr. Yeats, I keep trotting out his poem (or parts thereof) on so many occasions. When I first read it, the imagery was so striking to me, and it still is. If he is watching us: I apologize, Sir, for overusing, and quite possibly repeatedly misapplying, your bit of verse, but I find that I cannot come up with a better one on my own. Whenever times are troubling it seems such a good fit into matter what the cause …

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W.B. Yeats, the Second coming

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We’re expecting a guest in a couple of days. Daughter Maja is flying from Minnesota to social distance with us, and has come all the way from Peru just to do it.

Well, that’s not completely accurate. She needed a few weeks away from Peru’s hyper-rigorous lockdown, but the borders were closed. So she had herself crated up and placed in a container ship, the box having been labelled as some of those famous Peruvian textiles. Once in America, she chewed her way out of the box and thumbed rides all the way from San Diego to Mankato, having many adventures along the way. One of them involved a Maltese cat and a sack of onions … but it’s her story, and perhaps she should be the one to tell it.

So we are looking forward to debriefing her when she arrives in Paradise. In these uncertain days, learning new travel skills may come in handy down the road … who knows?

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A recommendation. Midnight Diner, on Netflix. Japanese, with subtitles. It has such … umami.

Each episode is under 30 minutes, so would it hurt you to watch at least one?

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Someone told me that they are not going to vote this year, because they abhor P. Cluck and they don’t like Joe Biden. I hope they rethink their strategy.

It would be great if our choices at the ballot box were as clear as between an awful candidate and a glorious leader, but how often does that happen in life? Sometimes in order to avoid the election of someone particularly distasteful, we must hold our nose with one hand while making our “X” with the other.

P. Cluck’s malfeasance may not yet have risen to the level of a Hitler or a Mussolini, but do we want to take even the most minuscule chance that he will be allowed to remain in office? Really, do we? And that’s exactly what not voting does. It improves his chances by one hair.

That’s not okay.

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… Nothing To Fear …

I find that in some ways I’m not a good person to discuss Covid-19 with. My internal sensors regarding exposure and risk are set differently from that of many other people that I know. I am missing some of the fear that they describe. Not all of it, but some. This is not due to courage, since I have no more of that quality than anyone else, but it comes from repeated experiences over a medical lifetime.

On Christmas Eve of 1966 I was a pediatric intern on call. A critically-ill infant had been admitted that day with meningitis, and I was covering for the physician responsible for her care. At around 10:00 P.M. she suffered her first arrest, and I began CPR immediately using an infant-sized bag and mask and chest compressions. At her second arrest an hour later, the bag malfunctioned and became unusable, and someone had to be dispatched to another area of the hospital to retrieve another. In the meantime, I used mouth-to-mouth respiration. We were once again successful in bringing the child around, but by midnight she had died in spite of our efforts.

The next morning the lab reported out the causative infectious agent as meningococcus. The members of the team that had worked with her were prescribed sulfonamide tablets as prophylaxis, and I dutifully took mine for the designated number of days and that was that.

There was no pause when the mask failed, I believed that this is what doctors did, this was part of the “contract” I signed when I decided to become a physician, even if I hadn’t thought it through as fully as I might have.

Over the years there were less dramatic episodes, but the theme was always the same. We (members of the medical team) would protect ourselves as much as was possible, but we entered those sickrooms, gave those treatments, did what was necessary to do. It was our job and we adapted to that reality in our minds.

So I completely understand the concerns and actions of workers in hospitals today who have to work with scanty protective equipment. You don’t prize your own life any less, but you took on the job on a sunnier day and now you are working in a hailstorm.

BTW, not every health care worker I have met feels this way. Some of them begin looking for the exit at the first sign of danger. I recall when Yankton SD’s first AIDS patient showed up at the hospital with appendicitis. It was early in the course of the AIDS epidemic, when information about transmission was still pretty sketchy.

It took a while to round up an OR crew to do the surgery necessary on that Sunday afternoon. Some personnel refused to answer the call. But others did, the operation went well, the young man went on his way, and his caregivers suffered no adverse effects.

So I protect myself, those around me wherever I can, and I limit my exposures. But I am intimately acquainted with the knowledge that there are perils in the world. A viral particle, a frayed bit of electrical wiring, a car being piloted by an intoxicated person. If you think too much about all the hazards that life provides, it could be almost paralyzing, couldn’t it? But we all open those doors and leave those safe spaces when the need arises. We suit up and show up. You and I.

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While I’m talking doctor stuff, I have a true short story for you. On a summer Sunday afternoon in 1967, a very ill six year-old boy was admitted to University of Minnesota Hospitals with fever, lethargy, and a dramatic rash. None of us assigned to this patient recognized the rash, so we stat-paged the chief resident on dermatology to come to the admitting examination room.

Now, for the most part, stat pages are extreme rarities in dermatologists’ lives. It is one of the attractions of the specialty, along with regular hours, weekends off, and freedom to vigorously nag anyone with a suntan. So when the derm chief resident heard the page, he grabbed a piece of equipment to bring with him to what would possibly be the only emergency call he would ever receive.

My question to you is: what did he bring with him? (Answer is below)

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From The New Yorker

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He brought a camera.

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We watched the Democratic convention again on Tuesday and Wednesday night, on ABC live. It’s interesting how the “meeting” is being presented, and of course it is basically all scripted and managed. But still some of the speakers come through those LEDs and LCDs pretty well. So far my favorites have been Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, and Jill Biden.

ABC has George Stephanopoulos managing a shifting group of commentators sitting at a long and socially-distanced desk. So long that not all of them are in the camera’s view unless one pulls it back a good distance. They jumped into the discussions whenever there were pauses in the “convention” schedule. I found them largely annoying.

For instance, at this point in the history of the republic, I don’t really care what Chris Christie thinks – about anything at all.

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Smoke is in the air this morning, so heavy that we can barely see the silhouettes of the San Juan Mountains to the south and the Uncompahgre Plateau to the west. And the closest fire (below) is a hundred miles away from us, north of Grand Junction.

Another large fire near Glenwood Springs has closed Interstate 70 for about a week now, with no predictions as to when that vital highway will be open again. East-west traffic is being rerouted in several directions, one of them being through Montrose along Highway 50. When we returned from Leadville a couple of days ago, there was heavy traffic both ways on a road that is usually lonesome traveling.

It is truly crispy here in Paradise. The amount of rain we’ve received at mi casa this year wouldn’t make two pots of good coffee.

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Made up a quart of ghee yesterday. Got into it while learning something about Indian cuisine a while back. It’s a simple chore that produces something which is priced akin to liquid gold in grocery stores. All you need is some unsalted butter, a saucepan, and about twenty minutes of your time. Ghee is great for cooking, since it provides buttery flavor but does not brown or smoke at ordinary cooking temps. And it keeps for months at room temperatures.

There’s a decent tutorial at this website if you’re interested.

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Membership

Yesterday I was a couple of hours late in watering my tomato plants. And they had already begun to crumple. Looks like once a day isn’t quite enough, and the new twice daily schedule starts today. Nature apparently has an unending supply of 90+ degree days in its storeroom, and has not been shy about trotting them out this summer. Today it will be 93 degrees, with 0% chance of rain.

Ho hum, SSDD.

Our tomatoes are coming in faster than we can eat them, and we’re going to start the process of preserving them without actually getting involved in canning. We plan to convert them into sauces of one kind or another.

We did this last year, and with our present abundance we expect it to work well this year as well.

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P.Cluck has done so poorly in his last two recorded interviews that I’m beginning to be suspicious of his performances. In both of them he has come across as a complete dunderhead, and that may be all there is to it. Or could he be playing stupid, trying to lure a complacent Biden (and us) into a trap of some sort?

We’ll have to see … but after seeing his performance in the Axios interview, I think that Cluck might need help with basic living skills, like buttoning his clothes and flossing.

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This is a photo of the tomatoes I harvested just today. We have already eaten many, and there are so many more to come. And all of this from three plants.

I was so elated after picking this huge bowlful that I ran indoors to look up who the god of gardeners might be, so that I could pay my respects. Imagine my surprise when I found this:

PRIAPOS (Priapus) was the god of vegetable gardens. He was also a protector of beehives, flocks and vineyards. Priapos was depicted as a dwarfish man with a huge member, symbolising garden fertility. He wore a peaked Phrygian cap, indicating his origin as a Mysian god, and carried a basket weighed down with fruit.
His cult was introduced to Greece from Lampsakos (Lampsacus) in Asia Minor and his mythology subsequently reinterpreted. Primitive statues of the god were set-up in vegetable gardens to promote fertility. These also doubled as scarecrows, keeping the birds away.

https://www.theoi.com/Georgikos/Priapos.html

I had thought of placing a small statue of the god as a sort of cosmic thank you, but I’m afraid that I would have to make a request of our HOA before installing anything resembling a dwarf with a huge member.

There would definitely be talk.

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This is the summer that I discovered the music of Ali Farka Touré, and I love it. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the gentleman died in 2006, so I’m a little late to the party.

Touré was born just five days after I was, on October 31, 1939. He went on to become one of the world’s great guitarists, and I didn’t. He was tall, dark, and handsome, while I was not. Otherwise, we could have been twins.

Here he is in the last year of his life, showing us that it’s not the sheer number of notes that you play, but where and how you put them. Beautiful restraint.

Pancakes and Pandemics

The Times of New York has been running a series for a while now of obituaries of forgotten people, long since dead. The latest for some reason was particularly affecting, or interesting, or something, for me. It was of Nancy Green, who passed away in 1923 from injuries she received when a car ran into her as she stood on a Chicago sidewalk.

Ms. Green was the original spokesperson for the Aunt Jemima brand of pancake mix, a brand that Quaker Oats recently retired because of its racial symbolism. (A confession: when the company announced that they were doing this, I opened my cupboard door and there was Aunt Jemima’s benignly smiling face staring back at me. )

Robin and I retired our personal box of the pancake mix . It’s Krusteaz or Kodiak all the way from now on.

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Robin and I are in Denver visiting the Johnson family, doing the best we know how to see members of our family without passing along the plague to them and at the same time they are doing the same for us, since few people know if they have it or not. We’re staying at a motel nearby instead of at their home, following the same guidelines.

There’s little use testing ourselves, really, if we have no symptoms, because last week’s negative test can be rendered immediately moot by yesterday’s accidental and unintended contact. A few viral particles wafted my way by the flutter of a butterfly’s wing and I could be converted instanter into a modern version of Typhoid Mary.

So we all assume the dual roles of possible perpetrators and potential victims whenever we are in the same space, whether outdoor or indoor. It’s all so odd, yet becoming so familiar. I wonder, is there any possibility that I will ever look back on these days as anything but a prolonged bad dream?

Sunday afternoon, when we were all out in the back yard, chattering about nothing in particular, the two young children were sitting on the steps to the house, with their usual sparkling and engaging personalities inhibited by their masks (or perhaps by ours). They rarely spoke, and the look in their eyes was similar to that thousand-yard stare you read about on the faces of soldiers in wartime. For me personally, this ongoing pestilential interval is highly inconvenient and slightly threatening. But what is all this, for them? What learning opportunities are they missing that they might not get back? What joys?

Wait … I hear footsteps … where’s that damned mask … have I washed my hands … will the interloper respect my new six-foot personal space? So many questions.

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At one time in this ongoing process of aging, changes came at me one at a time. I look back at those days fondly. Today they come in mass charges, with trumpets blaring and wild-eyed slavering horses at the fore. It is impossible to catalog them once and for all because even the changes themselves are not static.

All I can say is that if one can step back and take a dispassionate look at what is going on, it’s a biologic maelstrom. Let’s see, Jon, let’s take the hair from your head and have it explode from your ear canals. And long after that smooth skin of youth has disappeared, let’s put a single monster zit in the center of a conglomeration of wrinkles and dewlaps. And oh yes, let’s have all of your endocrine systems fade and flare on alternate Tuesdays, providing endlessly amusing variations of bowel habits and temperature tolerances.

And so it goes. At such times it is crucial to keep in mind that the most important of the senses is not sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell.

It is humor.

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Who Was That Masked Man?

Governmentally-mandated masking is our reality now here in Colorado, as of a couple of days ago. Depending on the kindness of strangers sounded good, but there were still too many softbrains out there who thought wearing a mask was a Democratic plot to make their faces itch and in so doing drive them mad to the point that they drive their vehicles into the sides of mountains.

So now the proprietor of each business is a sort of hall monitor. If someone refuses to mask up, they are to deny them entry into their place of business. If the miscreant is already in the door and refuses to leave, trespass laws can be invoked and the gendarmerie can be summoned.

Clumsy? Clunky? Absolutely, but then what part of this whole pandemic thing is not?

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Do you know what these few cherry tomatoes that I picked Saturday represent?

VICTORY!

(Cue the music, Maestro – let’s have Happy Days Are Here Again, if you please!)

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As you know, I do not pad this blog with recipes very often, knowing full well that any of you who are doing the cooking already have a recipe library of your very own, and don’t require help from me, thank you very much!

But once in a great while I can’t help myself. The other evening I decided to try making mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes. So I checked out a new recipe and dang it if they weren’t delicious. You can get the recipe here by searching through the excess verbiage that’s so much a part of recipe websites these days but it’s worth it, especially if you are thinking about low carb or paleo/keto eating.

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From The New Yorker

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We’re heading for Denver on Sunday morning, to practice a little social distancing with Justin and Jenny. Lots of outdoor stuff, staying in motels instead of their home, driving in separate cars, that sort of thing. I was thinking about the odds of survival for older senior citizens should they contract the virus. They are very similar to those encountered when playing Russian roulette. Which is another game, along with golf, that I long ago decided never to play.

There’s no real reason to panic, it would seem. Wash your hands, wear a mask, avoid crowds (especially indoors, where a crowd for me these days is a good deal less than ten), keep your distance, enjoy outdoor activities, etc. Since persons of Norwegian ancestry do not have much of a reputation as huggers, the social distancing thing has come fairly easily.

It’s all a great pain in the butt, and I will be the first in line for a vaccination when one finally arrives. And after I’ve had my shot, I will go right back to doing what I’m doing now until I see how things shake out. In general, rushing vaccine development has in the past not been considered the best way to carry out an immunization program. But these are not ordinary days, are they?

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Freedom To Let One’s Face Hang Out

It’s 2 A.M. here in Paradise, and I’m sitting out back listening to the wind chimes. Woke up to use the loo, and couldn’t just drop back to sleep for whatever reason, so here I am. Just for reference, it’s quite dark at this hour, so if there are wild creatures out there with me in view and wondering idly how I’d taste, at least I can’t see them massing. And what you can’t see ain’t real, right?

Official Portrait of Ron De Santis, Governor of Florida

Scanning the news – so far today it’s not too noisy out there. Florida, that state of masterful ostrich-style leadership, which reopened its beaches a few weeks ago and now is being swamped by new cases of Covid-19, is going to try to close some of those same locations for the 4th of July. Naturellement*, the yahoos are out in full force complaining that their freedoms are being curtailed.

Here are those freedoms as outlined in a speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his State of the Union address on January 6, 1941:

  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear
  • Freedom to bring a large cooler to any beach you want to, whenever

So I guess the yahoos are right on this one.

*An unfortunate habit of mine is to drop in a French word from time to time purely to show off and advertise that I had a minor in French as an undergrad.

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Our cats are with me out here in the dark on the deck, wondering:

What the feline ? Can’t he leave us alone even for a moment? Whenever he comes around it’s always Come here kitty and let me pet you? or Sit on my lap, won’t you? or some sort of mooning on how cute we are. He can’t just let us be. There are days when it’s enough to curdle one’s kibble.

I don’t blame them. Usually the night is their human-free time, where they can drop the little charades of polite social interaction and be themselves. Perhaps enjoy a tasty mouse or two and kick back.

Sorry, guys, I’ll stay here in my chair for now, the rest of the yard is yours. But at dawn, all bets are off.

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From The New Yorker

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Love the cartoon.

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I doubt this article shocked or surprised any of you. I’ve eaten chicken nuggets a couple of times, and on each of those occasions I knew that there was more than a little latex in those pneumatic lumps. Once when I attended a summer family picnic and saw them being substituted for shuttlecocks, this feeling was only reinforced.

I’ve read the story over a couple of times now, and am still in the dark as to just what the source of the rubber was. Old farm boots, discarded radial tires, erasers that were supposed to end up atop all those #2 pencils in all those classrooms … what?

The article goes on to tell us that the nuggets in question ” have a best-by date of May 6, 2021.” Apparently after that time you must have them recapped before you serve them.

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Robin and I are experiencing some of the heartaches of gardening this week. Some of our leafy children are being eaten or undermined by uninvited others. We find ourselves googling “diseases of tomatoes,” “diseases of chard,” and “diseases of spinach.” Wilted leaves, tiny beetles, wriggling larvae … all have threatened our small horticultural Eden out back.

What is the source of the impulses that drive us each year to complicate our lives by trying to grow a small portion of our own food? To put ourselves at the mercy of the weather, rainfall, insects, birds … all for a few salads and a BLT or two? If we truly learned from experience, we would toss those seed catalogs as soon as they arrived, get rid of the planters, and use all that time freed up to learn to play blackjack or something else more useful.

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This one is for Jonnie. Blister in the Sun, by Violent Femmes.

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The Chain

There is a Buddhist table prayer that goes like this:

We are grateful for the sun and the rain and the earth
and someone else’s hard work.

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There’s often a lot of “fill” on the CNN website, but once in a while they serve up a really tasty media sandwich of excellent photographs between slices of good whole grain reportage.

One of those caught my eye this morning, and I recommend it to you if you haven’t already read it. It’s all about something that I give little thought to day by day, but which makes life as I know it possible – the food chain.

And the article goes on to relate how we are finding out just how elastic that chain might be and whether it will even hold. The reason, of course, is our friend the pandemic. A farmer plants what he think he can sell at harvest time. If he sells to restaurants … what will that market look like when those lovely plants are ready to sell? The crystal ball hasn’t been made that encompasses the coronavirus’ interruptions and dismantlings.

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From The New Yorker

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On Friday Robin and I broke the Covid laws and traveled, non-essentially, more than 10 miles from home. That morning we had snapped, and were each maniacally laughing at nothing during breakfast, unable to stop ourselves. At one point we paused, breathless, looked across the table and said: “We’ve got to get out of here!”

And so we did.

We drove in our Covid-resistant automobile to Twin Lakes, Colorado, a round trip of about 300 miles. We ate bagel sandwiches on the sidewalk in front of a small deli in Gunnison CO. We walked short distances on two hikes and marked them for future and more thorough exploration. We examined two beautiful rushing mountain rivers.

On the first of those mini-hikes I had a not-so-golden-moment. Foolishly I was wearing my plastic Birkenstocks, thinking … not thinking, really. I was walking on a slippery dirt hummock between two very large mud puddles on that old mining road when the Birkies lost contact with the earth. In less time than it took to type this I was lying on my back in three inches of water in one of those puddles.

I’m not sure what the water temperature was, but somewhere close to 40 degrees, I’m guessing.

At any rate, I was now well and truly soaked from shoulder to bum with a brownish water that added nothing to my appearance and turned my blue and white plaid flannel shirt sort of a rusty color.

I schlepped back to the car where I stripped to the waist and put on a fleece jacket that I had fortunately brought along on the drive. There was no replacement for the wet hiking shorts so they had to dry while being worn.

Robin could only watch and say things to herself about hiking with senior citizens and the vagaries thereof.

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From The New Yorker

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There are moments when I wished that I liked okra. The CNN story with which I opened this blog entry talked about the problems of an okra farmer. As I read it I thought of his product and shuddered.

I remember my first exposure to this vegetable quite clearly. A bunch of okra had been boiled up and placed in a serving dish. When the dish was passed to me and I lifted up a large piece of the stuff and saw the mucoid strings hanging from its limp green body I replaced it in the server and never picked it up again.

Years later I ordered a side dish of fried okra at one of those good ol’ southern cookin’ sort of places, and although there was none of that awful visual with the slime dripping down and all, one bite into the super-slippery innards of the piece on my fork made the words NOT FOOD pop into my mind in a bright neon color.

I fear that I may never try it again, and so cannot help that poor farmer in any way. He’ll have to depend on other customers who are not put off by eating large gobbets of mucus.

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Science: The place where we go to find out how the world is and works, rather than someone’s febrile idea about what He’d like it to be.

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AY AY AY! Two hair stylists in Missouri went to work with respiratory symptoms and exposed more than 140 clients to coronavirus. We don’t know anything as yet about those folks who were sent out the door with those spanking new bobs. Did they catch it? Did they become ill? Did they like their haircut?

But what we do know is that they worked for one franchise of the same exclusive chain of salons that I attended here in Paradise in the old days when I left the snipping of hairs to others. Great Clips.

Y’know, it’s really disappointing. You expect more from an upscale establishment. Sloppy work, that.

However, now that I have taught myself the fine art of mowing my own fur, I find that I don’t care quite as much as I would have. My plague haircuts are as pleasing to me as those I received at the hands of a long string of anonymous women over the years. What is missing, though, is the suspense.

Will this be the time that I get exactly what I want? Or will I look at myself in the mirror when she’s done and say once again: In a week it’ll be okay.

I miss that.

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Addendum: On a bicycle ride Saturday, I hit a snag in the sidewalk and the bike and I went in different directions. Small parts of my epidermis were left on the gravel along the path, but that was the extent of my injuries.

Robin, however, added this incident to the one of the day before, where I fell into a mountain puddle, to declare a new policy: No More Accidents. I would have tried to explain that accidents were just that, and could happen to anyone at any time, but there was a look in her eye that said:

Don’t mess with me on this one, Jon. Just wear the suit!

The garment in question is constructed entirely of bubble wrap, is suffocatingly warm in summer, and there is no way at all to deal with perspiration. After a couple of hours in there, the most euphemistic way of describing its occupant is rancid.

It would have prevented my two small traumas of the past week, however, because anything other than a stiff sort of slow-walking is impossible.

She’ll come around, I know she will. If I can just stay out of trouble for a few more days …

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Out, Out, Damned Cartel

This was our nighttime sky on Tuesday evening, supermoon and all.

[The photo was stolen outright from the Montrose Daily News electronic edition]

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John Prine passed away on Tuesday, of complications from coronavirus infection. He’d beaten cancer a couple of times, but this little twisted bit of ribonucleic acid did him in. He’s written many excellent songs, but my favorite is Angel From Montgomery, which you can listen to here.

Vale, Mr. Prine.

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We finished the third season of Ozark last night. It’s basically your everyday Shakespearean tragedy grinding along toward disaster, and last evening’s episode took some long steps toward that conclusion.

Jason Bateman has done a great job playing an unflappable man who might be better off flapping once in a while. His wife, played by the excellent Laura Linney, does her Lady Macbeth thing, being able to switch from an expression of deepest horror to a reassuring smile and honeyed voice in less than a single out-breath.

The rest of the cast is very good, but I do have a small suggestion for the guy who plays the head of a Mexican cartel – take the melodrama down from 10 to about seven. I think it will work better for the character. If you want to see what I mean, watch a few episodes of Narcos – Mexico on Netflix. Menace is more interesting than rage.

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Beans and rice tonight for supper. When I saw this whole Covid-19 drama unfolding back in January, I didn’t really start to hoard (being a classy person, I am incapable of doing tawdry stuff like that) but did buy enough dried food, including pinto beans and rice, to last a week or two. At the time all the grocer’s shelves were full, hugging had not become the don’t even think about it! thing that it would, and toilet paper never came into a conversation.

Most of those dried provisions are still on the shelf in the garage, and I figured we’d better get going on reducing the pile. Ergo today’s (and many tomorrows’) menu.

I think I shared this recipe for pinto beans back a few months ago, when our Instant Pot was still new and we were wondering what to do with it. It’s still a winner.

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There are a few fruit trees blossoming here in Paradise. Many of them are apricots, a popular planting hereabouts. We’ve thought about putting one in our front yard, but there is one thing holding me back. Such a tree, if successful, will always produce more apricots than a person could ever eat, and somebody has to pick up the hundreds that fall to the ground.

You can walk barefoot on the apple seeds from last year, but not apricot pits. Far too sharp and pointy, they are.

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Well, just when I thought things in the Executive Branch couldn’t get any dumber, they did. I know the words “perfect storm” have been greatly overused since that movie of a few years ago, but there is now a perfect storm of quasi-medical horseapples rolling down the streets of Washington D.C., which if we don’t watch out could engulf us. Or at the very least get all over our shoes.

The reason … President Cluck and Doctor Oz are presently on the same collaborative page, advising people to go out and treat the Covid-19 (that they may or may not have) with drugs never tested against the disease.

You all remember Dr. Oz, don’t you? He’s the former surgeon who long ago left medicine, his integrity, and what wisps of common sense he was born with behind and became a full-time shill for diet crazes and a hundred varieties of snake oil.

You might say, hey, if someone’s dumb enough to take the advice of this pair of bozos, they deserve what’s coming to them. And you’d have a point. Perhaps we should look at it as a tool of evolution, where a handful of these easily-led citizens remove themselves from the gene pool by following the advice of such popinjays.

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The header photo is of Robin paddling up Pagami Creek, in the Boundary Waters wilderness area of Minnesota. Two months later what you are looking at in this picture was engulfed in fire, one of the biggest the BW has ever experienced.

This all happened nine years ago, so time and the inexorable forces of life have done much to repair the damage that a lightning strike caused. Pagami Creek is green again, although the new trees are smaller, and are mixed in with the blackened reminders of 2011.

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Unfair! Unfair!

Dr. Atul Gawande is so smart and thoughtful and charming he makes me feel altogether puny. How could the universe give so much to one person and so little to another? Where’s the justice here?

In the New Yorker this week, he stands back and looks at our journey so far through corona-opolis, and begins to put some things right that have been askew. Straightens the pictures on the wall, so to speak. He puts to rest the feeling that this is all completely new territory and we don’t have any idea how to deal with it.

While that mindset might have had a tinge of truth in it a couple of months ago, it simply isn’t reality today. We are learning rapidly due to reports from around the world, and through shared experiences. Gawande summarizes what we are finding, and it is moderately reassuring. Not complacency-promoting, but reassuring.

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Our village has started senior hours at the grocery stores. Apparently this is happening out there in the rest of the world as well. On M-W-F older citizens can shop from 0700-0800 without having to deal with those pesky youngsters and their runny noses. Theoretically this will reduce the older folks’ chance of exposure to coronavirus and thus prolong some of their lives.

But this system is not without its drawbacks. If you take the store up on their offer, what it would mean is greatly intensified exposure to one of the supreme aggravators of our time – the elderly female grocery shopper.

They clutter the aisles, moving at so slow a pace that one has to paint lines on the floor to be sure they are moving at all. They park their carts on one side of the aisle and their bodies on the other, completely obstructing traffic. And they pay you no attention when you holler at them to get out of the way or you will come through at ramming speed.

But the worst, the absolute worst things happen at the checkout counter. These women have on average about 1500 coupons dating back to 1944, all of which have to be gone through one at a time to see which are valid and which are not. And they do not toss out the rejected ones, but replace them in their purses to be brought out again at the next visit.

The idea that you have to actually purchase a bag of coffee to get the $1.00 credit seems to be a foreign concept to many of these ladies, and there is quite a bit of harrumphing at the inflexibility of the store.

But now comes the coup de grace. The groceries are all rung up, the cashier is waiting for the customer to select method of payment, and after scratching around in a bottomless purse for several minutes out comes the checkbook. They never, n-e-v-e-r, have their checkbook out and are ready with pen in hand when the total is rung up. It apparently comes as a surprise to them every time.

So those senior hours look a lot less attractive when you really think about them. Am I being too harsh? Too sexist? Aren’t old men just as deficient in these areas?

Of course they are. But no one in their right mind would send an old dude to get the groceries. Might as well throw your shopping list into the street, for all the good it would do you. They are so distractible and memory-challenged that they come to the checkouts with nothing in their carts at all and must be sent back into the store to take a second run at it.

So for all these reasons I think I’ll shop with the millennials. Besides, they are so easy and fun to annoy.

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So … yesterday I looked at myself in the mirror and saw shagginess. The kind that a haircut can fix. After a few phone calls, I found out that you can’t do that in Montrose these days, because all of the barbers, etc. have shut their doors. Apparently good grooming is yet another casualty of the present plague.

Later in the day I came under fire from our children for even considering going to a salon and risking that exposure, and I accept that criticism as caring and well-intended. Even sensible. Looking in the same mirror, suddenly I didn’t look all that untidy, after all.

And I have come up with a plan of sorts, should the emergency continue for weeks into the future. I will either let my hair grow without interventions or clip it back to the skull by my own hand. Walking around with a botched self-cut somewhere in between has no appeal. My personal appearance standards are low, I admit, but I do have them.

So, unless there is a change in our present situation, a few months from now I will likely have one of these two possible “looks.”

or

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A Fine Kettle of Fish

Okay, I admit that Willie Nelson can basically do no wrong. Drink too much? … he used to do that. Smoke pot by the hundredweight? … continuously until he couldn’t breathe well. Famously forget to pay his income taxes? … you bet. And yet somehow he transformed himself from a man who was (and is) simply a very good songwriter with a couple of bad habits to a national cultural institution and treasure.

I would really like to know how he did that so I can get started on my own monster legacy. I do have a hurdle or two to get past, if I am thinking of following in his footsteps. I can’t play guitar, I can’t read or write music, I can’t sing, and I’m a lifelong sufferer from charisma deficiency syndrome.

But today we’ll look at a new generation of Nelsons as they perform duets with the old man. Here’s a pair of videos, one involving son Lukas and the other daughter Paula.

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The sound that you hear is that of multiple apples falling not far from the tree.

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Friday night we’re going back to St. Mary’s Church for the Fish-Fry once again. I called to see if by chance they were calling it off for viral reasons, and the secretary seemed puzzled that I would even ask such a question. Apparently NOTHING interferes with the fish-fry, other than perhaps an inferno-style grease fire in the kitchen itself.

We’re attending with another couple, and I’ll have to admit that getting together in a public space these days where there will be scores of other people gives one a bit of a frisson. I may wear my Indiana Jones fedora for the occasion. Would packing a bullwhip be too much … ?

Actually, being at a Catholic Church dinner where a killer virus may be lurking doesn’t give me as much pause as attending services at a local Lutheran church would, the one where there is an old dude who openly carries a sidearm on Sunday mornings. The danger is random in both cases, but I don’t think that being 3 feet away from a gun-toting and paranoid septuagenarian provides nearly enough of a safe distance.

[Follow-up note: St. Mary’s is cancelling the rest of the Fish-Frys for this season due to concerns centered on COVID-19. An instance where the virus may actually have saved lives.]

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On Thursday afternoon, it being a lovely sixty-degree day and my having run out of excuses not to do it, we took our bikes out for the first time. The city has recently added 2.5 miles to the riverside bicycle/hiking trail and it is really beautiful now. Slight uphill going upstream, the opposite when you turn around.

It’s a nice workout, and the only problem I have each year on the first few rides is some lower-body discomfort located not where the rubber meets the road, but where the denim meets the saddle. Since we covered about 12 miles Thursday, I am still walking slightly askew today.

However, I am no longer visibly wincing.

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A concession to the times we are living in. I truly enjoy shopping for groceries. Part of the fun is getting bargains and part is exploring new foods, some of which I may never have heard of before.

But we’re going to experiment with something called ClickList, at our local City Market. Here you shop for your food online, and then at a designated time, drive to the store and a stockperson delivers your order to your car. The only human contact is with that man or woman, and you avoid the herd inside the store. There is a charge for this service (at least partially offset by the lack of opportunity for impulse buying).

Now, I would much prefer to be in that herd, but will accept that this route may be the one to take until the crisis passes. After all, as Robin gently reminds me, I am in a different risk group these days.

Odd to imagine oneself as situationally fragile, but there you are.

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My Yang Is Acting Up Today, So Where’s My Yin When I Really Need It?

A person with COVID-19 has popped up in Gunnison, which is 50 miles away. Actually, I suspect that there are cases right here in Paradise, we just haven’t identified them as such, and maybe never will because the victims are not all that ill.

What’s the good news in this evolving story? Well, one positive item is that kids don’t seem to get very sick if they catch it. That’s a good thing. Wait, it’s also a bad thing – because if they aren’t very sick they’ll be taken along to grandpa’s house for dinner and run into his arms for that warm and loving hug and … adios, viejo.

It’s the old Yin-Yang thing once again, it seems. Everything contains within itself its opposite. As in this passage from the Tao Te Ching.

When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.

Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.

I thought this symbol was cool long before I was taught anything about its meaning. Once that little bit of instruction came along, I thought it was even cooler.

Especially the part that teaches that is is difficult if not impossible to be all “bad,” or all “good.” There is always that obverse presence, that little white or black dot. And even then, the size of those dots can grow or recede over time as well.

I was thinking about this at an AA meeting recently as another member was droning on and on in his fingernail-on-the-blackboard voice. What he was saying was just as irritating as his delivery, since he had badly misinterpreted several points of what AA is supposed to be about.

So I mentally pictured him as a six-foot column of yang, and then tried to imagine what that little white dot of yin would be in his case. I eventually settled on this: his mother probably loved him.

(Which might have been completely untrue, and one of the very reasons that he became an addict in the first place.)

Excuse me, but I’ve made myself quite dizzy with this heavy thinking, and will return when I’ve had a chance to compose myself. Don’t wait up.

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Your stomach doesn’t know the difference. It’s what I tell myself when my cooking goes astray and what I have put on our plates borders on appalling.

Like last night at supper, when I had cooked up some hamburger patties that looked just fine on the outside, but were soon found to be quite rare internally. So I dropped them into the microwave, seriously overestimated the time necessary to touch them up, and turned those slightly deficient patties into a beef-flavored material that could profitably be used to plug holes in leaking dikes.

But as we gnawed our way through them, I said under my breath: Your stomach doesn’t know the difference.

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Apparently President Cluck gave another stinker of a speech Wednesday night, the one dealing with the coronavirus. I didn’t watch it, following the orders of my personal physician, Dr. Hippolytus Goodacre. He allots me five seconds of exposure to His Leadership per day, which is the amount of time it takes me to change the channel while moving at my swiftest.

I am not surprised at all that he bombed, since he is up against inconvenient truths that refuse to go away and which call him out as a fool and a liar on a daily basis. I think we should all give thanks to the Republicans for providing us with this serialized amusement.

Thank you, Republican Party members of congress, for bringing us President Cluck, and for forsaking the oaths you took to defend our country by keeping him in office. May you be rewarded with excruciating itching everywhere, hiccups that can’t be stopped, and an awakening of your hemorrhoids to a biblical degree of severity.

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There are some songs that are just perfect for those times when romance goes a bit off on you. When you are making a decision to stop being a soggy mess and give life and love a go once again, knowing full well that there are no guaranteed outcomes.

I rounded up a couple of those this morning, one sung by a lady and the other a gentleman. I give you the Bruce and his anthem – Tougher Than The Rest, and Lady Emmylou with a song from a semi-obscure album – Woman Walk The Line.

You’re welcome.

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No Influence At All

Aha! At last, an article that clears up the puzzle of a lifetime of questionable choices, from television shows to candidates for POTUS. I am an anti-influencer! Who knew? Somehow this label provides me with a ragged sort of legitimacy.

A definition of what that means absolutely nails my situation:

.

Some people have a knack for buying products that flop, supporting political candidates who lose and moving to neighborhoods that fail to thrive.

NYTImes, March 7

I plan on submitting my name to the people doing this research, and if they have any sense at all they will leap at the chance to enlist my services. Why, just my selections in presidential races should make me a shoo-in for the job. There was John Anderson, George McGovern, Hilary Clinton, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Al Gore … the list goes on.

Yes, friends, I am an anti-influencer and proud of it. The kiss of death that I bring to the table is something that you can count on. And not many people can (or want to, I admit) make that statement.

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Special Report
From The Emperor

As of this morning, there have been no cases of Covid 19 in the Empire. This is due to several factors, we believe:

  • An excellent program of screening in place at all border entry points.
  • Travel to the Empire from other countries is presently at zero (and has been so for nearly a year now)
  • The high level of general good health enjoyed by Imperial subjects
  • The fact that we are trained to cough into our sleeves from infancy on
  • Our national habit of eating a large bowlful of clabber at breakfast

Clabber is a type of soured milk. It is produced by allowing unpasteurized milk to turn sour at a specific humidity and temperature. Over time, the milk thickens or curdles into a yogurt-like substance with a strong, sour flavor.  In rural areas of the southern United States, it was commonly eaten for breakfast with brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, or molasses added. Some people also eat it with fruit or black pepper and cream. Due to its stability, clabbered milk has been popular in areas without access to steady refrigeration.

Wikipedia

There’s nothing like black-peppered, lumpy soured milk to perk up one’s morning and make a person feel truly alive. Apparently it has the opposite effect on the coronavirus.

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It would seem that the universe is punishing cruise ships at last. They’ve been deserving some sort of cosmic response for a long time now, carrying their huge loads of diner/drinkers from dock to dock at various locations around the world so the ship’s occupants can claim countries on their resumés and buy their branded t-shirts without ever really having to offer up the sweat and time formerly required of a traveler. All this while the cruise lines themselves are repeatedly guilty of environmental offenses.

First Traveler: You say you’ve been to Martinique? When was that?Second Traveler: On April 14th, from two to four p.m.
First Traveler: Really? I was there on the 14th too, but from seven to nine … isn’t that amazing … we just missed each other.
Second Traveler: I have to admit something – I didn’t really go ashore. I had only just staggered from lunch when our time for shopping arrived, and chose to stare at Martinique from the rail instead. Much more comfortable that way, and so much easier to refresh my drink.
First Traveler: Honestly, that’s even more amazing – I didn’t go ashore, either.

At any rate, they are paying their dues now. The stories are filtering back one at a time. The one that caught my eye last week was a family who wanted to get their 96 year-old father off an infected cruise ship that was being quarantined offshore. They feared for his life, which is understandable.

But the disease was already gaining momentum around the world when they put dear old Dad on the boat in the first place, and perhaps that was the time to be cautious. As far as the authorities were concerned, the family had already rolled those dice, and now there was nothing for it but to wait it out and hope for the best.

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Here’s something new-ish. A comic book about coronavirus designed for kids and put out by NPR. Doesn’t take long to read, and contains some real nuggets of information.

The article goes even further by linking to a video on how to create and fold a zine, and thereby empowering you forever. Did you get that? Forever.

You can now create your own zines on any topic that you know eight pages worth of information about. What’s that? You don’t know eight pages worth of information about anything? Where did you go to school?

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When Robin and I went to the gym yesterday, we talked about having a strategy to reduce our chances of contracting the coronavirus. Lots of hand washing, lots of wiping down machines, etc. For the first time, I really paid attention to what the person ahead of me on the apparatus did once he/she was finished. At least half the time they did nothing.

Of course it makes a difference which machine we’re talking about. A treadmill poses less threat than a barbell, because it’s the hands, baby, the hands.

This morning I ran across a paper studying germiness in gyms that was not reassuring.

The overall prevalence of S. aureus on environmental surfaces in the fitness facilities was 38.2% (110/288). The most commonly colonized surfaces were the weight ball (62.5%), cable driven curl bar, and CrossFit box (62.5%), as well as the weight plates (56.3%) and treadmill handle (50%). Interestingly, the bathroom levers and door handles were the least contaminated surfaces in both male and female restroom facilities (18.8%). Community gyms (40.0%) had the highest contamination prevalence among sampled surfaces with CrossFit (38.9%), traditional gyms (38.9%), and hospital associated (33.3%) contaminated less frequently … Our pilot study indicates that all facility types were contaminated by S. aureus and MRSA

And this was years before COVID 19 became an issue. But … I think I might have found the solution to our problem. Bring enough heat to the equipment and those germs just fade away.

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