Archive for February, 2022

Coming home to a cold and rainy Nashville has been hard. But our daffodils are in bloom, the tulip magnolia has tiny pink buds, and today the sun has returned. The promise of spring is in the air, along with all the construction noise of living downtown. It’s time for a rebirth; for us to start sorting, cleaning and organizing. After all, next month we move into our cozy, quiet, new/old bungalow!

Then the non-stop news from Ukraine disrupted my Pollyanna tendencies. How could a war like this happen in the 21st Century?

If we could flip a switch back to the last century, I would be heading toward the local library to read up on the history of Ukraine and Russia. After all, I have a vivid memory of my foster mother Nell (a first generation Slovak) crying in front of our black and white TV when Russian tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia. My generation came of age during the Cold War, we are primed to distrust Vladimir Putin. My children OTOH, can barely remember the Berlin Wall.

Instead of visiting the free public library, I Googled the conflict. Did you know that Stalin actually killed 4 Million Ukrainians? FOUR MILLION.

Maybe the reason this earlier genocide didn’t catch the attention of the international press was because Germany was bigger news? Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, but in 1932 Stalin ordered his soldiers to confiscate all Ukrainian grain and farm animals – he deliberately tried to starve the Ukrainian people to death. Children were eating acorns.

Still earlier, Russian Czars knew that to extinguish a culture, you start with their language.

And, very early, the Russian Empire recognized the threat posed by a separate and particularly literary Ukrainian language to the unity of the empire. So, starting in the eighteen-sixties, there was a more than forty-year period of prohibition on the publication of Ukrainian, basically arresting the development of the literary language… and in the middle of World War One and revolution, with other nationalities trying and in some cases gaining independence, Ukrainians tried to do that but were ultimately defeated.


Along with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine finally won its freedom. “On 21 January 1990, over 300,000 Ukrainians organized a human chain for Ukrainian independence between Kyiv and Lviv.

Once an authoritarian state begins to flex its muscles – to demolish a free press and ban books, including those written in a certain language – we must all pay attention. With the election of Mr T, our country came very close to the edge of democracy; our school board members were threatened with violence, and his followers are still trying to ban books! Why would the GOP continue to flirt with our twice-impeached, retired golfer at Mar-a-Lago? The craziest Florida Man I know has been praising Putin. He even fantasized aloud about being president forever like Xi Jinping!

And just like Mr T, Putin is stuck in the past. He probably wishes he’d thought of a “Make Russia Great Again” slogan. Only young Russians aren’t buying it. They live in a wired world, where truth confronts fiction. Only the elderly watch state-sponsored Russian TV. Only the old venture into libraries; young Russians and Ukrainians alike have the world at their fingertips, in their smart phones. This is becoming an intergenerational war, one Putin didn’t predict. Ukrainian civilians aren’t throwing flowers at Russian troops, they are making molotov cocktails!

My Irish ancestors taught the Irish language in schools, even though it was not allowed at the time. What can we do here to help Ukraine? The Flapper always said, “Charity starts at home!” First, I’d work to make sure our own elections are safe and secure, and that ALL Americans who are eligible to vote actually have the chance to cast their ballots. Let’s make election day a national holiday! I’d fight the misinformation and propaganda machine that is FOX news, and I’d contribute to the cause of independent journalism. Subscribe to a newspaper online that isn’t owned by a venture capitalist.

The Washington Post has an excellent article on how we can donate directly to help Ukraine. “Journalists with the Kyiv Independent have done tremendous work covering the war, offering the world constant updates as they fear for themselves, their families and their homes. The Independent has started a GoFundMe asking for support, but they’ve also promoted a separate GoFundMe — “Keep Ukraine’s media going” — for journalists around the country who have received less international attention.” 


We need a virtual human chain today to fend off the Russian bear.

The next generation

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You’ve heard of the expression, “Hurry up and wait?”

Well, our old house renovation had been at a standstill for awhile. We were waiting for the electrician, waiting for the custom island, waiting for our sinks to be shipped… Then, just when we landed in the Golden State, everything started up at once – the painters were stepping all over the plumber installing the tankless water heater, and naturally a piece was missing from our custom island.

Well, it’s not actually missing. Turns out, they sent us the wrong piece.

There we were, standing in another line at Disneyland, when Bob’s phone would ring with another construction problem or question. But this wasn’t like our 1980s Disney anymore! Everything is online. If you want to make a droid at the Star Wars exhibit, you’d better make a reservation. And thankfully, Uncle Dave and Aunt Kiki purchased Lightning Lane passes, so time spent waiting for rides was minimal.

It was the trip of a lifetime! To see the pure joy on our Pumpkin’s face was reason enough to go to LA, but seeing how much his Uncle enjoyed exploring “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” with him was the icing on the cake of our California adventure.

I remember the Rocker filming stop-action videos with tiny Star Wars characters in our garage when he was about the same age. He could barely balance the huge Camcorder on his shoulder. And now, my son’s company is composing music for Disney trailers. It’s Kismet.

Last night, we returned to a chilly, rainy Nashville. No more hummingbirds, no more heated pool and jasmine-lined cabana. Booking a patio table for eight is a fond memory; all eight of us together was magical, plus we spent a delightful day visiting with California cousins!

Today it’s back to reality and renovation, just the two of us, and our old dog, Bean. I’ve yet to get caught up on the news, but I’ll always fight with the Resistance.

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Harry Potter is a name I’ve come to know only because the Grands have read all seven books by JK Rowling. I know, you’re thinking how could such young children read a whole series of YA fantasy books in the past few years. Well it’s easy; the Groom read them aloud almost every night starting with that first Covid lockdown in California on March 19, 2020. Flying broomsticks and wizarding wands and chocolate frogs filled their dreams while home schooling and masks occupied their days.

When the Groom caught Covid while working to save his patients in the ICU, he could still Zoom nightly readings in isolation from the garage apartment. And the Bride promised that once this pandemic ended, and/or we were all vaccinated, we would hop on a plane to California to see Universal Studio’s newest attraction – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Who knew it would take this long?

But here we are in LA, mission accomplished.

The Rocker and Aunt Kiki were happy to lead us through the attractions and rides yesterday. It was 76 degrees and sunny. Everyone was wearing masks, even outside, even though the outside mask mandate was just lifted in LA.

As we walked into Olavanders’s Wand Shop, the first person we met was not the wand-keeper, it was an assistant talking about “no flashes!” and “all that stuff.” Then he opened a door in the darkness and that’s when the adventure began. The Bug met a Wizard.

I’ll let her tell you in her own words:

LB – “When the wand keeper chose me to come into the dim light, I had immediate butterflies, that were very active in my stomach, because, to be honest, I am not always the biggest fan of having all the light on me without me knowing it was going to happen. after I obtained my first wand the wand-keeper asked me to ring the “old timey” bell in the corner, so I pointed the first wand he chose for me, directly towards the bell to ring it, but all the bells rang! “

“Omombilis!” The wand-keeper yelled as he withdrew his wand from the inside of his robes.

LB – After I received my first wand, it was such a huge feeling. I remember wishing I could have a wand of my own. When I collected my wand it was like I had magic at my finger tips! Now that is a feeling I will never forget!

Well dear readers, the Bug is now swimming in the pool. But I can report that there was magical light and smoke when the wand picked her! The Wizard said she was a creative sort and very kind. How did he know?

I’ve learned that in the world of Muggels inanimate objects pick YOU. Like a special wizard’s hat that talks and tells you what kind of dorm you’ll be living in and basically charts your course for the rest of your life. I’m not so sure I like that idea… that depending on where you’re from, and who your friends are, your future is pre-determined.

In fact, while watching some of the Olympics I’ve thought about how Communist countries have picked talented children who could dance or ski or run and did in fact take these children away from their families. At a young age, they were being trained to excel in their particular gift. And we Americans would never do such a thing. We’d just leave it up to parents and companies to sponsor pre-Olympians.

After all, the government can’t tell us how many children we can have or what to do with our bodies.

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Happy Valentine’s Day! According to my husband, today is just another Hallmark holiday. But last night, as I was helping the Pumpkin finish his class Valentine’s day cards – a chore he did not relish btw – I thought about love in all its guises. I knew there was a certain girl who gave a certain 1st Grader butterflies in his tummy, but how does that initial attraction lead to true love later in life? And does everyone have a soul mate?

First, we have good old fashioned Lust; your eyes meet and your knees buckle. We’ve all been there. Although when I got my first kiss on the Kindergarten bus, I was less than overwhelmed. Scientists tell us that Lust usually fades after six months or so. Hence the serial monogamist, that person who falls in and out of love every year. It’s like having an addiction to adrenalin. Needless to say, not very good marriage material.

After the initial attraction, comes Obsession. That period where you stop eating and sleeping and all you can do is think about ‘the other’ all the time. When I first went off to college, I would sometimes “see” Bob on a sidewalk in Boston. I knew he was at Duke in North Carolina in my head, but my heart wanted him to be with me. It’s like being a tiny bit crazy, this phase of love. It’s a critical time – either your star-crossed illusion wears off, or you commit to each other.

Finally we have long term Attachment, ie marriage and all that entails. Not everyone is cut out for this kind of loyalty. Bob and I have been together for over 40 years now! But in the animal kingdom, only 5% of all mammals in the world practice monogamy. Surprisingly, 90% of birds are socially or sexually monogamous!

“Albatrosses mate for life, often after spending years—even decades—finding the right mate. To find a mate, they perform an elaborate dancing ritual that is unique to each bonded pair… I am blown away by how unique each of these dances really is. Once bonded, albatrosses spend very little time together, as most of their time is spent alone out at sea; but the time they do spend together tends to be filled with affection and cuddles.”


Bob took tango lessons with me a number of years ago, and if that’s not true love what is? But going on three years of pandemic/inspired, isolationist/sheltering in place with our beloved, many of us would like to break free… just a little. Can we just have some ALONE time like the albatross? I for one, need time to sit and write alone, to paint alone, to just BE. And surprise surprise, I am NOT alone in this deficit of alone time, it’s called, “aloneliness,” the opposite of loneliness.

Allowing someone 24 hours of rest, or even just a few hours of undisturbed time with themselves, “can change the way they can show up for others,” said Nedra Tawwab, a therapist in Charlotte, N.C., and author of “Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself.” ‘Many parents don’t have the downtime needed to restore themselves. It’s restorative to do nothing, and to be granted the ability to do nothing is a loving act.'”


If you’ve been having “too much of a good thing” with a partner working from home in the next room, I wish you a small stab at solitude this Valentine’s Day. And maybe a walk to the local chocolate shop! https://temperedfinechocolates.com/

My first two Valentines

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On Monday I was writing about fancy toilets.

Today we’ve learned about Mr T’s habit of tearing up documents and giving them a water burial. Did I ever in a million years think a president would flush paper down a toilet like a toddler? The answer is NO. Is it fair to jump on a certain NewYork Times author for withholding that little nugget until her book is about to be published? Maybe.

When I first started writing for a newspaper back in the Berkshires, I was happy just to have a job other than pioneering-new-mom-on-the-side-of-a-mountain. Bob was off working crazy hours and I was left tending to the wood stove while making my own baby food with a tiny Mouli grinder. I loved researching and writing about “black ice,” and anything else my editor had to offer.

And by researching, I mean calling people up on an actual phone and asking them probing questions. Writing while the Bride napped, then bundling her up and getting in my all-wheel-drive to plow through snow to hand in my essay at the office, only to take my red-penned papers back up the mountain for rewriting. Yes, I know I’m starting to sound like an old codger.

The work of a newspaper reporter, no matter where they happen to live, is essential to a happy and healthy democracy. I watched the Washington Post reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, cover the Watergate story and take down a president IRT. They chased after the money and helped to uncover most of the secret tapes Nixon had hidden, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling. Bob and I were just dating at the time, and I was writing for my own enjoyment.

Connie Schultz, a Twitter pen pal, received a Pulitzer Prize when she was writing for the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2005. She had the audacity to ask some coat check girls where the money in their tip jars went after everybody left. She spoke to the management of the company, and wrote a most brilliant and truthful expository essay. The Pulitzer Board awarded her the Commentary Prize “…for her pungent columns that provided a voice for the underdog and underprivileged.”

“The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”


At the Berkshire Eagle, I knew I was in the midst of something sacred.

I asked my editor once if I should take a writing class, but I guess the nuns taught me well with all that sentence diagramming. He didn’t want me to “change my voice,” and over the years I never have. I’ve tried to connect the lines between what’s happening in our public life with my own private thoughts. Bob says I think in metaphor, and once told someone, “She writes about anything and everything.”

Which sounds bad until you remember I just wrote about toilets.

Last night we had dinner on the porch with cousin Peg who also happens to be a journalist. Turns out our little Bug is working on her school newspaper, so they had a lot to talk about under the outdoor heater! My granddaughter gets to interview teachers and ask them anything she wants!

I’ll have to tell the Bug about Woodward following the money, and Schultz asking young women about their tip jars. Journalism, at its best, is an honorable profession that can be dangerous at times. Now we’ve learned that Mr. T brought classified documents to Mar-a-Lago when he left office; kinda pales when you compare this to Hillary’s emails about lunch plans.

Sometimes Bob would read a piece I was working on and ask me if I was ready to be, ‘fill in the blank’ – arrested, stalked, fired, or worse. I’d just laugh and say my phone number is unlisted. We didn’t have Twitter on our dumb phones back in the day.

In 2021, UNESCO reported 55 journalists around the world were killed. It’s not an especially high number on average, but the kicker is “Eighty-seven percent of all killings of journalists since 2006 remain unresolved… The organization noted too that women journalists also face a “shocking prevalence” of harassment online.”

And that’s what bothered me about the criticism of a certain NYTimes writer in the Twitterverse today. When does a journalist have a duty to inform?

No animal was hurt in the making of this picture

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This morning Kevin the squirrel is happily munching on bird seed outside my window, when Bob calls. “Hey honey, do you want the third floating shelf in the kitchen above or below the cased opening?”

Questions like this come up day after day – where to put light switches, where to tile a shower niche. It’s not like building our house in VA, but it’s similar; like a slower, pandemic-style renovation of half an old house with two inch red oak floors they don’t make anymore. After years of renting in Nashville and feeling locked into a semi-permanent viral stasis, we’re finally going to move into our own home next month!

So far we’ve had fun planning our kitchen and master suite renovation. We bumped into an amazing daylight-like light fixture at Costco and bought two, one for the new pantry and one for the old laundry room/mud room. We’ve roamed around monstrous tile warehouses debating color and size. We’re researching garage doors and toilets.

I don’t know why Bob doesn’t want a “smart” toilet. After all, it would open and close itself; not a small feature in a home where the man always leaves the seat up! Oh and the seat is heated. Plus, for just $2,000, you’re getting a fully equipped bidet. But Bob’s drawing the line at the throne room door.

A ‘smart’ refrigerator is one thing, the toilet is a step too far he told me. I guess that means I can order the ‘smart’ window shades that open and close according to my whim? Sometimes I wish I could call up an HGTV star like Hilary Farr and forget about all the myriad decisions. But I’m not sure I could relinquish control. And leaning towards design with some therapy involved wouldn’t be a bad thing.

“Asking for help, after all, runs counter to many of America’s most adamant myths: the moral superiority of self-sufficiency, the quiet dignity of suffering. “Tough Love”  https://www.hgtv.com/shows/tough-love-with-hilary-farr rejects those ideas. Instead, it celebrates the people who realize they have a problem they can’t solve on their own. It treats the admission as the first step toward salvation. “I’m not here to judge,” Farr tells a client whose home, and whose life, she has come to rehabilitate. “I’m here to help.'”


Honestly, I have no problem asking anyone for help with anything. I’ll have to ask Aunt Kiki what she thinks of all this smart technology. Of course she can’t say who her celebrity clients are, but she may explain to Bob why a ‘panic/tornado pantry’ is a good thing. Did you know we now have therapists who specialize in climate anxiety?

I remember the coal furnace in my foster parents’ kitchen. Center stage was an orange formica table with metal legs looking out the window at a large flowering dogwood tree, I can almost smell the cinnamon toast I would dip into Daddy Jim’s morning coffee. If home is a metaphor for our life, the kitchen IS the heartbeat of our family. It’s where I’ve passed down beloved recipes; it’s where TLC is put into action. And call me crazy, but I’m loving our blue kitchen cabinets.

First a McFlurry stop!

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During this latest surge of the Omicron strain of coronavirus, I’m beginning to think this little bug has staying power.

If you’re of a certain age, you’ve had your childhood case of Measles back in the 1950s. For that matter you survived the German Measles, Chicken Pox and Mumps! You heard your mother pleading with you not to scratch itchy pustules as she ministered to your fevers and spread Vicks Vapo rub all over your chest. And when you recovered, she’d whip up an ugly tasting eggnog out of raw eggs.

Lucky for us, we were the generation of the Polio vaccine. We knew children in wheelchairs because of Polio, but we were the test subjects for a worldwide Polio vaccine. I dutifully lined up at Sacred Heart School to suck on my first sugar cube. We all had a Smallpox vaccine scar on our arms. Around that time, smallpox was completely eradicated by a strong public health response.

But this time, something is different. Just as researchers miraculously create a coronavirus vaccine in record time, the virus shifts into a different gear. And this time, an uneducated, anti-science cult of the misinformed disdains vaccines. So we are left with its every day presence, and its death counts are everywhere.

To escape from the constant undercurrent of anxiety, my reading habits have changed. I want my bedside tableau of books to reflect a happier time; or at least something non-controversial. Like say animals – I picked up Susan Orlean’s On Animals because I thought it would be happy and light. I was wrong. With a journalist’s eye, she delves into the myriad ways in which humans have historically used and abused animals.

I thought On Animals would be perfect to read before bed because it’s a series of short essays. Orlean has a splendid way with similes, making each animal chapter sing. Poor Willy the Orca (actually Keiko the actor whale with a wilted fin) is portrayed as a victim of circumstance who swims to Norway to panhandle tourists! But it was the noble rabbit that caught my attention and elevated my stress level.

“The most recent essay… takes up outbreaks of hemorrhagic disease among rabbits, a timely issue. Orlean effectively explores the conundrum surrounding the fact that some rabbits die during the vaccine production process that protects other domestic rabbits — and wild rabbits remain unprotected altogether.”


Granted one rabbit must die to save 10,000. Still, the population of wild rabbits may be extinguished forever by an Ebola-like virus. And the problem is those little bunnies are stoic. They never let on that they don’t feel well, they just keel over and die! We once bought a lop-eared rabbit for the Bride at the Monmouth County NJ Fair from a 4-H tent. Bob built a large elevated enclosure in our yard for the rabbit, who managed to escape eventually.

Orlean tells us that rabbit meat was commonplace on American tables before the cattle industry ramped up after WWII. And of course, Bugs Bunny signaled the end of rabbit farming in the states. But this particular rabbit virus causes a disease, myxomatosis, that was first detected when pet rabbits started dying.

“Myxomatosis is a severe, usually fatal, viral disease. In some countries, it has been used as a way of reducing the number of wild rabbits. It first reached the UK in the 1950s and decimated the wild rabbit population at the time. The disease remains a risk today, to both wild and pet rabbits. The acute form can kill a rabbit within 10 days and the chronic form within two weeks, although some rabbits do survive this.”


Our pillow talk has turned a dark corner. Last night, I told Bob all about those poor rabbits and followed it up with a summation of the BBC article I’d read about an elephant virus with a mortality rate of 85%. “Oh, and did you hear they found coronavirus in white-tailed deer?”

Bob turned to me and said, “Maybe we should talk about something other than plagues.”

A part of our menagerie

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