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Yesterday, Bob was outside the front door doing some weeding. Our raised bed of vegetables is on the south side of the house, not within the confines of our fenced-in garden. I was stringing a few pearls together in my first pandemic necklace when I heard him yell, “Honey, come here, quick.”

He told me all about the fat and healthy red fox that had just strolled around the front corner of the house under a holly bush. They were an arm’s length away from each other. Of course Bob saw him (or her) the very second his hand was pulling up a weed – as they locked eyes I’m sure they were both shocked! The fox immediately took off across our not/so/busy street and around an apartment building.

Imagine that, in a city of a million and a half people, nature can still find a way.

This is day #13 of quarantine. I’ve stopped watching the White House Pressers about the Coronavirus, they only serve to bolster Mr T’s fragile ego. He is selling us a fool’s paradise, and I for one am not buying his lies.

But I am crossing off the days on my old-fashioned paper calendar, eager to put each day behind me. Luckily Ms Bean requires a slow-walk each and every day, sometimes three! And now that the sun has returned and Spring has arrived, these meditative walks are a kind of salvation.

They are a way to still the noises in my head, all the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” A stroll around the neighborhood tethered to Ms Bean keeps me here, grounded in the Present. This morning, the sun has come up and the temperature will climb to 80 degrees. The rain has stopped for now. And while drinking coffee and reading my online papers, I noticed a tiny headline: “Yale Happiness Course Takes Off.”

It seems that since December, this online course titled “The Science of Well Being” has enrolled 1.3 million people worldwide. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-52055242

Now, when over half a million people around the world are infected with the Coronavirus, and everyone is isolating themselves to flatten the curve, and the Bride is donning her PPE and caring for patients in her ER, and the Groom is planning to make ICU beds appear all over his hospital, and we can’t visit Great Grandma Ada and Hudson, and we can’t hug the Love Bug or tickle L’il Pumpkin…

Now more than ever, I have to keep hope alive.

“People in these situations tend to either look backwards for solutions or ruminate about possible futures: Will I go back to work? Will I be able to afford getting sick? Can I support my family if they get sick?

“While both those abilities are very adaptive in solving immediate problems or challenges or an immediate threat, they’re very harmful in situations like the one we’re in the middle of where the threat is ambiguous, the duration is unknown.”

It’s important to mention that only here, in the US, are people worried about hospital bills. Only here, in our great country, would someone not seek emergency medical treatment because they are afraid it would bankrupt them.

While waiting for the spike of this curve, we have to keep hope alive. And one way to do it is to stay in the PRESENT. Mindfulness isn’t easy during a pandemic. I notice every little flower on my walks, every flowering vine that threatens to engulf a mailbox. I would usually bring my phone with me, to take pictures, but it’s better if I leave it at home and stay present.

CONNECTING WITH OTHERS is another way to support our sanity. We’ve been Facetiming with the Rocker and Aunt KiKi. They have dueling desks set up in their California home and have had Zoom conferences with colleagues. The Bride turned me onto Marco Polo, an APP that’s like video texting, and we’ve been having fun with friends just capturing a snippet of time each day. Steve sent us video of a huge hawk in his yard yesterday! And of course, we talk on the phone too.

Yesterday we walked around the Bride’s neighborhood looking for teddy bears in windows. It was so hard to stay ten feet apart, to not touch the children.

The third linchpin of well being is a daily PRACTICE of GRATITUDE. Bob and I have been doing this on a pretty regular basis before bed. I can’t watch the news at night these days, but I can recall small pleasures during the day, things that bring me joy. Sometimes it’s just the sound of Ms Bean snoring, or a tulip that popped up under the cherry tree. Sometimes it’s the young man who delivers a restaurant meal. We can always name three things we’re grateful for.

Like the red fox foraging under the holly.

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A “ride or die” friend is someone you would pledge your undying loyalty to until the bitter end. Like Thelma and Louise, you’d go over a cliff with them if that’s what it takes. From the Urban Dictionary:

“Ride or Die was originally a biker term meaning if you couldn’t ride you’d rather die. It has now changed to mean anyone (wife, boyfriend, best friend), that you will “ride” ANY problems out with them or “die” trying. The “ride” doesn’t always have to be a negative either. “

This is the rubric our president has been using lately in appointing cabinet members.

While all eyes were focusing on Nevada, and the mainstream media is still trying to figure out Bernie Sanders, our Dictator-in-Chief has unleashed his vindictive wrath on anyone who appears to have not pledged their loyalty to him. The Senate gave him a pass and he is NOT chastened; in fact, Mr T loves firing people so much – staffers he deems Never Trumpers, or competent people who tell him the truth like acting Intelligence Director Joe Maguire, or anyone who so much as looks at him fish-eyed – that he has supposedly compiled a Hit List!

WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE???

I myself never made a Hit List, but some kids do this kind of thing in middle school. They are usually kids who have been bullied or marginalized in some way. In the worst case scenarios, their parents own guns. Also, dictators make lists of their enemies.

When I woke up to hear that Mr T said, in India, that two women of the SCOTUS, the Notorious RBG and Sonia Sotomayor, should recuse themselves from future cases that may involve HIM, I nearly died. And just like any good toddler, or psychopath, he turned the tables, blaming Sotomayor for her statements about government interference. Please picture Trump, or any late night comedian, saying this in their most whiny, pitiful voice:

“I just thought it was so inappropriate, such a terrible statement for a Supreme Court justice,” he (Trump) said. “She’s trying to shame people with perhaps a different view into voting her way, and that’s so inappropriate . . . I’ve seen papers on it — people cannot believe that she said it.”  

I cannot believe that he said THAT! Also, I can’t actually believe anything he says. There is that.

I remember when Rumson Boro Councillors would get up and walk out of a meeting because they held some stock in a company that was being discussed, or maybe they had a son who was working for that company, they would rightly RECUSE themselves. Not because they held a different point of view. Not because they belonged to a different political party…

Somehow we’ve been trying to normalize Trump’s behavior, but we must stop. He is not only trying to surround himself with a ride or die White House of blind loyalists, he’s got the wife of one SCOTUS actively helping him with his list of disloyal staffers… that bears repeating, Justice Clarence Thomas’ lobbyist wife:

“These lists, created by a network of conservative activists called Groundswell that include Republican Senate staffer Barbara Ledeen and Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, have made their way to Trump and shaped his views re: who he can trust and who should be canned. For instance, a memo on Liu, reportedly reviewed by Trump shortly before her nomination was withdrawn, laid out 14 reasons why she was unfit for the Treasury job Steven Mnuchin had selected her for and included the fact that she: hadn’t acted on criminal referrals of some of Brett Kavanaugh’s accusers…”  https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/02/donald-trump-government-hit-list

Yesterday I had to look up “Rape in the 3rd Degree.” https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/laws/PEN/130.25

Is our justice system blind? When the wife of a sexual harasser (remember Anita Hill), is helping the man who’s been accused of sexual abuse or misconduct or RAPE by at least 25 women, (I’m talking about Trump not Harvey Weinstein) well maybe our country is suffering from a kind of collective amnesia. Here’s a LIST for you: https://www.businessinsider.com/women-accused-trump-sexual-misconduct-list-2017-12

Our country is at a tipping point. If we don’t #VoteBlueNoMatterWho we’ll be the ones going off that cliff. We’ll be playing a dulcimer on the deck of the Titanic.

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A disaster happened when Bob and I first went to Vegas. It was December 10, 1992. I remember thinking I wanted to see the big rodeo that was happening right outside of town. I loved riding horses in summer camp and didn’t really gamble, and Bob doesn’t drink, so what’s to do? Plus, the big shows were mostly still in development. I had tagged along last minute for a 4 day medical conference and we had arranged for Bob’s secretary to mind the kids back home on the Jersey Shore.

When we woke up the next morning to a reporter on TV standing in floodwaters above his knees in Sea Bright, NJ, I started to panic. Our home was in Rumson, right across the drawbridge from that sand spit scattered with beach clubs and bars. The Shore was being pounded by a so-called “No Name Storm” because nobody saw it coming. We got through to the babysitter. She told us the painters had left? We had a group of Irish guys still painting the finished kitchen renovation and family room… we had just moved into the MidCentury Modern house in September.

“…the strong northeast portion of the nor’easter affected New Jersey for several days,[5] producing strong winds and record high tides.[14] Wind gusts reached 80 mph (130 km/h) in Cape May, which were the strongest winds in association with the storm. Sustained winds were around 30 mph (48 km/h) in the region.[2] High winds in Atlantic City destroyed the windows of storefronts.[15] Along the Jersey coast, the nor’easter produced waves of up to 25 ft (7.6 m) in height.[2] About 25 mi (40 km) offshore Long Branch, waves reached heights of 44 ft (13 m).[“

But it wasn’t the waves that worried us, it was the high tide that came right into our house from the Shrewsbury River. This was the 100 year flood our realtor had told us about and luckily we had flood insurance. But I wasn’t worrying about the house, I wanted to get back to my children, the Bride was 13 and the Rocker was 8. All of the NY Metro area airports were closed.

You can see why I have mixed feelings about Vegas. Most of you know the rest of this story – the fireman friend who rescued the kids, the reunion a few days later when flights started up again. We returned to Vegas once, after the kids were grown, and I still felt slightly disoriented. The fake Eiffel Tower. The huge Cirque du Soleil shows. We managed to stay at Mandalay Bay where you could sit on a fake beach. My only respite was booking a Canyon Ranch spa day.

I was thinking about the Mandalay Bay during the disastrous Democratic debate this week in Vegas. It sits at the far end of the Strip, and was the epicenter of one of the worst mass shootings in our country’s history; 58 people killed and 850 injured at a country music festival. In September of 2017, JUST 3 YEARS AGO, a 64 year old maniac checked into that hotel with a garrison of weapons (23 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition) and because he was such a good customer, the hotel gave him his room for free. https://www.businessinsider.com/timeline-shows-exactly-how-the-las-vegas-massacre-unfolded-2018-9

One of the candidates mentioned, in an aside, that Bernie had been protecting gun manufacturers, but it was immediately glossed over. Was it Biden? Why didn’t the moderators manage to bring up this public health epidemic that kills 100 people a day in this country…how can you talk about healthcare and NOT go there?

Soon we will know what Nevada thinks about the front-runners. Did Elizabeth resurrect her campaign by going after the Trump stand-in (Bloomberg)? Is Mayor Pete actually relatable and not an automaton? Do you think Bernie, an angry, old man, can beat Trump? And did Amy seal her fate by trying to speak in Spanish? I don’t have to have a beer with somebody to know if they’re authentic, smart and competent.

When flood waters rush in, I only have to know if you’ll be there with sand bags, and hot chocolate.  IMG_7182

 

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Democrats fall in love with their candidate, Republicans fall in line.

Spoiler alert! The last two (D) candidates to win both Iowa and New Hampshire were nominated and promptly lost their elections – Al Gore and John Kerry. Remember them? Kerry actually criticized Bush for the Iraq war, and let’s face it, that may have been too soon and his running mate, John Edwards, may have been too slick hiding a love child from his wife. But I still fell in love with both nominees, just a little.

This is why I’m not too concerned with the first NH primary today. I want a man (or a woman – love is love) who can flip the Senate blue. I’m waiting to see who will give me goosebumps. The way Brad Pitt did at the Oscars, gently scolding the GOP for disallowing witnesses.

Is it just me, or did anyone else not see any of the Oscar nominated movies this year? Well wait, Bob and I did see the first half of “The Irishman” in our local artsy theatre… but it was getting past someone’s bedtime, so we left via an Uber. Did DeNiro kill Hoffa? I’ll have to catch up on Netflix.

Netflix was the star attraction this past weekend when we joined some friends to watch “Knives Out” at their home. In this historic row house, a screen surprised me descending down a wall, with a projector hanging from the middle of the ceiling. It was almost like going to the movies! I have such serious home envy whenever I set foot in that home.

And to top it off, we had two big, fluffy dogs who would come to attention and bark whenever there were dogs in a scene!

Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery on a cold rainy night? I won’t spoil the plot of “Knives Out” by saying that current political issues figure prominently when the investigator, played by Daniel Craig with a Southern accent, focuses his attention on a nurse named Marta. The privileged white clan/cast cannot seem to agree on what South American country Marta’s family has immigrated from – Paraguay, Ecuador?  https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/11/the-unlikely-hero-of-rian-johnsons-knives-out/602701/

Immigration politics swirls around the story of my night table book, “American Dirt.” First of all, it was one of my monthly First Edition Parnassus Bookclub picks, that arrived in its burlap sack a few weeks ago. I’d already been hooked by American Dirt’s violent opening chapter when I started reading the criticism on Twitter. At first I thought well maybe the author, Jeannine Cummins, isn’t Latina, so undocumented folks and those who love them were skeptical. But she had also initially claimed her husband was an immigrant, without saying he’s from Ireland. Cummins cancelled her book tour.

The novel follows the story of a Mexican woman and her son fleeing to the United States after a drug cartel massacre.
Cummins, who spent five years writing the book, isn’t Mexican or a migrant. The book, which was just published January 21, immediately sparked debate about who can tell what story and diversity within the publishing industry.
It also faced criticism for its reliance on migrant stereotypes, with many pointing out that if an author is going to write about someone different from them, it must be done well. “American Dirt,” some have said, was not — though the book has also been praised by a number of prominent authors.  https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/29/us/american-dirt-jeanine-cummins-author-tour-cancel-trnd/index.html

Is this what we mean by cancel culture? Was Joaquin Phoenix onto something in his Oscar speech before he swerved into the cow/milk controversy? Urban Dictionary tells us this culture is a direct result of social media and people who are, “…quick to judge and slow to question.”

Let’s ask the hard questions of our our Democratic candidates as they head into prime time and super Tuesday. Bloomberg can understand what a single mom is going through, he doesn’t have to be one. I believe a writer should be able to write about anything – a man can write from a woman’s point of view, and vice versa. If I’m writing about the Jewish mob, I need not be a member of that group, I can do the research. And I’m not ready to cancel anyone out of our primary process. I haven’t fallen in love, not yet.

Except for these two chocolate-teeth cherubs!

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Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt, will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’.

What was it about the Nashville Symphony on Sunday night? Steve Hackman, a young conductor from LA, walked out to the podium with his long arms and long curly hair and faced the audience, telling us how he came to compose “The Times They Are A-Changin: The Words and Music of Bob Dylan.” He introduced the first violin; behind the orchestra sat row upon row of the Nashville Symphony Chorus, over a hundred voices strong.

As Hackman raised his baton to conduct one of the first pieces, “Tangled Up in Blue,” I could feel the knot in my throat constricting. Admittedly, I was already feeling blue – from the never-ending rain and the political parody of the last few years – from a week-long insult to our collective intelligence that was playing itself out on the Hill. I was feeling discouraged, resigned to a president who was like a demagogue, with an attorney general guarding his flank, and a lapdog/senator, who did his bidding.

Early one morning the sun was shining
I was laying in bed
Wondering if she’d changed at all
If her hair was still red

As the music swelled and the chorus of voices swept through the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall, Bob and I looked at each other. This evening would turn out to be a metaphor for our lives together, for the 60s and the 70s; tender yet explosive at times. We somehow knew, through war and divorce, we would find our way back to each other. We would meet again “…someday on the avenue.” Next came “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

And it ain’t no use in turning on your light, babe
The light I never knowed
And it ain’t no use in turning on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road

I forgot what it was like to be immersed in a musical experience, to close my eyes and allow the strings and chords to penetrate my soul. This wasn’t an Italian opera, the words were in English and they defined my generation. Tears were slowly rolling down my cheeks by the time the chorus began “I Shall Be Released.” Is this a plea for death to come, to cover us like a well-worn blanket? The last phrase is about standing in a lonely crowd, next to a man who swears he’s not to blame…”Crying out that he was framed.”

Any. Day. Now. Any day now, we shall hear what our senators are willing to do to keep their seats, to retain their power. Will they continue to cover-up his perfect phone call? To pretend our president wasn’t granting favors to other authoritarian leaders around the world?

In 2016 Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature, for having created “New poetic expressions within the great American Song tradition.” He put off traveling to Stockholm to receive his medal, finally giving a reluctant speech about his influences in literature from grade school:  “Moby DickAll Quiet on the Western Front and The Odyssey.”  Songs, he tells us, are unlike literature, they’re meant to be sung, not read.”

Finally, Dylan quoted The Odyssey: “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story.”

In this New Chinese New Year, have I become just another Cassandra, writing prophesy that no one will believe, warning my readers that our democracy is at a tipping point. That we are doomed to repeat the past if we simply stand by and do nothing. Nixon knew enough to leave, and Clinton knew enough to apologize for lying. This lying, malicious president knows nothing, which is far worse.

Today is T’ai Chi Tuesday, a form of mindful meditation. I will find my center, and try to balance the dark with the light. I will keep calling my senators, will you?

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What’s a person to do in the middle of this Impeachment Trial, this theatrical show, a “foregone conclusion” as Andrew Yang has said? After reading that Republican Senators have been leaving the room, fidgeting with finger spinners, looking “weary and bored” according to the Associated Press, I thought our neighborhood association had a splendid idea – wine tasting!

My Go-To wine lately is “A to Z Wineworks” from Oregon, but I was willing to expand my horizons.

On Friday night we all gathered at Richard and Linda’s townhome that sits on the edge of a park. Our sommelier Calvin was delightful; he poured a delicious chardonnay from the Finger Lakes Region, “Fox Run Vineyards.” I happen to like love unoaked whites, and he told us the climate in upstate NY is similar to Chablis in France. The motto on their website is “Drink wine, Be happy.” https://foxrunvineyards.com/

Unfortunately, drinking wine hasn’t been making me happy since 2016. But I’m willing to keep trying.

Did you know some of the best wines today are coming from Virginia and Texas? Still, one of the finest unoaked chardonnays hails from California, at $90 a bottle – Williams-Selyem 2017. “California makes more wine than any other state in the United States. Not only does the state grow a variety of noble grape varieties like Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, there are also plantings of lesser-known varieties such as Nebbiolo, Roussanne and Mourvèdre to name just a few.” 

Ever since the Rocker and KiKi moved out to LA, I’ve imagined myself a California girl. A most Progressive state, with no humidity, no mosquitoes and plenty of sunshine! So naturally Mr T hates it, why else would his administration threaten to cut federal aid unless the state drops its requirement that private insurers cover abortions. Governor Gavin Newsom said:

“California will continue to protect a woman’s right to choose, and we won’t back down from defending reproductive freedom for everybody — full stop.”

The California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, tweeted: “We will fight this by any means necessary.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/24/health/abortion-california-insurance.html

It’s hard for me to think of a more vindictive and malicious president in our history. He has been impeached, and knows he will most likely NOT be removed from his office, he will continue to hold his radical right-wing “rallies” and run again for a second term. Like every good con man, while we are all (A) looking at the Senate, bemoaning the lack of civility, he is (B) attacking a woman’s basic human right – to have control over her own body.

Again, this bully of a president threatens to withhold funds, but now instead of Ukraine he attacks California to please his base of white Christian zealots. “Let’s start by acknowledging that women are not things. Before we talk, like we have to, about what the attacks on abortion access mean for this anxious, awful political era, let’s establish as a ground rule that women are not vessels, or incubators, or an undifferentiated natural resource. Women are human beings whose human rights matter.”  https://newrepublic.com/article/153942/criminalization-womens-bodies-conservative-male-power

This is why your vote matters. This is why senators should actually be listening to Adam Schiff’s arguments, paying attention and not just getting their panties in a twist over his “head on a spike” comment. The GOP needs to stop whining and do their damn job! Remember that the GAO said Mr T BROKE THE LAW. Remember you can actually call on witnesses that were in the room. Remember the documents you are demanding are being withheld by the White House… We now have a tape of him saying Lev should “take her out” about the Ukraine Ambassador.

Our democracy is being held together, tenuously by our free press. Calvin and Linda are welcoming us into a new decade, this next week will no doubt set the course.

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In the next few days, two famous women will be released from US prisons. One is a celebrity we all know and love for her acting chops, who did the right thing. Felicity Huffman was only trying to leverage her daughter’s chances at getting into a good college, and was the first parent to plead guilty in a bizarre scheme of “pay to play” in order to enhance SAT scores. It would seem Huffman has a conscience and admitted the error of her ways. The other woman, Maria Butina, is a Russian asset.

Without much fanfare, Butina will find herself in a Miami deportment center this weekend en route to Moscow.

According to the FBI, in 2015 Butina emailed a US Republican lobbyist Paul Erickson, who she reportedly dated and lived with, a project proposal called “diplomacy”. It centred around using NRA links to influence the US Republican Party’s foreign policy and their traditionally hostile stance toward Russia.”  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-50180445

And we all thought Russia was just searching for Hillary’s emails and manipulating Facebook ads to influence the 2016 election. Butina is like a modern day Mata Hari – only instead of facing a firing squad for her role as a double agent during the First World War, Butina was sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to just ONE count of conspiracy. Her handler was reportedly Alexander Torshin – “…an influential former member of the Russian senate and deputy chairman of the Russian Central Bank.”

One might think they were laundering money through the NRA.

Butina grew up in Siberia and loved playing with guns. Her chief concern was herself however, telling the court she regrets “…ruining my own life.” When she steps off a plane in Russia I wonder what will happen to her? Will she be a returning hero, or will she be sent back to Siberia?

I heard Martha Stewart said that Huffman looked “frumpy” in her prison garb. That immediately ticked me off, I mean really? Martha, Martha, Martha! I would think that once you’ve done time in a women’s prison you’d have a smidgen of empathy for other celebrities suffering the same fate. After all, there are no hair and make-up experts tending to you, no aestheticians or mani-pedis happening behind those walls. I will never again buy her “Living” magazine, no matter how much I think I could craft a beautiful table setting.

So a Russian operative can plot to takeover our democracy, and she gets 18 months in prison and then is deported. A Hollywood star can swindle and bribe her daughter’s way into college, and she gets released after 11 days in prison (out of a 14 day sentence). And then there’s the old news –  a lifestyle “expert” and magazine mogul got caught lying to investigators in an insider trading scandal and she served 5 months in prison followed by 5 months confined to her Connecticut estate.

Then Martha sold her empire for 355 Million US dollars in 2015 telling the media a coverup is so much worse than the original crime. Now for some odd reason she’s associated with Snoop Dog. I hope he will school her about criticizing other female felons while they are whipping up a batch of brownies. Their friendship is the one shining light in this reality show world.

We were recently toasting marshmallows for our own private HGTV episode.

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