Reflections on the Day After

I was so relieved when the major news outlets began calling our election for Joe Biden. For those who don’t live in the U.S., it takes several weeks for every single vote to be counted and the results certified in every single voting precinct across the country so the election can be officially “called”. I’m not sure who does this official call because I don’t think anyone has ever said it or I didn’t pay any attention because it was already a given who had won. How elections results are announced or unofficially called is through special teams at each news outlet who use statistics from each state’s official source and do calculations of votes cast for each candidate and the estimate of uncounted ballets in each precinct – all put through a number cruncher until they believe there is no way the loosing candidate could catch up. They are very cautious, and sometimes get it wrong but mostly they get it right. This time they were being extra cautious because of Trump’s constant lying that the election process was rigged and the media couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth. As soon as the news source we were watching called the race, most other television and print news sources jumped on board within a matter of minutes.

I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and I wanted to be excited and jubilant but my fear of what lies ahead seemed to be an anchor holding me in place, not allowing me to join in the celebrations happening in cities across my country. The majority of voters said they wanted something new, were tired of the chaos, destruction, and lies of the current leader. This gives me hope but the truth I need to wrestle with is that almost as many people said through their votes that they like the way things are in our government. I don’t get it, but…

The first thing I noticed was that I kept taking deep breaths as I moved around the house, never far from the TV. It felt like I could breath again after holding my breath for the past four years. As I exhale I say to myself, “Everything is going to be okay.” I don’t have to worry about the next daily crisis for our government, our democracy, our people. Except for the next ten week until Inauguration Day.

I was also close to tears all day long. Not tears of joy, or tears of relief; but tears of grief and sorrow over how hard the past four years have been. I don’t have a personality that is prone to anxiety or fear – if there is a problem I find a solution or believe that someone in power will fix it. There are times when life has been difficult, times when injustice seems to outweigh justice. But 76 years of maturation has made me good at distinguishing between what I have control over and what I don’t. The past four years have been different, however, with what seemed like a constant of news creating overwhelming fear and unproductive rage. It will take me a while to lick my wounds and sooth on the balms that heals.

Right now I am too tired to think about how to heal. Right now I am so fatigued that my brain is mush and I’m getting kitchen burns through stupid mistakes. I feel the fatigue that doesn’t lift with a good night’s sleep or a healthy meal or a walk on an unseasonably warm, sunny November day. My daily anger and fear over the past 4 years has wore me down to the point where I can’t pretend any longer, I can’t convince myself that I have enough energy to do what I think I want to do. My attention span is about half a minute and my concentration is about half a sentence long.

I found joy listening to the speeches of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden last night. How wonderful it is to hear a president (elect) and a vice-president (elect) that speak in clear and understandable sentences; who have coherent and well thought out ideas based on science and the knowledge of experts about how to fix our problems. How wonderful to listen to people who are trustworthy, who don’t lie and repeat disclaimed conspiracy theories.

It feels like we, as a democracy, were sorely tested. So many of us were afraid the bedrock of our democracy, elections that allow all people to vote and all votes are honestly counted, was not going to hold against the on-slot of lies and voter repression attempts. But they did. We have proven that our great experiment of rule by and for the people is strong and enduring – even when there are attempts to undermine it by unsavory characters in our country and around the world. Our justice system has been corrupted but I believe it can be fixed and even improved to extend justice to previously disenfranchised groups. There are changes that may need to be made to our Constitution given the changes that have taken place since it was written in 1778. And once again there will be talk about whether the Electoral College that has failed in recent elections should be abolished so that election results are a more honest depiction of the will of our citizens. It feels so wonderful that once again we will be moving forward in our desire to create a “more perfect union.”

Thinking of Spring and COVID-19

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We are sheltering at home except for essentials here in southwest Florida. Some of our friends/neighbors have left for homes up north due to Covid-19 – one couple to Toronto because their insurance won’t cover Covid-19 treatment in the US and another couple back to Missouri because both have conditions that increase their vulnerability and they want to be near family and familiar doctors. We’ve been wondering when we should head home, doing a constant cost/benefit analysis. So far the benefits of staying in Florida are winning.

Friday marked the beginning of spring, but it wasn’t much noticed in Florida. Spring isn’t celebrated in Florida like it is in Michigan. It is hard to get excited about the awakening of nature in Florida because this subtropical climate doesn’t have a dormant season. Plants only slow down their growth a little in the dryer winter months and there are always some flowering plants to add patches of glorious color to the landscape. No landscape of drab blacks, browns, and greys here.

On the other hand, the first day of spring can seem like a cruel joke in Michigan. We don’t rush into spring in Michigan, the photos featured on this post were taken middle of May last year at Hidden Lake Gardens in the southern-most part of the state. For people in Michigan, the first day of spring is a celebration of hope that spring will really come – some day soon. I grew up hearing that “March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.” I remember years when we observed that march came in like a lamb and out like a lion. Yes, we have had some really big snowstorms in late March and April.

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When I use my logic, I know that our quality of life is better where we live in Florida than where we live in Michigan. Here I have sunshine every day, our livingroom and diningroom are open to our screened lanai so I hear birds all day long, I have ready access to plentiful fresh fruits and vegetables at the market a mile down the street, I have daily access to our pool and a great neighborhood to bike in, and I can always drive into the Everglades if I need to run away for a day.

Through my writing I am realizing that it is my grief that is driving my desire to go north, even though my head says I’m better here. I feel a deep loss from loosing church services at a church that feeds our soul, my weekly visits to the Naples Botanical Garden, not having the miles of beautiful beach available for a morning visit or an evening sunset.

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I miss not being able to go to my favorite family-owned restaurants for a cozy, fun meal with Jim and I worry about the financial viability of these restaurants and other small businesses I frequent. Most of all I worry about the service staff that we have gotten to know, who now are facing an uncertain future without sufficient income. Their faces pop into my head and I want to help them but don’t know how.

If I look inside myself, I feel a very heavy heart and a soul that is weeping. Life as I knew it is being shaken, the ground has shifted so it no longer feels stable. It is real for me, as Jim just left to go to the drugstore for some items. I know that he is more likely to get sick because he is a male but I also know that cabin fever attacks him much more quickly than it does me. When he gets home I’ll remind him to wash his hands long and well. I feel sad about our (all of us) loss of security. We don’t know what will happen and no one likes the feeling of loosing a sense of control – maybe that is why people are hoarding toilet paper.

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I remember reading about a study a long time ago, of depression in old people living in nursing homes caused by the almost total loss of control. In one study they gave each resident a geranium to care for and in another they gave them a bird in a bird cage that they needed to feed and clean up after. In both cases the people were given control over something and their moods improved. They became happier people better able to handle the stress of aging within their living environment.

I can take control of several aspects of my life even though the threats I encounter come from a little known virus that is raging through our population and experts are projecting will get much worse before it gets better. Thanks to our freedom of the press and excellent access to social media I can gain a sense of control by informing myself of facts. I listen mostly to MSNBC because I appreciate the army of experts that they interview throughout the day. I read the Washington Post and get updates from the New York Times. I refuse to accept the propaganda of a deep state that is out to get us. The deep state consists of thousands of government employees who have dedicated their lives to making sure citizens are helped by government services. I refuse to be one of the people who believes that facts are fake news. I refuse to be someone who doesn’t listen to news because “experts” are saying something different and they don’t know who to believe. If I am going to maintain some control I need to make decisions – and to make decisions I need information. I need information from multiple sources and to think about who is trustworthy – based on their education and work experience. Over time I have learned that I can’t trust our president but I can trust journalists who tell us what they have learned and who they learned it from. I trust experts while always questioning motives and bias.

I gain a sense of control every time I make a decision to wash hands, stay home, and abide by other guidelines given us by the CDC and experts on infectious deceases and pandemics. I know I am in control when I eat healthy meals and do what I can to get good sleep to keep my immune system strong. I know I have some control over the outcome of this pandemic when I reach out with a phone call, a written note, or through social media to share assurance or comfort or just fun conversation with people I know. I know I will be able to cope with isolation by keeping active with knitting, quiltmaking, editing photo files, working puzzles, exercise, reading and maintaining safe social contact with others.

I have a plan and I know I will do okay during this shitty time (no I didn’t buy extra toilet paper). Do you have a plan? How can you maintain a sense of control?

Blessings and stay well.

 

A Real Holiday Season

This morning we were treated to a beautiful snow fall. A flake bumped up against the window over the sink to get my attention – saying, “Here we come.” A few minutes later I realized that there were lots of flakes falling – some of them dancing on upward drafts, not ready to fall to the ground where they would soon melt.

Snow and cold seem to be an important part of the Christmas season, at least for those of us who grew up in the northern regions of our country. I remember the excitement of hearing the knock on our door, running to open it to our guests because my childhood anticipation of the forthcoming party had reached its peak. I remember the scent of cold coming in, relatives handing presents to me for under the tree as they stomped the snow off their shoes, took off their boots, unwrapped scarfs, stuffed mittens and hats in sleeves, and handed to outstretched arms piles of coats to put on beds. All completed to chants of Merry Christmas from everyone to everyone. This ritual was also reversed every year as we went to homes of friends and family. The teeth-chattering cold in spite of being bundled up, the snow, the lights of the Christmas tree in the front window welcoming us in even before we got out of our car, and the crunch of snow with each step. Ah, and the foggy eye-glasses as soon as I entered the house. This is what I’m remembering of my Christmas’s past.

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We fly back to Michigan to be with family for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each year on the evening before we leave, we say goodbye to Naples by going for my favorite meal at one of my favorite restaurants, fish and chips at the Old Naples Pub on 3rd Street South in the oldest area of Naples. We went for early supper, as the sun was getting low over the Gulf of Mexico just 4 blocks away, but the temperature was still a balmy 80 f. We ate outdoors, with smiles because it was so perfect.

Christmas decorations had been put up during the previous week so we decided to go for a walk down 3rd Street after we had finished sharing a piece of key lime pie.

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What I see every year is a jolt to my emotional memories. Poinsettias don’t seem to belong with tropical plants – outdoors no less (even though my brain knows they grow into large shrubs in people’s yards). We smiled, enjoyed and laughed as we talked about how different Christmas feels in sub-tropical weather.

Driving home we went down 5th Avenue South just because we could. In high season, when we get back, it takes forever to drive this two-lane, 7 block shopping district because of the cars and people. In November we breezed through, with windows down and sunroof open.

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I hold these memories in my heart and smile, as I am now preparing for a real Christmas with cold and hopefully just a little snow. I have a poinsettia on the kitchen counter and no palm trees with lights wrapped around their trunks. I’ll see the palms in a few weeks.

It is strange how we come to believe that traditions should be the way we have always known them to be. One of the advantages of traveling and spending time in different locations has been learning that even the simplest activities of daily living can be different when people live in different climates, have different faith stories, are a part of a different culture. When I took students abroad to study culture I learned that culture learning requires an open mind, an ability to identify similarities and differences without judgement, an eagerness to explore and understand.

I wish you a holiday season in which you have the opportunity to explore and learn customs that are different than your own and that this experience brings you increased joy. I also hope you find a way to maybe assimilate a little bit of different into what you find familiar and comfortable.

I would love to read your stories if you write them into a blog and leave a link in the comments. Please do!

Thinking of Thanksgiving and Advent

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It has been almost two weeks since the U.S. Thanksgiving but I am still thinking about my thankfulness this year. I’m still thankful for those things close, my day-to-day world. I have a wonderful family with lots of grandchildren and even four great-grandchildren, two who are celebrating their first birthdays. I’m so thankful for the joy each and every one of them brings to my life. I’m thankful that Jim and I made good decisions in our earlier years, living below our means as our incomes increased so we could build our retirement funds. I’m thankful that we can afford to have a comfortable lifestyle while still able to help children and grandchildren as they need it. I’m grateful for our gathering last week-end to celebrate Lona’s first birthday, for the great food presented by daughter-in-law Natalia. I’m grateful that Jim and I are still relatively healthy in our mid-seventies and anticipate with great joy the coming together of our children, and their children, and a fourth generation child on Christmas Eve. I’m thankful for the friends of our children who will join us so that we have the blended chorus of phrases spoken in both English and Russian, and laughter that binds people together across cultures and ages.

Yes, I am thankful for the people who are a part of my life story, the people who make up my personal world. But this isn’t what I’ve been thinking about as I have been moving from Thanksgiving Day into the season of Advent. I can feel my mind and soul working hard to grapple with my emotional turmoil, to prepare my heart, mind and soul for the coming of the Christ Child, struggling to gain a greater understanding of what the Advent of the Christ Child means for how I live my life.

I’m in the 50% to 60% of the people who believe that our country, our democracy, is in great peril. This is a frightening time for me and I feel a responsibility to keep abreast of the daily news. What I am thankful for, from the bottom of my heart and with all my mind, are journalist. Even though they are verbally assaulted and receive death threats on a regular basis, they still go after the story. They are diligent in making sure their information is verified by multiple sources, sources they have nurtured by being honest and trustworthy with the sources. I am thankful for professional organizations and news outlets that take truth in reporting very seriously and sanction those who don’t abide by the ethical standards of journalism. Consequently, journalists take the responsibility to relay truth and be honest about their own bias very seriously as they report information (we all have them and must all be aware of our bias when evaluating information). And they persevere in searching for the truth, raking through the muck, sorting through the messiness of conspiracy theories and fake news. When I have to take a news break I wonder how they persevere.

Yes that is what I’m thankful for, but what does it mean as I move through Advent? If I am to celebrate Advent with integrity, it seems like I should explore what it means to believe in the coming of the Christ Child, to believe, trust, and live by what I have learned from the story of Jesus’ life on earth.

As I sit here struggling for words that heal and guide me, all I feel is deep anger… no rage – in response to the lying and the bullying that has taken place in our government over the past week, the past three years. I want to fight back. I want to write in such a way that my words make a difference. I want my words to land on ears that are open to hearing so my words touch hearts and change behavior. I want to scream Elijah Cummings words, “We are better than this.”

 

 

Artificial Change of Seasons

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We finished our fall clean-up so we could leave for our 5-6 week fall stay in Florida. We do it every year so I would think I would easily adjust but this year we were cleaning out the flower bed before we got much of a taste of fall in Michigan. The trees were just beginning to change and we experienced only one week of the glorious cooler days with lots of sunshine and low humidity that lets us know the season has changed. I went to the farmer’s market for vegetables to made salsa for canning. I experienced the bliss of pealing and chopping tomatoes, dicing peppers and onions, adding spices and vinegar, and then having the smell waif through the house as it boiled down before putting it in jars and processing it. I also canned a few jars of tomatoes for pasta, chili and soups throughout the year. I used roma tomatoes this year and the filled and processed jars were so beautiful. Apples were being picked so I bought some of my favorite varieties to make mixed apple applesauce to freeze for quick and easy side dishes. These are my normal routines that have been consistent for over 50 years. But this moving from north to south doesn’t seem normal (in spite of doing it for nine years) – it feels like we are messing with Mother Nature.

We returned from our 5-week trip to the west coast to a mostly spent flower garden. When I saw it I was ready to have the dying stems cut down, to clean up and make everything tidy for the long dormant season. I advocated for Jim to spare the coriopsis and sedum because the bees and butterflies were so busy around them – but then was so distracted by the discomfort of a molar I had removed on Tuesday of that last week that I don’t know if or when he cut them down. One ritual that we never miss is our annual discussion about when to take down the purple porch swing to transfer from the front porch to the back of the garage. How silly it is, but important, that I want to have the swing there for each and every beautiful fall morning when I feel compelled to soak up as much sun as I can; protection from the long, grey, frigid winter – that I escape for the sunshine state.

Florida is hot and steamy this October. I don’t think the weather here has made the transition to fall – but only full-time residents seem to know when fall begins and ends. Maybe they mark this change of season by the fall merchandise that shows up in the big-box stores. It sure looks like summer outside, but I bought a wreath for the front door with fall flowers and brightly colored leaves. The only leaves that drop here are the bald cypress and I don’t think they turn to a bright color. Southern Florida is evergreen and ever-growing. Any celebration of the change in season feels vicarious to me. Fall is that hurricane season when the temperature is lower than summer and before the season when hoards of snow-birds and tourists arrive. Maybe the snow-birds bring down the concept of a fall season with colorful leaves, orchards with red apples being picked and hayrides on very cold nights – much colder than the 78 degrees F. we had last night.

And I’m out of sorts either because my mouth isn’t normal or I’ve crossed Mother Nature – nothing serious but just uneasy. I’m doing the tasks that need doing but doing them with a heaviness of spirit. I’m piecing cheerful throws, or quilts, for the guest bedroom – a project that I started several years ago. I’m undecided whether they will be throws folded at the end to be opened for more warmth on cooler nights or whether I will make them twin size to use as the main cover. It will probably depend on when I get tired of piecing and whether I want to pay to have the twin size long-arm machine quilted.

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I think I will use the piecing of this quilt as a time of contemplation. I have withdrawn socially in the past few months but this quilt pattern suggest how we are all braided together, our lives are intertwined. I need to think about this as every day seems to bring news of the death of someone in my past – so many deaths creating voids. But that’s another blog.