Sunday, January 31, 2021

Hello, yellow. 

If orange is a belly laugh, you are a gentle smile.

If orange gives me a bear hug, you're a soft hand on my arm.

If orange is a mountain meadow full of bright blooming flowers, you are the pale butterfly that flits from one to the other.

If orange turns cartwheels across the lawn, you're weaving dandelions into a flower crown.

If orange is a six-course meal, you are a perfect midnight snack.

If orange runs a three-ring circus, you turn pirouettes across your own private stage.

If orange is an epic novel that spans the centuries, you are a slim volume of poems. 

If orange sounds like a symphony, you sing a lullaby.

And if I love orange in my life, which I do, I need plenty of you, yellow, to bring me sweet moments of peace. 

Thank you, yellow. 

* * * * *

Read more color stories here:

* * * * *

A poet named Mary Jane, who is also my friend, invited me to write 
a poem a day for eight days in a row. Here I go!

And one more for good measure:

Thursday, January 28, 2021

My kitchen in January

Full of sass

Ready for a laugh
Winter's white is nice and clean, but this year I needed a bump.

Always in good cheer

Expressive and 
Stimulating, dear.
Pale pink: a perfect counterpoint. 

Healthy, happy, fun

Not a single word
Do you need
To make a perfect poem.
Thank you, orange!

* * * * *

Read more color stories here:

* * * * *

A poet named Mary Jane, who is also my friend, invited me to write 
a poem a day for eight days in a row. Here I go!

And one more for good measure:

2020 Ornament Of The Year

With a gust of crisp autumn air, she walked in the house and straight to the kitchen where I was cooking dinner.

"Look what I found for you."

She held her cupped hands low to the counter and gently released her treasure.

Pine cones.

Geometrically divine.
Infinitesimally precise.

These were some real beauties. 

If you're into pine cones.

I'm into pine cones. 

In fact, just a few days earlier, I'd mused out loud to that very same daughter that after thirty-plus years of making a handmade ornament every single ding-donging Christmas, I'd never based a design on the humble pine cone, and I wondered if maybe this should be the year.

My daughter decided to turn that daydream into action.

From the moment those perfect pine cones rolled out across my kitchen counter, all the construction details fell right into place:

Bake them at 200 degrees for an hour. Because pine cones are one thing but the bugs that live in them are quite another.

Carefully paint their tips. 


Attach a small wooden bead to the base, then thread some looping gold wire.
Tie a bow around the bead.


While I'll be the first to say that these are not the most unique or elaborate ornaments I've ever designed, they are full of simple charm.

Which, of course, is one of the nicest things that a Christmas ornament can be.

If you would like to have one of my pine cone ornaments for your very own, you're in luck. I have a few extras. 

Just message me your mailing address, and I'll send one off. 
And I may just enclose a note that says, "Look what I found for you."

* * * * *

For more Ornament of the Year posts, check these out:

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Too Many Pom-Poms

Well, here's a decision that backfired on me.

Back in 2018, when I was busily manufacturing my Ornament of That Year, I bought eight different colors of yarn. Way more yarn than I needed.

Gotta have plenty of variety, right?

As I got into the rhythm of production, I figured I might as well just turn every inch of those eight skeins into pom-poms.

No sense in letting the leftovers clutter up the joint, right?

And since I hand out my ornaments to the party people who come to my annual holiday bash, I'd probably give most of them away at the 2019 event. 

That would put the extra pom-poms to good use, right?

Making mad pom-poms seemed like such a good idea at the time that I cranked them out by the dozens. And by the time I was done, I had a backlog of at least a hundred.

Good grief. That's a lot of pom-poms. 

* * * * *

But you know, I think I would have been fine if it hadn't been for that rotator cuff injury.

Remember, back in September of 2019, my dog tried to take me parasailing and I took a bit of tumble. Three months later, as the traditional party date approached, I was still in grit-your-teeth level pain, so we decided to cancel that year's bash.

And we all know what happened in 2020. Another party pooped, thanks to Covid.

So as I sorted through my Christmas gear this past year and came upon my giant stash of pom-poms with nowhere to go, I realized the sad but obvious truth.

I had too many pom-poms.

It was in that moment that I decided to yank them out of cold storage and try to find ways to put my glorious excess to good use.

First, I gathered up all the members of the muted color clan, ordered up a simple wire wreath frame, and whipped up this pom-pom wreath for my bedroom.

There's no tutorial. I literally just cut off the knots I'd tied to form hanging loops, back in the pom-poms ornament days, and used those longer bits of yard to tie them onto the wire frame. 

I hid the bells already tied to the pom-poms. They were distracting. 

And here's a delicious irony. Turns out that it takes a surprising number of pom-poms to make a wreath. So I had to actually go out and buy MORE yarn in matching colors to finish this puppy off. 

After I made the fifty or so MORE pom-poms I needed, guess what I did with the remaining bundles of yarn.

No, I did not make seventeen billion more pom-poms! 
This time, I immediately donated the leftover yarn with zero regrets.
Making my bed is a daily challenge. The princess likes a proper lie-in.
Also, please note the rawhide bone.

And since this wreath does not scream Christmas, he's been invited to stay up indefinitely. I am very down with his refined palette and cozy winter vibes. 

* * * * *

Now, I was down to a collection of several dozen of the brightly colored specimens. 

As I was out walking my dog one blustery evening, mulling over this pom-pom overpopulation, I stumbled upon several gorgeous felled tree branches, lying literally in the middle my path.

Hmm. I know a sign when I see one. Or two or three.

So I gathered up the branches and brought them home. Plopped into vases - or wedged behind a pot on the front porch - they served my festive fellows well. 

While most of their bright brethren have been retired for the holiday season, these guys by my front door are now officially rebranded as Valentine's Day decorations. 

They'll be staying till March. 

* * * * *

Looking back, I've come round to seeing that the decision to go all in on my original pom-pom production wasn't such a terrible idea after all.

What I've learned is that there's actually no such thing as too many pom-poms. 

2019 Ornament Of The Year
My 2019 Ornament of the Year

The year was 1979 and my life was turning upside down.

I was in the middle of my senior year of college and things were happening quickly.

For reasons I still can't fully explain, I'd settled my accounting major's heart on the dream of working for Arthur Andersen & Co in Chicago. Now mind you, I'd never been to Chicago before. And I knew precious little about AA&Co except that it was the biggest accounting firm in Chi-town and something about it just called to me. 

So keeping my options open by interviewing with most of the then-Big 8 accounting firms, I'd breezed through fall on-campus hurdles, and as soon as my finals wrapped up, I'd hopped a plane to zip over for three office interviews. Pinching myself, I came home for the holidays with three job offers in my pocket. 

Including one for my dream job.

My mind was in a whirl. But not about my job. I knew with calm certainty that I was destined to take that dream job.
My fourth-born's cursive n starts with a distinctive crook at the top, and mine is rather straight. Otherwise, our handwriting looks much the same. 

What was really messing with me was the concept that this was the last Christmas of my childhood.

Oh sure, next year I'd be traveling the 250 miles back home to Michigan for the big day. But my constant preoccupation was this: Next year, I'll be putting up a tree in my happening bachelorette big city apartment, and I have zero ornaments. 

My attention focused on this issue like a laser, and I determined to build myself a suitable collection of ornaments, like, pronto.

{Come to think of it, this is probably why I've spent a lifetime making and giving away Christmas ornaments to my friends and family. I just think it's so important for young people especially to tuck away such treasures for the future, and to know that whenever life rips them from their childhood nest, they'll be ready to celebrate Christmas with at least some tree trimmings.} 

{As it turned out, 1979 was also the year that some friends and I headed to Vail for a few days of skiing between Christmas and New Year's. The quaint shops clustered at the foot of the ski slopes were filled with darling options within reach of my college student budget, and I bought at least a dozen ornaments on that trip. They hang on my tree to this very day.}

So in those precious days leading up to Christmas 1979, I decided to try my hand at making ornaments.

Now, my mom was a fifth-grade school teacher, and every holiday she was inundated with gifts from her devoted students and their families. That year, someone gave her a set of cute Christmas-themed cookie cutters - the kind that not only cut out the shape of Santa, for example, but also stamp into the dough the details of his hat, his face, his suit, and even his chunky boots. (Kind of like this.) 

And thus an idea was born.

I whipped up a batch of salt dough, rolled it out on the counter, and used the cookie cutters to cut out stars, snowmen, Christmas trees, as well as the aforementioned Santas. Once they were baked, I painted them, covered them with a clear protective finish, and strung them on silver cord for hanging. 

But as I was working along in that first phase, stamping out the Christmas swag left and right but still staring down a hefty heap of dough, I suddenly had another idea.

Using some old-school Play-Doh skills, I rolled the dough out into a long snake. A long, looooong snake, almost a meter long. And then, looping and coiling the snake back and forth on itself, I wrote out in cursive the word, noel

I baked it along with the other ornaments, then painted it with a simple red stripe along the top of the coil, looping and curving along the length of the letters.

It ended up being adorable. And for many years to come, that cursive salt dough noel earned a prominent place on my Chicago - and then Seattle - Christmas trees.
Here is my noel ornament on my 1983 Christmas tree, near the bottom and slightly to the right. 

Fast forward to 2010. Sadly, salt dough does not last forever, and that year, my noel ornament took a bad fall. I saved the pieces, but despite my best efforts with a bottle of tacky glue, had to accept the fact that this ornament's days were over. 

But wait! I made the first one, so why could I not whip up a replacement?!

Seemed easy enough to implement that idea but for one reason or another, I just couldn't make it happen. 

Until this year. And for Christmas of 2019, the FIFTIETH anniversary of my original creation, I chose a scaled-down version of my noel for my Ornament of the Year. 

I decided few simple design changes were in order. 

  • Instead of rough and ready salt dough, we used a store-bought polymer clay. Easy to use and long lasting. These babies should be good for at least another forty years.   
  • As per the original, we painted a stripe along the top of the letters but mixed it up with a variety of Christmas-y colors.
  • And because I'm now way more of a perfectionist than I used to be, I called in my fourth-born to help. Her incredible fine motor skills and infinite capacity for perfection took the execution of these little gems from good to great. 

* * * * *

I'm happy to honor the long life of my original noel by according it status as an official Ornament of the Year.

I love that my daughter and I brought the old design forward into the new millennium with a few new enhancements.

And  I hope that for many years to come, I'll see this familiar shape on my tree and reminisce about the way it came to be, back in the last Christmas of my childhood. 

The year was 1979.

* * * * *

For more Ornament of the Year posts, check these out:

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Life Of A Math Teacher: Math Mammals
Here is Sirius, my ten-year-old tuxedo cat by day. 
But his alternate identity is that of Math Mammal Extraordinaire!

P.S. Get off the counter, you hooligan.

This story begins with a student who struggled to get his head in the game.

Now, this is not a particularly unusual scenario in my line of work. Apparently, teenage brains are not necessarily wired to adore algebra. So when I would show up to lay some teaching on this particular 13-year-old boy, he tended to started slow. During the first few minutes of our class, when I lobbed him some easy questions about, oh say, how to divide fractions or calculate the cube root of -27, he mostly stared at me. I knew he knew what I was asking, but he couldn't quite summon up the brain waves to adequately communicate his answer. As our class time ticked by, slowly but surely, his neurons would begin to hum, and then gradually vibrate with information. By the time our hour was up, he was nimbly zipping through formulas and equations with lightning speed, and releasing his inner Einstein with joy.

After observing this phenomenon at work for several weeks in a row, I stepped gently into a conversation with the student in question. Looking for a way to keep my comments as friendly and inoffensive as possible - because no one likes to be told, Hey, you're slow! - I decided, as I often do, to lean into a metaphor. 

And the first one to leap into my mind was that of a hamster running on a hamster wheel

At the beginning of class, it's like the part of your brain that learns math is a lazy little hamster. He steps into his wheel but at first, can barely move it at all. He struggles and tries but just keeps falling down in an exhausted furry heap at the bottom of the wheel. But he bravely keeps getting back up and trying, and eventually he taps into his energy and gets the wheel moving and ultimately finds that he can run at full speed, with the wheel spinning madly under his tiny pink paws.

The mental picture of this diminutive mammal sleepily crawling out of his warm bed of cedar chips and hauling his unmotivated self into the unpleasant confines of his cold, cruel wheel, dopily incapable of any sort of sustained motion, amused us greatly. 

And it stuck with us.

Over the weeks, we embellished the story, riffing about how Hammy - our affectionate name for this furry friend - spends his down time (watching YouTube) and what motivates him to get moving on the Wheel Of Math Knowledge (food and nearly nothing else.) The story also became a useful metaphor for gauging my student's mindset; when I breezily asked, "How's Hammy today?" my student and I both knew I was really asking if he was ready to concentrate and focus. 

Hammy has grown into a useful member of our math-learning team.

And soon, other students caught on to this magic, and wanted a Hammy of their own. 

So now the beloved OG has a handful of compadres:

Hamrietta the Hamster
Jeff the Squirrel
Squawk the Parrot (a parrot is technically not a mammal but the concept holds)
Lala the Bunny
Chloe the Fox
Hamlet the Hamster

and Jammy the Hamster, who is Hammy's brother.


Some of my students are still mulling over the options, and I'm looking forward to getting a firm lock on their math mammals' identities.

But this game also begs another question. Does the teacher have a math mammal?

And the resounding answer: yes!

My math mammal is a tuxedo cat, in fact, the very same cat who lives in real life at my house.

He has huge owl eyes and distinguished white whiskers and always appears in formal dress, with his white collar crisp and neat under his spotless black jacket.

And whenever I am called upon to teach math - even if you were to shake me out of a sound sleep - my math mammal immediately snaps to attention. He slips into a brown tweed blazer with leather patches on the elbows, grabs a handy pointer and a slender reed of chalk, steps to the nearest old school blackboard, and launches effortlessly into the finer points of factorials, polar coordinates, or whatever the algebraic topic of the day may be.

My math mammal's name is The Professor, and thanks to him, my head always stays in the game. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

2018 Ornament Of The Year

Here's a Christmas riddle for you: What's festive and bright, squishably soft and jingles when you shake it?

No, not Santa.

Or even one of his elves.

But if you guessed my 2018 Ornament of the Year, you are exactly right.
As far as I'm concerned, pink and gold are Christmas colors. 

For the past couple years, my annual holiday creations have been trending toward the sharp and pointy, so I decided to go in a completely different direction.

Not only are pom-poms gentle and friendly, they can be created in a variety of colors and sizes.
Plus they are universally adored.

Just like Santa.
But I'll never say no to red.

Here's one way to make a pom-pom ornament. 

You cut a piece of cardboard about three inches wide.
Then you get some yard. 
And you begin to wrap the yard around the cardboard.

You wrap and wrap and wrap and wrap and wrap and wrap and wrap and wrap.

Stop for a moment. Wiggle your fingers and take a new grasp on the cardboard, and then begin again.

Wrap and wrap and wrap and wrap
And wrap and wrap and wrap.

Go around about fifty times. 

Here comes the tricky part. Slide all the wrapped yard off the cardboard into a neat little heap, then quick-quick, before it falls apart, tie another little bit of yard around the middle tight-tight. Thread a silver jingle bell onto a loose end and knot it again to make a loop for hanging. 

Trim the ends of the loop and fluff your creation into a proper pom-pom.
Wrapping my ornaments is half the fun, and I try to make every year's packaging different. 
I'm not sure why I insist on making life so difficult. 

I followed this procedure for approximately ten pom-poms and then I was ready to scream. 

Desperate for an alternative strategy, I leaped in my car and dashed down to the craft store where I picked up a set of plastic pom-pom makers and brought them home to give them a whirl.

My other idea was to hire an army of pom-pom-making elves but thankfully, the plastic pom-pom makers worked like a dream.
Packed up and ready for travel. Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!

And so my 2018 Ornament of the Year story ends happy. 

I gleefully whipped up dozens of jolly pom-poms, mailed them far and wide, and as I walked out of the post office after the last batch of shipments and hopped into my car, felt just like Santa heading back to the North Pole after his annual sleigh ride around the world. 

And if you'd been there, you'd have heard me exclaim as I drove out of sight,
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

P.S. Which reminds me of another good Christmas riddle.

Question: How much did Santa pay for his sleigh?

Answer: (scroll to the end of the post)

* * * * *

For more Ornament of the Year posts, check these out:

* * * * *

Nothing. He got it on the house. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Learning To Twirl

Turns out that my friend's favorite food is nasi lemak, a classic Malaysian breakfast combo. So I whipped up a batch to show her, and spark some conversation.

Once upon a time there was a sweet little girl who lived in Mexico City. She was happy there with her mommy and her daddy and her three crazy brothers. 

But there was just one tiny problem.

Well. It wasn't really a problem at all, but more of a sassy little hula hoop of a challenge that required her attention.

In her Mexico City school, this little girl's teachers and classmates all spoke English.

And since she had just moved there from her home country of Malaysia, she did not.

Well. She spoke a little English but her kind and loving parents were concerned for her and wanted to give her a little extra boost as she learns how to pick up that hula loop of fluency, gives it a good starting spin around her waist, and starts twirling.

So they did what any parents would do. They reached out to their friendly American twirling coach and yelled, "Help!"




Chili sauce. 

Sorry, Amina. I was fresh out of dried anchovies. 

And that is why my January afternoons now include a few minutes of video chatting with my new friend, Amina. We talk about colors and numbers and the ABCs. We sing Twinkle, Twinkle and Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes, and all the other delightful songs that English-learning children around the world love to sing. 

Today we talked about her favorite foods, and tomorrow, I think, we will discuss animals. I'm digging up some Beanie Babies to share with her. 

We are taking baby steps together, Amina and me. We're getting to know each other, and I hope she is learning to trust me. Because learning happens only when we feel safe. 

She smiles when she sees my face pop up on her dad's phone, and that seems to be a good sign.

It's going to take some time, but I have every confidence that all these little moments, the tiny victories of "Yes, that marker is pink!" and "That's right, it's your nose!" are slowly accumulating and gaining momentum.

There's no doubt in my mind that my friend, Amina, is learning to twirl. 

And someday soon, she will be speaking English happily every after. 

* * * * *

Here are two more stories about my adventures with nasi lemak, both written during my travels in Malaysia. I just re-read them and the second one conjured up memories so sweet that I cried happy tears. I hope you will enjoy them both. 

Malaysian Origami

Rice Is Nice

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

We Shall Overcome Some Day

The world is not black and white, nor is this photograph. We humans are not polar opposites but vary only by subtle degrees, soft shades of mahogany and ivory, coffee and sand. And together, like the sky and the seas, the clouds and the waves, we are beautiful.

* * * * *

The following thoughts, musings, and frustrations bubbled forth from me in the heat of last summer's Black Lives Matter movement. Today, on Martin Luther King's Day, I realize that these words are still the best way of expressing who I am and where I'm at on the powerful and deeply meaningful matter of race relations in our country today.

Black lives do matter.

I have a dream.

And deep in my heart, where I am always willing to believe that anything is possible, I hear the melody of a familiar song.

We shall overcome some day.

* * * * *

 I am tired tonight.

On top of

Covid and
quarantine and
work from home and
fear of the future and
furloughs and
daughters very far from home and

all the usual chaos of the world

we now have the agony of more black people dying at the hands of the police. From what I can tell, the whole nation is horrified by the new waves of violence, and social media is feverish with calls to action.

And to be one hundred percent clear, I'm for that.

I"m for people paying attention to what's happening to our black brothers and sisters.
I'm for equal rights.
I'm for an end to systemic racism.
I'm for peace and brotherhood and compassion and love among all people.

But I am not for the

lack of education
guilt and shame
and negativity that I hear and see, coming from all directions.

These things make me tired. And sad.

Because there is so much we need to talk about and so little space for a real conversation.

Let me try to begin.

* * * * *

America's problem with racism is not new.

Things did not begin to go wrong

when George Floyd's neck went under that police officer's knee.
when Amy Cooper ominously threatened to call the cops on Christian Cooper
when Breonna Taylor was gunned down in her own apartment.
when Ahmaud Arbury was shot and killed by a father and son while out for a run.

No, I'm sorry but these racially-motivated outrages go back through the centuries, all the way to the very beginning of America. The first black slaves came to the colonies in 1619. That's a year before the Mayflower pulled in.

Those of us who were around for the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and 60s can testify to the ongoing narrative of racial injustice and police brutality. In those days, black people were killed not just by police but at the hands of angry white citizens: consider the 1955 case of a 14 year old black boy named Emmett Till who was accused of wolf-whistling at a white woman in a Mississippi grocery store who was found dead, disfigured, and dumped in the bottom of the Tallahatchie River. In 1964, three civil rights workers in Mississippi sent to register black voters ended up dead and their bodies dumped in a partially completed dam. While looking for them, authorities turned up a number of anonymous bodies, victims of past lynchings and murders. Apparently, the KKK was involved.

We were also outraged by police attacking otherwise peaceful protest movements, like Martin Luther King Jr's 1965 Selma to Montgomery march. Police attacked the unarmed protesters with billy clubs and tear gas; one of the organizers, Amelia Boynton, was beaten unconscious and the event was tagged Bloody Sunday.

I'm not sharing these stories to give you nightmares but to make an important point.

Racism may be new on some people's radar, especially Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers who were not around for the highly charged Civil Rights Era, but it's important to keep a realistic perspective:

Racism has been a fact of American life since the beginning. The racist events of 2020 are horrific in their own right, but must be considered in the context of the past decades and centuries; the latest in a long, miserable line of dominoes to fall.

Though the current reality is unacceptable and we still have much work to do, it's important to respect the hard work and sacrifices that many black and white Americans have made in the past to advance the cause of racial equality. We are fortunate to stand on their shoulders.

* * * * *

I'm entirely supportive of our new national conversation on racism. I think it's vital to moving forward, and I love that folks from all corners of life are speaking up. But as listeners, we have a responsibility to test those words, to hold the speakers accountable to history and common sense, to think about rather than simply feel our response.

Case in point.

I love Trevor Noah. I didn't follow him during his stand-up days, but since he took over at The Daily Show, I often watch his videos. I enjoy his smooth manner and sly sense of humor, and respect his intellect and point of view.

Ditto for his recent piece, a passionate and eloquent commentary about our current situation. He says a lot of beautiful, thoughtful, interesting things and I love his heart. But when Noah mentioned that people in power pushed back against Martin Luther King Jr. telling him that his was the "wrong way" to protest, I was shocked. I'd never heard that idea before.

So I looked into some facts.

Other than a few nut jobs at the FBI, a minority of die-hard racists, and black leaders like Malcolm X who preferred a more violent form of protest, MLK was widely respected and much loved in his day as a nonviolent protester and a man of integrity. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, for heaven's sake, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Medal of Honor. A holiday to his honor was established in 1971, three years after his death, and enacted as a federal holiday in 1986. Hundreds of streets have been renamed in his honor; here in my own state, the county that includes the city of Seattle was renamed for him; and his memorial on the National Mall in Washington DC was dedicated in 2011.

That's a lot of love for a black Southern preacher. I found no evidence that MLK was ever disparaged or told that his way was the "wrong way" to protest. Sorry, Noah, you got that one wrong.

And my point here is not to shame Noah but simply to say, we must all take responsibility for paying attention to the facts and not just the emotional volume of our commentary.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. I take responsibility for my own education and hope that you do too.

* * * * *

As a kid, I often spent a long time trying to fall asleep at night. Thanks to what I now know as Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome, it was quite normal to me to toss and turn for an hour or so after my mom tucked me in, which left me lots of time to ponder the nature of the universe and other such mysteries. It was probably in third grade, when we first got to use actual social studies textbooks with photos of kids from all around the world, sitting in their Polynesian huts or Mongolian yurts or tiny Eastern European apartments, that I began to reflect on my place in the world.

One could debate the merits of my conclusions, but this is where my seven-year-old late-night thought train took me: I am a white American girl, living in the best state in the country. (Detroit was booming in those days.) My parents went to college and someday I will too. We have a nice house, nice clothes, a cool car ('67 Barracuda) and plenty of food. I am smart, strong and healthy. I have literally the best of everything in life and I couldn't be any luckier. 

And with that thought came the flip side of the coin. Virtually every other child in the world had, in one way or another, less than me. I felt not guilt or shame because I knew I had done nothing to earn all those wonderful things. I was simply born into them. And the kids who had less than me had done nothing to deserve their fate either. That's just the world into which they were were born.

But I knew, from that moment forward, that my purpose in life was to share my advantages with those who had less. I had no idea what that would look like, but I just knew that in this uneven distribution of advantage, my life's work would be to try to even the score.

While I am not asking for a medal, I'd say that I've kept true to that purpose. With my life, I've tried to embrace differences, to give to those who have less, and to love whoever God puts in my path, blacks, whites, and every color in between.

So imagine my surprise to learn recently that as a white person, I am blind to my own white privilege. I'm told that white people like me are so inherently racist that we can't even see our own racism, and as an old, washed up, morally corrupted Boomer, that's especially true. You know how those Karens are.

Well, I don't think that's a fair conclusion. And I don't think it's true. But I have learned that the more I try to defend myself, to explain myself, the more people pinch their lips together and firmly shake their head, "no." Apparently, the more I say I'm not a racist, the more true it is that I am one.

It's frustrating to be judged by a stereotype, to be unheard, to have people discount my own experience without really understanding who I am.

* * * * *

So if you've been on Instagram lately, you've seen that it's crammed full of posts explaining to white people how to improve our allyship and become anti-racist.

Donate money to black causes
Follow black influencers
Frequent and promote black businesses
Vote for anti-racist candidates
Watch programs and read books about white privilege and racism
Watch programs and read books about black culture
Support black protest movements
Post appropriate memes.
Speak out against racism.

And so on.

I think all those actions are wonderful. And I think that when we do those things, we will help to mend together the broken places that still need repairing between blacks and whites.

But I also think that it's important to be kind. To be gracious. To recognize the guilt and shame we heap upon each other with these lists of responsibilities.

To do any one of those things is a true act of love.

To judge yourself for not doing enough of them is too much.

And I hope the white Americans who want so badly to help their black brothers and sisters will be kind to themselves and to each other, and realize that every single step we take together - no matter how small - leads us that much closer to the promised land.

* * * * *

I am still tired. 

But I know I'm not the only one.

The weight of these issues, 

of our cares for the black babies tucked into their cribs fast asleep, who haven't learned yet about the world they've been born into, 

of our fears for the next black man or woman who stands on the wrong side of a police officer's gun (or knee), 

of our agony for the mother whose black teenage son is out on the sidewalks after dark, not realizing the danger he's in,

they hang heavy around our necks.

Certainly they hang heaviest around the necks of our black brothers and sisters, but they cause pain and heartache to white people too.

I will never know exactly how it feels to be black.
And no black person will ever know exactly how it feels to be white. 

But I don't think that's our goal.

Our goal is not to come to perfect understanding.

Our goal is to build a place where we can live 

in peace and justice, 
in kindness and respect, 
in true brotherhood.

Our goal is to overcome the evil that has torn us apart.

Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome some day. 

* * * * * 

We Shall Overcome
Performed by Pete Seeger

We shall overcome. 
We'll walk hand in hand
We shall live in peace
We are not afraid. 
The whole wide world around.

We shall overcome.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Miami Vices

Do you remember the eighties?

I remember the eighties. Shoot, I became an adult during that legendary decade, and those years left quite an impression on me. 

Michael Milken invented the junk bond, epitomized personal greed, then went to jail. 
Swatch watches became a major fashion craze. 
The "Personal Computer,"as we so quaintly called it, became a standard feature in offices and homes.
 And Mr. Gorbachev did indeed tear down that wall

But when I think about the mood and feel of the eighties, my memories boil down to a single red-hot vibe.

Miami Vice.

If you don't recall that artistic endeavor, or if perhaps you were a fetus or simply a wonderful idea waiting to happen during those years, let me catch you up.

Two stunningly beautiful undercover cops prowl the sunlit streets of Miami and solve drug crimes. Drawing on a bold new conceptualization of the tired old police procedural narrative, this TV series evoked emotion and aesthetic galore, bouncing to the beat of a contemporary soundtrack, featuring gorgeous Art Deco architecture, and making a bold fashion statement. Miami Vice was the MTV of crime dramas and rewrote the script on what makes for cool TV.

Slouching casually in his rumpled Armani jackets kitted out with a t-shirt and deconstructed linen pants, barefoot in his Italian loafers, and sporting the perfect amount of stubble beneath his shaggy blond mane and Ray-Bans, Don Johnson aka Sonny Crockett was, is, and forever shall be my icon of the 80s. And his pastel signature colors took his look from good to great. 

Here. I pinned some classic photos of Crockett and his partner, Rico Tubbs aka the equally dapper but less ostentatious Phillip Michael Thomas, so you can see for yourself.

And so it was that when I styled out my front dresser this week with a sweet mint-covered book that I found at the thrift store and a bunch of pale pink tulips, I realized I had channeled a very Miami Vice mood.

And after a few terrifying moments of shock and horror when I realized that this fantastical time of pastel prominence is now almost four decades in the rear view mirror, I became quite excited.

Because even though I have zero desire to go back to the decade that gave us the Space Shuttle explosion and the early days of the AIDS epidemic, I am more than happy to invite Sonny Crockett and his happy pastel Miami Vice mojo into my 2021 life. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Covid Kindness

"I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer it nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." -Stephen Grellet
Every sunrise gives me a new day to start fresh in my pursuit of being kind. 

This week, my husband got the Covid vaccine. As the finance director at a medical research organization, he qualifies as an essential worker - he signs the paychecks, after all - which explains why he was moved quickly to the front of the line. 

His company, Institute for Systems Biology, works at the forefront of Covid research. Collaborating with other medical partners, ISB's project focuses on why those infected with Covid can suffer very different outcomes. Which I think is very cool.

Anyway, the hot topic of conversation around our dinner table lately has been this: How exactly does the vaccine work? Essentially, I've gathered, it revs up your immune system like a super-charged Lamborghini so that if the virus wanders in, your body's defenses will accelerate into high gear and stamp out the evil little Covids before they make you sick.

But here's the rub. From what the experts can tell, it's still possible that a vaccinated person could carry the virus. And could still make other people sick.


There's still quite a bit of spit-balling going on in the hallowed halls of vaccination science and no one knows for sure how effective this is going to be. 

And so my husband has been told that even when he receives his second vaccination, 28 days after the first, he should still wear a mask.

Not to protect his own health; he should be fine. 
But to protect others.

To be kind.
And every sunset gives me a chance to reflect on how I can do better tomorrow. 

I've been thinking a lot lately about kindness.

These days, more than ever, it's so easy to be unkind.

We're all feeling stressed and frazzled, tired of the crazy, ready to resume what we used to call normal life but now just means going out without worrying who's breathing on us. 

Honestly, I find myself getting jumpy and irritated by anything resembling a close encounter with a human outside my family bubble. 

I don't invite children to pet my dog, 
I don't smile at people in the grocery store, 
I didn't even take my usual Christmas gifts to the neighbors. 

I don't like how unkind I have become.
But despite these imperfections, every sunset is glorious in its own way. And that gives me comfort. 

Then again, I remind myself, there are other ways to be kind. Ways that don't involve the risks of bioaerosols. 

And I've realized that what matters most to me is the kindness of connection.

In this lonely and isolating world, in which loss and pain and tragedy invade our lives at least as much as ever before, we need each other. 

We need to be present to each other. 

We need to be present for each other. 

And we need to stay connected to one another in the daily flow of life, not only when the chips are down or the enemy is at the gate, but in a constant, quiet, sustaining way that reminds us of the commitment between human beings that holds our lives together.

We need to be kind.

And every day, I am striving to be better at that. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Super Dog
My super dog looking regal and wise. Just another of her many powers.

Today is Gracie's birthday - well, technically, yesterday, but who's counting - and I celebrated the day by reflecting on exactly what this girl means to me.

Oh sure, she's loyal, devoted, and always down for snacks.  Delightful qualities, one and all.

But it's much more than that.

She trusts me. Without question or reservation. The instant I pull on a sweater or grab my shoes, she's immediately at my side, ready to go all in on whatever it is I'm doing. No questions asked. 

She loves me. Every morning, when I first glance her way and she sees me simply looking at her, thump, thump, thump goes her tail on the floor as her heart overflows just to see me. On those increasingly rare occasions when I must leave the house without her, she faithfully waits by the door till I return. 

She forgives wholeheartedly.  The only naughty thing Gracie ever does is to steal food and for that transgression, she is firmly scolded, dragged off to the Sin Bin (the laundry room,) and left alone to contemplate her crimes  Within two minutes, we let her out, and she greets us with unmistakable good cheer. 

She is always down for adventure. Rain, sun, sleet, or snow - nothing diminishes Gracie's enthusiasm for our daily walk. Though plenty of dogs opt out of extreme weather, She doesn't hesitate to stroll out into a hypothermia-inducing downpour or wildfire smoke so thick that our eyes sting. 

She makes the most of every minute together. During the day, she follows me from room to room to room, just to be with me. At dinner, she lies under my chair with her head on my foot. While we sleep, she often tucks herself up in the bedroom chair, but at least once during the night, she'll wander over to my side of the bed and stick her cool wet nose against my cheek, just to wake me up and say hello.

And while I appreciate all these lovely qualities, I think this is my dog's true super power:

She teaches me how to be a better human. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Kalaloch In Winter: Wild Winter Waves

"I was happiest between the waves." -Gertrude Ederle

Storm clouds fill the sky and meet the sea, sending raindrops diving to the water below.

The waves don't mind getting wet.

Gusting wind rips at the waves, tearing off a spray of water and tossing it into the sky.

The waves are happy to play.

Beach logs launch, pitching and rolling through the churning water.

The waves return them gently to the sand.

My dog and I walk down the beach on this wild winter day. 

The waves smile as we pass. 

* * * * *