Friday, November 20, 2020

Why the Holidays Are So Dangerous During This Pandemic

Remember the early days of the pandemic? The danger of getting COVID-19 was defined as geographic--"hotspots" such as major cities and travel centers. Don't go to those places was the advice, and it was good advice. Then the advice was to not go to "super-spreader" events such as sports or entertainment events because the odds were that some individuals in those events would be sick and would infect others. This was and is still also good advice. 

Associated with super-spreader events were gathering spots such as bars, where alcohol consumption and a lot of social interaction created ripe circumstances for virus transmission. Included in this "gathering spot" designation were also weddings and religious gatherings. Time has allowed for enough empirical data to be gathered to verify that there are places we should avoid in order to be safe, and although the news is filled with blatant examples of people not following the advice of medical professionals, the truth is that many people are following the advice of the medical profession--they are not traveling out of their local area, they are wearing masks in public, and they are not frequenting public watering holes such as pubs.

We're getting pretty good at taking precautions--and I use the pronoun "we" deliberately. We have been careful and are careful. We are even aware of "covid fatigue" and are watching our behavior in order not to let down. The environment has changed, though, and even though I don't want to write these words, the pandemic environment is now more dangerous. Why?

  • The virus is now everywhere. To say "I'm avoiding hotspots, super-spreader events, and public gathering spots, so I'm safe" is not true. From the least populated to highly populated locations, all are getting hammered.
  • The main cause of spread is from asymptomatic individuals. 
  • The main cause of infection is through the air, and with colder weather, more people are spending more time inside.
  • Pandemic fatigue is real and insidious . . . and the holidays are upon us.
Fact-gathering now indicates that the most likely way someone will be infected with this novel coronavirus is by a family member who is contagious, asymptomatic, and who conscientiously continues the cautious behavior of past months and unknowingly passes the virus on to a family member. Let me phrase this another way--that asymptomatic carrier just might be you . . . or me.

Extended family celebrations during the upcoming Thanksgiving season, the seasonal religious holidays, and New Year's celebrations are now considered high risk activities this winter season, where families will be sharing food and time together . . . and COVID-19. That's the main concern of medical professionals, and why they are asking families to cancel or amend holiday get-togethers. We have to be careful that we don't love ourselves to death. If we can get through this winter, hopefully next spring and summer will be safer. 

Have a central meeting place, such as a family member's porch. Swap pies and main dishes. Then go home and eat alone or with the family members you live with. Wear masks, keep your distance, wash your hands. Or meet and chat, wearing masks and being careful. Then go home to eat. Eating together at the family table, not wearing masks--this is now considered one of the highest level risks for being infected with this virus. The best advice is old advice from early in this pandemic. Assume you are asymptomatic and have the active virus. Would you go to a family get-together and not wear a mask? 

Here are two links to useful articles about how to plan a safe holiday celebration: 

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Sunday, October 25, 2020

A Peach Pie to Celebrate a Wedding Anniversary

Blossoming peach with wren house at spring
Today is the sixteenth anniversary of Sandy and my marriage. At the beginning of our marriage when we bought our home, on our first spring together we planted a peach tree in the southeast corner of our lot, replacing a crabapple that hadn't survived the winter. That tree is now sixteen years old, a grand old age for a grafted semi-dwarf fruit tree, and its limbs are propped up by two supporting poles, its profile over the years grown more gnarled and wind-sculptured. But it still grows delicious fruit, and this year was a year of high production. 

The website Gardenia describes the Reliance peach tree as follows: "Noted for its cold-hardiness, Prunus persica 'Reliance' is a vigorous and fast-growing peach tree adorned with profuse soft pink blossoms in early-mid spring. They are followed by a heavy crop of medium-sized, freestone, red-blushed yellow fruits in mid-late summer. The soft yellow flesh has a good flavor."

This spring our peach tree was spared from late frosts, so an abundance of blossoms led to an abundance of fruit set and harvest. Usually harvest follows a pattern. First I pick early maturing fruit that we eat for breakfast, added to muesli or yogurt. Then as more fruit matures, we begin a one- or two-week cycle of baking peach cobblers or peach crisps three or four times a week. It's hard to imagine, even for me who has lived the reality, but after a couple of weeks of frequent crisps and cobblers, we get a little tired of the bounty. Then I begin harvesting a bowl of peaches every morning, cutting them up, and then freezing them in around six-cup batches for peach pies. At the end of this season, I had put aside enough peaches for six pies.

Last week, Sandy and I talked about our wedding anniversary. "Don't get me a card or gift," she said. "I just want to do something together."

"How about we bake a peach pie?"

"Oh! I'd forgotten about the peaches! Perfect!"

The peaches thawed to a generous, delicious portion just right for a deep dish pie. Sandy used a beautiful etched, clear-glass pie plate given to us by my mother, and the pie was probably the best-tasting peach pie I've ever eaten, the flavors full yet subtle and the crust light and flaky. Of course, it wasn't just how the pie tasted; it was also how Sandy and I spent our time together, how we shared this experience over an entire year of enjoying and caring for our peach tree.

It's a temptation to make a big symbolic gesture with that pie regarding our marriage: pure, nurturing, a product of shared values and energy. I'll keep it simple, though. It's a good pie, and it's a good marriage. In these times of challenge, I'm looking forward to baking one home-grown peach pie a month to help us get through the winter. 

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Friday, October 16, 2020

Covid in the Family? "Grandpa's Gone Camping" Is the Last Line of Defense

During the last six weeks, I've been camping for four weeks--two at the beginning, then two weeks at home, and now just finishing up the last two weeks. The reason for these stints of camping certainly is in part because fall camping is so exciting, with the colors and the weather variations. However, there's another aspect of my time in camp that is not just about fun, and it's related to COVID-19.

At some point in late summer as our two grandkids and their parents were gearing up for school to start, my wife and I asked ourselves the question, "What if the kids go back to school, catch covid, bring it home, and then their parents and us both get sick. Who takes care of the kids?"

We distanced ourselves from our grandkids (ages 7 and 5) and their parents, just to see how school went. Classes were based on a hybrid model of part time at school with a 50/50 blend of smaller classes and schooling at home. It went pretty well, and my wife and I felt that the situation was about as safe as realistically possible. Therefore we began seeing the kids again, with time outside at the park and by wearing masks when we were in closer quarters. 

The school circulated a survey of parents, and based on information gathered decided to go back to full-time in-class teaching, following the wishes of the majority of the parents. The school had been getting a great deal of pressure from parents to take the kids all day long so that parents could return to work. The economic pressure on parents was undeniable, and the chaos of politics infiltrating health policy on the state and federal levels with its resultant weakening of guidelines was also undeniable. 

Therefore, I went camping again for another two weeks, my wife coming up to camp with me on weekends, and while at home my wife once again not visiting the grandkids. After just under two weeks of school, the grandkids' mom was contacted and told that our seven-year-old grandson had been in contact in the lunchroom with another student who had been tested and verified to have COVID-19. The kids and grandkids were told to stay at home in quarantine. My, who had met the day of the phone call with her daughter, also needed to be in quarantine. 

My wife called that night while I was still at the state park, telling me the situation was exactly as we had logicked out earlier and feared would happen, based on how the state of Iowa had adulterated its health policies with political measures. Out of the four of us--parents and grandparents--I was the only one who was without a doubt not exposed. Fortunately, the next day our grandson was tested and found negative. He received a note that he could go back to school and the parents wouldn't have to quarantine.

My wife brought up the point that sometimes there is a false negative. What if that was true? We were back to our original question of what if all the adults get sick. Who will take care of the children?

My wife decided (and, of course, I agreed) that we two grandparents should extend our quarantine for a bit longer, my wife from her daughter and family, and me from my wife. That way just in case someone falls ill from this situation, perhaps my wife won't get ill and can mask up and assist if needed . . . and if my wife gets sick, then I can be the last grandpa standing, there to care for everyone as best I can. The irony, of course, is that Grandma and Grandpa are in the most vulnerable group, regarding the virus.

Desperate situations are possible in any medical crisis such as this, but when we see cut-offs for distance instruction set at levels above those suggested by health professionals, when we see modes of instruction determined by surveys rather than the best medical advice, when we see state infection rates used that may very well be inaccurate, then my wife and I and our children feel isolated in our danger, not supported and protected by our government. We need to end this arrogant disregard for science. We need to end this placing of political agenda over people. We need to end the spread of disinformation and conspiracy theories. Lincoln said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I sit now alone in my tiny trailer, writing these words. A cold wind is blowing outside off the lake, rocking the trailer. From where I sit, cooperation and unity seem pretty darn desirable. "Every man for himself," now that Grandpa is the last man standing, seems a bleak and tragic possibility that I hope myself, my family, and my nation can avoid. 

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Friday, October 9, 2020

Reading Emerson's Essay "Nature" While Camping

"Landscape and Transcendence," Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900)
In his essay "Nature," Ralph Waldo Emerson says this about being outside during times "wherein the world reaches its perfection," speaking specifically about October: "These halcyons [days of peace and tranquillity] may be looked for with a little more assurance in that pure October weather, which we distinguish by the name of Indian Summer. The day, immeasurably long, sleeps over the broad hills and warm wide fields. To have lived through all its sunny hours, seems longevity enough. The solitary places do not seem quite lonely. At the gates of the forest, the surprised man of the world is forced to leave his city estimates of great and small, wise and foolish. The knapsack of custom falls off his back with the first step he makes into these precincts."

As Emerson's description of the beauty of the New England autumn unfolds, we are led from an  individual perspective, creeping out of our "close and crowded houses," to the cosmic perspective of the laws of nature. "The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles," to live beyond history, church, or state, in unity with "the divine sky and the immortal year." Nature, he says, is medicinal; it sobers and heals us. It is our first home, feeding our senses with with "room enough," to be whole. If we could be "rapt away" into the fullness of nature, he says, "the upper sky would be all that would remain of our furniture."

The purpose of Emerson's essay is to remind us of and inspire us to our essential nature, that the fullness of nature is also our fullness. He seeks to move us from the everyday "profane" to the eternities of sacred nature, describing "the innumerable florets" of the flower houstonia, glassy lakes, and the south wind that "converts all trees to wind-harps." He seeks to expand our mind through his description--senses, intellect, and emotions--and to lead us to that place within where boundaries fade and even as we sit inside our homes, reading his essay, listening to the "crackling and spurting of hemlock in the flames" of the fireplace and gazing at the patterned grain of the wood-paneled walls, we see "the music and pictures of the most ancient religion." And we are changed, transformed.

"I leave the village politics and personalities, yes, and the world of villages and personalities behind, and pass into the delicate realm of sunset and moonlight, too bright almost for spotted man to enter without novitiate and probation. We penetrate bodily this incredible beauty; we dip our hands in this painted element: our eyes are bathed in these lights and forms."

Is it nature that transforms us, or we that transform nature? Does our perception perceive or create? What is the sequence, the process? The question will betray the unity of the moment. There is no sequence, no creator and creation, only the experience of unity, transcending time, place, and causality. "The difference between landscape and landscape is small, but there is great difference in the beholders." Emerson says that "nature cannot be surprised in undress. Beauty breaks in everywhere." Nature need not be fenced and called a park; it is equally present in a woodlot or planted field. "Compound it how she will, star, sand, fire, water, tree, man, it is still one stuff, and betrays the same properties."

Honey Creek State Park, my home for two weeks
And that is how I come to be spending two weeks in mid-October, camping in a state park in Iowa. Given the opportunity, I choose to bathe "in these lights and forms," to give myself the opportunity to let beauty "break in," to enliven within myself the "same properties" that exist in cosmic reality, to transcend our "petty omnipresence," where "flowers jilt us, and we are old bachelors with our ridiculous tenderness."

Reading all of the essay "Nature" beyond Emerson's introductory laudations that are giddy with transcendental epiphanies, a more somber explication of his ideas--obviously based on his personal experience--is developed. The matter of the universe is all one "stuff," and the motion of the universe is all one energy. Living this unity, though, is not an intellectual construct, nor is it an abandonment of the intellect or mind. The primal essence of existence compels us, even though we cannot fully embrace that essence with our reason. Therefore, "no man is quite sane," seeking to know that essence, and coming up esteeming our "hat and shoes sacred." 

The unified oneness of the perceiver, that which is perceived, and the process of perceiving is an elusive oneness, even for Emerson. He admits the frustration at his fleeting glimpses of that which he does not eternally own. "A man can only speak, so long as he does not feel his speech to be partial and inadequate." We intuit the whole within the part, yet lose the wholeness within the boundaries. This fleeting, intuitive, deja vu-like experience of knowing wholeness is our experience with nature. We have been one with nature before, haven't we? We almost remember it. "There is throughout nature, something that leads us on and on, but arrives nowhere, keeps no faith with us." Our hunger, even when we eat, is for something greater than the physical food. All thoughts and exertions fall short because they are expressions of boundaries which limit the unboundedness that teases us with reminisces with every hard line and definitive action. "This disappointment is felt in every landscape." We cannot come "near enough" to the objects of our perception. "The pine tree, the river, the bank of flowers before [the poet], does not seem to be nature. Nature is elsewhere."

What is fickle is not nature, not matter and motion; nature is not petulant, nor are we "tickled trout." It is our individual consciousness that is fickle and variable. "We cannot bandy words with nature, or deal with her as we deal with persons." There is no personal or individual relationship with nature, only a cosmic relationship. If we wish to see nature in its wholeness, then we must be whole. Our knowledge of existence is structured in our own consciousness. We cannot experience unboundedness while being bound by our own individual limitations. "Nature cannot be cheated," or tricked into revelation, Emerson writes. "Man's life is but seventy salads long, grow they swift or grow they slow." What we perceive through unenlightened eyes is only a glimmer of full sunlight. "The reality is more excellent than the report."

Emerson provides us with hope, though, even though he provides us with no clear technique for transcendence. Transcendence is our nature, after all. "The world is mind precipitated, and the volatile essence is forever escaping again into the state of free thought." Consciousness makes "the whole and the particle its equal channel." Since nature is in every particle of our existence and in all of existence, we should hope and live for that transcendental unity. "Every moment instructs and every object: for wisdom is infused into every form." We must strive for unity with nature, no matter how many days it takes.

"It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence, until after a long time."

The irony of Emerson's conclusion is that being nature, we yearn to know our nature, to live fully our unbounded nature, even if our individual, bound selves are too busy or preoccupied to remember. Being out among the trees can help us remember, though. That's why I'm camping right now, surrounding myself with nature, with trees and sky and lake. Ideas of enlightenment and unity reside in our mind, but also "stand around us in nature forever embodied, a present sanity to expose and cure the insanity of men." I'm here for the cure, even if it doesn't happen until after a long time.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Thursday, October 8, 2020

3 Quick But Important Takeaways on the Pence-Harris Debate

Having watched last night's Vice-Presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris and then read commentary on the debate, my initial reaction was the same as journalist and columnist David French from Twitter: "I'm feeling nostalgic. This reminds me of normal debate frustration -- when politicians don't answer good questions and respond with canned mini-speeches. Simpler times."

However, after listening to the debate, thinking about the candidate responses, and reading some commentaries, three points stand out for me regarding the debate and what the candidates said, either verbally or with body language. I think these points will have major negative consequences from various segments of the voting population for the Republican Party. I think these negative consequences will be cementing blocks of voters to vote for the Biden-Harris ticket, even though Pence's steady calmness will reassure some voters.


Pete Buttigieg said on the Steve Corbert after-debate show (at 5 minutes in), "The scary thing is [Mike Pence] is pretty comfortable telling a total lie in a calm, reassuring voice that would make you think that what he was saying was God's honest truth." I think voters will realize that Pence's gift to the Trump-Pence ticket is his ability to calmly state lies that Trump . . . well, trumpets. Pence's denunciation of Harris for saying she wouldn't accept Trump's word that a vaccine for COVID-19 was ready but would also need verification by science is just one example. Pence sidestepped the point--not that science doesn't work, but that Trump is a liar. Another Pence moment related to this: "I think the American people know that this [Trump] is a president who has put the health of America first."


Pence's calm, deliberate delivery worked against him when he attempted to "mansplain" his perspective to Harris and the American people. In a Time magazine piece, "Mike Pence’s Vice Presidential Debate Lecture to Kamala Harris Isn’t Likely to Help Trump With Women," both candidates are called out for side-stepping issues in their answers, but the article notes that Pence's overspeaking and extending his speaking time (and ignoring the moderator, Susan Page), his facial expressions, what he said produced a sense of "condescension and contempt," according to the article's author, Philip Elliott, whose comments in the article about the Trump-Pence ticket's problems with women voters is explained. Another article bashing Pence's behavior and how it will adversely affect the voting of women was The Hollywood Reporter, yes, in an over-stated style that nevertheless made a telling point.

"Pence appeared obnoxious, condescending and not altogether present in the moment as he ran roughshod over the two women on the stage and kept addressing issues the moderator had moved on from. If Trump did his best to get his picture under the definition of 'alpha male' in the dictionary last week, Pence’s portrait might be found under 'mansplainer.'”

Calm Pence/Angry Trump 

The literary term is "foil," a foil being a character in a story that highlights through contrast another character's personality traits and behavior. Pence's deliberate calmness ultimately accentuates Trump's volatility. As Pence spoke about how much Trump cared for the American people, the president had just spent a day tweeting about how pandemic relief was on . . . and off . . . and on--until the obvious truth was seen that no matter what the White House and Vice President thought was happening, it could change in a moment, based on the president's mood. And many are tired of that volatility, senior citizens among them. Retirees in Florida are a good gauge of that fatigue, as seen in articles on the subject. 

"He does not seem to care for truth. Truth is very important to me. He does not check facts," one retired man said. Another Florida retiree said, "They’re concerned about his plans for Medicare and social security of course, but they also didn’t allow their children to behave like this, they don’t allow their grandchildren to behave like this, and they’re very much turned off by it." In a Christian Science Monitor article, another retired voter says, "I’ve never seen this level of mishandling my entire life, and I was around during Richard Nixon and Watergate. This coronavirus situation has just highlighted how inept [President Trump] is."

Irises, Vincent Van Gogh
Ultimately, Pence's delivery style in the debate only serves as a foil to Trump's volatility. His demeanor is like the one white iris in Van Gogh's field of purple irises--the one white iris accentuates the saturation of the purple flowers. As we head into the home stretch of the 2020 election, Pence's one debate with his steady demeanor will only emphasize the stormfront of Trump's behavior--and folks are tired of the needless sound and fury.

People will hear and see what they want to, according to their point of view. After four years of White House lies, intolerance, and a stormy president, one solitary debate where the vice president calmly lies, is serenely intolerant, and who denies with wide eyes the storm raging outside--one debate, I sincerely hope, will not change the tide pulling us toward a more sane and civil time. As a final note, as usual, NPR provides an objective, balanced summary of the debate: "4 Takeaways From The Mike Pence, Kamala Harris Vice Presidential Debate." "The vice presidential debate wasn't likely to change many voters' minds or shift the trajectory of the race, but it showed sharp contrasts between the two parties' agendas for the economy, health care and more." Let's hope for a time of more informative reads and fewer diatribes.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner