Be Prepared


I haven’t done a weekend edition of my blog for quite some time, but I have become sufficiently concerned about all of the conflicting coverage of the Coronavirus to want to present a few of my ideas. I must begin by acknowledging that I am no expert in virology or any other form of medicine. I’m just an ordinary soul who does her best to stay healthy by maintaining certain routines in life. What worries me the most about the outbreak of this novel virus is that even the most accomplished doctors and scientists are still trying to sufficiently understand how it works and what it may do to people who encounter it. As with any uncertainty it would be foolhardy to act as though all is well and we should have no worries, but going to battle with disease is sometimes like going to war with a tyrant. We have to be ready for anything, even the unexpected.

During World War II Great Britain was on the brink of being overtaken by Nazi forces just as France and so many other countries on the European continent had been. Winston Churchill, who was indeed a very imperfect man, wisely counseled the people to “keep calm and carry on,” noting that they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.”

That did not mean that he gave the people a false sense of security. He was always quite honest about the threat that loomed over the country and he urged the populace to be prepared for any eventualities. In other words he had a realistic approach to leadership without creating panic, something that our President and our officials in Congress would do well to emulate with regard to the potential of a pandemic that may or may not threaten the citizens of the United States and the world. Politics should take a back seat to the needs of the people, which means that even if the republicans and democrats despise one another our elected leaders should be working together and supporting plans to react as needed if and when the occasion arises.

We keep hearing all sorts of conflicting information about the Coronavirus but the worst of the advice that is circulating is to be flippant about the disease. Now is the time to prepare just in case the worst fears actually materialize. Without panic, households across the country might consider stocking up on a couple of weeks of food and other necessary supplies. If nothing ever comes to pass, nothing will have been lost. Those items may be used in the normal fashion later on and everybody wins.

My pantry was looking a bit bare and I realized that if an isolation order ever became a reality I would be caught short and have to deal with empty shelves and a state of panic. Instead I added a few things to my shopping cart this week and stored them away for whatever will be. It’s not that I am worried that I will catch the virus and die, it’s simply that I don’t want to be caught in an untenable situation. I bit of caution never hurts.

This week there has been a break in a huge water main in Houston that has affected schools and offices across the city. Everyone is being asked to boil their water. All of this was totally unexpected and most people will be able to cope for a few days, but if for some reason the situation lasted a bit longer I suspect that a state of fear might overtake our city. We can’t always be ready for a situation that suddenly changes things, but when we know that there may be a possibility of something happening, regardless of how remote, it makes sense to be prepared.

I would be far more relaxed about the situation if our various leaders were working together in the spirit of focusing on the needs of the people, but that appears to be a pipe dream. They will no doubt use this occasion to tear down one another for political gain. While they fight over who is best, we can take the lead in our own communities by preparing for any possible scenario and then going about our daily routines with the hope that we will never need the provisions we have made. It’s a shame that our leaders are not showing the way by example but they have gone into their own little world of mortal combat with one another that will one day have to end if our nation is the adequately survive.

There are brilliant minds doing their best to get a handle on how the Coronavirus will ultimately affect humanity. I have every confidence that among them someone will find the answers that we need. For the time being I will be neither too complacent nor too terrified. Instead I will be ready to react as needed. I’ve bought lots of soap to wash my hands and anti-virus cleaning sprays to clean my countertops. I’m also praying for those who have already been affected. They are the unfortunate souls whose experiences with the illness will help to find ways of combating it with the rest of us. My God and the brave caretakers of medicine be with them.

Stay calm, wash your hands, be prepared and don’t give in to fear. Pray that the brilliant among us will figure things out and that our leaders will ultimately understand that this should not be a political football. “Donald and Nancy, we’d like for you to set aside your differences and work for the good of all of us.” That is what will make us feel a whole lot better. Until that happens we will just be prepared.


Speed Limit 75


I suppose that if my life were defined by a traffic sign people might believe that “SLOW” would perfectly capture my current situation, but I suspect that maybe “SPEED LIMIT 75” is a more accurate description. I’ve yet to modulate my daily pace, and I don’t intend to do so until I am no longer able to zip around from one adventure to another. I continually thank the good Lord for my essentially good health and for the energy that keeps me going. I’m simply not ready to sit back and be a senior citizen yet. After all most of the folks vying for the presidency are my contemporaries or even a bit older. Seventy seems to be the new fifty and I’m plan to take full advantage of whatever time that I have to still be vibrant.

I was trying to plan a visit with one of my grandsons and I outlined all of the things that I had to do for the next several weeks. “So much for retirement,” was his response and I had to laugh at my busy schedule. I still teach mathematics to young people ranging in age from seven to sixteen years of age. I’ve been relearning concepts from Pre-Calculus that I haven’t used in so long that they may as well be brand new information. Somehow I’ve been able to keep the little gray cells in my brain operating without too much effort and it feels good to exercise my mind.

I try to close the activity circles on my Apple watch most days as well. I generally keep my rusty knees working in spite of the arthritis that has made doing so more challenging than it used to be. I always feel better after a brisk walk or time spend on weight machines. I hope to keep my body working at top speed as well as my mind even though I sometime see signs that both are slowing just a bit.

I keep a regular schedule that lasts from about six in the morning until eleven at night. I have always had a difficult time sitting still and that hasn’t changed as I have aged. If anything my need to stay active has only increased over time. I suppose that from a psychological standpoint I fear that if I give in to forgetful moments or bouts of pain in my joints that I will slowly erode into a state of disrepair.

There is still so much to see in the world. I pray that the Coronavirus won’t interfere with my travel plans for the next many months. I suppose that if I have one excruciating flaw in my personality it is a tendency to worry excessively. Anxiety has followed me for all of my life, a tendency that I came about honestly from my grandmother, Minnie Bell. If anything does me in it will be my propensity to worry myself into an excitable state of mind. For that reason I keep whirring about like the Energizer Bunny. The busier I am the less prone I am to begin considering scenarios that are unlikely to happen.

Spring is coming and with it my annual cleaning frenzy. I get my garden in tip top shape along with the inside of my home. This year I plan to repaint all of my outdoor furniture before the rust ruins it. I need to clean out closets and get things in order. We’ve been misplacing lots of items of late because everything got stirred around with the Christmas frenzy. It’s no doubt time to rid myself of items that I haven’t used in years as well. Each spring I promise to simplify but never quite go all the way as I should.

Scotland is calling me, but before that I want to take a trip to the mountains with my brothers and sisters-in-law. Somehow I never get enough of those majestic scenes, just as I require a quick visit to New Orleans at least once a year as well. There are places that stir my heart and keep my should happy. Visiting them is like filling a prescription to keep me healthy.

My mother used to urge me to slow down. My teachers complained that I was always tapping a foot or wriggling in my seat. My students laughed at the way I constantly moved around the classroom. I admit to being a big gooey ball of energy that is essentially unable to just sit quietly for long stretches of time. I long ago gave up attempting to be serene. I’ve tried meditating and I just can’t quiet my mind or my body enough to hear my own breathing or heartbeat.

A colleague once offered me an energy drink. I didn’t think I needed it but I was curious to see what it’s effect would be on me. I was soon feeling like a nervous cat. If I’d had claws I do believe that I might have been able to walk up the wall and hang upside down from the ceiling. I don’t need anything artificial to keep moving. Energy is my middle name.

Perhaps the day will come when “SLOW’ will finally be my mantra. I watched my dynamo aunts eventually spend more time sitting than moving around, but they were well into their nineties before that happened. I tend to believe that I still have many 75 miles per hour days ahead of me. I intend to take full advantage of them and be thankful that I still have the energy to zip through life.

Fireside Chats

campfireThere are few things as relaxing as sitting outdoors around a campfire with family members or friends. It’s a bonding experience as old as humankind beginning with the first person who discovered how to make flames burst forth from a few sticks. I can only imagine how mystical that experience must have been when light and warmth burst forth to transform the darkness. Each time that I see a pile of logs ignite I think of that moment and how it was as much a leap forward for mankind as the eventual landing on the moon.

I’ve been camping all over the United States and spent more than a good share of time under the spell of colorful flames and crackling wood. There is something spiritual about sitting under the stars feeling a kind of kinship with the entirety of history. Going back to the basics of existence brings a sense of peace and stability in a world that so often feels as though it is about fall off of a precipice any second. Away from the never ending race of society it’s easier to be philosophical, able to see things as they really are. Sharing such a time with loved ones makes it even more magical.

I have so many fond memories of being with my husband and daughters far away from the distractions that sometimes invaded our family bliss. Around the glowing embers of a campfire it was only the four of us whispering, laughing and feeling as though we were capable of conquering the world. We were free to totally be ourselves, to be honest, silly, however we wished to be. We told stories and dreamed of what our futures might be. There is little that I have accumulated during my existence that is of more value to me than the memories of those nights when we knew beyond any doubt how fortunate we were to have each other.

We liked to take turns telling tales. They might be outrageous, funny or scary. It didn’t matter as long as we allowed our imaginations to run free. I sometimes wish that I had recorded the stories or written them down. It would be so much fun to look back on the wonder of it all with a saved history of our glorious times. Instead I have to rely on memory which often fades over time. All that is left is a feeling that somehow brings me as much comfort as I felt back when the actual adventure was unfolding.

Campfires always seem to bring out the child in me. They tempt me to roast marshmallows and make s’mores, treats that I have never exactly liked but that brings me untold pleasure nonetheless. I love the taste of hot dogs cooked over the flames and potatoes baked in the embers. Everything seems to taste better around a fire. Everything feels more vivid.

It takes patience and a bit of skill to build a great fire that lasts until the night grows old and all of the conversations have stopped. We have a dear friend who is a master of the art. He brings his own wood that has been dried to perfection. He builds a kind of pyramid and uses chips and shavings to get the process started. He makes it appear to be easier than it actually is which always makes me wonder if that first fire was the result of an inventive soul or just a lucky accident. I suppose that we will never know for certain but what a wondrous sight that must surely have been if even I am filled with awe each time that I see the flames burst forth.

There was one particular time around a campfire that lingers in my mind. My youngest brother and his two sons had come with us. The boys were openly disappointed to be roughing it in the outdoors when their real wish had been to spend time at Disney World. They were openly sulking throughout the day as we hiked along trails and viewed scenic vistas. We had visited a tiny bookstore at the end of our activities and I suggested that each person find a book with chapters to share with one another when we built a fire that evening. A bit of excitement ensued as we searched the stacks for something unique.

Later, after we had eaten and prepared our tents for sleeping, we gathered around a fire and began to share our finds. It was so exciting that we lost track of time and continued the readings until the last flames turned into red embers. After that nobody mentioned Disney World again. Instead we anxiously planned each night’s entertainment while we experienced the best of nature during the day. Before long we were creating our own stories which somehow seemed even better than the ones we had read from books. We celebrated the sheer joy of being together and using talents that we had not even realized we had.

I feel for anyone who has never enjoyed the campfire experience. It is ingrained in who we are as humans and until we have done it, we haven’t really lived. Given the craziness of life these day perhaps it might even be a kind of panacea for all that ails us. Go somewhere away from the madding crowd. Make a campfire, have a chat, watch the healing begin.

Explorations of Our Being


What is this mind that we humans have? How does it work and how much of it goes unused because we have yet to tap into the totality of its power? Why is there a disconnect between how I see myself from the point of view of my thoughts and how I really appear in my physical reality? What causes some of our memories to remain vividly intact for all time and others to fade into oblivion? What happens when a mind becomes muddled, filled with extreme sadness, fears or paranoid thoughts? These are questions that have confounded me for years. They are the kind of queries that have guided the thoughts of brilliant individuals and ordinary souls for centuries. Somehow we have obtained more and more of a grasp on our physical being over time but clear knowledge of the complexities of our brains still remains somewhat elusive.

We humans don’t simply react to the world around us. We contemplate it sometimes to the point of obsession. We have an innate desire to dream, analyze and restructure. There is no reason for us to enhance the world beyond our most basic physical needs and yet we do. We don’t simply endure the unfolding of our lives but instead reflect on all that has happened to us, sometimes with joy in such remembrance and sometimes with great sorrow.

Memories are a remarkable aspect of our humanity. We quite often retain vivid pictures of things that we have experienced even decades after they occurred. Ironically the very incidents that we would most like to forget because of the pain that they brought us are sometimes the ones that remain the clearest in our minds. What is it about trauma that etches it so deeply in our psyches?

On the day of my father’s death I was only eight years old and yet I can recall details about every aspect of that horrific event from the time that I awoke to hear my mother weeping until the end of the evening when she and I cried in each other’s arms. I can see colors and hear sounds as though all of my senses were somehow heightened in a way that I had never before experienced. Even more than sixty years later thoughts of that day bring feelings so visceral that they still cause pain.

So too it has been with more generalized occurrences that impacted the whole of society with profound consequences. I know exactly where I was sitting and what I was doing when I first heard of the assassination of President Kennedy. I do not know if we had a Thanksgiving dinner that year but I can tell you where I was and what went through my mind when I watched the president’s funeral procession and witnessed the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald.

I still catch my breath when I think of the planes flying through the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I literally get a flutter of anxiety in my heart when I picture their dramatic collapse. I hear the screams and feel the terror that filled my thoughts in the split second in which I realized the reality of what was happening.

Over the years it has been the most horrific moments that have stayed permanently embossed on my psyche. I am filled with grief when I think of the first time that I truly understood the extent of my mother’s mental illness. It coincided with the first landing on the moon which is only a blur in my mind compared to the recollections that I retain of her pain.

I am haunted by images of the flooding from hurricane Harvey in my beloved city and the aftermath of destruction in the homes of family members and friends. I still get a catch in my throat when I think of how I felt when I saw what had happened after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, a place I think of as a sister city.

So it goes with my memories. I barely recall the details of my college graduation or even my carefully planned wedding but I can describe the tiniest of particulars on the last days of my mother’s life. I wonder what it is about my mind that clings so tenaciously to thoughts of events that I would prefer to forget. What kind of chemical or physical reactions occur in our brains that causes such impressions to stay with us? What is it about our very humanity that stirs us to contemplate such things?

I try not to become too obsessive about such ideas. I purposely busy myself when my ruminating ventures into territory that is too dark and yet I am fascinated by the mere possibilities of unlocking the inner workings of our complex being. Understanding the mind was at one time forbidden fruit. Now we have discovered so much about how it all works and yet there is still so much mystery when it comes to comprehending the most spiritual aspect of our being. Exploring the territory of our very being has been the quest of philosophers, physicians, scientists and theologians and still we are in the dark when it comes to the how and why of our deepest thoughts.


Encounters in a Room

futureI sit across from you in the same room and wonder what it is you are doing. You seem to be intently staring at a slim metal box that lights up both your the area and your face when you set it on your lap and lift the lid. I hear the sound of your fingers tapping in a regular cadence on the surface of the object that is so strange to me. Sometimes I detect sounds coming from where you are sitting but nobody else it there so I don’t understand who is making them. I wish you would sit closer to me so that I might discover what it is that has so captured your attention.

I’m very old and you treat me well. I like the way you smile whenever you glance at me. I enjoy the feel of your hand gently caressing me. I’ve overheard you telling people to take care of me even after you are gone. I appreciate that and I hope that I will be as loved by the next person who takes me to their home as have been by you.

You remind me of a girl I knew long ago. She had the same features as you and she too appreciated me. Back then I was able to do more. I had not yet become as fragile as I am now. I was flawlessly beautiful. Now there are dark spots on my countenance and visible cracks and breaks in my once strong stature. I’ve heard it said that I have grown fine with age but I wish that you might have seen what I once was just as the girl was able to do.

I knew her mother Christina first. I helped Christina and made her smile for a time but she became busy with her family and her endless chores. She had little time to even notice me, but the girl never forget me. When she grew into a woman she took me with her to a new home where we got to know each other better.

I liked to watch her sewing quilts and creating intricate embroidery patterns on tablecloths. She sat humming contentedly as her fingers fashioned magic out of cloth. She was such a sweet and gentle soul and I enjoyed being with her. She and I understood each other, so I was both surprised and a bit worried when she asked you to care for me in her stead. I wasn’t sure how that would work because you were so young and hardly even looked at me.

For a long time I felt lonely and abandoned and then one day you were no longer a child, but a woman with a voice like hers and a face that was more kind than beautiful. You gave me one of the best rooms in the house and came to visit with me every single day unless you were off traveling somewhere. I never spoke to you but I wanted to tell you so much about Christina and the girl. I have a sense that you would like my stories about them if only I were able to tell them. Sadly I do not know exactly how to begin nor do I even have the voice to do so.

Christina’s house was in the woods. The lights that she had were not like yours. They were dim and smelled of candle wax and oil. She hardly ever sat quietly contemplating like you do. I’m fairly certain that she was unable to read. She was a hardy soul who did what she had to do without complaint. Her life was what it was and she was content.

The girl on the other hand worried a great deal. She seemed to dwell on the possibility of tragedy overtaking her life. Maybe that is because it so often did. She was quite young when her first husband died leaving her to raise her children alone in a time when there wasn’t much likelihood of a woman earning a decent living. Even after she met your grandfather she brooded incessantly but she always smiled when she saw me. I hope I reminded her of the times when she was still carefree and both of us were still young.

It broke my heart to see how damaged she was by her son’s death. He was her pride and joy. She never really mended after that. Maybe that’s why she sent me to you. Perhaps she felt that I would be living in a happier place and she not longer had it in her to pretend that all was well. Maybe she merely sensed that something was wrong long before anyone diagnosed her cancer. Anyway she somehow wisely knew that you would be good to me. It’s been quite nice sharing your home with you.

Some people might only see me as an object, and an old one at that. You have never treated me that way. You have always understood that I am an important part of your history and so you cherish me even though I am a shadow of what I once was.

I sit across from you on the wooden secretary that is almost as old as I am. I am silent when I so wish to speak. I once was at the center of family life as I held water or milk for lovely meals. The roses painted on my white porcelain finish were as bright and colorful as the life that I lived back then. Now I am antique whose value lies not in what I do, but in my age. I am confused by a world so different from the one in which I first lived. Times have changed and I do not always understand what is happening around me. It is only because you seem to appreciate me that I feel safe and loved. I am a pitcher, a container, a repository of the love and laughter, sorrow and hard times through which I have existed. Like Christina and the girl you too are now part of who I am. I only hope that one day someone like you will still want me. Perhaps it will be one of those boys or girls to whom you have introduced me. I hope so.