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Friday, September 25, 2020

Trump Has Stated He Will Not Leave the Post of President...

 But surely this is not something that could actually occur is it? Isn't it the raving of a Sociopath? Well actually this scenario could play out because Trump is a master at identifying and manipulating gray areas of law to his benefit and sadly there are so many gray areas with regards to U.S. Presidential elections that this could actually occur. For those who wish to understand in better detail I give you this link Atlantic magazine article available as a video and the link to the accompanying print article for those who prefer to read. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

On the Road to Find Out

"So on, and on I go, the seconds tick the time out, so much left to know, and I'm on the road to find out..." ~Lyrics from Tea for the Tillerman by Cat Stevens

One of the side effects of this pandemic is that we are spending a lot of time at home and consequently looking for things to keep us occupied. These are items I've bumbled, stumbled, and come across on my Internet wanderings. They amuse, fascinate, and/or educate me so I thought I might share them with all of you. I don't remember how I stumbled upon this free daily email. I enjoy a good, long fiction or non-fiction read or educational magazine articles for those moments when I am too tired to get lost in a full story, but I don't like short stories. They leave me feeling hungry for more; empty and unfulfilled. That said, however I do look forward to checking my email and seeing what has offered up for me to consider. These are short excerpts from books on everything from Edward Hopper's paintings, Nixon, Patton and Viet Nam; The Song of Birds; America Puts Aside Civil Liberties; Charlemagne Could Not Read or Write; Britain's East India Company and the Jagat Seth; Religion and the Afterlife; Venerating the Cat; to How Fast Can People Travel on Foot?

Here is what founder Richard Vague and managing editor Clarissa F. Griebel have to say about their service: Delanceyplace is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, and we hope will have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came. And there is not necessarily an endorsement, and in some cases an excerpt may be particularly controversial and we may disagree with some or all of it, but nevertheless deem it worth noting. This is a 'slice of intellectual life" for those of us whose attention span is having difficulties fixing upon one sustained thing for a great length of time, with the option to purchase the book somewhere if the topic moves you. 

Brain Pickings: A weekly email letter from Maria Popova, a Brooklyn, NY intellectual and author with a vast taste for bringing many ideas together for our consideration; hers is a mind where art and science for example, meet and feed one another giving birth to fullsome beauty and great astonishment. I love her choices for my contemplation. The newsletter is free and essay topics have ranged from A Stoic's Key to Peace of Mind: Seneca on the Antidote to Anxiety; The Courage to Be Yourself: EE Cummings on Art, Life and Being Unafraid to Feel; Rap on Race: Margaret Mead and James Baldwin's Rare Conversation on Forgiveness and the Difference Between Guilt and Responsibility; The Silent Music of the Mind: Remembering Oliver Sacks; The Poet of the People Sings Freedom: Carl Sandburg on Transcending the Pride and Vanity That Paralyze Social Justice; 

Popova is an avid supporter of The Universe in Verse, begun in 2017 which celebrates science and poetry. Some of the poets are scientists, and some of the poems are deeply loved verse by well known non-scientists such as Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, and Neil Gaiman. Poems are narrated by the great and the good in science and literature. For the inaugural show in 2017, dedicated to trailblazing 19th century astronomer Maria Mitchell and celebrating women’s underheralded contribution to science, Neil Gaiman delivered something of singular enchantment — a work of lyrical storytelling tracing the history of our species as the sense-making, truth-seeking animal who hungers for knowledge and advances by love. At its heart is an imaginative antidote to women’s erasure from the selective collective memory we call history. Titled “The Mushroom Hunters,” lovingly addressed to Neil’s newborn son Ash, the poem went on to win the Rhysling Award for best long poem and has now been brought to new life in a soulful short film/ Please do yourself a favor and watch this lovely piece of collaborative art. 

If you are looking for excellent gifts for thoughtful youngsters, I suggest The Velolocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader. This fine book is a collection of original letters to the children of today and tomorrow about why we read and what books do for the human spirit, composed by 121 of the most interesting and inspiring humans in our world: Jane Goodall, Yo-Yo Ma, Jacqueline Woodson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Mary Oliver, Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Rebecca Solnit, Elizabeth Gilbert, Shonda Rhimes, Alain de Botton, James Gleick, Anne Lamott, Diane Ackerman, Judy Blume, Eve Ensler, David Byrne, Sylvia Earle, Richard Branson, Daniel Handler, Marina Abramović, Regina Spektor, Elizabeth Alexander, Adam Gopnik, Debbie Millman, Dani Shapiro, Tim Ferriss, Ann Patchett, a 98-year-old Holocaust survivor, Italy’s first woman in space, and many more immensely accomplished and largehearted artists, writers, scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, musicians, and adventurers whose character has been shaped by a life of reading. Accompanying each letter is an original illustration by a prominent artist in response to the text — including beloved children’s book illustrators like Sophie Blackall, Oliver Jeffers, Isabelle Arsenault, Jon Klassen, Shaun Tan, Olivier Tallec, Christian Robinson, Marianne Dubuc, Lisa Brown, Carson Ellis, Mo Willems, Peter Brown, and Maira Kalman. A number of the art pieces are available as prints, with all proceeds also benefiting the public library system.

In the same vein I also suggest Lost Words: A Spell Book which I first came across in 2018. I suggested it as a lovely gift for children of all ages from 9-99 years of age who like to read, and was gifted a copy by a dear friend. The word poems and illustrations by author Robert MacFarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris are engrossing and enchanting. This book is available at and and may be available through your local booksellers. Please check with them first.

The book began as a response to the removal of everyday nature words - among them "acorn", "bluebell", "kingfisher" and "wren" - from a widely used children’s dictionary, because those words were not being used enough by children to merit inclusion. Each acrostic spelling has three accompanying artworks by Jackie Morris–a glorious triptych of watercolor painting–firstly a clever but solemn display of the creature or plant’s absence from our world, then the spell itself accompanied by an ‘icon-esque’ self portrait of the central character surrounded with sumptuous gold leaf, and finally the creature or plant is depicted embedded in its natural habitat. 

So imagine my utter delight to discover there is now accompanying music (Spell Songs) available featuring British folk musicians Julie Fowlis, Karine Polwart, Seckou Keita, Kris Drever, Kerry Andrew, Rachel Newton, Beth Porter, and Jim Molyneux. The music may be purchased as a CD, a digital download or a special vinyl double LP with liner notes in a beautiful mixed media format featuring exclusive new Spells by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris with accompanying new artwork. Also includes new paintings inspired by the Spell Songs musicians and their instruments.

Since I have segued from reading to listening, I must share my stunningly favorite online find: Radio Garden
Radio Garden invites you to tune into thousands of live radio stations across the globe and stream stations online for no additional charge other than your Internet access. By bringing distant voices close, radio connects people and places. From its very beginning, radio signals have crossed borders. Radio makers and listeners have imagined both connecting with distant cultures, as well as re-connecting with people from ‘home’ from thousands of miles away. Listeners can submit stations for inclusion and save favorites to find again easily.

My favorites are The Jazz Groove in San Francisco, California for delectable, eclectic soft instrumental jazz, SOMA Thistle Radio also out of San Francisco featuring Fiona Ritchie from The Thistle & Shamrock hosting her own format 24/7, KQED FM and KALW FM Public Radio out of San Francisco for excellent music, news, and public radio programming, The British Home Front Radio Service out of Doncaster, UK which plays a continual stream of music from 90 years ago during WWI and II, Radio Folk out of Copenhagen, Denmark featuring Danish folk music, SOMA FM Folk Forward out of San Francisco which offers modern folk artists, Giant 91.7 FM Classic Hard Rock out of Welland, Canada for a fix of Cream, Led Zep, The Stones and others, Radio Siamsa out of Dublin, Ireland brings us Irish mostly folk music, NWPR Classical Radio Public Radio station out of Pullman, Washington has the best  streaming of classical music , Arctic Outpost AM1270 out of Longyearbyen, Norway which is jazz oriented, Xorroxin Irratia 88.0FM broadcasting from Lesaka, Spain with fascinating Spanish folk music, and Ambi Nature Radio out of Zurich, Switzerland which provides nature sounds. Still and all there are literally thousands of stations available on Radio Garden I have yet to tap into!

Radio Garden started out in 2016 as an exhibition project commissioned by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision in the context of the research project Transnational Radio Encounters. It was created, designed and developed by Studio Puckey & Moniker. After taking care of the project in the following years, Jonathan Puckey turned Radio Garden into a small independent company in 2019.
Finally I note that the British canals are open for cruising once again. I stumbled upon a website called Lockdown Loos! This is a crowd sourced site so the info is only as good as the information supplied. If you are on a phone the website offers instructions on how to access it via Google Maps on your phone. 
Love Jaq xxx

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Boats and Canals again at last!!

"Long after I have given up, my heart still searches for you without my permission." ~Rudy Francisco

     I dream in the night of being back on NB Valerie, cruising with Les. I hear our voices and the sound of the engine, and the feel of the boat beneath my feet. I dream we are moored up somewhere lovely and green. Les is puttering outside while I am fixing dinner, then suddenly he is standing behind me, his arms around my waist once more, kissing my neck and whispering in my ear, "I Love you Jaqueline Marie Almdale Biggs." Missing Les and missing our life aboard our boat is like a double amputation. The eyes register what is gone but the heart seeks its return and sometimes tricks the brain into believing it is so.
     This Youtube video came across my path this morning and I watched, enchanted by the cut all over again. It is a home movie shot in 1965 of a trip boat leaving Berkhamsted, traveling up across Tring Summit and down the Marsworth flight to the Aylesbury Arm, and then down the Arm to the basin. I recognized it all and I was amazed at how little shown in the movie, had changed in fifty-five years. Les would have loved this. Enjoy!! ❤️❤️

Thursday, July 02, 2020

American Civics and Political Science Lesson for Our Time

There are years that ask questions and years that answer. ~Zora Neale Hurston, American folklorist and author, (1891-1960).

     Awhile back I wrote a blog about the the things I liked best and least about Britain after living there for nearly a decade. I promised British readers I would write a similar post about America, being level handed in my writing about what I liked best and least. Well here is the latter part, as I promised our friend and fellow boater Mike Griffin. I will write another post later about what I like about this country when I can find something to write about. 

     On so many levels this world is clearly in an answer phase, demanding answers to atrocious human behavior on nearly every level that has carried on in this country for five hundred years. We here in the USA, are dealing with so much overwhelming crap on our plate, and many of us find ourselves wishing we could quarantine all the bigots, racists, Christian religious zealots, conservative Republicans, corporate and financial raiders, greedy billionaires, white terrorist groups, along with Donald and Melania Trump and his supporters (yeah I know some of the above groups intersect and overlap) together on Mars forever, although that wouldn't be far enough away for me.
     I remember telling a British friend shortly after Trump was elected to the White House that we were witnessing a coup in action and that America was as close to another Civil war as we had been in those years leading up to April 1861. My friend looked at me rather shocked, refuting my assertion and suggesting I was being an alarmist and my attitude was a bit extreme. I still believe my assertion is true; only a thin black line of ink in the U.S. Constitution is holding this nation together. America was founded on genocide and slavery, the poisons of which foul our country and its politics from then until now, and Americans have been complacent about turning a blind eye to its institutional entrenchment in all parts of everyday American life--but most especially in our religion and politics, cloaked by white fragility and willful ignorance, taught in our schools and churches, enacted upon the lives of people of color in this country as a matter of course because it is written into our laws, and embedded in the American culture and psyche, hand-in-hand with white Christianity. Church and State are complicit in keeping people of color down while lifting white folks up.
     If people think BLM protests are shocking then wait and see what happens if Trump is defeated in November. Things will get really ugly out there because it is already disgustingly nasty. 45's behavior has not only given all the above named groups permission to come out of the shadows and corners of our country, but encourages them to march proud, guns in hand, taking over State capitols, city streets, and expounding their racism in churches, with white impunity while innocent black people--too many of them black boys--are shot in the back for being black in the wrong place at the wrong time and trans people are shot in the street like dogs. Trump supporters feel powerful now and if history has taught me anything, it is that those with power over others will not relinquish it voluntarily. Voting Trump and his administration out of office, voting Republicans who support Trump out of the Senate, these will be seen as the first salvos of the war; it is going to be a struggle of decades to take back this country and re-establish civility and work towards human and environmental rights for all; to regain the precious ground we have lost.
     We are dealing with the most corrupt administration ever to reside in our nation's capitol. While most folks in other countries are disgusted by Trump, they are dealing with stuff in their own countries--Brexit and a pandemic to name two--and the news outlets only cover the most outrageous of Trump's exploits and lies. They are not aware of all the dismantling of public works and Federal law that has taken place by the arbiter of evil sitting in the White House. Since taking office Trump has completed 66 rollbacks and has 34 in progress; Federal laws and programs that protect what I drink, eat, breathe, my rights as a worker,  etc. etc. etc. I will not list them for you ad infinitum because your eyes would glaze over. If you really want to know exactly what we Americans are living with these days you may review the list HERE, printed by the New York Times newspaper.  

      How you may ask, did America lose itself on the way here?
     It was a deliberately planned coup with its initiation by white southern Democrats in the 1960's who switched parties over Kennedy's push for making over society as an enlightened, civil society with regard for the environment, equality, and civil rights. The GOP (Grand Old Party) welcomed the southern bigots and racists with open arms and in that moment it began to signify what the Party really stood for--and what it stood against. "The landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act signaled that the Republican Party would be a home for white voters — especially southern Democrats — unnerved by the burgeoning civil rights movement" (Caldwell, Ch. 2; A Party Divided; July 7, 2016; 
     On March 6, 1961, he (President Kennedy) signed Executive Order 10925 which required government contractors to take affirmative action to ensure all employees are treated equally irrespective of their race, creed, color, or national origin. His Executive Order 11063 of November 1962 banned segregation in federally funded housing. On June 11, 1963, JFK gave his famous civil rights address calling Americans to recognize civil rights as a moral cause. His proposal to provide equal access to public schools and other facilities, and greater protection of voting rights became part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. 
     The Kennedy administration expanded unemployment benefits; aid was provided to cities to improve housing and transportation; a water pollution control act was passed to protect rivers and streams; significant anti-poverty legislation was passed including increase in social security benefits and minimum wage; and the most comprehensive legislation to assist farmers was carried out since 1938 which included expansion in rural electrification, soil conservation, crop insurance and farm credit.
Over the next five decades, as the GOP built a three-legged stool of support from security hawks, social conservatives and fiscal conservatives, white working-class voters, especially men, gravitated toward the party...In order for the GOP to become the Party of Trump it first had to become the Party of Reagan. Many factors led to the rise of Reaganism, including the candidate’s optimistic outlook, celebrity status, and tough stance on national security. Economic and cultural factors played a major role as well: In 1976, with Ford in the White House, unemployment hit nine percent. The post-World War II economic boom had finally slowed, with blue-collar workers facing a disproportionate effect. Simultaneously, the feminist movement had gained momentum, and along with the civil rights movement of a decade earlier, political attention was increasingly focused on minorities and women. That left traditional white, working-class Democrats, whose economic struggles had begun a decades-long decline, feeling out of place in the party. Charles Murray, the controversial social scientist whose 2012 book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, chronicled the growing disenfranchisement of white working-class people, told NBC News that since the civil rights movement, white men in the 1970s had started to become “not only the forgotten voter but also the forgotten segment of the population. (Caldwell, Ch. 2; A Party Divided; July 7, 2016; Bear in mind though that for a segment of the population who felt unappreciated and disenfranchised, white men of any economic status had the most power in America then and now. 
      I read the Nancy Reagan biography Lady in Red by Sheila Tate over two decades ago wherein I learned that Nancy Reagan and her step-father, wealthy, conservative Dr. Loyal Davis were responsible for turning her husband "Dutch" from a questioning Democrat into a staunch Republican in 1962. She was far more of a political animal than he ever was and Ronnie always allowed Nancy to call the political shots. This is vaguely reminiscent of Trump and Melania. It was she who convinced Donald to run for president and who began the orchestrations behind the scenes that led him to the White House, allowing the nation to view her as eye candy and a brain dead cardboard cutout on her husband's arm. She is anything but and we underestimate her at our peril. Nancy adored Ronnie; Melania is only in it for the money and power. 
    Nancy came from wealth and was surrounded by exceedingly wealthy ultra-conservatives throughout her life. Close friends Betsy Bloomingdale and Mr. and Mrs. Walter Annenberg to name only two of the billionaire's who hobnobbed with Ronnie and Nancy (he called her Mommy, reminiscent of Mike Pence who calls his wife "Mother"), their wealthy friends and allies underwrote Reagan's political bid and their lavish lifestyle, buying Nancy and Ronnie a new mansion in which to live in when they helped him get elected as Governor of California. 
     I can grant Ronald some distance from culpability given that he had Alzheimer's, and was no doubt suffering from it for decades before it flourished in full form. If I am going to give Ronnie the benefit of the doubt, I have to then consider that Nancy and her wealthy, conservative circle of friends were complicit in manipulating Reagan to their own ends, just as those in power in the GOP have masterfully manipulated working class white voters to vote against their own interests, to the benefit of the wealthy.
     Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1994. The mild to early phase of Alzheimer's generally takes two to four years, the moderate to middle stage anywhere from two to ten years, and severe or late stage about one to three years. Ronald Reagan was Governor of California from 1967 to 1975. Using the stage definitions above Reagan could have begun experiencing mild Alzheimer's in 1980. He was elected U.S. President in 1981 and re-elected to stay in office until 1989. I thought at the time it was apparent to anyone paying close attention that Reagan wasn't running the show; Dick Cheney had his hand up the back of Ronnie's coat, manipulating his strings while Nancy whispered in Cheney's ear. 
     The GOP's long range plan to take over the government and the country rolled out with gloves off after the election of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1994. If the Republicans are good at anything, it is patience, long range tactics, and gross manipulation of voters by appealing to their emotions and beliefs.
     Gingrich began the wholesale cozying up to the Religious Right--specifically Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics. This is not a case of the left hand knows not what the right hand is doing; this is a case of the left and right hands rubbing each other gleefully while skipping out together to unfurl the new ultra-conservative 
Republican Religious Right agenda propping up the Republican Party, which has proven they will get in bed with anyone who will ensure their rise to the top of politics and power in this country while f***ing everyone else to reach their goals.
     I have been shocked at the manner in which Christians have consistently voted for anyone who will advance their ideological agendas while turning a blind eye to the sick and ugly behaviors, mentality, and lack of character their chosen candidates exhibit. Consider Newt Gingrich standing at the bedside of his then estranged wife Jackie, who had just come out of surgery for what turned out to be a benign lump (she has been diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1978, a fact Newt was happy to capitalize on when running for office), with a yellow legal pad covered with ultimatums and demands that he wanted her to sign off on immediately--while she was only hours out of surgery and still in recovery. He was the advance act for Trump with his p***y grabbing, sociopathic, lying, ego aggrandizing behavior; but hey! Bubba Trump--or should I say Brother Trump--was willing to appoint 200 ultra conservative circuit court judges across this country, and install the same demagogues in the highest court in the land in order to defeat Roe Vs. Wade and overturn legalized abortion. The Republican party mantra is "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" (Barry Goldwater Campaign, 1962).
     For these Christians the end always justifies the means as long as it is their ideological ends being supported. And the sad thing about it is that overturning Roe V. Wade will not stop abortions. It will limit who has access to safe abortions because the wives, mistresses, sisters, and daughters of conservative politicians have always had this access and they always will. It is working class and poor women who will suffer and find themselves trapped in the tyranny of motherhood their lack of wealth and health cannot afford or support. These Christians would have been right at home with the Spanish Inquisition. I know these people because I am related to a whole passle of them. At one time in my early teen years I too attended their church and drank the Kool-Aid until I escaped and managed to find my brain which must be checked at the church door. I know how they think, how they pray, and how they justify their support of Trump. Interestingly though, these same folks are now so embarrassed by Trump they are finally silenced, their tongues sticking to the roof of their mouths, except to mumble, "Jesus said it, I believe it, and that is all I need to know" while crossing their fingers behind their backs in prayers of thanks for all the damage their presidential candidate has done to this country as long as their agenda is legitimized. These same majority white folks are so racially fragile that they fear their entire childhood is undermined with the knowledge that Aunt Jemima is a racist trope and not some nice negro woman well paid and happy to be the face of their breakfast syrup and pancakes, and surely was duly remunerated as a full and equal partner by the Quaker Oats corporation! My, my...
     According to a thought provoking article in the NY Times newspaper last week, "'Gingrich wrote the playbook for it all. The nastiness, the contempt for norms, the transformation of political opponents into enemies. This began forty years ago (1980, Reagan's last term in office as President), with the normalization of personal destruction. The contempt for custom. The media-baiting, the annihilation of bipartisan comity, the delegitimizing of institutions. Gingrich had planted; Trump had reaped,'” writes the Princeton historian Julian Zelizer in the prologue to his forthcoming book, Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of a New Republican Party (Senior, Trump's Napalm Politics? They Began With Newt; NY Times Op-Ed, June 28, 2020). 
     Follow the money...and it will lead you to the inescapable facts above and paint the ugliest of pictures about the underbelly of American culture and society: It isn't just the economy, stupid! That is the veil under which hides the real issue: it's institutionalized racism for economic benefit of some over others. Until we root it out, expose and acknowledge this publicly in all its many disguises, and America expiates for the sin of genocide and slavery in pursuit of the all mighty dollar, we cannot in my opinion, move forward again as a united nation. 

Monday, April 06, 2020

Sis July 28th, 1947-March 6th, 2020

"A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost." ~ Marion C. Garretty

   My big sister, Susan Louise Anderson Muntean,  died March 6th. She was a decade older than me, born in 1947 in Williston, North Dakota. We shared the same mom but different fathers. Sis was fine boned and small in body with a blazing spirit, an enormous sense of humor, and a HUGE temper. One did not ever want to get on her bad side because Sis cast a long shadow for a tiny woman.
   These are some of the things I remember about my sister:
I recall our mom saying once, "Susie was the prettiest little girl. Blond hair, big blue eyes, and a sunny smile. She knew it too. She thought she could charm the birds out of the trees." My sister was a classically beautiful blonde, petite with long hair--never shorter than shoulder length--nice legs, and a lovely figure. Men flocked to Sis like bees to honey.
Sis aged 10 with me, 1957.
   With the ten year age difference, my memories are mostly those of a pesky little sister. I remember when I was about four years old, I was fascinated by my sisters' jewelry, perfume, scarves, and lacy slips. There were three of us, with Sharon being four years older than Sis and fourteen years older than me. We had to share a bedroom and whenever I was put to bed for the night and my sisters were out on a date or visiting a friend, I would go through their jewelry boxes, try one their slips, drape their scarves around my neck and spray myself with their perfume--and fall asleep with all the evidence on! I look back now and wonder how on earth they put up with me.
   I turned four in 1961 and it was about that time when skin tight jeans and long, straight hair was all the rage. Sis had a summer job and she bought herself several pairs of new Levis which were nearly too small for her. She managed to work herself into them by lying down on the bed, sucking in her stomach until it nearly touched her back bone, and doing up the buttons. Then she filled the bathtub with steaming hot water, laid down in it with her new Levi's on, and let them soak until they shrunk right to her body. She got out and wore them until they dried. It was a little sister-big sister conspiracy. She bribed me with Tootsie Roll pops not to tell mom, who would've been pissed.
Sis about age fourteen.
   I remember Mom saving the large cardboard cans that frozen orange juice concentrate came in so Susan could roll her hair on them and have board-straight locks. She looked so goofy walking around the house in her chenille bathrobe and fluffy pink slippers with ginormous orange juice cans bobby-pinned to her head!
   Sis hated doing chores. She ran the sink full of scalding hot water, then sat in the living room with a Photplay magazine reading about the stars while the water cooled off. Hours later the water was cold, the dishes were still dirty, and Sis was in trouble. Susan also took turns with our older sister in babysitting me--another chore she didn't like. For awhile on her nights (our mom worked nights cleaning airplanes out at Anchorage Airport, when it was a simple Quonset hut), Susan would either get her date to pay or she would use some of her own money and take me to a place called The Kitty Drop. It was about five blocks from where we lived and it was a place working parents left their kids. I remember it was dark and full of cribs. I was put into a crib and left there to cry myself to sleep until Sis came back for me. When mom found out what was going on, Sis got into deep trouble. From then on when it was her turn to babysit, Susan would take me with her on her nights out, clearly not telling Mom what she was doing. I remember going to a teenage dance place called the Cinnamon Cinder. It was just a dingy hall with folding chairs around the walls and bands playing music. The alcohol-free dance club for teenagers opened in 1962. Owned by KRLA disc jockey Bob Eubanks, the club spawned a TV show, a national chain of teen clubs and a hit record by the same name as the club. A year or so later after Sis got her driving license and Mom managed to buy her an old 1950 brown, cloth-top convertible, Sis would make me up a bed on the back seat with my pillow and a blanket, and we would cruise downtown. I remember the traffic lights changing color, and Sis playing music on the Radio: Sugar Shack by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, The Beach Boys singing Surfin' USA, Blue Velvet and Blue on Blue crooned by Bobby Vinton, My Boyfriend's Back by The Angels, Peter Paul & Mary singing Puff the Magic Dragon and Blowin' in the Wind, The Four Seasons demanding in harmony that we "Walk Like a Man, Walk Right In by the Rooftop Singers, Sam Cook telling us all about Havin' a Party, Be My Baby crooned the Ronettes, and Nat King Cole singing Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer.
   I recall too when KENI radio broadcast from the roof of the Bun Drive-in on Northern Lights Blvd. The Varsity Show with Ron Moore as host was all the rage with Anchorage teens. Sis used to plunk me down on a red leather spinning stool inside the Bun at the curved Formica counter, order me a small burger, fries and a Pepsi, and tell me to stay there until she came back. Susan would disappear up the stairs to the roof and dance to the  music. I remember sneaking up and watching her do the Mashed Potato, The Cross Fire and The Pony. Sis was the best dancer there and the prettiest too and the music was fab: The Loco-Motion by Little Eva, Do The Mashed Potatoes by The Fabulous Echoes, and Bony Maroni by Larry Williams. Sis introduced me to Rick and Roll when it was all the new rage. I recall waking up on Halloween morning in 1962 to the radio playing on the bedside table between our beds. As we lie there in the October dark a funny new song debuted: The Monster Mash. We listened fascinated, laughing together at the lyrics. We used to walk everywhere throughout Spenard which was originally a 160 acre homestead of a  man name Joe Spenard. Our tiny home was located 2.3 miles south of the city of Anchorage. Across the street from where we lived was a wall of solid forest that ran seven miles east to the foothills of the Chugach mountains and eleven miles north from Merrill Field air strip, South to Rabbit Creek Road. We used to walk up to the new Caribou Ward's department store on the corner of Spenard Road and Northern Lights Boulevard. Next door was a Woolworth's and it had a cafe inside. A couple times a month either mom or Sis would walk with me to Woolworth's and I would get a cup of Campbell's vegetable soup  and an orange sherbet ice cream cone. I was about two or three at the time. 
Map of Anchorage, Alaska. The yellow highlighted area is Joe Spenard's original homestead site. The turquoise line encompasses everything that was forest when we were children. I not talking about lightly wooded areas but thick forest that stretched seven miles from our home on the corner of 36th Ave, and Arctic Blvd.  and the foothills of the Chugach mountain directly east, and elven miles north form Merrill Field air strip south to Rabbit Creek Road. The light green square under Dimond Blvd, is where the Hideaway Club is located. It was the ONLY thing located on this road when we were kids. The small bright blue dot on 35th Ave where the yellow highlight meets the turquoise line is where we lived. The two large green boxes on the far right are the forested acres where the girl and boy scout camps were located--way out of town!
  One time Sis made Mom so angry she was put on restriction; for three months Susan could not go anywhere, see anyone, or leave the house. She had to do her chores to Mom's satisfaction, babysit me...and work on patience. One morning two months into her sentence, Sis decided she would super clean the kitchen as a last ditch effort to get a reduced sentence. When Mom walked in the door after work, she looked around at the sparkling kitchen and spotless floor as she hung up her coat. When she turned around Sis popped out of the hallway, bent from the waist, head turned cockeyed, hair streaming down and arms hanging loose. She said in a kind of odd, zombie like voice: "Maaaooottthhher, pleeeeeze will you let me out of the house now?" as she swung her arms and shambled sideways towards our mother who, taken by complete surprise, burst out laughing--the one and only time I ever remember hearing our mother laugh until I was nineteen years old. It worked and Sis was sprung from house arrest.
   I recall spying on Sis and her boyfriend Tom when he brought her home from dates and they stood kissing on the porch and how utterly heartbroken Susan was when Tom was drafted and left for Viet Nam. She pledged to wait for him, but it was far better to be gone from our house than caught in it when Mom and our step-father Bill were drinking and fighting, which could be any and all nights of the week and all day on a weekend, and Sis was soon caught up in Spenard night life. I didn't realize until I was a young woman myself, that Sis was fair game for beatings along with our Mom, but not me. For some reason we will never know, Bill wouldn't beat a child. He might grab you up by your ankle, peel off his thin leather belt and whip you all over until you were crying so hard you stuttered for hours afterward, but he saved his fists and steel toed boots for women, which was any female in his house that bled every month.
   As soon as Susan could drive she was gone most of the time. Occasionally when our parents had friends over for a party, Sis would stay and have a beer with them until things got out of hand; then she slipped quietly out the door and was gone, my eyes following, wishing I could go with her instead of being left behind in hell.
   I know some of the things that happened to my lovely sister out late at night roaming the streets of Anchorage at age fourteen, fifteen and sixteen, when she should have been home in bed asleep, had  our home been a happy, loving place. I won't divulge those stories because they are hers--not mine--but I do know they are not pretty. Alaska has always attracted male predators and the ratio has always been eight men to every woman in Anchorage. I recall having to walk the gauntlet of perverts trolling low and slow in their cars, fondling their tackle in anticipation during the endless sunny days of summer when all the neighborhood kids walked a mile and a half to go swimming at Lake Spenard. I remember Sis telling me, "No matter what, you never ever go up to their cars when they call you. Do you understand me?" She would give my skinny little body a good shake to underscore the importance of her words.
Cousin Joanne with Mom, 1970's.
   Sis looked after me in her fashion.
   I recall listening to Susan and our cousin Joanne Plimpton Reinnikka reminiscing over coffee one afternoon when we were all old enough to have children of our own. Joanne and Sis were thick as thieves, very close but they didn't see each other often because Joanne lived way across town from us. To know Cousin Joanne was to love her. She had sparkling brown eyes, dark hair, and a ten-thousand watt smile, and when Jojo laughed the world came along for the ride. Sis said, "Joanne do you recall that winter evening when we put Jackie on your sled and we were pulling her down the street behind us as we chattered like magpies? We had stayed out sledding too long and it was getting dark."
   "Oh Susan, I remember thinking the sled felt awfully light to pull and we turned around laughing and there was Jackie all bundled up in her baby suit half a block back in the middle of street waving her arms and legs in the snow! We were so lucky no cars had come along. God was really watching over us."
   "Oh Joanne--when I think of it now my heart goes to my throat, but we were just silly little girls out playing in the snow, laughing and having fun. We didn't realize how dangerous things were at that moment."
Sis and me, aged 27 and 17, 1975.
   Sis was the one I went to for information on birth control, sex, and dealing with life in general. She was my confidant with whom I shared all my firsts, and she opened her home and made a bed on her couch for me more times than I can count when life in the continual front line of household terrorism became too much for me to cope with.
   Susan married when I was twelve and she gave birth to my niece Brandy the day after my 13th birthday. I was mesmerized by "our" baby and I loved babysitting for Sis. She is my favorite niece and I loved spending time with her and her mom. Sis trained as my childbirth coach for my first pregnancy.
   As the years passed our lives grew apart, but we still managed to make some fabulous, funny memories--ones that I alone am left to remember now. I am so glad I visited Sis last May. We hadn't seen each other for twenty five years--not since our Mom's memorial service. Sis led a hard life due to alcoholism and prescription drug addiction. There were so many things in her childhood if one can even call it that--which left deep trauma in her soul; so many demons chasing her through the snow.
  When I was four, we lived on Doorbrandt Street in a wonky little gray house. I loved it because for the first time I could recollect our Mom seemed happy. She would sing as she put groceries away: "Today is the day they give babies away with a half a pound of cheese--absolutely free-a half a pound of cheese!" Mom baked on her days off and she and Bill were still in the new stage of their relationship, not married but co-habitating. Mom had managed to divorce my alcoholic father and I think she believed then, that her life had a slim chance of being happy. Bill decided one late winter weekend that we were going winter camping. I don't remember any other details about that weekend which is strange for me, because I am our family's collective memory and I have memories that stretch back to when I was six months old according to my Mom. What I do remember is that Sis didn't want to go camping with us. At fourteen she would rather stay home where it was warm, and watch TV. Bill talked Mom into letting Susan stay on her own. I remember Mom turning on the porch light and how it created illuminated pools of warm yellow light across the shadowed snow berms and black night. I can close my eyes and hear Mom telling Sis to be sure and lock the door behind her, while she grabbed my arm because there was a huge chunk of ice built up on the threshold to the door. Then we turned, got in the VW bug and drove away.
   Mom and Sis thought the door was shut tight and locked but the ice on the threshold was just enough to keep the door from locking. Susan fell asleep on the couch in her cotton nightgown. She woke in the dark with a man's hands around her throat, choking her. He had women's stocking pulled over his head, distorting his features. Susan fought for her life, managed to break the man's hold, jump over the back of the couch and was out the door in a heartbeat, running barefoot down Doorbrandt street at 3:00 AM in minus 10 degree weather, looking for a house with a porch light on, looking behind her to see if the man was chasing her. She pounded on doors until someone woke and answered.  We moved out of the little grey house shortly afterward, to the house on McKinley Ave. where life grew bitter and angry; a twisted seed watered with alcohol and violence, punctuated with knives and guns, our Mom calling for help whenever Bill beat her.
   Sis had never had any form of counseling for the terrible trauma she survived. Back in 1961 no one even heard of mental health or trauma counseling or knew that such events could cause PTSD. Sis always maintained that her attacker was someone she knew. She couldn't see his face but she knew his voice. He was never found and Susan spent a lifetime living in Anchorage, fearing he would return. She could never again bear to be alone at night and she began drinking to shut down her fear.
   I also knew Sis had never talked with anyone about how horrible our childhood was. People back then simply didn't discuss such things, and certainly not when the abuser threatened to make sure you wouldn't wake up in the morning if you told anyone what went on in our house. So part of my visit last summer was to bring up our childhood and open Pandora's box. I wanted to give my sister the gift of acknowledgement: recognition of the facts as we remembered them individually and together, and permission to speak about those terrible things, to weep, get angry, and be sad and let it out. Susan carried that awful burden from age five to age seventy two and I wanted to find some way to help her lighten the burden.
   It was good, our visit. We did all of the above, revisiting some of our favorite memories together too. We were so lucky to live in Spenard when we did--before "civilization" arrived, cut down the forests, paved everything over, Anchorage swallowed up Spenard, and flat-landers from the lower forty eight states moved up in the many thousands to escape their suburban nightmares and turned Anchorage into the same soulless urban landscape they left behind.
   We both love Led Zeppelin and we put on their music and danced, two old ladies feeling the weight of decades falling away, young and beautiful again for the length of a song. We also made new memories with plans for a few more. We went shopping together and I introduced her to Lush. We played Gin Rummy in the evenings, while listening to a host of good rock and roll which I made for her from my computer music library.  I met her best friend Kim and her husband. We all had dinner together, reminiscing about having moms who were school lunch ladies, and the Good Friday Quake in 1964, and growing up in Spenard. Susan and I went for walks and talked about a world of ideas, laughing like crazy, sarcastic old women do when they have seen it all. I am so grateful to have countless wonderful memories of Sis that make me smile through my tears. I've never laughed harder in my life than with Sis and Les. I carry them both in my heart.
   Susan was going to come down to Gresham in June to visit for a few weeks. I called her a week before she died and we talked for over an hour, singing The Witch Doctor song to each other and laughing like giddy girls; "Ooh-eee-ooh-ah-ah-ting-tang-walla-walla-bing-bang!" We were planning to visit the ocean together. We wanted to rent a yurt and camp out with my daughter Sparky,  my daughter-in-law Kelli, and my foster daughter Mary. We planned to smoke a bowl, eat some good grub, do a bit of hiking, lots of laughing, and enjoy the seashore...but it was not to be. I only hope Sis' death was quick, painless, and her spirit has risen with joy to find a place far better than we knew in this world.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

I Cannot Help But Wonder...

"Suddenly she realized that what she was regretting was not the lost past but the lost future, not what had not been but what would never be." ~F.Scott Fitzgerald, American Author, 1896-1940

  The quote for this post and it's title refer to Les. In the final months of his life Dear Sir wondered often about what amazing and wonderful things the future without him would herald. There is no way he ever considered the future marred by global climate change and a pandemic. I do find myself having conversation with him now, in my head.
   "What do you think about the current state of affairs my love?" I see his spirit looking at the world from wherever it may be now, considering a much larger picture than I can see from my own myopic viewpoint. I suspect Les would be shocked and terribly saddened, frightened for those he loves, and angry. Were he still alive we would be on board NB Valerie and he would feel as I do, that living aboard on the cut is one of the safest places we could possibly be during a pandemic. With his near encyclopedic knowledge of the canals Les would have chosen the best place for us to fetch up in order to wait things out, move once a week to fill with water and empty the rubbish, and get groceries delivered. We would have faced the fear and uncertainty together gathering strength from each other.
   Meanwhile my friends and loved ones on boats have issues of their own to contend with; the ubiquitous usage of the towpath by non-boaters for jogging, bicycling, and walking groups along with dog walkers all crowding in along a narrow towpath to escape the lock-down and get some fresh air and exercise. Never mind they pass within two feet of people on boats who need to get off and on unimpeded and attempt to do so while obeying the six foot self-isolation rule. After all boaters aren't real people are they? Its only a puppet!! (Brits will know to what exactly I am alluding with this statement!)
   I always found it comical when Les would bring us in to moor somewhere that appeared to be way out in the country and by the time we had properly moored up at least eight people and their dogs would walk past on the towpath, and that was on a weekday in mid-morning! I've been woken many mornings by townies standing out on the towpath by the boats, dogs running loose to piddle while their owner takes that moment at 6:30 AM to call someone and have a conversation loud enough to be heard five boats down, completely oblivious to the fact that people actually are on those boats, curtains closed, asleep in bed--or they were before the dog walker decided to have a conversation on the cut.  Below is the latest poster from Canal River Trust (CRT) regarding this issue:

   My email inbox receives a daily news update from the New York Times newspaper. Yesterday's update included a link called The Great Empty, of photos taken around the world of famous cities and sites eerily empty of human beings.
   Looking online I came across a Youtube video someone filmed of seven minutes on a double-decker bus through London's Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, and Oxford Circus. I am familiar with this route as Les and I traveled it by bus quite a few times on our three forays into London by boat. This was filmed two days ago. It was seeing London so empty that got me to thinking about Les. Having been born and raised in Paddington (West London), Dear Sir loved showing me the great city and I loved finding new things that surprised him. I can imagine Les' face, watching the video with me, astonished and shocked at the empty streets and the abandoned feeling at Westminster Underground station which usually has people boiling up out of it like ants out of a giant underground mound. Nearly nine million people live in The Big Smoke and one million more commute in and out daily with 2.56 million cars licensed in London. No trouble getting a seat on the bus these days!
   For Americans reading this blog who have never been to Britain, I urge you to pay careful attention to the signal lights. There are three sets of lights for each direction, mounted on three different posts on each side of the street! British signal lights turn green-yellow-red-yellow-green. Why the extra yellow you might ask? I was told it was to signal the driver that the light was about to turn green! I could not for the life of me understand why this was necessary until I discovered that British drivers are supposed to use their parking brake each time they stop.
   Notice the lack of street signs with actual names of streets in plain view, and how directions are written on the lanes. Notice too how narrow the streets and the buses appear! The video begins with Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament across the Thames on the left. Watch this in full screen view so you can stop it to really look at things as the journey presses on. Look closely and you will see signs about half way up on the outer walls of buildings at each junction or intersection, which is where the actual street names are located. See if you can easily spot crosswalks in the video. In London they tend to be at the top of the lanes by the signal lights but everywhere else they are located back down the lane before the actual intersection.

Notice how quiet things are on the bus, and how stunningly free of litter and clean the streets are without humans everywhere. Below is a video of what Oxford Circus Underground station is usually like!

   Finally I leave you all with a link to The Londonist. It's a great blog to follow for all things London. Today's posts offers a link to their free Youtube channel with all kinds of interesting videos about London's floating village, secrets of The Victoria Line (Underground), a search for 221B Baker Street for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson fans, a look at Europe's largest Sikh temple, London's old and new pagans, the secrets of Borough Market, and several other very entertaining and informative videos. Stay safe, stay well!
Love Jaq xxx
Mona takes a personal break while the museum is closed! :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Grocery Roulette

“Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like.” Lemony Snickett, pen name of American writer and musician Daniel Handler

   How are things where you are??? Here in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) of the United States, the Army National Guard has been called in to assist Washington State with its pandemic response, along with California, and New York over on the eastern seaboard. We in Oregon are under a Shelter-in-place order with 30 days in jail and a $1200.00 fine possible although that will occur as a last resort.
This became necessary as people incomprehensibly got into their vehicles and flocked to sites of natural beauty like Multinomah Falls and the coast, 98 miles away, to hang out in the several hundreds, because you know, if you are on a suggested self-isolating order in your county why not drive to another county and take a chance at sharing Covid-19 with them? I know the same thing occurred in Britain yesterday, for the same reason.
   I found it necessary to go out for groceries yesterday. I checked online and Safeway opened at 6 am, Fred Meyers at 7 AM. I opted for Safeway and at 6:15 AM I pulled into the car park in the pre-dawn dark. The doors were locked and a note said they would not be opened until 7 AM as they are using the hour from 6-7 in the morning to clean and disinfect the store each day. I looked inside and I could see employees wiping down everything is sight. I should have just waited there...
   I allowed impatience to guide me a fifteen minute drive through downtown Gresham to Fred Meyers--a large box store. There were only seven of us waiting in the car park at 6:30 AM. By 6:50 the entire side of the parking lot was full of cars. People parked in the pearly grey dawn, got out with their shopping bags and I noticed three distinct things: they were all senior citizens, many were disabled, and most wore either masks, gloves, or both. Then a curious thing happened. These vulnerable people clustered at the locked doors of the store in a large group! It was eerily like a scene from Dawn of the Dead Zombie Apocalypse.
   I waited ten minutes until most of them had disbursed and then grabbed my grocery bags and headed inside. It took me about thirty minutes to fill my cart and buy some of what I needed. The shelves were mostly still empty; only four packages of boneless, skinless chicken limited to 2 packages per person. Plenty of packages of chicken wings, legs and thighs with the skin and bones still in them.
   I discovered that women and men maneuver their shopping carts differently. Women are more careful. They look to see who is around them and gently swerve around each other. Men just plow through assuming they have the right-of-way. As I was standing in front of a mostly empty shelf looking for tinned fish, a man without a mask or gloves squatted down very close to me, brushing my leg as he reached for something on the back of a bottom shelf.
   "Hey! You are too close, Please move back."
   "Gee," he said as he scratched his head, "I didn't think about that."
Really???? I got the hell out of there ASAP and decided to swing by Safeway near our apartment for the missing grocery items on my list. I drive down Powell Boulevard and usually turn left on Powell Loop to take the shortcut back home. The Loop was blocked by multiple police vehicles with fire trucks and EMT rigs behind them. I carried on to Safeway and was pleasantly surprised. The store was nearly empty, the air was redolent of disinfectant, and the shelves and coolers were fully stocked. As I shopped I noticed employees removing the skirting panels on refrigeration units and disinfecting underneath and behind them. Safeway has instituted a Tuesday and Thursday 7-9 AM shopping time for seniors and other vulnerable people. I brought latex gloves with me and I put them on after I loaded my groceries on the belt to pay for them. I pulled my debit card out of my wallet , inserted it into the machine with my left hand, punched in my phone number, said no to a donation, and no to cash back, and then punched in my PIN with my right hand. I pulled my card out with my left hand and returned it to my wallet, and then removed both gloves to load my bags into the cart. I have no idea how often those debit card reader machines are cleaned but I wasn't taking any chances!
   I took the back way to our apartment; as I turned onto Pleasant View Drive, I looked back down towards Powell Loop and a school bus was pulled off the road, hazard lights blinking with a road hazard sign blocking the lanes. Beyond it were scores of Police, Firefighters and EMTs in clutches around their vehicles. I looked for news of the incident later on but never did find out what had transpired.
   Back at the apartment I unloaded groceries and the girls took them inside while I parked. I sprayed my hands with sanitizer, opened the apartment door, sprayed the outside handle, closed the door, sprayed the inside handle and my hands again. I pit my coat and my clothes in the wash and took a hot shower. I have a dry cough--but I've had it for several months along with a slightly phleghmy cough I always have every morning due to post nasal drip, but I find myself monitoring the rest of my body responses throughout each day. This is the first time in my entire life when I have been frightened to enter a grocery store, aware that my actions and my choices could result in my death or that of someone I love.

Thursday, March 19, 2020


"I don't think pandemics make us afraid of death, I think they make us afraid of oblivion. They force us to grapple with the futility of effort. Also they make us barf which isn't fun either. Wash your hands, cover your coughs, and find a way to hold in balance, the futility of effort with the necessity to struggle." ~John Green, American author (Looking For Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars).

   Without an adequate response an epidemic can develop into a pandemic, which generally means it has spread to more than one continent. An important thing to remember is that people and gorillas, horses, duikers, pigs, monkeys, chimps, bats and viruses: we are all in this together. It is time for humanity to let go of the ancient idea that we are somehow separate from nature. Covid-19 is not a wake up call; we are way past that. The majority of humans have not been paying attention. We are now, but too many are waking up to the wrong reasons and behaving like the virus that is hunting us.
   Thursday March 12th I listened to an emergency radio broadcast featuring the Governor of the State of Oregon, the Oregon State Public Health Officer, and the Mayor of Portland. We were told that all schools were closing, self -isolating was required, and electric, water, sewer, and rubbish will stay on whether or not folks could pay their bills. The White House also released a notice that the country was now functioning under a national emergency. It was time to get serious about Covid-19.
   I had been seeing and hearing reports of panic buying and hoarder shopping taking place in various countries already struck by the virus and in some States here as well, but I shrugged it off reasoning that if I didn't panic and waited a few days, common sense would no doubt prevail and I could calmly go about my weekly shop for the four of us. With the emergency notice, I decided on Friday the 13th to go out early and get groceries for the week. I vastly over-estimated my Gresham, Oregon neighbors. a light snowfall over night and that morning didn't help.
   Portlandians and their suburban neighbors absolutely melt down if there is 1/8th of an inch of snow on the ground. That alone will trigger panic buying at Coscto. As I cautiously set off on the main road I was shocked as people drove like they were drunk; weaving around other vehicles gong slower, and speeding way too fast in a 35 MPH zone down hill with wet snow accumulating. I drove the quarter mile to Safeway grocers and the parking lot was rammed! I joined the queue and finally pulled in to a parking space. I grabbed my bags, locked my car and walked into the store.
   There were no shopping carts left! The last one was being fought over by a young mom with two small children, from whose hands a large, beefy bloke was trying to wrest it. People coming in behind me went to her aid. I continued into the store and headed for the toilet paper aisle because we actually need a six roll pack! I walked into hell. People had their faces covered with scarves, bandannas, and medical masks, panic shining form their eyes like a fever. They were bumping into others with their cart, shoving, and knocking down aisle displays. There was shattered glass and splattered food in almost every aisle, with store employees frantically attempting to keep people from driving their carts down those aisle and through the mess. I quickly left and decided to drive to Fred Meyers which is a large box chain grocers. It was exceedingly crowded there too but controlled chaos ruled, with store employees out in the aisles to assist and to keep an eye on behavior.
   No loo roll at all! As I stood looking at the bare shelves, a woman came up next to me and surveyed the scene. We began chatting about how ridiculous this hoarding behavior was; how that behavior was now forcing those of us who were attempting to remain calm into buying more than we needed immediately as well, in case others simply stripped the stores bare. I said I guessed I would try Coscto next. She replied, "Don't bother; I just came from there. You know things are serious when Costco's shelves are empty." All right then...
   I rolled my cart over to the diaper aisle and decided to stock up in baby wipes. There were two shelves left. A couple came up behind me and the wife said, "Oooh! baby wipes will work in place of toilet paper." Her husband sighed and said, "No honey we can't use those; they don't flush." I said a quiet prayer of thanks as they moved on. I stopped using loo roll years ago, only using compostable baby wipes and I always place them in the rubbish bin and empty it regularly. I bought $40.00 worth of baby wipes for our two bathrooms and four people. The pack of 56 wipes I would pay £1.00 for in the U.K. sells in the U.S. for $3.59 each, which quickly adds up when buying a case.
   I was shocked at the empty aisles: no kitchen roll, tissue, bottled water, bread, convenience foods such as canned chili, and Kraft Mac and Cheese, Ramen, pasta, milk, prepared spaghetti sauce--all shelves were empty. People were lined up by the fresh meat section because the entire frozen meat and chicken section was bare. I considered the situation and noticed that no one was buying the Bison meat so I stocked up on ground, steaks, and roasts, with a few other essentials; plenty of fresh fruit and veg too, and I cook from scratch so we will be okay. I guess this is a time to consider Crohn's disease a blessing in disguise because the Gluten Free and vegan products remain on the shelves.
   That evening my foster daughter Mary went out to look for loo roll, two percent and lactose free milk, and cat food. She had to visit four stores to get everything. She picked up two-20 lb. bags of food for the cats and my daughter-in-law Kelli ordered two bags of specialty dog food online as the dog has multiple allergies. We also stocked up on cat litter, keeping some of the extras in our cars for storage.
   Each day now we all check the latest news upon waking. My daughter Shiery works four 12 hour shifts a week as a medical technician at an assisted living facility with a frail at-risk population. Her usual commute time is forty minutes to drive fifteen miles. Nationwide now the emergency law is that no visitors are allowed at these facilities except medical personnel or families if it is end-of-life. Shiery fears that a mandatory lock-down will be called while she is at work. The governor of Oregon announced last night that she is considering this very step. Shiery is also at-risk herself with two auto-immune diseases and Diabetes. My daughter-in-law Kelli works as a pharmacy technician for a large wholesale pharmacy chain which fills large orders for assisted living facilities. She has a an hour commute across the I-205 bridge and over the Columbia River to Vancouver, Washington, across the river from Portland. We fear that Washington or Oregon will close their border while Kelli is at work and she will be stuck away from home. She too is part of the at-risk population with Type I Diabetes, asthma, and Psoriatic arthritis. As far as that goes, I am also at-risk for being older and having two auto-immune diseases. I keep my trips outside to a minimum, grocery shopping early in the morning or late at night when it is least busy. 
   I went out last night at 8 pm to round up my week's shopping. There were only a handful of us in Safeway; all older or disabled. We were all smiling at each other as we politely kept our six foot distance, carts swerving gently around one another, folks patiently waiting down the aisles for other folks to get something from a shelf and move on. As I was stopped in an empty aisle to find Parma strained tomatoes, I suddenly felt someone right behind me. I whirled around to find a young 20-something on her phone, obtusely focused in on looking for a product, right at my knees. I wanted to shout, "FFS back up and give me my six feet you self absorbed child!" I gave her a look and quickly moved on out of the aisle.
   Viruses are tricky things. They are not really alive. They can build a protective outer walls around themselves and go dormant--sometimes for thousands of years--until just the right environment presents itself and then they magically wake up, open their border walls and begin infecting hosts and they are constantly evolving as they exchange DNA with prospective hosts. I figure I am going to contract it at some point along the way. Let us hope Covid-19 evolves into something less virulent and not more deadly. There are news reports already that Influenza H1N2 is now stalking those that are recovering form Covid-19 but whose lungs are still fragile.
   In the meantime there are blessings to be discovered in all this. With the world population either in hospital or cocooning itself in mandatory isolation, and the lack of world traveling and tourism, nature is beginning to show us how it can recover when humans are not overwhelming and assaulting the environment constantly. The canals of Venice are clear once more. Venetians can see fish swimming in the water, and swans and dolphins have returned. In China, people can actually see blue skies for the first time in years without the ubiquitous clouds of pollution that blanket the country. In Italy, France, Spain and China people can again hear birdsong in city centers.
   As we stay home and self isolate I offer you these virtual ideas for entertainment, enjoyment, and stretching of your minds:

1.The NASA Media Library: the entire media library of NASA--all photos and videos, are available for free online. Indulge the budding astrophysicist in yourself or entertain your inner star seeker!

2. Story Time From Space! Check out this amazing online site that has astronauts at the Space station reading children's stories such as Astronaut Annie, Kalifa and Ahmal Go to Space, Max Viaja a Marte, Lucian Braving the Deep, and other interesting titles. This is a great site to entertain kids.

3. 500 Museums! There are five hundred museums around the world aavilable for you to wander through online, including the British Museum in London, The Guggenheim in New York, The National Art Gallery of Washington DC, the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, The National Musem of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, Korea, The Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, The Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Brazil, and the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City!!!

4. Seattle Symphony Live Broadcasts. This web site offers information and schedules of shows/music as well as how to view the live performances on Youtube and FaceBook.

5. Open Culture! Open Culture brings together high-quality cultural & educational media for the worldwide lifelong learning community. Web 2.0 has given us great amounts of intelligent audio and video. It's all free. It's all enriching. But it's also scattered across the web, and not easy to find. Our whole mission is to centralize this content, curate it, and give you access to this high quality content whenever and wherever you want it. This website offers free access to 1500 free online courses from top universities, 1150 free movies online including classics, film noir, Indies, Westerns and many more! You can access 1000 free downloadable audio books, 800 free ebooks for Kindle, iPad and other devices, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), many of which leads to certificates or statements of completion though not degrees. A "$" indicates that the course is free, but the credential costs money. Learn 46 languages online for free and access 200 free kid;s educational resources with video lessons, books, apps, websites and more.

6. The National Film Board of Canada. To access free films please find the word AVAILABILITY on the page tool bar and click the arrow so the menu unfolds. "Free" is one of your options. Currently this site offers free short films (5-30 minutes) featuring First Nations and Native Americans under Indigenous Cinema. This is a fabulous resource, especially for those of us who like documentary films.

7. The Paris Opera! From 17 March, the Paris Opera will be putting its most beautiful shows from its archives online free of charge. From Don Giovanni to Swan Lake and The Tales of Hoffmann, there are many great classics to see or rediscover from home. The website can be viewed en Francais or English. Their schedule of upcoming events is available on this web site and includes: Don Giovani, Manon, Das Rheingold, Die Valkyrie, and other performances.

8. The Monteray Bay Aquarium! You may have had to cancel your spring vacation, but you still can (virtually) visit the aquatic animals housed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Peek at the groups of jellyfish and sharks, do some bird watching in the Aviary, follow the African penguins as they waddle around, and catch a glimpse at the pulsing moon jellies all through the institutions’ free live streams. And for close-ups of the species, head to Instagram. (via Laughing Squid).

9. Storyline Online! The SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s award-winning children’s literacy website, Storyline Online, streams videos featuring celebrated actors reading children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations. Readers include Viola Davis, Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, James Earl Jones, Betty White and dozens more.

10. Grow Forage Cook Ferment! This web site is a fabulous resource for recipes and Youtube videos showing how to make Mead, hand made soap, herbal salves, Chickweed Pesto, and loads of other interesting and helpful things.

11. British Wildflower Finder. this comprehensive web site was created and is maintained by Roger Darlington, a friend of boater Chris Thorp (NB Ceiriog). It is brilliant and easy to use. I posted this specifically for all my British friends, family and loved ones. As you are out walking along towpaths or National Trust properties, or public walkways through the glorious British countryside you may come across a plant you don't recognize and this site may be quite helpful. xxx

12. Teaching young children the importance of washing their hands! I found this simple video the perfect teaching moment to illustrate to young children, the importance of washing our hands. To replicate it for your children and grandchildren all you need is a shallow bowl or plate, pepper, liquid hand or dish soap, and water. Explain that the pepper in the bowl is pretending to be a virus. Follow the video and watch young children become startled and amazed!

Finally, today is Les' 72nd birthday. We are remembering my Best Beloved at dinner tonight with one of his favorite meals: Three Sisters Chicken and Chorizo Casserole. Unfortunately I couldn't bake his favorite Carrot cake as we are half packed and in the process of moving to a new, larger apartment soon. Happy birthday baby! You are missed and loved, always.

Les at the dinette in April 2013. We were moored up on the Lea navigation just near Waltham. I love that look on his sweet face!

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Tale of the Tumbling Tumbleweeds

"And the wind blows, the dust clouds darken the desert blue, pale sand and red dust drift across the asphalt trails and tumbleweeds fill the arroyos. Good-bye, come again." ~Edward Abbey, American author and environmental essayist, 1927-1989

   It is 347 miles from Gresham, Oregon to Spokane, Washington. The route takes one along the Columbia River Gorge and then Northeast up onto the Columbia River plateau and across several hundred miles of arid bush land and high desert; mostly flat but punctuated with basalt mesas and canyons. It is the kind of topography that seems empty a lot of the time and vast, sending one's mind back into the far past when there were no Europeans or their offspring on this continent. This is sagebrush and Tumbleweed country.
   A young, confident driver can make the trip in just over five hours; I have driven it in five hours thirty years ago but not anymore; it takes me eight hours now with several toilet stops, a couple of rest stops to put my seat all the way back and close my eyes for thirty minutes, and a lunch hour detour. I tell myself this is fine. It is perfectly acceptable. I am no longer young and I have health issues that make travel more nightmare than vacation. I hear boater Alan Fincher over in the U.K., after Les' death, cautioning me not to be so driven. His warning echoes in my thoughts frequently. 
   I made a trip up to Spokane last Sunday to spend a couple of days with a dear friend--one of the Wednesday Women--who has received a cancer diagnosis. We got together for lunch and to bask in the warmth of deep friendship in the face of frightening news. The weather forecast for Sunday from the NOAA (National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration) weather page included a Hazardous weather warning for Eastern Oregon, Eastern and Central Washington. High winds of 50-60 MPH and rain with snow mixed in higher elevations. Sigh...there was nothing for it but to begin the trip and hope for the best.
The "always-green" of Western Oregon. This is a shot of the Columbia River from an overlook about thirty miles East of Gresham. 
   I Left Gresham under roiling, dark clouds and pissing down rain with wind gusts in the 40's. A large storm front rolled in off the Pacific Ocean, ninety eight miles West of Portland and funneled the weather towards us along the Columbia Gorge. The winds picked up as I traveled 102 miles to John Day Dam, crossing from the always-green rain forest topography of Western Oregon into the arid brush land of Eastern Oregon. I stopped once already to rest my eyes for thirty minutes and the winds worsened while I checked my eyelids for holes. At John Day Dam, the rain fell away as I ascended onto the Columbia Plateau, but the wind increased and the car began rocking and vibrating in the high winds.
   Tumbleweeds appeared and I experienced a very strange phenomena: the dried, skeletal shrubs appeared to have come alive! They trembled in the wind, at the side of the freeway like shaggy, frightened animals waiting for a gap between cars in order to spin across the blacktop of two lanes and make it in one piece to the other side. Most of the Tumbleweeds were small and easily shattered against the front of the car but traffic slowed from 70 MPH to about 65. Then I came around a large curve and the wind changed direction, coming from directly behind both lanes of traffic. As I came out of the curve I was astonished (as was the driver in the lane next to me whose mouth dropped into an astonished O), to see tumbleweeds filling both lanes in front of us, racing along as though to some invisible finish line far ahead. We could not drive through them; we could only pace ourselves and drive along behind the spinning herd. Several miles on, the road curved again and the tumbleweeds continued to roll off the freeway and catch on the fencing separating our traffic lanes from those heading in the opposite direction. Soon enough the fence wore a prickly sweater of various size and colored weeds, giant sweater pills stuck to the fence for hundreds of miles. 
   Approaching Biggs Junction (yes you read that right!) the sky darkened appreciably as a giant dust storm kicked off, spreading for 118 miles of driving with the headlights on and a slowed speed of 50 MPH. It was like driving at night only the dark was a swirling blanket of dirt kicked up by the winds. Tumbleweeds still careened across the road and drivers were swerving to try and miss the larger weed balls. I finally merged onto I-82 and then crossed into Washington and onto Highway 395 North. Two large semi trucks had flipped over on the opposite side of the freeway and it looked like the apocalypse outside: dozens of police cruisers with lights flashing, the dirt-dark sky closing in everywhere and tumbleweeds shooting across the landscape like round mortars shot from a rocket launcher. Traffic was backed up for twenty seven miles all the way back into Kennewick. People were milling around in the flying dirt with shirts and scarves pulled over their faces; a crazy zig-zag of  headlights on stopped cars strung along highway 395 from the scene of the second overturned rig all the way back over the Blue Bridge into town. I kept a steady pace of fifty MPH and finally made it into Kennewick where I planned to stop for lunch. It was 1:58 PM, dark as evening outside and my Subaru Outback shuddered and shook with the wind gusts. The metal signal light post hanging across the road ahead bounced up and down as if an invisible hand was moving it. 
As you can see, the signal light arms are not exactly flimsy things. It takes a big wind to make those steel poles bob up and down like a a child bobbing for apples. 
   After lunch I struck out again and didn't see blue skies and true daylight for another forty miles after finally passing the last of the giant commercial agro-farms and packing plants that are spread across the face of the high desert, existing only because of the Columbia Basin Reclamation project. Begun in 1943, it services 671,000 acres, allowing fruit and vegetable crops to be grown on high desert land with irrigation from the mighty Columbia River.
   Tumbleweeds still bounced, swirled, raced and spun across the road and would continue for another forty one miles until I merged on to Interstate 90 at Ritzville. Two and half hours later I was heading down Sunset Hill into Spokane--a site for very sore eyes. 
  The visit was bittersweet. I love my Rise Up Sisters as the Wednesday Women are also called. We lost two of our number last year to the vicissitudes of old age. We do not want to lose another one. Spending time in the company of Kialynn, Rhea, Gina, (Marian and Rosemarie are dead now) has always fed my intellect. They are women of great thought, good deeds, and deep creativity. Time with them nourishes my spirit. 
The Wednesday Women, Left to right: Kialynn, Marian (seated), Lisa, Rosemarie, Gina (seated), and Rhea, 2013.
Mt. Hood from I-84 driving West, just outside of The Dalles, Oregon.
   I am happy to report that for the most part the drive home was a lot less harrowing. The sun was out, the skies were blue, and the wind was calm. Mt. Hood, a partially active strato-volcano and one of the tallest peaks in the Continental USA, appeared suddenly just West of Arlington. It looked like a tall white shark's tooth jutting up in the far distance. As I continued on Westward towards Portland, the mountain popped in and out of view, growing larger as my car ate up the miles. I was astonished at how the tumbleweeds seemed to have vanished from the landscape! Perhaps they are lying in wait down in the canyons criss-crossing Washington's central basin. 

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs