Delightful

Scared? Honestly, I’ve not seen many — any? — successful hiccup cures due to someone trying to startle the hiccups out of the patient. Photo by Steve Martaindale

I’m not sure my pastor believed me.

OK, wait, that statement could lead to a bushel basket of speculation, the validity of which I’m not willing to place under scrutiny; let me try again.

The preacher and I were chatting on the phone last week, something we try to do regularly, especially when Leah and I are on the road, as we’ve been since late May. For the life of me, I do not recall why I brought up the topic, but I asked, “Do you know how to cure hiccups?”

He made a feeble attempt to formulate a smart-aleck answer, possibly something to do with “boo,” but I cut him off: “A spoonful of sugar.”

(Bonus points to all readers who just heard, in their mind’s ear, Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins sing, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, in a most delightful way.”)

Instead of singing, David, our preacher, said something like, “Oh, really.”

You can hear the doubt just reading those words, can’t you?

“Oh, really.”

My confirmation was two-pronged.

One, I have more than 20 years of practical application of the cure. Maybe more than 30 years. During that time, I told him, the very few efforts that failed to chase away hiccups with the first dose, inevitably succeeded with a second dose. Yes, in case you missed it, almost all of my hiccup attacks are vanquished with one spoonful of sugar. Sometimes, a second spoonful is required.

Two, there was actually a study done, published in 1971, that showed the sweet cure was effective in 19 of 20 patients. Like so many wonderful things, they’re not sure why, but the prevalent thought deals with how sugar affects the vagus nerve, which connects the brain and stomach. I don’t care why or how. I just cherish the knowledge that, if hiccups begin torturing me, a spoonful of sugar … well, you know.

Brag away!

Another #MyBrag: I’ve seen some great sunrises. Photo by Steve Martaindale

Came across a tweet today, the effects of which seemed worth sharing.

First of all, I do not know and have not previously followed Gail Simone (@GailSimone on Twitter), whose bio says she is, among other things, a “writer of comics and animation.” Doing a shallow dive to see what I could learn about her, I found all I needed to know in a beautifully heart-wrenching thread about a little boy named Zaadii, which you can find here.

That, however, is not what got me started. It was this tweet.

Get it? The challenge is to brag about something – no reservations, no excuses, just flat out bragging. Isn’t that great? Well, the proof is in the following tweets. Let’s dig into #MyBrag and see what we can pull out of them.

@SnarleyChomplin: “#MyBrag is that I’m making this Beer Can Chicken and it looks damn good.”

@Activist_AdaJ: “#MyBrag I’m happy I’m vaccinated.”

@aandrefpeltier: “I’ve been writing poetry since the early 90s. I never thought it was worth showing anyone. I just started submitting to journals this year and I’ve had 78 poems accepted already! #MyBrag”

@TrishE23: “I kicked breast cancer’s ass twice. #mybrag”

@vegasfleabag: “I quit smoking 26 years ago, quit drinking 25 years ago, and I religiously swim at least two miles every single day. I also take care of my husband with dementia, my almost 80 year old mom, and I make a wicked good pizza. #MyBrag”

@BRAVATRAVELS: “#MyBrag it’s that I’m an immigrant who learned English by herself, immersed in the culture, adapted, graduated from college, raised great kids, and work for a major airline now as an American citizen despite racism, discrimination, and injustice but grateful for the opportunity.”

@RegalKittyBits: “#mybrag is in 10 years i went from being homeless and having my belongings tossed into the streets to being a homeowner.”

@dondasch: “I’ve been caretaking for my girlfriend the past 13 years. #MyBrag”

@TheLondonHughes: “I quit my Television studies degree and dropped out of University to focus on my TV career…. 7 years later that same University invited me to give a talk to the students on how to make it in television. #MyBrag”

@mamaloca: “#MyBrag I was one of the best School Bus Drivers ever.”

@Nestene: “For 10 months of the year, I get up every day and teach history and English, instilling the skills into a new generations of dreamers to write their worlds into existence. #MyBrag”

@Hawkuno: “I was the best damn pizza delivery driver back in the day. As in, I’d always give you an extra smile on top of getting pizza. When I quit, several of our regulars hugged me and said they’d miss me. #mybrag”

@whoislloyd: “Re-enlisted for 2 more years in the Army Reserve today #MyBrag”

@MaXLebel88: “Soy la persona más amable y alegre que he conocido JAMÁS. Es difícil que algo me saque de estar feliz, siempre trato de ir con buenas palabras por delante y crear un buen ambiente. Y sinceramente, creo que se nota: la gente, cuando está a mi alrededor, es más feliz #MyBrag”

@NeilDidIt: “#MyBrag is I’ve got two extremely intelligent and empathetic little boys I’ve raised. I’d be proud of them even if they weren’t mine. #LuckyDad”

@emeraldembers: “My capacity for love is endless. No amount of cruelty from childhood bullies or abusive callers at my job has reduced that capacity. It is a spring that I was born with, inherited from a kind, loving, giving mother, and I’m proud of it. #MyBrag”

Last of all, here’s mine:

@smartaindale: “#MyBrag is I’ve been to all 7 continents, have friends worldwide proving that most people are good, have former employees who say I’ve made a difference in their lives, have written 7 mysteries, and I’m still chasing dreams with my wife, including hiking the Erie Canal Trailway.”

Come on, join in … brag a little. Or a lot!

Memorializing

A memorial in Lyons, N.Y. Photo by Steve Martaindale

When is Memorial Day in the United States?

Blindside a Baby Boomer with that question and you might initially get the answer May 30. That’s because, until near the end of the Vietnam War, such was the case. Until it was moved to the last Monday in May.

Why the move? Well, a glance at your local grocery store ads this week might give a clue. I can almost guarantee they will feature hot dogs, chips, charcoal briquets and a wide variety of drinks. And you are familiar with the thought the Memorial Day holiday weekend is the kickoff of summer.

Not everyone loves the idea of making a party weekend out of a day designated to honor … honor whom, exactly?

That’s another question that will trip up some people. In this case, I’m guessing, it might more likely be younger Americans.

“Memorial Day honors our veterans!” they might say. Many folks believe so, or at least they treat it as such.

No, Memorial Day has a distinct purpose, as is described in President Joe Biden’s proclamation issued Friday:

“On Memorial Day, we honor and reflect upon the courage, integrity, and selfless dedication of the members of our Armed Forces who have made the greatest sacrifice in service to our Nation.”

Truly recognizing that “greatest sacrifice” means death and understanding that nobody being honored on Memorial Day is able to share in a cookout or a softball game … or a hug or a laugh … certainly should put a damper on festivities.

According to The HISTORY Channel, until his death in 2012, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii took up the cause of veterans groups opposing the last Monday date, introducing legislation at the beginning of every congressional term for more than 20 years. It shouldn’t surprise anyone moneymaking endeavors win out.

If not opening the community swimming pool and grilling meat byproducts, what is the best thing we could do to honor those who have been lost to war?

Maybe …

Maybe try a lot harder to avoid war.

‘No more wars’

When my wife and I walked the Erie Canal Trailway in 2016, we took off on Memorial Day, which happened to be May 30 that year. All along our route, we saw memorials and monuments to war and its victims, dating back to the American Revolution. We were in Herkimer, N.Y., and walked downtown for a good, old-fashioned parade and speeches.

The highlight was a few words offered by Annemarie Hansel, age 96, who served as a WAVE during World War II.

The first of what she said I didn’t pick up on, but she spoke loudly and clearly with her parting remarks: “No more wars. We’ve got to stop this. Use your brains.”

Working in the Hospital Corps for the Navy, I’m left to assume she had seen enough of the results of war.

What is it good for?

That’s a question asked repeatedly in the counterculture hit “War,” written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for the Motown label and ultimately released as a chart-topping single with a powerful performance by Edwin Starr in 1970.

It is not fair to history for me to immediately follow a discussion about World War II with one about Vietnam. War against the Axis Powers and their drive for world domination can hardly be questioned. Vietnam, on the other hand, could not be adequately justified for Americans, who sacrificed at least 58,318 lives. Some 3 million Vietnamese died, two-thirds of them civilians.

But that, I believe, is what drove Annemarie Hansel’s cry for peace. After seeing at least 60 million deaths during World War II, how can civilized nations enter another war?

Absolutely nothing

But Americans don’t have to go far to see the truest horrors of war.

According to Department of Veterans Affairs, 498,332 American military – Union and Confederate – died in the Civil War, eclipsing even the two world wars.

A friend asked me this past winter to read through a book he wrote. It was amazing and, if and when he publishes it, I’ll let you know. He heavily researched the life and times of his wife’s great-uncle, who fought for the U.S. through much of the Civil War, only to die from wounds suffered at Deep Bottom Run.

As I carefully read through the book, the abominations of this war that pitted brother against brother continually screamed out at me.

War … what is it good for?

Memorializing

This Memorial Day, honor those who gave their lives in military service.

It matters not whether the cause of the conflict was justifiable. There is nothing the fighting man or woman can do about that. However, we can and should attempt everything possible to prevent another person dying in war.

That would be the highest honor.

“All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.” John Steinbeck in “Once There Was a War”

The Reporter and…

Let’s name some characters

Every JP Weiscarver book I’ve written has come about in ways that distinguish it from the others.

For the eighth, instead of writing right off, as has often happened, I felt it more important to get a better grasp of where it was going. Actually, a better grasp of how it would get there. And I decided I really wanted to have the title nailed down first.

I’ll reveal that after we name six characters in the book.

Another first! While I’ve held competitions to name one or more characters in every book, I’ve never done it this early and certainly not for six of them.

First, be aware I’m not deeply interested in background stories; most of those are already lined out in my notes. That being said, feel free to contribute anything you’d like, particularly personal tidbits, as I might work them in somewhere. All of these characters will play sizeable roles in the story. I suspect each nomination will include names for both husband and wife. Suggest names for one couple or up to all three.

Here’s what I’m looking at:

No. 1, female, married to No. 2. Semi-retired. She retired after 20 years in the Army as a unit supply specialist. After that, she wrote romance novels.

No. 2, male, married to No. 1. Retired private detective. Think real world PI, not the TV type.

No. 3, female, married to No. 4. Mostly retired nurse, now working occasional short stints to keep current and make traveling money.

No. 4, male, married to No. 3. Retired middle school principal, a self-proclaimed expert on suspicious actions. “I don’t believe you’re telling me the whole truth.”

No. 5, female, married to No. 6. Retired mall gift store manager. With years of managing teen-age and young adult employees, she understands where No. 4 is coming from.

No. 6, male, married to No. 5. Retired after having numerous different jobs. Most recently worked six years as a security guard. Now really into gardening.

The payoff

As always, those who submit names I use will be acknowledged in the book and will receive an autographed paperback when it comes out.

Submit your suggestions in the comment box here, post it on the Facebook post, message it to me, or email it. Carrier pigeon would probably be too late.

Misty watercolor …

Patchwork clouds. Photo by Steve Martaindale

Think back for just a second.

Back to a time before you started school.

Briefly share with us the first memory you come up with.

My paternal grandfather, the man whose middle name my father and I both carried but who I called Papa, died when I was 4 years old.

My memory is walking with him – me holding one hand and my younger brother holding the other – to a little store a short distance from his home in the Spring Hill community that is now part of Longview, Texas.

I believe our mission was to buy eggs, and maybe we did, but I remember with certainty we returned with my brother and I each eating a piece of candy.

Your turn.

Close to home

“We are grieving with you, as well.”

My wife had her phone on speaker while talking to a friend about the shootings in nearby Bryan, Texas.

“Are you OK?” she asked. I tuned in and it was obvious the woman was crying. Later, she sent me the link to a local newscast, shown above. She said that was what caused her to lose her composure.

It all hit close to home. Our friend termed it a time “when news gets real.”

We do not yet know anything about why the shots were fired. Witnesses have been quoted as saying it appeared obvious the shooter was targeting certain individuals. We know nothing about that, either.

But those types of questions are seldom answered to our satisfaction following senseless brutality.

The point right here, right now, is this shooting may seem more real to locals than other mass shootings in places further removed.

But that is an illusion.

Any act of inhumanity is always real. Some people simply have a closer look at it.

When we all are able to feel the realness, then maybe we’ll become motivated enough to do something about the problem.

Park it

The view from my temporary studio. Photo by Steve Martaindale

Wrestling with some questions Tuesday morning, I took leave from the house for a couple of hours. That’s nothing new; I’ve often hit the backroads to air out thoughts, maybe gain a different perspective.

Such is more challenging now, during a pandemic, because rest rooms can be more difficult to come by. Instead of guiding our little car toward the open roads, I made the 25-minute drive to Veteran’s Park in College Station.

There, I sat in the car, rolled the windows up and down in response to brief rain showers, talked out loud to myself and scribbled entries on my notepad. When necessary, there’s even a rest room.

Do we take parks for granted?

No, that’s too easy an assumption. Let’s not try to overdramatize the point. Instead, consider the joyful memories we have of different parks.

Treasures

My earliest might be a rural park maintained by the Gregg County Precinct 3 commissioner, I believe near Liberty City, Texas. Then there was the city park where we played Little League baseball. When our family traveled, we would stop at a roadside picnic table to eat a sack lunch. I remember a particular Easter Sunday sunrise service at Teague Park in Longview.

A couple of co-workers and I started shooting basketball after work on Tuesdays at Jackson Street Park in Brenham, Texas. Soon, we had enough guys joining us that we got pretty good games going. When my daughter was 2 years old, we had great bonding time at Le Tulle Park outside Bay City, Texas, feeding ducks and swinging.

Leah and I have also been regular visitors to state parks in Texas. She counted a while back that we’ve been to more than 40 of them. We’ve also enjoyed several state parks in New York, and have hiked most of the trails of the amazing Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

While not as thoroughly, we’ve also been to several national parks, including living and working an entire summer in Yellowstone, the world’s first national park.

Parks are not limited to the United States, though. As that thought crossed my mind, I could easily recall visiting parks in Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Germany, Poland, Tobago, Thailand, Mexico and probably most of the others.

What are your favorite park memories?

Parks are one of the great investments of a society. Treasure them, use them, take care of them.

By the way, I came home with plenty of notes and clear answers to my questions.

Time flies like a papaya

Photo by Steve Martaindale

“They” say time flies faster the older we get.

I’m not so certain that’s true. It’s possible time isn’t moving faster, just that we’re moving more slowly.

That is to say … it takes longer and longer to do almost anything.

I’ve no desire to scare off Generations A, B, C, or Whatever. Getting older is definitely worth it; hang in there.

What is there to do about this problem? Maybe the solution is to not fight it. If it takes longer to do something, do less of it.

That’s all I have time to say.

Quotables

What is your favorite quote?

Seriously. Click the link (either at the top or the bottom, depending on your viewing device) that says something about “Comment” and share. Don’t get too hung up on having to decide your one-favorite-quote-of-all-time. Yeah, think of it as, “What is one of your favorite quotes?” Or two.

Give us the quote, who said it and include any other context you feel is relevant.

One reason I’m lax on the “favorite” part is that I’m not really a fan of picking a one-and-only-one favorite anything. Ask me about quotes, for example, and I’ll quickly give you two of them.

Quote 1

“The most dangerous words in language are, ‘We’ve always done it that way’.” – U.S. Navy Adm. Grace Hopper.

Adm. Hopper was one of the most amazing people who lived during my lifetime (and likely yours; she died in 1992) and yet you may not have heard about her.

Born in 1906, she earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale. She tried to enlist in the Navy during World War II but was denied based on her age and that her position as a mathematician and mathematics professor at Vassar College was valuable to the war effort. She then joined the Navy Reserves, serving there and eventually with the Navy for 42 years, twice retiring only to be returned to active duty. She finally retired at age 79 at the rank of rear admiral.

Her greatest contributions, though, was her work in the early ages of computers, inventing the compiler and laying the groundwork for the development of the computer language COBOL. She was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities around the world. A residential college at Yale University was renamed after her, as was the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Hopper. And President Barack Obama posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

And that does not do her justice. Read up on Grace Hopper. Let her inspire the youth you know.

Everything I’ve read about her seems to underscore her quote above. I mean, she would have achieved little had she relied on doing everything the way it’s always been done. That can be said of every innovator and inventor.

Quote 2

“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Fellowship of the Ring.”

This is a no-brainer for my wife and me. We’ve always loved traveling. We’ve visited all 50 states. I’ve been to all seven continents and Leah’s been to all but Antarctica. We took early retirement in 2013 and – until COVID messed up 2020 – worked 4-5 months each year in another state to feed our travel bug.

Indeed, we sold our house and have been living in an RV just so we can more easily wander. And we’re seldom lost!

Don’t try to slip away without clicking the comment link and sharing one of your favorite quotes.

New-age travel

Am I the only one here? Photo by Steve Martaindale

We had a hotel experience a couple of weeks ago unlike any before. It teeters between neat and eerie.

You decide.

When we rent a room, which isn’t incredibly often, it’s as likely as not a Hampton Inn. Therefore, a few years ago, I downloaded their app to my phone. I’ve used it a time or two to select a room. Once, I tried to utilize the digital key, but something didn’t work right.

The digital key uses your phone’s Bluetooth to pair up with your room lock. Hold your phone near the door, a button lights up on your phone, press it and the door unlocks.

In this pandemic world we’re living in, the idea is even more inviting. By checking in online, picking our room, and utilizing a digital key … we did not have to exchange a credit card, sign anything, receive a key … nothing.

In fact – and this is the eerie part – we never even saw anybody.

Certainly, there was someone in charge of the front desk and would have shown up soon had we not walked right by it.

Surely … right?

We walked through the lobby. I punched the elevator buttons with my elbow. When we reached the room I had selected online, the digital key image on my phone lit up, I pressed it and we walked in.

So, tell me, am I too easily entertained? Maybe you’ve all been doing that for years.

But it hasn’t really gotten weird yet.

After getting settled into our room, we left to get my COVID shot, walking through the lobby. We returned through the lobby. Later, Leah wanted to see the indoor pool and I kind of wanted to see if my digital key would work there as advertised. It worked and we saw nobody.

The next morning, Leah volunteered to go downstairs and pick up breakfast, which they served on disposable plates and asked you to go back to your room to eat. She actually talked to an employee there. Shortly before we were ready to leave, a woman knocked on our door to see if we had left so she could clean it. (I don’t know why, with all this technology, they have to do that.)

I checked out with my phone app and we left, seeing no one but another guest in the hallway.

Neat or eerie?

I like the idea of the digital key and checking in online, but I look forward to again being able to have little conversations with strangers.

Illuminate me!

Balina Beach, New South Wales, Australia might be a fine place to seek illumination. Just a thought. Photo by Steve Martaindale

After years of annoying letters from Nigerian princes trying to assuage their guilt by sharing vast sums of money with me…

Amidst the current trend of people who have already sent me vast sums of money that all I must do is confirm a little information…

Now, I finally get a welcomed email.

Join the Illuminati

“Greetings, from The illuminati world elite empire.”

Yes! I have finally been discovered!

Continue reading “Illuminate me!”

One thumb up

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Bear Butte, South Dakota. Photo by Steve Martaindale

Let’s show a little love for bad movies.

Not every bad movie’s for everyone, mind you. We each have our own bad movies we love … or at least like … or at the very least endure and enjoy making fun of.

Continue reading “One thumb up”

Stamp of approval

After receiving our first vaccinations last week, Leah thought about making a button declaring the fact.

There’s some sense to that. Even though we’re all continuing to keep our personal interactions safe (We are, right?), it might ease apprehension a tad if people knew others were vaccinated against COVID-19. Indeed, various countries are looking at issuing vaccination passports, documents that will ease us all back into international travel more easily.

Continue reading “Stamp of approval”

Old is new again

The past year has felt desolate, but even the most barren-looking areas still hold promises. This is a look across a section of Big Bend National Park. Photo by Steve Martaindale

It’s time to do something new on this page. Actually … something old.

For those who have been around me for more than a few years, you’ll probably understand that I’m longing to get back to the days of yore, back to writing pieces (“columns,” I still call them, as I did in my newspaper days) about … whatever.

The desired result will be more frequent posts, more diverse topics, and – this is a bit new – shorter articles. Like this, for example.

We’ve been shot!

Leah and I received our first COVID-19 vaccinations last week. We will get our follow-up Pfizer shots in a couple of weeks.

To us, that means we’ll feel more comfortable returning to summer jobs this year. While we will continue taking safety precautions (for our sake and for the safety of others), life should be less tense. The prospect of again hugging friends and relatives seems nearer.

But there was a more immediate payoff we were not fully expecting.

There was a deep sense of relief.

It’s been quite a year, beginning with us canceling a long-planned trip with six friends right on the cusp of the outbreak. We lost our summer employment, haven’t had services in church, haven’t been in a restaurant, had friends and family get sick … and lost some to the disease.

We hope this is just the beginning of a rolling wave of welcomed normalcy, such as strolling through a supermarket, Leah reading labels and me calculating cost-per-ounce, squeezing cantaloupes and chatting with strangers.

What’s your status? If you’ve received the vaccine, did you have similar feelings? What are you most looking forward to resuming? How do you expect things to remain different?

If you’re not following this page, enter your email where it says, “Follow Blog via Email” and you’ll receive a notice when new posts go up.

As we go along, please comment and make suggestions. Even those not immediately acted upon often produce fruit over time. Let’s enjoy this ride together.

Free book

First JP mystery free for limited time

Much of the country is hunkered down this weekend, seeking shelter from Winter Storm Uri, while people across the globe are wearily isolating themselves waiting for the COVID storm to recede a year after it started.

This seems like the perfect time to make one of my books available for free download.

NOTE: This offer has since expired. All books remain for sale, however.

“The Reporter, a Ferret and a Hurricane” is the first of a series of cozy mysteries featuring JP Weiscarver, a reporter for the Odds and Ends, a daily newspaper in Oldport on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s actually two stories under one cover. Currently, five more are available in the series.

Download your free electronic version of “The Reporter, a Ferret and a Hurricane” at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AFB2DPY.

Spread the word to your friends. The offer expires at 11:59 p.m., Pacific time, on Tuesday, Feb. 16. If you’re new to this page, please follow where it says, “Follow Blog via Email.”

Let’s get Super

Super Bowl LV kicks off in a little more than five hours, but I’m ready to get started now.

No, I’m not a particular fan of either team (I’m pulling for Tampa Bay because I like fellow Aggie Mike Evans.), not really a big fan of the NFL though I enjoy good competitive games at any level, but there’s another reason for diving into the day.

It’s fun.

It’s even more fun if you totally jump in.

Several times over the past few years, I’ve used Facebook to make running comments about the game, the commentators, the commercials … whatever. Why? It’s fun.

It’s even more fun when others weigh in. I’m using the hashtag #SBwithMe on my posts. At the moment, it does not exist anywhere else on Facebook, so you can use that to follow along, to (please) add to the conversation, even make your own posts with the same hashtag.

Pick a team … or don’t. Let’s do this.

RIP

One annual tradition that catches my eye every year is the review of what influential people died since the new calendar flipped over.

Like most of the year-in-review articles, this one comes out before the actual end of the year because, to be honest, news departments find them handy to fill slow news days during the holidays.

The Associated Press published its list before Christmas: “Final goodbye: Recalling influential people who died in 2020.”

It’s an impressive list, giving a nugget of information on each person. I recommend scrolling through it, but if you need a nudge, here are some I noticed:

Continue reading “RIP”

Book 6 is out!

Book 6
is out!

“The Reporter and the Apples,” the sixth book in my JP Weiscarver Mystery Series, is now available for purchase as a paperback and in Kindle e-book.

Click here to find links to each version (you can toggle between them once you click through).

Yes, almost 52 months since the publication of the fifth book, “The Reporter and the Marmot,” the next miraculously picks up the story only an hour later.

Thank you for waiting patiently (and a special thanks for you inpatient readers who kept prodding me) during a particularly challenging time for me. I hope to see productivity begin to soar, both with the next book (I have not even begun to think about it, though) and with our new project, Dream Chasing 101.

RIP, dear friend

Desolation. Photo by Steve Martaindale

A special friend, one of our summer co-workers, died last weekend after contracting COVID-19.

There’s sadness. Pain. Regret.

And anger.

This did not have to happen, and we must do something about it. We are 45 days from the general election and most states are just a few weeks from being able to vote early. We must register and vote for the hundreds of thousands of people who needlessly suffer every year.

You see, my anger is not just because our right-wing politicians in Washington and many state capitals could not bring themselves to choose lives and health over the economy while failing to mount a defense against COVID-19. The long ongoing support of profit over people is really what took down my friend.

Let me explain chronologically.

He was several years older than we are and, by all measures, should have been able to retire. Leah and I, for example, can exist with our retirement checks; we rely on our summer jobs to finance travel. Our friend never was able to do that. He worked the past several summers at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. In the winters, he pulled his RV to work in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas or Death Valley in California, though he was able to work this past winter at Rushmore.

More than once, he told me he couldn’t afford to not work. I encouraged him to go to Hawaii to visit a close friend there, but he said it was out of the question.

Continue reading “RIP, dear friend”

We were just…

Crowded party
Sometimes, a simple party can get out of hand. Photo by Steve Martaindale

 

This is how it works.

Someone carefully plans a little get-together, a chance to taste some semblance of “normalcy” in the middle of a weird, disheartening, nerve-wracking pandemic life.

“I’ve invited three couples over, so that’s only eight people. Everyone has been social-distancing, and each promised to check their temperature before coming over. Each couple brings their own food and drinks and even paper plates and carries their trash home. We’ll stay outside with plenty of room to spread out around the patio. Ideally, nobody will need to go to the bathroom, but I’ll have the hall bath scrubbed down and leave disinfectant and cleaning supplies in there so they can clean their way out. It’s perfect; COVID won’t have a chance to get anyone!”

Continue reading “We were just…”

Badges?

8-13-11b (2)
While you’re at it, maybe you could write a cutline for this low-water image. Photo by Steve Martaindale

It is 95 days until the general election.

Today, I’m asking you to write the meat of this post.

Do you, like me, enjoy tossing out a movie quote here and there to be applied to a real-life situation? Yeah, it’s fun.

Do you, like me, find many of your thoughts and perceptions tainted by the current administration in the White House? Such as this quote from the 1985 film, Back to the Future: “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” I hear that and might think, “With the GOP refusing to tax our richest citizens, we soon won’t have any roads.”

Continue reading “Badges?”

Planning

Cutting through
Preferably, one assumes the presidency of a country with a plan — actually, many plans — so as to not spend all of one’s time hacking out a trail to nowhere. Photo by Steve Martaindale

It is 97 days until the general election.

Let’s today look at how we can get a better idea what Joe Biden wants to achieve as president. Instead of making vague promises, his campaign has laid out a number of plans at joebiden.com/joes-vision/.

For example, he recognizes the frontline workers who have kept things going during the COVID crisis, from healthcare workers to grocery store workers. In addition to a $15 an hour minimum wage, these essential workers should receive “premium pay,” protective equipment and a safe working environment.

Continue reading “Planning”

Lewis speech

John Lewis spoke today at his own funeral service. The above video begins at the point where his recorded speech starts.

The Voting Rights Act should be restored.

Make sure you vote this fall.

It is 99 days until the election.

Are you registered to vote?

Old Avenue of Flags
View of Mount Rushmore from the old Avenue of Flags. Photo by Steve Martaindale

We are 100 days away from the next general election.

There is much to review between now and then, but I’ll start by concentrating on what will be the prevailing topic: Are you registered to vote?

Continue reading “Are you registered to vote?”

Name that character

IMG_1553

To those who continually ask: “Yes, I am working on the next book.”

And, now, you have another chance to help with “The Reporter and the Apples.”

Continue reading “Name that character”

Stand

Sky

As waves of white Americans drift nearer their old lives and further from the Black Lives Matter marches, some – maybe even many, hopefully most – are asking what they can do to continue supporting black lives.

Beyond that, lately, more people are talking about becoming “antiracist.” In other words, proclaiming racism as bad is fine, but what are you doing about it? I suspect there’s an uncountable number of ways we can do that, including the discomforting prospect of confronting racist or stereotypical remarks or jokes made by friends or family.

Then, just two days ago, I came across a 52-year-old story of a white man quietly standing up against racism on an international stage, standing beside blacks protesting injustice, standing in the face of the problems it would surely cause him.

Continue reading “Stand”

Now is the time

Into the light

The time has come. My plan was to hold off until a bit later, probably late July, but things have changed, racing rapidly and in multiple directions.

During last Sunday’s online sermon, our pastor pushed me into moving up my schedule.

“Silence is no longer an option,” he said, slowly and clearly. “Now, I have said many times, ‘Preach the Gospel always and, when necessary, use words.’ Well, now, it is necessary to use words because this nation is suffering because of a racism problem.”

I’ve said this here before, how as they integrated our school when I was in the sixth grade (1966), I felt certain my generation would be the last to experience racism. Ah, the naivety of the young … white … male.

It has not happened. Racism has not been obliterated. Some of it has changed. But it has not improved. As my pastor said half a dozen times, America has a racism problem. And it’s not limited to the major events that have recently thrust it into the limelight.

Said he: “… this nation is suffering because of a racism problem. And it’s the kind of insidious racism that has pushed people down for generations, pushing people down so hard that they are seen as ‘less than.’ They are treated as less than. People don’t have access to health care, they don’t have access to opportunity, they don’t even have access to equal pay or any kind of equal treatment. Things need to change and it needs to start now.”

I’ve been called out and I must respond. I must respond the way I know how. With the written word, expressing what is on my heart.

On July 29, 2018, I started a 100-day countdown to the midterm elections. Most days, I encouraged people to register and I implored them to turn out and vote.

The previous midterm election – 2014 – only 36.7 percent of the eligible voter population cast a ballot, the lowest percentage since 1942. Then, in 2018, after almost two years of the Trump administration, the Blue Wave brought forth a turnout of 50.0 percent. That’s still not outstanding, but it was the highest since 1912 – 102 years! (Statistics)

So, today, I guess I’m starting a 145-day countdown to the Nov. 3 general election.

You see, it’s not simply about confronting racism. It’s also about removing from elected office the people who not only ignore the problems but, in far too many cases, actually encourage them, ignore them, even instigate them.

And, in addition to our nation’s racism problem, we need to start making headway on fixing so many issues, so many and so diverse that it’s ridiculous to even try to list them here. We have 144 more days remaining.

For the first of a hundred times or more over the next 21 weeks: Register to vote. Vote early. Take a friend.

Now in print

Our new endeavor, traveling and chasing dreams, is now fully under way, in spite of quarantines. The associated book and e-books are published and we’re looking forward to hearing from others who are chasing their wishes. We’d love it if you would follow Dream Chasing 101 with us.

Dream Chasing 101

The origin of Dream Chasing 101 must be credited to the dozens, likely hundreds, of friends and strangers over the years who have bombarded us with questions and statements of disbelief that such a lifestyle was practical and achievable.

Some months ago, we decided to publish a series of booklets about pursuing one’s dreams. Since our knowledge is built around chasing our own wishes, that takes the central storyline. However, it is our hope that others who may be hesitant about pushing forward for what they want will find some inspiration, maybe even some direction, within our experiences.

Without further ado, the booklets are now available. Get the details on the booklet page here.


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Memories of OKC bombing

Dark morning

Twenty-five years ago today – at 9:02 a.m. Central time, April 19, 1995 – at least 168 people were killed, more than 680 injured, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was reduced to half a shell, and 324 other buildings were destroyed or damaged by what remains the deadliest incident of domestic terrorism in the history of the United States.

Everyone living in the country at the time who was aware of current events will remember some aspect of what happened.

I turned Friday afternoon, via Facebook messages, to journalist friends of mine, many of them former co-workers, and asked them to share any memories, stories and feelings they’ve harbored these past 25 years. I gave them short notice and asked them to dig inside an area of themselves where some may remain reluctant to tread. Following are the first four, along with some of my thoughts, and I will add additional posts if others contribute over the next few days.

Continue reading “Memories of OKC bombing”

Gettin’

Coronavirus precautions April 2020
Leah and grandson Charles practice some precautions in order to grab a little playtime.

“You know what they say,” my wife offered the other day, “either lead, follow or get out of the way.”

That put into perspective for me this uncomfortable place we’ve been in recently.

With past challenges, Leah and/or I often had a role in the response. At least, we stood ready to help somehow.

Like a hand-printed sign I saw in a New York City photo that offered shopping and errand-running assistance to elderly neighbors and those with compromised health issues.

It hit us early as this COVID-19 threat materialized: We’re the ones other people are protecting.

Leah was diagnosed several years ago with autoimmune hepatitis. Just a few decades ago, that was a death sentence, but a treatment was discovered and, as long as she’s on it, she should lead a pretty normal life. However, her system would be a soft target for this coronavirus.

At 65, I’m officially considered at a higher risk. I don’t really feel it, but I respect the warning. Regardless, if I catch it, I will simply carry it home to my wife.

So, for this crisis, we’re not leading and we’re not following.

We’re getting out of the way.

Thanks to those who are keeping essential operations going. Thanks to those who, if they are able, actually stay home and help limit the spread.

Invitation

Pelicans

Leah and I are starting something new, a Website and a series of guides geared toward helping people discover the options they have for filling out their lives.

Check out Dream Chasing 101 at this link. Follow the page and/or its social media and get in on the ground floor.

 

Lemonade

Family pic by Bjorn (2)
Accept that for a short while we are not able to have such wonderful times as pictured here. (Trust me, the curmudgeonly looking chap in the middle is faking; he had a blast.) In that case, what are the lessons we’ve gathered during our coronavirus lockdown?

When life gives you lemons … at least try to learn something from the experience, especially if said lemon shipment comes with a large side order of sitting around time. Without further ado, and with the assistance of online friends where noted, here are “Things we’re learning from our coronavirus experiences”:

* Just how long 20 seconds can seem.

* That movie plot lines of politicians ignoring scientists and putting entire populations in jeopardy are … well … not all that far-fetched.

* How to plant a victory garden, as well as deciding if neighbors will protest against chickens in the backyard. (contributed by Ryan E)

Continue reading “Lemonade”

Now

Duffy (2)
Duffy is committed to staying at home to help save lives. He’s challenging you to join his campaign.

Are you scared yet? Angry? Motivated? Tired?

Are you convinced yet this threat deserves your attention, your cooperation, your oh-so-minor sacrifice?

Even those who only believe what they hear from Donald Trump now have something to cause them concern.

It’s simple, really. The president was first predicting COVID-19 deaths that could be counted on your fingers. Then that it would be back to business by Easter. Yesterday, however, he conceded he had been wrong, that 100,000 to 200,000 coronavirus deaths are likely. Multiple times, he mentioned that worst-case scenarios predict as many as 2 million deaths. 2,000,000 people. Dead. In the United States.

Did that get your attention? Are you ready to protect yourself and others?

Let’s do this

The fix – the only fix available to us now – is to break the chain.

The disease is easily passed from person to person. The answer is to not encounter the virus in the first place. Since you cannot tell who might be carrying it, that means you do not interact with other people, or, when it’s necessary, you do so with both parties taking precautions.

“What?” some have screamed. “You want me to stay inside for weeks? Maybe months?”

Possibly, but you can do it.

In the movie “Blast from the Past,” Brendan Fraser’s family spent more than 35 years living in an underground bunker. In “Cast Away,” Tom Hanks spent four years all alone on a deserted island. In “The Martian,” Matt Damon spent more than a year and a half alone on Mars.

And you’re fussing because you’re being asked to spend a few weeks in your home, watching TV and surfing the Internet?

Now!

How do you do this? You just do.

The same way you get up and go to work even when you really, really, really don’t want to. The same way you visit your in-laws and just keep your mouth shut. The same way you let your husband scream at a sports event on TV.

You just do it.

Why?

To increase the odds you do not get sick. Maybe die. To protect your family and neighbors.

At 65 years old, I’m considered a high-risk target, even though I’m in pretty good health. My wife appears healthier than me except she has an autoimmune disease that – though it is well controlled right now – can make her much more vulnerable. Yeah, you probably have no idea how many people close to you are more susceptible to such a disease than you thought.

So, for them if not for yourself, rein in your expectations for an exciting life just for a few weeks.

Stay at home. Maintain social distancing if you absolutely must go out. Practice good hygiene by washing your hands.

Finally, do what you can to not lose control.

Read, watch television, play on the Web. If you’re lonely, call up someone to talk with. Hit up your social media messenger or text to exchange greetings and information with someone, particularly a person who you think might be lonely.

Just do it.

If we all committed ourselves into personal lockdowns, maybe we could keep that death toll below 100,000. If we don’t, then a million-plus body count is certainly possible.

Spread the word. Challenge your friends to help keep the death toll down. Shame them, if necessary, into staying as isolated as you. Whatever it takes.

Do it.

Now.

Your mission …

Living room tent
When is the last time you built a sheet tent in the living room? Hey, this might be the perfect opportunity. What else can we do to bide time while doing our part to flatten the curve?

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to chill.”

For many of us, that is how we can best help the nation ride out the coronavirus. As an Internet statement goes: “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being called to sit on your couch. You can do this.”

But that doesn’t mean it must be as boring as it sounds. Let’s think this through. How can we pass the time less painfully?

I’m often on the computer, either writing or surfing the Web. That’s a pretty normal day for me.

Leah is working on a quilting project she wants to finish while we’re in isolation.

Our RV park is in the country and we’ve been getting out for walks two or three times a day either around the park or down the county road.

Leah’s just finished streaming a bunch of episodes of the TV series, “Highlander.” Along the way, I picked up far more information about immortals than I thought possible. So, add binge-watching to the list.

We’ve both done a bit of telephoning or writing or online chatting with various friends.

We’re missing out on a cruise in order to be able to chill on our couch. To make up for it just a teeny-tiny bit, we’re planning to pick a night that we would have been at sea to dress up and have our own dance.

What else?

Help out here; we’re all in this together, even though we’re staying apart. What are you doing to make it easier to camp out on the sofa without the benefit of March Madness? Any other ideas you haven’t tried yet or are maybe hesitant to try?

Share your thoughts, while maintaining a more-than-safe distance from others, and let’s flatten this curve and regain a grasp of normalcy … however long it takes.

Finally, that opening sentence – “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to chill.” – isn’t really the option it sounds to be. It’s an order. It’s what you must be willing to do for yourself, family, friends, neighbors and even total strangers.

Chill. Am I right?

Soap and water

Moon and clouds

You’ve not heard anything about washing hands recently, have you?

It’s everywhere. News. Talk shows. Politicians. Parents. The past two Sundays, our preacher has admonished everyone to properly wash their hands.

It may seem like they’re overdoing it, but washing hands thoroughly with soap and water, as well as abstaining from touching your mouth/nose/throat area with unclean hands, can be beneficial in keeping illness at bay.

Illness, you know, like the coronavirus covid-19.

My daughter and her family are spending spring break at Walt Disney World where, as you know, large crowds tend to congregate. She reports that people have been taking it in stride, giving others a decent amount of social space and exhibiting patience. She said folks seem to be taking the hand washing and disinfecting to heart. Additionally, employees have been wiping down surfaces at a fast pace.

But, did we really need such a heavy-handed campaign just to remind us to wash our hands?

Yes, we did. This is something I’ve never written about (best I recall) in thousands of newspaper columns and Internet blog posts, but…

Too many men and boys do not wash their hands before leaving public rest rooms. Other guys reading this can confirm it.

Tell me, women, what have you observed?

More than once, half-jokingly, I’ve told Leah in a store, “See the guy in the blue shirt? Don’t shake his hand.”

And it’s not just riffraff.

Don’t ask me any questions about what I’m about to say because I won’t answer them, but there was a guy at a place I used to work who I noticed never washed his hands. This fellow was pretty important in the company, a community leader type.

And he did not wash his hands upon leaving the rest room.

So, maybe that’s what we’ll take away from this virus scare. Maybe we’ll learn to wash our hands.

Interesting times

While we’re counting down to our next cruise, world health officials are counting the reasons we should not go.

Dream Chasing 101

To sail, or not to sail. (Photo by Steve Martaindale)

“May you live in interesting times,” I’ve often heard said, is a traditional Chinese curse. The thought, whether originating in Asia or not, is that times are made more “interesting” when they are filled with strife and trouble; peaceful times are boring.

I refuse to allow discord to co-opt one of my favorite positive words – interesting – because we like to think we live interesting lives.

Currently, however …


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Remember the Erie Canal?

Iconic towpath view
An iconic view of the Erie Canal and the towpath once trodden by draft animals.

Many of you followed Leah and me for five weeks from May-June 2016 as we walked end-to-end, from Buffalo to Albany, on the Erie Canal in upstate New York.

It remains the overall neatest thing we’ve ever done.

If you did not follow along then, or if you need something to pass time on a bad weather day, I have revamped the blog into a single document, changing it to chronological order, and included a bunch of photos.

You will find it under the Expedition tab or by following this link.

I do not hate Donald Trump

Bluish blue wave

I read and hear it quite a bit, someone espousing hatred for Donald Trump.

I cannot hate Trump, flawed as he may be, because that helps nobody. It does nothing to alleviate suffering caused by his policies, it fails to improve international relations, it does not move us any nearer healing the planet.

Hatred doesn’t even affect him, at least not in any way beneficial. Granted, video from the World Series game where he was roundly booed by the crowd appeared as though he may have been hurt, but don’t expect that to change anything. This is not a holiday movie.

(As a side note, I have no problem with booing the president. It’s the only way most of us can vocally express an opinion of a celebrity or a politician, the opposite of cheering.)

The only person affected by hate is the one harboring it. Resisters have more to accomplish after last year’s ringing endorsement of Democrats in the congressional elections. Losing mojo by concentrating on hatred hurts us and our message.

So, I’m settling in on a one-year mission to do what I can to encourage new voters to get involved in the 2020 elections, to help us all by voting out Trump and the Republican Party that has failed to protect us from an aspiring dictator.

Instead of hating, body shaming, making fun of hair or bottled tans … whatever … there are plenty of genuine nation-killing problems on which to focus.

My vote counted stickerCheck and make sure you’re registered to vote (some states have been dropping thousands off voter rolls) and study up on what’s happening.

Finally, one last-minute reminder. Some areas have elections tomorrow, Tuesday, Nov. 5. If that applies to you and you haven’t voted, do your homework and be there in the morning.

Robin

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the suicide death of comedian/actor Robin Williams.

As a live entertainer, Robin hardly had a peer. As an actor, he brought out the depths of an amazingly broad assortment of characters. Not all the roles he took were particularly noteworthy, but he seemed to relish the chance to do something bold, something different.

All his laughter and his apparent love for us made it difficult to understand him taking his own life, but then we heard about his growing battle with Lewy body dementia and it became understandable, sadly understandable.

Having lost a loved one to a long, drawn-out experience with Lewy body dementia, I can understand his decision, even though I could not encourage it. Could I, myself, consider it?

I honestly do not know.

I do not readily get caught up in the presence or absence of a particular performer, but Robin Williams will always strike a chord with me.

I miss him, I appreciate how he enriched our lives, I regret illness took him away so soon.

“You’re only given a little spark of madness,” he’s quoted as saying. “You mustn’t lose it.”

Thank you, Robin, for showing us the wonderful worlds of madness.

Mooning

Setting moon 7-19-19
Moon setting over the Black Hills Friday morning, July 19, 2019.

July 20, 1969 – 50 years ago today – is one of my most vivid milestone moments.

I remember some events so clearly and the dates readily spring to memory. Proposing to Leah. The birth of our daughter. Accepting Christ.

But the runaway leader for events that did not really involve me was doubtlessly July 20, 1969, watching humans place the first footprints on the moon. (I watched with my Dad at his grocery store, which I recounted here four years ago.)

It was a notable achievement, for sure, completing President John F. Kennedy’s charge less than seven years earlier, but it was important to our nation’s spirit for other reasons.

We were a country in turmoil.

Almost 17,000 American servicemen died in Vietnam in 1968, the peak, and more than 11,000 more in 1969.

Protests of the unpopular war were rampant, quite notably the Nov. 15, 1969, demonstration in Washington, D.C., that drew as many as half a million people.

The nation continued dragging its feet when it came to civil rights. The Rev. Martin Luther King was assassinated the previous year. That we were divided into two not-really-equal populations was painfully obvious, even to a young white teen.

Hurricane Camille, one of the most intense tropical cyclones to hit the United States, made landfall in Mississippi on Aug. 18, devastating much of the Gulf Coast and killing 259.

On June 28, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay nightclub, providing what is considered the spark initiating the gay liberation movement in the United States.

The Charles Manson cult committed numerous murders and atrocities that captured the nation’s attention.

The day before the moon landing, a car driven by U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy crashed on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts, killing Mary Jo Kopechne.

The Beatles released Abbey Road, their final studio collaboration, and gave their last concert.

Downers all.

Then, at 9:56 p.m. Central time on Sunday, July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong haltingly uttered as he stepped off the lunar module onto the moon’s surface, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The nation – indeed, the world – reveled in the accomplishment.

And now…

Turmoil and chaos embroil our country again in 2019.

We’re caught up in ongoing wars where we cannot see a point.

Our government has chosen to deny refugee rights to thousands fleeing persecution and has, in the face of withering criticism from countries around the globe, executed nationalistic plans that separate families, even children, and places them in prisons in an obvious effort to discourage others from seeking a better, safer life.

Civil rights remain an elusive goal as more and more stories surface of those in power denying rights to minorities, even to death.

Indeed, officials at the very top of government regularly incite racist behavior by appealing to the lowest, baseless fears of their constituents.

Global climate change continues to show itself in new ways, pushing weather to extremes and changing our future. To greatly exacerbate the problem, too many of our leaders choose to believe con-men rather than scientists.

Over the past 20 years, mass shootings in schools and houses of worship have become almost commonplace.

Personal wealth in our country has percolated to the top, enriching the rich while marooning low and middle classes in hopelessness.

Suicides and opioid addictions are wreaking havoc on American families.

Our LGBTQ communities, after winning rights and acceptance on many levels, are again being marginalized and punished for being different from those in power.

So …

What is our moon landing now?