December – The Year Can’t End Soon Enough

It’s been a long slog. What will the last month bring?

December 31

I don’t really want to write anything weighty or worrisome today. It’s a day to reflect on the year that is passing (though who wants to do THAT this year!) and to prepare to welcome, with hope and anticipation, the year that awaits us.

And even for the most jaded among us I’d wager that we all feel that sense of something special as we mark this transition from one year to the next. Knowing that an uncharted year lies ahead of us we can project, we can anticipate and we can guess as to what might come, but we don’t really know what surprises and wonders await. Nor do we know the heartaches or worries that might await as well. And that’s all it should be. We’ll take both the joys and the sorrows as they come, but tonight we need not think about either.

This is a night where hope and promise rule. And this is a night where, if the gods are kind, we might be joined by those we love and with whom we’ll share the journey into 2021. 

We know that will be harder than normal for many of us this year, but if we aren’t together to raise a toast, hand in hand, or to share a hug or a kiss, then we will do so in our hearts. And as the clock strikes 12, wherever you may be, know that my New Year’s wishes are carried on the winds to all of you.

So, Happy New Year! May the road ahead be smoother, may the sun shine brighter, and may we all be together again before this next year ends.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 30

This has been the year of COVID. It has changed our lives, changed our politics, changed our future. Who would ever… ever… have expected anything like this. A year ago it was inconceivable.

Earlier this year we were shocked when new cases exceeded 20,000 a day. Anything more and we worried that things were spiraling out of control. But then we hit 40,000 a day. Then in September, after Labor Day, we were shocked that we were stuck at plateaus of 60.000 – 70,000 per day. The 20,000 a day threshold seemed like one we’d never get back to. 

Someday we will. But not soon. Right now we’re still moving in the wrong direction. On December 11 we had over 280,000 new infections in one day. 280,000. And we had multiple 200,000 plus days in December. The good news is that new cases may be starting to slow. Last week we averaged 186,000 cases a day. But that was Christmas week and numbers could have been underreported. More to the point though, even if it WAS the end of the Thanksgiving surge, we will soon see the Christmas/New Year surge come into play and it will begin at what is already a dangerously high level of infections

I don’t recall any dramatic headlines when we started to regularly top 200,000 new cases a day, even though it is 10 times the level we wanted, once, to have as the top end of the rate of new infections. We treat it as routine. But it’s not. It is not just that it has “gotten out of control” as Tony Fauci said yesterday. It has become totally insane.  

There was a time not long ago when our sensibilities were also rocked by the idea of 100 people dying every day from this disease. We were then appalled when the numbers climbed to over 500 people, then over 1,000 dying every day. Yesterday over 3,700 people died. Think about that. 3,700 people died yesterday from COVID in the US. Over 150 people an hour. Death tolls that exceed those lost on 9/11 are happening day after day. But still there are many who can’t be bothered to wear a mask, to stay out of the bars (or the churches in some cases) or to keep their distance.

How we’ve responded — or failed to — as a government will be a case study for years to come. But so will the way we have reacted as a society. The weariness that consumed us. The apathy that many showed. The unwillingness to accept reality. The numbing of empathy. The selfishness. The collective turning away from the horrors of what we see happening to so many families. Our unwillingness to accept our responsibility to each other within our communities. 

There is so much that I don’t recognize in our society. But maybe it has been there all along and we just didn’t see until a crisis forced us to reveal ourselves and our attitudes. The analysis will be interesting. 

I wonder as well if the studies will offer thoughtful explanations of why we failed as a government or will they be as incredulous as I am about the breakdowns on so many levels.  Even after ten months we still are struggling with providing PPE and we continue to bear witness to the costs of inadequate testing capacity.  And, despite having had months to up our game, we still have not developed the robust surveillance and contact tracing mechanisms that are critically important to any serious effort to tackle a disease like this (or to track a new variant).

And now the promises about the rapid vaccine rollout that were going to be such a game changer are starting to ring hollow  — like too many other promises we have heard over the past ten months. 

The vaccine development effort was truly praise-worthy but doesn’t make a whit of difference unless it turns into “shots in arms.” The administration said we’d vaccinate 20 million people by the end of December. We’ve vaccinated only one tenth of that. That’s not good.

Some of it is a function of the fact that local health systems are totally overwhelmed by the pandemic. They are consumed with managing a crisis for which there are not enough health care professionals, not enough money, not enough space, and not enough equipment. And with many local health care systems on the brink of implosion, there is also not enough time, energy, or resources to set up or implement logistically challenging vaccination programs. 

The problems are compounded by the lack of leadership at the national level in terms of a vaccination strategy. It’ s not enough to deliver a bunch of doses to a state and say good luck. The failure, at the national level, to recognize the lack of capacity in so many states and communities only makes things worse and the unwillingness to take on a partnership role with the states to get the shots into arms is going to hurt us all. It’s not about WHO is supposed to be responsible. It’s about HOW we get this done together. 

Trump has never seemed to understand this. He’d rather use the governors as whipping boys on whom he can blame his own failures, particularly if they are from “blue” states. And Congress, caught up in its own gamesmanship, has failed to provide additional, desperately needed resources to the states. There too we saw a failure of leadership, of vision, and a failure to live up to their duty to serve the interests of the American people. That is supposed to be what their work is all about, but far more time seems to be spent serving the interests of their party or in protecting their own futures than in worrying about ours.

Joe Biden says he will focus differently, act differently, partner differently. I believe that is his intent and I think he and his team know that action — particularly getting the federal government to assume a stronger and more dynamic leadership role in coordinating the vaccine effort — is critically important. 

Let’s hope we see changes because it’s pretty abysmal as we stand now. In the next few days we’ll hit the 20 million mark in terms of those who have been infected. And by the time Biden is inaugurated over 400,000 of us will have died from COVID.  The picture, at least for the next few months, looks bleak.

So, it is against this backdrop that I find myself writing once again about the pandemic. But really, what issue deserves more attention?  

I know I offer nothing new — except ever more depressing numbers — but we need to keep our focus on what matters. And what matters right now is what Joe Biden has asked all of us to do and what other public health leaders beg: just wear the damn mask. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 29

Day 294 since I started writing daily. I don’t keep a running total, but every now and then I double check. It gives a benchmark — a frame of reference. I like having those. 

There are a lot of us who do… and that is perhaps why a year as wildly unhinged as this one has been offends our sense of order. Nothing has unfolded as it should. But, of course, since Trump became president he has turned so much on its head. Some folks applaud it. But, although I don’t believe we can’t strike new paths and break free from the sometime stultifying constraints of “how it has always been done,” striking new paths with a vision to guide you is one thing. Sparking chaos and tearing down existing structures just for the sake of disrupting and dividing is another. 

No matter how you slice it though, it has been a year unlike any I can recall.

I don’t know what I expect going forward, but it might be instructive to have this record. I’ve never done such sustained journaling before. Already I find it fascinating to see, when I glance back at entries from April or May, how worried everyone seemed to be as the pandemic took hold. I can’t help but be taken aback, then, by how cavalier so many have become 7 months later when the virus is far, far worse than it was at that point. It will be interesting to have a continued basis for comparison. 

There are still so many uncertainties as we head into 2021. The WHO warns that this pandemic may not be “the big one.”  Fauci says the virus has “just gotten out of control.” And the new variant that has appeared keeps on spreading even as scientists offer reassuring words, but have little certainty. 

I can’t control these things. But I can try to manage my responses to the vagaries and uncertainties. 

So I’ll just close by stealing a few paras from our New Year greeting to family and friends:

“As the year draws to a close we wanted to send a short holiday note to tell you that you’re in our thoughts and our hearts as we bid farewell to this oh-so-challenging year.

“No one needs us to recount all the woes and fears and heartaches of a year that will always be remembered for a dangerous and deadly pandemic and a divisive, and in some ways equally dangerous, political environment. There are other places to talk about these things. You can look at Scott’s blog that he has written daily, and Leija has edited, since March 10, for our perspective on the world of 2020.

“But this is just a chance to say how much you all mean to us. This year, which has kept us away from almost all of you, has served to remind us of how much you enrich our lives and how much we miss the chance to share moments that matter with you. The year has reminded us as well of just how vulnerable we can be, of how strong, yet fragile, the ties that bind us as a community can be, and of how, more than ever, we need to know who we are and what we value in the world.

“And, for us, it isn’t the trips we cancelled that mattered (and there were about a half dozen of them). It isn’t the restaurants we didn’t dine at. It isn’t even the birthdays and holidays that weren’t celebrated together. 

“We missed all those things and look forward to enjoying them again. We can’t wait for unfettered hugs and kisses and the joy of being together. But what we value is knowing that our loved ones are safe, knowing that we did all we could to keep them that way, and knowing that they did the same for us. Thank you to all who tried to do the right thing. It mattered. And it still does.”

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 28

Well, after a multi-day rollercoaster ride Trump finally signed the COVID relief bill last night. The bill itself may be flawed and insufficient. But it is, as my mother would have said, “Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.” (My mother had a bountiful supply of pithy sayings. Perhaps most mothers do).  And it IS better than that. But we can hope that it is, as President-elect Biden has said, only a downpayment.  

I listened to the tale of one man today. He had lost his job that paid about $90K a year in a service industry due to the pandemic. He’s now driving for Door Dash making about $300 a week. That’s around an 80% reduction in income. He’s applying for jobs, but there are 100 or more folks competing for the same position when he goes to interview. Over the past months he first drew down his savings and his 401K. They’re gone. He’s borrowed from family. That’s about gone too. His $300 a week can’t cover the rent, and it sure can’t feed his family as well. The $600 check for him and his wife and whatever else they get for their kids doesn’t come close to getting them out of the hole. It’s probably not even really a bandaid. 

There are some pretty grim realities out there for a lot of folks. Thank god the bill was signed, but we, as a nation, are going to have to ask ourselves how we are going to help the most vulnerable in our nation to weather this storm and it’s devastating aftermath. Some jobs will never come back. Some industries will be forever changed. I doubt we’ll ever get back to where we were… to the time before COVID. There is a lot that will be different. How we as a society manage the dislocations and disruptions will tell us a lot about what kind of America we are going to be in the post-Trump world. 

Meanwhile, the vaccine distribution effort has gotten off to a slow start. As of today reports are that 1.9 million Americans have received their first vaccine shot. The hope had been that 20 million would have been inoculated by the end of the month. There are a lot of reasons why this is moving slower than Operation Warp Speed wanted it to. But it’s just a reminder that the vaccine’s impact will only be felt over time and, in the interim, we are all at risk.

Sadly, more people passed through US airports yesterday than any time since the pandemic began. Countless folks chose to travel rather than follow the public health advice. More than on Memorial Day, or the 4th, or Labor Day or Thanksgiving. And after each of those other holidays we saw a surge. And this is a holiday week… not just a three day weekend. What do you think will happen? If you guessed another major surge on top of an already out-of-control virus, you’ll be right.

Three thousand folks will likely die today in the USA from COVID. And another 3,000 or more tomorrow. And on the 30th as well. And again on the last day of the year.

Three months ago, 16% of ICU beds were filled with COVID patients. Now it’s 40%. And in some parts of the nation the numbers are far worse with doctors essentially having to make the gut-wrenching choice as to who gets ICU care and who doesn’t and who gets access to what might be life-saving interventions and who doesn’t.  

How would any of us fare, I wonder, if we fall ill and are evaluated against someone ten years or twenty years younger? Whose needs are greatest? I want to believe we ALL would get the same quality and degree of care. But that is not what is happening. And it is not what will happen in many parts of the nation over the coming months. All I can say is… don’t get sick.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 27

It is just hard, some days, to opt to write. I can talk about our efforts to market The Ambassador’s Dog. I can talk about how cute the grandkids are (because it IS true), or I can detail the progress on the sampler I’m cross stitching for our newest grandson who will be with us in a few more months. Or I could focus on the latest vegan dining experiments (I made a vegan roast for Christmas dinner that was really quite tasty and that worked great for a hot “roast beef” sort of sandwich last night.  

I guess in some ways it’s a reminder that life goes on despite the pandemic and despite the fears and uncertainties that now confront us on so many levels. 

More than 63,000 of us have died this month from the pandemic. That’s up from around 36,000 in November which was the worst month yet… before this one. There was a time when 1,000 deaths a day from the virus would have shocked our sensibilities. Now we are seeing 3,000 a day, and the numbers who are gathering over the holidays almost guarantee that January and February will be as bad or worse.

I think that some are just so tired of the pandemic they just want to tune it all out. But that serves no one’s interest.  

And we have gone yet another day with no indication from Trump as to whether he will sign the stimulus bill. In addition to the relief it will offer to many families who are already desperate, it will help fund vaccine distribution and other pandemic response efforts. But Trump, as he has made clear, isn’t interested in any of that. So he’s vetoed the defense bill — reportedly because it doesn’t strip social media companies of protections that would, among other things, keepTrump from suing them for declaring the lies he posts to be false and misleading. 

And, of course, Lindsey Graham, who has abandoned any pretense of holding onto principles he once espoused, encourages Trump and condones his excesses. Sure, undercut the men and women who serve in the military. Sure, ignore the bipartisan effort that went into crafting the important provisions on cyber security. 

Veto the bill out of pique because you’re convinced that social media was in league with Joe Biden. Veto it because you believe that there is a massive conspiracy within your own government and without that came together to somehow steal an election. Ignore the more than 7 million vote margin of victory. Ignore the will of the people of Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Georgia and Arizona.  Their systems were fine last time, of course, because Trump won. But now, when they have chosen differently, they are all corrupt. So let’s punish everyone. No bill for the Pentagon. No stimulus bill. Will he let the government close down as well? We’re only about 36 hours away from that.

And still there are Republican legislators who intend to make a show of trying to dispute the results of the Electoral College when they meet to ratify the decision of the voters on January 6. It’s all for show. It’s all to appease Trump in his pettiness and sulking. But it comes with continued costs for our nation. It comes when we should be focused on saving lives, on helping the front line health care workers, and when we should be rushing emergency help to hospitals across the nation. 

No wonder people are disillusioned with our politics. No wonder that respect for the Congress has cratered in recent years. This is a hell of a time for us to be so lost. But I fear we are. 

The days ahead, as we sort out this latest mess, won’t really tell us anything new about Trump — sadly enough. But they may tell us whether our lawmakers are able to be leaders who pull us back from the brink or demagogues who will push us over the edge. I hope for the former. Time will tell.

And so starts the last week of 2020.  Happy Sunday.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 26

As we draw close to the end of the year, we’ll see an abundance of  “year in review” stories start to appear. I’m not sure who among us will be excited to read them. It’s been such a very distressing year on so many levels. 

And the bad news isn’t over yet. Today unemployment benefits are going to run out for thousands of Americans. Eviction notices are piling up and will be served as protections start to expire. We could even see a government shutdown in the midst of the crisis. I addition, the defense spending bill was vetoed the other day by Trump and that included a variety of important elements, especially in the realm of cybersecurity — an issue whose importance is not lost on any of us following the recent cyber attack. 

We don’t know, as I write this, whether Trump will sign the stimulus bill. He has threatened to veto it too. After ignoring the needs of our citizens for months and months, and after not playing any apparent role in the negotiations that led finally to the compromise bill that is before him, he suddenly decided that he’d blow up the process with new demands. 

It would be great if we could offer more support for families as Trump is now insisting on. I just wish he had done it earlier and I just wish I really believed he was acting from reasons other than just wanting to blow up the process and essentially strike back at the Republican leadership (McConnell in particular) that he feels has abandoned him.  

If this bill is vetoed too, it’s going to be a true disaster. It’s not about politics. It’s not about hurt feelings. It’s about people’s lives.

So, as we pass 330,000 deaths and near 20 million COVID infections, what’s Trump doing? He’s playing golf. He’s Tweeting about Melania not being on the cover of any fashion magazines as First Lady. He’s attacking Republicans. He’s continuing to claim he won the election. And so on. No time to address the bombing in Nashville. No time for serious discussion of the pandemic, the stimulus bill, the cyber attack, or any of the issues that really matter.

So the year end reviews are, I fear, premature. Right up until the year ends, and beyond, I fear that this President will continue to sow chaos and division. Like so many, I just want the craziness to end. I want the pandemic to end. I want the unrelenting attacks and mean-spiritedness to end. 

Let’s hope for new beginnings.  25 days and counting.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 25

Merry Christmas.

Today is a day for a break. The pandemic will still be here, sadly, tomorrow. There will be time enough, another day, to voice our concerns and fight for what we believe. Today is Christmas.

So Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. May this day bring joy, peace, and time for reflection.

See you tomorrow.Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 24

It’s Christmas Eve Day. We made it this far into the year at least. 

But not all of us did. There has been so much suffering for so many. I feel fortunate that my children and grandchildren have all been safe and I’ll enjoy our Zoom gathering later today. I won’t complain about the separation. I’ll be grateful we’re all still here.

Such is the nature of Christmas in 2020. But this crazy year has, in so many ways, also been instructional and has reminded us of what is truly important. Of what really matters.

And today I won’t even mention “he who should not be named.” He doesn’t deserve to occupy our thoughts today. And I was thinking yesterday that, although much of our ire and dismay regarding the pandemic has been directed at him (and deservedly so), he is not solely to blame for all the suffering we see.

There are so many of our citizens who have refused to listen. There are so many who have been irresponsible. There are so many who have put personal wishes over the common good. And they have made us all more vulnerable. They have put all of us more at risk. 

The stories of families that have been devastated by the virus — families that lost multiple members — are also, in many cases, stories of families that disregarded the warnings. Families that came together for big birthday parties, or anniversary celebrations, or Thanksgiving despite the warnings. And they paid a price. A horrific price.

I don’t say this to blame or to point fingers, but to recognize that although we can blame our failed leaders for this crisis all we want, it also comes down to personal responsibility. We face choices at Christmas and we will face them in the months ahead.  The pandemic will continue to pose an unrelenting threat to us all as we wait for the  vaccine to be more widely distributed and take hold. And over those months, it will remain dangerous to all and deadly for too many.

So please, make the right choices for yourself and for your families. The idiot in the White House or the equally irresponsible leaders in many State Houses can’t force you to go maskless. They can’t compel you to bring your entire family together to risk everyone’s well being. Only you can do that. 

What a grim message to write on the day of Christmas Eve, but what a grim year it has been. 

I don’t “feel” grim, though. I feel hopeful and I feel thankful. We’ve come this far and we’ll make it the rest of the way. So enjoy the day. And if your family is, like ours, one of those that opens most things on Christmas Eve… enjoy! Whether you’re with your family “pod” or together via Zoom, I hope you’ll have a wonderful time as you celebrate the moment, relive memories of Christmases past, and plan for all the Christmases to come. 

And please,

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 23

It’s the day before Christmas Eve. I wish it was all about songs of joy and peace, but instead the news remains deeply worrisome. 

I won’t try to quantify the horrific pandemic news. All you have to do is a quick google search or turn on the news and you’ll hear just how bad it is. The personal accounts from family members, from frontline health care workers and others who are directly touched by this crisis are wrenching. And at this point, they may resonate more than a recitation of the grim statistics that we have become inured to. 

Have we reached the limits of empathy? Have we become numb to the tragedies unfolding around us? It happens. But it’s dangerous, too, if it also leads us to become lax or fatalistic about the virus. We are seeing now the costs of the folks who didn’t exercise discipline and restraint at Thanksgiving. And with record numbers flying for the Christmas holidays, what will we see in another three weeks?

We have chosen a Christmas without our kids and grandkids. For us… for our family… that is what seems right. I know others will choose differently. It’s up to all of us to make our decisions. I hope more of us will choose safety. I hope more of us will choose to believe that this is part of our responsibility as citizens and that we will put the common good above our personal desires for Christmas. We will see.

And if you choose to gather, I hope that there will be no cause for regret in the coming weeks, but we know that for many there will be. The science has shown us that is the reality. But our ability as a society to convince ourselves that somehow we’re smarter than the virus is truly striking. If only it wasn’t also misguided.

Meanwhile, the news on other fronts is equally discouraging. I won’t rail about Trump’s pardons for corrupt Republican politicians or for the Blackwater folks who killed innocents in Iraq. It’s disgusting and immoral. But he’s got the power to do it and he will. More will come. And we can feel all the outrage we want but it won’t change a thing on that front. So I’ll take a deep breath and try not to think about it except to thank god that he’ll be gone from office in a few more weeks.

But it is harder to take that deep breath as he threatens now to veto the stimulus package that his own administration helped to broker. After sitting silently and ignoring the needs of desperate Americans for months, he now claims he wants to give folks more money than allocated in the bill. He knows it will create chaos. He knows — or should know — that the Republican caucus will balk. And he knows that to do this at the last moment, just before Christmas, threatens millions with the loss of unemployment benefits and puts others at risk of eviction immediately following the holidays. Yep… Merry Christmas from the buffoon in the White House.

Is he doing this to be vindictive? To punish Americans for rejecting him? To embarrass Mitch McConnell for acknowledging Joe Biden’s victory? Or is he trying to create an even worse disaster for Biden and Harris to clean up? Does he really want to weaken our nation so much and to make Russia and China even happier yet as he sows more division?  

Who the hell knows. This is all about what goes on in the recesses of Donald Trump’s fevered brain. It’s scary. And I have to believe it is a dark and ugly place filled with demons of his own making that he will now inflict upon us. What a mess. 

Without the distraction of having a house full of loved ones gathered around it becomes easier to dwell on all this, I know. But those distractions, as wonderful as they would have been, wouldn’t have changed the reality that this may be the grimmest Christmas and the most turbulent year I can ever recall. 

But we can’t give in to despair, and we can’t let frustration, anger or fear define our days. Instead there is more reason than ever to look beyond the usual Christmas hype and try to find the spirit of love and caring and hope that this season stands for. We can’t change the realities but we can decide how we will face them, and what we will strive for in the days ahead. We can choose hope. We can find joy. We can share our love. 

Sounds schmaltzy? Maybe. Like a Hallmark greeting card? Perhaps. But in these challenging days I’ll choose that path over cynicism and bitterness and anger. 

So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Love, Peace and Joy to all. Take THAT, Donald Trump!

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 22

Please. If you’re looking for a pre-Christmas story of joy and peace today, look away. I don’t want to be a curmudgeon or a grump, but I can’t help but feel a bit cranky.

Let’s start with seeing an array of Republican Senators and Representatives, in a stunning display of chutzpah and hypocrisy, smiling as they receive the coronavirus vaccine. These are the same spineless sycophants who slavishly followed Trump’s line. They wouldn’t wear masks, they wouldn’t fight for tough public health measures, they dismissed the coronavirus as no worse than the flu.

And now? Now they rush to the front the line. Now they suddenly decide THEY need the vaccine first. That THEY need to be protected. Because THEY are so important to our nation. The same bozos who left people hanging for the past ten months as they debated whether a second stimulus bill was needed. As citizens lost their jobs, lost their savings, their businesses and their hope. As parents went without dinner because there wasn’t enough to eat for their children.

Yep. As people lived with uncertainty and fear and desperation, Mitch McConnell and his cronies made folks wait.They couldn’t decide whether they needed to bother and they let the people they serve wait. Well, for my money now THEY should have had to wait. It seems only right. But obviously THEY think they deserve special treatment. Excuse me while I retch.

And to listen to McConnell tell us that the new stimulus bill is perfect. That it’s not too little or too late. To see him act as if we should applaud him for his efforts. It’s too much. If you wonder why I’m cynical and irritated look no further.

But, if you must look further for the source of my crankiness, try the insanity in the White House where Trump is becoming even crazier and more desperate — if that is possible. His obsession with overturning a democratic election seems to be all that he can think about. He is surrounded by liars and fools like Mike Flynn (convicted of lying to the FBI) and Sydney Powell (too crazy even for Rudy G), and by former White House strategist Steve Bannon who Trump fired and who is under indictment for fraud but who once again is whispering in Trump’s ear and pushing his buttons.

They all are encouraging him in efforts to change the election results and drive nails into the coffin of our democracy. And, shamefully, there’s a number of Republican legislators led by Representative Mo Brooks who want to support the cause and attempt a congressional coup to deny Biden the Presidency. We ALL should be spun up. What they’re doing is admittedly crazy — but it’s also wrong, dangerous, and treasonous.

Russia and China and others are thrilled to see our nation torn and divided.
And, if that’s not enough to explain my mood this sunny Tuesday morning, there’s the pandemic. We’ve already seen a government that has been incredibly feckless and irresponsible and we’ve witnessed a president who does nothing while the death toll rises.  

But now, with almost 320,000 of our citizens dead, they suggest we should nonetheless trust them as we grapple with a new concern — a far more easily contracted form of the virus than we have yet encountered coming out of the UK and spreading rapidly. Forty nations have imposed limits on travel from the UK, but not the US.
Hmmmm. “Don’t worry,” they say. “There’s no need to panic,” they assure us. That’s what they say. Even Fauci. I’m sorry. I’ve heard that before. Last March. And just where the hell did that get us?

I’m not saying that this latest mutation of the virus is going to spell catastrophe. I’m not a scientist and I can’t make a judgment on that. So I want to believe what the experts say. But we’ve been surprised so much by this virus. We’ve seen so many mistakes made and so many folks die due to government incompetence, that I would like to see an excess of caution right now. And their reassurances that seem based more on what we’ve seen from disease behavior in the past than on what we know about this one do little to comfort me.

I also want to be sanguine that this new mutation will not be able to overcome the vaccines that are being deployed. The scientists certainly believe that to be true. What they say makes sense but, again, what if they are wrong? What if they are fooled once more by this novel coronavirus?

I hate that my trust in them has been compromised by the incredible politicization of science and public health that has been our lot over the past year. And I hate that my respect for our leaders has been eroded even more. But THAT has been building for years — and the responsibility rests with them and their conduct.

So, excuse me for feeling cynical, jaded and perturbed today. I hope that the ghost of “Christmas Yet To Come” chooses to visit Trump, and Pence and McConnell, and Graham, Cruz, Johnson, and many others. And I hope that the ghost shows them visions that reveal the horrific cost of their actions and I hope that they all are devastated to see what they have done. I doubt they will be — which says a lot about them. But, if they should seek solace and forgiveness, it would be no surprise if people their back to them in disgust — in the same way those erstwhile leaders turned their backs on us when we needed them to act with courage and decency.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll find a story of hope. Today? It’s pretty hard.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 21

Only four more days until Christmas.  

What would you like for the holidays?

For me the list could be summed up with one word: normalcy.

But that begs the question, doesn’t it? What IS normal these days?

Donald Trump has taken a blowtorch to the concept of “normal” and, if the pandemic could wield tools, a jackhammer would have been the instrument of choice for ITS assault on so many aspects of our lives.

“Normal” would be welcome indeed. 

We certainly won’t have it in time for Christmas. Trump will still be poisoning the environment for what passes for political discourse these days. He’ll still be bitter and angry and hateful — a far cry from the spirit of the season but very true to form for him. And the pandemic will continue to rage. I worry that too many families will refuse to heed the warnings and will gather together in ways that are too reckless and they will pay the price in terms of tragic losses in the new year.

I understand the desire to gather together. It’s Christmas after all. Normally our house would be bursting at the seams. It would be loud, raucous, and chaotic. And it would be wonderful. It would be too many presents under the tree, it would be kids too excited, adults too full from holiday eating, and all of us too full of the joy of being together to really notice how tired we are, or how crazy it all is. 

That is not what we’ll have this year. So Christmas won’t be normal. But it will be safe, it will be smart, and it will be responsible. We know what we have to do and so we will do it. I know that I’ll feel the absence of the kids and grandkids. I know how much I’ll miss them. Miss cooking for them. Miss listening to them. Miss the trash talk over our holiday Zioncheck games and just miss knowing that for a few days we are all together, wrapped in the bonds of love that make a family. 

But I can’t have normal, for Christmas, so this year let’s settle for safe. Let’s protect each other, care for each other, and do all we can to make sure that the new year will find each of us in our accustomed place.

Happy Monday! 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 20

You can’t escape the crazy. I wish we could. But we’re stuck with it, it seems.

Martial law? For god’s sake. It’s insane that we now have Mike Flynn, a disgraced former general, convicted of lying to the FBI and every bit as goofy as Giuliani, telling us that martial law is https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.flipcause.com/secure/team_fundraiser/ODQxMTY%3D/6764&source=gmail-imap&ust=1609099234000000&usg=AOvVaw1qwxEbxYScbi2psNCbRBX1 commonplace and, sure, it’s perfectly reasonable to declare it in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and maybe Georgia, too, to “rerun the election” there. Why? Because Donald Trump doesn’t want to accept that he lost. So let’s do it again… and again… and again… until he wins. Let’s call out the troops. Let’s let guys in body armor and waving military weapons oversee our democracy.

For god’s sake. The mere fact that they could talk about this is insane. 

And while we’re at it, let’s propose that we make a totally discredited attorney, who even Trump and Giuliani had disavowed for her crazy claims a few weeks ago, a Special Counsel to investigate “massive voter fraud” in the election. This is the woman who has promoted QAnon theories, who has alleged that a secret international cabal involving communists, “globalists,” George Soros, Hugo Chávez (who has been dead for seven years), the Clinton Foundation, the CIA, and thousands of Democratic and Republican officials, misused voting machines to transfer millions of votes away from Trump to Biden. And that is just the tip of her iceberg of craziness. 

How, in the name of god, has our nation reached the point where responsible journalists even find themselves reporting about whether Trump will refuse to leave the White House when Biden is inaugurated. It’s all insane.

And meanwhile, Congress STILL hasn’t been able to agree on a new stimulus plan after all these months. Only the sheer desperation that people are confront as they face eviction, financial ruin, and disaster for their families is driving them to agreement at the very last minute. This too is crazy.

And I don’t even want to consider, right now, the new strains of the virus that are creating problems in the UK or in South Africa. The experts say it will be ok… the vaccine will have them all covered. But, looking back on the history of this pandemic, I’d say that COVID-19 has fooled those experts more often than of us would like. So, one more thing to worry about. 

I think that if I keep looking at all the stories out there my head really will explode. And, if I try to detail all the tragic stories generated by the pandemic, my heart will break. So, in the interest of both my head and my heart, I will stop here. I’ll watch our granddaughter’s recital on ZOOM, chat with friends virtually later this afternoon, and spend a quiet evening with a glass of wine and maybe a good movie. 

Tomorrow, after all, is another day, and there’s plenty crazy to go around. I won’t run out of things to talk about!

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 19

I just came in from a walk with two of the pups. It was chilly, and — as we move ever closer to the winter solstice — the light, already obscured by a considerable cloud cover, seemed to dim quickly. Still, Lo Khyi and Gyptse reveled in the walk, in the scents, and in the simple act of walking together. 

I enjoy their company on these walks. They don’t talk too much, but occasionally one or the other will find a way to remind me with a look or a muzzle rubbing up briefly against my hand or leg, that these outings are meant to be enjoyed. They keep me from dwelling too much on issues or problems or worries and my thoughts flow instead where they will, matching the rhythm of our stroll.

And then I come back. The world is still waiting — unchanged from when we set out three quarters of an hour ago— but somehow it seems a bit more manageable. Not any easier to understand, mind you. But I find my level of outrage over the latest insanity to be tempered a bit. And that’s a good thing.

So I sat down, told Alexa to play Bach, and in the warmth of our family room with a pup snuggled next to me on the chair, I sat down to write. How I wish there was a great heartwarming story to share. A story of hope or joy (other than “The Ambassador’s Dog” lol). But I’ve got to admit, I’ve got nothing. 

The approval of the Moderna vaccine is good news. We can take some hope from that. It really is amazing how science and technology are changing the world and how using new tools allowed these companies to develop within 10 months not one, but two highly effective vaccines. It’s pretty incredible when you think of how the process often has taken a decade or more in the past.

And you wonder what new paths will now open up as the same technology and approaches are applied to other diseases. That is hopeful as well. 

But in the shorter term the vaccines aren’t going to save 250,000 more of us who are likely to die from the virus by April. By then we’ll be at over half a million deaths and counting. Not only is it almost incomprehensible, but what makes it all the more tragic is that most experts believe we could have prevented 80-90 percent of them. If Trump had given a damn, had he actually led, had he made wearing a mask and social distancing a badge of honor for his followers, things could have been different. Instead of this becoming a battle in the cultural wars we could have been showing the world how to fight the virus.

But he didn’t do that. 

Had he devoted half the energy to fighting the pandemic as he has to lying about the election results we might have saved tens of thousands of lives. 

But he didn’t care.

I won’t rant on about this. I’m still mellowed out by the walk. But it borders on the criminal. I’m rooting for karma to ensure that scales are balanced. Enough said.

The other story that has me totally bemused today is Trumpy’s latest Tweet about the massive cyberattack against our nation. His senior-most officials and congressional leaders are all pointing to Russia as the aggressor. But Trump? He STILL can’t find it within himself to say a harsh word about Putin or Russia. Maybe it was China, he suggested. It couldn’t have been his buddy Vladimir. Right?

For four years he has defended Russia. He has taken Putin’s word over the assessment of our intelligence and national security professionals. He has diminished us, he has weakened us, he has demeaned us. He has repeatedly looked the other way in the face of every Russian provocation or direct assault.  

I don’t get it. No one does. Maybe he thinks that being a thuggish dictator makes you look strong. Maybe he really does admire their ability to exercise their will without being bothered by foolish little things like constitutions and the rule of law. Or maybe — as so many have wondered — the Russians really do have dirt on Donald. God knows it fits their style. And when no other answer fits nearly as well you have to wonder. 

It certainly wouldn’t shock me. Nor will all the revelations of misdeeds, lies and lawbreaking that will likely emerge in the next year or two. I’d bet a lot that there is so much more that will come out that we’ll be overwhelmed. But shocked? Given his conduct over the past four years and his track record over decades, I don’t know how anyone could honestly be shocked.

But for now, I’ll listen to the music and prepare for the evening. We’ve fully transitioned through twilight to evening as I write. It felt like a nice way to end the afternoon.

Please, 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 18

“The Strange Case of the Disappearing President”

He had dominated the news cycles for years it seemed. He couldn’t resist the lure of the spotlight. He couldn’t stop talking. Again and again and again.

Nonsense. Lies. Attacks. Insults. They were his stock in trade and he eagerly shared them all. 

Until now. Now the silence seems deafening. Not a word. Not a peep. At least not on anything that mattered.  

Record numbers of Americans are dying every day from the coronavirus. But not a word about them. 

Hospitals are overwhelmed. In Southern California there are NO ICU beds available and physicians are being forced to make heartbreaking choices about who gets care. But not a word about that.

The Russians, about whose dictatorial leader he has waxed poetic, have launched a massive cyber attack on our nation. Something one legislator compared to a cyber Pearl Harbor. But once again, he remained silent. Not a word.

We called in an expert. Where could he have gone, we asked? 

It was said he was seen in a large white house in Washington. 

It was reported that he was spending time in a parklike place, hitting a small ball as hundreds died while he played… but not a peep did he utter.

There were other sightings… virtual sightings in the Twittersphere where his words thundered. FRAUD. THEFT. HOAX. Oh yes. It SOUNDED just like him. But his voice was not heard. He shunned the cameras. 

The incredible case of the disappearing President.

But the expert was not baffled. The question was easily answered. 

“He hides behind a cloak made in equal parts of bitterness, of petulance and anger,” he said. 

“Now he hides from the light. 

He sulks. “Don’t “look at me” when I cry. 

He pouts. “Don’t look at me, in my anger.”

He whines. “Don’t take my picture. Don’t, don’t don’t,” 

 “He won’t speak,” the expert says. “He won’t act. He doesn’t care “

“It’s elementary,” he explains.  “Little Donald is a child. His disappearing act is a show. He thinks in his silence, we will miss his voice. He thinks with his absence, we will be taught a lesson. He thinks with his disappearance we will miss him so.”

All I can say is please, Donald. Please teach us our lesson. Disappear. Now. Forever. Please, please, please. Let’s give it a try.

Happy Friday.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 17

There’s a reason I wanted to focus on the snow yesterday. It is far easier to wrap my head around an immediate event in my backyard than to make sense of all the craziness that is going on in the world beyond.

I think that many of us just want to shut it all out. I don’t blame you.There’s too much to absorb, too many problems, too much to worry about.

In many ways this is not that unusual. There are always problems, always challenges, and alway daunting tasks that are far beyond the ability of any of us to tackle. That is why we have governments. We elect officials to focus on these issues and step up to the problems so we don’t have to worry all day, every day.

What IS unusual is that our government has become so dysfunctional that it no longer is up to the task before it. We have seen this becoming more and more of a concern for at least the past two decades, and it has now reached a point where we really are in crisis on so many levels.

Whether we are talking about the White House or the Congress or even state governments, we have lost our way. I have to believe that the pressures for change and reform will only grow and the frustrations and dissatisfaction that so many of us may feel will demand action. But it is in environments like this, as folks seek new answers and as their anger, fear and disillusionment grows, that dangerous and reckless alternatives can also come to the fore. That is another worry to add to the pile.

Meanwhile, the grim news doesn’t get better by being ignored. Yesterday someone died in America from COVID every 30 seconds. Over 3,600 deaths. Just while writing this today, 60 more people have died. How heartbreaking. And we will soon start to exceed 4,000 deaths a day. That is simply shocking — we could have done so much better.

And it is against this backdrop that we see new emails released in which Trump’s team wanted millions of Americans to become infected so that we could develop herd immunity. And with it would have come hundreds of thousands deaths on top of the tragedy we have seen. Two million, three million, four? What would the count have been? How many of us were expendable in Trumpworld?  

Well, I guess the Trump’s folks looked at the fact that the pandemic hits the black and brown citizens or our nation harder and assume that they were expendable. And the elderly? Why not get rid of those of us who are no longer productive, who cost too much with social security and medicare benefits? It seems to fit the world view of Trump and company. And, although those points were not explicitly stated in the messages that were released, I wager they have to have been part of the calculation.

In government we often have to make hard choices, but they aren’t supposed to be heartless choices or reckless choices. But that’s what we have been getting.

In another sign of our dysfunction, 20.6 million people are now receiving some form of unemployment assistance. The economy is slowing. People are hurting. But still our leaders can’t agree on a stimulus bill and what IS on the table for discussion has been watered down to the point that it will do little to take the edge off the desperation so many feel.  

And, as they dither, a major food assistance program, Farmers to Families Food Boxes, will expire in two weeks and it has already run out funds in many states. Meanwhile the number of families needing help just to feed their children grows every day it seems. In America. Poverty and food insecurity are becoming a crisis. But our leaders can’t get it together enough to even consider the challenges.

While all THIS goes on, our nation is under assault. The Pentagon, State Department, Homeland Security, national intelligence agencies, were among an array of cabinet department, nuclear labs, and Fortune 500 companies who were victims of a massive Russian hack. We still don’t know the scope of the material that has been compromised, but the danger to our security and future is real and undeniable. 

So you might think that the special session of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, called by Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, would have focused on these concerns. You would think that they would want to know what happened, why, and how we’re going to manage this threat. Yes… you might think that. 

But Senator Johnson thought it more important to address Donald Trump’s grievances and lies about election fraud. He thought it more important to perpetuate the circus that Trump has created with his false claims and fictional accounts that undermine faith in our democracy. Johnson thought it more important to give even more oxygen to these lies, no matter the harm they do to our nation, rather than address real issues of concern.

This is what we face. This is what Trump has brought us to. He failed to lead us over the past four years and his abdication of his responsibilities in the face of the pandemic, in face of the crisis facing families across the nation, and in the face of unrelenting threats to our national security, is unconscionable.  And the fact that so many Republicans continue to buy into and support his lies — knowing them to be lies — borders on the treasonous. 

So it IS no wonder that many among us might prefer to focus on anything other than the problems. But the problems will remain no matter what and it will fall to us to be part of the process of rebuilding America and finding a way to ensure that we once again have effective governance to lead us through the difficult choices that lie ahead. 

Change, I think, is inevitable. But whether it is rational and productive or fueled by QAnon and the narcissistic fantasies of Donald Trump and his acolytes, is one of the questions we must answer.

As I look at what I’ve written, I wonder if I’m overreacting. But I don’t think so. We have serious problems that go to the fundamentals of our system of governance and the divisions in our society that call out to be addressed. And if we can’t address those, how can we hope to tackle issues such as the existential threat of climate change, systemic racism, economic injustice, and so much more. 

Prove me wrong, please. Convince me it will all be OK. It would be much appreciated.

That’s a lot for a Thursday AM. Time to get on with the rest of the day.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 16

Snow!

And a fair amount of it. We barely had a few dustings last winter so there’s a lot enthusiasm — and trepidation — associated with this first snowfall of the year. There will be inches. How many depends on where we fall on the rain/snow line. How much is a sleety mix and how much the real deal. We’re tracking the temperature and the snow fall, but so far it’s all the white stuff.

Lo Khyi is in his element. He wanted to romp and play in the snow and dared me to try and catch him. Lo Khyi is, at times, a little twit. I’m getting a bit too old to play his run and chase game on a slippery slope in the backyard. I did frolic a bit, though, and then Lo Khyi finally decided on his own he’d give me a break and come in. For now.

It’s always interesting to see how the birds respond when the snow starts to fall as well. It’s as if they know that life is going to get harder… no more easy pickings… and they rush to mob the bird feeders. I’ve repositioned the feeders and I’ve taken the “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude towards the squirrels. This means that the platform feeders are being shared by the squirrels and the blue jays and the nuthatches and woodpeckers and others.

Those feeders have a cheaper mix of cracked corn and whole peanuts and a variety of other nuts and seeds and I’m hoping that the squirrels, in return for my largesse, will leave the other bird feeders alone. So far, so good. And, of course, it helps that the other feeders are ostensibly, squirrel proof. There’s little that stops a determined squirrel, however, so giving them an easy path to satisfy their appetites (I stop short of the word gluttony) seems the way to go.

It really is pretty looking out at the falling snow. Things always seems to become more “compact” at times like this. The scope of our vision is curtailed by the curtains of white that surround us, sound is muffled, and if we’re protected from the storm, we take comfort in having that refuge. We put on warm and comfortable clothing, maybe light a fire, drink some hot cocoa, relish some comfort food, and challenge the storm to do it’s damnedest.  

So I’m tuning out for the most part today. The pandemic news is as grim and heartbreaking as ever, the hope offered by the vaccines is still weeks or months away for most of us, Trump is as feckless and spiteful as ever, and the future is still full of challenges, and possibly perils.  But it’s hard to think about all of that as you watch the snow. 

It’s a great way to spend a Wednesday. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

P.S.  It IS pretty… but I just came in from shoveling it! It’s wet, it’s heavy and I may just have to rethink my position on the whole “snow thing.”

December 15

Joseph R. Biden is President-elect.  

There is a certain satisfaction in writing those words. Trump really is running out of options. He’ll continue to be petulant. He’ll continue to lie. He’ll continue to advance his false narratives. But he isn’t going to be president for much longer and THAT — in my opinion at least — is good for America.

I’ll hold my head up a bit higher. I’ll feel a bit more optimistic about the future. And I’ll pray, with every fiber of my being, that Trump will never sit in the Oval Office again. 

Mitch McConnell has recognized Biden’s win. Big deal. Too little, too late. 

William Barr has resigned as Attorney General (or been pushed out the door.) Again… big deal. 

All of the Trump enablers, apologists, acolytes, and sycophants will now scramble to rewrite history, to excuse themselves, and to tell us that the disasters and chaos and dissembling of the last four years were models of democratic governance and a string of successes for our nation. And there are some who will believe it. But there are some who also believe America should be a white nation, a “christian” nation, and a nation where only some of us actually get to realize the American dream.

That’s not the America I served and it’s not the vision of America’s future that I support. I like the one where a black/South Asian woman can be our Vice President. I like one where our leaders care about all our citizens. Where empathy and compassion and equality and decency are central to our narrative and our policies. I like the one where our engagement in the world is shaped not only by our interests but by our values. 

This morning I spent an hour+ on a webinar talking to a group of future leaders… students from around the world who are part of the Millennium Campus Network on whose advisory board I’m honored to serve. We talked about the future that they will shape and I hope America will again be a model of hope and promise for them as they chart their own paths. 

It was a call that reminded me of how very proud I am of all the good our nation has done and of how proud I was of all my colleagues who served to advance our values and to stand for what was right so often over the course of my career. The past four years of division and discord and retreat from our values can’t erase all that we did and will not prevent us from once again engaging the world in a way that reflects the principles on which our nation was founded.

I am feeling hope again. I barely recognize the feeling after the past four years but the embers still burn and with nurturing they might even burst into a full blown flame. It’s a good feeling to have. 

I know we face grim months ahead with the pandemic. I know that many in our country have suffered devastating economic setbacks. I know that for many there is hunger, and fear, and worry about things like putting food on the table or keeping a roof over their heads. But together we can make it better. Together we can rebuild, revitalize and restore the nation. And the hope I feel makes me believe we can, and will, do exactly that.

Happy Tuesday. Here’s to the President-elect and Vice-President-elect. May you find strength, courage, and the support of the nation to sustain you in your efforts.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 14

Today America is literally getting a “shot in the arm.” The first tranche of vaccine recipients are getting their first shot. It’s an important milestone, but it’s only the first of what will have to be many to stem the tide of the pandemic. 

It’s a small step today, but at least it’s a step. And we should applaud and appreciate those who worked to make it happen so quickly. That includes not only the private pharmaceutical companies, but the government agencies and US military that also played critical roles in coordination and smoothing the way. And yes… this happened under Trump’s administration and they should be credited for what is in many ways a remarkable achievement.

I’m hard pressed to really see this as driven by Trump himself. He will take the credit, but other than being a cheerleader for his role, I don’t believe that his leadership was decisive. Still, it happened. 

But if he wants to take a victory lap for the vaccine development efforts then he also has to carry the responsibility for ignoring efforts to stop the spread, for failing to show leadership on masks and distancing, and for lying and hiding rather than leading. 

I’ll take the vaccine when it’s offered, barring any unexpected developments. I hope a majority of our citizens will, but I know that this too will become a contentious issue. It is going to be harder for Trump to be a spoiler on this one, though. After all, it’s “his” vaccine. I wonder, though, if he’ll be a leader in the effort to get Americans to step up. I am skeptical. Consistency is far from his strong suit. 

He is consistent on one thing, though. Even as the Electoral College votes are being tallied and even as we are about to confirm Joe Biden as the next President, Trump is still declaring that he won, that the election was fraudulent and that Democrats “cheated as no one has cheated before.”  Yep… he’s consistent in that. You’d think he’d at least get tired of the same old… ”as no one has seen before” shtick. He uses it constantly and it grates on me horribly and I’d wager I’m not alone.

The Trumpers out there, though, probably don’t even notice. They hang on his pronouncements like puppies waiting for treats or a pat on the head. It would be nice if they actually engaged in an honest assessment of the facts, but if Trump refuses to do so, why should they?

I know I should be kinder in my assessment of those who support Trump and empower and encourage him, but it’s really hard. And when I look at the commentary from those on the far right — at the insults they hurl and the assumptions they make about those who disagree with them — I really feel very little incentive to reach out a hand. 

Of course, not all who support Trump are extremists and I recognize that. And for those of us on either side who are not totally blinded to the need for compromise and who are willing to accept the give and take of our democratic process, I would hope we’d find a way forward together. But there are so many spoilers out there. So many for whom our politics have become a blood sport, that the prospects for meaningful discussion are lost amid the chants and rants of the extreme partisans.

It’s tough. 

How many faithless electors will there be today? How will Trump further seek to discredit our democracy? How ugly will the transition be, and how will he seek to undermine Biden’s inaugural day out of sheer mean-spirited spite? Time will tell.

Perhaps my mood today reflects the rainy weather. Perhaps it is just the Monday blahs. Perhaps it is 10 months of a pandemic with more months ahead. 

Perhaps it is the prospect of a Christmas without our kids and grandkids. I know it will all be OK and it is far better to keep everyone safe. And we have no problem doing that. It just seems so odd to not have our tree surrounded by the gifts for all and sundry waiting for us to gather together. 

Life goes on though — as it always does. Good days and rainy dull days like this one. We’ll survive and I wager we’ll even thrive. We just have to hang on a bit longer. 

For now… 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 13

And now… a break. 

As I write this I’m in our van, heading back to Haymarket. Today we had an excursion — a trip with Lo Khyi, our Tibetan Mastiff, who I usually just refer to as the prince of the mountains, to Roanoke. We were delivering several boxes of “The Ambassador’s Dog” to Jane Lillian Vance, a dear friend, and the only artist who could have so skillfully painted his story.  

We met at the home of dear friends of Jane’s and, since first meeting them, ours, to make the hand-off. Dan and Gil are two of the nicest folks you could even know and we’ve been honored to get to know them over the past few years. We all were careful. Sat on the porch, maintained our distance, and wore masks except while enjoying the delicious lunch Gil and Jane had prepared.

It was nice to see other people, even at a distance, and better yet when these people were folks we care about. And it was fun to be reunited in person with Jane as we were surrounded by 100+ copies of our collaborative effort. And to have Lo Khyi there as well was only fitting.

He loved the ride down and now, as the sun is setting, he is still perfectly positioned in-between the two front seats so that he can see everything unfolding before us. He loves to ride, loves any outing by road, and he was the embodiment of royalty as we visited this afternoon. Dignified, but not too aloof, he acknowledged his subjects with the easy grace that some among us are blessed to be able share. 

That’s Lo Khyi… I guess that’s why he got a book written about him. He’s a special partner.

He’s not the only one who has loved the drive. The green and forested countryside set off by the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains on a sunny day with brilliant blue skies and an occasional passing cloud. It was lovely and so peaceful. We turned off the news. Bopped along to the music of our youth. And for a few hours the virus and the idiot in the WH both receded from our minds.

And now as the rich golden afternoon sunlight gives way to the bluish-gray of a darkening sky, part of me wishes we could just keep driving and ignoring all the unease and worry.

But there are three other pups waiting at home. They don’t like car travel the way that Lo Khyi does, so they stay behind. And although our daughter and her family did swing by to let them outside, I am pretty sure that they’re perturbed that their dinner is later than usual. 

So home we go.

But today we took a break. And it was good.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 12

Holy cow. It’s only 13 days to Christmas. Only 12 to Christmas Eve. It’s pretty amazing how this year has gone by, even as we’ve sat in semi-isolation. We join all of you who say that you can’t wait to see 2020 go out the door.

The new year has to be better. Trump will not be President. The virus will eventually recede. We’ll begin the effort to repair the nation. I have hope. Yes, Trump will still be  obnoxious and create his share of trouble. But he won’t control the levers of power at least. And yes, the virus will wreak havoc for some months yet and we could end up with more than a half million deaths.  But we’ll eventually get it under control.

God only knows, of course, what other unexpected challenges we’ll face. But that’s true at the start of any year. The problems we know will be great enough but we’ll tackle them step by step. Hopefully, though, this new proclivity we have to hunker down within our camps casting aspersions at the other side will also ease. 

I’m aware that I can cast aspersions with the best of them. The frustrations and anger and worries sparked by things we are seeing make me want to speak out — and not always in temperate or conciliatory ways. But I’ve learned over the years that honest passion should not be muzzled. We won’t find a way forward if we aren’t first and foremost honest about our anger and frustrations — on both sides of the cultural divide that separates us.

How we build upon our honest articulation of very different views to build bridges is the challenge we face in communities and neighborhoods just as much as we do in the political trenches in Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, the day’s news is crazy. We’ve passed the 16 million mark in infections — the rate is now dizzying. Friday set another record of over 230,000 new infections and a new record of over 3,300 deaths. And Trump continues to play political spoiler and does nothing to address concerns. Even as his schemes to invalidate votes failed in the Courts — even the Supreme Court blew him off — he won’t stop in what is a sour grapes effort to undermine our democracy. How can any president’s priorities be so badly screwed?  It’s obscene.

The Pfizer vaccine begins shipping tomorrow, but even if all goes smoothly, there will be a jolting moment for many when they realize that it has no immediate effect on the crisis we’re in — and it won’t. Real relief is still months away. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Meanwhile, in Haymarket it’s late afternoon. It’s dark outside. The pups are in. The fireplace and the colorful Christmas tree offer a sense of peace that fills the room. My eyes are heavy. It’s been a busy week. I think I’ll take the rest of the day off! 

Enjoy your weekend.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 11

Evangelical preacher in Tennessee: “There IS no pandemic.”

CNN journalist: “SO, can you tell me what is a pandemic?”

Preacher : “It’s not COVID-19”

CNN: “Then what IS a pandemic? 

Preacher: “I don’t know, I’ve never seen one in my lifetime. But I know it’s not COVID-19”

That is not an exact, word for word rending of what was truly a bizarre interview but it’s close. That preacher didn’t know what a pandemic was, but he knew it wasn’t COVID, that there is NO pandemic, he won’t take a vaccine, and, by the way, Donald Trump won in a landslide and was reelected.  

How in the name of god do we find our way forward when so many in our nation live in Lala Land? It is, quite simply, bizarre to hear the twisted reasoning of folks like this preacher whose anti-public safety measures has gained him quite a following. 

He’s not alone in his idiocy. 

What do you do with the feckless and obscenely sycophantic Republican lawmakers who continue to bow down before Trump and even joined the crazy lawsuit in which Texas tried to challenge Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan over their election process. 

The blatant attempt to disavow the votes of so many political Americans was one of the most undemocratic and disgusting ploys yet from men and women who swore the same oath I did multiple times. An oath to preserve and protect our constitution. An oath that reflected a deep and abiding commitment to the core values that once defined us as a nation, but that Trump and the Republicans now scoff at and disregard if they get in the way of the their blatant pursuit of power at any price.

If I sound pissed off, I am. I’m so sick of the stupidity and degradation of our nation. And to see these fools playing such games instead of passing stimulus legislation and leading efforts to deal with the pandemic. Hell. Anyone would be pissed off. The utterly absurd lawsuit was rejected by the Supreme Court late today (that’s ONE advantage of writing in the evening). 

But the fact that it was inevitable that it would be rejected does NOT excuse these legislators, the Texas Attorney General, or Donald Trump and his advisors for having sought to invalidate the legitimate votes of millions of Americans. Shame on them and shame on any of us who don’t feel outrage when we see our nation being so degraded.

None of these folks care about what matters. None of them seem to care about the pain and suffering that so many families, so many kids, are feeling. The letters to Santa being received at the post office, (and that have ALL been adopted by folks willing to fulfill some child’s wish as best they can) are telling. I tried to adopt a letter or two but none are presently available, but when I heard about them I had to try. When you heard the kids’ voices it was impossible not to try.

One child wrote, “This year has tough to all of us due to covid-19. My stepdad is the only (one) working and because of covid-19 he had to stop working full time. Now he is working less because of covid, and all the money he gets is for paying the rent and the bills. My parents think I am writing this for my siblings and I, but I want to surprise them for everything that they have done this year.”

A 5-year-old in California asked Santa for a Nintendo Switch for him and his little brother. He closed his letter with a simple plea: “I wish covid was over so we can hug.” 

Hugs were on the mind of another little boy who told Santa that he was sad because he had lost his Grandpa to COVID and misses his big hugs. There were letters from kids who were seeing their parents struggle with insurmountable challenges and the pain of telling their kids there was just not enough money for Christmas gifts this year. 

These are the things that matter. This is what we should be caring about. Acting on. Cynics will say that there are always some sad stories at Christmas. And it’s true. There are always the less-fortunate, the desperate, and the lost, who struggle to find their way in a world that is far too quick to leave them behind. 

But this year it’s worse. We all know it. We all see it. And Trump and his idiot friends can pretend that their crap matters. But it doesn’t and they don’t.

Tonight I feel a lot like that little kid in California. I wish we could all hug.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 10

Another evening blog. Another day of packing up and shipping “The Ambassador’s Dog.” By this time tomorrow all of our current orders will be in the mail. If you’re one of those who placed an order so far, thanks for your patience!

I was glad to be occupied with managing the task at hand so I didn’t have focus on the fact that yesterday marked the most deadly day in our nation’s history. Worse than Pearl Harbor. Worse than 9-11. Over 3,000 of our fellow citizens died in just one day due to COVID. And that may happen again and again in the coming weeks. 

There are no speeches though, about this being “a day that will live in infamy.” There will likely be no annual commemoration events as there have been for 9-11. We can offer a multitude of reasons perhaps, as to why we see these deaths as different from those at Pearl Harbor or those we lost that horrible September Day. 

But the fact is, on no day in our history have we lost more of our citizens from a singular cause like this. And we are so numbed to this now that we can barely recognize it for what it is.  And the poseur in the White House who pretends to be President can’t be troubled to even say a word, can’t be troubled to mourn, can’t be troubled to act.

So forget him. We can care. We can speak. We can mourn. And we need to. 

That’s all for tonight. It’s all I have to offer. 

Tomorrow will be another day.


Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 9

It’s already 8 pm. Generally I write this blog early in the day but, obviously, not today. 

There’s a good reason that I’m late, and that this blog will be short. Yesterday afternoon our shipment of books arrived. The BIG shipment. We already had a good number sold on preorders so today was spent starting the process of filling as many of those pre-orders as we could. Tomorrow we’ll do more. And Friday we’ll do still more.  I hope that by Saturday, at the latest, all those pre-orders will have been fulfilled.

It has been an interesting experience so far. Yesterday I had an interesting interview with a Virginia Public Radio reporter whose beat is in the southern part of the state where our wonderful artist/illustrator lives. The reporter spoke to us both.  She was touched by the story. We talked about the key themes… that there is beauty and wonder to be found in the world If our eyes and hearts are open to them. We talked about the need for compassion, for empathy, for engagement, and for hope in world. 

The tale of “The Ambassador’s Dog” has a bit of all of that and more. The reporter was intrigued by Nepal and its almost mystical allure and we chatted about that but also about the nature of communication — whether with each other or with a puppy we meet along the way.

In any event, it was fun to talk with her and we may get a radio segment and an online piece as well. Who knows… maybe it will even be picked up by other NPR stations. If nothing else, the marketing piece is going to be interesting. 

So my day was spent printing labels and packing slips, folding boxes, signing books, and more. This is how so many small entrepreneurs operate, I guess. All those folks on Etsy. There are so many layers to our economy and at least some… such as this endeavor… aren’t all derailed by COVID. Although they may not be Fortune 500 undertakings, they all contribute to the economy and, for some folks, can be a critical component in their financial well-being. 

So, although this undertaking may be a lot of work, that’s OK. It’s a story I love and want to share and that’s reason enough in itself to take on the project.  But there’s also something incredibly cool about being able to undertake new adventures no matter where (or when) we are in our lives. 

And… perhaps best of all… I was too busy working on the book-packing assembly line to listen to the news. Given the nature of the news of late, I consider that a blessing.

Tomorrow it’s back to the next batch of pre-orders. If yours is included in there, we’ll be getting it out to you soon. If it isn’t — order today! There’s still time for it to arrive before Christmas and a better holiday gift you won’t find this season.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 8

Lindsey Graham says “there’s a civil war brewing” in Georgia. He wants the Governor to pull out all stops to overturn the election results and hand the election in Georgia to Trump. He says the governor should “get off his ass” and “fight to save the country.”

Trump continues his pointless legal challenges that are dismissed as soon as he files them. He is seeking to pressure state legislators in Pennsylvania to somehow manipulate and overturn of the election there as well. He reportedly made multiple calls last night to the Pennsylvania Speaker of the House and others in his attempts to interfere. He seems willing to do anything to avoid accepting defeat and doesn’t care if the will of the voters is disregarded.

In Arizona the Republican Party tweeted quotes and a video clip from Rambo “This is what we do, who we are. Live for nothing, or die for something.” The clip and quote would be the height of stupidity and laughable if the underlying message wasn’t so dangerous.

Now don’t get me wrong. I remain confident in the process and I believe Trump will be gone on January 20, but the damage he has done and will continue to do to our democratic process and our ability to function as a nation may resonate long beyond his term in office. He has convinced many of his followers that the election was stolen, that fraud was rampant, and that their votes were stolen. There’s not a bit of truth to the charges. But many believe it.

Countless Republican legislators at the federal and state levels buy into it. They knowingly advance and repeat the lies. They do so irresponsibly and in the process only spawn more doubt about our democratic system.

We’ve seen the threats directed against election officials and against those who offer a truthful counter-narrative. Some of them are truly ugly. They have not resulted in violent confrontations… yet. No one has died… yet. But in willfully perpetuating Trump’s lies, the politicians, right wing commentators, and others who encourage these wild-eyed fantasies, join Trump in culpability for any violence that follows. And those that “just” remain silent, are little better.  

I want to believe that the talk of violence will remain just that… talk. But there is a danger in all this that we can’t ignore and that we must remain alert to. Let’s hope that ultimately this fever will break.

We can’t afford this nonsense as the pandemic spins further out of control. New infections are occurring at the fastest rate since the pandemic began. We just hit 14 million infections a few days ago and now we’re about cross the 15 million mark. Every day we read another tragic story. A mother, who gave birth but died from COVID before she could hold her newborn child in her arms, was one that I saw this morning. Yesterday, it was a story about the dedicated health care professionals.

This all takes its toll on us. We may or may not be consciously aware of it, but the impact seems undeniable. We need a leader — what we have is a moron. He said the other day that he’s worked harder in the last few weeks than at any time in his presidency. I almost choked. Worked at what? Undermining the election? He certainly hasn’t done a damn thing to fight the pandemic. He didn’t even talk about it when he went to Georgia. It is the most abysmal abandonment of our people by a president that I have ever seen. And today he’ll sign an absolutely meaningless executive order about prioritizing vaccine distribution of Americans and he’ll paint himself as a hero. 

Yes. Trump remains at the center of our nation’s twin crises of confidence. A public health crisis that may yet bring us to our knees, and a crisis of faith in the essence of who we are as a nation that will challenge our resilience as never before. 

Six months from now it may be a very different story we are telling. I’ll hope so. But today it’s a hard, hard road we’re on and we need courage more than ever as we journey along it.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 7

Monday. Again. They keep coming. 

The headlines include the news that Rudy Giuliani has been hospitalized with COVID. I can say the perfunctory things about how we wish him well. But that’s a stretch. 

No, I don’t hope that he dies. I’m not that mean-spirited. But do I care that he has COVID? I don’t. He has been reckless and irresponsible. There is such a thing as karma. Anything that he experiences he brought on himself.

I think the way he has debased himself in his puppy dog-like willingness to do Trump’s bidding is sad. He was once a figure to be respected and even admired. But no longer. There’s a tragedy to this. But now I can’t find it in my heart to worry about him when he and Trump and others in the Republican leadership couldn’t bring themselves to worry about all the families who have suffered horrible heartbreak because of the pandemic.

So Giuliani can take his chances. I am not going to spend time worrying about him.

Nor will I get caught up in the “will he or won’t he” drama surrounding Bill Barr possibly resigning. Big whoop. I can’t believe he’s thinking of resigning on principle. Not after he has repeatedly undercut the traditional role of the Justice Department in a nation that, at least once, respected the rule of law. Barr was willing to make this about the rule of Donald Trump instead. He was willing to unleash federal forces on American citizens exercising their right to protest. He refuses to acknowledge systemic racism in our nation. He protects Trump, defends Trump, and stretches our understanding of what the “rule of law” means to the breaking point to justify Trump’s idiocies. 

So, no, I don’t think it’s that Bill Barr has suddenly seen the light or that this is an act of courage. I think two colossal egos collided and Billy Barr’s pride was hurt when Donny, for whom he did so much, was mean to him. Trump, of course, was upset when Barr declared there was no evidence of massive fraud (the one thing for which I’ll grudgingly give him credit). So Trump bullied Barr and Barr is now following Trump’s example and is sulking and pouting too. Let him leave if he wants. He won’t be missed.

This administration continues to self-destruct but that doesn’t mean Trump can’t do more damage on the way out. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, most of the other headlines are focused on COVID and Biden naming his health care team. It includes Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General again, and Tony Fauci continuing in his role and serving as chief advisor to Biden on COVID. Biden continues to name solid professionals who will be able to act and lead from day one. God knows we need that sort of team.

Beyond that, everywhere we look the virus is gaining ground and posing threats. We haven’t seen the impact of the Thanksgiving surge yet, but we know there will be one. And then there’s the Christmas holidays… god help us. I know how hard it will be not to have family around this holiday. It’s really sad. But everyone of us knows that’s the right call this year. 

There are many who will make other choices. Some will involve a thoughtful assessment of risk in their particular circumstances. Other choices will reflect a willful disregard of the risks or a refusal to believe in science. I guess either way we make a statement about our values and about how we view the world. 

It’s going to be a tough month ahead. 

But today, let’s get through Monday. Sometimes that’s challenge enough in itself.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 6

It’s another Sunday. The skies are a brilliant blue today and it will be a crisp early winter day. Temps in the 40s and not much wind. A perfect day for a dog walk. Lo Khyi, the prince of the mountains, always has a livelier step when the weather is cool like this. It’s fun to see his eyes shining and his tail curled over his back as we patrol his “kingdom.” 

He does believe the neighborhood belongs to him. Other dogs and folks we encounter? His subjects, of course. He greets them with dignity and openness and is always interested in them. But none of the unrestrained eagerness of some attention seeking pups.  He holds back just a bit with those not of his pack — and even with the privileged few in his inner circle, he still maintains his dignity.

Sure, he pushes his head tightly against my hand as I scratch his jowls — something he loves — but he makes sure to let me know he is “letting” me indulge him, humoring me, and allowing me to serve the most regal pup to ever become part of my life. 

In these crazy days of the Virus and the Idiot — the unholy duo who would fill our days with despair if we let them — having Lo Khyi, as well as Gyptse Jane, Max and Gracie, provides us a much needed counterpoint in our lives. There’s nothing like having little Gracie curled up next to me on the chair as I type this, my computer in my lap. I find myself unconsciously stroking her and scratching her behind her ears. It may comfort her, but it comforts me as well.  

And Gyptse, who follows wherever I go. Laying nearby. Always present. Coming over periodically to get her loving, and waiting to see if I display any of the signs of an impending walk or — joy of joys — of reaching for a ball to toss for her in the backyard. Then there’s Max who has turned 13, but still has chestnut brown eyes that melt your heart. His snores give way to grunts of pleasure when he get’s scratched in all the right places. He’s another who loves his walks, matching us step for step despite his age. He’s with us and that’s what matters.

We never planned to have four dogs… it just happened. And even if it won’t likely happen again, we wouldn’t have it any other way. They’re ours… and we are theirs. And we all agree it’s a good arrangement.

In the first five days of December we had over 1,000,000 new coronavirus infections in the US and Trump continues to infect many with his litany of lies about the election. So you’ll excuse me if today I take my comfort in the pups and in food. Home made vegan pot pie, dirty rice, and a nice salad are on the radar screen.

Dogs and food… my secret weapons for maintaining balance in days of turmoil. What’s yours?

Happy Sunday.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 5

First of all, if you happened to read yesterday’s blog, I’ve got to say that the baked ziti was incredibly good! I won’t deny that it had its share of calories, but comfort food is SUPPOSED to have calories. And this was comfort food at it’s best. I did make a very healthy salad to go with it so I could argue — even if not very successfully — that they balanced each other out. 

Balance is a good thing — we saw some at work the other night. After four years of Trump’s lunacy and Pence’s sycophancy, Biden and Harris appeared on CNN for an interview. They didn’t attack Jake Tapper when he asked tough questions. They didn’t insult anyone. They didn’t whine about fake news, they didn’t self-promote, they didn’t tell baseless lie after lie. Instead they were reasonable. They were thoughtful. They were tempered. They spoke as a team, without Kamala worshipping Joe as if he were the second coming (the way that Pence does with Trump).

The substance of their answers was refreshingly professional and their grasp of the issues undeniable. All of it stood in such stark contrast to Trump’s ill-informed politics of grievance and self-promotion. It was the other end of the spectrum. And it felt so good.  

Of course, Biden and Harris will have their work cut out for them. Hugely difficult issues made all the more so by Trump’s failed leadership and his last minute choices that seem designed to complicate life for Biden.

Now, according to the news yesterday, he is pulling all of our forces out of Somalia. They numbered in the hundreds, not the thousands, but they mattered. Tremendously. It has been a long slog there, no doubt. We have invested so much with our African partners in an effort to keep Al-Shabaab from spreading it’s agenda of terror across the region.

I know from my time as Ambassador in Uganda that this matters. Our leadership and partnership with Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and other African nations that were instrumental in this fight truly made a difference. And, as Ambassador, I never shed a tear when a US drone strike took another Al-Shabaab leader off the battlefield. These were not good guys. 

And, I knew that our engagement wasn’t just about killing terrorists. It was about making a difference for the people of Somalia and of the region. It was an effort to give them a future of hope. An effort to ensure that girls could go to school, ensure that people could have access to justice, to a functioning government. We did it so that people would have the chance to be heard and to practice their faith freely without a guy with a gun telling them how it would be.

We invested so much. We worked hard to make a difference. And now we just throw it all away. So yes… I’m disheartened when Trump essentially cuts and runs. He exposes us, and the people of the region, to greater risk and dangers. He sends the wrong message to our allies and to the people of the region. He gives comfort to Al-Shabaab and those who wish us ill. 

But this is what happens when he fires the professional at DOD and replaces them with yes men who share his ill-informed view of the world and of America’s role in it. 

There are so many ways that Trump is being foolish and spiteful. His folks just made the citizenship test more complicated and more extensive. I’d be willing to bet that he’d fail it if he had to take it. But, of course, he doesn’t have to… and it seems as though his administration is determined to take one more shot at the most vulnerable — and generally non-white, or non-Christian — among the immigrant community to keep them from becoming part of our nation. 

Once it would have been my grandparents that people like Trump sought to exclude. What makes him think that he’s so special, so privileged? What makes people like him think that, because someone’s skin color or faiths or economic positions are different than his and his country club friends’ they should not be part of our future. They ARE our future in so many ways. Just as countless immigrants who came before them shaped our present.

Biden and Harris offer a different vision, a different narrative and different tone. I’m still shocked that so many of our fellow-citizens found more to value in Trump’s vision than theirs. But so be it. The battle is joined… and it will be a battle that will continue for some time to come. Our politics are shifting within the major parties and between them. It will be an unsettled time and Trump will do his best to keep the lunacy alive. More than ever we will need thoughtful leaders. Rational leaders.

And more than ever we’ll need folks willing to listen to them. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 4

What to write about today? The pandemic, as discussed yesterday, is ugly. Pure and simple. Ugly. On this cloudy and cold Friday, with hints of rain in the air, I don’t have it in me to detail yet again the horrible numbers and the risks we face.

I could write about the fool in the White House — there’s always something to say about him — but I refuse. I’m not inclined to give oxygen to his lies. At least not today. 

So what’s left? Those two topics have dominated the news, and our consciousness for months. 

Doing a quick mental inventory, the “front of mind” news is that we’ll be running to the store later… now that’s exciting! It’s only “front of mind,” however, because, with the way the virus is rampaging, every trip out of the home becomes a bit riskier and requires actual forethought.

So I’ll be masking up, of course, and the sanitizer will be in my pocket. And maybe, instead of the virus, I can think about what I’ll cook in the days ahead. Maybe a nice vegan baked ziti for tonight. We’ll see.

I can’t build a blog around a trip to the store, though. Hmmm. I could natter on about the ongoing battle with Amazon. That too is front of mind because it is so damned irritating. I’m just trying to set up a seller account so we can manage “The Ambassador’s Dog” sales on their platform. But the hoops Amazon puts you through makes me crazy. And, of course, it is absolutely impossible to speak to a real live person. 

The issues seem so easy to resolve if only we could actually TALK to someone. But noooo… that’s not the Amazon way apparently. “Irritation” is word of the day. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just annoying as hell. Fortunately, though, a friend has a seller account we may be able to use if Amazon persists in being difficult. We shall overcome.

I will say, though, that the book — and the process related to it — has been a great antidote to obsession about the virus and the idiot. (Hmmm… The Virus and the Idiot”… it has the makings of a great folk tale perhaps).   

Right now we’re trying to track the progress of the big shipment of books from Nepal. It’s in Dubai and could be in the US tomorrow or Sunday. Then, after it’s delivered here, the hard work of marketing and selling really begins.

It’s fun, though, to start hearing reactions as the few early copies we received are reaching their destinations. 

One person called it an “awesome story” and said it was like “being at an art show.” A newspaper editor in Nepal, who will be reviewing it in their papers next week, called it “brilliant.” Someone wrote on Amazon and called it a “jewel of a book” with a “timeless quality.” They also said “Love it for the way it touches your heart and makes you believe again in the magic that is in the wind.”

I realize how gratified I am when I see the responses. It’s not about being told that someone likes your book. It’s really about seeing a collaborative partnership, such as I undertook with Jane Lillian Vance as illustrator, leading to the creation of a thing of beauty. It’s knowing that a story I love, a message that matters, is being shared and appreciated. Quite simply, there is great satisfaction in sharing something that brings you joy and seeing that others find the same joy, the same glow, when they read it.

So, this process, for all its challenges, has been rewarding. I’m hoping we don’t end up with a basement full of unsold books, but if we do, there are plenty of places where we can gift them. It’s about the journey… about the story… not about bottom lines.

Other than the book, Iwe have a number of essays yet to write for the “Storyworth” collection that was one of our daughter Tjiama’s Christmas gifts to us last year. I have work to do for State. I have work to do for Engage Nepal. I have an alphabet sampler to work on for our newest grandbaby whose birth draws every closer. I have dogs to walk. Music to play. Plenty of things to do. 

Life is NOT just about the virus and the idiot. And it’s good to remind ourselves that, no matter what the world throws at us, our time can be filled doing things that matter, it can be filled engaging with those we love. For all the darkness that besieges us, this can nonetheless be a season of light and hope.

When I inscribe the books for those who have asked me to do so, I draw on one of the themes in the story… ”Always Believe.”  

That seems like the right note to end on today. Always believe. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 3

Cancel everything. 

That’s what the mayor of Los Angeles is telling people there. It’s the same damn message experts talked about last March and April. We didn’t listen enough. We didn’t act enough. We didn’t have leadership when we needed it (or ever) from this White House. And now we’re back facing the same gut-wrenching worries we felt back in the spring — only it’s worse. 

How tragic is that?

In Los Angeles county, with 10 million residents, there are 122 ICU beds left available. They expect to be out of hospital beds by Christmas.

Yesterday, 2,804 Americans died from the Coronavirus. That’s the highest daily death toll ever. That’s higher than the number of deaths on 9/11. But still there are fools like the governors of South Dakota or Florida who dismiss this, who won’t support mask mandates, who talk about personal freedom as if it is nirvana… while people die in record numbers. We seem to have enshrined stupidity. And people are dying because of it.

Yesterday we had over 200,000 new infections. And those numbers… both deaths and new infections, will keep rising. We were shocked when we hit 100,000 infections in the spring. We watched the numbers inexorably rise and we were scared and worried. But now as we approach 14,000,000 infections and draw ever closer to 300,000 deaths, we process the numbers with an almost numb acceptance. We’re overwhelmed. It seems it will never end. And we sit and wait to be saved by the vaccine.

But how many more will die before those vaccines come into play? How many more will die who don’t need to just because we aren’t listening. We aren’t “canceling everything.” We’ll opt to travel, or gather, or go for that drink or out to dinner because just one night out won’t hurt… right?  Wrong. 

The virus continues to feed upon that false hope that we offer ourselves and it preys upon more people every day. We haven’t yet even begun to see the Thanksgiving “surge within a surge.” What will happen at Christmas?  

Doctors and nurses are dealing with patient loads that have them terrified. One doctor talked today about how we are facing our worst case scenario. ICU nurses who might normally be trying to care for 5 or 10 patients are now being asked to care for 20. ICU docs are so swamped that other doctors, not experts in intensive care medicine, are being brought in. 

There’s no help to be had in neighboring states… they’re in crisis, too. Beds are disappearing. The entire health care system is at risk of collapse. The head of the CDC says this could be the worst public health crisis we have ever faced. 

And, as has been true for months and months, Trump doesn’t seem to give a damn about any of it. He doesn’t care that people die. He doesn’t care that the health system is in crisis. He only cares about the lies he can manufacture about the election that he lost. 

THIS is a man who purportedly wants to run again for the presidency. And there are people who would readily vote for him, disregarding his willful abandonment of our people to the ravages of this pandemic, despite his lack of concern for our citizens’ deaths, despite the fact that he trades in lies and division and disrespect, despite his putting himself above the nation, and despite the fact that he is a dangerous would-be despot lacking in compassion, empathy, or anything resembling leadership skills. 

This IS a world turned upside down. I can only pray that he will never be trusted to lead us again. He deserves condemnation, not affirmation. And, if there is justice or karma or a divine balancing of the scales of good and evil, we will never ever have to deal with him again.

He does nothing for us. So Obama and Clinton and Bush will step up and get vaccinated on national TV. They will set the example. Sound the call. And we should be grateful that THEY at least will show leadership. But the vaccine won’t make the horrors we will face over the next few months go away.

I have no platform — no public forum — so I rant on the pages of this blog. I share it with those few who read it. And if even one person makes a different choice — a safer choice — I’ll be glad of that. And, even if I had a broader reach, I know that at the end of the day my words don’t really matter. It’s our actions that count. It is up to each of us. The choices will be ours.

So please. Don’t choose stupid. 

Hunker down. Stay home. Wear masks, wash hands and keep your distance. Do it for those you love, do it for the holidays to come, do it for the front line health care workers.

Do it for yourself. 

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 2

So here we are. In the last month of 2020. I can’t imagine that there are many who will be disappointed to see THIS year end. What a ride it has been.

I wonder though how long it will be before we have a day when Donald Trump’s name is not in one — or more — of the day’s lead stories. I am sure he thinks the notoriety is a sign of his importance. And god knows he has had his impact — there’s no question about that. He won’t soon be forgotten. But what a legacy.

I’d be ashamed, if I were him, but I don’t think he knows the meaning of shame. It might be that, in the delusional fantasy world in which he lives, he has convinced himself that there is no reason for shame — he should think again.

But it seems like he might know deep inside if reports that he is planning pre-emptive pardons for his children, for Giuliani, and maybe even for himself, are true. You can’t help but wonder just how much they have hidden from us. The rationale they offer is that he is looking at this to protect them all from “retaliation” from Biden. But, from all that we’ve seen in this administration, I can’t help but believe that there is more that they are worried about than that.

Trump might, for example, be worried about the recent reports that the Justice Department is investigating whether his administration has been bringing in significant political “donations” in exchange for pardons. It sure wouldn’t be a surprise.

Possible illegalities notwithstanding, Trump and Giuliani meanwhile are taking us onto ever more dangerous ground. Their unrelenting lies and attacks on the election process have led to crazy threats being directed against election officials. From Georgia’s Secretary of State to every day citizen poll workers, there are death threats, threats of physical and sexual violence being directed against them and their families.

A convoy of crazies was driving through the Secretary of State’s neighborhood looking for him. A 20-something poll worker, who is getting death threats saying he should be hung for treason, woke to find a noose hanging in his yard. A Trump lawyer says that the cyber security who was fired for calling the elections safe and secure should be “drawn and quartered” and “shot at dawn.”

Trump is going to get someone hurt or killed with his crap. And every one of the spineless Republican politicians who won’t speak out will be complicit.

It’s dangerous and so irresponsible it breaks my heart.

I was shocked that the Attorney General yesterday found the moral courage to declare that there was no fraud affecting electoral outcomes. I’d say good for him, but he has been an enabler of Trump’s irresponsible lies and destructive actions for so long that I can’t really be thrilled that he decided finally to be responsible.  

Meanwhile, on the pandemic front, things are so very troubling it’s hard to fathom that we’re not collectively energized to fight the most serious threat we have faced yet.  Far more deadly than 9/11 or any war in our lifetimes, but too many spend their time whining about wearing masks or about a bar being closed than coming together to make a difference. What has happened to us?

Others want to cling to the good news about the vaccine and try to block out the grim reality that we are on the brink of catastrophe.

The warnings from the White House task force are certainly dire. But Trump, of course, doesn’t care. He spends his days spinning dangerous lies about electoral fraud while yesterday another 2,600 Americans died from the coronavirus. It was the second highest daily death toll since the virus hit us. In November we were seeing an average of 51 deaths an hour. In December the estimate is that we’ll regularly see over 100 deaths an hour.
Hospitalizations rise every day. New infections rise.

This is totally out of control but Trump can’t even be troubled to speak about it. And we’re seeing the economic toll become more severe as well… joblessness rising again. The measures that have been in place to protect folks from evictions or to defer student loan payments will expire the day after Christmas, but McConnell and other Senate Republicans follow Trump’s lead and show no empathy, no urgency, or real concern.

Many of those who are willfully ignoring the crisis will wake one morning and find it has spun totally beyond our control. By then it will be too late to do much other than mourn those we lose and pray that those we love will be safe.

So here’s what we’ve got as December begins; dangerously divisive lies from our President that incite political violence and a public health crisis that is getting more frightening by the day. Those are the headlines. And they’re pretty damn grim.

No, I won’t be sorry to see 2020 go out the door. And, although 2021 will almost certainly enter on a somber note, we can hope that its trajectory will hold promise. It’s hard to believe it can be much worse.

So… with apologies for being a December downer, I’ll go put some final touches on outdoor decorations for the holidays. Keeping the spirit alive seems somehow more important than ever this year.

Please… stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.

December 1

It’s a chilly day today. The first taste of wintery weather. I haven’t set foot outside, though, other than to convince Lo Khyi to come in once or twice. It’s been a day where I’ve been tethered to the computer.

Almost from the moment I awoke it was about Giving Tuesday. We compete with huge non-profits, and countless other small ones as well, in trying to get your attention. All of us are desperately and urgently seeking donor support.

I don’t know what motivates most of these entities. I imagine that many of them care as deeply about their cause as I do. Most of us won’t change the world… but we will change a life. We’ll help a child in need or give a desperate family hope and, in doing so, we know that all the work, all the scrambling to raise the funds we need in order to act, is worth the effort.

When I was Ambassador I was truly proud of all that our nation did in the world of development and humanitarian relief. But it was on such a large scale it was hard to feel the connection of our efforts to the lives of the people who benefited. In our work today, though, we actually have the chance to see and hear from the families we touch. We know the names of the kids in a remote village who are still in school because we helped. We see the pride on the face of the woman who is a model for her daughter because we helped her realize her dream of starting a business with other women.

It’s personal. It’s rewarding. And every time I want to throw up my hands in frustration at how few folks are willing to give and how hard fundraising can be, I hear from someone we helped, who is so grateful for the smallest bit of help, and I start all over again. The power of hope is an incredible thing and, in some ways, that’s what we offer.

So that’s what I’ve done most of the day. Sending appeals but, as importantly, sending a thank you to each donor. That’s important, too. That’s what my mom taught me. I try to send a personal thank you to every donor. I want them to know that they matter, that it’s about them. Because it is.

Is there other news? I’m sure there is but I haven’t had the time to focus. Tomorrow there will be time to talk about Trump’s craziness and lies. Tomorrow I can revisit the unrelenting challenges of the pandemic. There will be plenty to talk about I’m sure.
But for today, it will keep. Today is about giving, about caring, and about making a difference.

They say no one ever became poor from giving. We become richer. I believe this to be true. I feel it. And it’s good.

I’ll share the link here in case any of you might want to be part of the effort. They say that folks want to be asked… so I’ll ask now. If you’ve enjoyed this blog over the past 295 days, consider a small donation as a thank you. Whatever the reason, I’ll ask once again: Please help.

Please make a difference. Please Engage Nepal.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy.