Tree Hugger <3 Nature Conservancy

I live in the wooded part of a small city in a mostly rural county in far northeast Home summerWisconsin. Our city borders Lake Michigan’s Green Bay, which I can see from my loft windows. Today the bay is sparkling blue. Our daffodils are blooming and the tops of the tall trees – mostly white pine, red pine, maple, and oak – are waving in the cool breeze. It’s spring in the northwoods, at last. And I’m happy here in my refuge from the chaos of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

I’m a tree hugger, a nature lover. So I relish the natural beauty that surrounds our home. My husband and I take long walks and greet, from a safe distance, neighbors raking leaves or preparing flower beds and vegetable gardens or simply basking in the sun. Some are out biking, jogging, or walking, often with their dogs and children. Everyone says “Hi” now. Strangers in occasional passing cars smile and wave. We’re all hungry for more social contact but know that it’s best for everyone to stay apart for now. 

As I write, lots of other people are working to help us with food and health issues, garbage and power, news reporting and law enforcement, and other essentials. Although its offices are closed, the Nature Conservancy also continues its important work outdoors. It’s my favorite environmental nonprofit. I’ve been a member (but never a volunteer, alas) for many years.

Peninsula Park GCNature Conservancy’s priorities sync with my environmental concerns and values: protecting land and water, tackling climate change, providing food and water sustainability, and building healthy cities. Worldwide it helps to protect over 125 million acres of land, thousands of miles of rivers, and countless wildlife. In Wisconsin, it protects over 236,000 acres of forests, wetlands, rivers, lakes, prairies, bluffs, dunes, and more.

In my general area, Nature Conservancy manages 5 preserves and, overall, helps to protect almost 8,000 acres of Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula. The peninsula juts into the big waters of Lake Michigan to form the bay of Green Bay. From where I sit, I can see the silhouette of the peninsula’s bluffs 15 or so miles across the water. A fast motorboat can reach it in about 30 minutes. But being boatless, my husband and I travel by car, taking close to 2 hours. We like to make the trip twice a year, always for an overnight or two, sometimes camping in Peninsula Park atop a bluff overlooking the bay.

Of course, many other environmental nonprofits are engaged in vital work. Along with Nature Conservancy, Charity Navigator gives top ratings to the Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Institute, and Greenpeace. I encourage you to learn more about the work of these groups and to discover Nature Conservancy’s projects near you.

Stay well. Protect others. Protect our environment.

Photos: Our home; a view of Green Bay and Peninsula State Park Golf Course in
Door County where my husband and I enjoy playing. 

Just Look Away but Stay Active

By Lee Ann Tysseling

This post was written by my friend Lee Ann. She relates how she’s been dealing with the onslaught of election news and about her get-out-the-vote efforts. She also mixes in two themes I’ve recently written about – my early morning attempts to avoid the news and my attempts to respect the humanity of people with whom I politically disagree. I welcome Lee Ann’s entry, my first guest post, on this election day.  

My mornings typically start with NPR and coffee.  This Monday as I reached for the button on the radio I recoiled.  I knew the news would be about the election.  I just could not listen.  There was actually pressure in my chest and gut—I could not bear thinking about what the coming election was going to mean for our country.  Then, as my finger hovered over the button I thought “Well, maybe they’ll cover something more cheerful, like the earthquake in Turkey.”  It paralyzed me—that reports about a huge natural disaster would seem more cheerful than the election (or as some call it, the battle for democracy)?

Earlier in this election cycle I made a decision—I was going to save myself first.  I am a committed voter and citizen of the United State of America.  How could I save myself from the damage being done to my soul by the current media coverage of the political battles in our country while still being an active participant in democracy?  My response was to take action.  I volunteered to join a phone bank on Get Out the Vote day.

That did not work out too well.  I am not cut out for phone banking.  I was greeted with obscenities, rudeness, wrong numbers and long waits for a connection.  I replaced phone banking action with a more local activity—creating “handmade” postcards to encourage voters in my state to vote for candidates for our state legislature who supported education and healthcare.  That was a very satisfying and soothing activity.  I felt I had contributed and there was no violence done.

Thus, I have made a new promise to myself.  Look away from the media circus and turn instead to small local actions.  Years ago, I read State of Fear, by Michael Crichton.  His message still resonates with me, that the media and politicians are having the effect, intentional or not, of making us all live in a frenzy of fear.   And that was written before the internet grabbed us all.  Later Myra Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy forecast the rise of social media (and misinformation) in the face of a pandemic.  Her work helped me believe in the power of social media, both to inform but also to mislead.

My answer to these tensions that many of us are feeling is twofold.  Look away from the media and take two steps to the center.  The fear created by media and politicians have driven us to extremes.  I still watch or listen to some news but when I start feeling the churning in my gut or the pain in my chest I stop. 

I have been intentionally listening to interviews of “average citizens” trying to understand those with a viewpoint different from my own.  To protect myself I’ve chosen the PBS interviews Amna Nawaz has done with a mix of voters after the presidential debates.  Listening with love in my heart for all of America, I have tried to hear their concerns and beliefs.  As a result, I think I understand that there are honest concerns and good intentions in at least some of the “opposition.”  I hope that as we move past the election that we can find these points of agreement or sympathy and build on them.

Lee Ann lives in Boise, Idaho. She also keeps a blog. Check it out at

Happy Halloween!

The word “happy” makes me happy. We use it to recognize people on their birthdays, to think about our blessings on Thanksgiving, to wish people well during the Christmas and Hanukka seasons, to welcome the new year. But what exactly makes Halloween a happy occasion?

It has a long, interesting history, beginning with the ancient Celts who celebrated their new year on November 1st. They believed that the night before their new year, the ghosts of the dead returned to Earth, creating mayhem among the living. Eventually, 9th century Christianity appropriated the Celtic holiday and called it All Saints Day, with Halloween being the eve of that hallowed time. (Check out this History channel article for a detailed look at the history.) For the Celts, I imagine that the happy time was twofold: the harvest was officially in and a new year was upon them, when once again the dead would go back to where they belonged.

For many of us today, Halloween is a fun time, especially for children. I loved it as a child. In my small Florida town (about 3500), all the kids in costumes gathered near Main Street for a parade to the Women’s Club, which held a little carnival with bobbing apples, game booths, and candied apples and pies. When it got dark, we’d gang up with our friends and go trick-or-treating – without adults. It was a safe time. And a time when we roamed all over the little town freely. We were wildly happy together– and candy-rich by the time we wandered home.

People didn’t go all out to decorate their yards back then, as many do today. Sometimes there were jack-o-lanterns on the stoops or sheet ghosts in the yard, and sometimes the adults who answered the door would try to scare us in their homemade witch or ghost costumes. We were always treated. I don’t remember playing a single trick.

Today, some of us as adults hold costume parties. And others, like me and my husband, had the great pleasure for a number of years of trick-or-treating with our three grandchildren in the Fox Valley. Alas, they’ve outgrown having us tag along. And I get that; for me as a child, the great fun of Halloween was prowling the streets in costume with my costumed friends and seeing other kid gangs in their various costumes and guessing who they were (we knew about everyone within a few years of our age group).

The worsening covid pandemic (and, even before that, the fear of harm to our children) has dampened the joy of this year’s Halloween. Nevertheless, I hope you’re planning to have a little Halloween fun tonight – or shortly thereafter. Be happy. Make someone else happy, however you can.

Photos: Our Halloween sock monkey; grandkids’ jack-o-lanterns in times past; grandkids showing off their pumpkins in other times past; grandkids, Doug and I preparing to go trick-or-treating; card creation by Lee Ann, my good friend in Boise.

Another Lazy Morning Inside the Coffee Tent

I try not to think about politics when I first wake up. Instead, I look out the bank of windows facing east and check the look of things. This morning it’s rather gray, the sky and crestless bay gray. The only sound I hear is an occasional car passing in the distance, no wind whistling in the pines, no birdsong, no geese overhead honking. It’s too cold for late October, too muted, too somber.    

I don’t get up immediately, unless my husband is still in bed and the coffee maker not turned on, which is rare. Usually, like this morning, he’s placed a cup of coffee on my nightstand. I reach for my cherished captain’s cup with its wide bottom to anchor against rolling seas; for me, it’s to keep the cup from tipping as it sits on my body under the sheet and quilt that my upturned knees make into a coffee tent.

I sip carefully, savoring the warm nutty taste, and reflect on the previous day, often remembering things that escaped my attention the day before. Maybe something someone said during a Zoom meeting or something I read or saw on TV or something I did or forgot to do. Anything except politics. That done, I let my mind drift wherever.

This morning my thoughts turn to color. I want to punctuate the dreariness with bright colors. I drift back a few days. A man was walking near the bay. Everything was gray, like today, the sky and bay, the trees and distant street. Except for the man’s bright orange windbreaker – a spot of cheer, a moment of joy. I remember going out for the mail, saddened by the brownness of the maple leaves covering the ground. Except when I reached a spot where the browns and dull yellows were speckled with red, newly fallen leaves still bright and somehow glorious. Another moment of joy.

I relish these moments of joy, the ones that are unexpectedly there. They don’t have to be awesome. They’re small fleeting things, like the flash of Pete Souza’s photo of Obama cradling two infants in his arms during MSNBC’s The Way I See It. Or noticing pink buds on the Christmas cactus already. Or hearing the laughter of children as they fly by on their bicycles. Or finding just the right words to describe the way I see things.

Eventually my coffee needs a warmup. I go nuke it, grab my phone on the way back, and annoy Leon the cat who has curled up on the warm spot I left behind. I nudge him over as I crawl in. I pet him. He purrs, a comforting sound. He settles in by my side and keeps purring as I turn on my phone and make a point of not reading the news feeds.

But I can’t keep myself from going to Twitter and then Facebook to see what people are saying. Lots of politics. Lots of anxiety and fear. Not enough joy. Reality is cruel right now. But humor dots the feed and photos grace the stream of entries, like landscapes, quilts, food, and grandkids. One story breaks my heart, but it’s someone’s birthday today and someone else’s anniversary. Just knowing there are such people there, everyday at any time, is consoling.

The warmth of the coffee cup feels good in my hand; the coffee is brewed to perfection. And now bolstered by caffeine and friends of good will, I begin to look forward to the new day – with hope.

Photos: My wonderful captain’s cup; our buddha cat with the last zinnia on a salt cellar; our Christmas cactus; the last of our cherry tomatoes from the garden.

P.S. Political joy found today as I was tweaking this post: Joy to the Polls (check it out).

From Resentment to Action

A close friend recently phoned to ask if we’d pick her up at the airport when she flies home for a family visit. Of course we will, but since the airport is about an hour away, we’re wondering what precautions to take. Should only one of us go? If only one, should she sit in the backseat? Can we acquire surgical gowns and gloves and even PPE respirators? Ok, maybe not the latter. I resent needing to think about such things.

A short while later, our handyman arrived to patch our roof; as always, he wasn’t wearing a mask. Then the next day in a small paint store, my husband noted to an acquaintance that he wasn’t wearing a mask; the normally nice-enough man grew hostile and exclaimed, “They’re lying to you!” An acquaintance of mine told me about a man behind her in a check-out line who was raving that the whole covid thing was a hoax.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is catnotquitebill-2.jpg

I resent that so many people aren’t wearing masks when they should. I resent that they don’t respect my health or community health or our overburdened healthcare workers. I resent that the president encourages such behavior and disrespects the leading infectious disease experts. One of the most outrageous statements Trump recently made was in this tweet, intended to disparage Biden: “He’ll listen to the scientists.” Duh!

I carry around far too many resentments these days, like not spending a few days away, as we usually do, for our anniversary; like not eating indoors at restaurants or attending social events; like not hugging our grandchildren who are missing out on so much. And I especially resent – and am horrified by – the needless deaths and illnesses due to a raging pandemic that didn’t have to be raging.

But resentment and its cousin whining don’t help a bit. Nor does ranting at the TV. And I’m not alone. I see lots of whining, anger, and fear on Facebook and Twitter. So I shared an image of a tiny Trump fleeing from a giant blue wave. That’s a great big hope – not at all an assured thing. To deal with my resentments, to lessen my whining, to tamp down my fears and expletive-sprinkled rants, I’m doing what I can to address the biggest thing I’ve ever faced: helping to save American democracy from the most corrupt and incompetent administration ever.

You can help too. In two weeks the vote results will begin coming in. But it’s not too late to swing into action. Here are examples of actions you can take – or continue to take:

  • Vote, if you haven’t already! I have. Now’s the time to make sure that our family and friends vote too. Get after them if they haven’t. Tell them why they should vote blue – healthcare, social security, decency, honesty, science, and so on – whatever issues matter to you and may well matter to them.
  • Volunteer to do phone banking (for example, see
  • Put Biden-Harris signs in your yard and signs for your regional Democratic candidates.
  • Share digital Biden-Harris ads with your social media friends, like this reassuring one (click). Or choose Lincoln Project ads, like this hard-hitting one (click), or Republicans Against Trump ads, like this classic former Trump voter selfie (click).
  • Donate to the Biden-Harris campaign, DCCC, and/or several Senate races. I’ve donated to a number of Senate candidates. Check out this USA Today article (click) to find Democratic candidates who have a chance to flip the Senate. I have several other favorites too: Al Gross (Alaska), Barbara Bollier (Kansas), and Mike Espy (Mississippi). Remember that without a Democratic House AND Senate, a Biden-Harris administration will have a much harder time repairing the ongoing destruction and moving us toward solving crucial problems like affordable healthcare and climate change mitigation.  

Also keep in mind that Trumpism will not quietly go away once Trump leaves the White House. The damage his administration has caused will not repair itself. Stand up, use your voice, and act for a better life for us all. And note that by getting involved now, you are preparing for the post-election fights ahead to put democracy back on track.

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” ~Ruth Bader Ginsburg

My photos: Portrait of our papier-mâché cat; Green Bay Women’s March, January 2018; our local Biden rally on the street Trump and his entourage passed when he visited Marinette, June 2020.

“where the person you least want to live with lives”

Vibrant fall leaves, blue sky, a pleasantly crisp breeze, but there’s no crispness in my step as I walk to the community garden. The news is filled with covid and our harvest has all but ended. Then I notice shadows on the asphalt ribbon of this one-car path, the breeze allowing branches to tease their shapes in the mottled sunlight. The shadows change with each step. I focus on the dark, switch to the light, then look for the overall pattern. I am fully in this moment. And I am happy.

The tranquil feeling stays with me as I leave the wooded area into full sunlight on a well-traveled road.  Suddenly I shudder. I try to shrug it off. There they are across the road, four Trump signs lined parallel to the road, each different, on a nicely kept lawn. Above the front porch, three large flags ruffle in the breeze – a Trump flag in the middle, flanked by a grayish blue and white American flag and one sporting two crossed assault rifles in white on a black background.

I don’t understand the shrine-like adulation of Trump displayed here and elsewhere in our community. I recoil from such displays. Toward such neighbors, I harbor bad feelings, bordering on hostility. They’re people I don’t even know. I can’t seem to help it. Yet, the abundance of Trump signs in one yard unsettles me. Farewell, tranquility.

As I’m nursing my dismay, a youngish bearded man emerges from behind the house and walks toward the road carrying a recycling bin. It’s garbage day. Good, he recycles. That’s a plus. I call, “Hello,” and smile. He smiles back, a warm smile on a genial face, and says, “Hi.”

I feel better. I imagine that he’s an overall good man who loves his family and friends, as well as his community and country. I believe he’s a hard worker because during other walks to the garden over the summer, I saw his steady progress on the shed he built in the back. It’s a narrow barn-like structure with a loft that has a circular window. A charming structure that’s almost finished. I admire it. I admire his skill and aesthetic sense.

I don’t, however, admire my neighbor’s political sense – yet I do respect him as a fellow human being. I don’t know his story. I don’t know why he believes that Trump is the political answer to his needs and those of his family and country. But I do know that he’s a member of my community.

As Parker J. Palmer said about community members, “Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as that place where the person you least want to live with lives.”

So I look ahead, admire the golden, red, and orange maples I’m approaching. I continue walking to the garden, there to be grateful for the abundance of food and the meaningful moments of work it has given me and my fellow community gardeners.

Tranquility restored, for now.

Photos at the community garden in October: our zinnias and okra stalks; Sheila & Steve’s kale; Ann & Tom’s Swiss chard

For a Democracy of Heart*

My head’s spinning. Too much bad news. I was in a Horrific Vision fighting for my avatar’s life with my World of Warcraft buddy when my husband called up the stairs, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.” I was gobsmacked, overwhelmed with saddness. The Notorious RBG gone on September 18th. John Lewis gone on July 18th. Two of my heroes gone on the same day two months apart. And today the coronavirus death toll surpassed 200,000.

But Friday night I fought on until my buddy and I successfully defeated the Vision’s demons and returned to the Chamber of Heart; then I went downstairs to be with my husband. That’s what we have to do: keep on fighting with our loved ones and allies against the demonic forces in the Trump administration until we return to a democracy of heart. We must fight for a return to love rather than hate, for unity rather than division, for care and service rather than power and money, for science and facts rather than willful denial and ignorance, and for rule of law rather than rule of power achieved through lies, conspiracies, and propaganda.

“The greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.”Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her book My Own Words (2012).

Vote! Vote for democracy. Talk with your neighbors about why and how you’re voting. Fight on against a corrupt, incompetent administration and its enablers who are in power for themselves, not for us. Fight for democracy as if your life and freedom depended on it – because they do.

*What I’m Thinking about Today (WITAT)

On Voting During a Pandemic

The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it. ~John Lewis in his final words to the nation, NYT op-ed

As long as young people are protesting in the streets, hoping real change takes hold, I’m hopeful but we cannot casually abandon them at the ballot box. Not when few elections have been as urgent, on so many levels, as this one. We cannot treat voting as an errand to run if we have some time. We have to treat it as the most important action we can take on behalf of democracy. ~Barack Obama in his eulogy for John Lewis

We truly are living in perilous times, marked by a raging pandemic and dire economy worsened by an incompetent, corrupt, and increasingly totalitarian government. This cannot stand. Nor can such actions by the Trump administration as caging children; beating and gassing protesters; defending criminals like Michael Flynn and Roger Stone; embracing white supremacy; refusing to confront Russia for its bounties on American soldiers; engaging in acts to suppress the vote; and so much more that threatens our democracy.

The Republican Party has done nothing to stop Trump’s un-American, sometimes unlawful behavior. We must vote Trump and his Republican accomplices out on November 3rd. As Obama said, “few elections have been as urgent, on so many levels, as this one.” To protect our democracy we must vote them out.

Because the pandemic is unlikely to go away by election day, voting this time may take extra effort. We need to plan now. Below are six things to consider as you prepare to vote.   

1. Vote by mail. Five states mail registered voters ballots that they fill out and mail back: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. In 34 other states, plus D.C., voters can request an absentee ballot to receive and return by mail without needing an excuse. For the remaining states, you need an excuse, at least at this time. Fear of contracting Covid-19 may be an acceptable excuse. To learn about your state’s requirements for voting by mail, go to On this site you can see if you’re registered, register if you’re not, and find out how to request an absentee ballot in your state. Election Protection is another good site for voting information.  

2. Vote early. If you’re voting by mail, you should mail your ballot as soon as possible. The new Trump-appointed Postmaster General has implemented new procedures that may slow down the mail. Don’t take a chance that your ballot will arrive after the deadline. In 2016, millions of absentee ballots were rejected (approximately 1% of the 33.2 million ballots mailed in) due to not having a signature, a signature not matching the one in state records, a return envelope problem, or for missing the deadline. Carefully fill out the ballot, double check that you’ve done everything required, and mail early.

3. In-person voting. Let’s say you don’t want to take a chance with a mailed-in ballot. In some states, you can vote early. If you vote on election day (and even early), the lines may be long; you may have to wait for hours, depending on where you live. Note that many states have closed hundreds of polling places, often disproportionately affecting minorities, especially in Republican-led states (a clear attempt at voter suppression). Check to see if your polling place has changed. Wear your mask, bring hand sanitizer, and, if you expect long lines, consider taking extra water and snacks for those who wait near you – and extra masks for those who forgot theirs.

4. Stay in Line. If your polling place tries to close before you vote, stay in line. And immediately call the hotline administered by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law at 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) to report the attempted closure or any other improper or unusual polling incident. A polling place is required to stay open until everyone in line has voted. You can also call the hotline above for help of any kind about voting.

5. Provisional ballot. If your eligibility to vote is questioned at a polling place for any reason (for example, your name is not on the electoral roll or you don’t have an acceptable ID), you should be offered a provisional ballot, at least in most states. If they fail to offer you one, ask for one. And if that doesn’t work, call the hotline above for advice on what to do next.

 6. Strongly encourage your family and friends to vote. Remind them that this election is, without a doubt, the most important one of our lifetime. Of course, every election matters, whether local, state, or national. But this time we the voters will determine what kind of country we want to live in and want our children and grandchildren to grow up in.

Vote and help get out the vote!

All images from Creative Commons: “Respect My Vote” posted by SEIU International (Creative Commons: BY-NC-SA 2.0); “Vote!” shows the voting booths in the George W. Bush Presidential Library.

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Resistance Art on a Fence

I wasn’t planning to go. I was too busy, I thought. But my conscience got the better of me. So there we were, my husband and me with about 100 other people standing on the sidewalk of the Interstate Bridge, some sitting on the “Welcome to Wisconsin” sign, all of us protesting the murder of George Floyd.

People carried signs, most of us wore covid masks. Lots of people in passing cars honked their horns, waved in support, flashed peace hand signs. It was all good and peaceful. Of course, there were a few dissenters like the guy walking about in his in-your-face Trump T-shirt, and a few burly young men in fatigues holding rifles as self-appointed guards at stores downtown. They seemed so out of place, so anachronistic somehow.

Local young folk organized this grassroots event for our small twin cities of Marinette, WI and Menominee, MI. I thank them and wish I could have stayed longer. I’m told that the protest remained peaceful and convivial with a gathering of around 200 people later in the day.

That was on June 3, two days after peaceful protesters were forcefully driven from Lafayette Park so that Donald Trump could walk from the White House to St. John’s Church for a photo-op of himself awkwardly holding a bible. That was one day after a temporary black metal-mesh fence began being erected around Lafayette Park, and several days before the fence became a pop-up art gallery that practically hid the White House from view.

I wish I could have been there. I wish I could have seen the resistance art covering the fence. I wish I could have slowly walked along the perimeter fence to admire the posters and other art showing that resistance to racial injustice and police brutality would not be denied. One visitor to this grassroots art show said, “We finally got a wall and it’s beautiful.” Others saw it as a place of healing and of hope.

Before the Park Service began removing the fence on the evening of June 10, reporters and visitors memorialized the artwork with photographs and videos; volunteers carefully collected some of the art for possible preservation by the Smithsonian and other museums; and other volunteers moved some of it to a nearby construction site fence.

Since then I’ve reflected on this question: What function did the Black Lives Matter fence gallery serve? For one thing, it functioned to blot out the White House; as such, it served as a visual metaphor for what the artists would like to do – make this administration go away, one that has failed to further the interests of black and brown people, let alone recognize the validity of the protesters’ concerns. For another, it turned a “you don’t belong here” symbol into a “hear us roar” expression.

Not only did this DIY art gallery give voice to protesters’ concerns and grief, it also served as a memorial to those lost to police violence – their names and faces graced the fence. Plus, it was a call to keep up the fight against racial injustice; and it was a call for white people like me to reflect, at last, on our own contributions to and privileges afforded by American systemic racism.

I saw a poster on TV yesterday during an Atlanta protest prompted by the killing of Rayshard Brooks. It read: “If all lives mattered, then we wouldn’t be here.” That made me think. I hadn’t given much thought to the All Lives Matter mantra until I read that. The poster is right! If all lives mattered, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and far too many other unarmed black men and women would still be alive – and other daily injustices to black people like those regarding healthcare, housing, education, and employment would be addressed. Black Lives Matter!

Photo credits in order: My photo of the BLM protest on the Interstate Bridge; Stephani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Image found on NPR station WAMU 88.5; “Police-Free Schools” and “Say Their Names” both found in a slide show on NBC NewsCenterMaine (not on that website today); Poster signing photo also found on WAMU 88.5.

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Stories Around the House

Our homes are filled with stories, filled with memories of where, when, why, and how we acquired the objects we display. We keep them for a reason, often for their backstories: the photograph of children on the sideboard, the handmade potholders over the kitchen sink, the books along the study walls, the carving from friends’ vacation, the Amish quilt on the bed. It’d be hard to find any object in my admittedly cluttered home of 30 years that doesn’t have a backstory. 

Participants in Suleika Jaouad’s “Isolation Journal” were recently asked to think about the backstory of an object in their homes. The prompt went something like this: Imagine that the gaze of a visiting friend lingers on one of your objects. She’s curious about why you’ve displayed it. The task for the journal writer is to pick such an item, provide its backstory, and tell why it’s meaningful.  

On reading that journal prompt, I began imagining I was the visiting friend. I saw lots of curious objects but kept coming back to one in particular: a small framed picture of a squirrel eating a berry in the crook of a tree trunk and limb.

That picture holds many memories for me of my favorite cousin, Joanie. An accomplished watercolorist, she sometimes sent notecards that featured prints of one of her paintings. The squirrel was one of those, greatly reduced in size, of course. My husband and I are fond of squirrels (most of the time). They play all around our wooded area. They eat the old bread and apple cores I put out for them. We enjoyed the notecard image so much, we framed it and offered to buy the original watercolor.

A generous soul, Joanie said she would give it to us, but she grew sick and died a few weeks later. We are fortunate to have a number of her watercolors, but the notecard was the last thing she could send. It has special meaning for that reason, among others. In particular, I associate the squirrel notecard with her playfulness. I also associate it with the incredibly moving experience of attending her funeral in a Quaker church in Richmond, Virginia. The reverent silence brought comfort and peace. And out of that silence arose her friends’ stories – softly, gently, lovingly spoken, all beautiful like the person they honored, Joanie Harper.

I could spend hours just walking around the house recalling backstories of objects here and there. For me, even mundane things like the toaster oven, recliner, and desk hold stories. My newfound interest in backstories of home-displayed items has broadened to include those of cable-news contributors and guests who, like me during the time of covid, have self-isolated. I’m taking a kind of voyeuristic delight in glimpsing parts of their homes and spotting the occasional curious item.  

The rooms of a few talking heads reveal hardly any decoration; others are in rooms that would make an interior decorator proud; and yet others have a well lived-in look. It’s the latter that interests me. The most common objects behind them are books – in filled bookcases with framed photographs, on a shelf with small art objects, on a fireplace mantel lined between decorative bookholders, or even a book in full view that they’ve authored. I try to read titles and generally conclude they’re nonfiction, which makes sense for writers like those in the bookcases of Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson and New York Times journalist Peter Baker.

Other items are more inscrutable. For example, why did former White House communication director Jennifer Palmieri have a framed image of a rainbow trout (perhaps a watercolor) behind her, or why did political strategist Steve Schmidt have four whole pineapples sitting up in his kitchen? Then yesterday I was intrigued by civil rights activist Alicia Garza’s attractive liquor bottles on a cabinet against which protruded the handle of a canoe paddle, and behind her was the bottom 2/3rds of a portrait of a woman in an old-fashioned dress. Nice!  

I imagine that you have lots of objects in your home that evoke memories and emotions, items visitors find curious. Just look around. You might be surprised how deep some of your items’ backstories take you.

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Bad Poem Illustrated

It’s fun Friday. Time for another bad poem. This one is for my friends here at home who may wonder why I play World of Warcraft (WoW). But, of course, I hope everyone who lands on this page enjoys it. I illustrate my verse with screenshots that I took at various times while playing. It can be sung, sort of, to the chorus of Bing Crosby’s 1944 hit “Swinging on a Star.”

Would You Like To?

Would you like to fly in the clouds
On a dragon so blue and proud,
Glide grandly all up and down, Toa 1st day on cloud serpernt 111412

Or would you rather fly a pig?Jolly &amp; flying pig3

Would you like to camp by the sea,
Spend some time with my fox and me,
Fry some fish on an open fire,VixxCampZand2new

Or would you rather dine with friends?IBmeeting tavern2new

Would you like to go to a faire,
Watch fireworks burst in the air,
Roll the coaster for a fun scare,DarkmoonFaire Rollercoaster

Or would you rather dance with bears?snowballsIBnew

Would you like to join in a fight,
To kill monsters that are affright;Spirit Kings4 fight 6-8-13

Triumph of good over evil feels right
For reflection at the beginning of night.Xipe overlookAnyportDrustvarSauna

Now this game of WoW is by no means highbrow,
But it works for me quite enjoyably.