Library Time: The Ragged Edge of Night

There has been a lot of discussion up here along the very northern edge of the United States about daylight savings time and changing of the clocks each spring and fall. Our Canadian friends to the northeast do not change their clocks and many Mainers believe we should join them in Atlantic time or whatever it is called. Personally, I do not mind the fall back and spring forward exercise each year. I enjoy the dark late afternoons before Christmas, the lights come on in the houses as people prepare supper or do late afternoon chores. It is kind of cozy looking to see the homes all lit up, many have candles in the windows at the start of the season preparing for Christmas. In the spring, we all love that extra daylight at night with its reminder of summer evenings and campfires. Of course, there is another side to the change in time and that involves the children going off to school in the dark. Grace and Ethan used to catch the 6:30 bus and it was dark many a day, as a parent or grandparent it causes a bit of concern because of the increased chance that a driver will not see a child crossing despite those very bright yellow and red lights employed by the bus drivers.

One of the reasons I love the November 6 fall back is more than the extra hour of sleep I get, but I associate it with the start of my fall book-reading challenge. Now, I read books steadily throughout the year, but there is something about the kids returning to school which gets me anticipating the books just waiting for me in the novel section of the library. Dave jokes that there is a wing with my name on it- trust me there is not, but I do love a good book. I decided several years ago that I would start with the A’s and proceed to read books in alphabetical order in the large novel section of the library. Now I do not read every book and author. It does have to call to me, and I admit I favor authors who have written a series of books or those who have really artful covers. I particularly like mysteries that are not about vampires or some such. I am now into the H’s, and I have read many authors I never would have considered if it was not for this method.

My most recent was written by Olivia Hawker. It is a historical novel set in Germany in the 1940’s. The main character was a Franciscan friar, a teacher of music at a school for disabled children in the early days of WW2. His order was disbanded by Hitler, and he served in the German Army for a time, until injured. The story opens with him responding to an advertisement by a widow with three children who needs a husband to help survive the deprivations of the war and help with her children. She marries the young friar (not knowing he was ever a friar) and it follows their marriage, his deep love for his stepchildren, and the eventual love and trust with his wife Elizabeth, that develops years into the marriage. It examines the changes the German society went through: confiscation of civilian guns, demonizing/death of news media, the pressure on the churches to tow the Nazi line, rounding up the Roma, the disabled, the gay, transgendered and mentally ill and confining them to camps/death/experiments, and of course, the scapegoating of the Jews and their final Solution. In the quiet and safety of their home, Anton and Elizabeth wonder where and when the German people went wrong and began to accept these acts, one at a time, as normal. It also touched on the distrust in their own small town and the absolute corruption of power. And while neighbors took care of each other, performed quiet acts of resistance and waged heroic efforts to bring about the end of the war sooner rather than later by assassinating Hitler.

I always read the author’s remarks at the end of the novel and to my great surprise I found out the protagonist was her husband’s family member. She wrote that she felt the time to do this novel was now because of the similarities between Germany of the late 30’s and the United States in the last several years. She fears for our democracy and felt it was time to tell this story. Some of it is fictionalized and names are changed but the protagonist’s name is his own, the marriage did take place and you learn about their lives after May of 1945.

This is a book I probably would have not checked out had I not been doing my systematic alphabetical reading program. I am so glad that I read it. The struggles that the townspeople went through at the hands of those firmly in the camp of the SS were heartbreaking. Men taking advantage of married, single and widowed women, threatening their children and their husband’s lives if they were not “cooperative” to them. Knowing the fate of the disabled children taken away on a gray bus to their death, the constant hunger and deprivation their family experienced called into question God’s presence with them, and the reason for it all.

I encourage you to get to know Franciscan Friar Anton Starzman and Elizabeth Herter and the people of Unterboihingen. Their experiences certainly make you wonder about what you would do if you found yourself walking a mile in their shoes. It also drives home the choices we face now to prevent history from repeating itself.

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The Rush to Judge

Like many other people, our household was tuned to Monday Night Football this past Monday night. Like millions of other people, we saw Damar Hamlin make a “normal” tackle, hard yes, but not exceptionally hard on Tee Higgins. He stood up for just a short second or two and then collapsed. The way he went down indicated it was not a “I am dizzy and need to get to the ground” kind of fall. The speed with which the officials and other players called for assistance and the fact that an AED and CPR were used further indicated a problem with his heart/breathing. Worst of all, was the look on the faces of his teammates and the Cincinnati Bengals players. To a man, they were shocked, scared and tearful.

As a person who has a pacemaker/implanted defibrillator I am familiar with sudden cardiac arrest. It happens to be a factor in a genetic heart problem I have. It is important to note that I did not know it existed until I was well past 50. While it is genetic in nature, it turns out no one else in my family was ever diagnosed with it either, until just recently when my almost 50-year-old son found he won the genetic lottery. I remember the doctor telling me that the central wall of the ventricle that unfortunately thickens and becomes stiff and somewhat non-compliant, is also the home to the wonderful, complex, electrical system that our hearts rely on. He told me that at times if the heart’s electrical system gets interrupted at the right moment, it can become confused. Also, this very genetic problem has certain high-risk times in one’s life: ages 12-21 if playing sports, or if you are an elite athlete, such as Damar, despite being past 21. Understandably, I wondered if that is what happened to Damar.

My husband, who sat a few feet to my left, felt sure Damar had died and the NFL were just not telling us. 9 minutes of CPR he felt were for show. The whole conversation about should the game go on or not became a discussion about situations when someone dies and there is no question whether life goes on- shock or no shock, no one gets a five-minute break to “gather oneself together”. While I know there are situations when that happens, for your own safety or safety of others, a pro football game is not one of those situations, it is just that, a game. In the scheme of things, it is not something that “had to go on”. Yes, when you are in combat no one gives you a pass when someone next to you dies. If you are in an active shooter situation, you do what you need to do to protect yourself or those around you. Mourning the loss of a friend, classmate, neighbor, etc. is something to be done later. Still, no one expects the concert or movie or church service or school day to continue following such an event. MNF is not the be all and end all, the life of Damar Hamlin was the priority at that point, as it should be. It is just a game and in fact, the coaches and players made the right decision and the powers that be in the NFL were either wise enough to come to the same conclusion or they were smart enough to realize what a mistake it would be to expect them to play.

Of course, it was only a matter of minutes before the conspiracy theorists on Facebook made their medical diagnosis: it had to be the vaccine, of course! All the old anonymous published papers that lack peer review were trotted out as “evidence”. The standard 5 or 6 covid deniers chimed in, to add their two cents to the conversation. I was expecting the charge of some sort of betting cabal run my leftist Democrats who would reap millions if the game were postponed, no doubt run out of Hilary Clinton’s basement. I have not seen or heard of this yet, but I would not be surprised if it was put forth on Twitter or some platform.

By Tuesday morning a cardiologist on CBS suggested that it might be due to a rare condition called commotio cordis. It has been documented that there are times, especially in baseball and hockey, where a ball or puck hits a person in the chest hard enough and at high enough speed, AND hits it at the right point in the heart’s electrical cycle, that it makes the heart stop. While the tackle did not look to be hard enough to cause this to happen, it was possible that a helmet struck just the right spot to trigger its event. The confused heart fails to reset its electrical rhythm and ventricular fibrillation results. Without immediate defibrillation and CPR death occurs very quickly. The cardiologist also suggested that Damar would be evaluated and tested for other unknown underlying heart conditions such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a malformation of cardiac arteries, etc.

After two full days with little change: breathing support, efforts to help his lungs heal, and sedation Damar came to this morning and thankfully is responding to questions and instructions, clearly indicating positive neurological outcomes. Across the nation, people are breathing a bit easier for this young man and his family. There will be many more tests, many more conversations about what happened, how it happened, and what is in Damar’s future going forward. But at least he has a future. Tee Higgins, who did nothing wrong, hopefully feels a weight lift off his shoulders as well.

To speculate in the face of some unimaginable event is normal, it is human nature. To judge- especially in the first minutes and hours after an event is more than unkind, it is irresponsible, especially in our divisive society of today. It is unfortunate, but what we write and post on social media, perpetuates over and over again. People make fun of those who believe in Santa Claus, but they will believe 100% what is on the internet as the gospel truth, and it will perpetuate for eternity.

Kudos to the first responders on the field who kept the high-quality CPR going for all that time; the players who surrounded him with their bodies so he might have some privacy; the hospital staff at the UC trauma facility for their immediate and ongoing care; and to all those who put aside judgement in favor of prayer and care for the family of Damar Hamlin, the players, coaches and staff of both the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals. Well done.

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A very real Christmas gift

Ahh yes, December 26th and all Christmas music goes to that great file cabinet in the sky until after Thanksgiving next year. But I am not done quite yet with Christmas.

Do you remember me?

I sat upon your knee
I wrote to you with childhood fantasies

Well I’m all grown up now
And still need help somehow
I’m not a child but my heart still can dream.

So here’s my lifelong wish
My grown-up Christmas List
Not for myself, but for a world in need

No more lives torn apart,
Then wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts

And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end, oh
This is my grown-up Christmas List

This is my only lifelong wish; this is my grown-up Christmas List.

Music: David Foster, Lyrics: Linda Thompson-Jenner

In the hustle and bustle of our increasingly commercial and secular Christmas I love this song because it speaks to what our heart longs for, not for more stuff and presents. Cars with bows, puppies (although I love puppies), more clothes, more gifts we can’t or don’t need.

What we do need though is no more lives torn apart: by secrets and lies, by greed, by callousness, by hard heartedness, by divisive politics, by misogny, by racism, and all the other isms in the world. Thinking about this past year my heart breaks for those who died at the hands of others because they were Jewish, LGBTQI, black, brown or some other shade of skin other than white. My heart breaks because there are people in this country who want to go back to the ’50’s when white men ruled and the rest of us had fewer rights. My heart breaks when I think of the history that people want to cover up: our country has accomplished so much in its 246 years but we have also committed some grievous injuries. Our European immigrant ancestors came over here in search of a better life, but tore apart the lives of the First Nation/Native American tribes bringing disease and seeking to eradicate their culture, separating children from their parents and community- continuing that practice until as recently as the 1960’s; we continued to place economics over people with the slave trade and hundreds of years of slavery tearing apart African families; and we placed Japanese Americans into internment camps, taking their homes and businesses from them.

Don’t we wish that wars will never start? I know the shelf life of war- I know how it affects the person who fights it, the family who loves them and how relentless those memories are and how they can leak poison for years and years in their relationships with others. Coping with the ongoing effects of war is a lonely proposition – rarely is it honestly spoken of, and the loneliness of unspoken pain makes Christmas that much harder to endure. It heightens the difference between reality and our “idea” of Christmas. Those gatherings of family and friends, the stuff of commercials, Christmas cards and Madison Avenue.

As a kid I believed that time would heal all hearts, but some 70 years of walking on this planet has convinced me that while it is a nice thought and while time can help us deal with our hurts, there are some that simply don’t heal. Learning to deal with pain is a sort of healing, the intense pain of loss gets a little softer, the longing a little less intense, but for those who have lost their children long before their time it seems time does not work its magic.

How much kinder the world would be if we all had someone with whom we felt emotionally safe: a friend you can cry with; laugh with; confess your deepest fears; share your wildest dreams; and know that they will still love you? Everyone should have such a friend, but in truth I suspect they are hard to come by. We experience rejection or we fear it, perhaps we risked sharing our heart and paid dearly for it afterwards. When you find that person it is exhilerating. It gives you freedom: you can walk the tightrope of life doing your very best and if you fail, there is someone their who will stand by you and encourage you to dust yourself off and try again, never saying “I told you so”.

When the “me too” movement started, a woman decided to risk sharing an experience she had as a young teen. To be truthful, she was not sure how it would be received, so decided to relate the story as that of a “friend”. He listened for a bit but when she was about to reveal the worst of the experience, his response was ” what was she wearing”. She heard the blame for that 15 year old alone in a house with an older man 100 lbs heavier than her and several inches taller. As if she was out trolling in her kitchen doing dishes and “looking for it”. The conversation ended right there and then.

I had a saying written on a piece of poster paper: to be fully loved, you need to be fully known. What a blessed world it would be if each of us had someone or maybe even more than one someone we can risk being fully known by. Someone who will not run away if they know our worst fear or ridicule a “step out in faith” dream. Someone we can tell that we heard God’s voice and they will not think we need to be committed.

A late afternoon conversation with my teenage grandson (they are to be treasured!) around the recent suicide of Twitch the DJ from the Ellen the DeGeneres show. I was totally unaware of Twitch but struck by the sheer volume of articles on social media swirling around his recent death. Clearly the rest of the world knew who he was. I thought my grandson might be more up on why he was featured in so many articles despite the fact that a number of celebrities committed suicide in 2022. Out of this discussion, my grandson revealed that, in his opinion, girls think if a man is vulnerable, troubled, or emotional there is something “wrong with him” and that kills any existing or blossoming relationship. It was the old “boys don’t cry” rule. I was very surprised, thinking we had made some progress since the rigid gender roles of the 50’s and early 60’s. In the opinion of this 19-year-old, 80% of the girls he knew felt this way. Our discussion then led to more traditional ways in which depression and extreme anxiety are expressed by men and boys: by drinking, getting angry and/or risky behavior (driving). We also talked about how lonely it was not to have someone you could trust to tell when you needed to emotionally unburden yourself. I encouraged him to be a trusted friend, to nurture being a nonjudgmental presence for his female and male friends, for it is a priceless gift to give a friend or significant other. It goes without saying (although I did) that I hoped he would have a friend he could trust as well. Of course, I reminded him that it can be a parent, sibling, or even a grandparent- but to always reach out, because we need each other, and we love each other.

When I read the lyrics about right would always win, I confess I immediately fell into the trap of right versus left, that old political mess of 2016-2022. Personally, I hope 2023 brings us back into balance, but I recognize that we as humans differ on what is “right” and that our right, and God’s right might be even farther apart! So my Christmas list wish is that we do not fall into the right versus left issues but really listen to the hearts of the other and be open to a softening of our own heart and an openness to a difference of opinion without resorting to building insurmountable walls. There are certainly divisive topics out there: abortion, immigration, universal health care, and climate change. I get fired up when someone wants to burn or restrict books. Or believes because they wear a suit and sit in Congress, they can determine what my doctor and I feel is in my best interest medically. I get frustrated when people fail to understand that we are created not just male and female but with a variety of gender bending in between. I have encouraged a deep dive into the internet and learn about how throughout history we have had XY, XX, XXY, XYY and a host of other differences in gender and sexuality. I find that many of the people who believe that there is either male or female, do not want to hear about humans being born with a variety of differences. Where “right” is in these discussions is not simply black and white but full of nuances and shades of gray.

In the end, I hope that love will never end. When someone looks at you and says, I love you, I hope it is for life. I hope it is forever. I hope it is unconditional and can withstand the test of time. Because when that happens, lives will not be torn apart by wars or politics or fears or secrets; everyone will have a friend and in that friend we will find safe harbor; and have the freedom that comes from a love that has no end.

What a grown-up Christmas list. 2023 I hope we move a little closer to our dream for a world in need.

When the headlines hit home.

Every night we watch the news: inflammatory election talk, assault on democracy, a desire of some folks to go back to the fifties- particularly with women’s rights, and extremely concerning statements about religion and government. Of course, inflation, supply change shortages, the Ukraine/Russia war, more jobs than workers, climate change (locally- lobsters and weather), worries about paying for heat and food in winter in Maine, asylum seekers and continuing healthcare worries round out most broadcasts.

The last couple of years have been a bit surreal with Covid and all the drama around quarantining, vaccinations, politicizing of vaccinations and science which has wrought difficulties for our health care system. It seems we take one or two steps towards normalization and then there are three steps back! During Covid and the aftermath, we realized how fragile our health care system is. We had doctors and nurses that went through hell trying to keep people alive, and we had people who gathered together for weddings in the face of a pandemic which resulted in over 100 new cases of Covid and 3 deaths. We had folks dying alone without being able to see or say goodbye to their loved ones and those in assisted living who could not understand why they were not visited anymore. Normal routine stuff like routine tests and checkups were blown out of the water, normal follow-up visits were delayed. After two years I hoped that some of these screwed up systems were sorting themselves out. I found out, the hard way, that it is going to take more time.

For the last year our experiences with health care and an Emergency Room revolved around the VA system here in Maine. For us, it has been wonderful. We live near the one and only VA hospital in Maine, and so it is convenient and, compared to the rest of the healthcare world, wonderfully timely. Dave has been through kidney stones, Covid and a cyst in his spinal column which resulted in surgery. The last took a while to diagnose as the pain was referred to the hip. A scan and a couple of medication trials failed to resolve the problem, which we discovered when he had an MRI that he had a cyst in his spinal column. The day after the MRI he came down with Covid, once that was resolved (with excellent follow-up care by the way), he received an appointment with a surgeon and removal of the cyst within two months’ time. And he was immediately pain free!

From our friends in the civilian healthcare world, we had heard of the long wait times in Emergency Rooms. We knew the backlog of delay for routine procedures like colonoscopies, mammograms, and ultrasounds. After my PCP moved to another town north of us in Maine, I discovered that I would need to wait 11 months to 02/2023 to have a PCP again. After I determined the wait was similar in three different practices (including my original provider) I decided to change to a provider under the Maine General umbrella since my cardiologist, surgeon, and gastroenterologist were all providers for Maine General, so hopefully communication would be facilitated between them. Sounds sensible right?

Then September hit: I noticed my scalp was painful to the touch when I was getting my hair done and occasionally, I woke up with a headache on the right side of my head. I was a little stuffy, with no cold symptoms, and was breathing through my mouth. I figured I was getting less oxygen than I needed (and issue with my heart condition) and wondered if I was getting a new seasonal allergy. I experimented with different pillows, washing my pillowcase more often than the usual every other week routine, and sleeping on my left side rather than my right. No change. By the end of September, the headache was every day and getting worse – it would start with a 2 or 3 on the scale of 1-10 and by evening it was a 5-6. This continued into the beginning of October when it sharply worsened, and I began to notice my right eye was getting tired and blurry. By October 12th my headache was light sensitive, sound sensitive, and a level 15 on a 1-10 scale. Since I did not have a PCP to say- “hey what is going on?”. As I laid in bed in a fetal position, my husband called in my son for reinforcement and Josh told me I was headed to the ED in an ambulance or car. I recognized that tone of voice that I used to use with him when he was small: it is time to do something! Josh and Dave took me to the ED and together we discovered our sluggish emergency treatment problem was even more than sluggish than we thought.

In the six hours in the waiting room, I watched youngsters come in with injured limbs from jumping and skateboarding. A pair of toddler twins came in with obvious sickness and they were treated pretty quickly, after already going to Urgent Care. There were several of us seniors with different issues. After three hours I did receive a CT scan which ruled out a stroke, although I did not know that until an hour later, after my husband had a serious discussion with the triage folks about why it was taking so long. The most distressing was seeing an elderly gentleman keel over into two chairs when he could no longer stand, and a woman and young son who left after 5 hours, with a whispered “good luck”. In my sixth hour I finally got into a room, was evaluated, diagnosed and given morphine to stop my exploding head. My right eye was partially closed, I was able to provide a timeline of the pain progression and explain that near vision was impaired, but distance was not. The provisional diagnosis is temporal arteritis, or the inflammation of the temporal artery which runs up the side of your face with branches to the eye, to the back of the head (at least it looks like that in pictures) and to the top of your skull: hence the pain around the eye socket, the puffiness and closing of the eye, the impaired vision, the specific pain points around the temple and my touchy skull. Untreated there is a risk of blindness in the eye and stoke, among other things. A lab test failed to support the diagnosis, but the symptoms, my age and gender supported the diagnosis. A definitive diagnosis comes with a biopsy of the temporal artery (not yet scheduled). Interim treatment is prednisone, and it is helping. Vision is still an issue, eye swelling is still present, scalp still is tender but less so, and the pain level is back to a 2-5. Reading, the thing I love to do, is limited so my headache stays manageable.

I did have a frank discussion with the person who follows up with you after the ER visit to find out how they did. I tried to be fair and noted that the doctor and the traveling nurse (0n her second shift) were very professional, kind and compassionate. Their waiting room sucked. I know that staffing is an issue, I know that several patients were being held in the ER, I assume waiting for beds in the hospital or transport to somewhere else. I have no idea how many people came into the ER through the ambulance bay. All I can say is that I suspect that there are others who were in the ED that day because they could not get treatment via a PCP to head off the crisis, and that added to the mess. A six hour wait to see a physician does not seem reasonable to me, especially when pain meds cannot understandably be given until a physician signs off. No one wins when someone sees people leave in frustration or lay there apparently unattended. It does not help the hospital; it does not encourage community support. It just adds to the division and the distance that seems to pervade life these days.

One good outcome was I now have a PCP even if I will not be an official intake until 02/2023. If things worsen, I can at least call someone other than go to the ED. Now to get the biopsy scheduled…



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Toxic summer news and then there is Florida…

For many years, Dave and I have had a standing agreement that we watch the news every night so we can catch up with what is happening in the world. One thing about living in a state with only 1.3 million is that it is easy to only look around you, celebrate the more rural nature of life and tune out what is happening in places so very unlike ours. Scorching heat waves, wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes (even those with magic marker extensions) ravage other parts of the country. Here in the far corner of the north, we occasionally get a whopper of a winter storm (although those do not occur as frequently as they used to, but rarely are they life threatening. People in the Northeast are resilient and are pretty well prepared for cold weather. If anything, we often celebrate it with winter activities, although if you drive for a living you must contend with it until the snowplows get a good handle on it. Anyway, we felt it was important to know what is happening on the southern border, to stay informed about issues that are important to maintaining a strong, democratic, government, and at least be aware of the challenges Americans are experiencing in the rest of the country as well as the current state of international politics.

This summer though the news has been toxic. Baby formula shortages, gas prices skyrocketing, Roe vs. Wade, mass school shootings etc. Even before Uvalde Dave disgustedly announced he was going to find something to do elsewhere while I watched the news. The sight of those police not coming to the aid of those kids and teachers just was too much. Now as a combat veteran Dave often will defend decisions made in the heat of the struggle- he knows how unfair armchair quarterbacking can be, but he could not abide with the decisions or lack of decisions by the Ulvade police/sheriffs.

Now before I launch on my next rant, I know some really wonderful people that live in Florida full or part-time. This is not aimed at you, but I beg you to consider this when voting in November.

Then there is Florida. Since Covid we are kind of used to Florida being an outlier. Spring of 2020 brings us Covid and people are dying in greater numbers from a disease we are not prepared to deal with. Fl opens its beaches so that they can cash in on spring break. It is a big economic engine to be sure. It is not hard to imagine all those kids who believe they are invincible, partying hard and bringing covid back to their families in other states, and giving it to them or anyone else they come in contact with, especially to those who are older or have medical problems that make us susceptible to this nasty infection. Governor DeSantis was not at all concerned: Florida first you know.

Since that time there have been other Florida first moments. DeSantis’ issue with the word gay, his belief that Disney, an economic powerhouse in the Orlando area is woke, and efforts to definitely put a crimp in Disney’s legendary self-sufficiency is needed. Anyone who has visited Disney World knows that the venue does its best to address and and all issues that interfere with it being a “Happy Place”. They provide their own security, fire, police, trash, maintenance and all the other stuff that makes that place function like clockwork and dazzles its visitors with effortless efficiency. Since they are self-governed they are not a drain on the local areas services, all the while being an economic engine for the rest of the area. Taking on Disney World makes you wonder what DeSantis is thinking, but it is increasingly evident that maybe that is part of the problem, he isn’t.

Another questionable move to is the attempt to fill teacher vacancies with veterans. Now I love veterans, if they are trained in early education or for teaching older students by all means consider them to fill the gaps- but teaching is a profession that needs education, internship and out and out talent. It does not benefit the children to have a teacher who said, “I can teach classes in English, math, history, etc. because my MOS in the service prepared me to be a mechanic, clerk, loader, chaplain assistant etc. Even jobs in the services that may require a college degree, does not necessarily translate into being a good and qualified teacher. In an ad someone will say. “I can be a surgeon because I stayed in a Holiday Inn last night”. Great ad for Holiday Inns but poor preparation for teaching our next generation.

My final “Florida first” move was the exporting of 50 asylum seekers by airplane to Martha’s Vineyard this past week. Now MV has a full-time population of 15K and little to no manufacturing or economic footprint. You will not find the national or international headquarters of some huge company on MV. It is an island that is a great place to go for a summer vacation, and summer service jobs are available to a degree. These 50 people were promised they were going to Boston (a couple of hours away) and they were promised jobs and places to live by the state of Florida. They arrived on a tiny island with little to no available housing, no jobs and they arrived hungry as the last food they were given was at 6:00 AM. Moreover, no one on MV was told they were coming. A DeSantis surprise “gotcha”. Why MV? They vote democratic usually although there are both Republicans and Democrats who live on the island just as there is in most communities in New England. Some people who live on the island are very comfortable financially or even wealthy, although many of them are people with summer homes who are not there this time of year. The year-round community has its own share of working folks.

However, the good people of MV came together to feed and house their guests and provide necessities and medical care until a plan was put together. People came and welcomed them, and truly cared about their situation. A plan was devised to move them to a nearby Cape Cod base, a ferry ride away. It is important to mention that Cape Cod is also a summer tourist location and the population and jobs contract every fall and winter much as it does on the island. Still there are jobs in MA and New England and I have no doubt with assistance, the asylum seekers will eventually find homes and jobs and I hope love New England. So Mr. DeSantis that “gotcha” you were planning with the help of the Texas governor may yet backfire on you if you are charged with illegal trafficking or misuse of funds spent on airplane tickets.

One further note: AZ, TX and FL have a population of roughly 59 or 60 million people and they have a huge manufacturing and economic footprint. They have infrastructure which can accommodate another 2 million people at least temporarily. Is it right that you all must absorb all the 2,000,000 asylum seekers by yourselves? NO! But it is up to the states, red and blue to work together to come up with a safe, humane, and more equitable distribution of these new Americans. It is up to the states to elect people who will really work on this and up to governors – all 50 to find a way to work together instead of screaming about our federal government being responsible for it all. You do not want the Federal government being involved in other issues: but you cannot have it both ways folks. The people you elect to Congress are the ones who can facilitate a responsible plan, but it takes a commitment from all states. It is time to get rid of the red and blue and mix in some purple. Unless you are native American then your ancestors came to the USA seeking religious freedom, safety, work, and an overall better life, just like the current influx from our southern border. We do not have to guarantee a place to work and live in the South, we can and should provide new Americans with opportunities across our country. If you really want Florida or America to be first, to be a leader in national and global responses, we need to find ways to recognize and acknowledge the tremendous contributions that immigrants to our country have made (our ancestors included) over the last 250 years, and realize that some of the people and their children, coming to our country now may be just the people we will need to address some of the very difficult and complex issues we will face in the coming years. Posturing aside, it is possible to work together to meet these challenges.

If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer

Maine without a doubt has some of the best summers in the nation. We have long stretches of sunny days in the 70’s and very low 80’s, with a foggy day or a 65-degree day thrown in once and a while for good measure. Unfortunately, last week, we had in the midst of a tropical heatwave. We had 3 days plus of 90 degrees or higher and even worse nighttime temps in the high 60’s, low 70’s, with high dew points. Did I mention I do not do well with high temperatures? To get through it I have spent a lot of time in front of fans (no air conditioning), listening to music, and remembering other (hot) summers from long ago.

Roll out those Hazy, lazy crazy days of summer; the days of soda and popcorn and beer (Nat King Cole, 1963) reminds me of summer days spent at the town beach in Hopkinton MA (Go Hillers!) at Lake Maspenock, of two-piece bathing suits (a first for me) and hanging out with girlfriends. After supper, our favorite pastime was walking in the neighborhood and checking out the boys driving by in their hot rods. “He’s so fine, doo-lang-doo-lang, doo lang” (Shirelles, 1963).

Summer of ’66 brought Summer in the City by the Spoonful and Wild Thing by the Troggs. I was moving to Pennsylvania in the fall, and none too happy about it. The hot summer blended into fall and California Dreamin’ was playing on the radio as I stayed up late at night, listening to WBZ in Boston and being so very homesick for my boyfriend and school friends in Massachusetts. I felt like I was a stranger in a strange land, 11th grade in a new school with no friends was pretty brutal. It was as if my Boston accent was a foreign language; miniskirts had not really made it to PA at that point; and the culture of south-central PA was so very, very different. I felt lost.

A bittersweet teen age memory from that time was my friend Roger Smith who just loved belting out Ray Charles’ I’m Busted and Roger Miller’s King of the Road. Roger had a killer smile was the best platonic buddy a gal could ask for. He would leave for Vietnam the summer before my senior year and returned during a hot spell in August of ’68. He would die two or three weeks later from a car accident. A casualty of Vietnam, just as surely as if his name was on panel 22 or 23 of the Wall in D.C.

Dave came home from Viet Nam on a hot day in August of ’69. Our third-floor walkup was like a sauna, and I would discover that the hot humid days of August were particularly hard for him, then and now, reminding him of that miserable year. I also discovered that if you want to wake up a combat vet you do so safely by grabbing his toes. The 5th Dimension’s Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In, and Dionne Warwick’s I Say a Little Prayer. were favorites that long year apart.

In the 70’s, I fell in love with Karen Carpenter and her velvet voice and when she sang Leon Russell’s A Song for You I had a new favorite. While we lived in MA for a time after Dave got out of the service, 1975 brought plans to move our small family back to PA to find a more affordable life. We were reminded of just how hot summers could be and being very pregnant, I appreciated the air conditioner in our rented trailer in the middle of a large farm in Stewartstown. A move to East Berlin with a six-year-old and a toddler, meant we were back to fans for summer comfort in the new home we had built on Red Run Church Rd. The kids and I fled to MA during Three Mile Island accident, since our house and the elementary school was just on the edge of the ten-mile circle around the plant. Dave worked at UPS only two miles or so upriver from it. It was a surreal time. The Manhattans Shining Star was a hit that year. We had no idea what a role that song would play in our lives a several decades in the future.

Our family doctor would counsel me to take David to Maine to get him into cool air and hopefully improve our lives, even if only for vacations. We camped in Seawall Campground in Acadia National Park listening to Air Supply’s The One That You Love and enjoying a cool, foggy vacation. While other campers groused about the weather, we met another couple walking in the campground and just smiling. I told them, as we walked by that they must be from Pennsylvania, because only PA people were happy with the weather! They looked so surprised, but they laughed and admitted they were from Chambersburg and were indeed, enjoying the respite from 6 weeks of HHH weather back home.

Bringing some of these memories full circle, the 80’s and the second decade of the 21st century would bring a resurgence of popularity of Wild Thing by the Trogs as it appeared in movies and TV shows. David would sing Shining Star to our granddaughter when she graduated in 2020 amidst Covid. She was depressed and mourning the loss of friends, proms, and senior year celebrations. We wanted her to know just how special she was to us. Take My Breath Away, a one hit wonder by Berlin, which came out as part of the soundtrack of Top Gun in 1986, would gain lots of airplay again when Top Gun 2 was released in the summer of 2022. While the soundtrack of TG2 mimicked TG1, when it came to a love song, in that respect, lightening did not strike twice in TG2, so it was necessary to revisit the original soundtrack if TG1.

This August brought me yet another revisited musical “old friend”. Our grandson Ethan, who moved back to Maine with us following his graduation in AZ, was working on his first “new/old” car. Of course, the radio system was high on his list of repairs, understandably. It was a more difficult fix than he expected: filled with frustration and many trips to auto repair stores and Best Buy. It took him a few hundred dollars for an after-market radio, parts and speakers, plus two weeks of frustrating trial and error; but I had the pleasure of sitting with Ethan, on a very hot day in August, and listening to Hotel California by the Eagles, with four-speaker surround sound, at major decibels. It was, as they say, …. priceless.

Stay cool.

His name was Zane….

One summer day my granddaughter came to visit. She had been off to a dock dog event with her Aunt Monica. Dock dogs jump off of ramps into either a pool or a lake trying to retrieve a bumper toy thrown by their owner. If you have a champion dock dog, they might jump 20-30 feet in the air. Triton, Josh and Monica’s Chesapeake Bay retriever held a personal best of somewhere around 22 feet. Grace was enjoying watching Triton jump when she spied a three-legged lab in a crate nearby. Zane was brought to the Dock Dog event to hopefully find a forever (furever) home. He was with his foster mom who was rehabbing him after a severe injury resulted in an amputated back leg.

We had recently lost one of our family pets, a beloved senior adoptee named Shadow. Shadow was a German Shepherd whose mission at the end of her life was to make sure that I was no longer afraid of German Shepherds. She came to live with us from Pennsylvania where she found herself an orphan at 10 when both her owners passed away suddenly just a few years apart. Shadow had been our daughter-in-law Monica’s mother’s dog. Monica’s mother’s name was also Kathy, and she was 52 when she died very unexpectedly. Bill, Monica’s father took especially good care of Shadow for another 5 years or so and then he passed away. When we went to East Berlin to help with Bill’s final days, I was sitting on his couch and Shadow just jumped up and plopped herself on my lap, heedless of my fear of German Shepherds, and began “talking to me”. Bill was in an out of consciousness, but suddenly I heard him say, ” Kathi, please take Shadow home to Maine with you”. I assured Bill Shadow would have a good home with us when she needed it. Shadow completed her mission even though she was only with us for a couple of years- she was the sweetest thing ever. I still had my sweet Gabriel, an Aussie Shepherd/Pyrenees (?) mix and was not looking for another dog. But Grace, was sure I needed to add Zane to my life. She was not wrong.

It is hard to be a grandma and say no to your only granddaughter when she gives you those puppy dog eyes, so I relented and one day she, Gabriel and I went to a Dock Dog event that Zane was going to attend (he did not jump, he never really liked bodies of water all that much- I know, hard to believe for a retriever.) His foster mom said she would bring him so we could meet him and introduce him to Gabriel. Gabe was such a laid-back dog that he looked at Zane and laid down for a nap in the sun. The rest was history.

Adopting Zane was the hardest process I have ever been through for a dog. First, we had to submit a detailed application and pay a significant fee, then we had to have a home inspection to insure he was going to safe home. Finally, we were approved and so Grace and I drove 130 miles south to the Massachusetts line to a Cracker Barrel Restaurant where we met Zane’s foster Mom who drove from the very western part of Massachusetts to almost NH to deliver Zane to us. It was a happy day when we brought him home. He was about 1 year, and he could run and jump as if he had four legs. He loved anything that could be described as food, and much that did not meet that criterion. He loved sleeping on my bed, he loved following me around from one room to another, and he loved gathering sticks and then chewing them to bits. He did not love to ride or jump into lakes, but a shallow brook or stream was just his ticket on a hot summer day. Fortunately, we are surrounded by brooks so there was no shortage of opportunities for him to go and cool himself off.

Time passed, grandchildren got older, and Zane got a bit grey faced and slower. He could not jump on my bed anymore, even with a lift from me. Eventually he stopped trying to climb the stairs to the second floor, choosing to sleep in my chair instead. He could still bark sharply if he thought someone was outside, especially if I was inside. His bark could be sharp enough to cause Fed Ex, UPS, and new mail deliverers to pause and wait for me to intervene. He never hurt anyone, but his bark was pretty big. During the evening he would go from the rug in front of me to the chair in the same room. If there was a cat in “his” chair he would go into the adjoining room as long as he could sit in the recliner and still lean forward to see me and make sure I did not get away.

Two weeks ago, I had to make a decision that it was time to put Zane down. His back leg was failing for some time, but he took a turn for the worse. His back leg failed, and his front legs were too weak to pull him up even one or two steps into the house. His head was willing, he wanted to go for walks and jump up into the chair, but the rest of him just could not do it anymore. Every one of my dogs and cats have been sent off with the same words: you have been the best boy or girl, and they were and Zane was no exception, except I suspect he will be my last dog. They brought me many moments of joy. They each brought the most unconditional love I have ever experienced, each has taken a piece of my heart with them. In seminary we had a discussion about whether there were cats and dogs in heaven. If heaven is the perfect, all loving place I think it is, I hope to be greeted with a number of wagging tails, and purring kitties.

Since this is, we think, our last house, we have a pet cemetery where the wonderful dogs and cats that have given us so much love over the last thirty years reside. There is a rock for each one on top of their ashes: Puggie, Shelly, Chowie, Nubs, Little Foot, Sammy, Angus, Shadow, Gabriel and now Zane. Except for Angus who was sick and died young, the rest were with us for 12,14, to 20 years. Way in the back corner, near the place where the squirrels, deer, turkeys, foxes, and even moose stop by for a visit, and where the daffodils first bloom in the warm days of spring there is a bell that chimes when the wind blows to remind me of all the love that resides there.

His name was Zane and he still brings tears to my eyes.

The joys of Netflix

When I was small, we did not have a television set till I was maybe 6 or 7 and then it was a Phillips with a tiny oval screen. As time went on the TV’s got bigger but were still black and white and had tin foil added to the rabbit ears in order to get the channels clearly. Basically, I think we were a 3 or 4 channel family. Dave’s family got a color TV and that was a real novelty and a sign that you were doing pretty well income wise.

My children were also three channel children largely because in our part of PA cable television was not available so a roof top rotating antenna was your best bet at getting channels- still when the weather was just right we could bring in 3 or 4 channels clearly. This limited your viewing repertoire, now with Dish, Directv, cable and all the of specialty packages you can buy like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and so many others, the possibilities are endless. I confess at this late stage of my life I now have Netflix and some others and have discovered the wonderful world of British TV as well as series/movies made in various European nations. The biggest downfall is to remember to turn it off and go outside and tend to tedious chores like vacuuming, dishes, cleaning bathrooms, and all the rest. Given that we are in the midst of a whole house “freshening” (something just short of a real renovation), I try to be good about working on the current room under renovation at the time in the morning or early afternoon and then I “rest my eyes” or watch a show or movie later in the day.

Today’s choice was the biopic of Helen Reddy. It was filled with memorable songs and I remembered some of the high (or low) points of her life from my youth. When they got to the anthem of the Equal Rights Amendment I remembered having an ERA T-shirt and taking part in parades with ERA signs. Helen Reddy’s anthem I Am Woman made many men uncomfortable with its assertive tone (some, particularly men and older women, might describe it as angry), although as a twenty-something-year-old I loved it. It celebrated the changes that were a long time coming. I would soon be able to have my own bank account; I would be able to sign the mortgage and be included on the deed of my second house; and when it came time to have surgery for the second time, I did not have to ask my husband’s permission to do so. I also remember Phyllis Schaffly’s campaign of fear: telling housewives that this would hurt them; their daughters (gasp) might have to or want to serve in the military ; the development of unisex bathrooms (like we have in our homes) and now have in in public settings like stadiums, campgrounds etc). The latter was a dog whistle to the likelihood of women getting raped or exposed to pedophiles (clearly a concern of conservative Republicans even then). She deliberately and intentionally portrayed unisex bathrooms that would not be single use as they are today, but communal. Ultimately her campaign of fear and the misogynists won the day and ERA was never passed. I was haunted by the signs: “My Body, My Choice”, “Equal Pay for Equal Work”, and “My Vote Counts” in the newsreels featured in the movie, especially considering the efforts of Republican controlled states to roll back time to the days prior to the gains of the ’70’s in the present day.

I hope, for my granddaughter, and for all women, that we do not have to fight all the battles that we fought so long ago. That we can own our own bodies; that we can demand equal pay for equal work; that there will be opportunities for all to be the best person they can be, to use all their skills, abilities, and gifts irrespective of their gender; I hope we can preserve the right for people to love whomever they love without putting a right or wrong attached to it; and that we can regain respect and kindness for one another. I know that makes me sound like an old hippie, but there is something to be said for being a bleeding-heart liberal. I know of another bleeding-heart liberal- Jesus Christ- and while I fall way short of that mark, it is still worth striving for.

Top Gun 2

A few days ago, my husband, grandson and I went to see Top Gun 2. I had seen several interviews with some of the actors who played key characters. I confess I came in with certain expectations given I had seen the trailer and these interviews. They told charming stories about flying with real pilots, including flying in Tom Cruise’s own P-51 which I really wanted to see. Miles Teller spoke of showing up to training hung over; different characters getting sick as the real pilots put them through their paces with go-pro’s filming them experiencing the G forces of flight; etc. But I still wondered if I would like it as much as the first Top Gun which is still one of my favorites.

Once we got Tom’s personal welcome out of the way, the opening strains of the music transported me back 36 years ago to the very first time I heard that electric guitar play those now familiar chords. That music alone, for me, was worth the price of admission. Considering that technology has improved the theater experience I hoped that TG2 would have a soundtrack that rivaled TG1, but it did not. Naval aviators in uniform still look mighty fine, that has not changed in 36 years. Cruise was careful not to invite too many of the cast of TG1 back to TG2 because the natural aging process for most of them would have been too pronounced for his liking I suspect. Afterall, it took Spanx, a bathrobe, and an end stage illness to give Val Kilmer a role. The story, in my opinion, was not as complex as the original and so I am not sure if other cameos would have really helped or even if they would make sense. Though, I would have liked to see James Tolken, complete with his cigar!

As disappointed as I was in the thin story line of TG2, it was still an enjoyable movie with some awesome cinematography and flying on the part of the real naval aviators. “Rooster” (Miles Teller) really did look like he could have been the son of “Goose” (Anthony Edwards) in TG1, and the references to TG1 in pictures and flashbacks really did help flesh out the story a little. Cruise’s love interest in TG2 was more like an afterthought, which is really too bad, because Jennifer Connelly is a wonderful actress. I would have laughed if there had been a reference to Viagra in their bedroom scene.

Still, it was a pleasant summer afternoon at the movies, and I appreciated the opportunity to travel in time and enjoy some sweet memories, and revisit the TG1 soundtrack on my playlist.

Twenty years and counting….

It will be twenty years this September that Dave and I moved to Maine. It was not a decision we made on the fly, Dave and I wanted to live in Maine since our first introduction back in the ’60’s. Up and down the old coastal road we would see lovely old houses, in varying state of repair, and dream about living here. There was a quality to Maine that we loved. Small towns with little mom-and-pop stores that sold everything from wedding gowns to guns, home-baked pastries, breads, and pies, bug spray, salt for the driveway, and snow shovels. On the trip to Acadia, we would go by the old houses, and think about buying a fixer-uppers; one of those houses, with all its additions in a row (if you have been to Maine, you know what I mean). They are quite practical in the winter particularly, as you can go from the main house to the barn without going outside. Of course, Vietnam sidetracked us for a time, and when Dave came home there was a recession headed our way and jobs were not plentiful. Our dream of living in Maine got deferred for something like thirty years while we lived in PA, found jobs, and had our children.

Fast forward to 2002 and it became evident that after 25 years with United Parcel Service Dave needed to retire, even though he was only 57. For a number of reasons, working at UPS was not contributing to his mental and physical health. We had done everything we could to struggle through it and after many years it was clear a serious change was needed. I had just graduated from seminary and so we decided, with the kids all fledged, it was time to head north. My siblings all lived in New England, so it made sense to bring my elderly parents back to New England with us.

While we intended on buying or building a new single-story house that was handicapped accessible, it was not to be. The housing stock in Maine definitely included more of those charming old farmhouses than new homes. Given the fact that we moved complete with two families and three dogs, renting was out of the question. In the end we fell in love with one of those old farmhouses (the Big House/Little House/Back House /Barn) described above. In the last twenty years we have repaired, updated and preserved this old house. At one time it housed four generations of Smiths, until lives got straightened out. Now, Mom and Dad are gone. For about 15 years we had, at one point all of our children relocated to Maine, but now two families left to find other places where their hearts wanted to be. We still have the two grown grandchildren near us, one son and his family, at least for a while. While our roots are deep here, like the huge trees around the house, time will tell where the rest decide to live their lives.

Dave and I hope we will not have to move again. A bonus for us was the fact that Togus, the Maine VA Healthcare facility, is only about 12 miles away and provides Dave with excellent health care. We did not plan it that way, but we realize what an added blessing it is. We continue to love the slower place and the little farming community in which we live. We often make time to sit outside, talk over events of the day, and watch the birds at the feeder, with our lab Zane snoozing contentedly as close to my chair as possible. After 20 years we still say, “Have I told you how happy I am to live here?” We give thanks to God, that despite the very real struggles, we have made it here and life is good.