Tuesday, April 7, 2020

F is for Food

Food delivery the more things change....

When I was in elementary school we lived in a small town 30 miles from Oklahoma City. In the morning Momma would call the grocery store, order groceries and Melvin would deliver them. He and his wife Mary Ann owned and ran the store. Melvin was Daddy's cousin and best friend and Mary Ann was Momma's cousin and best friend. Did I say it was a small town?

One time Melvin delivered to our neighbor Adelaide. Actually I think she was one of the few people in town who were not related to one or the other of my parents. Anyway, Melvin knocked on the door and someone called "Come in." So Melvin did. Nobody in that town locked their doors in those days. As he discovered, Adelaide was not at home. No one was. Just Adelaide's parrot. So Melvin put the refrigerator items away and left the rest of the order on the kitchen table.

Almost everyone else on our street was related to us. Mother's mother lived next door. Two of Grandma's brothers and their families live behind us. Daddy's parents lived across the street. And Mother's father's sister and her husband lived next door to them.

It was a great place to be a kid. There were cousins to play with and aunts who were generous cooks. Aunt June would give us ketchup sandwiches made with homemade ketchup and light bread. Aunt Emma always had sweets of some kind. One Grandma had store-bought cookies and the other had homemade ones. It's a wonder us kids were ever hungry for supper.

Everybody had their own chickens and gardens and fruit trees. Nobody bought chicken at the grocery store. Of course this was before refrigerated trucks and Tyson's industrial chicken farms.

A couple of years ago the stores here in Lakewood started delivering groceries. Even Walmart. From The Denver Post, April 12, 2018,"Grocery delivery competition speeds up as King Soopers adds 2-hour service in Colorado." 

I guess it'd been so long since grocery stores delivered, that it made the news and Lakewood is a much larger town with more grocery stores so competition was inevitable.

Even as interwoven as our relationships were in that small town, we're much more dependent on a much wider community now. Fruit out of season is from Mexico. Even fruit in season comes from all over the United States. Because of the way Federal subsidies are set up our milk is usually from dairies that are instate. Unless, it's some kind of nondairy milk. (Is that an oxymoron?) Almond milk comes from California. Coffee and tea and chocolate come from even farther away.

When I was a kid, I didn't think too much about where our food came from or worry that we might not have enough. In-season we ate out of the garden. Out-of-season we had jars of canned produce that were put up in the summer.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, I'm a lot more aware of just how vital those farm workers scattered around this continent and, indeed the world, are. How important the truck drivers who deliver the food to our town are. And the grocery store employees who stock the shelves, or gather what we need from those shelves for curb-side pickup, and those who deliver to our door.

I'm not ready to keep chickens again, but I think I will plant a small kitchen garden. And, if I need to, I can go online and order groceries delivered.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, but with much more appreciation.

E Is for Education

Education may change

In 1943 when my parents were in high school their teachers augmented lectures and reading with blackboards and chalk. The teachers used chalk to explain mathematical concepts, to focus student attention on main points of science, history, language, and to list assignments and due dates.

The world was engulfed in World War II. Schools were open.

Young men in school then, knew that if the war didn't end before they graduated, they would go. Indeed some, like my Daddy couldn't wait to graduate. As soon as they were 18, they enlisted foregoing their final year of school.

When they went to war, no one knew if they would come home again. Or what home would look like when they did.

Methods of teaching in the classroom have changed.

Blackboards disappeared from classrooms before my time in school. By then they were green. And overhead projectors had come into vogue. In fact, when I was in the 8th Grade, us Baby Boomers were overwhelming the schools and schools were covering the shortage of teachers with educational television. In those early days, that did not mean Sesame Street or Reading Rainbow. It meant actual classroom topics with a teacher on the screen.

My 8th Grade physics class was held in the school cafeteria. TVs (black and white, of course) sat on  wheeled carts, placed to be seen by students seated at long tables. 220 8th Graders, monitored by one teacher, learned the basics of physics in that class. Our teacher, (I can't think of his name right now, but he was a very brave man) carried a "pointer." It was a long, tapered stick. Previously, such sticks were actually used to point at things like equations on green blackboards or locations on large maps.

Now that I think about it, he used the pointer rather like George C. Scott playing General Patton used a quirt in the movie Patton. He (our teacher) walked constantly up and down among the tables, occasionally slapping his pants leg with the pointer or using it to threateningly point at a recalcitrant student. Mr. Whatever-his-name-was must have occasionally wished he were wearing that pearl-handled pistol that Patton wore.

When we graduated from high school, the draft sent the young men off to Vietnam. The World may not have been at war, but we felt as though it were.

Today schools are closed throughout America. Students were sent, not to war, but home. With no forewarning. They went to Spring Break, which was extended a week, then through March, and now until the end of April with the understanding that schools may be closed through the rest of the school year. Students in Denver start online learning today.

This was my daughter's first year to teach as a graduate student at the University of Houston. Last Fall Semester she taught Introduction to Fiction. It went swimmingly. She loved choosing which bits of fiction to teach. She enjoyed her students. She decided teaching is definitely for her.

She is a student in three classes this semester, working toward her Masters so she was especially pleased to be assigned to teach Introduction to Fiction again this semester. A very helpful assignment. She didn't have to develop new lesson plans from scratch and she could use her experiences with the Fall class to adapt and improve the class for Spring. She had confidence.

Then Corona Virus 19. All bets were off.

Now she is being taught and is teaching online. Luckily, she is a digital native as are most of her students. Having used computers practically since birth is not enough though. Neither her teachers nor she has been trained to teach online -- so it's all by guess and by gosh. Having lived in a house all your life does not fit you for building one. None of them can have confidence in what they are doing. Little comfort in this time of Covid-19.

Students have left school, but the world is not at war. If it were, we could choose sides and hate those other people. We could build bombs and make bullets. Then the old men would get together, declare a winner. Name what is left Peace and go back to business as usual until the next war.

This is a World-wide Health Crisis. A pandemic. There is no side to choose. Weapons do not exist to fight it. Our hope is that the best minds of the World, working together, will develop treatments and vaccines to control humanity's susceptibility to Covid-19. Only fools will declare a winner and return to business as usual.

The thing about education is that we can

Saturday, April 4, 2020

D is for Dear America

From Simmons Buntin, co-editor of Dear America, a collection of personal essays, narrative journalism, poetry, and visual art from more than 130 contributors:

     "Dear Reader,
          "When Alison Hawthorne Deming sent me her letter to America a week after the 2016 U.S.
     presidential election, I had just hung up the phone with my daughter, a college sophomore,
     biologist-in-training, and young woman who had just voted in her first presidential election --
     and now found herself devastated. It was the fourth or fifth time we'd talked since the election,
     and as her father I felt that I was in the position of talking her down from a ledge. A ledge on
     which we both teetered.
          "Alison's letter arrived just in time. A response to the shaken American landscape so
     vividly illuminated by Donald Trump's win, it was written -- she told me in offering the letter
     for publication in Terrain.org -- to encourage herself and others as we reeled with the dis-
     ruption in our sense of national well-being."

Terrain.org is a nonprofit literary magazine published online since 1997. It continues to accept submissions for publication -- including for the ongoing Dear America project.

I attended the Association of Writers and Publishers Conference in San Antonio during the first week of March. I, too, had "teetered" on that ledge. When I heard the first panel of writers from the Dear America I was reassured that I was not alone. Reassured that we need not acquiesce to the anti-American policies of the Trump administration. I was inspired. I was braced for action. And I spent my book budget on copies of Dear America so I could lend or give it to people I love.

The essays and poems in Dear America are not diatribes against Trump and his cronies. In fact, they are celebrations of the America I remember and still believe in. Celebrations of escaping urban noise and motion while fishing off the end of a pier. Of immigrant dreams. Of not racist treatment.

I have been afraid of how far we were falling away from our American values. The goal of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" for all people regardless of and respecting our individual differences. But not dividing ourselves into us and them.

Where once I thought of America as being the Leader of the Free World, I have watched in fear as we were led away from the Free World toward the oligarchies, and the tyrannies of the world.

And now America is experiencing a greater danger. One that is without national boundaries, without politics, without any concern for any individual or group of individuals.

We are being schooled by Covid-19 in just exactly how much good it does to "go it alone" -- as a person, as a demographic, as a nation.

And again, this book, this collection of writings from more than 130 people, this Dear America reassures me. That woman's letter which steadied Mr. Buntin from "teetering" on the ledge back in 2016 continues to steady us and call us to action.

"Think of the great spirit of inventiveness the Earth calls forth after each major disturbance it suffers. Be artful, inventive, and just, my friends, but do not be silent."  -- Alison Hawthorne Deming

Friday, April 3, 2020

Colorado Is Closed

Colorado has majestic mountains and towering skies.

Colorado hosted more than 86 million tourists in 2019, most of whom were actually Coloradans and residents of neighboring states.  Along with their more than a million international guests, Coloradans love their state. They ski and snowboard and snowshoe in the winter in the mountains. They hike and bike and fish and hunt throughout the state all year round. Colorado hosts music festivals, movie festivals, literary festivals, winter sports competitions, Broadway shows, concerts -- you name it, we got it.

But Colorado is closed.

Not the normal closure for winter. The road to the top of Mount Evans closes after Labor Day and doesn't reopen until late May or early June based on snowpack. Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park closes in October and reopens in late May or early June depending on the snowpack. Rocky Mountain National Park, however, normally stays open. Even the park is closed now.

I had a trip planned. The Air B and B was reserved for March 4 through March 7. The registration check was sent for the Association of Writers and Publishers Conference (AWP) in San Antonio Texas scheduled for March 5-7. Airlines tickets were purchased Denver to Houston for March 4, and the return flight March 8. My daughter would pick me and one of her partners up at Hobby Airport. We would have lunch with her husband there in Houston, then she would drive us to San Antonio.

Anticipation was high. Carolyn Forché, American poet, human rights activist, and my daughter's mentor would be there and I would get to meet her. I figured Jeffrey Brown, PBS News Hour's Arts Correspondent, would be there. (He has the perfect job for me -- he gets to interview novelists, historians, poets, artists, musicians. Not just movie stars and sports figures who are hocking a new movie or sneakers or some such.)

Before the day came to fly to Texas, I learned that Forché would not be there. Well, there was still Jeffrey Brown. 

As February wore on, reports of a new corona virus on the other side of the world were gathering attention. Warnings of an epidemic with the possibility of becoming a pandemic were sharing news time with snow storms.

Then I got an email from AWP saying that with the impending arrival of the new virus to the United States we could, if we did not want to travel, get our registration fee refunded or applied it to next year's conference. But the conference would go on as planned. And I went to Texas as planned. Even with half the expected ten thousand participants no-shows and about half the panel discussions cancelled, it was still great! And if Jeffrey Brown was there, I missed him.

When I returned to Colorado on March 8, our niece and her family were staying with us before they went up to the ski area at Breckenridge on Monday, March 9. 

I walked with my walking group Tuesday, March 10. Went to my exercise class at the rec center on Wednesday, March 11, and walked again with the group Thursday March 12. My normal schedule -- exercise at the rec center Monday and Wednesday mornings and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. By that Thursday afternoon Jefferson County's (where we live) libraries and rec centers were closed for two weeks. The parks were still open for walking which our walking group did in the morning on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. After we walk we normally go for coffee at local shops. We continued to walk and go for coffee.

Sunday, March 15, I heard an announcement on the news that the Colorado Public Health Department was recommending anyone who had been in four Colorado counties during the previous week should self-quarantine for 14 day. Breckenridge is in Summit County, one of the four counties. I called our niece to see if she had heard. She had not. They had returned the day before to their home in Albuquerque on the Air Force base where her husband is stationed. She said "everything is changed." The Air Force base was closed. They were restricted to their home. Her children's schools were closed.

On St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 2020. Governor Polis set statewide restrictions including closure of Colorado's schools; restricted gatherings to no more than 10 people; set the six-feet social distancing; closed dining areas in restaurants and bars, allowing only pick-up and delivery services; stopped the ski lifts and ordered ski resorts to close until April 6.

(In the U.S. we get to pinch anyone who does not wear green on St. Patrick's Day. Here we are maintaining our six feet distance and remotely pinching Joe.)

On March 25, Governor Polis put the State of Colorado in complete lock-down, with a stay at home order. This started on Thursday, the twenty-sixth at six in the morning and was scheduled to last through April 11. It is now extended through the month of April.

Grocery stores some days have plenty of this and not so much of that. And other days, just the opposite. Inexplicably there has been a run on toilet paper (No pun intended) and, as if the situation were not disquieting enough, on guns and ammunition.

We are still walking, maintaining our six feet social distancing, both while we walk and while we visit after we walk. We bring our own drinks and treats.

And today we held our first audio/video meeting online. Some bugs definitely need to be worked out for this.

But we'll get it figured out. And we will get through this together.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

B is for Broccoli

Broccoli is a beautiful thing.

Today is April 2 -- B Day in the A to Z Blogging Challenge.

A week ago my husband did the grocery shopping. Up until then I had done most of the grocery shopping. He would venture into a grocery store to buy meat when he felt like smoking a pork loin or a pork butt. Yummm. He makes the best pulled pork. And his barbecue sauce, oh my.

"Why," I ask "do they call it a pork butt when it's actually a shoulder, while the ham comes from that portion of pig anatomy that I would think of as the butt."

Why was he doing the grocery shopping? Corona Virus. The Pandemic that has grounded us Senior Citizens and those of us who may be immunocompromised. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified my demographic as "People who need extra precautions." Thank goodness, I'm not immunocompromised just old. ("Immunocompromised" -- a word I had to add to my dictionary to get rid of the squiggly red line. Damn you, Covid-19. Which I also had to add to my dictionary.)

Why him and not me? Because he is much younger than I. Being a retired veterinarian, he can turn all doctory on you at a moment's notice. He decided I should not go into grocery stores until this pandemic has run its course. Now I don't like being told what to or not to do, but I thought it through and decided to trust science. I did point out that at 60, he is only just below the 65 the CDC marked for needing "extra precautions."

When I was a kid, we could only afford enough of whatever to last until it was gone, then Daddy would buy enough more. That meant one kind of cold cereal, one flavor of ice cream, you know. Since I've been financially able to, when we open the last of something, I replace it with two more before we run out. Except milk, bread, and fresh produce. And candy bars. I can't keep extras of them or I would just eat them until they were gone.

I had been doing my regular shopping which means three or so times a week to pick up this and that. I had made my once-a-month run to Costco on March 10th so we were pretty well-stocked on things from there. They were already out of toilet paper, but we didn't need any (and still don't) so I didn't think anything about that. Little did I know.

I didn't make him a written list. I requested milk, bread, and fresh produce. Especially citrus fruit, broccoli, and cauliflower. Generally speaking fruits and many vegetables are just not as good cooked. Frozen broccoli and cauliflower is just not as good as fresh.

     He was shocked at the state of the produce section. No potatoes or onions. No green peppers. He cooks Cajun and you can't cook Cajun without onions, bell peppers, and celery. They did have celery. So I have been eating frozen broccoli that had been in the freezer so long, there was a bit of freezer burn to be trimmed away.
     They also didn't have kitty litter and we were running low. I know, first world problems.
So yesterday he went again. Now I have broccoli, cauliflower, oranges, cuties, grapes, strawberries. And kitty litter. I am so happy. 

And he's going to build me a raised bed in the back yard. I will garden for the first time in four years. I can't grow citrus or mangoes here. And probably won't grow broccoli, but all kinds of lettuce, green beans, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers. I can have fresh produce, at least in season. 

Do you think I should stock up on kitty litter? Surely people won't hoard kitty litter.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A to Z Blogging Challenge -- America

Today is Day 1 of the 2020 April A to Z Blogging Challenge. In all the Covid-19 chaos, I did not sign up, but I need to write so I'm going to do it informally. The goal of the challenge is to post every day except Sundays during the month of April. Each day's topic will begin with the corresponding letter for that day. April 1's topic should begin with A. April 2, B. April 3, C. etc.

Today is Day 1, A -- America

In this day of the continuing Stay At Home edict, America is at risk from Corona Virus-19.

Many years ago on my first trip to Washington, D.C., I saw the America I believe in.
I worked for the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, part of the Department of Agriculture in Oklahoma City. They sent me to D.C. for training. Alone.

I saw America on the subway despite my out-of-towner anxiety. Oklahoma City has very little in the way of public transportation and back then even less.

That first day I entered the Metro at the DuPont Circle Station. I carefully paid attention to my surroundings as I walked from my hotel to the station so I would know which way to go when I came back. The Colombian Embassy was right there, a red brick building across the street from DuPont Circle which was a small park.

Descending into the underworld, I was exposed to the high speed world of a big city. The locals literally ran up and down the impossibly high escalators, not just one floor or even two floors, but three or four floors without a break. Did I mention, I'm afraid of heights? I stood as far to the right as possible clinging to the railing with both hands, silently pleading "Don't touch me. Don't touch me." They ran past me carrying their brief cases and back packs and giant purses and shopping bags. I knew that if they brushed against me, I'd tumble all the way to the bottom.

On the train, I worried about how I would know which stop to get off? The train was filled with people. I was alone. I was scared enough that I didn't really register the sights and sounds of the people around me. Locals in their business professional attire. Most wore government id's on lanyards around their necks. The women wore sneakers, their heels stowed in those bags to change into once they got to the office. I had been advised to do the same, so I was in sneakers, too.

And there were tourists, too. It was June, so they were in their comfy vacation clothes. Some of them didn't know how to navigate the underground either. I listened as they discussed among themselves how to read the maps posted on the wall of the train. One group had been in town for a week. They were from Iowa. They actually knew where the Ag Building was and explained to me where I needed to get off. Luckily there was a station right across from the building I needed to go to.

When I returned at the end of the day, I confidently exited the subway at the DuPont Circle Station. However, when I reached the surface, I recognized nothing. I didn't see the Colombian Embassy. Even DuPont Circle looked different. What confidence I had gained during the day evaporated.

I knew the street my hotel was on. So I started walking in the direction I thought I should go. I realized I should ask someone which way. There was a group of upper elementary aged children speaking French. There were people in twos and threes speaking languages I didn't recognize. Finally I passed two men speaking English. I asked them how to get to where I wanted to go. They looked around thoughtfully then gave me directions and wished me well.

When I got back to the hotel, I found out there are two subway stations at DuPont Circle.

The second day, I was considerably more secure. I did know how to ride the subway. No one was going to knock into me on the escalators and both locals and tourists were perfectly willing to help a lost out-of-towner.

That afternoon on the ride "home" to my hotel, three young women each dressed in white and carrying a rose further represented this America that I love. They had just been to their high school graduation. One was a red-haired Caucasian, one was African American, and the third appeared to be of Middle Eastern heritage. Three enthusiastic young women embarking on their future.

I know people complain about Washington, meaning the American government. And I admit that if something can be mismanaged or someone can be mistreated, our government can certainly discover just such a way to do it. And even with all our languages, Americans can fail to communicate with each other. But, Washington, D.C. is a beautiful city, filled with museums celebrating America's past and people of all kinds building the future.

The city exemplifies the wonderful variety of America. And, along with the rest of the world, America will come through Covid-19.

America's Future

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

If Wishes Were Horses

If wishes were horses....

A wish-horse carried Donald John Trump into the White House.

Coal country wishing that Climate Change were not real. Wishing that those with Black Lung Disease did not depend on the extensions of eligibility that the Affordable Care Act accorded them.

Oil and Natural Gas Country wishing that Climate Change were not real. Wishing that Miles Per Gallon regulations were not enacted reducing the amount of gasoline needed by American cars.

Steel Country wishing that the ship for American produced steel had not already sailed.

White America wishing that the White Majority ship had not already sailed.

American Nationalists wishing that their futures were not intertwined with the futures of the rest of the world.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has stripped away the veil of wishes. Climate change is real. Steel production is not coming back to America. Coal is not coming back. America, indeed the World, cannot continue to depend on fossil fuels for energy.

Artificial boundaries setup by wishful people and their governments will not protect us.

Willful ignorance and bombast from wish-mongering leaders will not protect us.

Wishes are not horses and a World divided will not stand.