"If it's not fun, why do it?"

Schroedinger’s President

I have not listened to the news yet. It’s November 4th, the day after the US elections and I still do not know whether Trump or Biden is the projected winner of the election, this hotly controversial election, this disgrace of an election.  I don’t know even if there is a projected winner because all of the mailed-in ballots have not yet been counted.

My unwillingness to hear the news reminds me of the Schroedinger’s Cat thought experiment.

Schroedinger's Cat poster

“Schroedinger’s Cat Poster”, © Jay Gannett, CC BY-SA 2.0

Erwin Schrödinger, an Austrian physicist, posited this in 1935:

[A] cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor (e.g. Geiger counter) detects radioactivity (i.e. a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison, which kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality resolves into one possibility or the other.(1)

Thus, in my current state of mind, both Trump and Biden have been elected. Once I hear the news, it will resolve into one possibility or the other. OR WILL IT?

Cringeworthy electioneering dominated the news: name-calling, lies, posturing, COVID-19 superspreader events, vitriol, and fearmongering. Between the virus and the elections, I avoided news, sought escape watching comedy recordings, woodturning videos, and snippets of House episodes on YouTube. I mailed my ballot and received email confirmation that it was received. DONE! I’ve been subjected to the circus for overlong, having made my decision well before the last moment. I’ve had it. Even the Baltimore mayoral race doesn’t excite me—it’s a foregone conclusion the Democratic candidate will win.

I don’t have a TV, and only read the funnies and do the crossword puzzle in the free Sunday newspaper that lands on my doorstep every week. I mostly get my news from NPR radio and internet, but I have to choose to listen and choose to view a particular news site. Remember choice? Six second political ads bookended my YouTube viewing choices. I succumbed to watching Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Meyers’s monologues. Although heavily anti-Trump, lampooning Biden only a fifth as much as the president, they were compelling, like rubbernecking at an auto accident or picking a scab.

Even when I finally hear the news, barring a landslide victory for one or the other candidate, the election results will be in a state of flux until the final votes are counted, contested, and vetted by the Court. Accusations of mail fraud, disputes over postmarks, lawsuits and voter roll examinations loom ahead. Thus, Schroedinger’s President.

When will the election be decided? Who knows? I shrug my shoulders and reach for my mug. This is all beyond me. Just as COVID-19 will dominate my life and thoughts night and day for the next while, this reality of this election will linger. No clear resolution presents itself. A supernatural superimposed Trump-Biden presidential state exists as long as I don’t look, as long as the results are contested, as long as the Electoral College has not cast their votes and selected the victor. But this is unprecedented; even after that point, the election could still be contested.

It could go on and on and on. Is ignorance bliss?

I’d better gird myself with a big cup of coffee before I clock in to work. Maybe later I’ll crack open that bottle of wine I’ve had for nearly 5 years after work. I think I’ll need it.

/-/-/-/-/-/-/-

1. Source: Wikipedia, Schrödinger’s Cat, Retrieved 4 November 2020.

COVID-19 Days

This isn’t what I wanted to write, but I wanted to say something. I needed to say something. It’s just… this virus thing is… so… H-U-G-E, affecting everything. From personal life and intimacy to international politics and economics, our lives have been turned upside down. Honestly, my life hasn’t changed that much — I had been staying in mostly and didn’t socialize much — but in another way, it changed one thousand percent.I feel small, wary, and on guard.

Since March 2020, I can’t relax. I’m of a certain age and have some medical conditions that make COVID-19 more of a health risk for me than others. I’m also caring for an elderly parent and need to stay healthy to attend to her needs. In the beginning I would not go out at all. I listened to the news all day. I commiserated with my friends and family. I was consumed by COVID-19.

Toilet paper aisle at Target, March 15, 2020. © JustHavingFun

Toilet paper aisle at Target, March 15, 2020. ©JustHavingFun

And I was consumed by obtaining toilet paper for my mother when none was in the stores.

Gradually I allowed myself to go shopping every two weeks or so. It was a necessity; there weren’t enough healthy shoppers to fill the demand and the online reservations filled instantly. Shopping, a reluctant routine now, substitutes for social outings I’m missing. Hand sanitizer attached to my key lanyard, masks in car and shopping list in hand, I zip through the store. I try not to be the “mask police” but sometimes it’s necessary. I can’t avoid telling people wearing masks below their noses to pull them up, over the nose, explaining, “I’m a Covid Tracer,” as if that will bulletproof me from their surprise, compliance, anger, or whatever attitude they want to turn my way. 

Here it is October already and I’m still consumed with the virus. So yeah, COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2, dominates my day. I work as a Contact Tracer for the Health Department. My job entails talking to people who have tested positive for the virus. I instruct them how to isolate properly and how long to stay isolated in order to protect their families and members of the public from their contagiousness. I interview them about places they’ve been and people they may have been in contact with in the period before they learned they were infected. I answer questions they may have about the virus, why they must stay isolated for 10 days, and how to enter back into public life. Some are really sick, others don’t feel any different than normal. Some are grateful and thank me, fewer are defensive and avoid follow up calls. I’ve encountered all types of people, all precious souls who deserve dignity and respect.

What I say to everyone all comes down to 3 basic instructions: wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance.

How to Protect Yourself & Others: Wear a mask, Wash your hands, Watch your distance. CDC.gov

How to Protect Yourself & Others: Wear a mask, Wash your hands, Watch your distance.  Image: cdc.gov/coronavirus

I talk warmly to my cases, congratulate them for taking steps to quarantine themselves before they had official results when that’s the case. I help them figure out how to keep their kids safer and send them links to CDC articles outlining all sorts of information. I tell them their smell and taste may be slower to come back after they recover from other symptoms. I tell them to have chicken soup, advice from me, the Jewish mother, and not me, the representative from the Health Department. I warn them to stay vigilant, that a person can become infected a second time, supported by a genetic study reported in The Lancet on October 12, 2020. I tell them if they feel worse to call 911, not to scare them, but to inform them.

When I get off the phone with my clients, I give them blessings. “I hope you feel better and recover soon,” and “I hope your family remains healthy.” They absorb my words and shine them back at me. I close my eyes, speak sincerely, and send these messages with love and hope.

Masked Me

Masked Me, August 2020. ©JustHavingFun

I’m grateful I can do my bit in the universe to prevent others from becoming infected. I hope my efforts have some positive effect. But oh, I suffer hearing how many are infected, how the virus is spreading, and worst, how many have died. Politics interfered with halting the spread of the virus in the United States. It shouldn’t have. Science must prevail if there is to be a level-headed way to manage this public health crisis. It’s going to be a while until an effective, safe vaccine can be developed… and distributed. The newest crisis of our generation, like Kennedy’s assassination, the Viet Nam War, or where you were on 9/11, this will be something to tell my grandchildren about: what I did during the COVID-10 pandemic.

Until then, I’ll be wearing my mask, keeping up with developments, and trying not to be consumed. My fear has abated — perhaps due to familiarity and having a routine — but I’m still staying home, choosing the bubble, eschewing seeing my friends and family in person, and staying small.

Diamonds are small, too.  

Buckeye Season

It’s Buckeye Season, that time from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to the time when all of the leaves have crinkled off the trees and lay pulverized under feet and in the streets. Buckeyes on the trees and underfoot peek slyly out of their husks, begging to be gathered. And so we did gather them, and the gathering became our annual ritual.

Ohio Buckeyes

“Ohio Buckeyes,” © J. Stephen Conn, CC BY-NC 2.0

The congregation I attended was housed in the Hebrew Institute of Pittsburgh, an edifice built in the 1950s, resembling an L-shaped, two-story junior high school. Classrooms bordered the exterior of each hallway, four long hallways. Only the first floor front hall, parallel to Forbes Avenue, was off limits because that one ran along the length of the auditorium where the prayer services were being held. My friends and I were inattentive at times to the lengthy prayer services that started around 8:30 a.m. and ended short of noon on a regular Shabbos, and even as late as 1:30 to 2:00 p.m. on the holidays themselves. The moment the officiant paused for “the speech,” kids fled the room. We knew some “cranky old man” would come out and shush us if we got too wild, so we fled outdoors or scattered to the other three hallways.

Buckeyes Ready to Fall, shown in their splitting husks, on the tree

“Buckeyes Ready to Fall,” © Sean Benham, CC BY-ND 2.0

Across Forbes Avenue, and a bit past the corner, a large buckeye tree towered over the curb. Buckeyes are also known as horse chestnuts and are the state tree of Ohio. In September, timed perfectly for the holidays, the buckeyes ripened in their husks and dropped to the ground. The spiky husks could be manipulated with the sides or toes of our shiny holiday shoes to free the captive nuts. My fingers remember the prickles of the sharp pods I couldn’t avoid touching. In the mid-1960s our dresses were still relatively long, knee-length at least. That was enough fabric to fill with a good collection of shiny and slightly sticky buckeyes. Our skirts billowed with a mahogany, nut-brown, and coffee-colored fortune.

Buckeyes entertained us in myriad ways. Buckeye games could be played outdoors.”(1) Flicked like marbles, tossed at targets, and used to provoke other kids, buckeyes were all purpose fun. Once back in the building, the second floor above the forbidden hallway became a dark bowling alley. Those scavenged treasures caromed off the walls and skittered down the terrazzo floors. They rolled on the bathroom tiles. They were launched as missiles and stuffed down the unwary child’s shirt collar. My BFF even ventured into the sanctuary and lined them up on the edge of the platform where the adults led the services! I suppose she felt daring because her father was the President, so in her mind she could not possibly get in trouble.

But kids age and after a few years we no longer rolled buckeyes in the hallways and pelted our adversaries. We were too “mature” for those childish pursuits and we girls found better ways to avoid “the speech”… like flirting with boys. I still visited the buckeye tree, however, and always pocketed a few.

Even as a young adult, I visited the buckeye tree in the fall and selected a few beauties. They warmed in my palm and slid together in a satisfying way. They reminded me of those happy childhood activities, but I stayed in the prayer services, even through the dreaded “speech.” On Rosh Hashanah it is customary to symbolically cast off our sins by going to a body of water, reciting some verses, and sprinkling a few bread morsels into the water in the tashlich ritual. In those years, we collected our buckeyes and rolled them down the steep hill of Darlington Road in a tashlich-style ceremony. Gales of laughter and the sensation of our hearts lifting in frivolity followed the buckeyes down the asphalt. Their abandonment released our mirth and enhanced the holiday season.

Beautiful towering flowers in the spring yield shiny buckeyes in the fall. “Aesculus hippocastanum (Horse-chestnut),” © Plant Image Library, CC BY-SA 2.0

Another year I collected enough buckeyes to make long strings to decorate my home’s sukkah, the temporary outdoor dwelling we use for the eight-day Sukkos/Sukkot festival. Many people decorate their sukkas with fruit, gourds, and beautiful pictures. I took my drill and created an assembly line. Drill, string, push them down the cord, drill more. My sukkah boasted those happy strands of buckeyes for many years.

Even after I moved away from Pittsburgh to areas lacking buckeye trees, my friend remembered me during buckeye season. She mailed me a buckeye care package! I kept a few on my desk for a few years. In a burst of creativity last year, I used them in an art project celebrating nature which I donated to a charity auction. I hope the bidder was amazed and entertained by them as much as I was.

Buckeye season is a state of mind requiring only some buckeyes, or even photos of buckeyes, to evoke the pleasantness. These nuts are poisonous to humans so don’t eat them! But oh! they’ve nourished my soul for years. My BFF and I still play buckeye games and talk buckeye talk. Fifty years have passed since we filled our skirts with the brown treasures. That old tree is gone, but when I go back to Pittsburgh, I know the location of another one to visit. Today we laugh together about rolling buckeyes during prayer services, and it keeps us young and silly. I’m looking forward to celebrating buckeye season for a long time. We’re never too old for fun!

/*/*/*/*/*

1. Buckeyes in the UK have been used for the game of conkers. “Roald Dahl was a big conker fan.” https://www.projectbritain.com/conkers.html, accessed October 1, 2020.

Wool Is Not Stone

Texture, a study in contrasts. © JustHavingFun

Texture, a study in contrasts. © JustHavingFun

Wool Is Not Stone

     This rose quartz begs a different touch: 
my thumb seeks a groove, a hollow,
some concavity to plumb its depths despite silent
polished, gleaming, silken surface.
My tracery leaves no mark -
a light smudge? - or not.
Immutable, cold and solid, comforting in its way. Crystal
veins river through its depth, color shifts hint
frozen thoughts, weighty philosophy within.
It whispers, and I caress its secrets.
HUSH!

This wool beckons my hand: Kinky and rough, gnarled, fuzzy, and chaotic I long to run my fingers along the fibers entwine my empty spaces with its strands. Craving to create - but what? What transcendence, what fabric, longs to emerge from its lengths of possibility? So unlike marble - whose immutable form hides from all but the sculptor’s senses deep within silent, impassive mineral - yarn's form yields all to the creator, slatternly, casually, and available for any pattern, any configuration of loops and tangles and dreams Knit into fashion or fancy... or raveled and reworked another time as the need or error or whim allows... Cast on and bind off, and then, the magic! Knit and crochet chains and lace, braids and cables, ribs, entrelac, eyelet and i-cord. Single, half-double, double and treble, stockinette, picots and panels, charming incantations that read like runes, the oh-so-many improbable configurations to tickle a topologist, perplex a puzzler, and mystify cats into playful kittens. Just a glance stirs longing for more and more and more - oh! feel the fiber, hear it talk - no, clamor - for my touch!
HUZZAH!

Poetry © JustHavingFun. All rights reserved.

Satisfaction

I’m smiling. I just got off the phone after speaking with my 86-year old mother. I speak to her daily, sometimes twice a day, about nothing. What is nothing? Nothing is the little things you talk about but don’t think about all the time: the weather, books we’d like to read, whose anniversary it is, additions to the shopping list, memories. Occasionally we discuss a bill to pay or someone who needs to be contacted, but apart from that, our conversations are pleasant, a touchstone of the day. They are satisfying.

Swallowtail Butterfly on Zinnia

Swallowtail Butterfly on Zinnia, © JustHavingFun

Zinnias took over my garden, blooming madly. Their bright red heads welcome butterflies and bumblebees, neighbors and delivery people. Even a hummingbird visited one day, tasting some nectar then flitting away faster than I could reach for my camera! Looking at their beauty and lushness is satisfying.

I love a good cup of coffee. Savoring the aroma in the steam evokes a symphony of pleasure. If I add milk, the white stream swirls into the deep brown elixir in a satisfying way. Coffee drinking is more satisfying when shared with friends; I associate coffee with sociability and relationships. Just thinking about enjoying a coffee out with a friend (after the pandemic) fills me with anticipation and satisfaction.

Satisfying Coffee Break, © JustHavingFun

Satisfying Coffee Break, © JustHavingFun

Where does satisfaction come from? This quote impressed me enough to write it down when I first heard it a few years ago:

“Career satisfaction doesn’t come from what you do. It comes from who you get to be while you’re doing it. And the beauty is, who you get to be is the real you.”

—Laura Berman Fortgang (1)

For so long I thought about satisfaction largely in material terms. My identity depended upon where I went to school, what degrees I earned, my job, my salary, what I purchased, how I provided for my family, my financial security. Status, prestige, and esteem follow from those measurable markers of achievement in my hyper-commercial society. But my career was unexpectedly derailed, I don’t have much materially compared to the expectations of my society, and my finances seem shaky — none of which deprive me from experiencing satisfaction.

I believe all satisfaction, not just in one’s career, comes from being the real you. Finding who the real you is can take quite some time, perhaps occurring from a sea change in situations like a global pandemic, a spiritual revelation, or simply from maturity. Satisfaction comes from the sensual joys of hearing a loved one’s voice, observing color, scents, and nature, and enjoying a full range of feelings.

How can I compute humor? What yardstick measures delight? Two videos of babies continually delight me. In one, talking twin babies babble at each other. Perhaps they tickle my funny bone because they remind me of my own baby twins. In the other, four babies share rounds of hugs. More twins (or quads?), more hugs all around. Who doesn’t laugh when babies laugh? Squee!

True satisfaction lies in relationships and experiences. These intangibles — compassion, authenticity, optimism, loyalty, sensitivity, awareness — provide lasting value and cannot be stripped or lost. I get to be the real me when I stop to savor a conversation, gaze on my garden, waft the scent of coffee toward my waiting nostrils, or reminisce about when my children were young. When I remember this, I am being my real self, and in that, I have the greatest satisfaction.

1. “Find your dream job without ever looking at your resume.” TEDxBocaRaton, Published on May 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfNX1cHk-fE, Retrieved November 5, 2018.

COVID World

It’s been 11 months since my last post. That’s enough silence, enough thoughts and words sent out to universe and not voiced.

I’ve had nothing to say, not even on my blog. In March 2020, when we went into lockdown, COVID-19 abruptly muted my voice, tucked me into my apartment, removed the spice from my palate. I’m voluntarily sequestered, safe among my weary possessions, washing hands and sanitizing doorknobs. My clutter has clutter; cobwebs shroud my thoughts.

COVID Syndrome: long bouts confined to home overcast with isolation and withdrawal. I avoid the news. I followed it like everyone else when lockdown first started mid-March. I shed tears over the daily death reports. Today’s reporting, ever increasing rates of infection and misinformation, cause my spirit to plummet. Too many souls departed this earth. So tragic, such a loss. Pain is anesthesia if allowed in.

I don’t go out. Hardly at all. I have health considerations and care for an elderly parent. Community volunteers, “angels”, shopped for me at first. I ordered in groceries and stocked up on staples. Now, in July, I go the kosher market about every 2 to 3 weeks. Nowhere else to go other than dropping off Mom’s groceries, my car sits idle for days at a time. Taking out the trash became an exciting activity.

“Happiness… is the right career” brochure, 1966.
Archives of Ontario, CC BY-NC 2.0

Long-term unemployment prepared me well for this new status. For over two years I’ve sat in front of my computer scanning job openings, sending out applications, waiting for incoming email to affirm I am wanted, desirable, and skilled enough — though I know my worth. Unemployment benefits ran dry a long time ago. Some COVID relief benefits elude me because I did not lose a job because of the pandemic. Fewer companies have openings during the lockdown. Still, I practice a tedious routine: tweak the resume, craft a cover letter, send the application, brainstorm with my job counselor. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Savings nearly depleted and no spare money to spend, I pinch pennies assiduously. Some charities provided gift cards. It feels bad to be so needy. The economy will not flourish from my paltry purchases alone.

Depression, my longstanding companion, clouds my vision, saps my strength. The toxic-to-me heat that my body cannot tolerate poisons any desire to step outside. Exercise? Not a priority though it might help. I’m complacent to drift. It’s a crummy attitude, but I’m being honest, and that’s inherent to the Syndrome. Otherwise, I don’t want to set foot outside; it’s too darned hot.

I’ve already slept through a Wednesday, seeing 6:30 on my clock and thinking, “Aw rats, up early again,” before going to the bathroom and returning to bed not realizing it was 6:30 p.m. not 6:30 a.m.! The days melt into each other. Thank G-d for Shabbos, the anchor of my week!

My data use soars. Yay internet! One bright spot: Zoom classes light my days. I’ve learned so much! Ravelry, the online knitting community, provides me with hours of creative imagery. Elsewhere politics, not science, muddies discussions and public opinion flares with condemnation, sarcasm, and impatience. Trained in public health, I share scientific information, writing opinions countering the falsehoods. Otherwise intelligent people spout such nonsense and conspiracies that I wonder if I’m living in a different universe. People believe what they want to see.

Window Cats

Window Cats. COVID creations. © JustHavingFun

Strangely, I’m somewhat content.

“I’m the happiest depressed person I know,” I quip. It’s true. I have faith that we will get through this dreadful time, bruised but stronger. I’ve witnessed incredible acts of kindness in my community and in the world. I witness the hand of G-d in stories of recovery, marriages and births, selfless acts, and scientific discoveries. I can still laugh, say a kind word, and help a friend.

Everyone knows someone who perished or sickened. Everyone hopes and prays for release. We’re sensitized to the suffering of others in a personal way. COVID-19 brought us together out of the confines of our communities and around the world. “Together apart” is more than a motto.

I know effective treatments will be forthcoming soon, the economy will recover, and factionalism reigns whatever political party prevails. Public discord will espouse new causes. This experience is a milestone in history like none before. Global in its extent, coronavirus brought us together as a world community, erasing some borders and emphasizing our mutual humanity. At least, I hope so.

I know that I will get a job.

Living through the pandemic carves character. Living after the pandemic depends upon what we’ve absorbed about our roles in the world. Living in my own skin requires I nurture that spark of Good bequeathed to my soul.

Tenets to live by: Gratitude. Hope. Kindness. Appreciation. Respect. Health. Prayer. Breathe in the Good.

My voice may have been muted, eyes clouded, and thoughts clogged with cobwebs, but it’s transitory. I have hope for the future and faith in G-d. I will emerge from my apartment eventually, more contemplative and patient.

I will survive COVID Syndrome. I have something to say.

Saved

We walk daily surrounded by miracles but rarely think of them. Our bodies are finely tuned machines. We think, breathe, walk, and absorb nutrients without considering the processes occurring. Nature, we say. It isn’t until something fails that we think about the loss of function, the miracle that the function even exists. When our backs go out, we suffer and moan the loss of movement. When diagnosed with a dread disease, there’s even more suffering and moaning, prayers and promises abound. For me, even a minor paper cut can be annoying and make me hyper-aware of my fingertips that I otherwise would have happily ignored. Likewise, about 30 years ago I had a knee injury and couldn’t walk for several months. Now I can walk, sciatica notwithstanding, and every step is a joy… when I think about it. I should be dancing, and in awe, of my recovery and ability to walk every day, but my attitude toward that blessing has become mundane, sadly.

Hashem provides us with gifts all the time. We just need to open our eyes to them. The following testifies how Hashem saved my life recently. Miracles were performed for me, and a gift lay at the end: my life… and great air conditioning. Here’s the story:

My bus would be leaving at 7:15 a.m. It was 7 o’clock and I was still on the highway, 15 minutes away. I’m a bit anxious; I’ve done this before — arriving too close for comfort — and made it on time, but I hate this mad rush. It’s really not me.

Metrocard in Wallet, Chris Goldberg

Metrocard in Wallet – NYC by Chris Goldberg, CC-BY-NC 2.0

It was time for my annual trip to New York City for the pleasure of visiting my sons and coincidentally renewing ny NYC “street cred.” I was on the way to the Megabus pick up site outside of Baltimore, near IKEA. New York via Megabus is only about 3½ hours and you can catch a $5 fare at times. I purchased the tickets weeks before, consulting with my sons on the date: a Monday or Wednesday were my choices. I remembered after purchasing the fare that I should have picked Wednesday so I could arrange to see a matinée, something I’d not done when I lived in the City. But Monday it was. One son, however, started a new job suddenly and was at training in Ohio. The other son would not be able to leave work early and could only meet me for dinner. Rats. Arriving in NYC at 10:35 a.m. and nothing planned. Fortunately there are plenty of coffee shops in Manhattan. Starbucks would renew my NYC street cred and give me the much needed caffeine boost I would need having woken up so early to catch the 7:15 bus.

Drive Cane Seat, image © Medical Depot, Inc.

Drive Cane Seat, © Medical Depot, Inc.

I left home a scant few minutes later than I would have liked. Packing list: a full water bottle, dry cereal & raisins to eat on the bus, phone charger & cord. Even so, I turned back because I had left my Cane Seat at home. I retrieved it only having lost 5 minutes. Still, that timing was too tight. (I ultimately left my Metrocard in my desk despite having reminded myself to take it along several times in the days leading up to the trip.)

I drove due east on the Beltway, zooming at about 70 miles per hour, in pace with the other traffic (but still was being passed by other cars whizzing by. Hmph. Baltimore drivers.). One particular black pickup truck behind me repeatedly overcame my car and fell back, and ironically, I ended up behind him at a choke point. Typical. Suddenly, a sea of red tail lights swim before me as I round a curve and face the rising sun’s mighty glare. I stomped on the brakes, the car slowed, but it felt like it took forever. My foot went near the floor meeting some resistance, and I remember thinking, “Don’t pump ABS brakes.” Traffic resumed and I took my exit about 5 miles after that.

The exit ramp led to a 4-lane highway. About a half mile after the exit was a traffic light. I could see it must have just turned green since cars were still stopped in two lanes at the intersection and cars in the the two left-turn lanes were turning. Since I was still traveling only a little slower than Beltway speeds, I started to brake. Heavens! There was no response; my foot went to the floor and the car sped along at about 50 miles per hour. Flash! I was concerned there would be a collision. My brain went into overdrive. Fortunately, there was an empty right-turn lane next to me. I think I downshifted to 3rd gear but I can’t really remember anything but laying on the horn and swinging around the corner like a racecar driver. That crossroad traveled uphill, slowing the car some. Thankfully there was no oncoming traffic at the top of the hill. I was able to make a left turn and another quick left into the parking lot of an apartment complex. Jamming the transmission into 1st gear, I pulled to a stop in a parking space.

Motor off, I sat stunned for a moment. I realized the miracles that had happened for me. Not once, not twice, but at least three times no collision occurred when there could have been one! A woman seated in her car witnessed my quick parking job. I shakily got out of the car to ask her where I was, needing an address for a tow truck. I was telling her what happened. She didn’t speak much English, but I understood the blessings she gave me in Spanish. She handed her driver license to me so I could read the address clearly. Shaking and thanking her, I went back to my car. It was 7:15. No Megabus.

The next part of the story isn’t as dramatic. I drank water and researched repair shop options in the area on my phone as my own mechanic’s shop was 15 miles away and not open. Few opened that early, but I found one that opened at 7:30 and called soon afterward. (It was a national chain and this branch had a good rating on Yelp.) Luckily they could fit me in for an estimate after a few jobs later that morning, and I was instructed to have the car towed there. When I arrived I was told there would be at least an hour’s wait, so I settled down, watched TV, noshed on my dry cereal, and chatted with an amiable 80-year old customer. I was also informed that the estimate would be free of charge, something I hadn’t even considered.

Freddie Ford's ignoble end, © JustHavingFun

Freddie Ford’s ignoble end, © JustHavingFun

My car was a 2003 Ford Focus with a 5-speed manual transmission, and I loved it. Fred. Freddie Ford I called it. I bought it used off Craigslist. It had 60,000 miles and was immaculate; I never regretted it for a moment. I put on only about 35,000 miles in 10 years, largely because I lived in Manhattan and didn’t drive much for nearly 5 years. I knew Fred was near the end of his useful lifetime but was hoping to put off purchasing a replacement for another year or so. Oh well.

My car was finally put on the rack, and after about a half hour, the mechanic emerged and gave me a worst-case estimate, redoing the brake lines, and assuming the master cylinder would need replacing. I went under the car myself, too, and saw the amount of corrosion and weak points in the brake lines. Sighed. I knew that at nearly 17 years old, Freddie wasn’t worth much more than $2,000 in good condition. The estimate came to nearly that amount. This did not surprise me, but I was hoping for a cheap fix. In this condition, the car was worth nearly nothing. Hmmm. Put money into an old car or look for a new one? Meanwhile, I phoned my trusted mechanic, agreed I could use a second opinion hoping he might be able to fix it for less, declined the service at the repair shop, and arranged to have Freddie towed there. (I sent a glowing thank you note to the repair shop the next day for the thoughtful treatment and thorough inspection they gave good old Freddie.) While I was waiting, I perused websites for used cars. I felt a replacement might be inevitable. My sister came to pick me up and I went home in a tizzy.

My mechanic called with the bad news. It wasn’t worth fixing Freddie. Not only were the brake lines shot but the thingamy was leaking, and the seals on the whatchamacallit were going. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the air conditioner hadn’t worked for 6 years and just last winter I needed to squeegee the inside of the front windshield on occasion. So I told him I’d like to check out the car I saw on his website the next day. Yep. I tried it out and bought it. No looking around. It was provided for me.

New Kia, © JustHavingFun

New Kia, © JustHavingFun

That’s how I ended up with my “new” 2016 Kia Rio, with a 6-speed manual transmission and super-duper air conditioning! Why was it value priced? Well, few people drive a stick, and worse yet, it has manual windows and door locks! How retro! It’s the same size as Freddie and fun to drive. I haven’t named it yet — I don’t think “Killer” is appropriate although it is alliterative — and I look forward to many more happy miles with it.

There are miracles.

I recognize that my life was saved on the road. Several times I could have had a serious collision. I had the skills to handle the car, but the blessing was that no other cars were close when I needed to manoeuver. Thanks to minor auto racing experience in my 20s, and having lost brakes once before, I had some idea of what to do. But that wasn’t enough. While I didn’t panic, I didn’t think to pull the hand brake. I may have been able to downshift sooner. Who knows? My health and life were handed to me on a silver platter and I acknowledge that gift. Hashem has said to me that I have more work to do on this world. It is not my time. I was spared.

I need to keep this gift of life foremost in my mind. Gratitude and praise fill me. I could be bitter, upset, or worried about the money, but that is not my nature. Hashem will provide what I need. 

I’m just glad to be here, just having fun…

… but I only told my mother that I had some brake problems and decided not to continue with the trip. Please don’t tell her the whole story. My gift to my elderly mother is peace of mind.

Please share this story where you can to publicize that Hashem is in charge and He performs miracles. Let me know your reactions in the comments.

Friends, it’s been a while since I’ve written. I took a little break to develop skills in polymer clay jewelry design, and it has been a fun experience! I’ll be posting some photos in my “Crafty Me” section sometime soon.

Meanwhile, I hope to get back to more regular contributions to the Just Having Fun blog. It’s not just about fun, it’s a way of life.

Happy Blah

I know I am passionate about certain things…things like politics, religion and human interactions. I can become a raging lunatic too.

I used to enjoy discussing opposite points of view with people whose ideas or beliefs were diametrically opposed to my own. I could do so without being emotional…and I miss that.

—Suze, author of the suziland too or obsolete childhood blog

People don’t understand how I can be “blah” about politics or even neutral to our President. That’s just not where my passions lie. The polity is too large for me. My little voice indeed has the power of one. I comprehend that one plus one plus one will change the world. I get that.

Dialogue Not Diatribe by Monique Wingard via Flickr, CC-BY-2.0

Dialogue Not Diatribe by Monique Wingard via Flickr, CC-BY-2.0

However, I only have so much energy and attention span. With small crisis #1, medium attention grabber #2, lack of #3, and the #4 thing immediately calling for my local, personal attention, I don’t have too much energy or impetus at the end of the day to yell, write, fight, advocate, or pound the pavements. Some days it’s just enough to get out of bed and put on clothing. Other days I can take on the traffic and lines, the idiotic bureaucrats and on-hold phone muzak, and still have energy to make dinner. (I usually can’t get past the aches and creaks the next day, though.)

When I was younger did I fight the good fight? I suppose so. Being a female in a male-dominated profession, clamoring for potty parity, volunteering for women’s health agencies, and counseling victims of domestic violence: I did all that. And when the kids were young, as a single mom, I juggled raising them to be respectable, respectful citizens with keeping the bills paid, mental health issues, family matters, and caring about the environment (professionally and personally). I recycled. I helped friends. I was a nice person.

I can’t fight what the news media choose to focus on today, the next big titillating thing. The distortions about my people are endless. A reality exists that Jews are imperiled even today; Pittsburgh, my hometown, still reels from the murders last fall. The news lies about “Palestinians,” focusing on what the Israelis are supposedly doing to them instead of calling their leaders to the carpet for misappropriating funds, keeping their own citizens in distress, shooting rockets into Israeli cities while crying about Israeli aggression. The emperor has no clothes. The news paints Israelis, “Zionists”, and Jews with a black brush, and distort the truth that Jews have an historical claim to have a homeland in Israel.

The President is an ardent supporter of Israel. That where my buck stops. That’s way bigger than whatever else the White House inhabitant is doing. I don’t have a TV, I don’t watch the news. I listen to a little NPR and mostly get my news from online sources. That’s too much already. Largely I rely upon my friends who live in Israel to give a less distorted view of the reality there. They, as well as HonestReportingCommittee For Accuracy In Middle East Reporting In America, and scads of other agencies on FaceBook like them, provide me with a view on the ground. What is being said in Arabic is not necessarily what is being translated into English. What part of “run the Jews into the sea” is not clearly hate speech?

Meanwhile, only a few blocks away from my Baltimore home, a 5-year old girl was shot accidentally in her own home, four people were shot near the zoo, three others were killed, and another few checked in to local hospitals with gunshot wounds in the past week. There is a drug epidemic here, with 303 overdose deaths in Baltimore City last year, with heroin the leading factor. Many neighborhoods of iconic row houses lay wasted while the downtown gleams. We are a city of abundant brilliance and depraved poverty. Washington, DC is only a 50 minute drive away, but it’s so far off my map.

Today I will probably have another cup of coffee, apply for a few more jobs, and massage the pain in my shoulder. I will pray for the recovery of a friend who was just diagnosed, and operated on, for throat cancer, and another’s recovery from defibrillator implantation surgery. I will watch a funny video on YouTube. Tomorrow I will celebrate the “redemption” of a first-born child on his 30th day of life at a “pidyon haben” ceremony, then go to an eye doctor appointment. I will try to plant some seeds in my little garden now that night temperatures aren’t dipping below 40F. I will plod by and by through my bills and obligations, hoping for that magic job interview that will put me back in the land of the employed, tax-paying, and useful. And I will remember to file my taxes before April 15th.

This screed really just started out as a note to a friend. Now I will eat a toasted bagel, then send prayers and good wishes into the Universe.

New Zealand

New Zealand Flag

New Zealand Flag, by Yortw via Flickr CC-BY 2.0

Evil took the spotlight again last week.

A gunman violated the distant, small, quiet country of New Zealand and murdered 49 people engaged in worship. Another soul has died since then, raising the death toll to 50. Many others were hospitalized. The gunman “live-streamed,” i.e. filmed and broadcast, his activities online via Facebook. He prepared for death, wearing a helmet outfitted with a camera and a bulletproof vest.  That miscreant went into mosques with the intent to kill. Tragically he succeeded.

I cannot find words to write. I sit stilled.

I deplore this act of heinous evil, perpetrated by one actor, leaving desolate so many families, a country, and a faith community. Massacred. My heart reaches out to the families, the ones left behind. My sympathy goes to New Zealand which I thought of more so as a tranquil backwater. They have sadly joined the front-page suffering of the world elsewhere.

Only a short while ago my hometown community, Pittsburgh, suffered such a blow. Prayers were offered around the world. We feel with you, our human brothers and sisters. Today we are not Muslim, or Christian, or Jew but people, all formed in the image of G-d. When I learned the news, I cried. It resonated too closely.

What is it about the lone actor that tugs at me and pulls me down into the darkness? So I ask: am I hypocritical? Or numb? Sometimes I wonder if I am allowed to feel this level of grief because I hear today’s news of ongoing violence and tragedies elsewhere… and react very little, feel much less sorrow.

  • 59 homicides in the City of Baltimore have been reported to date in 2019.(1)
  • “Syria’s war entered its ninth year on Friday,” killing a half million people, displacing more than 6 million, and causing more than 5 million to flee the country. (2)
  • Today, “[d]ozens of Uighur and Han Chinese civilians were killed or hurt” by a knife-wielding gang who attacked a police station in China’s Xinjiang region.(3)
  • “At least 39 people had died” in attacks during elections in Nigeria in February 2019. (4)
  • “20 dead, 111 hurt in January bombing at Catholic cathedral in Philippines”(5)

The Charlie Hebdo slaughter evoked my tears. The uncertainty of whereabouts and the unravelling of the murders of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, the three boys who were kidnapped and slain by Hamas terrorists in 2014 gripped at my heart.(6) The rape and murder of Israeli teen, Ori Ansbacher, by a Palestinian seated me, stunned.(7) I’m aware that I’m listing tragedies perpetrated on Jews here. They are my family. It’s personal.

Evil

Evil (Tong Churchyard), by Tim Allen via Flickr CC-BY 2.0

That doesn’t make me immune to the suffering of others, however. No matter how I relate that I am numb, unfeeling, my soul diminishes daily with each attack.

Maybe the 3,212 of Baltimore’s murders recorded to date since 2007, mass slaughter, and war casualties don’t affect me because they are BIG and DISTANT. Growing up in the Vietnam War era, we watched nightly newscasts at the dinner table, the daily body count tallied on the small black and white television screen parked at the end of the table. I didn’t know where Hue was, but the Tet Offensive was not just history; it was background reality.

I pray that evil does not become the background reality that today’s children grow up with. I pray that New Zealand pulls through. Most of all, I pray that evil will be vanquished from this earth.


1. Baltimore HomicidesThe Baltimore Sun, retrieved 18 March 2019.
2. FACTBOX-Nine facts about Syria as fresh violence marks ninth year of war, 15 March 2019.
3. China Xinjiang: Violence ‘kills or injures dozens’, 30 July 2014.
4. Nigeria Votes for Second Day in Election Marred by Deadly Violence, 25 February 2019.
5. 20 dead, 111 hurt in January bombing at Catholic cathedral in Philippines, updated 17 March 2019.
6. Mastermind of Teens’ Murders Given 3 Life Sentences, 1 June 2015.
7. Palestinian charged with rape and murder of Israeli teen Ori Ansbacher, 7 March 2019.

Bicycles & Bread

Waiting

Waiting, by Mikael Colville-Andersen via Flickr, CC

The last time I rode a bicycle must have been around 2001. Maybe I rode one other time since then. Even so, I am confident I can climb on a bike today and travel happily (at least if the road is relatively flat), dodging cars and gravel like I ride a bike all the time. Balance? No problem. I can do it in my sleep.

Kneading bread dough

Kneading bread dough, by Michael Richardson via Flickr, CC-BY 2.0

I can’t remember when I last baked a loaf of bread, though I used to do it frequently. My arms, hands, and shoulders remember the rhythm of kneading. My body remembers the rocking and leaning in, stretching the dough, to maximize the gluten and incorporate all the flour. Indisputably, my fingers remember the feel of the surface of a finished dough ball ready for rising, perfectly smooth, and silken to the touch. When I touch it and press gently, a proper dough has some elasticity, a give, and the dimple disappears as the dough recovers. My fingertips remember that sensation still, though lacking dough beneath them. I’m certain I could make a flawless loaf by feel today despite the years gone by.

Ruler Macro

Ruler Macro, ©Todd Eddy via Flickr, CC-NC-BY 2.0

What is one millimeter? I can sense that without a pause too, though I grew up with inches. It’s the small white crescent of a fingernail growing in after being clipped. I can see that clearly in my mind’s eye.

Few women can tie a men’s necktie with a four-in-hand knot. I can. I learned that as a Brownie Scout in order to tie our little orange ties properly.

What about colors? Do they befuddle you? Say, what’s the difference between turquoise, aqua, and teal? Discerning colors. That’s one of my superpowers. Comes in handy when painting watercolors, selecting bridesmaid dresses, quilting, or ordering from a catalogue.

Many of our skills don’t come into use often. Some we forget from disuse. I once knew and understood the relationships between cosine, sine, and tangent; the Latin names of many bacteria; how to gap spark plugs; and making a sheepshank knot. The important and the trite. Phone numbers, once religiously remembered, are now available at the click of a contact button on the phone—though I don’t think it is so great that I cannot memorize my children’s numbers. (I remember my best friend from 3rd grade’s number, however.)

Use it or lose it? Not always. It’s amazing what the body knows and retains. More amazing is the variety of things available to remember. It’s what we choose to focus on. I choose to focus on the pleasant, the feel of the wind across my body as I ride downhill, and the scent of fresh, yeasty dough that is pliable under my fingertips.

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