"In this sticky web that we're all in, behaving decently is no small task." -- Novelist Stacey D'Erasmo

Sunday, November 25, 2018

So the Holidays Begin

     I have a terrible confession to make. I hate Thanksgiving. All you do is sit around and overeat and watch football ... and I'm not a football fan. To add insult to injury, you often have to withstand the perils and pitfalls of traveling on some of the busiest days of the year, fighting traffic and airport lines and surly crowds.

     And then you're supposed to go shopping? I don't think so!

     Maybe it goes back to my childhood. Thanksgiving was a too-short holiday just before you had to start studying for exams or write the papers you'd been putting off for weeks. And then it's cold. And there are no decorations. No presents. And if your family is getting together, there's no doubt someone will have too much to drink and embarrass everyone.

     I remember one Thanksgiving when my two uncles got into a fistfight. But that's a story for another post (and that's what we call a tease).

     But thankfully, other people have a much better outlook. For example, Kathy Gottberg of SmartLiving365 says, "I doubt it is a surprise ... that one of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving." So this week she offers 10 Favorite Gratitude Quotes and Why They Matter. My favorite is the quote from Oprah Winfrey, but you may decide another one is even more telling in these tenuous times.

     Still, before you conclude that I'm an old curmudgeon, let me tell you ... I love Christmas!

     As I sit here at my desk, I'm noticing my neighbors across the street have put up Christmas lights that sparkle all along the bushes in front of their house, and a brightly lit Santa Claus stands happily on the front porch. I'll be putting out my Christmas lights in a few days -- nothing fancy, just a string of lights outlining the garage, but a cheery antidote to the dark December nights.

    Anyway, if you're having a tough time getting through the holidays, or for any other reason, you might want to check out Carol Cassara at A Healing Spirit. She says that when tough times hit, it's only natural to try to find a way out of them. But what if the way out is actually found by going within? So take a deep breath and spirit your way over to Find the Way In.

     Meryl Baer has a good attitude about it all -- or at least a sense of humor. She spent Thanksgiving with family in Florida. The trip involved a flight to Florida and a return trip five days later. She points out that air travel is not necessarily pleasant these days (understatement!), but as an optimist Baer tries to see the positives in The Upside of Air Travel, while also being grounded in reality as she revisits the flight home in The Downside of Air Travel.

     If you do decide to brave the stores -- or the internet -- for some timely Christmas shopping, Rita Robison on the Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide offers a list of the Top 10 Stores for Cyber Monday Shopping. When cyber shopping, she advises, be sure to compare prices, find out about return policies and use only secure websites.

     Meanwhile, Laura Lee Carter was curious about Black Friday. Check out her post Where Did the Term "Black Friday" Come From if you want the true story of this (somewhat) special day.

     Of course, if you're in sunny, balmy Los Angeles, you might have a whole different approach to the holidays. Rebecca Olkowski with BabyBoomster.com has put together a list of Best Los Angeles Holiday Events, just in case you're in the area anytime between now and New Year's Eve. Even though there isn't any snow, she says, there is plenty of fun to be had.

     And finally, in the spirit of the holidays, I wanted to leave you with a laugh. So we turn to Jennifer of Unfold and Begin who is a big proponent of laughter. She feels that it keeps you young, and recently learned that it's helpful and has a positive effect on you during times of adversity. Find out more at Learn to Laugh at Trouble.

     Which reminds me . . . what kind of music did the Pilgrims like? Plymouth rock. Okay, okay, if the Pilgrims were alive today, what would they be most famous for? Their AGE. Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Driving Home the Point

     I just drove home from South Carolina, via Raleigh, NC, which is about a 750-mile haul. The northern part of the trip routes along I95 through Richmond, Washington and Baltimore. Thankfully, I survived the journey . . . sometimes I wondered if I would.

     Last year 37,133 people lost their lives on the roads of America. This is actually down a little bit from the 37,806 fatalities in 2016, but otherwise it's higher than anytime in the last ten years.

     We are all appropriately horrified when we hear about the 79 people (at last count) who lost their lives last week in California's Camp Fire. But in that same week over 700 Americans were killed in car accidents.

     Despite whatever horrors we hear about in the news -- Iraq, Afghanistan, hurricanes, fires, gang violence, mass shootings -- many more people die on our roads, day in day out, week after week, year after year. The fact is, the most immediate and deadly danger you face is right there in front of you -- the much more familiar threat of a deadly car accident.

     So perhaps our political outrage should not be directed at the Russians, the Chinese or the terrorists, or the Democrats, Republicans or the "crooks" in Washington. It should be directed at the high degree of lawlessness on American roads. People routinely drive 10, 15, even 20 miles over the speed limit. And as I so recently witnessed, a significant portion of drivers tailgate, pass on the right, weave in and out of traffic, change lanes without signaling. And god only knows how many are doing all this while they're munching on some cookies or fiddling with their iPhone.

     According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the top three reasons for car accidents are: inattentiveness, speeding, and tailgating.

     Inattentiveness can be caused by texting or eating while driving. But the main cause of inattentiveness is fatigue. Nearly half of drivers admitted to driving while drowsy, and two out of every ten drivers admitted they had fallen asleep while driving! Inattentiveness also comes from drivers being emotionally disturbed, sometimes exacerbated by perfectly legal substances like nicotine, caffeine or prescription medications.

     Also, when you change drivers, do you check the mirrors? And do you regularly clean your windshield -- both outside and inside? A dirty windshield or misaligned mirror can cause driver distraction.

     As far as tailgating goes, you're supposed to adhere to the two-second rule when following another vehicle, meaning you travel far enough behind the car in front so it takes two seconds to catch up. So obviously, the faster you go, the more space you need to leave. You should increase your following space to three seconds if it's foggy, raining or snowing, or if you're following a tractor trailer.

     You shouldn't drive side by side to another vehicle, either, for pretty much the same reason -- no room for error. If cars are side by side and a driver decides to change lanes, there is no room to maneuver and no time to do it. So word of caution: When merging or changing lanes, always use your turn signal, and don't rely on your mirrors alone -- look quickly to the side to make sure your blind spot is clear. And by the way, as a defensive measure, do not drive in someone else's blind spot.

     As far as speeding goes, if you're interested in saving gas -- and the planet -- remember that the typical car gets the best gas mileage at 45 to 55 mph. Once you hit 60 mph and beyond, gas mileage deteriorates. So at 70 mph, for example, you're getting 15 - 20% fewer miles per gallon than you are at 50 or 55 mph.

     The crucial safety issue with speeding is that it cuts your reaction time if something goes wrong. At 55 mph, by the time you recognize a problem, react and brake, it will take about six seconds and 100 yards to stop. At 70 mph, it will take the same six seconds, but at that faster speed you've gone 150 yards -- or 50 more yards to run into something or someone.

     There's another reason why speeding is so deadly. What causes injury and death is the force of impact against the human body, which is in direct proportion to the weight of a vehicle (which is why all other things being equal (which they rarely are) a heavier car is safer than a lighter vehicle). But the force of impact has a squared relationship with speed, which is why, no matter how equal or unequal everything else is, you're a lot more likely to suffer severe injury or death at 70 mph than you are at 55 or 60 mph.

     Why otherwise law-abiding people ignore traffic laws is beyond me -- except maybe, most of the time, they get away with it. People rarely get a ticket, and when they do the policeman usually drops it down to a lesser offense. There's no downside to breaking the traffic law . . . until there is.

     But no matter how much of a hurry you're in, keep this is mind. According to traffic experts, on a 10-mile trip with a speed limit of 45 mph, going 60 should theoretically save you about 3 minutes. However, if there are lights, which are often timed to match speed limits, the speeding driver ends up getting caught in more red lights, and perhaps more traffic as well.

     The speeder ends up saving less than 1 minute on the trip, even though they're going 15 mph over the limit. Is this really worth the gamble -- one minute against your life?

Friday, November 16, 2018

Discovering the Lost Cause

     A few years ago my daughter transplanted to Raleigh, NC, where on May 20, 1861, state representatives voted to secede from the Union. Meanwhile, I recently moved to Pennsylvania, near a number of historic sites memorializing the Underground Railroad -- including Oakdale in Chadd's Ford, the first stop north of the Delaware line on the pre-war journey to freedom.

     So my daughter and I have become interested in the Civil War (even though we do not have ancestors who were involved in any way). We're not experts, believe me, but we visited the Petersburg, VA, battle sites, and we have both read a number of books and taken a few classes.

     A couple of weeks ago, while my daughter was in New Orleans, she stopped in to see the Louisiana Civil War Museum. She was disappointed, however, because it isn't really a museum of the Civil War. It is a museum of the Confederacy. It displays Confederate uniforms, weapons, documents, memorabilia -- and virtually nothing about the cause of the war or the experience of the black population.

     For my own trip south, my daughter gave me a book called Denmark Vesey's Garden by Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts. Denmark Vesey was a free black man who led a slave rebellion in Charleston, SC, in 1822. The rebellion failed before it even got started, and Vesey and more than 30 co-conspirators were swiftly tried, convicted and executed.

     The book is not about the rebellion itself. It's about the legacy of slavery, and how the Lost Cause movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries molded our view of history -- and to this day influences our understanding of the Civil War and the South.

     We know that African Americans were freed in the Civil War and soon after were able to take part in civil affairs. By the end of the 1860s South Carolina had a black majority in its state legislature.

     However, in 1877 when the government removed federal troops, the white planter and commercial interests took back power. Reconstruction was over, and a series of Jim Crow laws segregated the South for another hundred years -- and one could argue that much of the South, as well as the rest of the country, is still segregated today.

Charleston's Confederate Museum
     But the point of the book is that along with taking over the government, the white power class hijacked the history of the South and of slavery itself -- and thus was born the myth of the Lost Cause.

     The Lost Cause presented the Civil War as a battle between the underdog South and the much larger North, for states rights and the preservation of the traditional Southern way of life. Slavery was rarely mentioned, and when it was, it was blamed on the North, since most slaving ships came from New England. Besides, this version went, even some blacks themselves had slaves, and plantation owners were paternalistic and supported African Americans with room and board and everything else.

     For a long time, up until the 1960s and into the 1970s -- and even in certain respects up until today -- the history of Charleston, and the South in general, was told by white Southern families. Historical sites mostly included Confederate statues and historical homes once owned by wealthy planters and traders. As tourism became a bigger industry in the 1900s, the picture presented to visitors from the North and elsewhere was a Gone with the Wind version of the South.

     Even today, the tallest statue in Charleston shows slaveholder and secessionist John C. Calhoun towering over Marion Square, which itself is named after another slave owner, Revolutionary war general Francis Marion. The Confederate Museum stands at one end of the historic old Central Market. And like the Louisiana Civil War Museum, it focuses on the Confederate army and the Confederate cause.

     The Charleston museum is owned and operated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which makes a point of denouncing hate groups, but affirms that "Confederate memorial statues and monuments are part of our shared American story and should remain in place." So you can take that for what you will.

The Old Slave Mart Museum
     Since the 1970s the African-American side of the story has slowly emerged from the mists of time, both in Charleston and around the rest of the South. The Old Slave Mart in Charleston was purchased by the government and reopened in 2007 to focus on the city's role in the domestic slave trade, and present a more realistic view of slavery. In 2014 a statue of Denmark Vesey was erected in Charleston's Hampton Park to commemorate his resistance to the slavery laws. And an International African American Museum is scheduled to open in 2020, built on the waterfront where "more enslaved African captives arrived in the U. S. and were sold than any other location."

     Tourism is Charleston's biggest industry. As a tourist, I'll appreciate getting the full story of South Carolina's history, not just the antiseptic version that was created to make Southerners and white tourists feel better about themselves.

     As Kytle and Roberts conclude, we should not be held responsible for the moral failings of our European ancestors, nor should Americans today feel guilty for the sin of slavery. But getting the past right and remembering slavery honestly will inform our approach to race and inequality today. This honesty can help us understand the people whose ancestors felt the pain of the whip and the shame of servitude, and make us appreciate the resiliency of those who for generations have fought for freedom and equality.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Which One Would You Choose?

     B and I are spending two weeks on the beach outside Charleston, SC, as we have been doing once in the fall and again in February every year for the past few years. We like Charleston; we like the warmer weather; but most of all we like seeing our son and his wife and the grandson.

     But they're working and going to school and taking care of a baby, so while we do hang out at his house, and also host them out at the beach in our rental, we also find some things to do on our own.

     Yesterday we drove into Charleston and made a stop at Kaminsky's, a locally famous dessert place. It's located across the street from the historic city market, a several-block-long, open-air space that offers art, jewelry, clothes, all sorts of tourist trinkets and also the famous handmade sweetgrass baskets.

     At Kaminsky's I ordered the traditional butterscotch sundae.

     B had the brownie sundae.

     Which one would you go for?

     In case you ever find yourself in Charleston, I also heartily recommend 167 Raw, a fish restaurant featuring oysters, shrimp and all kinds of delectables from the sea. You can see it's crowded, even in the middle of the day. We went there last time we were here; we're planning to go again. We found out 167 is part of a restaurant chain . . .  kind of. There's one other one, on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts.

    We took a tour around Charleston harbor to see the city from the water, including Fort Sumter where the Civil War started.

     It's hard to miss the Ravenel bridge, which dominates the Charleston skyline. It opened in 2005 and leads to the suburb of Mount Pleasant and beyond to Myrtle Beach and eventually North Carolina.

     This view, from under the bridge, looks toward downtown Charleston.

     The end of the day found us back at the beach, looking for the sunset. It was a little too cloudy for any spectacular fireworks. But, for us anyway, the sky and the sea never disappoint.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

What a Difference a Day Makes

     I was going to write a heartfelt post, this weekend ahead of election day, about how despite all our differences, both Democratic or Republican, liberal and conservative, we should try to understand one another, and respect each other even though we disagree, and not demonize one another by hurling insults and calling other people names -- and how we should all acknowledge that we need to put country above party, unity above divisiveness, etc., etc.

     And then I thought: Nobody wants to hear that. It's like listening to your mother tell you to eat your vegetables. We all know we should. But either we eat our vegetables or we don't. Having someone hector you about it isn't going to change anything.

     But if you're discouraged about our seemingly irreconcilable differences, perhaps you can take heart in this Oct. 31 piece by Michael Smerconish about how Congress Is Out of Step with the Rest of Us. Perhaps we're not so divided after all.

     Anyway, to the point of this post. Yesterday, this was my view of a tree on our street at home.

     But today -- because I'm retired, and because I can -- this is the view I have outside the back of the house we're renting for the next two weeks. And we got a reasonable price, because we're out of season.

     Sometimes it's good to get away. I sent in my absentee ballot a week ago. I did my civic duty. And now I can enjoy a little peace and quiet, like a retired person should, far away from the maddening crowd.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

While the Wife's Away ...

     B's mother and sister live about an hour and a half west of us. It's just far enough so we really don't like to go for the day, although we've done that a few times. We usually go overnight, or sometimes for two or three nights. Sometimes we stay with her sister; sometimes we pony up for the bed & breakfast located halfway between her sister's house and the assisted-living facility where her mother lives.

     Sometimes B and I go together. But this time she's visiting by herself, and I am home alone.

     I love B dearly. But, you know, in any relationship there are lots of little compromises. So I like being home by myself. I get to do what I want, instead of what we want.

     Since B likes to have all her stuff around her, and I'm the neat one in the family, the first thing I do is go around the house and tidy up. I put all the dishes are in the dishwasher and clean off the kitchen counter. I take her clothes off the bed or the living room chair, fold them up and put them on her dresser. I gather the Sunday paper and the old magazines and catalogs and toss them in the recycling bin. Now I can finally see the top of the coffee table.

     But there is at least one lapse in my tidying up. It's my job to make the bed, partly because B usually gets up before I do (except on golf days). Besides, making the bed is a habit of mine leftover from summers at Boy Scout camp. I never made much of a Boy Scout, but one thing I did learn was how to make a bed. (Yes, the camp counselors did bounce a quarter on the bedspread to make sure it was tight.)

     So pretty much every morning of my life, I make the bed -- except when B is away. Then, who cares? Nobody else is around. You see ... it's a little bit of a vacation.

     When I'm on my own, and only answering to myself, I can do whatever I want. I could drink beer or stay up late if I wanted, although I don't do either of those things. But I still have the opportunity to indulge my bad habits. And the only reason I give myself license to do that is because I know when B gets back, I'll have to stop.

     So, normally, B cooks dinner for us almost every night. She's a good cook and always includes a vegetable or two. This is good for me. I know it, and appreciate it. But when B is away, I sometimes go to Panera's, with free refills of Pepsi -- and dessert only costs an extra dollar. Or I get a couple of slices of pizza, with . . . well, what do you know, free refills of Coke.

     The other night I went to our local grocery store that puts out a spread every day, like a cafeteria. I had peppers and sausage, mashed potatoes, and some macaroni and cheese. Then a berry tart for dessert. While I was there I bought some Halloween candy. And when I got home, I tried it out. Just one piece. Well ... two pieces, but they were very small.

     I should also admit that I spend more time watching TV when B is away. It's easy to plop down in front of the TV when I'm eating breakfast. Or it's 4:30 p.m. and I'm home and it's not time for dinner yet, so I flip on the set and see what's going on. Maybe I catch an old Seinfeld rerun or just mindlessly watch the weather or one of the cable news shows.

     At night I'll watch something on Netflix. I'm currently in the middle of "Moneyheist", a Spanish crime drama recommended to me by a friend. It's okay, but the dubbing is terrible and the plot is slow-moving at times.

     Of course, I do my regular activities while B is away. This week I tutored English on Monday at the library, and on Tuesday I went to the dentist. On Wednesday I ran errands. After B gets back from visiting her family, we're leaving for Charleston, SC, so I'm paying bills, returning books to the library, going to the bank, stopping off at the post office. I even went to the YMCA to do my exercises.

     So I'm not totally playing hooky from life. I'm doing what I'm supposed to do, for the most part. But I will admit, on the way home from the Y, I stopped at our local ice-cream emporium. The butterscotch sundae is one of my many weaknesses.

     B is due back later today. It's a good thing. I'm okay by myself for a couple of days. But after that, my stomach begins to act up, the kitchen counter looks barren and empty, and the coffee table seems bare and abandoned. Besides, I get tired of my own company. It gets pretty lonely around here.

     Speaking of which . . . I better go make that bed.