Category Archives: Reflections

The Big Purge Is Upon Us

I’ve written several posts on the merits of Spring cleaning in concert with annual efforts to rid our household of unneeded items. With a clear intention to downsize, I’m glad that we chipped away at the task over the years. This week, that rooster has come to roost.

We put our house on the market a week ago in hopes that we might attract interest prior to the coming school year. We’d spent a week-plus cleaning and decluttering before photo shoot and made sure the yard was in tip-top shape. I dreaded the placement of the lock box on the front door and the implied requirement to keep the house tidy consistently. But that’s the deal when selling a house.

The opening day for showings brought three couples to the house all of whom were interested in buying it. By the end of Day 2, we were under contract for sale! We’re slated to close escrow by month end and have up to 59 days thereafter to rent the place back. Now the real work begins.

downsizing decisionsMy sister-in-law preceded us in this daunting task by a few months. I am taking her stellar piece of advice: Do something every day to make progress toward moving.

While I have a high degree of confidence that this deal will go through, I’ve decided to focus on activities that are nearly invisible to a prospective buyer’s eye. Should the house have to go back up for sale, I want it to look appealing. As such, I’m tackling the closets, drawers, cabinets, and garage shelving first. First up: Going through all of our files. I’m on Day 3 of that exercise. Who knew we had so much stuff! In file-by-file and paper-by-paper, I’m figuring out what we need, what we can scan, what we can recycle, and what must be shredded to protect sensitive information. Almost finished!

A good friend has made prolific use of Internet-based marketplaces to sell things (or give them away). So, my next stop will be a coaching session to get me familiar with options for ridding the house of things I know we will not need. (Some negotiation may need to take place when it comes to garage stuff!) She has offered to help, and I’ll gladly let her keep the proceeds for the sake of paring down my “to do” list.

My husband and I need to take another tour through our closets to make sure we still want the clothes that we have and that they still fit. I see a Goodwill run in my future.

Upon close of escrow, we’ll start tackling the large pieces of furniture and the artwork. A few questions have popped into mind:

  • Do we really need to have a full bedroom set in the guest room given that the drawers are always empty?
  • Do we really need to have desks given that we’re both retired? Could we make do with a simple table, a computer stand, and a filing cabinet?
  • Do we really need a kitchen dinette and a dining room set?
  • Should we keep all the home exercise equipment or move into a place with easy access to a gym or workout room?
  • Do we need to keep all those D.I.Y. supplies given that we rarely D.I.Y. anymore and will likely have access to my nephew’s treasure trove?

Since we have a general idea of the type of place we’ll rent or buy next, we already know that a fair amount of what we currently own just won’t fit. (And we don’t really need it!) Some we’ll try and sell. Some we’ll donate to charity. And some may be of interest to the new homeowner. I’m not concerned about finding new homes. I just need to bake in plenty of time to attend to the mechanics of bidding them all goodbye.

For the most part, I’ve faced this downsizing challenge with aplomb. I’ve shed some tears all the while knowing that selling the house is the right thing to do. I’ve had “déjà vu all over again” as I recall doing this same activity with my parents over the years. It’s a bit jarring to come to terms with the fact that it’s my generation’s turn to pare back on the things we’ve owned and make changes to the lives we’ve led. On the plus side, I anticipate a sense of relief when I’m on the other side, having substantially lightened my load.

When Change Comes A-Calllin’

“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

Everything changes. Geopolitics. Economies. Climate. Weather systems. Bodies. Emotions. Thoughts. Relationships. Jobs. Life circumstances. Housing. It’s a fact of life. We best get used to it.

The good news: Change is good for the brain. As noted in Cultivating a Healthy Brain at Any Age, purpose, learning, and discovery provide stimulus for the brain that increase the density of neurons, synapses, and dendrites. Brain networks that operate with greater efficiency, complexity, and reserves are less susceptible to disruption or decline. When we break out of habitual patterns, our brains step up to the challenge and adapt and grow in response.

The bad news: Change can be uncomfortable, sorrowful, stressful, unwelcome. We may face an uncertain future that calls into question our sense of stability and calm. We may worry about our ability to come out the other end whole. And we may lose a lot of sleep while in its grasp.

home for saleI find myself in the midst of a big change. The lovely home in which I’ve shared so many wonderful times with family and friends goes up for sale tomorrow. My husband and I have realized that it’s just too much house and too much yard. In addition, we face the realistic possibility of a relocation to another part of the country to be close to family as we enter the next chapter of our lives. My heart tightens as I gaze into my verdant backyard and watch the squirrels, bunnies, and birds pay their daily respects. I grieve the potential loss of a community in which I have very deep roots. And I dread all the work that it’ll take to downsize and pack all the while hoping that the things we will no longer need might be repurposed.

I’m leaning into my mindfulness training to cope with this turn of events. The practice of R.A.I.N. helps me bring an interested attention to what is going on with body and mind. In particular:

  • Recognize: I’m paying attention to grief as it arises rather than stuff it down.
  • Allow: I’m letting those sensations just be without judging them. It’s OK to feel sad. That’s part of the human experience. And it’s OK to just sit with that sadness. Resistance would only increase and prolong suffering.
  • Investigate: I’m bring an interested attention to the experience. I try to locate where I’m feeling grief in my body and see how it changes over time. I’m naming the other feelings that go along with grief – fear, anxiety, trepidation, anger. I’m exploring the assumptions that undergird the feelings as well as the stories I might be telling myself about it. (My worrying mind can spin quite a yarn about what the future holds!) I can say to myself: “Oh, those are just thoughts or feelings or sensations.”
  • Nurture: From the wisest and most compassionate part of myself, I can serve up love and support.

It’s a simple practice yet surprisingly powerful. It acknowledges and provides attentive care for the difficult circumstance without getting ensnared by it. As I sit with whatever arises, I notice that the sensations don’t last very long. They come and go like waves in the ocean. And with a little bit of distance, I can simply observe their movements.

Mindfulness also teaches me to live my life moment-to-moment – to simply take in the experience of life through the sensory doors. As such, I needn’t spend much time grasping for a former existence that has seen its glory days. I needn’t fixate on what is yet to come. I can experience this day, right now and meet new challenges and opportunities as they arise. I’ve been down this road before. I know that I can handle it.

I’m still not wild about change – even if it’s good for my brain. But I’ll confess to having a bit of excitement over what new adventures lie on the horizon.

Slow and Steady

tortoise and hareA Greek storyteller named Aesop receives credit for a collection of fables that transmit moral lessons. Among my favorites is the tale of a race between wildly unmatched participants: a tortoise and a hare. The hare expected an easy victory and did not take the tortoise’s challenge seriously. After amassing a clear lead, the hare elected to rest by the sidelines while awaiting the tortoise’s arrival. He planned to dash to the finish line just ahead of his opponent. Unfortunately, the hare’s slumber proved so deep that he failed to awaken in time and forfeited the opportunity to claim victory. The tortoise’ slow and steady progress won the race.

When it comes to personal transformation, most of us would prefer the endowments of the hare. We want to be swift and nimble in effecting change, and we want the river of change to move swiftly. Forward progress encourages us to stay the course and gives us hope that we can achieve our desired end state within a reasonable amount of time.

Transformation change generally doesn’t accommodate our need for speed. It favors the tenacity of the tortoise over the impertinence of the hare. Most of us find that bias exasperating. It may even derail our best intentions and efforts.

At tea with friends last week, I talked about some chronic issues that I’ve been having with my singing voice. After working with a coach for a year and a half, I’d engaged a vocal habilitation specialist to help me in the attempt to recover my lost form. The process involves painstaking attention to the fundamentals of vocal production – posture, breath control, suitably relaxed musculature in the throat, mouth, and tongue, and appropriate formation of vowel sounds. It’s quite effortful, and improvements seem to arrive at the pace of oozing tree sap on a winter’s day. Both friends resonated with that experience and the frustration that comes with it.

I’ve faced a similar life-long challenge with respect to attaining a desired level of fitness. During bouts of monitoring my diet and going to the gym, I’d waited expectantly for the bathroom scale and post-shower reflection to provide a resounding “You go, Girl!” When the hoped-for magazine cover image was not forthcoming, I’d lose heart and get back to business as usual. It was only when a health imperative lit the fire of motivation so strongly that I stuck to a rigorous diet and exercise program and achieved the desired result. It took two years (and counting!) of daily workouts. And I’m still on that path.

I still believe in having “stretch goals” that take time and effort to attain. With a nod to Dr. Teresa Amabile, PhD and Dr. Steven Kramer, PhD and their work on the progress principle, I try to find ways to chunk the larger goals into smaller pieces so that I can celebrate victories along the way. Their research suggests that orchestrating small “wins” on a consistent basis stokes motivation. But there’s something to be said for doing the work simply as a matter of habit. It changes the activity from a transaction (“I’m doing X in order to gain Y”) to a statement of identity (“I do vocal exercises because I am a trained singer… and that’s what singers do.”)

I still yearn for progress and am still impatient when it doesn’t arrive on my timetable. But the simple act of incorporating various vocal and physical workouts in my day as a matter of course silences the inner critic who would otherwise question the efficacy of the work. In the immortal words of Nike, I “just do it.” And, guess what? I’m making forward progress… slowly and steadily.

Our Minds Matter for Healthcare

I’ve sounded the clarion call to be attentive to cognitive health in earlier posts. Admittedly, I’m sensitive to the issue given my father’s geriatric dementia and my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease. I witnessed first hand the devastating impact of faltering intellective capacity, and I’m determined to do everything in my power to keep my household mentally fit.

I’ve strengthened my resolve in the past year as my husband and I dealt with a substantive uptick in engagement with the healthcare system. While we’re both in great shape for our ages, we’ve had referrals to various specialists to attend to chronic conditions, perform diagnostic testing, and deal with “upgrades” to eyes, ears, and voice boxes to enable us to enjoy full and active lives. We’ve got great doctors, but it remains challenging to avail ourselves of their services:

  • Appointments book out several weeks/months. Even schedulers have become hard to reach. As such, we’ve had to become all the more proactive in arranging our visits and any associated tests that make those engagements productive.
  • The provider’s payment system has proven complex and error-prone for a year-long series of treatments that my husband has endured. It took months working with the clinic and billing supervisor to straighten everything out. It only works smoothly now because I send reminder messages every month to have the system tweaked before our visits.
  • While pre- and post-procedure protocols are essential for successful outcomes, they take a bit of effort to create processes on the home front to ensure we follow through on all the requisite steps.
  • Physicians are routinely squeezed for time and simply don’t have the bandwidth for in-depth conversations about our health. They do a great job with diagnosis, monitoring, prescribing, and executing procedures. But they don’t bake in time for discussing lifestyle factors that could bolster the effectiveness of treatment… or even make medical intervention unnecessary! (Note: Some may not have all that much to say in that regard. It may not be in their wheelhouse.)
  • And don’t get me started on the teensy tiny print on the prescription bottles, medication notes, medical ID cards, et al. I have to keep a magnifying glass handy to read them!

Mercifully, I’m a nerd. I read a lot about health from reputable sources and really amp it up if there’s a specific condition for which my husband or I require treatment. But I can’t help but wonder: What do you do when you aren’t prone to letting your nerd flag fly? And what happens when those vaunted mental faculties start to fail you – just as you really need them to navigate an increasingly complex healthcare system?

So, I return to five pillars of good cognitive health and heartily encourage persons of all ages to partake in them:

  • Eat well, preferably a predominantly whole food plant-based diet devoid of processed foods and limited on sugar, salt, and fat intake.
  • Sleep well to give the brain time to regenerate, consolidate memories, and clear out its refuse.
  • Exercise to bolster neurons, oxygenation, brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), and sensory and motor cortices.
  • Be a lifelong learner to sustain and build neural connections; focus on activities that demand concentrated effort (e.g., reading, studying a musical instrument, dancing, playing complex board games).
  • Socialize to keep the mind sharp and memories strong.

Remember: Living neurons can form in us until the very end of our lives. We need to be as attentive to our brain fitness as our physical fitness to enjoy healthy longevity. Failing that, set your sights on a capable ombudsman or two who’ll engage in your behalf when and if you need them.

Have a Safe and Happy Holiday Season

Years ago, when working as a hospital chaplain, I met a young woman whose mother had fallen off a ladder while putting up her holiday lights. Mom didn’t think anything serious had happened and simply went to her room to lie down for a spell. The daughter became concerned when her mother ceased to be responsive and took her to the emergency room. To her horror, she found out that mom had a brain bleed that caused fatal brain damage. It was devastating news and a painful reminder that holidays are not so happy for everyone.

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, the last two months of the year bring some form of calamity to thousands of holiday decorators. Fractures represent the most commonly reported injury of which half are caused by falls from ladders. While many of us like to save money doing things ourselves, we’re advised to call the professionals to address our roofline decorating and gutter cleaning especially if we’re not in tip top physical or cognitive shape. If we still want to proceed on our own, the American Ladder Institute offers free training for ladder safety.

Fire safety needs to be on the radar during the holiday seasons. USA Fire Protection offers the following tips to mitigate fire risk:

  • Toss strings of lights with broken or worn cords, or loose bulb connections. Unplug strings when replacing bulbs.
  • Use fire resistant decorations especially when placed near an open flame or fireplace.
  • advent wreathIf you use candles, place them on stable surfaces away from other decorations. Do not leave them unattended. Better yet, replace these decorative elements with ones that use tiny lights.
  • If using a live tree, keep it watered. Live trees become a fire hazard when dried out.
  • Do not leave stove-top cooking unattended even when tempted to be a good host or hostess to holiday guests. Have someone else in the house assume that responsibility, or invite your guests to keep you company while you cook.

Though we might wish it otherwise, COVID-19, RSV, and the flu have all made their presence known this season. As of 12/4/2022, the 7-day average deaths from COVID-19 neared 400 persons in the US. Given a preponderance of social gatherings during the holidays, we increase our risk of contracting and spreading disease. Vaccination remains a solid line of defense as does physical distancing and mask use. It’s also a good idea to wash hands regularly and make judicious use of hand sanitizer.

Food and drink can get us into trouble during the holidays. After all, ‘tis the season to be jolly! But there are a few things we can do to keep ourselves from harm:

  • Beware of undercooked turkeys and the stuffing that absorbs its juices. They’re among the Top 10 foods that make people sick during the holidays.
  • Take a pass on the meat tray if it has been sitting on the hors d’oeuvre table for too long.
  • Likewise, beware of eggnog that has spent too long outside the refrigerator or made with raw eggs. It may contain salmonella bacteria.
  • Travel with a designated driver if you plan to drink. If imbibing, try alternating alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic drinks. You’ll signal to your host that you’ve taken care of your beverage needs and minimize the risk of a hangover the following day.
  • Stay hydrated!

Stress also rears its ugly head during the holidays. Some of us may feel pressure to be the perfect home decorator, host or hostess, gourmet, gift giver, and party attendee in addition to all of our other day-to-day responsibilities. We may start burning the candle at both ends and then wonder why we seem to get sick every year at this time. Let the best holiday gift you give this year be to yourself. Say NO to some things, find short cuts for others, and give yourself permission to find the joy of the season. And, as always, do your best to eat healthfully, get some exercise, and log adequate sleep.

Taking On a “Stretch”

This past weekend, I joined 11 other singers in my first recital in more years than I have fingers and toes to count. It was a joyful occasion for my voice coach given that this form of exhibition had been suspended for two years due to the pandemic. She enjoys showcasing her students’ talents while creating a venue toward which we might set performance goals.

I have always wanted to perform Sous le dôme épais (a.k.a. the Flower Duet) from the opera Lakmé by Léo Delibes. It has been sitting on my bucket list for years awaiting a willing operatic soprano with whom to partner. When my teacher agreed to serve that role, I set about the business of (finally) learning the mezzo-soprano part. Suffice it to say, it was a big stretch for my aging vocal cords. Beyond learning the French lyrics, I had to work a relatively dormant vocal range to hit all the notes… and I mean work! I chose a second piece – The Monk and His Cat by Samuel Barber – in a more comfortable range but with the challenge of adapting to a peculiar piano accompaniment and somewhat odd timing.

How did things go? I didn’t quite get there on the Flower Duet. I was good as gold for most of the material but couldn’t navigate the highest notes when tightening up in performance. It was disappointing, to say the least, though I give myself points for having taken on the stretch. And while my execution on the other piece wasn’t flawless, I was pleased with the overall performance.

So, what does this experience have to do with the blog’s overall theme of healthy lifestyles?

FIRST: As discussed in the post Cultivating a Healthy Brain at Any Age, our brains need stimulus and challenge to maintain build their “muscle mass.” When we acquire new skills and knowledge, our brains respond by strengthening and diversifying our synaptic connections. The more agile the neural network, the less likely we’ll face cognitive impairment as we age. I may not have enjoyed all of the prep work leading to the recital – or even the results that I was able to achieve – but I know that my efforts paid dividends for brain health.

SECOND: Goal-setting made my practice sessions more intentional. I didn’t just log the hours when getting ready for each lesson. I knew I’d been standing up in front of others to render these pieces, so I worked harder on the rough spots and extended my practice sessions when I didn’t quite have them. Having fallen short in a couple of areas, I know which adjustments I’ll need to make to improve on the next go round.

THIRD: I have good intel for setting new goals. I’ve no doubt that another surge in effort could address some foibles that showed up last weekend. But I also know that the extra work may not be the best use of my time. I need to step back and ask myself: Is improvement in that area really important to me? Would I gain a tangible health benefit in its pursuit? Or, is there another road to travel that would prove more useful, inspiring, or interesting?

Dealing with Bumps in the Road

I’ve been really blessed in this life. I was born into a loving family that cultivated the core values, beliefs, and work ethos that have held me in good stead. I got a great education. I married a wonderful man. I’ve worked with good people and remained friends with many of them long after our professional association ended. And I’ve been surrounded with lovely people outside of work. In short, I have much for which to be thankful.

I’ve also experienced my fair share of hurt, disappointment, reversals of fortune, bad news, and bad luck. Personal and professional opportunities didn’t materialize as expected. Relationships hit rough patches and/or ended. Finances took a nosedive. Health suffered or declined. Circumstances beyond my control gave rise to major changes in my lifestyle (e.g., COVID). I’ve made knuckleheaded mistakes and caused needless suffering. I could go on and on.

When I keep my wits about me, I use a simple mental device to get myself over these bumps in the road. I picked it up in a seminar years ago. It goes like this: That’s what. So what. Now what.

That's What. So What. Now What.That’s What

Naming the bump in the road is the first step in figuring out how to deal with it. In some cases, it’s painfully clear. The stock market crashed. The job or promotion didn’t come through. The doctor just provided notification of an unpleasant diagnosis. In such cases, the facts are readily apparent. Other circumstances may be less clear cut. A relationship may show signs of wear, but it isn’t yet apparent that something significant has shifted. A gut instinct may suggest there’s something not right physically, but the condition hasn’t been checked out or confirmed. A major reorganization at work just went into effect, but its impact has yet to be realized.

That’s What calls upon us to use all of our senses and sensibilities to come to terms with what is happening to us in the moment. It asks us to confront the fact that we’ve either already plowed headlong into a “bump” or can see it clearly on the horizon. In this period of reckoning, we may experience a wide array of emotions and bounce around the various stages of grief of which Elisabeth Kübler-Ross has written so eloquently – i.e., denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It can take time to process and, perhaps, the compassionate support of those who can bear the weight of our distress. At the end of the day, we need to tell ourselves the truth about our circumstances to the best of our ability.

So What

Having acknowledged a change in our circumstances, we can now begin to contemplate what it actually means. It’s a time to exercise curiosity and explore ways of responding. We may not have all of the facts in hand and opt to do a bit of research to fill in gaps in knowledge or information. We may need to engage in dialog with others to lend clarity to our understanding, assumptions, and sensibilities. We may need to pause and simply give ourselves time to process what has occurred.

As we consider options, we may ask: How will each potential course of action impact my lifestyle? My livelihood? My relationships? My sense of self? Do I really need to do anything at this time? Can I go around the bump instead of over it? Or does this situation argue for reversing course and traveling on a different road?

When I am able to gain some emotional distance from a difficult situation, I take comfort in being inquisitive and exploring options. It gets me out of “victim mode.” My options may still be grim, and I may still feel saddened by them. But I can choose my course of action and the attitude I’ll take in its pursuit.

Now What

Having considered available options, we can move forward and take the experience as it comes. Hopefully, we’ll let the past be the past and catch ourselves when tempted to ruminate about it. We cannot change it. We can only be present in the moment and put one foot in front of the other.

Clearly, this approach would likely fall short when dealing with profound grief, tragedy, or trauma. But for the everyday “cuts and bruises,” it can be quite effective.

Farewell to 2020

farewell to 2020
It has been a year like no other.

It started out well. My soul was filled with great music and strong friendships in two choral groups. I had the opportunity to perform with a collective of good actors/singers in a Broadway musical. My work and home lives were harmonious. The only dark spot on the horizon was Mom’s failing health.

Fortune favored the prepared. Mom had been a superb manager of household finances and salted away sufficient funds to spend her final days in one of the best care facilities in Washington County. As Alzheimer’s disease took the last of her cognitive capacity, she had all the supports necessary to keep her safe and comfortable. I spent time with her daily toward the end, and BrightOn Hospice made both of our lives easier. She passed in her sleep on February 6, 2020 at age 96. Mercifully, she transitioned before COVID-19 reared its ugly head.

A short five weeks later, Spike and I went into quarantine as news of the dreadful virus took root in our community. Having taken the Community Emergency Response Team training, our household was in good shape to weather the coming storm. Nonetheless, we took the opportunity to shore up our estate plans – a long-standing item on our “to do” list – and communicate with our next-of-kin to make sure that he could assume the mantle of responsibility smoothly. (Remember: Fortune favors the prepared!) We also built up our household food supplies to allow for longer time intervals between grocery store visits. (Read Meal Planning During the Pandemic.)

September brought devastating fires to the State of Oregon. Over 1,000,000 acres burned, hundreds of structures were lost, 40,000 residents were evacuated, and at least 7 people lost their lives. Our neighborhood was never under threat, but the air quality proved so harmful that we were unable to go outdoors or open windows. The fires leveled hardship-upon-hardship for so many.

In the midst of all this chaos, we’ve had the most acrimonious national election cycle in my memory… and the tension-laden political atmosphere is far from behind us. It has added an extra measure of stress and hostility to a year that that has cried out for relief to its suffering.

Meanwhile, I remain attentive to what scientists have to say about COVID-19, the potential remedies for those afflicted, and the vaccines that are making the way into the market. We’re blessed to live in a state with sufficient controls to keep our infection and death rates relatively low. Unfortunately, the boon to public health also carries the loss of livelihood for so many Oregonians. Businesses have closed; others teeter on the brink of ruin. My heart is heavy for all those who suffer.

Like it or not, we’ve got many more months of quarantine before life can return to some semblance of normal. For those who feel restless and would like to throw caution to the wind, I encourage to read the following excerpt from a holiday letter that a dear friend’s brother shared with his friends and family:

somber holiday message

Re-Setting Democracy for the Common Good

we the people

I’ve lived through many, many election cycles in my lifetime. I’ve experienced each party putting forth its vision for America and watched as these differing views take shape in a Presidential administration. I’ve also witnessed the changing of the guard in Congress and noted the attendant adjustments in legislative agenda. But I’ve never experienced the vitriol that has characterized the current campaign. I try to ignore the headlines, but a sense of unrest has permeated my soul for months. I don’t see things easing up any time soon.

Despite all this sturm und drang, there’s an even sadder reality for American voters: The will of the people has very little to do with the legislative agenda. Who controls it? Big money.

According to Professors Martin Gilens (Princeton University) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern University), “the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule… impact on public policy.” Evidently, of the 200 most politically active companies in the past 5 years, a $5.8 billion in lobbying outlays translated into $4 trillion in taxpayer subsidies and support. Given that Congressional candidates spend most of their time fundraising to build huge campaign war chests, it’s not surprising that they welcome corporate donors and feel obliged to return the favors that are asked of them.

This nation has a lot of problems, and We The People have a huge stake in ensuring that our lawmakers follow our directives in addressing them. That’s why I’m intrigued by the grassroots efforts underway by They’re actively working to reform our political system state-by-state by passing anticorruption laws that will operate within each state and filter up to the federal level over time. Here are core tenets from their proposed Anti-Corruption Act:

  1. Prohibit politicians from raising funds from lobbyists
  2. Prohibit lobbyists from bundling their campaign contributions to increase their control over candidates
  3. Clamp down on the “quid pro quos” by which members of Congress and their staffs get lucrative private employment after their federal service in exchange for favorable legislative treatment while in office
  4. Prohibit Congress members from fundraising during working hours (an activity for which they apparently spend 30-70% of the time we pay them to work for us!)
  5. End secret money with full transparency
  6. End gerrymandering by establishing an independent commission that follows prescribed rules for districting
  7. Let all voters participate in open primaries; let the top 4 vote getters move forward to the general election
  8. Institute rank-ordered voting that lets voters rank candidates in order of preference
  9. Set reasonable term limits for members of Congress
  10. Simplify voter registration
  11. Increase lobbying disclosure and enforcement
  12. Strengthen investigative and prosecutorial powers

In truth, I have not done extensive due diligence on nor have I decided to volunteer my time (or money) to support them. But I’m on board with their views on election reform and the mandate to get Congress to work in our behalf, not for big money interests.

There has been a lot of rhetoric about protecting and defending our democracy on the campaign trail. It seems to me that no matter who wins, it’s time We the People step up and let our voices be heard. That ought to be an issue that could unite us across party lines.

Happy Halloween… Almost

With three days to go before Halloween, I am yet again reminded that things are not normal in 2020. The pandemic continues to exert its influence, with new cases and deaths on the rise. We will not have trick-or-treaters this year. Oh, how I’ll miss those precious young faces and adorable costumes!

I’ll confess that I’ve been so immersed in the American expression of Halloween that I’ve forgotten its ancient roots. It’s said that it dates back to the Celtic festival of Samhain which marked the end of the harvest and beginning of Winter. Folks believed this was a time when the barrier between this world and the next was so thin that spirits could enter our world and walk among us. Therefore, one needed to set places at the table or leave food and drink by the door to show them hospitality. A lit jack-o-lantern would ward off evil spirits. The smoke and flames of bonfires were also deemed protective and cleansing.

As Christianity spread throughout the region, Samhain gave way to All Hallow’s Eve, the start of a three-day period during which one honored the saints and martyrs and prayed for the recently departed souls who had yet to enter Heaven. All Hallow’s Eve was also thought to be the last day on which the dead might walk among us to gain recompense for wrongs committed against them during this life. These souls would don masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized while they attended to their business.

From at least the 16th Century onward, ordinary citizens took to mumming or guising by going house-to-house in costume in search of treats in exchange for a song or verse. Some offered to pray for the souls of the departed. Others personified the spirits of yore who needed to be appeased in order to grant health and well-being for the coming winter.

Not surprisingly, traditional Halloween lawn decorations and costumes emphasize the supernatural: headstones, coffins, skeletons, skulls, ghosts, goblins, witches, vampires, monsters, and devils. They conjure up images of the dead, evil spirits, and those equipped with the power to cast spells. They’re deeply rooted in our cultural consciousness whether we attribute power to them or not. (J.K. Rowling used these themes to good effect in the Harry Potter books!)

I loved going trick-or-treating as a kid. Back in those days, we never worried about some crazy person putting harmful contaminants in our candy. We’d go in packs from door-to-door and grab as much candy as we could muster and then gorge ourselves on the spoils. It was a night to which we all looked forward every year.

I’ve been to my share of grown-up Halloween parties and marvel at the creativity of my compatriots. Standouts over the years include a man riding as ostrich (where his skinny legs in tights were the ostrich legs) and a pair of crash dummies.

This year, we might go back to the Christian tradition of remembering the dead. We will special homage to my mother, who passed last February, and to Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who passed in September. We will also pray for the nearly quarter-million persons who have lost their lives to the coronavirus and the loved ones they’ve left behind.