I have a secret that I want to share with you, but you have to promise to not tell anyone. Do you promise? If the answer is “No,” stop reading now.
Before I reveal my secret, I want to tell you a little bit about my wife, Julie. When I met Julie, she was an avid runner, and that habit continued throughout most of our marriage. You may have noticed that I used the word “habit” rather than “hobby.” My choice of words was not random. A habit implies a repeated behavior incorporated into one’s psyche, where a hobby is a pleasurable leisure activity.
Julie loved to run. Running gave her energy and made her feel emotionally happy. Several years ago, she had a knee surgery that resulted in a bad outcome. That ended her running career. This was devastating to her, and she grieves the loss to this very day. To understand why that is the case, you need to learn just a little about how the brain works.
A structure in Julie’s brain, the nucleus accumbens (NA), becomes more active when she runs. The NA is part of the brain’s reward pathway. This is a pathway that is activated to reinforce behaviors that are necessary for species survival. Have you ever eaten a great meal and had a sense of ease and contentment afterward? When someone gives you a genuine hug, does it feel wonderful? Do you feel happy and mellow after a positive sexual experience? What you are feeling is an activation of the reward pathway; all of these activities are directly or indirectly necessary for our species’ survival.
There are ways to corrupt this pathway. Drugs of addiction, including cocaine, heroin, and alcohol, abnormally activate the reward pathway. Process addictions, like shopping and gambling, also activate this connection. The reward pathway doesn’t have logic; it is reflexive. When a drug like cocaine activates it, the brain assumes that cocaine is necessary for survival. Your brain seeks out cocaine, and an addiction is born.
The reward pathway’s sensitivity is governed by several factors, including a person’s genes, and different brains are likely activated by different things. Alcohol may over-activate one person’s brain but not others. Likewise, exercise may be triggering for one individual but not so much for someone else.
Why would one person’s NA be highly sensitive to exercise when another person is not? Is physical exercise necessary for species survival? As a species, we need physically active members. However, exercise is less important than eating or procreation. If you have more active and less active individuals, your overall species survival may be enhanced. Individuals who like to exercise could become warriors and builders. Those who prefer a more sedentary lifestyle would be content serving in other important but less physically demanding roles.
Our automated lifestyles are very recent in our evolution; everyone had to exercise to some degree in the past. However, over the last decades, the physical demands of humans in developed countries have diminished exponentially. We can order our groceries online, drive to our appointments, and even use a “robot” to vacuum our carpets. Our increasingly sedentary lives have had increased health consequences ranging from obesity to dementia. Since we don’t have to toil in the fields, some go for a run or spend time at the gym. For someone like my wife, it is easy to adopt an exercise program. Why? Because she has direct emotional and physical benefits from exercising. Who doesn’t like doing things that feel good?
Here is my secret, I don’t feel good when I exercise. In fact, I feel sort of lousy when I do it. I used to feel guilty that I hated exercise. I thought that there was something wrong with me or that I was just plain lazy. However, I now know that my brain just operates differently than some. Yet, I know that it is essential for me to be physically active. How does someone like me exercise regularly? How do I turn a negative into a positive?
When I married Julie, I was carried away by her exercise enthusiasm. I outfitted my basement with thousands of dollars of gym equipment. Every day I would force myself to go into the cellar and exercise. Every day I hated it. Despite my feelings, I exercised for over a year until I had a minor injury. I then stopped altogether.
Many years ago, my friend Tom encouraged me to join his gym. I would meet him at 5 AM most days before I worked with my personal trainer. Afterward, we would have coffee. I looked forward to going to the gym and reaped the benefits of all of my physical activity. After some time, Tom’s schedule changed, and he stopped coming. By then, I had established myself with some of the other gym rats who welcomed me into their fold. However, I found myself getting bored, and soon I came up with reasons to sleep in. The new reward didn’t offset the pain.
I knew that I had to do something physically, so I came up with another plan. I would get up very early and walk to my local Starbucks-a round trip of 3.5 to 4.5 miles, depending on my chosen route. I do enjoy walking, thinking, and meditating. At Starbucks, I formed friendships with some of the customers and had good relationships with the baristas. As a bonus, Tom would visit me on occasion. However, the real draw was that I used my time at the Starbucks to write, and I even had a dedicated table at the coffee shop. I was motivated to walk every day and did it one day when it was -27F outside. Unfortunately, all of that ended with the onset of the pandemic.
Walking and hiking are my favorite exercises, as they have many sensory dimensions. Movement for the sake of activity doesn’t do it for me. Exploring nature is motivating, but unless the scenery is incredibly engaging, it is still insufficient to get me out of bed every morning. I have found that I must combine my walking with another activity. Tom bought a townhome closer to my home, and I’m motivated to walk there to visit with him. My kids like to walk, and it is enjoyable for me to walk and talk with them. I also like to walk somewhere with a purpose. For instance, I don’t mind walking to our local market to pick up a few groceries. I have found that combining exercise with something that I enjoy reinforces my desire to be active.
I have also come to realize that some exercise is better than no exercise. In a perfect world, I would do various exercises that increased many aspects of my physical well being. However, I don’t live in an ideal world. Instead of constantly feeling guilty that I’m not doing enough, I am committed to celebrating what I am doing. Such an attitude promotes the continuation of a behavior. Guilt often has the opposite effect.
If I can pair a positive with something that I don’t want to do, it is much easier for me to accomplish my goal. This has been the case with exercising regularly, and I also do this “combining” technique for many other things that range from making dinner for my family to paying bills.
I pass this idea to you. Are there things that you need to do in your life that you procrastinate around? Consider pairing them with something that you do like, and you will probably have more success in accomplishing your goals.
“Dad, it’s dripping.” I looked towards the sink and witnessed a single drop of water form and fall from the kitchen faucet. “Maybe the handle isn’t all the way off,” I commented. I went to the sink and tapped both the hot and cold handles. They were already closed, but I was hopeful. A minute later, another drop was perched and ready to dive.
Our faucet had been replaced 10 years earlier when we did a partial remodel of the kitchen. I had long forgotten the faucet brand, or even where I purchased it. Also, I had no idea how to fix a leaky faucet, although cloudy images of washers and O-rings danced in my head. It was time to visit YouTube.
I quickly found several fix-it posts. Like most DIY videos, the process looked simple enough. “I can handle this,” I thought. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog may be thinking, “Why not call your contractor friend, Tom?” Dear reader, I am privileged to have a talented friend, but I don’t want to abuse his goodwill. Besides, I was already encouraged by my recent dishwasher repair. But as George Bernard Shaw said, “Beware of false knowledge, it is more dangerous than ignorance.”
Armed with a Phillips screwdriver and a pair of channel locks, I faced my foe. With a MacBook by my side, I played the first segment of the video. “Make sure that you turn off the water valves under the sink.” That sounded like a reasonable step. I reached into the chaotic mess in the cabinet below and blindly felt for the rough metal oval that functioned as the shutoff valve. Grunt! Grunt, grunt, swear… more swears….more grunts. The valve was frozen. Defeated within 5 minutes of starting! With my head hanging low, I pressed the FaceTime icon on my iPhone and then hit the button labeled “Gizmo” for my friend Tom. He answered, and I asked in earnest seriousness, “How can I close a frozen water valve? Can I hit it with a hammer or something?” “No, don’t do that; you could have a flooding disaster! Hold on, I’m coming over,” Tom replied.
Ten minutes later, Tom was at my front door, his toolbox at the ready. He reached under the sink and found the offending water valve. Tom was able to close the valve without difficulty. Dear reader, you have to understand that my hands have only had to grip objects like pens. My digital muscular strength was developed to accurately hit the keys on a computer. Tom has a definite advantage as his mitts frequently turn wrenches, carry heavy objects, and twist bolts. I can only feel so ashamed about my inferior gripping and twisting ability.
With water off, it was time to remove the faucet’s handle and replace the defective water flow cartridge. This involved releasing a special retaining nut. The nut was where my problems escalated. The thin metal was calcified by being subjected to years of Chicago’s hard water. When we tried to loosen it, the nut disintegrated. …more swearing ensued.
The planned obsolescence reality is that it is easy to buy a replacement faucet cartridge, but it is impossible to purchase its companion retaining nut. This latter fact was confirmed after visiting three different hardware stores and talking to two “plumbing experts.” My only option was to buy and install an entirely new faucet. Now I really needed Tom’s expertise.
I also had to tackle the mess in the space below the sink, and that cabinet is the central metaphor for today’s post. I apologize for my long preamble, but I needed to provide you with some context for today’s story.
The region under my kitchen sink has long been the equivalent of a junk drawer. A place where nearly empty bottles of cleaning chemicals live. A zone that collects never to reuse grocery bags. A region of specialty cleaners that I buy but then forget that I have. Four different granite cleaners and at least three different types of glass cooktop polishes were only two of many categories found.
The cabinet was bursting and chaotic because of its massive overflow. I found two brand new buckets of dishwasher packets even though I thought we were completely out. Three different glass cleaners were also located. There were enough unused sponges that, if “real,” they could have repopulated a small coral reef.
Confusion ruled. Empty products had equal status with unopened new containers. The space was so disorganized that it was easier to buy a new bottle of something rather than to look and see if one already existed.
The first category to be tossed was my massive collection of useless plastic grocery bags. I then categorized the other items. One pile became a mountain of sponges, another zone had powdered cleaners; still, another region was designated for granite products. Nearly empty items were discarded, as were those that had broken sprayers or cracked caps. I then organized the groups into plastic bins.
With a small amount of effort, years of disorder were transformed into a neatly organized and functional space. My life had instantly become simpler by applying a little time to the problem. Why did I wait so long?
In many ways, the lazy behavior that I exhibited was no different than other actions that have hampered me in my life. It was simpler to go with business as usual than to take a little time and change a bad habit. It was easier to maintain broken relationships than to admit that it was time to move on. Having to deal with life’s clutter made it impossible to enact simple solutions to make beneficial changes.
Just like cleaning my “junk” cabinet makes sense, it also makes sense to evaluate my life’s situations regularly. What should I keep? What should I get rid of? What should I reprioritize? Items that entered my cabinet with the promise of making a task simpler often just made things more complicated, and it made sense to recognize their false promise and rid myself of them. The same can be said of my life; some situations that promised benefit actually delivered the opposite. It is my personal responsibility to make sure that my life is uncluttered so I can see the forest for the trees.
Once I had emptied out the cabinet, it was simple for Tom to replace the errant faucet. Another lesson can be learned here. I probably could have completed the repair myself, but it would have taken me much longer, and the outcome may have been worse. Yes, you need to solve your own problems, but sometimes it makes sense to call on an expert to assist you. Their knowledge can turn a difficult job into a simple task.
I created this blog for several reasons, one of them was to develop my writing style. To accomplish this I committed to a few rules, including to be wholly honest and transparent. I felt that this stipulation was necessary to give validation to what I was writing. Unfortunately, I have been only partially successful in meeting this goal.
I am honest when I write about my past, my fears, my ideas, my successes, my failures, and just about anything related to me. However, I have been conscious to not write about situations that those close to me may find awkward. I made this modification early on when I wrote something about a family member and was told, “You embarrassed me.” That event brought back memories of Erma Bombeck, a newspaper columnist from my youth who wrote a hilarious column that often featured the antics of her children. Decades later I found out that her writings caused her kids untold grief as they hated having their exaggerated dirty laundry aired to their neighbors, teachers, and peers.
I am able to see both the good and bad in people and situations, but my nature is to focus on the positive. Some have accused me of being too Pollyanna-ish, but this is just who I am. I had a concern that my more positive view of this holiday season could be upsetting to some readers who felt punished during this time. I don’t want to be the guy who is rubbing joy into someone else’s face. Should I not write about Christmas because it might be a “trigger” for someone? Editors note: I really am starting to hate the word trigger, and its overuse… but here I am using it myself.
I know Christmas was difficult for many, as most normal get-togethers had to be shelved. The same can be said for my family as we had to forgo a variety of celebrations on both sides. Despite these losses, I enjoyed Christmas a lot.
In many ways I am privileged. I’m retired and have a retirement income, most of my kids were home for the holiday, and I am generally healthy. I’m sure these factors impacted my Christmas experience. Could being truthful hurt some of my readers who have less?
After weighing all points I decided to write about my Christmas. Why? Because I understand that the way that we think about a situation has a direct impact on how we experience that situation. This is an important rule that is worth writing about.
One theme that I have repeated in my blog posts is that events and situations are neither good nor bad, they just “are.” As you read this some of you are thinking of exceptions, and are likely muttering something like, “How can you say that the coronavirus is neither good nor bad? Millions have become sick and hundreds of thousands are dead!” You would be correct in your assertion that this virus has inflicted terrible consequences on our world. However, its total effect won’t be known for decades. Believe it or not, some positive may result from this plague. It is possible that the lessons that we have learned from this pandemic will save us from an even more deadly one in the future. -Sadly, there will be more pandemics.
Back to Christmas.
Here are some of the things that I chose to view as negative:
I missed not seeing my close family, friends, and relatives.
Here are some things that I chose to view as positive:
I didn’t have to travel long distances in terrible weather conditions. I have had to make many white knuckle drives during whiteouts and blizzards to attend past Christmas get-togethers.
How did I redesign Christmas for 2020?
There are many unrealistic expectations around Christmas. Is it any surprise that so many are stressed before Christmas and disappointed afterwards? My goal was to extract what my family found significant and to focus on those events. I used a broad strokes approach instead of trying to micromanage everyone’s individual experience.
There are general themes that we focus on at Christmas time.
The reason for the season-
As Christians we use December 25th as a day to honor the birth of Jesus.
We don’t have a showplace Christmas house. In fact, our decorations are a bit on the soft side. We decorate our living room and family room. In recent years I have backed away from doing a lot of outside decorations-I hate taking the stuff down in the bitter cold.
The most significant holiday artifact is our Christmas tree. It is an old artificial one, that seems to lose more “needles” than real trees do. However, we love putting on the tree’s decorations as they all have significance to us. Many ornaments were given as gifts, while others were made by our kids in preschool and grade school. Each placement feels like a little visit with an old friend.
Food is a major part of any celebration. We usually have our main meal on Christmas Eve. This year I was chief cook and decided to make a beef tenderloin, tossed salad, glazed carrots, scalloped potatoes, and freshly baked yeast rolls. Julie acted as my assistant, easing my responsibility. I was terrified that I would ruin the tenderloin, as its overall cost was akin to a small mortgage payment. Thankfully the meal turned out great.
Traditionally Julie makes a brunch on Christmas Day which always includes an egg casserole dish which we refer to as “egg dish.” It is a combination of eggs, bread, ham, and cheese that is prepared the night before to allow everything to meld together. When baked on Christmas morning it turns into a combination of a souffle and a casserole. It is a holiday must-have in Kunaland.
You may be wondering what we had for Christmas Day dinner. Frozen pizza! It is great to make special meals, but none of us wanted to spend the entire holiday cooking.
Another Christmas tradition. William decided to make Grace a favorite dessert and Grace decided to do the same for William. It was their gift to each other. Personally, I love the idea of a gift of service. Both William and Grace shared their dessert gifts with the rest of the family. A sweet holiday for all.
For decades Julie and I have tried to deemphasize gift giving, but we have been only partially successful. We have come to realize that it is an important part of the holiday, and we now focus on finding things that have meaning rather than things that are just expensive. For instance, the kids know of my love of camping and gave me items like a book on the National Parks. I gave Julie a variety of things, but I also fixed a long-broken lamp that she loves. For us, it is less about the thing and more about the idea behind the thing. With that said, it is a wonderful feeling when someone is thinking about you. Kindness does not have a monetary value.
We enjoy spending time with each other. Most of our Christmas time together was centered around meals, watching the end of a TV series on a DVD (which was also overdue from the library), and gift opening.
One of the advantages (for introverts like us) was having more alone time this year. There is not much more to say about this as each of us like doing our own thing.
Extended relationships time-
We had a long ZOOM call with Julie’s family on Christmas, and I made sure to contact people during the holiday season via the phone, ZOOM, Facetime, email, Facebook, and texting. As the pandemic has lurched on socializing options, like a group ZOOM call, seem more natural.
If I summarize what we did for Christmas, it wasn’t much. We remembered why we were celebrating the day, put up simple decorations, had a few nice meals, opened some gifts, and connected with people who were important to us. So why was the holiday special? Because we choose to make it so. Importantly, we focused on what we had instead of what we didn’t have.
I would also like to emphasize that I wasn’t trying to artificially replicate our usual Christmas. Instead, I took important elements from past Christmases and created a new celebration. I did this to avoid the agony of comparison. I didn’t want us to dwell on why we didn’t have X, Y, or Z. Instead, I wanted us to focus on what we did have.
I understand that some of you may be more fortunate than me, and some of you may be less fortunate. However, it is possible for all of us to approach important events in our lives with what we have, or what we can create, rather than what we don’t have or what we are giving up.
When I was working I would often hear tales of miserable Christmas holidays. Some would vacation, but their friends went to more exotic places. Others gave fabulous gifts, but they then had to deal with debt. Still others tried to orchestrate a “Norman Rockwell” Christmas and were upset when things weren’t as perfect as what they imagined. People can be disappointed during the best of times when they choose to focus on what’s missing. It is up to us to make our lives the best that they can be.
Christmas 2020 will only happen once in a lifetime, I refuse to throw this day away in the hopes of a better 2021. Each day is precious, never to be repeated.
The little boy in me has always liked building and fixing things. I have done limited repair jobs in the past, but I have been hampered by a lack of knowledge, tools, and time.
On occasion, my interest level would overcome these restrictions, and over the years, I have tackled a few projects. I crafted a desk, hand-built many computers, attempted basic home decorating, and completed some other small projects.
When I moved into my house 30 years ago, I subscribed to a home repair “book of the month” club. Every 30 days, I would receive a glossy covered book highlighting a particular topic, like heating and air conditioning repair. When a fix-it task came up, I would dig into that collection, but I often found that I didn’t have the right tools or that the instructions were too generic to help a novice.
Let’s face it, when you are working 60-70 hours a week, it becomes easier to call someone to do your repair work. Also, I have been fortunate to know my friend, Tom. Tom has both the tools and the talent. He has always been happy to help me, and I rely on him for those jobs that are well beyond my pay grade. However, I don’t want to take advantage of Tom’s goodwill. He is busy enough without my demands.
When you have lived in a house for 30 years, appliances break. In fact, they seem to bust more frequently as their technology advances. I still have the basic 1984 electric stove and fridge that came with my home; they now live in my basement. However, the same cannot be said of their much more expensive replacements. Currently, I’m on my third new range, fridge, and dishwasher. These devices promised miracle features, but they were less forthcoming when it came to reliability.
Replacement stove #2 was a technological marvel with a convection oven, bread proofing drawer, induction stovetop, and enough colored LEDs that it could have been mistaken for a Christmas tree. Over the 10 years I had it, the device was repaired at least 3 times. Each service call was more expensive than the last. The Fourth and final repair attempt happened a few years back. The oven had gone nuclear; I would set it for 350F and come back to a meal that had been reduced to charcoal briquettes. The repair guy’s consultation was $150. “I can stay and monitor your temperature rise, but that is going to cost you a lot more,” He said. The man kindly told me how to reprogram the oven’s micro-computer but informed me that if my efforts failed, it would make more sense to buy a new stove, as it was unlikely that they still made the logic boards for my model. I re-calibrated the oven’s thermostat, and I was able to get a few more months of life from the stove, but soon it was back to its old tricks and failed right before Thanksgiving 2018.
Thanksgiving is a big holiday as we have guests arriving from multiple states. Many stay for several days, and they eat all of their meals at our house. The logistics of making Thanksgiving dinner for 20 plus numerous breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are always daunting but felt impossible without a working oven. That year we pulled it off with a microwave, toaster oven, and our old basement range. Basement cooking is not a sustainable option, and we bought another stove the following Monday. Kitchen appliances may be more energy efficient than they were in the past, but that doesn’t offset their additional repair and replacement costs. I can’t say that my life has changed for the better now that I can tap in 350F on a stove’s keypad instead of turning a simple dial.
Julie shouted from the kitchen, “Mike, I don’t think that the dishwasher is working.” “Oh,” I replied. “What makes you think that,” I said. “The dishes don’t look washed,” was her rational reply. “I think you need to fix it.”
Editor’s note: In today’s world of equality, why is it assumed that males are magically endowed with appliance repair knowledge?
I came into the kitchen for a visual inspection. “Yep, they still look dirty,” was my sage response. At this point, I would normally say that we needed to call a repair service. However, the dishwasher is around 10 years old, and I knew that a repair person would charge $150 just to come out. Any repair would likely be several hundred dollars more. In this COVID era, did I really want a stranger in my house, and did I want to spend $300 to have an old machine fixed? It was time to put on a metaphorical hard hat, assume my manly responsibilities, and attempt to fix the appliance myself.
I went to the fount of all knowledge, and I typed into YouTube’s search engine. “Whirlpool dishwasher not cleaning dishes.”. Up popped several videos with titles containing words like “Easy fix” and “Simple repair.” A chill went up my spine. I have gone down “Easy” and “Simple” paths in the past, and I have learned that these words are really code for “Difficult” and “Demoralizing.”
One Christmas, when my girls were small, we purchased an entire play kitchen whose box loudly proclaimed, “Easy assembly, only requires a common screwdriver.” The kitchen had a pretend oven, stove, microwave, and sink. There was a little counter and several cabinets for pretend food and plastic pots. I knew my kids would be thrilled on Christmas morning.
It was Christmas Eve, and both Julie and I were involved with various tasks designed to ease Santa’s burden. By the time I got to the kitchen toy, it was well past 10 PM. I was tired and irritable.
The panels that made up the “kitchen” were made of a molded plastic. The hollow kind that has a waxy candle smell. I scanned the incomprehensible instructions and started to snap Tab A into Slot B. The process was not smooth. Some problems were due to my fatigue and unwillingness to interpret Chinese English into English. I would accomplish one portion of the assembly to discover that I needed to do something else first. Also, the kitchen had at least 100 stickers that had to be precisely placed. Despite all effort, I found that I was putting some stickers in the wrong spots and placing them askew in others. However, this was the least of my problems. The various panels that made up the kitchen’s structure simply would not snap together. In fact, two were almost ¼ inch off. I pushed, swore, and pushed some more. I tried banging the large panels with a hardcover dictionary and even incorporated Julie’s muscle help. It was now well past midnight, and I was in a panic. This was their major gift, and it lay in ruin on our family room floor. I felt wholly inadequate as a father. I couldn’t put together a simple toy that proclaimed that it was easy to assemble. I was a failure.
I was physically agitated, my heart was pounding, and I was sweating. I needed to calm myself. I leaned back in my Lazyboy and popped up its footrest. I closed my eyes and meditated to calm my mind. My breathing started to slow, and my palpitations quieted. “Breath in through the nose, count to 5, exhale slowly from the mouth,” I repeated to myself. I took myself to a quiet place and opened my mind up to new possibilities. Immediately, an answer came to me, but it had to be the wrong answer. “Go into the garage and get your sledgehammer.” “What!” I thought. “Am I supposed to wack this piece of… with a sledgehammer? I’m not that angry!”
I couldn’t run to the store and buy a new present, it was the middle of the night. “What good is all of this meditation if all I can come up with is a ridiculous solution. Universe, give me another answer!” “Get the sledgehammer” was my reply. “You win, but I’m blaming you when my kids are crying tomorrow morning!” I informed the little thought in my head.
I had Julie hold the two offending panels, and I made sure that she was as far as possible from my intended point of impact. I tried a few light taps, nothing happened. I focused again on the target zone. I drew out my arm, and with both energy and intent, I swung the hammer. I momentarily closed my eyes… I didn’t want to see the toy shattered and destroyed. CRACK! And click, the two errant panels mated. The hammer worked! I completed the rest of the job feeling a combination of exhaustion and exhilaration.
My kids played with that “kitchen” for many years, and they have served me countless plastic donuts and pretend cups of coffee that were heated to perfection on decal burners. The kitchen was one of their favorite toys of all time. However, the build experience left an indelible stain on the words “Easy” and “Simple.”
You can now understand why I shuttered when I saw those mocking words on the YouTube videos. But what choice did I have? I had to submit myself; like Princess Leia’s plea was to Obi-Wan, YouTube was my only hope.
The first video told me what to do but didn’t show me how to do it. “Remove the plastic retaining clips,” it commanded. I wondered, “But how?” The second video was more explicit but just made me more confused. “Use your number 20 star driver to release the filter assembly.” To me, screwdrivers only come in two forms, flathead and Phillips. I went digging through my little toolbox and came up with some bits that I thought would fit. Amazingly, I had bought a generic set that had the required star driver. “Victory is mine!” I erroneously thought.
With my MacBook propped up on the kitchen table, I approached the dishwasher and faced another realization. All of the videos that I watched had a freestanding dishwasher, and some even had the door removed. My dishwasher was stuck in the crook of our L shaped counter, which allowed access only from the right side. Just placing my screwdriver required the flexibility of a 14-year-old Olympic-level gymnast. I conjured up ideas of me wearing a Speedo as I attacked the dishwasher’s screws. I quickly and permanently put those thoughts out of my mind. I stretched, made a lot of manly grunting sounds, and stretched some more. I was able to reach the two screws that attach the dishwasher’s pump to the upper sprayer with effort.
Rats, they were not “star tips”; they appeared to be rectangular. I dug into my bit collection and found another bit, and with more grunting (and a little colored language), I removed them. I twisted the column ¼ turn and pulled it out of the dishwasher. This revealed the 4 star screws that held the filter assembly in place. I removed those screws and pried the unit from the dishwasher. With a little more banging and swearing, I was able to dislodge the actual filter from the unit for a close inspection. There was a little grease on the filter, but it didn’t look too bad. I washed it off with dishwashing detergent and started the reassembly process. This time I employed the help of my son William to re-screw the upper sprayer water supply tube. His youth gave him a flexibility advantage.
I found some dirty dishes-an an easy task in our house and loaded them into my newly fixed machine. I dropped in a little packet of detergent, pressed “Normal Cycle,” and hit start. The dishwasher sprang into action, and I could hear the sound of water churning in its chamber. I checked the results an hour later with hopeful anticipation and discovered… That the cups were as dirty as they were when I placed them inside. “Crap and double crap!” I muttered to myself. After a little investigation, I discovered that water was not getting up the mid and top-level sprayers. It was time to revisit YouTube.
Several videos later, I determined that the likely problem was a defective “food chopper,” a part of the dishwasher that chops larger bits of food into ones that can be flushed down the drain. This repair would require going to a level deeper than my “filter clean.”. By now, I was committed and convinced myself that I could tackle this new level of complexity. I logged into Amazon and ordered the chopper assembly for a reasonable $11. I also purchased a real set of screwdrivers for another $35. “The right tool for the right job,” I said to myself. Secretly, I was hoping that the shipment would be delayed.
Two days later, the part and the new screwdrivers arrived. My Kathryn informed me that Julie told her to tell me that the dishwasher needed to be fixed. In a world of email, texting, and FaceTime, we can still practice indirect communication at our home. “Well, then you are going to help me,” I informed Kathryn. “Sure,” was her reply.
The food chopper repair starts with the removal of the same parts as in the filter cleaning job. I approached this portion of the project with the hubris that came from my earlier disassembly successes. The next stage was more challenging but still within my skill level. I removed the plastic housing around the food chopper and pulled out the part. Holy cow, this had to be the problem. The chopper blade was frozen, and there was at least a quarter-inch of super disgusting greasy slime plugging the blade’s mesh plate. No water could get past that mess.
I made the repair, this time utilizing Kathryn to screw in the upper rack feed tube. In went dirty dishes; I programmed in a wash cycle and pressed the start button. After about 30 seconds, I heard the machine fill with water-a hopeful sound. Then it happened… the sound. A sound similar to that of a 747 taking off from 10 feet away. I looked at Kathryn, and Kathryn looked at me. We both raised our eyebrows. “Maybe the chopper needs to work its way in,” I said hopefully. But the sound didn’t go away; in fact, it seemed to get louder. At one point, I thought that the dishwasher was going to take off. “Crap!” I thought. I hit the cancel button to drain the machine.
I pushed down the door, removed the dirty dishes and the racks, disassembled the washers innards, and examined my installation. Honestly, it looked just like it should-at least it looked like the YouTube example. I pondered my options and called on my past experience. I reached up to the counter and located my little tool kit. I felt around until I found it. Yes, this is what I needed… a hammer. I took aim and gave the chopper assembly a good wack. I heard a “click.” Having disassembled and reassembled the unit 6 times, the reassembly job went quickly. I put my dirty dishes back in the machine, pressed buttons, and hoped for the best.
I heard the water enter, then a relay clicked. I held my breath in anticipation. Joy of joys, the 747 had left the runway, and I was greeted with the sweet, sweet sound of my dishwasher humming. I patted myself on the back for my mechanical expertise and felt very manly indeed. It was fixed!
They say that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. How true, and in this case, I “nailed” the repair with a hammer. From plastic play kitchens to large kitchen appliances, never doubt the power of a blunt object.
Everyone has an opinion of these iconic fixtures of Christmas. When I was younger, they had a negative reputation, but I never saw them that way. What am I talking about? The Christmas newsletter.
Most of us have memories of families who would create a story so fantastic that their lives glowed brighter than the sun. Some of us have remembrances of tragic letters filled with negatives that left a sour taste in our mouths for days. However, I feel that these extreme correspondences are the outliers. The vast majority of Christmas newsletters are vehicles of connection. They join us with a relative or friend and keep us abreast of the essential milestones in their lives.
Take a person’s Facebook posts and combine them with the posts of other members of their immediate family. Remove all of the junk, the reposts, the cartoons, and the lame jokes. Get rid of the majority of the selfies, and add order and cohesion to the storyline. Then condense all of that information into one or two typed pages. If you are successful, you have created a Christmas newsletter. An amazing document.
Julie’s family has farmers, and their newsletters would educate me about farm life. I always looked forward to reading about their trials and triumphs. Newsletters allowed me to keep up with my college friends. They provided a summary of missed information from those for whom I had more regular content. Newsletter gave me a window into some of my cousin’s lives, individuals with whom I only connected once a year.
Those who send newsletters adopt their own styles. I have received half-sheets of copy paper roughly typed and without adornment. I have also gotten elaborate stories carefully margined onto fancy bordered linen. Every newsletter has its own charm and purpose.
A newsletter shows effort on the sender’s level and provides a level of intimacy with the receiver. This is in contrast with those who only send a signed card. The only information that such an offering gives me is that a person can still sign and stamp.
I have been writing a Christmas newsletter for around 30 years. My initial interest in creating one had more to do with computers than it did with communications. I was fascinated with the ability to do desktop publishing, and I was in the practice of creating brochures and other items for my medical group, Genesis Clinical Services. Initially, the Christmas newsletter was an extension of that interest. For me, it was the perfect “modern” vehicle to connect with those with whom I wanted to stay in touch but was remiss.
I always structured my newsletter with three main categories. Naturally, there would be news of the year. This was standard newsletter fare. Highlights, trips, illnesses, successes, and failures. I wanted the story to be readable and engaging instead of a bulleted list of pros and cons. I always included at least one family photo. Lastly, I would provide a recipe that my family made and enjoyed. This last part was a way to share something of value with my friends and family. Think of the recipes as e-cookies or an e-casserole. In my Eastern European tradition, food is love.
Over the years, I have made many equipment purchases for the Christmas newsletter. I bought my first laser printer and my first color laser printer specifically to produce a better product. My first home scanner was bought to scan photos for the newsletter, as was my first-ever digital camera, a $750 Kodak model that could record a photo in VGA resolution (a tiny 0.3 megapixels). That mid-1990s camera catapulted me into the world of digital photography, a passion that continues to this very day.
Over the years, the Christmas correspondence scene has changed, or at least it has changed for our household. Every year we get fewer cards and even fewer newsletters. The majority of cards that we receive arrive after we send out our newsletter. I have never been sure if the sender’s lateness was due to procrastination or social reciprocation. In other words, they sent us a card because we sent them one.
For years I have asked myself if I wanted to continue the practice of sending out 80-90 newsletters at Christmas. The cost has been a consideration since I have professionally printed them for the last few years. Time is also a factor, as every newsletter requires many individual steps. I have to chronicle the yearly events of 5 people in less than two pages, come up with a recipe, and find (or take) a photo or two. I have to coordinate this information with Julie, who also serves as my chief proofreader. Despite all efforts, I usually find a typo in my final product-not surprising as I have dyslexia, but embarrassing none-the-less.
The creation of the Christmas newsletter has remained important to me, but not for the obvious reasons. The newsletter has become a summary of my family’s history, and a copy goes into our Christmas book. This is the most important reason why I will continue to write the newsletter. It is the same reason why I write this blog. I want those who come after me to know me as a real person, not just a faded image on an ink-jet printed photo. I want the generations that follow mine to understand our family and see its members as individuals who had real lives. So often, I look at an old family photograph and ask, “What was this person really like? What did they have a passion for? What made them angry? What made them happy? How am I like them? How am I different?” A picture can be worth a thousand words if properly executed. However, most snapshots provide only the smallest window into the past.
It has become less relevant to send a physical copy of the newsletter over the last few years. I can publish it on Facebook or email it instead. Yes, there are a few folks where those types of communications are not possible, but in most cases, it is clear that they have little interest in catching up with the Kunas of Kunaland.
This year I finally cut the cord with snail mail. I wrote and formatted the letter and posted it on Facebook, and sent a few select emails. This simplification was a relief. I didn’t have to go to Staples, or get confused with how to mail-merge labels, or coerce my kids into stuffing and stamping envelopes. Those friends who want to catch up on our lives can; those who would prefer to scan past the post are welcome to do that too. I’ll print up a couple copies for our Christmas book and a few for Julie to send to specific people. My plan is to continue my newsletter writing into the future, but gone are the days of stamp and stuff.
I don’t see this year as the end of an era; I see it as the beginning of something new. Times change, and it is OK to change with them.
Merry Christmas to you. Peace on earth, goodwill to all.
Christmas is coming, but it won’t be a Normal Rockwell Christmas this year. Let’s be honest, Christmas has never been a Norman Rockwell Christmas, as that day is only a construct in an American illustrator’s mind.
It seems like we fall into two Christmas camps. Those who recall stories of disappointed children and drunken uncles, and those who try to create Christmas magic- sometimes by overbuying, overdecorating, and overeating. Before you think that I’m a cynical scrooge, I am here to proclaim that I’m not. But you will need to read further to understand where I’m coming from.
December 25 is a day that has been co-opted over the millennium to serve the needs of a variety of distinct groups. Christians would tell you that it is the day that the Christ was born. However, any informed Bible scholar will admit that Jesus came into the world in the spring. Early Christians appropriated December 25 as it coincided with the pagan festival day that celebrated the sun’s birth (not Son).
The Christmas tree was borrowed from pagan traditions as well and dates back to Egyptian and Roman times. Evergreens reminded the ancients that spring would come.
The concept of Santa Claus references the real Nicholas de Myra (St. Nicholas). A monk who lived around 280 AD. His kind acts to others catapulted him to become the patron saint of children. His birthday is in March, but he is celebrated on December 6 (St. Nicholas Day) by many European cultures. Through literature, movies, and advertising, he was bound to Christmas Day and renamed Santa Claus. His new significance lies in his ability to sell products (gifts) more than anything else.
Advertisers are always looking for ways to increase sales. One way to do this is to introduce a new character or tradition on top of an existing holiday or event. These efforts continue to this very day. Carol Aebersold’s household spy, “The Elf on the Shelf” is a successful product born out of a childhood memory. Kentucky Fried Chicken has had phenomenal success in promoting KFC chicken on Christmas Day in Japan. Their efforts are more remarkable as Japan is not a Christian country.
Other “traditions” abound, including lavish lights and outside decorations. Every corporation gets on the Christmas bandwagon with their products. A walk through my neighborhood revealed not only dazzling light displays but also Christmasfied objects from companies ranging from Volkswagen to Disney. Nothing says Christmas like an AT-AT wearing a Santa hat.
If you are Jewish, there is also a place for you at the Christmas table. You can erect a Hanukah bush instead of a Christmas tree and adorn your house with blue lights in place of the traditional white ones.
Christmas has always been a day to sell. In its earliest incarnation, it was designed to sell Christianity to pagans (by tying Christ’s birth with one of their holidays); more recently, it is used to push consumers to buy things that they don’t need or can’t afford. They are manipulated to feel shame when they can’t give their kids the products that they see on TV, or when they can’t create a day as magical as what they witnessed in a Hallmark movie.
Advertisers sell by creating a problem and then offering a solution. The bigger the problem, the more expensive the solution. In the past, a new pair of boots could be an excellent Christmas gift; now, it is a new car or a fabulous holiday vacation.
By now, you are likely thinking that I’m not Scrooge; instead, I’m Satan. An evil entity who wants to take Christ out of Christmas by being so cynical of one of the most important Christian holidays. Stand down; that is not the case at all. My point is that December 25 is just a marker, a moment in time that can be used as we see fit. It can be a day to celebrate the birth of Jesus, or a day to gather as a family, or a day to sell fruitcakes and game consoles-or all of the above. Since this day is a synthetic fabrication, we don’t have to attach preconceived ideas of how we have to experience it. We have the right to use it as we see fit.
Our family considers it a Christian holiday, and we use December 25 as a way to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is a day to reflect on the meaning of Christianity. For me, Jesus’s message has never been one of damnation or exclusion. Instead, it has always been one of redemption, acceptance, forgiveness, inclusion, and love. He may have come to us in March, but I’m OK telling him Happy Birthday in December.
Our family usually celebrates many traditions during this time. We play holiday music, we bake cookies, we sing carols. Mostly, we try to let those close to us know that we love them. We typically socialize more and go to a variety of Christmas get-togethers. Those won’t be happening this year for obvious COVID reasons. This saddens me, but it upsets my wife more. We have traveled to Minnesota to see her family every year since 1992, and it has been a time for her to reconnect. A ZOOM call is a poor substitute for game playing, conversations, and her mother’s Christmas cookies.
I talk to my sisters daily. They are very close to their children, but they won’t see them this Christmas. Both of my sisters won’t put a tree up this year, “What’s the point?” they tell me.
I’m here to tell them that there is a point. No, I’m not telling them that they need to put up a tree- remember that it is just a construct. However, I am telling them that there is a point.
I told you what Christmas means to me; no one or no virus can take that away. In some ways, COVID can give me a better Christmas. This year we set up our tree as a family. It is an old artificial one that is missing a few branches. We conceal its shortcomings in the traditional way, by hiding them against the wall. By doing so, we emphasize the tree’s positives, and we negate its negatives. (a point made here).
Julie put on some of her Christmas CDs (yes, we still have CDs) and we all fluffed and assembled the tree. We then went around the house, putting up our other decorations. Most have been used for decades. However, there are always one or two new items coming in and a similar number going out. This year, I printed a smiling photo of Mercury the cat to be used as the insert on her Christmas stocking holder. I also did one of my kids for a photo holding ornament that we found in our ornament box.
Our tree is decorated with memories, and we all relish the thoughts that each object brings. There are many ornaments made by the kids through the years, some with a little photo. There are ornament gifts from past “tree trimming parties” that we held for so many years. We have other ornaments gifted by friends, and some that are so ridiculous that we had to buy them; a bronzed “Q” from Star Trek and a light-up Mustang convertible comes to mind. Some of my favorites are those given to me by patients-a mouse dressed up as a doctor or a handmade Christmas stocking ornament with real pills glued on the red felt sock. We laugh, gasp, and remember. Our tree will never win a decorator’s prize- but it is highly prized by us.
We emphasize kindness during this time. Yesterday I heard a little knock on my bedroom door, it was my daughter, Grace. In her hand was a napkin, and on the napkin were some warm cookies. My sister Carol had reminded me about CPS (Chicago Public Schools) butter cookies, and I had mentioned that memory to my kids. The cookies are simple, made from only four ingredients, but they are delicious.
I attended kindergarten and 1st grade at a CPS school and have fond memories of snack time when a few pennies could buy a little glass bottle of chocolate milk and a cookie. Grace wanted to surprise me and made me some. A pure act of kindness.
This Christmas Day, we will do some of our usual activities. We will read the Christmas story from Luke, or do we do Matthew’s version? -As always, I will need to rely on Julie’s better Bible knowledge to sort that out. We will eat special foods, and open the gifts that we bought each other. It will be a low-key day, but hopefully, one filled with love. Love and kindness are free, but I believe they are much more valuable than any bought thing. It surprises me that many people are afraid to express either emotion as if they indicate weakness rather than strength.
I suspect that the day will end without a lightning bolt from heaven or a divine revelation. However, that is not to say that it won’t be a memorable and significant day. It will be those things because we will make it so.
Dear reader, I hope you can find some peace, a bit of happiness, and perhaps a dollop of joy in this holiday season. Please focus on what you have, and turn your Christmas into what you need it to be. Try to find the positives in your situation instead of wasting energy on what you don’t have or reliving sad thoughts from the past. December 25 is just a day that we have designated to be unique. We have done this for different reasons, some a bit suspect. However, we can take the good from that day and wrap it around ourselves. We control our feelings, not an advertising agency, past memory, or unrealistic expectation.
Grace asked me if I wanted to try it on the long drive from her Ohio college. It is about a 5-hour trip, so I said, “Sure.” She said that she had heard good things, but was as naive about it as I was.
Grace was referring to an old podcast called “Serial.” To be more specific, she was referencing the first season of that show, which was streamed in 2015. “Serial” hit the podcast world like a storm. It remains the most downloaded podcast ever produced. Naturally, we were years late to jump on the bandwagon. It is common for me to find a great show or program years after the rest of the world has extolled its virtues.
Season One of “Serial” chronicles the case against Adnan Syed. He was convicted of murdering his former girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. When the crime happened he was only 17 and an honor student at a tough Baltimore high school.
The podcast is skillfully narrated by Sarah Koenig, who spent thousands of hours researching the case. She has the gift of pulling you in one direction, then dragging you from that comfort zone. One moment you are convinced that Adnan is innocent, then you are not so sure, then you think he is guilty. This cycle repeats throughout the series. Clearly, Sarah is a master of the plot twist; her skill is more impressive as she is doing this sleight of hand with a real case that has a known outcome. I won’t spoil the story for you any further.
We listened to the first 5 episodes on our trip, the 5th one ending as we pulled into the driveway. Gracie said, “Dad, we can finish the series when we go on walks.” This sounded like a great idea. When Grace is home we often go on long walks together.
Like many things in the Kuna household, we scheduled walk times. Then, we would download a given episode on our iPhones, insert our earbuds, and head off on our hike. Inevitably, we would hit glitches and have to re-synchronize our listening along the way. We knew when we were off when one person was laughing or gasping, and the other walker had no idea why.
These have been a different kind of walks for me. The majority of the time, I’m a solo walker, but when I walk with someone, we converse. I wasn’t sure about sharing a walk while isolating in an earbud cacoon. In some ways, this seemed even too introverted for me. In reality, it is similar to watching a TV show with someone. You are connected with them but differently. We interact during our walks, and we talk about the show afterward. I would never want to give up regular walks, but I do enjoy the added pleasure of these enhanced hikes. It feels like you are going to the movies. You have to plan the event, and you must leave the house. When you return home you reprocess the experience.
Grace and I like to take different routes when we walk. One day we may go downtown, the next day, we may venture into the forest preserves, and on another trip, we may meander to my friend Tom’s home.
When we finished the series, Gracie asked me if I wanted to continue our walk and listens. “Sure,” I said. She picked another 2015 podcast, “Limetown.” We just started this fictional series, which is more akin to a radio show from the past rather than an investigative documentary. I love old radio shows that stretch my imagination, so I’m all in.
We are now accompanied by Will. He has decided to join our “Walk and Listen” experience. We listened to the first episode of “Limetownm” which chronicles the disappearance of over 300 scientists from a utopian communal village. During this inaugural walk, we traveled into the forest preserves, then through a couple of neighborhoods. Our altered path due to Will’s need to be back home for a ZOOM meeting of his research lab group.
I have been enjoying this new activity, and I mention it here to highlight the fact that there are new things that you can do during the pandemic. Sometimes you can creatively come up with a brilliant new idea, or (as in this case) you can do a little remodel on a tried and true one. COVID is creating barriers, but the only thing that is imprisoning us is ourselves.
Early in 2020, many felt that the pandemic would last for a few months. We now know that this was folly. I would urge each of you to expand your horizons in safe ways. “Walk and Listens” may not be your thing, but use our idea as a springboard for your own.
Christmas is approaching, but many of my family’s traditional get-togethers have been canceled. One of them is our cousin’s Christmas party called Droby Fest. For those who are uninformed, a Droby is a Slovak sausage made from various ground meats, rice, and potatoes. It is usually baked wrapped with bacon, and it was one of the classic dishes that my grandmother served on Christmas Eve.
As far as I know, Droby sausage can’t be bought; you make it. I have some less-than-fond childhood memories of turning a hand-cranked meat grinder for hours. Besides my past grinding torture, I love Droby and look forward to eating it every Christmas.
My cousin, Ken, took over the manufacturing of Droby for the Cousin Christmas party, which is a pot luck affair of salads, main dishes, and desserts. Droby Fest is one of several other cousin-wide get-togethers that were canceled in 2020. Others included the Kousin Kampout and the KFR (Kuna Family Reunion).
My cousin Kathy suggested that in place of Droby Fest we do a recipe exchange and ZOOM call. Somehow that morphed into my niece, Jeannine compiling all of the recipes into an on-line cookbook, which then became a family history/cookbook/photo album. As far as I know, Jeannine and my cousins Kathy and Kris have formed a committee to accomplish this monumental task.
I contributed a couple of recipes, but Jeannine also needed old photos. Unfortunately, most of my old pictures were on old computers… and we all know what happens to old computers. However, I remembered another option. Around 20 years ago I wanted to digitize old family photos, burn them on a CD, and give copies of that CD to my siblings. At that time, I also labeled names on the photos as I knew that pictures without identification would be useless to future generations.
All that I needed to do was to select the photos and email them to my niece. However, there were two problems.The first was finding the CD ROM that I burned 20 years ago. The second was finding a way to play a CD ROM since none of my current computers have a CD drive.
After some searching, I found the photo CD, and luckily Julie has a plug-and-play CD drive that she uses to watch old TV shows. I connected the drive to my MacBook, inserted the CD ROM, and held my breath. It loaded! However, there were no thumbnail images, so I had to manually click on every single file to view it. Since the process was a bit of a pain, I thought I would get some extra mileage for my efforts and post some of the photos here. Grab a cup of tea and come down my memory lane. These are common photos of a typical family, wholly unremarkable… and because of this, I find them charming. (but I may be biased)
Thanksgiving was altered this year, of course. For over 25 years, we have hosted Julie’s family, who arrived from 4 states. Bedlam would rule from Wednesday through Saturday with every bed, couch, and floor occupied. It was the right kind of bedlam.
Being a physician, I have been able to keep up with COVID research, and months ago, I knew that the holidays would be a difficult time. I concluded that we could not responsibly host Thanksgiving this year. In October, I sent out a family-wide email to announce that fact. This action was sad for me and hard for Julie.
During the pandemic, I have lived a sheltered life. Not an isolated experience, but a sheltered one. I interact with Julie and my at-home daughter Kathryn, I see my friend Tom, plus a few other friends, and I phone and email a couple others. I don’t feel lonely. I have adjusted to my new life, and I accept it.
Three of my children have resided outside our home during recent months. Two were away at college, and my oldest daughter lives with her family in central Illinois. My own children became my stress. They would be spending the holiday with us, each of them a potential virus vector. I was worried about my health. I had a genuine fear that they could bring a coronavirus interloper back to Naperville. The thought that I was afraid of my own children gave me a sense of shame. I can’t ignore reality. It was what it was.
My kids have all been responsible. Both of my college kids have carefully adhered to their school’s COVID guidelines. My oldest daughter and her family have also been compliant. All of their actions have been consistent with safety. Intellectually, this was comforting, but thinking and feeling are sometimes unrelated in my brain. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, a day dedicated to giving thanks. I am most thankful for those who I love. How sad that COVID could turn them into objects of fear.
Last Saturday, I picked up my daughter from her university, an 11-hour round trip. Thankfully, the normalcy of seeing her calmed some of my fears. By the time we returned home, my son had arrived from his school; his presence also quieted me. My oldest daughter Anne came on Thanksgiving day. She made a point to tell me that she had just tested her family as a precaution for her trip.
My friend Tom is making his family’s Thanksgiving turkey, but his mother-in-law won’t be attending. My sister, Nancy didn’t host her usual dinner, but her daughter Shari dropped off complete meals for her and my brother-in-law, Mike. My sister Carol also stayed home alone, but several of her kids brought dinner and treats to her. The virus may have halted get-togethers, but it can’t stop love.
Each of my kids has their favorite Thanksgiving dish, so I couldn’t simplify our meal. However, one thing did change this Thanksgiving, my children. They have always been helpful kids, but this year they became helpful adults. Dinner prep became a family affair. Kathryn made the Jello “salad” and the mashed potatoes. Grace baked and helped with various tasks. William made the green bean casserole and the corn casserole. My wife, Julie, made the sweet potatoes, and I took care of the turkey, stuffing, and gravy.
By the time I heard my oldest daughter’s car pull up, I was genuinely excited to see her and her family. They seemed equally happy to be spending the day with us.
Thanksgiving was filled with laughter, conversation, and too much food. After we cleaned up the dinner dishes, we went on a walk. The weather was clear, and the temperature was crisp. I marveled at some of our neighbor’s Christmas decorations but didn’t feel the least guilty of my more simplistic plans.
Anne and her family left for home. The rest of us settled into another Thanksgiving tradition, the viewing of Jean Shepard’s “A Christmas Story.” I have seen this movie so many times that I can recite the actor’s lines with authority.
In many ways, Thanksgiving was business as usual. In many other ways, it was completely different. That is what this virus does; it modifies normal.
A month from now, it will be Christmas. Another family holiday altered by the coronavirus. This year our cousin celebration is canceled. Also, my nephew, Tommy, won’t host his Christmas Eve party.
We always travel to Julie’s family in Minnesota during Christmas week. However, the Minnesota Christmas party will likely be shelved. COVID cases will certainly increase between Thanksgiving and Christmas, making such a get-together foolhardy.
The year 2020 will be as notable as the year 1918. In many ways, we have advanced in 100 years. But in many more ways, we have not. Just like then, politics overruled logic. Just like then, we had to fear those who we most love. Just like then, our lives were placed on hold. However, just like then, we will eventually move forward. Life will go on, Thanksgiving dinners will be held, Christmases will be celebrated. Yet, I believe that parts of our lives will be permanently altered. Not all of those changes will be negative.
Many have rediscovered the simple pleasures of reading a book, playing a board game, and conversing. Personally, I have gotten into the rhythm of cooking dinner with my kids regularly. I am comfortable being with myself. I am grateful for routine pleasures.
I am focused on simplicity rather than excess. I relish a sudsy hot shower, a walk with my kids, a Netflix movie with Julie, a cup of coffee with my friend, Tom.
At the same time, I am saddened that Violet, the campervan, has been more idle this year, and my personal goal to photograph rural towns has been placed on hold. I accept these losses, but I do so with grudging awareness that my adventure years have a finite expiration date.
Life is what you make it. I refuse to put my life on hold, waiting for things to return to normal. Today I choose to make the most of what I have, and I will focus on that fact rather than on my losses. I accept myself, flaws, and all. As I love those around me, I will also love myself. I choose to be thankful.
A dear friend of mine was upset when Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election. My friend was convinced that Hillary was the best choice, and she was shocked that she wasn’t elected despite polling data that foretold that she was the clear leader. My friend believes to this day that the 2016 election was rigged. However, such a belief was never supported by the Clinton campaign or the Democratic Party.
Two weeks ago, Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election and became the president-elect. Like Clinton, conspiracy theories have been flying about the illegitimacy of that election by the opposing party.
I was hanging out with my friend, Tom, at the townhome that he is renovating. As scheduled, a concrete truck pulled up, its cement barrel slowly spinning. We were getting ready to pour the basement floor that he had previously dug out. The cement truck’s driver was a friendly and chatty man. Within moments of his arrival, I knew that he was 62 years old, had two artificial knees, and was counting the days to his retirement. Without direction from me, he started to talk about the election. “I’m a Republican, and I like Republican policies. I don’t want to live in a socialist state. I think the election was rigged; ya know what I mean? How could Trump have so many votes in Pennsylvania and then have Biden take the lead overnight?”
Last weekend thousands of marchers descended on Washington to denounce the election results with the “Stop The Steal” March. This event was held with our current President’s support, who even made a guest appearance drive through, waving to the crowd. Recent tweets from Trump have stated, “I WON THE ELECTION,” and “I concede NOTHING!”
A few days ago, I scanned the AM radio dial and dipped into several conservative radio programs proclaiming the same thing, that the election had been stolen from the President. Their proclamations are contrary to overwhelming evidence that the election was fair. This rhetoric is not only being espoused by the President and these outlets but also by leaders in the Republican party.
High-level Republicans have either supported the idea of a “rigged” election or have refused to congratulate President-elect Biden on his victory. These same individuals have celebrated and acknowledged Republican victories from the same ballot. Backchannels reports that some Republican officials support Trump’s attempts to discredit the election simply because they want to appease him.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed by the Trump administration, questioning the vote-counting validity in states where he lost. Most of these lawsuits have been summarily thrown out of court due to a complete lack of evidence. Despite this reality, Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, talks about having incriminating evidence that he will reveal “soon.” A tactic that he has used in the past to drum up outrage. He has yet to support his claims. As I write this, several large law firms have dropped out of their efforts to defend the President, most likely to save their reputations.
As a bystander, these events seem surreal. As a citizen, they are frightening. All sound and credible sources have concluded that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States. This is going to happen, so why has there been so much bluster to the contrary?
I don’t claim to know the inner thoughts of Donald Trump or the inner workings of the Republican Party, but each is likely working towards their own self-serving goals. Contrary to their statements, their actions are not supporting democracy; their actions are hurting democracy. So what possibly could be some of the reasons for their actions?
A significant concern for the Republican Party is the upcoming runoff Senate elections in Georgia. These types of elections tend to have less voter draw than presidential elections. A lower Republican voter turnout could favor the Democratic candidates, as Democrats have been mobilizing voters in that state. By beating the “Stop The Steal” drum, Republicans keep their base active and engaged. This could be beneficial for them in these two critical elections.
As far as Republican politicians are concerned, there appears to be a genuine fear of Donald Trump, who continues to bully and cajole them. Mr. Trump has a base of 70 million voters, and that is nothing to ignore. However, these politicians seem to have forgotten that their loyalty is supposed to be to the American people, not Donald Trump. Their sycophant behaviors will likely come back and bite them in the future. Mr. Trump has no problem throwing people under the bus when it suits his needs.
As far as Mr. Trump’s motivation is concerned, there are several possible explanations. He may believe that he can’t lose at anything. He was raised as a privileged child who got his way. His upbringing emphasized destroying the competition as normal behavior. His father rewarded winners and despised losers.
When he has failed at businesses in the past, he has been able to find a savior to rescue him or a loophole to protect him. This would be the first time that such options are unavailable to him, as his legal challenges seem more theater than anything else. The idea of losing appears to be anathema to him, as indicated by his retorts of regularly calling his enemies “losers.” The term “loser” has more significance to him than it would have to the general public.
It is also possible that Mr. Tump’s actions center on his desire to gain attention and be in the spotlight. A lame-duck president gets less notice than someone who is “fighting for the American way.” His “love of the crowd” is well known. His need to be praised may be heightened since he knows that someone else is about to gain his former limelight.
Beyond personality issues, Mr. Trump may be creating this crisis to further his own financial and power interests. If he can continue to control his base, he becomes an influence peddler who can make or break other politicians. In this scenario, he would become his own “group” no different than other power groups, like evangelical Christians.
He may be gearing up for a career after politics. He loves being in the media, and he has had success as a reality TV host. Keeping his following engaged could offer him ratings boost if he decides to launch his own TV show or “news” network. He has embraced conspiracy theories and fringe groups, and he would have a following among fellow believers. He is already making dismissive comments about his former ally, Fox News. This could signal a move to his own network or a show on more radical networks, like Newsmax. A video outlet that makes Fox News look progressive.
Unlike other presidents, Mr. Trump has retained control of his businesses and has significantly profited by merging the presidency with those enterprises. He has generated many millions by charging the US government for services and has benefited from other governments who have stayed at his properties. Leaving the presidency would limit this income stream.
Mr. Trump will have to deal with legal issues when he is no longer President, and many of these issues are not all pardonable by a presidential mandate. As President he is protected from prosecution, and it is to his legal advantage to continue to hold this office.
There are reasons for both the Republican Party and the President to question the election as it serves both of their needs. However, it does so at a high cost to the American people. Mr. Trump gained celebrity status by his name-calling style of divisive behavior. His popularity has motivated Republicans to vote not only for him but also for his political allies. However, his divisive actions have harmed the overall fabric of our democracy. A country divided can not stand, and this reality is even more evident during a national emergency, such as the COVID pandemic. At a time when we need a national message, none is being heard. Instead of looking for solutions, we continue to look at who to blame. The Chinese, the WHO, the Democrats, 5G cell towers, and the list goes on.
The country must move towards national solutions now, and it is imperative to transition to a new president in January smoothly. Every day lost could mean lost lives.
In some ways, I can forgive Mr. Trump for his actions, as they are wholly consistent with how he has conducted himself for his 74 years. We all knew what we were getting with him; some chose to turn away from reality as they embraced his promise of a great America. However, I have fewer kind feelings towards all of the other politicians who have latched onto his coattails for their power-hungry purposes. By doing so, they have placed their own needs first, which has sometimes placed the people’s needs last.
This is not to say that all Republicans are evil or that all Democrats are right. However, it does indicate that we cannot move forward as a democracy as long as our officials behave like spoiled five-year-olds who have to get their way.
I hope Mr. Biden can reach across the aisle and start a healing process. However, I’m fearful that the Senate he knew is a memory rather than a current reality. With that said, all pendulums swing, and at some point, our officials will likely move from a position of opposition to one of cooperation. This has happened when past emergencies have threatened our nation. However, this does not seem to be the case with the COVID pandemic- a disaster that impacts the nation’s health, economy, and international standing. I believe that this is the case because the pandemic was politicized. I hope that this polarization will change once Mr. Trump is out of the office. There are some indications that this metamorphosis may be occurring, as some Republican governors are changing their position of “individuals right to choose” to a more rational stance that emphasizes public health.
Trump’s bi-line of “Make America Great Again” is an idea that resonates with many. However, you can’t strengthen a country by blaming other nations and organizations for our failings. A resilient government needs to be healthy on the inside, and the only way to do that is to be inclusive and cooperative with all individuals. Eliminating or hampering entire groups weakens our country, as does a culture of divisiveness. To make America great again, we need to be doing the exact opposite of what we are currently doing. We need to even the playing field for all; political parties need to work together; leadership needs to role model and demonstrate appropriate behavior. We need to rely on experts instead of opinions when making decisions that impact millions.
Our waring political parties were present before 2016, the Trump administration just capitalized on this disharmony. If we continue to be divided, there will be no winners; we will all lose. January will come, but it will be business as usual if we haven’t learned our lesson.