Corona Summer 2020

There’s an old jazz standard entitled “Summertime” and it’s most well-known and oft repeated line is: “Summertime…and the livin’ is easy…”  I love this song, but in the age of coronavirus, the livin’ isn’t easy, it’s complicated.  Many of us during this season of picnics, pools, and patio parties are struggling with what we can, and can’t do now that the pandemic seems to be spiraling out of control again.  I found ample evidence of this conflicted state of mind when my husband and I took a trip to get some needed medical testing done in another state.

Summer trips are usually a time to explore, have fun, and play, but the only game we played on this trip was dodging the spiky corona ball.

We drove through the corner of three different states and each had its own rate of infection, and consequent policies and restrictions.  It made me crazy, and I longed for some consistency.  Recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease expert, spoke about the consistency issue.  He told a skeptical senate committee the best way to fight the pandemic was with a coordinated and collaborative national effort—not disparate states creating their own policies.

I wish I could have stuffed some of those senators in the car with us on our road trip. Then they could see how scatter-shot our response to Covid-19 has been.  At our Utah motel we had a “touchless” check-in and were asked to schedule pool time.  But in Wyoming the pool was completely unrestricted and overrun with families having a party.  The geology museum was closed in Wyoming though, and another plus, the convenience store clerk wore a mask.  In Montana most of the motel staff went without masks, and the bars downtown were swarming with people.  This, despite social distancing signs posted everywhere.

Actually, what really caused my head to spin on our trip was how few people wore masks.  There was no need for a screaming Karen to have a melt-down over her “right” to go without a mask—because no businesses required them.

In general, I’d estimate less than 30% of the people we saw on our trip wore masks. 

I became a little paranoid around all these bare faces, worried someone might spew a virus bubble my way.  I started running and shunning people—in the grocery stores, on the sidewalks, down a bicycle path.  I was rude and weird-acting—more than usual anyways.

Ironically, probably the closest I came to actually getting an infection was at the hospital where my husband was being tested.  I walked right into a big, masked nurse coming out of the ladies restroom. I was as startled as she was, and we both let out a breathy yelp.  She blew so much air at me I could smell her morning coffee through my mask.  I hoped she was neither saint nor sinner, a church choir member or a bar-hopper, two kinds of known virus-spreaders.

By the end of our trip, when we finally crossed the Idaho state line, I felt relieved.  Home is safe, right?  Then I checked the local news on my IPhone.  When we left Idaho, the infection rate was running over a hundred a day.  The news on my cell said for the past several days, corona infections had climbed into the 200’s.  As I write this, Idaho’s infection rate was over 400 yesterday.

But it’s summer, and after we unpacked from our trip I drug our big cattle tank into the back yard and filled it with water.

For a few moments, floating in the tank, I was able to relax.  I thought then, the livin’ this summer hasn’t been easy, but maybe the fall will be better.  Who knows?  That’s the thing about the coronavirus, we just don’t know.

 

 

Image Credit:  Road Trip    Image Credit:  Not Feeling Well by Diana Hooley     Image Credit:  Cattle Tank Dip by Diana Hooley

A Way to Cope, a Way to Rest

People find all kinds of ways to cope during difficult times. The plague of coronavirus coupled with the anger and divisiveness that’s rocking our nation currently, has sent many people to their therapists seeking help.  My daughter, who’s a mental health counselor, says her online client load has tripled.

I’ve benefited at different times in my life from therapy, but one of my mainstays for good mental health, something that is both free and easily accessible, has been meditational prayer.

I learned to pray going to church as a young girl when God was a magical, white-bearded being that looked and acted a lot like Santa Claus.  My every wish was his to grant.  If I just prayed hard enough and long enough, always humbly on my knees, I would be blessed with getting what I wanted.

As I grew up and changed, so did my prayers.  They became less about God doing my will, and more about me finding answers within myself.  And, in order to gain this understanding I had to inventory my thoughts and feelings in an honest, nonjudgmental way.  I talked to the “god within me” to help sort out my life—and found in the process not only comfort, but clarity.

For example, when I first married a desert farmer, I had a bad case of buyer’s remorse.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love my new husband, I just missed my home back East, the spreading oak trees and grassy lawns, the friends and neighbors I’d known growing up in a small town.

One time I felt so trapped and isolated living in a trailer in the neck of a canyon, I threw open the trailer door in a rage, and started walking.

I wasn’t watching where I was going, I just stomped out into the sagebrush, tears of frustration rolling down my cheeks. I ranted and swore at God about how I’d become this lonely farm wife.  Love or lust had kidnapped my life plans.  I lamented a languishing college degree and lost career.  I didn’t like living on a farm.  I didn’t want to plant a vegetable garden or sew curtains.  I just wanted some television reception, which seemed near impossible, a shaky antennae the only conduit for a few radio waves that managed to find their way to us.

When I was done praying, I felt better. I stood there a moment staring at the canyon wall in front of me, my eyelashes still moist from crying, and noticed some kind of trail going up the side. From a distance it looked like a path animals might use, maybe the deer I spotted out the window this morning, or the coyotes I heard baying at night.  Suddenly, I wanted to follow this trail, just to see where it led.

When I got to the top of the canyon wall I was sweaty and hot from climbing, but the view of peaceful farm fields along the Snake River was magnificent.  I experienced an incredible sense of calm, and knew then that everything would be okay.

Dr. David Rosmarin from the Harvard Medical School discussed prayer and praying in The Wall Street Journal recently.  He said research shows prayer calms the central nervous system and the “fight or flight” instinct. Prayer, much like meditation, rests our brains because it turns off our anxiety switch, and turns on our ability to self-reflect.  Praying is a time when we can be thoughtful, rather than reactive, about our life.

I’m a very relaxed pray-er.  So much so that I’ve had to be conscious about people nearby who might think I’m a little crazy, muttering to myself.  Mostly though, I pray alone, walking outdoors where the natural world almost always puts me in a spiritual space. Praying is especially doable during the Covid-19 pandemic. You may be six feet apart from everybody else, but when you pray, you get very close to yourself.

 

Image credit:  Coronavirus Prayer    Image credit:  Trailer House    Image credit:  From the top of the Canyon by Diana Hooley

A Reckoning on Racism at a Resort

I was floating in the heated pool at the Sun Valley Lodge when I heard protesters in the parking lot shout, “Black lives matter!!  Black lives matter!!”  The irony of this situation was not lost on me.  And yes, I felt some “white guilt.”  In my defense, my stay at the Lodge was a birthday present from my husband.  How many people, especially poor minorities, can afford to stay at a resort?

But, as George Floyd’s death demonstrates, money and what money buys is apparently not the biggest issue for black men, staying alive on the streets of America is.

When I got out of the pool I visited with a family, an older man, his wife, and their daughter vacationing at the resort too. They told me they saw the protesters, about 70 people, almost all of them white, like us. I wasn’t surprised by this demographic, since it was Sun Valley, Idaho. They said the crowd at one point knelt, in a show of solidarity with African-Americans battling institutional racism.  The teenage daughter of this couple told me she joined the protesters in taking a knee.

“I’m sorry,” her mother began, frustrated and looking at me for some kind of support, “but don’t ALL lives matter?”

“Mom,” the daughter moaned, “you just don’t get it.”

“What don’t I get?  What don’t I get?” she repeated, her head whipping back and forth between her daughter and me.

I was dripping on my pool towel and getting a little chilly. The mother said she’d read in the Wall Street Journal that much of the crime committed in America today was perpetrated by minority men, especially black men.

“No wonder the police profile,” she glanced at me smugly while her daughter stared stonily into space. Her husband seemed unusually preoccupied with the mountain scenery.

Did I want to step into this cauldron of family drama with my own, no doubt provocative thoughts?  No.  I just wanted to dry off and enjoy the rest of my birthday present at the Lodge.  The world has a way though, of pulling you in.  You can’t bury your head in a bath towel for long.  And besides, I thought the daughter needed to know someone was in her corner.

“I think,” I began hesitantly, “‘Black lives matter’ underlines or puts an exclamation point on ‘All lives matter.’”  What I mean is, there’s racial injustice in America, and tragically, not all lives do matter.”

The daughter looked hopeful and nodded her head vigorously. The mother looked chastised, so I threw her a bone. “Some people feel like you do, that the police are justified in racial profiling. But stereotyping, having preconceived ideas about a whole race of people, is racism, pure and simple. And there’s no excuse for police bullying or brutality.”

I mentioned that we can see bigotry and racism at work when African Americans make up only a small portion of the population (I later found out 13%), and yet comprise the majority of those wrongfully convicted.  According to sentencingproject.org, black men are five times more likely to go to state prisons than whites, and where George Floyd lived, Minnesota, ten times more likely.  I thought about turning the tables on the mother by asking how she’d feel being profiled for staying at this spendy and exclusive resort while the rest of America struggles with unemployment due to Covid-19.  But then I’d be speaking my own issue.

The mother sat thoughtful for a moment, and finally said, “I don’t know too much about the number of innocent black men in prison.  I guess I haven’t read anything about it.”

“That’s what these protests are about mom!” the daughter cried plaintively. “They’re about awareness!  Waking people up to what’s going on!”

I could tell this discussion would continue for a while, and I was beginning to shiver, I was so wet and cold.  I finally said my goodbyes and padded barefoot to the locker rooms.  As I walked away though, I couldn’t help but smile.  That daughter, she was what America would become, the next generation–and suddenly the future didn’t seem so bleak.

 

Image credit:  Sun Valley Lodge    Image credit:  Peering through the flag   

Cutting our Coronahair

Hair is important, and with this pandemic we’re all overdue for some corona hair care.  Some of us are suiting up (masks and gloves) and braving the newly reopened salons.  Others, meaning me, are more cautious.  I’d rather do my hair-cutting at home.  But hair-cutters and stylists are artists, and who among us can live up to that challenge?

Like most people, I’m a hapless headmower at best.  I didn’t let my shortcomings deter me from cutting my husband’s hair though.  His hair was nearing “man-bun” length, an iffy proposition if you have a bald spot on top.

“Remember,” I warned him, “I’m not Brandon (understatement of the century).”  Brandon is my husband’s normal barber.  He not only washes and cuts Dale’s hair, he also takes a hot towel and gives him a fantastic head rub and face massage.  I tried to imitate Brandon’s quick, efficient motion: snip, snip, snip.  When divots and gouges began to appear on the back of my husband’s head, I knew I needed to take a break.  I paused my scissors a minute, and surveyed my work.  Suddenly, an image appeared in my mind from long ago when I was young and idealistic, that time I decided to cut my own hair.

It was my first summer home from college and I was restless. I wanted to travel and do something big, something that would make a difference in the world. Some missionaries had recently visited our church and asked for help (of the money kind, but I took their request literally) with their Navajo mission in Arizona. I prayed about it, and thought I felt God’s call. When I told my mother I was driving to Arizona the next day to help these missionaries, she was shocked.  She didn’t want me to go.  She knew how impulsive I was, and worried that I’d get myself into trouble. But what could she do?

I believed God wanted me to go to Arizona. To place an exclamation point on my decision, I cut my long, luxurious hair.

The 1920’s beauty icon Coco Chanel once said, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life.”  Her words certainly applied to my situation.  External stress, like pandemics can cause people to radically change their behaviors, but so too can internal conflict.  I remember looking in the mirror before I left for Arizona, scissoring through long shanks of hair.  I felt I was divesting myself of my vanity. It also felt congruent. Altering my looks was a symbol of the new life I was about to embark on. I whacked off probably twelve inches of hair.  I didn’t cry though. That would come later, down in Arizona, when I realized just how foolish I’d been.

One thing good that came out of my youthful Arizona adventure, I got to meet several interesting Navajos.  But living in the Arizona desert is lonely. I spent four months there, and came away definitely schooled in the differences between my Christian culture and Native American traditions.

And speaking of hair, though I might have looked like a concentration camp survivor, the Navajos, both women and men, had gorgeous thick, black hair.

I was reminded of their beautiful hair when I browsed the web recently, and saw a couple of Indian men playing The Sounds of Silence with a pan flute and some other instruments.  The music was haunting and wonderful, but my eyes were drawn to their hair, and the lengthy braids that framed their faces.

When I’d finished barbering my husband, I thought I’d done a pretty good job. Somehow I was able to feather out all the hair notches I’d made.  It was a nice, short summer cut.  But I wondered about Dale growing out his hair, what he’d look like with a long braid running down the side of his face.

Image Credit:  Mona Lisa’s Hair           Image Credit:  YouTube Sound of Silence 

The Upside of Emotional Eating

Liver and onions?  Really?  A friend told me about this women serving a dinner of liver and onions to a man on their first date. The woman, she said, was from Oklahoma, an Oakie from Muskogee—as if that explained the meal choice.  I wondered later if liver and onions was “home” food for Oklahoman’s.

Living with our current viral pandemic, we all feel like eating comfort food. Some of us are “hangry” (hungry and angry both) stuck in our homes the past several weeks.

Others are more hanxious and full of hension.  My daughter messaged me a selfie with her head tilted back and a can of Cheez Whiz above her mouth.  Her finger was ready to push the can’s nozzle.  She wrote under the picture that after weeks of homeschooling her kids, she was now mainlining Cheez Whiz.

Really, it’s unremarkable and so characteristic of humans to turn to food in times of duress.  We’re programmed to be emotional eaters.  Food, like certain smells or an old song, can take us out of the misery of the here and now and transport us to another time and place entirely.  Food is our history, our culture. When my husband takes a bite from a slice of berry pie, he sees his Mennonite mother bent over her berry patch pruning raspberry stalks in early spring.

My father who looked Italian—but wasn’t, made the best spaghetti sauce ever, for a West Virginia hillbilly.

I can see him now, standing at the hot stove, stirring and taste-testing his bubbling sauce.  He’d cook shirtless with a tomato-stained tea towel thrown over a bare shoulder.  Dad cleaned out the fridge when he made spaghetti sauce, and caused not a few complaints from my brothers when they found bits of canned corn in their spaghetti dinner.  Still, I loved dad’s home-made sauce.  Just writing about it makes me want to grab my face mask and drive to the store to buy a couple of cans of tomatoes.

I read a poem online this week that had to do with food during a pandemic.

The poem was written by J. P. McEvoy in the fall of 1918 when the Spanish flu was killing thousands of Americans.  McEvoy colorfully captured what having the Spanish flu felt like: “When your food taste like a hard-boiled hearse … you’ve got the flu, boy, you’ve got the flu.”  I don’t know what a hard-boiled hearse tastes like, but I do understand the connection between food and fear.

While I was going to school to get my doctorate, I lived in a tiny apartment, one of several, in a large old house.  I used to lay on my bed and look up at the crumbly ceiling and the spider web hanging down in the corner. One morning I woke up and happen to brush my hand across my chest.  I felt a small raised area just under the skin.  I sat up, suddenly alert, and performed a more thorough exploration.  I definitely had a breast lump. Soon the doctor was called and a diagnostic mammogram scheduled at the hospital.  When I found out I didn’t have breast cancer, I was ecstatic.  In fact, the doctor told me I didn’t have any breast disease at all, but a reaction to a spider bite.  Imagine that.

When I left the hospital, I got into my car and drove to a ritzy restaurant downtown.  It was time to celebrate.

Food works in all kinds of situations: sad, bad, or happy. 

After I ordered a three-course meal, appetizer and dessert included, I tipped my waitress generously.

 

 

Image Credit:  My dad, photo by Diana Hooley    Image Credit:  Spanish flu

 

Remembering an Easter Story During the Coronavirus Plague

When I was a little girl my parents didn’t go to church much, but my grandmother did, and she encouraged me every summer to attend Vacation Bible School (VBS) at the neighborhood church.  It was there that I heard Agnes Gibson, or Sister Gibson as she was called, tell wonderful Bible stories using a teaching tool called Flannel Graph.

The Flannel Graph board was mounted on an easel, and as Sister Gibson recounted the Bible story, she’d press paper cut-out Bible figures on the clingy flannel-covered board. 

This Easter, as we all deal with what feels like the coronavirus plague, I’m remembering Sister Gibson telling our VBS class the Passover story of Moses and Pharaoh.

“What do you think happened next?”  Sister Gibson was a Socratic teacher, always asking questions.

“Whatttt?”  The gap-toothed children in her audience (including me) sat with our mouths opened wide.

Well, she told us, Pharaoh still wouldn’t let the Israelites leave Egypt, even after all the plagues God sent to torment the Egyptian people. Sister Gibson covered her flannel-graph board with cut-out Egyptians, arms over their heads and legs lifted as if running for their lives.

“Will God be able to change Pharaoh’s mind?”

We didn’t know, but God was really angry with Pharaoh.  I suspected God would have to do something even worse to make the Egyptians obey him.

He’d already plagued them with “boils” which sounded a lot like the mumps to me.  Then, he sent a lot of bugs called locusts to eat all the trees and shrubs in their yards.  Sister Gibson carefully placed a paper cut-out of Moses wearing a long bath robe and holding a big cane called a staff on the flannel board.

“God told Moses he was going to have to punish Pharaoh again.  But the Israelites could escape this punishment if they stayed in their homes and marked their door.  The Angel of Death would pass over them and not kill their first-born son.”

At the time I’m sure I considered this a good reason to be born a girl.  I remember thinking how lucky I was to be female because I’d never get drafted and have to go to Viet Nam like my cousin Bobby. Sister Gibson finished telling her story as we children raptly listened.  She pressed a cut-out of a sad Pharaoh, head hanging down, on the flannel board.  In the end, Pharaoh was forced to obey God and let Moses and his people go.

As I sit here writing, I’m thinking of how many parallels there are between the Passover story and our current Covid-19 crisis.  Moses told the Israelites God wanted them to shelter-in-place to avoid the ravages of a new (novel) plague he was sending.

Though God didn’t send us the coronavirus, the message of staying home to be safe certainly resonates.

There are other Bible stories that take on new meaning in the time of Covid 19.  Old Testament Jews had several rituals related to being clean and cleanliness.  Both foot-washing and hand-washing were routinely practiced.  They didn’t wash their hands for 20 seconds through the “Happy Birthday” chorus, but still, good hygiene was a part of their culture and faith.

Maybe the most significant Bible story I heard at my grandmother’s church, and the one that has such an inspiring message for us today, is the Easter story.  As we grimly watch the death toll climb from Covid-19, it feels good to consider the story of how Christ conquered death.  Whether you believe in the resurrection or not, the message of life after death is an undeniably hopeful one.  The greater meaning in this story for me though, is that fear and sorrow eventually pass away.  The Israelites were finally freed from their bondage.  They made it safely out of Egypt, leaving despair behind.  I believe we will too.

 

Image credit: Flannel Graph        Image credit:  Moses and Pharaoh        Image credit:  Shelter-in-Place

 

 

 

 

 

Retreating from Coronavirus

Circle the wagons!  We’re in retreat!  This wagon (me) has been circling and circling my living room the past couple weeks, building tension as I try to wait out this coronavirus. The social isolation has gotten so bad, I’m envious of the cow herd in the pasture. At least they get to hang out together.  As for this human—honey, I’m STILL home.  It’s like I laughingly complained to a friend: I just don’t get out enough.  But retreating doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  I can view it as running from crowds and disease—or see it as moving toward myself and my own inner landscape.

For centuries religious aesthetics retreated into monasteries to meditate and refresh their spirit.  As Easter approaches, I’m remembering the story of Christ, how he retreated into the garden of Gethsemane for just such a purpose.

One time, my husband and I took a trip north, and just for fun, I reserved a room in the guest house at St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho.

We’re not Catholic, but I thought it might be interesting to spend the night in such a unique setting.  The cathedral was impressive, but it’s the atmosphere at St. Gertrude’s that I remember. The nuns seemed busy, yet I saw several contentedly going their own way, either praying alone in the church sanctuary or wandering the pine-covered hillside above the Cathedral.  No one spoke at breakfast the next morning.  It was a time for contemplation.  When we finally drove away from St. Gertrude’s, I resisted the urge to turn on the car radio. I just didn’t want to interrupt the quiet.

If I look at this retreat from the coronavirus in a positive way, I can see lots of opportunities for learning and growth.

For example, there are many, many, projects I’ve put off doing because they take time and focus. For the past few years though, my inner metabolism seemed permanently set in a buzz mode. I’ve rushed through one experience after another.  I guess I could blame my pace of life on the freedom of retirement.  Retirement’s the time to go and see and do.  But as a former teacher and professor, I know the value of slowing down and paying attention. The big battles I fought in the classroom had to do with keeping my students attention long enough so they could get their assignments done.

This was my nephew’s learning problem.  He was labeled attention deficit and took medication so he could calm down and focus on his school work.  Still, he struggled throughout his schooling, eventually dropping out altogether.  When I got the bad news he was in trouble and going to jail, I was understandably upset.  What could I do?  How could I help him, I wondered?

I considered that maybe, since my nephew would be forcibly confined and without the noise of the outside world to compete for his attention, he might be motivated enough to read a book.  So I sent him some great young adult novels, full of adventure and interesting story lines.

“Aunt Di,” he eventually wrote me, “I love all the books you sent me.  I really like reading now.  It’s awesome!  I started reading Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline) last night, and can’t put it down.  Thank you so much!”

Though my nephew can’t physically go anywhere, with reading he’s now traveling far and wide. It’s a lesson for all of us in this time of retreat.  A full life can be had even sheltering-in-place.  It’s all a matter of perspective.

 

Image credit:  St. Gertrude     Image credit:   Ready Player One

Corona virus, Shopping Sprees, and Misadventures with a Bat

This is a terrible time to have your immune system suppressed.  My husband just had a kidney transplant and is taking medication so he doesn’t reject his new organ.  Then the “corona” virus broke on the scene and scarily, had nothing to do with Dale’s favorite beer, and everything to do with our worst fear.  Coronavirus has not only stole our peace of mind—but emptied the grocery store shelves of toilet paper.

“What’s with people hoarding toilet paper?” my daughter asked me over the phone. She’d called to check up on her dad.

“I’m not sure.  Herd instinct?  No one’s stocking up on toothpaste.”

Recently, I saw a YouTube of an employee at a Costco store awarded a three-minute shopping spree—but toilet paper was not on her list. In three minutes time, the employee and her designated helper managed to grab over $25,000 worth of merchandise, including flat screen TV’s and computers.  She evidently missed the message that T.P. stands for Too Precious and is currently being scalped online for outrageous sums.

In the age of the coronavirus, our big shopping spree likely would be through the pharmaceuticals.  In fact, our survival stockpile should include a three-month supply of Tacrolimus, Carvedilol and other exotic-sounding medications my husband takes daily to keep his immune system from staging a revolt.  With our current pandemic, we’ve been a little concerned about a breakdown in the drug supply chain. On the evening news though, I heard the government had protocols in place for any supply chain disruption.

Maybe my anxiety about the coronavirus partly stems from watching too many apocalyptic movies and reading horror novels.  In the 1980’s I read a horror novel by the King of the genre (first name Stephen) entitled The Stand.  The terrifying beginning of this book had to do with a cold-like virus that ran amok, nearly wiping out civilization.  I’ve thought about The Stand several times watching the rapid spread of this bug.  I have to remind myself this virus is, relatively-speaking, mild, and only fatal to less than 2% of those who contract it.

Actually, I may have been thinking of the wrong horror novel with the coronavirus—but I hesitate to tell my husband this.  Dracula might be a more fitting literary link. According to the Center for Disease Control, bats have been considered a possible source of COVID-19.

“Bats?  I hate those creepy creatures!”  Dale shivered.

Bats may be creepy but they’re actually related to lemurs and other small monkeys. They’re mammals (like us), but I didn’t mention this to my husband. Dale has every right to feel freaked-out over bats. When I first fell in love with him years ago, I was a young woman in college in Virginia, and he was a farmer from Idaho. One night I got a long-distance call from an Idaho hospital and Dale was on the phone.

“Hello?”

“Hey,” he said.  “Just thought I’d call.”  He sounded muffled like he had an entire pack of chewing gum in his mouth.  He told me he was having trouble talking because his face was swollen twice its size.

“What happened?”

“I had a reaction to rabies treatment.  I had this problem with a bat…”

Then, the whole sordid tale came out.  Dale had been living in a little, rustic cabin near his farm, and sleeping in a sleeping bag on the cabin floor.  One morning he woke up, felt something moving in the bag, and leaped out, scratching his leg in the process.  A bat flew out of the bag behind him, and then Dale whacked it with his boot.  The bat, unfortunately, turned out to be rabid.  Even though Dale wasn’t bitten, it was close enough to his scratched leg, he needed a course of rabies vaccines.

Since that time, bats have been the least favored of all of God’s creatures for my husband.  With the coronavirus our current plague, I’m beginning to not like bats much either.

Image credit:  Diana Hooley      Image credit:  The Stand

What I saw at the border with Mexico …

I stood on a large rock and watched a Mexican man cross the Rio Grande River in southwest Texas.  This was not an official crossing, and no one was around except for people like myself and my husband, hikers hiking along a desolate trail near the U.S.-Mexico border.

At first I saw the man sitting with a friend in a couple of lawn chairs on the other side of the river. They were chatting under some gnarled Texas cottonwood.

The Rio Grande is so narrow at this juncture, maybe sixty feet wide, I could hear their voices, their laughter.

Next to their campsite, a corral fenced three horses nickering and munching on hay.  Soon, one of the men raised himself up out of his lawn chair, pulled a cap down over his head, and climbed on the back of a sorrel-colored horse.

Where was he going?  Watching from the opposite bank of the river, in another country, felt like I was peering out a window at a cultural drama.

The Mexican trotted his horse for a while along a sandy embankment that was sloughing away.  Then he leisurely crossed where a large gravel bar spanned much of the river.  As soon as he was on the American side, he disappeared in the trees and brush.  Probably hiding, I thought.  But no.  The man soon emerged, his horse still sauntering.

“I’d like to meet him and say hello,” my husband said, as if we were emissaries sent from earth to greet the aliens.

“What if he’s a drug runner?  The drug cartels operate near here.  Remember those women and children that were killed along the border?  And what about that family that was attacked last week?”

Watching our Mexican man peacefully riding his horse, my comment seemed ludicrous.  Around a bend in the trail we saw some trinkets and a plastic jug lined up on a pile of rocks.  A little note said:  “Thank you for your purchase.  Your donation will help school children.”  Whose school children?  Likely this Mexican man’s. The trinkets—scorpions, tarantulas, and road runners made of meticulously twisted wire and beads—were labeled with prices.  Most of them cost five dollars, but some were tagged seven.

I looked up and saw that the man on the horse had stopped at a similar cache of trinkets down the path.  He slid off his horse, and picked up the plastic money jug, dumping what money was there, into his hands.  He was a businessman checking his sales.  Capitalism at its finest.  Free enterprise, or unfree perhaps.

We walked on down the trail toward the Mexican.  He looked up, and we waved and said, “Buenas dias!”

In broken English he told us his name was Benicio and asked us if we were interested in buying one of his trinkets.  He picked up the scorpion with its beaded tail.  As we looked over his merchandise, I asked him if he was worried about the border guards finding him.

“Los guardias fronterizos no son problema (the border police are not a problem),” he told us.

One of the items he had for sale was a walking stick covered with pictures of bright green cactus.  Along one side of the stick was written a distinctive message from our neighbors to the south:  “NO WALL.”

Driving on the way to our Texas hiking spot, we saw the border wall in El Paso.  Through the metal mesh of the wall I saw a city bus pick up people in Juarez on the Mexican side.  Buildings seemed smaller and older in Juarez, but more colorful. Adobe exteriors were painted aqua, yellow, and pink.  A thought came to me then:  if the wall was built to fence out Mexicans, why did I feel so fenced in?  I wanted to cut through the wall mesh and walk past the dry arroyo, to an old mission church I saw in the distance.

 

All image credit:  Diana Hooley

 

 

Never Call Aunt Ruth a Turkey Bag

Anyone else considering a short-cut Thanksgiving?  You know, having a turkey burrito or better yet, reserving a table at the Golden Corral buffet?  It’s the go-to for Thanksgiving has-beens.  If kids look at Thanksgiving as just a big nasty vegetable meal, some adults see it as a big nasty day of food prep—for the chronically unprepared.  As I age I feel myself slipping into that category.

But this doesn’t have to be another Thanksgiving you nod off chatting with Aunt Ruth because you were up at dawn stuffing the turkey.  Make your Thanksgiving dinner preparations easy.  For example, you can save time and energy using turkey bags.

I’m very thankful for turkey bags (also thankful no one has ever called me that). 

Turkey roasting bags help you cook your bird fast. They’re especially great if your frozen turkey isn’t quite thawed.  Let’s face it: better your turkey cooked—than your goose.

Several notable women have also helped to lighten my load and shorten prep time for Thanksgiving.  One of my most admired is Mrs. Rhodes.  Mrs. Rhodes has amazing rolls (not to be confused with anatomical features).  You can find Mrs. Rhodes Dinner Rolls in the freezer case.  Along with Mrs. Rhodes, I greatly esteem that French woman…a scientist…first name Marie—oh yes, Marie Callender.  In her lab, Marie discovered the correct chemical formulation for great pies.Actually, Marie put me out of the pie-making business and allowed me to do other businesses like, well, reading novels and having manicures.  A few in my family have complained though.  They miss mom’s tough pie crust (the mafia could have used my crust to break some teeth).

Rather than succumb to guilt, I figured out how to deftly lift a frozen Marie Callender pie out of its factory made tin plate, and sit it in my own glass pie plate—making it look as if I’d made the pie myself.

TIP:  Marie Callender’s frozen pies are not an exact fit in normal pie plates, but if you let the pie thaw a little, you can spread the dough and filling out with your palms. One important thing to remember:  when the compliments come about your delicious pie, just smile. There’s no reason to be dishonest.

I’m also thankful this Thanksgiving for packaged dry gravy mix, Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, and Schillers seasoning salt.  Say what you will, you purists, those of you who never, ever venture into the inner aisles of the grocery store where all the bad processed carbs lay.  You may be willing to chop till you drop, or veg till you’re a drudge, but some of us want to enjoy Thanksgiving.

Ultimately though, it’s not what you eat, but what you do on Thanksgiving that makes the day special.  Do talk, and do laugh, and do love.  And, if that doesn’t work—do nothing.  That’s my goal now:  restful Thanksgiving followed by a peaceful Christmas.  Enough said.

 

Image Credit:    Diana Hooley           Image Credit:   Marie Callender Pie