How Was Your Day?

This is extraordinarily outside of my comfort zone, as the SFO designated smoking area is actually Las Vegas sort of outside.  The mysterious ways of the interwebs and social media are leading me to suspect it might be important, perhaps for you, gentle reader, perhaps for me.

First there was the article about what to ask your child after school to elicit a response beyond “Fine” and/or “Nothing.”  It was a list of questions, each answer requiring more reflection than would “How was your day?”  They also tended to show a more genuine interest and understanding of said child.  I helpfully shared this with several friends who have committed parenthood.  Parents should employ the full toolbox (they issue one with every baby born, right?) to stay inside those little noggins, for whose upbringing and person-formation parents are responsible.  But that’s not my circus and certainly not my monkeys (I know, I know, that expression is already over but I get a mulligan because I haven’t written in six months).

But the very next article that crossed my stream, albeit most likely because I had looked at the one about talking with your children, was about talking with other people.  Grown-ups.  In my life.

Communication.  Feelings.  Communicating about feelings.  Ack.  When I had a therapist, several lifetimes ago, she handed me a list.  She believed I was so estranged from my own feelings that even my carefully honed linguistic skills were not enough to identify them without Cliff’s Notes.  She may have been right.

This second article left me squirming, eyes darting away from the text, uncomfortable just imagining conversations like this.  Granted, the author says it has taken them time, she and her partner, to get to these questions.  It’s worth reading her post, which begins with the parenting ~it’s a blog called Momastery, after all~ but eventually gets into partnerships, friendships.

When did you feel loved today?

When did you feel lonely?

What did I do today that made you feel appreciated?

What did I say that made you feel unnoticed?

What can I do to help you right now?

Vulnerable stuff, makes you want to stand on the familiar ground of How was your day? Fine.  But I was intrigued… in a peeking-through-your-fingers at the scary parts yet I-don’t-want-to-miss-anything-important sort of desire to see how it turns out.  Since I lost the link, I googled “How was your day?”  It was right there.  And several more in the same vein with slightly easier questions such as

Did you have any victories today?

Are you struggling with anything? or anyone?

Did you have any nice connections with your colleagues?

What was frustrating? (Interestingly, it goes without asking that something was)

Are you with me?  It’s a little scary over here.  But we can stay safe behind the armor we wear, tick off the daily box for having asked, without offering or inviting anything more.  Satisfied with good enough.  Or we can let ourselves be vulnerable, lean into the discomfort of knowing and being known, in the belief that it will make our relationships stronger and that will allow us to be stronger individuals because we are no longer alone.

Romans 12:21

One can hardly look at Facebook, let alone read world news, without being swamped with sadness, horror, and hopelessness.  Videos of cats being ridiculous can ameliorate only so much.

Perhaps this is why it’s been ages since I’ve written here.  It all seems so pointless.  I could rail about a wide variety of crimes and misdemeanors,  people who make my blood boil, actions that break my heart, situations that crush my spirit.  But someone else has probably already done so on any given issue.  Why bother?

Why bother, indeed.  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  I can allow myself to be overcome, to be awash in despair, to give up, because it’s all too big, too much.  Or I can seek to do good, as much as I am able, in whatever ways I can.

[days pass…]

That was before Cecil the Lion, Zimbabwe’s most beloved big cat, was lured from the safety of his home, tortured, killed, skinned, and beheaded by a man with more money than honor in a spoon-fed, illegal, hunt.  I am heart-sick for Cecil.  But he is only the latest, most famous, lion to be murdered.  The news says 74% of the males tracked in an Oxford study have been.  And these are just the lions.  All the other majestic animals are being slaughtered, too.  The last rhinos of their species are being hidden away even as their lives are auctioned off to psychopaths with so little self-worth that they believe snuffing out an already endangered life will somehow ennoble their own.

And they are allowed to do so.  Why isn’t the desire to end a life just for the thrill of it universally appalling, vilified, illegal?  It’s sick.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

How can one sad little bleeding-heart living an isolated existence overcome anything?  Some days I just don’t: some days I am overcome by the evil.

But some days I put my money where my sorrow is.  Born in the United States to a middle class family, by world standards, I am rich.  It’s not so difficult to weigh my spending, to consider my wants vs. my needs vs. real needs in the wider world.  I am hesitant to recommend to you, dear reader, any particular organizations abroad because it requires investigation into each of them to find where good work truly is being done in the areas which matter most to you.  The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford University is the group who were studying Cecil.  It appears they are doing a wide array of research, education, and protection of wildlife and endangered species in particular.  Oxford is probably legit and you can make donations here.  I believe Wildlife S.O.S, working in India, is accomplishing great things, as well.  But there are groups around the world making a difference, protecting habitats, legislating for species, caring for populations and individuals, taking up arms in the field.  Find one for yourself.  Get involved with them.  Share their mission with people you know.

Overcome evil with good.

It is too late for many species.  We have the dubious distinction of living at the dawn of the Anthropocene, ushering in the Sixth Extinction which may very well include homo sapiens, but I doubt that.  It is more likely our fate to observe what we have wrought on the world through our industry.  And enjoy a more impoverished existence for it.

But I’m not ready to throw in the towel.  If I admire Ralph Waldo Emerson for nothing else, I love him for giving hope where hope flows away, seeps out, and desiccates in the relentless dry air of failure:

To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded.   

None of us needs to save a species on our own.  For every lion, elephant, rhinoceros, leopard that isn’t poached because that gun was stilled by whatever means, that is success.  Surely Cecil and his offspring would like to have lived long lives, even if the total number of lions on the planet is rapidly declining.  Every one of us can make all the difference for one of them.

So, how do we keep our spirits up in the face of current events even as we are trying to do our good in the world?  The same reference that encourages us not to be overcome by evil, recommends this:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable ~ if anything is excellent or praiseworthy ~ think about such things.  (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

When dark, ugly, evil thoughts start taking hold in our brains, we can choose to replace those thoughts with something better, something good.  If that passage is a little much to take in all at once, pick one.  Seek out one lovely thing or one admirable person to fill your mind until whatever was bringing you down has been overcome.

If you know me, this may sound hypocritical.  It has been said I am an angry person.  I do complain out loud.  I sit at my laptop and cry.  But who needs this guidance more than the one who collapses under the onslaught of evil?  I do my best and it gets better.  That’s all I can offer you.  A very wise man once said,

There is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live.

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes

It’s a discouraging thing to realize our heroes and superstars are just. . . human.  They grow and move on and change.  My first lesson in this was when I was a pre-teen.  I’d pillaged my older brother’s record collection and found the Monkees.  Being the very demographic for whom they were created, I was hooked.  Gentle reader, if you are unfamiliar with the Monkees, they were put together by some management team to slip-stream in on the popularity of the Beatles ~ 4 guys: 1 cute, 1 talented, 1 “character,” 1 other.  It took a while for them to learn any musicianship so they could stop lip/instrument synching, but they were marketed with their own television show!  It’s a shame those were the only albums I inadvertently saved before the Great Rehab Rock-&Roll Purge, but that is another story.  I loved the Monkees, particularly Davy Jones, the cute one.  I found the show on TV.  (Looking back, it was obviously in syndication by then.)  The album jackets provided information for the Monkees Fan Club.  Joy!  I wrote to them, as fans do.  The letter came back, “Return to Sender.”  My mother gently explained to me how old those albums were, that the Monkees were probably no longer together as a band.  I was crushed.  It was as though something real and living had suddenly been pressed under glass, stopped in time, no longer the interactive force I had believed in the day before.  Over the years, one member and another would pass through the news, but the Monkees had, indeed, ceased to exist.

the Monkees

This may have been less disappointing than what another David Jones has done to me.  In the late ’60s, in order to differentiate himself from Davy Jones of the Monkees, David Robert Jones became David Bowie.  In the early ‘70s, he was on the bleeding edge, glitter glamorous, punk presaging, gender bending, rock & rolling.  Through theatrical personae, he let his angels and demons loose on the stage.  His music was eclectic, his lyrics compelling, and the whole show was an instigation.

He lived through the ‘70s and way too much cocaine, but kept working.  He was evolving, too.  David Bowie of the ‘80s was cleaned up and respectable, but the music still made me want to move.  When he attempted to be “just another member” of a band with Tin Machine, and failed at it miserably, the music lost my interest.  He continued to produce through the ‘90s, but I retreated to the old Bowie that I loved.  When Heathen was released in 2002, I gave it a listen.  Meh.  Then he didn’t release another for a decade.

Recent public appearances have shown that Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke have given way to . . . my dad.  Not my particular father, but he’s looking like everybody’s dad.  He’s looking his age.  It’s the human thing to do.  I can’t blame him.  But the music . . . the tracts I’ve heard have been so lifeless.  That’s what is killing me.  David Bowie is still making music but I don’t want to listen to it.  He’s always been a chameleon, always changing, and if this late-60-something year-old man wants to make rocking chair music, that’s his bag.


But to be fair, I hadn’t listened to all the songs on his later albums.  It was just too depressing.  So, just now, I’ve sampled some more.  There may be hope.  That voice which has always moved me is still there.  I can picture the smile Ziggy wore, crooked teeth and all, when he was having so much fun and on fire about his art.  Nature’s first green is gold . . . these golden years … I’ll stick with you, baby, for a thousand years.

A Major Minor Miracle

Aperitvi, Happy Hour, is a strong social custom in Italy.  The man and I enjoy reconnecting at the end of the day over a glass and some nibbles, but since I don’t like beer or wine and anything stronger gives me a migraine, I drink kefir.  Because I am opposed to the dairy industry, I make water kefir at home.  A fortunate choice you will later realize.

The basic process begins with a starter called a SCOBY (symbiotic community of bacteria & yeast) that eats sugar and provides probiotics and carbonation to the beverage.  The SCOBY lives in a covered pitcher and every few days I pour off its water, now water kefir, and bottle it with some fruit juice for secondary fermentation.  Then SCOBY gets new sugar water and some minerals.  While the bottled kefir continues to ferment, the resealable flip top bottle contains the carbon dioxide the SCOBY exhales (or some biological process like that), thus naturally carbonating the beverage.

My current SCOBY has had a very busy year.  He’s taken several naps in the fridge while we went away for a week or two or three.  When we went Home for seven weeks, he had to be dehydrated and wait in suspended animation for my return.  Which he did like a champ.  We’re back on schedule and the kefir is good.  Except it’s been kind of flat.  I’ve watched the tiny bubbles rising in the bottles, but nothing more than a gentle pop when I opened them.  The fact that I could see the bubbles is probably a clue.  That gas is supposed to remain in suspension until the pressure is released.  A soda bottle doesn’t sit there quietly making bubbles with its cap on.  So I suspected the seals on these particular bottles weren’t doing the job.  Italian houses are full of bottles; for wine, for limoncello, for olive oil, for vinegar, for grappa, because so many people do their own of all of these.  Maybe they were for wine to let the gas out.  There is a fizzy red wine, probably discovered when someone put their grape juice in the wrong bottle.  So I went digging around the kitchen to find some bottles with better seals.

Normally, I have an open bottle in the fridge and a couple waiting on the counter.  But the counter was looking crowded.  I had the brilliant idea to put them on top of a cabinet in Kiwi’s apartment instead (it’s also our apartment’s half bath, but don’t tell her).  High storage is generally the man’s domain.  I’m satisfied with the low cabinets, under-the-bed, and the bottom drawers.  So I never even think of the useful space which I can’t reach without a step-stool.  But the man doesn’t go in Kiwi’s apartment, so Bob’s my uncle.  I put two bottles on high, even somewhat decoratively with a candle between them, on Sunday.

Tuesday morning, I awoke to the sound of shattering glass.  I thought that bloody French door in the kitchen had finally gone.  It’s made of the thinnest glass and installed only loosely such that the glass rattles brittlely (it’s a word, I tell you, I looked it up, rhymes with Italy) in the frame which shakes lamely on its hinges whenever the Navy is testing explosive in the bay.  I hate that door… mostly because I am pathologically unnerved by broken glass and it just sits there threatening me, waiting . . .  But it wasn’t the kitchen door.  The man was just stepping in from the other porch ~yes, we eat breakfast on the balcony, overlooking the Mediterranean, sipping fine Italian coffee; but I digress~  in time to see shards sparkling down through the spray and splatter of a liter of sugar water.  All over Kiwi’s apartment.

He came to tell me what it was, and that it wasn’t him.  I went to look;  it was a disaster, a sharp, splintery, runny, sticky, personally-horrifying disaster.  Knowing how broken glass affects me, I assiduously avoid breaking it.  I had never confronted such a mess, didn’t even know where to begin.  It actually crossed my mind to just close the door and never use that room again.  I’m usually more practical than that, so my better nature won out, and I began to mop my way in.  Within ten minutes, I was bleeding.  The sight of blood spreading out in a pool of water is also no way to start the day, especially when the blood is mine.  I picked up the “big” pieces, but aside from the bottle neck, there weren’t any bigger than the palm of my hand.  The man says the thing exploded like a shrapnel grenade.  I had definitely chosen the wrong bottle.  It was square, not as strong as round to begin with, and probably intended for olive oil.  Failure mode duly noted.  From now on, I will bottle in proper beer bottles from the back stock of LBC, Little Black Cat / Lewis Brewing Consortium / Lerici Beer Company.

It’s been ages since I’ve had a physical-labor all-day sort of job.  But it had to be done.  The sticky was drying and getting worse.  Every surface, every item, every thing had to be wiped down.  So I kept going.  It took all day until it was time to leave for an appointment and dinner.  And still it isn’t finished. The washing machine knob is suspiciously stiff now.  The sliding door of the medicine chest really just doesn’t.  When I leaned my weary back against the wall, it stuck.  No, it’s not finished yet.

But this is when I began to appreciate all the ways it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.  There was nothing else that day I needed to be doing.  Dinner out was already planned.  No one was in the room when it blew.  It didn’t happen when no one was home at all and Kiwi would have tried to navigate the disaster to reach her sandbox (which was mercifully protected under the counter) … or eat from her dish, which was not.  That is a thought I wish never to be having.

Then, later, standing in the kitchen, I looked at where the bottles had always sat.  It would have been exponentially worse:  open shelving chock full of containers and things and stuff, wooden shelving, in fact, and inconveniently absorbent, too; a much larger room to clean with so many more nooks and crannies, just waiting to draw bugs in the spring; another bottle would have been against it, a glass jar of kibble next to that ~ more casualties, more sneaky shards of glass everywhere.

The bottle that failed so catastrophically was the first one I’d ever thought to put anywhere else.  And up high, where I don’t keep things?  Hardly a thought I would have had for myself.  I know God takes care of me.  I am grateful for His love, even when I need to change my perspective to see it.  This is probably a lesson for the future as well.  Look for His hand, even when disaster strikes.  It may be shielding me from so much worse.

Gorilla Day!


Here we are, primate fans, on the Virunga Massif, which sits astride the borders of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda.  The three national parks create one giant reserve, the non-human residents entirely unaware of the political boundaries they cross at will.  Dian Fossey pursued her study of gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, where descendants of her subjects live today.  So, very much in Fossey’s shadow ~likely there would be no gorillas on the Virunga to visit, if not for her work~ we met our guides and were told of our assigned family group, Kwitonda.  There are 23 members, but the patriarch, Kwitonda himself, died of undetermined cause 2 years ago at the approximate age of 40.  He left many offspring, including 3 silverbacks.  You may find their entries by the Gorilla Doctors, who watch over and care for them, here and here.

After a short drive, a stroll through the pyrethrum fields, and an hour or so in the jungle, we met up with the trekkers.  It was time to leave our bags and approach the gorillas.  As we were just dropping our packs, a rustle in the foliage directly behind us brought forth the head of the clan to check us out.  They know the rangers, guides, and trekkers and seem to understand that these trusted men bring a few (8) others every day to stare and take photos and quickly leave.  We were approved.  He went on his way.


We carried on after him, 1st meeting his 2nd in command, who must be so accustomed to visitors that he gave us an almost male-model series of poses.

Then a female passed by, so we followed her to a larger part of the group with a number of juveniles.  We were not to approach too close in order to avoid injury to ourselves and, more importantly, any transmission of disease to the gorillas.  But they seem to have forgotten and the youngsters were happily playing until one nearly scampered up my leg, only to have a guide interpose himself between us.  I was disappointed, but it was for the best.  It would be so easy to love them to death.

In fact, the groups which have been habituated to humans are so much so that the top silverback displayed no uneasiness about getting on with his job of carrying on the species.  Yes, perhaps we were privy to the creation of one of next year’s Kwita Izina’s honorees.  The lady of his attentions looked bored, resting her head on her hand, quite possibly thinking about shopping.

So, as if watching children play and witnessing hope for the future would not have been enough, in our final moments on the clock, the newest mother ambled through with her month-old baby clinging to her back… then falling off… then rolling around… My heart burst.  Best of luck little one.  You are going to need it.

So, there you have it.  Our pilgrimage to Rwanda to meet the creatures for whom Dian Fossey gave her life.  They are worth it.  We are worth what it costs to save species other than ourselves.  What an awful place it will be when it’s just us and the cockroaches.  All the money in the world can’t buy connection to those whom we have driven from it… to our true impoverishment.

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