ACROSS & DOWN

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I fell asleep last night after doing, or rather working, but definitely not finishing a New Yorker crossword.  I love doing them.  And this is not a new COVID passion.  My dad worked for newspapers all his life so we were lucky, in the olden days, to get a paper delivered daily.  I was always quick to flip to the puzzle page to see what I could fill in over a bowl of cereal before heading off to school.  When I moved to DC and my ex-husband had a job at USA Today – The Television Show, we both used to pick up our own copy of USA Today and call each other over the course of the day to give updates on whether and when we completed the puzzle racing to see who would the first to finish.  If you are not into crosswords you might not have picked it up, but Mondays are always the easiest and they get progressively harder by the weekend.  Sometimes a New York Times Sunday magazine crossword would sit on the coffee table of Neal’s parents house for a week.  They were keen puzzlers too and would leave the puzzle as much filled out as possible on the table and then when you were hanging out in their living room you could pick up the puzzle and see if there were any clues you could add answers to.  It was a great way to get everyone to contribute over the course of a week.  Kinda like leaving a jigsaw (which I also love) out and letting people have the satisfaction when they had a sec to click a piece in to place.  I liked the community effort.  It was good to feel part of the puzzle team.

I find American crosswords deeply satisfying. I clarify their origin because for love or money I have never in thirty years been able to hack the ones published in England.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m blind to the cultural references you need to have at your finger tips to crack the clues, but American ones still make more sense to me especially with the wordplays.  It is so much fun when you are doing a puzzle and you are stuggling to get into the mindset of the puzzle maker to work out what they are driving at with their trick questions often punctuated with a question mark. The mark lets you know what they are asking isn’t what they are really asking.  It can mean a play on the words or phrase.  Once you figure out the theme hidden in the title (the NYT‘s ones in my opinion are the best where you find the puzzles names are clues as well) it means you gain a hint on how to complete some of the longer responses.  Anyway, I like how once you tap into what the theme is you feel like you are in on an inside joke. I am probably more keen about this than I should be, but I have been know to laugh out loud in delight when I work out what the play on words is and gleefully ink in my final answer. 

I find not just with crosswords but in general, I am forever drawn to words.  I love the sound of them and the feel of them working their way around my mouth, past my tongue, my lips, and across my breath.  I also like the way they look on the pages as they get drawn out from the bottom of my pen’s nub.  It is nothing short of magic.  I love how words allow us to share our thoughts, ideas, discoveries, and news across the distances between us.  And I really love how different languages find similar ways for expressing the same thing.  Adore, amor, l’amour, amore…leading us back to our common roots and reminding us we are not so much different as similar. I’d love to know how the Japanese and Chinese alphabets work and the Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Russian, too. When I see the words in these languages even if I can’t read them per se, I find to me they are almost like miniature works of art.  Because I am unable to garner their exact meaning, I am left instead to simply gaze at their swirls, zigzags and flourishes while I appreciate the true magnificence of their power.  Words – human ingenuity at its best. From a scratch in the dirt to paper written, in print, in an email or text, words let us share the world with each other now and into the future. 

With words or rather their precursors, we can even look to the past. Check out hieroglyphics, time travel, and find the ancient stories and histories of the Egyptians.  I mean how cool is that?

I often wonder when they were translating the Rosetta Stone, which they used to learn hieroglyphs, if there was any humour therein.  It transpires the stone is a decree hailing Egyptian priests loyalty to Ptolemy which I’m guessing is not ripe for humour.  I’m sure a lot of effort went into chiselling out the characters into stone in three languages (thus the stone being the key to translating hieroglyphics) and those “writers” were probably saving their efforts for more weighty subjects like laws and decrees but still, wouldn’t it be fun if their innate sense of humour had them chip out a little inside joke or two somewhere on the stone?  Just to mark it with their humanity? 

Speaking of leaving a lasting mark, I heard schools these days, as they fizzle out the academic year that was 2020, are encouraging kids to put together time capsules to mark this year so we can remember what it was like in the future (like we are ever going to forget it).  The time capsules  will provide a snapshot of the 2020 experience – a thumbnail sketch if you will.  I can’t help but wonder what they are throwing in there?  Masks? Unused GCSE exam papers (in England they must’ve printed them before they were cancelled, right?). Of course, hand sanitizer, rainbow drawings, and pictures of the hirsute masses missing their haircuts as well as recordings of over-computer conversations like “Can you hear me now?”  “You need to turn off your mute”. How about unused diaries/calendars with pages left empty or scratched out cancellations?  Please, please let them include a dejected Trump meme post his Tulsa rally when he was easily outwitted by America’s teenagers fooling him he’d have a full turnout of followers only to be met with a near empty stadium!  Oh, oh and there’s gotta be a copy of the US Comedian Sara Cooper’s lip-synching of Trump’s words routine.

Finally, can I request with tomorrow night’s worldwide Hamiliton premier on Disney+, they don’t forget to include the Holderness Family singing their revised lyrics to the Hamilton tunes…”I am not throwing away my mask”!

Yup.  There’s some good stuff out there at the moment to put in the time capsule.

I particularly enjoyed Julie Nolke, a Canadian comedian’s Back To the Future style interview pretending to have a conversation with her past January 2020 self at the height of lockdown.  She has fun only loosely sharing information “because of the butterfly effect” and keeps her viewers laughing with her bemused insight into our predicament.

Just like the words, humour might be a bit cultural or generational dependent, yet, the desire to communicate with some humour is universal.  I’d argue some of this newer stuff might have been inspired by some of the old classics – one of my particular favourites which can’t help but come to mind with his passing is Carl Reiner’s Dick Van Dyke Show.  He died this week at the age of 98 I hope feeling fulfilled with having left a mark, as indelible as the Rosetta Stone carvings, on the way we laugh.  If you are not familiar with the show suffice it to say most of it was just funny observations about stuff we do day-to-day for family and work.  There’s nothing cutting or mean in it just good old-fashioned silliness – more my taste than his work with Steve Martin in The Jerk closer in charm to the All of Me film he wrote.  Of course, there is also the inheritance of sharing that good humour with his son, Rob Reiner, who among other works directed one of my all time favourite films, When Harry Met Sally.  In all of the comedy, the whole family always seemed to be in on the joke not forgetting it was Carl Reiner’s wife/Rob Reiner’s mother who famously spoke the line, “I’ll have what she’s having”. 

That being said, I hope soon we will all be doing as  my own mom always encouraged us to: laugh with but not at each other.  However, as often happens in times of stress, some of the best laughs are to be had right now, hopefully helping to keep us sane as we hold on for better times.  So I will leave you with this because as they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and this one is too good not to share:

Thank you, Tracey Somers for bringing this photo to my attention on Facebook!

I dream of interaction

Toys Hill walk with Nick, Christy and Winston

All things considered, I reckon I am as vain as the next person.  Vain, as in, wanting to look good in my own fifty-three year old skin while also wanting to keep a healthy lifestyle.  About this time last year I started to realise the ole metabolism just wasn’t what it used to be and I decided to embark on a new fitness regime.  I have to admit I am one of those people that as soon as I sign the dotted line on my gym membership, I instantly find every reason not to go.  I like the idea that I can go work out and be that fit person you see strolling out of a gym but when it comes down to it I am not very disciplined and need a definite nudge and some accountability on rocking up to work out.  Luckily, about this time last year, I was assigned a personal trainer, Hannah, at the Better Body Gym.  Getting a ‘better body’ is no mean feat and I soon learned it didn’t just involve walking briskly on the running machine plus throwing around some hand weights.  No ma’am.  My six week better body programme included before and after shots (not for embarrassment but to demonstrate muscle weighs as much as fat so if I toned I might not see the scales shift lower), registration with a calorie counting app to track my food intake (I found I had to find the right balance of dropping daily calories while still taking in protein to build muscle), and of course, a fake Fitbit strapped on to my wrist (didn’t go for the real thing as I wasn’t sure I’d keep it up!) so I could count my steps to make sure I was moving sufficiently on a daily basis.  Apparently time spent actually working out is really only a small proportion of what you need to have for effective toning movement.  I was already loving my new routine even before I walked into the gym appreciating I was gonna get credit for loading the dishwasher, walking Winston and trekking the laundry to and from the utility room.  At any rate, the programme sounded so good, especially with Hannah leading the way not only knowledgeably but even in an inspired fashion, I roped Megan and Christy to joining me for the six weeks if nothing else than to give us something to do together doing last summer’s “staycation”. 

I tell you all of this now as I’ve gotten into the groove and been assured by Hannah I’ve definitely made a ‘lifestyle change’ and starting to come to grips with this fitness thing. During the process I had to learn all the workout lingo to raise my game to push myself through something that went against the grain for me.  I am naturally more a cheerleader than an athlete so this is a big deal for me.  At any rate, a year on, I’m feeling pretty good for myself even now as I find I’m having to apply my fitness knowledge to another family member – none other than our laid back nine year old cat, Natalie a.k.a Fatalie.  Turns out, the stress from our house building works really took a toll on her and although she’s never been too slender a girl (never having lost the post pregnancy fat after giving birth to her four kittens in 2012), her metabolism is off (stress induced hormone to blame) coupled with her successful hunting campaigns supplementing her diet food from the bowl, Natalie has gone beyond her voluptuous, much loved, downright Rubenesque body to one which limps a bit from having to carry too much weight.  

Natalie is not vain like me, instead, she is on the edge of Type 2 diabetes and we need her to drop some weight to be healthy again.  So I’ve been told by the veterinary nurse I need to take a photo of her from above and the side to see where we are starting sizewise (just like I did at the BBG), feed her four small portions a day to hopefully get her metabolism working as it should and, finally, I need to exercise her as much as I can.  Here’s where my real challenge begins… I wonder how do I exercise a cat who can barely do a yoga ‘cat posture’ let alone ‘downward facing dog’. Dogs…that’s easy I can walk ‘em, take ‘em swimming, get ‘em to fetch – a dog, I can exercise. 6.3kg (13.8lbs!!) of cat is not so easy.  String, catnip toys, a foil ball perhaps?  I’m just not sure it’ll do the trick.  The nurse wants me to monitor this daily in a notebook and I’m wishing there was such a thing as a ‘kitbit’ to track how far she’s meandered from her food bowl to roll on the warm patio stones to loll in the sun on the brick garden wall.  I keep picturing Natalie trying to do a Zumba class or some stomach crunches or how about a side plank, but to no avail. She doesn’t even care. She’s just so happy to spread out her luscious white belly to ponder the clover or a butterfly or two.

As I admire Natalie’s oblivion about her weight issues while intending to do all I can to ensure she gets to a healthier size, I’m finding her nonchalance sometimes mirrors too much the lack of ownership for health, in general, we can bear witness to these days.  I keep reading about issues people have about wearing masks in public, for instance.  And I just don’t get it.  These people try to bring in a request to wear the protective masks as a violation of their civil rights, but this seems a bit of a stretch for me.  In my mind, wearing a mask seems akin to wearing a seatbelt or even sunglasses.  

I am totally dating myself nevertheless I remember back in the ‘80s when legislation by state started to make seatbelts obligatory in the US and people protested the requirement arguing it violated a “right to bodily privacy and self-control”.  I always thought that was a bit of a push especially now as I consider the subsequent dramatic decline in road deaths since those laws were introduced and I feel their point is moot.  My quick wikipedia search claims that from 1991-2001 lives were being saved in the following chart. 

And if saving a life isn’t enough reports note that “mandatory seat belt use and enforcement of seat belt laws results in substantial social benefits. For example, an analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2010 non-fatal injuries to motor vehicle occupants cost the United States $48 billion in medical expenses and lost work.”

Furthermore, Wikipedia told me that “Studies of accident outcomes suggest that fatality rates among car occupants are reduced by between 30 and 50 percent if seat belts are worn. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that death risks for a driver wearing a lap-shoulder seat belt are reduced by 48 percent. The same study indicated that in 2007, an estimated 15,147 lives were saved by seat belts in the United States and that if seat belt use were increased to 100 percent, an additional 5024 lives would have been saved.

An earlier statistical analysis by the NHTSA claimed that seat belts save over 10,000 lives every year in the US.

Finally, according to a more recent fact sheet produced by the NHTSA:

“In 2012, seat belts saved an estimated 12,174 lives among passenger vehicle occupants 5 and older. […] Research has found that lap/shoulder seat belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45% and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50%. […] Research on the effectiveness of child safety seats has found them to reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants (younger than 1 year old) and by 54% for toddlers (1 to 4 years old) in passenger cars.”

In short, seatbelts save lives and I think masks could to. 

I remember feeling so self conscious getting into the car in high school and bemoaning the fact I felt so strapped in as I pulled the belt across my lap and shoulder.  I remember actually complaining that I couldn’t move around in my seat.  Now, the seatbelt is such a familiar part of riding in a car, I sometimes forget to unbuckle when I arrive at my destination.  I actually watch old films or tv shows, marvel that the car occupants aren’t strapped in and worry about the actors’ safety.  (as I said I am 53 and these are things I think about at times)

I know masks feel awkward and unfamiliar, but in using them as a regime for entering out into the world I ask – aren’t they worth it?  Isn’t the protection they can provide yourself and others worth the risk to your vanity (if that’s what’s causing your hesitation) to mask up and head out safely?

Summertime is here and we are all definitely seeking the pleasure of separating from the likes of school or lockdown routines to go out into the season.  With COVID there’s been so much time together at home it feels odd not to start to find ways to stop separating and start integrating however, because I don’t want this to go on any longer than it has to, I’d argue we need to do it with some level of responsibility.  It is unsustainable to keep us from each other even for our own good so why don’t we take some of the simple precautions being advised to us to allow us some of that freedom to take the steps safely outside?  Of course I, too, would far rather be blowing bubbles then working out who I can form them with, yet to be able to engage with the world again and begin enjoying, in person, the people I care about; I think the masks are worth it.

As I said I think of them like a seatbelt or even the Maui Jims I sport daily to protect my eyes from the sun.  Simple really. I know scientifically that radiation can damage my sight so dark glasses on a bright day, even though others can’t always see my eyes, seems to be worth the shielding of my eyes.  Wouldn’t it be great to raise the profile of a mask so to speak so that people wore them like they sport sunglasses?  Again the dating, but most Americans raised in the 70s would have to agree that they thought Barbara Eden’s Jeannie was one of the most gorgeous girls on the TV; her genie veil looks a heck of lot like a mask in my mind and a look I’d definitely be happy to try to pull off.  These masks have so much scope for a Dragon’s Den/Shark’s Tank product.  There’s the the bog standard one-use disposable kind or an Etsy or homemade cloth one (as long as you are sure to wash it afterwards).  If universities are going to be able to go back this autumn (that is if people can integrate sensibly, responsibly this summer!) then whose not going to design ones with school colours or funny quips?  In America – the land of the t-shirt – I can’t believe no one is cranking out masks with catchy sayings or cool designs.  Maybe I need to jump off the Wikipedia and check out Amazon for choice, but I’m just saying these masks could have some personality as they protect us.  I’ve even heard how people are going to make see-through ones so that people can see your smile (if your eyes crinkling isn’t enough) or better yet people with hearing disabilities can lip read.  These masks do not need to to inhibit our interaction they can help it to take place safely.  I’ve even found people look me more in the eye with my mask on so we can be sure to understand each other which to me is always a good thing.  

It could even get to the point we just get used to them so you don’t feel so aware of them.  I started writing this blog wanting to reference how much I love the scene of Risky Business with Tom Cruise dancing in his button down, tightie whities and his Ray Bans (so as to make the cool sunglasses reference) only to watch the YouTube clip and find he’s not even wearing sunglasses in the scene.  I kid you not.  Maybe the habit of mask wearing could be the same.  We wear them so much we forget whether they are on or not – the main thing is we are getting a chance to be together.  

And when its all done and the masks can be chucked for good.  It will be great to see how many more lives were saved by this simple, generous gesture of service to one another.

Finally, because I know mask or no mask, it can be scary taking tentative baby steps back out into the world, I share a poem read by Feral Keane from John O’Donohue’s Benedictus: Book of Blessings which hopefully gives you courage to carry on:

This is the time to be slow,

Lie low to the wall

Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let

The wire brush of doubt

Scrape from your heart

All sense of yourself

And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,

Time will come good;

And you will find your feet

Again on fresh pastures of promise,

Where the air will be kind

And blushed with beginning.

If the poem doesn’t work, one last photo of my girl…now off to get her to try a sumo squat or something…

Natalie in all her lusciousness

Looking up

So they’ve announced they are going to live stream the summer solstice from Stonehenge this year.  If that’s not a COVID silver lining then I don’t know what is.  I’ve lived here for the better part of thirty years but have never managed to venture down to Wiltshire to mingle amongst the faithful pagans to welcome the sun through the upstanding plinths of Stonehenge on the 21st of June and thus summer officially into our midst – so this should be a treat.  Mind you, way back when I was fresh from grad school and newly arrived to England with my English lit degree I did manage a meander around the stones as close to Tess of the D’Ubervilles’ style as English Heritage would allow (without of course the getting arrested for murder part). I sure remember being fully awed by the sheer sizes of the stones – the biggest weighing 36 tonnes and standing 7 metres high dwarfing my 5’7” silhouette against the grey stone. I studied Elizabethan and Victorian literature at uni so I always thought this was a moment that needed to be captured in my personal experience little knowing I’d lead a life from then til now at times a little too akin to a Thomas Hardy novel than I’d rather say.   But that’s a whole other blog…

At any rate, the monument of the circle of stones which according to the BBC podcast You’re Dead To Me is not actually a ‘henge’ (an earthwork enclosure usually in the shape of a circle) per se (although it is the most famous one in the world) is going to be honoured by druids and us mere mortals alike if you decide to tune in for the sunrise streaming through it as Saturday edges into this Sunday.  I am looking forward to seeing this mystical experience for myself (even if it is COVID-19 style via a livecam).  I am curious if the experience will move me – make me appreciate what all the fuss of cheering the ascending sun to mark a new season is about and perhaps show me why people annually gather to celebrate “midsommer” – seeing if it adds to my appreciation of the place. I may have missed the official solstice these last 30 years, but every time I go to drop off or pick up Christy from her university down in Cornwall, my timing to beat the M25/A303 traffic means I pass the site nearly unobscured by any traffic just as the sun crests the horizon behind me.  A powerful moment in my six and half hour journey.  Each time it is a treat.  I am able to quickly glance to my right and marvel at this creation casting its long shadows across the grassy Salisbury plain. I look to the side as I pass yet , more than anything, the experience makes me want to look up.  Every time. I mentally I cast my eyes higher and look towards the heavens to wonder some more . So I think you can see why I’m excited, right?

There are no records as to why Stonehenge is there. Nothing about its purpose although archeologists and regular old punters have made some pretty interesting guesses over the years:  a giant calendar, a gift from aliens, a cemetery or maybe even a healing place.  It is definite the construction is aligned with the midsummer’s sunrise and amazingly scientists have worked out that although the upright plinths are local, the 7-8 tonne blue stones that are jointed and hinged spanned on top, like a bit of Fred Flinstone carpentry, are from western Wales – 250km away.   Seeing them opens your mind to wonder – How did they get there? What possessed people to such an undertaking? Why just why?

The sheer scale of Stonehenge’s size somehow reminds me of the forests of redwoods we visited in California.  Just like in the woods, a sense of a cathedral links to this creation and I am not surprised that Christopher Wren (who designed London’s St Paul’s Catherdral) lived locally to Stonehenge even grafitti-ed his name in two places on the stones.  It had to have made an impression.   That sense of looking up, the architecture of that inorganic forest of stone drawing your sight and thoughts to loftier places.  I don’t have Stonehenge at home but luckily we have a listed redwood sequoia and giant cedar to enthral us.   It’s rumoured our garden was landscaped by Capability Brown (who designed the likes of the gardens of Blenheim Palace, Kew Gardens and Longleat) back in the 1700s.  I’m not trying to name drop but I’m pointing out these trees, the redwood by the house and the cedar holding court at the end of our plot, have seen some history. 

And just like the stones of Stonehenge, you stand next to the trees and you are put into proportion so to speak.  You feel their greatness emanating out into the world.  You touch their bark and feel the solidness of these giants.  You feel equally grounded and drawn skyward with your thoughts and appreciation.  I wonder if Stonehenge isn’t an attempt to make that connection of grounding and the ethereal.  Solid. Stoic. Majestic. Weathered but still standing strong.  I ponder whether the farmers had been toiling and scraping out their nourishment from the earth and wanted to give thanks for Life itself and remind whatever is looking down at us that we want to matter.  We want to count. We want to pay homage and to stand the tests of time.

Speaking of the tests of time, I reckon should include in our “new normal” both dawn-breaking Stonehenge solstice-casts and my new dawn-breaking weekly scavenge to the local supermarket.  During one such “test” last Tuesday morning, having hoicked my stash of jute eco-friendly shopping bags into the back of my Volvo at 530am so I’d only be 10 fully masked and trolley sanitised people back from the entrance of social distancing shopping at Tesco, I was forced to consider what could be done in these trying times.  En route to the store I had on Radio 4 (of course) and Farming Today was on, the subject: arable farming.  Over the discussion of the synergy of farming using fallow fields to graze sheep while other fields flourish, my brain went from fallow to furlough and I thought about the workers “resting” while we await the next time to plant. I don’t mean to get all Biblical on you but you’ve gotta admit these days do sort of demand that filter and vocabulary – I mean there have even been locusts in the forecasts…so how could ‘reap what you sow’ not come to my mind?  Or is it sow what you reap?  I always get mixed up but the message being I wonder what I can do? Really do to make a difference in this situation?  Not sure I am gonna be able to start rolling giant boulders from Wales to Kent to make a lasting mark so I asked myself is there anything else?

Zoning in on the farmers I considered the current fascination with seeds and growing right now.  Many of us, more than usual I would suggest, are turning our hands to the soil to have the satisfaction that something can be coaxed from it.  A blossom or a vegetable – something either way to sustain us.  Sow what you reap- reap what you sow.  There are seeds we can sow right now, prep the soil and tamp it down, water regularly, it’s not too late and not an impossible feat.  Prepare for the future – how?  If not in the garden then online, via post, in person, it dawns on me I can’t just garden – I can sign up to vote.  It is my democratic right to do so and I do not want to waste it. I can vote for creating the world I want to life in.

  There’s mystery in planting a seed in a Styrofoam cup much like Robert Fulgrum mentions in his poem, “All I Really Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”. It is not just a right but a power in it and choosing your crop well with purpose and with an objective for providing for you and your family.  It is not a popularity contest (lima beans might have been faded out by now if that was the case!).  The choice has to be based off of what is good, most nutritious for you – broccoli and Brussels sprouts have got a bad veggie rap but look what they can do for you.  Fight disease.  Build defences. Beat, some say, cancer.  Reap what you sow, sow what you reap.  In Ecclesiastes we are reminded “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:” With so much at stake we can have no more complacency.  We’re gonna have to weed and water and nurture our “plants”.  It is not enough to stick a plant in the soil (a person in office) and expect them to flourish. We need to be as attentive to them as we want them to attend to us.  Read. Write. Educate ourselves so we can stay connected so what we’ve planted can grow the right way.  Prop it up with a stake, spray it with spray if needs be when the bad bugs descend. To thrive it needs us as much as we need it. 

The substance, the harvest, will come and some years will be good and some not so good.  Pray for rain and sun whichever you need most.  But pray.  Not just by pressing hands together to ensure the plant goes up miraculously towards the light and life.  Do it for yourself.  Do it for your family and friends.  If you don’t like the rhetoric, change it.  You get to decide the dialogue – don’t they say whispering to your plants helps them to thrive?  Whisper and write and communicate. Don’t just bad mouth the thing for exposing its roots and bending in the wind, keep it propped up.  No need for adulation just keep trying to get it to grow well and do its job.  And when a bad one come along, uproot it, lift it out and put it on the mulch pile. Then move on. 

We need to keep growing and providing an environment for all to thrive.  Every colour of the palate celebrated. Each its own sacred fruit with a unique offering for all to reap what they sow.  And finally, when it comes, don’t refrain from sharing the goodness.  When you share everyone wins.  Imagine the cornucopia of goodness you will have produced for your Thanksgiving table.  November is not so far away.  It’s time to get to work. So go get your hands dirty.  God knows we have a surplus of hand wash to clean them.  Wash your hands to get the soil out from your nails and clear your palms of the embedded dirt, just don’t wash your hands of this.  Plant your seeds well. Care for them.  Sign up to vote and then do it.  Make the world the place you want it to be.  Mindful farmers who share the crops to keep us all well fed.

Then after you’ve done the work or even while you are doing it, don’t for get to treat yourself with a look up.  If you are not fancying the solstice then please consider watching The Aeronauts (its free on Amazon Prime!). A beautiful semi-biographic adventure film with a great story to keep you on the end of your seat.  It is based off of a book called Falling Upwards: How We Took To The Air by Richard Holmes.  Personally I loved the whole thing, but especially the final words uttered by another Wren, the fictional balloon pilot, Emilia Wren, 

We took to the skies in the name of discovery, to find something new, to change the world. But you don’t change the world simply by looking at it. You change it through the way you choose to live in it.

Look up. The sky lies open.”

My six tomato plants growing from the sliced tomato I planted back in April

Rallying Cry



Smithsonian Magazine, July 5 2012

It’s the 76th Anniversary of D-Day, I am humbled once again by the bravery man can exhibit and, how given a task, teams of likeminded people across cultures and nations can come together and achieve a goal.  Striving for these noble undertakings (in this case releasing the world from Nazi occupation) people can be so selfless and strong putting themselves forward for a bigger, better cause.  People can use communication and intelligence and sheer will of heart to work together to overcome the wrongnesses in the world.  

It is not without cost.  My family lost my Uncle Bill as his flat-bottomed boat struck a mine whilst he cleared a path to Normandy in his minesweeper so that others could follow through the English Channel safely.  I am so grateful that that loss is marked by the cemeteries of Colleville-sur-Mer with fields of white crosses, stars of David and in my uncle’s case, for those lost at sea, a wall of remembrance with each name etched deeply in the marble.  The wall is white so you can fill the name with the wet sand the caretakers give you when you register your loss with them and they walk you to the spot where your family member is forever remembered and given thanks for.  The wet dark sand of Normandy lets the name be seen. The names, there are so many of them from the Utah, Gold, Omaha, Juno and Sword beach landing sites and beyond.  The names so important to be held in honour, to mark the loss but also the life.  The names which last beyond the body and represent what cause they fell for.  The first time I went to the Normandy I was on a semester abroad programme with my university and our teacher had organised a visit to the Musée du Débarquement in Arromanches where you can to this day see among other things the “temporary” landing platforms – the genius of the logistical planners for creating docking areas so once the beaches were won and the invasion begun, the Allies could continue to arrive and reload with reinforcements and support.  The museum display is just a few miles from the famous cemeteries so when we finished our tour only to realise that the cemetery was soon to close, my teacher called ahead to let them know we were on our way, and we were quickly hustled on to our tour bus and driven quickly through the deep brown and Kelly green of the Normandy countryside. All along the way watching the La Manche/English Channel on our right as we wound through the roads trying to fathom, from the overlooking cliffs, how anyone had worked themselves up to land there and fight their way to the top.  You realise how individuals would never have made it.  How, as we’d learned at the museum, it definitely took a united effort to achieve the taking and winning of this territory.  

I remember being sobered as we approached the gates and saw the endless lines of memorials.  I felt a bit disappointed from my spot at the back of the bus when I noticed the gates were actually shut and there were some official looking men standing by the entrance.  The bus stopped and my teacher stepped off and over to the small group and proceeded to have an earnest discussion with the men.  After a few moments, he returned to the bus and waved at me shouting,

“Kelly, can you come here for a moment?”  

I double checked he wanted me placing my hand on my heart and mouthed, 

“You want me?” 

And he said, 

“They do.” 

as he pointed towards the men at the gate. I stood up and weaved my way down the aisle of the bus and I remember it quieted as I stepped past my classmates.  My teacher was waiting at the bottom of the bus stairs and walked with me to the men.  Unsure of what was intended of me I mentally rehearsed what I might need to say in French not being as fluent as I would liked.  A man with a cap, white shirt and braces who looked more like a worker than military personnel was the first to put out his hand.  I glanced to my teacher who nodded.  The gentleman looked me directly in the eyes as he took my hand in both of his, slowly shook it and with a heavy French accent said simply, 

“Merci”.  

I stayed silent not sure what the thanks was for.  He released me and then the next man along, more of a curator type in a suit again, took my hand and squeezed it, studied my face for a moment and with utter seriousness again clearly said, 

“Merci”.  

The last man was in military uniform.  He followed the same grace of, seeing me, treating me with utter respect and he asked in English, 

“So, you lost someone in Normandy?” 

And I responded in English, 

“Yes, my father’s brother, William Parichy, he was on the USS Osprey and died on the 5th of June, 1944.  He was on a minesweeper.  They never found his body.”  

The officer nodded.  Cast his eyes down in reverence and then he, too, took my hand.  

“Thank you for your sacrifice,” he said.  “Please know, the French never forget”. 

And then they proceeded to unlock the gates, just for our bus, to let us through so I could go and honour my Uncle Bill.  I could find his name.  Fill it with the wet sand.  Remember what he fought for.  Give thanks for his life.  And be determined to live up to his sacrifice.  Not take it for granted.  I got to say his name even though he no longer breathed; I got to honour him.

So in the quiet of this morning, as I think about this anniversary I also consider the matters of the world.  The global upheaval we find ourselves in as we battle a pandemic along side looking for justice and wanting the world to live up to my uncle’s sacrifice.  I think about the Pledge of Allegiance Uncle Bill would have said, I learned in my kindergarten class in America and said everyday of elementary school, and I even taught Megan and Christy when they were in school in North Carolina.  The Pledge of Allegiance, an almost Our Father prayer of a pledge.  I consider how much I want the country of my birth to live up to the pledge it taught me to say, that people have fought and died for.  

I pledge of allegiance to the flag and the UNITED States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with LIBERTY and JUSTICE for ALL.  

When I say the pledge in my head certain words stand out to me.  I consider them a simple mantra which I pray my country finds in its collective soul to remember and live up to…’united’, ‘liberty’, ‘justice’, ‘all’.  

And having lived in England for the better part of thirty years, I also appreciate it’s not just the US I want to do what I know it can do. I want the whole world to move forward with a vaccination, a cure for what kills and pains us, especially the Black members of our societies.  This is not just a movement that one person, one community, one country can fight and win.  This needs to be something we do together.  Something we unite to abolish from our world – like the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920 and Nazism of the 1940s.  I am certain this is not something we can do alone.  This is going to require reinforcements and support and pitié/mercy whatever language you speak.

Now flicking through the bombardment of stories, images, videos flying at me like a military bombardment, I am looking for inspiration to guide me. Us.  Finding it not just in the D-Day landing operation, but also by looking up.  In the past week we’ve been reminded of the spectacular awesomeness of space travel.  It is hard not to marvel at accomplishments when you watch the SpaceX launch and the astronauts arrive at the International Space Station.  It all falls in line with my listening of the BBC World Service Podcast 13 Minutes to the Moon.  A podcast that reviews the final thirteen minutes of the Apollo 11 voyage of Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong as they left Michael Collins in the command module Columbia to orbit the moon while they descended to its surface in the Eagle.  If you want to find an example of what people can do and how they can do it listen to this podcast.  You will be astounded by the audacity of the undertaking.  I was only two when they landed and for my generation and afterwards its amazingly almost unremarkable that humans have not only flown to, but landed on, walked on and returned from the moon a quarter of a million miles from our earth.  Over the episodes we are reminded that the thirteen minutes prior to landing encapsulate all that was necessary to come together to make this achievement. All that a team of people, with respect, good communication, intelligence, and bravery, can do when they come together in a common cause.  Especially with a strong leader setting their sites high and pressing them to their limits and beyond.  Again and again you hear the Mission Control, engineers, mathematicians, physicists, designers, computer programmers and astronauts explain how it was possible because it was a successful team effort.  From the moment JFK declared, “We choose to go to the moon” to Neil Armstrong stating “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” you have to use the strength, expertise, insight of each and every soul to make big things happen.  

Michael Collins remarks about the response to the Apollo 11 team on their world tour after their return to Earth seems to reiterate this ”I was flabbergasted. I thought that when we went someplace they’d said, ‘Well congratulations, you Americans finally did it.’ And instead of that, unanimously, the reaction was, ‘We did it. We humans finally left this planet. We did it.’”

It just has to be a “WE” then and now.  The connections we’ve felt and witnessed across different counties and cultures to battle the pandemic, the small acts of kindness we’ve shown to each other to make it better is a start to a better way of living.  To even be moved to live up to the ideals of our forefathers and mothers and strive so the marches of 2020 lead to something new.  Maybe a renaissance of ideals worthy of the Pledge promises of liberty and justice for all.  We need to unify to do this.  Respect and value each and everyone of us.  As Obama encouraged us in his Medium article, How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change, it’s time to get working and maybe along the way you can remember how precious this world and its inhabitants are – no matter what colour pigmentation their skin has.  You can remind yourself of the value of our interconnectness.  You can awe at the power of our unity, respect its fragility and fight for what is right.  

Then, maybe, perhaps, you can rejoice in the words of an astronaut from the Apollo 9 crew Russell Schweikart’s words describing his time in space looking back at our earth:  

“As you pass from sunlight into darkness and back again every hour and a half, you become startlingly aware how artificial are thousands of boundaries we’ve created to separate and define. And for the first time in your life you feel in your gut the precious unity of the Earth and all the living things it supports.”  

I’d argue that refers not only to our global climate especially as being regarded by the likes of Greta Thurnberg and David Attenborough, but it could be applied to its people.  ALL of its people.

Finally, I wonder as we plot our landing, moving out carefully from under lockdown AND racial tyranny, taking small steps and with some luck giant leaps, if we can pledge for our rallying cry to be, not we go to the moon but:

“We go to equality.  We go to good health for ALL!”


Postings prompted from pumpkin epiphanies