Tired of Pandemic news? Try Panda news!

Doom scrolling getting you down? Are you calling the unemployment office and never getting through? Annoyed that you STILL can’t find Clorox wipes or enjoy a real live margarita with your real live friends?

Instead how about watching the the panda cam of the baby panda born last month at Washington National Zoo.

On the panda cam just now I watched Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) cuddling the cub under her chin and then stroking and nursing the cub on her belly. Born August 21 at a hairless 100 grams–about a quarter pound–the baby is a bit of miracle. Mei Xiang is, at 22, the second oldest recorded Giant Panda ever to give birth. The father, by frozen insemination, is Tian Tian, 23 year sold, also of the Washington National Zoo.

The cub hasn’t yet declared its pronouns. Just a couple days ago it had it’s first vet exam , when it weighed in at an adorable two pounds. A cheek swab DNA test will come back in a couple weeks with a gender. During the exam there’s a lot of squealing and clear objection to being away from mom…I challenge you not to be charmed. Early videos looked like a mouse, that became very annoyed when it flipped itself over by accident, but at the vet exam the white and black markings are showing, and in the videos now it is looking even more cub-like.

The small enclosure mimics a den in nature, where the mother will stay for most of the first 100 days or so. The 238 pound mom leaves the den only very occasionally to snack or relieve herself. In the wild mother pandas experience a huge metabolic shift and sometimes go months without eating or drinking to take care of a new baby. Dad? Well, he’s off doing his dad Panda thing.

The panda enclosure is closed to the public to give more quiet to mom and baby. Mei Xiang has three other surviving offspring. At four years old the cubs are returned to China where they will participate in the breeding program for Giant Pandas.

This Friday afternoon, 6p.m. eastern time the zoo is having an online fundraiser and they promise an update on the panda. Gender reveal?

Posted in Animals, Entertainment, Life Experiences, Motherhood | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Too Much? Enough?

“If a soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed.”

That quote from Victor Hugo is the first line that opens Mary Trump’s book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s most Dangerous Man.

Like many of us, I generally zip past an epigraph, just wanting to get to the story. I don’t want an appetizer, give me to the steak!  But that quote here is especially meaningful.

When Too Much and Never Enough came out last month I ran to the local bookstore for my copy–Jeff Bezos gets enough from me–and slurped it right up. I didn’t have a single thought of writing about it, because, well, after a book has taken up entire The Rachel Maddow Show twice….once with Rachel reading the juicy bits, and another of her talking with the author…plus interviews with Stephen Colbert and Terry Gross and press about everywhere, does anyone care what I think?

But while the juice squirts on every page here–Donald went to the movies the night his brother died totally alone!!–the most shocking take-away from the 250 pages of horrifying revelations of a complicated family has been largely ignored.

The most surprising feeling I came away with was of compassion for Donald Trump.

When Donald was two and-a-half his mother underwent an emergency hysterectomy and from that point on his mother, who was not effectual in the first place, was largely absent. Father Fred worked 12 hours a day six days a week and his wife’s medical condition and five young children didn’t change that. There was plenty of money for quality help, but instead the little ones were left mostly in the care of big sister.

Oldest brother Freddie–Mary’s father–was emotionally open and enjoyed normal interests in friends, fishing, boating and flying, but the father saw those interests in a designated successor as useless. Worse than useless, in fact, because they detracted from work and the family real estate empire. Did the alcohol abuse that ultimately killed Freddy at 42 come about in part because of mistreatment by the family? Was it the other way around? The bad luck of genetics? Or some combination?

Donald absorbed the lesson that Freddy was doing life wrong and he, Donald, was determined to be the “killer” son his father wanted. Donald went at that hard, fast and well, so well that he was unmanageable as a young teenager and sent off to military school.

Narcissists are difficult people largely because they don’t think they have a problem, they believe everyone else is the problem. The world should rightfully revolve around them, as Donald’s family did around him. Father Fred in one of a seemingly infinite number of illegal bailouts, deposited $3 million in cash at Donald’s casino, hoping to keep it afloat.

The mystery isn’t why Donald turned out the way he has, but why has the world let him get away with it? From the beginning there were illegal financial dealings, deceptions that became outright lies, and manipulations that he turned into positive headlines. Donald once attempted a codicil to his father’s will that would give him total control of the estate.  His siblings discovered that and put a stop to it, a rare guardrail. But there was no punishment prejudicial rental practices, his various bankruptcies and countless lies, including many told just for fun. At every step of the way, as with surviving impeachment, Donald Trump has only become more emboldened by a lack of consequences.

Donald and his siblings were trustees for Mary Trump and her brother Fritz, and instead of watching out for their interests, stole as much money as they could from their niece and nephew. “Of course wills are about money,” psychologist Mary Trump writes, “but in a family that has only one currency, wills are also about love.”

“That is how Donald Trump became president,” said comedian Chris Rock, in his most recent stand-up special Tamborine. In efforts to diminish bullying in schools and online we became complacent and  “then when a real bully showed up and no one knew how to handle him.”

Back to the epigraph in the book, “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed,” wrote Victor Hugo in Les Misérables. The equally important point is in the following sentence: “The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness.”

Posted in Books, Current Events, Entertainment, Law, Life Experiences | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Is There Hope for Mississippi?”

Last year I had the opportunity to hear and see Oprah Winfrey live and in person at Mountainfilm in Telluride. Among the many great moments that afternoon was a question from the audience: “Is there hope for Mississippi?”

Oprah was born in tiny Kosciusko, Mississippi, where she was raised for the first six years by her grandmother. That grandmother taught Oprah to read–she was shocked when she moved north to Milwaukee for the first grade and her fellow students were just learning the alphabet. That grandmother also taught her to love the bible and tried to teach her how to do laundry. “Pay attention, because you’ll be doing this one day.” Even at six, Oprah knew better, and also knew better than to say so.

That day last year in Colorado, Oprah empathized with the woman from Mississippi. “There can only be hope when Mississippi sincerely looks at itself and its past.” In order to move forward, she explained, there has to be a reckoning, and to that point there had been seemingly no interest in soul searching. “I’m sorry to say,” said Oprah, “that at this moment there doesn’t seem to be hope for Mississippi.”

Today, Oprah would probably answer that question differently.

Yesterday, the Mississippi lawmakers voted to pull down the state flag, the only state flag with the overt symbols of the Confederacy. Mississippi is the state with the highest percentage of black citizens and for decades there have been strenuous efforts to have the flag replaced. When citizens last had the chance to vote on a referendum to change the flag in 2001 it lost by two to one.

The aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, however, has given intense momentum for change. Statues have been pulled down, some by protesters, some by governments. Aunt Jemima is headed out and so is Uncle Ben.

The Mississippi flag change may not have been brought about by soul searching and reflection but by economics and athletics.  Walmart said it wouldn’t fly the flag. The NCAA and Southeast conference said that Mississippi would not be allowed to host championships until the flag was changed. Realtors begged for the change, so did the Baptist organizations black and white. “Whether we like it or not, the Confederate emblem on our state flag is viewed by many as a symbol of hate — there’s no getting around that fact,” Jason White, a Republican state representative.

So in this time of Coronavirus spreading well, virally, of the Russians offering bounty for killing American soldiers, of unprecedented unemployment and economic pain….it is nice to know that there is hope for Mississippi.

And, thus, hope for us all.

My favorite quote from that Oprah afternoon was: “You become what you believe.”


Posted in Current Events, Law, Life Experiences, Travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Should I get an RV?

I am a sucker for rabbit holes. Just recently I’ve fallen down one internet rabbit hole searching for George Floyd’s actual height (6 foot 6 inches), another explaining how epidemiologists conduct their own lives –at least a year yet before weddings, funerals, or concerts– and a third on The Prepared to determine the best solar charger “for when the SHTF”.

But the S has already HTF, which is why I’m glued to the computer.

It’s time for a vacation from all of it.

The S brought me home from India 12 days early and canceled my annual trip to Telluride for Mountainfilm. Same with the family cruise to Alaska scheduled for next month.

Biggest excitement recently was getting my teeth cleaned. Biggest thing on my calendar now is a hair appointment that’s 36 days away. We’ll see if it holds.

I’m thinking a vacation to Montana or Idaho would be nice, to get away from the daily case reports. I’d like to visit the little town of Ola, Idaho, where we watched the solar eclipse three years ago. (fresh farm eggs were $2/dozen.) I could rent a little camper van and have Greta and Marlowe for company. For years growing up, my family spent the entire summer living out of a trailer and so I have warm memories. All five kids, cat and dog of us would live out of a 21 foot trailer. We each got one drawer. My June birthday was always celebrated in the trailer with a Pepperidge Farm cake. For one night I didn’t need to help with the dishes.

Before you know it, I’m down another rabbit hole looking to rent a ClassB RV. The vans are tiny houses on wheels, a little baby kitchen, baby sleeping area, baby everything. My dogs are tiny, so it’s perfect. I’ll be able to drive it easily enough, taking my little bubble of safety with me all over the west. I’m poking around on Outdoorsy, which goes into reassuring detail about their Covid cleaning policies. But immediately snags appear. Most folks are not keen to share their van with Greta and Marlowe. The second, bigger, problem is that other people–many many other people–have had this idea before me.

RV rentals are up 650% this year and there’s no availability, except for the one ugly van someone made from Tinkertoys and that includes the owner’s bare feet in the photos.

The idea mutates. What if I BUY one and then sell it a few months later? Matt and Rebecca did that when they spent three months traveling around New Zealand. And so now I’m looking at floor plans and learning the difference between a two-way and a three-way refrigerator. One type sucks the heat OUT, the other pumps the cold IN. There are advantages and dis- to each depending upon humidity and how far off the grid you want to get. Me? I like my grid. Electricity, yes! Cell service, you bet. And WiFi, of course I want WiFi.

But even as a girl, I remember thinking how much work it was, washing dishes in the teeny tiny sink, conserving every drop of water, walking in the dark to the rest rooms half a mile away because we didn’t want to fill up the tank underneath our toilet.  There were many hot hours at laundromats, and many more hot hours in the car, since the air conditioner would stress our Estate Wagon. But if there was a lot of work, there were many others to share it.   When Matt and Rebecca bought the RV in New Zealand it was Matt AND Rebecca.

Adorable as Greta and Marlowe are, they do not help with chores. I am me. I’m tempted to say “just me”. I am not a “just” of course, but do I want to take on all the work? And there is no escape from this present. The news would follow me. I’d still need to have a mask and sanitizer at the ready, wash my hands all the time. And I do like popping over to Daddy’s for our bike ride and to see if the raspberry vines have coughed anything up. And to have Ariel over for fresh waffles with strawberries.

When so many are suffering so much it feels just wrong to think about loneliness. But there it is. The busyness of family is behind me, the partnership of marriage is behind me, and, it seems, the awkwardness of late life dating is also behind me.

And what is ahead? For any of us?

Just as I’m mooning about my bad RV plan, it hit me…. My birthday is just around the bend. Jessamyn has organized a small outside barbecue. It will be fun to actually see a few members of our family, even if none of us can get our hair done for at least 36 days or attend weddings or funerals for a year or more.

Ten years ago when I was in the throes of divorce misery Mama told me, “It won’t always be this way.” She was right then and, I suppose, she is right now.

Posted in Current Events, Family, Life Experiences, Motherhood, Travel | 1 Comment

Happy Mother’s Day

Dear Mama,

Shirley Carson Ray

Well, it’s been nearly five years now since we could talk in person….for the longest time I kept wanting to pick up the phone to talk to you. I’m lucky to be living in the ballet school, where a large part of you still lives. People say, ‘you have a ballet school?’ ‘Well, it used to be my mother’s ballet school,’ I say, ‘but now it’s been re-converted into a beautiful Queen Anne home.’

And here you are, in the marks on the wooden floor where you kept time with the umbrella. Every time I enter the twin bedroom I still see your desk in the corner, with the dial telephone. For the longest time I kept wanting to enter the bathroom from the studio, or rather living room, instead of from the side where the door now is.

This business would be hard for you. No being close to people. The future so uncertain. And no teaching ballet, a complete and total shut down of your world. You wouldn’t worry about getting sick, I know that, but you would worry about other people, about Sabrina working too much and Winston and Devin not working at all. You’d agonize about the food bank lines and write out checks to help out.

And you would definitely fret about toilet paper. Did you laugh the other day when I snagged two boxes of Cottonelle on Amazon?

Somehow you’ve still found a way to help out. There’s no elastic anywhere in the world for Ariel to make masks, but there in your sewing box was pink and black elastic…just the right width for ballet shoes. Looking in the shed and the linen closet for fabric I got distracted. Of course I did. There on the banker boxes is your pretty handwriting, with the big swooping capital letters. I especially liked the box that said, “the flannel blanket I made to bring the babies home from the hospital. My baby quilt. Clothes made by Grandma, some new.”

The flannel blanket is so pretty and soft, the tight embroidery floss still bright on the cute little teddy bear figures. Had to force myself back to the mission. Finally found the fabric stash right where you left it, on the bottom shelf atop a huge pile of leotards.  It was a little late by the time I found it but I wanted to share right away so asked Ariel if I could come over to show her something.

“Can we FaceTime?”

“Too special, it needs to be in person.”

I got that from you, I think, the desire to share in person, with people, to create unforgettable experiences. Once when you were taking care of Jessamyn when she was little you kept her awake too late playing “theater” because YOU were having such a good time. When I was pregnant with Jessamyn I waited to tell you so I could do it in person. No iPhones yet then to prove it with, but you really did jump up and down.

Thank you, Mama, for the fabric and the elastic and for so much more.

Love, Karen

Posted in Charity, Current Events, Family, Motherhood | 3 Comments