Wiffle ball and the practice of happiness

This isn’t about politics. This is about wiffle ball.

A couple months ago, a young man drove his car into a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia, injuring several people and killing Heather Heyer.

I’m afraid there’s nothing new about hate so entrenched it leads to violence. There’s nothing new about killing. But somehow, this injury to our collective humanity hurt me more than others had. Perhaps it’s a fallacy of perspective and a failure of memory, but lately, listening with empathy and responding with gentleness in a challenging conversation has been more difficult.

When a wound throbs, I put ice on it. Since I was getting up for ice anyway, I filled up a cooler, added some beverages, and rounded up a group of fellow humans for some fun.

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I’d like to say I threw a wiffle ball picnic because I understand the science and psychology of diverting attention and energy from negativity to creativity and connection, but I was acting on instinct.

I got to the park early, set up a picnic table with chips, dips, soda, fruit and, okay, maybe a little rosé. A group of about a dozen slowly started turning up, and we moved from a blanket on the ground to an improvised baseball diamond: Each base was a can of seltzer water.

There was no start time, we went from an odd number to an even number to an odd number of people over time, and we weren’t sure what the rules were. We discussed teams, and decided against them. At one point, I forgot whether I was covering first base or if I had just run there. We didn’t keep score. When my friend Valerie banged out what looked like a base hit, I was too busy cheering for her to catch the ball and tag her out.

At one point, one man said he had lost track of what alliances were which, and another looked surprised and asked if there were in fact alliances. Jules said, “It’s every man for himself. It’s the wiffle ball way”

It was wonderful.

After about an hour of hitting a ball and jogging around, we broke for snacks and, okay, maybe a little rosé.

Charlottesville, sexism, racism, politics, and the balance between capitalism and public needs all came up in conversation. Some of us are well-compensated professionals benefiting from Washington’s lack of income tax. Some of us are struggling. We were in a public park. We noted this. Mostly the conversation was gentle, mostly because the group generally agreed.  Unlike on the field of play, there were moments when I felt the need to referee.

A couple strolling in the park saw our seltzer can bases and scooped them up. One of us groused, “Hey, they took our bases!” I said, no, honey, they cleaned up our mess.

I’ve talked to the wifflers since then, and we all want to play again when the sun comes back out in Seattle. When the afternoon was over and the food and okay, maybe a little rosé, was gone, the feeling of teamless sports lingered. Minds returned to openness, humor, relaxed boundaries and silliness. We weren’t perfect. The day wasn’t perfect. But we did our best: We stopped what we were doing, we stopped worrying and commenting online and reading upsetting news and feeling frustrated or angry or afraid and chose to focus on food, sunshine, hugs, and laughter.

There are always times when talk of politics, money and social woes spark anxiety, ego, and judgement. But what did we remember from our day in the park? Laughing. And what did everyone say they still needed? The recipe for the dip.

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Oh my God, FINE. I will help you with your profile

Which one are you on — Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, Match … all of them? Farmer’s Only? Really? But you’re … okay, buddy. No, I hear ya. We can do this.

Let’s start with the basics: If you are going to take a mirror selfie, look to see what you’re actually showing. Like, your whole room. Look. Are you sure you want to wear … wait. Are you okay? You only wear tank tops and basketball shorts when you’re sad. Are you sure you want to do this now?

You do?

Okay. Do you need a hug? No?

Okay.

So, look. Look at this pic here. You see that? Yeah, gross. At least put the lid down. Are you picking up what I’m laying down?

Maybe I should just take your picture. Want to come outside with me? No? Maybe later.

Oh, honey, I totally agree. She was a mess. I remember! The thing with her friend and her sister and your car. Ugh, it was so hard. But you’re okay now! No, I know, you’re over it. You’re so over it. We’re all so over it. But when you say “save the drama for your mama,” a few things happen. First, you are announcing to strangers that you have handled challenges poorly in the past. And that you aren’t in a place where you can get to know someone a little and get a sense of them and make a determination about how healthy a choice they are for you. And … ::whispers:: you kind of sound like a dick.

Sorry. Here, let me get you a beer.

So, skip that drama disclaimer. No, no. You don’t have to include your school. I get it! You’re right. It’s really easy to google someone from a dating app. Just leave it blank. I’m serious. School of Hard Knocks University of Life only tells people that you are kind of secretive. Or ::whispers:: that dick thing. SORRY!

What do these numbers mean? Measurements and … is that a credit score? Oh, honey. Oh, sweetie. Do you know that you are 50? You’re 50, now. Remember, we went on that 50-mile ride and everybody picked up your tab and Evelyn baked you a cake? So, like, everybody your age. Sure, fine, you’re right — OUR age. Everybody our age is divorced. And divorced women your age — OUR AGE — Shhh! Let me finish! They’ve been through it. Maybe they stuck with someone too long. Maybe they sank their lives into kids and homes and then were dumped with no career track in place. Maybe their exes blew their nest eggs. Maybe their exes friggin’ DIED of expensive cancer. Hey, don’t forget — I’m driving you to your colonoscopy on the 14th. Yeah, I love you, too.

My point, though. My point is, don’t joke about finances to a middle-aged woman who is getting her life back together. It ain’t lube, sugar. It ain’t. Haha, yeah. Nymphomaniac who owns a liquor store. Yeah, I remember that one. From 1982. Ha. No, don’t write that. You see rape culture … um, alcohol … um, healthy … yeah, just. Trust me. “High-functioning alcoholic who is sex-positive.” Ha! That’s good. Actually, it kind of isn’t. What happens in your kitchen stays in your kitchen, okay? Don’t put that on your profile. You won’t like where that takes you.

Also, those measurements … well, let me refer you back to this selfie … okay, sorry. That was mean. But seriously, the lid!

Sapiosexual. Ha. The new “foodie.” Don’t say foodie, honey — it isn’t 1996. No, for real! Everybody not only cooks — they have friggin’ cooking shows. I know! You’re right! You don’t mess around. I’ve had your mushroom risotto and it’s amazing. You’re the real thing. I’m just saying, it’s dated. Foodie isn’t the point — I’m trying to tell you that
“sapiosexual” is overused and kind of meaningless.

No no! I saw that message! STOP. Stop typing while I’m helping you. UGH. You offered to wait while she looks up THE most trendy word in dating, and it is a portmanteau of two Latin roots. A fifth-grader could figure that out. You want to meet somebody smart, but that’s a really dumb thing to say.

Ohhhh! What did she say! “Why don’t you look up condescending ass.” Ha, that’s pretty good, but I don’t think you can work with it. Just let it go.

No! Stop! Okay, I’m holding your phone now. STOP. STAHP. Nope. I’m going to freeze it in a block of ice in your freezer if you … you can’t be mean to someone and expect them to go out with you! Okay, that’s better. Thanks.

Here. Look at her! She seems cool. Awwww, look at that dog! You can ask her what her dog’s name is, or how old. That is definitely the Ponte Vecchio. You could ask what her favorite restaurant in Florence is. Do you want me to just …

Oh. You went with “Hey.” Huh.

Okay, sugar. You know what? I love you. I really do! You’re one of my best friends, and I really want to help. I just need to sit down for a minute. Maybe later we can take some pictures of you?

After, like, you change into clothes. …. No? Okay, buddy.

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Victory in the kitchen

I promised a couple of friends a healthy, tasty vegan soup recipe. Here it is. In typing it up, I am revealing that I have two crutches in the kitchen:

Crutch one: Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes. I put this in everything. Je ne regrette rien.

Crutch two: Coconut milk. I don’t have any brand loyalty or recommendations. Go catch a free range coconut and grind it up if you like.

Both of these go into what I’m arbitrarily calling Squash Soup, but it’s really just a pantry hodgepodge that worked well enough to repeat a couple times. I think it may be the lentils that make it so satisfying.

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You will need:

  • 1 medium butternut squash — about three pounds
  • 1 smallish sweet potato — about the size of a regular potato
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 15.5-ounce can of tomatoes (the big can)
  • 1 12 (or so) ounce can of coconut milk
  • 1 32-ounce brick pack of vegetable broth, or an equivalent amount of homemade stock
  • 2 tablespoons oil

Spices: I recommend a heaping tablespoon of salt, a half teaspoon of fenugreek, plus pinches of white pepper and paprika. But that’s just me; I like fenugreek. Salt, pepper, and some variety of curry powder would work. I put lemon zest in it once, and that was pretty tasty. Season to taste, I guess!

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cut the squash into quarters lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and place the slices skin-side-up in a baking pan. Tuck the sweet potato in a corner. Stick the whole apparatus in the oven and leave it alone for half an hour. I neither oil nor cover the squash, which leads to some slight unevenness in texture. If that is a bug and not a feature in your opinion, you will get softer, more consistent results by covering the pan in foil. That will also make the squash easier to peel.

Cut up the onion. Add the oil to the pan and set to low, then add the onion. When that pan of goodness has been going for about half an hour over low heat, add the crushed garlic and give it another five minutes. If the onions aren’t browning a little, turn up the heat a hair. [If you want, use more onions, add salt and sugar and maybe vinegar, cook for longer and really caramelize them. I’m not saying it’s not worth it. I’m just saying when I spend three hours on a recipe, I usually eat every dang thing in the kitchen while I cook, so I’ve only done this once. Eating a box of crackers, all the fruit and a Luna bar does not really leave one with an appetite for dinner.]

When the onions look and smell good — not burnt, definitely translucent, a little dark, remove from heat.

Check the squash and sweet potato — you’ll probably want to take the sweet potato out and leave the squash for another 10-15 minutes. Bake them both until soft.

Rinse the lentils thoroughly, then add to your soup pot. Pour in your whole box of stock and bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. When the lentils are soft, add the garlic and onions. When the sweet potato and squash have softened, take them out of the oven and turn it off. Let them cool a bit before popping them out of their skins.

Add the sweet potato and squash to the lentil mixture and simmer a bit. Add the can of tomatoes. I do like the Muir Glen Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes, but any can of tomatoes will do nicely. If whole ones are cheaper, use those. The whole shebang is getting blended.

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At this point, you can get something you will enjoy with some patience and a potato masher. But what you really want is a blender or food processor. Odds are you will have to do this in stages: Pour some soup in, blend, pour that soup into another pot and blend the rest. At any rate, any way you can, puree until smooth and pour back into the pot. Stir in the coconut milk and spices and bring back up to a gentle simmer.

When this bubbles, it will do that gloppy soup thing and spit at you, so have a lid handy to use as a shield.

And … that’s it! It really is good with a tiny bit of lemon zest. It’s fine for lunch with toast. I’ve served it to company with reasonable results. Freezes well. I eyeballed it and called the huge pot I made 10 servings. Could be more — but basing the arithmetic on that, each bowl works out to about 300-350 calories.

Oh, you want a picture of the finished product? Uh, yeah. I ate it. I’ll update the post next time I make some!

 

 

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He started it, but we can stop it

Things are getting ugly.

I think we can all agree that the 45th president of the United States of America does things that are not indicative of a facility with words, strategy, politics or policy. Though a graduate of an Ivy League school, he doesn’t seem to have a great deal of interest in intellectual pursuits. He is not polite. To put it mildly. His inner circle seems to include crude, angry, unkempt, and clumsy people.

To a casual observer, to even the least-savvy political mind, Donald Trump’s behavior is fatuous, at best. I would say that, at worst, he behaves like a bully, but I’m sure it can be worse. It’s likely to get worse, in fact.

And while we watch him spew, sputter and spin out, we feel frustrated. We can see the cruelty and short-sightedness of those in power, and their rookie mistakes. And we feel like geniuses.

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So why do so many of us act like an unruly mob?

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The fact that the tone of our president’s language, and his administration’s language, is awful is a good reason to respond with careful language. It is not a good reason to respond with equally ugly words. We acknowledge that no grown person, especially not a person in power, should crudely insult anyone publicly. In the same breath, we echo his language to insult him, his inner circle, the misguided voters who are stuck with him, and anyone else within earshot.

I can hear you. My kids can hear you. The world can hear you. If we are all concerned about the U.S. becoming an international joke, then we need to find a better way to handle it than calling each other retards, dumbasses, and scum. If the president advocates violence, and we are offended, why do we threaten violence in return? The threat of violence shocks us, so we know it is wrong. And yet, we perpetuate it. Why insult women? We know that commenting on a woman’s appearance, particularly as a way to make a point about her husband, is wrong. And yet, it never stops.

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On the left, a tweet from Trump implying that Ted Cruz isn’t fit for office because his wife isn’t a model. On the right, a man who is not a fan of Trump defending commenting on the relative attractiveness of Tony Scaramucci’s wife, and then accusing me of stalking when I ask him about it. So.

Please. Please stop.

What, you might ask, set me off? I will tell  you what. Cocksucking. That’s not a term I ever use publicly. It’s not a term that is typically uttered in polite company, but it’s coming up a lot since the White House communications director used it in a phone call to a prominent journalist — a call that was a step away from a drunk dial.

Now people are gleefully talking about cocksucking and calling each other cocksuckers. And I’m upset. Anger perpetuates anger, and I would love to live in a world where we could step out of that cycle. I would love to be able to read about politics without having a nuclear blast of hate melt my eyebrows. But the cocksucking? That’s another matter.

That term, as an insult, is a prime example of insidious homophobia. Nobody ever calls me a cocksucker. If someone did, I might blush, but I would shrug in agreement, because I like who I like, you know? (Here’s where I hope my parents don’t read my blog!) Cocksucker used as an insult is meant to slap a man right in his tender manliness button. If the men in and around the Trump administration were performing gentle, loving acts upon each other as much as people joke about it, our country might have fewer problems.

How do we hold them accountable for eroding LGBT rights when we echo the use of cocksucker as an insult? How do we convince them to respect women in word, deed and policy if we use cocksucker as an insult? Seems like cocksucking is usually a pretty nice thing for one human to do with another human. No need to use that term in such an ugly way.

Remember this lady? Remember how much we love her, how selflessly she served our country in an unpaid position? How she inspired us? You do, don’t you? Show her some respect, because she has some good advice for you.

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I don’t want to be unnecessarily harsh, but I’m finding a great need to speak up when I see people who reasonably react with fear, horror, shock or frustration to the Trump administration echoing its toxic language. I’m not here to police anyone, but I certainly want to note it. If you applauded Michelle Obama for saying “when they go low, we go high,” then please: Go high. I would like to hang on to that sentiment. I’d like to wrap it around me like a warm blanket, because the toxic masculinity of the Trump administration is really, really ugly and nearly inescapable.

 

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Happy birthday

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Look at this guy! I am. That’s me in the awkward pose in front of him enjoying his handsome charm.

That’s Stacy. He’s my friend. He’s a friend to many. He’s sort of the baritone-voiced, kind-eyed angel of friendship. He’s the walking, talking genius of warmth and connection, in my humble opinion.

Stacy, were your ears burning? You were the topic of conversation over coffee this morning. My daughter said, the thing about him is that so many people can enjoy what’s wonderful about him. As in, he’s open-hearted and open-minded, warm, loving, gregarious and genuinely enjoys creating spaces where people connect. He’s an artist, yes, but that isn’t his only talent.

Meetups, social media and dating apps perform solidly in bringing people together for initial meetings. It takes empathy, authenticity and work to build a lasting community. That’s Stacy’s other great talent. It’s a teachable skill, too. Before I met Stacy, wandering around a Hampton Block Party at the end of the summer of 1991, I had no idea how food, drink, music, introductions, and laughter could transform people individually and as groups.  If joy were currency, Stacy would be a billionaire.

A dear friend who came to Newport News just a little later in life but just as hopeful of finding a home and a community calls him the mayor. Stacy knows everyone. If he doesn’t, he will. I look to him when I need a hug, a dance partner, a quiet beer or a walk. But so many of the people who connect with him come to him for different things. And Stacy gives us what he can.

Are you looking for a better life? Happiness? Peace? A cozy, secure feeling for your soul? Be like Stacy. Make dinner. Invite your friends over. Make art and share it. Hug the worthy souls you meet. Be grateful. Be grateful for your community, for art, for love, for family and friends. I am. Grateful every day for knowing a man like this.

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For whom the tail wags

Cedar, the greatest dog who ever dogged, has completed her work here on Earth and crossed the rainbow bridge to the plane of stardust, bacon and unlimited squeaky tennis balls.

Cedar got a lot done in her short, though actually relatively long, time here.

She was a comedian of the highest caliber. She was a lover not a fighter. Although, occasionally she was a fighter, and was the noble and proud victor in tussles with a very slow-moving car, a nutria in the James River, a baby squirrel, a baited fish hook, two plastic dog bowls, dozens of imaginary bad guys at the door and countless squeak toys.

Cedar gracefully bore the clumsy adoration of young children who grew up to love her, appreciate her and learn responsibility and tenderness from her.

Cedar helped with the dishes and the mopping, and thoughtfully reinforced the softness of every surface in every room she entered with a thick cushion of fur. She was only trying to help.

Cedar was an excellent, and by excellent I mean exceedingly attentive, dinner companion. She was a good listener.

Cedar could keep a secret: I asked her every day who was a good puppy, but she never told.

Cedar had not one but two theme songs, which clearly makes her the hero of the picture.

Cedar was a diligent sentry. No letter or flyer delivered to a home she inhabited has ever gone unbarked at. I’m confident that her sleeping through a stranger sneaking into our apartment was intentional, so that I could have a good story. Cedar was one of the few wonders under the sun better than a good story.

Cedar was an adventurer, intrepidly peeing in 16 states and the District of Columbia. She appreciated beauty, and was especially fond of the soft trails of the Olympic National Forest and the beaches along the Oregon coast. She was an enthusiastic partner for adventures on trails of all kinds, from mountain bike parks to snowshoe tracks.

She was an eclectic eater who frequently supplemented her kibble with jerky, paper towels, empty food containers on the street and snails. Ever the gourmet, she loved crunching on a tasty garden snail on our morning walks.

Cedar was an excellent roommate, always doing her share of chores, seldom making messes and always cleaning up spills. She was an excellent officemate, too, keeping her human’s feet warm during long periods at the desk and enforcing healthy breaks at regular intervals.

Cedar was a good friend to her human family, to her human friends, to her little brother Rambo, and to the many two- and four-legged people she encountered throughout her life. She was widely beloved and loved all, except dachshunds. She apparently knew something disturbing about dachshunds that she was too polite to talk about.

Cedar loved jerky and walkies and playing chase, and pursued those interests until the day she died. Just this past week she covered several miles, killed an entire bag of bacon jerky and played an epic game of chase. She bounced like a bunny rabbit until her very last afternoon.

Who was a good puppy? Cedar.

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Anyone else beginning to wonder if it’s all an act?

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Have you ever dropped in someone watching a soap opera and gotten sucked in? Or maybe a sick day on the couch brought you back to a daytime drama you watched in college, or a reality show you’ve heard of but never seen?

The show itself: It don’t make no damn sense. It’s confusing. But it’s immediately understandable, and kind of reassuring in it’s consistency and predictability.

Updates from the extreme right wing can be like that. A concerned voter with a full life can hum along, vote for relatively sane people in local elections, care in varying degrees about city council and school board issues, and feel just fine crossing the aisle sometimes. (Hey, I’ve voted for John Warner)

It’s not even worth saying that politics is full of the crooked, the narcissistic, the criminal and the weird. Politics is also full of the boring, the schlubby, the hardworking but mediocre. Nobody cares about that. The soaps are what get the clicks, and you can’t tell me that it isn’t a soap opera.

Day to day, year to year, cycle to cycle, a voter can lose track of who specifically is what degree of evil, and who is or is not back from the dead. Do we care about Newt Gingrich this year? Is Glenn Beck pleading for empathy for the #BlackLivesMatter movement? Is Paul Ryan a P90X anti-choice nutjob ala Santorum, or is he the voice of reason who isn’t so sure about Trump? Are John and Marlena together? Will Khloe ever forgive Lamar? The only way to know the details is to watch it every damn day.

But most of us aren’t addicts. We’re dropping in like we’re watching “Days of Our Lives” with our favorite aunt for the first time in a decade. It’s a little confusing, but the gestalt is always the same.

Why do I bring this up? Not for any particular reason, I suppose. It’s just that Ted Cruz just endorsed Donald Trump, which is equal parts unsurprising and surprising, and equal parts breaking news and business-as-usual. You can read the whole spiel on Facebook, because that’s where celebrities promote themselves. But there’s really no point. It’s boilerplate, as predictable as a soap opera wedding. Just like a soap opera, it can only be watched with detachment and a suspension of disbelief. I don’t know what exactly can be done about that.

Apart from the obvious, which is to vote for Hillary Clinton, and pay attention to local elections.

 

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