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The Reality I’m Not Denying

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Grief is one of the hardest and most profound emotions humans ever experience. At times, it feels like you are losing your mind and that you will never experience normalcy again….
Humanism provides an excellent framework for coping with grief. It is rational, compassionate and responsible. We accept our grief in the present with the goal of finding a way to live our lives fully despite our loss.
(Intro to “The Humanist Approach to Grief and Grieving – a Rational and Compassionate Approach to Bereavement,” by Jennifer Hancock)

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When someone we love dies, it can intensely undermine our sense of stability and safety. Our lives have been changed forever, generally by forces we had no control over and it can feel as if nothing’s in our control. It can feel like the ground under our feet, which we once thought was stable, has suddenly gone soft…

This feeling can be especially strong if the person who died was someone we were exceptionally close with and who had a large presence in our everyday lives, like a spouse or a partner or a child….And it can be especially strong if the death was unexpected, like an accident, a sudden illness, or death by violence.

Typically, religion teaches us to cope with these feelings by denying them. It tells us that, no matter how insecure we may feel, in reality we’re completely safe. The people who have died aren’t really dead we’ll see them again. Their death hasn’t actually changed our lives permanently. In fact, the next time we see them it’ll be in a blissful place of perfect safety.  [1]

The opposite is true for nonreligious and non-spiritual views of death. Nonbelievers don’t deny this experience of instability. So instead we can try to accept it, and find ways to live with it.

The reality is that safety isn’t an either/or thing. We’re never either entirely safe or entirely unsafe. The ground under our feet is never either totally solid or totally soft. Stability and safety are relative: they’re on a spectrum. We’re more safe, or less safe.

Coping with grief and moving on with it doesn’t mean that the ground feels entirely solid again. It means that the ground feels more solid…. We still understand that things can come out of left field –  terrible things, and wonderful ones.

( “Secular Grief, and the Loss of Stability and Safety,” The Humanist)

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Department Of Time And Tea

Question: (posed to a British atheist) How do you offer condolences to grieving friends and family?

Answer: By listening. Taking time to talk rather than giving a simple pat phrase.
I offer time and tea.

(Atheists and Grieving, The Guardian, 9-26-13)

 

As previewed in last week’s blog and in light of the recent tragedy of the death of a dear friends’ daughter, moiself is sharing a few quotes and insights about how we who are religion-free   [2] – whether we identify as Atheists, Freethinkers, Brights, Humanists, Skeptics, etc. – view death and grieving.

First off, I should disavow usage of the royal “we,” as there is no dogma/scriptures to which those who hold a naturalistic world view must subscribe. That said, we have much in common with religious believers in that all human beings grieve their losses, with pain proportional to the magnitude of those losses.    [3] 

No one is immune from grief and suffering. The comfort we who are religion-free take in our natural (as opposed to supernatural) worldview is compelling because it requires neither denial of reality nor self-delusion. The comforts of a Humanistic approach to life are grounded in gratitude and wonder at life itself, and of the awareness that life’s cherished moments are made all the more valuable by their impermanence.

 

 

 

(Religious) believers and non-believers have many things in common, and much of what we find comforting during grief is the same – but much of is it seriously different, and even contradictory.

Religious beliefs about death are only comforting if you don’t think about them very carefully — which ultimately makes it not very comforting…. A philosophy that accepts reality is inherently more comforting than a philosophy based on wishful thinking – since it doesn’t involve cognitive dissonance and the unease of self-deception.

I think there are ways to look at death, ways to experience the death of other people and to contemplate our own, that allow us to feel the value of life without denying the finality of death. I can’t make myself believe in things I don’t actually believe — Heaven, or reincarnation, or a greater divine plan for our lives — simply because (we have been told that) believing those things would make death easier to accept. And I don’t think I have to, or that anyone has to. I think there are ways to think about death that are comforting, that give peace and solace, that allow our lives to have meaning and even give us more of that meaning — and that have nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of god, or any kind of afterlife.

( “Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing To Do With God,” Greta Christina)

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At this point I   [4]  am firmly convinced that a Humanist approach is the best way to deal with grief. Here is why.

1) It is natural. We don’t deny death…. Why is this beneficial? Because when you don’t deny death…you have to deal with it. Grief is so painful that most people will do just about anything to avoid it. But avoiding grief isn’t the same as dealing with grief. A Humanist chooses to deal with grief directly.

2) We have no one to get mad at…. When you have a naturalist approach, you don’t have someone, like a god, who you can blame for causing it. Why is not having someone to get mad at beneficial? Because, displaced anger is very common with grief and it is again a way to avoid grief. It doesn’t help us come to terms with it. It just funnels our grief into an irrational anger.

3) Grief is a natural human response to overwhelming loss or sadness…. We don’t have to be afraid of it, we just have to allow ourselves to experience it.  Why is this better? Because again, people spend so much time trying to avoid grief that they never just allow themselves to experience it and deal with it and move on. Instead, they stay in a sort of grief limbo – too afraid to just experience the emotions so that they can get on with life.

4) Our focus in on the here and now…. There is a tendency among people who believe in an afterlife to put their hopes and dreams into thinking about that after life. After all, when living gets tough, it just seems easier to give up and hope for a better life. The natural approach is better because focusing on and hoping for an afterlife means you are giving up on this one. You aren’t going to try to heal, you are just going to suffer and wait until you die so you can be happy then.

5) We are focused on living. Yeah, we are sad. Possibly overwhelmingly sad…. But again, (we take) a long view of what was happening….  Accepting grief is a necessary first step, but it is only the first step. Then you have to deal with it and learn how to cope with it. Belief in an afterlife hinders that process.

(Natural Grief, a Humanist Perspective)

 

 

 

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I don’t believe in life after death; I believe in life before death. I believe that the way we live in the here and now has immense and ultimate value, and that the one provable, demonstrable “afterlife” all of us (no matter our religious or world views) will have is in the way our lives have touched others.  We will live on in the legacies we leave to this world – the after-effects of our actions and relationships is what causes our friends and family to remember and honor us long after we are gone.

Three years ago, when MH’s father died from complications of Parkinson’s disease, a friend wondered aloud about how MH’s and my children, Belle and K, were handling this loss. It must be tough for them, she mused, seeing as how this was their first grandparent to die.

“Ah, well, actually…” My stammering reply was interrupted by my friend, who, wide-eyed with shock and embarrassment, sputtered what was to be the first in a series of apologies for her inexcusable (in her view) faux pas, of somehow temporarily forgetting that my beloved father had died seven years earlier:

“It’s just that, the way you always talk about him, it’s as if he’s still here.”

I never held her lapse of memory against her, because it was the impetus for one of the most kind, and ultimately profound, things anyone has ever said to me.

 

 

(Chester Bryan Parnell [8-8-1924 – 2-11-2009] proving art age 51 he could still hoist his “Robbie Doll”)

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May we always remember to love ’em while we’ve got ’em;
May the way we talk about our loved ones keep them “still here;”
May we all offer one another time and tea;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] There are exceptions—e.g., many Buddhist teachings focus on the inherent impermanence of existence.

[2] As is my friend’s family, as well as MH and I and our (young adult) children.

[3] And despite the claims of religious folk who say they find comfort in the thought of an afterlife, I’ve never met a religious believer who was eager to get there, no matter how much they say they believe in/hope for, say, “the better life with Jesus” which supposedly awaits them. They comfort friends and family with platitudes (“god took your mother home; she’s in a better place…”) even as they fight tooth and nail to keep themselves from that “better” place. From what I have seen and read and heard, when it comes down to it, the “faithful” have little faith in their death/after life beliefs, because if they did, they’d gladly die rather than rushing to medical science to keep them from their alleged god/afterlife.  If you really believe that you and your loved ones will have everlasting bliss in heaven together, what are you doing so desperately hanging around on this life on earth? Why are you relying on science to keep you alive (and to prolong the deaths of people you don’t even know and who don’t hold your views, as when religious believers try to stop families who want to remove brain dead relatives from life support) when you get sick?

[4]  The author of the article experienced the death of her child.

The Speculation I’m Not Endorsing

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Department Of The Difference One Word Can Make

Last week I wrote about the death of Dr. SEH, dearly loved daughter of our friends LPH and DH.  Dr. SEH was doing her first year of medical residency in Salt Lake City where, on Sunday evening, January 27, she was murdered by her boyfriend, who then killed himself.

Friends and family and colleagues, we who knew and loved SEH (and if you knew her, you loved her) have been __________ . Get out your thesaurus and fill in the blanks with every emotion involving horror, grief, overwhelming shock, and gob-smacked confusion.

Speaking of filling in the blanks, I understand the temptation to do so with regards to this dreadful tragedy, because our shock/confusion stems from the fact that this came “out of nowhere,” as they say.

We all want to look for reasons to explain the unreasonable…we are all looking for clues, and so far, as of this writing, there are none.  Thus, my irritation at a Well-Meaning Person, ®  one whose well-meaning quote (my emphasis) made me want to swing a sack of Well-Meaning Potatoes at her head.

‘It’s just crushing … to know that she must have been struggling.’
(“Vigil Planned In California For Doctor Killed In Sugar House Domestic Violence Slaying,” Salt Lake Tribune story 1-28-19)

 

And your evidence for this would be…?

Here is what frosts my butt: as of the time that quote was given – a mere one day after SEH’s death – [1] no one knew that SEH “must have been struggling.”  No one knew anything; thus, our previously mentioned overwhelming shock and confusion.  Well-Meaning Person presumed SEH had been struggling, as in, with a “domestic violence” situation.  And still, as of this writing, no one knows that for certain.

Yes, many times when women are killed by their partners there has been an ongoing/ escalating pattern of abuse and violence. And other times, it comes out of the proverbial blue. Either way, from what we knew then – at the time that person made that statement – and from what we know now…what we know is that we just don’t know.

We lack that pesky little thing called evidence. The killer left no note; neither the victim nor the killer had communicated to anyone – family, friends, colleagues – that there was trouble in the relationship. Family, friends, colleagues, neighbors – all thought and experienced them as a happy couple. There had been no calls to police or domestic violence counseling centers or hotlines or campus police or SEH’s residency supervisors, either from the couple or about them (i.e. neighbors reporting arguments) until moments before the actual murder/suicide.   [2]  There were no witnesses; no hidden cameras or recordings; the killer had no history of mental illness….

From all appearances, SEH’s first hint that her boyfriend was capable of such a thing was when he killed her.

What we don’t know at this point would fill the Grand Canyon   [3] of speculation.  Autopsies and toxicology tests will be performed, and can take anywhere from four to six weeks to get results. But the results can only provide possible whats, and not whys.

So. To repeat moiself: We all seek reasons to explain the unreasonable.  We are all capable of doing that privately. But to see such speculation in print is…not helpful, to put it mildly.

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“So senseless and sad, two completely devastated and bewildered families.”

This was my younger sister’s reaction, after reading an article which contained an interview with the killer’s father and also a statement from SEH’s family.  My response to her, in part:

“… (the emotion of) bewilderment is, in some ways, almost up there with the sadness and devastation, and the “why”s will likely never be answered. I thought the father in the article did well, and I do try to remember that there are two grieving families involved (even though I no longer speak his- the killer’s – name). In some ways their burden may be ultimately harder than (SEH’s parents), as in, being the parents of a murderer, they will not have the same emotional support.  As far as I know, there is no POPWMOPC – Parents of People Who Murder Other People’s Children – support group.”

And yet, from that same article (link provided below), a Utah domestic violence worker disputes the “out of nowhere” and “he must have just snapped” characterization of the murder-suicide:

But Jenn Oxborrow, director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, said research shows random outbursts of domestic violence almost never happen. “People do not just snap,” she said.
Oxborrow said that even in relationships where there aren’t glaring red flags, some kind of abuse — such as power or control issues — typically becomes evident after a tragedy.

Sometimes the warning signs can be a partner having sole control of finances, or an otherwise loving relationship where there isn’t trust — where one partner is always looking through the other’s phone, for example, or where a partner isolates the other.
Studies have also shown that when a gun is present in a home and there is any sort of history of domestic violence, a woman is about five times more likely to die by that firearm, Oxborrow said.
(excerpt from “How can it end like this?’ After a man shot and killed his girlfriend and himself in their Sugar House home, two families grapple with how they died,”
The Salt Lake Tribune, 2-2-19)

*   *   *

I don’t know.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
I don’t know.

For now, I will hold on to what we do know:

The family’s statement said a friend of SEH had described her best, quoting the friend as saying, “SEH was unfailingly kind, fun, hilarious, brilliant, and one of the most supportive friends anyone could ever have. She had the strongest work ethic of anyone I’ve seen and she was so driven to help people. She never met a challenge she couldn’t overcome, and she made all the people around her feel unstoppable and bold.”
… a family friend…named as a spokesman, said in his own comments, “SEH was one of those unique people that had all the smarts, perseverance and drive to succeed at whatever she set her mind to, but also the gifts of compassion and empathy to help other people in need.” She was close with her family, he added. “All of which makes the loss of her precious life the more difficult to bear for those who knew and loved her.”

MH and I were concerned about DH, SEH’s father, who had gone to Salt Lake City to meet with police, gather his daughter’s effects, and take care of the other unthinkable “tasks” which accompany such a tragedy.  When MH  [4] asked DH how he was doing.  DH responded:

Thank you. It seems SEH created groups of amazing supportive friends everywhere she went so I’ve been taken care of here.

Indeed. I know she did, and I know where SEH got that ability: from her mind-boggling marvelous mother, LPH.

During that devastating phone call in which LPH told me about her daughter’s death, LPH and I reminisced about how I was one of the first people, other than immediate family, to hear SEH”s voice: the doctor and nurse practitioner who lovingly cared for LPH during her pregnancy and then delivered the baby were my former employers and cherished friends, DWB and PHB, and they telephoned me from the delivery room just as SEH made her way into this world.

We who knew SEH were awed by what she experienced in her life, and especially, by what she made with those experiences.  Intelligent and determined, despite the many grueling surgeries she underwent due to her Stickler syndrome and the loss of sight in one eye, SEH remained a top student in her classes, skied and river rafted, and persisted in pursuing her goals, becoming the medical doctor that some people told her was out of her reach.

She was also beautiful, charming, witty, caring, and adored her family – she and her brother were literally best friends…and I can’t imagine a person who didn’t love and admire her after knowing her.

“Sarah Elizabeth” English tea rose

 

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Department Of Preview Of Coming Attractions:
How the Religion-Free Think About Death & Grief

Here is (an excerpt of) what a religion-free [5]  journalist wrote to a (religious) friend who had recently suffered the loss of her father. This friend asked him to tell her what he thought was the “next step,” and to “please lie to make it more interesting” if his answer might not suit her.

You asked me what I think is the next step.
Well, no one has reported back from the other side, none of us who are alive have been to the other side, and we don’t have any factual evidence supporting a life (as we know it) after we die.
To me, believing what I want to be true can be very comforting (like my unshakable belief that Jessica Alba wants all my babies), but that doesn’t make it true.
I find more comfort in what I know to be true. For the things I don’t know, I prefer saying just that — I don’t know — instead of entertaining supernatural guesses or made-up answers from a time when humans didn’t know about the carbon cycle or the structure of the DNA that your father passed on to you, his living, breathing daughter.
You said that if I didn’t have the answers, I should “lie to make it more interesting.” But I have always found things most interesting when I didn’t have to lie. That is why I am an atheist.
Admitting ignorance is humbling. It reminds us that as fleeting inhabitants of this vast universe, we are part of something much bigger. It forms a foundation  for the curiosity that defines us as human beings, that drives us to contemplate our existence, educate ourselves, and to grow and evolve as individuals and as a species.
To lose that is a much worse death than physical death.
I wish you the strength and resolve to cope with your loss. Mourn his death, but also celebrate the life that he helped give you. That’s what he would have wanted.
(“Grief Without Belief – How Do Atheists Deal With Death,”
Huffington Post, 10-22-13,
By Ali A. Rizvi, Pakistani-Canadian author of The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason)

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May we all be taken care of, wherever our “here” is;
May we readily admit what we do not know;
May we find comfort in what we know to be true;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *


[1] Given by the dean of the medical school where SEH got her M.D.

[2] When the person who lived in the basement below the couple heard what she thought was a home invasion going on upstairs, and fled through a basement window and ran a block to safety before calling the police.

[3] Where MH and our son K did a river rafting trip with SHE and her family, last spring. The last time we saw her.

[4] Regular readers know that I use the blogonym “MH” to refer to My Husband.

[5]  A freethinker is a person who forms opinions on the basis of reason, independent of authority or tradition, especially a person whose religious opinions differ from established belief.

The Life I’m Not Mourning

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I hate it, beginning a blog post – or any kind of statement – with a lie. It’s a lie because I am mourning, even as I find the term inadequate to describe the feelings experienced by those of us who loved a remarkable young woman whose life was recently and unexpectedly cut short.

Wednesday (1/30) morning, just before 7 am. The bright, sliver-moon’s optimism, portending the sunny/crisp winter day to come, taunted me with its optimism. A mere two days earlier I would have celebrated such a sight; instead, I felt resentful, then foolish, to recognize my emotions (It’s just a moon; it doesn’t know, or care about, your pain).  As all emotions have done in the past week, everything quickly faded to numb. It was 26˚ outside, but that’s not what chilled me.

 

 

 

When you answer the phone call and hear the voice of your dearly loved friend – her tone at once agitated and lifeless – you realized that the nightmare into which you are about to descend is no dream.

In the days and weeks right after a murder the victim’s family is often in a state of shock, feeling numb, sometimes unable to cry. The murder of a loved one seems almost impossible to comprehend. Life feels unreal, like a dream. Survivors may need to go over the details of the crime again and again, discussing them endlessly, as though trying to put together the pieces of a puzzle, struggling to make sense of it all. They tell themselves, “This can’t be true.”
(“A Grief Like No Other,” The Atlantic, September 1997

Dateline: Monday, 1/28/19, 10:05 am. As I was reaching to turn off my cellphone for yoga class, I received a call, which I answered. It was my friend, LPH. She and her husband DH had been visited that morning by local  [1]  police, and a police chaplain. Those public servants were carrying a devastating message from police in Salt Lake City, where LPH’s and DH’s 27 year old daughter, SEH, was in her first year of medical residency:

At approximately 8:30 the previous evening SEH had been shot and killed by her boyfriend,  [2]  who then took his own life.

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domestic
adjective

Definition of domestic

1a : living near or about human habitations (“domestic vermin”)

b : tame, domesticated (“the domestic cat”)

2 : of, relating to, or originating within a country and especially one’s own country (“domestic politics, “domestic wines,” “domestic manufacturing,” “all debts foreign and domestic”)

3 : of or relating to the household or the family (“domestic chores,” “domestic happiness”)

4 : devoted to home duties and pleasures (“leading a quietly domestic life”)

5 : indigenous (“a domestic species”)

 

In the news reports  [3] I read the familiar phrases, such as “domestic violence” and “domestic-related” homicide.   I understand the etiology of those terms, as per domestic’s definitions and usages.  Still, I fucking hate them.

 

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SEH will be remembered as an extraordinarily engaged and competent and empathetic person at UC-SF.
She really stood out for her commitment to taking care of patients from the time they were born until the time they died. And she was so excited about going to (the University of) Utah. She thought the program there was exactly the type of family medicine program that was going to launch her career to help her be the type of doctor she really wanted to be.
SEH had an easygoing way about her and instantly connected with everyone regardless of where they came from or who they know or what they were there for. And that was true not only for her patients but for her friends.
(The vice dean of education at the UC-San Francisco’s School of Medicine, where SEH received her M.D.., as quoted in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune)

 

Today, University of Utah mourns the tragic loss of one of our bright young family medicine residents, SEH, MD.
Dr. SEH was a first-year resident who was focusing on continuing her studies in Family & Preventive Medicine.
Dr. SEH came to University of Utah Health from UC San Francisco to continue her passion of providing care to women and children in underserved communities. …Her adventurous spirit and love of learning will be missed by all those who knew her….. Dr. SEH always did a great job of connecting with her patients and understanding where they were coming from. She treated the whole person, and patients were always appreciative of her approach….
 SEH made it a priority to stay in touch with her family, constantly talking about them and always mentioning her love of family. At the same time, she was excited about the opportunities Utah offered to her, particularly the ability to spend time doing all the outdoor activities she loved so much. SEH was friendly, fantastic, and hardworking. She always gave everything her all.”
(statement from the University of Utah, as per a  KUTVchannel 2 report)

 

As a mutual friend said, ” It’s devastating that someone…could extinguish a light as bright as hers.”

 

*   *   *

During the past twenty-five years hundreds of articles in psychiatric journals have examined the homicidal mind. Fewer than a dozen have explored how a homicide affects the victim’s family.

The survivors of murder victims…even the counselors who work with survivors…what they have learned contradicts the way the rest of us would like to view the world. We want to maintain an illusion of safety…we want to believe that the children of good parents will never be harmed.

The grief caused by murder does not follow a predictable course. It does not neatly unfold in stages. When a person dies after a long illness, the family has time to prepare emotionally for the death, to feel an anticipatory grief. When someone is murdered, the death usually comes without warning…. 

In the days and weeks right after a murder the victim’s family is often in a state of shock, feeling numb, sometimes unable to cry. The murder of a loved one seems almost impossible to comprehend. Life feels unreal, like a dream. Survivors may need to go over the details of the crime…discussing them endlessly, as though trying to put together the pieces of a puzzle, struggling to make sense of it all. They tell themselves, “This can’t be true.”

(excerpts from “A Grief Like No Other,” Eric Schlosser, The Atlantic) 

“A Grief Like No Other” is a long article, weaving several strands into the larger garment covering the topic of the emotional journeys of families of murder victims. These strands include a “history of murder” (a relatively brief – considering the subject – tour of the history of adjudicating murder, and how societies’ treatments of such went from clan/tribal retribution to modern criminal justice systems) and the exploitation of murder by the entertainment industry, interspersed with sketches of the families who attend the support group POMC (Parents of Murdered Children), and a detailed recount of the aftermath experienced by one murder victim’s family.

These strands are interesting on their own, but that’s not why I am recommending that you read this article,  [4]  which was recommended to me via a network of friends…which provides a convenient segue as to my recommendation.  As the article states, A murder is an unnatural death; no ordinary rules apply. Thus, we who love our friends who have lost their loved one via murder need to be reminded, now and in the times to come, of the differences inherent in loss for those who have experienced the unspeakable.

Skim/skip the afore-mentioned “strand” parts of the article if you like, but please, read carefully – and, I would recommend,  [5]  often (to the point of setting whatever calendar reminders you use to do so in a regular basis) – the parts of the article which deal with the unique trauma and adjustments experienced by parents of murdered children.  It will not be the feel-good read of your week; still, nothing in your discomfort will compare to that experienced by the family, and the article may come close in helping you to understand what your friends are and will be going through.

 

*   *   *

 

Instructions

When I have moved beyond you in the adventure of life,
Gather in some pleasant place and there remember me
With spoken words, old and new.
Let a tear if you will, but let a smile come quickly
For I have loved the laughter of life.
Do not linger too long with your solemnities.
Go eat and talk, and when you can;
Follow a woodland trail, climb a high mountain,
Walk along the wild seashore,
Chew the thoughts of some book
Which challenges your soul.
Use your hands some bright day
To make a thing of beauty
Or to lift someone’s heavy load.
Though you mention not my name,
Though no thought of me crosses your mind,
I shall be with you,
For these have been the realities of my life for me.
And when you face some crisis with anguish.
When you walk alone with courage,
When you choose your path of right,
I shall be very close to you.
I have followed the valleys,
I have climbed the heights of life.

(poem by Arnold Crompton, Humanist educator)

*   *   *

 

 

May you love ’em while you got ’em;
May we all be each other’s “keepers;”
May you be awed and humbled by the wonder and ultimate transience of our lives;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] They live in the Bay Area.

[2] Whose name shall never, ever, be mentioned in this space.

[3] Which I searched for online. The story was picked up nationwide as a blurb, from the local (Utah) newspapers and TV news to The Washington Times and, holy crap, even People magazine online.

[4] Which was recommended to me, via friends MM and SM, who are also members of that (now) sad company of those who know and love SEH’s family.

[5] Because, as the article states, in such “unnatural” deaths, the ordinary rules do not apply. Even if we are not conscious of it, we all have some idea of how to do “ordinary” grieving. This is not to diminish our “ordinary” losses which can seem extraordinarily difficult at the time – e.g., the deaths of my elderly parents. Rather, the loss of a child by homicidal violence is (psychologically and physically proven to be) a very, very, different ordeal for the family, and most of us have no experience with that reality.

The Reefer I’m Not Mad At

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Department Of This Is Not Reefer Madness…

But obfuscation is always maddening. I refer to those organizations and individuals who seem determined to obscure or conceal…well, moiself can’t put it better than NY Times reporter Alex Berenson, in this excerpt from his recent op/ed piece (my emphases):

Those groups (marijuana legalization advocates and for-profit cannabis companies) have shrewdly recast marijuana as a medicine rather than an intoxicant. Some have even claimed that marijuana can help slow the opioid epidemic, though studies show that people who use cannabis are more likely to start using opioids later….

legalization advocates have squelched discussion of the serious mental health risks of marijuana and THC…. With large studies in peer-reviewed journals showing that marijuana increases the risk of psychosis and schizophrenia, the scientific literature around the drug is far more negative than it was 20 years ago. …The  National Academy of Medicine report released in 2017 concluded that : “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.”

(excerpts from “What Advocates of Legalizing Pot Don’t Want You to Know – the wave toward legalization ignores the serious health risks of marijuana,” NY Times, 1-4-19)

 

 

 

 

It seems that anyone who points this out (the health risks of marijuana) runs the risk of being labeled as a Reefer Madness hysteric.  [1]     If you’re one those kneejerk labelers, stop reading this blog right now and get yourself one toke over the line, or whatever floats your boat (just don’t toke and boat at the same time, okay?).

While I have long favored the legalization/decriminalization of marijuana, that doesn’t mean I think recreational use of hallucinogens is a good thing.  [2]   Related, salient point: today’s weed is not your grandmama’s maryjane.  Like any human-cultivated “crop,” marijuana has been bred over the years to enhance certain qualities; thus, the THC level of recreational marijuana a user may purchase at a legal dispensary (or from a dealer, legal or otherwise) is as much as five times higher than that of the cannabis produced in the late 1970’s, when I was in college – which was also when I came to the opinion…how can I put this delicately?   [3]

When I observed the effects of weed useage – whether by people I liked and respected, or people I disliked and/or just basically ignored, or those folks in between – it seemed to me that smoking/ingesting weed made otherwise disparate people have one significant thing in common:

it made them stupid.

It was the dumbing down of humor that bothered me the most.   [4]  People who were otherwise quick and clever, articulate, intelligent, motivated and capable of flinging topical  [5]  witticisms at lightning speed turned into boring slackers while high, capable of producing only in-jokes with fellow stoners, with whom they would self-segregate off in a corner and giggle about the graphics on the cover of a matchbox or whatever.

 

*   *   *

Department Of I Am So Not Making This Up…

Oh, but I wish that I had.

In case you’re too young to remember (or don’t listen to Oldies stations), the song moiself previously referred to, One Toke Over the Line, was folk rock duo Brewer & Shipleys’ greatest hit. The 1971 song was banned by more than one radio station due to its obvious drug references – references which apparently weren’t so obvious to the producers of The Lawrence Welk Show.  The show’s so-wholesome-you-could-puke-pure-sugar-after-merely-looking-at-them singing duo, Gail and Dale, performed it straight (so to speak).  The song was described, sans any indication of irony by the eponymous host himself, Lawrence Welk, as a “modern spiritual.”

 

 

 

 

 

Songwriter/performer Michael Brewer’s comment re the incident:

The Vice President of the United States, Spiro Agnew, named us personally as a subversive to American youth, but at exactly the same time Lawrence Welk performed the crazy thing and introduced it as a gospel song. That shows how absurd it really is. Of course, we got more publicity than we could have paid for.

My parents were diehard Lawrence Welk fans and never missed a show, which means their children were exposed to it as well. I would sometimes sit with them and watch it, which made Mamma and Papa Parnell feel those Family Moment Warm Fuzzies ®…until they realized that I was “enjoying” it on an entirely different level than they were (read: a teenager’s barely disguised mockery).

I don’t remember the particular LW episode featuring Gail and Dale’s dubious rendition of the ode to doobies, but I would *not* have forgotten witnessing such a spectacle, trust moiself. Still, I get a kick surpassing any chemically-induced high just thinking of my parents, in all of their enthusiastic cluelessness, watching that performance.

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Calling Anonymous

Whatever happened to that hactivist group, Anonymous? Perhaps it’s just moiself not Keeping Up With Things ®, but it seems like we haven’t heard from them recently.

Depending on your POV, Anonymous is composed of “freedom fighters” and “digital Robin Hoods,” or they are “a cyber lynch-mob.”  This could be yet another case of Perhaps it’s just moiself not Keeping Up With Things ®, but it seems to me that the power Anonymous wielded was used – I’m sorry, but I have to say it – for good rather than evil. That is, their pranks and hacks targeted notorious bad actors such as Scientology, ISIS, child porn sites, and hate groups like the Westboro Baptist Church.

 

 

 

 

So I’m wondering, where is Anonymous when it comes to saving western civilization (hell, the effin’ world, at this point) from ourselves? In other words –  HINT HINT HINT, ANONYMOUS –   why aren’t they doing something to…uh…”neutralize” The Current Occupant   [6]  of the White House?   [7]  He was threatened by the group via tweets on his inauguration day, but since then…?

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Don’t Quote “That Part”
Unless You Also Quote “Those Other Parts”

Happy New Year, and….

 

 

 

A Well-Meaning Person ® posted the following on her Facebook page, obviously meant as a dig to #45 and his Christian conservative followers, re building his “wall.”

 

 

 

The thing is, a Well-Meaning Person ®  who would appeal to scriptures of Iron Age mythologies to address 21st century issues needs to take the lot.  Note, in the picture of the passage posted from Leviticus Chapter 19, verse 37:  “Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the Lord.”

So, you WMPs want us to pay attention to one particular scripture passage (“that part,” about treating foreigners well), but despite the decree from your deity to keep all of its decrees, moiself never sees you posting/hears you quoting those other of your god’s decrees and laws from the very same book in your very same scriptures, including:

* Men must not have sexual relations with other men (Leviticus 18:22)

* Anyone who says “God dammit!” or the like shall be put to death by the entire town. (Leviticus 24: 15-16)

* You mustn’t eat shellfish (Leviticus 11:10)

* You may possess slaves from neighboring nations, including those trying to immigrate (so much for *that part* about treating foreigners well).  (Leviticus 25: 44-45)

* Do not eat – or even touch the carcass of – an animal which walks on all fours and has paws (aka I Leviticus 11: 27)

* Don’t Wear Clothes Made of a Linen and Wool Blend (Leviticus 19:19)

* Don’t sit where a menstruating woman has sat, or even touch her, because you will be “unclean,” as she is (Leviticus 15:19-21)

* Don’t eat owls (or swans or pelicans) (Leviticus 11:13-19)

 

 

Praaaaaise de Lawd for this wise proscription!

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Partridge [8]  Of The Week

As per an earlier warning post, we will be hosting a different Partridge, every week, in our front yard’s festively lit pear tree. Can you guess this week’s guest Partridge?

Excuse moiself; make that,

Department Of Elvis Has Left The Building

Which means that, at our building house, the Partridges have left our pear tree.

 

 

The kids and I will be back next holiday season!

 

 

*   *   *

May you apply 21st century solutions to 21st century problems;
May you use your powers for good;
May you find the fortitude to watch Lawrence Welk reruns while sober;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

[1] BTW, I have seen the movie, have you? It’s an unintentionally funny 1930s propaganda/morality tale film, wherein drug dealers lure innocent teenagers into using marijuana, which leads to the teens into madness and instant addiction, manslaughter and (attempted) sexual assault and suicide…. 

[2] Unless of course we’re talking about using it in survival situations, such as being forced to listen to Grateful Dead records and/or Republican State of the Union speeches.

[3] Or why should I even try?

[4] Yes, this from someone who has (almost) never heard a fart joke she didn’t like.

[5] Or tropical humor – nothing like a good Hawaiian pun.

[6] Aka The Cheetos Hitler, Mandarin Mussolini, #45…he who is not deserving of proper name status in this or any other civilized forum.

[7] Perhaps they are working on it, and if that is the case I thank them, but hope they do something soon….

[8] In our pear tree.

The New Year I’m Not (Yet) Reflecting Upon

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Department Of New Year, Same Old Mouth

Dateline: January 1: MH and I did a First Day Hike. Never heard of the FDH program?  Put it on your calendar for 2020. A lovely way to start the New Year:

On New Year’s Day, America’s State Parks have all 50 states offering free, guided First Day Hike Programs. These hikes provide a means for individuals and families to welcome the coming year in the outdoors….
(from the “First Day Hikes” website)

We signed up for the Elk Flats Trail hike, in Oswald West State Park.  We hiked on a frozen mud trail down down to the Devil’s Cauldron overlook where, on behalf of himself and his fellow rangers, our guide, Ranger “Jeff,” respectfully requested that we stay on the designated trails and not fall into the Devil’s Cauldron – which has happened before, most recently last year (and body retrieval is not one of Ranger Jeff’s favorite duties.). We then backtracked to the main Elk Flats trail which eventually led down to Short Sands Beach, where we got to see many more surfers than I’d anticipated, given the weather (sunny, but brrrrrrrrr).    The surfers were doing their own First Day Surf event, or so I liked to presume.

Ranger Jeff met MH, moiself, and ten other First Day hikers at the trailhead just before 8 am. It was very brisk, and as we waited for the departure time I was teasing Ranger Jeff about his (seeming) lack of preparation: The temp is just above freezing; where was his hat?!  Where were his gloves?! Ranger Jeff showed me his gloves and then his hat, which he had with him but had not yet donned. When he’d decided to wait no longer for stragglers (33 people had signed up for the hike; 12 of us showed up), he began fiddling with the Oregon State Park badge which was pinned to the front of his hat, just above the brim. He told the hikers gathered around him that a fellow ranger had told him to “Move the badge higher on the hat, because it makes you look dorky.”

The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them:  [1]

“Do you think just moving the badge is enough?”

 

 

 

I wonder, did the surfers get a pin?

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of It Seems To Be A Thing

People announcing (on Facebook of course) that they are quitting Facebook, that is.

Perhaps it is a New Year’s Resolution of sorts, for some folks. Reasons given include personal schedule management issues (aka, “the time suck”) but mostly seem to involve the Cambridge Analytical scandal and concerns about the way FB handles one’s (supposedly) private data, and also/primarily FB’s complicity in fake ads and other political manipulations by Trump supporters.

All of which I most certainly understand.  Moiself has also been… disturbed, to put it mildly, by the privacy breaches, political scandals, ad nauseum.  So far, the people (I know of) who have either announced their intention to quit FB (and/or other forms of social media) or who have already done so are all intelligent, empathetic, socially aware and generally Working-To-Make-The-World-A-Better-Place ® kind of folks. Which gets me to wondering….

 

 

Nyet, is never good thing, when dis comrade wonders.

 

 

Fucking Russian blog hackers.

Um…yeah. As I was wondering: what will that mean, for Facebook and its ilk, if those kind of people all (or mostly…eventually) leave? What will be left – the voices of Orwellian nightmares (War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength”) exchanging such “dialogue” with one another?

Will Facebook become another Fox “News”, where the fact that people who have intelligence/rational thinking/social awareness/compassion quotients larger than their shoe sizes generally boycott Fox News doesn’t matter to those who listen to Fox News, and thus Fox News listeners receive little input outside of that venue, and the Voices of Sanity have little influence re Fox News content and procedures?

I don’t have an answer here. Just another thing to wonder about in the new year.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Yet Another New Year’s Day Thing

As I have noted several times before in this blog, moiself always serves some version of black-eyed peas (aka Hoppin’ John ) and greens for New Year’s Day dinner. These culinary creations are prepared in homage to my father’s family’s logic-defying adherence  [2] to the tradition which told them that, by eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day, you assure good luck in the year to come.

 

 

 

This year I made a kinda-curried Hoppin’ John variation. I found moiself wishing I could invite The Ramones over to sample my version, which I was certain they would enjoy,  [3]  because as any Ramones fan knows,

There’s no stoppin’ the cretins from hoppin’

Make that, there’s no stoppin’ the cretins from eatin’ their hoppin’ (John).

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Cranial Effluence  [4]   Which Should’ve Stayed In 2018

Fee-fi-fo-fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishman,
Be he alive, or be he dead
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread[5]

Hold on to that bone-grinder, kiddies: dead is a perfect rhyme for bread, but “fum” does not rhyme with “man.”  Why isn’t it, Englishbum, or mum or rum or…a word appropriate for a mere mortal who is stupid enough to mess with a giant:

Fee-fi-fo-fum,
I smell the blood of an Englishdum-dum….

I know; none of this matters. But why, when a noise awakens me at 3 am,  [6]  is this question regarding a fairy tale rhyme fail on my mind?  ‘Tis hardly a matter of international, national, local, or even personal security, although it seemed compelling at the time.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Partridge  [7]  Of The Week

As per an earlier warning post, we will be hosting a different Partridge, every week, in our front yard’s festively lit pear tree. Can you guess this week’s guest Partridge?

 

 

 

Yes, this is a trick question.  Alert readers may note that this is the same Partridge as last week.  In respect to the one Partridge player who has passed from this mortal realm,   [8]   I thought he deserved a repeat week of hanging on our pear tree until we take down the rest of the Yule decorations.

*   *   *

May you never lose sleep over a fairy tale rhyme fail;
May you appreciate our dedicated and cute (and never dorky) state and federal rangers;
May you rest assured that in the coming year, as luck may come and go, there’s no stoppin’ the cretins from hoppin’…
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] To my chagrin, but to the obvious delight of my fellow hikers and, fortunately (for moiself), Ranger Jeff.

[2] They were dirt poor sharecroppers tenant farmers. That good luck meal thing failed, year after year.

[3] Three of the original four Ramones are dead, but for the purposes of this fantasy…just bear with me.

[4] That’s brain farts, for you delicate flowers.

[5] From the English fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk.

[6] A noise which might be the loud muffler of the paper delivery car, or a snoring spouse (just a random snoring spouse in the neighborhood – not necessarily mine), or ….

[7] In our pear tree.

[8] David Cassidy, who played Keith Partridge, died a couple of years ago.

The Songs I’m Not Defending

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Department Of Seasonal Surprises

Is there anything as incongruently optimistic as the appearance of a yellow rose in winter?

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Just Wondering

Regarding the Baby It’s Cold Outside controversy I’ve a confession to make: up until this year, Baby It’s Cold Outside was just one of those background holiday songs for me. I knew it existed, but I’ve never seen any of the films within which it had appeared, nor had I ever even heard the original or any of the cover versions in their entirety.  I just plain hadn’t paid attention; it was, to moiself, an earlier generation’s “classic,” of which I caught snippets every now and then on radio or TV.   [1]

What with all the brouhaha about the song, I finally listen to it the other day, and found moiself thinking, Is this really what I’m hearing? And so I googled the lyrics.

I simply must go (but baby, it’s cold outside)
The answer is no (but baby, it’s cold outside)…

The neighbors might think (baby, it’s bad out there)
Say what’s in this drink? (no cabs to be had out there)

Yep. I heard what I thought I heard.

 

 

“I don’t know about you, darlin,’ but nothing gets me in the holiday spirit like a retro duet about impending date rape….”

 

 

 

It was a different time;

it’s a relic of our heritage;

back then it was all in fun….

Many are the defenders trotting out these (and more) defenses for the song’s lyrics – about which, BTW, I am not horribly offended (nevertheless…ick).

And I do understand the complexities of judging the art of the past by the standards of the present. Still, I wonder about such things, and how we judge what is OK, and what needs to be relegated to the trash pile of cultural history.

It has long seemed to moiself that far too many people, especially certain Well-Meaning Liberals ®, give sexism a “cultural” pass in situations where they do not do the same for racism:

* The segregation and subjugation of black Africans – e.g. Apartheid –  is wrong and there are no excuses for it!  [2]

* The segregation and subjugation of women and girls in Muslim countries…well, it’s their culture, so hold on a minute, don’t be an anti-Muslim bigot!

I know, I know, it drives me crazy, too.

 

Coon Songs,  a genre of music that presented stereotyped images of black people, were wildly popular in the United States circa 1880 to 1920, so much so that the 1905 song “If the Man in the Moon Were a Coon“, sold three million copies (which would be the equivalent of 11 million copies today). Some of Tin Pan Alley’s greatest composers, including Irving Berlin, were enlisted to write coon songs with such cringe-worthy titles as, “All Coons Look Alike to Me”, “Old Black Joe”, and “Pickaninny Paradise.”  These songs are an undeniable part of our past, and most of them had quite catchy, sing-along melodies.  Would such a defense – It was a different time; it’s a relic of our heritage and back then it was all in fun –  survive if someone should try to revive, say, coon songs as a remembrance or acknowledgement of our legacy?

Coon, coon, coon
I wish my color would fade
Coon, coon, coon
I’d like a different shade
Coon, coon, coon
Both morning, night or noon
I’d rather be a white man
Instead of bein’ a coon
(chorus to “Coon, Coon, Coon,” Max Hunter Folk song collection)

 

*   *   *

Department Of Yes, I Want It All

While I’m on the subject of art from the past… Category: Christmas movies. I really like It’s A Wonderful Life ,   [3]  but not for the reasons so many people heap praise upon it – praise I believe to be…well, predictable and even/ultimately shallow.  Because if you think IAWL is the “ultimate life-affirming, feel good holiday classic,” you are missing the point.

The idea that the love and support of one’s family and friends ultimately trumps any financial woes  [4]  is manifested in the movie’s heart-wedgying end scene, by the arrival of war hero Harry Bailey, who toasts his big brother George: “…the richest man in town…”  And I weep like a bitch baby, every time, at that line.

But, that doesn’t change the fact that the movie is dark.

Sure, IAWL is filled with some memorable characters and great dramatic and comic lines – and dreadful/sexist trope or two  [5] – but the darkness permeates it, IMHO, and, despite the Happy Holiday Ending ® George Bailey’s existential gloom is never fully resolved.

 

 

 

 

George Bailey is filled with the frustration of a lifetime of unrealized desires and seemingly unattainable goals, compounded by the guilt that comes from that over arcing/underlying message from your society/culture/religion that whatever you have should be enough to make you happy [6]  or at least content with your lot in life.  And it usually is….but what if you also want something more?

The protagonist’s dilemma was presented as a choice between two conflicting destinies:

(1) George Bailey can have a happy domestic life; or
(2) He can shake off the dust of his one-horse town, hop on a cattle boat and see the world.

It was either/or, not and – to choose one path would be to negate or even erase the other.

But, every time I watch that movie, after that joyous, cinematic denouement, I want an addendum. Just give me one scene, as the credits roll, showing George and Mary hitching a ride on that cattle boat, or rafting down the Zambezi river, or sipping espressos at a Parisian sidewalk café….

 

 

 

*   *   *

Blog Department Of Isn’t It Funny, The Things You Miss

My first official  [7]   Happy Birthday wish came from a friend on the East Coast, ~ 6:30 AM. I was already up to feed the cats, and was delighted, while getting dressed, to see the message.  [8]  I thought of how my parents (back when they were both alive…which probably goes without saying but oops, too late) used to call me way way way early in the morning on my birthday – we’re talking around 5:15 am – and sing the Happy Birthday Song ® to me.

They started doing that when I was in college, and kept doing it for years afterward. Once upon a lifetime I would go running in the mornings, before college classes and then before going off to work, which provided my parents with justification (in their minds) for the early intrusion wakeup calls, which they said were my “fault” in that they wanted to call me before I was up and gone out for the day (yes, kiddies, those were pre-cellphone days).

Sometimes I would pretend to be grouchy about the timing of the calls, such as when my birthday fell on a weekend and, for just once, sleeping in (until 7 am – is that too much to ask?) on my birthday might be nice… And although I always/ultimately loved and appreciated the birthday calls, I also have always loathed that damn tedious birthday song.

On more than one occasion I asked my parents to please sing me something else – how about The Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song? Ah, but what I’d give today, to be able to complain about having them sing me that damn song again….

 

 

           

*   *   *

Department Of The Partridge [9]  Of The Week

As per an earlier warning post, we will be hosting a different Partridge, every week, in our front yard’s festively lit pear tree. Can you guess this week’s guest Partridge?

 

 

*   *   *

 

May you be serenaded with the song of your choice on your birthday;
May you be surprised by your equivalent of a yellow rose in winter;
May you judge the art of the past by the past, present, and future;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Even though a portion of it was used in a scene in Grey’s Anatomy, which is Must-See-TV for moiself.

[2] It was indeed the culture of the white/Afrikaners to discriminate against black south Africans…but the world ultimately did not allow them that excuse.

[3] I like it in spite of the ridiculous Clarence The Angel angle, not because of it.

[4] A sentiment I think is usually – but not always – true.

[5] In an alternate reality, Mary is revealed to have…gasp…suffered the worst fate for a woman – without George, she never married, and became an OLD MAID LIBRARIAN!

[6] A Buddhist message from early Hollywood?

[7] As in, on the day itself. There is a committee to certify such things – but , you knew that, didn’t you?

[8] Via Facebook messenger. No Russian hacking involved that I could see.

[9] In our pear tree.

The Tradition I’m Not Missing Anymore

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Department Of How To Find Out If You Really Want To Continue A Tradition

You can take a break from it, and then see how much you miss it, that’s how.   [1]

 

 

 

 

The Ladies Lefse Party, referred to in last week’s post, was a smashing success.  Looks like it’s back on the Yule holiday schedule.  [2]

 

*   *   *

Department Of Food Porn

 

This stunning pavlova was made for the lefse party by JR, a fan of The Great British Baking Show (and excellent pastry/dessert queen in her own right).

We got to eat it; you didn’t. I’m so, so, so very sorry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Lame Excuses For An Almost Content-Free Blog

 

* The altitude

* The (non-existent) War on Christmas

* My Upcoming Birthday

* Still Recovering from the Lefse Ladies’ Licentious Luau   [3]

 

 

But you promised there would be leis and shirtless dancing boys….

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Partridge [4]  Of The Week

As per an earlier warning post, we will be hosting a different Partridge, every week, in our front yard’s festively lit pear tree. Can you guess this week’s guest Partridge?

 

 

 

*   *   *

May you continue the traditions you enjoy;
May you create that which will be tomorrow’s tradition;
May you be mindful of future Partridges;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] This is the first footnote.

[2] Why, look – it’s another footnote.

[3] No leis were distributed, nor Hawaiian kapus violated, in the misuse of this party metaphor.

[4] In our pear tree.

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