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On Being a Complicated Patient

In August 2015 I became a “complicated patient.” Seems that getting a pacemaker implanted in your chest earns you that distinction. I’m only now learning what all that means. All along I thought I was a complicated patient but maybe I was just cumbersome, confused, and convoluted.

My pacemaker, whom I call “Jude,” because it was made by St. Jude Medical and because it is fun to get its attention by singing “Hey Jude” to it, is designed to make sure my heart rate does not go below 60 bpm. It does this by monitoring my heart rate and if it goes below that benchmark it delivers an electrical “stimulus” to the bottom chamber to tell it, “Hey, pick it up, move it, move it, move it!” At night, though, a computer (or maybe it is just somebody sitting with a computer on their couch in Olney, Maryland) tells it to allow my heart rate to slow to 55 bpm so I can have a more peaceful night’s sleep.

Oh, one other thing about Jude…specifically St. Jude. According to some followers of the Roman Catholic faith, St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. Though I’m not Roman Catholic and have no saints that I particularly care about, I do think it is rather an unfortunate thing for a medical device company to take the name of the patron saint of lost causes. Not exactly a confidence boosting brand, folks.

My July 2nd surgery started six weeks ago, though, because, as you know, I am a complicated patient. This means I had to see all my other doctors – Dr. A (primary care physician), Dr. S (cardiologist), Dr. Suess, Dr. Who, Dr. Dimento, and my in-home oral surgeon and epidemiologist spouse, Dr. Vargas – for clearance.

Now, you may be wondering, what was my surgery? I’m sorry, I cannot tell you. If I did, I would be in violation of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) laws. Just to remove any sense of mystery for you though, let’s just call it a lateral whackalectomy.

Lateral whackalectomies are not something you should envy and you should definitely never wish to have one. They are relatively simple surgeries that do not take much time but they are “intense” enough (according to Dr. J-B, the anesthesiologist) that they prefer to knock you all the way out (and you’ll be glad they did). The biggest downside of the lateral whackalectomy is the recovery period. You do get access to narcotics (oxycodone) which I have so far avoided taking. (You may question that by the time you finish reading this post but, really, I’m only on arthritis strength Tylenol). Lateral whackalectomies sometimes have to be done in two surgeries (I was lucky, it appears mine only required the one) and they are known for their “uncomfortable” recoveries, which can take weeks.

So, how “uncomfortable” is “uncomfortable?” Let me put it this way…Dr. S (cardiologist who will eventually cut my chest open to service my pacemaker), when he learned I was having a lateral whackalectomy paused reading my notes, looked up at me sympathetically, and quietly said, “I’m so sorry.”

Having received clearance from Dr. A, Dr. S, Dr. Vargas on the home front, and clearance from Clarence on principle (see Airplane!), I was ready to go on Friday morning, July 2nd.

We arrived at the hospital, entered through the main entrance as directed, and proceeded to the first check in place just inside the hospital door. This check point functioned to make sure we were COVID-19 tested, vaccinated, masked-up, and socially distanced, verify whether we were in the right place and, apparently, to broadcast my medical condition to all present.

  • Desk Attendant: What’s your name?
  • Me: Tom Klaus.
  • Desk Attendant: Full name?
  • Me: Thomas William Klaus
  • Desk Attendant: What are you here for?
  • Me: Surgery.
  • Desk Attendant: Yeah…but what kind?
  • Me: (Surprised) What kind?
  • Desk Attendant: Yes, what kind?
  • Me: (whispered, because I actually know the meaning of HIPAA) A lateral whackalectomy.
  • Desk Attendant: What?!? I can’t hear you.
  • Me: (a little louder now) A lateral whackalectomy.
  • Desk Attendant: (turning to another desk at the far end of the lobby and yelling like a waitress to a short order cook at Waffle House): Thomas W. Klaus here for a lateral whackalectomy. Where do I send him?

After a bit of shuffling about in the lobby and more violation of my HIPAA rights, I was told that I was at the wrong building, despite my written instructions. I needed instead to go next door. We were happy to leave immediately.

We finally made it to the right building where we were greeted by a receptionist who asked me the first of two of the most unnerving questions I’ve ever heard on surgery days.

  • Receptionist: Do you have a living will and an Advance Directive?
  • Me: Yes. Do you think I’ll need them?
  • Receptionist: (Pause) Probably not…but we like to know you have them…just in case.
  • Me (gulping): Well, I not only have them, but I have them with me, you know…just in case.
  • Receptionist: Great! Do you mind if I scan them into our system?

I passed her my paperwork and she gleefully scanned them into their system. A few minutes later we were led by Nurse J to the pre-op area. As per usual I had to strip down, put on one of those fine surgical gowns, and Nurse J got an IV started in me. Pretty cool, though, that Nurse J offered me a bit of lidocaine before trying to hit one of my veins with the IV. I had never had that option before and I liked it. I hope that is now part of nursing best practice.

Once he had me hooked up, Nurse J ran through all the screening questions. The first was the second most unnerving question you want to hear on surgery day: “What are we doing to you today?” Like having a pacemaker made by St. Jude Medical, it is not a question that initially inspires confidence. I looked at Nurse J and said, “Don’t you know?” Nurse J assured me he did but he wanted to make sure I knew and that we were in agreement. Now, really, I wouldn’t know?!? I’ve only been obsessing on it for the last two months when I first learned I needed surgery.

Nurse J was great and a lot of fun. He worked his way through the obligatory screening questions with grace and humor and helped me feel relaxed about the surgery. After Nurse J did the standard prep, he left the room for a bit. He barely got out of the room when I heard Clemencia laughing.

“Look at this sign!” she said between giggles. I couldn’t though because Nurse J had me so wired up I couldn’t turn to see it. “Take a picture and show it to me,” I asked. She did and here’s the sign that triggered her inner surgeon’s sense of humor.

  • Clemencia (giggling): Look at this…”Mark must be at or near incision site.” And it must be the physician’s initials. Where do you think the docs put their put initials when it’s hemorrhoids?
  • Me (trying to join in the humor of the moment, though it didn’t sound convincing): Oh no…what if it’s a vasectomy?
  • Clemencia (giggling even more): I can’t wait to see the doc make her initials for your lateral whackalectomy.

She was infinitely enjoying this more than I was.

About that time Nurse J came back in. He wanted to swap my fashionable cloth facemask for the standard hospital issue. I seized that moment to ask, “Where do you want me to put my chewing gum?” Nurse J froze, his smile dissipated, and he asked me sternly: “Gum? What gum?”

  • Me: My chewing gum.
  • Nurse J: You have chewing gum…in your mouth?
  • Me: Yes
  • Nurse J: You told me you had not eaten or drunk anything since before midnight last night.
  • Me: Yes, that’s true. But I like to chew gum.
  • Nurse J: When did you start chewing the gum?
  • Me: When I was a kid…Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit was always my favorite and sometimes Dubble Bubble.
  • Nurse J (continuing the inquisition): No, today. When did you start chewing gum today?
  • Me (as if I track such things): 10:03 AM, precisely.
  • Nurse J (moving into full nurse lecture mode): Look, the sugar in chewing gum can activate your digestive system. Because you haven’t eaten it will send your system into overdrive. When the surgeon cuts into you there could be an explosion that injures the whole surgical team and shuts down the OR for a whole week. (Okay, he didn’t really say that but I thought he might the way he was going on about it.)
  • Me: But, Nurse J, it was sugarless gum.

At that point Nurse J looked at me like I was a hopeless imbecile and left the room, returning only when it was time to finally get rid of me into the operating room.

Next up was my surgeon, Dr. B. She came in wearing a track suit and bounding about a little too much like Dr. Kylie Johnson on Mad TV. Fortunately, though, it was not my first meeting with Dr. B so it did not take me by surprise as it did Clemencia. To be fair, I did warn Clemencia that Dr. B was younger than our children…and possibly younger than our grandchildren would be, if we had any. I did my research on Dr. B prior to our first meeting for my diagnosis. I learned she is very accomplished and had received positive reviews from her surgical patients. Even better, I learned that her specialty was “minimally invasive surgery” on lateral whackalectomies. I felt confident she knew what she was doing.

Of course, my confidence was slightly shaken when her first question was Nurse J’s opening line: “Do you know what surgery we are doing today?” I really hoped she would know. She did, of course, and then went on to explain that she wouldn’t know if the lateral whackalectomy could be completed today. It might turn out that she’d only be able to do the first part today and I’d come back again in about six weeks for the sequel.

  • Me: When do you expect you’ll know?
  • Dr. B: Oh, not until I get inside. It just depends.
  • Me: Depends on what?
  • Dr. B: On what I find when I get inside.
  • Me: Ohhhhhh…….

Finally I got to meet my anesthesiologist, Dr. J-B. She reviewed my checkered anesthesiology history with me. She asked about the recovery and long term welfare of the nurses and security guards that were in harm’s way when I was last “put under” for my pacemaker implantation in Philadelphia. I have no memory of it but apparently, I was not at all pleasant and have much greater strength than I ever knew. After she heard the story and read my records from that surgery, her eyes widened and she assured me: “Not to worry. We are going to put you out…way out…and intubate you to make sure you aren’t moving around during surgery. But don’t worry, you won’t remember a thing.”

“That’s what you think,” I said with an evil smile and a chortle. (Okay, I really don’t remember a thing from Friday).

Before she left and turned me over to the nurse anesthetist, she quizzed me on my unnatural body parts:

  • Dr. J-B: Do you have any artificial or metal parts in your body?
  • Me: Yes, I do.
  • Dr. J-B: What are they?
  • Me (somewhat surprised she didn’t seem to know): Well, my pacemaker of course.
  • Dr. J-B: What about dentures?
  • Me: No.
  • Dr. J-B: What about lenses? You had cataract surgery, right?
  • Me: Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. I guess the new lens in my life eye qualifies right?
  • Dr. J-B: Right.
  • Me: No, left.
  • Dr. J-B: Left what?
  • Me: Left eye, the new lens is in my left eye.
  • Dr. J-B (sighing): Yes, left eye. Anything else?
  • Me: Only the chip in my brain.
  • Dr. J-B (looking quite surprised because she thought she knew all about me already): Chip? What chip?
  • Me: The one that Johns Hopkins put in to make me believe that lacrosse is a sport worthy of NCAA status and television coverage.
  • Dr. J-B: Very funny, Mr. Klaus.
  • Me: Yes, but not as funny as lacrosse as a “sport.”

By that time it was time to be wheeled away to the OR. I never saw Dr. B (surgeon) again, though I assume she was there. The last thing I remember was being wheeled into the OR, looking around at all of the nasty looking devices laying about on (presumably) sterile tables, and wondering if they were really going to need all of them for my lateral whackalectomy. Apparently they did.


Epilogue

We were warned that a lateral whackalectomy did not take long. In fact, it did not. I was back in recovery before Clemencia had much time to start a new knitting project or listen to a Spanish language podcast as part of her course preparation. When she realized I was already in recovery, she made her way there before anyone had a chance to retrieve her officially. She was just anxious to see if they were planning to offer to send my lateral whacka home with me in a jar. She wanted to be there before I had a chance to say anything stupid.

I’ve been home for the past few days in recovery now. Honestly, the recovery is not pleasant, but it isn’t horrible either. I can’t lift anything over 10 pounds for a couple of weeks which means I cannot play golf (as if I really had time to play golf anyway). Recently I’ve been playing every Saturday I can with my son, Jake. To help me feel better for having to miss golf with him the day after my surgery, he sent me this text from the course.

It is unfortunate that Jake began his note as he did because it makes golfing sound far more nefarious (or a few may say “more interesting”) than it is. Just to be clear “the ladies at Gunpowder” refers to the women who work the front desk and check-in golfers. Now, turn off your imagination.

So, the surgery took place and I’ve been resting at home for the past few days. The recovery is not pleasant, but it isn’t horrible either. I’ve had a bit of fun writing this post as it helps keep my mind off the “discomfort” and reminds me how fortunate I am.

I am fortunate to have good health insurance that allows me to obtain excellent care. I have enjoyed good health through most of my life and have had little reason to use my health insurance. Despite my bit of fun at their expense, the docs and nurses were outstanding (well, that first desk attendant needs a bit more training on HIPAA). I’m fortunate that Dr. L, a doctor I see routinely each year picked upon on the fact that my lateral whacka might not be normal. He sent me right away to Dr. B a specialist for her opinion and biopsy. It was not cancerous, but it did need to be addressed. It was caught early enough to have avoided more serious problems and even multiple surgeries. My most serious surgeries have been simple when compared to those experienced by some people I know. In all, I’m a lucky guy to have good insurance, good doctors, and overall good outcomes related to my health care. In a better world, we’d all be so lucky.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Returns…or Did It Never Leave?

Who doesn’t want to put the COVID-19 pandemic behind them? I do. My unconscious desire to do so must be stronger than I knew. I have one browser dedicated to the COVID-19 monitoring sites but it has been months since I visited them. Until today. What I found was unnerving. But you can see for yourself.

In my Edge browser I have permanently appearing tabs for:

National Public Radio (NPR) reported on July 16th what the IHME data is beginning to show: a steady increase in the number of deaths nationally for the first time in nine months. In fact, by November 1, the number of deaths in the U.S. by COVID-19 will be close to exceeding the number of deaths from 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, approximately 675,000. Yes, the population of the U.S. in 1918 was much less than it is now so the percentage of the population that died was higher then. Still, 675,000 moms, dads, grandparents, children, friends, colleagues, etc.

We have protocols that work for preventing the spread of the COVID-19, even the Delta variant which is now responsible for most infections in the U.S. You know, them, so let’s say them together: Masking, maintaining physical distance, and getting fully vaccinated. However, as you’ve heard by now, not everyone is doing all three, and some are not doing any of the three.

As NPR reported, Anthony Fauci told Meet the Press on July 4th that 99% of recent COVID deaths were among the unvaccinated. This week CDC director Rochelle Walensky added that 97% of COVID-19 hospitalizations were due to unvaccinated individuals. Also on the 16th, the website AL.com reported that nine children were hospitalized in Alabama hospitals with COVID-19 and one was on a ventilator. All of this has led Walensky to state the facts as they are. This is now “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

Sorry for the upcoming sports analogy, but, geez, this feels like one of those moments when we could have put away the game but then we…well, we blew it. We took our eyes off the ball, we started celebrating before we crossed the goal line, we thought the clock had run out, we thought we could just tap it in – apply any other “almost but not quite” sports analogy you like. The fact is, we are failing and, still, the solutions are so simple. We can be better than this. But are we? I hope the 2121 history books show that we were.


This just in before publication this morning…the New York Times is reporting on a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The poll indicates that some who have been resisting getting vaccinated are changing their minds. This is good news and small step in the right direction. There are three themes that have emerged from the data that explain why they are changing:

  • Seeing that millions of other Americans have been safely vaccinated.
  • Hearing pro-vaccine messages from doctors, friends, and relatives.
  • Learning that not being vaccinated will prevent people from doing some things.

A Slowed Drivel

It has been since March 1 that I have posted anything. It is not that I have run dry on drivel. Instead stuff happens and I am still trying to make sense of things as they are right now. Here, instead, are a few updates and other bits of nonsense.


Klutz Happens

On March 1 I reported on my eye surgery and the arrival of Ebeneezer (Ebie), our new rescue schnauzer. My eye is nicely healed (20/15 distance vision) and I am beginning to beg my ophthalmologist to let me proceed with having the cataract in my right eye fixed as well. Ebie is settling in and we are learning that he has a special ability…which I will share with you later.

What I did not report, though, was that I tried to act like I was 17 again and paid the price. I was walking Ebie three days after he arrived and he was still very skitterish about his new home and surroundings. As I was trying to unlock the door to our building I dropped the leash and the two “doggy bag” containers attached to it made a big noise when they hit the sidewalk. It scared Ebie and he took off like a tiny, gray rocket. I gave chase.

I thought I had him cornered by a neighbors fence when he to took off again. In a nanosecond I thought, “If I attempt a shoestring tackle I think I can grab the leash as he goes by.” He shot by, I was wrong, and I landed with all of my 186 pounds on a fully extended right arm and shoulder. I heard something go “pop” in my upper right arm as I struggled to get up. Ebie, by this time, was standing calmly in the middle of the sidewalk looking at me. I guess the “pop” in my arm was not loud enough to scare him away further…or maybe he just wanted to know what the noise was…or maybe he was curious about my muffled scream of pain.

He did wait patiently while I limped my way over to his leash and picked it up off the ground…with only a bit more pain. Turns out I damaged by my rotator cuff. I did not tear it so no surgery required. Still, it has taken time to heal and I have had to put off golfing for a little while longer.

My real inner klutz appeared though only two weeks ago. Clemencia, Ebie, and I went for a Sunday afternoon walk on the path that runs through our neighborhood. It was a beautiful afternoon after a morning filled will heavy showers. As we walked on the asphalt path, I heard a helicopter flying overhead.

Now, helicopters are not unusual in our skies. We live on the flight path between Washington, DC and Fort Meade and the National Security Agency. There are official helicopters flying over all the time. We also have a hospital about a mile from our home that receives patients by medical helicopters. As a young Iowa farm boy I used to run to the middle of the yard to see an airplane fly over whenever I heard one in the distance. Today all I have to do is look out my windows to see a helicopter go by and even jetliners on approach to BWI airport.

On this occasion, though I have heard and seen hundreds of helicopters fly over our home, I decided I wanted to see this one in particular. So I looked up and kept walking…just as the asphalt path took a slight bend to the left. I stepped off the curb, fought to regain my balance, lost the battle, and landed hard on my knees, hands, shoulder (yes, the injured shoulder), and my head – in that order. Then, for added measure, in a manly attempt to get up quickly, I rolled over into an exquisite mud puddle and soaked my entire backside. There I lay…bloody, bruised, and caked with mud.

All of this to say…I’ve spent a good part of my time since March 1 healing up and doing my best to corral my inner klutz again.


A Few Updates

When I started this blog on March 17, 2020 I had not expected it to last very long and as it went on I introduced a variety of characters. I realized this week I have not kept you abreast of developments with them.

Bert Left and Ernie Right are two wool socks readers met on Day 2 of this blog. They are notorious because I wore them everyday for many, many, many days in this blog. Eventually took on a life and personality of their own – cantankerous personalities if I may be frank. They are still around and I see them occasionally. However, they seem to be spending a lot of time with Beto and Enrique. Readers met Beto Isquierda and Enrique Derecha on Day 15. They appeared as two sunbathing wool socks from Clemencia’s sock drawer. I think they appeared as a response to my sock offensive with Bert and Ernie. The rumor is that the four socks may be plotting something though it is not yet clear what it is. I will probably have to send spies to check them out.

Winthrop Dykstra-Baum appeared on Day 19 of this blog. He is a legendary public radio news personality but, unfortunately, he fell on hard times. He became radicalized and became more so over time. Eventually he left public radio and joined up with Badger New Network. Unfortunately for Windy, Badger News struggled after the attempted coup on January 6th. They were called out for their promotion of what has become known as “The Big Lie” and lost a boatload of corporate advertising. Just to be safe, the Badger News Network is focused now on covering roadkill (you know, like badgers, wolverines, skunks, squirrels, bad toupees, etc.). Windy is now the Senior Editor for “The Stinking Badger Daily,” a roundup of roadkill obituaries.

Alonzo and Starlee are two friends whom we see weekly via Zoom. They introduced us to a way to address one of the greatest challenges in the early days of the pandemic. Remember when it appeared every square of toilet paper in the world was going to be stored in a secret locked vault owned jointly by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, the Pillsbury Dough Boy, and that family of red bears in the Charmin commercial? (Uh oh, might that have just been another “brilliant” QAnon delusion…I mean…conspiracy theory?) Alonzo and Starlee joined the blog on Day 27 when they told us about the magic of the portable bidet. We quickly ordered ours…and received them about a month later. We have them now, though, for the next big run on TP.

Recently we were telling Alonzo and Starlee about the unique ability we have discovered that Ebie possesses. It turns out that Ebie can…well…you know…talk. And he is especially inclined to talk after he has been reading The Guardian. Not sure what that is about; it just is. Alonzo and Starlee did not seemed surprised that I could hear Ebie talking because they have a talented rescue dog too, named Jake.

After I shared some of Ebie’s insights and analysis with Alonzo and Starlee they encouraged me to share some of them in this blog. With Ebie’s permission I will do that. But not in this blog. Next time.

Recommended Reading

Looking for some thought provoking reading? Here are a a few articles I have been pondering.

Letters from an American – March 23, 2021 – An interesting piece from Heather Cox Richardson on the meaning of the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution.

White Evangelicals Do Not Intend to get Vaccinated

The Vital Role of Bystanders in Convicting Derek Chauvin

First America Caucus Platform – This is not an article but it is policy platform of the America First Caucus which a few extremist Republicans were trying to promote. The backlash was so strong that they quickly distanced themselves from it however it is worth reading to see how much worse things could be.


Photo Credit for Featured Image Above

I took the photo of the bags of Sterzing’s Potato Chips however that is not where the credit lies. The credit lies with my sister Jan who sent them to me for my birthday last week. They are made in Burlington, Iowa, near my hometown. She knows I love them because, after all, they are the best potato chip in the world…not just “possibly” as their website header claims.


The View from Jeff

Jeff Explains: It may have been watching too much Str Wars over the holidays, or too many Zoom meetings with too little Just For Men … or a combination of all those factors, but I am sure that there is a clear Rebel Alliance logo in my facial hair.

Be safe, be well, and get your vaccination. Do the right thing for others by continuing to wear your mask, keep distance, wash your hands, and, in every way and every day, stand up for accountability, justice, and peace in our country and our world.

Recovery

When Dolly left us in January, Clemencia and I were very clear with one another: “No more dogs.” Then it was, “No dog for at least six months.” Then we said, “Since we are not going to be getting a dog again, what can it hurt to activate a PetFinder account? We are suckers for rescue dogs but we are adults…we can just look and read their stories.” Then we saw Ebie.

He was a toy schnauzer. We have always had miniature schnauzers and did not want a smaller dog. He was a boy. We have always preferred females. He was not neutered…yet. That worried us. Even more worrisome was his description in Petfinder. Across the top it read, in all caps:

PLEASE READ. PLEASE READ. PLEASE READ. PLEASE READ.

The description read a lot like the side effects warnings you hear on pharmaceutical ads. You know what I mean. The announcer’s voice is usually sped up so fast no human can possibly understand them and when you can make them out you are tempted to conclude that the cure may be worse than the disease. Ebie’s description was full of those kinds of warnings.

Ebie in the first few minutes at home with us.
  • He is only 60% house trained.
  • He chews things…and seems to especially like power cords.
  • He was a bit snippy when he arrived at the foster family’s home…but he has not actually eaten other small pets or children…that we know of.
  • He’s not neutered yet but we think he will stop marking things once he has had the operation.
  • We don’t know how old he is but our best guess is that he is about 5 years old.
  • He is an extremely messy eater…and often pounces on all the treats before the other dogs can get theirs.
  • We think he’s a schnauzer…but we are not sure because he was terribly overgrown when he was rescued and he is still shaggy.

It was such an odd description for a rescue because it almost sounded like they were trying to discourage people from applying.

Ah, but they did not how much we like lost causes! It only made us more eager to welcome this uncivilized goofball into our home. “After all,” Clemencia said, “He’ll fit right in.” I was puzzled what she meant by that until I realized she was Colombian lip pointing toward me.

In the end, our application was approved, we were chosen by the foster parents, and we welcomed Ebie home on February 17.

When he came to us, we did not expect much except headaches but we were ready for it. We realized, after Dolly’s death, that we are hopelessly dog people.

Ebie falling asleep in Tom’s arms…just before getting his first schnauzer haircut.

We were pleasantly surprised when we realized there was more to Ebie than the description we had read. He has had very few accidents in the house. He is getting used to riding the elevator…even gets onto it by himself now, though he still cannot seem to reach the buttons despite our best training efforts. He has not chewed anything and we still have all of our fingers and toes. He has quickly bonded with us and become a loving pet. He got a clean bill of health from our vet yesterday. He really is a schnauzer; I gave him his first schnauzer haircut today and, wow, he is guapo (Spanish for “handsome”).

His foster family did an amazing job of introducing him to civilization again and helping him feel like a real pet and a member of the family. After a little more than three months with them, he was ready to come to our home. He has fit right in. He responds almost immediately to training (schnauzer’s are a very smart breed). He comes, sits, lies down, and rolls onto his hip – all on command….just like me! His leash training is going well and he loves to walk – which is really good for our health…just like me, though I am still not fond of the leash. He likes to play…a lot…just like me, but I prefer golf over the chew toys.

He is not shy about asking to crawl into your lap. This morning he asked to climb into my lap. He likes to lay in the crook of my arm (the same way you would cradle an infant) and fall asleep (see the picture above).

In a year that has seen so many of us traumatized by the pandemic, the critical illnesses and deaths of family and friends, electioneering, and the attempted violent coup of our country, all of us are in need of recovery…lots of recovery. Ebie is part of our recovery and we are part of his. We saw pictures of Ebie on the day he was rescued. He was unrecognizable as a dog and certainly not as a schnauzer. His living conditions were worse than anything we have seen on the ASPCA commercials.

Ebie was a dog looking for a chance to recover. So are we all.


Recovery of Sight

TheDailyDrivel.com has been silent for a while because I have had to take a little time off for an essential surgery and recovery. In late January I had eye surgery to remove a cataract and replace the lens in my left eye. The surgery was actually pretty cool…especially for a guy who hates any kind of cutting on any body part. It was painless and was mostly like attending a 45-minute firework show. That’s all I saw while the surgery was being done…fireworks. Yep, pretty cool and I did not have sit in the park swatting mosquitoes just to see the show.

From the moment the patch was removed from my eye 18 hours later, I could see again. The vision in my left eye was 20/40 immediately and everything was in brilliant, living color. For the first time in my life I had distance vision in my left eye. I was able to return to work on a limited basis within three days…and would have done so earlier except for one thing. My right eye is still very near-sighted, has a cataract, and trying to make visual sense of the world with one eye seeing distance only and one eye seeing up close only was a bit daunting. It took me about a week before the juxtaposition of the vision (is that even a thing?) began to work for me.

I am now a month out of surgery and am down to just one eye drop each day that I am required to use. My eyes continue to adjust and I’m getting accustomed to the new eyesight. What I am NOT getting used to is life without glasses. I have a hard time recognizing myself in the mirror and I keep trying to put on glasses. I did, however, enjoy having an eye patch for a bit. It inspired this meme that I created with a little help from my friends Lorenzo and Starlee who sent me the pirate gear as a post-surgery get well gift.


Recovery of a Kind of Faith

One of my favorite British comedies is The Vicar of Dibley. The show starred comedienne Dawn French as the first female vicar of a rural parish in England. It first aired as a regular series in 1994. Since 2000 it has aired intermittently with special episodes. What I always liked about the show is that it had lots of fresh British humor and it reminded me of the best of the Bob Newhart series’ in which he was the reasonably normal but quirky person surrounded by unusual, odd characters.

Recently I came across the latest release from December 2020, The Vicar of Dibley in Lockdown on YouTube. The Vicar of Dibley always struck an interesting balance between matters of faith and matters of hilarity. French and her crew did the same again in this episode. I thought you might enjoy it.

Now, if you’d like more of The Vicar of Dibley, I encourage you to check out YouTube. It’s easy…just search YouTube for “The Vicar of Dibley” or, if you have Britbox, you can see most of the episodes there, or check with your local PBS listings as it is often in reruns on local stations.


Recovery of Sanity and Civility

This week a few items in the media caught my attention.

Two were in the The Washington Post. One had to do with the impact of the QAnon conspiracy cult on families. This is not the first time I have come across news items related to QAnon and its association with cult-like ideology and behavior. I do not have any good reason to argue against the framing of QAnon as a cult. It seems to have many of the same characteristics and the people who join it seem to be exhibiting the same kind of troubling and irrational behavior that is common among cult adherents. It is painful for their families, as this article highlights.

I have long been concerned about White Evangelicals and their love affair with the 45th president. On February 11th Christianity Today has reported something even more concerning about White Evangelicals. CT reported on a study done by the conservative American Enterprise Institute in late January that found 1 in 4 White Evangelicals were being swayed by QAnon conspiracy theories and report believing them. At 27% this was more than any other religious group but slightly less than the 29% percent of all Republicans who reported believing them. I find both of these percentages disturbing.

Speaking of QAnon, CNN Special Reports aired last night (February 27) “Inside the QAnon Conspiracy.” We recorded it and watched. It was…well…absolutely fascinating. I recommend you check the CNN listings and catch it in a future airing.

The other story from the Washington Post was the story of a man who has been attempting to engage in civil conversations with his neighbors in New Hampshire who are ardent followers of the 45th president, the Big Lie (and many little ones) he told, and, possibly, QAnon conspiracies. It is an interesting article and provides a bit of inspiration as well as reality testing if you are thinking about doing the same thing with friends, family, or neighbors.

If you are seriously thinking about how to engage with people who are different from you politically, whatever your affiliation, I suggest you consider connecting with Braver Angels, a group that is attempting to facilitate engagement and communication between people who are on different sides of the political divide…primarily the Democrat and Republican divide. For $12.00 per year you can join and have access to their debates, videos, and other resources. Also, they now have state coordinators throughout the United States you can connect with and who can, in turn, connect you with others who are part of Braver Angels.

I have joined Braver Angels. I do not know if the group has THE answer but I think it has part of the answer. The question is: How do we recover sanity and civility as a society?

No, that is not a misstatement. I really do think the two are linked. The Big Lie of the 45th president and the conspiracies of QAnon are not rational, have been widely and repeatedly disproved, and, therefore, it is not sane to cling to them as if they are real. They lie at the heart of the incivility we are experiencing as a country and, dare I say, society. They present a worldview that is unattached from reality and truth.

Civil discourse benefits from, and usually requires, agreement on the terms of reality.

As long as one part of our country is so detached from reality and the 45th president continues to empower them with his lies, we are going to struggle to recover our ability to engage each other productively, respectfully, and with civility again.

Our responsibility as Americans seems pretty clear. We need to renew and redouble our efforts to address the QAnon conspiracy cult and provide a way of recovery for family, friends, and others we care about. Are we our brothers’ (sisters’) keeper…even if that brother, sister, mother, or father has been taken in by the 45th president and QAnon? Yes, but, realistically, it will not be easy for them, or any of us, to recover from the lies, the insanity, and the damage.


The View from Jeff
Jeff Explains: I thought that my male pattern balding meant I would never have to worry about hat hair again… now those masks put creases in my beard!!

With appreciation to my friend and colleague Jeff Logan for allowing me to repost his work here. Be sure to visit Jeff’s Instagram page for more of his doodle and drawings.


One Year Later

One year ago, on February 6, 2020, when Patricia Dowd died in California, her cause of death was not clear. By the end of April it had been determined that hers was the first COVID-19 death in the United States. Today the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard shows that Ms. Dowd has been followed by 462,844 more Americans…and the number continues to rise. Yes, Coronavirus vaccines are now available and they are being provided in all states and territories. Still, even with universal masking, more than a half million Americans will be dead by the end of this month.

In our part of the world (Maryland) the roll out of the vaccine has been slow. One of us is eligible now for the vaccine as a “senior citizen” and the other of us will be eligible in March. However, attempts to schedule an appointment for the vaccine, even by our senior citizen, have been fruitless. We are not, however, frustrated, panicked, or feeling helpless and hopeless. Getting the vaccine will not change our behavior:

  • We will still mask up (actually, we are double masking)
  • We will still maintain at least 6 feet distance from people when we are out
  • We will continue to stock up when we shop to minimize trips out, connect with people over Zoom, and remain at home.

What seems clear is that getting the vaccine creates a false sense of safety and security for some people. These folks start planning in-person gatherings and are generally less careful about masking and distancing. Too many things are still unknown about the virus to justify this kind of confidence.

Even more, the great unknown is how much we will be impacted by the variants that have been identified – so far. “So far” because variants will always occur and there are likely to be more. For this reason, the best advice we hear is get vaccinated, then still mask up and stay away from other people.


Farewell to Dolly

On Monday January 25th we said good-bye to Dolly, our remaining miniature schnauzer. Dolly was diagnosed in March 2018 with Cushing’s disease and mass was discovered on her spleen. She was given less than 3 months to live if she didn’t have an expensive surgery to help her live…oh…maybe…another 3 months.

After consulting with my former vet and friend in Iowa, we decided to go with his recommendation to simply love her, make her comfortable, and put her down before she began to experience much pain. Since that time we’ve been expecting that we would have to let her go at any time. In fact, and this is a bit embarrassing to say, we made, and cancelled, three previous appointments with Peaceful Passage, believing her time had come. Happily, we were wrong.

We really believed Dolly would go before Madison. We were wrong. We lost Madison in June 2020. It turned out Dolly’s mass was not cancerous and she lived for nearly 2 years more.

We never really knew the ages of Madison and Dolly. They came to us through a rescue in Hagerstown, Maryland and the breeder where they got the dogs would not release any records on them. The breeder said they were “a couple of years old” but, of course, that could mean 2 to 5 years old. We had Madison 12 years and Dolly 11. Our best guess is that they were 14+ years old, which puts them solidly at the upper end of the life expectancy for miniature schnauzers.

Our house is quieter than usual now and we miss the opportunity to take a break to walk a dog. So, will be bring a new dog into our home? Probably, but we aren’t sure when that will happen.


I Can See Clearly Now

Nope, that’s not a reference to the Johnny Nash song but, of course, it could be as I haven’t done a music focused blog in a while. Oh, heck, here it is…go ahead and enjoy it. Great song for the Class of ’72.

Okay, seriously, I can see clearly now as I had cataract surgery in late January. I’m still in the process of recovery following a seemingly endless eye-drop routine. However, the change in my sight is remarkable.

There been another change, though. I no longer need glasses, and, in fact, I cannot see with my prescription glasses. That is a BIG change given I’ve worn them for more than 55 years. The most challenging part of this change is getting used to seeing myself without glasses. I am having some difficulty getting used to seeing myself THAT clearly.


A Little More Music

Here’s a really nice video from the Tacoma Refugee Choir which was shared by regular reader Maggi. The video is about staying safe in the midst of the pandemic. It is titled “Put it On.” Some great lines in this video, like: “It’s not fashion, its compassion.” Enjoy!

Tacoma Refugee Choir, shared by reader Maggi from Pennsylvania. Thanks Maggi!

The View from Jeff
Jeff Explains: I got an email that my school’s e-sport team is now open for faculty as well. There may be a chance for me to be a college-level athlete after all!! Unfortunately Zaxxon, Krazy Racers and Road Rash weren’t on the list of games being played!!

Accountability for American Carnage

When Donald J. Trump delivered his now famous “American Carnage” inauguration speech in 2017 we misunderstood it. We thought he was describing the United States as he saw it but he was really previewing the America he wanted. Last week, on January 6, 2021, we saw the spoiled fruit of Trump’s real vision for American carnage.

Of course, maybe we misunderstood because that was the first lie of his presidency. The recordings indicate he said, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” Could it be that he simply changed one word – “starts” to “stops” – to tell us the greatest lie of all?

Like most Americans this week, my brain cells have been working over time to make sense of what we witnessed this week. In this post I’m going to do my best to convey what I’m coming up with so far. In this moment, as a country, we are still on information overload so I will not try to cite everything. I think of myself as a researcher and essayist, not a journalist. However, I do rely upon multiples of time-tested, trustworthy journalists and other researchers for the information that informs my thinking and writing.

The question that has been rolling over in my mind is this: What does accountability and justice look like in the wake of the attempted coup on the United States last week?

To answer this question there are three legal concepts we have to understand: free speech, sedition, and treason. For my sources I am relying on the National Constitution Center and Findlaw. Both sites translate the Constitution, constitutional interpretations, and law into more understandable language for legal dummies like me.

Let’s begin with the concept of free speech. This is what the Constitution says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

First Amendment, Interactive Constitution, National Constitution Center, January 10, 2021

However, there are three situations in which restrictions can be placed on free speech. You can go to the link and read it for yourslef and I will briefly highlight them here. Government can Constitutionally restrict:

  1. Certain types of speech including: defamation, true threats, “fighting words,” obscenity, child pornography, and false commercial advertising
  2. A speaker who is in a special relationship to the government, such as an employee or elected official “even based on content, when their speech is incompatible with their status as public officials.”
  3. Speech under a less demanding standard of “reasonableness.”

Now let’s turn to sedition. Sedition is legally defined as a conspiracy between two or more people to:

To conspire to overthrow or destroy by force the government of the United States or to level war against them;

To oppose by force the authority of the United States government; to prevent, hinder, or delay by force the execution of any law of the United States; or

To take, seize, or possess by force any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof.

FindLaw, Seditious Conspiracy and Federal Law: The Basics. January 10, 2021

Finally, as unbelievable as this all is, we need to clarify the meaning of treason and how it relates to sedition. In this case, I’m going to let FindLaw make the point again:

Sedition differs from treason (defined in Article III of the U.S. Constitution) in a fundamental way. While seditious conspiracy is generally defined as conduct or language inciting rebellion against the authority of a state, treason is the more serious offense of actively levying war against the United States or giving aid to its enemies. Another way of looking at it is that seditious conspiracy often occurs before an act of treason.

Findlaw, Free Speech, Sedition, and Treason. January 10, 2021

How are free speech, sedition, and treason relevant to the issue of accountability? Simply put: Certain free speech can result in siditious conspiracy and that conspiracy can lead to treasonous acts. Justice can only be done when there is accountability and we have to be willing to hold people accountable. This may be the biggest problem of all in this situation and begs the question: Are we willing to hold everyone accountable who has accountability? That, my friends, is a really, really big group of people. Let’s look at just a few (or many) of them.

Donald J. Trump

Regardless of why he does it, Trump is on record ad nauseum pushing the boundaries of free speech and potentially engaging in seditious conspiracy. If we are willing to hold him accountable, despite all the risks of agitating his easily agitated Trumpists base, it is the purview of the Congress and the courts to determine his to determine his culpability and penalty. For this reason, the House is moving swiftly to act. But we must be willing for him to be held accountable.

The Republican Party/GOP
Could this be the portrait of the Republican Party from the Trump Administration?

To be clear, in my family, social, and professional circles I associate with Americans who have diverse political views: Libertarian, Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green Party, Socialists, Monarchists, Anarchists, and, yes, even Trumpists. The Republicans I know are as appalled by Trump, his actions this past week, and his repeated failures as I am. However, it has to be said that the Republican Party has been, and continues to be in this moment, missing in action. This is a crucial time for the GOP.

The Republican Party is afraid of holding Trump accountable for fear of losing the Trumpists but it fails to understand the long game. Not all Trumpists are the hard core followers who attempted the coup at the U.S. Capitol last week and who came to DC with guns and explosives. Many just wanted the experience of protesting in Washington, not an invasion. We know that because of the number of people who have since abandoned Trump and the Trumpists. Some members of the GOP did it in the votes to certify the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris (e.g. Loeffler, Lankford, and Graham). As Foxs News and other outlets have reported there has been a flood of resignations since the Capitol invasion: cabinet members, senior staff, and lower level staffers did it by immediately resigning. At least one Trumpist rioter says showing up was the worst decision of his life and, as identities are exposed, arrests are made, and indictments come out, many other Trumpists may also have second thoughts.

If the GOP thinks the Trumpists are a valuable part of their constituency at this moment, they are wrong. The PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll shows that while the country is divided about removing Trump from office right now, the vast majority of Americans condemn the attempted coup on January 6th. The GOP does itself no favor now or in the future by failing to hold Trump and the Trumpists accountable. Doing so means it will lose even more support from the “average American” which is the real silent majority. We must be willing to hold the Republican Party accountable for its part.

The Democratic Party/Dems

In the spirit of transparency, I identify as a Democrat. However, I am not a “Proud Democrat” because I do not always agree with what the the Dems do. So why do I identify as a Democrat? Because the Dems, though sadly imperfect, align with my core value and belief in the greater good for all better than any of the other options…so far. That being said, the Dems are also accountable. The Dems are accountable because they have been complicit with the Republicans in creating the sharp political division that exists in this country. There have been many missed opportunities for the GOP and Dems to come together to govern for the greater good. They failed to do so because of outside interests, internal interests (aka politics), and, sometimes, just downright stubbornness. The intractability of their positions have resulted in a Congressional stalemate and national division it will take years to heal.

The Republican Party has been as partisan as possible during the periods it has controlled Congress over the past decade. The temptation for the Dems will be pay back. At least, that’s how it appears the game is played, and the game has been “on steroids” for the last generation or so.

The Dems have an opportunity to set a new standard of collaboration with Republicans. For the rational, non-Trumpists remaining in the GOP, collaboration will be especially important for helping establish the Republican Party again as an honorable, fair, and dependable opponent – not enemy. This, I believe, will be important for the healing of the country. For it to happen, though, we must be willing to hold the Democratic Party accountable for its part.

Individual Trumpist Legislators and other Trumpists

Accountability is already happening for this group but it is unclear how far it will go. Trumpist legislators (in both the House and the Senate) have unmasked themselves as Trumpists more than Republican. Major corporations are stepping back from financially supporting GOP Senators who objected to the certifcation of the 2020 election. It began with a trickle of three corporations early in the weekend, by Monday morning (today) there was a gush of corporations suspending support of Republicans who moved to de-certify the vote and even all political contributions. This trend is forecasted to grow and continue, especially toward others in the GOP if the Republican Party does not take steps to return the party to some semblance of what it used to be when it was really the Party of Lincoln.

How do we hold these lawless lawmakers accountable? You know the answer to that and it involves ballot boxes not bullets.

And what of the other Trumpists who were outside, then inside, the U.S. Capitol? It’s not looking very happy for them. There is a nationwide “manhunt” on for them. (Did they really not bother to consider that virtually everywhere in DC is in the view of surveillance cameras?) People have been arrested already from Hawai`i to Florida. Friends and family, who recognize their selfies and photos in social media, are calling the authorities.

Right now many of the charges may seem minor but there were five people who died. It appears the Capitol Police officer who died was struck on the head with a fire extinguisher by one of the Trumpist rioters. One day after storming the U.S. Capitol (by January 7th), there had already been 82 arrests. By the next day, January 8th, 13 had been charged in Federal Court and 40 more in Superior Court. The arrests and charges are growing and are expected to go into the hundreds. This does not even consider the number of people who are losing their careers and jobs as a result of this illegal action.

To add insult to injury for these folks, many of whom may have just been caught up in Trump’s rhetoric and the fever pitch of the Trumpist party atmosphere, their “fearless” leader betrayed them. He promised to march with them; instead he hid out at the White House. He said he supported them; then he denounced them on Twitter and described their behavior as “heinous.”

As sad and tragic as it is for these deceived Americans, we must be willing to hold Trumpists accountable.

The Media (as an entitty, both news and social)

In an age when the velocity of information is faster than our ability to fully comprehend it, two things must be true:

  • The Media – in all its forms – has to be responsible
  • We must be media-wise critical thinkers

The Media has to be committed to doing good research on its stories and to reporting its findings honestly. Overall, I believe much of mainstream media does this. Most media outlets will not release a story unless there are multiple sources. Ideally, those sources will go on record but that doesn’t always happen out of fear of retribution, especially during the Trump administration. For that reason, they need to have even more sources to ensure the credibility and consistency of the story. Using anonymous sources is not any cause for alarm as long as it is made verifiable through multiple sources who give the same story. We should not give a single second of consideration to the Media sources that fail in this most basis responsibility to truth and unbiased reporting.

Okay, look, everyone has a bias. When the Media is wise and honorable, it is upfront and clear about that bias so consumers can make informed decisions about whether to pay attention to it.

Social media has a particularly difficult challenge because it tries to provide an open forum for people to engage one another. That’s fine…but part of holding them accountable might be regular tutoring in the restrictions of free speech from the National Constitution Center. Also, I think it is a mistake for social media to be allowed to get into the “news business.” Most do not appear to have the expertise, infrastructure, or interest in vetting their stories as professional journalists. All of this to say that accountability does include regulation of the social media.

The Media, in all its forms, has the responsibility of shining a light on the most important issues, events, and figures of our day. Let’s be honest. Donald J. Trump has been important only because he has held the Office of the President of the United States. Period. Prior to his riding the escalator down Trump Tower in New York to announce his candidacy, he was thought of as unimportant if he was ever thought about at all. The Media treated him as a sideshow during his campaign but then, when he moved inside the big top, as the ringmaster, he had the spotlight. We can hold the Media accountable by urging them to avoid the next sideshow and stay focused on what really matters. I get it…they have to give the Office of the President their attention and it just so happened Trump was in that office. But now they have a choice. What matters is not Trump’s posts on social media, rants, conspiracy theories, temper tantrums, lies, etc. Media is accountable because it empowered Trump to become larger than life and more important than he ever was. Now they need to be held accountable for keeping the microphones and cameras off of him.

Now, what if the Media fails to be responsible and self and external regulation fails? What are we consumers to do? We have to be critical thinkers on our own. We have to recognize the valuable role Media plays in our society and, at the same time, scrutinize and evaluate what it tells us and call it out when it is gets the fact wrong and when it spews minformations, half-truth, conpsiracy theories, and other lies. We must be willing to the hold the Media accountable for honesty, integrity, and focusing on what really matters.

We the People

In the final analysis it is We the People – all of who live in the United States and its territories – who need to hold ourselves accountable for failing to:

  • Protect our fragile democracy from relentless attacks.
  • Live out the basic lessons we learned as children on how to play well with others…even those we disagree with (this is also known as “civility”).
  • Speak truth to power.
  • Build open, honest, and kind relationships with one another.
  • Listen thoughtfully, patiently, and seek to understand what is being said before we respond.
  • Assume and believe in the best intentions of all of us.
  • See and respond compassionately to the cries of any and all of us who feel marginalized and left behind – regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, status, faith, or political leanings – not just at this time of an unprecedented pandemic but always.
  • Follow the “Golden Rule” of treating others like, no, even better than, we would like to be treated.
  • Seek truth – not just the convenient kind that supports our ideology but the inconvenient truth that tests our ideology.
  • Research candidates and being clear on our most deeply held values and ideologies to ensure our candidates are in alignment.
  • Vote in every election in any legal way available to us to ensure that our voice is being heard and considered.
  • Call for accountability for all those I’ve mentioned here.

But, of course, we must be willing hold ourselves accountable. We are not without blame for what happened last week. We can and must do better in the future because our future depends on it. Will we?


Photo Credits:

Featured Photo – Shot Sign in Front of U.S. Capitol – csp55167745 © Can Stock Photo / focalpoint

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil Owls – Peter Holmes on Pixabay

Thank God It’s 2021!

Look, 2021, I’m not trying to put any pressure on you but, geez, 2020 was a really lousy, stinking, rotten, sucky year. Yes, I am expecting better of you but I also understand that things do not always go as planned. Still, do your best, okay? There are a lot of folks around the globe hurting because of what your predecessor gave us. Is it too much to ask for more good than bad over the next 12 months? Thanks for your consideration.


Here We Go Again

With temperatures dropping steadily and occasional skiffs of snow in the air, I pulled my wool Winter socks out of storage last week. If you have been a devotee of this blog (who isn’t except most of the world?) you know that one pair of wool socks, formerly known as Bert Left and Ernie Right, became an integral part of my pandemic survival plan.

Bert Left and Ernie Right – “Fun Toes,” huh? Well that depends.

I decided on the first day I wrote this blog to wear them daily without washing them for as long as possible. At the time I wasn’t sure how long that could have been. It could have been until I was given the choice of sleeping in the garage or in the house. Or it could have been until the dogs stopped coming to me for a head scratch or doggie treat. Or it might have been until the wool fabric rotted and fell off my feet or, alternatively, my feet rotted and poured out of the socks.

As it turned out, “as long as possible” was until May 27, 2020 and Day 72 of my daily blog-a-thon. Bert and Ernie went unwashed for the first 72 days of the pandemic. It was an experiment in my endurance, our household’s collective sense of smell, and, more importantly, Clemencia’s tolerance of her husband’s ill-considered behavior. Finally, in the Day 72 blog Bert and Ernie were no more. They blew it. They sneaked out of the house on their own without masks like too many Stupid People have done in the months of the pandemic. I could not longer abide such risk-taking and insubordination so they disappeared into the washing machine and dryer, emerging as new, but well worn, socks.

Or so I thought.

As I was putting my wool socks into my dresser drawer I heard a familiar voice:

  • Bert: Hey Bonehead, where ya’ been?
  • Ernie: Yeah, what did you do to us?
  • Me: What?!? You two are still alive?
  • Ernie: Well, not really alive, I mean, we ARE a figment of your imagination but, hey, we are a pretty real figment.
  • Me: It can’t be, I put you in the washing machine myself and I saw you tumbling in the dryer.
  • Bert: Uh-huh. We know. And we aren’t very appreciative of it…though we were really glad to be off your feet.
  • Ernie: So, Bonehead, where have we been and what did we miss?
  • Me: You’ve been in a box in the closet with my other wool socks that are too heavy to wear in warm weather.
  • Bert: Did we have our own box? We deserve our own box, you know. I mean, hey, people only read your drivel because of us.
  • Me: No, you didn’t have your own box. You were in with all the others.
  • Ernie: That’s a fine way to treat us, Bonehead. Think of all we did for you!
  • Me: Did for me!?!? You’re kidding right? Look at what I did for you! I gave you two personalities and brought you to life…even if only in my imagination.
  • Bert: Big deal! We didn’t need you for that, Bonehead. We came to life to help you out.
  • Me: Help me out!?! You almost killed me! You ran away without masks, got bored, came back, and waltzed in the door like you were entitled to be treated like the Prodigal Sons. No way! You might have brought the virus into our home.
  • Ernie: Hey, there was only one Prodigal Son, you numbskull. And did we bring the virus here?
  • Me: No
  • Ernie: Then what are you whining about?
  • Bert: That’s enough of your complaining about all the good things we’ve done for you. Now, what did we miss while we were stuffed away with all those “other” socks?
  • Me: You missed a Presidential election. It looks like we are really going to get a new President of the United States.
  • Ernie: Is it that “Bootahedge” guy (or whatever his name was)? I kind of liked him.
  • Bert: Is it Bernie? I liked his hair and how stern he always looked. My kind of guy!
  • Me: No, it is Joe Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice-President.
  • Bert: Oh, well, that sounds fine. What’s going to happen with that Trumpet guy?
  • Me: You mean “Trump”?
  • Bert: If you say so.
  • Me: He has been doing everything he can to contest the election and say that he won…even though he lost by 7 million votes and in the Electoral College.
  • Ernie: How can he do that?
  • Me: Well, he can protest it but he can’t prove there was any cheating or that he actually won, so it seems Biden and Harris will be inaugurated in a couple of weeks.
  • Bert: What about the virus thing? I’m feeling a little congested myself.
  • Ernie: Bert, that’s only because we’ve been cramped into a box by Bonehead where we had to breathe in the fibers of other wool socks.
  • Me: The pandemic is roaring on. So far there are about 350,000 people dead and over 20 million cases of COVID-19 that have been reported in our country.
  • Bert: Wow, that seems like a lot. Hey, Ern, I’m thinking we need to go back into that box for a while, you know?
  • Ernie: Sounds like a good idea, Bert. Hey Bonehead, can you give us a lift back into the box.
  • Me: Nope! In fact, I’m wearing you today!
  • Bert and Ernie: Oh, great! Ugh!

Worthy Reads

If you haven’t already seen this, I think you’ll enjoy Dave Barry’s Year in Review for 2020. Of course, if you have already seen it, you may enjoy reading it again. I love the subtitle of this year’s article: “And we thought past years were awful.” That kind of says it all but Dave Barry says it in his own inimitable way. Enjoy!

The Religion News Service published a piece titled What Jesus Means to Me as a Muslim. It is not a long piece to read. It is quite thoughtful and interesting. It also has expanded my own understanding of Islam, for which I am appreciative.


Just Because

It has been a while since I’ve included any song parodies in the Drivel. However, I did find one that I thought was share worthy. This is from Chris Mann and it is The 12 Days of Quarantine.

Have you ever wanted to yodel? Who hasn’t! Here’s a brief video from a young yoderler named Cassidy that will give you the basics.


The View from Jeff

I’ve got two fun Jeff Logan originals for this blog. One is Christmas themed and the other New Years. Hey, by the way, don’t forget to check out Jeff’s Instagram page for more of Jeff’s fun and funny work.

Jeff’s Notes: We get games for Christmas. This year we got one called “Drop the Beat” where you have to freestyle rap…I think I will stay with the day job (and I won).
Jeff’s Note: This was a doodle I drew as I was thinking about my last sermon of the year. As the year comes to a close, it is going to quite enjoyable to say good bye to 2020.

I agree with Jeff. I’m so glad to have 2020 in the rearview mirror. As I was out walking yesterday I smelled a friend of mine nearby and followed my nose to his back deck where we chatted for a few minutes (and, yes, we were more than 6 feet apart). I know…it sounds terrible to say that I could smell him but I did, but allow me to explain. He smokes a distinctive brand of cigar and though I don’t know the brand, I knew it was him from about 50 yards away.

He is about four years older than me and we have played golf together on a few occasions. He is a Vietnam War veteran and saw some pretty scary and awful things in his military career. Despite all that he has seen in his life he said to me, “Tom, I never thought I would say this but with all we’ve been through this year, this is the worst time I’ve ever seen.” We talked about how our parents were born just prior to the Spanish Flu pandemic in the last century and how they also lived through the Great Depression. This pandemic is for us what those may have been for our parents. As frightening and discouraging as that could sound, we realized, though, that our parents made it through and it gave us hope and confidence that we will as well. Hope and confidence is what it will take to get us through…no matter how long it lasts.

Instead of the usual closing I’m going to leave you with one last video as a New Year’s greeting from Clemencia and me to you. Let’s all work together to make 2021 a happier, healthier, and healing year for all.

Wee Bit o’ Holiday Drivel

HO! (sigh) Ho! (sigh) ho. (deep sigh). It is tough to get into the holiday spirit this year, eh? Well this Klaus has a mixed bag of drivel for your holiday enjoyment. (Featured Photo by Tom Klaus: The Icelandic Yule Lads at The Pearl in Reykjavik, December 2019)


What Did She Say?

Actually, this is really cool. A 17-year-old student in Fort McMurray, Alberta (nearly as far North in Alberta as you can get…but not quite) entered and won the Breakthrough Junior Challenge. Not a small deal. She won a $250,000 scholarship for herself; $50,000 for her high school science teacher; and a $100,000 award for a new science lab at her school. How’d she do it? By explaining a complex scientific concept to drivelers like me. You can see Maryam’s award winning entry below.


From Brilliance to This…
Nuf’ said.

Now Back to Something Really Sublime…

Each year for the past umpteen years Clemencia and I have attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah sometime in December. We’ve seen it performed by the renowned Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Meyerhoff. We’ve seen it performed by the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. We’ve seen it performed by the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Club in the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, featuring our friend and former neighbor, Danielle Talamantes. Last year we saw it performed by the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Singers in College Park. Our favorite, however, which we have seen several times, is the rendition of the classic done by the National Philharmonic at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland.

We love the sound of music at Strathmore with its all wooden interior. And we especially love to hear Handel’s Messiah performed there by the National Symphony. Of course, it is not happening this year. Instead, the National Philharmonc is performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on this Sunday, December 20th at 2:00 PM in a physically distanced live concert. The concert is free to stream. You won’t be disappointed. The National Philharmonic has led the way in doing virtual performances during the pandemic. We’ve seen a couple of them and they are wonderul. Just navigate to this webpage, and scroll down to “How to Watch National Philharmonic.”

If old time and roots music is more your style (I love this as well as classical music), then check out the Common Ground on the Hill Holiday Concert Extravaganza, which will be broadcast live and free on its Facebook page beginning at 8:00 PM on Sunday, the 20th as well. Common Ground on the Hill is a Maryland Folk Life Center based at McDaniel College in Westminister. One of my dreams is to head off to Westminister (about 45 miles North of here) with my ukelele to attend their summer event in Westminister. For two weeks they offer all kinds of folk arts classes where I can study under ukelele virtuosos. Maybe next summer…or in 2022.

So, if you are looking for some special live holiday music, check these out. We hope to “see” you there!


The View from Jeff
Jeff Explains: Here’s a quick guide I use because I can’t bring myself to toss out my mask every time I run into a store for milk… my DNA came back 40% Scottish after all.

Holiday Greetings?!?

You know, I’m not into wishing people “Happy Holidays” this year…which has been a pretty lousy, unhappy year overall all. This year Clemencia and I came up with a different holiday message for a very different year. We hope it speaks to you.


Sunrises, Herons, and Tubas

This past week we have been treated to some very beautiful and unique sunrises. Our kitchen dining table sits next to a window that faces East and the views are sometimes spectacular. My favorite sunrise this week, and in quite some time, is the one you see above.

Here’s another in which we caught the sun peeking over the horizon.

Here’s one more, from this Saturday morning, which has its own kind of beauty. It was foggy and the fog eerily highlighted the street lights.

Each day I try to take a 3 to 5 mile power walk. This year I’ve worn out two pairs of Skecher hiking shoes and just started on my third pair earlier this week. We have a walking trail that is 2.12 miles around and by the time I walk to the trail entrance and back home, it adds about a half mile. I am trying to walk four miles per hour but, so far, my best is 3.6 miles per hour. At 4 MPH I’m practically running – so I’m okay with the slower speed. When I run it is like when I wear shorts – it tends to scare small children. It really is better that I just walk fast.

On my walk I frequently see a beautiful great blue heron who lives on a pond in our neighborhood. A few weeks ago I saw the bird sitting at the very top of a tree and was struck by how large the bird looked compared to the branches it was perched upon. I took a couple of pictures and one of those is below.

I had to use the zoom function on my camera to get this picture but, unfortunately it doesn’t do the beautiful bird justice.

Here the heron looks like a fudgesicle on a stick tucked into the branches. Not very flattering for such a majestic creature. However, yesterday I saw the bird at its favorite pond and got a picture that does it justice and in which you can see where the blue in blue heron comes from.


With Appreciation

Since my Mortality and the Season of Joy post last Monday, December 7th, I have received several very kind comments on Facebook, in Messenger, and even as blog comments. I read each and appreciate them all. A couple of them have even resulted in deeper conversations from with readers. Again, thank you for reading, for your interest, and for your comments.

Allow me to remind you that while I do post a link to TheDailyDrivel.com on my personal Facebook page when I write a new post, I have decided that I am not going to respond to people via Facebook. I am not “liking” responses, I am not responding to comments, and I am deleting comments that are offensive to me or which I judge to be rancorous. However, this does not mean you can’t communicate with me or that I won’t communicate with you.

You can email me directly at ihaveopinionated@gmail.com or you can send me a comment via this blog. Do remember, though, all blog comments are moderated.


Blast from the Past of Stranger Things

It is about 7:00 AM on Sunday, December 13 when I am writing this. All is quiet inside our home. Outside there is the faint sound of traffic on Interstate 95 that we can sometimes hear and then there is this…listen carefully:

What did you hear?

If you think you hear a tuba playing some kind of “oompa” music, you were not mistaken. The music continued for at least an hour. It was an interesting way to start a Sunday morning.

It reminded me of growing up on our farm in Iowa where my mother would awaken me in the morning with any of the following music:

It was all, frankly, a bit jarring, regardless of the tune or genre.

Still, today, the tuba caught my attention and took me back.

Noteworthy

The Pew Research Center published an interesting piece in its FactTank: News in the Numbers on December 11th. Twenty Striking Findings in 2020 is a striking piece to read and view (lots of interesting graphs and charts). Item #3 caused us to race to the front door to make sure it was securely locked. It read:

For the first time since at least the Great Depression, a majority of young adults in the U.S. were living with their parents this year. 

Pew Research Center, December 11, 2020

The View from Jeff
Jeff Notes: I am always amazed that within two sips my coffee cup can go from pristine to something from a crime scene. #WhyIcantHaveNiceThings

Mortality and the Season of Joy

Forty years ago today, December 7, 1980, my father began the final year of his life.

This reflection has been stuck in my mind for several days now so it is time to process it. Those who are familiar with my writing in TheDailyDrivel.com know it is a stream of consciousness blog and it is likely to go in any number of directions. Sometimes, like today, it comes out as a memoir.

A quick word about memoirs. My parents had four children – my three sisters and me. However, each of us grew up in four different families with these same parents. That’s not unusual. The experience each child has in its family is unique due to birth order, number of siblings, family circumstances, state of the parents’ relationship, etc., etc. By the time I came along (my youngest sister is 10 years my senior) the family experience I had was different from my sisters. For this reason, my memories and memoir is not theirs and never can be, anymore than theirs can be mine. It is not my intention to speak for them and their experience with our parents because I cannot. Hence anything I write here should not be associated to them. Family therapists have more eloquent ways of explaining this phenomenon of siblings growing up in different families with the same parents, but I hope this will suffice for now.

My father died on December 6, 1981, on my sister Carol’s birthday and in my 27th year. Yesterday, of course, was the 40th anniversary of his death. In his book, Tuesday’s with Morrie, Mitch Albom observes, “Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

I have a complicated relationship with my father. He was an alcoholic, and his drinking was particularly bad throughout my teens. However, I now understand he struggled with addiction for many years before and after that period. In my earliest years we lived in a four-room house on my grandfather’s farm. It had a toilet but no bathing facilities. In the cold months we bathed in a tub in the kitchen and, in the warm months, under a rigged up hose and shower nozzle in the cellar. When I was entering grade school we moved into my grandfather’s house, after he moved to town, where we had a bathtub in an upstairs room and a toilet in a small room on the main floor. In junior high school we moved from my grandfather’s house on the family farm into another four-room, one and a half story house in town. It was an exciting move because, for the first time, we had a bathtub and toilet together in the same bathroom. Odd the things that stand out in our memories, eh?

Carman Chester (Tom) Klaus (1913-1981). I took this portrait of my dad for a photography class in 1980, less than a year before he died. In this photo he was the same age I will be on my next birthday, 67. I was given his nickname as my birthname.

That house in town was small for three people. The last of my three sisters had moved away from home six or seven years before our move. From about age 8 on I was an “only child” with my sisters grown, married, and moved out. Sometimes my mom and dad seemed to be more like grandparents than parents. I had nieces and nephews who were only three to five years younger than me. It was a bit weird to see my parents be grandparents while they were still supposed to be parents to me.

In truth, though, I parented them. My dad would walk home from the bar most afternoons in time for supper in a state of near black out. He would have driven the three blocks home but he’d often forget that he drove his truck there. My mother spent most evenings raging at my dad for his drinking until she finally went to her bedroom on the 2nd floor. Dad’s blackout state meant he never noticed, or remembered, the raging. But I do. I also remember how everyday I felt like I had to keep the peace. Sometimes covering for my dad. Sometimes siding with my mom. Often putting my dad to bed at night. Always strategizing on how to keep some level of peace in our home. There were days when that small house felt like a tiny house with walls that kept moving inward.

The stress of parenting my parents was enormous. Our family doctor observed my father walking to and from the bar each day (he had to walk right by the doctor’s office) and likely surmised what was happening in our home. He knew that I was under extraordinary stress as a teenager. During a routine sports exam, he noted the impact it was having on me and prescribed mild sedatives to help me manage the anxiety. However, I was scared of drugs of any kind as well as alcohol, so I took them sporadically for a month and never refilled the prescription. In that time my family had more in common with the Vance family of Hillbilly Elegy than any of the smiling, middle-class, white families we watched on TV sitcoms.

There was one day each year I looked forward to: Christmas Eve. It had nothing to do with religiosity or gifts. It was all about the opportunity to be just a kid. As a family we were a mixed bag religiously. My two oldest sisters were raised as Lutherans and my youngest sister and I were raised as Methodists. In our German family’s tradition we celebrated Christmas Eve. It was the time when all my sisters and their families came home. On that one night I did not have to feel solely responsible for keeping peace between my parents. My sisters were there to run interference and I could laugh, play, and be a kid.

Ruth Miller Klaus Cary (1916-2006). This portrait of my mom was taken in 1980 at the same time I took the photo of my dad. Mom was 64 years old in this photo. She remarried 10 months after my dad died.

My mom was an amazing cook and baker. The food on Christmas Eve was unlike any other day of the year. I loved Christmas eve. In fact, after I graduated from high school and moved out, I always made a point of being home for Christmas Eve. Until 1978.

In September 1978 I became the minister of a thriving rural church in Iowa. It was located over three hours from my hometown and had a tradition of holding a Christmas Eve service. In 1978, for the first time in my life, I had to miss Christmas Eve in order to lead the service at the church. My duties during that time meant I also missed Christmas Eve at home in 1979 and 1980.

In 1981 I changed jobs and it meant that I’d be able to join my family again for Christmas Eve. I was very excited. By the late 1970’s my mom and dad seemed to have achieved a different way of being in their life together. Mom seemed a bit softer and Dad’s drinking seemed to be more controlled. I had heard from Mom that Dad had missed me being home for Christmas Eve and was really looking forward to my return for the holiday.

I made it home but I was both too early and too late. I was called at work on Monday, November 30th and told my dad had fallen ill in the middle of the night. I drove home and took turns sitting with him in the hospital until he died the following Sunday, December 6, 1981.

Odd things happen in the moment when people pass away. I remember two things that happened. First, my mom turned to my sister, on whose birthday Dad died, and said, “Happy birthday, Carol.” That elicited a gasp from the nurses. Then all of my immediate family members – sisters and brothers-in-laws – turned to me and said, nearly in unison, “What do we do now?” Everyday since I have felt the unrelenting emotional weight of responsibility for my family.

For the past several days my heart has been carried back to Iowa by these memories. In fact, the memories have been intense and unshakable, hence the need to write. I think they are so strong because I’m also wrestling with my mortality, and that of people I know back home, in the midst of this terrible spike in COVID-19.

A friend from Western New York sent me an article from The Atlantic titled, Iowa is What Happens When Government Does Nothing: The story of the coronavirus in the state is one of government inaction in the name of freedom and personal responsibility. I know people from Iowa who would refuse to read an article in The Atlantic because they’d associate it with “East Coast elites.” In this case they’d be wrong. The author is from Burlington, Iowa, which was the nearest city near where I grew up and where I hung out as a teenager. The article is written with the awareness and love of an Iowan who is appalled by the situation there.

Another friend told me this week that she is scared of what is happening with the pandemic because it is all so out of control. I agree. I’m scared too. I think we’d both agree that our fear is not so much about the virus. We both know how to mitigate it and we do the things we need to do to protect ourselves: mask up, physical distance, wash hands, etc. Our fear is rooted, instead, in the actions of people who are not taking it seriously and who, out of ignorance, or political leanings, or both, refuse to take the same precautions. We can protect ourselves from a virus easier than we can protect ourselves from such stupidity.

In facing my own mortality, I remembered my dad on the anniversary of his death. None of us knew on December 7, 1980 that he would have only 365 more days. I thought there would be another chance to be at home for Christmas Eve.

Yes, my relationship with my dad was complicated. For all the ways his addiction prevented him from being present in my life, he did one thing for which I am forever grateful: he did not confine me to the same life to which he had been confined. He let me go and, in fact, was proud of me for going.

I saw his pride in one thing he did which seemed silly at the time. In the Spring before I graduated from high school I received a financial award letter from the community college in Burlington. My dad thought I had received a merit scholarship. He got so excited for me that he tracked me to an athletic event I was attending in another town and hand delivered the letter to me. I opened the letter and read it, but it wasn’t a merit scholarship at all, only an award based on financial need. He was so proud, I didn’t have the heart to tell him it wasn’t what he thought.

In the Fall of 1981, when I learned he was looking forward to me coming home for Christmas Eve, the trip took on a new meaning for me. It was no longer about respite, but a way of saying thanks to my dad for letting me go. I never got to say thank you and Christmas Eve has not been the same since. Today it comes and goes with a bit of sadness.

And remember to say thank you while you can.