St. Francis and the Trump era

According to Facebook our offer on the house where we are living was accepted four years ago today. Within the space of a month we had decided to move, sold our house, and bought another one. While we had been thinking for some time of selling our house in the woods and moving to the city it had been a vague idea. What caused us to explore that idea seriously and then take action was the election of Donald Trump. As I look back on it, the desire was to create, feed into, an alternative story to the story represented by Trump’s election. Continue reading

Gimme shelter (not)

I have been going through photos. I have been struck with the sheer level of activity and variety in my prepandemic life. Was 2016-17 typical? Perhaps not. But in the space of six months I made two trips to Africa and we sold and bought a house, moved, helped care for a new grandchild, and went to the Kentucky Derby for the first time ever. Oh, and Trump was elected right then and turned the political scene upside down.

After a year of confinement I don’t think I’d be up for that much … life any more. But a little more personal excitement would be nice, besides watching riots and a would-be coup from a safe distance; something to look forward to. In this passive life I have spent a lot of nervous energy looking forward to things. The election. The certification. The inauguration. And now, in two days, our vaccinations. But just as I start dreaming about planning a family trip to South Africa next winter, that country produces a virulent new variant of the virus and travel therefrom is banned. The wait-and-see stance must be adopted once again.

“Sheltering in place.” Remember that term? It was what we did in the first weeks of the pandemic when we didn’t know much at all about the virus except that it was pretty scary. In Indiana we kept our numbers low at first by sheltering in place and then a lot of people got tired of that and we started going out more and then the whole mask thing and the virus itself was politicized. And sheltering in place became the more political “lockdown.” We ventured out to visit our family in early July when the lockdown was lifted, and then the numbers went haywire and we went back to mostly staying home, that is, voluntarily sheltering in place. I did give up grocery delivery and started grocery shopping on my own because I needed some excuse to get out of the house, especially after gardening season ended, so I can’t say I’ve been religious about sheltering in place all this time, just about masking up.

Perhaps the smartest thing we did during the past six months was to open our shelter to two more asylum seekers, joining the one who was released to us from detention in early March, just in time for the lockdown. This move resulted in the establishment of a bicultural community in our large house, which adds life and liveliness and also a sense of purpose. Life for those three people could be extremely difficult without us. I don’t have to go out of the house to be useful—except for occasional gigantic shopping trips to Costco. Our service projects live upstairs.

Still, I keep feeling like I have regressed to laziness. Is an absence of striving the same as laziness? I have no particular focus for energy, therefore, whatever energy I have dissipates. Sometimes this feels comfortable, sometimes it feels like a great loss.

My daughter-in-law, who has also been to South Africa, and I dream of proteus and elephants and getting the whole family there. Together. Someday.

How are you all holding up?

Our Favorite Movies 2020

First, I’ll list the movies that were available to us only as DVDs on our Netflix subscription. I was surprised to see that almost all of our favorite DVDs were documentaries, docudramas, biopics, or otherwise based on real people and events. So that is what I have listed. As we have learned this year, truth is indeed stranger and more compelling than fiction. In no particular order:

Cave of Forgotten Dreams 2010. Werner Herzog is given special access to film a cave in France that contains the oldest human paintings ever discovered. The cave is not open to the public.

The Eagle Huntress 2016. How do they film things like this? A documentary follows a Mongolian teenage girl who, with the warm support of her family, breaks into the all-male domain of hunting with eagles.

Maiden 2019. The first all-female crew makes its mark on deep-water yacht racing.

Kusama: Infinity 2018. The astonishing work of a Japanese avant garde artist who moved to New York in the 1950s.

Dark Waters 2019. A docudrama about a story I know something about from my environmental work. Remember Teflon?

Harriet 2019. The extraordinary biopic based on the extraordinary exploits of Harriet Tubman.

Pina 2011. A spellbinding tribute to the German choreographer Pina Bausch. I don’t recall any dialog. It’s all in the dance.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World 2017. American Indians, that is, and their unrecognized influence on rock and roll.

Official Secrets 2019. How Britain was pressured to invade Iraq, fictionalized but based on actual events.

A Private War 2018. Biopic about Marie Colvin, celebrated war correspondent whose mission was to document the true costs of war. She was killed in the line of duty.

On the Basis of Sex 2018. Biopic about the young Ruth Bader Ginsberg and her landmark work on gender equality. A good complement to the better-known documentary RBG, which we watched in 2019.

Never Look Away 2018. Based loosely on the life of German artist Gerhard Richter, who tried to get beyond the trauma of growing up in Nazi Germany—but fell in love with the daughter of an ex-Nazi.

At Eternity’s Gate 2018. Van Gogh’s last days. Who but Willem DaFoe could play the tortured artist?

And finally, for broader entertainment, true and fictional, and available instantly via Netflix streaming, here are the feature films we enjoyed. (For streaming series, see yesterday’s post.)

The Professor and the Madman 2019. Sean Penn and Mel Gibson are remarkable in this story about the making of the greatest dictionary of all time. Really. The OED.

The Midnight Sky 2020. I was ready to give up on this post-apocalyptic saga but George Clooney (who also directed? Produced?) keeps you guessing and I liked it in the end.

Wadjda 2012. I have a feeling I listed this film before but Vic claimed he never saw it. In any case we both enjoyed (re)watching this story of a plucky Saudi girl.

My Happy Family 2017. In this Georgian (former Soviet Union) film the plucky one is a middle-aged housewife who leaves her wimp of a husband and demanding family.

On Body and Soul 2017. If you have patience and can get beyond the early slaughterhouse scenes, this Hungarian story of a probably autistic woman and a coworker may charm you and bend your mind

My Octopus Teacher 2020. Another how’d-they-do-that documentary. Including how the diver holds his breath that long. My favorite movie of the year.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 2020. Based on events we half-remember. Sacha Baron Cohen is perfectly cast as Abby Hoffman.

The Social Dilemma 2020. Everybody should watch this but you will probably go back to your social networking, like I did, just a little more aware and feeling guilty.

East Side Sushi 2015. Plucky young Mexican American mom is bent on becoming a world-class sushi chef.

Adú 2020. Haunting Spanish film about plucky African kid and other plot involving immigration.

Kappela 2020. Charming Indian movie about a naïve and, yes, plucky young woman who falls in love over the phone with a rickshaw driver.

Uncorked 2020. Plucky young African American man dreams of becoming a sommelier instead of taking over his dad’s barbecue joint.

The Two Popes 2019. Did you know that conservative Pope Benedict XVI and the future Pope Francis became friends? Yes, they did. Much pluck required.

What movies did you enjoy this last, long year?


Oh, how much Netflix we watched in 2020! It is almost embarrassing. I am going to devote this post just to the series we have consumed, often in two-or-three-episode gulps per evening. Individual movies will come later.

I’m not even listing all the series we watched, just the ones we really liked and can recommend if you share our weird tastes.

Of course, we watched season 4 of The Crown as soon as it came out, because we had already binged on the first three, and The Queen’s Gambit. Belatedly we also watched all three seasons of Anne with an E. We loved all of these popular series. But I wonder how many of our other favorites will ring a bell with you? Continue reading

Right and wrong, a year in review

I read my journal entries for the year. A lot of them turned into blog posts so you may have read them too. I was struck once again by how challenging this year has been. I don’t have to remind you of that, and history will have its own take on 2020. But after reading through my personal log of events and emotions, I am feeling pretty good. That is, I am at a really good place now, after all that. In fact, my life feels much more comfortable now than it did back in January, before the pandemic revealed itself for what it was.

A year ago I was anticipating a big year, full of uncertainties. I was wrong about some things and right about others. Continue reading

Feeding refugees

We got a fund solicitation recently from the regional food depository. We have contributed before but, ironically, we are now occasionally on the receiving end of charitable food boxes. That’s because we’re housing and feeding three asylum seekers, whom we call our kids. The donated food is for them, but this morning my breakfast came from food box items they don’t eat. I have sent notification not to put certain things in the boxes. For a while, the kids were taking the boxes to their rooms but leaving things uneaten. They finally brought tons of stuff down to the kitchen, asking what they should do with it. Continue reading

A president like my husband

I am struggling with moral superiority. It literally kept me awake last night. I am going to try to renounce moral superiority.

The revelation was a short podcast called The Key to Trump’s Appeal, which I picked up from a friend’s Facebook post. The gist was, why are so many people loyal to Trump, why do they believe his lies, why do they overlook his gross faults and misdeeds? The podcaster’s answer: they love him because of his faults, which are right out in the open for everybody to see. They love him because he does not make them feel inferior. Continue reading

Immigrant learning curves

Jeb is the youngest and most recent addition to our asylum-seeker household. Though he’s been in the city since February, he’s been with us just two weeks. All recent immigrants face steep learning curves as they find their way in a new place. It can be revealing to walk through some of these processes with them.

In addition to working part time at an Amazon warehouse, Jeb has been attending classes at a local training center. He rides with a friend to work but has been biking to classes. Yesterday he said the weather was now too cold to ride his bike so he would take the bus to school. Continue reading


I’m trying not to think about the election being less than two weeks away. I’m unsubscribing to all the political emails that have been cluttering my inbox, writing “STOP” to all the political texts. I’m barely skimming the headlines, “watching” TV news with the sound muted while I work a mindless coloring app on my phone. I’ve hand-delivered my own ballot to the county clerk’s office. I’m trying to stay focused on the present, the day to day, the hourly.

It isn’t working. I’m still obsessing about November 3. Continue reading