Dear Family and Friends,
One of the benefits of writing this annual letter and creating the card is the opportunity to look backward and count my blessings. Last year at this time I had just returned from my trip to Peru. Throughout this weird year, looking back on that time has provided me with much joy and delight. Last year's letter, which describes that trip, is still available here.
It's a little different this year, though I did start off the year with a trip in February to LA, visiting my dad and brother. Good thing I did, too! COVID was just beginning to get a grip on the US as I was traveling. My brother Rick is hunkered down in Three Rivers, California, which is great because it's remote, and awful because it's remote. My dad and fairy stepmother are likewise sheltering in San Dimas, where they have each other for company and ready access to the grocery store and a convenient Trader Joe's. I am so grateful to have a father and brother I can email and call (even if I don't do it much) and think about.
If you don't want to read all the boring details about what I have been up to, skip to the bottom. There you will find a brief round-up of the rest of the family.
Here's what I've been up to:
My wonderful yoga teacher Teta Hilsdon pivoted her classes onto Zoom after about a month of lock-down. She's been teaching 4 Zoom classes a week since April and I do all of them. I had been going to the Wednesday class but just couldn't see myself driving to Brattleboro every day. Now I can do a class every morning except Tuesday.
By the time yoga is done, I've picked myself up off the floor and put my mat away, and recovered enough to change into real clothes and so on, it's halfway through the morning. I do the New York Times crossword puzzle and then any admin tasks (you know, pay bills, answer emails, file stuff), and then maybe work on a project if I have one.
I schedule my Tuesday and Friday around Vermont Governor Phil Scott's COVID press briefing at 11 am, broadcast on Vermont Public Radio. These last for about 2 hours, with a 30-45 minute briefing by the governor, health commissioner Dr. Mark Levine (our very own Fauci!), the health and human services commissioner, the education secretary, and various others. I find it fascinating, including the Q+A for reporters, which takes up the rest of the time. Usually there's a queue of more than 20 reporters, mostly on the phone ("Star Six to Unmute!"). I'm very proud of the way Vermont has dealt with the pandemic, and glad to live in a state where the welfare of the citizens really is the priority, and where the administration, for all its faults, understands that without a healthy populace, there cannot be a healthy economy.
Making Masks & Hats
While I'm listening to the presser, I find something to do. I used up almost all my fabric scraps - hoarded for decades - making cloth masks. And thanks, Carol Compton, and Main Street Arts, for the fabric you donated to that effort. I made several hundred, perhaps a thousand, masks before I ran out of supplies. I donated them mostly to local efforts - the local hospital, Rockingham Help and Helpers, the library, the hardware store, the school, the supermarket. Then some friends gave me a huge trove of 100% cotton fabric, so I've been making some more. I just send a box to the Standing Rock Reservation. In between the first round (using up the hoard) and the second round (the trove) I used up a lot of smaller scraps to make a couple of quilts.
For a few years I have been crocheting hats and sending them to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute Friends Place, but they closed up in March and have no current reopening date, so the hats started piling up. My cousin Hilary Tyor retired from her job at Lion Brands in February and sent me a HUGE box of yarn (wow, was there ever a lot!). What to do with the hats now?? Some went to a Christmas Gift program for the homeless near Chicago (where Hilary and Peter live); and I sent all the blue ones to this very cool anti-bullying program, Hat not Hate at Hilary's suggestion. The hats were building up again so I squeezed as many as would fit into the box with the masks for the Standing Rock people.
I learned very quickly that playing music over zoom is not a useful substitute for playing tunes with friends. I join a limited weekly zoom session - limited to 6 people, limited to one hour. It's a way to stay connected and lucky me, most of the tunes the others play are not in my repertoire, so it gives me a couple of tunes each week to follow up on. Maybe they stay in my repertoire, maybe not, doesn't matter. What does happen is that those tunes burrow into my subconscious and awaken tunes that I've forgotten, or forgotten about, or just haven't played for ages. A couple of times a week one of those tunes will wake me up at 5 am. Recently, Reel Franco-Americain, Antigonish Polka, Happy Acres Two-Step and Monahan's Waltz have surfaced out of the swampy muck that is my tune brain.
In 2005 I transcribed all the tunes I could find and remember from my repertoire and put them in a book - the kind we used to print on real paper. I spend some time last year updating the collection - trying to fix the mistakes, add the new tunes, correct some of the information, with the idea that I would re-print it. I actually got it to the point of being printable - but I just didn't want to go that far. Instead, I chopped it up into three pdf files - Reels & Marches, Jigs, Couple Dances and Singing Squares. Lately, I started to feel like even that was less useful. Just lately I've been going through the tunes again (and again!) and making a separate pdf of each one. My plan is to post a tune library to google docs. It's not an original idea, other people have done this, but each person's library is a reflection of their musical self, and so will mine be. Let me know if you are interested in having access. If you think it's a silly idea, you can tell me so, but I already know that.
I wrote and sent over 300 letters through the Vote Forward program - an effort to get out the vote in crucial swing states. Vote Forward volunteers sent 17.5 million letters.
I helped a friend with her campaign for Vermont House - and she won.
I was frustrated with the national lack of leadership to mitigate the pandemic (really? you were?) so I started making photoshop cartoons - not unlike my Xmas cards. For a while, it kept me really busy - but I gradually ran out of ideas and slowed way down. You can find a gallery of all of them here. Some of them may be a little harsh, like Dress-Up Donnie Paper Dolls and Halloween at the White House.
About the Card
My friend Ellen Bloom Underhill posted her holiday card on Facebook, which depicted her and her husband Larry in space suits. That was the inspiration, and when I said I was going to appropriate the idea, she posted that it was Mr. Larry's idea. Thanks, Larry!
After all the hostility that I poured into my Coronavirus Photoshop Project, I thought it best to leave all of that out of this year's card. In 2020 you find us in the Virus Bunker, where there are some questionable characters. But we are all well protected (note the PPE) including the dog. It's a little damp down there, but it's cozy. Rosa is in the card but she's not really in the bunker with us, she's in Sweden. I hope my silly card gives you something to chuckle about.
About the Other Card
Andy turned me on to an article in the NY Times about the Nativity display in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. The link to the article is here - you may not be able to access it without a subscription. Not only am I Jewish but also about as secular as someone can be. But I was intrigued first of all by the controversy over the display and also by the pieces in the scene. The more I learned about it the more fascinated I became. The pieces are life-size ceramic figures made in Castelli, famous for its ceramics. These pieces are part of a project made in the 1960-70s at a high school. They look like a cross between a modernistic chess piece and a Playmobil™ toy. Included in the scene are angels, shepherds, musicians, animals, Mary, Joseph and the Wise Men, but also weirdly an astronaut and a Darth Vader-ish figure that I think is supposed to be a Roman Centurion. I learned that each year a different city or village or region is chosen to provide the scene. Usually thousands of people go to see the unveiling, and make a point of visiting it during the Christmas season. Making it even more interesting, people really don't like this year's display, they think it's too weird, why is there a spaceman, it doesn't look like it should, yada, yada, yada. Yes, it's weird. I think it's just great.
When I was a kid my dad used to drive us around the neighborhood during the holiday season to see the decorations on other people's houses. It was so exotic! I was most fascinated by the nativity scenes. Who were those people, and why would you put them on fake snow (this was LA) on your lawn? It was a mystery to me. I love mysteries.
Pretty soon I heard the siren call of Photoshop. I had to create my own nativity scene. I call it "If I Ran the Zoo" and if you are pretty sure it won't offend you, you can look at it here. I've included a handy key so that you don't have to guess who's in it. Not represented is the Baby Jesus. I've been informed that He doesn't make his appearance until Christmas Day. That makes perfect sense to me, though he was always on people's lawns back in the day. And, anyway ...