Pull In [on DR Thursday]

I suspect the turtle understood the giant blonde woman with the camera aimed at this face as a threat. He did what turtles do when stressed: retreated into his shell. “I’m not going to hurt you little guy!” Kerri said, on her knees, snapping pictures. The turtle was, at best, dubious of her reassurances.

We were considering going to an outdoor concert until we saw photos of large crowds of people packed together. Covid has made us crowd averse. “I’m not sure I’m ready for that,” we chirped together and laughed at our stereo response. “I wonder if I will ever be ready for that,” Kerri mused.

At this moment I know more people with Covid than I have personally known throughout the entire span of the pandemic. I suppose this virus that rolls on and on, shapeshifting as it goes, would exhaust our guard sooner or later. I am guilty of thinking, “What’s the point?” as I don my mask to enter a store. Yet, every day this week, a new name or group of names has joined my roster of friends-with-Covid. So, I put on my mask. I pull my head into my protective shell.

There are real threats and there are nice ladies with cameras that only seem dangerous. “May you live in interesting times.” We do. A pandemic. Global warming has arrived. Nationalist madness on the rise. We cannot send our children safely to school – or shop at the grocery store – or attend a concert – without the thought of gun violence. We are awash in real threats and, like countless societies before us, we seem dedicated to our own demise. Madmen and women are at the wheel and we are in the backseat whispering, “Slow down,” looking at each other with, “Do Something!” in our eyes.

When Kerri showed me the photo of the turtle I was struck by the calm on its face. I recognize that turtles probably don’t have the facial muscles to fully express their fear but nevertheless I was delighted by the notion that the turtle-in-retreat was calm. Nothing to be done but pull into the shell and wait it out. No reason to panic.

We’ve discussed being more turtle-like in our lives. We live in Interesting times and there’s not a thing to do about it, other than perhaps write. Make art. Change a few behaviors. We need not wrinkle our brows or cry out in fear while pulling our heads into our shells. The sunrise is still as beautiful, we hold hands when we walk, make dinner together, love on Dogga at night. There’s lots of love inside our shell, no matter the surrounding madness, a quiet center in the storm.

read Kerri’s blogpost about THE TURTLE

shared fatherhood © 2018 david robinson

Know Their Name [on Merely A Thought Monday]

As I let Dogga out each morning, I stand for a few moments and listen to the birdsong. Our particular spot on the earth is alive with birds: starlings, finches, sparrows, robins, hawks, crows, owls… The Mourning Doves always stop my motion. Their song is hypnotic.

The pandemic changed – and continues to change – many things. Our world became significantly smaller. The table in the sunroom. The backyard. Our trails. As someone with his head in the clouds I am a dedicated generalist. I have always appreciated bird song yet never, not once, thought of identifying the specific birds and their song. “Sparrow? Finch? Who cares! They are beautiful and that’s enough for me! I spend too much time in my left brain as it is! The last thing I want to do is categorize the birds!”

COVID changed that. Sitting on the back deck or at the COVID table staring out the window for hours on end, our relationship with the birds grew. From general appreciation to specific experience. From passive appreciation to personal connection. We began to see nuance. Pattern. We wanted – and want to know more about these beings that sing us awake each morning, that alert us to changes in the weather, that signal alarm in the neighborhood.

While visiting the Botanical Gardens, Kerri found a small book, coded by color, that identifies the birds in our region. In a flash we can open the book and identify the bird. “Hey! Look! That’s Paul!” I say.

“Stop!” Kerri scowls. “It’s Martha. Paul’s on the fence.”

Just kidding. House Sparrow. Carolina Wren. My favorite to pronounce is Grackle. Great-tailed Grackle to be exact. I’ve decided that, were I to somehow achieve tough-guy status and ride a Harley to breakfast, my motorcycle-dude name will be Grackle. “Hey, Grackle,” the waiter will say, as I come through the door en route to my usual stool. “Hey,” I respond. Motorcycle-dudes named Grackle are birds of few words.

Deb showed us an app. Merlin. It identifies birds by their song. Now, armed with our book from the Botanical Garden and our Merlin app, when I ask, “What’s that?” Kerri – who is always alarmingly way ahead of me – has the answer. “Eastern Towhee,” she says.

“You’re making that up!” I cry, knowing she can’t stand to be challenged so will immediately jump to prove to me that she is right (it’s my secret fast-track to knowledge).

“Look it up!” she insists, showing me both the book and the Merlin return.

“Wow,” I say. “Towhee. Who knew. Maybe my pen name should be Grackle Towhee!”

She yanks the book from my hands. “Oh, Look!” she exclaims. “Merlin has identified you: Midwest DoDo.”

read Kerri’s blog post about BIRDS!

Seed The Pocket [on Flawed Wednesday]

I’ve appreciated this sunflower for many years and until a month ago it never made me think of Ukraine. Now, that’s all I see. Thus, the power of a symbol. Sunflower seeds placed into the pockets of Russian soldiers by brave Ukrainian elders. “So, some good may come from your death.”

Walking through the antique mall, Brad spotted an ugly homemade sculpture. Golf balls with multiple screws protruding, spray painted and supported by wire rods. “Look, the coronavirus!” he exclaimed. Three years ago spheres with spiky knobs would have made me wrinkle my brow but never associate the shape with a virus. Now?

And masks? Will we ever see a surgical mask without feeling the divide in our nation? A confederate flag paraded through the Capitol? Members of the Capitol Police beaten with the stars and stripes; symbols matter.

Every year more and more our written communication is reimagined with emojis. Visual symbols. The new Ideogram. A thumbs up. A heart. Laughing face. Saying more with less or at the very least opening up our communication to broader interpretation. I find that I’m symbolically rolling my eyes more and more. Exclamation point. HAHA! Know what I mean? Winky face.

Leonard Shlain wrote some remarkable books about how our brains are wired by how we communicate; he posits that linear language, the introduction of writing drove us into our left brains and away from our holistic right. Perhaps in our movement back toward the ideogram we are rebalancing? A course correction or returning to center? It takes more than a few years for brains to rewire. Our descendants will, no doubt, either write books about it or communicate their thoughts through a combo platter of alphabet and pictograph.

Either way, we can only hope they grasp the meaning of the peace symbol. Or, at the very least, learn how to give it more preference than the dollar sign. Or, better yet, figure out how to make peace profitable. Can you imagine? Certainly there will be a symbol for that.

Until then, sunflowers in the killing fields. Sad face. Broken heart.

read Kerri’s blog post about THE SUNFLOWER

Help Them Smile [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

I howled with laughter when she said it. “You can buy anything that looks like something.” She was referring to the sweet Italian sausage that was not sausage at all but made of plants. I thought she was making a political statement. We are solidly in the age of things-are-not-what-they-seem. Photos can be manipulated. Words that come out of mouths can be placed there, not by the speaker. Propaganda is called news and American cowboy culture does not see its full-lemming transformation. Sausage-not-sausage is everywhere!

“What are you laughing at?” she asked, placing the sausage look-alike in our basket. Linda made us a yummy vegetable hash that included the not-sausage and we enjoyed it so much that we left with the recipe. “The age of enlightenment is officially over,” I thought but did not say. Had I answered honestly she would have told me to “gear down.” The grocery store is no place for philosophical hoo-haw.

“Nothing,” I said, giggling.

Standing in front of the cold not-sausage-section, looking down the aisle at people masked and not masked, some wearing masks on their chins, I felt thrust out of all reality and into the tragi-comedy that is our times. Peter Barnes wrote a terrific play, a comedy called Red Noses about the plague that swept Europe in the 14th century. A priest and his band of fools traveling through the villages offering humor as the only relief for the fear and pain. They wore red noses.

“When people in the future look back at us, I hope they laugh,” I said.

“What?” she asked, furrowing her brow.

“We need a band of fools.”

If we could laugh at ourselves, we’d probably have a better time of life during the pandemic, I thought, as an unmasked woman sneered at my fully masked face. I wonder how we’d have fared had there been a red nose mandate? Protect your neighbor by helping them smile.

Kerri stared at me and smiled. “Don’t make me tell you to gear down.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “I think we need Dogga food.”

read Kerri’s blogpost about ANYTHING AND SOMETHING

Fill The Pot [on Two Artists Tuesday]

It’s food week at the Melange. Well, truth be told, it’s always food week here. When we’re not in our studios we meet in the kitchen and either eat food or talk about eating food. Sometimes – okay – everyday, when I am up in my office working, Kerri sends me a midmorning text: “Are you staaaaarving?” My reply never waivers: “Yes. Yes I am.” Snacks appear and happiness ripples throughout the house.

It’s winter and it’s covid so our circle of experience has shrunk mightily. Kerri injured her foot so our daily winter walks through the frozen tundra are on hiatus. As our recent photographs have betrayed, we are explorers in our own house. Photos of Dogga. Photos of the moon. Clever shots of candles and glasses of wine. And food, food, food.

Because it is winter, the big pot has re-emerged. Soups or spaghetti sauce are often simmering on the stove. During the warm months, the big pot goes on vacation but faithfully returns when the temperatures drop. There are weeks when the big pot never makes it back to the cabinet. It’s a workhorse.

I appreciate the reappearance of the big pot because, in addition to being essential for soups, it evokes stories. It never fails. The pot comes out. The chopping commences. And the stories start to roll. Our big pot has been around for a very long time so it is alive with story. Big pots bring memories of parents and grandparents, holiday meals, Dorothy cooking on the cast iron stove. It evokes remembrance from childhood, steam rising from the pot and fogging the kitchen window. Once, as a boy, I couldn’t breathe and leaned over the big pot. The steam helped.

This week we are excited: we have a new soup to try. Last week we made a simple vegetable soup, a recipe we lifted from 20. The big pot also helps us to dream. We remember a pre-covid world when we had gatherings and dinner parties, when we squeezed people into chairs at the table, elbows negotiating heaping plates of pasta, crusty bread, and wine. Laughter. “It’s the first thing we’re going to do,” Kerri says, “when this is all behind us.” The pot will come out. A vat of sauce will bubble on the stove. Friends will pack into the kitchen, asking, “When do we eat?”

read Kerri’s blogpost about BIG POTS

Make A Savory Day [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. I only believe in pleasures.” ~ Ira Glass

Among other things, covid has been a great disruptor of our patterns. Our life today barely resembles the life we knew two looooong years ago. Yesterday, while driving through the farmlands en route to buy a loaf of bread at Simple Bakery in Lake Geneva, Kerri said, “It’s all so weird.”

Among our new patterns is more appreciation of our time. We are less willing to stuff our day with things to do, rather, we’ve established a slower rhythm and points during the day to stop, sit together, and savor the events of the day. It began at the onset of the pandemic with our covid-table in the sunroom. A place to sit and watch the sunset at days end. Soon, there were snacks. And then a glass of wine. It became a ritual. Now, there is nothing more important in our day than to meet at our table. Talk. We call friends and family from the table. Dogga leads the way. He meets us there, positioned just behind our chairs with his bone or a few mauled toys. Sometimes we sit for hours – far beyond sunset. We eat our meals there.

We’ve also established patterns of anticipation within our patterns. My favorite, the silliest but most effective, is french fries for snack. There’s nothing more satisfying on a cold winter evening, than hot salty french fries. We make sure that it’s not a common, every night affair. We save it for the tough days or as a surprise. “Is it french fry night?” Kerri hops and claps in anticipation when she notices that the oven is preheating. Yes. Oh, yes.

The new pattern, of course, is not the table or the fries. It’s the decision to make moments special. We decided amidst the pandemic, the broken wrists, the job losses, the civil unrest, the loss of family and friends, to make lemonade from this time of abundant lemons. We decided to accent the pleasures. To walk slower. To meet our days, not with a list of things-to-do, but with the intention of making a most savory day from the ingredients found in our pantry.

Pattern disruption. Within the hard breakdown of the known, the loss of the comfortable, we are fortunate. Many times, sitting in our sunroom, the happy-lights reflecting in the windows, Dogga quietly behind us chewing his bone, Kerri says, “I love this space.” I nod my head. Me, too. The literal and the metaphoric.

read Kerri’s blogpost about FRENCH FRIES!!!!

Find A Way [on Two Artists Tuesday]

In the age of Covid, the rules are different. We keep our distance from friends and loved ones. We make rules for engagement. Vaccinations, boosters and negative tests are the requirement for a visit. What was once connective tissue – like an airplane – is now a barrier. A cost/benefit analysis is required before stepping into a terminal. And then, spin the world of rules and boundaries on its axis and this is also true: we find a way. It’s what I appreciate most about people. Will finds way.

A species ends when it can no longer adapt to changes in circumstance.

For weeks we searched for a way to see Craig. To give him his xmas presents. A restaurant that required masks, proof of vaccination, and had a protected outdoor patio provided the necessary ingredients. On a January night, with temperatures dipping into the low 20’s we sat at a table nested between heaters and shared a meal. We exchanged gifts. And, we weren’t the only guests dining on the patio. Other patrons also searched for and found a way.

We loved our meal and our time together. We laughed at the absurdity of the situation. We acknowledged and embraced the necessity of outdoor dining in sub-zero temperatures. We made a story that we’ll tell in years to come. Do you remember when…?

Zoom has become a way. To a point. We’ve learned in this time of pandemic that seeing someone on a screen doesn’t replace seeing them in person. At work we’ve learned that many things can be done through a screen but many generative experiences are slower or inhibited without presence.

Presence.

Energy begets energy; the fire of enthusiastic idea generation is dampened through an app. As Skip said at our end of year meeting, “Nothing replaces breaking bread together. Someday we’ll share a meal.” I look forward to that time, to meeting the incredible people that I see each day through my screen.

We are racking up stories as we adapt to an ever-changing circumstance. To drive rather than fly takes time so we’re learning to take more time. To not rush to arrive. We feel the limits on the distance of our reach. We’re learning the depth of yearning to be-with as opposed to merely-look-at. We’re learning the necessity of boundaries and the health-considerations that come with saying “No.” Mostly, we’re learning the hard line between what’s do-able through a screen, and when we need to consider the ridiculous – and find a way.

read Kerri’s blog post about HEATERS

Welcome The Next Normal [on Merely A Thought Monday]

There was a time when my marker of the holiday season was the return of Pirate Christmas Ale; a rich and happy stout. It tickled me that the return of the holiday season was signaled with a Pirate and not jolly Ole Saint Nick. I drank one-a-night, from the day I saw the Pirate’s return to the store, through the end of the year. Pirates-in-holiday drink in moderation.

It’s been many years since I walked with the Pirate through the threshold of light’s return. With my move to Wisconsin came the establishment of a new normal. And then came COVID. I think we’ve both come to the realization, after a few years of deep disruption, that there will not be a return to normal. Just as with my move from the west coast to the upper-midwest, there will be the creation of a new normal. Just what that will be remains to be seen.

We know the new normal means leaving the house. We work at home and have mostly isolated these past few winter seasons. Cabin fever is getting to us. So, we’re taking calculated adventures. A visit to the Botanical Gardens. A walk around the small town of Cedarburg. A drive into Chicago. We continue to hike our trails but we’re both feeling the call of exploration, the desire to sail our ship toward the horizon. We really wanted to go to a concert but chose not to – COVID considerations remain central to our weird calculus.

Yesterday, while walking the streets of Cedarburg, we saw a tent behind the Stilthouse. Tables and heaters. We grabbed a spot under a heater, ordered lunch and lingered over a glass of wine. It sounds so normal yet, what was once commonplace, what was once something done without much thought – was a rare and delicious treat. We savored every moment.

Lately, we’re getting this reminder again and again. When the water line into the house broke – and we were without water for a day, the return of the water through the faucet brought cheers and happy dancing. There’s so much we take for granted. There’s so much to be savored in the commonplace, in the everyday, especially when we understand it might not be available forever.

Mostly, there is this: during the darkest days of every year, people come together in many ways to light candles, to exchange gifts, to make meals, to offer hope, to help each other through the dark time. Whether they realize it our not. The light returns. The earth spins. There’s water in the pipes. A heater and a table. Merlot in the bottle. Good friends. Good cheer. New work. The beginning of the next normal.

read Kerri’s blog post about GOOD CHEER

[this post marks the 200th consecutive week of the melange. Corks are-a-poppin’]

Reinvent [on saturday morning smack-dab.]

As we’ve been told, Kerri and I are simpatico. Yet, at this time of year, the vast differences in our past lives come to the surface. For instance, she’s lived in this house – now our house – for 32 years. She raised her children here. I did not have children and was mostly – until I met her – a wanderer. For Kerri, the holidays are rich with memories and traditions, meal prep for the masses, all things that she now misses. Covid has served to amplify her longing.

I’ve always had to improvise during the holidays and, were I to do an accounting of my experiences, I’d wager that I’ve spent more holidays away from rather than with family. I do not suffer the loss and yearning that Kerri suffers. My holiday memories are not fond or tradition-filled.

It was cold on Thursday but we walked a trail anyway. We held hands and talked of reinventing or rituals. It seems so much of past two years has been an exercise in disruption and loss, letting go of what-was and making space for what-will-be. The holidays in our future need not be populated with the ghosts of holidays past.

We read an article that flipped on-its-head the usual Thanksgiving question. Rather than ask, “What are you thankful for?” the article suggested we ask of ourselves, “What will you do to help others be thankful?”

It’s a good question and a great seed to plant for the ghost-of-our-holiday-future.

read Kerri’s smack-dab. blog post

smack-dab. © 2021 kerrianddavid.com

See The Point [on Merely A Thought Monday]

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” ~ Viktor Frankel

There is a new mantra cycling through my circle of friends. Once, highly frustrated with people refusing to participate as a community in the relatively benign measures necessary to end the pandemic, they’ve now forged their frustration into a different shape: there’s no point in trying to change “them.”

The circle is closed. Or, perhaps, it has been closed all along. Us. Them.

We spent the weekend in a special cabin with The Up North Gang. Walks in the woods. Pontoon boat rides seeking a sunny spot to anchor. Friends that heal what hurts. Laughter and wine. Occasionally, our conversation wandered into politics and pandemics, usually spurred by a local man posting cryptic and apocalyptic messages from deep within his conspiracy well. He is one of “them.”

“How can he believe this stuff?”

“Imagine everything he has to ignore to believe this stuff!”

“He’s always been a bit kookie.”

“There’s no point in reasoning with him.”

“There’s no point in writing a response, he’d just deny the facts, the court cases, the data, the science, the…”

There’s no point. That’s the mantra. There’s no point.

Us and Them. Together in the same boat. One half trying to rock the boat. The other half trying to keep it from flipping.

Exhaustion? Surrender?

“It’s like they’re drowning in bad information,” she said,

He replied, “And, there’s no sense throwing them a rope, they’d refuse to take it.”

“We have thrown them a rope,” she added. “It’s called the vaccine.”

We laugh a sad laugh, shaking our heads. What’s the point?

read Kerri’s blog post about Safe Together