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Shoppers in a crowded store and a massive Amazon fulfillment facility.

Beating Supply Chain Issues

By Jan S. Gephardt

We’ve been hearing a lot about supply chain issues, and the resulting problem of inflation (due to the market forces of high demand and lower supplies—no, it’s not the infrastructure bill). Deals aren’t as good, this year, we hear. Shop early, and don’t wait for deals, we’re told. Supply chain issues are messing things up, and there could be worse to come!

Be scared! Be angry! These messages come through loud and clear. The economy is going to hell, and we’re all gonna die. Or so some would have you think (mostly so you’ll give them money).

I don’t believe it has to be that bad. And you don’t have to receive that word, either. We can beat supply chain issues and have a lovely Christmas/Holiday season, if we keep our priorities straight. In this post I plan to focus on smaller-scale, creative and adaptive things we can do to beat supply chain issues in sustainable ways.

Four images of backed-up shipping lanes off the coast of California.
Back in February 2021, the Coast Guard documented a growing backup of cargo ships outside California ports (Freight Waves/US Coast Guard).

We Can’t Whip Inflation and Supply Chain Issues with a Closed Mind

If you have a fixed idea of What Christmas Has To Be, and it’s built around the newest, coolest, hottest toys, electronics, and fashions, I can’t help you. Is hitting the Black Friday, Cyber Monday (or, for that matter, the After Christmas) sales your idea of a good time? Do you seek out the very most rock-bottom prices for trendy items that are on “everyone’s” must-have list? Well, then, for you I’ve got nothin’.

If you (or the people on your gift list) will only be satisfied with those hot new, influencer-endorsed, “must-have” things, this post is not for you. You live in a different reality from where I’m centered.

But if you’re willing to open your mind and be flexible, to focus on the fun, the personalized, and the unique, then read on.

Shoppers in a crowded store and a massive Amazon fulfillment facility.
A lot of people will be fighting through crowds or fueling a massive wave of shipped packages this year in an effort to get ahead of supply chain issues (iStock/Sculpies; Amazon).

“Buy Local” is a Survival Tactic—For Us and Our Communities!

You’ve heard the mantra “buy local” a gazillion times by now, and there are good reasons why—even if the local shops are a bit more expensive. Local shops (even local franchisees, although they often aren’t able to be as flexible) are invested in the community. Larger concerns are not, and they actually can’t be.

I’m old enough to have seen some “big box”-type stores rise and fall. Remember K-Mart?They still exist!—but not around Kansas City. Do you remember Borders Books? They were fun while they lasted. But when things went sour and the business model changed, they cut their losses and closed local outlets.

Never mind if they’d run local stores out of business and now they were the only sources. I’ve lived in rural communities where that was literally the case. But their corporate offices didn’t care.

That was then. Now it’s the online stores that grab ever-greater percentages of buyers. Maybe you don’t worry about the possibility that you’re perpetuating inhumane workplaces. Maybe you can ignore underpaid, stressed-out warehouse or factory workers, who have to meet ever-higher quotas at an ever-faster pace.

Shipping from overseas adds a significant carbon load to the environment. Shipping from online outlets can drive up the price of your bargain. And ultimately, everybody’s fuel prices, too. What’s the carbon footprint, even if it’s “free” shipping?

A different view of a very busy Amazon fulfillment facility, and a Foxconn factory with suicide nets.
At left, Prime Day 2021 at an Amazon warehouse in North Carolina. At right, do you remember the Foxconn suicide nets from 2010? It’s clear that extreme pressure in factories and fulfillment centers can still be a problem. (NBC News / Rachel Jessen / Bloomberg via Getty Images file; Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by Buying Local and Staying Open-Minded

If you shop from a list of pre-determined items, your track is rigidly set. The only issue becomes “what’s the lowest price?” Maybe you also shop for quality or value-for-the-money. Maybe you shop for “can-I-get-it-by-X date?” But if that’s your strategy, then serendipity is not your friend, and neither are supply chain issues. You may have to wrap a box that contains a picture of the “someday my box will come” item.

I have often made excellent gift-finds by walking into a local store and looking around. I once bought half my Christmas presents at Kieran’s Hardware Store in Lockwood, Missouri (there’s still a hardware store there, but it doesn’t seem to have Kieran’s name on it). One of my students, who clerked there part-time, offered great help. We had a fun and creative experience. Most of those gifts were a major hit with their recipients, too.

A quaint row of small shops in Kansas City, MO.
A block full of small, mostly local shops in the Kansas City Brookside neighborhood (First Washington Realty).

Local Gems

I bet your area has such stores, if you seek them out. Places like Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Kansas They know their stock, they gift-wrap for free, and they’re experienced “book matchmakers.”

Places like the R&R Center in St. Clair, Missouri, which is on its fourth generation of owners from the same family. It is way more varied and essential than just another Ace Hardware Store.

Or places like Brookside Toy and Science in Kansas City, Missouri, a shop I’ve depended on for a couple of decades’ worth of great Angel Tree toy finds. Their knowledgeable staffers are amazing!

Storefronts of Rainy Day Books, R&R Center, and Brookside Toy & Science.
L-R, The proprietors of Rainy Day Books outside their store, R&R Ace Hardware, and Brookside Toy & Science’s storefront. (Rainy Day Books; Google/Laura Montgomery; Google/Brookside Toy & Science).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by “Shopping Local” for Food

If you’ve followed this blog for very long, you know that both my sister and I have strong feelings about supporting local businesses, especially artists. My sister’s posts “Setting the Table” and “A Necessary Indulgence” on The Weird Blog offer glimpses of how she treasures small craftspersons. There were strong elements of this aesthetic in her recent post “A Birthday Indulgence,” too.

But artisanal efforts don’t only happen in the realms of art and fine crafts (we’ll revisit those disciplines later in this post). The most delectable artisan crafts create food.

The season for farmers’ markets may have passed, but that doesn’t by any means show that all the local food-oriented businesses have closed. Very much to the contrary! Just look at “the two Kansas Cities.”

Some KCK Connections

Here in my neck of the woods, we have Bichelmeyer Meats, another longtime-local (70+ years), family-owned shop (pronounce it “BICK-el-my-er”). They’re located across the state line and the Kaw/Kansas River, in Kansas City, Kansas.

This old-style butcher shop supplies locally-reared, grass-fed meat that’s never gone anywhere near a feedlot or a meat-packing plant. They also offer a selection of outstanding house-made sausages and their own, competition-tested barbecue sauce. It’s Kansas City. Of course they have barbecue sauce! They also do their best to be affordable, even for folks on a tight budget. Does your area have such a gem, too?

You might not have exactly the same ethnic mix in your area, so the specialty foods will vary. But I bet you have delicious and unique offerings! Strawberry Hill Baking Co. has operated in Kansas City, Kansas for more than 100 years, and their Povitica (pronounced “po-va-teet-sa”) has become pretty famous. It’s an originally-Slavic treat that all of us can enjoy!

Sausages, the Bichelmeyer’s logo, four kinds of Povitica and the Strawberry Hill logo.
Along with locally-sourced, grass-fed meats, Bichelmeyer offers house-made sausages. And Strawberry Hill Baking Company makes Povitica in a dizzying array of flavors. (Bichelmeyer Meats; Strawberry Hill Baking Co).

But wait! There’s Chocolate!

Kansas City, Missouri has deep roots in chocolate candy-making. We’re the original home of Russell Stover Candies. But if that’s too “mainstream” for you, we have a deep “chocolate culture” here.

Annedore’s Fine Chocolates is within walking distance from my house—yet, alas, nowhere near far enough to walk off the calories! André’s Confiserie Suisse (which shares a building but is technically next door to the local Swiss Consulate) is about an equal distance from my father’s South Plaza condo. And we can’t forget Christopher Elbow, with a shop downtown! Each has their own approach, and each has been judged as world-class.

Yes, the chocolate is strong with Kansas City! What is your home town’s specialty food?

Annedore’s, Christopher Elbow, and André—all Kansas City chocolatiers.
Kansas City’s world-class chocolatiers Annedore’s (top) , Christopher Elbow (center), and André’s present a divine approach-approach-approach conflict! (Annedore’s Fine Chocolates; Christopher Elbow Chocolates; André’s Confiserie Suisse).

Beat Supply Chain Issues by Shopping Local Artisans, Artists and Crafters

If you’re onboard with the philosophy of shopping locally and creatively, you probably already have scoped out local art fairs, festivals, and craft shows. This time of year, they often pop up in malls and convention centers. Earlier in the season, they might have been outdoor street fairs. We recently had such a gathering in our River Market district.

But even if there’s no show this week/weekend, that doesn’t mean there’s no art to be found. Here in the Kansas City area we have any number of wonderful creators with their own studios. Check out Genevieve Flynn (jewelry) or Susan F. Hill Design (fiber art). For paper-based art, consider Angie Pickman’s Rural Pearl Studio (wonderful cut-paper art; technically in Lawrence, KS), and my longtime friend Randal Spangler (fantasy art originals, prints, and more).

If you’re aware of a local artist, they’re probably planning a holiday open house. Ask to be put on their mailing list, so you’ll know when it’s happening!

And don’t forget local artist groups and associations. They’re probably having holiday sales, too. For example, the KC Clay Guild has its 39th Annual Holiday Pottery Sale and Studio Tour this coming weekend. The Weavers Guild of Greater Kansas City already participated in the Creative Hand Show and Sale for this year, but Creative Hand has a great list of artists and their websites. You can bet than most of them would be willing to sell you cool stuff.

Offerings from the holiday shows for “Creative Hand” and the KC Clay Guild.
Holiday sales offer quite a range of interesting objects and wearables. (Creative Hand; KC Clay Guild).

Options for Beating Supply Chain Issues are all Around Us

Thinking outside the commercial run of average stuff may be an adjustment, but it’s worth the effort. We just have to look for local options, and keep an open mind. I hope this overview gets the ideas flowing (I do plan to suggest more ideas in an upcoming post). Our own supply chains will be that much more resilient when we “shop local,” and our communities will be, too.

I’d love it if this post gives my local favorites a boost (Go, Kansas City Metro!). But it’s also true that there are local treasures wherever you live. If you already love local gems in your area and want to give them a shout-out, please mention them in a comment below!

THANKS!

First of all, thank you, just in general, to all the local businesses I’ve highlighted in this post. I’m proud of you for persisting in the face of price-undercutting by “big box” and online competitors, COVID lockdowns, market crashes, inflation, tight job markets, and all the other challenges you’ve faced—sometimes for decades and across generations. You’re part of why I love my hometown.

Second, I deeply appreciate the sources of all the photos and logos used in this post. Please note that all images are credited in the cutlines. All montages, except the 4-photo collection from the US Coast Guard via Freight Waves at the top of this post, were assembled by Jan S. Gephardt.

The original cat puzzle, plus two others from early in G.’s hobby.

It’s a Puzzle

By G. S. Norwood

The heirloom pumpkins nearly defeated me. They looked so simple, ranked by color across the top of the box. Pretty. Old fashioned. Challenging, but not too challenging. Just the way I like it. And why do I like such challenges? It’s a puzzle.

A literal puzzle, in this case, as well as an interesting question. The pumpkins are the subject of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle I purchased not long ago to feed my puzzling fascination with puzzles.

Many colors of heirloom pumpkins made a challenging puzzle
I thought I’d never finish this one! (photos by G. S. Norwood. Puzzle by Bas Bleu; uncredited photographer).

A Deep Family Tradition

I don’t remember when I first started solving puzzles, but the puzzle bug really bit when I was in high school. The family had started spending every Christmas-to-New-Year’s week with my grandparents. We’d come up from Missouri, my aunt would fly in from San Francisco, and we’d entertain ourselves all week by watching football, eating popcorn, and working a giant jigsaw puzzle. One year the puzzle was a close-up photo of popcorn that kept us busy and hungry for days.

Years later, after Warren died and I moved to a house with room to spread out all those puzzle pieces, I decided to revive the Christmas puzzle tradition. That first year I began modestly, with a simple 300-piece puzzle Deb Crombie gave me in tribute to Gift, the cat. In the years since I have collected many, many more. Most of them are 1000-piece puzzles, and many of those are almost as challenging as that popcorn picture.

The original cat puzzle, plus two others from early in G.’s hobby.
The gateway puzzle that got me back into jigsaws. And a few others I’ve solved. (photos by G. S. Norwood. Puzzles: “Rose” (G.’s “gateway”) puzzle by Lang; art by Lowell Herrero. “Unicorn Reading” by Mudpuppy; art by Steph Terao. Whimsical Village” by artist Anisa Makhoul from eeBoo).

Chaos and Harmony

One of my main challenges in completing a jigsaw has nothing to do with the puzzle itself, and everything to do with the cat standing on the table amid all those little puzzle pieces. Ella, my beautiful tortie-tabby, is the Queen of Messing with Small Bits of Cardboard. She can bat those suckers under the furniture or into the waiting jaws of a bored dog faster than the eye can follow. Figuring out ways to thwart Ella is a satisfying part of working a jigsaw puzzle.

Gift, my beloved calico, doesn’t really care about messing with my puzzles, but she did save one once. I’d given myself a really beautiful but super-hard 1000-piece puzzle of a marsh owl for Christmas. After many weeks of work I managed to complete it—except for one single missing piece. I knew it had to be on the floor somewhere, probably thanks to Ella.

Two cats, and the puzzle in question.
Ella (L) loves to mess with my puzzles, but Gift (R) once saved the day. (photos by G. S. Norwood. Puzzle by Bas Bleu; art by Angela Harding).

I swept, moved furniture, did everything I could to find that piece. No luck. I left the puzzle on the table for months, hoping the piece would turn up. Then, reluctantly, I broke it down and put it back in the box with a little note that one piece was missing.

About a week later, as I was starting a new puzzle, I heard Gift messing around behind me. She was playing cat soccer with the missing piece, batting it all across the hardwood floor. Thank you, sweetie! I’m glad she found it, but I’m not planning to work that puzzle again any time soon.

For a quilter like G., these puzzles were a natural: a clothesline full of quilts, and the traditional “Lone Star” Pattern.
Here are a few more puzzles I’ve completed. No missing pieces! (Photos by G. S. Norwood. Puzzles from Quiltfolk. The “Lone Star Quilt” puzzle at right is still available; the other appears to have been discontinued).

Puzzling Lessons

Why do I enjoy jigsaw puzzles so much? For one thing, they restore my focus on those days when too many issues are grabbing for my attention all at the same time. For another, they are a purely visual pursuit that gives the verbal part of my brain free rein to start cooking up new stories to tell.

Two puzzles: “Kitchen Chickens,” and “Songbird Tree.”
Helping to sharpen the author’s strategic skills! (photos by G. S. Norwood. Puzzles by Bas Bleu: “Kitchen Chickens” at L, and “Songbird Tree.” Neither artist credited).

They can also sharpen my strategic skills. Different puzzles have different anchors from which I can begin the solving process. Are there large areas of one color, like the green stove in Kitchen Chickens, or the brown ground in the Songbird Tree puzzle? I’ll start with those pieces and work my way out.

Although that can backfire. When I sat down to solve the cat puzzle, I decided to start with the cats’ faces, since each of them was different. That meant finding all the pieces that had cats’ eyes on them. Then I had to match the eyes up so I could identify each cat’s face, and figure out where it went in the overall puzzle. The result? Hundreds of cat eyes staring back at me every time I sat down to work.

A puzzle of the painting, “Double Cat Spread,” 1988, by Ditz.
All those eyes! (photo by G. S. Norwood. Puzzle “Double Cat Spread” from Pomegranate; artist is Ditz, of Austria).

Patience, My Friend

Sometimes a hard puzzle can stall out on me. I don’t seem to be making any real progress, and I worry I’ll never get all the pieces into their proper places. That’s when the six-piece rule kicks in. I can usually find one or two pieces when I sit down to work. If I find two, I can often fill in a few more pieces around them. So I have decided that finding six pieces is enough for any single puzzle session. Over the course of a day, I might squeeze in four or five quick sessions. That means I may have 30 new pieces in place by the end of the day.

Eventually those pieces add up, filling in significant areas of the puzzle. And then I’m back on track to solve the whole thing. All it takes is patience and the understanding that six pieces can be plenty.

Of course, I learn other things while I’m working, too. The Metropolitan Museum Map puzzle taught me that I might need reading glasses!

The “Metropolitan Museum Map Puzzle” is large and intricately detailed. Two “detail images” on either side demonstrate its complexity.
You need a working knowledge of art history, and really good eyesight (or reading glasses!) to solve this one. (photo by G. S. Norwood. Puzzle by the Met, full puzzle flanked by detail images; uncredited artist).

It’s a Puzzle

Scientists who study the human brain have begun to look at the effects of solving jigsaw puzzles. They have found that working on a jigsaw puzzle engages both the analytical left side of the brain and the creative right side. Both sides must work together to visualize the puzzle’s pieces and determine where they should go. Such brain activity may help older adults stave off the type of cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

So why aren’t more people out there solving jigsaw puzzles? Well . . . It’s a puzzle!

It’s a Lot More Puzzles (a Gallery)

Editor’s note: G. sent many more photos of wonderful puzzles she has assembled. Here’s a gallery of them. We hope you enjoy them!

A whimsy puzzle, such as “Bookshelf” has pieces shaped as things such as glasses and scissors. “Cat Nap” continues the “books” theme with a cat asleep on a stack of books.
Wentworth “Bookshelf” whimsy wooden puzzle is called a “whimsy” because of the pieces in related shapes. The “Cat Nap” puzzle continues the “book” theme. (Photos by G. S. Norwood. Bookshelf puzzle by Wentworth Wooden Jigsaw Company; art by Colin Thompson. “Cat Nap” puzzle by Eurographics; uncredited artist).
Two puzzles: “Success,” featuring a large sunflower, and “Flower Catalog.”
Puzzles that feature flowers naturally lead to beautiful results. (Photos by G. S. Norwood. The Sunflower design “Success” puzzle by Lang appears to be discontinued/unavailable. “Flower Catalog” puzzle from the Smithsonian Store; historical images).
This large oval puzzle commemorates the 2017 Women’s March. It's a puzzle when we might have another.
An appropriately challenging image memorializes the 2017 Women’s March. (Photo by G. S. Norwood. Puzzle by eeBoo; art by Jennifer Orkin Lewis, @AugustWren).

IMAGES

Photos of assembled puzzles by G. S. Norwood. She offers special thanks to “the sources of so many of my puzzles,” Bas Blue, as well as The Smithsonian Store, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo montages composed by Jan S. Gephardt.

“Brook, you don’t sound like yourself.” My reply came out of my mouth before I could choose it. “I am not the person I was three weeks ago and I will never be that person again.” Surprised by my own response, I relayed it to my therapist who was helping me work through issues surrounding my brother’s death. “Of course you’re not,” she said. “and one of the best things you can do for yourself is to know that you are a different person now.” Author Brook Noel.

Dealing With Death in Reality and Art

By Jan S. Gephardt

A whole cluster of holidays happen during what is for the Northern Hemisphere a season of harvest and winter’s onset. The common thread that weaves through them all is dealing with death.

I’ve written about Halloween/Samhain, Día de los Muertos, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day on this blog in the past. Indeed, my “Virtual Ofrenda” is one of my most enduringly popular posts. Through them all, I’ve kept coming back around to similar themes.

Dealing with death is hard. It’s sad. Terrifying. Inevitable for all of us. Death is as much a fact of life as birth, but we—and especially my fellow Americans, as a culture—have trouble dealing with death.

What I love about Día de Muertos is that it bridges the gulf created by time, distance and the afterlife. For a short period each year, we are given an opportunity to look back and reflect how far those collective efforts have gone. Fidel Martínez, The Latinx Files.
Design by Jan S. Gephardt (other credits below).

A Culture of Insulation from Death

Americans are really bad at this whole “dealing with death” thing for cultural reasons. Our culture worships youth, wealth, and personal autonomy (Especially for cis white guys; many politicians make exceptions on the “autonomy” front, when it comes to liberal voters, brown people, and “lady parts”).

But there is no autonomy over death. It ends youth. It disregards wealth. We Americans  fundamentally don’t know what to do with that.

In what we call “the developed world” of today, people have become adept at insulating ourselves from death, but even so, there are variations. Sixty percent of Americans die in hospitals, while another 20% die in nursing homes. Compare that to the UK, where in 2019 47% died at home. The rates throughout the EU vary, but generally at least 10% more die at home than Americans.

American families overwhelmingly allow other people—professionals—to handle their dead. We even have laws to enforce that division of labor. There’s nothing wrong with legal standards meant to ensure public health standards and an absence of foul play in the manner of death. But it serves to place death off-stage, out of sight.

The deepest pain I ever felt was denying my own feelings to make everyone else comfortable. Unattributed.
(Enkiquotes).

A Middle-Ground for Grief

A culture that allows no room for dealing with death gives poor service both to the dying and to their loved ones. At the time I’m writing this, nearly 750,000 American families are dealing with deaths of loved ones lost due to COVID. (We rank 13th in the world for deaths per capita). And those are “excess deaths,” beyond the natural attrition rate. Heartbreaking numbers couldn’t be with their loved ones when they died. Many have been forced by the pandemic to put off holding any but the smallest funeral services.

If ever a nation needed to grieve, we do. But for many decades, American culture has been impatient with grief. If an employee gets any paid leave at all for bereavement, in the US it’s typically only 3-7 days, and usually varies, depending on the “degree” of the relationship. There is no national standard, so each business gets to set its own rules.

Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. Joan Didion.
(Quotefancy).

Dealing with Death Takes as Long as it Takes

As if there’s a statute of limitations on grief, after which we should be “over it.” Grief over the death of someone significant in our lives isn’t an even-paced or predictable process. Fact is, we don’t ever “get over it,” because our much-missed loved one stays dead.

It’s a truism that we don’t get over it, we get through it and bring our love along with us. All grief is a process of recovery from loss, and it takes a heck of a lot longer to recover than 3-7 days, or two months, or even two years in many cases. It has been more than 15 years since my mother died, but I still sometimes miss her, or wish I could share something, or ask her about something. I’ve gone “through” my grief over her death, but I still love and miss her. I always will. Getting “over it” is an impossible ask.

There’s help for grief. There are rituals, such as funerals, memorials, and days of remembrance. Veterans Day, coming next week, is such a day. As are the just-past Día de los Muertos, All Saints, and All Souls Days. There are grief counseling services. And there is art.

Grief is not a disorder, a disease or sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve. Earl Grollman.
(SayingImages).

Dealing with Death Through Art

I don’t only mean art therapy, although that is often extremely valuable. My point is that any of the arts can help us work through grief. Artists, writers, musicians and practitioners of many other arts will tell you (if they’re honest) that there’s a strong element of mental health therapy involved in practicing their art. But the benefits hold for viewers, readers, and listeners, too.

How often have you discovered a particular piece of music that says just what you’re feeling? A recently-released example that I dearly love (on the subject of trials and loss, by the way) is Merry Clayton’s Beautiful Scars. I’m sure you could name a favorite, too. “Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast,” as William Congreve noted in 1697. It still works that way today.

Visual artists through the ages have grappled with grief and loss as well. And if you think about it, every story, at its core, is about some form of death that threatens the protagonist. The protagonist must face physical death, professional death, or spiritual death. Sometimes two of those, or even all three. The stakes in a well-constructed story are high. Reading about fictional characters’ struggles can help readers deal with their own trials and tests.

Music exalts each joy, allays each grief, expels diseases, softens every pain. John Armstrong.
(Quotefancy).

Dealing with Death on Rana Station

As it happens, my current work-in-progress spends more time dealing with death than the previous books. Yes, every mystery story starts with a murder. And in the course of my science fiction/mystery trilogy so far, protagonist XK9 Rex and his friends are now working to solve two mass-murders. Rex and his human partner Charlie each have also had their own near-death experiences (SPOILER ALERT: by the end of Book Two they’re both still alive, although it was a very near thing).

Writing this book also has led me to ask questions. What memorial practices one would develop in a space-based habitat with limited land? Especially when nearly all the available land must be devoted to living space or agriculture, and the people come from diverse backgrounds?

Science fiction authors and filmmakers have come up with many ways to have funerals (Star Trek alone has quite a list). But none of them are located in an environment like Rana Station. I’m still working on ideas, but I’ll figure it out. I’ve come to believe that fictional funerals, like all other life-experiences reflected in art, have a role to play.

“Brook, you don’t sound like yourself.” My reply came out of my mouth before I could choose it. “I am not the person I was three weeks ago and I will never be that person again.” Surprised by my own response, I relayed it to my therapist who was helping me work through issues surrounding my brother’s death. “Of course you’re not,” she said. “and one of the best things you can do for yourself is to know that you are a different person now.” Author Brook Noel.
(QuotesSayings).

A Glimpse in A Bone to Pick

Perhaps you’ve read A Bone To Pick. If you remember the Memory Garden with the roses and the water feature, you’ve glimpsed a small part of the Ranan system for dealing with death. Even on Rana Station, a place several readers have told me they love to go, there’s no escape from it.

Yes, dealing with death is hard. It’s sad. Terrifying. Inevitable. It transforms us in ways we can’t anticipate. And once we’ve gone through a season of grief, we’re never the same again.

But we ignore our emotions, we deny our grief, and we turn away from death’s reality at a steep and dreadful cost. If my stories can offer some brief moment of peace or insight, some small step forward along the way, then I will feel blessed indeed. Because we’re all of us fellow travelers on that road of dealing with death. We owe it to each other to share the load if we can.

IMAGES

First of all, many thanks to Fidel Martínez and his newsletter, “The Latinx Files,” where I found the words I quoted about his Día de los Muertos experience. Many thanks also to “tabitazn,” of 123rf, for the background image.

I also want to thank Enkiquotes for the unattributed quote-image about the pain of hiding emotions. Deepest gratitude to Quotefancy, not once but twice: For the Joan Didion quote about the nature of grief, and for the John Armstrong quote about the power of music. Thank you to SayingImages (via Shine on Counseling) for the Earl Grollman quote about grief. And finally, many thanks to Quotessayings, for the quote from Brook Noel.

This is a photo of the complete painting, “Oak Park Halloween.” It shows several dozen children trick-or-treating in Halloween costumes.

Rejoicing in Our Differences:

Lucy A. Synk’s Oak Park Halloween

By Jan S. Gephardt

“Rejoicing in our Differences” is a new series of larger-scale paintings by my friend (and frequent XK9-painter) Lucy A. Synk. The theme also could be an unofficial motto for Weird Sisters Publishing. Yes, Lucy, G., and I are all white women of a certain age. You might not look at us and instantly think “diversity!” But all three of us are creative types who both value, and seek to nurture and celebrate, diversity.

Privileged in some ways? Certainly. It comes with the skin, whether we like it or not. Had it easy? Well, we’re all women. We’ve spent decades bumping into patriarchy, in male-dominated creative fields (name one that isn’t), and earning lower wages than men. Make of that what you will. But diversity isn’t a contest. And this isn’t a story about who’s more “oppressed.”

It’s an invitation to celebrate, to ally with others, and to spend a little time rejoicing in our differences. In the spirit of the season, please spend a little time looking at Oak Park Halloween.

This is a photo of the complete painting, "Oak Park Halloween." It shows several dozen children trick-or-treating in Halloween costumes.
The full painting Oak Park Halloween, 2019, by Lucy A. Synk.

Every Painting is a Journey

Lucy’s journey to creating this painting took her through job changes, moves from state to state, and a bout of homesickness for a beloved place she’d had to leave. For a while she had an illustration job in Chicago, and she settled happily into the suburb of Oak Park, Illinois. There she found friends, a compatible faith community, and a place of architectural and natural beauty.

Even after she had to relocate, the fond memories lingered. And they fed an idea for a painting. No, a series of paintings. In 2018, before SARS-CoV-2 had even hinted at darkening our horizon, she began to build on her ideas for a series of paintings that explored the many ways in which the United States has ample reason to rejoice in our differences.

As she says in her artist’s statement, “Even more importantly than providing entertainment or decoration, art should also inspire, teach, and encourage people to think, wonder and grow. My work often has symbolic or fantasy elements without fitting any single category but reflects my search for unity in the diversity not only of my own interests, but in the plurality of American culture.”

A Sharp Break with Disunity and Hatred

Oak Park Halloween draws on Lucy’s memories, but it’s not meant to be taken as history. The painting was specifically inspired by one particular Halloween in her diverse, family-friendly neighborhood in Oak Park, IL. But the painting does not portray any specific street or group of people. She was hoping to evoke a feeling of Halloween fun that many can relate to and enjoy.

In today’s political climate, that almost makes it a radical protest painting. “Rejoicing in our Differences,” as a message, cuts sharply counter to the majority of things we see in the media these days.

As I write this, they’re doing jury selection in Georgia, for the trial of three men who are using a fugitive slave law from 1863 as their defense for killing Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery. White supremacists are going on trial in Charlottesville, VA, for civil rights violations stemming from a the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally that led to the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer. And hate crimes are at a shocking high.

But just because Americans don’t seem to be rejoicing in our differences right now, that doesn’t mean the message isn’t important. Some (me, for instance!) might say it’s more important now than ever. That said, let’s walk through Oak Park Halloween.

From Lucy’s original drawing through color images and roughs, to a black-and-white tonal study, the painting’s development went through many steps.
You might notice a bunch of changes to details through these varied steps in the development of the painting. The black-and-white tonal study at lower right was done to check contrast and value range. (Images are © 2018-2019 by Lucy A. Synk).

How do you Paint a Crowd Scene?

Of all the things in the world that there are to draw, people are by far the hardest, especially for untrained artists. Even trained ones can have difficulty. We come pre-loaded with a lot of ideas that have nothing to do with how humans (or other things) look in objective reality. Which is why the proportions in kids’ drawings are so frequently distorted.

And if you think one human is hard, just wait till you tackle a crowd scene!

Take another look at Lucy’s painting above. Yes, it is a tour de force. But how does an artist manage a crowd scene? It’s kinda like eating the proverbial elephant “one bite at a time.” Except, in this case it’s drawing (and then painting) one small group at a time.

Five children in costume have arrived on the painting-viewer’s “front porch” for trick-or-treat.
The brother and sister in front portray Marvel’s Black Panther and one of his elite Dora Milaje, the Wakandan royal guards. We have a Vulcan Starfleet Science Officer from the Star Trek Universe to the front girl’s left. The child in the red hoodie portrays Coco, from the movie of the same name, and the girl in the purple witch costume might be portraying Hermione Granger. Since masks tend to obstruct kids’ ability to see, in this pre-Covid painting, these children wear face paint, rather than masks. (Image © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk).

The Porch Kids

In the front-center of the composition, a group of five kids appear larger than the others, many of them staring directly at the viewer. They’re there to both center and focus the painting, and to invite you into it. The idea is that they’re standing on the viewer’s porch, awaiting your interaction and generosity.

As the most prominent group, they also are the most diverse, in keeping with the overarching theme of rejoicing in our differences. Since kids normally trick-or-treat in friend groups, how might these kids have met and formed friendships? I bet you’re already imagining a story for them—exactly as the artist hoped you would.

Lucy did a lot of research to create each group in the painting. Many of the costumes are based on DIY (do-it-yourself) outfits she found online, or combinations of them. She also took some important (pre-Covid) safety concepts into consideration. For example, since masks tend to obstruct kids’ ability to see, these children wear face paint, rather than masks.

A collection of drawings, a color study, and a tonal study for the “Porch Kids” group.
These are just some of the developmental sketches and studies Lucy worked through for the “Porch Kids” group. (All images © 2018-2019 by Lucy A. Synk).

Fantasy and Science Fiction Elements

Lucy and I met at a science fiction convention. A deep, abiding interest in these genres continues to be an important part of our lives, even outside of the field. Oak Park Halloween isn’t meant to be a “fantasy genre” painting in the way that some of Lucy’s work has been. But with fantastical elements dominating popular culture, of course she made sure there was broad representation for many beloved stories.

Thus, you’ll find Star Trek, Star Wars, the Marvel Universe, the DC Universe, Dr. Who, and others among the more traditional witches, vampires, fairy princesses, and caped heroes. Lucy also came down rather heavily on the side of DIY costumes. Not only did she want to avoid infringing copyrights, she wanted to celebrate parental ingenuity while “rejoicing in our differences.”

Five different details from the painting show a variety of costumes.
From left to right, (1) The Jedi Knight and his little sister (on the Tauntaun) portray characters from the Star Wars Universe. The child with the pink bag is meant to be a vampire. However, her tiny fangs do not show, since her whole body is only 7” high. (2) A little astronaut, in the actual painting about 3½” tall, wears an orange, NASA-style jumpsuit. The artist is inspired by all the little girls who yearn for such future careers. (3) The child dressed up as the T.A.R.D.I.S. is based on a popular DIY costume concept that proves particularly confusing to her observer—a nod to Dr. Who, as portrayed by “Tenth Doctor” David Tennant. (4) A toddler enjoys a first Halloween, guided by Dad. The DIY costume uses glow sticks to create a light-up “stick man” from a black, hooded onesie. (5) Wonder Woman and her parents Hippolyta and Zeus are based on the artist’s great-niece and her parents, for whom themed family costumes are a tradition. (All images © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk).

Getting the Details Right

Having been an “inside observer” of the two-year development process from early sketches to finished painting, I can tell you a lot of thought went into those houses across the street. Based on architecture in Oak Park IL they might be, but none of them is an exact portrait of an existing house. As with the kids they host, they are “of the general type.” But each one tells its own story.

You might be surprised at the care given to small details, such as placement, size, and color of the moon. The exact moment of twilight, and how to paint it, inspired another spate of thinking and second-guessing.

For an artist, the light has to be just right. If it’s off, or if a shadow falls wrong, the illusion fails. We often hear about the “willing suspension of disbelief” that’s necessary for a reader to self-immerse into a story. But to appreciate a painting we also need to willingly suspend our disbelief that this collection of light and dark color splotches “is” the frozen moment in time it purports to be. One wrong shadow or highlight can ruin it.

Sketches and color studies of houses and the sky.
Sketches and color studies offer a glimpse of Lucy’s decision-making, and the thorny question of how big and where to position the moon. (All images © 2018-2019 by Lucy A. Synk).

Homes that Harbor no Hate

As I noted above, each of the houses “across the street” tells its own story. I like to think of them as the “Hate Has No Home” House, the “Welcome to All” House, and the “Teal Pumpkin” House. Each embodies a sub-thread of the overall “rejoicing in our differences” theme.

The house at upper left in the painting, with a “Hate Has No Home Here” sign at right.
The yellow house at upper left in the painting is haunted by a fairly traditional group. We have several princesses, ghosts and a pumpkin-head. Some might recognize the sign in the window as a “Hate Has No Home Here” sign, shown at right. (House image © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk. Sign by Hate Has No Home Here).
The house portrayed top-center in the painting. Next to it is a quote from Lucy’s Artist’s Statement: “In this series of paintings, I am expressing my love for America and its wonderful diversity. In these dark times there has been so much negativity, I wanted to express the joys of everyday life. Good memories from happy times and hope for a future that we will not only preserve and protect but grow into a deeper and better people.”
We have Batman, the Cowardly Lion, another witch, and assorted other traditional costumes at the middle house. The host couple in the doorway are a mixed-race pair, typical of a growing number of American families. The group on the sidewalk to the right portray an assortment of Pirates of the Caribbean. The quote is from Lucy’s Artist’s Statement about her “Rejoicing in our Differences” series. (Image © 2019, and words © 2021 by Lucy A. Synk).
The house at upper right in the painting, alongside a poster about non-food treats that are fun.
The children at the house with the orange gables in the painting’s upper right include a portrayal of Princess Leia. Note the Teal Pumpkin on the porch, which indicates that this house gives prizes suitable for children with food allergies. Rejoicing in our differences includes making a happy, accepting place for everyone, even if they face special challenges. (House image © 2019 by Lucy A. Synk. The “Teal Pumpkin Treats” graphic is courtesy of University of Utah Health Care, via Pinterest).

Rejoicing in Our Differences

Lucy certainly recognizes that her “Rejoicing in our Differences” theme asserts an aspirational goal. But then, she’s lived a life of diverse inputs and challenges. She started with a BFA in Drawing, Painting, and Photography from a small college, then pursued an art career that included a stint at Hallmark Cards, freelancing as a fantasy artist, and work as a natural history illustrator and muralist.

“My work has always been very diverse, spanning multiple mediums and subject matters,” she says. As both natural and human history has shown, diversity makes a system stronger, even if not everyone is comfortable embracing differences. The most vibrant, creative, and innovative times and places have come at a crossroads of cultures, when diverse ideas and viewpoints make new ideas possible.

As Lucy wrote in her artist’s statement, “In these dark times, there has been so much negativity.” Perhaps you’ll agree that we’d do better to meditate on what Lucy calls America’s “wonderful diversity.” Based on that, “Rejoicing in Our Differences” may be exactly the medicine we need.

IMAGE CREDITS

Oak Park Halloween, the painting, the studies, the sketches, and the detail images, all are © 2018-2019 by Lucy A. Synk, and are used here with her permission. All rights reserved. The “Hate Has No Home Here” poster design is courtesy of Hate Has No Home Here. The “Teal Pumpkin Treats” graphic is courtesy of University of Utah Health Care, via Pinterest. Many thanks to all!

A hot, hazy Dallas skyline

My Summer Getaway

By G. S. Norwood

Well. I finally did it. I made it safely through months of writing major grant proposals. Organized three far-from run-of-the-mill concerts. Took on some new job responsibilities, on top of the two full-time jobs I’m doing already. And I survived. Now, my friends and readers, it’s time for my summer getaway.

I’m looking for a place that will allow me to relax. Spend some quality time looking at outstanding scenery. And be much, much cooler than Dallas, both in temperature and in vibe.

Not that I will actually get away. Between a resurgent coronavirus and the high cost of pet sitters, this year’s vacation is definitely going to be a staycation. Still, I’ve discovered a way to escape to a summer getaway destination without leaving my favorite chair.

Reading. Yep, that’s right. I’ll trade the 100-degree-plus heat of Texas for some prime summer getaway locations through the magic of books. Thanks to the recommendations of friends, family connections, and one stroke of good luck, I plan to immerse myself in several mystery and science fiction series set in places much cooler than Dallas. What more could I ask of a vacation?

Nantucket is Nice

Brant Point Lighthouse by Brian Thoeie.
The Brant Point Light during a gorgeous Nantucket sunset (Insider’s Guide to Nantucket/Brian Thoeie).
Cover of “Death in the Off Season,” by Francine Mathews.
Death in the Off Season (Francine Mathews).

Francine Mathews launched her career as a mystery writer with a series of books about Meredith “Merry” Folger, a detective on the small police force that keeps Nantucket Island safe for the year-rounders as well as the tourists. Starting with Death in the Off Season, Mathews reveals the private face of Nantucket the summer people rarely see.

The island teems with cobblestone streets, cranberry bogs, fishing boats, and homes that pass down through old island families, generation after generation. Mathews makes all of it come alive. You can feel the sea breezes and all but taste the salty air. There are six books so far in the Merry Folger series. More than enough to last through as long a vacation as you choose to take. Or to create a quick summer getaway no matter what time of year it is.

How about the UK?

The Isle of Skye's main town, Portree, and Constable country: Flatford in Suffolk.
Colorful Portree is the biggest town on the Isle of Skye, and Flatford in Suffolk is the onetime home of the artist John Constable. (Planet Ware/Global Grasshopper).
Cover of “A Dream of Death,” by Connie Berry
A Dream of Death
(Connie Berry/Amazon)

I stumbled onto Connie Berry’s Kate Hamilton mysteries by happy chance. Berry has just released the third book in the series, and was featured on my (other) favorite blog, Jungle Red Writers. She offered a copy of her new book to one blog commenter chosen at random. Lucky me! I got the book! Along with a tasty bonus of shortbread and tea bags, plus two very nice bookmarks. (And you know how I feel about bookmarks.)

While awaiting the arrival of book #3, The Art of Betrayal in the mail, I did the only civilized thing: bought books #1, A Dream of Death and #2, A Legacy of Murder on my Kindle. I wound up “chain reading” them. No sooner had I finished the first, but I picked up the second. By the time I was done with that, book #3 was right there, ready to start. After two weeks, I felt like I’d had a lovely (although somewhat murderous) summer getaway in Scotland and Suffolk, and only had one question: Where’s book #4?

Escape to the Wilds of British Columbia

A lake in British Columbia with rugged mountains in the background.
A gorgeous view from Yoho National Park in British Columbia. (Planet Ware/Lana Law)
Cover of “A Killer in King’s Cove,” by Iona Whishaw
A Killer in King’s Cove.
(Iona Whishaw).

British Columbia might be suffering through an epic heatwave at the moment, but in 1947 the climate there was darn near perfect. At least, if you believe author Iona Whishaw. In her Lane Winslow mysteries, Wishaw paints the Kootenay region of British Columbia as a hotbed of English ex-pats, Russian refugees, Soviet spies, and weary veterans, still recovering from the trials of World War I and the more recent World War II.

Into this paradise comes Lane Winslow, a young woman who grew up in Latvia and Scotland, speaks numerous languages, including Russian and French, and just wants to get away from it all. Lane spent the war working for British Intelligence, parachuting into France to help the Resistance, and learning many life-or-death skills along the way. Smart, funny, independent, and always curious, Lane’s character is based on Wishaw’s own mother. She’s just the kind of heroine I like to hang out with for a long summer getaway.

There are eight books so far in the Lane Winslow series. Whether you read them end-to-end as I did, or parcel them out like bites of candy from your big birthday chocolate box, don’t miss them!

The Ultimate Out of This World Summer Getaway

XK9 Rex takes a ride through an exurb of Orangeboro.
Motoring in Orangeboro is particularly thrilling with the windows down. (Weird Sisters Publishing/Jody A. Lee).

Of course, the weather is always perfect on Rana Station, the setting for my sister, Jan S. Gephardt’s book What’s Bred in the Bone, as well as the upcoming A Bone to Pick. Yes, I have read them both. Multiple times, as it happens. And I plan to read A Bone to Pick at least once more, when the final edition comes out September 15.

Rana Station, as it turns out, is the ultimate summer getaway. It’s chock full of interesting characters, unusual cultural customs, aliens, dogs, alien dogs . . . And crime. There’s lots for Jan’s XK9s to sniff out and understand as they explore their new home and examine new ideas about their very nature.

Covers for Books # 1 and #2 in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy.
The cover art for Jan S. Gephardt’s What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick are ©2019 and 2020, respectively, by Jody A. Lee.

And this is the perfect time to dip into the first of the series, What’s Bred in the Bone. Both the books are longer than average—about four volumes if we count pages like we’d count dog years. By the time you finish What’s Bred in the Bone—then go back and savor some of the best parts—it will be time to dive right into A Bone to Pick! That will make your summer getaway last right on through the fall!

What books, characters, or universes do you turn to, when you need a summer getaway? Please share some of your favorites in a comment!

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to Dallas Magazine and Getty Images for the view of a sweltering Dallas, TX skyline. We appreciate the Insider’s Guide to Nantucket and photographer Brian Thoeie (for whom we could find no online profile) for the gorgeous sunset photo of the Brant Point Light. The cover for Death in the Off Season, by Francine Mathews, is courtesy of Mathews’ website. We appreciate it!

We’re indebted to Planet Ware for the photo of Portree, on the Isle of Skye, and to Global Grasshopper, for the iconic shot of Flatford, Suffolk (no photographer credits for either image). The Flatford view was immortalized in John Constable’s groundbreaking painting The Hay Wain. The cover of A Dream of Death, first of the Kate Hamilton Mystery Series, is courtesy of Amazon. Many thanks to all!

Planet Ware strikes again, this time with a photo from Yoho National Park in British Columbia by Lana Law. Thank you! We also want to thank Iona Whishaw’s website for the cover of A Killer in King’s Cove, the first book in the Lane Winslow Mystery Series.

Finally, the “tourist image” of motoring through exurban Orangeboro on Rana Station is a detail from Jody A. Lee’s cover painting for A Bone to Pick, second in the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy of science fiction mystery novels. That cover is © 2020 by Jody A. Lee. Her cover painting for What’s Bred in the Bone is © 2019 by Jody A. Lee. Please reblog or re-post these images with a link back to this post and an attribution to Jody A. Lee and Weird Sisters Publishing. We appreciate it!

This quote from Ijeoma Oluo reads, “Even the most virulent American racist has to wrestle with the fact that the United States would not exist were it not for people of color.”

What Black History Month means to me

At the coldest, bleakest time of each year in the United States, we observe first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in late January, and then Black History Month in February.

I know there are non-racist reasons for this scheduling. Dr. King’s birthday is January 15. February was chosen by a Black historian for Black History Month (originally Black History Week) because Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass both were born in February (Feb. 12 and 14, respectively).

But I sometimes feel as if this is a way white people accepted so they could seem “enlightened,” get them over with early, and then move on. Like maybe they won’t have to think about Black people the rest of the year.

This quote from Chris Rock says, “Black History Month is in the shortest month of the year, and the coldest—just in case we want to have a parade.”
(AZ Quotes)

Thinking about Black people all year

In recent years I’ve observed Black History Month annually on Artdog Adventures. But we cannot relegate any aspect of our history and national culture to a shadowed corner for ten and a half months of the year.

It’s impossible to live an honest life in today’s world without acknowledging Black people’s pervasive contributions to all aspects of our society, and the incredible depth of their talent pool. Simply put, Black people make our country a better place to live.

This quote from Yvette Clarke says, “We must never forget that Black History is American History. The achievements of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s greatness.”
(AZ Quotes)

Like other meaningful annual observations, Black History Month should be a time of renewing our understanding and deepening our knowledge. The only way to truly grow in our antiracist understanding is to go back to the well of clear-eyed understanding with open-hearted empathy.

Black History Month at a unique moment in US history

If 2020 taught us anything, it should have taught us that way too many of us white folks are clueless and insensitive at best, can often be racist jerks, and may even be violent white supremacists at worst. It should have taught us to respect the massive contributions to our lives by our communities of color.

These groups disproportionately provided the essential workers who’ve kept the rest of us alive—at great personal cost. They came out to vote in huge numbers, overcoming sometimes-daunting obstacles, and literally saved our democracy (if we can keep it). In many ways, white Americans cannot easily fathom how very much gratitude we owe them.

This quote from Ijeoma Oluo reads, “Even the most virulent American racist has to wrestle with the fact that the United States would not exist were it not for people of color.”
(Jan S. Gephardt)

Of course, a lot of us white people are really slow learners, so the inequities persist. A living wage continues to elude many who are still employed. Medical professionals who should know better continue to cherish magical thinking about Black pain tolerance or ignore what their Black patients say. Systemically racist police practices continue to oppress and overpolice and kill.

No turning back now

Some powerful (and a lot of ordinary) white people still act and talk as if we could go back to “the way it used to be” after the pandemic has passed. Now that we have a new administration, they say, we should let bygones be bygones, in the name of “unity.

News flash: time marches on, just as inexorably as the Black Lives Matter demonstrators did last summer. Change has occurred. We’ve seen too much, lost too many family members, and sacrificed too much to subside into numb complacency now.

Not if we retain the smallest scintilla of survival instinct.

This quote from Sister Peggy O’Neill, S.C. reads, “Together we imagine a circle of compassion with no one standing outside of it.”
(Ignatian Solidarity Network)

If we didn’t realize it before, we no longer have any excuses. Everyone now knows how very many things can, and have, and do go wrong. When incompetent people collude with greedy people from a position of abused power, disasters ensue.

It’s going to take all of us, with all of our pooled talent, strength, and resiliency, to pull our country out of the fire. Let’s harness the understandings we gain during Black History Month, together with the spirit of genuine antiracism. Then let’s go forward to create a better future for all of us.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to AZ Quotes: first for the Chris Rock quote, and second for the quote from US Rep. Yvette Clarke. I assembled the quote from author Ijeoma Oluo with some help from 123rf. And I appreciate the Ignatian Solidarity Network for the quote from Sister Peggy O’Neill, SC.

This quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

What might Dr. King say to us today?

In the wake of the holiday that honors him, I’ve been wondering “what might Dr. King say to us today?” The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a man whom many of us consider a moral beacon for the ages. His life ended more than fifty years ago, but we value moral beacons because their guidance transcends their own times.

We certainly could use a moral beacon right now. We’ve just lived through a year of historic tumult and upheaval. The pandemic has disrupted our lives on every imaginable level. We lived through a long summer of mass popular demonstrations against systemic racism. An incredibly divisive political season has so far crescendoed (at the time of this writing) into the spectacle of a thank-God-failed insurrection/coup d’état.

What might Dr. King say about all of this? It’s impossible (unless you believe in séances) to ask him directly. But some of the things he wrote and said point us toward his probable reading of some of today’s major recent events. If I tried to address all of today’s issues with his thoughts, this would be a very long post. Instead, I’ll focus on two top headlines of today.

What might Dr. King say about the insurrection at the Capitol?

Dr. King loved his country. Even though he opposed white supremacists in positions of power, he still could write, “the goal of America is freedom.” In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail (1963) he cited “the American dream,” and the goal of “bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.”

The white supremacist mob that stormed the Capitol would have looked all too familiar to him. Their (literal and spiritual) parents and grandparents created the Jim Crow South where he focused his resistance work. Of their racist laws, he wrote, “All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”

As seen from directly above, an angry crowd of Trump supporters beat a Capitol Police officer who has fallen on his face on the Capitol steps.
The insurrectionists attacked this police officer with a crutch, a night stick, fists, and assorted poles—including a pole attached to an American flag. (WUSA9)

He also would have condemned their violence. King decried “hate filled policemen [who] curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters,” but his whole life was devoted to nonviolence. He would have unequivocally decried assaults such as the one pictured above.

Violence brings only temporary victories; violence, by creating many more social problems than it solves, never brings permanent peace,” he wrote. Moreover, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

What might Dr. King say about the impact of the pandemic?

I think he would have been most outraged by the stark, enduring, inequalities the pandemic laid bare. The scourge of poverty, and the systemic racism he sought to dismantle all his life, roared into vivid prominence when COVID-19 pervaded the nation.

This chart, based on data from the American Community Survey of county public health departments, shows that rates of infection were much higher for Latinos and Blacks in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Alameda Counties, and the death rate for Black people was almost double that of any other group. Latinos came in second.
This chart captures a snapshot of data from May 5, 2020 that demonstrates the uneven impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on different racial groups (Todd Trumbull/San Francisco Chronicle)

Unequal access to health care, environmental pollution in poor neighborhoods, and inadequate access to healthy nutrition in “food deserts” had already afflicted communities of color with higher rates of diseases and health conditions that made residents of these communities more vulnerable to the disease and its most virulent manifestations.

In this case, we don’t have to ask, “what might Dr. King say?” because we know he said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We know he advocated for “the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty.

In 2020, we outgassed a lot of platitudes about the value of “essential workers,” many of whom are Black, Latinx, or Asian. But although they can’t work remotely and therefore court death each day they go to work, they often still don’t have adequate health coverage, and they weren’t in the earliest cohort of vaccine recipients, even though they were supposed to be near the front of the line.

A hallmark of capitalist systems is tiers of access, a hierarchy of who gets how much, of what quality, and when. As King put it, capitalism “has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.” In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, he said, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.”

What might Dr. King say about where we go from here?

I think he’s left us plenty of guidance on that question, too. “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools,” he warned. He also said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight,” he wrote from the Birmingham jail.

A Navajo Nation food bank.
Native Americans of the Navajo Nation people, pick up supplies from a food bank. It was set up at the Navajo Nation town of Casamero Lake in New Mexico on May 20, 2020. (Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images and ABC News)

On a different occasion, he warned, “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Let’s not be too late. After all, “The time is always right, to do what’s right.”

IMAGE and QUOTATIONS CREDITS:

IMAGES: Many thanks to WUSA 9, for the horrifying photo of the police officer being beaten by the insurrectionist mob at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. I’m grateful to graphic artist Todd Trumbull of the San Francisco Chronicle for the “Racial Disparities in COVID-19” chart from May 5, 2020. I also want to thank Mark Ralston of AFP via Getty Images and ABC News, for the May 20, 2020 photo of the relief station in the Navajo Nation. Many thanks also to Gecko & Fly, for the header image.

QUOTES: Many of these resources supplied overlapping quotes, while others offered new insights. For a deep dive into the wisdom and sayings of Dr. King, I appreciate Christian Animal Ethics, The African Studies Center of the University of Pennsylvania (complete text of Letter from a Birmingham Jail), Gecko & Fly, Food for the Hungry, In These Times, and Common Dreams.

Screen-capture of a monitor with the signature Star-Trek-style interface from a “The Next Generation” episode.

Creating a calendar for Rana Station

Since our prehistory, humans have focused on creating a calendar, then using it to keep time. We’ve based calendars on the seasons, the sun, and the moon. We’ve scratched symbols into clay, bone or stone, dug sequences of pits, erected poles, or even dragged enormous stones for fabulous distances, all to get a handle on “WHEN are we?

But creating a calendar that’s accurate over a long period of time is a harder thing to do on Earth than one might think it should be. That’s because a year—one revolution of the Earth around the sun—takes approximately 365.242189 days.

That pesky fraction of a day has been driving humans to distraction (and to doing higher math) for millennia. We’ve created intercalary days, weeks, or even months to periodically adjust our calendars and keep them accurate. (It’s enough to give one an embolism—sorry; bad joke: use the hyperlink to look at definitions 2 and 3).

How long is a year—in space?

Of course, Earth is in space, so that’s a silly question. A year is however long it takes to orbit the local star once. That’s different for every planet, planetoid, asteroid, moon, or other space-based object, because all orbit on different paths.

Including Rana Station. At least, up to a point. But when you’re creating a calendar for an exoplanet in a different system, a variety of rules may apply.

I’m certainly not the only sf writer to approach the problem of if—and if so, whatcalendar to use in their stories. Probably one of the best-known science fictional calendars is Star Trek’sStardate” system.

Screen-capture of a monitor with the signature Star-Trek-style interface from a “The Next Generation” episode.
TNG episode screen-capture via Memory Alpha Fandom.

It stands to reason that if you use the “Captain’s Log” as a framing device, you need a login time/date for it to feel authentic. The Stardate sounds futuristic, but what do those numbers really mean? Turns out they have less to do with futuristic dates than they do with episodes and seasons of the show.

Problems to solve, for Rana Station

I haven’t specified an exact future century in which my XK9 stories are set, or in what existing star system. In a time-honored sfnal tradition, I chose to set it “far away, in a different time,” rather than get too specific. Sometimes I tell people it’s set in the “Twenty-Fourth-and-a-Half Century!!

I’m more interested in telling my chosen stories than I am in charting a detailed and inevitably-wrong predictive “history” of future umpty-centuries. Who knows what technologies will have been developed, lost, and then recreated (or not) by then? In a multiverse, does it really matter?

But when we get down to more immediate times and dates, I needed to go into more detail. Year-dates within the Chayko System all begin from the time humans arrived in-system, after they were granted permission by the Alliance to claim the planet. Rana Stationers also often speak of the Ranan year (0-94, as of The Other Side of Fear), meaning how many (Chaykoan) years people have lived there. There are reference sources they can use when they need to cite Alliance-wide dates or Earth dates.

But, as I discussed in last week’s post, Rana Stationers hail from many different Earth origins, and they’ve preserved many of their heritage customs, including religions and holidays.

Celebrating Earth holidays outside the Solar system

Creating a calendar is actually not that hard, if it’s for a fictional time and place “somewhere out there.” And if you aren’t trying to connect it in any way with Earth. Perhaps this is one reason why so many sf writers destroy our Earth in the “history” leading up to their story.

It’s also pretty easy to see how many holidays of Earth origin could be adapted to local conditions on an exoplanet. It’s entirely likely that the new planet would have seasons, and shorter or longer periods of daylight throughout the course of its year. Holidays based on solstices and equinoxes? No problem!

Lunar calendars would be more of a problem, though. Islam, Theravada Buddhism, and other world religions base their holiday timing on phases and cycles of Earth’s moon. But what if your planet has no moon? Or if it has several? What if you live on a moon?

A brown horse looms over a small trail of dots on a wall in Lascaux, France. A mystery for years, scientists now believe those dots may be the oldest lunar calendar ever found. The map at right shows locations of Lascaux and Peche Merle caves in France, plus Altamira in Spain. All contain priceless Paleolithic art.
At L, a line of dots may be a 15,000-year-old lunar calendar inside Lascaux cavern in France. At R, a map shows locations of three caves filled with stunning prehistoric art: Altamira, Lascaux, and Peche Merle. (BBC News/Khan Academy)

Chayko, for instance, is the human-inhabited planet in my XK9 stories. It has two small moons that used to be part of its planetary mass. They orbit closer to the planet than our Earth’s moon, and exert complex influences on Chaykoan oceans, ecosystems, and organisms that only sometimes resemble the effect of our moon on Earth.

Problems timing Earth holidays on Rana Station

Creating a calendar for naturally-occurring planetary bodies and their moons is one thing. What about a space station such as Rana? No moons. Banks of computerized mirrors adjust continually to reflect light from the system’s star into the sky-windows, filtered and directed to provide an optimal light spectrum for crop growth. On-Station, there are no moving shadows to contend with, as there are on Earth, no daily “rotation of the sun” (although the habitat wheels rotate, people can’t really see that from inside).

It’s always “high noon” on Rana Station, except for periods when the light is dimmed to simulate dusk, dawn, or full-on night. My illustrator friends Jody A. Lee and Lucy A. Synk have both complained about this. They’re right: Light and shadow patterns at noon are boring. They’re also unhelpful for creating 3-D visual effects.

But they’re great for delivering consistent light to growing crops. Days on Rana Station are always the same length. The temperature range is always optimal for a variety of agriculture. It’s not exactly “Camelot,” but the effect is something like living in a perpetually-ideal subtropical zone.

Distant crops grow on the terraces of Starboard Hill on Rana Station.
Detail from artwork ©2020 by Jody A. Lee.

Planet Chayko is only 23 hours away from Rana. This makes it a far more relevant context-point for Ranans than faraway Earth (two jump-points away). But Chayko has a slightly smaller mass, a slightly faster spin, and a somewhat longer orbit than Earth. No unaltered Earth calendar will work there.

Just coordinating a conference call between Rana and Chayko is hard enough! Setting any kind of Earth-relevant timing for a holiday is an exercise in number-crunching frustration. Clearly, compromises must be made.

Intercalary days to the rescue!

Planet Chayko does have seasons. It does have solstices and equinoxes. Thus, it’s possible to divide the year into twelve, fairly equal periods, named after Earth months. Yes, in the XK9 books, January, February, and all the other months we know as part of Earth’s most widely-used Gregorian Calendar have gone to space.

But the plain fact remains that a slightly faster spin and a slightly longer orbit both mean more days in the year than 365.2425 (or 365.242189, depending on your preferred approach). On Chayko (and consequently on Rana Station), every month contains 6 to 10 intercalary days not found on Earth calendars (Yes, February the 32nd is an actual date on Chayko—and therefore, on Rana Station).

We’re used to the December holidays being on similar days each year.
We’re used to the December holidays being on similar days each year. (Digital Illustration by Jan S. Gephardt, with lots of help from 123rf stock images.)

This means that Chaykoan Solstice and Christmas, for instance, don’t happen at the same interval as they do on Earth. In fact, Christmas, which always happens on December 25, often occurs before the Chaykoan northern hemisphere’s Winter Solstice.

Practitioners of several faiths that traditionally have varied their dates according to the lunar calendar have opted to follow the lead of Mahayana Buddhists, and celebrate formerly-variable holidays on fixed dates. Others use dates established on Earth for the closest year to the Chaykoan cycle. As you might imagine, disputes have arisen (dogmatists will be dogmatic, after all).

But somehow, they managed this business of creating a calendar. Somehow, things happen about the same time each year. And at some point, all the holidays get celebrated.

Even if it takes till December the 40th.

IMAGE CREDITS:

VIDEOS: Many thanks to National Geographic on YouTube for the clip from “Stonehenge Decoded,” and to “Jayypeezy” on YouTube for the clip of “Duck Dodgers in the 24th-and-a-Half-Century.”

PHOTOS: I’m grateful to Memory Alpha Fandom, for the screen-capture of Jean-Luc Picard’s “Captain’s Log.” Thanks very much to BBC News, for the photo of the world’s oldest known lunar calendar from the Chamber of the Bulls in France’s Lascaux Cavern. The map of caves known for Paleolithic art is ©Google, via Khan Academy.

ILLUSTRATIONS: The partial glimpse of agriculture on the terraces of Starboard Hill in the Sirius River Valley is ©2020 by Jody A. Lee; all rights reserved. I created the calendar illustration using images from 123rf. Many thanks to all!

This quote from Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie says, “Holidays are about experiences and people, and tuning in to what you feel like doing at that moment. Enjoy not having to look at a watch.”

Holidays on Rana Station

Do they celebrate holidays on Rana Station? Of course they do!

Personally, I think holidays are not only some of the most fun and interesting things religions or other types of communities do. Despite all the stresses and upheavals we hear so much about, holidays fulfill basic human needs.

A family gathers around a table in a pre-Covid era.
(Hearing Health Associates/Shutterstock)

The reasons for the seasons

Even sober, serious, hard-working adults need to play, once in a while. We need to break the routine. To relax with friends or family. To do beautiful—or frivolous—or spiritually-renewing things. And to have excuses to make fancy recipes.

Or all of the above.

Much of the world (though not all) celebrates some kind of holiday around this time of year. As I explained on Artdog Adventures last week, cultures that developed in the Northern Hemisphere often have holidays around the winter solstice. This allows celebrants to come together and renew their hope at the darkest, and sometimes the coldest, time of the year.

I believe there are important reasons why every religion and nearly every human community we know about throughout history has paused every once in a while for celebration, food-sharing, and renewal.

This quote from Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie says, “Holidays are about experiences and people, and tuning in to what you feel like doing at that moment. Enjoy not having to look at a watch.”
(Quotefancy/Evelyn Glennie)

Religions in space?

Science fiction writers and readers often regard religion with deep suspicion. There are good reasons for this. Many religious leaders and groups have regarded science fiction and fantasy as corrupt, probably contrary to religious teachings, or even downright demonic.

Many creative people, particularly those with non-cisgender, non-traditional orientations, have been abused by misguided followers of religions.

So I understand the impulse to write science fiction that assumes all religions are either abusive, or outmoded superstitions. Either of those can be left behind with no loss by the enlightened ones who embarked for the stars.

But in real life it hasn’t worked that way, because religions that function in a healthy manner for their devotees are neither abusive nor mere superstition. I’ve made the argument in a past blog post that art and religion will come with us, if we leave Earth for the stars.

Ranan holidays

With that kind of lead-in, you shouldn’t be surprised that I have populated my fictional space station with followers of major (and some smaller) world religions. So far, some of my characters are Christians, some Muslims, some Jewish, some Hindu, some Buddhist, and some Wiccan. Others are not religious, or claim no particular religious identity.

With the religions come holidays (in addition to national holidays, such as Founders’ Day). Holidays on Rana Station matter in the stories, because they mean something to the characters. But translating any religious practices, such as holidays, into a space-based environment brought sometimes-odd challenges.

For instance, in what direction is the qibla (Muslim sacred direction), when there is no north, south, east, or west, only leeward, spinward, starboard and port? How does one meaningfully celebrate season-based festivals on a space station where the weather never changes?

I contend that clever, committed people will work out ways. I’ll look into some of the calendrical approaches next week. Meanwhile, consider that someone, somewhere, is celebrating a holiday every few weeks. Thus, Rana Stationers have lots of legitimate opportunities to party.

This quote from American aphorist Mason Cooley says, “Good parties create a temporary youthfulness.”
(Good Morning Quotes/ Mason Cooley)

The really important questions

My currently-in-progress XK9 “Bones” Trilogy takes place late in the year. In fact, just about exactly this time of year. Aspects of the holiday season enter into the action at least once (so far), and into the backgrounds of settings several times. It’s a “Christmas trilogy” in the way that the Lethal Weapon movies are “Christmas movies.” (Another Gephardt-family-favorite “Christmas movie” of this sort is The Long Kiss Goodnight).

So now I must address the jolly old elephant in the room: Does Santa fly his sleigh to Rana Station? Or is it strictly “Grinch Station” during the holidays? It’s supposed to be this great, kid-friendly place, designed to help everyone reach their full potential. Can that even happen . . . without Santa??

Well, whether you call him Santa Claus, Papa Noël, Father Frost, or “Christmas Old Man,” he’s known in most of the world (though not in many African nations). Ranans know about Durga Puja, Ramadan, Bodhi Day, Yom Kippur, Beltane, and Christmas, among many others.

So it’s a pretty good bet that Santa’s touched down on-Station in one form or another, too. How do reindeer, snow, and the North Pole translate, for children growing up in a world that’s eternally in “growing season,” and has none of those things? I think my best answer is to ask in return, “are parents and grandparents who’ve been reared to achieve their full potential likely to be imaginative and adaptable?”

Two live reindeer in fancy harnesses flank an actor dressed as Santa Claus, in the traditional red-and-white suit, with a long white beard.
(Sussex Life/uncredited photographer)

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Hearing Health Associates, for the “holiday table” photo. I appreciate Quotefancy for the Evelyn Glennie quote about holidays, and I’m indebted too AIRBOYD on YouTube, for the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast in which the crew read from the book of Genesis. Thank you, “Good Morning Quotes,” for the quote about parties from Mason Cooley. Finally, I’m grateful to Sussex Life for the 2014 “Santa with reindeer” photo. I appreciate you all!

A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.

A season of small bright spots

We’re back at the nadir of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), and looking for a few small bright spots.

This year, especially, those can be hard to find. Relative lacks of urgency from certain Senators notwithstanding, this winter will be a very deep nadir indeed.

People are out of work. People are hungry. They can’t pay their rent, and a national moratorium on evictions ends soon. Death tolls from Covid-19 have surged higher than a 9/11 every day.

Spiky white coronaviruses like snowflakes dot the sky of a snowy landscape in this uncredited illustration.
(Uncredited illustration/Medpage Today)

Political division and controversy haven’t taken a break, either. The Supreme Court only recently turned down an appeal–backed by 17 state attorneys-general and 106 Republican members of Congress–that sought to overturn a legally-conducted election and disenfranchise millions of US voters. Anti-maskers and a rising chorus of vaccine-resisters threaten to prolong the pandemic yet more.

And yet there are small bright spots

Amidst all the gloom and dire predictions, few could blame a person for feeling daunted. But small bright spots do pop up.

There’s the stray puppy who took a nap in a nativity scene, caused an online sensation when someone photographed her, and who in the end found a forever home.

The Black family in North Little Rock, Arkansas who received a racist note after they placed a Black Santa Claus in their outdoor Christmas display–but whose mostly-White neighbors, once they learned about this, put Black Santas in their yards, too, in solidarity.

Chris Kennedy’s yard sports a string of white lights, a large, multicolored sign that proclaims “JOY,” a Christmas tree, and an inflatable Black Santa Claus in the middle.
(Photo by Chris Kennedy, via the Washington Post.)

The “world’s loneliest elephant” finds a new home and a small herd (parade?) of elephant friends, thanks to a court order, international cooperation, a pop star, and a well-prepared animal rescue operation.

Hope in a time of darkness is what humans do

Love does (sometimes) still triumph. Kindness (sometimes) shines through, and we humans do (sometimes) rise to the moment to share good works, generous acts, and gentle treatment. After all, ‘Tis the season.

Last year I published a post about the many holidays that happen at this time of year. It’s no accident that they do, since they all originated in the Northern Hemisphere.

The candles of Christian Advent, the miraculous oil lamp and steadily-brightening menorah of Hanukkah, and the bonfires of Winter Solstice and Yule all bring small bright spots to life in the vast darkness of the year’s darkest days.

The illustrated quote from the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu says, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
(Design by Rocio Chavez, Your Sassy Self)

We say “where there’s life there’s hope,” and that certainly seems to hold true for healthy humans. We may say “bah, humbug!” We may indeed be pessimists as individuals (Yes, the world needs pessimists, too! They often make better leaders, more realistic managers, and outstanding comedians). But humankind evolved to band together and help each other. Cooperation is our species’ best tool for survival.

Passing the light

In many Christian candlelight services we celebrate “passing the light.” We’ve stood or sat or knelt, sang, prayed, and listened throughout the service. All while holding an unlit candle.

At the end of the service, all or most of the artificial lights go off. Then the ushers come down the aisle(s) to light the candle at the end of each row. The person next to the end lights their candle from the end candle. Then the person next to them takes the light. Then the next, then the next, until everyone’s candle burns bright, and the sanctuary is filled with their collective light.

A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.
(Photo from Hotty Toddy, via Tien Skye’s inspirational post on Medium.)

Having participated in many such services, I can tell you it’s a powerful effect. I know other religious traditions and secular groups observe similar rituals. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. My point here is not to preach the Gospel, so much as suggest we can use this as a helpful metaphor.

Creating small bright spots

How can we, as individuals or “covid bubbles,” create small bright spots for others? You may feel as if you’ve been in solitary confinement since March (and yes, you kind of have been), but it’s still possible to reach out virtually, even while reaching out physically is still dangerous.

Any day is a good day for charitable giving or volunteering. You don’t have to wait for a designated “Day of Giving” to donate, if you’re able. Shelters for victims of domestic violence and food banks everywhere are experiencing record need. And there are many creative ways to volunteer while socially distancing. Seek out a local charitable organization, and ask how you can help.

Offer a lifeline to a small, locally-owned business. Weird Sisters Publishing officially endorses buying physical books through local independent booksellers whenever possible. Pick them up curbside (this usually saves on shipping, too!). Find one near you through Bookshop (if you don’t already have yours on speed-dial).

Order carryout or delivery from your favorite local restaurants as often as you can afford to. Local toy stores, game shops, gift shops, and small but wonderful boutique designers all probably sell gift certificates if you’re not sure about sizes, colors, or tastes. And all are desperate for customers right now.

The design says, “When you support handmade you are not just supporting a person, small business, our economy; You are purchasing a small part of an artist’s heart.”
(Design by Menchua, of Moms & Crafters.)

Small bright spots for freelancers

Become a Patreon sponsor for someone whose music, videos, artwork, podcasts, or other creative work has warmed your soul and kept you company over the long months of lockdown. Don’t forget Etsy for small creative businesses, either.

Find wonderful handmade goods through a group such as the Convention Artists Guild (out of the Denver area) on Facebook. They hold regular Virtual Art Shows, where you can buy all sorts of cool stuff. My sister’s posts of this week and two weeks ago on The Weird Blog feature some of her favorite local Texas artisans’ work. But wherever you live, local artists are doing amazing work. Seek them out!

Here’s a list of seven great ways to support small artists, from a guest post on this blog by the musician Losing Lara, that originally ran in 2018. Although we can’t go to live concerts right now, many musicians and other performers are using platforms such as Twitch, You Tube, and various others to stream their events.

However you choose to do it, I hope you find that the more you share small bright spots in the darkness, the brighter and warmer and more joyous your own life becomes.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to Medpage Today, for the “Covid-19 Winter” illustration. I really appreciate Chris Kennedy and The Washington Post for the photo of the Kennedys’ holiday yard display. I love the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu “hope” quote, as realized by the designer Rocio Chavez (check out her blog and her Facebook page, for some real mood-elevators!). Find some more heartwarming content on Tien Skye’s inspirational Medium post, as well as the candlelight photo, which came from Hotty Toddy. Thank you both! Finally, many thanks to Menchua, of Moms & Crafters, for her “Handmade is Special” design. I think it’s pretty special, too, which is why I posted it once before on this blog, back in 2018.

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