Friday, July 31, 2020

Physical Distancing

National Park Service / D. Kopshever. Are you a herd animal, a pack animal, or a lone wolf? Being a dog person, I like to think I’m part of a pack that works together to protect each other and get things done.
Daniel Case / CC BY-SA Even Wal-mart is trying to keep its customers alive by encouraging physical distancing. If customers each stand on one of these marks, they will all be six feet way from each other. Better six feet away than six feet under!
This post originally appeared in the Cameron Herald and Thorndale Tribune on 2020-07-30 and on the Hearts, Homes, and Hands blog on 2020-07-30.
He sings the songs that remind him of the good times
He sings the songs that remind him of the better times
I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down


Someone much smarter than me suggested there is much more resistance to the phrase “social distancing” than there would have been had we chosen to call it “physical distancing.” I wish I could remember who said it or where I heard it, but I think that person is right. The distinction operates on the subconscious, emotional level where it seems many people live these days.
First, people are not really wired to be socially distant. We are often described as “social animals.” We can exhibit everything from a “herd mentality” to hunting in packs. Social outcasts are “lone wolves.”
This language underlines how dependent on one another we all are. In earlier societies, exile was often considered a harsher punishment than death, reserved for the most heinous crimes. We really do need to belong to a community. We really do need each other.
Next, we don’t need to be socially distant to prevent the spread of COVID-19; we need to be physically distant. At least six feet apart. Keeping our physical distance doesn’t mean we have to feel socially isolated. We have any number of options for connecting to people we can’t reach out and touch.
In the old days, a letter might take months or years to reach the intended person. We think of texts, email, and applications like Instagram as instant messaging. With FaceTime, Instant Meeting, and Zoom, we can even see the people we are talking to, even if they are in another part of the world.
And let’s not forget the telephone. It still lets us have one-on-one conversations with some degree of privacy.
But even in this age of miracle communications, some people remain isolated because of physical or mental challenges—or simply from a lack of sufficient broadband access. We should remember to reach out to these people…from a safe physical distance.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

The Worst Blogger Experience

Contrary to Google’s marketing spin, the New Blogger is only better if you:
  • Don’t know anything about HTML and don’t want any real control over your blog's appearance
  • Don’t use anything except a phone
I realize I am an anachronism in that I still prefer a monitor and keyboard to a phone.
This may well be the last post I make. We’ll see. I’ve tried to use the New Blogger and find it to be a real piece of shit. The old version worked, which is more than I can say for the new one. For example, the new editor insists on inserting random line breaks throughout the text:
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Fuck that!

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The World Has Moved On

While I used to start most days with a full agenda, it seems most days start like this in the post-COVID world. But my planner fills up by the end of the day—sometimes by mid-morning. I still have to make sure all this activity is productive and not just frenzied motion.
This post originally appeared on the Hearts Homes and Hands blog on 2020-07-10.
Well-being is attained by little and little, and nevertheless is no little thing itself.


Our times seem to have turned around. Or as Stephen King’s Gunslinger would say, “The world has moved on.” Many of us have gone from wondering how we can possibly fit everything we need to do today in one day to wondering how we will fill the time. My planner looks remarkably desolate every morning these days. But when I review what I have done at the end of the day, it is full of activities.
Okay, they may not be fun activities. But they are activities—things that needed doing.
They say, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” That appears to be true for my planner as well. It is full of little things that add up to bigger ones. This was the case even in the Before Times, when we used to be able to visit each other whenever we wanted. Then as now, the question becomes, “Do all these little things add up to something meaningful?”
It was easy to let ourselves become interrupt driven, responding to whatever stimulus demanded our attention in the second.
It is easy to strive to fill our days with activity, any activity.
Regardless of what it means. This restless flailing, this unbound need to “just do something” is part of what is driving the current surge in COVID-19 sweeping across the country like a tsunami, especially in rural areas like Milam County.
  • In Rockland County, New York, a young man wanted to party even though he was already showing symptoms. His party caused at least 18 more people to get sick. According to abc7NY, at least two other parties have been held since then. Some of the young people are facing $2,000-per-day fines for refusing to give contact tracers information to help save lives.
  • In Roanoke, Virginia, more than 100 new cases have arisen from a road trip to party at Myrtle Beach. Other outbreaks tied to that house party have cropped up in West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky.
Image and Data source: Centers for Disease Control This map shows where in Texas people have died from COVID-19 as of 2020-07-10. The CDC keeps it updated.
Milam County and Texas in general are seeing more new cases and more hospitalizations than ever before. The rise in deaths will probably follow in the next few weeks, even though this part of the surge seems to be spreading mostly in young people.
In young people, the disease manifests differently. It can lead to heart attacks and strokes, which are often not listed as COVID-related deaths. But those young people are still dead, and their friends are still at risk. Remember, a stroke in a young person can lead to a long life of disability and suffering. All from one small decision. A friend of mine went from being a rising-star CPA to a welfare mom after a stroke when she was 27.
So, I’m asking you to think about the decisions you make today. Are you trying to accomplish something that will help yourself and the community. Or are you just filling time with something because it sounds fun?
“Well-being is attained by little and little, and nevertheless is no little thing itself,” according to Zeno. The opposite is true, too. Every little decision matters.
Please ask yourself why most of the rest of the world is able to move past the COVID-19 outbreak faster than us and choose wisely.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Worm Food

These thoughts were on my mind, and I jotted them down in my journal on Monday. I felt compelled to put them up here on the off chance someone might find them (useful).
I felt compelled to write these thoughts down. They are not empirical, but they do have a certain truthiness.
  • Markets are more robust, lifting more people, when they are free from monopolies of any kind.
  • The government itself is a kind of monopoly that can influence overall economic performance, either for good or bad. Therefore, regulation and stimulation, both of which will always have unforeseen consequences, must be carefully considered before being implemented.
  • Unregulated markets tend to evolve into monopolies or oligarchies that maintain their status-quo by suppressing creativity, innovation, and overall economic growth. Everything becomes zero-sum.
  • Every market has winners and losers. When the elites perceive themselves as losing, they will use any means necessary to protect their power. They will also convince themselves they are acting for the greater good. Some won’t care about the greater good so long as they benefit.
  • “What’s bad for the hive is bad for the bee,” but the bees are not very good at recognizing what is good for them—especially when what is bad for the hive is pitched as being good for it. The inverse of Marcus Aurelius’s truism is patently false. Otherwise, nobody would poison the common well for their own profit.
  • Humans are remarkably immune to cognitive dissonance. Double think is a real thing.
  • I believe Greenspan was correct when he said the biggest problem with the economy was that nobody took the long term view. When asked why, he said, “because in the long run, we’re all dead.”
We are all “food for worms.” Memento mori.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Strike for Black Lives

I know it doesn’t sound like much given the infrequency and irregularity of posts on this page, but this site will go dark tomorrow to support the social media Strike for Black Lives. I actually did have a post planned, which will now appear later in the week.

Monday, June 08, 2020

How Long Do You Want to Live?

Photo by Unknown One thing centenarians have in common is being active in community and family. Here is Suna being active with her Master Naturalist community in the days before COVID-19.
This post originally appeared in the Cameron Herald and Thorndale Tribune on 2020-06-04 and on the Hearts, Homes, and Hands blog on 2020-06-04
You live and you die
And I’ll probably throw it away
But in the end it’s mine
And nobody has a right to say
“Go down lightly”
“Go down silently”
I’ll go down screaming
“Give it back! It belongs to me”

Janice Ian

Barring the Zombie Apocalypse or the actual apocalypse, how long do you want to hang around on this planet consuming oxygen? Have you given your lifespan much thought? I have. I’ve thought about it a lot more on the north side of sixty than I did when I was younger—and even more since the onset of COVID-19.
When I ask people about this (I actually do; I’m like that.), their answers generally fall into one of a few buckets.
Young adults tend to look at me like I’ve suddenly sprouted a wasp from my forehead. They haven’t given the question much, if any, thought. And who could blame them? When I was their age, I just assumed I’d live forever. (I’m still on track for that, by the way.) I still believed I was ten feet tall and bullet-proof.
A few people say, “As long as I can,” a comfortably meaningless phrase. It gives the appearance of answering without commitment or much thought.
The most common response is something like, “as long as I can still do what I want” or “as long as I can be independent.” This answer implies good health, something none of us can guarantee. Most of us never want to become a burden on society or our families. Once you’ve been a parent, letting go of taking care of your kids is hard. And the thought of them taking care of you is horrifying. That horror is led my partners and me to form Hearts Homes and Hands, a state-regulated personal assistance service dedicated to helping people maintain their independence through age, injury, and infirmity. I am already a clients.
I think that fear of dependency is why many elders say something like, “I’m ready to go Home.” Dad used to say, “I’m ready to see your mother again.”
But we’re not really in control of all that. Julius Caesar had a slave whose only job was to whisper in his ear, “You could die today.” As could any of us. But we could also outlive our bodies or, more frightening to me, our minds. We need to plan for both possibilities.
Dad used to tell me, “Plan to live forever and know you won’t.”
Dad used to tell me, “Plan to live forever and know you won’t.” That’s really good advice. More Americans are now over 100 years old than ever before. We’ve even had to invent a new word, “supercentenarians,” for people who are more than 110. One study found that centarians and supercentarians have three common traits, all of which we can start working on today, regardless of age.
First, they are involved with their families and communities. We can all keep up with the kids and grandkids through social media and writing letters, even if we can’t get out. Church is another source of community support, especially if we give support to others before we need it ourselves. Pets also help us build deep ties and reasons to keep going. Someone has got to take care of Fluffy.
Second, they all keep busy. One woman still ran her family ranch at 104. Dad planted corn at 92 while he was dying of cancer. The only thing that worried him when he was in the hospital was how well his crop had done. I know several people who still go into the office every day well into their seventies and eighties. One of my first bosses started a new company when he was 84.
The third commonality is that they want to be alive. The first two traits give them reasons to keep going, but the drive to live is something deeper. It is a passion for life. As singer-songwriter Janis Ian put it, “I’ll go out screaming, ‘It’s mine! Give it back to me!’” I really admire the fight in that answer.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Bored? Some Folks Will Always Be Homebound

Photo by Postmaster / Shutterstock I think Marcus Aurelius once said, “We choose to participate in the rave.”
This post originally appeared in the Cameron Herald and Thorndale Tribune on 2020-05-21 and on the Hearts, Homes, and Hands blog on 2020-05-21.
Me and Loretta, we don’t talk much more
She sits and stares through the back-door screen
And all the news just repeats itself
Like some forgotten dream that we’ve both seen

—John Prine

You see them more and more on the evening news: people out en masse, partying in crowded, recently opened (or illegally opened) bars. Some have just come from rallies where they gathered around Patrick Henry’s immortal soundbite, “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!” You can almost hear the excess capitalization as they ignore the fact that Liberty and Death are not mutually exclusive. In a pandemic, they can be correlative, if not causative.
But I understand where they’re coming from. Boredom. At least, that’s what most seem to say on camera. “I’ve just got to get out of the house!” One day blurs into the next, giving us the new word “Blursday.” A meme shows a generic calendar with each column headed by the same word. “Day.”
Our brains thrive on novelty. The first bite of our favorite foods can cause our eyelids to flutter shut and our eyes to roll back in transient ecstasy. A month later, you’ll remember that first bite, but you won’t remember the ninth or tenth by the end of the meal.
Photo by EVZ / Shutterstock Nanci Griffith once sang about being a clock without hands. She was more right than metaphorical. Our brains measure time in very long increments and tiny ones. And those measurements don’t really relate to each other.
Savoring that first bite can seem to take as long as the rest of the meal. That’s because our brains have many clocks to keep track of time. None of these brain clocks have hour hands. They measure time in fractions of a day or fractions of a second. There’s nothing really in between.
We experience that first bite in what neurologists call “prospective time.” While we’re looking forward to it and experiencing it, our brains measure time in fractions of a second. But the rest of the meal doesn’t get as much attention as that first bite. Rather than form new memories of each bite, our brains overwrite the same memory pattern over and over again. We don’t experience eating the rest of the meal so much as remember it later in “retrospective time.”
The same thing happens all the time. We experience new things in prospective time, but repetitive actions blur into retrospective time. We tend to live in prospective time where the length a pause in conversation can have real meaning. We may have only a split second to react when we see a snake while hiking through the fields. Is it a rat snake or a rattlesnake? Boom! We decide. That’s why time drags on forever when we’re bored. Each tick of the clock may take a week. But when we look back at a month of boredom, it seems to have slipped by in a blink as each day blurs into the one before.
Now put yourself in a different place. What if you weren’t “stuck at home” because of a government order? (An order that is being gradually relaxed as I write this.) What if you couldn’t leave home because your body was unable to take you outside? What if you were stuck at home—maybe even confined to your bed—for the foreseeable future? For the rest of your life? Your mind would turn the seconds into minutes and the minutes into hours. But it would also turn the months into days and the years into weeks.
Photo by / Shutterstock If you’re feeling like you just have to get out of the house right now, please take a minute to think about those who will still be homebound when Shelter in Place fades into memory.
Many people are in this unenviable situation because of injury, disease, or age. Since 1891, these people have been called “shut-ins” or, more kindly, “homebound.” Shelter in Place orders have given all of us the opportunity to experience their reality. The difference is we can escape to protest or to deal with essential tasks. Even when the last Shelter in Place order is lifted, the homebound will remain…well, shut in.
One of the services we provide at Hearts, Homes, and Hands is to help the homebound deal with their persistent reality.
Even though it seems like it wouldn’t work, one of the best things you can do to fight isolation and boredom is to keep to your normal schedule as much as you can. Go to bed and wake up at the same time as before COVID. Prepare your meals and eat them when you normally would. Exercise on your regular schedule even if it means jogging around the living room or lifting your kids instead of weights. If you can’t go to work, set aside some time to learn new things, to write letters, or to play games—anything to create new experiences for your brain to look forward to.
But the most important thing to schedule is downtime. Set aside time to do nothing. That’s right. Make time to do nothing at all. Force your brain to be bored so it looks forward to and enjoys the experiences it can have. Contrast real boredom with routine, and most of us will really appreciate being able to focus on and savor that first bite of activity—whatever it is.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

“It was paper when we started...”

Photo by The New York Times I remember thinking at the time, “That’s easy for you to say.”
The best things in life are free
But you can keep them for the birds and bees
Now give me money
(That's what I want)

—Berry Gordy, Janie Bradford

It’s not often you’ll hear me say I learned a valuable lesson from Sam Walton, but today is one of those days.
Thanks to declining production and falling oil prices, I had to take a huge write down in the valuation of one of my properties yesterday. It was frightening and disheartening.
To be clear, this isn’t real money. It didn’t come out of my pocket, but it does affect my net worth. And banks tend to look down on reductions in net worth.
So, I’m grateful for the lesson I learned from Walton way back in 1987. After the stock market crashed on Black Friday, he lost about a half-billion dollars in Wal-mart’s market capitalization the following Monday. Walton shrugged off the loss. He said, “It was paper when we started, and it’s paper afterward.”
I remember thinking at the time, “That’s easy for you to say.” But the truth is, paper losses hurt about as much as paper gains help. That is to say, not much. I still own the land, and my taxes will go down because of the write down.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Caring for Our Pets

Penny loves to cuddle, but I am trying to be more careful about keeping her tongue out of my face. Next, I’ll work on the feet.
Brody always took hand washing and social distancing very seriously…even before they were a thing.
This post originally appeared on the Hearts, Homes, and Hands blog on 2020-05-08.
A big black dog
A little too much gray around the muzzle
A big black dog
Why she ended up at the pound is a puzzle

—Emmylou Harris

We all love our fur babies. Well, most of us. I suppose there are still people around like WC Fields hey, about her screenwriter Leo Rosten once said, “any man who hates dogs and babies can’t be all bad.“ I just don’t know any.
Just about everyone I know falls at the other end of the spectrum. At Hearts Homes and Hands, we love our animals. Most of us have more pets at home than people. in fact, two members of our team are on the Board of Directors for Milam Touch of Love, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization dedicated to the welfare of animals in Milam County. Others have contributed to or done volunteer work for that organization.
If you use the term “fur babies“—it took me a long time to get used to it. But then I realized I call Carlton “Baby Boy“ and Penny “Baby Girl.“ Sigh. Anyway—if you use the term “fur babies,” you probably have experienced their delicate, little (or big, sloppy) kisses…whether you wanted to or not.
And that brings me to Winston, who made national news a couple of days before I wrote this article. Winston is a pug who lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his family of four humans. The two adults are both doctors, but all four are COVID survivors.
One day Doctor Mom noticed Winston’s behavior was a little off. He even skipped breakfast. No pug I have ever known willingly skips a meal unless something is very wrong. So, Doctor Mom has Winston tested. Sure enough, he was positive for COVID.
Winston is the first American dog to test positive and the first confirmed case of human-canine transmission. We already knew that cats, including lions and tigers and—well, not bears—at the NY Zoo could get COVID. But Dr. Anthony Fauchi, the face of the Administration’s COVID Response Team, said there is “no evidence” of pets giving the virus to their people. That’s good. Just try putting a mask on a cat. Neither one of you will have a good result.
But Fauchi didn’t rule out the possibility of pet-human transmission. All “no evidence” means is that we haven’t proven that it happens, not that it doesn’t happen.
All this is to say our pets need to practice social distancing as much as we do. Right now, it’s a good idea to keep your indoor pets inside and your outdoor pets away from others. And avoiding those fur baby kisses can help protect both of you.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Feeling Isolated?

Photo by Suna Sue Ann says hi from Zoom with her under-the-sea background.
Photo from Lee’s Fakebook page Suna say, “Lee’s Facebook page is so old it still has his graduation picture on it.” Yeah, right! My sixth grade graduation, maybe. That was back when books were on paper, a non-volatile storage media (unless you had a match).
This post originally appeared in the Cameron Herald and Thorndale Tribune on 2020-04-30 and on the Hearts, Homes, and Hands blog on 2020-04-07.
Yes, I'm lonely
Want to die
If I ain't dead already, hoo
Girl, you know the reason why

—John Lennon, Paul McCartney

It’s no big secret: social distancing can cause its own set of problems. One of these is isolation. When we lock ourselves in our homes away from everybody else, we can get lonely.
Fortunately, technology provides us a workaround. Since we’ve been distancing, I don’t think a day has gone by when Sue Ann has not been on her phone or her computer Fakebooking, FaceTiming, Zooming, or using some other social media to stay in touch with her friends and coworkers.
I’ll admit I’m not the best at all of that. I kind of enjoy the isolation. But, in many people, isolation can lead to other problems like depression, or just to loss of motivation. For some of these people, technology is not an option for the simple reason that they’ve never needed or wanted to use it before (or can’t afford internet access).
I have a Facebook account that I think I logged into two years ago. I’ve never used Zoom. And I’ve never used video chat or FaceTime. However, I’ll admit that these are good ways to keep in touch with people when you can’t just go see them.
What do you do if you don’t have access to technology or don’t know how to use them? Well, here again, Hearts Homes and Hands can help. Some of our caregivers are very fluent with these technologies. They can help you set up a smart phone for the first time. They can help you Zoom or FaceTime so you can talk to your grandchildren, nieces and nephews, or children who live far away.
Just give Kathleen a call at 254-627-1200 and she can talk to you about all the different ways we can help you safely stay in contact.
Oh, and one bit of good news! A recent study showed that COVID-19 can’t be spread through flatulence. Everyone in my family is very relieved.