Leading up to Thanksgiving I was thinking about the fact that we set aside a day to be thankful, and although that’s nice we should always be thankful.
There has been a lot of noise lately. Things are changing rapidly, too rapidly to take it all in. So we focus on the problems
Listen to an orchestra playing a familiar symphony and perhaps a single instrument is off. You will probably concentrate on the out-of-tune player, but you’ll miss out on a symphony of perfect players. Your focus is lost to the disharmony.
Humans are built to escape pain, to protect ourselves from the assassin in the crowd. We are wired to hear the discord so we can escape it. We naturally concentrate on what is negative.
It takes a conscious effort to hear the symphony in spite of the discordant player.
Whether it is grand players on the world stage or opportunities to better ourselves in our personal lives, we should always strive to find things to be thankful for.
The symphony of life is always playing. We just have to learn to hear it.
There are a few writers who have provided me with such consistent quality stories that I’ve told them they can submit things for Abyss & Apex even if we are not open to submissions. One of those writers is the prolific James Van Pelt, who is no stranger to A&A’s pages.
Jim sent me something that I thought needed work, and we went through the rewrite process.(Note to writers: if an editor asks for a rewrite you might not get the sale but odds are higher that you will.) On the third rewrite we had what was still his story but cleared up things I felt needed done. I bought it. And he paid me a vast compliment and said, “Wonderful working with you on it. I haven’t been in a writers’ critique group for a long time. I forgot how refreshing a practiced eye commenting on a story can be.”
Let’s talk about the devaluation of the dollar and how it is going to affect us. (Look, I’m older and in “instruct the young folks” mode. Humor me, as this s relatively short.) Financial currency like the US dollar is simply an agreed upon means for exchange. It has no intrinsic value. Humans must say, “this has value, I can use it to exchange for goods and services.” Essentially, we’ve made it up as a convenience.
Scarcity stabilizes, or “backs” a currency. If we used river pebbles for currency, for instance, there would be no way to set a value because everyone could just go get more pebbles. The backing resource has be rare. The example that comes to my mind is because I grew up on Long Island, where the Montaukett nation of Amerinds (as well as tribal nations from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island) made wampum beads out of the rare purple interiors of Quahog clams. Wampum was treated as currency in most of the Eastern native American tribes. It had no intrinsic value other than consensus, and was back by it’s rarity.
When a currency falls apart it is often because it is no longer rare. Governments may attempt to print their way to prosperity, and producing lots and lots of currency, but this lack of rarity dilutes the backing asset. With a fiat (fiat means “because I say so”) currency it becomes a matter of believing in the backer’s word.
Printing too much currency works for a while. Unsuspecting people get their money, do their business and don’t realize that the money is getting less and less valuable as they go. It’s a gradual slide, hard to see.
People wake up to the reality when in the span of a few days the cost of a cup of coffee goes from two bucks to 200 bucks. This can happen when large amounts of the “believe us, it’s good!” fiat currency gets returned to a country when the rest of the world no longer wants it because they’ve lost faith in the word of the backers. This happened to the Wiemar Republic. It happened to Zimbabwe. I happened to Venezuela. And there is absolutely no reason it cannot happen to America.
Understand this: We tend to get the explanation backwards. We call it hyper-inflation, but it’s really hyper-devaluation. The cost of the cup of coffee did not change, nor did its value. The money lost value. In simpler terms, in this situation the coffee is backed by more stability and scarcity than the currency.
I’m getting to my point, I promise.
The reason people invest in precious metals, land, original art, and blockchain currency (Bitcoin etc.) is because governments can’t just print more of it. Rare items’ values are like the cup of coffee: stable and predictable. When the fiat currency gets blown asunder these things maintain their value.
I’m tell anyone to buy anything. I don’t care how you invest.Personally, I’m buying actual coffee.
But I’d be less than kind not to warn you that fiat currencies like the Federal Reserve Note usually, historically, only last about 50 years. And it looks like time is running out.
I’ll be doing a free workshop in the THRIVE Personal Growth Community, on December 6, on the topic: How to Grow FoodEven with Little Space or Experience, based on my new book Grow Food at Home. Today’s the release date for that on all but Amazon, which should happen in a few days. https://books2read.com/u/b6z7yp
If you’re worried about supply chain issues at the grocery store, or just want to eat healthy, don’t despair. Why not grow some of your own food? It’s easier than you think.
In my workshop, you’ll learn:
Why right now is the perfect time to plan your spring garden
Types of gardens (in-ground, container, hydroponic, greenhouse) and ways to get around space limitations
How to decide what to grow, based on your location (using the USDA Zones and state Cooperative Extensions)
Can’t-fail things to plant
Great resources for seeds, bushes, and dwarf trees
How to prepare the ground for your plants
Common mistakes and how to prevent them
Preservation techniques for your harvest
Join us and learn how to get started on the joys of growing your own food!
After my presentation, they’ll open the floor for your gardening questions. Show up live to get answers.
Last month I did some end-of-summer camping with my grown son at Heckscher State Park on Long Island. Their home is small, and it’s better for me to stay elsewhere, but the last few trips soured me on the local hotels: over $200/night and the quality had nosedived to take-it-or-leave-it levels during the pandemic. Even an Air BnB room rental on Long Island would, unless in an unsafe neighborhood, cost enough to cut my trip short. Wait–I knew what to do! We had a tent and sleeping bags. We’d go camping!
I used to camp all the time when I was younger so this would be fun. My husband, who was staying home this time, good-naturedly dragged his tent down from the attic and showed me how to assemble it. My son enthusiastically endorsed the idea and asked if he could come along.
Heckscher State Park is on the South Shore of Long Island, across the Great South Bay (our inland waterway) from Fire Island. It has miles of bay beaches, hiking trails, bike paths, boat ramps, picnic areas, playgrounds, waterfront cabins and a nice campground. We had a campsite close enough to the communal rest rooms and showers that we could use their lights to make trips there in the dark, a grill we could use, and a water spigot. Very basic, but such a nice change of pace. And we were surrounded, with lots of space in between, by people who had their young families with them or were camping instead of using a hotel for the US Open.
We set up our tent, and I sprayed it with Scotchguard because it might rain and I knew from experience that a dry tent is a happy tent. As you can see from the below photo, the leaves were just starting to turn. And it did rain one night! But we were nice and dry.
Our ritual was to make a nice breakfast at the campsite, and then since the park had almost no cell service and no wifi, we’d go out to a Starbucks to use out phones, check our email, and such.
Our first night there we had dinner with some friends of mine at Key Largo Islip, on the bay. Live music, and we’re all writers so the conversation was great. Chris loved meeting them, the food was marvelous, and sunset over the bay was awesome.
But experimentation told me that our first night sleeping on the ground would be hard for me at my age, so on the way back we bought a cheap dorm mattress topper at Target, and that did the trick.
The second day we went for a walk on the beach and I picked up shells while my son and I caught up on things. We had a lot of memories about this park where we’d go for cookouts, to launch an inflatable raft, or even to just drive through in the very early morning since it was right next to their elementary school. We’d see deer and foxes and great blue herons and raccoons. We had some trouble with trash pandas getting into our food–they tore open some cereal–and trying to get into our tent at 4 in the morning, but at least it was not bears. That’s one of the things I love about Long Island: no poisonous snakes, no bears. Just dumpster-diving raccoons.
The raccoon that was trying to get into our tent woke us by feeling all along the edges of our tent and groping our heads, shoulders, and various body parts. It shrugged off my rather forceful elbowing and made a couple of circuits of the edges of the tent, and of us, through the fabric. Very weird feeling. No, we have no more frosted mini wheats. Go away.
My son and I also went out to see a movie–Thor: Love and Thunder–which was fun. Those of you that know me well know that I RARELY watch movies, even at home, so this was an event for me. My son really needed a vacation so I think he had an even better time than I did.
We also went hiking and saw a lot of “tick taxis”–I mean deer–because there is a huge herd there that they publicly feed in the winter as a tourist attraction. When we were hiking we saw deer treatment areas to try and control Lyme disease. We checked ourselves and neither of us had any tick bites. Hooray for Deet!
We also made a day-long foray into NYC together, but that will be the subject of another post.
I’m visiting my son in Florida and last night he streamed the filmed live version of musical Hamilton on Disney+. The musical was as excellent as all of my friends insisted, and I’m very glad I finally got to see it. What was unexpected was all the members of the “crew” were singing actors and stage hands, and each scene change happened without a close of the curtain…so the action never stopped. What really stood out to me was the fact that almost the entire musical was in song, with occasional lapses into mere speech for emphasis.
The lyrics were routinely insanely good and clever, so you’d have to watch it over and over with a pause button in your hand to appreciate all the turns of phrase. Some of the music was beatboxing, and one song was actually rap, but it all fit seamlessly. Updating certain subtle things made history come alive, like when the Thomas Jefferson character lamented that as ambassador to France he’d missed “the late 80s” and it made me internally hitch the 1780s to the 1980s in my mind and feel like someone from over 200 years ago was a contemporary—a real person.
I did not know that the guy who played Hamilton himself was also the playwright. Like my son and his wife, I’d want to see it live but balked at the $200-per ticket price. Still, I have to admit that a recording with closed captions was probably better for my comprehension.
 Who was usually comic relief, but in an historically accurate way: the guy did have an ego as large as a mountain. That he was played by a black man with a long afro and a purple frock coat and breeches tells you how he played on that ego beautifully.
Savannah was, as advertised, a very gracious and unique southern city. There were frequent avenues with park-like medians filled with ancient and carefully-nurtured live oaks covered with Spanish moss. It boasts of lots of cobble-stoned or brick streets, and unique architectural features: it featured almost-half the city tinted like Charleston’s Rainbow-Row and fancy railings on urban patios. And flowers, flowers everywhere. There were also frequent “squares”: small parks with greenery, benches, and landscaping.
The drivers were courteous and not at all stress-inducing. There were lots of pedestrian walkways across the streets; drivers behaved and gave them the right of way. They’d better: it looked like tourism was Savannah’s major source of income. The last time I saw that many obvious visitors I was in New York City. And this meant that the area was designed to separate the tourists, graciously, from their money.
This was apparent when we stopped for decent coffee across the street from The Basilica of St. John the Baptist at a quaint (i.e. expensive) little shop called Mirabel. We had to wait until a worship service was over, and what better way on a muggy day than to sit in air-conditioned comfort sipping java? Well, a little box of about a dozen dark-chocolate-covered orange half-slices, a water-colored post card of the cathedral front, and two coffees cost us over $20. Eek, but it was money well-spent.
Once the basilica was reopened to visitors we wandered across the street and inside. It, too, was air-conditioned and would have to be to not have moss growing on the carved wooden pews! And Jennifer Boone was right: the place was worth seeing. It was built in the same pattern as a medieval European cathedral with the same flying buttresses and arches. I’ve seen larger, but only one more magnificent and that only because it was a celebration of architectural lines rather than ornamentation. It had a rose widow above the main entry, green marble columns, a magnificent organ, and the usual stained-glass windows depicting the life of Christ.
There was statuary and it had the usual prayer candles. (I lit one. $2.) But what really set it apart was a huge baptistery, huge carvings between the side windows—the stations of the cross done as wooden dioramas—and all the frescoes. So many frescoes!
Above the pew-level wainscoting there was a two-foot-high patterned border along the walls done in colors taken from the marble columns in fresco containing gold leaf. Above the stained-glass windows at the sides of the church there were frescoes of the life of Christ. Above the altar there were two levels of frescoes about the saints interacting with Christ, especially the basilica’s patron St. John the Baptist. And above it all the ceiling vaults between the arches were frescoed in a dark blue studded with gold-leaf frescoed stars. Magnificent!
And all of this had been rebuilt after a fire in 1898 gutted the building. We took a lot of photos and had some taken of us there. And on the way out we bought a rose-window Christmas ornament. He was going to buy it with a credit card but they only took cash or checks. It was $20 but they accepted the mere $12 cash I had in my wallet. And we noted copies of Catholic newspapers celebrating the end of Roe v. Wade.
After we walked back to our parking spot Brian continued to drive. Despite the forecast it was nice out so we tried for the a ferry ride but will have to do that from one of the street trolleys or tour buses, as there was absolutely nowhere to park. Another day, perhaps. Instead, we found The Prohibition Museum and a paid underground parking lot nearby. Before we left our car we had a picnic lunch from our cooler so we could make up for the expense of the coffee shop. Thus fortified, we braved the warm and humid air, grateful that at least we were underground and would not have solar gain turn our car into an oven while we were gone.
Brian paid for the museum: a somewhat reasonable $17.50 each, and we got out money’s worth. The place was absolutely fascinating and had translations in Chinese, German, French, and Spanish for the major exhibits. Lots of period machinery for an enraptured Brian to gawk over; lots of art-deco things and items like flapper clothing for me to enjoy. Although I’d heard of Carrie Nation I had no idea who she was: migod, her signature move was that she went into saloons and broke them up with an axe! She was invariably arrested and fined, and paid her fines out of speaking fees and selling commemorative axe-themed stick pins, charms, and souvenirs. There were authentically dressed and life-like waxwork statues of all the major players in the prohibition drama, as appropriate—and Carrie Nation’s was imposing.
We learned that the famous revival preacher Billy Sunday was a prohibitionist and used to be a major-league baseball player. We saw numerous prohibition materials like magazines, flyers, ribbons, and sheet music. And there were KKK in the prohibition movement, too. The plight of farmers and distilleries who lost their businesses was explored, and the explosive growth of the FBI as an enforcement bureau and of prisons was chronicled: it reminded us very much of the whole mindset behind our country’s attitude and enforcement of marijuana laws, with the same resulting lawlessness. In the case of Prohibition it lead to the rise of the mob. Bathtub gin and home stills were described, with examples. NASCAR got its start from Ford V-8 racing contests so rum and moonshine runners could out-speed the feds and revenuers. Walgreens went from an obscure single Midwestern pharmacy to 600 stores based on their prescribing alcohol for “medicinal purposes.” The tour ended with a Speakeasy with a working bar (we did not indulge), and a film based on newsreels from that period, and then an exhibit about the end of prohibition.
I did not know that before Prohibition 40% of our national budget was from taxes on alcohol; Prohibition gave us Federal income tax instead (and now, also). I had no idea that Prohibition had changed our national landscape so profoundly. Again, money well spent.