THE PRICE OF FOOD, THE COST OF STAYING ALIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

This post started out as a comment to Rich’s piece, but it reminded me of all those years when the Fishery Department in New England begged the fisher-folks to hold back on fishing out the spawning areas. St. George’s banks — which is technically both U.S. and Canadian waters — I think the line runs right through the area. George’s Banks are closed, both by Canadian and American authorities because of overfishing.

If they didn’t close them, there wouldn’t be any fish in the future. Almost all our fish these days is imported. Salmon from Canada where it is farmed, and the rest from Asia.

Our food has more than doubled in price. We could buy a week’s food for the three of us for around $150 before the quarantine. Now it costs MORE than $300. We do have some locally grown food just beginning to show up in the markets and ironically, our farms which have been doing poorly are suddenly a very big deal. We can get (easily) eggs, milk, honey, and strawberries. We have tons of blackberries growing in our own back 40, but it’s even more lethal than our rose bushes and before we can get them, the birds eat all of it.
Squash is coming into season. Also cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and with a little luck, we’ll have a good year for peaches. Soon (I hope!) we will also have fresh corn. We don’t grow mountains of corn because we have so little flat land, but what we do grow is delicious.

Everything is organic. Not because we are such believes in organic produce, but because we have such a high water level, fertilizer seeps into the aquifer, and if we kill the aquifer, we are all in big, permanent trouble.

We have no slaughterhouses. I’m sure that the individual farms raise a few pigs and beef cattle for personal use, but it doesn’t go to the stores. There is a huge chicken farm nearby. They have a big restaurant (no open right now, of course), but they also sell it in their shop. It costs twice the imported prices but it is very good and their chickens roam free.

Shooting through a wire fence, these are impressionist chickens. Need eggs?

Anyone with a back that works grows acorn squash (by November I’ve overdosed on squash), tomatoes, and onions. Also round, red potatoes. Some people have started growing jalapenos, too. In this limited rural area, summer is the only time you can get fresh local fruits and vegetables. After September and October (apple season — we have gigantic orchards for apples and they are great apples … and the farmers keep cross-breeding new varieties, albeit our local apples are much more expensive than the imported ones. Probably not THIS year!

The cows in the meadow

Not much fish except via Canada where they farm salmon. We used to have wonderful fish, but they overfished the region and it’ll be decades before we can get fish from the ocean again. Our rivers are good for trout — if you like trout and none of us do — and while down on the Cape they are farming lobster, there aren’t enough of them for more than their immediate areas.

New England had the biggest and best fishing fleets in the world. All gone. The fleets are gone and the areas are now filled with private boats. Which is fine, but they don’t bring in fish.

The fisherfolk were warned yearly to NOT go to George’s Banks because that was where they spawned. Garry covered those stories and he always came back shaking his head at the thick-headedness of the fleets. Yes, they’d need to raise prices and wouldn’t be able to bring in the volume of fish they had before, but if they didn’t stop harvesting the fisheries, there would be no more fish at all.

Eventually, when no one cooperated, they closed down the areas about five years ago (maybe it was longer — has swept by so quickly — before there were no more fish to breed. The coast guard patrols the area and there are all these little wars at sea. If we don’t poison the waters, fish will come back — and that’s if we manage to keep the Canadians and Japanese from trawling the areas.

Seafood, the delight of New England is gone. We do get great eggs and butter, though. The milk is great, but we have a lot of people here who have inspected cows, so they don’t homogenize the milk. Garry loves the cream on the top. I stopped buying it.

After Garry steals the cream, even the dogs won’t drink it.

ENDINGS – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry had a get-together with a bunch of retired media guys. They meet every few weeks, but for obvious reasons, it hasn’t happened recently. So a while ago, someone came up with the idea of doing a Zoom meeting. Despite that all these men worked on television for many years, most (but not all) had issues making Zoom work.

It’s amazing how quickly we forget things we used to know … and how suddenly we realize we never learned it because it wasn’t what we were doing professionally. For me, computers were my business, so despite what I’ve forgotten, I remember them quickly when reminded.


From The New York Times:

“When will the Covid-19 pandemic end? And how?

According to historians, pandemics typically have two types of endings: the medical, which occurs when the incidence and death rates plummet, and the social, when the epidemic of fear about the disease wanes.

“When people ask, ‘When will this end?,’ they are asking about the social ending,” said Dr. Jeremy Greene, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins.

In other words, an end can occur not because a disease has been vanquished but because people grow tired of panic mode and learn to live with a disease. Allan Brandt, a Harvard historian, said something similar was happening with Covid-19: “As we have seen in the debate about opening the economy, many questions about the so-called end are determined not by medical and public health data but by sociopolitical processes.

Endings “are very, very messy,” said Dora Vargha, a historian at the University of Exeter. “Looking back, we have a weak narrative. For whom does the epidemic end, and who gets to say?”

A Sicilian fresco from 1445. In the previous century, the Black Death killed at least a third of Europe’s population. Credit: Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Once everyone started talking, the subject came up. The one about which so many of we retired people have been thinking, but afraid to even ask because it might be a jinx.  What happens to us? We are the most vulnerable and a lot of people in this country think we lived long enough and would be perfectly happy to let us all die off.


What will the world be “when this is over.” That brought up the real question: “Will this ever be over? Can they make a vaccine soon enough (or at all) so that we can think about traveling? Would any of us willingly get back on an airplane? How about a simple local vacation? What is safe? Where is the danger


There was a universal “no” on flying. I used to get sick every time I flew long before the epidemic. All that recycled air. One person sneezes and by the time I got off the flight, I was already sick.

This is pretty disheartening. I always thought as a nation, as a people, we were a lot smarter than we seem. But, maybe all this dumbness is not true stupidity but denial. Many people REALLY REALLY REALLY don’t want to know what’s going on. When they are told the truth, they angrily reject it. The truth is unacceptable. The truth hurts. The truth is ugly.

They are desperately afraid of the new reality in which they are living and for many people, in which they were already living, even before Coronavirus arrived to make it overwhelmingly worse.

Sometimes, when everything is gone, when there’s no money, no work, and virtually no hope, denial is your best weapon. It might be your only weapon.

AN AWFUL LOT OF POSTS BUT WHO REMEMBERS THEM? — Marilyn Armstrong

9,947 published posts. I know that’s not quite 10,000 but it’s close.

Now, the minuses:

Tom: 400
Ellin: 525
Rich: 1,000
Garry: 1.000

So of the 10,000 posts, about 3.000 were written by other authors and probably another few hundred were re-blogs, so call it 4,000 written by other authors or re-blogs. I’ve probably written about 6,000 posts of my own. That includes most memories of childhood that were not published in my book … or are parts of the book or rewrites of chapters of the book.

Today’s statistics

About half of my posts were photographs, though even there, I tend to include writing even when the majority of the post is made up of photographs. But not always. It depends on how tired I am when I put the post together. And how many pictures I have.

So let’s say between 4,000 and 5,000 posts were exclusively mine. Still a lot of writing. Strangely, I wrote a lot more than that during my professional writing life. News writing, advertising, and documentation included thousands of pages and a mountain of research. I don’t remember how many books I wrote or how many kinds of software I wrote about. Or for that matter, what subject matter was involved.

I do not know if this is related, but for the last few months, I’ve been terribly tired. Aches and pains in many or most of my joints. Even my fingers, arms, shoulders, and occasionally my neck. If I don’t take pain drugs, I can’t stand up. Actually, it’s my inability to stand that’s my clue that I haven’t taken my medicine. I try to stand up and I fall back down.

“Oh, right,” I think. “I guess it’s medication time.”

I recently had a major three-day checkup on my heart. All things considered, my heart is doing very well, especially in view of all the surgery it has undergone. The implanted valves are working. The ventricles are pumping enough to keep the correct number of red blood cells flowing through veins and arteries. Whatever is wrong, it’s not my heart. So, whatever is going on is probably not lethal … at least not yet.

The neurology department did a major checkup on my brain (such as it is) and proved that (1) I have a brain so it’s not just a rumor, and (2) it’s more or less normal, at least neurologically. I’m not demented. I don’t have Alzheimer’s, or any sign of a brain tumor.

In fact, having changed medication for my spine, my headaches have almost entirely gone away. Proving my point that they should stop looking at each little thing and start looking at my entire self. I’m pretty sure they might find more connections.

To quote a song, “Dem Bones“:

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,
Now shake dem skeleton bones!

The toe bone’s connected to the foot bone,
The foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone,
The ankle bone’s connected to the leg bone,
Now shake dem skeleton bones!

The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone,
The knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone,
The thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone,
Now shake dem skeleton bones!

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones,
Now shake dem skeleton bones!

The hip bone’s connected to the backbone
The back bone’s connected to the neck bone,
The neck bone’s connected to the head bone,
Now shake dem skeleton bones!

The finger bone’s connected to the hand bone,
The hand bone’s connected to the arm bone,
The arm bone’s connected to the shoulder bone,
Now shake dem skeleton bones!

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around
Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around
Dem bones, dem bones, gonna walk around
Now shake dem skeleton bones!

This is especially relevant to me because my spine seems to be the source of most my problems, not counting my heart, my missing stomach, and ye olde cancer.  So my good doctor sent me directly to the lab. I went to the one at Dana-Farber because they are much faster than the hospital and there’s a guy there who can ALWAYS find a vein. In ONE shot.

Meanwhile, I should be figuring out what I’m going to write for tomorrow, but surprisingly, that was not what I was thinking about. I was wondering what, if anything, the test would find. If they found something, what might it be? If they don’t find something, there’s simply got to be a reason why I feel this way. I never want to do anything or go anywhere. I’m too achy and tired. I don’t even want to talk on the phone.  I felt less tired after major surgery than I do these days, so something has to be going on. I would hope this isn’t a preview of the rest of my life!

So I didn’t get new pictures of my newly opened Christmas Cactus flowers because by the time we got home from the doctor, laboratory, and grocery store, it was dark. I’ll take pictures tomorrow.

Note that there are any number of versions of the words to “Dem Bones.” In case you find another version and the words are not quite the same.

AND STILL ALIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

In 2010, I discovered I had cancer in both breasts. Two tumors, unrelated to each other. Just twice lucky. They removed the tumors and the associated breasts and gave me very attractive fake replacements. Much perkier than the old ones in an artificial implant sort of way. I have a little ID card for both breasts as if they each have their own identity.

Maybe they do. Thus, a little more than 8-1/2-years after the siege began, I’m officially a survivor. Almost but not quite.

My mother died of metastasized breast cancer. My brother died of pancreatic cancer more than 10 years ago, having never gotten as old as I now am. This is not a reassuring family history.

All chronic illnesses make you paranoid. The thing that’s so insidious about cancer is its absence of symptoms. The possibility that it is growing somewhere in your body and you won’t know it’s there until it’s too late, is about as scary as a disease gets. Nor is it a baseless fear.

I had no idea I had cancer — much less in both breasts — until it was diagnosed twice during a two-week period. One diagnosis of cancer is hard to handle. A second diagnosis a week later is like getting whacked over the head with a bat. It leaves you stunned, scrambling to find someplace to stand where the earth isn’t falling out from under you.

I don’t think most of us are afraid of dying per se. We are afraid of the journey we will have taken to get there. We’re afraid of pain, suffering, the humiliation of dependence and gradual loss of control of our own bodies. After having one or more close encounters with the dark angel, no one is eager to feel the brush of those wings again.

We are called survivors, which means that we aren’t dead yet. The term is meaningless.

Put into perspective, we are all survivors. Anyone could be felled by a heart attack or run over by a beer truck today, tomorrow, in five minutes. The end of the road is identical for all living creatures. It’s only a matter of when it will be and what cause will be assigned. Everyone is in the same boat.

If you’ve been very sick, you are more aware of your mortality than those who’ve been blessed with uneventful health, but no one gets a free pass. The odds of death are 100% for everyone.

Recovering from serious illness is a bumpy road. Each of us has a particular “thing” we find especially bothersome. For me, it’s dealing with well-wishers who ask “How are you?”

If they wanted an answer, it might not be so aggravating, but they don’t want to hear about my health or my feelings about my health — which are often more the issue than anything physical.

They are being polite. So, I give them what they want. I smile brightly and say “Just fine thank you.”

I have no idea how I am. All I know — all I can possibly know — is that for the time being, I am here. To the best of my knowledge, nothing is growing anywhere it’s not supposed to be.  Eight-and-a-half years after a double mastectomy, I am in remission. That’s as good as it gets.

The real answer for those of us who have had cancer, heart attacks, and other potentially lethal and chronic ailments is “So far, so good.”

That is not what anyone wants to hear.

We are supposed to be positive. Upbeat. You are not supposed to suffer from emotional discomfort. Why not?

Because if you aren’t fine, maybe they aren’t, either. They have a bizarre and annoying need for you to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed no matter how you actually feel. It’s their version of a vaccine. If you are fine, maybe so are they.

Since cancer, I’ve gone through major heart surgery and having survived that, I figure I’m good to go for a while. None of us are forever, but I’m alive. Presumably, I’ll continue to stay that way.

Welcome to surviving. It’s imperfect, but it beats the hell out of the alternative.

THE SHINBONE STAR – REBLOG By NATHANIEL R. “NAT” HELMS

TIME HEALS OLD WOUNDS . . . UNLESS THEY’VE TURNED GANGRENOUS

A self-imposed exile from the machinations of Donald Trump is a good thing. It is like spraying Febreze Clean Linen scent inside your skull until the rotten stench is completely covered. Two weeks wasn’t long enough to fully enjoy it, but it is a start.

A real exile from Trump means no cable news, newspapers, Facebook memes and rants, not answering taunts and jibes and no light-hearted political discussion with the neighbors.

Netflix is a good hiding place. A more extreme alternative is Devotional Hour with Sister Marie, the wizened old nun who provides solace on a local Catholic television show. Five minutes cured everything. Even with great alternatives available, actually weaning oneself off the Trumpian titty is like quitting smoking without a nicotine patch. His nefarious influence is everywhere.

Perhaps the most revealing thing about such an experience is discovering that people who must work every day to care for their kids, dogs, and homes don’t often give a tinker’s damn about politics. It takes a particularly powerful whiff of Trumplandian swamp gas for them to even notice all is still not well in Washington, D.C. They apparently leave all the angst for old retired people who won’t suffer too long no matter what happens.

Several other discoveries jumped out immediately. The Trumpian Wall saga has run its course across the emotional nerves of my neighbors. So have mass shootings, the endless litany of #MeToo sexual peccadilloes and reports about election campaigns so far in the future they are irrelevant. The baffling Mueller probe is seen in the same light as all the other probes getting shoved in people’s keisters in the name of New Age correctness.

My hardworking neighbors know that a Saudi journalist named Khashoggi was chopped into mincemeat by lackeys of some medieval Arab prince who won’t be touched; that war in Syria and Afghanistan may be over but don’t count on it; and that some big, bald-headed guy on TV when they arrived home Friday was in a pointless pissing match with the Democrats. None of it touched their lives.

What really pisses off Mr. and Mrs. Working America is finding out that they aren’t going to get the income tax refund they used to use to buy a little fun, the really unimaginative halftime show at the cliché’-rich Super Bowl and that the constantly rising price of food and gas never gets factored into those glowing reports about how rich America is.

Just ask a working mom who looks forward to taking the kids for a week at the beach that won’t happen this year because she didn’t get a useful tax refund. Ask the tradesman who tolerated his union dues going to Democrats, thinking their expanded presence in the House would improve his life. Instead, they are using his money to buy a bully pulpit to promote themselves without accomplishing much else.

Perhaps the most illuminating people to talk to are the mid-level government employees where I live that are wracked with doubt because they spent all their savings just to survive Trump’s 35-day government shutdown. They are imminently aware that another shutdown is still in the cards. They are equally certain that at some point a shutdown will wreck the economy the same way it already has wrecked their households.

The so-called Trumpian base, the badly informed working class folks who turn to anyone who offers them red meat, are confused and angered as well. They thought their lot would have improved by now, said one of my forsaken buddies while buying donuts. We’ve been punching holes in targets together for 30 years and he still can’t bring himself to say he might have been wrong about Trump.

My old buddy lives in a trailer court down the road. He lives there because he can’t afford a house. He can’t afford a house because he earns a $1,000 or more a week during the working season and still can’t save enough for the 20-percent down payment. Despite all the news stories about how the country has run out of skilled and unskilled labor, he doesn’t have a job.

His mobile home costs $780 a month plus utilities. His wife doesn’t work because they can’t afford daycare for his three kids. Being a union laborer doesn’t provide much work in the dead of winter, he said. Unemployed union laborers go on the extra board and draw $280 a week unemployment that they hope will last until the spring thaw. The only thing being a cherished veteran got him is a VA house loan and lip service. Meanwhile, Republicans who supported Trump in Missouri are again trying to introduce “right-to-work” laws because they think laborers like my friend are paid too much.

I learned a lesson from this experience. To move forward, the country must clear its head, put its feet back on the ground and wean itself off the milk of Trumpian discourse. Hate holds only bankrupt answers. Trump’s forte is lies. It is time for Democrats to go around him, under him, over him or through him, the way illegal aliens would get past his useless border wall.

The presumption that time heals all wounds is misplaced. Time only heals wounds that don’t turn gangrenous.

Democratic leaders need to spend less time blaming Trump’s egregious behavior for the country’s wounds and begin binding them instead.

DIDN’T MOST AMERICANS HAVE MEDICAL COVERAGE BEFORE OBAMACARE? REPEAL IS UP TODAY OR TOMORROW!

The HEALTH CARE REPEAL BILL is back. Again. Maybe you thought it was finished and were paying attention to other stuff? McConnell and his evil party are planning to vote on REPEAL tomorrow or Wednesday. I got this directly from Elizabeth Warren’s office a few minutes ago. This isn’t from an external news source. Straight from the Senate office, so if you thought you could relax, don’t.

Post your story! Anywhere. Everywhere. Now.


The original question on Quora was “didn’t a majority of Americans have medical coverage before Obamacare”?

I thought about the answer. This is one of those issues in which I had — still have — a gigantic personal stake. I’m one of those people who would never get insurance without laws forcing them to give it to me. Maybe a majority of working adults had medical coverage, but among those who were not — for whatever reason — working, mostly, they had nothing. This includes disabled people, old people, people injured and unable to return to work. And, of course, children.

We were among the group who no longer had medical insurance, although we’d had it before.

I was desperately ill. Massachusetts had not gotten its own medical care system yet and the U.S. had nothing, the situation to which it seems we will shortly return. I could be fixed, but no one would help me because I didn’t have insurance. I went from not well, to sicker, then even sicker. One day, I realized I was dying. For real. I was beyond sick. I felt as if the air was blowing through me and I was disappearing.

Someone told me about a doctor in Boston who might be interested. He was interested, but I had no insurance and no money. When it suddenly occurred to me that I really was dying, no kidding, I called the doctor. I said I was dying. He told me to come to the emergency room and he would take care of the rest. They took me in. I spent three weeks with a vitamin drip in my jugular vein trying to get me physically able for surgery. Then, he invented a surgery to fix me. It had never been done before and he warned me it might not work. I pointed out I had nothing to lose because I was going to die otherwise.

Anyway, after the surgery, my abdomen went septic and he had to call in the plastic surgery swat team. They performed another surgery, cutting out all the rotting skin on my abdomen and leaving me with a scar that looks like I was partially eaten by a shark. But I got better and a couple of weeks later, I went home. I only weighed 90 pounds and was warned that no matter how difficult it was, I had to eat. I needed to get back up to about 130 pounds. Which I did.

The hospital took care of the bill. I never paid for anything. Miracle number one.

Eventually I got Medicare — after finally getting disability. The process took almost four years. In between, I got cancer in both breasts and was fed a lot of poison and … then …

My heart failed. A lot of surgeries, later, I got more leases on life — and the hospital ate any expenses not covered by Medicare. They knew I couldn’t pay it. It is one of the things about dealing with large hospitals — they can manage catastrophes like me.

In the course of this period, Massachusetts got its own healthcare program and then there was Obamacare. By that time, I was already on Medicare.

I am alive. That I’m still breathing is amazing. This is just a brief overview — but before there was health care, if you weren’t absurdly lucky and just happened to have a brilliant doctor and a few top quality hospitals to lend you a hand, you would be dead. I could as easily be long gone by now.


Not having real health insurance is not politics: it is life or death.
It has nothing to do with how you vote. And as a reminder, the dead do not vote.

How did this stuff happen? How did we go from being good earners with high incomes to not having medical insurance and watching me slip from life to death?

I’m glad you asked.

I became too sick to work. My earlier job had fallen to bankruptcy. I was too ill to find new work. My husband had also stopped working. We had no money, no insurance, and I was dying. It is amazing how quickly a life can fall apart. It takes surprisingly little and ill-health is often where it begins. We thought we had enough — or soon would have enough — but when you are sick and uninsured, whatever money you put away disappears.

This is a “life accident.” You work. You’re doing fine. Your company goes bankrupt and you are not eligible for COBRA — assuming COBRA even exists. Some people lose jobs because they got old, or the company decides they will do better with younger, cheaper help. If you have a union, you might (at least) get some kind of payment to go with your pink slip. If not, you’re just old and unemployed and very unlikely to find equivalent — or any — employment. Because there aren’t that many companies looking to hire mature workers.

Your health insurance — assuming you had it — leaves when you leave and if your mate is part of your insurance, both of you are now without insurance. Sure, there are emergency rooms, but an ER won’t cure your cancer or repair your heart. If you have cancer and you do not have insurance, you are dead. Emergency rooms don’t take care of long-term illness. They might fix your broken leg — and send you the bill — but if you’ve got breast cancer? You’re done.

What kind of country are we building? What kind of world will this be if we have stripped the last hint of human kindness from our culture? What is wrong with compassion — even if it costs a little more? To me, this isn’t political. It’s humanity. It’s caring for others, including those you’ve never met.

That’s what compassion is.

SURVIVING: OBSERVING NATIONAL TOWEL DAY!

Today is Towel Day. A day of joy for the author of my favorite books, a day of mourning for his far too early loss.

If you read the books of Douglas Adams, and in particular, the five-part trilogy beginning with “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy,” you get it.

Observed annually by fans of Douglas Adams, Towel Day commemorates the work of the author most known for his book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This is not the day he was born because while almost no one famous was born on my birthday, Douglas Adams was, indeed, born on March 11, 1952 … five years after me.

Douglas Adams

He died for no observable reason — no doubt called “heart failure” because no matter what else is going on with your body, if your heart stops, that’s a signal that all other activity is going to very shortly stop too.

I loved his books. I still love his books. I still have all of them on my bookshelf and in my audiobook library too. It started as a radio show, then became a series of TV shows, an occasional (unfortunate) attempt at movies, and most recently, the favoritest of my favorites, “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” and its brilliant sequel, “The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul” were made into a BBC series. As far as I know, it was a disaster. I had been slightly optimistic about it this time because they were using real actors and scripts and even had a budget, so I thought maybe, just maybe, they’d get it right.

They didn’t.

It was very briefly on the air (I forget the channel, it may have been Acorn), then was pulled right back off. So I’m still waiting for someone to do a really good version of any of his books. Where they more or less follow the original story and don’t decide to go and do their own thing.

Why do production companies do that? They buy a best-loved property, then ignore it and produce something else just using the original name. A few of us go to see it, are hideously disappointed, and go home grumpy and dispirited.

But today is a day for joy and celebration. Whip out your favorite towel and show the world how you can conquer it and all the reaches of the universe using only your towel. Don’t stop with merely drying off. There are galaxies to vanquish wrapped in that Turkish baby!

And finally, there is only one last thing to say: