SoCS: count on it

Linda posts the prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday on Friday so that people have a chance to mull the prompt before writing the post, which is stream of consciousness so no editing allowed.

Confession: Sometimes, I write the post on Friday and just schedule it to come out on Saturday.

Second Confession: Sometimes, I plan the post in my head more than I probably should to be true stream of consciousness.

I usually do, though, manage to have some thoughts about the prompt or I just don’t participate that week.

Because it’s Just Jot It January and because I already didn’t do Stream of Consciousness one week because I had a post of my own I wanted to get out, I really wanted to do SoCS this week.

The prompt is to use “count on it” in the post.

When I read it Friday morning, I thought that it would be pretty straightforward. Something would pop into my head as the focus for the post.

But that didn’t happen.

A lot of things that I can no longer count on came into my head, but it seemed too unsettling to write about that.

I think the combination of personal losses, the pandemic, the divisiveness of the United States, and the feeling that I’m always waiting for the next shoe to drop – and it does – have left me unsure that there is anything I can count on.

It’s probably more feeling than fact.

It’s cold and grey today.

The sun will rise tomorrow.

I can count on it.

Yes, let’s go with that.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/20/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2023-daily-prompt-jan-21st/

not cooking with gas

I have never been one to cook with gas.

I grew up in a rural area where there was no methane infrastructure, so I learned to cook on a GE electric range. In adulthood, we have had electric stoves in the two houses we have owned.

I have had occasion to use gas ranges, in rental apartments or homes of family members, but I never liked them. I’m not a fan of flames in the kitchen and it often seemed impossible for there not to be small leaks of methane that I could smell because of the odor that is added to the gas.

When I became involved in the anti-fracking movement, I learned that not only do gas ranges leak methane which is detrimental to the climate but also other gases that are harmful to human health, such as radon and benzene.

I was, therefore, unsurprised at the release of a recent report attributing 12.7% of current cases of childhood asthma in the United States to the use of gas stoves. This is similar to the figure attributable to second-hand smoke exposure.

Nationally, gas stoves are used in 40% of homes, although in some states the percentage of use is much higher. For example, in California, the rate is 70%. That adds up to a lot of emissions of methane, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, benzene, radon, particulates, and other harmful substances.

Proper maintenance of equipment and increasing ventilation can help mitigate some of the health effects, but the best remedy is to switch to cooking with electricity. The faster and most energy-efficient electric cooking today is induction. For those who can’t afford to replace a gas cooktop with an induction one or who are renters, a good alternative is to buy a portable induction burner unit. You will need to use cookware that has iron in it but the nice thing is that the burner itself does not get hot, so there are no worries of burning yourself by touching the unit after you’re done cooking.

In order to make the transition to cooking with electricity, some places in the US have begun to ban gas hook-ups in new construction. In order to promote both human and environmental health, it’s likely that regulation will expand over time to eventually eliminate cooking with gas indoors.

Some people are very upset about it and complaining loudly in the press and on social media.

I invite those people to join the 21st century and give induction a try. Energy technologies and sources evolve over time. We used to use candles or whale oil for lighting our homes. We used to use wood or coal in our kitchens for cooking. We moved on to cleaner, healthier alternatives. It’s time to again move away from burning things in our homes for energy and onto using increasingly clean electricity to power our lives.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/20/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-20th-2023/

the debt ceiling

Today, the United States reached its debt ceiling, which is the maximum amount of debt that it is allowed to have under current legislation. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen can borrow money from pension funds and such to keep up with debt payments and government obligations until June but the responsible thing would be for Congress to immediately either raise the debt ceiling or suspend it. (The most responsible thing would be to eliminate the debt ceiling but no one is even discussing that.)

Like many other governments and corporations, the United States raises some of the money it uses for its operations through issuing bonds. Perhaps you are familiar with the US Savings Bonds program or with Treasury Bills, often called T-bills. The purchasers of these financial instruments are basically loaning money to the government, which then pays it back with interest on the maturity date. While some of these are held by individuals, the vast majority are held by large financial institutions, like banks and mutual funds, or by foreign governments. The United States dollar is considered the world’s reserve currency because of its stability and the reliability of the US government.

If Congress does not pass an increase in or suspension of the debt limit, the US government would default on its bonds, which could cause a steep downturn in both the stock and bond markets, a severe recession, higher unemployment, rising interest rates on loans, and higher prices. The impact would be global because many US government financial instruments are held in or by other countries. It would also cause some countries to mistrust that the United States will keep its word in other areas.

The US government also would not be able to pay its workers or to fully pay Social Security, veterans’ benefits, nutrition programs, and all the other programs that the federal government provides. This would be a huge hardship to many of their constituents, so why would Congress hesitate to raise the debt ceiling?

Politics.

Apparently, one of the things Kevin McCarthy promised in order to get enough “yes” and “present” votes to win the Speakership was that he would not pass a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling. Instead, McCarthy promised that the debt ceiling increase bill would mandate spending cuts, including to programs that are earned benefits, like Social Security.

This doesn’t make sense. The debt ceiling issue has to do with paying the bills for spending that has already been authorized by Congress. The time for debate about cutting the total amount of government spending is when debating appropriation bills for the next budget year.

Furthermore, the Fourteenth Amendment, Section Four to the US Constitution states, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” It seems that the House Republicans are trying to question the validity of public debt by threatening to default on it.

It’s also telling that Republicans passed debt limit increases without making a fuss three times during Donald Trump’s presidency when the budget deficits were higher than they are now under President Biden. Part of the reason deficits were higher was that the Republicans passed large tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and corporations, thus reducing revenue. At the same time, they cut the budget of the Internal Revenue Service so that it was more difficult to audit and catch high-income tax cheats.

It’s hypocritical for the Republicans to be complaining about the size of the national debt now, because it increased so quickly during the four years of the Trump presidency. 25% of the total national debt is attributable to the Trump years.

If the Republicans were serious about balancing the budget and beginning to pay down the national debt, they would be looking at ensuring the wealthy are paying their fair share in taxes. Current law, with lots of loopholes for the wealthy, often has the very rich paying a lower percentage of their income in taxes than their average employee does. Yet, one of the first pieces of legislation the Republicans in the House passed was to rescind that increased funding to the IRS to upgrade their systems and audit more high-income earners. This bill would result in lower tax revenue as tax cheats would have a lower chance of being discovered and forced to pay what they owe. Fortunately, the Senate will not take up this House bill so it has no chance of becoming law.

I have already written to my member of Congress, Republican Marc Molinaro (NY-19), to ask him to join with Democrats and the reasonable Republicans in the House to pass a clean debt ceiling increase or suspension. If Speaker McCarthy won’t put the bill on the floor, they may need to file a discharge petition to get the bill put up for a vote.

Unfortunately, that process takes several weeks, so they had better start now. Secretary Yellen will enlist whatever shuffling of resources are allowed while they do it, but the clock is ticking and folks – and the financial markets – will be worried.

Of course, it would be faster and easier if McCarthy put the good of the country first and introduced a clean bill today. It would also show that the House Republicans want to cooperate in the governance of the country to “promote the general welfare,” as the Preamble to the Constitution states.

Given that they have thus far not shown this inclination, I won’t hold my breath.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/19/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-19th-2023/

One-Liner Wednesday: MLK quote

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
~~~Martin Luther King, Jr., who might have turned 94 this year if he hadn’t been assassinated at the age of 39

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday and/or Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/18/one-liner-wednesday-jusjojan-the-18th-2023-stained-by-the-sun/

Hyphens

Today has gotten away from me, so I’ve decided to use the prompt from Linda’s Just Jot It January for a quick post.Today’s prompt from Sally is “hyphenated.”

I love to use hyphenated words. I find hyphens useful in visually clarifying words, which, no doubt, means that I overuse them.

For example, I’m inclined to write non-fiction rather than nonfiction. Somehow, including the hyphen makes it easier for my brain to process the word.

Does anyone else share this quirk?

taking down the tree

Yesterday, we took down our Christmas tree.

It’s a necessary task, but always a bit sad.

It’s also very nostalgic. This time, I was struck by these ornaments in particular.

These ornaments double as candy cane holders, so that they look like hobby horses when they hang on the tree. The red one was made over fifty years ago by my spouse B when he was in elementary school. The white one was made about thirty years ago by B’s mom, when she was teaching in elementary school and would lead her students in creating a holiday gift for their parents. She would always make extras to give to family members. I’m sure hers were prettier than her students, although all are equally treasured.

These and all the other ornaments are safely stowed now, waiting for next Christmas – or maybe the one after that, if we decide to spend the holidays in London this year.

Fortunately, the memories are easily accessible at any time.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/16/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-16th-2023/

remembering Paul

Yesterday, for the second time in a week, I attended a memorial service. My spouse B and I attended services for Paul Everett. Paul and B had been co-workers at IBM for many years before Paul had to leave work for health reasons.

While Anita’s had been a Catholic funeral, Paul’s service was in the Reformed Protestant tradition. Because it was in non-liturgical form, the service was more easily molded to reflect Paul’s life and gifts, which, if you read the obituary linked above, you will realize were many and varied.

For example, all the music in the service was arranged by Paul for folk instruments. Paul had hosted a weekly folk session for many years and compiled his beginner-friendly arrangements in the Wednesday Night Jam Canonical Tune Book. B and I had chosen seats near the ensemble, which included guitars, piano, accordion, tin whistle, fiddle, and hammered dulcimer, an instrument that Paul had both constructed and played. The gathering music took place at the beginning of the service rather than before it so that we could listen and reflect instead of being distracted by conversation.

The homily was given by Paul’s son Isaac, who inherited his father’s love of music and theology, studied them, and became both a professional musician and an ordained minister. Isaac used his father’s love for the Book of Jonah as a lens to relate who his father was. It was moving and heart-felt and beautifully crafted. I’m sure Paul, who had served as a deacon and lay preacher himself, would have been proud. Isaac also played guitar and piano during the service.

During fellowship time after the service, B was able to connect with some retired IBMers who were in attendance and reminisce about Paul, including his adventures and misadventures building boats and taking them out on the waters. Fortunately, Paul’s nautical journeys went better than Jonah’s!

Later in the afternoon, I went to vigil mass at my home parish. The opening hymn was “Here I Am, Lord” which was the gathering song for Anita’s funeral. At communion, we sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” which we had sung at Paul’s memorial service. The echo of these songs calls me to reflect on what my call is at this time of my life, increasingly cognizant that I am much closer to the end of my life than the beginning.

Rest in peace, Anita. Rest in peace, Paul. Thank you for your example of how to live fully until the end.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/15/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-15th-2023/

SoCS: a hometown tale

Once upon a time, I lived in a town of about 200 people in western Massachusetts. Well, 200 if you counted the people in the prison camp up on the hill, who lived in what had been built as lodgings for CCC workers back in ’30s. When I was in Girl Scouts, we used to go to the camp for lessons in ceramics and jewelry making and such. My daughter has a tooled leather belt that my sister made there. The crafts kept the prisoners occupied and they sold some beautiful pieces in their gift shop.

We had a grammar school in town. Four grades in one room downstairs and the four older grades in a classroom upstairs. The school was also built in the ’30s by the WPA. Jobs that helped workers during the Depression and that helped the town for decades after. My father lived in town then and was in school when they moved to the new building.

The largest employer in town was a paper mill along the river which made specialty papers, like the glassine that used to cover envelope windows before there were plastics. They used to make the wrappers for Necco wafers; I remember seeing them made on a school field trip to the mill.

Life was good. Everyone knew everyone. We were probably a bit behind the times but no one much cared about that.

Greater forces did impact us over time, though.

Jobs were moving South. The owners of the mill closed it. Some jobs and the people that filled them moved to Georgia. Some other folks found jobs locally, although other towns were also losing their mills, so jobs weren’t easy to come by. Even the prison camp closed.

The town got smaller. When there were only seven kids left in town who were in K-8, the school closed and the students were bussed to a neighboring town. Eventually, even the post office closed.

The town is still there, though. The people are resilient. Everyone knows everyone. They recently celebrated the town’s bicentennial.

And they all lived happily ever after.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was to begin with “Once upon a time.” I chose to end this (mostly) true tale with the classic fairy tale ending. Join us for SoCS and/or Just Jot It January! Details here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/13/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2023-daily-prompt-jan-14th/

role reversal

While I don’t usually use the prompts that Linda helpfully lists for Just Jot It January, I decided to use the prompt today from Sadje, reversal.

I immediately thought of role reversal in the context of family, specifically as it pertains to generational caregiving. As a child, my parents took care of me and my sisters. When I became an adult and especially a mother myself, I appreciated that my parents continued to care for us, although in a different and appropriate way than when I was a child.

As my parents aged and encountered health problems, though, our roles reversed and I became a caregiver to them. That being said, caring for an aging parent is different than caring for a child. My parents had chosen to enter a senior continuing care community, so household help and the ability to move between levels of care from independent to assisted to skilled nursing was available to them. I was able to concentrate on helping with medical needs, handling bills, chauffeuring, running errands, and emotional support.

Our roles reversed in terms of caregiving but not in personal terms. They were always my parents and I was always their daughter. Even though they have both passed away now, I’m still their daughter.

That will never change.

I’m thinking about this in a particular way right now as I’m preparing my chapbook Hearts for publication later this year by Kelsay Books. The poems center around my mother, particularly her last few years battling heart disease. There are several poems that deal with the generations of women surrounding her, her mother and me, her granddaughter, and great-granddaughter.

Earlier this week, I received a beautiful blurb that will go on the back cover. It referenced this generational element in the manuscript.

I cried.
*****
Join us for Just Jot It January! Details here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/13/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-13th-2023/

January 6 contrasts

Last week in the United States, we marked the second anniversary of the January 6th attack on our Congress by supporters of then-President Trump who were trying to keep the election of Joe Biden from being certified.

There was a short, solemn ceremony on the Capitol steps, led by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. Families of officers who died in the aftermath of the attack read their names and a bell was rung in their memory. There was a period of silent reflection of 140 seconds to honor the 140 officers who were injured that day, some so severely that they had to leave their jobs permanently. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Republican House members chose not to attend. Only one was spotted among the 200+ Democrats commemorating the day.

In the afternoon, President Biden honored fourteen individuals with the Presidential Citizens Medal. Nine were police officers who worked to defend the Capitol. Sadly, three of the medals were given posthumously. I was especially moved by the acknowledgement that the two officers who died by suicide after dealing with trauma from the attack were its victims as much as if they had died as a direct result of physical injury. Also honored were five people who upheld the integrity of the 2020 election, despite threats and actions against them.

Meanwhile, the House Republicans not only did not show respect for the anniversary but also displayed their inability to govern effectively. Late in the evening of January 6th, Kevin McCarthy failed to be elected Speaker for the fourteenth time. Two years ago, McCarthy was among the 139 House Republicans who refused to certify state electors in the 2020 presidential electoral college, even after the mob had broken in, ransacked the Capitol, and threatened to harm or kill Vice President Pence, Speaker Pelosi, and members of Congress. Many of those 139 are still in Congress, including some who are known to have been involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 election. It’s not known if any of them will eventually face charges or other consequences for their actions, but their refusal to honor the sacrifices of the officers who defended them two years ago was telling.

In the early morning hours of January 7th, McCarthy won the speakership on the 15th ballot because enough Republicans voted “present” rather than “no” for him to get the majority of votes cast. Unfortunately, McCarthy and the House Republicans so far have shown no intention of working with Democrats toward effective governance. They have passed a rules package that calls for votes on bills that the Senate will never take up, gutted the Office of Congressional Ethics, and passed a meaningless bill to require care for a baby born alive after an attempted abortion, meaningless because, in the rare instances where this occurs, those protections are already in place.

I am still holding out hope that there will be a few moderate Republicans who will join with House Democrats to pass needed bills into law over these next two years. It may take a lot of complicated maneuvers to get bills to the floor, such as discharge petitions. Of course, it would be much easier if McCarthy reaches out to craft bipartisan bills for the good of the American people but he hasn’t shown that level of political ability as of yet.

Stay tuned.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2023/01/12/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-12th-2023/

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