To Mask or Not?

It’s taken me a while (longer than it should have, certainly; probably due to my advancing age), but I’ve realized something that makes it a little easier for me to understand the mask debate. 

The people who refuse to wear masks do so at least in part out of a desire for freedom. I wear a mask for that same reason. The difference lies in time frame and details, not in the core need that’s driving the decision. Refusal to mask up is based on freedom here and now, about being able to go about life without being jerked around by the at times confusing messages coming from those who are supposed to be leading us through this. My decision to mask up is based on freedom a year from now, about minimizing our short-term health risk and taking the economic hit that is necessary while the medical community works toward an effective treatment.

I believe that my position is the correct one and still disagree strongly with people who refuse to cooperate in what I see as a public health issue in the short term and a freedom issue in the long term, but it’s helpful to me to see that the same need is at the core of both sides. It works to keep me from dehumanizing those who disagree with me, and I think we could all use a little more of that, especially now. These are difficult times no matter which side we take. I’m an old retired guy with frail parents and a new grandchild, so it’s not difficult for me to choose where to stand. I don’t think that everyone’s decision is as clear-cut as mine.

An Alternative to Amazon

I’m pleased to announce my new affiliation with Bookshop, an organization that supports independent bookstores, bypassing Amazon to purchase directly from a distributor and donating a share of their profits to a pool that is divided among independents on a regular basis. Disclosure: as an affiliate, I will earn a commission if you make a purchase through my Bookshop page.

My bookstore on the site is here where some of my books are listed in addition to my recommendations about other authors you might enjoy. you can also go to their homepage and browse a wide variety of titles and curated lists for readers in a variety of genres. In addition, they have a “find a bookstore” button that will locate independent bookstores close to your location.

New Videos of Children’s Books

This morning I’m introducing a new option for those of you who are interested in my children’s books. All four are available (English versions only)  as Youtube videos on my channel, House Mountain Views.

Print copies are, of course, still available on Amazon and through my website in both English and Spanish versions. Please visit the site, take a look, and if you enjoy the video order a print copy or two. Or three. 

I hope everyone’s coping with this wildfire/hurricane/political madness/social upheaval/pandemic season we’re working our way through as best we can.

Stay safe and keep in touch,


New Children’s Book

I’m pleased to announce the release of my newest children’s book, The Noise in the Woods, in both English and Spanish versions. This is my fourth children’s book, and its theme is imagination. My previous three books explore other ideas; Father and Sister Radish and the Rose-Colored Glasses is about friendship, The Box of Toys is about generosity, and The Boy and His Mountain is about how children see the world differently than we adults do. All four are available in both languages and all four are illustrated by A. B. Walker, who always brings a new, unexpected, and greatly appreciated visual perspective to my stories. Collaboration is an exercise filled with possibility and surprise, and we could all use a little more of that, I think.

Not coincidentally, until a month ago I had four grandchildren (hence the four books); Kavya’s arrival calls for a fifth book in the near future. Because of distance and the pandemic, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting her and haven’t begun thinking in any specific way about the upcoming book. That will come later, I’m sure. For those of you fortunate enough to have grandchildren, I can recommend them as a source of inspiration. If you don’t, hang around with the very young now and then; it’s good for the soul.

Links for purchasing these, as well as my books written for adult readers, can be found on my website, You can find links to my podcast there, and I also have a blog that meanders from subject to subject with no discernible pattern.

Thanks for stopping by.


Making tomato sauce:

  1. Cut up tomatoes and onions.
  2. Roast for 40 minutes or so in a 400˚ oven.
  3. Place in Dutch oven on stovetop with salt, pepper, garlic, basil, etc.
  4. Cook on low heat for 45 minutes.
  5. Blend with immersion blender until almost smooth.
  6. Stir and leave heat on low.
  7. Fix and eat supper, play with dog, practice music, watch TV, check emails, etc.
  8. Jump up 3 hours after step 6 and say, “Oh shit, the tomato sauce!!”
  9. Dash into kitchen, turn off burner, stir and taste.
  10. Say to no one in particular, “Damn, that’s pretty good.”

Points of View

The other day I drove up to Rutledge in Grainger County and spent $21.50 for what is pictured here. The label on the box said 25 pounds net weight, so the tomatoes were $.40/lb. 

This is an example of:

My good fortune in living so close to Grainger County 

My level of class privilege, since I have money, a vehicle, and the time to make the trip

My knowledge of my community, since I knew who to call to find out the best place to purchase tomatoes in bulk

A celebration of a bountiful harvest

My commitment to healthy eating, since the sauce, soup, and salsa I make will be fresh and nutritious

My addiction to Grainger County tomatoes in season

My skills as a shopper and ability to find bargains

My work ethic, since a lot of these sauces, etc. will have to be made in bulk and frozen for use during the winter

It is, of course, all of the above. One incident can serve as an example of any number of philosophical, economic, political, or spiritual stances, depending on the point of view of either the speaker or the listener, their overall world view, and the gravity of the situation.

One thing that is by turns funny, scary, fascinating, and worrisome is the difficulty we have in communicating with each other because of this complexity. It is particularly problematic during any campaign season (and this one in particular), but it is always potentially a roadblock to understanding. Sometimes the key to getting past the roadblock is to ask, “What do you think is going on here?” and using that as a beginning. I can talk from any one the points of view listed, but if I don’t take the time and effort to find out what your stance is, we’ll just be talking past each other, not communicating in any legitimate sense of the word. 

nothing to lose

I’m watching the ongoing crisis from relative safety but I’m getting more concerned as time goes by. It appears that the unemployment supplements are ending at about the same time as the moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent or mortgage. 

My concern is that this will dramatically increase the number of people living in desperation. This little piece doesn’t address the question of unemployment supplements and eviction moratoriums as to whether they are a good thing or a bad thing. I do have an opinion on that, but I’m concerned about something entirely different. The prospect of large numbers of people losing their income and their home at the same time is full of danger.

I have worked with people who lived in a state of desperation as their normal day-to-day existence, and who, when pushed, often reacted in extreme ways, including violently. A common theme (certainly not the only thing driving the reaction, but a significant one) was the perception that they had nothing to lose. Once they took one step along the path of lashing out, subsequent steps were partly fueled by “the hell with it, I’m screwed anyway” frame of mind. People with that mindset were extremely difficult to deal with; threats or demonstrations of power were often met with “bring it on!” and appeals to logic about the increasing depth of the hole they were digging themselves into often fell on deaf ears. “I know how you feel” was worse than useless because it was obvious to all involved that that was not true. I lacked any comparable life experience and so could not relate in any significant way. There was no single approach that always worked to manage the situation; reading the ever-changing signals and revising on the fly was the only thing that sometimes worked, and that had no guarantee of success. 

When I think about the past (Chicago and Watts and Philadelphia and Rodney King and Ferguson and so many others) in this context, it scares me in regard to what is happening right now. I was usually dealing with one person at a time. A dozen, or a hundred, or five hundred, is a completely different scenario, since group behavior is fueled in part by the existence of the group. There is no easy solution here, since we are dealing with both systemic problems and an immediate crisis.

The crisis is an opportunity to effect systemic change instead of just dealing with the immediate, obvious problems, but the fact that both have to be dealt with simultaneously makes the opportunity both exciting and scary as hell. We should all try to keep our wits about us as this unfolds; there will be calls for extreme actions on both sides of the equation. I know from experience that if one side is behaving in an extreme manner and the other side begins to do the same, the situation is very likely headed in a dangerous direction.

Take care, y’all.

The Stubby Shillelagh

Here’s a little snippet of a tune that I’m sharing largely because I like the name.

a reading of “this is where we stand”

I added a new podcast episode today. This is an essay I wrote for Karen Krogh’s excellent book, “Love is the Spirit: the journey of a courageous and resilient community,” a photographic study of the shooting at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in 2008 and the year following that tragedy. I thought it would be appropriate to read it since the anniversary is here in just a few days. You can access the podcast here.

Do the math

After finishing the patio area in our backyard there was an open area inside the arc of crepe myrtles that my wife said would be the perfect place for a picnic table. After much discussion we decided on a modification of a design we found on the net, shortening the length from eight feet to seven and making it eight 2×4’s wide instead of seven. The only place I could buy cedar lumber was at the other end of Knox County, a mildly inconvenient trip made more so by the pandemic. I bought two extra of both 2×4’s and 2×6’s, which turned out to be a good thing.

The site where we found the “plans” for the table and benches was long on narrative and short on specifics, like how long to cut the boards and what angle to cut the legs to let them rest firmly on the ground. I assume the plans were intended to be a starting point for the builder to use, allowing the creativity to flow.

At one time I was pretty good at math (although high school graduation was half a century ago), so when the directions said to decide how tall we wanted the table to be and then just use the Pythagorean theorem to calculate the length of each leg board, I was not intimidated. As it turned out, I should have been.

Calculating the length of the diagonal boards that make the legs of the table (and benches) involved allowing for the thickness of the table, factoring in the width of the boards, deciding if the leg should extend past the edge of the table, and determining the angle needed for each cut. At one time or another I made each of these calculations incorrectly, which is one reason buying a couple of extra boards was a good idea. 

At least once (okay, twice) I was thinking about what great fuel all these cedar boards would make for our fire pit, but I managed to work through most of the issues and complete the project. If viewed from a distance, it looks pretty good, but a close inspection would leave any decent woodworkers either shaking their head or trying not to laugh out loud.

The fact that I had algebra and trigonometry a long time ago helped, but not a lot. Even though I could find formulas and calculators on the internet, I still had to apply them correctly.  There is a way to think about math; it’s pure logic and very unforgiving. One incorrect number results in a mistake that can snowball through the entire project. I should have remembered what I told my students on numerous occasions, that whatever you’re working on, you can save time, materials, and frustration if you just learn how to do the math.