The pandemic’s put new words and phrases on our lips

Sometimes we need to state the obvious. So just to make sure we’re conscious of one impact, here are ten words and phrases the pandemic’s added to our everyday vocabularies over the past year.

  1. Coronavirus. (Of course.) We even learned to spell it.
  2. Covid. (Ditto.) Upper- or lower-case.
  3. Zoom. The word existed, just not in the context we now think of first.
  4. Shelter in place. This one still strikes me as strange.
  5. Self-quarantine, self-isolation. I suppose it’s supposed to sound voluntary. Or else.
  6. Social distancing. Specifically, six feet or more.
  7. Vaxxed. Which leads us to:
  8. Moderna. Not as a chic word for contemporary.
  9. Pfeizer. As a synonym for a vaccine, rather than the pharmaceutical giant.
  10. Fauci. Dr. Anthony.

There are more. What would you add to the list?

Come dance to Kokopelli

Somehow, this hunchbacked flute player has become the most widely recognized Native symbol around. Maybe because there’s something playful in his step. He even became a character in one of my novellas in The Secret Side of Jaya.

Here are some facts about him.

  1. He’s often shown with feathers or antenna-like protrusions on his head. They often make him look like an insect.
  2. He may have originally been a representation of Aztec traders who brought their goods in sacks slung over their backs. His first appearance, however, is on pottery dated to 750 to 850 CE, before the Aztec empire.
  3. He represents the spirit of music and has roles related to fertility. He’s also fluent in languages and an enchanting storyteller.
  4. He appears on ancient petroglyphs and pictographs as far back as the Anasazi cliff dwellers. Guess that makes him the first rock star.
  5. In these representations, he’s often accompanied by animal companions or an apprentice. Well, he does preside over the reproduction of game animals.
  6. He’s venerated in some Native cultures in the Southwest, where he chases away winter and brings on spring as well as rain. But watch out, he is a trickster deity.
  7. The popularized image of today usually omits the phallus.
  8. Among the Hopi, it is said that he carries unborn children on his back and distributes them to children. For that reason, young girls often fear him. He also participates in marriage rituals. The Zuni also have stories.
  9. He’s seen on the changing moon, much like the “man” on the moon.
  10. He was a noisy visitor, bringing welcome news from afar and leading to a night of revelry.

True facts about New Hampshire’s Mount Washington

  1. At 6,288 feet elevation, it’s the tallest point in the Northeast U.S. and part of the Presidential Range in the White Mountains.
  2. Access to the summit is by the Mount Washington Cog Railway on the western slope or by the Mount Washington Auto Road on the east, in addition to hiking. The Appalachian trail crosses the crest.
  3. The mountain is known for its record-making weather. Scientists spending a residency in the winter at the Mount Washington Observatory near the summit have wild tales to tell.
  4. Several storm tracks converge on the mountain, making forecasting difficult.
  5. Hurricane-force gusts are observed there an average 110 days a year.
  6. Tuckerman Ravine, with 50-degree slopes, is snow-covered for much of the year and notorious for its avalanches. Care to ski in June?
  7. The Alpine Garden and Bigelow Lawn plateaus above tree line feature many plants otherwise found in the Arctic.
  8. The first European to record the mountain was Giovanni da Verrazzano, viewing it from the Atlantic Ocean in 1524. The first ascent was claimed in 1642 by Darby Field.
  9. A race up the mountain every June attracts hundreds of seasoned runners. The Mount Washington Bicycle Hillclimb retraces the route in August for top-flight cyclists.
  10. No, the state’s iconic emblem, the Old Man of the Mountain, wasn’t attached to Washington but rather Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch to the west before finally succumbing to gravity in 2003.


Some things to reflect on as we’re coming out of Covid restrictions

  1. We learned to Zoom. As much as I missed face-to-face and the subtle interactions there, Zoom did spare us a lot of driving. Sometimes it was a treat not having to leave home.
  2. We saved a bucket of money, apart from takeout. Well, Amazon made out like a bandit, but local retail took a big hit.
  3. We used less cash, if any, while credit card use for small items exploded.
  4. Kids lost a year-and-a-half of the growing-up experience. School events like the homecoming, prom, and graduation, as well as classroom learning, team sports, summer camp. I really feel for them, and their teachers. Can we make it up to them now?
  5. For worship communities, shut-ins and folks at a distance could tune in and be part again. But we definitely missed singing together.
  6. It’s triggered a big population relocation and a real estate frenzy. So how do we feel about working from home rather than an office? Or the opportunity to live anywhere we want and dial in?
  7. Arts, artists, and arts organizations suffered most of all. They need our renewed support, bigtime.
  8. As our astute son-in-law quipped, it was a year without culture. He was talking about sporting events, but it really fit across the board. We couldn’t even really get together as a book club.
  9. Going about without those masks feels refreshing. Or even naked.
  10. What’s your reaction to going up to the checkout counter and noticing the plexiglass barrier isn’t there anymore?

And, oh yes, we learned to spell coronavirus and even pronounce it.

What’s high on your own list of takeaways?

My favorite smaller cities and towns

Being a college town really makes a difference. My selections are definitely skewered by the stretch of the country I’ve lived in.

Here goes:

  1. Dover, New Hampshire (population 32,191): Yes, my provenance for two decades and the source for much of the material here at the Red Barn.
  2. Portsmouth, New Hampshire (21,927): Just a dozen or so miles down the road from us, the Port City is wealthier and more tourist oriented, especially around the photogenic harbor. With a strong Colonial flavor, thanks to its array of mansions, it’s a prime example of a New England seaport, a category that could easily lead to its own Tendrils entry.
  3. Portland, Maine (66,215/metro area of a half million): A hour up the Interstate from Dover, the Forest City is the center of a third of the state’s population, as counted in the metro area. The Old Port District is especially charming and pedestrian friendly.
  4. Brunswick, Maine (20,278): A bit further on is the home of Bowdoin College and a fun-to-explore downtown. I love its Vietnamese restaurant.
  5. Eastport, Maine (1,331): And much further up the coast is this much shrunken city that’s fighting for survival. No college, though. No Laundromat, either, or pizza parlor. Its saving grace is an spunky arts scene and the ocean, including a really deep-water port. As you’re seeing, it’s won our hearts … enough to lure us from Dover.
  6. Port Townsend, Washington (9,704): Jumping to the other side of the continent, this artsy community on the Olympic Peninsula relies on ferry service across Puget Sound for access to about everything other than the mountains and forests at its back. It’s also home to a state park dedicated to the arts.
  7. Ellensburg, Washington (21,111): Situated in the desert east of Seattle, this small college town blends Wild West atmosphere with outdoors opportunities, including the Yakima Canyon. You may have seen it in the TV series “Northern Exposure.”
  8. Yellow Springs, Ohio (3,487): Returning back across the heartland, I thought about adding Iowa City or Madison, Wisconsin, but don’t know enough about either to speak fluently. Yellow Springs, long the home of bohemian Antioch College, fills the bill for me with its small-town New England touches and the Glen Helen Nature Preserve.
  9. Bloomington, Indiana (85,000): Set in a wooded, rolling landscape, it’s the home of Big Ten Indiana University and its plethora of cultural opportunities. It also bears a passing resemblance to Daffodil in a few of my novels.
  10. Burlington, Vermont (42,417): Look, it’s the biggest city in the Green Mountain State and has Lake Champlain at its foot and great views of the Adirondacks beyond. It’s also about as hippie crunchy as you can get, though it helps if your grandparents set you up with a trust fund or two. You might consider Middlebury as an alternative.


I can think of some suburban Boston communities, but that would be cheating, wouldn’t it?

Your turn to weigh in with worthy nominations!


What do you know about apples?

Maybe Jaya and Joshua took apples for granted when they moved into an orchard in my novel Nearly Canaan. That ignorance didn’t last long.

Here are a few of the things they may have discovered.

  1. Apples are a member of the rose family. (Good thing they don’t have thorns!)
  2. Apples have to be picked by hand.
  3. The trees require four or five years to produce their first fruit. Some trees grow to be 100.
  4. Apples account for half of the world’s deciduous fruit tree production. China, by the way, grows more apples than any other country.
  5. They come in sizes ranging from as small as a cherry to as big as a grapefruit – and can weigh up to three pounds.
  6. More than 2,500 varieties are grown in the U.S. but only the crabapple is native. Globally, more than 7,500 varieties are raised.
  7. The first apple tree in North America was planted by the Pilgrims.
  8. The harvest from an average tree can fill 20 bushels or boxes each weighing 42 pounds.
  9. About 36 apples go into a gallon of cider.
  10. Upstate New York used to be a big producer until acid rain from Midwestern coal-powered plants led to serious blight.


And, yes, as far as that apple a day doctor thing goes, the fruit has no sodium, cholesterol, or fat but is rich in fiber.

What can you add to the list?

Some similarities between Greek Orthodox Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism

In my novel What’s Left, there are hints that Cassia’s father was becoming interested in similarities between his line of Buddhism and the Greek traditions of his wife’s religious roots.

Here are ten things he might have observed.

  1. Both have a funny alphabet.
  2. Both are quite elaborate and ornate compared to other traditions.
  3. Esoteric teachings often based on teacher-student transmission and interpretation.
  4. They’re both viscerally rich. Heavy incense, for starters, and candles, with their wax dripping on fingers, for the Orthodox, while the Tibetans touch prayer wheels or mala beads.
  5. External visualization. Icons, for the Orthodox. Tankas, for Tibetans. Plus robes and processions and gold and deep red color everywhere.
  6. Death obsession.
  7. Chanting and ritual, including the liturgy for the Orthodox and mantra for the Tibetans.
  8. Monastic backbone. It’s a lifetime commitment.
  9. Both are rich in cultural context. Greeks are Greek and Tibetans live at the top of the world.
  10. Militancy is a matter of survival.



Ten largest Native American reservations in Washington state

There are 21 Native American reservations in Washington state. As Joshua and Jaya discover in my novel Nearly Canaan, living adjacent to one, they are home to a unique culture.

Here are the ten largest by area.


  1. Colville, 1,300,000 acres or 2,031 square miles. A little larger than Delaware. It’s in the arid northeast corner of the state.
  2. Yakama, 837,753 acres or 1,309 square miles. Still larger than Rhode Island. It stretches from the Cascade crest into the arid Yakima Valley.
  3. Quinault, 208,150 acres or 325 square miles. About the size of Omaha or Greensboro. It’s along the Pacific Ocean on the Olympic peninsula.
  4. Spokane, 153,600 acres or 240 square miles. Compare its area to Milwaukee. It’s just east of Colville.
  5. Makah, 23,040 acres or 36 square miles. Still larger than Manhattan. Sits at the northwest tip of the Olympic peninsula.
  6. Snohomish or Tulalip, 8.930 acres or 14 square miles. Sits along Puget Sound north of Seattle.
  7. Port Madison, 1,375 acres or 2.145 square miles.
  8. Quileaute, 837 acres or 1.3 square miles.
  9. Hoh, 640 acres or one square mile.
  10. Lummi, 598 acres.


Have you ever attended a powwow?