Mary Beth Writes


It’s Martin Luther King Day.  I read this last week (in Soul Matters for those of you who are UU). 

There is no such state of being that can be called - “I’m not a racist.”

There is only racist and anti-racist.

When I ran the Employability Skill program in the jail I usually called the men in my program “my guys.” It was patronizing to use that phrase but when one is going fast one uses the language which gets you where you need to go.  (“Where are your guys? Out of job search, they’ll be back at 1:30” Like that.)

But, some of those men really did become my guys. I felt such deep respect and affection for them. I still do.

I was walking back to work at the end of lunch hour on a sunny day. It was a job search day; one of the men in the program was also walking back to the jail. I saw him just a little ahead of me so I caught up to walk with him. He was about my age although he called me, as many did, Miss Mary.

He pointed at the abandoned former department store on Monument Square. “I worked there quite a few years before it closed. Before that job, I was a doorman for ten years at …” – and he said the name of a hotel torn down long before I got to Racine.  “I liked that job. I like people.”

He went on, “I wish I had learned to read. It would really have helped in my life.”

 I’d created his resume so I knew he had a high school degree. “How did you graduate from high school not knowing how to read?”

He chuckled quietly, “Oh, I grew up in St. Louis and you know how it was back then. They didn’t do much for the schools for black kids.”

This man was so kind. Other men said he was like that in the Huber dorm, too.  He tried to tell the young inmates how smart and fine they were. He sat and listened to men who were upset.  He prayed; they all knew he did.  He’d close his eyes and the other guys knew he was praying for them. His smile was gentle and his manners were impeccable because they grew out of his regard for everyone around him.

He couldn’t read and he wasn’t strong enough to sling boxes so he couldn’t get a warehouse job. He didn’t get a job in my program so he volunteered for the trustee cemetery crew for the months until his child support commitment was, as they say, “sat out.”

Years later I was driving on a side street when I saw him with a few other old guys, sitting on beat up lawn chairs on the apron of a garage, drinking beers. My heart melted for the goodness of that gentle man we threw away.

If you want to read a few more stories about men I knew in jail, there are some in this sermon I wrote. 

Read here. 


Something easier.

Peter Hessler has written five books and when I finish Country Driving I’ll have read four of them. He lived in China as a Peace Corps teacher in the early 1990’s. After that he continued to mostly live, teach, and travel in China the next 20 years.

But then, I guess being fluent in the language and culture of modern China wasn’t enough. He and his wife learned Arabic and moved to Cairo during the rise and fall of Arab Spring.

His nonfiction unwraps the character of the individuals he meets. As we get to know the personalities of those ordinary folks, we begin to see the character of a nation.

I like his writing enormously. Example: I had to ignore my everyday life for a while so that I could find out what happened to the 5-year-old kid in a mountain village north of Beijing. The boy ends up okay but it was a squeaker. When the kid’s parents are passive and when they are powerful is telling. The strength, energy, and depression of so many of the people he gets to know is fascinating.

I wish we valued and were taught how to pay attention half as well as Hessler does. I’m respectful of the way he seems to spend a lot of time with people who are ordinary. He meets important and powerful people because he is a journalist and sometimes interviewing those individuals is part of his job.

But he also asks weighs in and gets to know the landlord of his two-bedroom mountain shack. He knows the garbage collector, the hitchhikers and cooks and mid-level academics who keep school and projects running. He doesn’t seem to meet many people who bore him.

If I asked you who was the most famous person you ever met – who would that person be? If I asked you who was one of the most interesting people you’ve ever spent some time with – who would that person be?


We need few ‘important’ people, fewer celebrities, and better questions.

You’ve seen this:

The Dog's Diary

8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 pm - Milk bones! My favorite thing!
1:00 pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 pm - Dinner! My favorite thing!
7:00 pm - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

The Cat's Diary

Day 983 of My Captivity

I am my own cat and dog.

Me, “I get to take long walks ALL THE TIME! I get to eat homemade-from-scratch treats ALL THE TIME! I get to write blog posts and stories! I get to hang out with Len ALL THE TIME!”

Me, “Day 674 of my captivity….”


This omicron quarantine is not fun. We’ve been at this since March 13, 2020. We have three vaccinations in us. We’ve been wearing our mask two years and now – we are wearing sterner masks.

The politics of Covid is in the news all the time; you already know it and have opinions. I’m sure you have your frustration and anger close at hand just like I do. 

But in the meantime, what do you do when the weather is bleary and there are things you must do, things you could do, things that you used to do but frankly, no one will know whether you do or don’t.

No one is really going to know how clean your windows are, or if your shirt is on its first or third day on your body. Who will know if you go for no walk or a walk to do an errand or a three-hour trek into the nearest wilderness?

I’ve been noticing a meme on Instagram. A chubby middle-aged guy with a bad haircut and warm clothes goes for hikes. He mumbles, “Here I go again, taking another damn hike for my frickin’ mental health.”

We will get through this, too. It won’t always be January in a pandemic. There will be more boosters and someday a fine vaccine that works for a whole year. Most of us will be there for that day. We can go out for coffee and Somalian sandwiches and Pad Thai and all the other tasty things we miss eating inside interesting little restaurants with friends.

Until then we have this. Put on your jacket and a big warm hat and go outside. Take care of yourself and your frickin’ mental health. 




Good stories. Good advice.

I have always had “mood swings” and am easily influenced by the moods of others. There is a name for this and it can be modified with medication. Avoiding medication I find it pays to hang with upbeat people, this is tough when your world is circumscribed. For this comment, I just started to enumerate my small cohort and realized it is much larger than many folks I know who are retired! BLESSINGS! Perhaps a good review of my “ gratitude list” is in order! And a walk in my basement. And to remember the Serenity Prayer and concentrate on the things I can change. Thanks for the kick in the pants!

I just ordered my tests. Super easy. Took about one minute:
Mary Beth's picture

We ordered ours, too, a few minutes ago. Thanks!

Don't know if you like podcasts, but we have been listening to this weekly one for a while (recommended by Katie - our daughter-in-law who is an infectious disease physician). There is good info every week, and always some encouragement. Thought maybe you & Len would like it. The Osterholm Update: COVID 19.
Mary Beth's picture

I am absolutely going to check this out! Coincidentally, I've been asked (just yesterday) to join the tiny committee of our congregation that will try to figure out how to safely use our church building during the pandemic. This sounds helpful....

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A-Z Barbara

Barbara 1/26/2023

A-Z means I’m writing short takes on random topics and I’m going in alphabetical order. I love this quote: “Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.”

That’s the spirit I’m pursuing: Undisciplined, irreverent, and original.

A-Z, Alaska


I’ve never been to Alaska. I’m sure I’d love it but going there is not a big dream for either Len or me.

However, this. When our son was around 12 he developed a crush on all things Alaskan. Kid who lives in a ranch house on a Midwestern cul-de-sac wants to get lost in tundra and mountains with moose and wolves. Yup.

At first he just talked, dreamed, read books, and watched shows about Alaska. Then, at 14 he got a part-time job as a janitor at a vet clinic and he kept that job until he went to college. It was a good fit for a kid not drawn to homework.

A to Z


I am not exactly depressed, but I can whip up a pretty good glum at almost any moment. There have been about three sunny days since Thanksgiving, and four colds, and I’m feeling it. How about you?

We can’t even properly whine. Not with the Atmospheric Rivers of Doom in California, and tornadoes in the south. And all the other glum and hateful news.

Sara Kurtz & Healthcare by Zip Code? Really?


Many of you have been very generous in the past. Please think about making a donation to the GoFundMe account of Sara Kurtz. Donate here. 

Who is Sara? She’s a friend of my niece Susan.

Len Explains Fusion Energy

The photo is of Lisa Meitner. The BFF of one of our kids is (quite likely) a great grand niece of this amazing woman. 


MB: Len occasionally explains very complicated science things to me or our kids in such a way that we actually understand it. One of our kids asked him what the big deal was about fusion. Len wrote this and I thought some of you might like to read it.

Long live curious people and long live nerds. 


Almost. Two Years Later


 I remember where I was two years ago this afternoon. Do you?

I was writing. I knew I had another hour to just work by myself and I was happy about that. I love no interruptions.

Len was downstairs. I heard him turn on the TV. We NEVER watch TV during the day so it was weird when he called up to me, “You should come down here. Something’s happening.”

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