Sorry, not sorry

A few weeks back we cleaned out the game closet. First, let me say that it makes me immensely happy to state that we have a game closet in our house. Who wants to store coats or linens or brooms in a closet when you can store GAMES? (Or jigsaw puzzles. We have a different closet for those.)

Once spread out, the contents of said game closet covered the family room floor and tables (the keepers) and also the dining room table (the giveaway pile). We honestly did get rid of a lot of games, though I know we kept some that we’ll likely never play. We kept some classics that I just felt we should keep. We kept some kids games just for the sake of the happy memories. We kept plenty of party games even though we pretty much never entertain and play group games anymore. We jettisoned games that we never really enjoyed, games that were too similar to another game that we like better, and games that were no longer in playable condition.

There was no marital strife involved. One ‘yes’ vote was all it took to keep a game. Two ‘no’ votes sent it to the to-go pile.

And deep in the bowels of the game closet, a treasure was found.

Mountain Climb is a game that I bought for the kids from Hearthsong. Back in the day, this catalog company was known for high quality, unique, and classic toys and games. Google tells me they are still around with an updated website that doesn’t at all resemble the quaint catalog I remember.

The daughters didn’t really care for Mountain Climb. I’m not sure it was ever played after that Christmas break of so many years ago, but the husband plucked it off the dining room table saying, “I think I liked this one. Let’s hang on to it until we read the rules and try it once.”

Before you can fully appreciate the joy that this game brings to me, you need to understand how much I like the game Sorry! In Sorry!, each player (2, 3, or 4) has four colored tokens and the goal is to get them around a board from START to HOME. On a turn, a player draws a card which indicates how they can move one of their tokens – usually forward the same number of spaces as the number on the card, though some numbers allow special moves. Basically, that’s it, except that if your token lands on a space occupied by another player’s token, that player has to move his token back to START. Proper etiquette requires you to always say (shout, exclaim, etc.) SORRY! when this happens, usually accompanied by a sweeping motion of your token to clear the space. Yup, it’s really simple. Yup, it’s for ages 6 and up. Yup, there’s almost no strategy, although there are choices to be made on most turns. But everybody has an equal shot at winning and it never struck me as inane as some kids’ games.

One of my better parenting moments was instituting family game nights when the kids were in elementary school. Monthly for close to a year, and then occasionally afterwards, we had a family game night. Dad was required to be home on time. Friends weren’t invited. Pizza and a special dessert were served. We took turns picking what game to play next and we solemnly vowed to willingly play whatever game was picked. I’m sure I picked different games, but the daughters remember me always picking Sorry!

Back to the present day. Husband read the rules for Mountain Climb and said, “It’s 2-person Sorry!” At that point he was ready to donate it and I was all like, “Let’s play!”

Each player has five tokens that travel up the wooden board in a straight line. The goal is to get all five of your tokens to the top of the board. Token movement is determined by the roll of die. Basically, that’s it, except that when your token lands in a hole occupied by a token of the opposing player, you get to push his token out of the hole and he has to restart it at the bottom. We have not yet determined what is considered proper etiquette when this happens – various exclamations of glee are currently being used. I’m hooked. It’s small, aesthetically pleasing, doesn’t take long to play, and I’ve won a solid 80% of the games played against the husband.

Sadly for all of you, Mountain Climb is no longer sold. And I’m not parting with it.


How did we get here?

When I’m not worried about future generations having a planet to live on, I worry about current generations having access to healthcare. The daily prompt today from WordPress is “carousel” which is oddly fitting to a post on the US health insurance system. How did the US’s current healthcare carousel get built in the first place? And why are so many people yelling, “stop this carousel, I want to get off?”

I generally knew that the current employee-based system started, like so many of our social safety net programs, with FDR. I ran across these posts which very quickly and simply explain how it started, and how quickly it became entrenched. Read part 1 here and part 2 here. Basically it began as a tax-break to help control wage and price inflation, but it was so popular that, politically, there was no going back.

Before the employee-based system, people could buy individual or family insurance plans that covered major items like hospitalization, but all routine costs were paid out-of-pocket. So let’s see, has anything changed since the 1930’s (individual insurance plans) or 1940’s (the beginning of employee-based care)? Is it any wonder that either of those models won’t work today?

Life expectancy in the US has risen by approximately 17 years since 1930. This is not because we have engineered a better human (yet), but mostly because of advances in medicine. Amazing, remarkable, expensive advances in medicine. Sometimes I think the public and our elected officials forget this.

Although I didn’t bother to research hard numbers on this, the employment picture has changed, too. People change jobs more often. The giant manufacturing industries of the rust belt have given way to more entrepreneurial, smaller businesses. And why should the ability to even have access to insurance be governed by your employer, or your employment status, or your marital status? Or by the whims and financial bottom line of insurance companies?

I get that medical care isn’t a constitutional right. But does anyone really think that it is less important than the right to carry a gun around? Ok, let me rephrase that, SHOULD anyone really think that the ability to carry a gun around should be more guaranteed by the government than the ability to get medical care?

I didn’t use to think America was ready to make the leap to the single-payer system. I honestly thought that our politicians would be able to build on the progress started with Obamacare and slowly move to improving the access to healthcare and healthcare insurance for all Americans. And then an election happened. I now believe that there is no sustainable political reality that will support taking a series of small steps to anywhere. Our politicians are taking us for a ride, not on a carousel of progress, but on the same old carousel that just goes round and round and round. Fortunately for me, I may be getting dizzy, but I’m still on the ride. Too many Americans can’t even get a ticket to get on.


The Nightingale

I feel like I’ve been on a streak of reading 3 1/2 star books. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was my book club selection for August. It was good, I enjoyed it, but I have to say that I was disappointed. It is the story of two sisters living in France during WWII. Vianne, the older, lives in a small french village, trying to protect her home and her daughter from the horrors of war. The younger, Isabelle, joins the french resistance.

Kristin Hannah is generally considered a chick-lit author. Her fiction writing is solid, but on the light side and usually with a strong emphasis on relationships. People assured me that this book definitely was a lot more than chick-lit. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I LIKE chick-lit, I like reading books that many consider light and fluffy. Chick-lit books are the Hallmark movies of the literary world, and I like watching Hallmark movies. But when you are expecting Masterpiece Theater and you get the Hallmark channel, it is disappointing.

When I read good historical fiction, I am left with the feeling that the author must have really done their research – whether or not this is actually true; I feel immersed in the story and I feel like I have learned something about the place and/or time period of the book. With The Nightingale, I felt that Hannah had told a fine story about these two sisters, but that it could have happened anywhere, any time, any war.

We had a pretty good discussion of the book at book club. We all enjoyed it and I saved my ‘disappointed’ comments for the latter part of the meeting when they were well received and didn’t just put a damper on the rest of the discussion. There were only four of us, but I thought it was one of the more pleasant books club meetings that we’ve had in a while. Now if we could only get a few more people to show up…

I would confidently recommend this book to just about anyone…as long as they enjoy a good Hallmark movie every once in a while.

what is not yours is not yours

Helen Oyeyemi had been on my author radar for a while, so when her short story collection what is not yours is not yours came my way as a present, I was excited. People couldn’t resist commenting on the title whenever I was reading out in public. Some reviewers claim that it is a book of linked short stories because there are a few characters who make repeat appearances and there are themes of keys and locks and doors that do run thru all the stories. I, personally, would stop short of calling them linked.

There is a touch (or more) of magical realism in most of her tales and I was constantly feeling a bit off-balance as I was reading. The story a brief history of the homely wench society was the most realistic, but I was still off-balance because I was just waiting for something weird to happen.

The stories cover a refreshingly wide range of…everything, really: locations, characters, emotions. This is one of those books that I would love to discuss with people. Why does it seem that the best books for book club are the ones that I could never convince the members of my book club to read? Oyeyemi’s writing is terrific. Still, I would find it hard to recommend this book universally, tho for the adventurous reader and a short story lover it is definitely worth putting on your list. I would really like to tackle one of her novels, I think I will enjoy diving into her strange and wonderful world in a longer and more cohesive format.


One in 122

One in every 122 people on earth is a refugee. Let that sink in. Some are displaced within their home countries and some are seeking asylum across borders.

Last week I went to see REFUGEE, a traveling photo exhibit by the Annenberg Foundation that was sponsored in Houston by Fotofest International. The Annenberg Space for Photography commissioned five internationally acclaimed photographers to capture the refugee experience on five different continents. It was stunning. The link above will take you to the official website of the exhibit and some of the photographs.

I’ve been hesitating to write this post because, well after all, a picture is worth 1000 words so how can I possibly describe what was contained in this photo exhibit in a 600 word post? I only took a couple of photos of the photos because it seemed weird and probably frowned upon.

Lynsey Addario photographed the Rohingya of Myanmar. Discriminated against because they are Muslims in a Buddhist state, many are forced to live in camps within Myanmar where they don’t have access to education, medical care, or legal jobs. The photographs highlighted the difficult conditions and suffering in the camps.

She also photographed a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon, focusing on the life of 12-yr old Hana. Here is a picture of Hana riding to work at dawn to pick cucumbers. The photos depict a fairly ordinary seeming life, but Hana and the others are always aware that they are not really home.

Omar Victor Diop photographed portraits of refugees in camps in Cameroon. More than 850,000 residents of the Central African Republic, nearly one-fifth of the country’s population, are displaced both inside and outside the country due to power struggles between Christian and Muslims. If refugees were able to make it to the camps in Cameroon or other neighboring countries, they were able to find medical care, food, and shelter. The portraits (and their captions) revealed proud, strong men and women who were looking forward to building new lives and providing for their families. Although this section of the exhibit highlighted the future and the potential for these refugees, they have all lost so very much.

Graciela Iturbide photographed life inside the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space in Columbia. It is a safe zone created by 302 families trying to stand up to violent gangs. The drug trade in Central and South America has made life difficult and dangerous. Certainly we hear about people fleeing these areas and seeking asylum in the US, but imagine the other option of having to live within a compound in your city just to feel safe. How valuable is freedom?

Martin Schoeller took portraits of refugees resettled in the US in 2015. These extreme close-ups remind us of how much more alike we all are than unalike.

Tom Stoddardt documented the refugee crisis in Europe with photographs from the shores of Greece to the streets of Berlin. Mostly Syrians, but also refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia and Nigeria are all fleeing from armed conflicts in their home countries. His photo of the piles of life jackets and the realization that each one represents a person fleeing one life for another is the one non-human image that has really stuck with me.

There were two other series of photos in the exhibit, I apologize that I did not get the photographer’s names. One was a series of photos of Sudanese refugees showing the most important item that they brought with them.

The other was a series of photos from the town of Rigonce, Slovenia. Within a 10-day period, more than 70,000 refugees passed through this town of 176 residents on their way from Greece to Germany and Austria – an unusual route that they were forced to take when Hungary abruptly closed its border with Serbia on October 17, 2015. Here photos of the refugees were mounted side-by-side with the people of the town.

I know this post doesn’t do justice to the exhibit, but there’s a short film that comes close. I sat and watched it at the exhibit, but it is also available on Netflix. There’s a short preview of it on the website linked to above. It’s called REFUGEE and is narrated by Cate Blanchett. Personally, I don’t even know how to watch something on Netflix, but I’m confident all of you do. Next time you’re trying to decide what to watch, invest 23 minutes on REFUGEE.