Saturday, May 30, 2020

Still Life with Robin: Stormy Days Ahead

Image by NOAA
by Peggy Robin

It’s not even June 1 – the official start of the hurricane season – and already we’ve had two named tropical storms, TS Arthur and TS Bertha, (which is how hurricanes start out before they grow to the size and power to be officially recognized as hurricanes; names are bestowed while still at the tropical storm stage). NOAA is forecasting an especially active hurricane season for 2020. We may well use up all 21 of the names on this year’s official hurricane name list, and then have to resort to letters of the Greek alphabet (as last occurred in 2005, which included Hurricanes/Tropical Storms Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, and Zeta.

The Atlantic hurricane naming scheme is a product of the  World Meteorological Organization, an international body of each member nation’s top weather scientists. There’s a list of 21 names per year (no Q, and it stops at W) and there are six lists of names, used one per year in regular rotation. After the sixth year, the naming cycle starts again with the first-year list. Any named hurricane that is destructive enough will result in the retirement of that name -- so there will only ever be one Hurricane Katrina, or Hurricane Maria. Once a name is retired, a replacement name is chosen and it stays in that year’s list, until it, too, becomes memorable/terrible enough to merit a place in history as the name of a singular event.

I’ve long had an interest in the naming process for storms, and over the years have written a number of columns about it – the last one on Feb 1 2019  – mainly to express my dissatisfaction with the process used in naming winter storms. It has no official sanction but was invented by a commercial TV network, The Weather Channel, and first unveiled in 2012. The people at TWC are prone to pick notional, even whimsical, names, few of which seem appropriate to a severe and even life-threatening weather event. Like these: Yolo, Pax, Violet, Ukko, and Benji. Some of these are not even names. Once they named a storm “Q” – that’s it – just the letter Q. Not even a whole word.

Lately, I’ve begun to worry that our norm-breaking President might start to interfere with the National Weather Service, the way he’s interfered with other independent agencies and officials, such as firing inspectors who are supposed to be in non-political positions, and by putting out pronouncements on scientic and medical matters that are supposed to remain outside his executive authority (and which are indisputably outside his area of expertise). We saw a striking example of this during Hurricane Dorian in September 2019, when he tried to convince us, by means of a semi-circle drawn with a Sharpie on map, that Dorian would be on a path toward Alabama, instead of the Bahamas and the east coast of Florida (as forecast by the meteorologists at NWS, and as did, in fact, occur).

Since that time he’s only become even more convinced of his power to make policy based on his personal understanding of the science. He's even claimed to have "inherited" a talent for science from his uncle John Trump, an MIT professor and science “super genius.” And no, I did not make that last bit up – you can read the story here:

So what if Trump decides he doesn’t like the unexciting names for this year’s hurricanes? For the record, they are: Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky, and Wilfred – and note that a fair number of them are Spanish or French. Trump has never been one to appreciate international diversity.

No doubt Trump believes he could do better. And that it’s entirely within his authority as President to do so if he chooses. And who would there be to stop him if he did?

So I’m wondering what a Trump-picked list of hurricane names would look like, if it came to pass. Perhaps it would go something like this:

A (Arthur) and B (Bertha) have already been used, so let’s start at C and go on through W (the end of the named hurricane list. Remember, there’s no Q):

C – Covfefe
D – Don Jr.
E – Eric
F – FoxFriend
G – GreatAgain
H – Huge (pronounced “Yuge”)
I – Ivanka
J – Jared
K – Kellyanne
L – Loser
M – Melania
N – NastyWoman
O – Omarosa-the-Dog
P – Pompeo
R – Rudy
S – S***hole
T – Tweetstorm
U – Uncle Genius
V – Vladimir
W – Wall

The only thing that makes me hesitant to publish the above list is that I'm afraid it will just get him started....
Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Stay In! Happy 100th Birthday to Arthur Rowse

by Peggy Robin 

One of these days, the "Stay In!" column will go back to its previous life as the "Get Out!" events column. Until that time, I'm highlighting events that can be celebrated without a real-life gathering -- and in this case, I've chosen one that occurred about a month ago, on April 30th. I may be a few weeks behind (well, who hasn't felt time is out of joint, under the present circumstances?), but I'm still happy to take this opportunity to say Happy 100th birthday, Arthur Rowse!

The Centenarian in question is a former Cleveland Parker and current resident of Chevy Chase, MD, who is not only a distinguished journalist, author, and World War II veteran, but he is the father of Mary Rowse, the founder/showrunner of the Chevy Chase Community Listserv,

I would write more about Arthur Rowse and his illustrious life – but I’d much rather let him do that in his own words. On May 23, 2020, Arthur Rowse published this op-ed piece in the New York Times, and after you read it, I am sure you will join me sending him congratulations on this milestone event.

It’s My 100th Birthday. It’s Been Quite a Century.
[go to if the long link above is broken].
"Stay In!" is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Thursdays. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Still Life with Robin: New Greetings

by Peggy Robin

The old hand-to-hand greetings – the handshake, the high five, even the fist-bump – are on their way out, as are the cheek-kisses (single, double, triple) once so favored in Europe among both women and men, and in the US, mainly among women. The Washington Post has covered the downward trend in the case of the handshake -- see this link: -- and in the case of the cheek-kiss -- see this link: .

Now the looming question for our entire civilization is: What do we do instead?

I present this handy guide to the most popular choices, in the hope that the best will gain traction and become the go-to move for us all.

Folded hands. 🙏 - often accompanied by the greeting, namaste”.
Pro: It's simple, and everyone can do it. It’s a gesture of peace.
Con: Makes you feel like you’re in yoga class. Can you see your grandpa doing this?
Safety rating: AA - for Anyone - without Any trouble - can fold their hands together in greeting.

Bowing. That’s what they do in Japan. People over there actually study and practice how to perform different types of bows, as shown here:
Pro: Shows respect. Seems like a formal, proper gesture.
Con: Bows, historically, have been a way to denote servility. In most cultures that use the bow, those of lower social status are expected to bow deeper than those of higher rank – not exactly in line with the ideals of an egalitarian society. Also, in the European tradition, the bow has traditionally been seen as a masculine gesture; women don’t bow – they curtsy. We’re not about to start that, are we?
Safety rating: B - for Back trouble - and if you've got it, then Bowing’s not for you!

The Vulcan salute. 🖖 Invented by writers on Star Trek as the greeting on the planet Vulcan. See:
Pro: This gesture is the epitome of Nerd cool – and therefore the logical choice.
Con: No, no, no! This is nerdiness squared! You’re not at Comic-Con, people! On top of that, lots of people find it difficult, even slightly painful, to part the fingers between the middle and ring fingers.
Safety Rating: A-. Arthritis in your fingers? Don’t do it!

Tip of the hat. See:  
Pro: Always a fun thing to do if you’re wearing a hat.
Con: Well, how often are you wearing a hat these days? And if you are wearing a derby, you may be tempted to put on an Irish accent and add, “Top of the mornin’ to ya” – even if it’s not the morning. Before you know it, you’re sounding like a cartoon leprechaun and people will be after your Lucky Charms.
Safety rating: C - for See how far you will chase your hat down the street if it blows off your head in a high wind)

Civilian salute: This is not the crisp, stiff-handed military version but a brief two-finger touch to the eyebrow and a quick flick away. See: 
Pro: Jaunty, quick, easy to do.
Con: You’ve seen New York doormen do this (at least in the movies, where they all seem to do it). Also, when seen from a distance it can look a lot like the “what was I thinking?” gesture that people make in cars when they’ve just done something stupid….or even the  “Just shoot me now” gesture.
Safety rating: B – for Be careful not to poke yourself in the eye with your two fingers.

Wave: You just hold up one hand and shake it back and forth a few times. See:  
Pro: It’s fast, friendly and works equally well for hello or goodbye.
Con: It’s hard not to imagine the waver coaxing a baby, “Wave bye-bye to grandma” Bye-bye! Bye-bye!”
Safety Rating: A for Awww, just wave for Grandma!

Head nod. Less formal than a bow, simple, a hands-free gesture – see  
Pro: Expressive, flexible, adaptable to many occasions - you can convey a lot with a nod, whether you’re just giving a quick acknowledgement that the other person is present, or a significant dip, to express your appreciation at seeing them.
Con: If you nod before you make eye contact, it can look as though you are avoiding the other person, rather than greeting them.
Safety rating: AA – for A simple nod is Always a safe bet.

Elbow tap. This is a new thing for those who miss the high five. You stick out your elbow to tap gently against the other person’s extended elbow. See how it’s done:
Pro: You get the physical contact of a handshake, but you're using a part of your body that you'll never touch to your face.
Con: People don’t expect an elbow tap, so you will probably need to instruct them. Also, lots of people are now sneezing into their elbows – so the elbow isn’t necessarily a germ-free zone. (Although you still won't touch your face with your elbow).
Safety rating: D - for Don’t crash your elbow into someone else or that could really hurt!

Hip bump.  Another innovation in a physical-contact greeting. You go up to someone and swing a hip toward their hip. Here’s a video showing people doing the hip bump in greeting even before the coronavirus led to a need for it:
Pro: It’s almost like a dance move. When two people both know they’ll be greeting each other with a hip bump, they can have some fun with it.
Con: The trouble is, an unplanned hip bump can be like a non-consensual kiss. And even worse, a hip bump that’s too forceful can be painful and could even knock someone over.
Safety rating: F for Falling down - the worst possible outcome of an overly-hard hip-bump. Only do it if the other party knows you are coming in for the bump and is equally hot to hip-bump with you.

Which, if any of these will catch on? My money's on the wave or the head-nod. But I predict there will there come a day in the far-off future, when the pandemic is a thing of fading memory, and  a new generation will rediscover the joy of a warm handshake or an affectionate cheek-kiss, and in a rush of nostalgia for these of rituals of the past, these full-contact greetings will come back like a tsunami.

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Stay In! Unsubscribe-O-Rama

by Peggy Robin

People ask me how I’m spending my free time during the coronavirus lockdown. I will tell you: what little free time I have is taken up with the task of un-subscribing from all the email blasts I never signed up to receive. This activity feels like it’s become a new part-time job. You know I’m spending all day on my computer anyway, now that the listserv is running at double-time, due to the coronoavirus pandemic, but on top of the daily torrent of listserv submissions, there’s a daily deluge of messages urgently seeking my support for everyone everywhere in need.

Let me be clear: I’m not talking about spam. I’m talking about worthy, often wonderful organizations that I wholeheartedly support. These are organizations that are feeding people after hurricanes, and are doing so here and now, for people who’ve lost their jobs due to coronavirus. They’re working for political equality, or trying to free reporters locked up abroad, or they want to end voter suppression or reverse the injustices of mass incarceration. Dear Peggy, they write, we need your help at this moment in history. You see, they're all on a first name basis with me – especially the political candidates. And they think I’m on a first name basis with them. But I’m feeling less and less friendly, given all the extra time they're making me spend each day, going delete, delete, delete.

Now I admit, I gave these organizations and candidates my email address voluntarily, usually when I contributed a bit of money. So I can’t say that I never wanted them to contact me. Just not every single day of the year. And some of them do it two or three times a day, every day. And when I get up in the morning, I see more's come in overnight. They never sleep.

When I realize I’m spending too much time per day deleting the same email from the same organization, that’s when finally hit the unsubscribe link. You might think this would take all of five seconds. But no. You have to scroll down, down, down, to the very end of the long pitch letter, and then find the teeny-tiny type that says “unsubscribe.” You click it, but you’re still not done. You may need to figure out which of your several email addresses is the one they’ve got you under, and confirm that’s the one you want taken off their list.  Before they let you go, they may badger you to answer some questions, tell them why you want out. 

The really insidious trick is to offer to send you less email. I’ve fallen for that one any number of times. They say they’ll cut way back, and I believe them, and so I don’t quit entirely. Then, for the next few days, maybe even a few weeks, the flood goes down to a trickle. Maybe just one a week. That’s OK, I can live with that. But it never stays that way. I put it out of my mind for a time, and so I don’t notice that it's slowly, slowly creeping back up again. The day comes around when I’m deleted a bunch of emails, and I think to myself, haven’t I unsubscribed from this list already? Or maybe I asked them to cut back? I can't remember, and I'm not keeping records to check. That would be even more time-consuming than going through the unsubscribe process again. So I find myself clicking the unsubscribe link again, for the same organization.

On top of all this, unsubscribing doesn’t always work. A lot of the time, the email just keeps coming. without a break. Or maybe they do unsubscribe me for a short time, and then they buy the maling list from a similar organization, and there's my email address again. 

I already know what advice I will get from my wise readers out there. Don’t give them your real email address, you goose! Use a disposable email address -- get yourself a whole slew of them that you can create on the fly, each time you donate to an organization or support a candidate. Yes, I’ve heard that advice many times. But the thing is, when I first give to the organization, I do want to hear from them. I want an acknowledgement that they’ve received my donation. I need a tax receipt for the IRS. I do want to know what they’re up to and learn if they are making a difference. So I don’t want to be totally out of the loop. I just don’t want to be so in the loop that my inbox is overflowing, and I'm left feeling that I’ve been thrown for a loop.

Is there a happy medium? I haven’t found it yet, but if anyone out there has got a working solution that doesn’t involve any of the following: a) disposable email addresses; b) never giving any money to any charities, cause organizations or candidates for office; or c) going off to live in a cave somewhere far off the grid – by all means email me. I won't delete your message!

The Stay In! column is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Thursdays.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Still Life with Robin: The Mask of Goldilocks

DC Flag Mask

by Peggy Robin

I own three reusable face masks. One is too small. It feels tight and uncomfortable. One is too big. It’s baggy around the sides of my face and that’s not so safe or effective. The third one is the one I made myself, before I bought the two professionally-made masks. I made it from an old bandana, folded over four times, with a pocket that holds a coffee filter over my nose and mouth. It has pony-tail loops that go over each ear.  Everything about this mask is wrong. It’s too bulky, which makes it too hot. The hair-tie ear-loops are not adjustable. The cloth goes up too high on my nose and under my glasses, causing my glasses to fog up.

I also have a handful of paper masks that came in a multi-mask packet, purchased many years ago, while we were doing a basement renovation and wanted to be able to chat with the construction crew without breathing in a lot of plaster dust. The paper masks are flimsy, not washable for re-use -- and also too big for my face.

So far I have not found a mask that meets the fabled Goldilocks test…..the one that is “juusst right!”

I thought of making my own custom-fitted mask. It should not be beyond my sewing skills. Hey, I grew up in the '60s when they made all eighth girls take home ec*, and we spent an entire semester sewing an A-line skirt with a zipper in the back. I took the class pass-fail….and while my skirt was not exactly haute-couture workmanship, it was not, I should add, an utter failure. I took a look at some Youtube videos that showed how to make a custom-fitted mask. It looked quite doable. So I got found some old cotton pillowcases that I was willing to sacrifice for a good cause, and I downloaded a pattern, cut it out, held the pieces against my face to check the sizing, and then cut the fabric pieces, and pinned them pinned together.

That’s as far as I’ve gone. The pinned-together prototype is sitting, on a table, waiting for me to sew up the seams. You do that part inside-out and then do the last seam after you’ve turned it right-side-out. In the meantime, the two professionally-sewn masks I ordered arrived in the mail. I thought I no longer needed to make my own. I’ve worn each of the two masks multiple times, enough to know I’m dissatisfied with the way each one feels, especially after the first fifteen minutes. I’m also pretty sure I’m going to feel dissatisfied with my own creation, if I ever finish it. I can’t predict what I won’t like about it. I just don’t see a high probability that it will feel any better than the two that I’ve already got.

In truth, the likelihood is that having multiple layers of fabric over my nose and mouth for an extended period of time is never going to feel good. There is no Goldilocks mask for me. I’m not BatGirl. Or the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Still, I think I’m going to be needing a mask for some time to come, so it looks like my best option is to try again to order something that fits well enough. My strategy next time around is to worry less about getting the size just right and try to get something that will be more fun to wear. I’m thinking about getting a DC flag mask. 

Then there's that Goldilocks problem again. There's always just one thing about each mask that makes it not quite what I'm after. This one, for example:  seems like it would leave a lot of gaps….and anyway, it’s out of stock.

Here's one that's available: -- but I don’t like the impressionistic streaks on the red bars. That’s just not what the DC flag looks like. So no.

Then there’s this one:  .but I think it looks like something that one of the train robbers from The-Hole-in-Wall-Gang might wear. Not really my style.

Even worse is this one: .  Kinda reminds me a little of the hockey mask worn by that serial killer in a bunch of slasher movies. Not rockin’ that look, for sure.

So I keep spending time websurfing on Etsy and Amazon, seeking out the one that will be “juussst right.” And who knows…maybe by the time I find it, it will no longer be needed. One can always dream……

* The boys, in case you were wondering, took “shop,” where, for the whole of one semester, they made an Adirondack chair, and for the whole of the other semester, I believe were meant to be learning something about car engines. Not more than a year or so later, the curriculum changed, and students were permitted to sign up for either home ec or shop, irrespective of gender. And a few years after that, both classes were turned into electives.

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Stay In! And Learn Some New Vocabulary!

Merriam Webster's "Words We're Watching": Infodemic

by Peggy Robin

In this new quarantined world we inhabit, we need some new vocabulary to describe what we’re seeing and doing. We are an inventive species, and if many of us are not going to work as usual, we can sit around at home coming up with ways to occupy ourselves, and then we must create new terms to describe our activities and thoughts. Some of them are actually useful, and others….not so much, but perhaps amusing (?). You be the judge:  

Quarancleaning. It’s what millions of homebound people are doing with their time – cleaning out closets, donating outgrown clothing and unneeded furniture, ecycling their outmoded electronics, and reducing the clutter in the spaces where they now live, work, play, and home-school their children, as well as eat and sleep. 

Disastertising. You know a disastertisement when you hear that voiceover, rich in the tones of deep concern, conveying the company’s commitment to the greater good in this time of crisis, and making sure you know just how much they care. We are stronger and better, we are reassured, due in no small measure to the company's warm, comforting pizza delivery, or their stepped-up production of toilet paper, or their reduced rates on your car insurance. Some companies honed their skill at disastertising during Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy. But the all-time undisputed master of disasterizing is BP oil, which, after having caused the oil spill that left the Gulf Coast despoiled for years on end, spent millions on commercials to tell you how hard they were working to make things come back even better than before. Never even a nod to any of the company's violations of safety or environmental rules that led to the catastrophe in the first place. Want to know more about the phenomenon of disasterising? Bob Garfield of "On the Media" explains it all for you in an entertaining but at the same time, depressing, podcast, “The Art of Disasterising”: 

. It’s like a staycation, except it’s not by choice. You are staying home during your time off work due to the coronavirus lockdown -- not because you thought it would be more relaxing or more economical to forgo travel to some far-flung, exotic isle, but because you must. Many people used to look forward to a staycation as a chance to unwind, to appreciate the tourist attractions in their own hometown, or just have a little quiet time at home to devote to their own interests. Hard to gin up the same sort of enthusiasm when the reason you’re not straying beyond your front door is that you don't know what dangerous particles are hanging about in the air out there.  

The Covid-15. It’s the extra 15 pounds you gain as you spend more time at home baking goodies, and cooking giant pots of pasta with cream sauces, and snacking on nachos while binge-watching the latest Netflix series. 

Doomsurfing. It’s like channel surfing or net-surfing, but instead of flipping from channel to channel or from website to website looking for something eye-catching, funny, or fascinating (like cats playing the piano), as you would have done in normal times, now you keep searching out the latest coronavirus statistics, looking to see if the curve is flattening or spiking. And you're finding and forwarding articles that purport to prove whatever theory you already believe to be true about the origins of the virus. You're reading celebrity obituaries. You're tweeting and retweeting corona-memes -- not even aware that all your friends and relatives have been deleting unread every catastro-piece you send them.  

Zoom. It’s now a noun, a verb, a gerund, an adjective, and the first half of any number of new compound words. Here’s a sampling of usages: “We haven’t zoomed today but we’ll catch up on our zooming over the weekend.” “My uncle’s pretty zoom-adept but my aunt is completely zoom-challenged.” “My zoom-dates have all been duds.” “If I reconnect with my ex, maybe we can become zoom-mates.” “He’s OK, I guess, and we’ll text each other from time to time – but he’s not really zoom-worthy.” And then there's this: “I’ve had two meetings that were zoom-bombed – one by my boss’s cat jumping down on his laptop and the other by my kid who made me look like I had devil horns."  

Covidiot. You know ‘em when you see ‘em. They’re the people who show up at mass gatherings, not wearing masks, and when interviewed by local news, say things like, “I’m not worried, I’ve got a strong immune system” and "I've got a right to go wherever I want." It's the guy who brushes by you on the narrow sidewalk, not giving you a chance to step aside, and he acts as if you have inconvenienced him. It’s the Facebook friend who posts conspiracy theories about the virus having been cooked up in a lab by [insert name place or cabal of people to be blamed]. In a case of poetic injustice, the covidiot never seems to get sick, unless you count their infection with “moronavirus.”  

Coronapocalypse or Coronageddon. Both call to mind the terms, “Snowpocalypse” or “Snowmageddon,” but while that strange interruption in Normal Life lasted just for just a few days in winter, this time it goes on and on and on…..and it really does feel like The End of the World as We Know It. We’ll all have to wait to see whether we can finish off the iconic song with those final words, “I feel fine.”    
The Stay In! Column is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Thursdays.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Still Life with Robin: Coronavirus and the Meaning of Life (Cereal, That Is) Part II

Again, There Is Bounty!
by Peggy Robin

Two weeks ago (Saturday, April 25) I posted a column that started off by spouting off on the value of things in life, and then quickly got sidetracked into the far more frivolous question of the role that trivial preferences – like brand name products over generics – can have on our mood. This time around, I’m dispensing entirely with any nod to deeper, philosophical meaning and just getting to the practical point. We have irrational preferences for certain brands….and now they’re back! Not in great quantity, and not everywhere. You do need to scout them out. But if you do your homework and you show up at the right store at the right time, Bounty will be yours. And quite possibly some Charmin, too. And those crispy Claussen pickles. Not to mention Total and Life. Standing in the grocery store aisle with a full cart, I began to feel the jigsaw pieces of the old shattered world slowly snapping back into place, a few at a time.

And I didn’t even have to get up at the crack of dawn to see these long missing pieces come into place. I went to the Giant at around 8 AM – not in the 6-7 AM window set aside to give seniors a first crack at the goods.

I do need to confess, I have not gone entirely without Bounty these past two weeks. As a result of my complaint in this space two weeks ago about the lack of any Bounty to buy, I received a number of private replies providing some hot shopping tips – where to get this or that item on my list. But one kind neighbor went above and beyond that, and assumed the role of the Paper Towel Fairy, flying by my front porch one day and leaving behind a roll of Bounty. I’ve been doing so well at conserving paper towels, by using my dish towels for all kinds of drying and mopping-up tasks, that I succeeded in making that one roll last most of the two week stretch.

When I finally reached the point of having to do more shopping, I followed the tip of another list member who recommended going out to the Westbard Giant in Bethesda. Not only is it big and well-stocked, but it’s got wide aisle, which make it easy to steer clear of other shoppers. There are clear floor markings directing the flow of shopping cart traffic to help people maintain their distance. The cashiers are well protected behind large, plexiglass barriers. The credit card machines are wrapped in disposable plastic which can be changed easily.  Everyone – whether an employee or shopper – is wearing a mask. And the parking lot is so capacious you can park far away from anyone else, if you don’t mind a bit of a hike to the front door of the store.

I knew as soon as I stepped inside that this was going to be a most rewarding trip. The whole store looked just as you expect a normal grocery store to look. No empty, unfilled space as far as the eye could see. Not even in the high-demand paper products section of the sotre. And there was the Bounty, in both select-a-size and whole sheet mode. There was a polite sign on the shelf asking customers to limit themselves, please, to just two packages. I took only one package of eight double rolls. That should hold me for quite a while. It's definitely enough to keep me from writing a third column on this subject!

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.  

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Stay In: The Not-So-Merry Month of May

by Peggy Robin

If this had been a normal May, the “Get Out” column (as the "Stay In" column used to be
known) would have been crowded with events at this time of the year, kicking off with the announcement of the Cathedral Fair on the first Friday and Saturday of May. That event has now been transformed into a virtual event,
taking place now through May 10 at There is still one important component taking
place IRL (In Real Life) at the Cathedral this Saturday, May 9th -- and that's the Food Drive.
More about that here: 

Earlier this week we had May the Fourth, a/k/a “Star Wars Day” -- as in "May the Fourth Be With You." You got that right -- the annual Star Wars holiday is based on a weak pun. (You can read more about it here.) This year, in lieu of the usual gatherings of fans all dressed up in costumes, wielding light sabers, with funny hair-dos, what we had instead was a lot of binge-watching of the series, and an online message of hope from the producers of the franchise:

Then, Tuesday of this week was Cinco de Mayo, a holiday not much observed in Mexico, except for in the city of Puebla where a battle was fought and won against French troops on that date. (More about the origins of Cinco de Mayo here: Hard to imagine that a less-than-critical victory in mid-19th Century Mexican history would go on to become a major consumer event and party-day in so many bars and restaurants north of the border -- but that doesn't mean we can't feel the loss when we're unable to celebrate it as we've become used to doing -- with a beer bash and mariachi music at our favorite neighborhood cantina. At least you can be grateful that I've spared you any attempt at a Corona pun involving the brand of beer. .

The biggest thing to finish off this week is Mother’s Day, but now instead of real hugs and kisses for Moms and/or Grandmas, and little fingers, sticky with glue, glitter and marker ink, offering up their handmade cards and crafts, they'll be holding up their creations in front of a webcam, while Mom shouts instructions at her Mom to adjust the angle of her webcam and click "join Zoom meeting with audio," so that everyone can see and hear what's going on. She may blow you a thousand kisses but you still long for a Mother's Day when your Mother is right there in the room -- not right there on the screen.

Of course, you want to make the best of it, modeling adaptability, resilience, and fortitude for the younger generation. As others have noted, in terms of testing our resolve, this is our World War II, our call to do what we must for the good of all. If only we had a song to cheer us up and guide us along. You know, the way Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” did for the families separated by that war, when there was no telling when....or if...they would be reunited.

It may take a while for a song to emerge that can fill this outsized role. But here are some possibilities:

"One Day More" from Les Miserables - and here it is in a version adapted for the current crisis by an adorable British singing family: 

Two doctors, Dr. William Robinson and Dr. Elvis Francois, did this version of "Lean on Me" that paid tribute to health care workers:

All over Italy, people in quarantine were doing spontaneous versions of  "Bella Ciao" from their balconies in the evenings, which was lovely to see:

To show how we can still harmonize together even while we are keeping social distancing, and still be optimistic about the future, there's this Zoom ensemble of "Here Comes the Sun":

But it could be that the one great song that will become the anthem of hope for the future hasn't been written yet. Just maybe someone is sitting in a room in quarantine now, working alone, writing it down. to share with the world. If that is what you are doing now, more power to you! And please, share it soon.

The "Stay In!" column is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Thursdays.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Still Life with Robin: Moderating the Pandemic

Dear List Members,

Two days into our second month of the DC lockdown order, and the Cleveland Park Listserv continues to run at about double its usual (pre-Covid-lockdown) message load. 

I’m very gratified by the good use people are making of this neighbor-to-neighbor communications medium. We’re busy helping to get masks to health care workers, pointing people to ways to find hard-to-locate household goods, posting about opportunities to volunteer or just perform a single favor for someone in need….and that’s on top of all the usual stuff, such as finding a nanny, giving away some extra printer ink, recommending an emergency roofer for someone whose house has sprung a leak….and so much more.

That’s the good news. But whenever you hear someone telling you about the good news side of an equation, you’re always primed to think, “OK, so what’s the bad news?”

And the answer is, with about double the number of messages coming in each day, we’re getting a lot more….how shall I put this delicately?....don’t think I’ll try: crap. So we really need to be more careful than ever not to overload people’s inboxes with unnecessary messages. On such a large and busy listserv, we’ve always had a number of screening techniques in place to help us cut down on repetition and unhelpful hints (see our listserv’s Rules page for all the fine print) – but these days, especially, we need to keep the listserv from becoming bogged down, so that the more important messages are not lost in a rolling tide of message clutter.

With that goal in mind, I thought I’d use my column space today to lay down a top-ten list of what NOT to send to the Cleveland Park Listserv. Call it a UN-Wish-List. Here it is, in Letterman-Show backwards-countdown format, from number ten up to the number one most un-wished-for message:

#10: Thank you notes. It’s always nice to show appreciation for a helpful post – but it’s nicer for all not to have to wade through every thoughtful thank-you that every grateful list member has ever been motivated to send. So please, DO thank the original poster personally, and privately. You can send your thank-you note to the whole list only if your note goes on to offer some new piece of information that adds to the discussion. Otherwise, “reply to original poster” is the way to go. You can read about how to find the right reply option on our handy FAQ page.

#9: “I agree” messages. Same rule above applies to an “I agree” message. We’ll post it to all if you have some new and informative comment to add; otherwise, please tell just the previous poster that their words resonated with you.

#8: Easy answers. Never ask a question that can be answered with a fast Google search or a simple phone call. People have been sending in questions like: “Is the Grosvenor Metro Station closed?” The WMATA website has a service alert icon (it’s the exclamation point in a circle) right on its front page. Click on that and there's your answer. Want to find out if your home is in the delivery zone of your favorite restaurant? Why ask the listserv when the restaurant has a website? Or better still, a delivery app. Or a telephone number -- just call them and ask them! They will be happy to hear from you, believe me. Don’t believe me? Well, there’s no disputing this: Your query is not going to be answered on the listserv!

#7 Half-answer & "maybe" posts. If you’re taking the time to help someone else out with an answer to a query, please take a little extra time to verify your information. A half-answer, a “maybe” or an “I don’t know” response is usually more trouble than it’s worth. Take, for example, the thread a few weeks ago about where to find thermometers in stock. I don’t know how many times I had to deal with the non-helpful “Saw them at CVS” response. What good is that if you don't say which one or when you last saw them on the shelves? Do you know how many CVSes are in area? I don’t either, but it’s waaaay too many for me to guess which one you meant. And if you saw the thermometers a week ago, they’re probably not there now. If you’re going to recommend a place to buy something, at a minimum you need to give the location and a phone number. If you really want to be helpful, you could even call the store and make sure they’ve still got the requested item. If you’re not up to doing that, and think the original query writer should make the call, then please respond off-list with your suggestion. Another type of “half answer” is the one that assumes everyone knows about a particular place or institution. Let’s say there’s a plant sale to benefit a public school. You can’t just say, “It’s on at Murch next week” and expect all listserv readers to know what you mean. There are plenty of non-parents in the neighborhood who don’t know the names and locations of our  local public schools – but they still might want to buy some plants at the sale. So tell them what the place is, where it is, when it’s happening, and give ‘em a number to call or a website to visit if they have questions. Oh, and while we’re at it, please check to be sure that the day of the week matches the calendar date. I do try to catch those slip-ups (they are so common – and we all make them sometimes!) but I’ve been known to miss a few in my day. It helps a lot if you do your own fact-checking.

#6: Public announcements. We are subscribed to all the major city announcement lines (DDOT, DPW, Mayor’s Office, CM Cheh’s Office, Metro/WMATA, MPD, and more) and we will post all their messages that concern this part of the city. For example, we will send out a DDOT notice that Connecticut Ave will be closed from Calvert to Cathedral between X and Y date – but not a notice that the ramp to the 295 Expressway will be closed for the same time. So, as a general rule, if you get a city alert, you do NOT need to forward it to the listserv. That said, we don’t always see every alert that affects our area soon enough to warn people to avoid a trouble spot. So, if you’ve been out for a spin along Reno Road and got as far as Yuma before you ran into a water main break, and it looks like the road will be closed for the rest of the day, it's fine to send that report to the Listserv. If we haven’t already posted the DC Water alert, we’ll post your message and add an editor’s note with the official announcement about the road closing and repair work. We just don’t want everyone routinely forwarding the bulletins they receive. TMI!  

#5 A link to a news article – and the rest of the message box is blank. The first thing to say is that an awful lot of malware and spam looks just like that – an email from someone without any kind of note of explanation. Just a link. It’s a very basic rule of internet safety that you should NEVER, EVER click on a link in an email when you don’t know who the sender is or why they want you to go there. If you ever get anything like that, just delete it, unopened. That’s exactly what we do with all these types of messages. We will never let one go through to the readers. That doesn’t mean you can’t post a message that references an article you’ve read on a subject of interest to the listserv. You just need to write your own message to say why you think the article is relevant to something of concern to listserv readers. In fact, you SHOULD cite a news source as backup to a position you’re taking or an argument you're advancing. One more thing: the topic does need to be related in some specific way to life in this neck o’ the woods. That means, whatever your opinion of the move of Harry & Meghan to LA, and however many news articles you can cite to back up your opinion, we’re still not going to post it on the Cleveland Park Listserv. Now, if the couple should happen to emerge from the Woodley Park/Zoo metro and complain that they’re still a half-mile from the entrance to the Zoo, and it’s a long uphill shlog, pushing baby Archie in a pram – by all means, post that news to the Listserv. And you can give a link to a news article, too. Even better if it has photos. 

#4 Asked & Answered. Please do your level best to keep up with what’s already been posted, to cut down on messages answering a question that’s already been answered,  Sometimes we’ll get ten or more answers to a question that can be resolved in a single reply. Here’s a recent example: Someone wanted to know if you could still pay your real estate tax bill by going in person to a Wells Fargo Bank. The information found on the DC Office of Tax & Revenue website was confusing, even contradictory.  We did post a few different responses, because the first one lacked the information on how the payment situation was going to change in the near future; subsequent posts gave more detailed instructions on the payment options and deadlines. But by the time we had received the tenth or twelfth or twentieth reply on the thread, we were beginning to wonder, “Do these posters even read the listserv? Haven’t they seen this question answered already? Of course, screening out repetitive answers does get a bit trickier when the question under discussion is not one with a yes or no answer but one with a lot of ifs and buts. Still, we get posts that repeat points made by a previous poster. We even get posts sent in by the same poster, reiterating the same point they made the day before. Maybe they think people didn’t get it the first time. I’ll take this opportunity to remind everybody, READ what’s on the list before you send in your own response. You don’t have to wait until you get your listserv email; you can go straight to the Listserv’s website at any time to read what’s up:

#3 The “Not THIS again!” post. Any time a message starts off with “I’m so sick of this discussion I could scream!” or some other variation on that theme, I hit delete. I wish the poster would stop to consider: If you’re so sick of reading about a subject, why on earth would you think anyone else wants to read you saying so? Especially if you go on to add two or three more paragraphs complaining about how stupid the other posters are. Listen, if you think a subject is boring or has been done to death, there’s a simple remedy: stop reading now. Skip right over it and go on to the next thing. If you subscribe to the Listserv in digest mode, then your email comes with an up-front, clickable table of contents. Just skim the subject lines and jump directly to whatever’s of interest. Couldn’t be easier. As for that oft-discussed topic – the reason it’s back again is that something new has come up, something’s changed, and we (the moderators) think the discussion is covering new territory. But you don’t have to agree!  

#2 Scolding, nagging, chiding, or snarky notes. This is the most subjective thing, and you can take my word for it that there’s always a ton of off-list correspondence going on over where the lines should be drawn. I would never claim we always get it right. We’ve let some messages slip through that were too mean, while screening out others that were nowhere near as bad. Whatever you think, don’t accuse us of censorship. This is not a public square. It’s a privately run, privately owned, online daily publication. Think of it like a letters-to-the-editor column of a print newspaper. The publishers/list owners get to decide what to run or decline to run in our space. It’s hard to create cut-and-dried rules for what’s allowed or not allowed, but if I had to issue a general rubric, it would go this way: You can criticize – harshly, if you like – as long as you stick to the ideas expressed in a previous message, and stay away from attacking the person who wrote them. That means no digs at the character, motives, or background of the poster. Most of all, do not make any assumptions about what that person probably thinks but did not explicitly say in their message. Give the poster – and definitely the moderators! – the benefit of the doubt, and please, don’t yell at either one of us. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind that way. Well, you’re not going to get the chance, because -- just like there’s no crying in baseball -- there’s no yelling on the Cleveland Park Listserv.

And now the #1 thing never to send to the CP Listserv under any circumstances: Forwards of random stuff you’ve seen on the net and want to share. NO, NO, NO and more NO! I can’t tell you the number of people who are on multiple lists or Facebook groups or subscribe to blogs or journals where they will see something clever, or funny, or charming, or heartwarming, or will read about an EXTREMELY URGENT situation, which they are moved to share with this group. This may not be such a big deal on a group with a few hundred members, or even one with a few thousand members, but on a listserv like this one, with over 14,800 members, it’s no small thing but a major headache – times some multiple of ten. So our rule for the mass-circulated thing you want everyone to see is the simplest of all: Do NOT hit “forward.” If you do, we will delete it. And 95 percent of our members will bless us for doing so. The other 5 percent – you know who you are! -- and you can heed these words, reform, and make the world – well, at least the world of the Cleveland Park  Listserv -- a better place for us all.

One day – and may it be in the not-too-distant future -- we shall all be able to talk to each other again, face to face, in the real world, and we won’t be spending so much time typing on our keyboards or dictating to voice-recognition apps that mangle every other word. When that day comes, the message volume will slip back down to its pre-Covid level, and we’ll all be a lot calmer and even-keeled. Well, I know I will be. Actually, I feel a lot calmer now, having unloaded my top ten listserv pet peeves on you all tonight.

Thanks for listening!

- Peggy

Peggy Robin
Cleveland Park Listserv Co-Owner & Moderator 

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.  

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Stay In! And See What You Can Accomplish with Ingenuity….and a 3D Printer

Today’s "Stay In column" is a shout-out (from a socially safe distance, of course) to a neighborhood resident, a high school senior, Jonah Docter-Loeb, who’s been creating face shields and other PPE’s on his 3D printer -- but more than that, he's reached out to the many other 3D printer owners in the area to organize them to join in his efforts, and they now have created and donated over 3,000 face shields to health care workers. 

His project is, and you can read all about it in this interview that Jonah gave to Washington Magazine: 

What makes me especially glad about his work is that he's made the Cleveland Park Listserv a key part of the effort, posting messages to recruit other owners of 3D printers to join the project, as well as volunteers to assemble the shields, and drivers to deliver them. We're so proud to have done our bit.
Face Shield - Photo by Pooja Jadhav
(Creative Commons)

All pretty impressive for a high school kid - and it's earned him and his fellow student organizers a salute from the editorial board of the Washington Post:  : 

But wait! There's another honor coming, and this one is perhaps more surprising for being bestowed out of season. Let me explain. Normally, I wait until the end of December, when all post for the year are in, before handing out our annual Cleveland Park Listserv awards (The “Listies”) to the list members who have posted the best messages in a variety of categories: Most Unusual Query; Best Animal Story; Best Giveaway or For-Sale Item; and others). One of those categories is Most Helpful Post, but it's clear there's no need to wait until December for this one. I can't imagine anyone's going to be able to top Jonah in putting the listserv to good use, to get people to create, assemble, and deliver face-shields against the spread of a terrible contagion.  

And so....the Listie for Most Helpful Post of the Year 2020 goes to....Jonah Loeb-Docter! 

And now for the "Stay In" advice part of this column -- this is for anyone who's looking for something worthwhile to do while stuck at home: You can join Project Print to Protect, and you don't need to own a 3D printer. There are plenty of other ways to help, including the good, old-fashioned donate bucks! Find out the details in Jonah's April 20 message:  Message #156965 Volunteer group 3D printing medical gear to first responders needs help: PrintToProtect.Org

[There were also three earlier messages, with more information about the work and the help needed. Here are the links to those messages: :

Message #156310 Amazon Donation Registry for Face Shields (We need Elastic & Transparent Sheets for 3D Printed Face Shields for First Responders) Apr 3 

When the time comes around for the rest of the Listies in December, we sincerely hope this will all just be a fading memory of a time of crisis, and all the other Listies will be given out for the more typical Listserv "Most Creative Argument for Why You Should Be Allowed to Toss Your Dog's Poop in Someone Else's Supercan"!

The Stay In! column is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Thursdays.  

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Still Life with Robin: Coronavirus and the Meaning of Life (Cereal, That Is)

by Peggy Robin

People are using the lockdown period to discover some deep inner truths about their lives. They are learning about what it means to be “essential.” They are gaining a truer understanding of the value of family, friends, and other human connections in a time of social distancing. They are coming together in spiritual ways when physical contact with loved ones is taken away. These insights are important gains amid all the losses.

And me? Yeah, I’m getting all that deep stuff, too. And on top of all that, I’ve been finding out out what brand-name products really are better than the generics.

Sometimes the trivial things occupy a space in your brain that keeps you from focusing on the actual …. and sometimes terrifying … larger and more important things in life. So here goes:

A Bounty paper towel really is the “quicker picker upper.” Can’t wait till I can get my hands on the good stuff again!

There is no toilet paper on earth as soft as Charmin. It’s not just brainwashing by that bear in the Charmin commercials. That bear is the Bearer of Truth.

There’s nothing like Claussen Hearty Garlic Pickles, found (if there were any to be found) in the refrigerated section of the store. Crisp! Haven’t seen them once since the shelter-in-place order began. If I did, I’d buy a dozen jars. Yes, I admit it, I would turn into a pickle hoarder. Selfish, selfish, I know, and believe me, I hate myself for it. But I also hate eating mushy, flavorless pickles.

When it comes to canned tuna, sorry Charlie, but Bumblebee’s three-pack of individual-sized cans are the best thing going. And you can’t beat the convenience of pulling back the pop-top of just one of those mini-cans and scooping out the right amount of tuna for a single tunafish sandwich. Add a dollop mayo,a bit of chopped celery and onion, and you’ve got quick, tasty lunch with no leftovers to mess with, and virtually no cleanup.

And now for the meaning of Life. And Total. And Raisin Bran. It’s hard to fathom why the generic cereals sold under store brands fail so badly to live up to the standard set by the brand-name originals. Is it just the placebo effect on the taste buds of seeing the cereal come out of brighter, better-designed, more familiar brand-name boxes? Why is a no-name corn flake so much worse than a Kellogg’s corn flake? Why is a fake Cheerio never as Cheery?

I would rather ponder these questions than worry about how long the lockdown will go on, and will it be long enough to flatten the curve? I’m not equipped to analyze the more serious questions, in any case. So I sit with my bowl of fake Cheerios and dream of the day when all the shelves of the nation will rebound with an explosion of brand-name bounty….and real BOUNTY, too.

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland ParkListserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.