US Mail

Old Post Office in Downtown Baltimore. (I used to work here!) (Image courtesy of Click_Americana)

Author, David Brin, wrote a post apocalyptic novel centered on a down-on-his-luck loner who, during a time of great need, stumbles upon an old US Mail truck full of undelivered parcels and letters. To feed himself he hatches a scheme to pose as a representative of a restored US government, a mailman delivering a backlog of mail. His scheme worked out better than he’d wanted because he unknowingly creates hope to the far flung and desperate people of the towns he encounters and soon others follow his made up lead, creating mail routes, delivering messages between towns, connecting people, bringing news, and providing a means of communication that was destroyed in the apocalypse. The communication, in turn fosters a sense of unity, of belonging to larger whole that was and might still be the United States of America.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Kevin Costner directed and starred in the screen adaptation of the book that was released in 1997 to a lukewarm reception. I loved the movie. I had read the book many years before and while the movie diverges from the book, the gist of the story is there and I believe it is well worth your time to find and watch the movie if you don’t have time to find and read the book.

I was reminded of The Postman recently after having the delivery of several packages traveling through our postal system delayed. I was initially annoyed, but then I checked myself. I had spent almost 3 years in Namibia where the postal system is privately owned and must operates in an environment markedly different from our own.

At first blush the towns and cities in Namibia are similar to towns and cities you’d find in any country. There are streets with street names and numbers  associated with houses and businesses. But there are also informal settlements where roadways are not always planned and houses, businesses and the residents within appear and disappear as needs arise. Even the more permanent settlements have a haphazard nature about them. Daily home delivery of mail would be a daunting challenge and is just not attempted. 

One of my first part-time jobs when I was a kids in high school was working for the US Postal Service. In the winter I sorted letters, but in the summer I delivered mail, filling in for vacationing letter carriers. My routes were usually in poorer neighborhoods in Baltimore, but even there mail was delivered to the houses or mailboxes associated with an address. In Namibia you have to rent a box or use a box rented by someone else. Packages remained at the post office until you come to pick them up, and that only if there was a way of contacting you. So, if you didn’t have access to a post box and you didn’t have access to a phone or email, you didn’t get mail. Period. Many Black Namibians have never received a letter through their postal system, ever. By contrast, in the US, if we have an address, we get mail, whether we want it or not. I doubt there are many US citizens who have never gotten mail delivered to them at their home at some point in their adult life. 

This recent holiday season saw a huge influx of mail here in the US as many homebound shoppers turned to online purchasing as opposed to going to stores, waiting in line and running the risk of getting Covid-19. Oddly, instead of long lines in stores I encounter even longer lines at the local post offices with people mailing packages to relatives all over the country and beyond. The combination of increased online shopping, increased parcel and letter traffic from Christmas mailings, and  post office staff dealing with Covid-19 created a perfect storm that overwhelmed the system, causing delays in delivery. For me, packages that normally take 2 to 3 days to reach its destination took 5 days or more, which can seem a lot longer if you are waiting for something. But even in this the US Postal Service has ways to alleviate to stress if not the wait.

Packages and letters sent through their Priority Mail service get tracking numbers which you can use to find where your package is in the system. You can also set up phone alerts that flags you when your package reaches different points along its route to you. If you’re concerned about a gift arriving while you’re not there and being opened by someone in your household (or to thwart Porch Pirates: thieves who steal package left on your property) you can have the post office deliver the package to an alternate address or business where someone will be there accept the package for you.

For years now, in this age of email, text messaging and other forms of instant communication, the US Postal Service has seemed more like an anachronism than a viable modern service, a throwback to an era where letters were written by hand, stamps were licked by tongues and messages were deposited in the blue metal mailbox sitting on a nearby corner. Many may see the US Postal Service as an almost forgotten entity relegated to delivering junk mail and paper bills. Even when the service is called into action to play an important role in our democracy it appears not up to the task. This recent election put the US Postal Service in the news as politicians unjustly and often without merit claimed the postal service introduced problems with mail-in ballots to purposefully interfere with the results of the elections. There were problems, unfortunately, but they were unintended and resolved quickly.

In the 1990s and as recent as 2018 there was talk of privatizing the Postal Service, however such suggestions have never garnered much appeal. The public, though it uses the service less with each passing year, expects the US Post Office to be part of what it means to live the US. The existence of the US Post Office was written into the US Constitution and as such, is as much a part of the social-political landscape of America as Congress and the presidency.

But the service is actually quite healthy. According to the US Postal Service, each day it handles 472 million letters, packages, and other correspondents, delivering them to more than 160 million addresses in the USA and its territories. By volume, the numbers are even more impressive: The US Postal Service handles nearly half of all mail by volume on the entire planet! It does it all without costing the US taxpayer a dime, its revenue is entirely funded by product sales and services.

So, as this very interesting year full of surprises and uncertainty comes to a close, one thing a citizen of the U.S. of A. can depend on: Even if your package or card is delayed because of snowstorms or the system is overwhelmed by a tsunami of seasonal packages, take a deep breath as I did and remember that the motto of the US postal carrier remains true; “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Stay tuned


Exercise Your Happiness Muscle

Happy, Healthy Holidays

Holiday lights at Crane’s Roost, Altamonte Springs, Florida
Crane’s Roost, Altamonte Springs, Florida

Of all the holidays we have here in the US, Thanksgiving is my favorite. I like it because it hasn’t been completely corrupted by the rampant commercialism that has usurped the true meaning and intent of Christmas. Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, being mindful of the good in our lives, enjoying the company of family and friends, enjoying food (lots of food), but most of all it’s about being present, being in the moments that tends to be the most meaningful in our often harried lives.

For those of you not familiar with the holiday, Thanksgiving, as it was taught to me in grade school, celebrates the survival of a set of European settlers/refugees who left England because of religious persecution. These “Pilgrims” were apparently poorly equipped to deal with life in the wilderness of what is now Massachusetts, a state in the north-east US. 

As the story goes, the local Native Americans felt sorry for these poor souls and helped them survive their first year (and are likely regretting it ever since). To celebrate their survival and new found friends the Pilgrims organized a big feast and Native Americans and Pilgrims broke bread, communed and gave thanks for what they had. 

Of course, there’s a lot more to the story and over the years a lot of poetic license has obfuscated the true events surrounding the Pilgrims and their Native American hosts, but the general idea of feasting, communing, and giving thanks is what the holiday has come to mean. It’s celebrated in Autumn because that’s when crops are harvested and preparations are made to survive the winter. 

While I don’t much care for the story of the supposed First Thanksgiving, I do like and practice the concepts of giving thanks, being mindful, and appreciating and enjoying my friends and family. It is what contributes to my general happiness.

I read an article recently titled ‘Yale Happiness Professor on 5 Things That Will Make You Happy’, written by Laurie Santos,  Professor of Psychology at Yale University, that outlined 5 concepts that, if practiced and incorporated in our lives, should lead to a happier existence. The very short version of her list is as follows:

  • Being Social: Get out and be with friend and family, even if it’s done remotely.
  • Being Thankful: Focus on the good in your life and appreciate it.
  • Being in the Moment: Try not to worry about past or future events, instead focus and enjoy what’s going on now.
  • Rest and Exercise: Getting adequate rest and getting off the couch keeps you physically and mentally strong and positive.
  • Being Kind: Sometimes it’s easier to say it than to do it, but acts of kindness, no matter how small, enhances our wellbeing and the wellbeing of those who receive our acts of kindness.

(It’s a good article and well worth time to read it.)

A quick review of that list and you can see that celebrating Thanksgiving checks off almost all of the items. So, yay! Go Thanksgiving!

My daughter, however, likes to remind me that her favorite holiday is Christmas. She loves the trappings of the holiday; the lights, the music, the festive atmosphere, the gift giving and the anticipation and joy my grandson experiences. My friend, Rita, also reminds me of the religious significance of the holiday. Being a devout Catholic, it is one of Rita’s most favorite holidays as she enjoys and participates in the pageantry and inspiration that affirms her faith in often spectacular ways.

20 meter (about 70 feet) Christmas Tree in Crane’s Roost, Altamonte Springs Florida.

In deference to the opinions of these, two of my favorite people, I will admit that, for me at least, Christmas comes in a close second to Thanksgiving as a favorite holiday. I do enjoy gift giving, the lights and pageantry that is found in no other holiday. I also like the fact that Christmas, or the festive nature associated with this time of year, whatever the reason, is celebrated worldwide. 

As nearly everyone is well aware, 2020 has been so full of stress that it threatens to spill over into 2021. It’s become increasing tougher to remain positive, especially when several items on the Happiness List above are a challenge to achieve, but I implore you to try. Even if it’s just a small act of kindness. In fact, if you’re feeling curmudgeonly negative or stressed, or just feel the need to brighten your day, that’s how you should start.

Lights on Park Avenue, Winter Park, Florida

Let that guy pull into traffic ahead of you, open the door for the woman behind you, chat up a stranger while standing in line (while practicing safe social distancing, of course), find something to compliment a person on, then compliment him or her. It doesn’t matter if the object of your kindness is someone you wouldn’t normally engage, it doesn’t cost anything except a few seconds of thought and maybe a few more seconds of effort. You may not be immediately overwhelmed by a glow of positivity for your good deeds, but in time the resulting benefit will become apparent and you find it is well worth the effort.

Make it a habit and you’ll enjoy the benefits all year long, and the other items on the Happiness List won’t be so hard to achieve. It’s kind of like a muscle, a Happiness Muscle. Exercise it and it will get stronger. Soon you’ll be an Arnold Schwarzenegger of Happiness.

So, in the spirit of this holiday season, I wish joy, health and huge bulging biceps of happiness to you and yours.

Stay tuned,


Omajowa: The Mushroom King

It’s just the beginning of the rainy season in northern Namibia. Areas that were baked in the unrelenting Namibian sun for most of the year welcome the deluge that starts in late December and continues through March, dumping meters of water and supplying much of the yearly supply of fresh water to the traditional farms and towns that dot this ancient ancestral home to the Herero, Himba, Damara, Ovambo, Kavango, and Nama peoples.

It’s during this time that these subsistence farmers plant their basic food crop, mahangu, a type of millet that is pounded into a meal and eaten as porridge with almost every meal. They will plant maize and other vegetable and feed crops that will rapidly grow to maturity during the life-giving rains. It is also the time of year when once dry lakes and riverbeds come alive with barber fish, a type of catfish that is released from hibernation by the flood waters.

Omajowas sprouting from a termite mound. (Image courtesy of Atlas Obscura)

It is during this time of year that you can find omajowa, a variety of mushroom that sprouts from the many termite mounds that punctuate the northern Namibian landscape. What makes these particular mushrooms interesting is the size. From tip to tip they can grow up to a meter long and a fully developed cap can be the size of a dinner plate! 

Yeah, we’re talking BIG MUSHROOMS!

Not only are they big, they are delicious! My first encounter with these big, tasty beauties was in January, 2020. I was traveling to Ondangwa with my host organization, The Rössing Foundation, when we notice some locals flagging cars and waving what looked large white bones. We pulled over and I was instructed to remain quiet. It seems that the haggled price increases dramatically if the sellers hear an American accent. (I wonder why?)

Haggling for omajowas

After several minutes of intense haggling we came away with several enormous, but slightly immature mushrooms. I was told that getting the mushrooms before the caps fully developed insures a more tender and flavorful experience. 

We stayed at a guest house and one of the staff volunteered to prepare the mushrooms for us. She cooked up 4 for us and kept 2 for herself. The result was a big bowl full of what looked like sautéed diced chicken. The flavor was interesting, falling somewhere between chicken and veal or pork and the texture was like chicken breast.

In March, 2020, not long before I along with all PCVs worldwide were sent home due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, I had another opportunity to experience omajowa. During another trip to the north, where my colleagues and I drove through calf-deep water for kilometers in areas that, just a few months before I saw the desiccated remains of livestock that succumb to the drought in the area, I was lucky enough to buy several of these stupendous mushrooms to try my hand at preparing them.

Keep in mind that I’d only seen these immense mushrooms once before and had never cooked them. But, after talking to several friends about how best to prepare them, I figured I’d give it a go.

Step 1: Skin it

These giant fungi have a fibrous epidermis that is edible (I’m told), but not desirable. So ya gotta skin them. Luckily they peel fairly easily, like a big white carrot.


Step 2: Chop It

The stem is round and fibrous and look a lot like scallops. I decided to cut the cap into strips, each about the size of my palm.


Step 3: Season It

I broke out my small pan, added a dollop of butter, some chopped green onions and garlic, then added the shrooms. Like all mushrooms I’ve prepped in the past, these reduce in size as you cook them. I sautéed until they started to brown on the edges and the meat was tender with a fork. I lightly salted them. That was it!


Step 4: Enjoy!

One gigantic mushroom was more than enough for me and I had enough to share. It was DELICIOUS! It’s a shame Namibia can’t export these beauties because they would be a huge culinary hit worldwide. 


Portabellas can’t match them. Shitakes are no contest. Whites take a backseat. In fact, every edible mushroom pale in flavor, texture, and most of all, size, compared to Omajowas, The Mushroom King.

Stay tuned.


I’ve been busy…

Yes, I know I haven’t updated this is quite some time, but I have an excuse (though I’ll admit now that it’s not a good excuse).

See, I’ve been busy. Since coming back to the States admit the Covid Pandemic has not been the best situation for a guy who likes to move around. I haven’t been able to travel to see my son, daughter and grandson, and that’s really taken an emotional toll on me. Rather wallow in a pit of despair, I’ve decided to go all in on producing videos.

Earlier this year I started a video project to highlight Orlando, Florida and the surrounding area. I have gigabytes of footage and was in the midst of putting it all together when I had another idea; I needed a road trip. If I stay stationary for too long I get really unsettled. The restriction to travel brought on my the Covid Pandemic had started to loosen and I saw my opportunity. I just needed a goal and a purpose.

When I was in Namibia I had produced a video for my friends at Educators of America, a non-profit dedicated to helping teachers teach. That video focused on teachers in Namibia who Offered their perception of what it is like to teach in Namibia. I think it turned out ok, especially considering that I was fairly new at video production.

The goal of my road trip was to produce a similar video featuring teachers in and around the Buffalo, New York area. I think the resulting video shows some improvement on my production techniques.

While traveling I came upon so many jaw-dropping vistas and had so many encounters with friends that I took gigabytes of video, initially not intending to do anything with it but to preserve the memories, but as my trip progressed I found that I needed to document, then produce something the chronicled my trip. I’ve finished that video today.

Take a look. Hope you enjoy it.

Stay tuned,