YES, YOU'D BE A GREAT PET SITTER:
Letters to Jennifer
Part Three

By Suzi Schmidt

July, 2017

Dear Jennifer,

Yes, I like your questions: What have you done? What did you learn?

I have blossomed as a flower photographer; I learned that dogs know when you're down.

I have photographed thousands of flowers this spring; it's like being in a deeply satisfying, private, silent, fragrant group hug. I am surrounded by such beautiful colors and shapes and perfumes that I can imagine the dogs saying, "And she's getting paid for this?"

Movie reviewer Roger Ebert: "Your intellect may be confused but your emotions will never lie to you." It feels like I am flowering back and I'm already in love with gardenias. Once I actually thought I heard, "My dear, what took you so long?" I know I saw a wink.

Rashmunisenander Levy explained: "Deep inside you are ten thousand flowers. Each flower blossoms ten thousand times. Each blossom has ten thousand petals. You might want to see a specialist."

I need comedy when I'm scared. I need someone around me who loves me. And I need a lot of hugs. I especially want furry, joyous, noisy, tail-whipping, "Now the Fun Begins" hugs.

I love foot-hugs from happy dogs lying on my feet. It's as if they understand sadness, their generous hearts beating hope and confidence back into me. I almost bought a Dog Lover's Pendant for the Edith Wharton quote, "My little dog-a heartbeat at my feet."

Cats are different. I put up with a shiny black cat named Boo. He likes to hiss and pretend to bite at me when I serve his food. Then hours later he hops up on my bed and head-bumps my chin left and right, looking for an opening for his famous knockout upper cut. When I acknowledge that he has my undivided attention, he snuggles close, tucks his head under my ear, wraps an arm around my neck and holds me. He has probably never been afraid a day in his life, and wouldn't care about sadness even if It were explained well in perfectly good Cat. It is only I who am shocked to find that a little paw playing with my hair can bring me to tears.

Eleanor Roosevelt: "We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all."

Your letters help me, Jennifer.

Thank you,

Aunt Suzi


Chickens


Sahi


Hemingway



Turtle


Jessie and Nova


Irwin

August, 2017

Hi Jennifer,

This is Petra Pan, your aunt's webmaster. I don't know if you're aware, but Suzi's email was hacked and she spent two days trying to clean up the mess. She's a bit distraught over the whole thing so I agreed to do this month's letter and talk about some ways to be safe in cyberspace. In real life I've been doing computer science and web development for almost 20 years so I know a bit about cybersecurity.

What many people either don't know or tend to forget is that cyber space is a wild, lawless, dangerous place. No one is safe from attack, as Suzi learned the hard way. I've had my PayPal account hacked by keystroke logging.* One of my family members with a cybersecurity degree had his email account deleted by a hacker somewhere in or near Russia. Another family member with a computer science degree had his Amazon account hacked and the hacker put a new credit card on the account. We were joking with him that he should charge a lot of stuff to that credit card and have it sent to his house!

I'm almost paranoid about online privacy. I know that anything I put on the Internet remains there forever and can be easily discovered with a minimum of effort. For example, I won't post a picture to Suzi's website unless we have the owner's permission and, when necessary, I always obscure or crop photos - such as blurring the license plate of a car or a house number, or removing the people in a picture - so it is harder for someone to identify where a picture was taken.

A while ago Suzi wanted to put a friend's full name on her website. In about 10 minutes, using easily accessible tools, I was able to find the friend's phone number, address, age, ethnicity, average income, marital status, and family members. Another 10 minutes on a social network site gave me pictures of her and her husband, pictures of their house, and a really cute picture of their dog. When I showed Suzi what I'd found we agreed to put just the friend's first name on the site!

While the only way to be completely safe is to pull the plug on your computer and turn off your smartphone, there are some things you can do to make yourself less of a target in cyberspace.

First and foremost, make sure you have security software on your computer, laptop, tablet, mobile phone or anything else connected to the Internet. There are some recommendations in the article The Best Security Suites of 2017. Also, you should occasionally check your security settings and you should be sure your security software is always up to date.

Keep your logins and passwords safe - and don't store them on your computer! Use strong passwords with a mixture of letters, numbers, and upper and lower case characters; don't use something obvious like "password" or your pet's name; don't use the same password for more than one account or website; and change your passwords regularly. Check out Password Protection: How to Create Strong Passwords for more tips.

Back up your data regularly - either to an external hard drive or to an online service (see The Best Online Backup Services of 2017 for some suggestions.) That way you won't lose your data if your computer gets hacked and you have to reload all your pictures, documents, and videos. But do make sure you know the origin of whatever you plug in to your computer. Malware can be spread through infected flash drives, external hard drives, and even smartphones.

As much as possible, avoid putting personal details online such as your home address, telephone numbers, work address, credit card numbers, or your mother's maiden name. If you must include personal information - such as when you're doing online shopping - use known, reputable retailers or websites, and make sure you're on a trusted, secure website. Most security software will tell you whether a site is safe or might be suspicious. And any time you're entering information into a form look for the padlock sign in your browser's address bar. Here's the padlock for three common browsers:

Also, look for "https" instead of just "http" at the beginning of the URL.
     https://this_site_is_safe.com
       NOT
     http://this_site_is_not_safe.com
The "s" stands for "secure" and it means your information is encrypted in transit.

Try to avoid sites with pornography, gambling, free software or downloads, or sensational or provocative content. These sites are notorious for being filled with dangerous malware like pop-up ads and security threats. Be aware too that even legitimate sites can become compromised.

Be careful clicking on links on a website, in an Instant Message, on a social network site, in an email, or on your smartphone. Double check the URL of the website a link takes you to; bad actors will often take advantage of spelling mistakes to direct you to a harmful domain (e.g., payypal.com instead of paypal.com). And don't click on pop-up windows or ads.

Emails are one of the most common ways for your computer or device to be infected. I suspected the email from "Discover Card" that is pictured below this letter was spam as soon as I saw it in my Comcast email queue. I don't have a Discover Card and the text that was visible in my preview was addressed to "Dear Customer" instead of to me by name. Once I rolled over the sender's name I was certain that the email was malicious because Discover is not going to use Jlichty@westbrookfl.com's email account to send me an email. I moved the email immediately to my Spam folder where Comcast will take note of the sender and delete the message. If you don't use Comcast's email tool then you should learn how to preview an email and find out the sender without opening the email in your tool.

As Suzi now well knows, a criminal can hack into your friend's email (or social network) account then use their address book to send emails or post messages to you claiming they are in trouble and asking you to transfer them money. To protect yourself from a malicious email attack, never, ever:

  • open a message or email that comes from someone you don't know that appears to be spam,
  • open an email attachment unless you expect it, you're positive you know what it is, and you trust the sender, or
  • click on a link in an email message unless you're positive you know where it's going, and you trust the sender.

Finally, trust your feelings. Don't believe it if something sounds suspicious or an offer seems unrealistic. Your family member is not likely to send you an email saying they need $3000, nor is the Nigerian banking scheme likely to lead to anything other than you losing a lot of money.

Social networking can be fun, informative, and a great way to keep up with friends and family. However, everything you have ever done on a social network site is kept forever - even the things you thought you'd "deleted" - including who or what you poked or liked, anything you've posted or shared, what events you have or have not attended, and when and where you have logged into your account And all this information is shared with data harvesters and other businesses - the price you pay for a "free" service.

Since social networking is forever there are some precautions you can take to help to make you safer:

  • Check your security and privacy settings to control who sees your information. 
  • Again, be cautious about the personal information you post. Remember how I was able to find all that information about Suzi's friend?
  • Avoid providing too much personal information even to friends. Do they really need to know your birthdate? And remember, while you may have strong privacy settings, you have no control over what your friends might repost. Why make things easy for identity thieves?
  • Never say where you are or where you're going to be. If a criminal sees a picture of you in Spain or at the Taj Mahal, or that you're going to be at Joe's Bar at 7PM on Wednesday, or that you're going to be visiting Suzi at Christmas then they know your home is unprotected and ripe for a break in. If you must post the picture at least wait until you get back to tell everyone what a great time you had.

Finally, your smartphone can also pose privacy and security problems. Forget government intrusion; you're more likely to be tracked by your service provider, an app creator, or someone with a scanner. Did you know that whenever your smartphone is on your service provider knows exactly where you are, who you call, how long you talk, and all the places you've visited? If you want to be anonymous, either turn your smartphone off when you don't need to make a call or get a prepaid phone and change it out regularly. If you do decide to keep your smartphone then always protect your device, be sure your phone is pin-protected so all your personal information stored on it is safe, and make sure to download a security app which allows you to remotely wipe any personal data should your smartphone be lost or stolen.

Anyway, I hope these tips are valuable and that you stay safe in cyberspace. Suzi will be back next month.

Best wishes,

Petra

* A hacker put covert software on my computer that recorded every key I hit on the keyboard and transmitted the information back to them. When I logged into PayPal the hacker was able to capture my login and password. I discovered the intrusion when I checked my credit card statement and found a charge that was made while I was going 65 miles an hour down the highway. To make sure the keylogging software was neutralized I completely wiped my computer and installed a new, clean operating system. I then changed the logins and passwords on every bank account, credit card, or store account I could find.


September, 2017

"A horse with a bridle and no saddle" was what the doctors recommended for therapy for my legs. After the car wreck and surgeries and casts, I was a discouraged, scared, skinny twelve year old girl unaware of how afraid I was of heights.

The therapist was Sycamore, a magnificent pinto. He had bold patches of white, brown, and black and an adorable star on his forehead. The farmer said, "He's getting old but he's still sound. Real good with kids. He's earned his peace and quiet. Been out to pasture awhile. He looks bored." I hoped so, because he was tall and I was terrified. ("What if I fall off and shatter my legs again?") He was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. I was desperate; I'd have to learn how to pretend to be brave. I never fooled mother: "Remember, Suzi, it doesn't take courage to do something you're not afraid to do."

We wandered alone not far from town, following dry Missouri creek beds and trails the Pawnee Indians were said to have used. I found part of a beautiful beaded necklace made of fossils, which captivated daddy.

I wanted to gallop. If I could just hang on through Sycamore's hard trot, which made my leg muscles scream, we could have a wonderful gallop down a tree-lined country road. With my fingers in a death grip in his mane, we started off fast, and stopped. Well, Sycamore stopped; I flew. I was flipped up, head over heels, and found myself hanging helplessly, my fingers tangled in his mane. Sycamore snorted something like, "Use your legs or don't, but no more hanging onto my mane."

We worked; I fell off and my legs didn't shatter. We worked harder; I got better at falling off. My legs slowly got stronger. One day I stopped falling off; I remember it well. It was the day we followed an old trail that ended in a meadow that was filled with wildflowers, bright gold, yellow, red, and orange flowers so vibrant in the morning sun that Sycamore just stood there shaking his nose. I sat there shaking my head.

I was told that horses were mostly color blind, but that day I knew better. After that, whenever I laid the reins across his neck, Sycamore headed straight for the meadow. We took bouquets to mother. She was thrilled to have them on the table. Mother was an elementary school teacher, also an amateur chef/gardener with an insane devotion to flavor. She started giving him her brightest, reddest apples every day. I was so proud of him.

I didn't feel brave. It was more like we were out looking for it - hoping to find it, like going couraging, if you could do it as a verb. What I was feeling was joy.

Once we were walking along and Sycamore stopped and stood still as if waiting for something. I looked around and couldn't see a thing. Suddenly mint-flavored air filled up the space around us and Sycamore watched me melt, slide off to the ground and roll in it. His snort sounded like a chuckle to me. Later mother melted too; she made a special place in her garden for the new mint bed.

Sycamore hauled home a small gift Christmas tree through high ice-crusted snow. It was a wonderful Christmas. The best present was the butter-soft saddle blanket made of bright yellows and reds and oranges and greens, for Sycamore.

Years later I read feminist theorist Mary Daly: "You become courageous by doing courageous acts...It's like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging."

I Love You,

Aunt Suzi


Andalusian stallion


Paint


Andalusian mare
& foal


Sahi


Sicara


Ursa


Mittens & Zing

October, 2017

Dear Jennifer,

I did write once, thank you for asking, about that wonderful horse, Sycamore, years later in a college paper for an Anthropology class. A mystery had begun in my head when Sycamore and I rode up that ancient trail on a high limestone bluff overlooking the Missouri river valley, where I found part of a necklace of beads that were actually fossils.

My mother (always the school teacher) studied the necklace while I asked her endless questions. She gave me a look and a book, and said, "You have found something that would have excited Sherlock Holmes." I hated when she did that. But I found the quote in The Hound of the Baskervilles: "There is nothing more stimulating than a case where everything goes against you."

I studied the necklace, secretly trying to channel Sherlock Holmes: Make the assumption that you have a mystery, if you like, but remember, facts first, then a theory.

OK, assume that the necklace was not discarded or lost, but was placed there. Who could have put it there? Why there, specifically, not another place? The necklace was simply strung, with no design; the fossils were apparently chosen at random; it could even have been strung in haste - so probably not ornamental.

Then, or therefore, the necklace itself could mean something - maybe it was a sign, a signal, or a message (one of some importance surely or why bother to make it?) If it was indeed meant to be found, then it was left there for another traveler to find on that trail. How would the finder know where to look? Or even know what the message meant when it was found? Who was supposed to find it? Was this a fragment of a larger necklace made for an adult? Or was it for a child and left untied? Does it mean anything? I needed facts.

While earning a B.A. in Anthropology I learned that Pawnee (or Arikara) American Indians had lived where I did centuries later. It was very likely smallpox that killed them, or one of the other virulent deadly diseases against which the people had no immunity. The people here feared the curses of witches, not the traders who brought the diseases during the clash of the Indian-European cultures. Pawnee people died at home and away, together or alone, sick, in pain, and terrified.

A very few people with lucky DNA were naturally immune and able to survive the highly communicable diseases. Sherlock Holmes would say, "'Communicable' is the operative word here. Which explains the necklace."

I had a fun mystery but now my first solid clue broke my heart. The professor said, "Possibly 60 million people lived in North and South America when the Europeans arrived. They lived in settlements far apart, often at war, on both continents. The diseases that decimated the Indians did so in a remarkably short span of time. How the diseases spread so fast is largely still a mystery."

My college term paper assignment was to write about a day in the life of a prehistoric North American, anyone, anywhere, but ethnographically correct.

Ethnology of North Americans Final paper
By Suzi Schmidt
Introduction

When I was a child, my legs were badly broken in a car wreck. They healed so slowly that the doctors finally recommended a special physical therapist, a gentle horse to ride, one with a bridle but no saddle; the exercise would help strengthen my legs as I used them to stay on the horse. Sycamore was a very beautiful, tall, aging pinto who carried me without a misstep or a stumble as we explored dry creek beds and old trails, all near our small Missouri town. Following an old path once, which climbed slowly up a densely wooded limestone bluff overlooking the Missouri river valley, I found part of a necklace a few feet from a pleasant resting place with good grass for Sycamore. The necklace was several inches long; the beads were all alike, from tiny to an inch wide, each one with a perfect hole in the exact center. The beads were fossils, the remains of extinct plantlike marine animals called crinoids (modern Sea Lilies) that lived here, growing like plants anchored in a warm shallow sea. This was during the Paleozoic era of Earth's history, which began about 600 million years ago and ended about 240 million years ago.

We also found a high cut-away bank where a large deposit of crinoids had been exposed. Billions of them had "weathered" out of the limestone, like an opened treasure box. The Pawnee Indians chose these fossils for their jewelry.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Oh, He-Who- Holds-Up-The-Sky, I thank you for our good lives. And for the strength to stand here in this sacred place so high in the sky and trees and wind, where I can see pride in my ancestors' eyes. The spirit of the Moon is huge and always gives me such comfort. This has been the worst day of my life. My dear husband died in pain, raving about witches. We have lost all of our beautiful children except She-Who-Dances and now she has a fever. It must be witches. So many strong people are dead, but her twins seem to be free from this curse. I had to send them away to save them. I hope I did the right thing. I spoke with them as I made their travel packs, seeing all the unspoken questions in their eyes. I did not hold them and kiss them. I feel a strange heat in me.

I told them they must go where they will be safe, and that we will follow soon. I told them to go to the leader of the Mandan.

"Show her my token, and she will welcome you. You will remember her; we see them every year at mulberry time. She and I always exchange gifts each year just as our ancestors did on their annual food-gathering rounds. And we pledge to one another that if disaster strikes our people, we will accept refugees without question. You will find them near the creek, upland, gathering hackberries. Follow the high bluff trail downriver. You know it well, but this time only the dogs will protect you. Your brave father and I will follow you as soon as he returns from the trading trip. He took many fine skins to the white traders again, so you know he'll have more presents for you. He is overdue now, so surely it won't be long.

Walk silently. The trail does not cross any warrior's path but still it is well known. Try always to stay downwind if you hear footsteps coming. Trust no Apache or Comanche; the Pawnee people that they have stolen are their slaves. You have learned a kill strike to use if you are attacked. If you fear for your lives you must strike first. Don't let anything stop you. Try to stay together. There is plenty of food in your travel packs, and your quivers are filled with the finest arrows the village has to offer.

These are your instructions. Fill the skin bags that I put in your packs with beads when you pass the cut-away bank where the special beads fall from the rocks. When you have rested each morning or evening, make a necklace just large enough to fit your adorable necks but don't tie the ends together. Before you leave, throw it an arm's toss east of the campfire. Your father and I will find it and know that we follow your trail.

You must go. There will be plenty of time for hugs and kisses later. May your children's children honor you as you have honored me."

They left, crying soundlessly, waved once before they climbed out of sight.

Now, in this sacred place, I am so proud to see my ancestors standing beside me. I feel the heat in me rising. What if I don't make it? What if a future wanderer one day finds a small necklace lying east of an old campsite deep in the woods? Who could believe it means there is death and destruction here?


November, 2017
Dear Jennifer,

Thank you for your letter and the honesty with which you described your current situation. It immediately brought back memories of my own painful experience. Of course I will give you my best advice:

First, give up. Get away from him NOW.

Your self-image, your self-esteem, your whole life is in danger. You can't help him, can't change him, and can't survive him. A malignant narcissist is a predator, a sociopath who always lies to everybody, at every opportunity, about everything, all the time. It is a verbal violence meant to be hurtful, not "because he can't help it" but because he gets to enjoy a feeling of superiority, even for a few pathetic seconds. Like an addiction. Because to a sociopath it is a mood-elevator; lying to people hurts them, degrading others is his fun and he wouldn't dream of stopping. Get out, Jennifer.

He does not need to be told that his lies cause wounds, he counts on it. He intends to cause you pain because he thrives on the high it gives him. Seeing you in pain, watching his lies degrade you and weaken you, watching you "fall for it" is what he likes best. He enjoys looking down on your continually diminished life because it makes him feel bigger somehow, better than stupid you. Translated into sick prison talk: you are weak, therefore "vulnerable with commissary." Meaning he wants anything you have worth money.

He thinks it is power that he feels when he sees your spirit mashed down into the ground under him. I know because I was briefly married to one at nineteen.

It was my first introduction to sex and 'pillow talk' and it was crushing, just as he intended. He especially enjoyed telling me the fantasy that really turned him on: "My fantasy is to walk barefoot on a field of titties." 

He bragged about what he could get away with: "I've got a rap sheet. I'm not ashamed of it. I was famous. I stole a banana stalk from a market and I waited in alleys and hit people on the head and took their wallets. I was known as The Banana Stalk Bandit. I was famous. And you can't testify against me because you're my wife."

He wants some kind of power that he believes he lacks and that he can steal from other people. There is nothing there for you, Jennifer, because there is no there there.

He's an empty hole in the air, like a vacuum sucking everything in, never filling up. There will never, ever be enough -  enough praise, enough admiration, glory, sex, power, money; he'll never see enough groveling, tears, or bleeding wounds. Dr. Susan Forward described, in Emotional Blackmail, what to do when people in your life use fear, obligation, and guilt to manipulate you. It's not just a deformity. A malignant sociopath is not a complete person at all and has no insight into his defect. He learned to mimic what he thinks is the human personality. He only has two of the many parts of whole human beings, and these come at your expense: self-aggrandizement and self-protection. Self-glorification is his all-consuming need; there is no end to the bottomless pit of rage. Underlying his meanness is an aberrant vulgarity dripping with hate that he learned to hide from human beings, at least for a while.

His only other human part is self-protection - or revenge any way he can get it -  preferably in cash, yours. Whenever he senses your resistance to his control, you will get (you will always get) the rage - full blast or quietly walking on your beautiful, priceless soul.

A malignant narcissist cannot be allowed in your life. When it is revenge that he wants most, that is when you will look up to see the sick, raw, suppurating sores oozing meanness from the bottom of his feet as he walks on you.

There is no limit to what he would take from you or anyone he sees as weak. A malignant narcissist sees women as low hanging fruit; there are no women he would not exploit. He actually thinks he is unique: "I'm not like other people, I don't have a conscience." Always there is the theft, constantly looking for something to steal and someone to steal it from. And there will never be enough.

Mine was a brief marriage without laughter, kindness, or relief. My self-respect and integrity were not, as I thought, lost forever, they were just misplaced. And in the end, I did laugh in my way, at his raw meanness; just before the divorce, at his last phone call from some jail (probably to get me to ask my mother for bail money.) "Cold as ice" comes close to what I felt on the inside as I hung up on him.

He: "Suzi, this is Bill."

Me: "You Shit! You stole my mother's gas card."

He (Indignant): "I've stopped using it, Alright?" (Because it was impounded, you piece of Expletive Deleted... This computer should be smoking. Where is the sarcasm font?)

Me: (Yes, words were worthless but in the end I couldn't give him the last one.) "You better!" (Slam!!)

Robert B. Parker was kinder: "He has a ratty meanness... He hasn't any strengths, not smart or strong or good looking, or funny or tough. All he has is a kind of ratty meanness. It's not enough."

When prehistoric Alaskan Inuits had this problem -  a malignant narcissist among them -  when one of their fellow hunters was stealing, lying, seducing their wives, molesting their children, he ended up lost, alone on his own ice floe, never to be seen or heard from again. Now that's cold.

Lovingly,

Aunt Suzi


Snowman Picklebottoms


Rufus


Lucy


Sunny


December, 2017

Dear Jennifer,

Thank you for telling me what you feel. I'm just as scared and just as sick of it. Yes, I will tell you what helped me through this year:

The spectacular August solar eclipse captivated me and several pet owners, some of whom drove south for perfect viewing spots, people camped all along the trajectory. It was a very big deal in Maryland. I stayed with two beautiful Chesapeake Bay Retrievers named Pearl and Jack (photos on the website www.suzithepetsitter.com) and we watched the eclipse on TV.

I love lunar eclipses too and rejoice that science understands them now. It's fun to imagine that if I could choose to live other lives, (I already do in books) one of them would be as a prehistoric human on the Earth 40,000 generations ago seeing a lunar eclipse. What are the odds that I would be wondering at that moment...

Me: "Where the hell are we?" and as the Earth eclipsed the moon with the arc of a perfect circle, what are the odds that I would understand Earth's only language, it's shadow?

Earth to Suzi: "Look up. Look at me. I'm a big sphere and you're on it. Good luck."

I like to imagine someone would help out and give me a verbal hug like, "Don't be scared. It's going to happen. We'll face it together. Or not." Actually, that was what Rachel Maddow said on the MSNBC nightly news when she told the world that our democracy is under an ongoing cyber-attack from a hostile foreign power.

Reading helps. If I could, I'd hug the Polish astronomer and mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus who wrote and published in 1543 a rather romantic theory: "Gravity is the nostalgia of things to become spheres."

Copernicus also wrote that Earth was not set eternally in the center of the Heavens (which was the prevalent belief) but was instead moving in a circle, and furthermore, it was circling the sun. Nicolaus: "We're on a moving sphere, get used to it."

Nothing cheers me up like eating good food. I've been doing some serious knife-sharpening, I mean really sharp. My thrift-shop knives and shears and cleaver all need a lot of work. I can feel one of my winter cooking binges coming on. I found my favorite detective, Nero Wolfe's, irresistible recipe for "Fricasseed Chicken with Dumplings." (Rex Stout, 1886-1975.) I can already taste it.

I'm still on knives; I read that prehistoric Eskimos easily killed wolves with their knives. Annie Dillard wrote about it in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

This is the sort of stuff I read all winter...I like the clean urgency of these tales, the sense of being set out in a wilderness with a jackknife and a length of twine...Sometimes an Eskimo would catch a wolf with a knife. He slathered the knife with blubber and buried the hilt in snow or ice. A hungry wolf would scent the blubber, find the knife, and lick it compulsively with numbed tongue, until he sliced his tongue to ribbons, and bled to death.
Yug. When I first read that I was horrified. Later I was impressed with "my people." 

The facts are that you and I, all of us here are alive because we had smart enough ancestors who adapted, didn't starve, didn't die from the epidemics, and reproduced before a jaw cracked (as they often did in adolescence) by an emerging molar. And they stayed together because "nobody, but nobody can make it out here alone." (American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, 1928-2014.)

I believe life is a crapshoot. "Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception." (Carl Sagan, American astronomer and astrophysicist, 1934-1996.) I believe humans are adaptable and lucky, although American tennis champion Serena Williams disagreed: "Luck has nothing to do with it."

I believe in luck like I believe in a good homemade pie. (Though precision, not luck, is the operative word in baking.) Carl Sagan again, "In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe...Atoms are made in the center of stars...The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies, were all made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff."

Bottom line: Don't panic. Get active. Do what you have to do. Despair is not an option.

To survive this year what helped me most was reading. Think of life as an adventure without a map. Carl Sagan said it better: "We may not know where we're going, but we're on our way."

George R.R. Martin said it best: (Game of Thrones, Clash of Kings): "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies" said Jojen. "We need to know are not alone."

I love you too,

Aunt Suzi


Author's Note: I'm no longer going to be posting new letters on my website. Please send me an email at suziaboard2005@gmail.com if you'd like to receive further "Letters to Jennifer."