All Your COVID-19 Info in One Convenient Place

doom-gloomIn these unprecedented times of desperation and uncertainty, in which we really need one another (virtually of course); thank God we’re all in this together. And thankfully we have had no shortage of experts, and by “experts” I mean scientists, politicians, theologians, not to mention A-, B-, C- and D-list celebrities and social media influencers, and of course conspiracy theorists. Thank God for these people who are daily keeping us informed about what to do, as well as what to never do, during these unprecedented times of desperation and uncertainty.

The problem I’ve encountered with the experts, however, is that they don’t always agree. And that’s hard for a person like me, who is neither a scientist, a politician, a theologian, any kind of celebrity or influencer, nor a conspiracy theorist. Not falling into any of these categories, I have no way of knowing what to think or how to deal with these difficult times. And I am the last person to give you reliable advice, and you don’t really need me anyway, since you already have a plethora of scientists, politicians, theologians, A,B,C & D celebrities and influencers, and conspiracy theorists. In theory, all the info we need has been graciously provided by the above-mentioned people. But, it can be a little challenging to sort it all out.

I felt the least I can do (and I’m all about doing the least I can do in any situation) would be to simply list as much of the COVID-19 info as I can remember, right here, so you can go through the list whenever you need to and decide what, if anything, you’re going to believe. I’m saying “as much as I can remember,” because I don’t have the time nor the interest to go digging through the long lists of advice, suggestions, orders, policies etc., but I am listing most of what I can remember. I can assure you, everything in the list below has actually been posted somewhere on the internet; I’m not making any of this up. (Someone else may have made it up and then posted it, but I’m simply reporting it):

The virus is China’s fault.

The virus is the U.S.’s fault. 

The virus is President Trump’s fault.

The virus isn’t President Trump’s fault, but he didn’t act quickly enough.

The virus was created by the government to control us (exactly which government isn’t clear to me yet).

We’ll be back to normal in a few months.

We’ll be back to normal in about a year.

We’ll be back to normal in a few years.

We’ll never be back to normal.  We are, in fact, anticipating a “new normal,” which seems cool because it’s fun to get new things.

The old normal was bad and we’re all going to be better off without it.

Medical professionals are our heroes.

Grocery store workers are our heroes.

Teachers are our heroes.

First responders are our heroes.

Children are our heroes. 

Basically, everyone’s a freaking hero.

Thank God for Netflix.

Netflix is making everything worse.

Zoom has made things better.

Zoom has made things worse.

The virus is definitely because of 5G.

The virus is definitely not because of 5G.

No one should be leaving their homes. 

You can leave your home whoever you feel like it.

It’s fine to leave your homes, for essential reasons.

If you leave your home for essential reasons, you need to wear a mask. If you don’t wear a mask, you could be leading to the deaths of thousands of people.

You don’t need to wear a mask.

Not only do you not need to wear a mask, you’re probably making things worse and leading to the deaths of thousands of people by wearing a mask.

A mask absolutely won’t do anything to protect you or anyone else. But you should wear one anyway.

The economy is a mess and may take years to recover.

The economy is a mess but it’ll be fine soon.

The economy isn’t a mess, and in fact is better than it’s ever been.

The virus poses no threat to children.

Children are especially vulnerable to the virus.

The virus is particularly life-threatening to people in their 80’s and 90’s (being in your 80’s and 90’s is somewhat life-threatening in itself, but I digress).

Making a video of yourself singing and posting it on YouTube is helpful to the world.

Making a video of yourself singing and posting it on YouTube is annoying to the world.

The government has grossly overreacted.

The government has grossly under-reacted.

It’s our responsibility to spend our money to help local small businesses.

It’s our responsibility to spend as little money as possible, and save as much as possible.

People should not gather in groups of more than 10 people.

People should not gather in groups of more than 50 people.

People should not gather in groups of any size, other than at the grocery store when wearing masks and keeping at least six feet apart.

School children will be forever traumatized by missing their proms, graduations, talent shows, etc.

School children will be fine.

This is God’s judgment on the world.

This is not God’s judgment on the world.

The virus is going to kill most of us.

We’re all going to be fine.

OK, I hope by compiling this admittedly non-exhaustive list, you’ll have a better idea of what to do and what to think concerning that pesky COVID-19 virus. I’ll keep you updated if the scientists, theologians, politicians, conspiracy theorists, or various types of celebrities/influencers have anything more to tell us.

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Less Virtual, More Real

IMG_3270Because of the current pandemic, nothing about my work is the way it was six weeks ago. Six weeks ago I went to an actual school, with kids in my actual classroom. We not only listened to music and watched videos about music – we created music. We played ukuleles, guitars, keyboards, and percussion instruments. My classroom turned into a disaster every day, because it was used to its fullest. Then I’d clean it every afternoon, and start the next day with a clean room, only to create a new musical disaster at the end of the next day. That’s how real education is.

Now I’m home most of the time, and class has become virtual. I’ve always hated that word; I don’t know what the dictionary says about it but to me, it means, “not quite the actual thing, but kind of.” A certain amount of virtual is fine, but I have a limit. I can only go so far, only so many Zoom meetings, only so many Skype and FaceTime get-togethers, only so many livestream church services, before something starts dying inside.

I don’t know what your tolerance level is for virtual, but I’ve been close to my limit for a few weeks now. I know – it’s the best we can do at the moment. I’m thankful to work at a school that thrives on creativity, and a leadership team who supports us like crazy. There have been some good Zoom moments, not the least of which was a half hour spent playing ukulele with sixth graders a few days ago. But it wasn’t exactly real. It was a virtual ukulele group.

I couldn’t walk over and sit by the guy who was having a hard time forming the chords and help him. I couldn’t enjoy the sound of all of them talking and laughing and playing ukuleles at once; I had to mute them so there wouldn’t be too much ambient noise. The thing is, life is supposed to have ambient noise. That’s part of what makes it real. I’ve made my share of jokes the past few weeks about wishing I had a “mute” button in my real classroom, but the truth is I just want a classroom full of kids making noise and having a good time. To be honest, if I could I’d change the sign above my door from “Music Room” to “Make Noise and Have a Good Time Room.”

Anyway, this afternoon I hit my virtual wall, literally. I was desperate to do something that didn’t involve little boxes on my screen with people’s photos, all muted. I needed to stop being virtual for a while and be real. So I went to my garage, where there’s a 100-plus year old piano that I’m in the process of restoring. There’s nothing like 105-year-old dirt on your hands to push away all the virtual nonsense and bring you back to reality.

That’s the inside of the piano, in the photo at the top. Those are my fingers holding the tweezers, installing new bridle tapes into the piano. The old ones are so old, many of them literally (not virtually) disintegrated when I removed them.  It’s a pretty small thing to fix, but the piano will feel and play much better with the bridle tapes replaced.

IMG_8160  IMG_7101

This pandemic is wearing us out – not just because of the actual sickness itself, but because of what we’re all giving up. Virtual stuff will never be a replacement for real stuff. I hope you’re finding ways to hold onto real things – the feel of a real basketball in your hands, or the sight and smell of a real book (Kindle is fine but it’s not the same), or the piercing sound of a real dog barking at the neighbors even though you just told him to stop. Or the sound of your daughter laughing and making fun of you, or the feel of a real ukulele in your hands, or the smell of a real chicken that’s been cooking for hours.

Virtual stuff will never be a replacement for real stuff. Make sure you’re turning off some of the virtual (except of course, to read this), and spending time with things that are real and lasting.

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Ukuleles & Serendoggity Worldwide Weiners

This weekend I spent the better part of Saturday at the Los Angeles International Ukulele Festival, right here in my own town. A rough 3-minute drive down the street. After a week of ups and downs, and after working every day for several weeks, it was time to push some work to the back burner and hang out with a bunch of ukuleles and their happy owners. So I packed up two of my little four-stringed guys (a tenor and a soprano), and went ready to learn and be inspired.

Before getting too involved in this review however, let me just say that on Monday/Tuesday of the previous week, when I was having not such fun days, there was no way I could have predicted that 5 days later I’d be standing in a parking lot in drizzling rain, with two of my ukuleles and a handful of new friends, eating a hot dog from a truck called Serendoggity Weiner Works. I don’t know if it was the best hot dog ever, but when it comes to hot dogs, timing can be everything. The hot dog itself was not bad, but the hot dog on a cool cloudy drizzly day, with my two favorite ukuleles close by, and a bunch of other ukulele players trying to manage their ukuleles and hot dogs at the same time – made it a contender for the best hot dog ever.

Performances – I had the opportunity to watch several ukulele performances Saturday, and the best by far was that of Craig Chee & Sarah Maisel, aka Mr. & Mrs. Chee. I don’t think I’m supposed to post my shaky quality iPhone video of their performances of “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” but it rocked. You should check out this video and see if you agree. I’ve had a chance to see Craig and Sarah perform several times, and this weekend may have been the best – they bring a lot of fun and professionalism to their performances.

On the other end, with fun but maybe not so much professionalism, was Herb Ohta Jr and Bryan Tolentino. They had been hyped as the duo to see, somewhat legendary as far as Hawaiian ukulele players go. I’ve heard some of their recorded music and was impressed, but I’ve gotta say, their performances Saturday seemed a little lazy, a little unprepared and kind of phoned in. They kept doing that whole schtick some performers do of talking between each song, making jokes about not really know that one, not being ready, etc. But I don’t think they were kidding around. It was a pretty weak performance, but they’re a crowd favorite and they received a lot of applause from an audience of Herb and Bryan fanboys and girls. I didn’t get it, and I’d probably skip them next time.

But I have to get back to the hot dog. Serendoggity Weiner Works. If I were to run across that truck again in town somewhere, I might be tempted to buy another hot dog, but then I probably wouldn’t. Without the cool beach-y weather, and the crazy people playing ukuleles all around me (i.e., WITH me), it wouldn’t be the same. But, if you ever run across the Serendoggity Weiner Works truck, with ukulele players hanging out nearby, that might just be the vibe you need. In that setting, I’d definitely grab a hot dog.

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Not Cute, but Important

townaceI just got back a few weeks ago from a month in Uganda, where a lot of great things happened. So much, in fact, that for those of you who’ve seen me and asked, “how was the Uganda trip?”, you probably noticed a blank stare on my face. That’s because it’s hard to know how to give a simple answer to a question like that.

The short answer is – people living in severe poverty got free medical care and free education. That’s what we do over there in Uganda, but the long answer is more complicated.

If there was one word that I could use to describe how this trip was different than my previous four trips, I’d say “infrastructure.” Or maybe, “generator.” Or if I could be allowed to use three words – “stuff kept breaking.”

Loving One by One owns a dozen or so acres of land, and on that land we have three houses, a school and a medical clinic. By “medical clinic,” I mean a 24/7 mini hospital that has become pretty busy. All these buildings require water and electricity, and that’s accomplished by a combination of the public power grid, plus our own solar power systems, plus a generator that theoretically runs occasionally to keep things charged up. On my first day in Uganda, the generator broke and was determined to be unrepairable, so we were thankfully able to purchase a new generator. And that’s where so many other problems began – the new generator wasn’t really new, there were problems with the installation, as well as with some of the parts being poorly designed…. you name it, and it happened, and almost every day for four weeks there were problems related to the generator.

You know what the problem is with generators and other infrastructure things (submersible pumps for wells, solar power batteries, water storage tanks, vehicles, etc)? They’re not as cute as little Ugandan kids old Ugandan women. Let me illustrate with a few photos below…

 

  

So we have a cute little Ugandan girl leaning on a tree, trying to figure out what the crazy Mzungu (me) is doing pointing his phone at her. What a great face! Then, there’s a little boy with the severely bent right leg, but a great smile, the kind of smile that makes you want to say, “Yes, by golly, I’ll sponsor that kid’s leg surgery!” Finally, a cute little old Ugandan woman, trying on reading glasses, with a smile beginning to form on her face because she can make out the letters on the page. These people have a high cute factor. 

And if I may be blunt – High Cute Factor = High Donation Factor. Thankfully, generous people are moved by images of children and elderly people, and they want to contribute. And we’re thankful for that.

However, by contrast, check out these photos….

 

First, we have a water truck, in the middle of the night, delivering thousands of liters of water to some of our water tanks – a delivery that had to happen many times, because the generator and/or the submersible pump weren’t doing their job and pumping water properly. Speaking of water tanks, the second photo features three water tanks, up against a lovely cloudy sky, with Ken on a hammock below. Don’t make a big deal out of the hammock – Ken was hardly ever actually in the hammock while I was in Uganda, because most of his time was spent dealing with getting water into those (and other) water tanks. Not an easy task, when your generator and/or submersible pump aren’t doing their job. We currently urgently need to add another 10,000 liter tank (or two) to our system.

 

Next, we have the “new” generator, which was a costly but extremely necessary expense. Costly, because as I mentioned earlier, it took almost the entire four weeks I was there to get it working right. Happily, it finally seems to be doing its job. Finally, we have a Toyota truck, known in Africa as a “Townace.” We are beginning to feel the need for a Townace truck because of the considerable maintenance issues on and around our 12 acres. There’s always something to pick up or deliver, and the excess load is becoming too much for our current van. 

Infrastructure photos don’t have a High Cute Factor; therefore, most people don’t get excited about a photo of a generator and reach for their wallets to contribute

Amazing things have been happening in Uganda through the work for Loving One by One for over 15 years, and we’re not finished! However, we have grown very rapidly, and that expansion has required buildings and equipment – at a cost.

If you would like to help Loving One by One continue to grow and expand our effectiveness in Uganda, and if you can understand the importance of boring things like generators, water tanks and trucks – then please consider going to Loving One by One’s website and making a contribution. You can specify “infrastructure.” Or, if you’d like to have a conversation about specific infrastructure needs, contact me and we’ll set it up.

 

 

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I Guess I’m 60 Now

Today is my 60th birthday. After typing that, I had to stop and re-read it, and let it sink in. 

When I was a kid, people who were 60 were really old. My parents seemed pretty old when they were 60 (they actually always seemed pretty old to me, no matter how old they were). But I don’t think I’m as old as they were at 60. I don’t think I’m as old as they were at 40. I usually feel pretty good, and I eat good food and I exercise. I work at a fun job; actually, several fun jobs. Plus, everyone in my family is older than I am; I’m the youngest. And if I’m 60, then that means my siblings are really getting up there, and they don’t seem that way to me.

However, in the middle of all this age-denial, there are certain realities I can’t escape. My daughter is 29. Twenty-nine stinkin’ years old. With a kid that old, I have to be getting up there as well. I have a lot of gray hair; and by a “lot,” I mean that out of the small amount of hair I have, a high percentage of it is gray. I hate almost every song written past the early 90’s, and that’s being kind of generous. I make a sound when I get up from a chair, and a different sound when I get into it.

I can still play music and people still want to hire me, but that world is also changing. I can’t ever seem to get the monitor levels right anymore; the sound guy usually does exactly what I ask him to do, but my ears have become a little inconsistent. It’s either too quiet (“I can’t hear the piano at all!”), or everything is just too much (“can we please turn ALL the monitors down?”)

So I have mixed feelings about turning 60, but what can I really do about it? I have to keep going. I have to face the fact that I’m old enough to save money at Denny’s. I can still play good music, but I’m usually going to be playing it with people younger than I am – unless it’s jazz music, where I’m still one of the younger guys in the room, thank goodness. People are going to routinely ask me when I’m going to retire. My daughter is going to keep asking me every day how I’m feeling. People at church are going to keep saying, “we really appreciate your wisdom,” which is another way of saying, “we should probably find out what an old guy like you thinks before we make this decision.”

Anyway, 60 is here, like it or not. I’m not going to pretend to be younger; that always just looks silly. But there are a few “old guy” things I’m going to avoid.

I’m not going to always talk about how I’m feeling physically. Nobody really wants to hear about my internal situation all that much. And even though I think all music written past the early 90’s is crap, I’m going to be careful to not always SAY that all music written past the early 90’s is crap. That makes me sound like one of those “get off my lawn” guys. And of course, along with that, I’m not going to tell people to get off my lawn.

More important than what I’m NOT going to do, here are the things I AM going to do.

I’m going to keep going to Uganda, and doing other things that actually matter and make the world better, instead of griping about stupid things that don’t matter. Not that I know anyone who does that. I’m just saying.

I’m going to keep exercising.

I’m going to keep growing as a musician (just not any of the crap written after the early 90’s).

I’m going to keep growing as a Christian (just not any of the crap people started believing after the early 90’s – HA, just wanted to keep that joke going).

I’m going to keep working with people younger than I am (because most people are younger than I am).

So that’s it. I guess I’m 60 now. I have a few friends who made it to that number a little before I did, and they’re assuring me it’s not that bad. At least I’m not 70!

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Five Reasons to Go Back to Uganda #5: What’s the Alternative?

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This June, I’ll return to Uganda with Loving One by One Ministries (LOBO), for what will be my fifth trip to Uganda. To help bring LOBO’s work back to the forefront for some of my friends and readers, I’ve written several recent blog posts titled “Five Reasons to Go Back to Uganda,” and this is the fifth of those posts.

In the first four posts, I wrote about how kids shouldn’t have to struggle as much as they do in Uganda. I wrote about our immediate community surrounding LOBO’s home, and how we’re involved in strengthening our own neighborhood. I wrote about the shortage of food in Uganda, and how we’re working so moms no longer have to choose which of their children to feed on a given day. And, I wrote about some of the crazy, yet preventable, diseases Ugandans face and how LOBO has been able to provide medical care for thousands of men, women and children.

Today’s final Reason to Go Back to Uganda…. What’s the Alternative? If Loving One by One and other helping organizations don’t continue in Uganda, then what? The quality of life in Uganda, although currently difficult, will become disastrous for thousands of Ugandans, particularly Ugandan children. Life is hard in Uganda. But for many Ugandan children, it used to be worse until Loving One by One became involved. Now kids whose future was one of continued life in the slums actually have a really good chance of a better life. For many children and adults with malaria, a probable death has been exchanged for good health. For young moms who lacked the knowledge or ability to care for their kids, LOBO has provided food and education and mentoring, so there is now a better chance for a healthy future.

The work in Uganda is hard. Oh sure, it’s fun in kind of an odd way, and the people who go on our teams are cool, and the Ugandans we work with are great, and being on a LOBO team is an exciting adventure. It changes the team members in a good way – though it’s really not about us, we do benefit personally from the experience. But other stuff makes it difficult – it’s really expensive to be in Uganda for the long haul. Sometimes children we try to help don’t make it, and we’ve paid for more funerals than we’d like. We’ve been lied to and cheated by individuals and organizations. And while there are many things I could say about the Ugandan government, I’ll just say they don’t make it easy sometimes. All these problems make it tempting to go find another place to help people; Maui, for example.

But what’s the alternative? People are literally starving and sick and stuck in a cycle of poverty and while it’s difficult, we do actually have the ability to change the conditions of people and neighborhoods. Given enough time, we can affect an entire city.  It’s difficult and requires huge commitment over the long haul, but it’s not impossible and we do have the ability to change things in Uganda. So how can we stop? We can’t. People in Uganda need help. We have the ability to provide that help. That’s why I keep going back.

monkeysThank you for those who are helping to make that possible. And, thank you for taking the time to read this less-than-perky post today. As my thank-you gift for sticking with me through this one, here’s a family of Ugandan monkeys!

 

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Five Reasons to Go Back to Uganda #4: Health

This summer, I’m going to turn 60 years old. However, although I have one foot in the grave, I’m pretty darn healthy. Most people don’t think I look a day over 58. Thanks to good food, good  healthcare and good ukuleles, I’m doing pretty well and I have no doubt I’ll continue strong until I’m at least 61.

But, I’m an American so I have certain health advantages. While there’s no guarantee something catastrophic won’t happen to me, my chances of living to 61 and well beyond seem pretty good. However, if I were Ugandan, things would look quite a bit different. Actually, if I were Uganda, I myself would look quite a bit different, but I digress. As for health, I probably wouldn’t have lived this long if I were Ugandan. I wouldn’t have had as much access to good food. My water supply would be contaminated. My friends would make fun of me for being old, because in Uganda people normally don’t live as long as I’ve lived.

This is, of course, assuming nothing catastrophic happened to take my life when I was a child. Because mosquitos are plentiful and malaria is prevalent, and because my family probably wouldn’t have had the $5 for a mosquito net, I would have had a good chance of dying from malaria before the age of 5. If I lived past 5, and if the typhoid from drinking contaminated water didn’t take me out, my immune system would have become so weak from bad nutrition that a simple case of the flu would have had a good chance of killing me.

Of course, there are many other, more bizarre, illnesses floating around Central Africa. But malaria, typhoid and malnutrition alone are enough to bring an early death to hundreds of thousands of people in Uganda and throughout Centra Africa – and it’s all easily preventable. It doesn’t take that much money, or that much time to make a big impact. It does, however, take focus and commitment. For 15 years, Loving One by One has been committed to providing simple, yet life-altering healthcare to children and adults in Uganda.

So this is Reason #4 for me to go back to Uganda…. Health. While I’m there this summer, our team will see thousands of Ugandan men, women and children suffering from malaria, typhoid, various infections, burn injuries, various types of cancer, HIV, and many other treatable health issues. We’ll pull up in our big bus driven by a crazy man named Henry, and we’ll unload our stuff into buildings in slum areas, and turn those buildings into medical clinics for a day. We’ll provide free exams and medications, and just for fun, we’ll throw in reading glasses. elderly glasses

And once in a while, we’ll run across people like Franco in the above photo. Franco’s legs were severely malformed, and we were able to provide surgery and physical therapy for him. Franco now runs and does all the other crazy things kids are supposed to do. Not a bad deal for $700.

If you’d like to help support my trip to Uganda this summer, which will directly impact the health of thousands of people, please contact me at charley@charleymiller.net. Or, if you’re in the L.A. area and if you’re free this Sunday March 31st, you are invited to a free concert (with free tacos throw in). Contact me about that info as well.

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