SoCS: going out for a drive

One of the changes with the rules in New York State and with my father’s assisted living home is that I can now sign him out and take him for a drive. Previously, I could only take him to medical appointments.

My father, who is known here as Paco, loved to drive. He drove quite a bit when he worked for New England Power Company for 43 years and, given that our town was twenty miles from a grocery store, other stores, our grandparents and other relatives, the movie theater, and just about anything else that wasn’t work-related, he drove quite a bit on evenings and weekends, too. (My mom also drove, especially taking us to piano lessons and my sister’s dance lessons, but, if the five of us were going somewhere together, Paco always drove.)

In those days, it wasn’t unusual to “go for a drive” as a form of recreation. Given that we lived in the Massachusetts/Vermont border area, there was beautiful scenery in any direction you chose to drive. And hills. And what to us was normal but in retrospect were narrow, winding, and largely unmarked roads. It didn’t matter. Paco was used to it and was a very good driver with a very good sense of direction.

Paco had said that he would stop driving when he turned 90. That turned out to be not quite true. I think he stopped when he was 92. By then, my mother was entering her final battle with congestive heart failure and Paco was staying with her in their apartment nearly all the time. Their senior community offered transportation for the occasional trip to the grocery store or for medical appointments and I was nearby and there every day and could drive for errands or deliver things to them. They decided to sell their car and Paco replaced his driver’s license with an official state ID.

The IDs have a longer renewal term than driver’s licenses do, so his current ID is good until he is 103. He’s currently 96. He says he doesn’t think he will make it to 100.

We’ll see.

Paco is famous among family for always saying “One day at a time.”

It’s all any of us can do.
*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “drive.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/06/11/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-june-12-2021/

so many roses!

rose

The above inadvertently artsy shot with sunbeams is of roses growing in our back yard. This rose is a daughter of a rosebush that grew near my mother’s childhood home in Hoosac Tunnel, Massachsuetts. You can read more of the backstory in this post which itself includes a personal essay from before I started blogging.

This rosebush is the subject of the one poem that appears in both my chapbook and collection manuscripts, which I can’t share here because it is currently unpublished. It tells the story of the revival of this daughter bush from near death and ends during my mother’s final illness.

We have just passed the second anniversary of her death. The rose bush apparently liked the snowy winter and slowly unfolding spring this year and has more blossoms than I have ever seen. It has also grown very tall, as you can see in the photo below. For reference, I’m 5′ 1.5″ (1.56 meters), so the rose bush is probably close to seven feet (2.1 meters) high.

with

Because this is an heirloom close-to-wild rose rather than a hybrid, it has a very strong scent. With so many blossoms this year, the smell is heavenly.

Nana would have loved it.

Granddaughter congratulations

Congratulations to granddaughter ABC who is turning four years old! She is a few weeks away from completing nursery school and will be entering Reception, the UK equivalent of US kindergarten, in September. She is reveling in the return to full-time in-person school, loves the parks and the garden, is learning to read, has a vivid imagination, inherited her parents’ musicality, and loves being a big sister, at least most of the time.

Congratulations also to granddaughter JG, who at not quite ten months old, is walking on her own. Watching the videos of her toddling reminds me of her mother, my firstborn E, who also stuck her tongue out when she was first walking on her own. I’m not sure if it is a sign of concentration or if it somehow helps with balance, but it certainly seems to be an inherited inclination. Also, adorable.

When we visited London in December 2019, we had planned to return in the spring, perhaps for Easter, and then for ABC’s third birthday, and in late summer for the birth of the new baby. E and her family planned to come visit us in the US for Christmas.

Due to the pandemic, none of that happened.

So, here we are, all fully vaccinated in upstate New York, but still not cleared for travel to the UK, missing another birthday. We’ve missed the entirety of JG’s babe-in-arms phase as she is now officially a toddler. And we still don’t know when we will be able to travel to the UK. They have been planning another easing of restrictions in mid-June, but now the even more virulent strain from India is spreading in the UK, so…

We don’t know about travel in person.

We do know that our love reaches them, even if our arms cannot.

The American Jobs Plan

At the moment, the Biden administration is meeting with Republican officeholders, including members of Congress, to revise his American Jobs Plan to gain bipartisan support. While many local and state level Republicans support the measure, Republican Congressional leaders are opposing it.

The plan is often referred to as the infrastructure bill and much of the debate has revolved around the definition of infrastructure. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of infrastructure is “the system of public works of a country, state, or region also the resources (such as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity.” The Congressional Republicans have been using the more narrow “public works” definition and complaining the bill goes far beyond “roads and bridges” which is true, but, while we certainly do need investment in car/truck transportation, the country needs much more than that.

In the transportation sector, we need to upgrade airports and railways, subways and bus systems, and charging systems for electric vehicles. Our electrical grid is antiquated and fragile, leading to horrible consequences such as the Texas blackout this part winter. It needs to be modernized to better incorporate distributed and utility-scale renewable energy and storage, which will make energy systems cheaper and more reliable. Water and sewer systems need massive overhauls to eliminate lead pipes, avert leaks, and bring clean drinking water to places that still do not have access. (One of the truly heart-breaking deficiencies in our water systems brought to public notice during the pandemic was that many people living on Tribal lands do not have access to clean running water needed for the recommended hand-washing protocols and daily life in general. The infection and death rates among indigenous peoples were higher than average, due to the ongoing lack of resources and medical care.)

The pandemic also pointed out the inequities in our communication systems. With so much learning and so many jobs going online, fast and reliable internet access became essential. Those with low income and rural folks suffered when they didn’t have those services available. This deficit has been obvious for a number of years and a few states, such as New York, have been working on it, but it is better to have the federal government involved to make sure that no one is left out.

The US also needs a lot of upgrades to buildings. Many of our schools, hospitals, and housing units are deficient in their heating/cooling/ventilation systems and need insulation and energy efficiency upgrades. Some also need structural work and renovation. Sadly, this impacts low-income areas more than high-income areas. Again, the federal government needs to step in to make sure that all people have safe, functional buildings.

The part of the plan that Congressional Republicans object to the most is support for our care system. There has long been a dearth of high-quality, affordable caregivers for children, elders, and people with debilitating illnesses or conditions, due in part to the low wages paid for this kind of work. During the pandemic, many child-care centers and schools closed, leaving parents with the tasks of 24/7 childcare plus tutoring, often combined with paid jobs. This impacted mothers more than fathers, with many more women leaving the workforce or cutting back hours of paid work to tend to caregiving duties. Now that more employers are wanting people to work on site, parents are faced with difficulties in trying to find child or elder care that they can afford. It’s also worth noting that the US is woefully behind other advanced economies in supporting social needs. The greater support for caregiving, health, and education in the UK versus the US was an important factor in my daughter and son-in-law deciding to settle their family in the UK.

The American Jobs Plan has provisions to support caregiving, such as paying good wages to people who provide care and good wages to other workers so that they can afford to pay for care if they need to. It also offers free access to pre-school for three- and four-year-olds and community college for high school grads. Somehow, Congressional Republicans have twisted this into a negative, arguing that the Plan is against family caregiving and would force more years of mandatory schooling. The pre-school and community college funding is available to all, but not compulsory. The option to choose family caregiving would expand if one salary can support the household, leaving a second adult free to engage in unpaid caregiving or to take an outside job without having all the money earned go to pay the cost of care. For households with only one adult, affordable, high-quality care availability makes it possible to work and support their family. One of the difficulties with the pandemic economic recovery is that many employers are not offering enough hours at a high enough wage for workers to be able to cover living expenses, often including caregiving costs. The answer to this problem is not to cut off unemployment payments as some have suggested; the answer is to pay living wages for all jobs. If a business cannot afford to pay its workers a living wage, it does not have a viable business plan and should not be operating.

What strikes me about the Congressional Republican position is that they favor jobs, like construction, that are predominantly filled by males, while discounting jobs, like caregiving and education, that are predominantly filled by females. In many areas, caregiving jobs are held predominantly by women of color. The Congressional Republican approach to the American Jobs Plan seems to be that physical objects like roads and bridges and the workers that make them are more important than people and the work to care for and educate them.

This is unfortunate. The Plan’s comprehensiveness is one of the things that impresses me the most. It integrates employment with addressing social, environmental, and justice concerns. For example, it creates jobs for workers displaced by the winding down of fossil fuel extraction to cap abandoned wells and clean up mines. It creates a Civilian Climate Corps to help us conserve land and prepare for future conditions. There are provisions to support US research and development and manufacturing within the country to boost employment and make sure we have supplies of important products made here to avoid shortages, especially in crisis situations. We all saw what happened in the early months of the pandemic when masks, gloves, and other medical equipment were in short supply because they were almost all imported goods. The Plan also looks to increased membership in unions which traditionally facilitate good wages and worker protection measures.

While the American Jobs Plan has majority support among the public, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says that no Republicans will vote for it. I don’t know if that will change after negotiations are complete. If the vote fails in the Senate after negotiations because Republicans still are not on board, then the Democrats should pass the original bill under budget reconciliation rules.

I should also point out that the Plan includes a way to pay for the costs over time, mostly through corporate tax reform and enforcement. The Republicans don’t like that. The public does. When pollsters ask about the American Jobs Plan and include the payment mechanism in the description, the approval rating rises even higher.

I do have a Republican representative in Congress and I ask her and her colleagues to think about whether they are there to serve their constituents or their corporate donors. We’ll be able to tell their answer by how they vote on this bill.

Vaccinated and (mostly) unmasked

Shortly after I wrote this post, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published new guidance regarding mask wearing/distancing among fully vaccinated people in response to newly published research findings.

The good news is that fully vaccinated people can stop wearing masks indoors with extremely low risk of contracting or spreading coronavirus. Mask wearing is still recommended in medical settings such as hospitals. Requirements to mask on public transport remain in effect, as do any mandates or policies put in place by state/local governments and businesses.

The bad news is that people who are not fully vaccinated might also stop wearing masks – and wouldn’t stand out because others would just assume if they weren’t wearing a mask that they were vaccinated – and so could be exposing themselves and their contacts to coronavirus, which would drive up infection rates. This is not helped by states that have already dropped their mask mandates or never had them in the first place.

Some governors immediately dropped their mask mandates while others, such as Governor Cuomo of New York where I live, are reviewing the situation before making any changes.

Personally, I expect that I, though vaccinated, will not be making many changes in my mask behavior immediately. The few stores that I frequent are likely to keep their mask policies in place for now. Visiting my father in the health care building of his senior community will probably still require masking because, although they are vaccinated, the residents are still vulnerable due to their age and underlying health problems. If the state does drop the mask mandate, small businesses, such as hair salons and restaurants, may decide to let vaccinated customers unmask and could easily ask for proof of vaccination to give peace of mind to their employees and customers.

I am frustrated by the media commentary surrounding this CDC announcement. For weeks, commentators have been complaining that the CDC was too slow in changing its recommendations for vaccinated people and that it was a disincentive to get vaccinated. The CDC was waiting for additional scientific findings to be published before making changes, but, now that they have, the commentators are complaining that it happened too fast.

They are also complaining that the CDC guidance is confusing. It’s not. It is meant for use on an individual level and it’s very clear about what activities fully vaccinated individuals can do without masking/distancing and what activities unvaccinated people can do without masking/distancing. The CDC and the federal government are not the ones with authority to require masks in stores, churches, etc. State and local governments and businesses do that.

So, please, everyone, stop whining, learn about the recommendations from the CDC and the policies in place in your local area, and behave accordingly for the safety of yourself and others.

If you are eligible for vaccination but haven’t done it yet, make arrangements to do so as soon as possible so you don’t become seriously ill or pass the virus on to someone else.

Remember to be kind and respectful to others. Some vaccinated people will choose to continue wearing masks because they are immunocompromised and more susceptible. I know people with allergies who are continuing to mask outdoors to protect themselves from high pollen counts. Some parents of children who are too young to be vaccinated wear their masks to be a good example for their children. It is not your business to criticize someone else’s decision and masking is never a wrong choice when it comes to public health. In some countries, masks have been common for years, especially during flu season or when there are air quality problems.

The CDC recommendations rely on public trust. Unvaccinated people need to demonstrate that they are worthy of trust by following the public health guidance. Overall infection and death rates are down, but they will spike again if people don’t continue to vaccinate and mask/distance until they complete the vaccine process. A spike might not happen until colder weather drives more people indoors, but it won’t happen at all if we can get the vast majority of teens and adults vaccinated by fall.

The prospect of the epidemic phase of COVID-19 being over by fall is within reach, but only if people follow this guidance and get vaccinated.

Let’s do it!

SoCS: growth

It’s spring in my hemisphere so signs of new growth are everywhere.

The lawn is growing. There are new flowers blooming in turn. We are excited to see the new landscaping we had put in last fall growing. Because most of the plants are new to us, it’s fun to see how they put out new shoots and when. Some have already flowered, along with our old standbys like bleeding hearts. We are especially pleased that the ferns that were re-located in the project are coming back strong, unfurling from their fiddlehead phase.

The most important growth we are observing this spring, though, is coming over our computer screens. As some of you may recall, we have yet to meet our granddaughter JG in person. She was born during the pandemic in the UK, so we aren’t able to travel there yet.

She is now nine months old and growing up quickly. She has three teeth in with more ready to break through. She is anxious to walk and can already manage to toddle along holding with just one hand. Soon, she will be off on her own. (She doesn’t care for the whole crawling thing.)

What is most endearing is that we can now see more of her personality coming through over our computer. She has grown enough to be curious about these figures on the screen who talk directly to her. We can engage in conversations where we react to her baby-babbles. She can lock eyes with us. We can even play peek-a-boo with her.

Her mom calls us Nana and Grandpa and Auntie T. As we look forward to that blessed but currently unknown day, we wonder if our screen visits will translate into JG “knowing” us when we see her in person for the first time.

We hope she will grow to love us, even from afar, as we love her.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “growth.” Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/05/14/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-15-2021/

Another Pfizer vaccine advance

Yesterday, the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 was granted emergency use authorization for children aged 12-15, extending the prior age range of 16+. These younger teens can receive the same dosage as older teens with similar effect. This is good news because all high school and most middle school students should be able to be protected before schools open in August or September 2021.

Pfizer and other vaccine suppliers are currently studying the proper dosage for younger children. These eventual approvals will probably be split into several groups, 5-11-year-olds, 2-4, and 6-23 months. The research with these younger children takes longer because they have to start with lower doses and increase to find the lowest possible dose that will still mount a strong immune response. Until these children can be vaccine protected, they need for all the teens and adults to get vaccinated to reduce their chances of being exposed. While young children tend to be less sick than adults if they get infected, they can become very ill, even fatally, and suffer long-term symptoms. Even if they have mild or no symptoms, they also keep the community spread of the virus going, which means that the pandemic phase cannot end.

Canada gave authorization for 12-15 for the Pfizer vaccine last week. It’s expected that Moderna will be doing so soon. Pfizer has also applied for full authorization in the US, a process that will take several months to complete. I am especially pleased with the success of the Pfizer vaccine because data from spouse B and daughter T are part of the research findings that are showing how safe and effective the vaccine is. Monitoring for them continues to see how long immunity lasts and whether boosters are needed. I also continue to participate in the trial, but, because I was originally part of the placebo group, I didn’t receive the vaccine until February so my data are not useful for the longevity factor, although I could become part of a test group for boosters in the future if warranted.

Internationally, vaccine companies are continuing their research and manufacturing, but distribution is neither fast nor broad enough. India is particularly tragic, with widespread disease, scant treatment, and, despite being a major manufacturer of pharmaceuticals and vaccines, very little vaccine protection among its residents. President Biden has joined growing calls for vaccine companies to suspend their patent protections so that countries around the world can manufacture vaccines for their regions. This would also entail making available the raw materials, supplies, and expertise to manufacture the vaccines, some of which require new techniques such as mRNA.

I feel an odd mix of hope, dread, and sorrow. The COVID rate in New York State where I live is very low now. We are gradually relaxing some of our restrictions and I am planning to go on a writing retreat later this month. This summer, we think we are finally going to be able to travel to the UK to visit daughter E and her family and get to hold our granddaughter JG for the first time, although she is almost walking on her own and may not want to stop long enough to be held by the time we can get there.

At the same time, there are still people sick and dying in my state and exponentially more in other states and countries. It’s frustrating because we have treatment tools and vaccines now that we didn’t have a year ago but they aren’t reaching all the people that need them. What’s most frustrating is people who do have access but don’t take advantage of the opportunity, letting their fear, ideology, contrariness, or sense of invincibility stand in the way of personal and public health.

Please, everyone, continue to do all that is within your power to end the pandemic. This will look different depending on personal and community circumstances, but mask in indoor public spaces, distance when appropriate, be careful about the size of gatherings, stay home if you are sick, vaccinate when it’s available for you, keep up to date on the newest public health recommendations.

Show your respect for others and do your best to protect them. Pandemics are, by definition, phenomena that affect us all. It takes all of us working together to end one.

SoCS: carousels

To my immediate left is a throw on the back of the couch which features carousel horses.

Here in Broome County NY, carousels are part of our identity. Back in the early part of the twentieth century, one of the important sources of jobs for immigrants and for people already established here was the shoe company named Endicott-Johnson for its founders. They also gave their names to two of the villages, Endicott and Johnson City, that with the City of Binghamton make up the Triple Cities of Broome County. I’m sure everyone is excited to learn this local geography!

The Endicott and Johnson families wanted their employees and their families to have a good quality of life, so they paid them fairly and helped with home ownership, as well as innovations like providing health care and pensions. They also invested in creating recreation opportunities, which brings us to carousels.

The families installed carousels in six public parks scattered around the area. Because they didn’t want anyone to be deprived of a ride, part of the stipulation of the gift was that they would always be free to ride. And because one of the founders recalled the disappointment of getting onto a carousel but being on a stationary horse, all the horses on these carousels are “jumpers” which means they go up and down as well as ’round and ’round.

Most of the figures on the carousels are horses, but some also have a couple of other animals included, such as a dog or boar. Most of the carousels also include chariots to accommodate babes-in-arms or anyone who can’t climb up onto a horse.

When my daughters were young, we spent many hours at the various carousels. They traditionally open Memorial Day weekend and close after Labor Day weekend. I admit that I also love to ride carousels and we would see many other adults there, too. Sometimes, bridal parties will even make stops at the carousels to take photos. My favorite visitors would be elders who grew up in the area but then had moved away; they would come to take a ride and tell stories of how it had been visiting the carousels when they were young.

In our photo albums, we have a succession of years of photos of E and T visiting the carousels. It was a privilege when granddaughter ABC was living with us to introduce her to the carousels, too. It won’t be this summer, but maybe next it will be safe to travel and we’ll get to bring ABC and her little sister JG to the carousels for a ride. We’ll take photos with our phones that they can look at when they return home to the UK and remember.

ABC’s first carousel ride in a chariot being held by her mom with her dad riding on the horse beside them

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was to write about the memories evoked by what was to one’s immediate left when writing the post. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/05/07/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-may-8-2021/

post-vaccine life

With my immediate family in the US vaccinated against COVID-19, we are inching our way back to a more interactive life while still following the national and New York State guidelines.

The most important thing that has happened for us personally is a greater ability to see my dad, known here as Paco, who lives nearby in the assisted living unit of his long-time senior community. After months of not being able to visit, we can now go to his apartment, albeit in pre-arranged thirty minute slots. I can also sign him out to go for a car ride; previously, he was only allowed away from the unit for medical care.

This has meant that I can see him more times per week and that I can take him out for treats. Last week, we went to an ice cream stand in the afternoon. This morning, I was able to bring him to get a doughnut and coffee. We are still being cautious about indoor spaces, so I don’t bring him into buildings. We enjoy our treats in the car or at outdoor tables.

The best thing, though, was that my older sister and her spouse were able to come visit for a couple of days last week. They hadn’t been able to visit since last summer. They live in Maryland and couldn’t enter New York until recently due to our travel/quarantine restrictions. Because of the vaccines, those have been relaxed. With all of us vaccinated, we were able to have everyone to our house for dinner. B made lasagna from Nana’s recipe, homemade Italian bread, sautéed asparagus, and apple pie. It was all delicious – and extra heartwarming to be together after so many months apart.

We are also starting to work our way back to activities like dining indoors. I’ve had one lunch and one dinner inside restaurants. We wore masks when not eating or drinking and the tables were spaced so that we weren’t very close to other diners. We are likely to continue doing carryout more often than dining in for a while, especially because dining in most likely involves having to make reservations while carryout is easier to do spur-of-the-moment.

There was just a national policy announcement clarifying mask use recommendations for outdoor events in light of vaccinations. Vaccinated people can exercise, socialize in small groups, and eat outdoors without needing to wear a mask. They should, though, continue to mask if they are in a large group setting, such as a sporting event or concert where the crowd would be close together for extended periods. It is good to have this clarification, but it won’t make much difference for our family. New York has had a mask mandate in place for over a year, but it was adapted in order to deal with the circumstances. Given that we don’t live in a congested area, we were already accustomed to taking maskless walks in our neighborhood. If we stopped to talk to someone, we would just keep six feet of distance between us. Still, it was good to see that there are now different recommendations in place for vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Perhaps it will serve as motivation for people who haven’t yet been vaccinated to arrange to do that. In many locations, you don’t even need to make an appointment in advance.

If people need more motivation to get vaccinated, they can switch on a news report from India to see the horrific toll that the virus takes when it sweeps through an unvaccinated population. The infection and hospitalization rates are staggering. A new variant has emerged and there are so many deaths that the system to handle them is overwhelmed.

This virus remains very dangerous, capable of inflicting serious illness and death. The vaccines are safe and very effective. Everyone aged sixteen and over in the United States has access to vaccine and should be immunized unless there is a personal medical issue that precludes it. If you don’t feel personally vulnerable, remember that, even if you yourself don’t get severe symptoms, you could pass the virus on to someone else who could become very ill or die.

The only way to end the pandemic is for there to be large-scale immunity everywhere. Every effort we make, whether it is our individual vaccination and precautions or our large-scale efforts such as sending vaccines, treatments, and supplies wherever they are needed around the world, is part of what is needed to end this.

And remember: People taking vaccines approved for emergency use are not “guinea pigs.” The “guinea pigs” are the hundreds of thousands of people like me and my family who volunteered to be in clinical trials. (B, T, and I are all part of the Pfizer/BioNTech phase III trial. I’ve posted about it a number of times over the past months.) Government agencies and the pharmaceutical companies are continuing to collect data and have affirmed that the dangers of contracting COVID are much, much greater than any side effects of the vaccine.

Please, everyone do your part to keep yourself and others safe. Vaccinate, mask, distance, and practice good hygiene. Pay attention to credible medical and public health sources. The rewards of being able to safely gather, to give a hug to a loved one, to see a friend’s smile are simple, yet profound.

We just need to work together to make it possible for everyone, everywhere.

Another reading!

It’s been quite a poetry reading week for me! I shared the link for my reading with the Broome County Arts Council here and now I will be sharing an event that happened on Tuesday evening which is now available for viewing through Facebook.

The University Professors Press hosted a book launch and reading for Lullabies and Confessions: Poetic Explorations of Parenting Across the Lifespan. It is the eleventh volume in their Poetry, Healing, and Growth series. I was honored to have my poem “Hydro Superintendent” chosen for inclusion in this anthology.

The event began with an interview of Dr. Louis Hoffman and Dr. Lisa Xochitl Vallejos, both of whom are psychologist/counselors and poets. They are the anthology editors, as well as contributors of poems and authors of the introduction and response activities. I was fascinated to hear them speaking about how they use poetry in and as therapy. The discussion resonated with me as a poet who recognizes the power of poetry to evoke deeper truths and who often uses writing to work through my reactions to real-life events.

Following the interview, over a dozen of the poets read their work from the anthology, including me. The range of work is wide and, as you might expect, some of the topics of the poems are difficult. A poem that dealt with racism was especially searing as we had learned the verdict in the George Floyd case just hours before the event.

The links in the second paragraph will take you to the reading and to University Professors Press if you wish to order your own copy of the anthology. You can also navigate to other volumes in the series, which I’m sure are all equally illuminating about the human experience.