A fairy tale wedding


A few days ago, spouse B, daughter T, and I attended the wedding of M and S. M is B’s and my niece and is the cousin closest in age to T.

M is also a big fan of Disney World. S chose to propose to M there and M planned their wedding and reception with a Cinderella theme, including the napkin above. There were castles and glass slippers and golden coaches incorporated into decorations, dancing into the night, a beautiful gown with yards of tulle.

Many echoes of a classic fairy tale.

But M and S don’t have an ordinary life. M is nurse with special training in emergency medicine who currently serves as a flight nurse, transporting critically ill or injured people to medical centers that can give them the best care possible. S is a state trooper, doing his best to keep people safe and assist them in emergencies.

They both do extraordinary things on a regular basis.

They also are facing an extraordinary challenge. Early in their courtship, M developed a serious medical issue but S stayed by her side, even when M tried to break up with him in order to protect him.

The strength of their bond in the face of adversity brought more than the usual number of tears at the wedding and during the toasts at the reception, where even the especially-stoic state troopers choked up over M and S’s love story.

Even at a fairy tale wedding, there are no guarantees of how long the “ever after” will be.

M and S showed us, though, that their love is strong and eternal, whatever obstacles are thrown in their path.

SoCS: ring

I’ve been out all day at the bicentennial of my hometown so this will be a short SoCS post.

When I saw that Linda’s prompt was ring, what came to mind was the poem I wrote about taking off my father’s wedding ring after he died. The first anniversary of his death was Wednesday. The poem was published this spring by Wilderness House Literary Review here.
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Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/09/16/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-17-2022/

One-Liner Wednesday: Paco memorial

Paco and an Irish rainbow

Remembering my father on the first anniversary of his death.
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Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/09/14/one-liner-wednesday-he-was-a-fun-guy/

Two poems in RAR!

I’m pleased to announce that I have two new poems published in the Fall-Winter issue of Rat’s Ass Review! (In case you are wondering about the somewhat unusual name, read the longer version of their submission guidelines, which is one of the most informative, honest, and entertaining I’ve ever encountered.) Many thanks to current editor Roderick Bates for choosing my work for inclusion in this issue.

There are 61 contributing poets plus cover art, so there’s lots to enjoy! Contributors are arranged alphabetically, so you will find my poems listed under Joanne Corey. Clicking on any poet’s surname takes you to their bio in the last section.

The inspiration for my first poem “The Banned Bookmobile” is a project under development at WordPlace, the Southern Tier Literary Center at the Bundy Museum, Binghamton, NY. J. Barrett Wolf, director of Wordplace, is planning to assemble a collection of banned/challenged books in a bus that can travel about to present programs on the First Amendment, censorship, and other topics. (Editor Rick Bates helpfully made the title of the poem a link to the web page for the project.)

For those of you who may not be familiar, in rural/underserved communities, it was common to have a bookmobile visit several times a year, giving schoolchildren and adults the chance to borrow a wider range of books than were available in town. I remember the excitement in my rural New England town of 200 when the bookmobile visited. Although I loved our town library, it was very small and the bookmobile offered many more options.

My poem references several books/series that have been banned from various schools or libraries in the United States, including And Tango Makes Three, the Harry Potter series, The Bluest Eye, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

“Video Chat with our 95-year-old Father” was written in early 2021, shortly after Paco had moved into the assisted living unit of his senior community. Due to pandemic restrictions, my sisters and I weren’t allowed to visit his place, even though I lived nearby. The staff would set up a video session with their iPad and then leave to attend to other duties. Unfortunately, Paco had difficulty grasping the situation and the technology involved.

As always, comments are welcome!

COVID bivalent boosters

As you may recall, spouse B, daughter T, and I were all participants in the Phase III clinical trial for the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech. We then all participated in a follow-on third dose trial. B and I left the trial this spring because we were eligible to receive a fourth dose and wanted the extra protection before travelling. T stayed in the trial until its end earlier this summer.

Here in the United States, a new booster was recently approved which combines the original formulation with a new one designed to better combat the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants. BA.5 is the dominant variant currently in the US, accounting for about 88% of cases. About 11% are caused by BA.4. The new booster is expected to strengthen protection against serious illness/death and, one hopes, cut down on symptomatic infection somewhat, as well.

Given that I am still trying to remain COVID-free and that I have several trips coming this fall, I decided to receive one of the new boosters at my local pharmacy. I chose to receive the Pfizer formulation because all my others have been theirs, although there is a Moderna version which is also a fine choice. This was my first time receiving the vaccine in a pharmacy setting. My prior doses had all been in a medical office or a state vaccination site. I made an appointment online and everything was very fast and efficient.

Dr. Ashish Jha, who is the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the long-time director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have said that it is possible that we may have reached a point where an annual booster will be enough to protect the vast majority of Americans from serious illness/death from COVID, similar to annual flu shots. Some people who are especially vulnerable due to age or medical condition might need more frequent boosters. The wild card, though, would be the emergence of a new strain that could evade our antibodies and current vaccines.

So, my message is to receive one of these new boosters as soon as they become available wherever you are. The US has been first to authorize them, but it seems they will become more widely available globally soon. Remember, though, that these are booster doses given to people who have already completed an initial vaccine series. If you haven’t completed an initial vaccine series, start NOW!

Meanwhile, here in Broome County, our community risk level is still medium. While I wait for the new booster to take full effect, I will still mask for indoor gatherings and shopping. I’ll be evaluating what to do after that, although these boosters are so new that data may be hard to come by.

I hope to stay well and hope that you do, too.

My First Chapbook!

I am thrilled to announce that Hearts, my first chapbook, will be published by Kelsay Books in 2023! I don’t yet have an exact release date but expect it to be around September.

Kelsay Books was founded by poet Karen Kelsay in 2012 and currently has over a thousand titles listed in its bookstore. This makes it a much larger press than most of my previous submissions, some of which went to presses that only publish one or two titles a year. I took a chance submitting to Kelsay because two of my local Grapevine Poets, Jessica Dubey and Burt Myers, have books forthcoming from them. I’ll be sure to post their books here at Top of JC’s Mind when they become available.

Kelsay publishes poetry exclusively under four different imprints: Aldrich Press for free verse poetry up to 90 pages; White Violet Press for formal poetry up to 100 pages (Burt’s category); Alabaster Leaves for chapbooks under 50 pages (Jessica and my books will be under this imprint); and Daffydowndilly for rhyming poetry by adults for children.

Another welcome feature of Kelsay is that they respond very quickly, generally within fourteen days of submission. I received word of acceptance on day ten. This is blazingly fast. The typical response time for prior submissions I had done was six months, with a few taking more than a year to send out rejections.

Hearts centers around my mother, known here at TJCM as Nana, particularly in the last years of her life as she struggled with heart failure. The first incarnation of the chapbook was assembled in fall of 2017 as an entry into the QuillsEdge Press contest with the theme “Transitions.” It was named a finalist and the poem “Sixteen Hours” was included in an anthology that was published in conjunction with the winning manuscript, Skin Gin. That version also placed in the top 1% of submissions in another contest.

That early positive feedback proved to be important in the following years. As Nana’s health continued to decline, I wrote poems to help me process but couldn’t think about reworking the manuscript. After her death in May, 2019, I took some time to extend, workshop, and edit the chapbook and started sending it out in spring of 2020. That version was a semifinalist in a contest but was also getting a lot of rejections from contests and open submission periods.

I continued to do edits and added a new poem in spring, 2021. At that point, my father, known here as Paco, was entering the last few months of his life, so doing submissions faded into the background. He passed away last September and I returned to doing a few submissions before the end of the year. I was doing submissions for my full-length manuscript, as well.

Kelsay was the 34th submission for Hearts in its various forms.

There is a difference of opinion on whether that is a lot or just run-of-the-mill. Most of the people that I’ve told have noted my perseverance and commitment in the face of rejection but a few, who have decades-long experience as poets, think thirty-four isn’t that bad or unusual.

For now, I’m still feeling joy mixed with relief. In these past years, I’ve watched many of my poet-friends publish their first books and had begun to wonder if I just wasn’t good enough. Now, I’m coming to think of it more as finding the right match. Kelsay Books makes clear they are seeking manuscripts that are accessible to a general audience. I consider myself a community poet, as my experience has come through workshopping with fellow poets and community poetry sessions with the Binghamton Poetry Project and others, instead of from academic studies. I tend to write in a narrative style. While I occasionally write in Chinese/Japanese-derived forms like tanka, I have never written anything decent in traditional European forms, like sonnet or villanelle. Every once in a while, a rejection email comes with a bit of feedback, which tends to run along the lines of my work not being crafted well enough or sophisticated enough. While I do continue to work on craft and revision skills, I will never write like someone with an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) degree.

And that’s okay.

It’s just easier to believe now that I can say I have a book forthcoming.

I’m sure I will post more about this as I work through the process of publication and gain more skills along the way. Style guidelines. Fonts. Cover art.

One of the blessings of being in a community of poets, though, is that help is available if I need it. I also now have a publisher with a team of professionals to get my book out into the world.

It still feels strange to be able to say that.

But I think I could get used to it.

US education

In the United States, some school districts have already started the new school year and the rest will follow over the next couple of weeks.

In many places, the situation is fraught.

First, an organizational primer for those outside the US. The United States, unlike many countries, does not have a national education system. The various states exercise control over the curriculum and policies to greater or lesser degrees, depending on the state. The greatest degree of control usually rests with local school boards.

It’s a mixed blessing.

In some districts, the local school boards have bought into the notion that something as simple as having a book that includes a gay character in the library is akin to “grooming” students to be gay. Or that it isn’t permissible to discuss racism because it might make white students feel bad or guilty. This puts teachers in the uncomfortable position of being afraid to teach history, civics, literature, science, etc. in the way that they were trained to do as educators.

Some of these issues are even more pronounced when they become a state policy. The most prominent example of this at the moment is Florida. This school year marks the beginning of enforcement of the Parental Rights in Education Act, informally known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The most prominent provision of the law is that there must be no classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. The reasoning is that these topics should be totally controlled by (heterosexual) parents.

But, here’s the thing. We use gendered language ALL THE TIME. Some of the first sight words that children learn – mother, father, boy, girl, man, woman, he, she – are all gendered terms. Are teachers supposed to use gender-neutral words at all times, referring to students, parents, and siblings rather than using such common terms as boys and girls, moms and dads, and brothers and sisters? What if a student asks why the family picture a classmate drew has two moms or two dads? Will the teacher be sued if they say anything beyond “ask your parents”?

Florida is also facing what has been termed a “critical teacher shortage.” It’s hard to say how much is due to curriculum concerns versus low pay, lack of administrative support, large class sizes, contract provisions, etc. Teacher shortages are fairly common in the United States, especially in math and science. To fill gaps, some states allow people to teach subjects in which they are not certified or even allow people to teach who are not certified at all.

Meanwhile, teachers and schools are under COVID-related pressures. Although almost all students, teachers, and staff are eligible, many remain unvaccinated, raising the risk of illness. During the pandemic, some students fell far behind academically during the period of remote instruction and need highly qualified teachers and extra tutoring to help them catch up to grade level. Teachers are also struggling with the mental health and developmental needs of students who faced fear, uncertainty, and isolation for months and now struggle with inattention, misbehavior, and lack of age-appropriate social skills. Some teachers are opting to retire as soon as they are eligible rather than continue under these stresses.

In some areas, schools are dealing with church/state issues, as well. Because of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the government may not establish a religion. However, a couple of recent decisions by the conservative majority of the Supreme Court have poked holes in what had been termed the wall of separation between church and state. Both cases benefit the expression of Christianity; I wonder if the decisions would have been the same if they had been about public prayer by Muslims, for example. In some localities or states, there are even instances of (white) Christian nationalism creeping into school curricula, such as teaching that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, which it was not, and downplaying the role of enslavement and indigenous land theft/genocide in our national history.

A lot of this is supposedly done in the name of parental rights, that is, that parents are the ones who should determine what their children learn in public school. I don’t agree with that. I look upon public education as a public good. I want free, high-quality education for every student so they can grow into responsible, mature members of our communities. They need to learn wide-ranging skills in communication, quantitative and scientific skills, technology, social studies and civics, and the arts. Having a broad base helps to develop critical and creative thinking and to identify where a student’s interests lie. Learning in community teaches how to work together and solve problems in a civil way. That was my expectation when I chose to send my children to public school. If my priority had been to control what they were exposed to, I would have opted to home school them. If I wanted them to have learn through a faith-based approach, I would have sent them to a religious school.

I don’t believe that a subgroup of parents should be able to dictate the learning environment of all children in our public schools. If a parent thinks that a certain assignment is inappropriate for their child, the vast majority of schools have a mechanism to assign an alternative. However, that parent should not have the power to say that the other students can’t undertake the original assignment. If those parents don’t understand that in terms of community values, they should at least understand that the parents of the other students have the same right to direct their child’s education as they do. If a parent thinks that all/most of the assignments are inappropriate for their child, it’s time to either homeschool or send their child to a private or religious school that meets their needs.

With my daughters in their thirties and my grandchildren abroad, I admit that I am grateful to have been spared the personal pressures of education during the pandemic. There is a lot of ground to make up for students in the US. Let’s concentrate on that for the good of their future and our country.

still COVID

I’m sad to report that the total death toll in the United States from COVID-19 is now over 1.04 million with over 93 million confirmed cases. The actual case count is no doubt higher, as some states have stopped reporting and many cases that are detected by at-home testing are not reported to health agencies at all. New cases are still occurring at a rate of 93,000 a day with 457 deaths (7-day rolling average on August 22, 2022).

It’s still heart-breaking.

And still considered by most experts a pandemic, although perhaps heading in the direction of being considered endemic in the United States soon, as influenza is.

Most cases in the US now are Omicron variants BA.4 or BA.5. There is some hope that new boosters that contain components targeted at Omicron variants might give some additional protection going into the fall and winter, especially against hospitalizations and deaths, but we will have to see if a) people actually get vaccinated and b) the vaccines do boost protection for any length of time.

And/or c) a new strain could develop that evades all prior immunity, is even more wildly contagious, doesn’t respond to current treatments, and/or causes more severe illness.

At home, B, T, and I all still remain uninfected to the best of our knowledge. It’s possible that one or more of us have had an asymptomatic case but there is no real way to know. Any time that we have had symptoms, we have tested, as we have also for travel and after known exposures. We also have had extra tests as part of our participation in the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine trials. T remains a participant in the third shot trial; B and I exited the trial in order to receive a fourth dose before travelling to the UK this spring. I believe that our vaccination status has helped us to avoid infection and plan to receive one of the new booster shots this fall, if I’m eligible for what will be my fifth dose. T may be eligible for a booster after she finishes with her trial participation this fall if those boosters are available to people under 50.

Broome County, New York, managed to have only a few weeks in the Centers for Disease Control category of low community risk for transmission before going back up to medium. I’ve gone back to masking with a KF94 while shopping or in other indoor public places. I’m making determinations on small gatherings on a case by case basis. Other than church services, I’m avoiding large gatherings.

Some people think I’m being overly cautious at this point but I am still trying to avoid infection, if I can. At the very least, if I do become infected, I will know that I was doing everything I could to keep myself healthy so that I don’t suffer guilt on top of COVID. I am well aware that, even with multiple vaccine doses, masking, avoiding crowds, etc., Omicron, especially BA.5, has been quite successful at evading immunity and protections. I know from what the public health experts are saying and also anecdotally among my friends. There are very few left who have managed to stay COVID-free in recent months.

A large part of my motivation to keep from getting infected is fear of long COVID. While SARS-CoV -2 is too new a virus for researchers to fully understand, it’s possible that I may have some genetic risk factors that could come into play regarding long COVID. None of this is helped by the fact that the underlying medical conditions I have are themselves not well understood.

So, I’ll keep on doing the best I can to stay as healthy as possible.

Wish me luck.

I’m going to need it.

inflation and energy

As the United States Senate passed a major budget reconciliation bill dealing with climate change, energy sources, health care, and corporate taxes this weekend, there has been a lot of public whining from Republicans and industry, saying that the bill will increase, not lower inflation.

Judging from my family’s experience, the bill will lower inflation by decreasing energy costs.

As regular readers may recall, my household has spent years in efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. We have electrified everything in our home, including a geothermal heating/cooling system. We reduced our demand by increasing our insulation and installing LED lighting. We drive our fully electric Chevy Bolt for local driving. (For trips over 200 miles, we drive our plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica, which gets better mileage in gasoline mode than the non-hybrid version.) We own panels in a solar farm because our home was not a good candidate for rooftop panels.

So, this summer, our monthly electricity bill is $17.35, which is the delivery charge from our electric utility. This covers all our household lighting, cooling, laundry, electronics, water heating, etc. plus all our local and short-trip driving.

Meanwhile, many households are burdened with paying $100 to fill their gas tank for the week, plus the cost of their household electricity and methane, propane, or other fuels that they use for heating water, cooking, drying clothes, etc.

A large share of recent inflation is due to increased fossil fuel prices. For our family, that has been felt mostly in the higher cost of food, which is largely driven by the expense of fuel.

I realize that not every household will be able to follow our exact path to be nearly free of fossil fuels but the Inflation Reduction Act just passed by the Senate, which is expected to be passed by the House and sent to President Biden to sign into law later this week, will go a long way to reducing expensive fossil fuel use for residents. As more renewable power comes on line, electricity costs will come down because it is cheaper to produce than fossil fuel electricity. There are rebates targeted at lower-to-middle income folks to help move to electric vehicles, which are much cheaper to run than internal combustion engines. As battery costs have fallen, electric cars are already around the same price as some conventional cars/trucks, so the rebates may make them cheaper to buy.

It’s true that inflation will not suddenly disappear, but this bill has provisions that will bring it down and will help to decrease future inflation spikes by removing inherently volatile fossil fuel prices from the center of our economy. The bill is projected to save average households about $500/year in energy costs. Some households, such as ours, will be able to save much more than that.

So, let’s get this done and enacted! The sooner we do, the sooner it will help people and the planet.

August 1st

When we were visiting in London last Christmas, daughter E gave us a calendar featuring photos of granddaughters ABC and JG. Most often, the photos were taken in that month the prior year, so turning the page for August brought a four generation photo with Paco from their visit last year.

The timing of that visit was a blessing, existing in the tiny window of their being able to get travel permission from the US and UK and before Paco’s final steep decline that led to his death in September.

I’ve been struggling this summer with the memories from last year, many of which have been difficult.

It’s good to have this photo with smiles that I can feel in my heart, even if my eyes fill with tears.

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