van update

When we returned from the UK, the newly replaced battery in our van had lost all its charge. After three days – and yet another new battery – the dealership was able to determine that the screen in the center of the dashboard which controls all the environmental systems, radio, navigation, phone connection, etc. was malfunctioning and draining the battery. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a replacement. They have ordered one, but we have no idea how long it will take to arrive, so they pulled out the module so that we can drive the van while we wait. We don’t have a radio or phone pairing capability, but we do have cruise control and heater/defroster that we can set with push buttons, so we are good for now.
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two chapbooks to order!

I’m excited to share pre-order news for two forthcoming chapbooks by Boiler House Poets Collective members through Finishing Line Press. It was my privilege to be involved in manuscript reviews with the poets for both chapbooks, so I know firsthand that they are fantastic!

Girl, Woman, Bird by Katherine (Kay) Morgan encompasses personal and national history and the natural world, especially birds. Kay also shares her gift for ekphrastic poems in this chapbook, as one might expect from one of the original Boiler House poets who met during a residency at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, although the art that invokes these poems is not all contemporary. Girl, Woman, Bird is available for pre-order now and will begin to ship on March 18th.

For Dear Life by Jessica Dubey reflects on the impacts of her husband’s brain surgery and recovery on their lives. Besides being a member of Boiler House, Jessica is also part of my local poetry workshop, the Grapevine Group, so I was able to witness the creation of this chapbook poem by poem. Jessica’s ability to take us through such difficult terrain is stunning. For Dear Life may be ordered now for shipment beginning May 13.

Check out the links for additional information and ordering. I already have my orders in for both!
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JC’s Confessions #20

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

I hate exercising.

I can almost hear people saying that I haven’t found the right activity or I will feel better once I’m doing it or it will give me more energy or some other positive thing about exercise that I’ve heard before, but no.

While I do enjoying walking with someone in pleasant surroundings, I do it for the conversation or the setting, not because walking is good for me or inherently pleasurable. I don’t find that I feel accomplished or energized after exercising, just more tired, although that doesn’t translate into sleeping better. I am not a very kinesthetic person. I’m more cerebral and am happiest in quiet, calm places.

There have been long periods of my life where I have made myself exercise nearly every day, so it’s not that I can’t do. I just have never been able to get above the “barely tolerable” feeling about it.

I admit that, since my father’s passing last September, I’ve been less active. I’m a bit out of condition, as I could tell by how difficult it was for me to keep up with everyone else on our recent trip to the UK. I’m not sure how much I could improve through a concerted attempt to exercise more or how much is that, at 61, I can’t expect to be as strong as I was two or three decades ago. I have an appointment with my doctor next week and will ask what she thinks.

Meanwhile, I am back in physical therapy for a recurring health problem. I’m trying to be good about doing my at-home exercises, but that may actually compromise any attempts to try to do even more exercise, as there are limits to how many things I can make myself do, as I confessed here.

I don’t expect, though, that, somehow, I’m going to suddenly find joy in exercise, which, in a culture obsessed with sports and fitness, is something close to a sin.

I will, though, dislike aside, try to do what I must to keep going for as many years as I am able.
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seditious conspiracy and excess electors

As we have just passed the one-year anniversary of the attack on the US Capitol, we are getting more public insight into the investigations surrounding it.

In the United States, law enforcement and local, state, and federal judiciary officials do not publicly comment on ongoing investigations. They do this to avoid tipping their hand to those who might potentially be contacted to testify or who might eventually be indicted and also to not prejudice future jurors. This does, however, lead to lots of public speculation. Over 700 people had been charged in connection to the January 6th attack, many with misdemeanors but some with felonies, such as assaulting police officers.

This week, eleven members of the extremist group Oath Keepers, including their founder Stewart Rhodes, were charged with seditious conspiracy in conjunction with the attack on the Capitol. While there had been a few prior conspiracy charges, such as conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, this is the first instance of charges of seditious conspiracy.

The indictment is quite detailed about the weeks of planning and the actions of the Oath Keepers before, during, and after the January 6th Capitol breach. It helps explain why it took a bit over a year to issue the indictment, as it takes time to amass the evidence needed for the grand jury to charge the defendants. Now that this indictment focused on the Oath Keepers has been handed down, it’s possible that we may see other, similar indictments of members of the Proud Boys and other extremist groups. Given the way that these big investigations tend to start with lesser crimes and work their way through to more serious charges among those who engaged in orchestrating events, we may eventually see indictments of some elected officials who helped or coordinated with these groups.

It is likely that we are seeing a similar dynamic with the House select committee investigation. Investigative reporters have recently obtained copies of forged electoral college certification documents for Donald Trump from five states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin) that Joe Biden won, which were sent to the Congress and the National Archives. This suggest an organized attempt by Republicans to commit election fraud. Note that these materials were obtained by journalists through Freedom of Information Act requests in the states. They were not leaked from any Congressional or judicial investigations but it seems that those investigations already have these documents as part of their evidence.

Patience is required to see if this evidence will eventually result in charges but it seems that more and more evidence of conspiracy to overturn a valid presidential election is coming to light. I find it unnerving to see how close the US came to a coup but I hope that these investigations will root out all those responsible and bring them to justice before they have another chance to try again. If they do get that chance and succeed in rigging an election or overturning the results of a fair election, the United States will cease to be the oldest functioning democracy in the modern world.

We must not risk that happening.

In the United States, no one is above the law.

At least, that is what we keep telling ourselves.
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the pandemic – year 3

My first post about the pandemic was February 29, 2020, a Stream of Consciousness Saturday post, no less! COVID-19, the illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, was already killing people in China, other parts of Asia, and Europe but had just begun to sicken and kill people in the United States, where I live.

I’ve written dozens of posts since then about the impact of the pandemic on our lives and about spouse B, daughter T, and my participation in the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine trial. Yesterday, B and T, who are being followed currently on the efficacy of the third dose, had an appointment for blood work to add to the data on the longevity of antibodies and other immune markers six months after their third dose. I am also boosted and remain part of the trial, although, as someone who was in the placebo group initially, I am now part of the group who received their third dose later, so I am not on the leading edge in terms of data. There is a possibility that, when Pfizer/BioNTech develop an Omicron-specific booster, we may be asked to participate in that phase of the trial as well. Meanwhile, we continue to do weekly check-ins via app and do testing if symptoms that could be COVID appear.

I am grateful that we are able to help advance the science on the vaccines which have averted millions of hospitalizations and deaths. Even though the Omicron variant causes more breakthrough cases among vaccinated and boosted individuals than earlier variants, the vast majority are still protected from serious complications and death. I’m just sad that so many people around the world, by personal choice or by lack of availability, remain unprotected.

While Omicron tends to cause less severe symptoms than some of the earlier variants, it can still be deadly. The case numbers in the US, almost all caused by Omicron at this point, are staggering, reaching record numbers. On January 11, the US reported 1.35 million new cases with 136,604 hospitalizations, both records. The case count is somewhat elevated by the fact that some states don’t report new cases over the weekend, making the Monday numbers higher, but the seven-day average is over 700,000, so there are extraordinary levels of infection in evidence. Some hospital systems are overwhelmed, especially because staffing is a challenge. Many health care workers are exhausted by the sheer volume of patients and length of the pandemic and some have left the field. Right now, there are also a lot of vaccinated and boosted staff who have developed breakthrough cases; even if they are asymptomatic, they could still be contagious, so they have to isolate until they test clear of the virus.

The difficult thing for me to accept is that so many people in the US have chosen not to be vaccinated, despite the risks to themselves, their families, and their communities. Because Omicron is so transmissible, the safest course of action is to be vaccinated and boosted, while continuing to mask in indoor public spaces, to distance from non-household members, to avoid crowds, to sanitize appropriately, and to test before (small) social gatherings. By combining all those measures, B, T, and I were able to travel to London, where Omicron was running rampant, and get home virus-free.

Yes, going into year three of this, we are all tired of having to think about COVID safety all the time, but the virus doesn’t get “tired” of mutating and infecting people. We need to do everything we can to promote public health and to protect those who because of age or health condition can’t develop vaccine protection. We have to continue to study the virus, including all variants, to assess their impacts, including how long and strong immunity is from vaccines and from infection. Unfortunately, many viruses don’t tend to confer long-lasting immunity. If they did, we wouldn’t continue to get common colds repeatedly. Current research on SARS-CoV-2 shows immunity extending to about eight months. Some suggest that immunity could stretch to five years but we can’t know that yet, as this virus hasn’t been around that long. It also looks like some of the variants, like Omicron, are better at evading immunity, whether from prior infection or vaccines. We also have to be prepared for further variants that could be even more transmissible and/or cause more severe disease.

We are still in the pandemic phase with COVID-19. The world is unlikely to be able to rid itself of the virus totally. At some point, we will reach an endemic phase, where the virus is in circulation but not causing widespread serious illness/deaths through some combination of vaccines, natural immunity, and treatments. Will year three be the final year of this pandemic? No one knows for sure, but I am trying to hang onto hope that it will be.
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One-Liner Wednesday: charity

“Charity is the humanitarian mask hiding the face of economic exploitation.”
~~~ Slavoy Žižek

Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday and Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/12/one-liner-wednesday-jusjojan-the-12th-2022-clutter/

trip reflections

Over the past three weeks, I’ve posted frequently about the trip spouse B, daughter T, and I took to London to visit daughter E, her spouse L, our granddaughters ABC and JG, and L’s parents, with whom they live.

Here at Top of JC’s Mind, I always try to be truthful, so I must say that the best word to describe the trip as a whole is complicated.

It featured: L’s bout with Omicron that began several days before we arrived; delayed COVID test results that kept B and T in Newark overnight while I flew alone to London; bad colds for B and me; flares of chronic health conditions among several of us; a couple of bad backs; booster shot side effects; a lot of restless nights without adequate sleep; teething; upset tummies; a couple of strained backs; the news of the death of a friend back home; a badly swollen nose from JG throwing her head back into the person holding her, as toddlers are wont to do; a dearth of alone time for the introverts among us; the inadvisability of going to church for Christmas, Sundays, and Epiphany; JG’s reluctance to let us hold her if her mom was in the building; and a dead battery in our van after we flew back into Newark.

Despite all that there are many thing for which I am grateful:

That we were able to go at all, despite Omicron running rampant on both sides of the pond, and that the UK didn’t impose restrictions on private gatherings as they had done earlier in the pandemic. We appreciated the high level of compliance with masking and distancing and avoided crowds. I credit that, along with being triple vaxed with Pfizer/BioNTech and testing, for keeping us COVID-free.

Our Airbnb in E’s neighborhood, only a couple of blocks from their house. Being so close meant we didn’t need to go on public transport to visit. It also gave us the opportunity to have sleepovers, including having E, JG, and ABC overnight on Christmas Eve, just as L was able to finish up his COVID isolation period. It was fun to have Christmas stockings and breakfast with them at our place before going over to their house for Christmas dinner and presents. Four-year-old ABC was also thrilled to have some solo sleepovers with her Nana, Grandpa, and Auntie T, including our last night in town. ABC even got to help with making some Christmas cookies in our kitchen, reminding us of her days helping Grandpa in our kitchen back home in New York when she and E lived with us for over two years before E’s spousal visa came through.

Getting to have a lot of family meals together. Most were cooked at home, but we also were able to do some by delivery, including some yummy London fish and chips.

Walks in the neighborhood, in the parks, and to ABC’s school. She was on break most of the time we were there, but did have three days of school during our last week there. E and T even got to have a special sisters outing to a botanic garden. It was strange, though, to see some flowers still blooming, including roses. London was having an oddly warm spell. We did see quite a lot of holly and ivy, though, bringing to mind the traditional British Christmas carols.

Television and Internet. While we couldn’t go to church in person for fear of Omicron, we were able to watch Lessons and Carols live on Christmas Eve. I was able to watch recordings of liturgies from my local parishes back home on my laptop. We were also able to enjoy some children’s programming with ABC and JG. I especially like Bluey, an Australian series which is part of the CBeebies (BBC’s children’s television channel) line-up. ABC was also watching Frozen II and Encanto quite frequently, both of which were new to us.

The chance to renew bonds with ABC, who can remember us from when she lived with us. The opportunity to re-introduce ourselves to JG, who we met for the first time when she came to the States last August, just after she turned one. We are hoping that she will be able to realize who we are now when we videochat so that we aren’t starting from scratch again as strangers when next we meet, but it’s difficult to know if that is possible. A few months between visits is a significant chunk of a lifetime to a toddler.

Seeing E. Even though we were both tired and stressed, I appreciated the snatches of conversation we were able to have. I remember what it was like to be responsible for two little girls under five, with a lot of that time being solo. I sincerely wish I could be there more to help but that isn’t in the cards right now. The ocean is a big barrier, except for my love, sympathy, and empathy.

E will always have my heart.
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white chocolate

I had intended to write a summary post about our trip today, but I don’t have the brainpower to do it, so I am actually writing on the Just Jot It January prompt today, which is “chocolate”!

I like chocolate and used to eat it on a regular basis. One of my favorite things to make was spiced hot cocoa, especially on cold winter days.

Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that cocoa aggravates my interstitial cystitis, so I’ve had to stop eating chocolate. I can, however, still eat white chocolate, which I’ve learned to enjoy. I’ve discovered that it is important to read labels because some products that look like white chocolate are not, being made with various oils rather than cocoa butter. Real white chocolate is lovely and delicate and melts in your mouth.

Sometimes, I even forget to miss not eating regular chocolate.

On our trip, I acquired some white chocolate treats. B and T found some shaved white chocolate to use to make white hot chocolate and E spotted a huge white chocolate with nougat Toblerone.

That should keep me happy for a while!
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finally home

Because it has been a complicated trip, we had to have one final chapter. When we went to get our car cleaned off in the long-term parking lot, we found out that, despite just having replaced the battery, the car would not start. Getting someone there to jump it took several hours, but the silver lining was that the freezing rain which had fallen along our route in the morning had melted and dried by the time we got there in the afternoon.

So, finally at home and bracing for the coming days of trying to catch up on what we have been missing here over the last three weeks…
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not quite back home

We are back in the US but won’t make it home until tomorrow. We have at least a three hour drive tomorrow. We are hoping the forecast freezing rain does not materialize…

This jot is part of Linda’s Just Jot It January. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/07/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2022-daily-prompt-jan-8th/ . No logos today. It feels like 1:45 AM at this point.

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