Christmas tree 2020/21

It’s January 12th and our Christmas tree is still up.

We are lucky that fresh-cut Canaan firs are so resilient. It is not shedding needles and is still exuding a lovely scent.

It is still adorned with our usual assortment of ornaments – glass, ceramic, wood, metal, cloth – many of which were gifts or handed down to us or collected on our travels. There are LED light strands, which are great because they don’t use much energy, don’t get hot, and don’t dry out the needles. The angel I made with the help of a friend years ago is perched on top.

Ordinarily, we decorate our tree in mid-December and take it down at Epiphany. This year, we put it up in early December. It was the first time in several years that I actually wanted to decorate the tree, after several stressful years, although I admit that my energy to do so flagged mid-way through, sapped by memories of loss.

Still, it was nice to have it all decorated and glowing near the living room window.

And then, an avalanche of things happened.

Everyone knows about the horrific toll of the coronavirus around the world and particularly in the United States. The single day death toll topped 4,000 deaths for the first time on January 7th. More virulent strains are spreading. The vaccine rollout is too little, too late to tamp the spread for the winter, although it is offering some hope.

Everyone also knows about the precarious and dangerous political situation in the United States. The breach of the US Capitol by insurrectionist followers of DT and the destruction, violence, injury, and death they caused, coupled with the craven complicity/opportunism of dozens of Republican members of Congress, have thrown us into the most dangerous situation of my lifetime. I think the best course would be for both DT and Pence to resign, giving Nancy Pelosi the powers and protection of the presidency for a few days to try to stabilize the government before the January 20th inauguration. I know this is another exercise of my penchant for political fantasy, but I think it is perhaps the least dangerous of the possible paths, given that both Pence’s and Pelosi’s lives were threatened by the mob on January 6th.

While both of those situations are sapping my brainpower and motivation, the biggest factor in not taking down the tree is that I am spending a lot of time in trying to get my father settled into his new unit in assisted living without being able to physically go into the building to tend to things due to COVID restrictions, while dealing with cleaning out his apartment in independent living and handling all the nuts and blots of changing contact information with all the businesses, doctors, insurance, financial institutions, etc. [I have also been dealing with the aftereffects of my second shingles vaccine, which, while not as severe as after the first, are still bothersome.]

I was so proud of what I accomplished yesterday and had hoped to get more done today. Instead, I’ve had to spend most of the day so far on the couch. I can’t even wrap my head around making the string of phone calls waiting for me.

Tomorrow, I’ll need to get back at it, especially with the apartment packing and such. B, T, and I are hoping to have everything cleared out by the end of the long weekend for MLK Day.

The tree?

Maybe we’ll get to it over the weekend, too.

*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/01/12/jusjojan-prompt-the-12th-sing/

One-Liner Wednesday: sedition

“Sedition is a bad idea.”
~ John Heilemann, on Morning Joe, January 4, 2021

This helpful reminder brought to you by Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday and Just Jot It January. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/01/06/one-liner-wednesday-jusjojan-the-6th-2021-icy-fingers/

what hasn’t changed

The last few years have been challenging for me and my family. As I have written in (many) posts, these personal challenges have been compounded by what is happening in the United States.

As I begin a busy week in caring for my family, the back drop is the horrifying news that United States has passed 20 million confirmed COVID cases with over 352,000 known deaths with COVID. It is immeasurably sad – and infuriating because we could have prevented a large share of these with good public health measures and accessible, timely medical care. There is hope for the coming months with vaccines becoming available and the incoming administration has a good team to improve the national pandemic response.

Unfortunately, the current president and many Congressional Republicans are still trying to prevent the duly elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from taking office as president and vice-president on January 20th. Over the weekend, an hour-long recording of a telephone call from the president to the secretary of state of Georgia and his legal counsel was released, in which the president repeatedly pressures and threatens them to change the certified election win of Joe Biden to a win for Trump. On Wednesday, both houses of Congress will meet to count the electoral college votes, which will be 306 for Biden and 232 for Trump. Nevertheless, over a hundred Republican members of the House of Representatives and a dozen Republican senators plan to challenge or vote against acceptance of the count from six states Biden won, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona. Given that dozens of court cases alleging fraud or procedural problems with the voting system have already been dismissed and the proper certifications by the states have been done, there are no real grounds for the objections and they will be defeated after hours of debate. That so many members of Congress are willing to violate their oath to uphold the Constitution and US law is frightening and disconcerting and does not bode well for passing needed legislation through Congress.

Yes, the change from 2020 to 2021 did not erase any existing problems, but we need to work toward rectifying them and making life better for people, not devolving into lies and blaming others.

*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/01/04/jusjojan-prompt-the-1st-fingertips/

January first

I’m generally not a big celebrator of New Year’s Eve/Day, looking at it as just the next day rather than a new start. This year does feel a bit different, as I am grateful to have made it through the tumult of 2020 and have hopes for 2021 for improvements in the governance in the US and for vaccine distribution and better public health policy to finally start to tamp down the pandemic by spring.

Still, personal circumstances make it seem less like a new start and more a continuation of existing issues. My dad, known here as Paco, is expecting to move from the rehab unit of his senior community into the assisted living unit next week. I am busy with paperwork and packing to facilitate the move. It’s awkward because, with COVID restrictions in place, family is not allowed into the health care building where the assisted unit is, so we can prepare and pack but can’t help with the actual moving, unpacking, and arranging.

Ordinarily, I would be gearing up for Linda’s Just Jot It January and planning to post every day for the month. I cannot wrap my head around posting every day this January with so much going on, including the fact that I should get my second dose of shingles vaccine this month. The first dose made me sick for a week, so I expect a similar experience with the second dose. I’m not looking forward to that, but I’ve had shingles before and am anxious to do everything I can to avert a repeat occurrence. When I do post in January, I will link to #JusJoJan, but I am giving myself permission to post sporadically rather than consistently.

I am somewhat uncharacteristically struggling with words, both spoken and written. I think I am overwhelmed enough and exhausted enough that my brain can’t settle down to easily arrange my thoughts into cogent language. It’s not good for my blogging or poetry and it’s disconcerting for conversation, especially when I have to have so many phone calls and conversations to get things arranged for Paco’s care. I’m managing, but nowhere near the level I want to be.

I’m asking, once again, for your patience as I slog through this.

I should close now and make myself copy dates and commitments into my 2021 calendar. It’s a dreaded task every year and 2021 is no different in that regard.

On pandemic church attendance

Back in the days of the anti-fracking battle in New York State, I wrote tons of comments to articles in the press. I still occasionally write a comment on a topic of interest. The following is a comment I submitted to an op-ed by Wilton Cardinal Gregory, Archbishop of Washington, DC, in The Washington Post, entitled “Praying apart isn’t the same as praying together. That’s why we sued D.C.” Because the article is behind a paywall, I will synopsize. Cardinal Gregory had sued the city of Washington, DC “to protect the free exercise of religion in the nation’s capital.” There had been a limit of fifty people in religious services, (which was subsequently eased by Mayor Muriel Bowser on December 16th). He pointed out that more than fifty people were allowed in stores and other venues.

My comment:
I am Catholic and someone who spent years in liturgical service as a musician and a liturgy planner. I was consistently attending mass on weekends and holy days, but I have not attended in person mass since mid-March, choosing instead to participate via televised or online services for safety’s sake.

I don’t think that restrictions on number of people in church attendance is at all an attempt to limit free exercise of religion. Being in church for a service is not like being in a store. In stores, people are mostly  silent, not near the same people for any length of time, and spending shorter amounts of time in an enclosed space. In churches, people are in one spot for an extended period, usually about an hour. They are speaking and singing; singing in particular is known to spread droplets much further than six feet. Masks do help prevent virus spread, but they do not do so 100%, so singing presents an additional risk.

Church attendance is more closely analogous to going to an indoor movie or concert. In my state, neither of those activities are allowed at all. Places of worship are allowed with restrictions on numbers in attendance. I think that rather than being overly restrictive, governments have been trying to help faith communities gather in person rather than being totally virtual in worship, while trying to keep risk relatively low.

The virus does not care whether people are in a store or a church or a home or a restaurant. It’s up to all of us to protect ourselves to the extent possible. When government officials are following science in their rules, we should accept that and not think that they are infringing on our rights rather than protecting public health.

another day

So, as I write this, it is December 25th which we celebrate as Christmas, but 2020 is very different.

I haven’t been able to post much this month, in large part because we have been dealing with some health difficulties with my father, known here as Paco. He spent five days in the hospital and, earlier this week, was admitted to the skilled nursing and rehabilitation unit in the senior community where he lives.

Because of COVID restrictions, no visitors are allowed but we have been in touch by phone. Before he went to rehab, we did have a family early-Christmas celebration, but we sent a couple of small gifts to his room so he would have something to open today.

We hope to videochat with daughter E and family in London UK this afternoon, which will be evening there. They have already posted photos of granddaughters ABC and JG in their holiday attire. Last night, we were able to watch the Christmas Eve mass from their church. While it is sad that we were not able to see them at all in 2020, technology does help.

Spouse B, daughter T, and I are spending the day at home with scaled-back gift exchange and lots of our family favorite foods, fresh-baked date nut and cranberry breads for breakfast and lasagna from Nana’s recipe with homemade braided herb bread for dinner and apple-blackberry and an outrageously good brown-sugar and maple pecan pie for dessert. B enjoys cooking and baking special meals, so he is taking the lead with all this while I act assitant. It’s nice to have familiar things in such a topsy-turvy year.

Unfortunately, the huge snowstorm we had last week that dropped forty inches (one meter) of snow on us has set us up for flood warnings today. We got about three inches (8 cm) of rain yesterday and overnight, which, coupled with at least another couple of inches from snowmelt, has led to flooding. The Susquehanna is expected to crest tonight at major flood stage level in our town. While our home should be okay, we are concerned for our neighbors who live closer to the river.

I know for many Christians around the world, this Christmas is very different than the usual celebrations, but the underlying message of peace and good will to all is still there to bring comfort to us in these troubled times. I share wishes for peace and good will, for good health and love with all of you; whatever your personal faith or philosophy might be, these gifts are universal.

Snow day!

I haven’t quite fallen off the face of the earth and I’ll try to do a substantive post soon, but today we are trying to clear out after a nor’easter targeted the Binghamton NY area with almost three feet (0.9 meters) of snow.

The squirrels will have an easy jump into the birdfeeders now, unless they sink in the snow. Photo of the birdfeeders before snow is here: https://topofjcsmind.wordpress.com/2020/11/28/socs-for-the-birds/
You can judge the snow depth from the almost buried chain link fence in the back of the yard.
Good things the feeders are pretty full, because getting the birdseed out of the shed is going to be a feat.
T’s car is under there somewhere!

progress for Pfizer

Today is an important day for the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

In the United Kingdom, the first doses are being given, predominantly to those over the age of eighty. The recipients will need a second dose in three weeks.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has published a 53-page review of the Pfizer/BioNTech data and confirmed the findings of safety and 95% efficacy. This clears the way for a public hearing on Thursday and possible emergency use authorization within days. Distribution will start within 24 hours of approval.

It is good that so much of the data is now public because you can see that the vaccine is safe and effective across different age, racial, and comorbidity groups. There is also evidence that some protection develops from the first of the two doses, although the highest level of protection begins about a week after the second dose.

As a Pfizer trial participant, I expect to hear back from the researchers shortly after the approval goes through. Pfizer plans to offer the vaccine to people in the placebo group in order to continue their long-term study on efficacy and safety. Among our family in the study, we expect that we have two who have already received two doses of the vaccine and one who is in the placebo group.

I can assure you that the suspected placebo person is anxious to join the vaccine group as soon as possible!

today

This wasn’t the plan.

I expected right now I would be in a plane somewhere over the Atlantic after a month in the UK visiting daughter E and her family, meeting granddaughter JG, walking granddaughter ABC home from nursery school, celebrating US Thanksgiving in London on what is there just the fourth Thursday of November.

I thought I would get to attend mass for the first time since March as we celebrated JG’s baptism, wearing the white dress that I, E, and ABC wore before her, as well her Aunt T and great-aunts.

Of course, there would have been two weeks in quarantine before any of the visiting, but still…

It was a blessing in disguise that the news of the UK lockdown leaked early, before we flew out, so that there was time to cancel. It took most of the month, but I finally got all the charges refunded.

I had planned to get a lot of writing done while we were in quarantine and to do a long-delayed, self-guided retreat, neither of which happened this month as the usual things that needed doing were before us here and the inevitable bumps in the road appeared that needed attention. I was also impossible to ignore/escape the maelstrom of news on the election and its aftermath and of the horrifying, continuing escalation of the coronavirus pandemic.

Enter the first Sunday of Advent, with its message of watching in hope.

I’m struggling with that.

By nature, I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist. I try to be more of a realist. I know that with over 13 million confirmed cases so far and a seven-day average of new confirmed cases of about 160,000, compounded by Thanksgiving travel, the United States is going to have further acceleration in COVID cases in December and most likely into January, as well. There are also going to be spikes in hospitalizations and deaths flowing from that. Although there will likely be some vaccine administration starting in December, there won’t be enough to make much of a dent in transmission. The exception is that, if health care workers are vaccinated first as expected, we may be able to keep our hospitals staffed well enough to meet the surge in cases this winter.

I do have hope that the incoming Biden administration will have staff and appointees who are capable of improving the lives of people here and beginning to repair our international relationships. However, I am disheartened by the efforts of the current administration to undermine the chances that Biden’s team can implement changes quickly and easily. There are a number of last-minute rule changes, treaty withdrawals, troop withdrawals, and other measures that will make the transition even more difficult than anticipated in this time of public health emergency, economic downturn, civil rights protests, and general distrust in government.

Sigh.

So, one foot in front of the other. Doing the best I can manage under the circumstances.

Stay tuned.

SoCS: for the birds

We have been feeding the birds in our backyard for years. We also wind up feeding the squirrels, who eat the seeds that fall from the feeders.

We do our best to not have the squirrels eat the bulk of the seed we put out for the birds, so we have some safeguards in place. This year, though, some of our safeguards failed.

We store our bags of birdseed in our backyard shed. In the warm weather, we leave the louvers on the windows open so it doesn’t get too hot inside. This year, an enterprising squirrel chewed through the (metal) window screen to get into the shed, where it chewed through the plastic bags holding the seed and proceeded to eat a lot and make a mess!

We had a metal can inverted on the pole that holds our birdfeeders to act as a squirrel guard. It had worked well for years, but now at least one squirrel – not sure if it is the same one that breached the shed or not – has managed to learn to jump on the side of the can and quickly scramble to the top, whence it can get to all the feeders.

Our large hopper-style feeder is its favorite.

So, in order to keep feeding the birds, we needed new options to protect our seed from ravenous squirrels.

We closed the windows into the shed. The squirrel, remembering there was lots of food in there, then tried to chew its way through the wooden door. Fortunately, the door is too thick, although it does now sport edges that have had the green paint gnawed off.

For the feeders, we went to our local bird feeding store to look at options.

We tried to get an additional cone squirrel guard to put on top of our can one so the squirrel couldn’t get over it to the feeders, but our pole diameter was too large to attach it.

We moved onto option B – to buy a new pole system. (Our original one had been out there at least twenty years and was beginning to have some rust showing, so a new system with a smaller diameter pole seemed to make the most sense.) This also gave us an opportunity to relocate the feeders. When we had placed them initially, they were centered to be seen from the sliding glass doors in our dining room. Since then, we added an addition that houses our kitchen, which has large windows overlooking the backyard. B was able to place the new pole centered in those windows, so our view of the feeders is much better.

The birds are loving the new feeder placement! Some of the birds we see regularly are cardinals, blue jays, chickadees (my favorite), tufted titmouse, downy and hairy woodpeckers, nuthatches…

None of which you can see in the photo I just took, but at least the squirrel is on the ground.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “opt.” Join us! Learn more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/11/27/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-nov-28-2020/