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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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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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.

ready to fly

Negative COVID tests times three so we are ready to fly tomorrow. Dreading the good-byes tonight, especially with four-year-old ABC.
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sad news and shopping

We are nearing the end of our holiday visit to London. Today is our last full day with granddaughter ABC who will go back to school to begin the new term tomorrow. As a treat, ABC stayed over at our Airbnb with us last night. B made a yummy coffee cake for our breakfast. We had plans to meet up with our daughter E, her spouse L, and granddaughter JG for a morning shopping excursion and lunch.

I checked my email and found the sad news that one of the long-time members of the spirituality book study group at our neighborhood church that I facilitate had passed away. We had not seen each other since our group was suspended in March 2020 due to the pandemic, although we spoke by phone periodically. I had sent her a Christmas card not long before we left for the UK. I tried to bring up her obituary through our online subscription to our local newspaper, but, for some reason, it doesn’t work outside the US. I wish I could be there to attend the funeral but I’m afraid it will be held before I get back to the States. We had hoped to resume class in the spring, but it will be missing a certain spark without Christine.

We were able to meet up in Stratford for shopping, quite close to the site of the Olympic Park. I went by car with L so JG and ABC could be in their car seats, while B, T, and E took the bus. Had the weather been less chilly and rainy, they might have walked. We did a bit of shopping for ABC who needed some new skirts and black shoes as part of her school uniform. I was shocked to find a pair of boots for myself; I have short but narrow feet so tend to be hard to fit. We had lunch at a pasta shop in the mall, followed by gelato and sorbetto at another shop. We navigated our way back to the house and our nearby Airbnb and are now having naptime for the children (and some adults) before meeting up later for supper together.

We have been being careful about being out in public. This was our biggest encounter in public since our arrival days, but we wore our masks on the busses and in the shopping center, except while eating. The shops open onto a covered space that is open to the outdoors, so air circulation was good where we were walking and eating. We were also able to keep a good distance between groups of people. It helps to give peace of mind that B, T, E, and I are all boosted. L is just recently recovered from omicron but will be eligible to be boosted soon. We all need to protect ABC and JG, as well as keep ourselves negative so we can fly back to the US on Saturday.
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being more northerly

Some people in the Binghamton NY area where I live have the unfortunate habit of thinking that the area has the cloudiest weather possible.

They have not been in London UK in winter. There has been very little sunshine in the nearly two weeks we have been here. This is partly due to cloud cover which is nearly constant. There hasn’t been that much rain, though there is some. It’s also quite breezy, all of which is typical of winter here.

The other reason that there isn’t much sunshine is because the amount of daylight available at this latitude is much shorter than it is in Binghamton. On December 22nd, when I arrived in London, there were nine hours and six minutes of daylight in Binghamton, but only seven hours and 54 minutes here.

One thing that is in evidence here, as elsewhere around the world, is weather weirding. It has been very warm for winter here. E has only seen frost one morning so far and the temperatures here have stayed almost entirely in the 10s Celsius (50s Fahrenheit). It’s unusual for it to stay this warm for this long in winter, which is typically, while not the cold and snow of the US Northeast, chillier and closer to freezing than what we are seeing this year. We are also having a warmer than normal early winter back home. In both places, it’s likely the climate-change induced impacts to the jet stream in conjunction with the ocean currents causing the unusual warmth.

At least none of us are having to shovel snow…
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2022

We are celebrating New Year’s with the UK branch of the family. For New Year’s Eve dinner, daughter E and spouse L prepared Korean food. I admit that I didn’t stay up for the midnight festivities which follow the Filipino tradition of L’s parents, with whom E and L and their daughters ABC and JG live.

At midnight, they bang on pots and pans to make noise to drive away evil spirits. There were not organized fireworks due to COVID, but there were lots of fireworks in the streets – all evening and until about 3 this morning. Actually, there have been fireworks in the neighborhood for the past several nights, as though people needed to practice for the big event.

E and L went shopping for fruits as they prepared bowls with 12 different round fruits, which symbolizes prosperity for the household for each month of the year. They even prepared a bowl for us to have in our Airbnb. It’s important not to eat any of the fruits until the new year has begun. L’s family will also hang grapes above the front door, where they remain for the year. First they will have to take down the 2021 grapes which are now a bunch of raisins!


For New Year’s dinner, E is planning to make lasagna and homemade bread. This is our family’s traditional Christmas dinner which got transferred to New Year’s Day this year. It will be a nice way to remember my parents as we move into our first year with them both gone.

Wishing all of us peace, contentment, and good health in 2022!
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Linda is once again hosting Just Jot It January to encourage daily posting to get the new year off to a good start! Prompts are provided, but not required. Learn more here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/12/31/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2022-daily-prompt-jan-1/

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