There is an old song “What a Difference a Day Makes” but today I’m thinking about what a difference a year makes.
Two years ago this spring, my mom, known here as Nana, was living in the skilled nursing section of the senior community where she and my father, Paco, had lived for ten years. She was under hospice care as she was nearing the end of her battle with heart failure. My father and I visited every day for hours with frequent visits from my daughters and granddaughter ABC, who were living with us at the time. My out-of-town sisters were able to come to visit often, too.
Nana passed away in May 2019, a few days after her 87th birthday. We were able to hold her funeral in her parish church with a visiting hour before with friends coming to comfort us. There was also a gathering at her and Paco’s senior community.
Last spring, we were all in COVID lockdown. Visiting nursing homes was totally shut down with very limited exceptions for end-of-life situations. I often thought of what that would have looked like for us, if Nana had been facing death in spring 2020 rather than 2019. We would have lost those last few weeks with her, which were painful but also filled with precious moments. We were able to bring her flowers, including her beloved lilies-of-the-valley which blossom in May, just in time for Mother’s Day and her birthday. One of the last things she was able to eat was a little fruit tart I had brought for her birthday. I helped her by cutting it and fed her as she had me when I was a baby…
In 2020, we would likely not have been allowed to visit until the very end when she was unconscious. The church was totally closed, so there would have been no funeral, not even for family.
It was hard last spring, too, because we could no longer visit Paco every day in his apartment. Although visits to independent living apartments were not totally forbidden, they were supposed to be limited, with some masked outdoor visits preferred over anything indoors. My sisters had planned to visit for Paco’s 95th birthday in March but that had to be postponed. Little did we realize at the time that that postponement would turn into cancellation.
That brings us to this spring, which is just getting underway here with some of the early bulbs flowering and the first trees starting to bud. Paco is now living in assisted living which is part of the health care center. While visiting and gathering there are still limited, my younger sister and I were able to visit him for half an hour in his apartment on his birthday and he was able to share a large birthday cake we provided with the other residents and staff on his unit later in the day. Later this month, my elder sister will be able to visit in person for the first time since last summer. She lives out-of-state so hasn’t been able to travel to New York without prohibitively lengthy quarantine, but now, with vaccines available and changes in state policy, she will finally be able to see Paco again.
We have no idea, though, if or when daughter E and granddaughter ABC will be able to visit. They moved permanently to the UK in fall 2019, joining son-in-law L in London. They have since been joined by granddaughter JG, who recently had her first tooth break through.
Spouse B, daughter T, and I would love to think that this spring we could jet off to London to meet JG in person for the first time, but it isn’t possible. Maybe this summer? It depends on conditions with the pandemic and travel restrictions.
Will we get to hold her while she is still a baby or will she be an on-the-move toddler by that time?
Will Paco ever get to meet her in person? For the UK family branch to visit the US is much more complicated and we have no idea when that will be feasible. We also, sadly, don’t know how things will go with Paco’s cognitive decline. While sometimes he remembers names of family members, sometimes he forgets them.
Sometimes, he forgets that he has great-grandchildren at all.
In 2019, I knew that spring 2020 would be very different because my mother would not be there. I could not have imagined how different 2020 would turn out to be.
I guess that is a bit overbroad. It depends on the context and what comes after the “who knows” bit.
If someone asks, who knows what the dinner plan is for tonight, there’s a pretty good chance that I would have an answer. I couldn’t tell you if the plan would have follow through, but I could at least tell you the plan…
The hardest questions are the “who knows why” variety.
Yesterday, the Capitol Police, who are the ones who guard the Congress in Washington, DC, lost another officer in the line of duty. A second officer is hospitalized and expected to recover.
The man who attacked the police with his car and a knife is dead and the news reports are full of questions about why he did this.
So, who does know why?
Perhaps, no one knows. Even if he were alive, he might not be able to articulate a reason, especially if he was suffering from mental illness.
Even without knowing, I hope that everyone will offer support to all the impacted families and work together to reach out to those who are suffering. I also hope that Congress will honor the service of the Capitol police who protect them and their families by expanding the number of officers and giving them more resources for training, equipment, and protection. Of course, we should also expand medical care, including mental health care, so that every person always has access to it.
We may not know why this happened, but we can work to make it less likely to happen in the future.
I had planned to post about the pandemic anniversary today, so it was fortuitous that Linda took the occasion to have us write about our past year. She also gave us permission to edit if we chose, so this post will be only stream-of-conscious-ish. I’m hoping to only need to do light editing.
So, compared to most other people in the US, I have been fortunate over this pandemic year. My spouse B has been working from home so we didn’t take a financial hit. He and I and daughter T have been safe in our home. My state, New York, was initially hit very hard by the pandemic, although not as much so in my home region of the Southern Tier. While we did have a period of time as a local COVID “hot spot,” we followed the precautions on masking, avoiding gatherings, handwashing, etc. and stayed safe.
This is not to say that we didn’t have to make changes in our lives. T’s job search has been on indefinite hold. Grocery shopping and meal planning became a major endeavor for me, due to shortages and restrictions. Some of my poetry activities moved online, but the year hasn’t been as productive as I had hoped. The Boiler House Poets Collective annual residency at MASS MoCA was cancelled due to COVID, although I did craft my own writing retreat in North Adams in late summer which turned out to be a perfect time, given the sooner than expected fall surge. (Additional posts from that time are here and here.)
There are two big personal impacts for me as a result of the pandemic. The first is the separation from daughter E and her family, who live in London, UK. We visited in December, 2019, with plans for several 2020 trips, including a visit to meet our new grandchild, and a plan for them to visit us here in the States in December 2020. None of that happened, due to COVID. While we have been in touch virtually, we have all been largely confined to our respective homes. It’s been hard watching from a distance as they dealt with likely cases of COVID in their household at a time when there wasn’t even testing available unless one needed hospitalization. We missed granddaughter ABC’s third birthday and the birth of granddaughter JG. We missed ABC starting nursery school, which has been variously in person and virtual depending on how viciously the virus was spreading in London at any given time. JG is now seven months old and we have no idea when we will be able to visit. She may be a toddler by the time we get to meet in person.
The second personal difficulty has been trying to care for my almost-96-year-old father, known here as Paco. Before the pandemic, we visited him every day in his apartment in the independent living building of his senior community. His memory was poor, but we were able to keep him safe and on an even keel. Once the pandemic began, though, we needed to limit contact, so we reverted to handling most things by phone with screened staff handling some tasks that had to be in person. This proved to be difficult but when Paco developed a medical problem that required a few days in the hospital, it became impossible for him to be safe in his apartment. In December, he moved to the health care building, first for three weeks of rehab in the skilled unit and then permanently to the assisted living unit. This is where he needs to be at this point, but due to state COVID rules, it was very difficult to visit in person. I am happy to report, though, that yesterday and today we had our first visits to his new apartment; before that, we had to meet in the visitors room or do window visits where we spoke by phone on either side of a window. We still have to mask and distance, but we could at least organize and tidy his rooms for him.
The greatest difficulty that is more universal is the sorrow at the immense cost the pandemic has exacted. So much illness. So much death. So many without even the most basic essentials for a secure existence. So much social isolation. So many who risked their own health to meet the needs of others. In the United States, the bewildering politicization of the crisis.
As we have been commemorating this first anniversary of the pandemic, though, I am feeling hopeful. We are about seven and a half weeks into the Biden administration and vaccine distribution has seen a big boost. Although the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths is still much too high, it is lower than it has been in months. In New York State, we are able to continue our gradual, science-and-metrics-driven increase in public activities. I went to church in person for the first time in a year today. It feels like we are making real progress toward ending the pandemic.
Real hope after a year of fear.
I’m very grateful for the vaccines and the people who are being diligent in observing public health measures. I’m grateful that B, T, and I were able to be of public service as participants in the Pfizer vaccine trial, which I’ve written about frequently here at TJCM.
I admit the fear isn’t totally gone. It’s upsetting to see people who are ignoring public health advice still. Especially with so many variants of the virus active and so many people unwilling to be vaccinated, it’s possible the virus will start to surge again.
Still, for the first time, the hope outweighs the fear in my mind.
Please, everyone, be careful. Stay safe. Protect yourself and your neighbors. We can end the pandemic after this awful year.
There was a long period in the US where the dietary advice was to avoid fat, especially animal fat, in our diets. During that time, I didn’t each much butter.
This was sad!
More recently, the recommendations have changed somewhat, so I do use more butter now.
I especially like homemade bread with butter. The usual butter that I use for spreading is a spread made of grass-fed cow-milk butter and a bit of oil to keep it from being too hard.
We also keep both salted and unsalted butter for cooking and baking. B has recently discovered that his family’s shortbread recipe comes out much better using unsalted butter. I ran across an article that explained why; it has to do with the moisture content difference between salted and unsalted butter. The recipe is so old that it didn’t specify the type of butter, but may have gone back to the day when people made their own butter, which likely would have been unsalted. The recipe does call for a bit of salt. Other than that, the only ingredients are flour and a small amount of sugar.
Shortbreads are basically an excuse to eat butter, and a very delicious excuse at that!
One of the most poignant moments in Joe Biden’s inauguration was when Lady Gaga gestured toward the flag on the Capitol dome at the words “that our flag was still there” during her rendition of the national anthem.
At any other time, this would have seemed gratuitous, but, given that this was only a couple of weeks after the insurrection of January 6th, it was very moving.
Not since the War of 1812, which gave us the words to our national anthem, had our Capitol suffered such an assault and flags were an important part of the symbolism on that day.
United States flags were torn down and replaced by Trump campaign flags.
A police officer was beaten with a flagpole bearing our flag.
In an image that has been shown countless times since the insurrection, a man carries the Confederate battle flag through the Capitol, something that did not happen during the Civil War itself.
It’s all been disconcerting and unsettling and tragic, especially when so many members of Congress have decided we should just “move on” without accountability for those responsible. The “move on” cohort is all Republican; one wonders if they somehow did not feel under threat for their lives as the Democratic members did during the assault. (To be clear, there are Republican members who want accountability, but, to my knowledge, there are no Democratic or Independent members who are in the “move on” group.)
There are efforts underway to clean and repair the damage at the Capitol and to reclaim the space for our true democracy and its flag. The image I am clinging to at the moment is one of the urn holding the cremains of Officer Brian Sicknick, who died as a result of the insurrection, beside a United States flag, folded into a triangle and encased in a glass-fronted box, in the Capitol rotunda beneath the dome. He was lying in honor because he had sacrificed his life protecting his country and the Congress. His fellow Capitol police officers, other members of law enforcement, the President and First Lady, and many members of Congress joined his family in showing respect to him.
In doing this, they were also showing respect for our flag, which is still there despite the attempts of a violent mob to replace it.
I carved out a bit of writing time today – a rarity in the whirlwind that has been my life lately.
I went to Linda’s blog to read the Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt which is:
Your prompt for #JusJoJan and Stream of Consciousness Saturday is: “the beginning, the end.” Write about the beginning of something and the end of something. Bonus points if your first sentence contains “the end” and your last sentence contains “the beginning.” <– Read that again. Have fun!
I admit that I couldn’t wrap my head around beginnings and endings as I am mired in a seemingly endless middle with lots of twists and turns and no real clarity of if/when there will be a conclusion, so I set the whole enterprise aside and decided to do some housekeeping in my overcrowded Google Chrome window. One of the first tabs I went to was one for The Ekphrastic Review, which has a new monthly column on ekphrasis, which is the practice of basing one work of art on another, most often used in the context of writing poetry based on visual art pieces.
While I was there, I figured I should check out the current Ekphrastic Writing Challenge. It is a painting called The Two Sisters by Théodore Chassériau. Given that I have sisters – and two daughters and two granddaughters – the painting inspired a poem in response, so that has become my beginning (middle) and end for this post.
Well, perhaps not quite the end yet. The poem does have an end, of course, but the real ending will be when I submit it to the challenge. I want to let it set a bit and will probably share it with daughter T. I don’t have another meeting of my critique group before the entry is due, so I’ll have to trust sending it without professional critique and revision.
Still, it was nice to have a poem appear on a day that I hadn’t expected it – and to have a blog post appear when I didn’t think I would have one of those either.
Over the past few days, I have started to work on my Christmas card list.
Well, Christmas, Hanukkah, solstice, Kwanzaa, New Year’s, or whatever anyone is celebrating list…
Sending greetings this time of year is one of my highest priorities of the season, so I am determined to get things in the mail to my list. There are a number of people that I am only in touch with at this time of year – and a number that I haven’t seen in person in decades – and some that I haven’t heard from in decades, but it is important to me to send something to them.
These past few years haven’t been exemplary for me, though. There were years that I sent letters only instead of cards because I couldn’t bring myself to the extra work of choosing and signing cards. I’ve accepted help from family members with addressing and sending. Last year was probably the most difficult. I couldn’t bear the thought of following up “Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!” with “Not sure if you heard the news that my mother died.” I wrote a letter to my friends in November and left B and T with the task of sending cards to the rest of our list.
But this year, I’m trying to get back to something closer to what I used to do, choosing cards, signing and hand addressing envelopes, adding Christmas seals, stamps, and return address labels, enclosing a letter and photo when appropriate.
So far, I have about half the cards written and envelopes prepared, but none of the enclosures yet.
I did do a step that I have skipped for several years, going through last year’s cards received and marking them in the appropriate box on my list, which is written in a special holiday card list booklet. (Actually, this list has also become my de facto address book. I used to keep a separate address book but haven’t updated it in years.) This has been poignant because many of the notes on the cards include condolences for my mom and often reminiscences on the loss of people’s own mothers.
I haven’t quite figured out what to write about 2020. How to sum up a year that has been marked by such universal fear, loss, grief, and sadness, but that has also seen such blessings in our lives, such as the fact that B’s job is able to carry on from home and the safe arrival and thriving of granddaughter JG, even though we can’t travel to London to meet her.
I’ll work on it.
After I’ve gotten the rest of the list finished with cards chosen, signed, addressed, with envelopes open and waiting.
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.
When B and I became engaged, he gifted me with a diamond ring. We shopped for it together several months after our engagement began, choosing a simple solitaire setting which we had lowered so that it wouldn’t hit the keyboard if it turned diamond down while I was playing the organ. The following spring, it was joined by a simple gold wedding band.
I wore my rings that way for years, but some problems developed. My pinkie finger developed a callus where the diamond would rub against it. It would sometimes crack open, which was very uncomfortable. Over time, I gained a bit of weight, which made the once loose fit a bit too tight. I took to just wearing my wedding band most days.
Ten-ish years ago, I decided to make a change. I brought my rings to a local jeweler with an idea. They removed the diamond from its setting and used some of the gold to re-size my wedding band while preserving the original engraving inside. The diamond was re-set into what I call a family ring. The diamond represents the April birthday of daughter E. There is a November topaz for B, a pink zircon for me (October), and alexandrite for daughter T’s June birthday. The alexandrite is especially interesting because it looks purple when I’m indoors but a blue-green in sunlight.
I don’t wear my family ring all the time but I love it when I do. Even when I’m not wearing it, I love knowing that it exists, the four of us safely connected even when we are physically far away from each other.