X years ago

Facebook often presents users with the opportunity to repost something from prior years. Today, it suggested this photo from two years ago:

a post-dinner four generation photo of me, Nana, daughter E, and granddaughter ABC

This was our last Thanksgiving with my mom, known here as Nana. She passed away from congestive heart failure the following May. Daughter E and granddaughter ABC moved to London, UK, that October when E’s spousal visa finally came through. ABC is now in nursery school and big sister to JG, whom we planned to meet this month until England went into a new pandemic lockdown phase.

It’s a lot in two years.

And it seems like it’s been longer than two years.

Three days ago, one of my poet-friends posted a photo from the Tupelo Press/Studios at MASS MoCA residency from which the Boiler House Poets Collective sprang five years ago. In the comment thread that followed, someone asked if anyone had written about it, which prompted me to re-read my blog posts from the residency. This post links to most of them. It was interesting to read my real-time take on what was happening, although I did temper the amount of anxiety I expressed somewhat. It was nice to see that I accomplished more than I remembered and good to be reminded of our various sessions with our poet-teachers and the bonding among our original nine poets-in-residence.

We have gone back to North Adams for a reunion residency every autumn, until being derailed this year by COVID. We have a reservation for both 2021 and 2022, though, which is tempering the sadness at missing this year a bit.

And, yes, those five years feel longer than they are, too.

email, email, and more email

Since I first started using email over twenty years ago, I have had the same email address. It was initially set up through Roadrunner, affiliated then with Time Warner although it has since moved to Spectrum.

I’ve used this email address for everything from personal correspondence to charity donations to newsletters to subscriptions to poetry submissions to online shopping. It has been registered in hundreds of places over the years. The address has occasionally been unreliable but, given how widespread it was, I was loath to change it.

Now, however, it has lost or delayed so many things that my hand is forced. I got the October newsletter from the Biden campaign and an email about planning my vote after election day. I sent a poem to my local poet circle for workshop twice without anyone receiving it. An email from the resolution center working on refunds for our cancelled trip to London went astray and almost resulted in the case being closed prematurely.

So, I have embarked on the the painstaking process of migrating from my one-stop email destination to a constellation of gmail addresses for different purposes. There is one for poetry related things, one for shopping and business contacts for B and me, and one for all the rest of my personal and organizational contacts.

The sorting is proving to be a long and complicated process. I realize I am still in the early stages of it, but it is beginning to take shape. Daughter E taught me how to keep tabs for the three different gmail inboxes open simultaneously in my browser and I have a fourth with my original inbox, all of which I am getting into the habit of monitoring several times a day. [Note that none of these is my long-neglected blog email topofjcsmind@gmail.com. The recommendation still holds that if you want to contact me by email that you leave a comment telling me you have done so, as I will see the comment and know to check the inbox. Some year or other, I’ll get to making it usable.]

What is taking a ton of time is changing the address on email lists. Some organizations have a straightforward process with a link for updating at the end of their email. Click the link. Edit your address. Save changes and you’re done. Sometimes, they email you a confirmation link for security reasons. Other times, the setup is that they email you an edit link first. Both guard against unauthorized changes.

Some sites don’t offer a way to make changes. I’ve had to subscribe with a new email address and then unsubscribe the old address.

Others allow you to update your online profile at their site, but I’ve run into lots of problems doing this. Sometimes, the site will let you change your address but then won’t update for the emails it sends you. Other times, it seems they won’t save your preferences for how often you want to hear from them. And some seem to just stop sending emails altogether.

This endeavor is also making me consider each email sender and whether or not I want to keep hearing from them. As I have posted about previously, I have been trying to tame my inbox for some time. I’m hoping the time that I’m investing in this organizational effort will eventually make it easier to deal with my email and give me more time for other things.

I wish I could figure out when I will arrive at that “eventual” point.

So far, I’ve done very little about changing my email for personal contacts. Personal messages seem to get through to my original email inbox pretty reliably, although occasionally one gets delayed for days or lands in my spam folder. Perhaps, I’ll draft a bcc email blast at some point, although I’ll probably have my poet-friends use my poetry address rather than my general one and friends of both B and me our joint address.

Something else to think about.

Who knew email could be so tiring?

7th blogiversary!

WordPress has helpfully reminded me that today is my seventh blogiversary!

Sending out a big THANK YOU to all my readers, including my 1,400 followers!

Okay, it’s time to calm down and not end every sentence with an exclamation point.

Over these past seven years, I have published 1,383 posts and had over 24,000 visitors from 119 countries. It boggles my mind. I hadn’t really thought about stats seven years ago when I started. Truth to tell, I don’t think about stats that often now, either, but I do appreciate sharing my thoughts with so many people around the world.

I also appreciate that I have been able to keep my blog eclectic. I knew starting out that the recommendation was to target a blog to a specific topic with a regular posting schedule and a plan to build followers, but I chose to take a path that fit my personality better. I have wide-ranging interests and like to be able to bring them up as they become “top of mind.” Circumstances have arisen that have had me writing more about my personal life than I had originally expected, but having an intentionally eclectic blog accommodated that.

For millions around the world, 2020 has been hard to navigate in terms of time. People’s schedules have been disrupted to such an extent that a week can simultaneously feel like forever and a flash. For me, most of the past seven years have been like that, as I’ve lived in a web of intergenerational health problems, moves, on-site and long-distance caretaking, and lots of unpredictability. I didn’t know seven years ago how important writing poetry would become in my life. I didn’t know that we would lose both my mother and mother-in-law. I didn’t know I’d now have two precious and faraway granddaughters.

Sometimes, in writing a post, I need to look back into my post archive to refresh my memory on when something occurred. In reading older posts, I am gratified to find that, in most cases, the writing has held up pretty well. You all have an open invitation to stroll through the posts from prior months and years. You might stumble across something that interests you.

I have never kept a diary or journal going for any length of time, so I am glad to have Top of JC’s Mind as a keepsake of these past seven years.

Which reminds me, I really need to figure out how to do a proper back-up…

Old haunts

This is my last full day in the North Adams area. MASS MoCA is closed today, so I planned to go back to Monroe Bridge, Paco (my dad) and my hometown, and Hoosac Tunnel, Nana’s (my mom) hometown. I thought it would take a couple of hours this morning and I’d be back to the hotel by noon.

I got carried away.

I wound up stopping at a lot of old-but-changed haunts and taking tons of photos. (Don’t worry. I’ll only share a few.) Many of the ones I won’t show are unlikely to be meaningful to anyone without long-standing personal history in the area, as there is a lot of “what used to be here” in play. Warning: There will also be a lot of dams and reservoirs and hydroelectric plants. Paco was superintendent of the Upper Deerfield River (southern Vermont/western Massachusetts) for what was then New England Power Company and my sisters and I grew up traipsing around powerplants and such.

Sherman Reservoir – our house, which is no longer there, was near the dam that created the reservoir
Sherman Station, the hydroelectric plant just below the dam and our “neighbor”

The building in the photo below was built by the WPA in the 1930’s. My father and some of his siblings attended school there when it was new. It also housed the town office and library. They are still there, but most of the building is now offices for the current successor of New England Power Company. The array of mailboxes is a poor substitute for the post office, which was the center of town life for many years. Olga, the postmistress was a good friend of my mom’s; they saw each other nearly every day and stayed in touch after retirement and moves put them at a distance.

Front of the former school with tree dedicated to Olga Simonetti, former postmistress
Olga’s memorial plaque

I went down to the river and crossed the bridge; our town’s name was Monroe, but the mailing address became Monroe Bridge because they would leave the mail at the Monroe bridge. This iteration of the bridge was built in 2015. The dam is quite a lot older. Part of the old paper mill was torn down and replaced with a little park. The rest is still there, although the worse for wear.

I continued downriver. I visited the Dunbar Brook picnic area, which was deserted except for a toad that I startled as I walked across the grass. I got to take a ride on a swing, which was refreshing and nostalgic. When I went back to my car, I was surprised to see that the old road along the river leading toward the Bear Swamp lower reservoir was open. I drove all the way down to the gate just before the Number 5 Station.

Number 5 Station and the Deerfield becoming the lower reservoir for Bear Swamp pumped storage

When I went back up to the main road, I stopped to pay my respects at the Legate family cemetery. When Nana and Paco were first married, they lived in the old Legate House, which was then owned by New England Power. The house was torn down decades ago, but the little cemetery is still tended to.

I wish I could show you a decent photo of the lower reservoir for Bear Swamp. I wish even more that I could tour the underground powerhouse that we visited with Paco so many times as it was being built and after it was completed, but it is all fenced in for safety and security reasons. I will close, though, with a photo of the Hoosac Tunnel. Nana grew up in Hoosac Tunnel, a part of the town of Florida, Massachusetts, because her father headed a maintenance crew for the Boston and Maine Railroad. At the time it was built, the Hoosac Tunnel was an engineering marvel. This is the less-fancy eastern portal. The North Adams side was more decorative, befitting a growing city in the late 1800s.

I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to revisit my roots. I hope that the sense of connection and the energy and the comfort of familiarity will stay with me so that I can make progress on my poetry collection after I am home.

If not, I may have to come back.

Or, maybe, I’ll come back regardless.

SoCS: catching some zzzz’s

Zzzzzz….

Zzzzzz…

Oh, I guess it is time to get up.

Sleep has not been one of my better skills for, um, more years than I care to count. There have been lots of reasons for this, some of which I can identify and some of which I can’t.

The last few weeks, though, I’ve slept better than I have for quite a while. I think a large part of it is having gotten through several months’ worth of firsts since Nana’s death last year, including the first anniversary of her death.

I’m sure that some of it is also that the COVID infection rate in my state (New York) and especially my region (Southern Tier) is under control and we are able to carefully progress with opening more stores and services. The vast majority of people realize that we have to continue to wear masks and maintain physical distancing and not have large gatherings, so there is hope that we can keep our case number very low, using extensive testing and contact tracing to keep any cases from becoming outbreaks.

I will admit that, although I’m sleeping better than I have been, I’m still not up to seven hours a night, which is – or, at least, was long ago – the amount of sleep that seemed to work best for me. Will I get there eventually or revert to more severe insomnia? I don’t know.

For now, I’m just grateful to be catching some more zzzz’s.
*****

Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is a word with zz, which I kinda-sorta did. Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/06/19/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-june-20-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley! 
https://www.quaintrevival.com/

a package!

Like many other places during this pandemic, our stores have been out of yeast for weeks.

I usually keep a jar of bread machine yeast in the refrigerator. Besides using it in the machine, B sometimes uses it to make treats like Chelsea buns. As my jar was running low, every time I went to a store, I would check to see if I happened to catch a new shipment coming in, but either my timing was never right or there wasn’t any in the warehouses to send to the stores.

I decided to look online. I couldn’t find any jars or packets, but finally found a one-pound bag of Fleischmann’s instant yeast. I wasn’t used to the term “instant yeast” but apparently it is the same as rapid-rise or bread machine yeast. The yeast is sourced from Canada, so perhaps instant yeast is the term most often used there.

It took over a week to arrive, but now we should be supplied for a long time, given that this bag is equivalent to four of the jars I usually buy.

The pandemic has changed my perspective of time so much. I admit to thinking maybe this yeast will last until we have a vaccine available to the public so that the pandemic will be well and truly over.

Of course, this won’t be a miracle like the story of Elijah and the widow in 1Kings 17, where the flour and oil did not run out until the drought was over, but it does symbolize to me that same sense of perseverance, that call to not be afraid while we wait, watch, and work for better times.

One-Liner Wednesday: one day

“We’ll take it one day at a time.”
~~ what my dad would say during the months of my mom’s illness and what we are all doing in our current global challenges, although sometimes it is hour by hour instead of day by day

Please join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/03/18/one-liner-wednesday-a-challenge/

Badge by Laura @ riddlefromthemiddle.com

One-Liner Wednesday: a time is coming

“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’”
~~~ Abba Anthony, one of the Desert Fathers in the early centuries of Christianity
*****
Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/02/12/one-liner-wednesday-thanks-internet/

Change is…

Change is stressful.

Even when it is a sought-for or hoped-for change, like welcoming a new child or moving into a new home.

An unwelcome change, such as serious illness, accident, or death of a loved one, is even more stressful.

Over the last several years, we’ve gone through the illness and death of my mother-in-law and my mother, the welcome addition of adult children and our first grandchild to our home and the pain of them flying away, and the crowding out of pursuits that used to occupy us. All of this personal change overlays the ever-shifting sands of tumult in the US.

I can attest that change is stressful.

People keep telling me to breathe.

After the stress of the first Christmas season without my mom, I decided to give myself  breathing space in the form of a mini-sabbatical, still attending to my vital tasks while allowing myself time to go to the movies or read or write or whatever else I felt like doing that day.

Of course, participating in Just Jot It January fit right into that plan!

As I’ve been reflecting on these last few weeks, I am starting to formulate what changes I need to make going forward. Knowing that there will still be a fair amount of day-to-day uncertainty with our family life, I won’t attempt a strict schedule. I do plan, though, to be more deliberate with my writing practice. No, this does not mean that I will post every day for the rest of the year as I have been for Just Jot It January, although I do hope to continue posting without some of the major breaks I’ve had to take in the past.

In the area of writing, I do need to be more deliberate about editing and publication. I find the publication submission piece particularly daunting. There are hundreds of literary journals and magazines and small presses that specialize in poetry and it is difficult for me to figure out to whom I should send my work. Because submissions typically charge a reading fee, you want to invest in those publications that are most likely to be interested in your work. I tend to be overwhelmed by the choices and the specifics of differing submission procedures. I need to summon the energy to undertake these less fun not at all fun aspects of the writing process to get my work out to the public.

Oh, and I need to start doing some open mic and/or group readings. Reading in public, even with a small group, takes a lot of energy and courage for me, but it is very important for poets to do.

I also need to make a dent in reading the huge backlog of poetry journals, chapbooks, collections, and anthologies waiting for me. I will probably never catch up.

Years ago, I had a few dozen blogs that I read on a regular basis. I was a frequent commenter, as well. Even though I know this is what every good blogger should do, I don’t think I can go back to it, choosing instead to concentrate on poetry. I am committed to continuing Top of JC’s Mind, but I will spend the bulk of my blogging time writing posts and responding to comments. I will continue to read some blogs, but it will most likely continue in my current haphazard fashion. I know that means I will gain followers only slowly, but I’m not a big stats person. I do want to take this opportunity to give a shout-out to all my readers and followers! I am humbled that you choose to spend part of your time here.

I also used to spend a lot of time reading and responding to emails. I was on a lot of mailing lists – against fracking and for environmental advocacy, for progressive political principles, for increasing social justice, for some specific candidates/officeholders, for reform of the Catholic church, and so on. I have cut back on a number of them and have lately taken to deleting a lot without even opening them. I will keep a core of them, because these issues remain important to me, but I will try to be intentional about which I read and take action on.

Sadly, singing has faded into the background. I never thought this would happen, but the seeming demise of my long-time chorus has taken away my usual Monday night rehearsals and rehearsing at home during the week. I don’t have ABC here anymore for impromptu renditions of “Old McDonald” or Sesame Street songs. I should be doing vocal exercises and sight reading practice every day to keep my voice in good form, but I don’t have the heart for it. Maybe, someday, I’ll feel like singing again.

I may limit evening activities to poetry gatherings, choosing to be at home with family otherwise. I’m sure there will be the occasional evening event that will draw me away, but I want to spend most evenings at home. In part, this is to spend time with B who works long days. Even if we are just watching television or reading or doing puzzles, it is comforting to be together. Additionally, given my own introversion, it takes a lot of energy to be in groups of people. It’s difficult to summon that energy at the end of the day.

I am also trying to make some changes that impact my physical well-being. I am trying to eat more thoughtfully, exercise (a tiny bit) more, and sleep longer at night. Rather than trying to make drastic changes, I am doing little things that send me in the right direction. I think that is a more sustainable way for me to proceed.

The other area that I hope to make some changes is making time for friends. This is not totally under my control, as many friends have their own busy lives, but I think if I actually make a call or send a note, we have a better chance of getting together, whether in person or by videochat. I cherish all my friends and feel their support, even when we aren’t able to get together, but I need to turn some of our vague “let’s do lunch or breakfast” into actual times and dates.

That’s a lot of changes to make, and, therefore, a lot of stress.

At least, it will be stress that leads to positive change.

Fingers crossed.
*****
The prompt for Linda’s Just Jot It January today is “change.” Join us! You don’t need to use the prompt – I seldom do – because anything counts as a Jot. Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/24/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-24th-2020/

Inspire

Every once in a while, I used to post about my Fitbit Flex. The last post I wrote reported that it seemed to have stopped being able to transmit data. It had and couldn’t be fixed.

I went a number of weeks without having anything to count my steps, until B got me a new Fitbit Inspire.

It is way more complicated than my Flex was. It has the time! And date! And can display steps and calories and other stats that I can’t remember what they are and it has a timer!

And I use very few of these features. I opted not to have an Inspire HR which also does heart rate, because it would be even more features that I would most likely not use.

Given that my skin tends to be sensitive to the rubbery-synthetic bands that come with Fitbits, I ordered some cloth bands from Go Fish on Etsy. Susan has lots of choices for customized bands/holders for all different models of Fitbit, as well as other fitness trackers, and some custom clothing. The bands she makes fasten with snaps, which are more comfortable than knots and more stable than Velcro.

My favorite feature is that she makes bands that you can wear on your wrist or on your ankle. I was interested in trying my Fitbit on my ankle, as I suspected that the number of steps that were registering with a wristband was lower than reality. My suspicion was confirmed; my daily step count suddenly went up 50+%. I assure you that I did not simultaneously take up fitness walking, although there is another factor that could be involved.

Because I used to wear my Fitbit on my dominant side, the programming may have made the device less sensitive. I hadn’t worn it on my other wrist because I always wear my (solar-powered, analogue) watch on that wrist. Of course, now my Fitbit has the time, but I still prefer my watch. Yes, I’m old-school.

I am wearing my Fitbit on my non-dominant ankle during the day and on my wrist at night. I quickly learned that wearing it on my ankle at night was a bad idea, because it tends to shift and flip over and such. The only other tracking I do with my Fitbit is sleep tracking, thus the wearing it at night. I don’t know how accurate the sleep tracking is, but…let’s just say the stats don’t look good.

I’ve also learned that it’s good to wear the ankle band over socks rather than under them. Because I don’t have the heart rate monitor, the back of the tracker doesn’t need to be in contact with my skin, so having my sock between it and my skin isn’t interfering with function in any way.
Fitbit Inspire on ankle
You can see the time and step count because I pushed the display button before taking the picture and because Susan makes bands with windows. She also makes them without windows. I have a sparkly gold band without a window to wear on my wrist or ankle when I am feeling dressy.

I haven’t felt dressy yet.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/17/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-17th-2020/