scatter-brained

I’ve been wanting to write a post for several days, but have felt too scattered to do it.

I’m still feeling too scattered, but am determined to do it now regardless, ignoring the fact that I have unread email messages going back to Sunday, although I think I’ve caught all the important ones, and a long to-do list of other tasks.

Our national drama and the pandemic continue to demand an outsize share of my thoughts. The president’s behavior and rhetoric are increasingly bizarre, possibly as a result of the high-dose steroids he is taking for COVID. There are over two dozen known cases among White House and campaign personnel and cases and quarantine of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, our highest ranking military officers. The president is planning to resume public campaigning, even though he is most likely still infectious. The medical information that has been released publicly is at best incomplete and at worst misleading.

Yesterday, arrests were made as a result of a plot to kidnap and possibly kill Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer. I’m grateful that the governor and her family are safe but appalled that a self-styled right-wing militia was planning such a horrible attack. Gov. Whitmer, like many other governors around the country, has enacted executive orders to address the pandemic. She has been vilified by protesters, some of whom were armed, Republican legislators, and the president. She has been publicly threatened with violence and been subjected to sexist slurs. Still, it was shocking to learn that there was a serious plot to kidnap her and “try her for treason” before the November election. Instead of expressing support for her yesterday after the news broke, the president tweeted criticism of her and her policies, along with mischaracterizations of her and other Democrats.

In local COVID news, there has been an uptick in cases here in Broome County and we are officially on yellow alert, which sets lower limits on gatherings and increased testing for schools. Our county executive had already asked residents to stay at home as much as possible, so there isn’t much additional impact on daily life, but the official recognition by New York State has reminded me to be even more cautious with outings.

I am also getting increasingly anxious about our upcoming trip to the UK to visit daughter E and her family. The UK has also had an increasing number of COVID cases recently and has tightened restrictions. B, T and I are going for the month of November because we will need to quarantine for the first two weeks. Then, we will have two weeks to visit, although it’s unclear if we will be able to all congregate at their home as gatherings of more than six are prohibited. We are also hoping to celebrate JG’s baptism, but aren’t sure how many will be allowed to attend. After we return home to New York, we will need to quarantine for two weeks, bringing us to mid-December. The airline has already changed our flights once and I’m hoping that no additional travel restrictions go into effect this month.

Part of what is stressing me out is trying to plan and prepare for six weeks of travel and quarantine. Besides B, T, and me, I need to have plans in place for Paco and for the house, where my sisters and brother-in-law in various constellations will be holding down the fort in our absence. This is turning into a major re-jiggering and re-stocking effort indoors, while a long-awaited landscaping project has been going on outdoors.

Meanwhile, in my continuing quest to catch up with personal preventive health measures, I had a COVID test this morning in advance of a colonoscopy next week. Because of some pre-existing conditions, my prep is a bit more complicated than for most people, so I’m hoping I can get through it with a minimum of repercussions. Maybe I’ll write a post next week while I’m waiting for the remnants of the sedation and medications to wear off. That could be, um, interesting?

On the poetry front, I got another chapbook rejection. It was a debut chapbook competition that had drawn over 200 entries, a detail I’m including as it gives people an idea of the odds, and this contest was relatively small. On the unexpectedly happy news side, I received notification of acceptance to an anthology called Lullabies and Confessions: Poetic Explorations of Parenting Across the Lifespan from University Professors Press. I had submitted to the anthology over four years ago and had assumed my poem had been rejected although I hadn’t gotten an email about it, but the project had instead been delayed and my poem will be included. Publication is expected in print and ebook early next year.

I’m still feeling scattered, as though there is something else I’m supposed to be saying, but I want to get this out. Stay safe and be well!

Ocean and Snowman

This evening, while watching television, I happened to see the last part of the movie Moana followed by the beginning of Frozen.

When daughter E and granddaughter ABC lived with us before E’s spousal visa came through for their big move to London, ABC, at two, was just starting to be entranced with watching (parts of) movies. These were two of her favorites, which she called “Ocean” and “Snowman”.

Both movies celebrate love of family, intergenerationally in Moana and between sisters in Frozen. Seeing them tonight reminds me of how desperately I miss seeing E and ABC and how much I want to meet new granddaughter JG.

When E and ABC left for London almost a year ago, we had assumed that we would be able to visit several times a year. My spouse B, younger daughter T, and I did visit in December. (There are posts about the trip that you can find in the archive in late January into March. It took a long time to get the posts together.) We had hoped to visit again in the spring and then in the summer when the baby was due to arrive, but COVID intervened, so we haven’t seen them yet in 2020, other than on screen.

Most days, I can manage the distance, but, tonight, I could hear the echoes of ABC asking for Ocean or singing about building a snowman and I’m sad.

We do have a visit planned in November, beginning with two weeks in quarantine to be followed by two weeks for visiting under whatever the current UK restrictions are for group size. We are hoping that JG’s baptism will be able to take place while we are there.

Plans are in place, but I’m nervous that travel protocols might change and keep us from seeing them. Meanwhile, we are hoping that people in the US and the UK will be careful about following pandemic control measures so that virus rates stay down and our visit can go forward.

And, people in other countries, I hope you will stay safe, too.

the later verses

For some reason, yesterday the topic of the later verses of songs to which many know only the first verse well came up a couple of times. In a Binghamton Poetry Project session, we read Ada Limón’s poem “A New National Anthem” which quotes from and asks why we don’t sing the third verse of the “Star-Spangled Banner”. Last night, I was discussing the hymn “Amazing Grace” with a friend; I relate much better theologically with the ending verses than the opening ones, which are the ones most people recognize.

Although I am Catholic, much of my training as an organist was in a Protestant context. Unlike most Catholic churches, which often sing only two or three verses of a hymn, Protestant churches usually sing all the verses, which, as a poet and a liturgist, I find more proper. I sometimes choose a hymn specifically for a message in a later verse. I did this in choosing hymns for my father-in-law’s funeral, only to have the substitute organist truncate the hymn so we never got to verses that were connected to the occasion. I noticed the pastor giving a sidelong glance at the organist, but he didn’t take the hint.

Some of my favorite verses of hymns are later ones. In Katharine Lee Bates’ “America the Beautiful”, I especially like the end of the second verse/stanza: 
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
We could really use some of that self-control these days. Interestingly, in researching the poem, I found that the version most of us know is the 1911 revision. The original 1893 version ends the third stanza with:
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain,
The banner of the free!
We could really use that message now, too.

Sometimes, later verses are just fun because you get to sing words that your would not otherwise. For example, the second verse of the standard version of the United Kingdom National Anthem “God Save the Queen” which deals with the Queen’s enemies contains the lines “Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks”. It’s not often one gets to sing about “knavish tricks”!

Sometimes, especially in folk/protest songs, verses are included, excluded, or altered due to political circumstances or the audience. Woodie Guthrie’s original lyric of “The Land Is Your Land” contains a verse about private property and ends with a verse about hunger that closes “As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if this land was made for you and me.” Most people are familiar only with the verses that are a US travelogue, not these more challenging ones.

There are some hymns, such as “Sing a New Church” by Delores Dufner, OSB, that I love all the verses so much that I will sing omitted verses to myself if we don’t get to sing them all during the service.

My first college choral conductor, Rob Kolb, taught us that the hymn is the poem which is the text, as opposed to the tune, which is interchangeable with another of the same metric form. Because the hymn is the poem, you sing it as you would recite it, with its punctuation and word emphasis intact. You also honor the hymn as an entity, so you sing all the verses, as you would read or recite all the stanzas of a poem.

Some lessons stick with you for life.

today’s changes

When I wrote about covid-19 over the weekend, I assumed that things would continue to change.

I was correct.

Today, I learned the following:

  1. While visitors are still allowed in Paco’s independent living apartment building, they are no longer allowed in public areas, including the dining room. This means that our usual Sunday morning breakfast together won’t be possible, unless we order ahead and Paco goes to pick it up from the dining room.
  2. My hopes that the panic buying for groceries, medications, and household goods was just for Friday and over the weekend were dashed. It took three stores today to find a short list of items that Paco or my household needed. None of it was hoarding or earth-shatteringly necessary, but it was so strange to still see entire categories of foods unavailable.
  3. Stores are adjusting to the circumstances as best they can. Wegmans, where I usually do most of my shopping, has instituted limits on certain items, hoping to keep staples available for as much of the day as they can. They are usually open 24 hours a day, but are now closing between midnight and 6 AM to allow for more extensive re-stocking. Even with that, there was almost no fresh meat this morning and there were signs up saying they wouldn’t be getting a shipment until tomorrow afternoon.
  4. People must rely a lot on peanut butter, because it is very hard to find.
  5. France is reporting that over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may worsen covid-19 symptoms. They recommend other fever-reducing medications, such as acetaminophen.
  6. Starting at 8 PM today, all restaurants in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut will be open only for takeout and delivery. Also, the new definition of allowable gathering size is 50. This will effectively close lots of businesses and organizations.
  7. Many of the closures are scheduled until end of March or mid-April, but many of us assume they will go on longer.
  8. I had thought that the United States national government had the most haphazard response to covid-19, but it appears the United Kingdom is also in the running for this dubious distinction. Because my daughter and her family are in London, we often exchange news. The UK is not even using social distancing as a strategy for the population at large. It’s mind-boggling and scary. [Update:  Right after I published this post, my daughter sent me a link showing that someone finally got through to Boris Johnson that he needs to change his strategy for the UK.]

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

(I will try to make my next post be about something cheerier.)

political parallels?

We were in London when the United Kingdom had their election in December, so we saw some of the television coverage of it.

As we know, the Tories (Conservatives) won, Boris Johnson retains his post as prime minister, and, at midnight tonight Brussels time, the UK will officially leave the European Union, a process shorthanded as Brexit.

Right after the election, some pundits who were looking at this as possibly predictive of the upcoming United States elections later this year, posited that the lesson learned was that you can’t have a very liberal person representing the opposing political party.

That was not my takeaway from the situation. I was, instead, stuck by the parallels between UK and US politics, despite the differences in our governmental systems.

First, you have a similar urban/rural divide. In the US, the Democrats are stronger in urban areas and are represented by blue on electoral maps. The Republicans are stronger in rural areas and states and are represented by red. In the UK, the divide between Labor and Tories is similar, but the map colors are reversed.

Of course, the electoral map in the UK is much more complicated as there are more parties involved, such as the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists. There is a real danger that Scotland and Northern Ireland, who do not want to leave the European Union, may in the future vote to leave the United Kingdom. The United States is not about to break apart depending on the outcome of elections.

Another similarity is that the pivotal elections that brought us to this point were influenced by the Russians. Both the Brexit vote four years ago and the 2016 presidential election won by Trump are known to have suffered interference by Russian operatives. A number of GRU officers have been indicted in the United States for their election interference. (The GRU is the main intelligence agency in Russia.) Both the Brexit vote and the 2016 presidential election were close votes. There is no way to quantify the influence of the foreign interference, but it does call into question, in such close votes, if foreign interference tipped the scales.

Both the UK Tories and the US Republicans are historically conservative parties. They had certain principles that they held for decades. They have both turned away from those principles to follow an unconventional leader. In the US, this is sometimes referred to as a “cult of personality.” Any party member who disagrees with the leader is either badgered into falling back in the party line or leaving the party or not running for reelection.

I was also struck by how often Johnson and Trump are called out for lying. This is very distressing. In the US, it has led to some people denying facts in order to believe the lies. Some people even contend that there are no such things as facts or truth. This is dangerous, not only in politics but also in other topics. “Believing” something does not make facts disappear.

No one knows what will happen next in either nation. The UK leaves the European Union tonight, but there are no permanent plans in place for what that looks like. As I write this, I’m listening to the arguments for and against subpoenaing witnesses and documents in Trump’s impeachment trial. Even though most people think they know how the trial will turn out, no one knows what additional facts will surface and how the public will react.

Uncertainty seems the only constant.
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Today is the last day of Linda’s Just Jot It January. We hope you have enjoyed it – and joined in if you wanted! You can find out more about Just Jot It January here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/31/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-31st-2020/
Remember that Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday and Stream of Consciousness Saturday are ongoing. You can learn all about those on Linda’s blog, too. Thanks, Linda, for joining us all together for so much fun!

on both sides of the pond

This is a politically eventful week for both the US and the UK.

I just finished reading the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. I was a bit surprised that there are only two, given that there is also a body of evidence to support obstruction of justice regarding the 2016 election interference investigation and an emoluments case. The emoluments case is wending its way through the judicial system. The obstruction of justice cases could be brought under a different attorney general at any point within the five year statute of limitations. The thinking of the House Judiciary Committee majority seems to be to keep the articles narrowly focused to be able to present a more concentrated set of facts for the impeachment vote in the House, which is like an indictment, and for the trial in the Senate. The second article of impeachment is obstruction of Congress. Given that this is ongoing. blatant, and unprecedented in scope – and clearly a breach of Constitutional separation of powers – it is going to look as though senators who vote against that article are not taking their own Constitutional role as jurors seriously.

Meanwhile, in the UK, where I happen to be at the moment visiting family, the airwaves are filled with news of the UK Parliamentary election, which could well determine if and how the exit of the UK from the European Union happens. It is a mess, given that Russia also interfered in the Brexit vote, so it is not necessarily reflective of the will of the people. It is even more complicated in that the United Kingdom might itself break apart in the aftermath of leaving the EU. Scotland and Northern Ireland, and even Wales, could well vote to succeed, leaving England on its own and no United Kingdom at all.

I know I keep saying “Yikes!” in my posts, but it bears repeating.

Yikes!

Thanksgiving

The fourth Thursday of November is celebrated as Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

With so many changes in our family in the past few months, our Thanksgiving was quiet, with just spouse B, daughter T, and my dad Paco here for dinner. B did all the cooking – turkey, two kinds of dressing, mashed potatoes, rutabaga, acorn squash wedges, baked onions, and cranberry orange relish, with apple and pumpkin pies for dessert. It was a lot of food for four people, but we all enjoy having the leftovers. We are in the process of making turkey stock with the carcass and vegetables, something I learned from Nana growing up which has recently come back into food-fashion.

We ate midday here and, at almost the same time, daughter E was eating a Thanksgiving dinner, five time zones away, in London. She had made turkey and trimmings and pies for her daughter ABC, spouse L, and his parents with whom they are making their home. It’s nice that E and L want to keep some United States traditions to pass on to ABC, along with British ones. She is a dual citizen, at least until adulthood. It will depend on the rules in place when she turns 18, whether she will have to renounce her US citizenship to remain in the UK.

Still, she will always be able to celebrate Thanksgiving and remember the Thanksgiving celebrations of her childhood.

silver linings

There are some silver linings of not having a 2-year-old in the house.

  • Not crashing into the gate at the bottom of the stairs while trying to navigate at night
  • Being able to open cabinets without fiddling with a latch
  • Fewer smudges on the windows
  • Not having to juggle vehicles to make sure one with a car seat was available at home for outings
  • Cutting back on energy usage with fewer laundry loads, lights, electronics, etc.
  • Not having to wrestle with doorknob guards on the basement and linen closet doors – they were hard for little hands to open but also for my petite grown-up hands
  • The opportunity to sleep more, although this is only theoretical
  • More flexibility to travel, write, exercise, etc., although this, too, is theoretical
  • A break from watching some part of Moana, which ABC called “Ocean”, and/or Frozen, which ABC called “Snowman”, every day, although I might sneak a peek at them now and then because I appreciate the theme of love of family, especially grandmother/granddaughter and sisters

Of course, I would trade it all in a moment, if I could, although I know ABC is where she needs to be, settling in with her mom and dad and London grandparents and enjoying the amenities that only a big, historic city can provide. We had a chance to videochat with E and ABC over the weekend and to make arrangements to visit in December. It will be exciting to see everyone and all the places they go! It might be a bit too exciting, though, as we will be there for the election on the 12th…

 

SoCS: Cookie Monster

When her daddy was here in August, ABC started doing crafts with him – or, at least, she was crafting-adjacent.

One of the things they made was Cookie Monster’s head, made from a white paper plate painted blue with big eyes and mouth made of construction paper and glued on.

It’s pretty adorable!

Before he went back to London, E, L, and ABC went on a trip to Sesame Place. There, ABC got to see the characters perform, as well as go on rides and to the water park. She loved it! It was nice for them to get to go on a little family vacation, something that will get much easier once E’s visa comes and they finally get together permanently in the UK.

We will have to figure out what to pack for ABC for London. I think one thing that will get to go with her will be the (incredibly soft) Cookie Monster that they brought home as a souvenir from Sesame Place. It is a special edition for the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street this year. Of course, there will be Sesame Street in the UK, too, but Cookie Monster will be a wonderful reminder of her US home where Sesame Street began.
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is to write about the first blue object we see when we sit down to write. Join us! You can find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/09/13/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-14-19/

a royal rescue?

As many of you know, my daughter E and granddaughter ABC will soon be relocating from our home in the US to the UK, when E’s spousal visa comes through. Unfortunately, the UK government, like the US, is mired in dysfunction.

It is difficult to project what will be happening regarding Brexit, the prime minister, Parliament, and the EU. Even seasoned political analysts can’t guess what will happen. There are fears of shortages of fresh foods and medications if/when the UK leaves the EU. With so much uncertainty, this is not an optimal time for E and ABC to move, but there is only a small travel window once the visa arrives.

Lately, I have been fantasizing that the queen will come to the rescue! Britain’s monarch has little power, but, can still dissolve Parliament and call for new elections. She can also accept or reject the choice of prime minister. The prime minister is supposed to “command the confidence of the House of Commons.” [source:  https://www.royal.uk/queen-and-government] Given that PM Johnson has been pretty spectacular in his inability to get bills he favors passed, and that a number of members of his party have left, giving him less than majority support, one could reasonably argue that he does not command confidence.

The monarch is not supposed to be political but she has a duty to “encourage and warn” the government ministers. She is supposed to be a source of national unity. I realize it would be unprecedented, but I think she should point out that leaving the EU will likely cause Scotland, and perhaps Northern Ireland, to leave the United Kingdom. She could also point out that in a constitutional monarchy, issues are decided by her government, not by popular vote. The vote itself may not even represent the true will of the people, given that it was subject to Russian influence and much fear-mongering and lying from the domestic proponents of leaving the European Union. If she made these remarks publicly, perhaps in an address to Parliament, it would cause a stir, but it seems that she would be protecting her subjects and seeking to keep the United Kingdom intact.

Of course, none of this is likely to happen. I am dreaming, though, of a stable place for my daughter and her family to live and thrive.

A place less contentious and divided than the United States would be nice.