Moving in the Time of Corona

There’s been a plan in place for a long time. But a global pandemic doesn’t care. Nothing has happened how it was supposed to.

Packed moving boxes.
Everything must go! One way or another.

My 24-year-old firstborn has been living alone for about a month, since his roommate left to pursue opportunities in California. Meanwhile, my son’s lease on the Iowa apartment (250 miles from us) was coming due at the end of the month, and he has his own dreams waiting for him in Bellingham, Washington — a job transfer and friends who were ready to welcome him. The plan was for me to help him move to our house next week, where he would just sort of bounce, heading out to drive halfway across the country after staying here for a week or two.

He’s moved a few times in a few years, and each time has felt stressful and rushed. This was supposed the move where we would have time to plan and pace ourselves. Maybe even do a few fun things together before he built a life so far away from us.

Instead, my workplace shut down as of last Tuesday and one of his two jobs came to an abrupt early end. As COVID-19 spread and more places shut down, we both worried about potential travel restrictions. Neither of us wanted him to get trapped alone where he was, not even knowing if they’d let him remain in the apartment past his lease end date. This move became the most stressful and urgent of them all, a harried flight from disaster instead of an embarkation on the adventure he had envisioned.

I drove up last Wednesday (in rain all the way, natch) with the goal of getting him out the next day, a countdown timer ticking loudly in my psyche. Once I arrived, I saw we’d need more than a day. He’d already gotten rid of a lot of stuff and packed many boxes, but had thought he’d have more time. My husband had removed the last two rows of seats from our old Chevy Venture, and strapped our large retro car-top carrier on the roof. My son doesn’t own a huge amount of things, but when we were limited to what we could fit in his Toyota Corolla and my van, it meant a fair amount of triage and winnowing, while racing the clock in case travel restrictions went into place. The new departure goal became Friday morning. 

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Somehow, we got it all packed.

It’s a real struggle to execute a move in two days time with limited carrying capacity when no thrift stores are accepting donations and even the city landfills are closed. We did things I’m not proud of, including solving the dilemma of how to wedge a mattress into an apartment complex dumpster. It was a thin, cheap mattress, and our solution to making it fit involved the use of enormous zip ties. I have seldom done anything in my life that felt more sketchy. My son said that if we were in “The Good Place” our scores would definitely go into the negative over it. I told him I felt like we were only a few short steps away from burying a drifter in the desert.

We ended up filling trash bags with items I normally never would send to a landfill, seeing no alternative at the moment. Cheap but usable bowls and plates from Target, gone. A stack of three-ring binders, gone. Bathmat, gone. On and on. To mitigate our guilt a tiny bit, though, we did at least sort out the recycling, and we left the apartment sparkling clean. I scrubbed and vacuumed before we drove away.

The drive home was almost surreal in its normalcy. Due to road closures, I ended up on some rural state highways, which meant going right through the heart of a few towns, where everything seemed to be proceeding as usual. Small town Missouri felt like a whole different universe than the one I’d been living in. Around noon, I stopped for a bathroom break at a convenience store with a restaurant attached to it. I was all business, walking straight in, touching nothing I didn’t have to, doing my business, washing my hands for the amount of time it takes to say the Star Trek opening monologue (silently to myself,) and then straight back out. Meanwhile, the restaurant had tables full of people eating lunch. Other convenience store customers were browsing the aisle for snacks, filling up on fountain drinks. You’d never know there was a pandemic on. It was so very disquietingly normal.

Now the whole family is back in our home again, sitting in limbo. I’m off work until some uncertain future date. My husband, who is essential to keep networks going so that others can work and learn from home, is ensconced at his desk in our living room, doing his work remotely. My younger son recently interviewed for a job that seems unlikely to exist now. My newly returned older son is impatient to get on with his new life, but we have no idea when that will be possible. Like everyone else, we wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

Addendum: As I was writing this post, my city’s mayor announced a shelter in place order beginning tomorrow morning, running through April 24. So now I know one thing. I will not be returning to work until at least April 25.

On Not Eating the Burned Grilled Cheese

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I did not martyr myself to this sandwich.

Last Wednesday was a crappy day on many fronts. Work stress, bills to pay, minor but annoying health issues, feeling overwhelmed about my to-do list growing faster than my ability to do, a deep despair over the dawning realization that I’m probably never going to see a woman president in my lifetime. I was torn between the desire to smash things and the desire to go to bed forever. But dinner needed made.

I stood dithering in my kitchen for a long time, trying to settle on what I could muster the energy to cook. My top go-to comfort food is a grilled cheese sandwich. So I decided to go easy on myself. There are only three of us in the household now, and three grilled cheeses are quickly made with little effort. I would put apple slices and strawberries on the side. Good enough.

Wouldn’t you know, I let myself get distracted when the first sandwich was in the skillet. It burned while I was washing and slicing fruit. When I took it out and saw the charred surface, my automatic first thought was, “I guess that one’s mine.”

It’s been my default setting for years. The other members of the family get the good ones of whatever thing is being distributed. I get the pancake that was put in before the griddle was hot enough and isn’t quite right, the egg with the broken yolk, you get the idea. This isn’t done with resentment, but as a programmed response, like a factory setting for moms and wives. The thing is, nobody in family would ever ask me to do this. It’s all on me, usually done with little thought.

But not this time. I had the thought. I even took one bite of the sandwich. Then I took myself in hand and lectured me, “You deserve a decent sandwich. You were making this as comfort food because you’re sad and angry about misogyny, for pity’s sake! And here you’re willing to cheat yourself because you’ve internalized messages saying you’re always the one who has to sacrifice.”

There have been times in my life when I couldn’t afford to throw out a sandwich, no matter how scorched. But at present, we have achieved a financial level where I can use two extra pieces of bread and a couple more slices of cheese without facing penury and ruin.

It might look like a tiny thing, but fighting my own thoughts about how little I’m allowed to need or want is a big step for me. I threw out the burned sandwich and made a different one for myself, perfectly toasted. It was delicious. And liberating.

Shingles Vaccines, How Romantic!

heart shape multicolored stand
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

No matter that we’ve been married for decades now, my husband and I must still be romantics at heart. For an early Valentine’s Day date, we went out this afternoon and got matching his ‘n hers shingles vaccinations. Hubba hubba!

A few months back, I posted about my quest to find any place that had the vaccine in stock. A shortage at that time meant long waiting lists. It’s a two-shot deal, and I’m happy to report I acquired my first round in late September. As the second one is supposed to be given two to six months later, I decided this week I should get on the stick, so to speak.

Good news! No more waiting lists. I called the pharmacy and they said, come in any time we’re open. I had time today, so I skedaddled on down, to use an old timey expression befitting the experience. And I managed to bring the spousal unit (see — total romantic) along with me for his first dose. Bonded in sickness and in health, but we’ll take health if given the choice.

 

My Secret Life as a Pilferer of Education

 

(Video to back up my claims of having learned some things, including achieving the heights of piano mediocrity, on my own. Also, Happy New Year!)

I’ve been living a secret life for most of a decade. In early November, I completed an eight-year-long personal journey, one I undertook largely on the sly. I felt shy about sharing my goal because I needed all of my energy for the work. I had none left over for explanations, justifications, or talking myself out of believing any potential naysayers. There’s a lot of backstory to this, so here goes.

Immediately after high school, I got two years of college – an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts, 64 credit hours — under my belt, while working part-time jobs. But I was in debt and broke. I mean, I had to choose between tampons and toothpaste level of broke. I had no car, no bicycle, and sometimes no bus fare. I simply couldn’t finance any more higher education at the time. So I stopped temporarily. I went to work at an office job with the idea of returning to school after I’d had the chance to save some money. I held a picture in my mind of myself in cap and gown, walking across a stage to receive my bachelor’s degree. It was always a part of The Plan.

Life kept thwarting my return. But every time I was stymied, I’d summon the image of myself graduating and know I was still working toward it. My mantra became, “This is a setback, not an end.” That went on for decades.

At one time, when I lived in Kansas City and The Plan hadn’t been put off for all that long, I applied to UMKC and was accepted as a transfer student, with a major in anthropology. My dream was happening, or so I thought. I had an enrollment date on my calendar and had met with the financial aid office. But the day before I was set to become official, I encountered an unexpected “road closed” sign on my path. The details of what happened are no longer important, but suffice to say it was a plan-derailing event, something that threw up a spiked wall between me and college enrollment.

I spent a while falling apart, and then regrouped. I went back to the UMKC campus, this time to the employment office, to pick up some job applications and get a list of openings. I would go to work there, was my plan, and get my tuition paid as an employee. Before this could happen, my spouse got a job offer in Columbia, which was a good thing. So we moved.

We got settled here, had a couple of kids, got busy. Every once in a while, I checked on what it would take to enroll at a school in my new hometown, but never could see how it would work at the moment. My new plan was to get my education ball rolling again once the kids were in school all day. I saw some other moms who were pursuing higher education. But I couldn’t help noticing the ones who were most successful at it had lots of help, a robust support system. Grandparents who could babysit frequently. Somewhere to take the kids when they were sick and couldn’t go to daycare. My extended family were all far away. I had wonderful friends, but you can only call on friends so much.

I want to say right here, I absolutely am glad I had both of my children. I can’t imagine the world without them. I would not trade them in on any other dream. I just thought I could have kids and also have my other dream, in some fashion.

When my youngest was in kindergarten, I got a shelving job at the public library. Things were falling into place. This was the first step toward my new career. I would have an advantage when I got to library school, after finishing my four-year degree. (An aside: it is ridiculous that Library and Information Science is not offered as a four-year degree itself. If you disagree, I am happy to fight.)

Each time I received a paycheck, I took a few dollars and put it in an envelope – the seed of my college fund. But more things happened, of course. Cars and appliances broke down. Both of my children ended up with expensive-to-fix dental injuries on the school playground.  My younger one had a major health issue that resulted in large medical bills. I was also saving a few dollars from each check toward my children attending college someday. As their bank accounts were sacred in my eyes, it was always my envelope that got emptied. Then I’d start over again.

Every time I considered returning to school, there was some reason why the time was not right. I always needed to wait. I see now I was too easily discouraged, too willing to believe negative voices, whether internal or external. But finally, I looked at the year and at my age, and thought, “Now or never, baby. No matter my level of external support, no matter my own self doubts, I need to do this now.”

It was 2011. At work, I had long since moved from shelving to public services. My kids both were teenagers. They could stay home alone for periods of time, prepare their own food, ride their bicycles to school in good weather. Surely, they could adapt. Due to time and money constraints, I might have to stick to one or two classes at a time, but I was ready to slog.

A little voice of doubt made itself heard in my mind, however. It had been so long, I wasn’t sure I could do college work anymore. What if I tried and failed? It was around this time that several universities began posting class lectures and syllabi online with free access for anyone who wanted to audit. Aha! I could do a trial run to see if I was up to it.

I signed on for a Modern Poetry course through Yale University. They imposed no requirements, but I did. I “showed up” for class three days a week and completed every assignment in the time frame originally set for in-class students. I did every reading, wrote every paper. I looked forward to the homework, enjoying every bit of it. I learned a lot and I did keep up.

I began the application process at the University of Missouri, Columbia, changing my desired major from anthropology to English, hoping to avoid any requirement for fieldwork. To ward off jinxes, I told almost no one.

I’d made it to the step of ordering my old college transcripts when I received a call about my mother. She had fallen, possibly had pneumonia, and was in the hospital. I was a midlife baby, so I never had young parents. My mom had become old and frail. My oldest sister had been providing diligent care in her home, but Mom’s needs were overwhelming. She required skilled nursing care around the clock. The only facility in their area was subpar. I quickly agreed to look for a place for her in Columbia. I didn’t send for my transcripts.

The next four years of my life kept me so busy, I practically met myself coming and going. Crises popped up as fast as I could knock them back. I was hanging by my fingernails, what with the intensity and constant demands of raising teens, one of whom left high school to spend time homeschooling and one of whom had a 504 ADA plan with the school district, requiring constant meetings and monitoring. Along with my parenting duties, I had the demands of being responsible for my mom’s well-being – care plan meetings, visiting three or four times a week, going to all of her medical appointments, making sure she had denture powder and enough socks, doing the paperwork and making the phone calls for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. It was like having a second job.

Let me say about my mother pretty much the same thing I said earlier about my children. I am glad I was able to bring her to live near me for her final few years. It was a treasure to spend the time with her and see her so often. I absolutely would do it again, given the same choices. But it did slam the door on my college aspirations.

I kept telling myself to be happy with everything else I had done and accomplished, to let The Plan go. Yet, I couldn’t. I tried to think of ways to revive it, while speaking of it even less than before. When I did mention the idea, the same people who urged me to wait and put it off because my young children needed me were suddenly all like “What? At your age? It’s way too late.”

At a family gathering, two relatives engaged in a staged conversation in my presence. They didn’t mention me, but only other hypothetical people of about my age who talked about going back to college.* The two of them agreed and reinforced each other’s points about how selfish it would be and how little sense it would make to spend that kind of money on college when you were middle aged already.

Pivotal paragraph alert:

I had changed, though. Instead of shutting me down as it had in the past, that kind of interaction fired me up. I thought a lot about the Modern Poetry class I had taken and realized how many resources had become available that were inexpensive or free. I might not walk across a stage or get a piece of paper at the end of it, but I could still put myself through college. Since I was homeschooling my oldest kid for a couple of years. I could homeschool myself, too.

I researched majors once again, determining what degree requirements were feasible for me to meet, considering my circumstances and available resources. Many schools offered a degree in General Studies and/or Liberal Arts. The requirements appeared nearly identical for the two, and it was continuation of what I’d already done in school. Third time a charm – I designed a course of study that would fulfill the listed requirements for this bachelor’s degree at a few different places. Then I started the long, but happy grind, one class at a time.

It would be a mammoth undertaking, but I was determined not to cut corners or cheat. If I did, I would be cheating only myself. Since I’d already done the Modern Poetry course, I gave myself credit for it on my transcript. Though I didn’t always hold myself to the same time schedule I had in that course, I did hold myself to the same finishing standards. If I took a course, I had to do all of the work and do it as well as I could. No skipping even a single assignment.

I needed some college level math, so one of my early subjects was College Algebra, which I did through ALEKS. It wasn’t completely free, but it was pretty affordable. They require you to show mastery of a lesson before you can go on to the next one. I went back to online Yale and took a Theory of Literature class, again attending every lecture, doing every reading, and writing every paper. Through my public library (also my employer), I had free access to many online continuing education classes. Universal Class was one option for these. I studied a few subjects there – film studies, geography and others. They all required papers and quizzes to get a certificate. I knew they did not go as in-depth or require as much as a full-semester college course, so I personalized, beefing them up with supplement readings and projects of my own. And at the end of each Universal Class course, I would add only a single credit hour to my spreadsheet because I didn’t want to pad. I wanted to do the real work.

Both of my kids unwittingly provided opportunities for me. My younger son had taken piano for several years, but gave it up for other pursuits when he was around 15. I had all of his old lesson books, including one titled “Practical Theory, a Self-Instruction Music Theory Course.” I had always wanted a better understanding of music. I worked my way through his books for a music appreciation elective credit. If any one subject came close to kicking my ass, it was this one. But I taught myself to read music passably and have soared to mediocre heights on the piano.

My oldest started attending community college. As he adjusted to the demands of higher education the first semester, he requested my help with studying and organizing for one class in particular, an American History class. While earning my AA degree, I’d taken world history classes, but no American History. Here were some new credit hours I could accrue. Since I was helping my son keep track of assignments, I knew what they all were. When he wasn’t using his textbook, I read it cover to cover. And wrote all of the papers — mine, not his.

I used whatever slivers of time I could find to focus on my schoolwork. During the early years, I spent a lot of time in a parked van one place or another, waiting to pick up a kid from school or other activity. I took advantage of those moments to study. I also studied on lunch breaks. I took work with me when I visited my mom, who was prone to drifting into naps. I stayed up late at night finishing assignments and got too little sleep, just like a “real” college student. My house became very dusty.

All of that work, effort, striving. Yet I couldn’t share it with much of anyone. We all have blind spots. I’ve had some of my own revealed to me over the years. One of the most common blind spots I notice in others is the tendency to judge people based on the degrees they have or haven’t earned. There’s somehow a common idea that if you didn’t pay someone for your knowledge, then it’s not real. It’s supposed to be a commodity that you bought in a college or university. If you got it any other way, it’s illegitimate, pilfered even. You stole that knowledge. You shouldn’t get any credit for it or be allowed to use it. Or, if it didn’t cost a fortune, it must be a lesser quality of knowledge.

I wanted to be able to talk about my pursuits, to enthuse, to express the joy I felt. To explain the reason I didn’t or couldn’t do something else with my time was because I had to finish writing a paper for a class. I worked with some younger colleagues who were still in school. I’d stand by while they spoke of the demands and the joys and the new knowledge attained in their studies. I wanted that conversation with someone. But I knew if I ever said anything, it’s not the conversation I would get.

A handful of times, the fact that I was taking some class arose organically. But I spoke without getting into the layers of what it meant in my life. After a while, I became cagier about even casual mentions. Because here was a typical interaction.

I was talking to someone who spent a lot of money for her knowledge back in the day. I’ve seen her mentor younger folks and heard her express respect for how many of them managed to juggle school and work. It’s very possible that she herself had more life responsibilities than I realized. But from what I knew of her at the time, it didn’t seem she had many. She had a full-time job and a husband, and that was about it. To me, it was a dream. Imagine all I could accomplish and do in the same situation!

I, on the other hand, was barely sleeping due to everything on my plate. I was in the midst of dealing with extremely difficult teen stuff, including some health issues with both kids, always needing to drive someone somewhere or taking one of them out for practice driving hours, or helping with homework, or mediating disputes. I was working my day job, spending many hours per week on my mom’s needs, groceries, cooking, etc. Yet somehow, I still managed to have a class going at almost all times.

Anyway, the conversation — I casually mentioned an interesting fact I had just learned in an online class. I was enthusiastic about this bit of knowledge and thought we could have a discussion about it. But after I mentioned the course I was taking, here’s the turn things took instead.

In a martyred, wistful tone (possibly exaggerated in my memory), she said, “Maybe someday I’ll have enough free time to do things like that, taking a class just for fun.

It took me a beat to respond because I had to swallow a “fuck you” instead of letting it out. I’m generally a laugh instead of cry person, so I chuckled at her obvious joke, and told her, “It’s the one thing I do for myself. It’s so important, when almost every second of my life involves taking care of other people, to wedge in one small thing for me. It’s what keeps me from burning out on the thousand other responsibilities I have.”  Which was really a long-winded, more socially acceptable form of “fuck you.”

For the record, I’ve forgiven her, even if she never had a clue she needed forgiveness. But lesson learned. If I had been paying someone else in a formal program to give me the information, it would garner admiration. Because I was constructing the road for the educational journey myself, my efforts were seen as the frivolous activities of someone without serious responsibilities who had too much time on her hands. I stayed mum after that…

With one significant exception. I took the risk of sharing my plan with some close mom friends who showed understanding and support. I had believed the only cheerleader I needed was myself, but their words sure bolstered me.

I persevered through my mother’s end of life, my two children reaching legal adulthood, kid number two moving away, followed shortly by kid number one moving away only to return a few weeks later, then kid two returning in a few more weeks. And eventually, my firstborn launching again. Me taking on a second job, a side hustle doing online transcription. Two vehicles getting totaled. Innumerable home repairs. Always, no matter what, I kept my studies near the top of my list of priorities. It was slow going at times, but I plugged away.

These last couple of years, I was down to simply electives. In February 2019, I did the math and realized I needed only three more credit hours. I’d just wrapped up a fiction editing course and was trying to choose my next topic when a copy of The Complete Plays of William Shakespeare dropped into my life for free. By “dropped into my life,” I mean I skimmed it off of the top of a box of books in a recycling bin on the loading dock at work, but whatever. I can interpret the signs how I want.

For my last and final subject, I would design my own course. I gave myself the assignment to read all of Shakespeare’s plays, also watching performances of them when possible, streaming online or on DVD. I would also write a page about each one. For a few, I found Great Courses lectures that were illuminating, as well. About two-thirds of the way through, I wondered why I hadn’t limited it to one category. Why didn’t I stick to only Shakespeare’s comedies or his tragedies? On the other hand, how many people can say they’ve read every last one of his plays? Nose to the grindstone, it took me nine months for this last class.

One day on my lunch break, I sat in the coffee shop of Lucky’s Market and wrote my final paper. I dotted in the last period and looked up, stunned. I had persisted and crossed the finish line. The world around me looked the same, people going about their mundane tasks. But in my spirit, it was all trumpets and confetti.

Some arrive at the destination by paved road. I came through the briars. The snags in my clothes, the scratches on my legs – those are my honors cords. I created my own maps for the journey, gathering knowledge in a basket I wove myself.

I started with one online class in 2011. And on Wednesday, November 6, 2019, at 1:35 in the afternoon, in a grocery store, I graduated from my own private, one-person university.

~

*It’s possible they really were talking in hypotheticals, but it felt directed toward me at the time, maybe because it jibed with my some of my own worst internal fears and doubts.

The Little Drummer Boy and Me

When it comes to Christmas songs, my heart beats to the rhythm of The Little Drummer Boy. I turn the volume up when it starts to play. I realize this puts me at odds with many adults who have this title on their list of least-liked holiday classics. My adoration has its roots in one specific Christmas-time memory that involved a few of my favorite things. Well, two. A book and a big brother.

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I was six years old, and for Christmas I had received a copy of Ezra Jack Keats’ picture book based on the song, with amazing can’t-stop-gazing illustrations. I could read it myself, albeit slowly. But I still preferred being read to, because that way I got attention and a book. With five older siblings, my odds were pretty good of roping someone in. On this particular day, it was the brother who is ten years my senior. So sixteen at the time.

The age difference between us was optimal for the development of hero worship. He was the sibling most often in charge of me, at least in those days, probably because the older kids were already wrapped up in getting their adult lives going. He was a pretty great babysitter — a patient and kind listener, who always made me feel safe. I thought he hung the moon.

He not only read the words in the book, he helped me think about the meanings and themes, asking occasionally if I understood or had any questions. My brother explained the ox and lamb keeping time and other mysteries of the text. But more important, he helped me understand the underlying message, that even a young child (like myself!) has something to offer. No matter if you are small, or poor in money, you can still be of service and use whatever abilities you possess to bring joy to others. Looking back, I see it’s what he was doing for me by offering his time and his understanding to help me enjoy the book and song even more.

I’m now in my fifties and he is in his sixties. We live in different states, but he remains an amazing big brother. I still think he hung the moon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Trees and Savings Bonds

Christmas tree and cat
Puffies the cat survives a bout with curiosity.

We got our Christmas tree a little earlier than usual this year. As we often do, we bought it from the lot run by the local Optimist International chapter.

As we were decorating it, my son and I reminisced about the time when he won first place in a safety poster competition sponsored by this same group. He was in second grade at the time.  He’d chipped his top front teeth in a playground mishap not long before, and a photo of his damage teeth played a prominent role as he advised kids to slow down and use caution when climbing.

As we laughed about it, a thought occurred to me. “You won a savings bond for that,” I told him.

He said, “Oh, yeah. I had forgotten about it.”

“I had, too,” I said. “I haven’t thought about it in a long time.”

There was a pregnant pause as significant looks were exchanged. My son is now 21 and could use a few extra dollars. I told him I was confident it had to be in the house somewhere. I would see if I could find it.

Guess what! That’s right –chicken butt. Also, I found the $50 savings bond in a folder of his old school papers. It was issued in 2006, a few days after his eighth birthday.

As far as I can remember, it’s the only government savings bond I have ever touched. I had never really researched them. I had a vague idea you had to keep them for a long while before they were worth the full amount. Ten years maybe? Ten years seemed like it had to be right. We looked it up.

It’s twenty. Twenty years! You can cash them in after one year, but the longer you wait, the more they’re worth, until they mature to the full amount, where they sit static, no longer drawing interest. The U.S. Treasury Department has an online calculator that will give you the value of your bond. My son’s is currently worth $41.12.

I asked him if it was worth it to wait six and a half years to earn another $8.88. He immediately started calculating for inflation and told me it would be a wash if he held onto it until he was 28 in order to earn the $1.37 per year interest. He is like me in that he tends to save more than spend. But I’m pretty sure he’s going to cash it in before the end of the year.

If you, Dear Reader, would like extra holiday cash to come your way, sharing this post as if it were an old-fashioned chain letter will do nothing for you. But I hope you enjoyed the anecdote and that good things come your way. Enjoy the season!

 

 

Thanking Those Who Came Before

group of people making toast
Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

Where would I be without, well, everyone else? My goal for this Thanksgiving day is to notice and appreciate on a continual basis, to realize how much of what I have, what allows me to survive and thrive and experience joy and convenience is due to all of the people who came before me.

Take my home. The land where my home is built once was part of the Osage region. I am grateful to the centuries of people who maintained the land and area, keeping it healthy and in balance for generations to come. I am thankful to the builders of my house, both the family that paid for it to be built more than 100 years ago and the workers who provided the labor. I’m thankful to the other owners and residents of the home, who did maintenance and made improvements through the years before we came to live here.

When I took a hot shower this morning, I thought of the folks who planned and built our city’s infrastructure, allowing us to have water come right into our house with the turn of a tap. I also thought of my husband, who recently replaced a valve after we weren’t getting hot water in the shower.

I put on my jeans, mindful of the fact that someone invented jeans, other someones sewed this very pair, and somewhere along in the course of human history, somebody designed the first zipper, which caught on and made for a very convenient item of clothing.

The brussels sprouts I’m roasting in the oven as I type were grown and harvested by others, and I thank them. They were transported and put on the store shelf by other people. The baking sheet I’m using was manufactured by someone somewhere.

Almost every last thing I have and do was made possible by the efforts of other people who came before me somewhere in the process. And the air I breathe is supplied to a large extent by trees. So I thank the trees, too.

If anyone reads this, thank you for reading, connecting and contributing to the world in whatever ways you do.

Things That Scare Me

I like Halloween. It’s fun to be scared just a little, and I have a dark sense of humor. Plus, what’s more enjoyable than dressing up in costumes and sharing treats?

Speaking of scary, here’s a short list of real world things that frighten me on a regular basis, not just once a year.

Sidewalk grates.

Sidewalk Grates, photo, Steven Pisano
Credit: Steven Pisano

I won’t walk on them if I can avoid it. Laugh at me all you want. I’m always convinced I’ll fall through if I step on one. It happens, folks.

 

Driving behind cement mixers.

Cement Truck
Credit: Anfecaro

The slow spin feels ominous to me, as if it’s building up to something. Maybe something like suddenly spewing wet cement, entrapping my car, or at least causing me to wreck. My brain contains a full library of images of what exactly could happen to my vehicle in the event of an unscheduled cement truck discharge, which is also a thing that happens.

 

Driving behind car carriers.

Car carrier trailer
Credit: Bob Adams

You know those trucks with the automotive shelving units trailing behind? The ones where multiple cars are chained to ramps that point right down at whoever happens to be following them. I hate getting stuck behind those, watching the half dozen or more cars bounce around, wondering how strong those chains are, and trying to formulate  startegies to avoid a pile up if some driverless sedans break their bonds and come zooming head-on in my direction. Guess what? It’s happened.

 

Exploding Biscuit Cans

I don’t know if one has ever injured or killed a person, but every time I open one, my heart rate soars, my breathing becomes rapid and shallow, and I jump almost out of my skin at the noise. This is what I imagine, every time:

 

Happy Halloween tomorrow. Sleep well tonight!

Little Daily Sunflower Seed Party

My husband was faster than the squirrels this year when it came to harvesting sunflower seeds. This pic is from nearly four weeks ago. The seeds are nearly gone now.

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Notice the fancy containers! We’re high class around here.

When I think about the effort that went into getting these, and the time it takes to shell them for snacks, I realize why overeating might not have been an option for most people in most places throughout the history of the world. I certainly appreciate my food more.

I feel like I’m having a fun little party every day when I eat a few. For a couple of minutes, I get to slow down and enjoy opening tiny presents with miniature treasures inside. It’s as much about the process as anything, a good exercise in mindfulness and joy.

Make your small daily celebrations where you can, friends.

In Quest of a Shingles Vaccine

close up of white syringe
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Time flies. It feels as if I only started this blog on sandwich generation living a couple of years ago. But in fact, my mom has been gone for more than three years. Lately more of my concerns have to do with my own aging. At the moment, I’m on a mission to get the shingles vaccine for myself and my husband.

Until 2017, the “correct” age to get an immunization against shingles was 60. That was the old — and still available vaccine, Zostavax. I watched with consternation as one of my older brothers was denied the vaccine at 59, told to wait a year. Then he came down with shingles only a few weeks later. I took note as a few other older friends and relatives also got shingles in their late fifties. I thought all we could do, the spouse and I, was cross our fingers and hope to cross the 60 line without an outbreak.

But now there’s a newer, better, longer lasting vaccine, Shingrex. The recommendation is to get it in your fifties. Hooray! We didn’t have to wait. Or so I thought.

There’s a chasm sometimes between what’s recommended and what’s possible. In this case, there’s a nationwide shortage of the Shingrex vaccine. I started my immunization quest in April. It’s now August, and my husband and I are on page seven of the waiting list at one pharmacy. I don’t know how many names per page. I decided to put us on a second waiting list at a different place, thinking maybe they had a better supply chain. Or magic or something. We’re at around number 500 on the list there.

It’s a 2-dose vaccine, so people who have somehow managed to get their first shot all have first dibs before we do. It’s been a minute since I had a math class of any kind. But I understood quickly that our progression up the list was not going to be steady and linear. Everyone in front of us waiting for their first dose would remain in front of us as they were prioritized for their second round. So 500th in line doesn’t mean you get the 500th dose to arrive in the pharmacy store room. It could be the 600th or 700th. The person who took our names bluntly told me they had none — zero — in stock at the moment, and it could be up to two years before we’re at the top of the list.

We’re trying to eat healthful foods and exercise regularly to bolster our immune systems. I’ve put reminders on my phone to call around to pharmacies every couple of weeks. Beyond that, I guess we’re back to crossing our fingers.

Here’s more information about the vaccine for anyone who’s interested.