New Year Solutions

In keeping with the new normal, I am adapting the New Year’s resolution.  I drop the re- and go with solution. I do not want to re-anything right now. I would like all new. In 2021 I will find solutions…to problems. There is never a shortage. They come disguised as puzzles, riddles, quandaries, conundrums, mysteries, equations, pickles, challenges, and dilemmas.

Unsolved dilemmas from 2020 persist. Some problems go way back. Dreaded conundrums rise even after we have weighted them down with cement blocks and dumped them into the deepest strip mine lake. Unforeseen challenges lie in wait. This time last year, we were still oblivious of the pickles yet to come.

I cannot solve massive problems. The new president and his cabinet must tend to those. I will not tackle philosophical riddles such as the meaning of life. I have difficulty finding meaning in each day sometimes. The headaches we have with our appliances are not worthy of a solution, just a quick fix. Currently, our stove’s touch pad is on the blink and our washer is permanently out of balance. I want to find satisfying solutions to the obstacles thrown my way.

To help me prepare for 2021 I looked for examples from 2020. I discovered that last year I solved a challenge, a puzzle, and a mystery. Let me explain.

The Challenge: Empty my dad’s apartment after he moved into a long-term care facility.

In record time, my sister, Tami, and I packed, moved, or stored every antique chest, cupboard, table and chair until it found a choice spot in our children’s homes. We bequeathed vintage crocks, coffee grinders, and framed prints.  Mom’s Christmas collections were ample enough to bedeck five houses this holiday. What great fortune that the antique appraiser took the most valuable items to his auction before the pandemic. In the years since my mom’s death, I had dreaded the overwhelming and emotional task of disseminating the treasures. Now I am joyful to see our children cherish the prized objects.

The Puzzle: Navigate the border closing between the U.S. and Canada in order to reunite with our son, Reed, and his daughters.

After the first 100 days of the pandemic pause, the Canadian government permitted immediate family members to reunite in Canada. My husband, Paul, and I obtained the required documents, followed the strict quarantine protocols, and mastered the subtle communication skills required for admission. Over the past six months, we have made brief visits to our house and returned to Canada under the same constraints. When so many grandparents long for reunion with quarantined family, we assemble a multigenerational puzzle.

The Mystery: Uncover the story of my birth.

I have known since I was about ten that my mom married my dad when I was three. Dad adopted me when they married. Learning this never changed my contented life or my loving bond with my dad. When I became an adult and my birth father initiated a relationship, I declined. For reasons I have not yet analyzed, I never sought details regarding my early years. The many photographs of me with my mom and extended family filled the gap.  My mom would gladly have provided the narrative, but I never asked before she died.

One person who experienced those years with my mom and me still lives in my hometown. Last March I arranged to meet Mary Ann and hear the story. My mom’s best friend from 1953 answered all my questions. She had good reason to remember every detail. She was with us on the day Mom brought me home from the hospital as a newborn. That is when she received a call that her mother had died. Mary Ann and I have been linked by motherhood all these sixty-seven years and I never realized it.

Twenty-twenty showed us that we never know what difficulties will materialize. I read that inside every problem lies an opportunity. Bring on the predicaments, the jams, and the fixes. I am ready for this year’s possibilities.

 

Grateful Ranking 2020

My third annual Thanksgiving post comes late. The way time has contorted itself this year maybe any time works. In 2018 I identified ten insignificant things that made a significant difference to my comfortable life. My husband inspired that list with his comment, “It doesn’t take much to make me happy.”

I revisited that list a year later and found many items to be irrelevant. A new list of ten evolved from 2019. This year’s events have rendered both previous lists inconsequential. Note the ironies from last year’s ranking.

My reliable Subaru Outback (10), with 188,000 miles of travel, now sits in Reed’s driveway for weeks on end while I quarantine 14 days of every month. Like me, the tires deflate from lack of use.

My visits to the local Macsherry Library (7) and the Price Chopper Market (8) have ceased now that I reside in Canada. No worries, I still read on my Kindle and enjoy food from Canadian markets.

Last year I treasured the open border between the U. S. and Canada (4), our access to family. That border has now been closed for nine months with no sign of opening. Canada’s compassionate exemption has permitted us to enter.

2020 Trivial Five

In 2020 life compressed. In my small daily circle five essential pandemic items came to mind keeping with the theme it doesn’t take much to make me happy. On any designated day, the rankings shift.

toilet paper

disinfectant wipes

Zoom

Amazon

Netflix

2020 Vital Five

Even though I don’t venture far, my basic wants are met. Unfortunately, multitudes find themselves in dire need. The contrast between my circumstances and theirs prompted me to recognize five basic requirements of a comfortable life. I find it impossible to prioritize these.

clean air

safe water

food security

economic stability

healthcare

 I greet every day having access to the trivial and the vital benefits for which I am grateful.

.

Picture Day

My granddaughters are already psyched for this week’s school picture day. Ensembles are selected. Alarms will go off early. Hair will be styled. This baffles me. Photos are not a novelty anymore. With special events in short supply these days, perhaps picture day itself inspires them to look their best. In today’s world this is the photo op, a chance to shine in the spotlight. Just in time for the holidays, the final prints will be ready for frames or sent to the relatives. Picture day endures despite the pandemic.

As an elementary teacher it was my experience that school went awry on picture day. If you are a non-educator, I do not expect you to understand how school pictures disrupted the educational process. Let me explain.

Promote

The photography company sent posters to hype the event. They hung above every drinking fountain, outside the office, and in the multipurpose room. A color brochure of immaculate smiling young models showed the purchase options, combinations of wallet-size, 3×5, 5×7, 8×10, photo key chains and similar trinkets. A subtle psychology worked to influence choices. Did your child deserve the Basic, the Standard, or the Deluxe package?

Pitfalls

Classroom teachers distributed packets to students who carried them home to the parents and guardians. The children were relied upon to return the envelopes, selections clearly marked, with cash or check by the scheduled day for pictures. Balancing the books must have been crazy. The cash did not always match the package price. Checks were made out to the company, to the school, the PTO, and even to me. This process had more pitfalls than mail-in voting ever could.

Every morning, from the time the order-forms were sent home, I would request the returned envelopes be handed to me for safe-keeping in our classroom vault, a locked drawer. On picture day I put the packets into the hands of the children only when they formed a line and proceeded to the photographer. At least one student would have to make an emergency call home requesting the picture order be rushed to the school.

Prolong

My students, grade three, were always scheduled late in the day. The impossible aim to keep dress clothes tidy through physical education, art class, and lunch turned the day on its head. I postponed outdoor recess despite noisy objections. Anxiety increased. At last from the intercom, “Mrs. Findlan, please bring your class to the library. Be sure all students have order forms and money.” Cheers would erupt.

Proceed

We proceeded down the hallway envelopes in hand. One or two boys wore a tie and several girls sparkled in gowns suited for the red carpet. Fortunately, even students without envelopes had a photo taken. Their disappointment would come later when the developed prints arrived for only those who purchased.

Preen

We arrived at the library, and the photographer’s assistant requested I arrange the children by height, either tallest to shortest, or vice versa. The ends of the line fell into place easily.  The others put themselves shoulder to shoulder or back to back. Arguments erupted. Plus, dress shoes changed proportions we had previously known.

 I attempted to tuck, tie, and smooth the shirts and dresses. I did my best to tame the boys’ hair using the little black combs every student is supplied.  When they learned the combs were theirs to keep, they beamed as if they held five-dollar bills.

Pose

One by one the children perched on the stool, tilted their heads and gave toothy smiles.  Teachers had a photo taken as well. The children took full advantage to become unruly when I was behind the velvet curtain, so I seldom wore a natural smile in my picture.

We marched back to the classroom, dropped off combs and bolted to the playground. Unfettered joy abounded as they mounted the play structures and raced around the grass, oblivious to smudges and stains. I suppressed thoughts of November retakes.

Persevere

Mayhem would soon resume with Halloween and continue for two months as each holiday flowed into the next.  The stretch of increased excitement and erratic schedules began on picture day and lasted until the new year.

 I cannot fathom how picture day and the months that follow will be orchestrated during this pandemic, whether in person or virtual. Teachers, resourceful troopers and classroom warriors, will do what it takes…and smile.   


 [CF1]

Ambushed

Roving coyotes scream and howl,

Terrorizing shrieks bounce

Above the trees and across the fields,

Shudders slither up my neck,

I imagine unwary prey ambushed

In the crisp star-studded navy night.

Soulless slayer brays and boasts,

Across networks and through the nation,

Blatant lies boldly broadcast

Treachery thwarts my rhythm,

I grieve for 200,000 innocent souls

Needlessly dead on the autumn equinox.

The Pandemic Pack

Earlier this summer a lone dark-gray wolf appeared in the field behind our son Reed’s house. Wolves typically function in a pack.  Within the pack a distinct hierarchy exists in each gender. An alpha male and an alpha female dominate the average pack of six. Between the alpha, the strongest and wisest, and the omega, who ranks last, wolves establish order among themselves.  Pups and yearlings remain subordinate for about 2-3 years when they leave to find another pack or start one of their own. During our 50 days of sequestering with Reed in Canada I have observed just how the pack phenomenon works in human families.

Food

Number one necessity for any pack is the food. Canadian wolves prey on caribou, elk, white tail deer, and moose. Our Canadian pack simply shops at the No Frills market. Fully committed as a contributing member of this pack, I volunteer to do the grocery shopping. But I prefer to shop at Metro. The pups quickly discern the difference in brands of fudgesicles, ice cream, tomato sauce, and even bread. Complaints are aired.

Reed, the residing alpha male, shakes his head in wonder that I only purchased two packs of chicken and burger, and one bag of milk. Yes, milk comes in plastic bags that fit into small pitchers. The corner of the bag must be cut with scissors in order to pour the milk. I still work to master the perfect snip. Paul compensates for my inadequacies by stocking the garage fridge with frozen treats and root beer. He keeps a basket full of snack-sized chips. Paul rises in the hierarchy.

As the alpha, Reed takes responsibility for the pack’s meals. He does his cooking on the weekend, a protein, a starch, and roasted vegetables.  After work during the week, he can heat his own meal and prepare whatever the pups prefer with little fuss or mess. At my own house I was the alpha female of the kitchen. With all good intentions I now assume weeknight cooking. It soon becomes apparent that I use four times as many implements as Reed. For one vegetable I might use a colander, a pot, a serving dish, and a storage container. If we have three or more courses, dirty pots and pans litter the countertops. Now that we are five for dinner, more dishes, flatware, and glasses fill the dishwasher. Unfamiliar leftovers jam the fridge. A phrase comes to mind: pack disruption.

Division of Labor

The division of labor defines our new ranks in the Canadian pack. Just as he has in other summers, Paul mows the grass, hauls recycling to the dump, completes minor projects and repairs. Above all, he partners with Reed for musky fishing expeditions on the St. Lawrence. Where Paul once took the lead on tactics and tackle, Reed now dominates. Paul is the beta to Reed’s alpha. The beta, second in rank, shows commitment and loyalty to the pack, reinforcing the alpha’s decisions.

My responsibilities could be met by most teenagers. I clean up after myself, empty the dishwasher, do some laundry, play with the girls, make meals when necessary. The role of Delta wolf, third in command, might suit me. They are considered the messengers of the pack. Deltas require an even temper. They take charge of caring for the pups when the alphas and betas are busy. Most fun of all I spot the girls from the boat when they ride the tube on the river. I should accept my rank as Delta.

But my Sigma, tutor wolf, tendency emerges. I set up financial incentives to keep the girls reading over the summer. Outright bribery only works for Rayna, who values the cash. Britt, who just had a fabulously well-gifted birthday simply says no. My system only aggravates tension between the girls who both strive to be the alpha female.  I feel myself sinking below Wiley, the family dog, as the Omega. Paul advises, stay in your lane.

Territory

Wolves are the top predators in their habitat.  On rare occasions inter-pack conflict arises over territorial disputes Fortunately, Reed’s house is roomy.  Paul and I can establish ourselves in peripheral locations. I occupy a cozy guest room that I call The Nook and Granny.  Paul uses the Wink-Wink Apartment that was our initial basement quarantine space. Plus, we hang out as much as possible in the boat garage. I call it my office and have all my reading and writing supplies on hand.  Around 3:00 daily Paul mixes me a vodka tonic at the fully stocked 40-Acre Shoal Bar. When the pups miss us, they come out for a snack. We use beer bottle caps to play Blackjack with Rayna. At least once a week we hold a picnic there and cook on the grill. In our boat cave we reclaim our ranks as alphas.

A wolf pack’s hierarchy promotes smooth functioning and social serenity. When members know their place, squabbles are few.  Only when new members arrive does the struggle to establish rank occur. I expect plenty of families find themselves in a multigenerational home during this pandemic. Don’t become a lonely wolf. If you have been called to merge with another pack, use your strengths, find your place, and contribute to the common good.

Caution: This is a High-Speed Thrill Ride

black and white roller coaster

Confinement hardly describes our 100-day shelter-in-place experience. Paul and I took regular outdoor walks. We made weekly trips to the recycling center, sometimes driving by The Korner’s take-out window for pizza. We used masks for monthly runs to Price Chopper and picked up prescriptions at Kinney Drugs drive-through. Zoom, FaceTime, and MessengerKids connected me with friends and the granddaughters. I appreciate the privilege to have had such an easy time. It was like riding a carousel, around and around, almost pleasant, but going nowhere.

 

In contrast, my emotions pitched high and low. Every time we neared the date for the border opening so we could reach our Canadian family, the date was pushed back. First May 21 to June 21 to July 21 to No Time Soon. Up and down, forward then backward, like a roller coaster. Reunion with American family is just as tentative. I cling to hope that I can attend my niece’s Pennsylvania wedding. My dad’s long-term-care facility remains in lockdown to keep him safe from the virus. A Findlan family fishing trip might go on without us.

 

I start planning 2021. The coaster clicks on the tracks ascending gradually. We will reschedule our Disney trip. I will take the train to New York City with the granddaughters. Visitors will come to our 1000 islands home. I make an itinerary for a Pennsylvania vacation. Without warning I hurl over the crest, then plummet downward. The velocity wrenches my neck. My stomach churns. Will we make it to next summer? Will I ever see my dad again? How does this end?

 

We get word that immediate family may enter Canada under restrictions. I head to the border. In summer, a line of 10-20 cars at customs is typical. Today I pull up behind one car and a Florida RV. Customs protocol is second nature. Windows down, sunglasses off, know my license number, hand over the passport opened to my picture. Today I wear a mask. Plus, I carry a letter providing my son’s address, phone number, and his permission to offer a place of quarantine. I have a picture of his permanent resident card on my phone, proof that he resides in Canada.

 

My on-line source painted a rosy picture of immediate families reuniting north of the border. Foreign nationals would be required to quarantine for 14 days. Nothing to it. But wait, that was simply the colorful façade of the funhouse. I bump through the doors where the unexpected waits to terrorize.

 

The scowling monster pops up first, a uniformed guard reluctant to hear my plea. I earnestly provide all the documentation. I tremble and perspire.

 

“Where are you going?” As if to imply his goal is to stop me.

 

“To my son’s in Gananoque.” Then I ramble about quarantine, how I live just a few miles away on Wellesley…

 

He interrupts, “Do you have your son’s birth certificate?”

 

“No, I don’t have that.” I am the child who is 48.5 inches tall standing against the attraction sign: You must be 49 inches to ride.

 

“How do I know you’re telling me the truth?” he demands.

 

“You just have to take my word for it,” I sob. My voice quavers, “We are used to crossing several times a week and I haven’t seen my granddaughters since March 18 when the border closed.” He is certainly aware of those dates. Not to offend I add, “As you know.”

 

Perhaps my graying hair and teary eyes soften him. He returns my passport with a printed set of instructions and issues a severe scolding over the birth certificate. I barely hear his admonishments except the part about the $750,000 fine and four-year prison sentence. I am intimidated and elated all at once. I accelerate out of the dark and into the sunshine on Canadian soil.

 

For thirteen days I ride the Ferris wheel. At the top of every revolution I get a glimpse of the immediate future. We will move out of the basement apartment (wink, wink) and into the main house with Reed and the granddaughters. Family activities can resume outside. Reed will take us boating and tubing on the St. Lawrence. At the bottom of every rotation I wrestle with the fact that each time we go home and return, we face a repeat of the funhouse quarantine. I cancel my trip to Holly’s wedding.

 

Amusement park rides have always given me motion sickness. The thrills and chills of the pandemic can hardly be characterized as amusement. But the coronavirus experience, like a bizarre Stephen King carnival, incites adrenaline rush and fear with spins, drops, acceleration, and reverse motion. My equilibrium is skewed. This requires something stronger than Dramamine.

Misfits and Wacky Cake

Today marks day 75 of the shelter-in-place for us. I know that others are far more sequestered and for much longer. We have ventured out to the grocery store twice and to the drive-through pharmacy. Each of us has kept a medical appointment or visited a lab for a routine test. We are among the fortunate ones who have access to walking trails. But until we have the go-ahead to cross the Canadian Border to reunite with our son and granddaughters, we feel quarantined.

I’ve read that mood swings are normal in a situation like this. Some days I just wake up cranky. With the warmer weather I hear outboard motors on Lake-of-the-Isles. Our boat remains trapped in my son’s Canadian garage. I get ornery. Perhaps productivity could lift my spirits. Yes. Stain our decks. In normal circumstances, not my idea of entertainment. I call the local Sherwin Williams to arrange curbside pick-up. No semi-transparent base in stock. That sends me into a slump for two days. Just as quickly an unexpected call from a dear friend works like a winning scratch-off. I have the exuberance to take a walk.

 

One stable aspect of the confinement has been our food supply. Paul became the procurement tsar. Early March he stocked our freezer and pantry with meat and staples. To my great joy, he purchased two cases of wine and beer. Since then he’s ordered a powdered milk product as good as gold and bags of bite-sized candy bars. He opened accounts with Harry & David and Omaha Steaks. When we aren’t cooking steaks on the grill, we are roasting hot dogs over the weekly campfire. Our local orioles have never had it so good with a daily orange from Harry & David. I have used more flour and sugar for baked goods than any time in my forty-four-year marriage. For these 75 days we have relished delicious food and drink.

Paul got us a subscription to Misfits Market. Fresh produce, rejected because of its shape or size, will come to our door every two weeks. The first shipment arrived. Red-skin potatoes, green peppers, onions, and apples. For the first time I’ll cook an acorn squash. The best surprise, limes, for a vodka tonic. Oh yes, Paul had six-packs of tonic and Coke stashed in the garage as warm-weather mixers. The kale and mangos will challenge me. With Misfits Market you don’t make selections, you just take what comes and make the best of it. How apropos.

Today’s breaking news destroys all optimism. Amid the dysfunction of our country’s pandemic response, another disease that we never healed erupts. Racism. When I emerge from this cocoon I will participate in the human rights movement.

I go to my 1976 recipe box to find a restorative recipe because food really does comfort. There it is, Wacky Cake. A dear friend from my writers’ group passed away last year, but not before we had a chance to savor her recipe that calls for 6 heaping tablespoons of cocoa and a double-chocolate coffee frosting. A scratch cake, which I have never made. But I’m taking cues from the current situation. Now is the time to start from scratch and make something good.

The Vocabulary of Pandemiology

black-and-white-book-browse-dictionary-6997Who can argue that we are learning difficult lessons in this pandemic? I’ve always been an advocate for word consciousness, so the vocabulary lesson interests me. What we have learned in just two months’ time is astounding.

Consider this. Mastery of a new word takes more than a dozen meaningful repetitions. Children learn basic words through family and social interactions. More advanced vocabulary develops as children enter school and become active learners. The most difficult words to master and comprehend are those that come from sophisticated technical fields. Technical words that are content specific comprise the highest tier of word knowledge.

Yet, I think you’ll agree that many of us have acquired vocabulary in the fields of immunology, economics, and statistics. Just for the fun of it I decided to alphabetize technical vocabulary that has become quite familiar. For you educators, I’m sure you’ll recognize this as our unit word wall. Sure, some basic words I’ve known since childhood, but now they convey multiple new meanings.

Pandemiology: A to Z

A antibody, apex
B briefing
C cases, coordinate, correlate, curve
D data, deaths, distancing
E essential, epidemic
F facemasks, first-responders, flatten, furlough
G global, guidelines
H hoard, hospital beds, hotspots, hydroxychloroquine, hygiene
I immunity, infections, intubate, isolate
J
K key model
L labor-force, lock-down, loans
M mask
N n-95, new-normal, non-essential, novel
O open, outbreak
P pandemic, PPE, PPP, projection, protocol
Q quarantine
R rate, reagent, recovery, remdesivir, resources
S science, shelter, social-distance, spread, stimulus, supply-chain, surveillance, symptoms
T taskforce, telehealth, testing, tracing, trials
U unite, unemployment
V vaccine, ventilator, virus, vulnerable
W wave, W.H.O., workforce
X Xi Jinping
Y
Z zoom

Effective teachers design multiple opportunities for learners to interact with words. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Governor Andrew Cuomo have proven to be masters at vocabulary instruction. It’s clear that when we have numerous exposures to a word that conveys a vital message, we learn that word.

A Moment of Pause

art city clock clock face

Catchwords

Occasionally a certain catchword comes to my attention. When it does, I hear it everywhere I go and on everything I watch. A while back the word legacy dominated discussion following the retirements of renown sports figures. Lots of speculation occurred as to what impact an individual would have on those who followed. Automobile manufacturers often utilize the trendy terms, as Subaru did naming one of its models, the one I bought, Legacy.

 

Next, the oft-repeated word was innovation. Hard to believe that just a few years ago we valued innovation and its companions, ingenuity and invention. President Obama referenced innovation throughout his presidency. Innovation soon faded.

 

We entered a phase in which we couldn’t abide by anything average. Conversations and discussions only revolved around events described as epic. Successful individuals in their respective fields became icons. Eventually, catchwords lose their effect and fall back into the vocabulary pool. My word alert went into hibernation mode for a long time.

Momentum

In February my sensors started to flash when the word momentum took over television. Starting with the Super Bowl I zeroed in on the word momentum. In talk of the National Basketball Association, on one ESPN show or another, momentum would be a factor in the discussion regarding playoff teams. Simultaneously, the country began to hold Democratic Primary Caucuses and Elections. I listened to quite a few political pundits and the word that crept up over and over was momentum. I watched as presidential candidate Vice President Joe Biden rode the wave of momentum.

 
I considered how I could use the physics of momentum in my life. I looked up the term and the definition that fit my need stated: Momentum refers to the impetus and driving force gained by the development of a process or course of events. I considered how I might energize a driving force to achieve my goals and become my best self. I would set aside time, I would prioritize my tasks, and I would focus.

The Shift

I am aware of the almost inevitable circumstance, a shift in momentum. I have witnessed that shift in sports, in life, and in personal pursuits; the sudden reversal of fortune, when all the uncontrollable factors that work in one’s favor suddenly sway to the opponent. Momentum, then, is also measured in proportion to the force that can bring it to a halt. Momentum is the property of a moving body which determines the length of time required to bring it to rest when under the action of a constant force. In one month the deadly Covid-19 became the constant force, powerful enough to halt all forward progress of everything around the world. We have a seismic momentum shift.

 A Moment

Our governor has put our state on pause. What we now have is a moment of undetermined length. The moment belongs to each of us; in whatever way we are called to fill it. We fortunate ones follow stay-at-home directives or shelter-in-place in order to prevent spread of the highly infectious virus. Lonely and isolated from our loved ones, we accept the belief that our good health might reserve a bed or respirator for another.

 

Essential individuals continue to work, keeping all systems functioning, providing services and supplies. For those whose work has been halted, this is a distressing moment of financial hardship. What an agonizing moment this must be for the impoverished, those in abusive situations, and for women or men whose lifelines have dissolved while agencies meet critical needs related to the virus.

 

This is the moment Mr. Roger’s helpers rise to the occasion, neighbors who deliver meals, sew protective masks out of fabric scraps, or run errands for those who are house bound. This moment teaches patience and perseverance. Those whose work is caring for the sick have shifted into crisis response. They sacrifice their own health for the lives of their patients. Military terms suit this unprecedented catastrophe. Horrific casualties occur. This moment reveals the character of leaders. Heroes emerge.

 
In time forward motion will resume. We’ll reunite with our loved ones, attend weddings, rejoice in births, and sadly mourn deaths. Life will sweep us along. This moment of pause will be preserved in documentaries and individual accounts of courage.  Praise and blame will be assigned with much inaccuracy.

 
In the meantime, it’s our duty to get the best value we can from this unexpected pause. Even if all we do is utilize the moment to know ourselves and cherish the unexpected gift of time. Let’s maximize this moment with the driving force of positive energy. When life accelerates once again, the momentum will be epic