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
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
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


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.


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

The Wormhole

The Purchase

I knew this was coming. Dire signs on wire posts rose above the snow along a commercial stretch of highway: The End of Windows 7. When my reliable laptop, Windows 7 version, failed me in 2016 during a writers’ event, I should have acted. The battery refused charging. I’ve relied on the power cord since then. Last month the warning popped up on my start-up screen: Support for your Windows 7 PC has come to an end. No security updates. No software updates. No tech support. Last week Staples Office Supply joined the alert: We will no long support Windows 7. Time was up.

It felt like a betrayal to use my beloved laptop to browse new computers. I clicked on HP models, at least I wouldn’t change brands. A sky-blue notebook recommended for home use caught my eye. It comes with a one-year subscription to Office 360. What? I never needed a subscription before. Things have changed. This model, called a Stream, is driven by an Intel Celeron processor. Those are the only specs I needed since the novel I plan to write takes place on a stream and Celeron happens to be a main character. I click Buy.

The Learning Curve

In the 80s we bought our first computer, an Apple IIe. Since then I’ve navigated Apples, Macs and PCs in the classroom and at home. But nowadays, aside from e-mail and online shopping, my computer serves as my typewriter. Thanks to Miss Cardamone’s typing class I’m adept on the keyboard. Still, I’m an immigrant to technology. Changing anything in settings is beyond my wheelhouse. I’ve always ignored instructions to download, upload, run, or install. How in the world will I transfer fourteen years of data from my old device to the new? I grew anxious.

Once the computer arrived, I let it sit in the box for two weeks before I opened it. I dreaded the learning curve. My new Stream is sleek and attractive, colorful and sexy. It responds quickly and balances lightly on my lap. It supports all the latest crazes in gaming, social media, and entertainment, applications I’ll never utilize. For me it’s a make-over. I feel trendy. I arrow and click my way to a blank document on Word. I bravely start writing a scene for my novel. A few applications have changed but I’ll catch on.

The Anxiety

I felt melancholy about the old HP. It’s more like me, past its prime, slow to process, prone to aches and pains, yet fondly familiar. It holds pictures, essays, and poems that preserve a slice of my history, pieces that helped me make sense of life. I need those files for continuity. I’m told to transfer all the data with a wormhole connector. Both computers refuse to cooperate. Exasperated, I overreact. Near tears, I panic that my stories and pictures won’t be saved before Windows 7 disintegrates.

Here’s the real problem. My operating system, Cinda version 67, will soon be archaic. I haven’t quite figured out my own story. Gaps in my past must be filled before time runs out. To fully understand ourselves, we must understand our personal journey. Now, it’s my responsibility to pass on the wisdom and family history to my descendants. My stories might enlighten their journeys. Am I prepared? How much time do I have?

The Link

A week later I took both computers to Tech Tuesday at a local library. An expert helped me move documents and pictures to the new Stream. Plus, he assured me I could still download Windows 7 onto the old HP and install a new battery. My old computer will continue to function, as will I. It’s not the end of anything. I will become a wormhole, a link between generations.

“Sharing lives and stories is the essence of existence. It’s what makes life meaningful. It’s what connects us. It’s how we learn from one another,” (David A. Kendall, from his book When Descendants Become Ancestors, 2014).



January’s blog must be written today, the final day of the month. Deadlines motivate me. But my inclination to delay, detract, and stall is just as strong. That means I go to the fitness center first. Then I come home and make lunch. After that I am compelled to put on a load of wash. The fresh flowers in the vase must be trimmed and given fresh water. You can see why I chose “focus” as my word to live by in 2020.

Delay, Detract, Stall

Yesterday was a boon for avoidance. We arrived home following an overnight with the grand girls when a power outage occurred. I optimized the situation to avoid all the projects I am currently committed to. I could not paint because I had no way to heat the art studio. Writing was out because my thirteen-year-old computer has a dead battery and must always be connected to an electric power source. All nonsense. Instead I worked on the jigsaw puzzle. Here’s the most ludicrous…I sorted through the cards and clippings in my recipe box and discarded anything I had never made. I’ve been collecting recipes in that box since 1976 and never once sorted through them.

My next personal challenge still waits: publishing a book. I’ve already had five years retired from my former career.  For the first two years I employed a stunning series of major detractors: selling a house, relocating, getting established, and enjoying family. Next, I played a huge avoidance card. Instead of writing an actual book, I started a blog. I committed to it every week for a year. Major writing challenge averted. Still blogging and claiming elder parent issues I have procrastinated another year.

Avoid, Divert, Sidetrack

The Heart of Winter Art Show is one week away. I intended to have a winter-themed painting ready, but just did the preliminary sketch last week.  As expected I diverted my attention to the books to be discussed at book club.   Predictably, in the same time frame I felt the urge to research for the manuscript. All while I simultaneously searched for a January blog topic. Somehow in the muddle I did write a poem for the art show just to forestall painting.  I clearly recognize my weaknesses: avoid, divert, sidetrack. Why can’t I focus?

To avoid painting, I write. Or I paint to avoid writing.  Reading preempts a number of tasks, primarily cleaning and cooking.  If I’m frustrated with all of those, I prioritize time at the fitness center. Any combination of goal and detractor works. The cycle continues until at some point I cross an intersection when multiple projects come to completion. I’m just not always sure which success will happen and when.

Strange Physics

Here’s another observation. The more inspired the goals, the more challenging the diversions I create. My greatest personal aspiration to date was to earn a doctorate degree. When I reached the most difficult stage, the research and dissertation, I elected to train for a 5K race.  At fifty-years old I committed for the first time in my life to compete in an athletic event when I had the least amount of time. I never ran the race, but I did defend my dissertation. Some kind of strange physics occurs when I play the avoidance game.

The psychology of my behavior hasn’t crystallized. Perhaps I feel inadequate to my goals or have a fear of failure.  For me every endeavor requires a contender, an equally inspired challenger. Each ambition propels the other to completion. I’ve always agreed with the adage that our greatest weakness can be our greatest strength. Maybe I have found my super power. Alternate evasion propels me. I’m an evador.


Last Saturday, the Lunar New Year, I made a firm resolve to focus on writing.  Strangely, I’ve also felt an impulse to prepare for this summer’s Tibbetts Point race. Maybe something big is on the horizon or maybe I’ll try that scone recipe I found.




The Expected Life Experience

I’ve been reminded this month that if we are fortunate, day-to-day events follow a trajectory of highs and lows, moderate ascents and descents that we navigate with pleasure or annoyance accordingly. That’s how my December transpired. Good news and bad news.

Bad news. My dad had a fall and landed back in the hospital, followed by a stint in long-term care. We were warned once again that he can’t go home alone. This time we accepted that fact, but had no plan in place.

Good news. A local personal-care facility had one bed available exactly when we needed it for dad. It’s a homey place where he has independence. The coffee pot is on all day and three meals are served in a cheery dining room.

Bad news. We must now empty his apartment that remained furnished with all my parents’ antiques and collectibles, none of which had been touched since my mom’s death six years ago.

Good news. Every one of the grandchildren shows interest in taking the vintage furniture.  Plus, a local antique dealer will take all the collectibles to an early January auction.

Good news. My dad settled in his new residence in time for Tami and me to enjoy our sister-getaway to Waverly, New York.

Bad news. Tami, who traveled to Waverly with sister-Kim and my niece Stevie, had a flat tire after dark near Olean, N. Y.

Good news. The local Walmart stayed open just to fix the tire. I arrived at the B & B earlier and met my other niece, Holly. We sipped wine and had a great one-on-one visit in front of the fire.

Good news. The holidays arrived with moderate temperatures. Tami arranged for dad to attend numerous holiday events.

Bad news. My dad wants to know when he’ll be well enough to return to his apartment.

Good news. Paul and I spent a fun Christmas with Reed and his daughters in Canada.

Bad news. Freezing rain halted our travel back to the U. S. from Reed’s house.

Good news. We stayed over and spent extra time with the grand girls.

Bad news. When we headed home the wait at the border lasted forever.

Good news. I studied our passports and found meaningful quotations recorded there.

Bad news. The ice caused a power outage.

Good news. The wait at the border delayed us long enough that the power was restored when we arrived home.

As adults we learn to deal with disappointment, solve problems, and take comfort when unexpected good fortune arrives.  Analytics might reveal a median rendering of events and emotions. Highs and lows averaged as expected life experience.

I observe that some individuals traverse a course above the median, always appearing to thrive and enjoy thrill after thrill. Others I know appear to tread below the norm, facing more than their deserved share of struggles. Whether each life realizes a fair balance I cannot know.

As long as life’s graph peaks and dips within sensible parameters, people cope. What I can’t figure out is what happens when the life-line goes haywire, plunges to extreme depths, and people experience devastating loss. That has been the case for many. What long stretch of blessed events, good news, or future joy can ever bring a life back into balance?

I hope such sacrifice establishes a debt of joy owed these individuals beyond anything imagined. And that they might claim their happiness in due time rendering their expected life experience balanced at last.










Gratitude Ranking: Thanksgiving 2019

“It doesn’t take much to make me happy,” says my husband Paul.  So last year, as a Thanksgiving exercise, I identified a list of ten small comforting things to show that “it doesn’t take much to make me happy, either.” I elected to repeat that exercise this year. Most likely, I thought, I’ll find some of the very same items on my list. Maybe a few will have dropped, or raised, like the college football-team rankings.

Formerly Top Ten

I reviewed last year’s list. Wow, so trivial. Of course, that was my intention, to identify the smallest things that ease me through the daily routine.  It turns out that the items from 2018 lost their relevance this year. Here’s what I found.

The dust-buster (10) sits in a cupboard, uncharged, alongside the heating pad (9), which I’ve not been inclined to use yet.

Netflix (8) has lost its appeal. Once I finished West Wing, I waited the entire year for season 3 of The Crown, and binged that in one week.

Salted butter (7) is no longer a novelty.

Phone (6) conversations with my dad have ceased since he’s been ill.

Amazon surpassed USPS (5) in our mail-order life.

I can’t believe I even had pie crusts (4) on last year’s list. When or if this year’s Thanksgiving dinner will occur is still a question mark.

The one exception, heated car seats (3), claims a spot as part of a package this year.

I have not watched the NFL RedZone (2) even once and teams are jockeying for playoffs.

We’ve been using the Keurig daily, even more convenient than the coffee pot (1).

Current Most Valuable Ten

The year’s life events conspired to push last year’s trifling comforts off the page. Apparently, it takes a great deal to make me happy. This Thanksgiving I’m grateful for these ten major things.

10. My 2011 Subaru Outback. Chariot to everything on this list, odometer 180,000+ miles.

9. Michele Obama. Her story in her voice deepened my insights on humanity.

8. Price Chopper Market. A bright, convenient, abundant source of all food needs.

7. Macsherry Library. My access to live and printed cerebral nourishment.

6. Girlfriends, near and far, from past and present. A pool of strength for life’s challenges.

5. Poets & Writers, INK of Cape Vincent. Consistent source of metta and chi.

4. The open border between the United States and Canada. Our access to family.

3. My son and granddaughters. The key purpose for my decade of 60.

2. Tami. Sister, friend, and teammate in elder care.

1. Paul. My perennial partner and patron.

Think of this, I start every day with the number one major thing for which I am grateful.