Welcome, 2021

We’ve been waiting for you. Who would have thought when the fall holidays began that by now COVID would be reaching new records, four thousand Americans would lose their lives to the disease daily, and our beloved Capitol would be the site of a failed coup attempt…in 2021! This is not a political piece, though. There are others far more qualified than I for those. This is our current situation, our daily lives.

The new year finds our humble abode much like last year, but there have been some changes. We remain at home more; working and teaching remotely. After a two week quarantine when my building closed we made the trip to see our also-quarantined oldest and his family. We got our first grandchild hugs since August. There will be no more until we are vaccinated, as I am scheduled to reenter face to face teaching next week. We have been masking up for groceries, but have made some pretty incredible meals while home-bound. We miss restaurants and support our locals but we will eat at home far more often than we used to on the other side of this. Our pets have never been happier. We’ve had time to explore new hobbies and practice old ones. We have watched movies and shows that we never before had time for. We’ve read…a lot.

And after years of threatening and starting, I believe I have started my first book for the last time. It is in its infancy right now but is taking shape in pages of characters, connections, and notes. Research is being done, ideas are forming, and very soon there will be a chapter written. The process will be slow because I do work eight-plus hours per day, but mornings and weekends will add up. Working on this dream after so many years is energizing (not like I have enough energy to take down the Christmas tree or scrub the bathroom, but you know…excitement). Why did I wait? Why did it take almost a year of being close to home to start something I want to do, and have wanted to do since before I can remember?

I know I am not alone in this. We all jumped right into our kitchens and organized closets (not me, but you get the idea). We stocked up on reading material and spent more time watching the news. We changed the way we worked and spent, we eliminated travel, we reconnected with good friends and appreciated our families. Artists found new and creative ways to bring us theatre, movies, and music, perhaps changing those industries forever. But do you have a long-held “someday” dream? Have you used any of this time to build a foundation for it? To nurture or encourage it? No judgement here, but since I have been asking myself why I haven’t, I encourage you to take a socially-distanced step toward the thing or things you really want someday. If you have achieved all you have ever wanted, I applaud you (and kinda envy you). If you have extra time, though, your expertise would be an incredible gift for someone else looking toward similar goals. Take a step if you have the time. The energy will come. To those like me, just getting started or thinking of starting, let’s encourage each other. Every journey begins somewhere. Why not here?

Short Post

We were supposed to be in Alaska today. Supposed to be seeing our daughter, her husband, and our oldest granddaughter (she’s 3). Needless to say, we are not there. The state of the virus and my potential exposures at work made that too risky. Like others around the world, we will make do. Unlike many, we are blessed to have food, shelter, and money for gifts. Knowing that most are suffering and many are in need, we enter this season with open minds and hearts. May we do what we can, and with fidelity and love.

Quarantine Fatigue or Just Stupidity?

The CDC recommendation is out. The state recommendations have been made public. Do not travel this Thanksgiving! Do not gather with those not in your daily circles. I get this. We will be having Thanksgiving with the four of us who live here and my mom who lives next door.

Here’s my dirty little secret, though…I plan to go to Alaska for Christmas. I have not seen my daughter or oldest granddaughter since I spent a brief weekend with them in February. If it is not prohibited, I am going.

As it stands now, my husband and I will have to pay $250 each for a Covid test upon arrival. We will then be quarantined for 14 days, which is longer than either of us can stay. It doesn’t matter. We will be with our daughter and granddaughter.

I may have to quarantine, at my own expense, once we return home. Ok. My students know I will still be working for them online. They don’t know that I am not paid for those hours. If have to spend sick time or time without pay in order to be Grandma…all good. Have a joyous Thanksgiving and remember what is important!

Walking a Fine Line

Full disclosure: I was anti-Trump before he ever entered politics. As a high school teenager in New Jersey, he came across my radar as someone looking for attention because he was a millionaire. My emotional reaction, with or without merit, was viscerally negative. Therefore, I cannot present myself as unbiased. Had I ever met or spoke to him, my feelings might have been different. This does not matter here.

In my late 50s, I have seen nothing to change my mind. My schtick is not political, nor do I want to spend extended time defending my views or repudiating anyone else’s.

Since the election results were made public today, I have seen grace and acceptance everywhere. My Republican friends post asking when and where to riot, suggesting their favorite stores (all tongue-in-cheek, these people would never break the law). My Democrat friends post about their relief and hope for all of us. Important to remember: we all want what’s best for the country, even though we may not agree on what that is. This is our starting point. This is where hope takes over. Here is where we begin to come together and heal the divides of the past.

Democrat or Republican, you matter. Your voice matters. Your situation matters. Your family matters. Resentment can be let go, as long as there is a clear way to correction. Biases can be overcome, as long as there is understanding, acceptance, and willingness to change. I am so very hopeful.

Safe and Responsible…Well, Some.

My memories of lining all of my children up in the kitchen or front yard (Lord, Mom, Not at the Bus Stop!) for that obligatory first day of school picture are pure, misty nostalgia. These often made the Christmas card cut as well. I miss those days and the innocence we all shared. Last week, I saw the annual “first day of school” pictures for my friends’ children and one of my granddaughters on Facebook. Two or three weeks ago, I saw many of my college-aged friends posting their own back-to-school pictures. At my age, no one wants to see my own first day photo in the fall, but my colleagues and I have been back in school for four weeks now. Our students have been back for two weeks on a hybrid schedule or a virtual one. What follows are a few of my own observations; some from my teacher experience, some from watching the experiences of students, parents, and community members.

  1. I was wrong about having to shut down again almost immediately. My district seems to be doing a really good job of keeping the virus at bay. We are requiring masks when social distancing of six feet is not possible and we have closed gathering areas. They have also limited class sizes and we are required to disinfect the chairs and desks that were occupied at the end of each period. Our custodians are finally being recognized as the hard-working heroes they are. We stagger dismissals to and from classes to keep hallway traffic low. Bussing is available by registration. Those who didn’t register are on a waitlist. Temperatures are taken before getting on the bus or out of the car, and again several hours later. Is this enough? We’ll see, but I am encouraged.
  2. For students who enjoy school, the first day is exciting no matter what it looks like. Most local districts are beginning with a 100% virtual model. Most kids dressed for their pictures anyway. One or two proudly stood on their porch to commemorate their first day of virtual learning in pajamas and slippers. My parent friends on Facebook still polled their communities to see which teachers their kids’ friends had been assigned. Many posted positive reviews after the first day or week of virtual learning. True confession: I was thrilled to see many of my students come in for open house or for their first hybrid day after not seeing them since March 12. For nerds like me, the first day of school is exciting stuff.
  3. Everyone can wear a mask. When I saw some of the community’s most differently-abled citizens managing to wear masks despite extreme challenges to their comfort and security, I was moved. Then I got mad. We are still in pandemic mode because so many people don’t feel a responsibility to protect others from any cooties they may be carrying. I don’t enjoy a mask either, and I am aware it does not do a lot to protect me. It does, however, offer some protection to those around me should I unknowingly be infected. I won’t consider not wearing it around you and I appreciate the same in return.
  4. Many children and young (and some older) adults do not understand the potential consequences of ignoring health and safety recommendations. Notice I did not say ALL, because that wouldn’t be true. However, there are too many people who feel immortal or perhaps are simply naive about what is happening. It is not surprising that universities are having to shut down in-person learning when I see some of the pictures posted of the return to campus. We all have quarantine fatigue, but it wasn’t just a summer inconvenience.
  5. Masks are not a fashion accessory although no one appreciates a clever one more than yours truly. They are, however, supposed to remain over the nose and mouth of the wearer. Taking it off to eat means just that. Eat, then put it back on. You are no more inconvenienced than anyone else. This is where the compassion and guidance of us older folks becomes so important. We don’t let children make the family’s financial decisions, we don’t let them decide on their diets…this is for their protection. Therefore, as adults, we must kindly put our collective foot down about the responsibility we all have to keep each other as safe as possible. And remember, our children and students are watching what we DO way more than they are listening to what we SAY.

My wish for all of us is that we come out safely on the other side of this unique challenge and are better people for it. I know we can.

Ethical Gardening. What a Sh*t Show!

For the first time since our days in the Pacific Northwest, we decided to grow a vegetable garden this year. We are living in farm country, fertile land, favorable conditions. Let’s plant tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini, I said. It will be great, I said.

My husband and son both got on board and dug me a plot. It was smaller than I’d envisioned, but when I saw how much work they did, I bought into the smaller plot.

Then we added purchased soil. Then planted said tomatoes, cukes, and zucchini. Staked the tomatoes. Began watering. Enclosed the whole garden in chicken wire. Planted marigolds around the perimeter to discourage bugs.

So. Little growth but no deaths. Local friend decides to also venture into gardening and purchases raised beds and plants tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and peppers. They used a fertilizer enhanced soil. Her plants have exploded while mine have languished…weakly. I have canned three batches of pickles…with her cucumbers. I have harvested two small Roma tomatoes. I have thrown at least ten into the woods due to the insect and/or bird damage.

Really don’t know where I am going with this. Just that I am pissed. My harvest: 2 small Roma tomatoes. That’s it. I suck at gardening.

So Who Am I To Say?

Well, here we are. School should be opening in the next 5-6 weeks and we know…not much. My district plans a hybrid where there will be two days in school, two days virtual, and one teacher workday per week. Ok. I am assuming bussing will be taken care of, assuming kids will be eating lunch in the room with me (don’t we have to move our masks out of the way for that?). And when half of my students are in the classroom, the other half will be virtual. It looks like a continuation of online learning from spring of 2020 where there was no time teachers were not on call.

I understand this and I am not complaining. However, to make distance learning work this fall, we have to have internet access for all students (come on, we have created a vehicle that backs itself out of a parking spot and comes to pick you up).

Also, with internet access implied, I need to be able to record who is there for each day’s lesson. I also need to be able to grade their work, including it being turned on on time.

This will require more from the infrastructure than has previously been required, and for sure we will need to be flexible in multiple cases (nothing new there). But if we are to make online education work, we need student accountability and daily lessons. Here’s hoping it isn’t necessary.

This Should be the Least of my Worries

Our country and our world are going through so much right now that is heartbreaking, frightening, and in some cases inspiring. This post is not about any of these monumental changes. I have been ripped off, and I’m not going to stand for it. Actually, difficulty standing is what has started this. Aging feet have rendered many of my current shoes too painful to wear, so I’ve been in pursuit of comfortable footwear.

Pandemic restrictions have led a lot of us to use more of the many online shopping opportunities lately. Mostly with no problems at all. As an experienced online shopper and a reasonably tech-savvy adult, this was easy to embrace. Some necessities since mid-March have only been available online. For many of us, not only are we buying more online than usual, but we have a little more money to spend since entertainment expenses such as air travel, vacations, and eating out are being saved. If your income was not negatively affected by the pandemic, you might even have a bit more disposable income and a perfect opportunity to make more generous charitable donations and embark on a quest for foot nirvana.

Having to replace your (almost) entire cute shoe wardrobe with those built for comfort is not a welcome prospect, but having the time to research brands and bargains while other activities and obligations are cancelled is one silver lining. Start every day with a grateful heart.

Social media sites were most helpful in providing multiple options. Almost all of them seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Several of these sites had some clues to their impermanence and were avoided. Others were a great help in providing savings for comfort brands. I discovered Zulily, Sketchers, Duluth Trading Company, and Orthofeet and bought shoes on sale from each of these sites. I’d also had mail and advertisements pop up for such reputable brands as Rothy’s, Vionic, and Chacos, and set out to look for the sites with the best prices. Some were too good to be true. Others seemed like a reasonable discount. One such was JointSandals. I know better. My “Chacos” arrived loose in a black plastic bag carrying a label with a return address in City of Industry, CA. This was slapped on over a different shipping label with a different alphabet. That was a clue. The “Chacos” inside had no packing slip, no return information, and nothing to do with the Chaco brand. At first the shoes looked like what I’d ordered. Unfortunately the sandal straps could not be tightened adequately and I was able to fit one foot on top of the other into the same shoe. I know better.

Pre-pandemic me would have tossed the shoes and noted the valuable lesson. Pandemic me has a little time on her hands to think about how she feels about someone stealing from her. And to get angry. Again, I know better. This is not important in the big picture. But I have time to follow up. After digging back among old emails to confirm what site I’d ordered from, a series of emails followed. I alerted JointSandals that I had received knock-off (and unwearable) shoes from their company and wished to return them and get my money back. I was offered five US dollars as a refund. “Abby” from the company didn’t seem to understand that this offer was $62.50 short of fair. I persisted. “Abby” wrote that I needed to understand that five US dollars was a lot for them and asked that I see their side of things. “Abby” was reminded in my next email that five US dollars couldn’t be that much to them since they had $68.50 of my US dollars and I had two useless chunks of plastic, which I was happy to return if they would only provide an address. “Abby” generously reconsidered and in the reply offered me a ten percent refund if I returned the shoes (no address provided) but also advised me not to take them up on this because overseas shipping is very expensive and didn’t I just want to keep the shoes?

This is where my generous new friend, “Abby” and I are now. Incidentally, I reached out to Chaco and sent them pictures of the “Chacos” I had ordered and of the shipping label and the website link. I will buy from their website next time. I am also following up with my bank. In both of these correspondences I hastened to explain that I know better and expect nothing from them. But I got ripped off. And I am not going to take it quietly.

If you can relate to this and my other mostly mundane, middling meanderings, please consider following my blog, and feel free to share.

A New…Normal?

Let’s say it right up front. Coronavirus. COVID-19. Market crashes. Unemployment. Recession. All true. Little confidence in our leadership, although, to be fair, we are all feeling our way through something unprecedented in our time.

For me, personally, my school year has been changed. I will be teaching remotely for the rest of this year. To a population that mostly has no internet access. Where I am forbidden to go to them physically (and I totally understand this). My husband is working from home full time. Come to your own conclusions.

So where are the silver linings? I have seen several. Families are spending more time together. Parents are getting to know their children, and vice versa. Prioritizing has taken a front seat. People are feeling kinder towards others.

My children and their families have had many family adventures that they might not have otherwise had. The staying home directives have given opportunities for family bonding that might otherwise have occurred only on weekends and late evenings. Busy parents have reconnected with the childcare and teaching routines.

My daughter’s family went camping. They had to isolate anyway. Two adults, a toddler, and a large dog camped out for a few days in the woods. Several beautiful photos followed, along with stories and memories to last a lifetime.

My son’s mother-in-law has been with them for several days now. My granddaughter has a loving grandmother in her daily life, my daughter-in-law has help and support, and all are riding this out together. Even though Nana is working from where she is, with three adults working from home, Madison has constant care and options.

I am teaching from home, and despite many of my students not having internet access, I have been able to make meaningful connections with some of the ones who do. I am still working on how to reach those who have limited or no access. I have, however, again realized the importance of keeping things basic. Provide what each student needs. The waiver from high-stakes testing for this year has helped. Now I can focus on what my students really need to succeed in learning English and not spend as much time on test preparation which would be memorization and a hope for application. I have another year in which to teach them the English skills to graduate along with their native English-speaking peers.

And toilet paper? Really? We were fortunate to have made a trip to Costco before the proverbial S*&^ hit the fan, so we are currently ok in that area. Also, I had purchased several boxes of tissues for my classroom in light of allergy season right before the schools closed, so we’ve got that going for us. But like everyone else, we are scrabbling for paper towels, hand sanitizer, and sugar. We will be fine. We are a resourceful bunch. My worry, of course, is for those who don’t have food security. Someone who does not have to cull the leftovers from the fridge before grocery shopping. To help with that, we have to continue to support our charities and communities. If we can afford it, let’s order takeout from one of our local businesses.

As has been said countless times, we are all in this together. Love your neighbors. Help where you can. Forgive when you are able. Love at all times. We are living history. Help write the story.

 

Letting Go of Vanity

So here I am, living in a new place and teaching in a new school, with a new age group of students, in a new specialty. But I wanna talk about my hair. I am certainly late to the party on this. Many of my peers have walked before me, with varying results. I want to go back to my real hair color. What color might that be? Well, by now, certainly some shade or percentage of grey.

To provide background, my hair has defined me for most of my life. Judge if you must. My hair was very long in my youth. It was so dark brown that most described it as “black.” Painfully, a friend’s mother in my pre-teen years described it as a “rat’s nest.” I could sit on my hair for most of my elementary and middle school years. Not that I did. It was thick and long, the kind of hair that gets attention, both positive and negative. I did not appreciate it…I wanted the thin and silky hair that flowed like water over my shoulders and blew in wisps in the wind. When I once expressed a desire to cut it, a close relative told me that my hair was what made me special.

Enter my high school years and my Farrah Fawcett ‘do. My hair could hold a curl, was long, and there was plenty of it. An hour each morning to prepare this hair for the world was no problem. It was the least I could do.

In my twenties, pregnancy and its accompanying hair loss did not affect me at all. Sure, I lost a lot of hair. But I had plenty to spare. A few minutes with a curling iron could give me couture for days!

By the time my third child was a year or so old, I started seeing some grey hairs like those I had gleefully pointed out on my own mother at the same age. I plucked until I could no longer keep up, then began coloring. I was 32 years old.

My color has evolved with current styles over the years, and currently I am sporting a nice brown with subtle gold highlights. According to many, it is a great and youthful color. But here’s the problem…I don’t feel like it matches my face. Who am I kidding when I color my hair, every three and a half weeks? I am 56 years old and perfectly ok with that. Why should I not be ok with everything that entails? I am a grandmother. That is the best job I have ever had. I have had lots of life experiences. I am proud of those, for they have given me perspective. So as comfortable as I am with my age and my wisdom, why do I continue to spend time and money to make my hair look like I am not in my fifties?

I don’t know. But I am going to find out if it has been a mistake. In three days, I will be at my hair dresser’s salon getting my every three and a half week color. This time, however, it will be grey highlights. Hopefully they will blend my color while I grow it out. I am inspired by the women in my life who have either embraced their grey or not really noticed it. My hair has served me well for my entire life, but it no longer defines me. I am looking forward to a more authentic and natural me. I may not love it, but I will experience it…and go from there.