Portland Take 2

Portland Take 1

I am 20. I’m getting a great education at a state university in a wonderful small city; I have lots of friends and fun – the hiking and ice cream can’t be beat – yet I’m curious about life outside a big public university. What if I experienced one of those small elite-seeming intellectual schools I had eschewed as a high school student when their glossy brochures kept appearing in the mail? 

(At 17 I was mortified rather than proud when I was in a group photo in the local paper of all the students honored for having the highest SAT scores- did I publicly have to reveal something that seemed so uncool at the time?)

So a few years later and slightly more mature, I thought I’d like to check out a completely different type of academic setting. Others went on semesters abroad, I opted for a semester in Portland. Reed College to be exact.

I arrived not knowing a soul. I somehow met someone when checking in and crashed at his group house, earnestly called the Dustbin of History, where the inhabitants talked about radical politics and made their own granola. Within a day I found someone seeking a roommate in a classic little 2 bedroom house in SE Portland, a fellow student who became an instant friend, one of many relationships I formed within weeks of arriving.

On the surface the school was composed of a fairly homogeneous group of lit dance anthropology majors moving and arguing across the campus green, yet there were so many people different from any I’d ever met: there were the guys who made MDMA in a lab (apparently the Chem department was very strong : ); my first friends in AA who invited me to their sober Thanksgiving; there was the crew who volunteered on weekends to chaperone young woman who were aggressively denounced by protesters at the local abortion clinic; a satirical group called Reds for Reagan who drew national media coverage for the then Republican candidate’s visit to the city; the others who spent every evening at the library studying until closing time, biking home in what seemed a constant drizzle that was the perfect weather for staying inside and reading, yet mild enough that you could still get out and explore.

And explore I did – Portland gave me my first interest in urban planning as I marveled at how well designed the city was – eminently bikeable with free buses around downtown, I could easily visit the great farmers market, Powell’s Books (the world’s largest independent bookstore), local parks. I could get medicinal herbs at a coop and good local wine at the supermarket, attend great concerts on campus or out in local clubs.  I stayed close to college much of the time and was enthralled by the city whenever I ventured out.


It was a great unplanned adventure. I enjoyed that semester so much, yet was too young to appreciate how remarkable so much of it was, the way I made a plan by myself and went off into the unknown without a worry in the world, trusting or at least assuming it would all work out.  

Not surprised that it did.

Portland Take 2

Now 40 years later it is B starting a new chapter in Portland and I am so excited for him, for all the people and experiences that will be in his future. I am his traveling companion for the first few days to help him settle in, to satiate my curiosity about his new apartment and neighborhood. His aunt and uncle will drive down from Seattle, the Pacific Northwest welcoming committee. I’m thrilled for our reunion – it’s been five years since I’ve been out west.

This time around the planning is altogether different: I’ve organized three different helpers for V, shopped for food while I’m away, gone through the daily schedule with T, done everything but change the weather forecast, which I can’t control. (Not surprisingly, rain is predicted for Portland.) I have an airbnb and have ordered a bed to be delivered to B’s place on our first day, the rest we will piece together while we’re there. This trip is about B yet I’m elated for my first travel in years, still in awe that it’s happening. Forty years has found me not as fearless and energetic; but also in many ways stronger, wiser, more grateful for and aware of every small detail that makes the journey possible. I don’t take anything for granted this time around.

Pause

Pause:

noun: 1. a temporary stop

            2. temporary inaction especially as caused by uncertainty.


verb:     1. to stop temporarily

2 : to linger for a time

The pause heard round the world came to our front door this week, when the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was put on hold after 6 people developed blood clots, one of them dying. As 7 million J & J vaccines have already been administered, this represents less than 1 in a million but it was enough of a potential risk to give the CDC reason to pause all shots.

V was among the millions of people scheduled to receive this vaccine; his appointment was for Monday. It was hugely disappointing for us, as it surely was for others, especially in underserved communities in which the J & J vaccine is particularly effective: it can be kept in a refrigerator and brought to people in rural and other hard to reach areas; it is easier to schedule with no follow up appointment, making it more user-friendly for many who might have difficulty getting to a vaccine site or for homeless people who might be hard to track down. For someone like V, who has a very difficult time with a shot, blood draw or any other medical procedure, the single dose is a game changer. Given past experience, he will be momentarily surprised and upset when he gets the shot, but if he had to get two shots he would be panicked and inconsolable upon entering the lab or pharmacy where the first shot took place and likely not be able to go through with it.

Pauses in the medical field are hardly unusual – there are often pauses we don’t even know about prior to the roll out of new medications, times when scientists and public health officials had to stop and weigh risk against benefit, possibly retooling or tweaking a formula before it reaches the public.

Pauses in general are so commonplace we often don’t even think about them. We pause to say grace before a meal, to give thanks when receiving a gift or good news, to catch our breath when exercising, to take a break in the workday. During the trial in Minnesota I’ve been watching pauses are frequent, whether it’s lawyers stopping to gather their thoughts, or a few minutes for the judge and jury to use the bathroom. There is now a pause until Monday when both sides will give final arguments and the jury will deliberate.

Pausing can be helpful as I’ve found during this past trying year.  To stop between activities or in the middle of them. During the darkest days of winter I often would pause and make myself a cup of tea, putting a hold on whatever I was doing or not doing to engage V and sip, smell, taste what was in my cup, pause and be transported for a few minutes, to feel grounded and centered and have a moment of joy in a dreary long day.  I would stop and take a few deep breaths before getting back to whatever was going on.   

I have been back on my bike this week and I realize how much I pause on the way to get anywhere. I shift gears, take a sip of water, look behind me to check on traffic since my rear view mirror fell off. I go on the sidewalk when there are too many cars parked on a street. There are no bike lanes where I live so like considering a vaccine, I need to balance between risk and safety, to keep moving and yet stop when needed. These pauses can be annoying yet they keep us alive. I also pause for flowers and dogs and other things that draw my attention away from the road.

I pause frequently while writing, I try to get into a flow and then it gets interrupted by phone calls or my own distraction as I obsess about things on my to do list that remain to be done. I call the pharmacy to ask about when the vaccine will be back. The NYTimes estimates 7-10 days, do they really have any idea if that’s accurate? Is it possible they won’t bring it back at all, that it won’t in fact be a pause at all? Will it play havoc with public health since it’s only heightened the fears and doubts among those who are leaning against getting vaccinated? How do we plan ahead?? It’s not the temporary inaction as much as the uncertainty that makes this pause so difficult to take.

The woman at the pharmacy says that we can get the Moderna vaccine on Monday or keep calling back to see if and when they will have J & J. They don’t know if they will carry it again. The pause may be more than that, we don’t know. It may lead to longer term disruption of the rollout that has been so successful to date. I pause to curse, to feel frustration that V is back to being unvaccinated for now, that once again we are in a large underserved minority, one of millions of disappointed people. And then I put the kettle on and take a deep breath.

What Lasts

May we awaken from the illusion that we are different. – Thich Nhat Hanh

The flowering trees are all at peak bloom right now, the magnolias and also the dogwood, the cherry and apple blossoms; the forsythia…it is a perfect Springtime moment. April always gets me thinking about how fleeting and ephemeral beauty is, about life and death, about what lasts when we are gone. These trees, many planted by people no longer on this earth; ideas that take root; people that stay with us, why do some things linger more than others? I don’t know why, yet I do know, with no hesitation, the answer to other common questions.

Where were you born? What is your mother’s maiden name? What is your best friend’s name? Who was your favorite teacher?

Philadelphia, Zelitch, Sarah, Mrs. Lyshon.

Of those answers it is Mrs. Lyshon I think of in April, Mrs. Lyshon who I can no longer picture, who I have few memories of and yet she remains over 50 years after being my 3rd grade teacher the automatic response to a security question. I’ve had other good teachers yet her name is etched in my memory. I remember she was kind, that she was old (probably in her 50’s, which to a 9 year old was practically elderly : ), I remember she seemed dedicated.


I don’t miss being on social media yet there are ways to connect that are best done on Facebook or Instagram.This would be my query: Is there anyone out there who grew up in Broomall, Pa and went to Marple Grade School (since closed) who remembers Mrs. Lyshon? Does anyone else use her as the answer to the security question “Who was your favorite teacher?” What memories do you have of her? If you are a relative, know that she was beloved. If you are even considering being a teacher know that it is a profession where as much as it sounds like a cliche you really will have a lifelong impact on students. You will say or do things or somehow touch them in a way that they will never forget.

For Mrs. Lyshon there is only one strong memory I have from that year. One day we came to class and she was standing in front with one of our classmates. A – after all these years I still feel a need to protect his identity – was beside her, and I seem to recall that his mother was in the room, over on the side beside the rows of desks and chairs. “Everyone, this is A,” she said, which seemed odd given that of course we knew it was A, he was in class with us everyday. And further, he was probably the best student in the class (I thought I was probably up there too but deferred the top honors to him). Then she described a little about him, what he liked to do or his interests. I don’t remember exactly what she said but she shared a bit about him and encouraged us to play with him. I recall mostly how it felt. That A did not look embarrassed at all, but rather, he seemed at ease, as did his mother. I imagine Mrs. L had her arm gently behind him, that she spoke softly, that we all listened intently. I don’t recall detecting any sense of pity or disdain among my fellow students, anything beyond the fact that here was a classmate perhaps we should pay more attention to or consider including more.

Soon after that one of my best friends, who lived on the same street as A, and I decided to go to his house to play. I think the mothers must have spoken to arrange it because when we came to the door of A’s house she was delighted to see us and brought us into the living room. I remember the room was spotless and that she offered us something to eat – probably cookies because I was worried about making crumbs on the carpet. We did something sedentary and quiet, as this was A’s nature, likely board games or cards. I do remember that he barely spoke or looked at us but he seemed happy that we were there.


I don’t think I ever went to his house again but we did ask him to join our regular kickball game at recess – he demurred but seemed pleased to be included. A was a great student yet he didn’t have friends and we could try to change that. It was something in the way that Mrs. L spoke that day that stayed with me, that there was no judgement, no sense of anyone being better or worse than anyone else, that the competitive nature that was already taking hold in subtle ways – of who was best at math or spelling or pitching (I liked to think I was really good at all these things) subsided and we were all just children who wanted the same things. To feel a part of, not separate.

Years later reflecting on that time I think there’s a good possibility that A had undiagnosed autism. That his mother had gone to the teacher concerned about her son’s lack of social skills, with a maternal yearning that he be seen and known. And that Mrs. Lyshon volunteered to encourage the class to engage with him more. In her unassuming yet powerful way she was an early proponent of inclusion.

I have no idea what happened to A and I’ve lost touch with even my dearest friends from that time, yet I somehow have kept this soft spot for Mrs. Lyshon, for her compassion and commitment to all of us. She planted a seed, an example I still to this day try to uphold.

Who was the Mrs. Lyshon in your life?

Bearing Witness

This week I’m following two unfolding stories, one hyperlocal and one national.

A block away, my favorite tree is budding. It’s a big magnolia on the small front lawn of one of the houses on Hilltop Place, which is not at the top of a hill, but is directly facing a cemetery. The tree seems to have formed buds overnight, at least I hadn’t noticed it on my regular walks past it with Ruby (it’s not on the route I take with V). I’m thrilled every time I see it – my heart flutters a bit like hearts do when faced with something loved, and without realizing it my face breaks out in a big grin and I inwardly say Wow. I’m aware that it soon will be full of pink flowers and within a matter of weeks there will be petals on the sidewalk and within a month the tree will have lost every trace of its springtime bloom.

Its impermanence is all the more pronounced by the graveyard across the street, the permanent home to hundreds of people who once lived nearby, and being an old cemetery, they often lived short lives, as etched on their tombstones. I know some people who don’t like walking by the cemetery or wouldn’t want to live adjacent to it but I find it lovely: quiet neighbors, graceful, well tended grounds; I sometimes spot deer with their front hooves perched against the headstones as they reach up to nibble leaves off the trees’ low hanging branches. It’s a constant reminder of how fleeting life is, and makes the month of magnolias seem all the more precious, a blissful blip in the long passage of time. Ruby waits patiently as I stop and take photos on my phone, snapping away at every angle to show a range of buds and just forming flowers billowing in a light breeze.

On the national stage, I’m closely following the trial of Derek Chavin, the Minneapolis policeman accused of killing George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for roughly 9 and a half minutes (originally it was recorded as 8 minutes and 46 seconds but in fact was longer).

The trial is unusual for several reasons: It is being livestreamed, attendance is severely limited because of the coronavirus and the public’s interest in the case make it one of the highest-profile trials in recent memory.


The first few days we’ve been hearing testimony of the bystanders, many of them young, and all of them in a way victims of crime as well as witnesses. As an off-duty firefighter at the scene responded when asked if the onlookers were upset, “You’d be upset if you were watching someone die.“ A teenage girl, 17 at the time, took the video that has been viewed millions of times. Just a teen with her young cousin out for a walk to the convenience store to get some snacks. It was an inconsequential outing when they started and became inextricably linked to a horrendous example of police brutality which catalyzed one of the greatest protest movements in the country.

The witnesses were all distraught at what they saw, at their inability to intervene and stop this senseless death — if only the police would have listened to their cries of protest and stopped what they were doing, if only the EMT/firefighter could have used her skills to check his pulse, if only someone could have done more than stop and watch and film what they saw. These witnesses struggled with guilt and remorse and sleepless nights; the cashier at the store who accepted the fake bill Floyd gave him – the violent death of this man all came about because of something so petty, a misdemeanor at best – left his job soon after. Witnesses broke down in tears, a juror felt sick to her stomach and had to stop the proceedings while she took a break; the trauma of that day over a year ago still reverberated in their lives and in the courtroom where graphic videos were shown to the jury and the few journalists allowed inside and to those of us who watched in horror.

I have photos on my phone from last April, of the tree petals after they had fallen – thousands of them all over the yard and sidewalk, a sign of things to come. I also have photos of a local protest B and I participated in last June, part of a wave of protests that occurred throughout the country in response to George Floyd’s death and the many thousands of others who have died unnecessarily at the hands of police over the years. It was a beautiful late spring day and the mood was somber but neighborly, people held banners and offered water to passersby on the peaceful march from our local park to the municipal building where the police are headquartered.

I try to walk by my tree every day, to bask in its short lived bounty, to feel the sun if it is out or the breeze if there is one, to take in all those things that remind me what it is to be alive. We go slowly, Ruby stopping to sniff every few feet. It can take a long time to walk down the one block of Hilltop Place, turn around and head back home, where I check in on the trial. I can only take it in small doses. I’m lucky to have the freedom to bear witness at my own pace, to intertwine beauty and trauma, life and death, grace and ugliness. One outcome I know for sure, the other remains a mystery. I breathe in the Springtime air and hope for justice.

Twighlight at the Silberling Museum

Among the gifts and challenges – the two so often are intertwined – of living in a family like ours is that you experience things you otherwise never would have imagined.  Take having a year being stuck inside your house, a year of lockdown that we all have just survived – you likely couldn’t even fathom what it would be like to be with someone so bored, frustrated and impulsive that there would be virtually nothing intact on any walls or shelves: that art work and decorative items like vases and candlesticks and most of all family photos would all be tucked away in some safe space because your family member would systematically or not (the process being more chaos than order) dissemble everything within reach. I used to call him my little deconstructivist, but he’s not so little anymore, and the bigger he gets the more destructive he is, not by intention but by his sheer size and strength.

And so rather than have him take apart every frame and take out and ultimately damage every vintage photo (copies of, not originals; I wouldn’t dare have originals within his possible grasp) they’ve gone into storage, a few boxes full of stuff and one large magnificent Buddha tapestry that used to take up an entire wall and now resides, all six feet of it, behind the breakfront on which the photos used to dwell.  It was taken down years ago when V used to jump on the sofa under which it was hung; weighing more than he did at the time it was removed as a matter of safety. Like much of my favorite art and artifacts it remains hidden from view. 

I often refer to my home, to myself at least, as the Silberling Museum because I seem to have at least one piece of furniture from every member of that large side of my clan. Yet the fact is I have objects from all parts of my family and some from friends as well. I no longer recall the original owner of many of the items: did the glass table belong to Aunt Annie? What about the extra dresser upstairs? Who had this table at which I sit or the small ones in the living room? While for others there is no doubt: The rocking chair with the plaque attached given to Aunt Dina on her retirement from NYU Hospital, the avocado green piece of furniture that anchors our dining room belonged to Aunt Sau and Uncle Mike; the painting that matches that green perfectly which was painted by my friend Florence and given as a housewarming gift and that somehow V tolerates despite its striking presence in the room; the hidden tapestry a generous present from my Aunt Ruth from when I moved into my first New York apartment.

The Silberling Museum, like its living inhabitants, is worse for wear this past year, and needs a sign that says closed for renovations, or enter at your own risk – some explanation for its current state. I’ve seen street signs that say “Child with Autism”; we could use one inside, to elucidate that the museum curator has been occupied to an unprecedented degree by that now grown child. Is it any surprise that the internship at which V thrives is Green Vision, a program in which young people with special needs dissemble computers, printers, etc. so that their parts can be recycled?

I spent the better (or worse, depending on how you look at it) part of a day this week tidying the museum for a rare visitor, a young man who was recommended by someone at Friendship Circle, about possibly spending some time with V on Sundays when we need help. We have home therapists who come a few times a week but other than that no one has been inside for quite some time and I was self-conscious at the state of things. Not that he needed an explanation, especially given that we’d be hiring him to be with V, but I am discomfited at how much his idiosyncrasies are felt throughout the house, that there should be a disclaimer of sorts, “The museum is occasionally open to the public but many of its holdings are currently in storage. Those that are on view are likely in some state of disrepair.”

I’m reminded of when we moved from Brooklyn and were advised – as home sellers often are – to remove everything that showed a sign of who lived there, from photos to toys to shelves of books, so that the potential buyer could see themselves in the space. This was at a time when people were just starting to “stage” their homes and my downstairs neighbor, also selling her place, invited me in to see what the realtors had done through one of these nascent stagings. We laughed at how we both had apartments with two young active boys, yet on the market they belied a sense of serenity and minimalism that had little to do with our real family life. The fact is I liked to see a sense of who lived in a place when I toured houses. Although he wrote it of New York City, it reminded me of that phrase from a Frank O’Hara poem, “I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.” I wanted to see those signs, to feel that lack of regret, to sense the messiness of lives being lived fully inside four walls. But alas, realtors are not poets and they still insist we rid our homes of any sense of who we are. (And for my neighbor those family photos featured the loving father better known now as Congressman Jeffries, the Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, so there’s much of interest that’s missed when we all go in hiding : )

And so, inspired by that streamlining process, I pull the photos out of storage. What if I reverse-staged my home, just for me? What if I opened the museum for limited hours, say 10am -3pm four days a week, what if it felt homey when the deconstructivist went to school, just to feel a glimmer of what we once had, what we hopefully will have again? And so I take out a few of the pictures and place them on the shelves. I sit and write and glance up first at Flo’s painting and then at my photos, I write these words surrounded by my ancestors, their furnishings as well as their faces. The museum is opened temporarily for my solitary pleasure.

Chickening Out

I became a vegetarian when I was 15, back when kids — at least kids from the type of conservative-leaning suburbs where I grew up — didn’t do that too often. I was teased relentlessly (good naturedly, but teased nonetheless) by kids at school. My mother’s friends bought me cookbooks because they were so worried I’d be malnourished. Much of how I learned how to cook came from those books. My father used to stop at the one health food store in Center City Philadelphia and buy me things like carob chips – remember carob? – and sesame sticks.

Oh how things have changed over the years. Lots of kids, and families, as well as growing numbers of adults are vegetarian. For ethical reasons (which were mine as a teen), for health concerns, to save money, or some combination. Over those years I’ve strayed from my vegetarian path, first adding in fish and then eventually chicken. I still haven’t eaten red meat in 45 years so it’s had some lasting impact, but I do have fish or fowl a few times a week. 


I recently started moving back in the direction of being a vegetarian after reading one too many exposes about how animals are treated, as laid out in nauseating detail in a recent editorial about the succulent rotisserie chicken that flies off the shelves at Costco. [Don’t read if you’re squeamish: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/06/opinion/sunday/costco-chicken-animal-welfare.html]

The fact is, as Kristoff notes, chicken is cheap these days, And easy to make. It’s relatively healthy and like a lot of people I’m tired by the end of the day. Why not make some chicken when nothing else inspires? And there is something to chicken soup’s medicinal purposes, and I can make it so quickly in the instant pot, with Costco whole chickens sold alongside the rotisserie ones.


Of course it’s possible to only have chickens that are treated better, and I’m all for only having free-range, organic birds if you can afford it [and hopefully don’t get too self-righteous along the way  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G__PVLB8Nm4]

Seriously, there is a lot of suffering that can be avoided by treating animals and people who care for them humanely. But there are also so many other options for protein, from nuts to beans and seeds to all sorts of strange but tasty new inventions like Impossible burgers (Yes, I have indulged in Impossible Whoppers, even though they are made on the same surface as the regular burgers, and they are delicious.) and still have the occasional piece of fish, although I imagine eventually I’ll be wondering about how happy Sam the salmon was before he was caught…


For now, I’m just starting with chicken, and in the past few weeks I’ve eliminated it from my diet. I still live in a house full of carnivores, and have no problem cooking meat for them. In fact, I just made them corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day. I like the smell of bacon and I’m glad that cheesesteaks still exist for those who choose to eat them. To each his or her own.

Yet even carnivores can minimize the amount of meat they eat, and be more aware of how we treat livestock and the people who handle them.  The news has brought attention to the alarming number of workers in meat and poultry processing facilities getting Covid, and the awful conditions in which they work. “You can’t talk about animal welfare without talking about the welfare of food workers, and you can’t talk about food workers without talking about income inequality, racism and immigration.” as Mark Bittman, the cookbook author/food writer says in his new book Animal, Vegetable, Junk, a History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal.

I listen to journalist Ezra Klein’s podcast interview with Bittman, an interesting way to fill the time it takes to clean the kitchen after an afternoon cooking spree. Bittman doesn’t posit any particular diet (although one of his many books, which Klein raves about, is How to Cook Anything Vegetarian). Like Michael Pollan and other authors on related topics, he advises a common sense approach, to cut back on junk and eat more plants. Eat less meat. Don’t necessarily follow a specific “diet” but work towards a saner diet. Consider doing what has been done in some other European countries, where marketing junk food – as we do here for tobacco – is limited or banned altogether.

We learn our preferences early in life. We’re not born craving candy or chips.As he explains, many of us gained weight during lockdown because we needed comfort and we still continue to allow marketers to define what comfort is. Think of the best Super Bowl ads, were they for apples or brown rice? No, they were for Doritos and m & m’s and Pepsi. Our ideas of comfort food are rich and buttery or fried and salty but generally fattening and not so good for us. I admit that my favorite comfort food is probably bread, and that I even made a gluten free Irish soda bread to go with the corned beef I didn’t eat. Slathered with butter it was delicious.

But so was the big stir fry with tofu and greens and mushrooms. Our relationship with food is complicated. There’s no one answer. Still, I’m feeling some solace in not having chicken guilt. It does put me back in touch with why I originally became a vegetarian, with the concern I had with the suffering of others, even if those others had fur or feathers. For now I’m trying to be mindful while still enjoying my indulgences. To watch what I eat yet still say Bon Appetit!

Fathom

Fathom: to penetrate and come to understand

I cannot fathom how anyone — let alone every single Republican –could vote against a bill that will help eradicate child poverty.

And yet it passed, Biden signed the Covid 19 Relief Law, ending a trajectory that began with Reagan in 1981, with the longstanding false notion that tax cuts for the wealthy would somehow trickle down to ordinary citizens. Instead we are closer to the ideas and ideals of Roosevelt’s New Deal, that the government provides support to working and middle class Americans in order to rebuild the economy from the bottom up.

Yup, it’s hard to fathom that there actually could be so much good news in one week.

The Covid relief bill.
Vaccine supply greater than originally anticipated, with May 1st the new date when most adults can schedule their first shot.
The US economy anticipated to recover twice as fast as expected, according to a report from OECD. [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development]

For a moment forget the bipartisanship in the House and Senate, the inequities in access to vaccinations, the racist attacks against Chinese Americans, the fact that some states like Texas are prematurely lifting mask mandates, ad infinitum …The bad stuff can drive you crazy, so let’s focus on the positive, on celebrating the small and great victories for humankind!

For other species, not such a good week. Major, the first rescue pet to reside in the White House, was sent back to Delaware after “an aggressive incident with security detail”, translated to mean he bit a guard. (Bad dog : ( I hope he comes back. We need dogs, and eventually a cat, in the White House! Back home our own rescue continues to decline and we finally are looking into building a ramp so Ruby doesn’t have to be carried up and down the stairs.


Yes, death, decline and disappointment are still out there are in abundance, how could they not be? We live in cycles. The last snow abuts the first crocus. The fact that this is likely Ruby’s last Spring makes it all the more precious. The fact that new Covid variants are especially pernicious coincides with a vast increase in protected Americans. Texas and Tennessee and other states pronounce a big F U to Fauci and every other epidemiologist in the land urging us to continue to mask up and be safe. We embrace the good news against a backdrop that fades but does not evaporate completely…

Reading the comments on any popular article will show a divisiveness and at times viciousness it’s hard to ignore. And yet I choose not to give it power. Because there’s President Biden, VP Harris, the first lady and the second man. It’s hard – but delightful – to fathom that we finally can say that, and that some day, in my lifetime, there will be a first man. There’s progress being made. I put my snow boots in the attic and look ahead.

March

“Your track record for surviving your bad days is 100 percent.”

I read that in a great interview with Amy Poehler in this past week’s NYT Magazine, a quote she attributed to Steve Harvey and a lot of tic tic videos, cultural references I admit to being only marginally familiar with, although I’m interested in the latter.

March came at last and I want to give myself and everyone else who had a brutal winter a lot of credit for getting through the past few especially rough months. It’s still winter, we still have a ways to go but a Covid 19 relief bill is in sight – even though likely butchered to cut out a much needed raise in minimum wage; over 50 million people have received at least one vaccination shot and it’s now anticipated that all willing adults can receive vaccinations by the end of May; we have a President who believes in public health and climate change and international diplomacy. Even when I disagree with him or think he is not doing enough in certain areas, these are normal, expected criticisms of a leader, not abject horror as I felt over the last four years.

On the home front, we go from 2 to 4 days of school a week come March 22nd, and in the interim, have some additional hours at a school-affiliated program. There are more sweatshirt days in the forecast, which is a good thing because V has recently sworn off winter jackets. T and I both got our second vaccine shots and I am so grateful and relieved for that, and for the wonderful health clinic in Newark providing such excellent care to its patients. The snow is nearly melted and I’m hoping that is it for the season.

All of this means I may have more breathing room by the end of the month, more time to work on things that have been on hold. For V, that means the daunting task of finishing his application for DDD, the agency that will providing supports once he turns 21 next year. I have time for my volunteer work as a board member of a new effort to start an adult residential and day program for individuals over 21, initiated by parents and staff of V’s school. And I want to start submitting essays for publication, something that has been backburnered for a very long time. Just getting out a weekly blog post has been a lot. I am grateful for my small circle of readers but I so long for more.

I’m trying to be realistic too, as the pandemic is far from over and it will take some time to get back up to speed. No doubt there still will be some bad days ahead. (Sundays, with no help, is a particularly challenging day, especially when the weather is cold or rainy.) But all in all more time to build back better, as our current President says. March is more lamb than lion, whatever it brings. Here’s to better days ahead.

A Birthday Poem

A poem for My Dad and Aunts

On their 282nd Birthday Together 

And now for some really good news,

which after this past year we sure could use.

Joe, Minna and Betty are 14 and four score,

Hard to believe that you’re now 94!

Although if anyone has any doubt

The Guinness Book of Records bears it out:

Oldest living triplets (mixed) lists each name

A singular/triplicate claim to fame.

Although each unique and distinct in your path, 

You share wit and wisdom (and in Joe’s case, math)

Among the talents you have in reams

A combination of innate skill and genes.

From the Rockaways with the ocean to view

Then up to the Bronx on Sedgwick Avenue

With big sister Adelaide you were the happy four

With parents, aunts and uncles to adore

Then to upper Broadway you did dwell

Till beaus came courting the kids of Dave and Belle

Harold for Addie, Milt for Bet,

Dick for Minna, how lucky could you get?

Eventually Joe and Fay did meet,

Four loving unions were now complete.

Each finding a partner to mate with for life

With love and contentment and minimum strife.

Each triplet had three kids for a total of nine,

Each was loved and adored and turned out fine.

With Addie’s 7, there were 16 cousins,

With uncles and aunts the total was dozens 

For bar mitzvahs and other celebrations

The parties had a big population.

The family continued to expand

With new generations great and grand.

Although you live in different states,

Most years you’d gather to celebrate

In person on the day of your birth.


You’re not alone, for what it’s worth

In this year being joined via Zoom,

With siblings and children each in their own room.

And without beloved spouses Dick and Fay

Or Addie & Harold to herald the day.

It’s still an occasion to celebrate

Three amazing people we think are great.

282 years in combination

Happy birthday to you, with love and adoration.

❤️ Joan

With thanks to my niece Melanie (poem) and cousin Ted and brother Eric & sister Sue (photos) for their input.

….

When Ease is Hard

Ease:

The state of being comfortable: such as

a : freedom from pain or discomfort

b : freedom from care

c : freedom from labor or difficulty

d : freedom from embarrassment or constraint :
e : an easy fit

Among the qualities I try to cultivate in my morning meditation is ease of well-being, which is a term I’ve struggled to really understand. What exactly does ease look like on any given day? How do I maintain it in the midst of full-on quarantine since V was exposed to someone with Covid last week at school, in the midst and aftermath of another snowstorm? How do I keep my cool and humor and a sense of comfort as I face V’s boredom and frustration and let’s face it, my own?

We did a Covid home test, which was delayed arriving due to severe weather in the south and was delayed getting back to the lab because of severe weather in the northeast. There are millions of people without power so I stop to acknowledge that I’m in a warm dry house with plenty of food and the means to store and prepare it. We’ve had our share of power outages and I’m appreciative that we don’t have one, at least yet. I stop and wish for the safety and comfort of others.

The test results just came back – negative! A huge relief; home therapists are allowed back in the house although no school, according to CDC guidelines, until Friday, and another week until we start in with a teaching aide who will be coming to the home two mornings a week. It’s a delay to the light I was starting to get a glimmer of at the end of this Covid tunnel that has constrained us for nearly a year. There is no way around the fact that it sucks and I’m going to have to be especially resilient to cultivate ease.

And joy, which is right outside the door. I take Ruby out – she loves the snow and regains some of her youthful demeanor, prancing about with a wagging tale until we are back home and she has to be carried up the stairs she can no longer manage, old girl once again. I too feel younger in the snow, enraptured by the silence and early morning light that makes the streetscape so enchanting. For a few minutes we might both be 8 years old, filled with childish energy and delight.

Back inside there is coffee and a full fridge thanks to online shopping. I am grateful for everything I can do on my phone, ordering groceries and takeout and with a love/hate relationship, purchases from Amazon to help get through the winter: A SAD lamp, a heating pad for my back, the percolator that makes the coffee, the snow boots we wear when we venture out. Much as I want to shop local and support small businesses, I opt for ease. It’s not like I’m heartless or extravagant, flying off to Cancun, I’m just seeking comfort to weather these storms.

By late afternoon I’m spent. Still, the days continue to get longer. Within a few months I will replace photos of snow with pictures of crocuses, then eventually magnolias and cherry blossoms.  My silent morning walks will be filled with birdsongs. We will round a full year with this god awful virus.  Things will ease up eventually. For now, May we all have ease of well being, as best we can.