Update on Mental Health Madness

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Be careful when complaining about all the commitments you have scheduled and listed out. As of last night, I have no commitments, zero, nada, zilch. None.

The spoiler is that I have covid. I suppose the good news is that those new-found allergies are not allergies, which I will appreciate more next spring. For anyone interested in the less-than-sordid details, read on:

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Friday Food. The Last Soup Delivery.

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Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,

and delight yourselves in rich food.

Isaiah 55:2b (NRSV)

I had a quick Friday Food, and then I went on retreat yesterday. Let me explain about the retreat first and give you some interesting background as we enter into the last days before Holy Week (on the Christian calendar). It was a look at The Last Supper and the day began with Mass where we ate of the Eucharistic bread. Then a look at The Last Supper in each of the four Gospels, how they were similar and not.

We ended with a beautiful lunch of open-faced turkey sandwiches. I only mention this because of the base of bread that held the rest. The songs chosen for the mass were perfect, the homily was perfect, and everything reflected the entire day’s subject. We were fortified in so many ways: intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and nutritionally. We were a week ahead of Jesus as we shared in the meal with our friends, some of whom we hadn’t seen in the past two pandemic years save for Zoom. In fact, one of the women I encountered I didn’t recognize with her mask on since I’d almost only seen her on the computer!

One of the other huge joys of yesterday was the amount of familiar faces that I did see. Every time I turned in a new direction, I was met with a wave from someone new, and someone I knew, and who I’d known for years, but hadn’t seen in several, again due to the pandemic.

There was also a hug, unexpected but welcome and it lifted me. Such joy shared. When it ended we prolonged it with another deep embrace, and coming so soon after mass, it just set my day in the right direction.
I was open to possibility, to upcoming knowledge and history, and continuing my faith journey, and doing it especially among friends.

All of this occurred one day after my weekly sustenance from our parish soup delivery. Every week during Lent (during the pandemic since before covid we shared a soup meal in the parish hall), my parish has prepared soup and bread and delivered them to parishioners. My son, who recently began to work, looked forward to Wednesday when he came home to a delicious bowl of soup for snack prior to dinner. This week was the last week, and it is what I call a legacy soup.

The woman who created the recipe was a friend of mine and she died last year. At the very beginning of the pandemic, she left a voice mail for me, expressing that Father Jerry asked her to call and to check on our family and see if we needed anything. It was so typical of this woman and my priest, and the entire parish that I belong to. (Our school district did the same thing regarding school lunches and internet access. We are well and truly blessed.)

The soup is similar to chicken noodle but no noodles. It’s been called Mary Lou’s Famous Chicken Pot Pie Soup and it was brought with homemade pie crust crackers. It is the most unexpected taste in a cracker, and eaten with the pot pie soup it is a perfect blend of joy and faith in the mouth. I love that this is the last soup of the season, and as I ate it, I thought of Mary Lou and her always positive greetings and cheer. She was one of the first people I saw in church in that long ago March of 2020, both of us wearing homemade masks (I in my folded bandana) and nodding at each other. It was one of the things that kept me going and kept my faith from deserting me. In fact, it was also my parish that kept my faith from deserting me.

Food is foundational. Before the pandemic, my church had a community Holy Thursday dinner before the Mass. At the Thanksgiving mass, we are given a small loaf of bread to bring our church into our family meal. During the pandemic, we held online cooking classes from a parishioner who is a professional chef. Food is central to our being, and as I’ve found, to the church family.

Food nourishes, and replenishes, and gives us a banquet of sharing with our families, and as the presenter expressed it yesterday, a table of fellowship, spreading our personal news and sharing the Good News.

What also connected it for me, was two of the links she provided as resources that I am excited to share with you:
1. Food and Drink in Luke’s Gospel (website)
2. Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel (book)

As this Holy Week begins, I hope you’ll find friends and family around your table, breaking bread together and remembering the first Eucharist demonstrated by Jesus at The Last Supper.

COVID Reminders

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With many communities adjusting their lockdown protocols, I thought it was a good time for some reminders. For those remaining or returning to lockdown, my Covid Information Center is still available, although there may be scientific updates to the medical information. I haven’t updated that since last year, but the recipes and activities should all be useful to those continuing in lockdown. I will do a more extensive update in the next couple of weeks.

Where mask mandates become optional, there is nothing to stop you from wearing a mask to protect yourself and the people around you. My kids have already been told that I expect them to wear masks in school when the changes eventually take effect.

My personal opinion is that many school districts (including my own) are bending over backwards to a small anti-mask contingent. I read an interesting analogy this week on Twitter that stated how we all, parents, teachers, students rallied to follow the exclusion of peanut products in schools because of a very small minority of children with peanut allergies.

None of us minded this small adjustment to our daily school lives in order to protect the vulnerable classmates even though our children were unaffected. This has never been made political. The same attitude should be for masks. Masks conclusively protect us from transmitting and becoming infected with covid. It is a simple precaution. This should not be a disagreement for people who care about the others around them.

I’ve said many times that masks should be part of the dress code for the forseeable future. Regardless of the loud people, we can all do our part to end this pandemic, and the easiest of that is to wear a mask in pubic.

The WHO has provided this graphic with their recommendations.

Do it All. World Health Organization. (c)2022

Travel in the Time of Covid, Again

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Back in November, I published a travel piece on covid traveling. I was about to write a new one for this summer as protocols have changed, but in reading it, except for the references to Thanksgiving travel and with the Delta variant and low vaccination rates in parts of the country, it is sadly still up to date.

You can read it here: Travel in the Time of Covid.

A few things that I’d like to emphasize if you’re planning on a family vacation or even a stay-at-home vacation with local experiences:

1. Masks, social distancing, and Hand sanitizer. For all practical purposes, nothing’s changed. Wear your mask, wear a double mask in places with higher covid numbers, and wash your hands and use hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available. Keep six feet (or 2 meters) away from non-family/group members.

2. Contact Tracing. Expect to give out your name and phone number when asked for it. Each locality will have different rules and requirements.

3. Attractions. Check on capacity and if you need a reservation. Many places will limit how many people can visit at a time. Places may have timed tickets. Places may require social distancing. They may also require proof of vaccination.

4. Restaurants. They may require reservations. They may have longer wait times due to social distancing and capacity limits. They may have limited menus, and may also be short-staffed. Their hours may be different than normal.

5. Hotels. Hotels that offer free breakfast may not; they may have substitutes. They may have limited housekeeping due to staffing or wanting to limit how many people go in and out of each room. Pools and fitness centers may be closed or have limited access.

6. Shopping. Use your debit/credit card as much as possible and avoid cash if you can. Some places we went to last year refused to take cash at all.

I’d love to hear what tips you have used for your most recent vacations or trips. Comment below.

Travel – Crossing the Canadian Border

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As of August 9th, travel to Canada by US citizens has been approved by the Canadian government. (The US side continues to be closed to non-essential travel, although if traveling to Canada, US citizens should have no issues returning to the United States, according to the Consular Affairs of the US State Department.)

Our family is planning on spending a week north of the border, but in order to do that, there are some atypical (as well as the usual) hoops to jump through first. I have been traveling to Canada since I was five, and so for many of us it’s taken awhile to get used to the changes when crossing the border. It is sometimes hard to remember that Canada isn’t simply US-North, but an entirely different country with policies, procedures, and laws that differ from ours. (It’s been especially challenging to those of us who have family in Canada that we’ve visited over several decades pre-9/11 and pre-pandemic.)

Some things to remember to as you plan your vacation to Canada this year:

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Pandemic Artifacts – Part II (of III)

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Pandemic Artifacts – Part I (of III)

Part II:

Community: Neighbors, neighborhood, rainbows, household helpers, tools, the murder of George Floyd and ensuing protests.

By the second third of the pandemic timeline, community became more important and more visible, sometimes as basic as are my neighbors wearing masks/having parties but beyond that as well.

There was more waving at each other as more people were home during the day. There were phone calls from my parish checking on our needs. The same from the kids’ schools about school meals and available wifi. Our area, and many others put rainbows up in their windows or on their lawns to be instagrammed or facebooked with area code rainbow hashtags, like a mini-scavenger hunt (hello GISH). One family in the neighborhood bought prisms and left them out, socially distanced for neighbors walking by to help themselves to. I sat outside in the front of my house reading, meditating, praying, watching the local world go by. I heard kids in strollers, on bikes, and nearby church bells ringing.

After the murder of George Floyd, I saw one or two Black Lives Matter signs in my very white, seemingly unaffected area, although it made me realize that no one is, nor should be, unaffected by the murder of a Black man by the police. The quarantine and lockdown enabled many to protest, and despite right wing complaints about social distancing, there was not much of an uptick in covid cases due to protesting as compared to political rallies held indiscriminately on the other side of the aisle.

I continued adding to my covid resource center, and my family cooked some of the recipes I was sharing. I attended church online and began to attend remote retreats, which I found both a distraction and a new way of prayer and contemplation. I wish I could say I wrote more; Maybe I did write more, at least here, and I’m proud of my work here. I tried to let the world flow around me and not put too many expectations on myself. I was home for my kids in a greater way than usual even though I’ve been home for my kids since they were born. This was the first year family didn’t ask when I was getting one or encourage me in that way of theirs to get a job. I already have several, thank you very much. We rediscovered our teamness. Looking forward to next school year in a few short months, I’m going to miss them when they return to school which we expect them to.

We were also able to go on vacation at the end of the summer. We remained in New York State since we were comfortable with the rules put in place by the state for covid precautions. I’m not sure how much longer my adult son will be willing to go along with us, and we’re enjoying time as an entire family.

The Photos:

Timeline, Part II.
(Pink = Summer, Orange = Fall)
(c)2021
4-6: Prism, orange peeler, In This House/BLM sign
(c)2021

Prism from neighbor

We belong to a neighborhood Facebook group, and at the beginning of the pandemic there were many posts offering suggestions for how to entertain the kids, especially the younger ones who weren’t in remote school. One of the fun, community activities we included ourselves in was the #Rainbow project. Houses and businesses began to put rainbows in their windows, on their garages, painted on pallets, flown on flags and banners, and included a hashtag of the area code with the word rainbow so those of us walking throughout the neighborhood could take pictures of all the rainbows we found, and post it online – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, that sort of thing on social media.

My artifact came from one of our neighbors in the Facebook group. The family bought several prisms online and put them at the end of their driveway in a bucket with a rainbow flag. They posted on the Facebook that they were to be taken whenever folks walked by on their neighborhood romps, but of course, to please take only one per family. They went quick! We were lucky to be able to get one on her second round. When it’s held in the sunlight, it makes rainbow reflections on the walls, windows, and other surfaces. Just looking at the clear glass teardrop shape makes me smile and think of how lucky we are to be in the place that we live. Also, rainbows are hope and promises of better times.


Orange peeler

We all discovered our kitchens again. I was reminded very much of the nesting that went on after 9/11: we stayed home, kept our families together, simplified our lives, and more than ever before, we cooked. At least that’s what happened in our house, both after 9/11 and during lockdown. I’ve mentioned before about Chef Jose Andres’ Recipes for the People on Twitter. While we were on vacation, we had clementine oranges in our breakfast bags provided by the hotel and I became obsessed with having a delicious, juicy orange almost daily.

I bought this great little tool while we were in Buffalo from a five and dime store. I couldn’t figure out how it worked at first, but it was labeled as an orange peeler for sixty-nine cents. If I knew how much I would love this little gadget, I would have bought fifty of them! Well, maybe not fifty, but a dozen. I’ve already put this five and dime on my list to pick up some more the next time we go through Buffalo (hopefully this summer on the way to Canada). It was one of those things that I didn’t know I needed until I had it. I will never peel another orange without this perfectly constructed tool. So simple. So easy.


BLM sign

About the time in the summer that political signs went up, I saw this same sign on my neighbor’s lawn. I didn’t know this neighbor, but I stopped by anyway to ask about it, thinking she had gotten it locally. At first, I think she thought I was complaining about the inclusivity of the sign. She was happier that I liked it and wanted one of my own. She got hers from Amazon, and mine arrived about twenty-four hours later. I added the American flag, and we’ve added more flags for Memorial Day weekend and then buntings for 4th of July. We’ll leave this sign and one or two of the Stars & Stripes until fall clean-up.

The entire sign reads:

In this house, we believe:
Black Lives Matter
Women’s Rights are Human Rights
No Human is Illegal
Science is Real
Love is Love
Kindness is Everything.

This one sign really says it all. Really, what more is there to say?


Part III coming soon.

Pandemic Artifacts – Part I (of III)

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Sometimes, often, we need to look back at, as well as from the outside of circumstances to realize that there are themes that emerge, and the pandemic was no exception. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown gave us a unique opportunity (albeit at great cost) to look back at a year of new things and old ones, and to look inward.

We were inspired to do things but we were also inspired to slow down and do no things.

Recently, as lockdown, and at the same time, the school year came to a close, my daughter’s teacher gave the class a multi-dimensional project to look back on their pandemic and recognize some of the things that got them through the last year plus. The project and subsequent presentation included themes from memoir, historic timelines, artifacts, creative non-fiction, presentation, and art. Each component was unique and I was excited watching her accomplish each one and it gave me a perfect prompt for my next writing group. It went over very well with my friends, and as I wrote and read my submission, I began to notice themes.

Initially, I had chosen nine photos from across the year, and in laying them out to write about them, I saw that they unintentionally and neatly fell into three distinct sections:

  1. Keeping Safe: Hand-washing, lockdown, information, and isolation.
  2. Community: Neighbors, neighborhood, rainbows, household helpers, tools, the murder of George Floyd and ensuing protests.
  3. Looking Outward: spirituality, new things, and road trips.

The following three part series explores those themes and the significance of some of those pandemic artifacts for me, and hopefully you’ll think of the small or not-so-small things that got you through this unprecedented, uncharted pandemic year.

I created my own timeline (in retrospect) and divided it into three sections, beginning and ending with the first and third photo of each line of my original nine photos. The first third of the timeline and the original photo appear below. I would note that the sections are not evenly split; the first third has significantly more milestones than the other two in what seems like a much shorter time. In those beginning times, I think we were all so surprised by how quickly everything just stopped, even time it seemed.

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Mask Confusion

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Less than a week ago, the CDC came out with new guidelines for the vaccinated, including that those of us who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks or socially distance. This is great news.

Except…

There seems to be a little confusion on this guideline (including from the CDC itself), and I have some concerns.

My first concern is that unfortunately we are allowing the people who spread the misinformation quickly and without remorse since the beginning of this pandemic to continue with their campaign of dishonesty and deception. They are already at it in regards to mask wearing and who is allowed to remove their masks in public settings. Some have stated that mask wearing is over, leading the CDC to clarify its position that ONLY FULLY VACCINATED people should remove masks in SOME settings. One example, people think that the CDC said that masks are no longer needed (THEY ARE) and even more unfortunately, retail outlets are beginning to change their masking policy in a groupspeak mentality which will put many in danger of being exposed to covid.

Second, less than one third of Americans have received the vaccine. Some of this is the result of vaccine hesitancy, children under twelve who can’t receive the vaccine, many who are immuno-compromised who either can’t receive the vaccine or are still at risk even after receiving their doses. We are nowhere near herd immunity which should have been the criteria for unmasking as a policy.

Third, the entire premise of stating that vaccinated people can take off their masks in all settings relies on everyone who is not wearing a mask to be vaccinated, but are they? We’re relying on an honor system that’s been missing in this country for more than a year now. We’ve watched hundreds of viral videos of mask-less people shirking responsibility, ignoring mask mandates, spitting and coughing on people, and now we’re expecting these same people to voluntarily wear a mask until they are vaccinated? When they wouldn’t voluntarily wear a mask before?! Or follow LAWS about masks?

Fourth, the lack of guidance and specificity leads to the kind of confusion that we really don’t need right now. As I listened to the CDC Director discussing this subject with Martha Raddatz on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopolis, I wondered: if this person was with the Trump Administration, what would I say about their comments? And so I’m speaking out on the lack of direction on the masks. I think this is giving non-mask wearers and non-vaxxers an out instead of doing the right thing and regrettably, the retailers are jumping right into new policies without a thought to the possible concerns of their employees and loyal customers.

There also doesn’t seem to be an significant changes to travel policy regarding mask wearing.

I don’t expect much from Walmart, but from more progressive retailers like Target, Starbucks, and Trader Joe’s, I’m extremely disappointed in their new stated policies that if you are vaccinated you can enter their stores and shop mask-less.

How are we to know who is vaccinated?

We can’t presume that everyone without a mask is fully vaccinated (two weeks post the second dose of Pfizer and Moderna or two weeks post the single dose of Johnson & Johnson) when this last year (often traumatically) showed us that our fellow citizens don’t care about the rest of us.

They didn’t wear masks before.

What makes the CDC think they will wear masks now?

And what will the enforcement be like? It seems to be put back on the lowest paid retail and fast food workers, some of whom have already been assaulted by non-mask-wearers.

Will there be consequences for being unmasked?

According to Pien Huang of NPR, the CDC has expressed that “they’re going to be making more updates to mask guidance in the next few weeks,” but how does that affect businesses that have already announced a new mask mandate? Is it feasible for a company like Walmart or Target or your local mall to say if you’re vaccinated you don’t need masks, and then change that policy for public places in another couple of weeks? It’s confusing and will lead to more confusion as well as a lot of anger from people with compromised family members and also from anti-maskers as they’re continually asked if they’re vaccinated.

I suppose that if you refuse to answer, then you need to wear a mask to keep everyone safe, but that’s going to go over like a lead balloon, and please for the love of everything, do NOT cite HIPAA – it is not applicable, do some research.

Two of the retailers changing their mask policies – Costco and Trader Joe’s — will not require proof of vaccination to go mask-free. The others have not said anything about verification.

I feel like for some of us, instead of being relieved by the positives of the vaccine and lower covid infections and deaths (I’m thrilled by this), we’re going to revert to staying in our homes and only going out when necessary. For our family, wearing masks didn’t make us invulnerable, but we did feel comfortable eating out most of the last few months and allowed us to go on vacation. We were very lucky, and I feel (somewhat melodramatically) that we’re being punished for having done the right thing all along.

I’m personally concerned about church as our Bishop has talked about cancelling the dispensation for attending masses and holy days. Regardless I will put my health and safety first, and so far, no changes have been made at my local parish. Will we have vaccinated and unvaccinated sections for worship? Or eating in a restaurant like they had smoking/non-smoking?

I don’t know.

I do know that this could have been, and should have been, thought out more fully and implemented in stages, just as the shutdown was implemented in stages.

I’m not the only one who feels this way, but I’m interested to know your opinions on this. Let me know how you feel in the comments.

How Fully Immunized Feels

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It’s been an entire week (and one day) since I’ve been fully immunized. Two and Two. (That’s two doses followed by two weeks for maximum protection.) I know that we’re still waiting for a determination as to whether we’ll need a booster shot or if that potential booster shot would be yearly but that’s for Future Me to worry about.

The question for Present Me is: How do I feel?

After the initial bout of second dose side effects that went away after almost three days, I’m fine. No aches, no pains, no fevers; back to my normal.

More importantly, I’m relieved and that relief is palpable. I’m down to regular levels of stress and anxiety and that in itself is a relief.

There’s a lightness in the air that wasn’t there a few weeks ago. It’s like the weight of the world was lifted off of our collective shoulders. I see it wherever I look. More people in the stores, the restaurants, and on the roads. (Honestly, I didn’t miss the traffic. At all.) People are more apt to talk and smile behind their masks rather than be hesitant and step away. At least in the places I’ve been there’s a feeling of we’re all in this together.

My writing group is getting back together – still outdoors, but most of us are now fully vaccinated. My retreat house is doing hybrid retreats with some attending in-house and some over Zoom. I’ve done both, and while I love Zoom and will continue to attend over Zoom, I miss the atmosphere of the retreat house that I really can’t get at home with a house full of people (even when those people are being relatively cooperative). I go to church in person at least once a week and I’m thinking about returning on Sundays.

We’re talking about hugging friends again.

We’re talking about visiting family.

My husband went out Friday night for a work dinner and Sunday morning went for his first dose of the vaccine.

My son is planning on seeing Black Widow in the movie theatre. I’m still a little hesitant, but by July I may feel differently, and in five weeks he’ll be fully vaccinated.

I don’t know, however, how I feel about a return to what was considered “normal”. I don’t know if I want to go back to what was routine a little more than a year ago. While my calendar is filling up again, I’m thinking twice about what I want to spend my time on and I’m starting to say no to some things.

I also noticed that throughout the pandemic, my children’s principal (at the high school) emailed us (all parents) a minimum of once a week to keep us up to date and updated on what was going on at the high school with not only covid-related notices, but regular school information. This would have never happened without the pandemic. At the high school level, you don’t hear from the teachers or principal unless there’s a problem. I found this communication to be a positive and welcome practice, and I respect and appreciate the extra time that it takes for the principal to maintain this level of involvement with parents in addition to their regular duties.

I would never say that this has been a blessing – it hasn’t, and for the majority of the country, it hasn’t in tragic and profound ways – but we’ve been very blessed and I recognize the privilege we have with my husband working from home and my younger children being able to continue school at home with a minimum of change. We’ve spent more time together, watched streaming movies, went on drives, cooked more, and have been well overall.

As a first responder and frontline health care worker respectively, my oldest son and his girlfriend never stopped working and were the first in our family to receive the vaccine. For any parent, their children’s health and safety comes before their own, and I was relieved when they were one of the first in our state to be eligible.

What I want to do now is remember and not dismiss the tragedy of the past year but also take from it the positives that we’ve encountered and move forward with intention.

Covid Vaccine Update – Second Dose

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To read the previous posts on my covid vaccine experience, links are here:

One Dose Down

Covid Vaccine Update

And without further ado, here it is, the post you’ve all been waiting for – ha, ha! I got my second dose of the covid vaccine on Tuesday, three days ago, and I am now able to describe the side effects I experienced.


Three caveats before I share:

1. It’s a little TMI as most medical posts are wont to be.

2. Side effects will vary from person to person and from vaccine to vaccine. You may have these or other side effects not listed or you may have none. I’ve have friends and acquaintances offer both experiences. They can also be mild or severe. YMMV. I would characterize mine as a bit more than mild. Nothing was incapacitating, but I could not do my normal daily routine. If I didn’t already had my physical scheduled for Wednesday, I woudn’t have left my bed. That may have also extended the length of my side effects simply because I didn’t give my body the liquids and rest it needed on that first day after the shot.

3. Side effects will go away. Most of us won’t even notice them. I’m a whiner and a share-er. Don’t let someone’s side effects stop you from getting the vaccine. We’re almost through this and we can get through it together.

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