Masks or No Masks…No, It’s Definitely Masks

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Earlier in the week, I was standing in the gathering space at church filling in my form attesting that I did not have covid, did not travel, etc, and another parishioner came in and began talking to the usher. After about a minute, she gasped.

“I don’t have my mask! Why didn’t you tell me I didn’t have it on?!”

I honestly hadn’t noticed which is weird because even if I don’t call it out, I ALWAYS notice the people not wearing masks. I guess not always though.

About an hour later, after mass, I went through the drive thru at Starbucks to get a frappuccino. I parked, took off my mask (yes, I wear a mask in the drive thru) and took a sip. Aah. Wait.

It was coffee. It was supposed to be creme based. I don’t drink coffee.

No problem. Starbucks will fix it.

I grabbed my drink and went inside to exchange it. The barista knew exactly what had happened and they were already making a replacement. I thanked them.

A boy and his mom came in and were being helped at the other end of the store, and there was something about the look on his face when he looked over at me. He looked at me, then at his mom.

Oh. My. G-d! I’m not wearing a mask!

I said it out loud. “Oh my G-d! I’m not wearing a mask!” And then added excitedly, “I am so sorry!” I pulled my shirt up over my mouth and nose and my drink was ready at that point so I apologized again, and left.

I was so embarrassed! I mean I wear two masks at church and grocery shopping and one going through the drive thru. How could I forget?

We all have those moments. Just like the woman in church that morning. Just like me later on. It’s been a long year, and we’re almost at the end of it. We can do it and we can gently remind the people around us. I just got my second covid shot, and in two weeks I will be fully immunized. I will still wear a mask in public and probably every flu and winter season from here on out.

No question about it: Definitely masks.

Definitely masks.
(c)2021

Gratitude by Mary Oliver

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Mary Oliver’s Gratitude Poem came to my notice while I was searching for quotations on gratitude for another project. I am only familiar with Mary Oliver from one of her famous quotations that many religious people use in their meditations and artwork: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” and a short book that I borrowed from the library (Upstream: Selected Essays).

As I read this poem, and then read through it again I was distracted how each of Oliver’s stanzas answered a question. It was thought-provoking and contemplative and I immediately thought this would make a great writing exercise; a way to stretch myself whether as poetry or prose. A push like the daffodils poking through the soil.

I still don’t know for sure if her poem should be read prior to the answering of the questions, but I would suggest doing whatever feels right for you at the moment. Obviously you can’t unread the poem so make your choice with care.

I suppose you could answer the questions and then read the poem and perhaps go back a few days later with the questions again. It may be a nice exercise on its own to see if the original answers changed in the ensuing days along with another reading.

For me, I will read the poem and savor it and then I will continue the writing exercise. I plan to come back to the questions next month from a different perspective, perhaps on an outing or after church services. There are many ways to approach something as profound as Mary Oliver’s writings.

Mary Oliver’s poem appears below the highlighted questions and my answers to the questions appear below that.

In doing this exercise, I sat in the quiet, in the stillness and let the questions speak to me. What do you hear them speaking to you?

What did you notice?
What did you hear?
When did you admire?
What astonished you?
What would you like to see again?
What was most tender?
What was most wonderful?
What did you think was happening?


Mary Oliver – Gratitude Poem

What did you notice?

The dew-snail;
the low-flying sparrow;
the bat, on the wind, in the dark;
big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance;
the soft toad, patient in the hot sand;
the sweet-hungry ants;
the uproar of mice in the empty house;
the tin music of the cricket’s body;
the blouse of the goldenrod.

What did you hear?

The thrush greeting the morning;
the little bluebirds in their hot box;
the salty talk of the wren,
then the deep cup of the hour of silence.

When did you admire?

The oaks, letting down their dark and hairy fruit;
the carrot, rising in its elongated waist;
the onion, sheet after sheet, curved inward to the pale green wand;
at the end of summer the brassy dust, the almost liquid beauty of the flowers;
then the ferns, scrawned black by the frost.

What astonished you?

The swallows making their dip and turn over the water.

What would you like to see again?

My dog: her energy and exuberance, her willingness,
her language beyond all nimbleness of tongue,
her recklessness, her loyalty, her sweetness,
her strong legs, her curled black lip, her snap.

What was most tender?

Queen Anne’s lace, with its parsnip root;
the everlasting in its bonnets of wool;
the kinks and turns of the tupelo’s body;
the tall, blank banks of sand;
the clam, clamped down.

What was most wonderful?

The sea, and its wide shoulders;
the sea and its triangles;
the sea lying back on its long athlete’s spine.

What did you think was happening?

The green beast of the hummingbird;
the eye of the pond;
the wet face of the lily;
the bright, puckered knee of the broken oak;
the red tulip of the fox’s mouth;
the up-swing, the down-pour, the frayed sleeve of the first snow—

so the gods shake us from our sleep.

[Gratitude is copyrighted to Mary Oliver and her Estate and Publisher. No money is made on the use of this poem.]


I sat for some time and thought about the words in the questions. I decided to go back about one year and contemplate the pandemic in all the ways that the questions made me think about it. Some things have changed – more people out and about, masks (we weren’t wearing them a year ago or we were just starting), vaccinations. It’s good to look back as we begin the real recovery in so many ways – economically, yes, health, yes, but also emotionally. It feels like coming out of a shell or a shelter after a storm.

What did you notice?
the quiet.
my heartbeat.
no cars, no people walking, no dogs.
at the grocery, head down, everyone getting in and getting out.
tension.

What did you hear?
on my excursions to my front yard hearing the breeze,
the birds,
the church bells,
a stray car,
and one kid in a stroller says hi

When did you admire?
my kids doing their schoolwork at home.
the school district keeping it all together.
the grocery store workers.
Zoom.

What astonished you?
the incompetence.
the kindness.
the quiet of all of us at home at the same time.
how frightened I became, especially of the unknown.

What would you like to see again?
the retreat house
Canada
the inside of a Starbucks
church family

What was most tender?
my kids still cuddling just a little.
seeing Onward – the last movie I saw in theatres.
cooperation.

What was most wonderful?
not running out of toilet paper!
livestream masses,
Zoom retreats,
weekly telephone rosary.
information.
Dr. Fauci.
podcasts,
Books.

What did you think was happening?
the end of the world – just a little bit…
a reset,
a chance to re-prioritize,
re-engagement,
reflection.
expect the unexpected.
too much time and not enough.

One Dose Down!

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COVID VACCINE THOUGHTS AND REACTION Updated 3/17/21 – see below

This post perfectly aligns with yesterday’s inspire for March: gratitude. I am truly grateful to have received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Much gratitude to all the doctors, nurses, health care workers, scientists, named and unnamed whose hands guided this moment to fruition. I said all along that I would take the vaccine when and if Dr. Fauci and Ron Klain said it was safe – they have, and I did. And I will also shout out a thanks to President Biden and his Administration for the roll-out!

At the FEMA site I received my vaccine at, it could not have gone smoother. Everything was very organized. There was plenty of parking and a shuttle to bring us to the site. The wait was minimal. I was in and out even before my scheduled time.

Knowing myself I did not eat breakfast. I have a nervous stomach when I’m unfamiliar with a place or what’s coming next. I did bring a bottle of water, although they had bottles of water to take.

A few notes:

  • Wear short sleeves – it’s easier to get jabbed that way.
  • It was recommended that I receive the shot in my dominant arm – they said that it hurts less in the long run.
  • No pictures were allowed in the medical area, but on the way to the exit was a sign for selfies. I am happy to say that I was not the only one taking selfies – there were at least two other dorks.
  • There’s a fifteen minute wait for observation, all socially distanced. You need to keep track of your own time, but there was a large clock at the front of the seating area.
  • If you’re getting the Pfizer or Moderna, they will give you a card with your next appointment – same time, same place.
  • They recommended staying hydrated and provided water bottles to take with you when the observation period was over.

Reaction:

It’s been about two hours, and I have no reaction or side effects. My arm doesn’t hurt at all, and didn’t since the initial poke. Gently touching it also does not hurt at all.

If anything changes or develops, I will update.

UPDATE 3/17/21: About 13 hours after the initial shot, I began to feel a little pain at the injection site – very, very little, minor pain, but more than was there all day. Waking up this morning, about 20 hours after the shot, I was a little stiff, but I rotated my arm and stretched and now all that remains is minor pain from the needle. No swelling, no hotness, no redness.

Yesterday afternoon, I did feel a bit achy and tired, but I can’t tell if that’s a reaction or my normal Tuesday afternoon. I’m inclined to think it’s just me and unrelated to the vaccine.

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Presbyters

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Here we are in the first full week of Lent. I think we’re all getting used to the idea of what this year’s Lent entails. As I mentioned last week, I am trying to organize my thoughts around the Lenten pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving and incorporating those pillars with the tripod of my way through Cursillo of piety, study, and action. Something the priest said at Monday’s mass stood out to me, and that was that we are all presbyters, as opposed to proselytizers. Public prayer, not conversion. That was the word [presbyter] used in that day’s Reading from the First Letter of Peter, and defined in Father’s homily as someone who prays in public. We may recognize that word as the basis for Presbyterian, a Protestant sect of Christianity.

If we are all called to be presbyters as Peter exalts us to “tend the flock of G-d in [our] midst” [1 Peter 5: 1-4], how do we reconcile that with Jesus’ call to not be like the hypocrites and go to our rooms and pray in private [Matt 6.6]?

How should, how can we pray in public and not become like those hypocrites?

As I set this aside earlier in the week, I thought about the ways in which I was praying in public and yet hoping to avoid hypocrisy. I am definitely thinking more about prayer and ways to be closer to G-d during these forty days leading up to the Easter Vigil. I spent time discerning what actions and tasks were important to me and which ones I needed to give up to make my time more effective and positive, not only for me, but for those people I would be working with.

Sometimes prayer is a conversation between yourself and G-d and sometimes it is contemplative, thinking on a scripture passage or meditation. We ask for things – petitions, we ask for things for others – intercessory prayer and sometimes we just sit in the quiet and hope G-d can understand what it is we’re seeking even if we don’t necessarily know.

On Wednesday night, I participated in a centering prayer group. We met on Zoom. I had been to a workshop on centering prayer last month, and this was a good opportunity to put what I learned into practice with others.
While we were each in our own spaces and muted, we were also all together, hearing the same reading, listening to the bell that started off our quiet, contemplative time, the screen sharing a single candle if we chose to keep our eyes open to see it. Solitary and in group at the same time.

Private and public.

Admittedly, I had some trouble focusing. My house was empty and silent. The group was silent, not even a buzz from the lights or clock in the room, no airplanes flying low overhead like they’d done all morning. And still, I needed to continue to draw on my sacred word to bring me back to my prayer. By the time, I felt settled, the bell rang and it was the end of the twenty minute sit (what the prayer time is called).

It reminded me of those early days of the pandemic, when the sun was out, the snow was gone, and the cold was bearable. I would take out my camp chair to the front lawn and just sit. On occasion I took a photo of the trees or the sky. I’d write in my journal. I’d pray the rosary.

But often, I would just sit, noticing each flutter of a breeze, each chirp of a bird, and before I even realized it, an hour had passed. I’d unconsciously been doing centering prayer a year ago, but didn’t have the language to name it then.

One way I can be a presbyter is to take my chair outside (when my lawn doesn’t have the mounds of snow that it currently has) with my prayer book and journal, my pashmina and just sit. Let myself be drawn into G-d’s world and let the nearby church bells lift me from my reverie and gently bring me back to this world refreshed.

What’s Missing?

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Back in July, I published a list of the five things I missed most during the pandemic. It was a way of putting down on paper/screen some of the “normal” things that had been interrupted in what is becoming this lost year. They were mostly superficial, little things that I wouldn’t normally notice throughout the day or week, but that by July were obviously missing from my life.

Online, I saw parents in chaos as they tried to juggle their work from home, their lack of day care, and homeschooling their kids with and without wifi and other resources. I couldn’t relate to that experience either. My two youngest children are teenagers in high school. We are fortunate, in more ways than one, that they no longer share a room. They went to their respective corners, closed the door, and went to class (if there was online class) and did their homework. We’d see them each once a day as they emerged from their cocoon of isolation for lunch. I kind of missed them.

We cooked more, and our kids cooked more. We did takeout now and again, but it wasn’t special anymore. It felt like more work. Masks on, rush in, rush out, masks off. Eat, clean, repeat.

Television was postponed when filming was postponed. We signed up for a bunch of streaming services and watched things we’d missed on the first go-round. Hamilton came to Disney+ early. Wonder Woman 1984 came to HBOMax. Supernatural returned (finally) and then finished its series run seven episodes later.

Glancing back at my original list, I was able to get most of it back in the summer and fall when covid numbers fell. Our Chinese take out place re-opened. My town’s new Starbucks was the only Starbucks in the area that had indoor seating. I was thrilled. Target was my getaway – we were always looking for toilet paper and soap. I mean with four people home twenty-four hours a day, we were always in need of one or the other. We stayed in our state, one of the safest and were able to actually go on vacation before school started again. I returned to in person mass on Mondays, although therapy remained by phone. My retreat house went hybrid and I was able to enjoy a few retreat days and two weekends before they closed again due to an increase in covid numbers.

Recently, I realized what I was really missing. The lingering.

It wasn’t church that I missed, although I definitely missed the sacraments and the liturgy and the homily, but it was the standing around talking to people I only saw once or twice a week. Our Cursillo group stopped meeting when the parish center closed. All our community events were cancelled. No parish picnic, no in person day of service, no hospitality at Sunday mass, no Lenten fish fry, no Holy Thursday lasagna dinner.

I couldn’t go to the library to work on things in different surroundings.

When my writing group met in the park after weeks of not meeting, we sat far apart. It was hard to hear. It was cold. We didn’t linger. And then winter came.

Even when I was able to go to Starbucks, before they closed the indoor seating, I’d go for a limited amount of time: eat breakfast, write for an hour (which does seem like a lot, but I was used to going for two or three at a time), and then either head directly home or get groceries and then go home.

I stopped taking myself out to writing lunches, which in my pre-pandemic days I didn’t realize how much I relished and needed.

I had one telemedicine visit, which was convenient and helpful, but I did that in my dining room. I wanted to get in the car and go somewhere else after the appointment. I didn’t.

My retreat house moved to Zoom, which was great in many aspects, but in others, the camaraderie was missing; no compliments on my scarf or my earrings. No handshakes or hugs. No breaking bread and no chapel prayer.

The word lingering came to me the other day, and it summed it up so succinctly that as I thought more about it, and what it meant, it just clicked and created a small space of melancholy and understanding.

I began to linger in the mornings in bed. Not the same thing, not a great idea either, although with my Kindle, I listened to my daily morning podcast, I took my medicine, I paid the bills, and read and replied to emails, I scheduled appointments. It became an office space, and that led to sleepless nights. My actual office became overrun with papers and pocketbooks and receipts, and was unusable. I commandeered a space in the dining room and now I work in there, although my time is spent organizing and decorating. Not helpful for a writer.

And I don’t linger there.

I work. I move to another chair to read. I move back to work some more; to write. And then I move again.
Rinse. Repeat.

I want to linger. I want a weekend to write and rejuvenate. To reenergize and reemerge a better person; a better writer perhaps. I don’t mind being home so much, but I mind not having the choice; not having anywhere to linger anymore. I dislike going out only with a purpose and losing that freedom of myself, alone with my thoughts or my own brand of quiet.

When will I be able to linger again without rushing off to the next thing?

A Gratitude Scavenger Hunt

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With Thanksgiving in two weeks, the Election over, and despite the continuing pandemic, we do have much to be grateful for.

This graphic will give you eight days to have your own scavenger hunt for the things you hold dear, that you’re grateful for.

I’ll be following up this afternoon and throughout the eight days, although not in a row of where I hold my gratitude, especially this year.

Graphic from Simple Acres Blog dot com. (c)2020

Halloween or Hallowon’t

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Halloween during a pandemic. Well, at least everyone’s already wearing masks, right? My kids are in high school, so it’s less of an issue for us. They’re planning on going to friends’ houses and celebrating with a party instead of traditional trick or treating. They’ve already been hanging out with these friends since summer, so it’s equally safe as doing homework together.

On my neighborhood Facebook group, there have been some questions about neighborhood plans as well as some suggestions. One neighbor wants to do treat bags on a table at the end of the driveway, and limit trick or treating to certain hours – from five until eight. I thought that seemed reasonable.

Another thought was of a scavenger hunt with houses providing clues to their kids to find candy. The parents would do all the work and the neighbors who participated would volunteer so the kids weren’t randomly going to people’s houses who had no idea what was going on. I thought this was a great idea.

We usually have a bucket of toys and comic books in addition to candy, so the kids can choose which treat they prefer. They toys are the kind you get from McDonald’s Happy Meals or similar small items. Some are packaged, but some are gently used. We’ve decided to suspend this practice until next year (hopefully). I know our items are safe, but why put the parents in the position of having to say no to a toy if they have (legitimate) concerns.

I also thought that instead of having the kids reach into our candy bowl and choose their preference, we would have more of the same candies and hand it out ourselves. Two candies per child. We can wear gloves and put it right into their basket or bag.

I know some doctors and experts have talked about avoiding family during the holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are closer than we think they are. We haven’t decided our holiday plans, but I also think that Halloween is a different circumstance. I don’t mean it’s more important than our traditional family holidays, but in some ways it kind of is. It’s fun. It’s dressing up. It’s candy. And it can be done in a responsible and socially distant way. Kids can come to the door one or two at a time. The candy givers can wear masks and gloves. There’s no hugging, shaking hands, sitting around a table talking and eating.

To be honest, it really sounds a lot easier.

Maybe we can have a Halloween inspired Thanksgiving. Drive thru. Go to Grandma’s house and she’ll give everyone a Tupperware filled with a portioned out turkey dinner. Same with Christmas; just add presents to the drive thru lane.

I don’t know. I’m still working on that one. In the meantime, let’s enjoy Halloween as best as we can. Teach our kids that we need to make some changes this year to keep everyone safe, and we can do that and still have fun. I’m planning on dressing up as a postal carrier if I can find my parents’ old work shirts.

We’ll find out in one week.

What are your plans for Halloween? Do you have any suggestions for making it fun and safe for kids in this unusual year?

Signs of the Pandemic

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When our state went into lockdown, school was moved online and we converted to remote learning; church was cancelled, little by little restaurants closed, libraries closed, museums closed, playgrounds closed.

We stayed home for the most part.

We did go to the grocery store and to Target for our household supplies. We did this about once a week. My husband would go out between grocery shopping trips to get milk, which we always seemed to run out of. We began to buy two gallons at a time.

We also went for drives, sometimes grabbing lunch through a drive thru and parking in the park or near the river and ate our lunch. At least we were out of the house for a couple of hours.

I began to notice some things on our drives and our trips to the supermarket: Signs.

Here, there,  everywhere signs were popping up.

Signs for delivery, signs for take-out, signs for curbside pick-up, signs for new hours, signs for limits on purchasing necessities as toilet paper and soap ran out in our houses and on store shelves. Food and dry goods also. Everyone was home and everyone needed more of what they used while no one was leaving the house for work or school.

The signs popped up like dandelions in spring.

I said to my husband: I know one business that’s doing better during the lockdown. Sign makers.

They were literally everywhere.

As the rules changed and we adapted, more signs were brought out. One way and wrong way signs in the aisles. Limited capacity signs. Xs crossed in six feet spaces for shoppers to stand in and wait for their turn to enter the store. or to check out with their purchases.

Soon, there were mask signs, social distancing signs, and after awhile, all of the signs temporary closed signs were replaced with We’re Open signs. Single entrances and separate exits. We deliver signs were joined  by Dining Room Now Open and Dine In – Limited Capacity.

I began to document all the signs I came across. The photos below are only a small sampling of what I found. Once I started this project, I discovered signs in the strangest places and for the strangest things, and I drove my family a little batty pulling out my cell phone and taking photos of the signs everywhere.

Let me know if I’ve missed any.

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Election Connection: 13 Weeks: A Biden Covid Response with Ron Klain

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The following video features Ron Klain, a member of the Biden campaign. In addition to his current role with the campaign, he is a two time Vice Presidential Chief of Staff (Al Gore (1995-1999), and Joe Biden (2009-2011). He is a lawyer and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Byron White as well as a Capitol Hill counsel.

He served as the Ebola Reponse Coordinator from 2014-2015 and has been an outspoken critic of the Trump Administration’s response to the Covid-19 virus which has, as of this writing, killed more than 150,000 people in the U.S.

For a time, he co-hosted a podcast addressing these concerns with Dr. Celine Gounder.

On a personal note, when I’m asked when I’ll be taking a vaccine (how soon after it’s ready), my answer is always, “When this guy [Ron Klain] says it’s safe.

The following video was made for the Biden campaign and outlines what a President Biden would do to curb the ongoing virus and epidemic.

Writing Prompt – Pandemic Days

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I am missing my writing workshops, but that doesn’t stop me from writing. (There are dozens of other things that keep me from writing!) The age-old (and ofttimes wrong) direction is write what you know.

Many of us have been home for over one hundred days. Some of us are just coming under the auspices of quarantining (Texas, Arizona, Florida, etc).

How have you been holding up? Have you adjusted to life at home?

It might be time to take out a notebook, journal, or keyboard and begin writing about your experience. Even if you won’t be professionally publishing your writing, this kind of document is so valuable to your future families.

Here are ten questions to get you started. You can begin by simply jotting down quick answers, but then take your time and expand your thoughts. Include your five senses, talk about your feelings, talk about your family’s feelings and reactions. There are no wrong answers; these are your experiences.

If you think of other questions, send them, and if you want to share your experiences, comment with your thoughts and/or links to your writing.

1. Are you still working at your job? At your place of work or at home? How has work changed with the covid outbreak?

2. Do you have children and are they now home from school? Are you involved in their schooling? How much? Are they working independently or do they need a lot of parental input?

3. How has your grocery shopping and cooking changed? Were you someone who ate out a lot or had you already been cooking every day? Are you trying new recipes? What are you go-to favorite recipes? Write down the recipes so your family has them.

4. What have you done for entertainment? Are you watching more television? Netflix? Are you playing board games?

5. What are you reading?

6. Are you listening to podcasts? Are you watching more or less news?

7. How has your religious life changed? What are some of the things that you’re doing that you weren’t doing before? What are you continuing to do?

8. What was the last thing you did in the public world before the pandemic arrived (in the US approximately March 13, 2020)?

9. What do you miss most from being home all the time?

10. What are you surprised that you miss the least and are thinking about keeping out of your life when the pandemic is finally over?