LIFE IN THE TIME OF CICADAS

A lifeA A a

As a child I was pretty fearless around bugs. I remember one summer when I was at camp – I was probably about ten at the time – walking with two friends to the dining hall for lunch. A passing yellow jacket decided to join us. As he buzzed around the three of us my friends screamed. I thought they were being goofy. I stood very still and the yellow jacket landed on my hand. He and I had a staring contest as we checked each other out. And then he just flew off and my friends and I continued on to lunch. Another time, at about the same age, I remember a praying mantis who took up residence in our backyard at home. I was thrilled to be able to get close to him, to observe his eating habits – mainly spiders and insects – and to witness his amazing agility.

Unfortunately as I got older my bug curiosity diminished, but I was blessed to marry a man who has an insatiable interest in so many subjects – including bugs. Jerry loves to pick them up and to observe them. Recently when we were walking from the first green to the second tee of the golf course he said, “Peg I want to show you something”. I moved closer and he opened his hand to display a beautiful ( I say this in retrospect) cicada. Before the cicada flew off I had a good look at his big eyes, and his delicate looking wings. I had no desire to hold him as Jerry was doing, though I sometimes do wish I had been able to retain my childhood interest in bugs.

We have been in our present home since 1990 which means we have experienced two visitations of the 17 year cicadas while living here. The first experience was very mild – perhaps all the construction in our new neighborhood interfered with the cicada habitat. The present visitation is exactly the opposite. It is all pervasive. Our home is bounded by woods on two sides. The cicadas love the woods, they love to sing and they love to buzz around our backyard. If you decide to sit on the patio you have to expect that a few cicadas will come to call. The negative of the cicada influx is that they have cut down on bird traffic at our feeders. We have had several house finches, and several hummingbirds, a woodpecker, and an unnamed gray bird which we have enjoyed very much but nothing like the bird traffic jam that gives us so much pleasure.

Once it was determined that the cyst causing my left kidney blockage was not malignant the surgeon presented three options: major surgery lasting four hours plus where the cyst would be removed – such lengthy time under general anesthesia not being the best idea for a 84 year old ; stent placement in the blockage area which would have to be replaced several times a year; and fluid withdrawal from the cyst to cut down on its size and blockage capability and which would also have to be done several times a year – for both these last options the anesthesia would be minimal – compared to the major surgery option. Right now I have a small stent in place and my body is not really liking this foreign object invasion. Lots of good opportunities for prayer and for offering up the discomfort caused by the stent which the surgeon is hopeful will go away with the passage of time.

In late June I have my next appointment with the surgeon. By then enough time will have passed to correctly evaluate the efficacy of the stent as my pathway to kidney recovery. I am gradually coming to like the surgeon. Because of his skill with robotic surgery he was the strong recommendation of an old friend who happens to be a urologist. I had assumed my urological issues would be cared for by our old friend. But after seeing our friend for an initial visit he was adamant that my medical needs would be better served by the skills of this other doctor. So I went from a warm fuzzy doctor’s office to one where a welcoming atmosphere seemed to have been outlawed. The surgeon himself is very friendly. He allots about 45 minutes per patient – which is pretty amazing. He answers all questions with a thoroughness that I appreciate. It is some of the support staff who make you wonder what you have done wrong. I can’t help but compare the doctor’s office manager to a recent sales clerk I did business with at Home Depot( not a store that we frequent – since the owner of Home Depot is a proud Trump supporter). But, I was at Home Depot because after searching on line they were the only store nearby that had the assembled Weber grill we were looking for. The sales clerk who helped me was a young woman who I would guess was in her early thirties. She was tall, with dyed blond hair and arms that were covered with tattoos. She must have had some sort of managerial position because other clerks kept coming to her with questions. She had a welcoming smile that generated warmth and competence. I was in and out of HD in record time. From the time of my arrival to my departure, with the new grill in the back of my car, perhaps thirty minutes elapsed. I shook hands with the sales clerk and thanked her for my successful and speedy shopping adventure. I could not help but reflect on the different vibes generated by the renowned surgeon’s office manager and the Home Depot sales clerk.

Saturday, May 15, was the 26th birthday of our third oldest grandchild,Jeremy. Such fun to have a phone visit with him – so proud of him and all our grandchildren. Granddaughter Lilly provided Saturday night’s dinner of home made empanadas. It was meaningful to learn from son- in law Paul, who grew up in Argentina, that empanadas are a staple of the Argentine diet. Jerry and I had never had empanadas before – what a yummy introduction Lilly provided.

This is graduation season – for the academic world at large and for our family in particular. Atar is graduating from 8th grade. Brian, Khushi and Elsa are graduating or have just graduated from high school. Gus graduated from nursing school. And Annie and Jimmy graduated from the University of Virginia. Annie actually graduated from UVA last year with a Covid 19 inspired remote graduation ceremony. When UVA offered Annie’s class the chance to have an in person ceremony this year, more than 2000 accepted and showed up for the ceremony. It was tasteful, appropriate and inspiring. As was her brother Jimmy’s ceremony, Class of 2021, the following week. It was another live streamed ceremony – it was done so tastefully and the speeches had that inspirational touch that you want at graduation time. One of the more difficult aspects of Covid for Jerry and me, has been not being able to attend all our grandchildren graduations. But that loss is helped so much by the live streaming and the zoom ceremonies.

I was in the last class of New York state students whose first day of kindergarten was in February, and all my subsequent first days – grade school, high school and college – were also in February. Just two days after finishing high school I began my college life. It was too soon. It is important when passing through different stages in life to have time for reflection on what has been experienced and anticipation for what the future holds.

And though I feel that my time at Marymount College was a bit rushed as I strove to get in the sixty credits necessary for admission to Cornell’s nursing school and its BSN program,I did have some amazing experiences at Marymount. Since the academic load was heavy I only allowed myself to join one club and I chose the Collegiate Council for the United Nations. Just because I had chosen to follow the academic path to nursing my interest in history and current events was in no way diminished. I loved being part of this organization and the interactions we had with students from other colleges. When Marymount offered me the opportunity to represent the college at a week long overnight seminar at Sarah Lawrence College I accepted – even though it meant missing a week of the summer school session that all the students who started in February were being required to take as the college prepared to close down its February admission program. Catching up after missing a week of a six week summer session was tough but as I look back now I have no regrets. It was an amazing and challenging experience. The two speakers at the seminar who still stand out for me were Krishna Menon who was at that time the Indian ambassador to the United Nations, and Eleanor Roosevelt. I don’t remember now how many colleges were represented at the seminar – perhaps twenty – but I do remember being a little star struck by the intimate setting and the thought provoking words offered by these speakers.

In this season of the cicadas I find their continuous drone to be a bit mind numbing.As we age it is important to continue to challenge our minds and thoughts. I like this excerpt from the diary of the journalist and activist Dorothy Day who died in 1980 at age 83: No matter how old I get ………my heart can still leap for joy as I read and suddenly assent to some great truth enunciated by some great mind and heart.

ONE DAY YOU’RE FEELING GREAT AND THE NEXT DAY – NOT SO MUCH or THE DAY THE ROOF CAVED IN

Three weeks ago Jerry and I were walking the golf course on an absolutely beautiful day, hitting the ball with occasional shots that were moderately pleasing ( is any golfer ever totally pleased?) and feeling very blessed. Several days later I was back in the emergency room. This time it was not Afib but rather hours of throwing up and severe abdominal pain. The diagnosis was a left kidney that was not functioning properly. Am now going through various tests and procedures to learn the cause of the kidney malfunction. Am truly fortunate to have my wonderful husband and our incredible family to support me on this journey.

The sudden pain from the kidney malfunction was pretty over the top. It has caused me to do a lot of reflecting on pain – the why of pain, the meaning of pain. Growing up Catholic I was always taught the spiritual value of pain. Pain can be turned into a powerful prayer when you offer it up for some person or purpose. In the 1980’s on a skiing trip to Colorado with Jerry, my brothers and my sister-in- law, I had a bad skiing accident resulting in a dislocated shoulder, a broken bone and a torn rotator cuff. As I was being transported down the slope, I can still clearly picture my priestly brother suddenly appearing at the side of the ski patrol gurney, flashing me his special smile and with a tad of sheepishness reminding me to offer up the pain and saying I could offer it up for him if I wanted. For me giving spiritual purpose to pain absolutely helps.

I found the kidney pain to be fierce and not particularly helped by the morphine I was given in the ER. Relief finally came when I focused on what to do with the pain – who or what should I offer it up for. As the ER staff moved in and out performing various functions and not really requiring much of a response from me, I was able to distract myself by focusing on the value of my pain and what to do with it. When I finally settled on the petition that each of our nineteen grandchildren find the right life partner, I knew I had a winner. Finding meaning in the pain I was able to relax and perhaps finally give the morphine a chance to work.

One of the tests ordered for me was a CAT scan with iodine dye. Years ago I had an allergic reaction to iodine. This time as a precaution, I was put on massive doses of prednisone and benadryl – starting 14 hours before the test. All went well except the technician forgot to close off the port to the newly installed external drainage bag from my left kidney – the dye went right into the external bag thereby requiring a second infusion of dye – this time with the port appropriately closed. Though the test now worked it was followed by a full body skin allergic reaction which the doctor attributed to getting a second dose of the dye. I felt like what could go wrong was going wrong.

Last Friday our son Jerry drove down from New Jersey for a visit – 28 hours of a very special visit : working on crossword puzzles, guitar playing and singing, conversation when we felt like it. And then our local families came with dinner – such yumminess. Son Jim manned the grill, granddaughter Lilly – just back from Europe – fixed two of the dishes – a potato salad that was her own recipe and a blueberry tart to die for. It was all so easy as each family took care of the dinner prep and the clean up.

Wednesday I had an outpatient procedure with Interventional Radiology. The external port from the left kidney with accompanying tubing and bag was closed and replaced by a stint in the blocked portion of the junction between the kidney and my ureter. It was no big deal but if I have any complaint it was that they did not prepare me for the discomfort that accompanies this procedure and which can last for many days. I went into the hospital feeling good and left feeling not so good. Today on a followup with the urologist I learned that 80% of the folks who have the type of stint that was placed in me have considerable pain from the stint. It would have been nice to have been prepared for the fact that stint complications were normal – instead I worried that something was wrong.

And since I am in a griping mood a thing that really ticks me off is that the urologist’s office will not allow my husband to come to appointments with me. Jerry and I operate as a team and particularly when your health is out of kilter and your head may be a little foggy with all that is going on, it is important that your teammate be there so that no aspect of your treatment plan is missed. I understand that these are Covid times but Jerry and I are fully vaccinated and we wear our masks. Now Jerry and I are fortunate that our daughter Maura is a nurse practitioner and when she informed the urology office of her credentials they agreed that she could come with me. Made me feel sorry for contemporary patients of this doctor who are not blessed with their own family medical practitioner.

I fully understand that as one ages various parts of the body are prone to malfunctioning. If one could pick the desired season for body malfunctioning my choice would be winter – not the beautiful Spring weather of the last three weeks. Since my kidney started misbehaving any form of exercise has been ruled out. This would be easier to accept if the weather was not so inviting. In about an hour our daughter Meg will arrive from her home in Pennsylvania for an overnight visit – a love gift that is better than any medicine.

The urologists office just called. I am now officially on the hospital schedule for a procedure next Friday to examine the complex cyst in my left kidney. Is that the culprit? There are several possibilities but the cyst has got to be ruled out first.

Have been amusing myself by googling inspirational quotes – so many to choose from. One that particularly resonates with me is the old Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now”.

TWO WEEKS IN SPRING

OUR EASTER ZOOM GATHERING

These past two weeks have been very special for many reasons. It seems like Spring has just exploded in all its glory with warmer weather, budding and in some cases flowering trees, vibrantly yellow daffodils which contrasted with our purple vinca are pretty spectacular and the many other plants which are starting to push through the soil. New growth, new beginnings abound.

Our bird feeders have a steady flow of colorful customers from the bird population. During the winter we did not see the gold finch or the rosy house finch – now they are regular customers. And thanks to an early birthday gift of binoculars from Maura and Paul I am enjoying the amazing bird colors as never before. I have always been slightly color blind – having a difficult time distinguishing the difference between black and navy blue. As I have gotten older the rich hues of colors do not stand out for me unless I get close. When Jerry would point out the red spot on the downy wood pecker it was not so evident to me. Now with the binoculars I am seeing all the bird colors in their Spring glory.

And , big news, last Wednesday and Thursday, Jerry and I both got our second Covid19 vaccinations. I was unprepared for the feeling of euphoria that this generated. In another eight days we will be finished with the waiting period that follows the second shot. As we inch back toward some degree of normalcy it has been fun to think that some of the restrictions we have been living under will finally be lifted. Since most of our family has been vaccinated it means that our out of town families will now be able to visit and actually stay with us. It means that the pair of sneakers that I so badly need I will actually be able to go inside the mall and purchase in person. I have become pretty adept at online shopping but my feet are not a typical size and require in person shopping. I have not been inside a mall in over a year. Another treat I am contemplating is getting a hair cut. My hair is now longer than it has ever been in my whole life. It has not been cut since a year ago March. This is a big deal for someone who has specialized in short hair for eighty plus years. Some days I like it long and some days not so much.

In the spiritual realm, the three days, the Tridiuum, leading up to Easter, April 4, were marked by meaningful ceremonies. Our church has truly mastered the art of live streaming and if those times don’t work for you, the ceremonies are recorded and available at a time that accommodates different parishioner schedules. It has been since March 2020 that we actually attended church in person. The streaming and the videos have helped to make this bearable.

The Easter Vigil service at our parish, St John Neumann, was particularly moving . Following health department protocols a limited number of parishioners were able to attend. The music, the liturgy, the sermon were all so powerful. I felt like I was there in person. I so clearly remember my mother in her later years – when her mobility was an issue and my priestly brother was not available to gift us with a home mass – my mother would watch mass on television. She got so much out of the experience. I just could not relate to being spiritually moved by a televised ceremony. But now, a year plus into the pandemic, I can.

In my childhood life attending a parochial school meant active participation in the religious ceremonies that defined holy week. I particularly loved Holy Thursday which I remember as standing room only attendance at the evening mass in our parish church.The grade school students processed up and down the aisles of the church. I seem to remember that the youngest students – the last to make their first Holy Communion – wore their attire from that special day. Older students were in cap and gown. Hands were clasped in prayer and there was devotional singing as we processed. I just loved the pageantry and the joy that emanated from that celebration. I certainly was a shy child but I thrived in this group activity.

Easter Sunday this year was full of blessings – aside from the spiritual blessings – there were the family blessings. We shared Easter dinner with our local families sitting outside on the patio around the fire pit. It was such a beautiful day there was barely need for the fire pit but except when the wood is very smoky, it is a soothing presence. Dinner was preceded by a family zoom – twenty-nine family members from California to Rome, Italy put in an appearance. Wanting to make sure we heard from everyone, we asked that each person, speaking for about a minute, share a happy memory. We know that it is not easy for everyone to share like that – even with loving family members. The words that were spoken evoked many treasured memories. We ended our gathering with “Let There Be Peace on Earth”.

The only jarring note in this special time was the two days I spent in the hospital as these special weeks began. I had an attack of acute Afib. It is my third attack in the last year and a half. There are two kinds of Afib – acute and chronic. With the chronic variety you frequently do not know that you have this condition – it is picked up on a routine physical examination. With my version of the acute variety I go in a matter of minutes from feeling great to feeling like I have been hit by a sledge hammer. Following the doctor’s instructions we purchased a blood pressure machine and when these episodes happen I immediately put it to good use. Each time it has shown numbers double and triple my normal heart rate. Jerry and I immediately head to the emergency room of our local hospital. This last attack was absolutely the worst and since I do not tolerate well the meds which would keep these attacks from happening, in about three weeks I will have a surgical procedure which should keep these attacks at bay. I hope so!

Today Jerry and I played online bridge with our cousin Jim in California and my brother Pete who was at his home in McLean. It was challenging and lots of fun. ( This is another on line activity that in person would be best but the online alternative is a good substitute.) We finished around 4pm in plenty of time to take a leisurely neighborhood walk. It was delightful and cinched for me my decision to go ahead with the surgical procedure for my Afib. The medicine route with its resulting muscle pain makes walking not so enjoyable.

Occasionally I like to read about aging to see if I can learn from the thoughts expressed. Recently I came across these words by Betty Friedan that resonated with me. ” Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength”.

MY IRISH HERITAGE

A PURPLE SHAMROCK

It was the 1980’s and St. Patrick’s Day was fast approaching. I was in our local grocery store shopping for the ingredients for a special St. Patrick’s Day meal. The produce section had a feature on purple shamrocks for $4.99. I had not intended to purchase any plants – we were pretty well stocked in that regard – but I was intrigued by the purple shamrock display. I had never seen this plant before. Growing up in a family proud of its Irish heritage we had specialized in green shamrock plants for March 17th. But I succumbed to the plant display and went home with one of these interesting plants, actually the one pictured above. It has grown and flowered in the past thirty plus years. In 1990 it survived our move from southern Maryland to Northern Virginia. It is an absolute beauty!!!

I am particularly fond of our purple shamrock because I find it symbolic of Irish beauty and strength and durability. And it has been with us for so long it is part of our family lore. Both my mother and father were of Irish descent. My father’s parents who were born in Ireland were married in Peoria, Illinois – she was not yet 20, he was in his late 20’s. What my brother Pete and I would just like to know is did they come to the States planning to marry or was theirs a romance that flourished on American soil. We don’t know why they were married in Illinois, but we do know that after their marriage they then lived in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York. When my father was a young toddler the family moved to New Jersey where two more sons were born. I have few memories of these grandparents. From my father I learned that they were hard working, strong willed but loving parents. Grandfather died before I was born and my grandmother died when I was 7. Since my own family lived on Long Island and grandmother lived in New Jersey and because we had no car, visiting was difficult. Moreover, my mother unfortunately did not feel welcomed by her mother-in-law who would call and invite my father to come visit and to please bring his oldest son with him. Mom and Pete and I were excluded from the invite.

My mother’s parents, also of Irish heritage, met when they were both students at Cornell University in the 1890’s. They were married in 1900 after Grandfather had attained prominence in the legal field in his home town of Ithaca and had been appointed a judge. My uncle Don was born in 1901 and my mother and her twin sister in 1903. These precious children were denied much time with their mother, Margaret O’Shea McAllister, because she succumbed to cancer in 1905. A memorial pamphlet published after her death talked of a loving, caring, generous and very musical woman. Years later my grandfather remarried. Nana was an amazing woman who took on the role of mother to three young children with gusto and efficiency. My Mom, with tremendous appreciation for her step mother, would occasionally express to me, during that final year of her life when she lived with us, her regrets that she had never gotten to know her own mother who was always described as such a gentle soul.

Grandfather Mc Allister was one of my most favorite older relatives. He died when I was eleven. He had a quiet strength that made his kindness and goodness all the more powerful . I loved him very much.

My mother’s family was probably as proud of their Irish heritage as Pop’s family. But that did not mean that the families really clicked. When Leon Uris’s TRINITY was published in 1976 my mother was totally absorbed by this tale of Ireland. She was particularly taken by the strong matriarchal figure (unfortunately I can not remember the character’s name ) who plays a dominant role in the story. I read the book when it first came out before sharing it with my mother. Mom kept repeating as she read the sections of TRINITY that focused on this woman, ” I wish this book had been written when your Dad and I were first married. It would have so helped me to better understand my mother-in-law.”

Growing up we always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. It was very easy for Pop to start speaking with a brogue – a gift he passed on to his children. Facility with the Irish brogue stood me in good stead when I attended an all girls Catholic high school and joined the theater club. We put on two major plays a year and since the moderator of the club was Irish with a fondness for putting on Irish plays – with my brogue facility I always got a part. Pop’s brogue was particularly evident on March 17. Dinner was usually corned beef and cabbage and and there was always the wearing of something green – a tie, a bow, a shirt or blouse with easily noticed green in its design, a paper shamrock, etc.

I was always proud of my Irishness !!! Just based on my own family I thought being Irish meant you were caring and strong willed and blessed with ” the gift of the gab.” Since I was trying to figure out my future in life these traits seemed like good ones to have. Growing up we lived on a ethnically diverse street which though primarily Jewish had a sprinkling of Protestant, and I believe two other Catholic families. Two of my closest friends on the street were Jewish. They honored my holidays and I honored theirs.

When my brothers attended high school in New York City the St Patrick’s Day parade, going down Fifth Avenue, assumed major importance in our lives. Students from their military academy school marched in the parade. I hoped the high school I chose would offer the same opportunity. I thought my brothers and their classmates looked so important and so handsome as they came marching by. I loved going to the parade with my parents. There was a contagious air of excitement in the city that seemed to emanate from the parade.

My high school which celebrated St Patrick’s Day with a very festive enthusiasm, did not march in the St. Patrick’s parade. But Marymount College NYC which I attended for a year and a half to gain the necessary college credits which were a prerequisite for admittance to Cornell University’s Nursing program – Marymount did march in the parade. My brothers were at this time one in college and the other in the seminary so I was now the representative family member in the parade. I marched in two parades before moving on to nursing school.

When it was again time for the St. Patty’s parade and we were having a break from nursing school classes, I invited some of my dorm mates to join me in heading over to Fifth Avenue to watch the parade. As of old I was swept up in the excitement of the parade, and so were my friends, some of whom had never seen a St Patrick’s Day parade of this magnitude. When the cadets from my brothers’ old high school appeared in the distance I felt the same thump, thump of my heart that I used to feel as a young school girl. And then they got very close and I got a good look at these handsome young marchers whose predecessors had set my heart to going pitter patter. “Young” is the key word here. They looked so young to me. It was my first time experiencing an “in your face” reminder of the passage of time. I was now all of 19 years old – almost 20!

When I graduated from Cornell, and moved to Washington,D.C. getting an apartment originally with just two friends, we brought with us our family traditions. St Patrick’s Day was appropriately celebrated. And when Jerry and I married and raised our family we always gave due honor to the patron saint of Ireland. One is not any less American because they are proud of their Irish heritage.

Like our prized purple shamrock I have found the Irish family and friends who have been part of my life to be strong and durable , with a contagious sense of self and with pride in their Irish heritage. There are so many quotes that well express Irish wisdom. One I like: “You have got to do your own growing, no matter how tall your father was.”

BACKYARD VISITORS FROM THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

VIEW OF THE BIRDS, BIRD FEEDERS AND SUET NEXT TO OUR PATIO

Since – due to the the pandemic- we were not heading to Florida for the cold months, several decisions had to be made – some were of consequence, some not so much. As I have previously blogged, visible from our kitchen, we have for years had a hummingbird feeder hanging from a pole in the small garden area next to our patio. The feeder gives us much pleasure from early Spring till the cold of Fall. Ever since our son-in -law Paul introduced us to hummingbirds a number of years ago we have been hooked on these smallest of birds. When the hummingbirds leave we have left up the feeder until our Florida departure because “a” the feeder is attractive and “b” because “why not” – what else would we put there. A couple of Christmas times we did try replacing the feeder – putting on its pole a Christmas wreath which was appropriate during the Christmas season extending till early January when we left for Florida.

Now in pandemic time we decided we needed a more long term something to hang from the pole. And since the hummingbird feeder gave us so much pleasure why not try a regular bird feeder. In late October we hung the first feeder. Initially we moved the pole farther from the house thinking that if we wanted to attract some of the colorful birds who occasionally paid a visit to our yard, we couldn’t have the feeder too close to the house. Closeness to the house was not an issue for the hummingbirds but we thought it might be an issue for the bigger birds. After a slow start the word must have gotten out in the bird world that our yard was the place to come for good dining.The bird feeder got so much action that we felt we were missing out on not being able to see our bird visitors up close. In early November we bought a smaller feeder and put that next to the patio. We didn’t realize that that the cylindrical, supposedly squirrel resistant feeders -which might look alike – actually came with feeder apertures for different size birds. The second feeder we soon learned was for smaller birds. Now this feeder got so much action from the smaller birds, we decided to also move the first feeder to the patio garden so the bigger birds who were somewhat comically attempting to eat from the second feeder would leave that for the smaller birds. Closeness to our house was not an issue for any of the birds – big or small. We also added a suet feeder for the birds dining pleasure.

I like to think of last three months as our bird honeymoon period. We were treated to such an array of cardinals, bluebirds, yellow birds, wrens, woodpeckers and mystery birds whose names we didn’t know. Mystery birds led to our buying the Field Guide to the BIRDS OF EASTERN North America by National Geographic and the Field Guide Birds of Virginia – both excellent resources that have given us more background on the birds we recognize and help us to identify the birds we do not know.

I have always loved blue birds but could never attract them to our backyard. We even bought a special blue bird house that supposedly would entice the blue birds, but no luck. When the bird feeders went up the blue birds came. It made me wonder if there was some kind of life lesson that was to be learned from the arrival of the blue birds. When I wanted them so badly they never came. When I stopped focusing on them and just generally wanted to attract the bird population, they came. Seeing these beauties up close has been such a treat – their vibrant blue color stands out.

The only blight on our bird “honeymoon ” was the tenacious persistence of the squirrels as they worked to empty the feeders. Squirrels are incredibly athletic and persistent with an amazing ability to shimmy up the bird feeder pole. We have taken to greasing the poles. I must confess to a feeling of tremendous pleasure one afternoon when after a thorough pole greasing I looked out and saw a squirrel laboriously working his way up one of the poles and just as he reached the feeder, he slid down backwards. And then he just scampered away.

Toward the end of January our bird “honeymoon ” came to an end. The backyard was invaded by what we think are grackles – and more specifically – after consulting our reference books – the common grackle. They arrive in flocks, sometimes there are as many as twenty, descending on the two feeders and devouring all the seed in short order. In the past two weeks we have gone through a fifteen pound bag of wild bird seed. Not only are the grackle invasions pricy but they chase away the precious bird population that we have been enjoying so much.

Fortunately the grackles are very skittish – all we have to do is knock at the windows or start to open the kitchen door and they fly into our trees – waiting till they think the coast is clear. Now it is great that the grackles are so easily scared off but the problem is they are quick to come back. We could easily turn into full time grackle police as we work to retain our backyard bird sanctuary.

Part of life is making decisions about how we spend our time. As we get older time becomes even more precious. Standing guard against the grackles is not my ideal way to spend time. Life offers so many possibilities for time spending : being present to family and friends, church involvement, political involvement, playing golf and bridge, taking long walks, reading , writing – the list goes on. I like to ponder the words of Robert Louis Stevenson, ” Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant”.

LOOKING BACK – LOOKING FORWARD

Looking forward – January 2021 providing an amazing setting sun

2020 has finally come to a close. Many wonderful things happened in this past year but i am heaving a sigh of relief that it has come to an end. The many incredible memory moments with family and friends were mixed with sadness. Les – the best man at our wedding died of Covid 19. Eloise – an old friend of more than fifty years – died of cancer. Jerry and Les had been friends since college. He and his wife, Maureen, continued to be our close friends down through the years. When Les was admitted to memory care it was a difficult reality for us to accept.

We met Eloise and her husband through our local parish church. When Jerry volunteered to teach religious instruction to one of the two fifth grade classes at the church he was assigned to observe Eloise’s husband Joe who was experienced in teaching this age group. The fact that Eloise and Joe were our contemporaries and that their four children were close in age to our five, made it very easy for our families to become close. And in the “it’s a small world category,” after we had been friends for over ten years, we discovered that Eloise had been the boarding school roommate of another close friend of ours.

Covid 19 and the restrictions on daily life that it brings with it have been at times very difficult to deal with. But with loving family and good friends, and technology – zoom gatherings that now stretch from California to Rome,Italy, and the fact that Jerry and I both enjoy bridge and scrabble (we are now playing both games electronically) and golf – we are able to stay pleasantly busy. The pandemic is so much easier on us than on our children and grandchildren. They have had to deal with school disruptions, family and social disruptions, work disruptions. It has not been easy. We are very proud of them.

Being a political junkie I have found the four years of Donald Trump’s administration very difficult to accept. And the fact that he still refuses to accept the election results is for me a nightmare. I can not wait till he is no longer “sucking the oxygen” out of our political landscape. He seems to thrive on dividing the country. It does not appear that he focuses on the needs of the county he was four years ago elected to lead. I will be happy when he is gone and when his family is gone.

This evening we had a fire pit dinner on the patio with our two local families. It was very special as Jerry invited those who wanted to to share New Years resolutions. Some did and some didn’t and that was just fine. I have always liked the concept of new beginnings and the start of a new year is the perfect new beginning. I was going to say something about the political climate – a topic that frequently comes up in our politically involved family but it seemed that moving into that area of conversation might have a negative effect on the prevailing caring vibes that were dominating our gathering.

When I am feeling down about about the future both politically and socially, about lack of justice and lack of caring, about what the future holds for our children and grandchildren, it is our same children and grandchildren who make me hopeful.

For example – today, January 2 is Granddaughter Annie’s birthday. Annie is a Teach for America volunteer in Florida in a Miami – Dade school. She graduated from the University of Virginia this past year. Except of course, thanks to Covid, there was no real graduation. Annie teaches Intro to Reading to 7th and 8th graders. Her students are from minority backgrounds;. Having attended a local public school in an affluent community she was not prepared for the poverty and overcrowding and lack of supplies she would experience in the school she was assigned to. One would think this would have been an essential aspect of the Teach for America training.

My own father who put himself through law school by teaching in a New York City public school and who graduated into the Depression could never afford to give up the financial security teaching provided as he and my mother worked to develop their own law practice. My father taught minority students in a low income area. Though Pop”s students and Annie’s students were and are from minority backgrounds I never heard my father say that his school was short on supplies or on such basic needs as chairs for the students. I never felt that he thought his school did not provide the rudimentary supplies needed for facilitating effective teaching.

When Annie arrived for her first day of in-person teaching Introduction to Reading, there were seats for 20 seventh and eighth graders. Over 30 students had been assigned to her class. When she questioned the lack of space and appropriate seating, the school administration eventually and randomly removed 10 plus students from her class and they were placed with another school employee – not a qualified teacher – who did the best he could which was having these students spend their days on paper work. Finally a qualified substitute teacher was found to work with these students. But until that happened warm hearted, caring Annie had to deal daily with the displaced students coming to her classroom door begging her to take them back. It was not Annie’s decision – it was an administrative decision. Right before Annie left for Christmas vacation, her own classroom teacher’s desk collapsed and just fell apart. I wonder how long it will take to get that repaired.

Annie teaches a total of 135 students. She has forty students per on-line class – 28 of whom regularly attend and now there are about 20 students in each of her in-person classes. Annie loves her students and I think they they realize they are very blessed to have her in their lives. One of her students even called her to wish her happy birthday.

Jerry and I and our contemporaries are probably now past the point age wise and health wise where we can make a significant impact politically or socially. But we must continue to be supportive of those ideals we believe in. I like to ponder the words of C.S. Lewis, ” You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” And we are never too old to appreciate a magnificent sunset!!!

ADVENT MEMORIES

OUR ADVENT WREATH

In this time of political turmoil – when will Trump stop claiming that he won the election, etc – it is renewing and spiritually uplifting to focus on the Advent season and the days leading up to Christmas. I have always loved this liturgical season. A week ago our two local families joined us for dinner . We placed our Advent wreath in the center of our socially distant family circle and lit two of the four candles since it was the second Sunday of Advent. Husband Jerry led us in prayer. It was a brief but meaningful start to our family gathering.

In the center of the wreath is a slightly falling apart Christmas angel. This is the first Christmas ornament that Jerry and I bought sixty years ago as we prepared to celebrate our first Christmas together. The angel used to have a place of honor on our Christmas trees but as it got more fragile we moved it to a more protected spot in the center of our Advent wreath. A lot of memories have faded for me but not when we bought this angel. Since we were newly married we had no Christmas decorations. One Saturday in early December 1960 we went shopping for Christmas decorations. It was so important to me that the first ornament we purchased would have special meaning. When we found the little angel, she fulfilled all our requirements. The angel is faded and a bit worn now – but then perhaps so are we.

The pandemic is not conducive to spending a lot of time on Christmas decorating because who is going to actually see the decorations. Though our local families come weekly to share Sunday dinner they are only in our house briefly because they are so conscientious about social distancing. We gather around the fire pit – weather permitting – on the patio, or in our garage with heat lamps. The garage might actually sound like a strange setting for family gatherings but we are fortunate to have an oversized two car garage which without cars in place is really quite roomy. Though as it gets colder and there is a weather induced need to keep the garage doors closed, the local families may each start coming on alternate weeks because social distancing in a garage where the doors are closed is not conducive to good social distancing.

My negative thoughts about decorating were actually short lived. We are not going to let Covid 19 dictate our holiday decorations. It will show its annoying presence in limiting our holiday get togethers but we are decorating according to our family traditions. The Advent wreath, the Creche or Manger, the wreath on our front door, the ropes of evergreens wrapped around our stair railings, the Christmas stockings I made for each of the children when they were small, the Christmas stockings that our daughter Maura crocheted for Jerry and me when she was a young teen, the Christmas star where Jerry, Maura, Joe, Jim and Meg each decorated one of the points of the star which has graced the tops of our Christmas trees since 1976, these and many more Christmas treasures are gradually being lovingly placed around the house. Grandson Jimmy started a collection of Christmas figures for us in, I think it was 2008. It is a collection which we treasure. We have so many Christmas treasures from our children, grandchildren and friends – we have always honored these treasures and will continue to do so this year.

When the children were small we had only one Christmas manger- along with the Advent Wreath it was a staple of our Christmas decorating. In early December we put the stable, with its animals on a prominent shelf in the far end of our living room. Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus, and the Shepards and the Wise Men were placed on a table at the entrance to the living room. We talked with the children about the meaning of the Manger. They were allowed to play with the figures and as the days passed they were encouraged to slowly move them around the room, closer to the waiting Creche. With five small children playing with these ceramic figures, the figures gradually lost an appendage or two but Jerry and I were OK with that. We wanted the Christmas story to be real for our children.

We were not opposed to focusing on Santa Claus during the Christmas season. We just did not want the visitor from the North Pole to be the main focus.

From an early age, our children loved performing. They were very excited when we proposed a Christmas tableau of the Manger scene. The performance took place on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I think this tradition started the year son Jerry was 4. He was a natural to be Joseph; Maura age three was Mary; Joe age two was a shepherd; six month old Jim in his infant seat was Baby Jesus. The following year the tableau was repeated – Jim at age one and a half became a shepherd and 6 week old Meg was Baby Jesus. I don’t know how many years we repeated this tableau but it is a memory I will always treasure.

Our family was blessed to have two wonderful sets of grandparents who doted on their grandchildren. Jerry was an only child but I had two older brothers, Bud was a Jesuit priest who spoiled us with his love, his caring and his home masses. When he died several years ago he left a void that will never be filled. My brother Pete and his wife Louise and their four daughters have always been an amazing and meaningful part of our life and our holiday celebrations. With the passage of time and the growth in our family sizes we no longer spend the actual holidays together. But we continue to get together for a brunch and a Christmas sing a long. Though in this year of Covid 19 there will be no sing a long.

This past Thursday and Jerry and I went shopping for our Christmas tree. In our sixty years of married life we have always had a big tree. In recent years it has gotten harder for us to actually put up and decorate a big tree and to take it down when the time came. Just as when we were newlyweds we searched for a meaningful first ornament, now we wanted a pretty but very manageable little tree. Such a purchase was an unspoken acknowledgement of our age and our capabilities. It was a bit difficult to accept but it was the right thing to do. When we brought the tree home we placed it on the now empty sturdy storage container where we stored all our Christmas lights. Covering the container with a green material that perfectly hides the container, it provides a pleasing and stable resting place for the tree. And once Jerry put the lights on the tree and we put our cherished star in place we were captivated by the tree. It is truly lovely. The decorations that used to adorn our big trees are now displayed in various easy to manage ways around the house.

The restricted socialization brought about by Covid 19 is at times difficult to accept. But it does promote introspection during this special Advent time. As Fr Joe Brennan OSFS recently wrote in our parish newsletter: “As challenging as these times are for us, I pray that all of us live in the hope that our faith proclaims that our God loves us so much that he sent us a savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. May our hope be expressed in the way we treat one another, especially the least among us”

Photo by granddaughter Claire – last night’s family gathering around
the fire pit, as we said prayers for the third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete!!!

INTERREGNUM

Joe Biden speaking at Wilmington , Delaware rally the night he was declared President-elec and the interregnum began

According to the Merriam -Webster dictionary, ‘interregnum” is 1: the time during which a throne is vacant between two successive reigns or regimes. 2: a period during which during the normal functions of government or control are suspended. Our beloved country is right now experiencing a bewildering interregnum. The current occupant of the White House has lost his bid for reelection but won’t acknowledge the reality of what has happened. In about two months he will either leave the White House on his own or be escorted from it. During the days leading up to the election and now with the election results being disputed by Trump with no evidence to prove his baseless claims, I still worry about our country and what the American future might have held for our children and grandchildren if there were four more years of Trump’s questionable leadership.

Election night was not a good sleeping night. When Florida was called for Trump I was really concerned about what lay ahead. I like to think of myself as someone who is open to opposing points of view in many areas including the political arena. But since Trump came into power I am not so open politically. He lies – his followers say that is fake news – but when you can yourself see the video where he is expounding falsehoods – how can these untruths be classified as fake news. He is demeaning of women, the handicapped, the men and women serving our country in the armed forces, war heroes, etc.

There is video proof of all these behaviors. I find it particularly annoying to be told “he is just rough around the edges”. And he has lied about his finances. His handling of the pandemic is absolutely disgraceful – thousands of lives have been lost needlessly.

I have always been so proud to be an American. Trump has successfully diminished that feeling in me and now with his refusal to acknowledge his election loss I am finding this “interregnum” period very stressful. Trump is a cry baby and a sore looser. So far his refusal to open the government to Biden’s transition team is both a national security risk and a health risk. There must be coordination between the two administrations so the Biden coronavirus team can” hit the ground running”. Trump has from the beginning publicly downplayed the significance of the pandemic. I have come to believe that while he might be a great showman he does not really care about the people he governs.

Pandemic cases and deaths are rising. But there is hope in the announcements of the viability of two vaccines. But they won’t be available immediately. There is a lot of preparation that must be done to facilitate the distribution of the vaccine. Trump has not been to a Covid task force meeting in five months. It is comforting that Joe Biden has made the pandemic one of his top priorities and has put together a team of top scientists.But there must be interaction between Trump’s pandemic team and the team Biden has put together. There is so much work to do and Trump’s delay in accepting the election results could be responsible for many more unnecessary Covid deaths.

The political and social devisions in the country today seem so glaring and at times almost insurmountable. I certainly have been aware of such divisions down through the years but they have never effected me so powerfully as today’s unrest. I think so much about what the future holds for our children and our grandchildren. I am taken aback by the number of folks who voted for Trump, How can anybody want four more years of his obnoxious behavior? I feel hopeful when Joe Biden says that he will be the President for all Americans – that is what the office implies, that is what it means. In Trump’s refusal to concede the election he exhibits the behavior of someone looking after his own needs and not those of the county he is supposedly serving.

Ten years ago Jerry and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. It was such a special occasion where our children , our grandchildren and precious friends gathered to celebrate with us. There was good food, lots of meaningful toasts, singing and dancing. One of our granddaughters called recently to chat and brought up the subject of our 50th celebration. She said that her memory was of such a happy gathering – she would have been eight at that time. We were planning on a similar celebration for our 60th which this year falls on Thanksgiving Day. I have always loved Thanksgiving celebrations and it just seemed so appropriate that our 60th fell on Thanksgiving when we had so much to be thankful for. Of course there is no way we can duplicate the 50th. In the past ten years we have lost dear friends; there has been the intrusion of health issues; some of our family structures have changed. Ten years ago we had a family portrait done and we wanted to update that to include the blessed additions to our family.

With the unrelenting pandemic we scaled back plans for our celebration. And then just started wondering if we should have any gathering at all. Finally our children decided that they would spread out their coming over three days to cut down on possible exposure. We wouldn’t have more than two families here at one time. It seemed like such a good plan but the more we reflected on our out of town families who would be making the trip back and forth on the same day we felt that it was too much of an act of love to let them do. We sent a group text to them all uninviting them and saying that it was old school to make a big deal about a 60th anniversary, that the modern way was to focus on the 61st.

Some might say that since the term” interregnum” was originally used to denote the time between the end of one royal reign and the beginning of another, it was not appropriate to use it as the title for this blog. I disagree. Trump has violated so many of our democratic norms he acts like one who believes he is royalty. He must concede. He must do what he can to promote a smooth transition of power. Where Trump’s focus appears to be focusing on promoting discord, Biden is focusing on bringing together the very divergent groups in our society.

It is inspiring that Biden even after his personal hardships and his failed Presidential attempts never let go of his dream of being President. I am very moved when he recites the words of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney: “History says, don’t hope on this side of the grave. But then, once in a lifetime the longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme. “

AMERICAN DEMOCRACY

According to the dictionary democracy is ” a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”

Since I wrote about the importance of voting in my last blog I was moving to a different topic this time around but I can’t seem to – I am consumed by those who are casual about this election. I just do not understand where they are coming from. We have recently watched the leader of our country who was himself stricken with Covid 19 – the virus which he said was “just going away “- make a Hollywood type departure from his three days at Walter Reed Hospital to return to the White House. While still at Walter Reed the President blithely tweeted advice to the American public – ” Don’t be afraid of Covid – I feel better than I have felt in years.” This from the man who has had the best medical care that this country can offer. And who has been on high doses of cortisone which can promote a false sense of euphoria. It was hoped that his brush with Covid would lead him to a more realistic approach to this deadly virus. It does not seem to have been the case. When Marine One returned him to the White House, the president climbed the steps to the south portico, obviously short of breath as he stood there gazing out, and proceeded to remove his mask. This was supposed to reassure the American people???

The President appears to have no concern for those around him: how his travels, his campaigning events, his social events – all of which disregard public health guidelines for containing the virus – are super spreaders for this disease. Until we get a vaccine, the most effective tools we have for curbing the virus are social distancing and mask wearing. Presently over 224 thousand people have died from the virus. Trump seems oblivious to the reality that most Americans are living.

Jerry and I have already deposited our ballots in the drop box at our local Government Center. I have no patience with attempts to paint early voting and absentee ballots as fraught with the possibility for fraud. Our experience was of organization and competence.

This is our country, our democracy. It is a prize possession and we must not value it lightly. And we must not let the core beliefs and teachings of our democracy be taken from us. I grew up accepting that the United States was the greatest country in the world but I don’t think I ever really stopped to ponder what made it so. It was my nineteen years with the Naomi Project – the mentoring program for high risk pregnant and newly parenting women that I started, directed and co- directed – that really brought home to me the meaning and the many values of a democracy. The majority of the women we worked with had sacrificed so much in leaving their native countries to come to America for a better life. Their first hand experience of poverty, mental abuse, physical abuse, social unrest , political turmoil was for me a graphic lesson on the value of a democracy.

I wanted to get actively involved in the election process earlier but health issues, the needs of some sick friends and some other commitments made that difficult. About two weeks ago I signed up for phone banking. The day before my scheduled phone banking commitment I went through a nation wide training ( over a 1000 volunteers participated) and was awed by how organized and scripted and over whelming the phone calling procedure is this time around. Four years ago when Jerry and I both made calls in the presidential race, we were handed a list of names and phone numbers, given a desk to sit at, a phone to use and encouraged to get started. The experience of going from almost no instruction to an overabundance of instruction was a bit daunting but definitely necessary. This time a phone calling tool would be making the actual calls and the job of the volunteer was to access this tool, to speak to voters and to quickly electronically record the results of the call before the phone calling device moved you on to the next call. There were about 45 seconds between calls. In this training there were so many electronic instructions. I could not help but think all these electronic instructions would be easier for Atar, our 13 year old granddaughter ! If I didn’t want to do this so badly – the present occupant of the White House must not be reelected – I would have given up.

Our son Jerry heads up his neighborhood Democratic Club in New York City. I decided to do my phone calls under the auspices of his club. There are so many opportunities for volunteering locally I was finding it very confusing. And since phone banks call various states decided on by the Democratic Party it really didn’t make much difference which phone bank I volunteered with. That turned out to be a smart decision on my part. Jerry, working with a co -captain, was heading up his clubs training. I only wish I had realized they were providing their own training. It was clear, concise and actually pretty easy to follow. After about a half hour training we started making calls. It was at times frustrating – when somehow a Republican’s name and phone number had made its way on to the only Democrats list that we were calling – but for the most part it was very rewarding. Our purpose was to stress to the Democrats we talked with the importance of this election and the value of their individual vote. If they had not already voted we urged them to make a voting plan. If they had voting questions we either answered them – if we could – or referred them on to those who would be able to do so.

Two calls stand out for me. Both of them were early voters. One was with a young man who felt so strongly about the election. He had a contagious enthusiasm for the privilege of voting. He kept thanking me for volunteering to be part of a phone bank. I wished that Gen Z members who are on the fence about voting could catch some of this young man’s enthusiasm.

The other was a with a woman who had just voted that day. She was very pleased with herself because voting lines were so long in her neighborhood but she had found a time to go when the lines were not that bad. She was sharing that information with her friends.

I will be phone banking one more time before the election. It makes me feel like I am doing something positive to preserve our democracy. As has been said, the best definition of democracy is “government by the people”. Every vote counts!!!

ELECTION THOUGHTS


“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words, and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.” – Dorothy Day.

For me these words of Dorothy Day ring so true in this troubled time of Covid 19, mixed with pre election hype, worries and fears. As I write this there are thirty- nine days till Election Day. The current occupant of the White House has said that unless he wins he may not accept the election results. His attempts to discredit mail in balloting are particularly disturbing in this pandemic time. My husband and I do not wish to do in person voting. About a month ago we applied for our mail in ballots. They have now arrived and today we will fill them out and hand deliver them to the drop box in our election district. Within the next week we plan to start participating in one of the political phone banks in our area but if there is none that works with our schedule, we will join the one run by the local Democratic Club in New York City headed up by our oldest son. These electronic times make so many things possible.

Born into a politically concerned family and carrying on the family tradition, I confess to being a political junkie and to always being intensely interested in the national elections and in state contests. When the children were young I joined the League of Women Voters – an activist group which helped me to stay abreast of current political issues and had a not too demanding commitment for a young mother with an expanding family.

I so clearly remember the 1960 election which occurred just a couple of weeks before Jerry and I were married. John Kennedy was a Catholic. I appreciated and supported his liberal views and certainly took pleasure in his Catholicism.

Al Smith, in 1928, was the first Catholic to be nominated for President. My beloved Uncle Jim – Aunt Marg’s husband – was part of the law firm that bore Al Smith’s name. From early on my brothers and I heard of Smith’s qualifications to be President but that he had been denied the honor because of his Catholicism. So it is no wonder that I took pleasure in the nomination of the second Catholic, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I also felt a very remote but personal connection to Kennedy. His daughter Carolyn was born in 1957 at New York Hospital where I was a nursing student. Kennedy became friendly with Monsignor Wilders , the hospital chaplain who later officiated at Jerry’s and my wedding. Monsignor Wilders asked Kennedy if he would speak before the Newman Club – the Catholic club at the medical center for nursing students and medical students. Meeting attendance jumped from about thirty to over two hundred which with very short notice was pretty impressive.

Our daughter Maura was 7 months old and our son Jerry was 22 months old when Kennedy was assassinated. I remember that morning so well – going out to to our mailbox coincidently as the same time as our next door neighbor. She called over to me crying, “Have you heard the news? The President has been shot! ” I was in disbelief and hurried back in to my husband who was working from home that day. We turned on the TV and got the horrible details.

With sadness and determination the country eventually moved on from the death of Kennedy. With the ensuing years there have been many episodes of political unrest not only around the world but in our own country. But never in my memory has the political climate been so worrisome as it is in this election time.

Th United States has always been a beacon of hope, and of possibility and of democracy. We want our children and our nineteen wonderful grandchildren to experience the full possibilities of their country which is now definitely under fire. Can American democeacy survive a White House occupant who seems prepared to do whatever it takes to disregard election results and continue in office? I hope and pray so but it certainly is very scary.

Anyone who is eligible to vote must exercise this important right and obligation that comes with living in our democracy. This is not a special obligation of any particular age group. It is the duty of all who are eligible to vote. I have heard some, whose Democratic candidate was not chosen, say that while they do not want the current president to continue in office they can not bring themselves to vote for the Democratic candidate since he was not their original choice. There is not an option to not vote. The present occupant of the White House must be defeated by a landslide. our democracy is at stake!!!

As Al Smith famously said, “All the ills of democracy can be cured by more democracy”.