Wednesday, November 25, 2020

COVIDiary: Pandemic Thanksgiving

The pumpkin pies are chillin'. The spinach mornay has all its cheesy goodness stirred up, ready for baking. And the cornbread dressing, with the sauteed onions and celery and corny-breadiness lending a heavenly aroma to my home, is patiently awaiting the fine turkey drippings from daughter's star attraction tomorrow. A fairly normal night-before-Thanksgiving. 

Except it's not.

We'll be about a third of our usual Thanksgiving crowd, paring way down, and sticking to the immediate family to stay safe. We'll miss seeing everyone. We'll miss everyone's special recipes. 

Still. I'm thankful. I'm thankful that most of the family has avoided coronavirus so far, and the ones who have been laid low have recovered. 

I'm thankful we - and the teachers - have survived virtual school. 

I'm thankful I'm still semi-gainfully employed (The gainful part is in question.) 

I'm thankful we elected a normal, respectable person to lead our country and pray we can recover from the last four years. 

I'm thankful I can read and write. I'm thankful I have a comfy bed and a big ol' bathtub. 

Mostly I'm thankful for my family. Which is why we're staying as safe as we know how this weird holiday season. 

Tomorrow will be great. It will be memorable. The goal: To eat till our buttons pop and survive to see the new year.

And, of course, to be as thankful as can be for love, laughter, and good health.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

COVIDiary: What to Get Me for Christmas

Nothing. Please. Nothing.

This has everything and nothing to do with the current pandemic. It's really not the year to get twisted into knots about what to buy me. 

I don't need more stuff. And what I do need can't be bought. Sleep. More time and adventures with the grandkids, family, and friends. Peace of mind. Continued good health. Time. 

So please no gifts. Please. 

Christmas is my very favorite time of year. What most people hate about it, I love - all the carols, all the lights, the hustle-bustle, too-full calendar. All the corny stuff. And I love Baby Jesus. Santa.  A live Christmas tree. Lights. Peppermint. Pine. Cinnamon. Oranges. All of it. I love. 

But the prezzies? Nah. Don't need 'em. Please, nothing for me. 

And for the record, I'm not buying you anything, either. The only ones on my list getting gifts are the grandkids, because - you know - grandkids.

If you've already bought my gift, keep it for yourself or donate it. I truly do not want anything for Christmas, including any guilt that will ensue if you get me something and I have nothing for you (because I won't have anything for you).

So sit back and enjoy your November and December without wondering what to get me for Christmas. And that will be my gift to you. 

P.S. - I love Christmas cards. Be sure to send me those.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Dear Trump Supporters: Now It's Your Turn to Listen

Four years ago, millions of us were gutted to find Donald Trump elected president. How could this happen? What had we missed about folks who decided that this carnival barker of a man would be better at running the country than a brilliant, experienced woman? So the three million more of us who had voted for the smart woman were told to stand down and to spend time understanding the Trump voter - this mythical "heartland" voter. 

As a daughter of the South, I already knew - though I'll never understand - the Trump voter. They are family. They are friends. I know what drives them and what they're afraid of. I've listened to the fears. I've listened to the hopes. 

Many are one-issue voters - abortion, guns. Many come from a homogeneous background - white, Protestant or evangelical, consider themselves the "real" Americans, triggered by words like "socialism." Others see their world changing in a way that leaves them afraid and confused. And when constantly told that the "other" is taking your job, your way of life, killing babies, and coming after your guns, folks will follow anyone who promises to put a stop to whatever they're afraid of, whether it's bullshit or not.

Got it. 

Now, Trump voter, it's your turn. It's time for you to tuck away your fears and preconceived notions about us. You need to listen and really hear what millions and millions of us think. We outnumber you, so trying to understand us will be to your benefit. 

Like you, we represent a wide range of beliefs, fears, and hopes. 

Like you, we consider ourselves moral and patriotic. 

Like you, we want what's best for our country and the people - all the people - who live here. 

Unlike you, we're not a very homogeneous group racially, culturally, economically, politically.

Unlike you, we do tend to live in cities and their suburbs because cities are the financial, educational, and cultural centers, Cities are where the jobs are. Cities are more accepting - or ignoring - of differences. So, yes, a lot of folks who live in large population centers aren't white. Many have different religious views. They are centers of the richest of the rich, poorest of the poor, and everything in between. 

There are a lot more "unlike yous" that you need to understand, but those differences are as varied and personal as there are individuals. 

We are certainly not politically monolithic. We range from solid center - even a little right of center - to left-wing radical. In fact, we're all over the place politically. I know this frustrates you. It sometimes frustrates me. But I believe our crazy political spectrum is a strength, not a weakness. I'm proud that we don't have to tick off all the center/left boxes to work for good. 

So. Now it's your turn. You have to wonder why this country and cities around the world took to the streets to celebrate the defeat and downfall of Donald Trump. If you don't wonder or don't want to know, I invite you to come out of your very protective comfort zone and learn about us. 

Honestly, I'm not feeling very kumbiya at the moment. I'm over trying to understand you. It's time for you to take the time and effort to understand me. 

I don't know if any hearts and minds will be changed. But we all have to live and work and play in this country together. We are all citizens of the United States. It is in our best interest to at least find some common ground.

The ball is in your court, Trump supporter. I'm ready when you are.

COVIDiary: Light in the Darkness. Finally.


Tuesday, November 03, 2020

COVIDiary: Vote2020

Please, God. For the sake of John Lewis, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and those of us still living and breathing in this land, end the nightmare that started four years ago tonight. Amen. #BidenHarris2020

Thursday, October 22, 2020

COVIDiary: What a Long, Strange Trip

Sigh. A long, strange never-ending trip. 

We're finishing up the 9th week of virtual school, and I'm still in awe of the teachers. The amount of work they put into ensuring a variety of teaching methods, learning tools, apps and off-computer assignments that allows for just about every learning style is truly amazing. They seem to work around the clock, as assignments come through at all hours of the day and night. 

As a writer I'm particularly impressed with the amount of writing the kids have to do, both the 2nd graders and the 5th graders. All are getting well-schooled in grammar and parts of speech. Punctuation, capitalization, and neat handwriting count. Dramatic and information narratives, short dramas, and writing exercises for, yes, language arts, but also math, science, and social studies are required several times a week. Glad they're all getting lots of practice in expressing themselves effectively.

Virtual learning has its ups and downs - so much freedom and variety, but a lot of extra work for everyone (especially the teachers) and just plain ol' missing the structure of being at school, being with friends. 

And I have to admit - inwardly screaming, actually - that I'm tired. Working six days a week - three with the kids and three at the History Center - is testing me right now. It's a physical thing, but it's more than that. I feel dispirited. Part of it is this crazy virus, certainly, but it's also the awful things that Trump has foisted upon our nation and the stress of worrying about the upcoming election and its outcome. (Yes, I've voted and my ballot received and accepted.)

This could have been a time when we all came together to fight COVID-19, saving lives, the economy, and everyone's mental and emotional health. But this awful, low IQ, vindictive scam artist creep that a minority of us put into power has made everything - everything! - worse. I want him and everyone in his government gone. Out. Never to be heard of again.

So, yes, months of stress and feeling helpless and hopeless wears on one. Throw in working a 6-day week, and I'm beginning to sink. Even all the Halloween candy and horror films aren't doing much to bring me cheer. 

But like everybody else right now, I have no choice but to stay on this long, strange trip carrying a tiny  candle of hope that we'll turn a corner and behold a better world. 

So, fellow travelers, let's link arms and hold each other up as we struggle along. [insert hopeful Depression Era song here] Sigh.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

City Limits: How Horror Films Made Me a City-Dweller

I love horror films, and if I've learned one thing from all my scary movie-watching it's never, ever leave the big city. 

Great horror stories - I mean really good ones - are hard to come by. Alas, most horror films since the 1970s seem to follow a few templates that wear thin after a while. Those story templates are:

Family living in New York/Chicago/Boston/London experiences some kind of trauma or upheaval  (impending divorce, death of a child, loss of a job, or all three) and believing that somehow leaving the city behind will solve things, hightails it to some small village or bucolic setting to start anew. Unfortunately, horrors beyond all imagining await them in these little idyllic burgs - ancient curses, possessed houses, creepy yokel neighbors - that make anything NYC can throw at 'em look positively Disney-esque. 


A group of villagers hiding a big secret causes something unspeakable to happen to one of the townspeople or to some poor schlub just driving through. Do not stop in a small town, city people. You'll be sorry. Especially if the townfolks' eyes are just a little too far apart. Also, don't stop in a cornfield.


College students leaving trendy campus for fall/winter/spring/summer break, heading to a remote mountain or lake cabin, only to end up chopped to bits by inbred goofballs or monsters from the deep woods or lake.  

These repetitive tropes, however, serve up an important lesson: bad things happen when you leave the city. I don't care how cute a cabin is or how peaceful that sweet small town looks, it's all a murderous, bloody facade. Flee the bright lights at your peril, children. 

Now, there is the occasional city-horror story - Rosemary's Baby, Devil's Advocate, and several films about haunted rent-controlled apartments left to broke, unsuspecting relatives - but none are as terrifying as venturing outside the city limits to small-town or countryside locales. Anyway, who can turn down a fabulous apartment at the Dakota with Ruth Gordon as a next door neighbor, eh? Makes baby-devil worth it, I say. And a rent-controlled apartment? Shoot, who cares if it's haunted? I mean, even after bad things happen, you can forget it all by going to a Broadway show or a museum. 

So I'll take my chances in the chaos of city life. The crimes are predictable, and by taking a few precautions can usually be prevented. Besides, all sorts of weirdness and horror await in small-town Maine or on that Spanish moss approach to a Louisiana mansion or inside the rustic mountain cabin belonging to crazy grandpa. 

I'm a city girl, and I'll take the Dakota and Ruth Gordon every time.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

COVIDiary: After Virtual Week Four, Is It Getting Any Easier?

Let me start out by making two points. One: Nothing beats learning in a classroom of your peers with a teacher being able to look you in the eye to gauge how/if you're receiving the instruction (also, Recess! Lunch! Book fair! School carnival! etc.). Two: Teachers aren't paid enough. Even the so-called "bad" ones.

After four weeks of virtual learning, you'd think all the kinks would've been ironed out, all technology glitches un-glitched, all transitions from app to platform to app would be seamless, and all stress levels at a post-yoga session calm. But, well, no. 

With two 5th grade boys - in the same class, so they can work together and keep each other motivated much of the time - and two 2nd grade girls - different classes with the same assignments at different times (oy!) and a proclivity for a lot of social interaction, my job as monitor/proctor is to keep them on task, get them from one class to the next, and keep everyone engaged with whatever's happening on their screens. There have been melt-downs. There can be confusion. And every once in a while, Charlotte looks up and sends up a plaintive cry, "I want to go to school!" 

I feel ya', girl! 

Now, to be fair, there's a lot that has gotten easier. We're getting better at completing and submitting assignments. We've discovered the value of vigorous exercise (running, trampolining, hide-and-seek) during all breaks - even during the 10 minute ones. It makes a huge difference in the kids' ability to focus on the next class. The lessons are incredible - well thought-out and varied with short, cool videos, brief teacher instruction, group work, and interesting assignments that are fun to do. 

But as tiring and frustrating this can be for our kids and their monitor, we do have the technology and the art supplies and the science and math journals, and a safe, organized place to work. My heart breaks for all the children who don't have those things. My heart breaks for parents having a hard time following the instructions (shoot, I have trouble with that) and making sure their kids understand the assignments. This is hard. It's hard for me as an English-speaker with a post-grad education. I can't imagine doing this with anything less, Plus still having to go out to work, which I'm doing but only part-time. How full-timers are handling this, I'll never know.

All any of us can do - those of us with resources and those blessed ones without - is to keep going, plow ahead, and not give up. Easier said than done on many days - I get it. And for all the teachers working 24/7 creating and distributing lesson plans, schedules, assignments, and offering counseling times, words cannot express our appreciation for you. I pray this translates into higher salaries and benefits for you. 

So on to virtual week five. We're living through historic times and as long as we all keep well, everything will be fine. Really.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

COVIDiary: In Praise of Virtual-but-Real Teachers

With week one of virtual school under our belts, we're heading into week two older but wiser. I hope. It's simply amazing how teachers, students, and parents have been able to adapt to changes - sometimes hourly - in schedules, technologies, and limits to understanding and attention. I'm particularly impressed with the planning and creativity that the teachers have put into this new reality, not only the lessons but also how to engage their students online and keep them actively participating in what's happening on the small screen.

Of course the kids miss in-person connection with friends and teachers. Right now, however, that's not possible. Even if they were to get back into the classroom, safe separation and wearing masks would be required (and so hard to monitor and regulate). At least they can see their teachers and classmates when online, so it's a (safe) trade-off.

The teachers communicate regularly about changes in technology access, daily/weekly lesson plans and expectations, where to get and send in assignments, and ways to ask questions and clarify instructions. (Yes, there are apps for all those things.) The amount of work that has gone into making this new way of teaching/learning work, is incredible. As a former high school teacher, I so appreciate that the teachers' workloads have increased beyond all reason. 

I cannot praise these educators highly enough. Such remarkable work, all in the cause of giving our children quality education during this historic time. 

We'll all get through this and come out the other end with learning, adaptability and technology skills we didn't have before. All of it will stand us in good stead for the future once we can get back to real brick-and-mortar school. 

And most of it is thanks to our virtual-but-real teachers. Thank you!


Monday, August 17, 2020

COVIDiary: Remote School 2.0

Today was the first day of school for Liam and Charlotte. Since Georgia's still a hotbed of coronavirus cases and deaths, the kids' school system has started the year the way the last school year ended: virtually. So, remote school 2.0. 

Daughter and Son-in-Law have done a great job setting up the workstations and providing all the necessary technology and supplies. 

The teachers have done a fabulous job getting everything organized. So many apps, links, logins, passwords, schedules - oy! 

We had a shaky start, at least getting Liam up and running. Liam's class was to start via Microsoft Teams, but none of the logins seemed in work. They finally switched to Zoom, but still, we couldn't get his video camera to work and the audio was sometimes garbled. It was touch and go, and he managed to do the assignments and set up his virtual locker in Google Classroom. (See? So many apps . . . )

Charlotte's set-up, however, went tickety-boo. Her classes started via Zoom straightaway, and she had no video/audio problems. Her morning was filled with greetings and getting-to-know-yous, a story about first day jitters, a coloring assignments, and a word find. I'm so proud of her reading skills - she's on her way. 

It was a day to beta-test remote learning 2.0. There were kinks. We all survived, however, and based on what I saw, the teachers have been amazingly creative in providing fun, interesting, engaging ways to do this virtual learning thing. 

Yes, we all want things to get back to normal. Everyone wants the kids, teachers, and staff back in the classroom. But things are way to dangerous right now. Despite the shaky techno-start for Liam, we're thankful that at this time and place, we can work together with teachers and classmates to continue receiving a quality education. 

Remote school 2.0 is underway. It will get better, easier. Just different. For now.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

COVIDiary: Pandemic Kills the Handshake (I Hope)

I've never liked shaking hands, mainly because I don't know where those hands I'm shaking have been. I'm not obsessive-compulsive about cleanliness, and I have a good firm handshake, to the point of arm wrestling some people. 

But, eeewww, shaking hands has always seemed a disgusting ritual, the pressing of my palm against someone else's sweaty, hot/cold, greasy, who-knows-where-it's-been palm as a form of greeting. Or sealing a deal. Or doing an initial power-dance. 

So if there's one Western custom that I hope is obliterated by this coronavirus pandemic, it's the handshake. 

The East has a much better, more respectful form of greeting - palms pressed together and a slight bow. I don't touch you. You don't touch me. Namaste. I bow to you. The divine light in me bows to the divine light within you. My soul recognizes your soul. Good to see you. Let's get this meeting started.

It's a perfect, non-contact, respectful greeting or deal-sealer, eliminating the initial power display of who has the firmer grip, who's top dog. Though it's a Hindu greeting, it seems a very Christ-like way to acknowledge a first meeting, an old friend, or the beginning/end of a business agreement.  

And maybe, just maybe, a simple prayer-like greeting might bring more humanity and empathy to our comings and goings, meetings and greetings. That certainly can't hurt. 

And besides, I don't know where your hands have been. Namaste, y'all.