The Big “R”

Dad holding a certificate announcing his retirement.

On Friday, my Dad woke up at 4 a.m. to go to work for the last time.

He’s retired.

His time is now his own (well, his and my mother’s.)  This seems impossible to me, as my dad has planned his life around his duty to his employer since before I was born.

My dad has always worked hard.  He got his start at Children’s Palace when he was a teenager.  Long defunct, Children’s Palace was a retail chain that sold toys.  He followed the post office’s motto—neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night would stop him from showing up for a shift.

One morning he woke to find several feet of snow on the ground.  Shutting off the alarm and going back to bed never crossed his mind—he had a shift.  He couldn’t drive on the unplowed roads, so he started walking.

Though someone eventually picked him up, he intended to walk the ten miles to Children’s Palace if he had to.

I have no doubt he would have.

He was one of only a handful of employees who’d showed up, and there were certainly no customers.  They tossed around a football in the parking lot.

He spent the bulk of his adult life working in a factory that made automobile windshields.  Because the glass-making furnace took days to reheat after being shut down, the place ran twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year.

Every day meant every day.

Saturdays.  Sundays.  New Year’s Day.  Thanksgiving.  Christmas Day.

My dad worked every hour of the day—the morning shift, the swing shift, the midnight shift.  He worked on a rotation, changing shifts after a week so that he could never really get into a dedicated sleep schedule.  He worked many twelve hour shifts.

And when he finally got a day off, if someone else was sick or called off, he’d have to go back in.

The glass furnace never slept.  My mother made sure he did.

He wanted to forgo daytime sleep and run on caffeine and the boundless energy he still possesses.  But I forever remember her browbeating him into bed, even though she’d rather have him up with her as well.  She enforced quiet while he slept—no friends over, no screaming while running around in the backyard.

He made his sacrifices, and she did as well.

He drove 25 miles each way to work, and some days it took almost an hour. 

He was never late.  If there was a snowstorm, he left early.  If there was a blizzard—like the Pittsburgh blizzard of 1993—he left earlier.  He made it there in a Geo metro with a 3-cylinder, 1.0 liter engine.

The company gave him a special award for making it to work that day.

He had no great passion for his work—he saw each shift as a promise, and he is a man of his word.  He showed up, he did both the job on the job description, and anything else he could find to make himself useful.

I had no idea as a kid that this might be a difficult way to live.  I didn’t know because he never complained.

It wasn’t until I became an adult—with the luxury of weekends and holidays off, every night for sleeping, and the ability to take a sick or work-from-home day on a whim, did I realize how he grinded all those years.

They’re calling for snow tonight and into Monday.  Eleven inches, maybe more.  Weather that’ll close down the city, but wouldn’t have closed down my dad.

And for the first time since his days at Children’s Palace, he won’t have to suit up and take it on.

He can sleep through it or, knowing him, he’ll build a snowman.

But finally, he’ll have the choice.

Making Up for Lost (Fitbit) Time

Fitbit Dashboard showing average of 1,784 steps per day

Peter Drucker, a 20th century management consultant whose work still influences corporate America today, once wrote that, “what gets measured gets managed.”  The concept is powerful—if you weigh yourself daily, for example, you’re more likely to lower that number on the scale if you’re unhappy with it. 

Used correctly, metrics drive a positive outcome.  Used incorrectly, they drive behavior that can only be described as insane.

That brings me to my Fitbit watch.

I bought the Fitbit watch in late November on a bit of a whim—like most smartwatches, it tracks steps and other basic measurements of daily activity and sleep.

When you hit 10,000 steps, you get a celebratory buzz, and if you fail to walk 250 steps in an hour, you get a punitive buzz.  Like a new mother with a crying baby, you quickly discern the nuanced differences between the buzzes.

It’s packed with goals—in addition to the steps, it pushes you to strive for 150 Active Zone minutes each work and seven hours of quality sleep.  Fitbit determines what counts as Active Zone minutes and quality sleep using an algorithm that I will never even attempt to understand.  Just give me the green check if I hit it.

I love granting myself gold stars for completing tasks, so all these daily targets are catnip to my goal-loving brain.  After playing with it for a few weeks, I decided to make a goal of walking an average of 10,000 steps per day in 2022.

Fortunately, I wrote average instead of every day.  Because on January 2nd, my Fitbit stopped working.

Completely.

I talked to Fitbit customer service and they were fantastic about replacing the watch free of charge, but by the time it arrived, four days had gone by.

Four days of zero steps.

And so the app showed a measly 2,000 step average for 2022 so far.

Of course, I had walked some on the zero days.  But if a step is taken and is not tracked on a Fitbit, did it really happen?

I decided not.

A normal person would just start from today and try to keep the 10,000 step streak going, but since I’m going to manage what I measure like a good little Drucker devotee, I have to get that average up as soon as possible.

Which means walking more than 10,000 steps per day.  I set myself a new little sub-goal of walking 15,000 steps until I get my average back over 10,000.  I decided this approximately one hour before the first snow storm of the year.

So out I trudged into the snow with a heavy coat and boots.  On a normal day, I get around 5,000-7,000 steps just moving around the house, and then I take a walk to top myself off over 10,000.

But now, I needed 15,000 starting from scratch.  I walked and walked through the snow, ignoring my frozen fingers and toes.  The snow kept coming, day turned to night, and still I kept walking.

The watch buzzed its celebratory buzz when I hit 10,000.

I kept walking.

Around and around the neighborhood until I hit 15,000.  Then I went home and thawed out.

Day two was more difficult—I got 10,000 steps easily enough, but around bedtime I realized I had 3,000 more to go to get to 15,000.  Instead of going to sleep I did circles around the living room, up and down the stairs, round and round until I clocked in another few thousand.

I’m not sure this is what Fitbit or Drucker had in mind.

Either way, I’ve got to cut this short—time for a walk.

Wishing for a “Red” New Year

This is the story of my greatest regret.

Flashback to July 6, 2013, nearly nine years ago.  It’s a gorgeous day, and I’m floating around in my parent’s swimming pool, wondering if I’d made the right decision.

Surely you know what happened that day.  You don’t?

Taylor Swift’s Red Tour came to Pittsburgh. 

Until that moment, I’d seen Swift every time she’d come through Pittsburgh, all the way back to 2006 when she opened for Faith Hill and Tim McGraw’s Soul2Soul II Tour.  Back when she played about five songs wearing cowboy boots and a floral print dress while half the audience bought beer and nachos.  It was much the same in 2007 when she opened for George Strait, still sporting her original curly blonde hair.

My best friend Nina and I saw her first headlining tour, Fearless in 2009, and we were back for Speak Now in 2011.

We were Swifties before they even had a name for it.

So why weren’t we there on that July day in 2013?

Stupidity and stubbornness. 

While we’d previously seen Swift at the covered and now defunct Mellon Arena, the Speak Now Tour had been at Heinz Field, the open air arena where the Pittsburgh Steelers play football.

It was—and remains—a terrible place for live music.  The sound dissipates into the open end of the field, and the seats that we can afford are so far away from the stage that you can barely see the jumbotron, much less that actual artist.  You’re at the mercy of Pittsburgh summer weather, meaning it’ll either be so hot you’ll be sticking to your seat or hiding under a plastic bag poncho in a drenching thunderstorm.

Who needs it?

Not us, we decided.

But July 6, 2013 was a perfect day.  High seventies, sunny, low humidity.

The kind of day only Taylor Swift could command for Pittsburgh in July.

I was floating around, thinking that I could call Nina, we could buy tickets from someone selling outside the gate, and even if our noses bled, at least we’d be there.

But instead I just laid in the pool, oblivious to the fact that my flip phone was ringing off the hook.  This was in the before times, when people had cell phones, but they stayed in your purse unless you were actively making a call.  They weren’t yet a permanent appendage.

It was Nina, and she wasn’t calling to say we should buy tickets for the Red Tour.  Her mother-in-law had somehow won two front row tickets to the Red Tour and gave them to Nina.

Let me say that again…FRONT ROW TICKETS TO THE RED TOUR.

But she couldn’t get through to me in time, so she went with her mother-in-law, who didn’t know Taylor Swift from James Taylor.  You could hear the primal scream two states over when I listened to that voice mail, knowing it was too late.

That’s why people take their phones into the bathroom with them.

Nina and I were back in 2015 for the 1989 Tour, and in 2018 our Swiftie duo became a trio when we took her daughter to the Reputation Tour.

The next generation of Swifities has begun.

I will never miss another Taylor Swift tour, but I will never hear most of the songs from the Red album—the best Swift album—live.  Never get to hear her sing All Too Well.

“Your greatest regret is that you didn’t answer your phone?” Nina’s daughter asked me, eyebrow lifted, when I told her this story.

“It is.”

“Pretty charmed life,” she said, making me laugh.

Charmed indeed.  Because this past November, Taylor Swift was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, and out of nowhere she played an expanded, ten-minute version of All Too Well, nearly a decade after its initial release.

As part of her ongoing battle with her original record label, she re-released the Red album with new and expanded songs.

“You know what this means?” Nina asked when she called the next morning.

I did.

One day this pandemic will end, and Taylor Swift will tour again.  And though she has three new albums of material that she’s never gotten to play live (Lover, Folklore, Evermore), that tour will include her monster version of All Too Well.

The three of us will be there.  And I’ll get the second chance I never deserved.

Because for those ten minutes, it’ll be 2013.

And I’ll finally be at the Red Tour.

Target Dog

Photo by Scott Spedding from Pexels

My friend was driving through her neighborhood last week, and when she inched around a parked moving van, she got a little too close to a woman pushing a baby in a stroller.  She didn’t hit the woman, didn’t really even come close to hitting her, but it understandably startled the woman.

My friend—a kind and non-aggressive person—rolled down her window and apologized.  In response, the woman gave my friend two middle-fingers and hurled obscenities at her.

That’s one story of how people treat each other.

Here’s another.

Last week when I walked out of Target, a few clumps of people stood around watching something.  There was an electricity in the air, but I wasn’t afraid; it was an energy of excitement, not terror.

It only a took a moment to discover the object of everyone’s attention—a dog had gotten loose from his owner and was running around the parking lot.  I’m not a dog person, but a quick google search confirms that the dog in question was a brown and white English Springer Spaniel.

About two dozen people were trying to catch him, but he darted in and out of the cars.  He had a big doggie smile on his face, and it was clear he thought everyone was playing a game with him. 

He was having the time of his life.

And truthfully?  So were we.

No one was yelling at his owner, asking how she could let this happen.  We didn’t have time.

We were too busy whistling, calling him, offering bits of cheese.  We all wanted to be the hero who caught this fun, crazy dog.

The dog would start walking toward the whistle or cheese, and when he one step away from us, he’d turn and run away, still playing the game.

But as it went on, we began to worry.  This dog had no intention of being caught—he clearly had the stamina to do this all day.  And while we might have liked to continue chasing him as well, this was a busy parking lot, and the longer this went on, the more likely he was going to dart in front of a car that didn’t see him and get hit.

There was no way we—now a group over three dozen strong—were going to let that happen.

There was no spoken coordination, no captain, no leader yelling out orders.

Yet we began to make a wide circle to contain him.  A few of us got into our cars and intentionally blocked the aisles so no moving cars would drive down the lanes.

We moved in slowly, tightening the protective noose as the dog continued bounding around with joy, not knowing the game was about to end.

Eventually, we closed in and he had no way out, and his grateful owner finally got a hand on his collar.

The owner thanked everyone profusely, we breathed a collective sigh of relief, and you could see the dog’s thumping tail and practically hear him thinking that he couldn’t wait to come back to this awesome dog park with all these fun humans.

We’d all been inconvenienced, our days interrupted, yet no one got angry, no one shouted, or threw middle fingers, or even rolled their eyes.

We didn’t blame the dog—we didn’t assume bad intent on his part, or malice, or stupidity. 

He was in danger and didn’t know it, and we helped him, and all felt quite pleased with ourselves afterward.

If only we could always offer each other the grace we offered that dog.

Here’s What Happened

Patching the wall after the second incident…

Long time readers know that in addition to my weekly post on a classic film (don’t worry, the next one will be up this Wednesday as usual) I used to write a Sunday post about whatever was happening in my life.  I patterned these posts after the excellent weekly humorous essays by mother and daughter writing team Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella (who themselves cite Erma Bombeck among their inspirations.)

This June I stopped writing the weekly update without explanation.

I’m ready to tell you why.

I found another snake in my basement.

Savvy readers will take note of the word “another.”  Ten years ago I opened the door to my basement laundry room and found a six foot black snake making himself at home on top of my washing machine.

(And he left a nice long skin hanging from the ceiling that haunts me to this day.)

But that’s a story for another day.

On this day in June, I walked into the basement and saw a long black tail under the open door to the laundry room.

As I often imagine seeing snakes in my basement since the initial incident, I closed my eyes and shook my head to clear it.  When I opened my eyes, the tail was still there, but in a different position, and moving rapidly away from me.

I froze, mind racing with a single impulse:  I wanted to run back into the house, slam the door and pretend I hadn’t seen what I had seen.

Denial can be helpful for emotional problems.  Not so much for snakes in the basement.

I knew that if I didn’t stop him, things would go from bad to worse because he was heading right for the tiny alcove in the back of the basement beneath the stairs.  This area is dark, has low head room, and was packed to the gills with my overflowing pile of panic-bought pandemic supplies.

If he got in there, I would never find him.

He got in there.

He’s not in this picture, but imagine him shimmying across the top of those folded up boxes.

I immediately recruited reinforcements—my Mom and Dad, who hung up and hightailed it over as soon as I said the “S” word.  Then, I grabbed my neighbor, his wife, and their five-year-old son for backup.

My neighbor—as afraid of snakes as I am—came over with a golf club and a pooper scooper. 

He and my Dad tiptoed into the laundry room, searching for the snake with flashlights.  They found him, climbing across folded up cardboard boxes just out of reach.

After several minutes of panic induced strategizing, we decided on a game plan.  Dad and I carefully took the boxes away one by one.  Each time, the snake slithered deeper into the alcove.  But he was cornered, and if we moved all the boxes, he would have nowhere to hide and we could either sweep him out or pick him up.

And by “we” I meant my Dad.  Obviously.

We moved the boxes one by one, an inch at a time, trying not to scare him into further retreat.  This process took ten minutes but felt like an hour.  When we were down to nearly the last box, I knew that whatever happened, this would be over soon.

But that sneaky little snake had a wildcard up his sleeve.

Just when we were about to go in and get him, he found the tiniest of holes near the baseboard and disappeared into my basement wall.

This is when I lost it.

We waited, but he was no dummy—he wasn’t coming out.

While my Dad stayed behind to stand guard, I went to Lowes and bought snake traps, which we set up right outside the hole.

And I went to bed (not to sleep but to toss and turn) with that snake down in my basement wall.

After day two, it was clear he wasn’t coming out.  We were going to have to go in.

We blocked every exit, and my Dad cut a hole in the wall and we tore away insulation. 

No sign of the snake.

My neighbor’s son had the time of his life snake hunting.

The rest of us were exhausted.

I couldn’t write about it when it happened, and for awhile I couldn’t write about anything else.  I had to know how the story ended.  My laundry piled up, unwashed.  I was waiting.  The blog stalled.  I needed closure.

But like so much in life, I didn’t get closure.  Instead I got the passing of time, which heals more slowly and completely than anything else.

Because once you’ve torn a wall apart trying to solve your problem and coming up empty, you’ve got to find a way to move on.

I started throwing the laundry into the washing machine and then running back upstairs.  Then I began to linger longer and longer.

I still look for him, but I no longer do a ten-minute search with a spotlight before entering the laundry room.

To this day, I haven’t seen any sign of that snake.

But now I can talk about it.  I can laugh about it.  I can write about it.

The hiatus snake-atus is over.

In 2022, we ride again on Sundays.  I hope you’ll be here with me.

Unless I see another snake.

In that case, I’ll be hiding under my bed for good.

Dinner Time

Every day at noon it begins.

I’m in my office (still working from home), minding my own business when I feel a scratch on my leg. 

Blinker is ready for dinner.

Yes, you heard me right, dinner.

Back in the before times, when I went into the office every day, I fed my cat Blinker twice a day—once in the morning before work, and once when I got home around 5:30 pm.

There is nothing in the world Blinker likes more than breakfast and dinner.

When I began working from home, she began demanding her dinner earlier and earlier.  I started feeding her at 5:15, then 5:00.  What harm could there be?

Do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched?

At noon (a mere six hours after breakfast) she begins with the scratch.  Then she’s up on my desk, walking on my keyboard.  She pushes my mouse off the desk.  Pencils and my phone hit the floor, along with my notebook. 

She chews on the pull string of my desk lamp.  She sits on my hands while I try to type.

If I’m on a work conference call, she begins meowing.  If it’s a particularly important call, she meows at the top of her lungs until my coworkers ask what the heck is going on.  How she can determine the importance with deadly accuracy is beyond me.

If I’ve successfully ignored all this, she takes it to the next level by trying to crawl on my back while I’m sitting in a chair.  While she sometimes does this for fun, in pursuit of dinner she will make sure to dig her claws in.

And finally, there’s the nuclear option:  she sits in front of the computer alternating between staring at me and putting her butt in my face.

Using these techniques, she has successfully made her dinner earlier by fifteen minute increments until I now find myself feeding her at 2:00 pm.

I refuse to go any earlier and we’ve been at a stalemate for the last nine months.

At some point I’ll be going back to the office, and I’ve been trying to slowly push back her dinner time, but it isn’t easy.

Today I made it to 2:02 pm, two full hours after she began her antics.

It’s going to be a long summer.

Buying Next Weekend

My plans of spending the long Memorial Day weekend visiting Harper’s Ferry were scrapped by a forecast promising three straight days of rain.

Not exactly hiking weather.

So with help from my Dad, we moved to plan B, which was to tackle the most imposing item on my 2021 to do list:  replacing the floors in my kitchen, bathroom, and entryway.

Three days, three floors.  If HGTV could do it, so could we.

It was slow and exacting work, but over the next three days we laid down all three floors without once uttering the do-it-yourselfer’s ultimate curse word:

“Oops.”

The new flooring looked great.

But you know I wouldn’t be writing about this project if things had gone without a single hitch.

This isn’t that kind of blog.

Our nemesis?

The bathroom toilet.

It came off easy enough.  But getting it back on?

Whole ‘nother story.

If you’ve never installed a toilet, there are two bolts on the floor that stick up in the air.  You put down a wax ring, and then place the toilet on top of the wax ring, making sure the bolts go through the holes on each side of the toilet.

Simple, right?

Yes, but it requires maddening precision.  You can’t get it close and then readjust, because the wax seal that prevents leaking will be broken.

Anticipating this, we bought three wax seals. 

We had a lethal combination of weaknesses.  I could lift the toilet, but I wasn’t strong enough to hold it while my Dad searched for the bolt, which he had trouble seeing.  This was due partially to the fact that his eyes aren’t as young as they used to be, and the toilet is stuck back in a corner where it’s hard to get good light in.

I’d strain to hold the toilet while he searched, until I either dropped it or we put it down in the wrong position.

After ruining two wax seals, we stopped to rest and strategize.

We decided to lighten the load by taking the toilet apart.  Unbeknownst to me, a toilet comes in two pieces—the bowl and the tank.  If we could remove the tank it would hopefully lighten the load enough for me and make it easier for my Dad to see the bolts.

One look and we realized this was hopeless—the bolts were rusted out and there was no way we’d ever get that toilet back together without it leaking.

We were stuck.

Until I said, “Why don’t we just buy a new toilet?”

“A new toilet?”

“A new one will be in two pieces.”

And just like that we were off to Lowe’s for the second time that day.  Halfway there, we reconsidered.

“Is this crazy?” my Dad asked.  “To buy a brand-new toilet?”

I stopped to think it over.

“We’re not buying a toilet,” I finally said.  “We’re buying next weekend.  Because if we keep on this way, this project will drag on beyond today.”

We were deep into the third day of the job.  We were satisfied with our work thus far but exhausted and ready to be finished.  I was willing to pay the price of a new toilet to be able to spend my next weekend doing something fun instead of finishing up this project.

We nodded to one another and kept on driving.

“What kind of toilet are you looking for?” the Lowe’s employee asked, getting ready to show us high efficiency, luxury, or budget options.

“The lightest one you have,” I said.

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

We went down the aisles, not even looking at the floor models, but instead turning the boxes around to find the weights.  We found the lightest toilet they had and loaded it up.

Back at home, I dug some paint out of the garage and painted the tops of the bolts yellow for extra visibility.  We lifted the bowl of the new toilet and got that baby on in one try.

We bolted on the tank, hooked it up, and flushed it a dozen times without a single leak and smiled.

Next weekend was safe.

Next weekend, of course, is now this weekend, the nicest one we’ve had all year.

I spent it rowing, having coffee with friends, then dinner with other friends.  I plan to spend today lounging around with a good book or maybe I’ll hit up the Pittsburgh Arts Fest.

This weekend was worth the price.

And I even got a new toilet out of the deal.

How Will We Know It’s Over?

This time a year ago, we’d all settled into the reality of the pandemic.  We were way past the optimism of “two weeks to stop the spread” and knew we were in for the long haul. 

At that time, nearly every conversation I had eventually wound around to the question of, “When do you think this will end?”

I’ll admit, I had a vision (half-baked as it was) of a glorious day of celebration.  A ceremonial moment when we would all simultaneously rip off our masks and dance in the streets.

I wanted catharsis.  Closure.

Without fully realizing it, I had a moment in my mind like the one pictured in the famous Life magazine photograph V-J Day in Time Square, where a United States soldier, fresh home from victory in World War II, kisses a nurse during a parade.

The war was over.  The boys were home.  America was victorious.

But with the coronavirus, we were asking the wrong question.  It isn’t, “when will this end?”

It’s, “How will we know when it’s over?”

In a way, it was over when an effective vaccine was developed.  But in the day to day, that changed nothing.  There was no collective moment of relief.  Was this over when I got my vaccine?

Even the vaccine was not a moment of reckoning.  One shot or two, there is still a protracted waiting period.  No bell of celebration dings when you hit the two-week mark of freedom.

Was it over the first time I walked into a store without a mask on?

Of course it’s not over.  But how will we know when it is?

Will it be over when everyone is vaccinated, which is never going to happen?  Is it over when the vaccine is available for kids?  Is it over when I go back to the office, or when everyone goes back to the office?

Spoiler alert:  there are people never going back to the office, either because they lost their jobs or they can work from home forever.

Is it over when kids go back to school full time?  Or when Taylor Swift goes back on tour?

There will never be a parade.  There will never be a moment

We will never get to celebrate the end together and then move on with our lives.

It was naïve of me to think we’d get a moment to collectively celebrate the end of coronavirus together like we did the end of World War II.

But hold on a minute.

Am I naïve to think there was such a moment for World War II?

The moment that soldier kissed that nurse was not the end of World War II.  Of course it wasn’t.  And if it was, it certainly wasn’t celebrated by the whole world in the same moment.  Only the people around saw it.  The rest of the world didn’t see it until a week later when Life magazine published it.  Certainly, the publication of a photograph didn’t end the war.

In fact, though Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945, the day this photograph was taken, World War II didn’t formally end for another two weeks, on September 2, 1945.

When did World War II end?

If you were living in the hell of Auschwitz, it ended on January 27, 1945 when the Soviets liberated the camp.

The war ended for Hitler on April 30, 1945 when he committed suicide rather than face the world and pay for his crimes against humanity.

It ended for the western alliance on May 8, 1945, VE Day, when Germany surrendered.

Oh, but wait, it didn’t end for Russia until two days later when the Germans surrendered to them.

But the war wasn’t over when Germany surrendered.  The United States would still go on to drop not one, but two atomic bombs on Japan.

Surely the war ended the moment that second bomb hit Nagasaki.

But I imagine if your son (or daughter) was in Japan or Europe, the war didn’t end for you until he was home again, parade or no parade.

And if he didn’t come home, the war ended for his mother the day she found out he’d been killed, whether that was the first or last day of combat.

The country celebrated, as well it should, but it didn’t snap back to its pre-war position.  People had changed, the country had changed.  And recovery didn’t happen overnight.  While most of the formal rationing programs ended, many goods were still difficult to find in the aftermath of the war.  Sugar was rationed until 1947, a full two years after the war ended.

But all these rough edges are smoothed out by the passage of time, until we’re left with the idea that there was a terrible war, the men went to fight and the women went to work, and then it was over, and there was a parade, and a soldier kissed a girl and everyone moved on.  And for awhile women pretended they wanted to be perfect 50’s housewives when what they really wanted was to go back to work.

When will the coronavirus end?  When you get the vaccine.  When you go back to the office.  When you go to your first party, see the first person you haven’t in a long time, get back on an airplane.

For some it ended when they lost a loved one—or perhaps for them it never ends.

The coronavirus will be smoothed out too in the pages of history.  People who didn’t live through it will just say, oh yes, there was a virus, people couldn’t go anywhere, and then there was a vaccine and everything went back to normal.  And for a while we all pretended….

Well, that part of the story hasn’t been written yet.

When will we know that?  How will we know?

I know what I’ve learned from the coronavirus.

The difference between reading about history and living it.

“What Can I Bring?”

Now that America is opening up and we’re allowed to go outside and play, it might be time to brush up on some basic etiquette.  Things like small talk and dressing appropriately for work are skills that can atrophy without use.

Let’s start with a potential land mine:  the potluck dinner.

If a friend invites you to a party at their home, it is customary to ask if you can bring something.  If the host says no, then you’ve got it easy.  You should still bring something (of course!) but your options are endless…a bottle of wine, a pie, some flowers.

No need to sweat it.

The potluck is a is a different story.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, a potluck dinner is one in which the host provides the main dish and/or some beverages and sides, but does not prepare the entire meal.  Instead, each guest brings a part of the meal—drinks, side dishes, desserts, appetizers, cutlery.

In theory, the potluck takes the work and financial burden off the host, and allows each guest to bring their signature dish, and the guests have a variety of scrumptious dishes.

In reality, you end up with seven artichoke dips, six pies, and a bag of chips per person.

A well-executed potluck requires the diplomatic skills usually reserved for international hostage negotiations.  The host needs to ensure that a full spectrum of foods will be available, without putting too much pressure on the guests.

No one wants to be asked to bring their pulled pork recipe that takes multiple days to prepare when they were planning on grabbing a bag of pretzels on the way.

The expectations on what each guest should bring are heavily dependent on two seemingly unrelated things—marriage status and children status.

Married mothers, as always, are expected to bring the most critical dishes, because between taking care of their young children, running a household, driving kids around to soccer and t-ball games, and (potentially) working outside the home, they obviously have plenty of time to whip up a roasted turkey, stuffing, and a home-baked apple pie.  A mother wouldn’t dare try to get away with bringing plastic forks and napkins.

Single, childless men bring the beer. 

Married women without kids bring the slightly complicated, trendy dish that meets unusual dietary restrictions—think vegan burgers, gluten free cookies, or homemade sushi rolls.

Single, childless women?  We’ve got it easy.  Expectations are low, and we’re allowed to be unpredictable.  We can bring silverware and a bottle of wine to one potluck, and we’ve met our quota.  But if we bring the homemade pie or green bean casserole that is simply expected of the working mother, we’re praised like a baby who just took her first steps.

And what do the married men bring to the potluck?  Don’t make me laugh.

You may think in 2021, this is an outdated and sexist view.

Hey, I don’t make the rules, baby.  I just observe and report.

Rolling Again

This is the story of my first fully vaccinated day.

Like Alice, I left a lonely world with only a cat as companion and stepped through the looking glass into a technicolor dream world.

(Or did I leave the not-so-Wonderland that we’ve all been living in for the past fourteen months and come back home?  This is pondering best left to Lewis Carroll, I think.)

I haven’t burned my mask collection just yet, and I remain a work-from-home warrior for the time being.

But I’m rolling again.

I awoke to the day I’d circled on my calendar thirty-five days ago when I received my first shot and felt like Cinderella, cleaning up the kitchen and drinking coffee while the birds sang and the sun streamed through the windows.

Vaccinated and caffeinated, I began the day with a haircut eighteen months in the making, shedding the weight of this long year.

With the preliminaries out of the way, how does a girl spend her first vaccinated day?

For a Pennsylvania movie buff who’s spent the year blogging about classic films, there’s only one answer:  The Jimmy Stewart Museum

I picked up the parents and we hit the road.

Stewart, star of It’s A Wonderful Life, Rear Window, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (among many others) grew up in Indiana, Pennsylvania, a quaint town about an hour’s drive from my own.  The museum is across the street from what used to be his father’s hardware store, and is within sight of his childhood home.  Filled with movie posters, awards, and memorabilia from his childhood, film career, and military service, this little gem is a must-visit for Stewart fans. We chatted up the staff and they gave us great background on Stewart, his family, and the construction of their little museum.

I left with a new appreciation for Stewart, a list of films to watch, and a Jimmy Stewart lamp that now sits on my writing desk.

Then we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the car.  A restaurant on the first vaccinated day?  Too much, too soon.  We can’t have all the thrills at once.

And how did I end this gloriously normal, perfect day?

With as much of the posse as we could scrape together, of course.

This isn’t over, folks.  We know that.  But here’s to the beginning of the end.  And the return of these perfectly normal days.