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Bittersweet Return After A Pandemic Year

12 Mar

One year and five days have passed between my visits to the elder care facility where I am a Spiritual Care Volunteer.   I last went on March 4, 2020.  I returned on March 10, 2021.  In between there was a pandemic.  Most of the year, I was not allowed to visit.  For a short period I could see people outside, and I did met with one of my people.  But I could not meet with my group.

On March 9, I was two weeks past my second Pfizer vaccine.  This means life changed for me.  As soon as I could I returned.

It has been a most stressful year for so many.   But I think the elderly took the brunt of the stress.  Many were kept isolated, away from their family and friends.  This isolation took its toll.  So many died, so many advanced in dementia, so many suffered from loneliness.  I cannot comment on my people. But I will just say that they faced the same challenges as others.

For me, personally, it was difficult not to visit.  I had been seeing them once a week for over a year.  We had formed connections and friendships.   They even surprised me with a birthday party when I turned 65.  At which time, these friends of mine, in their 80s and 90s, told me how young I was.  They told me I was Just a kid.   Which made me feel better about turning 65, if only I could be as independent as so many of my people.

Six weeks later I was no longer young: in the pandemic announcements it stated that elderly people over the age of 65 should stay inside, be careful because their lives were at higher risk.  In a short time I went from being a young 65 to an elderly person. 

I thought back to my aunt over 50 years ago.   It was summer in the Catskills.  I had run into her bungalow to see my grandma.  My aunt was reading the newspaper.  She turned to me and said, “I went to bed last night, a young woman, I woke this morning, elderly.“ 


What was she talking about?  She showed the newspaper, The New York Daily News.  An article stated that an elderly man, aged 59, had died on a tragic accident.   I looked at her and laughed.  I knew her age.  But I also knew the age she said she was.  “Aunt Leona, don’t worry.  To me you are always 39!”

But I now really knew what she meant.  I went to bed on March 11, 2020, a young 65.  I woke on March 12, 2020, an old, elderly 65.  It was a shock.

My life changed as did everyone.  But I had an added concern.  How would I keep in touch with my people who were so important to me.   I was not allowed to see them.  But I could write.  I started writing letters and notes.  I started sending goodie bags about every six weeks.  Two of my people emailed me.  One sent me everyone’s phone numbers.  I tried calling about once a month.  Some months I reached everyone. Others I only reached a few.  But I kept in touch.

The organization I volunteered for originally told the Spiritual Care Volunteers to not give out our phone number. That was now obsolete.  I gave my number to whoever wanted it.  I put them in my phone list and answered them whenever they called. They needed me. And I needed to know I was helping them in any way I could.

Over the year, some of my people did pass away.  Others moved into more skilled nursing.  At least one had Covid  and survived. I kept in touch the best I could.

Then came the vaccine. My people were among the first vaccinated in Kansas. It was so exciting. I was so glad to know they were safe and their quarantine was beginning to ease up.  I could go see them once I was vaccinated.

But for me it was difficult at first to get a vaccine.  I also have an autoimmune disease, so I was being oh so careful.   I found a spot that was providing vaccine to those who volunteer and worked with the elderly.  That was me.  I signed up on their list and soon was accepted.  I got my first vaccine in early February.  My second on February 21.  As soon as my two weeks was up I knew where I wanted to be…with my people.

I emailed the elder care facility and got permission to visit.  We set the date at my usual time, Wednesday at 2 pm, two weeks and one day past my second vaccine.   Because of my volunteer work I got my vaccine early.  So I intended to make sure I would be with my people.

I now needed permission from my volunteer agency.  I sent my Covid vaccine record.  But I did not hear back.   It was getting close.  To be honest I planned to go no matter what.  The elder care facility said yes, my people were expecting me.  I had to go!

Early in the morning on March 10, I got my approval from the agency.  I was told that I was the first Spiritual Care Volunteer returning to their facility. I was eager to go! Two in the afternoon I was with my people.  Six were there.  I was so happy to see them.

I knew what we had to do. We had to bench Gomel.  I read them an essay written by Rabbi Neal Gold that I got from a website. I read it to them.  In his essay, Rabbi Gold said, “In our time, the spirit of this prayer has expanded to all sorts of other life-and-death situations, such as surviving a car accident, recovering from major surgery, or enduring childbirth…..It is not designed for people ‘who merely with headaches or stomachaches who are not confined to bed.’ Rather, it is only for those brushes with mortality that leave us shaken — and profoundly grateful for our survival.”

 I think surviving the COVID pandemic counts!

So we benched Gomel, even without a Torah, thanking God for the goodness he sent to use to allow us to survive.

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, ruler of the world, who rewards the undeserving with goodness, and who has rewarded me with goodness.” We did the response as well.

We then talked about what happened to each of my people during this time.  The one who spent two months in the hospital with Covid. The one that was lucky because she lived on the first floor with her own entrance and could see her daughter.  We remembered the three that died. We thought of those who have moved into more skilled nursing.  We delighted in being together.

It was definitely a wonderful and joyful event for me, and I believe for my people as well. 

A pandemic year is a year I will never forget.  But the joy of reuniting with others, although bittersweet, is definitely a gift!

A Hurdle To Overcome In My Snapple Addiction

10 Feb

Anyone who knows me knows I am addicted to Diet Peach Snapple Tea.  I always have a glass bottle by my side.  I start with a bottle filled with the tea, and as the day goes on, I slowly dilute it with cold water and ice.  Some days I do drink two Diet Peach Snapple teas.  (See blog below.)

I love Snapple in the glass bottles.  To me they taste better that way.  I know it comes in two-liter size, which is cheaper. But for me, the glass bottles in their six-packs was my go-to drink.  I keep cases of it at home, so I never run out.

But starting in mid-January, I was having a difficult time finding my favorite drink.  Whenever I did see it, I would buy two or three cases.  Eventually, I could not find it at all.  I was down to my last four bottles.  And I was stressed.

The original and new Snapple six packs.

Finally, two weeks into the start of no Diet Peach Snapple, I made a run to my local grocery store and I saw something that both horrified and gladdened my heart. There surrounded by the regular cases of all other flavors of Snapple was Diet Peach Snapple!  YES!  But it was different!  NO NO NO!  It was not in its lovely cardboard packaging with its iconic glass bottles.  NO it was a six-pack of newly designed plastic bottles shrink-wrapped in plastic. 

My heart stopped for a second.  Should I even put a package in my cart? Should I bring it home to try. I had to.  The choice between and new package and No Snapple was a no brainer.  I needed Snapple.

I took a picture of the two cases together and posted my angst on Facebook with these words:  WHY?? Why did @Snapple have to change how my diet peach Snapple looks? I have been drinking it for decades. I don’t want any more change in my life. NOOOOO!!!!!

My friends made many comments. The most important: Have I tasted it yet?  The answer was no.  I was afraid.  It said the same great taste.  But what if it wasn’t?  How would I cope?

Some talked about their own Snapple addiction. One even admitting that seeing me with my Snapple, made her try it.  Now she was addicted as well.  One could not find diet Peach Snapple in Arizona. This is a nationwide issue!

Several understood my need for glass containers.  It was a difficult day for me. Tea does taste better in glass. Some suggested saving a glass container and pouring the new Snapple into a glass container.  It does not work that way.  It has to come in glass.

On February 6, I took the dive.  I opened one of the new bottles to try the Snapple.  It was okay.  The recipe had not been changed, but I could taste the difference between plastic and glass.  

I did my research, a research I did not know I needed.  It seems this change had been coming.  But I did not know about it.  It seems the company that owns Snapple,  Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, had been planning this for two years.  It had all the other sizes in plastic, 20, 32, and 64 ounces.  I avoided those. But it kept the 16-ounce six-pack in glass. Now the company wanted all of the Snapple in plastic.  But it tried to keep the look of the glass bottle.

I wrote this on Facebook: I have now tasted the Diet Peach Snapple in the new container. It was fine. And the new container is environmentally better. So I will take this like a big girl and accept reality. No more glass Snapple. Still I think it tastes better in glass. But I am accepting.

However, I really am not accepting.  I am distraught.  Holding the plastic bottle does not have the weight of the glass bottle. It does not feel right.  And the embossed S is gone.  I am trying to be accepting.  I think about the good: The new containers are made from recycled plastic.  I like that.

I guess they did the best they could. We still have factoids on the inside of the lids.  And it is the same recipe.  But I am UNHAPPY.   Why couldn’t they leave well enough alone?  Why fix something that doesn’t need to be fixed.  I understand, it saves money.  It saves breakage. But really taking away the Snapple bottle is like taking away the Coca Cola bottle.  Someone made a bad decision!!!

A major gripe is this, with all the changes we have had to cope with this year, dealing with the change in Snapple is almost the last straw.  How could they do this NOW in the middle of a pandemic.  Have they no empathy or courtesy or kindness?

Okay, perhaps I am going overboard.  There might be in a few crises in the world that some might consider are more important than my Snapple crisis.  Sigh! But at least I can save one bottle and my last cardboard container for my memories.

https://zicharonot.com/2018/02/13/my-dad-created-my-snapple-addiction/

Getting My COVID Vaccine Takes Me to 1960s

5 Feb

This week I received my first COVID vaccine. I traveled through a snow blast to get to my 10:30 am appointment. My walking buddy took me. I don’t like to drive, so she volunteered to get me there. While we went, I thought of my Mom. I called her the snow witch because she attracted snowstorms. She died during the December 27, 2010, snowstorm that blanketed the New York City area over two feet of snow. For me, the snow seemed apropos. Mom was telling me she was looking out for me. Getting the vaccine was important.

When we arrived at the vaccination site, we lucked out finding a parking space in the crowded area.  The parking lot was full, but we were able to find a street parking space not too far away.  In fact, when we left, I told another woman who arrived that we were leaving and had a great spot.  She followed us and parked there as we drove away.

But the main point is that I got my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.  Yes, I stood in a line for a while.  Actually, there were four parallel lines waiting to be checked in after our temperatures were taken and our paperwork reviewed.  Then it was to the computer check in, and finally the shot line, then I sat in a chair while a nursing student gave me that wonderful little jab.  I honestly felt the edges of my lips curl into a smile as the needle went in.  I never wanted a vaccine more than I wanted this one.

I then joined my friend and sat there for the required 15 minutes.  It was well worth it.  My friend, a dentist, already had both her doses. But she was happy to go back with me to make sure I got my vaccine.

While I was waiting in line, and then waiting for my 15 minutes to pass, my memory went back to my first pandemic vaccine.  Yes, I did have another one.  Just like many of my peers born in the 1950s and 1960s. I was one of the millions of children vaccinated for the polio vaccine.  Then for children, it was the taste of a sugar cube that saved our mobility and lives.

Every summer we went to the Catskills, to the mountains, to get away from the New York City area where parents were afraid that we would get polio in the summers.  People forget that polio was one reason why families wanted to escape the metropolitan area.  But I remember.

I also remember the long line that we stood in to get our vaccine. It was 1962 or 1963. I don’t remember the exact date. But I know I was 7 or 8 years old. My parents, my brother, my sister and I, stood outside in a slowly moving line that snaked into the North Bergen High School building. We never actually stood still. We just kept moving, and others kept joining the long line. Just like I did for the Covid vaccine: in one door and out another.

When we finally reached our goal, there was hundreds of little paper cups. In each one was a sugar cube. But not any sugar, these were doused in the live polio virus. To add to my enjoyment, each sugar cube that had the vaccine was a lovely shade of pink! We joyfully ate our sugar as we walked away. To be honest, I wanted a second sugar cube.

There was a worry that a few of the children might actually get polio from the live virus. But because it was the BEST way to keep the virus at bay, parents were willing to take a risk.  Due to these sugar cubes and the other vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Albert Sabin, in the 1950s and 60s, polio basically disappeared.

So now when I stood in another line to receive another vaccine to help stop the spread of a different pandemic, a little part of me stood in that other line, remembering another vaccine in a time when lies and anti-vaxxers were not trying to destroy faith in vaccines.  When we did not have people protesting and trying to stop people from getting their vaccines, as some protestors did at Dodger Stadium in California. When people understood the need for all to come together to stop a pandemic.  When kindness to others and true altruistic love for your neighbor took precedence over the lies found on social media that seem to be corrupting kindness.

I was so thankful to get my vaccine this week. I look forward to getting my second dose in three weeks, which also reminds me of my polio vaccine sugar cube. We had to have three in all for the vaccine to work.

I am still smiling, even though my arm is a bit sore. As each of my friends and relatives get their vaccine, I feel relief. Life will get back to some semblance of normal. And this vaccine will help us get there. I just wish that kindness to others really meant something. That this kindness included keeping everyone safe and the COVID pandemic at bay.

https://www.cdc.gov/polio/what-is-polio/polio-us.html

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-02-04/anti-vaccine-activists-dodger-stadium-have-more-plans

Serenity and Light Returns

21 Jan

Serenity and peace.  No anxiety before I went to sleep last night for the first time in four years.  No fears of what would be tweeted out during the night or what further evil words would come from the mouth of the man who was supposed to be America’s uniter, but instead worked his best to be our divider. Perhaps once again there would be light in our world.  In my religion we are told to be a light among the nations. But for some time, people of all faiths were forgetting to be that light.

Serenity and peace.  After a January 6 like no other in my lifetime.  I have seen much pain as I have matured.  The horror of September 11; the fear of polio when I was a child; the destruction of the Challenger in 1986 and later the Columbia in 2003; the assassination of presidents and leaders, riots and protests against the Vietnam War and the killings of innocents.

I have watched the USA reach for the stars and land on the moon and watched disaster in the skies.   I have watched for years as the World Trade Towers be built as a child living on the New Jersey Palisades and watched them destroyed within hours.  I have joined the lines of children who received their sugar squares soaked in vaccine to keep us safe from the Polio pandemic, and now I await my own vaccine. My husband, a hospital-based physician is getting his second vaccine today. I have mourned the deaths of those who died too young.

But I never, in my life, expected to see our country ravaged by its own people, chanting, “Hang Mike Pence,” our vice president, all the in the name of making our country great again.  The desecration of our Capitol was horrifying. Even more so with a president and his son and lawyer urging the crowds on to do violence. 

What happened to my America — The land of the free, the land of the brave, the land of immigrants? The country that opens its doors to the opposed, Instead became the oppressors to waves of immigrants, separating children from their families.  Bringing images of my own family and its horror in the Shoah!

As a parent and teacher, one action caused me to fail a student and punished my child.  LYING. To my children I said, Tell me the truth.  If you lie, the punishment increases.  I will not have lying.  To my students, I wanted truth.  Do not cheat on a test. Do not copy someone else’s work.  If you are having an issue, let me know in advance.  But if you lie, you will fail that assignment. 

Lying is what I hate the most.   So the lies, the big lies that came from powerful people trying to destroy our country, trying to destroy our election, disgusts me.  I have so much respect for those who finally stood and said NO to the liar in chief. How can we teach our children not to lie, if the president and those in power lie?

With all that in my mind, I was a bit fearful for the inauguration. Would the domestic terrorists strike again?  What other evil deeds could the prior president do?  Would the new administration say the right words in our time of need?

Thank you God for answering and for giving words to the President, to the Vice President, to the young poet laureate, who graced the stage with her poem.  There was joy in ceremony.  There was unity.  There was a plea for peace for coming together, for being one country again.

I watched a press conference where there were no demeaning words and lies told to the public.  This was important to me as both a journalist and someone who hates lies.  It was almost relaxing to watch!

Last night I went to sleep without dread and this morning I woke up to a new USA. To a return to sanity. As Amanda Gorman said so wonderfully, “There is always light. If we’re brave enough to see it. IF only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Blue M&Ms Welcome A Healthy New Year

1 Jan

I cannot think of one person I know who does not like M&Ms.  My personal favorites are peanut butter or peanut.   I remember as a child my mother doling out regular, plain chocolate M&Ms to my siblings and me.  It was a process.  We each had to have the same number of each color: Tan, Red, Brown, Green and Orange.  If there was a variation, there was trouble. Which is strange because they did not taste any different, but we all had favorite colors so having an equal amount was important, especially at Hanukkah when we used M&Ms to play the dreidel game! 

My Blue M&M swag.

However, notice the colors!  There were no Blue ones when I was a child.  They did not join the mix until 1995.  I remember the election that Mars held that year.  We could vote on blue, pink or purple.  I had two young children, ages 9 and 4, with whom I had discussions on the vote as my daughter loved purple.  At the time, I was busy: teaching in a high school, taking care of my children, free-lancing for a local newspaper where I wrote a commentary column.  But the vote on M&Ms was so important for me, I took time out to vote: BLUE! Blue won hand downs with over 50 percent of the vote. (Perhaps a precognition for November 2020?)

My loving blue M&Ms from the time they were available, became a reason for family laughter  since from that point on, I only wanted to eat the blue ones.  I remember going to family life cycle events, and just picking out the blue M&Ms from the bowls.  One year, at my niece’s bat mitzvah, one of my cousins brought me over a little of tub of all colors, since he knew I loved M&Ms.  But I remarked, “Now I only eat the blue ones.”  He came back a bit later with a bowl of blue ones that he had collected from all the bowls. He is an excellent cousin!

When I play mah Joong with my friends, or go to a party,  I still only eat the blue M&Ms.  It has become so well accepted, that as others reach into the bowl, they often pass the blue ones on to me. They don’t even think about.  I get the blue ones. 

 It is a bit difficult when the holiday ones come out.  Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, NO BLUES.  But Easter is fine as there are light blue ones!

I have three reasons for my obsession with blue ones.  First of all, blues and teals are my favorite colors.  Why not eat what I like?  I also love blueberries!  But I have another more important reason.  I am actually allergic to dairy.  I get really ill if I eat too much.  So limiting my intake of M&Ms by only eating blue ones, contains my addiction. The final reason is weight control, by only eating the blue ones, I am able to reject other colors and not overeat.

When my children were younger, I fabricated a bit.  I might have told them I ate the blue ones because they were better for me, healthier.  It was, at the time, wishful thinking.  Eventually my children figured out my ruse, and they would laugh whenever I gave that explanation.  But then in 2009 I found out that all these years, I was actually correct! 

My daughter was in graduate school, when I sent her an email telling her to laugh no more!  Scientists had found out that the blue dye used in blue M&Ms and blue Gatorade, known as Brilliant Blue G (BBG), was good for you.  They found that it stopped the inflammation that increased damage when someone had a spinal cord injury.  (See link below.)  I was being proactive, eating only blue ones!

A few years later, imagine my delight when I found the M&M World store in Las Vegas.  I had never been in such a store before, and the sights within filled me with glee.  There were bins with many colors of M&Ms you don’t usually see.  And several of different colored blue and teal pure chocolate ones. Although not my favorites, I still had to fill a bag. There was all sorts of M&M items to admire.  I had to purchase some blue M&M swag that now lives in my kitchen.

Blue, teal, dark teal, light teal and some green M&Ms

But why is my first blog of 2021 about Blue M&Ms? 

Last night, since we could not go out for the holiday, we participated in two Zoom events. On our family New Year’s Eve Zoom with my sister, brother and sister-in-law, and nieces and nephews, my daughter and us, the topic of M&Ms came up.  My lust for blue M&Ms was once again publicly announced and I must admit some ridiculed!

My sister-in-law admitted to a peanut M&M addiction.  I said I had it as well, but only the blue ones.  They all laughed, except my daughter, who knew what was coming! Yes, I told them all about the medical properties of blue ones. They did not seem to believe me, so I sent them the link listed below.

That led several of us on the Zoom, to leave the room,  return with our M&M bags and locate a blue M&M to eat. As we displayed the blue M&M, as we expressed wishes for a healthy year and vaccines for all as we enter 2021.

Wishing you all a very happy 2021 and the joy of finding something you enjoy as much as I enjoy blue peanut and peanut butter M&Ms.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%26M%27s#:~:text=In%20early%201995%2C%20Mars%20ran,replaced%20tan%20in%20late%201995.

https://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2009-07/good-news-animal-lovers-and-folks-spinal-injuries/

Walking Through the COVID Pandemic

24 Dec

Walking as saved my sanity through the past nine ten months.  

I walked the Gezer Park trails with my real estate agent/friend.

I have been walking several times a week for over 20 years. When it has been nice, I walked outside with one of two friends.  When it was cold, my main walking buddy and I walked inside at our gym.   She and I have been walking for the past 20 years.

When the virus shut everything down, walking became my lifeline.  We were told going outside to walk was important.  And we were told as long as we stayed six feet apart, outside was okay.  With that advice, my walking dates increased.  Instead of walking three or four days a week, I upped it to six or seven days a week sharing these walks with two different friends. 

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday with my neighbor: Wednesday, Friday and Sunday with my walking buddy and when in town, another friend would join us.   On these outside walks, we visited and talked.  We shared our feelings about what was going on in the world. We discussed our families and what we were going through.  We spoke about how important it was having each other to walk with during this time.

Occasionally I walked with other friends. My real estate agent/ friend and I walked Gezer Park once and around my new neighborhood another time. I loved walking at Gezer Park because my daughter and son in law got married there! A close friend and I eat outside on some Thursdays and then go for a walk when we can. There are other friends who have graced me with a walk as well! Thank you to all my walking buddies! Being with you outside has been wonderful!

My husband and I often take walks on the weekends. These are additions to my walks with my friends.

My main walking buddy and I have done charity 5 Ks together.  How would we do it this year. Well we figured it out and we did. We signed up for the “Run For Ruth We Dissent” virtual walk. We donated to one of the charities listed and then walked together the 3.2 miles needed.  Our other buddy could not sign up because the registration closed, but she walked with us.

The start of our walk in my old neighborhood.

Since I moved during the pandemic, my old neighbor and I have been alternating walking sites. One day in my old neighborhood trails, the next time at the new house. We realized that the tail system by my old house hooked up with the trails by my new house in a three-mile trek. We walked it! My husband dropped me off at her house, and we walked back to my house. Then I drove her home.

On our 3-mile walk through the Tomahawk Trails.

I used to make 10,000 steps about three or four days a week.  Now I have hit that goal almost every day.  I just ended a 56-day string of 10,000 or step days.  I finally took a day off hitting just 6700 steps.  I am back at six consecutive days of walking over 10,000 steps.  Before COVID, I averaged walking 22 – 26 miles per week. When I went over 26, I was ecstatic.  Now I average 29 – 38 miles per week!  A major increase.

Walking has become the silver lining of my pandemic experience. 

Now the weather is getting colder.  We have had several very warm days, even taking advantage of one and going to our local arboretum. Walking in the afternoons has taken over our morning walks. Too cold at 8 am, so we walk at 2 pm.  But some days we just cannot walk outside.  Because of the risks of indoor exercise at our gym, we have decided not to walk there.

Monet Gardens, Overland Park Arboretum

In the pre-pandemic days, I would have just taken these days off.  But now, I get on my treadmill and walk the 2 to 2.5 miles I would have walked with my friends. Some days, I walk slowly, 3.5 miles per hour while I watch my favorite HGTV shows.  Other days, I hustle and try to up my speed and incline to get my cardiac workout. 

Instead of seeing walking as a chore and thinking I could be using my time more wisely.  I now know that walking is what has saved my sanity, my health and my feelings of isolation, as I have walked by way through the pandemic.