Is it Gossip, tho?

Sharing something like my positive Covid test is exactly the kind of thing I would have kept to myself in the past because I worry too much about what people think.

I think it comes partially from growing up in a small town. It’s a common refrain, “What will people think?!” Seriously, what you do, how you do it and who you do it with is all common knowledge when you live in a small town. At least, some version of those things is common knowledge. It was one of the things that made me want to leave the minute I graduated from high school.

This isn’t always a bad thing, though. I’ve come to realize that the small town gossip mill is frequently the way people know to look out for one another. Sure, sometimes it’s talk for talk’s sake and the opportunity to judge a little, but I think just as often it is basic communication that helps to nurture the kind of community you don’t get in an urban environment.

My parents were both using crutches at the same time. Dad had a hip replacement and hadn’t yet been released to walk un-aided and mom had a broken foot or ankle. Its not like my folks put an ad in the paper detailing their situation. To the best of my knowledge, they didn’t ask for help. Still, friends and neighbors came by to help with chores, provide meals and generally check on their well-being. It was word of mouth that informed the community that these two needed extra looking after. Even if they did ask someone to help, my guess is there was more help because of what I considered to be, “gossip” about their condition.

Years later, my mom was regularly helping her (more) elderly friend with rides to appointments. One winter day mom dropped her friend at the hair salon in the next town over. While the friend was getting her hair done, mom went for a walk. Suddenly Mom hit a patch of ice, slipped and broke her leg. A passerby noticed mom laying on the the side of the road and called an ambulance.

Hubby and I were on our way to see mom for her birthday but we were still about three hours away. My dad called to tell me mom was at the local hospital and that he was on his way there. This is my favorite story about small town life and it does have a connection to people knowing other people’s business.

I immediately called my best friend from high school (still my bestie after 47 years). My friend works for an accounting firm in that same next town over. Upon hearing that my mom was in the ambulance she had just heard go by, she dropped everything and met my dad at the hospital. Jumping right into, “daughter” mode, she helped my dad find the insurance card in mom’s purse, helped mom communicate with the hospital staff, called and kept me informed. Once they were all settled, my friend went back to work. From her desk, she arranged for my mom’s friend to get home from her hair appointment and for everyone’s cars to get back to our town. I’ve actually forgotten some of those details, but suffice it to say that as a lifelong resident of our small town, she knew the people, knew their circumstances, knew their relationships and was able to take care of several families with a couple of phone calls because she knew the details of other people’s lives. I’ll always be grateful for my friend’s help that day. She is Wonder Woman in my eyes!

I’ve thought a lot about how communication works in a small town since I moved back three years ago. In my volunteer roles, I’ve seen how difficult it can be to get the word out about events and fundraisers. As a citizen, it can sometimes be difficult to just know important details like winter road conditions or wildfire updates as in the case of our area’s massive wildfires last summer. Without the same media available in the urban areas, word of mouth becomes a critical communication tool.

I’m so glad I am both maturing past the point of worrying quite so much about what other people think AND appreciating small town life and all of its quirky goodness. I know it will help me be someone who nurtures the community I have always loved despite its quirks and to nurture my own well being too.

Covid

When Covid restrictions first hit last March, I was in strict adherence with staying home, doing grocery pickup and generally being extra careful. I never stressed about disinfecting my groceries or leaving UPS deliveries on the porch for days, but I was diligent about staying away from other people because my elderly parents counted on me. I couldn’t afford to get sick and I certainly didn’t want to expose them.

Eventually, as more information surfaced about the highest risk behavior vs. lower risk situations, I began taking small chances. There were certain people I knew were as diligent as I, who were minimizing their exposure to others and adhering to guidelines and I began to see them in person. Our county only had two confirmed cases for months and many people, including me, let their guard down a little. It was summer time and it was easy to be outside, wear a mask, remain “socially distanced” but still be active and somewhat social.

In late summer and into Fall, our county’s case count began to rise. We had a couple of deaths. But now our summer habits were set. All the outdoor activity began to move indoors.

I recently tested positive for Coronavirus. My friends and family have said they are surprised that I would catch it because I had been so careful. But the reality is that I wasn’t all that careful. I was cognizant of the risk and I was thoughtful but not careful. I definitely have been respectful of the virus and the risk it held for myself and others. But I knowingly took some calculated chances. I was diligent about keeping my risk low, but I didn’t keep my risk at zero like I did when it all started. When I explained how I thought I was exposed, three different health care professionals told me that the suspected exposure was low risk. Nonetheless, the test I took for peace of mind came back positive. I had no symptoms that I was aware of. I was planning a trip with a few of those aforementioned calculated risks and I wanted to be absolutely certain I didn’t have the virus. I was so shocked to get a positive result that the nurse laughed at my reaction. “Why did you get tested if you were so sure you were negative?”, she asked. “Well, I knew I was ‘kind of’ exposed so I just wanted to be sure.” I was tested seven days after said exposure, well into the timeframe to develop symptoms and yet I hadn’t.

It was the health department representative who three days later identified the symptoms I had the previous weekend. I was exposed on a Wednesday. At different points over the weekend, I had a slightly scratchy throat that I assumed was the dry winter air in my house and a brief sinus headache that again seemed normal. I had a very slight upset stomach that I thought was because of too much holiday eating and drinking. In hindsight, I had a day of feeling, “bleh” as well. But I had dismissed every one of those symptoms as “normal”. I never had a fever as far as I know.

The thing that bothers me most is that I could have exposed tons of people without my knowledge and definitely without intent. Had I not decided to drive two hours to get a test for which I didn’t need preauthorization, the results could have been catastrophic.

My advice to anyone who thinks they are being careful: Reassess your behavior. Make sure you aren’t behaving like you’re still outside, masked and six feet apart now that you’re mostly indoors. And if you are not even trying to be careful, please reconsider. I was exposed by an asymptomatic (at the time) person. As a designated essential worker, they were exposed at work. And they did get eventually get sick. Luckily, it has been relatively mild, but not at all pleasant for them.

When it comes to Covid, I’ve been thoughtful, but not careful. I thought being “smart” and measuring risk was good enough. It isn’t.

2020 Hindsight

There are 46 minutes left of 2020. I’m sitting in a mostly silent house with my dog and my husband snoring peacefully in the other room. It seems about right that I would just now finally write a reflection of this year.

If 2020 taught me anything, it is to take nothing – and no-one – for granted. Every moment with a loved one is precious and it is the mundane moments that you carry forward not the big, spectacular events we’re taught to create and stress out over. It isn’t the lavish Christmas open house and New Year’s Eve party, it’s last Tuesday’s text exchange and that one time we went to the casino with your dad.

My dad died in September this year. A lot of stuff happened to lead up to his passing but what I am always going to remember and cherish is the day I took him to get some skin cancer removed from his ear. Vascular dementia made it hard for him to explain what he was thinking or feeling and his conversation was limited to a couple of topics. But after his procedure we went through the McDonald’s drive through and sat in the car eating lunch and chatting. He was smiling and laughing and enjoying our time together. He was lucid and engaged and his smile that day is forever imprinted on my heart. It was the most precious moment and it was just a random Tuesday. We didn’t get to spend the last two Christmases with him but I will always have that parking lot picnic.

A month after my dad passed, my friend Kari suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. She had just begun treatment for stage 2 breast cancer and an infection took her quickly. I could write an entire post about how special she was and how much she meant to me. I miss her every day. In our brief three year friendship, there were many spectacular moments. But the one I am most grateful for was the random Tuesday I dropped something off at her house. It was early the week she died and the last time I saw her in person. We had a brief visit followed by, “See you later.” And, “I love you”. It is that exchange that is cemented in my mind and on my heart. It’s why I’m sad but not devastated by grief. How lucky that the last thing we said to each other was the most important thing ever? There is such a feeling of peace that comes with knowing our friendship was complete. Nothing unfinished and nothing left unsaid. Do I wish I could have more fabulous shopping days or pool days or wine-30’s with the Mohler Girls triad? Absolutely. But Kari would want us to go on, to have earthy fun on her behalf while she keeps our loved ones entertained in heaven. Knowing that, I’m doing my best to live her example going forward.

I’ve been trying my best lately to remember to tell people what they mean to me. I’ve tried to be present for the good, the bad and the ugly in life. It’s all we have and you never know which moment is the one you’ll carry with you or leave behind.

I’m grateful for the the gifts that 2020 gave me. Along with its challenge and heartbreak and frustration, this year gave me the precious gift of perspective.

I’m proud to have lived and loved and learned so much this year. And I’m looking forward with hopeful optimism to 2021. Cheers!

It’s Snow Big Deal

Hi! Hello! Its been awhile. I’ve been challenged a bit by life but I’m back now and I have a lot of catching up to do! Stay tuned as I revisit the 17 (!) drafts in my working folder as well as share the latest updates. Don’t forget to subscribe if you don’t want to miss anything.

This morning I woke up to a couple of inches of snow on the ground. The significance of being surprised by snow in late November is that today it wasn’t cause for concern and for me, that’s cause to celebrate.

When it comes to life in the slow lane, being ready for anything is a critical skill. A couple of inches of snow, when combined with wind, can easily become driveway-clogging snow drifts several feet high. Combined with fluctuating temperatures, snow can become ice that wreaks havoc with power lines. We are on a well and therefore have no water when there is no electricity. Recent years have shown that a few snow drifts can keep us home bound for some time. One really needs to pay better attention to the weather than I did yesterday.

We’ve lived in our current home for just over three years and it has been quite the process to learn what it means to be prepared. Although I grew up just a few miles from here, I had to re-learn the importance of all the food my parents grew and stored for the winter months. Living in the Seattle area for 20+ years, I got in the habit of grocery shopping often and not keeping much of a pantry. Our old neighborhood boasted five major grocery stores within walking distance. Our local store now is more of a convenience store and is a 7 – 10 mile drive, depending on which route is available.

The first winter here, I prepped to a degree, but I was challenged multiple times with not having what I needed or what I wanted readily available while snowed in and/or without power. This is going to be our fourth winter in this home and I am very proud to finally have a well stocked pantry and freezers. Combined with generous and helpful neighbors, the generator we purchased for use with our travel trailer but large enough to be helpful when the power is out, and a few gallons of water we have stashed, our pantry should get us through the winter come what may. I might even be able to be one of those generous and helpful neighbors if needed! And that’s why I said to myself, “Cool! Snow!” this morning with no sense of dread or worry about whether we could manage.

Being prepared means being able to look out the window this morning with child like enthusiasm (I might get to use my brand new snowshoes!) and deep gratitude for this life in the snowy slow lane.

Photo by Norm Strickland

Why I Don’t Know

It’s the title of a Lyle Lovett song and it came to mind as I thought about the emotions that I feel, or don’t lately. I “frequently” stuff my feelings out of fear of being judged or because I just don’t want to deal with the pain at the moment. I frequently choose to be super busy instead of dealing with how certain things make me feel. My therapist says I should say, “frequently” instead of “always” so I can teach myself that I’m just doing the best I can, just like everyone else. This has actually helped me to become kinder to myself, to use a different word to describe the things I do (frequently).

Which leads me to what I don’t know. Or, as the title of this post says, WHY I don’t know. when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic and the other world-level stuff we’ve decided as a country to deal with all at the same time, I have been on, like so many others have described, an emotional roller coaster. For awhile, I was thinking, “What’s going on?” “Why is this all happening?” “How come I can’t get my house cleaned like a normal person?” Among other things.

I would answer myself, “I don’t know what’s going on.” “I don’t know why this is all happening at once.” “I don’t have the foggiest idea why I am not cleaning the house.” (That last one is a lie). Then a friend shared that her pastor brought up the grieving process and that most people aren’t recognizing that’s what they are dealing with. (Insert raised hand emoji here). Despite my years of training on the topic of change management, and the fact that the change curve is based on the grief cycle,  I have not understood until recently, that we are all grieving and managing change right now. As we leave behind the life we once knew and enter an unknown future, people are managing big emotions (or not) and then managing them differently over and over as they watch the news, read social media, or talk with friends. Do you recognize yourself or anyone else in these commonly defined stages:

Grief Cycle Stage

What it might look like

Shock & Denial Avoidance, Confusion, Fear, Numbness, Blame
Anger Frustration, Anxiety, Irritation, Shame, Embarrassment
Depression & Detachment Overwhelmed, Helplessness, Lack of Energy, Blah
Dialogue & Bargaining Reaching Out, Desire to tell Story, Struggle to find meaning
Acceptance Exploring Options, A New Plan
Return to a Meaningful Life Empowerment, Self-Esteem, Security, Meaning

The stages are not linear, even though I put them in a table. In reality, when you’re dealing with change/grief, you may start anywhere in the cycle and continue from there or jump around. It is most often shown on a curve or in a circle. I caught myself in anger earlier this morning then moved on to dialogue as I set out to write this post. In keeping with my musical theme, I might say that for me Sheryl Crow said it best with, “Every Day is a Winding Road”.

As I’ve counseled others in the corporate setting many times, the trick is to keep moving, to forgive yourself and others for being in any given stage, and allowing yourself to acknowledge the emotion and to actively manage it. That may mean doing something productive, or it may mean not doing anything at all. As a leader of staff, I’ve had to manage my own grief and change cycle while helping others to keep moving as well. It isn’t easy to do – the self management being the hardest part.

Thanks for joining me in my quest for reaching acceptance and a return to a meaningful life. I know that it is a, “Long and Winding Road”, but if we, “Come Together” and help each other through this, our collective journey will move a bit faster and our individual one will be a bit easier. Stay well!

P.S. The last two are Beatles song references, just in case they actually need to be identified.

Hometown Pride and Gratitude

In an effort to stay somewhat sane during the pandemic restrictions, I’ve been attempting to keep a gratitude journal. Reviewing the last few entries, I noted an even greater feeling of appreciation and gratitude for the people of my small hometown. Wishing for the chance to gather again brings to mind one of the best things I’ve experienced since moving back and one about which I’ve been meaning to write.

Our little town of about 400 people is undergoing resurgence and renovation and a number of folks are working pretty hard to leverage that into new opportunity. One group working to develop new business opportunity in our town is the local Public Development Authority (PDA). Over the winter, I had the privilege of helping this group to develop a vision statement.

Historic Harrington cultivates the richness of hometown pride while encouraging new opportunity

 for an inviting and thriving community.

 

The PDA rolled out their vision at the annual community meeting in February. During the meeting, in which the civic groups, churches, city government, Chamber of Commerce and the school shared their accomplishments and future plans, these concepts came up over and over. I saw huge investment in our town, both monetary and in terms of time and effort. I’m just super proud of  the PDA for drafting this, “ideal future state” for our town and for all the others who stand in agreement, whether or not they adopt this vision to guide their own work.

Doesn’t it just sound like a great place to live, have a small business, be a part of the farming industry and to raise a family? Our town is those things already but now you know a few dozen volunteers are nurturing these values to create even more opportunity for present and future generations. That is something about which we can all be grateful.

Remembering the Now

Mom blamed my dad. It was around 8:30 Sunday morning, May 18, 1980, and I was checking my reflection in Mom’s bedroom mirror. I’d be leaving for church in a few minutes and Mom was enjoying a quiet morning in bed with a good book. Out of nowhere, we heard a loud, “BOOM” and the ground shook for a few seconds.

“What is your father doing now?!” Mom asked.

“Who knows?” I answered as I bent to kiss her cheek. “See you after work.”

I headed to the car and noticed Dad working in the garden. It didn’t look like he was doing anything that might cause a small explosion. I chuckled at the idea that he’s automatically blamed for making such a racket. I waved goodbye and headed to town.

I’ll never forget the look on everyone’s faces as the ushers swung open the heavy wooden doors to release the congregation. The sun was still shining but a huge black cloud billowed menacingly toward us from the South. It was fast moving and looked other-worldly. As it began to obscure the sun, a few of us turned to look at Pastor as if he had something to do with it.

I worked at the local golf course and was due to arrive soon for my shift. By the time I got to the clubhouse, it was black as night outside and raining ash so thick you could barely see your hand in front of your face.

To my surprise, a steady stream of regular golfers entered the clubhouse, many appearing to be headed out to play! One gentleman in particular showed up in a rain slicker and carried a flashlight. I still conjure this image whenever a golfer’s passion for the sport comes up in conversation.

I remember the early chaos as government officials tried to figure out what needed to happen. The eruption affected different parts of our state in different ways, but everyone was affected in some way. This was of course before cell phones, the internet and social media. Messages changed regularly regarding wearing masks and whether travel was ok or not. Ultimately, masks were recommended but not readily available. Some people wore face coverings and some didn’t, some drove their vehicles and some didn’t.

Our town was simply buried in ash. I remember the clean up efforts and that everyone pitched in. Neighbors helped neighbors and I was tasked with helping a couple of elderly folks clean up the dust inside their homes while my brother dug out driveways. I think he even drove some equipment for the city clean up. I remember front end loaders scooping huge buckets of ash and piling them in the same places they’d piled snow a few months earlier. The National Guard was called out but we were pretty much done before they finally got to us.

My family lived in the country and therefore had a full pantry and a freezer full of beef and chicken my dad raised. But others really felt the shipping disruptions as grocery store shelves were empty within days and we wondered when they would be refilled.

I remember the talks of whether high school graduation might have to be cancelled. It wasn’t, but there were a few days when our seniors were worried that they might not get to experience the long awaited rite of passage. As I was a junior in high school, this was one of my bigger concerns.

I remember the following year when things were normal again. You could still see ash here and there, particularly on the side of the road but otherwise you might not know what had transpired the previous May. The wheat harvest for the next few years resulted in surpluses being dumped outside of the grain elevators and covered with tarps. We pretty much accepted that the good crops were one good thing to come out of the disaster.

It’s strange when a memory is so vivid that it feels like it’s happening in the present. Oh, right. Now I remember.

A Little Rant

Apparently all you have to do is pronounce a pandemic nonexistent and all is well. If only we had known that a few months ago!

Oh, wait. I think President Trump did try that at first. Maybe now that weeks have gone by and tens of thousands have suffered and/or died (in our country), it will work better. I sure hope so; I’m totally ready for a hair cut and a visit with my dad.

I’m only being a little sarcastic. Many people have already decided that they are done with the pandemic and I really hope they turn out to be right. Because the alternative isn’t something I want to think about.

2018 – A Year in the Slow Lane

It’s funny that I spent so many weeks/months feeling kind of uninspired about writing. This morning I decided to go through my last year of Facebook posts and I was surprised to see all the things I could have been writing about. There are lots of negatives about social media, but one nice thing is that it can become a journal of sorts. There! That’s another thing I can count; I did keep a journal of sorts.

As I prepared yesterday’s post, I re-read the other two. One went on about how I am not much of a homemaker but my, “journal” says otherwise. I raised vegetables, made freezer jam from fruit I picked myself, contracted with a neighbor for other fabulous garden veggies and fresh eggs which turned into delicious picture-worthy meals, and I baked several pies, one of which was my most liked Facebook picture. I also bought flowers and plants on a wonderful girls’ outing and I kept them alive and beautiful all year (the plants that is; the girls luckily didn’t depend on me for care). All of this while helping care for my parents and setting up a home in a new place.

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Hubby and I went on two wine trips with friends, visited extended family on both sides, had an impromptu 4th of July picnic, and bought a pickup.

On our wedding anniversary, we walked a 12k with the neighbor ladies. We also walked the local huff & puff one miler at the local Fall Festival. There were wonderful dinner parties with the neighbors and family, and I joined a book club! The book club led me to new friends and renewed friendships along with several great books I wouldn’t have read otherwise. I attended a quilting retreat at which the very nice women helped me hem valances for my kitchen windows. I also taught myself/reminded myself how to crochet and made several quick projects.

This month, as a result of a small bathroom flood, I am learning to lay vinyl plank flooring. I’m almost done with that project and although it required lots of help from my handy brother and a lot more time than I planned, I’m pretty proud of figuring it out. I also got some help from my talented sister in-law, Renee to create and organize my new office/craft room. Now, if that isn’t home-makery, then I don’t know what is!

Near the end of the year, I joined a new wellness program to help me lose weight. I’m down 8 pounds so far with a bunch more to go. Weight loss isn’t the only objective, although health-wise it is an important one. I like this program mostly for its psychological benefits around mindfulness and goal setting. I can tell a big difference already and not just in how my clothes fit.

Finally, I have found a whole new family to add to the wonderful one I already had. Thanks to a DNA test I took at the end of last year, I’ve been communicating with some new half brothers and sisters and learning all about a part of me to which I had never paid much attention. It is pretty profound and I’m sure I’ll be writing more about it as I process the discovery and begin to meet them.

2018 was a pretty amazing year. There were some difficult moments but so many joyful ones, too. One of my challenges has always been that I’m too hard on myself. Looking back on this year, I realize that I have a huge opportunity to be more mindful and present in all of these awesome moments and to give myself more credit for both the small and big things. Another takeaway from this year in review is that slowing down makes room for more of those moments. I’m glad I’m starting to figure that out.

Cheers to 2018, and here’s to a mindful, joyous, fun New Year in the slow lane!

Extended Family

Hello! It has been awhile, I know. Boy, does time fly when you let it. So much has happened since the last time I posted! Let me catch you up. Wait. Never mind. Let me tell you what JUST happened. It’s the juiciest part of the story, anyway.

Several months ago, I took a DNA test. You probably think you know where this is going but trust me, we’re just getting started. Actually, you might want to go grab a cup of tea or a cocktail. I’ll wait.

All settled? Good. So my good friend and world traveler, Katya, has been enjoying many years of guessing my ethnic background. Every time she comes home from a trip, she has a new idea of my heritage. I should mention that I’m adopted and have known it since I was very young. I have also wondered about my heritage. I have an olive complexion, dark hair and eyes and some somewhat annoying characteristics that one might consider common to certain ethnic backgrounds.

Back to the DNA test: I did it mostly to give Katya and I some answers. It would be fun, even if it ended our long running game. I did think it would be interesting to know about bio family too, but it was not the focus.

Now it is Christmas Eve, 2018. Everyone has gone home, the house is quiet and I pick up my phone to see what I’ve missed. There in my email, is a message that came through Ancestry.com. It is from a woman who has just received her test results and she says we are more closely related than she is to her (identified through a different DNA company) half-sister. I check out my own Ancestry account, and sure enough! We share a through-the-roof amount of DNA. I had been matched over time with more than a thousand people, all cousins, the most closely related of which only had about half of the shared DNA of this new match. Suddenly, with a couple of clicks, I had answers to a mystery that I didn’t even know I cared about. AND I had a sister!!

I’ve grown up with one brother, also adopted. How cool and strange and wonderful to now have a sister. She’s smart and funny and a writer! When I asked her, “What do we do now?” she answered, “I’m pretty sure I get to share your clothes and makeup and complain about men with you.” Not that I haven’t done those things with sister-friends or sisters in-law, but I could now do them with my own sister. Cool!

In a phone conversation on the day after Christmas, my new sister shared what she knew about our bio mom and family. She had actually met them and had kept in touch with a few. By the end of that phone call, I had EIGHT new siblings. Half siblings, but who’s counting? As an adoptee, I have always accepted that family isn’t necessarily blood-related. I rarely use titles like, “in-law” or “half” or “step” anyway.

I shared what I knew with my mom and dad right away. They found it fun and interesting and even though they’ve been my parents for 55 years without question, they still made sure I knew that while they are happy to share, there was no WAY they were giving me back. It was a very sweet moment.

About the, “Let’s guess Kathi’s heritage” game; Katya and I weren’t totally out of the ballpark, but we did attribute too much to the more Mediterranean parts of my appearance. 13% of my DNA traces to Ancestry’s French Region which is primarily France, but also includes some Spain, some Italy and even some of Portugal, a country that heavily factored into our estimate once Katya and her husband spent some time there. The Ancestry breakdown is: 47% Ireland, Wales, Scotland, 40% England, Wales, Northwestern Europe, and 13% France. Game over. And yet it has just begun.