The Perspective of a US Census Taker

usa flag waving on white metal pole
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Last fall I filled out an application to be a U.S Census taker. I was newly retired and had the time. But mainly, I felt it was my civic duty. In prior decades, I had been a Vietnam protester, a women’s lib advocate, an outspoken New Yorker born in the shadow of Columbia University and fully identifying with the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) of the 1970s.

Now I saw a country more divided than ever, with racial tensions heightening, and unemployment surging. Could I actually make a difference  for those whom the Census affected – the underrepresented, the marginalized, the uncounted? My 1970s self applauded!

But I soon discovered that becoming a Census taker was more than hopping in my car with a clipboard in hand and patriotic zeal in my heart. 

I had to attend a training class followed by a comprehensive nine-hour module on how to be an exemplary “enumerator”. This is the first time that technology has been used in the Census. The interview process would be prompted by questions on a government issued phone with software prompting you from one screen to the next based on answers to questions. You are capturing data that will be submitted for analysis by our government. And with over 170,000 Covid related deaths, the demographic changes in our country have been profound and dollars need to be allocated in the best way possible – for senior centers, hospitals, and schools.

After completing the module and taking a quiz covering the basic material, I was deemed ready to hit the road and be in the field. And my particular field turned out to be mostly just that. I was assigned the rural countryside of Columbia County in upstate New York.

My first case on my first day showed exactly how rural my territory was. My GPS led me to a corn field where it announced with great satisfaction that I had arrived. I stared at the wide open space, my patriotic zeal a bit dampened. I soon discovered that addresses were often incorrect, that many houses had no numbers, and that there were residents of trailer parks and RVs who wanted to remain off the grid.

But I also learned that whether rural or urban, people are more alike than they are different. And everyone has a story. I am a definitive type A personality, and I relished the opportunity to learn these stories – people’s names, their ages and origin, who they live with, and how many were under the same roof. It was like being an investigator without having the background for it.

Some of the kindest, sweetest people I met were missing teeth and eating cheese doodles for dinner. In this socially distanced, Covid world, most people seemed to want to connect, to interact with another human being. I saw how many lonely people there were out there, pandemic or no pandemic.

One woman I met was just pulling  into her dusty, dirt driveway. After I identified myself, she asked if I could wait a moment while she checked on her three kids and her mom. I discovered she was in her 40s, single, and had just moved back into her childhood home. At the end of the interview, I thought she would have asked me to stay for dinner if not for Covid.  We were probably on complete opposite sides politically, but we had connected – and all while filling out Census forms!

Then there have been times when I realized I was enumerating an actual celebrity. Once I spoke to a famous movie director/producer and did not let on that I knew who he was. It was an experience I will treasure and it never would have happened had I not been wearing my U.S Census badge!

I have also encountered those who did not take kindly to a stranger approaching their home, regardless of the clearly visible credentials. Once a hostile property owner appeared out of nowhere at a multi unit complex, telling me I was soliciting and that he was going to call the police. I calmly told him I was with the U.S Census Bureau, doing my job, and to please go ahead and call them. I stood my ground. I then heard him mutter under his breath, “f ing bitch” followed by a louder pronouncement that I had three minutes to leave the property. (I took my sweet time!)

As a 2020 Census Taker, I never know what to expect when I get into my car. But that’s the joy of it!  Everyone has a story and the hours fly by. Before I know it, I have gone through 25-30 cases and completed my required interviews. I have driven past corn fields and have heard cases that would break your heart. But I have also witnessed our nation’s diversity and resiliency, as well as our need to connect, and yes, even unite.

This is my small part in being an American and, whatever good comes from getting this Census right, I know I have contributed.

Ode to Olivia

Last week the world became a little less colorful as my first cousin, Olivia, slipped away and entered a permanent place in heaven.

She was not supposed to die at her age, not quite 64, oh so young by today’s standards. She was unwell, and dealt with the side effects from chemotherapy for many years as she battled cancer. She had neuropathy, heart issues, depression, anxiety, and a host of other ailments, in addition to just pain and discomfort. She suffered from conditions more common in later years.

I reconnected with Olivia about ten years ago through the effort of her step sister, my cousin, Fran Lisa. She very thoughtfully initiated a reunion, which brought Olivia and me back together, women now well past middle aged. I had had a hiatus of 20 years where we hadn’t communicated. No reason, just the usual drifting of family, particularly when one is an East coaster and one a West coaster. I owe a debt of gratitude to Fran Lisa for this special rekindling.

Olivia had lived quite a life as a true love child, leaving home at 18 never to return again. She followed her heart and her passion for music and art. She wrote poems and designed greeting cards expressing a oneness with nature. She even had praying mantises as pets, in addition to dogs and cats.

She was a real groupie, following Bob Dylan around the country, writing to him, composing poetry, and painting him. She once waited for him in front of the men’s room so she could personally hand him a piece of her art. He told her to stick to her poetry!

Olivia was also a weed distributor way before Mary Louise Parker ever smelled pot! Based out of tony Marin County, she had a client list of writers and Hollywood folk (maybe B or C list, but nevertheless!!) who counted on her for her quality product. She knew everything there was to know about cannibis before I ever smoked a joint.

I was a goody two shoes who always did what was expected. As little girls, she brought the mischief out in me. I looked upon Olivia as a sister since we were very close in age. We shared secrets. She complained to me about her family, asked for advice, bounced ideas off me. It was a special bond.

Olivia wore a hibiscus in her hair, bright stenciled designs like butterflies on her red polished nails, and had Sharon Osbourne hair. You couldn’t miss her if you tried! She leaves two grown daughters, a grand child, and a husband who loved her for the unique character she was. They were partners for 20 years before marrying only seven years ago. Better late than never.

So, Olivia, as you are laid to rest today, Sunday, the day that would have been your birthday, know that you left your mark. You touched people’s lives, made many people smile. You, who lost your mother at the tender age of two, will be reunited with her, alongside your dad, and grand parents.

May Bob Dylan be singing Blowin’ In The Wind to you as a serenade and flowers come to life everywhere.

Rest in peace.

Love forever from Cousin Joy.

Takeaways

-My cousin. is the first close family member I have lost and it hit me as a little too close to home. I am fortunate to have not lost any dear friends to disease or accidents. I know that this will be the first of many more to come as I age and those around me as well.

-We need to reach out to family and friends that we may have disconnected from.

Egg Roll for One

Eating Chinese food alone in front of the tv is acceptable. It’s okay. It’s when isolation is thrust upon you and it becomes a day in and day out occurrence, that the effects become very real.

After almost five months of social distancing, quarantining, and separation from loved ones far away (or worse in nursing homes or assisted living facilities), we are at the end of our proverbial ropes! Life is not normal. Who knows when it will be? For me, I am fortunate to have my EPS (Ever Present Spouse)! But others are not so lucky and isolation has become their new normal.

We, as humans, are social by nature. Sure, it’s good to have space, to have “me” time, but many of us crave some type of social interaction. Studies show that most people would rather experience electric shock treatment than be in isolation! (I kid you not! Heard it on the radio the other day.) “Human beings are an ultra-social species and our nervous systems expect to have others around us,” says Emiliana Simon-Thomas of The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

No other time has this been more painfully clear than now. I have a daughter who is living in Europe, whom I can’t see. I miss her terribly. Absence does not make this heart grow fonder. It makes it ache!

So during this time of aching, let’s not forget about those who are truly alone and may even now be sitting in front of the TV with their take-out egg roll. How are they dealing with this forced social isolation? This is a time for us to reach out to one another. To make a call. Send a text. Let someone know we care.

Barbra Streisand said it best in the 1964’s classic film, Funny Girl, “People, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

xox

Barclay and Joy

The Power of a Dust Rag

(Joy here.) In addition to the many things we have learned and adjusted to living in a Covid world, one of them is — your house or apartment still gets dirty! And you are there to witness it in real time!

Cleaning… it’s a thankless job, my mother used to say. When my mother started a part time job, the first thing she treated herself to was a maid! Who doesn’t love the pleasant smell of a clean house when it is spic and span, but how many of us really enjoy actually doing the work that needs to be done to get it to that place?! With people not wanting to go into someone’s home for socializing, the likelihood of getting your cleaning person to come, is slim. The conundrum is… do you live in filth or get down on those hands and knees and do it yourself?

The funny thing is that I actually enjoy physical labor. I like weeding gardens, though it is frustrating as hell that the damn things keep coming back! I like getting down on all fours to give the bathroom floor a thorough wash. Call me crazy, but I refuse to use that beloved Swiffer floor mop (though easier on the back and knees) because it just doesn’t give me that same sense of physicality. A little sweat never hurt anyone and the results are ones that quickly illustrate what a good job you’ve done!

Studies show that cleaning is actually therapeutic. An article on the website Organicauthority.com points out five suggestions for turning housecleaning into a mood enhancer:

  1. As you clean the kitchen sink, you can practice deep breathing and meditation.
  2. Cleaning a drawer can give you a feeling of being in control.
  3. Scrubbing has been shown to release stress levels.
  4. Count your blessings while dusting -after all, you are one of the lucky ones to have a house to clean!
  5. Cleaning can purge more than just dog hair. As you dispose of dust and grime, visualize your negative emotions being tossed out as well.

Covid is not going away anytime soon, so you might as well bite the bullet, pick up the dust rag, and sing show tunes while you clean! Your home will reward you as a place to be proud of and continue to social distance in!

Today’s Takeaways

-Feeling isolated? Sad? Overwhelmed? Cleaning SOMEthing could just make you feel better. Start small. Try for drawer a day.

-Okay, who could possibly get excited about cleaning a toilet?! Run, don’t walk, to Target or Amazon ASAP and order this product! It’s amazing! Your toilet will smile back at you!! ToiletWand

Enjoy the ride!

xox

Barclay and Joy

Silver Linings

These are hard times. The word, unprecedented, does not come close to describing what we are going through. COVID has swept our globe with tsunami force leaving in its wake overrun ICUs, death, unemployment, food lines, isolation, and stress that for lack of a better descriptor is… well, unprecedented.

We hesitate to inject positivity here. For we know we are among the privileged. Our zip code has not been ravaged; we have not had to wait hours in a food line. We are not essential workers; nor are we on the front lines in a hospital emergency room.

However, COVID has interrupted our privilege with loneliness and longing. We cannot hug a grandchild, or meet a grown daughter for a drink, or visit a mother in a nursing home. Yet we have also recognized a few silver linings, for which we are grateful. We are recording them here, so as not to forget.

Silver Lining 1: Reuniting family

My family of origin is spread across the states. One sister lives in Vermont, four brothers reside in New York, Minnesota, and California, and nieces and nephews are dispersed. We see one another once a year at best and talk mainly on holidays and birthdays. Since COVID, however, my nephew has organized a weekly ZOOM call that has enabled us to connect. Yes, there are awkward silences and interruptions, but there is also laughter. Our family, however flawed, knows one another’s backstory and can speak in shorthand, referencing people and places only we know. We are closer now than ever before.

Silver Lining 2: Slowing down

Walking the dog, chatting with a neighbor from across the street, reading a book, journaling, planning a recipe, calling a friend – time during a quarantine has made us stay more present. We might share a smile with a fellow dog walker, or gaze at a hidden garden, or marvel at a cleverly disguised robin’s nest.

Silver Lining 3: And this is a big one. Examining systemic racism

We have COVID generated time now to learn and to listen. We are reading White Fragility and Just Mercy as well as the signs held aloft by the protesters in our streets. We watch and rewatch horrifying videos. We are trying to understand more and speak less, and to call out our myopic and generationally unresponsive eyes and ears. COVID is urging us to practice humility.

Silver Lining 4: Thinking about what matters

We can’t zip over to the store. We can’t have coffee with a friend. We can’t stroll an outdoor mall, or get our hair done. We are sick of our own cooking and we have saturated all Netflix options. We wear the clothes we slept in, and showering is, shall we say, less frequent. But at the same time we are grateful each morning when we wake up and discover we are not sick. We are thankful we have dogs to keep us company. And the weather…winter has passed and we are uplifted by the blue sky and the bright light that extends well into evening. All the trappings of our lives are stripped away and we are thankful for our family and friends. Needs and wants are more clearly delineated. Perhaps we can live without those skinny margaritas or that blow dry with the beach-y waves.

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I concur with my dear friend’s observations. Life IS different. I don’t want to say, it will never be the same again, because that’s been said before, after 9/11, after the Great Recession of 2008, basically after every major crisis or shattering event.

Some of us will learn lessons from these last few months and some of us won’t. For me, as a sixth decade-er, it will leave its imprint, its message to wake up, that time’s a fleeting. It has made me think more deeply. I was already in heavy thinking mode, having retired and struggled with a new chapter (those of our blog readers know this), but this COVID message is both physical and mental. My husband and I are considered “elderly”!! Who? Me? Couldn’t be. The disease could be lurking in coughs, on Amazon delivery boxes – a facial-touch away. We are vulnerable, but we are also profoundly thankful.

May we hold onto this gratitude for as long as we can. May we treasure our children, our grandchildren, our spouses, partners, and friends – we realize now more than ever that they could be taken away from us at any time.

As for racial tensions, we need to stop and think before we open our mouth; we need to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. And we must be kinder, more tolerant, and ever mindful that not everyone has the privilege of being taken at their word.

There are no “Takeaways” today. Just read our words which, hopefully, will leave a tiny imprint. We bare our rawest feelings when we blog and we hope just one person may walk away, saying, “Wow, I feel that way too.”

Enjoy the ride,

xox Barclay and Joy

The Case of the Fatigued Engagement Ring

About a month ago, I (Joy) was looking down at my hand.  This is the hand I have worn my engagement ring on for the last four decades. I did a double take.  One of the shanks holding a diamond baguette had separated from the main stone.  The ring is made of platinum, a very hard substance, atomic number 78, unreactive,  not inclined to break or crack.  I took the ring off for fear of losing the stone and put it away until it could be looked at by a jeweler. My hand felt naked.  I felt as though maybe this signified something.  Was my marriage broken?  Was this an omen?  I had worn this ring for 44 years, 42 being married and two during our engagement. This ring had seen much, felt much, and been with me on my hand reminding me of my vows, a token of affection and love, and several months of my fiancee’s salary at that time.  Who knew rings could break? If my ring could talk, what would it say?

I discovered that jewelers in my area were closed during the pandemic.  This was not a do it yourself project.  I didn’t know any gemologists, so my beautiful engagement ring had to be put away for safe keeping.

Finally, we entered into Phase 2 in the Capital Region of New York.  I found a jeweler in our little hamlet who was incredibly talented.  I walked in with my broken engagement ring and it was diagnosed as ‘fatigue.”  I had never heard this term before in relation to jewelry and I found it rather incredulous!  How could my ring be tired? All it did for 44 years was  sit on my finger. I asked nothing of it!

Apparently, rare as it  might be, especially for platinum silverish white in color, it can happen.  One of the shanks was indeed cracked and so, after an estimate of $550, I left my ring to be repaired and made new again. (The jeweler said he had never seen this happen before!)

Two weeks later and I received a call from the jeweler that my ring was repaired and looked brand new.  He told me that when he removed the shank holding one of the diamond baguettes, the other shanks disintegrated.  Perhaps, out of solidarity! Thank God it could be saved and there is a happy ending to my tale of woe. My beautiful engagement ring is now back on the finger it has always been on, shiny and new, no longer fatigued!

Today’s Takeaway

-Keep your eye on your jewelry at all times.  You never know when a piece that is dear to you is going to get “fatigued”!

-If my ring could talk, it might remind me that relationships too can become fatigued; they too may need to be polished, attended to with love, and valued beyond measure.

As always, enjoy the ride!

xox

Barclay and Joy

 

The Great Pandemic of 2020

Much has been written about this unprecedented time we are living through – scientific reports, daily briefings by governors, mayors, the President, as well as jokes and quips to make us smile.

I (Joy) can only liken this to a period in history that I never lived through. That of World War II. My parents spoke of rations, silk stocking shortages, cigarettes being hard to come by, bread lines, feelings of worthlessness, depression, real estate values plummeting. This will be our World War II, our defining moment that we will take to our graves. Our children and their children won’t forget, but at least, God willing, they will have many more years to replace this horrific time with happy memories and prosperous times. Those of us in our senior years have less time to make up our lost investments and to process our feelings of isolation, disconnection, and separation from our loved ones.

What I will take away from this is that I was fortunate to have great friends, close family members, access to the internet with Zoom, FaceTime, What’s App, Instagram, and especially a husband who has been my friend and partner through good times and bad. I will remember that as long as I have food to put on my table, good health, sufficient money in the bank, and love in my heart for God and others, I will be fine. I will do my best to hold on to these thoughts and feelings so that I never take anything for granted again and realize I can do without if I have to.

In the words of Fred Rogers, “Often when you think you’e at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.” Perhaps, our new beginning will be an era of less pollution, less greed, less materialism, less hatred, less “me”.

I hope so.

 

Today’s Takeaway

-What can we do to brighten someone’s day? A card in the mail, as old school as that is, could bring a smile to the face of a nursing home resident or a widow next door.

-Turn your eyes away from cable news long enough to marvel at that robin contemplating where to nest, that perennial flower annoyed by recent April snow and insisting on bursting forth, that squirrel scurrying up the tree oblivious to a flattening curve and daily statistics. You have the time!

Stay safe!

xox Barclay and Joy

 

health workers wearing face mask
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a Shortage of Dogs!!!! Surprising outcomes of a global pandemic

We are living in a world that is more akin to an episode from “The Twilight Zone” than anything in my (Joy’s) previous umpty-ump years of life!! (Just in case anyone reading this is thinking of hiring me, I’ll continue to keep my age private!)

We have wanted to write, to speak out to you, our subscribers, but we didn’t want to  wring our hands, despair, panic, add more to your anxiety.  So here’s a good news story, courtesy of COVID-19.

An oddity of this pandemic has been a shortage of adoptable dogs! (Cats too!!)  Really!  What a wonderful problem for a shelter to experience!  You might scratch your head and say, so? What it says to me is how important socialization is to all of us.  We need to be comforted, we need to nurture, we need to love and be loved.

Bloomberg and Crain’s New York Business reported on this very curious phenomenon the last week of March. A surge of applications, as reported by “Muddy Paws Rescue” and ‘Best Friends Animal Society, as much as 10 fold the normal amount, has the shelters scrambling for adoptable and/or fosterable pets in the New York City area. It’s extended to other disease epicenters such as L.A as well.

A pet fills in the gaps when we can’t be close to other humans.  Don’t get me wrong, I adore my dog all the time.  But in times of stress, sadness, confusion, anxiety, when your furry friend looks up at you with those big eyes, be happy he or she can’t get Covid-19.  Where would you be without your furries?  In the words of James Taylor, “You’ve Got a Friend.”

Other Takeaways (so far) of a Global Pandemic

-Little Adventures Everywhere – Who knew taking a walk around the block could be so vital?  And during these walks, we find ourselves waving to perfect strangers across the street – a wave that says, “I know what you’re going through.” We are bringing jigsaw puzzles out of closets; we are resurrecting family game nights, or days; we are appreciative of hair-washing, Netflix, and video connecting.

I’ve just been invited to a cocktail party! My (Barclay’s) sister, age 80, living in rural Vermont, exclaimed.  She and her husband were going to Zoom with friends that evening at 5pm.  We are craving human contact.  And Zoom is easy enough for even Grandmas to navigate.  Our calendars are filling up with dates for online get-togethers where PJs are just fine.

When I pray, I kick worry and anxiety out of my head – Many of us  have been spending more time on our knees.  We have been rereading Psalm 91.  Hey, we have time!  And there is a TON to pray about! Praying and worry cannot coexist. So get kneeling!

We are learning to wait better and reflect more.  Amazon is no longer a few hours away.  If we want such and such, we can’t hop in the car and treat ourselves.  Life is slower. Days are seeming like weeks.  Patience and deep breathing are keys to survival. Whenever we feel sorry for ourselves, we reflect on those heroes who are driving ambulances, caring for the sick, patrolling our streets, manning our check-out lines, taking our garbage.

Churches are going beyond their four walls.  We can listen to online sermons live or at our leisure.  Those who wouldn’t think of attending an actual service, now have the means (and the time) to sit in the back pew and take it in (virtually, that is.)

The biggest takeaway sounds trite, but is true —

We ARE in this together and We Will Get Through It.

                                                                Hold On

xox Barclay and Joy

 

 

 

 

Don’t Climb that Ladder! Living out the Cycle of Life and Love

I’ll love you forever. 

I’ll like you for always. 

As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.

This is the  lullaby of a mother to her son in Robert Munsch’s beloved picture book, Love you Forever.

This mother crawls across the floor of her son’s  bedroom, and if he is fast asleep, she cradles him on her lap while reciting the lullaby.  She does this when he is a baby, a toddler, a 9-year old, a teenager, and ultimately an adult.  Yes, an adult.

Finally the mother is too old and sick to come to her son, so he visits her.  And as he cradles and rocks his mother, he repeats the familiar words, “I’ll love you forever. I’ll like you for always.  As long as I’m living, my mommy you’ll be.”

After his mother dies, the son goes into the room of his own baby daughter, picks her up from her crib, cradles her, and recites the lullaby.  And so the cycle continues.

Now, it is pure sacrilege to utter a word of criticism regarding this beloved classic. Maria Shriver has praised the book, saying she could not read it through without crying.  It was even featured in an episode of  “Friends”  when Joey gives a dramatic reading at Emma’s 1-year birthday, leaving everyone overcome with tears.

But as for me, my tears dry up at the scene where the mom goes to her adult son’s house.

She brings a ladder and climbs through his bedroom window!

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Publishers Weekly said about this part of the story, “Either it moves you to tears and you love it, or it makes your skin crawl and you detest it.”   Another critic said, “It’s either a touching account of a mother’s unending love or the ultimate helicopter parenting gone bad.”

I find this scene downright creepy.  But maybe that is because, if I’m truly honest, my heart’s desire is to do the very same thing.  I am jealous of those mother-daughter relationships where they talk or text each other multiple times a day.

But I also know that healthy detachment allows grown children to find their own path and parents to find their own lives while remaining cheerleaders, pray-ers, safety nets, listening ears.

So we should probably resist the urge to climb into our kid’s bedroom window in the dead of night.  Much as we want to.

That said, I am going in the garage right now to make sure the ladder is in working order and will fit in the back of our SUV.

Joy here: 

Where was I in 1986 when this children’s picture book was published?? I don’t remember it at all.  In fact, I never heard of it.  I was a bit busy at the time, having made the decision to move back to New York City and finding out I was pregnant with our 1st child.  Nevertheless, a book that so many people know and love (some hate) and that won The Parent’s Choice Gold Award, as well as selling 30 million copies worldwide, is hard to miss!

I listened to it being read on a You Tube video this morning. While sweet, endearing, and touching, it’s a bit of an over the top obsessive mother child story (in my opinion). Cradling your teenage child at 17?!!  Child services might be called in today!!!

I could picture SNL doing a skit on this and having a blast doing so, but I also smiled to myself.  It dovetailed so well with my thoughts on letting go and over texting my adult children.  What’s the right amount of space?  Will they reach out if they really need me or should I be happy that they are trying to work out their own issues?

I wonder how tall a ladder I would need to reach my daughter’s 2nd floor apt?  Kidding!!

Today’s Takeaway…

-A bond between a mother and child is powerful, and for most of us, lasts until our last breath of life.

-Know when to pull back and when to dive in.  It takes practice!  Maybe, by the time your children have children of their own, you’ll get it right!!

As always, enjoy the ride!

xox Barclay & Joy