The Perspective of a US Census Taker

usa flag waving on white metal pole
Photo by Element5 Digital on

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.

In A Split Second

I volunteer at a wonderful therapeutic riding center in upstate New York twice a week.  Therapeutic riding offers kids and adults who have cognitive, physical and emotional disabilities the opportunity to strengthen their muscles, follow instructions, and bond with a beautiful animal. Sadly, most of these programs are not covered by insurance, but that’s another discussion entirely.  (for when Barclay and I decide to become political and alienate some of our beloved readers!)

This week I was tasked with spotting a child who is severely disabled with the aid of another volunteer on a trail ride. Since daylight savings is around the corner and darkness will be descending upon us way too early, this was to be the last trail ride for the season.  (the class takes place late in the day)

The child sits in a chair much like a throne on top of the horse strapped in so she doesn’t fall, but able to use her hands for steering and holding the reins, as well as her leg muscles as much as she possibly can.  I had seen this rider enjoy her time in the arena looking happy and proud of her accomplishments.  (how wonderful is that for anyone, but particularly a child with a serious handicap)

To set the stage and allow you our reader to visualize what happened next, picture this.  There are about 6 kids of varying abilities on horses being spotted by volunteers in case their quick response time is needed or the horse needs a little reminding of what he or she is supposed to be doing. The child at the back of the line is a confident rider and decides to move up rather than being at the back of the line. That particular day there aren’t enough volunteers  so she is on her own, but she is a more experienced rider.  Horse A (I am using fictitious names to protect the innocent!) gets a wee bit too close to Horse B and is in his space.  Horse B (I’m the spotter for Horse B) bucks and the child falls to the ground while I am kneed by the hind quarter of a 300 lb animal who is pissed off!  I attempt to block the child’s fall to the ground, but due to my lack of upper body strength I can’t hold her back.  It happens so fast and in the blink of an eye a pleasant trail ride turns into an accident.  Thank God I am the only one injured (a black and blue and an egg sized lump on my upper thigh which looks like cellulite)  The rider is a bit shaken, but not a tear in sight.  I marvel at this trooper, who after a few minutes of catching her breath is ready to be positioned back in her chair and continue riding.  What was an uneventful afternoon trail ride has taught me to expect anything that comes your way, keep those reflexes sharp, and don’t invade a horse’s personal space.

Today’s Takeaway…

. Always be on your guard.  Expect the unexpected. Never underestimate what volunteering your time means to someone else.

I was beginning to think my time at the riding center was routine and that no one cared if I showed up or not.  Yesterday, made me see how one person can make a difference in someone else’s life.

Enjoy the ride

xox Barclay and Joy





Ye Ole Comfort Zone

My daughter, Alex, needed to produce a favorite quote to be published in her company’s news periodical – alongside a photo and an interview.  She selected one by Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In.

“What would I do if I weren’t afraid?”

When I googled Sheryl Sandberg, I discovered a plethora of inspiring quotes that someone like me needs to heed.

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Here’s my favorite –

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If offered such a seat, let’s just say I’d be running the other direction!

I love my Comfort Zone.  And now that I’m retired, it’s all too easy to bask in it.  To be a lazy bum and then condemn myself for being so, then open the freezer and reach for a Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Chocolate carton to seal the deal.

You get the picture.   Ms. Sandberg is not exactly my doppelgänger.  (Never used that word before.  How’s that for risk taking?!)

As we age, we need to guard against social anxiety (my middle name), self-induced isolation, and lazy bum-ism.

We don’t have to board a rocket ship, but we do have to MOVE.

In fact, the word, MOVE, can be a Rules-for-Life acronym for us Baby Boomers who are leaning-in – just not as Ms. Sandberg advocates.

M =  Mindful (THIS is our one life; And Time, she’s a mover.)
O =  Own your age (As you thinketh, so you are-eth – a loose Proverbs translation – by moi)
V =  Volunteer (even just a smile or kind word; a note; an hour a week with the elderly, the homeless, the “least of these”)
E =  Exercise (remember Peggy in her high heels?)

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We of an introverted nature may need a kick in the butt.  Reuters News published this 2017 piece that could be our butt kick.  Check it out if you have a minute.

Exercise linked to lower risk of premature death in older women

So goodbye, Comfort Zone, I’m heading out to play paddle tennis.  Then Codie wants to go to the nursing home.  And then I may meet a friend for a beer while Codie contemplates her canine life (food) alongside.

No need for a trip in a rocketship however.  Sorry, Sheryl!

Today’s Takeaway –

– MOVE – Be mindful of your days; own your age; volunteer; and exercise.

-Take that seat in the rocketship if that’s your thing.  I’ll drink my beer and applaud you from a safe distance!

Enjoy the Ride!

xox Barclay and Joy

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Making a Difference

In 2002 Jack Nicholson starred in a movie called About Schmidt.

Nicholson played Warren Schmidt, a grumpy curmudgeon retiring from his actuarial career  – facing the fact he’s no longer needed. His wife annoys him, his daughter’s about to marry a “nincompoop”; their new Winnebago bodes travel plans that he dreads.

Then his wife drops dead and he’s alone. Sounds uplifting, right?  Bet you can’t wait to find this on Netflix.

So let’s zoom to the redemption part.

Schmidt responds to an ad and sponsors a boy from an African village.  He starts writing letters to this boy – chronicling his Winnebago misadventures traveling cross-country to his daughter’s wedding.

At the very end, having endured perky campers and wedding weirdness, Schmidt reflects, has his life made a difference?

Now for the good part.  Finally.

Once at home he discovers an envelope  from Tanzania. A nun from an African orphanage tells him that his sponsored child, Ndugu, is only 6 and can’t read or write.  But Ndugu has enjoyed Schmidt’s letters and thinks of him everyday. Ndugu wishes for Schmidt’s health and happiness. He has made a picture for Schmidt which he hopes he likes.

 Schmidt starts crying as he realizes he HAS made a difference in his life.  Click redemption. to see Nicholson at his best. 

Enough about Schmidt.  Now About Us.  

We do NOT want to be remotely curmudgeonly.  And we DON’T want to wait for our final years to be reflecting, have we made a difference?

Each day we can make a difference in small ways.  Anonymous giving is the best!

Last summer Brett and I were sipping wine at a Wisconsin bar.  The bartender told us he was saving money to visit his young son.  After we signed the bill and the bartender had turned his back, Brett snuck a $100 bill under the napkin.  We scurried out. Unfortunately, the bartender, being young, sprinted after us to shake Brett’s hand. At least we tried to be anonymous!

My friend Donna once dropped off a delightful book at my front door and was mute about it for a full year.  She giggled when I finally figured out that she was the gift-giver.

And what’s retirement for, if not more giggling?


Today’s Takeaway –


  • Small things are big things.  Pay someone a sincere compliment – one  that the person can live on for the next month. 


  • Let’s do our best NOT to over-share about those arthritis aches or upcoming bunion surgeries.  Even Schmidt would lose interest!



Enjoy the ride!

xox Barclay and Joy

Retirement – It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be!

Maria is a veteran teacher who turned down the retirement incentive package offered last spring – something I (Barclay) and 25 eligible others jumped at.   

This was perplexing.  Maria had tons of retired friends who kept busy lunching, volunteering, reading book club selections with time to spare.   

And it wasn’t as if she was passionate about the daily grind of work. So why did she leave money on the table?

Her response?   How many times can you clean the house?

She anticipated isolation.  Watching too much CNN or MSNBC.  Waiting for an invitation to visit her grandkids.

Did Maria have a point?  5 months into retirement, I get it.

On the one hand, I have been liberated from team meetings (no more role playing!), evaluations, testing.  I’ve said good-bye to jarring alarm clocks, anxious rush hours, Monday angst, and Sunday blues.  

But oh how I miss the kids.  The magic of a first grader sounding out a word, a second grader reading a sentence with expression.  Even conferencing with parents.

Where’s my purpose now?  To Maria’s point, it’s not vacuuming the dog hair that rolls like stage brush through our living room.   And lunches, though wonderful, simply don’t cut it.


Today’s Takaway –

  •  Find your sweet spot of service.  
  • Who are your new “people”?  From toothless babies to toothless dementia patients – someone needs us.  Right? 


I think I’ve found my people.  Some mumble incoherently and some lick their paws. Every Friday I take my crazy Codie to visit a nursing home. She has made friends with Sylvia shaking with Parkinson’s, Father Edward battling throat cancer, Doris who tells the same story each visit, and Anna who gushes Polish love.  

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Maybe the word, retirement, is a misnomer.  Look at Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn’s second chapter of life-  putting Habitat for Humanity on the map.  Recently President Carter was chomping at the bit to get his hammer back after undergoing treatment for an annoying brain cancer.  

90 something.  In their sweet spot of service.

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Maria was right about one thing.  Vacuuming is overrated!



unnamed     Codie chilling.


Enjoy the ride!

xox, Barclay and Joy