Monday, April 19, 2021

My Local Public Library Has Only Curbside Service--How I Learned to Browse Online

Ever since I could read, one of my favorite pastimes has been reading, and closely associated with that has been the happy pursuit of browsing for something interesting to read. With the arrival of the current coronavirus pandemic, businesses and governmental agencies have adapted to the necessary medical protocols, our friendly public library among them. Reducing its service to online catalog book checkout and curbside delivery is the current service available to my town's bibliophiles. 

The library has had an online catalog for a long time, one which I used occasionally to determine if a particular book or author was available at the library. Almost always, however, I used the in-library computers for a quick search. "Does the library have Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes," I'd ask myself, for instance, and a quick check of the computerized "card catalog" would determine the availability of the novel--assuming that I just didn't walk over to the "B" section in fiction and do an eyeball check myself.

I had never actually browsed with the catalog, though, and that is something I learned to do with the advent of the pandemic. First I had to flounder around a bit and remember my sign in and password. Having done that, I then had to learn how to use the catalog's search functions. I discovered that I could look for more than a specific title or author. I could reference also according to subject, for instance adding the search words "ocean," "historical," and "women." I could also search for books that were part of a series. 

A fun activity I began with my wife was to find books for her to read. I had done this some prior to the pandemic, cruising the stacks and pulling a few books I thought she'd like. Now I had to learn how to do this via the computer catalog. My wife was raised by the ocean, which she misses here in Iowa, so that has always been a "go-to" subject for books. She also enjoys novels with strong female protagonists, although gender is not a deal-breaker. Finally, we've discovered that we both enjoy mysteries and detective novels. 

In addition to the library, we have also come to rely on online book buying, both used and new books. We've also utilized my Kindle a bit for ebooks when necessary, although we still enjoy reading hands-on paper books more. The process that has evolved is that I discover an author--and perhaps a series by that author--and then browse the library catalog to determine if the library has that author's books. Then we'll fill in any books missing from a series or from that author's backlist by purchasing online. 

One good example of this process is books by the author Anna Lee Huber. The library catalog displayed as a new book A Pretty Deceit, the fourth book in Huber's Verity Kent mystery series. I researched the author and discovered she also writes a Lady Darby mystery series. I bought the first books in both series as samplers. My wife and I both enjoyed them, and we have purchased and read the series, which included our reading only one of the books from the library.

Searching for novels that have ocean settings, I discovered the novels of Mary Alice Monroe. My wife has really enjoyed her novels, and we've been able to check out a number of her novels from the library, filling in as needed by online purchases. Monroe has a number of stand-alone novels and also has written books for two series, a Lowcountry Summer trilogy and the Beach House series. My wife's read all her novels, and although I've read only one of these novels, I'll probably read more in the future.

I enjoy searching for possible books for my wife Sandy, and it's great fun to discover an author that she really enjoys. Because I'm retired and she's still running her business, it's easier for me to carve out some browsing time. Besides, as a lifelong reader, a writer, and a retired language arts teacher, it's great fun to browse the stacks, even if I have to do it virtually. It has also been a source of enjoyment for Sandy and me to read the same books and then to talk about them. Sharing our enjoyment of reading is a simple joy, which is especially pleasurable in our sometimes complicated world. We have tried a few authors that we aren't crazy about, but even those discussions are a source of pleasure and sharing. 

If you haven't interacted with your local library's online catalog, I suggest you try it out. I think my town's public library has done a great job of dealing with the dangers of the pandemic while still working to meet the needs of its patrons. Curbside service--actually, I'm feeling a bit spoiled!


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Getting the COVID-19 Vaccination to Help My Family

Being vaccinated for the COVID-19 virus was a decision I made for my personal health. When the vaccinations first came out, there was some concern because the vetting process was fast-tracked because of the pandemic dangers. However, my 'older-than-65' group was not the first to receive the vaccinations, and when my group hit the front of the line a couple months into the vaccination process, I had read enough to convince myself that the risks assessed to the covid shot were exponentially less than the risks of the actual virus, especially since I was not frail in health, with pre-existing health issues, or with a history of allergic reactions. 

I remember one open-letter I read that used the numbers 1/250 and 1/250,000 when assessing the relative risks of the virus and the vaccination. That is to say, using an analogy, if you were borrowing a car to drive to a town an hour away, which car would you borrow--the car with one chance in 250 to break down, or the one with one chance in a quarter million? I also remember one doctor commenting on "speculation regarding possible negative side effects" by simply stating that the speculation provided no scientific evidence that such concerns were viable. Personally, for me, the real dangers of the virus out-weighed the fears that there might be something out there about the vaccinations that we don't know about, especially after millions have received successful vaccinations. 

I looked at the research, the speculation, the objective results, listened to the experts, considered the empirical data--and then signed up. The "signing up" for me was early enough in the game that some real research and footwork was required, due to the lack of a centralized sign-up system and a central information source. I didn't just receive my vaccination for myself, though, and not just society's health. I also received my vaccination for my family. I am the first in my family to receive a covid vaccination. I think that's a significant event. At one point there was the consideration of what would happen if our children became sick and were hospitalized with the virus. Who would take care of the kids or grandkids? Now that I am vaccinated, I can for the sake of my family take advantage of my vaccination and care for my family by myself if necessary. I would follow the protocols but would also have an over 90 percent effectiveness rate for not catching the virus, and an almost 100% effectiveness of lesser severity if I were to get sick. Yes, there are the variants, but my vaccination certainly does not increase my risk of infection by a variant strain of the coronavirus. I have, so to speak, one more layer of protection for myself than the rest of my family.

My point is that I'm situated to provide assistance to my family until others are immunized. Science indicates that it would be safer for me to tend to family members exposed to the virus than for those who are not yet immunized, should someone be hospitalized or immobilized. I find that personally comforting. Now that my parents have passed, I don't have to worry about traveling long distances to care for them, which would be more difficult if I weren't immunized, especially if they had been vaccinated and I had not--or even if they had not been vaccinated, since they were very frail in their last years. My life has become focused on our family of twelve who all live in the same town. 

I can focus on my family here at home. My physiology can be the family's rampart to keep danger at bay, if necessary. There are always dangers, but I've done what I can to keep everyone safe. That's why, in fact, I researched and made sure I was vaccinated as early as I could for my age group. I hustled and put myself at the front of my family, at the front of the line. I don't just see my immunization as a protection for me; I also see it as a weapon that I can use against the virus to defend my family. It's a strange world in which prudence makes me powerful.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Going Fishing with My Brother

Spring in my hometown

"You know what I'd really like to do, Tom?" my brother asked me over the phone a few months ago. "I'd like to go fishing with you."

I could imagine it, sitting in patio chairs on the shoreline of the Lake Oroville afterbay, lines in the water and an afternoon of relaxing ahead of us. We wouldn't be following the flow of a Sierra Nevada stream like we did in the old days, fishing downstream from hole to hole with worms, salmon eggs, or helgramites--or perhaps wet fly fishing if we were in the mood. My brother's time for that is past; he probably would be using his walker to safely negotiate the uneven terrain of the shoreline, and his energy level would be just about right for the springtime Mediterranean climate of California's Central Valley. 

If it were spring like now, the valley's wildflowers would be in bloom, the grass green, the sky a handsome blue, and the temperatures mild. My brother Pat wanted to share that experience with me, and just thinking about it makes me smile. It's a sweet and happy wish, a simple desire of just sharing a moment together, just an uncluttered moment together in nature. There would be robins, of course, and probably a few bumblebees. There would be the grasses moved in waves by the invisible hands of the wind. There would be the warmth of the sun and all the time in the world, for that is what fishing teaches us--to be right there in the moment, without regrets or anticipation, self-sufficient in the clove of time.

My birthday is in February and my brother's is in March--Groundhog's Day and St. Patrick's Day, if you can believe the chances of that. Pat called me on my most recent birthday, wishing me well and saying that he'd be heading to the hospital for a blood transfusion due to a low blood cell count. I still have the message on my phone. He headed out after my birthday for the transfusion, came home, and in less than a week after his call had died during an afternoon nap. As I've had too many opportunities to say these last years, although it wasn't unexpected, it was still a surprise.

Pat's health wasn't well. After a life of hard work in carpentry and a hard life of drinking and smoking, he'd cleaned up his life these last three years, finding the means to live a simple, stable life. I'm proud of the way he faced his challenges, made the right decisions, and turned his life around. He managed to die after having finally found his inner worth and dignity. 

Pat and I were different. He was the itinerant construction worker and carpenter; I was the school teacher who could tell you what my schedule was a year in advance. We would get frustrated with one another, our habits of life and mind being different. Beyond all differences, though, we always maintained our acceptance of one another as brothers. At some point, we just stepped beyond our differences to that unity of family. We were loyal to one another. We might have yelled at one another occasionally, but we never gave up on one another. We gave one another the space we needed, but we did that without ever losing our connection. 

Me, Mom, and Pat, 2017

My brother died two months ago, and I think I'm just starting to get myself straightened out. It hit me harder than I would have supposed. Maybe it's an older brother thing, but I've always felt a responsibility for him. How do you protect someone, though, from the cycle of life? I honor my brother's life. He was a kind and gentle soul, who mostly just wanted to be left alone so that he could enjoy the simple things in life. I think he understood the deep truth of the world--that life is essentially happy in nature, as long as you didn't interfere too much and screw it up. 

It's spring--a time for fishing and camping, a time of beginning. The pines are pungent with pollen, and the thunderclouds smell of rain. My brother wanted to go fishing with me one last time, and I feel like he's just started that fishing trip ahead of me. He always told me that he thought he'd die first. Pat's talk of fishing was his way of sharing his perspective with me, I think. Pure fishing transcends time by being so completely in the moment. I somehow can feel my brother's happiness, his contentment, and that in my mind I'm sitting next to him, feeling the same warm sunshine. Neither time nor distance separates us--just two souls fishing, our lines wet in the water, just two brothers gone fishing, the moment perfect and eternal. 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Netflix's Bridgerton--a First Impression

My wife and I enjoyed Shonda Rhimes' TV show "Scandal," and especially how the show stuck a thumb in the eye of racial bigotry. To discover that a Black man was secretly running the United States for years while all those old white men thought they were calling the shots! And how the Black puppeteer chortles when he confesses all to those assembled old men, daring them to tell the world! Intrigued that Rhimes has produced "Bridgerton," a British Regency era series about early 1800s high society, my wife and I were ready to find out how the producer's outrageous unpredictability would play out, whether Rhimes' thumb in the eye could make it past Britain's stiff upper lip, so to speak.

After viewing the first episode of the series, we are pleased to say that the production has met our expectations--and exceeded them. Yes, the thumb is still there, ready to poke--and as usual it's coated in Rhimes' rich syrup of witty, intelligent grandeur. 

First, let's talk about the setting and costumes--this is a lush production. Having seen just the first episode, there's nothing gritty about the show. The rich are very rich, and the lives they lead are excessive and indulgent, fueled by big bucks. Starting 2021 with the beauty of the sets . . . and fireworks and gushing fountains and garden topiary--well, that's a welcome escape from 2020.

Next, the writing is quite deft, matching the fast-moving and insightful plotting and dialogue we enjoyed with "Scandal." The love matches and lack of them, the rich, smirking buffoons and the entitled and unaware young men just needing a nudge to get "woke," and the women who really run the show, some well and some not so well--it's all there, a naughtier, more lavish, and romantically suspenseful version of "Pride and Prejudice."

Finally, any consideration of "Bridgerton" cannot exclude Rhimes' casting of people of color liberally into British Regency aristocratic society--not only casting in excessive proportion to historical fact but also scripting the storyline so that no racial prejudicial reactions exist. That was a bold move by Rhimes, and I think it works by both allowing the fantasy to exist and by also making a point by the startling contrast with historical reality. Show writer Chris Van Dusen (in The Oprah Magazine) stated that the show was not intended to be historically accurate but rather "a modern take on a period drama that resulted in fantasy." An Ed Times piece puts it this way: "The tone and attire of the show also remind us of the fact that we may have left behind the enduring whiteness of authors like Jane Austen. Call it a recreation of history or escapist fantasy, the show does represent change and also opens a lot of avenues for other similar possible dramas in the future." I find the inclusion of people of color beyond the historical accuracy of the times is indeed an invigorating "fantasy." It's a subtle, silky poke in the eye, a thumb in the ugly eye of bigotry. Perhaps a Black James Bond is possible.

We're looking forward to more of "Bridgerton," to more romance, intrigue, and period escapism. After seeing the first episode, one of our favorite (or should I say favourite?) characters is plump Penelope Featherington. "Pen" is also an ill-matched character for Regency society--according to those standards, an overweight bookworm who is too quick to display her dazzlingly radiant smile. In the first episode, Penelope is the focus of the snarky bigotry of the times, becoming the perfect foil to the ignored racial bigotries that the fantasy side-steps. Expecting racial tension, we discover a smart, joyful young woman who will probably get along because of her fortitude and despite the prejudices of the times. Well done! And we look forward to more to more ribbons, bows, and knowing Rhimes, probably daggers--real, metaphorical . . . or both. We'll see, won't we!

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Friday, November 20, 2020

Why the Holidays Are So Dangerous During This Pandemic

Remember the early days of the pandemic? The danger of getting COVID-19 was defined as geographic--"hotspots" such as major cities and travel centers. Don't go to those places was the advice, and it was good advice. Then the advice was to not go to "super-spreader" events such as sports or entertainment events because the odds were that some individuals in those events would be sick and would infect others. This was and is still also good advice. 

Associated with super-spreader events were gathering spots such as bars, where alcohol consumption and a lot of social interaction created ripe circumstances for virus transmission. Included in this "gathering spot" designation were also weddings and religious gatherings. Time has allowed for enough empirical data to be gathered to verify that there are places we should avoid in order to be safe, and although the news is filled with blatant examples of people not following the advice of medical professionals, the truth is that many people are following the advice of the medical profession--they are not traveling out of their local area, they are wearing masks in public, and they are not frequenting public watering holes such as pubs.

We're getting pretty good at taking precautions--and I use the pronoun "we" deliberately. We have been careful and are careful. We are even aware of "covid fatigue" and are watching our behavior in order not to let down. The environment has changed, though, and even though I don't want to write these words, the pandemic environment is now more dangerous. Why?

  • The virus is now everywhere. To say "I'm avoiding hotspots, super-spreader events, and public gathering spots, so I'm safe" is not true. From the least populated to highly populated locations, all are getting hammered.
  • The main cause of spread is from asymptomatic individuals. 
  • The main cause of infection is through the air, and with colder weather, more people are spending more time inside.
  • Pandemic fatigue is real and insidious . . . and the holidays are upon us.
Fact-gathering now indicates that the most likely way someone will be infected with this novel coronavirus is by a family member who is contagious, asymptomatic, and who conscientiously continues the cautious behavior of past months and unknowingly passes the virus on to a family member. Let me phrase this another way--that asymptomatic carrier just might be you . . . or me.

Extended family celebrations during the upcoming Thanksgiving season, the seasonal religious holidays, and New Year's celebrations are now considered high risk activities this winter season, where families will be sharing food and time together . . . and COVID-19. That's the main concern of medical professionals, and why they are asking families to cancel or amend holiday get-togethers. We have to be careful that we don't love ourselves to death. If we can get through this winter, hopefully next spring and summer will be safer. 

Have a central meeting place, such as a family member's porch. Swap pies and main dishes. Then go home and eat alone or with the family members you live with. Wear masks, keep your distance, wash your hands. Or meet and chat, wearing masks and being careful. Then go home to eat. Eating together at the family table, not wearing masks--this is now considered one of the highest level risks for being infected with this virus. The best advice is old advice from early in this pandemic. Assume you are asymptomatic and have the active virus. Would you go to a family get-together and not wear a mask? 

Here are two links to useful articles about how to plan a safe holiday celebration: 

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