Post-Vaccination Reunions: Why I Expect my Grandchild to Run Away From me

The adorable, incomparable Francine in 2020. Image credit: Amanda Jo Dahl-Sales

Videos that show happy reunions between grandparents and grandchildren keep popping up on my social media feeds and in newscasts. With the Center for Disease Control’s blessing, once grandparents wait until their immune systems are fully protected by their vaccinations, they have the green light to hug their children and grandchildren.

Many of these reunions happen outdoors. The grandparents surprise their grandchildren at a bus stop or on a sidewalk. The children pause a moment to realize what’s happening and then run with squeals of joy into their grandparent’s open arms. I always tear up at these.

I am looking forward to such a reunion myself. My target date is April 15, two weeks after my second vaccination. But I have no illusions that my grandchild will even recognize me. I expect she may even scream and run away!

Francine was less than a year old once COVID hit and we all retreated to our individual lairs. Since then, we’ve visited a couple of times outdoors with masks on. We’ve computer Zoomed with Francine and her parents at least monthly, sometimes more. But it’s not the same as spending in-person time with a young grandchild.

Most of the grandchildren in the happy reunion videos are older. They had time to bond with their grandparents before the pandemic. Poor Francine was too young for that, and I expect there’s at least half a generation of other grandbabies who have had their grandparent-bonding interrupted.

We saw videos of Francine’s milestones – learning to walk and talk, but it’s not the same as being there. It sucks and it’s been so hard. And I don’t know about you, but I have a bad case of Zoom fatigue these days. For work and play, I’ve had at least two Zoom meetings every weekday for the past three weeks. Today, I didn’t have any, so that’s why I think I have energy to write this post.

I’m not the only Minnesotan with Zoom fatigue. I just read a story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that proves it. By tracking geotagged tweets, researchers found that Minnesotan tweets led the nation in phrases like, “I hate virtual meetings” and “I hate Zoom meetings.” Some of the reasons posited are that the Zoom communication style goes against Minnesota culture. More eye contact is required, plus, watching yourself on camera can be “cognitively tiring and anxiety provoking.” Then there are those awkward pauses so difficult to negotiate. Minnesotans prefer a more indirect communication style that simply doesn’t work well in a virtual world.

Nevertheless, I’m glad we at least had Zoom to work with. I don’t know what we would have done without it. We won’t ever get this year back. I am fully prepared for Francine to take time to warm up to me. But I’m sure going to enjoy making up for lost time.

That Time I was Invited to Join Mensa

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Credit: National Institutes of Health.

Back in my high school days – when cowl neck fuzzy sweaters were in, hair styles were big, and women’s shirts sported shoulder pads large enough for the wearer to participate in professional football – I took the ACT test to get into college.

I studied out of a large book, which offered practice questions and reviews of math concepts. Now, I’m sure students must be able to do this all online, but this was back in the 80s, before most people had any inkling about computers.

I’m not sure if the test is still in the same format, but back then, most of it was multiple-choice. The most useful thing I learned from studying for the ACT was how to identify incorrect answers so that I could home in on the correct ones. The hardest things about the test were figuring out its format and its unwritten rules.

All my studying paid off. I scored very high in the English section, and higher in the math section than if I hadn’t studied. My overall score was good enough that I didn’t need to worry about admission into the college of my choice. It was also elevated enough that I received a letter from Mensa in the mail one day.

Mensa International is an organization for people with high IQs. As author and comedian David Sedaris says in “Me Talk Pretty One Day” (which I just finished reading), Mensa members “come from all walks of life and get together every few weeks to take in a movie or enjoy a weenie roast. They’re like the Elks or the Masons, only they’re smart.”

Growing up in the northern hinterlands of Minnesota, I had never heard of Mensa. After opening the letter, I mentioned it to my mother, and her first, and only, response was, “Ach, you don’t want to join that!”

So I didn’t.

I was so taken aback by her reaction, I didn’t ask her why I shouldn’t join them.

Looking back over the decades, I have a twinge of regret that I so blindly followed my mother’s advice. How might my life have been different if I had surrounded myself with high-IQ people?

But I also realize my mother’s knee-jerk reaction was truly Minnesotan. It’s not part of our culture to brag or make ourselves stand out. (See more in my post about “Minnesota Nice.”)

Perhaps my mother was afraid my head would swell with self-importance were I to hang around other intelligent people. Or, maybe she figured they were all a bunch of dorks and exposure to them would increase my social awkwardness. Or she could have been threatened by having a daughter labelled as “smart.” I don’t know. My mother has passed, so it’s not like I can ask her now.

A couple of years ago, I looked into the qualifications for joining Mensa. They’ve upped them now. My ACT score is a few points short. Another way to qualify is through an IQ test. But an IQ test just seems like a lot of work to me now. I wonder if they grandfather (or in my case, grandmother) people into the organization based on the year they took their ACT?

Even if I did get in somehow, I suspect I would feel like a fraud. I am not naturally brilliant; I just know how to study, and I read a lot.

I guess I’m satisfied I was invited and could have joined Mensa if I really wanted to — but that I am just too Minnesotan to do so.

A Plethora of Pronouns

20190815_201016My recent Florida trip mixed work with pleasure. The work part was a conference about podcasting. I produce a podcast for work (called Wisconsin Water News) and I was looking for ideas and information to make it better.

Three thousand people attended the conference. I never dreamed that podcasting was such a huge thing! One of the tidbits I learned during the event is that there are over 700,000 active podcasts and that 72 million people listen at least once per month.

20190815_201001Something else I learned is that pronouns are a “thing.” Conference organizers offered buttons so that people could affix the pronoun to themselves by which they want to be referred. (He/him, they/them, she/her.) Also, some of the speaker panels featured introductions where the speakers told the audiences which pronoun the prefer.

As a hick from Duluth, this was new to me. I guess it’s about time I got with the program. Are pronouns a thing in your workplace or community?

Fun with Acupuncture

acupuncture-on-wristAs you may know, I am in my elder years. As you may not know, I have been experiencing hot flashes for several of those elder years. If you don’t want to know that information, you can stop reading now. But if this revelation holds any interest to you, and you want to know what it’s like to have acupuncture, read on!

At first, my hot flashes weren’t so bad – just a minor inconvenience. After a few months, they went away. I thought they were over and that the whole hot flash thing wasn’t so bad. WRONG. They returned and were a bit peskier than before – interrupting my sleep, arriving at inopportune times during the day, eliciting knowing looks from other older women in airports and grocery stores as I fanned myself.

My doctor offered the idea of estrogen therapy or some anti-depressants, but I shied away from those. Reports of problems with those drugs made me skittish, besides, I figure there’s a good reason our bodies are no longer making estrogen. Why prolong this with adding it back in?

As my hot flashes became more severe over the past year, I tried a few different herbal supplements, but they just made things worse. On the advice of several friends, I decided to try a local acupuncturist.

The first step in my appointment was filling out about a 15-page health history. Wow! I dropped it off at the practitioner’s office a week beforehand so she would have time to look at it before my appointment.

When I arrived for my session, we went over the document and she asked for details on a few things. She quickly zeroed in on several habits I have that can worsen hot flashes, those being drinking WINE and eating CHOCOLATE. She suggested I give those up for a month or so to see if that helps.

WINE and CHOCOLATE. These are the only things that make my life bearable. Because I’m intolerant to wheat and corn, I can’t have pastries, pies, cookies, doughnuts, etc., unless I go to great (and rare) lengths to make them myself from alternative ingredients.

I have often said that I am so glad I can still eat chocolate. If I ever become allergic, someone should just shoot me.

This woman might as well have had a gun to my head. Granted, she wasn’t saying I had to give up these two elixirs forever, just for a month. But still. The only good part of that conversation is that hard liquor (spirits) might still be okay to drink instead of wine. I grasped desperately at the idea that scotch could get me through this deprivation.

As we spoke, the practitioner took notes for my treatment plan. Then she asked if I was open to the idea of acupuncture. I agreed, so she laid me down on a table. She made me stick out my tongue so she could see the color of it, etc. Then she took my pulse in both wrists. Then came the needles.

I didn’t want to watch. I also don’t watch when I get shots. I’d rather not see sharp things approaching my skin. During television news stories about the importance of flu shots, I cannot watch as other people get shots, either.

As I looked up at the ceiling tiles, she inserted seven thin, stainless steel needles into my wrists, lower legs, and feet. It hurt a little bit, but not as much as I was expecting. On a scale of ten, they were about a three. She flicked the needles as she inserted them.

She said she was going to leave to write up my treatment plan. She asked if I would like some music while I waited. When I asked how long it would take, she said fifteen minutes. “Yes, music, please!”

The practitioner exited, leaving me alone with seven long needles sticking out of my body. Well, not having the courage to look at them, I didn’t know they were so long at first. Eventually, I lifted my head and looked at my wrist. A needle stuck about three inches out of it!

I put my head back down, fighting the urge to rise up, tear out all the needles, and get the heck outta there.

“Breathe,” I told myself. “Relax. This is supposed to help you.”

I tried to concentrate on the music (Carlos Nakai flute music, BTW.) That worked for a while, but then I just had to look at my legs. Mistake! The urge to flee came back.

I laid back down and fought it. I tried to meditate, with limited success. I tried to write this blog post in my head, but that made me concentrate on the feeling of the needles and how to describe it.

My right wrist was developing a deep ache. A nerve in my calf twitched. Was this normal? I began to wish the practitioner was in the room so I could ask her. What if my leg cramped up? If I called for help, would she hear me?

I did not like the being left alone part.

After a long fifteen minutes, she came back and took the needles out. I expected her to ask how I felt, but she didn’t. When I sat up and she noticed me rubbing my wrist, she asked if it hurt. I told her it was a deep ache. She said that meant there was a blockage, and suggested I rub the pain out through my hand, not back toward my body.

I could hardly tell where the needles had been. There was no blood, just some tiny discolorations that disappeared quickly. I felt fairly normal and was able to walk down the hall to her office just fine.

There she gave me a different herbal supplement than the one I’d had before. We talked about a follow-up visit. I paid and was on my way.

Once I was back home, I had a hot flash, but it wasn’t as powerful as before. That night, I had another, but it was at a different time than usual and didn’t last as long. I felt more rested than before when I awoke.

Today is the next day. I just read a research study that says acupuncture has been scientifically proven effective to help menopausal sleep disturbances, which is reassuring.

It’s too soon to say definitively if it is helping me. That will take time. I’ll let you know if it does!

In the meantime, I’m glad I resisted my urges to flee the acupuncture table. That would definitely not have been helpful. Time for some scotch.

* * *

UPDATE: Two months later, what’s the verdict?

During the first week or so, I thought the treatment wasn’t working. It involved an acupuncture session and herbal supplements to take later. Then I realized I wasn’t taking the proper dose of the supplements. When I fixed that, things seemed to improve.

I’ve done well avoiding chocolate, as the acupuncturist suggested. Not so well avoiding wine, but I have cut back quite a bit.

I went back for a follow-up session a few weeks ago. This time, she wanted to stick her needles a few new places to help my allergies and my stuffy sinuses. She asked me if she could stick some needles in my face.

Let me say that again: MY FACE. Stupidly, I said yes. I LET HER STICK NEEDLES IN MY FACE. Specifically, I let her stick two needles in that space between my upper lip and my nose. (Also known as the philtrum.)

I felt nothing with the first needle. I felt the second needle go in, plus she twisted it a bit. She also stuck a needle in the TOP OF MY HEAD. That one started to sting.

I asked her if it was normal for it to sting. She said she thought it would calm down after a while.

Happily, the pain did lessen, but it was rather disconcerting for a few minutes. Lying on the table for 20 minutes was a bit easier this second time. She also gave me an additional herbal supplement for my allergies.

For the first day or two, I had no hot flashes. Then they started returning at night, but only a few times a night. I’ve also had them during the day, but not as often as before I started treatment.

The supplement she gave me for my allergies worked like a charm.

Overall, I’d say that my hot flashes have improved by about 65%. And the flashes I get are not as extreme. They are more like warm flashes than hot flashes. I am sleeping better and plan to continue taking the supplements until I feel like I don’t need them any more (or I get sick of them, whichever comes first.)

If you are thinking of trying acupuncture for help with hot flashes, I say go for it.

Personally, I feel like I’ve had enough sessions with the needle now. I fear a continuing escalation of where she’ll want to stick needles next, and I’d rather not go there.

The Love of Their Life

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I have developed a fascination with obituaries lately. Most likely, this is because I read them out loud every month from the local newspaper for my volunteer stint with the Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss.

Despite my history as a romance writer, the cynic in me always gets a kick out of obituaries that state the departed met or married someone who was the “love of their life.”

I have noticed that the “love of their life” phrase is usually used when the “love of their life” survives the person for whom the obituary is written. Could it be that the survivors are the ones who wrote the obituaries? If so, are they including the phrase because it’s true, or as an ego boost for themselves and a way to assert their important status in the departed person’s life?

The romance writer in me would like to think the phrase is true. But I have done an informal survey and have noticed that almost every time, the “love” is the one who is the survivor.

If the couple had a long relationship, I’d be inclined to believe that the phrase is true, but length of a relationship does not always indicate a happy, loving relationship.

I often wonder if the departed person would have included the phrase in their obituary if they had been the one to write it. Since they are dead and I cannot ask them this, I guess this is one of those unanswerable burning questions that will plague me for the rest of my days during the wee hours of the morning.

What do you think about this phrase? Is it overused? Is it just a way for survivors to feel better? Am I entirely too cynical? Should I try to solve world hunger instead?

Careful! People Might Take you at Your Word

Cake by Chriss

Image by Chriss from Flickr.

An incident is arising in my mind from the mists of time, perhaps because I’ve been planning several events recently. My husband and I had purchased our first house in a Duluth neighborhood. Our son was one, so we decided to hold a combination birthday party and open house for our friends and the neighbors.

On the afternoon of the party, many people showed up. Things were in full swing when a couple from down the street rang the doorbell. We hadn’t met them yet and were happy to see them at our door.

After introductions, the woman said something like, “I’m sorry, we don’t have time to stay, but we just wanted to say hello.” My husband and I expressed our disappointment at this. We chatted a few moments more and then they went on their way.

I was surprised some months later to learn from my mother (who lived in our same city) who in turn learned from one of her friends who was acquainted with the couple, that they were incensed and highly affronted that we didn’t insist they come into the party.

I stared at my mother in disbelief at this news, then started to laugh. Oh the social games people play! I had never run into that behavior before. And I’m sorry, I’m not the type of person to beg people to come to parties if they’ve said they can’t. Imagine that — the couple was angry because we believed what they said.

We lived in the neighborhood for a few years more and never did run into the couple, so we had no chance to smooth things over.

I suppose they had expected us to say, “Nonsense, please come in. We’d love for you to stay!”

Instead, they got, “Oh, sorry to hear that,” and eventually, a goodbye.

In our defense, we were new homeowners, new parents, and unschooled in social mores. But I do hope the experience made those neighbors think twice before they tried this tactic on others. I’m sure there are other people in the world who think people actually mean what they say.

Break Open This File in Case of Depression Emergency

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Last night on the radio I heard the deejays talking about the value of writing yourself a ‘love letter’ to read when your mood needs lifting up. It reminded me of a blog post I had been saving for times when I ran low of bloggy ideas. Since I seem to be in that state (running low of ideas, not feeling bad), I thought this was a good time to share it.

*

New Years is a hard holiday for me for several reasons. None of which I will go into over the Internet. To cope, I found myself breaking out my “fan mail” folder for the first time ever. It’s a folder about three inches thick where I’ve stored cards and letters over the years from my children, friends, colleagues, ex-husbands (when times were good!), and ex-lovers.

I had never broken it open before. I got half-way into the stack of papers before I had to stop. I was filled to overflowing with the love given me by the people I love.

I highly recommend it – a fan mail folder. Use only in case of emergency…. It works.

The Neighborhood Rezoning Zombie Apocalypse

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Image from The Walking Dead television series, courtesy of AMC.

One of my blog readers warned me it might not be dead, but I didn’t want to hear. I plugged my ears, closed my eyes and started singing (“La la la la la…”)

But he was correct. The rezoning issue for my neighborhood wasn’t dead. It rose, like a zombie, from the Duluth City Planning Department even though the planning commission voted it down. (See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for more info about this six-month-long saga.)

As it turns out, this is common practice in my city. The planning commission actions are just considered “recommendations,” not the final word. I wish someone had explained this to us from the beginning.

Thinking you’ve won a fight only to find you need to fight it all over again is disheartening. It also seems like a waste of effort to have every zoning issue heard by two civic groups. Why even have a planning commission then?

Anyway, once I heard that the proposal to rezone our Duluth residential neighborhood for commercial development was going before the city council, I admit, I tucked my head and legs inside my shell and hid for a while. However, in hiding, I regathered my gumption and eventually fired off yet another letter of protest to the city council. But that, and writing blog posts, didn’t seem like enough.

The city council heard the issue during two meetings. I couldn’t make the first hearing (because it happened while I was being a turtle). The same couple of neighbors who spoke before the planning commission spoke before the council. I decided it would be good to add a new voice for the next meeting, and that voice should be mine. If I was going to come out of my shell, I might as well do it up good.

The city council chambers was packed – standing-room-only. Most people were there for another contentious issue that involved a proposal for a new downtown apartment building that did not have any affordable housing units included. Along with a lack of single-family homes (like those in my neighborhood), a lack of affordable housing is a big issue in our city.

The hearing for the apartment building and other city council issues took 3-1/2 hours. We sat there at 10:30 p.m., boiling in our long johns, awaiting our turn. Once the affordable housing protesters left, a good number of my neighbors remained in the chambers.

I ended up as the first signed up to speak for our issue. When my name was called, I took a big gulp, stood, and did my thing. I was too nervous to speak without notes, so I used those as an aid. They also helped me stay within the three-minute speaking limit. My speech went fine, and I was sure glad once it was over! Several other neighbors also spoke.

The city councilors asked questions and a few explained their positions. In the end, they voted UNANIMOUSLY (7-0) to reject the proposal to rezone my neighborhood. I am so thankful that they listened to us and to the planning commission.

Is the zombie rezoning war over? Not if the planning commissioner has his way. He said he plans to bring it up again in a few years because he wants to see “orderly development” of my neighborhood. We neighbors would rather see no development. We are a neighborhood that works. Like I said in my speech, our neighborhood ain’t broke, and this won’t fix it.

This fight seems to have renewed people’s appreciation for our neighborhood. This Christmas, for the first time, carolers came to my door. Another neighbor made luminaries (ice candles) and placed them all along the road to her house, providing a special festive touch.

The zombie is dead for now, but it seems as if the issue is biding its time, waiting for another chance to strike. I hope we’re ready to rally then.

Let’s have some fun with this. Feel free to comment with your favorite zombie-killing techniques. They could come in handy later!

My Neighborhood Rezoning War is OVER!

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One of my neighborhood warriors testifies at a planning commission meeting.

We’re having a party in Marie’s Meanderings Blog world tonight. I just returned from a Duluth Planning Commission meeting where the motion to rezone my residential neighborhood for development was denied.

If you’ve been following this issue on my blog and in the news, you know that this is GOOD NEWS for my neighbors and myself.  (See Part 1 and Part 2.)

It’s been a long five-month haul. I went into this latest planning commission meeting feeling downtrodden and doomed because the planning department had changed their original plans to include even more of my neighborhood in the rezoning. They went from impacting only eight or nine houses to over thirty homes!

I was like, WTH? And one of the new homes included in the rezoning was mine. Before, I was just a few houses away from the proposed rezoning area. Back then, I was protesting on behalf of my neighbors who were directly affected. Now, as if in payback for my squawking, my house was included, too.

So I did my due diligence and wrote another letter urging the commission to deny the rezoning plan. One of the arguments I used was that there is already a shortage of affordable single-family homes in our city. Why potentially remove so many of them? I also repeated my previous argument that the neighborhood is a strong, well-functioning community.

When I arrived at the commission chambers, I was heartened to see it full of my neighbors again. Several spoke well-reasoned and impassioned arguments against the plan. I was so proud of them!

Only one person spoke in favor of the plan, and he is a developer who owns property in the neighborhood.

After some strategic moves and hemming and hawing, which made me wonder if the commission really knew what it is doing, the vote was taken. All but one commission member was opposed to the rezoning plan, so it was denied. Everyone applauded, just like we were in a freakin’ movie. (One with a happy ending.)

The reasons the commissioners gave for the denial were that when the plan was developed that recommended rezoning of my neighborhood, it was in a time before many of the current apartment buildings and business existed. They heard us that “enough development is enough.” The commission didn’t feel the neighborhood could sustain more development without even more traffic problems and other issues occurring.

Another reason given was that my neighborhood is a socially strong, well-functioning place. Why fix what isn’t broken? They also were impressed by the numbers of us who turned out to protest the plans and they wanted us to feel like they were listening.

I am so proud of our planning commissioners! I raise a toast to everyone.

I’m glad this is over and sure hope it doesn’t rear its ugly head in another form.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response: A Morning TV Breakthough

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Molly Shannon image by David Shankbone.

I owe Molly Shannon (formerly of Saturday Night Live) a fathomless debt of gratitude.

I saw her on Good Morning America the other day. She was being interviewed about her new movie, “A Private Life.” In the beginning, she mentions how she loves being checked and patted down by airport security. It gives her a relaxed, spine-tingling feeling.

This captured my attention because of a blog post I wrote in 2015 about “A Scalp-Tingling Feeling” I get when someone writes on a chalkboard or I’m at a bookselling event and there’s the white noise of peaceful conversation in the background. It zones me out and is very pleasant.

I called it scalp-tingling contentment. Some of my readers called it “flow” or bliss, but thanks to Molly Shannon, I now know the syndrome is more properly defined as ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

It’s an actual thing! I’m not crazy! There’s even a Facebook group for it!

People started working in 2007 to define it and by 2010, an organization was founded called the ASMR Group to support people who experience this feeling and to investigate it further.

Wikipedia says that, “ASMR signifies the subjective experience of “low-grade euphoria” characterized by “a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin.” It is most commonly triggered by specific auditory or visual stimuli, and less commonly by intentional attention control.” (Whatever that is.)

It’s amazing what you can learn from morning TV sometimes.