Friday Book Whimsy: Top Five of 2020

Like many others, I did a lot of reading in 2020. I would find my interests going back and forth. Sometimes I would feel like a murder mystery. Sometimes a ghost story appealed to me. I read many good books and a couple of duds. After careful thought, here is a list of my five favorite books of this past year.

The Thursday Murder Club This quirky novel by Richard Osman is the story of a group of senior citizens living in a retirement community who help the police solve a murder. Wonderful characters that I hope return as a series.

Blacktop Wasteland S.A. Cosby’s book, touted as a thriller, is so much more. Beauregard Montage is a black man who is trying to make it outside of his former criminal career. The book is a great example of the problem poor people, and especially poor Black people, often face under difficult circumstances.

One for the Blackbird, One for the Crow I think Olivia Hawker’s book about two women in the mid-1880s in rural Wyoming was my very favorite of the year. I loved the rural setting and reading about how these two women managed to keep their families safe and fed during difficult times. More than that, however, it was about forging friendships and letting go of anger.

Daisy Jones & the Six This novel, written by Taylor Jenkins Reid, reads like an oral biography. The format is so unique and so realistic that I found myself googling to determine if the band actually existed. It didn’t, though I’m sure it models other bands that were popular in the 1970s. I was worried that the format might throw me, but I ended up loving the book very much.

The Book of Longings Sue Kidd Monk writes a novel about the human life of Jesus and those who loved him. The emphasis, however, is not on Jesus, but on his wife Ana. Obviously the author takes great liberty in telling this story, but she tells the story very well. I was left with a much clearer appreciation of the difficult role of women in ancient times. Well written and very interesting.

I’m looking forward to some good offerings in 2021.

Thursday Thoughts

Birds Do It
Yesterday was a spectacular day, sunny and near 70 in the afternoon. I was expecting a quiet day at home working on a puzzle or watching a British mystery. But instead, I got a better offer. My sister Bec called and invited me to take a walk with her at the Riparian Bird Sanctuary in nearby Gilbert. I accepted the offer immediately. We had the nicest time — beautiful scenery, great company, and interesting conversation. Win. Win. Win…..

Baby It’s Cold Outside
The beautiful weather we have been having has its down side. While Bill, Jen, and I love the warm weather, the lack of freezing temps has been keeping the unfriendly critters alive. But longtime Arizona residents think the morning temperatures are COLD. Here is proof. We stopped by a soccer game that Bec’s 13-year-old grandson Carter was refereeing (his very first), and his father Erik was dressed as though he was in the Russian tundra…..

For reference, the temperature was in the low 60s and the sun was shining.

A week or so ago, I woke up with a sore throat and a feeling of fatigue. That was it. No fever, no loss of taste or smell. Just a sore throat. I tried staying calm, but I will admit to worrying about the chance of COVID. When I didn’t feel better the next day, I convinced Bill to go with me to get a COVID test. While we awaited the results, we stayed out in our house. Three days later we received our results, which were negative. We were greatly relieved and happily, I felt a bit better. Still, it was an interesting three days as we waited to hear the news. It gave me a greater understanding of everybody’s fear.

Mr. Bainter the Painter
Since we took the big step of getting a brand new king-sized bed (in which we are sleeping wonderfully, thank you very much), we have decided on painting our bedroom walls. Well, we have decided to hire someone to paint our bedroom walls, given our lofted ceiling. Our neighbor is a professional painter, and he has agreed to paint for a fair price. Next step, choose a color. Anything but the desert colors with which we are surrounded. This afternoon, Bill has agreed to shop for paint colors. I’m sure he’s very excited.


Just a Spoonful of Sugar

It’s 1951. You’re 7 years old and you come home from school feeling punk. You have a sore throat. Your tummy hurts a bit. Your mother rests her cheek against your forehead and you hear her take a sharp breath. You have a fever, she says out loud. You can hear the tension in her voice though you’re just a child.

Your mom tells you to lay down on your bed and keep your distance from your siblings. You are wondering if this, by chance, will get you out of doing homework, and maybe school tomorrow. In the meantime, your mother is calling your family doctor. He or she likely tells your mom to bring down the fever with baby aspirin and a cold cloth and call him later if the fever doesn’t break.

This is a scenario that took place time and time again in the first part of the 20th Century. Of course, Baby Boomers have already figured out that Mom was worried that her child had polio. Polio is a now-mostly-eradicated contagious disease that plagued the world in the first half of the century. I’m sure it existed prior to that, but our parents battled with it in the 40s and 50s. The disease struck mostly young children, and like COVID, had a lot of different symptoms that matched those of the common cold. Still, my sister Bec tells me that our parents were terrified every time one of their kids had the sniffles.

I have been thinking about polio for the past few days as I’ve been working on arranging Bill’s vaccination. I was interested in learning how long it took to finally get a vaccine — the vaccine that all of us Baby Boomers received. Research on a vaccine began in the mid-1930s. After years of work, American scientist Jonas Salk finally had his vaccine approved for use by the general public in 1955. It took 20 years from beginning to public availability. That sort of put the whole COVID fast tracked vaccine in perspective for me.

Salk’s vaccine required a shot in the arm. In general, people don’t like shots in the arm or anywhere else. And since kids were the primary victims and carriers, they were the most likely to receive that loooooooog needle. But the parents were so relieved to have the vaccine, they didn’t give a hoot about their kids’ sadness and/or anger.

Then in 1961, along comes Albert Sabin, a scientist from what is now Russia but was then Poland (I tell you that in order to push back a bit on the Polish jokes that annoyed my own mother), who invented an oral vaccine. That meant no more shots in the arm for our poor kiddies.

I’m sure most Baby Boomers remember receiving the Sabin vaccine. Our family trekked to the local public high school gymnasium in 1961 (along with every other person in our 10,000-person town. There we received our vaccine, in the form of a sugar cube. Ain’t science great? Truly, a spoonful of sugar changed our lives.

Polio went the way of the dinosaur, or at least in this country. Both Salk and Sabin became part of the history books, as they should. Still, while they made history, I’m thinking creating a vaccine for a worldwide pandemic in one year is historic. I hope I live long enough to read about this time in our lives in my great grandkids’ history books.

A Shot in the Dark

As promised in yesterday’s blog, I awoke even before the birds so as to be among the first to make an appointment for the vaccine. The appointment is not for me; Bill meets the age criterium for the second phase, which began yesterday in AZ. I carefully made my way through the dark to find Bill’s wallet in which he carries his insurance card, which I needed to make his reservation. I quietly unplugged my laptop and tiptoed out into the kitchen to begin the process. It was 5:07.

I went on to the Maricopa Health Department’s web site and quickly learned that registration didn’t begin until 6 a.m. I imagined hundreds of senior citizens like myself with their fingers hovering over the key to hit REGISTER at 6 a.m. on the dot. I felt like I was trying to get in the A group on a Southwest Airlines nonstop flight to New York City.

Like hundreds of others, at 6 o’clock, I logged onto the website as instructed. I saw an explanation of who is eligible, but no registration button. I went to get a cup of coffee and say a prayer for the intervention of the patron saint of infectious diseases, namely St. Roch. At least, he is the patron saint of the plague, and I think that’s close enough.

Coffee in hand, I went back to my computer. (By the way, instructions said laptop or desktop computers were mandatory. Also, the registrant’s email should end in .com and not .edu, .net., etc. Done and done.) This time there was a registration button. Boom. I filled out Bill’s information, got to the box where you choose the date, and discovered that all appointments were filled until January 29. Apparently hundreds of old folks have faster fingers than does this blogger. Or perhaps they elected to disregard their morning coffee.

Finally, with the help of Jen, who had barely poured herself a cup of coffee when my vocal rantings convinced her I needed help or my head would explode, we got an appointment at 9:02 (I’m not kidding) on January 29. Except when I hit confirm, it didn’t. And when I retried, the “thinking” loop began turning. And turning. And turning.

Jen, who -works on a computer every day and deals with tech folks more than she would like, gave me the age-old advice: turn off the computer, wait two minutes, and turn it on again. This I did, with much skepticism. Turn off the computer indeed. Hrmpf. But VOILA! Bill is signed up for an appointment on January 27 at 10:42 (I’m not kidding). That’s 49 hours and forty minutes earlier than my first try. Thanks Jen. Thanks St. Roch.

By the way, despite having to get up early and having to endure a bit of chaos on the website, I continue to be enormously grateful to everyone who has worked or is working to research, create, test, supply, distribute, and innoculate, I’m still in awe that we have a vaccine available to us not even a year after COVID reached our shores. Someone way smarter than I created the website on which I scheduled an appointment. Should rollout of the website have gone flawlessly, I would be astounded. I have trouble remembering my password for my email!

Look for Bill and his band-aid on January 27 at 10: 45.

At Long Last….

Ladies and Gentlemen, after a wait of 10 months (which seemed like 10 years), I’m happy to bring directly to a medical facility near you, the One, the Only……COVID vaccine! Give it up for Modena and/or Pfizer.

By time you read this blog post, I am optimistic that I will have already made an appointment for Bill to receive his COVID vaccine. In the Land of the Sun where we currently reside, the vaccine process is going much slower than it is in other states. States like Colorado, the which we fled in mid-November because their numbers were spiking. We currently reside in the state purported to be the worst in the United States. Maybe the world, depending on how many cases the inhabitants of the East Antarctic Plateau are reporting. If we were in Colorado, Bill would be sitting pretty with a band-aid on his arm and a smile on his face. Here in Arizona, he has had to wait until the second round, which becomes available today. My plan is to arise early and make his appointment as soon as possible. I feel like I’m waiting in line for Taylor Swift tickets or a new Apple updated phone in the early 2000s. It is my sincere hope that he gets an appointment sometime in January.

I am grateful for the availability of a vaccine. It is beyond my imagination that it took less than a year for the amazing scientists and physicians and researchers and pharmaceutical executives to work together and come up with a vaccine. Granted, we are putting our trust in those same folks, hoping like hell that the reason the vaccine works isn’t because it makes your head grow so small that the virus can’t fit in through your nose.

Ever since it was announced that the COVID vaccine would soon become available, I have been trying to figure out how the rollout will be explained to rubes like me. Will my doctor email me? Will my pharmacy send me a text? Will the governor give me a little ringy dingy on my cell phone? Will the ubiquitous signage above our highways give me a clue? I called my doctor’s office and was told I needed to ask my pharmacist. I asked my pharmacist, and he looked at me like I had asked him to explain the meaning of life. No clue. His response? Ask your primary care physician.

Argh. I was getting dizzy.

And then one morning last week, I opened up my iPad and my BFF Google announced to me that the Maricopa County Health Department was opening up the vaccine to those in Category B. I’m not sure who all that includes, but I know it includes those 75 and older, a criterium that Bill meets. I am hoping that the fact that I am Bill’s care partner will make me also eligible. If not, I will certainly be in the next category sometime soon. And for the next few months, I can keep reminding Bill how much younger I am than he.

Saturday Smile: Royalty

At our New Year’s Day dinner at my sister Bec’s house, she brought out poppers for us to open. She had originally bought them for us to open on Christmas Day but forgot to bring them out. New Year’s Day is a day for noise anyway. Pop, pop, pop!

Joyous mayhem ensued…..

He looks like the king of a small, unfamiliar European country, doesn’t he?
Just this side of being a necklace instead of a crown for Carter.
Bec’s crown tore and was repaired. As a result, she looked like she was leaving soon for her job at Shake n Steak.

Jen sent me these photos yesterday, and they made me smile. It was a good day.

Have a great weekend.

Friday Book Whimsy: The Christmas Train

I know, I know. Christmas is over. Even being generous of spirit, it’s about the 24th Day of Christmas and my true love isn’t giving me anything. Wait until next year. Still, I feel the Christmas spirit in my heart, and my heart led me to read one last Christmas novel. My heart along with the library, which finally offered me the book I had on hold all season long. Despite it being mid-January, I couldn’t possibly have enjoyed The Christmas Train, by prolific writer David Baldacci, any more than I did.

Burnt-out journalist Tom Langdon wants to get from his home in Washington, D.C., to his girlfriend in Los Angeles for Christmas. Circumstances prevent him from flying. He decides to take Amtrak instead, and to document his experiences in train travel at Christmas. In the way that Christmas novels go, he runs into an old girlfriend — his one true love who unexpectedly walked out on him years before — on the train. Sparks fly initially, but eventually they are forced to be congenial and work together — both on a professional project and then to save their lives and the lives of all of their fellow train travelers who encounter a fierce snowstorm in southern Colorado. The book has the essential happy ending.

My husband and I have ridden a number of trains in our lives, most of which were in Europe. Still, we have ridden on Amtrak’s California Zephyr on a couple of occasions, and we both loved the experience. While The Christmas Train doesn’t take place on the California Zephyr, it does take place on two of Amtrak’s real trains — the Capitol Limited from D.C. to Chicago, and Southwest Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles. The Southwest Chief takes a route that parallels a driving route I have taken many times, and I have seen the train very often.

Despite the number of books and series Baldacci has written, and despite the fact that I’m an avid mystery reader, I haven’t read a single book by this author. The book, however, was recommended to me by my sister, who knew I liked both Christmas novels and train rides. Imagine my joy to discover a book that met both criteria.

The author provides a wonderful description of train travel, at least train travel back in 2002 when the book was written. He offers a almost-believable cast of characters. And if the are too good to be true, the reader must remember that this is a Christmas novel. The more cheerful it is, the more we like it. Baldacci is a fine story teller.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you have an interest in trains. Or Christmas!

Here is a link to the book.

Thursday Thoughts

I awoke on Sunday morning with a slight sore throat and a headache. A year ago, I would have given it very little thought. I would have presumed that I was getting a cold like I do almost every January. But in this day and age of COVID, I of course went RIGHT THERE. I didn’t presume I had it; I presumed I might have it. Frankly, that’s a fair assumption. I was gladdened by the fact that I could smell the coffee brewing and taste my pancakes. My temperature was a normal 97.8. Still…. When I woke up Monday feeling no better (but no worse), I decided to get a drive-thru COVID test, and I dragged Bill along with me. Fifteen minutes later we were spitting into a tiny tube. We still haven’t gotten our results. We were told it would be three to five working days. So any time now. But the good news is I feel much better, and only have a little bit of a cough. Even as colds go, it is pretty weak. Fingers crossed.

In the Whole Wide World?
My fears are not completely unfounded. According to the CDC, Arizona — that state to which we fled in November — is considered to be the worst place IN THE WORLD for COVID. Isn’t that special? We’re number one, even if the Arizona Cardinals failed to make the playoffs. For the most part, Bill, Jen, and I stay at home. When we necessarily venture out, we dutifully distance and steadfastly mask up. At least we can be outside, and enjoy our cocktails on our patio every night. The weather has been beautiful.

Where, What, and When?
Speaking of COVID (and we speak of little else I’m afraid), the three of us are eagerly awaiting the time we can be vaccinated and are completely and utterly confused about how we will know when, where, who, what, and why. Thankfully, I found a news article yesterday indicating that Arizona will begin vaccinating the next phase of folks on Monday, and provided a website where we can sign up. And when I say “we” I mean Bill. He’s the only one who meets the criteria, being over 75 and all. There is some thought that I may be eligible because I am his care partner. That would be nice, but I will tell you that having Bill vaccinated will provide me with great relief.

The 15th Day of Christmas
Much as we dislike the thought, it is time that we take down our meager Christmas decorations. We put up a little tree that we enjoyed immensely. We hung a strand of colored lights, and we bought a little decoration for outside. In other words, it will take us about a minute-and-a-half to undecorate. But we keep putting it off because it brings us joy. Maybe I will put red ornaments on the tree and call it a Valentine’s tree.