Saturday, November 7, 2020

And the Waiting Goes On

It's been a long, distracted week.  Although the general election was on Tuesday, it's now Saturday and we still don't know the final outcome of the presidential race.  Some disturbing things are happening this week, with President Trump trying to undermine vote counting and other threats to the voting system.  Truly, it feels like our democracy is unstable.  At this point, neither Donald Trump nor Joe Biden have the minimum number of electoral college votes (270) to win.  Joe Biden won the popular vote.  Due to COVID-19, many states have expanded access to mail-in voting and millions of people voted via mail.  However, the counting process for these votes is slow so we still don't have national results.  Here are the current standings, per the AP:

2020 US election results
Updated at 10:29 AM EST
All states
Presidential results
The Associated Press has not called this race · Learn more
Joe Biden
270 to win
Donald Trump
CandidatesElectoral votesVote %Vote count
Swing states
16 electoral votes · 99% reporting
6 electoral votes · 87% reporting
North Carolina
15 electoral votes · 99% reporting
20 electoral votes · 99% reporting
11 electoral votes · 90% reporting
29 electoral votes · 99% reporting

Pennsylvania is in the thick of it, and is currently learning toward Biden.  Luzerne County did go for Trump, as in 2016.  So we wait and hope it will be over TODAY.  

In the meantime, we keep busy with work, school and plenty of menu planning & food preparation (with COVID rates increasing, we have stopped going to restaurants again other than take-out).  As a quick update, Alex you called me last week so very happy that you met with your Gov't, Law & National Security advisor and are confirmed to graduate in December.  It is the end of over 5 years of college study, and I am thrilled for you and proud that you've reached this huge milestone.  Rob, in the meantime you are checking out Pennsylvania college programs for chemical engineering with virtual information sessions and then unofficial campus visits.  This week we drove to Bucknell, likely we'll get to Lehigh later this month.  Exciting!!  

The video below that Steve found on YouTube is hilarious (though I haven't gotten past the first 5 minutes).  As an alternative to thinking about troubling things that are going on, it should make you laugh.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Path Forward

This fall is a time of uncertainty for our country.  What will happen over the next several months?  

Our Leadership:  I just found an on-line count-down clock to the 2020 general election - you can see a copy from a couple minutes ago.  Never in my lifetime has an upcoming election seemed so consequential.  The direction of our country will be so different under a second term of President Trump's administration vs. a President Biden administration.  There are such divergent opinions, based on different experiences and cultural roots.  With income distributions skewed toward middle and upper classes, lower class workers have been under increasing levels of economic stress for decades.  Along with that stress comes so many issues for individuals and families that are not being addressed adequately in our society.  In our fantastically wealthy country with living standards most of the world can only dream about, not enough resources are being shared to provide basic housing, health services, food and education.  What will be done about this going forward, to help relieve the depression, anger and desperation of many Americans?

2020 US Presidential Election


until Tuesday, November 3, 2020 (Washington DC, District of Columbia time)


It is 16 days8 hours49 minutes41 seconds

Our World:  Over the past couple years, it has become obvious that human activity is drastically changing our climate.  There have been unprecedented, devastating wildfires (Australia, the US west coast), hurricanes & typhoons, floods and wind storms.  The truth is we are way behind in taking action to head off the worst implication of climate change.  Your generation recognizes these threats for what they are - and will force important decisions on how we cut carbon emissions, use cleaner fuels and incent industries and society to make fundamental changes.  

Racism:  During 2020, there has been a more honest reckoning with ourselves as Americans about the damage and pain caused by various forms of racism.  But especially involving people of color, relating to unequal treatment - most notably by law enforcement and the legal system.  Our country's roots in violence and slavery need to be understood more broadly, and pro-actively addressed by all of us.  In your generation, you will be help to decide how we can eliminate apathy about the unacceptable differences in the real opportunities and life experience of Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and others including recent immigrants.

Pandemic:  Coming back to the immediate future, what is going to happen with COVID-19?  As October passes by, in many parts of the country the infection and death rates are going up (wave two in some places like the Northeast, wave one in others).  Will the federal government provide better guidance, communicate better standards and will our leaders be better role models?  Will all states take more a more uniform, practical approach to decreasing transmission risks?  Will individuals make better decisions including about the simple things - social distancing and wearing masks?  I found out this week that Prudential will require most employees to work remotely at least until July, 2021.  Rob, your senior year at Wyoming Area has been fully remote as well.  Alex, Misericordia still has a hybrid format - but you are wondering how long that can last.  Steve is just started work, on-site, at Goodwill Industries in Scranton.  It's very sobering.  Besides addressing the current pandemic, it is essential to understand the risk of future epidemics in our world.

The next big decision point will be election day - Nov. 3, 2020.  Rob, you are voting for the first time this fall (due to the pandemic, we are all mailing ballots rather than going to polls in person) - congratulations!  In fact, I mailed your ballot today.  I'm certainly anxious about what is coming next.  I so much hope that all of us, including the powerful older white men who have the greatest say in running this amazing country, will be strategic in changing our national priorities as we navigate changes to our planet and society while the United States of America stays true to its origins as a democratic nation.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The "Notorious" RBG

Guys, today I'm going to write about why the women's rights movement means so much to us.  I've thought about this in various ways over the years, but never organized my thoughts until now after watching remembrances of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  She died this month at age 87.  I normally don't post long pieces in this blog, figuring that you would have little interest, but this time is different.  The CBS Sunday Morning video below captures her life, including incredible contributions that have changed our country.  The book "Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg" was written about 5 years ago.  It inspired a documentary, meme's, t-shirts, etc., which she herself embraced.  Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg became a pop icon - it is fantastic that she was recognized for her tremendous accomplishments during her lifetime.

First of all, the women's suffrage movement of the 1800's and early 1900's culminated in passage of a constitutional amendment extending voting rights to women.  That was in 1919, only a hundred years ago.  Rob, we learned about some of this history and local leadership at the Rochester Museum this summer.

To connect this topic to our family, Grandnana Phyllis McCausland graduated from Radcliffe College (sister school to Harvard University).  She worked in New York City, I believe assisting at a law office, while Great Grandad Burke Rivers went to divinity school there.  When he graduated, they got married and moved to New Haven, CT to his first parish.  It was then the early 1930's.  She told me that married women were not expected to work at all, since this was seen as taking a job away from a man.  Grammie worked as a teacher while Grandad went to divinity school in Cambridge, MA in the early 1960's after they married.  After kids came along, she worked periodically as a teacher in private schools.  In her generation, thanks to leaders such as RBG, women began to break through the "glass ceiling" in professions that were historically dominated by men.  Luckily for us, both the Rivers and Zeller families valued education (all 4 of my grandparents graduated from college) and set expectations early on that we kids would go to college.

In the 1970's in particular, women fought for opportunities in various professions and began to rise in the management ranks.  Our former pastor Laura Lewis was one of the pioneers in financial services in Northeast PA.  She joined First Eastern Bank as a management trainee (which I did as well, about 10 years later); she and a colleague became the first women promoted to Vice President at the Bank.  As you know, she is intelligent, articulate and hard working - and I believe became a VP about age 30, quite a feat.  This took place under the watch of Bank President Tom Kylie (hopefully his name is spelled right), who later got to know me during a college internship at the Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce.  His interest in me paved the way for me to join First Eastern Bank right after graduating from King's College in 1986.  

Since pay has not kept pace with the cost of living, in my lifetime it has become increasingly difficult for families to get by with only one working parent.  I expect you assume that you and your future spouse/partner will both work full time, for the most part (this is not easy with young kids, but you will figure that out).  It doesn't hurt to remember that opportunities for women in your generation are built on a legal and societal foundation that is quite recent.  If I had not been able to establish a career for myself and had the means to be independent, it would have been much more difficult for me to separate, get divorced and continue to provide for you.  And as a bonus, help you both get college educations.  I feel incredibly fortunate that we live in this time and I'm grateful to the many women who worked long and hard fighting for gender equity.  You should be too.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Chloe, Your Sweet Kitty

Since you started living in Exeter about a year ago Alex, Chloe has been your cuddly pal.  She seemed happy to move out of the basement at Taylor's house on Bennett Street to the townhouse at Daisy Court.  When you have your front door open for us to stop in, she is often sitting just inside looking out.  Steve took some great pictures of her with you & Taylor last fall.  Unfortunately, she has been sick on-and-off since early in the year.  She did improve for periods of time, but this past week you found out that she has serious neurological symptoms and seems to be blind.  It has been devastating, especially since she is just 7 years old.  We are all sad, realizing how painful this is for you & Taylor.  Writing this post, I thought about this classic American folk song "Oh Shenandoah".  Knowing how much you enjoy playing guitar yourself Alex, you will probably appreciate this wonderful instrumental version of a ballad about beauty, longing and love.  (Click "View this video on YouTube")

And know that Chloe will be in your hearts & with you for ever.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Summer of 2020

 Summer is winding down....  

It was been a hot one (which we can expect with global warming), with some nasty storms in August.  Kingston and Wilkes-Barre had the worst of it with wind and some local flooding damage (it is sobering to see photos of sheared-off utility poles, wires down across the street, etc.). West Pittston & Exeter have been mostly spared at least so far.  It has been an unusual summer, and we're fortunate that all of us are healthy.  Alex, the COVID tests that you and Taylor took in July came back negative - what a relief!

Here at home, which is mostly where we've been.....  With Steve's time off this spring & summer, thanks to his effort the front porch window, railings and floor were scraped, repaired and repainted.  Our flowers along the front walkway, the deck and back yard are gorgeous (below see Mexican sunflower blooms, with a monarch butterfly!).  Also, we had the parking area in front of the garage professionally leveled & graveled, which we hope means less mud & ice there in the winters.  Plus he re-organized the garage so the kayaks are now mounted on the back wall. Theoretically we could park a car inside now (how about that?!)  Steve likes to be busy and it shows.  I am SSOOOO lucky that way.  However, he is more than ready to go back to work - interviews have picked up, so hopefully that will be soon.

A typical vacation (as in a week away) did not happen this year.  That is basically ok given considerations of avoiding crowds, not catching COVID and college-related expenses.  Alex, not sure if you were away at all....  You were busy this summer working at Gerrity's and with your internship.  I'm glad I just looked at Volunteers in Medicine website to learn more about the local clinic....Volunteers in Medicine, W-B  You've liked this experience, especially once you could work on site instead of remotely.  The grant-writing experience you got there could be useful for future career opportunities.  

In late July, Rob and I spent 3 days in New York, visiting Ellen & Dave at Lake Skaneateles and doing college visits.  Ellen was wonderful to take us to her alma mater.  We toured SUNY's Environmental Science and Forestry college with her, and walked around Syracuse University as they share some facilities (construction on the massive Carrier Dome was in progress).  I kept wanting to call it EFS, but finally got it straight after you suggested, Rob, to think of "ESP" and then change the last initial to "F".  Plus you tried out jet skiing at the lake for the first time.  In Rochester, we went to the science museum which included a lot of information about Rochester's history of activism and support of the abolitionist and suffrage movements.  I loved walking along the Erie Canal.  A stop at the fantastic Wegman's flagship store was topped off by the discovery that restrooms include diapers of various sizes (free!).  We got an official tour of RIT which is an interesting and impressive school.  And walked through the University of Rochester river campus - a traditional private school, quite beautiful along the Genesee River.  Since then, Rob you received a letter from Rochester congratulating you on winning the Frederick Douglass and Susan B Anthony Award, which comes with a scholarship offer of at least $10,000/year.  This sounds great, though once you checked and found the university's tuition is $56,000+ you wondered how much of a difference it would make (?)  But still a very nice offer!

Rob, you turned 18 on Aug 8 !!  After 23+ years, officially I am no longer responsible for a "child" (although you & Alex are still going through the launch process to adulthood).  A hibachi dinner was not feasible this year due to COVID, so on Aug. 9 we had dinner at American Grill, out back under the covered pavilion.  The food was delicious and it was great to have relaxing time together.  Then it was back to Montgomery Ave for chocolate cake & presents.  It was a very nice evening.  Here is your "happy birthday / cake" shot taken by Aunt Pam, followed by a great photo of Rambo and Jean Luc - Steve gave you a framed version for your birthday.

I took a week off in August, the highlight of which for me was a canoe trip on the Susquehanna.  It has been well over 20 years since I last canoed on the river - this was something I did many times with Dad both during and after our summers at Camp Lackawanna (for years before you were born, we organized canoe trips with our friends as well as Rivers aunts/uncle on Memorial Day weekend from Laceyville back to camp).  I find it incredibly lovely and relaxing to paddle along, listen to tree frogs & birds, watch the dragonflies, etc.  We saw deer, herons, red tailed hawks and a bald eagle (Alex, you and Taylor's brother Mark, who was your canoeing & fishing buddy, saw several eagles).  It was a success in that it didn't rain, no one got stuck in the shallows, capsized their canoe/kayak, or missed the Endless Mountain Outfitters landing spot in Sugar Run.  Steve was somewhat uncomfortable with no back support and minimal leg room in the front of our canoe.  Rob's shoulders were sore from paddling his kayak.  It was not a success in that Steve, Rob and I were almost immediately separated from Alex & Mark who were fishing (and also unfortunately each lost a pole) before you guys could use the sun tan lotion.  Alex, I think you got the first really bad sunburn of your life especially on your legs which were still red days later.  It's miserable and there's not much to be done except wait until it goes away and carefully avoid more sun exposure in the next few days.  I am grateful that your skin didn't blister.  I had the same type of experience in my early 20's, after which I was much more careful.

Later in the week, Rob you spent a couple days at Waneta Lake, NY with Aunt Pam, her friend Dawn & her son Noah.  Steve and I spent a couple days in Matamoras, PA.  We enjoyed wonderful vistas from High Point Park in NJ.  Along the river in Port Jervis, NY we unexpectedly found a boundary marker stone for NY, NJ and PA.  New Jersey and New York are great options this year, since Pennsylvanians are not required to quarantine for 14 days (unlike in most states including Maine where we originally expected to spend a week with Grammie and Grandad at Lake Damariscotta, however cancelled our reservation).

One last significant development.....  Yesterday was a big day.  Rob, we visited Wilkes University (which you are not especially interested in, but as I told you the campus is greatly improved since my MBA student days @ 30 years ago).  AND then finished up a stint of driving instruction at Quad A Driving Academy with a successful driver's test.  Yay!  You have your temporary license, and we'll get your permanent one from the License Center by Nanticoke soon.  Today you drove yourself to Grooming Cottage for work :-)  You are ready for Senior year, except for the final task of getting a WA parking permit which I very much hope you will use after the first marking period (which we learned last week will be remote).

Continuing a summer tradition, I made a blueberry pie today (Aunt Ginny's recipe) - Alex, I just texted you this picture as an incentive to stop over for a visit.

A final note, Rob you asked me recently what my super power would be if I could pick one.  What a great question!  We talked about this, and I'm now polling all of us to see what everyone says.  Here are the results:

Super Power Preferences:

  • Rob - Going back in time to observe the past.
  • Alex - Read minds.
  • Taylor - All her life she has wanted the ability to fly, or otherwise to move objects telepathically.
  • Mom - Cure mental illness, or otherwise have the ability to shapeshift from human to bird. 
  • Steve - Steve would like to fly (like Superman but without a cape), or otherwise be able to shoot lasers from his eyes.  Yes, really!

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Finally Green ! Our New Reality Sets In

It seemed like such a big deal, when Luzerne County went to the "green" phase of re-opening.  That was on June 19th....  For me, the biggest change was that hair salons and barbers opened up, after over 3 months (a very long time for anyone running a small business).  Mom's hair trimming service on the deck at 215 Montgomery Ave is no longer needed - but all the newly-acquired trimmers & scissors are saved for future use.  Steve got his hair cut at his usual place near Walmart, Rob went to see Kevin (Jim's partner), I am going in 2 days when my hairdresser Sheryl is back to work and Alex doesn't have an appointment yet.  Dentists can begin routine checkups.  And indoor dining is allowed, subject to lower occupancy and distancing between tables.  After eating out a few times, it seems like restaurants are not super busy.  Wisely, most people around here are being careful.  Masks are required in all public places, and can be removed in limited situations like while in the dentist chair (of course) and while sitting at a restaurant table.

Alex, you've had a rough couple weeks.  Taylor's grandfather had been failing and began hospice care shortly before her planned vacation to see her Dad in Florida.  Unfortunately, he passed during her visit in Florida, in fact on her birthday (just awful!).  She drove home with her brother Mark just in time for the funeral, shortly after which Mark got sick.  He was seen by a doctor who told him he had COVID-19 symptoms and sent him for a COVID test.  While waiting for the results, he was getting better and the Fumanti family spent weekend time together at a campground including Taylor's grandmother.  On Sunday night, you told me Mark's COVID test came back positive.  Yikes!!!  So now it's a 14 day quarantine for you all, including COVID testing for you & Taylor last Thursday.  Results come back in 2-7 days.  Great news - every time I text you, you tell me you're doing fine.  And in fact you got a new kitten "Azula" (or Zuzu for short) a few days ago, so somehow you did go out to adopt her.  She is tiny and quite adorable.  Hopefully Chloe is contented with having a younger pal around.

I passed along Steve's suggestion that you name her Covid, with Covie as her nickname.  Your response was "Haha".

As soon as you get your COVID test result, I'm going to try again to get you a haircut appointment with Kevin.  Hopefully the timing works well, with you waiting to begin Volunteers in Medicine internship time on-site at the clinic.

In the meantime, Rob you have a summer job after all....  Plans to work at Camp Orchard Hill did not work out, since this year's summer program is limited to day camp with a small enrollment.  Plus you really will need your driver's license to work there conveniently, and won't have that until the end of the summer.  So in the meantime, you've begun helping Jim out with pet washing/drying at Grooming Cottage in Wyoming.  Today was your first day, and you seemed to be content on our drive home.  Plus you smelled pleasantly of shampoo (much nicer than the somewhat fishy odor Alex gave off upon coming home from his first job in the Fox Hill Country Club dish room).  You learned that wearing long pants and sneakers will be helpful.  And you're scheduled for 3 days next week, when you can polish your pet washing technique.

Thanks to Steve's love of yard work, we do have pretty flowers along the front walk and gorgeous flowers in pots on the deck and along the fence in back.  Below is a picture of a Mexican sunflower plant Grammie gave us that grew amazingly fast over (with constant watering) since early June.  Steve also planted 5 tomatoes in the original garden next to the deck, and I belatedly "suckered" them last weekend - likely way too much.....  It remains to be seen how productive the plants will be.  One huge accomplishment - Steve did 95% of the scraping, repairs and re-painting of the front porch window, railings & decking.  A big, tedious, time-consuming job.  Otherwise, I keep doing Prudential work - really am looking forward to vacation next month.

On the depressing side of things, Steve has not gone back to work yet and is getting restless.  He is starting to find more job postings, but the economy is not going to bounce back quickly as the pandemic affects our country & the world.  We had hope at the beginning of the summer that the first wave would subside.  It has not, COVID-19 case counts in Southern (including Florida) and Western states are very high, particularly where governors did not mandate strict and adequately long shut-downs.  Our great country is struggling through this pandemic with inadequate leadership at the federal level.  We are truly fortunate to live in Pennsylvania, where Gov. Wolf takes this situation seriously.  When you were very young, I read you Winnie the Pooh stories.  It's easy to remember Christopher Robin, Pooh, and the exuberant & bouncy Tigger.  Remember Eeyore who was almost always sad?  In one story, he lost his tail - Owl found it and pinned it to the tree trunk next to his door to use as a bell-pull.  Pooh noticed it there, and brought Eeyore his tail back.  As gloomy Eeyore said while his tail was missing: "It's not much of a tail, but I'm sort of attached to it."  I'm feeling similarly like we have lost our tail and need to have it pinned back on.  And I doubt the operation will be as quick and painless as Eeyore's was.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

COVID 19 - And Now We Are Yellow

Well, I feel like writing tonight.  About a week ago on May 29th, Luzerne County moved up to the "yellow" phase of Gov. Wolf's plan for re-opening the state.  Lackawanna County as well as Montgomery County, where Rivers and Bloom families live, just switched to "yellow" yesterday.  What does this mean?  Well, some retail stores have re-opened (like Boscov's) and restaurants can now have outdoor seating.  Steve and I went had gone for a walk in downtown Wilkes-Barre last Sunday, realized that Boscov's was about to open up and couldn't pass up the opportunity to be among the first returning shoppers going in at 11 am.  Also, it seemed "legal" to spend an overnight with Grammie and Grandad this weekend, which we also enjoyed.  (It is truly disturbing that the spotted lantern fly is now well-established in Wyncote; we expect it to arrive in Northeast PA as well - hopefully none too soon.)  Rob, you were quite happy to stay home by yourself and enjoy quiet time with Jean Luc and Rambo.

So what have you been up to?  Alex, when we talked last weekend (as I took you to work at Gerrity's for 7 am, while the Camry was getting new tires) you told me the pace of work at your internship is still a bit slow, given the remote work situation.  Hopefully it will pick up soon as offices re-open over the summer.  The Camry is up to over 131,000 miles and is holding up well without major maintenance expenses yet (makes me very happy that we've gotten almost 10 years of dependable driving with it).  Chloe has recuperated from urinary tract and ear infections, but still may not be feeling quite right since she is cranky and aggressive with you in particular (less so with Taylor).  It sounds as if you and Taylor will be bike riding now that Steve spruced up your bike and we've dropped it off.

Rob, now you've submitted everything required for your AP Computer Science exam and are are trying to keep focused on wrapping up school work.  Only two more weeks of remote school - yeah!  Camp Orchard Hill announced that it will open for summer day camp on June 29 (this is great news since at least there will be some camp this summer, though cancellation of all overnight camps is a big disappointment).  We are still going driving together, and need to begin parallel parking practice.  What else are you into these days?  Impractical Jokers!  Here are a couple "punishments" from YouTube that you shared with us after dinner this past week.  I especially like chasing poultry around the office.

I am trying to be more active, and enjoying morning walks.  It's great to be out when the air is fresh, there is usually a breeze and I can avoid getting overheated.  Today we went for a walk with Grammie at Pennypack Preserve.  A couple weeks ago we went to the Seven Tubs in Wilkes-Barre, which has a nice hiking trail along beautiful water falls.  Here a couple nice pictures that Steve took along as we walked along the stream.

In the larger world, there has been some good news as the unemployment rate is improving slightly.  But overall this was been a very difficult week for the country - following the death in Minneapolis of George Floyd.  There have been many peaceful and also some violent protests, along with property damage, injuries, looting and outrage that has its roots in systemic racism.  We heard from Mark yesterday that Grace has volunteered in downtown Philadelphia, helping any protesters who needed first aid.  A street in Washington DC was re-named Black Lives Matter Boulevard, with the new name painted in huge yellow letters.  Joe Biden has officially won the Democratic nomination for President, running against Donald Trump.  As we move into the final months before the 2020 U.S. presidential election and continue to navigate these dangerous times with COVID-19 sickness and death around the world, I hope that American people can find ways to focus on goals that help us address inequalities, protect the rights of all people in our our country and save our beautiful planet for future generations.