The Solution To Most Problems

 

Irish proverb

 

I love a nap and would happily take one every day if time and my own sense of decency allowed it. I can rattle off a my Top Ten Naps of all time if anyone is ever interested.  I consider all of the post-call naps of my pre 80-hour-workweek-rule intern year to be a single item entry.  These were the naps of the truly bone tired.  No interruptions by dreams or a sense of the passage of time, waking up in the early evening with dried drool on my chin and the knowledge that, in three days’ time, I’d be doing it all over again.

Some of the other best naps have to do with location.  We took a trip with Jimmy’s family once to the Cape in Massachusetts and rented a house that had a loft overlooking a large family room addition.  There was a cot, a thick quilt, and a skylight.  Need I say more?  And then the post redeye flight nap in a downtown Philadelphia hotel with the crispest, heaviest white comforter.  An assortment of beach naps at various locales round out the top ten.

In the Bier family, we acknowledge that there is some shadowy genetic tendency toward little to no sleep latency.  That is, we fall asleep at the drop of a hat.  People who visit or marry into the family are confused when, after a large family meal, we move into the family room to “watch the game,” which is really just code for “fall asleep immediately, possibly including drooling.”  The lucky ones will have secured a corner spot on the couch.  If not so fortunate, we will just throw our heads back and fall asleep wherever we landed.  I’ve seen my dad and his brother fall asleep on a hardwood floor, as long as they have a cushion or windbreaker to ball up under their heads.

My dad’s uncle, Father Ed, apparently actually had narcolepsy, the extreme version of this tendency.  Rumor has it that he used to sometimes fall asleep in the middle of saying mass.  Catholic rules being what they are, namely that a mass once started must be completed, a helpful nun was always positioned at the end of the front pew, tasked with the job of nudging him awake as needed.  Why they didn’t assign this to the pre-Vatican Two bell carrying acolyte remains unclear.

My siblings and I have been texting a lot more frequently, and we all seem remarkably OK with being forced to stay in our houses, the more easily to take a nap here or there as we are so inclined.  I’m not going to call any of the five of us out by name, as I’m sure the quality of our work has not suffered for this napping, and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s cover.  Just before the NYC quarantine took effect, my youngest brother, Pat, moved to a new apartment.  Before I heard anything about the larger kitchen and bathroom, I learned that it had a good spot for napping.  The true mark of a good home.

 

CO-Victory Garden

Over the past couple of days I’ve stopped and erased numerous responses to posts on social media.  The posts that are getting me fired up are those making fun of and/or minimizing the whole pandemic situation.  I know that it’s not fun to be scared.  I know that it’s not fun to have to alter our behaviors.  I know that canceling spring break sucks (still deciding when and how to tell the girls that this is a very real possibility).  But minds and hearts aren’t changed in comments sections, so I wrote this instead.

Most Americans never had to make a personal sacrifice on behalf of the common good.  No ration books.  No blackout times.  Except for the few times that services were limited due to brief government budgetary shutdowns, I can’t think of many.  So we aren’t used to the idea of curtailing our own freedoms and pleasures for the benefit of some shadowy, ill-defined public good.

I was hugely inspired by reports on how German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, framed the issue to her country’s people.  She delivered a  message of reality tempered with reassurance, caution mixed with concern for the common good.  It was, I think, just right.

So, instead of being embarrassed and apologetic about social distancing measures, I suggest that we treat them as a badge of pride–something akin to the Victory Gardens of WWII.  Back then, Americans were encouraged to plant these small vegetables plots both to help with food supply, but just as much to encourage morale as the country rallied to defeat a common enemy.  In that case it was Hitler.  In this case, it’s an exponentially dividing virus that’s, well, going viral.  We need a COVID Victory Garden.

Victory-garden

 

So, to that end, I give you the CO-Victory Garden.  Instead of planting seeds, I will plant positive behaviors.  I will wear this badge as a symbol of my willingness to do whatever it takes, as defined by reasonable sources such as the CDC, to #flattenthecurve.  As of today, here’s what you have to do to plant your own CO-Victory Garden:

COVictory Garden

IN THE FACE OF A COMMON ENEMY, COVID-19, OUT OF A WHOLEHEARTED CONCERN FOR THE COMMON GOOD, I WILL:

  • Obtain information from reputable sources, such as the CDC.
  • Encourage best practices in my own home, including handwashing upon arriving home and daily disinfection of frequently handled items, such as doorknobs.
  • Stay home when sick.  I will call my doctor or public health office with questions about what to do if I am sick, rather than overburdening urgent care and emergency department waiting rooms.
  • Keep a few weeks’ supply of necessary items on hand and avoid hoarding, to ensure that essential supplies are available to everyone.
  • Observe travel and gathering restrictions.
  • Not whine if my personal or social life has been negatively affected by the cancellation of an entertainment event that I was looking forward to.  I’ll be sad quietly and try my hardest not to blame others for something out of their control.
  • Support businesses that employ best practices.  If I am able, I will not pressure small business owners for refunds for COVID-19 related cancellations, as they are likely struggling financially.  Many of their hourly workers are struggling as well, so I will try to be empathetic as I make decisions.
  • Check in on already socially isolated people in my community.

 

If I can figure out how to, I’m going to change my profile pics to that cute badge that my brother, Patrick Bier, whipped up for me over lunch.  It will serve as a sign that I’m quietly doing my part.  I’m neither overreacting nor burying my head in the sand.  Who’s in?

 

Staying on Brand

IMG_4778
Evidence of Dad’s return to normal.  Riding at The White Stallion Ranch a few months after “The Incident”

Here’s a funny story that I’ve had sitting in drafts since this summer.  I had to wait until I knew everything was going to be OK, and it seems like it’s safe to share it.  See, this summer my dad had chest pain and ultimately ended up with a stent, but no serious long term damage.  He’s been back to normal for some time, but the whole incident is very telling.  As one of my siblings noted, the management of the entire affair was completely On Brand for Dad–Tom Bier Brand.

Brand coherence point #1:  Driving.  So, he had chest pain, identified it as something that he, as a former paramedic, would have sent to the E.D.  Great first step!  He avoided the popular habit of people in our family of ignoring warning signs such as, well, periodic crushing substernal chest pain, or a progressive numbness of the entire lower leg, or that horn growing out of the top of their head.  You know, subtle things like that.  The Tom Bier Brand (T.B.B., hereafter) takes medical issues seriously.

But not so seriously that they would compromise a far more important facet of the TBB, car driving.  Driving and automobile maintenance is dad’s primary love language.  He happily made the multi-hour drives to and from campuses with whatever frequency we kids deemed necessary.  There would be a few of sentences exchanged, and then we sat in silence while dad listened to AM sports radio out of Chicago.  WGN is my happy place.  He’d usually say a few more things before dropping us off, slip us some cash, and turn around immediately for the drive back home.  And we knew that we were loved.  Same with checking the cars’ oil, and inquiring about how the car’s running.

The man just loves driving.  After he retired, he started driving for a buddy’s limo company.  After the company folded, he continued driving a private stable of clients.  The Tom Bier service ranges from a drive to and from the airport, a drive to local meetings and appointments, and acting as a designated driver to allow for two martini lunches.  He even used to drive an elderly woman’s car down to Florida for her every year so she could tool around locally.  He’d drive down, stay for a day or two, and she flew him back home, the reverse occurring in spring.  He doesn’t “charge” anything, per se, but people pay just whatever they feel is appropriate. Because the drive itself is actually the reward.  Be it a car, a limo, or a riding lawnmower, the man just likes to be behind the wheel.  Listening to sports radio.

So it was a completely on-brand move that he chose to drive himself to the hospital.  Oh, don’t worry, he wasn’t alone, mom was there.  She was just in her usual spot in the passenger seat.

TBB coherence move number one:  drive at all times, including when you may or may not be having a heart attack.

Brand coherence point #2:  Devotion to youth sports in Southern Wisconsin.  So, dad’s a three-season official, and has been for as long as I can remember.  He just loves to be in a uniform, be it umping grays, or reffing stripes.  He officiates so frequently, that his uniforms need to be washed nearly nightly, and a fresh uniform is pretty much always hung to dry on the downstairs shower.  (This is due to Jan Bier Brand identity, all laundry must be air-dried for fear of shrinkage).  The night of the incident, Dad umped a double-header, and then went out for pizza and beer with the fellas afterward.  It was a typical summer night, one in which dad would have been unavailable for any other social engagements due to needing to keep those young athletes in line.

Could the chest pain have been due to the double header?  He claims he felt fine during, TBB.  Could it have had something to do with the pizza and beer?  Well….

Either way, it remains a fact that before ANY of his five children knew about his hospitalization, the corps of Southern Wisconsin sporting officials had been alerted so as to find subs for his upcoming games.

TBB coherence move number two:  hospitalization comes second to youth sports officiating.  Especially of double headers, obv.

 

I hope that this little review serves as inspiration for all of us to not only develop a personal brand, but then slavishly remain devoted to it at even the most trying of times.  I’m still working on the kinks of my brand, but I think it has something to do with sarcasm, inappropriately-timed comments, and leggings.

 

 

 

 

A Flame In The Manger

My annual holiday gift to you all.  All my best to you and yours. –Angie

manger scene 1manger-scene-2

For years, my parents christened our one-acre front lawn with a set of those plastic Nativity figurines frequently seen huddled together during the holiday season.  When I was younger, the novelty of having a complete set—two lambs and a camel along with the full cast of characters, including a shepherd—was enough to keep me feeling special.  As I got older, I comforted myself that, because ours were vintage, displayed in a tasteful hay bale barn, and illuminated from above with a floodlight rather than garishly from within, my family narrowly escaped being hopelessly tacky;  we instead rested firmly in the camp of whimsical nostalgia.  Regardless of the taste level, the annual appearance of the gang on the front lawn was something that provided a sense of continuity and, no matter the chaos going on inside, a sense that a certain Christmas serenity still reigned.

It was my senior year of college that everything changed.  There were only a few days left of the term, and I slogged through finals with the promise that a comfortable, familiar Christmas on County A awaited me in a few short days.  Mom and I were wrapping up our once-weekly call that Sunday night when she offhandedly mentioned, “Oh, and the Manger Scene burned down the other night.”

Coming as it did, across the phone line to my dorm room a couple hours’ drive away, my mother’s comment seemed even more incongruous.  True, we certainly did edit our traditional Sunday evening calls down to a skeletal minimum.  On my part, this was to spare her the details of the questionable choices that I made during my last year of undergrad—a decision that she was more than happy to go along with.  This approach formed the crux of her parenting after age 12:  don’t ask any questions that you don’t want to know the answer to.  On her part, the lack of foreshadowing and leaving out of key details was more routine.  She never has been very good at foreshadowing things.  Dropped in your lap like an unexpected squirming baby, her pronouncements were often without context and, similarly, without clear instructions on where to proceed next.  Luckily, it took very little to get her going, relating the story that now exists as a legend.

Apparently, they set the manger scene set up a few days before.  My brother Patrick–he would have been around 8 at the time–added some theatrical flair to the proceedings and had the magi approach from the east, set to arrive on Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas.  Every morning, he trudged across the acre-wide lawn in his boots and hauled the three statues several feet closer to the scene.

It was a typical weekday night, and they were settled down in the family room for the evening.  A bright floodlight swept across the back of the family room as a sheriff’s vehicle swung into the gravel driveway.  They immediately assumed that this had something to do with the family’s newest driver, my sister Louise, who already had one hit and run incident to her credit since getting her license in September.  (Fear not, the victim was the bumper of another car in the parking lot at dance).  They hustled to the kitchen door and stepped into the crisp, semi darkness of a winter night on the Wisconsin prairie.  The only light came from the manger scene, the dusk to dawn light having been ritually unscrewed to provide center-stage billing to the front lawn tableau.  The light seemed a bit brighter than usual.  And it was throwing off heat.  And crackling.

The nativity scene was completely engulfed in flames.

The sheriff’s deputy exited his vehicle, glancing perplexedly from the Biblical inferno to my dad in his then-uniform grey hooded Janesville Fire Department sweatshirt.  Oh, have I forgotten to mention that he was the Janesville Fire Marshal at the time?  Must have slipped my mind.  The young deputy glanced nervously between the two and asked the only logical question:  “Sir, are you aware that your Christmas scene is on fire?”

An interesting question.  Perhaps my parents just were tired of that particular decoration and couldn’t see taking a trip to the dump.  Trash burning was not uncommon in the township, and who needs a burn barrel when you have a snow-covered front lawn as a fire ring?

His mind already reeling ahead to the implications of this very public display of the fire dangers inherent in Christmas light displays, Dad rubbed his furrowed brow and asked, “Sheesh, please tell me that this hasn’t been called in.”  He was answered by the crackle of the deputy’s radio coming to life.  Oh, it had been called in.  And heavily discussed by all on duty firefighters that evening.  Dad told the deputy that he had things under control;  no, a hose truck wasn’t needed, and PLEASE don’t say any more than you need to about this on the radio.

As the deputy drove away into the quiet night, Dad wearily pulled on his barn boots and walked over to the fire.  He unplugged what proved to be the inciting culprit:  a 50+ year old extension cord festooned at various points along its length with electrical tape.  Using a piece of scrap lumber, he knocked the haybales apart, attempting to dissipate the now roaring blaze.

Flame in a Manger

Haybales really can go to town, once they get started.  They burned for several hours and smoldered into the night, long after my parents went to bed.  In the morning, all that remained was a charred circle in the center of the lawn, melted plastic lumps marking the former positions of the holy family and their retinue.  Unfortunately, it didn’t snow again for several weeks.  County A is a fairly heavily traveled road, and between the dispatch radio and the road’s usual traffic, word of the incident spread quickly.  I think that Dad took the ribbing in stride, and several poems commemorating the incident were delivered to the house, all set to familiar Christmas tunes.  The best was clearly, “A Flame In a Manger.”  The lyrics were stuck to the fridge with a magnet until they grew faded and stained, eventually thrown away some time the next summer.

Thanks to Patrick’s flair for the dramatic, the wise men rode out the fire safely east of the manger itself.   It took a couple of days for him to give up on the project, and for awhile, the three plastic wise men were seen to be slowly approaching the burned patch of grass little by little, inching their way through the blowing prairie winds toward the greasy plastic discs on the lawn of my childhood home.

 

The next Christmas, Mom went out and got a new set of figures at the Farm and Fleet, but things were never really the same.  The manger scene’s magical allure was diminished somehow.

As I sat in my college dorm room listening to the unlikely tale, the Bier family manger scene shifted subtly and permanently, from magical holiday set piece to classic drinking story, requested by my fellow alumni every year in December, when we all wistfully long for the familiarity of home.