Category Archives: Covid-19

Kathryn B, Katherine Z, or Katherine B Kott

Chapter 1: Kathryn Baker Kott

During the darkest days of Covid times, before vaccines were widely available, I was presented with two identity puzzles. Each of them required creativity and collaboration to resolve. One involved mis-tracked identity documents which caused me to have a complete meltdown before the documents were returned to me. But what else is a retired person going to do during Covid shutdown besides untangle bureaucratic snafus?

Registration Information

The first puzzle emerged as I changed my reservation for the Harlaxton College 50th Reunion which was being postponed from 2021 to 2022. When I received confirmation from the University of Evansville that my reservation had been moved, I noticed that although the confirmation had been sent to my email and included my correct mailing address, my maiden name was listed as Baker. Because my maiden name is Kitto and I didn’t want my initials to be KKK, I kept using the middle name I was given at birth when I married. That name starts with B but is not Baker. And, while I was Kathy in high school, I went by Katherine at Harlaxton.

My librarian friends, especially folks who have been involved in name authority work will be interested in what happened next. In consultation with the alumni database manager, the person handling the Harlaxton registration discovered that I had been conflated with someone named Kathryn Baker Kott who was practicing medicine in Green Bay Wisconsin at the time. OK, you name authority mavens, what are the red flags here? Different spellings of the first name? Living in Oakland, CA and working in Green Bay, WI?

Apparently, the University of Evansville did not track Harlaxton students from other Universities. During the inaugural year, there were quite a few of us, including a cadre from the University of the Pacific. At least two of us were children of University of Evansville faculty. If we were not tracked, how did I get conflated with someone who had actually attended and graduated from the University of Evansville?

When my mother died in 2014, I made a donation to the University of Evansville in her name. She had taught piano and organ there for some time and had stayed in touch with both student and faculty friends from that time so it seemed fitting to recognize her in that way. When the University received the donation, the person doing data entry found Kathryn Kott’s record in their database and assumed we were the same person as they had no record of me as a Harlaxton student.

With the exchange of a mere 17 email messages, the person in charge of Harlaxton registration and the database administrator were able to straighten out the records and give me access to mine. And, I am registered as myself for the Harlaxton reunion next May, “God willing and the creek don’t rise,” as my dear departed mother would say.

Chapter 2: Katherine Zeliff Kott

The second puzzle is still a bit of a mystery. It involved two bureaucracies initially, expanding to five eventually. Although the initial (so to speak) issue is resolved, the matter of a replacement passport is still outstanding. Several of my friends thought I should write it up as a short story. That might have been because they found it boring when I related it as a sequence of baffling events.

The challenge will be to figure out exactly when the denouement occurred and to describe it in a way that makes it stand out. Here goes. It all started when I logged in to my Social Security to verify my benefits for a mortgage refinance application. Huh. My name displayed as Katherine Z Kott. Just a typo, I thought. It’s not possible to change one’s own name through the portal so it’s unlikely someone gained unauthorized access by logging in as me. The change had to have been made on the back end. Name changes are made by requesting a new social security card. Although the card I got in 1973 was still fine, I applied for a new one online.

Imagine my surprise when the card arrived in the mail with the name on the card correct: Katherine B Kott but the name on the stub–bearing no resemblance to any of the information I had submitted–Katherine Zeliff Kott. Well, that’s where the Z came from!

This was pre-vaccine Covid time. No opportunity to drop in to the local Social Security office and wait for hours until desperate to use the toilet but afraid to go in case your number is called while you’re in the restroom. It only took a week of calling before my call was not terminated because there were no lines available to provide a recorded hold message that my call was important. When I did get through, the agent advised me to write a letter explaining the situation, print out another application for a new card, and send the letter and application along with identity documents including a birth certificate and either drivers license or passport to the local Social Security office. She had no idea how the error might have occurred in the first place. She could not tell who had made the change or when it had been made. DBAs, what do you think about that? Perhaps a sysadmin could track down that information. It’s scary to think random changes can be made to Social Security records without a trace. Although it made me quite anxious to think of sending my identity documents, I sent my birth certificate, marriage certificate showing the name change from my birth name, and my passport by priority mail on March 9th, 2021.

About a week later, I tracked the package online through USPS. According to the tracking report, the package had been returned to sender as undeliverable on March 10th. After I recovered from a fifteen minute screaming and crying fit, I consulted my neighbor, a long time Oakland resident for advice. She was certain the package was sitting on someone’s desk at the main post office. All I had to do was go there and inquire. WRONG! What I got from my visit to the main post office was sheet of paper with a customer service number to call that had been photocopied so often, the number was almost impossible to read.

It took about the same number of days to get through to the USPS number as it had taken to reach the SSA. When I reached the recording, I was instructed to leave a call back number. The recording informed me that I would get a call back in “more than an hour.” How much more than an hour, I wondered? Fortunately, I was not left to speculate for much longer than an hour and the customer service agent very helpfully offered to investigate, promising another callback within a few days.

While I waited for the callback, I did a bit of research myself. I returned to the USPS branch I had sent the package from to have them verify the address. The address was correct for the local Social Security office. They also thought it odd that the package had been returned as undeliverable as it is likely USPS delivers similar material to that office regularly.

We were having a regular rotation of substitute carriers in our neighborhood and I had been getting mail for neighbors on the next block, so I thought perhaps my returned mail had been mis-delivered to them. I searched the internet and found the phone number of the person living there. She was sympathetic to my plight as she had also been receiving other people’s mail, but not my returned package. In desperation, I tailed the most regular substitute carrier who claimed she had no time to talk to me and as we delivered the mail, I asked her if she remembered seeing a returned priority mail package in the past week or so. While a yes or no answer might have sufficed given how busy she seemed to be, she elaborated on the reason she couldn’t possibly remember–so much mail to deliver. None of this reassured me about the safety and well-being of my identity documents. I was glad I had held onto my drivers license.

Two days after my initial phone conversation with the USPS customer service agent, I got a call from a person at the main post office where I had launched my inquiry. They had looked high and low for the package. She was sorry, but it was well and truly lost. Learning that all my identity documents except my drivers license were navigating the world on their own made me lose it completely. I went mad.

Once I had scraped myself off the ceiling (alcohol may have been involved) I got to work on replacing the lost documents. Louisiana vital records for the birth certificate, Michigan for the marriage certificate, the State Department to declare the passport lost and start the process to apply for a replacement. I was planning to get a California “real ID” when my drivers license expired in July and would need the birth certificate and my social security card for that. I needed to monitor my credit to make sure who ever had my documents was not using them for nefarious purposes.

Having seen no evidence that there had been attempts to open new accounts, I wondered if it was remotely possible that USPS had mis-scanned the package. Perhaps it really had been delivered to the local Social Security office and the tracking information that showed it had been returned to sender was wrong. To pursue this line of thought, I spent another week calling the local Social Security office. On Friday morning, I reached a person. It took some time for her to understand what I was asking. She kept saying they send documents by certified mail. Finally, she understood that the documents had gone missing before they had received them. Of course, she was working remotely and hardly anyone was going into the office. However, she emailed her supervisor with a request that someone look to see if the documents had been delivered, were in the office, and perhaps were even being processed. No one ever called me back, but about two weeks later I got this–by certified mail–with my documents:

What a relief to have the documents back in my possession and know that they were not out in the world, living it up without me. My request was indeed pending, as the letter states. The replacement Social Security card with the correct middle name on the stub was dated 05/24/2021. There was no correspondence with the card–no explanation about how or why I became Katherine Zeliff Kott. Thank goodness I did not have to wait until May 24th to reclaim my identity.

I would like to be able to say, “All’s well that ends well,” but we are not quite there yet. Because I had declared the passport lost, it was no longer valid and I had to apply for a replacement which has not arrived yet. The application process was a little rough and the State Department lost my lost passport declaration so I had to re-submit that last week. I do hope to get the passport soon and avoid collecting enough material for a second installment of failed bureaucracies.


Oh! Lassen

Katherine and Katrina are back with more camping adventures–this time, a post-Covid, pre-wildfires trip to Lassen National Park’s Butte Lake Campground. We’ll use a similar organizing principle to the one we used for Pinnacles. We are librarians, after all. With a couple of added categories to cover some car trouble and fishing. We may need to deviate from our cute spellings…


KA was the first to arrive, so she did a little exploration and took this shot of Butte Lake. What an amazing setting! KK arrived a bit later. We set up tents, stored food in the bear boxes, etc. B54 is a good site with proximity to the restrooms (no showers) and an open area for great star gazing. We planned our trip to coincide with the Perseid meteor shower and saw several meteors on two nights while we were there.

Hiking and Klimbing

Our original plan included scaling three different types of volcanos. The first to be conquered: Cinder Cone. One reason for selecting the Butte Lake campground, which is off the main park road was that the trailheads for two volcanoes are right there! So, off we went on Day One to Cinder Cone. Who are these masked women?

The trail offers a Sisyphean challenge. The surface is cinders (doh!). With every step, you plant your foot, only to slip back again and again… The trail seems to wind endlessly before you.

The effort is rewarded with spectacular views. But the wind was high that day. We were unable to scale the highest viewpoint. On the positive side, we didn’t need to visit the spa for exfoliation for some time after the hike. The little cinder fragments took care of that! We recommend spats for this hike. We did not have them and had to stop to remove larger cinders from our shoes fairly frequently.


We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for our feature: Kampground Kooking. As with our Pinnacles trip, we planned our meals and shopped for provisions before arrival at the campground. On the first night, we ran into a little “issue” with wood. Things seemed a little frayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There was no camp host and therefore no firewood for purchase. We opted not to do the 6 mile drive back out on the gravel road to get some. Instead, we scoured the campground for abandoned wood from campers who had left.

One of the logs we found was a challenge to chop but we got it done and managed to grill our pork kabobs on the open fire. (Challenge #2–the grill at our campsite was rusted out on the bottom so had to be propped on the side of the fire ring.) Other repasts included chicken with Spanish rice and mango (not pictured), sausage and veggies, KA’s infamous lettuce wedge, pasta and hot squash and carrot slaw, and of course, crab aliens–a dessert treat of chocolate melted on croissants.

Best Laid Plans

Our day two plan was to hike our second volcano: Prospect Peak. However, KK’s car battery went out. We were fortunate that nearby campers had cables and we were able to jump start the car. KK opted to drive to Redding to get a new battery rather than risk not being able to start the car again. (We didn’t get photos of this part.) KA made the best of it by exploring nearby lakes. When KK returned, we tried a swim in Bathtub Lake, reputed to be tepid and good for a swim. It was a complete bust! Full of algae. But we had a good swim in an unnamed lake we christened Naked Man Lake for the man we saw emerge from it in his birthday suit as we walked by on our way to Bathtub Lake–re-christened Bathdud Lake.

More Klimbing and Katching (we hoped)

Hiking Lassen Peak, the third volcano in our master plan would involve driving to the park entrance and then a distance down the park road to reach the trailhead. With KK having spent much of the previous day in her car and with road work on the route to the park entrance, we opted instead to try our luck at fishing in nearby Hat Creek. While we didn’t catch anything, it made for a relaxing morning by a beautiful creek with some good birdwatching.

After lunch, we hiked around Butte Lake with spectacular panoramic views of the Lake and its surroundings. Gooseberries and lizards too!

Our last night at Butte Lake campground was a Friday night. The campground became much more crowded and a large family group occupied the campsite across the stargazing field from us. They had bright lights that interfered with our ability to see the stars. We were ready to break camp and head home the next day. Our timing was good, as it turned out. The night after we got home, dry lightning struck throughout the state of California, igniting many fires. We haven’t stopped burning since.


Shelter-in-Place Diary

Because life can be a little monotonous during shelter-in-place, I will try to keep it brief! For a change of pace from neighborhood walks, I took the dogs over to Alameda to walk along Shoreline. It was moderately busy. Most people were wearing masks. One person apparently lost her ice skates en route to the beach!

The Indivisible group I belong to has been raising money to support down-ballot candidates in “flip-able” states. Before the pandemic, we had been quite successful with events such as a “blues bash” and a Portuguese wine tasting. Now that we can’t host gatherings, we’ve switched to making masks. Asking folks to donate $10-15 per mask. A generous supporter donated quilting fabric for us to use–everything from cats to psychedelics. Special orders considered…

On May 9th, Programs in Bowen Theory hosted its first ever online conference. Like so many other organizations, offering online conferences was something we wanted to try eventually. But the pandemic forced a decision–postpone the in-person conference or go ahead and offer it online. Under Laura Havstad’s leadership, we forged ahead to offer the conference via Zoom. Instead of a full day format, we planned a half-day with two speakers on Bridging Cutoff. Attendance was about double what it usually is at an in-person conference and many people joined from other parts of the country and the world! Although in-person meetings may come back at some point, more live online content will almost certainly be offered in the future.

Otherwise, it’s walking the dogs, sorting through stuff in my house and selling things on eBay, participating in Zoom book groups and yoga classes, and hiking weekly with KA. We are now training for our next camping trip which we hope we can do as planned to Lassen in August.

Shopping for food takes more thought and planning than it used to. Is it safe to go to the store? Which store is best? Do you have to wait to get in? For how long? Or is it better to order online? What is the lead time before the groceries will be delivered? Which services tell you what is out of stock and offer substitutions while the shopper is in the store versus letting you know when the items are delivered? I’m still experimenting and have tried different options from week to week. It’s definitely a plus to be a “senior” in this situation with access to early morning shopping hours when the stores are less crowded and better stocked. Reliable access to paper products remains a challenge.

No need to be bored when there is so much content being offered online from the sublime (Lucia di Lammermoor from the Met’s free streaming service) to the ridiculous (Masterminds from the library’s Hoopla service). Masterminds is so dumb/funny I laughed out loud! My sense of humor is so juvenile.

Last but not least, I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of a granddaughter some time in mid-November! It’s a somewhat strange time to be pregnant, but my daughter Amy and her husband Justin are taking things in stride.

Stay safe. Be well.


What’s That Low Whine?

Seemed like it was time for another blog post, but what to write about? My obsession with finding out whether or not I really had Covid-19 in early March? Reminiscences about pleasant past experiences like the Pinnacles Retrospective? Boring accounts of my days under shelter-in-place? Complaints about what I’m missing? Plans for the (uncertain) future?

When in a half-waking state, as two furry creatures urged me to start the day, I was reminded that, although I’m not a Buddhist, Buddhist ideas about suffering and the causes of suffering have been helpful to me as I’ve navigated difficulties in the past. Shifting my thinking from what’s missing, what is gone from the past, what I want that is not possible–that privileged low whine–to appreciating what is available in the moment is worth the effort and lifts my mood.

How can you not live in the moment when greeted by this face? I miss hugging my human loved ones, but I’m grateful for cuddles with my furry companions.

And a visit to my garden, with or without wine is a reminder of the beauty that surrounds me. The Buddha on the left actually belongs to my friend KA of Pinnacles camping fame. It has a place of honor near my front door. When KA and I are not co-writing blog posts, we are social distance hiking with the dogs–a great opportunity to be outdoors with human and canine companionship! My daughter and I also social distance dog walk and she and my son both check in with me regularly to see if I need anything and just to talk about life and the universe.

Other connections are through a book group that already used Zoom before the pandemic, my yoga communities and teachers who have transitioned their classes to an online platform, my work with the Bowen theory community which has also always been distributed and technology enabled, and of course social networking on Facebook and Instagram with friends and family. So, I am far from being an isolated senior, despite social distancing and living alone. Just for today, I’m going to stop my whining and enjoy the moment.


Shelter in Place

As of 12:01 am on Tuesday, March 17th, residents of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties have been ordered to “shelter in place” to help stop the spread of Covid-19. Most people were already working from home and schools and libraries have closed. This new measure limits non-essential travel as well as any type of gathering that is not required for health and well being–even or maybe especially–going to the gym or to a fitness class. Studios are scrambling to provide online classes to stay connected with their communities and provide people with much-needed stress relief.

It’s OK to hike outside as long as you remain six feet away from anyone who does not live in the same household. Dog walking fits within this type of outdoor activity, thank goodness. We are sticking with neighborhood walks and avoiding dog parks.

People in my age group are particularly advised to stay home as much as possible. My wonderful younger neighbors have offered a shopping pool so that more vulnerable folks don’t have to venture out to get groceries or other essentials. The ordinances allow restaurants to prepare food for takeout, but not serve food on the premises. Bars are closed. Thank goodness for streaming content, e-books, and online meeting platforms.

In late February/early March, I was quite sick (high fever, night sweats) but my doctor thought what I had was “regular flu.” If that was “regular flu” I certainly hope to avoid Covid-19. Stay safe, everyone. Shelter in place!