Like just about everyone else right now, I’m trying to hang onto sanity while we wait out this pandemic. Now we’re doubly locked in by an ice storm, sub-freezing temperatures and a forecast for much colder temps and more precipitation.
Last week I was especially anxious and feeling at loose ends–even before the change in the weather. In fact, I sat on the patio and played with the dog just a few days ago, when it was 75F.
My anxiety stems not just from the lockdowns but also the stresses of responsibility: a 14-year-old who is a challenge to her old granny; a husband with Parkinson’s with multiple other health issues*. A dog. A pool, yard, trees, house, all of which require attention.
We have decided to try to downsize, so every day I check Zillow and contact our Realtor if I see something worthwhile. He showed us a house under construction the other day, and I thought, “Wow, I’ve never lived in a new house; this might be nice.” We drove over in a chilly rain that was turning to ice by the time we headed home. It took some imagination to visualize the finished product, but it doesn’t take any imagination to see a floor plan that just doesn’t work. The garage entrance took you through a closet-sized laundry room directly into the kitchen, which was tiny, like a New York City apartment tiny. An island with sink and dishwasher was placed so that a person working at the sink would be looking right into the living room. There was so little cupboard space I don’t know where we would put all our dishes, pans and serving pieces. One bedroom faced the street. The master bedroom was right off the living room, meaning a person watching TV will disturb someone already trying to sleep. The backyard ended at the sheer face of a cutaway hillside. The front door was approached along a narrow channel between stone walls. All this for $199 a square foot! The feng shui was terrible! The Realtor picked up on the fact that the house didn’t “sing” for me. Fortunately, he’s a great guy, patient and understanding. He knows this may be the last house we ever buy and we need to love it.
One anxiety reducer is Zumba. I find Tanju Koc on YouTube and after 30 minutes of keeping up with him–he’s cute and I can follow the steps–I feel sort of normal. I’d like to go to the gym and swim, but that will have to wait.
I was supposed to go to a retreat farther out into the Hill Country this weekend but it was cancelled because too few people signed up. Now that temps will be in the single digits, and the retreat would involve going outside among different spaces to sleep, eat and shower, I am so glad not to be out there, even though it has been, for five years, my favorite retreat ever–women quilting, knitting, sewing, stitching, felting and creative crafts I’m not familiar with, plus great company and somebody else cooking for three days.
Not being able to get out to shop, I made a Valentine for my husband while he went to a doctor’s appointment. I started when he left and finished as he walked in the door!
* In the middle of writing this piece, I had to stop and take him to the ER. He’s getting daily antibiotic shots, and was supposed to go to the nearby urgent care clinic this weekend, but it was closed. The ER nurse showed me how to give the injections for the rest of the weekend, so I can add “nurse” to my skill set.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope wherever you are you are safe and warm.
Some ice storm pics:
It snowed New Year’s Eve, just the right kind of snow: fat, fluffy flakes falling gently, accumulating only on rooftops and mailboxes and lawns, because the ground was still warm and the roads didn’t get slick. At first the dog was mesmerized, standing at the back door looking out. When we went out he stepped into the yard rather gingerly, and when we came in he insisted on going out the front door to check the front yard. In the evening, he and the granddaughter played in it. Since it’s been three years since we had snow, it’s no wonder everyone is rather fascinated (as long as we’re not snowed in).
Now it’s a bright, fresh new year (we hope!). My wish, like everyone else’s, is that vaccines are widely and properly distributed, SOON, and that once we’re inoculated from this horrible virus, we can again visit with friends, see our loved ones, go to actual church, theaters, galleries, and do all those things we’ve taken for granted. I know it will be some time before we reach anything like “normal,” if ever. We are forever changed by this once-in-a-century experience that our grandchildren will tell their grandchildren about: “I remember the Great Pandemic of ’20!”
Looking ahead, my personal goals are to better manage life with a spouse with Parkinson’s, and raising a teenage granddaughter. To be more patient with them and with myself. To put love above all else, which is harder than it sounds when you’re exhausted and frustrated.
I am an incorrigible new year’s resolution-maker, and I’m pretty good about keeping them, so here they are for 2021:
- To manage my days, my workload in a way that doesn’t exhaust me. Cut corners, accept disorder (better than I do), and especially lighten my load when I can. I usually cook a hot dinner six nights a week (Sunday is McDo, as my neighbor calls “on your own.”) Double-batching, a frozen meal now and then, even (horrors!) takeout. (I don’t like takeout because it costs more and is less healthful. Plus, unless you have delivery–even more cost–it’s as much trouble to pick it up than it is to fix a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, an easy go-to meal.)
- As mentioned above, be more patient and loving with my family.
- Make more effort to stay in touch with friends and family. Local friends, family far away, old friends–I miss regular contact. I generally don’t like talking on the phone, and maybe video chatting would work better for me. I’m going to ask people to call me, too. As I tell my sister in Florida, phone lines work both ways! I will continue sending out my postcards and might even write actual letters now and then. I’m grateful for Facebook because it helps me stay in touch with former co-workers, family overseas and others I might otherwise lose contact with.
I wish everyone a happy, healthy, prosperous and better-than-2020 New Year! Contact me if you’d like to be a phone pal, email chum, Facebook friend or just a friend!
You know how once in a while you’ll look at your calendar and see a few blank squares and go (silently) yippee!–a few days to catch up, read, watch TV, or whatever is your favorite way to fill uncommitted time?
Even in the pandemic, with all the staying at home, I still have weeks that are filled with doctor appointments, errands (pharmacy, library) and taking the granddaughter to her one daily in-person class.
But last Thursday there were those blank squares (except for the school thing). This is how those days went:
First thing, I noticed the deer had eaten the flowers off the cyclamen I just planted. We’re in drought and the deer must really be hungry to eat flowers.
While we were getting ready to leave for school, a bird got in the house. We opened doors and windows and it soon found its way out, but I was cleaning up droppings in odd places for a few days. (This has happened before and they are drawn to the high clerestory windows, which is the worst place to be trapped. I’m glad this one got out quickly.)
I dropped the child off, picked up a prescription at the drive-through, and by the time I got home there was a flurry of messages and texts regarding her returning to school after Thanksgiving break. I quickly arranged to go in for a conference with her, the counselor and the school psychologist to work out a plan. Afterwards she had her favorite treat, Starbucks, including a snowman cookie. Then she began ordering clothes online, her first priority (rather than finishing up all her online work, because she’ll have different teachers).
Friday was grocery shopping, which is anything but routine. Between the pandemic and our bright, shiny new (huge) store, even getting there at 8 a.m. I found myself dizzy and disoriented wending my way through the unfamiliar and overstimulating space. I got a small-ish turkey for our small Thanksgiving–us plus one neighbor, a widow who would otherwise be alone. (We’ve agreed, sadly, with out-of-town family to avoid risk this year.)
Saturday was my husband’s birthday, and granddaughter wanted to bake a lemon cake. Naturally she found a complicated three-layer job–I would have done a loaf, sheet or Bundt. She zested and juiced the lemons and did the measuring while I ran my ancient (harvest gold!) Sunbeam mixer. Once it was in the oven I needed to deal with an awful smell in the garage. It smelled like burned (or burning) rubber, but we couldn’t figure out where it was coming from–no smoke or flames.
So I called 911 and asked for the fire department to check it out. The truck with flashing lights (but no siren, thank you) got the neighbors’ attention. The squad was wonderful. One used a heat sensor to try to find hot spots. They went around the breakers, the outlets, outside by the AC and pool pump, and into the garage attic! Finally, they pulled out the refrigerator and determined the smell was coming from the back of it. The motor wasn’t running too hot but they recommended turning it off. It was immediately unplugged. I thanked the firemen and dealt with moving everything into the house, while also keeping an eye on the cake’s progress.
Naturally, the fridge had Thanksgiving items in it, including the turkey, beer and wine (that’s why it’s known as a “beer fridge”), bottles of water I fill and keep for emergencies, and the like. The inside refrigerator is now crammed full. (The old one is 21 years old and not worth repairing so we’ll live without it for now.) After making the cake icing and cleaning up, I was exhausted but too wired to nap.
We had a nice birthday dinner (salmon, asparagus, baked potato and the lemon cake.) I went to bed early.
Sunday really was uneventful. I walked the dog, did Zoom church, read, napped. No school this week. Today I made this little ornament. I’m going to get different colored yarn and make them for small gifts (teachers, neighbors). They are super-easy to make. Instructions are here.
Since the pandemic set in, several publications have addressed the issue of boredom. I can understand that maybe if you’re stuck in a tiny New York City apartment with few options, yes, it could get boring.
I have not been bored for one minute since the lock-downs began. For one thing, we’re not really trapped inside: we have a big backyard with a nice pool, several nearby parks and trails, and opportunities for road trips to other outdoor activities. Errands such as grocery shopping and picking up prescriptions, masked, as early in the day as possible, also get me out of the house. We have Zoom church, video doctor appointments, so there is no lack of contact with the outside world.
The only times I have ever been bored in my adult life were if I ever got stuck in a situation without anything to read or to do. I keep a bag by the back door with reading and knitting in case I have to make an ER trip, having been stuck previously with a dead phone and nothing to do for four hours.
So, what’s keeping me occupied during the pandemic?
Let’s see, a household with a husband with Parkinsons, a 13-year-old granddaughter and a dog. The man and child are fairly self-sufficient, but there are doctor appointments, meds to manage and unpredictable interruptions*. The dog needs to be fed, walked, belly-rubbed and have tennis balls tossed. I do all the grocery shopping, most of the errands, most of the routine cleanup (we do have weekly pool service and a cleaning lady every two weeks), and most of the cooking. Lately the meals have been pretty simple–burgers, tacos, chicken, pasta, which is why I think the granddaughter has started cooking a tasty dinner one or two days a week. I take her to school for her theater elective at midday, come home for lunch and pick her up again; the rest of her schooling is on-line for now. I do monitor her schooling and intend to add some enrichment learning this week.
When the tasks and chores are done, this is how I use my “free” time:
- Exercise. This time of year it’s swimming. In the cooler weather it’s walking and going to the gym (where I can swim in the winter), and I walk the dog unless it’s just too hot (with highs near 100F lately).
- Puzzles and games: On the dining table is a seemingly impossible jigsaw puzzle that may outlast the pandemic. (We have completed three others.) Our local newspaper publishes a weekly puzzle book with mazes, jumbles and crossword puzzles.
- Art: some painting, but mostly my favorite, postcards. I’ve been working on some computer-generated designs, using my own photography, as well as original art in collage, water color and other media. I’m almost ready for a fall postcard mail swap.
- Knitting and other needlework. I completed so much knitting over the summer I decided to try to finish a needlework project started about 10 years ago. It may take another 10 years but I’m making progress!
- Most of all, my favorite default mode: reading. Daily periodicals (the local paper and the online New York Times); weekly (The New Yorker); and a delicious pile of books. I’ve even read some fiction, which is rare for me: a chick-lit piece about older women in Tuscany (almost like going to Italy); a novel about South Africa during apartheid and the Soweto rebellions; “Longitude,” about the search for how to determine longitude, thus saving ships and sailors; the Mary Trump book about her uncle (he’s even worse than I thought); and I continue to re-read “Waterlog,” which is maybe my favorite all-time book. I just started “The Soul of an Octopus,” which is a delight. I think science and nature and memoir are my favorite genres of reading. Prompted by last Sunday’s sermon, I printed out Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” about which whole dissertations could be (and probably have been) written. I’m also going to listen to Alec Guinness reading them (on YouTube).
- Writing: I have a novel, or novella, or something, in my head that I need to get down. So far all I’ve written is the premise, but I have the opening chapter in my head and need to lay out an outline, then start a draft. I have never tackled a novel, but I’ve written several novels’ worth of words in my career so I’ll give it a try.
- If all else fails, there’s always TV. We have full cable, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. It takes so long to scroll through the menus to decide what to watch that I often give up and read. Husband has been watching “Outlander” (which I would call “Outlandish”). We dip in and out of “The Good Place,” and enjoyed Ricky Gervais‘ “Extras” and “After Life.” (Gervais is an acquired taste, but love his humor.) Lots of movies. Most recent, “The Current War,” about Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla. Poor Tesla got lost in history.
Hope y’all are staying healthy and busy. This difficult and historic time will end. I tell my granddaughter that she is living history. When she’s old she can tell her grandchildren (if she’s lucky enough to have any) about the pandemic of ’20, as well as the other history that’s being made this year.
* At least three while writing this post.
… and the revolution will be televised. And broadcast over every social medium platform known and as yet unknown.
When the calendar rolled onto 2000 (which, as we all know, was not exactly the start of the new millennium), chaos was expected. Well, we did have the messed-up 2000 election, followed by 9/11, so the new millennium did get off to a rocky start. Then there were the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economic crash of ’08. Mass shootings that became almost routine.
Now we have 2020, which is coming on like the Apocalypse: a devastating, seemingly endless pandemic; outrage and uprisings over police killings of people of color; melting ice caps; locusts in Africa; murder hornets; a new rabbit-killing virus (affecting “pets or meat”*; Sahara desert dust in Texas (!); for us, two damaging hail- and windstorms in two days in late May. I’m just waiting for it to rain frogs.
So the new millennium is still kicking us humans in the butt. Deservedly so, in my opinion. Mother Earth is trying to send us clear messages, which we seem unable to decipher. We’re in a hole, and (to quote the late, inimitable Molly Ivins), the first rule of holes is when you’re in one, stop digging. We just keep digging.
Yet I am optimistic. As my 13-year-old granddaughter reminds me, Millennials and Gen-Z kids will take over about when we Boomers die (or get Alzheimer’s). And these young people, growing up since 9/11, never having known a world without war, without environmental devastation, without cruel economic disparities, kids who’ve practiced active shooter drills–they are paying attention and they intend to make changes. Environmental activist Greta Thunberg; human rights Nobel laureate Malala Youzafzai; the kids from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, who advocate for sensible gun regulation; LGBTQ activists fighting for fair and equal treatment; the Black Lives Matter movement, with people of all races, colors, ages and backgrounds marching and protesting the terrible killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Philando Castille, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown–the list goes on and on….
The critical time for the U.S. to dig itself out of its hole leads up to November 3. The corrupt government in power (the swamp hasn’t been drained, just stocked with snakes and alligators) must be extracted. Unless decent people turn out in unprecedented numbers, the Orange One will claim the election was rigged, or he will call out the military–there could be blood in the streets, even civil war, if he loses the election (which he surely will, unless the ridiculously established Electoral College once again allows the loser of an election to become president). The margin must be unarguably huge.
If you are not registered, do so. And VOTE. Vote by mail, vote absentee, contact your state officials to make sure voting will be safe and secure and effective.
This is truly a tipping point. The United States and the world depend on change, now. We are running out of time.
* An article by Susan Orlean in the July 6 & 13 issue of The New Yorker explains how this virus is devastating domestic and wild rabbits, and points out that rabbits are the only animals humans use as pets, meat and fur.
Seventy-five is one of those numbers that makes one think–about the years behind and (you hope) the years ahead.
Lately I mostly complain about the challenges and disappointments of a retirement life very different than I would have imagined. We’re nearly five years into the adventure of raising a granddaughter, who is now 13. It’s about two years since husband realized he had Parkinsons, which complicates and is complicated by a number of other health issues. Add to that a second dog and many of the responsibilities of our home, including big yards and a pool. (The second dog is going back to my daughter today, not too soon for me. She’s sweet, but with dogs one plus one equals about 143.)
The operative word has been “responsibility.” Some days I am overwhelmed with it. Just don’t want to have to be a grownup for a while. I almost went away on a retreat, alone (in a rented cottage on an unused rural property) a few weeks ago, but chickened out. Maybe the idea of total solitude was just too scary, or I felt I was shirking my multiple responsibilities.
So on my birthday I’m reflecting on the positives. I sat in the meditation garden. (Of course the yard guys arrived while I was meditating and the dogs were set off barking.) Oops, this is supposed to be positive. Here goes:
- We are blessed with a beautiful home in a neighborhood and community I love. It’s warm enough now for a cooling afternoon swim in the Texas heat (and our pool guy managed to un-green the forest-glade we had last week).
- We have excellent health insurance and, for now, my own health is pretty good except for some pretty normal aches.
- The 13-year-old is much less challenging as she gets more mature. She manages her schoolwork; she’s an amazing artist; and she can be a lot of fun (as well as a pain in the butt–she’s a teenager).
- I do get to spend time making art, which is a great joy. I am working on a painting and some mail-art postcards. I am in the middle of a postcard swap. I also have knitting and stitching projects and always have ideas in the works for future projects.
- Despite how awful the pandemic and quarantine have been for the world at large and for many individuals, we have been lucky to be in a county with few cases, and staying at home has given me more time for household projects that have been put off, as well as watching movies and TV and reading. I even made bread, and granddaughter made a cake.
- I am blessed with a circle of friends that I have made in the three years since we moved here. Through church, the arts communities, politics and neighbors, I have met so many wonderful people and made good friends. Last week I had a driveway coffee break with seven or eight women friends and we chatted for a good two hours.
I wanted to have a mid-May pool and birthday combo party, and my hope is to have it during the summer, celebrating my birthday as well as my older daughter’s and my 17-year-old grandson’s.
I hope everyone stays safe and healthy.
As if there aren’t enough challenges in this household, we have added a new one, nine-year-old Stella.
Having a husband with a variety of health issues, a 13-year-old granddaughter who is distance “learning” with a school system that hasn’t quite smoothed out its system, our original dog, Junior, a house, yard, and pool that all require attention and care, as if all that weren’t enough, I’ve taken on another being to care for.
Stella was my granddaughter’s first dog when granddaughter was four and Stella was a puppy. My daughter, who lives in another town, can’t keep Stella right now and it seemed only right for us to take her since she’s one of the family. She’s a sweet girl and gets along well with Junior.
But. Two dogs are more work, more vet bills, more food, more poop(!), and more difficult walks, especially in the morning when I don’t want to disturb anyone else and I venture out with two very excited doggies ready to go, in every sense of the word. Stella is very needy and gets in front of me for attention. I call her “Roadblock.” And when she wants affection when Junior’s getting it I call her “Stellous.”
And there’s the other “pet,” the pool, which this spring looks like a woodland pond. The pecan trees have produced a record crop of “catkins,” (aka green worms) that steep in the water and turn it that luscious shade of unswimmable emerald. I’ve managed two swims this season, and it’s really hot now. Our pool guy has recommended remedies, which I’m trying, and I assume that when the pecans quit dropping this stuff things will clear up.
The irony of these added stressors is that none of it is related to the pandemic or quarantine. In fact the quarantine has made my life somewhat easier. I don’t have to get up early and get the child off to school, or break up my afternoon to pick her up. I’m an introvert, and a blank social calendar doesn’t bother me. We get out for walks and see friends at the park or in the neighborhood. We had a driveway coffee break a few weeks ago, with about seven or eight friends and neighbors. We have appointments and meetings by Zoom. We’ve done jigsaw puzzles and streamed Tiger King on Netflix (as well as more enlightening programs), and I love having more time to read and knit.
But for everyone who is sick, dying, suffering economically, working in essential jobs, saving lives–my heart goes out to all, and I am grateful for their sacrifices.
Stay home, stay well.
New York: CurbedNY
Trafalgar Square: BBC