The past couple of months have felt like a slog up a mountain, dragging a boulder behind me. Or sailing stormy seas in a leaky boat with an unruly crew. Fighting my way through a forest of brambles. Pick your favorite metaphor for struggle.
A recent New Yorker article explored in great detail the perils and shortcomings of online schooling. The upshot, after a great deal of data analysis, was that kids are better off in school.
Our eighth-grader has been doing mostly online school for these first 12 weeks, and it hasn’t gone well. Her best work is in her one in-person class, theater. I’ve been trying to persuade her to go back to in-person school, but she has been resistant, partly with justification because her asthma can be aggravated by wearing a mask all day.
Given her recent progress reports, the school psychologist, who has been working with her since last school year, attempted to talk her into returning to school. I felt somewhat vindicated when even she failed.
But I think the child got the message, while I realized that if she’s going to succeed I need to be more proactive, supervising, sitting in, providing incentives and consequences–all that parenting stuff, which is tough for a grandparent.
I often say that the job of parenting a grandchild requires the ability to be two contradictory things simultaneously–loving, indulgent grandparent and stern disciplinarian parent.
New rules, plans, schedules, organizing tools and so forth are in place. The trick now will be follow-through, but it’s too important to allow failure. She says she wants to return to school after the winter break (presuming no Covid cases at school), so we just have to hold on for a couple of more months.
In the meantime, the challenges of a husband with Parkinsons, the usual household care, including yard, trees, pool–all those possessions that own us (thanks, Thoreau, who said “We are owned by our possessions”).
After the big hail storm May 27, we got our new roof yesterday. The same day, major road work was being done around our neighborhood. So at dawn I heard workers setting up outside my window, then men with pitchforks on the roof, and air compressors and hammering all day long. The road work closed off one end of our street, making all my trips in and out slow and convoluted, dodging massive trucks and paving machines. It was such an insane day of disruption I had to laugh, and in way I’m glad we got it all over with at once, including the trauma of a possible confrontation with the kid.
So today I got up at 5:30 a.m. ready to take on this new phase, optimistic that the new regime and routine will work.
Grateful for our beautiful home with its new roof (and having insurance!), and looking forward to getting back to my reading, needlework, doggie play, plus a driveway coffee tomorrow with a few friends.
Laurie Graves of “Notes from the Hinterland” writes weekly gratitude posts. I haven’t been so regular, and I’m going to try to keep my blog more up to date, and especially with gratitude.
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.
If you support Donald Trump, please read this!
There is a Facebook meme going around that says: “Wake the hell up America! We are one election away from open borders, Socialism, gun confiscation, total full-term abortion, Sharia law and a godless nation.” I’m not going to show the images, which include a black person with what appears to be African tribal face decoration or mask; photos of identifiable and unidentifiable white people (one could be Ernest Borgnine as far as I can tell) and pictures of a woman in hijab (the implication of which may be that all women will be required to wear headscarves).
I’ve never been shy about speaking out, and the combination of that meme and the current Democratic Convention has spurred me into writing this.
The allegations are so sweeping, and some patently untrue, as to be ridiculous. Rather than break it all down, let’s just say that nobody’s legal guns will be confiscated; no one will be forced to have an abortion, and so on. I personally don’t wish to own a gun, and I believe women should have autonomy over their own bodies, so let’s just look at it this way: if you don’t want one (gun, abortion), don’t have one.
When I walk around our neighborhood and see the Trump signs (which are surprisingly few in our small-town Texas red zone—a neighborhood house that used to have two now has none in the yard, and I saw them stacked in their garage), my first thought is “how can anyone support this guy?” How can anyone tolerate someone like this:
- Pathological liar (documented on many sites)
- Serial sex offender (just listen to the Access Hollywood tape for one example)
- Failure at every business he’s ever been involved with
- Cheater—his businesses fail to pay or underpay vendors and suppliers
- Corrupt, appointing his big donors and cronies to high positions
- Barely literate (see “Yosemite”), doesn’t read his briefings (are we sure he can read?)
- Sociopath, cares only about what serves him
- Lazy—prefers watching Fox News and playing golf to working
- Multiply married, cheating on each wife while courting the next (how do Christian Evangelicals even reconcile this?)
- Creepy—thinks his own daughter is “hot”
- Incompetent, unable to manage the worst crisis the country has faced in 100 years
- Cruel, making fun of handicapped people, blaming sick people for their illnesses, criticizing parents of dead soldier
- Uncaring about anyone but himself and his close circle (and I’d bet he’d jump off a sinking ship before Melania )
- He has made the U.S. a world laughingstock by courting despots and dictators and antagonizing our allies.
A sulky Trump being scolded by Angela Merkel
and other world leaders at the G7. (Photo: The Guardian)
- A poor Christian, if indeed he is one (see the upside-down bible he held up in front of a church that did not want him there)
- In short, a total failure.
People support him. Somewhere around a third of the country. WHY? HOW?
Then it becomes clear. If you support this horrible, terrible, corrupt incompetent creep, you must be any or all of the following:
- Anti-immigrant and xenophobic (afraid of foreigners)
- Misogynist, opposed to women having autonomy over their own bodies
- Gun nut
- Religious fanatic, but not in a way Jesus would recognize
- Small-minded, provincial
- Fearful of losing white privilege (especially white male privilege)
- Fearful, period.
Where is the joy? Watching Eva Longoria, Tracee Ellis Ross, Billy Porter, John Legend, all these amazing people of color give me hope for our country. Seeing a woman of color—black as well as South Asian—nominated for Vice President is exciting! Especially one who is brilliant, articulate, caring, beautiful and a total badass! Kamala Harris and Jill and Joe Biden are decent, honorable, caring people, which is what the country needs now more than ever.
I am hopeful and excited that change is coming. It must come. We cannot stay on this road of corruption, division, of “I’ve got mine.” Too many people don’t have their fair share, and they are the ones doing the dirty work, picking food we enjoy eating, processing our food, caring for our elders in nursing homes, delivering our mail and collecting our trash—people of all colors, races, religions, weaving a beautiful tapestry that the United States has aspired to for 244 years!
I believe this pandemic is the Earth’s, the Universe’s, God’s—whatever works for you—way of forcing a reckoning.
We can be better. We must be better.
… 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.
… but the years are short. Countless times I have quoted that to young parents struggling with endless days of diapers, sleepless nights and toddler tantrums, reminding them that before they know it they will be attending graduations and weddings and welcoming grandchildren.
Those words have taken on new meaning during these long days of staying home to avoid contagion during the pandemic. What I’ve discovered is that I am quite content staying home.
Recognizing the suffering of people who have lost loved ones, people who have lost incomes, all the terrible suffering this pandemic has caused to millions of people, I appreciate the privilege of having a comfortable home and sufficient resources.
I’ve also realized how much of an introvert I am. Despite being outgoing, confident and friendly around people, I grow weary of too much social contact and definitely recharge in solitude (which defines introversion). Or, as a minister once told me, I am a “performing introvert.” It was necessary in my public information job.
All my adult life I have volunteered: League of Women Voters, PTA, room mother, scouts, neighborhood and condo associations, church, politics, arts groups–I often felt over-committed.
Now it’s easier to say “no.”
Recently I was asked to consult on a project, which turned into an assumption I was “leading” the project. I quickly reiterated my role as consultant, and short-term at that.
It’s partly age and fatigue–I’m ready to hand the reins over to younger, more energetic folks after 50+ years of activities. Another big factor is my personal responsibilities: having a husband with multiple chronic health issues; raising a 13-year-old granddaughter; taking care of a beautiful but high-maintenance home, a dog and a pool (which is like another pet); and managing my own health. People who say “age is only a number” do not suffer with chronic, painful conditions, because no matter how active you remain and how positive your attitude, pain is pain and can be exhausting. I am also aware that the years are indeed becoming short.
But the main reason I’m pulling back is that I have discovered how much I enjoy my time with fewer responsibilities. I am never bored, ever. After the “musts” are done, this is how I spend time:
Reading (books, magazines, poetry, online publications etc.): The New Yorker, the New York Times, the local daily and San Antonio papers, “The World Without Us,” “Waterlog,” about a man swimming around England, and poetry.
Puzzles: I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of taking short breaks to work on jigsaw puzzles, crosswords, jumbles and mazes and appreciate the newspapers’ including puzzle books in their print editions.
Knitting, stitching and other crafts. I’ve been making cotton dishcloths and coasters; a lace scarf; a baby blanket; and I have two shawls waiting, as well as several stitchery projects.
Art: postcards, painting, helping my granddaughter (whose artistic skills surpass my own) with her art.
TV and movies: Netflix, Amazon Prime, Red Box and Spectrum are like drinking from a fire hose. My current favorites are “Space Force” and “After Life,” both on Netflix. Ricky Gervais manages to be snarky/cynical and sweetly touching at the same time, especially in this series about a man struggling with grief after his wife’s death. We also like his series, “Extras,” also on Netflix.
Walking and playing with the dog; taking walks on the river trail with husband and dog.
Swimming: after a very messy spring of hail storms and fallen branches and leaves, the pool is finally clear and a perfect 78 degrees F. It’s a respite on steamy Texas afternoons.
Yes, I miss church and art openings and occasionally eating out. But I see neighbors and friends on walks; we’ve had outdoor church and a couple of “driveway coffee breaks.” I’m fairly competent on Zoom and Duo, so I don’t feel out of touch. (Imagine going through this without technology!)
The days are just the right length. I fall into bed and sleep deeply until daylight and dog wake me.
I hope you all stay safe, healthy and (possibly) content during this weird and challenging time.
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.
I usually post my art in jillybeanswiggins.wordpress.com, but since this is about dealing with the pandemic and how we respond to it, I’m sharing it here.
If you have followed my art blog, you know my passion is post cards. I’ve been doing mail art swaps for about six years and have found that the 4×6 (usually) space is the perfect format for me. (Hey, some people like murals–whatever works!)
I took the photos around dawn on April 16. I intended to play around in Photoshop and do something especially artsy with them, but when I opened them I decided they worked just as my Samsung Galaxy shot them, with the addition of a word or two. I have printed a bunch and keep changing the message, but here are samples of a few.
I mailed Meditation cards to everyone in our church’s directory. These will be sent to random folks: friends, neighbors–I may even tackle our Christmas card list if I can get to the post office for more postcard stamps.
New York: CurbedNY
Trafalgar Square: BBC
The best line from Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi” is not “they paved paradise to put up a parking lot.” It’s
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone
A few months ago I ran into a friend at the grocery store. She is also English, and old enough to remember the deprivations of World War II. Though not quite her age, I am old enough to remember post-war rationing in England, which probably contributed to my parents’ decision to emigrate.
Waving across the produce section of the store, filled with lush fruits and vegetables of every color and type, toward the bakery overflowing with fat loaves of bread and luscious colorful cakes, I remarked to her: “I am astounded by the abundance of a modern American supermarket! There is so much of everything, ours for the taking. So many choices, so much goodness!” She agreed that it was indeed wonderful.
Our regional grocery chain has put out assurances that there is plenty of food, that it’s a distribution issue, and that they are hiring extra help to stock shelves during the night. That led me to believe that if I were among the first customers, there would be a pretty “normal” selection. Last Friday I got in line, with a grocery cart separating each person, 50 minutes before opening. I was probably 30-40th in line. When the store opened and we were allowed in the only open entrance, everyone made beelines for what they needed, particularly toilet paper. I got one of the last packages.
On this “first hour” trip there was no bread, no canned soup and rows and rows of empty shelves in nearly every aisle.
I think the company saying there is enough is propaganda. I went yesterday in the late afternoon, and found the store nearly as empty of people as the shelves were of items. No eggs, still no bread or canned soup, no flour or butter–I was hoping to make cookies for the mail carrier, trash collector, maybe take some to the nearby fire station. Fortunately I know how to make soup, and I have soup ingredients. I have (in the garage freezer) a package of whole-wheat flour and yeast, so I’ll make bread when we run out. Ironically the store has plenty of stuff we don’t really need–sweets, soda, chips and most of all, alcohol. I joked to a woman in the wine aisle that as long as there’s wine I can get through this. She laughed and said she was thinking the same thing.
I dreamed last night that it came to this: we were allocated something called “FOOD.” Households received a package for each member of their family. It was a block about the size of a shoe-box and consisted of a solid material impossible to identify. The closest I can think of is the old hardtack that was used by Civil War soldiers and cowboys in the 19th Century, a sort of very hard biscuit. This “FOOD” was supposedly nutritionally complete. Now that Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has suggested that grannies and grampies sacrifice their lives so their grandchildren will have a better economy, I’m now reminded of the movie “Soylent Green” for another food source. (Patrick’s statement will compete with trump’s daily idiocy as the worst, stupidest statements anyone has made during this horrible time.)
One thing that does puzzle me: restaurants are allowed to do only takeout, and we are encouraged to support them. We picked up burgers for lunch, and supplies (and customers) seemed adequate. If their distributors and suppliers can provide enough buns, meat, pickles, potatoes, ketchup and the like, what is the problem with the grocery stores? I guess I can answer that myself: everyone grabs their own at the grocery store, while the restaurants receive specific orders from Sysco or Ben E. Keith. (For a moment my paranoia made me suspect a conspiracy to get us all eating takeout.)
Like everyone else, I am making resolutions to (1) always be grateful for well-stocked shelves; and (2) start an emergency cupboard with canned and dry goods, and that most precious commodity of all, toilet paper, when this is over.