Year: 2020

Pandemic Prose

I Can’t Forget I’m Living In a Pandemic

 

pandemic

Dear Reader:

My husband and I have been married for 36 years. We quietly celebrated our anniversary on June 2nd, Blackout Tuesday. Long-term marriage is not without its challenges and through the years we’ve had a couple of good counselors guide us through difficult times.

The best marriage counselors, like the best fitness trainers, impart wisdom that we can turn to when we need it. Twenty full years later, I find myself reflecting on these words: “There’s Tom’s world and there’s Michele’s world and those are different places.”

I’m not searching for guidance on getting along with husband this time, though. I’m looking for a way to explain and accept peoples’ differing responses to living in a pandemic. I repeated the mantra in my head this morning while I enjoyed coffee on the front porch with my husband.

From our elevated perch, we watched one of my favorite neighbors visiting with a friend. Neither was wearing a face covering. They came walking down the street, side by side, enthusiastically conversing until they stopped directly across the street from us. They continued talking, face to face, without observing any social distancing recommendations.

My friend and her husband are fifteen years older than us, but we have a lot in common with them and greatly enjoy their company.  They were often guests in our home before the pandemic. In May and June, my friend and I began a two-person book club and met in each others yards to talk from a distance of six feet.

We did speak of the pandemic and it was clear that our family was taking greater precautions than she and her husband, but initially they did seem concerned about the danger. Over time it’s become clear, from both conversation and observation, that they are returning to pre-covid life just as the cases and hospitalizations in my state and county are rising at an alarming, record-setting rate.

When she called last week to ask if I’d like to join her for coffee in her yard, I declined telling her that, with cases going up, I’d rather schedule a Zoom call. She was game and we had a lovely chat, as we always do.

My husband and I watched her friendly visit in near disbelief.

“I don’t know,” I offered with deep insight. Even more insightful: “It seems we are not just living on opposite sides of the street; we are living in completely different worlds.”

“Yes,” my husband agreed…because that’s what husbands do.

I felt a bit lonely sitting with that thought. My good friend and I living so near and yet we’re so far apart.

Five minutes later, I caught sight of another friend walking with her daughter and her dog, two of them wearing masks. I quickly put on my pretty pink mask and approached them…stopping at the appropriate distance.

She’d had a scare; one of her co-workers was diagnosed with Covid-19. She’s an essential worker at a local utility company. The office is managed to exacting standards. The virus had been picked up from the day care center that the employee’s children attend. My friend has been so careful. Thankfully, her test was negative, but it was a shock.

We’d discussed getting together for sangria in my yard on our last call just after the state had begun to re-open and our county’s numbers were very small. We agreed we’d visit from six feet apart, but forego the masks to enjoy the beverage we both so love.

I was looking forward to it, until I wasn’t. She pre-empted me: “We’ll need to do sangria over ZOOM,” she said.

I wanted to hug her. Suddenly I didn’t feel alone. I felt understood and that was such a comfort. Two friends…I need them both. Someday, I’ll be happy to welcome all my friends back into my home and my life, but for now I’ll love them all from afar…the ones who live in the same world as I do and the ones who live in another world.

I wish you, dear readers, good health and peace of mind.

Michele

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pandemic Prose

How Are You…Really?

 

Dear Reader:

How are you? Somewhere along the way, we all learned the appropriate response to that question: fine. It’s the quick, polite, automatic, go-to answer that we use in day-to-day conversation.

I use it myself, with one variation. When I raise my eyebrows, let out a quiet sigh and say
“fine, fine,” its a big clue that I’m not fine. The “double fine” is shorthand for “I’ve been better, but let’s not dwell upon it.”

My favorite people in the world are the people who ask me how I am and wait for the answer. These people really want the truth. I can dish out the good, the bad and the ugly and they’ll stick around and listen!

The thing is, most of the time, I am fine. I have my ups and downs just like anybody, but I’m living a very good life. “Fine” was a perfectly fine answer until it wasn’t.

In March, I felt determined to meet the challenges of life in a pandemic. I was busy stocking my pantry, happy to eat bowls of pasta and cereal and riveted to the news.

By April, I’d gained three pounds, stopped sleeping through the night and learned how to set up a Zoom call. I was tired, anxious and depressed.

May brought with it the realization that I wasn’t going to be going back to the gym anytime soon. We turned the garage into a gym and I started virtual training sessions. I was sore and tired and still consuming large quantities of carbs and news.

June was hot and so is July. My backyard is my oasis. When I recline on the lounge chairs or float in the pool, I forget who the president is or how many people have died from Covid 19. I am eating more green food and watching less news, but I am tired all the time.

How are you? I really want to know.

If there is something good to have come from the pandemic, I feel this may be it: people are reaching out to each other to tell them exactly how they feel. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t receive a communication from a friend. Usually, I talk to multiple friends in one day. There are cards in the mail, notes on the porch, messages on Instagram, emails, phone calls and texts.

Seems we’re really not fine and, for now, we want to talk about it. I’m here to listen.

Michele

 

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Politics

Memories and a Recipe for the Fourth of July

Fourth of July, Me and Hector
Me and my neighbor, Hector

Dear Reader:

On this morning last year, I was sipping mimosas, eating “breakfast crack” and mingling with friends in my neighbor Cathy‘s backyard. I hadn’t really felt good about America since the 2016 election, but I love brunch and I was wearing my protest t-shirt, so I felt okay about celebrating.

I live in a home that’s almost one hundred years old in a well-established neighborhood in East Sacramento. It’s a holiday-loving neighborhood. Real estate documents disclose this fact to anyone looking to buy a home here. Large crowds gather for Halloween, Christmas and the Fourth. Last year’s parade was the 89th annual event and it brought residents out into their yards and visitors from all over the city into the streets.

Our beloved Governor Gavin Newsom made an appearance! I was absolutely devastated that I missed him. I’d wandered off with a group of ladies to meet the former newswoman and acclaimed author who lives right around the corner from me when  my husband spotted him walking down the middle of the street.

“There must have been security,” he reported to me, “but it wasn’t obvious. And, yes, he’s just as good looking in person.”

Well, that was 2019. Today, I’m wearing my navy joggers from Target, but I’ve got a new t-shirt: Biden for President it reads. The outfit amuses my daughter, because “You don’t even like him, Mother!” Let’s just say, he’s growing on me.

I wish there was a parade this year; I’d like to visit with Gavin.  I hope that next year’s parade is just as grand as last’s years and that I’m feeling proud of my country again.

Michele

“Breakfast Crack” is slang for Creme Brûlée French Toast…you’re going to love it!

Creme Brûlée French Toast

 

Ingredients:    

                                            

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons corn syrup

1 (8 to 9) inch round loaf Challah bread

5 large eggs

1 1/2 cups half and half

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon Grand Marnier

1/4 teaspoon salt

 

Directions:

  1. In a small heavy saucepan melt butter with butter with brown sugar and corn syrup over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth and pour into a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish. Cut 6 (1-inch) thick slices from center portion of bread, reserving ends for another use, and trim crusts. Arrange bread slices in one layer in baking dish, squeezing them slightly to fit. In a bowl whisk together eggs, half and half, vanilla, Grand Marnier and salt until combined well and pour evenly over bread. Chill bread mixture, covered, at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and bring bread mixture to room temperature. Bake uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed and edges are pale golden, 35 to 40 minutes.

 

Pandemic Prose

3 Things I’m Giving Myself a Pass On

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Dear Reader:

Grilled cheese. Yes, please! I’ve always been highly susceptible to visual temptations of food. My husband is kinda used to it. Goes something like this: I decide what I’m going to eat before we get to the restaurant. I tell him all about it. We follow the hostess to our table and on the way I peek at the plates of other diners. This precipitates a quick conversation with our server immediately after she’s introduced herself.

“What’s that lady over there eating?!”

I see it. I want it.

Alas dinner out seems a distant dream for us. But, we’ve still got a t.v. and I just watched a commercial for Kraft American cheese. You could almost smell the melting butter and hear the crackle of a grilled cheese sandwich browning in the fry pan. I haven’t had a grilled cheese sandwich in a very long time, so why not? This brings me to my first bullet point.

* My weight. I’ve gained about ten pounds since the shutdown began. Seems I’m not alone. I spoke with two friends this week who both said they’d gained “7” pounds. Seven? I didn’t say it, but I suspect they really meant “10,” but just weren’t ready to go public yet. Another friend described herself as “fluffy,” adding that it was “okay.” I agree. I’ll watch that I don’t get tooooooo fluffy, but I bought some really cute elastic waist, navy silk-like joggers from Target and they look pretty good!

*My productivity. Some days I’ve got it and some days I don’t. Every drawer and cupboard in my kitchen has been emptied and cleaned and re-filled with only the things I need. I just love looking at my clean kitchen. But, my linen closet is overflowing and my basement would terrify you. If I’d really put my mind to it, my entire home would be pristine by now. I’ve had exactly 101 days to conquer my clutter…but it’s just clutter, after all. Nothing urgent.

*My judgements. Yep, I’m judging people…everyday. My husband and I were having our evening cocktail on the porch last night when a neighbor walked by aided by a cane on both sides. Her name is Lorraine and she’s 90 years old. She lives in the mother-in-law suite of her son and daughter in law’s home around the corner from us. She had to stop cold in her tracks as a group of people, without masks, surrounded her, walking around her and allowing not more than a few inches of space. I nearly jumped four feet down from our porch and onto our lawn to intervene. I would have. I could have. I didn’t, but I made a judgment about that group of people. And I’m not ashamed.

So, that sums it up. I’m fluffy, unproductive and judgmental. I’m okay with that.

Michele

Family, Friends and Neighbors

Wonderful Dads Make For Wonderful Daughters

 

Dad and daughter on the beach

Dear Reader:

Twenty fours years ago I called my husband to ask him to pick up ice-cream on his way home from work. It wasn’t something I’d done before, but still he didn’t have a clue that I had a bigger treat for him when he arrived home. That’s the night he got the news:

You’re going to be a dad!

Our daughter is a wonder and that is mostly a tribute to her own hard work and good heart. But, she’s a lot like her Dad. He’s an intellectually curious person with varied interests and those traits became evident in Natalie very early in her life.

I need only to tell you about my daughter’s favorite outfit at the age of four. She wore, nearly everyday, a green t-shirt with a picture of her favorite dinosaur, the Brachiosaurus, purchased by her Dad at the Field Museum gift store on a business trip to Chicago. She paired it with a pale pink (from the pink shed pink) sparkling tutu and tennis shoes that lit up when she jumped.

My husband used to say: “I want her to be well-rounded.” And, he made sure that she was. He read to her often…books about nature, space, travel, heroines and adventures.

It would be years later that the two of them took a National Geographic sponsored trip together to dig for dinosaur bones in the mountains of Colorado. Natalie returned having decided that perhaps paleontology was not the best career choice for her. They came home with sunburns, but also found treasures and vivid stories of the desolate terrain,  intense heat and thick chocolate milkshakes in the hotel room at the end of each day.

During the school years, my husband provided well so that I could choose to become a stay-at-home mom. Work was hectic but family was unquestionably his priority. We especially treasured time spent on the beach in California or Maui. He and Natalie were expert sand castle builders.

One of my favorite family stories took place on Natalie’s first trip to Hawaii. She and her Dad were completing a fabulous sand structure, when suddenly Natalie jumped up screaming. I could see her from the water running along the beach with a crab dangling from her finger. She had evidently upset one of the beach residents with her digging and he’d bit her in protest. My husband came to her rescue as I made my way to the shore. The next day he encouraged her to return to her work on the beach…with her finger properly bandaged.

He also nurtured an appreciation for art in our daughter. Although, she hated it at the time, her father commissioned a portrait artist and she had to sit for him for several hours so that he could capture her image on a huge canvas that hangs in our living room. She enjoyed much more the many trips to the theater in San Francisco and the museums in London.

When it came time for Natalie to pick a college, it was her Dad who accompanied her on the tours. It seemed only fitting to give him that pleasure as I had been the one to shuttle Natalie between home and school and the dentist and volleyball practice in the early years. Their father/daughter road trips to universities were a final bonding experience before Natalie became a self-sufficient adult.

Now that self-sufficient adult is riding out the pandemic at home with Mom and Dad. I feel so blessed to be able to skip the news articles about troublesome family dynamics in pandemic times. Natalie and her Dad are happy together watching a nature documentary or driving in the convertible or just shooting the breeze on a hot lazy day.

I am so grateful to the man at the center of my happy little family. He’s a remarkable husband and father.

Michele

Politics

Dear Governor Newsom …

California Governor Gavin Newsom
California Governor Gavin Newsom

Dear Reader:

My dear friend, Laurie Seidler, asked me to proofread her letter to a man we both passionately admire, because it’s not everyday that you write to the governor.


 

The Honorable Gavin Newsom Governor of California
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173 Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Newsom,

Are you getting enough sleep? You look drawn.

That is not a criticism, Governor. Far from it. I’m a fan. I think you’re doing a wonderful job ceaselessly working to protect the 39 million Californians in your care. You have my utmost respect and admiration. I worry about you because I care. It’s as simple as that. I love you, Gavin Newsom.

To clarify, when I say that ‘I love you’ I mean it in a purely platonic/maternal way. Although, let’s face it, you are the whole package: kind, caring, easy on the eyes, and soothingly science-y. If I’m honest—and I want to be honest with you, Gavin—put me in a room with you, Justin Trudeau and Anthony Fauci and I would spin in a circle like a short-circuited Roomba. (If you could keep that last bit to yourself I’d appreciate it. The Fauci posters already have my husband a little on edge.)

Seriously though, Gavin, I worry about you. You’re greying. (It suits you, but still.) You’re pale (like a sexy vampire.) And your voice is so… so husky. Are you gargling with salt water? Have you tried Throat Coat tea? Tell me if you need some honey because I will leap into my minivan and drive straight to Sacramento. I will. I have honey, and it’s all for you.

Say the word and, according to Google, I’ll be there in one hour and fifty minutes—half of what it would have taken pre-Covid-19!—plus two to five days for the test results to come in, because I want us to be able to merge our bubbles without shame, or guilt, or 14 days of isolation. Not that I’m likely to have even a cold because I’ve been sheltering in place like it’s an Olympic event. I’ve been very, very good, Gavin. I always wear a mask in public because, to quote you: “Together we can slow the spread.”

Once our bubbles have merged we won’t have to wear masks or keep six- to ten-feet apart. We’ll be free to be ourselves. But we can take any precautions you like because I want you to feel safe, Gav. I want you to be safe. I want you to guide us through this inferno and emerge Phoenix-like to mesmerize us with your informative and factually correct press conferences for years to come.

So, drink some tea, my Governor, and get some sleep. Sweet dreams, my prince.
Respectfully yours,

Laurie


 

I think my friend speaks for so many Californians… including me!

Michele

P.S. Can you spell S-A-T-I-R-E?!

Pandemic Prose

I’m Just Not Sorted…Are You?

This is how I feel. How about you?

Dear Reader:

I’m an unapologetic Anglophile. Love all things English, especially the cream in all its many forms. In America, we have cream, whipped cream and half and half. In jolly old England, the options include all of the above as well as single cream, double cream, clotted cream and extra thick double cream.

I have had the distinct pleasure of traveling across the pond several times. I’m very grateful for that now as I shelter at home and ponder how long it may be before I travel again. London, I believe, is always a good idea. Not so much, Paris, but that’s another post.

Second only to my passion for the creams of the UK is my amusement and pleasure at the native language. English, you say?! Well, yes…kind of.

In the U.S. we don’t “pop” over to friend’s homes. We don’t “potter about.” We hardly ever  use the words “lovely, proper and brilliant.” Nor do we “sort” in the same way as they do in the U.K.

Sort- British informal. organized, arranged, or dealt with satisfactorily. Sorted can also be said of a person.

Americans sort closets, drawers, papers and mail. But, we don’t talk about sorting ourselves. We might say: I’m thinking or contemplating or meditating. But, we don’t refer to a state of peace or contentment as being “sorted.”

But, that seems the perfect word for what I’m trying to do lately. My mind is in a jumble and I’m trying to sort it all out. It’s just a mess. I wake up thinking how many more days until the election? Is the covid 19 trend line going up or down in my county? Will we finally address systematic racism in this country? When will the people I care about who’ve lost jobs, find employment? Will the small businesses I love so much survive? When will I be able to pop the corks and throw a big party? 

My mind continues to wander aimlessly. I’m eating a piece of  Victoria Sponge at the Fortnum and Mason Tea Salon in London. I’m walking barefoot on the beach in Maui feeling my muscles work against the moving grains of sand. I’m ducking, out of the fog, into a coffee shop in Carmel to visit with a friend. I’m on my favorite ride in Disneyland, singing…”it’s a small world after all.” I’m feeling like a giddy teenager having my picture taken with Chris Isaak before his concert in Reno.

Then I remember the Instacart shopper forgot to deliver the milk from my last order. Must buy milk. 

It’s been five days since I’ve posted anything despite the fact that I’ve got ten drafts in progress. I’ve asked my daughter to read for me. I know something’s wrong but I’m not sure what.

“This is two or three separate posts, Mom!”

She’s told me this three times, and each time, I start another draft. Finishing things is so hard right now. It requires concentration and focus. That’s not easy. 

I will endeavor to persevere* to achieve a sorted state! We must try to try…in these unprecedented times.

Michele

P.S. Ali, The Mindful Gardener, are you listening? Have I got the Queen’s English correct?!

* As a reader and writer, I’ve always appreciated Chief Dan George’s words from the classic movie The Outlaw Josey Wales!

Pandemic Prose

Thor and I Are Socially Distancing

THOR
Those eyes!

Dear Reader:

Meet Thor, a five pound Yorkshire Terrier, and one of the most popular residents here in East Sacramento. (Shhhh…I like him even more than I like some of my neighbors who walk on two feet!) It simply must be said, even though it is completely unnecessary since I’ve included a photo, that he’s darling! He’s also quite friendly.

I’m lucky that he lives only two doors down with his dads, Hector and Ralph. We met him shortly after we moved in. Ralph stopped by one night to welcome us to the neighborhood and to ask if he could spend some time on our porch and in our front yard so that he could acclimate his dog to our dog statuary. Seems Thor felt a bit intimidated on his daily walks past our pack of metal and terra cotta dachshunds. Funny that he had no problems with our real dogs. It didn’t take long for all of us, the people and the dogs, to become best of friends.

IMG_3526
One of many dachshund shaped garden statuary in our front yard

This is where my story becomes sad. You see, for a year and a half now, I’ve looked forward to running into Thor on his daily walks. Sometimes I would encounter him by chance, but often I’d spy him from one of my windows and rush outside for a quick visit.  I’d call out to him just after greeting his dad and he’d pull at his leash, sometimes so hard that he’d be standing up on his back feet straining to get to me.

Then came the pandemic. I’m not sure exactly how long it took for Thor to understand that I’d no longer run to greet him. But, I can remember the site of him trying to get close to me in the early days of the shelter in place order. I wanted to pet him and hug him and talk to him just as I’d always done. (I talk to dogs.)

Thor has been trained to social distance. Now he continues walking with his master as they pass and are met with quick hellos. Or, he stands by waiting while the humans speak to each other from a safe distance. I miss him.

Hector and Thor
Hector and Thor

Of course I miss his dads even more. I miss the 5 p.m. cocktail hours that always stretched to 8 p.m. because the conversation was so good. I miss the hugs and the fashion advice. I miss the every day exchanges that make life interesting and pleasant.

Someday, we’ll party again and hug again. Dogs don’t hold grudges so I’ll anticipate a warm greeting from my four-legged friend, too.

Michele

Creativity, Family, Friends and Neighbors, Inspirational Women

Bloggers Make the Best Friends!

 

IMG_3523
Art by Tamara Jare

 

Dear Reader:

I made the decision to start my blog after reading Joy Cho’s book, Blog Inc., on vacation over three years ago. One of the many things the author promised I’d discover as a blogger was a thriving, creative, supportive community. The thought of that warmed my heart.

I have been blessed to find many friends in the blogosphere. My first friend, Tamara Jare of My Botanical Garden, visited my site when it was only two days old and became one of my first subscribers and a loyal reader.

But, beyond that, we became pen pals. I’ve never met Tamara, but I’m sure I’d recognize her if she came walking into my living room right now. We’d hug and I’d ask her to sit down in my incredibly comfy velvet club chair while I poured her a glass of champagne. And, then you’d know what would happen? We’d talk for hours.

First, I’d thank her for the incredibly generous gift she sent to my home. It was just another day, until I heard the dogs announce a delivery truck and then my daughter called upstairs to me.

“Mom, you’ve got an envelope from your friend in Slovenia!”

I have a friend who lives 6,000 miles away! That delights me so much!

Thank you Tamara for the lovely gift. The watercolor is simply exquisite. It will be a delight to take it to the frame shop…someday. I’ll frame it in gold to complement my first piece of your art. You’ve made my life and my space fuller and more beautiful.

Michele

Politics

Quit Facebook…NOW!

Quit-Facebook
There’s never been a better time to quit Facebook.

Dear Reader:

With a bit of assistance from my in-house tech support person, my daughter, I quit* Facebook last night and I’d like you to consider doing the same. I should have done this immediately following the 2016 election. Why would I want to remain on a platform that allowed Russian agents to buy ads designed to subvert American democracy? Why would I associate with any entity that demonstrably helped to elect a man clearly devoid of any qualifications to be president?

I’m new to all social media. I opened my Facebook account only three years ago when I started my blog. My tech consultant suggested that it would be a good way to let people know that I was blogging and that I might enjoy the experience of connecting with old friends. I didn’t find the site inherently appealing or pleasing, but it was a novelty. I received generous support from friends who used it to connect to my blog posts. I loved the baby photos and the puppy photos. I liked to “like” my friends posts and support their causes through birthday fundraisers. And, speaking of birthdays, I loved getting reminders so I could extend best wishes to my friends.

With every negative story about Facebook (and there have been so many) I thought about leaving.  But I have friends who love Facebook and use it as their primary communication tool. I haven’t wanted to desert them. Not without good reason. I now believe there are many good reasons to leave:

Despite being the largest media company in the world, Facebook refuses to fact check political ads or regulate its content.

Just think POTUS here! Beyond that think of the risks associated for thousands or millions of followers given false information about vaccinations or coronavirus. False information can be deadly.

CEO Mark Zucherburg has sided with our belligerent, ignorant, cowardly president to allow his site to be used to incite further violence.

He’s allowed a post to remain untouched that Twitter marked with a disclaimer for “glorifying violence.” Zuckerberg has come down on the wrong side of history. His employees are protesting his inaction with some resigning this week.

We have the ability to make a difference even if we are not part of the protests rocking America and the world.

I’m staying at home to protect myself and my family from the risk of contracting corona-virus. I disabled my account from my couch. I’m no longer contributing to a business that generates billions of dollars for a few and political opportunities for others at the expense of truth.

Finally, Facebook isn’t even sexy anymore!

In a 2018 US survey , 9% of respondents said that they had recently deleted their Facebook account, while a further 35% reported that they were using the social media platform less. Young people shun Facebook. There are so many other platforms available to connect with people. Sheltering in place has led me to discover ZOOM and, indeed, to re-discover the telephone. I’ve been emailing more and putting pen to paper so my friends can discover that they’ve got mail. TikTok has provided me with some comic relief and WordPress is overflowing with beautiful and meaningful content. The list goes on…challenge yourself to discover and master another platform.

If you’re unconvinced and can’t imagine a life without Facebook, you might want to consider the results of a recent study that showed that people who left the platform were overall happier. They saved time and then put that time to better use. They even reported that their moods had improved.

Leave Facebook. It’s just one small way to make a difference in 2020.

Michele

* They don’t make it easy to opt-out and they apply a 30 day waiting period before you’re officially removed (in case you reconsider)!