Pandemic Prose

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

 

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

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

Pandemic Prose

Surprise Guests!

Mother and two babies visiting my neighbor’s front yard.

Dear Reader:

On the first day of Spring, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered 40M Californians to shelter in place. And, you know what, we’ve done just that for 70 odd days now. The days running one into another. Nobody’s cars moving. Amazon and FedEX trucks screeching down the street.

We emailed our neighbors. We called, even though we hated the telephone. We sat on our porches…waiting. Walked our dogs. Took the trash out and brought the cans in. Placed our Drizly and Instacart orders and waited for them to come. Unpacked them.

Forced ourselves to finish an entire book. Discussed the book on Zoom. Occasionally showed up for a virtual training session from the garage. Made pasta. Baked the official food of the pandemic…banana bread. Washed our sweatpants so that we could wear them again.

What day is it? Wait, I know this! Today’s the day the turkeys came!

Just as my husband and I sat down on our front porch to enjoy the cocktail hour, we spied them across the street. A mother and two babies crossed the road and stopped for a visit in our next door neighbor’s yard. I called into the house for my daughter to come out as three other families joined us on the street to OOH and AH. Granted, we are easily entertained at this point in time, but it was an event.

Michele

For inquiring minds: wild turkeys can be found in about 18% of my home state in deserts, forests and cities. Two major rivers – the Sacramento and American – run through the landscape of my home town. So it’s not unusual to see varied wildlife on our trails and in our parks, but this is the first time they’ve come to roost in our neighborhood. Incidentally, baby turkeys are called “poults.”

Pandemic Prose

The Kindness of Strangers

eggs

Dear Reader:

I love to shop, for everything, including groceries. I linger in the aisles. I don’t rush the process. I read ingredient labels and check expiration dates. I sample cheese in the deli and watch sushi being rolled. I smell, thump and squeeze. Sometimes, I’m so moved by produce displays that I snap photos. I talk to strangers waiting in line and get to know the checkers at my regular stores.

In short, I enjoy the grocery store… not so much during a pandemic, though. I hopped onto Instacart the first week of our stay at home order and I haven’t looked back. I’ve now taught two neighbors how to use the site…over the phone. Imagine me as a Tech Consultant!

There’s one particular shopping experience that I’ll never forget. It came during the second week of shut down. It was 10 p.m. and I couldn’t stop worrying about one of my beloved neighbors. She is more than a decade older than me and fits firmly in the high risk category for serious illness with coronavirus. She doesn’t shop on-line much for anything and the idea of  buying groceries without leaving her house was a bit revolutionary. I’d spoken with her earlier in the day after she’d come back from the market. She couldn’t get eggs and she was planning to go out the next day and find them at another store. I didn’t want her to do that!

At that point in time, it was hard to find eggs. I was determined, though. I opened my laptop and placed an order. The website was accepting orders for 2 dozen eggs but it remained to be seen if I’d actually get them. At 10:30, I was notified that Celestial (I took her name as a good omen) would begin shopping my order. I’d kept it small, but I still reached out to her and asked that she pull the eggs first, as they were for an elderly neighbor. Her reply came back quickly, “there are no eggs!”

Twenty minutes later, I received a text saying she would drive to another store that she thought might have the eggs if I could wait. Sure…where was I going at 11 o’clock?!

Celestial explained to me later in a text that she is very close to her mother, who lives in another state.  She is dependent on other people to lend a hand to keep her mom safe and so she wanted to return the kindness by helping other people keep their parents safe. She intended to pay for my items out of her own pocket. But, when she reached the checkout counter, she realized she’d left the house without her wallet. That was when the gentleman in line behind her stepped in and paid for my two dozen eggs and two bottles of precautionary cough syrup.

I owed a stranger about $30 and I reached out the next day to thank him and arrange to reimburse him.

This was his reply:

IMG_0730

Don’t you just love it?! I’ve always been a person who believes in the kindness of strangers. And, I love it when that belief is reinforced. I went to bed that night with a smile on my face.

Gotta run now, I’m placing my 10th Instacart order.

Hugs,

Michele

P.S. My dear neighbor now loves Instacart as much as I do!

Grief and Loss, Pandemic Prose, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

Prozac in the Time Of Pandemic

Dear Reader:

I woke today to find, with a quick look at my social media feed, that it’s Mental Health Awareness Week . How appropriate, I thought as I swallowed one 20mg Prozac with my morning coffee. That’s not the first time I started my day with a little help, but it’s the first time in nearly a year.

I’ve had an on again/off again relationship with Prozac for twenty years. I filled my first prescription a month after learning of my younger brother‘s terminal cancer diagnosis. At the time, I didn’t have the luxury of pondering the merits of antidepressants. It was necessary.

I was a stay at home mom with a four year old daughter. I had to function reasonably well so that I could take care of my girl. Children can really help to clarify things in life. Decisions become easy.

I did express concern and ask my doctor about how I’d get off the medication when the time came. But, it’s the type of question that you ask even though you know there isn’t a good answer. My brother was given three months to live. He lived for a year. I needed both counseling and pharmaceutical help during that year and in the year that followed.

I don’t remember when I made the initial decision to stop taking the meds, but l remember other moments through the years when I either resumed use or discontinued use. Life goes on and there are challenges along the way. I have consistently believed that I should take the meds only if I need them. I experiment.  If life seems stable, I try to live without Prozac. Sometimes it works.

I have learned that, for me, a regular schedule of very intense activity can affect me positively both physically and mentally. During the time that I lived in Carmel and worked with Jonathan at Zone Fitness, I was able to remain drug-free.

Upon my arrival in Sacramento, I slipped into depression and had to resume my meds. In November, we celebrated one year in our new home. I was beginning to make friends with my new city and I felt better. I had established a new fitness program. My daughter was set to graduate in December with a job in…wait…can you believe it…Sacramento. Life was good.

That brings me to three days ago when I started to cry a lot. The week had brought a few minor interpersonal irritations, news of the death of one of my daughter’s favorite teachers and an injury to my right leg. Plus, there’s this pandemic! Maybe, I was feeling exactly as I should?

I paused and pulled out the old familiar tool box.

  1. Am I reluctant to leave the house?
  2. Has my personal grooming ritual fallen off?
  3. Am I schlepping around in sweats and napping often?
  4. Am I retreating from social life?

Yes! Yes! Yes!

The threat of COVID-19 has changed so many things including the criteria for determining if I need medication. But, I didn’t need to take a deep dive to find my answer. I knew the answer at a gut level. And, I am blessed to live with a man who has known me since I was 16 years old. I had only to ask the question: do I seem off?

I am a woman who has everything: a loving spouse, a wonderful daughter, and a beautiful home. I also have a mental illness. I am depressed.

In the past when I’ve written about this topic, people have commented: “Oh, how brave of you!” I’m still not sure how to respond when I hear that. I can, of course, see that the comment is meant to be a compliment. But, it makes me sad, nonetheless. Why I wonder is mental health still a taboo subject? If I said I was suffering from high blood pressure (I’m not), you might say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” But, I don’t think you’d call me brave for revealing it.

I don’t think I’m “brave.” But, the fact that there are people who do, keeps me coming back to the subject. I feel compelled to share my story if it helps anyone. Today, I decided that I need to take care of myself. Adding Prozac back into my daily routine is one way to do that.

Best,

Michele

Creativity, Pandemic Prose

Refresh and Renew at from the pink shed

Joel's Grad Photo
Introducing my new tech consultant, Joel Williams

Dear Reader:

Nothing like a pandemic to re-ignite one’s creativity! You may have noticed that I’ve returned to the page. I can not say why my move to Sacramento silenced me, nor why a pandemic would motivate me, but it feels good to send my letters into the blogosphere again.

From the Pink Shed is three years old now and I decided I’d like to re-commit to it in every possible way. I’ve got the time now. And, I very much need a break from house cleaning.

So, I hired Joel Williams, a 2019 Cal Poly graduate to help me. It was my daughter’s idea! I’d been telling her that I wanted to polish the look of my blog, but I didn’t know how to do it.

“No, mother, you can not do it on your own and I can’t help you!” she told me one day.

Very sad. But, then she surprised me. She asked a friend if he was interested in working with me. He is! I’m so happy!

Joel graduated Magna Cum Laude in the same class as my daughter in December 2019. He’s got a degree in Graphic Communication with a concentration in Web and Digital Media. I know! So, what’s he doing working on my humble site? Nope, pastel pink is not his favorite color!

Unfortunately, he is one of millions of people who have lost their jobs in the past couple of months. He was just beginning his role as an intern in Talent Acquisition Marketing with the Walt Disney Company when the pandemic hit. He left Burbank to return to his family home in Atascadero to wait, as we all are, for things to return to some semblance of normalcy.

I’m really very fortunate to be able to take advantage of his knowledge and expertise. And, it pleases me to think that in some small way, I’m helping him. I figure if he can improve my technical knowledge and abilities, he’s up to the challenges that will await him later in his career.

Please watch for changes to my site and please do let me know what you think!

Michele

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Pandemic Prose

I’m Grateful for My Neighbors!

sweet peas
Sweet peas, grown by my neighbor and friend Rebecca. I found them when I opened the door this morning and popped them into my favorite vase.

Dear Reader:

It’s been a year and a half,  since we drove our packed cars out of the blanket of fog in Carmel to rendezvous with the moving trucks in sunny Sacramento. The move came as a bit of a surprise to both acquaintances and friends. It was generally received with a puzzled expression that was predictably followed with an adamant query: WHY?!

If you’re not familiar with the geography of my beloved state, I’ll explain. It’s easy to find adjectives to describe Carmel:  picturesque, enchanting, and even inspirational. Carmel sits on the Pacific Coast and it’s known for its stunning natural beauty, mild Mediterranean climate and charming homes and shops. Sacramento is the capital of California and though it has a great deal to offer, there are no ocean views…and it gets very HOT in the summertime.

I remember the day I received an email from Trip Advisor entitled: “Visit the Place of Storybooks!” I eagerly clicked on the link only to find that, according to the author, I was living in storybook land! This was shortly before my husband and I decided to explore the idea of moving.

We had a very good life in our tiny home (there aren’t many big houses in Carmel), but there were good reasons to find another residence. As it goes in marriage, one spouse is usually the driving force for major change and the other agrees to jump on board. It was  my husband’s idea, but I was persuaded out of respect for him, the logic of his arguments and, most significantly, the anticipation of having neighbors again.

When we moved into our home in Carmel Woods, we were blessed to find good friends. We enjoyed their company and felt the comfort of knowing that we could walk across the street or down the block for the proverbial “cup of sugar.” The camaraderie of a close-knit neighborhood is very important to us as we do not have extensive, close family ties. In fact, many of our previous neighbors have become life-long friends. (Cheers to you…Beth and Malcolm, Marietta and Frank and Courtney and Chris!)

But, over time our neighbors moved on. And, unfortunately, a pattern developed. Their homes were purchased, as vacation homes, by mid-westerners seeking to escape the cold and snow. The first thing that each and every one of them did was to embark upon a major house remodel. The week after our closest neighborhood friends left, we woke up to find our driveway blocked by a fleet of contractor’s vehicles and a port a potty. We hadn’t even met the new owners. They came and left without a handshake. We were left to negotiate terms with their hired help who were not always cooperative or considerate. By the time we moved, there were four remodels in progress on non-owner occupied homes in close proximity to ours. This is the reality of living in a tourist town.

During the day it was noisy and at night it was dark. I had the feeling that I was living on a deserted island, despite the fact that I had friends only 5, 10, 15 miles away. It was not the stuff fairy tales are made of!

Our new neighborhood could not be any more different. My husband noticed even before we moved in that the streets were active. Google maps showed people walking dogs, pushing strollers and riding bikes. We met neighbors before we moved. We visited several times to view the property and to walk the street and found a friendly group of people who did not hesitate to tell us how good it is to live in East Sacramento.

It’s practically impossible to step outside our door without seeing someone (and some dog)! The everyday smiles and greetings made me feel welcome from the beginning, but now they have become essential to my mental health.

I am so grateful that we are sheltering in place in a lovely tree-lined neighborhood filled with warm and generous people who are reaching out to one another during this difficult time. I am blessed with neighbors who have become friends. I hope you are, too.

Hugs,

Michele