Tag: neighbors

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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!

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

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Pandemic Prose

Ciao Paisano!

 

Ciao!

 

Dear Reader:

I’m a Californian, born and bred. And, I couldn’t be prouder of that, especially since the 2016 election. But, my blood is half German and half Italian. I am clearly a reflection of the stereotypical attributes of each nationality. I’m stubborn, proud and vocal. However, I look Italian (see the nose and the hips) and, growing up, I spent more time with my mother’s side of the family, the Bartucccis.

My Nonnie, Rose Carmela Bartucci, was so dear to me. She gave me enough wonderful memories to last a lifetime. Visions, undimmed by the years, of her busy kitchen, verdant garden and expressive face. She also taught me a bit of Italian. She’d toss out the occasional word…just here and there. And, so I know a few. A few I cannot repeat!

It is not unusual for me to greet a friend with Ciao! and so it’s not surprising to find that I own the t-shirt. Yesterday, I put on a bra (one of the benefits of self-quarantine is that a bra is optional!) and took a stroll down the street to change my scenery.

 

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At the end of the block, I heard someone yell, “Is that YOU?!”

I looked up to see my dear friend, Cathy, calling out from her upstairs window.

“Ciao!” I answered.

And so began our impromptu conversation. Cathy is one of my favorite people in the neighborhood. We bonded early over shared interests and a common view of the world. And, we’ve done our best to make time to nurture our friendship over the past year and a half, but life is busy. And, so I don’t see or talk to her as much as I would really like.

We had a fairly long conversation with many people walking by and either pretending not to hear us or chiming into the conversation. It was so satisfying to just stand in her yard and chat. The funny thing is that we actually had a visit on the calendar already. We had scheduled a FaceTime cocktail hour for the next day.

As it turned out, I spent more time with my friend this week than I have in a long time. Life continues to offer beautiful moments.

Arrivederci,

Michele

 

Eat, Drink and Be Merry, Family, Friends and Neighbors, Pandemic Prose, Physical Fitness, Mental Health and Growing Older

An Unforgettable Birthday

Dear Reader:

For weeks my friends admonished me in strong tones that I simply must do something for my birthday this year.

“It’s a milestone birthday,” they reminded me. “You need a party!”

I enjoy gatherings with bubbly and cake and music. But, for some reason, I held back. It wasn’t because of the dread of turning 60! I have a rather unique way of dealing with the decades. It has puzzled my daughter for years.

“You are the only person I know who rounds UP your age!”

It’s true. It started when I was 28; I’d tell people that I was 30. And, so 38 became 40, 48 became 50 and well, I’ve been saying that I’m 60 for two years now. I’m not sure why I’ve done this. Maybe I felt it would help me adjust to the swift moving decades or protect my fragile ego. (My ego’s not that fragile, though!) In any case, I was prepared to celebrate another birthday, but I could never have guessed how I’d be celebrating it.

Like the rest of the world, we’ve been instructed to stay home to control the spread of coronavirus. But, as you can see, I left my house…safely! My neighbors all joined me for a toast, from our respective front yards, at 5:30 p.m.

I was in by 6 p.m. filling my glass with Cal Poly student made Pinot Noir to pair with my cheese pizza. And, we did have cake…three tiny cakes! I won’t forget this birthday. And, for a good long while, I’ll remember to be grateful for the simple things. Here’s to health, family and friends!

May you all remain well,

Michele

Dogs, Family, Friends and Neighbors

So Many Options!

Which rug will it be?
Two out of three dachshunds agree on the first rug option…the third could care less as the sun is shining outside!

Dear Reader:

I’ve been in my new home now for exactly 25 days. I always think that I should count the boxes when I move, but I never do. Part of me thinks it would give me a sense of accomplishment to know how many boxes had been packed and unpacked, but the smarter side of me knows that I’d be better off not knowing.

There are a lot of boxes. My husband and I love to collect…art, china, books and all things Christmas! I’ve managed to get through about 3/4 of them.

I’ve only had a washer/dryer for four days now and we are still waiting for California Closets to come and install new master bedroom closets in the empty spaces cleared by our contractor. But, we are almost fully functional here! As you can see, we have the bandwidth to consider rug options for our kitchen nook, so that’s an improvement over the first ten or so days when we were drowning in wrapping paper and trying to find the dust buster.

I am making friends with my new town and feeling confident that life here is going to offer so many opportunities to learn and grow. I’m truly excited to get beyond the “home set-up phase” and onto the “live my best life phase.”

I’ll be doing a reveal of my new pink shed soon. Watch for it!

Hugs,

Michele

Family, Friends and Neighbors, Quotations

Friends and Neighbors

 

Me and Marietta
“If you live in each other’s pockets long enough, you’re related.” —Jodi Picoult

Frank, Marietta and me
Farewell dinner last month

Pink camellias
Celebrating the 1 year anniversary of my blog

Happy Birthday!
On our way to birthday brunch for me last year

Cheers!
A favorite pic of mine, mimosas in the garden three years ago

Dear Reader:

I had to say goodbye to my favorite neighbors last month and, in between the tears, I got to thinking about what it means to be a good neighbor today vs. when I was growing up.

In 1970 I was an energetic ten-year old who loved roaming the street with my siblings and friends. The doors to nearly every home on my block were always open. Mothers worked in those homes and they (mostly) enjoyed the interruption that a pack of kids provided. I loved particularly the woman who baked cinnamon rolls as heavy as bricks and the one who loved to sew but immediately left her machine to chat with us upon our arrival as if we were her contemporaries.

The neighborhood of my youth is a rare thing nowadays. (Hey, I’m pushing 60 years old and I think I’ve earned the right to use the word nowadays!) Seems to me the definition of a good neighbor today goes something like this: a good neighbor is one who doesn’t bother you, respects boundaries and keeps quiet. Of course, this is dependent upon where you live. I think you’re more likely to find satisfying relationships if you have young children and can bond over play-dates and carpools. But, those days are over for me and my husband and I never expected to have the good luck of becoming attached to someone on our block when we moved to Carmel.

Marietta and Frank’s former home is perched on a hill across the street from our home and it boasts expansive windows at the front. So, they could look down on us and see the daily comings and goings. It was quite easy for them to monitor things when we were on vacation. They saw the mail being delivered and they’d know if someone broke in and tried to take off with our t.v.

Our friendship began immediately with the kindness they offered before even knowing us. We moved into our house slowly and I took several loads of things in my car before the big moving trucks arrived. I made the trips solo as Tom was still employed and Natalie was in school and the drive was an easy hour and one half.

It never failed that shortly after I’d unloaded all of the boxes into my garage, I’d get a call from across the street.

“You are working so hard; don’t work so hard!” Marietta would advise in her rich Chilean accent. “Come eat a sandwich with us!”

I’d frequently receive invitations to take short vino or coffee breaks or to dine on superbly home cooked meals. It was like having a more perfect version of my mom living across the street and it was divine.

For five years, we celebrated birthdays and everyday occurrences like the sighting of a family of quail marching across the driveway or the first blooms of azaleas in both of our gardens. And a couple of days after the election of POTUS, we dined together to bond in our shared horror and grief about the state of our country.

Most recently, Marietta saw me regularly racing to my car decked out in my spandex on my way to Zone Fitness. She never missed the opportunity to provide praise and encouragement. One day I’d see her waving from her window, another day we’d meet in the middle of the street before getting into our cars to head our separate ways. She’d often say the same thing about my fitness goals that she said when I began my blog: Do whatever makes you happy!

I’ve been missing the chance meetings at the mailbox and the shouts out of car windows as we come and go. And, though, it’s not even fall yet, I’m already missing the annual delivery of freshly baked holiday fruit cake. Really, I’m missing the rare, warm and comforting feeling of knowing that there’s someone living so close by who cares so much.

Hope this brings a smile to your face, Marietta!

Love,

Michele