Your Story Project
The Salem Public Library is collecting your stories, photos and more describing life in our city during the COVID-19 crisis. Learn how some of your friends and neighbors are coping below, and submit your own story here.
Martha Gilfeather, 81
It’s quite a task to talk through a mask.
Even if near me, no one can hear me.
Talking with seniors has been hard enough,
But speaking through masks makes it extra tough.
It’s hard to discern what masked people say,
And most of my friends are deaf anyway.
Behind the mask I try not to mumble,
But words come out all in a jumble.
The confusion caused by all of this
Disrupts my stroll in pastoral bliss.
On walks, I once listened to songbirds tweeting,
But these days the pleasure of tweeting is fleeting.
For now as I take my daily outing,
All I can hear is everyone shouting!
My name is Lydia and I am stuck at home my siblings Zeyah and Ellis, my dogs Roky and Shiva and my cat Rojie. It is getting a little bit boring but I know how to keep my self occupied. I have been playing with my dogs, coloring and of course, doing school work. I miss Mrs. Contrada, my friends and my classroom. I mean,I can see those people on zoom but it is hard not to see them in person. I hope and wish I could see people soon.
I am a patron of the Salem Library. Salem Library is my favorite library to visit. The staff is wonderful, helpful and so kind. I am an avid reader and books are a big part of my life. The feeling of actually holding the book verses reading in digital form is very important to me. I enjoy young adult fiction, cozy mysteries (with cats), general fiction, family oriented stories and low-key suspense novels. I also still enjoy picture books and still have my favorites in my bookcase.
I live in Marblehead, Massachusetts with my parents and European Golden Retriever, Banks. The virus has disrupted my daily life in many ways. I have a learning disability and sometimes it is very difficult to understand what is happening. I am a receptionist at a supportive employment agency and have just heard that I may be able to go back in July. I work for my father at a small bank in Marblehead. I have been able to do projects from home for him and still get paid for my work. My mom has been volunteering her time to help me with my bank work and we have done quite a few projects. Not being able see my co-workers and friends from work is very difficult for me.
I am a member of a social club program in Marblehead. My social club program has also been temporarily shut down. I keep in touch with friends from the program by phone or text. I am able to text two of my staff member friends, who I know well. I miss my Thursday classes, Friday night activities and Saturday community trips. I miss being able to see my peer and staff friends in person.
Every afternoon my mom and I take Banks for a ride around town. I try to get out every day at lunchtime for a 15-minute play session with Banks on our patio in our backyard. This is very important to me. Banks can’t see his doggy and human friends up close because of the virus. It is hard for him because he has been able to visit with everyone since he was a puppy. I miss playing with the neighborhood dogs.
I have learned the importance of helping others. My uncle has MS and is nervous about going to the grocery store. My mom has been getting his groceries and he comes and picks them up. My job is to make sure he gets all of his groceries and they are bagged properly to go home with him. I also have to help my mom sanitize them and sort them. I also have been helping my mom with her grocery purchases in the same way.
I have seen many changes in my community. Everyone has to social distance and wear a mask whenever they go outside or to a store. Stores I am used to going to only offer curbside pickup or delivery. Some people don’t follow the rules and that is frustrating for my family and I, because we do. And, what has changed the most is not being able to visit my local libraries and bookstores. I would go sometimes more than once a week before this started. And, also the friendships and interactions I have with people in the community has decreased due to the pandemic.
I feel like the pandemic has not made anything change for the better. Many people have been infected and so many people have died. Businesses have had to close and lost employees. Everyone has to stay outside if they visit one another and six feet apart. And I have two long time friends in group/residential homes and one I haven’t heard from in a month. Group homes and nursing homes are having such a difficult time. I really hope things get better and start to go back to some normalcy.
I miss my friends. I miss playing sports and playing on the playground. I have been playing basketball in my backyard and climbing trees.
I miss my friends a lot. I wish I can go back to school and see my friends. I’m doing lots of work, playing, going outside a lot, hanging out with my sister and for example, we do tv nights, movie nights, video game nights, go on little trips and play games. I wish this virus stops.
Hi, my name is Levi. I’m a second grader. I live in Salem,MA 2020 during the Corona virus pandemic. I really miss the library! I also miss my friends, swim class, and family. I stay in contact by house party, Facetime, and Zoom. We pray to keep all safe. We also do yoga, go outside, and a app called GoNoodle! We are feeling sad, but hopeful! <3 Levi.
My name is Sienna I am in 2 grade I miss my friends, family and school. I have been going outside playing games with my brother.
Every day when I wake up I see only one or two cars going by. There used to be more. I go on social distant bike rides and like to sit on a rock in the park. I wish I could see my friends in real life at least I can call some of them on messenger kids. We play animal jam and Minecraft. Sometimes we play hide and seek in our games. I’m happy to stay at home and get fresh air in my yard. My siblings can be very annoying. I can’t wait to go back to school but once I go back I only want recess. I like that I get to spend a lot of time in nature.
Sarah Kate, 8
I miss my classroom and friends. I keep in touch by FaceTime and zoom and texts. I’ve enjoyed my family’s nature walks and learning how to roller blade. The worst part of COVID 19 is I’m bored and restless. It’s hard to wear masks because there itchy. But I will wear them to keep others safe. When it’s over, I want to throw a big party!
Almost everything has changed . We have to wear masks and sometimes it bothers me but we are in this together. We will be safe. Please wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart and stay safe. I miss my classmates. Thank you for reading.
The Covid 19 quarantine has changed my life. I have become more comfortable in my house and I’m ok with it. I do miss seeing my friends in person, but I am lucky to see them through zoom. My letter writing has taken off and I also like getting letters back in the mail!
When COVID-19 started, schools were shut down and so were playgrounds and basketball hoops. It wasn’t fun around that time because we had to stay home. We still get to see our friends and family but only on Facetime and rarely in person. We are trying our best to stop this and we’re trying to help the elderly and doing our best to keep our community safe. Thank you.
My name is Tenley, I am 7 years old. We have not been not in school because of COVID-19 and social distancing. COVID-19 is a really bad disease, it can kill people. If you have it you will get a very bad cold and your throat will hurt. Since we haven’t been in school, I’ve been playing with my brother and sister, and I’ve also been cleaning my garage and finally I’ve also been walking my dog and taking him on long walks too. I have also been seeing my friends on my zoom classroom and dance classes. The end!
I am a nurse and teach nursing at North Shore Community College. We moved all classes and clinicals (normally done in the hospitals) to remote in mid-March, following an extended spring break to plan for moving to online learning. The college provided chrome books to students who needed them. My fellow faculty and I taped our lectures in voice over powerpoints and published them on the college’s Youtube channel. Our learning management system has a video conferencing feature so faculty can meet virtually for committee work and with students. Working from home means I am ALWAYS at work and being a woman of a certain age, the technology does not come easily to me so I find it very challenging. I am so grateful to be able to work during this difficult time when so many are out of work. I am also somewhat grateful that I am not in a clinical setting being exposed as I am in the high risk age group. At the same time, I feel guilty for not contributing more in caring for patients during the surge. I am at my desk in my home office from early morning until 5 pm everyday when I stop and go for a socially distanced walk with a neighbor. I am also grateful for the technology that allows me to connect virtually with family and friends. We zoomed Easter dinner with family in Salem, Lynn, Nahant, Peabody, Tennessee and California! And my dog is so happy to have her people around all day!
when i am home because of the virus, i play video games and my house is next to another house and my picture is of me in my house.
The residents of Salem Willows are well known for their fun loving nature and fondness to celebrate anything and everything…..we brought Smiles to our neighbors faces & hearts by providing a rolling rally parade which drive thru the neighborhood as residents sat on their porches and driveways and waved and cheered the rolling rally on…some even dressed in costume! The first rolling rally parade was Easter themed….the second was a tropical Margaritaville theme with its own shark (The photos attached are from this Margaritaville Theme Event)….the third was a “faux” Kentucky Derby rolling rally, as of this writing anyway.
I am a junior in Salem (specifically Salem Academy as of writing this.) School has been out for about a month and now has been ordered closed for the rest of the academic year. To cope with all of the stress, I take frequent walks around my area and also listen to Springsteen (my favorite artist) a lot. His music is about getting through harder times which really resonates now. The main thing I miss about being in school (not the workload because we still get a lot of the work we would do in school, we just get it online) is not being able to see my friends and teachers in person. It is so different to use tech like Zoom to be able to see my teachers and then use social media to keep in touch with friends. Before, those were options, but still person to person interaction was preferable. I get the significance of the pandemic and virus and the need to implement mitigation rules, but it still has been hard to manage. To help, I take walks often and have seen quite a bit of animals out (a Siamese cat and ducks notably).
I assigned my Mixed Media Class an Art Project called “Slogans of Hope” Students will use their artistic skills to create graphics to inspire citizens to hope for better times.
THE ARTICLE BELOW WAS WRITTEN FOR AND ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE WEBSITE OF EXPLORERS LIFELONG LEARNING INSTITUTE IN SALEM (HTTPS://EXPLORERSLLI.ORG). IT IS PART OF EXPLORERS’ TALES FROM HOME PROJECT, A SERIES OF ARTICLES WRITTEN BY MEMBERS OF EXPLORERS DURING THE TIME OF COVID-19.
No one could imagine what a life-changing phenomenon a virus can cause. China seemed so far away, and I went about my routine without even giving the isolation and devastation a second thought. I could wash my hands and try to stay away from people, no problem. I could not envision the fear engendered nor the waiting for the first symptoms to occur.
Now here I am with only time on my hands, isolated and waiting for whatever comes next. It is tough to fight a war without appropriate weapons. Having just celebrated my 79th birthday, listening to the forecasts for 80+, I am flummoxed. That is me. I am in the category of most likely to get sick.
So I started a list of things to do or not:
- No daylight television
- Read books
- Knit to my heart’s content
- Find an exercise app
- No snacking
- Organize my pictures
- Start writing
- Sing in the shower
- Walk outside
This should keep me busy for the time being. Not to forget an afternoon nap and cup of tea. Carpe Diem has taken on new meaning.
THE ARTICLE BELOW WAS WRITTEN FOR AND ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE WEBSITE OF EXPLORERS LIFELONG LEARNING INSTITUTE IN SALEM (HTTPS://EXPLORERSLLI.ORG). IT IS PART OF EXPLORERS’ TALES FROM HOME PROJECT, A SERIES OF ARTICLES WRITTEN BY MEMBERS OF EXPLORERS DURING THE TIME OF COVID-19.
Throwing Stuff Out
One thing I have noticed since we all started spending so much time at home, either alone or with close loved ones, is that the trash piles on garbage pick-up day are expanding. Whereas we all typically have our usual bag or barrel plus recycling bins out on the curb each week, we lately seem to be on an impressive clean-out campaign, separating out the “potentially useable” items from those that clearly should have been thrown away years ago: broken bed posts, empty or dried up paint cans, ancient wires and obviously unsafe extension cords, pieces of toys and games, rusted out machine parts, shattered garden pots, rotted garden hoses….you get the picture.
We all have this stuff, and this weird time we are living in seems to be an opportune moment to throw it all (or a lot of it) out.
I have spent the better part of many recent days going through file cabinets and bins full of paper: bank statements from years and years ago, old credit card bills, insurance policies from three houses ago, a decade’s worth of work-related materials, my daily schedule books from 1997 through 2019. My husband and I have shredded or plan to shred papers with private information and have tossed everything else in recycling. We already have a pile waiting for recycling next Monday, not wanting to overload the curb this week. And we’re still not done.
I am currently in the middle of a trip down memory lane, meandering through several large plastic bins full of drawings, stories, math worksheets (what was I thinking to keep all of those!!), report cards, hand- made valentines, postcards, letters, diaries … you get the picture … all from my daughter’s toddler days, childhood and teenaged years. She is now 36. I have moved all that stuff four times since those days: from Maine to Pennsylvania to New Jersey to Massachusetts.
And yes, of course, I’m keeping a lot of it, or representative samples of a lot of it – but not a single math worksheet.
Frankly, I have always prided myself on not keeping stuff. I like a rather simple, although messy, closet and refrigerator and kitchen cabinets. I’ve moved a lot in my life, so I learned in childhood that you can’t keep everything. I give away a lot of china, household goods, furniture, books, useable clothing.
But it’s the stuff I don’t look at every day – such as the many plastic containers in our basement filled with my daughter’s pages and pages of school work and drawings and sweet notes to her parents that I find so hard to let go of. I am discovering that I can part with some of it, but I have given myself permission to keep the most treasured of those treasures. I have already saved out a rather massive pile of her favorite children’s books – those are indeed priceless and full of their own savored memories. She will want them some day.
THE ARTICLE BELOW WAS WRITTEN FOR AND ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE WEBSITE OF EXPLORERS LIFELONG LEARNING INSTITUTE IN SALEM (HTTPS://EXPLORERSLLI.ORG). IT IS PART OF EXPLORERS’ TALES FROM HOME PROJECT, A SERIES OF ARTICLES WRITTEN BY MEMBERS OF EXPLORERS DURING THE TIME OF COVID-19.
Volunteer Knitting Project
This is a wonderful time to add to our volunteer activities. I am knitting more caps for deployed soldiers and sewing ditty bags for medical mission trips through our Marblehead and Swampscott ElderAct Club. Stuck at home can be a great opportunity to help others. Below are instructions for knitting hats.
Materials: Any color of any worsted weight yarn.
Knitting Needles Sizes: 7 and 8 200 yards worsted, weight soft, washable
- Gauge: 4.5 stitches per inch
- Adult men size: Cast on 88 sts using size 7 needle
- Adult women size: Cast on 84 sts or less if you knit loosely with size 7 needle Then switch to size 8 needle (I use a round needle from the first row)
- Row 1: K2, P2, K2 across line, ending with P2
- Row 2-6: Repeat Row 1 (If you change to a round needle at this point there will be less to stitch up and you will be knitting all the way around)
- Row 7: Knit across
- Row 8: Purl across
- Repeat these 2 rows until hat is 8” from start, ending on a knit row
- On the knit row: K2 together across the row
- Next row: Purl Next row: K2 together across
- Last row: Purl across
- Cut a 14” tail of yarn; thread a yarn needle with it. Carefully pull the last row of knitting from the needle and thread the needle through every stitch. Pull tightly and then whip stitch the seam shut.
On a gray and dreary day, like today, in the pre-coronavirus time, it wouldn’t be unusual for me to call a friend or she-me and say “Let’s go to the movies.” The fact that I can no longer do that reminded me of the Saturdays of my WWII childhood.
Mostly every Saturday, my friends and I and later my younger brother would walk up to our neighborhood movie theater, aptly named ROOSEVELT, for an entire morning of entertainment. For the price of a dime plus two cents tax, we saw 10 cartoons, two feature films and a newsreel, with all the latest news from the battlefronts as well as the home front. Sometimes, we also had a serial; week after week. We followed the adventures of Superman and his exploits as we munched on our nickel bags of popcorn.
Movies were an integral part of our weekly routine. Once we became teenagers, movie dates and ice cream sundaes replaced girlfriends and popcorn.
We took these simple things for granted and never in our wildest imaginations could we have dreamed that a day would come when every movie theater in the land would be closed and when every child in America was not in a school building!
Still, it’s the little things in life that keep us going: the 6-foot-distance waves between strangers on the street, the phone calls, e-mails and face time with friends and family, and our innate, indomitable spirit as Americans and human beings that will see us through this “time out of time” and bring us TOGETHER to a new and better tomorrow for our nation.
Even in the darkest days, we know that the sun will shine again and life, though changed will offer us a new beginning.
Be well, my friends.
CoffeeMate in the Season of the Virus
On a recent visit with my children at their newly acquired vacation home, I brought bags of groceries for us to share over the weekend and to help stock their shelves. I know you’re thinking that it’s a mom thing. It is, and I am, so let’s just go from there.
This son’s family is very low key. They’re great at finding entertainment in modest pleasures. They hike, watch cooking shows on YouTube and movies and especially like playing board games. So, we hiked
downtown. We watched movies and YouTube, played games and dined out. At night we got in touch with our pyromaniac selves when we built a fire in the fire pit and toasted marshmallows. Yum!
I was happy that they really liked nearly everything I’d brought. Harry, the younger son, adored the seafood salad. They all enjoyed the special cinnamon raisin loaf from the bakery. The snacks were terrific. We made good use of them while playing games. But, immediately, as I brought the container of CoffeeMate out of the bag, it drew a reaction. You know, CoffeeMate….the powdered coffee creamer. The “kids” saw it, and it was like “What?”
“Well,” I said, “you’re up here weekends, and if you run out of milk or cream or….” When I looked at them, I could see their eyes rolling and meaningful looks being traded. The words and music said, Hmmm, old lady deal. If you have adult or nearly adult children, I’m certain that you know how it goes. “We’ll never need anything like that,” one or the other said. “Just throw it into your cabinet,” I said, hoping for an abrupt end to the conversation. They were polite enough to do just that.
Fast forward. The winter has come and mostly gone. They had a great time skiing, enjoying weekends with their sons and with friends. Now, for all intents and purposes, the ski season is over. Even without the skiing, they were enjoying the place as a true getaway. The town is a fun place with lots of other spots to go to and things to do. But now, we’re in the season of the virus, and we’re not about fun.
When they saw what was ahead, Lisa and Todd went north to deep clean the house and clear out any food that was left behind because they couldn’t be certain about when they’d be able to return. They vacuumed the place, stripped the bedding, stored the ski equipment, and cleaned the bathrooms and kitchen. Finally, they got to the food. As they emptied the pantry, they discussed supplies to be brought home which weren’t available at their hometown market.
And then they came across the CoffeeMate. “OH MY GOD!!!” they both screamed in unison, “Mom is a GENIUS!”
Week 1: Walking is what we did.
During our first few days of our stay-at-home, Harriet and I decided we would be better off to extricate ourselves from the house to do walking at least once a day. We started after lunch. On the first day we took a jaunt up Lothrop Street to Lynch Park in Beverly and a trip around Lake Quannapowitt in Wakefield the next. A day later we walked the Swampscott-Lynn shoreline. The next walk was the shoreline and home via a warren of residential streets. Yesterday involved a trip to a mailbox.
Walking felt good, but you can see where this is going: shorter trips, closer to home. Fewer people too.
We’re spending less time in front of the television watching news reports, which can be both depressing and enraging. First, depressing: The deaths from coronavirus virus are overwhelmingly people over 60,
especially those with pre-existing conditions; you and I have targets on our backs. Enraging: The government, particularly the President, took a long time deciding this illness merited serious action. To err is human, but still, delayed, sometimes inept responses and irrelevant blaming of others spells trouble for hospitals trying to deal with a crush of the sick of every age.
We do what we can, wiping the surfaces we use, washing our hands frequently. Although you’re supposed to avoid touching your face, I found doing so difficult; no sooner than after washing, an eyelid or nose will itch, prompting an automatic response. I’ve gotten more proficient, yet it takes practice. The trouble is that my usual activities—reading, writing, editing photos—open lots of face-touching opportunities.
We’re also using free time to contact people we haven’t seen or heard from in a long time, friends and relatives. Strangely enough, people who typically are too occupied to respond now call back or answer their phones. Harriet has Projects; today she polishes the silver. I collect and review my will, trust, and medical proxy material so they are in order if the worse happens.
Evenings are given over to Netflix, HBO, and Amazon. Among the first movies we saw was the Adam Sandler vehicle “Uncut Gems.” His character is a middle-aged man operating a jewelry shop, with a wife, daughter, mistress, and a serious gambling addiction. I liked the opening but the main character’s many bad decisions got tiresome. Maybe I just find gambling boring.
We also saw Netflix’s “Self-Made,” starring Olivia Spencer playing the daughter of former slaves who made a fortune in the early 20th century selling hair care products to African-American women. It’s a very traditional and very affecting story (with music and dancing too) about a determined but flawed woman who manages to deal with the many conflicts threatening to keep her down.
Finally, we watched one of my favorites: Carol Reed’s 1949 “The Third Man.”
So far we’ve tried to straddle the line between panic and blind optimism with a realistic view of the possibilities we face.
A Meditative Time
My husband and I have just moved to a new place, having overdone our downsizing 7 years ago. We now have an expanding family and grandchildren and upsized a bit to have more room for visitors.
How ironic that here we are unpacking boxes and arranging rooms for guests that may not be able to come for a year or so, if we hopefully all stay well. Like so many others we are focused on the internal, appreciating that every object we have has a story to tell, reviewing our lives and keeping up routines and exercise.
It’s an oddly meditative time, a shared time to slow down and appreciate what our lives are. I feel blessed and privileged to have a place to live, food, and loved ones. The internet is a life-saver that allows us to communicate with others. I watch the news vigilantly until I can’t any longer.
The reality of our situation is hard to grasp, the fear encroaches on my meditative state in flickers. Mother Nature rages outside as we scramble to respond.
For now let us all hibernate, tune into our creativity and support each other and those we love.
Sheltering in Place
For me, it has been a delightful few weeks, enjoying my own company and dealing with projects I no longer could avoid.
First there was the luxury of not having to rise at 7 AM for an exercise class. However, going up and down the stairs was not much of an aerobic workout, so I then tried a set of Pilates exercises for all of 10 minutes – hey, I rationalized, “it’s better than nothing!”
Early on, like everyone else, I cleaned the kitchen cabinets, polished the chrome, and washed the floors – my contribution to “sanitizing in place,” but not something I am likely to soon repeat!
That done – taxes next presented themselves. (This was before the announcement of the new July deadline). I have always done my taxes the old fashioned way – manually with a calculator. My reasoning: At least I am in control and if there is a mistake, the government will let me know – as they always have. The results were not in my favor.
Another day was finally warm enough to clean the flower beds – and getting in squats at the same time. A walk through the new path by the Salem power plant was also a nice outdoor diversion.
Lots of time reading: old issues of the New Yorker magazine (anyone want them?) and discovering new books about African American rights activists and New York immigrant union suffragists – interesting additions to my course if I get to teach it in the fall. Indulging in binge watching of WGBH Passports dramas. Check out “Modus,” “Vienna Blood,” and “Beecham House” if you haven’t.
And lastly, home alone means the luxury of starting meals with dessert, proceeding to snacks, and ending with a main course of veggies and protein.
Life doesn’t get much better than this!
This time in history is a creativity explosion as people and countries come together to combat the coronavirus 2020. This challenge has been addressed medically, socially, economically, and also emotionally and spiritually on websites, radio and TV shows and in houses of worship. It has forced us to learn new skills and using our present skills to help us all combat this challenge.
We are learning that we are all creative and resilient in the face of adversity. I have seen communities and organizations supporting each other and those they are in contact with and even helping people they do not personally know through the giving of food and other necessities. Even counseling services are available on line, teletherapy, as are online support groups for many issues that people are dealing with. People have been giving food to neighbors and other people who are homebound and can’t get their needs met. They have run errands for people who could not take care of themselves.
I have seen people being creative in walking groups they formed, with friends and with their pets. They have been playing with their children on a daily basis. They have been doing yoga in their own homes, painting pictures, knitting, and doing other creative activities such as writing. People have been in daily contact using the phone and other technology. I saw encouraging signs in various communities offering hope and support to people who walked or drove by them. Also in stores people have been kind to each other and followed the instruction of the grocery stores they were entering to keep everyone safe during this epidemic. Colleges have put courses on line and have been helpful to those new to online teaching.
This was a creativity explosion in how people positively moved forward to solutions. People are learning from the past experiences and the new information to find solutions to the challenges they are facing. This can be used for our future lives. Keep moving forward, Look for the Good daily, Have an attitude of Gratitude, Help one another. We are resilient and have overcome past challenges and will do the same this time.
(A poem by Capuchin Franciscan Brother Richard Hendrick of Ireland, submitted by Carol Damon and reprinted here)
Yes there is fear. Yes there is isolation. Yes there is panic buying. Yes there is sickness. Yes there is even death.
But, They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise you can hear the birds again. They say that after just a few weeks of quiet The sky is no longer thick with fumes But blue and grey and clear. They say that in the streets of Assisi People are singing to each other across the empty squares, keeping their windows open so that those who are alone may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound. Today a young woman I know is busy spreading fliers with her number through the neighbourhood So that the elders may have someone to call on. Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples are preparing to welcome and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way All over the world people are waking up to a new reality To how big we really are. To how little control we really have. To what really matters. To Love.
So we pray and we remember that Yes there is fear. But there does not have to be hate. Yes there is isolation. But there does not have to be loneliness. Yes there is panic buying. But there does not have to be meanness. Yes there is sickness. But there does not have to be disease of the soul Yes there is even death. But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now. Today, breathe. Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic The birds are singing again The sky is clearing, Spring is coming, And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul And though you may not be able to touch across the empty square, Sing.
Coronavirus Diary 2
March just marched out. I don’t miss it at all—cold, drab, mostly dry. But there’s more: Both of our lives, Harriet’s and mine, have changed in ways neither would have anticipated two months ago.
We entered March with the sort of lives we both had asked for in retirement: lots of activity in volunteer work we rarely had time for in our working lives. Volunteer life itself could be hectic, but we were lucky. I have neither children nor living parents and Harriet has two adult children and grandchildren, all of whom live elsewhere. We know of others less fortunate, peers in their 60s, 70s and older working to support adult children, grandchildren or even parents. Older people with selves or others to support, dependent on retail jobs.
Our “retired” life came to an end during March. Originally the idea of lots of time with few obligations was enticing. We’d read the books we wanted to read, watch the movies we wanted to watch, start or finish projects we had always wanted to do.
Still, we can’t shut out what lies beyond our walls, nor do we want to. Being human means being social. Last weekend Harriet had her first cocktail hour on Zoom with a group of women friends she’s known for many years. Zoom is great for meetings too. And Facetime: Every evening we get together with Harriet’s grandson and the three of us take turns reading aloud from the first Harry Potter book. Never having brought up children of my own, I was surprised by how satisfying the experience could be.
Life beyond our walls: We started long walks in Beverly and Wakefield and moved closer to home on trips to Kings Beach, Redrock Park and Lynn Beach. (The photos I made of Lynn Shore East of Red Rock Park and King’s Beach, Lynn-Swampscott are shown below). Our most recent walks encompassed a square mile around our home. Our exercise on April 1 was at home—a senior exercise video pumped in from YouTube on my laptop. Yesterday Harriet walked her own path up and down the stairs and traversed the length of the house, back and forth. I normally do indoor exercises when we don’t go out, but I didn’t do them. Too tired.
On our last outdoor walk I wore a scarf around my face.
More life beyond our walls: You’ve seen the articles about the increasing number of cases, not only in our state but also in the country and the world. I don’t have to reiterate the bad news. Nor do I have to reiterate the stories about the looming crises: Essential problems of supply: food, medicines, medical equipment. Raw political conflict. Death. None of these can be minimized. We can duck our heads, as Harriet and I are trying to do, and find resources to support others in need. We do our best, as Harriet says, but if we can’t, we’ll deal with it.
Playing with Words, Thoughts, Images
Haiku presents the opportunity to express thoughts in a distinct abbreviated manner. I enjoy playing with words, thoughts and images.
I have watched the squirrels hog the feeder all winter and came to the conclusion that a squirrel-proof feeder was in order. I do feel pity for the squirrel as it tries to navigate this obstacle. Squirrels are agile, innovative, and acrobatic when it comes to food. Time will tell if this feeder is truly squirrel proof.
Staring forlornly at the feeder
How to access
Birds gain the squirrel’s loss
Loss of travel has been supplanted by a puppy.
Travel is but a memory
Nowhere to go
Photographs elicit excitement nostalgia regret
Until two weeks ago my approach to coping with “sheltering in place” had been weekly hikes in the MassAudubon Sanctuary in Topsfield. When putting finishing touches on a “Tales From Home” offering I checked their website to confirm some figures, only to discover that MassAudubon Sanctuaries had just locked up all their sanctuaries: too many visitors, overflow parking lots, and mobbed trails had made coronavirus infection too risky. I saw nothing like that in Topsfield, but I needed to find a new place to hike.
I thought the Boxford State Forest around Crooked Pond might work. I grew up in Topsfield near the Sanctuary but I knew Crooked Pond, so I decided to give it a try. I downloaded a map of the area from the State Forest website last week and went on a short reconnaissance, a couple of miles round trip. Compared to the Sanctuary, the trails here are rough and poorly marked, traversing an inscrutable mélange of hills, rocky outcrops, bogs and ponds. The map didn’t really address the complexity. Undaunted, I decided to give the new venue a try.
Driving to Boxford early yesterday I realized I had forgotten the map. It was problematic anyway so I figured I’d get by without it. Bald Hill was the destination for my first outing, at most a 2-hour hike doable before breakfast. I remembered the map situated Bald Hill about a mile west of the area I had reconnoitered. The sun was up and always in view in that leafless forest, so finding compass directions would not be a problem. A big problem as I headed west for Bald Hill was having to guess which fork to take at each fork in the trail. About a mile and several such decisions later, a pond blocked further progress, but still no Bald Hill. I was getting nowhere without a map so I decided to give it up for now, turned around, and began retracing my route. At some point I guessed wrong, took the wrong fork, and wandered into new territory. I turned around and backtracked again, hoping to correct that mistake. No luck. Rinse and repeat.
I was lost, for the first time in my life and in Massachusetts woods of all places. A humbling experience; I had never gotten lost in any of the serious wilderness areas I worked in out West. I was already tired and hungry, and only just beginning the 5-hour and almost 8-mile ordeal I would face before escaping those woods. When I finally reached my car, I couldn’t remember ever being so exhausted. After the drive home I made myself a sandwich but found I was too weak even to chew. Then odd things started happening to my vision. I considered calling 911.
An hour later I was fine. But no more winging it solo and map-less in Massachusetts woods for me. Turns out there are valuable life lessons to be learned, even whilst ”sheltering in place.”
Let’s Walk Marblehead’s Open Spaces
We see many more people walking our streets these days. We’ve always been told it’s good for our health, but now it’s also one of the best ways to beat the boredom of sheltering in place. In Marblehead we have an alternative in our natural, open spaces. Over the years our town has set aside eight conservation areas—the largest covering 46.6 acres—where anyone can walk or run or just sit to enjoy the natural, unbuilt forest.
While the Town of Marblehead oversees management of the land, it is maintained by the Marblehead Conservancy, a nonprofit, membership organization with a board of trustees. This volunteer group organizes the upkeep which makes it accessible. The Conservancy and some of its volunteer members keep these open spaces walkable.
If you should walk the trails on a Wednesday afternoon or Saturday morning, you may see some of the adult volunteers, the scouts, or students clearing the trails for you. They are there to keep 5.68 miles of trails open—to distribute wood chips, which keep those trails free of mud or water, to remove bittersweet vines, which choke the trees, and to remove other invasive plants. Volunteers have also constructed sturdy boardwalks where the trails pass through marshy waters. These platforms give visitors the opportunity to observe turtles and ducks and other water life up close.
If you walk or bike The Path, a former rail bed, you’ve probably noticed the wooden signs erected at each entrance to Town conservation areas. These signs give the name and acreage of the site. At almost all entrances to these open spaces, you’ll find a small, transparent box, which offers you a trail map. You won’t get lost. What surprises us is that some people who might enjoy these forests don’t know how accessible they are.
Sometimes people learn about the town’s open spaces when they stop at the Conservancy booth on Saturday mornings at the Farmers Market. Polly, my wife, and I volunteer at the booth twice each summer. We enjoy distributing free, printed information about conservation, including beautiful maps of Marblehead which highlight and describe our open spaces. You can get more information about the Marblehead Conservancy on its website, https://marbleheadconservancy.org/about-us/contact-us/. If you are so inspired, learn how you can join the Conservancy and become a volunteer. We do hope you also will enjoy your walks in these special places.
Comfort in Troubled Times
Have you heard about #songsofcomfort? This is the brainchild of world-renowned cellist and UN Peace Ambassador Yo-Yo Ma. In March, Ma introduced his idea of offering music free to the public as a way to soothe the stress being experienced by millions of people in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ma challenged musicians to record videos of themselves performing musical pieces and to post them on social media sites (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) with the hashtag #songsofcomfort (please don’t ask me to explain hashtags). Many have responded, amateurs and professionals alike. If you visit one of these sites and search for #songsofcomfort, you will see hundreds of postings by musicians of all calibers from around the world.
Ma himself has posted Bach, Dvorak, and more. James Taylor and Carole King have added some of their classic songs. But in addition to big names, countless unknowns (including yours truly) have answered the call, posting their takes on classical compositions, pop, folk, country, and original songs. Quality may vary, but the spirit underlying the effort remains the same — to provide a moment’s relief in a time of stress and worry, as people around the world sit housebound as a result of the pandemic.
I imagine that part of the reason musicians have responded in such numbers – aside from the aspirational nature of the endeavor – is that they are all currently out of work. Social distancing means no concerts. No national tours. No performances even in local bars and restaurants. With no way to gather an audience, musicians like me have no place to play and no one to play to.
In our North Shore area, the lively local bar scene is closed down for the duration. Many musicians I know are now sitting home counting the money they’ve lost. A friend of mine, well into retirement age for many, laments on Facebook that he’s lost $1,500 in a little over a month. “I know people have lost more, … but that is a lot of dineros to me,” he writes. Many of these local musicians have day gigs, as electricians, handymen, and so on. But of course many of these jobs are also on hold. Some do only music, relying somehow on luck and a lifetime of connections to keep them busy as many nights a week as they can swing. Now, poof, it’s gone, and they don’t know when it is coming back.
These musicians, in addition to missing the money, are itching to perform, which is their natural state of being. So, in addition to posting #songsofcomfort, many are posting their own live-streamed performances. Some are also soliciting tips through online payment services such as Venmo or PayPal. If you have a chance to support some of these local troubadours, by all means do so. In the meantime, we can look forward to the day when the bars and restaurants open again, and we can hear live local music once more. When that day comes, I’ll look for you in the audience.
Coronavirus Diary 3 – In Praise of Miranda
How many Goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world that has such people in ‘t!
The Tempest V.1.185-187
In 2005, two years after we lost two cats to the vicissitudes of old age, my wife Barbara decided to get another pair. We’d been stunned by our cats’ deaths and the taxing medical care required to keep them alive. Barbara hadn’t mentioned getting another until one day in 2005, she turned and said,” I want to go back to the Northeast Shelter.”
We picked two female domestic shorthairs, one gold and white, the other dark brown and black with a white throat. The latter was the mother of the former and was a year older. She was smaller too.
The woman at the shelter told us the names given by the previous owner were Oprah and Ophelia. Oprah was the darker one, the mother. Ophelia, the daughter, was the lighter one. On the way home, we decided to rename the mother. Since Ophelia was a decidedly Shakespearean name, we ran through a selection of female names from the plays and settled on Miranda.
Our two cats flourished in our household and quickly displayed their personalities. Ophelia was outgoing and craved affection. Miranda was shy and retiring. She often found obscure hiding places where she’d vanish at the slightest jarring noise.
Then life intervened. Barbara’s illness worsened and I took over the cats’ care and feeding, a long learning process. In 2010, Barbara went into a nursing home, upending our 40-plus years of living together. She died three years later. I sold the house and the cats, and I moved into a condo.
Watching the cats together, I realized Ophelia was the dominant member of the couple. When I prepared to shower before bed, Miranda jumped on the bed and demanded affection. After I returned from showering, she leapt off the bed, reserving pride of place for Ophelia, who would jump up and spend the night.
When I met Harriet in 2014, she was the proud owner of Snowy, a white female Tabby who didn’t like to compete for her attention. Once we decided the three cats wouldn’t kill each other, we moved in together in 2017. Snowy occupied the upstairs and my two occupied a basement window perch. The arrangement lasted until 2019, when both Snowy (14 years) and Ophelia (15 years) died.
Miranda, the oldest, is the only one left. Without the others, she’s come into her own, leaving the basement to roam the house. She’s gained more weight and is more active. She jumps on my lap as I write and curls up next to Harriet as she reads. When we watch Netflix in the evening, she warms herself, putting her chin over my hand or napping alongside us. We may not be the “beauteous” people of the quote, but she seems content. In our brave new world we are together, three oldsters sharing our time and space.
Good Vibrations Spring 2020
Growth for me through this crisis has been manifested through me becoming increasingly aware of my thinking and the vibration of the energy from my thoughts. These vibrations, whether positive or negative, from my thoughts affects my happiness and those around me. I also now pay close attention to the world and the energy for good that is being shown that overcomes negative energy of these challenging times.
I have a choice now to take back my life energy and live in solutions to challenges. Every day I start my day by saying that I am going to have a good day and what will I learn this day and how can my spirit help others who are going through difficult times. I try to keep a daily routine as I always do, modifying it as needed, but still being creative and productive, not destructive. I want to remember that we are all resilient and survivors and that we are strong and can overcome any future challenges we are presented within our future life. We are all survivors.
I have learned that I can retrain my mind to have positive habits of thought rather than negative ones. What I dwell on becomes a habit so I want my thought habits to be positive and use my time and talents in a positive manner. I have learned to count my blessings daily and not take the little things for granted. I make a daily gratitude list. I know the importance of having friends that I can reach out to and share my concerns so that I can get objectivity about my issues and then use my wise mind, not my emotions, to help me make good decisions. I have a choice now.
I have learned to live life with no regrets to tell the people in my life how much I love and appreciate what they are doing. It is also important to be kind and thankful to people I have met working in grocery stores and other places that work with the public and try to meet their consumer needs. They are always grateful for this appreciation. I have also noticed how even strangers are friendly to each other and supportive. A smile can make a person’s day.
Spring is here with new life, new hope and positive vibrations. We can take in this flowering creative energy and use it as a reminder to stay positive and SMILE. Our brain and body will thank us for these good vibrations and we will also be helping others because positive vibrations are healing and up lifting to their body and spirit.
Emergence of Spring on Green’s Hill
Just about every day since this strange time began 5 to 6 weeks (months?) ago, Tim and I have opened the gate from our back yard and started our hike on the relatively small Green’s Hill, a public 17-acre space set aside by the city of Beverly.
The main trail is a mere one mile one-way that winds through woods skirting the rocks on the Bass River. Hike it two ways, as we do, and you’ve accomplished two miles, while hiking up rocky hills,
keeping your footing on narrow paths on modest cliffs alongside the river, balancing across a board set in place at a marshy spot during this wet spring, and finally finding your bliss at a footbridge that always offers a view of shore birds. A dry crop of tall reeds that are sure to green up in coming weeks grows into the water’s edge. We don’t leave home without our binoculars.
Our walking regimen on Green’s Hill has allowed us to witness the daily changes as winter unfolds to spring, from brittle browns to vibrant greens. A few days ago, we were there to witness the display flights of several downy woodpeckers, and we heard their drumming on trees nearby. We were there on the brilliant blue Easter morning in time to hear the bells from a church downtown. Because we have no place to be, we can actually be there for that hour or so, really looking at how the warmth of the sun is changing this part of the world and noticing the appearance of returning life.
We sometimes see one or two people on the trail when we are there. On Easter, it was a young man with his baby in a pack on his chest and his dog on a leash. Another day it was a mother and her teenage daughter. We all step off the trail to give each other distance, while remarking on sun and the relief of being outside.
Make no mistake about it: This is not a walk in Muir Woods. From the trail, we see the town of Beverly, the ball park, the Bridge Street Bridge, the boats still in dry dock at a couple of small marinas, and the line of cars waiting for their turn at the drive-up window at Starbucks on Elliott Street. Green’s Hill is a bit scruffy, with docks still waiting to be placed in the water and occasional bits of trash blown in over the water by the latest rain and wind storm. The large backyards of houses seem to tumble down toward the trail in places.
But Green’s Hill is full of life, and every day we witness its revival.
Tales from Home
Bill and I have been living in Brooksby Village for the last five years. We moved into our 4th floor apartment the day before the blizzard of 2015. From our sunroom windows overlooking a large pond, we watched the benches around the pond disappear, buried in deep snow. The plows began their work when roads became passable and then continued day and night until walks, roads and parking lots were cleared. If we ever had a doubt about leaving our Swampscott home, the blizzard put that idea away forever.
This morning, while we ate our breakfast we gazed at the pond as two cormorants were diving for fish; the mallards in the “boys club” were dabbling for food; and the egret was back, making elegant poses, for only the second time this spring.
Our assumption is that the female mallards are busy sitting on nests because none are here swimming beside their far more beautiful males. When the females were at the pond during mating time, the males did a lot of chasing and attacking each other in an effort to maintain their status. It was quite a show to watch.
I know I’m not supposed to like the Canadian geese that leave messes on our walks. But, when I see a beautiful pair of them on the pond, it pleases me. There has been a couple coming around lately – only two have been here so far this spring. However, if flocks of geese do show up, the Brooksby Navy and/or the Dog Patrol will come to chase them away.
The Brooksby Navy is a man in a canoe who goes out on the pond and pursues the geese until they fly away. The Dog Patrol is a woman who brings a big dog in a van. She walks the dog around the pond. The dog gets excited, jumps into the water and attacks the flock – very effectively. Honking loudly, the geese fly away and stay away a long time. I always take photos of these “important” events.
So, here we are, in coronavirus lock-down at Brooksby Village. If we hadn’t known it before, we sure know now that we made the right move at the right time. We miss the company of family and friends but feel comfortable and safe, protected by Brooksby management’s rules.
In order to follow CDC guidelines and prevent crowds, all clubs, meetings, classes, movies, the gym, swimming pool, wood-shop, and dining rooms are cancelled or closed. Brooksby employees deliver to our doors our dinners, our mail, any packages or groceries we ordered, and any other gifts or essentials brought for us by family or friends.
We are both surprised at how busy we are even without any appointments or events. Bill is preparing a new class to offer to Explorers and Brooksby – whenever. And, I’m working on a new pencil drawing as well as spending too much time reading and writing emails.
I’ve enjoyed reading the published “Tales From Home” and always considered the Compass a valuable and interesting feature of Explorers. Hope EVERYONE manages to stay well and that we meet again “in all the old familiar places.”
One Day at a Time
When earlier in March I arrived home facing the soon to be first day of quarantine, my first thought was “I cannot do this.” Of course, I soon knew that I had no choice! But how?
First, Acceptance! Realizing that I had no choice, I knew that I needed a plan to ease my immediate fears of not being able to fill the many hours of the newly found freedom that loomed ahead. Needing to take action, I thought, “Why not create a plan of things to do that would keep me busy.” With some element of priority, I began to list the all too many overdue or partially completed at home projects. My concerns quickly diminished. I knew I had much to do in the days and weeks. With this positive sense of direction, I slept much better than expected on that first night. The next morning I would begin.
Much to my surprise, the waking hours of each day have passed more quickly than I ever could have anticipated. Here’s why!
Casual mornings soon became the new normal: morning news, weather checks, no time-pressured appointments, an occasional second cup, or a glance through new emails would give mornings an often much later than expected start. The casual mornings eventually transitioned to the getting ready for and planning for the remainder of the day ahead.
The List! It’s now time to choose whether to continue to work on a partially completed project or to choose, perhaps, a more interesting task from the list. A well-intended start until a book catches the eye and the urge to continue reading interrupts or perhaps the ringing of the phone. Knowing that, in times like these, it is especially important to keep in touch with friends both near and far, I answer. As one thing often leads to another before it seems possible that it’s time for lunch and maybe a glance at the mid-day news. Did I mention that I forgot to include the everyday responsibilities such as the cleaning and laundry? And, so the day continues.
It’s very quiet here. Neighbors adhere to social distancing and stay-at-home recommendations as do I. Building rules require limiting the elevator and lobby to one person at a time. I walk regularly with a neighbor and his son, Kenny, who visits often and arrives with his wife and very feminine, while at the same time somewhat of a tomboyish 4-year-old daughter. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them. It is refreshing to watch this preschooler, who doesn’t understand what is happening as adults do, quickly whirling around on her bicycle with no training wheels, using only her feet for brakes, or climbing trees as far she feels safe in a pink girly dress. All contact is outside wearing masks and keeping a safe distance at all times. It’s a nice break. Oh, Kenny does food shopping as well! My only requirement is to maintain social distancing and not to enter his dad’s house.
A phone call from the parents of a newborn who are feeling isolated and unable to share the joy of their first born. They have decided to take a ride so that baby Charlie’s great grandmother could meet her great grandchild the first time, albeit through the car window and scrunched in the car seat. Although I had already visited, being on the route to grandmother’s house I was included. Sometimes it’s the little things that make you smile and this was one for me.
Soreness not resolved with the traditional home remedies soon required an uncertain attempt to reach the dentist. Fearing the need to visit one of a few open offices for emergencies, I was first prescribed an antibiotic. A visit would be required following the treatment. With mask and fear of the unexpected, I complied. For now the issue is resolved. There are some things that require attention even within a stay at home advisory. The future remains uncertain.
These interruptions are welcome, but eventually end and the days return to what is now referred to the new normal. I look forward to future surprise calls and virtual visits.
I also must keep up with my on-line Words with Friends games and those ever so frequently sent Trivia questions. Did you know that Lesotho is an independent nation within the borders of South Africa or that if Paul Revere had actually said, “The British are coming,” it would be like saying the Americans are coming today as they were all British? Not all questions are particular relevant, but they challenge the memory, reasoning powers, and they often stimulate further investigation or clarification and help pass the time. The most interesting are those that take you around the world through beautiful landscapes, majestic buildings, sharing both historical and cultural similarities and differences.
After dinner it is Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. Oh, I cannot forget Boggle. Having been recently reintroduced to this fun and challenging game, I find myself enjoying practice sessions while attempting
to retrain my eyes to scan the 4 x 4 letter grid in search of words greater than four letters. This, in preparation for frequent games which, through the phone and internet, allow the simultaneous playing with three friends in miles apart locations. It’s both fun and educational but more importantly is a great connection with three much missed friends.
Beyond the passing of each day, a weekly treat to look forward to helps the week to pass. Every Saturday I plan a takeout dinner from Toscana, a local restaurant. Being less than a mile away, my selection brought directly to my car is convenient and safe with all proper precautions in place.
I’m quickly learning how long some things take to complete without the limits of time. I still have The List!
Moving Towards the Light
As we come out of the fear, doubt, and insecurity that resulted from the Covid pandemic, it is helpful to think about what we each have learned and how we have become wiser and stronger as the result of our experience.
I have learned to be grateful for the small things in life like toilet paper, disinfectants, and food that is on the shelves that I took for granted and thought would always be there.
I am grateful to the health care workers, doctors, nurses, dentists and other professionals who provided great care during the moments of crisis. I learned how valuable the truck drivers, restaurant owners and other small business owners, and large chain stores are, as well as the mail personnel, garbage collectors, ambulance drivers, police and fire departments.
I have seen fire departments bring joy to children by having fire trucks with Happy Birthday Banners on them drive to children’s homes to celebrate because the children could not have parties due to the virus and social distancing. I have read how people in government had the hard job of making decisions regarding how they were going to manage the crisis so that everyone was safe. I have seen how people have come together to take care of people in need, providing basic necessities, along with shelter and medical care.
I have seen people take care of dogs and cats and other animals and the large number of cats and dogs adopted by people who want to care for them.
I am grateful for my family and friends, and I let them know what they mean to me. I try to show kindness to strangers, for who knows what they may be going through.
I am grateful to the medical researchers who are working together to find a vaccine to prevent the virus and also treatments for those people who contracted the virus.
Also on line, with Zoom and other sites, innovators have come up with so many ways for people to come together for gym workouts, yoga, book clubs, music, art, foreign language classes, all kinds of college courses, religious services, and various social groups.
Now as we are seeing promise of society opening up and sunlight coming in, we can all see how creative and resilient we are, and we can spread hope. Sending out positive energy lifts peoples’ spirit. We can all look at the many lessons we have learned both as individuals and as a culture. This will benefit us and future generations.
Thank you to everyone.
Life Changes and We Do Too
When we were first married and still childless, Jay would often come home on a Friday evening from his classes at Boston College. During dinner, as if hit by a lightning bolt, he’d ask, “Want to go to New York?” And we both knew that he meant for us to leave in less than an hour.
“Yeah, sounds good. I’ll call your mom and ask her,” I’d answer. It was, by then, maybe six or seven pm.
“Syl, feel like going to New York tonight?” Never one to pass up a good time, she invariably answered, Sure! Just give me 10 minutes to wash my face, throw a few pairs of bloomers in a bag. I’ll call Mama and Henny to let them know.” Edith and Henry, nicknamed Henny by his grandsons who couldn’t pronounce his name properly, lived in midtown Manhattan.
We’d pack our weekend bags, pick up Sylvia in Peabody, and within a half hour or so we’d be on the road. By the time that the 11 o’clock news came on, we’d be having a cup of tea on West 72nd Street with Edith and Henny.
This past Tuesday, I ventured out to the CVS because my prescription renewed. It took more time and more forethought to get there, though in all probability it’s only a quarter of a mile from my condo. These, my friends, are no ordinary times.
First, I took time on Monday night to think about what else there was that I might need in the store. After all, it’s not every day that I can just pick myself up to go to the CVS!
Then, on Tuesday morning, I prepared for assault on CVS. There was no time for breakfast…only a quick coffee. Old people need to go early even though there are no “old folks’ hours” at CVS. We are now like Pavlov’s dogs. After grooming and dressing, no make-up necessary, the mask takes care of that, I had to pack the assault weapons: gloves, mask and paper barriers to use here in the building to press elevator buttons and push lobby doors open. Oh, and don’t forget the sanitizer to use on your hands after removing gloves but before entering car.
That evening, I emailed a friend about my foray into the “new world,” describing how the pharmacy counter is totally walled off in Lucite. I wrote about how the clerk scans your items through a small square cutout in the wall at waist height, and you do your own bagging. My friend sent a return email, “Wow, you had a much more interesting day than I!”
Two or three other friends called later in the day. I told them about my trip. This was big news because our worlds have become so small and lackluster. And yes, the friends were interested in the new world and asked questions because these, my friends, are no ordinary times.
Battling the Flu
As a freshman at Northwestern University, I was assigned to read Pale Horse, Pale Rider. It was a long, sensitive story Katherine Ann Porter wrote about the Spanish flu at the end of World War I. That flu has just passed its 100th anniversary, and now we are forced to celebrate it with COVID-19. Our present struggles with the flu show we haven’t learned much from our past.
One way our family copes with this reality began when my daughter Sydney invited 14 of us to gather with each other on a computerized service, Zoom. This wasn’t to observe social distancing—we’re separated by the distances between Marblehead, NYC, Austin, Santa Fe, California and Washington State. This time Syd, as host, urged us to have a family book club. Under our present circumstances, the story had to be Pale Horse, Pale Rider.
Reading the story this time is much different than it was for an innocent freshman, but it is so vividly and logically written that I have never forgotten it. Perhaps Porter didn’t forget the idea because she suffered the flu in 1918-19, when she lived in Denver. She published her gripping story 20 years later.
It starts with Miranda, the protagonist, having a frightening dream of riding with death, a companion rider. When not dreaming, Miranda writes reviews of local plays for the newspaper, a job she doesn’t like, in an oppressive atmosphere. She’s badgered by Liberty Bond reps, and she isn’t paid enough to buy a Bond. All her pressures are magnified because she is unknowingly falling victim to the flu as the action grows from that terrible dream.
But she has caught the interest of Adam, who lives at the same rooming house. He is a beautiful specimen, and he treats Miranda thoughtfully. However, like many young men of that time, he is preparing to go to the war America has entered. Reports from the front convince him and some others, likewise ready, that he is going to die in Europe.
Meanwhile, the crescendo of Miranda’s flu continues, and while Adam is eagerly helpful, he must leave. She begins slipping in and out of consciousness. Porter’s prose here is as emotionally charged as poetry. It echoes some of the ideas and events which occurred earlier in the story.
This short novel gave our family much to discuss about World War I and another, earlier flu. The two merge as Miranda dreams again, now deliriously. From her pillow, she sees herself leaving a ship which is about to sail into a jungle, “a writhing and secret place of death.” She looks back and sees herself on the ship; she hears voices crying “Danger, danger, danger…and War, war, war.”
We came together through the story, having discussed many more of its themes and images and having felt some of the same fears Porter portrays. Most of all, we could see and talk with each other for support in the present, difficult time.
To Do List (Reevaluated)
I thought I would look back to my original list of to do’s at home to see how well I was doing. Needless to say, 6 weeks of isolation has changed some of my priorities. I fear that ennui is setting in, and I have even come to say that I like having no schedule.
Staying at home is really not that bad. I do miss Trader Joe’s. Although I have not yet run out of toilet paper, I am in need of laundry detergent. Every day is basically the same as the day before. A positive note is that I no longer feel stressed (is ennui stress?). My sleep pattern has improved, I am eating three meals a day (in moderation), I am not snacking, the TV is quiet during the day, and I look forward to streaming on Netflix, HBO and Amazon at night. Crossword puzzles, words with friends and Sudoku have become a morning ritual. Sounds ideal, hum…..
So back to my list:
- No daylight television*
- Read books*
- Knit to my heart’s content
- Find an exercise app.*
- No snacking*
- Organize my pictures
- Start writing
- Sing in the shower
- Walk outside*
Today I started to write again. I do question how long this task will continue, as I do call writing a task. It should be a desire, and I am certainly not there yet. Perhaps this is the reason that I do not set time aside during the day for this endeavor.
I am easily distracted, looking at my pictures elicits too many memories, reading makes me sleepy, and I fear that my neighbors will hear me singing in the shower. Knitting I yearn for. I have the needles, but not the right wool, although I did finish two felted hats.
Many years ago my sister Nancy and I started an ill-fated business call Klos Knits. After we found that this endeavor was not going to support us, we abandoned it. Somehow this pandemic has resurrected our desire to knit and sell since unfortunately none of the family seems to want our products. Thrift stores are an option for donations if all else fails.
Coronavirus Diary 4: The Overnighter
If you’re at home and most of your activities are solitary—like writing, for instance–it’s easy to fall into the Covid derangement trap. Spending your day watching the news ratchets it up. You don’t need much incentive to imagine the rough beast of chaos crouching on your doorstep. Especially if you need to go to the hospital.
I left home on Saturday April 18 because I was having episodes of dizziness, seemingly more serious than what I’d had previously. I was diagnosed with coronary artery disease last year and I (wrongly, it turned out) attributed them to it. Harriet drove me to the hospital near where I see my primary doctor. I also knew I’d get a Covid test, but I wanted one anyway.
The regular emergency room was shut off, but a glassed-in admitting desk was near the entrance. I told them what happened. A woman dressed in a gown, face shield and mask immediately gave me the nasal
Covid test. It brought tear-inducing discomfort but was quick: I’d get the results later that day or the next, she said.
An aide brought me to a small room behind the hospital’s front desk. Face-shielded personnel administered an EKG. I was put on a monitor displaying my temperature, blood pressure, and blood oxygen level. The blood pressure was higher than usual, but everything else was normal. They told me my heart was “stressed” and was having trouble getting oxygen, and the monitor seemed to reflect that.
I was taken to the 4th floor and placed in a room to await test results. The first nurse I saw told me my temperature was 99. She warned a higher temperature than that was not a good sign. If my test was positive, I would be placed under “support.” The word evoked a hellish landscape, though I’m sure it wasn’t her intention.
That was Saturday; I spent the day in the room behind a closed door. No visitors were permitted, so I talked with Harriet on Facetime. Masked nurses read my vitals at intervals. Except for blood pressure, they were normal. I slept well. Sunday was a copy of Saturday. Closed door, regular readings, passable food, Facetime chats.
Monday dawned and I was told I needed another test; the first was negative. A few hours later a doctor informed me that my cardiologist had released me. No second test was necessary, which surprised the nurse who opened the door at noon to give it to me. An aide led me down the elevator to the entrance. He told me the coronavirus cases were not in any one place but in various places in the hospital. He didn’t elaborate; I didn’t pursue.
I went to the hospital because of a problem. I was examined, tested, and released by cordial, informed staff. But questions remained. Would it have been different if I had gone in 2019? In my case maybe, but I’m getting the follow-up I need. And I’m happy to be home.
A few eclectic suggestions to read or re-read while we are all at home:
People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks: Inspired by a true story, People of the Book tracks the journey of the Sarajevo Haggadah through its long and fascinating journey, through the eyes of a young Australian rare-book expert. “When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding – an insect-wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair – she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries” (Libby review). Truly, a “must-read.”
Chief Inspector Gamache Series, by Louise Penny: This series follows the career and cases of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete du Quebec. With his group of intriguing colleagues, Gamache solves mysterious murders while interacting with the charming residents of the village of Three Pines, a tiny hamlet south of Montreal.
These are great mystery reads with a good dose of philosophical reflection – “Three Pines is a state of mind – when we choose tolerance over hate, kindness over cruelty, goodness over bullying; when we choose to be hopeful not cynical, then we live in Three Pines” (Louise Penny).
Sounds pretty good these days. There are 15 novels in the series – plenty to fill your reading time!
Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson: “The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice” (Bryan Stevenson). If those words resonate with you, this work of non-fiction will be of interest. This compelling read details Bryan Stevenson’s coming-of-age journey fighting for justice and equality for those most desperate among us: the poor, the wrongly convicted and condemned, and women and youth caught in our criminal justice system.
Also a recent motion picture (which stayed fairly true to the book), Just Mercy shows our broken and problematic system of justice, but also suggests that “we all need mercy, we all need justice, and – perhaps – we all need some measure of unmerited grace” (Bryan Stevenson).
Things to do at Home
My husband and I have e-visited the following museums online: National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC; Museum D’Orsay in Paris; Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam; Guggenheim Museum in New York; Rijks Museum in Amsterdam; The Museum of the City of New York; and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in South Korea.
At each museum we reviewed some of the paintings and the artists, selecting our favorites, and then we created a list of the artists and paintings we would like to visit.
My list includes, for example, Johannes Vermeer at the National Gallery of Art, and his paintings A Lady Writing, 1665; The Lace Maker, A Maid Asleep, and The Girl with a Pearl Earring.
The Museum of the City of New York was especially interesting with a list of Broadway productions dating back to 1896. We knew of many and had seen a few. I’m not sure if we will ever do anything with our list, but it was an interesting exercise.
How do you lose an earring in a two-room condo during a quarantine? Quarantine is too strong a word for what I’m doing, but certainly I’m not going out to any earring-worthy events.
It’s not a stud that can get stuck in a sneaker tread. It’s a hanging rectangle, orange, red and turquoise, not brown like the floor or dark blue like the carpet.
It’s missing. It’s special. I bought it at the Heard Museum in Phoenix this past winter. I had almost made it through the trip without buying anything. But I walked into the museum gift shop and loved the gorgeous colors in these earrings. And the museum supports Native American artists by carrying their work almost exclusively, so that made the price OK.
I wanted to wear these earrings to a Zoom meeting. Sometimes I’ll pull a sweatshirt over my pajama top, pat down my hair with damp hands, spray it into helmet form, slap on some lipstick and join the meeting. But mostly I try to do better. I fuss with the hair a little more, put the lipstick on carefully, don a decent shirt or sweater, perhaps a scarf, and sometimes earrings.
So on whatever day it was, I wore those earrings. The camera angle was such that I could hardly see them, but it felt good to have them on. Later they started to annoy me. Maybe my ear lobe was itching, but for some reason, I removed them. I thought I would have put them on the desk and perhaps I did, later picking them up and shoving them in the pocket of whatever I was wearing. A day or so later, I put on that whatever, reached in a pocket and found one earring. I reached in the other pocket, no earring there. I was racing to do something because I’m so busy these days, that’s how it goes, and forgot to pick up the search.
The missing earring started to bother me. I searched other pockets, checked the floor around the chair where stripped-off jackets and other apparel reside until I hang them up. No earring. I had vacuumed a couple of days before. Could the earring be in the vacuum? If so, could it possibly be intact? I had used the vacuum in the living room and had heard a rattle that, while unlikely, could have been an earring. It took me three days to decide to do it, but I removed the bag, ripped it open and went through the disgusting contents. No earring. I consulted You Tube for directions on how to take the vacuum apart and check around in the housing. I did that and at least acquired a new skill, for whatever that’s worth.
Now here I am. Still no earring and now no usable vacuum cleaner because I don’t remember where I left the vacuum bags when I unpacked them from the move.
Standing Back Up
We have an opportunity to stand back up taller and wiser as the result of what life has unexpectedly put in our path over the past challenging months. People have had a time to reflect on who they are and what they stand for and to look to the future as an opportunity to express their wiser and creative self.
People who I have talked to have looked into themselves and thought about what behavior and attitudes do not serve them well and, in fact, have hindered them.
They have learned that when we maintain a victor’s mentality, not a victim’s mentality, we begin to realize that this challenge is an opportunity to develop into our best self and help others.
It is helpful for all of us to reflect on the conditioning we were exposed to growing up. Who were our positive role models? What were negative experiences that were not life enhancing? How did we cope with the negative life experiences? What was missing either emotionally, spiritually or intellectually?
Is there an area of interest now that you would like to learn about? Then go for it, and don’t let habitual discouraging self talk get in your way. You can find all kinds of learning experiences on line.
Perhaps your emotions are running you, and you’re having a hard time managing them. Perhaps you were not allowed to express your feelings, so you stuffed them down or acted them out. You never saw role models who could clearly, kindly, and effectively express themselves and respected you for sharing your feelings.
Now there are all kinds of self help groups that help us learn to effectively manage our emotions and express them appropriately. It is also helpful to be around encouraging people who want the same things you want and have similar interests. In addition, there are counseling services available for people who want a more one- on-one approach.
In the area of spirituality, people have told me the value of having a positive philosophical belief system with principles and values they can rely upon for guidance and direction when times are challenging. These belief systems can be grounding tools that help us stay calm and think logically about problems. They can help us live in the solution. They can bring up empowering words of wisdom from the belief system, stay calm, and create positive solutions to problem situations.
People have reported receiving spiritual help from 12- Step Programs, various religious affiliations, yoga, meditation and being around people and places with positive energy.
People watch other people. Each of us can be a powerful influence for good and hope by how we act, speak, and behave.
We are all healers. We can keep growing into our best self, with a positive life purpose. And we can stand back up after challenging times.
Must Be Some Fine Coffee
The line is back at Starbucks. The line of cars, that is, backed up down Elliott Street in Beverly. You may remember, in a previous edition of Tales From Home, my wife’s description of our daily walks through Green’s Hill in Beverly. In that post, Kathy described how we were surrounded by nature but not far from civilization, as from the trail we could see “the line of cars waiting for their turn at the drive-up window.” Some days the line stretched all the way back to Zip’s Ice Cream—about two-tenths of a mile by my reckoning.
It was gone for a while, the line. Kathy and I saw it all through April, and usually each day one of us would make some snide remark about who are these people waiting in line half an hour for a cup of coffee. (Why, we have a machine that makes coffee right in our house.) Then suddenly one day we noticed its absence. An ominous sign. Now, according to news reports, after a period of retrenching, Starbucks is reopening about 85% of its stores for pickup only. Emphasis on limited contact, cashless transactions, orders submitted through the web.
So I guess it’s nice that the line is back. Some people have jobs to go to again. Some other people can once again get their Blond Cocoa Cloud Macchiato or their Smoked Butterscotch Latte. Good for them.
Personally, though, the whole idea of waiting in line in a car for coffee leaves me puzzled. Elliott Street is not the Turnpike. These people (most of them, I’m guessing) are not travelers. They’re not far from home or office. I’ve heard that it’s become a thing to do, in this time when there’s nothing to do. Let’s go wait in line at the Starbucks for 45 minutes for our favorite 350-calorie coffee.
Not for me, thanks. In my mind, there are only negatives associated with sitting waiting idling in a car. Backups on I-95 at rush hour (ie, pretty much any time of day). Heading south out of Maine on a summer Sunday evening. In a gridlocked parking garage after a rock concert. Or, back where I hail from originally (New Jersey), getting into or leaving any of the Jersey shore barrier island towns during the summer. Choking on gas fumes, dirtying the atmosphere, wasting time.
By the way, if any of you readers happen to be the ones in that line … no offense. To each his or her own. Enjoy your Coconut Milk Latte with Blonde Espresso (only 130 calories). And wave to us next time you see us looking down from the hill across the water.
The New English
English is a language of usage. We, here in the United States, have no official overseers of our language such as they have in France. Words are formulated and come into general use and are adopted. Years and years ago, whoever heard the word “input” or “biosphere?” Now we are familiar with those words and what they mean.
Sometimes, though, words acquire new meanings under more modern circumstances. In the recent past, “drive-by” referred to a gangland killing whereby someone was ambushed on a street while the murderer(s) drove past and shot the victim.
Now, in the age of Covid-19 isolation, a drive-by is the best and safest available way to acknowledge someone’s birthday. Usually, that someone is a child or young adult. What happens is that the birthday person stands outside of their house, but well-back from the road, while the well-wishers drive past, tooting their horns, and shouting good wishes out of their auto’s open windows. Cars are decorated with signs and balloons. It’s very festive.
Yesterday was my granddaughter Samantha’s 19th birthday. She’s the fashionista, the diva, the style-girl among my three granddaughters. I often refer to her as my “buy me, bring me and take me girl.” This year her freshman year in college was brought to an abrupt halt at the beginning of second semester. Having experienced a small taste of independence, she is now “stuck at home with her parents”…..their words, not mine.
So yesterday, 25 or 30 of her friends, all in the same boat as Samantha, bestowed upon her a drive-by in honor of her birthday. They formed up at the end of her street. At the appointed hour, they drove their cars past Samantha who was standing in her front yard. They hooted and tooted, screamed and sang. The neighbors all turned out to watch and be entertained, all except for the grumpy neighbors next door.
I drove the 30 miles from my home to Needham to hoot and toot and to blow kisses to my wonderful Samantha. And she cried when she saw that this event had pried me out of my safe haven at home.
Happy Birthday Samantha. I love you.
So Much Depends
I have turned back in recent weeks to reread one of my favorite poems: The Red Wheelbarrow, by William Carolos Williams, and to once again be inspired – and challenged – by its simplicity.
so much depends upon
a red wheel barrow
glazed with rain water
beside the white chickens.
So much depends… I suppose that is the way we are all living our lives right now. So much depends on what happens with this virus. My trip with family to Maine is now cancelled, but maybe the fall is possible? It depends. My trip to see my daughter and son-in-law’s new house in California is now delayed until we can travel again. It depends… on what happens with testing, treatment, a vaccine. Classes resuming at Explorers… well, it depends.
But what possibly depends so much on a wet red wheel barrow and a bunch of white chickens, one could ask. Does my world or well-being depend on that?
Perhaps when I had a barn and large vegetable garden in rural Maine I depended on the red wheel barrow and some rain, but then again, I never had chickens, although my nearest neighbor had about 40 of them. I don’t have a 150-year-old barn any longer, and I don’t raise crops any more.
So does something depend right now on a red wheel barrow glazed with rain beside the white chickens? I think it does.
So much depends on my stopping to look, to notice, to truly see. And it seems a timely reminder, now that I have this unanticipated time on my hands, to take a long pause from my normal life and all that seems (is!) uncertain about the time ahead. Instead, I can just take a look around, see what is there, relish the colors and simplicity and rhythms of life. It’s my well-being that so much depends on taking that opportunity to see.
Time Loop Regained
For some, shutdown life brings to mind Groundhog Day, the 1993 comedy starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. You remember: Murray plays Phil Collins, an acerbic TV weatherman with a bad case of midlife blahs assigned by his station to preside over a small town Groundhog Day celebration. McDowell plays his producer, later his love interest. Phil finds himself caught in a time loop, forcing him to relive his February 2 experience repeatedly.
I’d seen the movie in 1993 and liked it, but I wondered what my reaction would be now. A lot has gone down since then, including 27 years.
For the past three years Phil and crew have gone to Punxsutawney, a burg about 80 miles northeast. His mission: to cover the emergence of a groundhog whose eyesight and shadow will determine when winter will end. Fortyish Phil has been a weatherman long enough to be cynical about his profession (and this shoot), yet he clings to his celebrity and his sense of superiority to Punxsutawney’s “hicks.”
Phil’s quick-witted enough to be entertaining, but he’d be intolerable if his sad sack face didn’t convey his life is already a series of repeats. And there’s a potential threat: Andie McDowell’s Rita looks like an up-and-coming producer. She shows a better sense of their station’s needs than Phil. She thinks the event is “a nice story”; he’s sarcastic about the “excitement of seeing a large squirrel predicting the weather.” Less self-centered and more mature, she has a human warmth he lacks, but needs. At first, he doesn’t think she’s much fun.
Pulling the gender card, he asks Rita (technically his boss) to help him with his “pelvic tilt.” He later tells her he’ll “read a little Hustler” before going to sleep.
Director Harold Ramis (like Murray, an alumnus of Chicago’s Second City troupe), shackles Phil in a time loop beginning the next day. Expecting to leave town, he finds himself trapped in the same Groundhog Day he’s just experienced, starting with Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” on the B&B clock radio. The movie gives you enough repeats to show you how the loop works, and Phil learns his way around the phenomenon as we do. The loop becomes his midlife playground; no matter the damage, he will never be killed or held accountable. Even when he tries to do himself in.
He discovers he can carry over what he’s learned from one loop to the next. He cries out Rita’s name during an awkward one-night stand with another woman. It takes him maybe 10 years of loops to learn what Rita wants (as opposed to what he wants). He learns enough to propel him to the final loop, a Perfect Groundhog Day during which he proves his skills (Piano! Ice Sculpture! Tire Changing! First Aid!) and newly minted capacity to care about others. It works; Rita’s willing to share his bed and click off Sonny and Cher, ending the loop. It’s charming and seductive, as they walk out on a midwinter morning, when all the world means well.
How to escape. One trail beckoned to me across the concrete desert. I darted in between the cars, arrived at the gate, and jimmied the lock with my Swiss army knife. I took the right fork which would direct me to an overpass that might offer further escape. When I got there I saw very few cars passing underneath. Were they also trying to escape or simply on a quest to commandeer chains and locks from the nearest hardware store?
I looked in the opposite direction and discovered the destination of some of those vehicles. Two pick-ups, a black panel van, and a brown, battered Honda Civic were lined up to get badly needed food rations. I was hungry, but between me and the vehicles was a steep incline covered with thick underbrush, brambles and trash. At my age the precipitous drop would have been particularly challenging. I pictured myself stumbling, falling, and ultimately rolling underneath the army-green truck that was last in the food line.
It was no use. But I was amused with myself that I would even think of such an outlandish maneuver. There was nothing to do but retreat. Minutes later, I spotted a steep staircase that ran from the rail trail down to the back end of a huge Walmart parking lot. I could take the stairs, eventually get to Route 114, and cross the highway to McDonald’s. Maybe I could get my chocolate shake after all. Very doable this way, but by this time I was done with my fantasy.
Actually Brooksby lets you leave the house of detention for groceries as long as you wear a mask and promise to wash your hands when you return. Very practical but not as much fun as imagining a commando raid on the Golden Arches.
Back in the late 1950s, I started a career as a computer programmer (no one knew what that meant). I was good at debugging errors in computer code (sometimes going to sleep with a problem not resolved and waking up knowing the answer, something many of you might have experienced). I write this as a prelude to The Curious Case of the Exercise Bike that Made a Noise (with apologies to Mark Haddon).
This is a mystery, so don’t look ahead.
Back when this virus started, the JCC closed, so I went to Gym Source and bought a recumbent bike, had it delivered and set up. Dottie and I started using it and had no problems until one day when it developed a clunking noise every time my right foot came down. It lasted all 20 minutes of my workout. However, when Dottie used it, there was no noise. So weight was ruled out. (Question 1: who was heavier?)
There is a nine-page manual, 12 buttons to depress, and five workouts to program so you can race against someone in Africa, etc. It turns out that we use only three buttons: clear, enter, and start. A lot of lights go on, and one is your heart rate, which if you took it seriously, you would certainly stop and lie down.
The problem was that the noise didn’t happen every time I used it. But the noise was so disturbing that I emailed Gym Source, said that I would hold the phone when I rode and they could listen to the noise. They said a technician would stop by. I held off as it was intermittent, but then the noise started a few days later on the left side of the bike. At this time, I called my son, explained the problem, and he mentioned something about a bearing, but I was spending a certain amount of time thinking about it. (At this point in my story, stop and see if you know what the problem was. You have probably solved it by now.)
I called for service.
The serviceman came, and Dottie and I (like prize fighters) went to different corners, me in the upstairs bedroom, probably 40 feet away from the bike. I then heard the clunking noise. I came down , looked at the bike, and the serviceman (trying to be courteous, but inwardly saying this guy must be stupid), said that, on close observation (probably 30 seconds), he had seen marks on the left and right side of the wheel.
He told me to look at my shoes.
I wear Velcro closures, not always fastening them, so it turns out that with them flapping around as I pedaled, they would hit the side of the bike. Mystery solved. Conclusion: Maybe not stupid, but old.
Ode to Patagonia
I chose to celebrate New Year’s on a trip to Patagonia. Rather fun to enjoy warm temperatures in a faraway place. This was a sea and land adventure, and I relished the Spanish culture, food and ambiance. The mountains, glaciers and tumultuous sea only added to the awesome experience. As a Peabody Essex Museum guide, my tours spoke to the journey from the Atlantic to the
Pacific Oceans (or reverse) on route to and from the orient. Now I saw and felt part of the passage. In the year 1616, Willem Schouten discovered Cape Horn as he was navigating an alternate passage beyond The Magellan Straits. This is another story.
The Ode: 1. The Trip Buenos Aires El Calafate, Patagonia Argentina Torres del Paine, Chile Puerto Natales, Chile Punta Arenas, Chile
2. The ship (sightings) Promised penguins, not to be, Wind, rain and rough seas Promised Humpbacks 70 mile an hour winds No fun Fog, snippets of sun Nature dictates not man
3. The Glacier Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park Awesome: Hat, balaclava, socks, gloves, Water proof pants, jacket and shoes Layers Awesome, the noise, the caving The anticipation of majesty The colors The silence
4. We met the Pacific Sleep was the antidote Rolling of the boat No respite, catastrophic fear Onto the deck, Viewing the horizon A feeling of power and euphoria
5. Whereupon on the ship Beagle
Darwin came to this wondrous place He experienced Wind, high seas And rain.
He at least saw Whales, birds, dolphin
beaver, penguins, seals Flora, fauna and lichen I saw Cormorants nesting with young. Female makes the nest to fit her body Male provides the material and food.
6. The Horn is not a Cape but an island. Latitude: 55 degrees 56. South Longitude: 67 degrees 19 West
High seas when land is not in sight Intrepid sailor going south south west Drink little, eat lots (bread) The air is fresh and clean Weather changes in a flash The ship rolls on by light and flight 400 years since its discovery ‘ Tis a chapel, light house and home for a family of four. The shape of an albatross A monument to the sailors Who braved the seas and lost their lives I saw however did not touch
5. Earth in all its grandeur Exhilarating, frightening And enlightening An ode to Patagonia
My husband Monty and I are sailors; well, we live in Marblehead –of course we’re sailors. When we retired many years ago, we set sail from our home harbor and spent five years sailing as far north as Newfoundland and as far south as Colombia, Venezuela, Central America and everywhere in between. Then we retired again, retired from blue-water, long-distance, live-aboard sailing, and we traded down from our 39-foot sloop Salsa to our current 21-foot sailboat Fandango.
I’ve titled this “Uh-oh,” and you probably think I’ll write about some of our disasters at sea, and there were plenty. But I’ll save stories for another day of the onboard boa constrictor in Guatemala, the near collision with a tanker west of the Panama Canal entrance in the dead of night, and the dismasting in a squall off Nicaragua.
A few years ago, we cruised in Fandango (which may be small, but we can sleep in it, cook in it, and perform the usual ablutions, too) down to the Boston Islands. After a few nights at anchor in the lee of some of our favorite islands—Georges, Lovells and Peddocks—we went further south into Hull Bay. In the early evening we took a mooring in Weir River, near the shore of World’s End Reservation. We weren’t going to go ashore, so if the owner of the mooring suddenly appeared, we’d relinquish the mooring and anchor on our own.
The mooring’s owner did not appear, but at about 3 a.m. there was a knocking on the hull. Scared witless, we both sprang to the cockpit to find a swimmer trying to climb aboard. Not just any swimmer but a naked, stinking-drunk teenager clutching a broom. Our first reaction was anger. “Get away; it’s the middle of the night. Scram.” He let go of our gunwale and drifted away. “Why the broom?” Monty yelled. “I can’t swim,” he answered, “it’s to help me float.”
Our second reaction was worry. He was going to drown, it would be headlines in the next morning’s Globe, and we were to blame. But he drifted to a powerboat nearby, climbed aboard and spent the night babbling loudly to himself. We went back to reaction number one – anger – and had a sleepless night.
Love in the Time of Covid
“Did you say Monday was your laundry day? Me too!”
I smiled through my mask at my friend. “Isn’t this wonderful!” Now laundry never excited me before, and I don’t remember talking about it. But…
So much of what’s happening now leads us to crave connection. I JUST LOVE IT that my friend and I share the same laundry day.
On walks around campus at Brooksby, we notice how many masked strangers we recognize by their stance or their walk. We call out in muffled voices, “Is that you Mary?” When we get an affirmative nod we almost leap for joy. And when it’s not Mary, we feel a little let down.
We count as a good day a long conversation, half of which we can hear and understand and is conducted at a safe distance. We smile in recognition of a friend’s walk, a smile they can’t see. We wave at EVERYBODY. When, rarely, a wave is not returned, we try again and worry about somebody’s bad day.
Food. Ah, food! We sentimental English majors would repeat lines of poetry to each other. One I remember is, “…and a hyacinth (to nourish) for the soul.” Probably Wordsworth talking about food of a different sort.
Haven’t you noticed food more? Here at Brooksby they regularly deliver meals. They do so much to take care of us. A lot is of the ‘hyacinth’ variety to nourish our souls…sing-a-longs at open windows, happy notes left by our caretakers. Far more than the prison population gets, I’m sure. However, any masked resident can tell you the day and time when the food comes. It’s fodder for our tummies and conversation…. “And what did you think of that wonderful chicken parmigiana?” or “You needed to cut a lot of fat off that brisket!”
So, we adjust, make the best of it. Thank God for email, Face Time, Zoom. The last two are a good reason to try to color our hair ourselves for the first time in memory, put on make-up, brush our hair, and find something decent to wear, at least from the waist up.
Which reminds me … A few weeks ago I was invited to a Zoom cocktail party. I decided to go for broke. I found a low-dipping black satin top with a sexy gauze scarf. Added long, long, gold earrings, applied lots of make-up, tied a colorful scarf around my head to hide my new white hair and did not remove my old pajama bottoms because, as we know, on Zoom we are seen only from the waist up.
Martini in hand, I was ready to have some fun. However, I was the only one dressed for the occasion and, truth be told, no one noticed how spectacular I looked. Or if they did, they were too polite to say anything!
End of the story: After said cocktail party and before I’d had a chance to change, there was a light knock on my door. My dear neighbor, Joan, had dropped off a section of The NY Times. I opened the door, glanced to my left, and my friend was standing there, her jaw dropped.
Look at Your Phone and Say “Ahhh”
I recently had to bring the phone quite close to my wide-opened mouth and say ‘ahhh.’ The phone was in video format for my first ever telehealth annual check-up, or as it is called in the Medicare years, my yearly ‘wellness’ appointment. My doctor was checking my throat by phone after looking deeply into my eyes, watching my eye movements, and eventually inquiring whether I was at all depressed. (That should sort of be a given from time to time these days, don’t you think?)
I had gone through all the directions to download the app, read the directions for what to do at the time of the appointment (turn on the app no more than 15 minutes prior to the appointment time, get in a quiet room, sit and wait as though in the waiting room for the doctor to appear…) About 8 minutes past the appointed time, my doctor’s face appeared on the screen and I was startled. It had been a year since I had seen her, and I wasn’t confident it was the right person. I was home, she was home, my windows and shades were open, one of my cats was likely to decide to groom on camera, and I wasn’t at all sure what the protocol of this whole event was supposed to be.
But it began.
First, I would like to say that as a former news reporter and medical writer, I am familiar with telehealth—at least the concept. I have interviewed physicians who practice telemedicine in far- flung places in this country and across the world, places where people need to check in with their doctors without having to drive 100+ miles or live in countries where some have little access to medical care. I understand the value of telemedicine, and I hope it is a growing trend here. But when it was my turn to show up for telemedicine, I had no idea what to do. Suddenly holding a phone, showing my face, examining for lumps and bumps in my neck, and even lifting up my pant leg to display my legs proved that I can be incredibly awkward.
When instructed to feel my neck for out-of-place nodes or lumps, I stared back, meekly asking if I could put the phone down. Take my pulse? Sure, but how do I count the seconds? Do the jeans and socks need to come off and how would she like to view my legs? Told to prop the phone up and point it at my legs, I was totally confused. Prop it up where? Parade in front of the screen or put my phone right up next to my legs? Pull up my shirt and palpate my stomach? Sure, how high?
The whole experience was a clear example of my magical thinking that I understand something until confronted with the reality that I actually don’t. I must say, however, that my beloved family members at our next Happy-Hour-by-Zoom got a real kick out of my tale.
Each Day is an Opportunity to Learn and Find Purpose
Let new learning begin today. Today when we wake up, we have the opportunity to write a new chapter in our book of life. In fact, we can give our book a title that best represents who we are and what we value. My book is titled Developing my Unique Self. It talks about situations in life that enabled me to grow–and this could have been through positive or negative life experiences. We are all gifted survivors or we wouldn’t be here today. Life can be difficult, but we have risen above the difficulties.
Today, think back to your week’s events that stood out as being either positive or negative. Write them down and what you learned from these events. If you still carry around negative memories and feelings and feel burdened by them, try talking to a trusted person, or find a self help group that can help achieve some peace with the events or greater understanding. With understanding comes new wisdom. Let go of old baggage that does not serve your highest good.
Find Your Purpose What is your purpose in life and how can you help others as a result of what you have been through? Make all things work for your good and the good of others. What do you want to give to the world as the result of your being born? How do you want to look back on your life and be satisfied that while you were here you made the world a better place? Present pain can push us forward toward new changes that can benefit us and the world around us.
Don’t withdraw from help if you need it. Embrace the lessons learned, which can sometimes take time to get clarity on. What lasts as far as empowering us into new levels of growth can take time to understand. Sometimes having a spiritual coach, someone who has been through what you are going through and has come out the other side of the problem, can be especially healing and comforting. You are not alone. People can relax more with a positive emotional or spiritual support system. It can be easier to sort things out when we feel safe and not alone. Be mindful of yourself talk and what the people around you say and do. Words are powerful, and they can create healing or destructive energy. Look for people and situations that deliver positive energy. And, remember, it is not healthy to destroy ourselves as a result of past conditioning or life experiences.
Let’s make everything that has happened to us work for our good and the good of the world that we have influence over. Create a life with purpose and growth. Create the best story in your book of life.
The Lone Ranger Rides Again!
When I was a child, my brother and I first listened on the radio and then watched the television show The Lone Ranger. A masked cowboy with his faithful companion, Tonto, he rode into a town plagued by troubles. The problems were generally the result of a gang of outlaws, bullies or greedy landowners. The people in the town, who were helped immeasurably by the Lone Ranger and Tonto, nonetheless never learned his name. At the end of each episode, one of the citizenry and the sheriff were pictured. The citizen asked, “Who is that masked man?” The sheriff would always say, “Oh, he’s the Lone Ranger!”
Now, we are in trouble, real trouble. We’re being bullied by the plague, Covid-19. And in these days, we are all masked. There is no white horse and faithful companion who have come to rescue us. If there were, Tonto would, by necessity, also be masked and be socially distant at the mandatory six feet.
My neighborhood has never, during my 10 years here, been overly social. People rarely, if ever, greet you if they don’t know you. I suppose that’s part of its live-and- let-live charm. There aren’t any coffee klatches that I know of and no free-wheeling singles scene. All of that most likely comes from experiences learned during the years prior to our graying up.
As I take my daily walk around the neighborhood, I am masked and most other people are masked as well. When we’re within sight of one another, we cross over to the other side of the street. In other times, this could have been seen an act of powerful social insult. It would have meant, ‘I want nothing to do with you!’ Now it says, ‘I don’t want to infect or be infected.’
These days, when we see each other, we invariably trade a wave, a good morning or a how ya doin. The truth is, as masked men and women, we don’t really know who we’re greeting, but the important and impressive thing is that we are waving and we are greeting.
“Who is that masked man/woman?”
“Oh that’s your neighbor in the time of the plague.”
Utz Potato Sticks
This is a short story about a car accident that happened because of the above mentioned.
First, the Utz potato stick can be compared to the uranium atom. Just as the atom contains lots of protons that generate enormous power when split, the Utz potato stick likewise generates lots of salt when chewed. The amount in a bag easily almost surpasses your MDR. In fact, if Dottie gets too close to a bag, her blood pressure goes up. But for me, it is part of my food group.
So with that in mind, I always keep some Utz around. In Marblehead, there is a Community Store that will deliver (they have a great service). So one day, shortly after the virus started up (and before masks), we ordered a number of items. One was three bags of Utz potato sticks. They called and said that they would deliver in a short time. The delivery came, but after going through the bags a few times, there were no Utz bags.
I waited until the next day and tried again. The store had it, but deciding not to leave it to chance, I drove the 1,000 feet to the store. The woman came out with the bag. Quickly checking it, I came back to the car.
Now you will have to visualize this: The Community Store is parallel to West Shore Drive. Cars are parked perpendicular facing the store. I got into the car, backed up, and turned (now I am parallel to the store behind many cars), and then, as I was about to make a U-turn, a SUV hit me at a right angle (or in Trump terms, a perfect right angle) exactly 90 degrees.
The sound was immense, owing to actually using my hearing aids. Since this was before the mask policy, but we were observing social distancing, the other driver and I squared off and looked at the damage. Truthfully, it looked minor, but after closer examination, the entire passenger side was dented. He nicely admitted fault and we exchanged emails. The Marblehead Collision Center was right next door. Damage was estimated to be $3,600.
As he was going to pay (rather than insurance, no police were called), he wrote me a check. So for him, my Utz craving was rather expensive, equivalent to a lifetime supply.
I Love Bagels
How have I survived this Covid 19 lockdown? Bagels!
Every day when I wake up, I think of lunch and bagels! Bagels have been part of my life for years. When I attend a morning class at Explorers, I stop off at a Dunkin Donuts place in Danvers for a bagel and a coffee. On days off, I used to visit Bagel World on Route 1. The lines grew too long so I recently switched to a new place on Route 114 called Best Bagel.
I also carry lots of reading material in my car so that I can spend an hour having a bagel and a book. Can you beat that!
Now that we are confined to our homes, I make sure that I have a supply of bagels handy. One day, it is egg, then poppy, then plain. If you are looking for a place to buy bagels, check out the Big Y.
Mary Esther told me that bagels have too many carbs and that I should add something to lunch. That’s easy: I have starting drinking Ensure (strawberry or vanilla).
I don’t know when the Covid 19 disaster will end, but as long as I have bagels in the house, I am OK.