Whelmed

5C0294C2-9083-41CB-AB06-881AD306A3A9I’m feeling whelmed. Not overwhelmed, certainly not underwhelmed. Just whelmed. Engulfed by thoughts and feelings. The current state of lockdown life has altered for me. My grandsons have reached a new level of discomfort in their quarantine. They miss school and their friends. The electronic life, although better than nothing, has lost its novelty. Their mom and dad, both working full-time while teaching, parenting and running a household, are very tired. And here I am, right across the street, retired and wanting to help out in some way. The boys see me as a nurturing alternative which is lovely. So coming to my house is an attractive option. My eldest one in particular, was nagging my kids about coming to see me every day. My grandsons mostly think I’m just at home, doing nothing other than being available. It’s kind of like when you were a little kid and you saw your teacher at a store or the movies and you thought, “I thought they just lived in their classroom.” Who knew they had outside lives?  Hah! So we had a family meeting. I explained that I had lots of work to do and that dropping by whenever the impulse struck wasn’t possible. I also wanted the littles to stop hassling their already busy parents. We decided to create a structured visiting schedule, a time when each kid could come over and get some special attention, not just affection, but also some different activities than their home ones – a change of pace. I’m going to see each of them for a couple of hours several times a week. I’ve done the babysitting gig before. I took care of my eldest grandson from 7 weeks old to almost 3 years of age. I’d intended to do the same for kid number 2, but Michael’s cancer interfered with that plan.  

I really loved that baby part of life.The boys were portable and I was definitely directing the agenda in those days. Now I have one guy who’s entering double digits in a few months and another whose physical activity level is a challenge. My kids and I decided that their time with me would be a mix of them being garden-variety spoiled grandkids, along with doing creative projects, dictated by their interests, to supplement their online schooling. This past week was our first in the new plan.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was confronted with lots of my own issues, which were lurking in the quarantine background. C4C02B4A-0C4A-481A-AE2B-B45C7C086290  The beginning session with kid number one started out simply enough. He likes art as do I, so we sat side by side, creating. We did a little spontaneous brainstorming and came up with some ideas that he found interesting. He wanted to explore old memories and family history. We talked about making a 2020 coronavirus time capsule and a family tree. He likes the garden and willingly participates in chores outside. At least for awhile. All great ideas, right? We started with the family memories. I knew just where I’d stashed the bulk of the folders and binders in which I’ve been depositing all the information I’ve sporadically collected for years.

I’d forgotten how much I’d acquired. Birth certificates, census papers, gravesite locations, ship’s passenger manifests. I have my own DNA information and correspondence from a number of people who are supposed to share my DNA. G was enthralled by everything for about 15 minutes. I was anxious. But we were on his time so we moved on to the next thing, which happened to be a DVD of his parents’ wedding. 9D42BDE5-F77D-4633-8459-BD7304BEE620

Finding that was easy too. I have a storage container with family videos and DVD’s. Some of them still need to be transferred off old VHS tapes to DVD’s. My anxiety increased. Have they eroded so much over time that they’re lost forever? I put the wedding DVD into my computer and was delighted at the clarity of the movie. That is, until it stopped abruptly about 10 minutes into the tape. Oh no! That IS on a DVD!  Was it low quality? I have a few other copies. I decided to try a few others in the player. Some were unreadable. Others started and quit. I did manage to transfer one video and 24 photos from the DVD into the cloud. I got some great shots of my son playing soccer while he was in high school and one oldie of Michael and me. 

I was grateful but felt obsessed with sliding every CD or DVD into every device I have, to try figuring out if the defects are in them or my equipment. But by that time, my grandson was ready to move on to something else. The family history stuff is now piled on the dining room table and the videos are on the living room floor in front of a DVD player we stopped using after the DVR entered our lives. Groan. Whelm.

The next day was kid number 2’s turn, the very active, physical guy. I suspect he’s destined to become a speedy, natural athlete. When he wants to sit still, he’s incredibly focused but he loves to move. I decided to be strategic about our time together. I planned a breakfast picnic in the car, which is always popular. Then I thought we’d take a drive through the country. The skies were filled with puffy cumulus clouds and I know where to find the cool horses, donkeys and steers. The food worked. The drive in the country? Oh well. He found all that stuff exceptionally uninteresting. Within a few minutes he was begging to go home. I did manage to get a few photos for myself.

When we came home, we’d killed an hour and I decided he could watch a favorite show on Netflix. I left the living room to get him his favorite drink, “ice cold fresh water.” When I came back he’d moved a pretty heavy piece of new exercise equipment I’d purchased and had shoved under a chair. He was using it properly, explaining that when he grew up, he planned on being a “muscle guy.” So I watched while he worked out for the rest of our time together. That was much easier than having to run after him if he decided he needed to be outside.

Ordinarily none would of this would seem like a big deal. I’m happy to be with the boys, for myself, for them and their parents. I knew I had lots of projects that were hanging around, started but unfinished. I’m actually still quite interested in them. But I’ve got a lot of stuff to do. A big house and a big yard means lots of big work. I need to make time for exercise and other personal needs while trying to stay sane during this pandemic time, which, by the way,  I think is going to be a longer experience than some people might like to believe. Sometimes I feel claustrophobic and other times, nervous about all the scary possibilities. Death and disease during this time have already affected me personally. I’m still actively grieving for Michael which feels more like a permanent state at this point. Lots of people are facing tough challenges. Why should I be more whelmed now than a few days ago? 17C55EC2-12BB-4326-B544-AC2641BAD2A3

I think it’s a combination of my age and experience, in tandem with the knowledge that it’s likely I’m not going to finish as many projects as I wish I could. I no longer see a limitless vista ahead of me. Will I outlive this “new normal?” I have no clue. I got used to living in each day when Michael was sick because we had no other choice. But as determined and open about that as we were, the moments came up when we’d both acknowledge the frustration of not being “done,” “being ready to let go.” Michael never got there. To his last cognitive moment he was saying he still had so much he wanted to do. I think when I added structured time back into the amorphous life I’ve been leading since he died, I realized that I’m still so, so un-done. Will I ever finish? That’s the mental and emotional current that’s risen up to engulf me.  

I was outside admiring both my front and back yards today, with G here for a spontaneous unscheduled visit. From a distance everything out here looks so lush and beautiful. But as I step closer, I see all the weeds that don’t belong and the hours before me, working away, just trying to feel a bit accomplished, staying ahead of the game. An apt metaphor for my whelmed state. Things seem ok, tend to be much more challenging than you thought, and are most likely, never done. I’m just going to have to keep trying to come to terms with that. Be well, universe.1A42CB64-2685-4DF6-B19B-20FFF8B7852E

About the Music

F5D8B148-E2FA-4433-A513-4ACE3940FCCDI have a podcast library on my phone. It’s a mix of politics and current events,  personal stories and interview shows. On occasion, I listen to one. A lot of people I know, my kids included, listen to them almost every day.  And I don’t think it’s just a generational thing. My peers recommend what they think are good, or even essential podcasts to me, on a frequent basis. I just can’t seem to get with the program. I feel like I might be missing a lot. But my head is stuffed with thoughts all the time. And I read constantly. How many more voices do I need – that is, ones who are speaking? 5BC3D20D-C3BB-444E-8304-3EDF125DCEB3When Michael and I took long road trips, we primarily listened to music, but changed things up by adding in history books or humor. I remember a number of our choices which were really great when you were driving on a two week long trip.


But interestingly, music was always our first choice. Whoever was driving got to choose whether we’d listen to a random playlist or specific artists off the iPod. The passenger usually read or just enjoyed the passing scenery. Often we were silent for hours, drifting along in the comfortable rhythm of us and whatever was playing.9ECEC10D-C44D-4081-AD90-4663F7BB9AA4

Back then there were still CD players in cars. Last year, I rented a car for a lengthy trip to the East Coast which was a mom-son deal.  I spent a lot of time at the library, choosing a widely varying selection of books on CD, figuring we’d take turns picking genres. Imagine my surprise when the brand-new car was player-less. I guess everything’s on Audible or Sirius radio or whatever. Miraculously, the first generation 30-gig IPod that was loaded with 2500 songs from Michael’s iTunes was picked up by the sophisticated technology of the car so we had good music.

During this quarantine time, I’ve been spending as many hours as I can, weather permitting, outside in my garden. The work out there is endless, my attempt to create a beautiful habitat and natural space while dueling with the weeds and the uninvited creatures who laugh at my efforts to contain them. At least I think they’re laughing – I know I would be if I was one of them. As the line from Jurassic Park goes, “life finds a way.” When I’m out there, I have earbuds in and I’m listening to Pandora, usually set to random play. I like to hear old favorites and am also happy to hear something new. I’ve been led to hearing new artists and feel like I’m not getting totally stale as I age. One of the things that really annoyed me about my in-laws was that they called big band music from their youth “our music.” I thought then and still do, that having one small segment of all the art that was available in your life, define who you were forever, was not a good thing. I still feel that way. So here are some of my station choices on Pandora. I don’t include classical music or my new age options on these as I prefer those as my indoor nighttime sounds.

 I get a lot of variety out of these. The music keeps me moving and sometimes I just have to stop and dance. Having let go of caring what I look like as I’m enjoying myself is a plus during these episodes. The only time things get a little weird is when I’m working in the front yard and can’t hear when I’m being greeted by a neighbor. Or when someone is trying to get by me on the sidewalk which I’m dominating with my moves. But here’s the thing that’s been driving me a little nuts in this already bizarre time. When I hear a song from long ago, my mind prepares itself for the next cut on the album. And of course, that doesn’t play. I still have so many whole records tucked away in my brain. I’m sure there’s not a single Beatles album I couldn’t sing by heart. Those are still going strong in my memory as I inch closer to the end of my seventh decade on this planet. I think I heard my first Beatles song when I was twelve in 1963. Lucky for me, I was ahead of their curve because of having a penpal from Liverpool in 1962, when she told me about a “boss” local band called the Silver Beetles. That’s a real thing – you can look it up. Anyway, back to the albums.  I know vinyl album collecting is again a “thing”  in the music world. Just months before he died, Michael sold our massive collection to an independent store in St. Louis. I miss the album covers,the feel of them and the sorting of them, in our house in alphabetical order by artist, not genre. But they took up a lot of room, our kids didn’t need them and his expert knowledge was necessary for the sale. I still have a few here and I also have a turntable. Perhaps that’ll be a collector’s item some day. I even have a machine that converts vinyl into CD’s but in today’s world that’s a technological dinosaur.BACC7B96-D123-4A4D-B29B-08C6EC941C91

I still have my Beatles CD’s, classical CD’s, Michael’s Grateful Dead collections, his house favorites compilations and many more. A tiny portion of the amount he amassed in 27 years of being in the music business before becoming a teacher. But it’s still plenty and I’m not ready to part with them. In the past few days, as I’ve been mulling over my daily choices, music, podcasts, reading and other ways to stay busy and relatively sane, I zeroed in on my early years with Michael, when our lives were low key and we could spend hours lying around together, listening to albums and just staring at each other in amazement at our good fortune at finding each other. Some who know me well would have doubts about my ability to spend hours without saying a word. At least one that was anything other than vocalized. But I was actually talking to Michael with my mouth shut, as he was to me. May is my hard month – in a few days my birthday will be here, while my wedding anniversary is already gone. Then it will be three years since Michael’s death. So hard to assimilate when he’s still so alive to me. And so polite of him to not die on my birthday which would’ve been just awful. So. I was thinking of all that music and those tunes which roll through my mind every time I hear one of them from Pandora, waiting for the next one.  Those albums still fill me with the same thrills they did back in the day. So here’s a selection of some memorable ones. There are just too many choose from.

Some other day, I’ll talk about the ones that caused total melting for a lifetime. I’m going to stop thinking about this topic for now.

Spluttering

FF2CBD2F-29EA-4E3E-B2D4-A77F50752215Dear Michael,

Well, here I am again. There are those who find this habit of my writing you letters to be a bit bizarre. The good news about that is that I don’t care. What a relief to be able to ignore the judgments of others. One less thing to worry about. I haven’t found any other place to lay my problems which provides significant relief.  I just need to spill this stuff out to you because my brain is spluttering right now. You know how it goes with me. Too much thinking, too much stimulation and I start boiling over with anger, disbelief, indignation and rage. You were my safe, peaceful place where I could purge myself of such toxicity and eventually slow down, let go, sink in, feel still. This time that’s happening is so over the top crazy that I have no idea how to process what I’d refer to as next. It’s not like I haven’t had my share of issues which required hard choices, or rough patches, or confusion and pain. But this atmosphere is just so utterly bizarre and isolating, both literally and figuratively. It doesn’t matter that you’ve been dead three years this month. I’ve found nothing to replace that cushiony place between us, that retreat from the rest of the world where we could soothe each other and make ready to tackle what’s next. So here I am, with another addition to the hundreds of notes I’ve written you these past few years. 

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A couple of things set me off last night. Here we sit in the midst of the world pandemic. The divisions in this country are so profound. You know how many years I studied and puzzled over the Civil War. Well, effectively, it’s still raging. I’ve always known that. But the overt ugliness rearing its head across the country is hard to take. There have been demonstrations all over with protesters demanding their freedom from “house arrest.” That’s how they view the quarantine. Not a mandatory safeguard to protect human life. Rather an interference with their personal agendas.They want to be free to come and go as they please. They don’t want to wear masks and practice social distancing. Some splinter,( at least I hope they’re splinter), groups with multiple axes to grind have shown up at state houses armed to the teeth. I saw a photo of one guy at a store, carrying a rocket launcher and two handguns. The nuances of this complex virus elude so many people. The country is expected to experience 100,000 deaths by June 1st. In mere months. There’s no universal treatment, no vaccine and inadequate testing. The economy is approaching depression level statistics in terms of unemployment, closed businesses and generalized hunger. The pressure to reopen the economy is being pushed by the government. Unemployment is crushing for people and they need to work, to have incomes. But do they also have to get sick and maybe die? The stimulus package from the federal government was too small. I have no idea if the Senate will pass a Democratic bill that will cost a lot more money. The alternative? Open the country and gamble with public health.  It’s an election year and Trump is incensed that the pandemic has tanked the economy he hoped to ride to reelection. He has lied to and misled the public on so many occasions I can’t count them. Human life is not at the top of his list-that’s about power. This recent comment, circuitous ignorance, drove me over the edge.  
“Don’t forget, we have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing,” Trump said. “When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases. They [the media] don’t want to write that.”
I thought I’d lose my mind.

Then late last night I got an email from the park district with this disappointing news.

Aquatics – There will be no summer pool season at Crystal Lake Park Family Aquatic Center or Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center. All aquatics programs (swim lessons, swim teams, exercise programs) canceled through July 31.

I’m so sad about this.  And I hate myself for letting it get to me. I know that there are infinitely worse things happening to all kinds of people which are so much more challenging than losing your exercise venues. There have been these memes going around which have really resonated with me.  Like the one about Anne Frank and her family living silently in an attic for 25 months to try staying alive. Or the one from George Takei about being rounded up to live in internment camps, victims of xenophobia in their home country. Not to mention the underdeveloped countries always hovering on the edges of war, famine and natural disasters. I get all this and remain conscious of the bigger picture. But I can’t help it – I’m still bummed out that I can’t swim. I don’t feel as good without the water, mentally or physically. The endorphin release that I get in the water isn’t replicated by walking. I’m glad my knees work but hitting that concrete isn’t exactly forgiving. I go to the water because it soothes me and now I have to do without it. And I will. But I don’t like it. Today I was pathetic. I drove over to the pool and just stared at its locked gates and emptiness. It’s so gorgeous there, big sky, plants, twittering birds. Sigh.

It’s hard to figure out what life will feel like when everything “opens up.” I don’t trust anything right now. If I go out wearing my mask and gloves I sometimes see people who aren’t doing that looking at me disdainfully. I guess they don’t know or care that in my mind, they are potential enemies, the people who could be the silent purveyors of the virus. It’s still spreading in our state. No one has any clue whether the summer will bring a respite as is the case with influenza. This disease is not influenza and continues to bring surprises like a new manifestation of dangerous symptoms in children. Previously they were thought to be safe. What if I could be a danger to our grandchildren? How can I know?  I hope we can all get tested soon. That would be helpful although it’s not clear whether antibodies to the virus are temporary or lasting. Am I just going to continue to lead the quarantine life just to be safe? That’s a huge change from how I’ve been trying to live since you died. After a few months passed, I realized that your valiant efforts to stay alive were what would inform the way I would live without you. After all the talking about what you wished for me, new partnership and intimacy, I knew you didn’t really get it. I could never settle for anything less than our cataclysmic, cosmic connection that defined our whole adult lives. I know you meant well and that you wanted me to be happy. But what I felt was that I wanted to live as big and hard as you did. So I started doing that pretty fast. I started traveling, mostly on my own. You and what lay between us empowered me, as it still does.

Tonight is the evening before I was to be headed to see the sights in these photos – the Mendenhall Glacier on a whaling boat and the town of Sitka. Yup. The trip of a lifetime, two and a half weeks in Alaska,  starting in Vancouver, cruising for a week and then disembarking for a land journey into Denali National Park. Can you believe it? Other than another scuba diving trip, I know you would have loved that I was going to have this adventure, something we often talked about doing together. Ironically, one of the ships that carried Covid19 passengers and wasn’t allowed to dock anywhere for a long time, was the very one I was booked on – classic, right?   So as this pandemic continues, what are the odds of my replanning that trip? Will planes and ships, effectively Petri dishes for rapid disease transmission be something I’ll be willing to risk, at least for the foreseeable future? Right now, my answer is a resounding no. And in the meantime, I’m getting older. Smack in the middle of the Covid19 death group.

I hang out in our garden, working away. Your herbs have come back every year – they smell heavenly and make me feel you’re rising up and through me, starting with my feet. I’ve already used the chives. Yes, in this lockdown time, I’ve gone back to cooking after all that time of minimal kitchen duty. I’m making your recipes, a bit fearful that they won’t taste as good, but so far I’m doing ok. I listen to music for hours. For the most part, it’s nourishing for me. Only 50 years’ worth of songs remind me of us. Every now and then I get emotionally ambushed, as my playlist is random, and then I have these great purging meltdowns on our dirt. One of your posthumous musical gifts to me is Pete Yorn who’s been doing live shows on Instagram. Did you even know what Instagram was? I know you’d be amazed to see me using Zoom for long distance family get-togethers and even meetings. Doing my civic duty like you always did, I’m now on the city’s Historic Preservation Committee. Seems fitting as I sit in our home, built in 1893. 3327551D-A817-4D1C-B7A0-835DAD446C56I’ve been doing some self censorship these past few months which I’d promised myself I wouldn’t do with this blog. As the world got overwhelmed by the pandemic, I stopped writing about your cancer. I felt like it might be too dark a topic when people were being subjected to this new global stress. But as I wonder how long I’m going to be around, I really want to get back to finishing our story. At least that part of our story. Having an orphan cancer and everything that goes along with it is an important topic to share. I know it’s harsh. I was looking through some of the photos that go along with it and they’re pretty brutal. How did I even take them? But they’re only part of our story. A lot came before and to my constant amazement, a lot has come after, even years after you’ve been gone.B1FCFEE8-59AB-49FF-A362-3CA025F0C428I took the pewter tag you left on my mourning quilt and put it on my keychain. I have the other X-rated one hidden away. I use your favorite towel and still sleep on my side of the bed. People tell me I’m lucky because I have my kids and grandkids around me. I know that’s true. But I don’t get to sink into them at night, and most hours of my days are silent while they blare your absence. How exactly does that work? I am without answers. All I know is that what was and is you and me still surges inside me. Just having written this provides me incredible relief. Who knew, Michael? Actually we both did – we talked about it often enough. I’m glad you’re still with me although in all candor, I wouldn’t mind something a little more concrete. But thanks for sticking around. Love you.
ED709D47-B38E-4CDF-9779-D0CF2EFF703E

Albatross Dream

057BC938-9645-43E1-ADBF-C78AE8E350A6People talk about their spirit animals. Or about which animal they’d be if there was really reincarnation. My mind has glanced over that topic more than once in my life. I used to think that if I wasn’t human, I’d be a dolphin. I like their big brains. I like that they hang around in groups and are strong communicators. And they’re helpful, seemingly altruistic. All of those traits appeal to me. As I’ve matured and looked at myself differently than I did years ago, I realized that my personality has shifted, along with my interest in nature. A bird girl when I was little, I’ve grown more interested in them in more recent years. I’m a skywatcher, a cloudchaser. I still love water. What could be a better spirit animal for me than an albatross? They’re gliders. They can fly for thousands of miles, never touching land, feeding from the sea. The majority of them mate for life. I mean, seriously, is this me or what?

So you might think the quarantine has pushed me over the edge. Not really. I’ve just been a little raw lately. Unlike the brave health workers who go to their hospitals daily, experiencing horror and death, I’ve been able to have the luxury of distance from that harsh reality for some time. This month will mark the third anniversary of Michael’s death. I was at his side, holding his hand, in our own home. An event so unlike these tragedies I read about, when people drop their loved ones at emergency rooms and never see them again. How unbearable, as is so much in the news cycle. Since March, I’ve experienced three deaths. One was my dear friend, Julie, an expected loss, but the end of a 50 year relationship. Last week, I heard of another friend’s death, this one a more casual friend, the kind with whom you can have a nice chat when you run into each other. She died from Covid19 at only sixty-one. This week, it was a man I’d known since he was very young, a musician who worked in my husband’s music store, and was part of a circle of people who moved in and around the periphery of my world for four decades. Michael and I were invited to his first wedding, an alternative and off-beat affair. I watched him perform in his bands until eventually the 10 year gap between us, meant that I was chasing children around while he was still doing gigs. In the past few years, we’d reestablished contact and exchanged thoughts and music over social media. His death was by suicide at age 59. This tough month of May also contains the birthday of my best friend from childhood, another suicide who I still grieve after 32 years. Everything suddenly felt like too much. So I headed out to chase the clouds on a beautiful sunny day, trying to climb over the mounting pain from each end of life.

The endless changing cloud formations never bore me. Instead they make me feel more centered and conscious of my place in the world. After driving around for an hour, I headed back home to push a little further into my never ending list of things to do. I started with the garden, checking out the latest blooms and the ones getting ready to open. I always have some anxiety every spring as I know there will be losses due to who knows what. And then there’s the satisfaction of the reliable, familiar ones who come back each year. Now, given the always surprising Illinois weather, a polar vortex has been served up for tonight, with frost expected. I admired what plants already arrived, hoping they’d survive this night. The ones in pots, hanging baskets and raised beds cost me an hour of bundling them up as best I could, trying to make sure they have their best shot at seeing another day.

I was really happy that I’d restrained myself from repotting and putting my tropical miracle from last year outside to weather the elements. Last year, a friend of mine gave me a gorgeous plant called a Duranta Sapphire tree for my birthday, also this month. I showered it with care, pretty certain I’d kill it in this unpredictable environment. But it hung on. So I kept watering it until suddenly, it was November and still it survived. I thought that any plant that wanted to live so much deserved a chance, so I brought it into my house.  It’s still alive and soon I’ll repot it and bring it to the garden where I hope it will enjoy another glorious summer.
70E3B736-8C4B-440A-9FD4-9B2B71B4B413Next I crossed the street to see how my kids’ new chickens were doing. The older hens had them boxed into a corner, making them perfect targets for a few photos.

After that, I went back home to work in the garage for a bit. I’ve made progress in there, finding some things that were easy to toss out and others that I’ll be keeping for a long time. A while back I wrote a blog called “The Soul of a Garage,” basically a commentary on how Michael’s presence was so palpable in there. I’m carving out my own space now,  although his hobbies and projects still emerge from the corners. Today was no exception. Michael was one of those guys who could do almost anything. In the old days before cars were so heavily computerized, he was always fixing carburetors, doing brakes, dealing with oil pans and lots of other stuff I can’t begin to name. So how great was it when I found his creeper and his coveralls? After wiping away some grime, the oak sheen of the creeper came shining through, along with the name of the company which produced it. I looked it up, The Anderson’s and found that it finally closed its doors in 2017. Because Michael was 6’4,” his auto mechanic coveralls were so long I could barely hang them up. But I used a garden tool and finally reached a hook. Those will stay in the garage.

I found one of his baseball bats. His glove is in the house. When he played softball for years with the High and Mighty team, his nickname was “Stick,” because he was such a reliable hitter. He loved that game, but years of swinging gave him a string of herniated disks and one back surgery. I also found his tackle box still filled with lures, reels, filleting knives and other gear. Every summer for many years, he and three buddies headed up to Nelson’s Resort In Minnesota, near the boundary waters, where they fished for walleye and northern pike. At night they played bridge. I always missed him when he was gone but they always had a great time and brought their trophies back for a fish fry.

I was feeling pretty good after hanging around in the garage. I’d cleaned, discarded old junk, found things worth keeping which brought good memories, and had gotten a bit over the top of a sad day. I decided to continue my newly recovered baking skills and went inside to do a banana bread. As I got my ingredients together, I cracked my first egg and got a double yolk. My mom always used to tell me that was a sign of good luck. DF8EC3DC-4C42-4E8F-BC83-CBC2DCD56949   I assembled everything, put the bread in the oven and reflected on how my day’s choices were positive and had smoothed the rough edges off my sadness. By this time it was nearing dusk and I went back outside to snap a few shots of the lovely sky. When I came back inside, the bread was a warm golden brown and the house smelled and felt warm and homey. After dinner, I popped the computer open to catch up on social media and  the news.

On a mutual friend’s Facebook page, there was commentary on the man who’d committed suicide. Someone I didn’t know had written the question, “So is anyone else from the Record Service(my husband’s former business,) dead besides Nick and Michael? I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. This stranger couldn’t have known that I was a person who might read that line. I’m sure she didn’t know that the anniversary of Michael’s death is bearing down on me and my family. Reading her dispassionate, gossipy question threw a big bucket of cold water on my improved mood. I couldn’t imagine asking a question like that in a public forum because to me, it’s remarkably insensitive. And so is a lot of the world. Within seconds, I was back in my albatross dream. I am gliding away from any land mass, following the water. I hear no human voices saying thoughtless things. I can go for miles and miles with nothing but sky and clouds ahead and ocean below. Eventually I’ll get back to my mate, my mate for life. And beyond. Sounds like a plan to me. B4C17204-A1C7-402B-B197-DAE4E50886F4

About That Apocalypse Notebook…

79758626-BA9B-46BA-9C2B-22267EF012C4A stink bug dropped onto my head while I lay in my bed in the dark, reading on my Kindle before sleep. It’s not the first time I’ve had one appear out of nowhere. Discussions with my  son-in-law lead me to believe that our neighborhood has had quite the invasion this year, the kind when if you flip a piece of wood that’s been lying outside for awhile, hundreds might emerge from their dark place.  In fact, an article appeared last fall, warning that this particular invasive species, mostly a nuisance, also damages crops – one more thing to worry about. 786F63BD-770E-42E1-BE9D-C5F58DEDB309
A day ago, I read about an insect called the Asian giant hornet which has turned up in the United States, posing a big threat to already endangered honeybees. From what I’ve read, it also packs quite a painful sting when a human gets in its way. 564D1308-C508-45FF-BA65-21F1720AB5F8
East Africa is contending with a second wave of locusts which is being nicknamed “Locust-19,” as this invasion is coinciding with the inexorable advance of Covid19 across the continent. Already threatened, the increased risk of famine will only make life more impossible there than it is already.FB5AE469-6232-49F1-9F3D-4731FD7CB0E5

Was it only mere months ago that the world’s eyes were focused on the astonishingly devastating wildfires that were racing through Australia, killing millions of animals while destroying homes and poisoning the air? And Indonesia that was struggling its way through massive flooding? California was suffering through a terrible wildfire season while Washington State was being inundated with rain.

These were the headlines we were reading:

Australians flee massive bushfires as new fire threat looms.

The 2020 California wildfire season is a series of wildfires that are burning across the state of California. As of April 30, 2020, a total of 888 fires have burned 1,482 acres (600 ha) according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
After 29 straight days of rain, an intense atmospheric river will drench Seattle through the weekend.

WNBA All-Star Game 2019

And then there was the sudden tragic  death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter,  the shock of which reverberated around the world, a painful reminder of how quickly life can change, how fast lives can end, no matter your age, your health or your privilege. Finally came this coronavirus which swiftly forged to the head of the news cycle and has come to dominate the consciousness of the global citizens everywhere. 36A78951-9E78-465C-861C-D026B45ABF80

All these events reminded me of a time back in college, when it seemed that there were daily events that I’d read about, nature-based and otherwise, which compelled me to start what I called “ The Apocalypse Notebook.” For years, I clipped articles from newspapers and magazines, selecting astonishing articles which were interspersed with average daily stories.  I remember thinking how easy it was to become inured to the unthinkable, those eye-popping tales tucked in between a story of people who’d just celebrated a 60th wedding anniversary and a description of a new restaurant opening. Stories of brutality, stupidity and for me, incredulity when I pondered how easily they came and went, just part of another news day. Here are a few of the headlines from recent times which would’ve made it into my apocalypse notebook, if I was still keeping it up to date.

Husband and wife poison themselves trying to self-medicate with chloroquine.

President Trump Wondered Out Loud If Injecting Disinfectant Could Cure COVID-19.

Kushner calls administration’s coronavirus response “a great success story”

I’m no Nazi, says mom of 7-year-old with swastika.

It’s no small wonder that people are searching for ways to cope and stay healthy through this truly dystopian time. In my part of the world, it’s become clear that my government is turning its attention to kickstarting the economy, pushing aside public health as a number one priority and looking ahead to the effort to re-elect our impossible president. That being the case, it’s become obvious to me that I’m going to have to make my own decisions about how I choose to live going forward, with no access to testing, no proven treatment for Covid19 and far from what I think will be a legitimate vaccine. I’m pondering what the risk vs. reward paradigm means for me.  

BCC85A48-1F72-488A-9BD4-6155CC655CB5You can’t really tell by looking at the photo above, but that is actually a ditch that I had to get hauled out of the other day. One of the ways I’ve used to circumvent social distancing has been to drive to an out of the way place and park my car next to a friend’s so we can roll down our windows and spend a few hours having a foodless meal together. One friend is my breakfast buddy and the other is my weekly lunch date. I’ve actually enjoyed chatting without the usual incumbent meals, as I’m always trying to keep calories at bay. In any case, this nice sunny day meeting took place at a different spot than our normal meeting place. Unbeknownst to us, the ground was saturated by heavy rains from the day before, so my attempt to straighten out my car turned into digging myself into what felt like marshland beneath the wheels. Thankfully, I have an app for that and a nice young man showed up with his tow truck to drag me out of the abyss. My friend and I still had a lovely time. I’m thinking that though I’d like to exchange some hugs other than virtual ones, this mode of interaction is going to suit me for an indefinite time, until I see how this virus situation plays out over the coming months.  An odd choice? Maybe. But I feel uncertain right now and I’ve found a way to not feel so isolated. So that’s one thing.

Then there’s the pool question. I am sorely missing swimming and I mean that both literally and figuratively. I’m one of those humans who feels as comfortable in the water as I do on land. After almost two months of being unable to swim, I feel much less fit than I did before this virus changed everything. My body is stiffer and less fluid in its movements. I’m really grateful that my knee replacement surgeries allow me to take walks as an alternative to swimming. But I don’t get any endorphin rush from walking and I need to go for a lot longer than 40 minutes to feel like I’ve gotten a real workout. So what will I do when the pools finally reopen? I’m really on the fence about my favorite recreational activity. I keep envisioning leaping into a petri dish. Crowds of people splashing around. Locker rooms with so much traffic there’d need to be full-time cleaners to keep up with sanitation. Could I really enjoy myself with that anxiety? Adult swim hours would help but right now, I’m not sure that would be enough for me. So as an alternative I just purchased a below the desk elliptical machine.   DC1D8E25-B762-414F-84A2-B1AB7F202CF9Between walking, using this thing and working in my garden, I’m hoping to keep myself healthy and strong. I’ve always been a person who looks ahead. I want to give myself alternatives now, in an attempt to prepare for whatever is coming down the road. EC0747C5-A418-45B7-8B27-9DF29EE73363Luckily for me, I hate grocery shopping. I think that after having done it for so many years for my family, I just got to the end. Except for when my son is here, I only have myself to worry about. The online services of ordering food and either having a delivery or doing my own pickup is just fine. I don’t think I’d care if I never saw the inside of a grocery store again. 12657BB2-9DAF-407E-8165-0F8D3E7A5DA9But the movies. I am a movie junkie. I can certainly watch movies at home. The plethora of choices in platforms is amazing and I get that. But ever since I attended my first movie at the Iowa Theater in downtown Sioux City, “The Giant Claw,” I’ve been irresistibly drawn to sharing the darkness and the flickering images reflected on the faces in the audience, the smell of fresh popcorn with Milk Duds tossed into the container as a warm chocolatey surprise. I haven’t seen a theater movie  in months. Michael and I shared that love of movies. Before we had kids, we’d go a couple of times a week. When the babies came, I popped them into their Snuggli and kept them quiet by nursing them throughout the films. When will I go back to a theater? I guess that depends on how reopening looks. The same is true for restaurants. I don’t want to be crammed into any crowded waiting spaces. Maybe al fresco is the way to go. Picnics in the park with carry out seems like a good alternative. That is, unless the giant hornets take up residence in this town.

Trump Says Some States Will Be Able To Open ‘Literally Tomorrow’ If They Want To.

Maybe if there was a real national plan, I wouldn’t be busy with trying to figure out who I’m going to be for awhile. But there isn’t a national plan. All the states are on their own. So I’m just thinking about daily life. I’m not contemplating anything really big like whether I have taken my last trip, whether I’ll ever travel again. The biggest thing for now is to try to stay well, for myself and my family, overburdened with the complications of working from home and educating their kids. And there’s my son with his Phd, postdocs and no job market because of the pandemic trashing of higher education, along with everything else. All I can think of regarding him is that health insurance is expensive and what if the government eliminates the Affordable Care Act? The terror of no national health care.  So, yeah, I’m going to be careful and slow. No malls for me. I’m going to auto-visit, grow a ponytail and work in my yard for the next few months. What about you?

Just Below the Surface

F45FB6ED-5EA6-4C14-9BEB-D0ACF42FA190During this quarantine, I’ve been reading about the effects that the disruption of routine has inflicted on people. For the most desperate groups affected by the sea changes in daily life, there probably isn’t enough time to reflect on anything more than how to get water, food and shelter. The time to reflect from a place of relative safety is a privilege. I’m mindful of that as I continue my interior journey, wondering all the time, thinking about so many different things. I’m examining my own behavior, interested in what I hadn’t anticipated. As a person who’s spent plenty of time trying to be prepared and proactive rather than unaware and reactive, I’m focused on what’s been surprising the past few months. I know that just as our autonomic nervous system hums away below our consciousness, other psychological systems of memory and connections are also churning along until for some reason or other, they emerge from just below the surface. 

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In basic ways, I haven’t changed much of my usual routine. When I wake up, I deal with my personal hygiene, get dressed and make my bed. I haven’t stopped showering and I don’t stay in pajamas or robes. I did that once in early March when I had a really long travel day and was worried that I might get sick. So on my first trip day, I hung out in my nightgown and a light jacket as a safety precaution. But otherwise, not dressing feels like I’m unhealthy. So I always get ready. Ready for what? I don’t know – just ready. I’m trying to wear different clothes instead of the same stuff over and over. I feel like I’m in the world by doing that. What I don’t wear will be donated. So this is a way to accomplish something that’s been on my list anyway.
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I also started drawing. I drew a picture of my most beloved dog. I’m not exactly talented but most of what I’ve drawn so far is identifiable. I’m trying to do satisfying, creative work, especially on the rainy days. All dressed up, nowhere to go and too wet to garden. But the most unexpected activity is my resurgent interest in food. Not the eating of it, the preparation of it. D57082CB-1361-4CE2-B712-BFAA3E973244

When my dad died, my mom stopped cooking. Her home life was very different from mine. I think my dad could’ve boiled water, but except for a year or so, when my mom was healthy enough to work, I don’t remember him ever preparing a meal. In that brief time when her job was downtown in the Chicago Loop and his was in our neighborhood, he made lunch for me and my sister every day. There was no cafeteria in our school. Every day we went home and ate either salami or egg sandwiches. At least it seemed that way. Sick or not, mom always cooked. Even better, she baked. A decent cook but a sublime baker. She could come home from a surgery and head straight into the kitchen, limping and all the while, fixing a meal while dad sat at the table, waiting to eat, reading the paper. That was just the way they operated.  So when he was gone, mom hung it up. She was done after forty seven years of meals. She liked going to restaurants or coming over to our house for dinner. For herself, she kept things simple. Mozzarella cheese and wheat bread. Strawberries and cottage cheese. Eggs and tuna, plus lots of candy. She really liked these coffee and chocolate hard candies called Nips. When we had to move her from our house into assisted living, the floor under her bed was covered in Nips wrappers.

I really missed her cooking. The comfort of going to her house, smelling familiar spices and feeling that warm satisfaction of being cared for disappeared in what felt like one big loss. My mom survived my dad by twenty-five years. I took over the matriarchal role of the family dinners. A few times she tried to recapture that part of her life and made our favorite soup and chicken. But the truth was, she lost her touch. I got all her recipes, such as they were, and ultimately not only reproduced them but improved on them. The only one I’ve never tried is her lemon meringue pie. I think I’ll just let that one be since it was perfect. But my life wasn’t just like hers.  I was always a working mom. In the beginning of our family life, I did most of the cooking. Michael, however, not only loved eating, he loved growing food, canning food and cooking it. Over the years, he took on more and more of the daily meals. I still prepared family favorites, but his recipe repertoire continued growing as he ventured from grilling to preparing complex dishes, and ultimately, to baking. In the last months of his life, he frequently asked me what I was going to eat when he died. I told him not to worry – there was always cereal, fruit and cottage cheese and delivery. And that’s exactly what I did after he died. I turned into my mom. If it wasn’t simple, it wasn’t happening. I stopped cooking and after awhile, I was embarrassed to find items in my cabinets and on my spice racks with expiration dates that went back a few years. Every now and then I made a dish for my kids because I remembered the bereft feelings I had when my mom quit doing everything. I’ll admit those times were infrequent. I even gave up the Thanksgiving dinner I hosted for thirty-five years, becoming instead,  the person who brought a dish.
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So here we are, in the pandemic. Every day I read articles about food and what people are craving and making. Suddenly there’s fresh baked bread, so much that the local stores have flour shortages, right along with toilet paper, paper towels and sanitizing wipes. People are reverting to the foods of their childhoods, buying cans of Chef Boyardee and bricks of Velveeta cheese which is actually a strange synthetic concoction, hardly what I’d call comfort food. But people are buying this stuff, even if it’s not great for them. For weeks, I was immune to this food-consuming tsunami, mostly getting cravings for my favorite meals from closed restaurants. I dreamed of a Dutch baby for days, my number one choice from the best breakfast place in town.

Then, in what felt like an overnight sea change, I began to have impulses to head into the kitchen, which has been the least used room in my house for the past three and a half years. The food I wanted to cook wasn’t so much about what I wanted to eat, as much as it was what I wanted to give to my family. I don’t want them to feel like those homey comforts I used to provide are gone forever. At least not while I can still function. I want my grandchildren to have memories of me making them feel safe, warm and satisfied. So I started with a noodle dish that was my daughter’s childhood favorite. Then I graduated to a full dinner for her family along with me and my son, whose work abroad was cut off because of the virus. That was oven baked skinless fried chicken with mashed potatoes and peas. Next I resurrected, with some trepidation, Michael’s chili. That recipe, which he got in 1987 from our friend Randy, was tweaked over time to make it his own. I could barely read the instructions but I managed to re-copy them and gave it a shot. My son was looking over my shoulder and said he’d bet that I couldn’t replicate the flavor we all knew so well. But I did it and Michael’s presence seemed even more intense than usual. 1D4C8B4B-E248-440D-B88E-3BF2F1E0AA1DI was a lucky one who had flour in my kitchen. The next thing I knew I was heading for a cookie recipe which was given to me by our friend Brian’s mom, Mary, way back in the 70’s. We’d met Brian during our college years when we were all involved with the anti-war movement. He came from a small town of 800 people, northwest of our university community. He was the first person I knew who owned cows. Sometimes when he was broke, he’d have to sell one for extra cash. Brian is a pure soul, a dedicated conservation biologist. He was instrumental in saving the black-footed ferret from extinction and is a well-respected scientist and author with encyclopedic knowledge about practically everything.  He’s also just a wonderful person. When he was getting his PhD, he lived in one of the upstairs apartments in our house. We were great friends. He and Michael had adventures together, both loving the outdoors and stuff like white-water rafting. Here is a blurry photo of an old-school selfie they took on one of their trips. B7E78306-6772-4033-85F5-9D245AA28C38We shared a lot of experiences together in this house. Scary movies and family dinners. Brian, always breaking out his down home sense of humor around the science that had him plunging his hands into ruminants’ bodies with gloves that went up to the shoulder.  He was here with us when we had our daughter and was her first babysitter. A thoroughly generous person, he helped with everything, from bailing us out financially when we were down, to shoveling the drive and walks during the worst winters. When he had surgeries, we were there. We hosted him with his new bride, making them a honeymoon suite with chocolates on their pillows. We went through births, illnesses and deaths. When he had brain surgery for a subdural hematoma after an accident, I flew out to his home in New Mexico to help take care of him. When Michael was weak and sick, Brian came here to be with him. He was the last person outside our family that Michael spoke to before he died.

So there I am in my kitchen with Mary’s recipe and up from under the surface burst all these memories of Brian and Michael and me and the families from which we came, and the families we built over decades which of course are now blended together. He and his family have been my stalwart supporters as I hope I have been to them over the years, most especially since Michael’s death.

6C213D56-CD92-46F7-9D6C-25D618C93287The snickerdoodles tasted just as delicious as they did when Mary brought them here the very first time. She typed that recipe card for me those many years ago. Brian’s wife Carina didn’t have it, so I was happy to share it, sending it back to his family. I’m sure his daughters will be baking them one day.

And then there was my last venture, mom’s old fashioned chocolate fudge cake. My piece de resistance. That was a cake which never lasted long, impossibly spongy, dense, rich and light, all at the same time, with the center slightly concave from the wet batter. No thick frosting for this baby; rather a thin drizzle of sweet chocolate with the tang of a little orange juice to balance the flavor. I sliced this one in half before I got carried away by its temptation,  and sent it across the street to my daughter’s crew. But I had to invite my sister here to have a taste of nostalgia in the most literal way. She came the next day and murmured happily while she ate and I totally got it, because it was so much more than the flavor. She ate two slices and cried a bit, both for now, for this weird uncertain time and future, and all that lies just below the surface. What’s next? What will rise up in the days ahead? Stay tuned…B8C6DA99-F77B-4873-A389-28DDA6928844

A Little Break

7B15B8C5-4CDF-4F3F-ABC5-881E0F790371Although I live in a city, I am only a short car ride away from the countryside. I also live in a house with a big garden and yard. During this time of quarantine, I am free to go outside and easily maintain social distancing. When I was a little girl, my family had a house with a yard in Sioux City, Iowa.  I loved having space to explore, scrambling and hiding behind shrubs, poking my face into flowers, watching little caterpillars dangling by silky filaments from the lowest leaves on the trees. That came to an end when we moved back to Chicago, where I was born, my parents’ hometown. We lived in apartments then, and that continued for the rest of my years at home. My mom and dad never owned a house after Sioux City, even after they moved away from Chicago, to live near me and my sister in our new hometown. My mom was always wistful about having a house, but my dad wouldn’t budge. When I went to college, I lived in dorms and eventually, more apartments. After a time, I had roommates with whom I shared houses that were converted into multi-unit living spaces. When Michael and I got together, we lived communally for a year and then went off on our own, renting a series of little rental houses for five years.

F66205C9-7C88-4956-AE7F-596337D7BD34We bought our house in 1978. At the time, it was broken into three rental units. We lived on the first floor for a couple of years, eventually taking over the remaining two apartments as we grew our family. The house was what you’d expect from a property that had been a rental since 1930. Built in 1893, it was too big and prohibitively expensive to maintain during the Great Depression. Over the years, there was little care put into modernizing it or into nurturing the green space around it. Our city is a university community and filling the units didn’t require much effort. After we moved in we threw a lot of effort, labor and money into this neglected old lady. After these four plus decades, I guess it’s still not “done,” nor do I think it ever will be. My kitchen sink is still the old-fashioned kind that stands on legs. Whatever. I love it. I’m a person who never had much ambition or big dreams about how I thought my life would look when I grew up. I didn’t think about being rich or famous or any specific career.  But I did want a big old house and a family. Aren’t I the lucky one to have gotten both of those dreams realized?

ECB18003-AAB6-4496-AE12-478434DED217I’ve been thinking about that good fortune, during this strange time,  especially when I’m aware of how many people are quarantined in small, confined spaces, anxious to return to life as they knew it. The walls must feel like they’re closing in, which is what I gather from reading people’s isolation accounts.  Then there those whose lives were tenuous, who were homeless, living beneath viaducts, under highways, on the street, way before there was a novel coronavirus. I don’t have any way to reach them beyond the small donations I can eke out of my fixed income budget. Feels like the proverbial drop in the bucket. I want to be a helper in some way. When I’m interacting on social media, I’m always trying to find beautiful images to share, in the hope that they bring moments of joy at the magic of nature, or awe at the gifts that artists have given to the world. I guess those efforts are also my apology for the steady stream of political commentary that no one has asked me to share, but which I inflict on my friends every day. Everyone deserves a little break from my rants, especially me.  Here is the painting I offered yesterday.
A8BC4BA7-173A-4CC5-AEC1-D9C70C464ABBI didn’t intend to write a blogpost today but in thinking about my good fortune, I decided to share the type of posts I usually do each day on my social media platforms. I’ve gone through the photos stored on my phone and selected a number of them, pictures from the bounty in my garden, to the lovely countryside near my town, and some from the trips I’ve been fortunate enough to take in the past several years. I hope you enjoy them and that they bring a bit of brightness to those of you having a challenging day. I hope you stay well. I hope they give you a little break. Hope, hope, hope.