I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, March 29, 2020

My upside down world

Birthday flowers and "Serendipity"
It's only four months since that picture was taken on my birthday last December, but it seems like years ago. SG brought that Chinese wall hanging in China long ago, and I've enjoyed looking at that character over the years, and I wondered for a long time what the meaning of it is. At first, I thought it meant "Destiny," but just now I found it online again, and its meaning is more like "serendipity" or "fate," or "let it be."

This has been a very tough period in the entire world, with Covid-19 turning everything upside down. I was not meant to be isolated, but that's what I am now, with both of us deciding it's time to self isolate. He has developed signs of having the virus, but I am still without symptoms. It's impossible to find a test in our part of the country, unless you have been exposed to someone who definitely has the virus. And what difference would it make anyway? There is no treatment, and his symptoms are mild. No trouble breathing, no chest tightness, which would be very scary to develop. But we are here together, holding each other up during this time. At least 80% of those who contract the virus will have mild to moderate symptoms, and some of us are completely asymptomatic but are still able to spread it to others. And the two of us will hopefully recover, not having any known underlying conditions to complicate matters.

There is no way for me to know where I fit into that dynamic. Since I am confined to my home with only my partner anyway, my strongest desire is not to infect anybody else, if indeed I am contagious. So, other than a walk outside every now and then, I am stuck inside the apartment. I am wondering whether it's safe to work in our community garden, not that I have much desire to do so right now. In fact, it's difficult for me to get excited about much of anything. Who knew that without my social workout connections I would turn out to be such a slug?

I watched a couple of workout videos and they helped some, reminding me that I have all the equipment necessary to keep myself fit. All I need now is the motivation to close the laptop, get out of my easy chair, and get moving. I know that when I take a short walk I feel much better and more grounded. But oh, how I miss my friends and my fellow seniors. Every activity I have developed over the years is knocked away from me as I try to find my way through this time. I am not alone, that's for sure: there are very few people who are not impacted by this virus. In my county as of today, six people have died, and 102 people tested positive.

Well, there you have the downside of my upside-down world. Now it's time to look at the upside. I'm sure there are some; I just have to search for them. One notable upside is finding new writers, such as David von Drehle at the Washington Post. Yesterday he wrote a column about what this unpleasant infection has taught him. He contracted what he describes as a "mild to moderate" case, and today he ponders what he's learning from it.
Health is not a purely individual concern. My helplessness in recovery can be precisely what the community needs: I am surviving the virus but not spreading it. Some of us are chosen to suffer, some to console; some to isolate, others to plunge into the fray; some to give, some to receive; some to be broken, others to be healers. We are still at the beginning of this terrible teaching. We need to respect it and give it the fullness of time. 
Another upside is realizing how fortunate I am to have the resources I need to stay safe and relatively healthy through this period. There are so many out there who do not have a roof over their heads, an income like I do (Social Security has never been so appreciated), or health care of any sort. I know that if I have to go to the hospital, they will not turn me away because I have Medicare and paid into it my entire working life. I have dear friends who will do my grocery shopping for me if I cannot do it for myself. I never knew before how good a hug can feel when I'm not allowed to touch anybody, or get within six feet.

And that reminds me of the one person whom I can hug, cuddle, and receive assurances from: my dear partner, the one who is lying next to me in bed as I write this, who wakes from his sleep to cough, and then turns over and tries to rest. I think he is better; his coughs are not as frequent, and he and I will both get up and start our day. We have been together in close quarters much more than we usually are, because I am not going out, and this has caused us both to work to find ways to accommodate one another's daily habits. It's working pretty well, actually, and I am reminded that the best upside of this entire situation is getting to spend more time together, with very little friction.

I would not be writing this post if I didn't feel an obligation to you, my dear readers, to share with you what I am going through, and to help each other through this time. It's another one of those obligations that I made for myself and am not willing to give up any time soon. We have a very special family, one made of virtual connections that are as important right now as any other. And since I have never been in physical connection with most of you, I don't have to worry about sharing this awful virus with you. Only the benign virus of love, the one we must continue to share with each other, that's the one I am more than happy to spread around.

I hope you will find some joy and peace in your world today, dear friends. I will be going for a short walk in the rain, and maybe humming an uplifting tune, who knows? Until we meet here again next week, please stay safe and as healthy as possible. It's what I wish for all of us.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Hanging in there

Keeping a bit of distance (vtpeacenik photo)
A week ago, I couldn't have imagined how much the world would change in seven days. It makes me wonder what it will be like in another week. I wake up each day and have to think what day of the week it is. Not that it matters much, they are all the same now, except for my usual blog post schedule, which doesn't seem all that important any more. But it is, and I need to find some ways to make my emerging daily routine help me stay safe but still continue to get exercise.

Yesterday was a glorious sunny day around here. It's time to start getting the garden ready for planting, and my front porch flower pots ready as well. Our wonderful Gardener in Chief, Carter, bought a yard of compost for our community garden and has been spreading it out among all the different garden plots. I went out there yesterday hoping to get my own garden spot ready for planting, but he had already cleared out most of the weeds and plopped a wheelbarrow full of compost on top. I asked if I could have some of the compost for my front porch, and he gave me some of the heavy, dark soil to carry up the stairs. As I transferred it from a borrowed bin, I noticed how warm the soil is. Just by itself, it is generating heat. I found this information online:
Temperatures rising in a hot-compost pile come from the activity of numerous organisms breaking down organic matter. To keep a pile running hot, pay attention to four elements: carbon, nitrogen, water, and air. A hot pile requires enough high-nitrogen materials to get the pile to heat up.
There certainly seems to be plenty of high-nitrogen materials in this compost. I will work on getting it mixed in with the existing soil in my flower pots today. And then I'll think about what flowers to plant in them. It's a very satisfying activity.

I also have received a notice from my local Y that they have put lots of videos on their website, so that I can set up my iPad in an area that has enough room to move, and select yoga, bootcamp, older adult exercise, and more. Virtual wellness programs are a lot easier to make myself do the work than trying to do it alone. I don't know about you, but I simply cannot seem to get up much incentive when there's only me. Other people may not be as socially dependent on others as I am. After decades of working out in classes, I miss the camaraderie and shared experience. I'll give the videos a try, though.

I learned that language and the way we talk about this time we're in makes a huge difference. We now talk about social distancing from one another to keep from spreading the virus, but it's really physical distancing we need. I found this opinion article on CNN, titled "Don't call it social distancing," because those words can foster social disconnection and isolation, which isn't good for anybody, but especially many of us seniors who already fight to stay connected with like-minded people.

We will get through this, but it is going to be a very different world on the other side. And we won't know how it will all shake out for weeks or months to come. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have my virtual family, my fellow bloggers, to visit daily. Hearing about how others are going through this trying time, and how we are trying to stay safe while everything "out there" represents the danger of infection. Eventually more than half of the population of the world is projected to have contracted this disease, and 80% will recover just fine. Most of the lucky ones are not elderly, like me, however. I try to keep some perspective, but it's hard sometimes. I miss my coffee shop friends. I miss my social connections.

There are kitchens and living rooms I will never visit in person, but they are like home to me in many ways. I care about so many of you, and how you are doing during this very scary moment in the history of the world. No country or location is spared, and we have the opportunity to make the world better, more connected in positive ways, or devolve into warring factions. I will do my part to make it a better place, and I know that you, my dear friends, will too. We must stand up for our belief that good will prevail.

I would like to end this post with a rather long poem written by Richard Hendricks, an Irish priest, who posted this on Facebook a few days ago. It has inspired me, and I hope it will do the same for you. Until we meet again next week, I pray that we will all stay safe and remember and count our blessings.
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
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,

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Flattening the curve

Inside a paranoid fridge
I found this image on the internet, looking for something I could use to illustrate the panic I see all around me over the novel coronavirus, which many of us knew little to nothing about just a month ago. How things have changed! But this is not funny, not at all. However, it also does little good to groan and moan about it, to forget that we are all in this together. We need to help each other. A little humor goes a long way.

One of the things I have been very aware of is how different some people treat the same situation: some panic, others deny anything is changing, and others simply retreat to the safety of their own homes and think maybe we can just wait it out. The one thing we as individuals can do is help to flatten the curve. This Washington Post article simulates the different outcomes with different responses to social distancing and isolation. It shows the difference in four different scenarios, and the best outcome is if most of us practice what the article calls "extensive social distancing." That means that everybody is quarantined except for one out of every eight people who are allowed to move about freely.

What is happening in my town right now is that many people are still carrying on their usual activities. That is set to change as the days go by. I went to the Y for my usual workout on Friday, only to find that all the classes have been canceled for an indeterminate period of time, but the facility itself is still open. Well, I thought, I can still get on the exercise bike, and I found that every other station is blocked from use. The social distancing is enforced, not to mention that there were very few people there at all. Stations of Purell hand sanitizer are everywhere, which is great, and the machines are wiped down after every use.

Then I drove to Fairhaven to attend my usual Friday yoga class. We found that as of Monday, tomorrow, the studio will close for the foreseeable future. There were only half the usual number of people in the class and we were asked to thoroughly wash our hands before and after class, as well as sanitize our yoga mats and other equipment. I've learned that the virus does not live for very long on cloth and other soft surfaces, but hard surfaces is another story. The spread of this virus is inevitable, but taking as many precautions as possible is not only recommended, it's the best thing you can do for yourself and your neighbors.

Friday afternoon I went out for a beer and an early dinner with Lily, since I hadn't seen her for a week. She's particularly concerned because she works in a place that manufactures fish into different products, and at the first sign of someone becoming sick, it's possible that the entire place will close down. We went to a local brewery that she likes, and we enjoyed our beer and food at the bar. Very few people were around, and our server said that Friday is usually their biggest crowd, but there were only a half dozen people or so at 4:00pm. We didn't have to work at social distancing, but it was more than a little scary. Lily and I shared a hug, which I suspect might be the last one for awhile, as I've decided to try not to touch anyone except my beloved partner. I'm still not sure what will come of my massages and acupuncture treatments. Each is scheduled for the end of the month, and the way things are moving, I'll bet they will not happen either.

Yesterday morning I went to the coffee shop as usual and had my coffee with John, but afterwards we decided that we will stop meeting there in the mornings. I then met the ladies (and one man) for our usual Saturday morning walk. It was very cold and windy, and not many of us showed up (maybe ten in total). Although I was bundled up from the tip of my head to my toes, I was very cold for the first part of the walk. Instead of walking down to the bay, where the wind would be horrendous, we walked to a couple of local parks and then headed back. Even as cold as I was in the beginning, I was warm and toasty by the end. Some ladies were going to have coffee together, but I decided to skip it.

This means that every part of my social life has now come to a decision point: what is not already closed will soon be, and meeting my friends for coffee has become dangerous. But this is all necessary in order to flatten the curve, and although I don't think I can avoid the virus, I hope it won't happen until I can at least get tested for it and hope I can stay out of the hospital. Although I am relatively healthy, I am also old and realize that almost everything I like to do can be done from home, and I can self-isolate. I've got all the yoga props and hand weights, so I'll do what I can to keep up my fitness until...

I am scared, not just for myself but for all those around me. We must work hard to become part of the solution, not part of the problem. That means being kind to one another and doing what we can to keep from spreading the virus. I have been in denial as to how bad it is going to get, but this morning I saw on TV the horrible crowds and long lines at airports, as people are just wanting to get home to safety. Fortunately I have a warm and safe place to live (not everybody does), and I have the resources to buy food and pay my rent for the foreseeable future.
I think the world should unite and focus on strong health systems to prepare the whole world to prevent epidemics—or if there is an outbreak, to manage it quickly—because viruses don't respect borders, and they don't need visas.—Tedros Adhanom
This is an unprecedented time in the history of the world, and once we get through it (and we will, eventually, most of us anyway) things will be different. Our world is not only feeling much smaller, but the opportunity to reach out to help one another will be present every day. I don't have to rush to get my post done this morning, since I've got nowhere to go, nobody to see. I will get in my car and go search for a place to get coffee, probably at a drive-up stand, because, well, I'm addicted to caffeine.

My partner still sleeps next to me, and I have never felt so fortunate to have such a delightful person to share this time with, someone who takes care of me and makes me laugh. And even if I become totally housebound, I've still got you, my dear readers, to share my life with. I truly hope you will stay safe and virus free. Or, if not that, at least that you will recover quickly. Until we meet again next week, be well, dear friends.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Marching toward spring

Lily and Maria after our walk
Yes, Lily made it back home from Guatemala after her long day of travel on Wednesday. I didn't get a chance to see her myself until our usual Saturday morning walk. Twenty of us showed up, and our lone gentleman, Gordon, has joined us once again. We had a lovely walk in the park before some of us met to enjoy a cup of coffee.

I am relieved that she is home, since travel is becoming more difficult almost by the day. Just this morning I learned that the whole northern part of Italy is in lockdown, and that another cruise ship is in trouble with the coronavirus. It's impossible anywhere around here to buy hand sanitizer or toilet paper; they are sold out, although there are now stations for all patrons to use to keep our hands virus free, with large containers of different hand sanitizers for us. I found one I especially like, with aloe vera in it, but of course I cannot buy any of it to take home.

It's a mystery to me why toilet paper has become such a symbol of the need to stock up. People are going a little bonkers out there, it seems to me. But still, we made sure we have a good supply stocked away. SG always has plenty in our closet, so we will not run out. But I cannot buy hand sanitizer anywhere. I've heard a few people talk about how to make your own, so I looked it up online.
If you can't find 70% rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer in stores, you can also make your own hand sanitizer by filling your spray bottle two-thirds with any 180-proof booze such as vodka and one-third with water or aloe vera, but make sure you mix well before spraying your hands.
I guess the vodka is because you also cannot find rubbing alcohol anywhere, either. Here in Washington State we are sort of at Ground Zero in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak in the US, but I expect that to change soon, as it's spreading very quickly into other communities.  One place to catch germs that many of us never think about is when handling money. I've decided for the time being not to ride the bus, either. It's getting very scary out there. And I just read that elderly people (which must include me) should stay home to protect themselves. I just can't do that, but I am taking precautions. Nobody is shaking hands any more, but instead using fist or elbow bumps to greet one another.

In any event, it's still important to stay calm and wait it out. If I get sick, people have said that I am relatively healthy and should be fine, but nobody knows. My body has never met a germ it didn't like, and I had hepatitis A many years ago and consider my immune system to be rather weak, so I sure hope I don't have to find out how I'd weather the virus. Stay safe out there, dear friends.

*   *   *
My plans for the day are rather simple: once I finish this post, I'll go through my normal morning routine and head to the coffee shop. There I'll enjoy my usual latte and visit with my friend John. He's doing pretty well himself, after having had a shot to block the testosterone in his body to keep the prostate cancer from spreading. He hasn't had any side effects yet, and maybe he won't. I'm glad he's feeling so well and is spending time doing things he enjoys, such as ballroom dancing and attending music venues. He even recently started going to a gym to walk on the treadmill. Apparently another friend has encouraged him to start getting more exercise, and I'm thrilled he's actually doing it.

After I come home from the coffee shop, I'll probably start working on getting my front porch garden ready for spring. All the pots have dead flowers in them, so I'll clean those out and get some fresh soil and then consider what flowers to plant in them. I really enjoyed last year's petunias and will plant more of them this season; they last a long time and are so cheerful to look at. It's a little chilly this morning, right around freezing, which means I'll probably have to scrape the car before heading out, but I don't mind. I think of it as exercise. 

And of course I need to consider how fortunate I am. Not only do I have a warm and safe place to live, but I also have a dear partner to share my days with. He's so conscientious, always thinking about ways to make my life better. He's a great guy and I sometimes forget what an integral part of my world he is. When I got up to make my tea, I noticed that the one clock that doesn't change automatically with Daylight Saving Time had been reset. And yes, I've got to remember that I missed an hour of sleep last night and will be more tired this evening than usual. But! The sun will set tonight after 7:00pm, which will be a real treat, as the days get longer and longer and we head towards the Vernal Equinox a week from Thursday.

Yes, life is good, even if a bit unsettled, and I need to remind myself to look around at the beautiful world and give thanks for all the positive and wonderful friends in my life. 
A friend is someone who helps you up when you’re down, and if they can’t, they lay down beside you and listen. —Winnie The Pooh
My tea is gone, my partner still sleeps quietly next to me, and my post is written. Please take care of yourselves and be well until we meet again next week, dear friends. I wish you all good things.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Marching into the future

Snowdrops and daffodils
Yesterday was a beautiful day in Bellingham. Instead of walking with the ladies, though, I went for a nice five-mile walk by myself. I simply didn't feel like making the long drive back to the same area I walked on Thursday. But since it was such a nice day, I went along Boulevard Park to Fairhaven, stopped for a stroll inside the bookstore, and then returned back the way I had come. I saw these snowdrops and daffodils almost ready to bloom, reminding me that spring is definitely on the way.

This is my first Sunday post using my new MacBook Air. It is the third one I've owned, and after five years of use, my old one had become slow and unwieldy when trying to download files, and I often had to wait for the spinning ball to disappear. This new one has twice the RAM and a retina display, which I love. It also has the controversial butterfly keyboard, which clacks instead of clicks as I type. Fortunately, the sound doesn't seem to bother SG, who sleeps quietly next to me as I compose. I've already gotten used to it, although the touch is entirely different from other models. And I was given a hefty trade-in discount for my previous laptop, so all is well.

Today is the anniversary of my first marriage in 1961, almost sixty years ago. It was what was called back then a "shotgun marriage," as I was pregnant and forced to marry a man I didn't even like all that much. I say that now, but in reality I realize that the real reason the marriage didn't last more than five years was mostly my own fault. Derald is now gone, along with both of the children we had together, and the only one left from those days is me, now an old woman in the twilight of her life. I have many regrets and have made many mistakes during those years, but somehow I have ended up in a good situation with many people around me whom I love, and who love me back in return. I could not ask for more.

Last Thursday, we hiked to the end of the new Chanterelle trail, which is so lovely, and I am happy to realize I can still hike that far, going up a couple of thousand feet, but I must admit I was really sore on Friday, with my legs protesting as I took my class at the gym. It does help me get over the soreness more quickly by working out, working through the soreness, and yesterday my walk was very pleasant and pain free. Or almost, anyway. When you get to be my age, you don't pay that much attention to every ache and pain. I've learned what to ignore and when to slow down and smell the flowers.

Last month my husband and I changed our phone carrier from Verizon to Consumer Cellular. Other than a couple of glitches getting started, it seems to be working just fine for us, and boy what a difference in price! We will pay a third for a much better plan. I did find out, however, that there are places where I used to have coverage that are now showing "no service." When we stopped for lunch last Thursday, I realized I didn't have a signal, while some of my companions did. One person said, "oh, you've moved to the old people's carrier." Hmmpf! I guess he's right, as old people don't hike around in the wilderness all that much. I had grown familiar with having to put my phone on airplane mode when in the High Country so that it wouldn't keep searching for a nonexistent signal and drain the battery. I guess I'll be doing more of that on hilly hikes around town, too. Otherwise, I'm thrilled to have unlimited text and talk available to me for such a cheap price.

My friend John got his test results back after they gave him a bone scan and a CT scan to see if his aggressive form of prostate cancer had spread, and it has not. Everything came back clear, so they gave him a shot of a hormone that will block testosterone in his body. He doesn't have to go back for six months. The side effects are usually developing hot flashes and fatigue. I found this fact sheet about what he might expect from this therapy. In other words, I think this is all good news, although it's cancer, and it's always difficult to predict how one's body will adapt to treatment. No surgery and a simple shot seems like a good outcome, but we won't know for sure for a few more months.

And my friend Lily will return from Guatemala this coming Tuesday! She has been visiting her mother, who has a form of throat cancer that returned after a twelve-year remission. I know it will be hard for Lily to say goodbye to her, as well as the rest of her family, but I will be very relieved when she gets here. It is becoming very difficult to travel anywhere these days, with the coronavirus spreading, and she only has a green card, which makes me worry about whether she will be detained. Fortunately Central America is still not showing signs of spread. I fear that will all change, as more patients are diagnosed. It's a bit scary to have had the first death from the virus happen right here in Washington state.

I know it was probably not a good idea, but I rented the movie Contagion, made in 2011, that I saw in the theater back then. I remembered that it was about the spread of a similar virus, and I wanted to remind myself how that movie ended. It was a much deadlier virus, with a 20% fatality rate, as compared with this one, which has a 2% (or maybe lower) rate of death. The movie is really good and was an eye opener for me. Watching on TV what has happened in China, and how many people have had their entire lives disrupted for long periods, has caused me to consider what will happen in the next few months. It could be terrible, or not so bad, but I'm a bit on edge over it. I have to remind myself that we have some of the best health care available to us here in the US, especially compared to other countries like China. I am washing my hands more often and more thoroughly than usual.

We know the world is a dangerous place, and we know it's also not possible to protect oneself from all harm. But there are many things we can do to mitigate our risk factors. It is also very important to stay aware of what is happening around us, and to help each other however we can. Living in a community of like-minded people and watching out for each other is more important today than ever. And also it's important to stay positive and send out message of love and caring to one another.
Virtues, like viruses, have their seasons of contagion. When catastrophe strikes, generosity spikes like a fever. Courage spreads in the face of tyranny.—Nancy Gibbs
And with that quote, dear loved ones, I will leave you for today. My dear partner sleeps quietly next to me,  my friend John will join me at the coffee shop for talk and give us the opportunity to share lots of laughs and humor. In other words, life is good and it's well worth looking at the bright side. Until we meet again next week, stay safe and remember to give your loved ones a hug. I wish you all good things.