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, April 26, 2020

Six weeks of isolation

Trillium in the forest
I love these beautiful fragile flowers. I've never seen a forest of them, but I know they exist, or at least they did at one time. They are fragile and ephemeral, only blooming once in early spring. Over the years, I've been fortunate to see them deep into summer months as we hike in the High Country, where the snow is slow to leave and spring comes in July. When a trillium flower ages, it turns purple, and I've seen many over the years. Not this year, though, as the entire Mt. Baker Wilderness Area will be closed through September.

It's been six weeks now since Washington State entered our period of self-isolation in mid-March. Friday is the first day in May. I believe it will be in effect until the end of the first week of the month, and may be extended if necessary. What a strange world we live in today, with millions of businesses closed down in most countries, few people leaving home to go to work, and in the US alone, 26 million people have filed for unemployment. Friday will be another day when millions will be unable to pay their mortgage or rent, with no end to this disaster in sight. I am thankful for Social Security for us old folks, but it barely covers the rent. I expect to see at least a 25% drop in my annuities, delivered monthly into my bank account. But we do have enough to get by without going into debt, which is more than most people can say. Hopefully we will get through this period with our country intact. A very scary time indeed.

Other than being unable to attend the local YMCA, which was part of my daily life before all this, and my wonderful Saturday walks with the ladies and my usual Thursday hikes with the Senior Trailblazers, most of the beautiful springtime outdoors in the Pacific Northwest is available to me. I am healthy enough to walk and hike alone, or with another trusted friend who will social distance with me. That trillium picture was taken last week when I went for a walk in the woods with my friend Melanie. But I miss my routine and yearn for its return.

However. Looking on the bright side, SG and I have learned to accommodate each other's constant presence without our marriage falling apart. In fact, we are happier together than I would have believed possible. While I am missing my morning routine in town, he is missing his solitary mornings but has adjusted quite well, considering. Both of us, we are pretty sure, have had the Covid-19 illness and recovered. After seeing that 20% of all New Yorkers have tested positive for antibodies, this tells me that there are lots of people like us who are survivors of the illness. We were able to use telemedicine to communicate with our doctors and be reassured that we made the right choice not to attempt to get tested. Unless you are very sick, you don't need to.

Another bright side is the clean air that some places have not experienced in years. I saw a picture showing the difference, and it reminded me that we truly need to move away from the world we have been living in. Perhaps this time in the history of the world will be where we moved from one historical period to another, with it being born around us. Technology has made a huge difference in our ability to stay connected with one another during this time. I've used video conferencing to take yoga classes, and I talk and visit with family and friends through different software programs. That has been a real asset in helping to keep my sanity through this period. And I've taken advantage of the many ways I can bring entertainment into my living room: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney+, and now Apple TV. (I subscribed just last week to that one.)

And while there may be shortages of some items in my grocery store, for the most part it is well stocked and I can visit with social distancing in place. Our Farmers' Market opened last week in a limited version, with only a few people being allowed in at a time, but it's sure nice to see those familiar vendors. We are not able to pick over the produce, but as we point at what we want, the items are weighed and bagged without any physical contact with the vendor. And now almost everyone is wearing a face mask and maintaining proper distance from others. Soon (hopefully), this will all be a memory and we will return to a semblance of normal life. But I suspect it will be a new normal, not the same way as the one we had before. I like to think it will be a better normal.

We had a couple of days with gentle rain, enough to clear the air of pollen and giving the garden a good drink. It's been cool, but I have enjoyed the clouds and sun alternating throughout the days, and again I can give thanks for the environment we are surrounded with. So much greenery, so many lush flowers blooming everywhere. It's hard to be too gloomy when the weather is so fine. And I have adapted, finally, to a less vigorous daily routine, no longer caring that much about my step count (although I do still care), and enjoying my ability to put on my hiking shoes and step out the door into a wonderful world.

Sunday. I keep reminding myself that it's Sunday, which is why I'm writing this post right now. For a few minutes, I debated about going to the Farmers' Market, but then I realized that was yesterday. Some people love schedules and routine (I'm one of them) but I am also learning that I can adapt, even in my old age. I feel hopeful about the future.
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present. —Bill Keane
And now it's beginning to look like the time is coming to wrap this up. Next week we will be in the month of May, with March and April 2020 behind us. Who knows what the world will look like in a few more months? I'm hopeful, because why not?  I've managed to leave my gloom behind me for the moment, and I'm looking forward to having at least a little less isolation in the future. My dear partner lies sleeping, still, next to me, and I'll be heading into the kitchen to make some coffee in my French press. Perhaps I'll sit on the front porch and enjoy it as the sun warms me on the outside, while the coffee does the same on the inside. Dear friends, I am eternally grateful for you, for the virtual family we have created, and the wonderful community of like-minded souls that visit this spot every Sunday morning. Until we meet again next week, be safe and be well. I wish you all good things.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Twelve years later

Cherry tree in bloom
It was twelve years ago, on April 17, that we finished our journey from Boulder to Bellingham, with our U-Haul and Honda Civic to begin our new life in retirement. I saw this lovely tree in bloom in front and was introduced to our new apartment. SG had come here in February to find us a new place to live, and this one was not only available, but pretty much ideal. Twelve years later, we're still here. Although we are still in the same 26-unit complex, we've moved once, from a two-bedroom on the south end to one on the north side, but otherwise, we have not changed our residence during this time.

Many other residents have come and gone, some moved away and some died, but one other couple who were here when we moved in is still here and have become good friends. I can't visit them at the moment, since we are all still in lockdown in our own homes, requiring six feet of distance between us, but we text and talk to each other on our phones now and then. It has been a good place, but I must say I am getting very tired of being unable to go anywhere, since nothing is open and the streets are still pretty much deserted. Now that the weather is getting warmer, it seems that everyone is restless and wanting to change the status quo.

In our county, we have had 25 deaths, mostly people in nursing homes, and fewer than 300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. That doesn't include many of us who believe we contracted the disease and had mild cases. My doctor believes we did have it and have now recovered. She said there was no reason for us to get one of the scarce tests, unless we got worse. Fortunately, we both no longer have coughs or any of the other symptoms that we experienced earlier. I was very tired for what seems to be a long time.

It did give us both a chance to use telemedicine to "see" our primary care physicians. Using our PeaceHealth portals to discuss our symptoms and a course of action, it was very comforting to realize that I can have a chance to interact with my doctor without having to go into the eye of the storm, so to speak. Hospitals are not places I like to visit, especially now.

I have given up trying to get my usual step count every day, and now that I am getting stronger and want to get outdoors, I have had a few solitary walks, much shorter and slower than usual, but it's been a tonic for my mood and helps me feel better overall. The only actual thing I've done regularly are my Zoom yoga classes twice a week. I've actually enjoyed them, even if it's just not the same. I get to see my instructor and when we first sign in, I can see who the other participants are. We can say hello before we start the class, but then we get down to business and it's just me, my yoga mat, and the screen on the iPad.

There is the pesky problem of putting on a few pounds, just like probably much of the population. Not getting as much exercise and being home all the time, I spend a fair amount of time looking for something to eat, even when I'm not hungry. I smiled at the thought of gaining the "Covid Fifteen," although for me, so far, it's been the "Covid Five." And I am trying very hard to keep those numbers down. I still weigh myself every morning, trying to keep myself honest, and I was doing pretty well until I added a fairly generous glass of wine to my diet every night. I had gotten away from it being a nightly thing and only indulged when I'd had a particularly strenuous day. That changed when I stopped being able to have any semblance of a schedule and felt like I was dragging myself through the day. There seemed to be no reason not to treat myself, but now I'm feeling better and want to get back to a healthier "new normal."

We received our stimulus money, although since we are retired and living on Social Security, we haven't actually had our income shrink much. That may change dramatically next month, though, when our annuities are recalculated for the year. When I retired, I chose to receive an annual monthly amount, rather than having the amount fluctuate with the market. It made no sense to me to have one's monthly income vary, since our expenses stay the same or increase. I am spending a fair amount less, since there's no place to go: no restaurants, no movie theaters, no haircuts, no shopping for clothes or even shoes. Surely all that will begin to change soon; I'm hoping that by midsummer perhaps some places will begin to reopen. I feel for all the people who have lost their jobs and worry about how our economy will recover. It will take a long time.

There is much to be thankful for, however. This is a global pandemic, and all over the world there are so many places that are in far more dire circumstances than we are here in the US. I am glad to learn that Europe is now past the worst of it, but Africa and India are just beginning. Now that people are no longer traveling, perhaps they won't be hit as hard. I simply have to believe that we will one day see a silver lining come from this dark period. I wonder if I will be around then, since I'm in my twilight years and no longer measure the future in decades, but year to year and month to month.

Since I consider this blog post each Sunday morning to be part of my gratitude journal, it's important to concentrate on the good in my life every day. The one that stands out is my dear partner, who has been on this journey with me now for more than a quarter of a century. After a few failed marriages, I would never have believed that I would be so fortunate as to have found a life companion who would take such good care of me. And I am also very fortunate to have relatively good health, which I must not allow to slip away through inertia and laziness. I've worked hard to stay in good shape and will regain my prior activity level eventually. I have good friends, past and present, who surround me with love and light. Some of them are ones I have never met in person, but that doesn't make them any less precious to me. That would be some of you, dear friends of my heart, chosen family members who buoy me up when I'm down and celebrate with me over my achievements. "At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person."

And we are at the beginning of a new season, just past the equinox and heading toward the solstice, the time when the light overcomes the dark in the Northern Hemisphere, and when the darkest time is past in the Southern Hemisphere. Nothing stays the same, we are not static creatures, and our world is not static, either. This too shall pass, and while we wait for better days, we are not alone. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I hope that you too will rekindle the light in yourself, and I intend to do so for my own family, near and far. Be well and stay safe.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter Sunday

Last year at the Tulip Festival
This is probably the strangest Easter Sunday I can remember. There are no tulips to visit in the Skagit Valley, since everything is closed because of the coronavirus. But last year, Lily and I, with a couple of our other friends, drove down south to the Tulip Festival and had made arrangements to enjoy the tulips again this year. It was not to be. I could still order a bouquet, or buy some at the local grocery store to display for the holiday. It's just one more piece of my regular activities that has been lost for the year. I pray that we will be able to visit once again next April.

This Easter Sunday, I wake later than usual, since there is nowhere to go, nothing is open, although I suspect there were people who greeted the Easter sunrise, even if it was a solitary exercise. Or live streamed into one's living room so that people can have a virtual gathering with others instead. Today's technology gives us the possibility of joining others virtually, allowing us to keep our social distance from one another and still enjoy companionship, even if it's really very different from what we have grown to rely on. As an extrovert, I have suffered from the lack of interaction with my friends, other than an occasional FaceTime shared glass of wine with Lily. It's just not the same.

Yesterday I walked over to see the opening of the spring Farmers' Market. Instead of having a grand opening with the cabbage toss (a Bellingham tradition), it was a much more subdued event. Only 11 vendors were allowed to sell their wares, and you had to line up six feet apart. The line to enter stretched all the way around the building. Thirty people were allowed into the open area at a time, with orange cones showing where you could stand, waiting to buy your veggies. You were to point to what you wanted and the vendor would bag them up, and then you were supposed to leave. No standing around visiting was allowed, with staff wandering through the area making sure everyone was following the distancing requirements. I bought some bread from my favorite vendor and quickly left.

I am glad I checked it out, and I will happily visit again, although it's mostly to support the vendors and not because I can't live without Sophie's wonderful bread for awhile longer. I was wearing my sun hat, sunglasses, and homemade mask, so it surprised me when a friend recognized me in line and waved hello. She was one of the only people I saw who was not wearing a mask of some sort; everyone else had their nose and mouth covered, which does seem like it's mostly to protect others from possible infection and not the wearer.

Last week, I speculated that I had contracted the virus. Today, I have no symptoms, my cough is gone and I'm feeling quite healthy. I guess I'll never know whether or not I had it, unless an antibody test is developed and I am able to see if I have antibodies to coronavirus. My tiredness and cough could have been caused by many different viruses, and I never felt any difficulty breathing. But I will continue to act as if I did have it and am still contagious. It's been more than two weeks since I first developed any symptoms, but who knows how long this period will last? It's the same all over the world, with all of us trying to weather the same storm.
The world is a place that is so interconnected that what happens in another part of the world will impact us. —Anthony Fauci
Today is a time when we can reflect on our lives: the good, the bad, the indifferent. Historically, this is the time in the Christian religion that Jesus returned to life after the Crucifixion, when he was resurrected, giving hope to all that eternal life is not just a myth. This same theme is present in many different religions, not just Christianity.
There are resurrection themes in every society that has ever been studied, and it is because not just only do we fantasize about the possibility of resurrection and recovery, but it actually happens. And it happens a lot. —Sherwin B. Nuland
What will I do to mark this exceptional day? Well, the first thing is getting up, taking a shower, watering my recently planted front porch flowers, and sitting in the sunshine with a nice cup of my French press coffee. And I can remember some of the other memorable Easter Sundays in my past. There are quite a few of them. I might go for a walk in the neighborhood, enjoying the explosion of flowers blooming everywhere, and take a moment to appreciate the wonder of the season.

And of course, there is the counting of my many blessings. My wonderful partner, my dear blogging friends, and my own small world of delights. There's love and light and a beautiful Easter Sunday ahead. I do hope, with all my heart, that your Easter Sunday will be memorable for more than simply having to stay at home. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, dear friends.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

I think I have it

Lilacs on the fence
It took me awhile to find a picture to open this post, since I sure didn't want to put a picture of the coronavirus that we have seen everywhere, constantly. I found this picture of lilacs, taken a few years ago, and when I compared it with the same date this year, it shows how far behind our plants are. That's what happens when you have a very cold March, which we did. Right now the same scene looks like this:
Lilacs this year
However, it looks like we should have a bit warmer weather in the near future, which makes me very happy. I haven't felt much like getting out since I took that lovely walk on Thursday. I've been very tired and suffering from what I fear might be a case of the Covid. Last week I wrote about how my hubby started exhibiting signs, and although he still has the cough, he's feeling much better. However, I developed the cough and fatigue and have felt really under the weather, with little to no desire to do much else than sit in my easy chair and binge-watch a series or two.

My symptoms have been mild enough that I haven't felt the need to call the doctor, and I won't unless I start getting shortness of breath. Neither of us have had that worrisome symptom. A sore throat comes and goes, body aches are in the background but go away after a good night's sleep. I am not sure whether or not I've had a low-grade fever, because our thermometer is unreliable, and it's impossible to buy one anywhere. I've watched Chris Cuomo battle the virus on his show, and it makes me wonder if I really do have it. I'm nowhere near as sick as he has been. And I think I'm getting better as the days go by.

Part of the horror of this disease is the uncertainty we are all feeling. Our lives are on hold, everyone is hunkered down and just trying to get through this period intact. My lifeline, other than my dear partner (who felt well enough yesterday to shop for some groceries) is a connection with friends through the phone, FaceTime, and blogs. Seeing how others are coping has been a great help.

When I was in my thirties, my father had a severe heart attack and ended up in the hospital. He was in Texas, and I flew back home to see him during the three days he was in the hospital before he died. That was in the days before we even knew about advance directives, letting others know ahead of time what kind of care we want, in case we cannot speak for ourselves. After all of his children had seen him, the doctors decided to put him on a ventilator, since his lungs were filling with fluid because of his weakened heart. Had I known then what I know now, I would have tried to stop the procedure. It only made him live for a few more hours, and getting on a ventilator for any reason is no picnic.

I found this article on the New York Times, which I read through twice before deciding to put it here. I think you can get it, since they have opened up their pay wall to allow people to get all the information about the pandemic. It's entitled "What You Should Know Before You Need a Ventilator." It's written by a doctor who wishes she could have talked to these patients before they were put into an induced coma before going on the ventilator. You may know that I worked for the Whatcom Alliance for Health Advancement for four years, helping people to write their Advance Directives for what they wish to have happen, if they are unable to speak for themselves in their final days.

I have written one, twice now, and it's on file at the hospital. My family knows that I have decided not to have any heroic procedures if I should get very sick and can't speak for myself. That means no ventilator, don't resuscitate me, just let me go. I went through quite a bit of training to become a facilitator, and I learned a great deal from my clients over the years. I feel very fortunate to have lived such a long and varied life, and who knows how much more time I will have to enjoy on this planet? No one does, and many of our loved ones who are going through this period, watching the terrifying numbers of people dying of the virus, hoping that we will make it through, along with our loved ones.

The main thing to remember is that the vast majority of the people who contract the virus make it through unscathed. Eighty percent, to be exact. And of those who are sick enough to be hospitalized, only a small percentage of them end up on a ventilator. And only a very tiny percentage of those people ever recover. Read the article and think about it for yourself.

In the midst of all this, there are little moments of grace and hope. So many people have been so kind to one another. I keep reading about stories of kindness and allowing unbidden tears to flow. Today's editorial on the Times listed some of them, which I share here:
Behind each of those statistics are untold stories of compassion and sacrifice and heroism that may never be fully recorded. But we do know some: Dr. Mary Krebs, a middle-aged family physician in a farming community outside Dayton, who treated her patients via telemedicine from her own bed even as she battled fever, shortness of breath and a dry cough — telltale signs of coronavirus infection. The Dogfish Head brewery, which stopped making suds and is now turning out half-gallon growlers of hand sanitizer. Mario Salerno, a New York landlord, who said he would not collect rent from his 80 apartments this month, to alleviate stress on his financially struggling tenants. The 29 health care workers who flew from Atlanta to New York City last month as New York began to buckle under the weight of the pandemic. They posed for a photo that went viral, each holding aloft their fingers in the shape of a heart.
This morning, as I finish this post, I am hoping that when we meet again next week we will have been through the worst of the fire and can begin to find a life after Covid. But if not next week, then the one after. Next Sunday is Easter, and there will be no Easter egg hunts, no church services (in person, anyway), but we know that we will get through this, with a little help from our friends and God. And I hope to be able to relate my own journey through. Be well until then, dear readers.