We Have Friends Coming for Dinner

There was a lot of activity at the bird feeders on Sunday, as the snow fell gently all day. It was a beautiful day and each of us spent some time at the dining room table watching our guests squabble, flutter, and sometimes partake of the seeds provided for them. It was a buffet with sunflower seeds, mixed bird seed, and suet cake available for their feasting delight. But still they squabbled and fluttered their wings to keep others at a distance. Normally we have guest who are better behaved when at the table.

Indoor dining at our home for this year’s U.S. Thanksgiving celebration will be much smaller and hopefully with less territorial fighting. I jest because I am confident we will find joy in being together around our table, the three of us – Jim, our daughter who is living with us during the pandemic, and me. The three of us agreed not to have guests this year as the virus cases and deaths are increasing rapidly across our country and here in Michigan. In our brains and guts we felt that even a small risk of having another safety-conscious couple for dinner was too big a risk. It seems we have opted for safety over the joy of sharing the indoor space of our home and table with people we love and care about. Everyone is making this risk/benefit analysis.

My quiet moments of contemplation recently have centered around the question of whether I am being too cautious, letting the experts on TV increase my fear to an unnecessary level. I have always been a big-picture thinker, able to take multiple viewpoints and analyze them down to the bottom-line truth (at least for me). This has been a hard topic for me because it pits taking care of our household members against hurting family and friends by refusing their invitations or our traditional gatherings. The end thought of my contemplations was that each one of the more than 12.5 million people in the U.S. that have been confirmed to have the virus plus the possible millions who developed symptoms without getting tested happened because of contact with another human being. That is how this virus spreads. The best way to avoid being a part of that statistic is to not have unnecessary contact with people.

We are all feeling the impact of this pandemic year (stacked on top of political, environmental, racial, and economic stresses) as we grapple with isolation fatigue. However, when we think of the totality of a lifetime, all the gatherings we have experienced in the past and all the gatherings we can look forward to in the future (if we keep ourselves safe and alive) I think we can find the strength and courage to do what we need to do for the next few months.

I find I am drawing my strength from remembering those times when we were missing family members because of travel or illness. It was sad but we made the best of it. I am drawing my courage from remembering those wonderful gatherings, big gatherings, where there was laughter and joy, children giggling and running around (and parents yelling “slow down”) and people speaking different languages. I can hear the echoes of those gatherings within my home as I prepare for our small gathering that will be full of joy and thankfulness that no one in our family has died from the virus. I will also be holding all of you who have lost a loved one in my heart, knowing that my heartbeat can carry comfort to others.

Now and Then

One month ago the tree in our side yard looked like this. A few leaves had fallen but there were still some leaves that were fading their green. This morning when I got up a little after 7:00 for our weekly run to the grocery I found…

And the tree in our side yard looks like this…

Between “then & now” seems like such a short time but so much has changed, at least outside of our home. Inside we continue to hunker down in place, not seeing other people and only going out for essential reasons.

I know I have the right to go out and do as I please – I have a right to be maskless, but I also know I can make choices. Because I have a choice I have control over so much more of what happens in my life than relying just on fate. Making choices involves thinking about the options, reading and listening to experts so I know what the potential consequences are of each option, and thinking about the consequences for the people I love most and for society at large. I also know that situations change and I can reconsider my choices as I receive new information.

I haven’t been listening to much of the political commentary on TV because of political and Covid fatigue but I did happen to click on Rachael Maddow the other night to hear this segment on Rachael’s lockdown because of coming in contact with someone who was positive and her experience of caring for her infected wife who she is living apart from because of their exposure; and her experience of their fear that Susan was going to die. I love Jim and my children more than I can communicate. Thank you, Rachael, for putting my choices in those terms. Please listen to her honest and difficult description of her life right now and her plea to all of us.

The Lens-Artist Challenge for this week is “Now and Then.” It inspired me to spend a few minutes outside taking some photographs this morning, but also has me thinking about how life has changed between then and now. It also gives me hope that now won’t be forever – now will move into something different. I no longer think about Mondays or Thursdays or Sundays. Most important, wedged between all the yesterdays and next-days, are my todays. Today I am going to live my life with contentment and satisfaction. I will focus on picking up my yesterday socks from my reading room floor, make the bed, have another cup of coffee and a small dish of apple crisp, dry the clothes in the washing machine, work on sewn Christmas presents for friends and family, and make some stir fry for supper.

How will you choose to spend your today?

In a Northern Neighborhood

At the end of October my neighborhood was ablaze with color. This isn’t unusual – what is unusual is that this year I was in Michigan to experience it for the first time… once again. For the past 11 years we have been in Florida from the middle of October to the middle of November. We leave our northern neighborhood just as a few branches of color are showing here and there. Every year I eagerly watch for these small patches of color just as in the spring I eagerly watch for the gentle green of new leaves. We return to Michigan about this time in November to bare trees and the only fallen leaves to be seen are on the floor of wooded areas and on the edges of country roads. We return to Michigan to see what I see outside my windows now as we move close to our Thanksgiving celebration. Skeleton trees bare of leaves.

But I am still thinking about the past three weeks and am so thankful for being able to experience them. We had a really warm early November so I spent a lot of time outdoors taking photos and raking (well, more time photographing than raking). I was seeing autumn in my neighborhood through the eyes of someone living in the southern United States. I was seeing autumn from a macro perspective because it felt so exotic.

I noticed how the tree full of golden orange leave (first photo) in our side yard had a few bare limbs, exposing seedpods that are hanging on long after thousands of them dropped in early summer. When I was a child we called them whirly-gigs and would toss them in the air to watch them twirl to the ground. One of the wonders of nature. Next spring I will be pulling up small maple tree seedlings from my garden beds.

It is so amazing how many leaves are on a full-grown tree. The tree can be covered with brilliant leaves and still, underneath the ground is covered.

We needed to rake these up because the grass had grown during the warm days and the man who mows our lawn was coming the next day. We also went for a walk and both Jim and I moved to the east side of the street so we could walk through the dry, fallen oak leaves blown there by the wind. Oak leaves are the most fun to walk through because they are big and make lots of crinkling sounds when we do that special kind of shuffle-walk that we learned as children walking to school.

In a few days the weather turned colder, more seasonal, and the wind blew hard. As I drove down the country road on my way to somewhere, the leaves were whirling in circles on the road and leaves were falling so heavily that it sometimes made me wonder if I would have to turn on the wipers to see. Then I laughed at myself. What joy.

And then they needed raking again.

My inspiration for writing about living in my northern neighborhood this autumn came from the Lens-Artists Challenge # 123: Found in the Neighborhood.

Love the Morning Light

The Lens-Artist Photo Challenge this past week has been focused on “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” from Anne. I’ve been slow to get my post together because of a busy week that include cataract surgery on my first eye. But I found time to go through my files for some of my favorite photos taken in the morning light while on photo shoots down dirt roads.

Some of my photos were taken in June – meaning that the time inprint on the photos of 5:45 am was accurate. The sun comes up early in Michigan at that time of year. The sun’s allure is pretty strong to get me up at 5:30 to catch those first rays of gold.

I had great fun watching some swans on a small inland lake doing their equivalent of our morning shower. Look for the feathers floating on the water as they preen.

Reflections on the Day After

I was so relieved when the major news outlets began calling our election for Joe Biden. For those who don’t live in the U.S., it takes several weeks for every single vote to be counted and the results certified in every single voting precinct across the country so the election can be officially “called”. I’m not sure who does this official call because I don’t think anyone has ever said it or I didn’t pay any attention because it was already a given who had won. How elections results are announced or unofficially called is through special teams at each news outlet who use statistics from each state’s official source and do calculations of votes cast for each candidate and the estimate of uncounted ballets in each precinct – all put through a number cruncher until they believe there is no way the loosing candidate could catch up. They are very cautious, and sometimes get it wrong but mostly they get it right. This time they were being extra cautious because of Trump’s constant lying that the election process was rigged and the media couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth. As soon as the news source we were watching called the race, most other television and print news sources jumped on board within a matter of minutes.

I felt an overwhelming sense of relief and I wanted to be excited and jubilant but my fear of what lies ahead seemed to be an anchor holding me in place, not allowing me to join in the celebrations happening in cities across my country. The majority of voters said they wanted something new, were tired of the chaos, destruction, and lies of the current leader. This gives me hope but the truth I need to wrestle with is that almost as many people said through their votes that they like the way things are in our government. I don’t get it, but…

The first thing I noticed was that I kept taking deep breaths as I moved around the house, never far from the TV. It felt like I could breath again after holding my breath for the past four years. As I exhale I say to myself, “Everything is going to be okay.” I don’t have to worry about the next daily crisis for our government, our democracy, our people. Except for the next ten week until Inauguration Day.

I was also close to tears all day long. Not tears of joy, or tears of relief; but tears of grief and sorrow over how hard the past four years have been. I don’t have a personality that is prone to anxiety or fear – if there is a problem I find a solution or believe that someone in power will fix it. There are times when life has been difficult, times when injustice seems to outweigh justice. But 76 years of maturation has made me good at distinguishing between what I have control over and what I don’t. The past four years have been different, however, with what seemed like a constant of news creating overwhelming fear and unproductive rage. It will take me a while to lick my wounds and sooth on the balms that heals.

Right now I am too tired to think about how to heal. Right now I am so fatigued that my brain is mush and I’m getting kitchen burns through stupid mistakes. I feel the fatigue that doesn’t lift with a good night’s sleep or a healthy meal or a walk on an unseasonably warm, sunny November day. My daily anger and fear over the past 4 years has wore me down to the point where I can’t pretend any longer, I can’t convince myself that I have enough energy to do what I think I want to do. My attention span is about half a minute and my concentration is about half a sentence long.

I found joy listening to the speeches of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden last night. How wonderful it is to hear a president (elect) and a vice-president (elect) that speak in clear and understandable sentences; who have coherent and well thought out ideas based on science and the knowledge of experts about how to fix our problems. How wonderful to listen to people who are trustworthy, who don’t lie and repeat disclaimed conspiracy theories.

It feels like we, as a democracy, were sorely tested. So many of us were afraid the bedrock of our democracy, elections that allow all people to vote and all votes are honestly counted, was not going to hold against the on-slot of lies and voter repression attempts. But they did. We have proven that our great experiment of rule by and for the people is strong and enduring – even when there are attempts to undermine it by unsavory characters in our country and around the world. Our justice system has been corrupted but I believe it can be fixed and even improved to extend justice to previously disenfranchised groups. There are changes that may need to be made to our Constitution given the changes that have taken place since it was written in 1778. And once again there will be talk about whether the Electoral College that has failed in recent elections should be abolished so that election results are a more honest depiction of the will of our citizens. It feels so wonderful that once again we will be moving forward in our desire to create a “more perfect union.”