Thinking of Spring and COVID-19

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We are sheltering at home except for essentials here in southwest Florida. Some of our friends/neighbors have left for homes up north due to Covid-19 – one couple to Toronto because their insurance won’t cover Covid-19 treatment in the US and another couple back to Missouri because both have conditions that increase their vulnerability and they want to be near family and familiar doctors. We’ve been wondering when we should head home, doing a constant cost/benefit analysis. So far the benefits of staying in Florida are winning.

Friday marked the beginning of spring, but it wasn’t much noticed in Florida. Spring isn’t celebrated in Florida like it is in Michigan. It is hard to get excited about the awakening of nature in Florida because this subtropical climate doesn’t have a dormant season. Plants only slow down their growth a little in the dryer winter months and there are always some flowering plants to add patches of glorious color to the landscape. No landscape of drab blacks, browns, and greys here.

On the other hand, the first day of spring can seem like a cruel joke in Michigan. We don’t rush into spring in Michigan, the photos featured on this post were taken middle of May last year at Hidden Lake Gardens in the southern-most part of the state. For people in Michigan, the first day of spring is a celebration of hope that spring will really come – some day soon. I grew up hearing that “March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.” I remember years when we observed that march came in like a lamb and out like a lion. Yes, we have had some really big snowstorms in late March and April.

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When I use my logic, I know that our quality of life is better where we live in Florida than where we live in Michigan. Here I have sunshine every day, our livingroom and diningroom are open to our screened lanai so I hear birds all day long, I have ready access to plentiful fresh fruits and vegetables at the market a mile down the street, I have daily access to our pool and a great neighborhood to bike in, and I can always drive into the Everglades if I need to run away for a day.

Through my writing I am realizing that it is my grief that is driving my desire to go north, even though my head says I’m better here. I feel a deep loss from loosing church services at a church that feeds our soul, my weekly visits to the Naples Botanical Garden, not having the miles of beautiful beach available for a morning visit or an evening sunset.

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I miss not being able to go to my favorite family-owned restaurants for a cozy, fun meal with Jim and I worry about the financial viability of these restaurants and other small businesses I frequent. Most of all I worry about the service staff that we have gotten to know, who now are facing an uncertain future without sufficient income. Their faces pop into my head and I want to help them but don’t know how.

If I look inside myself, I feel a very heavy heart and a soul that is weeping. Life as I knew it is being shaken, the ground has shifted so it no longer feels stable. It is real for me, as Jim just left to go to the drugstore for some items. I know that he is more likely to get sick because he is a male but I also know that cabin fever attacks him much more quickly than it does me. When he gets home I’ll remind him to wash his hands long and well. I feel sad about our (all of us) loss of security. We don’t know what will happen and no one likes the feeling of loosing a sense of control – maybe that is why people are hoarding toilet paper.

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I remember reading about a study a long time ago, of depression in old people living in nursing homes caused by the almost total loss of control. In one study they gave each resident a geranium to care for and in another they gave them a bird in a bird cage that they needed to feed and clean up after. In both cases the people were given control over something and their moods improved. They became happier people better able to handle the stress of aging within their living environment.

I can take control of several aspects of my life even though the threats I encounter come from a little known virus that is raging through our population and experts are projecting will get much worse before it gets better. Thanks to our freedom of the press and excellent access to social media I can gain a sense of control by informing myself of facts. I listen mostly to MSNBC because I appreciate the army of experts that they interview throughout the day. I read the Washington Post and get updates from the New York Times. I refuse to accept the propaganda of a deep state that is out to get us. The deep state consists of thousands of government employees who have dedicated their lives to making sure citizens are helped by government services. I refuse to be one of the people who believes that facts are fake news. I refuse to be someone who doesn’t listen to news because “experts” are saying something different and they don’t know who to believe. If I am going to maintain some control I need to make decisions – and to make decisions I need information. I need information from multiple sources and to think about who is trustworthy – based on their education and work experience. Over time I have learned that I can’t trust our president but I can trust journalists who tell us what they have learned and who they learned it from. I trust experts while always questioning motives and bias.

I gain a sense of control every time I make a decision to wash hands, stay home, and abide by other guidelines given us by the CDC and experts on infectious deceases and pandemics. I know I am in control when I eat healthy meals and do what I can to get good sleep to keep my immune system strong. I know I have some control over the outcome of this pandemic when I reach out with a phone call, a written note, or through social media to share assurance or comfort or just fun conversation with people I know. I know I will be able to cope with isolation by keeping active with knitting, quiltmaking, editing photo files, working puzzles, exercise, reading and maintaining safe social contact with others.

I have a plan and I know I will do okay during this shitty time (no I didn’t buy extra toilet paper). Do you have a plan? How can you maintain a sense of control?

Blessings and stay well.

 

A Real Holiday Season

This morning we were treated to a beautiful snow fall. A flake bumped up against the window over the sink to get my attention – saying, “Here we come.” A few minutes later I realized that there were lots of flakes falling – some of them dancing on upward drafts, not ready to fall to the ground where they would soon melt.

Snow and cold seem to be an important part of the Christmas season, at least for those of us who grew up in the northern regions of our country. I remember the excitement of hearing the knock on our door, running to open it to our guests because my childhood anticipation of the forthcoming party had reached its peak. I remember the scent of cold coming in, relatives handing presents to me for under the tree as they stomped the snow off their shoes, took off their boots, unwrapped scarfs, stuffed mittens and hats in sleeves, and handed to outstretched arms piles of coats to put on beds. All completed to chants of Merry Christmas from everyone to everyone. This ritual was also reversed every year as we went to homes of friends and family. The teeth-chattering cold in spite of being bundled up, the snow, the lights of the Christmas tree in the front window welcoming us in even before we got out of our car, and the crunch of snow with each step. Ah, and the foggy eye-glasses as soon as I entered the house. This is what I’m remembering of my Christmas’s past.

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We fly back to Michigan to be with family for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each year on the evening before we leave, we say goodbye to Naples by going for my favorite meal at one of my favorite restaurants, fish and chips at the Old Naples Pub on 3rd Street South in the oldest area of Naples. We went for early supper, as the sun was getting low over the Gulf of Mexico just 4 blocks away, but the temperature was still a balmy 80 f. We ate outdoors, with smiles because it was so perfect.

Christmas decorations had been put up during the previous week so we decided to go for a walk down 3rd Street after we had finished sharing a piece of key lime pie.

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What I see every year is a jolt to my emotional memories. Poinsettias don’t seem to belong with tropical plants – outdoors no less (even though my brain knows they grow into large shrubs in people’s yards). We smiled, enjoyed and laughed as we talked about how different Christmas feels in sub-tropical weather.

Driving home we went down 5th Avenue South just because we could. In high season, when we get back, it takes forever to drive this two-lane, 7 block shopping district because of the cars and people. In November we breezed through, with windows down and sunroof open.

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I hold these memories in my heart and smile, as I am now preparing for a real Christmas with cold and hopefully just a little snow. I have a poinsettia on the kitchen counter and no palm trees with lights wrapped around their trunks. I’ll see the palms in a few weeks.

It is strange how we come to believe that traditions should be the way we have always known them to be. One of the advantages of traveling and spending time in different locations has been learning that even the simplest activities of daily living can be different when people live in different climates, have different faith stories, are a part of a different culture. When I took students abroad to study culture I learned that culture learning requires an open mind, an ability to identify similarities and differences without judgement, an eagerness to explore and understand.

I wish you a holiday season in which you have the opportunity to explore and learn customs that are different than your own and that this experience brings you increased joy. I also hope you find a way to maybe assimilate a little bit of different into what you find familiar and comfortable.

I would love to read your stories if you write them into a blog and leave a link in the comments. Please do!

Thinking of Thanksgiving and Advent

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It has been almost two weeks since the U.S. Thanksgiving but I am still thinking about my thankfulness this year. I’m still thankful for those things close, my day-to-day world. I have a wonderful family with lots of grandchildren and even four great-grandchildren, two who are celebrating their first birthdays. I’m so thankful for the joy each and every one of them brings to my life. I’m thankful that Jim and I made good decisions in our earlier years, living below our means as our incomes increased so we could build our retirement funds. I’m thankful that we can afford to have a comfortable lifestyle while still able to help children and grandchildren as they need it. I’m grateful for our gathering last week-end to celebrate Lona’s first birthday, for the great food presented by daughter-in-law Natalia. I’m grateful that Jim and I are still relatively healthy in our mid-seventies and anticipate with great joy the coming together of our children, and their children, and a fourth generation child on Christmas Eve. I’m thankful for the friends of our children who will join us so that we have the blended chorus of phrases spoken in both English and Russian, and laughter that binds people together across cultures and ages.

Yes, I am thankful for the people who are a part of my life story, the people who make up my personal world. But this isn’t what I’ve been thinking about as I have been moving from Thanksgiving Day into the season of Advent. I can feel my mind and soul working hard to grapple with my emotional turmoil, to prepare my heart, mind and soul for the coming of the Christ Child, struggling to gain a greater understanding of what the Advent of the Christ Child means for how I live my life.

I’m in the 50% to 60% of the people who believe that our country, our democracy, is in great peril. This is a frightening time for me and I feel a responsibility to keep abreast of the daily news. What I am thankful for, from the bottom of my heart and with all my mind, are journalist. Even though they are verbally assaulted and receive death threats on a regular basis, they still go after the story. They are diligent in making sure their information is verified by multiple sources, sources they have nurtured by being honest and trustworthy with the sources. I am thankful for professional organizations and news outlets that take truth in reporting very seriously and sanction those who don’t abide by the ethical standards of journalism. Consequently, journalists take the responsibility to relay truth and be honest about their own bias very seriously as they report information (we all have them and must all be aware of our bias when evaluating information). And they persevere in searching for the truth, raking through the muck, sorting through the messiness of conspiracy theories and fake news. When I have to take a news break I wonder how they persevere.

Yes that is what I’m thankful for, but what does it mean as I move through Advent? If I am to celebrate Advent with integrity, it seems like I should explore what it means to believe in the coming of the Christ Child, to believe, trust, and live by what I have learned from the story of Jesus’ life on earth.

As I sit here struggling for words that heal and guide me, all I feel is deep anger… no rage – in response to the lying and the bullying that has taken place in our government over the past week, the past three years. I want to fight back. I want to write in such a way that my words make a difference. I want my words to land on ears that are open to hearing so my words touch hearts and change behavior. I want to scream Elijah Cummings words, “We are better than this.”

 

 

Artificial Change of Seasons

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We finished our fall clean-up so we could leave for our 5-6 week fall stay in Florida. We do it every year so I would think I would easily adjust but this year we were cleaning out the flower bed before we got much of a taste of fall in Michigan. The trees were just beginning to change and we experienced only one week of the glorious cooler days with lots of sunshine and low humidity that lets us know the season has changed. I went to the farmer’s market for vegetables to made salsa for canning. I experienced the bliss of pealing and chopping tomatoes, dicing peppers and onions, adding spices and vinegar, and then having the smell waif through the house as it boiled down before putting it in jars and processing it. I also canned a few jars of tomatoes for pasta, chili and soups throughout the year. I used roma tomatoes this year and the filled and processed jars were so beautiful. Apples were being picked so I bought some of my favorite varieties to make mixed apple applesauce to freeze for quick and easy side dishes. These are my normal routines that have been consistent for over 50 years. But this moving from north to south doesn’t seem normal (in spite of doing it for nine years) – it feels like we are messing with Mother Nature.

We returned from our 5-week trip to the west coast to a mostly spent flower garden. When I saw it I was ready to have the dying stems cut down, to clean up and make everything tidy for the long dormant season. I advocated for Jim to spare the coriopsis and sedum because the bees and butterflies were so busy around them – but then was so distracted by the discomfort of a molar I had removed on Tuesday of that last week that I don’t know if or when he cut them down. One ritual that we never miss is our annual discussion about when to take down the purple porch swing to transfer from the front porch to the back of the garage. How silly it is, but important, that I want to have the swing there for each and every beautiful fall morning when I feel compelled to soak up as much sun as I can; protection from the long, grey, frigid winter – that I escape for the sunshine state.

Florida is hot and steamy this October. I don’t think the weather here has made the transition to fall – but only full-time residents seem to know when fall begins and ends. Maybe they mark this change of season by the fall merchandise that shows up in the big-box stores. It sure looks like summer outside, but I bought a wreath for the front door with fall flowers and brightly colored leaves. The only leaves that drop here are the bald cypress and I don’t think they turn to a bright color. Southern Florida is evergreen and ever-growing. Any celebration of the change in season feels vicarious to me. Fall is that hurricane season when the temperature is lower than summer and before the season when hoards of snow-birds and tourists arrive. Maybe the snow-birds bring down the concept of a fall season with colorful leaves, orchards with red apples being picked and hayrides on very cold nights – much colder than the 78 degrees F. we had last night.

And I’m out of sorts either because my mouth isn’t normal or I’ve crossed Mother Nature – nothing serious but just uneasy. I’m doing the tasks that need doing but doing them with a heaviness of spirit. I’m piecing cheerful throws, or quilts, for the guest bedroom – a project that I started several years ago. I’m undecided whether they will be throws folded at the end to be opened for more warmth on cooler nights or whether I will make them twin size to use as the main cover. It will probably depend on when I get tired of piecing and whether I want to pay to have the twin size long-arm machine quilted.

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I think I will use the piecing of this quilt as a time of contemplation. I have withdrawn socially in the past few months but this quilt pattern suggest how we are all braided together, our lives are intertwined. I need to think about this as every day seems to bring news of the death of someone in my past – so many deaths creating voids. But that’s another blog.

 

Lake Michigan, Harbor Springs

_DSC0074We went “up north” last weekend camping with friends. This wasn’t a new location to us, with lots of new areas to explore. No, we have been here before, many times so it was more like going “home” to the “up north” that includes anywhere above the midpoint of the Lower Peninsula into the far west end of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We have vacationed at different places throughout this large area for close to 50 years so we can engage in many “remember when…” conversations. Conversations like; “Did we come here with … or …? Wasn’t this the place where Mike… or Sharon… or Carol …? Didn’t we have the …. camper when we camped here, was it in 1976? This sure has changed a lot – its not as I remember it.

It was a beautiful weekend in Petoskey, on the shore of Lake Michigan almost to the tip of the mitten-shaped Lower Peninsula. The temp was in the low 70’s with a cool breeze to complement the warm sun traversing a very deep blue sky. On Friday we drove north along the Lake Michigan shore making our first stop at Harbor Springs. I did a little shopping but mostly tried to capture the spirit of the small towns that cater to tourists who are discovering the beauty of our Great Lakes for the first time or the people like us who have been going “up north” for decades. Many of the people were young families with strollers and young adults in small groups.

Harbor Springs was just waking up to summer, enjoying the laid back quiet before the throngs of summer visitors arrive. The planters were newly planted with bright summer flowers and spring iris and daffodils were blooming. There weren’t many boats in the harbor marina and hardly any people walking the streets or shopping in stores. A couple of shop owners told us this was the first week of being open, probably recently returning from their winter of managing stores in southern Florida.

The most obvious sign that we are in northern Michigan is the presence of fudge shops – lots of fudge shops. It appears that this shop is stocking up for the 4th of July week-end.

I resisted, although Lynn and Gary confessed to indulging in something decedent and very tasty. I am convinced, however, that I gained about a half a pound smelling the wonderful aroma coming through the door that was propped open to the morning breeze.

I really enjoyed meandering through the gift shops looking for things that I normally don’t shop for. I only bought a few little things but was reminded that this is a shopping area with a short season evidenced by their simple way of writing up an order. No fancy technology here – the clerk is getting my change from a small metal money box under the counter.

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As my purchase was being bagged the clerk said that if I liked cookies I should go to the next corner, turn right and cross the street. And of course we did.

We bought enough to split one now and another later, and some to share with our friends. The ones with chocolate were the best, but I didn’t need to tell you that.

Our friends were exploring somewhere that Hemingway is said to have frequented when he visited upper Michigan. While they were doing that, I was admiring a bronze statue of Hemingway that was for sale in front of an art gallery. The owner of this gallery had an eye for talent that resonated with my taste. Fate intervened to require that our credit card be cancelled and a new one issued the day before we left and Jim had the single other card we have as backup. Sometimes life just works out like it should.

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Funny how certain tiny events can evoke big and beautiful memories. We had crossed over to the shady side of the street and I had sat down on a bench to enjoy being who I am in that moment in time. As we sat, two boys passed in front of us, one a little older was striding with purpose, with a dollar bill in his hand. The second boy was younger, full of excitement, and bouncing down the street sideways. I overheard the younger ask if maybe they could get some ice cream at the general store that was their destination. The older replied with the authority of age that they would have to check the price.

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Those boys were me 60-some years ago. I remember the power of having money in my hand, especially money I had earned, heading for the corner market to make my decisions about what penny candy to buy – without adult supervision. I remember hopping along beside an older cousin I trusted and admired as we went down the street to the dry cleaners that also sold stamps for our stamp collections. Yes I remember this summer day from the being of a child, from the being of a young mother responsible for the fun and earned privileges of her children. And best of all, I experienced this summer day from the being of an old person with time and money to spend for small pleasures.