Lens-Artist Challenge: A Covid Christmas Holiday

Daughter, Granddaughter, Granddaughter, Daughter

Things are different this year, we decided some time back that we couldn’t do our Christmas celebration the way we have done it for more than 30 years. I have moments that I feel a little bit sad, maybe tear up a bit, but most of the time I feel joy and excitement about what we can do. And I am so proud of my adult children for how they are making the best of this very crazy season.

When we made the decision that we couldn’t risk having our normal Christmas Eve family gathering, our kids started making decision about how to spend their Christmas. Our oldest son and his wife have been working from home and they asked if they could use our Florida condo from the middle of December to sometime in January because they can work from there as easily as from Lansing and be able to spend more time outdoors exercising. They packed up the car with computers and work materials and are currently enjoying the nice weather there. Middle daughter decided in late June to come to Michigan to live with us for two months to escape the ramped spread of the virus where she lives and works south of Houston in Texas. She, too, decided she could work as well from Michigan and wouldn’t experience the isolation fatigue of living alone and being house bound because of the horrid heat of a Texas summer. She hasn’t found any reason to return to Texas so will be with us for Christmas and New Years. Our third daughter lives two hours away in Grand Rapids and we haven’t been able to visit them because her three adolescent daughters are socially more active than we feel safe with. This daughter told me the other day that she is planning on starting her own family tradition with elements of our extended family celebrations for over the past 50 years. Here at our home, the three of us are planning for our small celebration, and are excited. Yesterday, Jim asked how many more sleeps until Christmas – I had to think a minute, wondering if I should add afternoon naps.

Grandson, wife, and great-granddaughter

We are finding lots of small pleasures to be excited about. Yesterday our neighbors were out for a walk and came up to our door with a container of Christmas treats (including some really good fudge) as a gift to let us know they appreciate us as neighbors. Christmas cards that come in the mail are meaning so much more to me this year as I hold them and read what is written in them. I spend some time thinking about how much I miss seeing the senders and smile thinking about when we may be able to see them again. I have enjoyed having extra time to make gifts for others – quilted throw-sized blankets for each adult child and a 90 year old sister-in-law, Christmas table napkins and hot pads, and I’ve started knitting hats again. It seems like there has been ample time to pull inside and enjoy a quiet peace while listening to the blustery wind blow or watch snowflakes dance on an air current.

I underestimated the lasting joy I would have when I make plans with our daughter who lives in Grand Rapids and our grandson who lives just this side of there to have a Covid safe present drop-off. I really, really wanted to see our great-granddaughter who just turned two but made it clear that we wouldn’t be going into houses and it would be a short visit because of the cold. I smiled all the way home and woke up the next morning still smiling.

Now I am going to the kitchen to make something I have wanted to make for the past five years – I am going to mix the dough to make pecan cinnamon rolls with lots of gooey, sticky, buttery, nutty topping. This year I have lots of time to enjoy both the process of making them and sitting with a hot cup of tea enjoying them.

Joy to all of you no matter what your celebration this time of year. We just passed the winter solstice. Please stay safe and wear your masks. We have to take care of each other.

This post was written with inspiration from Anne-Christine, host of our last Lens-Artist Challenge of 2020.

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.

Staying Afloat – Kinda

We are staying afloat, kinda, as we attempt to stay safe while maintaining relationships with friends and family. Yesterday was a blaa day – grey skies, rain all afternoon, cold. Today is forcasted to be the same but with 2 minutes and 43 seconds less daylight. This time of year the daily loss of daylight is about the same over two or three months and adds up quickly. I don’t do well with less daylight, especially when the daylight is filtered through dark clouds.

But I am keeping my commitment to identify something each day that brought joy. It was difficult finding a bright point of joy yesterday – in fact I don’t remember how I filled most of the day. Funny how there can be a time of joy nestled in a grey, curl-up-in-a-blanket kind of day. There was a joyful period when I felt nurtured by an activity that by design will nurture one of my children.

I am making a throw size quilt for each of my adult children (and a spouse) for Christmas and yesterday I cut the extra backing and batting of the quilt I’m making for our son. It is so exciting to clean up the quilt that is now ready for the binding – the very last step of completion. I nurtured this quilt into existence, using a pattern for inspiration but designing the quilt around the idea in my head of what Mike would like, laying the pieces out and changing them until every piece fit within the whole I was working towards. And then sewing them together and watching in amazement as they came together almost perfectly – then taking out the offending pieces and replacing them with the perfect ones. Yes, it was a labor of love and joy – with a peak of joy when I cut off that extraneous fabric and could see what it would look like finished. But it isn’t quite finished so today I will start sewing on the binding. Will that be my experience of joy today?

Living in the Age of Covid-19: Coping

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These are normally my two places to rest, rejuvenate, start my day and end my day – my favorite chair in my reading room or my purple porch swing on the front porch. These are safe places. But life has changed in so many ways and I am feeling the impact. Research has found that people can only stay in a crisis mode for about 6 weeks before the seek a resolution, a way to cope. Sometimes we find adaptive ways to cope and other times it seems like the only options are maladaptive. We try to move back to our old ways of coping, but sometimes our world had changed so drastically that we can’t find our way back to what was.

I continue to try to identify and name how I am reacting to the pandemic, the Trump presidency, increased focus on racial injustices, and the impact of global warming. Mostly I have settled into exhaustion with brief breakthroughs of peace and joy when concentrating on sewing quilt tops and canning the wonderful fresh produce that Michigan summers provide. Frequently I have felt tears at the back of my eyes that leads me to believe that I am mourning our losses.

So many of us are in this boat – each having loss many things that are very dear. My greatest loss seems to be a sense of safety – I feel the threat of the corona virus, the extreme damages Trump has wrought on what our country stands for (even with all of our faults and blemishes), and the looming threat of global warming. And my heart aches for the hundreds of thousands of people who have loss loved ones or have loss their health due to the virus. And I feel rage that the pandemic and its consequences are a thousand times worse than they should be here in the U.S. because of the incompetence, denial of reality, and narcissism of our president. And then it makes me angry that I hate someone as much as I hate that man and all the people who support him. Lord, have mercy on me.

It helped to write the previous paragraph, a little, but I’ve expressed similar thought before. But there are other things I need to write, I want to express, but something gets in the way, blocks the path from soul to brain to fingers. Maybe they are thoughts that are either half baked or seem too inconsequential within the magnitude, the enormity of what we as a country and a world are experiencing. I want to put to words the minor frustrations that I am experiencing from the crisis we are experiencing.

This past week we went camping on Lake Huron, the Great Lake that is the border on the eastern side of the lower peninsula. I had been looking forward to this get-away with a couple who is similarly terrified of the virus. I wanted to run away from everything just for a little while. But it didn’t work because there was always that nagging fear in the back of my brain that maybe it was a mistake even though we encountered just a handful of other people. I found that I longed to be home piecing my quilt top and by Thursday I really wanted to just pack up and go home. As we were driving home today, Friday, I decided I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to turn around and go somewhere for another week. My take-away is that I can’t escape any of it, no matter where I go.

I am also irritated at how cautious I am whenever I leave my “clean” space. Every time I leave the house I am continually calculating how safe my movement is, who I am coming in contact with, and how to avoid being close to people – especially people who don’t have masks on. (And then I have to deal with my rage at people who refuse to wear a mask because it infringes on their personal freedom – damn them all to hell. Oh Lord, have mercy on me again.)

This same cautiousness happens when I bring things into the house. I can’t seem to separate rational caution from irrational. When we returned home I had to unpack a lot of the food from our camper before I could fix some supper. As I took things from the carrying boxes, I felt the impulse to disinfect them – and to wash my hands yet again. And I wonder if I’m being overly cautious, irrationally cautious. Sometimes I am and then sometimes I slip back into old ways and I fear that I let some virus in. Damn, it is exhausting.

Most of all I’m trying to make sense of my reaction to the pandemic (and my reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement that will have to wait until another post). The pandemic hasn’t affected my economics but it has my social relationships. The pandemic hasn’t impacted on my health but it has on my movement within my community. I haven’t lost a job but I have loss my sense of direction. I have loss my safety because I believe I have about a 40% chance of dying if I am infected. I don’t want my husband, family and friends to experience the pain of my death. I don’t want to lose my husband, and I don’t want all the people who love him to experience the pain of his death. I am afraid – but within my fear and grief are times of joy and happiness. I’ll share some of those next post.

Living in the Age of Covid-19: Control

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View from my sewing corner.

My social calendar is blank, although we have found some low-risk ways of occasionally being with one or two other people. The surest way that I have found to be with people at a distance is to work in my front flower garden. A good number of people walk in our neighborhood and most people say hi and the people we know best stop to chat – but they don’t get too close because they really don’t want to work with me. Even when I tell them there are enough weeds for everyone.

My garden seems really happy right now, probably because I have showered it with attention this year. Because of stay-at-home and social distancing I can’t be somewhere else or can’t have friends over for cards or dinner. As with every spring, the first order of business in my garden was going after the weeds, thinking it would also count as exercise because I can’t go to the gym. As I weeded I remembered that some daylilies needed dividing because they haven’t bloomed much in the past couple of years. Then I realized that the veronica should be moved because the dwarf lilac is starting to encroach on it. And the 12-year-old gold falsecypress was getting too big for the garden even though I did some major pruning in the past two years. Jim took that out along with the flowering almond that no longer had many redeeming qualities, and two ground cover evergreens that were looking their age. That last sentence fragment doesn’t sound very gracious – given that I am also looking my age. Out back by the poppies, Jim took out a beautiful “Limelight” hydrangea that I planted in the wrong place but too long ago to make it possible to transplant it – at least without a backhoe. This year we are really enjoying the poppies and new bird bath that aren’t hidden by the hydrangea.

These are the physical things we have been doing in the garden, along with planting some new perennials. Twelve years ago I started with a blank slate, planting some evergreens and small flowering shrubs to give some structure (the ones we are now removing). Then I started filling in with some perennials from the house we left and from several trips to the garden center. My goal was to get some things growing and fill in the distance between with mulch. It was a long, slow process and I don’t do well with waiting a year or five to see results.

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A new canvas – April 2008

 

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My 2018 garden in early July

But my garden did grow and mature. It survived a few years without much care as I struggled to get control of fibromyalgia that overtook my life. Jim kept the weeds under control, mostly, and one year for Mother’s Day my daughter and three granddaughters came to weed because neither Jim nor I had enough energy to tend to it. In the last few years I have been fighting some very invasive weeds, mostly doing garden crisis control, although I visited some garden centers and would pick up a plant or two of interest to put someplace that was a little bare. Ya, I liked the buying more than the planting and tending.

This year has been different. I actually have enjoyed the process of gardening as much as the excitement of waiting to see how it will look. I bought and planted several new perennials where I think they will accent existing plants. I am contemplating how to best fill in the spots where shrubs were removed and how new planting will improve the overall structure. The fun part is that I feel my 12-year-old garden moving into a new phase in its lifecycle and maybe this change is reflecting a new change in me. Maybe.

I have been quilting and gardening in an attempt to exert some control, to make things work, to create beauty in a world that feels dangerous and on the edge of being out of control. I have been getting pleasure from fixing the plantings in my garden and putting small pieces of fabric together so they make something better than each individual plant/fabric piece, so they work together better.

What I really want is to have an impact on our social problems. What I really want is to be able to control the spread of misinformation, of lies, of wrong-headed beliefs. I want to control what other people are doing (or not doing) that is increasing the deadly spread of the virus that our national leader is denying. I want to get inside the brains of racists and white supremacists and wipe out all the garbage they have in there – and re-order the firing of neurons so they don’t create and spew out hate and injustice.

And on my darkest days I stoop to thinking of really evil things to do to people who refuse to listen and learn from science, who won’t read widely and critically so they can make informed decisions instead of acting on blind instinct. I want bad things to happen to people who put their self-interests ahead of the common good of society. Dear God, am I asking too much of humanity?

This week I am in a dark mood; I feel depressed and have to force myself to do things that normally give me pleasure. It has taken me so long to finish this post that the poppies are in their last day of blooming. Last week I felt that life was about as wonderful as it could get. My world (my bubble inside an insane world) was full of beauty and kindness and graciousness. I have been experiencing these mood swings for some time now and suspect there is a correlation with the amount of political news I listen to or what crisis is being reported. Given that I feel a responsibility to knowing what is happening in the US and around the world, this will be the price I have to pay.

But I have been feeling a difference in how I garden and quilt and maybe even how I respond to the news I listen to and the people I interact with. I am observing a slight shift in how I do my work of living in an imperfect world. In my garden I am feeling more tolerant of the time it takes for plants to mature and taking more interest in creating happy combinations of flowers and foliage. My flowers may be allowed to grow as their DNA instructs them to grow without having to bend to my rules and control (no worry about my giving up complete control, though).

Maybe I’m giving up my wrong-headed belief that I have a responsibility to make the world right. Maybe I’ll try doing what I can to improve our society, but when I can’t do anything I will focus on making beauty in my little corner of the world.