Artist Reflecting on a Lily Pond

I was taking photos of water lilies from the boardwalk across the lily pond as two women were painting on the lawn to the south of where I was. The pond is perfect for taking photos of reflections, especially mornings before the breeze comes up. I moved around a lot trying to find the best perspective for a good reflection without too many lily pad or lilies to obscure the reflection. I also look for reflections that are bright enough to be distinguishable and not too busy.

Mostly I take lots of photos of reflections in differing conditions, learn from some, like some a lot, and delete some. As we are moving through our second year of the pandemic, it feels like this has been and continues to be my strategy. As we are making plans on moving to our northern home, we heard the news that Michigan is being hit with a large increase of new cases and hospitalizations, with our small home town being the epicenter – in fact for one or two weeks that small town was the epicenter of the country. That made me very uncomfortable, even as I was receiving my second vaccine dose.

I’ve been collecting information from social media and epidemiologists, learn from some, accept some for the basis of my decision making, and disregard some. In the bar graphs I studied in the New York Times this morning, I learned that Michigan isn’t much worst than Florida and that upward movement of infections seem to be caused by variant of the virus. We had already considered that in determining behaviors that we believe are safe post-vaccine.

I’m comfortable with the decision we have made. We are going home as planned and will continue to protect ourselves in the same way we have here in Florida. We have gone out to eat when we could eat outdoors or taken food home to eat. We have avoided shopping during high traffic times and if people aren’t wearing masks in the store. We spend time indoors with very small groups of friends and family who have also been vaccinated and we continue to practice safe behaviors when we go places. When we stop to visit with neighbors while walking around the block we will still stand apart, we won’t shake hands or give hugs except with our kids and grandkids (unless the virus spread continues to get worst – then no hugs).

I continue to find the virus exhausting and stressful – but in a slightly different way now that we know more about how the virus is transmitted and we are vaccinated. I’m no longer afraid of getting covid from my mail or groceries, nor am I as afraid to go out in public if safety measures (distancing and masks) are taken. I have a little more freedom to eat out and socialize but that still takes a lot of prior thought and being vigilant as to whether we feel safe or not. The virus is still impacting on how I think about my life and my relationships – I’m just not sure how I have changed and if the changes will be permanent.

How are you doing?

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.

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?

Lens-Artist Challenge #119 -My Hideaway

I have been missing my weekly early morning outings out in the country with no destination and no agenda. Just photography gear in the back seat and friend Julie along for companionship. Two women, both very comfortable with silence, communing together with whatever we saw on the horizon or along the road. Long lengths of quite time just being with the sounds, smells and sights that are experienced away from the human world.

I knew what I enjoyed about it but I don’t think I totally understood the significance that this solitary time in nature had for my very being. I seemed to know it was important but not just how important until I no longer thought it possible to find after some changes and losses. The pandemic continued, social issues peaked in importance, politics became crazier and my craving became more intense. Jim and I went out several times but I wasn’t able to get in touch with what I needed because overshadowing the outings was someone waiting for me, maybe getting impatient, maybe thinking I had spent enough time. He would deny it but these thoughts were still impacting my focus on what I was (or wasn’t) seeing.

On a sunny day last week I decided to go to the Hidden Lake Gardens by myself. This garden has lots of walking trails through woods and meadows and around kettle lakes but there is also a driving trail with lots of pull-offs through the acres of hills and woodlands. This trip felt much safer for a women who is alone than going down dirt roads. I wish it weren’t so but I believe I need to be ever vigilant about where I am and the potential threats. I learned this very young with no actual conversation taking place.

I started this outing with a plan taking into consideration my safety and time needed and side trip for a piece of fabric for a quilt. As I drove I felt the tension of getting to where I wanted to be, thinking about what I wanted to capture on my memory card for future posts. I thought about how I could use my trip to this garden as a post for the current Lens-Artist Photo Challenge #119: Hideaway. I thought about how I wanted to stop at the Liberty Mill Pond along the road south from our home because it looked so interesting the last few times we had driven past. And I felt the tension in my neck and the pressure around my temples. I felt the sadness in the back of my eyes. This isn’t what I needed nor wanted.

Liberty Mill Pond

Then I reached the pond just as the sun was coming over the trees that edged the pond. People fish this pond so there is a little pull-off created by people stopping, not county officials making it. The air was still really cool but there was no wind. Heavy frost covered the swamp grasses on the near edge where the sun hadn’t hit and there was a mist rising from the warmer waters. The water was perfectly smooth except for the lily pads and mist that broke the reflections of the surrounding trees in full fall color. The sun made diamonds of the melting frost on all the grasses and leaves.

See the guardrail and the rainbow? See the mist?

I would never think a hideaway could be somewhere in plain sight. I wasn’t hiding from the drivers who slowed their cars for my car parked on the edge and the old woman taking pictures. But they weren’t a worry for me and neither was the coronavirus, or the election in three weeks. I was focused on the world of nature in the very process of creation and recreation. I seemed to be in an effortless, easy being in the presence of my Creator to whom I belong, as much as the natural world belongs to the one who created the blueprints. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt. It is just what I need.

How wonderful to find my hideaway in a place that I can take with me, can recreate anywhere I am. How wonderful to have a platform for sharing my experience and having an archive for future visits when my brain gets foggy and I forget where I need to be and why. Thank you for being with me and I look forward to reading about the ways you find distance between yourself and those things that seem a bit toxic.

Please stay safe, and wear your mask in public places so others stay safe. Please don’t shoot yourself in the foot by making mask wearing a matter of style, masculinity, or personal freedom. See it as a responsibility we are all willing to take on for the greater good of society.