There’s no fast-track back to normal

NormalEven if we could click on the remote and restart the video that was once our life, I think it will be pixelated and jumpy at first. Even if we could crank up our economic engine again with the snap-of-a-finger, I think it will more likely need a few tugs on the pull cord, like our old lawnmower, before things hum without sputtering. Even if the windows on my world suddenly sprung open and I was free to fly, I think I would sit on the ledge a while and ponder a little longer, before taking flight.

Sitting around on our porch in the quiet evenings we liven up the conversation with “What if …” questions. A family favorite in years gone by has been “What would you do if you won the lottery?” The answers typically coalesce around putting most of it in the bank and sitting on it a while to digest the impact. Of course, the money doesn’t go to the back until after some fun splurge-y thing like a big expensive trip to the Maldives, or buying a new Tesla car.

A new COVID19 question has been added to our repertoire: “What’s the first thing you are going to do when social distancing is over”. The answer will vary depending on what our greatest pain point is at the moment. It can be anything from get a hair cut, to go to the gym, or the movies, or visit a friend, or have people over for dinner, or meet them at a restaurant. My guess is that we might treat ourselves to something that feels like a daring splurge-y move the first day, but then sit back and consider how we really want to spend our time in the post-COVID world.

Will we want more, or less interaction with people than before? Will we re-engage in all the groups we were involved with before — or maybe we didn’t miss one or two of them? Will we continue something new that we discovered during the lock down — mask sewing anyone? Did relationships shift during this time — and will they shift back, or stay at the same new COVID normal? Will some of the changes we made stick with us — wearing masks maybe? If we’ve witnessed healing of our planet, will we be more mindful of our impact on the earth?

Lots of questions. Not many answers yet. Just like we wondered what kind of parents we might be before we had kids. We had aspirations and hopes but we had to live into it to really know. And similar to parenting, clarity of intention helps but it sometimes gets messy and sometimes things are beyond your control.

Our world, and us in it, has been in a medically induced coma. It’s going to take time to wake up. There probably won’t be a fast-track back to normal — and we don’t even know what post-COVID normal will look like yet.


It’s all over but the shouting

24x24-DONT-MESS-WITH-TEXAS-TABLE-TOPLast night the White House briefing introduced the new 3-Phase plan to open up America again. The gating and phasing concept was all very familiar from decades of working on IT projects. It seemed very well structured and sensible. The key figures on stage were poised and calm and speaking with unity. This is what I expect. Very nice – a welcome change. 

Early today I started receiving texts from friends anticipating an announcement from the Governor this morning, that would open up Texas again – maybe as early as today. Really? Just like that? What happened to May 1st, to us not having peaked yet … to schools out for the rest of the year? Let’s see, maybe it’s just wishful thinking.

In the meantime, we went out for a long bike ride around town. Cycling has been a real pleasure these past few weeks — rather than feeling like you’re risking life and limb mixing in with impatient drivers blind to anything smaller than a truck. As soon as we reached the end of our street, we could tell something had happened. Something was different than even yesterday.

There was more traffic, there was more rushing, there was a greater buzz. As we passed small shopping strips the parking lots were noticeably filled with cars – a week ago they were empty. People were coming and going from businesses. Did we miss the memo? Did our Governor really take the lock off?

I checked the news-feed and found an executive order issued this morning from the Governor that “establishes a temporary “Retail-To-Go” model that will allow retail outlets in Texas to reopen beginning Friday, April 24. Under this model, reopened establishments are required to deliver items to customer’s cars, homes, or other locations to minimize contact.” Isn’t that a week from now, or did I lose a week already? What unleashed all this activity?

It seems to me that Texas is done with this “Stay At Home” order. This is after all the state with one of the most successful public service ad campaigns, ever, built on the logo “Don’t Mess with Texas”. They’ve been messed with long enough. The executive order signaled a leak in the damn. People are busting out. They are moving on.

I’m going to be watching this unfold from my little patch of isolation and hoping that we know what we’re doing!!


Conquering the Mask

Mask SuppliesToday was going to be Mask Day. Not the wearing of a mask, rather the making of a mask. I’ve witnessed enthusiastic and prolific sewers of masks scattered across the landscape of my internet feeds. A cottage industry has popped up in this country churning out an assortment of bright colors, funky designs, re-purposed cool t-shirts, even a Melitta coffee filter version.

I love sewing but none of this has inspired me. I used to love finding a unique pattern and unusual fabric to make a new outfit. But a cloth surgical mask? … not cute. I’d have to dig through my stash of sewing supplies buried in the back of the closet, find a pattern online, reacquaint myself with the workings of my sewing machine, etc. All very tedious. I don’t think so – it can wait. And anyway, there was no urgency to have a mask since we a) basically never leave the house and b) none of the experts can agree whether this is useful or not.

Now it seems that the ‘experts’ are getting behind the wear a mask campaign. I guess I’d better join the band of merry mask makers. Enthusiasm is still lacking, but I willed myself into the closet this morning and started pulling out boxes to see what I had on hand.

With the ‘Sew Easy’ pattern displayed on my smartphone I checked off all the materials needed. In my treasure trove of saved-just-in-case-you-need-it sewing supplies I found everything on the list – even pipe cleaners for the nose bridge fitting. At the family fitting session at lunch there were some complaints about the stretchy-ness of the elastic on my prototype. Well, ok, so maybe that elastic in the packet with a 75 cents label was a bit on the old side, so I replaced it with some I found in another packet costing 90 cents, and we were good to go. [Out of curiosity, I looked up the current price online and see that it now costs $4.99 – oops, I guess I’ve been saving that for quite some time.] There was also some grumbling about it being too loose around the sides and the pleats not being as tight as they should be. I can tell these are going to be picky customers.

The second product to roll off the production line was much improved. The elastic was tight, the gaping on the sides was remedied and the pleats were might tighter. It even has a pouch for a filter insert. It’s the Cadillac of masks, IMHO, I was chuffed. Then there was some questioning about the smell of the fabric. It smelled a bit ‘old’, maybe musty. Where had the material come from? Honestly, I’m not sure. If I had to guess, it came from the same place as that 75 cent elastic. Maybe they won’t read this. I’m going to put a dab of lavender oil on each one. 

And now, on closer inspection, I’ve been informed that one side is longer than the other. Yep, a bit fussy. These people!

Four more cut out and ready to go. It’s becoming a matter of pride. I’m going to get it right. Even if I miss my daily appointment with my blog tomorrow, I will conquer this mask thing.

Mask Lynn-cropped

Waiting for the Storm Surge

Hurrican harveyWe know about waiting around for a storm surge on the Texas Gulf Coast. When a named storm comes into the Gulf of Mexico, the media goes into hyper-overdrive. The weather becomes the headline news, the mid-point news and the wrap-up news – and then the special edition extension to the news. Public Service Announcements drop into our conscientiousness like pollen off the oak trees in March. We add water, batteries, extra canned soup, alcohol, chips and salsa to our grocery lists — never toilet paper before, but this could be a new thing after COVID-19.

Then we sit and wait … and watch the news. As the colored storm trajectories and probabilities snake their way across the map, we make second level decisions about boarding up windows, tying down flying objects, and moving cars to higher ground. Some people gather for storm parties – admit it, you know you do! Life is up-ended. It feels exciting, a bit dangerous and there’s a thrill of a disruption to the daily grind.

Today we’re sitting around watching for another potential surge to hit our city. Houston is awaiting a surge in Coronavirus cases. We are warned to “expect lots of deaths” on the news. Is that for us too, or just New York? We’re not familiar with these new “flatten the curve” charts being flashed up on the screen. We don’t know how to assess the likelihood of damage.

We’ve done lots of the basic supplies prep, and are now making additional decisions around masks, gloves, and ordering groceries online. Our natural inclination to have a storm party is thwarted by the “Stay At Home” orders. What’s the point of all the chips and beer if you can’t share it with anyone?

When storms hit the coast, reporters stand ridiculously close to the waves on various piers and hotels near the ocean front. We watch and analyze and pour another drink. We post more on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and try to eventually get to sleep, but with one ear open for rising wind and flying objects. It’s a short-lived happening. Within a day, or two your fate is sealed and the storm has fizzled out, and the reporters can get some sleep. And us too.

This Corona surge however, is stretching beyond our attention span on the Gulf Coast. We’ve been switching on the evening news for the latest “Breaking News” for over three weeks now. The front-line reporters are in hospitals, deserted streets, and interviewing distressed medical personnel via Facetime across the country. I notice that they don’t get as close to the COVID patients as they do to those storm waves. 

Our social media feeds are getting clogged up with all manner of sharing challenges and chains on alternative topics. We’re not sleeping as well and starting to get cranky about people getting too close to us on walks.

How long is this going to take? First it was early April, then mid-April, now it’s April 30th. How will we know when it’s over and safe to step outside again? Is this “peak” they speak of rather like being in the eye of the storm? We keep tuning in to hopefully get answers.

I’m worried about our stamina for this. This is not your average storm surge. We can’t see the dropping pressure isobars over the Gulf. Do we have the endurance needed for such a long, drawn-out watch event? Especially each household going it alone. We’re not in training for this. We don’t have a frame of reference for this pending disaster.

There’s an expectation that the storm needs to either hit, or move on elsewhere. How long can we keep everyone penned in when they become immune to the media warnings? Something needs to happen soon, or I fear people are going to bust out. 

Waiting and patience are not our strong suits. Do we have what it takes to ride out this storm?

There is a mounting restlessness “to saddle up and move ’em on out.”



“We will meet again”

QEII Speech - April 5I’ve always loved that WWII song “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when …”. If you’re too young to know about it, take a minute to listen here. It’s a sweet mix of hope and melancholy. The Queen’s speech yesterday evoked a connection to a time when the western world was called on to tap into our reserves of “resolve”, “self-discipline”, “fellow feeling”, and ability to work “together”.

“Together we are tackling this disease,” she said. “If we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.” As the royal  correspondent to the BBC put it “This was not a warrior-queen’s speech; it was about collective effort.”

I’ve often wondered what it must have felt like to live through the dark and uncertain days of WWII. Looking back from the vantage point of victory and post-war economic success, it’s hard to imagine that the outcome did not seem inevitable in the middle of the crisis. The raw feelings of hardship, doubt and despair has been dulled by the passage of time, and the passing of the generation that lived through it.

The COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps giving us a glimpse into some of our grandparents’ and parents’ struggles during that war. They were uniquely shaped by that experience. They have been called “The Greatest Generation”, as if we could never surpass their achievement or grit. Maybe we will get to prove ourselves too?

I found the Queen’s speech a welcome, soothing antidote to the political finger-pointing and chaotic leadership I read about in the US press everyday. She’s calling on the “Britons” to come together to overcome. This is a message needed even more desperately across the Atlantic in a country built on rugged individualism. The speech is a very straight, low-tech, unglitzy, zero drama delivery. It’s a message of “we shall overcome”, and this is how.

It’s worth listening to. You won’t regret taking 4 minutes out of your day to hear some great-grandmotherly wisdom in this clip (Click HERE).

“You joking? It’s not Easter today?”

Hereford Girls MapGetting back online with my high school friends this morning, ‘Waltham‘ was a few minutes late. [I’m going to call them by the towns/villages where they live now — a loose attempt at preserving some anonymity] Anyway, back to Waltham. She jumps in with “sorry I’m late, I was just outside checking what bins people were putting out, since tomorrow’s Easter Monday”. We all jam the airwaves on top of each other with “what?”, “tomorrow’s not Easter Monday!”, “what you up to?”, “today’s not Easter yet”. Waltham is in disbelief. She’s shocked. “Crikey, I ate my Easter eggs already!”. Deary me, we’re all losing track of time.

And with that, we were in hysterics. Just like the time in the second Form (aka Grade 7 in the US) when Mr. Stamp told us not to panic on April Fool’s Day when Keighley fake fainted in Geography class.

From there we flitted back and forth trading the latest excitements from another week of lock down living. We shared advice on how to dry out a phone dropped into the toilet …. ewwww. Broadmayne assured us that nothing else had been dropped into said toilet before the phone fell in. Now keeping fingers crossed that several days of resting in rice grains will do the trick.

Wigston had finally cracked the secret of getting into the Waitrose queue for her grocery shopping curbside pickup and was very chuffed with her midnight stealth work online. Well done we cheered!

Broadmayne confessed to having been stopped by the police on her 2-mile car trip to the beach to walk the dog. When she explained where she was going the policeman replied with “no you’re not, you’re going back home”. Apparently it was all very nicely put and he did take the time to elaborate that he didn’t want her getting into a car accident and using up medical services. We were sorry for her, but at the same time we thought it all seemed very sensible.

Louth shared some surprisingly f***-laced exchanges her and her husband had with some fellow queuers at the local supermarket. The mother of three active children didn’t take kindly to the suggestion that her children were getting too close to them. Tempers are rising. What happened to British reserve?

Keighley is, unbeknownst to me, the gardening expert in our group, so much advice was dispensed regarding rose pruning and other important gardening tasks for this time of year. All beyond my grasp living in a completely different climate.

Waltham and Wigston shared conversations with friends and family in France and Italy describing forms that now have to be filled out every time you leave the house in Paris and Naples. Apparently the French and Italians are required to write down the time of their departure, the destination and purpose, and have that piece of paper on hand in case they are stopped by the police. Word has it that lots of fines are being given out. Gosh. That’s a warning to the rest of us who are still being asked to isolate voluntarily. 

We did some heavy sighing between outbursts of hilarity. Everyone was looking forward to the Queen’s televised message at 8pm.

Ta-ta for now. Let’s do this again in a couple of weeks. We’ll skip next Sunday since it really will be Easter Sunday – except maybe in Waltham!



Where’s my escape hatch? The Tiger King?

escape-hatch-decal-IIHIHIn 2017 Hurricane Harvey gifted us with 12 inches of water in our house and turned our home-life upside down. This was as unexpected as winning the Mega Millions lottery. These things happen to other people we read about in the news. We felt secure in our preparedness and trusting in our house built up out of the flood plain. Even as the water began rising rapidly in the street, we weren’t overly worried. Our risk-averse life was carefully structured to avoid these kinds of disasters. 

Ha-ha-ha … guess what … turns out we were wrong — nature had the last laugh.

How did we cope? Of course we did all the things you might expect, and just got on with it. Tore out sheet rock, called insurance adjusters, hired contractors, etc. etc. That was more how we managed it rather than how we coped with it.

We coped with it by having a wide network of support from people who were spared by Hurricane Harvey. They invited us into their homes for a home-cooked meal that didn’t come from a microwave in our upstairs bathroom. They offered us a quiet bedroom where we could escape from the industrial dryers running 24×7 in our downstairs. They opened up their kitchen to let us cook all our weird vegetarian food, leave stuff in their fridge, and even bravely joined us in eating it. They created bright spots on our calendar by hosting birthday celebrations and family dinners.

They gave us an escape hatch from the worry, exhaustion and all consuming drain on our energies during this rebuild period. We had a place to go to where life was normal. Where people talked about normal things, handed out Halloween candy on October 31st, decorated for Thanksgiving in November, followed by Christmas in December. It was an oasis we treasured and for which we will always be grateful.

As I wake up on this colder than expected rainy morning, I’m looking for an escape hatch from the virus dominated reality we’re living in today. I can’t go anywhere, look at anything online or talk to anyone without the virus intruding. Unlike Harvey, we’ve all been hit, across the globe. Friends on all continents are facing the same intrusions.

I long to go somewhere, or at least think that somewhere might exist, where life is carrying on as normal. Where people are planning family Easter brunches and Easter egg hunts. Where high school seniors are worrying their parents about after-prom parties. Where engaged couples are addressing their invitations for summer weddings. Where families are booking vacation trips when school lets out. Where the April 15th tax deadline is looming large and the Leisure section of the paper is full of spring festival announcements.  I cannot escape to any of these places. They’ve all been suspended until we don’t know when.

I did however visit a crazy world this week where nothing reminded me of the pandemic. For the duration of a mini-series episode, I was pulled so far away from anything I could imagine possible, that I temporarily suspended all consciousness of our current reality.

This show is ridiculous, whacky and nothing I would ever waste my time watching under normal circumstances. It includes exotic animals, polygamy, murder-for-hire, revenge, wanna-be country singer, suicide, and more. However, these are not normal circumstances. This show is not even close to what the Netflix algorithm would ever recommend to me — not by a long shot. 

Yes, I know it’s shocking, but I watched a couple of episodes of the Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, at the prompting of my daughter this week. This new Netflix series has exploded into the streaming world just as the “Stay At Home” orders were issued in the US. Is this being seen outside the US too? If so, I apologize for also polluting your internet experience. But it does seem as if there is an appetite for it right now. Maybe you’re already secretly watching it?

In the last episode, the gay big cat breeder marries two guys in a 3-way ceremony and it turns out the two guys he marries are straight. You get the idea. It’s bad. I’m embarrassed, but it definitely qualifies as a temporary escape hatch. It’s a place I can go to and forget everything. 

I’m even looking forward to the next episode tonight. What am I going to do when I get to the last one? I will think less of myself, I’m sure of that, but it will have been worth it for the reprieve. I might even have to reconsider my snobbish stance on “The Bachelor” or my boycott of the British Bakeoff (or whatever it’s called).

Advice most welcome…



The Doc’s Dilemma

This morning our memoir writing class eagerly connected into our new Zoom classroom. We surprised ourselves with efficient advanced mailing of assignments over the weekend and getting our sound and video sorted out before the official class start time. [If you’re following this blog, you may recall my homework posted here a couple of days ago under “Coronavirus Haikus“.]

Our hesitant attempts at this verse form ended up being a refreshing source of joy and wonder. These verses became an outlet for a landscape of emotions and experiences, we are struggling to figure out.

Dr. dilemna-1Our self-appointed class comedienne, who never fails to make us laugh, did a ‘one-eighty’ on us this morning. There was none of the usual light and breezy stories we so look forward to. As a medical professional, who thrives on being in the middle of all the action, she has been unexpectedly forced to sit on the sidelines this time – due to personal risks. The media has been so focused on the dire situations our doctors and nurses have been thrust into, that we hadn’t considered others who might be excluded.

Setting aside her default style today, our fellow writer reminds us that there may also be those among our first responders who are struggling, because they cannot be there.

She gave me permission to share her piece. Thank you dear friend.

Haiku Doc’s Dilemma  

Yesterday calmness
Slow deep breaths and long dog walks
What a difference

Home on furlough
A perk of the elderly
This is new for me

Harvey struck last time
Brief paralysis then go
Doctors are like that

We’re Team NRG
Twenty-four and seven
Twenty-three days without stop

That is what we do
We assess, we act, we help
We like the front lines

This time so different
Molasses, not torrent
We wait and we wait

I am home on leave
I feel very conflicted
It’s a balance act

I miss my clinic
I miss my nurses and staff
I miss my patients

Pulling me one way
Pulling me another way
What is the right thing to do?

Protect yourself, Doc
Protect your dear family
We care about you

I called my dear friend
She always gives good advice
She said, “This is real

Please do not go in
I cannot get out of bed
This is not pretty

I am sick with chills
Short of breath when I get up
We are quarantined”

Do I take a risk?
To me or my family?
Risk their health and lives?

Feel anxious today
Worried about my dear friend
Who knows what’s ahead?

Equal opportunity virus – or maybe not?

equal opportunity

Last week we learned that Boris Johnson also tested positive for the virus; adding to a growing list of notables across the globe. Tom Hanks was the first to grab my attention – that was sad. Then there was a raft of NBA basketball players – how did that happen? And a few days ago “the palace” released a statement that even Prince Charles has it – deary me! Now we’re learning of local Houston personalities like US congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher and “legendary” rapper Scarface — though I must admit I’d never heard of him before this.

Everyone’s first reaction is perverted comfort in the fact that this stealth villain can also reach the lofty echelons of society. The rich and famous are not escaping it’s tendrils. Privilege has not bought them immunity. 

It’s an equal opportunity threat.

Or is it?

Privilege may have granted them access to testing. Did they have to pass the same screening that you or I would to get tested where we live? I don’t think so.

Will fame and fortune gain them preferred access to medical treatment, if it’s needed? If decisions have to made with scarce resources as to who gets a ventilator in limited supply and who doesn’t, how will lines be drawn in this country? Based on likely health outcome, as we’ve heard in Italy, or the ability to pay, which is our typical default model? How would we choose between a young able bodied person with no insurance and the elderly frail with medicare?

There are more questions than answers right now. I have my concerns. I hope we are not tested. 

And if we are, I pray that we will be touched “by the better angels of our nature”.


High school check-in from Grimsby days

2020-03-29_10-11-51Growing up in Grimsby on the northeast coast of England in the late 60s / early 70s, the sound of Radio 4 programming was the constant background to our family life. The little wireless radio in the windowsill was turned on in our kitchen when the sun came up and didn’t go off again until the family sat down for supper in the evening. It was our mother’s primary source of all knowledge, rather like me and NPR today. Family life clattered around it with the radio fading into the background when we came through for breakfast, after school hellos, just hanging around or hunting for snacks.

The only time of the week that our noisy comings and goings took a backseat to Radio 4 was at 9am on Sunday mornings when Alistair Cooke delivered his weekly “Letter from America“. It was like church in the kitchen for those 15 minutes every week.

He would would speak of a topical issue in the US, tying together different strands of observation and anecdote and often ending on a humorous or poignant note. As ex-pats living in the pre-internet, CNN, Skype, WhatsApp, etc. era, I’m sure my parents were eager to hear any deeper commentary on the news from their home country. I can still hear his distinguished voice speaking into that quiet Sunday breakfast gathering around our Formica kitchen table.

Today, on a Sunday morning, another lifetime later, I connected in Zoom with five of my high school friends from that period of my life. They are now scattered across England, and I’m in the US. I felt as hungry for connection to what’s going on with them this morning, as my parents must have been seeking in Alistiar Cooke’s letters from America — especially during times of crisis as their home country dealt with assassinations, riots, a war gone wrong and even an impeachment.

I realized this was my Alistair Cooke moment.

This morning I wanted the threads still connecting me to that part of my life to tell me how they were doing with the coronavirus back in England. What were the restrictions? Were people following them? What were their new routines? How were they coping? What is the general mood? Are they getting tested? Zoom put us all together in one virtual moment in time.

We jumped around from being serious to giggly, upbeat to gloomy, to joyful and comforted. It was as much fun as the last time we gathered three years ago for several days of reminiscing, sharing of laughter and tears, and reflecting on the passage of so many decades.

We were amazed on either side of “the pond” at the dramatic differences in how the pandemic is being handled. The most notable aspect of their reports to me was how similar, consistent and aligned they were in their understanding of the national messaging and the responses each one of them was taking personally. The only point of some dispute – really more of a discussion – was whether you could go out for longer than a 30-minute walk each day. A finer point, which seems trivial compared to much larger questions of intent and interpretation here at home. Otherwise, it all sounded very similar from Dorset to Yorkshire to Leicester to Lincolnshire.

It was pretty simple: Only go out once a day for exercise and do not leave the house otherwise — unless it’s necessary to purchase food. Work from home unless otherwise deemed essential or exempted. They also all seemed to be tuning into the 5pm Daily Briefing, which sounds similar in concept, if not actual execution, to our “White House holds Coronavirus Task Force briefing”.

I can feel the pressure to get back to work building up in the national conversation here, so I was struck by the fact that they are all expecting to be in isolation like this for 12-14 weeks — until early June. And nobody seemed to take issue with it – no questions asked. In fact, they are prepared for the June date to be extended. They understand that this is required to avoid a disastrous spread and complete collapse of the health system. One of our group had just returned to the UK after living in Italy for the past 40 years. She’s very close to what is happening there. Daily videos and messages from Italy leave no doubt as to what the UK fate might be if they do not heed the government restrictions. I did not expect this level of unanimity from a group that had expressed different emotions over Brexit a few years ago.

On a lighter note, they were all getting involved in the various online choirs being organized, music lessons and regular coffee morning visits on video chat. Several of them are newly besotted with a Joe Wicks’ exercise program online – apparently he’s very easy on the eye. I will definitely have to check that out. I was also introduced to some new Netflix series and was left feeling uplifted, connected and hopeful about our future.

We had so much fun that we scheduled another gathering next Sunday.

It took a pandemic for us to even think about this. We are wondering why?