Frozen in Time

cobwebbed flowerI went to enter something on the May family calendar in the pantry and realized that I had not yet turned the page to April. This is a litmus test of activity in our house. The master household calendar, the director of traffic in our lives, the synchronizer of all family comings and goings has not been needed. I haven’t referred to, or written in it since March, which ended 26 days ago.

We’ve come to a standstill. Parts of our lives are like a deserted house in a Scooby-Doo cartoon, where rooms are laced with cobwebs, furnishings covered in dust, and items scattered on a banquet table as if the revelers vanished mid-dinning.

Much of the city is like that. Frozen in time. People left spaces expecting to return in a couple of weeks, and didn’t.

White erase boards in meeting rooms and classrooms still marked up with work in-progress. Desks and lockers containing items that wouldn’t have been left behind if the duration had been known. Theater stage sets ready for the next performance.

Display windows in a boutique nearby remain static – they didn’t win the “essential” designation. School electronic signs blink with outdated information. Cars sitting in driveways gather a thicker coat of pollen. The neighborhood library is closed again — after finally reopening following a long post-Hurricane Harvey restoration. Are returned books piling up in the return box, or not being returned at all?

Playgrounds are taped up like crime scenes. The school zone blinking lights still flash at the appointed hours of day for those out exercising and the occasional car passing by. The Spring fashion season has been skipped – glad I hadn’t bought anything.  Billboards once vibrant with concerts, sports events, and festival posters have nothing enticing to say.

I wonder what’s going on inside empty churches, movie theaters, sports stadiums, schools, offices, museums, gyms and theme parks? Is dust slowly covering over the inside surfaces. Have the cockroaches and mice moved in, or isn’t there enough for them to scrounge on, now that the humans have fled. What is happening in these dark, quiet caverns left untended? I’ve heard reports of frantic rodents in shut-down restaurant districts. Read this NBC News report, if you want the details. I’m not offering more here, as I personally wish I didn’t have that image in my head.

As we start cracking open some of these spaces, what will we find?


Not using, doing, or thinking about …

Things I'm not doingEmptying the dishwasher this morning I noticed the unused go-mugs for our coffee and tea staring at me in the cupboard – like neglected favorite toys in a nursery. It got me thinking about all the things that used to be a part of my routines that I’m simply not using, doing or thinking about.

Like ….

  • a crowd squeezed around our dining room table
  • filling up the gas tank
  • nice clothes — actually, any clothes other than workout gear
  • booking airline tickets
  • getting stuck in traffic
  • make-up — maybe I should make an effort for the Zoom calls, but meh
  • classes at the gym
  • driving up to my dad’s for the day
  • the smell of popcorn in the movie theater
  • juggling calendar conflicts
  • doctor waiting rooms
  • blow drying my hair — even washing it most days!
  • cash for the housekeeper
  • packing for flights to faraway places
  • live theater performances
  • checking out library books
  • cramming to finish my book club book
  • meeting friends for tea, lunch or dinner, or anytime at all
  • sitting in a church pew
  • … … …
  • … …

I’ve been longing for a simplification of my life. Be careful what you wish for!

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!!


I’m in an MRI tube and don’t know when I’m getting out!

claustrophobia-2If you’ve ever had an MRI, you have your own story to tell, but I’m guessing most of our stories include some coping strategies. I don’t think of myself as claustrophobic, but being cranked into one of those tubes can turn it on for me like a finger in an electrical socket.  Little panic thoughts start racing through my brain — they are creative and crazy.

What if the tech forgets about me? What if the thingy that moves the tray in and out of the tube (with me on it!) gets stuck? What if there’s an earthquake, or a power outage and I’m stuck here? What’s my exit plan – could I wiggle my way out if I lose my cool?

“Breath” … “You can do this” … “Say your mantra”

So far that’s always worked to keep me fixed in place as I watch the minutes faithfully march towards the end of the test. I know it will be over; I know when it will be over; I can manage this.

This “Stay At Home” order is starting to feel a little like that MRI tube. I didn’t think this was going to be so hard for me. Stick with your schedule, keep meditating, exercising, etc. You’ve got this. It will be over soon enough. I can manage this. 

However, I’m starting to experience fleeting panic thoughts creeping around in my head and causing some havoc. The cool veneer is cracking a little. I’m getting a little testy. Just ask around.

When is it going to be over? What if we get stuck in here for a really long time? Will things ever be the same? What if I freak out? What if I dissolve into a heap of misery? Mantras and deep breathing can only take me so far. What kind of escape strategy can I fantasize about? 

I can’t bail out of this one. It won’t be a matter of rescheduling another appointment or appealing to my doctor for some relaxation meds to smooth the way. Alcohol, sugar and carbs appear to be the best anesthetics we have right now, but they will leave us crying over the “COVID 19 pounds”. Also not ideal.

After all the spiritual, metaphysical, exercise, etc. tips and techniques are exhausted, at the end of the day I just need to put on my big girl pants and get on with it. That’s what I know my mom would have done, and my Depression era grandmother, and my pioneering great-grandmother.

That’s my pep talk to get me through another day. Hope you’re hanging in there too.

“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!



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?

You don’t have to like playing with me … you just have to endure it

Scrabble game1The social director at our house (yes, that would be ‘yours truly’) has lost her old job. The routine Thursday scouring of local papers and websites for “what’s going on this weekend” doesn’t produce much in the way of safe social-distancing. And, of course hanging out with friends is out of the question, even outside, since the rain arrived and the temps have dropped. I will give the media credit for filling up their pages with clever in-home distractions or links to events converted to online streaming. But, honestly, it’s just not the same.

So what does one do at times like these? Play games of course! It’s the best. They suck you in and shut out the world. They fire up competition and camaraderie. They make you laugh and remind you to not take yourself so seriously.

That’s what we did growing up at any opportunity that knocked our regular routines out of orbit. We had an entire section of an old wardrobe in the hallway crammed with the usual favorites like Scrabble, Monopoly, Cribbage, Candyland, Cluedo, chess and checker boards and mismatched card decks. I thought this was what all families did. You knew it to be a universal standard of sorts, rather like everyone serving turkey for Christmas Day dinner. Who doesn’t do that, right?

That was, until I married into a family, whose ‘go-to’ is reading books. Unlike my game-crazy family of origin, my family by marriage and procreation does not possess the game-playing gene. I’m not sure I belong to this tribe. How is sitting around in silence and reading together considered a fun activity? How did I end up living in this wrong place?

In calmer seas I can usually suppress doubts about failing to raise my kids properly – to love playing games, or beating myself up for having failed to make playing games a prerequisite for choosing a life partner. But during natural disasters (think hurricanes) and now epidemics, I am forced to face these gaps, in an otherwise pretty awesome family life, anew.

And, in all fairness to my husband and kids, they are not spared when I’m disappointed. I do not slink away in silence to simply ‘get over it’. They are surely made to suffer too. I do not hesitate to launch into badgering and nagging them to play with me, until they relent or escape me somehow. But now we’re cooped up together, so there’s no escaping my enthusiasm.

I’ve been beating the drums on this all week long … how about some Scrabble? maybe Quiddler or Boggle? …. no takers. Then last night I decided it was time to get serious. I boldly declared Saturday to be Game Night! Be prepared! I’m coming for you. There will be no excuses – you have been given fair warning. We are going to play and you’re going to endure. Who knows, you might even like it – though they are unlikely to admit it, lest it encourages me all the more.

The big question now is whether I will have to let them win at Scrabble to ensure it’s not our last game during social isolation?