Meet our Extraterrestrial Neighbor

ET on Drummond

I’d like to introduce you to my new neighborhood friend. Meet the extraterrestrial who moved in a few streets away from us when the lock down started. It’s our very own COVID ET, also nicknamed by us the Mannekin Pis of Braesheights.  The story of our Braesheights Mannekin Pis is not as glamorous as the original and it’s traditions not yet as well established as its Belgian cousin in the center of Brussels. It’s early days, give it a chance to catch up.

It hasn’t saved a king’s castle from fire by putting it out with its urine and hasn’t been the symbol of our neighborhood for hundreds of years, but it is supported by a dedicated team of wardrobe managers, who change its outfit daily — with some humor and forethought. It has been a source of delight and wonder for our nightly promenades through our oak-lined streets, similar to the tourists wandering from the Grand Place in Brussels.

Even if we go on an abbreviated walk after supper, we have to make it at least as far as our friendly COVID ET to see what creative theme and costume it’s donning for the day.  My favorite to-date was the wash-day Monday outfit with clothesline and all.

One evening I spoke with the owners out in the front yard to learn more. Apparently they were clearing out the garage at the beginning of the lock down and found this old mannequin from a long ago Halloween party. Rather than than get rid of it they decided to keep it around a little longer and have some fun with it as a distraction. I hope they don’t get rid of it too quickly. It’s a highlight of our walks after supper.

I ran round this morning to see if COVID ET was also standing down after the “Stay At Home” order expired. I was crushed. The porch was completely empty. ET was gone without a trace. So disappointing. I was tempted to knock on their door and plea for a month’s extension, or at least an encore performance. I restrained myself.

When I reported back home, my husband suspected a prank thief. My daughter was convinced they had just taken ET indoors for a little privacy while changing out costumes. I hoped one of them was right — I’m not ready to give up my new friend just yet.

I waited until after lunch and ran round there again to see if one of their theories held water. And voila! There it was back on the porch with a new outfit ready for another day entertaining its fans. If these people have external cameras, I might start showing up as a stalker! Sorry.

So, what was today’s theme / costume? I’m sharing here below, so you can decide for yourself. Theories at our house are a) Game of Thrones, or b) Voldemort, or c) Puff the Magic Dragon with a vampire frolicking in the autumn mist? None of those options fit quite right.

ET on Drummond- vampire

Please help us solve the mystery! What do you think?

Thanks to our neighbors for bringing a little magic into the same-ness of our lives these days.

What the hell are we doing??

5 stages of grief-white

I’ve been trying to figure out the road map that got us from scary and uncertain projections a few weeks ago to where we are this morning. Governor Abbott confidently announced: “We’ll put a new order in place that begins to open up a lot of businesses and so we’re running pretty much every different type of business that exists in the state of Texas,” including churches. I should be delighted, right? But I’m a bit anxious.

We started out the COVID-19 story with a conviction that “these things” cannot happen here. We’re too well-organized, too civilized, too on-top-of-things and our standards too high to let such an unseemly breakout of this kind get out of control. No, not here. And, besides, it won’t reach our shores anyway. This is what is called the Denial phase.

Then we began blaming “the others” for bringing and spreading COVID-19 here. When that didn’t help, we dug in deeper with theories about an unleashing of the virus from a lab “over there”. Depending on the story, it was either intentional or accidental, but in both cases, it was hidden and underhanded. Much energy was expended finding a scapegoat — less on plans to mitigate the impact. This is what is called the Anger phase.

The hospitals and data scientists raised alarm bells. Data trends and actual numbers diverted attention from the blame-game. Things got real – it was indeed breaking out “over here”, and in a big way. There ensued much thrashing, churning and gnashing of teeth. COVID-19 filled the psyche of the nation, in our waking and in our dreams. No conversation, newspaper, communication or media programming could avoid the topic and maintain relevance. What to do? Many approaches were designed and we started implementing restrictions “here” that had worked “over there”. This is what is called the Bargaining phase.

We submerged into quiet isolated pockets of existence, surfacing only for essentials. Some of us were deemed to be essential persons in essential industries, so continued regular activities such as doctor, nurse, policeman, fireman, or food supply chain workers. The rest of us switched our lives over to Zoom and carried on, as best we could, from our closeted safe spaces. Much of the economy ground to a standstill. The stock market plunged. Filing for unemployment skyrocketed. Periodic touch points with the external world through Zoom and media left us grasping for coping techniques. We were reminded of our social nature — some did better than others in their isolation. COVID-brain and dysfunction creeps in all around. This is what is called the Depression phase.

Now we can’t take it any longer. We’re busting out all over the country. We are figuring out how to come alive again. We are ready to leap into the world again. It appears that some jurisdictions are leap-frogging the carefully designed methodical and gradual re-opening gates and phases. Many don’t have time for that. Haste to reopen looks risky and dangerous, but we don’t care or don’t believe it. We cannot stay locked down anymore. We need to jump-start our economy again. We need to resuscitate our jobs and our social life in order to survive — AND we need our health too. Trade-offs will be made. If we find out we’ve leapt too soon, we may need to run through this cycle again. We’ll worry about that when it happens. Maybe this coming winter? Right now, we’re “gonna saddle up and move ’em on out”! This is what is called the New Beginnings phase.

As for me, I get it, but I’ll be watching from behind my mask and gloves at a 6-ft distance —  and mostly from my house! Wishing everyone all the best.





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!

“This is the Lentiest Lent I ever Lented”

Lent TweetThe 2020 Corona-Lenten social media posts keep me laughing at the irony of it all. Turns out we didn’t need to put any artificial constructs into play to remind us, for a season, that we’re not in charge and we cannot go it alone. We’ve all given up so much more than we bargained for. Even if you’ve never given up anything for Lent before, you surely are doing so this year.

I typically abstain from alcohol and sweets. It takes away some of my go-to crutches when the road gets a bit bumpy. The idea being that I turn to God instead of a glass of wine, or chocolate as a backup plan. It’s usually challenging enough to get my attention without sending me over the edge. A useful by-product is an annual test for any addiction issues.

This year however, the ‘bumps in the road’ have loomed like massive boulders blocking all traffic.

Alcohol sales have soared in Texas in March, but of course, I gave it up for Lent. What was I thinking? That anesthetic would have come in handy as we were advised of new “Stay At Home” orders. I hope there is some wine left over for me on Easter Sunday. Not to worry, I have toilet paper to trade, if needed.

Just when I really could have used a chocolate mood booster, I foolishly put that on my verboten for Lent list this year too. Yet another lapse in judgement. A square of dark chocolate would have been a great soother of the soul as I check the John’s Hopkins COVID-19 case counter before I go to bed each night.

Many more unplanned things I’ve given up, simply because they have fallen by the wayside, or have been closed off to me. Some I don’t miss, others make me sad and others still are a pain.

Who needs hair cuts, make-up, dress clothes or high heels, when I barely make it out of my workout gear before supper. I saw a post asking “when was the right time to change from your daytime pajamas to your nighttime pajamas?” Good question! Could it be that we end up wearing pajamas out in public when this is all over? My father-in-law worked hard to normalize that style in his 90’s, for which he invited much grief from his family. But he may have been ahead of his time – this could become a thing.

Who needs a wallet full of plastic cards, or even a wallet at all, when most of the places where we use these are closed. I haven’t touched my purse in two weeks. My shoulder welcomes the rest — as does my bank account.

Who needs go-mugs, when you’re not going anywhere. Emptying the dishwasher this morning I noticed the unused go-mugs staring at me in the cupboard – like neglected favorite toys in a nursery. Kind of sad. At least we know where they all are, for a change.

Who needs a Find Friends app to locate your wandering kids or spouse, when we’re all fixed in the same place most of the day. One bonus is no more worrying about kids returning home safely after midnight on weekends. All I have to do is stand at the bottom of the stairs and shout to find them. I have however been instructed to please text, the shouting is most unpleasant. 

Who needs cash for the housekeeper, valet parking, church plate or restaurant tips when all that has been removed from our life. I’ve gone from low cash usage to no cash usage. Tracking expenses has been dramatically simplified. Nice for me – not so good for them.

Who needs friends and family in the same town, when you can only see them online anyway. I’m even hanging out with high school and college friends across the Atlantic for the first time, as proximity is removed from how I prioritize my time. My local life has shrunk to the boundaries of our house – everyone else is out there on the internet. Distance means nothing anymore.

Who needs a gym for a quick efficient workout, when I have plenty of time for longer runs on the bayou, and am using many new muscles cleaning my own house. I can’t think my way into anything good about the house cleaning thing! I miss my housekeeper. Waaaah.

Way back in mid-March, a whole two weeks ago, I thought this would all be over by Easter Sunday, on April 12th. What a celebration that was going to be. Now I’m bracing myself for an extended Lent, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to have some wine and chocolate eggs on Easter Sunday, if there are any left in Texas.

Time to bring back ‘Do it because I said so’ parenting

Anyone else remember vowing to never, ever, say “because I said so” when you had your own kids? Presentation1In our idealism, we might have conceded that there could be exceptions when they are too young to really understand the ‘why’. But certainly by the time they reach their teens, this would surely be the absolute worst. We all agreed. No, never am I, ever going to let that phrase slip from my lips.  We were convinced that if we raised them ‘right’ and maintained a ‘healthy’ two-way dialogue, we would be able to keep the lines of ‘communication open’ and reach their ability to understand and grasp our reasons. Even, dare I say, buy into our reasons — or at a minimum comply.

I can see by the goings on in my neighborhood, that the ‘let’s discuss this’ approach is failing. Keeping the lines of ‘communication open’ is not having the impact we had hoped for.

The teens are on the prowl. From sports fields, to driving around together, to just walking in tight packs along the streets, they are out there getting much closer than 6 ft. to each other. Who can blame them — I would too, if I was a teen. This is where my “because I said so” parents would have intervened with a heavy hand.

Running along side this friendly parenting approach, we may have moms and dads, who haven’t yet been totally persuaded themselves that these measures are necessary. Or, perhaps the parents are too distracted trying to figure out new working norms, or fretting over scary economic prospects to worry about heavy handed parenting. Or, maybe they have simply been defeated by relentless pressure to let their kids out.

It must seem almost mean and cruel; like you’re punishing them for something they didn’t do and had no ability to avoid. And, after all, we’re not in New York, or Atlanta, or New Orleans. We’re much more spread out here in Houston, even inside our so-called ‘Loop’ near the city center. There’s much alarm and many nightmarish projections, but none of these seem very real. Rather like watching a documentary on global warming, while we crank up our A/C, with all the lights on in the house, and 4 gas-guzzlers sitting in the driveway, while eating from polystyrene take-out containers. It doesn’t seem real. We’re not moved to action. It’s some potential far-in-the-future thing that may, or may not, happen.

This is tough stuff for parents. Even worse when friend groups don’t unite around a common approach.

Most of us haven’t been called upon to act in the national general interest in our lifetime. Only 2% of today’s living US population has memories of early childhood experiences during the 1930’s Depression and the 1940’s WWII era, and these are now fading rapidly. Only approximately 6% of our US corporate memory could have any real recall of the fear of Polio in the early 1950’s. Again, time and the safety of modern medicine has blanketed us with an amnesia of how bad it could get, and what it would take to protect ourselves.

We need to get brave and bold and consider resurrecting the “Do it, because I told you so” approach that our parents inflicted on us. Maybe our parents grew up in a time when that stick was needed for good reason — and we are now re-learning why.

Don’t forget, it’s ok if our kids get mad at us. It’s ok if they slam doors and trash talk us to their friends. They’ll get over it. We did. We will never be sorry that we made them safer and by doing so made us all that much safer.

It’s a no regrets approach. You’re in charge. Go for it!







I can’t do the flowers, kittens, encouragement emails thing.

Neighborhood Walk-cropped

Dear virtual friends in social media and email,

The outdoors is calling my name … I don’t want to work on the overflowing inbox.

We’re having the most exquisite spring you could ever design for our corner of the world. It’s the one time of the year that we are granted a last reprieve before the summer hits us like the opening of a hot oven. The sky is bluer, the leaves are greener, the wild flowers are abundant, the gardens perky and vibrant … I’m not scrolling through all the pictures on Instagram.

The neighborhood is embracing the virus slow-down with gusto. You can hear kids’ voices across the fences playing outdoors, whole families going for walks on a weekday other than the Thursday of Thanksgiving, barbecue smells waft through the air as everyone takes more time to cook at home. We stop, we chat, we reconnect. It’s soul-filling … maybe I can skip that Zoom call.

I want to be out there soaking it in. I want to bottle it up. I want to store up these memories for that day a few short weeks from now when the heat and humidity swallows us up again until October … the Facebook tags to post, copy, share can wait til then.

The real connections in the spaces around me are filling me up. I’m going for more walks, leaving my phone at home more, writing with pen and paper, putting the online world on pause more frequently ... that text message and WhatsApp can wait a little longer.

The whole world is taking time-out, I don’t want to miss it. When will we ever see a planet-wide pause like this again? It’s a global “stop and smell the roses” moment. It’s tugging at my soul … the emails launching chains of more emails feel laden with extra work. I just can’t do them now.

Don’t think I’m ignoring you, or don’t appreciate your gestures … I’m just a bit slower to react, I may be out playing or dancing elsewhere right now.




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?