Sunday, September 27, 2020

Saying Goodbye to My Sister

 My only sister Kathy died very unexpectedly of a massive heart attack on September 11th. She was only 76 - much too young to die. While I deeply regret that she was taken from us at such an early age, I will be forever grateful that as far as we know she did not suffer. 

There was no question regarding whether or not we would attend the funeral, COVID or no COVID. Jim and I drove from Mount Holly as far as Paducah, KY on September 15th. There we spent the night at my request. Kathy and I had always talked about going there to see the National Quilt Museum as quilting was a hobby we both shared. On the morning of September 16th, Jim and I went through the museum in Kathy's memory. How she would have loved to see the vast variety of quilting styles! While totally different from the way that she and I quilted, they were works of art to behold.

National Quilt Museum

The next morning we drove the last four hours to St. Louis. Of course we had to drive by our old house and check it out. It looks like the new owners are taking good care of it, though the large oak tree on the north side of the house has died of old age. That will be expensive to remove, and we were thankful that it wasn't an expense we would have to undertake. Then we went to our old grocery store to pick up provisions for a few days. I rented a two flat house in the south city area for our family of six adults. Our kids were coming into town that night, and my niece Sara flew in from Texas in the afternoon. I wanted all of us in the same spot so we could spend time together. It ended up working out very well as each flat had two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and living room.

Thursday the funeral home held a viewing for the family from 9-10 and then for friends from 10-12:30, with the funeral following at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at 1:00. Up to that point, Kathy's death had seemed surreal. All that changed when faced with seeing her in a coffin. It was so hard to experience the grief of her husband and children while at the same time trying to get a handle on my own. I know our kids struggled as well since Kathy had been way more than an aunt to her. Our own mother died when Andy was only 4, so Kathy became a surrogate grandmother to him and later on to Katie as well.

The funeral was very personal as the priest knew Kathy well due to her attendance at Mass (even virtually when COVID hit) as well as her participation in the Daughters of Isabella (D of I) at the parish. Nearly everyone wore a mask in church, as they had in the funeral home, and we were spaced out in every other pew. Following the service the D of I ladies held a luncheon for the family in the Knights of Columbus hall. My sister was to be buried at Jefferson Barracks Cemetery since her husband had served in the Navy. But cemetery regulations right now are not allowing any graveside services, so we went back to the AirBNB after the luncheon. Several family members came over later, and we played a rousing game of Yahtzee in Kathy's memory. It was her favorite game, and she nearly always was the winner. It seemed a fitting end to a day filled with grief, tears, laughter and shared memories.

Kathy & me

Monday, September 14, 2020

Never Forget

 How ironic that I posted on September 11th about 9/11 and how we should never forget that date and it's importance to not only the United States but also the world. I now have an additional reason I will never forget. Friday afternoon my only sister died very unexpectedly. At 11 years older than me she was often a second mother to me as well as my big sister. Coming so close on the heels of losing both my beloved father-in-law and mother-in-law, this is such a heavy burden to bear. It really has not sunk in yet. As I do best in such times putting my feelings into a poem, below sums up my current state of mind.

Kathy Lane memorial

Saturday, September 5, 2020

North Carolina Phase 2.5

social distance
In an interesting turn of events, Governor Cooper of North Carolina made an announcement regarding Safer at Home a week earlier than the planned September 11th date. Effective at 5:00p.m. on Friday, September 4th, he moved the state from Phase 2 into Phase 2.5. The change allows indoor gatherings of up to 25 people and outdoor gatherings of up to 50. Playgrounds can reopen, museums and aquariums can open at 50% capacity, and fitness centers can open at 30% capacity. The other restrictions from Phase 2 remain in place, and wearing a mask in public is still required - mandatory in indoor spaces as well as outdoors when the 6' of social distancing cannot be maintained. Despite the grim COVID-19 statistics in North Carolina, it is felt that the numbers have stabilized enough to take another baby step forward. Time will tell...

Monday, August 31, 2020

COVID-19 by the Numbers

My last update on COVID was for statistics as of August 5th. Today marks day 102 of Safer at Home and day 159 of overall restrictions. The number of cases continues to be grim. To date, North Carolina has had 167,000 cases and 2,721 deaths. In the United States there have been 6.1 million cases and 183,000 deaths. Worldwide there have been 25.1 million cases and 844,000 deaths. The heat certainly does not seem to be a deterrent to the virus.

We personally do not know of any friends or family members who have contracted the virus. We know of people, of course, but no one in our close circles. Knock on wood, there have been no reported cases of anyone living in our Imagery community either. We continue to live in a bubble here, and know that it can burst at any point in time. A local sister community of ours recently held a golf tournament and post-party, and they now have quite a few cases of the virus.

As schools and universities have resumed classes, hotspots of cases have been reported. It is expected that many schools will close and go back to virtual learning. We have a number of college-aged kids living in our community right now due to COVID. As this is a 55+ development, we can only hope these kids remain diligent about wearing masks and social distancing so as not to compromise our higher risk population. It is a tough situation for everyone.

In other news, today I did something that makes me feel like an old person. I registered for Medicare, which I will be eligible for soon. While the online registration process was quite easy, going through the materials to determine which plan is best for me is confusing - even for someone who is reasonably intelligent and worked in insurance for 15 years. It pretty much comes down to your risk tolerance level. Do you want to pay more each month so that you pay less out of pocket in the event of a claim or claims? Or do you want to pay less each month and gamble that you won't need any procedures? And by the way, option number 2 allows you to receive dental, vision and hearing benefits as well as a free gym membership in many areas. I am working with a Medicare specialist to help me understand the best route for me in light of my health history, anticipated procedures (none) and medications (none). 

To keep me grounded, our long-awaited community pool finally opened for the first time this weekend, and that seemed somewhat normal. And the ever-changing clouds over the lake behind our house is a constant source of wonder to me.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

In Summation

 Current life, in a nutshell...

theater in North Davidson neighborhood of Charlotte, NC

Sunday, August 23, 2020


anniversary flowers
How do you celebrate a wedding anniversary during a pandemic? Our 42nd wedding anniversary was August 19th. We had decided we were going to go away for a few days someplace within easy driving distance of where we live. I found a really great place where we would have our own cabin with a full kitchen, but it was full for the time period we wanted. That rather surprised me, but whatever. Reservations were available next month, so that is when we will go.

In the meantime, we discussed whether or not we felt comfortable going to a nice restaurant for indoor dining. The place we elected to go does not open until 5:00, so we figured if we made a 5:00 reservation on a Wednesday night, the place should not be crowded. We arrived at Chillfire Grill a few minutes before 5:00, and the sign on the door indicated we needed to have a mask on to enter. That was a GOOD sign. We wore the masks to our table, and all of the wait staff and bartenders were also masked. We were seated at a table far away from the bar, and in fact there were few diners at that time though there were people at the bar.

We had a wonderful meal, and felt very safe being in the restaurant that night. It was so nice to feel a bit normal, if only for one evening.     

anniversary dinner
                                                                                                                                          My anniversary morning began with beautiful flowers and the gorgeous sunrise pictured below. I'm grateful for another year with the man I chose to love, honor and cherish 42 years ago. During this tough time of Covid-19, it helps me to keep my perspective on what is really important in life.

Mountain Island Lake sunrise

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Filling Time

 Some day I will look back on this pandemic period and wonder, "What did I do with my time?" Certainly many of the activities we had partaken in since moving to North Carolina have been curtailed since March. But I am doing a few things besides shopping for groceries, making masks, kayaking and taking photos. I volunteered to serve on the Communications Committee for our development. Because the community is barely a year old, our HOA is still under the control of the developer, Lennar. However, Lennar put together communications, landscape, and facilities committees that are comprised of homeowners. The communications committee has met several times. There are only three of us, so it is easy to meet and be socially distanced. It is too early to tell what kind of an impact we can have, but a board meeting takes place later this month. That should give us a good feel as to whether we are just a committee on paper, or if we can really facilitate good communication between the developer and the homeowners.

The Hiking Club, which has been inactive during COVID, organized a hike throughout the Phase 2 & 3 portions of our community, which are undeveloped for the most part. Though 23 people showed up, it was not hard to keep your distance from others while still being able to take part in conversation.

Imagery hike

Jim and I just attended the first meeting of the Photography Club last night. We are allowed to use the Meeting Room now as long as there are ten people or less attending. Masks are mandatory inside the building, and social distancing is required. They only let one group per day use the building, and it is deep cleaned each night so it feels safe. Only four of us came, so we were able to keep our distance. Our small group decided we will go on a photo shoot to the NoDa area of Charlotte later this month, and at our meeting in September we will review our best pictures. It should be a fun group.

Imagery pickleball courts
The thing that has been taking most of my time, though, is the Pickleball Imagery Club that I started. We had 72 people interested, which is impressive considering around 150 homes have closed and not all those people even live here in the summer. I developed a committee of ten to help out, and we have decided to structure as a 501(c)(7) since we are collecting membership dues. I've spent a lot of time talking to the local Pickleball Ambassadors as well as other like clubs in the area. The committee has met twice, and we are making great progress. There are 48 people so far who have signed up and paid their dues. Ladies play has been established on Tuesday evenings and Thursday mornings, and every Friday night is mixed social play. The guys play regularly, but they have not yet locked into set times.

So, little by little, we take baby steps into our not-so-brave, new world. We will continue to find the things that work for us while avoiding the things we think are too risky. It's all we can do.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Taking Care of Business During COVID


It was time for my six month skin cancer appointment, and I greatly debated whether or not I should go. After all, I wasn't seeing any new spots that I was concerned about. But with my history of basal and squamous cells - 14 of them to date! - I was justifiably concerned about putting it off. And frankly, as I mentioned in the last post, there is no end in sight for this pandemic. So I kept the appointment, keeping in mind that if I did not feel the waiting area was being handled safely, I would just leave.

Arriving at the office a few minutes early, I was immediately greeted by a masked nurse. She asked me a few pointed questions about whether I had tested positive for COVID, had I been around anyone who had the virus, was I feeling sick, etc. She then took my temperature before letting me further into the waiting room to sign in. Only four patients were allowed in the room at a time, and we were all more than 6 feet apart and appropriately masked.

Any additional patients who arrived were handled the same way by the nurse, but then were asked to remain outside until they were called. One older woman did answer affirmatively to the question about having COVID, so she had followup questions. How long ago did she test positive? Answer, July 2nd. Was she recovered? Answer, yes. Did she have a followup COVID test done? Yes, July 16th and it was negative. Whew, she was safe to be in the building!

The nurse who came to get me was masked, as was the doctor when she entered my exam room. She asked that I leave my mask on until she told me to remove it. The last thing she did was check my face, and I removed my mask and held my breath as requested while she did this exam. With my mask firmly back in place, I got the good news that she didn't see anything suspicious. Woo, hoo!

Another piece of business that has been hanging over us is getting North Carolina titles, registrations and plates for our vehicles. You must first get your drivers license before you can take care of the rest. We did that in June. The governor had issued five month extensions on all licenses and plates due to COVID, so we were not in a rush to get the plates. They do not issue appointments for plates, unlike for drivers licenses, and we had heard tales of the long lines at the DMV offices.

We first had to get the change of title forms notarized, which is tricky as banks are not allowing customers inside their buildings and that is where we normally would go. Luckily a UPS store near us offers that service for $5 per document signed. We did that last Monday, and then Tuesday headed to the closest DMV office, which is in Huntersville. We arrived at 2:25 to find about 20 people in line ahead of us. Everyone was masked and maintained 6 feet of distance from each other.

It was sunny and hot, but fortunately after 15 minutes we moved enough to be in the shade of the building. It took 30 minutes to get into the building, as they took about 6 people at a time. Once inside, a lady ran through the now-familiar questions. Are you feeling sick? Do you have a fever? Have you been around anyone with COVID that you know of? Then we were directed to the appropriate line as they separate regular plate renewals from those who need titles and registrations as well. 

We ended up with a kind, patient woman who didn't get annoyed at the fact that we had two cars and a motorcycle she needed to process. She did look relieved by the fact that we had our titles already notarized, however. That saved her a step with each vehicle. We had everything we needed to get the job done, and were back at our car, new plates in hand, by 3:30. Not too bad!

Jim put all the plates on right away, and I have to say we now feel like North Carolinians with our Real IDs and appropriate license plates. 

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Safer at Home Extended - Again

On Wednesday, August 5th (the 76th day of Safer at Home and the 133rd day of overall restrictions) Governor Cooper extended Safer at Home again, this time for an additional 5 weeks. The end coincides with 9/11, which is an interesting choice of dates. It does fall on a Friday, so perhaps it is coincidental. But I would have gone a week shorter or a week longer if I were him. Reportedly the extension is to give the state the opportunity to study data as schools reopen over the next several weeks.

As of yesterday, North Carolina has 133,000 confirmed cases of COVID with 2,160 deaths from the virus. Nationwide the statistics are 4.95 million cases and 161,000 deaths. Worldwide there are 19.3 million confirmed cases and 719,000 deaths. Of course we have no way of knowing if other countries are accurately reporting their numbers. But one thing is certain - this thing is nowhere near contained. Numbers continue to grow and while there is promising news on the vaccine front, we are months if not years away from having an effective preventive shot in place for COVID.

It is hard not to fall into a sense of despair. Every single person has been affected by the pandemic. It is difficult to remain positive when we are in this dark tunnel with no light shining to reassure us there is an end.  This is certainly not the life we envisioned when we retired, packed up our 41 years of life together, and moved to a new state where we didn't have family or friends. Thank goodness we had a good 6 months to enjoy our new neighbors and what this community has to offer all of us!

We know how fortunate we are to live in a beautiful new home with Mountain Island Lake literally in our backyard. Here we have trails to walk, the lake to kayak, and some activities to participate in where we can be outdoors and socially distance. We can play pickleball in small groups, bike the neighborhood, and catch up with neighbors while out walking. But that doesn't mean we don't long for visits with our kids, travel, dining out INSIDE restaurants, and participating in all the clubs and fitness programs we had enjoyed for six months.

To keep our spirits up we keep the news off, unfollow the negative folks on social media, stay away from the conspiracy theorists around us, and spend more time on the phone with family and friends. We carefully evaluate any activity we wish to take part in, understanding that our lives - literally - are in the hands of other people. And sadly, many of those people cannot be trusted to do the right thing. They don't stay home when they feel poorly, don't maintain social distancing, and refuse to wear a mask. They endanger others, claiming mask mandates violate their First Amendment rights. It's interesting that they will abide by the "no shoes, no shirt, no service" or "no smoking" rules, but somehow wearing a mask offends them. 

The end is not in sight, and unfortunately how we get to the end is mostly out of our hands. The only thing we can control is our own behavior and attitude. Like most people, we are doing the best we can. This photo that I took the other night reminds me that while things can look dark and ominous, there is beauty as well if we only look for it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Day Trip to South Mountain

We are always on the lookout for a place we can go visit that is close enough to do in a day, but hopefully without crowds due to pandemic concerns. On July 31st we picked South Mountain State Park. Located near Connelly Springs, NC (about an hour and a half away from us) it features 40 miles of trails and an 80' waterfall. It seemed like we could keep our distance in the park.

On the drive there I spied a field of sunflowers outside of Lincolnton. In keeping with our retirement mantra "Make the U-turn", I quickly turned around so we could go back and photograph the flowers. A side road provided a perfect place to park, and we had the area to ourselves. It was beautiful and peaceful, and made me miss the sunflower fields we used to visit outside of St. Louis.

We arrived at the park visitor center in late morning. It was open with masks required and a limited number of people allowed inside. No one else was in the building as we requested information on the best trail for viewing the waterfall. Perhaps I should have paid attention to the strange look the woman gave us as we told her what we wanted to see. After all, the hike was listed as "moderate" on the local hiking website. She advised us to keep an eye on the weather as "you don't want to get caught on that trail in the rain." She said it has 350 steps along the route. As it turns out, the state park system lists the trail as strenuous, and that was not an exaggeration.

It starts off wide, paved and flat, luring you into a false sense of security. It gets progressively steep, often with tree roots and rocks as the "steps". The path narrows a lot, and as this is the most popular hike in the park it was crowded. We saw very few people wearing mask, though we covered our faces each time we had to pass near anyone. We had hoped by going on a weekday that would not be an issue, but no such luck. By the time we reached the falls, I was exhausted. The view, however, more than made up for hassle getting to the falls.

When we left the park we searched for a place to have a late lunch. The park ranger had suggested Mitchem's Kitchen, which was on our way back home. Even though it was after 1:00, the parking lot was packed which did not bode well for COVID safe dining. There was no outside dining, and when we stuck our heads inside the door absolutely no one was wearing a mask. Including the waitress. That sealed our decision, and we went back to the car. We had passed Chuckwagon Grill Restaurant several times in the past, and decided to give them a try. A server comes to the car to take your order, and then it is brought out to you. You can take it to go, sit at one of the picnic tables, or eat in your car. Because we did not see anyone sanitizing the tables, we ate in the car. The food was mediocre at best, and we will not go back.

Despite that lackluster ending to the adventure, we had a really good time. It is always nice to get away, even if just for a half a day. It's looking like these will be the only "vacation" days we will have in the foreseeable future. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

De-stressing During COVID-19

Mountain Island Lake
There is no better way I know to take my mind off of the pandemic then to get out on Mountain Island Lake with my kayak. The only sounds are wildlife and the swish of the water as I paddle. The experience is always enhanced, though, when I have the company of some of my new friends and neighbors here at Imagery. We often marvel at how blessed we are to have this paradise literally in our backyards.

Sunday morning six of us met at 6:30 in the morning to catch the sunrise on the lake. We paddled slowly, exploring all the glory mother nature revealed to us as the day woke up. It was a glorious, spiritual experience, and one that I hope I never take for granted.

paddlers of Imagery

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Still Safer at Home

Today is the 58th day of Safer at Home, Phase Two of North Carolina Governor Cooper's restrictions to help fight COVID-19 (and the 115th day of overall restrictions here.) On Tuesday, the governor extended Phase Two (which was supposed to expire July 17th) until at least August 7th. Many schools in our area are slated to reopen on August 17th, with most using a hybrid of in-person and online learning. It is somewhat ironic that parents cannot go work out in a gym, yet are expected to make their children ride buses and go to school.

The statistics are still very scary. In North Carolina we have 95,700 confirmed cases and 1,638 deaths. The United States overall has 3.68 million confirmed cases and 141,000 deaths, with the worldwide statistics being 14 million cases and 601,000 deaths. 

Cases among those aged 18-49 have dramatically increased, and now represent the most amount of cases in North Carolina. The governor put into place a mandatory mask order on June 26th hoping to curtail spread of the disease. The order requires people to wear a mask when inside or outside in public places when they cannot maintain a distance of 6 feet from one another. Children under 11 are exempted. (But they will be required to wear a mask in school - go figure.) 

My observation is that people are better about wearing masks since the mandate came out, but there are many folks who don't believe that masks make a difference. It is unfortunate that early on the CDC stated that only those who are sick should wear a mask. The non-believers cling to that, despite new studies that show wearing a mask protects the wearers as well as others around them. In countries where masks have been mandatory from the beginning of the pandemic, their case numbers have dropped dramatically. 

Then there's the segment of the population that claims their civil rights are being violated by requiring masks. When a business says no shoes, no shirt, no service, they comply with that. When told they can't smoke in certain areas, they comply with that. When told to wear a seat belt, most comply with that. So what is the big deal to don a mask? It is so selfish of them to buck this when lives are at stake. Of course we have no leadership at the top of this country to serve as an example of wearing masks in public.

Better Fit Face Mask
I believe masks will be part of our future for quite awhile. I found another pattern that calls itself the Better Fit Face Mask. You can find the link for it here. I tried making one for me using shoelaces and pony beads for the ear pieces, and a coffee bag tie for the inside nose piece. It fits so much better than any of my other mask, and was fairly easy to make. I made Jim one as well, and then made a second for myself. That way I don't have to wash masks as often. I ordered additional coffee bag ties online, and now need to locate more shoe strings. I think my family and friends will need additional masks as well.

It's hot, humid and I have to stay at home. Might as well be making masks, right?

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Wrapping up 68 Years of Married Life

Following the funeral of my mother-in-law, we turned our attention to her house and its contents. We were lucky to find in Charles City a company that not only handles the sale of houses but their contents as well. They will remove every last item from the home, and can provide us with a cleaning service as well. I asked the guy where he was when we were emptying out our home in St. Louis last year? What a godsend! We all can simply take whatever mementos we want and leave the rest for them. As we are over 17 hours away and don't want to risk additional Covid Cooties by making the trek again, this is such a great solution for everyone.

After two weeks up north, we began our way home on July 7th, stopping in Lexington for the night. Our son, daughter-in-law and her family were staying in Asheville for the week. We had been invited way before the pandemic came along to join them at their AirBNB in the mountains outside of Asheville. We debated whether or not to stop. We are definitely a higher risk because of the 7 states we have traveled through for the funeral. But everyone there still wanted us to come, so the next day we made our way to Asheville. 

sunset from the deck
We spent two days and nights with the 6 of them, and I have to say it was such a welcome relief to talk about something besides our overwhelming grief at losing both mom and dad within a short time period. We visited downtown Asheville, a local brewery, spent time on the deck overlooking the mountain range, and played games. It was a perfect way to destress.

We arrived home on Friday after a two hour drive from Asheville. How nice to end things with a short amount of time in the car! After 2,800 miles on the road, it was so good to be home. I hit the grocery store early Saturday morning, and now we are self-quarantining on the off-chance that we picked up the virus on our journey.

kayaking on Mountain Island Lake

Sunday morning we took our kayaks out early to beat the heat and the boat traffic. It was a nice, relaxing way to ease back into our Mountain Island Lake lives. There is nothing like home, sweet home.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Funeral for (More Than) a Friend

Holiday Inn Express
We are back home from laying my mother-in-law to rest. We broke up the 17 hour drive on the way up June 24th by spending the night in Urbana, IL. While it was troubling to use the highway rest stops and gas stations due to COVID and the laissez-faire attitude many seem to have, we felt quite comfortable at the Holiday Inn Express. Masks and social distancing were in place, and the room was spotless. While they cannot do their included hot breakfast at the moment, they had "Grab and Go" bags available to take back to our room. The contents of the bag were skimpy, but at least we had something to start our morning.

Before we reached Charles City we stopped in Nashua, IA at mom's favorite ice cream shop, Dairy Treat. We each got a cone in honor of mom.

Dairy Treat
Walking into my father and mother-in-law's house for the first time since their deaths was really hard. We always went in through the side door, which is adjacent to the family room. They spent most of their time in that room, so we were always greeted by them sitting in their chairs. For the first time in the 34 years they have lived in this particular house, no one was there to welcome us. It was the first of many sad moments for us.

On Friday our kids flew in from their respective parts of the country. They stayed at a local hotel, which gave us plenty of social distancing in the house. Saturday was the memorial service at the funeral home. We purposefully limited the number of people to immediate family, with the exception of a dear, long-time neighbor. We were able to space out nicely in the room. John from the funeral home sang a few songs (he belongs to their church and is in the choir), and Sister Diana from the church did the readings. She knew Jerry and Lorraine well, so the service was very personalized. Our daughter read a poem that Lorraine had written years ago. It was beautiful, and I knew that I would not be able to get through it should I try. Lorraine was a prolific letter writer, but I had no idea she had poetry in her arsenal as well.

Don't cry for me
I'm not alone
the angels came and took me home
Hello Mother
Hello Dad
They're the best friends I ever had
There's John, Bernie and Joe
Tell me where I'm supposed to go
Then a loud voice called out and said
My dear child don't be late,
did you forget we had this date
Then him and I walked hand in hand
to the garden gate
Goodbye, family
Goodbye, friends
This is the beginning and not the end.
                              ~Lorraine Wolterman

Memorial Service

After the service we went to a restaurant along the river and had a late lunch. We were able to sit outside at two separate tables, though no one who worked there was wearing a mask. It is so disheartening. That evening we went to our niece and nephew's farm for dinner and to watch their fireworks. It was a nice way to wind down following the stress of the day.

On Sunday we spent the day going through the house, allowing family members the opportunity to pick a few things they would like to have as mementos of mom and dad. Monday was the graveside memorial service in Fairfax, MN which is about 3 hours north of Charles City. We drove through a horrific rainstorm on the way there, and I was afraid the service would be canceled. But mom must have pulled some strings up above, because it cleared up enough to get things done. Some cousins put together a small luncheon in the local park, which was very nice of them to do.

graveside memorial

Andy and Megan left from the park to go to the airport to fly home. Jim, Katie and I drove to Waconia, MN where we spent the night with Jim's cousin and her husband. Katie flew home the next morning, and Jim and I were able to get a quick visit in with friends in Minneapolis before driving back to Charles City. Much more work awaited us there.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Losing My Other Mother

This morning at 3:30 a.m. Central Time, my mother-in-law passed away. It is nearly 2 months to the day when my father-in-law died. The incredible heartbreak of losing both parents so close together is indescribable. As I mentioned when Jerry died, they have been a part of my life since I was 19 years old. They treated me not as a daughter-in-law but as an additional daughter. I felt the same about them. They were not in-laws - just mom and dad. I was incredibly blessed to have two great sets of parents in my life.

COVID still runs rampant in our country, but the rules for indoor gatherings have loosened a bit. I believe we could have up to 50 people at her funeral, though we do not intend to do so. Unlike with dad two months ago, Jim and I are planning to drive to Iowa for the service, and then up to Minnesota for the graveside blessing. The fact that we were unable to do that for dad has been eating at Jim. So we will take every precaution that we can to try to be safe while at the same time honoring mom and bringing some closure to these two deaths.

As we were awake very early this morning, we noticed the beginning of the new day. The sky looked promising, so we walked the short distance to Sunflowers Point by our house. We believe this beautiful sunrise was mom and dad's way of letting us know that they were reunited, they were okay, and that they will be watching over us.

RIP, mom. Thank you for making me one of your own, and setting a great example of what a loving wife and mother is all about. You are forever imprinted on my heart.

sunrise on Mountain Island Lake

Saturday, June 20, 2020

On the Road Again

We took another short day trip on Thursday, this time to Greenwood, SC. The town is celebrating their 54th Festival of Flowers, minus the "Festival". Due to COVID, the festival itself was canceled, but the city went ahead with its signature topiary display. We decided to check it out. The drive should have taken 2 1/2 hours, but that turned into nearly 3 1/2 as there was an accident on I-85. The topiaries made the frazzled drive worth it though. There are more than 40 of them, and they are stunning! We really have to applaud the city horticulture crew and all the volunteers for their hard work. 

Because we arrived later in the morning than we planned, we had an early lunch at the Mill House, where we were the only ones in the outdoor dining area. We had read that the pizza was good, and it did not disappoint. The restaurant was also a good launching point to hunt for the topiaries. There were not many people around, so it was easy to keep our social distance as we walked the route to get our photos. The day was beautiful, and it was a treat to get some exercise in the cooler temperatures.

We found all the topiaries and were on our way home by 2:30 or so. We celebrate these baby steps out in public as we try to gain some semblance of our new normal.

Greenwood, SC

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Safer at Home Day 26

This is the 26th day of Phase 2 - Safer at Home in North Carolina (and Day 82 of restrictions), and the resulting COVID-19 statistics are a bit dismal. In our state there have been over 44,000 confirmed cases, with more than 1,100 deaths. In the United States, 2.16 million cases have been confirmed, and over 118,000 people have died. Worldwide, there are 7.69 million confirmed cases, with 428,000 deaths reported. 

There is no question that the number of coronavirus is spiking, but is all of it due to the fact that our country, as well as many others, are slowly reopening their economies? It is difficult to tell for sure. More tests have become available, so part of the increase could be due to better testing and/or reporting. My personal observation is that fewer people seem to be taking the virus as seriously as they had in the past. I am seeing fewer and fewer folks wearing masks in public, and there is a lot less social distancing taking place.

Linville Falls, NC
Sunday we went to Linville Falls, NC with another couple. We each drove in our own cars, and met in the park parking lot to hike to the falls. It was much more crowded than I would have liked, and very few people had masks on. While passing on the path stairs, it was impossible to maintain 6' of distance from others. What it made us understand is that we simply cannot go to outdoor public venues on the weekend anymore. It is a shame because we know it is safer to be outside with other people than in, and we certainly are trying to remain as active as we can in light of the fact that our fitness facility and group exercise classes are closed for the time being. But it became clear to me that I am literally putting my life into other people's hands, which they don't seem to get. I wear a mask to protect THEM, not me, and they certainly are not returning the courtesy.

What is the answer? We are months if not years away from a vaccine for the coronavirus. The way we have been living for the past few months is not much of a life at all. As humans, we have the need to be with and touch other humans, particularly our close loved ones. Is there a way to open up the country while still being medically responsible? I believe they will have to make wearing a mask in public mandatory and not just a suggestion in order for us to have any chance of beating the odds of getting the virus.

In the end, we all have to decide for ourselves what our risk tolerance is going to be. For now we will continue to mostly self-isolate, taking baby steps into our old life of being around other people. I guess we will be like the turtle - slow and steady wins the race.

backyard turtle

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Day Trippin'

This week we were supposed to be at a photography clinic in the Outer Banks. Due to the coronavirus, we had to cancel the trip. As this was part of my Christmas gift, we are very disappointed. So we decided to go on a day trip yesterday. We thought about going to see the topiary exhibits in downtown Greenwood, SC but a rainy forecast put that idea on hold. Instead we headed north to Blowing Rock, NC. It was an excellent decision as it was at least 10 degree cooler there with half the humidity.

Flat Top Manor
We began our adventure at Moses H. Cone Memorial Park. Located on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 3,500 acre park was once the country estate of textile entrepreneur Moses Cone. In 1901 he built a 14,000 square foot, 20 room home he named Flat Top Manor. The building is not open to the public right now because of the virus, but it was worth stopping to see it and walk a little bit of the trails.

From there we went to Blowing Rock, which is a charming town with a geological formation called The Blowing Rock. Entrance to The Blowing Rock offers panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding valleys. The trails were gentle and easy to navigate, and we enjoyed our time there. We had a late lunch in a restaurant called Foggy Rock Eatery and Pub. They did a great job being in compliance with the governor's Safer in Place guidelines, which requires restaurants to operate at 50% capacity to keep patrons 6' or more apart. And they did it with a sense of humor by placing cardboard faces on the booths that were to remain unoccupied. The food was good, and we would definitely eat there again.

Blowing Rock, NC
Our last adventure of the day was a hike on the Glen Burney Trail to see the Glen Burney and Glen Mary falls. No one told me it was 800' down! It was billed as an easy 1.5 mile hike, which is a total misrepresentation. I was a little concerned that I would not make it back up the steep hills. The waterfalls were just okay, so I doubt I will make that trip again. But I have to say, it was so good to get out of town for a bit and away from the heat, humidity, and constant reminders that the virus is out to get all of us.

Glen Burney Falls

Friday, June 5, 2020

Getting the Real ID

license bureau line
This morning we made our way to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get our drivers licenses. We are lucky in that our area accepts online reservations, so we picked the location that had the earliest openings. Jim secured the 9:30 slot, while I got the 9:50. It ended up that the office was probably the closest one to our house, so that was a plus.

Due to Covid-19 they are limiting the number of people allowed in the building at one time, but we were still surprised to see these kind of lines. Obviously they take multiple people for the same time slots. The unfortunate people up against the building did not have appointments, and theirs was going to be a long wait.

Our goal was to obtain the Real ID, a new license that complies with federal minimum security guidelines. While not legally required, without the Real ID you cannot board a plane or enter any federal buildings without showing your passport. That's not a huge deal as we have valid passports and don't expect to fly for a long time anyway due to the virus. But if we were going to stand in line, we might as well go for it. I had heard many horror stories from people who tried to get the new ID. Despite bringing what they felt were all the required documents, they were still rejected. In one case the husband used the paperwork and got his ID before passing them off to his wife. Her license agent rejected one of the documents that had been accepted in the husband's case. Everyone's advice was to take more papers than you need just in case.

I triple-checked everything we were bringing with the website, and the only sticking point I could see is that my social security card is laminated. That had been done by my employer 40 years ago, but apparently they don't consider your card valid if it is laminated. I was hoping it would fly through, but figured no big deal if I had to go with a regular drivers license.

When I was called to go inside the building, a man double-checked all my papers to make sure I had everything before he sent me to an agent's window. She looked it all over and said I was missing an insurance card. That was not listed as a requirement on the website, nor had the checkpoint man said I needed it. When you think about it, why must I own a car in order to get the Real ID anyway? At any rate, I wasn't concerned as I had brought our car insurance policy along as proof of my NC address. Unfortunately, it was the policy that had expired Aril 20th and not the new one. Crap! As luck would have it, Jim had just finished getting his license, and he was able to run out to the car for me and get the insurance card from the glove box. Whew! All the other papers were accepted with no problem, including the laminated card.

While we were not required to take a written test or a driving test since we both had valid licenses from another state, I was a little concerned about the sign test as people said it was a little tricky. I downloaded the signs from their website and we studied them. That turned out to be no big deal as most of the signs had the words printed on them. I was thinking, "Is this a stupid test or what?" The only ones without words were the no passing zone sign, stop sign, and upcoming railroad crossing sign (which is the one most people don't know or recognize, but I knew it from the website.) So, lots of worry for no reason, and I am now the proud owner of a NC Real ID, and am registered to vote as well.

JR Cash's Grill & Bar
We decided to go out to lunch to celebrate this little success. This is the first time we have eaten food that was not prepared by us since the lockdown began. We haven't even done carryout food. We went to JR Cash's in Mount Holly because I knew we could eat outside along the Catawba River. The waitresses were masked and gloved, and the tables were more than 6 feet apart. We were the only ones in the entire place for a bit, but it began to fill up. A lady at the next table over sneezed (no mask), and a young girl nearby sneezed twice (no mask). Is it asking too much for people to get up and move away from everyone if they have to sneeze? I don't think so, as you know when one is coming on. Thank goodness we were outside and that far apart, though I don't know if 6 feet is far enough. This is exactly why we haven't gone anywhere, because people can't be trusted. As much as I want to support local small businesses, it will be awhile before I want to eat out again.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Rain, Rain, You Can Definitely Go Away!

We are well into a second week of a rainy pattern here in the greater Charlotte area. It is starting to get to me a bit. It is hard to just stay inside the house, and it's just sad when the thing you look forward to the most is a shopping trip to Harris Teeters. It was my turn yesterday to do the weekly grocery shopping, and I was excited to get out of the house. At the store there were still no cleaning supplies, but there were a few packages of toilet paper for a change. I didn't need any, so I left them for someone who does. Meat was pretty well stocked, except that the deli has no ham. The closing of some meat packing plants in the US due to Covid-19 is starting to impact what shows up in the meat department at the grocery store.

Muddy Rivers Distillery
Speaking of cleaning supplies, there is a local rum distiller here called Muddy Waters. They have converted some of their lines to make hand sanitizer with their alcohol. Isn't that awesome? It is a thinner product while still meeting federal guidelines, so you can not only sanitize your hands with it but can also spray down surfaces to kill bacteria. It smells a bit like rum and is non-sticky, unlike some of the products I've gotten in the past. We picked up a gallon jug of it along with a pump bottle to refill our small hand sanitizer bottles. Oh, and we may have grabbed some rum while we were at it. We like to support small businesses when we can. I'll just have to make sure I don't drink the wrong one. Ha!

We were able to make another trip to the community garden to do some weeding and pruning of the tomato plants. They have many tomatoes and lots of blooms on them. I'm looking forward to a good harvest. We picked quite a bit of the kale to donate to the community relief organization, which uses the vegetables for Meals on Wheels and others in need of healthy food. While we were in Mount Holly, I dropped off a face mask for my hair stylist, who was commenting when I got my hair cut that none of the ones she had fit her well. She is required to wear a mask, so I offered to make her one to try out. If it works out okay, I'll make her a few more as they shouldn't be worn more than one day in a row without being washed.

Mount Holly Community Garden
Here is a pretty cloud formation that appeared late yesterday afternoon during a rare break from the rain. As Joni Mitchell sang, "I really don't know clouds at all."

clouds at Imagery

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Phase 2 Hairdo

Uptown Salon
As I have been writing here, we have kept very close to home and limited the number of people we are around since the Mount Holly and Gaston County Stay at Home Orders went into effect on March 27th, three days before the state order went into effect. With Phase 2 allowing the reopening of hair salons, I thought long and hard about if I wanted to chance going to get my haircut. To say that my hair looks like crap is an understatement. My last cut was on March 3rd, and my hair grows fast.

To make my decision, I looked at what the state was requiring salons to do in order to open their doors. Then I read what safety precautions my salon was putting into place. And finally I talked with my stylist about my concerns. After all that, I went in for a haircut at 9:00 this morning. They are required to operate at 50% capacity, so only four stylists were there, each with one customer. No one who is not in a chair is allowed in the salon - you must wait outside or in your car, and the stylist will text you when you can come in. The only things you are allowed to bring into the salon is a form of payment and your phone. No purses or bags allowed.
first haircut in 11 weeks

As the first appointment of the morning for my gal, I did not have to wait, and I used a sanitizing wipe to open the door on the way in and out.  The stylist chairs had been moved further apart with two being placed on each side of a wall, dividing the space in half. The only person who came closer to me than 6' was my stylist. She was masked the whole time, and so was I though I had to hold my mask over my nose and mouth while she shampooed me so I didn't get the elastic of my mask wet. In all honesty, I felt less concern about being in the salon than I do at a grocery store. At a certain point in time, we have to get back to a somewhat normal life, and getting this haircut was certainly a way to lift my spirits, which is important as well.

community garden plot
As our community garden is just down the street from the salon, I dropped in to see how our plot is doing. It is looking so good! I forgot to bring any tools along, so I'll need to go back and prune the tomato plants. They have gotten huge and are shading out the pepper plants. I also need to tie them up some more so the stems don't break. It was great to see all the bees buzzing around the marigold plants.

Last night we had another beautiful sunset over the lake in the backyard. This photo was taken due north. It was as if the cloud grabbed all the sunset and held it inside.

sunset on Mountain Island Lake

Friday, May 22, 2020

North Carolina Reopening - Phase 2

St. Louis Cardinals masks
Governor Cooper decided to go ahead with the reopening of North Carolina. Effective as of 5:00 p.m. today, the state moves from Stay at Home to Safer at Home, easing certain restrictions to help revive the economy while still protecting public health. The new order lifts the statewide Stay at Home Order and moves to the recommendation that you stay at home if you are sick, age 65 or older, or suffer from high risk underlying conditions such as chronic lung disease, asthma, heart conditions, diabetes, etc. It is further recommended that you wear a mask in public, practice social distancing by staying 6' away from other people when out and about, and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer.

Restaurants can now offer inside dining but with the number of patrons restricted and at least 6' between diners; child care centers can now serve all children and not just those of essential workers; tattoo shops, massage parlors and hair salons can reopen with a 50% reduction in capacity, requirement that masks be worn by the employees, maintaining 6' between all customers, and new specifications on sanitizing practices; swimming pools both indoors and outdoors can open at 50% capacity; and there is a limit of 10 people for indoor social gatherings and 25 people for outdoor get-togethers. Restrictions on other activities and venues that were covered under Phase 1 remain in place.
new signage at our pickleball courts

So what does this change in my life? Not a lot, quite frankly. I may end up getting a haircut if I feel my salon is safe, but it will be a long time before I will eat inside a restaurant. We  have not even done carry out food for the past 57 days. I don't want to gather inside with 9 other people, and certainly will not be with 24 others even if it is outside. There is just too much that is still unknown about this virus.

I will feel comfortable playing outdoor pickleball in my own community as we have 0 cases of the virus here. But I don't intend to play indoors anytime soon. I'll still avoid going inside of any store unless it is to buy food. And I'll continue to wear my mask when I do so even though there is now public shaming going on towards those who wear one, as well as shaming those who do not wear a mask. People in this country have gotten to be so disrespectful. It is shameful. Obviously everyone needs to make their own choice about what they are comfortable doing during these uncertain times. But the judging needs to stop, unless someone is blatantly breaking the law or purposefully putting someone else in danger.

In the meantime, I will continue to try to de-stress by enjoying the beauty and antics of the colorful creatures in the backyard.

wildlife of Mountain Island Lake