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

Monday, May 18, 2020

Stay at Home Day 53

our backyard
Today begins the 53rd day since our county issued the Stay at Home order. While others in the country, and world for that matter, have had to shelter in place for longer than that, there is no arguing that we have gone a long time without being able to visit family, attend gatherings, play pickleball with our friends, participate in any of the group activities we had become accustomed to in our new community, eat at restaurants, travel, visit local cultural institutions, etc.

To date, there have been 4.76 million confirmed cases worldwide, with 326,000 deaths. In the US there are 1.53 million confirmed cases, with over 90,000 deaths. North Carolina has 18,512 confirmed cases to date, with 659 deaths. Gaston County has one of the lowest virus cases in our area, fortunately. As fat as we know, no one in our community has gotten the virus. Having said that, we know that it is out there and we need to remain vigilant.

While Phase 2 may go into play this Friday, lifting some restrictions for restaurants and hair salons, I will need to decide what I want to do about a haircut. I found a stylist in Mount Holly who I really like, and have been to her several times. However, she has chosen to spend her time off this week in a beach community, posting photos on Facebook. She admitted that her location is very crowded. This is the type of situation that puts people at risk, and I would have expected her to spend the two weeks before going back to work in a more controlled environment. There is no way that I can wear a mask when she washes and cuts my hair, and I doubt that she will wear one either in light of her disregard of the stay at home order. I will need to think long and hard about whether I want to be that close to her upon her return. My hair is in desperate need of a cut as I last saw her on March 3rd. All the stylists will be swamped when they can finally reopen, so odds of getting in to see someone new are slim. And I have no idea what any of them have been doing in their time off either. This is our new world, and everyone has to determine what their risk tolerance is going to be.

Yesterday morning Jim and I took our kayaks out on the lake early in the morning. Weekends on the water are a zoo with all the boats and jet skis, so we wanted to go out on calm waters without having to worry about being hit. Or knocked ashore by the waves. It was beautiful and peaceful, and certainly a wonderful way to forget all the pandemic madness for a little bit anyway.

Mountain Island Lake
The other thing that brings me joy is watching the birds in the backyard. The goldfinches have finally discovered my finch feeder with its special finch food. Another bird this morning made good use of the bird bath, and I saw my first hummingbirds out back over the weekend. I picked up a lantana basket at the farmer's market on Saturday, and it drew them right in. My hummingbird feeder certainly hadn't been doing the trick.

for the birds
We shall see what this Friday brings in terms of removing some of the stay at home restrictions. But thinking about the birds reminded me of the John Lennon song "Free as a Bird." Somehow the lyrics seem very appropriate today.

Whatever happened to
the life that we once knew?
Can we really live without each other?
Where did we lose the touch
That seemed to mean so much?
It always made me feel so
free as a bird.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Testing the Waters

paddling on Mountain Island Lake
A group of us from the neighborhood went paddling on Mountain Island Lake Wednesday. We had 4 paddle boards and 12 kayaks. We all arrived at the launch site in our own vehicles, and used our own equipment. We kept 6 feet away from each other the water - or in my case 60 feet away as I am definitely the slowest in the group. Not only do I lack the upper body strength of the rest, apparently, but I also am never in a rush on the water. I like to look at the birds and their nests, and see a view of the area that you don't get when you are on land.

The trip was billed as 8.5 miles of leisurely paddling. I guess my idea of taking our time was different than the others. It just confirms my belief that I have to find my tribe of Piddler Paddlers. Nevertheless, it was a nice day on the water, and I made it the entire way without having to be towed by anyone.

We have been doing some work at the Mount Holly Community Garden. Our garden mentor gave us some mulch to top dress our bed, so we installed that on Friday while weeding and watering. This morning we decided to check out the Mount Holly Farmers Market, which is open only on Saturday mornings. We did not go to the grand opening last Saturday as we wanted to make sure we felt social distancing and other health practices would be in place. The market is doing a really good job in tough times. Everyone must use the hand sanitizer before entering the market, and masks are encouraged. I would say 80 percent of everyone there had a mask on, and the vendors are required to wear gloves. If a vendor does not accept credit cards, then shoppers can purchase tokens in one spot to be used as payment. Overall, we felt very comfortable there. We ended up buying a hanging basket, some honey, and some spring mix lettuce. All of the vendors are located within 75 miles of Mount Holly, so everything is fresh from their farms.

Mount Holly Farmers Market
When we finished shopping we went back to our community garden down the street to help with some bed work. There are two butterfly beds at the entrance to our garden, and they had become overrun with salvia. We dug all the salvia up and placed it to the side for any of the gardeners to take home. Then we raked out all the pine straw mulch in preparation of soil delivery. Once that is done, new plants will be added back to the beds. I did an additional watering of our bed as it is supposed to hit 87 degrees here today. That way we won't have to make a trip back into town tomorrow. Our bed is looking good! Can't wait for the tomatoes and peppers to come in.

Mount Holly Community Garden bed
Little by little, we are getting out and about in the community, as allowed by federal, state and county mandates. We will continue to test the waters to see what our comfort level is with venturing back out into what our lives were like BC - before COVID. This is a long, long way from being over.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Celebrating Mother's Day During a Pandemic

During any other time we would have been up in Iowa visiting my mother-in-law for Mother's Day, especially in light of the fact that she just lost her husband a few weeks ago. However, COVID-19 has made travel impossible for us, so we didn't dare even drive to our son and daughter-in-law's home in Virginia. My husband wanted to do something special with me though, so I selected a few locations in downtown Charlotte for us to visit and photograph. I knew we would be able to keep social distancing in play, and the pretty weather was just what we needed to explore our new city.

We began at Midtown Park as it was reputed to have great views of the downtown area, as well as a small reflective ball similar to the "Bean" in Chicago. We very much enjoyed the park with its proximity to a major greenway which we want to return and explore later. The view of the city was okay, and the ball was certainly nowhere near the "Bean" in terms of interest.

Midtown Park
From there we stopped at Elizabeth Park, which is also located on the Little Sugar Creek Greenway, to see the statue of Captain James Jack. He was a Patriot leader in the Rebellion in 1775. Historic St. Mary's Chapel is located across the street in Thompson Park.

Elizabeth and Thompson Parks
Next we headed to Nebel's Alley in Charlotte's South End neighborhood. We were not in search of shopping or a place to eat however. We were looking for the Confetti Hearts Wall mural, which is located in the alley. It seemed very appropriate on Mother's Day to have our picture taken in front of the wall. In this day and age of the virus, you don't dare offer to take a photo of someone using their camera or telephone. But a complete stranger offered to take our picture using her phone, indicating she would then text to me. Social distancing at its finest! It epitomized the "Be Kind" heart on the wall between us in the picture. We were able to return the favor by taking a photo of her family as well. By the time we got done chatting with them it was time to head home to grab lunch prior to our 2:00 video call with mom at the nursing home.

Nebel Alley
Our kids were able to join us on the call with Lorraine, and it went well. She seems to understand the seriousness of the virus and why we can't yet come to see her. It is so hard to see her on a call and know that she cannot safely even leave her room right now. She has to be very lonely without Jerry.

We spent a little time enjoying our lake view before grilling up some filets that were given to us by a neighbor who doesn't eat beef. The icing on the cake, so to speak, was a new recipe I tried combining brownies on the bottom and chocolate chip cookies on the top. They are called brookies, apparently. I would just call them delicious!

Mother's Day meal

Saturday, May 9, 2020

North Carolina Reopening Phase 1

As of 5:00 p.m. yesterday, the first phase of a three part reopening plan of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper went into effect. In essence, the stay-at-home order has been modified to allow more businesses to reopen and residents to take more nonessential trips. However, public schools and nonessential business such as hair salons, entertainment venues and gyms must remain closed. We are to follow social distancing rules when out, and those who can work from home are urged to continue to do so. Businesses that do reopen must maintain strict cleaning routines and limit the number of people allowed inside the stores or buildings. Restaurants and bars can still only do drive-thru, carryouts or deliveries.

Let there be toilet paper!
To date over 14,000 people have tested positive for the virus in North Carolina, and 530 have died. Health officials will be watching the numbers carefully to see if lifting some restrictions causes an influx of new cases. If things remain steady, it is predicted that Phase 2 will roll out on May 22nd. It can be hoped that things might begin to return to normal in the stores. For example, on Thursday for the first time since the end of February I actually saw toilet paper on the shelves of our local grocery store. There was still no hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap or wipes, or yeast however. The hoarders are still hoarding. They are saying a meat shortage will be next as several of the large meat packing plants have been closed due to an outbreak of the virus. That's all they need to do is mention it - it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Our plan is to maintain the status quo. I am no safer to go out on May 8th than I was on May 7th. We are not interested in putting ourselves at risk beyond purchasing groceries and other essentials. From the new rules, our facilities here at Imagery will not be allowed to open during Phase 1, though I suppose they could allow pickleball and tennis as those are outdoors.

A friend of mine poses a question on Facebook each day for us to think about. Today's was what new word or expression has come out of this virus? Her response was maskne - the acne that arises from wearing a mask. My favorite was covidiot - a person who disregards the seriousness of the coronavirus. My contribution was zoomeral - attending a funeral via zoom. I'm still trying to come up with a better word than surreal. It's just not strong enough.

In the meantime, I like to think that this is a sign that dad has sent this beautiful bird to watch over us.

beautiful cardinal

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Perfect Social Distancing

kayaking on Mountain Island Lake
After much debate, we broke down and purchased two kayaks. Many of our neighbors have already been out on the water a bit with theirs, and we were getting eager to join them. While it is possible that at some point down the road our HOA will have community kayaks available, who knows when that will occur. With the pandemic, work on the amenities here has come to a screeching halt. And being out on the water in our own personal kayaks is the best way I can think of to maintain social distance.

We discussed the various options - sit in versus sit on being a big one. Size is an issue as well, not only for storage in our already pretty full garage but also so that I can get my kayak in the water by myself. A few of our neighbors had done extensive research, so we took their advice into consideration.

One thing that became clear to me right away is that the kayak purchase is only the beginning. Paddles, personal flotation devices (PFDs), dry bags, carts to move the kayaks, kayak racks for the car and the garage - oh my! This is becoming an expensive hobby, for sure.

The kayaks arrived last week, delivered to the door! It's amazing what can be delivered these days, and I suspect that people will continue to shop for more things this way even after the country opens up. The paddles and PFDs came this week, though we are still waiting on the racks and carts. We were able to go out last Friday and Saturday as friends had extra equipment they were willing to lend us. To finally get out on the water instead of just looking at it from our yard was quite a thrill.

Friday was just Jim and me, and we stayed in the nearby cove as the wind was creating large waves on the lake. The dozens of turtles in the area kept us entertained as we got used to the feel of the kayaks and the paddles. Kayaking was just the thing we needed to get our minds off the death of dad for a little bit.

Mountain Island Lake

Paddlers of Imagery
On Saturday about 10 of us went out, including 3 paddle boarders. The lake was calm and there were few boats out at 8 in the morning. It was a lot of fun, but I can see that I will need to find a different group of paddlers. I want to be on the water to explore the coves and wildlife as well as to get exercise. I am not in a race to see who can get to the end of the lake first. I already have a name for my group - The Piddler Paddlers.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Behold the Turtle

eastern river cooter turtle
Yesterday morning my husband looked out our bedroom window and told me there was something I needed to see. There in the side yard was a large turtle, and she was rocking front to back. Of course we grabbed our cameras and headed outside. Unlike many shy turtles who duck inside their shells when something approaches, she just kept going about her business. She was definitely on a mission.

When I finally walked around behind her, I could see that she was using her back feet to move the clay towards her stomach. We continued to watch her as she finished packing the earth and then tried to throw some grass on top of it. Lots of luck there, turtle, we have crappy bermuda grass here! When she was satisfied, she took off on a stroll across our backyard and patio, and then went up the slight rise to the back of our lot making her way back towards the lake.

We surmised that she had just laid her eggs, and after researching on the internet I am convinced that was indeed what she was doing. She is an eastern river cooter, I believe. We have several dozen of them in a nearby cove. Cooters grow to be 9-12" in length on average, but can get to be over 16" long.

As I read more about cooters, they normally lay 7-18 eggs! Female turtles can hold fertilized eggs for several months, so it will be hard to predict when the babies might hatch. The nest is right on the property line between us and our neighbors, so we quickly stuck some flags around the spot to mark it. I want to make sure that the mowing crew here doesn't disturb it too much. The mother will not return to the nest, so the babies will be on their own.

It will be fun to watch and see what happens over the next few months. At the very least it will be a distraction from the COVID-19 pandemic. As James Bryant Conant said, "Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out."

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Cemetery Streaming

Jerry's casket
My father and mother-in-law purchased a family plot at St. Andrew's Cemetery in Fairfax, Minnesota decades ago. Many of their relatives are buried there as well. It was their wish to have a funeral in Charles City, Iowa and the burial four hours away in Fairfax. We always joked with them that they better not die in the winter as no one would be able to make that drive.

As it turns out, even though dad died during beautiful weather, we couldn't make the drive anyway. With COVID-19 keeping the country on lockdown, we decided to have a virtual graveside service. On Thursday a cousin who was able to attend because she lives in the area used her phone as the conduit for the rest of us to virtually attend through the internet program Zoom. Those of us who were remote were able to see the handful of relatives who were there in person, and listen to the funeral director say a prayer and sing a couple hymns.

I read a phrase recently that referred to the American way of death. All our past experiences included traditions that were followed. Planning the funeral, picking out clothes for the deceased, setting up the viewing, funeral and burial, and preparing for the post-funeral gathering. There was the viewing, then the funeral, a trip to the grave site and then a luncheon of some sort. The pandemic has disrupted all of that, and really robbed us of the opportunity to truly grieve and mourn the loss of an extremely important person in our lives.

But our virtual service brought us some relief. I suppose things finally seemed real. The best part was that those of us who were online together stayed on after the graveside service concluded. People were able to express their sympathy to my mother-in-law, and she in turn was able to interact with family that she hadn't seen for quite awhile. There were tears and reminiscing, laughter at old stories and jokes, and a sharing of the mutual love we all had for Jerry. It was the closure that we all needed. It might not have been the funeral that was well-planned by mom and dad, but we sure made use of the technology available to spread hugs, love and goodbyes. Even if it was all done virtually. RIP, beloved father.

family flowers

Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Virtual Viewing

65th wedding anniversary
Yesterday my father-in-law was laid out out the funeral home. Current mandates during the COVID-19 pandemic allow only 10 people to be gathered in one place at a time. This number includes the funeral home staff and any clergy that might be there. Jim's older sister, who lives in the same town of my in-laws, was able to be there along with some of her close family members. They represented those of us who are having to stay in our own homes.

Through Messenger I was able to set it up that Jim's younger sister and her husband, our son and his wife, our daughter, and Jim and me were able to virtually attend the viewing. I thought I also had my mother-in-law in the group chat with the help of her hospice nurse, but we had a technology fail so they were not online. The funeral director sang "Be Not Afraid", and Sister Diana from their church read some scriptures and talked about her own personal experiences in knowing Jerry as long as she did. I was doing my best to text what was said to the hospice nurse to relay to mom.

It was a short service but very poignant and personalized. Then the hospice nurse sent me something mom had prepared and asked me to read it to everyone since she wasn't online with us. It was beautifully written and made me cry. I could barely get through it. To witness the love of this 68 year partnership is truly something.

Today is the virtual graveside ceremony in Minnesota. Our family will be well-represented by cousins and nephews and nieces, to the limit of the 10 gathering in one space. We are so grateful to each and every one of them for being there when we can not. Zoom is set up and a young woman will be providing the eyes and ears for us. If the technology gods are willing, mom will be joining us from her room in the nursing home. Worst case scenario, it will be recorded for future playback.

All of this is not what we planned or desired, but it is the hand we have been dealt. We are doing the best we can under extremely difficult and trying circumstance, and are grateful that technology is enabling us to have a least a little bit of closure.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Saying Goodbye to Dad

Gerald Wolterman
My father-in-law Jerry died April 22 at 10:53 in the evening. While no family member was allowed in the room with him, other than my mother-in-law, we were extremely grateful to learn that he passed while two nurses were there taking care of him. Hopefully with everyone wearing masks, he thought it was one of us.

I cannot find a word to exactly describe what it feels like to lose someone you love during this COVID crisis. Surreal comes close but seems insufficient somehow. You have an expectation, and a picture in your mind based on past experiences, of how the end of life for your loved one will be. The family would be gathered around the bedside of the one who is dying, holding their hand, telling them they are loved, saying good-bye...And those left behind would hold each other in their grief, mourning together, crying together. Relatives would be notified, and funeral preparations would begin. The loved one's life would be blessed by the priest and celebrated by the living before being taken to the cemetery for the final resting place.

Nowhere in that scenario or our wildest dreams did we expect a situation where we would be told not to leave our homes, much less our state, to visit the dying and comfort the living. That we could not hold our mom and tell her how sorry we are that her husband of 68 years has passed. That we would not be able to go to the funeral home and help with the selection of a casket and crypt. Or that we would not be able to hold a funeral due to the stay at home mandates, or accompany his body to Minnesota where his cemetery plot is located.

Instead we did a FaceTime chat with Jim's sister at the funeral home, which was better than nothing as we at least were able to sort of see the caskets and help her make a decision. In order to help ease the burden of the local sister we wrote the obituary and found a photo to accompany it. We have also been corresponding with cousins who right away volunteered to be at the cemetery when Jerry's body arrives. This was a great comfort to us as we felt it was going to be one last insult if no one was there by the graveside when he arrives. We are hoping to set up a Zoom event so that those of us who cannot travel to Minnesota can participate visually. If all goes well, it will be recorded so others can view it later. Jim and I are blessed with a neighbor who offered his assistance to set this up and record it for us.

Down the road we will have a Celebration of Life for Jerry, when it is safe for all of us to travel and be able to hug one another as we laugh and cry over a life well-lived. We are doing the best we can under the circumstances with the technology afforded us. But this is no way to lose someone you love and certainly no way to grieve the loss.

My father-in-law lived a long life, and we are grateful for the time we had with him. I was only 19 the first time I met him, and I loved him from the start. Here is a poem I wrote for him on Father's Day in 2017. The words mean more to me today than they did then, and it comforts me to know that he knew how much he meant to me.

poem to Dad

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Dying in the Age of COVID-19

the sun sets, a life sets
We have two family members who are under hospice care and in the process of dying. While their medical conditions have nothing to do with COVID-19, the virus nonetheless is impacting the way that they will die. Because of the virus, all the other family members must stay at home. We cannot visit them, we cannot tell them how much we love them, we cannot tell them it is okay to let go, and we certainly cannot hold their hands as they die. While we are grateful that they are in a room together, it saddens us that we cannot be there to support them, especially the spouse who remains when the first one passes.

There will be no funeral, no closure for those of us left behind. We will certainly have a celebration of life later on down the road when we are safe to travel, but as we know funerals are for the living. They help us recognize the loss as real. It is a way to grieve with others, to hear the stories and share the memories. We will not be able to gather for emotional support and say good-bye to the physical presence that will no longer be a part of our lives.

COVID-19 may not be taking their lives, but it is certainly taking our opportunity to mourn their deaths in the way we had expected.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Life Goes On

Thursday was my turn to go to Harris Teeters, the local grocery store. As I mentioned before, we shop for groceries once a week, but only one of us actually makes the trip. We takes turns to minimize the risk. This trip was a big one because I scored not only our preferred loaf of bread for the first time since isolation began last month, but also a bottle of Clorox disinfecting spray. There was still no toilet paper in stock however. We don't need it, but it has become a game to me to see if I can ever find any.

We have been working on small projects around the house. Jim organized his boxes in the garage, installed pull out drawers in the kitchen cabinets, put up gutter guards, etc. I lined shelves with lightweight acrylic sheets to stop things from sliding through the cheap shelving units the builder installed here. I have also continued with my mask making project, worked on taxes and better organized my filing system. Exciting stuff, right?

Last night we sat out back with two other couples to enjoy the beautiful evening. As before we each had our own chairs and drinks, and kept the 6' distance between each couple. It is always nice to hear how other people are coping with the coronavirus mandates, and just to have new conversations.

Today after Jim finished the gutters and I completed three more masks, we decided to get out of here for awhile. We drove to the University of North Carolina-Charlotte campus to walk through their gardens. We had been earlier this year with our hiking club, and have been wanting to go back. One of the things I miss most about St. Louis, after family and friends, is the Missouri Botanical Garden. There just aren't that many gardens around here, so today's outing gave me an opportunity to photograph flowers and trees while getting my exercise.

With the Stay at Home order we are allowed to be outside to exercise, and in fact the campus garden had signs posted about COVID-19. There were to be no more than 3 people in a group, and we were to keep the 6' distance between us and others. I will say, sadly, those things did not happen. It was a beautiful day in the low 70s, so the place was crowded with groups. Children were running around and blocking the narrow paths, so keeping a distance was a challenge. We just ended up going to a part of the garden that was unpopulated so we could work on our photography. It was so good to have a change of scenery!
UNCC botanical garden
We grilled steaks when we got home, and ate on the back patio. Then we sat in our orange chairs to watch the boaters go by. We even had a bluebird stop by, and a blue heron was across the lake. It was a nice ending to a wonderful day.

bluebird and blue heron

Monday, April 13, 2020

Easter Staycation

Easter sunrise
Yesterday was Easter Sunday, and what an odd one it was for sure. We got dressed at 6:45 and walked down to Sunflowers Point to watch the sunrise. It was lovely, and the only sun we saw that day as storms rolled through the area later in the day. It was a beautiful spot to sit and contemplate the significance of the day.

We decided to have our Easter meal at noontime, because why not? For us the traditional meal is ham, baked beans and scalloped potatoes. Usually there are rolls as well, but since COVID-19 hit you cannot find frozen bread of any kind in the stores. I would make my own, but there is no yeast to be had either. It was okay, because Jim made a lemon pound cake for dessert so we really didn't need any additional bread with the meal.

Easter dinner
During the afternoon we watched the Pope celebrating mass in Rome, then Andrea Bocelli performing at the Duomo Cathedral in Milan, Italy. There was an organist with him, but otherwise the church was empty as were the streets surrounding it. This whole situation is quite surreal, but his music was just the uplifting note that I needed. From there we switched gears to the broadway performance of Jesus Christ, Superstar. Talk about a divergence in musical styles! This new production takes great liberties with the staging of the original show, as do a lot of productions these days. The cast wore modern clothes and used cell phones and iPads. It was interesting, but I prefer the original.

I got a couple more masks made before the big storms hit here. We were under a tornado watch, so I decided not to be on the second floor of the house in case one hit. As it ended up, we only got lots of rain and some high winds. I had no idea I did not leave tornadoes behind in Missouri! Here are the new masks for the neighbors a couple doors down.

face masks
One of the many things that has been hard with having to stay home is getting enough exercise. We walk when the weather is good, and Jim has been biking nearly every day with a couple of the other guys. I've been doing some online yoga classes. This morning we went to YouTube for a low impact aerobics class. It was challenging but doable. Just one of the many ways our lives have changed due to the virus.

But we are healthy and happy, and I know we have a lot to be grateful for so I try not to complain. As Scarlett from Gone with the Wind said "after all, tomorrow is another day."