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 far 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