Venturing Out in Oregon’s Phase One

Okay, I did it. I ventured out into the new world of Lincoln County’s Phase One reopening. Parts of my journey were almost normal, parts very much not. Fear of COVID-19 still hovers everywhere.

Post office. Mask on. Rush in, grab my junk mail from the box, rush out.

Out to lunch! First time sitting in a restaurant since March 13. Sitting in my usual section at Off the Hook, just south of the Yaquina Bridge, I could look out the window at the La Quinta hotel across the street and the traffic on 101 and pretend nothing had changed.

I wore my mask in, but of course I couldn’t eat with it on, so I stashed it in my purse. At 11:45, I was the only customer.

The owner, a big guy with curly reddish hair, did all the hosting and serving, no sign of the usual servers. He wore a yellow mask and offered a paper menu that he tore up as soon as I had made my selection. They were still restocking, he explained. Items that he had in stock were highlighted in yellow. No problem. They had my crispy chicken sandwich with fries and iced tea.

He was exceedingly polite. Ma’am this and thank you that. I asked how he was doing in this crazy time. Doing the best we can, he said.

After noon, others arrived. It’s a seat-yourself place, but the owner moved one party, noting the COVID regulations. Have to spread out, he reminded them.

The food was delicious, as was the novel I was reading, Same Sweet Girls by Cassandra King. I drank enough iced tea to keep me awake for days. I ate every bite of French fry, every pickle, and every bit of breading that fell off my chicken.

A nearby TV screen played a Ducks-Beavers baseball game. I thought nothing of it at first, but then thought: wait, the universities are closed, and nobody is playing baseball now. Plus the two Oregon teams only play each other once a year. It’s a big deal and certainly not happening on an ordinary Wednesday in May. This game was a rerun.

It felt great to be out. I admired the neon beer signs on the wall opposite me and the soft country music easing out of the speakers. Maybe it was actually a lot louder; I wasn’t wearing my hearing aids. My hearing aid guy warns that many of his clients have lost hearing aids while putting on or taking off their masks. I wasn’t taking a chance.

I lingered, I read, I sipped tea.

Restroom? I thought about making a pit stop at home, the only facilities guaranteed COVID-free, but doing the math, I could see that all of the restaurant workers were male, and the two female customers had not left their booth, so the restroom was probably clean. I used it, taking my time washing my hands and drying them with the blow dryer.

Next stop, groceries. I’m getting used to the whole thing. The mask, sanitizing my cart, not touching what I don’t intend to buy. Who knew I was such a toucher? J.C. Market is considerably less hectic than Fred Meyer, although more expensive, and prices seem to have gone up. My bill was a shocking $181. I took my time at the store, too, browsing, picking up things I might need and things I definitely needed.

Most of the shoppers and staff were wearing masks. I have noticed the competition for cool masks is ramping up. Just wait till my music mask arrives in the mail. Meanwhile, I didn’t feel like I was suffocating this time.

At the checkstand, my cashier Paula was more relaxed, too. I had brought back the heavy plastic bags they sold me before. You’ll have to load them, she said. Fine. But then a bagger appeared and I let him do it. Soon I was back in the car slathering my hands with sanitizer.

My last stop was Poolside Jan’s, which sells spas and supplies for maintaining them. I needed bromine big-time. The water was starting to smell funky. Were they open? Sort of. A big sign on the door said: STOP. Customers were instructed to telephone and place an order which would be brought out to them. While I was listening to the phone ring, a worker pushed open the heavy door just enough to peek out. A table blocked passage. I told her I needed bromine tablets. Large or small? Large. $61, she said. Ouch. In a minute, she brought me the huge bottle and I passed in my debit card. I waited till she returned with card and receipt, then backed away for me to lean in and grab my bromine, card and receipt. “These are weird times,” she said. “Sure are,” I answered.

Coming out of the parking lot I almost ran head-on into a van coming out of the coffee kiosk across the street. Luckily, the other driver stopped and wound up following me onto southbound 101. At the stoplight, I took off my mask. Done. Whew.

Home. Some blue peeking through the clouds. Trees moving slightly in the breeze. Robin pecking for worms. Annie anxious for her walk as I put everything away.

Now it’s Memorial Day. This weekend, our coastal communities have been deluged with tourists, most of them not wearing masks or keeping their distance. It’s like trying to hold back a tsunami. We are still supposed to social distance, wear masks, and avoid congregating in groups. We are not supposed to travel more than 50 miles from home–all of Oregon big cities are more than 50 miles away–but the visitors are here.

The pandemic is not over. We have done so well up to now in Lincoln County. We have only had nine people testing positive for the virus, nobody dying, largely because the locals have stayed home and the tourists have stayed away. I’m afraid that’s going to change now. I enjoyed my foray into the world, but I will continue to limit my travels. I’ve got food, bromine, dog, guitar, Netflix, and Zoom. I’m staying home.

Have you gone back to normal activities at this point? Please share in the comments.

Bunnies and Beavers in the Bushes

We’ve got bunnies in the bushes. Brush rabbits, gray, medium sized, shy. One seems to live here. I have seen it nibbling the dandelions in my back yard and sunning at the edge of the road out front. I watch it from the windows, saying nothing to my dog. To Annie, rabbits are messed-up cats that need to be chased out. But our local rabbit is pretty good at scooting back through the fence to safety, quick as a bunny, you might say.

Bunny
brush rabbit photo from Wikipedia

Sometimes the rabbits are not quick enough to escape the cougars and other predators that live in the area. I have sadly buried dismembered bunny body parts (which look alarmingly like chicken parts from the grocery store), not just because I love rabbits, but because I don’t want Annie to eat them. Since she considers the whole neighborhood her personal smorgasbord, it could happen.

Yesterday, we had just begun our walk, moving slowly because my back is out of whack again, when we came upon a dead rabbit by the neighbor’s mailbox. It was perfectly still, eyes open, no blood. Was it hit by a car?

“Oh no,” I said. “Poor bunny.” Annie approached it slowly, bending to smell its gray-brown fur. Just before her nose touched the rabbit, it jumped up and bolted into the salal and blackberries. Startled, I screamed and burst out laughing while my dog spent the next 10 minutes trying to find the rabbit. It was not dead at all, just “playing possum.” Apparently it didn’t see us coming until it was too late to flee, so it did the next best thing. It sure looked dead. Even Annie believed it.

Although we’re constantly told there’s big wildlife around here—cougars, bears, elk—on our daily walks, we see mostly the smaller things: garter snakes, newts, frogs, beetles and caterpillars. Many are smashed on the road. It’s a tough world out there. If the big cats don’t get you, a Ford 4×4 might do the job.

River otter 520But there are exceptions. There’s a pond around the corner, an offshoot of Thiel Creek. Neighbors with a sense of humor have planted five wooden ducks there. The ducks bob around, couple up, and look pretty real for birds with no feet. One in a while, live birds drop in, including a blue heron. The other day, a river otter stopped by. I’m not sure how it got in or out, but I caught a picture before it took offense at my camera and dove into the water.

Birds—robins, Stellar’s jays, doves, sparrows, juncos, woodpeckers—offer musical accompaniment to our walks. In the spring, blue butterflies fly along beside us. At twilight, mosquitoes join in.

During this time of sheltering in place, Annie and I have continued our daily walks. While I’m fascinated by the wildlife, Annie is drawn to the people. We wave at folks passing in their cars or neighbors mowing their lawns. Children playing in the street rush up to pet the “doggie.” Older people stop to stroke her ears and tell her she’s a “good boy.” Why does everyone get her gender wrong?

A few adults have stood back, afraid they might catch COVID-19 from her fur. I stand at the far end of the six-foot leash, social distancing. Even though I don’t touch anything, I wash my hands like crazy when I get home. It’s sad to be so afraid. As we begin Phase 1 of reopening beaches and businesses on the Oregon coast this week, I hope we don’t see a lot of people getting sick. The tourist spots are already getting crowded. Meanwhile, those of us who live here are as scared as that rabbit that played dead yesterday. I’ll bet it didn’t come back out to the street for a long time.

Maybe a year ago, we had a possum playing dead in the back yard while Annie had a barking fit. Of course it was late at night. Of course I had to go out in the wet grass in my fuzzy slippers. The possum played dead so thoroughly I touched its fur—soft!—and it didn’t move. I dragged the dog in by the collar, gave her a Milk-bone and locked her in. Sure enough, in the morning the possum was gone.

If you’re getting cabin fever, go for a walk. Look around. Even in human isolation, we are not alone.

 

‘No Contact’ now something to brag about

Lately businesses have been advertising “no contact” delivery. For example, Domino’s workers will bring you a pizza, leave it on your porch, text you that it is there, and drive away. You don’t have to see the delivery person or exchange money hand to hand because those hands might be tainted with the coronavirus. Pay with an app on your phone, money deducted from your bank account. No contact. No hello from a stranger. No one to put your clothes on for.

TV commercials for Xfinity and AT&T boast about how you can sign up for their services, get a “self-install kit” (good luck with that), and be online in a jiffy with no human contact.

I took Annie to the vet on Friday. No contact there either, at least not with the humans. You park, telephone to say you’re there, and a masked aide comes out to get your dog. You wait in the car. No more sitting with the pooch in the examining room, hugging her while they shove a thermometer up her bottom. Annie, people-loving pup that she is, trotted off happily. Dr. Hurty and I consulted by phone. Her test went well. Her ear infection is bad. We have this treatment. Shall we do it? Yes, please. I wait. Another call. That’s done. She will need these meds. Okay. I wait. The tech brings Annie out. We drive away. The phone rings. I park on the Bayfront, which is surprisingly crowded, and give my credit card information over the phone.

All of this requires a certain amount of trust as I hand over my beloved dog and my financial information.

No contact.

The service department at Sunwest Honda will now come get my car, fix it and bring it back. No more driving to Newport and settling in on the soft leather couches in the waiting room with the other folks getting their cars serviced. Sometimes we all stared at our phones, but sometimes we started talking, made new friends, and shared stories. Even if no one else was in the waiting room, we chatted with the folks at the counter where we dropped off our keys and said howdy to car salesmen who stopped in to get a cup of coffee. If we got bored, we could peruse the new cars and dream about which one we might buy. Now we stay home.

No contact.

I keep thinking about “negative contact,” a term I remember from my dad’s CB radio days. He roped us all into his hobby. Negative contact was not a good thing. It meant you failed to reach the person you wanted to talk to.

“Negative contact” is used by pilots and air traffic controllers to indicate that whatever they were tracking in the sky–another plane, helicopter, drone, etc.–is no longer in sight. That does not mean it isn’t there.

There’s also a legal term, “No negative contact” related to restraining orders and limited visitation in domestic violence situations. The person can be nearby if there is no negative contact, e.g., actions like hitting, harassing or stalking.

Suddenly “no contact” has become something advertisers boast about. You will get your merchandise without having any connection with another human being. Hooray.

No contact.

The other day, I heard beeping and saw the big white propane truck backing toward my driveway. “Gas guy!” I shouted, jumping up. As soon he parked, I rushed out to greet Ray, the friendly man from the valley who pumps propane into the tank that powers the fireplace that heats my house. I didn’t have to have any contact with him. I order online, and I pay online. But I like Ray, and it’s sweet to be able to speak to another human being. He had laryngitis, so I didn’t force him to say too much, but we parted smiling. So good to see people.

On our walks, Annie and I often see the mail carrier in his green Honda Element. We always wave to each other. I don’t know his name. I just know he’s the guy with the wild brown hair who drives from the wrong side of the car. But it’s contact, positive contact. Did he leave germs on my mail? I choose not to think about it.

COVID-19 is changing our world drastically. God knows when we’ll be able to mingle freely again with no one freaking out about contagion. But I don’t think it’s going to be the same. A lot of those things that have moved onto the Internet will stay on the internet. It’s just easier. As I type this, I’m waiting for a Zoom meeting that starts shortly. I’m still in my bathrobe, haven’t brushed my teeth. I have opted not to use the video function. I will see them, but they won’t see me.

No contact.

You know how people used to try to keep their kids, and themselves, from staring at screens all day. Suddenly that whole effort is kaput. Go ahead. Stare at your screens. Work, take classes, hold meetings, socialize, entertain, or play games on your computer, phone or tablet all day every day. Your mom can’t stop you anymore.

It’s almost time for the meeting. But I’m only half attending, no need to be polite. If I get bored, I can run off for tea, check Facebook, or write a few more words on this piece . . .

When this is over, will we remember how to walk up to another person, look into their eyes, and say, “Hello, it’s good to see you?” Will we ever shake hands again? Or hug? Or sit and listen in a room full of other people?

No contact. No negative contact, but no positive contact either.

It’s all like a big game of musical chairs, except instead of chairs, we competed for people. If you weren’t with anyone when the music stopped, you’re on your own.

See you on the screen. I’ll be one in the fuzzy blue bathrobe.

 

Are you ready for your Zoom closeup?

WIN_20200425_20_24_33_Pro

I feel so exposed lately. Zoom meetings, online readings, Skype, selfies—my face and my house are suddenly on the screen.

It’s not just me. I have been watching famous musicians performing from their homes: Joan Baez in her kitchen, Mary Chapin Carpenter in her living room with her big white dog and her cat, Keith Urban in his studio with wife Nicole Kidman dancing barefoot, Blake Shelton getting a haircut from Gwen Stefani at his ranch. (Go to Facebook Watch–after you read my blog). I’ve watched poet Billy Collins read from his office and Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample pray the rosary from his chapel.

I have watched video masses from all over, and I have helped make them at our church. While the camera is on, I’m conscious of every noise, every note, and every facial expression. Why do I look so serious, I ask myself when I watch online the next day? Why do I move like an old lady? It’s church, but it also feels like putting on a show for which we need way more rehearsal and better lighting.

I’ve done Zoom meetings, readings and promotional videos. I’m sick of looking at my face. What’s up with my hair? That freckle on my nose is huge; actually my nose is huge. Why don’t I open my mouth bigger when I speak? That shirt isn’t as cute as I thought it was. And the background! Mostly I Zoom from my office, which is jammed with stuff. Pictures, calendars, and notes cover every wall. Suddenly I’m conscious of the many religious symbols—a crucifix, a Virgin Mary statue, Buddha?

Apparently, as a writer, I’m supposed to have a backdrop of books and a few tasteful pieces of art. I’ve got books, but this is where I work. This is the factory, the backstage, never meant to be shown to strangers on a screen. But I know people will be checking it out because that’s what I do when I watch. I look at the furniture, the knickknacks, and the glass on the desk. Is that booze or iced tea? I try to read the titles of books I see on the screen. I’m nosy, and I’m sure you are, too.

Last night, the American Idol contestants performed from their homes while the judges watched from their own homes. All of the contestants were sent a “kit” to help them create their “sets.” They sang from garages, living rooms, bedrooms, porches and decks. A few decorated with wall hangings. One had a Christmas tree. Most had guitars, banjos or pianos strategically placed. I assume someone from the show helped them set up and told them what to move out of the way.

After the show, I looked around my house. What room could I use for my set if I were on American Idol? My first reaction was “none.” Maybe the kitchen. At least it has more light. Or maybe I could empty the dining area…. No, I love my house, but TV set designers would reject the whole thing and make me sing outside among the trees. I don’t know what they’d do about my barking dog or the neighbor’s rooster. Or the robins who have been especially vocal lately. Could somebody please turn off the wind?

Did you see the swanky furniture and the gorgeous piano at Lionel Richie’s house?

I have talked about my books on actual TV shows. The sets are really quite small, just a little decorated area with bright lights, nice chairs and maybe a plant or two, with cameras, cables, and general messiness just out of view.

Without professional TV crews helping us, Zooming can be dicey. For a morning coffee meeting a couple weeks ago, I showed up in my bathrobe, thinking that was the thing to do. Uh, no, everybody else was dressed. Oops. Be right back. Quick, find a shirt and pants. Should I put on makeup? Is that trying too hard? Sigh. Does it even help?

At one meeting last week, somebody’s dog would not stop barking. Somebody else’s phone rang. Billy Collins keeps talking to someone off-screen. If nothing else, this sheltering-in-place business is an equalizer. We’re all embarrassed.

“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It.” Suddenly all the world is a Zoom set, and we are the players.

Want to see how I look right now? Nope. Let me get some makeup on first. I took the photo above on Saturday night when I was feeling photogenic. Same background. Notice the light shooting out of my head.

How are you doing with all this Zooming and Skyping and Facetiming that put you and your home online for work, school, and socializing? Are you ready for your closeup? Any Zoom-disasters to report? Please share in the comments.

Stay well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Good Hat Hides a Lot of Bad Hair

The world is going to hell in a handbasket*, so let’s talk about hats.

No, I’m not crazy. The beauty salons being closed, my hair is growing out all catawampus. Any day now, I’m going to take the nail scissors to my bangs, not because it’s a good idea but because I hate the way they feel dragging on my eyebrows. Meanwhile, I have hats to hide the situation. Of course, once you wear a hat, you have “hat hair” and have to keep wearing it for the rest of the day, but that’s okay with me.

SombreroMy Facebook and Instagram followers may have seen me showing off other hats lately. Every hat has a story. Today’s hat is so beat up I should probably throw it away, but it has such precious memories.

I bought this brown suede sombrero in Tijuana on July 1, 1972. I remember the date because my boyfriend became my fiancé that day. We were visiting friends stationed at the Air Force base in Victorville, California. We crowded into their car and crossed the border, playing tourist for a few

 hours, then returned to their home in base housing where we got royally drunk on cheap red wine we drank from a leather bota bag. That night, my soon-to-be first husband and I got engaged and consummated the agreement in a sleeping bag on the floor. Ahem. The next day we drove out into the desert and did some target practice, shooting cans and rocks with pistols. I have photos of me wearing that hat, my long hair in pigtails, squatting and squinting as I shot the gun.

I loved that hat. A few months later, I wore it to an outdoor Pete Seeger concert in San Francisco. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people sat on beach chairs and blankets as the folk singer-banjo player got us all singing along and preached a gospel of peace, love, and kindness. He stood on that stage alone with no special effects, no backup band, just his skinny self. He played guitar and recorder, too, going on for hours. I knew that day that I wanted to do what he did, to sing and play and get everybody singing together. I swear it was a religious experience. I saw Pete twice more in Berkeley, but that first

Sue hat #2 41720

time was the best. By the time Pete died a few years ago, he had completely used up his voice, singing and preaching as long as he possibly could.

Somewhere that day, the braided leather band fell off that hat. Maybe it was a fitting place to lose it. The marriage didn’t last, but I have kept that hat all these years. I haven’t worn it in ages. It looks pretty bad, and if I had any sense, I’d throw it away, but . . . not yet.

Sue hat #3 41820I have lots more hats to wear. Many of them belonged to loved ones who have died. In addition to fedoras, cowboy hats, sun hats, bowlers, baseball caps, and fishermen’s caps, I have a whole basket of knitted and crocheted hats from the days when my mother and I were stitching fools. What I don’t have is the fancy hats we used to wear to church back in the days when Catholic women were required to cover their heads. I found them, along with our old mantillas (veils), when I was going through the house after Dad died, but I decided not to keep them. Not my style. I also found my Brownie and Girl Scout beanies, but I let them go, too. Ah, memories.

If, God forbid, I ever lose my hair to cancer or something else, I’ve got plenty of hats. Meanwhile, why not have fun with them?

I know some men whose heads I have rarely seen because they never go out without a chapeau. Fred, my second husband, got to wearing hats as his bald spot grew. He looked pretty good in them.

My dad had plenty of hair, right to the end, but he left me a hat, too, a brown tweed fedora. It still smells like him a little bit. I’m never giving it away.

It used to be that both men and women always wore hats when they went out. A bare head was just not proper. Now, not so much. How about you? Do you wear hats? Why or why not? Do you have any hats with special memories? Please share in the comments.

******************

*The phrase go to hell in a handbasket is an American phrase which came into general use during the American Civil War, though its popularity has spread into other countries. The origin of the term go to hell in a handbasket is unknown, the assumption is that the word handbasket is a good source of alliteration.–grammarist.com

Isolation leads to trip down memory lane

What did you do for Easter? Bet you didn’t go far from home. Me either. The highlight of my day? I cleaned out the cabinet in the hall bathroom, something I may not have done for, oh, a decade or longer. It was like opening a time capsule.

It’s a deep cabinet, not the one just under the sink but beside it, two shelves down low so you have to half lie on the floor to get the stuff out, which explains why I hadn’t cleaned it out in a long time. I can GET DOWN, but I don’t want to get down on the bathroom floor. It was time. Things were falling out when I opened the doors, and I had no idea what in there. Tired of staring at my computer screen, I had just enough sunshine, caffeine and Easter chocolate in me to tackle the job.

Out tumbled years of memories, stuff I don’t know why I kept, and things I didn’t know I had. For example:

  • A steamer! I had totally forgotten I had it. I first used steamers during college when I worked at the uniform shop at the old Valley Fair shopping center. We sold uniforms for nurses, waitresses, and other professionals. Remember when nurses all wore white dresses? One of my jobs was to steam out the creases in the newly arrived uniforms. The steamer worked so well I bought myself one to use on the gowns I wore to sing with the Valley Chorale for 14 years back in San Jose. Gowns, crystal earrings, jeweled sandals, makeup . . . I felt so gorgeous in those days.
  • Three boxes of hair ornaments from when I had long flowing dark-brown hair. I found barrettes, clips, and scrunchies, pretty things that make me want to grow my hair long again, even though I think it looks better short. Maybe it will happen. With all the beauty salons closed, my hair is already growing out of shape. I could go through the awkward phase while we’re in isolation. Maybe I’ll even give myself a home perm. Looks bad? Who’s going to see it?
  • Nail kits of various sorts, including free ones from a charity for the blind and the worn leather case of tools that Mom used on us when we were kids. I brought it home after Dad died last summer. I remember sitting on the side of the bed while she cut my tiny nails. She often cut them too close, and it hurt, but a lifetime later, I learned while cutting my husband’s nails at the nursing home that it isn’t easy cutting someone else’s nails short but not too short.
  • Suntan lotion galore. I confess I rarely remember to use it until my skin turns pink.
  • Two wrist braces from my various sprains and strains. I had wondered what happened to them. Annie, age 12, and her brother Chico (no longer with us) were headstrong adolescent dogs when they knocked me over on the concrete out back and I landed on my right hand. I had planned to take Chico to the Blessing of the Animals at church. I went to the ER instead. I have learned that if a dog is coming at you like a speeding freight train, get out of the way.
  • A full bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a can of Off! bug spray, and a can of Wizard air freshener, gardenia scent.
  • Several wrapped toothbrushes, a half dozen travel-size tubes of Crest toothpaste too hard to squeeze, and several dozen of those floss-on-a-stick things that Fred liked to use. Stocking stuffers?
  • Enough disposable razors to keep me smooth till I die at 105 and some blades that go with razors that disappeared long ago.
  • Two zipper bags with eye drops and “fit-over” sunglasses from my two cataract surgeries in 2010 and 2011. One eye was done before Fred died April 23, 2011, the other after.
  • An expired night light. When my late husband Fred was ill with Alzheimer’s, he got lost at night looking for the bathroom. Nightlights helped. I also have more recent memories of my father’s house, which was lit up like a football stadium at night. The light didn’t bother him, and during those last awful nights at his house when I was up and down giving him pain pills and answering his calls for help, they were useful. But I tossed this one in the trash. It’s just me now, and I like it dark.
  • A big basket of gauze, tape, bandages, and ointments left over from various injuries. Dad kept a similar basket of first aid gear on the dresser. Because he was taking blood thinners and his skin was like tissue paper, the slightest cut bled like crazy and required serious bandaging. His arms were covered with half-healed cuts. So far, I have been lucky and haven’t needed these things, but you never know.
  • Blow dryer, curling iron, a dozen attachments I have no idea how to use.
  • Hotel soaps from trips all the way back to our visit to Portugal 30 years ago.
  • A Styrofoam pipe cover with chew marks from when my puppies got hold of it at least a decade ago.
  • A face mask, probably purchased to help with my allergies to pollen, dust, fur, feathers, various fabrics, and oh, just about everything. I already have a beautiful cloth mask a friend made for me, but now I have options.

I filled a garbage bag with the throwaways, moved some items to more appropriate locations, and slid the rest back in with room to spare. We’ll see what’s there in 2030.

Meanwhile, Jesus is risen, and I’m off the floor. Hallelujah.

How did you spend your Easter Sunday in this strange, strange year?

Sheltering in Place Has Its Blessings

My house is not a bad place to be “social distancing.” It’s not like I’m stuck in a bomb shelter, a cave, or a jail cell. It’s a nice place with everything I need. Not only do I have food, shelter, and bathrooms with plenty of toilet paper and fancy soaps, but I have my dog, my musical instruments, my office, my WiFi, two TVs, a hot tub, and hiking trails galore.

I have paid lots of money to go write in places that weren’t half as comfortable. This is a great retreat house; it just needs a name. Alder Grove? Tall Spruce? Bear Haven? Robin’s Rest? Help me out here. Suggestions welcome.

Unlike some folks, I’m social distancing all the time. COVID-19 hasn’t changed that. Lacking husband, children, or nearby family, I am usually alone here. Except for my dog Annie, of course. She’s swell company, but her vocabulary is limited. So I’m kind of used to it. Also, I’m not bored. I have more to do than ever.

Most days, I still keep to my writing schedule, working till about 3:00, then going for a walk with Annie. Then a little more work, a little music, maybe some chores, dinner, and TV. Same old, same old. Except that I can’t go out to lunch, swim at the rec center, attend Mass with my friends, or hang out at the library. I can go to the grocery store, but it feels like walking into a war zone. Will I survive? We’ll see whether I get sick in the next two weeks.

I’ll be honest. Some days, I get depressed. I start to lose hope that this will ever end, that I will ever be with people, that anything I do is worth the effort. I worry that I’ll get sick and have no one to help me. But I come out of it after a few hours, look around and realize how blessed I am. Look at all the fun new things I get to do. For example:

  •  I can attend Mass online not only at my own church but at churches everywhere, even the Vatican.
  •  I can attend writing events online that would have been too far away to drive to and give myself a manicure while I’m listening to the speakers.
  •  I can watch concerts by my favorite artists performing from their living rooms. Have you discovered Facebook “watch parties?” OMG, there’s an endless supply.
  •  I can wear those clothes I wouldn’t dare wear in public.
  •  I have a good excuse to let my hair grow out.
  •  I can talk to friends on the phone for an hour at a time because none of us have anyplace to go.
  •  I can feel superior to those whining about being alone and say, “welcome to my life.”

I’m trying new stuff online, just like everybody else is. See me reading poems on Facebook and Instagram. I’ll be offering a song soon. I might try a video. And you can see me doing music at the St. Anthony’s video Masses for the last three weeks at Stanthonywaldport.org.

I know how lucky I am.

  • On the radio this morning, a pregnant woman talked about her fears of delivering at a hospital during this time of COVID-19. Will she be able to have anyone with her, even her husband? Will she or her baby catch the virus in a hospital full of people sick with it?
  • Friends with families in nursing homes are worried sick about them catching the virus. I am relieved that my father passed away before all this started. I can’t imagine how awful it would be for him with no visitors and no chance to come out of his room.
  • It has to be terrible for people who can’t visit their children or grandchildren or aging parents.
  • Those who work in “essential” jobs, especially healthcare, are in danger every day.
  • Those who have lost their income all of a sudden are rightly terrified about what’s going to happen.

God help them all. Let’s all pray for each other.

It’s just me and Annie here, and we’re okay so far.

Meanwhile, let’s all go to our rooms and play with our toys until the doctors say we can come out. Although we won’t gather for church on Easter, that doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and come out of the tomb. We’ll get out, too, one of these days.

What are the good parts of this situation for you? Have you discovered some new ways of entertaining yourself? Please share.

 

The Archbishop Can’t See What I’m Doing While I Listen to His Sermon

Cover-Front-WidowPiano(web) 2With most churches are closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, many are offering online services. At St. Anthony in Waldport, Oregon, I was part of the music team on Saturday for the Mass we videotaped to be put online Sunday. I played piano and sang, Stella played guitar. We had one reader, one server, and three real parishioners with photos of the rest taped to the pews. It was as normal as it could be under the circumstances. You can watch that Mass here.

When Sunday came, I had already attended the St. Anthony Mass, plus I didn’t want to watch myself on the screen, so I chose a different church.

Why not go to the top? Archbishop Sample led Mass at the cathedral in Portland at 11 a.m. Very holy, very formal, trained singers, beautiful statues and paintings in the background. In person, I would have dressed up and been on my best behavior. But having gotten up late, I was sitting at home in sweat pants and tee shirt with unbrushed teeth and no makeup. I was still drinking my tea from breakfast, and I was surrounded by distractions. I wanted to go through that pile of papers on my desk. I wanted to check my email and Facebook. I wanted to get up and walk around. You can’t do any of that when you’re sitting in a pew at an actual church surrounded by other people–or when you’re sitting at the piano in clear view of the priest and everyone else.

Nor can you offer commentary. I can’t help myself. My new chapbook of poems, The Widow at the Piano, is subtitled “Poems by a Distracted Catholic” for good reason. With no outer filter, my mind squirreled all over the place.

Why are they wearing rose-colored vestments; it’s still Lent. But they sure are pretty.

Why does the archbishop keep changing hats?

I count 13 people in there. Aren’t we supposed to keep it to 10?

Who is that guy? Is he a deacon?

Hey, that’s Angela, the choir director; I’ve seen her online.

Is there a quartet in there? Social distancing!

The archbishop sure has a nice singing voice.

Oh, look at all those empty pews.

Pay attention, Sue, he’s turning the bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood.

Latin chant again?

Hey, “amen” is the same in both languages.

Ah, tricky, they put a painting on the screen while they received communion, so we won’t feel bad.

That sure was a short song.

Ugh, more organ music.

Should I be kneeling or something?

Oh, it’s over. No closing song?

Well, that was nice, but I don’t feel like I’ve been to church.

So it goes. A week ago Sunday, I attended two full Masses and portions of Lutheran and Presbyterian services. During the week, I said the rosary with the Archbishop and watched Pope Francis preach in an empty St. Peter’s Square. It was raining. The cantor held an umbrella over himself and his music. The pope spoke Italian with a woman translating in English. I kept trying to understand the Italian. The pope seemed to be limping pretty badly. I was relieved when he finally sat down. But it was nice to be there without the crowds.

Maybe I’ll try the Portuguese church in San Jose next week. Why not?

There’s religion all over the net, and I am so distracted.

Speaking of distractions, I was supposed to do my first reading and my first book-signing for the new one last week. Both were canceled. I’m afraid my poor books will just disappear. I had hoped to publicize both The Widow at the Piano and my other chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead, which came out last October, together. Now . . . piffle, as my late husband used to say.

I’m not the only author in this fix. Spring is book-launch season, and many events have been knocked out by the virus. Readings, signings, talks, workshops, conferences, all canceled. What should we do? Just wait? But here are these lovely books. I am going to try to record some of the poems and share them online. Stay tuned.

I’ll give some books away, too. For the first 10 people who are willing to read and post about The Widow at the Piano or Gravel Road Ahead on your blog, at Goodreads, or on Amazon.com—or all three, I will send a free copy of the chapbook of your choice. Email me at sufalick@gmail.com if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep seeking religion online. I can’t guarantee that I’ll behave while I’m watching. Maybe if I could do it with a group, I’d be more reverent, but oh yes, we can’t congregate. Have you tried going to church online? What is it like for you? Or are you just going to commune with God on your own via meditation or time spent in nature?

Neither of my grandfathers were regular church-goers, but they were good men. For Grandpa Fagalde, all those hours he spent fishing, staring at the ocean, may have been church enough. Grandpa Avina might have been listening to San Francisco Giants baseball games while the women went to church. Whatever works.

Stay well. Do the best you can to avoid getting sick, but don’t make yourself crazy. You cannot sterilize the entire world and everything in it.

Buy books.

Amen.

Amid virus fears, we find new ways to reach out

St. Anthony faces

I lay in bed this morning long after I should have gotten up, listening to the news on NPR. Coronavirus, coronavirus, coronavirus. People dying, economy crashing, not enough medical equipment . . . Yikes. This morning, my Yahoo news feed led with “worldwide death toll more than 15,000. Dear God.

Yet I look out my office window and see the same trees and the same sky I see every day. I see my tulips and daffodils blooming in a riot of red, yellow and peach. I see a family of robins pecking at the lawn, which has grown lush and mossy from winter rain. Inside, it’s quiet except for the hum of the gas fireplace pouring out orange heat. My dog Annie dozes on the love seat. I’m not quite dressed yet, but there’s nothing unusual about that either. I have all day, no appointments, nowhere I have to go. If I stayed disconnected from the media, I would not know this was anything but another beautiful Oregon coast spring.

We have not been hit as hard here as other places, not yet. As of this morning, Monday, March 23, we have 161 known cases of the virus and five deaths in Oregon. But everyone knows these numbers are going to go up, way up. No one has tested positive here in Lincoln County, but very few people have been tested at all.

To the dismay of those Oregon coast folks trying so hard to stay apart from others, tourists, mostly young people, have come to the beach in droves, seemingly ignoring all the pleas to stay home and “shelter in place.” Some of the beaches up north have blocked access. Gov. Kate Brown is expected to close all the state parks today, on the premise that if they have nowhere to go, the visitors will go home. But that means we who live here can’t go to the parks either, and that hurts.

While I’m somewhat used to being alone, many are having a hard time with the isolation. My friend Bill is one of countless numbers who live in an assisted living facility, nursing home, etc. The residents are confined to their rooms. They are not allowed to go out, and visitors can’t come in. Their meals are left outside their doors. Sounds like prison to me. And yet, because they are the most likely to die if they get this virus, what choice is there?

Many folks who are not used to staying home are already experiencing cabin fever. I’ve got to admit I’m better equipped for this than my friends and relatives who are always on the go. Most days, I’m here by myself anyway. I’m just sticking to my routine—write until about 3:00, walk the dog, do chores, play music, watch TV. Same old, same old, except I can’t go out to lunch, and God knows I do love to go out to lunch.

Last week, I wrote this cheery post about surviving at home alone. Well, proving I’m human, that night I was singing a different tune when I got word that all of the Catholic churches in western Oregon were closed. No more Masses, potlucks, meetings, or Stations of the Cross. We wouldn’t even celebrate Easter together. I cried like somebody had died and then posted on Facebook about how lonely and miserable I was. My church was not only my spiritual home but my main social outlet.

But there’s good news in all of this. In response to my Facebook post, friends called and texted, and we connected more than we ever had before. Paying it back, I have been phone-visiting people, especially people I know are home alone, and we have had great talks. I’m experiencing more human connection than usual. I wish this virus had never happened, but I do see some good things coming out of it. I urge you to reach out by phone, email, letter, Facebook or whatever.

As for church, Fr. Joseph Hoang, our pastor at St. Anthony’s in Waldport decided he would videotape weekly Masses. Three of us did music for the first one. “Red” was altar server while his mom “Ice” operated the camera. We taped photos of the parishioners on the pews so we all felt less alone and Fr. Joseph had someone to preach to. I think we all got nervous with the camera on us, but it was wonderful.

Yesterday, I found countless church services online. I could “go to church” all day long. As it was, I attended two Catholic Masses and dropped in for parts of Lutheran and Baptist services. As the Internet keeps going, the possibilities for new types of connection are unlimited. What a gift. Back in the flu epidemic a hundred years ago, people were truly isolated. No TV, no Internet. Many didn’t have telephones yet. At best, they could write a letter or a send a telegram.

I worry about the same things as everyone else. How long will this go on? Will we not be able to get food and other necessities? Will people turn on each other? Will we break the Internet with everyone trying to work and go to school online? How many businesses will fold, and how many people will lose everything? More important, how many people will get sick and how many will die? Will it hit my loved ones? Will there not be enough doctors and nurses to help them? Will I get it?

Just a few weeks ago, we were living normal lives, and the news was all about Democrats and Republicans. My advice from last week stands. Turn off the TV, radio and Internet as much as you can. Connect with each other as much as possible. Get outside in nature. Find a project to pass the time. Pray. It will be over someday. Only God knows when, but it will.

How are you doing in this crazy time? Feel free to share in the comments.

 

 

 

Quarantine Tips from an Expert on Being Alone

tulips 31620So much has changed in the last week. Heck, in the last few days. And it keeps changing. I’m talking about the Coronavirus, of course. Two weeks ago, I debated about going to Texas for a conference and decided not to go, more because of so many speakers and publishers pulling out than for fear of getting sick. The conference went on without me, and I hear those who attended had a good time. But now, every gathering is being canceled.

My calendar is full of cross-outs: meetings, open mics, concerts . . . Restaurants are closing or offering only takeout service. Alas, no more writing sessions at Starbuck’s. Even a lot of churches have closed, although ours is still open, so far. I have three appointments scheduled for this week—chiropractor, hearing aid specialist, and taxes–and I’m expecting to receive notice any minute that they are canceled.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the income tax deadline got postponed?

People have raided the grocery stores, leaving empty shelves as they gather far more supplies than they could possibly need. I still need to buy some groceries. I’m hoping there’s something left at the market.

Last week, the theme song was “wash your hands.” Now it’s “stay home.” Especially if you’re over 65 or in poor health. My hackles go up at the age limit. Yes, I’m 68, but I’m healthy and I come from people who live into their 90s. I’m thinking I might be able to get away with going out because most people think I look younger than I am. Is that cheating? It’s not the age, it’s the mileage that counts.

Once I take care of business, the prospect of staying home alone does not worry me. I’m here alone most of the time anyway. It has been 11 years since Fred went to the nursing home, nine since he died. I have a wonderful house in a beautiful setting. I have my dog Annie. I have a schedule of writing, music, dog-walking, home chores, and meals that I stick to because it gives me a framework for my days. I’m good with long periods of solitude, although I don’t want to do it all the time.

Over the years, I have learned how to cope. So, for those of you for whom this is a new experience, let me offer some tips for getting through this time of “social distancing.”

* Give yourself a project, something that will fill your time with something enjoyable and worthwhile. Write that book, paint the living room, make a quilt, plant a garden, build a gazebo, start a podcast. It doesn’t matter what it is, but you need something to get you up in the morning.

* Stick to a routine. Sure, take a day or two to stay in bed or slump around in your PJs eating junk food, but then, get up, make your bed, shower, get dressed, eat three healthy meals, and work on your project. Watch some TV, but don’t watch it all day. Read that pile of books you’ve been meaning to read. Go to bed at a reasonable hour.

* Don’t obsess on the news via TV, radio, or Internet all day. Check to see what’s new, then TURN IT OFF. Nonstop Coronavirus reporting, with politics sprinkled in, will make you nuts. Play some music or try a little silence. If you’re absolutely losing it, watch a movie or read a novel that will take you to a whole other world.

* Go outside, even if it’s raining or snowing. Look at the sky, the trees, and the spring flowers starting to bloom. Watch the birds. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Everything is still the same out there, isn’t it, even if the newscasters are talking Armageddon?

* Exercise. Walk, run, do yoga, dance, mow the lawn. Your gym is probably closed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep moving. It will help both your body and your brain.

* Communicate. Use your telephone to talk to at least one other person every day. Use the many other ways we have to connect as well. Text, email, commiserate on Facebook or Twitter. You can even write a letter; the Post Office is still open. You may be physically alone, but you are not the only one going through this.

* Pray. If you believe in a higher power, do the best you can to take care of yourself, then ask God to handle the rest. So much of it is beyond our control, so let go already.

* If you are still healthy, thank God, and make the best of this unique time when we are freed from many of our usual obligations.

If you’re in isolation with other people, you can follow these tips, too, but you also have the advantage of being able to talk, play a game, or do a project together. Of course, you may also drive each other nuts. Time to take a walk. Last I heard, Mother Nature is not closed.

It’s a crazy time. I don’t know what will happen by next week. I only know that out my window the spruce and alders look the same as always. My tulips and daffodils are blooming, and Annie is asleep on the love seat, completely relaxed. As always, I will write, play my music, and love my Annie dog.

Stay well. When this is over, let’s meet for a massive group hug.