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?

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.