Sunday, January 10, 2021

When Fear Overcomes Loathing

Where were you on Wednesday, January 6, when the U.S. Capitol was breached by armed dissidents who happen to be our fellow citizens?

I was up, showered and dressed in time to watch the counting of the electoral votes, something I’d never viewed before. Just as the process began, I turned on the television. I turned it off 13 hours later, and staggered to my bed, stunned by all I had witnessed. 

At 11:54 a.m. (PST) on Jan. 6, I texted my son to say, “Hope you have the news on. Thugs have breached the Capitol.” Later, I remembered that he also was my first phone call on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. Another key global moment, long before I had a child, was Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

These chilling events are prominent markers in our lives. We know where we were, and we will never forget. 

Over the past few months, I’ve referred to the months and years before March 2020 as “The Before Times,” when many of us in the U.S. were still ignorant about COVID-19. Then, I had the great privilege of spending Thursday afternoons and evenings with my grandchild. Once a week, I gathered with three friends to play word games or attempt to learn mahjong. Routinely, I went to the theater, to baseball games and out for lunch or cocktails. Friends from across the country came to visit, and we toured my favorites spots in San Francisco.

Reflections on Life Since March 2020

By March 10, all that was over. Since then, with few exceptions, I’ve stayed home. At first, my circle of friends thought we’d be restricted for two, maybe three, months. We gamely learned to spray the mail with Lysol and to let packages sit for 24 to 48 hours before opening them. On rare trips to the grocery, we bought extra toilet paper or bags of flour or bottled water, whatever we feared most doing without. We perfected porch drop-offs on our friends’ birthdays and debated how to form limited “pods” based on the size of our social circles.     

We washed our hands until our skin started to peel. We canceled previously imperative monthly haircuts and mani/pedis and we abandoned physical therapy appointments. We assembled mask wardrobes in case we needed to see the dermatologist or do our laundry in a communal space, we wondered why we’d ever thought we needed to enhance pale eyebrows and we abandoned dress pants. Some of us even apologized to lonely sweaters hanging in our closets. 

We worked and socialized on line. We paid groceries to deliver our food. “Eating out” most often meant curbside pick-up at our favorite local eateries. We grandparents heard tales of woe from parents with youngsters now locked out of their schools and privately we wept because we couldn’t step in to help.

As the months dragged on, some early precautions were deemed unnecessary and some new restrictions were imposed. Small businesses closed and large ones resorted to communicating with customers via online “chats” with ignorant bots. Restaurants and specialty food stores closed. Neighborhood shops begged us to help them, and we did, but so many ended up shuttered anyway. 

Countless people across the country lost their jobs, their homes, their food security — and many lost their health and even their lives. As of Jan. 10, more than 22,100,000 cases of the coronavirus have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and 371,084 people in the U.S. have died of the terrifying disease. We’ll likely never know the exact numbers, because many early cases were tagged as bouts of pneumonia or the flu. Also, at one point the President ruled that hospitals were not to report cases or deaths to the CDC because the numbers made him look bad. 

Hope for "The After Times" Now Recedes

In the past 10 months we’ve learned to assess how much risk we each are willing to take. Friends who choose to do more may concern us, but most of us blame no one who chooses to do less. “Stay safe,” we urge one another as we make a point to look for, find and treasure small moments of beauty and perform random acts of kindness. 

Because of all that, right up to Jan. 5, I was eager to get vaccinated and looked forward to “The After Times” with hope. Then, on Jan. 6, I chose to bear witness to everything that unfolded in Washington, D.C. Now, four days later, I find that those startling images of domestic terrorists invading the U.S. Capitol have suppressed some of that hope.

In news articles I’ve read, some members of the mob said they had no recourse, because no one listens to them or their concerns. Some of them said they wanted to see Mike Pence hanged. Some of them said that in spite of no evidence whatsoever they still believe the election was “stolen.” We know that with help from Russia, the 2016 election was stolen, yet those of us who were upset about the outcome did not take up weapons and storm the Capitol. 

What we don’t know yet is how to fully process what happened Jan. 6 because it's far too soon to have a full perspective. Eventually, the truth behind the many systemic failures that made the attack possible will be uncovered. Assessments will be made and the events will be recorded in history, and I look forward to reading how the events of that day are presented. 

Meanwhile, figurative storm clouds are gathering and more violence is predicted. Wherever you may be over the next 10 days — stay safe. “The After Times” aren’t here yet.  


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

LOOKING BACK, MOVING FORWARD

Farewell, once and for all, to the year that my gray hair began to turn white. And what of it? It's okay. 

Really, everything is okay. Binge-watching reruns of "Home Town" is okay, embracing Don't Get Dressed Day more often is okay, quitting books that annoy me half-way through is okay, passing time playing Scrabble on line is okay. 

Everything is okay, because we've all been tasked with restructuring and restricting our very lives as we continue to cope with a global pandemic, and we're just making it up as we go along. That's a big burden that has resulted in painful losses large and small. We know now we are never going back to "normal," and in so many ways, that has to be okay too. Many writers have elaborated on the many consciousness-raising events our country has experienced this year, and I can only hope we learn from looking back as we move forward. 

Moments of laughter, moments of fear and moments of gratitude all have been part of my experience of 2020. Like so many others, I've repeatedly fended off a looming, leaden mental heaviness. Sometimes I've fought off tears. Other times, I've given in to them. But this year also reinvigorated my belief that living in the present, no matter how troubling that present may be, is a direct path to acknowledging joy. even when the best thing about a whole day is a plate of sliced tomatoes. (See August.)  

Here are snapshots from some "present moments" in my year. Don't expect glorious travel photos, because I haven't been anywhere except to the edge of the continent from time to time, where I watch waves endlessly roll in with no care whatsoever for what I perceive as my urgent concerns. I can always count on the Pacific Ocean for an important attitude adjustment!

JANUARY 2020

Meet Molly Ivins, my Texas mammillaria cactus. (Ivins was prickly too.) The plant produces small red fruits that resemble chili peppers, but not very many or very often. She bloomed in January, for the first time in four years. (Spoiler alert: She bloomed again this month.) 

FEBRUARY 2020

At a lecture at the Jewish Community Center, I met Richard Powers, author of "The Overstory," and we discovered that we both are in awe of ginkgo trees. 

MARCH 2020

Blissfully unaware of What Was To Come, early in March my Full Moon Cocktail group ventured downtown to the Old Ship Saloon, where I had my first taste of Pisco Punch, created in San Francisco in the 1870s. (See my April 14 blog post for details.) Two weeks later, San Francisco was the first major city to shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus. 

APRIL 2020

By April, I was excelling at sheltering in place, tucked under my glorious handmade throw. (Not handmade by me — I make only paragraphs.) The novelty of staying in wore off soon after, but as a senior (and therefore at risk) I've stuck to the rules, with one big exception. (Read on.)  

MAY 2020

After two and a half-years of lingering at the bottom, suddenly my name shot up to the top of a waiting list for a unit at an apartment building for people 62 and older. Many people ahead of me on the list declined to even consider moving. Was I still interested? YES! I took this photo from the balcony of the top-floor apartment I was offered, and began a two-month process of filling out paperwork to get it.  

JUNE 2020

Every summer, I buy and freeze multiple pints of Chandler strawberries, those small ruby jewels packed with flavor. That ensures me a six-month supply for my smoothies.

JULY 2020

Who moves during a global pandemic? Me, as carefully and thoughtfully as possible. The building has 120 units, and someday, when the lounge reopens and we can have each other over for coffee or wine,  I'll have a bevy of new friends. Residents I've met in the elevators, the lobby and the laundry room all have been warm and welcoming.

AUGUST 2020  

Heirloom tomatoes, delivered by a food service that works with local farmers, made me happy all summer. And I am a Huge Snob about tomatoes -- I routinely reject orange polyester slices that are mere wannabes. 

SEPTEMBER 2020 

What can you be grateful for when this toxic, ash-laden air is present during fire season? I wept for those who lost everything, but was grateful that the wildfires were not at the edge of my driveway, devouring the city where I live.

OCTOBER 2020

The unstable political situation led me to volunteer with Vote Forward, writing letters to inactive registered voters in six different states, urging them to make their voices heard. We volunteers paid for stamps and envelopes, and the work also cost time, something I had plenty of. The reward was the satisfaction of Doing Something Useful.

NOVEMBER 2020

Joy on the balcony looks like this -- my orange and red geraniums, still in full flower in November. I'm not a gardening person, as I fret too much about watering, feeding and draining, but this worked out well! Don't ask me how much time I spend sitting outside talking with the geraniums, Molly Ivins (see January) and a lovely jade plant that was a gift. 

DECEMBER 2020

A minimalist year seemed to call for a minimalist Christmas, and this was part of my few decorations. Red and green, even when you're blue, add a festive note, even when absolutely no one will be popping in to see how nice everything looks. Still, I was here to appreciate it.  

JANUARY 2021

Behold a leafy sea dragon, a resident at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. I took this photo in December 2019, on a visit there with my beloved grandson. Since March, for safety's sake, I've been in his presence exactly four times, though he lives close by. That hurts.

My great hope for 2021 is to once again spend time at the Academy — and the zoo, and Little League games and at his house and mine and anywhere else we may choose to go. My resolution for the new year is this: I vow to never again take for granted a moment spent with my family and friends. 

Now bring on that vaccine!  

 


  


   


Monday, October 26, 2020

An Homage to My Balcony

A small wind chime gives voice to a breeze. A gifted singer practices an aria. A deep-throated fog horn issues a warning. A dog barks. A child, walking hand-in-hand with her mother, laughs. A raven caws and I reply with, "Nevermore." This symphony is ever-changing, ever-urban and ever-interesting. Sitting on my balcony, high up on the top floor of my 13-story building, I hear it all. 

There is much to see, as well. 

The balcony faces due west, toward the edge of the continent, which lies just 5.6 miles from my apartment. Some of San Francisco’s hills hide the Pacific Ocean from me, but I never forget that the vast body of water is there. Looking southwest, I see the Sutro Tower, a landmark that punctuates the sky, and also the smaller towers atop Twin Peaks, which sit 922 feet above sea level. To the north, I see high-rise apartment buildings, the dome of a synagogue, assorted church spires, the beautiful Marin Headlands and – a bonus – the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. 

All that more than makes up for the small size of my one-bedroom apartment. As my friend Emmeline noted gleefully, “You've got a balcony with an apartment attached!” That I do. My old place in San Francisco measured 720 square feet, so fitting my stuff in here was tricky. For weeks before I moved (see the previous blog post for details on that decision), I arranged and rearranged paper cutouts of my furniture on a floor plan, despairing about where to put what. 

My son identified the problem immediately. “You live alone,” he said, “but you have seating for 11.” It's true. I like a lot of seating, a holdover from when I owned a 1,700-square-foot condo and often invited 70 people over to celebrate whatever occasion needed noting. Still, those days are long past.

When I considered keeping the Italian leather loveseat and letting go of the sturdy chaise, my son pointed out that I never actually sit on the loveseat, that I’m always on the chaise, reading or watching TV or having a nap. “You have to keep the chaise,” he said. He was right, and I did. Still, when we are once again able to entertain in our homes, the new apartment will seat all eight members of my immediate family inside. If that feels crowded, two or three of them can sit out on the balcony.

As a longtime home owner, in the past I often lived in houses that came with yards. My favorite was the one behind the house I inherited from my parents. There, I planted a 14-foot-tall ginkgo tree, a gift from the city of St. Louis after I wrote a feature article for the newspaper about my favorite tree. Pink peonies and purple iris, planted by my maternal grandmother, also grew in that yard. My cousin Linda planted black parrot tulips along the back fence and filled the flower box out front with red geraniums, orange poppies and other beautiful flowers. 

Eventually I sold that house and moved to a second-story condo with a small balcony. In winter, the view was just the brick condo across the green space, but in spring and summer, trees obscured the building. A nesting pair of cardinals lived in one of those trees, so I spent time learning the birds’ calls and repeating them back to them. I got so good at it that one year, a baby cardinal often sat on the balcony rail or my window sill and whistled back.

Perhaps the best part of that balcony was the wooden screen door that led to it, an old-fashioned one that would slam with a satisfying "thwack" as I went in and out whenever my work schedule allowed. Still, the balcony was in the Midwest, where it’s often too hot or too cold to enjoy such a perch. Most of the year, weather in San Francisco is far more temperate, so I enjoy my new balcony often. I go out to tend to my geraniums and my jade plant, I check daily to see if the fog is heading in or I just sit in the sunshine, listening to the sounds of the city. 

Recently I’ve popped outside to watch a romantic skywriting pilot draw a big heart for his wife, to observe red-tailed hawks hunting and to see protesters on the march, making frequent use of their loudspeakers. (Most recently, Catholics were insisting they had a right to worship inside their church, global pandemic be damned. That day, I came back inside and wrote a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle questioning the wisdom of the city’s archbishop, who had encouraged the protest. I can protest, too!) 

Well before dawn on August 16, I stood on the balcony in awe, watching as flashing lightning lit up the sky for almost three hours. More than 2,500 lightning strikes were recorded in the Bay Area that morning. I was out there again on Sept. 9, when multiple horrific wildfires in the north were responsible for a thick layer of smoke and ash that turned the sky here dark orange. I took the photo below about 9 a.m., and by 10 a.m., the sky was even darker. The sun’s rays never did pierce the marine layer that rested above the thick smoke that day. 

My balcony, the best spare room I've ever had, keeps me in constant touch with the city where I live, which makes sheltering in place easier -- and I’m grateful.






Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Amenities Make Moving in 2020 Worthwhile

Elevators! A 13.5'x6' balcony! An office staff that takes in packages! A box for outgoing mail! A big, clean laundry room with machines that work! Trash disposal just down the hall! A maintenance crew available five days a week! Free frozen pizza! 

At my age, amenities matter, and after spending more than two years on a waiting list hoping to make a nest in an apartment building in San Francisco for people 62 and older, I finally got in. How? People on the waiting list ahead of me chose not to look at available units, much less relocate, during a global pandemic. I decided the opportunity was too good to pass up, and I moved in one month ago today. 

Wait – frozen pizza? 

Residents here put unwanted items on a table in the lobby. I’ve seen fresh peaches, a box of hair coloring, table placemats, books and packaged granola bars on it. One day, a boxed frozen pizza sat there, slowly defrosting. A member of the maintenance crew and I laughed about it. He said, “People put whatever they don’t want on the corner of that table, and somebody always takes it.” 

The 13-story building has 120 units, ranging from small studios to 650-square-foot, one-bedroom apartments. I live on the top floor in a unit that measures just 500 square feet, but that alluring balcony I mentioned faces west, my favorite direction. I’m a longtime sunset aficionado, and I also can see the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge and the headlands beyond. The building even has a two-room guest apartment, available for a very reasonable fee. (Remember when people traveled?)

Right now, we residents have a lot of rules. We must wear masks when moving about the building. The elevators are limited to two passengers, and only one person is permitted in the laundry room at a time. Social distancing is required in the lobby, and inviting guests over is discouraged. The lounge with the big-screen TV where Giants fans gather to watch games together is closed just now, so I haven’t met many of my neighbors. Those I have encountered have been warm and welcoming, and I look forward to making new friends here. 

Though for much of my life, I owned single-family homes, this is not my first experience living with a lot of other people. Before moving to San Francisco from St. Louis a decade ago, I enjoyed sharing a four-story building with 32 other condo dwellers. There, I became close friends with several women, all 10 or 15 years older than me, and I learned much from them about how to age gracefully. 

That condo was spacious – 1,700 square feet – and moving to a 720-square-foot apartment in San Francisco required a considerable adjustment. I wrote about it (https://www.nextavenue.org/how-lose-1000-square-feet--and-keep-it/) for Next Avenue, the PBS-sponsored site for people 50 and older.  A few months ago, one evening when I expressed concerns about the challenges of moving again, my daughter-in-law said, “It won’t be as hard as your last move, because you’re only going a couple of miles.” Remembering that helped as I pondered downsizing once again. 

Every time I move, I vacillate between wanting to take what I already own and wanting all new stuff. (“Just take your purse,” one friend always insists.) The new apartment boasts a new fridge, stove, sink and countertop, plus new flooring throughout, and all that eased much of my desire to start all over completely. Plus, I bought a new-to-me floor lamp, a small side table and a TV stand, and that has kept the new place from looking exactly like the old one. 

As a birthday gift, my son and daughter-in-law gave me a beautiful desk that takes up far less space than my old one, so that's new, too. Gift cards from friends paid for balcony furniture, a coat rack, a bathroom shelf unit, purple placemats and a red kitchen clock. Two friends who live in the new building left a beautiful jade plant at my door, and another friend is nurturing a pot of geraniums for my balcony. 

In preparation for the move, over a two-month period, I accustomed myself to living without a dishwasher. I donated at least 15 bags to Goodwill. I sold a desk, a futon and a big TV cabinet on Craigslist, and sent two pieces of furniture and a lamp to a consignment shop. Friends took two end tables and two rugs. And I gave two rugs and the microwave oven to the movers. One mover was tempted by two lamps I hoped to get rid of, but resisted. “No more lamps, my wife says,” he confessed, laughing. Another of the other movers said his wife would be thrilled to have them, and took them out to the truck.

When I first moved to California, I found good homes for 46 boxes of books, telling myself that by removing them from my shelves and putting them in circulation, the books would find new readers ready to be entertained, enlightened or educated. This time, I had just two book cases, but I knew I could take only one with me, and the smaller one at that. I wrote about the process, (https://www.nextavenue.org/parting-with-treasured-books/) in the hope of inspiring others still holding on to hefty book collections. 

Well before moving day, the head of the company I’d chosen did a virtual walk-through of my apartment and sent me information outlining all the protective health measures the movers would take while packing up in my place during a pandemic. I could have opted not to be there that day, but where would I go? I stayed, and we all wore masks and kept our distance. The movers wore gloves while packing, but said their hands would slip on the packing tape while carrying boxes and furniture to and from the truck. I made peace with that, and soon enough the job got done. 

One month in, and what do I think? I’m delighted! The building is clean and quiet, with none of the unsettling drama present in my former building. (A sad domestic situation in one of the units had affected all of us for well over a year.) Of course, the pandemic is still with us, and the threat of exposure to the virus while I run any errand is an issue. Plus, right now, some 500 wildfires are burning in the state, and the Bay Area is experiencing alarming levels of dangerous air pollution due to the smoke. 

Still, I moved before the fires started, before flu season and before the uptick in virus cases predicted for this fall. And each week, the management company has informed us that so far, no one in the building has been diagnosed with Covid-19. I’m aware that I took a risk – but I believe it was worth it. I love my new home!



Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Essential Me/The Booze Diary

Sheltering in place since March 10, I now am completely acquainted with my Essential Self. My Must-Haves include:

* Clean sweatpants, t-shirts and tie-dye socks

* A Zoom Costume for my upper half, complete with dangly earrings

* Songs from the '60s on Amazon music, with digressions for Pavarotti, Paul Simon, Carol King, Vadim Gluzman,  Bob Dylan, Enya, Iz and assorted Broadway cast albums

* Russet potatoes, dark chocolate, eggs, canned tuna, mayo, rye bread and naan, yogurt, honey crisp apples and Cara Cara oranges, La Terra Fina dip, nacho fixings, occasional salads, Trader Joe's Everything Crackers, fizzy water and, now and then, really good Italian sausage

* A charged phone to stay in touch with family and friends, my Kindle and Netflix

* Enjoyable freelance writing and editing assignments

* Exotic alcoholic beverages for my weekly cocktail – I celebrate on Tuesdays

 Apart from the crucial paper products and cleaning supplies everyone else relies on, that’s about it.

Hugs Are a No-No 

Remember when we first stopped shaking hands?

The discussion about the dangers of that form of contact started late in February and by the first week in March, elbow-bumping, accompanied by laughter, was in vogue in some circles. (We also were laughing about people who were afraid to drink Corona beer.  That turned out not to be true.)

On March 4, as I was leaving the neighborhood nail salon, the manicurist hugged me.  We quickly shrieked and pulled apart, realizing we had just violated a new taboo. We bumped elbows and I left for my book club meeting. That wasn’t my last hug.

The next day, I got to snuggle with my grandson while we watched a nature show on TV, and I gave him a really big hug when his parents picked him up at my place later in the evening. A few days later, I had to make peace with the idea that hanging out with the boy might be a bad idea because he could be exposed to the coronavirus at school. On March 16, the public schools in San Francisco closed.

That also was the day that Mayor London Breed and the mayors of five other counties ordered Bay Area residents to shelter in place. Three days later, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced that policy would extend to include the entire state. Heck, I’d been staying in before that, because a week earlier Newsom had recommended that people 60 and older just stay home. So I did.

Full Disclosure: I’ve gone out twice; once to drop gifts off on a family member’s front steps and once to make sure the Pacific Ocean was still there. Somebody must have ratted on me about that trip, because the next day, Newsom closed all the parking lots at the beach. In retrospect, I’m so glad I swung by on that outing to say hi to the bison in Golden Gate Park. We’re friends.

The upside of sheltering in place: When you call someone, they likely will answer. If not, maybe they’ve gone to the grocery, which requires standing six feet apart in lines that sometimes stretch for blocks and may put your health at risk. Or maybe they ducked out for curbside pick-up at one of the few restaurants still open. They could have opted to take a walk in the neighborhood. Only 17 of the 79 bus lines are still operating here, and driving can be risky.


The Booze Diary 

Just ask the seven people who drove from Fremont to Santa Cruz to buy booze. On April 11, each was fined $1,000 for violating the shelter-in-place order. (www.cnn.com/2020/04/12/us/santa-cruz-fine-drinks-stay-home-order-trnd/index.html) Drink up, guys.

Speaking of alcohol, check out my Booze Diary:

Tuesday March 3: Savor a Pisco Punch at the Old Ship Saloon. (www.theoldshipsf.com/)

Weds. March 4: Read widely about Pisco – did you know it is a Peruvian brandy, made for centuries?

Thurs. March 5: Vow to enjoy Pisco again at Old Ship Saloon at my earliest opportunity.

Tues. March 24: I’m reading Isabel Allende's new book “A Long Petal of the Sea,” and I get to the part where the main character sits down to enjoy a glass of Pisco. I'm envious. I want some!

Weds. March 25: BevMo rejects my Zip Code for delivery and Wine Traders on Taraval does not deliver. I order a bottle of Pisco from another local wine company.

Thurs March 26: Receive order confirmation; am quite smug.

Tues. March 31: Freak out about spending $50 on alcohol at a time when my freelance work could dry up. Email the wine shop requesting cancellation.

Weds. April 1: Receive a form email saying the shop is SWAMPED with orders  (www.sfchronicle.com/wine/article/The-Bay-Area-is-drinking-42-more-alcohol-than-15167591.php) and my delivery will be delayed, I call the shop and leave a message requesting cancellation.

Thurs. April 2: Send another email; receive a second form email.

Fri. April 3: Send a third email, begging the shop to cancel my order and promising to buy a bottle of Pisco when the End Times end. If.

Sat. April 4, Morning: Receive an email saying my order has been cancelled -- happy dance!

Sat. April 4, Afternoon: Receive an email saying my Pisco will be delivered on Wednesday,  and I see my credit card has been charged. I reply to the email, writing “No No No!” in the subject line.

Sat. April 4, Evening: On a Zoom call, I tell three friends my sad story. Julia says, "A bartender friend gave me a bottle of Pisco a few years ago. I never opened it, and you can have it." Wonderful!

Mon. April 6: The wine shop issues a refund on my credit card.

Tues. April 7: A friend drops off a bottle of M Squared Spirits (www.msquaredspirits.com/), her husband's brand of blended craft cocktails. I celebrate the full moon with a deliciously smooth whiskey sour.

Tues. April 14: Tonight is Pisco Night!

Carry on, people. We must.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Reflections on Past Concerns, Current Practices

Just three weeks ago, I worried whether I was in the right athletic shoe, if I would like the new duvet cover I’d ordered and if that single black hair was about to emerge from my chin once again. Such simple times -– how I miss them.

Hunkered down because of an auto-immune disease, a history of respiratory infections and the startling realization, once again, that I am old, now I fret because the news reports that many people are out and about, because I fear small businesses in my neighborhood won’t survive and because local grocery deliveries are fully booked four days out.

These all are locally focused concerns, and I live in San Francisco, which has taken a fairly aggressive stance regarding public safety in this strange time. Yet when out for a solo drive yesterday so the rain could wash my car, through restaurant windows I saw people eating at crowded tables and standing in a bunched-up line outside a popular bistro, with no thought for social distancing.

Isn’t it our civic duty to follow guidelines devised to protect us and to keep hospitals from being overtaxed? Some cities in Italy are out of hospital beds, ventilators and masks. “It’s not a wave. It’s a tsunami,” Dr. Roberto Rona told the PBS News Hour. (www.pbs.org/newshour/health/not-a-wave-a-tsunami-italy-hospitals-at-virus-limit) Rona is in charge of intensive care at a hospital in Monza, just north of Milan. Why would we assume that tsunami won’t reach the U.S.? 

I drive back home, convinced I’ve become a common scold. I’ve known for quite a while that I can control only my own actions, but I guess I haven’t yet fully reconciled with that. I have figured out that people are misinterpreting the 14-day period recommended for those exposed to the virus. Some seem to think that dictum means in 14 days, we’ll all be good to go back to our normal lives, that just a two-week break will do it. That’s not what happened in China, Italy or South Korea, and it will not happen here.

On Defiantly Touching My Face

Public and private schools on much of the west coast are now closed, and the practice is spreading east. Universities across the country are shifting to on-line learning for the rest of the semester. The San Francisco Symphony has canceled all concerts through April. Major League Baseball may not resume games until June. Johnny Cueto, a pitcher with the San Francisco Giants, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Right now, baseball is not important.”

Back at my apartment after my drive through the neighborhood, I place a paper towel between my hand and the stair railing. Once I’m inside, I grab a disinfecting wipe and return to the foyer to clean the railing Just In Case. Then I wash my hands. Next, I indulge in a secret, taboo practice -- I touch my face.

I love to touch my face, though until recently I was never particularly aware of the habit. I smooth my forehead, I massage my eyebrows to ensure better sinus drainage, I rub my cheeks and chin as I open and close my clenched jaw. Then I wash my hands and face and apply a moisturizing mask, because I can’t pretend that I have no time for skincare.

The hard part of all this? The isolation. My card-playing group has canceled our gatherings. Before local theaters closed their doors, I’d resolved not to use my tickets. Meeting friends for lunch or coffee is now out. Instinctively, many baby boomers have turned away from texting and emailing and are reaching out to one another by phone, settling in for long talks about this, that and, of course, COVID-19. We well know the dangers of social isolation, (www.nextavenue.org/science-of-brain-health-inspires-a-storyteller/) and we are doing what we can.

Even harder is missing the soul-satisfying feel of a sturdy hug from my grandson. Two weeks ago, his dad called to say he and my daughter-in-law had realized that the boy, who has brought home many a cold shared at his elementary school, could be an unwitting carrier of the virus. “He could potentially kill you,” my son said. (As I always say, life is too short to be subtle!) He wanted to talk about suspending Nana Day for a while, and hoped I would see the wisdom in the plan.

On Recalling the Good Old Days 

I agreed with the plan and replied, “Did you think I would stamp my foot and insist on risking being exposed?” Then I grabbed a tissue to catch the tears dribbling down my face. So the boy and I are apart for now, and maybe for quite some time. We will talk on FaceTime occasionally and I’ve asked him to draw pictures for me. Maybe I’ll mail jokes to him. I miss him in a visceral way.

Today, pondering whether to order a grocery delivery, I fondly recall a personal visit to the store, made over two weeks ago when people were just beginning to stock up. Even then, the check-out lines were so long the manager had to get on the public address system to ask customers to stop "clumping up" at the aisle entrances.

Seeing the crowd, one customer entering the store at 10:20 a.m. quipped, "Wow! Why is everybody up so early?" Some shoppers were dressed for the day, one guy had on flannel pajamas and a woman wore a silver-sequined jacket, possibly from the night before -- or maybe because it’s her normal attire on Sunday mornings. This is San Francisco, after all.

Second best sighting: A man in line with three packs of toilet paper, each 12 double rolls. (Ah, the good old days, when toilet paper was easily available!) Best sighting: A 5-year-old boy doing masterful hip hop moves out front, where his sister was selling Girl Scout cookies. As he didn’t have a tip jar, I gave his mom $2 for the boy to spend on Legos, while his dad proudly revealed his son is self-taught.  When I told the little guy what a great dancer he is, he said, "I'm the best dancer in my school."

May he soon be back in school, leading us all in a victory dance. We also can look forward to grocery shelves fully stocked with toilet paper, hand sanitizer and over-the-counter cold remedies. And when it’s safe, may we all be free once again to hug family and friends. Onward to spring!


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Fight the Red and Green Blues with Brown Bananas

If the alleged “most wonderful time of the year” causes you stress and anxiety, consider my antidote for the Red and Green Blues: Brown bananas. Yep, four bananas going bad in the fridge unexpectedly offered me some comfort that may yet morph into joy.

For perspective, here’s the timeline: In October every year, I am semi-jazzed about The Holidays. I’ve already bought and tucked away some presents, I’ve replenished my supply of gift bags for half price and I’m thinking perhaps I will approach Christmas more gracefully than in past years. By Thanksgiving, I’m turning suspicious.

What’s not to like about Christmas?

The incessant commercialization, which often starts the day after Halloween. Also, some people resent that the “true” meaning of Christmas gets lost in the rush to celebrate Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday. (On that topic, why is Giving Tuesday scheduled last?) Other people resent that religious institutions insist that their beliefs are more true and more meaningful than anyone else’s beliefs – or even than their lack of them.

Tips on How to Avoid Heightened Expectations

Also, the pressure to HAVE A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS gives rise to unrealistic expectations of all sorts, including in the realm of politics and in regard to the future of the planet. Then we have Santa Claus – to believe or not to believe? My grandson worries that because I don’t have a chimney, the man in the red suit won’t be able to bring me gifts. I worry how Santa will reach children locked in cages at the border or those living in war-torn countries. Ho. Ho. Ho. 

By the beginning of December, the Red and Green Blues have settled in and I start hiding from Christmas. I’m not the only one. The Mayo Clinic offers coping tips (www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20047544) for anyone experiencing stress and depression, especially the kind that is self-induced. “The holidays present a dizzying array of demands — parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few,” the site counsels. “But with some practical tips, you can minimize the stress.”
Lots of lovely people are part of my holidays, and I am grateful for that. But no “practical tip” quite fends off feelings of loss for those we miss. “One thing I don’t like about Christmas is all the dead people,” I blurted to a man my age at a dinner party last Saturday. I barely know him, but he knew right away what I meant: People who were so important to us in Christmases past and that are now gone.

How Losses Photobomb the Christmas Picture

Speaking of dead people at Christmas, have you noticed that they still sing dreary holiday songs from decades ago? Listening to streaming Christmas music at my neighborhood nail salon, I realized that not only are the songs ancient – the recording artists all are dead. Well, except for Brenda Lee, who presumably is still rockin’ around the Christmas tree even though she is now 75. She recorded that song in 1958. Why are we still listening to it?

For several reasons, my idea of excellent Christmas music is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” which premiered in 1892 as a ballet loosely based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story about a kitchen tool and a mouse king. The story goes that audiences hated the ballet and even the composer described it as “rather boring” and “infinitely worse than ‘Sleeping Beauty.’”

Another of my How to Survive the Holidays traditions is to read “A Christmas Memory” by Truman Capote. Plus, I invite three kids over to decorate my tiny artificial tree and eat pizza – my idea of a fine holiday party. Because I downsized when I moved across the country a decade ago, “Christmas” fits into three small boxes. The years of festooning every surface are long over, and even now, I unpack only half of the stuff, to avoid doing the same thing year after year. 
Back to the brown bananas. I decided to turn the abandoned bananas into small loaves of festive bread to give to the letter carrier, the trash removal guys and the construction workers who tore up my street 18 months ago and are still at it out front.

Old Recipes Bolster Confidence to Survive Christmas

In search of a favorite recipe, I opened a bulging folder of same, clipped from newspapers and magazines and even full pages torn directly out of cookbooks that I’ve since donated to book fairs. The folder is a secondary source to my file box of recipe cards, which also serves as a time capsule. It holds red dirt that came home 36 years ago in my jeans cuff after a trip to Ayers Rock in the heart of Australia, a photo of my son at age 7 (he’s 45 now) and my ticket stub from a Beatles concert on Aug. 21, 1966. (Well, where do you keep yours?)

The folder holds recipes from my ribollita phase (that’s Tuscan bread soup), six ways to prepare chicken pozole and a plethora of options for making boeuf bourguignon. (Julia Child’s version wins every time.) I also have a fabulous recipe for sangria from a bar owner and treasured directions for gazpacho that once doubled as a shopping list and so includes “40-watt light bulbs.” And I’ve collected information on many a dish that calls for cannellini beans.
I also found several recipes in my mother’s handwriting (she died at 58, when I was 24), including one for a cake my paternal grandmother liked to make. So the dead who so often come to mind on holidays and on the anniversaries of their passing also lurk in my recipe folder. I sat at the table for a while, just enjoying looking at my mother’s handwriting.

Some of her Christmases were fabulous and some were filled with pain. My brother died at 10, in 1963. Another year, my parents celebrated sending me off to college, the first in my family to have that privilege. Almost a decade later, my widowed dad was exceedingly proud to hold his first grandchild. Eight years later, Daddy was gone, but I hope his generous sprit lives on through me all year 'round.

All this reminded me I can beat the Red and Green Blues, get through Christmas and look forward to waking up December 26, glad it’s all finally over once again. But first, I need to find an excellent recipe for banana bread.