Plague Diaries #7

The new normal that I mentioned in my last post continues. I’m working, but I’m having trouble concentrating. I’m forcing my way through it, but at night I am exhausted and only want to lie in bed. But I go for walks because I know it’s good for me. I make myself eat well. I take my medications.

My anxiety has been getting out of hand. I’ve grappled with pretty harsh anxiety since I was a child, just built into my disposition, coming from my repressive Scandinavian genes, I suppose.

My husband doesn’t have anxiety, bless him. And I know a lot of you don’t either, and thank the stars you don’t. But if you know someone who does and you struggle to understand why they do weird things like eat their cuticles to shreds or have a penchant for hiding in bed, let me try to explain.

I know it is different for everyone. Some have severe panic attacks, some lose their shit and scream and cry, some of us can’t breathe. I fall into the latter category. When things get really bad I feel like I have a basketball shoved inside my ribs and my lungs are trying to expand and contract around it. Not easy.

But one thing, I think, that is universal for those with severe anxiety, is that it isn’t rational. It’s living too much in our heads and not being grounded in what is happening in the moment. We worry about the future, the past, the present and it all gets tangled in a whirling blur of color mixed with terrifying darkness that is impossible to slow down and separate into what’s real and what’s perceived.

The last time I had anxiety this bad was in the months after my mother died. No difficulty explaining why. And there is no secret to why it’s revving up now either. This pandemic is changing our world at a screaming pace. And the thing that makes me most anxious is I don’t know how it’s changing us, or where exactly (or even generally) we will end up.

I know this isn’t a post of stiff upper lip. (We can’t all be Queen of England.) I am a brave person–I go on living in spite of my anxiety. Some days are more difficult than others to put together the semblance of a well-lived life, but I never give up. But if I chew my thumb or have to lie down in the dark for a while, it’s okay. And it’s okay if someone you know does the same thing–as long as they don’t unpack and set up house with that feeling.

I hope you’re okay. I’m hanging in there. I’m doing my best, and I’m trying to be kind to myself and to others. We’re all going through a hard time and kindness is the best medicine for the ills that surround us.

Take care of yourself.

I’ll see you on the other side,

Anna

Plague Diaries #5

I think like many of you, my brain has been obsessively focused on the pandemic. It’s taking up a lot of mental real estate with me these days. Mostly I’m worried about what’s going to happen and the alarming news about the projections of how many people in this country are going to die in the next month or so.

But this morning during breakfast I was musing on another aspect of this extraordinary event in our lives and how the world has lived through this before and will no doubt live through it again. The Bubonic Plague lay waste to the world’s population and was instrumental in plunging us into the Dark Ages. But a more recent plague, namely the Spanish Flu pandemic of just over one hundred years ago, is something that is a little more accessible to our modern brains.

grandmaThis is my grandmother: Eileen Mary Bachmeyer Nelson. She was born February 11, 1915 in Minneapolis, MN. She lived through the Spanish Flu. She once told me one of her first memories was the end of World War I. She remembered her mother crying and seeing people shouting and celebrating in the streets. She was the only member of her immediate family with a job for a time during the Great Depression. She had an independent streak a mile long and lived to be nearly 95 years old.

Why am I telling you this? Not just because I was honored to be her granddaughter and that I still miss her like crazy, even though she’s been gone for ten years now. But I was considering today how the span of her life overlapping with the span of mine (and who knows how long that will be?) isn’t even a blip in the span of history, but what things have happened in our Venn Diagram of shared and un-shared time on earth.

She saw the Spanish Flu, though I doubt she remembered it. She lived through two world wars. We both lived through the Challenger explosion, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Iraq War, and 9/11. And now, what will I add to our story before my light goes out in this world? I thought 9/11 was going to be the most significant world event that I would ever experience. I was very mistaken on that. As much as our world changed in 2001, I have a feeling the effects of the Covid-19 are going to be so much more far reaching than any of us can imagine now.

Life is never going to be the same again. We will be unequivocally, irrevocably changed. We are going to have to adjust to a new normal, whatever that may be. But this plague won’t finish us as a species. We are infinitely adaptable.

I’m glad my grandmother was spared living through this. Not that she wasn’t resilient enough, but one pandemic is enough for a lifetime.

Besides, she would have HATED the president.

See you on the other side,

Anna

Plague Diaries #4

A week has passed since my first installment of the Plague Diaries. Much has changed, but in another way we seem suspended here in Florida. True, the numbers are jumping every day. As of right now there are 4,246 cases of Covid-19 reported in the state of Florida, with 95 of them in my county.

But I know that number is grossly underrepresented. Testing in Florida has been abysmally lacking. The drive-through testing center we had in Naples had to shut down because there were no more testing kits available. I find that extremely disturbing.  We have no idea what’s really going on out there and that, I think, frightens me above all else.

I am returning to work tomorrow. I have been told I can self-isolate in my office and that’s exactly what I intend to do. I have plenty of projects I can work on and am honestly looking forward to the distraction. This past week, while I didn’t do much, was filled with anxiety combined with an inability to concentrate.

I did have a great video conference with a very dear friend just an hour or so ago. She’s a writing partner of mine and we are going to work on our current projects, share, and chat weekly about them. I feel like this is something I can do that will help me bridge the gap back to calm.

There seem to be two groups of people in this country. The first group is taking the pandemic seriously. They stay home as much as possible, they keep six feet away from everyone they meet, and they practice strict hygiene. I fall into this category. When I go back to work I will immediately bathe and put my clothes in the washing machine upon returning home. That may seem extreme and ridiculous to some, but if it keeps me from getting sick, I’m all for it. You don’t bounce back from dead.

The other group are the people who don’t or won’t take this seriously. They stand right next to you at the grocery store, they sneak onto the beach even when they are closed. (This last week Naples City Police turned away over 400 people trying to go to the closed beach for sunset. In about 2 hours. They are now threatening $500 fines for lawbreakers.)

Losers at the poolHere is a picture of the pool at my condo. It’s right out my back door. And you can partially see in the picture the crowd that gathered out there yesterday to hang out, drink, and talk.

There were about eight of them altogether. Not sitting 6 feet apart. Not paying any heed to the PANDEMIC that is gripping the world. I want to find a copy of The Masque of the Red Death and nail it to the pool gate. Although I wonder if anyone would get the reference.

I’m tired of this. Not just the people who won’t behave but of the anxiety and the worry and the fear that all come along with it. But what can I do? I just have to actively look for ways to retain calm in my life. Right now, those include:

  1. Watching Looney Tunes on YouTube (Holy cow, a lot of those do not hold up! So racist!)
  2. Reading beloved novels from my childhood. (I’m looking at you, Maud Hart Lovelace.)
  3. Face Timing with friends and family. It’s amazing what getting to see someone’s face will do for you.
  4. Taking naps.

The last one isn’t probably very healthy–it’s an old coping mechanism that I’ve employed since I was a teenager to escape reality. But I’m being nice to myself right now. A nap isn’t going to kill me.

I hope all of you out there are doing all right. Drop me a line if you need to talk. Do what the CDC is asking of you. Don’t take risks right now. After this passes there will be plenty of time for living again. Like I said, you don’t bounce back from dead.

I’ll see you on the other side,

Anna

Plague Diaries #2

This is our fifth day of self-isolation. Although I went to the grocery store yesterday, so it didn’t feel like a quarantine. The store was pretty well stocked and we got what we needed for the week. Today we plan to stay at home and go for a walk, but that’s all.

I am scared. There are lots of things to be scared about: getting sick is the top one on the list, but there are many other things pressing on my mind right now.

How many people are going to die?

The numbers are reported for the state of Florida every day at 11 a.m., and 6 p.m. For the past two days we have been adding 200+ cases every 24 hours. My county has 39 cases. That may not seem like much but testing has been scant. They started getting more aggressive last week when the private labs and hospital started testing too. But if test results take 5-7 days to come in, then we haven’t seen the real spike in the number of cases yet. Maybe in a few more days we’ll see more numbers reflective of how we really are.

What is going to happen to the economy?

It’s in a free fall right now and I don’t see anything stopping it. The stimulus package that the senate is fighting over might help, but I don’t have a lot of confidence they will reach an agreement. Bipartisan fighting is tearing us apart when we need our elected officials to band together now more than ever. I don’t see the senate standing on the steps of the Capitol singing “God Bless America” like they did after 9/11.

I’m not going to comment on who is right and who is wrong in this scenario because that is exactly my point. If Democrats and Republicans can’t come to an agreement now, when the world is collapsing, then we might be doomed.

What is going to happen to everyone who is suddenly out of work? 

I almost can’t sleep at night because I’m worried about friends who have lost their jobs. I realize the importance of shutting things down and agree this is the only way forward to lessen the number of deaths. There is a human life attached to every one of those numbers you see posted every day.

But what about the people who worked in restaurants? That is a livelihood that is already tenuous–a tiny wage with the majority of money made in tips. And when the job is gone, so is the health insurance. (At least that’s so in the USA.) What happens if they get sick and need to be hospitalized? How are they going to pay for that?

Why are some people still not taking this seriously?

My husband and I have been going for daily walks. We practice social distancing, where if someone is headed towards us on the sidewalk, we step out into the street to keep a safe distance from others.

We wash our hands. If we are forced to go out (like to the grocery store) we shower when we come home. And some people, I am sure, will say we’re being extreme. Are we? Or are we making sure we stay well?

On our walk we pass by the Lakewood Public Golf Course. The parking lot is still packed every day. Most of the license plates are out of state. So apparently the snowbirds that are with us every winter still feel that playing their 18 holes is more important than stopping the spread of disease.

Of course, it is a sport with very little contact. You’re out of doors, staying away from each other, and generally getting exercise. But who is sanitizing the golf carts? Who is practicing social distancing in the club house? I see clumps of people standing around and talking as we walk by. And it makes me angry.

But!

I also am reminding myself daily of the things I am grateful for. There is a lot. My husband, my father, and I are all healthy as of this writing. I have a job which I am damn grateful for. I have health insurance. We own our condominium outright and have no mortgage payment. We have plenty of food and enough toilet paper for a month. No one I know has the disease as of yet, although one family member was tested yesterday.

Above all, I am grateful for every day I have that I remain healthy. I can go for long walks. I can watch movies with my husband. I can keep in touch with friends and family that I love dearly.

Watch out for each other. Check in. Spread some laughter in this dark time. And stay away from each other as much as you possibly can.

See you on the other side,

Anna

In a pig’s eye

I awoke this morning to an eye that was half swollen shut. Turns out I have a stye underneath my eyelid. It hurts like hell and makes me look like Popeye.

A trip to the eye doctor confirmed it and now I have drops to put in 4 times a day. I hope it works fast because I’m miserable.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go lie down and ooze.

What’s for Dinner?

First to update, Mom is home from the hospital! She is feeling much better, though is rather wiped out. But she is happy to be home and sleeping in her own bed again.

This week was a challenge with going to the hospital every night. But I didn’t have to worry about dinner. Because I signed up for one of those meal kit delivery services, and I am ridiculously excited about it.

Kosta and I have been eating like crap lately. We eat out way too much or we stop at the store on the way home from work to pick up an easy dinner. We’ve gained weight, spent money, and feel pretty much gross.

Cherry Balsamic Pork before cooking.

Without telling him I made an executive decision: I signed up for Hello Fresh. What you do is pick three or four meals a week from the six or so they have to choose from. Then once a week you get a box on your doorstep with everything you need to make dinner! It’s all pre-measured, all you need are butter, oil, salt and pepper. It takes about 30 minutes to cook dinner and you have something healthy, balanced, and so far, delicious.

This week was our first foray, and I cooked our first meal on Tuesday: cherry balsamic pork with roasted potatoes and broccoli. It was just complicated enough to make it interesting and it tasted amazing. Even Kosta, who was unsure of the whole business at first, had to agree that it was outstanding for 30 minutes of work.

The ingredients to make our first supper.

Everything comes in a box, and in each box are three paper bags, the meat separate. Most of it is recyclable and everything is fresh and beautiful. I love all the mini things, like the tiny jar of cherry preserves and the little bottle of balsamic vinegar. It all goes so fast because you don’t have to measure much, you just dump stuff in the pot.

The directions were easy to follow and it reminded me how much I love to cook. In our house Kosta is known as the chef, but I’m no slouch.  I can slice and dice too, and while my knife skills might not be on par with his, I still feel I can measure up.

And it isn’t that expensive and very convenient. I don’t have to buy extra of stuff at the grocery store and there are no leftovers. Whoever initially thought of this is a genius. It saves me time and money and I get the pleasure of cooking three nights a week and enjoying a great meal.

My first effort was sickeningly good.

So we have a deal now. I cook dinner and he cleans up. I can’t tell you how much I have been enjoying this. I even bought a blue tooth speaker for the kitchen so I can listen to music while I cook. Everything about it is fun for me. Especially not having to wash the dishes.

We also had French onion burgers with kale chips and roasted salmon with crispy potato rounds and dill veggies. We get another box on Monday and I’m excited to do it all over again.

It’s nice to have a new routine that is good for us and it gives me something to look forward to. And after three hits, Kosta is convinced this is a good idea.  I can’t say I’ve ever looked forward to a Tuesday quite so much.

NaNoWriMo and SIWC

Tonight is NaNoWriMo Eve. Tomorrow begins the frenzy of averaging 1667 words written per day, every day for the month of November. I am quasi-ready. I have a bare outline, character sketches, and some research done. I am currently reading a biography on Calamity Jane and enjoying it. I have another on Annie Oakley waiting on standby.

I am nervous, to tell you the truth. I want this book to be a success and not something hack or derivative. I am still searching for that golden key that will turn this story on its head. I can feel it, just out of reach. Perhaps if I just dive in I will stumble across it. I find that’s how my writing process usually works.

And this weekend is the Sanibel Island Writers’ Conference, for which I once again will be volunteering. I am excited to attend a particular workshop on Characterization taught by Steve Almond, among others. Perhaps something this weekend will spark my imagination and solve this problem of my story.

So here is to all of you out there who are participating in NaNoWriMo this month. I wish you great inspiration, and joy in the writing process.

Shady and Fingers

The boys in their usual, rambunctious state.

Things are getting back to normal. The boil water notice was lifted yesterday and the sewage system is stable so we can do laundry, shower luxuriantly, and flush the toilets with abandon again. The library only has half-power air conditioning, but the public parts of the building are cool. Part of the a/c is running on a generator and it sounds like an airplane taking off, but if that’s all, I can deal with it.

But our kitties, Shady and Fingers, are sick. They haven’t been eating and drinking very little. We were able to get them an appointment at the vet tomorrow morning, but I’m worried about them. They are so lethargic, snuffling and sneezing. Fingers has rubbed his nose raw, poor baby.

We are borrowing a second cat carrier from a friend and coworker. We only have one, and while they can both fit reasonably well, trying to get them both in is impossible. When we left before the storm we only got one inside of it. The other we had to wrap tightly in a towel to carry out to the car. I got scratched pretty bad on the arm from one of them.

I am hoping that they are lethargic enough that they don’t resist much to the cat carriers this time.

If you pray, send one up for the kitties, and for us that we can get them to the vet without incident.  Otherwise, good wishes, vibes, or energy are also appreciated.

 

Summer Swelter

Here is how we coped with the heat for the next few days:

  1. We moved as little as possible. (After taking down the storm shutters on the patio and office window we sat outside, trying to catch an elusive curl of breeze. There was none to be had–the world was still as death. )
  2. Drank as much water as possible. (We couldn’t get still water before the storm so we stocked up on bubbly water. Bubbly water is not fun to drink when it’s warm. But you do because it is 2 in the afternoon and you haven’t peed all day.)
  3. Went to bed when the sun set. (It got dark about 8:30 and the heat from even tealights was too great to stand. And that bed we were dying for when lying on the floor of the shelter? It was now akin to lying in an oven like a roast chicken.)

Then one night we were sleeping and I rolled over and opened my eyes a crack. I nearly shit myself when I saw the light coming from the living room. My first thought was, “There’s someone in the house.” But then it dawned on me that it was the little lamp we had purposely left on so we would know then the power was back on. It was about 10 pm and we both bolted from bed and ran for the air conditioner. Sweet relief!

We got our power back earlier than most, and we were really lucky we only had to live a few days in that exhausting heat. Some people today, eleven days after the storm, are still living in the stifling and oppressive darkness. The power company says they will have all power restored by the 22nd, which is still two days away and I feel for the folks who are last on the list.

But even though we had the power back on things were far from normal. There was a boil water notice in effect which meant you could take a shower, but good grief don’t open your mouth. No washing dishes, rinsing food, or disinfecting hands.

And then the sewers started to back up.

Florida is FLAT. And when water goes into the sewage system it is sent along to the treatment plants by a series of pump stations. But if the pump stations have no power then all the water (and the STUFF in the water) sits there and builds up until it’s exploding out of manhole covers and backing up into people’s drains.

Ew.

Gas was scarce. There were only a few stations with generators that had fuel and the lines were hours long. We waited in line for 2 hours one night to get filled up and missed curfew by 20 minutes. I have vague recollections of the gas shortages in the 70’s and the lines where people would shut off their engines to wait. This was no different.

The world, for a few days, was a scary place. But the thing is, this is how life is like for many people on this earth. I am thinking about the folks in Mexico City today digging out from a far worse disaster than we could imagine here. What’s a little heat compared to being trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building?

Things are getting back to normal. More than 80% of the power in my county has been restored. Gas and water are readily available again. The curfew and boil water notices have been lifted. But this whole experience shows me just how thin the veneer of civilization is. The power goes out and you’re left in miserable conditions. People get angry, hot, tired, and thirsty. Fist fights break out over gas. You can’t flush your toilet every time you use it.

A disaster like a hurricane puts things in perspective. I know exactly how lucky I am to have a roof over my head, food on my table, and running water and electricity. I hope I never take them for granted again.

Unexpected Events

Things have been great on vacation. We met up with our friends in Munich, and spent several days visiting Nuremberg, Würzburg, Bamberg, and Rothenberg ob der Tauber. We were treated to such views as this:

Nuremberg. Totally hideous, isn't it?

Nuremberg. Totally hideous, isn’t it?

We have had a wonderful time reconnecting with our friends Danielle and Sylvain, and we have discovered a few things about German culture.

  1. They like cash. I think I only used my credit card to pay for the hotel and the rental car. Cash everywhere else.
  2. Sparkling water is called Sprudelwasser.
  3. The Germans are crazy for pork and cabbage:

    That's a lot of sauerkraut.

    That’s a lot of sauerkraut.

Seriously. I ate so much pork I thought I was going to sprout a curly tail. Pork at every meal. Cabbage hiding under the lettuce of your salad and of course the ubiquitous sauerkraut. We went to the grocery store and they had an entire Wall O’ Pork. They are totally serious about their pig food products.

We are now comfortably ensconced in our friends’ old stone farmhouse in Western France. And it was good to be surrounded by friends because the totally unexpected happened.

The other day I got a text from my Mom saying Dad had been having chest pains. They went to the ER, ran some tests, and the upshot was Dad had to have triple bypass surgery. It happened today and went extremely well. He is in recovery and all signs point to a good recovery. But the fact that I wasn’t with my mother to sit there and hold her hand while her husband of 46 years had open heart surgery left me a quivering mess.

But my wonderful friend Danielle helped me through with Reiki. If you don’t know what Reiki is, I invite you to read about it here. Basically, it is healing energy from the Divine that a practitioner can channel into another being: human, animal or plant. I’ve been a practitioner for several years now and Danielle is the Reiki Master who has taught me. Together we created a flow of Reiki that was sent directly to my father, thousands of miles away. It was proactive and left me feeling more in control of my emotions and hopeful of a positive outcome. I held it together.

Dad will probably be in the hospital for five or six days. Kosta and I debated over what to do. In the end, (mostly because we can’t afford to change our plane tickets) we are going to continue with our vacation. Trust me when I say it was not an easy decision to make. Most of me is longing to be home with my family. Everyone seems to be coping reasonably well. Mom has been so brave and capable and I am proud of her for surviving an extremely difficult situation.

The last couple of days have been rough, for sure. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much on a vacation before. But Dad has survived his ordeal, Mom is coping with hers, and Kosta and I will deal with ours.

Perplexed and a little frightened...

Perplexed and a little frightened…