Plague Diaries #6

There is a new normal.

I say this as I am writing from the couch. We have just had “virtual cocktails” with friends of ours and my husband is now making dinner. (The husband making dinner isn’t the new normal, and for that I’m very lucky. He cleans up too.)

As of right now, Florida has 11,545 cases of Covid-19, with 221 cases in my county. The next county over, Miami-Dade, has 3,890. I know we are not the hardest hit in the nation. New York is suffering something what we can’t imagine right now. But I’m afraid Death, while not knocking on our door just yet, is definitely sharpening his scythe.

It’s coming.

My week was pretty quiet. I worked 8-5 every day, but I was blessed that I was able to stay in my office for the majority. I am damn grateful to be employed with health insurance right now.

Today Kosta and I visited our favorite French restaurant for takeout quiche and we went to the grocery store. Then we came home and took a four-mile walk. It was great to get out of doors and get some exercise. Then I did Dad’s grocery shopping and came home and de-loused. (Which means I took a long, steamy shower with lots of soap and shampoo.)

Virtual drinks with Fabiana and Fernando was fun. It was almost like being at our favorite hangout, Riptide Brewing Company. Not quite, because there was no beer for me, but it was fun to talk to them for an hour. And two vodka gimlets have left me feeling pleasantly buzzed.

In fact, I’ve been talking to lots of people online lately. Maybe I’m not as introverted as I thought I was. I feel the need to connect with my friends that I can’t see right now. And it calms me down and energizes me when I do, so that’s a good thing. And I can do it all from the comfort of my couch in my jammies, so maybe I am as much of an introvert as I thought.

Life has shrunk, most definitely. Even with the Skype and the Zoom and the FaceTime I still feel like my world has diminished. There are fewer faces, fewer conversations, more solitude. I wonder how my extroverted friends are coping. Surely this can’t be easy for them.

But every day I am grateful that I wake up, and every night I am thankful for another day of health. I don’t know what the future holds and I am conscious that I am living each day more completely because of the uncertainty of what is to come.

And through it all, I have the two men who matter to me the most: my husband and my father. I’m lucky to have such fine examples of human beings with whom I spend the majority of my time. I love you both.

And that isn’t just the vodka talking, either.

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

Plague Diaries #1

This is the weirdest, scariest thing that has ever happened in my lifetime.  Life has become surreal and I am pretty sure we’re going to keep on down this Dali-esque path for some time.

First off, I am fine. My husband is fine, my Dad is fine.  We are taking precautions, washing our hands, practicing social distancing and trying not to go crazy being cooped up. But as one person on Facebook said, “Your grandparents were called to war. You are called to sit on your couch. You can do this.”

I am not working right now. The library where I work has closed its doors to the public, although staff are still expected to report in every day. I asked if I could work from home and was told no. Since I am lucky enough to have four weeks of vacation to spend, I am doing just that. I’d rather have a healthy family more than I’d like my vacation time.

It was and wasn’t a hard decision to make. It was easy in that I care what happens to my very small family.  My father is 73 and my husband is 63. Since everything went sideways I am keeping them out of public as much as I can. And me going to work every day and potentially being exposed was too much of a risk. I’m not going to put their lives in jeopardy for my job.

But it was hard because I feel like I need to be doing something to help. I feel bad that my coworkers are still putting together online story times and other forms of digital entertainment for our patrons. I would like to help but at the moment it isn’t possible. Perhaps I can work from home soon. I have plenty of projects to keep me busy.

Yesterday the governor of Florida closed all restaurant dining rooms, letting places offer takeout only. And I read an article this morning about how so many places have been forced to lay off the majority of their staff. I am terrified for the waitstaff at my local places. How are they going to survive? What happens if they get sick and they have no health insurance?

Our favorite restaurant, Cafe Gourmand, is still serving up takeout from 9-12 every day.  We went down there this morning and got our usual quiche to go. I will do everything I can to support our local businesses through this frightening time until I no longer can go out of the house. As I write this, New York, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Nevada are all on lock down. I think within a week the rest of the nation will be as well.

Florida, as a state, has been dragging its heels. It wasn’t until Thursday that our city and county closed our beaches. South Beach in Miami closed last weekend and our county sheriff said that all the spring breakers were driving the 100 miles to Naples to party here. It’s true. On St. Patrick’s Day Kosta and I went for a drive (just to get out of the house). On 5th Ave, where all the fancy restaurants are, we found people everywhere. Every table was filled, every parking spot taken, every sidewalk packed with people.

These are not people who live here year round, I suspect. These are people who are continuing their vacations in direct defiance of the warnings issued by the CDC.

Yesterday was my first day of “vacation” and I did very little. I went for a nice long walk with my husband and braved the markets to do my Dad’s grocery shopping. I had to go to 4 stores, but I got everything on his list. In the afternoon I took a nap and we got takeout from the Yard House for dinner, which we ate with my Dad. We then watched TV for a while. Pretty basic.

I did almost have an incident in Publix, however. It was packed and I was trying to maneuver my shopping cart around someone who had stopped in the produce section when this man in a face mask comes barreling through and nearly knocked me over. I locked eyes with him for a moment and gave him a challenging look. I think I must have intimated what I was thinking, which was, “No, no, you go first, asshole.” I could see the rage flare in his eyes and I am pretty sure he almost turned around to start yelling at me, but fortunately he chose to keep going.

I have to remind myself daily to take a deep breath. I am doing everything I can to protect my family.  I am checking in on extended family and friends. I am still exercising and eating healthy. I am still getting paid and have health insurance and damn grateful for it.

Things are going to get weirder. I hope you all are keeping your heads up.

See you on the other side,

Anna

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.

KNIT ALL THE SOCKS

I am a rabid knitter. I learned from a fellow librarian when I lived in New Hamsphire over eleven years ago. I started with a scarf (as does pretty much everyone), and tried making many things: a couple of baby sweaters, hats, scarves, even a sweater for myself, but then I knit a pair of socks and I caught the sickness. The sock sickness. The sockness.

I now live in Florida where hand knitted goods are not highly sought-after goods. We wear flip-flops all year here. I usually wear shorts and a T-shirt on Christmas. We do get some cooler weather in the months of January and February, and that is when we (meaning my husband, parents and I) break out our beautiful, hand-knit socks and wear them every chance we get.

There are many reasons why I must knit all the socks.


 

Reason #1:

2016-03-07 11.14.49My knitting bag says it all for you.

Knitting keeps me sane. It is meditative and soothing. Mostly.


 

Reason #2:

As a project, they are totally portable, small enough to fit in a purse. I knit a lot in the car, especially on long road trips where I can see lots of progress. I even knit on airplanes. It’s quite wonderful to plug into an audiobook, get the knitting out, and ignore the fact that I have four square inches of alloted space next to a mouthbreather.last-project-completed-in-2010_5316405819_o

 


Reason #3

The colors! Oh there are so many beautiful colors of sock yarn from which to choose. 2016-01-05 16.40.25



Reason #4:

Comfort. You have never felt anything so wonderful as the first time you pull on a pair of hand knit socks. And they keep your tootsies toasty.fashion-plate_8211282972_o



Reason #5: Everyone needs socks

While I live in Florida, most people in the word don’t (although every tourist season that becomes harder and harder to believe). Everyone wears socks pretty much every day, and what is a better, more thoughtful gift than a pair of hand-knit socks? Totallly usable, usually bright and beautiful, and massively comfortable.

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KNIT ALL THE SOCKS.

 

After the Storm

Last Sunday morning we had quite a storm rip through Naples, and there were reports of several tornadoes. My iPhone woke me at 5:15 am telling me there was a tornado warning and to take cover.

For those of you who don’t live in Florida this is extremely unusual. The only time we have tornadoes they are usually riding the tail of a hurricane. We always have plenty of warning for that. But we don’t have tornado sirens, we don’t have basements in which to shelter. To be honest, we were totally unprepared for it.

But thankfully nothing happened. The wind gusted up to 85 mph, a lot of trees and tree branches came down, but there was no building damage and no one was hurt. There were pockets of town right on the coast that were without power for over a day, but all in all, it wasn’t a disaster.

I got to go to the beach this morning and I took some interesting pictures of the effects the storm had on the beach.

A palm that fell across Gulfshore Blvd.

A palm that fell across Gulfshore Blvd.

A ficus branch that fell across the beach walk.

A Ficus branch that fell across the beach walk.

The boardwalk over the dune was probably torn up bu the storm surge. Unluckily, the storm came ashore at high tide.

The boardwalk over the dune was probably torn up bu the storm surge. Unluckily, the storm came ashore at high tide.

The sea grass has all been swept away, and look at that bank the sea cut into the sand.

The sea grass has all been swept away, and look at that bank the sea cut into the sand.

Quite a few of these Florida FIghting Conchs washed up on shore.

Quite a few of these Florida FIghting Conchs washed up on shore.

The problem was they were all still inhabited. So back into the water they went!

The problem was they were all still inhabited. So back into the water they went!

It may have been chilly this morning--just 49 degrees, but the air was exhilirating to me.

It may have been chilly this morning–just 49 degrees, but the air was exhilarating to me.

2016-01-20 08.44.35

 

Happy me at the beach! I wish I could come here every morning. There is something about this place that anchors me in place and keeps me from living in my head too much.  It is 100% the best thing about living in Florida.

 

 

 


 

Beachy

Naples beach

The most lovely thing about living in this part of the world is the beach. In Southwest Florida, the beaches are spectacular, and I wager they are nicer than any other beach in the country. The Gulf of Mexico is warm, calm, and stunning in its ability to change from tourmaline to turquoise to azure and back again. I go to the beach at least once a week, and specifically, every Tuesday morning. My husband and I share one car between us and on Tuesdays he has to be to work at 8 a.m., while I don’t have to be there until 10. So I drop him off and scuttle off like a hermit crab.

Shell Grouping2

Not only is my beach beautiful, it is one of the best shelling beaches in the country. These are shells I found myself–two lightning whelks and a calico scallop so vividly orange it seems to glow. Every time I visit the beach I see something new and wonderful, whether it’s a beautiful shell, dolphins swimming down the coast, or an osprey hunting for lunch. I am constantly awed by the beauty of this place and can’t tell you how much the sounds of the surf, the feeling of the sand in my toes and the salty tang of the breeze calms me, centers me, and returns me to earth. For someone who lives entirely too much in her own head, this is a gift.

2322230649_a9966cb4ae_bThe wildlife is incredible. My husband and I came across this baby octopus one afternoon at low tide.  There are tons of birds: pelicans, terns, sandpipers, plovers, seagulls, herons, egrets, and ibis abound up and down the shore. But we have also seen dolphins, stingrays, jellyfish, Portoguese man o’ wars, and even once a manatee. He was slowly moving his way north up the beach, a few yards out, quivering, whiskered nose breaking the surface.

2266415515_2f9fab9db8_bAnd of course, the sunsets are other-worldly. Living on the west coast of Florida, we get the spectacular light shows when the sun goes down. It is a very popular tourist thing to walk down to the beach to watch the sunset, but I laugh when everyone turns around and leaves the second the last smidge of it descends below the horizon. I’ve found the best part of the show comes after, and my husband and I are usually alone on the sand to see it.

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Yep, I love my beach. It has never failed to soothe me when I’m anxious, ground me when I’m untethered, or delight me with something new. Every Tuesday morning I dip my toes in the water, do a little meditating and look for shells.  It’s where I remember how to breathe. Inhale with me… two… three. And exhale, two… three.

Ahhh…

All right everyone. Back to work.