“Every Sunset has the Promise of a New Day” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Where to start? My mom is in hospice care, which is a daunting word but may not mean it’s the end. What were the words the doctors used to describe her during her first hospital stay? Oh, yes, “resilient” and “feisty.” No, I definitely wouldn’t count her out.

That said, she started with COVID symptoms a month ago today. An entire month spent sick and in and out of the hospital. I’ve got a few thoughts about this, but they aren’t what you’d think. The emotional side of our situation seems to have shut down for the time being. What’s on my mind right now?:

1. If she passes from this, would she be considered a COVID statistic? I’m guessing not. And I am guessing she is not alone in this protracted COVID-related battle. So basically the mortality rate is already wrong.

2. Hospice care. Angels on Earth. I wish I had these resources and compassion at my fingertips when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Honestly, I battled the hard stuff alone years ago, not knowing where to start or how to handle it and navigating this totally unfamiliar and uncomfortable (and unwelcome) landscape. No case manager or social worker to listen or guide. Hospice would have obviously been dramatic for back then, but I could have used a crutch. Something. Now I realize what it feels like to have professionals who see this stuff all the time reach out to me and ask if I have questions and how I am doing. I can say with 100% certainty that I could have used that seven years ago. Just putting that out there for what it’s worth. Which actually leads me to a third point that I wasn’t planning to make.

3. Assisted living. What the bloody hell Massachusetts? Get your shit together and help these people out. They have been put in a position of having to function like hospitals because of the state’s lack of preparation. I get it, it’s a crisis, but damnit we saw it coming. It’s one fire drill after another at care homes across the state and the country. Manning the helm are some of the finest people you’d ever want to meet. And I mean the real kind of “very fine people.” They did not sign up to be on the frontlines of anything remotely like this, and surely they are not paid nearly enough for what they do, but they show up day after day with compassion and courage in spades. Meanwhile, front line assistance, offers of free life insurance, etc., focus only on hospitals and medical staff. Massachusetts doesn’t even count assisted living with its nursing home numbers, meaning that state data are undercounting this public health crisis’ impact on seniors. Does this also mean that assisted living residences are excluded from the state’s COVID assistance measures? I cannot fathom how these places continue to function, financially or emotionally, right now. The people who work in these homes deserve recognition, thank you’s, and more. WAY MORE.

Civil War icon Joshua Chamberlain said, “In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

We are being tested. Eventually history will look back on this period, reflect and probably judge, hindsight always bringing clarity of vision that the present doesn’t offer. I think about Chamberlain’s quote, about the courage and valor of battle, the honor of walking a field like Gettysburg or the beaches of Normandy today and thinking about those who have passed before us, who fought so courageously and with a united front for something bigger than themselves.

The enemy is invisible in our current battle, and the battle rages in our hospitals, our care homes, and our public spaces. But the concept endures. The honor in battle (and life) comes from sacrificing for something bigger than yourself, and from protecting the vulnerable. I was taught to respect my elders. They are not expendable collateral damage. We have already failed many of them by not acting fast enough. We can’t give up now. Looking back on this moment in time, we want history to extoll our courage and our compassion, our sacrifice and unity. We do not want to be haunted by spirits admonishing our soul-less self-interest and determined individualism at all costs. Is going “back to normal” really what we want? Normal failed our most vulnerable. We need to do better.

Wew. I woke up in a tizzy today. Tomorrow is a new day. Take a deep breath. We got this.
Stay well, stay home.
You will be alright.
Brene Brown back to normal quote

Views from All Over

Well, it finally happened, folks. I hit a wall. It’s not that I am uninspired. I am just tired. So today will be short and sweet. I am diving into living in the moment at home, making sure I am paying enough attention to my kids in a less distracted way, and tending to my mom’s health situation and needs, which are acute at the moment.

Right now my kids and I are sitting on the porch in winter coats and blankets, basking in the sun’s warm rays like cats. We are listening to what’s around us, observing. Yesterday we set up a post at our dining room table to return to each week. We fling the wooden blinds wide and watch how our little world changes outside that one focused spot each week. It’s actually kind of miraculous, and I have never taken the time to watch spring unfold slowly before. If this were a recipe I’d say it’s one part making-the-best-of-things, a dash of keeping-my-kids-occupied-any-way-I-can, and a smidge of look-what-happens- when-you-slow-down-a-little.

This video, called When the World Stopped, takes us on a tour of the quiet that has enfolded on a global scale during this isolation period. Like my daily quest, it is both beauty and tragedy wrapped into one.

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Mary Oliver quote

COVID Gets Real and Hits Home

Taking a break from gallivanting around the world to bring it to you straight here. This is HARD. Today is day 41 by my count. My mom was hospitalized three weeks ago and diagnosed COVID positive. It got REAL around here fast. I wrote an essay about it that HuffPost published this morning. Check it out in my Clips. Also, the featured photo today is a painting my brother did. Just sayin’. So damn talented.

At any given moment I am shades of overwhelmed, fine, depressed, grateful and everything in between. I miss the grocery store. I mean, that’s low. What used to be a chore has become a dreamed-of escape. That’s where we are.

I spend my days cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, procuring food items, entertaining my children (I have stopped calling it homeschooling because that would imply they are learning something when, frankly, I have no idea if they are. I am just happy when we get through another day mostly intact), and trying to keep up with my quarantine journal (which is remarkably challenging to find time for, an odd situation to find myself in since I never leave my home). My mom being unwell has added a layer of intensity to this isolation existence as I have worried for her well-being and tried to navigate emotionally once again how quickly life can be upended. There were days during the past three weeks when I needed to call the hospital to check on my mom but also really, really needed to grab that grocery delivery time one week out (the first available) to ensure my family had the provisions we need. So bizarre. The brave neighbors and friends who are still going to the grocery store jumped in and saved us as my juggling act came crashing down, even sometimes adding a bouquet of flowers to the items they dropped for us on the front porch.

Rest assured, when I am not virtually traveling the world with you, I am keeping it really real here. Our virtual travels and hope-filled stories bring me tremendous joy and give me meaning and perspective (and, boy, have I needed that lately). It’s helpful to focus my busy brain on positive things, to spend time learning about places I’ve never been and remembering places I have.

It all feels so futile sometimes. Life. This version of life in particular. My mom alone in a hospital, sick and unable to communicate. All of us at home. Futile and frustrating and fraught.

And then I remember: One day at a time. Tomorrow is a new day. Breathe.

We need to continue to have hope and to find the fun where we can. My mom, and my beloved aunt Nancy, and their mom would say – this too shall pass. And so it shall.

Today is Marathon Monday in the Boston area. It’s literally a state holiday and a true rite of passage to spring. Obviously the marathon isn’t happening. My family is participating in the #BackyardBostonMarathon instead. I am running around my house 26.2 times; my kids are doing the same around the backyard. My husband is doing an insane number of push ups and sit-ups (to get to 262) plus a 2.62 mile run.

It’s not the marathon, not by a long shot. But if we all do it together (I mean, apart together, of course – stay home! do NOT go on the marathon course), that’ll channel the spirit of the event and that’s meaningful. My mom’s care home and hospital are along the marathon route. Give her a virtual wave and hug as you “run” by. We can use all the spirit of the marathon more than ever because, folks, we are in one right now. I am personally seized up on Heartbreak Hill. So cheer me through and I’ll cheer for you, too. I’d love to see your photos!

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Hope is like a drop of honey quote

Island Hopping – to Jamaica and Cuba!

Our tour of island nations continues, but this time we are traveling to the green-blue and warm waters of the Caribbean and the beautiful island nations of Jamaica and Cuba!!!

Map of Cuba and Jamaica

Cuba is a mysterious and alluring country. It is also mountainous, which I did not expect. In my mind for some reason I assumed it was flat. But it’s not. Not at all. From the Gulf of Mexico you can see it’s undulating, lush hillsides and somewhat imagine what it must look like within. Unique and beautiful historic architecture, brightly colored buildings, and old time cars that have been miraculously preserved and maintained define most people’s mental image of Cuba. If we have a notion of Cuba at all, it is these images from Havana that dominate. Today we are so lucky to be able to wander through Cuba in our imaginations thanks to photographer and creative Janice Kwan (follow her on Instagram @jwkwan and @kitrknits for more photos and other awesome creative work, including her gorgeous hand-knit pieces).

She has so many awesome images I didn’t even know where to start so I put together a slideshow. Check out the colors, the cobblestoned streets, the lighting, the purples and blues in the sky contrasted against those heavy, hovering clouds, Castro’s omnipresence. What do you see?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Outside of Havana, the Cuba is more rural. You can get a real taste for Cuba and some powerful visual descriptions and cultural (and revolutionary) understanding by reading Our Woman in Havana by Vicky Huddleston (a former U.S. diplomat to Cuba) and Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton. 

Just south of Cuba is Jamaica. In fact Jamaica is very close to Guantanamo Bay. I don’t know how I missed it, but Guantanamo Bay is on the island of Cuba, just kind of fenced off from the rest of Cuba. I of course have heard of Guantanamo Bay, but it didn’t occur to me to think about exactly where it was. I was pretty surprised to discover it’s on Cuba of all places.

Anyway, a Jamaican friend sent me news from late March reporting that 144 Cuban health workers had arrived in Jamaica to help with the Coronavirus outbreak. This was his example of good news happening in his part of the world.

I had to pause to weigh how opportunistic versus humanitarian this show of support was on Cuba’s part and to wrestle with the possibility of our differing perspectives on Cuba’s intent. Since I am U.S.-based, the Cuban government’s actions come laden with a dose of skepticism. What is opportunistic propaganda and what is solidarity and selflessness? I am going to guess that there is gray area, perhaps it’s a bit of both, and it depends who you ask. Of course I am not professing to the U.S. government’s innocence either, to be clear. Surely many good deeds are born of strategic as well as altruistic intent.

Cuba has been sending doctors on international medical missions primarily to poorer countries all over the world for years. Currently, in fact, it has about 37,000 workers in 67 different countries. They provide more health care personnel to the developing world than all of the G8 countries combined. This is partially propaganda, but it is also a major source of revenue for the Cuban government. The U.S. has called into question the labor conditions and pay of Cuban physicians, and as part of increasing sanctions the U.S. discourages other countries from hosting these Cuban medical missions (for more on that, click this link to an Associated Press article from April 3). That said, Cuban physicians are generally quite well-trained, well-liked, and well-received wherever they go.

In the case of COVID, Cuban doctors have been on the front line in Italy since mid-March. From a practical standpoint, they are experienced with this virus and ready to assist better than many in the western hemisphere. There are also A LOT of them. Did you know that Cuba has more doctors per capita than the U.S.? In fact, it is ranked third in the world for the number of doctors per capita (67.2 per 10,000 people according to the World Atlas). WHY are there so many doctors in Cuba, you ask? That results from half of the nation’s doctors fleeing during the Cuban revolution in 1959 and Fidel Castro subsequently promoting medical education as part of a national project to reconstitute their medical corps. Universal health care is also a defining feature of communist principles.

Of course, it’s possible that the training required to become a doctor in Cuba isn’t the same as in other countries, and that that is part of the explanation for the differential in numbers. But Cuba’s health care system is widely praised and life expectancy and infant mortality in Cuba are the same as in the U.S. (if you believe the Cuban government’s statistics, which they do not allow to be independently verified). It appears they are onto something there, but no matter how you slice it, for a virus that seems to require all hands on deck a surplus of well-trained physicians seems like a welcome bright spot on an otherwise gloomy horizon. Propaganda or not, well-trained medical personnel descending en masse to help a neighboring country that isn’t as well prepared to manage it is good news.

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

 

 

The WHY of Preservation Matters Now More Than Ever

Today’s post is brought to you by Anna Davis, the Communications Director of the Architectural Heritage Foundation in Boston, MA. She wrote this really wonderful post recently distilling why historic preservation matters. When all else goes away, she writes, “what remains is the stories we keep.” How profound and beautiful. Historic preservation is about more than preserving old buildings – it’s about community and our past and the stories that weave us together. That’s important to recognize, now more than ever. It will help guide us when we emerge from this period of extreme slowing-down, introspection and, honestly, grief to engage with our communities and our world differently and more completely.

Stay well, stay home. You will be alright.

Photograph of the Fellowship Hall at the Grand Army of the Republic Hall and Museum in Lynn, MA. The Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) is providing historic preservation consulting services to the Friends of GAR Hall.
Grand Army of the Republic Hall in Lynn, MA. Image courtesy of Jason Baker.

When life as we have known it comes to a halt; when the bonds holding society together grow brittle; when we cannot gather for fear of harming each other – what remains to us are the stories we keep. The reminders of those stories take many forms. A building. A battlefield. A burying ground. These physical affirmations of our histories and values are all around us. They help us to see ourselves as part of a community spanning generations and, in so doing, make us feel less alone.

Yet preservation can seem frivolous during a crisis like COVID-19. Why spend time and money on saving historic sites when people are getting sick, losing their jobs, and struggling to stop every aspect of their lives from unravelling? Answering this question requires a shift in perspective from regarding our historic places as luxuries to recognizing them as necessities. Catalyzing that shift in perspective is one of the main challenges facing preservationists over the coming weeks.

Successfully making the case for preservation will depend on how well those involved in restoration or adaptive reuse tell their projects’ stories. This means crafting a narrative focusing not on properties’ historical and architectural significance (though important), but on the material and intangible benefits that successful projects bring to their surrounding communities. Projects need a vision that extends beyond the historic places to the people who will use them.

A vision does not need to lock a project into a specific program, but it should offer a general idea of the role that the site could play in the community. For example, could a vacant building become much-needed housing? A mixed-use commercial hub that invigorates a business district? And arts or educational center? Which populations will the building primarily serve, and how will it benefit the most vulnerable members of society? And specifically, how will the project help the surrounding community to heal post-Coronavirus?

North Brookfield community members stand conversing in the Great Hall of the North Brookfield Town House in front of a stage with blue and red velvet curtains. The Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) is providing historic preservation consulting services
Community members discuss the future of the historic North Brookfield Town House.

Though all preservation efforts are different, they share certain commonalities that are helpful to consider when making the case for a project:

Preservation strengthens the economy

Most likely to resonate with the widest range of people are the economic benefits of preservation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation notes that each year, historic preservation creates millions of jobs, attracts hundreds of millions of dollars in investment, increases property values, augments the affordable housing stock, and generates more money in tax revenue than it costs.

Preservation is green

Not only does preservation make economic sense, but it is an ecologically sustainable form of development. Demolition and new construction generate massive amounts of landfill waste and carbon emissions; by contrast, adaptive reuse of historic real estate reduces these climate impacts. Moreover, historic structures designed prior to the invention of HVAC systems are generally more energy efficient than many modern buildings. Preservation is a climate-friendly option.

Preservation brings people together

The preservation of a beloved historic property often inspires people who otherwise would not come into contact with each other to pursue a common goal together. Moreover, it gives people – not least those who often feel disenfranchised – a stake in improving their neighborhoods. This benefit, though unquantifiable, is particularly important to emphasize at a time of social distancing. As communities become ever more fragmented, projects that are unifying, uplifting, and meaningful can raise morale and connect people to one another.

Now is the time to speak up for historic places by articulating why preservation projects matter to the communities in which they are located. As Richard Moe, former President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, once said, “There may have been a time when preservation was about saving an old building here or there, but those days are gone. Preservation is in the business of saving communities and the values they embody.”

Photograph of the Shingle-style buildings of the Charles River Speedway framed against autumn foliage and sunshine in November 2014. The Architectural Heritage Foundation (AHF) is preserving and redeveloping the Speedway as a mixed-use commercial complex.
The Charles River Speedway, November 2014.

The Architectural Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)3 dedicated to stimulating economic development in disinvested communities through historic preservation. Follow AHF and its projects on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

Off to Jersey

Recently there’s been a proliferation of organizations working to feed the medical front line as they care for the overwhelming volume of sick patients. I came across one in Jersey and thought that would be a cool place to go visit so Feed Our Frontline and the lovely island of Jersey get the spotlight today.

No, not NEW Jersey. Jersey. The original Jerz. As in one of the Channel Islands. The other large Channel Island you might have heard of is Guernsey.

Feed Our Frontline provides meals to healthcare workers while also supporting local restaurants. They work with area hospitals to identify those with the greatest need. Meals can be purchased for individuals as well as their families. Service has been expanded to include the elderly and vulnerable individuals across the islands. A U.S.-based organization, Off Their Plate, is doing similar work, simultaneously feeding the front line while providing employment to hourly shift workers at restaurants.

Ever since I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (which I highly recommend) I have been fascinated with these islands floating out in the English Channel in between France and England. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live on an island. Okay, I can imagine it, but I can’t imagine actually doing it myself.

So I think about these places and wonder what it must be like to live there in general, but specifically what it must have been like to live there when they were occupied by the Germans in World War II and now what it must be like to live there during a pandemic. I can’t decide if we all live on islands now or if that sensation of nowhere to run would be all the more intense on an island. I imagine that the impacts of a pandemic would be experienced exponentially on an island where there are more personal connections to families for generations, more limited supply lines coming from offshore, possibly more likelihood of the virus just being passed around and around (not sure, I am not an epidemiologist, just speculating).

A bit of history – both Jersey and Guernsey are closer to France than to England but speak English as their primary language (though a portion of the population does also still speak their own version of French (Jerriais or Guernesiais)). From what I understand, because it’s a little complicated, the islands are parliamentary representative democracies and British Crown dependencies. They are fairly self-run, doing their own thing in terms of governance and trade, but at the same time they are preparing for Brexit and are protected by the UK in terms of defense. It’s beyond the scope of my brain capacity at this exact moment to delve deeper into that. Maybe I will at another point in history when I am not interrupted every 5 minutes and then suddenly two days goes by between my last cohesive thought and my next one. Both islands use the British Pound for currency and have the same international calling code as the UK (44). They simultaneously have French influence so you can get your baguette and cafe and then run down the street for some fish and chips.

Fun facts: Jersey has toads and snakes on it but Guernsey doesn’t. Victor Hugo spent many years in exile on both Jersey and Guernsey. And they also have a bit of a reputation for being tax havens, but let’s not dwell on that for the moment.

I have yet to make it to the Channel islands myself, but in 2016 I had a neat email encounter with a Guernsian who runs a robust shop on rue de L’Epinal in Forest, Guernsey, called Ounsworth Decor. If you know me, you’ll know why that caught my eye.

I had just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society again and this time did a little google search to learn more about the island. I reached out to the shop to ask about the shop’s history and the island itself and was delighted to receive a reply. From that, I learned that Guernsey is 30 square miles with a population of 63,000. Most “Guerns” originate in Normandy, France (though the founder of Ounsworth Decor came from Yorkshire, England).

They speak English with a Cornish/Australian accent. There is a local dialect called Guernesiais which was spoken by most islanders up until the first world war. There is a strong Breton (Brittany in France) connection. With regards to sport Guerns always support England but that doesn’t stop some from having a strong French connection. A lot of locals have property in France. Guernsey has their own football team (soccer), Guernsey FC, that play in the UK league.

All goods come to Guernsey from the UK and they use the Guernsey Pound on the island. It is however not valid in the UK, though the UK Pound is valid in Guernsey. Guernsey is was never part of the EU, though the UK was/is?

So, there you have it! A little window into an unfamiliar world. And, by the way, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is now a film. It’s filmed in Cornwall, England, but unless you live on Jersey or Guernsey you likely won’t know the difference.

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Hope is like a drop of honey quote

 

Song for the times

This one speaks for itself. The words are perfect for right now, even though the song was released in 1994! I remember it from then, but if you haven’t heard it before it’s timeless and super appropriate for now. The emphasis added by bolding is mine. Those lines get me every time. In 1994 and today. And, also, I am apparently old :-).

None of us will miss this storm. It’s raging all around us now. I’d love to know the end of this chapter, to avoid some of the tougher parts, to know how it’s going to turn out (and of course dreaming that it’s going to turn out okay). But we can’t know that. We are in this and we are in deep. Dive into the well of courage and inner-strength in your heart (dig a deeper well if you need to – moments like these, when we face adversity and are tested, force us to evolve and flex our resiliency muscles), love your neighbors and lift them up (all of them – remember we are ALL human and we are all in this together), and think about how we can do and be better on the other side. Hold on tight. This is one rickety old roller coaster and we are in for some shaking. But that’s where we need to go. And then we will move forward and move on. Changed. Wounded. But oddly stronger.

Woodsong by the Indigo Girls

The thin horizon of a plan is almost clear
My friends and I have had a tough time
Bruising our brains hard up against change
All the old dogs and the magician

Now I see we’re in the boat in two by twos
Only the heart that we have for a tool we could use
And the very close quarters are hard to get used to
Love weighs the hull down with its weight

But the wood is tired and the wood is old
And we’ll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

No way construction of this tricky plan
Was built by other than a greater hand
With a love that passes all out understanding
Watching closely over the journey

Yeah but what it takes to cross the great divide
Seems more than all the courage I can muster up inside
Although we get to have some answers when we reach the other side
The prize is always worth the rocky ride

But the wood is tired and the wood is old
And we’ll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

Sometimes I ask to sneak a closer look
Skip to the final chapter of the book
And then maybe steer us clear from some of the pain it took
To get us where we are this far yeah

But the question drowns in it’s futility
And even I have got to laugh at me
No one gets to miss the storm of what will be
Just holding on for the ride

The wood is tired and the wood is old
We’ll make it fine if the weather holds
But if the weather holds we’ll have missed the point
That’s where I need to go

Listen here.

Songwriters: EMILY ANN SALIERS

© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
For non-commercial use only.
Data From: LyricFind

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Hardy Chalk art2