So Much Still to Teach

She would laugh that we were so worried. I can hear her voice in my mind saying, if she understood, “What? About moi? Ridiculous.” She would probably be upset that we even sent her to the hospital in the first place. She is more of a stick-it-out-on-your-own, “I’m not sick, I just don’t feel well,” kind of person.

March 28 to June 5, 2020. That was the duration of my mom’s journey with COVID-19. She went to the hospital with gastrointestinal symptoms. We expected her to get fluids, be monitored for a little while in the emergency room, and then be sent home. Instead they tested her for the then recently arrived COVID-19, which I shrugged off as ER hypervigilance (leave no test un-run!). If only I could be there, I thought, I could explain to them what she can’t, that she always has a little cough and the sniffles. It’s nothing to worry about.

Her positive test result stunned us and resulted in her prompt admission to the hospital, where she tumbled into the black hole of a blossoming public health crisis and a rapidly filling hospital. She used to tell me not to set my expectations too high because then you just invite disappointment. When I heard “COVID positive,” my expectations were grounded pretty firmly in reality. 

She endured 2 separate hospitalizations (I wrote about the first one in a HuffPost essay – ironically, it was published the day she was sent back with secondary complications). She ended up spending 3 weeks total in the hospital. She didn’t eat or walk for weeks; had pneumonia (mild, mercifully) and then a pulmonary embolism and thrush. She was poked and prodded every which way and was generally miserable and confused. We eventually made the decision to discharge her from the hospital on hospice with the goal of getting her to a situation where she was comfortable and surrounded by people who loved her (even if I couldn’t be one of them because, COVID, which is pretty much the answer to any question of this dystopian existence anymore). We hoped that with one-on-one attention in a familiar setting someone could get her to eat. And we were prepared, if not, for her to leave this world in peace and comfort.

It was a long, long road full of Boost protein shakes and brownies for breakfast (for her, and, some days, to be honest, for me, too, because, well, I had to find comfort where I could). It was days of phone calls with doctors and nurses and hospice workers and chaplains and family and funeral homes. It was a nurse praying with her as she lay quietly in her bed, telling her we loved her even though we couldn’t be there. It was short Facetimes with my mom and the aides working with her, the Sound of Music or My Fair Lady playing on her CD player in the background. It was texted images of her sitting in a wheelchair getting her nails done or painting during a group activity. It was videos of her shuffle-dancing around the dining room, supported by an aide, honoring the woman she was and infusing joy where they could into her life. It was reports about her learning how to walk again, first with people supporting her on both sides, then, slowly, a few steps on her own. It took about 6 weeks for the odds of her making it through this illness to shift in her favor. She doesn’t remember any of it, which may have been her saving grace. Because she has Alzheimer’s, she lives in this exact moment, and then this one, and then the next, with no reference to the past or the future.

Through, and despite, it all, she exuded her characteristic grit and indefatigable spirit. She gave my brothers and I fatigued smiles through the Facetime screen, her inner spark sometimes igniting in her eyes through the otherwise wan expression on her face. More recently we have received videos of her humming a tune and dancing down the hall to the beat of her literal own drummer. Her laughter echoes like the first birds of spring after a long winter, issuing robustly and sweetly through the air, quickening the rhythm of my heart and flooding my soul with warmth. I only just realized as I listened more intentionally to her laugh, absorbing more fully this sound that so recently I thought I would never hear again, that her laugh echoes the sound of my own.

I guess it wasn’t her time. I guess she still has more to do here on this Earth, more to teach. I don’t know what else to say about how close we walked to the line, and then how she suddenly walked it back. She would say, “What did you expect? Of course I lived. Maybe don’t take life so seriously. Maybe don’t count me out just because the prognosis looks bad (really bad). Now tell me about you. How are you?”

I find myself speechless at times in her presence, my mind bending as I try to reconcile what happened to her and to our family during those months and the vast loss of life during this COVID outbreak, with her physically sitting there still with me, smiling, laughing, and full of LIFE. We sit outside on the patio at her care home admiring the trees and sky, listening to the river, singing or just sitting quietly. She still appreciates beauty in the world: a clear blue sky, a gentle warm breeze. She will close her eyes and tilt her chin upward, breath deeply, and smile broadly, completely at peace, 100% her authentic, younger self, the mom I remember. Post-COVID, she is back to walking unassisted, dance parties, eating, singing, giving back rubs, smiling, and laughing – lots of laughing. She doesn’t have much to say, and doesn’t understand much of what I tell her, but she knows I am someone special to her. She lights up like it’s a surprise party every time an aide walks her outside and she sees me standing there. On some biological level we are still connected, even if she can’t remember my name. She would like to give me a hug, reaches for me, but we sit and tap our toes together instead, a small physical connection that doesn’t potentially jeopardize either of us. COVID kisses. It’s the best we can do for now.

I recognize that I am one of the lucky ones. My mom returned to me from the brink, and she returned bubbling with happiness and love to share. She still has so much to teach, not only to me, but to all of us: about enjoying the simple things in life, like a warm breeze and a blue sky; about what it means to be fueled by love, to be guided by an inner joie de vivre; about dancing and laughing through life, no  matter what; about resilience and grit and never, ever counting someone out or giving up, no matter the odds; about how deeply the love between a mother and her child runs, and how it’s still recognizable when all else is lost.

When it comes time to say goodbye, whenever that may be, I hope I will be able to be there and to hold her hand. In the meantime, I am counting my blessings and following her lead: taking a deep breath; embracing unbridled joy; seeking daily, small moments of happiness; loving my family and friends hard; smiling and laughing often; feeling grateful for every day I still have mom on this Earth; and living as close as I can to this very moment, and then the next one and then the next, moment to moment to moment. Even now. Especially now.

My mom survived COVID-19 and has lived gracefully with Alzheimer’s for over 7 years. She still exudes love and compassion for others. She still smiles and laughs. She is still the life of the party. She continues to be an example to us all about a life well-lived, no matter what. She would say, “This too shall pass.” And it will. 

Mask up. We got this.

#Youwillbealright

#Wearethesolution

#Wearamask

100 Days of Quarantine

Yep, that’s right. I’ve been counting. I may be a day or two off because it all blurred together and I couldn’t tell what day was what for a while there, but I am calling it today and sticking to it!

What does this mean? Traditionally, in my experience, preschools and elementary schools celebrate the 100th day of school. The 100 days of school typically signifies that you are over the hump of the school year and on the downward slope toward summer break (that’s my interpretation anyway, no one ever actually explains WHY we are doing this). It drives me nuts, to be honest, because it’s pretty arbitrary and usually involves some sort of project with 100 objects that requires my assistance to collect, coordinate, and recoup after it goes to school. But damn if those traditions don’t just stick in your brain whether you like them or not! And, I mean, come on, 100 days is a freaking long time and a nice, round number so let’s at least notice it if not celebrate it! As far as I am concerned, these 100 days is 1/3rd of a freaking bizarre year and worth reflecting on no matter how many days are still to come.

The 100 days of not being in school? The 100 days of isolation? The 100 days of digging deep (sometimes really, really deep) to find gratitude? The 100 days of riding a roller coaster without ever leaving home?

Are we over the hump of coronavirus now? I suspect not really. Maybe we are over one hump, the first sin wave, but this bizarre period is not yet over. So the trouble I have with this 100 days is that there is no end in sight, and that still incites a little panic and overwhelm at times. I refuse to use the term “new normal.” I hate it. I prefer something like “the way things are for now.” For now is always a good way to approach uncertainty and change. It implies acceptance of the present but knowledge that the future might be different, though when that future comes is unclear.

I am trying to remember what life was like 100 days ago. I still prefer life from 101 days ago, I am certain of that, but am pleased with the mental shift that’s occurred in between. Those early days were LONG. And confusing. And depressing. I would go to bed knowing I had nothing to look forward to in the morning. I am a do-er and a busy bee so the idea that I had nowhere to go and nothing to go do tanked me at first. It felt so heavy, like so much work to get up and just make it through another day. I’ve mentioned before how I felt like coronavirus teleported me to the 1950s as a housewife, right? I swear that’s the truth of it. I wrote in my quarantine journal on March 31, “I missed 16 whole days in writing this journal. How is that even possible? Well, I’ll tell you how it’s possible. Because life right now is this twilight zone of sur-reality. I have been teleported to the 1950s and spend most of my waking hours cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, working with kids on one thing or another, and curating precious items for our consumption or comfort (general groceries and paper towels in particular).” That did not feel like much to wake up for. So for a long time I wallowed. For three weeks, in fact, according to my journal. Time is so strange. During the same period that the days were forever long I didn’t have time to write. Riddle me that, Batman.

Anyhoo, I know for sure that those first few weeks were a doozy, with more emails about cancelled plans and “uncertainty” than I care to count. I literally still use whiteout and still have a daily planner so I get to laugh when I look back at my calendar now and see the indent of my pen marks for all the plans that should have been just disappeared from reality by the quick stroke of the whiteout brush. It reminds me of traveling in Madagascar, sitting at the airport waiting on a delayed flight. The airport staff would just erase the departure time on the chalkboard and rewrite a new time when the plane was ready to go – two hours delayed was suddenly, miraculously, right on schedule! It’s like the question of whether trees falling in the woods make a sound if no one can hear them. If the plans you didn’t do don’t exist, well, did you miss out on anything?

I have 154 pages (including lots of pictures) keeping track of the last 100 days to pour over one of these days. In sum, a haiku:

Grief. Plodding days. Fear.

April snow. Enough! Spring blooms.

Pollen, hope abound.

Or something like that! I do love a good haiku :-).

So, today – day 100 – I am not saying we need to celebrate. But maybe we might as well (we did, after all, flatten the curve (where I live anyway) so at least a pat on the back is warranted for that)? My March 12, 2020, post Don’t Freak Out, But Also Don’t Be Cavalier is still all true. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that the puppy thing is very real as is the racism.

It’s a remarkable thing that the whole world is living through at the same time. I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to define this period as good or bad, but we should notice all of it, learn, and adjust. Maybe I will make a list for next time of all the things I have learned over this time. Camus sums it up well, but I am always up for a good list.

Camus Quote

You will be alright.

Wash your hands.

Stay well, stay (close to) home?

 

 

A Plea and a Prayer for the Voiceless and Vulnerable

Where do I even start? I am rendered speechless by some of what I see happening in the world right now. And not speechless in a good way.

I understand rationally that anger stems from fear, powerlessness, and uncertainty, which we have in spades currently. So I get to some degree that what we are seeing with regards to the virus, opening plans, and people flouting the very simple protocols for keeping everyone safe from wearing masks to maintaining their distance are symptomatic of that. I recently read an article from Psychology Today, in fact, entitled What Your Anger May Be Hiding that explains anger very rationally. Did you know that when someone is angry the brain releases a chemical that stimulates a numbing sensation while establishing a sense of security and control over a situation? I did not, but it explains so much.

I guess I thought and hoped we were more evolved than that and that we could recognize anger for what it is and modify our behavior. Clearly not. And that’s disappointing. Most disappointing of all is how there appears to be a cultural disregard for the most vulnerable people among us currently. If I hear one more time, “oh, yea, a lot of people have died but most of them were old” I am going to explode. WTF kind of attitude is that? Damn.

“What young people didn’t know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm; oh, what young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly, as if it were a tart on a platter with others that got passed around again. No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn’t choose it. And if her platter had been full with the goodness of Henry and she had found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered.” from Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Anyway, I am rambling. I felt like I needed to acknowledge that because it’s been bugging me and making me sad. But I don’t want to focus on it. What I want to do is to say a prayer for the voiceless and vulnerable, for the elderly, our elders; for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia; for those in care homes; for those with other health vulnerabilities; for those in places like rural Guatemala and rural Madagascar and so many other places in the world (including the inner city and parts of rural America) that are disconnected from the regular news cycle so we don’t hear their plight – both because they don’t have a platform to tell it and because no one is listening. Amidst all the quiet of this time, it’s remarkable the cacophony we humans can stir up to distract ourselves and still not LISTEN.

I don’t want to dwell on this. I want to focus on the good stuff, the stories of hope and kindness where you would least expect to find them! It’s my whole mission here and really this is the stuff of grace and humanity that needs to be celebrated and shouted from the rooftops!

In today’s episode, we have video footage of Girl Pioneers from the MAIA Impact School reporting from their homes in rural Guatemala on what life is like in quarantine for them, thanks to donated devices that have been distributed to the students and the MAIA Impact School’s on-going work to give these girls and their families a platform from which to be heard and seen.

You can read more about the students, their lives, and MAIA’s response to COVID @ https://www.maiaimpact.org/maias-response-covid19

More to come!

Each day is a blessing in whatever form it comes – don’t squander it!

Stay well, stay home.

You will be alright.

Indigenous Woman Poem

 

 

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

Staying Put

To be fair, the U.S. is so big there’s no way I could get to all the stories in one little post. So, here’s more!

First, I finally finished my puzzle. So yeah! Small victories.

Second, the suddenly open access to culture and museums and places and worlds that were previously held at a distance to us mere mortals is one of the silver linings of this challenging time. Within days of our outer worlds shutting down, cultural opportunities proliferated.

Thanks to this, ummm, situation I went to my first opera at the MET. They have been allowing free streaming of their Live in HD performances. I have always been curious about this esteemed cultural institution, so this was an exciting opportunity to check out what it’s all about. Truth? Opera isn’t for me. But even an unsophisticated observer like me can appreciate the costumes, the voice ranges, and the talent required to combine singing like that with acting.

More up my alley, the Indigo Girls played a live show that we could all stream in our living rooms. And there were tears in my living room, I can tell you. It was such an unexpected portal into the broader world. Hearing the Indigo Girls transported me right out of here and now and into the past with a heaping dose of unexpected nostalgia.

Beyond the Indigo Girls and opera, talented professionals across many creative fields have generously opened their homes, studios, museums, and performance venues to entertain us. Children’s authors Jarrett Krosoczka and Mo Willems hold daily writing and drawing classes for children. Olaf from the movie Frozen is reading bedtime stories to children. Yoga and crossfit studios have gone digital. You can tour numerous museums, go to the zoo, or visit a national park. And of course there is @John Krasinski from the Office totally stealing my idea and creating the Some Good News (@somegoodnews) news program that ONLY FEATURES GOOD NEWS. What a novel idea. And of course he is hilarious and just slightly more famous than me so I support his effort.

Is experiencing these cultural places virtually the same as seeing it, being there, experiencing it for real? No, of course not. But, does it break through isolation and provide access to worlds previously held at a distance, places that many would never have been able to experience at all? Well, yes, it does. And, boy, does it ever gives us all something to dream about, not to mention something to do!

I dream of one day going to every single place I profile during this virtual journey and hugging ALL the people, everywhere. Dreams help enormously right now. A little escapism never hurt anyone, right? Generous people giving of their talents to keep us all entertained at this time help tremendously. And, I want to note that I find this sudden turn toward the stalwarts of civilization – books, art, music, culture- fascinating. In the U.S. the arts often don’t get their fair shake. They are considered superfluous and perpetually underfunded. And, yet, when the shit hits the fan, look what anchors us all.

I’ll leave you with this. Truly, what the world needs now is love. And hope.

OH! And I forgot to recommend some good books for this part of the tour. Well, one of my favorites is Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose. A truly gorgeous book about pioneering in the American West. Or how about The Overstory by Richard Powers? Or The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah? Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance could also be interesting during this time to frame the political conundrum, to put it gently, the U.S. finds itself in. Those should keep you busy for a while.

Until next time.

Stay home, stay well.

You will be alright. WE will be alright.

Prayers to all of us during this season of Passover and Easter. Hopefully the tempest will pass over soon and we will all be finding re-birth and renewal in its wake.

Mais, oui! Paris is always a good idea

Whoops. A little trigger happy! I guess I needed to go to Paris sooner than planned :-)!

Even now, the City of Light beckons. The fruit grocer still mans his post, providing fresh produce to shoppers who leave their flats for essentials. Walks/outside time is limited to 30 minutes per day. Police fine those who flout these restrictions.

But the resolve, vivid color, and poetry of French life continues even in this adjusted, more limited world.

Here is an information sign from Paris: “I stay home, you stay home, he stays home, she stays home, and life will become beautiful again!”

France sign

In the evenings, neighbors across Paris open their windows and wave to each other. Everyone is craving connection and a reprieve from this feeling isolation (new phraseology to temper that sense of overwhelm from isolation is “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing,” but let’s be honest, call it what you will I’ve barely left my house in 3 weeks and I know it). Still, it helps to try to focus on the notion of remaining social while distant.

The other night my family sat around the dinner table and shared our rose (positive), thorn (negative), and bud (what we are looking forward to) for the day. We all said we were looking forward to when this quarantine period ends and the tsunami passes over. But I want to rephrase that so it’s more in the moment when we do that exercise again and ask instead, “what about this quarantine period will you miss when it’s over?”

What are you craving when you return to “normal”? What will you miss about these slow, quiet quarantine days?

France reads: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is a very sweet trip down the Seine surrounded by books and a main character, Monsieur Perdu with a penchant for prescribing books for the hardships of life to mend hearts and souls. What do you think Monsieur Perdu would prescribe for today? Perdu means lost in French. Anyone else feeling a little perdu these days?

And a delicious French-ish movie is Chocolat (just the way it’s said makes my mouth water. Plus, I mean, chocolate is really one of the saving graces of these times.)

Merde!
This just seemed like a timely message