I Dream of Sweet Caress from You

One of the stranger aspects of the COVID life is the lack of connection and, especially, hugs. We have stopped shaking hands and hugging because we are all afraid of catching or giving this disease to each other. It seems we are missing something larger than just a hug.

AF Archive/AP Stock Photo

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a paleoanthropologist and moving to Africa to study the origins of humans. I read books by and about Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas. I loved the stories of the gorillas the most.

COVID, as of today, has killed 246,000 Americans and 1.32 million people worldwide. When I started writing about it back in March, that number was this boogey-man number that was thrown about by experts as our worst-case scenario. Now it seems like an undercount, or a lowball prediction.

Today I felt sad, it must be the time of the year, or perhaps just the lingering effects of the anger I felt the other night. I felt so lonely and so sad, and as if I am missing out on something living in the country and not the city. I miss my friends in Austin, but I miss them in the sense that I feel our lives may be shifting ever further apart, not just because of geography, but something else.

COVID is grating on all of our nerves. Raw, lonely, sad, disappointed, exhausted: everything feels worse than it normally would right now. I won’t share with you the various horror stories from around the country: suffice it to say, we are in dire straits. Our government seems to be in trouble and at the whim of a despotic man with the emotional age of a 7th grade boy in a fight, and the man coming in is quite wonderful but holy hell is he inheriting a mess.

I was thinking about the 90s yesterday as I was touring Lamar University: they were a totally different world. No smartphones, no white supremacist proto-fascist movement maybe trying to take the government and cast doubt on our elections systems, no global pandemic hitting us worse than any other country. It sure makes you wonder. What else will happen?

I miss hugs, and students, and sounds in the halls. I miss feeling connected to many of my friends. I miss my husband and myself not being so crabby sometimes. I miss a lot of things. I wonder how many we will gain back?

DATE: 15 November 2020

#Cases of COVID in the US = 11.1 million

#Deaths by COVID in the US = 246,000

Death Rate in US = 2.22%

#Cases of COVID Worldwide = 54.3 million

#Deaths by COVID Worldwide = 1.32 million

Death Rate Worldwide = 2.43%

All the Boats in the Harbor

I grew up in the summers on a large island off the coast of Maine. If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you well know this. I grew up on Mount Desert Island, and lived there until about 5 years ago, when I returned to Austin, Texas.

Mount Desert Island (MDI) is a tourism community that attracts 2 million people in a normal summer; our year-round population is a smidge less than 10,000. There are many funny comments from tourists that islanders have to endure, and lately, one has been sticking in my memory.

I can see Bar Harbor in the summer clearly in my mind’s eye. There are pleasure boats, whale boats, lobster boats, and dinghies moored there, bobbing up and down in the water, as the currents and the winds shift. Bar Harbor is an open harbor so really is only used in the summer, due to its lack of protection from winter storms. Tourists often look out into that harbor and see all the boats on their moorings, with the mainland beyond, and ask: “how do they get all the boats to face the same direction?”

Whenever this particular question is uttered, we laugh, albeit inwardly. Of course, it is the water currents, not the mooring, that determine how the boats set in the water.

COVID has now been raging for months: it feels like forever. I remember I said I was going to write here every day, and that never materialized. I have now decided to be more patient and gentle with myself, and write whenever I feel that I can. There are all sorts of below-the-surface water currents at work, causing us all to drift on this invisible tide.

Right now, schools are supposed to open as normal, and there is no plan for teacher or staff protection. The President wants the whole country to re-open, and periodically shrieks about the stock market and the NASDAQ, as if that means anything to 15 million unemployed people. The Texas governor issued a mask order last week, in the midst of a fury of anti-mask propaganda. I canceled my Facebook account yesterday: well, I put it on a 7 day hiatus, but after reading articles like this one, I am fairly certain I am on the path to permanently deleting it next week. I was in a meeting last week and described the feeling of being in the Upside Down, if the Upside Down was made of molasses; it is as if we are in a crazy parallel reality where truth is not valued, science has been relegated to the side lines, and time seems to move very strangely.

I don’t know what else to say except that times feel dark, and strange, and scary, and it is very hot (at least we have air conditioning!). I have been sewing almost obsessively, and watercoloring scenes from my life for a new quilt. I will share some of those when I have a few more ready. Some memories are good, some poignant, some sad; very much like the life they reflect.

I have been emailing with an old boyfriend from 20 years ago, and I think we have been comfort for each other in these strange days. Cody and I seem to not be a consistent comfort to each other, but I read an article about that, too. I feel very grateful for my friends at this time, for my dog Oscar, for my family in England who I can FaceTime with, and for the myriad stories I can engage with on television and in books. I spend a lot of time in contemplation and reflection, thinking about all the stages of my life, and of other’s lives, and how many, definite chapters we all experience. Life marches on despite our existence in the vacuum of COVID-19.

In some ways, this time reminds me of working in the studio in Northeast Harbor very late at night in the winters, when it was so dark outside that I couldn’t see anything beyond a few feet out of the front window, where the lights shone. I remember the blackness of the branches of the trees, the sound of the winter wind, the deep glow of electric light in a sea of winter black. None of us can see where this goes or when it ends, although many of us would like to know.

Despite the looks of the boats in harbors worldwide, there is no one undercurrent pulling us in one direction or another. There is, unfortunately, tension and mis-management, megalomania, fear, the unknown, wishes, rebellion, new ideas, anger, and a bit of hope. I just bought some very bright fabric to make quilts for the many babies that I know are on their way into this crazy world.

Back to sewing. With love, P

Date: 8 July 2020

Worldwide Cases: 12,009,301

Worldwide Deaths: 548,822

Worldwide Mortality Rate: 4.57%

United States Cases: 3,110,000

United States Deaths: 134,000

United States Mortality Rate: 4.30%

Gardening – A Personal History

When I was a little girl, my mom and her best friend (our neighbor, Shari,) would send all the kids outside on summer days to thin the carrots. We were taught at a very young age how to thin carrots, and lettuce, and basil plants. We would sit for what felt like forever, but which most likely was about 15 minutes. I remember looking down at rows of tiny, fernlike plants in perfect lines in the dirt, figuring out which ones to pluck, and which ones to leave alone. 

 

During those same years, we would be wicked children and steal Shari’s lavender flowers and run up into the woods to our fort, which we had built out of scrap wood and plastic sheeting. We covered it with pine boughs for camouflage, and built a lookout up in a tree. Erica and I decided that it smelled terrible, due to the combination of Maine rain and the plastic sheeting, and we would make air freshener by smashing the lavender flowers in an old saucer on the floor of the fort. I remember desperately wanting to live up there, thinking it was a place in which all four of us could finally be free, but never having the guts to do so. 

 

When we were kids, in Maine, in the summer, the only time of the year when it is warm-ish in Maine, we were sent out of the house after breakfast and asked to only come back for dinner. We were not allowed to come into the house during the day, as the moms were busy making bread and jam and, probably, watching some television. In those days, we climbed trees, made canoes and kayaks into playgrounds, and took said canoes and kayaks out into the ocean, always wearing life jackets and staying close to shore, because even we knew that the ocean, given a chance, will kill you with its cold temperatures and hidden currents. We knew that each year people died in the ocean for failing to understand its power. If you respected the ocean, however, and stayed close to shore, you could scoot along the ironstone rocks over to the MDI Biological Laboratory and open up the fish cages on the docks, gazing down at the tiny sharks and horseshoe crabs, sea urchins and hundreds of starfish. We would gaze down at these creatures for as long as we could until we were spotted and chased back into the canoe by wary, and kid-weary, graduate students. 

 

These stories, I hope, provide the background for why, even as I now live in Texas, that I interact with and build my garden each and every day. I started gardening in the early 2000s when I worked at Whole Foods and would bring home dying plants from the 5 cent shelf. I lived in an old house in the French Place neighborhood, just east of Hyde Park, that had a beautiful front yard just perfect for a first garden. I remember the neighborhood cats would always mess with my plants, and at the time, I did not yet understand the interesting role of a housecat in the garden. (Hint: they think you made it for them). My first real garden was in the Hudson Valley of New York in 2006, when I somehow ended up living in Croton-on-Hudson and spent a few days before I had a job digging out a 30-by-10 foot space in the sun at the top of a hill for a garden. I remember digging and scraping, gazing down at the Croton River, with the Hudson River beyond, and a giant tree at the river’s edge in which lived baby eagles. It was glorious. The rest of the property was consumed by Kudzu, which, if you have never seen, you should Google. There were two rose bushes, which I hacked down to nubs in early March, and then thought I had killed, only to watch them leap into action come April; they exploded with blossoms. In the garden, I planted all the basics and watched my first corn crop grow sky-high, trapping a family of woodchucks one at a time, and releasing them in the park across the river. 

 

Today, my garden is bigger than ever. My husband and I bought a 5-acre parcel with an old house on it about 3 years ago, and we steadily carve it, sculpt it, hack away at it with each passing week. When we bought the place, the house was shrouded on three sides by overgrown hackberry and yaupon trees, and you couldn’t even see the giant brick barns. Most of the property was also overgrown with hackberry, but now, there are trails through 1.5 acres of it. We discovered a giant, old, rambling post oak that was buttressed to the point of being choked by hackberry and mesquite. We chopped those down, cleared the site, and got married underneath it. This year, it roared back into beauteous growth and is covered with healthy, green leaves. 

 

What is the magic of gardening? Is it the soil itself, the rhythm and ritual of planting seeds and transplanting plants from one pot to another? Is it the mystery of spring when plants, hidden for months, peep out of the ground and then, seemingly in an instant, are three feet high and rising toward to ever stronger sun? Is it planting tomato plants and then noticing the baby, green tomatoes hanging on to every stem? Is it the sound of the wind, and the songs of birds, and the whisper of shifting branches? Is it wild thunderstorms that shake the house but don’t rattle the tiniest of seedlings, somehow holding on to their spot of the good earth? It is all these things, and more. It is planting wildflower seeds, afraid that none will sprout because they are notoriously finicky, and then having 5 appear! It is the first return of hummingbirds and listening to them fight over the feeder, and watching their ruby-throated gem-quality magic feeding on the geraniums by the kitchen window. It is the butterflies feeding on sap, and your puppy chasing them on the wind. It is the orchard, once dormant and cold, unfurling with green leaves, and the trees growing taller each day. 

 

I say to myself each year that I must spend 20 minutes a day in the garden, and I usually make that happen. Sometimes I plant, sometimes I weed, and sometimes I just wander. On especially lovely days, I just listen to the birds and the bees and the trees. So many trees. When I was a little girl in Maine, we used to listen to the locust trees along the driveway creak in the wind, and were always afraid they would crash down! And they never did; they bent, but never broke, not yet, anyway. 

 

There are so many lessons in gardening and being out of doors. Those lessons are patience and calm, tolerance, beauty, an appreciation of color, and soft sounds. Nothing beats the sound of wind running through grasses that are waist-high, or the feeling of the sun on your shoulders or face on a summer day, or the cool crisp chill on your shins in the mornings of spring. I check my bees each morning, taking them food, and telling them of the weather. Sometimes, on those mornings, it is yet still cool, crisp, almost cold as the dew touches my feet. 
If I could recommend gardening, and I do, to everyone, I would say remember the first line of “Desiderata” – “GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence”. All the answers are there; in this world of ours, when we all are able to move so fast, it is a wonderful thing to do something intentionally that is so slow, so colorful, so practical, so beautiful, so calming. I hope you have a wonderful day in your garden.

 

Date: 28 April 2020

Cases: 3,116,398

United States: 1,012,582

Deaths: 217,153

Mortality Rate: 6.968%

United States Mortality Rate: 5.888%

An Aside

I woke up late today; it is raining, and I always oversleep on rainy days.

I went outside to take the puppy out and check on the bees. I gathered their sugar syrup feeder jars and chatted with them, noticing that they were irritated this morning and kept flying at my head, buzzing away. I assume they were annoyed with me sleeping in and annoyed that today will be cold and rainy, again.

I walked back to the house and noticed that some of the sunflowers are about to bloom. I noticed a mockingbird scraping her bill on an old piece of oak from the post oak that we took down last year. I heard birds sing and watched them balance on the power lines. The wind lightly blew, and it was cool, but not cold.

I smiled, realizing that if there wasn’t a global pandemic that threatens not only health, but economy and democracy, this morning would be have been purely gorgeous. And it is, of course, actually that.

I wish there was more information, anecdotal or otherwise, from the Spanish Flu Pandemic. I would like to read peoples’ stories and learn how the process developed, what turns the pandemic took, how people responded, and then how it ended. Perhaps I should go to the library…oh, wait.

I was really down yesterday: worried about everything. I was sad and angry and wistful and full of grief, all at the same time. It lifted sometime in the evening when I started sewing, so that is a lesson in an of itself.

This morning, this perfect morning, I will make some toast and get back to it. I am sitting at my table looking at my favorite Mola that I brought back from my zany trip to Panama 5 years ago, I am drinking tea, I am listening to the neighbor’s rooster crow from his little cell. The puppy is sniffing and snuffling around. Cody is sleeping. I can see the roses through the front windows, and the blooms of the Jerusalem Sage as well, and beyond that, the neighbor’s giant red barn.

There is peace in these moments; in this time, many gifts.

Date: 18 April 2020

Cases: 2,273,986

United States: 706,832

Deaths: 156,076

Mortality Rate: 6.683%

 

 

 

It feels like waiting while revolving in circles – like a strange carousel.

Tomorrow, the Governor of Texas is slated to give a speech, about what we don’t know.

Today, the superintendent announced that we won’t go back to school this year. This makes me feel sad, but I understand, I think, that it is temporary.

This is such a strange time, during which it seems that no one knows anything and people are dying right and left. Some people want the economy to get back in its groove but everyone is afraid. It seems like everyone in charge is flailing, and, in the meantime, all of us just wait.

I spent today calling students and gardening, playing with my puppy, and wondering about the world at large. I tried to decide if I should cancel my flights for the summer, or hold out hope that it may all turn out ok. I learned from American Airlines that I can cancel up to the day before and rebook anytime before December 2021. December 2021? What will happen by then?

Today’s Guide to Opening Up America Again *

*I never want to hear the word “again” used in a political slogan ever *again*.

22 million people have applied for unemployment 

 

Date: 16 April 2020

Cases: 2,158,033

United States: 671,151

Deaths: 144,211

Mortality Rate: 6.682%

All the Feelings

Tonight, I miss my students. I miss them so much, and in tandem with that feeling, I feel fear. My fear is rooted in the worry that we have lost something fundamental, not in schools, but in our society. I am afraid that the “normal” course of things is now fundamentally altered. I just finished watching “Friday Night Lights” for the 5th or 6th time, and all of the things that I saw for those kids in the last two episodes of the show may not come true for our kids, simply because our economy as we knew it was a lie it seems, or at least, it was true only for a few.

I spent this morning talking to my friend Von about all of it, and I think we have a pretty solid plan to see how things go over the next year, and then maybe all (the friend group) try to leave the United States for greener, perhaps Italian, pastures. Everything seem so confusing and as if a giant rug was yanked out from underneath all of us at the same time. 16 million people have lost their jobs? And yet, I sit on a couch with a puppy watching  “Apollo 13” because it was just the 50th anniversary the other day. Maybe it was yesterday?

Anyway – there are good things happening. There are the birds and the bees and new variegated geraniums and the fact that our house now has a/c and heat for the first time since we bought it. Our friends and family are fine. We are getting along great, although there are stories of the opposite being true. I suspect if you didn’t get along before the pandemic, you sure as hell aren’t getting along now.

This is non-sequitor, but important. Today I received an application for Early College High School from a student who was rather well known for being a scamp earlier in the year. Then, he went to Mexico for three weeks, returned and was transferred into my class. The kid and I just got along really, really well and he turned himself around and started to take his schoolwork seriously. He passed one half of his college entrance exams. I called him a couple of times over this strange break of ours and asked him to apply to ECHS. He said he would think about it, and I gave him til last Thursday to tell me either way, no pressure. He called me back and told me he wanted to do it, and then I dropped off applications at his brother’s house (no contact on the porch!). Late this afternoon, I received 5 photos via text, which were his full-page essays that he wrote explaining his goals, his challenges, and his three best qualities. The school counselor, who received his application, wrote me to say “wow”. This one incident let me know that maybe I did something good this year, despite how strangely it has (almost) ended.

I worry about our future and our kids, even though I know I have no control over this. People say this a lot: we have no control over x or y or z, but that doesn’t change the feelings. I was listening to a podcast today and the host said that she felt we should stop saying “how are you?” because no one has a good answer, and we should come up with something else. I wish someone would come up with something else to say to me instead of “you can’t control x, y or z”, or perhaps I should learn non-attachment. Perhaps both.

Tonight, it is late and I am so tired and just hope to sleep tonight. I am having so much trouble sleeping, and so many others are, too. But, suffice it to say, I did not realize how much love I had for my students, and for the “normal” way of life until a few weeks ago. This too shall pass, but into what?

Date: 16 April 2020

Cases: 2,064,815

United States: 639,628

Deaths: 137,020

Mortality Rate: 6.64%

 

 

 

 

It’s Been a Few Days

It has been a few days. I haven’t known what to say, but by now I just think I am shirking a responsibility so I will try my best.

By tomorrow there will be 2 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide. The United States is still beating everyone in our number of cases, and now, our number of deaths. Our federal government continues to fail miserably at anything resembling leadership. New York City seems like a death trap, but the governor of New York actually knows how to lead, so that is something. It seems that the resolution of this crisis will only come from the states, but primarily, the individuals that experience it. It seems that the world is lacking leadership: there is no one who has stepped in. I hear that the women presidents of the world are doing a wonderful job, but we hear nothing of them here.

I suppose I feel cynical today. I feel cynical about the United States and where it is going, and where it is. After all, I only became a citizen a few years ago, in 2015. It has been 4 years. I am considering renouncing my citizenship to this country that now seems patently absurd and abjectly cruel to its people. How can a president almost mock his own peoples’ suffering, disregard it, and only care about the levels of money that he and his friends can earn? It is despicable, it is deplorable. It is the lowest point yet of a low-road presidency. I have been hesitant to write my inner desire to renounce my US citizenship out of fear that someone will read this and take me to task, but now, I think it is all right to be honest.

Where do we go from here? What happens to the world? Will it all just go screaming forward into “normal”? 4 million garment workers lost their jobs in Asia, and none of them get stimulus money from their governments, although I can guarantee you in 2 years, they will be back, forced into factory work so that folks in the United States can buy t-shirts for $5. Or maybe not. Maybe the Coronavirus COVID19 is so powerful that it really will stop us in our tracks. What does that mean? What would we all do? I think we all are so anxious at this moment that it is impossible to think clearly. We are all on edge and just trying to distract our minds from those moments of terror and concern.

I miss hugging my friends and having dinner parties with them. I just baked a new cake, a parsnip cake, from the Lost Kitchen cookbook and it smells divine. I can’t wait to make if for them. I am waiting to receive a new book, written by a namesake, and I am very much looking forward to devouring its pages and begin crafting my own minor masterpiece. It sits in a box to my right, begging me to dive in.

What will we all do? It is impossible to know. All I know is that today and each day are very tiring in their complexity and their lack of clear information and facts. Perhaps it is by design? Perhaps it is a pandemic.

Date: 14 April 2020

Cases: 1,920,985

United States: 582,580

Deaths (Worldwide): 119,686

Mortality Rate (Worldwide): 6.23%

Mother Superior Jumped the Gun

Today was better; the sun came out and there seemed to be hope about. I worried all evening last night about losing our jobs and losing our home that we love so much. I worried about friends and loved ones, students and their parents.

I have no control over any of this: I have to remember that. Today we rehomed some bees that had swarmed in an old hackberry tree. We put them in a new box and watched them get busy in their new abode. They plainly stated that they don’t care a whit about the coronavirus.

But all of us humans, do. I had to go to Tractor Supply to get a bee feeder and no one, including cashiers, was wearing a mask. No surprises there. After, at HEB, almost half the customers were wearing masks and I felt better for the cashiers than I had felt in days.

Tomorrow I am tempted to make masks with funny lips on them: smiles, grins, glares, etc. What else is there to do? It seems so odd we will be doing this for at least another month.

Date: 5 April 2020

Cases: 1,273,990

United States: 337,310

Deaths: 69,444

Mortality Rate: 5.450%

Friday Reflection

View at Medium.com

The map is scary and sad, and yet, there are still lots of people who won’t take the virus seriously. No one seems to be talking about the overall mortality rate: all people talk about is social distancing and whether or not to wear a mask.

Today we went on a car parade all around Elgin to see our families and it was great. I have been so sad these last two days, and I couldn’t really tell you why. I realized, last night, that I miss the morning times of school: advisory time, when the kids come in and out to visit and hang out. I miss the bliss of ending 4th period and knowing I have 5th period and lunch off together, and the joy that is 6th period. 6th period was my worst class at one point, but they turned into my best through multiple exercises in vulnerability and that ultimate in teacher skills: parenting. They learned at some point, and then knew, had internalized, that I really really cared about them, and then, all 29 of them, magically, through a force of their own, decided, like a hive of wily honeybees, to behave as a whole. And after them came my bouncy 7th period computer science kids: 30 of the smartest, magic-jumping-beaniest kids in the school who came up with wonderful and realistic apps to address the impacts of the Coronavirus way back before the government even thought of this disease as a concern. Then my 8th period, my smallest class, my island of misfit toys with whom I get to round out each day: each day asking me question after ridiculous question and being mean to me just to be 8th graders. I miss them all so much it is crazy.

Being away from my students has made me think of all the students of years passed. Some are teachers now, some are married, some have kids, some are riding their own melt, and some have disappeared from my frame of vision. One of them sent me a photo of her sewing table last night because she saw I was sewing on my Instagram Stories.

We are shut down, our economy is cratering, so many people are unemployed it is unfathomable to me. Our schools are closed, and everything is weird. It all happened so fast.  I hope our new normal, after this has passed, is more reflective of our individual humanity and our scope for being people with each other. I hope we appreciate nature more. I worry that it will get a lot worse before it gets better. Heavy heart today: I hope tomorrow is better.

Date: 03 April 2020

Cases: 1,099,389

United States: 277,953

Deaths: 58,901

Mortality Rate: 5.358%

===========================================================================

Here are some articles about how to interpret the models that have been discussed over the last few days –

 

  1. https://medium.com/@wpegden/a-call-to-honesty-in-pandemic-modeling-5c156686a64b

2. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/04/01/824744490/5-key-facts-the-white-house-isnt-saying-about-their-covid-19-projections?fbclid=IwAR3wx7NSOwqJ-aFswK2SafUGLvRiUhCwF_H8L7XghgMnGqjti3dZDuUH9Pg

3. https://covid19.healthdata.org/?fbclid=IwAR089L2Ipds3BzCR-jC-obV0hzHgSci2lEywQFOfKDwBE3zVkDIK0QPZvKc

 

 

Tomorrow, A Million

This is just a quickie as it is very late and I am very tired. I am not sure where the day went, but went it went. I think that tomorrow the world will cross the 1,000,000 infection mark. That feels crazy as I remember noting, with my students, when there were 1000 cases, in China, back in January, I think. This is hard to believe.

There are still many people who don’t take this seriously: most of the state of Texas seems to not take it seriously. I wonder who is right? I miss my students and have a strange sense of time right now. I miss my students and wonder if they miss me. I miss my students and miss my structured days a it, even though my ability to walk my dog once a day and spend time in my garden and sew the quilt squares for the Lockdown Patchwork Project makes me happy.

Nicole’s uncle died of COVID-19 and I worry he is just the first person of many who I will be acquainted with. 240,000 people will die, they say, if we do everything right. Texas? Any ideas about that one?

Tomorrow is another day. I wish on the stars each night that it is only the smaller number and that we figure out this crazy virus soon.

Good night.

Date: 01 April 2020

Cases: 937,567

Deaths: 47,235

Mortality Rate: 5.038%