hoping, expecting, waiting

I sometimes say that I can tell that I’m an optimist because I’m so often disappointed.

Back in mid March, our governor announced that all schools in Massachusetts would be closed for three weeks. Our district had already announced a closure for two weeks, and the additional week seemed prudent. Massachusetts was just starting to see a steep rise in Covid cases. A couple of weeks later, the governor announced that the statewide school closures were being extended to May 4th. Again, this seemed wise.

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As the weeks went by, statewide cases and deaths continued to rise alarmingly. It was clear that Massachusetts was being hit hard, climbing up to number 3 for confirmed cases in the US, and third also in terms of cases by population density. It seemed unlikely that schools would be reopening in May. With many states already having announced school closures for the rest of the year, I didn’t really expect that our schools would reopen. My head knew that things looked bad. The writing was on the wall, and my head could read it just fine.

And yet it turned out that there was, apparently, still a teeny, tiny barely perceptible fiber of hope embedded in my heart, as it were. Some part of me thought that maybe, just maybe, the kids could return to school by June for the last few weeks. Maybe they could have a brief reunion with friends and teachers. Maybe my eighth grade daughter could have at least some modified fragment of the send off from middle school before leaving for high school.

I really only realized that this hope had been there when it was announced, two weeks ago, that schools would not be reopening this school year.

I expected it. I really did. I just hoped for something different.

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It got me thinking, as I’ve done before, about the distinction between hope and expect. In Portuguese, the same verb, esperar, can mean either to hope or to expect. The two concepts share a root, grounded in thoughts of the future. And yet one branches out to mean what our head believes will happen, and the other what our heart wants to happen.

Interestingly, esperar also means to wait. And now the days pass into weeks into months, and we must wait to know what to expect. We wait for testing to become more widely available. We wait for a vaccine to be discovered.  We wait, expectantly, hopefully, for signs that we have turned the corner.

Espero. I hope. Espero. I expect. Espero. I wait.

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I’m including photos of early spring leaf buds from my recent walks. I find buds to be so hopeful, with their potential bundled up and gradually unfurling. 

grieving the big, small and in between

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My family has been fortunate so far in these stressful times. We have a comfortable home and abundant amenities, and live in a place where we can enjoy being outside. We are able to both stay home and keep working at our jobs, and the kids have access to at least some version of schooling. We are healthy and safe. I am grateful every day for our good fortune.

But there has still been loss, of things big and small.

Today was to have been a day for celebrating the life of my aunt, one of my late father’s siblings, who passed away in early March. My family in the midwest had barely scheduled the memorial when it was postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. My aunt was in her 90s, and her life was full and long. But I still grieve her loss, and the loss of the connection with my father’s family.

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Life being complicated, today would also have been an important chorus concert for my daughter, one that she had auditioned for in early February. Of course, I could not have attended both the concert and the memorial for my aunt. I barely had time to agonize over this before the complications compounded, and effectively made my own decisions easier.

These are only two of the disrupted plans in my life and household. March and April had plenty more. Many I let go with a shrug. A few I was happy to relinquish. A few others, though, have taken a lot more processing. (And maybe a bit of packing them up to process later.)

I chose these photos to go with this post because I’m not sure I want to post photos of my aunt at this time. But looking back at the handful of photos I have of her from decades past, I noted that she was wearing yellow in two of them taken over 10 years apart. So the daffodils are for her. The daffodils have also been cheering me, and encouraging me with their resilience in the temperamental New England spring weather. The bounced back remarkably well after a snow storm.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday was the first day of May. Somehow April both flew by and felt interminable. As usual, I struggle to find time to do all the things I’ve committed to doing, and haven’t carved out much time for the creative projects I’ve wanted to do. The days go by in a blur of meetings and cooking and work projects and reading the news and talking with family and friends.

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I still take photos many days, in particular when I’m out walking the dog. This afternoon after most of a day of rain, (and a bunch of meetings) the sun came out. I went outside to see if there was a rainbow. There was only a very faint rainbow above, but the yard was full of color and light. The late afternoon sun lit up the flowers and new leaves, and water drops sparkled everywhere.

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I took a few photos with my phone, but then decided to go inside to get my real camera. (It can be hard to get the iPhone to focus on a tiny drop of water or leaf.)

Somehow this feels like a good way to start the month. A bit of sharp focus in a blur of days.

 

 

adjusting to the new normal

It’s strange to realize that it was less than 2 weeks ago that the fallout from the Covid-19 really hit my state. I’d been watching it like storm clouds in the distance, but the storm was already here before we saw it.

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Clouds over a parking lot a little over 2 weeks ago, when I was still casually running errands.
Yesterday, our governor announced that Massachusetts schools would not resume until at least early May, an extension of several weeks from the first statewide pronouncement. Many people (including me) are expecting that school likely won’t be back in session (at least physically) for the rest of the school year. Our school district, like many others, is working out a new system of remote learning. Both kids have been having assignments, and occasional virtual meetings with their teachers.
The kids and I started having our music lessons remotely this week. Both kids and I take violin lessons, both kids take piano lessons, and Phoebe started learning the guitar in the fall. I’m glad that our teachers are able to keep up their work.
These days I have even more (remote) meetings than ever, as I’m involved with multiple research and teaching projects. Plus I’ve started some volunteer work with a project to encourage green energy in my community. I’m busy with various commitments to each of the projects between meetings. I’ve been getting a bit more work done this week than last, but I continue to be distracted by the news. (I know I’m not alone.) Sometimes it feels odd to be pushing forward with projects when so much is uncertain about the coming months, but at the same time, it’s good to feel like work goes on.
I spend time talking with friends and family members every day, by phone, zoom or FaceTime. I’m having trouble finding time to check in with all the people I care about. (I owe responses to several texts, emails and at least one voice mail.)
I’m still walking the dog every day, and I’m grateful for the motivation to get up and get dressed early every morning. Plus I get to see the neighborhood. The dog is a bit uncertain about having the whole family home all day every day. His previous routine of napping on the couch for 5 hours after the walk is often disrupted by others using the couch. He’s a dog who shows his love through enthusiastic greetings, but he also likes to have his space. He’s definitely not a snuggler.
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The dog in one of his alternate lairs when his favorite spot on the couch is occupied.
I drove for the first time yesterday in almost two weeks, to pick up a share of produce I got through at CSA. (Someone I know arranged for  a farm to deliver shares to her home in a neighboring town. We were able to get fresh produce and avoid being in a store, or within 6 feet of any other people.) I asked the kids if they wanted to come with me, even though they’d stay in the car. They both joined me, and it felt like a fun excursion. It’s so odd to think that my previous life involved me driving almost every day.
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Carrots from the CSA farm share. Purple on the outside,  and surprisingly yellow/orange on the inside.
I have so many ideas for posts as well as creative projects I want to do, but the hours seem to evaporate most days. So instead of getting creative here, I’m just documenting. Because I know that this new normal is likely to change again.
And speaking of normal, my temperature has managed to stay basically normal the last couple of days. The low-grade fever went on so long that I was having doubts that the thermometer was working.
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View from an afternoon walk.

sobering times

There’s no doubt about it, these days are stressful. People the world over are dealing with new stresses, big stresses, and unprecedented stresses. But they are also still dealing with old stresses, minor stresses, and daily ongoing stresses. The emergence of a big global crisis didn’t make the other problems go away. Indeed, in many ways it has magnified them.

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I have been very, very careful the last couple of weeks to take care of my health. Whether or not I have the dreaded covid-19 or just some other unusual virus, this is not a good time to be sick*. So I have been working my hardest to do everything I can think of to keep myself from getting sicker. I’ve made an effort to eat fresh produce and other healthy foods, and limit my sugar intake. I’ve made sure to do a moderate amount of physical activity every day, without pushing myself too hard. I’ve kept myself well-hydrated, mixing up and chugging an electrolyte drink at least a couple of times a day. I have limited my caffeine intake. I have made sure to be well-rested. And I have not allowed myself to have any alcohol.

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I’m not a regular drinker. I am an occasional social drinker. (Some years or months have more such occasions than others.) I am such a lightweight, I never have more than one drink. But every once in a while, such as after a particularly stressful week, I have allowed myself to unwind at home with a beer or a glass of wine.

In these stressful past couple of weeks, watching the news unfold in increasingly alarming ways, I have thought it would be nice to just sit back with a bit of wine to decompress. But I have resisted. And in that resistance, I have felt for those who are also choosing not to drink for their own personal reasons.

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I know that there are many people out there who are in recovery, and for whom this must be an exceedingly difficult time. If this applies to you, I see you. I wish you continued courage and strength. I raise my water glass to you!

For everyone out there, please take special care of your physical health, but also your mental health. Be kind to yourself.

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*By the way, my low-grade fever, fatigue and chills are almost completely gone now, and I’m coughing only occasionally. I felt more like myself today.**
**Also, even though this is apparently a serious post, I still apparently can’t resist the urge to use a pun. This is part of feeling like myself. My self likes puns.

chilling at home

My life has been a blur the last few days. Busy and surreal. Plus my head has been a little foggy.

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I came down with a low-grade fever Thursday night, and a mild cough, and the almost-but-not-quite-fever has continued to linger. I can’t know whether my symptoms are a mild version of the dreaded coronavirus or something else, because I don’t meet the criteria for testing in this area. (My symptoms aren’t severe, I didn’t recently travel internationally, and I don’t know of a direct contact with someone with the virus. Never mind the fact that in the week preceding the start of my symptoms, I’d ridden public transportation in Boston, where lots of cases have been emerging following the Biogen conference, and that I’d attended two large events with over a hundred people each.)

In any case, we have been taking the social distancing seriously. We kept both kids home on Friday, and were relieved when the district closed schools for the upcoming two weeks. (And further relieved when the governor closed all Massachusetts public schools for 3 weeks.)

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Because I primarily work from home, my own daytime schedule hasn’t dramatically changed with the new guidelines. Except that there are more people around. But that’s only part of why I’ve had trouble focusing on work. (I know I’m not alone.) I can’t look away from what’s going on in other parts of the world, and I can’t stop thinking about what we are likely to be faced with in this country in the coming weeks and months. It feels like I am watching a slow motion train wreck that’s about to happen, knowing that I can’t stop it.

But I know that at least my family and I are doing our small part to keep others safe. We are staying away from people. I have only left the house to walk the dog, or to go into the woods behind our house with the kids, and we have steered clear of other people. I walked the dog early yesterday, because it’s easier to avoid the neighbors and their dogs. And we got to enjoy this last bit of winter snow before it melted.

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John has ventured out a little further. First, to deliver some medications to his mother’s assisted living before they locked down the building to outside visitors, and for some shopping. (One trip was to try to get me Tylenol, since it turns out we don’t have any, aside from a small expired bottle of chewable children’s Tylenol. But sadly, CVS didn’t have any either.) Other than the Tylenol, we’ve been in pretty good shape for supplies.

I had considered driving the kids somewhere to hike on a nearby trail, but I realized I shouldn’t drive until my fever is cleared. Even though it mostly hovers under 100 degrees, I’ve noticed that my judgement and reactions are a bit impaired when the temperature goes up. My temperature is trending back downward, and yesterday and today I’ve even been back down to normal from time-to-time. (And then back up again, but not usually as high.) The cough is improving, so that’s good. Mostly I just feel some chills tonight.

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So far, we are mostly enjoying being at home together. The kids have had some school assignments, and done some independent projects. John and I have still had our various work commitments and remote meetings. But we’ve been enjoying having more time in the evenings due to the suddenly changed schedules. John’s not going to his mom’s every night, and we’re not driving the kids to various activities.

I’m hoping to be able to do some art or craft projects in the coming three weeks. And we have tons of puzzles and games I’d love to do, not to mention lots of books I want to read. But somehow, I’m mostly neither doing a lot of the fun things, nor getting the work done that I’ve committed to doing. I’m trying to go easy on myself, though, because even though I feel pretty good most of the time, I am definitely under the weather much of the time, too.

And there’s the whole experience of getting through this uncharted territory. I’ve spend way too much time reading on FB, and reading news articles. But I’ve also been focusing on spending quality time with the kids every day, making sure we are all eating some healthy food, and checking in with friends and family. (I still have many more friends and family members to check in on.)

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I didn’t think I was going to write all that, but there it is. Those were a *lot* of words. Now I should be either going to bed or looking at some data for a meeting I have in the morning. (Probably going to go to bed.)

(These are some photos I took yesterday morning, when we had a quick reminder that it’s still technically winter.)

 

bursts of cheer in a bleak landscape

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Things are looking pretty bleak these days. Just about all anyone can think about (including me) is the global coronavirus pandemic and the changes to our lives. I don’t really have a lot to say about that just now (or at least not that I have the energy for tonight). But I have realized that I want to make sure to include activities in my daily life that bring me joy.

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On that note, I decided to start blogging regularly again. Back when I was dealing with the social isolation of being a new parent in 2006, I started to blog. It helped me to connect with people outside my immediate circle. In the following several years, I got to know a lot of new people, many of whom I still consider dear friends.

yellow-crocus-in-sunPlus I had a lot of *fun* blogging. Some people who only know me in meatspace may not realize what a goofball I really am. This is how I like to react to stress: bad puns and general silliness. Also by sharing photos.

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Am I stressed now? You betcha. Who isn’t? At least my household is in pretty good shape for the next few weeks of social distancing. But unfortunately I’ve been a little sick for the last few days. (Maybe I’ll write about that tomorrow. Or maybe not.)

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In any case, I’ve been enjoying these bright little crocuses that we planted last fall. They are springing up in my yard. Cheerful little heralds of brighter days to come. (Some day.)

work in progress

The last few weeks have been packed with activity. (Personal. Professional. Political.) I’ve been pulled in lots of directions with a variety of projects, and a few things haven’t quite gotten finished.

When my mother visited for Thanksgiving, one of our planned activities was to make gingerbread houses. We are not ones to buy a kit with a pre-baked house. We make the dough from scratch, and each design our house. (Or structure, which is not necessarily a house. Last year I made my town’s Town Hall building. This year my mother made a Japanese gate.) In any case, the way we do things, it’s a multi-day process.

gingerbread1-ingredientsHere we put together the ingredients for the dough. My photo library tells me this was November 30th. I then mixed each batch up to let it chill overnight. (Possibly a few overnights.)

gingerbread2-modelWe all designed prototypes for our structures using cardboard. I used a stack of leftover political mailers.

gingerbread3-cutThe cardboard/cardstock cutouts then served as the stencil for cutting out the baked dough.

gingerbread4-hardeningThe cut pieces then needed to dry out some more before assembly. They smelled amazing, but the particular gluten-free blend of flours I used was a bit fragile and persnickety.

gingerbread5-part-builtMy house took a while to assemble, as there were some breakages that needed repairing.

gingerbread6-undecoratedAlso, the thickness of the baked pieces meant that my walls and roof didn’t quite fit together as intended. I improvise by making a tower to cover for a gap between the walls. I was quite pleased with the new shape. All that was left was to decorate and embellish (and cover my messy seams), and my gingerbread house would be ready to display.

The trouble is, this project isn’t exactly the only one that I’ve been working on. The big “distraction” was a conference deadline, and three of the research groups I am involved with were planning to submit. The deadline for a 4-page paper was December 21st. (The deadline was then somewhat extended such that an abstract, title and author info could be submitted on the 21st, but the full paper could be edited until January 3rd before being sent out to reviewers.)

The loosening of the deadline left a bit more breathing room for things like holiday shopping and political protests. But in spite of getting our tree up and decorated right  after Thanksgiving, I haven’t managed to put up many other decorations. We are the one house on our little street without festive lights and/or other outdoor decorations. I find it amusing that my little gingerbread house is leading a parallel existence.

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Tonight I hope to do some decorating. Of the gingerbread house, not the real house. (The bulk of our Christmas decorations are staying in bins this year.) Phoebe still had plans for landscaping her gingerbread house that she didn’t have time for, so I am using that as an excuse to make up a batch of the appropriate icing so we can get to work. (But I’m also  prepping for Christmas dinner, need to excavate our dining room table, and need to wrap a big pile of gifts…So we’ll see.)

petty potato predicament

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My colander (in which I rinsed my potatoes) looked rather like a disco ball in the bright morning light.

We had Thanksgiving dinner at our house this year, which has become a tradition in recent years. In addition to my family of four, plus my mother-in-law (who is in assisted living in a neighboring town), it has also become a tradition to invite a friend of mine and her two boys.  This year, we were happy to have my mother join us from California, bringing our grand total to 9.

I know that many people host big gatherings of 20 or even 40 people, which honestly sounds totally exhausting to this quiet introvert. (I’ll stick to my table for 9, thank you very much.)

While this relatively small and very comfortable gathering tends to be pretty low-key, I do go a bit crazy with the side dishes. For me, the “side” dishes are actually the main event of the meal. (My immediate family doesn’t eat turkey, and I’m not able to eat the Tofurkey that the rest of my family eats.) So we tend to have lots of different things: various roasted vegetables, stuffing (my famous “stuffed pan”), mashed potatoes, veggie gravy, cranberry sauce(s), as well as simple vegetables like corn and green beans. My mother and I spent much of yesterday chopping and prepping veggies. I went to bed feeling like we were in pretty good shape.

However, going through my mental list as I lay in bed, I got stuck on the potatoes. I intentionally hadn’t prepped the potatoes, as I didn’t want them to brown. But I also hadn’t really counted them.

Doing my mental calculations of person-to-potato ratios, I suddenly became convinced that I didn’t have nearly enough potatoes. It was almost midnight, and I knew that stores would be closed in the morning. (This didn’t stop me from searching online for various grocery stores and checking their hours). I mentally reconfigured the quantities of potatoes in the roasted root vegetables (in which they traditionally play a key role) and considered what remaining potatoes could be left to mash. I imagined rationing out the paltry portions of potatoes to family and guests.

I agonized over the potatoes. I seriously lost sleep. It was not so much a potato panic as a ponderous potato pessimism.

In the morning, I counted the potatoes. The situation was less dire than I’d imagined in my late-night ravings. But still, I apparently could not let it drop. While walking the dog, I persisted in pondering about potatoes. I texted my friend who would be joining us for dinner: “Do you have any potatoes?”

This is, of course, a totally normal question to ask a friend out of the blue.

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The story has a happy ending. My friend brought along her potatoes, and I added a few of them to my boiling pot of potatoes. The resulting mashed potatoes were of respectable quantities. No garments were rent over tiny potato allowances.

In the end, the meal and the day were successful and fulfilling. I am feeling full of both gratitude and potatoes.

And I have to laugh at myself for getting so worked up about such small potatoes.