"Home-cation", A Trip After All

Started March 15, 2020

Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,

A month and a half ago, when Marianne's cancer recovery was interrupted with heart pacing problems, I wrote a diary bemoaning the development that, just when we had been seeing a light at the end of our tunnel to more travel, somebody ordered more tunnel building. But, we made progress for a few more weeks and we could see getting out of that tunnel. Then, a pandemic started. More tunnel. A lot more tunnel. A dark hole of discouragingly indeterminate length.

We managed two short road trips in March, but now, like much of the world, we have transformed to "social distancing". No travel. No morning diary-writing sessions at Starbucks. No gyms. No Zumba and Yoga for Marianne. No Cambridge Avenue wine-on-the-porch. No restaurants. No visits with neighbors, friends, kids, and grandkids. (Almost) no shopping. How to cope?

Almost twenty years ago, after recovery from a health scare, we threw aside all our normal activities: jobs, a newly-rebuilt home; familiar restaurants; gatherings with friends; shopping (again, almost). In that case, we drove off in a new car, to places we'd never been, with no end in sight. Once we figured out Internet-on-the-run, we documented many months of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Is it possible that our new journey to the Land Of Social Distancing (LOSD) can be compared? I'll try.

Day 1, March 14, 2020.

The first day of our new journey started with packing the car, just like it always does. In this case, we left home with an empty trunk. The initial stop was Allard's Art Supply. We have our priorities and there is nothing worse than being on a trip and discovering that certain pen or brush or paint is missing. The store was not empty, but certainly not its normal Saturday crowd, other than the ten folks in a watercolor class. Good idea?market

Next, we got necessities at the Saturday Farmer's Market. It was not crowded at all, but it is winter and the selection is limited. I bought two weeks supply from the ladies at Fabiano's Coffee Inc, Marianne bought locally-raised veggies, and we cooperated on the purchase of three wonderful cheeses from Rocky Oats Goat Creamery.

market beans veggies goat cheese

wash hands

After washing hands at the farmer's market, it was a quick stop at our local bank to implement some of the steps we had agreed on with our financial advisors last Wednesday. Mixing in serious financial steps along with art supplies and good cheese shopping seemed a little surreal to me. I did note that everywhere had hand cleaning stations. The new normal.

After Citibank, we needed a real grocery store and food market. Local and national news is filled with horror stories of crowds and lines and empty shelves, so we were not looking forward to this step.

fullWe chose The Market because it is seldom crowded, due to Whole-Foods-level pricing. It's expensive, but normally a nice, relaxing wander through aisles flowing over with all sorts of food and supplies. Not quite today. Marianne and I had divided up the shopping list and, after a lot of wandering around, we found almost everything. No toilet paper or hand sanitizer, but those were long shots.

A swing by the cleaners, and then were were home before a late lunch. We expect that may be the last drive for a few days.

When traveling, afternoons are often slow, if there are no open galleries or museums nearby. Marianne went to the hotel gym (aka the upstairs TV room) to do the homework from her post-surgery physical therapy. I went out for a walk on one of the local trails (aka sidewalks). I brought along my camera, because that's what I do when walking on trails.

Fresno High School is not far, a nicely reconstructed facility originally built in the 1930s, old for California. Like all other schools in the neighborhood, it will be closed for the next month, at least. The neighborhood has signs of spring, flowering trees, and home improvements. Purple is the color of the moment, fitting for Lent, I suppose, or other mourning.

HS closed sign
FCC tree painting flowers

Back home, I still needed therapy, so I took flower pictures. I think I will overdo on flowers on our LOSD trip. It's a bit like overdoing on rock pictures at Grand Canyon or Sedona. Oh well, skip over if you wish, I will still click away. (I do need to get more practice at close-up clarity.)

buds row of red red berries
small berry monster small tree

deskPicture taking done, I settled into our comfortable home, still trying to recognize that LOSD is just temporary. We only implemented Social Distancing part of the day, but plan to be more complete for as long as we can. "Socializing" will be by phone, Facetime, email, texts, and maybe even letters! This will require new habits, new reaching out.

However, what else can we do? I need a list. I will work on that soon.

Day 2, March 15 breakfast

The day started early, about 5am, with coffee and a session at the computer reviewing pictures from the day before and outlining a diary. When actually traveling, this would often be done at the nearest Starbucks, but for the LOSD home-vacation, everything happened in my well-equipped office. Quiet. Almost too-quiet.

Breakfast was European small-B&B style; boiled eggs, bread, cheese, vegetables, and fruit. We need to keep up this part of the charade. These morning sessions are also good for planning our day, or discussing while-you-were-sleeping news. THAT discussion, was predictable and not encouraging. Coronavirus, by whatever name one chooses, dominates the news and our conversation. It's getting worse.

Pushing back from the tables, we each went about our normal practices, Marianne cleaning up the kitchen, phone-chatting a little with friends, and opening up the art studio. I followed my mom's orders and went outside to play.

Blaine, Ethan, JonOutside play for me meant walking. This time, it was surprisingly social, distant, but social. Neighbors Ethan and Blaine, and their neighbor Jon, were fixing a wind-damaged front-door screen. E and B are parents and university professors, whose worlds have been turned upside down. Kids are bored already. Parents are working on novel, socially-distant, activities while also figuring out how to run serious college classes. Good luck with that.Kent

Across the street, Kent the entomologist explained the difficulty of running two university laboratories filled with live bugs in light of disappearing graduate students. "Distant learning" doesn't work to keep the little research critters alive and research grants don't pay assistants who are not in the lab, doing research. And, bug professors of the western US are still scheduling an annual conference, in Washington State.Jean

I also ran into another university professor, women's swim coach Jean. She was just back from Seattle, where a pair of her swimmers and divers had competed to get into the Olympics. Now back home, Jean is in self-imposed quarantine (almost), her university pool is closed, most of her students have been sent away, but about ten can not return to their mostly-European homes.Geri

Finally, I was passing neighbor Geri's garage when I saw her unloading water and dog food. I accused her of being "one of those hoarders". She laughed nervously, but noted that she DID have toilet paper. Joking aside, we compared notes, since both of us have spouses with "existing medical conditions". On our street, half the people are elderly and half of those have medical conditions. Sobering.

My neighbor encounters pointed out that "social distancing" need not mean unsocial. We just need to meet outside, at a distance. That's doable, I suppose.

postscary artOur other neighbor is Fresno City Community College. Normally, a walk around campus, even on a Sunday, will encounter students, professors, and staff. Not this time. Fresno City is closed and all the activities posted on the bulletin board are undoubtedly shut down as well. Even the school's public art seemed menacing.

My walk continued past campus and into our working class neighborhood. A large housing project has been started on Blackstone, but it made me wonder how such efforts can proceed, given the strain on local finances inevitable with the virus-caused slowdown.

project land

artBack home, Marianne had been productive in her studio. She has been trying new techniques and some work and others, not so much. Hopefully, a few months of isolation will be rewarded with lots of new things. (I am struggling to find the silver lining here.)books

But what else can we do in our new isolation? Here's the list I will work on: walk; use the exercise bike; exercise generally; clean and fix the garden; go on local photo excursions (not needing restaurants or overnights); figure out photo printing; read the books I have and the ones we can order for electronic delivery.

By the end of the day, it seemed our first day of isolation went pretty well. We ate. We talked with folks. We painted, or read, or wrote, or walked, as we saw fit.

However, just before bedtime, I read the news and started to panic. Stocks are collapsing, along with it our retirement savings. I re-thought the investment decisions we made less than a week ago. Government-ordered shutdowns will throw large numbers out of work, "temporarily" according to those giving the orders, but they really can not know. We are retired, with guaranteed-albeit-fixed income and no mortgage, so we can muddle through, but others in the family, that's not so certain. It will get worse.

To close, here are some diary decorations. This may become a therapy feature of these diaries.

Day 3, Monday, March 16

Another day where sleeping late is impossible. I wonder how long this can last. Holding to pattern, I sip coffee and create the diary story for yesterday. Publication happens before breakfast, although my editor does her work a bit later. That's our work flow.

Next up are "business" calls. Marianne had to arrange her medical week in light of the new limits of elderly (hate that word) self-isolation. First, her shoulder physical therapy on Wednesday was canceled, then Monday's fitting for new hearing aids and finally, a bone density test on Tuesday was delayed to "sometime". When? The consultation for radiation treatment remained set for Tuesday afternoon.

My business call was with Equius, our financial advisor firm. We talked about the merits of following Warren Buffet's advice of buying "when there is blood in the street", a course that would implement our understanding of a week ago. Alex had more nerve with our money than I did, but in the end, we assessed family needs and compromised with a partial investment of our extra cash. It felt OK. Years from now, I wonder what we will think about today's decisions.

Meanwhile the sky is indeed falling. Stocks have dropped historically and may descend even more. The US economy can not survive the virus-caused shutdowns. There will be a recession, at least. As elderly retirees, we are relatively insulated by fixed retirement income streams, not huge but adequate for a simple Fresno lifestyle and our retirement cash and investment savings are still around, mostly. Our concern really is family.

All our grandkids off school, probably through summer, maybe even longer. The San Francisco Bay Area is on lock down, shutting the office of our family's dentist. The Colorado gas-well gadget programmer has packed his lab and brought it to his home basement. The company's business is crashing with the world-wide gas and oil prices. Meanwhile, the Maryland patent attorney is also working from home, hopeful that inventors of the country continue to invent and that the US Patent Office remains open. At least he is home to babysit the kids, since mom still goes into an office. (How long will that be allowed?) The regular babysitting grandparents remain in quarantine after their cruise on the Caribbean Princess. And there are other family concerns. Uncertainty abounds.

In light of all this, what else did we do on Monday? Marianne cleaned and went into her art studio. Those are her therapies. I heard my mom's childhood anxiety advice ringing in my ears and went outside to play.

Playing in the world of social distancing, for me, means taking pictures of inanimate objects and going for walks, both encumbered by the first Fresno rain of 2020. We NEED and LOVE rain, but gray skies do not lift the heart. Oh well, they come together. Here are my back yard pictures of wet things. Kare's flowers are looking great and water is always fun to capture. Fortunately my new Leica is weather-resistant.

flower 1 flower 2
drop birdbranch

From the backyard, it was off for a walk in the neighborhood. Taking pictures in the rain seemed unlikely, until I noticed the graffiti-style murals of our area. Interesting enough, even if not terribly soothing.

wall 1 part wall 2
middle wall 2 end Wall 2
wall 3 wall 4
wall 5 wall 6
detail wall 1 for sale hydrant

lootAt the far end of my graffiti walk, I violated isolation to look for supplies. In a small Tower District market, I found necessities: toilet paper, milk, oatmeal, and cottage cheese. Walking back, with a crammed shopping bag stretching my arm, I thought of the days twenty years ago when, not owning a car, we regularly walked back from grocery shopping with heavy bags. Then, the sidewalks were sometimes covered in ice and food froze in the four-block trip home. Times are better.

The rest of the day was isolation: reading, painting, writing, a little television. I have reduced my TV time drastically. News is a Coronavirus drumbeat, interrupted with stories from a crashing stock market or incoherent babbling from our idiot president. My old standby, watching the Warriors play exciting basketball, has disappeared from the program list, along with any live sports.

The world has changed.

Day 4, Tuesday, March 17. St Patty's Day

When we travel, some days are dull enough to not warrant pictures or even a diary entry. For this stay-at-home diary, today qualified as not quite dull-enough, but it is picture-free. A highlight of the day was that I slept in to 6:00, unusual for me in the current era. Alex, a friend in Germany, used to use the word "stressy" to describe times like we currently suffer. Stressy indeed.

A day later, I can't even remember what we did in the morning, but the afternoon was devoted to that old elephant in our room, cancer treatment. We had a consultation appointment with Doctor Dave (she's not a "Dave", but rather a "dav-eh"), the Cancer Center radiologist for Marianne's next phase. We were greeted by doctors, nurses, and staff all in surgical masks, not the most reassuring impression, but our nurse assured us no one was sick. Another one of those abundance-of-caution things.

After all the preliminaries (temperature, blood pressure, pulse, range-of-motion) were noted as acceptable by the nurse, radiologist Dave (remember "dav-eh") rattled off a rote-sounding description of radiation-treatment-following-a-lumpectomy. The mask-thing made it pretty impersonal, but that's probably unfair to the doctor.

Looking forward, and who doesn't want to do that nowadays, Marianne was offered the option of an eight-week delay due to Cornavirus. She turned it down with a forceful "Get this over with." Neither of us thought the situation would be better, later. Even so, the future appointments include a test-drive of the radiation machine on April 10 and the first of 16 zapping sessions on about April 20. That would make the last session about May 16, a light at the end of one long tunnel.

With our medical mission out of the way, we rewarded ourselves with a visit to the The Brioche Lady. Of course, with the fresh Fresno prohibition for sit-down eating, we took our sweets to go. Marianne asked the girl behind the counter if the store planned to stay open and she hesitantly admitted "We don't know." Sadly, I can not imagine how small restaurants like this will survive. We will all be the less for it.

Day 5, Wednesday, March 18

After four days in isolation, I hate it.

On Wednesday I woke at 3:00, worried in bed until 4:00, and then got up for coffee and more worrying. For an hour-and-a-half, I tried to get a practical understanding of social distancing, isolation, lock-down, and quarantine, self- or imposed. These are life-bounds for the foreseeable future. Everyone should be distancing; Marianne and I and our geezer-class are in isolation; while our Bay Area kids are in lock-down; and a few friends have returned from travel to go into quarantine.

But what are the differences? Tomorrow, Fresno will require lock-down on top of our elderly isolation. Is quarantine any different? How can this be sustained for the months and months the Coronavirus will be around us? What is the criteria for ending isolation/lock-down/self-quarantine? Why won't the resulting recession/depression kill many more via "deaths of despair" than the virus itself? (That was the situation with the other disaster I am familiar with: Chernobyl.)

After all this worry, all I could think to do was go out and play (thanks, mom). At 6:30 I took cameras and drove to the Fresno State University farm fields to try sunrise pictures. My hope was for red sunrise clouds over the Sierras, white from recent snow. That didn't work, but I enjoyed just clicking in the quiet morning. Good therapy.

moon set up scene

I was also able to work in some wildlife photography, as wild as life can be on the FSU farm.

one cow family pair

OK. My hands froze and it almost felt like a regular vacation. Mom was right.

foxfox faceBack home, Marianne started morning chores and wanted to do a bit of art as well. That's HER therapy.

However, on her way to the studio, she ran into a fox, real wildlife. We have never seen foxes here, so that was pretty special. It was also special for his squirrel breakfast.

After lunch, Gigi ran a distance-learning art class for Ava and Sam featuring flower drawing in the "Zentangle" style. I need to get examples for the record, but in any event it was fun for all. While she returned to being a teacher, I jumped isolation and bought groceries at the Wednesday Farmer's Market. It was a fun escape, albeit against isolation rules. I think

I finished my own therapies with more photos, bees this time, and an hour-long walk. I know this doesn't really replace elk and moose in Rocky Mountain National Park and my 60-90 minute gym program, but it's something.

bee1bee 2bee 3

That's it. Five days down and many, many more to go.

Day 6, Thursday, March 19

Who knows what will happen next? The City of Fresno issued a "shelter in place" order for now through March 31, "though it may be extended". The California governor followed for the whole state. I'm not sure this lock-down is effectively any different for us "elderly and compromised" from the pre-existing isolation.

And I just discovered the exercise bike in the basement that has been unused for six years does not work. And it will be gray and rainy today. And our retirement savings are cratering. And I have a sore throat. (allergies, I'm sure. Probably.) And the neighboring Community College campus is off-limits due to a visitor having, perhaps, been exposed to the virus. OK, that's the whining.

Positively, we have fixed, government-guaranteed, income. We are relatively healthy, even if half the household is in cancer recovery. Our kids and grandkids are healthy. Our neighbors are friendly and supportive. Our cupboards are full, enough. We have hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Mamo isn't around to suffer all this. It's raining (= good thing locally). I'll try to add to this positive list and focus here.

I have said, often, that taking pictures is therapy for me, and it is certainly what I would be doing on real travel, but sometimes it's tough to imagine something new. Yesterday afternoon, while I was taking my hour-long neighborhood walk, I saw a shadow. I got to thinking and realized that afternoon shadows are generally not so distinct here in Fresno, due to ground haze or regular old air pollution, so this was something new... new enough.

small green too bigger rope
garage street grass

Meanwhile, back on Thursday, I was struggling to fill the day. Morning work on pictures and the diary help, and are "normal travel", but the new, state-wide lock-down is daunting. Although it is allowed, I am now reluctant to even go for groceries or gas. Of course, we don't need much in the way of gas anymore. Reading would seem to be a natural for a lock-down, but my ability to concentrate is shot. (Can YOU concentrate?) It was too wet for garden work. I am moving away from television news, since it's all pretty discouraging, and I have never been a big movie or tv-series fan. Do I have to learn?Skype

Marianne remains more social than I am. In the morning, she had a Skype call with Dale in Germany. Stories from the old country are not much different from those on this side of the Atlantic; fear, anxiety, and uncertainty color everything. Marianne also has a handful of women she has been friends with for several decades, long enough that they still refer to themselves as girl-friends. There is a call or two from them every day. And, she has art friends and on-line drawing and painting classes that keep that part of her head busy. Her 12-foot by 12-foot art studio is a comforting refuge.

rainFor me, it's walking that seems to settle me down. The goal is at least an hour each day, and so far that's doable, even in our rainy season. (Fresno's rainy season is pretty intermittent.) We joke that this is implementing my mom's requirement to "go outside and play" whenever I admitted to childhood boredom. Thelma did not mind if I was bored, just that I could not be inside doing it. And in Seattle or Spokane, rain was never an excuse. In that era, from age five or six, I was allowed to simply walk out the door and return only at mealtimes. Free-range childhood. Now, that would probably be called child abandonment.

I take a camera with me on my walks and snap whatever strikes me, from flowers to shadows. As a rule, these are not candidates for photo contests (flowers almost never are -- too common). They are just reminders for me to notice and remember what surrounds me.

our cornerFCCOn this first day of the city and state lock-down, what I noticed were largely empty streets. We live on a corner, with busy-ish Maroa Avenue along one side. Normally, weekday traffic is constant, with noisy peaks around the time Fresno City College classes turn over. Not now. FCC was closed by a Coronavirus scare and is now kept that way by city and state edicts. I miss the pedestrian traffic, maybe not the cars.

sunshineI had one mission for my sunny, lock-down, walk: visit a pair of small neighborhood restaurants. This is a class of business that is suffering in the lock-down and I wanted to give them whatever business we could.

GorillaFirst, I visited Quesadilla Gorilla, a name so hard to pronounce that we normally just mumble. Their menu is limited, but Fresno High School is just across the street and it's a popular place for students and families. I opted for one cheese quesadilla and one "classic" with Colorado Verde filling. The tortilla sandwiches were as good as ever, but service was strictly take-out. The staff I talked to said they thought they would close soon, because they just don't get enough business with the school closed. I hope they make it back.Ambersand

Gift Cards.Just around the corner is Ampersand, home of some of the best and richest ice cream in America. Really. Due to calorie limits, we generally avoid making the store a regular stop, but do patronize when we have visiting kids. I ordered a pint of rocky road, one of Sam's favorites.

At both Ampersand and Gorilla, I bought $100 gift certificates, votes in favor of the survival of our neighbor businesses.

A half-a-day later, I don't remember the rest of Thursday. We didn't go shopping. I didn't go to the gym. We didn't go to the neighbors for wine-on-the-porch. We didn't go out for dinner. I avoided the news. I didn't watch the Warriors on TV. I miss the old-normal.

Day 7, Friday, March 20

At the end of our first week in isolation/lock-down/almost-quarantine, a daily pattern is developing. I wake early, whether I want to or not. Then there's coffee and, generally, a newspaper to read. Diary-writing follows and that leads into breakfast.

travelMorning puttering, starting with some amount of tidying up, follows breakfast. On this day, I took all my travel planning material and put it aside. I see no travel, domestic or international, for a year or more. The Coronavirus will be out there and we will never get over being old so we need to be very brave to risk infection; brave or desperate.class

Puttering moves into defined activities. Marianne taught another Ava and Sam art lesson via Facetime, fun for everyone involved.

I start walking my 10,000 daily steps. Today, I chose an eastern route, across the railroad tracks and past Starbucks and Smart and Final, our near-by discount grocery store. The tracks seemed more empty than usual, although I know it wasn't. Starbucks is drive-through only, and "Smarty's" parking lot had customers, but no lines outside the store.


I walked the perimeter of the Fresno City College campus, only a portion of my step goal. There would be time later. As we do like to do while traveling, lunch was big enough to be our main meal. To keep our weights and waists from ballooning, we need to be extra careful that being locked home does not mean stuck in the kitchen, eating out of nerves and boredom. Not that easy.

After lunch is art time for Marianne and reading for me. I normally favor non-fiction, but real reality is too much for me now. Instead, I am working on two books of fiction. The first is "Station Eleven" about America 25 years after 99.99% of humanity had been wiped out by an overseas virus. I don't know where science fiction writers come up with their far-fetched ideas. On a brighter note, I am also reading a Clive Cussler who-done-it. My bookshelf has another dozen books to work on, and I think my Kindle has others, so I am good for the foreseeable future. Now I just have to decide to focus. Not that easy.


Mixed in with writing, eating, reading, and walking, I am trying to do some talking. I have called a few folks to see how they are doing and emailed a few more who are in substantially different time zones. The subject of discussion is the same, world wide. So far, I have not run across family or friend with a positive virus test, the new Scarlet Letter. Intellectually, I know that can not remain the same. Not that easy.

I got up from reading to part 2 of walking. Marianne was still in her studio, working on new techniques. I'll show results to you when she shows them to me. As for my walk, the highlight was when son Brian and his family called me with a Facetime call. There, on the sidewalk, I could see and chat with the three of them. I like this technology! The only problem was that I had to sign off early because my arm was getting tired from holding the phone in front of me. That's the sort of muscle capability that younger people excel at but, for us elderly, it's not that easy.hill

Back home, I reverted to what seems like the only photography left to me: back yard pictures, mostly around the hill I built for a "dry river", a small maple, and several succulents. I have tried other flowers and plants here, but this is all that survives in the shade of the big trees overhead. Fresno is a place where sun and heat dominate, good for citrus, but shady planting sites just don't seem to function. Trees out in the open do better. Overall, not easy.

red bud orange lemon
succulent 1 succulent 2 succulent 3 succulent 4

And that's the end of Week One of the Rest of Our Lives, a trip to end all trips. I will start a Week Two diary tomorrow, if enough noteworthy happens.

Stay Tuned,

John and Marianne