Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
Starting a new month and a new diary web-page is an opportunity to rethink what we do here. Try as I might, I could not think of much new, so we will carry on like the last time, brief daily entries with footnotes to our history, so we can remember what has happened, in case it helps get a grip on what might happen now.
Sometimes it's hard to keep writing these notes, notes that seem dull and pointless. It's hardest when writing makes me think too hard about our current world, but then I remind myself that "dull" isn't the most difficulty people face. Maybe the near-term goal needs to be dull-and-hardly-worth-recording.
Friday, May 1, 2020, Day 49 since we started staying at home.
Breakfast included our monthly discussion of retirement finances. Not as scary as a month ago. Not as comfortable as a year ago.
Most of the rest of my day was devoted to technical installation and support. FedEx delivered a new iMac that I needed to install and I had to move the old one to Marianne's Art Hut. The new iMac is giant because I want to try my hand at photography for large prints, a long-standing intention that stay-at-home has brought back to the surface.
Of course, shifting computers involves software, accessories, planning, and glitches. All this makes me nervous, because home computers have become so central to our lives and, for us, there is no technical support other than me. Thirty years ago, I may have been a state-of-the-art home computer user, but that world marched on without me. Now, I hang on by the skin of my digital teeth. (One unrelated glitch was that, on May 1, my web host started enforcing new security, so to keep trotter.ws going, I needed to learn a bit more and then implement changes. It worked!)
By evening, new equipment and software had been installed, dinner had been served, Marianne had painted, and I had gone for a walk to clear my head. I didn't even bring a camera. On return, I watched television for about an hour, but no news. I was just saturated with discouraging news.
And that was Day 49
History: The Big Trip. We still look through the 71 diaries from October 2001 through June of 2002 for memories to make us happy it happened. Finland, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Austria, France, (Maryland), Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Romania, and home to Ukraine.
Saturday, May 2, Day 50
I woke up early, thinking about things, the same as every day it seems. At dawn, I headed out for a walk and picture-taking. Our neighboring community college campus is now masks-only, and will probably stay that way for a long, long time.
My photography project for the day was to take symbols of the pandemic: closed signs throughout our Tower District. Some were hand-lettered, some printed, some had an angry tone ("as ordered by the government") and others softer ("to protect our employees and customers"). For the most part, these are small businesses, operating on a shoestring. It's hard to imagine even half returning, adding to already-existing vacant store fronts. Sad.
Back home, inside our fence, life was simpler. A few new flowers are replacing the dying roses. There was time for a nap to make up for the early wake-up. Marianne kept to her art hut, watching instructors on YouTube and implementing what she learns. Another good dinner, complete with fruit and Cool Whip-topped dessert. (We refer to CW as plastic whipped cream. What IS in it?) All in all, we're lucky, even on days when we may think otherwise.
And that was Day 50
History: In looking for and finding a job, luck matters more than almost anything.
Sunday, May 3, Day 51 and counting
Another night of good sleeping, until I couldn't. At under six hours, my Fitbit does not give me the good sleep award. This pattern does allow me to be up and out with a camera at dawn, as photographers are supposed to do. I keep shooting flowers, because they really are the most attractive things in front of me as I walk. The Red Church was nice in sunrise's red light.
Back home I made a long list of things I should do, from reading the Sunday papers (did it), through writing diaries (didn't), completing the puzzle (didn't), learn from various on-line photography courses (didn't), study new software (didn't), clean the garden (didn't), and create larger photos to print (didn't). One out of seven.
Dinner was a mix of the parts I made (blah sausages and mushy potato pancakes) and Marianne's parts (flavorful salad and tasty baked apple dessert.) Evening yard pictures were good enough.
And that was Day 51.
History: Moving, especially moving from one country to another, is stressful, but we survived.
Monday, May 4, Day 52
Another photographer-up-at-dawn morning. I took a different camera, hoping to catch wild life, but the only animal that posed long enough was Daisey Too, from down the street. Fresno High School looked good in the sunrise light and I found a couple more flowers. I spotted one little girl reading on her front porch, bored stiff by all this stay-at-home stuff.
I made a quick breakfast and headed out to an appointment, an appointment to have a stick stuck in my nose. The things we do for excitement nowadays. Results within 48 hours. Marianne had already started her Class With Claudia. Good for them. For the rest of the day, I will work on yesterday's undone list.
The rest of the day as usual, a few chores, art for Marianne, another attempt at my puzzle, and lunch-dinner, always a highlight. Today we also had social activity. We went to celebrate Katinka and Ruben's birthdays (both on May 4), doing our best to be physically distant without being too socially distant. It wasn't a normal birthday party, but there were presents and a chocolate cake from Ruben's daughter. This was the best we could manage, under the circumstances.
And that was Day 52.
History: Being based far away for graduations, grandkid births, and Christmases was difficult, but sometimes we managed quick trips. It is hard to imagine any of this in today's world. What would we have done?
Tuesday, May 5, Day 53
The day started with Marianne taking a COVID test, not because we expect her to be "positive", but because the city needs a cross section of folks tested to determine how much undetected disease is walking around. I think if we had the disease, we would not be walking.
From then, it was "as-normal". I no longer use the phrase "new-normal", because it's not new anymore. I worked in the back yard, enjoyed the fleeting moments of our dramatic cactus blossoms, tried more puzzle pieces, and then gave up for good. I mean, did you see how many pieces are just pink, with no difference in picture elements? Other areas are equally impossible. Before cooking lunch-dinner, guided by her latest on-line training, Marianne painted. I found her iPhone photos of these four exercises. I like them.
After lunch-dinner, we had to get ready for Tuesday (Zoom) cocktails. First, we ordered drinks from Modernist Craft Cocktail Bar, a joint downtown that had just started up when they were shut down by the virus. Friends recommended their drinks and curbside service, so we tested with "Days of Fuchsia Past", a seven-ingredient, purple drink perfect for the patio. At 5:00, we connected with Adrienne, Tony, Gabby, Rita, and Peter and talked for at least an hour. Let the good times roll! (as much as they can.)
To walk off the effects of Modernist's product, I headed out for an evening walk in the neighborhood while Marianne puttered in her studio. These are our go-to activities nowadays. I ran across a message on a nearby garage door and I think I will try to keep the spirit in mind: "Everything will be OK in the end. If it's not OK, it's not the end."
And that was Day 53.
History: By herself, in her eighties, Marianne's mom Magdalena visited us four times in Ukraine and Germany. (2000, 2003, 2005, 2006) Dream travel, especially by today's standards. Priceless memories.
Wednesday, Day 54
Our nothing-planned day ended up being pretty full, a good thing for my mental state. Every morning, our Project Baseline health study watch asks us to assess our physical and emotional state, on a scale of one to five. I am always two to four, not extremely positive nor negative, but lately the emotional rating has stayed below mid-way. Hopefully, a busy day will push up my self-rating.
My chores included fixing a sprinkler, setting up my basement photo lab, exercising my sore back, a little puzzle-making (almost giving up, but not quite), and delivering the NY Times to neighbor Vern where I saw their giant Magnolia tree was flowering. These last hardly a day, so I snapped quickly.
Our outside excursion was limited to the Saturday Farmer's Market, where there were no crowds, despite the preparations. We noticed that, despite all the taped arrows and lines, it was hard for folks to maintain distance, although everyone was trying. "Social distancing" is only going to get harder.
Back home, Marianne held her twice-weekly art and writing lesson for Ava and Sam. These are always fun and happy uses of distance technology, but everyone would prefer the old fashioned, in-person setting. I wonder when?
While school was going on and after lunch-dinner, I walked. Again. I have covered our neighborhood dozens of times and know the flowers intimately. Our front-entrance climbing roses are peaking, but the larger stem and bush roses in the neighborhood are fading as the summer heat approaches. However, even wilted, I think they make good photo subjects and, besides, it's all the natural landscape I've got. Someday we hope to make it back to the Sierras forests and the Pacific coastline. This time has made me appreciate what we used to take for granted - in any number of ways.
That was Day 54
History: We have moved plenty, but in 2005, we had to move in separate directions: Marianne to Giessen, north of Frankfurt, and John to Pomersfelden, south in Bavaria.
Thursday, May 7, Day 55
A standard day, mostly. I started with coffee, reading the NY Times, breakfast, and touring the back porch and yard, where I snapped shots of a sitting dove, a wild squirrel eating our Pineapple Guava blossoms, and a cactus flower wilting. Pretty exciting, huh?
For real excitement, I went shopping. The first stop was Fresno Ag, our go-to hardware store. I realized I had not been in this "essential" business since stay-at-home started seven weeks ago. Before that, I probably stopped by two or three times a week. I also stopped by the cleaners and Office Depot, properly masked in each store. Stops that had been routine, where encounters were always friendly, had become, in some sense, threatening and uncomfortable. I don't like this normal.
My Office Depot stop was necessary to finish equipping my new basement photography lab. My regular office had become too small for my new extra-large iMac, so I split my work into two spaces: upstairs for most things and the basement for producing pictures, at least the final adjustment of electronic negatives before sending them to Horn Photo for actual printing. (If I end up getting REALLY excited about this printing stuff, I may splurge on a serious printer, but not now.) I can also do matting and framing in my new workspace. Marianne can work in her Art Hut and I can putter in my Camera Cave.
At the appointed time we had another good meal, light but complete, with goat cheese and crackers for appetizer, salmon and tomato sandwiches for our "main", all on the patio with white wine. I must say we are eating well, despite the don't-go-to-restaurants policy. I expect we may stick with this for quite some time, no matter what presidents and governors tell us to do.
Just before heading to bed, I tried a hand-held shot of the full moon. These pictures are never as good as one wants, and it just reminded me that I should be doing this, with the right planning and equipment, up in the clean Sierra air. I miss that, too.
That was Day 55
History: The most ambitious challenge of our new Bavarian life was taking an 18th Century ruin and making it our jewel box home.
Friday, May 8, Happy Birthday Brian
Every morning my left arm's Project Baseline health study watch asks me questions. I have to pick a smiley-face, or not, about physical and emotional health and then go down the list of COVID-19 symptoms to say if I have any. I never do. Three times a day, we also have to log our temperature. Mine are always well below "normal". By the way, my nose-sample virus test from last Monday came back negative.
And, speaking of health tests, I also enrolled in a Scripps Institute study called DETECT where they monitor my right arm's Fitbit monitor to look for indications of a viral infection. Yesterday, the AllOfUs long-term health study from the National Institutes of Health also asked me a series of questions about the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on my physical, emotional, and financial health. Finally, Xanterra, the National Parks concessionaire at Death Valley, asked for comments on when we might return to travel, including to National Parks. If nothing else, I am contributing to keeping statisticians employed.
So, what else did we work in on Friday? We started by looking for croissants, always a noble goal. We found them and more at the Parisien Bakery in Clovis, take out of course. We did not make it past the bench outside before we needed to eat.
Then we stopped at Horn Photo for curbside delivery of two photo prints. Since I was about to give up on my 1,000-piece puzzle at home, I had decided to make two hopefully-easier puzzles, one from a work by Marianne and one from a Pacific Grove seascape I did last year, when travel was taken for granted.
The rest of the day was as unremarkable as most lately. Brian did call on his birthday and it was nice to chat a bit. We did our evening watering and walking, but I saw absolutely nothing worth taking a picture of. I may lose my street-photographer license.
I miss better photo opportunities. I miss people; grandkids, kids, relatives, friends, and even regular store clerks and waiters. I miss travel; not-too-far places like the Sierras and the Central Coast, drive-to places like Western National Parks, and, of course, Europe, our home for 15 years.. I miss the freedom to eat or shop without planning and worry.
The various surveys have made me try to establish a criteria for when we might return to these activities. Ideally, it would be when there are no more new COVID-19 infections around us or in the areas where we might go. Slightly less restrictive would be a criteria that there be no new COVID-19-caused deaths for the last couple of weeks. We are a long ways off from that.
And that was Day 56
History: While living far away, many of our best memories are from visits by friends and, mostly, by relatives. Someday, I need to make an index to ALL of those visits. Some day.
Saturday, May 9, Day 57
An ordinary day again. Up early for coffee, health report for my watch, breakfast, and a starting round of virus and pandemic study, courtesy of the world wide web. Did you know that the 1918-1919 Flu Pandemic was largely ignored in school curricula, from the 1920s through the 2010s? Serious historical study had to wait for the 1930s and the Great Depression, when out-of-work academics were directed to look into what had happened and analyze the pandemic's impact on the course of world history. Their analysis concluded that it changed everything, from success of the women's suffrage movement, the unbounded 1920s, and even the popularity of Fascism. Nevertheless, it never was more than a footnote in American History classes. What will the 2020 Pandemic change? History will tell better than contemporary talking heads.
After hours of sedentary screen staring, I needed manual labor. Management had been noting that the back garden was looking a bit shabby so, for four long hours, I cleaned under trees, on paths, and on patios. One major task, done just once a year, was picking up the hundreds of seed pods from our very large Chinese Elm. The spikey balls reminded me of the Coronavirus responsible for COVID-19, another import from China.
After a shower for the manual laborer, we had another fine mid-day meal. I served as grill-man, while the head chef did all the rest. She had spent most of her day being creative in the Art Hut, so she really is multi-talented, something I appreciate more and more every day.
We worked in our evening walks, Marianne inside the back yard and me out on the street. I'll admit that she may have covered more ground than I did. For the evening, we went to our corners: the Art Hut and the Camera Cave. It works.
And that was Day 57
History: In 2009, after over a decade in storage, our can't-live-without-them possessions arrived via a shipping container that had made the trip from California to Bavaria.
Sunday, May 10, Mother's Day
As promised, this was a very quiet Mother's Day. I started the day with a 6:30 trip to Smart and Final for a few grocery items and then slipped back into the every-single-day morning routines. (coffee, newspaper, etc.)
The guest dove on our back porch celebrated by becoming a mother on Mother's Day. When I looked out in the morning, the hen was guarding a little ball of wet feathers and by afternoon there were two bright and alert chicks. These little creatures grow up quickly, so I expect we will see first flight in a day or two. A few years ago, we had a pair hatch, but one was a good flyer and the other was not. That little guy eventually fell and fluttered from the nest to the porch stoop and scrambled away to hide beneath the rose bushes rather than fly. Hopefully, this class does better.
Our day was exceptionally quiet. My photography was limited to the doves and a single picture of a worn out rose. Valley heat is arriving, so this may be the norm for roses, until the second season after it cools for Fall.
Marianne had a few appropriate Mother's Day communications, but no hugs and kisses this year. We all miss that. She prepared a new dinner dish, a saucy lamb meatball and Basmati rice concoction that was wonderful. Really.
For the rest of the day, we retired to our own hobby corners and kept as busy as we could. Thank goodness for photography and painting.
That was Day 58.
History: Nephew Henry stayed with us for almost three weeks, longer than any other guest in our European adventures. Sadly, even that did not build the connection we had hope for.
Monday, May 11, Day 59
Before coffee or breakfast, I went out to see if I could make some pictures. First, there was a little color, both in a window reflection and in the sunrise and clouds. The local raven squawked at me for the early disturbance. Then I passed by Fitness Evolution, my empty gym. I think I miss serious exercising more than any other daily activity, besides kids and friends, of course. Neighbors Geri and Etta, out with dogs for their regular 6:00 am walk, recommended I snap some shots of ducks in the Herdon Canal, so I did. And geese.
We went out to breakfast, for one of our regular Starbucks orders: coffee, egg-white Egg Bites, and an egg Protein Box. All very low calorie and all a nice reminder of the BC days (Before Corona). We sat in the car to eat, instead of at a table and I wondered if I will ever get back to my old routine of breakfast at Starbucks while writing diaries. That's another part of the olden days I miss. After breakfast, it was time for Marianne's physical therapy. Too bad Kaiser visits have not stayed in the old times.
Back home we went about our normal business, some chores, and art for Marianne, and a Photoshop lesson for me. I have made limited use of the program for years and now seems like a time to learn more about "fixing" photos, or at last making them what I imagine they CAN be. I have done introductory Photoshop training at least three times, but without application, the learning quickly fades. I'll do better. I think. At least I have a very nice learning and working space.
Otherwise, things were normal. Dinner was leftovers, those delicious lamb meatballs from yesterday. After dinner, I took a few pictures from the front and back porches, before settling in to more lessons while Marianne worked hard out in the Art Hut. ("Artwork is hard work.")
I watched TV news from German, French, and British channels. I have developed a dislike for the hours-long drumbeat of US cable TV news and the foreign channels' 30-minute programs make more sense
That was Day 59. Two months down and one or two or more to go.
History: Ten years after the September 11 attack, I reviewed that history and looked forward with some concern on pending retirement.
Tuesday, April 12, Day 60
The only plans were Marianne's morning Facetime with Claudia and our Zoom cocktails in the afternoon. I cleaned the front yard and finished over-filling the green trash. She did the exercises required by yesterday physical therapists and made another excellent dinner. While I ended the day with another Photoshop lesson, Marianne painted (work in progress). Then there were normal neighborhood and yard walks, with pictures to prove it happened.
And that was Day 60
History: I did retire at the end of June, 2012, and we were on the road by July 3rd. Travel was great, but retirement was not exactly as planned (hoped?).
Wednesday, May 13, Day 61
The day went as expected: Grocery shopping. Kids' class. Art practice. Camera practice. Photoshop lessons. Dinner. Walks. For groceries, we went back to The Market, a very nice, locally owned shop, with as much local products as makes sense. It has been two weeks since our last grocery run, but we were still surprised with a bill of over $450! Some prices had gone up, some meat choices were missing (not much pork), and as little as we drink, our alcohol bill was significant. Blame it all on C19.
We had to hurry home so Marianne could prepare a Facetime art class for Ava and Sam. Her 12-foot by 12-foot art studio may be the most utilized building on the property and I do enjoy having her art all around us, whether it is old work or new.
Our back porch doves continue to entertain us, something that is easier in these days of stay-at-home. Two chicks were hatched on Sunday and, for a couple of days, mom and dad fed them, but now the parents visit a little but seem to be leaving the kids alone, somehow counting on them jumping up and flying on their own. We wonder what will happen. (It's all the suspense our lives have now.)
My activity for the day was taking pictures, no surprise there. All the following pictures are from a photo tour of our back yard, combining landscape and wildlife shooting, or, more exactly, practice for future wildlife and landscapes. My photos are becoming repetitive, I know, but without practice, any skills I have will atrophy. (Soon, I will try focusing on just a few pictures, and the enhancements I'll be able to make with newly-learned Photoshop techniques. Soon, but not these.)
I bring a camera along on all my neighborhood walks, but today all I noted was a sidewalk with someone's dream vacation spelled out. Our new shut-in world has moved such vacations from plans to an as-yet-unimagined future. Not 2020, but maybe 2021, if the vaccine folks have great success.
And that was Day 61
History: October 2013, selling a dream castle, saying goodbye to friends, and a small hospital detour. Life's complicated.
Thursday, May 14, Day 62
The start of the next diary.
Stay tuned. Stay safe. Stay home. Stay busy. Stay sane. Stay in touch.
John and Marianne