Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
Some may think my title is pessimistic, but, for us, I think it may be optimistic. COVID19 infections and deaths have barely moved from their peak nationally and state-wide and lots of folks are giving up and reopening. Marianne and I are fortunate that we don't need jobs, but of course, we are elderly and somewhat compromised, so we won't be going to group gatherings for quite some time. The hardest part is being kept distant from family and friends, but we've had periods in our lives where we were distant for many months and thousands of miles, without benefit of Zoom, Facetime, or even reliable email and phones.
We will continue these diaries as before, not because they are exciting, but because they are our history, useful for future memories. Besides, I don't have much else to do!
Thursday, May 14, Day 62, the start of Month Three
A day with an appointment in the outside world. Marianne went to Kaiser Medical Center for a mammogram, seven months after the last one that initiated so much. Thankfully, everything was fine this time.
We debated going out for a celebratory treat, but stopping for something to-go did not seem sufficient, so we went home. That's another thing I miss, small celebrations in cafes, bakeries, or restaurants. We've done that forever, and now that it's just ordering on a smart phone, picking up from an empty table, and greeting the masked person on the other side with "stay safe", the fun just isn't there.
Back home we went about our regular business. Marianne went to her hut for art videos and practice. I looked through our backyard for anything worth noting, "worth" by our new, lower, standards. Our baby doves had still not left their nest, despite parental urging. Another red flower is starting on Monterey Mamo's cactus. We now have enough time to watch birds and flowers grow.
I started my neighborhood walk with a NY Times delivery to neighbor Vern. The deliveries come with a few minutes sitting on the big white house's porch, chatting. It's only a remnant of normal Cambridge Avenue porch parties, but one-on-one is nice too. Around the other side of the block, Coach Jeane was getting fresh salad fixings from Annie and Debbie's garden. She joked that, now that her position as swimming coach at Fresno State is under threat from virus-caused budget cuts, she uses neighbors as a food bank. Dark humor is better than none.
Back home, Marianne had prepared another good meal. This is getting repetitive, and I am ending up with pictures of almost every meal, because our main meal has become a big deal in our day. That's actually a good thing. Today, it was made better by palascintas for dessert. Nephew Spencer had called and asked for the Hungarian crepe recipe for a school project, and Marianne was obligated to whip up a batch. We thought about how Magdalena would have approved. We miss her.
After dinner it was, as usual, work on art (Marianne) and photo software (me). We're glad we have distractions in these times.
That was Day 62
History: Back in America, we love being with happy grandkids, even if sometimes we need to share their pain. Poor Sammy.
Friday, May 15, Day 63
Another ordinary day. My morning included a Zoom call sponsored by the Leica owner's group, where Leica Director Stefan Daniel and Chairman Dr. Andreas Kaufmann talked about the current and future state of the company. It was an interesting insight into a 100-year old luxury technology brand. Kaufmann stressed the importance of adhering to the history and traditions of the company, which is majority-owned by his family. Daniel talked about the difficulty of manufacturing shutdowns, noting that they had restarted the Portugal factory and would begin Monday at the home factory in Wetzlar, Germany. I suppose a company that made it through WWI, the Depression, WWII, Soviet removal of equipment and technology, and post-war Germany has a long view of the current difficulties.
Our other morning activity was a trip to Allard's Art Supply for a materials order for our own factory: Marianne Art. Seeing the cost of the special paints she bought, we may have more in common with Leica than I thought. Quality does not come cheap.
Back home I spent considerable time photographing back yard wildlife. Our new dove chicks finally decided to leave the nest in the porch rafters, but were not excited about moving very far. For hours, they sat on the back stoop, where I presume they had landed. Later they managed to walk out to the garden and hide below a rose bush, using their brown-speckled coloring to blend in with the mulched dirt. Their mother did keep an eye on them and, once or twice, came close enough to give some feeding lessons. Flying lessons, however, must be later on in the school year. I just hope they learn to fly before neighborhood cats come this way.
I snapped other animals too, just because I need practice for that big African safari we need to book. Soon.
Meanwhile, Marianne worked in a little practice with her new art material and then moved on to culinary artistry. We made the meal a wine-y one, something we have been cutting down on because it's too easy to stay in that regime. We abandoned the wine-every-afternoon practice seven months ago, when medical complications became too serious. Now, we know there are negative, but limited, effects, and sometimes we simply enjoy sipping and talking with our best friends - each other.
And that was Day 63
History: A 2018 note talking about the shift from freedom to go when we liked to needing to pay more attention to Mamo and a reminder of why we came back to California.
Saturday, May 16, Day 64
This was another nice cool and sunny morning, and I should have gone out on a long walk. Instead, I walked five houses down and left a gift for Daniella for her graduation from Cal Berkeley. This is graduation season, from Daniella at University, nephew Adam from high school, or grand daughter Ava moving on from elementary to middle school. In this season of COVID19 shutdown and distancing, all these young people lose something, but maybe there will be a gain as all young 2020 graduates in the world will have an experience in common from which to start relationships.
Our own bit of normalcy was going out for bagels. Well, sorta normal. We drove 20 minutes to Uncle Harry's New York Bakery, put on our masks, ordered two bagels and two scones from masked and gloved employees, paid without touching, and left. The baked goods remain tasty, but the commercial experience is way too impersonal.
Back home, we sat for awhile in our back yard, thankful to have a nice retreat. When we bought the house six-and-a-half years ago, I was not in favor of such a big yard, but now it serves us well, particularly in the springtime, before the heat arrives. It seemed like we were surrounded by animals, or at least by bugs and noisy squirrels and birds, including our adopted family of doves. It's OK to have the time to slow down and enjoy it all.
In the afternoon we joined old friends Mary, John, Chin, Peter, Nancy, and Steve for a Zoom reunion. We had all become friends twenty-some years ago in Kiev and have stayed in touch ever since. They all live in the Eastern Time Zone and we've not had an in-person gathering in many years, so the new distance-bridging technology is perfect for a renewal. Everyone is now retired and most would normally be traveling the world, but in these not-normal times, Zoom-ing is the best we can do. Good enough, for now.
Otherwise, the day was like most others: lunch-dinner, Marianne painting, evening photos for me, and almost-completion of that darned jigsaw puzzle.
That was Day 64
History: "Inter ductile invasive carcinoma" and "lumpectomy" became the center of our new vocabulary, and lives.
Sunday, May 17, Day 65.
I woke at 4:30 and got out of bed before 5:00. I felt like the face on our garden wall, beady-eyed and puffy. I hope the day gets better.
To feel productive, I worked on my puzzle, finally putting together almost all the missing pieces. I honestly did not think I'd make it. Now, if I could just find the remaining pink piece. Anyone want to be next with this 999-piece torture?
The rest of our day was another make-do series of activities. Our pet doves kept us busy guessing if the chicks would survive another day. After an amount of hen-coaching, they managed to fly to the top of the fence, where they sat all puffed up for a few hours. These are not world-traveling birds.
Otherwise, my outside exercise consisted of more pictures of flowers, a gnome, and a snail. That's about as exciting as our life is nowadays.
After the back yard work, Marianne retreated to her art hut to work more on her current project. This step involved masking over some of her prior work so she can paint over the rest. I am not sure I understand all this work, but see seems excited about the progress and that's all that matters for an artist.
My art consisted of using some of the Photoshop training to build a 16"x24" composite of the solar eclipse that we witnessed a few years ago. This was a long-standing item on my to-do list, so I hope it looks nice when it comes back from the printer.
And that was Day 65
History: Not yet healed from surgery, Marianne and the family were dealing with the trauma and logistics of taking Mamo from her house of 60+ years to Nazareth House, her final home.
Monday, May 18, Day 66
My mornings start the same, every day. I wake early, quietly get out of bed, and dress for the day. In Fresno, "dress for the day" means shorts, shirt, slippers, and sandals later. I will go Spring, Summer, and Fall months without grown-up long-pants. Then I go to the coffee room and start our fancy Jura machine. Outside the back door, I inspect our back garden while waiting for the Swiss device to go through its warm-up, clean, and brew process. This produces good coffee and the routine is reassuring in these days.
After reading the paper, it will be time to bring Marianne her coffee in bed. Every day. Her routine. On this day, she commented that the morning light was nice and suggested I go on a photo excursion. That was the encouragement I needed, so I grabbed a camera and headed out. I started in our own back yard, with pictures of rain-soaked flowers, a theme for the whole shoot. In the end, I clicked 145 times, mostly of flowers I have come to know and recognize after two months of neighborhood exploration. Like Ansel Adams, I shoot what's in front of me, although he had Yosemite and I stick to the neighbors' yards around Fresno City College.
In these times of isolation, my walking trails were empty, just like Adams' in Yosemite. Here is my flower bouquet, a record for me of a pleasant outing. Remember, even on virus-emptied streets, there are things to see.
Now, what else did we do? Oh yeah, this was a Kaiser Medical day. Marianne needed follow-ups from various folks, starting with emails with her oncologist, informative enough, but not very personal. The news was kind of mediocre, about developing fingernail problems, and other side effects from chemo. If its not one thing, ... . Then there was an appointment in Clovis to have her bone density measured, apparently a prerequisite for radiation treatment. That was quick and easy, but results are not immediate. Let's hope she's dense enough. Finally, Marianne had a six-month appointment with her surgeon, who answered more treatment questions, while examining scars from the October work. Again, no significant problems, just a series of reminders that cancer recovery is a very long journey.
Other than that, everything was isolation-normal: chores, art (Marianne), software lesson (John), lunch-dinner, quiet evenings. Throughout the day, we had our adopted dove family to keep us distracted. In the morning, the "squabs" (dove chicks) huddled under their favorite rose bush. In the afternoon, they took sunny naps up on the fence, with mom (or dad) watching guard. By evening, they were enjoying the fence perch themselves, seemingly even more grown over the course of just one more day.
And that was Day 66.
History: Settled in Nazareth House, Magdalena presided over a Thanksgiving dinner. Days later, her world shrank again, as deteriorating conditions required her to be moved to a Care Center room.
Tuesday, May 19, Day 67
This was a day with plenty of social interaction, most of it distant. Marianne started early, with a Facetime call with Claudia (in Carson City, Nevada) for art lessons and collaboration. I made a point to say hello, because that's what I would do in person, so it is properly friendly and, besides, it gets me out to see the backyard in a nice morning light.
A couple hours later, we had our first of three Zoom sessions of the day. This one was with our financial advisors, Equius Partners, and featured a presenter from Dimensional Funds, the mutual fund organization Equius uses and on which our retirement depends. It was titled: "Investing in the Age of Covid-19". The message was not too different from what we have heard all along, including in down times over the last 35 years: have a plan and implement it. Everyone is asking "Is this time different?" and the financial wizards answered "Yes and no." I asked if there was a time for when one should put all money in cash, the under-the-mattress approach, and the Dimensional expert pushed the responsibility back to us, the investor, saying even cash is not safe against inflation. Oh boy, more thinking.
Next on our Zoom schedule was a Leica-sponsored conversation titled "Life as a Canvas", with photographer David Alan Harvey. 74-year-old Harvey has been taking pictures professionally since he was very young, and the hour-long discussion covered how he set about making some of his most iconic shots. Interesting, but intimidating, as he gets wonderful results, whether he is using a Leica or a small point-and-shoot. Of course, he only showed about one picture for every three years of his 60-year career. I need to take fewer pictures.
Afternoon socializing was more personal. I phoned son Brian to ask how things were in Colorado. Asking "What's new?" seems silly, but I do it anyway. Grandson Rich's last day of school would be Wednesday and the family was wondering about summer camps, virtual or in-person. He has camps that have been traditional over the years, but it seems few, if any, will happen in 2020. He's not happy. We understand, but have no words of sage grandparent advice.
Next on my social agenda was delivering the New York Times to neighbor Vern. I try to pass along my paper every day and we take the opportunity to sit on his front porch and chat. I enjoy hearing events from his 90+ years and he is a good listener as well. I am comfortable with a small one-on-one porch meeting, but am still reluctant to join the larger group of neighbors that assemble around cocktail time. I wonder when that will change.
We did have a 5:00 pm party, a Zoom-tail party with friends in Los Gatos and Santa Cruz. This is our third or fourth weekly round of distant-partying and, while it would be nicer all in the same room, this is an OK compromise. We compare notes about ourselves and our isolated families. No one has special answers, but we all agree that hearing and seeing each other helps. A good use of technology.
After Zoom, I went for a walk and chatted with neighbor Blain, covering the complications of having two kids and two parents, all schooling from home, two as students and two as University professors. They manage, but patience frays. This makes me thankful our child-raising and working days passed before C19 isolation! Good luck to them.
That was Day 67
History: Two paths in December, chemotherapy and Mamo care.
Wednesday, May 20th, Happy Birthday Geoff, Day 68
Instead of stuck in lock-down, I'll pretend we are traveling up into a nearby National Park in the Sierras. What might we do? First, we would find a quaint cabin, one with giant trees and a nice view. Done.
We would need good Internet to stay in touch with family. (Local National Parks seldom have decent mobile or wifi connections, but this is all make-believe anyway.)
Besides, Marianne is still working and she would need to connect with her distance-learning students.
After connections, we could go for a long walk and take pictures of wildlife, flowers, and massive evergreens. Can do.
Sooner or later, we would need to shop for dinner ingredients at a local farmer's stand. It is cherry and berry season, so the offerings are exceptional. No wonder bears like this park.
No travel stop would be complete without a little art and music. The chalk-artist is locally-famous. The traveling musicians seemed a little stiff, but put on a reliable show.
And, after a good night's rest, we returned to the real world.
That was Day 68
History: One diary covered Mamo's 100th birthday and her departure to fly with the angels.
Thursday, May 21, Day 69
I started the day with answering the questionnaire on my Project Baseline Study Watch. No COVID symptoms and two faces:
physical emotional. I also said good morning to our nesting dove. She just kicked two babies from the nest and is working on another pair. Google research says Mourning Doves breed six times a year and often return to the same nest. The things we learn in shutdown.
Marianne started her day with a conversation with Dale, in Bavaria. These face-to-face calls may be the part of technology that we appreciate the most. It's not as good as being there, but it will have to suffice for now.
We also got a message from Gabby showing Sam's friends passing by in a parade of cars in honor of his birthday. It's not as much fun as having all the friends over for a swim and a turn in a bouncy house, but it will have to suffice for now.
I enjoyed yard work exercise, filling the green waste container being my weekly goal each Thursday. In normal times, this might be a chore, but nowadays, it's nice to have a goal and reach it. Marianne worked a little more on her painting, making progress slowly. Everything is good enough for now.
Our afternoon meal was exceptional, again. (Is that an oxymoron?) We added too much wine to make up for not being at a birthday party for Sam, like we almost always are. We would definitely rather be drinking water with noisy kids, eating too-sweet cake and cupcakes, but ....
To balance the calories, I took a walk, mostly in the Fresno City College campus, practicing Leica camera techniques. While my Q2 model has a good auto-focus, tradition has it that Leica users need to be able to focus manually, to properly implement the pioneering (in the 1920s) Leica range-finder. So, practice I did. Not interesting subject matter, but done with whatever is there at the time. Little flowers are around almost all the time, and once a day, so are shadows.
Back from the school grounds, I ran across neighbors. Annie asked me to take a family picture with her, Debbie, and the dog whose name I forget. Around the block it was Blain, Hazel, Eloise, and their new puppy Ruthie (named after the notorious RBG.) Nice neighbors all. Things will be nicer when we can all gather for pot lucks on the Cambridge Commons, but at-proper-distance encounters will have to suffice for now.
That was Day 69
History: A family gathering to put Mamo's ashes to rest. How long before we can all gather again?
Friday, May 21, Day 70
Even quieter. In fact, this may have been the dullest day yet. I read other people's records of how they have used this unusual time to organize and clean and read and watch movies. As a rule, I have not been doing these things, although Marianne does work in a movie period just before going to sleep.
Today, however, was different. We cleaned the house. Marianne covered a floor and a half, while I did two rooms.
I did one fix-it job, the ten-year-old yard whirly-gig from Germany needed repair and, after a year or two, I finally got a round toit. It's nice to have the piece spinning again, reminding us of the old life.
At dinner, we evaluated Marianne's ongoing art project. Almost done. She ended up working late into the night and we will have a big reveal tomorrow.
I took along a camera on my after-dinner walk, as I always do, but found nothing worth clicking. That's how dull things were.
After my walk, I reviewed the local Corona Virus statistics. Discouraging. New cases in California and in Fresno are both increasing. California deaths have not significantly decreased in a month-and-a-half. I don't know how to justify going back into crowds.
That was Day 70.
History: In early February this year, our path to 2020 travel got complicated by one more trip to the Emergency Department.
Saturday, May 23, Happy Birthday Sam
I started the day with an inspection of the back yard roses. I am afraid they are mostly gone, something that happens every year but, this year, I paid attention and have a record. A good thing, I suppose.
We also called Sammy early to wish him a happy birthday. He seemed a little somber, maybe because a FaceTime greeting isn't the same as a Gigi greeting with fresh palascintas (crepes) for breakfast.
We dined out for breakfast at one of our favorites, Starbucks on Blackstone and Barstow. Pre-C, I would have been in here writing a diary a few days every week and chatting with barista Justin. This time, we talked briefly through the drive-thru window, at least enough to know his family and ours are all healthy. Then we went to our shady table (in the parking lot.)
Next came another Saturday treat; shopping at the Vineyard Farmer's Market. Fresh fruits had started arriving and the strawberries, raspberries, and cherries were as good as we've ever had. All the fruits and produce come from nearby farms, as fresh as is possible. Strawberries, particularly, were special because they are a variety that doesn't ship more than a few miles, so they are for locals only. (Seeing all the normally-friendly farmers and customers in masks was a melancholy reminder of the times.)
Back home, Cambridge Avenue was getting decorated with Memorial Day flags. I have heard rumors that on Monday there will be a traditional holiday gathering on "the commons", with food, drink, and properly-distanced conversation. Due to age, condition, and worry, it's a party we will pass on. Too bad.
Marianne finished the painting she has been working on for a month or more. It's a bold and complex work that she likes very much and self-satisfaction is the goal in all this.
I settled for an afternoon with good read, Madeline Albright's latest, Hell and Other Destinations. I was hooked after the first few pages and it felt good to get into an interesting book again. I had started a series of "meh" books, so this was encouraging.
For photographic interest, I took a picture of cobwebs in the garage. This REALLY showed me I needed to spend a few hours cleaning the place up before the Fresno summer arrives and discourage any and all outside activity. (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week are forecast for 106F to 109F. Way too hot to work.)
Another good outdoor dinner and dessert were followed by a walk along one of the local canals. It's not Venice or Paris and the Seine, but it will do for now.
And that was Day 71
History: In early March, we went to Ava's birthday party and Sam's baseball game. By the end of another week , the world had changed.
Sunday, May 24, Day 72
Another in a string of quiet days. During our patio breakfast, I watched a spider fly his web from a post to a downwind tree. Somehow, he moved the vertical strand like a sail and the main horizontal piece went up and down, seemingly under the little pilot's control. While I was distracted by the little trapeze artistry, a spider-buddy bite my leg and, 24-hours later, I am nursing a two-inch wide red-and-yellow swelling. I guess the Fresno bug season has arrived.
My activity list was pretty short. I called Geoff and we shared there-is-nothing-going-on stories. I framed my 2017 eclipse picture and started to frame Marianne's painting as well. It's easy enough to do, but provides a little satisfaction nonetheless.
I followed up with New York Times and Internet news. My interesting story of the day was from a Utah paper which said where the hot spots have been for our virus. Avoid bars, clubs, buffets, churches (choirs, especially), stadiums, and hugging families. In fact, hugging, cheek-kissing, and hand shaking may all need to be ruled out. Sad.
Dinner was partially leftovers, but excellent: shredded chicken, roasted sweet potatoes, pickled beets and an apricot dessert. Some day soon, we will try restaurant take-out, but food quality will not be the incentive. Fresno restaurants are opening up for inside dining this week too, but we'll wait for infection rates to go down and we will start with outside dining. Originally, I said we'd wait for zero new infections, but I doubt we have that patience.
My after dinner walk was as-usual: same streets, same sidewalks, mostly the same flowers. We are clearly moving away from the colorful offerings of Spring. Fresno summer hits on Tuesday, so even these late bloomers will probably get baked and dried.
And that was Day 72
History: We've now caught up on the bits and pieces of our diary-recorded history that may contribute to how we handle the current difficulties. It's been a useful exercise as it reminds me of friend Jean-Loup's favorite saying: "It could be worse."
Monday, Memorial Day, May 25, Day 73
Memorial Day is the traditional opening of the summer season, but traditional holiday enthusiasm is taking a hit in 2020. It's hard to get excited. For me, a photo excursion can help, so that's what I tried. Leaving home at 5:40 am, in short-sleeve, 65F weather, I walked the mile or so north to an irrigation canal that has water this time of year and good light this time of the morning.
My photo subjects included the geese and ducks who peacefully coexist between the canal and the neighborhood. The gosling are grown since Day 59.
After wild birds, I shot a series of the old Deodar Cedar in this neighborhood. These monsters loom over the small bungalows and are climbing temptations inside. Eventually, however, they grow skinny and die. No comment.
Flowers and bugs are always on the morning docket. The pollen-speckled, jet-black bee let me shoot a dozen shots while he flitted from blossom to blossom. Trumpet-shaped blossoms stayed still and quiet.
Back home we eventually got around to breakfast. The patio was a comfy 80F by 10:00am and I bet tomorrow we will need to serve by 8:00 to stick to such a pleasant dining temperature. After breakfast, I delivered the New York Times down to Sellands, but Vern was still in bed, not feeling well. At 93, he is Cambridge Avenue's ranking member and it's a concern.
The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent with what passes for normal. I wrote a bit and had enough attention span to read for an hour. Marianne disappeared into the art world for a few hours. We went out to (pick-up) dinner at Curry Chicken, a favorite Indian-Italian (= American) hole-in-the-wall. They still do not allow inside dining, but our own patio is more pleasant than their basic interior anyway.
Writing this 20 hours later, I can't remember what we did next. Our days do blend into one another and I am glad there is a daily record, just in case something noteworthy happens, but I guess Memorial Day afternoon was just not noteworthy.
As the sun was going down, we both went out for a short walk. Over at the community college campus friends Kathy and Jeanne were exercising their dogs. I wonder if dogs are getting tired of all this exercise. Kathy's maybe, but Jeane's dog Goose seems like he could chase balls all day, every day.
We had a chance to chat a bit with Jeanne about her job as Fresno State University's women's swim coach. Like all people connected to college and professional sports, she faces uncertainty. The school is undecided about what sports it can afford, in large part because revenue-generating sports, primarily football, may or may not happen in 2020. Eighty FSU sports part-time employees were let go this week and more announcements are set for Tuesday morning.
Our last stop was the garage-chalkboard on Normal Street. ("Normal" as in a school for teaching teachers, the original mission for the California - and other - State Colleges, including Fresno State when it was here in the neighborhood. Now you know.) Today, it asked for contribution for remembrances, for veterans I'm sure, but we added a note for Mamo, our war refugee. Close enough.
So Day 73 ended. I wish this whole thing could end, but too many people are still getting sick and some are dying. That elderly and compromised thing, you know.
Tuesday, May 26, Day 74
I'm not sure we were joining the rest of the country in "starting to open up" but at least we left the house. The first stop was The Market, a very nice grocery that has elder shopping from 8:00 to 9:00 each morning. I did notice that, other than toilet paper and tissues, the shelves were pretty well stocked. After getting food, we went to Costco to fill up the Jeep diesel tank for the first time in almost two months. We had driven only 377 miles, maybe half of that between home and Kaiser Medical Centers. Our world had shriveled since April 1.
Back home, things were quiet - again. We inspected the dove nest, checked the late morning temperature (almost 100F), did more art learning (Marianne), and finished the prior day's diary (me). I delivered the NYT to Vern and we compared current medical maladies. His right hand is swollen and almost immobile and my spider bite is looking nasty. Neighbor (and Doctor) Steve came by and gave us each free consulting, recommending in both cases that we contact our regular doctors via "telemedicine", the newly popular practice during times of COVID-19. I did it, and it worked for my bite and I hope Vern did it for his "gout or pseudo-gout". I'll check on him. That's what Cambridge Avenue neighbors do.
Dinner was early and good, as usual. Marianne had picked up some calamari steaks at The Market and prepared them as well as any local restaurant would.
No wine with dinner, because we had to save ourselves for the Tuesday Zoom cocktail party with Los Gatos and Santa Cruz friends. There were some technology challenges at the beginning of the call, but the video conference is always worth it by the end. I can't say anyone had anything big to report, but just touching base is enough.
After Zoom, Marianne returned to her studio for a little bit, before a sore back brought her back up to her mom's old recliner. Thanks, Mamo!
Meanwhile, I walked. I checked to see if nearby businesses Ampersand (ice cream) and Vernissage (art gallery) might have signs of opening, but not yet. Depending on crowds, these may be among the first indoor places we visit, once we decide it is safe. Hard to say when that will be.
After that, I clicked a few more-of-the-same pictures. A rose, a bug on a rose, a neighbor watering. Records of a normal day's evening.
That was Day 74
Wednesday, May 27, Day 75
Plan: Early walk, Marianne art collaboration, air conditioning service, Leica Zoom course, Marianne art lesson for Ava and Sam, slow beef ribs BBQ. This may be the busiest day of all our captivity. (Not so busy by regular life standards, but this isn't regular time.)
In fact, we did the plan. My morning walk was through City College. They were running fountains for me to practice for the time when I will again be able to take pictures of falling water in Yosemite. Water is water. I also noted new construction on Blackstone Avenue, not significant except for us "Better Blackstone" folks. Then there were a few neighborhood snaps. Cute (enough) neighborhood, but not Yosemite.
Marianne's collaboration with Claudia and class with Ava and Sam both went well, although all this tele-education took hours. By all reports, fun hours. (I checked on progress from time to time to make sure it's all serious learning.)
Our air conditioning guys did their annual service and pronounced our 29-year-old system healthy, or at least not needing replacement yet. With a forecast high of 109F, that was good news for the day. Air conditioning in Fresno is as important as a furnace in Minneapolis.
My Leica course covered making photo books using Lightroom and "blurb" software. The teacher made it seem easy and, to a degree, it is. After class, I spent a hour or two reviewing what I might want to "publish" and ran across the problem I have hit before: there are too many options! Our photo library is immense, with thousands of shots that could look nice in a photo book or magazine. The thought of choosing pictures, themes, papers (!), and then layouts and text and titles is daunting. I know it's easy to simply throw a dozen or two pictures into an album and sending them off to "blurb" to print, but my fussiness won't allow it.
While all this was going on, we tried our hand(s) at barbecue beef ribs. All the recipes we could find called for long and slow cooking, so that's what I did: six hours at 250F. The result was ... meh. I think the basic problem was that the beef ribs were mostly ... ribs. Not much meat. Too bad we don't have dogs to offer treats.
But, "cooking" for the day wasn't over. Down in the basement, next to the tuned-up old air conditioning equipment, I had found our "Rumtopf" pot. In the old country, these pots get loaded with in-season fruit and then filled with high-test rum. The idea is that one did this in the summer and, by Christmas, the mixture was ready to ladle over ice cream or baked goodies. In principle, one uses only a portion before adding the next year's summer fruit and continuing the process - kind of like adding to a sour dough starter. We'll, four or five years ago, we did the add fruit and rum step, but we never got around to sampling.
We opened the pot, not knowing what might jump or ooze out. But, the fruit was still submerged and, when spooned to the surface, looked good enough to taste, and so we did. Not bad! (And we are still alive the next day, so not deadly). We added some Bacardi 151 and now plan to add more fruit, so the tradition will remain in place. Maybe by Christmas, we can invite you over for a taste.
That was Day 75.
Thursday, May 28, Day 76
Little planned. Little done.
I did required isolation walking, morning and evening, but my camera ended up without a single image. Am I finally saturated by all the routine? Maybe.
I visited neighbor Vern, in his TV room. Nothing remarkable, except that this was the first time I had been inside someone else's house since March 10th, when we visited Nelcy in San Rafael, near the end of the Before Times. Marianne and I talk now about how we will rejoin society, but it's so hard to say, when Fresno and California COVID-19 cases are still increasing.
Marianne had voice and video calls with friends in Germany, Virginia, and California. She's good about that. She also started planning work for her next art piece. The process she is now learning involves a fair amount of planning, although the first stage is called "playing". It all keeps her busy.
Dinner was Weißwurst, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, and black bread. Washed down with a decent pink wine. This is all perfect for a diet.
After dinner, Marianne went over to her sister's house for a swim and properly-distanced conversation. I suppose this was another baby step toward societal reintegration. Now, if we could just see our way to visiting grandkids.
That was Day 76.
Friday, May 29, Day 77 and the end of Week 11
I was up and out by 5:40, trying my best to get the exercise I need and the photography practice I want. In an hour walk, I saw pretty skies for a few minutes and then the same quiet streets I've monitored for 11 weeks. At the end, I tacked on picture-taking of backyard roses, a second crop for the year, not as bright and varied as the first, but still something to distract me from thinking in and about isolation.
As usual, one of my early at-home tasks was to draw up a daily to-do list. This Friday's list was eleven, doable items, such as writing a diary, paying bills, fixing Marianne's email, and walking (twice - logged by my tracker.) Unusually, by day's end, I had finished everything on the list. Reading was not on the list, nor were any more photography lessons from the internet. My powers of concentration were just not up to it.
So, in the pandemic lock-down, we are trying to do everything right: exercise, eat well, have activities and interests, and stay away from people. We're fortunate in that we have guaranteed income, a nice home, a walkable, relatively safe town, and good weather. So why did I answer my health study watch's morning question about emotional feelings with a frown-y face? I miss kids and friends and freedom, the freedom to visit who we want, when we want, where we want. I want to eat meals, fixed and served by professionals, in the company of strangers. I want to experience the grandeur of the American West and review in person the history of Western Europe, that other place we have called home.
I avoided news broadcasts most of the week, but caught up some on Friday afternoon and evening. The week had been horrible. One hundred thousand Americans dead from a disease that did not even have a name four months ago. A quarter of American workers are unemployed. Racism, an American disease in resurgence, showed its evil in a New York City's Central Park dog walker, in police murder in Minneapolis, and in presidential tweets - again. The Worst American President is busy picking fights with China and Twitter and ignoring the disintegration of a unified (small-"u") Europe. I worry he will foster wars of many kinds, at home and around the world, just to not be thrown out this coming November. Heaven help us.
And that was Day 77
Saturday, May 30, Day 78
I was awake at 4:15, still worried about Fresno, the country, and the world. Not much I could do about it all, so I just made my daily to-do list. (13 items, of which I would do four-and-a-half.)
Marianne and I restored some normal Saturday practices by going out for breakfast and shopping. Breakfast was take-out from my old Starbucks. Food and coffee were the same as always, good enough, but it was great being greeted by the masked crew like an old friend. I could not settle in to my normal diary-writing table just yet, but that too will happen, safely, sometime. Afterwards, we stopped at the nearby farmer's market and saw that local peaches, apricots, and plums had showed up. Is it summer already?
Back home I resolved to have pictures for a diary, even if the pictures are plain. I started with a little cactus bud in our backyard and the sad "BOCCE OPEN" sign on our fence. I wonder when indeed we will be able to open. Down the street, neighbor Ruthie was wearing a cone-of-shame, following a recent vet visit. Pretty sad.
Elsewhere in the area I snapped the Big Red Church (again), some flowers (again), and a pair of nice trees, a Jacaranda and a whatchamacallit that has spiky little flowers.
While Marianne was busy out in her art studio, I took some quiet time to look at a YouTube that was part of the "Stay Home With Leica" series of interviews with famous photographers. This interview was titled: New York Lock-Down: A Visual Diary with Peter Turnley. Turnley is a photographer with an almost 50-year career, much of it as a war correspondent for Newsweek.
In mid-March, he returned to New York City from Havana, where he had been working on a multi-year project. Without an assignment, he took his Leica M10 and started documenting the city in moving black and white portraits of day-to-day New Yorkers. Despite covering every war of the last decades, Hurley said he considers the fight against COVID19 as the only WORLD war he has seen, and the photo diary has allowed him to cover it from the inside. Since about a week ago, he has shifted to a pandemic diary of Paris, his home of forty years.
Time had flown by, and Marianne had already returned to her other art studio, the kitchen. She prepared another great isolation meal and I chipped in as grill master and sommelier. It is going to be hard to not join Americans who are adding pounds, but we'll try.
After dinner clean up, Marianne returned to the yellow Art Hut. Her current class called for her to "scribble", so that's what she did. Trust me, this sort of work does contribute to starting very interesting art.
That was Day 78
Sunday, May 31, Day 79
A slow start, because it's Sunday, I think. As I write this a day later, my recollections have a Ground-Hog- Day repetition. Awake early, sip coffee, read the NYT, bring coffee upstairs, and move on to daily activities: diary, walk, a few pictures, small chores, check on Marianne's art progress, good meal at 2:30, a little TV, go to bed, and start it all over again the next day. When will it change?
It could be worse. It IS worse for many Americans in many American cities, as frustration with racial distancing and violence appears out of the COVID isolation fog. Fresno has peaceful (masked) protesters, but, here, minorities are the majority. Maybe that helps.
I chose a relatively long walk today, four or five miles, past the ducks in our irrigation canal. The chicks have grown up. In Fig Garden, I pass large, old-for-California homes, many within their own shrub and tree moats and isolation. This is not where the Fresno majority lives.
Back home I avoided chores, except for our monthly financial assessment. Once a month, I get to worry about our retirement finances and this month we are still OK. We are luckier than the Fresno majority.
It's quiet at home. We watch the dove pair protect their eggs. I have enough pictures of the parents now that I can tell a difference, with one having a tinge of brown and a little less blue eye liner. I also added another wild animal to my picture collection, a June Bug that arrived on the patio one day before the namesake month. Who says we can't stay busy.
Marianne's had video calls to family and friends, including art discussion with Claudia. They have both signed up for an on-line course, the first session of which was today, but Zoom technical problems kept Marianne out of class. Her Information Technology specialist was off taking pictures of ducks. Nonetheless, according to the taught program, she added color to yesterday's "scratchings" and art work is appearing.
That was Day 79
Starting with the First of June, I will try to come up with a different feature or two for these diaries. Inclusion of Magdalena's history for life lessons, and links back to our own history of the last two decades has helped break things up and give us our own guidance. But now I need another idea, soon.
Meanwhile, stay home, if you can. Stay busy. Stay in touch, with everyone you know. Stay sane. Stay safe and think of others less fortunate than ourselves.
John and Marianne