Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
After 124 days in isolation, as best we could manage it, we are starting over again. The rate of new California cases never went down, nor did Fresno's, and now we are in a far more contagious and dangerous situation. Actions in the first "opening" killed the chance of a real, significant, opening. Damn.
This brings me to reconsider this diary. The idea of a record remains interesting to me, but the repetition of every day's activities makes a day-by-day record less worthwhile, despite the comfort I get in a daily writing routine. For photos, I feel I've taken a picture of every flower and bird and squirrel and snail in the neighborhood, and leaving the neighborhood isn't in the spirit of a stay-at-home shutdown. Maybe there will be more commentary, especially as we approach schools opening and November 3 elections. We'll see.
Thursday, July 16, Repeat Isolation Day 1 - "R1" for short (or #125)
Another regular day; physical therapy and art study for Marianne, puttering for me. The back porch squabs are peeking out and the new puzzle is taking shape.
My only calendar event was a zoom meeting of the Better Blackstone community action group who's noble goal is to improve Fresno's nine-mile-long, north-south main street. I am part of their community outreach effort and we are supposed to indicate what we WANT Blackstone to be. Frankly, the decay along the street makes it almost, literally, unimaginable. But, I'll try to say something, because otherwise I am not entitled to complain.
That was Day R1
(This day in our history: A 2005 tour of our new Franconia neighborhood.
Friday, July 17, Repeat Isolation Day 2, "R2" (or #126)
Nothing new. I chatted with Vern and Marianne met, virtually, with Claudia to go over the art class they are taking. Marianne has shaken off some of the chemo brain she has been plagued with lately. I work on a puzzle and I try to read, but my ability to concentrate seems limited to puzzle-solving. We check on our "grandkids" on the back porch. They're growing up.
We learn a new NYT word: doomscrolling, obsession with all the negative happenings in the world. The paper offered advice to avoid it, but mostly it was in the category of STOP IT ALREADY. OK, we'll try, but as our country returns to full hospital beds and the federal administration maintains its historically bizarre non-leadership, it's hard to stop.
Dinner was one of Friday's highlights. I know I have often mentioned that almost all of our mid-afternoon dinners during stay-at-home have been good, but this one was exceptional. While Marianne prepared couscous, broccoli, and a pesto sauce, I barbecued salmon fillets and fresh corn.
Dessert was strawberries and fresh cantaloupe, but this was not just ANY melon. We bought it at Whole Foods, always a splurge, but more importantly it was a Del Bosque Farms product. We learned about Del Bosque from an art patron (= anyone who has bought a piece of Marianne's work), a part of the family that owns the farm operation. That friend had explained that the main market for the perfect cantaloupes is Japan, where they are air-shipped, and sold at tens of dollars each. I suspect that, in this pandemic year, trade is off-limits and we locals end up the beneficiaries. This truly was the best cantaloupe I have ever had in my life.
Our other daily highlight was "game night" with the Trotter boys. (They will always remain my "boys", even if they are in their forties.) With a zoom connection between Maryland, Colorado, and California, we played a word-guessing game called Codenames. Despite our own novice status, it was fun, but most importantly, Brian, Geoff, and I were in the same (virtual) room together, something that has not happened in decades. This is a small silver lining to our clouds.
Speaking of clouds, our zoom conversation ended with discussion of school openings for our grandkids in Maryland, Colorado, and California. For none is it a completely decided deal, with each school district exploring a number of generally impossible solutions. Richard will be a high school senior, Ryan and Ava will be in middle school, and Sam and Sean will stay in elementary. Different options are being touted for each age group, but stay-at-home or distant-learning or remote-schooling or virtual-classrooms seem everybody's fall-back. OK enough, but for how long?
That was Day R2 (or Day 126 in the old calendar)
(This day in our history: In 2002 we needed to retrieve our car in Austria.)
Saturday, July 18, Repeat Isolation Day 3, R3 (or #127)
A regular Saturday, starting with the Vineyard Farmers Market. In the past, we had felt comfortable here, in part because it is outside and also because it has not been too crowded. This time was different. Still outside, of course, but many more people, all masked, but not all socially distant. People are getting too complacent, in our view.
Not us. We are renewed believers in stay-at-home. The virus is too wide-spread in Fresno and California and our local hospitals are getting full. There is even talk about activating the 250-bed emergency hospital in the convention center. And there was a street protest over wearing masks. Those idiots are keeping-us-at-home.
At least I had time to finish my 1,008-piece puzzle. I will be seeing these colorful bugs and plants and animals in my dreams. I also finished a book, my first one in months. It was a violent murder mystery, with no redeeming social message, but at least there was no mention of a virus.
Marianne spent part of her day rearranging her art studio. The 12-foot by 12-foot space is pretty tight for all she wants to do and this house cleaning was needed and our new hominess gave her plenty of time.
Dinner was too good again and would put on a pound for my Sunday weigh-in. Actually, it was probably the (healthy) snacks I ate after our meal. That is my weakness and I need to get in control or I risk loosing the weight loss I fought hard for over the last few years. The virus shutdown has blocked me from the gym workouts that had successfully kept me in shape. It's discouraging to think how much older and weaker I have become in four months and I don't want to add "heavier" to the list.
The only other excitement has been the pair of young doves that are growing before our eyes. They are a week old today and look like they will be leaving soon. It is still a mystery how mom and dad pass on any necessary information, such as potty training. (They actually hang their little behinds over the outside edge of the nest so the "soil" falls to the ground, or in this case to our back stoop.) And flight lessons?
That was Day R3
(This day in our history: Ending seven nights in Bordeaux in 2012)
Sunday, July 19, Repeat Isolation Day R4 (or #128)
A stay-at-home day, except for a short morning walk. The streets were all empty, something that no longer seems strange, especially on Sunday. In normal times, as many as 30,000 people show up daily at our neighbor, Fresno City College, but that's a distant memory. The neighbor on Normal Street had a new garage posting, cute, but not as thought-provoking as some of his earlier efforts. Maybe he's getting tired of all this too.
Back home, Marianne did required house chores, watched a little of the Sunday news shows, and then got lost in organizing her studio. Pretty soon she will have to move on to actually painting. I made a back yard hunting blind and settled in to shoot our wild life. We had heard both an owl and a hawk, but could never spot them, much less get an exciting picture. Hummingbirds were more predictable and easier. A tiny moth posed briefly. Our young doves just sat and stared.
Dinner came and went: steak salad and clafuti. After 6pm, we gave the garden extra water to balance the heat of Fresno summer. Making plants feel good is soothing.
That was Day R4
(This day in our history: An extended 2003 visit to Florence, Italy. Visit the next several pages as well.)
Monday, July 20, Restart Day R5 (or #129)
Quiet. No photos on the cameras, except a shot of the grand-doves. I checked my "to-do" list to see if I had done anything. Not much. Walked for milk. Ordered four more puzzles from eeBoo. Started a new book: Pandemic 1918, something to cheer up with. Ten more items on the list remained for Tuesday, and for Wednesday, and for ...
As far as I can remember, Marianne did her stay-at-home normal; a little housework, a little art study (I need to get a snap of her new work-in-progress), a good dinner, rest.
That was Day R5
(This day in our history: Repair/rebuild our backyard in 2014.)
Tuesday, July 21, Restart Day 6, aka "R6". (or #130)
Almost as quiet as Monday, but not quite. I got some limes for afternoon cocktails on my morning walk over to Smart and Final. Then I read the New York Times. I look forward to the Tuesday Science section, although much of "science" currently is a replay of virus and vaccine discussions from Section A of the paper.
After I finished reading, I delivered the paper over to Joan and Vern and chatted a little. Joan showed me the huge mushroom she had threatened to put in Vern's omelet. He passed. (Joan does NOT like pictures of herself, but every once in awhile I need to sneak one in.)
Vern and I rambled, as we do, and he brought out three comedy albums from the olden days, days and performers that I actually remember: George Carlin, Bob Newhart, and Spike Jones. His memories included actually seeing some of these performers in person, as part of his early life as a part-time jazz singer. My memories are less vivid, just a college student getting a chuckle.
The rest of our morning and afternoon was "regular". Marianne got in some more art work and fixed us French toast for dinner, excellent French toast with thick sour dough bread and a special, more-than-eggs coating. I continued to read about 1918 and I also started another puzzle, this one a "4 Dimension" map of San Francisco, where one layer is the original colony and another layer is the modern city, topped with little models of the iconic buildings. This should be fun.
Our real excitement was the Tuesday Zoom Cocktail party with friends Rita, Adrienne, their husbands, and Gabby. I don't even remember what all we covered, except that there was a good amount of laughing and an enthusiastic commitment to reassemble next week.
Doves. That's our other development. The two youngsters, nine-days-old, finally worked up the nerve to fly away. We had watched them all day long as they alternated between periods of nervous staring over the edge of the porch beam and settling back into the comfy nest. Mom or dad would return occasionally, or watch from the fence, and seem to encourage flight. We didn't actually see the first flights. One minute both chicks were there and then just one. An hour later, that last one was gone. We'll miss them and the distraction they provided, but there may be more dove drama in a couple weeks. We'll see.
This shot from Gabby is of Ava and Sam waiting for ice cream up in Truckee. I can't tell you how sad it makes us to see these grand-babies in masks and all that implies. Like the rest of us, they are at risk and we have no idea when and where their old and compromised grandparents will be able to hug them again.
Day R6 ended with a sunset out our front door. This would have been better from high in the Sierras, but every year is different. This year, very different.
(This day in our history: Last year in Silver City, high in the Sierras.)
Wednesday, July 22, Day R7 (or #131)
Marianne's morning was busy with meetings, of the type we have nowadays. First, it was an hour or so with Dale in Bavaria. I believe the conversation normally runs a full range from art to grandkids to politics to mutual friends to politics. And, probably, the effects of virus on life, although Germany is in much better shape than the US, with a return to most activities. We're jealous.
Following that Skype call, Marianne started a Facetime session with Ava and Sam: Whimsical Wednesday. This is a stay-at-home tradition where Marianne takes a couple hours to teach art to the grandkids who we can no longer visit. Today's art lesson was portraiture in the Picasso style. (I need to get the pictures to post here.) All fun.
My activity was simpler: yard work, reading, puzzle pieces, and a nap. All the excitement possible.
While doing the yard work, I discovered that one of our little doves had not yet left our yard and was waiting under a rose bush for instructions. While I watched, the dove's sibling showed up on the fence and, in whatever bird communication they use, convinced the straggler to fly off together. Pretty darn cute and now we can be confident that our little back porch family is back together.
Beyond that, not much. Dinner was Hungarian green beans and wienies. I know, the menu does not sound special, but it was tasty, simple, comfort food, just what's needed.
That was Day R7
(This day in our history: Medevac, 2001.)
Thursday, July 23, Repeat Isolation Day R8 (or #132)
My day started with a short camera walk. I am losing enthusiasm for these strolls, in part because I can think of nothing new or different to see or shoot. Over the last 133 days, I have covered all the streets and sidewalks within a 30-minute radius. Now, as summer wears on, flowers have almost disappeared and birds, squirrels, and bugs seem less willing to pose.
Most of the rest of the morning was spent shopping, a big excursion for us nowadays. Marianne bought some clothes while I got my shirts out of the cleaners and then we stopped at Whole Foods. I know WF is over-priced, but we are becoming less and less cost conscious when it comes to food at home, particularly for fruits. The quality is good and many items are from local farms and suppliers. I speculate that WF has managed to divert some top quality goods from their normal restaurant or overseas buyers.
The rest of the day was unremarkable, as all days seem to be. I finished "Pandemic 1918", but ended up with fewer insights from this history than I had hoped. The early 20th century flu was horrendous, and government, society, and medical institutions were not prepared, but I got no magic insights for today's virus beyond "wear masks and stay home". One hundred years later, and we are left with the same anti-pandemic tools.
That was day R8.
(This day in our history: A Tuscan farm in 2003.)
Friday, July 24, Day R(estart)9 (or #133)
A day with no pictures, not even ones that don't rise to the level of this diary. I started the day with a ten-item to-do list and almost all items remain for Saturday, Sunday, or whenever.
For the record, I did the Friday watering while Marianne exercised and then she and Claudia had art class - three hours worth! I read more of my book about Zeppelins. It won't make it to a best seller list. My San Francisco jigsaw puzzle reached the stage where I almost gave up, too many pieces that look alike. Maybe better progress on Saturday, Sunday, or whenever.
In the afternoon, Marianne had an errand to the Post Office and picked up ready-made sushi bowls at Whole Foods. Does this count as dining out? After dinner she had another physical therapy session out at Kaiser, just her left shoulder this time. The right-side therapist canceled. I think the only thing productive I did in the afternoon was eat the sushi bowl.
At 6, we had a Zoom game night with Geoff, Brian, and Jen. We played the word game, Codebreaker, we had been introduced to last week and it remains a fun way to spend some time with family. I'm not sure my gaming skill improved for this second round, but it's the occasion that matters. A few years ago, when Marianne and I were visiting Colorado, we joined Brian, Jen, and Richard at a real Friday game night at the Boulder "maker space" - different games, more folks, still positive memories. (After the trip, we bought one or two of the games and introduced them to Ava and Sam.) All this stuff is more fun in person, but we Zoom what we can.
And that was Day R9
(This day in our history: A 2010 Irish festival Franconia.
Saturday, July 25, Day R(estart) 10 (or #134)
After a couple of days without a morning walk, I forced myself out of the house at 6:15. I brought along two cameras because I was getting out of the picture-taking habit and I need to keep up the muscle memory ... for that big safari, you know? Today's hunt did not find much, but at least the bees kept me on my toes. When I get back home to look at pictures, I am always impressed with how well nature organizes the complexity of even simple sunflowers.
My nice little walk ended with a chat with Vern and Joan. I feel like Cambridge Avenue protocol requires reporting in if we are going to be gone, even for a few hours. Besides, chatting with neighbors (outside, properly distant) is always good.
Saturday was house cleaner day, so Marianne and I had to evacuate the house to let Juanita do her thing. All three of us are very careful about the risk of virus spread and leaving seems best, although Marianne might prefer closer supervision. She's fussy about cleaning. Oh well, another day, another year.
Our first stop was breakfast at La Parisian in Clovis. Our dining criteria nowadays is well-spaced, clean, outdoor tables with masked clerks and customers. The little bakery seemed to do this well enough. Our omelet sandwiches were also very tasty, although food quality almost seemed like an extra. What a world we live in.
Earlier, neighbor Joan had suggested we stop at Peach on Earth to pick up fresh fruit and this sounded like a better goal than anything we had come up with, even though it meant going all across town to the West side. We had plenty of time and besides, "all across town" in Clovis-Fresno isn't like in LA or San Francisco.
A few miles west of Highway 99 we found the Peach on Earth fruit stand and it, too, was organized for the pandemic, with signs for masking, lines for spacing, and plexiglas barriers. Behind it all, the folks managed to be friendly and enthusiastic about their peaches, plums, and hybrids of the two. We picked up a $7 bucket of Elberta peaches just off the trees and then splurged with a peach cobbler, just out of the oven.
We still had hours left before we could go home, so we kept heading west, across San Joaquin Valley farmland, miles and miles of vineyards, orchards, and fields. Out to where things were getting dryer, there was a grass fire and a California Fire utility truck passed us and turned off onto dirt roads to check it out. Apparently the small crew was not enough because pretty soon real equipment arrived, including a huge dirt dozer to make sure this fire knew its limits. There are billions of dollars worth of crops, animals, and farm equipment out here, so grass fires are taken seriously.
Farther west, we saw a crew harvesting watermelons and decided to stop and take a picture of this seasonal activity. As I approached with my camera, no one seemed to mind. Everyone was busy with laughing and joking as they moved the heavy fruit from ground to truck. There's not a lot of social distancing in this work, or masks, and I hope the valley workers are not hit too hard with COVID. This is just another reminder of how lucky we are who can, in fact, stay safe and apart.
The valley gets drier as one travels west. All crops are irrigated throughout the San Joaquin, but water rights are less generous away from the historic farmland in the east. However, we did run across a new crop going in that requires very little water: solar panels. We had not seen these particular fields before and the rows seemed to go forever and stretch to the horizon.
Back home we stuffed the refrigerator with more fruit, reminded that it's a nice season to be in Fresno. Dinner main course was peach cobbler, a la mod.
And that was Day R10
(This day in our history: Ava and Sam's big German adventure in 2013.)
Sunday, July 26, Day R(estart) 11 (or #135)
I try to take snapshots to document the day, so I don't have to depend on my fading memory. When it came time to write the Sunday diary, those memories were indeed pretty blank, and my iPhone contained just three shots: a morning view of the rose garden, the coffee maker, and Marianne's turkey dinner. I'm not sure anything happened between morning coffee and the evening meal.
No, that's not true. I did talk to Geoff and Suzanne back in Maryland. It sounded like they were having an even less-active day, in part because the weather was that mid-Atlantic misery of 90F+ and 90%+ humidity. I'll take our dry 100F any day.
Other than that call, I'm sure I spent some hours reading the Sunday Fresno Bee and New York Times. I particularly enjoy being able to slowly read and re-read the Times, although I find I can't retain what my favorite stories even said. After newspaper reading, it was puzzle-making until dinner and garden watering after that. We finished with television and that was that.
The end of Day R11.
(This day in our history: A 2012 trip to Brittany.)
Monday, July 27. Day R(estart) 12 (or #136)
Days are slowing down and becoming just days: breakfast, read the paper, share it with neighbors, putter back at home. I don't even putter enough to whittle away at my to-do list. Marianne putters and works on art.
And then there's dinner: steak, corn, salad, and cobbler. After dinner it's reading and napping because it is a PG&E "Smart Day", when we turn off almost all the electricity between 2 and 7pm. Not as big a sacrifice as we originally thought.
After the power comes on again, it is the puzzle, Marianne's current Netflix series, plus a little news: CNN for her and German, French, and British new-for-Americans for me. A day later, I have no idea what I heard or saw.
The end of Day R12.
(This day in our history: Tallinn, Estonia in 2000.)
Tuesday, July 28. Day R(estart) 13 (or #137)
Hardly anything different on Tuesday versus Monday. I started out with a morning walk and took a couple of pictures. The first was of the local garage-bulletin board that was giving off a, positive, Mr. Rogers, vibe and the second was morning light on the palms fronting one of my favorite local homes.
The rest of the day was nothing we had not done on many or most of the of the 138 stay-at-home days: chores, read, visit, paint, lunch-dinner, watch Netflix, CNN, DW, F24, BBC, and NPR - and another PG&E SmartDay. Our Tuesday highlight was a weekly Zoom cocktail meeting with Marianne's friends of very long standing, but only Adrienne and Tony could make it and Marianne and I even eschewed alcohol. Will we ever get back to partying?
The end of Day R13.
(This day in our history: A Fresno July in 2015.)
Wednesday, July 29. Day R(estart) 14 (or #138)
Three dull diaries in a row. Three dull days, I suppose. Today, I will try to make something out of (almost) nothing, because I fear falling into a rut I can not climb out of, particularly given the lack of excitement in our COVID lives. That's just a fact.
My morning walk was as usual, just as the sun was lighting the tops of trees. The red in the light makes for a good start, worth remembering and a picture or two. Plain birds were doing their things as well, including a trio of white-speckled black birds. Strangers. And there were joggers and a towed-by-his-dog skateboarder. Look closely and you can see scuff marks on his shin, although I have never seen him fall.
After my walk and after our breakfasts, Marianne headed to the art hut for some early work. The days are getting pretty hot, and she loses her after-lunch work period because the little air conditioner just can't keep up. She's a bit frustrated with her current piece, but I can never tell if this is temporary or more significant.
She was scheduled for a math lesson with Sammy, but they got their wires crossed and he was out on errands with his mom. At least they got in a quick chat. After a few days home in Monte Sereno, Gabby, Ava, Sam, and Charlie were getting ready for a return to the Truckee cabin. A friend had offered them a ride in the biz-jet he charters, so they were pretty excited. I would be too.
Before noon, we headed out to The Market for our weekly grocery shopping. We divide our list and each try to not be distracted. In the Before Times, shopping was more frequent, less disciplined, and fun. This is becoming completely routine, masks and all.
Our 2:30 lunch-dinner also came from The Market: ready-to-eat barbecue spare ribs, corn bread, and Washington State wine. It's no wonder I am not losing weight, but if I am careful I can avoid adding "the COVID 15". Actually, our shift to just two real meals a day has helped, as long as I remember that snack after snack after snack is WORSE than that third meal. Some days I remember, and some I don't.
Most of the rest of my day was puzzling - that is, making a puzzle. I finished the base layer of my 1852 San Francisco map and broke out the next layer, the same city in modern times. It's a nice enough distraction and will serve us well if we ever make it back to The City.
The end of Day R14.
(This day in our history: Around home in Fresno, 2015)
Thursday, July 30, R(estart) Day 15 (or #139)
Oops. Another quiet day. Way quiet. My morning walk never left the backyard. It's a nice yard, but not as inspirational as, say, a walk along a Pacific beach. Not happening any time soon, but still I take pictures, just for practice.
After breakfast, I read more discouraging news in the NY Times. I don't know why I do it, but I do. And then I share it with a neighbor who actually thanks me.
Marianne headed to her Art Center and a Zoom conference organized by last year's instructor. I gathered this distance-learning was not as interesting as in-person at Sea Ranch. (nor was the spouse photo opportunity.)
The rest of the day went as usual, puzzle-solving, food good enough to add weight, and five hours without air conditioning or television because it was a PG&E "SmartDay". Three days this week were the same, so this is just another "new normal".
That was Day R(estart) 15 or Day 140 overall.
(This day in our history: A German July in 2010.)
Friday, July 31, Restart Day R16 (or #140)
Morning walk. Yard to Tower Theater and back.
The rest of the day is a fog. No pictures to remind me of anything, but I think there was nothing to be reminded OF. Read the paper. Did a small diary. Read my current book, the one about Zeppelins. Lunch-dinner. Friday watering.
This is the end of my July 2020 diaries and I have run out of enthusiasm and ideas. For 140 days I have added to this daily record, but now I need to change, somehow. The pandemic is as bad as ever, with 50% more California cases and 75% more Fresno cases over the course of the last month. It will be more months before we can return to comfortable travel, if we ever will. I know we are fortunate that this is my concern while others worry about work and school and disease recovery and mourning.
On August 1st, I turn 74 years old. At 73, I felt fit and healthy and looked forward. A year later and my fitness seems gone, health is just marking time, waiting for bad news, and I look backward more than forward. As we age, such a shift was always inevitable, I just thought it would take a decade, not six months.
And our despot has been backed into a corner. Who knows what will come from his desparation.
Keep strong. This WILL end, even if doctor-friend "C" says it won't. Ever.
For now, hang on, because the most chaotic is yet to come.
John and Marianne