Friday, November 06, 2020

COVID Diaries Chapter Seven

Shadowbox Project

This project doesn't really qualify as downsizing, since I had maybe 10 boxes of family memorabilia before doing the six shadowboxes.  Some ephemera I put into page protectors in binders and large loose photos in scrapbooks.  I think I actually ended up with more stuff, but it's all been refreshed and way better organized.  I did actually donate some items and tossed a few things. 

I packed everything away again, but will display it in my next place so I can look at it more often.  Until this year, I hadn't looked at any of it for at least the seven years since I moved here.

I am still planning to do some writing about some of these objects and my parents' lives.  Instead of Creative Writing Workshop, I may sign up for Life Story Writing class next semester.

My mother Jean 1910-1985

My mother Jean 1910-1985

My dad George 1910-2007

My dad George 1910-2007

Baby Jane, born 1949

Baby Jane, born 1949

COVID Diaries Chapter Six


The trash truck just left my street and the three threadbare lace baby dresses are not in it.  When cleaning up my shadowbox project from my dining table, I threw them in my kitchen trashcan, but couldn't stand it and fished them out.  I've put them aside along with a coat my mother made me when I was a toddler, a lace bonnet and a pair of baby shoes.  I'll reach out to the museum at our local Heritage Park if we ever go back to anything resembling life in the Before Times. These fragile and old fashioned pieces are at least 70 years old, saved by my mother.  I put the best little dress in my Baby Jane shadow box.  I don't know if I actually wore it or if my mother just picked them up somewhere back in the day.  It bothers me that I can't just toss them, so I'm being self indulgent as I move things around instead of discarding them.

 Meanwhile, my loud adjacent neighbor has vanished about 10 days ago.  My tiny townhome cul-de-sac is like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  There are eight units including mine and three neighbors are aggressively rude and inconsiderate, and one has major depression.  Two I don't know, one couple seems nice and then there's me.  I keep to myself. My adjacent neighbor and I share a carport/patio.  The retaining wall separating us is about six foot tall, and does not block noise.  The roof covering the carport amplifies sound, and my neighbor is of German descent, with a heavy accent.  She's hard of hearing and feels free to talk loudly on her speaker phone as well as entertain her loud smoker daughter and her also hard of hearing son in law on her patio.   She has a weird schedule - I heard her say she goes to bed at 6:00 p.m.  She gets up at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and bangs around in her kitchen, using her disposal or coffee grinder.  My bedroom is 15 feet away.  She fries fish on a electric fry pan on her side of the retaining wall.  The smell goes right into my office window.  She's lived here 35 years.  She must not care that I'm so close. It has been wonderful for the past week or so since I noticed she was gone.   I have felt a weight lifted from my shoulders.  I'm a sensitive person, a noise princess and personal space aficionado.  I'm also a very quiet and considerate neighbor, with the exception of disruptive home repairs. My Downton Abbey upbringing did not totally stick, but I retained basic manners and consideration for others.

My desire to move to a new place, like the lace baby dresses and lots of other collectibles, is not yet gone. I've looked for years off and on.  I've worked a lot since I've lived here, which has kept me somewhat grounded, and now working is gone.  I figure I have a few more years of being a homeowner before I will probably end up in assisted living.  I admit that my HGTV days may be coming to an end before too many more years go by.

Other than a few cousins in Canada, my family is all gone.  I'm an "elder orphan".  The infatuation I had with my SoCal coastal city when I moved here seven years ago is gone.  That honeymoon is over.  My ambition and initiative are gone.  In January I started a proposal to my volunteer supervisor at our local senior center hoping he'd create a paid position for me.  I applied at the City and had an interview.  I took a Grant Writing class and a course in Gerontology.  That large file is not gone yet, but is pushed to the back of my office closet.  That City job is gone. 

My most recent client called me yesterday and asked if I'd mind if the new person he hired (#3 this year) could call me to ask for bookkeeping help.  Sure, why not?  I guess that gig is gone too and probably for the best. But who is going to hire me for a job I can actually still do at 71?  My willingness to champion a cause is gone. I am tired of drama.  My passion for volunteering and being of service to others is not quite gone, but fading fast.  I'm becoming comfortably acclimated to a quiet solo life.  I'm hoping not to become completely feral during this socially distanced chapter of my life.  As a wise person once said to me, "There's always a part of your life missing." Gone.

COVID Diaries Chapter Five


 Hearing Voices

No, I'm not having a psychotic break, despite the isolation and craziness we've stumbled upon in 2020. I live alone in a small attached townhome.  For me, it makes sense to stay home and suck it up, so that's what I've been doing.  The voices I hear in real life are generally my rude neighbors with whom I have some grievances, but that's a story for another day.

Since March, screens and devices have taken over my world.  I've always been kind of a geek. That proclivity came from some of the men in my life - past engineer colleagues and men I've dated.  One taught me Quicken back in 1994.  Funny what you remember about a person. 

Since the stay-at-home orders started in March, I am almost always looking at a screen.  In the film "Social Network", a friend of Mark Zukerberg predicted that with the advent of Facebook, we would live on the Internet. This is me.

I often wake up in the night and turn on PBS on my bedroom TV.  I like this channel since it is just audio, no video and no commercials.  On the downside, NPR reporting starts at 4:00 a.m.  Before that, it's BBC.  I strain to understand the accented English; even the British English is a challenge.  The whole idea is to go back to sleep not strain my brain to follow the dialog. Sometimes I turn it off and power up my iPad to listen to a relaxation app.  The worst part of turning on the iPad is *not* checking email or social media when I should be sleeping.  Not an insomniac's best practice. 

I start my morning taking my phone out of the charger and switching it on.  I then prepare my tea or coffee in the kitchen, and tidy up before sitting down to check messages.  I sit either in my reading chair in the living room and look at my phone, or sit at my desk in my home office on my desktop PC with a decent size monitor.  I'm postponing cataract surgery due to COVID and I'm pretty sure I'm getting more lines in my face from squinting to read the damn phone.

In the Early Days, I was obsessed with hearing the latest news and I'd turn on my bedroom TV while I made my bed and dressed.  I wanted to hear Governor Cuomo brief New Yorkers of the steps he was taking to flatten the curve.  His leadership stood out to me as sincere and competent.  During commercials, I would channel surf between CNN and MSNBC.  If someone important was speaking on Facebook Live, I'd take my iPad into the bathroom and listen after my shower.  

To distract myself from current events and try and recover some equanimity, I registered for webinars that were advertised on Facebook, mostly concerning aging or personal development.  Fun things such as bird watching, concerts and author talks also appeared in my newsfeed.  Those Facebook algorithms know me well.  I still watch Facebook Live when California's Governor Newsom or my County have a presser. And although I'm not really a church goer, I've been watching two Facebook Live New Thought church services on Sundays and enjoying their music and meditations.

As another antidote to news overload, I also began to load my iPad with podcast subscriptions and my e-readers with audiobooks.  To reinforce a more positive mindset, I listen to something spiritual or uplifting instead of news.  My mental health improved with this decision.  I am desperately sick of news, especially politics.  I'm not thick skinned enough for politics so I have to set boundaries.

My Chair Yoga and Creative Writing classes through our local community college transitioned to Zoom, as did my library book clubs. My new History of Film class is all online, and includes a weekly video lesson and the movie of the week to watch and critique. More screen time.  I first search Netflix and Prime for the film, so I can watch horizontally, from my couch.  The college has a movie server so I can watch on my laptop although the WiFi in my living room is not great, especially on battery.  Watching a movie at my desk doesn't appeal.  Modern problems.

To ramp up the badly needed endorphins and serotonin, I sift through literally hundreds of live and on-demand exercise videos.  I have the laptop on my dining table and there is a very small space in my living room that I can exercise, but so far I haven't knocked over my antique lamps.  When I'm too lazy to dial up a video, I have several notebooks of exercises I've collected through the years and I pull up a chair in front of my living room TV, the biggest screen I have, and watch TV while I do them. Typically, this would be around the time for PBS Newshour.

 I eat dinner in front of the TV on the sofa, then clean up the kitchen and it's horizontal for a couple of hours, with my feet elevated.  I guiltily scroll through my phone when I'm watching TV, and I know this is really bad.  If I'm following a plot, I'll put down the phone and if something compelling shows up in my news feed, I'll mute the TV. If it's a British detective mystery (one of my favorites…) I have trouble understanding the audio and must pay close attention even with Closed Captions on!

 Then, a final phone check for messages before powering it down around 10:30 p.m.  The minute I walk to my bedroom, I reach for the remote and turn on my bedroom TV, usually to MSNBC for more news analysis. I put the timer on for one hour and somehow this puts me to sleep.  Sometimes I'll read something on my Kindle or Hoopla book readers and play Music Choice New Age music in the background.  This is way better than news to set me up for a decent night's sleep, but news is a habit going back years when the news wasn't so horrible each and every day.

A months long downsizing project has brought some imaginary voices into my head.  I've been sorting through boxes of old photos, family memorabilia and collectibles. Although nothing like the voices coming from YouTube and Zoom, the voices of my parents still rattle around in my brain.   In a "Jane box", I ran across a poem my dad wrote me in an autograph book from my 6th grade graduation in 1961.  I was 11.  It was so sweet and brought me to tears.  I had to put it aside. Dad's voice in the autograph book is a keeper. 

COVID Diaries Chapter Four

After several months of sourcing hard-to-find materials from the Big Box stores' websites and lining up my installers, I managed to accomplish two small home repairs.  Both were outdoors.  

I re-carpeted my carport/patio which was years overdue.  The labor was so expensive, I probably should have gone with tile, but it's done.  Looks much better.  How it will hold up, we shall see.  The carport is covered but gets wet in major windy storms.  The installer carelessly damaged a small area and I kept my cool but was disappointed that he did not take responsibility for it.  I made a huge effort to be reasonable and civil towards him and his helper. I had an experience where someone lost their sh*t with me over a small matter of no consequence so I really tried to remember what a difficult time this is for everyone.  Working on my karma I guess.

The second project was simple, but like any repair job, never easy.  My townhome was built in 1985 and the landscape in the common area original.  My HOA no longer provides plant material and my gardening days are over.  All I wanted was rocks to cover the bare dirt where old shrubs had been removed.

Again, materials were sold out or delayed.  I finally lined up a guy on our condo landscape crew who does side work.  He did an excellent job, including re-routing a large irrigation pipe that I didn't anticipate needing to do.  Some people would have done something more elaborate, and me too in my younger days.  I'm very pleased with the results - simple and cleaned up.

The "fake rocks" on the border were sold out at Home Desperate.  I paid twice the price to get them on amazon, and felt lucky to get them.  I had a few from years ago, but needed a border on the sides of my unit's portion of the common area.  They don't call homes "money pits" for nothing.  Two more updates done.

COVID Diaries Chapter Three

Maintaining my sense of humor in July after a public restroom fail.


It's hard to believe we're almost in month six of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Mixed messages from public health and elected officials have generated a tremendous push/pull over the seriousness of the virus versus the need to get back to "normal". The recommended best practices of wearing masks and social distancing have become angry debates.  According to medical researchers, COVID-19 can have serious long term effects.  Because I'm 70, with underlying health issues, I am very cautious.  I prioritize avoiding exposure to this virus and lowering my risk of infection, despite the isolation, inconvenience and frustration. I find it interesting and sometimes surprising to observe how friends and acquaintances are responding.

            One of my gal pals is proud grandmother to a four-year-old girl in the Bay Area.  She's made the trip up north many times to help her son with a joint custody arrangement that came up not long after the child was born.  Kay feels this may be the only grandchild she'll ever have and she's made many personal sacrifices, without complaints.  Prior to the pandemic, Kay worked part time as an art instructor in a local after school program and she's involved in a local art gallery.  Previously, she would take the train to downtown and then transfer to a bus to catch her flight at the airport.  Pretty awesome for a busy woman in her mid-70's!  The pandemic changed her willingness to use public transportation, but not her motivation to support her son and granddaughter. 

            I had posted something on Facebook describing my horror at using a less-than-sanitary public restroom at a local tire store. I was happier before I read about "flush plumes" but this is our new normal.  Kay sent me a message describing the public restroom protocol that she devised on her recent road trip to the Bay Area.  For you cautious people, like me, this is Kay's Pit Stop Kit:

1.       Prepare a separate purse or tote bag for your visit to a public restroom containing:

a.       Disposable gloves

b.      Bottle of spray disinfectant

c.       Toilet paper torn into segments about 10" long

d.      Paper towels, separated

e.       Disinfectant wipes

f.       Toilet seat covers

g.      Cosmetic bag for keys, glasses, phone or other necessities, leaving regular purse in the car.

2.      Mask up, and then:

a.       Gloves on

b.      Keys, etc. in cosmetic bag in tote or in your pocket

c.       Go into restroom and select the largest stall or the stall furthest away from anyone already in there.

d.      Place the paper towels from the tote bag on the floor, and put the tote on the paper towels if there is no hook.

e.       Use the toilet paper from the tote bag as toilet seat covers if none are provided.

f.       Before flushing, stand back as far as possible

g.      Pick up the paper towels from the floor of the stall and deposit in trash can in the restroom, along with the used gloves you've been wearing.

h.      Wash your hands in the sink, if soap and water are available.

i.        If not, use a clean piece of paper towel and disinfectant spray to clean your hands. 

j.        Wipe the tote bag, including its handle.

k.      With clean hands, get out your car keys and any other essentials from the cosmetic bag.

l.        Have a Ziploc bag in the car to dispose of any paper towel or other contaminated rubbish that you couldn't dispose of in the restroom.

            Although I limit my outings to essentials and intentionally restrict my fluids when I go out, public restrooms are a fact of life and risky.  I now have a tote bag like this in my car.  Necessity was the grandmother of invention of Kay's Pit Stop Kit.

COVID Diaries Chapter Seven

Shadowbox Project This project doesn't really qualify as downsizing, since I had maybe 10 boxes of family memorabilia before doing the s...