Friday, May 1, 2020

Flattening the Curve? Not yet: April 2020

The first days of April through Easter were mostly gray and cool. On Easter Sunday, we went for a drive to Placerville (our county seat about 4 miles north of our town). Along the way, I stopped for an Easter observance photo. It looked like the creator made due with supplies on hand.

Placerville was quite dead on Easter Sunday populated by a few walkers with or without dogs. Later in the month, we revisited Placerville. While the "hanging man" (before the town was named Placerville, it was known as Hangtown during the 1849 Gold Rush) is wearing a mask, Main Street has many more people milling about without masks and not social distancing.

The surly guy fixing his message of nationalism told me that the symbol he's putting up is a pound sign (it is actually a couple of "F" turned sideways and taped together). His pound sign had slumped down and was illegible to most readers. I asked what KAG meant and he told me to look it up on Twitter. So, at home I did, and his pound sign in this case would be a hashtag. With the current state of the nation and the craziness of the presidential office, I can't imagine saying "Keep America Great." He must be living under a rock.

On Good Friday I took Dan to a swampy bird spot situated next to Highway 65 to Lincoln and between two shopping areas in the adjacent county. I'm quite sure the birds were there first before the developments and have decided to wait it out. It's nesting time and herons and egrets were flying to and fro with nest building supplies. Watching the birds was a great escape from the reality of Sheltering-at-Home.

Despite the cool beginning to April, our Spring flowers evolved into a riot of color. Last year, I told Dan that I wanted to spend Spring at home so we could see our flowers in bloom but by Autumn 2019 we had already booked a two-week trip to Portugal April 18 - May 3, 2020. So, wish granted, and we were home everyday of April and our yard was spectacular with California Native Iris, an Exbury Azalea, Tree Peony, a very old and tolerant upright Fuchsia, narcissus, dutch iris, a white camellia, and dogwood flowers.

Our purple wisteria faded just as the white wisteria came into its own stunning glory.

Our climbing roses in the garden were covered with their most lovely first bloom of the season.

We are laissez-faire gardeners with a broad tolerance for plants with flowers. Every year we have allowed the lupines to prosper only pulling them out after their seeds are dispersed. This year our front yard was covered with more lupine than ever before. There were so many that they took center stage to the real landscape plants. The sweet wisteria and lupine fragrance in our April yard is intoxicating. The heat of May will speed our flowers along until we arrive at a much less colorful landscape.

We have a garden with 3 tomato, 1 Fresno Chili, cilantro, and lots of perennial herbs and catnip. We acquired the tomatoes and pepper plant in early March when Dan returned from Moldova. Because it can still be quite cold until mid April, we waited to plant them on Easter Sunday. Now, they are growing fast and always hopeful, we hope again that they prosper and deliver us tomatoes and peppers.

Life for Dan, me, and the cats seems to have reached a Groundhog Day movie rhythm. We normally stream a PBS or another station's TV series in the evening. We're good for about an hour then head off to bed around 9 ish. The next morning when we're finally ready to meet the new day, we suit up our cats in their jackets and leashes and head out to our yard. The day will normally have a couple more cat walks separated by lunch and dinner with time for me to work on photography or watch a photo webinar with breaks for yard work. Dan has continued to clear our woods and put together a pile of brush that will eventually be chipped up and removed to help reduce fire danger. Dan signed up for a few one-month art and history classes that he has thoroughly enjoyed.

We had been walking further afield with walks on our nearby El Dorado trail that follows the railroad easements and over a very high trestle, but we soon hit a glitch when Dan sprained his foot while walking Syd in our woods. All walks stopped while we waited for his foot to return to normal. It is much better now allowing us a short neighborhood walk.

We had our first Skype video call with Dan's sister Ellie and her husband Earl. It was their idea to make a date with us to meet on our relative computers for a chat and a glass of wine. It was really lovely to have an actual conversation and see faces of people we love. It was a refreshing break from our normal repetitive days.

My favorite grocery store, Forklift by Nugget, was limiting toilet paper to two rolls per shopping cart at the beginning of April. Mid April you could buy 12 rolls. At that time, we thought we were fine so passed that chance. The next week, the shelves were again empty of toilet paper. As I write this journal in the beginning of May, some normal two-ply multi-roll packages are showing up again on the shelves.

Mid April and before the California governor told everyone to wear masks in public spaces when social distancing was not possible, Forklift Grocery made it their policy that all customers and employees were required to wear masks. Thanks to our friend Sharon we each had two beautiful hand -sewn masks. A Forklift employee stands at the entrance and offers masks to those who don't know the mask policy. On the other hand, the other nearby grocery store, Raley's, has a relaxed, Trumpian policy meaning it's your choice to infect others or not. I don't feel comfortable shopping there.

The Saturday that we stopped into Raley's was the same day that we first went to Placerville Hardware (the oldest Hardware store west of the Mississippi) to buy some hardware items and a multi-roll package of toilet paper. Some customers wore masks, some didn't, no employees wore masks.

We went to Home Depot but the lines of cars entering and then the line of shoppers lined up outside dissuaded us for going inside. After picking up a basil plant from the outside racks, I chatted with a garden employee who said that people begin lining up each day at 6 am and sometimes the line of shoppers snakes across the entire front of the store. He said that only 100 people at a time are allowed in the store. Some people are angry and take it out on the employees. Since I was just getting a basil plant, he took me to a self-check out garden register so I didn't need to wait in line. Don't think we're going back for a long while.

My bread making has resumed as my King Arthur Flour order has begun to arrive. So far I have gotten 10 pounds of Bread Flour, and in early May, 10 pounds of All Purpose Flour should arrive. I also found whole wheat flour at Placerville Food Co-op. I'm getting much better at bread making. I'm still working on perfecting the No-Knead Sourdough recipe, but the recipe I'm best at is Almost No-Knead Bread. I prefer the one with 1 cup of whole wheat flour. Both the white and whole wheat recipes require 3 oz of lager which presented the problem of what to do with the other 9 or more ounces of beer because neither Dan nor I really like beer.  New York Times recipes had the perfect solution--El Chonie, a very delicious tequila based cocktail. This cocktail has become part of my bread making routine now.

 Citrus salt or kosher salt (optional; see Note)
⅛  cup/1 ounce tequila
1 tablespoons/1/2 ounce simple syrup (see Note)
 Juice of 1/2 lemon
 Juice of 1/2 lime
1  12-ounce bottle chilled lager or other light-colored beer 
Rim a highball glass with salt (see Note). Place glass in refrigerator to chill.
In a large shaker, combine tequila, simple syrup, lemon juice and lime juice. Add ice and shake well.
Strain into chilled glass. Top up slowly with beer, leaving a little foam on top. Serve immediately. 
To make citrus salt, finely grate zest from a lemon or lime to measure about 2 teaspoons. In a bowl, combine zest very well with 1/4 cup kosher or margarita salt. To rim a glass, spread the salt mixture on a small plate. Rub a little lime juice on the outside rim of the glass and dip into the salt, turning gently to coat. To make simple syrup, warm 1 cup sugar in 1 cup water in a saucepan over low heat until dissolved, then cool to room temperature.

Our cats have their little cat watches set for their eat, walk, walk, walk, eat schedule. They are insistent on all of those events. If I'm busy in my office, they wind their way through my shelves to annoy me until they get whatever it is they want at that particular time of day.

So, April has been a month of documenting our yard and our cats with occasional bread making and brief trips out of our neighborhood. I'm kind of relaxing into this slower pace of life and not nearly as anxious as I felt in March.

On March 31, El Dorado County had just 18 cases. On April 30, our county reported 44 cases (still just 4 cases for those 65 and above) and still no deaths. The largest percentage of cases, 49%, are in the 18-49 year old age group. The zip code we live in has no cases reported so far.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

My Life in the Time of COVID-19: March 2020

Attack of the Furies
March 2020 is the month of before and after. "Before" when grocery stores were fully stocked except for hand sanitizers. And "after" when grocery store paper aisles were empty, when on my first "after" grocery store visit, there was no chicken, no ground meats of any kind, most breads were gone and the flour/grain aisles were decimated. "Before" when I was a healthy, active 65-year old woman and 60 was jokingly called the "new 40." "Before" when I was hiking 8.5 miles with the El Dorado Senior Hikers, and "after" when my gym is closed and I'm limited to neighborhood walks.

At the beginning of March I finished renovating the condo I owned when Dan and I met. It has been a rental now for almost 30 years. It took 10 weeks of extensive repairs and replacements, but on March 1 I had an open condo day and found renters. They signed a lease and moved in on March 8. Because of that distraction, I was a little behind the curve on getting ready for what was ahead. By the time I thought about it all antiviral wipes were gone as were most hand sanitizers. I did manage to snag one purse-sized bottle of hand sanitizer.

Also, Dan went to Moldova in February for a two-week gig that brought him back home on March 7. He returned home just days before Trump said he was going to stop all incoming flights and goods from Europe which caused Americans traveling abroad to panic and pay big bucks to get home before the blockade was to take effect but then didn't because he "mis-spoke."

In the week before we became shut ins, we had a series of plumbing issues at home. First there was a leak behind the dishwasher that put it out of commission for several days. Then, after the leak was identified and repaired but while we had fans running to dry out the floor/wall area, our water heater decided to die. There were no hot showers and I had to boil water to wash dishes because I couldn't use the germ fighting power of the dishwasher.

On March 15, California Governor Gavin Newsom advised those of us 65 and over to stay home except for essential trips for groceries, pharmacies, banks, etc.

We've been walking 3-4 miles several times a week both in our neighborhood and in our yard. If our cats want to leave the fenced part of the yard, then we walk them on a leash. No free-ranging cats here. We live in a semi-rural area where it is easy to social distance while walking.

Dan and Syd
We travel a lot and have no pattern to our destinations. Last year we signed up for a Rick Steves Tour of Portugal that several friends would be going on. We were to depart on April 18. This month, the tour company canceled the trip, and United Airlines dropped the international segments from our itinerary. The two hotels in Portugal that we were to stay at before and after the tour have credited us the cost of the room to be used at a later time. For our airfare, we have a credit that has to be used within one year of booking the original trip--Nov 1, 2020. So, trying to look on the bright side, Dan and I began looking at self-guided walking tours for Portugal. Briefly, I felt hopeful. September would be a great time to go (if we can).

Our county of El Dorado as of March 31 has 18 reported cases of Covid-19. The first two cases were people who acquired and recovered from the virus in other states/counties. So far one person of the 18 has been hospitalized. At this point, the county is waiting for results of 100 tests recently administered.

Because I thought I would have time on my hands, I decided to make a sourdough starter and then bread. It was a slow process that began on March 22. So far, my bread hasn't lived up to my expectations. My product of my first attempt was rather dense, but slather butter on it and it was pretty good. I have also been making sourdough pancakes from the starter discard. They have been amazingly light and tasty. I'll continue working to perfect my bread making process, but now I don't feel like I have that extra time.

After making this bread I put aside the plastic wrap that had covered the dough while it was rising. I figured that I should conserve resources and reuse it. I left it on a clean pan on the kitchen counter. The next day, I found what was left of it. There was a big hole in the middle. One of our cats had decided to eat it.

On the last day of the March, our little Pandora cat just didn't seem her normal self. With the plastic wrap culprit still unknown, I now assumed that Pandora was ill because she was the perpetrator. Normally, after she eats, she runs through the house, up and down the stairs. She always has so much joie de vivre, but today, nothing. After calling the vet office and finding out the "new normal" procedure, we took her. The procedure is to park, call the vet's office, and wait for a vet tech to come out. The office entrance has a big sign telling clients to wait in their cars and call. There were several of us in our vehicles with our sick pets. When it was our turn, the vet tech (wearing mask/gloves) took Pandora inside for an examination. We waited outside in our car. Eventually, the vet (wearing mask/gloves came out and standing at least 6 feet from our car, discussed her findings. She found that Pandora had no obvious issues and we should just watch her for a couple of days. The vet tech returned with the bill and left with our credit card. Once the payment transaction was complete, she returned Pandora cat to us.

Back at home, Pandora seemed perfectly normal again: running around, bothering everything.

My escape is editing photographs and creating art. It allows me to focus and forget. I've been working on a series of images I took at a January Photographic Society of America workshop on still-life photography. My favorite was the smoke table. Because the smoke table was outside and not completely protected, the smoke from an incense cone in the ashtray did not rise cleanly. The smoke was so light, so ephemeral, so hard to see. After reviewing my many images I found that, like clouds, there were interesting shapes. I repeatedly incorporated and composited some shapes for my Smoke Signals series.

Mandala of Smoke
So far, we are quite fine and will eventually settle into a workable schedule maybe even adding new things into our lives. Truly, we have nothing to complain about. We are managing. When I do go to the grocery store, I take a list. No more grocery shopping three times a week.

Between NY Times, Washington Post, NPR, and FB, I'm keeping up with both social and virus news. I no longer listen to the presidential press conferences, because I can't stand hearing our clueless cheerleader-in-chief blame everyone else for the appearance of the virus in the US. I am thankful for Dr. Fauci and for living in California.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Holiday Lights, London, England: December 13-17, 2019

At Leicester Square
While we made great use of the London Underground, we also did a lot of walking in London. We strolled through the Borough Market, took in the evening view from the Tate Modern, visited The Royal Courts of Justice to chat with a barrister and sit in on a summary of evidence in an appeals case, walked along both sides of the Thames, saw the powerful theater performance of Death of a Salesman, took in the wonderful Wildlife Photographer of the Year show at the Natural History Museum, met up with the daughter of our Tajik friends in Dushanbe, went to Christmas music events at both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral, and went in search of holiday lights. Whew!

View from Tate Modern

Trafalgar Square Christmas Market

Our favorite street was Carnaby in SoHo. It was so imaginative and colorful that we went twice.

We happened to be at Westminster Abbey in time for their 3:00 pm Evensong service with the Westminster Abbey Choir School (boys) singing. Their voices and the power of the organ within that space was magical. We were seated in the choir next to the boys.

On the third Sunday of Advent we took in a scripture reading and organ recital of La Nativit√© du Seigneur by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) at St. Paul's Cathedral. Spectacular! 

St. Paul's Cathedral
The Tuba Carol Band outside St. Paul's Cathedral
Mumtoz, daughter of our Tajik friends Olim and Sarvinoz
Natural History Museum
Ice Rink at Natural History Museum
Great Hall with Blue Whale skeleton 

Happy Birthday Dan and Happy Holidays everyone. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, kinder world in 2020. 

Particulars to remember:
We stayed at the conveniently located Vintry and Mercer Hotel a few feet from Mansion House underground stop and a few blocks from St. Paul's Cathedral.

Restaurant: Tandoor Chop House with its fabulous lamb chops.