Monday, August 31, 2020

Celebrating Life and Mourning a Death: August 2020

Nodira Aminova

August brought both the excitement of celebrating an upcoming birth and the extreme sadness of mourning the loss of a friend. Our friend, Dr. Nodira Aminova, just 35 years old, succumbed to the effects of Covid-19 on August 23. Nodira is the younger daughter of Aziz Aminov and Rano Bukharizoda of Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Nodira, a lawyer fluent in multiple languages, had been living and continuing her education in Hamburg with her husband Farid. Both Nodira and Farid were hired for teaching positions at the Aga Khan's School in Kyrgyzstan so they returned to Central Asia. Because of the pandemic, courses were converted to online only so instead of staying in Kyrgyzstan, they traveled to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where Nodira's parents live and where she gave birth to her daughter Layan just two months ago. Flights to and from Germany were/are still prohibited. When we spoke earlier this month, Nodira said she stayed at the Dushanbe hospital just long enough to deliver her baby because she didn't feel safe in Tajik hospitals. A few days ago Nodira became ill, tested positive for Covid-19, began to have difficulty breathing and died. 

We met Nodira when she and Dan worked for the American Bar Association in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in 2011. From the start of our 6-month stay, Nodira welcomed us. She invited us to her parents' home for dinner and always made us feel at home. When we returned for a short visit to Dushanbe in 2015, Nodira was already living in Hamburg, but we met up with her niece Hilola who invited us to visit and have dinner with her and her grandparents. 

At the beginning of August we got a call from Nodira on WhatsApp. Her voice was full of its normal bubbliness and excitement as she told us about the birth of her first child--a daughter named Layan. Nodira sent a bunch of photos to catch us up. She asked me to send her some recent photos of Dan and me. I never ever thought that would be our last conversation and I did not honor her request to send her photos of our life. She was unlike anyone else I've ever met. Bright, lovely, and so full of energy and goodwill. She was a truly kind, caring person and a bright star. 

August began with a baby shower on the first for my niece Brittany and her husband Anthony who live in Columbus, Ohio. The baby shower was via Zoom (as are the photos). It is possible to play shower games over Zoom with three screens of attendees. Actually, as shower games go, these weren't so bad and there were only three. Baby Aurora Amador is due September 18. I am an only girl in a family with four brothers. Of my three brothers that have had children each has had only one girl. My two nephews with children have only boys. Finally, a girl!

"Guess the Circumference of the Belly" Game

Dan's daughter, Tara, is a musician (mandolin) and tour operator/guide for trips to Nepal. In February, she led a tour to Nepal and decided to stay there beyond the end of the tour. Then came the pandemic and all flights into and out of Katmandu stopped. While hanging out (stranded) in Katmandu, she met an Aussie expat named Ian who was also stranded. This month they married in Katmandu. Dan asked Tara if Ian was a musician or what he did for a living. Tara emailed Ian's resume to Dan. That was a pretty slick move by the daughter of a man who insisted on negotiating and renegotiating contracts regarding school grades with his young daughter. For "A" and "B" he paid her; for "C" nothing; "D" and "F" she paid him. So, we know that Ian is not a musician and has a really good work history.

Weather temperatures were outrageously hot this month. Sacramento had at least seven days of 100℉ or greater. One of those days (August 16) was a blistering 112℉. At the start of this heat wave, California's Independent System Operator (CAISO) called for rolling blackouts in some areas to manage the high demand for power. We were not one of the areas, but on Friday, August 14, at 6:43pm just as I was about to turn on the oven to make a pizza, our power went off. The pizza was in a cast-iron skillet and ready to go. Dan started our Weber charcoal grill and within just a few minutes of putting the skillet on the grill, we had hot, crispy pizza and a better way to bake during hot weather. 

Pandora Panting

Hot temperatures continued with the added complication of dry lightning storms over Northern California. We had clouds and lightning at our house, but no rain. Sixty fire engines from Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington are assisting California in battling nearly two dozen major wildfires. 

Smoke is blanketing most of California. At our house the smoke is not as bad as many places, but we are getting ash fall. From the inside of the house it looks like it should be cool outside, but it's not fog but smoke. Sun and sunlight are an eerie orange due to the smoke that pollutes our atmosphere. The veil of smoke has made it possible to look directly at the sun no matter the time of day.

Just before the dry lightning storms and subsequent smokey skies, I photographed Forebay Reservoir in Camino for our local newspaper (Mountain Democrat). It was hot, but skies were blue. A few days later I took Dan up there to share with him what I had learned about the reservoir. That was our only field trip this month.

Dan's brush clearing continued through the end of July. In early August, a chipping company arrived to convert the brush into piles of chipped wood.

Two piles of brush totaling 75' x 6' x 7' in size

The chipped piles

We've finally had a few glimpses of the fawn that was born on our property and its mom. Because of all the brush clearing, they are farther away staying just beyond the cleared 100 foot perimeter.

The sudden power outage and our upcoming September vacation spurred me into converting our frozen plums into jam just in case. First, I needed more canning jars. While it's now easy to find flour, bread, disinfecting wipes, and toilet paper, the shelves are empty of canning supplies. I couldn't find straight-sided, pint jars and lids anywhere except at exorbitant prices on Amazon. I settled for a strange square pint amber jar and some half-pint jars I found at the local hardware store. In a day of marathon jam making I turned out 27 pints of jam from 24 pounds of plums and 11 half pints of blueberries left over from an earlier berry picking day. I usually save the hot work of making jam for the cooler months, but with power outages a real worry, I had to get them out of the freezer now.

Walking or just hanging out with Syd and Pandora continues to occupy a large part of our day.

Near the end of the month Syd bravely introduced himself to Rosie the corgi and neighbor Cindy. Pandora kept her distance.

As a county El Dorado is doing pretty well at keeping the number of positive cases down. There were 637 confirmed cases at the end of July and just one death. Sadly, in August another person died. Our county has a population of less than 200,000 people. Our positivity rate for the last 14 days was so good that restaurants can now open for indoor dining with reduced capacity.

This month we firmed up our road trip plans for September. We are headed to Ely, Minnesota, for 5 days of canoeing/camping on the Boundary Waters. Prior to getting there we will have several days in Yellowstone National Park from Wyoming and Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Post canoeing we hope to do some socially distant visits to my niece in Ohio and my aunt and uncle in Arkansas. 

Packing with Pandora

We got our flu shots. We're bringing disinfecting wipes, disposable masks, hand sanitizer, and our pillows. We're staying in hotels that advertise that they take cleaning seriously. We'll be traveling as my family did when I was young meaning that we will have an ice chest with food/water just in case. 

Looking forward to September. Leaving tomorrow.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Never, ever thought we'd still be living like this in: July 2020

Another 31 days spent under the VIRUS cloud. Life is not as confined as it was in March, but there are still restrictions and, of course, the ever present worry about the VIRUS. Despite the worries, we are breaking through some of the barriers. 

For my July birthday, Dan planned to take me to Mulvaney's B&L Restaurant in Sacramento. That afternoon, Mulvaney's called to say that because Governor Newsom had just that day prohibited indoor dining in higher risk counties like Sacramento, our seating would be outside. It was July hot, and we were seated in the dirt space between the sidewalk and the roadway, but it was shady and the food, as always, so fabulous. Social distancing was enforced with table placement and a one-way path into the restaurant to use the toilets and out again. Waitstaff were well masked.

El Dorado County was hit with indoor dining restrictions mid July. Since then restaurants have scurried to comply with the no indoor dining directive. All Placerville restaurants are either to-go only or have used wooden pallets to convert the parking spaces in front of the doorways into outdoor dining spaces.

Despite eased restrictions to help these main street businesses survive, several haven't. Some like the jeweler and a long-time clothier closed just before the VIRUS hit. Those buildings remain empty, and the vacant spaces have been joined by other shops and a restaurant. 

"Let's Poke" no more

We went hiking in the Sierra twice this month. The first was Woods Lake-Winnemucca Lake-Round Top Lake loop hike with loads of wildflowers. The distance was about 6 miles with an elevation in excess of 9,000 feet, but we made it tired but happy we did it.

Looking back at Winnemucca Lake

 The desert-like trail between Winnemucca Lake and Round Top Lake

Round Top Lake

The second hike was on the Lake Margaret Trail. This in and out hike is a little lower in elevation and doesn't involve much of an elevation gain/loss. It was a crowded Sunday but everyone either wore some kind of face covering or kept their distance. The 5-mile round trip trail traverses granite slabs, forest, meadows, and crosses three streams spanned by huge tree trunks. Lupines and paintbrush were in high bloom while leopard lilies were just beginning to bloom in some of the shadier areas.

Lake Margaret is a jewel of a natural, glacier remains lake.

Heading back after lunch and a short break, the sky began to darken and thunder rumbled above us. We quickened our steps so we didn't finish our hike among trees and exposed granite slabs with a thunderstorm above. 

It didn't rain there or at our next stop just five miles away. We had arranged just a few days prior to overnight at Kit Carson Lodge on Silver Lake. They had one room for one night perfectly suited to stand in for a short vacation. The lake is less than 1-1/2 hours from our house, but it was delightful to get away. We had an early dinner at the lodge on the outside deck, of course. Clouds blanketed the landscape surrounding Silver Lake so we didn't have any kind of a sunset that night. 

The next morning was beautifully clear and calm. After breakfast we rented a canoe for more canoeing practice. The destination was Treasure Island sitting in the middle of Silver Lake.

View of Silver Lake from Kit Carson Lodge

Treasure Island is mostly fractured granite

After a walk on the island, we canoed back to the launching beach. Along the way we were lucky enough to see a wood duck mom and her many babies and a bald eagle soaring the air currents above us. 

Another barrier was crossed when our friends, Bob and Sharon, who live in our neighborhood invited us to socially distant swim dates. Those shaded afternoon swims are delightful during these hot, hot afternoons. I've truly missed Sharon and our in-person chats. 

We began making plans for our September driving trip to Ely, Minnesota, for a week of canoeing on the Boundary Waters. So far, we have lodging reservations to get there with stays along the way in Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming) and Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota) before our arrival in Minnesota. We hope to have some brief, distant visits with family (maybe just a wave) in Ohio and Arkansas on our way back home. 

Our tomatoes have been producing overtime. We had so many at once that I made gazpacho for an elegant no-cooking dinner one night. Our landscape, except the garden, is in its mid-summer dormant stage of dryness. Gladioli, dahlias, butterfly bushes, and lion's tale bloomed this month giving us a bit of color in our otherwise sleeping landscape.

Syd and Pandora still insist on thrice daily walks even when it is so hot that after a few minutes they are both panting. Somehow I lost Pandora's leash so for a few days I had a long rope hooked with a carabiner to her jacket. Syd thoroughly enjoyed the new leash. 

Most of my photos are of Pandora because she is an imperious little creature and refuses to be trained. When it's time to come in, she sometimes becomes the Tasmanian She-Devil growling and hissing at me. Most days female turkeys bring their adolescent charges to our yard. It's easy pickings around the compost bin and under the bird feeder. Pandora finds them fascinating and chase worthy. Dan walks Syd because he's trainable and uses the great outdoors as his toilet. Male bonding!

What else? I still make sourdough bread with uncertain, unrepeatable results but nevertheless I persist. The mother doe shows up periodically but she hasn't yet introduced us to her little one. At the beginning of July we reserved a time (reservation only now) to pick blueberries at a nearby u-pick farm. We picked 15 pounds and on one of our cooler days, we made two batches of jam. Numerous desserts have also been made and consumed. We still have several pounds in our freezer waiting for a break in the weather for another jam marathon. Also waiting in the freezer for a weather break are 24 pounds of plums from our 30-year old plum tree that is in the last months of its life.

And, the Covid-19 VIRUS. On July 20, El Dorado County logged the first death due to the VIRUS. The person was male and a resident of South Lake Tahoe. He was over 65. The county's Covid dashboard was updated to make it interactive and bilingual. June ended with 184 confirmed positive cases; July has 637. The increase of positive cases is stunning. Community acquired cases which means they have no idea how the person was exposed are at 52%.  Still, El Dorado County is one of the less risky counties in California.