An Old Friend Returns

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Old Friend

So I am still trying to expand my interests and fill my “corona” time as I remain isolated and in safe harbor in my living space. Before the hard lockdown occurred, one of my oldest friends came to visit for a couple of weeks. We knew we would be isolated and spending much time at home, but this didn’t bother us, simply because we have always enjoyed each others company and have many of the same interests. Our time was spent planning meals, cooking, playing cards, reliving old memories, and working on art projects.

In the course of her visit during one of our reminiscing moments, I lamented that I no longer had my guitar. I had loaned it to a granddaughter and it had migrated to its last known residence in the halls of the music department at La Jolla High School where I am hopeful some young budding virtuoso was strumming those strings and creating great music. In retirement I thought I might return to picking out a few tunes and was saddened when I realized my Aria was gone. When my friend heard this she reminded me that I had given her my first guitar many years ago, an act that had been totally wiped from my memory. She told me she knew where my old guitar was and that she believed she could get it returned to me. This became her mission and nothing can stop her from completing a mission.

Within a few weeks, a huge box arrived at my home and when I opened the box and removed the plastic wrap, my eyes fell upon an old friend, my learner guitar, a 52 year old companion that helped a young woman of 22 cope with life and find happiness for many years with girls scouts and friends singing around a campfire. I wept with joy at the sight.

So I began spending some time each day trying to pull the chords from the retired files in my brain and toughening my fingertips. At one point a long time ago, my fingers could fly from one chord to another and my right hand could strum and pic automatically to the beat of the song. Now I am like a toddler learning to walk…I move slowly, lose my balance frequently, then pick myself up and try again. Just in a short two week period, I have gotten better so muscle memory is beginning to kick in and hopefully in the not too distant future, I will be able to play some of my old favorites.

Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other is gold! An old friend is home!

Happy strumming!

The Enemy Without

Frontline Warrior

“I don’t have it”. “I’m clean”. “I know I’m OK because I don’t have any symptoms”. I have heard these statements and many others when people are justifying not wearing a mask or not maintaining social distancing or just participating in an activity that they can’t seem to live without. Studies are showing that a large percentage of people infected with Covid-19 are asymptomatic. This means they are carriers of the virus and as such, close contact with loved ones or people in general may mean you are a 21st century Typhoid Mary, a real and present danger to elderly, immuno-compromised or other members of our population that may be susceptible to attack from Covid-19. This virus is extremely virulent, easily communicable and as family members of over 50,000 fellow Americans can attest, it is deadly. The enemy is without. It floats, jumps, hitches a ride steathily seeking a host where it can grow, multiply and morph as it spreads its wickedness. Its goal is survival. Small in size but a giant with real clout, Covid-19 has turned our world upside down and our “norm” will most probably be changing, just as it changed after 9/11.

Today is my birthday and I am by myself celebrating 74 trips around the sun. I am immuno-compromised and at age 74, I certainly fall in the elderly category. This morning was a beautiful sun-shiny day, blue skies, soft breeze and a perfect temperature of 66 degrees. I decided to don my mask, camera and binoculars and go for a walk on Lady Bird Lake. People are out and about and I was astounded by how many people are NOT wearing a mask on the trail. They are biking, running and walking, huffing and puffing as they speed past me on the trail apparently with no fear of the silently lurking virus that has the potential to snuff out their lives. Are they stupid? Or do they just not care that they may be spreading death to others? I’ve worked as a nurse for 40+ years, caring for many patients in isolation and never have I been afraid of going into the hospital and doing my job. But this is different. This virus is a killer in ways that scientists and physicians are still trying to map. If healthcare workers are fearful, then everyone should be very afraid.

So I enjoyed my short escape from my condo walls and captured some photos of a few feathered friends along the way. I sat on a secluded bench and just soaked in the dappled sunshine under a canopy of new green leaves on towering bald cypress and oak trees. Alone but not really alone sharing nature with strangers during this most strange time in the history of our planet. Be safe, wash your hands, wear a mask if not for you then for your grandmother or other loved ones. This too shall pass but unfortunately I believe we will be dealing with this monster for quite a while yet.

Blue Jay (Internet image)
Green Heron
Male Cardinal
Red-bellied Woodpecker nest site last year. Will they return this year or have I already missed their visit?
Green Heron

Happy Social Distancing!

Anatomy of a Bird – Life In Corona Time

Retirement was scary for me and as I tried to analyze the “why” of this, I came to realize that much of this fear was directly related to my perceived loss of identity. Who was I? Who am I now? For 40+ years I have been a nurse working in a hospital environment for most of that time span. It has been a long and rewarding career throughout and a roller coaster of  happy and sad memorable events. How many different lives did I touch? Did I grow in experience, common sense and knowledge during that time? Will my absence be noted in the grand scheme of things? No matter what the career field, I think the prospect of retirement can give birth to many different emotions about our relevance to our world. Fresh on the heels of my retirement, our world dropped into the Covid-19 pandemic, another change in my already changing world as social distancing and fear began to invade my world. Lots of mixed emotions here. My instinct and my driving desire is to rush forth, return to the hospital work because I know the desperate need of healthcare workers, the overwhelming fatigue of 12 or 16 hour shifts and the heartbreaking tasks ahead for all of these wonderful people. Those are my emotions driving me. The reality is that I am old and immunocompromised and as such very high risk and my brain knows that my time has passed. I’ve passed the torch to a new generation of tech smart, dedicated men and women who will rock this challenge. Besides, my daughters have me on house arrest!

In the grand scheme of retirement things, I believe myself to be fortunate because of my varied interests, one of which is a wannabee artist. I have discovered that retirement freed me to spend more time exploring many different art projects. My latest interest is in mixed media. Truth be told, I have tinkered in art in many different forms throughout my life and some of my earliest memories include art work from kindergarten using crayons to oil paint, watercolors, tempera paint, oil sticks, oil pastels, soft pastels and yes, even house paint when constructing scenery for a girl scout camp site at Cadette Event. Art has always been a part of my life and happily it is now filling my retirement hours and now “corona” time as well. The pandemic has isolated many of us, particularly if one happens to be older and in possession of some other co-morbidities. So during the first two months of my retirement, I have tried to find my “new” way, my new routine. There are no alarm clocks in my life now, only two cats that yell me awake each morning when their hunger bellies ring. After feeding the beasts, coffee is the first order of my day. Enjoyed with a dive into my newspaper, it propels me to decisions about what I might accomplish today.

I am always amazed that my brain will seize upon an idea and as time passes, that idea may spring to life upon a canvas or board. I take photos along this journey because I have learned that cameras never lie. My eye and my brain may rationalize something I have put upon a canvas, but the camera screams any inconsistencies or mistakes I have made along my creative journey. Below is a montage of snapshots of my journey through the recreation of a James Audubon print a la Ginny.

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A quick pencil sketch followed by selection of my color palette from various paper stash

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Extinct Carolina Parakeet-My version of a James Audubon print from 1811

So my “corona” time in my new “retirement” mode is guiding me to create a whole “corona bird” portfolio. Using slips of paper (cut from the huge volumes I have collected over the past 15 years), paste, pen and pencil I have returned to my kindergarten skills using scissors, paper and glue to build my artistic version of some of my favorite birds. Perhaps this alone time has allowed reflection on the possibility of creating my new identity as an artist. After all, Grandma Moses didn’t begin her career as an artist until she had reached the tender young age of 78! Maybe there is hope for me!

Happy  Retirement!!

 

Treasure Hunt

One wall of books in Booked Up

Adventure and things of interest can be just a short stretch down the road as my sister and I experienced a few weekends ago. We set out for Archer City, Texas with our final goal of visiting Larry McMurtry’s sprawling bookshop named “Booked Up’ to peruse our way through the more than 200,000 tomes he has ensconced there.

Quincey, a Columbian Mammoth

Along the way we made a stop at America’s newest designated park, the Mammoth National Monument. At this location near Waco, two young boys exploring a creek bed saw an interesting outcropping and the discovery was made of a huge femur bone which was identified as belonging to a Columbian Mammoth that lived approximately 55,000 years ago during the Pleistocene Epoch which spanned 2.5 million years to 10,000 years ago.  Upon further investigation, excavation determined that their find was indeed a momentous one…a nursery herd of these Mammoths had apparently been caught in a flash flood thousands of years ago.  Our young tour guide who expertly educated us on our tour, poured a wealth of knowledge into us about these huge creatures that roamed this part of Texas. Fourteen feet high at the shoulder and approximately the size of a regular sized yellow school bus, they wandered through a grassland of six-foot high grasses accompanied by camels who it is theorized shared a symbiotic relationship with the mammoths. As she explained, the Mammoths had extremely poor vision and possibly couldn’t identify real predators from grass blowing in the wind while the camels had excellent vision and became the alarm system for these huge mammals. Absolutely worth the visit if your path brings one near.

Quincey

We pushed forward to check in at our home away from home for the next two nights, the Spur Hotel in Archer City. Built in 1928, it has been totally renovated and offers eleven rooms that are reminiscent of how hotel rooms must have been in the olden days…small, cozy with homemade quilts adorning the beds but thankfully, a completely modern bathroom. We ate at Murn’s directly across from our hotel, obviously a beloved local watering hole and eatery for all Archer City residents. A long but enjoyable day and we collapsed into our beds to rest up for the piece de resistance of our day trip…Booked Up!

Being a true bibliophile, a visit to this bookstore, is the equivalent of stepping into book heaven. The main room is climate controlled and this is where the rare and expensive books are housed. Connected to this main room is a warehouse and an annex, not climate controlled, so very cold. It was a treasure hunt because the thousands of books were loosely categorized into sections (birds, poetry, civil war, history, mysteries, etc.) labeled by scraps of paper. Within those categories it was every man for himself because they were NOT alphabetized by author which made it virtually impossible to find any one certain book. To make matters even more challenging, there are at least three other buildings filled with books. It is a work in progress and that progress is apparently an extremely slow one. All that being said, I still managed to find some book treasures that I couldn’t live without after four hours of searching up and down, floor-to-ceiling aisles of books.

Literally we were on a quest for buried book treasures and along the way enjoyed the camaraderie of a shared sister experience.  Adventure can be discovered close to home so make the time, book the reservation and make it happen. So worth it!!

Happy booking!

Road Trip 2018

 

Heading down the highway!

This past November, my BFF Kathleen and I launched ourselves into what we hoped would be a memorable road trip. We plotted, planned and prepared but still had the mindset that we would throw caution to the wind if we saw a sign that enticed us to some interesting phenomena just a few miles off of our predetermined path.

To this end, I always believed that part of the pleasure of a journey is in the planning, the anticipation of said event. So many times I find myself driven to do stupid little things that probably seem inconsequential to others but I derive great pleasure in the planning. So I took a large piece of one of my many saved pieces of paper and plotted out a calendar of sorts and wrote each day’s destination and possible highlights and then going the extra mile, drawing and watercoloring some things that might be pertinent to our potential visits.

So we were off, leaving Austin after I completed a day of work, to head for San Angelo for the first night of our road trip… a stressful four-hour drive because of rain and poor highway conditions combined with construction along the way. But we arrived at our hotel, albeit very tired, none the worse for wear, dropping into an exhausted sleep.

Up early to hit the road again with iconic stops along the way to enjoy some of the delights of the infamous Route 66, a hard push to Roswell to visit the UFO museum (the truth is out there!) and on to Winslow Arizona to stand on the corner. The 7th Wonder of the World, The Grand Canyon was breathtaking followed by the red cliff beauty of Sedona and culminating with a few days in Tucson with the highlight for me being the National Saguaro Park where thousands of giant Saguaro stood like soldiers amidst the desert landscape.

Area 51, Roswell Arizona – The Truth is Out There!
Standing on the Corner

Two tiny people compared to the Grand Canyon
Sedona
Chapel of the Holy Cross
Montezuma Castle National Monument-Occupied between 1200 & 1450 by the Sinagua people, a pre-Columbian culture
Saguaro National Park
Western Bluebird
Mission San Xavier del Bac

Road trips should be an opportunity to just relax and enjoy the beauty of the landscape and the wonders encountered throughout the journey. This trip lived up to my expectations and my only regret was in the thousands of miles traveled, I failed to encounter one of my favorite birds…The Roadrunner. But as luck would have it I did find a suitable substitute on the way home.

Fort Stockton, Texas Roadrunner

Meat

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Meat.

That’s what I felt like today….not what I wanted for dinner but what I was made to feel like when I visited an eye specialist for a follow-up exam requested for me by my very own personable ophthalmologist. But from the moment I entered the office, I felt like “meat”. Not succulent, tender juicy meat but well aged, tough shoe-leather meat being processed as quickly and efficiently as possible to move me through the cattle chute from one technician to another for multiple tests and scans. Each procedure brought with it a different technician who pro-offered the required surface noises uttered to make me feel “valued” and cared for.

It didn’t work. I felt like meat. And I hated it. I was witnessing the streamlining of health care to produce the highest maximum income with the minimum amount of expended time and energy. So, a recap of this abysmal doctor appointment goes like this:

Appointment time 1:30PM. Upon entering the office there were two kiosk like check-in stations where patients are to “check in” which includes scanning your own ID and insurance card, a daunting task for the majority of the clientele who were mostly of the elderly variety.

40 minutes later I leave the waiting room and am taken to a small room for my first test. The technician who ushered me through this test was probably the best and most personable of all I encountered. He was instructive, encouraging, polite and actually treated me as a person.

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My next three encounters were with autonomous robots programmed to act like humans by asking superfluous questions like “How are you doing?” or “How is your day going?” as they checked machines and computers, obviously not interested in my answers to any of those questions.

One of my technicians was to check the pressure in my eyes and then dilate them. Prior to checking pressure, deadening drops are placed in your eyes. I am not sure what went wrong but when she went to check the pressure I actually felt my eye being touched which resulted in pain. I yelled. She apologized and put in more deadening drops (were the wrong drops used initially?). And then I waited as my vision got progressively worse from the dilation.

At 3:10 PM the doctor walked in and by 3:15 he was walking out of the exam room. 2 hours and 45 minutes of being processed as meat. At the end I felt like beef jerky for I certainly had been jerked around.

I am a nurse. And for over 40 years I have cared for patients with caring hands and heart. I have laughed and I have cried with them. I have resisted the move away from bedside nursing to the less personal push toward filling in the boxes on a computer screen. I know computer technology is necessary but still believe that human beings want, and yes need, a human experience particularly in illness when they are most vulnerable.

And I don’t think I am the only patient that has experienced the disconnect from health care professionals as the computer, high-tech world has embraced and become deeply embedded in increasing profitability. Only today, when I ushered a patient into a teaching cubicle to begin her diabetes education, she commented “What, there is no computer in here” and I seized the moment to assure her that we believe in “Humancare” and my computer charting would be done after our visit.

A soft hand to a fevered brow, a kind word of reassurance, the very connection with another human is still an essential part of a full and meaningful existence. Computers, automated systems and robots will never be able to replace the very human emotion of caring.

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Come From Away

The Last Column at Ground Zero – Inner steel column left after collapse of the South Tower on 9/11.

On a recent trip to visit family in New York, we enjoyed a Broadway Play entitled Come From Away. The story is a true one about a small town named Gander in Newfoundland Canada. And this story occurred on a memorable day for all Americans… 9/11. A date, a time, a tragic memory that scarred thousands of families around the world when terrorists plotted and succeeded in bringing down the World Trade Center in New York. These wonderful Ganderites, opened their city, their homes, their hearts to the nearly 7000 passengers who were whisk from the skies and plopped down in a small airport when all flights were grounded across the United States. It was a magnificent play that made me laugh and sob as I sat riveted in my chair for 1 hour and 40 minutes. And in that short time frame I relived the tragic moments of that fateful day.

The title of the play “Come From Away” refers to how we all came from somewhere at some time to be in some place. I did just that when I stepped onto an airplane and traversed half way across America to visit granddaughters and daughters for a lovely “girls extended weekend”. Each of us does this many times in our lives and hopefully at the end of each journey we are welcomed with open arms by the people we love and befriended by the locals that we meet as we ask directions or seek advice.

Set of Come From Away play

From the JFK airport to my granddaughter’s apartment in Brooklyn, our Uber driver answered our questions and got us safely to our destination. He was a refugee from Albania and had lived in Italy for part of his life and spoke Italian, Albanian, English and a little Spanish. He arrived here seeking a better life, safety and hopefully he was befriended along his journey. He came from “Away”. My own granddaughters came from “Away” when they moved to Australia for ten years and moved again to live in New York pursuing careers and college educations. And hopefully they were welcomed at the end of their journey.

The refugee children being held in internment camps came from “Away” seeking refuge from gangs, abuse and terror but unfortunately for them, their end journey wasn’t as pleasant. What made the difference in their journey from all the others before? What makes them different from the Chinese immigrants that helped forge the railroads that traversed America and opened remote areas to easier settlement; or the Irish who helped build our cities into the manufacturing meccas of today; or the Hispanics who toil in our meat-packing plants or harvest the food that feeds us daily; or the Africans that were spirited away from their own homeland and made slaves. All of these “Aways” took the jobs most Americans spurn. And most have been met with derision by the white population, themselves “Aways” from English persecution two centuries ago. Why does the color of ones skin or our heritage define the hierarchy in our society? It shouldn’t, but for some it does.

The falling of the twin towers took the lives of many “Aways” from all countries across the world. People in large cities, rural country farms, distance places, all united on that fateful day because of adversity. The color of your skin didn’t matter when you were being rescued by the firefighter. The police and rescue squads who rushed headlong into the burning buildings didn’t stop to think about who they were rescuing. They were helping humans, just plain people who were living their lives uneventfully until that horrible moment in time when everything changed.

How different things might be in our world today if we all just accepted each other as “just humans”. If we could take away the labels, squash the perceived differences, and live more like the Ganderites on those fateful few days, then perhaps we could relieve the tensions that seem to be dividing our nation at this tenacious time in American history.

After all…we are all “Aways” somewhere.