For Better or For Worse Keeps Getting Better

My husband and I celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary today, and acknowledge our 42 years of being “an item.”

Between my three month hospitalization and nine month recovery, and our three month self-imposed quarantine during the Coronavirus pandemic, the two of us have spent more time together in the past year than in any of our previous 41. We each feel grateful to be able to count on such good company.

We didn’t get each other cards, which would involve going into a store — delegating such a purchase to Shipt simply doesn’t strike the right note. Instead, I gathered onto a frame old cards we’ve made and bought and notes we’ve left for each other and photos from many of the past 38 years.

My husband put his sentiments on canvas.

We won’t be going out for dinner. We have been in quarantine since mid-March and won’t be back in restaurants and stores any time soon. Florida is among the states leading in Coronavirus infections and mask usage is sporadic. Nope, staying home works very well for us.

We are each involved in channeling our feelings into creative pursuits. In addition to exploring canvas art, my husband is releasing the potential of palm leaves.

Surfboard length   palm leaf is stunning above our sofa
Gold dolphins dance above Panamanian molas
Solemn or celebratory? You decide.

I am back into writing mode after a little set-back. Having completed a final (careful when you say that, writers!) draft of my coming-of-age memoir set in the Foreign Service, I thought I needed to turn my focus to the story of this past year, working title of SURVIVING AMSTERDAM. After all, I had already sketched this tail out in this blog, here and here and here.

They say the devil is in the details. Indeed, I had underestimated the impact of learning exactly what happened to me last year in Amsterdam. Not bleeding out from the ruptured aneurysm was only one dramatic turning point in a story of much more trauma drama. This realization startled me on an intellectual level — “HOW long was I untubated!?¨— and distressed my subconscious, yanking me out of the sleep, exercise, and healthy food routines that had anchored my recovery.

Thank goodness for my husband, and our daughter, and my sister, who each had played a critical role in my Amsterdam story. Now, they helped me back off the deep dive. Indeed, I found I needed to NOT write about anything for a while. Instead, I painted furniture, converted household fabric into masks, and spruced up my study.

Pier 1 Import throw pillowcase made into masks!

With my mother’s rocking chair awaiting me, I am back to (really, now) final edits in the Foreign Service book. My next steps will be the topic of a future post.

Be well, practice social distancing, and wear your mask!

Leading a More Nutritious Life

CBS Sunday Morning, May 17, 2020

On a recent CBS Sunday Morning segment, journalist Lee Cowan posited that the social isolation of the Coronavirus pandemic gives us an opportunity to build a better way of living.

As nice as all of this [solitude in nature] looks, most of us would trade peace for other people right now.

Lee Cowan, CBS Sunday Morning

Sitting in my covered patio as I write this, I am appreciating the sound of a neighbor’s voice. Four houses over, he is doing business on his telephone. Now that his yappy Chihuahua has given up barking at every moving leaf and gone inside, I like hearing my neighbor’s voice. It used to bother me very much. Now, it’s just evidence of all of us living at home.

Across the lake that we overlook, a mom is pushing her toddler’s wagon home along the cement pathway that winds its way between the lake and the forever wild preserve. They are part of the parade that we witness every day. The guy who strides along power walking. A man pushing his wife on her Rollator. When virtual school is over for the day, there will be siblings riding their bikes, families of lumbering adults and scooting offspring. There are people I don’t ever recall seeing.

I leased this Rollator to help me walk in August. With me is Pancho, Victoria’s dog

They’re not new. I’ve got new eyes.

This crisis does caused people to reflect on how they’ve been doing things, how they’ve been living, and it’s already inspired much new thinking.

Margaret Atwood
Kumba and I

I’ve been isolated from the world for five of the past twelve months: three months in 2019 in an Amsterdam hospital and the past two months in our Florida home.

I last entered a place of business — a car dealership — on Friday, March 13. Earlier that day, I took my last walk with a friend; Janet took this picture.

I’ve walked a lot since then, even working my way up to an Old Lady Jog, while appreciating the company of our rescue Lab, Kumba. But he doesn’t chat, and my husband likes to walk without conversation. I missing catching up with a friend.

We also haven’t visited in person with our daughter since mid-January, when she and Pancho joined us to meet Kumba at his foster home. We are happy that she’s been able to work remotely with patients — the leap forward in insurance’s coverage of telemedicine is one good thing that’s come of the pandemic.

We’re also happy that she’s had the company of her boyfriend while she sheltered in place for the past two months. He is steady and positive and tremendously supportive of our daughter. As her internship moves into its final weeks, they are laying out the groundwork for their life together when she begins her post-doctoral year.

At the University of Florida’s Butterfly Garden in November

I do think you’re seeing a prioritizing of relationships in a way that maybe we haven’t seen in the past. People are recognizing where their values lie in new ways.

Vaile Wright, American Psychological Association

I’ve been more present in my life. Instead of burying myself in writing this month, I’ve enjoyed joining Ray in re-creating our living spaces. Leftover paint turned this thrift-shop table into bright additions to our family room. The beautiful pot that my friends in Albany gave me upon my retirement has a new place of honor, and is now housing dried palm leaves enhanced by a bit of spraypaint. We’re taking advantage of our tall walls and high ceilings to display my husband’s other palm leaf art and look forward to a day in which we can invite people into our home to see how it all fits together.

For now, it’s fun to try things out without worrying too much about what anyone else thinks. Another pandemic silver lining.

Donald Laukkanen’s still life.

In moving paintings around, I noticed for the first time that the still life hanging in our house — which was in my parents’ home on Cape Cod — had, on the back, the name and Minneapolis address of the painter, Don Laukkanen, from whom my parents bought the piece while on Home Leave one August. Although the artist passed away in 2019, I was able to reach a daughter through Facebook to let her know that the beauty her father created continues to bring joy.

The American flag soaring above our kitchen cabinets was inspired by a huge raw palm base and a moment of pushing back at the disappointing leadership in Washington.

Kind of makes you want to vote, right?

Meantime, I think I’ll pull out my mother’s sewing basket and work up a couple of new masks. We continue to order groceries online and live away from others, using what we have (or can find while out walking!), but being prepared is a very good idea.


So this word is for whoever needs it: breathe. Seriously. Right now. Draw the air in on a slow seven count. Hold it for a slow seven count. Release it on a slow seven count. Do it again. Do it again…Breathe

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

In a recent column, Leonard Pitts reflects on the difficulty of imagining things being better when we are in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. Hope will come tomorrow. Which seems too late and too far away.

While wére waiting, there is something to be said for taking a breath. And another. And another. Getting the oxygen into our bodies is not just a nice idea. It´s the whole idea.

When I was first released from the ICU, I could not take a belly breath. My abdomen was drum tight from the assault of the ruptured aneurysm, the endoscopic intervention that sealed the leak, and the blood that washed up against all my organs for weeks until the doctors gave it an exit through which to leave. The hematoma that bloomed beneath my skin hurt. It hurt to breathe. It was like I had fistfuls of resistance where my belly should be.

So, all my breaths were restricted to my chest and upper ribs. Shallow breaths. As I healed, I took my own teaching advice and slowly worked my way down my torso. Way back when I taught at the New York Health & Racquet Club in Manhattańs Yorkville neighborhood, I had taught a yoga breath that went like this: Inhale chest, ribs, belly. Exhale belly, ribs, chest. It took weeks to get my body to relax into a full breath, but eventually I eased into it, and to sleep.

Old pj pants make nice tho pretty warm masks!

I realized today that I’m taking shallow breaths again. As if the fear of the unknown can be kept out that way.

Working out gets my lungs expanding better, but my breathing sounds unnervingly foreign. Between my face mask muffling the noise and the music in my ear buds, I swore someone in the neighborhood was sawing during my workout yesterday. The sound seemed to surround me. Turns out, it WAS me. Sawing away under my face mask as I plodded along.

My exercise students in Boynton Beach will laugh out loud to know that their old teacher is giving herself breathing lessons. After all, I had only two axioms:1, watch your shoulders, and 2, breathe. I had to repeat those sayings every day as I healed in Amsterdam, and here I am calming myself down right at home. Quarantined at home. Odd, isńt it, to have dreamed of being home for those three months, and now to be locked in.

So, Leonard Pitts was right. Hope and organization and the new normal all seem very far away some afternoons, and therés only so much Ozark that I can take as a distraction. My Brilliant Friend works in higher doses, but life is hard and harsh in the outskirts of Naples. Billions is back tonight, another set of criminal characters. I dońt know if I can take it.

Maybe Íll just rewatch the final episode of Schitt´s Creek and the cast interviews that followed. How these truly awful people evolved into characters we loved and rooted for is a wonderful thing. If they can make it, we can too.

After all, giving hope is the whole reason we have each other.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.