The Sharks

This is a piece of flash fiction I started in 2019 and recently revised. The original impetus was reading about the fires in Australia…sometimes stories take their own paths!

He remembered how hot it was that day. Not hot like let’s soak our clothing and lie in a dark room and take turns fanning each other. Rather, it was hot like an oven fueled by the driest driftwood gathered from high above the waterline; hot like mother demanding that he put an extra layer of rags in his sandals and “for god’s sake don’t throw yourself on the sand.” The hottest he could remember in his eight years.

All of the children and mothers and some fathers were at the beach. In and out of the water the children plunged as the brilliant white orb above scorched the sand. They played games, bouncing up and down to the rhythm of the breakers. He watched the birds, struggling to stay aloft in the heat-thinned air. Once he thought he saw a gull fall from the sky and turned to his brother to tell him, but his brother was back in the water.

He sprawled on the pile of sofa cushions he and his brother and sister had dragged to the beach and thought about waiting one more moment to dash across the burning sand and into the sparkling surf. The water would be cool, not cold. Nothing was ever cold. But the contrast with the air would be thrilling and a relief. He didn’t have to be hot all day, not this day.

Later he thought about how the fog settled in so fast. One minute the sky was a shiny bright bowl, then a filmy cloud dulled the shine and grew and spread and sank across the water. His mother had been lying on a cot, draped in a wet towel, sleeping perhaps. She sat straight up and shaded her eyes against the glare of the still bright beach. “Where are the children? Where are they?”

He scrambled to his feet. She grabbed his arm and yanked him to her lap.

Through the gray veil he could see heads bobbing, not in time with the waves now, but dancing to a different beat, dipping down and then thrusting up only to disappear from sight. Here and there an arm or leg broke the surface of the water. The fog slid from the water to the beach and hid his view.

People would talk about the screams later, because of course there were screams. There must have been screams because why else would all of the fathers have shot from their mats and raced almost as one into the water. But that was not how he remembered it. He recalled that the fog muffled every sound, muted his mother’s sobbing. His own shouts were whispers. The birds stopped cawing and the surf was silent.

The fathers who returned to the beach said they had never seen so many sharks, never swum through so much blood. They came back because the sharks were sated. Maybe not so much sated as drunk. The men held their wives and the children too small or too timid to go into in the water that morning. The tears of the men mingled with the bloody saltwater and fell on the women and children. 

His own father had been away that day, along with some of the other men. They were fighting with picks and shovels a wildfire that would destroy their homes if it crossed a nearby dry riverbed. They were experienced fire fighters, volunteers all. And the memory of the fires of years past urged them on. His father returned smoke-stained, triumphant, eager to share that they had beaten this fire, this threat to their homes.

He returned to a family of three. His youngest son was now his only child.

Afterwards, when people talked about the day the sharks came, at the end they would speak the names of the dead. They tended to recite the names in a matter of fact way, as if reading off a list of fish species that had left the bay or houses that had burned down or families who had given up and moved on. No one said that the sharks came on the very day that the waterline was at last clear of the whale carcasses that had rotted on the sand for months. That day not even bleached bones remained on the white beach. No one mentioned the fog.

They spoke simply of the event. “The sharks came one day and when they left, Rosie was gone and young Charley and Joe and Mel and Frank and little Betsy and…” At times, they droned on like old women saying their beads. At other times the recitation sounded like a chant imbued with the rhythm of waves slamming into the beach and rushing out. There were no questions, no recriminations, no blame…just the names and silent tears.

The people persisted. As brush ignited during the long dry season, the men dug fire breaks and fought the flames with shovels. Children soaked burlap bags in briny well water and slapped down errant sparks. Across the eroded path to the beach, the women propped a barricade of driftwood hung with seaweed, restraining access to the cool, deadly water. And when the sharks appeared in the bay, men went out in boats and harpooned or shot or clubbed any bold enough to approach.


My Polish Family and the Russians

My sister Marian and I, accompanied by my husband Bill, traveled to Poland in 2017 to explore our roots from our father’s side of our family. We knew our grandfather Javorski had emigrated from the village of Kadlubowka in eastern Poland around 1908. That part of Poland was ruled by Russia and his future was an involuntary twenty-year service in the Czar’s army. His brother Peter left for Uruguay to avoid the same fate. His four sisters remained although at least one emigrated to the states for some years and moved back to Poland when her children were of school age.

For twenty years after the first world war, Poland was a free democracy. After Hitler invaded Poland he soon signed the infamous agreement with Stalin that handed Russia control of eastern Poland again…not before the Nazis murdered most of the Jewish population in Bielsk Podlawski, the market town near our grandfather’s village.

Before we arrived in Poland, our interpreter, Jolanta, had researched the family and the history of the village. She confirmed that the Russian army confiscated my family’s homes and land in Kadlubowka. Russian officers were lodged in the houses during the war. In Poland, landowners were minor nobility and thus enemies of the communists. The entire Jaworoski family of around 13 to 16 persons including children was deported to Siberia. Any person of influence whether a landowner, priest, or teacher was arrested and banished. Many never returned.

Our family in Poland…sharing stories.

Jolanta organized our visit with my father’s elderly cousin Anna and her son. We met Anna in her apartment in Bialystok. Despite our language barrier, she understood that we were the daughters of her cousin Bruno. She wanted to know about the family in America. We showed her photos of our dad and sister Ellen and Anna brought out photos to share with us. At one point, Marian, through Jolanta, asked Anna if she recalled much of the war as she had been a very small girl when the family was deported. Anna’s eyes filled with tears, “My mother kept me alive in Siberia. We had nothing. Nothing. What my mother had to do to get food for me…” Her son’s face mirrored her distress.

In Kadlubowka with a new friend.

The next day in Kadlubowka by fortunate happenstance we met an old gentleman who was able to tell us more history of the village. Our family had owned two houses on either side of the lane that ran through the village. He pointed out the vacant land where the long-destroyed houses had stood for generations. The family, especially our great-grandmother, were very pious Catholics. And then the startling revelation that his uncle had been married to our great aunt…and they were among those deported to Siberia. He recalled that some of our family had died during their banishment from Poland.

Beyond the fence is the former property of our family…confiscated by the Russian army.
My family would have attended Mass here. It was built after my grandfather emigrated in 1908 so there is no association with him. Why a new church in Poland? Because during earlier occupations the Russians destroyed the Roman Catholic churches and replaced them with Russian Orthodox churches.
Monument in the cemetery…my great grandparents, Adam and Mariann.

We don’t know much about my grandmother Bakie’s side of the family. Her parents emigrated from Poland a generation before my grandfather. I recall a disturbing visit to her in the nursing home where she lived in New Jersey a year or so before she died. Bill was with me. In the 80’s he wore a fairly full beard. She recoiled when we walked into her room. “Russian! Dirty Russian! Why are you with a dirty Russian?” She almost spat the words at me. “No, no, Bakie!” I rushed to reassure her. “Bill’s family is not Russian…beards are the style with young men now.” She pointed to a photo of Marian with her first husband, Steve, who also sported a fine beard. “Another Russian?” I finally convinced her that Steve was Mexican. Her hatred for Russians was a mystery to me at the time.

After learning more of the history of my grandfather’s family during WWII, I realized that locked in Bakie’s memory must have been the story we learned while in Poland. She probably knew much more than Anna was able to tell us that day in Bialystok.

But, what of Bakie’s own family? What horrors did they suffer under decades of Russian occupation?

Our interpreter Jolanta and her husband. I hope these dear people are safe.

I am afraid for our family in Poland and our dear translator and her husband when I see how few kilometers separate their homes from the border with Belarus, erstwhile and enthusiastic ally of Russia.

Bircher, not Lorne!

Breakfast in Edinburgh

Breakfast today will be bircher. To oatmeal that has soaked in apple juice overnight I will add a juicy Gala apple shredded on the largest holes of the box grater Grandma Mansfield gave me. Then I’ll stir in dollops of European style plain yogurt. The first bites will remind us of Edinburgh, and we’ll take a moment to reminisce about how we discovered this delicious breakfast dish.

Early in our travels through Scotland some years ago, we overnighted in Glasgow at a contemporary hotel in a repurposed bank building. Other than a shockingly bright light installed over the pod-like bathroom structure that required the efforts of both my husband and the rather pert bank manager/receptionist to disconnect in the middle of the night…an extension ladder was also involved if my sleep-stained memory reads true…the hotel was very pleasant. A comprehensive breakfast was served in a former/present conference room. We selected our favorites from platters of smoked salmon, creamy scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, toast. As I recall, we very much enjoyed it all except for the black sausage. Neither of us can abide black sausage.

Our next stay up the coast in Oban was tragic for breakfast lovers. We had booked a room at a cozy-from-the-photographs bed and breakfast that overlooked the wind-battered harbor. The innkeeper’s husband greeted us with a terse warning that his wife had lost her dad, that he was sick of the whole lot and ready to chuck it, and that daily breakfast was a snack bar and pod coffee from the machine in the darkened lounge. “Kettle in the room. Bring your own tea,” he growled.

Our first meal of the day does not have to be large or varied but it must include cereal, or toast, and please, a piece of fruit or glass of juice, and a decent cup o’ joe. Our morning walk in Oban became a wistful search for sustenance. We discovered very soon that this well-situated seaside town was on the skids breakfast-wise. There were more boarded up restaurants than open ones, but we scraped together an edible meal most mornings. The innkeeper’s grumpy husband finally recommended his own usual breakfast place in the center of town. “You’ll be ordering the full breakfast, I expect! They make their own Lorne,” he said and smiled for the first time.

That was how we encountered the breakfast meat that made black sausage seem a gourmet treat. We ordered the full Scottish breakfast as instructed. Sidled up to our freeze-dried egg scramble was a thick pinkish square rather like an oft-used dish sponge, damp, with the pungent odor of a laundry bin stuffed with football clothes and seasoned with a week’s allowance of salt. This square thing was “Lorne.” One bite put me off the rest of the meal. My hungry husband managed a few more bites. A morning pint rinsed away the foul taste-memory.

Our centrally located hotel in Edinburgh did not offer breakfast. That first morning, we arose uncharacteristically early. We were famished. Out on the street we spied many people carrying cups from that well-known coffee cafe chain birthed in Seattle. A large cup of American coffee and a bun or muffin seemed like a decent first breakfast. A familiar aroma drew us to the cafe around the corner. We were about to order breakfast sandwiches…the ones with streaky bacon, not sausage due to our fear that a Lorne lurked nearby…when I spotted something called Bircher. It was an oatmeal dish and yes, we were in oatmeal country!

Bircher turned out to be a creamy, fruity, nutty delight…fresh and tasty and stick to your ribs kind of food that fueled our long slog to the top of Edinburgh castle. We liked it so well, that every morning of our stay in Edinburgh, we sought out Bircher, an easy task once we discovered that another of those cafes was in a former haberdashery right next to our hotel. Breakfast became our favorite meal in Edinburgh…what a joy it was to sit by the huge display window with a view of the bustle of Prince Street, drink good strong coffee, and nosh on Bircher.

My version makes enough for 4 or 5 servings.

In a covered glass dish of sufficient size, soak 3 cups of old-fashioned (not instant) oatmeal in a quantity of apple juice that will completely wet the oatmeal. Refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, remove to a bowl enough of the oats for the desired number of servings.

Shred a Gala or other juicy apple and add to the oatmeal.

Add about 2/3 cup of plain, unflavored, hopefully European style yogurt and fold it all together.

Serve in bowls and top with toasted, unsweetened coconut chips, soft fruit like blueberries or mango, or dried fruit like currants or cranberries. Nuts? Optional.

Moving On…

Months ago my bathtub became our pantry annex, a repository for extra TP, dried beans, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and other must-haves for our newly isolated life-style. Our walk-in pantry/tool shed looked like a couple of survivalists lived here. The hall closet was crammed with our emergency food stash…finally, after all these years of living in earthquake country! My bathtub was the only large space left in our condo to transform into a supply depot. So I gave up my retreat.

More and more over the last month, I have longed for a relaxing bubbly candle-lit bath. With cold weather coming on, the thought of an evening soak was so appealing. On my birthday I declared my intention to reclaim my space! The solution was obvious, although kicking it off took some time and a lot of conversation—clear the pantry shelves of Bill’s well-used tools and wood collection.

We bought our condo from blueprints over 35 years ago. We loved the large size, the efficient open floor-plan, and the second floor location with sunset views. But, once it was built, we hated the finishes used by the contractor. Everything from light fixtures to the kitchen cabinets was cheap and homely. We nearly backed out of our contract, before realizing we could transform the space with a little money and a lot of work.

Before we even moved in, Bill built extra shelves in all the closets and floor to ceiling shelves in the pantry. He’d already run stereo and TV wiring throughout all the rooms before the sheetrock went on. Together we wall-papered nearly every wall and eventually stripped it all He installed new baseboards and crown molding and cased in open doorways. Within two years, Bill tore out the hideous melamine kitchen cabinets and built a brand-new kitchen to my design.

Bill took on plumbing and redid both bathrooms…cabinets and sinks and toilets! Together we tore out and rebuilt. We learned to install plank flooring and became painting pros. Over the years, Bill changed out all of the ceiling light fixtures more than once.

He and my dad replaced every ugly brown door in the condo with beautiful two panel wood doors. Bill is a meticulous craftsman…always in mind of measuring three or four times before making that cut. My slap-it-together father learned a lot of patience over that week!

For decades we kept a lengthy list of projects. Bill joked about my ideas going on the ten-year plan. Each project called for new tools. Drill drivers, planes, spiral saws, sink wrenches, soldering irons, and all manner of levels filled the pantry shelves.

But, there isn’t any more work to do, no need for tools or extra wood. Every room is as we need it to be. Our home is cozy and beautiful and functional thanks to Bill’s work over the decades. Giving up his tools and wood was not easy. He accepted that those tools and that wood no longer have a purpose in his life. They have served him well, but it is time to move on. So, Bill offered the lot to a good friend who kindly came by to pick them up.

Once we cleared a good amount of shelf space, I immediately began to empty the tub. After we sort through my painting tools and the old cans of paint, I will haul the last boxes of TP into the pantry. I’ll have my retreat back…thanks to my husband.

From Our Window

Cool air flowing from the open window in our dining room freshened the space and my spirits this morning. I could hear birds…finches chirping nearby and crows cawing from their perches in the tall redwood trees. As I reveled at the sight of blue sky, a young couple approached a car that was parked in the carport across from us. The woman glanced up and waved at me. Later, chattering from the sidewalk led me look out the window again. Little James and his brother Tyler and dad Richard were returning to their home downstairs with a box of doughnuts. The sweet aroma drifted upwards. Nice way to start a Sunday!

My husband and I take breaks during the day to check on whatever is going on in the neighborhood outside our second-story condo. Garbage and recycling pick-up days find us at the window to watch the lumbering trucks maneuver the tight turn at the end of our street. From morning to evening, delivery vans pass by, sometimes stopping at our unit with everything from air purifiers to organic produce to wine. The boy and girl from around the corner race along on scooters and jump curbs on skateboards. Young moms stroll or rush past with little ones in tow. Harsh screeching of a leaf blower draws us to the window several mornings every week, “Yes, it’s the gardener across the fence and yes, he’s headed away.” It will be quiet again soon.

Friday, I watched our neighbor Jason rope two canoes to the rack on top of his truck. I called out the window to him and asked where he was going. Smiling, he told me the whole family was heading to Lake Tulloch for a long weekend to celebrate Kennedy’s 15th birthday. Jason’s wife, Rachel, has become our good fairy during this time of isolation. Dropping off home-made smoothies and bags of cookies at our door, checking in when the smoke got really bad, treating us to normal food from Burger King, she exemplifies neighborliness. I return the favors with deliveries of scones or my own home-baked cookies. We’re happy to know these neighbors are getting away from the city for a few days.

Yesterday we met our neighbor Valerie as we headed out on our walk. She carried a sheaf of papers and a roll of tape. She explained that she was putting notices on the doors of each condo in our building to advise of a temporary water shut-off Monday due to some repair work that was scheduled on the water supply line to her unit. Meeting her gave me a chance to ask about her kids and how they were doing with remote learning. She seemed eager to share her frustration. Her freshman son is taking six classes and not only is each teacher using a different platform for class assignments and such, one teacher has him bouncing around four! Her 8-year old daughter is plugging along but is really sad that she can’t chat with her friends before or after class. 

Later as I was coming back from the mailbox, I ran into Paulette who lives across from us and down a bit. She retired a year ago and was still exploring what to do with all her free time when the pandemic changed everything. As we spoke, Paulette unloaded bags from a trip to Whole Foods. She had thought to break her grocery routine and pick up some items not carried at our local supermarket. The experience had shaken her—the store was very crowded and she said the young Amazon shoppers were careless about jamming into people. We talked about where we walk, and she inspired me to plan an outing at the Martinez Shoreline Park. It will be good to be outside in a different area.

Our condo has been home for thirty-five years. Although there were periods when I really wanted to move on, condo life fit us well overall. During our working years we both traveled constantly and since retirement we’ve been off on adventures at least four months of every year. The simplicity of cleaning out the fridge, trundling houseplants to our friend and neighbor Ginny, turning on the alarm system, and taking off has been ideal.

And now, everything is different it seems. Travel will be a memory and a fantasy for years perhaps. My husband’s knees are never going to be better than they are now. My hips click and my Achilles tendons throb. At some point, climbing stairs to arrive at our front door will not work for us. Storage space that was ample in our large condo, is inadequate now that we need to store a six-month supply of hand-sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, several gross of surgical masks, and 108 rolls of toilet paper. Turning my bathtub into a second pantry was a solution now regretted! We need a garage.

So, once again, we talk of selling and moving to a more practical home for this particular time of our lives. We have so many things to think about as we restart the discussion! House or ground floor condo? Stay in our beloved small city or move to a bigger city? Remain in California or relocate closer to family out of state? How do we leave our friends?

Today I realized that there are other factors crucial to our eventual decision and long-term happiness. We need to live in a place with close-by neighbors with whom we can share cookies and stories. And our future home must have a window that brings daily life in our neighborhood into clear view.

Autumn blooms at the foot of our stairs.

Thriving, Not Just Surviving

Our Honda CRV was filthy, unwashed for five months or so. On a fair Saturday morning a couple of weeks ago, we crept out of our refuge to test our comfort level at a drive-through car wash. The place was uncrowded, all workers wore masks, and exterior-only washes were on sale. We aced the test. Our experience was fine. Soap bubbles streaming across the windshield, the cool darkness, the thump of the dryers, those sensations washed up memories from many years ago.

As a teenager I spent many Saturdays washing the family sedan…my job, because I hogged it most of the time as Dad drove a company car and Mom never did learn how to drive. Clad in a bikini top and cut-offs, barefoot, I’d spend hours at the task…hoping that a friend or two would drop by to help or flirt. As I got older, car washing was a bothersome chore, so I turned my car over to professionals, although from time to time I used one of those handy self-serve car washes. No matter how broke I was, there’d be enough change scattered in the glove box to get the job done.


Memories of that simpler time drew my focus to life in the recent past. Happy in marriage, family, friends, retirement, travel, avocations, volunteer work, I have been leading the life of my long ago dreams. Until March, of course, when the curse of COVID-19 struck us all. The first few months were about coping. I created a multi-page spreadsheet to organize our lives and get us through the pandemic. We would cope! Survive! We would take care of our mental health, physical health, and all other aspects of life and very soon come out the other side of this nightmare slimmer, fitter, smarter, and full of energy to continue traveling, partying, and living the good life.

And then a scorcher of a heat wave, followed by fires, smoke, and hazardous air quality intervened. Many activities that were helping us cope became impossible. Walks, time in nature, meditation on our deck…not going to happen when the temperature is over 100 and the air quality index is twice that number. So how do we avoid sinking into depression when we are not just isolated inside, but isolated from the outside? How do we prevent anxiety when we can’t escape to anywhere?

Even before the premature start of the fire season, the new reality tainted future plans. The upheaval affecting many areas of our lives could last not for months, but years. Many favorite activities may not be possible for a very long time. Some will be just a small version of what we enjoyed before. Even with a safe, effective vaccine the world will never be as it was in early 2020. Change will be more rapid and disruptive than ever before. To thrive we must adapt, not merely cope.

Before we can adapt, we must stop railing about our losses and accept them. So many have lost so much. Our personal losses have not been tragic, but still we grieve. Our grief is centered around the loss of freedom to travel, to attend the opera and theater, to dine out often, to visit family and friends, to be around other people without risk, to live the life we loved. It is time to accept the losses and move on.

So how do we adapt? We embrace video technology to solidify old friendships and to build new ones, to share the lives of far flung relatives, to take classes on subjects that always interested us, to explore subjects we never knew interested us. Hours saved by using delivery services for everything can be devoted to art and writing. When the air clears, there is that deck gardening project which was annually buried under travel plans. With the end of fire season, we’ll be back on our local trails, bathing ourselves in nature.

One day, not soon, we’ll stride from our refuge confident that our risk of COVID-19 infection is minimal. Some things in life will be as before; others changed forever. By adapting we can thrive, not just survive.

One More Opportunity…

Summer heatwaves are common here in Northern California, but the high temps usually dissipate in a few days. In other years, that is. This mid-August heatwave seemed longer and hotter than usual with temps shooting past 100 day after day. Afternoons we sprawled on the love seat in our fairly cool den, chilling with icy drinks, and binge watching such gems as Glow Up, a British make up competition series.

Cool evenings enticed us outside to marvel at the rosy sunset sky. Enjoying a glass or two of white wine, dancing on the deck, stargazing—perfect antidotes to the scorching daytime weather. The surprise rain would have been a blessing had it not been accompanied by thousands of lightning strikes. And then the horrible news: those strikes had ignited hundreds of fires throughout the state.

Watching the Storm-created on my iPad.

The fires have surged, creating tragedy for many, and tainting our air with suffocating smoke. Air quality in our locale has ranged from “Unhealthy for sensitive groups” to “Very unhealthy for everyone.” As a person with moderate asthma I must avoid breathing in smoke. So our ongoing social isolation is now coupled with physical isolation from the outdoors.

COVID-19, political instability, fire, smoke…this year is like no other. We’ve been forced to adjust constantly to changes that seem to impact every moment of our lives. It is astonishing that so many of us have somehow managed to find ways to cope, to develop new habits, to maybe even experience personal growth during this frightful time. We are learning to adopt attitudes that help us to survive and thrive: acceptance, flexibility, resiliency, and optimism.

What is going on is bigger than any of us…we can’t change any of these external situations overnight, but we can find ways to help create change for the future. Instead of railing against our misfortune, we can use this time to become more creative, to participate in our political process, to recommit to a green life-style, to be kind to every person with whom we interact.

Maybe we can someday remember this year as the turning point when everything changed for the good, for each of us, our country, and our planet.

What Works? Maintaining Our Mental Health-Part 1

Since my first blog posts this pandemic year, the virus has spread to every corner of the world. Here in the US, including our little city, cases are spiking in the midst of the still surging first wave. There is little progress in slowing the explosive growth of new cases. The vaccine is still an idea, not reality. The lack of political will hinders smart policy making. That, plus the unwillingness of so many to take simple actions to protect themselves and others convinces me that we will be in this pandemic for a very long time.

My own mental state flails between mild contentment and mild depression. Anxiety is less than a few months ago, probably because we remain so isolated. Our scariest sojourn so far was to my husband’s eye doctor for what is called an A Scan, necessary before cataract surgery this year. We were nervous and stressed, disappointed that the office did not seem to be on top of all of the latest protocols for patient safety.

As the news becomes more dire, we are canceling every planned outing…dentist appointments, dinner out with friends, a road trip to southern California, house-sitting for family. We are coming up with creative ideas for at least being in the same space in real-time with a few family and friends who have remained as isolated as us.

We await the delivery of baseball caps with attached face shields. Our expectation is that wearing these along with our three-layer masks with filters may enable us to venture out a bit more. I can’t believe that those words are appearing on my screen. Venture out…so timid, so tentative.

My husband and I were world travelers for the last 25 years! Europe, Africa, South America, Central America, Australia, New Zealand, most all of the 50 states, plus Canada and Mexico—-we’ve traveled widely and fearlessly. And now, somehow a visit to a friend feels as complex as planning a vacation in Morocco. Are we over-reacting? Or being prudent?

I can’t see us remaining as isolated as we have been without damaging our mental health. As helpful as video chats are, they don’t replace being together in person. So, we’ll take baby steps…walks with friends, a front-yard chat, maybe outside dining in a few weeks. We’ll plan one activity every week away from our retreat, wearing our protective gear, watching our distance, washing our hands. Being with family and friends creates joy and now is the time for it!

My husband said that this is a very dark poem. Version one in 2016 was a reaction to the looming darkness, but now I glimpse light on the horizon.

Small Differences…

Laughter overcame me the other day as I slid open the shower curtain that hides our pantry annex. Me, storing things in the bathtub? Never, ever, except now I do. So many items that we normally buy as singles we now purchase in bulk…and our walk-in pantry is full…as is the hall closet emergency stash bin.

Like everyone, we’ve made some big changes since early March resulting in a very different lifestyle. We cook instead of dining out; attend online meetings and social events rather than seeing friends and colleagues in person; tie on masks when we step outside; wipe down EVERYTHING that comes into the house. Two people who live to travel have no travel plans. All big differences from the way we were living earlier this year. But there are also small things that taken together create a radically different life. For example:

1-Long, silky hair is out; wavy, messy hair is in. My blow dryer has not been turned on in two months, resulting in more than one tangle and quite a few knots.

2-A luxurious quantity of facial hair adorns Bill’s face since he stopped shaving and trimming his beard. (That needs remediation if his mask is ever going to fit properly!)

3-The skin on our hands looks like alligator hide from washing excessively/compulsively during the day. No amount of hand cream seems up to changing the new texture.

4-Since instituting the daily checklist, adherence to my asthma med regimen has been perfect! Yay!

5-Projects litter every horizontal surface in every room because we don’t have to straighten up the clutter for our cleaning team…sad face. The person in our household who does the dusting just flicks the duster around the messes! (Note: I used to be known as a neatnik!)

6-We have a lovely new hobby…building Harry Potter Lego sets during FaceTime calls with my cousin’s grandson. And at other times…like when we are supposed to be cleaning out the office.

7-We see some of our friends more often now that our social life takes place on video calls. It is so much easier to get an hour or two together when no one needs to fight traffic!

8-Our once pristine car is covered with dust because we haven’t yet figured out where to have it washed. Of course, we have only driven it three or four times in the last two months…but, still!

9-Kale and sweet potatoes are now staples in our house. Vegetarian meals are prominent on the weekly menu. We drink tea more often than beer. We juice…enough said!

10-We binge on “The Brady Bunch!” I think that says it all.

Black Hearts

These are tough times for optimists like myself. Even though this household rations our exposure to the news, we are immersed in the events that are engulfing the planet. It seems like there is little good news most days. We are in for it…a time of suffering and deprivation for many.

Much of the pain could be alleviated if we each tap into the kindness that is in our hearts. Most of us are very willing to be kind and fair to people we know and love; we can extend that to strangers. The love in our hearts can be limitless…love cannot be quantified, and no heart is too small to love everyone. Where are examples of this love? Look to the nurses, the nurses aides, the doctors, the grocery store clerks, the delivery persons, the volunteers doing what they can to help all of us through this nightmare, the people wearing masks, those staying at home.

Of course, where there is kindness, there is also the opposite. Cynics and opportunists make decisions that affect all of us. Their cold calculations of the worth of a life determines many policies. Harsh rhetoric frees many to act out their biases and hatred. Shooting a store employee who asks one to wear a mask; screaming at a police person who is guarding a state capitol; cutting back on healthcare and food assistance in the middle of a pandemic…what is in the hearts of those who behave in this way?

What kind of hearts hold distrust of people of different races, disregard for the homeless, disdain for the elderly and infirm? What heart beats in a person who can see suffering and not act? What heart allows one to refuse care and concern for others at a time they need it most?

Black Hearts May 2020
Catherine Hensiek
Mixed media and collage

I don’t know the answer, but in my mind those hearts are black…stained by hatred or perhaps deep holes devoid of light. This artwork tells that story.