Coming Back to Creativity

Not that I’ve been blocked or anything, but my excuse is that visual art has been a casualty of everyday busyness the last few weeks. Every day something seems to come up that keeps me away from my studio space. After two hours rearranging art supplies last week, I realized that forward momentum towards actually creating art had sputtered to a stop.

A few days ago, the embarrassment of showing up week after week to two different art classes with no work to share, got me at least messing around with paint and some collage elements. For one class, the assignment is to work with narrative in an abstract form. My artwork is due for critique next week.

Early in the class, the idea for a narrative squirmed to the surface…and then got clogged in some emotional gunk before I could get to work. Attempts to plough through the blockage failed. A faint ray of sunshine revealed the obvious…there’s another story to be told and until told, everything else is on hold.

That’s happened with my writing more than once. A big writing idea molders in the back of my mind while I resist setting down the words that need to be said on a totally unrelated subject. I spent a year once avoiding work on a mystery novel while I fought to finish the story of my first marriage. Strangely, the week I finished that tale, I also wrote a thousand words of the novel.

So, I faced up to this block…and admitted that it was time to address some anger and pain that was wasting my energy and draining my creativity.

The piece is titled, “Black Hearts.” If I stay on trajectory, it will be finished next week…along with a written narrative of the story that had me hung up. Here’s a glimpse.

Collage and mixed media…fragment of the whole.

Green Goodness

This morning I noted “Week 6” on our checklist of daily activities. How could we be embarking on the sixth week of this new, isolated life? Just yesterday we were planning parties with friends and road trips to visit family. In many ways, however, it feels like we have been sheltering in place forever. Time is relative…the hours of the day evaporate before we even begin to savor them, but April of 2020 has been the longest month ever.

We’ve managed to create markers in our week: art classes on Wednesday and Thursday and social events via Zoom or other video apps on the weekends. Our days are full. We find many things to amuse or occupy us: art, writing, reading more than we have in years, building Lego sets virtually with my cousin’s grandson, video chats with friends near and far, house cleaning, and cooking.

There is more food in our pantry and refrigerator than we can ever remember. We had a rather European attitude towards food storage in the past. Every day or two one of us would make a run to the grocery store so we could cook dinner or lunch. And, of course, we ate out whenever the mood struck which was often.

But now, between meal delivery service and kind neighbors, our larder overflows with an eclectic assortment of fruit and vegetables. I get a little frantic about using all the fresh food before it wilts or rots so veggie soup is on the menu every week. I make a huge pot to share with our neighbors to thank them for providing the ingredients. But, what to do with all of those apples, kiwis, bananas?

The other day our neighbor dropped off a delicious smoothie made with carrots, ginger, and apple. We both enjoyed the flavor and freshness of the concoction. Much to my husband’s dismay as he really dreads crowding our small kitchen with more cooking toys, I rushed to order our own smoothie/juicey machine.

Today marked the inauguration of the newest addition to our family of appliances…and it was a culinary success. The sleek machine spun green apple, kiwi, celery, and parsley into a healthy smoothie that tasted like the fragrance of an orchard in the spring. The taste and texture pleased both our palates. No worries now about wasting food. The machine stays!

Into the 24 ounce container went 1 cut up green apple, 1 peeled and sliced kiwi, 2 sliced up skinny celery stalks, a small handful of parsley and about a quarter cup of water. Filled two juice glasses.

Rediscovering the Joy of Cooking

Retirement was not my dream in 2012. My role as a contract project manager suited my personality. I lead a team of bright, dedicated professionals in work that was challenging and worthwhile. The project required me to learn an unfamiliar technology, a useful brain exercise in my early sixties. Every morning I logged onto my laptop and joined the VPN with expectations of yet another productive day. The best part: I worked from home 100% of the time.

And therein lay the problem. My retired husband found my early morning conference calls with colleagues around the globe a major impediment to his nine hours of sleep. Somehow he enlisted two of my best friends to pile on and convince me that it was in his best interest for me to join him in retirement. So, with great reluctance and some resentment, I retired for the last time.

I extracted a promise from my husband. “No way am I becoming a housewife! We will always have a cleaning person and we’ll split laundry, shopping, and cooking!” He promised and our arrangement worked pretty well over the years. Our cleaning crew kept our home sparkling. I did bristle at my gradually evolving role as the laundry fairy, but hubby did his share of grocery shopping and helped with cooking. At first I enjoyed having time to cook. Cooking classes at home and abroad inspired us to try new recipes and polish old skills.

As classes and volunteer work absorbed more of my time, cooking became a how-fast-can-I-get-a-meal-on-the-table routine. Simple cooking became my forte. The elaborate gourmet recipes that required hours were banished from the kitchen. Healthy and quick…salads, omelettes, roasts. Cooking by rote, not love.

We ate out more often. Lunches, dinners, breakfast…whenever the larder was low we would head out to a local favorite eating spot. At least weekly, I repeated my mother’s refrain, “After blah-blah-blah years of cooking, I am done!”

And then came Shelter in Place…and eating out was no longer an option. Running to the grocery store for a last minute frozen dinner was not possible. Early in the isolation period we enrolled in a meal delivery services. Once weekly, a box with ingredients and recipes arrives at our door. My initial reaction was delight in both the quality of the food items and the delicious meals that resulted. Hubby was over the top happy with a home-cooked dinner every night.

By the second week all that cooking was stressing me out. Chopping, slicing, grating, browning and other tasks required to get a meal on the table overwhelmed me. It felt like managing a huge off-schedule project every night. I was beginning to dread meal prep.

Then a revelation…cooking dinner could be a journey, not a race. It was all about perception! So, taking the most complicated of the week’s recipes in hand, I planned my mise en place. Glass bowls for each ingredient covered the countertop. I took time to appreciate the quality of each ingredient; the fresh aroma of the cilantro, the deep green of the pepper, the unblemished flesh of the sweet potato, the firmness of the fish. I cut, diced, and minced with care.

Not until every ingredient was ready did I turn on the oven and heat the oil in the pan. I relaxed over the course of the prep…reminding myself to be grateful that we had such a bounty of good food in such a challenging time.

So this change in perception seems to work for food prep, but laundry? Hmmm…

Veggies ready to roast! To be topped with pan-roasted barramundi…yum.

Privilege in the Time of Covid-19

This morning I awoke to find a box of fresh produce from a local organic food delivery company on the doorstep. The quality seems excellent; the packaging, minimal. This service fits our food preferences and concerns about waste. Later today another company will deliver ingredients with recipes for home cooked meals. We’ve been ordering from them for several weeks and have never eaten so well.

I was putting away the now thoroughly washed produce, when a feeling of remorse swept over me. Our refrigerator and freezer are filled with healthy food. The pantry is stacked with what we need for the next few weeks. We have what we need and probably more.

Our internet connection is stable enough that is is easy to spend as much time as we want shopping when supplies run low. And, it allows us to meet with family and friends online as often as we want. Our home is comfortable; warm when it is chilly outdoors, cool when it heats up. We have multiple media sources to entertain us and more art supplies than we can use in a year.

All in all, this shelter in place routine is annoying for us, not devastating. Our net worth may have sunk with the stock market, but we are on a fixed income so no real worries there.

This pandemic has revealed the dire effects of the disparities created by privilege. All the benefits my husband and I have experienced in life—good schools, well-paid corporate careers, a stable marriage—have created a bubble where we are able to exist in comfort while those who serve us suffer.

And that is the root of my remorse, maybe guilt. We are being served by people who may be struggling to pay their rent or mortgage, utility bills, medical expenses, probably food. While we grouse about not being able to dine with friends; others are deciding between food and medicine. Loss of income may mean loss of housing to some. A lost job or sudden illness will create financial ruin for many.

So what to do? In the short term, we fall back on the one thing that we can do from isolation…donate to organizations that are making a difference to those in our community who have a lot less resources than we do. The link below is to an organization I just learned about from a friend who volunteers there. White Pony Express seems perfect for what I am feeling today…their mission is to eliminate hunger and poverty.

Time is a Gift…

One of the revelations of this period of enforced isolation is that we have more leisure time than we’ve ever had in recent years. The virus has truncated our long list of weekly errands. The hour plus we usually spend trudging the grocery aisles has been cut to minutes scrolling a list of food items on an online app. We’ve cut out trips to the pharmacy, the post office, the bank…no need for cash if we aren’t shopping or dining out. We probably won’t need to pump gas for weeks.

Our year long decluttering/downsizing project has ground to a halt since thrift shops where we donate our treasures have closed for the duration. No trips to the hazardous waste drop-off or our storage spaces are on the agenda. Even dragging boxes of paper to be shredded seems like a chore that can wait.

For some reason, the format of online meetings seems to be more efficient, thus shorter. Reasons for many meetings have evaporated since our community art programs and shows are on hold until the curve is flattened. Travel time is now the minute it takes me to locate my laptop.

Since our social life now takes place on video chats, we spend no time picking up clutter, setting the table, or preparing appetizers and drinks for guests. We are enjoying the simplicity of scheduling online time with others who are also idled by this shelter in place order, but we miss the hugs, the back slaps, the clink of glasses.

My writing space…

The big question is how to make use of these free hours so that when life returns to some form of normal, I’ll feel like I accomplished something! Art and writing…I’ve been too busy to pursue both. Now I’ll divide that gift of extra time between my easel and my laptop!

Some Wins and a Loss

About a week into home isolation, staycation, hideaway, or however it feels at a particular time, we are starting to get a grip on our new daily routine. Self-help books state that it takes three weeks to develop a new habit, but a sense of determination/urgency/panic has accelerated that process for us.

The checklist works in this household. Every day we have a place to record that, yes, we remembered to clean our device screens, drink that cup of hot water first thing in the morning, and for me, take both doses of my asthma meds. We’ve recorded that we are spending time outside, listening to music, and limiting news. And, that we are yet to make art or play the piano…that will change this weekend.

Happily, the item “Check in with family/friends” has been easy. Between Zoom, FaceTime, and other video apps plus good old-fashioned phone calls, we’ve been able to connect with various family members and friends. It seems that regular reaching out is going to be very good for our mental health during this trying time. And hopefully we can help others by being more available…something that can be challenging during “normal” times.

Buying groceries through Instacart is working okay. When we can get a delivery appointment, that is! Bill wants to bake bread this weekend and we are low on flour. A surreptitious trip to Lucky revealed that flour is another hoarded item…not a speck to be found.

Logged into Instacart and at Safeway I found acceptable flour along with other items we need. Plowed all the way through the order only to be startled by the message “No Delivery Appointments Available!” What? On to Lucky, same message! But Lucky does offer to deliver to one’s car parked in front of the store, so we’ll do that. But, why isn’t the “No Delivery Appointments Available” message splashed across the screen before one goes through the ordering process? Curious. We’ll continue with online ordering for now…but order well before supplies are low!

Our fridge never has this much food! Or beverages!

So, some wins, definitely. One loss, that hit us just as talk of self-isolation was growing louder. For years, we have had certain affairs arranged in what we believed was a prudent and maybe obvious way. That turned out to be a huge mistake. We fixed the situation with help from people we can trust. The fix was expensive and inconvenient, but in some ways this experience turned out to be a win. We were reminded once again about how many truly wonderful people are in our lives!

Keeping In Touch

Perusing my activity list for this period of shelter in place, one item emerged that may have the most long lasting consequences…in a good way. And that is checking in with family and friends. It is a bit of a habit with me anyway, but busyness intrudes from time to time. Activities with deadlines tend to take precedence over the casual phone call or coffee date.

So, this week is about creating a new practice of being in more frequent contact with both family members and friends. We can’t get together in person, but we can use some amazing tools to connect virtually.

Yesterday, our art association board used the video conferencing application, Zoom, to hold our monthly meeting. It was a little awkward at first and we need practice with the application to create a meeting where we can all see and hear each other. However, it was gratifying to see the faces of women who are not only colleagues, but good friends.

My youngest sister and I had a nice long visit using Facebook Messenger video this morning. It is fun to see each other while we talk…especially first thing in the morning when our hair is still messy and our jammies rumpled. Later today my other sister and I will spend time together using either FaceTime or Zoom.

This weekend Bill and I will host two virtual events. First on our agenda is a video cocktail party with artists in our community followed by a video cousin reunion. Next week, we plan to hold a salon type event that we’ll announce on Facebook. Our goal is to not just maintain the friendships that mean so much, but to rediscover old ones and grow new ones.

Hubby and I usually celebrate St. Patricks’ Day with our great friend and neighbor, Ginny. It was not possible to share the traditional meal in person this year, so we wrapped a portion in foil and invited her to come over and pick it up at the doorstep. She sent a photo later of her smiling face and a full plate. And then a long phone chat topped off our evening

People create the joy in our lives. Moments with friends or family lift our spirits and encourage us to persevere in so many ways. I’d like to invite any of my friends or family who are feeling a little lonely or blue to pm me and we’ll connect…on a phone call or a video chat…after I brush my hair!

Ingredients delivered by Instacart…another helpful app we just discovered.

Planning…to Make It Through

It seems obvious to me that one cannot approach the COVID-19 crisis in a laissez-faire frame of mind. So today I did what I do best perhaps…put together a project plan using my favorite organizing tool…yes, the spreadsheet. I took the points shared yesterday, added a few more, and voila! We have a plan! And having a plan hugely reduces our stress and anxiety.

We need to develop new habits and develop them quickly. Plus in a two-person household we need to verify, not assume, that certain tasks are done daily…like sanitizing hard surfaces. We want to be conscientious about those activities that we both know help our mental health…like listening to music and getting outside. It helps to record that we did those activities and tasks each day.

Our weekly spreadsheet will help us keep of track of critical items like making sure I actually take two doses of my asthma meds every day. We already switched Bill’s meds to an AM/PM daily pill box. Until we get into a new routine, we need to check and double-check to make sure we are not forgetting anything!

One thing we both noticed is how fast the day went. We never even got to the first task on our major project list…but tomorrow is another day.

Accessories of the day…my kitty cat rings! Gifts from my husband, they always make me smile.

Finding the Calm, Ignoring the Chaos

So hubby and I are exercising restraint and practicing a slightly modified home stay as recommended by local health authorities. We plan to limit outside excursions to one or two things we cannot cancel this month. Once the weather clears, we’ll head back to Newhall Park to enjoy the brilliant spring greens and the view of our beloved Mt. Diablo. We figure no one is going to tell us we can’t spend time in nature.

Many of our usual activities have been postponed or canceled. Our meetings and classes with artists and other friends will be on hiatus for an unknown period of time. Realizing so much more free time could lead to both anxiety and depression, we have been thinking about ways to create a positive experience that maybe opens up new adventures for us.

We’re starting by establishing new habits which we think will protect our health and reduce stress. Here is our daily list in no particular order:

  • Sanitize hard surfaces like handles, door knobs, faucet levers, light switches
  • Wipe iPhones and iPads with alcohol wipes
  • Change kitchen and bathroom hand towels
  • Meditate
  • Listen to our favorite music-break out those old CD’s
  • Create-a small art piece or a poem or a journal entry
  • Check in with friends and family
  • Prepare healthy meals-maybe two per day instead of three!
  • Limit time reading the news to ten minutes
  • Find a new comedy series and make that the last thing we watch before bed
  • Avoid sharing a lot of negative news on Facebook
  • At least five days per week, get out of the yoga clothes or pajamas and dress up
  • Establish a definite bed time and stick to it
  • For me: wear something cute every day! Like these darling French shoes! Brand new and never worn outside…they may be my new house shoes!

There and Back Once More

Once again, we are preparing for an overseas adventure. This trip seems a little crazier than most. We’ll be traveling for two months and staying in eight different countries with day trips to two more. The beginning weeks will focus on areas that are very new to us while the end of the trip will take us to places we know and love. We are excited to be traveling unfamiliar roads, savoring new cuisines, and making new friends. And, we’ll enjoy returning to cities we love and hanging out with old friends. So, onward to Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Malta, Italy, Austria, Germany, and France!