Sunday, July 5, 2020

A Gradual Reopening of Our Social Life

Nanoose Bay Estuary as seen from the Notch

June was the month of birthdays. It was also the month that we gradually began to see people socially again, although still with caution.

We are very lucky that we live in British Columbia, Canada. Under the wise leadership of our Public Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry and Provincial Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, BC has done an excellent job of flattening the curve. I also give credit to British Columbians, who tend to be socially aware and community-minded. (That's one reason I like living here.)

Therefore the province was able to begin phase-three reopening at the end of May. That meant restaurants, retail stores, and shopping malls began to reopen. They were followed by dentists, hair salons, and other personal services. Now pubs are starting to open up again, as is the film industry. In order to open, businesses must have a plan for how to maintain physical distancing, and strict hygiene protocols. Although masks are not required in BC, they are recommended in indoor spaces if physical distancing isn't possible. 

On June 1, there were 2,597 novel corona virus cases in total in BC, and about 10 new cases per day being reported. On Friday, July 3, the most recent day for which stats have been reported, there were 13 new cases, and 2,947 total cases in BC. Since May 22, there have been only 5 new cases on Vancouver Island.


We began to gradually form a bubble with my daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons. At first, I spent time with my grandsons only outdoors. But gradually we began to see them at their house and ours.

In early June, we celebrated my son-in-law's birthday at their house (carefully, using lots of hand sanitizer).
A couple of days later, my middle daughter came over from Vancouver and spent her birthday with us and visited for several days. She had been self-isolating in her small apartment, and we hadn't seen her since early February.

It was so great to be together again. We hosted a small family birthday dinner for her (seven of us in total). It was the first time my older daughter and her family had been in our house since before the COVID restrictions.

Later in June, my son had a birthday. He, too, came over to the Island and spent it with us. He and I went on a cave tour at Horne Lake Caves. There are more caves on Vancouver Island than in the rest of Canada combined -- more than 1,600 of them!









My older grandson rounded out the month of birthdays by celebrating his eighth birthday at the end of June. We went over their place and enjoyed ice cream cake on their deck.






We also hosted two other gatherings at our place, in both cases outdoors on our deck. We hosted the AGM and annual barbecue of our service club (15 in total) the last week of June (by some miracle the rain stopped for one day). The deck is large enough that we were all able to maintain a safe distance. And on July 2, I hosted a small writers' group meeting on the deck.

It has been a cool rainy month, but we have also gone for lots of walks and hikes.

Next plan -- camping!


Sunday, June 28, 2020

On Writing a Trilogy

Piper's Lagoon
I didn't set out to write a trilogy. In fact, the idea of writing one novel seemed pretty intimidating. How would I ever construct such a long document, and keep the whole thing coherent?

My first attempt at writing a novel was about 20 years ago or so. It was a story told from the perspectives of three women who lived on the same street but didn't know each other very well. Each was going through a difficult period in her life, and each was trying to keep her troubles secret. As things got worse for each of them and the polished surface of their lives cracked open, their secrets ceased to be secrets and the women became entangled in each others' lives. I wrote about 2/3 of the first draft, and then I got stuck. I didn't know how to draw all the threads together.

I went to a week-long writers' retreat to try to work through it and finish the novel, and instead started writing another novel.

With this next novel, I managed to finish a very long first draft, which I sent out to some preliminary readers who were kind and helpful. But I became overwhelmed by the massive revisions that needed to be done. Although the story had good bones, almost the whole thing was told from the inside of the main character's head, plodding and slow. The story is about returning from the city to one's childhood home because of the death of a parent. The main character grapples with challenging family dynamics. Then an accident keeps her there much longer than intended, and plunges her back into childhood memories and a ultimately yields a more mature perspective on the family and community that have shaped her. 

So, stuck on the revisions, what did I do? Yes, you guessed it; I started writing another entirely different novel.
Brickyard Bay

This one is speculative fiction, and it takes place in the near future. A group of girls and women have survived an apocalyptic event that has destroyed their society by sheltering underground for many years. It's written from the perspective of two best friends who are coming of age. Each separately faces the choice of whether to stay and try to save her community or find a way out and take her chances in the dangerous unknown lands on the outside. The novel explores themes of power dynamics, friendship, personal integrity, and motherhood.

I have recently completed a third draft of it. My revisions incorporate the feedback from six incredibly helpful preliminary readers, as well as lots of the suggestions given by members of my writers' group over the last 2 1/2 years. My next step with this novel is to take steps to get it published. I have written about this novel here and here.

Spelunking
But, meanwhile, as I wrote this novel, I kept thinking, "I wonder what happened to their world that forced them to have to shelter underground?" A little bit of that story is included in the novel in the form of flashbacks and storytelling events recounting their history. I kept writing background notes about the time before they went into the shelter. And then, all of a sudden, the entire plot line for a prequel novel popped into my head and I wrote it down.

So, last year while my first draft was out with the preliminary readers and I was waiting for their feedback, I started another novel, the story of how the world fell apart and how the women ended up in an underground shelter. I have written about 1/3 of the first draft. You can read a brief excerpt here.

The other thing that happened is that as I was coming to the end of the novel about the women in the shelter, I found that the novel was getting longer and longer but there were several really interesting plot threads that I could not bring to a satisfactory conclusion in the space of the novel. The solution to that problem was. . . yes! You guessed it -- to write yet another novel, a sequel.

So that is how I came to be writing a trilogy: a prequel novel, which I'm partway through writing, the middle novel in the trilogy which is ready to go out for publication, and a sequel novel.
Little Qualicum Falls

Although a few elements in the sequel were clear and I knew how I planned to resolve them, the overall story line was quite hazy to me until about a two weeks ago. Suddenly, the plot line for the third book revealed itself to me, along with the main characters and events, and I wrote it down. 

It seems miraculous how the story suddenly appears like that. But then again, perhaps it's not so surprising. I think about the story for the hours and hours I spend in front of my computer writing and revising day after day. During periods that I'm actively writing, I walk around with my head in the clouds thinking about my story all day long. My characters infiltrate my mind when I'm trying to get to sleep at night. My brain is chugging away much of the time trying to turn my made-up world, my characters, and the events I've already invented into a coherent narrative. So although it feels like the story just pops into my head, in fact, I've been ruminating on it for years.

One of the fascinating things about writing a trilogy is going back and forth between the three stories. There is a character, Mother Beulah, in the completed novel who is important but not a main character. However, in the prequel novel, Beulah is a main character and many of the events are seen from her point of view. I learned more about Beulah as I worked on writing the prequel novel, and was able to go back and deepen Beulah's character in the middle novel while doing my revisions on it.

Writing a trilogy allows me to include more characters and points of view than I could in a single book. It allows me to follow characters in different periods of their lives and different circumstances -- e.g., the younger Beulah and the middle-aged Beulah.

Where I Write
But it's also challenging because it's harder to remember and hold together the details of the story world and the characters across three books. As well, I am writing the three books so that each of them can be read on its own in any order without having to depend on the information that was in a preceding book. Although each is or will be an intact, complete story, there are certain themes, events, and characters that run across the trilogy.

I have learned a lot from each novel I've written or attempted to write. Writing and revising are very time-consuming processes but I think doing them is the only way to really learn how to write.  

Maybe some day I'll be able to go back and finish those first two novels. Or maybe I'll have gone on to writing something else by then.

It's hard to illustrate a blog post on writing, because all the visuals of the novels are in my head or in words on the page. I've included a photo of my desk where I write. Although I spend a lot of time writing, I do other things too. So I've included a few photos of the amazing landscapes of Vancouver Island from recent excursions.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Settling In; Moving On

Hiking on Vancouver Island, with Physical Distancing

 I'm pleased to report that the revisions to my novel have been going very well recently. This is officially draft number 3. I've expanded the ending, added scenes, and tweaked characters. I've also slashed out a lot of stodgy prose -- adverbs, nominal phrases, redundancies, and the like. It's leaner and punchier. I've managed to cut 5,000 words, which is good, because it's too long.

Unfortunately, when I'm successfully working on my novels, my blog writing doesn't fare as well. So today, I'm taking some time out to post an update.

Pandemic Panic

Like so many others, I was quite calm about staying home and sheltering in place at first. It was an adventure -- a chance to cook new things and use up supplies in the back of the cupboard. "Staying at home for a couple of weeks: how hard can this be?" I said to myself.

But then, I found myself staring at the screen in horror as the death tolls mounted in Italy and Spain. I stayed up into the wee hours poring over corona virus statistics from John Hopkins University, Worldometer, CBC, and the BC Centre for Disease Control. I spent 3 to 5 hours online every day reading news articles, watching videos and live broadcasts, and tracking the statistics. I became a fan of Dr. Bonnie Henry, the top public health officer for BC, and watched her daily update without fail.

Will the Rain Never End?
It gradually dawned on me that we were in this for the long haul -- years, not weeks. I missed seeing my kids, grandchildren, and friends. I went through some pretty bleak weeks, made worse by a bout of cold rainy weather.

The five stages of grief and loss -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance -- I've been going through them all. 

You'd think that staying at home with everything wiped off my calendar would give me ample time for my creative pursuits, writing and painting, which I never seem to have enough time for. But no. For the first six weeks, I couldn't work on my novels. I couldn't seem to focus. I was too anxious. I had to spend all my time reading about the corona virus. 

Perhaps the fact that I'm writing a three-novel apocalyptic trilogy had something to do with it. It's a little creepy when bizarre things I made up and wrote about in my fictional tale have suddenly started happening in real life.  

Settling In 

It's now Day 69 for us. Tomorrow we'll hit the 10 week mark. 

We're starting to settle in. This is our life. We're getting used to it. 

(I'm writing this knowing, with immense gratitude, that I and my family have been extremely fortunate. We're fortunate to be living in BC, where wise Dr. Bonnie Henry has led the provincial epidemic response informed by science, and where the residents of the province have been very socially responsible in following public health guidelines. I'm fortunate to have not lost anyone in my social circle to the virus.)

Settling in means I'm getting comfortable with my life with its new, more restrictive parameters. I'm happy to have time to write, even though it's because so many of the other things I was doing have been put on hold. 

One of my friends said to me, looking a bit guilty as she said it, "I kind of like just staying home."

Adapting

I'm moving on with my life (while adhering strictly to the public health guidelines). Yes, things are different now, but that doesn't mean my life is on hold. I'm adapting to the new circumstances.

One of the advantages of being 63 years old is that I've had lots of practice at this. No, not with pandemics, but with difficult, wrenching life changes. 

I've moved a lot. Every move has meant leaving behind friends, my home, my job, favourite restaurants, and favourite walking trails. 

I've had injuries that have impacted my mobility. There were times I thought I'd never ski again because of knee injuries. I've learned to ski differently. I once broke a bone in my foot that wouldn't heal. I was in a cast for four months. I wondered if I'd ever walk normally again. 

Keeping in Touch
I've lost beloved family members. Every time it was extremely painful. It felt as if my own life had ended. I grieved. I came to acceptance. Time kept going along, and once again I found joy. I've adapted to changes and I've had a wonderful life. 

Moving On

Living in the age of the novel corona virus means finding new ways to do things, and continue to live a satisfying, fulfilling life.

I've started texting with my grandsons on Messenger. They love playing with the photo options and other media features. 

We enjoyed a physically distanced Mother's Day picnic with my daughter's family.

Mother's Day Picnic
Before the physical distancing restrictions, I was very involved doing fundraising with my local chapter of Lions International. All of those initiatives have been suspended. 

However, our Lions club has been out with other community members cutting broom. Scotch broom is an invasive plant species that is a problem on Vancouver Island. 

We can stay apart but be together while we cut broom. 
Rob with Broom








Clematis in Bloom











I have spent a lot of time out working in my lovely garden. Although the weeds are endless and I'll never keep up with them, I've been enjoying my gardening time.

I have planted tomatoes, herbs and a few other things in containers on my deck.

The flowering shrubs bring joy. And I'm quite pleased with my little vegetable patch, tucked in amongst the decorative plantings. 

Veggie Garden
On the long weekend, Rob and I went on a beautiful hike around the point with my son and one of my daughters. We enjoyed time together while still observing public health restrictions.

My Son
My Daughter



















Another way in which we have adapted is that Rob and I are going for more walks together. To celebrate our recent anniversary, we picked up take-out sushi and ate it at a picnic table in the park. Then we went for a lovely walk around the harbour.

Not Too Old for Selfies
Settling in, adapting, moving on -- a good life.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Cooking My Way Through the Pandemic

First, a warning. Don't read this blog post right now if you're feeling hungry. 

Last Piece of Salmon (Caught by Rob)
Chicken Stuffed with Cheese & Sun-dried Tomato

Cooking and Me

I have always enjoyed cooking. It all started with baking. Somewhere in the family photo album, there's a picture of me around age 6 or 7 proudly displaying a cake I'd made in my Easy Bake Oven, a toy oven that was popular in the 1960's. My mom baked a lot, and she taught me to make cookies, cakes, and squares from scratch long before I took my one and only home economics class in Grade eight.

I helped with the cooking as a teenager, When I moved into my first apartment at age 20 after enduring three years of horrible university residence food, I embraced cooking and home meal planning with zest. I took a natural foods cooking course. "Natural foods" is what we called vegetarian cooking back in the 1970's, and the emphasis was on organic unrefined whole foods. I joined a food coop. I learned to make granola and bread. I went on to learn to preserve foods, and made a lot of jam, jelly, pickles, and canned fruit over the years.


Mom's Pie Crust Recipe in her Handwriting
My Cookbooks


















I've collected a bookshelf full of cookbooks. As well, I have two thick folders of recipes that I've clipped out of newspapers, been given by friends, copied out by hand from somewhere, or developed myself and written down.

Most of the time these days, I invent meals as I cook them, without following a recipe. When I do use a recipe, I usually refer to one of my old standbys. Or, I look up recipes on the Internet and adapt them.

This past year, I lost enthusiasm for cooking. I don't know why, but I became bored with it. Except for a brief flurry of cooking around Christmas, when my son and two of my brothers came to stay with us for a few days, and when I volunteered to plan a community Christmas dinner for 60 people and cook it with the help of my service club, our meals became rather ho-hum.

The pandemic changed all that. Over the past six weeks I have been cooking and creating all manner of things in the kitchen. The photos above of the baked salmon and of the stuffed chicken breasts are two examples of my cooking efforts.

Turkey For Two

When Easter came along this year, I felt sad. Usually we have a big family dinner. We all get together and visit and feast. Our service club hosts an Easter Egg Hunt for the community, which my grandsons love to participate in. But, as we were sheltering in place, we couldn't be with our family to follow our usual tradition.

I decided to make turkey for our Easter dinner anyways, just for the two of us. I purchased the smallest turkey I could find and stuffed it and roasted it.

Roast Turkey
When you look at the photo, don't be fooled by the bare drumsticks. It might have been the juiciest, most delicious turkey I've ever made.

Turkey Dinner for Two


Turkey Dinner Close-up
Rob Adds Gravy
Turkey Pie
Two Berry Pies

I baked two mixed berry pies, one for us and one for my daughter's family. We did a pie drop-off the day before Easter. Perhaps we couldn't all spend the day together, but at least they had dessert for their Easter dinner. This pie has previously made an appearance here.

Of course we couldn't eat the whole turkey, so I froze much of the meat, and the bones for stock. This week, I used some of the frozen turkey meat to make a turkey pie. I still have lots left for soup.

Indian Curries

Last week, I also made a vegetarian chick pea and vegetable curry. The next day, we ate the rest of the vegetable curry along with some homemade chicken korma. A couple of years ago, my step-daughter gave me a great little cookbook, pictured below. I invested in some good Indian spices and learned to make my curries from scratch.
Curry Cookbook
Chicken Korma, Vegetable Curry, & Rice



















Last Words

Rob is an appreciative diner, and therefore a delight to cook for. He cooks sometimes too. He likes to make pancake breakfasts for us on weekends.



Devil's Food Cake
Just in case you're not yet hungry, I've included a picture of a devil's food chocolate cake. I originally got the recipe from a community cookbook and have been making it for 55 years.

Hopefully, my desire to cook will still be with me when we're finally able to have guests for dinner again.







Sunday, April 19, 2020

Learning to Let it Be

Magnolia Blooms
Stay the Course

Today is our 33rd day of staying home, sheltering in place. It's been almost five weeks.

 

Societal Lessons

 

This pandemic has had some lessons to teach us. At the the broader societal level, we have been learning that:
  • To have a good life, our close relationships and other human connections matter most of all -- more than engaging work, personal accomplishments, material acquisitions, or fun activities. 
  • Essential workers, especially health care workers, have become our everyday heroes. They are ordinary people doing their jobs in extraordinary circumstances. They have reached deep inside and found the courage and faith to keep going, taking care of us all by making sure we have groceries, caring for the elderly and treating the ill, even while risking their own health and lives. When called upon, will each of us find our own inner hero?
  • Leadership really matters. COVID-19 has shown us that the difference between good and poor leadership can be and presently is a matter of life and death. So we need to choose our leaders wisely.
  • We are interconnected, globally. "Globalization" has been a buzz word for decades, but now we are learning what it really means. The disease transmission process demonstrates how people in each city, country, or continent affect each other. If people across the border from you have the coronavirus (or people on the next continent), it is only a matter of time until your city (or continent) has it too. To address it effectively, we have to work together across our communities and worldwide, supporting the "have-nots" as well as the "haves." We can apply this same insight about inter-connectivity to worldwide economics, food-security, and climate change. 

Personal Lessons

 

Trillium on Today's Hike
The pandemic also has been teaching me some lessons at a personal level. The biggest lesson I have been learning is to "Let it Be."

All my life, I have been achievement-oriented -- a doer. I have approached life at full tilt, a ball of energy. I have no patience whatsoever, and have always felt that I must spend every moment of my life doing something productive. (On the plus side, I'm never bored.)

As you can imagine, I'm not very "zen." My greatest struggle in trying to learn to meditate is to make myself sit still "wasting time" doing "nothing" when I could be doing something productive.

My approach to life made the decision to retire difficult for me. 

I retired in stages. The first part of the process lasted a year or two, and during it I agonized about whether and when to retire. Finally, I decided to step down from my role as an administrator (which was very stressful and causing negative health consequences), but without actually retiring. I planned to transition back to a teaching role after a year of earned sabbatical leave. Halfway through my sabbatical year, I realized I was, in fact, ready to retire. I've now been retired for almost three years.

I have included several links to blog posts I wrote back then tracking my thought process about retiring. I found it very hard to let go of my work. What I did everyday seemed to be core to who I was. When I was no longer working productively, who would I be?

As it turned out, I love being retired. I discovered I was still me, and that my work did not define who I was.

But, I brought my characteristic energy and work ethic to retirement and immediately joined a whole bunch of groups and organizations. Before I knew it, I once again had a calendar full of meetings and other commitments. Yes, the meetings were about things that I like to do -- art, writing, community volunteer work, social gatherings, exercise activities, book club, academic writing projects, and so on. It was nothing like the grueling long hours of work I used to do. But still, I no longer had many unscheduled chunks of time left. I was being productive -- all the time. I was also beating myself up for not doing even more.

Manicotti stuffed with Spinach and Cheese
Homemade Berry Pie
Staying at home because of the pandemic has given me a second chance to retire. Everything disappeared from my calendar. I am finding out what it is like to just be rather than to always do. I haven't had time like this to let it be since I was a child.

I've discovered that I love just puttering in the garden or in the kitchen. It is peaceful to have unscheduled contemplative days. Although I have appreciated zoom conferencing weekly with my yoga class and my blogging buddies, and monthly with my book club and my writers' group, I've resisted adding any more conferences into my days.

It no longer matters if it's Monday or Saturday. I don't have to go anywhere. I can just hang out at home, and go for a walk if the mood strikes. I'm no longer personally responsible for single-handedly solving climate change, or for writing the defining book of the century, and that's okay.
Zoom Session with Blogging Buddies

Let it be

Friday, April 10, 2020

Reasons to Feel Grateful

The Trail Down Notch Hill

Today is Day 25 of our self-isolation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, like so many people around the world, Rob and I have been staying home, not seeing friends or family. Our trips away from home have been limited -- twice to buy groceries, once to get pet food, once to the liquor store, once to the vet, and twice to pick up takeout food. Three times people have dropped something off for us, and twice we've gone out to drop something off for others. We walk on the streets and trails near home, stop and chat with people while physically distancing, and otherwise stay home.

Lethargy

I was on a Zoom conference with some blogging buddies the other day, and when we went around the screen talking about our highs and lows of the week, a number of us said something quite similar. We felt lethargic, glum, blue, flat, anxious, and discouraged. We lacked energy and motivation to accomplish much of anything.

It is understandable that we feel anxious, scared, and unable to focus. Just about everything in our lives has suddenly changed. Even for those of us who haven't been personally touched by the disease (yet), we are affected by the grim death tolls around the world, and are afraid of dying or of loved ones dying.

Yet, even in these difficult times, we have so much to be grateful for.

Capable Leaders

 

I am so grateful to live here in Canada, where our health experts and politicians have done a very good job of managing the response to the COVID-19 crisis. Our federal, provincial, and municipal politicians have, for the most part, put partisan politics aside. They have worked together to address the pandemic by putting policies and support programs in place and moving resources to wherever they are most needed.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, screenshot from Global News Town Hall

In particular, I'm impressed with Dr. Bonnie Henry, our Provincial Health Officer here in BC. She and the Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, provide a daily briefing to British Columbians. They are clear, transparent, and consistent in their communications, and publish the health orders, ongoing statistics, and epidemic planning models on the BC Centre for Disease Control website for all to look at. They devote a significant part of each briefing to taking questions, and they answer the questions honestly and as thoroughly as they can, expressing genuine emotions.

Dr. Henry calls upon all of us to be kind, and to do our part. Although her orders in this emergency are the law and she has the authority to enforce them, she appeals instead to our human decency and our desire to do the right thing to protect our families and communities. And British Columbians are rising to the occasion and following her health orders. Because of it, we are starting to see our epi-curve flatten. Our cumulative number of deaths in BC thus far has been low.

Bonnie Henry is a leader we all can look to with gratitude. Phil Dwyer of Vancouver Island has written a ballad about her that you can listen to by clicking this link: The Ballad of Bonnie Henry. This newspaper article explains how the songwriter wrote the song and had it recorded.

A final point that I'll make about our situation is that our good leadership did not occur by accident. It happened before COVID-19. We voted for decent people who put their civic duty ahead of self-serving aims. As a country, we have invested in universal healthcare, and paid taxes to fund pandemic planning long before this pandemic became a reality. As a country, we have invested in equitable education for all. A populace that has good critical thinking skills is more likely to support and trust their scientists and other experts, and therefore to be well-placed to respond in a community-minded way when a crisis occurs. I am glad I live where I do.

A Glorious Spring

 

Wildflower by the Trail
I love springtime, as the trees begin to bud, the wild flowers start to bloom, and the birds and bumblebees return to our yard. The hummingbirds are in the blossoms, the eagles are wheeling overhead, and every evening the frogs in the nearby wetlands sing, making an amazing racket.

Crocuses in March
We have been especially lucky the last two weeks to have had lots of sunny days, and I have spent hours and hours out in the garden. I have dug up and planted a small vegetable plot. I have transplanted some shrubs, added more flowers to my spring garden, done lots of yard cleanup, turned over the compost multiple times, and spent a lot of time weeding (although there's still much more to do).
Magnolia Tree

The magnolia tree that I planted last year is blooming. The first of the rhododendron bushes burst into bloom today. I have really been enjoying gardening, and also my forest walks.

Staying Connected

One of the really hard parts of having to stay home is not being able to see people. I miss my kids and grand-kids a lot. Normally on Easter weekend, we would all be getting together and sharing a big dinner. I miss my friends, and all the people in the community that I usually see through volunteer work or in my book club, writers' group, art group, yoga class, and so on.

But at the same time, we have been reaching out to each other and staying connected in other ways. I have been making use of good old-fashioned telephone calls, especially to check in with my kids. I have zoom-conferenced with various groups, including my yoga class. I've messaged with my two older grandsons, and read stories to the grand-kids via FaceTime. I went for a physically distanced walk with my daughter. A screen is no substitute for being with people in person, but it has sure thrown into sharp relief what really matters in life -- the people you love, friends, and community. I'm grateful for the ways we are finding to stay connected. As for sheltering in place, as it turns out, Rob is a pretty good companion to spend my days with.

What are you feeling grateful for?

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

When the Cracks Start to Show

Cracks Appearing*
Like many of you, dear readers, I am sheltering in place as ordered by our provincial Public Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. Rob and I closed our doors starting the afternoon of Monday, March 16. Since that time more than two weeks ago, we have both stayed home. I went out once a few days ago to buy some groceries and Rob went out yesterday to buy pet food. We picked up takeout food on Saturday. (At least I think it was Saturday. All the days and dates have become a blur.)

Other than that we haven't left home and our immediate neighbourhood. We haven't seen friends or family members.

We are very fortunate in that we are both retired, and therefore not worried about having to work or about loss of pay. We have a roomy home and yard, and because we live in a semi-rural area, we can walk on the streets and trails nearby, seldom encountering anyone.

Also, we are both people with many solitary interests. During normal times, neither of us has any difficulty entertaining ourselves for hours and days at a time, for example, me with writing, reading, gardening, and academic work, and Rob with woodworking, reading, outdoor projects, and watching movies.

And yet.

These are not normal times. We are living through a cataclysmic event affecting the whole world -- a pandemic. There is an ongoing media barrage showing us the mounting number of cases and deaths around the world. It is frightening as we contemplate the extent of human suffering; worry about health care workers, family, and vulnerable friends; and wonder whether our own lives are at risk.

I have found it hard to pull myself away from reading and watching coronavirus news stories. I have an irrational feeling that if I'm not tracking the news constantly, it will get worse the minute I look away.

Witnessing the progress of the pandemic, while also being sequestered at home and having all of our usual activities come to a halt, is stressful. It's also hard on relationships, and on individual mental well-being.

J.P. Sears recently posted a funny video called How to Destroy Your Relationship During the Quarantine, which you can watch by clicking here.

The video is funny, but the stresses on relationships are real.

Parents staying at home with children who are not in school or daycare may be trying to work from home while also finding ways to keep the kids who have been cut off from their friends and usual activities engaged, or at least not fighting with each other. Grandparents who otherwise could provide respite are in the demographic most at risk from the virus.

Children absorbing bits of the news may be anxious and fearful, and express their feelings by acting out.

Young people who are dating but not living in the same household may be struggling to hold their relationship together or tempted to ignore physical distancing.

The sandwich generation may be worried sick about their elderly parents on the one hand and their kids and jobs on the other.

Couples may find that the texture of their relationship has changed. Many of the activities and routines they enjoyed together are no longer available. Each may be responding to the crisis in a different way, or be in a different stage of coping. For example, one may be in avoidance mode while the other is seeking extra closeness and reassurance. Or one may be full of plans for new activities while the other can't drag him/herself off the couch.

The stresses can be extreme when struggling to work from home, or if a loved one is ill, or if the financial consequences for the family are dire, or if one or both are health care workers or in another essential service that puts them at greater risk.

People who already live alone may find self isolating especially hard, as their usual social resources are no longer available. 

The little voice in the head might start saying things like:

I've discovered I actually don't like my family at all.
Why can't these little fiends give me even one single minute of peace and quiet?
He/she spends every single minute staring at their computer and doesn't even talk to me.
We have nothing in common.
He/she turns everything into a big emotional drama that is all about him/herself.
What's wrong with me -- I can't concentrate on anything!

It's normal to feel strong emotions during a crisis situation like this. And, as strange as it may seem, the challenges we are all facing present an opportunity.

We have the opportunity to be kind to ourselves and to be kind to each other. We have the opportunity to open up to each other and deepen the relationship with our partner in ways we may not take the time for during our regular schedule. We have the opportunity to really enjoy being with our family members rather than passing like ships in the night as each one races off to work, school, or other activities. Children have an opportunity to learn to be more considerate of their parents and to develop a more caring relationship with their siblings. We all have an opportunity to reach out to people we know, and especially to people who may be lonely or in need of extra support.

With a heightened sense of the value of life we have now that our mortality is staring us in the face, each one of us can pause and take a long look at this beautiful planet we inhabit and be grateful for the life all around us right now.   
Life and Creativity Thrive in Cracks*
*Photos are free Shutterstock images from pixabay.com.