Essential Alcohol and the Joy of Flowers

I’m not much of a drinker. Inside of one glass of wine I get so tired I am looking for the nearest couch to pass out on. For me there’s no point. I have things to do.

Recently I asked Samuel about why Virginia’s ABC stores are being considered essential during Corona. “C’mon, Mom, during a crisis you’d hardly want to take away people’s sedatives.” Fair enough. I get that. Part of well-being is managing anxiety, keeping your peace. I guess it’s the same nationwide, that alcohol is a must.

Then Claudia told me that the garden centers and hardware stores were already closed in Germany. My contact at our local building supply had already told me the store was closed but they would still deliver. Same for the tile store; there you can place an order and pick up. In my case, being almost done with the front porch, midway on the bathtub replacement and just starting the kitchen re-do and garden prep, this was worrisome.

UH-OH. So let’s make a list. What MIGHT we need, and let’s get it before we can’t. This involves a lot of math, including how many 2x4s for the railing pickets (once you rip and allow for the off-cut), how many 2x6s for the tops and bottoms, how many boxes of screws and other hardware so we don’t run out halfway across the porch? It involves tiles for the tub surround, sheetrock to cover the holes I am making in the kitchen area, plywood for cabinets, cherry for facings, drawer fronts, and cabinet doors, etc.

It also involves flowers. And what I want to know is this: If alcohol is considered essential, why aren’t flowers!!? If alcohol (in theory, and sometimes anyway) calms people and helps them cope, what about the things of beauty that bring us joy and feed our souls? What if I can’t get flowers??

I realize this is a big can of worms. What brings me joy and feeds my soul is different (vastly perhaps) than what you need. Where do you draw the line between essential and non-essential? Clearly I don’t have a say in this, so I thought through the risk of going to the local garden center I presumed to be open – it’s open-air and I can wear my PPE and keep my distance besides – and decided it was okay. Time for in cart (2)2mp

On a cart I gathered dianthus, snapdragons, pansies, daisies, two small azaleas, some random other flowers, two tomato plants, parsley and a bunch of seed packets, and got in line.

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Even here, I hardly wanted to breathe. But everyone seemed to be thinking the same thing and was most respectful. Note the socially distanced spacing. Will we ever stand near one another again and not worry? Turn on any movie or series or anything on film produced pre-March 2020 and see the proximity of humans!! The scenes at the MET on Moonstruck (hadn’t seen that movie in years; it helps me understand my Italian side), the subway in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (on Amazon now, yay!), the restaurant in As Good As It Gets (never get tired of that movie!) – surely there will be a pre- and post-Corona reality in everyone’s memories.

I wonder how many people will reflect on the good that came from this challenge and incorporate some of their newly discovered way of life into their post-Corona world. My friend Beverley yesterday called what she sees “the silver lining.” In her neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia, she has seen “families out strolling, mulching, dog walking, tossing the frisbee, football, baseball. There were even some lil ones running thru the sprinkler in their front yard. And what’s so encouraging …Parked cars in the neighborhood, hardly any traffic. People are Staying Home! And warm weather is coming!!!! A combination that might conquer this beastly virus.”

How many people will rediscover chatting over the fence, sharing baked goods, fixing their own bike? I’m thrilled to see farmers finding new ways to get their produce to consumers, stay-at-homers enjoying the intrigue of sourdough bread, shelters with no dogs left in them because people at home like (and have time for) the companionship of a faithful (and surely grateful) pooch. In the broader, more serious picture, I am hopeful and confident that next year’s Nobel prize will go to those who come up with the cure/immunization. May they be successful soon!

We all have our ups and down, our lack of focus some days, our misgivings about the way things are handled, our frustrations at the inconveniences we face every day. Cabin fever may never be seen in the same light again. But hats off to those people who take the bull by the horns and show others that this is not altogether (that we know of anyway!) the end of the world, to those who find the balance between, on the one hand, seeing and responding appropriately to the tremendous seriousness of this virus and on the other, finding a way to manage their everyday stuff and see and applaud whatever good they can.

May God bless and preserve our health care workers and all the others risking their own life and safety in order for many people to have what they need. They are my heroes right now. None of them “signed up for this.” All of them face fears and hardships they never imagined. None of the rest of us would want to trade places with them. Talk about a rock and a hard place.

All of this will end. May we all look back and know we did the best we could. No more is expected of us than that 😊

Flowers in the garden – a palette of color that includes good dirt and fresh air – feeds my well-being. What feeds yours?

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A Kind of Scrubbing

We all have different reactions to stress. Mine is scrubbing. Occasionally that means the literal on-your-hands-and-knees kind of scrubbing with a bucket of soapy water and a rag. (Just try getting to the far corners of the floor under a large piece of furniture without the hands-and-knees approach.) Look around your house. You know what I mean. Any number of things could be cleaner, less dusty at least. Yeah.

Usually for me though, scrubbing is the more general version, the simple make-something-better-with-energetic-activity kind of scrubbing. Pick something, anything. Lots of things could be better than they are. When we make something better, good things happen. When we sit around feeling stressed, dejected, annoyed, fearful or any other un-positive way, good seldom comes.

I know. I’m a worrier. I’m worried about bringing The Big Bad to my mom who’s trying to heal her broken back. I am worried when I’m not in her apartment that somewhere out there, something I touch, someone I pass by, will infect me. I’m worried about my friend Sandy who just had knee surgery* and is staying at the cottage. We all know how contagious coronavirus is. I don’t touch anything I don’t have to. I wear gloves almost continually. I don’t even want to breathe when I am anywhere other than my house, my car or Mom’s apartment. But sooner or later we all need stuff from the store.

Here’s the thing: I can’t make my mom’s broken back heal any faster than her bones naturally knit together. I can’t un-stiffen Sandy’s knee or cause the ice packs to un-swell it more effectively. I sure can’t reverse the deadly track of the coronavirus. I can’t play the trumpet and serenade my neighbors like this amazing and selfless trumpet player in Italy.

But by golly I can scrub! First and foremost of course, I can scrub my hands to help ensure I am not making the situation worse. I can “do” the other thing besides hand-washing that we all have been advised to do: Stay home as much as possible. Consider it done. I love home anyway.

I can also make food and give it away. Yesterday I made three ricotta pies which have safely made their way to three different refrigerators.

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I can plant my lettuce, spinach, peas and onions, hoping I’ll be able to share that produce in a month or two. Basil is best started indoors. The sight of these seeds popping through the dirt was about as lovely a sight as I could have asked for.


I can pray. Lord knows there are plenty of people trying to figure out how to navigate this weird new world. I can also be a sounding board and hopefully an encouragement for people who want to talk on the phone, or text (as they are that for me!). Once in a while, maybe I can even make them laugh! To maintain my sanity/well-being (okay, and to let out a bit of frustration), I can break a hole in the wall near the end of the kitchen and start my next renovation project.

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I do not mean to diminish the seriousness of the world situation by one iota. I am aware of the military trucks in Bergamo taking bodies to crematoriums in other Italian cities because there is NO MORE ROOM for them in Bergamo. My heart is heavy knowing I don’t have a clue about pain and suffering and worry compared to those in the thick of it.

But I do think we can collectively and individually make things better than they are. With some unfortunate and maddening exceptions (spring-breakers on Miami beaches come to mind) most people have brains, energy and helpful and caring hearts.




*He got in under the wire, one of the last three elective surgeries to be performed in our local hospital before they decided to draw the line on non-essential procedures.

Your Neighbor

It occurred to me yesterday that if my mother had not taken a bad fall last Wednesday, it could be months before I would see her again. The daffodils in my garden would be long past.

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The lockdown here is so complete that unless you are the caregiver or performing some other critical function, you may not enter. When I was stopped and questioned at the gate two days ago, I was told that even my status as her daughter didn’t matter. But as caregiver, following protocol, I could come in.

Not in all her 85 years has my mother been in this much pain. Breaking your back is to be avoided at all costs, trust me! Even with the drugs, she has done more wincing, gripping and crying out in the last ten days than I would want anyone to experience in a lifetime. I would not wish this on anyone.

Except for necessary trips to the bathroom and back, Mom is confined to bed, confined to her apartment. Considering COVID-19, this is not a bad thing.

The situation makes me think about choices. Would I rather Mom have a broken back or struggle through COVID-19? Both are bad, very bad, exceedingly bad. Painful though it is, I suspect she would choose the broken bones.

Tomorrow we have to make a trip to the doctor – insurance dictates that she be seen by her primary physician within seven days of an ER visit. Are such regulations suspended because of the virus? I would rather her not go anywhere right now. What should I do? We are doing everything we can to be careful, but neither of us has been in complete isolation. Either of us could have been exposed to the virus during one of her recent trips to the ER. I am being extremely careful about washing my hands, keeping things clean and not mixing unnecessarily with other people. Were Mom to catch this or any respiratory illness and have to cough while giving the bones right behind her lungs the time they need to heal, the pain would be, I’m sure, at the being-flayed-alive level. 

Sometimes the choices in life are not Good or Bad. Sometimes they are Bad or Worse. Sometimes there is no good way forward. Sometimes just The Best We Can. The current global pandemic had made us all think about what’s important. We have all, I hope, weighed the risks not only for ourselves but also for the rest of the world, though it’s hard to wrap your head around the prospects for 7 billion people. One way to do this is to go back to basics.

How about: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

How about: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Years ago I came to a life-changing understanding of Mark 12:31 when I heard it preached about in a church in Kempten, Germany. Until then, I had what is probably a standard interpretation of the word neighbor – someone who lives on my same street or in my same building. The concentric circles around myself started with my own family (in my own house), then expanded to neighbors, then to community, then to town, then to county, state, nation, world. Like this:

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This pastor approached the topic by looking at the word neighbor in a different way, and he had the advantage of a different language.

Neighbor in German is Nachbar. Nach means “next to.” Nachbar literally means The One Next To You.

This means your neighbors are not just the people on your street. It means they are the ones you work with, the ones you pass by in the store, the ones who sit with you in meetings, the ones in front of you or behind you in a line or queue. Your neighbors are not (just) the specific people who live in houses or apartments near you, but instead a fluid set depending on where you are.

This less restrictive, more open definition helped me see that while I am at work, my co-workers are my neighbors. While I am shopping, my fellow shoppers are my neighbors. At any time, but especially while we are fighting the most serious pandemic of our lifetime, anyone I come in contact with is my neighbor. Like this:

my neighbors

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Reconsider your concept of the word love as well. I’m not talking about love as in “in love.” In English we can get stuck with one word that is tasked with encompassing a wide range of meanings. Greek, the original language of the New Testament, has four words for love: storge (applying to family), philia (friends), eros (romantic) and agape (total love, the kind that changes things).*

Agape love is the kind in Love your neighbor as yourself. Look within yourself to find a way to consider equally what’s best for you and what’s best for your neighbor. We all want to avoid getting a deadly disease. Equally, we should all want to avoid passing it along to someone else. This is the kind of love that will change how this virus spreads.

Follow guidelines. Stay home. Avoid gatherings. Keep your distance. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Encourage others to do the same. The only way we can get through this with fewer casualties is for us to get over the hump of delusion that it’s not that bad. It’s that bad! We all have to take it seriously. The St. Patrick’s Day revelers who gathered in bars in cities across the country should be ashamed of themselves.

We have to learn to think in different ways. We have to adopt new ways of being, of moving about, of taking care of ourselves and others. We have to do this now.


*For a somewhat more detailed look at these four kinds of love, see this article.

“(probably we needed it)”

A week ago my mom fell. She’s 85 and doesn’t blame anyone or anything.  It just happened. But it hurts like nothing she has ever experienced.  She fractured two ribs in her back as well as part of her spine – two of the ”thoracic transverse processes” that stick out on either side. She goes from bed to bathroom with great pain, great difficulty and a lot of help. If you have ever broken your own back, you will have a clue how she feels.

Just two days earlier we had been enjoying the spring flowers at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond with Rise and Eppie. You never know what’s around the next bend.

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Nor did we expect the coronavirus. We are extremely fortunate to be in an area that, up till now, has no known cases, and thank God Mom is essentially quarantined anyway. Her community has imposed a set of protocols similar to many retirement facilities of this kind, seriously cutting back on group activities and limiting visitors to the degree that’s reasonable, feasible and sensible. Even so, we are, like everyone, aware and concerned and doing everything in our power to minimize the risks.

Hearing about Google and Apple and other tech companies having their employees work from home makes me wonder about the people who can’t work from home – the nurses, the plumbers, the truck drivers, the shopkeepers – the unsung heroes of our age who keep the lights on and make sure we all have food to eat. The number of people, things and systems we take for granted, the variety of interconnected parts that have to work together for society to work as it does, is mind-boggling. For all its problems, as many things as possible considered, I am more grateful than ever for the incredibly smooth way of life we enjoy.

Hearing about people staying at home makes me wonder about how many are getting to know the people they live with in new ways, or rediscovering books and board games and actual conversation, or working out underlying issues that were easy to escape when we led our fragmented lives in utterly separate zones. Years ago a neighbor who homeschooled her kids told me that when you are around the same people all the time, you can’t wear a mask, you can’t put on your happy face and get through the day and take off that face when you go home. The people you are with all the time see what’s there, the good and the noble, the ugly and the tired. You had better learn to get along.

Finding the right balance in this thing is the trick, and I am grateful to my friend Marisa, who shed light on the phenomenon from her country, Italy, which was hit earlier than we in the States were. She described how they are handling the government restrictions imposed on them, such as staying at home most of the time. “In doing so, compared with the hectic lifestyle we, as Italians, and in particular as people from Lombardy, have always had, we are now experiencing/discovering a new way of living (probably we needed it).” How blessed am I to be friends with a person who sees things this way! She adds, “Let’s take the positive from the negative. Our thanks to our health workers who are doing a terrific job. Good luck to the whole world!”

Let me return to “probably we needed it.” Probably we needed to improve relationships with the people we care about (and now we have some time to do that). Probably we needed a reminder of what’s important. (Probably we all needed to wash our hands more anyway!) Probably we needed to take stock of all that’s good. Probably we needed to get a better perspective, a fresher look at the amazing world that we forget is so amazing. Please don’t misunderstand: Nothing’s perfect, never has been, never will be. Challenges, disagreements and conflicts are ever with us. I’m not saying there isn’t plenty to improve upon. But coronavirus aside, I get tired of all the complaining that things are sooooo bad. Maybe it takes a crisis for many people to get a glimpse of just how good we’ve had it, just how well-thought-out and well-executed many systems are, just how wonderful most people are — even if occasional glitches and/or troublemakers get all the attention. Maybe we don’t need a complete 180 but instead, a healthy balance of sincere gratitude, personal integrity, some steady, thoughtful, reasonable tweaking, and a focus on what’s actually important. 

Thank you, Marisa.