May 5, 2020: This Week

With gyms closed, I’ve been walking early in the mornings while it is still cool, meandering around the neighborhood. Before, walks were quick and crammed between appointments. Everything pre-COVID now seems like it was rushed, with productivity the prize. This morning, as I took my time, I noticed the jacarandas and palo verdes are in full bloom, leaving purple and yellow flowers everywhere. Under some of the older, more established trees, the blossoms are so thick, they resemble snow.

Snow in the desert in May. Living during a pandemic has left my thoughts dizzy. Tasks that require creative thought must occur first thing in the morning with several cups of coffee and a quiet house – or they won’t be accomplished at all. The heat of the day strikes by noon and by late afternoon, everything has gone limp and tired like the thirsty Thai basil in the garden. This is the time for naps and cool glasses of ice tea that have a thick layer of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Neighbors are leaving the last bags and boxes of lemons and grapefruit at the curb with small handwritten signs. “Please take.” I’ve heard of this happening with zucchini in the Midwest in the middle of the summer. In Phoenix, it’s citrus, and by early May, we are so tired of citrus. The freezer is full of juice and zest. Loaves of lemon bread have been baking since January. Our canning pantry is full of marmalade. Even the bees have moved on to the blossoming mesquite, which sends a layer of neon green pollen across the garden.

Restrictions are being lifted this week locally. By the end of the week, you can go get a haircut or eat out at a restaurant. We won’t be doing either anytime soon. Arizona is 51st in the number of individuals who have been tested for COVID, which is a bellwether for poor public health leadership. If you don’t know how many people are sick, how can it be suggested that we are on the other side of the curve? Leftovers and hats make more sense.

This week, we’re cooking baked bean falafel from the delightful Nadiya Hussain. We’re harvesting tomatoes and peppers from the garden. We’re watching “Baptiste” on Masterpiece Theater and I’m reading Joan Didion’s “A Year of Magical Thinking.”

We’re dreaming of summer vacations camping in the pines, reading from hammocks, fishing for trout, star gazing. We’re dreaming of having the kids around the dinner table again, home from California and college. We’re dreaming of seeing friends and family, of hugs and cocktails and laughter that will once again fill our home.

Gigi Bear

This week our dog Gigi died. She’d been sick since January, which in retrospect was amplified by having teeth removed. She’d been diagnosed with pancreatitis in February and we spent 6 weeks slowly nursing her back to health. She completed a considerable round of medications and became accustomed to being hand fed pieces of rotisserie chicken. (Dark meat only, please.)

Last week, after having returned to her dog food and gained some weight, she started showing strange neurological signs including scream barking and pushing her head into corners. Tests showed she likely had meningitis, with the only confirmation coming from a spinal tap — which we were not willing to put her through. She was in obvious pain and there is no longterm treatment for this.

Holding a beloved pet, trying to keep your voice steady and calm, and whispering your last words of love to them while they die is among the most difficult, painful experiences I’ve had. With Gigi, this was further complicated because of COVID. We were lucky to be able to be with her in her last moments and while they asked us to wear masks, in her last minutes I pulled mine off and pressed my face against hers. I don’t know if it was more for me or her, but I wanted her to be able to see my face and not be scared.

I inherited Gigi (and her older sister Grace) when Jason and I married. They quickly became my dogs and Grace continues to be my sidekick. Happy Gigi memories include her bullying Nelson to establish herself as the alpha, which was hilarious considering she weighed all of 9 pounds, and the fact she loved to swim. During the summer we would visit family with a pool and Gigi loved to get in and hang out on a raft. She’s the only dog I’ve ever had who loved heat and water.

She also loved baby carrots, walks with her sister as long as she was at the front of the pack, and in her final days — being held.

I don’t think the loss of a pet ever gets easier. I will miss that sweet little dog until my last days. For now, I’m grateful for these last weeks at home with her, and being here now with Grace as we transition to a one-dog home.

We didn’t need the loss of an animal on top of managing a pandemic and other trying family concerns, but here we are. Hopeful today is brighter.

Hold your loved ones close. Again, again, I am reminded how fragile and temporary this all is.

Life in the Time of COVID-19

Today marks week 6 of working from home. Life has changed in some ways that feel permanent. Our eating habits have improved. We’re being intentional and cautious about going to the grocery, planning meals, and food economy. Sleep and concentrated thought are a luxury. The heaviness of what is happening around us keeps me from being able to focus on reading anything of value. I lose count knitting. I toss and turn between 2-4 am.

I’ve found peace in sitting outside mid-afternoon and watching the white clouds float overhead. This spring has been one of the most beautiful I can remember, but perhaps that’s because we’ve all been forced to stop and notice. Yesterday I watched hummingbirds come and go, monarch butterflies flitter, and quail bobbing along with their head feathers dancing as they searched the edge of the garden for seed.

The tomatoes and peppers are still green, but the basil and dill are in full bloom. This week spring will morph into early summer as the temperatures will climb over 100. We’ll put out water for the birds, refill the feeders, and close the windows to keep cool air inside. I’ll miss the sounds of the garden from the kitchen.

We’re staying connected to others as we can. We join neighbors nightly at 7 pm to bang pots and pans in the driveway, a global celebration of those working on the front line. I’ve joined others in my quilt guild by sewing and handing out masks to loved ones and others in need. We’ve checked in on those who live alone on our street, and picked up groceries for those who can’t get out of their homes. And we’ve been blessed with bags of citrus from neighbors’ trees, swaps of loaves of bread and dozens of eggs, going back and forth across the street as people have extra and others are in need. We’ve met people in our community we didn’t know before and been delighted to witness their generosity.

This weekend, feeling stir crazy, we took a long drive north to hike and wander. I don’t remember ever feeling so fortunate to be outside, away from home, adventuring with my husband. On the radio, a talk show host reminded listeners that this is the first time we’ve ever had to all slow down like this. Rediscovering the simple joys: watching the clouds, listening to the birds, meeting the neighbors, going for a drive: I’m thankful.