Home…Still Home

I have been home—in my home—for more than five weeks now.  This is true for a majority of the U.S. population, as far as I can tell.  We are doing this to protect ourselves and others from the Corona Virus, aka COVID 19.  I am reasonably content with the situation, as I should be.  I am retired, I have no children at home whose schoolwork I need to supervise. If I were so inclined, there are plenty of sorting-and-clearing out chores to do (but I won’t).  I enjoy having no outside obligations.  I take socially distant walks.  Bill and I have had a couple of virtual Happy Hours with friends. 

Quaranteaming isn’t always that easy (see last week’s blog here) and in conversation with friends, “going crazy” comes up fairly often.  I think this might be a good time to take a few minutes to look back at what home meant before the pandemic. I have written about home several times in this blog and readers have written back with their thoughts on what home means to them.  Here are a few definitions.

Home is a place where all my needs are met.

Home includes warmth, total acceptance, love, good food, family and friends. To this day I feel most at home (no matter where that happens to be) when I am surrounded by the people I love and who love me, making food, laughing, talking and sharing stories and creating memories.

Home is where I’m always glad to return after my travels.

Just being around things–my things–particularly those that bring me great pleasure and/or comfort, such as the beautiful old wood grain of our trestle dining table, makes me feel good and secure.  Smaller, more confined spaces make me feel at home. Our house isn’t very big and I’m fine with that. Bigger would make me feel unsafe/uncomfortable.

Home for me is wherever my parents are.

I am at home in houses where I feel comfortable cooking in the kitchen.

My home is the most familiar and comfortable place in my world. A place that smells distinctive, familiar, comforting. A place where I can be undressed, unkempt, unprepared…….and have it not matter. A place with chairs, couches, and bed that readily conform to my body. A place with a warm fire. A place that has food that I like
to eat and the kind of coffee and wine that I like to drink. Most importantly, home is a place where people whom I love (and who love me) come regularly to enjoy life with me.


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“Quaranteaming” is my favorite word of the week.  The CNN article where it appeared featured a smiling pair of coworkers who moved in together to avoid isolation during this pandemic.  I have several family members and friends who are living by themselves and all of them keenly feel the isolation, even though their pets are thrilled.

On the other hand, some of us are spending more time in the same space with our loved ones than we ever imagined.  My husband has been retired for several years, so I have already experienced life as I once knew it flutter away.  We have already been through the spates of petty irritations togetherness can bring: (“Do you really have to shout when you sneeze?” “How often do you go to that hair salon, anyway?” and so on.)  But for people who regularly leave the house for long periods and are used to spending time alone, enduring a lockdown in a confined space with others day in and day out can be a trial. My point? Quaranteaming isn’t easy, either.

This unusual time has spawned all kinds of ways to cope.  The internet is full of movies and TV series to stream, DIY mask patterns to sew, tips on the best time to go to the market, etc.  Today Bill forwarded to me an article about “How to Dye Your Hair at Home.”  Ha ha.  (The quick answer:  wait for your hairdresser.) 

I recommend checking out my friend Robert Hawkins’ blog, Musings, Magic, San Miguel and More.  The April 16 edition includes two suggestions I am definitely going to pursue:  listening to The Daily’s Sunday Read about Weird Al Yankovic and watching the Joseph L. Mankiewicz movie, A Letter to Three Wives.  I may even persuade Bill, my quaranteammate, to join me.


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This pampered cat lives near the Church of the Black Madonna in Regla Havana.

The one thing I have learned over the years of writing this blog is that if the subject is cats, it will always get a big audience. I understand. I squander too much time watching adorable cat videos, and when I travel, I miss my cat and my bed and–even more–my cat IN my bed. In March my husband and I spent ten days in Cuba with five other photographers. While the others were getting just the right light on one beautiful scene after another, I wandered around taking photos of cats.

This kitty looks suspiciously like the cat below.
Although the first cat certainly got the better markings.
As with all city cats, this fixture at a Havana market has figured out how to get a good meal.
This man made sure his feline friend didn’t go away hungry.
While this cat solved his hunger problem by living in the kitchen.

Next time: Phase Two of Sheltering in Place: Shortage of hair dye!

As the sun sinks one more time over the East Bay hills…

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Let’s take a break from thinking about why we need to stay inside and look at some photos from Cuba.

Does this bring back memories? These beauties are used as taxis all over Cuba–a tribute to the mechanical abilities of their drivers.

Neighbors chatting in the morning, downtown Havana.
Restaurant patio, Trinidad, Cuba
Light sculpture on the right by Yami Martinez
Tobacco grower, Viñales
This man enjoys his life, as you can see. He loved to pose.

Havana Street Dancers
Boxers sparring. She was fierce!

Next time: Cats of Cuba. Meanwhile, have a good, safe week!

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Performers from the Habana Compás Dance Company

We have been “Sheltering in Place” like most Californians since we returned from Cuba earlier this week.  The word “shelter” has a very comforting sound, and we all need as much comfort as we can get in this very weird time.  

I keep reminding myself that if we stay inside, wash our hands frequently, don’t touch our faces and sometimes wear gloves, we most likely will be fine.  Usually that is calming.  But then there are the worries:  since we are oldies, in a higher risk group, what if we need to be hospitalized and on ventilators?  And there aren’t enough ventilators?  If you had to make the choice, whose life would you save—a 70+ person who has had a long, good life or a 40-year-old with a young family and a whole life ahead?  I know what I’d do—so I keep washing my hands.

I have other concerns about the Worst Case Scenario.  How to prepare? I guess it might be a good time to read The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning  (now there’s a title for you!) but my heart’s not in it.  What about all that stuff in my home office I haven’t yet sorted?  I mentioned to one of my sons that if COVID 19 bumped me off, I didn’t like to think about what my three kids might come across, cleaning up my stuff.  He offered what solace he could by reminding me of things we found when clearing out his grandfather’s drawers. All that aside, who wants to spend what might be their last days cleaning? 

There are some pluses to Sheltering in Place.  Friends and neighbors have been calling to check on each other.  My brother has been keeping us all laughing online with funny cartoons and goofy videos.  I am in contact with my “kids” every day.  And inevitably when I call to cancel an appointment or engagement, the stranger on the phone and I remind each other to “be safe.”   So we all soldier on, our country more together while apart than it has been in the past three years. 

And just for fun, I’m including a photo I took last week of wonderful Cuban singers and dancers. 


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Do your friends trust your judgment in books?  I am often asked what I have enjoyed reading lately.  The problem is, I haven’t been enjoying many prize-winning books. I feel sad saying what no one wants to hear: “I’m reading **** but I don’t think it’s very good.”

A couple examples: Little Fires Everywhere shot to the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list for Fiction and was named Amazon’s Best Novel of 2017.  The Sympathizer, which I am currently plodding through, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Surely it is sufficient to trust the judgement of the boards and readers who award these prizes.

When I attended the first meeting of a newly formed book group, I alienated the other four attendees by saying that Little Fires’ characters were stereotypes, there more to serve the plot than to be believable.  No one showed any trust in my judgement and eventually I decided it might be best to find a less-easily-offended group.  To my surprise, when later I looked up reviews for Little Fires,  I found that The Guardian’s review included:

“The plot hinges on a series of coincidences that
don’t stand up to scrutiny:they are too neat and too many…
it’s too clever, too complete, to be entirely plausible.” 

While the rest of the review was positive, at least part of my evaluation wasn’t off.

Of The Sympathizer, the Washington Post reviewer has virtually nothing negative to say about it. Though I avoid reading reviews prior to reading a book, maybe I should have with this one.   Because I feel guilty (a subject for a different blog) reading fiction during the day, I save it for bedtime, not the best hour to decipher sentences like this one:

“Killing the extras was either a reenactment of what
had happened to us natives or a dress rehearsal for
the next such episode, with the Movie the local
anesthetic applied to the American mind, preparing it
for any minor irritation before or after such a deed.”  

I can barely get through that sentence in the morning after two cups of coffee.

Maybe if I overcome the guilt problem, I will be able to recommend some novels in the future.  Up next:  My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley.  I trust I will enjoy it.


Photo courtesy of Kyle Glenn via Unsplash.com

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From the archive:


Photo of Magnolias blooming in Hartford RIGHT NOW! courtesy of my friend Heidi, who knows how much I love those trees and Springtime in the Northeast.

This week, many readers wrote to me with their own versions of what is Living Your Best Life.  Here is a sampling.  It comes as no surprise that no one’s best life includes owning a private jet and I love it that two of these three mentioned hummingbirds:

From Marcia:
I love the feel of the early morning sun on my face while walking around our beautiful lakes and trails. The sound of children playing outside. The sound of rain on the roof and the clean smell of the first raindrops. Playing with grandchildren. Watching the hummingbirds fight for a place on the feeder, and the squirrel working to get at the nuts and seeds from a swinging feeder. Playing golf and pickleball with friends. Volunteering at my granddaughter’s school, and with Kiwanis serving our neighborhood kiddos. And yes, sitting quietly with a good book and a cat… or two.

Janet writes:
Living the good life for me comes in two ways. Sometimes it’s a big deal and sometimes it’s a sweet moment.

Our recent trip to New Zealand and Australia was a big deal. It included riding a camel to watch the sun come up at Ayers Rock, a picnic on the rainforest floor and a view from its canopy, snorkeling in The Great Barrier Reef,  a BBQ in the outback, and day with koala bears, kangaroos and crocodiles, big beautiful cities and charming small towns—all this given the fact that when I was I child I hoped that just once before I died, I would go in an airplane to Italy. Since then, many airplanes and many trips.   Big moments!

Yesterday I was in my backyard sitting in a comfy garden chair. There were humming birds, blue jays, doves, little red-breasted finches, one fluffy white dog, and one much-loved husband.  The roses were sporting those great big first blooms of spring and the recent rains have made everything lush and leafy. Small moment. Living the best life.

Joan adds:
You manage to hit virtually every topic I’m now dealing with…..wow! The living your best life concept….hmmm ….  Somehow my “best life” is just rolling out of bed, hitting the gym, reading the New York Times, watching my weight, a glass or 2of wine, and sitting on the couch for a Netflix video while [my boyfriend] rubs my back…. then there’s his kids and my kids….Anyway, it’s an interesting topic….makes me wonder what else I might (should) be doing…….which I’ll address someday soon….

Thanks to all…. And Have a Good Week!





















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Like Me!

I'm grateful you like me.

I’m grateful.

Some things never change.  One of them is the importance of “Likes” on my Facebook author’s page.  If you haven’t already clicked “Like,” I’d be grateful if you would do so.


Time to “Like” me again. I know, I know—it’s ridiculous, but it matters in the wonderful webbie world. Why? Because search engines keep track of these things, so the more popular a site is on the web, the easier it is to find on Google, Yahoo, Chrome and other search engines. Heather Havrilesky’s very funny essay, “How to Contact the Author” in September 8’s New Yorker takes this business of “liking” to its extreme and is definitely worth reading.

Here’s a personal example of why “Likes” are useful: I get an unsolicited weekly report from Facebook about how I’m doing by its system’s standards. Say I acquired a new “Like” last week but none this week. My score will be (in red type) “-100% Likes.” I know this information is (until now) between only the reporting program and me, but it is just as dispiriting as a “sedentary” daily report from Fitbit.

So if you haven’t already, please:
1. Subscribe to this blog and ask a friend, roommate, spouse—anyone–to sign up, too. So far I have resisted signing up my cat, but who knows? CatmanDeux may be subscribers one of these days.
2. “Like” the blog and “Like” my author’s page on Facebook.

And thank you. I’m grateful.

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From the archive:

Pinkish flower

Nobody sees a flower, really; it is so small.
We haven’t time, and to see takes time–
like to have a friend takes time.

Georgia O’Keeffe

In the past two weeks I have spent time with old friends and it has been wonderful. One was Vivien, my first best friend; we met in Kindergarten 67 years ago and continued our friendship despite starting families, changing jobs and the distance between us (she lives in Switzerland). There was a lot to catch up on and even more to laugh about. I also spent time visiting a friend who was vacationing in Arizona. Bill and I met Joy and her husband, Larry, on a trip to the Galapagos ten years ago. We all got along so well that we took many trips in different parts of the world after that, then last summer Larry was killed by a falling tree and our concept of time changed.

Many of us view time in two contradictory ways. One is that we think we have all the time in the world to do this, go there, learn that. The other is that we feel pressed for time, so much so that we don’t stop to read a book, call a friend or “see a flower.” Not long before he died, Larry told his wife, in a different context, that “we need to ratchet up our hellos and goodbyes.” Nine months later, I think of that as a reminder to treat my friendships as I do my garden–that is, take the time tend to them.

Photo by Tavin Dotson courtesy of Unsplash.

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From the Archive:

Kale in its uncooked state.

Last week I read that one of the best foods to prevent dementia is kale.  Oh my.  Kale has long been on my list of dreaded greens.  Food Fads come and go. One that has lasted way too long, in my opinion, is kale.The omnipresence of kale reminds me of a scene from Forrest Gump in which Bubba lists the many ways shrimp can be prepared:

“Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, saute it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.”

The same could be said about the many forms kale takes: braised kale, roasted kale, kale chips, kale soup, raw kale, kale frittata—and let’s not forget kale juice. Enough already!

Food fads can help us recall past decades. Who can forget the wine-and-cheese period of the 1970’s? Or the Cajun blackened redfish of the 80’s? (I can almost feel my hair springing into a giant perm.) In the 90’s I made several unsuccessful attempts at baking molten chocolate cake. Since 2010, we’ve seen cupcakes and macarons gain favor as desserts, and comfort food is popular now to, well, comfort us. Even that harkens back to food fads of the 1950’s: mac and cheese, dumplings, slow-cooked stews.

I have another candidate for food oblivion that will have to wait for another time: “gluten-free.” Don’t get me started. I’ll be satisfied for now if the next time I go to a restaurant, kale is not on the menu.

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