The idea of keeping friends at a distance is unnatural. It feels strange to stand six feet away from a person when having a conversation. Last week I went to a plant nursery to get advice from one of the staff. We were outside, both wearing masks, but as we spoke, she kept backing up and I kept moving towards her. When she held up her hand to indicate I should keep my distance I realized how instinctive, how normal it is to stand near other people when conversing. But these are not normal times. Distancing is difficult but it is one way we can still be together with friends.

In this time, I really feel the need for friends. Life as we knew it a few months ago is not possible and the future is uncertain. And there are the weird moments: I drove through a red light last week; I lose things constantly; I have weird, absurd dreams. I miss hanging out with friends, so I was especially grateful when I received an unexpected invitation in my email.

My “neighborhood” is a street of eight new houses. Everyone is friendly but until recently family, jobs, travel, and the busyness of daily life did not leave much time to get to know each other. Now, with all of us primarily homebound because of the pandemic, my wonderful neighbor Liat organized a Distancing Happy Hour on a recent Sunday evening. The oldest neighbor is 84, the youngest 18 months. We were careful: everyone wore masks, brought our own glasses and drinks and kept our distance while becoming better acquainted. I slept well that night, happy to connect mask-to-mask with my neighbors, despite the distance.

Have a good week!

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I just learned that my first name, Karen, is a meme.  While I was reading the daily bitch-fest known as “Nextdoor” I saw that someone responded to a neighbor’s complaint with, “Don’t be a Karen.”  Huh???  What is a Karen? I immediately went to Wikipedia and found that “Karen is a pejorative term in the Western world for a woman perceived to be entitled or demanding beyond the scope of what is considered appropriate or necessary.”  Apparently Karen has been a meme for quite awhile.

I am still unclear as to what a “meme” is, but I get the general idea.  One definition is:  “An element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.”  The “nongenetic means” of passage is often the internet.  You have probably heard the meme, “Okay, Boomer.”  That is the response of a young person to an old person who is spouting off about “in my day….”  A name meme is shorthand for a particular type of person.

Women’s names in memes imply, as a baseline, that the name holder is middle-aged, white, and privileged.  Here is a selection of what I’ve learned from my “research:”

Janet can be summed up as “whatever.”

Becky is snobbish, loves Starbucks and Uggs and is clueless about racial and social issues.

Sharon is a soccer mom with a minivan who likes to complain in supermarkets.

However,  the longest meme description I found is for the name Karen:  “blond, has multiple kids, is an anti-vaxxer with a “Can I speak to the manager” haircut and a controlling, superior attitude to go with it.”  Obviously, there is no way I am a Karen.  I would NEVER say, “CAN I speak to the manager;”  I would say, “MAY I speak to the manager” or, if I’m feeling timid, “I’d like to speak to the manager.”  

So much for memes!

Have a good week!

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This lovely illustration of what home means is by my friend, Morella Camejo

What does home mean and what gives you hope during this pandemic? Here is what some of you wrote to me:

In and effort to fill the days I’ve actually found some positives. The yard never looked this good! And, in the absence of friends and family dropping by I’ve found new friends that previously I have been too busy to notice. The early spring  weather was so mild I spent a great deal of time outside and was amazed by the symphony  of birdsong. Everything  is especially quiet these days, and  the sound they provide is beautiful, relaxing, and almost deafening sometimes…even occasionally annoying. It turns out.. some birds like to argue with each other or so it seems. I have discovered varieties of birds I had no idea ever spent time in these parts.Janet, Robbins, CA


I am trying to stay positive and one of the things that gives me hope right now is honest connection that is so scarce on social media. And being of service–I like that, too–not in a goodie-goodie way…but getting takeout from my favorite spot to help keep their business going, cooking for my shut-in older friends and cancer patients.–Jenica, Santa Rosa, CA


I am glad I like to read. I just finished The Splendid and the Vile about Churchill during the time of the Blitz. I thought it was very good and a good reminder of how people have suffered and survived adversity.–Barbara, New York City


We are in the Sierras and have the pleasure of being surrounded by pine and cedar trees. We abide by the rules for our good and the good of others. I haven’t lost anyone to the virus–that gives me Hope! My yard is flourishing and flowers and trees are beginning to bloom…that gives me Hope! I am hopeful for the future.–Shirley, Twain Harte, CA


NOTE: This is my first blog since changing my “web host” and some other things. I would appreciate it if you would let me know if you notice anything different, such as (1) you are receiving more than one copy of it (2) it is a weird size–i.e., smaller on the page (3) anything else that looks peculiar. Thank you in advance for your help.


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Testing, Testing

Things are clearing up

It appears that my computer wizard helper has fixed the problem I have been having for weeks with my website. If this test works, regular blogs will resume on Mondays. Fingers crossed.

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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

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