Adventures in Coronavirus Quarantine, or how my past gave me hope for the future

I am entering week three of social distancing. The isolation can get a bit overwhelming at times but it also brings out the opportunity to do things you always thought about but never followed through on. We have all been finding time to do some of the things we never found time to do before coronavirus, or Covid-19 as it has come to be known. I still find it interesting that its original designation had to be changed. In the meantime, the “safer at home” rules have created an opportunity for binge watching TV and in my case some nostalgic surfing.

Earlier tonight we enjoyed our third “stay at home virtual get together”. If anything good has come out of this pandemic, it might be that baby boomers have gotten comfortable with live streaming and that we figured out that we could get together with friends for whom the distance between us, had gotten in the way. After spending a night reminiscing with a friend from Arkansas for whom I hold many fond work memories, I found myself longing for just a little more nostalgia.

Enter any one of a host of cable TV apps. I am a child of the sixties. For those of my readers too young to remember those times, think the birth of Star Trek, Bonanza and I Spy. Think the birth of technicolor! The creation of color TV. It was an era of innovation for the baby boomers. We had cut our teeth on Gun Smoke, Have Gun Will Travel and Lassie, all presented in stunning black and white. Suddenly our world exploded with color and our movies gave us something breathtaking, something called Living Technicolor. It was as if God had recreated creation for us right there on the big screen.

I was eleven years old in 1962. I was impressionable and yes naive. Girls were just entering my sphere of awareness and I admit, I had begun writing notes to many of them. This might in fact have been the moment I fantasied myself as a writer. At the very least I was pouring my poetic self into those notes. For you in the world of texting, tweeting and Instagram, I can only express pity for the joy you missed out on in the creation of writing a note and then finding a way to secretly pass it through what was then our crude version of the internet. It was, back then, the friend to friend to friend net. And we never signed a privacy agreement, ever.

It was at this time that a movie came along that to this day remains one of my favorites. I am sure it was not for the acting, though it starred Jimmie Stewart and Maureen O’Hara. It wasn’t for the plot, after all they all followed pretty much the same story line, Jimmie the easy going dad with the mixed up kids trying to define the perfect family. It wasn’t necessarily the acting. What it actually turned out to be was the setting and the girl. The setting was always somewhere you had never been and only imagined you might one day be, and all brought to you in the splendor of “living technicolor”, somehow brighter and clearer than your actual life. The movies took me to a Hollywood Eden and beckoned me to follow. And then there was the girl. She was always the perfect girl, the one you knew one day you would eventually meet, fall in love with and then magically end up with in one of those perfect movie scenes. She was cute, borderline beautiful or as beautiful as an eleven year old could envision, and somehow available if only you knew the right lines. You had to compete with Fabian or Paul Anka but then they were no match for the charm you were imagining you could muster.

My movie was Mr Hobbs Takes a Vacation. I probably had seen it half a dozen times already and each and every time I fell for the daughter. In my defense, she was only a couple years older than me and she checked all the boxes, cute, sophisticated and looking for her true love, aka, me. The fact that Jimmie Stewart was her dad only enhanced the relationship. Who wouldn’t want Jimmie Stewart as your dad?

So I have definitely digressed, but you needed the background, whether you wanted it or not. I had just ended our virtual get together, I had enjoyed a scotch or two, and I was waxing nostalgic. When my wife suggested we find a good movie with which to end our evening, who was I to let the opportunity pass me by. She had never heard of the movie, deprived childhood I suspect, and she trusted my opinion. After all, she loved Jimmie Stewart and I convinced her it was a classic. To my sheer delight, two phenomena occurred, it turned out she loved the movie and my memory and expectations were not disappointed. My wife enjoyed the nostalgia that only a Jimmie Stewart movie can bring and my crush was still as idyllic as I remembered her to be.

There is a point here. Coronavirus has forced us into isolation. You would be lying if you weren’t longing for at least a bit of the old normal. I needed an escape. We all need an escape. For me, tonight was all about that escape. The virtual get together gave me a sense of being with my friends even if it was only virtual. Mr Hobbs took me back to a time when life was simple. No work to stress about. No virus for me to worry about. No crashing market and no isolation. Just a moment in time when an eleven year old could imagine a life beyond their everyday existence and a future where the boy meets the girl of his dreams and spends a lifetime getting to woo her. And all in living technicolor.

Do it for all of Us

I have been waiting to weigh in on this but praying in the meantime. I pray that we can all survive the isolation. Isn’t it ironic that before this all started, there were times we would crave the chance to just shut out all the noise, to find a quiet spot and yes, isolate ourselves. Now we are asked to do exactly that and we realize how disconcerting that can be. Deb and I are honoring the request and have isolated ourselves from family and friends, from our church family and from the everyday strangers that might have become our friends. It has its pluses and minuses. The quiet has given us the chance to reflect and reconnect, to realize how dependent we are on each other, to realize what it was we found in each other as we fell in love so long ago. But the isolation has reminded us how much we depend on others as well. It has put us in a position to worry about so many things that we can’t control. It has left us craving company and the socialization that comes with the company.

We are taking this thing one day at a time. We are being as patient as any human can be and we remind each other that in time this will pass. We use all this isolation time to pray. We pray for all the people I have already mentioned, but also for the businesses struggling to hang on, to save their customers and their employees, to still exist when this is all over. We pray for the care givers, the doctors and nurses and all the related medical personnel, and all the others who put their lives on the line and take the risks we are told to avoid. We pray for our church and all the churches out there whose members crave the message and the community of their faith families disrupted by this pandemic. And, yes, we pray for leaders. We pray that they be leaders who listen to both the science and the needs of the people they have chosen to lead. That they exercise both empathy and wisdom in equal amounts.

This will prove to be a critical time in our existence. When this pandemic passes, we will emerge as a stronger civilization, more empathetic than when we entered, more aware of our surroundings, more involved in our society. All of those statements will be true, as long as we learn from what we experienced, if we are willing to change many of our habits and beliefs based on the lessons of the crisis we survived. Life will return to normal, albeit a new normal, but it will return. Let’s promise to be part of the improvement.

For now, keep socially distancing but not distant, stay safe and keep others safe by your actions and above all else, stay connected. Use the ability to stay connected that our technology affords us and use those connections to stay patient. We will survive, with wisdom we may even thrive.

Playing Chicken Covid-19 Style

Having returned seven days ago from the island paradise of St Lucia, I have been spending the last week exiled to my not so exotic island of Covid-19 here on Valley Road. It hasn’t been all bad. I have discovered new rooms of sanctuary in my own home, you know, for those moments when togetherness becomes, well a bit overwhelming. Don’t miss read that, I love my wife and I am more than willing to have long conversations gazing into each others eyes across our kitchen counter but there is also only so much HGTV I can take. I secretly fear that I may come into the kitchen one morning and find Chip and Joanna, sledge hammer in hand, removing a wall and putting up ship lap all over the place. Guess you had to have seen at least one of those house flip shows to get that last one.

I have also discovered the art of binge watching that my children have tried to coerce me into. In the past week I have relived the history of New York City and its immigrant history, I have tracked down and prosecuted the Unabomber and watched all three Men in Black movies. I have rediscovered my conspiracy fed belief in aliens and there impact on ancient history and uncovered mysteries in the museum I had never even heard of. The only thing I have resisted is the urge to continue to destroy Oak Island in search of the money pit, which I am convinced is simply the seemingly bottomless pit of money the producers of A&E have to throw at the search. Just imagine if they ever do find it. The show will have to end and not get to break the record for the longest running documentary ever, that record being held by the search for ancient aliens.

In the total lack of sports to watch, I and my wife have taken up walking around the block in our twice daily sport of Coved-19 Chicken. You know, that moment when someone turns the corner or comes out of their house and is now walking toward you on the same sidewalk. Who folds first and dashes across the street to the other side? We have turned it into a betting game as to not only who folds first but at what point and whether they flee diagonally or straight across. I am feeling like an extra in one of those zombie movies. Fair warning, if you are the opponent, Deb and I don’t fold.

The other night, desperate for our Friday night out and shared cocktail with friends, we instituted a virtual couples party courtesy of ZOOM. We had virtual wine and cocktails, music and food. We shared pictures, you can actually do that live, and toasted each other’s health and most importantly shared laughter and for a moment forgot our isolation. Thank you ZOOM for making this all possible. Just imagine the flu pandemic of the early 1900’s, doing that same thing via telegraph. Something like nice to imagine seeing you, stop. Hope the kids are enjoying time off from school, stop. Just toasted you with a nip of grog, stop. That party would have lasted a lot longer than the forty minutes we got from my free version of ZOOM. I am sure we will be repeating the process with our friends, the ones we don’t meet on our street in the game of chicken, and in fact have a family ZOOM get together in a few minutes.

Seven days to go before I have completed my mandatory fourteen day exile / quarantine. I won’t miss the isolation but I will miss the slowing of the pace of life. I will miss the excuse to just sit back and relax. I will miss the me time. We will go back to life the way we knew it pre-corona but I suspect that some things will never be the same. I hope that for one, it will be this sense of togetherness we currently feel in the midst of the self imposed isolation we are all in. We should do everything we can to foster this sense of closeness, of all being equal that we have experienced in the face of dealing with this crisis. We are strong enough to do that. We just need to commit to that as much as we have committed to hand washing and hoarding toilet paper. Together we can emerge better than we were.

Hoping you are staying safe, six feet apart and healthy.

The Sky is Falling and I Can’t Find my Umbrella

A week ago the world was so different. I should say OUR world. The greater world, in many countries were way ahead of us. For them the pandemic was already there. We have just begun to deal with the realities. Now it seems like our sky is falling.

We are now social distancing and in many cases, working from home or even quarantined to our homes. Our social spots, restaurants and bars, gyms, movie theaters and churches are all closed. What we were doing face to face is now being done by face time apps. Our children, who would be in school or maybe day care, are home. Family time is great and maybe an increased awareness of family time may be a positive outcome of all of this, but for now it is an added issue to juggle. If they are on-line learning, who’s keeping them focused and on task? To say that this isn’t stressful would be naive. My daughter is a high school teacher with a three year old and a six year old now at home. She is formulating on-line lessons, delivering them via Zoom to her students she can only hope are still engaged all the while making sure her own six year old is on-line doing his work, watching her three year old and allowing space for her husband to also be working from home. This may not be the dream version of family time. Note to my readers, along with prayers for all of our medical workers who are out there on the line facing an increased risk, consider those teachers who have families of their own trying to continue their teaching duties to your children or maybe your grandchildren.

I am an optimist, or at least have always tried to be optimistic. These are difficult times for us all. Along with all the things I have already alluded to, I am sure it has been hard to not watch the market. I am a retired financial planner and at this point may need to remind you that now is not a time to sell out of panic. No one could have predicted this and now that we are in the middle of it, we are forced to steel our nerves and ride this out. Markets have always and will always return to normal after the crisis has passed and the market has had a chance to stabilize. America has always and will always be a land of optimism. The storm will pass but we must be patient. It will get darker before it gets better, but IT WILL GET BETTER.

Given our current condition and the restrictions it has required, I may not be able to sit down face to face with you. For awhile I won’t be able go out and have coffee with you, but I can still stay in touch. I can still communicate with you. We have all this technology now that makes me feel as though you are right here in the room with me. If you haven’t already been using them, download Zoom or Duo or Skype and then reach out to me. The conversation may be about our stress or even our fear but it will eventually give way to a shared optimism that a good dose of social interactions can bring. With any luck at all, we may even find a way to laugh or share something to laugh about. We can’t hold each other’s hand but we can hold each other’s emotions. Let’s listen and share our stories and look for even the tiniest piece of normalcy for us to cling to. Together …. well, as together as social distancing allows, we can all survive.

There are things in life that must be done, things that should be done and things that could be done. Make sure that the things that must be done include your health, both physically and emotionally, and the health and emotional well being of your family. No matter how important the world tells us the other things are, we can’t accomplish any of them without family and personal health in place first.

When I started this piece, I was fighting an overwhelming sense of dread. I was trying to prioritize everyone else’s needs ahead of my own and I was finding myself trying to control the things I have no control over. I made a decision to do what I just asked all of us to do. I reached out to a friend or two. We shared our frustrations and then we shared a laugh or two. We even made some plans for when this is all over. And then I reached out to all of you by writing this piece. Don’t feel alone just because we have become isolated by this virus and its fallout.

So don’t be a stranger, reach out even if it’s just a text or an email. Know that I am on the other end and appreciative. It turns out YOU are my umbrella.

My My My, Corona

We are in Atlanta having just cleared Customs. We have brought back memories, photos and souvenirs. With any kind of luck, we did not bring back Coronavirus. We were warned that the lines would be horrific at the airports and my lovely wife had already been steeling herself for at the very least, a missed flight and at the worst, lock up in an airport cage for the foreseeable future. I am happy to say that neither has happened and with any kind of luck we will be home by midnight. Of course, that still leaves us needing to go to the grocery store as we left for our vacation with our basic supplies fairly used up. Next crisis, trying to find a roll of TP in the midst of the supermarket raiders.

It is amazing how much things have changed from just a week ago. When we left, I still had an investment portfolio, meetings and seminars, as well as a reasonably normal social life. At some point, the market decided to dazzle us with its free fall and grocery stores were raided of the simplest items. Meetings were cancelled, businesses closed and schools now entering the live streaming age sans students. When we left, I was looking forward to Opening Day, the Bucks as potential world champions and both the Men’s Badger Basketball team and the Women’s Badger Hockey poised to accomplish the unthinkable, a Big Ten Championship and an NCAA preferred berth. I had even started to pick my March Madness Brackets, okay, that was a stretch, but I was at least looking forward to the exercise.

All of that changed, literally in a heartbeat. We now have a new term, “social distancing”, where we apparently live stream our dates, weddings and get together’s. We now need to observe rules, last enforced when I was at a middle school dance. For you Over the Hill folks, the old three-foot rule is what I am referencing. The problem is the rule is now six feet and there is a 60 second rule as well.

But I am an optimist by nature. This too shall pass, and I will do my best to observe the rules. In the meantime, I am working on distracting people from wanting to talk about nothing but Coronavirus. By midweek of our vacation it was impossible to have any conversation that didn’t include it. What would start out as, “where are you from” and “how long are you here”, reverted to what are we going to do about this pandemic? Now some were clearly panicked while others were skeptic at best. Some were downright resistant. I am by no means picking sides nor am I trying to downplay the seriousness, but I do know that panic and hoarding will not improve our lot. We need to get back to some sense of normalcy and it can start with our conversations and breaking our addiction to 24 – 7 news casts. We cannot put our heads in the sand, but we must avoid digging a trench we may never be able to escape. As I sit here, and with due consideration that this is an international hub, I have seen so many masked individuals that for a second, I thought I was in an Oceans 11 movie.

All of this will pass. It may get darker before it gets better, but it will pass. For now, I am thankful to be on the last leg of my journey home, sad having left paradise this morning and ready to self-quarantine for fourteen days, or so I am told. I will not miss some of the meetings that have been cancelled and I will improve my Zoom skills for the meetings still scheduled. Life will go on. Some things may never return to the way they were, that is a hint to search for stock in companies and processes that will benefit by the change in the way we do business. Successful businesses adapt and we will as well.

So, in closing, My Corona doesn’t need to be about our downfall but just a song when we were asked to do what we do best, laugh in the face of adversity.

They Said the View was Worth the Climb

We have been in St Lucia for all of two days. The views from our deck and likewise those from the beach are both spectacular and relaxing. We are on Island Time as they say here. Everything slows down and your perspective changes. Things that others said mattered were suddenly less important and the things that were truly important became clearer. We sometimes get the two mixed up. I have decided to let a week of Island Life help with my perspectives.

There is a peak across the bay with a fort high atop its summit. It beckons to be seen. Not from afar, but from up close. On top of it to be precise. Upon some investigation, I was told that the fort is really not that tough to reach. Seems a trail leads almost all the way and that the short climb at the end is really doable. it’s the second, much higher peak that draws your attention. A good 600 feet higher and much more exposed, it too asks you if you are up for the climb.

I have done my homework. Mapped out the trail. I have even quizzed several other guests, eventually finding someone who has made the climb. To quote him,”the first climb to the fort is easy. It’s the climb from there to the higher peak, Signal Peak, that requires some effort.” So what is some effort? A longer walk? A steeper trail? The answer was both but the encouragement was other than climbing over some rocks on the way up a “sorta” trail, it was a walk in the park. I was sold. I would take the hike with Deb in the early morning and beat the heat.

So let’s talk for a second about perspective. Should I have asked my source’s age? Definitely, as he was much younger than yours truly. Next time, I will try to consider that.

We left for the fort around 8:30 and reached the base about 30 minutes later. We huffed and puffed a little on the last 100 feet, but a short climb up a set of steps that we would classify as a ladder and we were at the summit of the fort. I must admit the view was incredible as the Atlantic stretched out in one direction and the Caribbean in the other. But there, right in front of me rose Signal Peak. It was no longer a question of can I do this, let alone should I do this, but how fast could I convince Deb that I needed to do this. The answer, five minutes with an agreement that she would quietly stay behind and read her book while I was off in search of my fleeting youth and perceived manhood.

The climb was, to say the least, strenuous, but a half hour later I was at the summit, makes it sound so much higher when you call it a summit. Was it worth it? I still had the walk down, and they weren’t kidding when they said it was a “sorta” trail. They also weren’t kidding about the rocks, let’s be honest, near boulders that had to be negotiated on the way up. They were all going to be there on the way back down. But, they were right, the view was worth the climb. I could see everything including the views you couldn’t see from ocean level, and you could see them from an entirely different perspective, one of height.

And with that, I have to tell you that the climb is really a metaphor for life. Sometimes, to get the better perspective, we need to climb. We need to climb above the noise and clutter at ground level and find a point above it all. A point where we can take in the entire view. Only there can we gain the true perspective. Only there can we get the full picture.

My view was worth the climb. Next time you feel you just can’t get the full picture, find your peak to climb and then enjoy the view.

Talk Trash and the Universe Will Get You

Interesting fact. Your cell phone and for that matter Alexa, automatically adjust the time for the daylight savings switch. So what you say? It also attempts to read your mind. This will be a valuable lesson learned.
Yesterday I went on and on about having to get up early for our flight and then even earlier because the clocks were going to adjust for daylight savings time. With that in mind, we ordered our uber driver for 3:45 am and then set an alarm, no three alarms, for 2:45 am so that my wife and I would be dressed and ready when the driver arrived. The alarms did their trick but so did technology. We awoke to our alarms not at 2:45 but rather 3:45 since both of our phones and Alexa all decided that when we set our alarms we had been as smart as they were and would have set them for 1:45 knowing everything would magically shift to the proper daylight savings time. We weren’t that smart!
Part two, how not to start your trip. Awaking at what we thought was 2:45, my wife was showering at the same time our uber driver arrived at our door. This is when we discovered the error of our ways or perhaps our not so savvy technology prowess. We were about to set a new record for getting showered, freshened up and out the door with our suitcases in what I hope will be an all-time record! Now those of you who know me well, know that my MO is to not pack prior to the 15 minutes before we leave. Good news, I gave into Deb’s pleading and packed the night before. Had that not happened, I would be purchasing my wardrobe in St Lucia, possibly not a bad thing as I would at least have the latest in fashion, all be it, West Indies style.
Good news, we are on the plane as I write this, a little extra tip for the uber driver who nicely waited and a record of 7 minutes from bed to car. Impressed, you should be. Just try it sometime. Just maybe not before you are actually needing to do it.

Early Morning

Deb and I leave tomorrow morning for a week in St Lucia. When I say tomorrow morning, I mean early tomorrow morning. And since my wife believes that being there on time means two hours before, early tomorrow morning might be an understatement. We will be leaving our home at 3:45 AM as in “Ah Man” it’s still night. Now there’s just one more little problem, daylight savings time is also tomorrow morning. When we planned this trip several months ago, I am sure I raised that issue. I am also sure no one was listening.

This thought crossed my mind. If the clocks change at 2:00 AM, maybe I just stay up and change them then. Of course the time would then jump from 2:00 AM to 3:00 AM, my alarm would go off and I could save all that time I would have wasted sleeping. The truly amazing thing in all of this is the fact that an Uber will be coming to pick us up at that hour. Yes, I scheduled it. No way was one going to be just hanging around at that hour.

So there it is. If you are escaping the cold weather of winter and trading it for the weather of the tropics, no sense letting the day get away from you. If you are reading this from Wisconsin, know that by the time you read it, I should already be sitting on a beach, toes in the sand and a tall drink in my hand watching the sun set over the ocean. Eat your heart out, but for God sake, Sleep In.