midsummer in self-quarantine

6.20.20 ~ our geranium

All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Walden)

Oh my, how things do change! Perhaps because of the poison ivy blunder, and the coronavirus pandemic, as Midsummer approached I was feeling pretty glum. Wistfully my thoughts drifted to memories of celebrations gone by, like the ones in 2016 and 2009. But then I remembered Tim & I had celebrated alone before. 2011. So we tried to make this Midsummer special, too.

We haven’t used our balcony for outdoor living in a long time because it is badly deteriorated and needs replacing. Our turn to have it replaced hasn’t come up yet, but we decided to bring the little outdoor dining set out of storage and make the best of it. We had also bought a pink geranium at the end of May and it was blossoming profusely. In fact, I had to deadhead it before I could take the picture. 🙂

6.20.20 ~ our dinner

Each new season grows from the leftovers from the past. That is the essence of change, and change is the basic law.
~ Hal Borland
(Sundial of the Seasons)

Since before my radiation proctocolitis diagnosis in January, food has been a big problem for me. I’m still losing weight and have now lost 40 lbs. since November. Sticking to a low-FODMAP diet seems to be my only option for avoiding painful flare-ups.

So we splurged and grilled a marinated swordfish steak to celebrate. Delicious! And we made a low-FODMAP potato salad from my new cookbook, which was pretty good. The Gut-Friendly Cookbook: Delicious, Low-FODMAP, Gluten-Free, Allergy-Friendly Recipes for a Happy Tummy by Alana Scott.

Last fall I had a margarita and got pretty sick, and have avoided alcohol since, but for this occasion I decided to try a Cape Codder made with gluten-free vodka. Mistake. I enjoyed it but a couple of hours later I was very sorry. 🙁 It looks like alcohol is out of the picture for me for good. Lesson learned.

6.20.20 ~ sunset at Avery Point

The changes we dread most may contain our salvation.
~ Barbara Kingsolver
(Small Wonder: Essays)

Fortunately we were able to go down to Avery Point to see the sunset before my gut turned on me. It was beautiful! We had a nice chat with another couple from behind our masks and from a distance. They were sitting on their own lawn chairs. Why hadn’t we thought of that? Instead of going to the beach and sitting on public park benches this summer, which we have decided isn’t an option for us, we can bring our lawn chairs to Avery Point and sit for a while. 🙂

Things change, we make adjustments, modify our habits. Nothing will ever be the same.

healing

5.21.20 ~ garter snake
Fennerswood Preserve, Stonington, Connecticut

Some animals are archetypal symbols of healing. The snake is one such animal. It sheds the old skin and moves into the new. It is a symbol of leaving the old behind for the new. As a symbol of transformation, meditating and focusing on the snake during times of illness will help accelerate the healing process. Animals that appear to us at times of illness, provide clues as to the best way to focus our healing energies.
~ Ted Andrews
(The Intercession of Spirits)

For the second time in a little over a month a garter snake has slithered across the path in front of me and then stopped in the leaves right beside me. The first time the snake kept its head hidden but this second snake lifted its head up and looked at me.

Rod of Asclepius

At first I was excited about the photo opportunity but after I got home I started wondering about the significance snake encounters might hold. In Greek mythology, Asclepius is a deity associated with healing and medicine. The Rod of Asclepius features a snake.

So what meaning did meeting these snakes hold for me? Since November I’ve been struggling to cope with radiation proctitis/colitis, which is incurable, but with the help of a wonderful gastroenterologist I’ve been figuring out how to manage the symptoms. It involves medication and strictly avoiding certain foods. Too many foods!

When I got my official diagnosis in January I highly doubted I would ever be able to take a long walk again. And there are still days when I’ve eaten the wrong thing and cannot leave the house.

My goal is to take a walk in the woods one of these days. And to have supper at the beach with my gull friend this summer.
~ my blog post, 8 January 2020

At first we made tentative little visits to local cemeteries to find the graves of more ancestors. I learned that three of my ancestors lost their lives in the winter of 1711-1712, probably victims of a ‘malignant distemper’ epidemic that swept through Connecticut. I had no idea our own lives would soon be turned upside down by a pandemic just two short months later. But then, on March 21, mostly because of self-quarantine and having nowhere else safe to go, it finally happened. We took a walk in the woods! And we have continued walking!

Sadly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic we probably won’t have supper at the beach with my gull friend this summer, which was my second goal. But we’ve decided to make the best of the situation so we put our outdoor dining set out on the balcony and plan to get some flowers from the nursery so we can enjoy eating outside. Who knows? Maybe we will make a new bird friend.

Our lives have definitely been transformed and I’ve experienced more healing than expected. I also started taking bioflavonoids because they are supposed to help with radiation damage, tinnitus, and allergies. It does feel like the chance meetings of two snakes in the woods highlighted us leaving the old behind for the new.

On Monday I fell. I was weeding my garden (a little plot in front of our condo), bending over at the hip. One weed resisted and I pulled harder. It let go and so I fell on my side on top of the stones bordering the garden. Nothing broken but my right shoulder, arm and leg are aching quite a lot. And I have a huge bruise on my hip! But it still felt satisfying getting the garden tidied up for the summer.

lots of blue and light

5.5.20 ~ Connecticut College Arboretum, New London, Connecticut

On May 5th we took a lovely walk in the Connecticut College Arboretum. I usually walk there with Janet or Beverly so it was fun to drag Tim along this time. (I do miss my other walking buddies!) Again, he did well on the uneven terrain. At first we wore our masks, thinking it was in the city and might be more populated than the places in the woods we visit. But there weren’t many people there and no one else was wearing a mask so we felt comfortable taking them off.

5.5.20 ~ garden path

One of my all time favorite music albums, since I was a teen, is All Things Must Pass by George Harrison. Lately, the song “Beware of Darkness” keeps playing in my head, and I think it is so fitting considering what all of us are going through now with the pandemic. Nights can be rough. But nature walks in the light of day are the perfect counterbalance.

5.5.20 ~ purple trillium
5.5.20 ~ ostritch ferns

Watch out now, take care
Beware of falling swingers
Dropping all around you
The pain that often mingles
In your fingertips
Beware of darkness

5.5.20 ~ ?
5.5.20 ~ Virginia bluebells

Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night

5.5.20 ~ marsh marigolds
5.5.20 ~ bluets

Beware of sadness
It can hit you
It can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for

5.5.20 ~ hyacinth before blooming (?)
5.5.20 ~ hemlock cones

Watch out now, take care
Beware of soft shoe shufflers
Dancing down the sidewalks
As each unconscious sufferer
Wanders aimlessly
Beware of Maya

5.5.20 ~ fiddlehead ferns
5.5.20 ~ Fraser magnolia bud

Watch out now, take care
Beware of greedy leaders
They take you where you should not go
While Weeping Atlas Cedars
They just want to grow, grow and grow
Beware of darkness

~ George Harrison
♫ (Beware of Darkness) ♫

5.5.20 ~ three rows of stone walls
5.5.20 ~ two towering tulip trees

Governor Ned Lamont today (May 9) announced that his administration has released documents detailing specific rules that eligible businesses falling under phase 1 of Connecticut’s reopening plans must follow amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The first phase – which includes restaurants; offices; hair salons and barbershops; retail stores; and outdoor museums and zoos – is currently planned to take effect beginning May 20. The governor stressed that the decision to reopen during this phase rests with each individual business owner – they are not required to open if they do not choose, however if they do they must follow the rules as prescribed.
~ The Office of Governor Ned Lamont website

We now have 97 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. Our county (New London) has 784 confirmed cases and 56 deaths. I don’t think I’m ready to come out of our bubble yet. Will wait and see what happens to the numbers after May 20.

magnolia blossoms

4.16.20 ~ Elm Grove Cemetery, Mystic

Thursday was an interesting day. Changing plans is always tricky for me! I found another open space property online for a new place to walk and made a plan, map in hand. But when we arrived at the trailhead there were a number of cars and a large group of volunteers armed with tools for trail maintenance. Too many people too close for comfort so we didn’t even get out of the car.

Where to go now? We had been to the beach the day before and so we decided to go back to Elm Grove Cemetery where we found two magnolia trees in full bloom! Spring is coming! But it was cold… We started to walk but then Tim’s leg pain started up and we headed back to the car. He offered to wait in the car so I could get some exercise and I was off, feeling bad for him but exhilarating in a nice long brisk walk.

This huge cemetery is a perfect place to walk and I think it’s been discovered. We weren’t as early as we were Tuesday morning so a few other people were there but the many lanes and walkways made it so that I never crossed paths with anyone.

Finally I wound up at the White family plot, where eight of my maternal ancestors lie buried. Tim caught up with the car and snapped this picture of me standing behind the grave of my 3rd-great-grandmother, Lydia (White) Hill (1798-1877). So the sudden change in plans was accomplished without too much difficulty.

The sense of having one’s life needs at hand, of traveling light, brings with it intense energy and exhilaration. Simplicity is the whole secret of well-being.
~ Peter Matthiessen
(The Snow Leopard)

ethnicity estimates

Barbara’s latest ethnicity estimate from Ancestry DNA

Eastern Europe & Russia 43%
England, Wales & Northwestern Europe 28%
Germanic Europe 20%
Ireland & Scotland 3%
Baltics 3%
Norway 2%
Italy 1%

We recently added more ethnicity populations and communities. Based on this update, you might see changes to your results.
~ Ancestry.com

Tim’s latest ethnicity estimate from Ancestry DNA

England, Wales & Northwestern Europe 71%
Ireland & Scotland 21%
Germanic Europe 6%
Norway 2%

The last time we examined our DNA results was in 2014, about 5 years ago. (penetrating the past) We both have some interesting changes in our results!

For me, the Italian connection all but disappeared, which seems about right because I could never find one on the paper trail. Norway shows up solidly in about the right amount for my 3rd-great-grandfather, and Ireland as well, for his wife, my 3rd-great-grandmother. My father’s Slavic (Ukrainian) origins gained a larger percentage in my DNA. I’m intrigued with a new category, 3% Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania).

Interestingly, Tim also seems to be 2% Norway. But he’s a whopping 92% England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Northwestern Europe. And this analysis turns up absolutley no European Jewish ancestry, in spite of having a Jewish maternal grandfather. Still a mystery.

So, on Christmas Eve, we were sitting around our table working on a jigsaw puzzle and listening to holiday music with my sister and brother-in-law. I had made the shuffling playlist for my iPod years ago and had included tunes from many traditions. When the Dreidel Song came on my sister asked Tim if his family had celebrated Hanukkah when he was a child. The answer was no, although his stepgrandmother often brought Jewish foods to the house during the holidays. And then, much to my astonishment, he mentioned that his maternal grandfather had converted to Judaism. What!?!

This definitely would explain the lack of European Jewish ancestry for Tim!

It never ceases to amaze me how memories are stirred up in the oddest ways. And how a non-genealogical question lead to a spontaneous answer containing an important clue, which led to the solving of a genetic conundrum.

It will be fun to see any future changes in our DNA analyses as the scientists fine-tune the estimates as their population samples continue to grow.

to situations new

“Alice” by Amedeo Modigliani

On that specific Pillow
Our projects flit away —
The Night’s tremendous Morrow
And whether sleep will stay
Or usher us — a stranger —
To situations new
The effort to comprise it
Is all the soul can do —

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1554)

This poem brings to mind the restless sleep or sleeplessness we might have the night before a new experience, like the first day of school or a new job. Or traveling to a place we’ve never been to before.

But I suspect Emily is talking about death. The specific pillow, the kind we find in a coffin, when death interrupts all our projects. Will we stay asleep in death or will we find ourselves in a new situation, an unfamiliar life after death? There are many “answers” to choose from but there is no way to “know” for sure. The universe is full of wonder and mystery. After years of spiritual struggle I’ve finally made peace with uncertainty, sometime in my 40s I think. Just this. Here/now.

a secret garden

“A secret garden. Made by Barbara Lyn (sic) Chomiak. Seven year old.”

One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun — which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one’s eyes.
~ Frances Hodgson Burnett
(The Secret Garden)

I’m still poking around through my childhood papers and drawings. My mother was the true bookworm in our family. So many images coming back to me now, like my parents in the evening, my mother with her nose in the newspaper and my father watching television.

At bedtime, my mother read to us, even after we were old enough to read for ourselves. One of my favorite books was The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Apparently I loved it so much I illustrated my own version of a secret garden.) And often my father would start playing the piano, gentle Bach lullabies sending us off to sleep.

Spring is in the air! Time to pick up the pace and plow through some more boxes. Onward!

throwing away all of your possessions once a year

“Autumn in New England” by Maurice Prendergast

If you rake fallen leaves into a pile and then examine them, you will see that each one shows a consummately clean break at the same place near the base of the stem. The fall of leaves is highly choreographed: First the green pigments are pulled back behind the narrow row of cells marking the border between stem and branch. Then, on the mysteriously appointed day, this row of cells is dehydrated and becomes weak and brittle. The weight of the leaf is now sufficient to bend and snap it from the branch. It takes a tree only a week to discard its entire year’s work, cast off like a dress barely worn but too unfashionable for further use. Can you imagine throwing away all of your possessions once a year because you are secure in your expectation that you will be able to replace them in a matter of weeks? These brave trees lay all of their earthly treasures on the soil, where moth and rust doth immediately corrupt. They know better than all the saints and martyrs put together exactly how to store next year’s treasure in Heaven, where the heart shall be also.
~ Hope Jahren
(Lab Girl)

take time by the forelock

2.2.18 ~ Fota Wildlife Park, Carrigtwohill, Cork, Ireland ~ lion

A wise man will know what game to play to-day, and play it. We must not be governed by rigid rules, as by an almanac, but let the season rule us. The moods and thoughts of man are revolving just as steadily and incessantly as nature’s. Nothing must be postponed. Take time by the forelock. Now or never! You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.
~ Henry David Thoreau
(Journal, April 23, 1859)

Thoreau wrote these words when he was only 41 years old. (He died at age 44.) When I was 41… Let’s just say that after a childhood of ‘finding my eternity in each moment’ I found a way to squelch that way of being until I was into my 40s. But ‘living in the present’ has been coming much more naturally to me in the past twenty years. It’s a blessing to be alive.

This summer has been unbearably hazy, hot and humid. So many heat advisories and air quality alerts. I cannot remember the last time we turned off the air conditioners and opened the windows. I am crazy with cabin fever and going outside offers no relief.

But, I had some good news yesterday. I had an appointment with my oncologist and he found no sign of cancer recurrence! So I don’t need to see him again for a whole year!

Come, autumn. Please! Time to curl up again with a good book. To ‘launch myself on a new wave.’