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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

I Cannot Help But Wonder...

"Suddenly she realized that what she was regretting was not the lost past but the lost future, not what had not been but what would never be." ~F.Scott Fitzgerald, American Author, 1896-1940

  The quote for this post and it's title refer to Les. In the final months of his life Dear Sir wondered often about what amazing and wonderful things the future without him would herald. There is no way he ever considered the future marred by global climate change and a pandemic. I do find myself having conversation with him now, in my head.
   "What do you think about the current state of affairs my love?" I see his spirit looking at the world from wherever it may be now, considering a much larger picture than I can see from my own myopic viewpoint. I suspect Les would be shocked and terribly saddened, frightened for those he loves, and angry. Were he still alive we would be on board NB Valerie and he would feel as I do, that living aboard on the cut is one of the safest places we could possibly be during a pandemic. With his near encyclopedic knowledge of the canals Les would have chosen the best place for us to fetch up in order to wait things out, move once a week to fill with water and empty the rubbish, and get groceries delivered. We would have faced the fear and uncertainty together gathering strength from each other.
   Meanwhile my friends and loved ones on boats have issues of their own to contend with; the ubiquitous usage of the towpath by non-boaters for jogging, bicycling, and walking groups along with dog walkers all crowding in along a narrow towpath to escape the lock-down and get some fresh air and exercise. Never mind they pass within two feet of people on boats who need to get off and on unimpeded and attempt to do so while obeying the six foot self-isolation rule. After all boaters aren't real people are they? Its only a puppet!! (Brits will know to what exactly I am alluding with this statement!)
   I always found it comical when Les would bring us in to moor somewhere that appeared to be way out in the country and by the time we had properly moored up at least eight people and their dogs would walk past on the towpath, and that was on a weekday in mid-morning! I've been woken many mornings by townies standing out on the towpath by the boats, dogs running loose to piddle while their owner takes that moment at 6:30 AM to call someone and have a conversation loud enough to be heard five boats down, completely oblivious to the fact that people actually are on those boats, curtains closed, asleep in bed--or they were before the dog walker decided to have a conversation on the cut.  Below is the latest poster from Canal River Trust (CRT) regarding this issue:

   My email inbox receives a daily news update from the New York Times newspaper. Yesterday's update included a link called The Great Empty, of photos taken around the world of famous cities and sites eerily empty of human beings.
   Looking online I came across a Youtube video someone filmed of seven minutes on a double-decker bus through London's Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, and Oxford Circus. I am familiar with this route as Les and I traveled it by bus quite a few times on our three forays into London by boat. This was filmed two days ago. It was seeing London so empty that got me to thinking about Les. Having been born and raised in Paddington (West London), Dear Sir loved showing me the great city and I loved finding new things that surprised him. I can imagine Les' face, watching the video with me, astonished and shocked at the empty streets and the abandoned feeling at Westminster Underground station which usually has people boiling up out of it like ants out of a giant underground mound. Nearly nine million people live in The Big Smoke and one million more commute in and out daily with 2.56 million cars licensed in London. No trouble getting a seat on the bus these days!
   For Americans reading this blog who have never been to Britain, I urge you to pay careful attention to the signal lights. There are three sets of lights for each direction, mounted on three different posts on each side of the street! British signal lights turn green-yellow-red-yellow-green. Why the extra yellow you might ask? I was told it was to signal the driver that the light was about to turn green! I could not for the life of me understand why this was necessary until I discovered that British drivers are supposed to use their parking brake each time they stop.
   Notice the lack of street signs with actual names of streets in plain view, and how directions are written on the lanes. Notice too how narrow the streets and the buses appear! The video begins with Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament across the Thames on the left. Watch this in full screen view so you can stop it to really look at things as the journey presses on. Look closely and you will see signs about half way up on the outer walls of buildings at each junction or intersection, which is where the actual street names are located. See if you can easily spot crosswalks in the video. In London they tend to be at the top of the lanes by the signal lights but everywhere else they are located back down the lane before the actual intersection.

Notice how quiet things are on the bus, and how stunningly free of litter and clean the streets are without humans everywhere. Below is a video of what Oxford Circus Underground station is usually like!

   Finally I leave you all with a link to The Londonist. It's a great blog to follow for all things London. Today's posts offers a link to their free Youtube channel with all kinds of interesting videos about London's floating village, secrets of The Victoria Line (Underground), a search for 221B Baker Street for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson fans, a look at Europe's largest Sikh temple, London's old and new pagans, the secrets of Borough Market, and several other very entertaining and informative videos. Stay safe, stay well!
Love Jaq xxx
Mona takes a personal break while the museum is closed! :)

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Grocery Roulette

“Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don't always like.” Lemony Snickett, pen name of American writer and musician Daniel Handler

   How are things where you are??? Here in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) of the United States, the Army National Guard has been called in to assist Washington State with its pandemic response, along with California, and New York over on the eastern seaboard. We in Oregon are under a Shelter-in-place order with 30 days in jail and a $1200.00 fine possible although that will occur as a last resort.
This became necessary as people incomprehensibly got into their vehicles and flocked to sites of natural beauty like Multinomah Falls and the coast, 98 miles away, to hang out in the several hundreds, because you know, if you are on a suggested self-isolating order in your county why not drive to another county and take a chance at sharing Covid-19 with them? I know the same thing occurred in Britain yesterday, for the same reason.
   I found it necessary to go out for groceries yesterday. I checked online and Safeway opened at 6 am, Fred Meyers at 7 AM. I opted for Safeway and at 6:15 AM I pulled into the car park in the pre-dawn dark. The doors were locked and a note said they would not be opened until 7 AM as they are using the hour from 6-7 in the morning to clean and disinfect the store each day. I looked inside and I could see employees wiping down everything is sight. I should have just waited there...
   I allowed impatience to guide me a fifteen minute drive through downtown Gresham to Fred Meyers--a large box store. There were only seven of us waiting in the car park at 6:30 AM. By 6:50 the entire side of the parking lot was full of cars. People parked in the pearly grey dawn, got out with their shopping bags and I noticed three distinct things: they were all senior citizens, many were disabled, and most wore either masks, gloves, or both. Then a curious thing happened. These vulnerable people clustered at the locked doors of the store in a large group! It was eerily like a scene from Dawn of the Dead Zombie Apocalypse.
   I waited ten minutes until most of them had disbursed and then grabbed my grocery bags and headed inside. It took me about thirty minutes to fill my cart and buy some of what I needed. The shelves were mostly still empty; only four packages of boneless, skinless chicken limited to 2 packages per person. Plenty of packages of chicken wings, legs and thighs with the skin and bones still in them.
   I discovered that women and men maneuver their shopping carts differently. Women are more careful. They look to see who is around them and gently swerve around each other. Men just plow through assuming they have the right-of-way. As I was standing in front of a mostly empty shelf looking for tinned fish, a man without a mask or gloves squatted down very close to me, brushing my leg as he reached for something on the back of a bottom shelf.
   "Hey! You are too close, Please move back."
   "Gee," he said as he scratched his head, "I didn't think about that."
Really???? I got the hell out of there ASAP and decided to swing by Safeway near our apartment for the missing grocery items on my list. I drive down Powell Boulevard and usually turn left on Powell Loop to take the shortcut back home. The Loop was blocked by multiple police vehicles with fire trucks and EMT rigs behind them. I carried on to Safeway and was pleasantly surprised. The store was nearly empty, the air was redolent of disinfectant, and the shelves and coolers were fully stocked. As I shopped I noticed employees removing the skirting panels on refrigeration units and disinfecting underneath and behind them. Safeway has instituted a Tuesday and Thursday 7-9 AM shopping time for seniors and other vulnerable people. I brought latex gloves with me and I put them on after I loaded my groceries on the belt to pay for them. I pulled my debit card out of my wallet , inserted it into the machine with my left hand, punched in my phone number, said no to a donation, and no to cash back, and then punched in my PIN with my right hand. I pulled my card out with my left hand and returned it to my wallet, and then removed both gloves to load my bags into the cart. I have no idea how often those debit card reader machines are cleaned but I wasn't taking any chances!
   I took the back way to our apartment; as I turned onto Pleasant View Drive, I looked back down towards Powell Loop and a school bus was pulled off the road, hazard lights blinking with a road hazard sign blocking the lanes. Beyond it were scores of Police, Firefighters and EMTs in clutches around their vehicles. I looked for news of the incident later on but never did find out what had transpired.
   Back at the apartment I unloaded groceries and the girls took them inside while I parked. I sprayed my hands with sanitizer, opened the apartment door, sprayed the outside handle, closed the door, sprayed the inside handle and my hands again. I pit my coat and my clothes in the wash and took a hot shower. I have a dry cough--but I've had it for several months along with a slightly phleghmy cough I always have every morning due to post nasal drip, but I find myself monitoring the rest of my body responses throughout each day. This is the first time in my entire life when I have been frightened to enter a grocery store, aware that my actions and my choices could result in my death or that of someone I love.

Thursday, March 19, 2020


"I don't think pandemics make us afraid of death, I think they make us afraid of oblivion. They force us to grapple with the futility of effort. Also they make us barf which isn't fun either. Wash your hands, cover your coughs, and find a way to hold in balance, the futility of effort with the necessity to struggle." ~John Green, American author (Looking For Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars).

   Without an adequate response an epidemic can develop into a pandemic, which generally means it has spread to more than one continent. An important thing to remember is that people and gorillas, horses, duikers, pigs, monkeys, chimps, bats and viruses: we are all in this together. It is time for humanity to let go of the ancient idea that we are somehow separate from nature. Covid-19 is not a wake up call; we are way past that. The majority of humans have not been paying attention. We are now, but too many are waking up to the wrong reasons and behaving like the virus that is hunting us.
   Thursday March 12th I listened to an emergency radio broadcast featuring the Governor of the State of Oregon, the Oregon State Public Health Officer, and the Mayor of Portland. We were told that all schools were closing, self -isolating was required, and electric, water, sewer, and rubbish will stay on whether or not folks could pay their bills. The White House also released a notice that the country was now functioning under a national emergency. It was time to get serious about Covid-19.
   I had been seeing and hearing reports of panic buying and hoarder shopping taking place in various countries already struck by the virus and in some States here as well, but I shrugged it off reasoning that if I didn't panic and waited a few days, common sense would no doubt prevail and I could calmly go about my weekly shop for the four of us. With the emergency notice, I decided on Friday the 13th to go out early and get groceries for the week. I vastly over-estimated my Gresham, Oregon neighbors. a light snowfall over night and that morning didn't help.
   Portlandians and their suburban neighbors absolutely melt down if there is 1/8th of an inch of snow on the ground. That alone will trigger panic buying at Coscto. As I cautiously set off on the main road I was shocked as people drove like they were drunk; weaving around other vehicles gong slower, and speeding way too fast in a 35 MPH zone down hill with wet snow accumulating. I drove the quarter mile to Safeway grocers and the parking lot was rammed! I joined the queue and finally pulled in to a parking space. I grabbed my bags, locked my car and walked into the store.
   There were no shopping carts left! The last one was being fought over by a young mom with two small children, from whose hands a large, beefy bloke was trying to wrest it. People coming in behind me went to her aid. I continued into the store and headed for the toilet paper aisle because we actually need a six roll pack! I walked into hell. People had their faces covered with scarves, bandannas, and medical masks, panic shining form their eyes like a fever. They were bumping into others with their cart, shoving, and knocking down aisle displays. There was shattered glass and splattered food in almost every aisle, with store employees frantically attempting to keep people from driving their carts down those aisle and through the mess. I quickly left and decided to drive to Fred Meyers which is a large box chain grocers. It was exceedingly crowded there too but controlled chaos ruled, with store employees out in the aisles to assist and to keep an eye on behavior.
   No loo roll at all! As I stood looking at the bare shelves, a woman came up next to me and surveyed the scene. We began chatting about how ridiculous this hoarding behavior was; how that behavior was now forcing those of us who were attempting to remain calm into buying more than we needed immediately as well, in case others simply stripped the stores bare. I said I guessed I would try Coscto next. She replied, "Don't bother; I just came from there. You know things are serious when Costco's shelves are empty." All right then...
   I rolled my cart over to the diaper aisle and decided to stock up in baby wipes. There were two shelves left. A couple came up behind me and the wife said, "Oooh! baby wipes will work in place of toilet paper." Her husband sighed and said, "No honey we can't use those; they don't flush." I said a quiet prayer of thanks as they moved on. I stopped using loo roll years ago, only using compostable baby wipes and I always place them in the rubbish bin and empty it regularly. I bought $40.00 worth of baby wipes for our two bathrooms and four people. The pack of 56 wipes I would pay £1.00 for in the U.K. sells in the U.S. for $3.59 each, which quickly adds up when buying a case.
   I was shocked at the empty aisles: no kitchen roll, tissue, bottled water, bread, convenience foods such as canned chili, and Kraft Mac and Cheese, Ramen, pasta, milk, prepared spaghetti sauce--all shelves were empty. People were lined up by the fresh meat section because the entire frozen meat and chicken section was bare. I considered the situation and noticed that no one was buying the Bison meat so I stocked up on ground, steaks, and roasts, with a few other essentials; plenty of fresh fruit and veg too, and I cook from scratch so we will be okay. I guess this is a time to consider Crohn's disease a blessing in disguise because the Gluten Free and vegan products remain on the shelves.
   That evening my foster daughter Mary went out to look for loo roll, two percent and lactose free milk, and cat food. She had to visit four stores to get everything. She picked up two-20 lb. bags of food for the cats and my daughter-in-law Kelli ordered two bags of specialty dog food online as the dog has multiple allergies. We also stocked up on cat litter, keeping some of the extras in our cars for storage.
   Each day now we all check the latest news upon waking. My daughter Shiery works four 12 hour shifts a week as a medical technician at an assisted living facility with a frail at-risk population. Her usual commute time is forty minutes to drive fifteen miles. Nationwide now the emergency law is that no visitors are allowed at these facilities except medical personnel or families if it is end-of-life. Shiery fears that a mandatory lock-down will be called while she is at work. The governor of Oregon announced last night that she is considering this very step. Shiery is also at-risk herself with two auto-immune diseases and Diabetes. My daughter-in-law Kelli works as a pharmacy technician for a large wholesale pharmacy chain which fills large orders for assisted living facilities. She has a an hour commute across the I-205 bridge and over the Columbia River to Vancouver, Washington, across the river from Portland. We fear that Washington or Oregon will close their border while Kelli is at work and she will be stuck away from home. She too is part of the at-risk population with Type I Diabetes, asthma, and Psoriatic arthritis. As far as that goes, I am also at-risk for being older and having two auto-immune diseases. I keep my trips outside to a minimum, grocery shopping early in the morning or late at night when it is least busy. 
   I went out last night at 8 pm to round up my week's shopping. There were only a handful of us in Safeway; all older or disabled. We were all smiling at each other as we politely kept our six foot distance, carts swerving gently around one another, folks patiently waiting down the aisles for other folks to get something from a shelf and move on. As I was stopped in an empty aisle to find Parma strained tomatoes, I suddenly felt someone right behind me. I whirled around to find a young 20-something on her phone, obtusely focused in on looking for a product, right at my knees. I wanted to shout, "FFS back up and give me my six feet you self absorbed child!" I gave her a look and quickly moved on out of the aisle.
   Viruses are tricky things. They are not really alive. They can build a protective outer walls around themselves and go dormant--sometimes for thousands of years--until just the right environment presents itself and then they magically wake up, open their border walls and begin infecting hosts and they are constantly evolving as they exchange DNA with prospective hosts. I figure I am going to contract it at some point along the way. Let us hope Covid-19 evolves into something less virulent and not more deadly. There are news reports already that Influenza H1N2 is now stalking those that are recovering form Covid-19 but whose lungs are still fragile.
   In the meantime there are blessings to be discovered in all this. With the world population either in hospital or cocooning itself in mandatory isolation, and the lack of world traveling and tourism, nature is beginning to show us how it can recover when humans are not overwhelming and assaulting the environment constantly. The canals of Venice are clear once more. Venetians can see fish swimming in the water, and swans and dolphins have returned. In China, people can actually see blue skies for the first time in years without the ubiquitous clouds of pollution that blanket the country. In Italy, France, Spain and China people can again hear birdsong in city centers.
   As we stay home and self isolate I offer you these virtual ideas for entertainment, enjoyment, and stretching of your minds:

1.The NASA Media Library: the entire media library of NASA--all photos and videos, are available for free online. Indulge the budding astrophysicist in yourself or entertain your inner star seeker!

2. Story Time From Space! Check out this amazing online site that has astronauts at the Space station reading children's stories such as Astronaut Annie, Kalifa and Ahmal Go to Space, Max Viaja a Marte, Lucian Braving the Deep, and other interesting titles. This is a great site to entertain kids.

3. 500 Museums! There are five hundred museums around the world aavilable for you to wander through online, including the British Museum in London, The Guggenheim in New York, The National Art Gallery of Washington DC, the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, The National Musem of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, Korea, The Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, The Museu de Arte de São Paulo, Brazil, and the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City!!!

4. Seattle Symphony Live Broadcasts. This web site offers information and schedules of shows/music as well as how to view the live performances on Youtube and FaceBook.

5. Open Culture! Open Culture brings together high-quality cultural & educational media for the worldwide lifelong learning community. Web 2.0 has given us great amounts of intelligent audio and video. It's all free. It's all enriching. But it's also scattered across the web, and not easy to find. Our whole mission is to centralize this content, curate it, and give you access to this high quality content whenever and wherever you want it. This website offers free access to 1500 free online courses from top universities, 1150 free movies online including classics, film noir, Indies, Westerns and many more! You can access 1000 free downloadable audio books, 800 free ebooks for Kindle, iPad and other devices, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), many of which leads to certificates or statements of completion though not degrees. A "$" indicates that the course is free, but the credential costs money. Learn 46 languages online for free and access 200 free kid;s educational resources with video lessons, books, apps, websites and more.

6. The National Film Board of Canada. To access free films please find the word AVAILABILITY on the page tool bar and click the arrow so the menu unfolds. "Free" is one of your options. Currently this site offers free short films (5-30 minutes) featuring First Nations and Native Americans under Indigenous Cinema. This is a fabulous resource, especially for those of us who like documentary films.

7. The Paris Opera! From 17 March, the Paris Opera will be putting its most beautiful shows from its archives online free of charge. From Don Giovanni to Swan Lake and The Tales of Hoffmann, there are many great classics to see or rediscover from home. The website can be viewed en Francais or English. Their schedule of upcoming events is available on this web site and includes: Don Giovani, Manon, Das Rheingold, Die Valkyrie, and other performances.

8. The Monteray Bay Aquarium! You may have had to cancel your spring vacation, but you still can (virtually) visit the aquatic animals housed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Peek at the groups of jellyfish and sharks, do some bird watching in the Aviary, follow the African penguins as they waddle around, and catch a glimpse at the pulsing moon jellies all through the institutions’ free live streams. And for close-ups of the species, head to Instagram. (via Laughing Squid).

9. Storyline Online! The SAG-AFTRA Foundation’s award-winning children’s literacy website, Storyline Online, streams videos featuring celebrated actors reading children’s books alongside creatively produced illustrations. Readers include Viola Davis, Chris Pine, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Costner, Annette Bening, James Earl Jones, Betty White and dozens more.

10. Grow Forage Cook Ferment! This web site is a fabulous resource for recipes and Youtube videos showing how to make Mead, hand made soap, herbal salves, Chickweed Pesto, and loads of other interesting and helpful things.

11. British Wildflower Finder. this comprehensive web site was created and is maintained by Roger Darlington, a friend of boater Chris Thorp (NB Ceiriog). It is brilliant and easy to use. I posted this specifically for all my British friends, family and loved ones. As you are out walking along towpaths or National Trust properties, or public walkways through the glorious British countryside you may come across a plant you don't recognize and this site may be quite helpful. xxx

12. Teaching young children the importance of washing their hands! I found this simple video the perfect teaching moment to illustrate to young children, the importance of washing our hands. To replicate it for your children and grandchildren all you need is a shallow bowl or plate, pepper, liquid hand or dish soap, and water. Explain that the pepper in the bowl is pretending to be a virus. Follow the video and watch young children become startled and amazed!

Finally, today is Les' 72nd birthday. We are remembering my Best Beloved at dinner tonight with one of his favorite meals: Three Sisters Chicken and Chorizo Casserole. Unfortunately I couldn't bake his favorite Carrot cake as we are half packed and in the process of moving to a new, larger apartment soon. Happy birthday baby! You are missed and loved, always.

Les at the dinette in April 2013. We were moored up on the Lea navigation just near Waltham. I love that look on his sweet face!

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs