Monday, January 25, 2021

Baby Boy - Adventures With Finn


Everyone is a beneficiary (or victim) of their circumstances. Each person that comes into our lives rides in on their own wave of time and space. The most recent important person to enter my life is Finn. He is an extraordinary child born into challenging times. Finn was born September 29, 2019. He weighed in at 4 pounds, two ounces and was eight weeks early. 

Finn is my grandchild, the fourth born within three and a quarter-years. Of the four, three were born premature. Finn is the son of Lucy and Greg and little brother to Lila. Finn is a lucky boy, because he is dearly loved. All babies born should be exactly this lucky. 

Though Finn arrived at 32 weeks, he had to be stopped from making an appearance even earlier. Mom spent a fair amount of time in the hospital in the weeks leading to his birth, which was hard on everyone concerned. I still have an emotional reaction when I think about going to that hospital before and after his birth. Finn had some struggles in the first few weeks and even popped a hole in his tiny lung. 

One Friday night I went to see him after he’d had a rough day in the neonatal intensive care. The wastebasket in his room was filled with medical waste from one day in the NICU. That night was really hard. I sobbed when I drove back over the bridge towards home. I felt so cheated. Why did we have to have another baby with an extended hospital stay? Why couldn’t it be a joyous occasion without all the stress and worry? I’d had one grandchild I could hold after she was born. For the others, it took weeks. We don’t know why these kids were early. They just were and we had to cope. 

Finn was safe and got excellent care. Soon, he began to thrive. Although he did not know it, the world roiled outside the hospital doors. All four of my grandkids lived through the Trump regime. Finn was also born in California wildfire season. In response to the deadly Camp Fire in 2018, the utility company proactively shut off our gas and electricity. While Finn was in his hospital tower in San Francisco, across the bridge in Marin we went without heat or lights or cell service for 76 hours. I bought gas when I visited him in the City and charged my phone in his room. There was also a small earthquake while Finn was in the NICU. Just another day in Northern California in 2019. 

Finn was discharged in late October. He was home with his family for his first Halloween. He was tiny, but healthy and we knew the drill about how to care for him, which was mostly scrupulous care about germs and keeping him warm. He did get a cough which lasted a long time, but it may have been exacerbated by reflux. Other than that, he was on the glide path to crushing all his tiny baby goals. Then the Coronavirus hit. The pandemic would change Finn’s life, along with ours. 

In February we started to have a niggling sense of fear. In the middle of the month Aunt Allie (known to her nieces as Lili) turned 30. Finn came on a girls’ getaway in Sonoma to celebrate. He spent his first night in a hotel. We expected there would be many more such nights when Mom returned to work in April. Trips to New York and Hawaii were on the horizon. Allie had dozens of cross-country flights scheduled for 2020. She had numerous work trips planned and many friends who had scheduled weddings. I was supposed to go to Palm Springs in March for the BNP Paribas tennis tournament and New York in April to see my dying friend. Our Hawaiian vacation was scheduled for August. We know what happened. None of the flights were taken. Other things, some of them very good, happened, but none of it was what we expected.

With Great Grandma Judy

At almost 16 months, Finn has yet to get on an airplane. By this age his sister was a frequent flyer, logging a trip to London and numerous trips to the East Coast. Finn has only been able to go to a playground recently. For months they were all closed due to the pandemic. And yet, he has developed beautifully. He was an early walker and started saying quite a few words just after one. He’s wiry and strong. When you look at him in the tub he’s absolutely ripped. He’s a towhead with the bluest eyes and only four teeth – two top and two bottom. The top two look like they belong to a china doll. The bottom teeth resemble a beaver. He climbs on everything, like it or not. He seems to be mechanically inclined with his mother’s perseverance. Prior to Finn, I’d never seen a toddler figure out how to unlock a baby gate. 

It may be a wild ride with this one, but what a sensitive boy. He is devastated if reprimanded, but still goes back to touch the hot stove time and again. He wants to behave, but the urge to experience is far too strong to control. It’s best to redirect him, since this is an internal conflict he’s too young to sort out. It’s been a long time since I’ve spent this much time with a boy this age. I think of Finn as a baby even though he can walk and has begun to speak. Emotionally, he’s more baby than toddler. He rarely stops moving, but when he needs a cuddle, he really needs it. Interestingly, in the last week he’s reverted to crawling a bit. I’m not sure why. Maybe he’s tired of tripping and falling. 

Watching Finn develop has made me think of the expression that children are not short adults. Of course not! Far from it. And little boys are not little men. Every time I hear the expression “little man” or “my little man” I cringe. You don’t hear people refer to tiny girl children as little women, except in a Louisa May Alcott book. 

There is such an expectation for boys to be strong. “Big boys don’t cry”, is the worst thing you can say to a little boy. Of course they do, and if they don’t they really should! And little boys are going to cry many, many times because they are physically hurt or their feelings are hurt. When I worked with kindergarteners sometimes a little boy would be crying so hard that I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I found it helpful to ask if they were physically hurt or if their feelings were hurt. More often it was their feelings, but answering the question helped them figure out their emotions. 

Finn is a little dude, for sure. He’s a guys’ guy and he definitely gravitates towards men. He LOVES his daddy and his Poppy and constantly wants them to hold him, partly because they’re tall and he can see more of the world, but that’s not all. A few months ago, Finn spent the night at our house and Greg came to get him. When Greg picked him up Finn put his head down on Greg’s chest for the longest time. It was so sweet. Being at grandma’s was fine, but dad was home. 

What is it that makes a man a man? What makes a boy a boy? I guess it depends on the man and the boy, but grown men hopefully have acquired some traits that we won’t likely see in boys, especially baby boys. A man is patient and wise. A man can think through problems and take the long view. A man can exhibit strength through tenderness. Men are surprisingly sensitive, but often don’t feel like they should be. A man knows how to share. A man knows right from wrong. A man is kind and loyal. A man can control his impulses. A man has empathy. A good man is everything a little boy is not.

It’s a privilege and heavy responsibility to help raise children. Everything matters and everything counts. There are no do overs. Each child has one childhood, and all the influences and environments mean something. Every time he looks into your face and sees a warm smile is a little building block for the future. Kids really are like little monkeys, imitating what they see you do and say. 

Finn is a quirky little kid. I play "calming classical" music when we are in the car. He "sings" along at the top of his lungs like a little Pavarotti. He also loves to hold something. Last summer, when he wasn’t even  crawling yet, he would hold a big spoon that you use for cooking. Lately, he’s gotten into that again and calls it “cook”. He will hold it all day long – even for naps and walks in the stroller. I’ve never seen anything like it. He also very into the Swiffer which he likes to drag around the house. 

I’m not sure if this is a boy thing, but this little one is an accident waiting to happen. As his mom says, he approaches life with 110 percent effort. Just this week he stuck a bobby pin into a socket and gave himself a shock. Then he did a face plant outside on a walk and got a lump on the forehead. A couple hours later he tumbled headfirst into the tub, fully clothed, while I was running a bath for him. He poured hot coffee on himself. Last night he tripped while swiffering and got a bloody lip. It sounds like he’s running around unsupervised, but someone has been with him the whole time. He has no sense and tons of drive. Keeping him safe is clearly going to be a challenge. 

It’s such a treat to watch Finn grow. You can just see his little mind working and he’s learning like crazy. He’s mostly happy and it’s wonderful to see how Lila has come around to being a fine big sister. Finn is lucky to have her and we are so very lucky to have Finn. There will be many years for Finn to be a man, and I expect he will be a good one. In the meantime, we will cherish the baby boy. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Home Buying

I am 62 years old. We are five months into the global coronavirus pandemic. Life is different in almost every way imaginable. We don’t travel. We don’t take airplanes. We stay at home. We shelter in place. Until this, I didn’t even know the government could order us to shelter in place, let alone for months at a time. It’s nerve-wracking and anxiety provoking and socially isolating. We think we had the virus in March, but we’re not certain. We both ended up on inhalers for a time. I still use mine sometimes. Initially, we were excited by the idea that we might be immune. Now, it seems it may be possible to get it again. This virus is evil. It’s very good at what it does.

In addition to selling real estate, I help out with my granddaughter whileLucy and her husband work. Childcare is tedious and boring and relentless and also incredibly rewarding. If I hadn’t been one of Lila’s main care givers, I probably wouldn’t have seen her very much. Instead, I saw her all the time. We bonded like crazy. When she was a baby we went with Mommy when she travelled for work. We went to London once and New York three times. Lila practiced crawling at the Gramercy Park Hotel. She spent her first three years, nine months in art galleries and museums and zoos. She started pre-school and was beginning to have a social life. She thrived on living in the city and loved culture and stimulation.


When COVID-19 forced employees to work from home Lucy, Greg, Lila and 6 month- old Finn fled San Francisco. They began to shelter in place in Tahoe in March. Lucy was still on maternity leave, but her return to work deadline was looming. We sat at home in Mill Valley doing jigsaw puzzles, reading and fretting. We watched far too much political news. We drank too much wine. We ate like we were on a cruise ship. At the end of every meal we thought about the next meal. We were nervous about going out to the store. I quarantined the mail when it arrived at the house. We missed seeing Finn and Lila and our other grandkids, Sally and Leo.


Lucy and Greg were planning to return to San Francisco when Lucy started her new job at Instagram. They had no childcare in Tahoe. They really didn’t want to go back to the city. Everything was closed, including pre-school. Finally, it was decided that we would join them in the mountains and take care of the kids while Lucy and Greg worked. Their house wasn’t big enough for Eric and me, two kids, a dog and two parents working from home. We rented a friend’s cabin. It was rustic, but comfortable. When the snow melted the chipmunks moved into the walls, but it was a short walk to the lake. We stayed there for seven weeks. Lila said it had“scary stairs”, but we had everything we needed, and we were fortunate to be able to land there. The lilacs bloomed and then were snowed upon. Spring comes late to Tahoe and it’s subtle. It was a shock to leave my glorious Mill Valley garden with the profusion of roses. There were three colors in Tahoe; green, brown and blue. That’s all.


Luckily for the kids and grandkids, childcare is one of my super-powers. I’ve been caring for kids for fifty years. I began babysitting when I was twelve. I was a live-in nanny at the age of fifteen, taking care of Baby Ben while living at the Gate Hill Coop (aka The Land). I moved from New York to Hollywood at seventeen and was Beck and Chan’s nanny for two years. Later I had a licensed home daycare, caring for numerous kids, including my nephew, Zach. When I got a BA, my degree was in Developmental Psych. I worked in a kindergarten classroom for three years. I raised my own three daughters, which was considerably more difficult than taking care of other people’s children. That was an ongoing surprise to me. It’s a lot easier to shape young minds when you don’t live with them.

It was a Thursday in late May when Lucy suggested it would be nice if we had a house in their neighborhood. She proposed that we could go in on a property together and to let her know if I saw anything I liked. The time was approximately 6:00 pm. Friday morning I woke up and checked for listings in Carnelian Bay. I hadn’t joined Tahoe Sierra MLS yet, so my access was the same as every other non-realtor.


I saw a new listing that looked promising. By 10:30 am we were sitting in the driveway on the phone with the agent. By 11:00 we were inside the property with Lucy looking around. The house was perfect. Beautiful and well-maintained and a short distance from the kids and grandkids. Five minutes to the lake. By 1:00 pm we decided to write an offer and sent it over to the agent. We asked for a response by 5:00 pm the next day, which was Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. On Saturday there were several conversations with the agent who was hesitant to accept our offer because we didn’t have a pre-approval letter yet. We weren’t expecting to find a house so quickly, so we did not have our ducks in a row, which is such a rookie mistake. I bullied the agent a bit and talked about how qualified we were and that we were the right buyers for the property. We had included a love letter to the Seller. It was a full price offer! By 5:15 pm the Seller had signed our offer and we were in contract. Boom! That’s the way you buy a house.


I did reach out to several mortgage brokers that day and got a response from someone I had used for clients in the past. She called me and I explained the situation. She agreed to send a pre-approval letter and follow up with the details later. It helps to have relationships in the business. We were able to send the pre-approval letter over a few minutes after the agent sent me the signed contract, so it gave them peace of mind. The inspections were a breeze, all went smoothly, and we closed in less than 30 days despite the pandemic.


I have watched this process so many times with clients, but honestly, I had no idea it was so stressful! Even though I was the agent, representing us as buyers, I was a nervous wreck. I pushed the process along every step of the way, which is what you have to do. It wasa bit of a stretch for us to close early, but it was totally doable. The final week before close we were staying in a hotel and our dog was staying at Lucy and Greg’s. We had been in some sort of limbo for over two months and were really ready to be settled. To close on a Friday instead of the following Tuesday or Wednesday was significant.

The timeline got a little tight at the end. A miscommunication between my insurance agent and the mortgage broker needlessly lost us a day. Everything was a scramble after that. We actually signed the loan docs the morning of the close of escrow, still not knowing whether we would go on record and be able to move in that Friday. In twenty years in the business I have never had buyers sign, fund and go on record all in one day, but it worked out. At 4:00 pm we got an email from the title company that the sale was recorded. We bought the house fully furnished, so by 5:00 pm we were moved in.

If we hadn’t jumped on this house that very day we would probably still be looking and living in a rental. The market changed right then. Work from home and urban flight has created such demand. The house right behind us went on the market, got eleven offers and 
went $150,000 over asking. We were not prepared to compete with that.
There are some disadvantages to living in the mountains. No newspaper delivery. We miss the Sunday New York Times. I don’t like to read the papers online. I’m on my computer enough. Hell, I would even read the local paper, but they don’t deliver that, either. Also, we don’t get mail. Our Mill Valley house is rented so we had the mail forwarded to Allie’s place which is about half a mile from our home. You may have heard about USPS and how slow they are. It’s ridiculous. Then Allie has to gather the mail and ship it to me via Fed Ex or UPS. It’s a slow process. The next time we are here for an extended period we’ll have to get a PO Box, assuming postal service still exists.


Deliveries are another challenge. Amazon does not deliver here, which is fine with me because I don’t like supporting Jeff Bezos, richest man in the world who does not pay taxes. Target may or may not be able to accomplish getting a product from Point A to Point B. It’s kind of hit or miss. The most recent order was most definitely NOT delivered. I went on the website and got a refund for all the items. Shortly thereafter, I got an email from Target. “Your package has been delivered!” Well, actually it hadn’t. And you already cancelled the order and refunded my money.


Bed, Bath and Beyond has been great. Same with Wayfair and Home Depot. I’m still waiting for my contact lenses and two dresses that I ordered from China on June 4th. We have friends nearby who do not exist on any map. They can’t get deliveries at all and have to have their packages sent to Lucy’s. It’s the Wild West in some ways.

This is a summer house for me. I haven’t had a real summer since I left New York in 1975, and I’ve loved every bit of it. Every single morning the sky is blue, and the sun is shining. There is no fog. I get up and put on a bathing suit. Most days I take a swim in the lake. I’m a fair-weather gal. I like to visit places with snow, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I’ll be out of here before the first snow falls.

We’ve been helping Lila ride a bike. She is still using training wheels, but she is confident and strong and sure. The steering and balance will follow. She only just turned four. She’s been learning to swim in the lake, and I’ve taken her out in the canoe. We played in the Truckee River and Lila rode a horse. We do whatever we can given Finn’s baby schedule. We paint and draw and listen to music. Then there is rest time. It’s camp. I never went to camp. Now I have a camp: Base Camp Gigi.

Thank you

Thank you to everyone who called or sent me comments about Allie and Denzel and the Black Lives Matter post. The conversations are happening. Awareness is growing. The protests are continuing. There is momentum. However, we have such a long way to go. The officers who killed Breonna Taylor have not been arrested. Jacob Blake was shot seven times in front of his three little boys. Now two people have been killed during protests over his shooting in Wisconsin. It's shameful. Change cannot come soon enough. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Black Lives Matter

I left town in the midst of a global pandemic. I returned to a revolution. Shelter In Place had been instituted for almost six weeks when we packed the cars and headed to Lake Tahoe on April 21, 2020. My best friend of forty-one years, Sally, had died of cancer the day before. I organized what I thought we would need for at least a month, while a shroud of shock and grief hovered all around me. As I packed a bin of food, I had the strongest feeling that although this was the first time, I would pack to live in Tahoe for the summer every year for the rest of my life.

When we returned to Mill Valley in early June to sell the car and prepare our house to rent, I returned to a different town. The Pandemic was still there, and most everyone went about their daily business wearing masks, but there was something else. It was so strong and powerful. There were signs all over town saying, “Black Lives Matter” and “Silence is Violence” and “No Justice No Peace” and “I Can’t Breathe”. Within twelve hours of arriving I joined a protest in Mill Valley. As I entered the downtown where I have lived for over forty years, much seemed the same. The Redwood trees were as regal as ever. Mt Tamalpais loomed in all her glory, but there was an energy I didn’t expect. There were so many people streaming in from every direction. Families with dogs and children holding signs: SAY HIS NAME. GEORGE FLOYD.

A cold-blooded, broad daylight, killing by cop of yet another unarmed black man, so egregious that it literally shocked the world out of complicity or compliance or complacency. Choose the word that fits you. None of us can escape this. We are all on the continuum somewhere between the victim and the brilliant white people who thought it was right and just to throw off the shackles of King George and build a new land using slaves. This new land is four hundred years old now and it is exploding with grief and fear and rage. No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace.

A killing by cop that was so blatant, so inhumane and so filmed. Racism isn’t worse now; it’s being documented. Since George Floyd’s death the world has changed. It’s about time. I have done many protest marches in my life. I started demonstrating as a child with my parents in the 60’s. We marched for Civil Rights. We protested against the Viet Nam War. We walked in our county. We marched in Washington DC. In recent years I have walked across the Golden Gate Bridge with Moms Demand Action.

It’s hard for me to chant phrases like: No More Silence, End Gun Violence. It always makes me emotional and I start to cry a bit when I’m saying the words. The Mill Valley protest was no different. We walked down Miller Avenue. My daughter, Allie, and her partner Denzel live on Miller. Denzel is one of the few black men who live in very white Mill Valley. As we walked past their apartment we chanted: BLACK LIVES MATTER. I cried even more than usual. It seemed so obvious. I wonder why we even have to say these words?

We have to say them because we all fall somewhere on the continuum. We all have bias even if we’re not overtly racist. We all have work to do. We need to face the uncomfortable truths about white privilege and what it means to be a black or brown person in our community. We need to do better. We can do better. We must do better.

When Allie and Denzel got together eight years ago I was happy for them because they were in love and they are a well-suited, compatible, dynamic couple. They’re both no drama, happy people. They have lots of friends. Their natural tendencies are to avoid confrontation, but there is no avoiding this moment. In our family we all want them to get married and have children when they’re ready, but I have had worries about their future because they’re a bi-racial couple. Not because of them, but because of the world. I thought about it in the same way I would if one of my children were homosexual. I love you. I support you. You love who you love, but I’m afraid your life is going to be harder in ways.

I worry about Denzel. I know his Mom worries about him even more. One night, years ago, we were all walking around New York City after a late dinner. It was chilly and Denzel put the hood up on his sweatshirt. Inside I was saying, no, don’t do it! But then I thought, oh how ridiculous. But it’s not ridiculous. He is always in potential danger because of the color of his skin. How disturbing is that? When they have children Allie will most likely be the safest person in their family because she’s white. How wrong is that? There are places they can’t safely go because monstrous Americans with their guns take the “law” into their own hands. How frightening is that? I worry that the town where Allie was raised, and where she and Denzel have chosen to settle and start a business, won’t be welcoming. How unsettling is that?  It’s all of the above - disturbing, wrong, frightening and unsettling.

When Allie and Denzel were still living in New York they took a weekend getaway to New Hampshire. I was petrified to think of them in pick-up driving, gun-toting, white New England. Apparently, the hotel they chose was not some backwoods, scary place. Allie texted that Cynthia Nixon and her wife and children were in the hot tub with them. Exhale. If lesbians were ok there, Denzel and Allie were probably fine. But seriously, what a way to have to think and what a way for too many Americans to live.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Waste Not Want Not

My dinner diary seems to have gone by the wayside. I know we’ve eaten, but I can’t really remember what we ate when. Self-isolation (or in this case marital “isolation”) has made time a bit blurry around the edges. With no schedule and no routine, time is a slippery concept. It’s frightfully easy to lose track of the day, let alone the time. We seem to be going to bed early and sleeping late. I don’t stress about waking up at night because it doesn’t matter if I’m tired the next day. There is nothing I have to do. I just read for a while and eventually go back to sleep. This must be what it’s like to be retired, but most retired people usually have some sort of schedule of volunteering and or exercise.

Truth be told, current circumstances are a bit distracting. It’s hard to stay away from the news, and the news is pretty scary. We were supposed to fly to New York on April 2nd to visit my friend, Sally, who has advanced cancer. She also recently had open heart surgery. New York now has nearly 30,000 cases of corona virus. We can’t risk traveling and possibly taking infection to Sally. It’s too dangerous to her, and wouldn’t be wonderful for us, either. It makes me sad that we can’t go, but what are you going to do? Now I don’t know when we will be able to see her.

Rockland County, New York, is where I grew up. They have over six hundred reported cases and five people have died, and that’s news from a couple days ago. In Marin County it’s gotten ever closer. A man we know who lives several blocks away has just recovered, but it wasn’t pretty. He went on a ski trip to BC for a 50th birthday with ten guys. Nine of them came down with COVID-19. There is still a lack of testing here, so we really don’t know what we’re dealing with yet.

Before this all started the idea of being on house arrest sounded appealing. I even went so far as to say that being stuck at home for fourteen days (while not being sick) sounded like heaven. Be careful what you wish for. This scenario messes with your mind. There’s an expression that says: if you want something done ask a busy person. I am a busy person, not in an hysterical, stressed out way. In a one foot in front of the other, let no grass grow under my feet sort of way. I get shit done. Currently, I play on several tennis teams and captain another. I am House Director at the Outdoor Art Club which takes a fair amount of time. I’ve logged almost sixty volunteer hours so far this year. I have a large family, including three adult daughters, one stepdaughter, and four grandchildren under the age of four. I have siblings and nieces and nephews and an elderly mother. I have a husband and dog. I work as a realtor, as I have for twenty years. I have clients who need and want things. My commitments are not nothing.

Now it has all stopped, and it’s very strange. The hardest part, emotionally, is not knowing when the great American timeout will end. Our president says we should all be fine by Easter. That sounds GREAT to me. However, it’s probably wishful thinking. I’m glad we live in California where our governor is taking this seriously. It’s the only way to flatten the curve of the pandemic. We will do what needs to be done, like it or not.

We’re limiting trips out, even to the store. Last week we spent four hundred dollars on groceries. It didn’t feel like we were eating high on the hog, but we had food in the frig and the freezer and some back-up stuff in the pantry. We ate what we had and tried to be creative about not wasting any food. By last night we’d had enough of “catch as catch can”, and decided to support a local restaurant. We ordered a take-out bucket of fried chicken from Bungalow 44. The sides of garlic mashed potatoes and salad we made at home, but oh, what a treat. It was scrumptious.

Fried Chicken

We’re all coping in our own ways. By last Saturday I was getting stir crazy at home. And when I say, “stir crazy”, I am ever mindful of the fact that I’m not trying to entertain little ones at home without the usual resources. I am beyond grateful that I’m not trying to wrangle teenagers. That was hard enough when they had school and sports and could hang with their friends. But, still, I was ready to feast my eyes on a new landscape, so I headed out to the beach which ended up being an unwitting faux pas of major proportions.

Eric had gone out twice during the week and he’d had such a nice time. He neglected to tell me that the beach parking lots were closed, which might have given me pause. Instead, I started driving over the mountain and could not believe what I saw. It was a mob scene. People were walking all over the place and every place a car could be parked, a car was parked. It was like the Fourth of July, although I would never dream of going out to the beach on the Fourth of July. The traffic was ridiculous, but once you’re on the narrow, winding mountain road there is really no turning back, so I forged ahead. None of the usual spots were available so I proceeded to the large parking lot. The gate was locked which explained the mass of cars all the way up the hill.

I had driven all the way out there and was determined to find somewhere to park, which I eventually did. I walked onto the beach and it was as beautiful as ever. There were lots of small groups, but everyone seemed to be maintaining appropriate physical distance. I nestled into a sand dune with my book and was at least fifty feet from the nearest other person. It was only later that my outing was revealed to be not so benign. The locals were furious that so many people had descended on the coast towns. They felt overwhelmed and frightened and worried about their own safety. I get that, but I also understand that many people live in small apartments with no outdoor space. They’ve been cooped up with their families without fresh air or exercise. To me, the beach felt like a safe place. There are no hard surfaces. I was able to park, sit on the beach, take a walk and smell the sea air without a risk to me or endangering anyone else.

Other people were lined up for ice creams at The Parkside like it was a summer Saturday. The restrooms were closed. The infrastructure couldn’t deal with the demand. Later, I understood all this, but in the meantime, I decided to take a side trip to Bolinas, which I almost never do. I was on my way home and wanted to stretch out my excursion a bit, so I went in search of a cup of coffee. Bolinas was its usual welcoming self. The first large sign read, “This is a pandemic, not a vacation. Now go home.” Around the next turn another hand-painted sign was tacked to a tree: Bernie, We Believe. And finally, in downtown, one said: Respect the elderly. Now go home.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being told what to do. I wasn’t some tourist from San Francisco. I’m a forty-year resident of the county. I’m not endangering anyone by getting a coffee. I sanitize my hands every time I get in or out of the car. I’m extremely careful about germs, even under normal circumstances. I went to the Coast CafĂ© and ordered a coffee. I bought a cinnamon donut to go with it. I was happy. The fresh air and change of scene had done me good. I sat on a curb in front of a parked truck to enjoy my treat.

About eight feet from where I sat another pick-up truck rambled in. It had bumpers held together by band-aids and duct tape. You get the idea. The driver was an older, wild looking, white haired man who looked like he wouldn’t say no to a drink. He got out of the truck and came straight for me. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, at first, but I did catch something about you may not be from around here. It was Bolinas! Of course, he would lead with that. He got so close he stood over me and I stood up and backed away. It seemed he was worried I could get hit by a car (or truck?) since I was sitting on the curb, but I don’t believe he was worried. He wanted to agitate about something. I kept saying thank you as he moved towards me and I moved away. Finally, I pointed out that he seemed to be worried about my safety, but he wasn’t keeping a safe distance from me. I took my coffee and went back to my car. I sanitized my hands and tried to let it roll off me. The experience definitely took the joy out of sitting in the sun on the curb with my coffee and my donut.

We’ve had some strange adaptations to the quarantine in our neighborhood. One neighbor began to fly his American flag and suggested others do the same. It hasn’t really gone viral. Others suggested putting Christmas lights back up and many people chimed in that they would, as well. Noooo! Some people have literally just taken them down. The fact that all the holidays are blending together is a major pet peeve of mine. It used to be that we would decorate for one holiday at a time which was wonderful. Now people layer the decorations. They don’t take anything away. First come the pumpkins and gourds and Indian corn in the fall. So far so good. Autumn wreaths go up for Thanksgiving. Then Christmas arrives and the pumpkins remain on the porch with the poinsettias. There’s no “out with the old, in with the new”. I’m not sure what good Christmas lights will do now that it’s staying light so much later, and we don’t go anywhere at night, anyway. How are we to see them?

The strangest new ritual has been the human howl. At eight pm every night people all around town are going outside to howl at the moon like a pack of wolves. I cannot believe this has caught on. There must be a LOT of frustrated extraverts out there looking for connection. Do what you have to do, but I find it a little creepy. Carry on, stay safe. As for me, I’ll be here sort of dreading eight o’clock.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Food Glorious Food

“Food, glorious, food, hot sausage and mustard.” I believe those are lines from the play, Oliver, or at least a close approximation. Food has been top of mind since we’re been on coronavirus house arrest. Our quarantine started five days early, due to Eric’s upper respiratory illness. Lucky us. We went out to dinner for my birthday on Wednesday, March 11th. The next morning Eric woke up sick and we’ve been eating at home ever since.

Unlike many of our friends and neighbors, we normally eat home for most of our meals. We both can cook, and don’t usually have dinner out more than once a week or so. We also get burritos for takeout and have Sol Food in the neighborhood which has great Puerto Rican food. We don’t have food delivered with the frequency of city dwellers. A couple months ago my daughter (who had a new baby) and her three-year old were both sick. I went to San Francisco to help take care of them. For dinner, my son-in-law ordered Indian food, and had it delivered. The next afternoon Dad was at work and Mom was napping. My granddaughter and I were resting and watching a video when the doorbell rang. It was 4:40 pm. Lila picked up her head, looked around and asked, “Is dinner here?”

That made me laugh so hard and I have relayed the story numerous times. It’s so different from the way I grew up and from the way my children were raised, but it’s her life. She lives in a city with two working parents and that’s how it’s done. Dinner arrives at the front door. Lucy likes to cook, and tries to when she can, but it’s mostly weekends. She wants her kids to be aware that food is made in kitchens, but one must do what one must do.

Now what we must do is eat at home. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. What we are going to eat for dinner has become a sensitive topic in our house, of late. Honestly, I think we’ve been in a bit of a rut. I cooked a lot for a long time. With three growing girls and all their friends streaming in, I was good at cooking for a crowd. When I started in real estate it became a lot harder. All my plans, dinner and otherwise would go out the window when I had to show property or write an offer at the last minute. The girls were up and out or on the way. I became single and it was much easier for me to pick up something pre-made than to cook for one.

When I met Eric he led with how much he loves to cook. He claimed it was his only creative outlet. I disagree with that. He can write a damn good suspense novel when he puts his mind to it. I think he mostly wanted me for my kitchen which I designed myself.  With ten-foot ceilings and lots of light, it also has a six burner Viking, an island, a walk-in pantry and LOTS of counter space. He made himself right at home. Truthfully, sometimes it feels like he took it over. When the kids were little and I was trying to make dinner, I would request (beg, plead, demand – call it what you will) for them to stay outside of the “invisible lines”. Now that Eric has proprietary interest in the kitchen, I feel like I’m the one being asked to stay outside the lines.

My regular schedule isn’t very conducive to cooking. Two days a week I’m not home from San Francisco until 7:00 pm, and my weekends can still go sideways with work demands. It took me a while to realize that I missed cooking. Being in the kitchen grounds me. I like to make my old favorite recipes. Now that we’re sheltering in place there is plenty of cooking for everyone. Here is our food diary: Week One.

Wednesday 3/11 – Dinner out at Gravity Tavern, Mill Valley. Delicious.

Thursday, 3/12 – I made Lentil Soup made from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison. I’ve never eaten there, but Greens is a legendary vegetarian restaurant in Fort Mason, San Francisco. I kind of defeat the purpose of the vegetarianism by adding ham hocks, but it really adds to the flavor. I also brighten it up with a bit of balsamic vinegar. Soup is great on its own or paired with a salad.

Friday, 3/13 – Eric was still sick, so I got to control the kitchen. He likes a lot more meat than I do, and I figured he’d want some meat after not quite vegetarian lentil soup. I got good ground round from Mill Valley Market and a bun for the man of the house. I eat mine bun-less, because it seems that carbs are not my friend these days. I also steamed some broccoli with garlic salt and sesame oil.

Saturday, 3/14 – We started thinking about our local restaurants and decided to order two small pizzas from Vasco in downtown Mill Valley, which is our go-to neighborhood place. We got one Margarita and one sausage and mushroom which totaled $34. Eric made a salad. To be honest, the togetherness wasn’t wearing well, and we ended up eating in different parts of the house, which was fine with me.  

Sunday, 3/15 – I was busy watching the Democratic debate and Eric had full reign in the kitchen. He made amazing short ribs with polenta. Since our salad wasn’t eaten Saturday night, we ate it on Sunday.

Monday, 3/16 – Shelter in Place until April 7th was announced. We made shopping lists, and both went out to stock up. Eric went to his favorite, Safeway, and I went to my favorite, Mill Valley Market. Normally, I’ll do a big shop at Trader Joes and fill in produce and meat at MV Market. Under these circumstances I didn’t want to bother with Trader Joes. My only complaint with MV Market is that they don’t make it easy to sanitize the handles on the shopping carts. The other markets have the anti-bacterial wipes out front so you can wipe off the cart handles before you touch them. I made a request for this, but it wasn’t done. Instead, the employees began wearing latex gloves. I brought my own wipes, but this really is a fail, especially since the place was crawling with the elderly, frantically loading up on supplies.  

I made spinach, cheese and bacon quiche for dinner which really hit the spot. The recipe is one I’ve been using since I began cooking forty-two years ago. It’s from “Joy of Cooking” and the book is literally falling apart and broken open to the quiche recipe. We had some cheese that was going to get too old and I wanted to use it. I also didn’t want to use two cups of our fresh milk, so I used one and a half cups evaporated milk and the remainder was fresh. We both really liked the way it tasted. My childhood experiences of large family, little money really kicks in when it’s required. I know how to “make do”. This hunkering down may be my time to shine.

Tuesday, 3/17 – St. Patrick’s Day. No celebrations, obviously. I’d bought a cooked chicken on Monday. Eric used it and other items we had on hand and made a wonderful Chicken Taco Salad.

There you have it. One week of eating at home. My stomach’s growling. I think I’ll head down to the kitchen for some avocado toast with a fried egg on top. Stay safe, everyone!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

It's Corona Time

It’s been a wild and wooly week here on planet Earth. The World Health Organization categorized the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. Yesterday, our government declared a state of national emergency. We’re all on lockdown in one form or another. The stock market has tanked. Other than that, everything’s coming up roses.

The response to this health crisis has unraveled in a confusing manner. We literally do not know what we’re doing. We’ve watched the way the viral epidemic has unfolded in other countries and we are trying to learn. We have learned too slowly and now it’s said we are about eleven days behind Italy, which is a frightening scenario. The official response is now calling for “social distancing”. As an introvert, this is music to my ears. Everything is being canceled? That’s absolutely wonderful.

Our life began to change several weeks ago when I contemplated our upcoming trip to the BNP Tennis Tournament in Indian Wells. I started to think about the close contact one has with thousands of people who come from all over to see the matches. We get grounds passes, which gives you access to many courts and you go from one court to another depending on who is playing. While you are waiting to get seats in one of the stadiums you stand in a crowd, literally shoulder to shoulder, with dozens of others. You are stuck waiting there until the changeover, which could be ten minutes or more. I cannot emphasize how intimate the contact is. It’s like being in a crowded elevator, except that it’s outdoors and on stairs. People bang into you unknowingly with their backpacks. You have someone’s butt in your face. It’s very claustrophobic under the best of circumstances

That train of thought was the end of this year’s tournament for me. I had splurged for two nights at La Quinta and then we were supposed to stay with friends for three nights. Fortunately, La Quinta was gracious when I told them my elderly mom had been in the hospital and wasn’t doing well. While that was technically true, and fortunately she is doing better, it seemed like the way to go. I was afraid that if I canceled due to the coronavirus they would be less sympathetic. The airline tickets were non-refundable. That’s what you get when you book with Cheapo-Air. At least they were cheap, and we saved a bundle by not taking the trip. About a week after we decided not to attend the whole event was canceled. I can’t imagine the economic ripple effects throughout the desert. The two weeks of the tournament are a boon for the area. This year it is clearly a bust. Magnify that by the worldwide economy and it's just unfathomable. 

Now the local schools are closed. All pro basketball, baseball and hockey games are on hiatus. The annual Dipsea Race, which was scheduled for June, has been called off. People are working from home or not working. I’m on the Board at the Outdoor Art Club. With heavy hearts, we canceled all events for the remainder of March and the month of April, even the beloved Teddy Bear Tea. Life is definitely different.

My birthday was on March 11th, which fell in the middle of this surreal week. I was supposed to take a two-hour horseback ride in Pt Reyes, but canceled it because I hadn't been sleeping well and was tired. Clients contacted me at the last minute and wanted to see property, so it worked out better, anyway. It was a nice day. The weather was gorgeous. I took a swim and played tennis. 

We went out to dinner at a local restaurant and the place was almost completely empty. The atmosphere was lovely, and I definitely felt like I was upholding the six foot from strangers mandate, but it was quite eerie. After dinner we took a walk around town and the other restaurants were so quiet as well. If possible, we should support our local restaurants by buying gift certificates or having takeout. We want them to still be standing when this is all over. 

Personally, I looked ahead to an empty calendar with glee. Being quarantined at home would mean time to read, write and catch up on my sleep. I could work in the garden and swim at the pool. Now it’s raining and the pool has been shut down until the end of March. My not so young husband has gotten sick, so we canceled a trip to Tahoe. We were planning to stop by to see my mother on the way, but then Eric got a sore throat and plans changed again. It seems to be a nasty cold, and nothing more, but we are taking no chances. As of now, I feel absolutely fine and plan to remain that way.

It doesn’t yet feel like a stay-cation. It’s hard to block out the news, such a temptation to tune in and get distracted. Watching presidential briefings where everyone in charge of our COVID-19 response is clumped together, shaking hands (good lord) and sharing microphones is quite compelling. How can you NOT watch this?

I’ve also been taking trips to the grocery store to procure food while not touching anything, checking Eric’s temperature and bringing him beverages so he’ll stay hydrated. I realized the dog hadn’t gotten any exercise in two days, so late yesterday afternoon I took her for a good, long walk. I was griped at by an elderly gentleman because Ruby peed on a patch of grass on the street side of the sidewalk in front of his house. Sheesh. Get a bigger problem! I guess we’re all a bit tense and manifest it in our own ways.

We've been through our share of disasters here in Northern California. We've had earthquakes, mudslides and catastrophic storms. One year our whole neighborhood flooded on New Year's Eve and our garage and everything in it was covered in mud. More recently we've had the firestorms and putrid, toxic air for weeks at a time. We had the PG&E mandated power outages which were the most frustrating of all. So far, house arrest has been easier and more pleasant than previous scenarios, but it's early times. Check back in a week or two.

I’m happy to help “flatten the curve”. I’ll work from home unless I have to show property. It’s an uncertain time in the real estate business, which is never very certain. Thankfully, I have buyers who got out of the stock market while the getting was good and are ready with cash down payments. Interest rates are low and going lower. Real property suddenly seems safer than investments. At least you can live there. One can’t crawl inside their 401k and take shelter from the rain. Still, prices are so high. Are home values going to drop twenty or thirty percent? I don’t think so, but what does any us of really know until it’s behind us? Nobody wants to be the one who buys at the top of the market.

So, on this gloomy Saturday I look out the window at our majestic Mt Tamalpais, saturated by a lovely Spring rain, and shrouded in wisps of fog and I can’t help but wonder where we are headed. Will we all be here at the end of the pandemic? Will we feel more anxious and less secure or will we be calm and gracious and just plain grateful? I don’t know.