Saturday, March 20, 2021

Writing Through COVID-19: An Attempt at Some Closure

Last Friday I wrote about my second day in quarantine, but I haven't posted since.

In my past year of blogging through COVID, I've written on 252 of 365 days, which is 70% productivity, or roughly five days a week. 

But I've spent the past week avoiding this space. My excuses don't hold up because for the past 51 weeks I pushed past those same excuses and simply put my fingers on the keyboard, narrowed my focus to the smallest moments of the day, and wrote. 

Tonight, as I compose what will be the final entry of this year-long writing project, I realize my avoidance of blogging this past week has been the avoidance of closure itself. 

I'm not good at goodbyes. 

I shy against the emotion and instead make jokes or redirect. When I think back to dropping my children off at college--quintessential goodbye moments--I see scraps of chaos (scolding 9-year-old twins climbing on their oldest sister's dorm bunk) and forced levity, laughing too loud, executing a quick, perfunctory hug rather than holding the child and risk feeling the full weight of the moment.

I'm not good at last days of school. I prefer to keep everyone busy right up to the bell, then rush them out the door with overly cheerful "Have a good summer!" and without meeting anyone's eyes. 

I know a teacher who retired at the end of last year and said she missed the goodbyes and proper closure of her career when schools slammed shut on March 15. When I think of my own retirement, I envy that leapfrogging over all the faretheewells. I'd like to slip out quietly, unseen. Ghosting.

This blogging project gave me a reason to practice what I preach: That writing enriches life. First, while planning to write, you will pay attention to life's small moments: a hand on a puzzle piece, a stumble on a step, the dog's baby tooth on the sidewalk. 

Second, as you sort thoughts on the page, you begin make sense and order of what the day has offered. 

Third, if you share your words with readers, you re-experience your life as people share their encouragement, connections, and response. 

This past week:

Sunday Adrienne and I taped the second episode of our oral history project with our parents. This week we recorded our mother's childhood memories, capturing her early stories as well as her current state of mental deterioration. 

In the evening, Harrison and Maria facetimed us to announce their engagement--a joyful, welcome call.

The photo on the left was taken moments after Maria
said "Yes!" Shot with Waylon taken the next day.


I spent Monday and Tuesday at home as required by quarantine, reading a good book, playing ping-pong, and writing poetry, as I do five days each month with teacher-poets on Ethical ELA

Wednesday, having received my second NEG Covid test, I returned to school and was surprised in the warmest way when colleagues greeted me with concern about Dan (he's fine) and relief that I hadn't contracted the virus. I was given pause. Too often take for granted the good people I work with. I must do better. 

After school I received my second dose of the Moderna vaccine.

Thursday was rough in the Journalism lab as the broadcasters struggled through completion of a show that was already late. Thursday was also great in the Journalism lab as the broadcasters struggled through completion of a show that was already late. Sometimes good learning is not pleasant. 

By the end of the day I was chilled and achy, reacting to the previous day's vaccine. I went home and slept hard.

Friday, I awoke a new woman, rested and symptom-free. I verily skipped through the day. In the evening I began this blog post but couldn't seem to end it.

Today is Saturday, March 20, 2021. Stuart said Nali is nearing her end. He plans to put her down on Monday, when both he and Harrison have the day off and can take her to the vet together. 

I will play some Bridge online with my dad tonight. In two weeks I'll be able to visit them face-to-face. I'll take some bubbles along, some Klondike bars, a poem.

Maybe if I just keep clicking at this keyboard I won't have to say

Be well.


William Wolf Hoegh, 8 mos.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Day #360 Writing Through COVID-19: Quarantine Day #2

I'm negative!

My results came via email this evening. I was surprised at how nervous I felt clicking on the link, then surprised again at the leap in my heart when I saw the word Negative. 

Avoiding COVID is not a matter of strength or moral superiority. A negative test is no reason to be proud of myself, any more than I should be proud that a deer ran in front of a neighbor's car instead of mine. I suppose I could claim my caution contributed to my luck, but in fact, COVID (and Iowa deer) strike even the careful ones. 

I'm mostly just relieved that I'm one step closer to sidestepping the hassles and dangers of a POS result.

I'll test again on Monday, and provided I see another NEG in my email, I'll return to school on Wednesday. I will also then be cleared for my second Moderna dose. 

Dan thinks his throat is feeling better. His COVID did not prevent him from beating me in Ping-Pong tonight 21-15. 

His mom Janet received her second vaccine dose today. Our neighbor Kathy, a retired nurse who has been volunteering at our community's vaccine distribution, drove her to town. They arrived early, and the scheduled nurse hadn't arrived yet. So Kathy rolled up her sleeves (as did Janet!) to deliver the injection herself! 

On the drive home, Kathy talked Janet through the possible reactions she might feel. They discussed worries that come with aging and ways to lift low spirits. 

In other words, Kathy stepped up as my mother-in-law's chauffeur, nurse, therapist, and life coach this morning. My gratitude is deep.

The news is packed with "one year ago" stories today, as March 12 marks one year for our nation's full alert. On March 13, 2020, my broadcasting students threw together (at my insistence) a video of students talking about the impact the first days of COVID had had on their lives. This was the last day of school for us, although we did not know it when the video was filmed. 

It's almost quaint to watch a year later:

Be well.


TEETH (and drool on the bib)

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Day #359 Writing Through COVID-19: Day #1 in Quarantine

I feel fine.

Dan's throat is a little sore, but he's also fine, using a slightly wider definition of the term.

Despite our fine-ness, we spent the day obsessing over each minor ache or weary moment as possible COVID confirmation. 

I wish my students would examine complex texts with half the scrutiny Dan and I gave to our every breath and sniffle today. 

I spent the morning online scheduling my COVID test, questioning (and then rescheduling) my second vaccination, and making arrangements for my mother-in-law to proceed with her second vaccination dose without me on Friday.

Let me pause here to tell you about Kathy. She is my country neighbor and dearest friend. Thirty-six years ago I met her at a neighborhood bridal shower (mine!) where Kathy held her shy 4-year-old on her lap while dabbing at her own dripping nose with a tissue. Her authenticity and humor magnetized my affection. Clicking at my keyboard tonight, I realize I have a million words to write about Kathy.

What I'll say now is that she is a recently retired nurse. She has had both of her vaccination shots. She is in the volunteer team that is vaccinating our community. 

When I called her today to ask her to take Dan's mom in for her second COVID vaccine, I knew her answer before she picked up the phone. Iowa Neighbors.

I had long happy phone conversations with Stuart and Palmer today. I ran three slow miles on a trail where I would not contaminate anyone with my potential (?) COVID germs. I used the Hy-Vee curbside grocery pickup service and was giddily impressed. I may never go back to RL shopping!

One last thought: Today my students carried on with their learning in my absence. They edited videos, designed yearbook spreads, practiced poster presentations, and dug into the background reporting for news stories. Part of me wishes they'd missed me more, that they couldn't function without me. That would make me feel needed! But most of me is super proud that they are independent, capable, and eager to produce even in my absence. 

Be well.

My heart.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Day #358 Writing Through COVID-19: Dan Tests Positive


I was on the final mile of my COVID marathon. I could see the finish line.

Then someone (my husband) stuck his big old farm boot out and tripped me. 

Dan's fine. Just an odd-feeling sore throat.

I'll stay home for the next two days. I'll also get a COVID test. 

I'll keep you posted.

Be well.


Saturday, March 6, 2021

Day #354 Writing Through COVID-19: Sun, Vaccine, Obituaries (and Wolf is standing!)

What a beautiful day on Eagle Avenue! I ran three miles on the gravel with a 2-mph SE wind and a perfect 50-degree temperature. 

After lunch, it warmed up to 63. I sat in the sun reading for an hour. 

I don't want to think that my happiness is weather-dependent, but I must say I felt a lift in my spirits. I smiled all day--until Dan beat me 2-1 in Ping-Pong tonight.

Our county's public health system was not able to schedule enough eligible people for its upcoming Monday vaccine distribution, so they opened up a back door to "non-eligible" folks willing to fill up the empty slots. Two of those will be my daughter who lives in Des Moines (and works in Cass County) and my husband Dan.

This is happy news for my family, but I can't help but think the vaccine roll-out favors those with internet access, connections, and wherewithal to track down vaccine opportunities. 

No one wants the vaccines to go unused. And I know eligible people who for various reasons are declining the vaccine. (A 74-year-old friend of ours says he wants to wait for the one-dose Johnson & Johnson version. His diabetic wife is allergic to eggs and fears she won't tolerate COVID vaccination.)  

So while I am glad that two more of my loved ones will be COVID protected, I am concerned that many in my community are missing out on or refusing the vaccine.

A few days ago, my sister Adrienne suggested I write our parents' obituaries. She explained that doing it now will be less difficult than when stung by grief. We'll only need to make small edits when needed. 

This is a good idea. But I can't begin to outline my parents' lives' trajectories, accomplishments, and milestones, let alone know what to prioritize. This circled me back to an idea I thought of months ago when I took part in an Oklahoma State oral-history project.

Oral-history projects record conversations with people who have lived through a range of experiences. My reliance on Zoom during the past year of COVID has given me the skills to do this!  

So tomorrow at 1 p.m., Adrienne and I will log onto Zoom with our parents to record our dad talking about the early years of his life. The plan is that over the next several weeks we will visit with both parents about their lives and record the videos for posterity. 

Their stories, in their voices, will chronicle their lives for their grandchildren and beyond (and help me write their obituaries).

When I called my dad today to explain the project (sans the obituary dimension), I asked him if he was willing to talk about his childhood tomorrow. 

"Oh my, yes!" he said. I heard sunshine in his voice.

Be well.


Screenshot from a video of Wolf pulling
  himself up to standing. <3

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Day #352 Writing Through COVID-19: Fitness

The thermometer hit 60 today, and I was there for it.

After school, I headed to the rock-quarry trail and logged my first two outdoor running miles of 2021 at a don't-write-home-about-it 11:25 pace. Neither the distance nor speed warrants notice. But the fact that I ran at all after a day of teaching and before Emma's cycling class deserves a can-do cheer.

At 61, I am not yet in the grave. But for each day my body cooperates to give me 30 minutes of running or a good sweat on a bicycle, I am thankful.

Tonight, when I beat Dan in Ping-Pong 21-19, I marveled not so much at my win as at our sexagenarian coordination, eyesight, and balance!

Fitness was once in my life a given, then a choice, and now a gift. 

Be well.


This boy! My heart!

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Day #351 Writing Through COVID-19: My Son and His Dog


Nali and Stuart, heading west

My youngest son Stu, 26, headed west four years ago. He's worked temp jobs to support his trout fishing and mountain biking, bear hunting and rock climbing. He moves around a lot to maximize opportunities to bow hunt elk, mule deer, whitetail, pheasant, bear. He writes about his outdoor pursuits at Iowa Slam. (A slam, he's gently explained to his non-hunting mother, is achieved when a hunter bags every hunt-able animal in a particular area).

Stu currently shares a single room in an AirBNB in Utah with his twin while they're working the ski season at Sundance.

While out west, Stu has holed up in various (shall I say?) holes. He's lived in basements and trailers and, for extended periods of time, in tents and out of his car. 

With him for the past five years has been Nali, a black lab named after Mt. Denali, the highest peak in North America, which hovered above Stu the summer he worked in Alaska as a fishing guide. 

My son is what my husband and I call "a thinking kid." This label is both an attribute and a burden. Stu thinks hard about his decisions, his actions, and his words, which can be a heavy load. 

He structures his time to prioritize a balance of physical health, mental health, service to others, financial responsibility, and of course hunting. Recently, when he lost a decent-paying job he had (reasonably) enjoyed, he reminded me that his entire identity was not lodged in his job; many aspects of his life were going well.

I've spent too many paragraphs introducing Stuart because I'm resisting this next part.

One of the things Stuart prioritizes each day is his work with his Nali. She is an amazing hunting dog, trained to serve as Stu's right-hand she-dog on his countless expeditions. More than that, she has been his constant companion during his time out west. 

Recently Nali has been sick. She's been lethargic. Blood in her urine. Seizures. The vets ran tests, prescribed medications.  Stu adjusted her diet. 

I think you know where this is going.

It isn't a kidney infection or a UTI. It isn't the dog version of epilepsy. 

The mass revealed near her spine in ultrasound was biopsied and confirmed to be advanced cancer. 

Our family has loved many dogs. This means we have also known profound sadness.

These next weeks will be hard for us. 

Be well.