The featured image shows the numbers 2021 in the snow.

The Week of Never-Ending Texas Winter: Snowpocalypse 2021

This year, because of the pandemic, my husband and I celebrated Valentine’s Day Friday night. The forecast called for snow Sunday night, so I made sure we had the fixings (and desserts, always!) for our family to enjoy Valentine’s dinner at home.

Little did we know. Texas winter was coming.

Snowmaggedon, Snowzilla, Snowpocalypse 2021. Call it what you will, but we will always remember this as the week of never-ending winter in Texas!

We got six inches of snow by Presidents Day (that’s the first time, it’s snowing again as I write this).

Now, this isn’t upstate New York we’re talking about, y’all. San Antonio is in south-central Texas, and most people who live south of the Texas panhandle don’t own a snow shovel, heavy-duty winter coats, or even an ice-scraper.

We’d soon realize that all 254 counties across Texas were under a severe winter storm warning for the first time in recorded history. Freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and winds would plunge the state into a deep Arctic winter that broke all kinds of records.

You’ve probably read or watched the news by now. Texas is built for excessive heat, not the Arctic Circle kind of Texas winter. I’ve got tinted windows at my house to keep it cool.

As the temperatures stayed in the single digits (8 degrees on Presidents Day, brrrr), the faucets in our master bath froze. Luckily, we still had power, so we did what we used to do growing up in the Northeast: opened all the cabinets and used our space heaters to defrost our bathroom pipes.

I am counting our blessings because we never lost power. We live in a house that is on the same power circuit dedicated to two major hospitals nearby.

However, the water stopped altogether. You see, water pumping stations need electricity to pump water and they were dealing with the same power outages that impacted most of our city’s residents. Heck, across Texas, there were 4 million people without power at one point.

So the week we’ll never forget became our modern-day version of Little House on the Prarie. Our boy would gather snow in buckets to boil down for water. Pa used my gardening spade to shovel the snow off our driveway.

Other than that, we stayed indoors, used wipes, and ate from our freezer and pantry.

[My family promised never to make fun of me again for stocking more than we need “just in case.”]

The 2020 dumpster fire candle burns as it snows again, photo credit Iris Gonzalez

The 2020 dumpster fire candle burns as it snows again during Texas winter. Photo credit Iris Gonzalez

In case we need to nudge the spirit of dumpster-fire 2020 to move along, I’m lighting my candle as we watch the snowfall yet again.

February 2021, when we endured a solid week of snow, ice, unrelenting freezing temperatures, and massive power and water outages. Photo credit: Iris Gonzalez

Gregor Samsa does not need a mask, Photo credit: Iris Gonzalez

Pandemic Winter is Coming

It’s getting colder, which means we’re spending more time indoors. So it’s no surprise that the number of COVID-19 infections is rising in communities across the U.S.

Pandemic winter is coming.

After six months of seeing only his parents and attending school from home, our high schooler returned to school in October. He was happier, more engaged in his studies, and much more interactive at school. Even his teachers noticed how much more outgoing our introvert seemed.

But it was only a matter of time before the first outbreak hit his school. Just before the Thanksgiving break, we heard about a student testing positive. We were notified because our scholar sat next to that person in one class.

I’m not an anxious person by nature, but those first several days were challenging, I won’t lie. My husband and I projected calm, even if internally, we wondered what our chances were of catching the ‘Rona.

We spent over two weeks keeping to ourselves as we carefully watched for any signs of infection. My son would test his sense of smell whenever he came into the kitchen to check on dinner. I saw the infrared thermometer was out and on my husband’s vanity, so I knew he was checking, too.

Only as we reached the 14-day mark (and after two rounds of negative tests) did we agree to resume eating dinner together as a family and start hugging each other again.

Now that we’re careening into the Christmas season, I look ahead to a quiet winter of diligence while we wait for herd immunity to develop.

I’m buoyed by the news of three promising vaccines entering the distribution pipeline, it’s only a matter of time. I’m one of the lucky ones in the BAMC clinical trial for the Astra Zeneca vaccine.

(I’ve had several friends call me brave for joining the trial, but I didn’t need courage to join. I carefully read the protocol first, and it’s solid science. I feel optimistic about how three different vaccines have gotten to the approval phase in less than a year. Go science!)

Meanwhile, we wait.

Yes, there’s some discontent this winter. I miss my loved ones, seeing friends, going to events without a worry about disease. And travel, oh how I miss plane travel!

I am hopeful that we all will remember this time, that we will never take simple pleasures for granted, and that we won’t settle for the way dysfunctional things were in the “before” times.

Most of all, I look forward to my elderhood. There’s an entire generation of smart, great-hearted, enthusiastic people who will make things better for all of us after experiencing the Great Pandemic of 2020.

I wish you hope, health, and happiness.

The featured image is of a sign that says, “Gregor Samsa does not need a mask. You do.” Photo credit: Iris Gonzalez

A meme about never ever talking about 2020 once we are past it. Credit: unknown, sorry!

Memories from a Pandemic Summer

I work at my desk and hear my teen attending school online through the closed door of our guest room.

The end of school back in early June feels like it happened eons ago.

My son finished his sophomore year of high school maintaining his distance from his campus, teachers, and classmates. He did get to see his teachers however briefly in the end-of-school car parade through the school’s parking lot. They set up different tents to commemorate the events the students had missed since lockdown began in mid-March.

As lovely as the gesture was, we all felt oddly deflated when we returned home.

Summer usually means vacation and trips to see friends, family, and fun places. Not during a pandemic.

Instead, we hiked as much as we could or played miniature golf until it got too hot to be outside. After all, we live in south-central Texas.

I gardened as I typically do, so that brought some much-needed stress relief. Lots of cooking, canning fig jam, and cleaning up after three people who are home all.the.time made for lots more housework than I prefer, to be frank.

I also decluttered piles as much as I could stand it. In one pile I found a magazine issue I was saving because of the fun summer travel ideas.

 

I threw that issue away.

We did stay at a lovely cabin on a farm in the Hill Country close to Austin. The two nights were a welcome break from home and all the chores. However, we couldn’t visit anyplace because so many of the businesses, museums, and vineyards were closed understandably, so we grilled and played games and hiked.

We even got to enjoy The Goonies at an impromptu drive-in movie theater. Our son was curious about the outing (“watching a movie from your car in a parking lot, why?”). He managed to get into the movie and all its 1980s glory.

I even had a total shoulder replacement surgery in late June, right before all elective surgeries were suspended in Texas. My doctor convinced me this was the right time to do this.

“What else are you going to do during a pandemic summer? You can’t go anywhere, and you won’t miss any work events because they’re not happening.”

Before we knew it, it was our son’s birthday, which always falls the week before school starts.

My son's birthday cake, photo credit: Iris Gonzalez.

My son’s birthday cake, photo credit: Iris Gonzalez.

Our guest room has been converted into a Zoom room and now acts as my son’s classroom office. He shuts the door and goes to school, spreading his books, papers, and snacks all over the Queen-sized bed and carpeted floor in the (normally clean) guest bedroom.

Work, physical therapy, keeping my plants alive in the 100-degree heat, and cheering my distance-learning scholar on now dominates my days.

It’s good to remember what the summer of 2020 was like for us. But once it’s 2021, it’s Fight Club rules for sure!

Featured image is of a meme about never ever talking about 2020 once we are past it. Credit: An unknown genius.

River Whey Creamery delivers a monthly CSA box of meats from Parker Creek Ranch. Photo credit: iris Gonzalez.

The Cheese Van Always Honks Twice

Week 8 of Stay at Home in San Antonio, Texas

After two months, one way or the other, we’ve had to adapt to the “next normal.”

We’re not living in the new normal yet, the life that will emerge after the COVID-19 global pandemic is over. That’s a “college career-time” away still.

Our next normal is how we’ve adjusted to living in a world with the potential for infection. The River Whey Creamery van would never appear in my neighborhood normally. Now, they’re helping Parker Creek Ranch with deliveries of its new monthly ranch CSA subscription.

During the pandemic, you can reserve tickets to drive through the San Antonio zoo. Photo credit: Iris Gonzalez.

During the pandemic, you can reserve tickets to drive through the San Antonio zoo. Photo credit: Iris Gonzalez.

From arranging for home deliveries of groceries to driving through the San Antonio Zoo, we’re all coming up with new approaches to living our daily lives.

It makes sense that we’re looking for routines to comfort us. Humans crave order, logic, patterns, predictability. It’s why our brains are wired to see faces and recognizable shapes in clouds.

That brain bias also explains why during ambiguous, chaotic situations, some of us turn to conspiracy theories to explain what’s happening.

The danger lies in magical thinking that could lead to someone’s untimely demise due to not taking the pandemic threat for what it is: a global public health emergency.

We’re all doing the best we can. We’re scared and anxious and wishing we knew how this story is going to end and when.

I’m looking for the silver linings like Good News Network or the YouTube episodes of Some Good News.

During the next normal I’m trying to lose some weight, get more exercise, catch up on my hobbies and interests, and keep in touch with friends and families the best way I can.

Oh, and I’m thinking of ways to have safe adventures (on a budget, too) once school ends later in May.

Having my friend’s cheese van show up at my house is pretty cool. (I couldn’t help but think of “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” This was a much more innocent food delivery, thank goodness.)

Here’s to living during the Next Normal, 2020.

Featured image is of River Whey Creamery’s cheese van delivering a monthly CSA box of meats from Parker Creek Ranch. Photo credit: Iris Gonzalez.

Statue at Wildseed Farm, photo credit: Iris Gonzalez

Midnight in the Garden of COVID-19

Week 7 of Stay at Home in San Antonio, Texas

My teen is still awake at 11:50 p.m. on a school night.

“I don’t want to wake up tomorrow,” my son said, dejectedly hitting his head on his pillow. “It’s just going to be another day.”

His dread was of yet another day of Zoom school calls, filling out packets, then talking to friends online. After five weeks of this homebound routine, the “new normal” is anything but.

If you’ve read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, one of the characters goes to a cemetery late at night to practice some rituals or “juju.”

Minerva explains, “One hour before midnight for doing good, one hour after midnight for evil.”

What the pandemic has done is rip the 'striking of midnight' from our daily lives. Click To Tweet

We’ve lost the transitions from day to night, from work and school weekdays to fun-filled weekends. There’s no more time broken up by special days for holidays and long-anticipated events like graduations, festivals, and weddings.

All that is left is the drunk spinning of the clock hands you see in old movies that mark the rapid passing of time. That is our every minute now.

As a lifelong gardener, spring for me means visiting nurseries, planning new garden beds, and enjoying the explosion of wildflowers and blooming trees across south-central Texas.

Last weekend, I tried to visit my usual garden nurseries to get some hot-weather annuals.

At the first place, the parking lot was so busy, I wondered if something unusual was going on. As I started to enter the grounds, I saw a long line shaking around the small nursery, with many more people squeezing past to look at displays.

Nope. As I drove past another one, I decided to keep going when I saw people jockeying for a spot in the crowded lot.

At my third and final stop, I luckily found a parking spot and walked toward the largest nursery, thinking its extra acreage would ensure physical distancing.

Instead, I passed a uniformed police officer wearing a mask who was watching the entrance and shooing away large groups. Once I entered, I saw more people than I’ve ever seen in my 16 years of visiting local nurseries on a lovely spring weekend.

Shoppers asking for help (“Is this a zinnia, because I want the zinnias on sale?”) were standing close to those in the incredibly long line of folks waiting to check out. As people inched up to pay, a second masked police officer admonished people to stay six feet apart.

Not one, but two police officers managing crowds at a nursery on a Saturday.

Is this the good juju business owners can only dream of for a revenue-packed weekend, or is it the bad juju of people jammed together during a pandemic?

After my failed weekend attempts and seven weeks of physical distancing, I decided on a weekday drive alone to a garden nursery in the Hill Country. After an hour-long drive, I was relieved to arrive at their relatively empty parking lot.

Wearing a mask, I walked the grounds and began choosing plants.

As of May 1st, Texas had declared it is cautiously opening up some businesses at 25% capacity. The City of San Antonio is still recommending physical distancing and that people wear masks when out in public.

More than half the shoppers at the nursery were not wearing masks. Elderly couples, entire families … unmasked.

On an impossibly gorgeous spring day, I cannot help but ask myself, is this good juju or bad?

With no more midnight, we are all reduced to wandering in the garden of COVID-19 unsure what time it even is.

Featured image is of a statue at Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, Texas. Photo credit: Iris Gonzalez.

Lupita the half boat photo credit B. Kay Richter

We’re in COVID-19 College Now

Week 6 of Stay at Home in San Antonio, Texas

Every night for the past couple of weeks, I’ve had disaster-movie dreams in which I am not in control of my fate.

In the most vivid one, I was on a boat trying to escape. I couldn’t steer the vessel at first. All navigation controls failed, and I had to beach it on the shores of Venezuela (a Communist country not friendly to outsiders). The rest of the dream I was on a fruitless extraction mission trying to get out alive.

No surprises what this and other disaster dreams mean. We’re all dealing with the loss of control over our circumstances.

When my son heard that school would be remote for the rest of this academic year, he finally admitted how he missed going to his campus, seeing his classmates, and talking with his teachers.

I am missing all the simple things: Running into people at events I used to attend, talking to shop owners at my favorite small businesses, shopping at open-air markets, traveling anywhere outside of my car’s (and bladder’s) range.

Another painful lesson I am learning is how bad news takes on an even sharper edge in the middle of an enduring crisis.

This past week, I heard about two deaths and one grim diagnosis from three lovely people in my orbit. Other than sending notes or mailing a care package via Amazon, there’s not much more I can do. Usually, I’d bring over a home-cooked meal, sit and stay with a grieving or ailing friend, attend a memorial service, and give my condolences in person.

All grieving now is being done over-the-horizon, with SCUD missiles of sympathy.

I avoid posting about the longer-term implications of COVID-19 because let’s face it; our ability to absorb and process what is happening now is pretty maxed out.

What I’ve taken to telling some who are wrestling with how to save a business, a home, a college fund slowly getting siphoned off to pay bills, is this:

While we were busy with our daily lives, we got enrolled at COVID-19 College. Click To Tweet

There’s no transfers or dropping out allowed.

Depending on how well we do, it’ll either be a two-year term or if we fail, a full-fledged four-year degree or worse.

There’s no escape from Gillian’s Island, either. It means we need to think about how to live over the next two to four years while the pandemic waterboards the planet.

The day after my boat dream, I saw online this half-boat out on the curb for the City to pick up, thanks to a photographer friend who posted the (above featured) photo.

My imagination seized upon the possibility of bringing Lupita home to my backyard. The online chatter included local artist Gary Sweeney who went to see Lupita for himself.

Too big for a truck bed, he shared. It would take a trailer to haul her to her new home.

Lupita is gone, photo credit Iris Gonzalez

Lupita is gone, photo credit Iris Gonzalez.

Thursday was a sunny day here, an excellent day to check on a half-boat across town. After driving empty highways and roads, I got to her spot only to find that she was already gone.

Lupita, I hope you navigated yourself to a new home, one where you will enjoy your second life.

Meanwhile, I drive back along the same empty streets to continue my first semester of COVID-19 at home with no boat and no extraction plan.

 

 

Featured image is of Lupita, the half boat. Photo credit: B. Kay Richter.

Iris at her desk after a Zoom video call, photo credit Iris Gonzalez

‘Sea Legs’ During a Pandemic

Week 5 of Stay at Home in San Antonio, Texas

I woke up today unsure what day it was. Saturday? A work day? If so, which one?

Only after I walked around my house a bit did I remember it’s Friday.

My young teen hit the wall this week, too. My “terrible, horrible” day this week was Monday. Listless, exhausted, headachy, I was fuzzy-headed all day until I went to bed. I was utterly useless.

My boy’s bad day was Wednesday.

“Mom, I just can’t do it anymore, I can’t sit in front of that computer and work on school anymore,” he told me.

“Let’s go for a ride then, come on!” I said as I pushed him into the car.

Even though neither one of us wanted donuts, we drove a short distance to Krispy Kreme and ordered donuts through their drive-up window.

Afterward, he volunteered to walk in our neighborhood and pick up our mail. (He never volunteers. Never.)

Our “caveman” brains are used to hunting for new food sources, spotting new animals, connecting to the people in our tribe, moving to new territory, searching for new dangers.

That primal part of our minds is starved, I tell you. STARVED.

While I get that we’re all Zooming on video calls now, it’s just not the same. It’s like eating cotton candy when what I really want is chocolate ice cream with chocolate chips in it.

(This is me at my desk after a video call.)

When I was a defense analyst, one of my adventures was to live onboard an all-male U.S. Coast Guard ship for several weeks to observe a series of naval exercises in South America.

One of the crew told me he hated deployments that had many port calls which baffled me.

“You get into a routine and get your sea legs from the endless days at sea. But when you go into port for a few days, all that’s thrown off. Then, it only makes it harder to readjust to being at sea again. I prefer long stretches. At least when it’s over, you’re done and can go back to your life on land.”

I suffered terrible seasickness and had to take pills every day to endure it. Still, I didn’t understand what he meant until we pulled into Panama City, Panama for a couple of days.

At the time, I lived in Panama which was where the US Southern Command headquarters was located (and where I worked). I thought to myself, “Sweet! I get to switch out stuff from my seabag of clothes for the rest of the deployment and take a couple of real showers.”

But as I sat at my desk at work, it hit me hard.

I felt dizzy. It felt like the ground was shifting beneath me, even though I wasn’t moving. When I tried walking to the bathroom, I almost fell over.

My sea legs weren’t working well on land! By the time I reboarded the ship 48 hours later I had adjusted to walking on terra firma.

And then, I endured a wretched new bout of seasickness all over again.

I share this cautionary tale about “losing your sea legs” for when pandemic restrictions are lifted. As tempting as it might be to binge on crowds, it might be best to take it easy at first

A mental health expert said on a webinar last week to reintroduce social mingling slowly. Start by inviting a couple over for dinner at your house, for example.

Given we might have to tighten social distancing conditions if new COVID-19 cases flare up, go easy partying on your “port visits.”

We’re in for a long deployment in a sea of uncertainty.

Featured image is of the author at her desk after a Zoom video call, photo credit: Iris Gonzalez.

Sticker on the grocery store floor reminding shoppers to maintain physical distancing, photo credit Iris Gonzalez

Don’t Stand So Close to Me

Week 4 of Stay at Home in San Antonio, Texas

Tomorrow is Sunday, which means we will celebrate an Easter of hope as we stay at home.

It’s been four weeks, with countless more to go. Our country is a large one, and every state is responding differently.

But no state is untouched.

San Antonio has been on the national news for the line of 10,000 cars waiting in line for free food at our Food Bank this past Thursday.

And I just read tonight that $500,000 has been raised in the past 48 hours for the SA Food Bank. People are good and they are helping.

This past week, I’m having bad dreams, about aliens, bad guys, you name it.

Last night I dreamt I was separated from my group of friends and family. When I finally reached where I was supposed to meet them, I couldn’t find anyone.

A dear friend called me tonight from the Bay Area, she is my social friend, the life of every party when we have our adventures.

“What are you doing for Easter?” she asked.

“The same thing I’ll be doing for Mothers’ Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, and the 4th of July. I’m home.”

We’re careful, we’re safe, we’re together, we’re lucky.

I check in with my young son and he is still doing well, happy to have time to hang with his friends online. I hear him laughing and tonight, he was even singing.

We don’t wring our hands in front of him, but we don’t hide it either.

He saw I was watching Saturday Night Live tonight, their first remotely done episode.

“Wait, it looks like he’s at home, why is that?” he asked.

“It’s because of the quarantine, honey, everyone is staying at home, so that means shows need to taped from home, too.”

It didn’t occur to him that our “adventure” was a universal one. Of course, once I explained it, he nodded and returned to his friends.

I’ve discovered that explaining the pandemic to kids is much like talking about sex. Answer all questions factually, but don’t overdo it. I know he’ll process this in his way at his pace.

The new normal is wearing a mask while keeping your distance when you must go to the grocery store. The people who stand out now are the ones acting like nothing is going on. No mask, playing with their cellphones, walking much too close to me.

Not everyone is worried about the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether from innocence or disbelief, only time will show how each of us processes what is and will be happening.

I know the science. I am left with faith to sustain me as I walk the path set for me as best I can.

May you walk along your path maintaining social distance but knowing you are never alone.

Featured image is of a sticker on the floor of a grocery store reminding shoppers to maintain physical distancing, photo credit: Iris Gonzalez.

Squirrel picnic table on fence, photo credit Iris Gonzalez.

Even Squirrels Like Picnic Tables

Week 3 of Stay at Home in San Antonio, Texas

We ended Week 3 of staying at home with a rainy weekend that doesn’t feel any different than the weekdays.

This past week I sadly learned how three people I know lost either a father or grandfather due to COVID-19.

If March was a challenging month given all the rapid adjustments we’ve had to make, April will be the month of cruelties, of learning who we have lost in our communities.

Not everyone’s pandemic experience will be the same.

My 15-year-old is happy at home. He has taken to online schooling so far and he’s relieved not to wear a uniform or have to wake up early. When his daily studies are done, I can hear him in his room laughing with his buddies as they play together online.

Late at night (we’re the two night owls in our family), he shares funny highlights from his day with me, and I show him silly animal videos.

My introvert husband is fine staying home as well, working on his hobby of painting teeny tiny military figures for tabletop wargaming with his buddies once the pandemic is over.

Me, I miss how varied my weeks used to be from one another. Since I normally write about local news about startups in San Antonio, the stories I write are different each week. I would attend events or meet up with folks doing interesting things and get excited about the stories I would write.

The sameness of the days is what is wearing me down.

I count myself as fortunate because that sameness means we’re not dealing with the catastrophic impacts from this disease. I pray for myself and all of you reading this that the worst you will handle is this sameness across endless quarantine weeks.

Wake up. Eat. Check-in with what’s happening in the world. More eating. Some chores. Work. Nagging (because we’re together all.the.time). Eating. Cleaning. Consuming more content. Sleep.

Despite this, I am having vivid dreams and as always, thinking about writing and sitting down to write, as I am now.

The best we could do this week was to cook up a squirrely idea for entertainment from my own backyard. The mini picnic table attracts squirrels to our fence for easy watching from our kitchen windows.

It’s not nearly as ambitious as anything coming from talented families I’ve been watching on YouTube (dances, singing, re-creating the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland in their house!).

You do what you can during interesting times.

Featured image is of a homemade picnic table for squirrels mounted on our fence, photo credit Iris Gonzalez.

Black Mirror meme, credit unknown

I Don’t Like This Episode of Pandemic

Week 2 of Stay at Home in San Antonio, Texas

The second week of stay at home in San Antonio is over. Phew.

My teen son needs a haircut. Badly. I’ll take photos before and after so I can see how to improve my haircutting skills for the next time.

“I’m not going to let you cut my hair, mom!” he told me.

“Who’s going to see you? It won’t be bad, promise.”

I keep telling myself and others this won’t be bad if we all stay at home to ourselves. Cheating, even a little, defeats the purpose of giving up everything we normally enjoy doing.

I told my son that years from now he’d talk about this pandemic and how he experienced it.

“This will be the event of your generation, much like 9/11 was for your father and me,” I told him.

“Oh, 9/11 was much worse, mom,” he said. “This isn’t bad at all, I like doing schoolwork at home plus all my friends have more time to be playing online since they’re not busy with afterschool activities.”

Granted, from his perspective– no girlfriend, not driving yet, a 15-year-old whose circle of good friends get together online every night — this really hasn’t impacted him.

So, for now, no traumatic events to endure or bad memories being made. Good!

Instead, I show him all the funny videos I find online every day. Last night’s was this one of a cute Italian dog doing yoga.

Earlier this week, I taught him how to cook rice, how to try out new seasonings (I have many in my pantry). He is becoming fearless in cooking his own meals.

I asked the boy where he would like to go once we are able to travel freely.

“No place, really.”

Seriously? I asked him again about places we’ve been and whether he’d want to go back.

“Mom, home is where the water doesn’t taste funny,” he told me.

Wise kid.

What does home mean to you?

Featured image is of a meme about the pandemic being our least favorite episode of Black Mirror, meme creator unknown, but much appreciated.