Pandemic Road: Weeks 13 &14

My, my! It’s been a busy two weeks! Here is a picture of my cat, Hannah, giving me her editorial opinion of humans. No, she is not upset about the global pandemic. Nor is she upset about all of the national protests. So what is my most adorable feline upset about? Leaf Blowers. Yes, dear reader, you read that correctly. Leaf Blowers. They are noisy and obnoxious and everywhere. I have to agree with Hannah that I notice more and more of them every year. When was the last time you saw anyone using a rake? Do they even sell them in Houston anymore?

I can remember the time a few years ago when I thought I was at a retreat center in Montgomery County in the middle of nowhere. I was sitting outside admiring the trees and even saw some deer walking and frolicking around. Then I heard it. The leaf blower. Apparently the wilderness had eluded me once again. Even the deer had grown accustomed to the sound.

Now they surround me. When I walk around my neighborhood, when I visit a grocery store. They are always there:

What will I make of all this? When they disturb me in my home, my opinion is much like Hannah’s. However, I appreciate the sentiment that one is taking care to make the landscape look nice. I am a city‐dweller at heart. I usually only walk on leaves when I am at the park or the arboretum. Of course when it is October and I am reminded that Halloween is close and the yearly hurricane season is over, that is a special joy.

When I google “leaf blowers” I find out that they are useful because they are speedy and versatile. In some parts of the country they are even used to blow away snow. I have never seen them used to blow away snow here in Houston.

At the end of the day, I have dinner out on my balcony. It is shady and usually there is a breeze. All of the leaf blowers have retired for the day. It is quiet enough that even the lizards come out for a visit. He stays long enough to discuss the state of things in the world. He wishes all of us humans peace and understanding.

Until next week.….

When Cars & Age Don’t Mix

I began driving (gulp!) nearly a half century ago. I figured out that factoid yesterday after buying a new car left me feeling Ancient.

My decade‐plus car gave up its air conditioning last week.

Second time in two years. I shouted Sayonara!

A plethora of car research later, I headed out on the road.

Blast from the past: when gears want a push, not a pull.

Inside car #2 at the second dealership, I guffawed at the dashboard: push‐button gears? 

My mind flicked back to childhood. In my mind’s eye, I saw Mother struggling to shift the skinny gear stick that poked out of the steering column like an Auto Gumby. Further back, I spied, from the back seat, as my grandmother Allie pushed what looked like sticky buttons on her dashboard then her big car inched forward.

Other car memories dropped in. None of our autos had:

  • Air conditioning
  • FM radio
  • Center console
  • Seatbelts, or
  • Power anything: windows, locks, brakes, or steering 

In the demo car, I eyeballed the dashboard, looking for the familiar, the necessary.

CD player?” I asked the salesman.

Nada,” he said. “Bring your phone and play your own music.”

I didn’t dare mention I have never downloaded music. I play CD’s or an old radio. Both serve my audio‐challenged purposes.

I asked about the car radio. He turned it on. I spied nirvana: high‐definition (HD) radio. Interrupting his chatty spiel, I hijacked the dial and searched for my favorite music — the tunes that calm, never crank‐ify, me. Eureka! Classical music!

The salesman interrupted my reveries, sharing other shockers about today’s cars (is this what I get for hating to car shop?):

  • Tires filled with nitrogen, not air
  • Auto inspections = no more stickers
  • Keyless entry = bigger fob, and
  • Cameras and radar eyeball parking, lane centering
The orange‐circled headline (lower right corner) screamed at me in the checkout lane the day I got my new car.

All these radar sensors, linked together by cameras and computers, come with repeated assurances about ‘spectacular’ safety devices.

I swallowed the Kool‐Aid. It’s called New Car Giddiness.

But I swallowed hard the next day when I spotted Consumer Reports. A cover article revealed a multi‐billion dollar industry now salivating over its planned “harvesting” of driver data from American cars.

Their goal? Million‐car tracking next year alone, salivating at a multi‐market revenue stream.

All fine, if data is used legally. But everything has a cause‐and‐effect. And a price. As do new cars with new gizmos.

I head off here now — to learn how to silence most of what I just bought.

Pandemic Road, Week 12: Art Deco Road Trip

Week 12. Sitting here I stare at my computer screen and let that sink in. I have been writing about the effects of the pandemic on my life for 12 weeks. I don’t think I realized when I went down this road that I would be doing it for this long.…..and with no end in sight.

Even though the pandemic continues, many places are opening back up again. I don’t think I am ready for that yet. However, while resting at home, I have come up with a couple of short story ideas. One involves an art deco building, a theatre company and a bunch of ghosts. Bahwahaha! Obviously in order to do this right, I need to look at some art deco buildings around the Houston area. The first one that comes to mind is Houston City Hall. If walls could talk!

Yesterday my Dear Friend and I drove around downtown, the Heights, and Montrose for 3 hours looking for these buildings. This included more driving than I have done since March 13th. It was also the longest time I spent outside of my home since this all began. It was all very exciting. Some of the buildings are kept up and some have changed. Some have been either completely altered or torn down. But we did find some gems.

One was Trader Joe’s, which used to be a book store and before that was the Alabama Theater. It was built in 1939. I am old enough to tell you that the first time I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show was in the Alabama Theater.

Another famous art deco landmark is the River Oaks Theatre. This picture is especially poignant, because the marque shows that it is still closed due to the pandemic. I look forward to the day I feel comfortable enough to go back to a movie theater. Inside much of the interior has been preserved in its original style.

There are a couple of small strip centers that were originally built as art deco buildings. The businesses have changed, but the style has been preserved.

The crane above the Soma Sushi restaurant is foreboding. It tells of the next high rise going up in the Heights. New shiny buildings to overshadow the rich history of art deco. I don’t know what the new building will be. The future keeps coming whether we are ready or not.

Then there are these two bars in downtown Houston. I have never been to either of them. I think they cater to the sports crowd that visits the Astros or Rockets. However, I like the way they have kept up the outside design of their buildings. I have no idea what they look like on the inside.

Finally there is Hugo’s. A unique upscale Mexican restaurant that is typically on my short go‐to list for special occasion dining. It was built in 1925 and designed by Joseph Finger. This same gentleman designed the Houston City Hall that is shown in the first two pictures in this post. Mr. Finger is quite well known in Houston for designing many of the buildings in the first half of the 1900s. I can’t wait until I feel comfortable and safe enough to go out to dinner in one of my favorite Houston restaurants.

Until next week.….

Pandemic Road: Week 11

Beginning a blog post with a picture of beautiful Texas wild flowers might give you the impression that I’m going to write about another visit to the Houston Arboretum. That is in fact where all the pictures here were taken. However, that is not my topic of choice for today. I just have these really nice photographs of flowers and wanted to share them with you. With all of the walking I have been doing since this pandemic began, I have taken the time to really look at all of the flowers blooming all around me.

What I have also noticed during the past few weeks is how different it is now to eat dinner. While many of my friends talk about how much cooking and baking they’ve been doing, I have been ordering take out. I used to say that the best thing I ever made for dinner was reservations. My take out skills have developed significantly. My Dear Friend and I eat food from our favorite local restaurants approximately three times a week. We set an intention early on to support locally owned restaurants. Initially, we could walk into a restaurant and look at a menu. We would place a take out order and wait while it was prepared. Then restaurants turned more and more to pickup or curbside business where you have to order your food and pay for it online.

I have lost count of how many restaurant “accounts” I have now. Each of them have their own passwords. It is quite the challenge for this aging boomer to keep track of all this, but I am making a good and valiant effort. Also, I went into a restaurant yesterday and saw signs announcing that they no longer accept cash. Credit cards only accepted. Anywhere there is an opportunity to reduce human contact keeps both staff and customers that much safer.

Whenever I walk into any type of establishment now I make quick mental notes about their safety measures. Who is wearing masks and who is wearing gloves. How many times is the food handled by different people before it is handed to me. DF and I have a rule about only ordering food that has to be cooked. Then when we get it home, we transfer the food to my own plates and bowls. The final step is to microwave all food for 20 seconds just for good measure.

Add to this process the washing of hands at least twice and cleaning off the counter where the take out containers were placed. Whew! This is almost enough work to give me the incentive to learn how to cook. But I’m trying to not go too crazy during this strange time.

Now that restaurants are beginning to reopen, I know I will return to dine in service at some point. Just not yet. I will wait another month or two before venturing out into public too much. In the meantime, I am becoming very accustomed to online restaurant accounts and keeping up with all the passwords.

What new skills have you developed during the past couple of months?

Until next week.….….

When Voodoo Beats ‘Rona

I smiled at the fence and whispered, Ah, Dorothy, we’re not in Portland…” 


Memories of this infamous shade of pink — and the tasty product it telegraphs — drew DH and I to burst our bubble of coronavirus quarantine.

The lure?

Newest location of Voodoo Doughnut. In Houston.

As it’s been eight weeks since we’ve driven into The City, this road trip felt like an excursion into a foreign land. A first after 40+ years of Big H living.

We expected a repeat of our first Voodoo experience.

Portland, Oregon. Summer, 2018.

The locals swore a Must‐Do was sampling Portland doughnuts. Not a normal food choice for either of us. But DH and I share a hard travel rule: wherever, whatever, indulge as the natives do. Within reason, of course.

A two mile walk from our hotel, we discovered the Voodoo crowd: 

The never‐ending line outside Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland, OR (Image copyright, DSC_0242.jpg.)
Whatever you can doughnut, plus more.

Their wall‐mounted menu elicited a “Holy moly!” shriek. What you see to the left is one section of a three‐paneled menu.

Hard to see the variety. I remember what we ordered: Viscous Hibiscus, Blueberry Cake, Raspberry Romeo, Voodoo Doll, and School Daze PB&J. 

Good!” understates the divinity. 

But, truth is, the ensuing sugar rush hijacked my blogger’s eye and writer’s brain. And I no longer remember what else was on the menu — doughnuts or drinks. I do remember The Pink. 

The same Portland pink dominates the Houston store, too.

I smacked on these local bites of heaven but my eyes rebelled at all the Pepto‐Bismol pink.

Maybe that’s the point? 

A second point: after you eat your box of doughnuts (because who buys or eats only two or three Voodoos?), you need yummy tummy medicine! 

So, why not sell PB in your stores, Voodoo Doughnuts? A commission later?

Oh dear reader, I beg your forgiveness for my doughnut‐brain. This post does stink like a commercial. I promise the only green exchanged came from my own pocket. And it was a pricey grab: $2.80 per doughnut on average.

The second ouch! came two days later when I stepped on the scale. 

Alas. Must we always pay in both pennies and pounds?

Can’t we catch a break in these pandemic days?

Pandemic Road: Week 10

Hello Friends! Does this picture make you feel better or worse?

I saw this artistic gem earlier today when I walked into the local restaurant known as 100% Taquito. I laughed out loud. The decision to visit this establishment today revolves around the idea that Tuesday was Cinco de Mayo. (May 5th for you gringos who don’t speak Spanish.) Otherwise known as my birthday. I won’t tell you which birthday, but I am getting closer to Medicare than I care to admit.

Having a birthday on May 5th was never a big deal growing up in Memphis, Tennessee. I think I heard about Cinco de Mayo while studying Spanish in high school, but it was not considered a significant holiday. Then I moved to Houston. I learned that Cinco de Mayo rivaled St. Patrick’s Day as a major party and celebrate day. I even heard one bartender in Austin refer to it as “Cinco de Drinko”.

When my new Houston friends discovered this was my birthday, I was taken out to many Mexican restaurants over the years. We would all gather in the bar for a couple of hours drinking margaritas while waiting until our table was ready. Mexican restaurants are really crowded on this date. Unless you’re in the middle of a global pandemic with face masks and social distancing.

Originally way back in the wayward youth of my 20s, I was told that Cinco de Mayo was the Independence Day for Mexico. Wrong. That is still a common misconception that many have today. Please stop thinking that. Cinco de Mayo represents the Mexican victory over the French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. If you need more information than that, then I would suggest you goggle it for yourself. Mexico’s Independence Day is September 16th. Who says you can’t learn something by reading random blogs? You’re welcome.

I now go to other restaurants on my birthday. However, again we are in the middle of a global pandemic. So this year my Dear Friend delivered a delicious dinner from Giacomo’s to my home and we ate on a cool and breezy balcony. I enjoyed a vodka martini. It was the quietest birthday I have celebrated in a while, but I am still lucky to be safe and healthy.

I took one other picture while I was at 100% Taquito. I saw this quote by Abigail Smith Adams hanging on the wall just to the right of the counters. Just in case you don’t know who Abigail Smith Adams is, I will give you a second history lesson for the day. (Are you feeling smarter yet?) Abigail Smith Adams is considered to have been the strongest female voice during the American Revolution. She is also sometimes considered to be one of the Founders of the United States. Oh, and yeah, she was also the wife and closest advisor of the second President of this country, John Adams.

Abigail Smith Adams really doesn’t have anything to do with Cinco de Mayo. However, just like 100% Taquito, I am adopting this quote as my motto for the rest of the pandemic.

What’s your motto?

Until next week.….

Pandemic Road: Week 9

Ah! Springtime in Houston. According to the meteorologists we are enjoying our last few days of low humidity and cool morning temperatures. As long as it is this perfect outside, I am walking in the park. This time my dear friend and I chose Hermann Park.

There were a few minor changes to the landscape due to our new friend, Covid‐19.

For starters there were many signs telling everyone to maintain social distancing. Then the hill at the Miller Outdoor Theater was blocked off with yellow tape. It is a popular spot for folks to gather in small groups, talk, picnic and such. I was glad to see that everyone was following all of the new rules in attempts to keep everyone safe. 

I took some more pictures of turtles. I notice that I take a lot of turtle pictures. They just look so relaxed sitting on rocks in the middle of ponds. This particular pair live in the Japanese Gardens section of Hermann Park.

I also tried to take some pictures of these two rabbits, but they were a bit camera shy and insisted on hopping away. I am guessing that many of the animals had quickly become used the lack of crowds in their habitat. So many have quarantined themselves during this pandemic. Yet, this was a beautiful day and many folks were out walking, jogging, cycling and enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Except for a few crowded spots on the jogging trail, there were lots of places to walk and maintain distance.

Then there were some very interesting birds.

Are they herons or egrets? I’m not sure. Let me know if you know. All I can say is that the one on the right is glaring at me. Again, the animals are not all excited by nature paparazzi enthusiasts.

What was the best picture of all? Check out this duck with all of her baby ducklings. The little ones are adorable and the mom is making sure that I am only taking pictures and mean no harm to her waddling brood.

I’m going to miss these days when July gets here and we start experiencing triple digit temps. Actually, we may start seeing some of that next week. It was nice while it lasted.

Until next week.….

Does Climbing Ladders Equal a Road Trip?

I didn’t plan these 48 hours: climbing ladders and cleaning attics.

Blame two insurance companies and Covid‐19.

The latter led to what I call a Double D.C. with DH.

Translation:  DeCluttering & Deep Cleaning Project with Dear Husband.

OMG! We have to clean this? 

With time on our hands and remembering last fall’s house‐clearing experiences, we began The Project.

This weekend, it was the garage; today, the front closet and our attic. Of all the ancient goods we rediscovered, only two of each now remain: boxes of books and nearly‐new suitcases.

There’s an ancient stuffed reindeer bagged up there, too. A post for next year’s holiday blog?

I’m grateful for an unused bedroom. It’s now two feet high with donate‐ables, all Goodwill‐bound when ‘Rona bails and frees us to venture wide again.

When an attic ladder meets sisterly memories…

Post‐attic, I scaled a second ladder, this one at my sister’s house.

Standing at its highest rung, I looked down. Gulped. Hard. The ladder’s lowest step peeks right into her empty bedroom. 

Sniff, sniff. I’m still not used to her absence, six months ago last Thursday. 

A broken heart does what it must.

I climbed the ladder because we’re checking Mimi’s roof. Big Leaks, we fear. Total repairs are guess‐timated $26K+, funds none of us has. Hearing that number, I ouched louder than I’ve cried since this nightmare began.

But as I stood atop this ladder, my inner fight grew.

Get roof repairs fully funded, somehow! Either by the crotchety manager who just cancelled the existing homeowner’s policy because we don’t insure vacant houses or the new company which insists we’ve got to see the roof! 

Me climbing ladders, much less two within an hour, marked a first. In these days, it’s particularly curious as Uncle Sam considers me ‘high‐risk.’ I stepped up anyway, scaling rungs and standing higher than nine feet, nearly twice my height.

Boys will be Brave & Adventurous?

Before the afternoon ended, I rejected a third climbing opportunity. No go! to the roof, I nearly shouted. Instead, two young hunks, shod in Super Soles, shimmied up to play their high‐in‐the‐sky games. 

I played mine. I stood on terra firma and I spun around. My eyes spotted him.

A headless man, climbing a tree. Desperate to escape. Is that a stand‐in for me, today?

Play “name this scene!”

Take a peek: what do you see?

Your answer echoes the moral of my post: climb two ladders, save half your things, then go play.

Your life will be richer.

For each and every experience you name.

Pandemic Road: Week 8

Last week we experienced some terrific weather here in Houston. What one would typically call, “Chamber of Commerce Weather”. Temperatures were cool. The sun was shining. Where else to go, but to the Houston Arboretum. There has been a lot of nature development at the Arboretum. There are new trails and many of trails that I have walked for years have been resurfaced and improved. I love it there when it is cool and sunny. Imagine my surprise when I found this while walking on the Ravine trail. A pair of Owl eyes daring me to get too close. I can only imagine that someone affiliated with Rice University painted this beautiful scenery.

I was out in nature. I was calm and relaxed. What a great day. And then I found this on the Outer Loop trail:

Now, I have been a devoted visitor to this arboretum for many years. This is the first time I have seen a sign warning folks about coyotes! During this pandemic I have seen pictures of lions in South Africa and kangaroos in Australia taking over the streets of towns that have been shut down to prevent the spread of Covid‐19. However, I did not realize that coyotes were taking over Houston. Fortunately, the morning I was there, a variety of home‐schooling parents had brought their children out to visit with nature. I trusted that the sounds of children running and laughing sent all wild life into hiding. At least that was my hope. Since I did not see any coyotes, I am guessing it worked.

I am used to seeing a variety of wild life here. I have been known to journal about all of the different animals I saw during any of my visits to the arboretum. I am very used to butterflies and caterpillars. They are nice friendly animals that seem to enjoy having their picture taken.

 I am also used to seeing lots and lots of turtles. That was what I was expecting to see when I made my way to the pond and I was not disappointed. However, there were other signs as well.

I personally had never tried to feed the turtles. I don’t even know what turtles want for their daily fare.

What I didn’t expect were signs about gators.…..yes, you read that correctly.……gators!

Who knew I would actually see an alligator? No, I did not need to be told not to swim with them or try to feed them. Good grief. Suddenly my relaxing visit with nature was getting more dangerous by the second.

With all of this danger lurking around every bend in the trails, it’s no wonder the slopes are on the verge of a nervous breakdown! Believe me, I had learned my lesson. I stayed on the trail. I took nothing but pictures and left nothing but footprints. By the time this little visit was over, I was trying to remind myself what exactly was so relaxing about the Houston Arboretum. Then I looked at this picture:

It is green and it is alive. There are many spring flowers blooming. Yes, it is worth the danger of giant owl eyes, coyotes and gators. I can’t wait to go back.

Until next week.….

What’s your Essential Business?

Standard response to a pandemic health appointment?

First came the email from my doctor’s office. Then came a phone call, instructing me: “Wait in the parking lot with the security guard until the nurse calls you.”

The next day came a second request: “Enter through the side door, off Sweetwater Boulevard.”

Then the third call, command: “You must come alone.”

Rather high maintenance for a little female problem, I thought.

When the nurse called the fourth and final time, she said, “Come up to the 3rd floor and walk straight back in to Room 5.”

She didn’t warn me about what came before the doctor’s hands.

I call it the Full Corona Treatment.

Outside the hospital stood a lone sentry. He eyeballed me head to toe then keyed the sliding glass door.

Inside, a six‐person team stood, sat, and stared. Waiting. For. Me.

Amazed by this focus; my hands shook as I snapped the photo!

Hard to see here (I became too intimidated [yes, me] to snap a closer photo), but each person wore full coverage, a head‐to‐toe white hospital suit.

Faces stayed impassive, shielded behind masks, glasses, AND plastic sheeting that extended past their shoulders. Hands raised skyward, both gloved to the elbow.

Before I could step forward, the tallest responder barked, “Temperature, ma’am!”

He poked my forehead with a steel‐spiked thermometer gizmo. No assent/dissent allowed.

The woman sitting to my right—like a queen behind her table throne—fired away: “Are you having any breathing problems? Are your lungs clear? Have you had any fever in the past two weeks? Have you traveled overseas since March 1st? Have you been around anyone with confirmed coronavirus?”

A second woman, standing near the plate glass window, shook her head “yes” to my every “no.” Questions completed, she stepped forward and banded my wrist with a yellow bracelet.

My body responded “no” to every query. Why did I merit a coward’s color? Don’t ask here! 

Orange barricades block entry/exit for all.

Moments later, I turned the corner and saw massive orange barricades extending across the hospital’s main entrance.

I froze.

My mind raced back to 9/11, ruminating, assembling, connecting.

Full racks of weighted barriers. Six‐person checker teams.

A nasty bug we cannot see.

Coronavirus as terrorist? War? 

What else will I experience in my lifetime?

The doctor did what my body needed and I’m healing nicely.

What did I learn during my CoronaWorld Medical Adventure?

  1. Most people will rise up to your expectations if they understand your ‘why’, — and -
  2. Essential business” applies as much to individuals every day as it does nowadays to grocery stores and gas stations. 

Both involve a choice. 

What better time than a pandemic lockdown to identify what’s essential in your life?

As for me, I’m focusing on my health first, and writing a close second.

How about you?