A year on hold . . .

It’s been well over a year since my last post and “what a long, strange ‘trip’ it’s been.” The Covid-19 virus brought the whole world to its knees. There isn’t one person who has not been affected in some way — so much sadness. Through the darkness, however, we have also witnessed many rays of light — so much resiliency and resourcefulness and countless acts of selflessness, thoughtfulness and kindness. It’s given many of us time to step back and reflect on what’s important (and what isn’t) and realize how truly fragile our lives and relationships are.

Of course, we haven’t traveled. Frank and I were fortunate to have a safe, comfortable pandemic home close to our Milwaukee family and friends — even if we couldn’t see them in person. I wrote letters, relived past adventures by putting together travel books and joined a virtual book club. I connected with people I truly cared about and consciously let go of one-sided and unhealthy relationships. Of course, I also outlined some future travel plans! As I look back on our “year+ on hold,” it’s surprising how much has happened.

Stay Home Orders were issued by the Governor in March.
Restaurants, bars, movie theaters and malls are closed.

Even before the Stay Home Order was issued, panic shopping cleared grocery shelves. Cleaning products and toilet paper were the first in short supply, followed by many food products.

Another concerning shortage was lack of PPE (personal protective equipment). A few were fortunate in securing masks early on but most weren’t. We joined in mass mask-making for those who needed but couldn’t get them.

Healthcare workers were lauded as heroes as they worked endless hours to treat and manage the mounting number of Covid patients. My friend Shannon, a nurse on the East coast, contracted the virus from a patient. I sent her one of our thermometers because she couldn’t get one to monitor her own vitals!

New York was hit bad and there were many deaths. Each night for months, residents would go out on their balcony or open a window to honor the doctors and nurses.

New York City
Milwaukee
Milwaukee
Milwaukee
Milwaukee

Frank’s friend Ed, who visited us in San Diego in 2019, was one of our country’s earliest Covid victims. While he and his girlfriend took precautions on an Australia-New Zealand cruise, the Aussie government turned their ship around, tested everyone and dispersed the travelers to their respective countries. A few days later back in California, they were informed by email that 30 on the ship tested positive. A follow-up email said it was 400. A few days later Ed was in the hospital, saying his final goodbyes to his grandkids over a computer. This made the virus really hit home for us and we had little patience for fools proclaiming Covid wasn’t real and precautions were infringing on their “rights.”

Politicization of a virus?!!
Wisconsin became a national embarrassment.
On the positive side, businesses and individuals made adjustments. Schools went to online instruction. Many businesses allowed their employees to work from home. Restaurants transitioned to carry-out only.

Grocery stores offered online ordering with delivery or hands-free pickup options. Special hours were available for seniors and the vulnerable. Everyone had to get used to cooking at home again.

Haircuts and hair-coloring were sacrificed for the time being.
Bank lobbies closed and our local drive-up became a popular “walk-up.”
Computers became a lifeline. Frank “attended” daily mass.
Special free concerts were held for everyone stuck at home.

“Zoom” became the go-to for family and friends to stay connected.

Zoom also allowed us to celebrate special birthdays. Jenny had Sienna’s friends do a drive-by to decorate their driveway for a special sweet 16 surprise!

Covid did not get in the way of romance!

We couldn’t hug but we eventually drifted toward some socially-distanced visiting.

Social-distanced treat drop off.
“Meet our new pandemic puppy Penny!”
Social-distanced party in Juneau Park.
Summer festivals were cancelled.
Baseball season was delayed but later improvised to include cut-out fans.
Frank could safely cheer on his Dodgers!

In the midst of the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests

Our hero makes the papers.
Come late summer, social-distanced visits became the norm.
Social-distanced funerals and celebrations of life for the many who had passed began to take place.
Unfortunately, people weren’t careful enough.
Precautions were reinstated as many started to get sloppy or simply choose to ignore them.

It was a very strange election cycle as candidates avoided large rallies (unless you were a covid-denying Trumpster). Unique fundraisers popped up and televised debates reached record audiences.

Talk about a brilliant burst of light breaking through the darkness!!!

Meanwhile, milestone birthdays were celebrated with Zoom parties.

A quiet but wonderful birthday celebration.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that I went to the Macy’s Parade last year instead of waiting for my 60th as originally planned!

Christmas comes no matter what.
Christmas was a little different this year.
2020 is over!
2021: a new, hope-filled beginning
Incomprehensible.
More positive developments!!!
Haha

An unexpected turn of events: A month after receiving his second dose of the vaccine, Frank ended up in the hospital with Covid! Other than some aches and fever spikes, his symptoms weren’t real bad and he was home four days later. Still, pretty scary.

Our second Zoom Easter but as more people are getting vaccinated, things are starting to open up.
Weddings that were delayed are finally being held.
Proms, graduations and milestone birthdays can now be shared with small, unmasked groups of vaxed family and friends.
How we’ve missed you all!

Best of all, warm hugs and smiles we can finally see!

As the world begins to open up, Frank and I will carefully venture back out, chronicling our adventures in our next chapter, Waltzing Wanderers 5. Please click and join us!

Coro-No Travel for now

WEEK 1

March 10

Looks like Frank and I will be sticking close to home for a while. Today we cancelled Thursday’s much anticipated trip to St Petersburg, Florida. My brother, who is visiting my parents in nearby Indian Shores, texted back “Why?”

Why? The coronavirus, or COVID-19, has been poking at our family for a month and a half. Andy went on a week-long sailing trip in Thailand at the beginning of February, just after cases began spreading outside China. He (briefly) considered cancelling but ended up just rerouting his Beijing-connecting flights. Back home, we followed the spread of cases through Asia and were so relieved when he uneventfully returned home. (Passengers weren’t even checked when they arrived stateside.)

My sister Jenny was thrilled when her husband announced they were taking a long-awaited two-week trip to Italy. As her (lack of) luck would have it, they landed in Rome just as cases began exploding across the northern regions. Fortunately, their plan was to stay south. Jenny and Aaron were cautious and utilized a stockpile of antiseptic wipes. They had a wonderful time and flew back on Thursday, just days before the Italians closed down the airports as well as the rest of the country. Unlike Andy, they were asked to fill out questionnaires and screened for temperatures when entering the US. No one was detained. To be safe, they are choosing to self-quarantine at home for two weeks. Meanwhile, their daughter Sienna is staying with a friend. They didn’t want to be the ones introducing the virus to Montana or have their kid expose her high school! (Talk about a tough reputation to shake!)

We got back from San Diego Sunday. Frank has three consecutive days of meetings and our plan was to leave Thursday morning. Andy would fly down and join Tim and Frank for Indy trials and race (complete with pit passes), while Deb and I hung out. Next Monday, Frank and I would go to Indian Shores to visit Mom and Dad for a few days.

On Sunday, Debbie sent us an email, “I never imagined having this kind of concern but wondering how you and Frank are feeling about traveling this week. We just got back from DC . . . both my daughter-in-law and her mom work at Virginia Hospital.  We spent a bit of time talking about the risk (of coronavirus) . . . I guess what I didn’t realize was that the over 60 age group is pretty susceptible…not just older and compromised people…basically us.” I told her we still planned on coming but we’d contact Frank’s doctors for their advice.

No word from the Transplant team until late last night: We suggest taking the same precautions we always suggest for travel; MASK in large crowd or close quarters; FREQUENT Hand washing; Use disinfectant wipes on frequently touched areas i.e., seat belts , hand/arm rests, tray tables – hotel room surfaces including door knobs. 

Obviously the staff isn’t overly concerned and didn’t advise against travel. But we’re skeptical. Abroad, it’s spreading exponentially every day and people are dying. Markets are reeling and we have a President who’s telling people it’s nothing to worry about and they can go to work. “Media hoax!” “Democrats ploy to undermine the President!” Hey people, the US is not immune and it’s going to get much worse before it gets better.

We don’t want to be in Florida when things go south (haha). Just saying.

March 11

Frank’s been working on a Holocaust Education Bill for Wisconsin. He was supposed to go up to Madison today for the Senate committee hearing (passed in House unanimously). This was one of the reasons we came back. Our friend Bev called last night and told him to stay put; she was worried about his health. There are only three confirmed cases in Wisconsin, two in Dane County. Overreaction? Perhaps. But best to play it safe. 

Andy will head back to New York on Thursday since he isn’t going to Florida. One of his NY friends texted a picture of bare shelves at Whole Foods. He’s heard that bodegas are selling Purell for $70. I joked that he should drive out to Waukesha County and pick up Purell and wipes, “Waukesha County refuses to believe there’s a threat. Stock up there and sell the wipes in NY.” He said he’d give them away for free. : )

I do a Target run. No Purell and no deodorizing wipes so I head to Farm and Fleet, snagging the last twin pack of wipes. Food, the wipes and a bottle of Purell (found in our storage shed) go into Andy’s care package. He comes over to pick it up but won’t get too close, “I don’t know want to risk being a carrier and get you guys sick.”

Madrid’s Prado Closes” Our niece Carly is studying in Spain. I texted to see if she’s OK. She said people there weren’t concerned and she hoped to travel “til my money runs out” if they close down her school.

News from Florida: The NHL game we were supposed to attend tomorrow night is cancelled. 

March 12 

NBA postpones season. Baseball postpones Opening Day. St Petersburg Indy Race will be held without spectators. 

Frank and I are feeling pretty good about our decision to cancel our trip : ) Fortunately we pay attention to WHO and CDC rather than our government “leadership.” Others are paying attention, too. Andy said there were only four people on his flight to New York!

I continue to be flabbergasted at the number of Facebook posts still making light of all this, joking about overreaction and how the media are “playing us.” I want to shake them, “IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT YOU! It’s who you infect, the speed of spread, the potential of overloading our healthcare system!!!” All I can do is click “HIDE POST.”

Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson test positive for coronavirus. Yikes! Someone everyone “knows.” Maybe this will this make more people take things seriously.

March 13

Wake up to text from Mom: “Carly’s program has been cancelled. She’s heading home.

St Petersburg race cancelled altogether. PGA Players Championship and three other tournaments cancelled. Yikes! Everyone home and no sports to watch. What will they broadcast? Sandlot and “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf” reruns?

March 14

Frank meets a friend at Ruby Isle Panera for coffee, eerily quiet this Saturday morning.

Had planned to see current exhibit at Milwaukee Art Museum. Too late. MAM closed until further notice.

Having a bit of a “helpless” feeling meltdown. So many people will suffer due to this virus — nurses and doctors but also restaurant workers, grocery people, event staff, people that can least afford being off of work. Elmbrook announced on Thursday that they were going to online classes. That’s fine for an affluent district. What happens if Milwaukee does that? Not all kids have computers. Could they do something via TV? Everyone seems to have one of those.

We talked to our favorite Jesuit, Father Herian. He is 96 years old and living at San Camillus (“no visitors” lockdown since Thursday). He told us that we should stay home from church until things calm down. We had been wondering about that. Perpetually perplexed that Catholics do the Sign of Peace at each Mass. All it does is spread germs! What to do when the guy behind you has been hacking through mass and reaches out to shake your hand?!!

The markets are going crazy and it seems to be worse every time the President opens his mouth. Why couldn’t they have anticipated some of this? Doesn’t help that two years ago, Trump shut down the office Obama set up to manage pandemics and global health threats. 

The crazies are coming out. Should have expected it. A friend I haven’t seen in a while Facebook reposted: “the media is creating all out panic . . . rooting for recession, destruction and death . . . enemy of the people” and “just like that, the government controls all sporting events concerts . . . whether or not you can leave your house . . over a virus . . . with survival rates that are extremely high.” Yikes! Delusional. UNFOLLOW.

March 15

Frank was the first customer inside Pick n’ Save this morning (they’ve reduced their hours and open at 6). He knows how much I love my Sunday New York Times. He said the toilet paper shelves were wiped out. Still no Purell but lots of wipes. Joked about the condom section being empty, too. Think about it. Will there be a baby boom in nine months?

We watch “Ford vs. Ferrari,” consolation for Frank missing his Indy experience. This is a good opportunity to catch up on my list of movies and series. We’ll be in Brookfield at Mom and Dad’s until they get home in April and they’ve got everything on their TV. 

The pantry and freezer are decently (but not overly) stocked and yes, we have enough toilet paper.

Two months in San Diego

San Diego was the ideal place to spend the first couple months of 2020. The weather was nice and we found lots to do. The best part? We were closer to home and loved sharing our place with company!

Downtown life

Our two bedroom apartment was in downtown San Diego, just a couple blocks from Petco Field. There were plenty of restaurants nearby when we didn’t feel like cooking.

Gaslamp Quarter

We were a couple blocks from San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, which is well known for its nightlife. Our gym was located here and it’s where Frank got his ice cream fix!

Waterfront

San Diego’s beautiful waterfront was a short walk away. On Saturdays, there is a fresh fish market on the pier.

Neighborhoods

We enjoyed exploring San Diego’s other neighborhoods, too. Each had its own feel and personality. Two tram lines stopped just behind our apartment, providing easy access around the city. Weekly farmers markets provided an extra excuse to visit.

North Park

Funky and colorful, North Park has a relatively small Thursday night Farmers Market.

South Park

I’ve previously mentioned South Park’s awesome shawarma truck and chocolate shop but the area has much more to offer. It’s a cozy neighborhood of restaurants and retro shops. I got a kick out of its mini-Target, which looks like a former Wisconsin Kohl’s Food store.

Hillcrest

We were frequent visitors to Hillcrest — great restaurants, a movie theatre and a lab for Frank’s blood tests. Several blocks long, the Hillcrest Farmers Market is the place to be on Saturdays. Frank’s favorite was the Philly cheesesteak and each week, we stocked up on cartons of the unbelievably tasty kefir yogurt! How can something that delicious be good for you? (I wish it was available back home!)

Little Italy

Our favorite area (go figure) was Little Italy. We enjoyed some wonderful meals at the Busalacchi restaurants, which brought back fond memories of Frank’s Teamster days. In addition to Italian grocery stores and restaurants, Little Italy has its own Saturday Farmers Market. And where else but an Italian barber would Frank go for a haircut?

Balboa Park

In the middle of the city is the twelve-hundred acre Balboa Park. The historic urban cultural park is home to green spaces, gardens, an art center, museums and San Diego’s famous zoo. We visited several times as it is ginormous and there is so much to see!

Coronado Island

Point Loma Liberty Station

Liberty Station is a mixed use development on the site of San Diego’s former Naval Training Center. It features an arts district, a food market/restaurant court and a Women’s Museum.

Sights and mini road trips

San Diego Mission & Old Town San Diego

Faye, Frank and I took a trip back in time to a historic mission and Old Town San Diego. Built in 1769, Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala was the first of twenty one great California missions, marking the birthplace of Christianity on the west coast. Since it was Saturday, we decided to catch Mass by crashing a wedding! Old Town San Diego is a bit kitschy but worth a quick stop.

Cabrillo National Monument

Eddie drove us to Cabrillo National Monument. Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo led the first European expedition to explore what is now the west coast of the United States. The skies were clear and we saw some beautiful scenery. Pam also wanted to stop at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, which was very impressive (over 100,000 gravesites). We ended the afternoon with sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

Dana Point

The four of us traveled up the coast to visit Frank and Eddie’s friend Jim O’Neill. Jim and his wife Kathy have a lovely home in Dana Point.

Balboa Island

Another trip with Eddie and Pam to Balboa Island. It’s a charming area and it was fun to see residents proudly flying their college colors.

Road Trip to Rancho Mirage

Frank and I took a road trip to Rancho Mirage in Coachella Valley. Our friend Bud Selig was speaking at a Writers Conference and we went to surprise him. It was a beautiful ride through the mountains. The festival itself was amazing. Writer/historian Doris Kearns Goodwin interviewed Bud. Afterwards, we had the privilege of meeting her.

Tijuana

I had zero interest in heading across the border from here until I received this email, “I’d like to go to Mexico to get migraine meds. Would you have any interest in driving to Tijuana with me on Saturday?” Sounds like an adventure, I thought, and it was.

The “Best” Eats

Who doesn’t love going out to eat? While one of many reasons we stay at Airbnbs is having the ability to cook and keep fresh food handy, a big highlight of traveling is exploring local restaurants. Once in a while, we’ll stumble across a great find but random picks can often disappoint.

With so many choices, how do you find the good places? From the best coffee to the best bakeries to the best ethnic restaurants, recommendations from locals are our go-to source. I also keep a running list garnered from various travel articles, plus suggestions from friends. Local newspaper and magazine websites are pretty dependable and I like Eater.com. TripAdvisor is handy abroad but back in the States, I’m not a fan.

Yelp? Although our niece Emily works for them, I rarely, if ever, follow their suggestions. Until today.

Our friend MJ forwarded an article about Yelp’s Top-Rated Restaurant for 2020, located right here in San Diego. Michelin-star rated? No. Fancy white table cloths? No. Classically trained chef? No. With a perfect 5-star rating over 500 reviews, Yelp’s #1 restaurant for 2020 is . . . a food truck. Selling shawarma. And who doesn’t love shawarma? We headed to San Diego’s South Park neighborhood to check out Shawarma Guys.

Set up in the parking lot of his buddy’s liquor store, the owner, a former cell phone salesman, serves up to 900 plates a day with the help of his family. The service is friendly. The prices are cheap.

And the food? Frank and I ordered a chicken and a beef shawarma plate. Portions were large and accompanied by tasty sides of rice, hummus, pita and tabbouleh (bonus for me: no cucumbers!). Meat was tender and flavorful. We switched a couple times, having a hard time choosing a favorite. We did agree on one thing though, as far as shawarma goes, it was one of the best. We’ll be back.

As a footnote, we stopped at Eclipse Chocolate Bar & Bistro, also in South Park. Travel + Leisure magazine named theirs “America’s Best Hot Chocolate.” I had the dark chocolate Masala Chai. I’d have to say, it was pretty, pretty good.

San Diego Women’s March – Power in Unity

On January 18, I joined thousands of women (and men and children) at Waterfront Park to support women’s rights. The theme was “Power in Unity.” In addition to inspirational speakers, there were many booths with helpful information on mental health, domestic abuse, trans rights and the like. Being an election year, volunteers were registering voters and advocating for candidates. It was a powerful experience and so invigorating! I hope the energy continues through November!

Happy 2020 from San Diego!

Frank and I begin this new year and the new decade in sunny San Diego. After six months in a cozy(?) 250-sq. foot apartment and dreading the impending Wisconsin deep freeze, it was high time to “get outta Dodge.”

Our California apartment is comfortable and spacious, located in the heart of San Diego. Within walking distance is most of what we need. For anything farther, there’s a trolley stop right behind our building. It’s so liberating not to need a car. We joined a club so Frank is back swimming and in his happy place. Both of us are looking forward to a couple months of relaxation, rejuvenation, exploration and visitors(!).

If you’re reading this and have any San Diego area recommendations, please send us a message!

“My home is not a place, it is people”

As 2019 ends and a decade closes its doors, now seems like a good time to ponder those words from Lois McMaster Bujold.

I’ve grown accustom to reciting my own quote, “Home is wherever our suitcases are.” Is that true? It’s been six years since Frank and I sold our home and hit the road. We’ve visited and lived (albeit temporarily) in some fantastic places, places where we could happily settle and feel “at home.” We’ve met some truly wonderful people, eaten well and had some incredible experiences.

But we always come home to Wisconsin. Even here, we stay in different places. The place, we’ve discovered, is irrelevant. For us, being home means being surrounded by our people. This last stretch had its challenges but time spent with family and friends made it more than worthwhile.

Frank and I love and look forward to continuing our adventures. I can’t say we won’t have a house someplace else at some point, but good, bad or freezing cold, Wisconsin will always be home.

Thanksgiving in NYC

Frank and I loved spending Thanksgiving in New York City. Seeing Andy and his new place, having Nick and Kim join us from LA, good food, lots of laughs, a little sightseeing and the burgeoning Christmas decorations made for a truly memorable week!

Andy’s apartment is right next to the Stock Exchange in the Financial District of Manhattan. (Yes, he has a real Christmas tree!)

His neighborhood is a great mix of new and old. The 9/11 Memorial and Calatrava’s Oculus transit center are nearby. I had just seen “Hamilton” back in Milwaukee so it was especially interesting to see our nation’s first capitol, the tavern where Hamilton had dinner the night before the duel and the church where he is buried.

A Thanksgiving away from home was a new experience. We conveniently rented a two-bedroom in Andy’s building. The kitchen was fairly well-equipped but didn’t have everything you’d need to cook a full holiday meal. I froze and brought some cookies and breads from home. I knew I could manage a few side dishes and hors d’oeuvres, but a turkey? Enter Citarella’s. Turkey, check. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy — check! I found the “best” New York cheesecake (May Ze Dahr) and a good place for dinner rolls (Amy’s). Pre-holiday pickups gave me a chance to explore different areas of the city!

The best part of Thanksgiving was the company! Andy invited a few of his new friends — Dara, Neal and Frankie — to join us.
(Hey, I know that guy!)

With Thanksgiving behind us, the city was so cheery and put us in the Christmas spirit!

It was fun watching the tree come together in front of the Stock Exchange next to Andy’s building.

All too quickly, it was time to say goodbye. We are so thankful for a wonderful week and can’t wait ’til next time!

Thanksgiving in NYC: Macy’s Parade

Perhaps it’s because I was born on Thanksgiving. I love everything about the holiday — family,  food and the Macy’s Day Parade! I’m glued to the spectacle every year while preparing the turkey and our family’s traditional holiday spingi (Italian donuts). The bands. The floats. The Rockettes. Santa. And, of course, the balloons! The parade sets the tone for a joy-filled day and the start of the holiday festivities.

Andy moved to NYC in July and now splits his time between here and Milwaukee. Our first visit to see his place is over Thanksgiving — presenting me an opportunity (coincidently?!!) to personally experience the pinnacle of all parades!

Everyone I know that’s been to the parade, told me I had to go see the balloon inflation the night before. Frank and Andy said they’d join me. That is, until we were rerouted several times and several blocks into a street packed like sardines with a slow-moving mass of humanity. The guys headed back downtown and I swam along. I rounded the corner; still no balloons. Once bags and backpacks were checked, the crowd loosened up and soon, around the corner, was the first glimpse of the balloons.

People were well-mannered and friendly. Excitement was all around!

My favorite, a new balloon designed by Yayoi Kusama

Would we see these balloons in flight tomorrow? The possibility of extreme winds had been reported in the days leading up to the big event. City rules require balloons to be grounded if sustained winds exceed 23 mph or gusts exceed 34 mph. The balloons have been grounded only once (in 1971) for weather-related reasons. Would that happen in 2019? A decision would not be made until right before the parade starts . . .

Parade Day

I met a lovely couple on the train platform. Although their home is in NYC, it was Pedro and Anna’s first time at the parade. We exited the train and found an amazing spot in Columbus Circle!

For some reason, we had a funny feeling this was too good to be true. We kept wondering how the parade could go around the circle, despite reassurances from a few of NYC’s finest. We asked around some more and found our hunches were right. We’d have to move.

We wandered up and down the now crowded streets and finally talked our way into Central Park where we found an even better, elevated, SEATED spot on a grassy hill! Frank had been texting me balloon updates. We were thrilled when city officials opted to have the balloons fly, albeit lower to the ground.

Showtime!