Having Covid19 (Probably)

There are so many ironies and quirks to the story. Irony one: if my trip to visit family had been scheduled for just a week later, I wouldn’t have gone. And I wouldn’t have gotten the disease that has dominated my life for the past few weeks. Irony two: Until they develop a test for antibodies, I won’t get a formal diagnosis. My one goal and hope throughout has been to stay out of the hospital. I succeeded, and because of that I haven’t been tested, so it may never be official. But I know that I’ve had Covid19.

I don’t know exactly where or how I got it. I flew to visit family on March 5, returning on March 13. Given the timing of symptoms, I likely picked up the germ on the trip out or shortly after I arrived. Did I get it from the very large man in the next seat on one flight who wheezed throughout? Or in the crowded, bustling Atlanta airport? Or maybe on the also crowded playground where we took the children a couple of days after my arrival? Someone else or somewhere else entirely? That’s one answer I’ll never have.

Almost a week into the visit I started to have symptoms that I realize in retrospect pointed to what was about to happen. For a couple of days I had mild headaches I attributed to the change in routine which meant I didn’t always have as much caffeine as I was used to.

I thought I felt fine on the trip home. That night, though, the anvil dropped—on my lungs. At least that’s what it felt like. My chest got very constricted, feeling like someone had tied a band around it and was pulling it tighter and tighter. I couldn’t draw in a deep breath. I started coughing a deep, dry cough that raked my throat raw.

The three weeks since then have been an up and down time. Like most people with the disease, fatigue has been a huge issue.  As far as I know, I haven’t had a fever, but I don’t generally run fevers no matter how sick I am. We don’t even own a thermometer.

I’ve had better and worse days and the contrast can be dramatic. Several times I actually thought I was getting better, and then the next day I’d wake up the with anvil on my chest again and the fatigue pinning me down to the recliner. On bad days my chest hurt, I coughed so hard my throat was raw, and it was all I could do to walk from one end of the house to the other. I simply felt miserable.

I’m in the vulnerable age group and have a few continuing health issues. I couldn’t help worrying that I might take a turn for the worse and end up in the hospital, possibly dying. I’ve done quite a bit of meditating on that, but it’s a different essay. I did consult with my doctor’s office and also with a good friend who is a nurse. Both believed I had Covid19, but my symptoms weren’t severe enough to require further medical intervention. At some of the worst times I teetered on the brink of calling for help. But then I’d improve just enough.

The good news is that finally, after three weeks, the tension in my chest has abated and the coughing is diminishing. I think I’m on the way to recovery. But this virus is tricky. I’ve thought that before. I hope it’s true this time.

More to come…

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The Tree Balls Are Up!

The neighborhood where I live, Sunset Hills, in Greensboro, North Carolina, has a unique and unusual Christmas tradition. A few weeks before Christmas, the balls start going up in the trees. Beautiful colored balls made from chicken wire shaped into a sphere and wrapped with a couple of strings of Christmas lights are mounted high in the hundreds of giant old oaks, huge maples, and any other trees large enough to hold them.

The result is magical. The cords disappear in the darkness, leaving hundreds of balls of light appearing to float high in the air. It’s incredibly hard to get a decent photograph but this year I did manage to get this one, looking down the street on a cloudy, rainy night. It doesn’t capture the colors or the impact of all those lights.

The tradition started about twenty years ago when a college student came up with the idea of creating the ball and hanging it in a tree. It has spread all through the area since then and even migrated to other places. My neighbors have take a further step and use the magnificent display to collect food for homeless shelters. I’m proud to live in this wonderful area.

The only downside is the traffic the display generates. The closer we get to Christmas the more balls go up and the more traffic thickens in the neighborhood. Our somewhat narrow, usually quiet streets fill up with slow-moving vehicles full of tourists coming to gawk at the display.

 

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Growing up readers

A couple of months ago, I ventured to South Bend, Indiana, where I was visiting my daughter, Sarah, her husband, Ian, and their four boys: Liam, Cassian, Henry, and Freddie. The oldest boy is 8; the youngest is 2.

And I’m proud to say that they all love reading. Only the oldest one actually reads on his own, but he basically taught himself at age three. He’d read all of Winnie-the-Pooh by the time he was four. The six-year-old and four-year-old are both learning to read now.

But they all love stories and encountering new things. Whenever I visit, I try to bring some new books for them and they’re always eager for them. And it’s clear that one of grandma’s primary roles, as far as they’re concerned, is to read to them. In fact, any time I sit down, it’s all but guaranteed one or more of them will approach with a book.

 While they have favorites, pretty much any reading material aimed at kids will do. We can go from Where the Wild Things Are to Science Concepts for Kids to Night Night Construction Site to the Sesame Street Alphabet Book. It’s all good.

The two-year-old is insatiable. He’ll beg for book after book, grabbing them off the shelf one after another. When I say “enough,” he’ll give me the big-eyes, how-can-you-say-no-to-this? look. And I melt. We’ll read yet another Sandra Boynton book, maybe Dinosaur Dance or Happy Hippo, Angry Duck. And we’re both content.

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The 2019 Christmas Cookie Baking Extravaganza

It’s a new-ish tradition in the McCullough household. One weekend day a few weeks before Christmas a few family members and friends gather here for a day of serious cookie baking and decorating. This year my daughter Liz and her friend Julie brought several containers of frosting mixes and a variety of decorations to experiment with. The results were both beautiful and delicious!

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Fifty Years!

Fifty years ago today, I made the most important promise of my life when I married my husband. We were both young. I was 19; he was 22. I was in my junior year at university and he was in his first year of grad school. We had no idea what we were in for, no idea of the demands that marriage and family and just surviving in the world would make on us. We were in love and ready to commit ourselves to each other in the blindly passionate way of the young and naïve.

And we’re still together today. We’ve had our ups and downs. We have our disagreements. We see some things very differently and there are things we just don’t discuss. We’ve fought, compromised, sulked, and cried. We started out poor, struggling to make ends meet, and stayed that way for many years. We’ve had our share of (mostly) minor health crises, come through the occasional household disaster, and survived a major, eight-month-long home renovation project.

We raised three children who have all turned out very well (if I do say so myself). Each of them has made us proud in a variety of ways, including the eight beautiful grandchildren they’ve produced among them.

What has kept us together all these years is, at heart, the fact that in addition to being in love, we like each other. Without doubt, he is my best friend. We have a few shared interests and enjoy doing things together. We laugh together frequently. And we have some deeply rooted shared values. Religious faith, though we approach it in different ways, integrity, loyalty, and honesty are the foundation our relationship is built on. We help each other, support each other, and try to act as a team in all important matters.

Before we married, someone (I wish I could remember who) told me that, despite what everyone said, marriage was not a 50-50 proposition. It was more like 80-20, with each person feeling like they were giving the 80 percent. In fact, there have been times when each of us has felt we were giving 120 percent. We’ve each made sacrifices and sometimes held on by our fingertips.

But here we are, with fifty years of marriage behind us and I hope many more years to come. He is still my one and only true love.

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The Invasion of the Spiders

Spiders creep me out. Seriously. And they seem to be invading the neighborhood. Big ones. Really big ones. They’re taking over the pl….

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Keswick Day 6 – The end of our visit

James and Nerf football

The weather was terrible on our last full day in Keswick. Rain poured down in buckets and the wind howled. We’d done most of the things we wanted to do in the area, anyway, so it was a good day to stay in, relax, and play with the children.

Stickers, art work, nerf balls, an impromptu ‘shop’, and rubber band target practice kept everyone occupied. Joe and Steph ventured out into the awful weather to get food and cake for all of us, which was much appreciated. It was a low-key way to end our stay in the Lake District.

The next morning, we said a melancholy goodbye to Steph, Freya, and James. Joe drove us to the bus station in Keswick, where we had a cup of coffee in the Booths café while we waited for the bus. It was still raining hard at that point, so we were glad of the shelter and hot drink.

We got the bus from Keswick to the Penrith train station. By the time we got there the weather had mostly cleared up. We enjoyed the views of the northern English and southern Scottish countryside on the train journey back to Glasgow. We didn’t pause for any sightseeing this time. We got a cab to a hotel right beside the airport. When we got there we enjoyed a leisurely drink, dinner, and an early bed.

The next morning we walked across the street to the airport to catch our plane back to New York. This time the flights went smoothly until the last leg of our journey, from Atlanta to Greensboro. Our plane from NY was held up at the Atlanta airport because the plane at the gate we were supposed to use had been delayed. Unfortunately, this was the only tight connection we had on the return trip and it took so long to get to the gate we weren’t sure we’d make it to the next flight in time.

Normally missing a flight from Atlanta to Greensboro wouldn’t be much a problem because there are quite a few flights between the city every day. But it was late and this would be day’s last flight. If we missed it, we’d have to spend the night in Atlanta, an unattractive prospect after a long, long day of travel. But, luckily the departure gate was only a few down from the arrival gate, when we finally got there. We sprinted down the terminal corridor, hoping… And we were lucky. The plane was loaded and ready to go but the crew knew we were coming in and hadn’t closed the door. We got back to Greensboro well after midnight.

Once we landed and I turned airplane mode off on my phone, I got a text from Delta saying that our luggage hadn’t made the same sprint from one plane to the other and it was still sitting in Atlanta. Not a disaster since we were headed home. Delta agents were waiting for us at the baggage claim in Greensboro. They already knew where our luggage was and that it would arrive the next morning. They arranged to have it delivered to us, and sure enough, it showed up at our front door the next day. Well, done, Delta.

At home, we dumped our carry-on bags and headed for the bliss of finally getting into our own bed after ten days of hotel and rental rooms.

It was great to be home, but we had terrific memories of all the fabulous things we’d done and seen on the trip.

Freya’s artistic endeavors

James and stickers

Freya and more art projects

The Penrith Train Station

On the platform, waiting for the Glasgow train

The Scottish countryside from the train

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Keswick – Day 5

Day five promised unsettled weather, but we packed our rain gear, ventured out anyway, and caught a bus to Whinlatter Forest Park. The park includes walking trails for all levels of experience and ability, but we were mostly interested in things the children could do. The WildPlay Trail followed by the Gruffalo Trail provided the answer.

The WildPlay trail is a playground area with plenty of attractions for kids and a sometimes steep path that led from one activity to another.  Freya and James had a great time, sliding, swinging, and climbing. James even found a shallow stream he could stomp around in.

Eventually we veered off from the playgrounds to find the Gruffalo Trail. The trail is listed as a mile long, but it seemed longer and some of it was fairly steep. Nonetheless, the kids tackled it with enthusiasm. For the adults it was a pleasant, if sometimes strenuous, walk through lovely woods and up and down parts of a mountain, interspersed with occasional gorgeous views.

Freya and James with the fox.

The kids excitedly anticipated arriving at each of the sculptures based on characters in the stories, The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo’s Child by Julia Donaldson. Those books are much better known in the UK than they are here in the US, but they ought to be more popular here. They’re delightful and five-year-old Freya can recite parts of it from memory.

We found the mouse first, then came upon the Gruffalo’s child, sleeping, the fox, the owl, and the snake, all at fairly wide intervals. Eventually we got to the Gruffalo himself, in a little clearing off to the side of the trail. He’s a rather fearsome-looking beast, but the children didn’t seem too intimidated. We also found the squirrel nearby.

The trail formed a loop and by the time we got to the Gruffalo, we were three-fourths of the way back to the playground area. The walk made us all hungry, so we stopped for lunch at a picnic area in one corner. After a while the weather began to deteriorate, which made it time to catch the bus back to Keswick.

We got there in mid-afternoon and ducked into The Wild Strawberry café  for afternoon tea. In addition to scones, clotted cream, and jam, we got several slices of different cakes, which we split up so that everyone got a taste or two of each, and each person’s beverage of choice. Stuffed and very satisfied, we made our way back to the house.

Freya negotiates the climbing wall.

While James enjoys the rope netting.

Freya and the mouse

The Gruffalo’s Child

The owl

Riding on the snake.

Freya and James with the fox.

We found the Gruffalo!

And climbed up his back!

The squirrel

Enjoying cake near the end of a busy day

 

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Keswick – Day 4 – The Derwent Pencil Museum

Our fourth day in Keswick was rainy and cool, and we’d all had fairly major efforts the previous day, so it seemed a good time to visit one of Keswick’s few indoor attractions – the Derwent Pencil Museum.

A bit of quick history – Writing instruments of all sorts have been in use for thousands of years, but a sort of proto pencil was a lead-based stylus used since the time of the Romans (which is why we still call them “lead pencils” even though lead hasn’t been used in pencils in hundreds of years).

The modern version of the pencil dates back to the 16th century with the discovery of a large deposit of graphite near Keswick in the Borrowdale Valley. The story says that it was found by accident by a group of shepherds who, on finding that it wouldn’t burn like coal, used the mineral to mark their sheep. But they soon discovered it left marks on their hands and other things that were hard to remove.

It didn’t take long to realize the mineral was too soft to use by itself, but stuffed into a wooden tube, it made an easy-to-use writing instrument.

By the early 18th century a cottage industry creating pencils had grown up in Keswick and the surrounding area. In 1916 the Derwent Cumberland Pencil Company or sometimes just called The Cumberland Pencil Company was formed to manufacture pencils. The first Derwent color pencil was produced in 1938. The Derwent brand is still recognized for producing some of the finest artist’s pencils in the world.

The world’s biggest pencil

The factory has since moved, but the museum remains in Keswick. It’s a fascinating place. In addition to displays showing the history of the pencil, there are numerous historical items, a look at the manufacturing process, the varieties of pencil and art supplies now available, and a couple of fascinating, related stories. It also features the world’s biggest pencil, as certified by the Guiness Book of World Records.

During World War II, Britain’s secret service operatives worked with the company to develop ways to incorporate various bits of miniaturized technology into the pencils. They were also used as a method for passing secret messages. None of this has ever been officially confirmed, of course!

The museum has plenty of art opportunities for children. And it also includes a café with a delicious assortment of cakes, and while we were waiting, we got to try out Derwent’s brilliant water color pencils. We did some gift shopping in the gift store before we left.

Later, the guys and kids went back to house while Steph and I did some serious shopping in the many outdoor equipment shops for her birthday and James’s.

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