Guest Bloggers

Surviving SIP

Guest Blogger Karen Handyside Ely writes about life while sheltering in place.

2020 has been the longest year of my life, and it’s only April. I really can’t complain (although that has never stopped me before). My adult children, who live in New York City, are healthy and still employed. My husband and I are well, and since I started hoarding toilet paper back in the ‘80s (that is an OCD story for another day) we are literally “good to go.”

I’ve noticed as the days drag by, that I’m slowly getting used to this new reality. Getting used to it, and getting fat. In the very beginning, back in “aught March,” I decided that this was an opportunity to actively pursue FINALLY becoming skinny. I’ve now failed four diets in four weeks. It doesn’t help to have a husband who loves to bake. In the best of times, his sourdough is hard to resist. In these worst of times, I have given up trying. By the time I am able to meet up with friends in the flesh, I will have become a sphere.

For now, I’ve had to content myself with Zoom meet-ups. I am no spring chicken, and admit that I had never even heard of this video-conferencing platform. Hilarity ensued as I tried to be an old dog learning a new trick, a humbling yet rewarding experience. I’m now able to attend meetings, writing groups, and Happy Hours with friends from all over the globe. This too is a double-edged sword; the vino flows much more freely when you are sitting in your own kitchen, watching a screen, and missing your buds – another contributing factor to my expanding girth.

My writing has taken on a rather bi-polar existence. When writing on my own, the words either pour out on the page like torrential rain, or they dribble and drab like a leaky faucet; NO in between. Then every Tuesday, I “Zoom” with a small gathering of writing friends, and we free-write together. There is something so intimate about this virtual experience, and no, it is not because pants aren’t required to attend. This new reality has become a sort of bonding mechanism between us, which enhances the writing sessions. I write with a sharper focus during these group endeavors, even as my self-disciple has gone the way of my diets. I had hoped to have cranked out a book by now, so much free time and all, but while I have fallen woefully short on quantity, I am progressing with quality. 

I’ve been spending lots of time in my music room, which is filled with musical instruments that were played by my daughter, my son, and me over many years. I’m very rusty, and the piano needs tuning, but when I close my eyes I am able to remember some of the music that brought us closer together. Sadly, my fingers don’t recollect quite as well, but the music brings me solace, even with the clinkers. 

I’ve read several good books, along with some trashy romance novels. I’ve watched some stellar movies, and binged on some Netflix series that I am embarrassed to admit I watched. Sometimes a little “junk” is good for the soul, but I dream of the day that the Symphony reopens, and I can go back to gorging on beautiful, live music. I have also put myself on a news diet – only one hour of televised news a day. It is the only diet that I have not yet failed at, and I am feeling much more fit, at least mentally.   

To relieve stress, I stand in my backyard and howl every evening at 8 pm. No, I haven’t “lost it.” Howling has become quite a “thing” here in Petaluma. It feels so good to let-er-rip, not a scream, but a loud, long, mournful howl. Even more gratifying than making this primal sound, is hearing neighbors in their yards howling back. It reminds me that we are in this together, and promises that we will get through this as a community. We are not alone.

Togetherness has taken on a completely different meaning since the onset of this quarantine. My baking husband and I do almost everything together. We take long walks, discovering nooks and crannies in this town that we’ve always been too busy to explore; albeit with covered faces. We twist ourselves into ridiculous pretzels every afternoon, as we try to maintain some semblance of a yoga practice. We spend so much time together, that a fifteen minute shower alone feels like a solo week-end getaway. I don’t know how he does it … puts up with so much “us time”…  right now I am even sick of myself.

Honestly, I am tremendously blessed in many ways. I have slowed down, and started to savor the small, everyday things in life. I hear the bees buzzing among our wildflowers, watch the sun set behind my oak tree, and taste the love that my wonderful husband pours into every meal that he makes—although I’m hoping he’ll love me with salad a little more often. 

Be safe and well, my friends. With kindness, compassion, and a strong dose of humor, this too shall pass.

Growing up in Petaluma, CA, Karen adored words and stories. She taught herself to read by memorizing pages of the fairytales that her mother read at night to all of the Handyside siblings. The Little Mermaid was her entry into a lifelong love affair with books and writing.

After graduating from UC Davis with a degree in International Relations & Economics, Karen ran away to New York City to seek her fortune. Karen found that working in NYC Corporate banking wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. She and her husband, James, moved to Scottsdale AZ, where they raised their family. A stay-at-home mom, Karen became a professional (and somewhat out of control) volunteer, working primarily with children’s charities and Arts Education Programs. 

Once their chicks left the nest, Karen and James returned to Petaluma. Karen began to focus on the things that she most enjoys doing—music, writing, and travel. Karen and James often travel to Brooklyn to visit their son and daughter.

Karen is active with the Santa Rosa Symphony League, sings with a Petaluma choir, and has been published in The Write Spot to Jumpstart Your Writing: DiscoveriesThe Write Spot: Reflections, and The Write Spot: Possibilities (all available on Amazon).

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