I just got home from 12 glorious days at Forest Refuge and feel much revived and restored. It was the first time back in almost exactly two years when I was one of the last yogis there before the beginning of the pandemic shut the world down. Rebecca Bradshaw was teaching again, and it was also her first time back since March of 2020. At my interview with her the day after I arrived, she said “so, we return to the scene of the crime!” Yikes. The preparation for being away on retreat is always quite involved, but this time was especially stressful due to the strict testing protocols necessary to even enter the IMS buildings let along stay for 12 days.
I have been remiss in adding blog posts for the second half of 2021. Maybe it is because the pandemic seemed to be ending, which was scary and stressful as we went back to more normal activities, but then it came roaring back and kept on going. Life continued with both a sameness that was discouraging as we just made the best of it all, and a new anxiety as we tried to integrate a return to regular life in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and a changed world. Maybe what I thought was equanimity was actually a dullness masking anxiety. Even so, Michael and I have a lot to be thankful for: we remained healthy and safe and I enjoyed a lot of lovely bike rides on my new bike. Here are some highlights:
I have to say it: I hated teaching in person this semester – mostly. Private voice lessons with me wearing a mask and the student wearing a mask were frustrating and almost completely useless. The students were thrilled to be back in person, and OK, it was nice to be able to accompany in real time. But the technical instruction that the students needed was impossible to convey. I took them through their exercises and guessed at what they were doing with their mouths and tongues. I did try to do some hands on physical adjustments in posture and movement but I also wanted to keep my distance. In general, I was not comfortable being in a small room for an hour with someone deliberately exhaling at me. And the students were all incredibly sick with everything else but COVID: strep throat, bronchitis, laryngitis, colds, mono, stuffed noses, coughing, you name it. They called it the Princeton Plague and it got most of the students at one point or another. OK, I didn’t have to sing at all, but my historic trauma with worrying about getting sick, combined with the past 18 months of being conditioned to be afraid of getting sick had me extremely triggered.
At the other extreme, I was teaching Singing American Musical Theatre as a performance class again and it was wonderful.
Last year was a major birthday for me. We had planned a fabulous trip to Greece, and I thought I would buy myself a new road bike as well to celebrate. Alas, all of that got postponed because of the pandemic. Now a year later I am very hesitant to plan any major traveling, but just for fun I did stop by my local bike shops to see what kinds of bikes might be available. COVID restrictions had made cycling a hugely popular activity and there was a world-wide bike shortage to go with the world-wide virus. At the Trek shop in Princeton the very nice lady gave me a sad smile and shook her head, “all the bikes are spoken for until January of 2023.” At Halter’s in Montgomery Shopping Center, the owner rolled out a beautiful lilac Cannondale supersix – evo in my size, “this is the perfect bike for you, but you have to buy it today or someone else will.” That was way too much pressure after the simple, slow life of lockdown. At Sourland Cycles in Hopewell, they had a floor model of a road bike that I could take for a test ride. It wasn’t my size, it wasn’t really an upgrade from my beloved Bianchi, but they did have a bike on a truck coming in about a week that wasn’t reserved and might be of interest to me. Ok, I took the Giant brand women’s model out for a spin and liked the disc brakes and wider tires. Sure, I’ll put a refundable deposit on the bike that’s coming and take it for a test ride before anyone else nabs it.
Coming home from Cape May, we settled back into our sheltering at home routine. Emily and the kitties were still with us, I was still doing a lot of online teaching, Michael was deeply into a writing project, and we had figured out the cooking and cleaning routines. In February it snowed, a lot. I took out my cross country skiis for the first time in several years, and used them every day, on many open space trails near home, and in the back yard as Louie bounded joyously through the deepening snow drifts. Skiing was wonderful, but I didn’t ride my bike, or see any of my few friends for socially distant rides or walks all month. The cold and gray and isolation started to take its toll and we all got a bit more edgy and short with each other. The vaccination was becoming available to more and more people, but appointments were hard to come by and some folks spent all hours of the day and night searching for spots.
Michael finally got an appointment for the end of February. We had to drive an hour to Holmdel. He waited in line for several hours while I stayed in the car and peed in the woods, as I had been doing all year on my bike rides. He felt weak and crummy for the first 24 hours but then bounced back and was so relieved and hopeful to be on his way to some protection from this crazy virus. His second Moderna shot was scheduled for the end of March. Meanwhile, I wasn’t even eligible yet, too young and healthy.
I took the plunge and reserved 9 days at a cottage I found on AirBnB a few blocks from the Delaware Bay beach in North Cape May. I wanted to go there alone and do a self-meditation retreat for a week. Michael would come down for a few days at the end. It sounded like it would work, but I spent most of December planning what food and cleaning supplies I would bring with me to make it feel safe in the midst of COVID. Finally, the day of departure arrived and I went to the market first thing and grabbed a weeks-worth of simple meals, loaded up the car, and drove the easy two and a quarter hour trip to Cape May. The host had told me that the house would be cleaned on Monday and then sit empty for three days before I arrived on Friday. That seemed pretty safe. Even so, I wiped down all door handles and light switches with Lysol and washed my hands before I unpacked and settled in. The cottage was adorable, with surf and sand decorations including crabs and octopi. The kitchen was perfectly functional and the sun coming in the windows filled my heart with warmth and joy. The neighborhood was very quiet and peaceful and the beach, really only two blocks away, was magnificent.
Princeton is having an all virtual semester and it seems to be going pretty well overall. Some schools are trying to have in person classes with precautions, some schools are having a hybrid combination. Some schools with in-person students are having outbreaks of COVID and sending everyone home for virtual classes. What a mess. I am still happy to be teaching from home, doing yoga classes from home, and meditating from home with people from all over the world. What a delightful surprise it was to receive an email from a grad student in Brazil about Singing in Style.
My 60th birthday trip to Greece was definitely not happening this summer. Thank goodness we hadn’t paid any money for it before the world shut down. Instead, we stayed home, safely enclosed by our fence, and had a lovely summer. Louie was the happiest dog in the world as he ran free in the back yard with his humans constantly home. The wildlife was plentiful as well, including turtles, a groundhog, and a hawk’s nest at the very top of one of the huge pine trees near the house. The three babies were awe inspiring to watch as they grew and explored our back yard all through June and July.
Emily did a two-week quarantine, got a negative COVID test, and came to stay with us for three weeks in June, and then again for seven weeks in August and September. She brought her two kitties, Buster and Moon, and we all laughed a lot watching Louie adjust to his new roommates. Emily and I did zoom yoga classes on the deck, went on long bike rides, and cooked amazing meals together.
The semester is finally over. Princeton had virtual Reunions on Saturday, a virtual Commencement on Sunday and a virtual Class Day on Monday. Now is a good time to capture some thoughts on what it was like to teach and adapt to this new world. When I got home from Forest Refuge on March 17 the world was in a panic and closing down. I was actually quite a bit ahead of the game getting ready to teach online since I had done some research and preparation a week earlier. Classical Singer Music and the NATS organization offered a wealth of advice and information to voice teachers about how to teach virtual voice lessons. I can’t say how thankful I am for their support and encouragement. I already had a decent microphone from reading for Learning Ally and I dug out a pretty nice set of wireless head-phones Michael had gotten for me several Christmases ago. I learned how to invite my students to zoom meetings and adjust my audio settings to optimize sound for singing. I downloaded the full Appcompanist library to my phone. I organized the bookshelves behind the piano and made them look presentable and attractive as a background. I was feeling pretty calm and present from my time in Barre. I was ready to meet my students online.
Just as I was pulling out of my driveway for the five-hour trip to Barre, MA and ten days at Forest Refuge, the oil change light blinked on my dashboard. Oh, no… I remembered there was some warning light flashing as I drove to FR in January of 2015 just when my mom found out that she had leukemia and her doctor suggested hospice. That was certainly a strange time to be on retreat. This time I knew I could easily take care of the oil change when I came home, but I had a sinking feeling that the warning light did not bode well.