2020-2021 COVID Days Memories

Anne and Stewart French
July 8, 2021

( Here's The Photo Album )

Is the COVID crisis over? Probably not, but things are starting to return to normal. Anne and I decided it is time to write down our memories of 2020 and 2021 so that we don't forget how things evolved and changed.

Common COVID-related words and phrases -

  COVID-19                          Monoclonal Antibodies
  Coronavirus                       Asymptomatic
  Novel Coronavirus                 Shelter in Place
  SARS-CoV-2                        Long Haul
  Epidemiology                      PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
  Social Distance                   Patient Zero
  Quarantine                        Respirator
  Containment                       "Drink Bleach"
  Flattening the Curve              Clinical Trial
  Community Spread                  Comorbidity
  Pandemic                          Efficacy & Efficacious
  Quarantine                        "All jobs are essential"
  Self-Isolation                    Essential Workers
  Contact Tracing                   Randomized Controlled Trial
  Herd Immunity                     COVID Toes
  Hydroxychloroquine                Intubation
  Remdesivir                        Cytokine Storm
  Incubation Period                 Drive-thru Testing
  Lockdown                          PCR test
  Super Spreader                    LFT test
  Vaccine                           Antibody test
  Ventilator                        N95 masks
  IRL - In Real Life                OLO - On Line Order

How did we find out about the "Coronavirus" ?

It's hard to remember exactly how we learned about the virus. It was probably local NBC5 News, the PBS Newshour, Colbert, and Fallon. I clearly remember thinking that we'd "lock down" for a few weeks until the infections died out and things would return to normal. There was all this discussion of testing and contact tracing. It seemed so scientific and plausible except that the tests weren't available and when you got one it took days to get the result. The contact tracing didn't seem to be working, people would get sick, get tested, and days if not weeks later they would get their positive result. The horse was out of the barn by then, no amount of contact tracing could possibly trace the connections.

Things started locking down. Colbert and Fallon stopped broadcasting. The newspeople at NBC5 started broadcasting from their homes, the weatherman Rick Mitchel broadcast from his "Weather Patio" with his dog, Hazel, sometimes visible. PBS Newshour's Lisa Desjardins broadcast from her living room with her cat, Rocky, behind her, usually asleep on the couch. In March Jimmy Fallon came back online and started broadcasting "The Tonight Show - At Home Edition" from their home in the Hamptons with his wife Nancy at the controls and starring his two daughters who were total scene stealers. We watched his first Zoom guest Lin-Manuel Miranda and wondered if this quarantine thing was going to last, the show was very different. It took some time but became sensational with guests doing Zoom skits and his girls taking over "Thank You Notes". Colbert was similar with "A Late Show", coming back online at his home in New Jersey with his wife Evie and sons at the controls. With over 150 shows broadcast from quarantine they eventually moved the show back to Manhattan into a closet near the Ed Sullivan theater. We saw Evie with him almost every episode. In some ways the late night talk shows adapted and became different and better with the creativity and effort.

We were told by the news media that we needed to start wiping everything down with Chlorox wipes, to use hand sanitizer, that the virus could exist on surfaces for hours if not days. We had visited Target prior to all this getting severe and had purchased some Chlorox wipes, and put a small container in each car. Whenever we went anywhere we would take one with us and first wipe anything we touched, then wipe again when back in the car. Was it necessary to create a "shoe wipe" stand for when we walked through the door at home? Every visit outside required a thorough hand washing, with youtube videos showing us how to properly wash our hands like doctors going into surgery.

The local and federal governments were trying to get things under control, to provide guidance, but it was tough. The feds held these daily bizarro press conferences, with Anthony Fauci, Deborah Birx, Robert Redfield as the experts. But Trump would show up and dominate the podium, making bizarre claims and irrational statements. Eventually we stopped watching the press conferences and started looking for our go-to sources of info on other channels, like CNN, PBS, and Colbert, and found that we depended mostly on Anthony Fauci and Sanjay Gupta. Gupta also started a daily podcast, "Corona Virus, Fact vs. Fiction" that was a fantastic source of info. Fauci would appear on the news and give such well reasoned info in a calm, professional manner. It was helpful and calming. It was super-bizarre when Trump started attacking Fauci and his administration stopped permitting him from appearing on news shows or granting interviews. Fauci, Birx, and Redfield walked this crazytown fine line with Trump, trying to get good information out, trying to bypass the insanity that was our president.

We eventually located several websites to use as dashboards for how things were going, and things were not good. The hospitals were quickly becoming overrun with very sick people, and people were dying at an alarming rate. It was all getting worse and worse. However, and this is very strange, we didn't know anybody that had gotten sick from the Corona virus, yet.

We used these websites to track what was/is happening with covid infection, deaths, and vaccinations.

    Texas Covid dashboard -

    Texas Hospital info -

    Specific Collin County (and other Texas counties) -

    Johns Hopkins for worldwide data -

    Vaccination dashboards -

    Vaccinations in Texas -

In March Anne had a fun but short pre-Corona visit to St. Louis to hang with her sister, Kathy, and nephew Ben and niece, Brenda. Before her trip we visited Target to hunt for travel-sized Chlorox wipes. The whole section of wipes was empty shelves, so Anne posted on Facebook and found a local friend that had some she could give her. On the airplane several folks used these wipes to wipe down the tray tables and vents above. The flight attendants were announcing "thanks for using the wipes, but do not leave them in the seat pockets, give them to an attendant.." The virus was rare in Texas and the Midwest when she left but when she got back home, things started shutting down big time. Travelers heeded warnings to wipe surfaces, wash hands and not touch faces. Two weeks of self-isolation later, no symptoms. Meanwhile, they had a ball at the new St. Louis Aquarium and bird watching along the Mississippi, including a bald eagle family! Ben's girlfriend Christie's daughter grabbed a railing, her mom told her not to touch things, so she licked her hand. So there, COVID!

In the beginning the CDC was recommending that people did not need to wear masks. The thought was that the virus was transmitted on surfaces so a lot of effort was made to clean and disinfect surfaces. Even if one wanted a mask they were hard to get early on, reserved for healthcare workers. As the info evolved masks started being recommended. They were very hard to find. All the good ones, the 3M N95 masks were reserved for healthcare workers. Even the surgical masks, thin paper masks that wrapped around one's ears were hard to find. We ended up finding and buying "gaiter masks" on Amazon. These are closed-loop stretchy fabric that can wrap around your head and cover your face. Mostly used for outdoor activities to keep your nose and ears warm, they worked pretty good as masks when doubled over.

In the COVID early days we heard that local hospitals were having supply problems with the N95 masks. Turned out we had a box of 3M N95 masks marked for use in woodworking to prevent dust from entering one's lungs. Our neighbor Rachel, a Physician's Assistant, worked at a clinic, so we gave her our masks to try and help out. 10 masks is not a lot but every little bit hopefully helps.

At one point Anne went to Tom Thumb to get some groceries and had to use her turtle neck pulled up over her face and nose. Friend Jeanie recognized her there and offered hand-made masks made by her friend which turned out to be our first true fabric masks that we wore for a long time.

On one episode of Sanjay Gupta's podcast he had the inventor of 3M N95 masks, the gold standard of fiber masks. He said that COVID virus would die within 1 week on a mask. Stewart got to thinking and planning and put together a rack in the garage, two pegs for each day, labeled Monday through Sunday. The right peg holds unused masks, the left peg holds the used masks. Each day, as one of us leaves the house to get in the car, we would take an unused mask (first person of the day moves all the used masks to the unused peg) to use. When we return we'd put the mask on the peg marked as used.

Early on our masks were the gaiters, then as cloth and paper masks became available we got masks from NASA, Illusion Salon, halloween, Jam's World, others. It always seemed like a lost opportunity for businesses to sell custom masks with their logo on them. It sure was fun finding interesting masks and loading them onto our mask rack.

Most of our masks were cloth and paper. As the months passed we heard more and more good things about N95 masks. Then we saw a story on NBC5 TV and articles in the NYTimes and Dallas Morning News that there were US companies making N95 masks and having a hard time selling them. So we ordered boxes of N95 masks from "United States Mask" in Ft. Worth, TX, https://www.unitedstatesmask.com/. Stewart started using the N95 USMasks instead of the cloth or paper masks. They fit very snug and seemed very protective. All the masks had the problem of directing moisture toward Stewart's glasses, fogging them up. Also, the masks had the tendency to drop below the nose. Anne found a remedy to this with this double-sided tape she used to stabilize her dress at Emily's wedding - Scotch double-sided removable fabric tape. This stuff worked great to both keep the mask in place and to prevent moisture from steaming up glasses.

Grocery shopping was very strange during early COVID days. Our local Market Street grocery allowed older citizens in an hour early, 7-9am on Monday morning, before other people were allowed in. So one Monday morning Stewart took his grocery list, put on his gaiter, grabbed a Chlorox wipe, and headed to Market Street. It was a total zoo inside, filled with older folks trying to keep 6' of physical distance. Every cash register was open and lines spilled into the food aisles.

Stewart arrived at about 7:10am and there was no toilet paper, no fresh fruits or veggies, no meat, little dairy. Still, they had rice, beans, canned goods so he loaded the cart with whatever he could find and came home. The first 2-3 weeks were the worst. The groceries were having problems getting things delivered. Since people were working from home now they needed more t-paper, paper towels, lunch supplies, etc at home instead of at the office, so the supply chains for offices vs. home were screwed up and took weeks to balance. Stewart tried to go to the grocery once a week on Monday or Tuesday, but things would appear on the shelves, get mobbed, and were gone so quickly that it would require special trips to Target or Tom Thumb or Kroger whenever a hint of availability was posted on Facebook. Target would get a big supply of t-paper, the kind that might be found in a gas station toilet, and people would buy whole shopping carts full of it. The groceries had to start limiting the number of certain items that people could buy at one time.

We even tried online shopping with delivery. Market Street was advertising it on signs at the store, so one day we went online and placed an order for several items. It was a Thursday when we placed the order and the soonest they could deliver was the next Wednesday. Okay, fine, we could last until then. When Wednesday came, that morning, we got a text message from Market Street to say that _none_ of the items that we wanted were available! It was a total failure, we never ordered grocery online again.

Stewart noticed that our favorite Chinet Classic napkins were no longer available at Market Street. A check on Amazon showed they were indeed available online, for $ 20/package. They are $ 4.50/package at Market Street in normal times! Does that mean that someone swooped in and bought all the Chinets and are reselling them at scalper's prices on Amazon? Yes, of course that's what it means. We started noticing more and more of this on Amazon.

We had been having lunch with Stewart's Raytheon work buds on Tuesdays. We met for a final time on 17-March-2020 at Abuelo's in Plano. We didn't even know it was the final time! The service staff had tables setup with distance between the chairs and some people wore masks. It was very strange as we discussed COVID and the government and city responses, at distance. The next Tuesday John H. msg'd us all ahead to cancel for this week, hoping to pick lunch back up as things settled down in a couple weeks. It didn't restart until 01-June-2021 after all the lunch crowd had been vaccinated. We got back together at Amigo's in Richardson, our old lunch stomping ground, with Kyle S. from Lockheed in Utah back for work meeting us there. It was a strange feeling, like the missing year was just a dream. We picked right back up where we left off discussing the government and city responses, this time without masks and no distancing.

As the crisis deepened and the infection spread the cities, counties, and state started canceling things. We have had season tickets to several theater groups in Dallas including Dallas Theater Center, the Broadway Series at the Winspear, Hear Here lectures, Dallas Summer Musicals, concerts at various venues around the area. These were all either postponed or cancelled outright. This led to a complex process of refunds, transfers, reschedules, and donations of individual and season tickets. It turned out to be tremendous work for the theater staff, who were mostly working from home at this point. We rescheduled what could be and ended up donating the money from the lost shows to the theaters to help support the out-of-work players and staff. It felt like the only way to keep things going through the pandemic, given nobody knew when it would ever be over.

It was the same for all the bike rallies we used to attend, Easter Hill Country, Magnolia Ride in Durant, OK, Tour d'Italy, Lancaster Country Ride, Hotter N'Hell Hundred, Katy Flatland, etc. All gone in 2020, and many still gone in 2021 although some are starting to stand back up.

All the neighborhood events stopped including, our First Fridays, Anne's Seeport Darlins, the 4-July parade, and the Newcomer Friends of Greater Plano. Our health club, LA Fitness, ended all group exercise classes including Michele, Sandra, and Sue's Step Aerobics classes, Brandi's Cycle classes, all Yoga, Kickboxing, Bodyworks classes. They also closed the day care. Some people suspended their memberships since they weren't going and couldn't see paying the monthly charge until things started back up. We decided to keep paying, try to keep them afloat. We have seen all of our favorite health clubs eventually shut down for financial reasons and really didn't want to lose our exercise classes. Our step instructor, Michele, started releasing Step and Bodyworks classes on YouTube. They were very hard with lots of choreography. We setup our steps in the garage and took her classes twice a week, slowing down the video, replaying sections, making Powerpoint slides with the moves & times on them so we could rewind and practice practice. It was great exercise. When we returned to classes in June-2021 we really hit the ground running, knowing all the various moves and rhythms.

We also cancelled our planned July family vacation in Evergreen, Colorado. This was in the fantastic VRBO Above The Clouds where we stayed in 2018. Stewart worked with the property manager to postpone a year and try again in July-2021, fingers crossed. There were no trips to Houston, no Backroads bike vacations, no more sister's vacations until the pandemic ended and Fauci said we were clear to travel.

With all travel suspended we ended up having our 2020 Thanksgiving and Christmas at home. Anne's Newcomer Friends women's group went from 30 in-person activities per month down to about 8 that could be done over Zoom. These included book clubs, welcome coffees, Happy Hiatus trivia games, and several cooking classes. Anne took the Zoom cooking classes, with Stewart looking over her shoulder then used the recipes for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were marvelous! We held hour-long family Zoom sessions at each holiday for fun conversation, jokes, and kids antics. Turned out these were very relaxed holidays for us, with no driving to Houston or intense preparation. We tried our hand at cookies at one point without much luck ending up with one big gooie nasty cookie that we threw away. We cracked ourselves up!

Zoom became the app of choice for online meetings, work, family, and friends. For Anne's Newcomer Friends group it was now easy to put names to faces, which was more difficult with name tags in person. We could set the computer on the table after Thanksgiving meal and talk to everyone while cleaning up, drinking coffee, feet up, very relaxed. One thing we discovered was that it was hard to end the "meeting". People would keep talking and leave it all running for hours, it seemed. At times people would just leave from their screen to go do things, like maybe to the bathroom? Sometimes people would just quietly exit the app. There typically was a time limit for the app, 30 minutes with a 10 minute grace period. But a host could subscribe to a pro license, for a fee, and could run the session much longer. It became very clear that Zoom introduced new social protocols that people had to learn! "You're on mute!" was a common phrase. And we learned, from Colbert, that one should never take the phone running Zoom to the bathroom with you to stay connected.

Prior to COVID the neighbor kids would come over and sit on the front porch. We would bring out several Bopit!, giant Jenga, etc games and we'd sit around playing games and competing. Dayton and Bella would help work the Wonderword from the newspaper. Sometimes the girls would come over when we weren't there and make up plays for the security cameras or leave messages on the cams, sometimes without ever ringing the doorbell or knocking! We have a vid of Bennett coming up on the porch and seeing a Rubik's cube, picking it up, spending a few minutes solving it, and sitting it back down to wander off the porch and back to whatever he was doing before.

After COVID we had to stop that. Parents had briefed them on the mask and distancing rules, and they tried their best, but they forget easy. At one point we saw Kate and Channing in the green space with their blankets spread 6 ft apart, they were taking great care to distance. But other times they just hung together out there like kids do. We ended up getting some twine and stretching a 6 ft marker line across the porch, telling the kids they could not cross that line. You can imagine how that worked, Dayton, Channing, and Bella were good about it, but Kate and Austen pushed the limits. The visits dwindled and the games stopped. As COVID weariness set in and 2020 progressed the kids stopped conforming to the distancing and masking rules when they were outside. Parents dealt with it as best they could, but with so many kids out playing and hanging out it was very difficult. We would hear of a parent having cold symptoms and running to get tested. Problem was they wouldn't get the results back for days and life continued in the homes and neighborhood. We never really found out who tested positive or who had COVID. Nobody in the neighborhood every seemed to have any serious long-term effects or ended up in the hospital.

As fall rolled in and temperatures moderated we decided to invite some of the neighbors over to sit on the porch for conversation and wine. This worked great and was reciprocated a few times. We even went over to friend Maria's house over in Plano a couple times to sit around her fire pit, roast S'Mores and enjoy the fall.

In February-2021 Texas had "Snowmegeddon", where the temps fell to single digits and the power grid failed. Neighbors ended up hosting other families who had lost power and much of the COVID protocol was difficult to apply. We never heard that anybody got sick or spread the disease but it felt very risky.

Our neighborhood decided that Halloween was a "must have" with certain restrictions. Parents walked with their children and carefully managed their interactions. Candy was distributed such that minimum hands touched anything (this was still in the days where we believed COVID was transmitted on surfaces ). To support the restrictions we ordered these small draw-string bags and loaded them with 2-3 pieces of candy each. We laid them spread out on chairs so that the kids could walk by and pick one up without touching the others. Then we marked off our porch to be one-way. Kids would walk up the sidewalk and onto the porch, pick up some candy, turn right, walk across the porch, down the steps, and back to the parents on the driveway. The sidewalk, porch, and driveway had signs up showing where the kids should walk, and big X's on the ground for distancing. It worked fantastic! The parents saw it all and directed the kids from the street. The kids followed the signs and picked up candy and left. Then we'd lay out more candy bags for the next trick-or-treaters easy pickup. Everybody cooperated and we had 133 trick-or-treaters!

During COVID days two nieces, Melanie & Brad, and Meredith & Tommy gave birth to two great nephews, Charlie (April-2020) and Gabe (July-2020). The births were strictly controlled by the hospitals and COVID protocols, so we weren't able to see them until May-2021. We scheduled a family trip to Houston to see the new grand nephews, their folks, grand parents, and other nieces and nephews all in the same weekend. It was quite a whirlwind and our first big road trip since this all started. With most everyone vaccinated, it was a wonderful visit. We've slowly come to the conclusion that those who choose not to get vaccinated are taking that risk on themselves. As vaccinated persons we would rather they not get sick, but the vaccinations are easy and safe and should be gotten by everybody.

In the early days of COVID, back when we believed it was transmitted easily on surfaces, we did several things to remind us that we must not touch hand-to-face without first sanitizing or washing. Anne got this great idea to write an Apple Watch app that could recognize when one was lifting their hand to their face and yell out "Hey! Don't Touch Your Face!!!". Together we took the online Stanford iPhone programming class, Stewart for the second time. Stanford had converted all their classes to online classes so the professor had customized the class. It was super hard, much harder than when it was not online-only. Before it would go for an hour, students would ask questions, professor would carefully describe things based on the students understanding. This time however, the professor went for 1.5 hours or more, no questions, he blazed through the material with the understanding that we might need to watch it again (and again and ...) in order to pick it up. By the time we got through the class our understanding of COVID had evolved and we were much less concerned with surface transmission. Now in mid-2021 we rarely hear much about "wash hands" and "don't touch your face", although I would expect those things to be very good for preventing common colds and the seasonal flu.

Stewart came up with an interesting reminder not to touch his face. He rarely wore his wedding band before, now he dug it out and started wearing it. One day while looking through some of his parents keepsakes he discovered his father's wedding band and tried it on. It fit! So he decided to wear both of them, one on each hand, reminders of COVID and also reminders of his father and mother.

Although it had little to do with COVID, both our cats Tootzak and Seebie passed during 2020 and 2021. Seebie passed in June-2020, Tootzak in March-2021. They both got excellent treatment because of COVID since both of us were home all the time, servicing their every need! We believe this helped Tootzak to survive longer after his brother passed and he dealt with kidney failure. He knew how to push us around, and we loved doing things for him. The vets we used had strict COVID protocols setup such that we had to drop them off and pick them back up outside the door. We were not allowed inside to be with them for their appointments and as they were diagnosed and treated.

During 2020 and early 2021 we stopped biking outside. We decided that, with the hospitals overwhelmed and ERs packed and dangerous, it didn't make sense to risk a crash that might end us up in those ERs. However, as the hospitals started recovering we started experimenting with some of our go-to local rides, like our bike ride to the Heard Museum and back, the Ridgeview, and Lake Lavon rides, and more recently down to White Rock Lake. We did not realize that a lot of people had moved their work to their homes that ended their commutes. The roads where we bike were amazingly clear of traffic, even during a Monday or Tuesday morning (we usually bike outside on Sunday). At the same time we discovered that the trails were packed with people walking and biking. We used to avoid the roads by going on the trails. In COVID times we reversed that biking on the roads and avoiding the trails. We also learned that bicycles were being bought like crazy so people could get some exercise while cooped up at home. The bike shops told us that the bike manufactures had stopped producing many bikes due to supply chain problems, parts coming in from China and asia had dried up. We checked the manufacturers websites and found that no new bikes were available anywhere. At the other end of the spectrum, used bikes started showing up for premium prices, and, as our friends in Austin discovered, bikes were being stolen right out of their storage spots in garages. The used bike websites are loaded with bikes of all makes and models, all premium priced.

We didn't want to give up biking so we increased our use of indoor trainers. The massively multiplayer online "game" Zwift expanded their offerings during COVID times introducing a 2020 Virtual Tour de France coordinated with the real TdF owners and teams. In July they held a 6-stage race with pro tour teams participating including INEOS-Grenadiers, Trek-Segafredo, Canyon-SRAM, and many others. Zwift introduced a whole new "world" to bike that simulated roads in France. It also included an accurate representation of Mont Ventoux, one of the most difficult mountain routes in any TdF, and the Champs-Elysees in Paris, which is the final stage 21 of the real Tour de France. We got the chance to ride the French roads after the racers completed each stage. It was very different from IRL (In Real Life) TdF but terrifically fun as we got to see the pros in their garages and laundry rooms on their fancy bikes and bluetooth enabled trainers turning themselves inside out to win. Zwift also introduced the exact same 6-stage route for the women's TdF races. We started recognizing our riding buds from the Twenty20 Pro Women's team. They lead a Thursday morning group ride that we rode religiously during the COVID days and got to know the racers and their friends. These rides would often have 100+ riders on them with us in the mix.

Another virtual biking opportunity presented itself when we found out about the Texas Distance Challenge. The two of us first signed up to "cross Texas" on our bikes, from El Paso to Texarkana, over 800 miles. This turned out to be very easy since we were allowed to credit our previous Zwift miles. So next we signed up to circumnavigate Texas, a group effort with friends Maria, Claudia, and Jeff joining as team "Burnin' Bums". This ride was 3,612 miles. As we progressed around Texas we looked up cities we would have been near IRL and wrote little travelogs about them. It was great fun and a lot of exercise, while still locked away in our homes.

We decided early on in COVID days to stop going to our doctors, dentists, and optometrists. This is a bit tricky since we both needed to see our dermatologists and Anne needed to see her optometrist. We scheduled these and went and discovered the doctor's offices were super careful, requiring masks and distancing, some even requiring that the patient stay in the car until called. It was reassuring and felt pretty safe.

At the dermatologist Stewart sat in the 2nd waiting room as the aide bustled around getting things prepped. Everyone was wearing masks. Stewart told the aide he had been vaccinated and asked if she was vaccinated. She replied "No." He couldn't ask "Why the hell not??!" That's not approriate. So he was just very careful to maintain distance, which was mostly impossible. We had been reading in the news that a lot of hospital workers were not getting their vaccinations for various reasons. We have had similar experiences with HVAC technicians and handymen. Once they became plentiful we started keeping N95 masks available at all the doors to give out to technicians that are not vaccinated and don't have masks, of which there have been several. It is all mystifying.

The most restrictive protocol was Anne's hair appointments. She had to sit in the car in the parking lot. The door to the salon was locked until she was called and escorted in. One couldn't bring in anything but her car key and payment method (her phone). Purses had to be left in the car. When she walked in she was offered a pump to sanitize her hands and they took her temperature. Masks were required for all the stylists and all the clients. Never more than two clients at a time, plus the receptionist who also wore a mask all the time.

Anne got an antibody test at our doctor's drive-thru site near our house. She did this because she had a really bad cold in January that lasted more than three weeks and had unusual symptoms including veritgo and headaches. Although not typical of COVID, we figured it was worth getting the test to learn how it would work and to find our if she had the antibodies. The process was very simple. She went online and registered and got scheduled for the next day. We drove over to the medical clinic parking lot which was marked off for the drive-thru testing and got into line. We were the third car in line. They had two bays setup. We were directed into one, Anne gave her info and got her shot. They told us she'd get her results in 2-3 days, but they called the very next day telling her the result was Negative. It was very easy and quick. She never did figure out what that was in January.

There are several wildlife centers near us that we had never visited. COVID times presented a unique opportunity to expand our horizons, so we scheduled several bird-watching trips. About a 45 minute drive southeast from our house, the John Bunker Sands Wetland Center is more than 3000 acres dedicated to water conservation and wildlife management. It has a spectacular visitor center and boardwalks across the wetlands. There is a family of eagles that return every year to create their nest in a non-functioning replica of a power line tower, moved from a working, but dangerous, power line tower. They didn't care, it was high up and reminded them of home. We have visited twice now and loved it each time seeing the eagles from a distance and many other birds, Coots, Ospreys, Sparrows, etc and other wildlife.

We also increased our visits to the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. The Hagerman is a haven for migratory birds and other wildlife on over 11,000 acres of wetlands, grasslands, and woodlands. It is located near Lake Texoma on the Red River. There are a stunning number of waterfowl there. Sometimes we would drive into the Hagerman and see nothing for miles across the water into the distance. Disappointed we would drive on down, turn left onto the gravel road, and head west. Suddenly, just over a little hill there would be hundreds, maybe thousands of Snow Geese and Ross's Geese in the water, on the land, and flying low in huge flocks. Looking up we could sometimes see hundreds of geese flying in formation west to east, way way up, majestic and beautiful. They are also very loud and a bit stinky.

The Connemara Conservancy is a short walk from our house and we upped our walks over there. It is a beautiful facility filled with birds and wildlife. Sunrises can be pretty spectacular. Similarly, the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary is a short drive from our house. They have hosted guided bird walks in the past years but cancelled them during COVID days. Still, it is a nice place to go to watch birds and enjoy nature. This one can be a bit crowded so Anne signed us up for an unusual event hosted at the Lake Lewisville Environmental Learning Area LLELA. A group of students, being led by one of their professors, a master naturalist, met us at 5am one Tuesday morning to band Painted Buntings. They had 10 nets in the area that they setup to capture the Buntings. Every 30 minutes a group would go visit each nest and bring the Buntings back for banding and recording. It was incredibly interesting and educational. They also banded Dickcissel and fixed a Cardinals pinched band. And, btw, it was incredibly muddy, driving on the mud road to get to the site, hiking through the mud and water to get out there. Our car was packed with mud when we got done, 4 hours later. We drove directly to our car wash, flinging mud in all direction. The car washers took one look at Anne's car and directed her off to the side, charged her a bit more, and hand sprayed all that mud out from under her wheel wells. So.Much.Mud...FUN !!

Stewart decided that, once a person was vaccinated, it would be good to let people know. That way, when you are at Target or the grocery the workers there could see that you were safer to approach. He dug around on Amazon and the web and didn't really like what was there so he decided to design a custom pin. The Pin Depot had the answer. He Photoshopped some bandaids, a cartoon pic of Fauci, the words "COVID-19 Fully Vaccinated!" and sent it to the Pin Depot. They made him 100 metal pins (the minimum order) that he started giving away to people at the club, at lunch, around the neighborhood, and friends. We didn't realize it, but this idea had a time limit. Once a large percentage of people got vaccinated Fauci and the CDC announced that we could start going places without masks. At that point there was no real reason to wear the pin. It is now just a reminder of what COVID days were like.

Starting late spring we started having a serious rat problem in our front and back yards. In August Allen city staff came by to give recommendations. He explained that COVID-related curbside delivery for restaurants along Highway-75 meant empty dumpsters out back. Those rats that used to live in the dumpsters now spread out into the neighborhoods. Google research pointed to "bait boxes" to poison the rats, so I got four boxes and located one on each side of the house, later added two more. I would fill them with poison pellets (that only killed the rats) and 3 days later they would be empty, refill, empty, refill, etc. I never saw the rat bodies but slowly, slowly they started disappearing and I filled the boxes less and less. Also, we have a large stone slab in front of the house with two bird baths on it and two bird feeders beside it. The slab sits on stone bricks and, it turns out, is open under the slab. The rats made a home under it. I called various pest control companies, none of which wanted to take the job, most were only willing to address rat problems inside a home, like in the attic. So I called Puckett's Landscaping and they came out, lifted the slab, cleaned it all out (that was really something to see!), and filled it with crushed granite. Problem solved! The rats can't dig the crushed granite out from under the slab.

It was probably August-2020 when the grocery stores started to return to a "quarantine" normal. Fruits and veggies are back in stock, plenty of t-paper, paper towels, and napkins are there, no issues with pasta, etc. Every now and then we may find something missing, like Diet Slice soda in 12-packs never came back, but that may have had nothing to do with COVID. We'll probably never know.

The Government's "Operation Warp Speed" was able to produce vaccines against COVID-19 by the end of 2020, a miracle! Then it became the responsibility of the states, counties, and cities to get the vaccines into arms. Although not a total disaster, it was not smooth. The feds provided almost no guidance so the cities and counties went out on their own. Custom websites, telephone systems, in-person signups, whatever they could dream up. The CDC had put together a queuing priority recommendation so that older and more vulnerable citizens could get vaccinated first and the queues could be kept shorter. Wouldn't want elderly people to have to wait in line, outside in the cold, for hours, risking getting COVID while in the line.

Since Anne was 65 years old she was eligible for a COVID vaccination, Stewart was not eligible until his 65th birthday in March. On the day of vaccine availability Anne spent hours in the "Hunger Games" trying to get scheduled : Collin, Dallas, Tarrant, Denton counties, various hospitals, fire stations. She developed a spreadsheet. The Allen Fire Department system was very much like trying to get tickets to Hamilton, go to the website and start hitting RETURN over and over and over, trying to get in the queue to pick a date/time slot. It kept going until all the available slots were full. If you didn't get a slot, well, you can start again tomorrow. Good luck.

Some of the other signup systems were more first-come-first-served. Anne ending up getting her first shot in Tarrant County, Arlington, 22-January-2021, the second a month later. Stewart turned 65 3-March-2021 and started hunting for vaccination sites. Turned out CVS had recently come online with shots and he got signed up for his on 08-March-2021 at CVS in Mesquite, TX, 2nd shot a month later. Much, much easier than Anne's experience.

For us, it felt like things were really opening up mid April-2021 when Emily, Andrew, and Mia came to visit. We went to a Live Green concert at Connemara then headed over to our local restaurant, Two Rows, and sat inside. It was our first time back to a restaurant! It felt very strange, and slow, compared to curbside, but it was great to hang with family.

Anne's women's group, Newcomer Friends of Greater Plano, moved their happy hours inside in April-2021 and made plans for everything else moving back inside and starting back up. We started going to lunches inside restaurants in May. We did our first big family road trip to Houston also in May and were finally able to meet the two great nephews born during COVID, Charlie Harkey and Gabe Schmuck. The regular "lunch with work buds" restarted 01-June-2021. Masks became optional at grocery stores and restaurants. Our theaters are starting to re-open, Dallas Theater Center, Broadway Series, and Dallas Summer Musical are all sending out notices.

Anne went on a sisters trip to Maine in June-2021. Traveling from DFW to Boston to Bar Harbor, Maine, she got to experience COVID recovery first hand. She and her sisters are all fully vaccinated so they were safe. The Airports and Airlines were all still fully immersed in the COVID protocols including requiring masks in airports and on flights. It will probably stay that way until Fauci and the CDC give the "All Clear" signal for things to let up. The sisters had a great time in Maine, tours, boat rides, restaurants, museums, all available, all safe. Anne points out that the stores and restaurants had reduced staff and implemented reduced customer requirements during COVID days and now needed to start staffing back up and re-tooling. This was a struggle. Finding staff seems to be difficult for every business, for many reasons - baby boomers retired in droves, parents helping kids with remote learning left the workforce, stimulus checks, COVID deaths, restricted immigration, etc. Everybody has an opinion on this, a culture war thing.

Stewart contacted the property manager of Above The Clouds in Evergreen, Colorado to confirm our July-2021 family vacation. No worries, it was all setup and confirmed. We got our airline tickets and car rental. Car rentals turned out to be a problem. It seems that the car rental companies had seen a large decrease in demand and had sold off much of their car inventory. Now, all of sudden, with vaccinations picking up, people were traveling and needing cars again! They are struggling to meet the demand and are charging premium prices for cars. I mean serious premium prices! It's almost twice the price of what it was last time. Ouch.

Things are starting to look up. It makes 2020 seem like we went down a rabbit hole for a year and a half. COVID has caused many deaths and long-term negatives but it has also given us opportunities to change things up, sometimes for the better.