Monday, March 30, 2020

Day 14 - Corona Virus in France - Staying Protected, Family time & Solidarity in the country

We are starting week 3 of homeschooling/distance learning and we are finishing our second week of strict confinement.  The girls have returned back to my house, after spending a week at their father's house and life continues.. or our new Corona virus life.
Not sure if the cat is thrilled to have everyone around 24/7 ,,
Our days are filled with cleaning the house, cooking meals, sharing jokes among friends and neighbors and various mini projects.  The garden looks lovely and neat - rooms have gone through a big Spring cleaning.  We all have probably received those ideas, those videos of all the fun things one can do as a family during lockdown....the reality - no one is too overly ambitious.  There is a fair amount of surfing the internet, hanging on the couch and watching films or TV series.  

We have enjoyed a couple virtual aperos via zoom with our neighbors and friends - it feels so nice to catch up!!! Zoom seems to be our new best friend - allowing video conferencing between friends.

With teenage girls - they enjoy their time in their rooms, watching Netflix movies and series and exchanging with their friends.  We do hang out all together but I also know they enjoy their private time too.   Meal times  are our together time and this has always been our favorite time as a family.  Maybe because they are all in the same place at the same  Saturday night, I decided we would have "make your own pizza night" - I made pizza dough and put out toppings and off they went....

It was definitely a fun time and lightened the mood a bit.  The weather has turned a bit colder.  We have had a very mild March and this week it has been forecasted to be cold and rainy.  But it's back to routine today. Classes and school work for the girls.

Our strict confinement has been officially extended until minimally April 15.  Again in France, we can only go out of our homes with our official statement and only for necessities.  The idea is to stay in - stay at home.  Protect ourselves and protect others, only exit when totally necessary.  We did go out food shopping again last Friday - back to our supermarket.  It's still surreal - so quiet and orderly.  It was less stressful this time, as we knew what was going to happen, how we would have to wait, how they only let a certain number of people in the store at the same time.  Little conversation, and everyone keeps their distance.

The reality of this is we all live with a certain level of stress - watching the number of cases increase each day, hearing unfortunately about the number of deaths per day. France has not hit the peak yet - they are predicting that it will be in about 5-7 days - but that's just prediction - we will see with real numbers.  For me there is added stress of watching this whole epidemic play out in the US where all my family and friends live.  Every country handles this differently and in the US - every state is handling this differently. It's all very overwhelming at times.

Here in France - the hardest hit areas are the "Grand Est" -North East and Eastern France and now, Paris.  Where we live, it's been one of the less hit areas - we still have cases, they are still increasing but other areas of France have many more.  Hospitals in the harder hit areas are filling up - patients in severe distress.  There is a shortage of beds in these areas.  In the town of Mulhouse, the French army has installed an army hospital to serve more patients.  They are also moving patients by a military medical plane across France to areas like the Nouvelle Aquitaine or other lesser hit regions.

We actually had the military plane fly over our home last Friday. (We live 10 minutes from the airport) - It was huge and very loud as it brought the first patients to hospitals in our area.  France has also chosen to medicalized and equipe 2 TGV trains for transporting patients from these hard hit areas to other areas of France.  We also had one of these trains arrive yesterday in Bordeaux.  The coordination efforts of these maneuvers is huge and the medical teams that travel with these patients - dedication.  It's amazing to read about, but sad at the same time.  

Like other countries France is facing a shortage of masks, hand gel and even respirators.  Companies have gone into 24 hours production to turn out more masks for health care professionals.  Other companies have altered their production from one product to start making sanitizing gel and even respirators.  One has to look beyond the drama of everyday news to find inspiring stories like these.  People and companies who are helping out in their own way.  

We have farmers offering baskets of food to hospitals and health care workers, Oyster farmers delivering trays of Oysters to hospitals.  Grocery stores that have dedicated lines to give these professionals priority.  The towns offer school and child care for children of health care professions. Companies refitting and reorganizing production to help with the medical supply shortage.  Designer houses - changing their production - all towards helping during this crisis.

As there is more and more concern about how contagious this virus really is -some health care professionals are choosing not to return home to their families out of protection.  Many hotels have offered free rooms.  There is definitely an outpouring of humanity.  To watch the country come together in solidarity is humbling.  As in other countries, each night at 8pm, people gather at their windows and balconies to applaud these hard-working health care professionals.   (Where we live, it's harder to hear - as we are on a residential street in the suburbs with houses and yards -and many lots are deep with one house sitting in front of other.  It's not the same as living on a city street).

It's these acts that give hope, hope to all of us that we will make it through this time.  News from China indicates that they are now able to exit their homes, go to work and now shops and restaurants are re-opening.  They are the hope, the model, the place to look - but remember - they built new hospitals, they had to generate new materials also.  We didn't necessarily pay close attention, but we are all living the same experience now.  

As we look at minimum another 15 days of strict confinement, I think toward the future - to a month or two  from now when this will be behind us - when life returns to normal - or perhaps a new kind of normal.  

In the meantime, I want to continue to share our lovely area - so full of life and beauty.  Here are some lovely scenes of the Dordogne River - at the port of Libourne one morning last Fall.  I love the fog - a nice symbol for our experience now, it will eventually lift and our life will return again.

Wishing everyone well -  Stay safe.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Corona Virus in France - Starting week 2 - Total Confinement, venture to grocery store & Importance of routine

As I start writing this morning, it's still shocking to me how much of the world is currently living confinement like we are in France - and everyday it is increasing.  All due to Covid-19 or the Corona Virus.

We are now starting our second week in confinement - Day 7.  Second week of home-schooling - second week of only leaving the house out of necessity.  As I shared last week, we can only leave our homes for food shopping & pharmacy, work (if unable to tele-commute), medical appointments, a small bit of exercise close to the house (by foot) and families who share custody can exchange the kids.  That's it.  Yes, and each time we leave we must have our ID and an official signed sheet stating what your are doing. You could meet up with a police officer who has been assigned to patrol the area.

So yesterday for the first time in a week we ventured out to the grocery store.  We filled out our sheets and off we went.  We were actually not only shopping for us, but also for a friend, who has health issues and is advised to not leave the house.  We decided to try the large grocery store as it should have everything we would be looking for and due to size would allow more people inside.  Social Distancing is the new way of life.

This particular store is located inside a mall (the rest of the mall is closed, only the grocery store remains open).  As we drove up, we noticed there was a long line formed outside the first entrance.  People all politely standing behind their carts keeping their proper distance from each other.  I counted about 20 or so in the line outside.

We parked our car and noticed that the second entrance was open too.  There was also a line but not as long, so we chose to join that line. It moved slowly at first but then quickly.  There was tape markings on the floor indicating how far to stand apart.  If you look at the photo below, you see silver horizontal strips to the right of the people, each.

As we arrived closer to the entrance we saw a sign that read - only one person per household could enter the store.  Okay - I understand the logic (make sure everyone has an opportunity to shop) but 1 person?  really?  I could see why they wouldn't want families, parents with kids etc. but really?

Luckily as we have the right to shop for someone who can't leave the house, we split up a bit and if asked were going to explain that one of us is shopping for our household & one for our friend.  No one asked as we were allowed to enter the store in an orderly fashion.  Of course, one woman a few people behind us noticed that we split apart in line and of course, once we were both inside, told me that we were cheating that it was one person from each household.  Typically, French!!! Those that follow the rules, follow them exactly! I could have tried to explain to her that we were actually shopping for 2 households but I chose to ignore her comment and moved on my way.  

Once in side, everyone was going about their shopping.  Some had masks, some had gloves.  (The general recommendation in France is that unless your sick, leave the masks for health care professionals).  There is currently a shortage in France of masks & factories are doing 24 hour continuous production to get more out to health care professionals.  But there were people wearing masks, even scarves and I even saw one woman wearing a large heavy duty mask used for sanding. (Sorry no photo but it was a sight!)

Overall everyone kept their space from one another.  Weighing stations at the fruit/vegetable section also had marked out squares of security indicating where to wait.  A very surreal and odd experience.  Everyone extra vigilant and extra aware.

We finished our shopping and headed home. The roads are eerily quiet, only a few cars. We didn't meet any controls on the road nor at the entrance of the store.  We did see Police walking inside the store verifying that everyone was following the rules of social distancing.  We do live in the suburbs of Bordeaux so it's pretty civilized here.  We are hearing though that in certain parts of France, and even here in Bordeaux - there are people who are really pushing the rules.  They have increased fines and even giving jail time for repeat offenders.

What surprised me the most about our non-eventful run to the store was actually how stressed I was but didn't actually know it.  I am a calm person - I take everything in stride and I try not to get overwhelmed by life in general.  I'm positive and optimistic.  Deep inside, using China as a good example, I know it will be a matter of weeks or perhaps a couple of months that we have to endure this virus - this pandemic.  But I do believe that we will get through it by following what we have learned worked from the Chinese.  So we stay home, we stay confined and we keep our distance from others for a time to stop this virus from spreading. 

All of that swirls in my head, and all the news that keeps coming at us.  Unfortunately we are still in that time where we are waiting for the peak, waiting for the confinement to take it's effect, waiting for less cases, less deaths etc. So all of that produces underlying stress - underlying worry - it pushes wears on our system.

So yesterday afternoon, after our outing and after lunch - I took a nap - I was tired.  Not achy tired, just tired.  I think all the stress of it all caught up with me and even though I sleep pretty well at night - this whole experience is tiring.  So instead of fighting it, I let myself enjoy a nap. A good nap!

I felt much better afterwards.  The other thing that I noticed this week without the girls - is that there is no routine.  I don't have to get up at 7:30/8:00 to make sure my youngest gets started on her work.  The routine is up to me.  Routine is important - even if it's a fluid routine. 

So without the kids it's  Get up, get dressed, breakfast - work, write, our 1 hour of exercise, lunch, afternoon project/cleaning/arranging the house, dinner & evening TV.  Yes, at any point a movie could be added in to pass the time.  Flexible but a routine in any case.

As France talks about stricter rules of confinement, closes open-air markets, talk of hopes in research trials of the drug Cloroquine to combat the virus - we wait, we stay home and we stay safe.

We dream of the return to normal times, to our life - it will come - we just have to wait a bit.  This is definitely a test of our patience.  

In the mean time, here are a few photos of Arcachon- our lovely seaside town on the bay of Arcachon - one hours west of Bordeaux, for your travel dreams.  This photos were taken just a month ago!

The open air market in the center of Arcachon - always selling lots of interesting items.
On a nice day, it's great to eat by the water

The walk along the keyside


Stay safe, dream of better times, we will endure this.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Day 5 - Corona Virus in France - end of the first week of home schooling & understanding the virus statistics

It's now Friday afternoon - The girls have left to spend a week at their fathers.  We survived the first week of homeschooling - Distance learning.
Days revolve around meals and school work - at least it's we can eat outside
Yesterday we continued our schedule of 9-12 and 2-5 pm of homeschooling.  I have to say it's nice to have older kids.  I do consider myself lucky that they are the age, they are.  I thought several times yesterday if this crisis had happened 10 years ago...when they would have been 2,6 and 9. So yes, I think of my friends, colleagues and readers who are at home with 3 young children.  I remember vacations when the 3 girls were that age and how a week felt long but I knew it there was an end.  So my thoughts are with those of you who have young children - it's not easy and I know it's tiring.  It always helped psychologically to know the end.

That's the problem here - we don't know how long this will last.  The government said 15 days of strict confinement but it's looking more and more like it will be extended to really try to keep this virus from spreading.  So we wait.

As I said in an earlier post, my challenge is my youngest daughter - keeping her on task and verifying that all is completed correctly.  Of course, like any other week - she's also more tired by the end of the week.  It was also hard for her to really understand that she needed to go to bed like it was any other school day.  Especially difficult when she shares a room now with her oldest sister (who is normally in Paris).  In any case, by the time yesterday and today rolled around - she was definitely more tired.
Luckily with the 2 older girls having plenty of work to keep themselves busy - the ambiance in the house was quiet and studious.  This helps.  So we yesterday and today looked very similar - routine of studying and meals.  

Last night we talked around the dinner table as to how it felt to be home like this.  They were reflective that it wasn't too bad - they were busy and found things to do when they were done with their school work.  Listening to music and talking/face timing their friends in the evening worked too.  They also considered themselves lucky that they could switch houses every other week - gave them a bit of variety in their environment.  They laughed and said - it's actually nice to have parents who have split apart.  (And yes, I agree  - that's the one benefit for me also- a week with them and a week without them.)  Our time together also gives them more time together and more time to pursue other interests, like playing the piano more.
So as we end this Friday afternoon - we have survived the first 5 days of home schooling and the first 4 days of strict confinement.  We have chosen not to exit the house/yard but will have to go get groceries early next week.  We have already placed our order at our local "drive" grocery store.  This is where you can order on line, and have it prepared and brought directly to your car.  I am not the only one who is doing this, so we need to plan ahead and wait up to 48 hours for a pick up time.  I can see we are now living in interesting times.  Yes, we can still go to the grocery store, but I like many others are trying to avoid our exposure to others.   So I have no interest in lining up and going through a grocery store unless I absolutely have to.

As we watch the news - it seems like it is getting worse and worse (more and more cases and more deaths)- which is understandable as we are still very early on in this confinement.  The news can be addictive but also disheartening.  I found a really interesting site - Worldometers where statistics for all kinds of things are listed.  Of course now, they are tracking the numbers for Corona Virus.  I was a bit disturbed as I looked at the numbers in France - we seemed to have a large number of people on respirators (indicating severely ill) as compared to other countries.  Other countries seeemed to have numbers that indicated that every though they were identifying cases, less in severe state.  But then I read that each country tests in their own way.  

France began testing cases in a way that they called - targeted.  This meant when one case was identified - they then went on to test family and others who were in close contact.  This kind of sampling often showed both positive and negative tests but also gave a more rounded sample of degrees of severity.  So initially when we looked at the numbers - it was said that over 85% of people who tested positive showed little or no symptoms.  

However, in France as the outbreak increased, they didn't want to test every single person who was in contact with a positive case.  They were concerned about not having enough tests as the virus spread.  So now they only test the most severe cases.  The cases that arrive at the hospital when they are really in respiratory distress.  For those who are worried and feel they show the symptoms, we are encouraged to call the emergency number and consult with a medical professional.  They will decide if the symptoms are severe enough for the person to go to the hospital.  If the symptoms are not too severe they will treat the person for the symptoms like its the virus and the person stays at home in isolation - so not to spread it to their loved ones.  They are then followed medically remotely and unless their symptoms worsen - they recover at their own homes.  But these cases are not tested now, so there is no positive test to demonstrate that there is a large number of people who recover from the virus.  So this means two things - one that the case numbers is probably a lot higher than the actual numbers but also that there is a higher percentage of recovery than is indicated by the statistics.

I share this for the country of France.  I do not know how other countries are actually testing - I read that each country can choose their style and sampling for testing.  But in any case, it's helpful to understand the statistics and also to know that this virus is definitely highly contagious but also for many not overly serious.  But in any case,  it's best to remain isolated. 

As I have said before China was confined 45 days  - so we won't see improvement for a couple weeks.  But it will seem long - that's why it's best to go day by day. 

So as we continue into the weekend - I dream about better times and today I share one of my favorite chateau - Chateau de la Rivere in the Fronsac Appelation - This beautiful chateau is a wealth of history and wine and was a delight to tour back in February.
View from the Chateau - Looking toward the Dordogne River
It was a great place to explore with my mother during her visit
Caves underneath the chateau are full of history and of course wine
Enjoyed tasting their white and red wines
Visit also included my friend, Anne of Aquitaine Travel Guide

Bon Courage everyone, wishing everyone well and enjoy the weekend!! 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Corona Virus in France - Day 3 -Social Distancing & Confinement rules

Yesterday we spend our third day on home-schooling and our 2nd day in strict confinement.
Our cat who I think is happy for all the company but enjoys his naps!
Overall we have a routine - everyone is up by 8am - dressed and ready to start the day at 9.  Girls start their schoolwork and as adults - we are either working or writing.  My partner is still lucky enough to be able to be working from home and we wait to see what the future has in store for his work - he will probably be like most who will be going on technical unemployment shortly.

The toughest thing is to find the balance for us.  We are under strict confinement and the country of France is still trying to sort out what "may go out for exercise" truly means.  The government left it vague in their statement. - but one may exit for short duration for daily exercise with your self-certified paper
The above is a copy of the statement that we need to have with us if we exit the house.  It's signed on your honor and they have police patrols everywhere who are stopping those out to verify why you have exited.  The toughest one to enforce is the last one "brief exits in proximity of the house for individual physical activity - not to include groups sports or meet ups to do an exercise in a group - or if you have to walk your domestic animal". 

The government left it very vague and yes, it says individual but common sense is if you have children, you can exit to walk with them briefly.  The problem now is that everyone seems to interpret this differently.  There are legitimate people who are out exercising (running, fast walking, etc..) but there are others who are only outside for a stroll or out just to be outside.  The other question is distance - how far is "in proximity of the house"?  They have interviewed several people on this and again, it's a bit up to interpretation.  Some police officer's say only around a block - others are a bit more flexible.  If you are outside now in France without this statement or without a truly valid reason - you will incur a fine of 135 euros.

I think the point here is that we are suppose to stay at home - It's safest to stay confined in our homes, in our yards - on our balconies etc. but obviously for very short periods a short walk for a short period of time - alone would do us some good.  But does this have to be done everyday?  It's a personal question, a personal response.  

It seems that its really hard for people/humanity to stay confined.  The good news is now coming out of China - today marked that first day of no new cases reported.    But the Chinese were totally confined -  enforced confinement, they couldn't exit at all for about 45 days.  So honestly, I feel we are looking at the same thing here.

Psychologically, it's stressful to think toward the future - think about what it mean to be confined at home for a long time.  It definitely creates a lot of stress.  The government told us 15 days to start - but I am sure it will be longer, step by step. There are so many levels to think about - social, personal, financial - it's overwhelming. It's surreal. For me, it's best to go step by step, a bit like day by day.  Not get too overwhelmed, and stay calm.  Manage the problems as they come and not get too worried too quickly.

For us routine is helping us.  School/work time is from 9-12 and 2-5 pm and it is good that the weather is getting better.  Yesterday was a nice sunny day and so is today.  We are among the lucky ones -we have a small garden area and outside terrace.  It's not a big yard - but at least we don't feel penned in.  In fact, in the summer when the weather is nice, we often open the back doors and our outside terrace is really an extension of the house.  But it's not quite warm enough to do that yet.

Social distancing is also hard.  To not see friends is so different, no have human contact with our friends.  Yesterday between neighbors we finally were able to talk - but as we can't be physically too close , it's different. We live in a duplex and we share a driveway with our neighbors - so they pass directly in front of our house as they enter and exit their house.  

So the conversation looked like this:  I was upstairs in my bedroom window, my neighbor had gone to the road to get her mail and was now standing in front of our house.  My partner was standing to the side of our house and my neighbor's husband was at their gate entrance to their side.  4 of us, making a 3D square in order to speak to each other - have a normal conversation.  Part way through the conversation, another neighbor stuck his head over his wall to say hi. Everyone keeping their distance - a strange phenomenon - but wow! - it felt good to not only actually talk to each other but to see each other too.

Yes, we can talk on the phone to each other - but everyone is busy with their own lives, and with kids on distance learning - everyone is busy. So it was nice to actually visually see our neighbors and interact.

We made it through yesterday - and we are continuing our routine today.  I can say that having a routine is a good thing - having something to occupy one's time - a project or structured activities help to pass the time.  

As we listened last night to the increasing numbers of cases being identified here in France (and worldwide) and obviously more deaths, it's not easy.  It's clear that we are on the right path to contain the spread of this virus but it will be difficult and it will take time. It will take time world-wide.

So to keep our spirits high and our outlook optimistic - I am sharing a photos of Spring time and our lovely area . Here's a few of Andernos les Bain on the Arcachon Bay.

How are you coping?  Take care and stay healthy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Corona Virus in France-Day 2- Full Forced Confinement -learning the new rules.

Beach in Arcachon (last month)
Last night President Macron spoke again to the French people.  We have moved into stricter confinement and we are now only allowed to leave the house for limited authorized reasons.  Here is a link to his address dubbed in English.  He is calm, serious and  reminding us all that we are all in this together.

In Summary:
  • he announced measures to "severely restrict movements for the next 15 days at least", starting at midday Tuesday, and limit social contacts as much as possible.
  • The president ordered people to stay at home unless they need to buy groceries, travel to work, exercise or seek medical care.
  • Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said 100,000 police officers will be deployed to enforce the lockdown; anyone found outside will have to provide proof of their reasons for travelling (a self-attesting document verifying the reason).
  • Along with other measures that are too long to list here...
This morning the media has continued to clarify what is allowed and what is not allowed. Obviously, there are still a lot of questions and of course, the moment human beings are forbidden to do something is the moment we search for exceptions!  For us, last night's announcement was expected but it generated a lot of stress in our household.  As I share custody with their father, and the girls travel back and forth between both households, it was not clear if that was to be permitted or if the girls were confined to my house for the next 15 days.  The question running through everyone's head was which household and of course one parent would likely be disappointed.  Their father was due to pick them up this Friday, but if we were confined in theory that wouldn't be allowed. The government had given the French this morning to get themselves settled into one place which would be home for the next 15 days.

During a time like this, one can see that having both parents active in their lives is what children need.  But as as they were faced with possibly having to chose one parent over the other, this was extremely difficult and generated a lot of stress.

Luckily for everyone's peace of mind, early this morning it was clarified by the media/government that picking up and taking children to the other parent's house would be authorized for families that have shared custody.  A big sigh of relief for all of us!  For us, the 2 older girls had been alternating weeks between their father's house and mine.  My youngest spends school weeks with me to shorten the distance between her father's house and her school.  However, as they are all on home schooling/distance learning, all 3 of them will alternate weeks in this trying time.  I have to say, I'm impressed that the government really tried to think of everything and  for families.

Additionally, as parents, we are allowed to take our children outside to open spaces or for a walk/bike ride close to home as long as proper/safe distances are maintained from others.  Obviously, no play dates or meeting up in parks/squares with other parents & children.  The idea is for the physical well-being of children, they can get outside and get some exercise but in isolation.

So with having a little more clarity to our new life, new routine, we started our second day of distance learning.  Basically between the hours of  9-12 and 2pm-5pm, it's study/reading educational hours.  For all of them they have assignments to do and when done, it's foundation/curriculum review.  We have numerous review sites of the French subjects and of course there is reading in French or English.  As the girls are older, it's a bit easier for me than for those with younger children.  

So here we sit, all of us at the dining room table or desk working/studying or writing.   For us adults, there seem to be an on-going stream of messages on WhatsApp, messenger groups - keeping humor and everyone's mood lighten.  Jokes between neighbors and  funny videos help to lighten the up the situation.

The toughest part for me is keeping my youngest daughter on task and finding that balance between short breaks and her studies.  Yes, she has a base curriculum to follow on the French distance learning site and additional assignments directly from her teachers.  But like the students, the teachers are adjusting so these assignments are arriving slowly.  She seems to still have a fair amount of free time, so I am trying to fill in the gap with her reading, physical exercise (inside & outside) and just general curriculum re-enforcement.  But of course, she's a teenager, so her first reaction is often, but it's not required or no, I'm not doing that!  Mom as her new teacher is certain a new challenge for both of us.

Further as a parent of  that same pre-teen finding that delicate balance of  the use of her telephone is another battle.  In fact, since her school agenda is accessed by it, along with being able to communicate about certain assignments with her classmates, plus study groups - so it's a bit hard to just take it away.  But at the same time it can be very distracting as her friends may or may not being doing their work at the same time.  So there are times, I take it and other times she has it.  But of course, being 12, she would prefer to have it all the time. Oh joy, it will be a long 6 weeks or more of homeschooling.

But I have to say, all in all - day 2 has been okay.

We will see tonight if the French are adhering to the new rules - it's now interesting to watch the evening news to follow what's happening not only in France but all over the world.

Hang in there everyone...

Monday, March 16, 2020

Corona Virus in France -Day 1 - Work and School from home - starting the new routine

Our new normal started today.  well our new normal until things change again....

Yesterday we spent a quiet day at home.  After the restaurants and stores were permanently closed late Saturday evening, we began to take account for the fact that it is very important to stay in and stay away from others. So we had a quiet day - it was a nice sunny warm day.  A little calm as they say before the storm.  A time to think, a time to reflect. A time to prepare because that's what we do.

A time for all of us to read, relax and just do nothing.  Harder to do than it sounds.  We are not use to this - we go out, we socialize and we run errands.  Of course, the moment you are told you shouldn't go out is the moment you want to.

Having teenage girls makes it even harder.  They are use to being with their friends, meeting up together - my older girls are independent and come and go on their own.  It's been difficult to get them to truly understand why it's important to stay in, stay isolated, protect each other and others around them. It's a very hard concept for teenagers to truly understand.  I'm not going to go into all the information about the virus - there are plenty of sources for that.  I'm choosing to focus more on our experiences and thoughts as we adjust to this unprecendented crisis.

But overall they have been good - settling into this new routine, new reality.  We stay in our house, but can enjoy our garden.  The outside is fine as long as we are not around  others.

The girls took advantage of the nice day yesterday and spent some time outside.  That's the nice thing about our temperatures here in France - it's Spring and it's good to be outside.  But as much as we can have a nice warm day, it can cool down very quickly.

It's a time for family, a time to enjoy time together.  As my oldest is normally in Paris, it's the time for all three girls to spend some time as sisters.  Last night we all had a video chat with one of my best friends in the States.  As we all huddled around my phone as we video chatted, I realized this will be our new normal.  Phone calls, video calls and virtual communication.  We are truly lucky that our technology is so advanced that we can still stay connected.  I can only imagine that during World War II how isolated people felt as they took cover in their homes.  They couldn't check on loved ones, instantly - they had to wait weeks or months for news.  So we are lucky.

This morning began day 1 of Distance-learning/Home schooling for all my girls.  It's my youngest that I have to monitor the most.  We have put a routine in place - for her studies 9-noon.  Lunch and then 2-5.  Essentially we are following their same hours of  her school.  Her middle school has asked that they work with the general distance learning program which gives daily assignments in French, Math and then a rotation in History, and Science.  This is the general State curriculum and is made up of readings, video lessons and questions.  After that is finished, she looks on her school's agenda program to see what assignments her teachers have sent and she does those.  Today was only the beginning and it was a bit of a lighter day.

As of last night we heard rumblings through the media that President Macron will be speaking in the next couple of days.  We will probably be enduring more strict lockdown /confinement procedures.  This is not surprising as we were beginning to hunker down and limit our trips out of the house - many others were enjoying being out.  It's not so much that being outside is bad, it's being around others - potentially sharing germs with each other.  The general rule is one meter apart.  But this was not what the French were doing - they were lounging in the parks in groups, in large groups - walking along the key side - lots and lots of people.  This was happening in Paris and even in Bordeaux and I imagine in other cities too.

Photo credit - - 
Citizens in France do not seem to be understanding the seriousness and the recommendations from the government.  I'm guessing we will be having a more severe confinement in the coming days.  We will know more tonight at 8pm when President Macron speaks.

In any case, in final anticipation of a more strict confinement, we decided late this morning to pick up a few more things at the grocery store, just to have a bit more on hand.  We know from watching news about Italy and now Spain that stores will be open - there will not be a shortage.  Just the inconvenience of perhaps limited hours, and limited number of people entering into the stores.  1 meter, less than 50 people - those are the new conditions.  However today - they were still not being respected at many stores.

 This was one of our nearby stores today.  Not only was it jammed packed with people but lots of over buying.  Grocery carts filled and over filled.  The above picture is standing in the middle of the store and these are 2 lines for checking out!  The wait to check out for us was 1 hour and 15 minutes and it seemed to be getting longer.  But the time we were leaving, the management has people outside advising people the wait time, not to mention the low stock of many items.

As in the United States, toilet paper was out of stock, but also pasta, rice, many canned vegetables, flour, sugar and eggs...along with many other things.  All I can say is watching human behavior is interesting in it's own right.  I really didn't want to go out today, but actually it was interesting to see humanity in action.  We tried our best to stay as far from others as possible - the length of a shopping cart is a good guide line, but as the lines were winding down the aisles, it was impossible to not be near others who were searching for items in that aisle.  I heard that some stores started limiting the number of shoppers later in the afternoon, but honestly, I can't imagine there was too much left.

So after our 2 and a half hour shopping expedition, home we went, late lunch and then back to work.  My youngest had Math and some English to finish.

So here we are at the end of day 1, we made it through.  Still feeling a bit strange as we adjust and we wait anxiously for this evening's message from the President.  I have to admit as much as I am a calm person and optimistic, this whole situation is causing stress.  It's more the stress of the unknown than anything else but time will tell.

I hope everyone is doing okay - we will get through this again - it's a matter of time.  Hang in there.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Corona virus - Diaries of life in SouthWest France

Worldwide, we are all in this together.  As we watch country by country deal with this virus, I have decided to share and document our experiences.  I welcome comments and experiences from others.  We are a worldwide community dealing with this pandemic - my hope in sharing is to help others to know - you are not alone - we are all in this together and we will get through it together.

Part One - The Beginning

It's now March 14 and for the past month we have been watching the Corona virus travel from China across the world.  Initially, it was easy to watch from a far, easy to think, it's over's happening elsewhere.  Early on, it was a blip on the radar - something going on far away from us, our daily life.  The world watched as China was engulfed by this virus, more and more cases, some deaths -but this was China - this was far away....we watched as China went into lock-down and how they built hospitals to deal with the ill.  It was easier then, easier to believe that it was far away, far from us.  

But as we watched, the virus traveled, traveled with the people who carried it - we live in a global economy, international markets, companies that makes things in China...of course people travel both for business and for pleasure.  But we still didn't believe, as we moved into mid-late February and watched new cases being identified in Europe and other countries too - moving closer, hot spots and clusters were identified, restrictions taken, but our life here in France continued.  Meanwhile, I had the benefit of talking with a Chinese friend of mine who explained the virus and it's spread to me.  It's a matter of letting it run it's course.  China had turned a corner, their lock down had worked and things were improving over there.
By early March however, Northern Italy was in lock down and the rest of Italy would follow soon after but again - it's was over there....  

My mother had been visiting us here in France since mid-February through the beginning of March.  We didn't think twice as we boarded a plane to Barcelona, Spain on March 2 for a 4 day trip.  Yes, cases were popping up here and there - a few in Northern France, a few in the Eastern France, Germany, and even in Spain....but again not too many and not enough to truly worry us.  Even though, now I was beginning to realize that it would affect us, but I still didn't truly believe or accept that the coronavirus would challenge our lives here in France, like it had for China and Italy.

By the time we returned from Barcelona on March 6, things were moving faster.  Even though, our flight was full from Barcelona to Bordeaux, people seemed more aware. I remember observing in the airport bathroom, everyone taking a little longer to soap and lather their hands.  More cases were being identified, not only in France but all over Europe and in the United States.  There was more talk, more rumor of what was to come.  As scheduled, my mother flew home to the States early on March 10 - ironically the day before President Trump made his sudden announcement that all planes were not welcome from Europe. Only to be clarified that it didn't mean Americans returning home but Europeans.  However, the implication is simple, less people means less planes.

During this week, as each day passed, the number of identified cases grew in France - some cases more serious, others not so serious but in any case it had arrived.  Reality was upon us - Corona virus was affecting France too.  Affecting us directly.

I think often we like to live in a bubble, a place where we can create our own reality when life begins to go awry.  This is how I felt when I was visiting Barcelona...disconnected, and in my own world.  Enjoying the city, playing tourist - traveling in freedom.  In everyday life, we plan our days and our life around routine (school and work), social plans, and live our life around what we know, what we are used to.  Yes, we take for granted what's available, what's open and our daily routine.  It's life and it's our life.   However, as I write this post, it is Saturday and we are now forced to begin a different reality.

French President Macron addressed the nation on Thursday night March 12 and very calmly and clearly laid out a plan.  Here is a link to an English dubbed version of his speech.

 Televised Address - President Macron - Corona virus Pandemic - March 12 2020

The following are  highlights of his address to the country, which focused  on thanking the health care workers, listening to and following the advice of scientific experts, and calling on the nation to work together in specific ways to protect the most vulnerable in our country. There is a lack of detail on some more economic issues, but the plans are being developed now.

1) Anyone over 70, those suffering from chronic disease, and other vulnerable persons should stay quarantined, and others should help them get groceries, etc. but with limited contact.
2) Local elections will continue. (We received notices from our towns about how to come and vote in safety -- for example, bring your own pens! Sounds silly, but one less thing to touch and share with others -- social distancing)
3) All schools closed because the young are the most likely to stay healthy but become vectors of the virus and carry it to the more vulnerable.
4) Daycare centers will be set up to help workers with childcare.
5) Workers should be allowed to work from home if possible.
6) Public Transport will continue but asking people to travel only when absolutely necessary.
7) Asking recently retired health workers and those in medical school to volunteer in hospitals.
8] Non-essential surgeries, etc. should be suspended.
9) No evictions will be allowed for the following 2 months.
10) A partial unemployment plan will be put in place to help compensate employees who have to stay home.
11) Free-lancers will also be protected (no details, but at least he mentioned it).
12) Taxes suspended for companies until the end of March.
13) France will work in concert with all European governments to protect the EU and French economy.
14) G7 should also work together.
15) Working together is primary, including avoiding nationalistic tendencies.
16) Market influences should not affect health, food, and living standards.
It is time to protect our fellow citizens without falling into panic and fear.

Given all of that, and his implicit encouragement to be responsible citizens and only venture out of our homes when necessary.  Protect ourselves and our fellow citizens. - we are essentially housebound - trying as a nation to slow the spread & progress of this virus.  

My oldest daughter who attends University in Paris is on her way home tonight.  Distant learning begins on Monday for my daughters in middle school and high school.  We are living in unknown territory, a new reality.

Yesterday and today we filled the pantry and the refrigerator (note the word fill, not overstock).  Stores are still open here - and at this point, the President wants to preserve as much of the economy as possible, so there is no need to over buy or over-stock.  Many towns are trying to maintain their weekly markets at this point.  However, as I observed over the past couple of days - people here were buying pasta, toilet paper and canned goods.  Certain areas seemed to panic more than others.  Here in Bordeaux, there were a lot of people out, but not unusually long lines and ever though it seemed to be a steady flow of people, not crazy.  The cashiers and store workers seemed a bit surprised and were muttering to some  "Calm down people, it's not the War".  The point also is to eventually be home more - so I hope that more and more people heed the advice of the President and stay home as much as possible.

Yes, being on "semi-lock down" is going to be an experience for all of us.  We are a family and a society that goes out - socializes and enjoys our beautiful dynamic city.  For each one of us, it will mean some sacrifices and adjustment.
For me, after my Winter hiatus when there is little tourist work and where I am home more, it's an extension of that but with more forced time home.  No lunches out with friends, no networking times over cups of coffee or glasses of wine.  At this point, I can continue to exercise at my small private swim club, but I'm not sure how long that will continue.  My work as a tour guide has been completely postponed until at least May...understandable but definitely financially challenging.  In the coming days I will need to re-budget and re-look at my costs.  My main role will be mainly as a mother with all the girls home - organizer of the new routine, supporting and assisting them in their schoolwork, meals and along with many other things.... Like all of us mothers,  I will be the one to lower their stress, invent new activities and lead and navigate them through these times.  

The girls being home indefinitely adds a whole other dimension.  They are not a all use to being home all the time.  As Universities are closed too, my oldest has returned from Paris.  All girls will be on distance learning - from the National French education system, supplemented by work from their teachers.  This is not vacation - it's just school from home.  Obviously, new routines will need to be put in place and it will be me who will help them structure this.  I'm not too worried about my oldest daughter, being a University student - she's totally independent and knows what she needs to do.   She's arriving home tonight.

My middle daughter in high school is also very independent with her work.  Her high school is a bit slower in organizing her program but I know it will be clearer in a couple days.  As of Friday afternoon, it was communicated that teachers will be in touch with their students via ProNote (our school's online- agenda/grades/communication program).  I know she will do what needs to be done.
It's my youngest - my daughter in 5eme (7th grade) that will need the structure.  Her middle school has already communicated the links for distance learning - so we can set up her account - and teachers will also be in touch.  This is all new to us.  Parts of Northern and Eastern France have already been on distance learning for the past couple weeks and via my Facebook groups, I'm hearing that there is a lot of work.  Students are kept busy 4-6 hours/day.   I'm sure we will all feel cabin fever, it's just a matter of time.

So we will see.  In any case, our lives are changing....
So we are finishing our final weekend before our new routines begin. It's almost Spring here - but we have been enjoying Spring like weather for the past few weeks.  We are able to get outside to walk or to ride our bikes, but alone.  Hopefully the nicer weather arriving will help our moods and allow us to venture out in nature a bit.

Update - as of last evening - the First Minister has announced that as of Midnight - Sunday March 15 - All shops, restaurants, cafe and entertainment facilities will be closed.  Non-essential stores People should be staying in their homes as much as possible as the spread of corona virus is accelerating.  Movement needs to be limited.

Exceptions are food stores, pharmacies, banks and gas stations.  Now it's serious - lock down.  
I hope to continue sharing our experiences through this crisis period, knowing we are not the only ones but we are all in this together - in solidarity, in brotherhood, in sisterhood and in community.  Thoughts to everyone - stay healthy and safe.

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