Vaccine Dream…

Greetings from week 5 of lockdown 2. Things are going… not great. Cases here in Ireland started plummeting in the first weeks of this new lockdown but now that progress has halted and we are back up to new cases per day in the 300s and 400s. Level 5 restrictions were supposed to bring us down to 100 or fewer cases by the beginning of December but that feels quite out of reach now. Sigh.

But some good news that not only Ireland, but the world, has recently received is about the vaccines. Two of them – one from Pfizer and one from Moderna – have been shown to have effectiveness of 95% and 94.5% respectively. I think the world did a collective fist pump and “YES!” when this news came out. Could it be that something is finally going right and the end to this covid nightmare could be in sight?!

The vaccines now seem to be a question not of “if” but of “when”. For me, the “when” cannot come soon enough but I also think that my “when” will actually not be any time soon. Obviously, health care workers, other front line workers, the elderly and the vulnerable will be given priority. I will fall into the category of “general population” so I’ll be down the line. And I get it. Those being prioritized should be prioritized – doesn’t make me any less anxious about when I’ll be able to get my jab though!

Dr. Anthony Fauci has been quoted as saying that in States “… starting in April, May, June, July — as we get into the late spring and early summer — that people in the so-called general population, who do not have underlying conditions or other designations that would make them priority, could get (shots)”. I hope it will be the same in Ireland, but I worry that people like me will have to wait even longer, well into next summer. I’ve a trip home planned for April/May of next year (replacing my Christmas visit) but can I still go if I’m not vaccinated? And what if I’m away and miss my place in line here in Ireland? Would I, as a US citizen, be able to get vaccinated in the States instead? So many questions!

Now that it looks like we will have at least two approved vaccines by the end of the year, the emphasis switches to logistics and distribution. Ooh boy, this could be rough. Ireland really impressed me when the covid crisis first hit but now I am not filled with a great deal of confidence, especially when it comes to things involving logistics and communication. For feck’s sake, at one point during our second surge people who tested positive for covid were instructed to do their own contact tracing because the government test and trace system was overwhelmed. Utterly ridiculous and shambolic. Though in fairness, things have now improved.

And Ireland’s communication to the public, which started out so strong, has crumbled over the past months. We have often been left guessing (and stressing!) about what the government is going to declare and when they are going to declare it. Tensions and in-fighting between the government officials and health experts is becoming more apparent, which doesn’t instill a lot of confidence to those of us watching. Communication about who gets the vaccine when and exactly how and where, is going to need to be crystal clear from the get-go. The government cannot issue one set of guidelines (with a fancy chart) and then a couple weeks later release a new plan. We need clarity and decisiveness – both of which have been in remarkably short supply in recent weeks.

But Ireland has been known to surprise me and I’m sure the government knows how important it is that they get this right. And the big thing to not lose sight of is that finally, finally, Ireland – and the world – has something that has been far too fleeting since March…

HOPE.

Exhaling…

After watching nothing but CNN since Tuesday, I am watching the Irish news this morning and I think Ireland might be as excited about Biden winning the election as I am. And why not?! Ireland hates Trump nearly as much as I do and being surrounded by people who shared my feelings made the past four years somewhat easier. Plus, Biden has Irish roots. His ancestors are from Ballina in County Mayo. And I can’t help but wonder if Joe Biden Plaza will be appear there soon much the same way Moneygall in Country Tipperary, where Barack Obama’s third great grandfather lived, now has this:

I seriously did not know what I was going to do if Biden lost. It’s no secret that I hate Trump with a passion. But it goes deeper than that. The things he did literally hurt people. He fomented racism and white supremacy. His immigration policies were cruel at best and criminal at worst. He has pretty much ignored the coronavirus pandemic and more than 200,000 Americans are now dead. He took the US out of the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization. The Trump presidency was traumatizing for so many people, not only in the US but around the world.

But now, we can all exhale.

I truly feel like I can relax now. I feel l like I’ve been clenching my shoulders and holding my breath for four years. And I’m an upper middle class white woman who doesn’t even live in the States anymore. I can’t even begin to imagine how the marginalized people of the US must be feeling. Relieved doesn’t even begin to cover it, I’d think.

Yes, there is still a lot of work to be done in the US but I believe that Biden will strive to do that work. And do not get me started on our new absolute queen of a Vice President, Kamala Harris. A woman, finally. And a diverse woman at that. We have adults in charge again!

I was messaging and chatting with so many friends while everything was happening this week. One of them on Wednesday evening said “It’s gonna be fine.” I didn’t believe him at the time, but it turns out he was right. It’s going to be a long road but I’m feeling hopeful for the first time in a long time. I really think that maybe it will be fine.

Everybody exhale.

Spewing Rainbows…

Ireland has gone into a Level 5 lockdown for the next six weeks. Six. Weeks. We had been warned all along that a second surge was possible, and probable, but in those long-ago days of July when we had less than ten new cases per day, I (and I’m sure many others) thought that Ireland had triumphed over covid. But we didn’t. Restrictions were lifted and covid came back with a vengeance. And so now here we are. For six weeks.

And if going into another lockdown wasn’t bad enough, Ireland entered winter time today with the clocks falling back, and that triggers my seasonal anxiety. I absolutely hate losing the light once daylight saving time ends. At least in the first lockdown, we had the “grand stretch in the evenings” to help us through but now, we’ve got darkness at 2pm (okay, I’m exaggerating, but not by much!). Normally at this time of year, I can at least start looking forward to my trip back to the States for Christmas. But not this year. For the first time in my life, it looks like I won’t be going home for Christmas.

I was feeling quite sorry for myself earlier this week. My anxiety was kicking in big time and everything felt rather hopeless. And the thing with covid is, while it is unifying in that everyone is going through it, I also always feel the need to asterisk my feelings by acknowledging that so many people (including many people I know and am close to) have suffered so much more than me during all of this. They have experienced immeasurable loss, they have had to bear far, far more than I have, their stress and anxiety is, justifiably, so much greater than mine. And so I feel guilty for feeling bad about my situation. Yes, things suck for everyone right now, but there are degrees of suckage, and I feel I always need to remember and acknowledge that – and I still always feel guilty about it.

I was messaging my sister about this and, as she often does, she got real with me. She said that just because my situation isn’t the suckiest doesn’t mean I have to spew rainbows all the time. You know what? She’s right. And knowing that I didn’t have to spew rainbows made me feel better in that moment – well that, half a xanax and a FaceTime from my niece where she recited Halloween poetry for me. But still, I felt better.

And today, I’m even feeling a little rainbow-y. It looks like the level 3 restrictions that started a couple weeks ago here may be working – we had our lowest number of cases in two weeks on Friday. While it does look like the second wave is starting to hit the US, Western New York State, where my family lives, seems to still be doing well – so, yay! I may not get to go home for the holidays, but I think I’m going to invite a couple friends over (restrictions allowing) and host my first ever Christmas Eve celebration.

Hopefully things will continue to get better here in Ireland, and in the States and, well, everywhere. But when I need to, I’m going to allow myself some slack when it comes to rainbow spewage – I hope you all allow yourself the same kindness.

Leveling Up…

Ireland reported 1012 new cases of Covid 19 yesterday. That’s the highest daily number ever over here. Sigh.

It’s all very disheartening. Back at the end of July it looked like we had things under control – case numbers were low and hospitalizations were even lower. The lifting of restrictions went well at first, but then things went sideways and here we are. This second wave was predicted and it isn’t only in Ireland – most of Europe is experiencing it right now. But, Ireland’s health care system is simply not up to snuff compared to most other european countries. So we need to do something.

We are currently in a Level 3 lockdown. Dublin has been at that level for more than two weeks, while the rest of the country was put into it last week. Now talk is about whether we need to go up to level 4 or 5. What are all these levels, you may ask? Please refer to this chart and it will all become perfectly clear (haha!):

See? Simple.

This morning it sounds like some sort of “circuit breaker” lockdown is being discussed. But it’s all a guessing game and NPHET (Nation Public Health Emergency Team) do not meet again until Thursday. So we are left hanging and wondering. If we are going into a stricter lockdown then I kind of just want to know. Or if we are just going to stay at level three, I’d also like to know that (there is some evidence that the level 3 restrictions are working in Dublin). All the guessing and second guessing just makes me anxious and doesn’t instill much faith in those in charge. Good lord, when this new five level system was introduced, Dublin was literally put on “level 2 and a bit”. That’s what we are dealing with over here.

Everyone is exhausted from this pandemic. Everyone’s pandemic is different, but the exhaustion is, I think, universal. I may start hugging trees and pretend those are my friends since I’m not allowed to touch any actual, you know, people. There’s a very good chance that I’m not going to be able to go home for Christmas this year. I’ve never gone this long without seeing my family back in the States. Never mind that not traveling at all is depressing and demoralizing to someone like me who, in the past, was nearly always packing or unpacking her suitcase.

This sucks. It sucks for everyone. And I think this second wave sucks more not only because we don’t have the sunshine and daylight that helped us tolerate the first wave, but because as a country, we tried really hard to do what needed to be done. But now, here we are again. And it’s colder, and darker, and we have the fear that even if we follow the rules, will we be back here again the moment we try to resume some sort of normalcy.

But what else can we do? We have to try. Again.

Citizenship Quest Continued…

I’ve written a couple times in this blog about my quest for Irish citizenship – it’s been a bit of a roller coater and I haven’t even submitted my application yet. There was a controversy last year when a judge ruled you couldn’t travel outside Ireland at all in the year previous to your application – something that would have been nearly impossible for me. But then, relief! The judgement was overturned and now, travel of up to six weeks in the year previous to your application was allowed. Great! It would be hard, but I could manage six weeks.

And then Covid hit and everything changed for everybody. Amidst all the fear and worry and hand-washing, I realized that 2020 was going to be a year of no travel for me. Despite some grand plans for both work and play travel, I have been in Ireland since I returned from my Christmas holiday on January 5th. I’d have less than six weeks of travel this year no problem – heck, I’ve got less that six days of travel so far this year. And after not accepting new applications for several months because of Covid closures and restrictions, I got word last week that they are now accepting citizenship applications again! Yes! It’s still a bit nerve-wracking because I have to include my current original passport with the application and being without it feels like being without my right arm. They cannot guarantee how long it will take to get my passport back but did assure me it should be in plenty of time for my (hopeful!) travel to see my family in December. 

Luckily, my application has been nearly ready to go for a while now and I’ve just got a few last bits to do. I’ve asked my three Irish friends I’ve known the longest (since nearly my first day in Ireland) to be my references. It’s a bit trickier since I can’t see any of them in person, but the filled-out forms should be back to me via post this week. Then, I just need to get passport photos taken, a bank draft for the application fee and everything notarized. All going well, the application will be off early next week at the latest. And then I wait – for how long is anybody’s guess. 

A lot of people ask me why I want my Irish citizenship, which I suppose is a fair question. My fellow expat friends who have gotten their Irish citizenship were living here with US passports, so it’s obvious why an Irish passport would be a good thing. But I’ve got Italian citizenship and many wonder why I would bother getting Irish citizenship, since Italy is in the EU. A big reason is Brexit. Ireland and the UK have an arrangement called the Common Travel Area that pre-dates the EU. Under the CTA, Irish citizens have the right to live, travel, work and study in the UK. Despite all of this Brexit foolishness, access to the UK is something that would be beneficial to me. And more broadly, according to the Henley Passport Index, the Irish passport is number one in the Global Passport Power Rankings (along with Belgium, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Japan and New Zealand.) Italy is part of the number two ranking and for those wondering, the US is way down at number 20 – oh how the mighty have fallen.  

I would also like to be able to vote in any and all elections in Ireland. I’m able to vote in some as a resident, but not all. I live here, I have a vested interest in what happens here – I want to be able to vote. Ireland has had some pretty huge referendums in that past few years (gay marriage, abortion) and, while the votes did go the way I hoped, I would have liked to be part of this Irish history. 

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I want my Irish citizenship because Ireland is my home now. I’ve lived here for nearly eight years. I just bought a home here. While I don’t deal in “forevers”, I do see myself living here for the foreseeable future. So, I want to be a citizen of the place I call home. I want to be Irish. 

 

Home sweet home?

So, how have you been keeping yourself busy during lockdown? I have not baked banana bread or taken up yoga – I bought an apartment. Why not, right?! I mean, I don’t like banana bread or yoga so I had to so something.

I’ve been living in the new place for exactly one week. I need to be completely out of my old place by Thursday of this coming week. Weirdly but conveniently, I bought a place in the building where I’ve been renting so that has made the transition much easier. But that’s about the only thing that has been easy during this process.

I’ve been renting for a long, long time. When I think about the amount of money I’ve paid in rent it makes me sick. But, I’ve also been a mover for a long, long time. Since graduating from undergrad I’ve lived in Michigan, Los Angeles, Florida, New Jersey (metro NYC area), back to Los Angeles, Dublin, Paris, and back to Dublin. I’ve never lived anywhere I wanted to stay long enough to buy a place (well, except Paris but c’est trop cher!)

I came close to buying here in Dublin before I moved to Paris. I put in several offers on one-bedroom places but had no success. I was being kicked out of my current rental, so I cut my losses and moved to Paris for 15 months. One of the big reasons I returned to Dublin (other than you know, loving and missing it) was that I really did want to buy a place – and Dublin was where I wanted to do it.

Dublin is not an easy place to buy. Places are expensive (though not when compared to some other places I’ve lived like Paris and Los Angeles) and first time buyers must have a 10% down payment (if it’s not your first time, you need to put down 20%!). That’s a lot of cash, and it’s that down payment, not the mortgage payments, that keeps a lot of people off the property ladder. This time around I decided to buy a two bedroom and my down payment and closing costs came to nearly €53,000 ($63,100) – and that’s before doing anything to the place and buying furniture. Yikes! Is it any wonder I had a panic attack when I signed the contract?!

But now it’s done and I’m a home owner. I’ve loved things like picking out paint colors and furniture. I don’t love worrying that every little creak or squeak means some expensive repair. I love that I was able to afford a place in my beloved neighborhood of Ranelagh. I don’t love worrying that maybe I should have bought a bigger place in a different neighborhood. I love being out of the brutal Dublin rental market. I don’t love when my brain starts pestering me as to whether I’ll live in this place forever. I don’t know, brain! Please shut up!

But one week in, the love moments outweigh the worry moments and I do think my new home is rather sweet.

#ElijahMcClain

Today’s post has nothing to do with living in Dublin or being an expat. I would like to be writing about how Ireland’s deconfinement from Covid-19 restrictions is going. I would like to be writing about how I just bought a new apartment here in Dublin and my new adventures as a home owner. But I can’t.

Earlier this week I learned of the tragic, heartbreaking story of 23 year old Elijah McClain who was murdered by police in Aurora, Colorado in August 2019. The stories of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Tamir Rice – honestly, the list is tragically endless – have angered and outraged me. But for some reason, Elijah’s story rocked me to my core. I’ve cried myself to sleep each of the past four nights thinking about this sweet soul who did nothing wrong except be black. And when I say sweet soul, I truly mean it. This young man played violin for shelter kittens on his lunch break so they might feel less lonely, his personal mantra was always with gratitude, he often bowed to people (like they do in Japan) as a show of respect and gratitude. I would have liked to know this young man.

But he’s dead. Murdered. Because of the color of his skin.

Elijah’s death has changed me. His death haunts me. We need to do something to stop this. I need to do something to stop this. I no longer have any tolerance for people who retort “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter”. Seriously, fuck off. It’s not that ONLY Black Lives Matter, but that Black Lives Matter TOO. And those black lives are being snuffed out at an alarming rate. To those who don’t like to get political or feel it isn’t their fight – you’re privilege is showing. Your WHITE PRIVILEGE. I am guilty of this. I have the luxury of white privilege. I am trying to be more aware of that privilege, I am trying to do something with that privilege to make real change.

And to those who say that social media is useless and evil, well, just imagine what would be going on if footage wasn’t captured and shared on social media. Would we ever have heard Elijah’s story? And, as a result of the recent outcry, Colorado’s governor has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate Elijah’s death, stating that “Elijah McClain should be alive today…”. I’m not sure this will bring justice to Elijah and his family, but it just might. And it would not have happened without the social media spread of Elijah’s story. It wasn’t enough, but we did… something.

And I’m going to continue to do something – as a white person, I feel it’s my duty to continue to learn and grow and be part of the change. For any of you still feeling like this isn’t your fight, or that you don’t want to get involved, I will leave you with Elijah McClain’s final words. READ. THEM. I dare you to remain apathetic after doing so.

I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies! I don’t eat meat! But I don’t judge people, I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity, I’ll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me. I’m a mood Gemini. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work. Oh, I’m sorry I wasn’t trying to do that. I just can’t breathe correctly.

 

 

Ireland’s Deconfinement…

Yesterday, Ireland had 92 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 – the first time since mid-march that that number was below 100. There are currently 52 people in ICUs across the country, down from 72 last Sunday. Those are good numbers. Promising numbers. I’ve been watching the evening news religiously since this all started and when that number was announced last night, I may or may not have fist-pumped the air with a resounding “YES!”. (I’ve been self-isolating for more than two months now, leave me alone.)

Tomorrow marks the beginning of the first phase of easing the lockdown restrictions. Not much changes for me – though I will now be able to meet up with up to three other people outside of my household, outdoors, as long as we stay two meters apart. For someone like me, who lives alone and has been alone since mid-march this is kind of a big deal. At the least, I can have a picnic with a couple friends in a park. And who doesn’t love a picnic?!

Ireland’s deconfinement (leave it to the French for coming up with a new word to describe this!) is one of the slowest and most conservative in Europe. There are five phases and each phase lasts three weeks. That means, all going well, Ireland would be completely reopened by the end of August. But who the hell knows what “completely reopened” even means anymore? And a rise in cases or other hiccups could see us move back a phase.

I don’t mind this slow approach. I am fine with taking baby steps because it’s not just about being allowed to do things, it’s about feeling confident and safe in doing those things. Do I miss going to the pub on a Friday after work? Absolutely! Would I go to a pub this Friday if they were open? Absolutely NOT! I’m going to need to ease my way back into things. I cannot imagine sitting in a pub or a restaurant right now. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable returning to my gym. I don’t drive over here, and the thought of getting in a taxi or onto public transport makes me break out in hives. I am so desperate to have my life back – to see my friends, to venture outside my neighborhood, to travel. But not so desperate that I’ll do any of these things before I feel reasonably comfortable doing so.

So, I’m okay with Ireland’s conservative approach. I feel like it’s going to give me the time I need to mentally ease back into things. What will things look like here at the end of  August? I’m not sure anyone really knows, but I’ve got time now to think about what I want it to look like for me.

The five phases of Ireland’s deconfinement.

My Lockdown, In Pictures…

We’ve been in lockdown here in Ireland for six weeks now, with at least another week of the strictest restrictions to go. And we all know that things won’t be going back to normal any time soon. I’m pretty sure our definition of normal will never be the same.

I think we are far enough into this pandemic where we all now know someone personally affected by Covid-19. I have several friends with family members fighting the disease. I’m still one of the lucky ones though. My family is still safe and healthy, and so am I. I’m also still working. I’m busier than ever, honestly. I’ll be sitting on my couch writing and I’ll look up at the clock and all of a sudden it’s 5pm!

Everyone’s experience of this pandemic and lockdown are different and I thought I’d share my lockdown with you, in pictures.

I can easily say that my balcony has been my sanity through this lockdown. It’s small, but its view is expansive and makes me so happy.

I love fresh cut flowers and always have them in my home. I still indulge in them now.

I’m taking my violin lessons remotely now. I’m still shockingly bad but it gives me something to pass the time (and probably annoy my neighbors).

This park is basically my backyard. My balcony overlooks it and it’s my gateway into the rest of Ranelagh. I’m very grateful that the parks have remained open throughout the lockdown. I don’t know what I would do without this little oasis.

It’s hard to get a good picture of them because they move so fast, but it’s duckling season and there are about 10 adorable ducklings currently living in the park.

I love the flowers at the entrance to the park.

A reminder of what we all need to be doing.

On my walks within 2km of my home, I never tire of looking at the lovely doors on the Georgian homes.

Street art in Ranelagh.

A big part of my lockdown has been writing the animated series for under-fives called ‘Pins and Nettie’. We adapted our original idea and are now making episodes that deal with staying at home. Everyone at Daily Madness worked their tails off to get the first episode done in less than four weeks. We’ve two episodes up on the You Tube channel and there will be a new episode every Friday for as long as the lockdown continues. The link to the channel is in the tweet below – take a look. And if you like what you see, subscribe!

So, that’s my lockdown, which when I think about it, isn’t really that bad. And even on my harder days, it is what it is. We all have to do our part, whatever form that takes. Stay safe!

Wintering It Out…

If we can winter this one out, we can summer anywhere.

– Seamus Heaney, 1972

We’ve been doing this corona thing for about a month now here in Ireland, and the stricter lockdown has been extended for another three weeks, until May 5th. It wasn’t unexpected by any stretch, but, the announcement on Friday was still a bit of a gut punch. However, it is what it is and I will continue to do my part, as lonely as that may be.

**I feel at this point that I need to qualify everything else I’m going to write by saying I realize that I’m lucky that my situation is what it is and that I know that others have it far worse. (So, no need for comments or emails in that regard.)**

Over the past several weeks there have been many articles online about how what people are feeling right now is grief. And I understand that. People are mourning things that had before been taken for granted. People are mourning things that had before seemed small and unimportant. People are mourning things that before were just routine. I’m mourning things too. I mourn the simplicity of meeting up for a drink at the pub after work. I mourn writing in the same room with my writing partner. I mourn seeing my friends in person.

And I mourn travel.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week. I’m not me if I’m not able to travel. And, let’s face it, I won’t be going anywhere any time soon. Two work trips – Annecy in June and the UK in July – have been cancelled. I’m supposed to go home for a visit in June, but, in my head at least, that one’s already been cancelled as well. This was already going to be a year of limited travel because of my Irish citizenship application but it’s gone from limited to non-existent in the blink of an eye. (One positive though – the cancellation of all this travel means I will be able to submit my citizenship application five or six months earlier than I’d originally planned.)

While the inability to travel might not seem a big deal to some, for me, I don’t know a life without travel. Not knowing when I will next be on a plane or a train, whether heading off for work or pleasure, makes me itch. It’s exacerbated my feelings of isolation and claustrophobia that I’ve experienced since the lockdown. Again, I realize that it is what it is but I mourn it nonetheless.

The above quote from Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, was said during an interview and referred to The Troubles, but it’s appearing prominently over here during this pandemic. And it’s quite apropos to our current situation. If we can get through this, we can get through anything. I find myself also thinking about this quote on a more micro level, about travel. Yes, I need to stay put right now. But if I do that then some time (hopefully soon), the world will open up to me and I’ll be able to galavant all over it again.

My notion of summering anywhere is fueling my dreams (and daydreams) right now. I’m looking at 2021 airfare on sky scanner to all sorts of faraway places. I’m studying the many maps I have hanging in my apartment, figuring and planning. Though I know it’s a long way off, when we are able to venture out again, I plan to venture way out!

But in the meantime and for some time to come, I’ll continue to winter it out. We all will.