Please enjoy a glimpse into the life of a fairly private woman, someone I admire deeply for several good reasons. I met Lisa through a running group in Oklahoma, but when she moved to Colorado we got even better acquainted online. She is one of the nimblest thinkers, loveliest adventure seekers, and hardest working people I know. She is also tender and careful and funny. Enjoy!
In late December, 2019, and early January, 2020, Lisa was “pretty aware” of the spreading novel corona virus, increasingly so because she works for a firm that provides support for military aircraft. This made her privy to updates early on about emerging travel restrictions and evacuations. Travel restrictions are common in her line of work though, thanks to a variety of constant global threats; this new threat was not initially startling.
In late January to early February, she and her husband Wayne went on a long-planned Caribbean cruise and felt safe doing so but gradually noticed changes. Passengers’ temperatures were being taken, travel restrictions tightened around China, and everyone was paying close attention to the news. Back home after the cruise, the last normal feeling life events they enjoyed were a Roaring Twenties party for work and a Sadie Hawkins dance for their high school-aged daughter, Ella.
Tension about the threat of the virus gradually increased, but Lisa wasn’t scared until late February when she heard reports of the first untraceable community-spread positive case in the United States. That got her attention, and they immediately hunkered down at home.
Career military service people, Lisa and Wayne had years before, in a tour in Guam, learned the value of being prepared for long stints without shopping. She also lived in Moore, Oklahoma, during the unforgettable 2013 tornado, so emergency preparedness is ingrained in her nature. Their home was already well supplied with the basics. As shut down became imminent, all she had to do was take a thorough, pen-and-paper inventory to make sure they could stay indoors for at least 30 days. They could. They even had enough toilet paper, but she laughed (and got me laughing too) while telling a story about a gag gift they once won at a Secret Santa party: A “Tushy” bidet, this kind of bum-rinsing device you attach to your toilet stool lid. So she knew that if they ever did exhaust their TP supply, they at least had that, ha!
In the past, Lisa’s job had her travelling at least every other week. She had already made some adjustments in May, 2019, that had her and many of her teammates planted at home more and more. The more she worked from home, the more she moved from the dining room table to her proper home office. She made the space fully functional by Thanksgiving preceding pandemic. She also furnished it with a new Peloton bike which she uses to stay moving on long conference call days and an eclectic gallery wall of artwork that includes a semi topless portrait of Frida Kahlo. That troublesome little glimpse staring over Lisa’s shoulder while she connects with colleagues via her laptop has started more than one interesting conversation. It is her lean, left or right, that makes all the difference.
When pandemic started, Wayne had already been working from home full time for about a year. They didn’t know it yet, but this and Lisa’s corporate culture shift was all a fortunate lead in to what was coming. After flying home to Colorado on February 28, 2020, she was not on a plane again for almost a full year. To put that in perspective, it was the longest stretch of time Lisa was home since she enlisted in the Air Force at age 19.
People who don’t travel as much as she normally did for work might not realize how many hours every week she would spend in airports, waiting, driving, and shuttling to and from hotels, even as it slowed down. Those hours added up, and they were suddenly all being spent at home with her husband and daughter.
At first, she said, it “felt weird, having so much extra time. I kept wondering if I was forgetting what I had to do.” But she filled the time with reading plenty of books and baking and staying active as well as binging lots of television. She and her husband are normally avid movie goers, but this year, a $20 monthly streaming service had to stand proxy for their viewing entertainment. She said they watched everything, including lots of movies she would normally have passed up.
Most importantly, she realized the time she’d been given to spend lots of time with her daughter. At age seventeen, Ella’s years at home were numbered, so they all seized the strange gift of extra time and made a year’s worth of special memories.
Gardening was one of the new interests they explored together. Lisa took her interest in growing food and flowers a step further than most, though, by diving in and converting their suburban front lawn to a xeriscape wilderness. (I have greedily followed her progress via Instagram.) She has done so thoughtfully and steadily, keeping native plants and pollinators in mind throughout the process. Lisa is as elegant a gardener as she is everything. She also devoured the Marie Kondo series and acted on all that purging advice. “This is the cleanest my house has ever been.”
Lisa is a wonderfully athletic woman (we first met at a group run in OKC several years ago), health conscious and fit in every way, so I was especially curious about her stress snacking habits during pandemic. Her answers delighted me: Ella made them cookies frequently, and like most of America they made “all the banana bread.” There was also a flour tortilla experiment that sadly ended with disappointment. But mostly, their three-person household discovered an insatiable appetite for every possible variety of cake.
“Oh we made so much cake,” she moaned. When they could eventually visit stores, they bought ready-made bakery cakes, too. They gobbled up standard commercial ones with themed frosting designs, like one memorable castoff they found after the suddenly cancelled March Madness season. Lisa said it was the “ugliest basketball cake anyone had ever seen,” but it was delicious. Once, later in the year, her Mom visited and noticed in their kitchen a bakery cake frosted with “Happy Birthday.” She inquired, whose birthday had she missed? “No one’s, Mom, we just like cake!” I had to ask Lisa which flavor combination became her favorite, after so much indiscriminate sampling and experimenting. It turns out this elegant woman has a shameless affinity for the common, cheap, fluffy white cake with the too sugary, butter cream style frosting.
The heart wants what the heart wants.
Ella’s high school in Colorado faced all the extreme challenges we have all heard about from around the country, but Ella harnessed the bizarre circumstances and put them to work for her. Spring Break 2020 bled into lockdown, which evolved into a remote teaching environment that was perfect for her learning style. She is beautifully self motivated, her Mom beamed, and had no trouble excelling in her classes all that spring plus the next fall, 100% online. Ella did so well, in fact, that she did not need the built in grades floor (Colorado schools decided no student’s grades would fall more than 5% during lockdown, and college entrance systems eliminated the ACT and SAT scores) and managed to transfer to a charter school this spring, 2021. From there she graduated high school a full year early.
A full year!
Lisa certainly felt proud of her only child, but then the frenzy set in: College! Her baby was preparing for college a whole year earlier than expected. The gift of extra quality time together was growing more precious every day.
I asked Lisa what Ella wants to do with her one precious life. Apparently, a long mother-daughter tradition of watching Forensic Files and other such shows has kindled in this bright young woman a spark for pathology work. She wants to be a pathologist’s assistant, but not for morbid reasons and curiosities. When pressed for reasons why, she told her Mom, “I really want to give people closure.”
How beautiful. She will no doubt blaze a remarkable trail for herself.
While Ella excelled in academics this strange year, she experienced many of the same social discomforts adults have been experiencing. She has simply missed her friends. Lisa described her daughter as valuing a smaller group, a friends circle based on quality over quantity; but she still has needed to be around them, and that has not been possible. This has been understandably hard. Mom’s advice has been, “Just hang in there,” and a reminder that at college she will be able to magnetize friends with similar qualities and interests.
Just hang in there is the kind of good, warm advice most of us could use at the end such a long hard year. And if Ella is very much like her beautiful Mom, she will have zero trouble finding good people in a few months.
Lisa and her sweet family took masks and social distancing seriously, and they felt safe. They were happy to be “very home centered,” often not leaving the house at all for well over a week, and they used copious amounts of hand sanitizer. These safety measures helped them stay healthy all year, but a friend’s son and several of her team members from work did contract the virus. Her father in law, a Lutheran pastor in small town Idaho, also got sick. He had been careful, so they don’t know how he caught it. Interestingly, his wife, who has chronic asthma, stayed virus free, although they did not quarantine apart from each other. Lisa describes this common phenomenon aptly, like any Oklahoman might: “It felt like a tornado, how it hits one house and destroys it but completely misses the one right next door.” Thankfully, her father in law experienced lingering but not life threatening symptoms and is now recovering well.
A year later, with some things relaxing a bit, Lisa finally went for a manicure. After such a prolonged carefulness, she caught herself wide eyed, thinking the whole time “Is this how I get it?” It’s a minor stress that dissipated quickly. She is also now vaccinated and thankful for that. She and her husband expect to still wear masks on airplanes and in some social settings. Even if she is vaccinated, she said, she feels a sense of responsibility for other people.
For all their romance and domestic harmony, the Petersens do not always agree politically, and this past year has been a whopper for everyone in that arena. Being home together so much more served to highlight those differences. She seems to take it stride, though, teasing gently that, “criticizing your government is the most American thing you can do.” Being home together more also highlighted personality differences like how naturally quiet he is and how much more of a talker she is, at least in a private setting. Overall, the experience has made her even more thankful for what they share.
Lisa was a deep well of insight when we started talking about the broader social scenery during pandemic, how people handled things, and how our government provided (or failed to provide) leadership. She wonders how much better off we would have been had the former administration not been “so ready to paint a rosy picture or make it all feel like a non-event.” She made a vivid point, contrasting the initially minimized treatment of the corona virus against the newsier publicizing of an Iranian official’s assassination. She also described studies and systems in place since 9/11 that were specifically meant for shielding the population from chemical warfare and wonders why those weren’t mobilized earlier. “We have a lot more tools in the box,” she lamented, saddened by how many people died needlessly from the virus.
Wisely, Lisa also acknowledged that we, the American people, have something in our DNA that prevents us from sacrificing our personal liberties for the greater good. Why have so many people not wanted to wear masks and give up their freedom to move about? “We’re not culturally set up to do that,” she said. The history of America’s rebellious nature just means that we will “enforce our will” and fight for our own rights even at the expense of the collective.
We theorized about the World War II generation and tried to pin point what was different then, that so many people did make spectacular and creative personal sacrifices for the greater good. We had a great conversation about this. She is left feeling irritated at our peers, our generation now. “All you have to do is stay inside,” she said.
There is the difference of information overload. Was it a narrower, almost singular news source that kept the nation focused then? Even more so than in 2001 when the 9/11 attacks happened, we now live in a time when so much information is available to us at all hours of the day, and many people have trouble discerning fact from fiction. This seems to have morphed into a bizarre and dangerous kind of cynicism that has kept many people from viewing Covid-19 as a credible threat. Was it an overarching fear of the enemy that bound everyone together then? We didn’t find any good answers, just some frustrations about the mix of independence and selfishness.
How are the Petersens taking stock and looking forward?
They are thankful. They are thankful for their health and safety, for their family’s strength and love for each other, for Ella’s happy trajectory, and for the ways their corporate worlds have thrived under these circumstances.
Lisa shared amazing news about her firm’s recent generous gift: To celebrate a record setting year of profits, the CEO affirmed his desire to invest less in buildings and facilities and more in his people, so he provided his own kind of stimulus and paid out $32 million to his 25,000 people. Amazing! The remote work environment has certainly been a success. Both she and Wayne predict continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future. They love it now and are excited to fold in more living and more travel for adventure as it becomes possible.
Ella missed out on milestone events, of course, like her prom, homecoming, and graduation. They are still brainstorming how to make amends for these. But they are still so thankful for her personal excellence and happiness. Other missed events, like a much anticipated hiking trip to Italy, Lisa is filing away as simply “adventures delayed. It’s for the best,” she says peacefully.
But this is where her real hope and intention for the future emerges, the big lesson she is taking away from a year in pandemic: “In the future, don’t delay. If there’s not a good reason to put it off, don’t put it off.”
More of that good, warm, solid advice from an old soul in a young woman’s body.
Thank you, friend, for sharing your time and your experience. You continue to inspire me!