Sue Bowman Rural Ramblings crop

There was a time, not so very long ago, when asking someone, “What’s new?” was a good opening line, a conversation starter. Now, in the era of COVID-19, new things seem to be fewer and farther between.

We used to talk about discovering a different restaurant we want to return to or seeing a recently released movie. But Dennis and I haven’t dined out since mid-March and the only movies we’ve been watching lately are the free ones on our cable television service — not much grist for good conversation there. Our chief entertainment this summer has been sitting on our porch watching our beef herd grazing on the hillside across the road from our farm. We enjoy doing so, but it isn’t something we talk about much with others.

How about that new hairdo? Oh wait, this is the same hairdo I’ve had for years, now that I was able to return to my beauty parlor for a much-needed trim. Vanity has sort of fallen by the wayside these days. Once upon a time, I’d put on a little makeup and some lip gloss if I was going out in public. Now, not only can no one get a good look at my face because of the mask I wear when I’m away from home, the makeup and lip coating only rub off and serve to make the inside of my mask yucky. And, since I don’t have pierced ears, I’ve also had to give up wearing my clip-on earrings in recent months; they tend to go flying when I remove my mask, so that’s just another problem I don’t need.

One new thing I did recently was attend a socially distanced viewing. It really wasn’t a viewing, since the deceased had been cremated and only his ashes were present. Everyone in the limited attendance wore masks, including the family members of the late gentleman who I’d served with for years on a municipal board. My mask was irrelevant when it came to paying my respects to the family, in that I had never met them previously, so they wouldn’t have recognized me anyway. For those attendees who were familiar to the family, it was painful to watch them refrain from embracing as they shared their condolences. The best part of the viewing was the video of the deceased, which showed him in happier, more normal times doing fun things with his friends, children and grandchildren.

The Philadelphia Phillies are back in the game again, which is new in recent weeks to the relief of the many sports fans who were getting tired of watching reruns of games from the past. I’m sure there are folks out there who are starting to say once again, “How about those Phillies?” which is a question that has historically drawn mixed responses, depending on the outcome of the latest ball game.

Perhaps the single thing that is most “new” in my life is the era of Zoom. I have a love-hate relationship with Zoom, a video-conferencing resource on the Internet that has become a fact of life during these socially distanced times. It is a good thing, because it enables our society to keep functioning remotely. It’s not such a good thing, because it painfully reminds us how important in-person relating is in our lives. The local borough authority I serve on has been using Zoom for our monthly meetings since April. Zoom allows all of us to log on and see each other in little “window panes” as we conduct our business. The public is also able to log onto these meetings and participate in the discussions, if they desire. The book club I joined in January has been holding its meetings on Zoom since March. Because I’ve never met some of the members in person, it’s a bit challenging getting acquainted via online discussions.

If I have a complaint about Zoom, it has to do with the audio. It’s hard to tell who’s talking and to avoid folks talking over each other, because the Zoom audio only picks up one microphone at a time. That can become confusing with larger groups, such as when the Bowman clan Zooms together from Austin, Texas; Orlando, Florida; Tokyo and Balboa, Panama. We’re inclined to all talk at once because we’re so happy to see each other, resulting in confusion at times. However, these remote visits are our only option for now. Don’t tell my nephew’s wife in Japan, but her family and ours are even going to hold a Zoom baby shower for her in September.

I hesitate to mention one more new thing, but for the first time, our farm has begun seeing the dreaded spotted lanternfly over the past month or so. It was too much to hope that we might escape this destructive pest. For now, we always make sure we have our fly swatters handy when we sit on the porch and we’ve become well-practiced at sneaking up on these quick-moving pests.

Let’s all continue to pray for happier, healthier “what’s new” topics in the days ahead.

Sue Bowman is a freelance writer in southeastern Pennsylvania.