By Bonnie Newman Davis
By now, most of us have grown accustomed to staying at home, social distancing and limiting our outings since the outbreak and rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus six weeks ago.
As a result, the so-called “new normal” for most people means sporting all sorts of face masks, virtual online meetings, testing new recipes and ordering from Amazon.
And let’s not forget our newfound fixation with television and streaming networks.
To date, my favorite social media quip came from someone who posted “I finished Netflix.”
While social media, Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, White House press briefings and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s must-see daily updates help entertain or inform us, nothing beats staying in touch with friends and family or finding ways to relax and exhale in the great outdoors.
Renee Johnson’s take on life is consistently upbeat, so it’s no surprise that the extroverted Henrico County resident takes the stay- at -home mandate in stride, despite the disruption in her busy life. Johnson, who’s married to Darrel Johnson and has a 16-year-old son, Kendall, works for the Commonwealth of Virginia and often starts her workday at 7:30 a.m. Active in the Richmond Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Johnson also volunteers for several other organizations and programs in the Richmond area.
When I casually mentioned to Johnson that I, an avowed introvert, am worn out by Zoom meetings and conference calls, her response was the opposite. Turns out that Johnson’s social calendar is nearly as full as it was pre-Covid-19.
Here’s Johnson’s story, which she cleverly titles “Happy at Home Hour”:
“A few weeks ago, some of my girlfriends had a committee meeting via Zoom. As we were ending the call, the discussion morphed from business to how much we missed being with one another to what we were doing while staying at home. We decided to start a virtual ‘Movie/Series/Book Club.’ A total of six of us meet every Friday evening via Zoom with our favorite cocktails and snacks. We start our ‘Happy at Home Hour’ by reviewing the show chosen the prior week.
“So far, we have had very entertaining discussions about ‘The Tiger King’ and ‘Ozark.’ We now are on ‘Breaking Bad’ and have reviewed the first season and plan to discuss the second season this Friday. We have other shows and books in the cue, enough to keep us entertained for the next few months or how ever long we will be at home. The sisterly bond between us has grown. In addition to the weekly meeting, we have a text group and find ourselves texting one another quite frequently everyday. These ladies truly are helping the extrovert in me deal with this seclusion!
“Prior to this pandemic, my friends were accustomed to receiving text messages from me, out of the blue, asking to meet up for happy hour. Our group would range from three to sometimes 15 ladies, meeting up after work, any day of the week, just to be together with our girls. A few of my ‘ride or die’ girls have been texting me almost daily, letting me know how much they miss our gatherings.
“The virtual happy hours are very popular right now and are providing people with an outlet and an opportunity to see friends in a safe manner. Nothing tops being at a great restaurant enjoying the live company of the friends you love, but staying safe is something we all agree we must do. So until we can move safely about these streets, Happy at Home Hours are what we will do for now.”
It’s worth noting that, weeks before the pandemic and quarantine, Johnson was consumed by plans to celebrate her mother’s 80th birthday. Once sheltering in place took hold, she and her family skillfully handled the disappointment of having to cancel the party.
“My mom, Violet H. Walston, turned 80 on March 27. I guess being a party starter is in my blood because she always has been known to put on a slamming party. From house parties back in the day to huge annual cookouts, everyone looked forward to partying with ‘Ms. Vi,’ as she is known.
“As we headed to 2020, my siblings, my cousin and I had put the plans together, sent invitations and purchased party items. During our final planning meeting, the week leading up to her party scheduled for March 21, we had a long talk about what was happening with the pandemic. My sister-in-law and I both work for the Commonwealth of Virginia and we were skeptical about moving ahead, given the age of the guest of honor and her friends.
“We finally made the decision the Wednesday before the party to postpone it. My mother was concerned about safety and was fine with having a celebration later in the year or even next year. We ended up doing drive-bys to her home on her birthday where we delivered dinner, dessert and gifts. She sat on her porch while we stood more than six feet away on the sidewalk! Safety is key, which is why the Happy at Home Hour works for me!
While scrolling through Facebook recently, I gasped when spotting several gorgeous photos taken by former Richmonder Tamika Lamison. How refreshing and relaxing it was to see the two dozen photos of Lamison and her dog, Lucky, frolicking among 1,700 acres of blood-orange poppies at Antelope Valley Poppy Fields in Lancaster, Calif.
Lamison, a Los Angeles-based actress and film producer, was clearly having fun and taking time to relax in her adopted state, which was among the first in the country to be hard hit by the Covid-19 virus.
“What an absolutely beautiful day! Impromptu drive to see the stunning California Poppies! Worth every minute,” Lamison writes. “Lucky and I had a Poppy picnic. I finally used the slow-motion function on my camera. Super fun!”
I met Lamison in the late 1980s when, as a student at Huguenot High School, she was enrolled in a summer journalism program in which I was a mentor and volunteer. I was pleased to see her when she returned to Richmond two years ago to debut a film produced by her Make a Film Foundation, which grants “film wishes” to children who have serious or life-threatening medical conditions. The children are teamed with notable actors, writers and directors who help them create short film legacies.
I was so impressed to learn about MAFF that I wrote about how Lamison’s nonprofit organization has made a difference in the lives of so many. And on the day that her poppy photos appeared, Lamison’s lenses once again brightened the lives of family, friends and colleagues spread across distant shores.
“The poppy fields really were delightful,” says Lamison. “And thankfully there was no issues of social distancing to consider as the poppy fields were vast and plentiful. Such a soul fulfilling/spirit lifting escape. Grateful. Nature definitely has its healing properties. Carpe diem!”
To learn more about Tamika Lamison’s Make a Film Foundation, visit www.makeafilmfoundation.org
Bonnie Newman Davis
Journalist, Journalism Educator, Media Consultant
Executive Director, BND Institute of Media and Culture Inc.