Day 13 – Food Shopping

by Karen Topakian


Today Peg and I needed to stock up on some fresh produce and some canned and packaged foods. Since we’re eating all meals at home, our pantry empties quickly.

We walked the three plus blocks to the Asian market, Duc Loi, down the narrow 18th Street sidewalk. I held my breath as I scurried past anyone on our path. And I’m not a scurrier. But I move quickly now.

Normally, I love food shopping. I enjoy making the list, sidling down the aisles, checking out new products, picking out produce, taking my time. Not now.

In the market, I charged down the produce aisle, hunting for organic produce amid the empty bins. No garlic. Only ginger stubs. No basil. A few cucumbers. Keep moving. No need to touch anything. No need to linger.

Normally, I want to closely examine the aisle with the curry paste, canned mushrooms, rice stick noodles, coconut milk… Not today. I scanned the shelves clutching my scrawled list – canned tomatoes, canned beans, anchovies. Move.

I whisked past the dairy aisle homing in on non-fat plain yogurt. Any brand, just pick up a quart and keep walking. No time for deliberation.

On the frozen food aisle, I grabbed bags of frozen fruit and vegetable dumplings. Keep walking. Get in. Get out.

If I saw someone standing in an aisle I went to the next one.

Peg and I split up to cover more ground quickly. She looked for wine while I haunted the tea section.

We lined up a safe distance apart from other customers. The cashier wore a mask as she stood behind a plastic barrier stretched across a rough wooded frame. She quickly scanned our items as Peg bagged them. We paid and left. Laden down with bags we walked on side streets and less traveled ones to maintain a safe social distance to get home.

I’m glad we can walk to a food store. I’m glad we can afford food. I’m glad we now have a full pantry. Today I didn’t enjoy anything about food shopping. When will I again?




Day 12 – The New Normal

by Karen Topakian


I’ve heard this expression used repeatedly since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Our current state of affairs will become our new paradigm. Nothing will look and feel as it did Pre-COVID19.

If that’s true, then let’s make the new normal a whole lot better than the old normal. Because the old normal only worked well for some but not for ALL.

What do WE want in the New Normal.

Here’s my list. Please add to it.

  • Free, safe, accessible, reliable public transportation systems in rural, urban and suburban communities
  • Government provided high quality universal healthcare for all – citizen, non-citizen, visitors
  • Safe, accessible, available abortion on demand
  • Equitable free public education pre-K through university
  • Just and equitable transition to renewable energy
  • Government sponsored renewable energy –wind and solar – installation on residences or commercial building
  • Just transition to organic bi-dynamic regenerative farming
  • Complete ban on fracking, mining, drilling, pipelines and fossil fuel permits and extraction.
  • Generous financial support for the arts
  • Safe, clean, affordable housing for all
  • ????









Let’s improve our healthcare system

We will need to get used to this way of life.

Our healthcare system. Our education and transportation systems. Our government agencies. Our legislative bodies. Will never look and feel as they did before.

And I say hallelujah. Because they weren’t working well for ALL of us. For some of us yes, but not for ALL of us.


Everything will change, should change, must change once we’re out of the woods, in the clear,…

But I wonder about that.

I’m still getting used to the “new Normal” since November 8, 2016.

Day 11 – Today, I Feel Grateful

by Karen Topakian


For the roof over my head

For the box of beautiful organic produce delivered today from Farm Fresh To You

For my Greenpeace colleagues, board and staff, who greet this moment with tenacity, flexibility and grace

For my partner who spends long hours at San Francisco’s Emergency Operations Center helping to plan, prepare and address the corona virus so we can all stay safe.

For my sister who texts regularly to ask what I’m doing

For anyone who texts me a joke

For the washing machine

For my full pantry

For clean clothes

For my neighbor playing her flute

For Dolores Park where I take my daily walks

For toilet paper, lotion, soap and shampoo

For the serenading birds outside my window

For my colleagues’ cooperative and sharing spirit

For those caring for the sick and the scared

For the kindness of strangers

For the links to films I need to screen for the Green Film Festival

For the unexpected laugh

For the colleagues who provide me with meaningful work.

For the quiet

Day 10 – Some Days Better Than Others

by Karen Topakian


My paternal grandfather, Krikor Topakian, spoke English with an Armenian accent. He learned the language when he arrived in the US at roughly 18 years old. And adopted and adapted certain expressions for himself. The title of this piece is one of those expressions.

He would say this when we visited him after his many hospital visits for heart attacks, eye surgery and other ailments.

Some days better than others. Not optimistic. Just honest.

He passed away in 1979 and I still miss him very much.

Living through “sheltering in place” reminds me of him. He sheltered in place for 30 plus years after his first heart attack at 49 years old in the late 1940s.

He never worked again and I don’t think he minded. Before his death he worked at General Plating, the family business. But it wasn’t his business. It belonged to his wife, my grandmother, and his two sons, my father and my Uncle Ted. My grandmother had inherited it from her father when he died. For my grandfather, the stress of living with and working for his father-in-law may have contributed to his heart attack.

During the decades he spent at home, he taught himself French from a program on educational TV (the pre-cursor to public television), served as the secretary for a few Armenian organizations, grew vibrant African violets on every windowsill and tended to a hearty backyard vegetable garden. He read voraciously in English and Armenian and wrote letters and cards. For exercise, he walked many, many laps through the first floor of his house, starting in the foyer to the kitchen, the dining room, the living room and back into the foyer. In warm weather, he sat on the front porch, rocking and reading or just watching the cars go by.

He navigated the city by bus because he didn’t drive. Since most men of his age, worked, he didn’t have many companions or friends to see in the daytime. At night, he watched television with my grandmother or attended Armenian church and organization meetings. But most days he stayed home and he never complained.

So today, I will use my grandfather’s words to describe my feeling – some days better than others.

Day 9 – Substitute



by Karen Topakian

On Monday night, I decided for dinner we would eat “Make Your Own Tacos.”

Something fun to eat that didn’t require much effort. Just chopping onion and tomato into separate bowls, shredding Jack cheese, washing and tearing up lettuce, opening up black beans, salsa and sour cream and heating up tacos.

While I was preparing it, I decided I also wanted an avocado because what are tacos without an avocado? But we didn’t have any.

I grabbed my coat to run to Bi-Rite, when my phone buzzed. A text alert from the City reminding me to stay home except for essential trips.

I looked over my shoulder, how did they know I was thinking about going out?

Then, I asked does buying an avocado warrant an essential trip?


In the pre-COVID-19 days, I would have dashed around the block to Bi-Rite for avocados and also bought 5 other items not on my list.

But not on Monday. I would heed the warning and do without.

As I stood with my coat in my hand, I started to feel angry about the virus, the president, the state of our health care system, my age which put me in a vulnerable catetory…

Then I glanced at the kitchen counter, where three ripe bright yellow mangoes sat ready for service. Why not substitute a mango for an avocado?

So I did.

I realized that in this new paradigm, we will do without, go without but sometimes we can substitute what we have and feel fine.

Day 8 – What if…?


by Karen Topakian

Once the government lifts the “Shelter in Place” directive…

What if we don’t want to go out?

What if we don’t want to return to our workplace and prefer to work from home?

What if we don’t want to spend our time in stores and malls anymore?

What if we like to cook instead of eating out?

What if we all prefer to watch TV and not go to movie theaters?

What if we like spending time with our family?

What if we like a quieter less fast paced life?

What if we don’t want to travel to other places?

What if we like walking and hiking?

What if we don’t need anything in person because we can find everything online – meetings, entertainment, friends, family…?

What if…?

Day 7 – I’m Worried


by Karen Topakian

I am not a worrier. But today I am.

I worry about women forced to shelter at home with an abusive partner, spouse or roommate.

I worry about those who live alone without contact with care givers or loved ones.

I worry about children who need individual attention to study and learn.

I worry about people with compromised immune systems.

I worry about people who already live on the edge financially, emotionally, physically and health-wise.

I worry about undocumented people who live in fear that ICE will bang on their door in the early morning hours to arrest and deport them.

I worry about those without permanent homes who live on our streets in soggy boxes, inside worn tents, under threadbare blankets, suffering and struggling to stay sane and healthy.

I worry about the mom and pop storeowner.

I worry about the children and families in cages seeking asylum.

I worry about prisoners in crowded jails and prisons.

I worry about health care workers who lack proper protective gear.

I worry about the bartenders, waitresses, cooks, dishwashers, baristas, janitors, cleaning staff, hair stylists, personal trainers, dance teachers, manicurists,… already living on tips and low wages.

I worry about the “gig” workers working long hours without breaks, paid leave, health insurance, paid vacation.

I worry about my fellow consultants and contract employees who can’t collect unemployment because we’re self-employed. Or not employed at all.

I worry about the elderly in nursing homes, retirement homes, assisted living facilities and senior housing who cannot have visitors.

I worry about people with addictions who need their support groups to stay clean and sober.

I worry about you.

Day 6 – Together

Version 2

by Karen Topakian

For the first time in 2 weeks, Peg didn’t need to go in to work. She stayed home.

We awoke without an alarm, ate a leisurely breakfast, read the newspapers, chatted and lived as we had on many Sundays before.

By late mornting, we both needed to use the phone and email, she for the City and I for some volunteer projects. She sat her desk while I sat at the dining room table a few feet away. Out of each other’s sight.

Before the flood when we could use both floors of our house, I would sit at my desk downstairs, she at hers upstairs.

When we first met decades ago, we worked together at Greenpeace. Never on the same project, always in the same office. Working together ended in 1991.

Now we have separate roles, responsibilities and work lives but today we did our respective work, together, in the same space.

Day 5 – Inspired


by Karen Topakian

According to the calendar, today is Saturday a.k.a. the weekend. Oddly, that designation means nothing.

My routine stays the same: shower, eat breakfast, read the newspaper, clean up the kitchen, open my laptop.

Today, I have to review grant proposals for the People’s Life Fund, a pool of funds of resisted tax dollars. The 38 proposals come from Bay Area peace and social justice organizations.

This work takes me back to the 16 years I spent as the executive director of the Agape Foundation Fund for Nonviolent Social Change. Similar grant requests. Similar applicants.

Granting money to organizations and projects aspiring to make big transformational change always feels rewarding. Their plans, missions, creativity, ideas and activities remind me that we the people know what change we need to make this world a better place for everyone and everything.

Hopefully, this funding will move us closer to the change we desperately need in our prisons, for our young people, for housing, against war, for justice.

Today, i feel inspired.


Day 4 – Keeping Busy


by Karen Topakian

My workday started with a message from colleague asking if I were looking for work. Paid work. I said tell me more and she will.

Then at 10 a.m. I jumped on a 60 min webinar created by Big Duck titled “Facilitating Great Meetings Online.” Informative, constructive and useful.

The 500 people who joined the webinar will hopefully make their online meetings more productive.

I learned a few new things – about setting norms at the beginning of the meeting to ensure good behavior, establishing speaking protocols, body language and lighting. Some I knew before, some I just learned, all I will use.

Immediately after, I joined a marketing committee conference call for a group where I volunteer. We met for less time than usual and tried to keep it concise.

A quick lunch and then a call with a colleague with whom I am collectively writing an article about fundraising and communications in this crisis moment. We divided up the writing work, set a deadline for completion and agreed on Plan B if the first publication where we pitched it turns us down.

I finished up the day finalizing a project for a client and then the clock struck 5 – quitting time.

Keeping busy with different tasks – writing, research, planning- keeps my brain from realizing I’m stuck inside the same four walls every day all day.

Keeping busy with phone and conference calls keeps me sane and connected to the outside world.

Keeping busy with engaging tasks and forward movement reminds me that despite the isolation, I can still be of service.