Shopping While in Shutdown (Plague, Day 26, March 29, 2020)

It’s Sunday Shutdown. Some of you are struggling to stay awake while watching online mass. Others are checking in with extended family or going for a long hike. And many of you are shopping.

I totally approve of online shopping during the Pandemic. It keeps the economy moving. There’s not much evidence that the virus lives long on cardboard boxes. One report said that we should be leaving Amazon deliveries for medical emergencies, but I haven’t heard anybody else say that. So shop away!

There are some caveats. Don’t buy anything that you might need to return. Many states aren’t allowing returns on purchases. Besides, it would involve an unnecessary and risky trip to the post office. So, don’t buy anything that you’ll need to try on, or items that are super expensive.

  1. Buy things to supply your hobbies.
  • Steve and Jonah bought a bunch of new seeds. They’re going to spend the afternoon doubling their size of their backyard garden. They’re also growing extra for gifts for friends/family.
  • They usually get their seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, but they seem to be having virus issues right now. Steve got extra seeds this week from Amazon. Here are some good seed packages.
  • Of course you need a lighting system and little trays for the seeds.

2. Buy things to be comfy.

  • I had an irrational, intense need to buy fun lounge pants last week. I can’t explain. I always work from home, so this isn’t anything new for me, and jeans are my typical outfit. But last week, I had the itch for inexpensive lounge pants.
  • I picked up this pair on Amazon. I have to say that I love cheap Amazon clothes. Yes, it takes some effort to sort through the tacky stuff, but when you find good stuff, it is so much cheaper than anything in the malls.
  • Keeping in mind the inexpensive rule for online shopping, I bought these lounge pants at the J. Crew outlet and have been eying this pair at H and M.
  • Since I’m padding around the house in my socks a lot, I tossed out all my old socks and got new ones.

3. Buy things to cook.

(And remember, if you do buy something through Amazon, please use a link for anything from this blog. Thanks!)

Silver Lining Playbook, Excerpt from the Newsletter (Plague, Day 25, March 28, 2020)

Latest newsletter: Silver Lining Playbook, Apt. 11D, March 27, 2020 Subscribe here.

Hi all!

We’ve been in our bunker for two weeks now, with only the briefest interactions with other people on milk-runs at Stop and Shop or at the drive-in lane at Dunkin’ Donuts.

The reason why we’re home in the bunkers is horrible – a global pandemic, which will endanger the lives of millions and possible usher into a giant recession. Already, 3.3 million people filed for unemployment insurance last week. Millions of kids aren’t being educated. My friends with small business are faltering. 

The virus cast its shadow over my family this week, as a beloved uncle passed away from unrelated issues. With the social distancing imperative, we are unable to mourn together as a family. His wife couldn’t hold his hand in the hospital, until the very last minute. 

But being a basically happy person, I can’t help but seeing signs, here and there, that all this social distancing is a much needed reboot of our very complicated, busy, self-involved lives. 

Even though we’re social distancing from the rest of the world, Steve and Jonah and Ian and I are social un-distancing from each other. We’ve spent nearly every minute of the past two weeks together. We haven’t spent this much time together, since Jonah was a small baby and Steve and I finished our dissertations full time. 

After that one year of togetherness, we’ve all gone our separate ways. Now, Steve works and commutes twelve hours a day. Jonah’s got his frat buds and his seminars at college half the year. Ian has school and summer camps. I’m here, as always, working in my little office, going to spin class, and maintaining the business of a house and home. I’ve got my own daytime friends and activities that don’t involve the others. 

But all that is over. No spin classes. No PTA meetings. No Wall Street offices. No train commutes. No band class. No International Relations lecture halls. No frat drinking fests. No sushi on a Friday night. We’re just here hanging out together and living off my cooking. 

Not going to lie. There were some adjustments. And adjustments are still happening as we decide whose job gets priority over unloading the dishwasher and whether we should badger the college kid to not fall asleep in front of Netflix on his laptop every night. But we’re working out the kinks with fewer flare ups and more cooperation. 

Maybe our lives had gotten too complicated. Maybe Ian has too many after-school activities, and Jonah had too much on his plate at college. Does he really need an internship this summer? Not really. Is there any reason that my husband should go back to his office, with its three-hour daily commute, when he gets everything done here just fine? Maybe I’ve put too much pressure on myself for professional success, when there’s a pretty awesome spot in the backyard to stare at the birds and the plants. 

The New York Times has a good article about how one party in Westport, CT helped to spread the disease. “The Westport soirée — Party Zero in southwestern Connecticut and beyond — is a story of how, in the Gilded Age of money, social connectedness and air travel, a pandemic has spread at lightning speed.” So no more parties for us; our weekend calendar is empty. 

Without weekend dinner plans and jaunts to museums and shows, we’re just chilling out. So weird. 

Now, I have to draw a line with all this domestic splendor somewhere. For me, it’s board games. Don’t talk to me about Jenga or whatever. I’m not even listening. I might occasionally bake, but I’m not breaking out any muffin tins on a daily basis. 

In our own way, we’re social un-distancing quite a bit. If we’re not in the kitchen making a complicated soup, then we’re taking walks around the neighborhood, watching Mario Cuomo on CNN, or on our devices in the same general area. For us, that’s a good thing.

Be well! Laura

SL 778

Are you nesting? Or stir crazy? Have you shopped on Amazon to supplement the new life style? I have. New cutting boards and fun lounge pants. Will post links later.

Without restaurant scraps, the rats may be moving into homes.

After learning about Will and Kate’s social scene, I started getting sucked into the Instagram pages of the rusticating rich British people. I’m a sucker for their gardens and their comfy reading nooks. 

If you are looking for a new TV series to binge watch, please check out Schitt’s Creek

Is Andrew Cuomo our de facto national leader? The real president now?

Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Plague, Day 23, March 26, 2020)

Today was a tough one.

My Uncle Naren passed away last night. He was in his late 80s and never fully recovered from a heart attack last year, so his time was up. We were ready for that, as much as anybody could prepare for a loved one moving on. My family is having a super tough time with how he passed.

My uncle went into the hospital about ten days ago, when he was having trouble swallowing. To limit the spread of the virus, the hospital wouldn’t let anyone visit him. He was by himself that whole time. My aunt would wait in the lobby of the hospital all day hoping that someone would let her upstairs to hold his hand.

Last night, my aunt left the hospital lobby at 11:00 in the evening, but soon got a call from the hospital saying it was time. She should come now. My cousin Jason was able to be there, too, but his brother is holed up in an apartment in New York City, the pestilence capital of America, and his sister is in by herself in another hospital in Miami, three hours away from her family, getting chemo for lymphoma.

Ordinarily, my brother, sister, and parents would be on a plane right now to Florida. Our families were incredibly close growing up. My cousins are more like siblings to me. Instead, we’re all grieving alone. My aunt, who is having more and more trouble remembering things, needs support. But with germs flying around, she’s going to have to figure out how to pay the bills on her own for a while.

And now Ian has a small fever. It triggered a small seizure this morning, which he tried to cover up. He confessed. when we spotted him bringing the vomit covered towel to the laundry room.

I just drove around to some stores looking for a better thermometer, but there’s none to be had. The woman at CVS laughed at me and said, “we haven’t had one of those for weeks.” She was so damn cheerful about it. Fuck her.

Tomorrow, we’re going to start the testing process. The pediatrician will swab his throat in the car in the parking lot. If it comes back negative for strep and the flu, then they will give a prescription for a coronavirus test at the drive thru tent at the local hospital.

I’m about to change into cleaning clothes that won’t be ruined by bleach. I want to scour the kitchen counter and bathroom. If Ian is really sick, then I’m shutting the door on the barn when the horses have already escaped. But I feel like I need to do something.

SL 777

From a 1940’s edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass

Last night was a bad insomnia night, so I got sucked into the blind gossip websites at 3am. One of them referred to the rumor that Prince William had an affair with a neighbor (which Meghan supposedly leaked to the press and that’s why everyone hates her). I was up for a while, so I kept reading. Turns out the the super rich-rich English people who rusticate in ancient piles in Will and Kate’s neighborhood call themselves the Turnip Toffs. Which makes you want to kick them upside the head, doesn’t it? Anyhow after click-click-clicking, I some how ended up at a blog that shows the castle of the former friend of Kate’s. Wow.

I’m making black beans tomorrow night. My tip for people, like us, who have hard water is to soak dried beans overnight in a bowl of distilled water. Then I’m going to cook them in chicken broth (homemade, frozen). Here’s info from the NYT.

“What I Learned When my Husband Got Sick With Coronavirus”

In Spain, elderly in some nursing home were abandoned by workers. “Ms. Robles said that emergency military units dispatched to disinfect nursing homes had found there some residents “absolutely abandoned, if not dead in their beds.”

The shit is going to really hit the fan in NYC hospitals soon.

There will never be a point that I am so bored that I will play board games with my family. I hate them all.

Two Loaves and Choices (Plague, Day 22, March 25, 2020)

You know the world is in the shithole, when I start baking.

I do not enjoy baking. I don’t like measuring cups, the fine dusting of flour over counters, meticulous reading of recipes, timers. Last night’s pot roast is more of my style of cooking — throw a bunch of good things in a pot and then walk away for two hours.

Also, I’ve so been conditioned by middle age diets to look at all carbs as things of evil. Little slices of heaven, too. Have you ever had a slice of pizza, after restraining one’s self for a couple of weeks? OMG. Your brain explodes. So, there’s a lot of complicated feelings wrapped in bread right now.

But with everything going on, I felt a deep need to kneed. Yesterday I pulled out my super easy recipe for bread making and spent the afternoon making two loaves.

Two loaves, almost identical, cooling on a rack. Which one to cut open first? Either way, there is no bad choice.

***

But now our president is ready to make a choice between two evils, as he sees the options before him. He can either badger the country to stay in the house, shut down businesses, keep the schools closed, which will very quickly lead to massive Great Depression-like levels of economic strife.

Or he could let business do it what it wants to do. Open those restaurants. Open the factories. Let people fly wherever they want. Money comes in, but the virus will spread. People will die, but people die every day, he said. We can’t stop the economy to save a handful of old people.

He later added geography to that calculus. Mostly, the problems are going to be in the hot spots, like the New York City metro area, so it’s unfair to rural areas in Texas to conform to rules that are appropriate for NYC. And those people in NYC are doomed anyway, so let’s just move on.

Those are bad choices: the economy versus dead old people. To be fair, the economy doesn’t just mean that some rich CEOs will suffer. It means that a whole of lot of minimum wage workers will be laid off, won’t be able to pay their rent, and children will go hungry. So, in the spirit of fairness, let’s revise that equation: hungry children versus dead old people in one part of the country.

But that equation still isn’t quite right. The dead people are starting to pile up around here, and they aren’t just 90-year olds in a nursing home. Our church just sent out an email asking for prayers for a 20-year old, a former high school athlete, who is in ICU.

I live in a virus hotspot, though things will be worse on the other side of the Hudson River, in the heart of the city. Anybody paying attention knew that this was going to be a big issue. The mayor took too long to shut the schools and get people off the streets and subway. Too long.

Friends who had an outlet and a brain to see the writing on the wall got out of the city seven days ago. They are in seclusion already in second homes and in the guest rooms of extended family. Others are trying to get out now.

My in-laws live in the shore of North Carolina, where those communities have shut their doors to outsiders. Police demand proof of home ownership before letting people cross the bridge to the barrier islands. Locals say they don’t have enough beds or bags of flour for the New Yorkers heading their way. No room in the inn.

I reject the presidents’ choice, because I think he’s wrong. I have faith in charts and trajectory curves. If we say, “Fuck this flattening curve stuff. Give me the high peak and get the pain over with quickly,” the losses will be too significant and probably won’t save the economy anyway. I say let’s save lives first, the economy second.

***

I’m not the only one baking like crazy. Flour, like toilet paper and dish detergent, is not to be found in any supermarket right now.

Why do we bake during a pandemic?

For many of us, we associate bread with comfort. It’s a way to nurture our families, when they’re in the midst of stress and pain.

We have time. Yes, the lucky among us are still working on our laptops and computers just a few feet from the kitchen. It’s not hard to let some dough rise in a bowl on the counter for forty minutes in between Zoom meetings with co-workers.

Bread is something Biblical, an ancient tie to the Gods. Mosaics in 2,000-year old churches in the Mediterranean depict the miracle of the loaves and fishes.

Matthew 14:13-21: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he [Jesus] gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”

We bake because we are in the midst of an Old Testament-like plague. This doesn’t feel real. It’s an ancient evil, not something that belongs in our worlds of sterile Apple stores or smart cars. An ancient evil must be fought by an ancient good. For some, that ancient good might come in the form of God, an old man with a beard. For others, the ancient good is formed by women with large forearms over a fire.

Of course, we can’t be saved by bread or prayers or by loud curses at the tv during presidential press conferences. Let’s just be safe, friends. Using whatever comforts and crutches that we have around us, let’s stay in our homes for another few weeks.

Me? Despite an afternoon aberration with baking, my real crutch is writing. Words are my loaf of bread. So, I’ll be here, as long as I can manage it.

Pacing Ourselves For the Long Haul (Plague, Day 20, March 23, 2020)

11:00am — I calmed down a bit this weekend. I’ve been on overdrive for the past 14 days. Longer, if you include Ian’s medical emergency that happened in the beginning of the month.

I still had a ton of stuff do around the house, but I wasn’t totally stressed out about getting something published. My USA Today article about the impact of the school closures on kids with disabilities came out on Saturday morning and is continuing to do really well.

Every day, I give thanks that Ian’s health emergency happened before things got nasty. My uncle in Florida is in the hospital in ICU all by himself. The family can’t visit him. My cousin, Jenn, is getting chemo and is extremely immune compromised. They’re suffering alone and vulnerable. I worry about them every day.

On Sunday, Steve and Jonah brought all his college crap home. They did two trips back and forth with two cars. Now, I’m organizing space in the basement to make room for a mattress, box spring, dresser, desk, microwave, and all the other crap that he won’t need until he gets another apartment sometime down the line. He was slated to move into a dorm next fall, but who knows what will happen.

This mess isn’t going to be wrapped up in a tidy little bow in another week, as much as our president would like that. We’re looking at months of destruction to our economy and way of life.

I drove around this weekend just to get out of the house. I passed people lining up to get into Whole Foods, jogging along the side of the road, kicking a soccer ball on an empty school field. How many of them will be sick in another week or two? We’re all walking time bombs.

A disaster with a long tail is going to have a major impact on a whole generation of kids. How many are never going to go back to college this fall? How many will lose friends and family members? How will life in an economic tailspin impact them? Will they become compulsive hoarders, like our grandparents, stockpiling cans of beans and toilet paper in the basement?

I sat Jonah down this weekend and asked him how he was doing. Boys need to be asked directly how they feel about things, because they tend to swallow up their emotions.

Jonah said that he was missing his friends enormously. He was sad for other friends that would miss graduation and other milestone celebrations. He’s been chatting almost constantly with friends through social media, but being stuck in his parents’ house isn’t a fun time. Today is his first day of online college education.

I’m most worried about Ian. In some ways, he’s well prepared for life on a computer, because he excels with anything that deals with technology. For him, the problem isn’t math problems on Khan Academy, but the fact that he’s separated from real people and from structure. He’s in mourning.

After talking to Ian’s teachers today, we’re all agreed that they will check in him once a day for the continuity and social contact. He doesn’t have any friends, so he really needs to keep contact with teachers ,and for Steve and I to make sure that we talk long walks with conversations every day. We can’t let him lock himself in his brain.

I need to take a break from this make hard boiled eggs for egg salad sandwiches for lunch. The grind of prepping three meals a day is already tiresome. Back later.