Lab Experiments (Plague, Day 58, May 2, 2020)

First, some blog business… Regular commenter, Doug, had a couple of operations this week for an appendectomy. When he comes back, wish him well.

My area of the New Jersey was hit very hard by the virus. I started social distancing about a week before most of you. As you can see from the ticker in the title, virus preparation and protection has been my life for 58 days.

It’s getting old.

Steve and I have been pushing the envelope more and more. We’re getting take-out food once a week now. We took Ian to the supermarket yesterday, because he needed an outing very, very badly. We’re considering letting the bi-monthly housecleaner into the house again (we’ve never stopped paying her).

We’re going to take advantage of the state park openings for a long hike tomorrow. I mean, we’ll use some common sense. We’re going early in the morning, taking masks, avoiding places that we suspect will be crowded. But we’re ready to venture past a one mile radius of our house.

And what will happen in two weeks? Will the infection rate go up again? Will we feel comfortable visiting my parents, if we start engaging in more dangerous behavior? Nobody knows. We’re all lab rats.

The expansion of our backyard garden is happening today. Steve went to the local landscaping joint to get more plants. But I’m not feeling as antsy about setting up our backyard reserves as I did a couple of weeks ago. Even with the warnings about the meat supply, I’m not seeing it. Our trip to the supermarket yesterday featured overflowing meat cases and vegetable bins. Still, the garden is going in and will be managed by Jonah as one of his summer jobs.

Other things are going back to normal, too. I took a break from paid writing gigs for about six weeks, because there was only about two or three education stories to tell, which were covered adequately by staff writers. Instead, I put all my extra energy into selling vintage books, dealing with Ian’s school needs, and managing the massive extra work at home.

That’s starting to switch back to normal. I have a juicy writing assignment from my favorite magazine on deck. Home chores are getting less attention. Books are going back to a weekend job.

As state officials slowly take steps to open the economy, Steve and I are slowly considering how we’ll slowly open up our lives. How much risk are we willing to assume?

And also, how much of our socially distant lives do we want to take with us into the future? Do we want to continue to eat more at home? Probably. Do we want to have fewer social obligations? Probably. Do we want to continue limiting our spending? Probably. Do we want to be less dependent on state services, like education, and other outside organizations? Probably. In the coming weeks, we will have to decide where we are going to draw the lines.

Little World, Larger World (Plague, Day 55, April 28, 2020)

This morning, I wandered down to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Without the pressure to get Ian on his 7am school bus or to keep Steve company before his long commute into Manhattan, I was in the kitchen a full hour later than back in the old times.

I flipped on the news, noted the new death count on CNN, and then went for the morning walk to appreciate the first sunny day in a week and to listen to an episode of The Daily on the state of virus testing.

We had a tough weekend trying to help Ian get a handle of his OCD tics (if we say A, he says B in a really annoying way), and in the process made the situation worse. With the return of “school” and our new routines yesterday, he’s chilled out and tic-free. We’re thinking about adopting a kitten to help him manage stress better.

But Ian’s tics are the extent of the drama here. I’ve learned how to manage the massive food requirements of my family. (I made a truly awesome shepherds pie last night out of leftover mashed potatoes, leftover sausage and ham, cabbage, carrots, and peas.) We’ve learned how to shop, organize, and clean during our Friday trip to the supermarket. We’re venturing out for long driving trips on the weekend. College and jobs are chugging along just fine, and even Ian’s school is slowly working out.

It is truly amazing how the day-to-day lives of the entire planet changed over night.

It’s tempting to zip myself into the lovely tent of family harmony. Things are fine here, so why come out? Why bother looking at CNN, where the only news is the latest dumb thing that our president said? Numbed by numbered, even the death count has lost its sting.

But things aren’t so great out there. The unemployment rates are Great Depression levels. We could start to see food shortages at the supermarket soon. Parents with young children and jobs are exhausted. Some children are learning on zoom classes; others are not. And, yes, some people are still getting sick and dying, and it’s not a great way to check out.

For those of us who are lucky enough to have safe, warm tents, it’s really hard to unzip those canvas cocoons and check out the woods. Social distancing has lead to a certain kind of social and political isolation. How many people have stopped watching the news in the past couple of weeks?

If we had a different president, he could be helping us to see that big picture and build connections between the haves and the have-nots in this new world. He would be preparing us all for the sacrifices that will be necessary in the future.

Every evening, our president rambles on national television. It’s highly cringe-y watching him personally take credit for the old economy and blame everyone else for the virus, It would be nice if instead of making a “me, me, me” speech, he said something along the lines of “we, we, we.” It’s hard to imagine a worse president than the one we have right now.

Raw Clay (Plague, Day 50, April 22, 2020)

Midway through week six of virtual education, I finally accepted that it was never going to happen for Ian. Yes, it took me a long time to stop bashing my head against the wall, but tweets from other parents talking about zoom classes kept my hopes alive.

As I ranted and railed, Ian mourned. He loved school. He’s on the highest honor roll for a reason. Watching his sadness just made me more angry.

Anyway, I’ve given up the anger and false hopes and am making my own plans.

My first step is shoring up the biggest problem. He has no structure or routines in his day. He pretty much just sits in his bedroom all day waiting for assignments to trickle into Google Classroom and listening to music. We need to break up that time with various goalposts of activities that always happen at certain times.

Today, we put up our first goalpost. At 11:00 am, we’re going to do yoga as a family (not Jonah though). None of us are regular yoga people, but Ian could use it as a stress reliever, and Steve can’t touch his toes. We found a video with a dude giving beginning lessons. Then lunch. Then Ian can do his waiting around and music listening for a while. 4:00 is becoming the time when we take him out for a walk.

That’s all so far. Not that impressive yet, I know. But I think the plan is to do this gradually. Every day or two, I’ll institute a new policy/program that provides structure, information, exercise, or a (virtual) social opportunity.

To figure out my next steps, I’ll lean into my academic background and take a look at some old kooks — the 1800’s educational utopian writers. I’ll share as I go along.

As we’re trying to take care of Ian, we have a different plan for Jonah. He has plenty of school, which moved from lecture hall to the laptop without a blip. He needs something to do this summer, but it can’t be too stressful. Like all Gen Z kids, he’s already had waayyyy too much.

The remedy for too much stress will be career exploration classes for Jonah. I’ve been chatting with the community college about opportunities for him this summer. Jonah has always been interested in drafting classes, so he’ll take autocad. Maybe something with Homeland Security or Python Programming. No worries about grades or credits.

How am I going to work, while I take a stronger control of my family? I have no idea.

Office Renovation

Back in January, we were stuck in the house for a weekend, so Ian could have an 48-hour EEG. Sure that the test would come back negative for epilepsy, we were completely unstressed and looking for activities for a full TWO DAYS (ha!) of home confinement.

I chose to use that time to pull down wallpaper in our bedroom and office. I imagined that we could finish off that job easy-peasy in two days. It turned out to be a much bigger process than I imagined. I already showed before and after pictures of the bedroom, so let me talk about the office.

The office was designed solely for function, and we had to work around various problems and needs:

  • It had to be as visually calming as possible. I sell used books, so sometimes the room has a riot of books in a corner. I need a blank slate for those projects.
  • It had to increase lighting. It’s a ground floor room, but there are tiny windows to accommodate the concrete foundation that goes halfway up the wall. The room needed some inset lights to replace some IKEA shades that we hung from the ceiling, which cluttered up the space.
  • The foundation is hidden behind some wood paneling. We went back and forth about keeping it v. painting it; decided to keep it for the time being.
  • I needed a good backdrop for Skype meetings and interviews. (I had to worry about this even before the lockdown.) I hung our PhDs behind me.
  • The room also has to function as a guest room, so furniture arrangements had to accommodate a daybed with a trundle. Also, marital harmony demands that Steve and I cannot work side-by-side for weeks at a time.

So, here’s are the before and during pictures. The first image is the original real estate pictures of the room.

Here are the after shots:

Do You Have a Long Term Plan? (Plague, Day 48, April 20, 2020)

As new routines form from the raw clay of the Pandemic, Monday mornings are becoming the time when I assess recent information that I’ve learned from Zoom chats with family and from six-feet conversations with neighbors, and then make a game plan for the week.

My game plans don’t exceed the five or six days ahead, because no one has a crystal ball. On this morning’s walk/podcast — a new and positive element of my new routine — a science fiction writer on The Daily said that the virus could be with us for a full four years, until a vaccine can be developed.

I’m not ready to make those sorts of year-long plans yet, but my week-long plan is formulated using recent news, like information from my neighbor that lost her mother-in-law, a super healthy 70-year old, to the virus. Two weeks ago, she lost her grandmother. In my complicated calculus, I’m also including news about the growing number of friends and family who are being laid off or furloughed. So, health and job security must be paramount in any plan.

Work-wise, we’re okay at the moment, as long as I make sure that Steve can devote all his attention to his job. So, my job is everything else. Check. I can do that.

Health-wise, we’re also okay. We’ve been practicing social distancing very strictly for weeks; I started making changes a week before everyone else. I’m still going to the post office and supermarket once a week, but I devote the rest of the day to decontamination. Even with masks and Clorox wipes, we might get sick, but our chances are slim.

Our plans for Jonah’s college education and Ian’s high school education are still in flux. I’m gathering useful gossip from the parents’ Facebook page for Jonah’s college. I have to make some phone calls to the local community college this morning to see if they have an online summer catalog.

Having a 20-year old boy cooped up in the house for this long is like looking at a hungry tiger pacing his cage. Jonah has been unbelievably philosophical about having to live with his parents and missing out on college. Truly an A+ kid. But I’m worried about him; this situation feels unhealthy. We talked about letting him get a job and then quarantining him in one corner of the house, but there are too many downsides to that plan.

Ian’s school is staring online classes this week, so I’ll have to see how that works out before I make some drastic changes. I’m working with a school behaviorist to correct certain autistic quirks that sometimes makes life at home difficult right now.

We’re still in one of the nation’s infection hotspots, so I doubt we’ll see any reopening here soon. While it’s impossible for me to get my head around the idea of living like this for years, I should start to come up with plans that go beyond Friday.

I’ll be back later this afternoon with some more upbeat posts — links and photographs.

What’s a Weekend? (Plague, Day 47, April 19, 2020)

One of my favorite lines from Downton Abbey comes from Maggie Smith, as Lady Grantham. When the former lawyer, newly made lord, Matthew Crawley says that he’ll be able to manage both his career and the job of running an estate by working over weekends, Lady Grantham looks askance and asks the rest of the dinner party, “What’s a weekend?

I feel very much like Lady Grantham these days. Our former division of time between work and life are gone.

I have enough entrepreneurial projects going on right now that I am working seven days a week. The new chores — feeding boys and amusing the younger one — will stretch into the weekend without respite; there are no trips to the restaurant or visits to grandparents to ease that burden.

And our usual fun weekend activities are gone, too. We can’t tromp through state parks, because they are closed. We can’t attend dinner parties with friends. We can’t go to the movies or malls or museums.

So, we’re in the process of reinventing weekends for ourselves. I’ll quit my writing and book projects after noon. Then we’ll make the most of a nice day in a backyard. I’ll take Ian for a jog and play HORSE at the basketball hoop, which is finally getting used again.

I’ve decided that Fridays are Steve’s grilling day, Saturdays are a new special meal, and Sundays are for cooking something that takes a long time and can be eaten for three days.

I’m tackling some home decorating tasks, like hanging up artwork and organizing the basement. (More on artwork and office decor later in the week.)

I’ve been doing a lot more experimenting with food lately. I have to write up my discoveries. I might start a new Pandemic Cookbook.

We might stream mass from St. Patrick’s cathedral on the television.

With the weather getting nicer, we’ll be able to use the back patio a little more, so we’re hosing down the furniture. Maybe we can hook up some speakers and put out comfortable chairs for backyard reading. Maybe we can start learning to make and appreciate fancy cocktails. I’m not sure.

What are you doing?