Wednesday, April 8, 2020

the coronavirus diaries: week five



Taped to our front door: I guess my younger son thought we needed reminding?

Younger son: Hey Mom, should I put all my church clothes in the attic since I’m not going to wear them?

***

The news gives me whiplash. One day it’s dire and the next there’s all these positive signs and then — hang on a sec, things don’t look so good after all.

Whatever. I’ve decided we’re in this for the long haul, so that’s that.




I feel like I’ve adjusted, mostly. The panicky pain of my whole world constricting has faded. Now, I’m left with a shrunk world and, all things considered, it’s a good place to be: Family, health (fingers crossed it stays that way!), green grass, open space, good food, good books, good movies....

I like it that I’m in charge of three meals a day, no interruptions. I like knowing exactly how many people will be at the supper table: six. I like the seamlessness of our days, days largely devoid of transitions and transportation and scheduling hassles. I like waking up and knowing that we’re all here, together.




An unusually high level of sustained gratefulness dominates my thoughts. Some mornings I even wake up feeling like I could live like this for a long time.

Contentment, I think it’s called.






Which is not an emotion this restless, needy, often-bored mama is accustomed to at all.

***

You know what’s weird? Suddenly, for the first time in my life, my slow-paced, home-based lifestyle is mainstream. Watching as people make the adjustment to a lifestyle I’ve always known, listening to their observations and struggles, is akin to culture shock, but in reverse: my norm is now the norm and everyone is shocked.

It’s almost trippy, in an Alice-in-Wonderland sort of way.

I don’t know what to make of it.

***

From a quote I discovered in a book I'm reading:

"Barn's burnt down / Now I can see the moon."
—Mizuta Massahide, seventeenth-century Japanese poet

***



L: ordered from Cousin Zoe; R: my mother's experiments

When I interviewed Kim, one of her pieces of advice for us was, “Try and wear a mask in grocery stores — to protect others.” I didn’t include her advice in my post, though. At the time, we were having a mask shortage (still are) and leadership was requesting that we save the masks for those who were ill, and for the medical professionals.

It felt weird though — dishonest, almost — to intentionally ignore the wisdom of people living on the front end of the pandemic, but what was there to do?

Now, nearly two months later, we're finally catching up. Before, wearing a mask in public felt like a crime; now it feels irresponsible not to.

***

The other day, my cousin-down-the-road passed me several letters that I’d written to her when I was a teenager. At supper one evening, I read parts of them out loud to the family.

I got a kick out of showing the kids how much I wrote (and wrote and wrote and wrote) when I was their age. One of the letters was typed on an electric typewriter; that my 15-year-old self was so thrilled with that fact tickled my children to no end.

The things I wrote about — like, fixing up our new house which, to them, is the house their grandparents used to live it, and the oo-la-la dating news of the now-parents of their friends (“do you think anything will come of it?” I’d written) — had a weird circle-of-life feel to it.

But the best part was my matter-of-fact reporting on the subject of our family’s animals. Listen:
Pepper, our dog, got hit by a pick-up truck several Sundays ago. She yelped and yelped and would not stop. It sounded so like a human that I cried and cried. We all begged dad to shoot her, but he wouldn’t. Pepper is still alive. Her tail’s broken and she’s limping (her right, hind leg is really sore), but she killed a big groundhog the other day.  
Dad did shoot the cat, though. The cat had numerous diseases and was just plain sick. So we got two new male kittens — Tom and Jerry. 
Zachary’s crow died (we think it suffocated on a marshmallow that one of dad’s students fed it).  
We got a lamb that had pneumonia and it was getting better but now I think it’s regressing.  
So that’s an update on the beasts. 
By the end I was laughing so hard that I was honest-to-goodness weeping.

All this to say, if you need some dinnertime entertainment, consider digging that box of letters out of the attic. Chances are, you’ll find some gems.

*** 

I keep thinking about how, when my husband and I lived in Nicaragua, we went about batty with boredom. No NPR, no internet, no movies, (almost) no books, no English, no family, no stores, no car, no phone, no running water, no, no, no… Everything we did — all our play and work — we had to create ourselves. The mind-numbing exhaustion was intense.

Now, when I get grumpy and whiny and bored, I recall those years and immediately any tedium I’m feeling suddenly pales in comparison.



(I still get bored, though.)

*** 

Watching: Some Good News (we loved the second episode), Webber’s free shows on YouTube, You’ve Got Mail (the perfect family escape-from-reality movie), West Wing (a world in which national leaders are competent, imagine!), Self Made (so disappointing, and it had such potential, too).

Reading: Clock Dance by Anne Tyler and What I Know For Sure by Oprah Winfrey to myself, and Dicken's Great Expectations to the two younger kids.

Wishing: I could get out all the books I have on hold at the library.

Listening: Fresh Air’s Cooking During Covid-19, and, since my older son’s in the house, lots of his music. (Me, on repeat: TURN IT DOWN.)

Looking forward to: Hamilton at Home, this Friday at 7:00 pm!! (Update: it's been canceled, wah!)

P.S. Friends just told us about the special free National Theatre Live shows: this week it's One Man, Two Guvnors with James Corden.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.8.20), oh please, oatmeal raisin cookies, answers, daffodils and horses, cardamom orange buns, writing it out.

Monday, April 6, 2020

the quotidian (4.6.20)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace




Color riot.




Re the noodles: Despite following the package instructions, eating them was like 
chewing a mouthful of damp horse's mane.




Hot chocolates, before showering the tops with crushed candy canes.




Watching an episode of the Home Improvement Show over breakfast.




Perks of a large island: I can flaunt the flowers.




From dawn to dusk, here he sits. 




His handwriting has improved.




And now the clubhouse deck has a railing.




In which my mother suddenly developed a pressing need to understand 
the difference between zombies and vampires.




He decided to shave it all off.






Like so.




Phantom pony.
photo credit: an unknown child

This same time, years previous: missing Alice, a trick for cooking pasta, scatteredness, the quotidian (4.6.15), the quotidian (4.7.14), the quotidian (4.6.13), yellow cake, he wore a dress.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

instead of a walk

Yesterday afternoon, after sleeping on the sofa off and on for two hours, I needed to get out. Since it would soon be time to pick up my younger daughter from her job, I decided to first run into town for milk and a few other staples (which included cranberry cocktail for this drink) and then swing by the farm. If she was still working, I’d go for a walk there. It’d be a nice change of scenary from my regular routes.

By the time I arrived she was almost done, so instead of going on a walk, I explored the farm, poking my head in the different hoop houses to see what they had growing.

My daughter was in the tomato hoop house.



She was tying nylon twine to the poles running along the top of the house and then stringing them down, one beside each plant, and staking them into the ground. There are about 80 plants per row, my daughter told me; she’d been doing this for a long time.















When she first started working at the farm a few weeks back, I wasn’t sure she’d last. That first day, she was cold in the morning, hot in the afternoon, didn’t have enough to eat, got thirsty, and was, by the end, totally exhausted.

Listening to her fuss, I panicked a little. She’d initiated this job, contacting the owner to ask for a job, getting the references he requested, and setting her hours. After all that, just to quit? We wouldn’t let her, at least not right off the bat, but forcing her to keep working would be miserable, too. Internally, I braced for battle.

But that first day must’ve been a fluke. From then on, there's been no complaining. In fact, she loves going to work.

I’m not sure why, really. Mostly alone (there are other workers, but they're often not in close enough proximity for conversation) for hours on end, doing the same task over and over again, I’d think she’d die of boredom. But no. Instead, she’s quietly proud. She comes home tired, satisfied, and eager to hand me whatever gleanings she’s scored — a bag of spinach, a handful of carrots (they’re so sweet, Mom!), some radishes, a bouquet of flowers.



Yesterday afternoon, my daughter secured a few more tomato plant ties before calling it quits. While she cleaned up her tools and closed up the hoop house, I mozied along the trail by the creek, the warm sunshine and the burbling water lulling me into a sort of stupor. It’d be the perfect spot for an afternoon nap, I realized. If only they had hammocks….







Before we left, my daughter picked a little lettuce for a weekend salad. In the car, she guzzled water and scarfed the tail end of her lunch before we set out for home, with her driving.

This same time, years previous: kickboxing, caribbean milk cake, the quotidian (4.3.17), the quotidian (4.4.16), red raspberry pie, sun days, the quotidian (4.2.12), cup cheese, now.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

the coronavirus diaries: week four

My anxiety has dropped considerably. Now that things are getting bad and people are taking it seriously, it no longer feels like such an ominous threat. The danger is here and so are we. Now I can adjust accordingly.


 ***

I’ve been thinking a lot of parents with small children. When my four kids were six and under, I went crazy on a daily basis and that was with lots of childcare swaps, my parents’ help, and outings to the library and children’s museum and church and the park, etc. Take all those options away and it’d be a recipe for disaster. Or at least a lot of maternal meltdowns.

Now with the kids all big and mouthy and helpful, it’s a totally different story. They do the housework and tell me stories and argue with me and make the popcorn for family movie night and initiate the dance parties and give me a reason to make lots of food and let me sleep in. AND when I say I need a break, they leave me alone.

So yeah. I can not imagine living through this stay-at-home order with small kids. To you parents with wee ones, my heart goes out.

Here, have some flowers:


***

couple weeks ago, a request went out for volunteer babysitters for hospital staff. My first impulse was to sign us up. My girls just lost their babysitting gigs. We’re all at home. This could be one way we could help.

But our weakest link right now is my husband. He has asthma, and he’s our main source of income. Keeping ourselves healthy in order to protect his health, and so we can operate with a modicum of normalcy and self-sufficiency and not be a drain on others, might be the best thing — the most generous thing — we can do right now.

And yet, it also feels terribly selfish. My whole life I’ve been taught to reach out, to include, to assist, to welcome, and now here we are barricading the door.

***

Did you know that the emergency relief money we’ll supposedly be getting — 1200 per adult*, 500 per child under 16 — does not include anything for dependants who are disabled adults, elderly, and between the ages 17-24? (At least as of now; maybe they'll change this?) As though these people aren't also losing jobs and getting sick and paying bills and buying groceries?! As though they cost less than our children under 16?!

When my husband learned this, he hit the roof. So sorry, kids, he told our two oldest. According to the US gov, you don’t count.

(But maybe he's wrong? Please tell me he's wrong!)

*Fact: the $1200 is more than a person would earn working 40 hours a week, for four weeks, at the national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

***

My dad’s birthday was last week. To celebrate, we had a drive-by party.



My brother’s family, and another neighboring family, went in the morning, and we made our stop at the end of the day.






Flowers, presents, and pie: it was more fun than I thought it’d be.

*** 


The gist of the article is this: The mad rush to keep things normal — to transition classes to online, to maintain our projects, to stay productive — is foolish. We want to keep things the same, but the truth is, things will never be the same. “The emotionally and spiritually sane response,” Ahmad writes, “is to prepare to be forever changed.”

How do we do this? Conveniently, she breaks it down into three stages.

Security, in which we spend the first few days or weeks focusing on food and family. This is the part where we identify our team (the people we’ll be supporting and working with), secure our home, and let go of all our “shoulds.” This is the mental adjustment period, and it’s profoundly uncomfortable. If we feel bad, good. It means we’re doing the hard work.

The mental shift, in which we begin to adjust to the new reality. Gradually, the brain resets and our ability to do higher-level work returns. This happens at different times for different people; don’t rush it.

Embracing the new normal, in which we dig into the reality of our new situation and begin to establish routines and structure. We become high-functioning people, even while still living in a crisis. We develop schedules and get things done. “Understand that this is a marathon," writes Ahmad. "Emotionally prepare for this crisis to continue for 12-18 months, followed by a slow recovery. Right now, work toward establishing your serenity, productivity, and wellness under sustained disaster conditions.”

I think I am at the tail end of stage one, beginning to enter stage two. I’m once again able to focus on small things, like blogging and washing the windows and trying a new method for sourdough bread. Before, these activities felt so unimportant in the face of such a huge crisis that I could hardly bring myself to do them. Now, though, they feel satisfying and life-giving.

(I still can’t write, though. And that’s okay. The article gave me permission to let that go.) 

***

And now, for a few musical gems from the last week.

My brother and his wife put out a new song.


In his email to the family, my brother said: We wrote this mostly before COVID-19 made staying at home a national pastime; even under normal circumstances, a lot of our everyday work and play takes place in our home, with out home schooled kids scampering about. Side note: Numerology, in which we have zero interest, relates 60 to “family, home, and nurturing” and 55 to “independence and personal freedom.” We considered using our actual house number, but it didn’t rhyme so nicely.

(The ending’s my favorite.)

And have you seen this family singing Karaoke?


Every time I watch it — and I’ve watched it a lot — my face about splits in half from grinning so hard.

And this, I’m sure you’ve seen — it’s gone crazy viral. The bickering in the beginning makes me feel right at home.   

And one more: Do Re Mi, Covid-19 version.


And...that’s a wrap!
xoxo

Monday, March 30, 2020

the quotidian (3.30.20)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
everyday; ordinary; commonplace




Perks: when your child takes a job at a CSA




Not our normal fare.




With the leftover potato and onion slices, a fritatta.




Rediscovered: the magic of the seven-minute egg.




She dislikes the texture of nuts in granola so she spent half an hour mincing them into oblivion.




For the love of color.




I must've fussed long enough or yelled loud enough because I finally got my door latches.




Weed therapy.




When the neighbors' wolf pups come to play.




Resident squatter.




He's actually more of a glamper.




Question: What do you do when you total your car?
Answer: Take the salvaged parts and make....




... a five thousand-dollar GTI stereo system. 

This same time, years previous: Asian slaw, for-real serious, the day we did everything, teff pancakes with blueberries, the quotidian (3.28.16), absorbing the words, the quotidian 3.30.15), our oaf, on being together: it's different here somehow, Good Friday fun, the boy and the dishes.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Japanese milk bread

Last week when I got the hankering for hamburgers and didn’t have any buns — and I knew the stores probably didn’t either because, when we’d stopped by a couple nights prior to pick up a pack of hotdog buns, there were none — I decided to make my own.

I’d recently discovered Japanese Milk bread, a bread that relies on a paste of cooked flour and milk for its signature light-and-fluffy texture. After I made the bread the first time, I was hooked. The process was fun — the cooked flour-and-milk gave it a thrill factor — and the billowy bread with its glossy egg wash varnish was delicious.

Now, with no hamburger buns to be had, it occured to me that this bread, with its light, yet firm texture, would make perfect buns.






You know how some burgers buns are so hard and dry that it’s like there’s a war going on between the burger and bun? They are too separate, too different. They don't even try to get along. And then some buns are so inconsequential that they melt right into the burger, completely disintegrating to the point that it feels like you’re eating meat wrapped in a soggy tissue.



These buns, though, were the best of both worlds. They managed to both conform to the burger and hold up against the onslaught of toppings.



Perfection.

Japanese Milk Bread 
Adapted from my friend’s recipe and she, in turn, got her inspiration from the blog Curious Nut

Tangzhong is simply the Japanese term for a cooked flour and water (or milk) slurry. (I’d actually first read about the method from a Cook’s Illustrated magazine — I’d even photocopied the recipe because it included step-by-step illustrations for making a challah loaf with four strips of dough — but then I never did anything with it.)

The recipe I’ve been using makes double the amount that I have here — I halved it so it could be made using a stand mixer. Feel free to double it, if you like. (For photos of the rising bread dough and a finished loaf, go here.)

tangzhong:
6.5 ounces milk
1.3 ounces bread flour

Measure the milk and flour into a small saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking steadily, until thick. Remove from heat and let cool.

dough:
10.5 ounces warm milk
28 grams sugar
16 grams yeast
1½ pounds bread flour
tangzhong mixture
2½ teaspoons salt
2 eggs
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature 
egg wash: one egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water

Measure the warm milk, sugar, and yeast into a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of your stand mixer. Stir briefly and let rest for ten minutes, or until puffy. Add a pound of the flour and salt and mix to combine. Add the cooled tangzhong. Add the two eggs and the rest of the flour. Add the butter and mix for several minutes. Cover the dough with plastic or a towel (no need to remove it from the mixing bowl) and let rest until doubled.

For loaves: Divide the dough into two parts. Shape into loaves and place in greased pans. Let rest until doubled. Brush the tops with the egg wash. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn out of pans onto a baking rack to cool.

For hamburger buns: Divide the dough into two parts. Divide each part into twelve equal sections, making 24 sections. Shape into balls of dough and then press flat into the desired size for your hamburger bun. Place buns on greased, half-baking sheets — 12 per pan. Cover and let rest until doubled. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes.

This same time, years previously: now that she's back, the quotidian (3.26.18), the quotidian (3.27.17), the Tuesday boost, maple pecan scones, the visit, a spat, fabulous fatira, whoopie pies.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

the coronavirus diaries: week three



on a walk with my mom
photo credit: my older daughter

These days, I feel twitchy. On edge.

Our normal homeschool studies, already at a bare minimum, have all but screeched to a halt. Not because we don’t have time — we have all the time in the world — but because I’m too distracted. 

Writing, normally a difficult task, is even harder because I can’t still my racing mind long enough to focus. Which is exactly what I need to do, of course — my brain craves a break.

And so I try to write something, anything...

***

In the middle of the night when I wake to go to the bathroom, in the fuzzy space between dreamland and wakefulness, consciousness comes in fragments — … falling apart … quarantine ... the entire world … virus … taking over ... trapped — and I think, Wow, what a horrible nightmare, and then, a second later, Oh wait. That’s reality.

***

Nothing is easy. Even the ordinary things, like reading a book, feel complicated. Because once that book is done, then what? Can I swap books with my mom? With my friends? Do I order from Amazon?

***

And the absence of routine — church, babysitting, coffee shops, pop-in visits — is more draining than it is freeing. Figuring out what to do instead, or how to live without, sucks energy and takes concentration.



delivery girl: from one quarantined household to another

***

The deluge of information is overwhelming. At first glance, each new announcement — a hundred more positive cases! such-and-such a famous person sick! yet another preposterous statement! chilling revelation! heartwarming video! — is exciting.

But then the kick of adrenaline fades, leaving behind fear and anxiety, rage, and something akin to grief.

It’s a lot to process.

***

Everything’s happening so fast. Two days from now — two weeks, two months — what will I be wishing I’d thought of now?

So, at my urging, my husband and I sat down to come up with a plan. We asked ourselves, what do we normally need/do in April, May, and June? If we’re stuck at home, what projects might we tackle? What materials might we need? What should we buy now to keep the house running smoothly?

Our list wasn’t that long — the headlight on the car is out; the riding mower needs some repairs; we’re almost out of lightbulbs; the propane tanks should be refilled; we ought to refill our gas cans and maybe get a couple more; it wouldn’t hurt to buy a little extra flour — but it felt good to think things through.

What am I forgetting?

***

Yesterday I went to Costco. I was a little nervous about what I’d find, but the store was wonderfully calm.

Precautionary measures were everywhere: An employee was wiping down carts. Posted signs reminded customers to stay six feet apart. Stands of antibacterial wipes were at the entrance and exit. Open registers were staggered, and the checkout was a single line at the head of which was an employee allowing customers to pass when a register became available.

Some items were missing — no chicken, no frozen beef, no frozen peas and broccoli, no toilet paper (of course) — and certain things, like butter and oil and sugar, were restricted to just one per customer, but most of the shelves were full.

Since I was also shopping for my brother’s family, who is quarantined right now, and, even though we had lots of duplicates between our two carts, they let us pay for everything with my membership card, no problem.


photo credit: my older daughter

I followed up at Food Lion to fill in the gaps, but there were still a number of things (frozen orange juice, rubbing alcohol, frozen peas, toilet paper) that we couldn’t find. The whole hit-or-miss nature of shopping is so similar to what it’s like in other countries I’ve lived in — everything simply isn’t always available.

Which is a new concept for us, here.

And a bit of a rude awakening. We aren’t invincible after all.

*** 

One of my friends was recently very sick. We (I, she, her doctor, etc) were sure it was Covid-19, but her test came back negative. Which made me wonder: is there such a thing as a false negative?

When I mentioned this to my brother, he sent me this article. So I’m not the only one asking this question!

And when I mentioned this to Kim, she said that her friend in the UK never had the test but, after a week, they considered her a confirmed case, based on her symptoms only. Will the U.S. start doing this soon, too?

Then just today my brother sent me a new link: false positives are unlikely; false negatives are more likely.

*** 

If you have time to listen to just one thing today, let it be this: Monday’s Fresh Air interview with Max Brooks, an apocalyptic novelist who is somewhat of an expert on pandemics. At Mom’s urging, I’d started listening to it yesterday afternoon but then stopped — I wanted the whole family to hear it.

So last night, after our supper of Thai chicken curry and rice (I found chicken at Food Lion), we lingered at the table, listening. Even though there was nothing pleasant about the truth of our situation, just hearing someone speak about the issues plainly, with intelligence and thoughtfulness, gave me hope.

*** 

And, for a little humor, this lovely, spot-on essay written by one of my friends: Mom, You’re Grounded.

xoxo!



Jesus Loves Me is longer than 20 seconds.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.25.19), the solo, apricot couronne, more springtime babies, the pigpen, the quotidian (3.24.14), the walk home, of a moody Sunday, sour cherry crumb pie.