I live in New Jersey, Life

Social Isolation’s no vacation

March 18, 2020

Content warning: Contains despair and doom. And photos that have nothing to do with that.

New Jersey is now mostly shut down. All gyms, casinos, amusement facilities, bars, and schools are closed. Restaurants are take-out and curbside pickup only, and close at 8. There is a curfew in place from 8pm to 5am. We are good with supplies and are hunkering down for the haul. And I feel like it’s going to be a long haul. WM is braver than I am. He’s been venturing to Home Depot early in the morning to procure home improvement supplies. I don’t particularly like that he’s going, but he’s not ill (which means nothing) and he’s keeping his distance from others. With the exception of lunchtime walks around the neighborhood and sitting in my yard when the sun is out, I’ve been in the house since Friday night. Which doesn’t matter if he’s bringing it home but I’m clinging to what I can here, okay?

toilet paper and twix
My diet has been shit. Luckily, I’m prepared.

For the last 10+ years, I’ve had an off and on wheeze. I’m on a daily inhaler and I have a rescue inhaler. There are two doctors at my doctor’s office: one says I have reactive airway syndrome and the other says I have asthma. Okay. Great. I am sniffly from time to time due to general allergies. When I am anxious, my chest tightens. Suffice it to say, I’ve been paranoid that I’ve had coronavirus since Saturday morning. I mean, it’s a matter of time, right?

I’ve been mainlining news and tweets for a week and it finally caught up to me last night. I became anxious and overwhelmed and weepy. Are we all just locked up in our houses waiting to die? Which of my coworkers is going to get it first? Which friend? Which family member? I feel like a cornered Qbert with Coily rapidly advancing.

This is what used to be called entertainment. Source: skunkworx.org

So today, I did not look at the news. I did not look at Twitter. It helped a little. Can I manage to hide from news for a week? I might have to. And I have to realize that this whole thing is beyond my control and all I can do is follow guidelines and take care of myself each day.

With every event cancelled or postponed, I wonder: how much time do I think is worth sacrificing everything fun in order for all of this to flatten and come under control? I was okay with two weeks. I’m okay with a month. Three months? Am I willing to give up an entire summer, my favorite of seasons, to get through this? I might not have a choice. But a summer without outdoor concerts and neighborhood festivals and time on the beach? Despair. I’d never have survived an actual war.

I am not brave.

I planted lettuce, onions, and potatoes, with my eye on summer. The gardens are going to be gorgeous.

The cut potatoes will be planted later on.

Both WM and I are working from home. I think the work from home aspect is the easiest for me. I’m doing things. I’m slinging my spreadsheets and my SQL. Everything falls neatly into rows and columns, and if they don’t, I can figure out why they’re not and I can FIX it.

The dogs are the happiest they’ve ever been, because we are both home with them all day.

Things that I’ve been doing to keep myself centered:

  • Box breathing, which is when you inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, repeat until calm.
  • Limiting social media. I was already off of Facebook for Lent. I muted everyone in my Twitter feed who was “WE’RE GONNA DIE” or worse, “well, this is how it ends.” I muted the keywords. But it still wasn’t enough. I’m going to stay off of Twitter for the rest of the workweek. (Ironically, this blog posts to Twitter automatically.) Instagram soothes me, so it can stay.
  • Visualizing how amazing it’s going to be when I can ride the train again. When I see my parents without worrying I’m going to kill them. When my coworkers reunite for the first time. When I can stand on the beach and listen to the ocean. It will happen (if I don’t die) and it will be the most beautiful things.
This is Dale, our porch chipmunk.

Spring arrives tomorrow at 11:50pm, coronavirus be damned. Inhaling for 4 seconds…

I live in New Jersey, Life

The Coronavirus Era

March 15, 2020

I saw a Twitter post the other day on keeping a journal during these Coronavirus times…bet I can find it…ah, here it is. This is a screenshot that clicks through to the actual tweet.

tweet text: Shane Landrum, PhD
Advice from a historian in the Boston area: Start keeping a journal today, ideally a hand written one if that’s within your ability. Write about what you’re seeing in the news, how yr friends are responding, what is closed in yr neighborhood or city or state or country. Save it.

I figured, hey, I have a blog! Let me write this down because it may be the most historically significant thing I’ve ever experienced. Also, the potential of being a original historical source is enduring. And also, I’m kind of freaked out. It’s the illnesses that scare me the most — I recall being concerned about bird flu, swine flu, MERS and SARS when they were in the news.

Because of my low-level panic, I have been shopping for this for the last four weeks. I bought some club packs of chicken, dividing it up and vacuum sealing it into individual portions. I bought flour and sugar, butter and yeast. I already have bags of chocolate chips in the pantry because I never remember how much I have. I bought some canned tomatoes. I have alcohol and Diet Dr. Pepper. (not together)

We also bought 2 bottles of cough medicine and cough drops. Rationale being that if we BOTH get sick, we can hunker down in misery and have medicine at the ready.

Yes, I bought toilet paper. Not scads of it, but enough in case WM and I are both sick and can’t get out. Our COO emailed us all and joked that he didn’t know why people were buying TP. My response to him:

Here is my toilet paper rationale!
In normal times: I’m out of the house 10 hours/day x 4 days a week, Spouse is out of the house 8 hours/day x 5 days a week. That is a collective 80 hours a week that we are using OPTP (other people’s TP).
In the end times when we’re both quarantined at home for 14 days: that’s more TP that we’re going to need at home!

My theory is solid. We are good with hand soap, because I always buy extra when it goes on sale. One of the things TNP gives away when we exhibit are tiny bottles of hand sanitizer. With permission, I took some home. I shared it with my brother who never reads my blog and his family, and Mom.

tiny bottles of hand sanitizer

With these precautions in place, and with tripling the frequency with which I was already washing my hands, I was in an okay place. And then the cancellations started. The software conference I was supposed to attend in Colorado Springs the first week of April is cancelled. TNP’s own Annual Conference in San Diego the second week of April was cancelled. The medical meeting I was supposed to exhibit at in Tampa (and tack on a trip to see Dad) the third week of April is cancelled. I cancelled my visit to see Dad.

SPORTS is cancelled. St. Patrick’s Day parades are cancelled. Schools and offices are closing/going remote everywhere.

I hadn’t had to share a seat on my trains (which are usually Standing Room Only during rush hour) for two weeks.

Reporter outside of Philadelphia City Hall at rush hour on Friday.
Reporter outside of Philadelphia City Hall at rush hour on Friday. Notice the scant number of people in the photo.

On Thursday, March 12, TNP held an all-staff meeting. We were told that the office would be going into business continuity (work from home) mode starting Wednesday, March 18th and continuing for the rest of March. The situation changed so much that on Friday — one day later — we were told to bring home everything we’d need to work from home. Yesterday (Saturday) we were told to work from home starting Monday.

WM’s school was closed to students Thursday so staff could create a 14-day distance learning plan. On Friday it was closed to everyone for deep cleaning. Everyone is going to school tomorrow and then their district will be closed through March 27th, though I think they’ll be closed longer.

And here I am. I am sitting with the privilege that our jobs and income allow me to hide at home for two weeks. I have plenty of books to read thanks to my libraries and the Libby app. I have miles of suburban sidewalks to stroll when I get antsy. Even with my full pantry and my normal paycheck, I’m still sitting with my usual mild spring allergies and fretting about every symptom. I’m fretting about my parents, both of whom are in the “don’t visit these people” demographic. I’m fretting about the people who aren’t taking this seriously. Watching too much Twitter. At least I gave up Facebook for Lent – I don’t think I could deal with THAT (makes handwavy gesture) right now.

But I started my seeds last week, and some have already sprouted. I pray silently and aloud that we get a handle on this long before these tiny plants bear fruit.

tiny sprouts


Show us your books: March 2020

March 10, 2020

(aka Books in the Time of Coronavirus, part 1)

Hello! I’ve been reading at a steady clip again, thanks to regular library trips. In fall/winter, I’ll go to the hometown library. In spring/summer, I visit the Philadelphia Free library during my lunch break. And I use the Libby app to put ebooks on hold. It’s a good system, even if it means I have gluts of books from time to time.

I’m comfortable with a 3 book cushion.

The Goodreads goal is looking achievable, too!

Onto the books! I use the Goodreads rating system, which is:

  • One star: did not like it
  • Two stars: it was ok
  • Three stars: liked it
  • Four stars: really liked it
  • Five stars: it was amazing

The Satapur Moonstone (Perveen Mistry #2) — Sujata Massey
This is second in a series featuring Perveen Mistry, a “lady lawyer” in 1920s India. She’s not allowed to go to court, so she works as a solicitor in her father’s firm. One of the few benefits of being a lady lawyer is that she can talk to clients who cannot or will not speak to men. In this book, Perveen is hired by the (British) government help settle a dispute about a young maharaja’s education. Naturally, it ends up being more than that. These books start very slowly and are amazingly descriptive. When business starts to pick up it’s a heck of a ride, but this might not be your thing if you want suspense and danger from beginning to end.

Three stars – a solid and enjoyable mystery, and I’ll pick up book #3 which is supposedly in the works.


Ladysitting: My Year with Nana at the End of her Century — Lorene Cary
A memoir about a middle-aged woman who finds herself taking care of her elderly and failing grandmother. The book dives into the dynamics of this African-American family and the challenges of taking care of someone who took care to you. Bonus for Philly-area people: the author lives in Philadelphia, teaches at uPenn, and Nana used to live in Collingswood, NJ!

Four stars – it’s a hold-no-punches look at difficult times.

She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman — Erica Armstrong Dunbar
I heard about this book on the Call Your Girlfriend podcast. What do you know about Harriet Tubman? Yeah, okay, Underground Railroad, blurry picture of a lady with a headwrap, not on the $20 bill. But Harriet Tubman had a whole rest of a life before and after that sliver of time that the history books mention. She accomplished so much – your mind will be blown. For example, did you know that she was the first woman to lead an armed military operation in the US? This very short and well-researched book with witty Beyonce-inspired chapter titles gives you all of the details. Obvious trigger warnings for slavery and all of the violence and horror that entailed.

Four stars. Really, go read this book, and have the young kids in your life read it too.

Wham! George & Me — Andrew Ridgeley
I saw this in the “new biographies” section when I was looking for She Came to Slay and I grabbed it like Gollum and the One Ring. If you were a Wham! fan, you know that Andrew Ridgeley was George’s best friend who disappeared back into private life after Wham! ended. You may think, “Well, here’s Andy cashing in.” But remember, Andrew never said one bad thing about George, even when George was in his really messed up, depraved, carcrashing phase. This is a very loving memoir of Andrew’s life with George. It mostly ends when Wham! ends, save for the final chapter about George’s death. When you thumb through it, you’ll see that it’s full of photos (many, many photos), the font is large and the margins are large too. You might chuckle. And then you’ll see the dedication, which reads:

This memoir is dedicated to the memory of my dearest friend, with whom I did the only thing I ever really wanted to do and was the only person I ever imagined doing it with.

And you’ll read every word and love it like Andrew loved George.

Like Eat, Pray, Love, this book was written expressly for me. Therefore I give it FIVE STARS and a can of Aqua Net, but if you’re not me, you’ll give it a solid three.

This was considered gorgeous in 1985 shut your mouth.

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family — Josh Hanagarne
Seems like it was memoir month for me. This is Josh’s story. Josh has Tourette Syndrome and not the sassy punchline kind where a person blurts expletives out in the middle of a board meeting. He has the kind that interferes with every aspect of his life: school, dating, fitness, and faith. While my interest waned during the parts when he was with the strange fitness teachers, Hanagarne wrote one of the most realistic accounts of being part of an infertile couple who desperately wants a baby but accepts that they can’t that I’ve read. Spoiler alert: they end up having a baby, because EVERYONE has a baby excep– oh, whatever. And his family is solid. It’s very nice to read a book where the author genuinely loves their family. Also, if your only exposure to LDS families are the super-rich blogging ones, this is a nice counter to that.

Two and a half stars, rounded to three.

The Antidote for Everything: Kimmery Martin
I snarfled this book down in 2 days. It’s a great followup effort to “The Queen of Hearts” which I reviewed in October 2018. Georgia (former classmate of Zadie and Emma from The Queen of Hearts) is a urologist, her best friend Jonah is a Family Medicine doc. Their privately owned clinic/hospital in Charleston, SC, decides to stop treating transgender and LGBT patients. Which, you know, is legal in the year of our Lord 2020. This neither flies with Jonah, who is gay, nor with Georgia who is an example of the liberal southerners we find when we stop staring at stereotypes. This book is PACKED with everything. Seriously, there is a LOT going on but the crux of the book is Georgia and Jonah’s beautiful friendship.

Four stars and I’ll repeat this from last time: Kimmery is the quirkiest Kimberly derivative I’ve seen yet. It’s like how I say my own name when I’m drunk.

Currently Reading: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe — Benjamin Alire Saenz. It’s my semi-annual YA read.

All of my book lists and reviews are on Goodreads.

This a part of the Show us Your Books linkup from Jana Says and Life According to Steph. If you want to read more bloggers gush about the books they’ve read this month, click the button below and have fun!

Life According to Steph

Other SUYB posts:
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PS: Wash your hands!