Signs of the Times

Gas station: regular unleaded, $1.18. I think: Wow. I think: I don’t need gas. I have a full tank – still. And I realize that not many need gas right now. No one is traveling, and even the daily commute isn’t happening for most of us. This low price is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Thrift stores – my favorite places to shop! – are closed up tighter than a high pitched drum. I think: Darn. I think: Well, it makes sense. They’re germ-laden places. People touch everything. I realize: I’m still going to shop thrift when this is all over, and I’m still going to wash everything I buy – sometimes twice.

Bars are closed. The streets are rather dark at night. Not that I’m out at night – but I’ve heard it’s spooky.

I’ve noticed a trend on Facebook. People are posting so that when a post comes up in the future, say, a Facebook Memory five year memory, they’ll remember what was happening in 2020. Gas prices. What’s closed, what’s open. Major Leagues Sports shutting down. How people are handling Social Distance. I haven’t joined the trend yet. I’m thinking more along the lines of “I don’t think I want to remember this stretch of 2020, at least not the sad details.”

I just want to remember enough to help my family and friends learn from this disaster so we don’t repeat it.

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Surrealism in Shopping

“Pretending life is normal; going grocery shopping” was my post on social media. Our list wasn’t terribly long, and we had Petunia’s list, too.

First surreal experience: grocery worker sanitizing carts. Stores used to make cleaning wipes available, but now they actually put a staff person in charge of wiping down each cart as it returns to the store. We grabbed two – one for our own load, and a small one for Petunia’s.

Second surreal experience: bread shelf empty. Kind of odd, really. It was only one shelf, the store brand on special. There was plenty of stock in the higher end, good quality breads and buns.

Next surreal encounter: people wearing masks. I can’t say there were a lot, but I also can’t say there were only a few. Most, but not all, were elderly. “Smart,” I thought, and then wondered if I should mask up for trips out of the house. I’m not elderly, but I am senior.

The next empty shelf observation: pastas, sauces, especially spaghetti sauces. We keep a pretty good stockpile of pastas purchased when they go on sale; most of our tomato sauces are homemade. I’m out of homemade sauce at the moment, but we still have jarred tomatoes. I can make a sauce if we need one.

That’s one of my fallback strategies and a decision-maker at the store. If we run out, can I make it? If so, I won’t worry about it. Bread; I can make it. Spaghetti sauce; I can make it. Lettuce; I can grow it, but not yet.

Oh, heck. I’m going to plant a container of lettuce seeds. When, er, If the supply chain collapses, I’ll still have bunny food.

Eggs by the dozen: sold out. We bought a package of 18; actually a better deal than the dozens. Sliced cheese; all sold out except the organic. Petunia wanted some, so I bought her a small package.

The checkout was interesting, too. Plexiglass barrier between cashier and customers. Signs on the floor “Wait Here” about 6 feet apart. Chuck had to bag our own groceries because we brought our own bags. (It’s okay; he’s good at it.)

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Corona Cooking – at home, of course

Our menus are looking more and more like midwinter comfort food or even dorm cafeteria food. Tonight it was baked macaroni and cheese – from scratch, of course. I have a sizable stockpile of various pastas, and we always have cheese. Throw in a cup of frozen peas, reach for the closest Italian season, and there it is. Comfort food, Wisconsin style.

Like a good pantry prepper, we have canned tuna. I’ve made tuna casserole recently (pasta, tuna, yada, yada, yada), and tuna salad would only work for Chuck and me. Amigo doesn’t go for cold. I got creative with the English muffins in the refrigerator, topped them with tuna and (or course) cheese, and ta-da! Tuna melts.

Last night I pulled together paninis. Sandwich ingredients, grilled with my cast iron press, and then – soup, of course. An ultimate comfort food, but instead of made from scratch, I’d picked it up at a local restaurant. Soup and sandwiches! Simple, but satisfying.

Then there was the shredded pork on a bun – with my own homemade rhubarb barbecue sauce. It makes a big batch; I put half away in the freezer for another day.

It’s not restaurant quality. It’s not even Master Chef style. But comfort is in short supply these days, and I can cook up darn good comfort in the form of lunch and supper.

Readers, what are you cooking these days?

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Dark Times, indeed.

“These are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today. But I say this to our citizenry: ” Can you fill in the rest? Is it something you’ve heard recently, from a governor or, dare I suggest, a president? A world leader? None of the above.

Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister of Magic in the final book and final movies of the brilliant Harry Potter series, completes this quote by saying, “We, ever your servants, will continue to defend your liberty and repel the forces that seek to take it from you! Your ministry remains strong.”

The ending doesn’t fit our dark times quite as well, but Scrimgeour’s opening sure caught my attention. With the novel corona virus sweeping the nation and the world, our world faces a threat that certainly is greater than any we’ve faced in our lifetimes.

I can’t express hope that we’ll follow the path of Rufus the minister. After all, he was soon assassinated as the ministry fell to Lord Voldemort and his followers. We do not have the Order of the Phoenix and their magical skills on our side, but we do have science.

Science. Medical science, common sense science. As we shelter in place, let’s listen to the scientists.

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Shelter in Place continues

It was a dark and stormy morning. Rain, lots of rain. I did a rare out-of-home experience and brought Petunia her newspaper and her groceries. We unfortunately picked out the wrong kind of oranges, so I may (or Chuck) look for a time when few will be out and get the Clementines she needs from the grocery store. It’s not a hardship; it’s just a little less likely to happen right away.

I bought myself a treat for breakfast when I picked up the paper – a breakfast sandwich from the convenience store. They no longer have their coffee bar or roller grill, but still have a few hot sandwiches, individually wrapped. I gave myself a sausage, egg, and cheese croissant.

I was settled in on the couch for a Harry Potter movie marathon, with my breakfast sandwich and coffee (made at home), when the landline phone rang. It was Chuck’s mom. He’d replaced the batteries in her smoke detectors yesterday, and now one was beeping repeatedly. She couldn’t get it off the wall or get the battery out. What else could I do? I woke Chuck.

Eventually, all was well. We took care of our mothers and then ourselves. Life goes on. It’s not normal, but it’s life. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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And the Lockdown Continues

Yesterday we took chances. It was definitely in the category of Essential Activities, but it was still chancy.

We brought groceries to Petunia. Twice. I was bending the rules at her senior living apartment complex because all deliveries were supposed to be picked up in the lobby rather than having people walking in and out of the hallways. Petunia is still quite weak from a tough pain stretch last week, and I’m not going to make her walk the long walk to the lobby to meet me. I brought her a newspaper and picked up her credit card, and then I headed home.

Home, where the boys, Chuck and Amigo, were still asleep. Since I’m still on a schoolteacher’s timetable, I am awake in the mornings when they are, well, not. It gives me a quiet house in which to work, with few if any interruptions. Yesterday being Saturday, I didn’t even open up the school Chromebook. Mainly, I took care of Buttercup the bunny, cleaned up the kitchen, and then stretched out on the couch with a little HGTV and my own newspaper – and coffee.

Coffee. Coffee brewed in my own coffeemaker, on my own kitchen counter. When I picked up Petunia’s paper, I confirmed the news: Kwik Trip has closed their coffee bars. It makes sense, I guess. Pouring our own coffee, flipping through the lids that always seem to be stuck, touching one handle after another – and sharing space with others doing the same thing – all of those are risky in these Pandemic days. Good thing my Prepper Self always stocks up when coffee is on special!

Ah, my Prepper Self. Chuck is starting to bend my way in stocking up on necessities. With a few special trips to the pet store and the meat market, this trip to the store was short and still productive. We stocked up mainly on items that we couldn’t make or improvise on our own, like sodas. Mixers, to be honest. I have gin, I want my tonic. We have rum, now let’s make sure we have Coke. You get the picture.

Sunday, today, we stayed home. I ventured outside the house to empty kitchen compost and a bunny litter box, but other than that, I’ve stayed within the house. As the virus spreads in my community, I predict more days of staying in. We’ll see how that goes.

Readers, what kind of necessity makes you leave the house during the quarantine days? Leave a comment to share.

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Back into the (Sur)real World

Surreal. That word keeps coming up. A few days ago (was it really only two days ago?) Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers took the reins and declared a state of emergency. Covid19, the illness caused by the novel Coronavirus, was moving along and spreading quickly – much too quickly. He ordered schools closed, both public and private. Many universities and colleges had already extended their spring breaks indefinitely to minimize contact. And now, the same falls to Kindergarten through grade 12.

Amigo’s spring show was postponed and rehearsals cancelled until further notice. Many members of the chorus are in high risk groups for the new virus – elderly, heart conditions, weakened immune systems, and I’m sure more diagnoses than I know about. It was a heartbreak for Amigo, and I know others were devastated, too.

All these actions are for good reason. the novel Corona virus spreads through contact and droplet infection, and the strongest defense against that is to minimize contact with other people. If someone sneezes and I’m nearby, I could inhale the droplets from their sneeze. If someone coughs into their hand and then opens a door with that same hand, I could open the door and transfer that virus to my own system.

I go to school as scheduled tomorrow. I teach online already, so there might (knock on wood) be few changes in my own setting. We don’t need to create new structures or schedules. We did have to cancel field trips and testing dates. The standardized state tests haven’t been removed from our curriculum, but we had to cancel the “nonessential travel” for teachers who would have traveled to our testing sites. As an online school, our students are all over the state. To administer the state test, we look at a map and go to our students. We set up testing sites in hotels, libraries, and technical colleges so we can test the kids near their homes. All that, now, is cancelled. We don’t know when or if we’ll get it set up again.

So tomorrow I go to school as usual, but nothing will be typical. I might teach my classes, I might make my scheduled phone calls, and I know I’ll answer many emails, but I have a feeling this school day will feel anything but normal.

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Pandemic 2020 and TP

Starring my alter ego from the future, Grandma Daisy!

Oh, yes, children, it was more than just the flu. Not that the flu wasn’t serious – did I tell you about the year my brother had influenza? Oh, wait, the pandemic. It was called a novel (as in new) coronavirus (as in an illness that can cause severe upper respiratory symptoms). Eventually, a scientist named it Covid19, but many of us still called it the coronavirus.

The president tried to calm the masses, but it didn’t work. He’d created stories and twisted truths so many times we didn’t believe him when he said, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Oh, wait, that was Bobby McFerrin. The prevaricator in the White House just told the citizens that the new germ was “No Big Deal.” Uh-huh. Yeah, right. Sure, man. We didn’t buy it for a moment.

People who called themselves preppers, those who stocked up and prepared for long term emergencies, were all set. Prepper wannabes panicked. Massive warehouse stores had their parking lots full of unhappy hoarders with pallets full of bottled water and (you guessed it) toilet paper. Why toilet paper? Well, kiddos, in a crisis, everyone still needs to use the rest room. Maybe it felt good to carry those cases of TP out to the pickup truck and strap them down. Caring for the family, they were, with enough toilet paper to … choose your metaphor or idiom here, folks.

In the office where I worked, we started joking about toilet paper. A sense of humor came in handy, even though there truthfully wasn’t much to inspire laughter. The big college basketball tournament, March Madness, was cancelled. Maybe the arenas ran out of toilet paper! Universities told students to go home for spring break and stay home. Did the dorms run out of toilet paper? Public school districts cancelled events for more than 250 people. Oh, dear, I suppose that was too many people for the toilet paper supply.

You get the idea. All of these closings were a big, big deal. Cancelling face to face classes at the universities and moving to online or correspondence delivery of courses was huge. I heard from a bird (no, from a reliable source) that my school district had administration meetings daily with updates. We were quite tense, all of us. The implications were huge, despite our status as an online, not face to face, school.

Toilet paper. La Petite messaged us from the big city of Milwaukee that people were panicking and the store shelves were empty of – toilet paper. My cousin who lives out west posted pictures of shoppers loading huge quantities of the fine tissue into their big honkin’ trucks.

The only thing missing? A country song, of course! How’s this for a title? “The Crapstorm called Covid19”! I can just hear the refrain. Maybe. Oh, well, this one didn’t really happen. But folks did get scared, and they reacted by buying toilet paper. Really.

So, children, the story goes on. We referenced the Spanish flu of 1919, the influenza epidemic of 1957, and even H1N1, the new flu of 2009. But the novel coronavirus, Covid19, was a story of its own. More later, dearies.

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Apocalyptic Crazy?

My cousin posted a photo of a large pickup truck filled with case upon case of bottled water. She said that the parking lot at Costco was full of vehicles like it. Bottled water and toilet paper seemed to be the items everyone wanted – and in big quantities. She commented that the stock-up frenzy was “out of control” and that the likelihood of shortages might be due to idiocy, not illness. “Apocalyptic crazy” was her description.

While shopping with Petunia this morning, I saw a bin of masks – surgical, not costume – in the store. No limits, no frantic shoppers grabbing several boxes, essentially no one paying attention to this valuable item. Maybe all the Sunday morning shoppers had already stocked up.

I also found hand sanitizer at Walgreen’s just days ago. I bought 2 bottles. I could have bought eight, but I didn’t feel like we needed that many. And I really, really didn’t want to resell it at an outrageous price later.

The presences of masks and hand sanitizer at reasonable retail prices told me that either a) We’re not panicking in Happy Valley (yet) or b) everyone who needed to stock up on essentials already did.

Maybe Chuck won’t give me such a hard time about prepping a stockpile now.

Oh, I forgot to mention: chicken noodle soup was on special, too, and there was plenty on the shelves.

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Brewpub Culture

Amigo and Chuck and I have a tradition. It’s called Fun Day Friday. Fun Day Friday started many years ago when Amigo and I started going out to lunch on Fridays when I was free – mainly summertime, since I am a public school teacher. We included Chuck when he was available.

Now that Chuck works for a different employer and often has Fridays off, he and Amigo have taken the Fun Day Friday routine year-round. I find myself mildly envious at times.

When all three of us are available for a Fun Day Friday, it’s a big deal. Today was one of those Fridays. In fact, it was such a big deal, we decided to go out for supper instead of for lunch. We chose a nearby pub noted for their beer list and their burgers. Last time I was there I ordered mac and cheese from the kids’ menu and brought home the fruit snacks for Amigo, but that’s a different story. Or is it?

If you don’t live in Wisconsin, the whole idea of a bar or pub with a kids’ menu might seem surprising. Here, bringing the kids along is a normal everyday happening. On the positive side, most neighborhood pubs are very family friendly. They’re safe places, almost like a family restaurant but with a bar. The food is good, and if it’s Friday, there might be a fish fry special. Tonight, we had burgers and an appetizer of deep fried zesty dill pickles.

On the negative side, this culture makes alcohol the norm. A young person can learn that going out to eat also means drinking, and that norm can lead to drinking to excess. For an alcoholic trying to stay dry, this kind of social place can be very difficult. Not only are a multitude of forbidden drinks available, but the place might even smell like a beer.

My children are grown now. They’ve been legally able to order their own beers for many years. I have to hope that both of them, born and raised in Wisconsin’s alcohol culture, know how that drinking in moderation is best.

For what it’s worth, Amigo ordered soda tonight – Mt. Dew. I hope the caffeine doesn’t keep him awake too late!

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