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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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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Winter with a Vengeance

I haven’t posted since…when? Oh, my. Anyway, it’s winter now. We had about 6 inches of snow yesterday. By the end of the week, we’re looking at below zero temperatures and the possibility of a Polar Vortex. Last time we had a major cold snap, Polar Vortex cold, we had a visitor – a Cooper’s hawk, on our deck, right next to the French doors. We were rather shocked that it settled in right next to the house like that. It must have been the closest, or the only, shelter it could find.

With another cold (Polar) snap ahead, I’m prepping to keep the family warm. By Friday, I hope to have the main family groceries purchased, including bunny food and the basic milk, bread, and eggs. You know the drill, I’m sure. That way, I can stay indoors when the thermometer dips.

Meanwhile, indoors, we’ll stay warm with a little help from our good Wisconsin logic.

All shades, blinds, and curtains will remain closed. Another layer, no matter how thin, helps keep the drafts out.

Warm clothes – layers, warm socks, slippers (from Muk-Luks, the best). I even have fingerless gloves on hand if I need them.

A humidifier in each room (well, the rooms where we spend the day) will help keep moisture in the air, which makes the air feel a few degrees warmer, even if the temperature doesn’t physically change.

Blankets! I’ve been washing blankets lately. It’s a spring cleaning in midwinter task. We’ll curl up with a book and a blanket or two and stay cozy. Amigo is good at that; he loves his audio books and a warm blanket.

Warm breakfast (oatmeal!) and lunch (soup!) and supper (whatever, just make it warm!) will warm the insides, too. I might even cook in the crock pot instead of on stovetop. The aroma will provide a little warmth of its own.

I could bake cookies, too – maybe. Or maybe I won’t want to use too much energy. The power company has come down on manufacturers for using too much heat energy to operate their plants. I haven’t heard them asking residential customers to turn it down by a couple of degrees, but it could happen. And if it did…

We’d put on another layer and grab another blanket. Coffee, hot cocoa, and we’ll be snug as bugs in a rug, despite the extreme Polar Vortex cold.

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Questions. I have questions.

Can I request more than 24 hours in a day? I can’t get everything done in 24.

Why does Amigo insist that I blog regularly?

I’m shopping online for the holidays – birthdays and Christmas. I’m shopping small businesses, not the Big Ones. Does that count?

Is the 2020 election cycle ever going to start for real?

Why do football players fight on the field? They’re all so padded, they can’t possibly hurt one another.

Is Houston really ahead of New England? Please, let it be true, if only for a few minutes.

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Stormy Weather – oh, my.

Amigo kept asking me, “Mom, have you blogged the storm yet?” I finally asked him to offer his point of view. The entire family had a tough time with the recent storm and the following power outage, but the situation was hardest on him.

Amigo’s Saturdays are usually quite relaxed. He sleeps in, listens to Public Radio, and around noon will make his way downstairs for lunch. On this particular Saturday, it was between 11:30 and 12:00 when the skies became very dark, the outdoor sirens began howling, and all of our phones honked their noisy weather alerts to tell all within earshot that a tornado had been sighted nearby. Chuck poked his head into Amigo’s bedroom where Amigo was getting dressed and told him to hurry. Both of them hustled. When they arrived on the main floor, I guided Amigo down the awkward stairs to the basement to take shelter.

Our basement is more of a cellar. It’s not the modern finished basement with playroom or place to hang out; it’s cellar, storage, pipes hanging from the ceiling. Amigo and Chuck have to duck going down the stairs and watch their heads while walking around. Amigo almost never goes downstairs – unless a serious storm is on the way.

We sat in a sheltered corner on extra kitchen chairs. All three of us had our smart phones, for what it was worth – wifi went out suddenly when the power did, and we weren’t getting much cell phone bandwidth in our thick-walled cellar. We watched the wind whipping through the one accessible window, and Chuck and I took turns poking our heads upstairs to monitor the storm. I brought Amigo’s shoes and socks to him on one of those treks. He wondered why; I told him it was because the basement floor was cold. The truth was that the storm was bad, very bad, and if we ended up with shattered windows, I didn’t want anyone in bare feet. Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem.

Well, our home and immediate neighborhood fared well. We had branches down, many of them, but mainly medium and small ones. Chuck put on a raincoat (we were still getting steady rain) and pulled the brush off the street. We noticed a lot more traffic than usual on our quiet block; we soon found out that ours was the only street in the area clear of wires and trees immediately after the storm. Two blocks away, the cul de sac would need four new utility poles and multiple tree crews.

But back to Amigo. He is blind and has a high functioning form of autism, Asperger’s Syndrome. His phone and his computer are his windows on the world. Without power and wifi, he was lost. No social media, no podcasts, his audio book app wasn’t accessible – and on top of all that, no television for the sports he loved to watch.

We did what we could. Both Chuck and I needed to check on our elderly mothers, and we needed lunch. Amigo doesn’t like cold food; peanut butter and jelly wasn’t a valid option. I couldn’t get a text message out to Petunia, so we decided to combine a trip. We piled into Chuck’s car and plugged in all of our phones to charge. We traveled to the far north side of town, where a Hardee’s had power and was open. Crowded, too. We watched the gas station next door through the window. There’s a guy filling three gas cans; he must have a generator. Oh, there’s someone buying multiple bags of ice; their power must be out, too. Wow, it’s busy in here. The staff is doing their best to get everyone served.

After lunch, we drove to the rehab nursing home where Petunia was staying post-surgery. Chuck and Amigo stayed in the car and charged all the phones while I ran inside and checked on her. The home had its emergency power generator on leaving the hallways darker than usual and a wee bit spooky . Her room was fine; a lot of natural light through a window, and an outlet that worked to keep her phone charged. In general, all was well in the rehab world. Chuck called his mother and found out that she also did not have power. She was going to stay with Chuck’s younger brother in Nearby City with its power grid intact.

The outage was hard on all of us. Chuck and I made a side trip to his mom’s condo to borrow her small generator, and we stopped on the way home to buy a few batteries for radios. Eventually, we made our way to Nearby City for supper at Culver’s. Ah, Culver’s – comfort food in (or after) a storm!!

It had been a rough week for Amigo all around. He’d gotten some bad news regarding a summer camp, lost contact with his friends due to the outages, and was just overall miserable. He couldn’t even turn on a fan to create white noise or keep cool. We helped where we could, taking him out to charge his phone and get a hot meal, picking up batteries for radios, finding a battery operated handheld fan (overpriced but totally worthwhile). He was the most relieved of all of us when the power came back in the wee hours of Monday morning.

Stormy weather isn’t unusual in our neck of the woods. We’re considering getting a generator slightly larger than the one we borrowed so we can keep the freezers and refrigerator cold and keep the wifi running for a least a few hours a day. In our home, it’s not just a luxury. With Amigo’s needs, a little power means a lot.

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In Which Daisy Continues to Worry Unnecessarily

Measles.

Measles is back in the country, and it’s back with a vengeance. I’m amazed and appalled at how fast the illness can spread and how it spreads before symptoms appear. I’m appalled, not amazed, at the number of people who think vaccines are more dangerous than measles itself.

Here we are, at the end of a school year, with huge gatherings ahead: our end of year amusement park celebration, complete with 8th grade certificates, and the high school graduation. Both of these events will include families who claim either religious or personal exemption from vaccines. How do I know that? Never mind.

And then I heard that baby boomers might be at risk because our vaccines were the early ones, the immunizations that weren’t fully effective yet. Add to that: I’d been taking a medication that both upset my stomach and weakened my immune system. If I encounter measles, it could be bad. If I need the vaccine, I may have to wait.

My doctor’s office came through this time. They ordered a measles titer to see if I had immunity or not. The results were positive: I do have immunity to measles. My vaccine, however early in development, apparently worked.

I can check this worry off my list.

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