BYOB in the Time of Corona

I’m one of the original Bring Your Own Bag shoppers. When the kids were young and we were struggling to make ends meet, I bought the family’s bread from a day-old Wonder Bread store. That was my first experience bringing my own cloth bag, and it prevented many plastic shopping bags from entering my home and my garbage.

Fast forward a few years to Earth Day, 2009, when our local Sears wouldn’t let me use my Chico bag when I bought a garden shears. Not cool, Sears, especially on Earth Day. Especially when I walked through the mall to Target and got a new, free cloth bag at the Target checkout! Not cool, Sears. Not cool at all.

A few years ago, a friendly young cashier at a department store noticed my own bag and commented, “Going green this year?” This year? I refrained from telling her I’d been bringing my own bags since before she was born. (O.K. Boomer wasn’t a thing yet, but I’m sure she would have thought it.)

But now we are in the age of Pandemic 2020. The novel Corona virus is new enough that people aren’t entirely sure how it might pass from person to person. Some shoppers come home and wipe down their entire purchase with disinfectant wipes. Grocers wipe down carts between every use. And bags? Because the cloth bags may harbor germs, especially Covid 19, stores around me have been reluctant to allow customers to bring their own bags.

Our favorite supermarkets have started asking customers to bag their own purchase if we bring our own bags. The gas station convenience store is doing the same. And really? I don’t mind a bit. Chuck has a few years of grocery store work in his past, and he can bag our groceries like a pro. I don’t mind bagging my muffins or eggs or milk from the Kwik Trip, either.

Knowing the risks inspired me to wash my reusable bags more often, and that can only be good. When the farmers’ markets come back (if they come back? don’t even suggest it), I’m sure I’ll be able to balance my need to reuse bags with the vendors’ needs to be safe.

Maybe I could start a new line of bags with matching face masks. Cool, huh?

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To Mask, Or Not to Mask

subtitle: A Trip to the Post Office, featuring your future friend Grandma Daisy

It should have been simple, children. But nothing was simple in the pandemic of 2020. Not even a trip to the Post Office to mail a few checks to pay bills, bills that kept coming whether people were still working in “essential” jobs or not.

Your grandpa and I packed up the car (okay, we grabbed our stack of envelopes and I grabbed my smart phone to play Pokemon Go on the way. You haven’t heard of Pokemon Go? Well, that’s another story. So we drove the short distance to the Post Office, about a mile. Grandpa Chuck dropped the letters in a mailbox outside, and I headed inside to mail a package. A Care Package of Easter candy, if you must know.

But anyway, the issue of the day was whether to cover one’s face with a surgical style mask or not. There were many who wore them in public, and many who didn’t. Some leaders in the health field said Yes Mask Yourselves and some said No Don’t Bother. Still others said Leave the Masks for the Medical Pros.

We didn’t wear masks that day.

We pulled up to the Post Office and I walked inside to mail my package. I pushed open the door and then scratched my nose – and then thought, Oh, No, What Have I Done?! How Many People Have Pushed This Very-Public Door Handle Today??!!? And Did Any of them Carry the Corona Virus? Heck with the masks, it was still the hands that carried the worst danger. I did my darndest not to touch my face again and to stay six feet away from the others in line.

I bought stamps, too. The Post Office didn’t get helpful funding in the stimulus package, so there was a movement afoot to buy stamps. We figured if enough people bought just one or two books of stamps, the USPS might stay in business. But that’s a side note.

It was about 50-50 for Masks-No Masks inside the Post Office. Clerks were not wearing masks, but they had big plexiglass shields protecting them from breathing the same air as the customers. At least two other folks in line wore masks. The woman six feet in front of me didn’t wear one, and neither did I. When I paid my bill, I noticed the clerk was wearing protective gloves. Heck, no problem. Money is known to carry germs galore on a good day without a pandemic.

I got back to the car and reached into my purse for hand sanitizer. My contact with that door was still freaking me out a little. Poor Chuck had gotten the evil eye from the driver of the car next to us, who was wearing a mask and apparently thought that everyone should. He started the car, I squirted and cleaned my potentially contaminated hands, and away to home we went.

Oh, Pokemon Go? I caught a wild exeggcute. And cute it was. Some day I’ll show you my collection of seasonal Pikachu. Now those little critters would have even looked adorable in a face mask.

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All The Numbers

At home, snuggled up safely on the couch with my laptop, watching an old Super Bowl with Amigo, the Coronavirus might as well not exist. I know we’re sheltering in place (Safer at Home), but it still feels comfortable and, dare I say, normal.

We’ve had our moments. Check dropped a salt shaker, and you know how that goes – it landed at just the right angle to shatter. And of course it was full. Three days later we finally mopped up the last of the stray salt and tiny fragments. It took several days, but we did get it done. No more worries on the salt front.

It’s all the numbers that make it real. Names of well-known people who have tested positive for Covid19 catch my attention, but it’s the totals. The news programs always have an update of the number infected (confirmed, at least) and the new number of deaths. When they bring up a map showing the spread of the virus, that scares me, too. I realize that we may be safer at home, but the world around me isn’t safe. Not yet.

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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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