My Vocation-Affirming Experience of Covidtide

I have not read the entirety of it, but Darwin’s posting a series on the pandemic that promises to be his usual clear-headed, data-oriented analysis.  What follows is not that at all.  I’m here to talk about my mid-life crisis, thanks.

***

So for us the pandemic has been . . . okay.  SuperHusband’s employer was ahead of the curve on shutting down travel and protecting employees.  South Carolina, meanwhile, has been blessed with a pretty good experience so far, all things considered — made even more so by the unseasonably pleasant weather.  In terms of cases that touch us personally, a longtime colleague (age 42) died after a long struggle with COVID-19, and another colleague who has a side business lost one of his employees (age 35) quite rapidly.  Otherwise we’ve been fortunate that our friends and family have fared quite well, and we firmly hope that continues.

In terms of practicalities, here’s how coronacation found us: Last year, I was teaching full time.  I opted not to renew for this year, even though the job was fun, meaningful, and kept me surrounded by awesome people, because the hours were significantly more than I wanted to take away from family life.  Summer, fall, and winter found me discombobulated in six different ways, which I’ll forbear from cataloging, but suffice to say that when the unexpected descended this spring, I did not come into the season feeling like my life was, at all, pulled together.

So here are some of the changes that the big shutdown entailed:

  • We have six people home full time — four teens doing school, one adult working full-time, one adult (me) working part-time freelancing.
  • Homemaking skills are suddenly at a premium as we’ve dealt with the minor shortages, the need to be very careful about outings, and the far more intensive usage of our home.
  • Because all activities are canceled — church, kids’ sports, school programs, substitute teaching, concerts, every. single. thing — we are home, and home, and home.

For my husband and I, this has been mostly-heavenly.  The time he’d spend commuting in the morning instead we drink our coffee together and converse.  We have lunch together, usually sitting outside enjoying the beautiful weather.  We have family dinner every single night.  My husband calls it his “working vacation” and even though he is working as much as ever, plus putting in a second shift on construction work finishing out the addition we started last fall, for him this is the perfect life.

We have, of course, had to work through assorted issues that were always there but never dealt with, all related to concerns I had long harbored about what life would be like after he retired, because for an introvert to never, ever, be alone at home can be rough.  I think — helped by construction reaching a critical threshold that has caused me to mostly have my own office now — we’ve worked through much of that.  Praise God.

Meanwhile, both my own experience and what I’m seeing all around me has been very illuminating, in terms of understanding my own vocation.  Here are a few of the things I’ve been getting my head around.

Affirmed: My kids are awesome.  I have no opinion whatsoever on the employment decisions of other mothers.  I’ve done the range, from full-time homeschool mom to full-time working mom, and lately I’ve been working part-time with all kids in school.  Having the kids back home full time?  It’s really nice.  I like these people.  I enjoy being with these people.  We are very close to the time when we expect our nest to rapidly empty, and getting these few months of all kids at home has been an affirmation that, for me, who had the privilege of being able to make such a choice, the decision to prioritize quantity-time with my kids over other pursuits has been the right path.  A risky choice, no doubt.  But a good one.

Affirmed: Relationships consume time.  I can remember many nights when my mom, who had to be up for work at four in the morning, would talk to me past midnight because there was something on my mind, or because we had suddenly hit our stride and to her the lost sleep was worth the gained connection with a willful teenager.  Talking to your kids take time.  Loads of time.

Parents find different ways to do it — time in the car, time spent doing chores together, late nights, weekends — whenever and however you’ve got it to give.  But there is no getting around the reality that kids want to spend time with their parents, and that time cannot be assigned to other mental work.

This is valuable for them and precious for me.  The only time I have with my kids is this time, right now. So my husband and I — but especially me because without a regimented work day my time is much easier for the kids to claim — find ourselves wondering why we can never get done half the things we thing should get done.  It’s because we’re talking to our kids.

Affirmed: Good meals take time to prepare.  We’ve eaten better, even during the weeks when groceries were hard to come by, than we have in . . . ever.  Prior to coronatide, in twenty years of parenting my husband and I had never succeeded at sitting down to family dinner every night.  Over many months prior to the shutdown when I was neither working outside the home nor homeschooling anyone, dinner was still a rushed and hit-or-miss affair.  I thought, for years, this failure was due to some inherent defect on my part.

Nope.  It turns out that if you spend the hours of 3pm to 5:45 shuttling children around to various events, you can’t also be cooking during that time.  It turns out that if every single night of the week your schedule is different, with different family members rushing off in different directions (every single one of them a worthwhile pursuit), you can’t get into a dinner routine.  And furthermore, it turns out that giving yourself a full sixty minutes to prepare dinner allows for way more options, and much better quality food, than trying to quick throw something together in twenty.

So now we’re eating really well.  People like my cooking better.  Our food is more nutritious.  I honestly have no desire to go out to eat.  Complication: Even though my husband and I both strongly prefer this way of living, we have no idea how to achieve it when the world opens back up again.

Affirmed: Homemaking is its own full-time job. I’ve been watching, remotely, all these really accomplished professionals struggle to keep on with their careers, only now from home and with kids around.  Doesn’t work.  Last year teaching, I got all kinds of thing done.  It worked because I was not present to my family. Getting the beast  written and re-written?  For lack of an office I found myself ordering three dollars worth of food and coffee from McDonald’s and then sitting in the backseat of my car with my laptop, using the free WiFi from my improvised remote office.

Being present to your family is work.  It’s good work. Pleasurable work. Energizing work.  But providing that presence — even if the kids are older and self-starters and half of them are legally adults — and attending to the needs of the family takes time and energy.  It’s time and energy that you can’t be doing other things.  We can prove it is work by the simple fact that if you the parent don’t do it, if you want it done you’ll have to pay someone else to do it.  People will line up for rides at Disney.  They don’t line up to conduct your home life for you.

My point in observing all this is not to conclude that there is a specific way any particular family should organize its hours and distribute its labor.  My point is to share a very reassuring discovery: All these years I felt inadequate because our society sells this illusion that somehow parents can both be full-time homemakers and be full-time professionals. But it’s not so, and the experience of the many, many parents now struggling to work from home is the affirmation of this reality.

Affirmed: Twice as many meals, twice as many dishes.  I’m not doing them, the kids are.  Interestingly, now that the kids can choose whatever they want to eat for lunch, the school snacks are languishing untouched and the leftovers get eaten.  Pretty nifty.

***

I don’t have a big point to all this self-discovery other than that now more than ever I want to punch all the people who saddle parents with “if you loved your kids/neighbor/America/Jesus you would _______.”  If  the parents are working full time outside the home? They definitely do not have time to do your ‘one little thing’ in addition to their other very real responsibilities at work and home.

***

Beyond that, I have no particular resolutions or vision for our future.  SuperHusband and I know that we like the slower pace of life; we also know that the faster pace of life was there for a reason.  I can’t think of a single thing we were doing all these years that was not a worthwhile use of our time.

We’ll have to see.  Meanwhile, here’s a story for you by way of conclusion: Last spring as the school year wrapped up, at one of our all-faculty teacher meetings, the head of school had those of us not planning to return in the fall share what our next plans were.  Most people had the usual — moving for the spouse’s job, expecting a baby, retiring after many years of service.

My answer? “I’ve learned not to make plans.”

If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know how I’ve come by that habit.

Coronatide stamped a big fat Affirmed on that one, too.

Celebración de Todos los Santos, cementerio de la Santa Cruz, Gniezno, Polonia, 2017-11-01

Photo: Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA.  

Life Coaching Tip, since after all that rambling you surely deserve at least one, right?  Here it is: If you aren’t already a Diego Delso fan, you need to change that.

 

Enemies of the Thinking Man’s Religion

UPDATE: RR Reno apologized.  My comments on that are over at the blorg.

***
Over at the blorg yesterday
, I broke radio silence not because my life is finally pulled together again, but because I couldn’t resist the siren song of bad logic in need of correction.

The internet, mirror of the world, is of course full of people who are wrong.  It holds up just fine without me.  So why this one?

Because in this particular case, the stakes are both high and personal.

First Things magazine — printed on paper and arriving via USPS once a month — is an institution worth preserving. Year after year, issue after issue, it is invariably laden with wrong opinions. That is the nature of a forum dedicated to exploring ideas and hosting discourse on anything and everything that touches the public square.

It’s a good magazine. There are the monthly puff pieces pandering to base (ode to learning Latin, much?); there is superb poetry hidden among the pretty good poetry and the occasional “we’re just glad conservatives are still attempting poetry”; there is someone around to take down the hot new liberal sensation posing as a history book; and there’s the unavoidable Theology of the Body segment (not always so-labelled), the thought-provoking memoirs, and the mish-mash of intellectual headiness including plenty of within- and across-issue back and forth on stuff that deserves to be thought about.

Very few pictures or advertisements.  Sometimes you go pages at a time with nothing but words.  It’s nice.

Complain all you want, and it’s impossible not to when assessing the successors of Richard John Neuhaus, RR Reno has done a decent job as general editor of the place.  That he would post something I think is wrong?  Sure.  Many people I respect disagree with me on all kinds of stuff.

But that he would completely fall off the ledge and lose all grasp of the most elemental understanding of logic?

Something is very wrong here.

***

This is not the first time a notable Catholic writer has gone completely bonkers on the internet.  The Catholic Conspiracy exists because we who write here wanted a place that was a hangout for ordinary faithful Catholics, devoid of the sensation and hypiness that has been the downfall of so many previously-worthwhile Catholic blogs and websites.

Fact: Satan wants Catholic writers to fail.

The spiritual battle is real.

Few things help the cause of the enemy more than watching smart, insightful, faithful men and women evolve into crazypants reactionaries in front of their adoring public.  (“Adoring public” is likely a contributing factor.)

Lord willing, what RR Reno needs is fresh air and new friends and a gracious audience who can allow that yes, we all lose it sometimes.  Presumably his thinking problems are personal issues that are, professional hazard, unraveling in public.  It happens.  Catholic writers are fallen humans beleaguered by the same sorts of problems that beset us all.  So be it.

When the human who’s sinking into this pit, however, is the editor of First Things, now we have a personal problem that’s affecting the common welfare.

So pray for the guy.  Since we mustn’t tolerate falling for false dichotomies, don’t get sucked into Canonize-or-Cancel.  It’s possible to be the head of a storied institution who’s lately been foaming at the mouth like a man who’s spent too much time caged up with Pop Culture, Elite Edition, and still be capable of pulling it together and resuming the good work.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep on pandering to moderates over at the blorg.  Being crazypants only makes half the people mad.  If you want to make everyone hate you, use logic.

Photo: Red Clover, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.  I couldn’t think of a good photo to go with this post, so I resorted to that old standby, Image of the Day.  Apply the metaphor of your choice to make it meaningful.

How’s it Going, Jen?

It’s been, oh, thirty-seven years since last I blogged?

Quick recap tonight of what you’ve missed, and then as soon as I finally complete the task that is constantly getting shoved to #2 on my to-do list, presumably blogging resumes.  Since last we spoke:

I had some form of minor plague. No opinion on what it was or wasn’t.  Sore throat, headache, muscle aches, world’s lowest fever that still managed to feel like a fever, mild cough, and award-winning fatigue.

That last one I would have chalked up to old-and-out-of-shape, except two days before the plague descended, I was out running sprints and felt just fine.  Within a week of plague lifting, went out and ran sprints and felt just fine.

In between? Found myself watching Samurai Cat (loved it in a cult-classic kinda way, until I got tired of waiting for better plot developments), and then Frozen (mmnn, no, wasn’t sick enough yet), and then at the nadir I came to love Twitter, because I had enough energy to hold my phone, but not enough to hold the laptop.  At worst, sitting up even a few minutes was too tiring.

At the worst.  Large parts of the plague were not that bad.  Other than being someone who really, really loved Samurai Cat for a while. Honestly I’m half considering going back sometime and finding out if our hero ever works through his marital problems, or if he’ll just continue to stare moodily at the cat for another season.

My family attempted to run the house without me.  If this were any other year, I might have begged out of chores on the most intently plague-ridden days, and otherwise slogged through the daily grind, albeit with a little more R&R than usual.  Cover that cough but don’t let it keep you from making dinner.

But this is not any other year, so into the designated isolation ward I went.  My people muddled through as best they could, but it turns out I do a few things around this place?  So on the one hand, my convalescence was the most relaxing on record as I was forbidden to get back to work until I finally mounted a rebellion and we all googled probabilities of on-going contagiousness; on the other hand, there was plenty waiting to be remedied when I was finally set free.

Oh look! 300 pages of typos! So I spent a couple weeks digging toward the light at the end of the tunnel, none of it bad, lots of good developments on the construction front, but blogging takes a back seat.  As I was working my way through the catch-up-with-reality list, the proof of The Beast came into my hands.  It turns out that some author we know put many, many, typos into her manuscript.

Ahem.

Also: Splits infinitives.  You may have noticed.

A beloved editor of mine has a ministry of reconciliation, bringing estranged infinitives back into couplehood.  I wish her well.  I do not claim to be cured of my affliction so easily.  Will probably require several more shock-treatments.

Now what? On the to-do list:

  • Help a friend with her taxes, and maybe another friend with her taxes, and also do my own taxes, ha.
  • FINALLY write up the awesome interview I did AGES AGO that has been sitting on my desk begging for attention.  Hoping to see it at you-know-where, but if not there than the blorg or here or some other venue.
  • Got another good one in the wings, and a gazillion more I’d like to hunt down.  We have a lot of people in Catholic world doing good work on the evangelization front.
  • Continued improvements here at the castle, where life is good and check it out: I sorta have an office!  Of my own!  Still sharing it with lumber and a few remaining tools.   Plus cats.  Can’t bring myself to kick them out, even though it’s warm enough.

FYI for those who are curious, the pink binder on the desk behind Mr. Purrkins contains my marked-up copy of The Beast.

Improvised desk and bookshelves made out of crates and boards, cat in foreground. Occupies old garage space.

Sorry, no selfie, my camera has apparently given up that work.  Lent must have been too much for it.  I suppose it was for most of us.

How to Pick Comfortable Mask Fabric

TLDR: Choose any single 100% natural fabric.

Details follow.

***

The CDC has finally come around on the usage of cloth masks by the general public.  Amen.

Masks aren’t magic.  They are one piece in a whole collection of safety tactics that, when combined, make things less-bad.  It’s just like how your car has many safety features that work together with your safe driving skills, or your table saw comes with safety features that are in addition to, not instead of, your decision to always know where all your fingers are.

But covering one’s mouth and nose does help.  So do that.  This is the post where I explain to you the trick of how to cover your face with a fabric that will be relatively more comfortable.

My credentials: I spend a lot of time playing outside in a hot, humid climate.

***

Now you might live someplace cool and dry.  But your mouth and nose are little heat-n-humidity factories. The whole point of wearing a cloth mask is to keep your hot, moist exhalations to yourself.  In other words, by masking up you are getting the Southern Summer Experience plastered to your face.

Please. Allow me to guide you on how to take the edge off, because the last thing we want is your desperate panting miserable self to rip off your mask as you let out a primal scream in the Walmart checkout line.

To spare us all, here’s the fabric you need:

  • Any single
  • 100%
  • natural fiber.

Working backwards:

NATURAL means: Cotton, wool, silk, or linen.

You’ll need to get out your reading glasses to read the fine print.  Cotton is the most widely used, but any of these can work.  You may find tightly-woven silk in the upholstery department.  You may find tightly-woven linen in the form of a table cloth or napkin.  We’ll talk about wool below.

Yes, I know there are hi-tech wicking fabrics.  If you have a garment you find very comfortable in hot sweaty conditions, perhaps an old pair of hi-performance long underwear from your trekking expedition or something, have at it.

But if you must buy new fabric, buy natural because it’s widely available, cheap, and proven.  “Wicking” or “breathable” synthetics sometimes are what they promise (more likely so if coming from a reputable purveyor of technical mountaineering gear, just sayin’), and sometimes they are hype.  You’ll have to test for yourself, and not everyone has the money to gamble on tests.

Be warned: “Natural” fibers do not include, for this purpose, bamboo or other modern-day recycling projects.  Those kinda-natural inventions don’t function the way traditional natural fibers do.  Cotton, wool, linen, or silk. Those are the ones you want.

Review Q&A: What does natural mean?  It means cotton, wool, linen or silk.

100% means: ONLY the single natural fabric you have chosen, no other material of any other kind.

Your cotton skinny jeans with “just a touch” of spandex are NOT 100%.  Your cotton socks are highly unlikely to be only cotton, they probably have some kind of stretchy thing that makes them hold their shape.

Many, many, many natural fabrics used in clothing or sold at fabric stores contain either a poly-blend (looking at you, t-shirts) or a small amount of spandex or lycra to improve fit.

Read the label.  Your stash of old t-shirts probably contains both 100% cotton and cotton-poly blend t-shirts.  Read every label.  Your favorite bandanna might be 100% cotton or might be cotton-poly. Read the label.  Your worn-out wool sweater (blazer, skirt, etc.) you could never quite bring yourself to throw away (more below) might be 100% wool or it might be a wool-blend.  Read. the. label.

Review Q&A: What does 100% mean?  It means that when you read the label, it says 100% of either cotton, silk, linen, or wool, and NOTHING else.

SINGLE means: I don’t trust you with that 100% concept.

Ha!  It means this: ONLY cotton, or ONLY wool, or ONLY linen, or ONLY silk.

Linen-cotton blends, for example, are popular for summer shirts and for table linens.  This is a trick! Don’t fall for it!  Yes, the two fibers are both 100% natural. But when you blend them, you lose the comfort of a single-fiber natural fabric.

Trust me on this.  I know.

Other common combos, especially in scarves and luxury fabrics, are wool-and-silk or linen-and-silk.

These will not help you.  Do not use these in your homemade or improvised face mask or you will become a sweaty mess.  Go for a SINGLE natural fiber in your 100% natural fabric.

Review Q&A: What does single mean?  It means that your fabric is composed of only one type of natural fiber.

Readily Available Sources of Single-Fiber 100% Natural Fabric

There’s a good chance you already have something sitting around your house that can be converted into an improvised face covering.  Some sources to look for:

  • T-shirts
  • Pillowcases or sheets
  • Cloth napkins
  • Table cloths
  • Mom-jeans, Dad-jeans, and cargo shorts
  • Flannel shirts
  • Dress shirts
  • Curtains
  • Tote bags
  • Bandannas
  • Jackets

And yes, sweaters.  (See below!)  Naturally you aren’t going to cut up a perfectly good garment unless you have no other choice, but you might have something that is stained, pilled, worn through at the knees or elbows, or otherwise ready for re-purposing.

In the average household, your best bets for re-purposing are going to be:

  • That ratty old thing your husband won’t quit wearing because he loves it, but seriously, it’s time.
  • That awful dress your six-year-old loves, and insists she still wear, but hello it was her favorite when she was TWO and now not only is it permanently ketchup-marked, it is also no longer working even as a shirt.
  • The fabulous piece you got on clearance because you love the fabric, but the cut of the garment is horribly unflattering and no amount of belting or cardigans can fix that, and you need to move on.

Find these things, read the labels, and if they are a 100% natural single-fiber fabric, they are perfect for your home-made or improvised face covering.

Finally, let’s talk about wool.

Two things you need to know:

  • Usually knitted items are a very loose fabric that won’t help much for keeping your cough to yourself.
  • Wool shrinks in the wash.

If you know what you’re doing, you can use this to your advantage.  “Felting” is the process of washing and drying a wool fabric until it shrinks up into a tight fabric.  When you do this to your gorgeous handmade Christmas sweater, by accident, instead of hand-washing and laying flat to dry, you end up with a doll-sized sweater.  Oops.

But fast forward to today, when you are now eyeing up that wool garment you own that is either no longer presentable, or else it never really was suitable for any human to wear anyway, no matter how much the giver meant well when she gave it to you.

You can use this item for mask-making (having confirmed by reading the label that it is indeed 100% natural single-fiber-type wool), but first you need to felt it.  Do that by running it through the hot wash and dryer a bunch of times until it quits shrinking.

That’s it.  Not complicated.  You need to do this not only because you want to tighten-up that weave or knit, but also because it’s no good to have a mask you can’t wash and dry — you’ll just end up making doll masks.  Ha.

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

Okay that’s it for today’s lecture.  Remember, if you don’t want to pass out from heatstroke or infect the world in a sweat-crazed rage as you tear your drenched mask-of-misery from your overheated face, make your homemade mask out of fabric that’s:

  • 100%
  • natural
  • single-fiber

That’s 100% of or cotton or linen or silk or wool.

You’re welcome.

File:GreenMask1.jpg

Artwork: The Green Mask comic book cover, circa 1940, via Wikimedia, public domain.  This is not the right pattern for slowing the spread of respiratory illness.  Pretty sure your forehead is not a major vector of contagion.

On the other hand, let’s say it now right now: If you would also wear whatever glasses you have on hand when you must venture out, that, too, would add yet another layer of protection, however minimal.

 

RIP to Science: One Hair Dryer (Mask Test)

I was attempting to answer the question for my kids of whether an improvised mask, such as a cowboy-style bandana over your mouth and nose, could help slow the spread of disease.

Hypothesis: Even though an improvised cloth mask won’t filter viruses, it does limit the distance air coming out your mouth travels, and therefore reduces how far any germs get spread while talking, coughing, sneezing, etc.

Experiment: Well, about that.  So my plan was to set up a measuring tape on the bathroom floor showing the six feet of “social distancing” and then blow various lightweight items (dust, loose powder, wadded up scrap paper) using the hair dryer.  We’d see how far the hair dryer blows these items when unmasked and how far it blows them when masked with various garments — my favorite scarf, a standard bandanna, etc.

I decided to run some preliminary tests before the kids woke up, because if my hypothesis (or my experiment) was obviously wrong, that was something I could learn on my own, thanks.

I got the measuring tape out, found a scrap of (clean!!) toilet paper on the floor (note to self: CLEAN BATHROOM), and dug out my circa-1994 Salon Selectives hair dryer, currently collecting dust thanks to social-distancing.

==>Thanks Mom! That was an awesome Christmas present, even though I wasn’t sure what to think about it at the time. Just a few months ago we were marveling it had held up so long and showed no signs of giving up the ghost.==>

With the dryer on its high setting, I could blow a scrap about four feet.  I put the bandanna over it, and could only blow it about one or two feet.  Also, there was this slight burning odor, which I figured was all that collected dust burning off.  No big deal.

I was pleased by my preliminary findings, but more pre-testing was in order before calling in my skeptical children.  It was possible, for example, that I was seeing such dramatic differences in how far the paper scrap would travel because I was not consistent in how I aimed the hair dryer.

I did some experimenting with holding the dryer at different angles, un-masked, chasing that scrap of unused toilet paper around the bathroom.  Then I put the bandanna over again.  Not nearly as much air-power, again with the burning smell, and then: Experiment over.  Hair-dryer shorted out.

Yikes.

No amount of hoping I’d tripped a breaker bore fruit. After a quarter-century of faithful service, my hair dryer is no more.

Conclusions:

(1) I should not be left unsupervised with valuable machinery.

(2) An ordinary bandanna provides enough airflow resistance that it can wreck a hair dryer.

(3) If you’re contagious and you want to share space with me, yes, I would much rather you covered your mouth and nose with one of those masks that “does nothing” because it sure seems to me like having your germs go not-very-far is better than having your germs fly closer to me.

(4) I can’t afford to resume this experiment on my kids’ hair dryer, because I have three teenage daughters who will mutiny if I wreck their machine, as they do style their hair in quarantine. Therefore,

(5) I’d be grateful if other people would take up the cause and run experiments to see if my preliminary findings are reproducible.

Thanks!

Me with bandana over my face.

Photo: The guilty parties (me and that bandanna), posing in my makeshift office in the garage.  I love having my family at home all day, and I’m grateful my husband and I can both work from home, no matter how crazy the set-up is. Not everyone is so lucky.  Pretty sure those on the front lines keeping our infrastructure together wish you’d do whatever you can to reduce the odds you make them sick when you run your essential errands, even if it isn’t perfect and 100% foolproof.

The Conversation You Truly Never Expect to Have with Your Child

I like to think of myself as a parent who is well-informed on the hazards that face teens and young adults.  You do what you can, hope for the best, and understand that sometimes your child’s free will is going to force an uncomfortable confrontation.  Still, I genuinely never so much as imagined, not even remotely, the conversation my husband and I had to have with our 19-year-old this morning.

He told us what he was planning to do.

We gave him our reasons for why that behavior was no longer acceptable in our home.  We observed that his decision affected the safety and well-being of not just himself but his sisters, his parents, his friends, and who knows how many others.  I suggested some readily-available, reliable, neutral, third-party, expert sources he could use for making an informed decision about his plan of action.

And then my husband summed it up: “Son, I’m sure your friends are fine people.  We respect that you are an adult, and you’re free to make your own decisions.  But if you insist on going to Bible study tonight, you’re going to have to find other living arrangements.”

Whoa.  Ha. #CoronaLife.

Never thought I’d hear those words.

I quick gave Mr. Boy a long list of alternatives that would allow him to continue hanging with his FOCUS buddies and maintain physical-distance too. I encouraged him with the hope that the US will quickly act to bring about a turning point in our present handling of the pandemic (via expanded testing, ramping up manufacture of protective equipment, etc.) such that we can become more targeted in our isolation practices.

But, at the moment, living amidst an unchecked outbreak, grateful our local hospitals are taking swift action to mitigate the situation, but also knowing that our go-to physician has not a single N-95 mask in her office? We need to be more careful than, on the face of it, one would assume the situation warrants.

That said, if we get to the point where his Bible study friends are Prepare Your Church for COVID compliant, we can talk.  Except of course we have a mild cough going around our house.  So home it is.

***

My coffee cup siting on a step ladder

Photo penance: I’ve upgraded my office-in-exile with an open step ladder squeezed between the water heater and the spare fridge to create a place to set my coffee while praying.  Yes, I am a chemically-dependent pray-er. Sorry to dash all your illusions about my piety.  Here, enjoy this charming video of a stubborn Italian man going out for coffee.

 

My Break Time Reading Program, updated for 2020

If you have children home on the loose and need to keep them occupied, here is an updated PDF version of my original Decathlon Summer Reading program:

Jen Fitz’s Break Time Reading Program (PDF – Ready to Print)

It’s called a Decathlon because I came up with it during an Olympic year, and we went with the idea of being an all-around champion by pursuing ten different subjects.  The way it works is that you earn a small prize every time you complete an activity sheet for any subject.  You can do as many sheets in a subject area as you want (the point is to keep busy, right?).  The big Decathlon prize can only be earned by completing at least one sheet in every subject area.*

Our small prizes were things like a pint of ice cream, but you could make it bonus screen time, time doing a kid-chosen game together, parent does one chore for kid, parent sings a silly song for kid — be creative, and feel free to tailor prizes to each child.  Obviously, prizes only work well if they are items which are reasonable for the parents to offer, but are also something special that will motivate the child.

In the pandemic-version update, I’ve removed reference to “summer” and also removed all the original prizes, since you may have difficulty acquiring specific items.  On each page, just fill in the agreed-upon prize for the subject area and then your big prize for kids who complete the entire Decathlon. (Our summer 2016 Decathlon award was $50. Only one of our four children was determined enough to earn it. The others, though, stayed busy completing activity sheets in order to get the small prizes.)

I specify “books” for the reading requirements because we developed this program as an alternative to our library’s summer reading program.  Given that your library may be closed right now (ours is), if you don’t have an extensive home library, consider allowing e-books (your public library probably stocks them), audio books, podcasts, or documentaries.  Part of the challenge for science labs, arts, crafts, etc., is for your child to hunt down the needed information and supplies independently.  There are many resources available online if you don’t have a stash of pertinent books at home.  There is no reason fine arts, crafts, and science activities cannot be completed using materials scavenged from your recycle bin.  If you don’t have access to the outdoors, Naturalist activities can be done by looking out the window (ID’ing different types of clouds would be an example) or by using a science website to learn what a given plant, animal, or insect looks like, then using Google Images as a collection of samples for ID-practice.

If you are doing it right, once your child gets the hang of how the system works, it should involve relatively little work for you.  The goal is to get kids motivated to try new things and work independently.  If you have very young children and also an older sibling, you could create an incentive whereby the older sibling earns a prize sheet for helping a little one do their activities.  Obviously you should adjust the suggested activities based on your child’s age and ability.  I allowed some substitutions such as Lego Sculpture as an art/craft, with parent pre-approval.

If you are comfortable with spreadsheets (or would like to be) and you would like to customize the program, here is a link to a Google Sheets version of my spreadsheet:

Jen Fitz’s Break Time Reading Program Spreadsheet

The file is read-only, so just copy-and-paste or upload it into your preferred spreadsheet program in order to modify it.

Copyright information: You’re welcome to share this, as-is or in your modified version, including posting on your own website, as long as you (a) include credit for the original and (b) don’t charge anyone for access to your version.  This is meant to be shared freely.

Enjoy!

Me with purple weeds in bloom

For our photo penance today: Here’s me with posing with some of the pollen-producing plants that are causing us all to go nuts wondering whether we are coming down with the plague or it’s just that time of year.

 

*I do include an option to allow one two-for-one substitution and still earn the Decathlon prize.  This allows for a kid who just absolutely hates a subject to do extra work in other areas to buy out of the one dread subject.

PS: Yes, these PDFs look exactly like the graphic artist is an accountant.  Easiest way to cause this to be a brightly-colored, decorated version is to print it out, staple it into a booklet, and give your kids a pack of crayons and let them color it all they like.  Remember parents, goal here is to keep your kids busy, not you busy.

View from My Office: Social Distance

As of this morning we’ve got six people working from home in our 2.5 bedroom house — and one them is a child with a cough who’s taken over the master bedroom because she’s in quarantine.  Thus, picking back up with our intermittent penance, my office now looks like this:

Laptop on a shelf in a crammed-full workshop

Photo: Yes, I fled to a corner of our crammed-full “garage”, because it is the one space that no one else wants, and there’s a solid door separating me from the rest of the house.  I’m happy about the arrangement:

Me posing next to the water heater

Photo: Me just finishing up morning prayers in the warm, consoling presence of the water heater, perhaps a little too smug in having stolen the SuperHusband’s folding lawn chair from his exile in the camper (because: we’ve been evicted from our bedroom by the sick child).  I need a folding chair, not one of the good lawn chairs from the patio, because I need to be able to clear the emergency exit out the back door of the garage when I’m not using the chair, and we’re not working with the kind of spaciousness that lets you just put the chair somewhere else.

This would be why there’s a construction project in my yard.

***

At least until everyone starts remembering I can now be found hiding behind crates of books and a table saw in my 16 square feet of personal space, this move is game-changer.  I’ve been struggling for the last two years with no office space of my own, and due to construction the SuperHusband has been working from home several days a week all fall, therefore needing during the day the small, cluttered office we previously shared in shifts.  Many colleagues can attest that this has not had a winning effect on my productivity.

Hence my one recommendation for those now embarking on the everything-at-home lifestyle: Even if it means setting up your office in a closet or a bathroom or behind stacks of crates in the corner of the garage, get yourself your OWN space.

Think about the work that you do. When SuperHusband works from home, he has two needs.  One is the big computer with all the monitors (which I kinda need too, buuuut . . . some office chores are going to have to wait), and the other is the ability to pace around while he conducts phone calls in his booming made-for-the-choir-loft voice.  Our shared office is, acoustically, in the same space as our kitchen and living area — in which living area our college student is now going to be doing all his classes online, since the university shut down.

The boy is already a pro at claiming the 11pm-2am shift for getting work done, and since we have all teenagers now, SuperHusband can pace and exclaim on the phone all he wants before noon, the dead aren’t rising unless they absolutely must.  Once the kids emerge from their slumber and start needing to do schoolwork, though, we agreed that the Dad is gonna need to go out to the dried-in construction zone and do his phone calls there.

Just as well I cede that space, which I’d been using as a day office when too many people were home and I had a lot of editing to knock out, because it is possible for contractors to keep on keeping on without spreading contagion (not a real touchy-feely profession), so SuperHusband’s planning to take a few vacation days this spring to accelerate construction.

***

Notes on separating kids during illness: In the past, we didn’t strictly quarantine sick children for cold-type symptoms.  We did our best to keep actively ill children out of the kitchen, but beyond that to an extent we accepted the inevitable.  With COVID-19, however, the parents decided that if at all possible, we’d like to not have two parents sick at the same time.  Yes, our young adults living at home can run things in a pinch — we have two now old enough to wield a power of attorney if it comes to it — but it would be better not to have to lay that much responsibility on them.

For our kids, the decision to make the master bedroom sick-central is victory.  Many many years ago we did start strict quarantine for vomiting children.  We have the luxury of a second bathroom, and once we began the practice of setting up a camping mattress, portable DVD player, and a collection of easily-bleached toys in the spare bathroom, and insisting ‘lil puker stay put until the coast was clear, we stopped having stomach viruses run through the whole family.

That arrangement is just fine for a clearly-defined illness of short duration; a nasty cough, in contrast, can linger ambiguously for weeks, and COVID-19 is growing notorious for its waxing and waning.  So our current exile is thrilled to have her own bedroom for the first time in her life, with private bath, big bed, space for all the Legos on the square of open floor (I insist a path be cleared before delivering room service), and even a sunny window seat on top of a big ol’ storage box.

If our system works, corner of the garage is a small price to pay.

***

Related Links

The Darwins are blogging about many aspects of pandemic-living, including some pro-tips on homeschooling.  If you aren’t already a regular reader, that’s something you need to change in your life.

Looking through my years of homeschool-blogging, here are a few that may be of help:

And finally, Finding Writing Time, Homeschool Mom Edition. Two things to learn from this older post:

  • No, you really cannot work full time from home and homeschool simultaneously;
  • Scheduling is everything.

At the time I wrote this one my kids were younger, so the natural flow was kids in the morning, mom-work in the afternoon.  With teens, I’d say it’s the other way around.  If you’re Simcha Fisher and have it all? The job from home, the morning shift getting littles out the door, the  big kids trickling home in the afternoon, the babies hanging around all day, and the dinner on the table? I don’t care if your kids do wear odd mittens and think that’s normal. You’re my hero.

Listen people: You can’t fully-totally-amazingly homeschool and work a full time job from home with no adult help.  Childcare is work.  Educating people is work. Work is work. There’s no magic.  Pandemic season is going to be hard.  Drop your expectations. Hold together the absolute minimum and you’ll be ahead of the game.

The Prepper Life

So it appears that the US’s response to the coronavirus thus far is, “Good luck with that.” The saga of non-testing continues, with standard procedures still continuing to assume that travel to an outbreak area is required in order to catch the virus, and no real plan in place to do serious triage and infection control before exposing other patients and staff.

A few token patients get identified and quarantined, and everyone else gets a generic “stay home if you’re sick” message that in no way takes into account the reality that American society is almost entirely built on not staying home when you are sick.  School attendance policies don’t allow for it.  Workplace attendance policies don’t allow for it.

To make the spread of the virus even more certain, many school and work attendance policies require the provision of a doctor’s note in order to excuse absences and thereby avoid truancy charges or termination — thus the booming urgent-care industry, where you can pop in during extended hours and spend five minutes with a doctor who will write you an excuse.

Barring a major public health campaign to change these factors, people who value their jobs and their good relationship with the department of social services are going to carry on as usual.  Even with a public health campaign in place, unless there are serious provisions made for assistance covering lost childcare and lost wages, people are going to make the hard decision to continue faking their way through the day, as we do now.  Which means we continue to live behind the curve. Call it Italian-style.

***

The good news is that South Korea, which is testing vigorously and thus has the most reliable statistics, is showing only a half of a percent overall mortality rate (.62% at this writing).  That’s awesome news for the general public.

Italian-style, though, does not bode well for nursing home residents, people at high risk of complications, and Walmart employees.  Thus, prepping: If you buy your extra pack of toilet paper this week while you aren’t coughing and sneezing, you won’t need to run to the store in a pinch when you do come down with the thing, and thus go around infecting the people who cannot afford to be infected.

***

I do not have good prepping advice to give.  I am not a minimalist.  My house is cluttered.  My hoarding instincts have been steadily reinforced over the years thanks to hurricanes, ice storms, dam breaks, water main breaks, almost-a-snowstorms (you want to never truly *need* groceries, lest you get stuck going to the store the day before the snow doesn’t come), guess-who’s-coming-to-dinner and “by the way I need _________ by tomorrow morning.”  So maybe I have a closet we call “Prepperville”?  Yes I do.

But these are things that I know:

#1. Bleach.  It does so, so many useful things.  Good for all kinds of emergencies.  Get the plain stuff.

#2. You know you’re a born prepper if you hate going anywhere without dish soap.  It can be used on bodies of many species, clothes, dishes, your bathtub, your car . . . whatever needs to be washed.  You actually *can* put it in a laundry- or dish-washing machine, if you manage the dosage properly.  Gets the grease out.

#3. Duct tape and contractor bags, individually or in combination, can be used to solve so many different problems I can’t imagine you don’t keep both on hand at all times.  In a crisis, it’s therapeutic to go ahead and top off.  It doesn’t really matter what kind of crisis.

#4. My son buys the wrong coffee.  Actually every member of my family buys the wrong coffee, but 4/6ths of those people are not my problem, because they can just cope.  In a crisis, nobody wants the boy and I going cold turkey on the caffeine.  He buys this stuff:

Aldi brand dark roast coffee from Columbia

Photo penance of the day: Me holding a package of Aldi brand dark roast coffee labeled “Colombia.”

This is wrong.  In the same box from Aldi you can get either “Colombia” or “Sumatra.”  Both are dark roast.  Both are fair trade.  But one of them is just not as good as the other.  I confirmed this by accident this morning.

First week of any disaster, he and I are going to have the coffee we want.*  We can slowly adapt to our circumstances as we toughen up gradually.  Everyone will be happier that way.

#5. Your three teenage daughters do not want to adapt to improvised feminine hygiene products the first week of the disaster.  Give them at least a month into the apocalypse before you lay that one on them.

#6. Yes.  I know that most people throughout history did not have toilet paper.  Many manage just fine without even to this day.  I don’t care. Quit making fun of people who binged on toilet paper this week.

#7. Other people’s ideas of good prepper-food are usually disgusting.  You have to figure this one out on your own.  I go with ingredients that already feature in our regular menu, are pretty durable in a weather event, and can be consumed either uncooked or else can be cooked over an alternate cooking source (propane stove, charcoal, wood fire, etc). You’ll be pleased to know that the best popcorn recipe ever stands up to this rule.

In conclusion: In the face of any disaster, I’m totally prepared to live on coffee and popcorn.  We’ll be fine.

 

*The ability to improvise coffee-making** under nearly any circumstance is my chief super-power.

**I did not say you would like my improvised coffee.  Indeed, I prefer that you do not.

In Which I Offer the Reader So, So Much Penance

#1 Melanie Bettinelli’s aiming for a blog post a day during Lent, and I think I’m in.  Just as a goal, not as a penance.  I’m happier if I’m blogging.  So that’s like a good deed for my family?  Or something? We’ll see.

#2 I’m stalking my spot at the Register waiting for my rant about Lenten penances to show up.  Sooner or later it’s supposed to get there.  Meanwhile, here’s bonus content: There’s a nasty bit of contagion going around today about how the USCCB’s guidance for fasting isn’t really fasting, get it together you wimps.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the shocking world of people who can’t gain weight.  It’s a thing.  It’s an annoying thing, if you happen to be a person who is perfectly capable of storing away all kinds of emergency fuel reserves, and you must grocery shop and cook for the people whose bodies don’t do that.

I don’t have any particular difficulty fasting.  I dislike it.  I’d rather be eating.  But sure enough, unless I’m sick or pregnant or something, my body does a great job of saving up fat for future usage, and carefully doling out a ration of that stored energy if I happen to be not eating.

Not everyone’s body does that.  I live with people who have to plan, for serious, in order to get through a day doing the two little meals and the one normal meal, and yes they totally depend on the part about being able to have a glass of milk in between times.  It’s not about diet.  It’s about having a body that is wonderfully adapted to our world of abundance (unlike mine, which keeps insisting there could be a famine any minute, better stock up!), and very poorly adapted to fluctuations in food supply.

And get this: We have a priest shortage.  Thus the Church in her wisdom, rather than setting a bar ideal for the robust among us and directing those who need to do so to bother Father about a dispensation, has instead made it acheivable to do the minimum.

If you are able to do more than the minimum, I sure hope that’s what you’re doing today.  I also hope you’ve contrived to make sure it’s not so obvious what you’re up to.

#3 I used to be bothered by today’s Gospel, in which Jesus tells us to keep our fasting and prayers a secret, and then there we go getting ashes on our heads two minutes after. I’m over that now.

Jen Fitz, Self Portrait with Ashes on Forehead

Photo: Me with a sample of Fr. Gonzo’s latest artwork.

There’s two reasons why. The first is that the warning is about prayer and fasting, and listen guys, just because my body is in Mass doesn’t mean I’m praying, so that’s a big fat secret, and anyway how do you know I’m not spending the day having two ice cream bars and a giant plate of lasagna?  You don’t.  So I’m good.

Meanwhile . . . the thing about the ashes is that they aren’t a sign of holiness.  I’m sorry if someone got you all confused about that.  The annual application of ashes is like putting on a blanket apology to the world.  Yeah, I suck.  I know it.  Probably don’t know it enough, but I’m at least making a nod that direction?

So FYI, anyone at all can go get ashes.  If you’re wretched and you know it, Catholic Church has you covered.

#4 I’m thinking maybe I should post a selfie a day for Lent.  As penance for us all?

Ha.  Can’t decide if I’m kidding or not.

#5 Since I am no St. Therese, allow me to complain about church music for a bit.  There are two tunes that I have grown possessive about, in a case of sacredness-by-association.  Picardy, the setting for “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” is the first.  Once you’ve created a link between a catchy, soulful tune and a description of the absolutely most intimate moment between creature and Creator this side of Heaven, I just can’t bear to hear the tune co-opted for other, not-so-exalted topics.  Even if the lyrics in question are otherwise unobjectionable (and sometimes they are not, but there are limits to how much I’m willing to make you suffer today), that’s a no.

The other one, and this is where we get all Lenten, is Passion Chorale.  Please.  People.  I know that it’s not Good Friday yet.  I know that you have composed many lovely meditations on Lenten spirituality that have the same meter.  I get that you are trying to make a mental connection on this path to the cross or something.  You are wrong.  Wrong! Stop it!  Give me “Oh Sacred Head Surrounded” or give me silence.  Or a different tune, same meter, that’ll be fine.  There’s nothing wrong with your little Lenty-chit-chat dog ear poetry. But hands off Passion Chorale.  It’s taken.

#6 My husband wishes I would show up at church this evening to hear a rendition of this absolutely awesome music:

But here is the truth about me. This other little chant, which the cantor sung at Mass earlier today, was like getting a late Valentine:

One of my favorite songs.  I only know the chorus, and every year I mean to fix that, and maybe one day I will.  But it sure was easy to keep my Lenten smiley face up, just like Jesus says, with that for our ash-walk music.

Life is good.