Thursday, April 30, 2020

Living alongside the Coronavirus

smaller and simpler life

As I write this blog post, more than a million US citizens have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease that can result from exposure to the Coronavirus. More testing is likely to reveal that a much higher number are now or have been infected. Tragically, there are now 60,000 who have lost their lives as a result and families everywhere are mourning. The majority of us at this point are staying home and hoping to help “flatten the curve,” to help the health care system to manage and hopefully to buy time for the development of therapies. Most people haven’t been exposed as far as we know, but we really can’t say. The vast majority of us haven’t been tested. In an effort to limit the spread most of us have been living a much smaller and simpler life, quarantined in our homes or at least minimizing our time out. The rest of this post are some of my observations in living this smaller and simpler life these past 7 weeks.

I must admit right from the start that I’m exceptionally lucky. I haven’t gotten sick. I live in a comfortable house with two family members who are great company. The house is large enough that we can be together when we want to be, and we can each have space to ourselves when we prefer it. My wife and I are both still working full time, and the prospects are good for that to continue for the foreseeable future so we have a comfortable income to go with the comfortable house. We know that there are so many others who aren’t so lucky.

Managing the Household

Having more time in the house means more time to deal with the house. Things have been put away and gone through and straightened up. I’m not a very handy person but by now my wife and I have addressed most of the small problems around the house including things we’d been living with for months. Every burned-out lightbulb has been replaced, some broken fixtures in the bathroom have been fixed or replaced, etc.  A few things are waiting for more expert repairmen when that’s possible. 

We’ve done more than our usual share of yard work, too. With the yard in nice shape, we sit outside when the weather allows and enjoy seeing a variety of birds, including not just robins and wrens but also bluejays, cardinals, and a woodpecker. There’s even what looks like a red-tailed hawk that we see from time to time.

Being home all the time means cooking and eating meals together a lot, which is great. It does make for more cleanup than we had been having to do in the past and the garbage and recycling has to be taken out way more often. We’re also running the dishwasher every day (sometimes more than once) which is a real change from the way things were before the lockdown.

The Fridge

Continuing a thought from above, we’ve ended up treating food differently. We try to do takeout only about once a week so three people are eating a lot of home made meals each week and just a few from takeout. One take-out order gets us a dinner plus a few meals from leftovers. Some of these “home made” meals are PBJs or a yogurt, but many of them are a little more involved. I like to cook, and so do my fellow “quarantiners.”

Food shopping is very different. I used to do one very big shopping a month and then 2 or 3 times a week I’d stop at the store for fresh fruit, veggies, dairy, etc., and while there I could pick up anything we were out of. Now things are different. I tried online ordering and it didn’t really work out, so trips to the supermarket are necessary. I try to shop once every 10 days and try hard to get EVERYTHING all at once. Being out among the potentially-contagious is not something we want to do too often. Making the shopping list now takes a lot more thought. When I get home, packing everything into the fridge is a game of 3D Tetris. Then, over the next 9 or so days, we eat our way through the food until a mostly empty fridge tells us it’s time to shop again. Because some things go bad more quickly than others, we also have to be more thoughtful about meal planning. In the past, I could buy fresh fruit and veggies as often as I needed to. Now we buy what we can fit, eat it while it’s fresh, and resort to frozen veggies later in that 10-day cycle.

We are also better than we were in the past about eating leftovers as lunches rather than throwing them away and wasting them. Sometimes, like when I grill, we intentionally make a little too much and plan a leftover meal for the following day.

Health and Appearance

Earlier this year I had been going to the gym 4 mornings a week and had dropped a few pounds while building some muscle. These days, I find that I’m not only getting less exercise, but I’m also eating more. I’m stuck in the house and the food is always just a few steps away. And frankly, I think my own uneasiness about the state of the world is stressing me out and I’m eating (and drinking) more as a reaction. Not such a great coping mechanism, but it’s a reality for me. I’m clearly going to need to fight this tendency or I’ll be shopping for a new wardrobe in larger sizes.

Like everyone else, my hair is getting longer (and grayer) and I’m not sure it’s a very good look. But I’ll ride it out for now. My wife gave herself a haircut a few days ago. My bet was that that wasn’t going to go very well but thankfully I was wrong. It looks great and she loves it. Still, I’m not letting her cut my hair!

The Roads

Yet another way in which we are lucky is that we are mobile if we need to be. We have three people at home and three cars all in good working order, and we rarely go out. My car hasn’t been out of the driveway for weeks since both of the other cars are SUVs which are much more suited to big grocery store trips. 

When we are out on the roads, it’s strange how there’s so little traffic even at times of day that are usually busy. In fact, when we take our daily walk around the neighborhood (my primary exercise these days) wearing face masks when we pass other walkers, we often walk in the road because the sidewalks are busier than the roads in my neighborhood. On the subject of neighborhood walks, we’ve begun to notice that we are seeing some of the same neighbors almost daily. Seems they’ve made daily walks a part of their schedule too. I can’t help wondering whether we’d regularly see a different set of people if we walked an hour earlier or an hour later.

Life with Zoom

Zoom has become a general adjective. “Let’s have a Zoom meeting.” Or a Zoom dinner. Or Zoom cocktail hour. Or anything else we used to do in person. Sometimes it’s actually a WebEx or FaceTime or something else, but in my circles it’s more often Zoom and even when it’s not we might slip and say Zoom. My youngest son was part of a college commencement ceremony a few days ago over Zoom and it went really well. While in some ways it was sad to miss out on the in-person experience, in other ways it was wonderful. I had a great comfortable seat, could grab a snack or beverage when I wanted, could easily have a rest room break, and could make jokes out loud without seeming too rude to the strangers seated next to us, since there weren’t any. My wife has had Zoom happy hours with coworkers, and she and I had a really fun Zoom dinner club night with three other couples with whom we’d usually go to a restaurant. Video chat has been a surprisingly comforting way to stay connected when we’re all locked up at home.

My band, The Lava Rocks

I’ve been playing in a classic rock cover band for a little over a year. The Lava Rocks were just finding our groove, playing local bars and clubs once or twice a month. Now our upcoming dates are canceled for the forseeable future which is sad. On a happier note, we still connect via Zoom twice a week to talk about active projects like web concerts and to plan songs to add to our music catalog. By doing this, the members of the band hope to stay connected and to pick up where we left off when that becomes possible.

Having a Sense of Humor

I’ve seen on social media that others have shared some funny parts of being locked up at home. I think we all have examples in our lives. Here’s mine: My wife and I both work as consultants, mostly from home. We can work on our computers, and often on WebEx and Zoom. Our morning ritual has long been to have coffee together while we watch the morning news and then to move on to work. Now we are just going to different parts of the house to work. Every day, without fail, as one of us heads off to take the first Zoom or WebEx call of the day my wife says “Bye, have a nice day at work.” As if I won’t be seeing her in the kitchen or the hallway about five times throughout the day!

Closing thoughts

As one of the many people lucky enough to have not gotten sick yet, I can see that we’re all adjusting in some pretty noticeable ways. Does this phase of the new normal give way to a new phase of the new normal in June or July as we (hopefully) enter a stage where the number of new COVID-19 cases continues to drop and more effective therapies make the risk of going out into the public more reasonable? Hard to say. And if June is hard to see from here, it’s impossible to see out to September or October with any clarity from the here and now.

As a final thought, I’ve noted above how lucky I feel during this crisis to be healthy, to have a safe and comfortable place to live, to have an income and food for my family. Not everyone is so lucky. I feel strongly that as someone with this kind of luck that it’s only right for me to help those less fortunate. There are countless good causes that need our help. If you are in a position to help, as I am, I encourage you to give generously and often. Support our medical professionals and first responders. Keep food pantries full. Help in ways that you can. There are so many who need it.

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[RapidGroove blog posts are my own and are in no way 
intended to represent the views of my employer]