Quarantine Diaries – Chapter 2

Sierra Pacific Mill, on the western shore of Oakland Bay, the westernmost arm of Puget Sound. the sawmill takes up the entire waterfront in downtown Shelton.

Now in our 4th week of quasi-quarantine and state-imposed shelter-in-place orders, we are beginning to settle in to a state of New Normal, i.e., a constant flux of change that is not moving toward the life we led up until the first week in March 2020. Here’s the view from Chaos Central, in our little town on the edge of Nowhere.

We, now in our mid-70s, were the original target of the “stay where you are” directives, along with younger folks in their 60s who might not be as healthy. Everyone is now included. Schools are out. Some restaurants are open for take-out. The coffee roasters down the street, where we hoped to replenish our bean supply through the drive-up, now appears to be totally closed. We still get out for groceries, once a week at the Safeway, during the twice-weekly Senior Shopping Hour, where I go alone, armed with a short list of perishables and a hopeful list of staples, and at least one glove to push the cart and handle items. This morning, there was at least one other elderly person in each aisle, planted firmly in the middle of a 4-foot aisle where it was impossible to maintain the mandated 6-foot spacing. One wishes the aisles were marked one-way traffic. I cruised through the store, targeting items on the list, not stopping except to grab multiples of items we use up over a week that weren’t restricted to “only one, please.” Other shoppers lingered, so I wove a convoluted path through the store to avoid meeting or passing others, and breezed through the self-checkout like a pro. More seniors are learning to use the service, and the store has put “Keep your distance” patches on the floor to keep shoppers from queuing up in the checkout area.

The inventory is strange. There is an abundance of perishable produce, at attractive prices, and an overflow of exotica, like oyster mushrooms at $20 a pound, piled where the tofu used to be. Of the latter, it is as if tofu never existed. Once one of our staples, it is gone, seemingly forever.

Making our own flour, with our ancient Magic Mill stone mill grinder.

We have several week’s supply of flour and wheat berries yet, but I sheepishly grabbed the only 5-lb bag of unbleached white flour on the shelf. Last week, there weren’t any, this week, there were two bags of whole wheat flour and three of self-rising flour, in addition to the one I snagged. Thankfully, there were a few containers of salt left on the shelf. We use very little salt, getting enough in the prepared foods we used to include in our diet, but the salt container we’ve had for 20 years is finally nearly empty, and, with mostly home-cooked meals, I’ve had to start adding a little salt for balance. Before this, we baked bread for social gatherings, but now, it’s a form of comfort food and fits well with our new diet of bean dishes, as we work through the emergency supply in the pantry.

Being ovo-lacto vegetarians, we’ve been using whey protein powder in our morning coffee to balance our diet without overloading on cheese and eggs. I ordered a six-week supply last week, but Costco is prioritizing shipments in this new age of mostly on-line shopping: I got my reflux medication in two days, but, after more than a week, the bag of Optimum Nutrition is still on a warehouse shelf somewhere, with no shipping date estimated.

Our second shopping excursion of the week is to the little produce market on the opposite hill across town. The fruit is cheaper, more variety, and the store is never crowded. And, shopping there keeps a local business open.

Catalyxt Park, home of the Community & Food Bank Garden. at 9th and Harvard, three blocks from our house. The park, like all others in Washington, is closed for the duration. Hopefully, exception is granted to the gardeners.

Our only other outings lately have been walks around our neighborhood, between rain showers, carefully avoiding other people. We’re surrounded by hills we have to push our bicycle up anyway, so the exercise is just as beneficial to us, and we get some fresh air and close-up views of spring growth. Spring is reluctant this year, with unusually cold temperatures yet. I had to scrape ice off the car windows this morning for the grocery shopping trip. We have a 20-mile bike ride planned, to reprise a ride we took a year ago, out along the county line to the west, but the rain and cold promises to continue for another two weeks at least, so we wait.

Quarantine Bean Soup: mixed dried beans from long-term pantry stores, soaked overnight and simmered all day, with home-made bread fresh out of the oven, made with flour from our grinder.

Meanwhile, we still have gas for cooking, electricity for lighting, tap water still flows, and the Internet still works. NPR reported stories of utility workers sheltering in place at work, camping in trailers at the waterworks and power stations to isolate themselves from the raging pandemic.

We’re retired, and hopefully, the social security payments will continue, at least as long as the government remains open and the Internet and banks function. Our children and grandchildren haven’t been quite so lucky. Our granddaughter was laid off from a job she’s had for eight years, with no promise of re-hire, and all of her side jobs have been shut down, too. Another granddaughter is sick, taking flu medication. Another, a nurse, is offline, presumably at work. She normally works OB-GYN, but I’m sure the hospitals are in “all-hands” mode if virus cases ramp up. One grandson, who worked as a waiter, is starting a job delivering food. One daughter, a jewelry artist who lives in a remote area unlikely to be affected, has been getting her asthma medications from Mexico, and the border is closed indefinitely. Another daughter is planting a “victory garden” as a hedge against food shortages, and has resorted to ordering tire-sized rolls of industrial toilet tissue in the wake of empty shelves of household tissue. Her husband, who works in industrial building air conditioning maintenance, now works alternate days to keep crews separated.

We heard from one son a week or so ago, trying to keep his normally dine-in-only restaurant running on take-out orders with a skeleton staff. Another son and daughter-in-law are working from home, with reduced hours, since business is down, and our school-age grandchildren are either in an on-line program or on early summer vacation. An ex-grandson-in-law is having problems getting unemployment pay after his 20-year business closed, apparently due either to identity theft or bureaucratic bungling. We haven’t heard from some of our far-flung family members, and hope they are safe, for now. We worry about ones with small children and vulnerable jobs, but can only wait for news, which may not be forthcoming until things stabilize a bit.

With all of our social activities mothballed, we’ve settled into brainstorming ideas to keep contacts going through the Internet, with Facebook, web sites, blogs, and video conferencing, but transitions are slow. People are hunkered down yet, holding their breath as the pandemic ramps up, wondering when it will arrive here, in our small town, and wondering what will survive and recover when the current wave has passed, and how we will prepare for the next one.

Meanwhile, I managed to get our underpowered and ancient Windows machine up one more time, through a series of “Blue Screen” crashes, and file our 2019 taxes, before it crashed again, apparently due to a Windows driver problem. Our main office printer died, possibly due to a bad firmware upgrade or maybe a mechanical failure, but Judy had bought a new one a few months ago for her craft room (that I managed to recover from a bad firmware upgrade), and our old laser printer still prints black and white fine, though the color balance is off. My old laptop, revived with a new hard drive last fall, started making a racket, so I took it apart and cleaned the fan and radiator, and it is eerily quiet and running cool again. The libraries and stores are closed, but we seem to have a hundred books or more we haven’t gotten around to read, so we’re getting by so far, while the world disintegrates around us.

Be well, be safe.