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Quarantine Diaries: Chapter 9.  The Tunnel at the End of the Light

As my “confinement” passes into another month–the entire month of June, lost–and the pill bottles count down to the half-way mark, it’s twitchin’ time.  The searing, aching, crushing pain is gone, with little echoes from time to time.  But, there is that nagging discomfort, a restlessness, something not quite centered, a vase teetering on the edge of the table, a squeaky door hinge.  Part of it the tapering off the little bitter pills.  The dosage started with six pills for a few days, then 5, 4, counting down to a race between the tortured sciatic nerve and whatever is doing the torturing.  The other, an orange capsule that threatens seizures if stopped too quickly, clouds men’s minds more effectively than The Shadow’s powers, suppressing those faulty warning signals, but making time fluid and washing out the details, not being smart enough to tell brain cells from pain receptors.

I have a Physical Therapy appointment.  I’ve had the physiology lesson several times now.  I finally understand that I don’t have a broken leg, twisted ankle, sunburn, bursitis, frostbite, or The Bonk (a bicyclist term for very painful lactic acid poisoning in the legs– preventable with proper nutrition and hydration, inevitable if you continue to ride on empty).  These are all things that that right leg has experienced over its 76-odd years of existence.  It’s like the nerve has shut down, so the brain, not knowing what to do, plays back the entire archive of sensations of what could have gone wrong, all at once.

As usual, I have a surprisingly normal range of motion with surprisingly little pain in the exam room. It must be the heat, I say.  It’s always warmer in these places.  But, I get assured that yes, I do have a problem, and it will resolve more quickly if I do these odd exercises in exactly the precise manner shown, and don’t do anything that might aggravate that nerve bundle, now or before my allowed visits are up.  The therapist looks at my spiffy blue second-hand walker chair, at me, and says, “That’s so not you.”

“Yeah, it’s my ride, for the summer. I posted that on the senior bicyclist forum.  I’m not going to get to ride the bike this summer am I?”

“Nope.”

But, I can walk, when I improve, and we had become rather fond of our footloose explorations around town this spring.  It’s all good.  So, off to home, with homework.  It’s easier to get in and out of the car this week, but  a lot of movement makes me antsy.  My foot goes numb.  I’m a bit loopy from the drugs.  The clocks run too fast.

We have directions. A couple of exercises are unfamiliiar, and, as I had suspected, the ones we knew, we’d been doing wrong for the past 10 years.  Our yoga group isn’t certified, it’s just volunteers, and we don’t watch each other and critique for style.  Plus, some of the exercises are modified versions of the asanas we perform in our practice, and have a more precise movement and posture for maximum benefit.

A month of sitting and sleeping in my recliner, which I had more or less bequeathed to Judy early in the year after one of our living room cleaning/rearrangements.  It fits her better.  Six years ago, she bought it for my recovery from heart surgery, and I slept in it for two months back then.  It doesn’t get flat, and it’s custom-molded to someone else’s body, somebody much shorter.  It’s like sleeping in a dumpster full of rags and boxes, but better than a concrete door step.  We’re at the start of the second month this time.

Without much to do, the druggy loopiness is taking its toll.  I endure being waited on: Judy mixes my turmeric/protein latte just fine, but the preparation has been part of my morning ritual, as much as drinking the strange concoction that has started my day for the last few years to keep the pain and stiffness of creeping old age at bay.  Preparing coffee and meals had been my job, before.  At least I have the rolling walker chair, so I can help with the prep now and then.  But, I miss the stirring, flipping, careful timing, and getting the flame just so for the right temperature.  And the oven is off-limits. Judy makes awesome cookies and bread, but I miss my Italian-style rustic loaves, too, and the pita and naan, which takes bending over into a too-hot oven.

When it’s nice out and not too windy, we sit on the porch at the table that put me in the walker.  It’s pleasant, a place to feel the air and watch the deer graze through the yard, and listen to the birds in the trees.  We eat lunch, drink coffee, and read a bit.  Our grandson arrives, displaced from home on the house-cleaner’s day: his job is to help run the errands I can’t do, like finally dispose of the microwave oven we replaced on the very eve of the shutdown. It sat on our porch like a prop for an episode of Hoarders, for three months.  Our basement is filling up with Costco shipping cartons, which need to be broken down to fit in our recycle can, as the service no longer handles tied bundles of oversized cardboard, strictly hands-free collection.  The New Normal touches all aspects of life in the ‘20s.

The recycle bin was already full, so we spend the afternoon playing board games, instead.  The quarantine goes on: to get through this, I think everyone who is isolated should choose a pod pair, another neighbor or relative who doesn’t mingle socially or have a service job, who is unlikely to get the ‘Rona or spread it; get a foursome together and play cards or board games.  The senior center is opening next week; masks and gloves required at the card tables.

But, that’s mingling.  I’m talking about being able to remember the good old days when you could see a smile.  We’re learning to read expressions in people’s eyes, but we’d like to watch for that tell, the little twitch at the corner of Myrna Whats-her-name’s mouth when she has three of a kind,  unmuffled laughter when someone lays down an unexpected winning hand.  You know what I mean, to remember back when America was great, before the red hats that said it wasn’t, before neighbor turned away from neighbor on the street because of what we might infect him with: germs or ideas–both are dangerous.  My drug-addled brain has come up with a plan: get big buttons, like the campaign buttons, and put full-face selfies on them, to wear so people can see what you would look like without the Teddy Bear’s Picnic disguise.  Eventually, we’ll all have bluetooth chips to transmit our real face to the other person’s augmented reality glasses.  Maybe by the next pandemic. 

For now, the conspiracy theorists are certain the  phone-trackers that identify nearby virus-carriers will strip them of their precious guns.

Meanwhile, the current pandemic surges, fueled by that great American remedy for uncertainty and tension: to go shopping, to mingle at the club or neighborhood tavern, to party at the beach, or to go the stadium and cheer for your team.  Civil unrest brings another uncertain mingling, with an undertone of violence and helter-skelter that a breeze could turn into a conflagration.  The curves on the graphs angle upward once again. Medical facilities brace themselves, check supplies and contingency plans, while the country plunges forward into the darkness ahead.

The Shadow, 1930s radio and pulp fiction character. Illustration by John Cassaday, © Dynamite Entertainment

 

 

“Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men?  The Shadow knows…”  Time for one of those orange things and the dwindling count of those bitter ones.  Quickly, the clarity is starting to set in, and the morning news is coming on…

Quarantine Diaries, Chapter 8: Phoenix in Ashes

Setbacks: The Wages of Ageing

What a difference a week makes.  At the close of last week’s diatribe, we were optimistically hopeful that our personal lives would be isolated from the collective madness sweeping the world and that the physical issues would soon resolve so we could go on with our modified adventuring.  And, it looked so: I was told by my doctor that no new tests were warranted, and the chiropractic session went well, I began to walk farther, with only one hand on the cane, and even tried sleeping in a bed, though the chair worked better, yet.

After a short venture from home on Wednesday, I was emboldened to accompany Judy on a longer walk on Thursday, a nearly 3  km loop, leaving me with more of a limp by the time we shuffled up the hill to our bungalow on the first bench up the hill known as Angleside, not for the steep grades, but for the developer, Grant Angle, founder of the Mason County Journal and the Angle Insurance Agency, in the 1890s.

We decided to get a bigger table for the porch, so we could enjoy outdoor visits with family in the summer.  We found a sturdy office break room round table at Habitat Restore, which was perfect, and only $20.  We wedged it into the truck on top of the bed and against the bicycle, and went home.  Unpacking, maneuvering around the cars, and up the sidewalk went well, until the second step up to the porch…

The “new” porch dining table that cost $30 to buy and several hundred in medical bills to get onto the porch.

Now, I’ve touched 120 volts 60 Hz AC, a strong reminder to not grab there; I’ve taken 450 volts DC, which blew me across the room and against the wall, and left a tiny burn on my finger.  But, this was like stepping on  a 440-volt 400 Hz AC main line: a twist and pull with weight on the right leg pinched my sciatic nerve hard, sending a jolt from hip to toes, and the pain didn’t stop.  My “broken leg” sensations intensified.

Judy managed to get the table the rest of the way up the stair by rolling it end over end, and I ended up with a fitful and sleepless night in  my chair.  Exhausted by morning, I took one of the left-over opioids from the emergency room visit and slept for an hour or so in bed, waking with excruciating pain.  After consulting with the call-in line at Kaiser, we headed for the Urgent Care in Olympia.  Walking gave out 10 meters from the entrance, so Judy commandeered a wheelchair to get me into the building and down the hall. The pain subsided long enough to get processed in and interviewed, with minimal hands-on exam. The doctor prescribed a bit stronger anti-inflammatory, Aleve (naproxen sodium), the nurse gave an injection of Toradol, a strong anti-inflammatory only administered in medical facilities, and I went home, still in pain, wheeled out to the car.

By the time we got home, I couldn’t walk, even with the cane in both hands.  Judy brought a chair down to the end of the sidewalk, and I bumped a few inches at a time, holding the chair, to the stair, then scooted up on my backside, then pulled myself into the house with the help of a chain of dining room chairs for support.

Facing the prospect of another 3-4 weeks of confinement, the new laptop fan arrived, direct from the Chinese factory, so I can keep the computer close to my chair without the buzzing fan keeping me awake.

By 1:00 am on Saturday, I was writhing in pain on the floor.  Kaiser 24-hour hot line advised returning to the Urgent Care, which we did, first thing in the morning: Judy pushed me to the end of the sidewalk in an office chair, and dropped me off at the clinic door, returning with a wheel chair.  After announcing I was returning for pain management, I was quickly ushered in and finally given a fairly thorough examination, which more or less identified the locus of the impingement (not in my spine, thank goodness), assurance that most, if not all, the pain was referred and not due to any physical trauma, even if it had felt for three weeks like I had a broken leg.  I was given an injection of a powerful painkiller, again, hospital use only, and a prescription for a cocktail of heavy-duty anti-inflammatories and non-narcotic and narcotic pain blockers, with a month-long schedule for building up and tapering down dosages of each, with narcotic use to be at a minimum, for as short a time as possible.

It has wheels, brakes, and handlebars, but a poor substitute for a bicycle, but necessary for transportation around the house and essential to get to the car for the rare excursion outside the house, only once in the week since re-injury, to deposit a check from a client. They’re all pro bono now, so it was only an expense reimbursement, but still, the first “income” in a long time.

On the way home, we picked up a walker I had spotted at the thrift shop on our Thursday walk, for $30, a bargain for a $100 piece of durable medical equipment, and it was the perfect size and in fair condition (sticky brake cable).  That walker has been my transportation in the week since, no doubt speeding recovery and contributing to comfort: bathroom trips no longer end in agony by the time I get back to my chair prison.  But the carefully metered massive drug doses do, as the Huey Lewis song goes, “Make me feel nine feet tall, … make me crash my car.”  As if I could actually make it to the car without collapsing.  Ditching the opioids after four days led to two days of erratic sleeping, munchies, uncharacteristic thirst, and generally feeling like an indigent addict sleeping on the street.  I did manage to help in the kitchen a little bit by Wednesday, thanks to the walker.

The Dude Abides. Confined to his recliner, but with the handy thrift shop walker close by and a lap desk cobbed together from scrap, Larye takes a break from blogging and answering computer systems questions on-line to binge-watch sci-fi series we missed during the decade and a half we had no television.

So, it looks like we’re in this for the long haul, taking care of each other through better or worse, and accepting that convalescence from the rigors  of life may take more time and not come back 100%.  I’ve managed to cob together, with Judy’s help to scrounge through my pack-rat collection of wood scraps, a makeshift lap desk to make computing from the recliner comfortable, and we’ve temporarily at least removed rugs and runners to make wheeled traffic easier.  Our plan to stay in prime health and maintain fight or flight agility through regular exercise is, for the next few weeks, and maybe beyond, on hold, and our contact list grows with every mask-to-face and mask-to-mask encounter in medical facilities.

The Wider View

Saturday, Day 2 of Quarantine Phase 3: State Street in downtown Olympia, our state capital, fills with motorcycles on the cruise. Following behind, the concentration of unburned hydrocarbons and Volatile Aromatic Compounds was overwhelming, but that’s another issue.

As the quarantine restrictions are lifted and others imposed–and opposed, by many of our fellow Mason County citizens–venturing out becomes a scary proposition.,  We wear our masks and continue to limit contact and shopping, but so many visits to medical facilities is problematic, as well as requiring some preliminary phone or on-line triage in the first place to get admitted.  Our chiropractor relies on temperature checks to avoid exposure, but we still wear masks when treated, though many others in the waiting room, along with staff, do not.

There seems to be several different approaches to the pandemic, dividing the population into three incompatible groups:

1.  Maintain mask protocols, cleaning, and social distancing rigorously to avoid contracting the virus until an effective antiviral or vaccine is readily available and effective.

2.  Monitor temperatures, and isolate if possibly infected, notify contacts to check themselves also, to limit spread by only isolating known cases and their contacts.  If you get sick, you will either get better or die.  A vaccine or cure is too uncertain to stop the world and wait.

3.  Fake News! Open the economy.  If people get the virus and die, it’s better than if more people starve because there’s no work and no government relief, which they wouldn’t condone because that’s Socialism and they’d rather die than live in a Socialist country or pay taxes to help their less-fortunate neighbor get through a crisis, to keep the community together.  If an elected official of the opposite political party directs an action, resist it, no matter what the consequences.

So it goes.  The Second Civil War gathers momentum, but, instead of subtitled the War of Northern Aggression, this time it will be the War of Intolerable Liberalism.  Racism is fighting back against the Black Lives Matter movement.  Police racially-based violence is being augmented by lynchings and random attacks by white supremacists.  This is finally their time, after all the shouting, gun collecting, and rallying that has been ignored by the government and even embraced by the current administration, which is no longer a democratic institution, but a textbook model of an organized crime family.  As the country visibly crumbles, and isolation intensifies, former allies are shunning us, and our rivals, military and economic, consolidate power and undermine from without.

The only hope is that the environment will heal itself despite ignorance, if the inevitable significant population reduction lowers carbon emissions.  Unfortunately, the ones with the guns are the ones who want to increase carbon release.  But, they are also the ones without face masks, so nature holds the scales.  As noted by Jared Diamond in his book of the same name, “Guns, Germs, and Steel” will determine, as subtitled, “The Fates of Human Societies.”

Quarantine Diaries, Chapter 7–Götterdämmerung

As the country hopefully moved toward transitioning to Quarantine Phase II around Memorial Day, things did not go as planned…

We stayed home on the Memorial Day weekend, expecting traffic and crowds to materialize everywhere.  I had a little twinge of sciatica on the left, probably from our aggressive neighborhood hike with the grandchildren on the Friday before.  But, getting out for a walk on Tuesday worked out the kinks, and I was fine.

Maidenhair Fails, West Fork, Wynoochee River

On Wednesday, the “need to wander” bug hit, so we planned a drive out to remote Lake Wynoochee, 60 km north of Montesano, and maybe a bike ride or hike.  Heading out past Deckerville, where we have been riding our bike, we headed out on Cougar Smith Road, the shortest route from Shelton.  Unfortunately, the last 4 km of the 10-km long road runs through private logging land, which was being worked, so we turned back, driving down to Brady and Montesano, before heading north again.  At the lake, the road turns to gravel.  We continued on north of the lake to the bridge across the river, where we parked and set off on a short hike of a kilometer or so, up the canyon on the west fork to Maidenhair Falls.  There were a few campers in the unimproved but approved camping areas around the bridge, and a few recent footprints on the trail, but we saw no one.

Footbridge over the gorge at Maidenhair Falls

The falls were at the head of a deep cleft through the rock, with an old wood bridge just below the falls, which were mostly obscured by recent tree falls across the creek.  Nevertheless, it was an idyllic forest scene, with the roar of the largely unseen cascade through the cleft. On the way back to the car, we took a side route to the now broad and slow river near the fork, checking out the camping area, thinking we might come back for a longer stay.

We headed home, 125 km by the route through town, while we had come at least 200 by taking the “shortcut” that was closed.  This was a longer drive than we’d been on all year, and more mileage than we’d put on altogether since the start of the Troubles.  So, on Friday, we decided to drive into the city and refuel at Costco in Tumwater, though we didn’t intend to shop in the store, having mail-ordered everything from Costco over the last three months.  But, it would give us an opportunity to ride our bike on the country roads to the south.

After topping off the tank on the truck with a whopping 95 liters, we parked at Home Depot and rode over the pedestrian/bike overpass over I-5, then down along the freeway, passing through the industrial park on the west side of Olympia Airport and down Case Road, which crossed the Freeway again about 10 km south. Turning west at Maytown toward Littlerock, I had forgotten to shift down, and the push-off from the stop sign was met with huge resistance. I managed to shift down after one revolution, but it was a shock.

We continued on to Littlerock, stopping at the [closed] Littlerock Elementary School for a water and banana break before dashing up the more heavily-travelled Littlerock Road, which, fortunately, has a wide shoulder.  Entering Tumwater, the road traverses a series of traffic circles.  Instead of dismounting and pushing across on the walkway, as we sometimes do when riding in traffic, we sprinted through each one, back to the truck, a bit over 30 km ride.   We were anxious to get home, since we hadn’t had lunch, but only our mid-ride snacks, so we skipped our usual post-ride electrolyte, which helps flush lactic acid from the muscles.

I had a bit of tightness in my back from all the driving, which I noticed a bit on the bike as well.  Later that evening, I began to experience a sharp burning pain in my lower right leg, and twinges of sciatica down my right hip.  Lying in bed was painful, so I got up and slept in my recliner downstairs.  In the morning, it was still painful, and difficult to walk.  The pain persisted all day, and I prepared for another night in the chair, sleeping fitfully despite the pain.  But, by 3:00 am, it was obvious that I shouldn’t wait until the doctors offices and clinics opened on Monday to call for an appointment, so I called the 24-hour hotline and got directed to go to the ER in Olympia,  When we showed up at 5:00am, the lockdown rules kicked in: Judy wasn’t allowed inside, so she went home to await my call, and I tied on my home-made face mask, grabbed my cane, and limped in.  After a brief chat with the attending physician, I was wheeled out into the hallway to make room for incoming patients, then to the Ultrasound lab to check for blood clots, for which I had been hospitalized there six years before.  Not surprisingly, they found none, and I was wheeled back out in the hall, in the midst of EMTs lined up with their patients, all awaiting exam rooms.  Finally, I was given a prescription for a light dose of narcotic and a light dose of acetomeniphen, about 1/3 of what I normally took for arthritis, and sent out to wait for Judy to arrive.

Well, the pills did next to nothing, so by evening, I was back on my normal meds: Tylenol, which also did little to ease the pain. I spent another fitful night groaning in my recliner.  On Monday, I made a reservation to see my primary, physician, for a followup, which got scheduled for later in the week.  That visit went pretty much in the normal way: Judy was allowed to accompany me: the waiting room had half the chairs turned to the wall, to enforce distancing, and everyone was masked, including us.  Given a diagnosis of “probably sciatica,” I got a prescription for a muscle relaxant and advised to see my chiropractor and do some massage to relax painfully tight muscles in my lower leg.

The pain went on, the pills only lasted a couple of hours: the most effect was from taking my usual turmeric latte in the morning, which I’ve been using for arthritis for the last year or two.  The chiropractor said take turmeric two or three times a day if needed, worked on relieving the sciatica, but I was still concerned with the severe pain in my  lower leg, and sought yet another look by my primary.  By now, two weeks had gone by, with me unable to walk unaided.  A trip to the bathroom or attempt to lie down resulted in a prolonged period of severe pain, and some definite swelling in the right foot.  But, another adjustment helped with the hip and thigh pain, and the leg pain subsided some during the day, and I was able to sleep in my chair for more than 90 minutes at at time between pain attacks.  I’m thinking I did some muscle damage trying to accelerate a 500-bound bicycle in high gear, since the pain is centered on the muscle that pulls up when clipped into the pedals.  Monday, a second, or third, or fourth look.  Hopefully, I will be able to walk without a cane real soon, or stand long enough to cook and help around the house, and it would be a bonus to be able to ride the bike again.

Meanwhile, the news of the world was not good, either.  Yet another police brutality incident resulted in yet another needless death in an obviously racial-motivated act.  The country exploded.  During this period, battalions of police in riot gear were gassing, beating, and bombarding peaceful protesters, bystanders, and journalists alike with 40-mm rubber bullets, with no provocation other than assembling without a permit.  In the confusion, persons with lesser motives began looting and burning.  Minneapolis, Seattle, and other cities were on fire, and would-be protesters in Washington DC were gassed, shot, and beaten to clear the way for the President to pose holding a Bible in front of a church in an undeclared transition from a constitutional representative democracy to a nominally Christian police state.  In a flash, the Republic was over.  Locally, a small chunk of Seattle, a long-time counter-culture center, effectively seceded from the city, declaring itself an autonomous zone.  Civil War II is underway, whether anyone realizes it or not.  Or, rather, the flimsy truce of 1865 has gone from a 155-year-old Cold War to a full revolution, as the old state collapses in an unthinkable and willful abandonment of the Constitution that has survived for 232 years, even through the last fragmentation of the Union 160 years ago.  Over the weekend, vigilante armed militias gathered in Albuqueque, ostensibly to help the police put down insurrection, but ran afoul of law enforcement themselves when they started playing with the definitely lethal variety of bullets.  So it goes.

And, the pandemic surge is beginning to rise again, as the civil unrest and premature relaxation of quarantine rules takes effect to throw crowds together again.  Exhausted, we finally braved a trip out to order take-out at the local pizza place, only our second “dining out” experience since early March.  Since my infirmity, Judy has been to the grocery for the first time in three months, and has had to take walks on her own for the first time.  I haven’t been able to do much, but finally managed to wind warp to braid ties for another round of face masks, since we are getting out more, mostly for trips to medical facilities.  I sewed the first round of masks, and Judy sewed the next, so my contribution has been the ties, for which I finally studied and learned to use my marudai (Japanese braiding stand), which I bought for a workshop that has been canceled twice in as many years for natural disasters: snow and pandemic.

Another trip to the chiropractor on Friday brought a bit more relief, as well as doubling up on the turmeric, but still in the chair over the weekend.  Finally, on Sunday evening, after a late dose of turmeric, the ache subsided and I managed to sleep most of the night.  By the time I was ready to go to the clinic for my appointment, the pain and ache had dissipated, leaving just a twinge and a bit of weakness and limited range of motion.  So, no expensive radiological tests, no more “better living through chemistry,” just need to do stretching, i.e., get back to doing a regular yoga practice, neglected these three months of lockdown and isolation.  Looking forward to actually being able to lie down without spasms of pain, after 17 nights in my chair.  We’ll try some slow walking on flat ground to see how that goes, and maybe next week a spin around the airport on the bike.  Baby steps.  The only thing worse than getting old is not getting old.

Map of cellular outages on 6/15/2020.

Epilogue:  Our grandsons came by on Monday for a round of board games.  We’ve been getting together every few weeks, after periods of mutual quarantine, so it should be safe enough.  A while later, I got a frantic Facebook chat from our daughter-in-law: she had been trying to check to see if they arrived safely, but the phones were down.  We later found out that the cellular networks in the entire country were down most of the afternoon.  Might this be a test?  After all, you can’t live-stream the apocalypse if the cellular system is off-line.  Not too paranoid a concept after the horrific on-the-scene feeds from the protests against police violence that were met with–wait for it–more police violence, along with unmarked federal squads and unarmed national guardsmen who served only to shield the police from brick-throwing during protest demonstrations that mysteriously turned into riots, complete with looting and burning, and piles of bricks that turned up in an area with no visible construction projects.  We have, in the age of cries of “Fake News,” at last come to the end of truth.  What actually happened in the Plague Years in the third decade of the 21st century may never be known.  But, eventually, when the flames die down, the world will be rebuilt and start anew, the Twilight of the Gods again a myth, a fantasy tale retold symbolically in grand opera in some distant future, when crowds flock to the shores to celebrate life and marvel at the crumbling sunken cities of a lost age.

‘Rona masks

 

Quarantine Diaries — Chapter 6: Back to the Future

The biggest changes in society during this brave new world of social distancing involve three things that are novel to most people, but have been a way of life for us for a long time:  Bicycling, Working From Home, and the Meat Crisis.

With the difficulty of social isolation on public transit, the bicycle has had a resurgence of popularity for both recreation beyond walking distance and commuting to work, first for essential workers, and now for those returning to work or possibly finding new sources of work closer to home.  And, of course, the concept of working from home, common among self-employed persons before, but a rare and contentious activity for employees, is becoming a permanent fixture for all activities that were formerly done in rows of cubicles in an office building, using computers and telephones.

We’re retired now, so we don’t commute to work, but all of the above has been a way of life for much of our careers: for me, as a bicycle commuter since 1976, when possible, and for both of us with bicycling for recreation.  We’re also well-versed in working from home: for Judy, having her own craft business, and me, as both an employee and as an independent information technology consultant off and on over the last thirty years.  And, we’ve been on a meatless diet at home for at least 15 years, so that’s not an issue for us, either.

So, how does one cope with these new facets of daily living?

Bicycle commuting:

It’s important to have a sturdy bicycle, but not an expensive one, for commuting.  You most probably will need to leave the bicycle outside your workplace, so it shouldn’t be too attractive, and have a good lock.  Kryptonite makes some of the best locks: they are expensive, but so is replacing  your bicycle multiple times. Two locks is better than one, and should pass through both wheels and the frame, if possible, and attach to something at least as difficult as the bicycle or locks to cut through. Don’t leave anything on the bicycle that is easily removable without tools, or it will be removed by someone else.  If you are fortunate enough to have a place to store your bicycle inside, do so.  If you have a wire basket on your bike, simply wheel it in the store with you shopping, and use the basket for a shopping basket.  Shoppers are allowed to bring their own wheelchairs and electric carts in the store.  Your bicycle is your “mobility device” if someone questions it.  At the very least, if you can’t use your bike as a shopping basket, ask the store manager if you can leave it in the cart area, as long as it doesn’t block the store carts or mobility devices.  it is less likely to be tampered with or stolen if it is inside the store.  The risk of theft is probably the biggest argument for not using a bicycle for transportation.  If more people want to bicycle, it will become necessary for employers and businesses to provide secure parking spaces for bicycles.  When traveling by bicycle, we’ve sometimes had “valet parking” at hotels, so it wasn’t necessary to take the bicycle to the room.  Ask.

A commute of 3-5 miles should be easy enough for anyone starting out, as long as you don’t push hard and are in reasonable shape to walk a mile.  It’s a good idea to practice in the evening or on a weekend and scout out a safe route before joining the rush hour commute.  The first time I commuted to work on a bicycle, in 1976, I nearly fell down getting off the bike, my legs were so shaky.  But, by the end of the week, cycling five miles was a perfectly normal thing to do.  For a commute of this length, with a moderate pace, your street clothing or work clothing and a helmet should be sufficient.  If you use the commute as part of your cardio exercise routine or it is farther than 5 miles, consider getting specialized clothing meant for bicycling: jersey with rear pockets and a bit longer in back to cover your back when hunched over the handlebars, padded shorts or tights, and shoes made for bicycling, with a stiff sole over the pedal axle.  Fingerless cycling gloves and safety glasses/sunglasses complete the wardrobe, and add a lightweight rain jacket or cape if it rains often where you live.  Get fenders fitted on your bicycle, and white and red lights to replace or augment the reflectors that came with your bike.  Rechargeable LED lights are best.  Use them, even in daylight: bicycles are hard for drivers to spot in traffic, even if they are looking for them, which few are.  Carry at least a frame pump, tire spoons, and an patch kit, and learn how to patch a tire.  C02cartridges and an inflation tool are light-weight and convenient, but I’ve never used one.  A handlebar bag to carry your wallet and lunch is convenient, otherwise use your jersey pockets.  A water bottle in a cage on the frame is good for warm-weather commuting of more than five miles.  Most commuting is along the edge of roadways, where there is lots of debris, including metal scraps and glass.  Allow plenty of time to get to work.  With practice, one can repair a flat in 5 to 10 minutes, but it usually takes longer.  Overall, you may find that bicycling to work takes no more time, and maybe less time, than taking public transportation, for almost any length commute.  In my work years, my commute varied from a kilometer to nearly 30 kilometers.  The shortest commute took less than 4 minutes, the longest commute took between 65 and 90 minutes, depending on weather, season, and time of day.  In many cases, there was no public transit.  In other cases, bicycling saved as much as 45 minutes to an hour over taking available public transit, even for a short commute.

Working from home:

Set up a place in your house that is your “work place,” separate from where you sleep and eat, and preferably not where other family members will gather.  Avoid distractions.  It helps to “dress for work” to get into the proper attitude for work.  Keep regular work hours, even if you work on projects that don’t require time constraints.  One of the biggest problems with working from home is that you never leave work.  It helps if you can create an office space that you can close up when you are “off duty.”   Working from home usually requires a good computer system, high-speed Internet access, good telephone service, and a good printer/scanner.  Your employer may require you to use a Virtual Private Network to connect to the office computer network, for security reasons.  You should have a computer dedicated to work, to which no other family members have access, and answer the phone professionally during working hours.

When you work from home, if you use a laptop and cell phone, like most of us do these days, you can also work from other locations. You can take breaks during the day to run errands or engage in exercise programs, as long as you have the option to do so, and still get in the work hours and produce the results expected of your employer. You can use the time you would have spent commuting to start early or continue working late, take a long lunch hour, and still have evening time for your family or relaxation.

Our rather messy office for two. In our case, there is not just two computers, but four, plus several others that are “appliances,” without a direct monitor/keyboard attachment. Using a home office gives one a much broader choice of layout and decor than the “cubicle farm” modern office building.

In the early 1990s, I would take a portable computer, modem, printer, and fax machine for a week at a lake resort, get up early and work from 6:00 am to 2:00 pm (most of my clients were on the east coast, and I was on the west coast, so the times were convenient), then spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the resort amenities, for a working vacation.  There was no Internet or cell phones in those days, so everything was dial-up to company computers, land-line  phone calls, and FAX, but it was still possible to work remotely.  It is much easier today, and virtually seamless.  All you need is a laptop.  Internet access via WiFi is free at most hotels, and at libraries and coffee shops.  Depending on your service provider at  home, you may have Internet access via hot spot points throughout most cities and businesses, using your home Internet account credentials, or, for more secure access or when WiFi isn’t available, you can “tether” your smart phone to your laptop with the phone charging USB cord, or the WiFi hot-spot built into your phone, and use your cellular data plan, if your provider supports that feature.  As I told my clients when we moved from Montana to Washington State 10 years ago, “You know, that server room down the hall, that I seldom go into, where the systems I manage from my desk are located?  I can not go into that room from anywhere on the planet.”  I don’t need to be in the same building to do my job.  In my private practice, I manage and program web sites located on servers “somewhere else,” or, as we say these days, “in the cloud.” Everything is connected, from everywhere.  As the phone company ads used to say, in the quaint old roaring 1990s, “FAX from the beach?  You will…”  FAX is  pretty much dead, but you can browse the ‘Net, email, or upload your report from the beach or anywhere, as long as your batteries hold out.

The Meat Crisis

Another effect of the virus pandemic showcases a major problem with food production in America:  meat packing plants are sweatshops, with low-paid, overworked staff in crowded working conditions.  Many have been shut down or are in the midst of a major reorganization because of the high percentage of infections and death among the workforce.  Subsequently, meat prices have skyrocketed.  Or, so we’ve been told.  We haven’t visited the meat market or the fresh or frozen meat aisles in the supermarket for many years, and haven’t intentionally ordered meat dishes at restaurants for nearly as long.

Yes, you can live and thrive without bacon for breakfast, baloney sandwiches for lunch, and steak, chicken, pork chops, or hamburgers for supper.  To help break the habit, there are several look-alike substitutes available in the produce aisles:  seitan or soy sausages, textured vegetable protein “ground beef,” and meatless patties flavored and colored to look and taste like hamburgers or chicken.  And, for those vegans who eschew any animal products, dairy-free cheeses and yogurts, along with “milk” in the dairy case made from almonds, coconuts, soy, or oats.

Honey-sesame tofu, with brown rice, just like the restaurant, but manageable serving size.

But, we prefer to cook plant-based recipes from regions of the planet where meat is either scarce or avoided for religious reasons.   We’re not purists by any means: we continue to consume eggs, along with yogurt and cheese made from cow, sheep, and goat milk, wear leather shoes and belts, and aren’t particular about other byproducts of the food animal industry, since substitutes aren’t readily available.  And, of course, dairy products don’t involve killing living beings, though their living conditions are most certainly not ideal in the industrial food production system.  We know how to use tofu, aquafaba, chia, flax, and other egg substitutes used for binders, ground nuts and seeds as substitutes for cheese, and have tried plant-based cultured products. But, we live in a country where the dairy industry is subsidized, so cost is also a factor in the food budget that takes precedence over any objections we have to factory farming practice as applied to animal husbandry.  Even if prices rise significantly, there just aren’t enough of those substitute items in the supply pipeline for large numbers of the population to switch.  We’re even experiencing a shortage of beans, the universal hedge against food shortages overall, but, for us, a daily staple.  Should the meat crisis deepen, I’d suggest everyone check out the many world cuisines that provide flavorful dishes that don’t contain meat, and learn to cook them for at least a few meals a week.

Home-made pita, baked on a stone in a very hot oven.

The Quarantine Diaries — Chapter 5, “The New Normal”

Time marches on, and the Corona lockdown continues.  Some businesses are reopening, with restrictions, and “take-out” is the only way to get food you don’t cook at home.  Travel restrictions are still in force, but traffic is building.  The natives are restless.  The sometimes warmer weather brings people out into the streets and yards.  As the pandemic sweeps across the world, scammers are out in force: identity theft is rampant, especially in the unemployment assistance pipeline, with millions out of work.  It seems easier to get someone else’s unemployment entitlement than your own, in the confusion and enormous overload of the system.  Fraud abounds in fake relief agencies and charities.  We recently were contacted by a couple in Minnesota, who apparently thought they were giving a memorial in the name of a COVID-19 victim to a charity, which turned out to be a credit-card scam that used one of our email addresses as the support contact, in order to have a valid return address for a website that has surely disappeared by now.  Beware.

Early this month, we were contacted by another couple, bicycle tourists, who have been trapped in the U.S., staying with one of the other Warm Showers hosts in Shelton since early March, when the borders closed and the travel ban went into effect.  He’s from Spain, she’s from Argentina: they can’t travel to either country, because of “citizen only” entry rules in effect.  They were looking for another place to stay until travel restrictions are eased, hopefully in July.  Reluctantly, we had to turn them down, since we are in the “vulnerable” age group.  Even though we could take in a couple to become part of our “family” for a month or so, increasing the number of people in the household going out shopping increases the network of possible contacts, and we do break protocol every two weeks or so for grandkid visits.  The ‘Rona is turning us into people we don’t like very much.

Keeping with the spirit, if not the letter, of the “Stay at Home (but OK to go for walks in your neighborhood, with distancing)” orders,  we’ve been walking outside yet, exploring farther and farther from home.  It’s been a revelation, as we marvel over all the blooming things in peoples’ yards, and continue to trace out the many trails on the edge of town.  Having explored most of the off-road trails more than once, sometimes in both directions, and walked all of the streets in our 100-year-old Angleside subdivision and newer extensions, we’ve branched out into the Hilltop neighborhood to the southeast.  We also made some excursions into the downtown, following the now disused logging railroad from the entrance to the mill, along Goldsborough Creek, and to the crossing at Railroad Avenue, the main street of Shelton.

This week, we hiked up the newly-reconfigured Old Olympic Highway on the north canyon wall, looking for a trail shown on our map. We had seen the lower entrance last fall on one of our bicycle excursions at the base of the hill, on Franklin Ave., and were looking for the upper end, purportedly behind St. Edwards church.  Ignoring the prominent No Trespassing signs around the spacious church campus (whatever happened to the idea that churches were a place of refuge, open to all, in time of need?), we skirted the property boundary, looking for the trail.  Alas, it was blocked off with slash piles and overgrown, so we traversed across the top of the ridge on animal trails (the entrance to which was marked with a warning sign, faced outwards, as if deer could read), emerging back onto the upper street  a few hundred meters farther, through a vacant lot, heavily signed on the street side with dire warnings against criminal trespass.  Once again, we had managed to wander out of forbidden areas we had stumbled upon from the unguarded wilderness side.  At least this time, unlike one of our bicycle adventures on a dead-end trail along Semiahmoo Bay near the Canadian border several years ago, we didn’t have to climb over any fences to get out.  On return, rather than retrace our steps down the sidewalk, we took an old trail down the steep bank, ending up in a closed city park sports field, locked at all street entrances, which we had to escape through the city maintenance yard, through a gate marked “Authorized Personnel Only” on the other side.  Oops.  At least we had our COVID masks to shield us from face recognition on the surveillance cameras.

The weather turned cold and rainy for a while in the first half of the month, as it does here often, so we spent a few days puttering around the house, doing much of nothing.  I went on a baking splurge, turning out naan, pita, and banana bread in addition to our dutch oven artisan loaves.  We ordered a 25-lb bag of wheat through the farm stand, plus two different kinds of lentils.  The wheat arrived, but the lentils didn’t, which we might have expected, as the farms and distributors in eastern Washington and Montana were caught off-guard by the sudden demand for their products as meat-packing plants shut down across the country.

When we got the wheat home, it was in a bag, so I went rummaging in the basement storage room for a food bucket I knew we had.    When I went to pick it up, it was really heavy.  It was a full bucket of wheat we brought from Montana and never opened.  I found another bucket in the pantry: it was a quarter full of wheat.  So, I emptied that bucket into glass jars and put the new bag, unopened, into that bucket.  We have at least a year’s supply of wheat, possibly much more, with enough wheat for at least 150 loaves of half-whole-wheat mix, should the supply of white flour hold out.

Meanwhile, our daughter in New Mexico, responding to our lament about the scarcity of yeast and lentils, found a supply on-line and, when ordering for herself, also sent us 2 pounds of yeast, enough to leaven all our wheat supply with our usual recipe,  and four pounds each of chick peas and brown lentils.  I think we’re stocked for the rest of 2020, but reordered one of the lentil packages from the farm store anyway.

In addition to my weekly trip to Safeway for dairy and some staples, we’ve had a steady procession of UPS boxes of various sizes arriving every few days from Costco.  After having run out of a few items early in the Plague Years, we have learned to order early.  But, the New Normal is starting to catch up.  Items listed as available in the on-line catalogs are starting to arrive promptly, so we are suddenly flush with some long-term items.  Not hoarding, by any means, but the pantry is full.  Except for toilet paper, which is still in short supply and not available at all from Costco, our usual source.  We’re running out of the cheap, smaller rolls available occasionally at Safeway.  Disinfecting wipes, always a staple in our bathrooms, are also prominently featured among the missing items on the grocery shelves.

Fortunately, a 7:00 am run to the grocery this morning scored both items, along with clearance sales on a few other items we don’t need yet, but probably won’t be restocked.  Supply and demand is in rapid flux during this complete shift in The Way We’ve Always Done Things, not to mention that most people are running out of money and simply aren’t buying many things.  Our grocery budget has been huge, but should stabilize soon, as we shift from retirement to survival mode. Our April grocery bill was double the customary, but our dining-out bill went to zero, and it’s usually half of our food budget, so everything is balancing out, and may actually go down now that we’ve refilled the pantry with a two-month supply of most staple items.

We’ve worn a rut in the usual route in the remote county roads we visit on our bicycle, and on which we possibly come to the attention of those who disapprove of non-motorized vehicular transport and are easily offended by the sight of such vehicles manned by people arrayed in costumery seemingly ripped from the pages of Marvel Comics.  Accordingly, Spandex Man and Fluorescent Woman (who otherwise lead quiet lives as septuagenarian grandparents) have taken to hiding the White Knight–stealth transport for the Green Machine that inspires so many to road rage on sight–in the secluded restricted-use county park, and expanding our range.  As noted before, bicycling isn’t expressly forbidden in Washington State, but the trails and most parks remain closed.

So, instead of the usual group rides and club rides and clusters of riders on the trails, enthusiasts keep track of each other through various Facebook groups covering the exploits of older riders, tandem riders, tourists and bikepackers, folks who just like bicycles, and slowpokes.  One of our friends, a younger woman who lives a day’s bike ride west of us, with whom we’ve shared Warm Showers guests on successive nights over the last few years, saw one of our posts and planned to ride our route.  It happened to be on a day we were also planning a ride, so we made a date and met at the park, only the second time we’ve met in person.  We wore our masks while getting the bikes ready, and kept safe spacing on the road, but close enough to converse.  We took her on our usual 25-km figure-8 loop around the roads that follow Peterson, Dry Bed, and Rabbit Creeks around the southern foothills of the Olympic Mountains, after which she continued on to ride the longer 40-km loop down the Middle Fork Satsop River we took the week before.  Thus ended our first social outing since February.

Our weaving guilds have limited member contact to email and sharing photos of projects we’re working on.  We haven’t been weaving, and Judy has finished her last batch of art journals.  The journals sold instantly, but the outlet priced them so low that the proceeds barely covered the shipping cost and cost of printer ink, so she’s rethinking marketing strategy before embarking on another batch.  We actually don’t think the weaving guilds will be able to resume normal activities anytime soon, since the group meetings usually far exceed the new rules for occupancy limits for the final phase of lockdown, which will go into effect near the end of the year, if ever.  Judy is still going forward with planning for fall workshops, since those have limited attendance, but even those are in peril.  No one stepped up to volunteer to take over the chairmanship for workshops next fall, so she is saddled with the job for yet another year.  Her enthusiasm has waned beyond even wanting to continue participating.  We’ve enjoyed learning the skills and studying the lore and history of fiber, but end up spending more time in organizational management than practicing the arts.

The other organization to which we belong, Hypatia-In-The-Woods, which operates a retreat cottage for women in the arts, continues to be active, with board meetings via Zoom and email.  The retreat schedules have been canceled into mid-summer, but the cottage is being loaned out to a military family for their quarantine period on return from overseas assignment.  When the travel bans are partially lifted, the retreat schedule may have to be heavily modified.  In the Old Order, retreats of one to three weeks ran Sunday to Saturday, with Hypatia volunteers handling laundry, cleaning, and repairs on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.  Under the New Rules, the cottage would remain empty for a week between residents, with cleaning and repairs in mid-week.  Since the retreat schedules are usually a year in advance, this upsets the entire schedule.

In addition, the primary benefit to us, the members, is to have the residents present a public workshop or lecture on their work, usually at the library or county museum, and a potluck dinner and social evening with the membership during their stay.  With the libraries and museums closed and intimate social gatherings of unrelated people restricted, especially since most of us in Hypatia are over 60, some in their 80s, the whole house of cards collapses, though the primary goal of providing a residential retreat space for women in the arts remains.  The cottage shares a long driveway with another property, so we are in process of choreographing a socially-distanced work party to take care of our part of road maintenance in the next few weeks.

Goldsborough Creek, accessible here via a trail from our neighborhood, down through the woods. off Bayview Ave. between 13th and 14th Streets. that climbs steeply from here to 16th and Turner Ave.

Such is the strange new world, where social gatherings consist of shouting at each other across a road or moat, and purchasing transactions require a neutral space, where merchandise and money are exchanged in a carefully-choreographed dance, en masque.   What will the future bring?  One can envision the return of arranged marriages, where families negotiate the dowry by email and the newlyweds first meet on their wedding night, after saying goodbyes to their respective families at a ceremony conducted on Zoom.  We expect a revival of apprenticeships, where work-from-home jobs are passed from parent to child, and company towns: live-in factories, where the workers live in dormitories or company housing on the factory grounds and vacations include quarantine time on return.

This Memorial Day weekend, the population is being turned loose, with caution, and our county is scheduled to be one of the first to transition to Phase 2, limited retail and restaurant openings, soon. The tribal casinos have reopened, with limited facilities, to those addicted to gambling with their money and, now, their lives.  As for us, we’re into crowd avoidance for the long haul, waiting for the second wave, and perhaps the one after that.