Quarantine Diaries — Chapter 4

Sierra Pacific lumber mill on Oakland Bay, Shelton, WA.

Cinco de Mayo.  Today, the governor lifted some restrictions on commerce and travel. State parks are open for day use, except for the ones too close to Oregon, too tempting to border jumpers.  And, of course, the beach parks remain closed.  And, no camping, yet.

White dogwood and red rhododendron in our front yard, in late afternoon sun

The weather cleared, so we went for a walk today.  Traffic was almost back to normal, and many people were out in the streets or also walking or sitting on their porches.  The Stay At Home orders become difficult when the outdoors beckons.  It’s hard when you live in a small town with few cases, but we personally aren’t ready to expose ourselves just yet.  We’ve been hiking in the wooded trails surrounding our neighborhood, but have exhausted most of them, and the good weather brings our more users.  The flowering dogwoods and other flowering shrubs are in full bloom, the camellias are nearly done, and the rhododendrons are starting to bloom in earnest. so wandering the neighborhoods seems a better option.  We have often been gone on walk-about, bicycle touring or adventuring in other parts of the continent this time of year, so it is especially gratifying to be forced to enjoy the beauty of our own home town.

Pink dogwood above our driveway.

Last week, we ventured into a seldom-visited area south of Arcadia, and threaded through barricades on old roads closed years ago, back into our neighborhood.  This week, we ventured down the hill to the east.  First Street, which is Washington State Highway 3, was filled with cars as it was in the old days, and we joined clots of pedestrians waiting–at a respectful distance–for the traffic light to change.  We took a detour to avoid being in a queue up the hill.  We donned our quilt-fabric masks a couple of times meeting others headed down the hill.

At the first cross street, Fairmont, which follows Oakland Bay at the top of the high bank above the railroad toward Hammersley Inlet, we turned east until we reached the last street, then threaded our way through the east side of the Hilltop neighborhood, climbing to the summit before angling back across Hwy 3, past silent Bordeaux Elementary School, and back into our neighborhood again.  On the residential streets, we walk down the middle or shift sides to avoid other people, which is better than the busy sidewalks along high-traffic roads.

Grocery shopping remains a bizarre exercise.  We’ve departed a bit from the rigid schedule of last month.  I went on Thursday last week, and we held off a visit to the produce stand until Sunday.  Even though Safeway still observes Senior Shopping Hour, there are a number of younger, maskless folk wandering the wrong way up the aisles.  The rules may have relaxed a bit, or maybe because of fire rules, both entrances were open today.  Today, there was tofu, for the first time since this started, 50 days ago.  I picked up two of the four packages.  I forgot the coffee creamer, which we ran out of several days ago, and the yeast shelf was bare, as predicted by the hoarding reports, but I got everything else on the short list, and the berries were still on sale, so we have plenty of fresh fruit now.  I did get commercial oat milk, which can double as creamer, so we may be able to hold out more than a week before another trip.  I thought about more flour, since there were two 10-lb bags on the shelf, but we have plenty for now, especially with the low yeast supply.

A lot of our supplies are in the UPS pipeline, with dates, printer paper, and vitamins due tomorrow, along with lentils and wheat arriving at the produce market with their bi-weekly freight delivery.   Yesterday, the kids and grandkids came to visit.  It’s against the law, but it’s family.  We haven’t seen them for a month, and they need somewhere to go when their house cleaner comes every two weeks.  Judy baked cookies to send a few home with the boys.  I baked bread in the morning, and naan in the afternoon, but they didn’t stay long, just a visit on opposite sides of the room, so we have our bread supply for the week.  I have some yeast left, but, with the shortages, I’m reviewing good sourdough recipes.  It takes a week to get a good sponge that’s usable for baking, so I’ll have to start soon, and we need to order some more supplies soon, since everything takes two weeks, if available at all.

The other highlight of the day is mail.  There isn’t much, since many businesses are closed, so few ads and the few bills are just copies of on-line invoices and payments.  Yesterday, I went out, as the USPS email notification said there was mail on the way.  There wasn’t.  Our neighbor was waiting, expecting mail also, so we chatted, shouting across 25 meters of social distancing to be heard above the traffic, comparing notes on how we were getting by.  I hadn’t seen her probably since last summer.  Such is urban life in America.  The neighbors on the other side of her place, a young couple, jogged by on their morning run down to town and back up the hill.  I had seen her running, last week, but didn’t know where they lived.  We are a city of strangers, seeing each other for the first time, now that we are confined to our town and neighborhood.  They had mail.  The mail truck went by, headed for another neighborhood, calling out “no mail today” to the two of us, and we went our separate ways.

Last week, Judy’s new bike saddle arrived, so I installed it on our Bike Friday, with the old one destined to replace the saddle on our old tandem, now that we’ve gotten the frozen seat post broken loose so it can be set at the right height.  She had put up with the old saddle for decades, but, having gotten a good fit with modern saddles made for women, a new one is a necessity on the old bike. We  took a short test run, at the airport, instead of driving out to the county park, as the grid of streets and roads in the industrial park never gets far from the truck in case we needed to do more than minor adjustments.  The adjustments went fine, and we had a good ride, but riding circuits just to ride is not our idea of *real* fun.  Still, it was a bit surreal.  We ride at the airport in winter, so we can cut the ride short if it’s too cold, and see a lot of people walking, with or without dogs.  This time, there were a lot of cars just driving around, parking here or there, driving to another spot, etc., but nobody was getting out and walking, except workers from the industrial park on lunch break, with nowhere else to go..  It’s like people just have to get out to dispel cabin fever, but dare not go far, or just need a place to eat take-out lunch in the car.

Quarantine Diaries — Interlude 3.5, A Day in the Life

“Chaos Central,” our cottage at the “do not stop” sign (few actually come to a complete stop, so getting out of the driveway is always an adventure). We can barely see 100 meters up the street, either…

Yesterday, Sunday (yes, it was, the calendar said so, and there was no mail delivery).


The rain stopped, so after lunch, we went for a long walk, angling up through the neighborhood and into the woods, down to Goldsborough Creek, explore an old trail downstream that disappeared into the brush near a washout from the 2007 floods that changed the creek path. Continued on, climbing up to the viewpoint off the upper end of Turner (our street), then down Eaglewood to the power lines, follow the trail downhill to a cross trail, south to a faint trail back up to one of the trails we hike often, then down through the woods to Euclid, 10th, and through the community garden to 8th and home. People on the trails, kids playing in the streets. It’s becoming harder to isolate.

Judy opened a can of tuna (she’s vegetarian because I cook), and I put the last of our personal-size frozen pizzas in the toaster oven. Calculated our calorie gain from our 7-km hike, added some of the last of our frozen bagels tot the menu.

Started upgrading strata, my old laptop, to Ubuntu Linux 20.04, just released a few days ago. It ill take all night and into the morning. Over its lifetime, it’s been 11.10, 12.04, 14.04, and 18.04 versions, the latter on a new disk drive after I dropped it last fall. Last week, I had to take it apart and blow lint clumps out of the fan and heat exchanger. The screen has a few permanent burn-in images from being left on 24×7 for 9 years, and the fan rattles yet, but it still works.

Settling in for Sunday night TV watching, Judy hands me her laminating machine, jammed when she tried to laminate some dried flowers. I take it apart, removing the motor and one end cap to remove the guides so I can get a grip on the wad of plastic and flowers jammed in the rollers. It goes back together OK, but seems to be missing a spring on one end of the guides. I don’t find it.

In the morning, I mix up a batch of bread and put the bowl in the microwave (not turned on) to raise. Finishing the operating system upgrade involves answering questions about configurations, and the machine goes to work for another hour or two, while I unload the dishwasher and make breakfast and coffee. I didn’t see oat milk on the on-line order list at Costco, so I get out stick blender and a strainer and made my own from our oatmeal stash.  It’s thick, like cream, and pretty good, but a lot of work, and a cup of thick paste left over, which Judy baked into this week’s batch of chocolate-chip walnut cookies.

The dish drainer, a designer unit that looked nice, but has nooks and crannies that grow things, needs cleaned. I disassemble it, which needs a screwdriver, and clean it, using an old toothbrush for the hard-to-get-at crevices. The knife and flatware tray goes into the dishwasher.

Yet another bread, half whole wheat, half white this time, my standard dutch oven loaf. We eat a lot more bread since we’ve started baking our own.

Meanwhile, the computer has finished upgrading, reboots, and here we are, up and running. The timer goes off: time to prep the bread for second rise and preheat the oven and baking dish. The wet streets from overnight rain have started to dry, time to think about showering and dressing for the day so we can decide what to do after the bread comes out of the oven, in another hour and a half, when it will be lunchtime. We have a grocery shipment coming today, via UPS, which will arrive on our porch late this afternoon, and are making a list for the local grocery for tomorrow’s masked early morning outing.

The bread, lunch, taking out the compost, garbage, and checking the mail (must be late) take up the middle of the day, all done at once, everything timed.  , The surveillance video shows the mail came over lunch, so another trip to the mailbox to collect it.  looking over emails, and checking on the package delivery takes up another hour.  The package status says “Delivered.” The groceries are on the porch!

This week’s staples order from Costco. Not a lot in this huge box, padded with air pouches. We have two more orders in the pipeline, plus an order of wheat and lentils from the produce market.

Unpack and put away the groceries, some stored on shelves, others poured into storage containers, and then it’s time to start planning dinner.  We bought an eggplant at the produce market, so it gets cubed and spread on a baking sheet.  Rice goes in the pot, and the new package I bought last week gets opened and goes in the canister.  Cans of garbanzos, tomatoes, and coconut milk come out.  The latter two are the last in the pantry, so the Tuesday grocery list gets filled in, and more, after a quick check of the refrigerator status.

Eggplant coconut garbanzo curry and rice, ready to go in the refrigerator for “take out” later this week.

The nearest Indian restaurants are in Lacey, 50 km away: it’s good to make these things at home.  A huge mound of ground spices go in the wok, along with onions and ginger, then the roasted eggplant and garlic and the contents of the cans.  Everything comes out on time, divided into plates and storage containers:  this afternoon’s cooking will feed us two more times this week.  We miss having bicycle tourists stop by: kept us from eating leftovers.  But, the lockdown, social distancing, and border closings have killed bicycle tourism for the season.

Supper done, bring up YouTube, watch a news video, a short documentary, and several bicycling videos, and we’re well into another evening, having spend the day “taking care of business” around the house, venturing no farther than between the compost pile in the back yard and the mailbox.

The Quarantine Diaries – Chapter 3

It’s been over a month since The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI). The New Normal is becoming a strange and odd journey into a world much different from the one we planned for at the beginning of the year. All of our social and organizational gatherings, workshops, seminars, practices, etc. have disappeared. The committees and boards of non-profits on which we serve have devolved to keeping touch by Zoom or email, with planning confined to pushing off dates for any events and activities to next year.

Our governor has extended the “shelter in place” order and business closures through Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you), and just announced plans for a carefully staged and gradual lifting of the stay-at-home order, opening some businesses a few at a time. Federal health officials are not so optimistic. The Federal government in general is in a flat spin, descending into chaos. The news is neither enlightening nor uplifting.

In our personal life, we’ve fallen into a routine. Both of us go to the produce stand once a week for fresh fruit and vegetables. Last week, we discovered they sell coffee beans from a microroaster, so we picked up a bag. The week before, we mail-ordered a bag of coffee from a Seattle company we get our espresso equipment and parts from, which turned out to be very expensive and a lighter roast than we expected. After going a week on instant coffee and Keurig pods, we now have an abundance of whole-bean coffee, in the darker roasts we enjoy, picking up another kilo on sale at the supermarket.

On Tuesdays, I go to the Safeway at 7:00am for Senior Shopping Hour. Since my last blog, where I lamented the lack of one-way aisles to reduce the chance of being blocked in by other shoppers, the store has made the narrower aisles one-way, which many shoppers, unused to or uncomfortable with change, ignore. Nevertheless, the early hour means fewer shoppers, so the 6-foot marks across the front of the store for metering the waiting line for entrance go unused. Our grocery list is simple and sparse: dairy products, paper products (when in stock), and any fruit and vegetables that were in short supply at the produce stand. After pointless arguments with the robot checkouts, and sharp admonition from the human ones, I’ve given up using our frequently laundered cloth bags, just overloading the plastic store bags and repacking at the car. Things we miss on the list or that are out of stock at the one store we patronize, we do without until the next week.

Our on-line orders have started to trickle in. Shipping times are a bit longer, so ordering early is necessary. Many items on-line are out-of-stock, so there is an urge to order early, but not in quantity or too early so as not to be thought of as hoarding. The list is growing.

Meanwhile, life goes on with some degree of normalcy. Judy continues to work on creating beautiful art journals, documented in her blog {here}. Her first shipment of three rather elaborate ones to a dealer in Tennessee sold within minutes, but the prices are low, so the income barely covered the cost of postage and materials. A second, and perhaps final (at least to this vendor), shipment went off last week. We shipped the previous batch by buying a shipping label on-line and dropping the package, but Judy went into the post office this time to see if there was a cheaper option (there wasn’t). Since our last visit, the USPS has installed shields above the counters to prevent exchange of droplets, spray, etc between postal workers and customers.

Designer mask from our quilt fabric stash. I’ve since trimmed the beard to fit under the mask… It’s fitting that the print depicts the life support system for getting outside on a small planet, long ago and far away, on the device now necessary on our own planet.

I did sew us each a cloth mask, two layers of quilt-grade fabric, pleated to fit, with a pocket for a nosepiece of rolled foil or craft pipe cleaners. Surprisingly, quilt fabric has the highest rating of any of the home-made options. The pattern came from Johns Hopkins University. Mine has long ties, Judy put elastic ear loops on hers. After each use, we pop them in the microwave in a zip-lock sandwich bag with a few drops of water as a make-shift autoclave. Everyone is supposed to wear some sort of face cover in public, but not everyone does.

Hiking the trails along the grid lines of streets the city never grew into, in the southeast corner of town.

The spring weather and uncharacteristically dry April get us outdoors almost every day. We’ve alternated walks around the neighborhood with short bike rides in the countryside. In the neighborhood, we get a good workout, with the steep hills around us. As the weather warms, more and more children (and a few adults) are out and about in the streets, so we’ve been exploring the many trails interconnecting the neighborhoods through the woods and down along the creek. The ones at the edge of town seem relatively free of homeless camps, but seem well-used, but, for now, not overly so. The most recent ones we’ve explored are heavily used by motorcyclists, but might be suitable for mountain biking, though too rough for our tandems.

Our “social distancing” also involves riding to the ends of the county roads that lead into the mountains.. 47.285350, -123.423979.

The on-line bicycle forums have had discussions about safe riding in the age of social distancing. Based on that, we have avoided the established bike trails near the city, as they tend to be heavily used. Riding in remote rural areas has some disadvantages, too. We normally like to ride a loop of 15 to 30 km, but, since we don’t have anyone local to call if we run in to mechanical trouble we can’t fix, and feel obligated to refuse the kindness of strangers, we have planned our last few rides to not get more than 8-10 km from the truck, so we could walk back in reasonable time. By April 15th, we had managed to bring the year-to-date mileage up to 100 miles, a bit at a time, and another 15 miles since, now having used up all the side roads accessible from our base across the road from the Matlock Post Office.

Realizing the economic shutdown and continued spread of the virus may extend the current crisis into full-blown societal disaster, we’ve begun to think about maintaining our food reserves while using from our current stored reserves. With the shutdown of food-processing facilities across the country, the next wave of shortages will not be due to hoarding or incompatible supply lines (i.e., between the surge in home cooking and virtual stoppage of restaurant and institutional consumption), but from simply lack of supply altogether. Public utilities: power, water, sewer, etc., continue to function, but depend on keeping the expert staff healthy and on-line. Preparing for When The S**t Hits The Fan (WTSHTF) as a consequence of TEOTWAWKI is necessary as well as adapting to the semi-permanent temporary measures. I decided to experiment with building a wood stove on the patio for when the natural gas supplies run out. We still have a perfectly good backpacking water filter, so, if we can capture water when the rains come, as they always do in this part of the world, we can have drinkable water.

Staging a mock tutorial on “defensive social distancing” on April 1.

As for weaponry, all we have are a few ornamental or prop swords and the knowledge to craft a quarterstaff, plus a pair of trekking poles that have come in handy for exploring the steep trails that wander through the greenways around our neighborhood. Then again, we have little that would be valuable to looters, having gotten caught unaware at the start of the hoarding frenzy, but those who would loot are unpredictable, so some sort of “why don’t you rob someone else” stick—pointy, sharp, or just long and solid—is a desirable accoutrement to the survival / “bugout” kit. After all, such a device is strictly defensive, being unable to commit violence at a distance, like the firearms that are so beloved by the more “conservative” members of society. Should more distance be required, renewable resources such as slings, atlatl, or javelins are more sustainable in a prolonged gap in civilization.

So, why a discussion that sounds like an outline for a wasteland movie? Well, the federal government is busy placing blame and making threats instead of proposing and gearing up for a unified plan to keep the nation safe and the economy working through the pandemic, a recipe for anarchy and dissolution of the nation as a functional entity. This is precisely the scenario by which the Second Amendees base their need for insane amounts of lethal weaponry—to survive an attempt by the state to try to make them do something they don’t want to do, namely, work for the common good instead of looking out for number one. As elderly citizens, we’re not good candidates for forced labor camps, and as educated citizens, we have too many inconvenient opinions about what constitutes a reasonable course of action, to be allowed to live when the barbarians are at the gate. In lieu of Earth Day celebrations, we saw mobs of armed and angry citizens storming various state capitals, asserting the right to die at work with the virus as an alternative to dying of starvation huddled in their homes. No shots fired, yet, but we expect spikes in Plague in those locales.

At the time Chapter 2 of this saga was published, there were about 100,000 confirmed cases across the United States, ramped up over about a two-month period since the first case was identified. A mere two weeks later, there were over 300,000. The “shelter in place” orders, business closings, and enforcement have varied widely from state to state, with no overall federal plan, so it will be difficult to tell if the application has been effective, over the next few weeks, as resistance to the closures grows across the country, even in the areas most affected by the rapid advance of the pandemic.

The resentment is fueled by the complete breakdown in the safety nets put in place to handle the usual one-or-two point variation in the unemployment rolls, as tens of millions of workers are either dismissed or furloughed without pay, and no support readily forthcoming. The much ballyhooed stimulus package of $1200 per tax-paying adult and $500 for dependent children has basically benefited those who don’t need it: families who file tax returns with direct-deposit banking generally are in better financial health than those who mail checks or receive paper checks for refunds, or who didn’t make enough to file last year. Meanwhile, desperately needed medical supplies go wanting, with tens of thousands of craftspersons raiding their fabric stashes and sewing makeshift face covers for personal use and to donate to medical facilities to extend the life of scarce medical-grade face mask. Vague orders issued by the White House appear to have encouraged (rather than ordered) industry to tool up to make masks and ventilators, with no apparent supply lines or specifications in evidence.

There is no “return to normal:” that bridge has been crossed, burned, and the abutments dynamited. What comes after will be a transformed society, even more changed than after 9/11/2001, which mainly affected travel procedures and the families and associates of the thousands who died and whose businesses were destroyed in the twin towers and surrounding buildings. The pandemic touches every aspect of living in America and in every other country that also failed to act quickly to stem the medical and economic burdens the pandemic imposed. Critical infrastructure has failed, safety nets have failed, changes will need to be made that have been obviously needed, but purposefully ignored for decades, in the name of profit and power. Cover-up and obstruction will not be tolerated, and obstinance on the part of government will be met with revolution.

Yet another end-of-the-road turnaround, on Homer Adams Road, Deckerville. Beyond the end of the road is a large bog, a common feature in the forests around the Olympic Peninsula.

On our last bicycle outing, as we were getting ready to head out on our loop, a local pickup truck driver yelled at us, in passing, “Go back to Europe, foreign bi***es!” We’re used to bicycle-haters, but this is the first time we’ve been accused of being alien invaders, in our spandex tights, helmets, and strange vehicle with no visible means of propulsion. We’ve become, in the age of heightened xenophobia, a UCO, or “Unidentified Cycling Object,” and a possible threat to The American Way, along with anyone else who can be classified as the “other,” meaning “not like us” in appearance, dress, or behavior.  Dangerous times are ahead.

So it goes, with the world lurching toward the next “re-opening” date, which is rapidly slipping into summer. Events scheduled for July and beyond are beginning to be canceled, or, hopefully, postponed to “same time, same place, next year.” Social order, tenuous at best in recent years, is breaking down. We’re starting to plan ahead to replenish our emergency stores, with longer and longer supply lines and possibly requiring alternatives for what will never come back. With the closure of most of the country’s pork production, we face increased competition for our normal vegetarian staples of beans and rice, and we may need to learn to compete with the birds, deer, and squirrels for the apples, plums, grapes, nuts, and blackberries that grow in our yard.

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.

The Quarantine Diaries, Phase I

Taking a mid-ride break at Truman Glick County Park, Matlock, WA

Life under the “Shelter In Place” quasi-quarantine in the pandemic of 2020 is not much different than “Real Life” for us. Having had home businesses over the last 10 to 20 years, we’re well-equipped to keep busy without leaving the house. We’ve settled in to our hobbies, Judy working on her art journals and me, well, mostly surfing the web, communicating on various forums, working on software and web sites, editing video from our bicycle outings, cooking, and a bit of cleaning now and then. And we have gotten out on our bicycle twice since the “Troubles” arrived at our doorstep. The only thing changed is we don’t see other people, except for rare forays out for food and necessities, armed with a short list to get in and out quickly. We are more fortunate than most people, because, as retirees, we have a guaranteed subsistence income, for at least as long as the government remains solvent and functioning. Our retirement savings are in free-fall with the market crashing, but we typically use those funds for travel, which isn’t happening for the foreseeable future. Also, because we are moderately active seniors, with no chronic diseases, we don’t fall into the compromised health conditions which make many people in our age group less likely to survive the pandemic.

The 2019-nCov/SARS-CoV-2 virus (AKA COVID-19, AKA Coronavirus) now sweeping the globe caught us more or less unawares. A few weeks ago, we heard of the outbreak in China, then an inexplicable outbreak at a convalescent home in Kirkland, WA., 200 km away, which we followed with interest, as we had visited a friend there four years ago when she was recovering from a life-threatening diabetic issue. Then, cases started popping up in communities near Kirkland. Containment appeared to be uncertain, yet, here in the South Sound, life and business continued as usual—for a while.

Monday, March 9, Judy had an appointment for a regular 2-year screening, so we blissfully headed to the clinic in Olympia. We were greeted at the door by a staff person handing out masks to people who declared a fever or cough. We, being healthy, declined. The hallway to the imaging department passes by the overflow waiting area for the Urgent Care clinic, which is always cause for concern. Seated in the waiting area for Judy to be tested, I began to question the wisdom of both of us going into the center, while only one needed to be seen.

In the next few days, the contagion spread, with cases appearing in isolated areas, including in counties adjacent to our remote one, tucked up in the forests and bays between the Olympic National Park and Puget Sound. The contagion spread among people who, like the patients at the Kirkland facility, had not traveled to China: the news reported that the incubation period before visible illness was long enough for people to spread the virus to many. And, it was also obvious that, unlike other zoonotic viral diseases, COVID-19 spread easily person-to-person, rather than animal reservoir to human. Nevertheless, on Tuesday, March 10, we went to yoga class at the Senior Center. The room is large enough for 2-meter spacing of mats, so we thought it would be OK. We even went out to dinner one day last week, though at a restaurant that is mostly take-out, with few eat-in customers. We may order from them as the nationwide isolation continues, if they continue to remain open.

On Wednesday, March 11, we delivered a refurbished bicycle to the current Holly House resident, an artist from Tucson, AZ. We’re on the board of Hypatia-in-the-Woods, a non-profit that maintains a cottage retreat for women in the arts, and help maintain the facility as well as meeting with the artists during their stay and keeping the web site up to date. We also had our 11-year-old grandson for the day, during parent-teacher conferences while our work-at-home son was on a business trip out of state and our daughter-in-law was busy with the final days of the state legislative session. We went for a walk, to Dairy Queen, and to the Senior Center thrift shop to look for craft items. There was talk of self-quarantine for people who might have been exposed. Since the spread of the disease seemed imminent, and children and travelers seemed to be carriers, we elected to start a self-imposed semi-quarantine, i.e., limit our social interactions to close associates.

On Thursday, we met with other members of our programs and workshops committee for the Olympia Weavers Guild at an Olympia Fire Station to reserve a meeting room for an upcoming workshop in late March, only to be told that, minutes earlier, they had been directed to not make new reservations, due to the growing move to limit social contact to slow the spread of the disease. The next day’s scheduled guild meeting in Tacoma had already been cancelled, and the cascade of cancellations was just beginning.

Over the next week, normal life came to a crashing end: A granddaughter, on vacation in Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, caught one of the last, nearly empty flights home to El Paso, after the bars and restaurants closed and before Midway Airport closed because of staff illnesses. She is in self-quarantine at home, as a precaution, since she works in a home-health agency. Meanwhile, the pandemic has arrived in El Paso. In all the organizations to which we belong: Tacoma Weavers Guild, Olympia Weavers Guild, Friends of the Shelton Library, Mason County Senior Activities Association, and Hypatia-in-the-Woods, a flurry of communication among the boards started canceling the rest of March scheduled events, then extended to April cancellations, then indefinite closures. Public libraries and community meeting rooms closed. Schools closed. We made a quick run to a local open-air produce stand to get fruit and vegetables, where customers tend to arrive one at a time. Word of hoarding of household supplies, particularly paper products, kept us from even trying to replenish our dwindling supples, going into rationing mode. We decided only one of us need shop at a time, and I made a quick trip to the grocery for dairy products, visiting only the one aisle and using the self-checkout, to reduce close contact with others.

The weather cleared on Sunday, the 15th. And we went for a walk in our neighborhood, which has become a sort of springtime ritual with us in the ten years we’ve lived here. We walked down the middle of the streets (there are no sidewalks), up the steep hills to the summit at the water standpipe and the last street,16th. We saw a few people, who waved from their yards, and spoke with a woman at the community garden, from a distance.

On Monday, we got half a tank of fuel for the truck and headed to the west end of the county to ride our bicycle, on a paved loop from the tiny settlement of Matlock (C-store, post office, and Grange Hall) north into the foothills of the Olympic Mountains. Meanwhile, the governor directed everyone over 60 to “shelter in place,” i.e., stay at home, don’t go out, get delivery, etc. This is not practical, of course, so we decided our “shelter place” is on our tandem bicycle, on empty roads. We went out again on Thursday, same place, different course. This time, we visited the still-closed Truman Glick County Park, with permission from the caretaker, with whom we spoke at a careful distance.

Life will not be the same. The pandemic is sweeping across the country, exponentially: it hasn’t yet been two weeks since the first of us decided we would all need to quarantine for at least two weeks after random proximity to groups of people. Quarantine can’t practically be complete. We still have a lot of stored food supplies, but not enough variety to assemble balanced meals over time, so we will still need to venture out for perishables and staples we run out of. To support the state ban on social interaction by senior citizens, the local grocery is reserving two two-hour time slots a week as a respite from the Elder Ban, as we call it, alternating with labeling it “house arrest.” We had a brief scare coming home from our bike ride when a sheriff’s car behind us pulled our van over just outside town. But, it turned out he was just signaling to let another police vehicle pass, on its way to a call, and he pulled around us and continued on. The “Elder Ban” is not put in place to protect us older citizens, but to protect inadequate medical facilities from being overwhelmed by patients most at risk for dying from the disease. In some parts of the world, bicycling has been banned on the premise that bicycle crashes are common enough to overwhelm the medical facilities.

In less than two weeks, we have gone from “normal” life with scheduled activities and travel plans to nearly virtual shutdown. All our activities have been canceled at least through May, libraries and dine-in eating establishments shuttered, schools closed, and travel ground to a halt. Early on, we canceled a planned vacation that was to have started on March 22, and the resorts have all shut down by now, anyway. We have no illusions that these drastic actions will stop the pandemic, The social isolation practices will merely slow it, so that when we do get sick, and we will, that the medical facilities will have the equipment necessary to keep the staff safe and provide adequate treatment to those mostly likely to survive.

Meanwhile, we will continue to maintain contact with our social circles and organizations by email, Facebook, and other electronic media. We will continue to ride our bicycle, on isolated country roads. We had a list of cycling events scheduled this summer in which we were thinking of participating. We’ve participated in those before, and put up with the crowds more than socializing, riding on our own rather than groups, so we may just take the route maps and ride the routes at some random time, and hope that too many others didn’t have the same idea. We have our van outfitted for camping. Unfortunately, we don’t have self-contained sanitary facilities, so will need to take precautions when using public facilities, if indeed the established campgrounds remain open through this crisis. Or, we could opt to revert to the bucket of wood shavings and peat moss we used at the Montana cabin as a litter box for people. Difficult problems require creative solutions.

Grant Goplen

It’s been over 100 years since the last major pandemic that touched the lives of most of the country. My grandfather, Grant Goplen, a young potato farmer in sparsely-populated northern Minnesota, died in the 1918 pandemic, but my grandmother, mother, and two uncles survived, their lives changed forever. My grandmother moved away, remarried, had another son and daughter, and lost her second husband to an infection that would be treatable today. She raised her five children alone during the Great Depression, running a boarding house for railway workers. Her children grew up: one son became a successful corporate businessman, two started their own construction company, and my aunt became a nurse and served during World War II. My mother, the middle child, became a housewife, marrying her oldest brother’s best friend, a young man from another single-parent family that survived the pandemic but fell apart on the eve of the Great Depression for much the same reasons families fall apart in good times and bad.

Life will go on. Some of us will die, but the rest will adapt, and many will prosper. The pandemic of 1918 spread throughout the world because of the new mobility of steamships and world war that put populations in motion with soldiers and refugees, and touched everywhere despite the relative isolation of small towns. The pandemic of 2020 has the potential to be much worse because of the mobility of automobiles, jet planes, the much higher population density, and the length of the invisible infectious period. And, with the pressure of climate change coupled with population density, new viruses evolve rapidly, so this is only the worst so far of multiple waves of pandemics that have come and will come.

Economies will crash, governments will falter, maps will change. Fortunes will be lost, fortunes will be gained. Famine, war, and anarchy will follow the worst. And, through it all, climate change will continue, even if the fossil fuel economy crashes. Forest fires will continue. Survivors will heat and cook with wood or coal, once again. Processes started will continue unabated with no means for mitigation: glaciers and permafrost will melt, raising sea levels and pumping even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. One thing is certain: nature is forcing humanity to change in ways we were unwilling to do when we felt we were invincible masters of the universe.


Coda:

It is now Tuesday, 24 March, 2020. We’ve been mostly in the house, with a few forays out to walk to the top of our hill and back. The produce market is still open, and I went to the grocery this morning during the assigned Senior Shopping Hour. It was a bit more crowded than I would have preferred, but edging around others and not getting face-to-face with anyone seemed to work. I wore an exam glove on one hand to push the cart, open freezer doors, and operate the self-service checkout screen. Since it was mostly other old people, I didn’t have any competition for the self-checkout. I’d used it last week, but this was the first time to use it with loose produce that had to be weighed or counted, and I figured out why kinds of motions made the robot happy: don’t put your reusable bags in the bagging area until after scanning the first item, etc.

Our grandsons from Olympia needed to be out of their house when their house cleaner came yesterday, and both parents still need to be away from home for work, so we got the grandparent duty. Fortunately, they can drive themselves now, so they just showed up for the afternoon, and left when it was time to go home. It seems like yesterday we had car seats and booster seats for when we had to pick them up. There’s no school for them, of course. The younger one (11) has some on-line learning, and likes to do paper and bead crafts with Granny when he’s here, but the high-schooler (the driver, 16) is on his own, spending a lot of time in Multi-User Online Gaming with his friends. Goodbyes were awkward with the “no-hugging” policy, but Granny couldn’t resist a no-skin hug. Does this reset our 14-day isolation?

Dutch-oven bread, baked in very hot oven.

This week is rainy, limiting our opportunity for outings. We’ve ordered a few things on-line for parcel delivery, but toilet paper is completely out of stock, despite quotas at the wholesale club. I’ve been baking bread, and we have a good supply of flour, but the store shelves are empty of flour. The two trips I’ve made to the grocery since the lockdown started have been direct, pick up what’s on the list, and check out, as quickly as possible, so I don’t know how the other supplies are holding up. Produce is plentiful, and we buy other items locally that we would normally get at the wholesale club, to avoid trips to the city.

In addition to ordering things online for which we would normally go to the store, we boxed, weighed, measured, and purchased and printed shipping labels for a set of journals Judy needed to send to a vendor in Tennessee, and dropped it on the counter in the post office, avoiding the six-foot spacing marks in the line and face-to-face time with the clerks. We’re doing what we can to reduce the number of bullets in the chamber in the Coronavirus Roulette game. Anecdotal evidence suggests that most of the infections spread through random close encounters. Minimizing those encounters is a strategy to slow the spread of the pandemic until the medical supplies can catch up with demand. Eventually, continued exposure, no matter how brief or infrequent, will put a viral bullet under the hammer.

The social obligations in this brave new world are sorting themselves out. Email has been a staple, but some of the organizations in which we are on the board or in small special-interest groups are talking about video conferencing, so we’ve installed Zoom on all our devices in preparation, and I’ve revived my dormant Skype account for one-on-one alternative to Apple Facetime, which we also haven’t used since Judy’s brother-in-law died last year. Yet another way life will change. But, we’re ready for that.  We have the technology.

Musings on Unix, Bicycling, Quilting, Weaving, Old Houses, and other diversions

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