Tuesday, April 14, 2020

In a Time of Virus: Within Our Four Walls

From October of 2017 to August of 2019, I worked from home for, technically, Northwestern University in Chicago.  Really I was working for a larger open source software coalition 50%, and for a sub-group of that coalition 50%.  It was a weird and cool job, and I will always look back on it fondly.

But it also meant I got used to the rhythms of working from home long before all this mess started.  Waking up, showering and having a ten second commute is not uncharted territory.  But, man, the days of just sitting in the same chair all day can get to be a bit much.  Especially as it's all-screens all day, tied to video conferencing with colleagues.

Since getting sent home, I have not been getting up early to walk the dog, as my preference is to do it to unwind after work if I've been sitting in my chair all day.  Scout is an easy walker, and doesn't pull toward other dogs.  She just wants to stay within 4 feet of me as we go about our business.  We talk to neighbors from about 15-20 feet away.  Sometimes I linger, sometimes I keep on going after waving hello.

So the routine is basically to get up, make coffee, take a shower and shave, get dressed and get seated well before my pre-9:00 managers meeting.  But, as I think I've mentioned, work is crazy.  We keep getting hit left and right with new ideas they want implemented as soon as they think of them.  They're well-intentioned, but it's tough to say "this will obviously work out as envisioned" when we're making semi-educated guesses regarding how the next six to eighteen months will go.  My team isn't used to working from home and that's been a challenge.

It's meant, until this weekend, I've done a lot of work on Saturday and/ or Sunday.  Even last week when I did less work, I lost 4 hours to getting my hardware from my work office and setting things up at home.  But this weekend, I didn't do any of it.  I needed to... not be doing that for a bit.

We've kept up with family and friends via Zoom meetings.  It's amazing and I'm thankful for it, but there's also a part of me that wants to *not* spend hours more looking at a screen.  Or, to be frank, rehashing the same stuff with a new face or faces.  But it's much, much more important to check in with people than to give in to the feeling of "man, another video conference? I've been doing that all day..."  Because, honestly, once you see non-work people, it's totally different.

With a month under our belts, Jamie and I have settled in.  The anxiety of the first few weeks has subsided.  Weekdays look very much how they did during the Northwestern tenure.  Jamie's dialysis schedule continues unabated, and while it is absolutely the weak point in our lockdown armor, it is a place run by medical professionals that always had to worry about sterilization and which stepped up procedures over the past four weeks.  Of course I worry about it, but (a) there's nothing to be done about Jamie's need for treatment and (b) Jamie takes her own set of extra precautions and worked out a routine for maximum safety.  Still, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning I come and get the report from her as to how it was *today*.  A lot of her fellow patients just aren't living in situations where they control their world the same way we can and do.

Here's the thing:  Jamie has had considerable health issues since she was 17.  I've only ever known Jamie as someone who had different needs, and as we rapidly approach our 20th wedding anniversary and milestone of 25 years of couple-hood, we've had a different lifestyle from many folks.  In the best of circumstances, we don't get out as much as many people are wont to do.  I wouldn't say we shelter in place, but we don't spend our weekends traipsing around the countryside or our evenings exploring every last opportunity in Austin.  Of course we like seeing people and getting together, but we also are used to a pretty house-bound world.  The current situation isn't nothing for us, and it's been an adjustment, but day-to-day, it's maybe less of an adjustment for us than others.

That said - The food issue has been... worrisome.  I haven't been in a store since March 14th.  Our local grocery chain had apparently been gaming this out for months, and is doing the best they can.  But there's definitely some weirdness.  When you place your order, it's really a guessing game as to what will be in your order between substitutions and blank spots.  Coffee has been a bear to get, so I've been ordering mine online via Amazon.  But cleaning supplies rarely show up, or you get some iffy off-brand.  I have no idea what got swapped out, but my last pick-up included two cans of garbanzo beans, and I ate one today for lunch.  They're really, really weird on their own.

The pick-up is odd-ball, too.  Someone comes to the passenger window, collects your name, and then runs back into the store.  They return, pop your trunk and drop off the groceries and off you go.  I'm always thanking them, but we don't keep cash on hand for tips, partially because *getting* cash is a multi-step process fraught with potential for touching things we do not want to touch (like ATM buttons and cash).  And there's no such thing as change, so unless you really want to tip $20 on a grocery tab, which maybe I should...

But, yeah, I've tried to make up the difference on items via Amazon, which meant a dozen small deliveries to the house over the past two weeks, from kitchen sponges to pretzels. It's all non-perishable of course.  It's all stuff that, as we're being told to do, sits in the garage for about 3.5 days before I'll bring it into the house or open the box in the garage and bring the items in.  I've screwed up a few orders, and so, for example, 4 full bottles of Palmolive dishwasher detergent showed up in a box.  So...  we're good on that for a bit.  I do not regret the massive bottle of Skippy peanut butter.

When we do get the pick-ups from HEB, there's a whole procedure we do that is not universally recommended, but I basically have to wipe down everything coming in with disinfectant (I'm using 409) that *can* be wiped down, and then letting it sit on the dining room table, which is my personal cupboard.  Jamie moves some stuff to the pantry eventually.  Fresh fruit and vegetables get hand washed with dish detergent (Dawn leaves no noticeable after taste which is good but also worrisome?).  So, each apple gets a tremendous amount of attention before drying and being put in the fridge.  It's a lot of time, but so is being sick.

Like a lot of kids of my generation, I grew up on less than fresh food.  My house grew up on frozen and in high school I found canned, which sustained me til I moved in with Jamie and we started trying to eat less salt/ better.  The past twenty years it's become a point of bourgeois pride to eat fresh, but, man.  Any port in a storm, so I'm fine with that can of garbanzo beans and baked beans every other dinner.  We have items in the freezer, but I'm honestly hanging on to the frozen stuff just in case things get weird for food for a week or so.  Which... you know, a definite possibility.*  The current administration is just dumb enough to go hard at farms right now which - hey, friends - are largely staffed by, at best, semi-legal labor (and I did hear the fed gov is looking to do some damage to the guest worker program RIGHT NOW, which makes zero sense).  Also - if the labor starts getting sick...

Also, the price of beef is going up steadily.  Articles are appearing about eggs and milk just getting thrown out (which makes no sense), and pork factories shut down as employees pass around COVID-19.

We don't have kids, which folks constantly tell us sounds great, and I kind of just smile and nod (this topic is outside the scope of this conversation), but for once... man.  Looks like choice and fate brought us to lockdown with a minimum of the chaos many others are experiencing.  Cooking for, prepping for, feeding, cleaning up after just became a 3x a day job.  Although, honestly, my memory is that I was feeding myself 2x per day by 3rd grade or so.  So I'm not sure kids can't find the Cheerios on their own.

Post-Christmas, the workout routine I'd had going. had already hit on stumbling blocks with cold, rain and work schedules  In the weeks just before lockdown I'd particularly had a hard time getting my workouts in at the gym, which are far better than the ones on my elliptical at home.  But I'd started avoiding the gym at the start of March, and it's hard to find a substitute for lifting weights, etc...  But I think "do something" is where we're at.  I'm walking the dog  Elliptical.  Lifting Jamie's tiny weights which are suddenly much heavier than last I checked in.  I plank.  I do crunches.  And then I eat a Red Baron pizza.

Of course you're not supposed to jog.  Turns out running and whatnot creates heavy breathing that sprays virus-laden moisture in a sphere around you wider than 6 feet and which distends as you go along your pathway, and you're likely doing it right near other people who are just walking around.  But the joggers are out in force, and I can hardly blame them.

Both Jamie and I had our birthdays since lockdown began.  Honestly, I screwed up Jamie's birthday because it fell about two weeks after we went into lockdown, so I never went shopping and neither of us was in the mood to think much about it.

This last weekend was my birthday, and you can tell people are getting used to our state - or at least adjusting.  I spent Saturday talking to people and screwing around making a video with Simon (from a safe social distance), and in the late evening had a happy hour with some pals from small times.  Today I just got out and about with Scout.  Read.  Enjoyed some sunshine on the front porch with Jamie and Scout.  Drank coffee.  Watched a movie.  It was nice.

Our anniversary is in about two weeks now, and we'll still be in quarantine then, so.  Yeah.  It's our 20th, so the big celebration will likely be us opening a bottle of wine and eating baked beans.

On Monday the 13th, Austin extended Stay-at-Home to May 8th.  We're now required to wear masks in public at gas pumps.  Probably not walking the dog, but we'll see. 

*just this weekend I was asking my dad "how the hell did the Brits feed themselves during The Blitz?"  New research topic for me, I guess. 

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