Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Waste Not Want Not

My dinner diary seems to have gone by the wayside. I know we’ve eaten, but I can’t really remember what we ate when. Self-isolation (or in this case marital “isolation”) has made time a bit blurry around the edges. With no schedule and no routine, time is a slippery concept. It’s frightfully easy to lose track of the day, let alone the time. We seem to be going to bed early and sleeping late. I don’t stress about waking up at night because it doesn’t matter if I’m tired the next day. There is nothing I have to do. I just read for a while and eventually go back to sleep. This must be what it’s like to be retired, but most retired people usually have some sort of schedule of volunteering and or exercise.

Truth be told, current circumstances are a bit distracting. It’s hard to stay away from the news, and the news is pretty scary. We were supposed to fly to New York on April 2nd to visit my friend, Sally, who has advanced cancer. She also recently had open heart surgery. New York now has nearly 30,000 cases of corona virus. We can’t risk traveling and possibly taking infection to Sally. It’s too dangerous to her, and wouldn’t be wonderful for us, either. It makes me sad that we can’t go, but what are you going to do? Now I don’t know when we will be able to see her.

Rockland County, New York, is where I grew up. They have over six hundred reported cases and five people have died, and that’s news from a couple days ago. In Marin County it’s gotten ever closer. A man we know who lives several blocks away has just recovered, but it wasn’t pretty. He went on a ski trip to BC for a 50th birthday with ten guys. Nine of them came down with COVID-19. There is still a lack of testing here, so we really don’t know what we’re dealing with yet.

Before this all started the idea of being on house arrest sounded appealing. I even went so far as to say that being stuck at home for fourteen days (while not being sick) sounded like heaven. Be careful what you wish for. This scenario messes with your mind. There’s an expression that says: if you want something done ask a busy person. I am a busy person, not in an hysterical, stressed out way. In a one foot in front of the other, let no grass grow under my feet sort of way. I get shit done. Currently, I play on several tennis teams and captain another. I am House Director at the Outdoor Art Club which takes a fair amount of time. I’ve logged almost sixty volunteer hours so far this year. I have a large family, including three adult daughters, one stepdaughter, and four grandchildren under the age of four. I have siblings and nieces and nephews and an elderly mother. I have a husband and dog. I work as a realtor, as I have for twenty years. I have clients who need and want things. My commitments are not nothing.

Now it has all stopped, and it’s very strange. The hardest part, emotionally, is not knowing when the great American timeout will end. Our president says we should all be fine by Easter. That sounds GREAT to me. However, it’s probably wishful thinking. I’m glad we live in California where our governor is taking this seriously. It’s the only way to flatten the curve of the pandemic. We will do what needs to be done, like it or not.

We’re limiting trips out, even to the store. Last week we spent four hundred dollars on groceries. It didn’t feel like we were eating high on the hog, but we had food in the frig and the freezer and some back-up stuff in the pantry. We ate what we had and tried to be creative about not wasting any food. By last night we’d had enough of “catch as catch can”, and decided to support a local restaurant. We ordered a take-out bucket of fried chicken from Bungalow 44. The sides of garlic mashed potatoes and salad we made at home, but oh, what a treat. It was scrumptious.

Fried Chicken

We’re all coping in our own ways. By last Saturday I was getting stir crazy at home. And when I say, “stir crazy”, I am ever mindful of the fact that I’m not trying to entertain little ones at home without the usual resources. I am beyond grateful that I’m not trying to wrangle teenagers. That was hard enough when they had school and sports and could hang with their friends. But, still, I was ready to feast my eyes on a new landscape, so I headed out to the beach which ended up being an unwitting faux pas of major proportions.

Eric had gone out twice during the week and he’d had such a nice time. He neglected to tell me that the beach parking lots were closed, which might have given me pause. Instead, I started driving over the mountain and could not believe what I saw. It was a mob scene. People were walking all over the place and every place a car could be parked, a car was parked. It was like the Fourth of July, although I would never dream of going out to the beach on the Fourth of July. The traffic was ridiculous, but once you’re on the narrow, winding mountain road there is really no turning back, so I forged ahead. None of the usual spots were available so I proceeded to the large parking lot. The gate was locked which explained the mass of cars all the way up the hill.

I had driven all the way out there and was determined to find somewhere to park, which I eventually did. I walked onto the beach and it was as beautiful as ever. There were lots of small groups, but everyone seemed to be maintaining appropriate physical distance. I nestled into a sand dune with my book and was at least fifty feet from the nearest other person. It was only later that my outing was revealed to be not so benign. The locals were furious that so many people had descended on the coast towns. They felt overwhelmed and frightened and worried about their own safety. I get that, but I also understand that many people live in small apartments with no outdoor space. They’ve been cooped up with their families without fresh air or exercise. To me, the beach felt like a safe place. There are no hard surfaces. I was able to park, sit on the beach, take a walk and smell the sea air without a risk to me or endangering anyone else.

Other people were lined up for ice creams at The Parkside like it was a summer Saturday. The restrooms were closed. The infrastructure couldn’t deal with the demand. Later, I understood all this, but in the meantime, I decided to take a side trip to Bolinas, which I almost never do. I was on my way home and wanted to stretch out my excursion a bit, so I went in search of a cup of coffee. Bolinas was its usual welcoming self. The first large sign read, “This is a pandemic, not a vacation. Now go home.” Around the next turn another hand-painted sign was tacked to a tree: Bernie, We Believe. And finally, in downtown, one said: Respect the elderly. Now go home.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like being told what to do. I wasn’t some tourist from San Francisco. I’m a forty-year resident of the county. I’m not endangering anyone by getting a coffee. I sanitize my hands every time I get in or out of the car. I’m extremely careful about germs, even under normal circumstances. I went to the Coast CafĂ© and ordered a coffee. I bought a cinnamon donut to go with it. I was happy. The fresh air and change of scene had done me good. I sat on a curb in front of a parked truck to enjoy my treat.

About eight feet from where I sat another pick-up truck rambled in. It had bumpers held together by band-aids and duct tape. You get the idea. The driver was an older, wild looking, white haired man who looked like he wouldn’t say no to a drink. He got out of the truck and came straight for me. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, at first, but I did catch something about you may not be from around here. It was Bolinas! Of course, he would lead with that. He got so close he stood over me and I stood up and backed away. It seemed he was worried I could get hit by a car (or truck?) since I was sitting on the curb, but I don’t believe he was worried. He wanted to agitate about something. I kept saying thank you as he moved towards me and I moved away. Finally, I pointed out that he seemed to be worried about my safety, but he wasn’t keeping a safe distance from me. I took my coffee and went back to my car. I sanitized my hands and tried to let it roll off me. The experience definitely took the joy out of sitting in the sun on the curb with my coffee and my donut.

We’ve had some strange adaptations to the quarantine in our neighborhood. One neighbor began to fly his American flag and suggested others do the same. It hasn’t really gone viral. Others suggested putting Christmas lights back up and many people chimed in that they would, as well. Noooo! Some people have literally just taken them down. The fact that all the holidays are blending together is a major pet peeve of mine. It used to be that we would decorate for one holiday at a time which was wonderful. Now people layer the decorations. They don’t take anything away. First come the pumpkins and gourds and Indian corn in the fall. So far so good. Autumn wreaths go up for Thanksgiving. Then Christmas arrives and the pumpkins remain on the porch with the poinsettias. There’s no “out with the old, in with the new”. I’m not sure what good Christmas lights will do now that it’s staying light so much later, and we don’t go anywhere at night, anyway. How are we to see them?

The strangest new ritual has been the human howl. At eight pm every night people all around town are going outside to howl at the moon like a pack of wolves. I cannot believe this has caught on. There must be a LOT of frustrated extraverts out there looking for connection. Do what you have to do, but I find it a little creepy. Carry on, stay safe. As for me, I’ll be here sort of dreading eight o’clock.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Food Glorious Food

“Food, glorious, food, hot sausage and mustard.” I believe those are lines from the play, Oliver, or at least a close approximation. Food has been top of mind since we’re been on coronavirus house arrest. Our quarantine started five days early, due to Eric’s upper respiratory illness. Lucky us. We went out to dinner for my birthday on Wednesday, March 11th. The next morning Eric woke up sick and we’ve been eating at home ever since.

Unlike many of our friends and neighbors, we normally eat home for most of our meals. We both can cook, and don’t usually have dinner out more than once a week or so. We also get burritos for takeout and have Sol Food in the neighborhood which has great Puerto Rican food. We don’t have food delivered with the frequency of city dwellers. A couple months ago my daughter (who had a new baby) and her three-year old were both sick. I went to San Francisco to help take care of them. For dinner, my son-in-law ordered Indian food, and had it delivered. The next afternoon Dad was at work and Mom was napping. My granddaughter and I were resting and watching a video when the doorbell rang. It was 4:40 pm. Lila picked up her head, looked around and asked, “Is dinner here?”

That made me laugh so hard and I have relayed the story numerous times. It’s so different from the way I grew up and from the way my children were raised, but it’s her life. She lives in a city with two working parents and that’s how it’s done. Dinner arrives at the front door. Lucy likes to cook, and tries to when she can, but it’s mostly weekends. She wants her kids to be aware that food is made in kitchens, but one must do what one must do.

Now what we must do is eat at home. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. What we are going to eat for dinner has become a sensitive topic in our house, of late. Honestly, I think we’ve been in a bit of a rut. I cooked a lot for a long time. With three growing girls and all their friends streaming in, I was good at cooking for a crowd. When I started in real estate it became a lot harder. All my plans, dinner and otherwise would go out the window when I had to show property or write an offer at the last minute. The girls were up and out or on the way. I became single and it was much easier for me to pick up something pre-made than to cook for one.

When I met Eric he led with how much he loves to cook. He claimed it was his only creative outlet. I disagree with that. He can write a damn good suspense novel when he puts his mind to it. I think he mostly wanted me for my kitchen which I designed myself.  With ten-foot ceilings and lots of light, it also has a six burner Viking, an island, a walk-in pantry and LOTS of counter space. He made himself right at home. Truthfully, sometimes it feels like he took it over. When the kids were little and I was trying to make dinner, I would request (beg, plead, demand – call it what you will) for them to stay outside of the “invisible lines”. Now that Eric has proprietary interest in the kitchen, I feel like I’m the one being asked to stay outside the lines.

My regular schedule isn’t very conducive to cooking. Two days a week I’m not home from San Francisco until 7:00 pm, and my weekends can still go sideways with work demands. It took me a while to realize that I missed cooking. Being in the kitchen grounds me. I like to make my old favorite recipes. Now that we’re sheltering in place there is plenty of cooking for everyone. Here is our food diary: Week One.

Wednesday 3/11 – Dinner out at Gravity Tavern, Mill Valley. Delicious.

Thursday, 3/12 – I made Lentil Soup made from The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison. I’ve never eaten there, but Greens is a legendary vegetarian restaurant in Fort Mason, San Francisco. I kind of defeat the purpose of the vegetarianism by adding ham hocks, but it really adds to the flavor. I also brighten it up with a bit of balsamic vinegar. Soup is great on its own or paired with a salad.

Friday, 3/13 – Eric was still sick, so I got to control the kitchen. He likes a lot more meat than I do, and I figured he’d want some meat after not quite vegetarian lentil soup. I got good ground round from Mill Valley Market and a bun for the man of the house. I eat mine bun-less, because it seems that carbs are not my friend these days. I also steamed some broccoli with garlic salt and sesame oil.

Saturday, 3/14 – We started thinking about our local restaurants and decided to order two small pizzas from Vasco in downtown Mill Valley, which is our go-to neighborhood place. We got one Margarita and one sausage and mushroom which totaled $34. Eric made a salad. To be honest, the togetherness wasn’t wearing well, and we ended up eating in different parts of the house, which was fine with me.  

Sunday, 3/15 – I was busy watching the Democratic debate and Eric had full reign in the kitchen. He made amazing short ribs with polenta. Since our salad wasn’t eaten Saturday night, we ate it on Sunday.

Monday, 3/16 – Shelter in Place until April 7th was announced. We made shopping lists, and both went out to stock up. Eric went to his favorite, Safeway, and I went to my favorite, Mill Valley Market. Normally, I’ll do a big shop at Trader Joes and fill in produce and meat at MV Market. Under these circumstances I didn’t want to bother with Trader Joes. My only complaint with MV Market is that they don’t make it easy to sanitize the handles on the shopping carts. The other markets have the anti-bacterial wipes out front so you can wipe off the cart handles before you touch them. I made a request for this, but it wasn’t done. Instead, the employees began wearing latex gloves. I brought my own wipes, but this really is a fail, especially since the place was crawling with the elderly, frantically loading up on supplies.  

I made spinach, cheese and bacon quiche for dinner which really hit the spot. The recipe is one I’ve been using since I began cooking forty-two years ago. It’s from “Joy of Cooking” and the book is literally falling apart and broken open to the quiche recipe. We had some cheese that was going to get too old and I wanted to use it. I also didn’t want to use two cups of our fresh milk, so I used one and a half cups evaporated milk and the remainder was fresh. We both really liked the way it tasted. My childhood experiences of large family, little money really kicks in when it’s required. I know how to “make do”. This hunkering down may be my time to shine.

Tuesday, 3/17 – St. Patrick’s Day. No celebrations, obviously. I’d bought a cooked chicken on Monday. Eric used it and other items we had on hand and made a wonderful Chicken Taco Salad.

There you have it. One week of eating at home. My stomach’s growling. I think I’ll head down to the kitchen for some avocado toast with a fried egg on top. Stay safe, everyone!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

It's Corona Time

It’s been a wild and wooly week here on planet Earth. The World Health Organization categorized the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic. Yesterday, our government declared a state of national emergency. We’re all on lockdown in one form or another. The stock market has tanked. Other than that, everything’s coming up roses.

The response to this health crisis has unraveled in a confusing manner. We literally do not know what we’re doing. We’ve watched the way the viral epidemic has unfolded in other countries and we are trying to learn. We have learned too slowly and now it’s said we are about eleven days behind Italy, which is a frightening scenario. The official response is now calling for “social distancing”. As an introvert, this is music to my ears. Everything is being canceled? That’s absolutely wonderful.

Our life began to change several weeks ago when I contemplated our upcoming trip to the BNP Tennis Tournament in Indian Wells. I started to think about the close contact one has with thousands of people who come from all over to see the matches. We get grounds passes, which gives you access to many courts and you go from one court to another depending on who is playing. While you are waiting to get seats in one of the stadiums you stand in a crowd, literally shoulder to shoulder, with dozens of others. You are stuck waiting there until the changeover, which could be ten minutes or more. I cannot emphasize how intimate the contact is. It’s like being in a crowded elevator, except that it’s outdoors and on stairs. People bang into you unknowingly with their backpacks. You have someone’s butt in your face. It’s very claustrophobic under the best of circumstances

That train of thought was the end of this year’s tournament for me. I had splurged for two nights at La Quinta and then we were supposed to stay with friends for three nights. Fortunately, La Quinta was gracious when I told them my elderly mom had been in the hospital and wasn’t doing well. While that was technically true, and fortunately she is doing better, it seemed like the way to go. I was afraid that if I canceled due to the coronavirus they would be less sympathetic. The airline tickets were non-refundable. That’s what you get when you book with Cheapo-Air. At least they were cheap, and we saved a bundle by not taking the trip. About a week after we decided not to attend the whole event was canceled. I can’t imagine the economic ripple effects throughout the desert. The two weeks of the tournament are a boon for the area. This year it is clearly a bust. Magnify that by the worldwide economy and it's just unfathomable. 

Now the local schools are closed. All pro basketball, baseball and hockey games are on hiatus. The annual Dipsea Race, which was scheduled for June, has been called off. People are working from home or not working. I’m on the Board at the Outdoor Art Club. With heavy hearts, we canceled all events for the remainder of March and the month of April, even the beloved Teddy Bear Tea. Life is definitely different.

My birthday was on March 11th, which fell in the middle of this surreal week. I was supposed to take a two-hour horseback ride in Pt Reyes, but canceled it because I hadn't been sleeping well and was tired. Clients contacted me at the last minute and wanted to see property, so it worked out better, anyway. It was a nice day. The weather was gorgeous. I took a swim and played tennis. 

We went out to dinner at a local restaurant and the place was almost completely empty. The atmosphere was lovely, and I definitely felt like I was upholding the six foot from strangers mandate, but it was quite eerie. After dinner we took a walk around town and the other restaurants were so quiet as well. If possible, we should support our local restaurants by buying gift certificates or having takeout. We want them to still be standing when this is all over. 

Personally, I looked ahead to an empty calendar with glee. Being quarantined at home would mean time to read, write and catch up on my sleep. I could work in the garden and swim at the pool. Now it’s raining and the pool has been shut down until the end of March. My not so young husband has gotten sick, so we canceled a trip to Tahoe. We were planning to stop by to see my mother on the way, but then Eric got a sore throat and plans changed again. It seems to be a nasty cold, and nothing more, but we are taking no chances. As of now, I feel absolutely fine and plan to remain that way.

It doesn’t yet feel like a stay-cation. It’s hard to block out the news, such a temptation to tune in and get distracted. Watching presidential briefings where everyone in charge of our COVID-19 response is clumped together, shaking hands (good lord) and sharing microphones is quite compelling. How can you NOT watch this?

I’ve also been taking trips to the grocery store to procure food while not touching anything, checking Eric’s temperature and bringing him beverages so he’ll stay hydrated. I realized the dog hadn’t gotten any exercise in two days, so late yesterday afternoon I took her for a good, long walk. I was griped at by an elderly gentleman because Ruby peed on a patch of grass on the street side of the sidewalk in front of his house. Sheesh. Get a bigger problem! I guess we’re all a bit tense and manifest it in our own ways.

We've been through our share of disasters here in Northern California. We've had earthquakes, mudslides and catastrophic storms. One year our whole neighborhood flooded on New Year's Eve and our garage and everything in it was covered in mud. More recently we've had the firestorms and putrid, toxic air for weeks at a time. We had the PG&E mandated power outages which were the most frustrating of all. So far, house arrest has been easier and more pleasant than previous scenarios, but it's early times. Check back in a week or two.

I’m happy to help “flatten the curve”. I’ll work from home unless I have to show property. It’s an uncertain time in the real estate business, which is never very certain. Thankfully, I have buyers who got out of the stock market while the getting was good and are ready with cash down payments. Interest rates are low and going lower. Real property suddenly seems safer than investments. At least you can live there. One can’t crawl inside their 401k and take shelter from the rain. Still, prices are so high. Are home values going to drop twenty or thirty percent? I don’t think so, but what does any us of really know until it’s behind us? Nobody wants to be the one who buys at the top of the market.

So, on this gloomy Saturday I look out the window at our majestic Mt Tamalpais, saturated by a lovely Spring rain, and shrouded in wisps of fog and I can’t help but wonder where we are headed. Will we all be here at the end of the pandemic? Will we feel more anxious and less secure or will we be calm and gracious and just plain grateful? I don’t know.