The menu planning pantry terrorist

Menus-3Early this morning we geared up for our now once every-two weeks grocery store run at 7am. Masks, gloves, and extra sanitizer wipes at the ready and off we go. I’m still training myself to not touch the mask. This takes a lot of deep breathing. Are my eyes and nose that itchy normally, or only when I put on that blasted mask?

I’m not gonna lie, I’m pumped about our meal planning efficiency at this house. We’ve shifted gears from a very loose and frequent-trips-to-the-store approach to a tightly controlled sequence of meals and committed grocery items for each menu in the plan. Woe betides anyone who consumes an item “off script”, that was planned for a future meal.  The penalty could be as serious as being sent to the grocery store without a mask!

Arranging the menu to ensure two full weeks of three meals a day, including fresh fruit and veg right up to the last day, takes some puzzling out. I love the challenge. When I get near the end of the planning period I start moving things around to try to stretch the supplies even further. 

This drives my housemates nutsy and also increases the reign of terror over what you can and cannot use in the pantry. They get nervous — worried that if we let it go too long the stores will be emptying out and our pantry will be empty, and we won’t have any options. I guess we would just starve? Resort to more take-outs?

I’ve heard them complaining about me when they think I can’t hear. This is when it really gets fun. I am channeling my grandmother from the 1930s — I’m in my element. 

I’m a menu planning pantry terrorist and proud of it.

I sense a general rising nervousness about the food supply chain even though the press is trying hard to allay fears. Well, except for the reports popping up today about shuttered meat plants “pushing out country perilously close to the edge in terms of meat supply“. Personally, the only thing about a meat shortage I find worrisome is that the meat eaters might wander over to my veggie section and start hoarding that too.

If things get extremely tight I’m ready for the challenge. I may be pretty useless in a messy scramble to fight for a bigger share of the pie, but I’ll be great at maximizing what little bit of the pie I do end up with.


Meet an “invincible summer” in Thelma Z

“In the midst of winter, I found that there was in me an invincible summer” Albert Camus

Staying calm under pressureThis is the tag line of the blog by Thelma Z, a new acquaintance from a memoir writing class I’m taking. It reads like something that might arise out of our current calamity. It speaks to me as a message for right here and right now. However, this is not a new blog or a new tagline, she’s been writing here for over 10 years. This arose from an earlier tragedy in her life.

With several more years on her clock than me, Thelma, and so many others ahead of me in age and wisdom, appear to be weathering the COVID19 threat with greater ease and calm. I’ve placed phone calls to all my 80+-year old relatives this past week and the contrast between their calm, matter-of-fact reactions and my fretful concerns is striking.

This is not their first rodeo.

With that, I’d like to invite you to visit ThelmaZ at her blog, where she has started reflecting on the current Coronavirus threat from her vantage point. Start with “The Virus is on Everybody’s Minds” from March 15th and then read how things have changed in just seven days in “Coronavirus: Part 2” from March 22nd. She tells me that she’s a regular Sunday poster — I’m already eager to read her upcoming Sunday post. Lots has changed since the 22nd, just three days ago; what will be happening by Sunday, four days from now?!

Cleaning wipe-out, dropped Zooms and mixed messages from on high

exhausted from cleaningI’m plopping down at my writing desk completely exhausted from a spurt of housework. I had this idea that I could give the downstairs a quick once-over in an hour or so after lunch. I’ve never been wowed by the speed or thoroughness of my housekeeper, so I knew I could knock this out in no time flat.  You know where this is going … it’s not even that big of a space, but it took almost 3 hrs. and has left me pooped. So much for me thinking I’m pretty fit and snappy. What a baby. Clearly I have been under-appreciating my housekeeper. All future oversights on her part — if she can ever return — are already forgiven. I could write a whole long, drawn-out epistle on what else I learned about how hard her job is, but the bottom line is a newfound respect for Maria.

Before that, I spent most of the morning in Zoom calls that kept dropping and cutting in-and-out. It would seem that our WIFI is not tolerating three of us on concurrent Zooms, and I, for some inexplicable reason, drew the short straw when bandwidth was being apportioned by our router.

This is  all very tedious. I thought I had left this virtual life behind me when I retired. Now, I’m back in the thick of it trying to help newbies find the link to the meeting room, then the Mute button, then the Chat button, and more. Everyone’s device is slightly different and we don’t all speak the same technical language. It’s hard work, but everyone is so patient and determined, I’m inspired to persist too. Each call brings progress and excited oohs and aahs as we learns new skills and tricks.

There aren’t many spring chicks in my various groups, so it’s miraculous how well people are figuring it out. In the 7am bible study we were even successful in marking up the Whiteboard displaying Psalm 1 with hearts and arrows to indicate which verses touched us most. At the beginning of the call, we all checked in by having 24 of us write a couple of sentences into the Chat window simultaneously. This tool is perfect for us, as we actually would all like to talk at the same time. Now we can!

Pslam 1 Whiteboard

Between two of the Zoom calls, I went out for a run on the Bayou near the house and happened to catch on the radio Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo giving a briefing on the “stay-at-home” order to go into effect at midnight tonight. I feel like the vultures are circling. What an impressive 29-year old woman, wow — I’m thankful for strong, clear-thinking young leadership in Houston. Then, when I walk back into the house, I notice a new notification in my news feed from the White House announcing that the President “would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter”. I can sense a fight brewing. Uncertainty is piling on top of uncertainty.

Maybe I need to go back to my cleaning. The whole of the upstairs awaits my attention. There’s nothing like hard physical work to quieten the mind and bring your whole self to rest.

The Death of FOMO

FOMO_SeriesTitleI was worried I was going to miss out on the Norman Rockwell exhibit in town – I couldn’t seem to fit it in before it leaves next week. Worry no more, the museum shut their doors a few days ago. Basically, any event on our calendar and all possible events in the foreseeable future are wiped off the board.

Stories of gatherings, parties, reunions, and other fun happenings in social media have disappeared. They are being replaced with everything from helpful creative ideas for managing isolation to anguished posts of fear and dread. The FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) promoting platforms have lost this particular power over us.

ALL of us are For Sure Missing Out — or rather none of us are missing out, because there’s nothing to miss out on?

FOMO induced by stylized cutsie pics of perfect, happy lives seems trivial against a backdrop of plummeting stocks, closing borders, closing businesses, closing schools, and increasing virus counts. We see overwhelmed medical facilities in other countries on TV and absorb the rising tide of fear as we contemplate whether we are next. The new reality of isolation and social distancing slices across our society with no regard for class, looks, popularity, connectedness, or wealth. We are all in this stew together. Was FOMO ever a real thing?

I can see some early shifts in the ways we relate to each other – echos of post-hurricane disaster care and generosity. I’m wondering how this will evolve as time passes and what will stick when it’s all over?

Watch this space.


A Collage of Sisterhood

Coronavirus Zoom - no names-no SylviaOne of the joys of retiring from corporate life was the absolute stop to crack-of-dawn conference calls. Stressing over getting the right link, password, sound setup and all the rest vanished overnight.  It was like casting off a straight jacket – I could breath again.

These days, early morning gatherings are relaxed, in person, and casual affairs. Even our 7am bible study is easy come easy go. No assignments, status reports or deliverables. Just show up, be present and contribute or not, it doesn’t matter.

That was all true, until this week when the virus closed the doors to these precious get-togethers. My heart sank. It never occurred to me to suggest any kind of virtual replacement. And that’s coming from the former “Queen of Virtual Meetings” – you know what I’m talking about, if you ever worked with me. Online meetings for me are synonymous with an oppressiveness that I can’t seem to shake.

So when one of our bible study group suggested setting up a virtual meeting, I wasn’t thrilled. Really, will these things chase me beyond the grave? But, I knew I had to reveal my ability to make this happen. Privately, I stepped into it with a sense of dread and heavy obligation. Publicly, I promised I could get them all connected and we could test the waters to see how they liked it. I was sure this would be a one-time thing.

The night before, I went to bed with a higher level of anxiety than usual – I recognized that old feeling, and it was not good. Will they all be able to connect? Will I be able to explain it? I don’t even know this new tool very well myself, so how can I figure out all the quirky issues that will surely arise? Will we collapse in a heap of dropped links, echoing sound feedback, barking dogs, and such? This would be a great time for God to show up in a big way!

Tuesday 6:45am arrives and I am ready at my desk with my headset on and click Start Meeting. The first participant arrives with her video turned off. After some cajoling she is persuaded to reveal herself lying in bed in jammies and no make-up. I’m looking equally elegant. We are more real and more vulnerable to each other already. Maybe this will be different than I thought.

Then another arrives and she pops up sitting on her couch with a cat slinking behind her in a dark quiet room. Then another and another. There are no technical issues. Everyone hops in and gets connected. It’s nothing short of miraculous. Within a few minutes, there’s a collage of 17 beautiful sisters on my screen. We see dogs in laps, PJs, glasses instead of contacts, coffee cups, no makeup, just our unmasked selves. Our leader starts us out with a prayer and we skip around the collage checking in with everyone.

We share fears, small joys, concerns for self and others, challenges and needs. There are words of comfort and empathy. There are tears and laughter. There is tenderness and listening. We are present to each other in a new way.

The distances dissolve. We are knit together in an unexpected sisterhood in this beautiful collage on the screen in front of me. 

God truly did show up in a very big way!

I’m looking forward to doing this again next week.


“Stay Home” arrives!

Italy vs Korea chartWhen your 26-year old son forwards this tweet and says he’s canceling out on a home-cooked meal, because he’s worried he might infect you, it’s time to rethink. Who can come over? Where can I go? Who can I have contact with? What can I touch?

YESTERDAY: In the morning two friends come over – one hugs, the other does not. Should they have even come over? Do I now need to wipe down all surfaces they touched? One was in Europe last week – yikes. The other just returned from a cruise – bigger yikes! We all seem healthy. We temporarily suspend anxiety about the outside world. It feels cozy and safe in this house stocked with ample toilet paper. What could go wrong?

By evening, the family meal has been canceled and an invitation to a friend to watch the debate has been withdrawn. I can sense the fun fizzling out of my life. I read some more “Flatten the Curve” articles from various doctor friends to bolster my resolve. Data doesn’t always stir the spirit. Serious negotiations have commenced with my better Lenten self about the alcohol and sugar abstinence regimen. Lent is getting heavier than I had bargained for. It occurs to me that “Man makes plans and God laughs”.

TODAY: The morning darkness beckons me to my workout class. I make a painful decision to not go. Being in the first wave of visitors is no match for a pesky virus that could still be lurking on equipment from the day before – who knows. A bike ride outside will have to suffice – maybe it will even be better.

A look ahead to the week, shows a calendar full of canceled events. A couple are replaced by ZOOMs but there’s too much white space there for my soul.

I think I’ll restart my blogging. So welcome!