Just a List (Part 1)

I can’t write these days.

I can do it for my 9-to-5, more or less, but I have to almost tie myself down (in the form of promising a deadline) to do it. But I can’t seem to write here.

I thought, wow, won’t it be fun to tell folks about how we’re spending the Covid days, out here in the country? But then it just never seems to happen. I told you about going for socially distanced walks, and I told you about making beer bread, and I know we’re doing other things but it is just so hard to start something, work on it, and finish it.

But today I got a bit of hope from another writer who is kind of going through the same thing in her own way. Check out this post on Sanctuary, from the Brevity blog, and in the meantime, I’ll be over here trying to start myself a list of the things I’ve been doing. And a list of the things I should be working on. And a list of the things I should be grateful for…

Sharing Covid-19 Experiences

I’ve been writing about how the pandemic is affecting my immediate environs, and social media is a rich resource for learning about how everyone is trying to stay healthy and mentally checked-in while quarantined. But there are two groups of folks who would love to hear what YOU are going through!

I’ve mentioned that I do some work with George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. A couple of teams I know are working on projects that study how people are getting along in these challenging times. They would love your input.

Personal Coping Strategies

The Anxiety, Stress, and Relationships Lab (part of the clinical psychology program) has an online survey about Covid-19’s effect on interpersonal relationships. Do you have extra people living in your house right now? Are the stresses of the news and changing circumstances impacting how you might be getting along with them? These folks want to know how you are coping. The survey is completely confidential so you can be totally honest about how you might have been eating more cheese, bourbon, or ice cream over the past month. They will not judge you. The survey form also offers resource information to help you out if you need it, and the information they learn will help other people find positive ways to be resilient in the future.

Faith Communities’ Response

Another group at Mason, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, is conducting a survey of how religious communities are adapting in the face of the pandemic. The religious studies department is teaming up with the digital history folks to gather input from churches, synagogues, mosques (tell your own community!), as well as from individuals to learn how they are making due when they can’t get to services. If you go to the Pandemic Religion: A Digital Archive site, you can also read about the experiences of a variety of religious communities. And then add your own experience. It’s not only interesting as heck but is also a solid reminder that we are all in this mess together.

And if that doesn’t make for a community, I don’t know what does.

Art Therapy

When you are quarantined because of a worldwide pandemic, you really appreciate your resources.

For my birthday back in November, my sister got for me a whole new experience: a custom paint-by-number set. She sent a photo to a company that sent back a detailed canvas, twenty-five little tubs of paint, and some brushes.

We had some quiet time before family FaceTime calls on Easter Sunday so it was the perfect opportunity to get to work!

I was really surprised that it was so INVOLVED. It took me quite a few evenings of work to get all those little shapes filled in. Also, I found that painting those little shapes with a tiny brush is extremely relaxing.

Aww, guess who?

And I was very pleased with the finished result!

I just hope Jim doesn’t want to take it to his office.

I’m really appreciative of Sarah’s gift, which not only gave me some serious fun but also resulted in a piece of art that is truly one of a kind!

From Here? Come Here?

I am doing some work with the Smith Mountain Arts Council — just press releases, but that’s enough that they invite me to monthly board meetings — and it’s a sad time for the arts council because we are having to cancel all of our events, of course. This was the subject of some conversation at our last meeting (on Zoom); the council comprises many talented and energetic people (mostly retired) who want to offer some kind of outlet for performance and give their neighbors a chance to get out for an evening.

One of the guys in the group finally spoke out, confessing that he and his wife would absolutely not be going out until they were completely comfortable that it was safe. There was much agreement.

Then I ran into a neighbor this morning who expressed some exasperation that businesses aren’t opening back up quickly enough. I was a little surprised by her reaction, and I’ll admit that was because she is well into her sixties, in a demographic that I assumed would be more on the side of keeping things locked down a little longer.

But that’s just my oversimplified thinking, obviously.

I do a lot of thinking about the people who are “From Here’s” — whose families have lived in Franklin County for hundreds of years, who have Confederate soldiers in their family trees, and who have seen the fortunes of this place rise and fall with manufacturing, tobacco, the railroads, and farming. On the other hand, a lot of us folks around the lake are “Come Here’s” — people who are mostly retired, and who have moved from places in North Carolina and Virginia, certainly, but many of whom are from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (where my neighbor mentioned above originated).

Items like this little fella are available for purchase at a local gift store.

I fall into the trap of thinking that the Come Here’s think one way, and the From Here’s think another. But my conversations over the last couple of days once again illustrate that that’s more than a little naive. Then I default to thinking, gee, I wish I was a historian or sociologist, just to try to make sense of it all.

Tomorrow, I promise, I will lighten up and talk more about fun quarantine activities and pondering if our college son will ever get out of bed before mid-afternoon.

Covid’s Creep to the Country

I think I’ve mentioned that where we live is fairly rural.

As with some rural communities, there may be some sense of insulation from the effects of Covid-19 as it sweeps around the world. In fact, someone I know was teased a few weeks ago at a local gardening store when he told the cashier that he would load his own mulch in order to maintain some social distance. “A CUSTOMER IS COMING TO THE LOADING AREA,” she announced over the store’s loudspeaker. “BUT HE DOESN’T NEED HELP BECAUSE HE WANTS TO SOCIAL DISTANCE!” There was chuckling. This person now buys his mulch from the Lowe’s in Rocky Mount.

(About ten days after this interaction this same establishment went to curbside-only service. No more loitering in the garden store, y’all!)

And indeed, today’s Roanoke Times reports only 16 cases of Covid-19 in Franklin County, with 19 in Bedford County just across the lake.

However, a large population of our neighbors are retired and are very respectful of the threat that the coronavirus presents. You see some folks wearing masks in the stores, and appreciate businesses’ attempts to distance their customers.

The Burnt Chimney Post Office is not playing around.

We are supporting our small businesses with take-out orders and only venturing out when we need to. But if we went to our windows to bang pots at 7 pm in support of health care workers, I don’t think anyone would hear us.

When I talk to friends in the DC area or our daughter in New York, it is clear that they are living in a world that seems very different, even if I suspect strongly that it is not.

Why I am Walking

I started a series of posts yesterday about what we’re doing with our quarantine time out here in the country. And I mentioned how I’ve been enjoying walking.

Well, that exercise is important, because I’ve also been baking beer bread.

I got the recipe from a friend, Deb, and it is absolutely delicious. Side note: this is the same friend who introduced me to the Facebook group of mostly Australians who are dressing up to take their trash cans to the curb, so I really have to commend her social media savvy. (The group is called Bin Isolation Outing and the posts really are amazing,)

The recipe is very easy and calls for no exotic ingredients (if you can get your hands on flour LOL):

Make this right now!

I’ve been using our son’s Pabst Blue Ribbon for this delicacy, along with a couple of shakes of dried Italian herbs. I go a little scant on the sugar. It’s great right out of the oven and even marvelous the next day, either toasted or simply scarfed down during a group phone call.

It even makes your house smell amazing. I hope you get a chance to whip some of this up!

Escape!

Over the next week or so, I thought I’d write about what things are like here in the Virginia countryside with all of this quarantining, and what I’ve been doing during the lockdown.

One of the things I try to do is get out and walk. Where we live, it’s very easy to take a walk and remain socially distanced.

Even when you walk with someone else.

I walk on Tuesdays and Thursdays with a neighbor, Jane, and her dog, Max.

He is not convinced that he wants to walk with me

We usually get on the road around 7, which is now just as the sun is coming up. Our loop is just about two miles. We see all kinds of critters.

That’s a deer I saw this morning, peeking at
me from over the hill

On the other days, I mix it up with different routes or maybe a little jog. But I try to get out there every day because — a true confession — I want my pants to keep fitting.

Here’s a guy who’s been walking for a cause and he’s awesome.

Here’s a news article that was in yesterday’s Roanoke Times about how regular walking might even help you survive a bout with the ‘rona! Yes, please!

I hope that whatever your situation, you’re able to exercise, even in (or especially in) a low-key way. I’m reading a book, Keep Going, by artist Austin Kelon, who sees walking as an antidote to the barrage of information flying at us every day: “you get outside and you start walking and you come to your senses … people smiling, birds chirping, clouds flying overhead … all that stuff. There’s possibility. Walking is a way to find possibility in your life when there doesn’t seem to be any left.”

Easter at Home

A friend of mine posted on Facebook Saturday, “Just realized that this is the first time in 66 years that I have not been in church building on Easter. What a stark reminder of our times and the need for prayer.”

For me, that kind of summed up the mourning that we’re all doing right now, missing everything (small and not so small) that has made our lives our lives. It was also a reminder of the old saying, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.” (That’s a quote from Ian Maclaren, not Plato, in case you were wondering.) I don’t have to tell you that this covid/quarantine stuff stinks for everyone — it actually blows my mind to think about the commonality of our world-wide bad experience right now.

I give credit to the folks who had their very nuclear Seder dinners last week, and who Zoomed Easter meet-ups with friends and family. We were lucky over the weekend: some friends stopped by in a socially-distanced way by resting on their boat while Jim and I sat on the dock. I had a beautiful walk on Sunday morning where I picked up this ugly-looking nail by a construction site, which I was going to throw away but instead decided was a good Easter memento.

When I was in high school, those of us who’d done a Youth Encounter retreat wore big Crosses made of nails. This nail is uglier.

Jim and I helped our college guy out with a coronavirus haircut. We talked with family members far away (one with a successful Zoom meet-up, one with a less-successful FaceTime experience). We picked up take-out from a local place for Easter dinner, then got sufficiently stressed out that we didn’t eat it and ended up going to bed early.

I appreciate seeing friends doing the best they can with these unusal times, and appreciate the kindnesses that I get to see, too, as we plunk through this season one day at a time. One writer I saw referred to Easter/Passover (and I’m going to fold in Ramadan, too, because it starts next week) as a “season of renewal and liberation.” Despite all of the bad news, I get a little hope in the signs of beauty that are still out there.

Socially Distanced Donuts

It is a tough tug-of-war between wanting to stay secluded and wanting to support local businesses. Jim and I have been helping the local economic cause, at least a little, by stopping for take-out from our favorite spot up the street, Napoli Cowboy.

And then some businesses have made it even easier to support them while staying a safe six feet away.

Mama Crockett’s cider donuts were famous well before we moved here. You can’t just get them anywhere. They have a store in downtown Lynchburg, about an hour from us, and they also sell the donuts ALL OVER THE PLACE from a couple of cool minty campers.

For example, Charlottesville is in luck tomorrow

Sadly, they never seemed to sell them anywhere near me. Until today.

Mama Crockett’s Facebook page lists where their truck is going to be, and I was overjoyed to see that it was coming to Rocky Mount today — just 25 minutes up the road!

Jim said that there was a line for these guys when they came to the city, but a snowy morning in Rocky Mount is pretty desolate

You can order and pay online, set up a time for your pick-up, and then you just show up and they zoom your donuts down the 6-foot chute to your hungry hands. Then the hardest thing is not eating them in the car on the way home.

One of the benefits to living down here right now is that we are pretty naturally spread out. Spread out enough to feel okay about getting a solid breakfast.

It’s Still Spring

So…. whatcha been up to?

Here in Wirtz, we’re probably doing much what you’re doing these days: staying put.

But I’m feeling extremely lucky being able to do it.

For one thing, since moving to this area year ago, I have been very fortunate to work as a freelance writer, with my main client being the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at George Mason University. In case you don’t know, Mason is the largest public research university in the commonwealth (!) (that’s right, Virginia Tech!), serving students from its campuses in Fairfax, Manassas, and Arlington, Virginia. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is one of the largest colleges within the university, boasting over 20 distinct departments and programs. It has some amazing faculty members, students, and alumni, and I help to write about them.

Like most institutions of higher learning (and even not-so-higher learning), Mason has been hustling to meet the needs of its students in the face of this nasty covid-19 mess. What this means for me is that now all of my colleagues are working remotely, just like me. And the messaging has been flying fast and furious, so I have been fortunate to help keep those messages going.

Let me tell you, being able to work during this time is a huge (I’ll say it) blessing. It helps draw my focus from social media, which is so crazy right now, and the news — none of which seems to be all that good. And it’s springtime here, so I can work from an office view like this one.

Most of this blog has been all about the neat things to see around this area, and obviously we haven’t been out doing a lot of that. But in the coming days I’ll tell you what it’s like socially distancing in the country, because it sure seems different than what my friends are experiencing in bustling northern Virginia.

I hope you are well and healthy and have something good to keep you busy, too.