Bread

Over the weekend I baked six loaves of bread in three batches. The first was begun on Friday, baked on Saturday. It ended up a sourdough and rye hockey puck. The second batch was plain white bread on Sunday. The third I began yesterday and is currently rising in loaf pans. I’ll bake it in the next hour to make two sourdough loaves. Over two days I did a total of an hour and a half of kneading. My arms are sore. I’ve been pondering why the restrictions of pandemic have prompted bread baking. I do find it reassuring to see that I can take raw ingredients and turn them into something edible. If food supply chains begin to break, easy to store and transport ingredients will be more available than complex pre-made foods. A successfully baked loaf of bread tells me I can survive whatever is coming. There are so many flaws in this causal connection it is laughable, yet this is what is happening on an instinctual level.

When the Israelites were in the wilderness wandering with Moses, there was a span of time where they consumed manna. This was a “bread” that “fell from heaven” each morning and the people collected only what they needed to eat that day. If they collected more than they needed it spoiled before the next morning. Except on the day before sabbath when two days of eating were collected. Many a scholar and scientist has tried to explain (or explain away) the phenomenon described in scripture. I’m less interested in the logistics of the manna showing up than I am in how this daily allotment of resources shaped the people. Scripture says they survived on manna for forty years. They spent all of that time learning to expect food to arrive, and learning not to try to gather and store. They had to take each day individually with no reserve against illness or disaster. I assume that when one person fell ill, others gathered to feed that person. For a people who were nomadic and had to carry everything with them as they moved, this focus on today makes sense. I’ve heard it posited that the Israelites needed this wilderness time to re-learn how to be free people. The generations who had been slaves needed to pass on. Yet I wonder, when they stopped wandering, when the manna stopped, were another forty years required for them to reshape their culture again?

I see the idea posted in a dozen different memes, tweets, blog posts, and articles. It is the idea that during this worldwide crisis we should, as individuals, not spend too much energy thinking very far ahead. I’ve even expressed this thought myself on more than one occasion. It is an important survival mode. Solve today’s problems with today’s resources and leave tomorrows problems for later. I’m in that mode. Each morning lands with its allotment of manna, its bundle of tasks for the day, emotions, energy, brain space, and physical resources in my house. Sometimes the tasks have me acquiring physical resources, other times expending them. Sometimes the emotions flood everything else and the whole day feels like a trip through the Swamps of Sadness. Sometimes I have space to think and wonder how this survival mode is shaping me, shaping my family, shaping the world at large. The longer survival mode lasts, the more it will permanently alter the people who lived through it.

There are advantages to living in the now. This is why it is often taught as a meditation practice. Control over our lives is always tenuous at best and people are happier when they make peace with that reality. Yet it is one thing to consciously choose to relinquish the attempt to control and a different thing to have control (or the illusion of it) ripped from one’s hands. I imagine an Israelite woman pausing in her morning gathering of manna for her day to look at the vast wilderness all around her. Does she open her heart and accept that wilderness, or does she hurry back to her tent to feel safe again? I know I’ve done both, depends on the day. Feelings of safety are definitely one of the things which are in short supply. Sometimes they’re available, other times not. This past weekend I felt like that woman staring out at the wilderness and wondering what happens if one morning the manna just isn’t there. The perilousness of existence loomed large. Which is probably why I focused my eyes on kneading bread.

Give us this day our daily bread. When Christ spoke those words in his sermon on the mount, he was deliberately reminding his Jewish audience of their Israelites-in-the-wilderness heritage. “Daily bread” had deep cultural significance. Daily bread is manna, the gift from heaven that arrives just when it is needed and vanishes when not. Give us this day the things we will need to conquer the challenges of this day.

Because my mind is incapable of seeing a single facet of any thought, as I’ve been writing all of the above I’ve had a running commentary about the importance of planning ahead and being prepared. I’m waxing philosophical about manna and the needs of each individual day, but I’ve been building up my food supplies deliberately so we can hard quarantine for weeks without going hungry. That is the opposite of manna philosophy. It is deliberately seeking a control lever on the world, something concrete I can do to increase my family’s chance of survival. I suppose it is the result of the culture I’ve been raised inside: Exercise faith, rely on God for all things, but also store a year’s worth of food. I’m nowhere near a year’s storage of food, and I’m in a similar state with my attempts to exercise faith and rely on God.

The bread is in the oven now. Hopefully this pair of loaves will be light and fluffy. If they are, some part of me will relax a little because I managed to supply a bit of daily bread. It is not rational, but it is real. As for the rest of this day, I’ve got my allotment of tasks and resources. Hopefully the latter is sufficient to meet the needs of the former.

What Life Looks Like Now: A Snapshot

On social media a friend of mine asked people to post what their lives are like right now. I thought it was an interesting snapshot of how life has changed for many people. So here is my snapshot.

We’ve been isolating since about March 11. There are five people in the house, all adults except the 17yo who might as well be one. Only two of them leave to go to places. My son (22yo) goes to his early morning custodial job five days per week. I go to the warehouse twice per week to mail packages and I go to grocery stores once per week to acquire food. There are also trips to the pharmacist, but I’m getting the prescriptions lined up so I can do that once per month (hopefully.)

We were eating take home food from local restaurants about once per week, but the frequency of that is slowing down now that we’re more used to cooking food when we want to eat. We don’t generally have a family meal time, but when a person decides to cook they generally make enough food for two or three people and then share. Howard tends to make large batches to feed everyone. My 17yo has been doing hamburgers and beef stroganoff. My 19yo is exploring pasta and sauce options. My 22yo mostly does frozen pizza. I’ve been baking breads, cookies, a spice cake, etc. Right now I’ve got a sourdough rye raising for 24 hours. I just signed up for a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) So starting in June I’ll get a bi-weekly bag of fresh local-grown produce. Hopefully I’ll put it to good use.

Howard has begun to find his work mojo now that all the set-up issues for staying at home are mostly resolved. He’s been focusing on the comic but frequently feeling guilty for not getting book work done. My work has been more scattered. I’m finding myself hopping from project to project a lot rather than settling in for hours. Thirty minutes weeding. Fifteen minutes playing Breath of the Wild. Twenty minutes answering email. Forty minutes revising a story and submitting it. Thirty minutes sanding cabinets. Fifteen minutes reading a book. Often I bounce through things more than once in a day. Each thing is useful and moves a project forward, so I’m just rolling with this scatterbrained approach rather than trying to force myself to focus. I’m still tracking news stories and pandemic numbers more frequently than I probably should.

Emotionally things seem to have stabilized. The two house residents in therapy both came out of their video sessions cheerful and saying “there wasn’t much to talk about.” Other than bouncing around between activities, I feel pretty stable. However I’ve noticed that I shy away from any sort of story or media that will pull on heartstrings. I actually noped out of a video which was a beautiful and meaningful commentary on pandemic life. I could tell that it was going to completely wreck me emotionally. Instead of shedding a few tears, it would unlock a deep well of feelings that would take me hours to re-contain. So, while feeling mostly okay, I can tell there are ways in which I’m not. At some point the emotional piper needs to be paid. But not this week. So strange to know those depths exist and yet to still be honestly and truthfully feeling happy and optimistic.

I miss my married daughter and son-in-law greatly. I don’t hear enough from them about how they’re doing because they’re too busy having their own lives to report on how their lives are going. This is a normal state of things for parents of adult children I think. Only, like everything else, it is not normal because I use to be able to catch up with them when we saw them in person and now no one knows when we’ll get to do that again. That is one of the chains of thought that threatens to unleash emotions, so think about something else. Send them pictures and updates via the family discord channel. Drop off baked goods on their porch. Love them sight unseen.

This week I picked up Pokemon Go again because it gives me a daily assignment to go for a walk. I’ve also been outside soaking up sunshine daily. I crave the sunshine, but like everything else I’m seeking it in short spurts. I’m noticing increases in vehicle traffic around town. There are more people out and about. I think that Utah County is going to see an increase in virus cases. Though perhaps that will be offset by increased sunshine. I’m still waiting for several large events on my calendar to officially cancel so that I can stop holding contingency plans for them in my head.

I think that’s my snapshot for now. It’s as scattered as my days have been lately.

Breathing Easier

We got the phone call yesterday evening. The pulmonologist had a cancellation, would Howard like to be seen at 8am today. We said yes. Howard needed to go in person so that the doctor could listen to his lungs. This was the first time breaking quarantine in a month. The result was mostly good news. Howard’s symptoms are classic for a severe case of asthma, which can very easily be caused by a viral illness such as the one Howard had in January. The doctor is confident that we can get Howard breathing better than he has been for the last three months. Learning you have severe asthma to treat for (probably) the rest of your life isn’t great, but it is so much better than the other explanations for what Howard has been experiencing (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD, or heart failure.) We have new medicines for Howard to take daily and hopefully this will help him have more energy for creative things.

Until we have access to an antibody test for Covid-19, we need to continue being careful and self isolating. But at least now we have some answers and help.

Pleasant Things

Today the world felt peaceful and lovely. I am still aware of the pandemic, it still shapes many of my choices about how to spend my day, but I’m not mired in fear or anxiety. I’ll take it and appreciate today for what it is. Tomorrow, or next week’s problems can be dealt with later. In no particular order here are some nice things from today:
I found both toilet paper and yeast at the grocery store today.
I succeeded at making sourdough bread.
I dropped off a loaf on my daughter’s porch so she can have some too.
My adult son who lives with us spent some of his stimulus check on a VR headset, he and his brother have both been having a blast getting exercise and playing together.
My 17yo made homemade hamburgers for himself and his 19yo sibling.
When I took a walk I saw a lawn covered in bright yellow dandelion flowers and bright purple grape hyacinths.
On a different lawn there were dandelion puffs perfectly catching the light.
The weather is beautiful and invites me to step outside.
The first two cabinets arrived today and another batch will arrive tomorrow so then the project to finish cabinets can start in earnest.
I’m glad to have a day with a list of pleasant things in it.

Open or Closed

I attempted to apply for a small business grant today. I was online and clicking the button one minute after applications opened. The site was overloaded and I couldn’t get in. An hour later they had a notice up saying please be patient as they had more people than expected. Within four hours the notice was changed to say that applications are closed. The level of fear scrambling for ways to keep afloat that small businesses are having to do is really high. I understand where the pressure to allow things to re-open is coming from. My timelines are longer, but many small businesses are basically hand to mouth on a monthly basis. From an epidemiological standpoint now is not the time to be opening things back up. Yet I think of the careful balance of radiation therapy or chemo, where the body is damaged with toxins intended to kill the errant cells before killing the person who has them. Sometimes the patient has to suffer the side effects, other times the treatments must be stopped because the patient needs time to build strength instead of being constantly drained. Some things need to be opened back up in areas of the country where cases are lower. Those areas can feed a little bit of strength back into the local and national economies while harder hit areas must stay shut down. This is one of the ways that we be brave and help each other. Just as another way is for individuals to stay home and work when they can. Then if case counts climb, areas close down again.

I currently live in an area with a lower case count. My state is already making moves to ease restrictions. They are doing so before we’ve even reached a definite infection peak. I fully expect this to result in a higher peak that is further out. Only time will tell if the peak is so high that hospitals are overwhelmed. Unfortunately the time delay means we can’t measure the results of yesterday’s decisions until two weeks from now. In those two weeks there are already plans to open up more things. We had a demonstration last Saturday which may result in an infection cluster, but again, we won’t know for weeks. I have mixed feelings about all of it. I understand the push to open and I fear the results of opening.

Looking Back and Ahead

At the end of the year I go through my blog entries from the entire year and format them into a book which I have printed to put on my shelf. I often create the annual family photo book at the same time. The process of going through the posts and pictures becomes a year-in-review for me. I am then able to process the experiences of the year and ready myself for the next year. In the past month I’ve blogged as much as I did in the past five months of last year. I felt the weight of those accumulated posts and I knew that the job of assembling posts in December was getting bigger and bigger. I decided not to wait until December. I started putting together the books now. It relieves a possible future burden and gives me something concrete I can do while so many business tasks are in holding patterns.

The first thing I noticed was that January, February, and the first part of March all feel like they belong to a different year. My focus and concerns were valid and important, yet everything changed on a pivot point of March 11. There is a clear Before Pandemic to During Pandemic. I wonder if there will be a similarly clear transition to Post Pandemic. Somehow I doubt it. Even many of the posts I wrote at the beginning of pandemic feel long ago. I remember being in that emotional place, but I haven’t been there for a long time. As I read, there were five posts that stood out to me, they each had a reminder for me that was useful.
Grief as a Creative Process
Predictions, Realizations, Trolleys, and Metaphors
No Longer the Conductor
Filtering the Noise
Checking In

I put all the posts into place in the book, but then I ran out of posts to place. I wished I could keep going, in part to continue having a project that was sufficiently absorbing that I lost track of time. It was so lovely to get into creative flow for the first time in months. But I wanted additional posts even more because I would desperately like to read ahead, to skim read over the next several months and break the tension of not knowing what is coming. I think that not knowing what is coming is part of why I sat down to put the book together now. I’ve no idea what my emotional resources will be at the end of the year. I don’t know if I’ll be able to face a year-in-review. I don’t know what I’ll be grieving or if we’ll be able to rejoice instead. So, just as I’m doing for all our other resources, I’m stocking up now. I know I have the emotional energy to spend now. I don’t know what I’ll have later.

This morning the sun is shining, my flowers are gorgeous, and the world is still having a pandemic. The dissonance of this drives my choices in ways that I don’t understand. Perhaps at some future date I’ll be able to look back and make sense of it.

Thinking

I’ve been thinking about the people in 1929 and the stock market crash. In all my history courses it was so clear: Stock market crash = beginning of the Great Depression. Yet now that I’m living through a rolling, unraveling crisis I wonder if it was that clear to the people who lived through it. I’ll bet that life felt mostly normal for a long time, months perhaps a year. I read today’s news and I see all the seeds for massive economic collapse. Yet my daily life is pretty close to the same except for a feeling of impending doom which comes and goes.

I’m also thinking about the radiation therapy I had twenty five years ago. The effects of a radiation treatment always took time to manifest. Taste buds shut down instantly, everything else took time. It was toward the end of therapy that the accumulated damage became visible burn marks on my neck until the final week when the top layer of skin gave up and sloughed off. When the treatments stopped things still got worse for a few days afterward. Getting better was a slow process. A year before I felt normal. Five years before I began to lose the fear that the tumor would return. Ten years before the irradiated skin stopped being drier than the skin around it. Damage has already been done we just haven’t seen the full ongoing effects of the damage yet.

This morning I don’t have any additional information about the world that I didn’t have yesterday, but everything is feeling heavier today. I’m worried about supply chain problems. I worry that the longer it takes us to ready Big Dumb Objects for printing, the harder it will be to physically get it printed even though I’ve held the money necessary to pay for the work. I wish that the events I’ve got scheduled for August and September would officially cancel so I can let go of the contingency planning for them.

I think that I need to go do something useful to occupy my brain in a positive way rather than letting it continue thinking.

On Education

Two days ago the governor of my state announced that schools will continue with distance learning through the end of the school year. It was a result I’ve been expecting since mid-March, so it didn’t impact me much. Yet from the reactions on social media, I realized that not everyone has already let go of school. They’d retained hope that things could go back to normal. That their high school seniors would get to have prom, graduation, yearbook day. I suppose I’ve already had practice letting go of life experiences that I expected my kids to have, but they didn’t get to have. I’ve had three kids depart high school and only one of them had a graduation ceremony. I thought I would get to help my kids navigate prom and dating, only one of them has done any of that. Depression and anxiety had already stripped away the social trappings of school that so many are mourning this week. Their grief is real and hard.

I was a little surprised at my high school kid’s reaction to the news of cancellation. He wasn’t surprised either, but having it be official flipped some mental switch. He hadn’t even logged into his online classrooms. The day after cancellation, he did. I don’t know how far he’ll take the next steps, but he seems to have internalized that if he wants an education, he is the one who has to put in the time. Now he has to figure out how to get himself to put in time on a daily basis when there is no set schedule except one he creates for himself.

I skim read an article this morning about how lockdown orders are likely to permanently shape the way that teens think about the world. Much of what the article said made sense to me. Because of brain development that happens during the teen years, the experiences of those years create hardwired reactions that are buried deep in the psyche. Today’s teens are having a collective experience of isolation that is unlike anything a generation of teens has experienced before. Isolation can be collective because of the internet. This will change the generation they become and no one knows how yet. On the other hand, every teenager has been shaped by their experiences and their choices relating to those experiences. It is entirely normal for teens to be afraid of adulthood and the future. It is entirely normal for teens to have their hopes and expectations smashed in one way or another and for them to then have to learn how to pick up the pieces and keep going. So this is all yet another case of life being completely normal and completely unprecedented at the same time.

I know that quarantine is definitely shaping the young adults in my household. Their relationships to each other and to the world at large have shifted. None of us knows for certain what the opportunities and options will be three months from now. I think we’ll be lucky to get school back in the fall and that it will only be accomplished by halving the average class size in Utah. Since the facilities and staff aren’t available to do that easily. I wouldn’t be surprised for there to be A day students and B day students. Or perhaps one week on, one week off. With only half the student body attending at a time. In the meantime, my son has to figure out how to make himself work and I have to stand back and let him struggle with it.

Hope from a Seder

Last night I was at a party online. A friend hosted it on Zoom. It was lovely to meet new people and hear from others all over North America about their pandemic experiences. Being able to speak our challenges and emotions was so healing. At one point I found myself in a side room with several people who were Jewish. As the only non-Jewish person in the room, I was privileged to listen to them talk about their Seder experiences during a pandemic Passover. It was a glimpse into a world of tradition, depth of heritage, common culture, and connection. I only understood about half of the conversation, but that didn’t matter because the camaraderie they shared still invited me in rather than excluding me. One of the writers mentioned that there was a Seder on Youtube that was beautiful. Today I looked it up and watched the whole thing. She was right. It touched my heart even without a deep understanding of the traditions. I had to look up what a traditional Seder was like so that I was better able to see how this one varied from it. Except as near as I can tell, variations are more normal than not. Which makes sense given that the same is true of the family-based religious observances in my culture as well.

The Seder is here: Saturday Night Seder

It is joyful, heartfelt, silly, welcoming, holy, and soul healing. It deliberately welcomes in people from all backgrounds and traditions. I highly recommend taking an hour to watch the whole thing. Though I warn you, it is likely to make you cry, especially at the end. I did, but it was the crying of having hope again despite the world feeling hard.

Depression, Breathing, and the Path Ahead

When something as significant as depression hits, it ought to be obvious, but frequently it isn’t. Instead I manage to deduce it from outside evidence days or weeks after the mire begins. The trickiest part of mental health is that a flare up actively interferes with my ability to identify and manage the flare up. So it is this morning when I realize it has been four days since I blogged when I blogged almost every day for the month prior. I suppose some of that pause could be the Pandemic settling in and therefore requiring less processing. Yet there are other signs, the day I spent mostly in bed for instance. I am tired. I feel silly for being tired and depressed when my current existence is so close to normal. I have my house. I eat food that is pretty close to what I ate before. I still mail packages when orders come in. The things I can’t do are things which I didn’t do often anyway. Yet the not doing of them seems to accumulate.

Howard’s breathing was bad yesterday. Since his illness in January he’s been on daily asthma medication and taking hits on his inhaler multiple times per day. Some days this regimen puts him in a place where he can do light exercise. Yesterday he got out of breath standing and doing a puzzle. Then sitting and doing a puzzle. We were scheduled for a pulmonary function test in mid March. It got rescheduled for last week. Last week it got rescheduled for June. I know the decision is smart, that we must act as if Howard has not had Covid 19. Because if we stack Covid-19 on top of whatever is going on with his lungs, it would kill him. So taking him to a hospital (which probably has Covid-19 patients in it) for a test is ill-advised. But it means we don’t know what is going on. We have no way to know if it is getting worse or better. We can’t be certain if our treatments are optimal. We can’t even consult with a pulmonologist until May 19. That was the earliest appointment they would give me when I called in early March. I’ve ordered a pulse oxymeter so we can see what his blood oxygen levels are, but that won’t arrive until April 17-29 because Amazon has slowed down deliveries of “non-essentials.” (Or possibly because demand for oxymeters has gone up.) So I stand next to Howard, working on a puzzle together, and I listen when he suddenly takes several extra deep breaths in a row because his body has suddenly realized it needs more air. I wait when he has to pause mid-sentence to breathe and try to remember what he meant to say.

I ran cross country in high school. I was never particularly good at it, but I learned a lot about perseverance from doing it. I learned how to keep going even when I wanted to stop. At the beginning of a race there was something of a rush as people tested their speed and tried to get at the front of the pack. (Or in my case drop to the back.) That first pace was always too fast to maintain over the long run. After the first burst of energy, all the runners would settle in to a slower pace, one that they could keep up for two or three miles. That’s where we are with the pandemic. We’ve had our first month’s sprint where everything is jostling around and shifting. We had to adapt and adapt again to changing circumstances around us. Now events have spread out and it is time to settle into a pace we can maintain over the long haul ahead. The finish line is not even in sight, all we can see is the path ahead. All we can do is take one step after another. I remember settling in at the front end of a long run, feeling my body already start to be tired, yet knowing how much longer I needed to move. It frequently discouraged me to the point where I stopped running and started walking instead. The thing which cross country taught me was how to run when I felt like walking, and how not to defeat myself by letting discouragement win. Time for me to dredge up those lessons again. The path is long and I need to keep moving.

Edited to add: Howard has good breathing days and bad ones. The problem comes and goes. There are still more good days than difficult ones, but we’re tracking it.