March 31, 2020: Storm Windows, Screens, and Bad Decisions.

RoofParty

 

Yesterday, I removed our storm windows and replaced them with screens. Our master bathroom window gives us easy access to a flat area of our roof. As I worked on this particular window, I noticed that leaves had collected on a portion of our roof. Since I had yet to put the screen back in, I decided it was a good time to climb out and clean the area. 

It’s a relatively safe space — if there is such a thing when one is walking on a roof. I gathered handfuls of wet leaves and chucked them over the side of the house. By the time I’d cleared the first pile, I noticed another batch that was not in such a safe area. I used a broom to reach over the peak and scrape this second pile across the gutter and onto the walkway below. Stretching out as far as possible, trying to get every single leaf off of my roof, I thought, this is probably not the best idea. I saw my neighbor walking his dog by our house. He paused to glance up at me, and I don’t blame him for smirking at what he saw. 

A moment later, Maddie was on the roof behind me, crouched and smiling. “What are you doing, Dad?” Before I could protest, she put her hands up and said, “Mom said I could come out as long as I stay near the window.” 

I sat across from her and that’s when the Fozzie popped his head up in the window, a favorite stuffy held gently in his mouth. “No dogs allowed on the roof,” I said. That’s where I draw the line. 

Maddie and I chatted for a bit, Fozzie sneaking a peek from time to time, hoping I’d have a change of heart. The warmth of the shingles, my grandfather’s ancient broom handle stretched across my lap, and the scent of spring all conspired to keep me from moving. But I thought about how incredibly stupid it was for me to reach over the top of that roof with a broom. What if I’d fallen? It was foolish on any day, but with the overwhelming demands of health care workers screening, treating, and healing patients with the CoronaVirus, it was a selfish move. 

I followed Maddie back through the window, installed the screen, and went back to the easy, safe work of getting ready for spring. 

Trading for TP: March 30, 2020

Screen Shot 2020-03-30 at 10.56.49 AM

I’ve seen videos of folks installing DIY bidets in their homes—hoses with spray nozzles hooked up to the toilet’s water line. Is this lack of toilet paper paranoia or clever preparedness? A couple weeks ago I wasn’t sure, but as time has gone on, and the paper product shelves remain empty, I won’t lie….I was starting to worry. Until yesterday. 

My friend told me his family had a hearty supply of toilet paper, and they’d be happy to drop some off at our place. I thanked him and explained that we were not that desperate yet, but should the time come, we would send up flares or put a sign in our window: “It’s time.” An hour later I received a text: I’m coming to rescue you with more toilet paper.

I set out some homemade bread and cookies in exchange for his generosity. Once in our driveway, he exited his truck, held a pack of TP overhead like a trophy, and sprinted toward our front door. He heaved the pack onto our stoop, snatched the baked goods, and sprinted back to his vehicle. And just like that, we were set—no need to build a bidet. I watched all of this from our kitchen window.

We really didn’t need the toilet paper yet, and he didn’t need the bread or cookies. But, what we both needed was social interaction. And this was as close as we could get.

March 27, 2020: Netless Badminton

IMG_8946

For seventeen years we lived in a house that no one visited during trick-or-treating. Last year, we moved into a neighborhood that’s swarmed with little monsters every year on October 31. Maddie was thrilled to finally be in the throes of tick-or-treating. Unfortunately, weather delayed the event, and she would have to miss the new date due to a sporting event. Needless to say, she was upset. 

Fast forward to the present moment. Maddie is well aware of the current pandemic; for the past two weeks, she’s only seen her friends on Facetime. Her birthday is upcoming, and it just hit her–it’s likely she will not be able to have a birthday party with friends. It may not seem like a big deal to most of us, but for a fourteen-year-old, it is. She handled it well, saying, “It stinks but with everything that people are dealing with right now, it’s ok. There will be other birthdays.” Maddie has impressed us with her optimism during this tough time. 

She is a social being–Maddie is always connecting with her friends, meeting at the park to play basketball, walking downtown for bubble tea, Shopping at Goodwill, planning the next sleepover. So, when the pandemic hit, I thought she would be the family member who suffered the most. But I was wrong. While I’ve been moping around the house, she’s been wondering if I’m ok, asking me to play cards; she even invented netless badminton in the driveway. She’s lifted my spirits, made me laugh daily, and still has that magical bounce in her step. 

We are only in week two of our quarantine, so we may have a long way to go, but Maddie’s energy, laughter, and selflessness have inspired our whole family. Oh, and she is dominating in netless badminton. 

March 26, 2020: My House is too Quiet

I know I sometimes complain about the noise in my house. After teaching all day at school, I want to find some peace at home. That rarely happens. After being cooped up in school, my teenagers release their energy in all kinds of ways: Maddie dances through the kitchen, singing, arms flailing. Nathan screams into his phone, as he facetimes with his friends. If I try to hide somewhere, I’m immediately needed. When I seek peace and quiet, I cannot find it. Yet, now, we are all here in quarantine and it’s too quiet.

It’s 2:00PM, everyone’s home, and all I can hear is the buzzing of my computer. There are long stretches like this with nothing but the clicks and snaps, and pops of the house. Someone just closed a door. And now, I can hear the wood floors creaking, and–based on the cadence–Maddie is probably moving to a new location. The dog just sneezed and then scratched his ear. I sigh. Then, back to silence. The computer is humming again, and a car just rolled by.

Last night I saw video footage of New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The same streets typically packed bumper to bumper with cars were barren. My house feels like this. Though there are occasional outbursts, we are generally quiet. The same people who fill our home with noise, energy, and life are now subdued. Though our energy is sapped and our moods are soured, our minds still race with questions. Will our family members in NYC be safe? Will summer be summer? How much longer will all of this last?

March 25, 2020: Hitting a Wall

Until yesterday, I thought I would be ok with remote learning. I thought I’d be able to read and bake and write my way through this pandemic.  But I was wrong. Yesterday, I met with my students on Zoom and though it was great to see their faces, I left the chat feeling detached and distant. 

I’d been reading other teacher’s inspiring messages about how uplifting it was to reconnect with their students on Zoom. I suppose I felt moments of that: seeing them smile and joke about becoming a master of Mario Kart, trying to contain their squirmy cats and dogs in front of the camera, telling stories about nature walks–that was cool. But there were more moments of silence, when no one knew what to say, when we all stared catatonically at the screen, waiting for someone to speak. During these moments, I saw tired eyes hiding under hoodies, zombie-like expressions, and a few forced smiles wondering how long we would all need to connect by gazing into a screen.  

I’m an optimist, but yesterday I hit a wall, and I felt just how much I miss the face to face interaction with my students and colleagues. Yes, I should be thankful for the technology that allows us to see and hear one another. Yes, I should appreciate the ability to connect in this digital capacity. But what this short time away from my real life has taught me is that I am deeply grateful for the privilege to be in the presence of my students, to interact with them in the same room, to listen closely, to clash, to laugh. I’m grateful for the moments when they doodle ridiculous pictures of me on our whiteboard, smile and smirk at one another, ask if they can keep writing, are no longer in my class but visit to ask for a book recommendation, ask me about my weekend, say good morning, nervously slide their computer screen my way gesturing for me to read their short story, play an original song on their guitar, ask me to sit with them during lunch, demand I purchase the next book a series, and cry out in pain when I stop reading aloud. 

In short, I miss school. 

March 24, 2020: Bread, Bagels, and Bialys

Confession: I love bread. Caraway rye, whole wheat, white, 5-grain sourdough, mixed flour miche. I love it all. I know that store-bought breads made with white flour are not much better for me than sugar and that too many carbs can cause problems, but I believe that there’s magic in homemade bread–especially when it’s cultivated with the superpowers of a sourdough starter. 

Breads made with a natural fermentation process may be less likely to produce a spike in blood sugar levels, are easier to digest, and allow for greater mineral absorption than conventional breads. Also, those with gluten sensitivities are often able to eat sourdough breads without gut issues. If that makes you feel better about eating something that tastes so wonderful, great!  

Now, about the process. It takes time. It takes preparation. It takes….waiting. One of my favorite commercials: Apple’s iPhone commercial where Cookie Monster is waiting for his cookies to finish baking. One minute feels like an hour. At heart, I’m a lot like Cookie Monster; patience is something I’ve had to cultivate–it does not come naturally. However, after countless failures–trash bags full of brick-like hunks of dough–I can now turn out an artisan loaf whose crumb is full of air and whose crust is crisp and chewy. 

One of my favorite loaves is called Vermont Sourdough. The baker (who named it so) lives in Vermont, and his particular starter took in the natural yeast from the air in his hometown, hence the name: Vermont Sourdough. My version–State College Sourdough–may not sound as cool, but it’s wonderful. We have a freezer in our garage that’s full of bags labeled SC sourdough. I eat it with avocado in the morning, with peanut butter for lunch, and with whatever is for dinner. I trade it with friends for farm eggs, give it away to family members, and share it with my students. 

During this time of social isolation, I’ve baked more than usual. The only thing I enjoy more than my sourdough bread is a homemade bagel. I don’t bake them often, but when I do, they are devoured quickly by all members of the household. 

A couple days ago, my wife and I decided to take a stab at bialys (basically a bagel without the hole, filled with caramelized onions and poppy seeds, or anything other fun toppings you might imagine). They looked beautiful, but I wasn’t crazy about the way they tasted…a bit too much dough and not enough topping. Still, the process was fun.

I keep asking if Nathan or Maddie wants to help bake with me. Neither is particularly interested, but I think we are getting closer. Occasionally, Maddie will ask, “Why do you shape the dough that way?” That will start a conversation and I’ll step to the side and let her try. Sometimes Nathan will ask questions about the nutritional content of a particular loaf and why one with seeds might be more nutritious than one without. I used to ask them to help me, but now I’m just waiting. It’s my hope that if they grow up around all this homemade goodness, they will eventually want to know how to do it on their own. 

I expect there will be a time (maybe not as soon as I’d like) when one or both of them asks me to take them through the process. When that time comes, I will do my best not to say, “See, I told you you’d want to know how to do this.” Rather, I will smile and say, “Sure, let’s start with the sourdough.” 

March 23, 2020: Help Looks Like This

Two days ago, a childhood friend sent me a couple photos of his 3D-printing invention: a shield for the N95 masks. Jeremy Filko and his wife, Amy, are using their ingenuity, time, and resources to produce shields that lengthen the time health care workers can use these masks. Due to the shortage of masks, their invention is critical, and the product is already in high demand. Best of all, they are sharing the design with others who have  3D-printing capability; the only caveat: anyone who makes the product must not charge a fee–the shields must be given away for free. 

This is the “we, not me” thinking that is needed right now. Everything we are reading shows us that if we stay inside, practice social distancing, and only venture out when we need food, we can flatten the curve. I cringe when I see beaches flooded with people who are eschewing the guidelines. My blood boils when I hear the careless comments like, “If I get Corona, I get Corona.” And, “We’re going to die of something anyway. You can’t stop life.” I want to believe that these comments represent a small number of folks and that most of us are seeing beyond our own desires. 

We can’t all invent N95 shields, but by staying at home, only purchasing what we need, and supporting one another with kindness, we are making a collective effort to end this pandemic.  So, when you are at home completing that puzzle, baking bread, deep cleaning the house, or simply having a conversation with a family member, you are helping everyone. Thanks. 

*Click here to read more about Jeremy and Amy’s invention.

March 22, 2020: The Dog is Happy

IMG_4144

Fozzie will turn nine-years-old next month. Our kids were six and four when the white Goldendoodle pup sat quietly in his crate during the drive home from Pittsburgh. There was no whimpering, no crying, just some silent tail wagging. He strode into our home like he’d always been there. Fozzie moved from one lap to another, sniffing pant legs, nibbling on fingers, licking our laughing faces. 

At the time, I worked during the day, and my wife worked during the evening hours. This meant that Nathan, Maddie, and Fozzie always had at least one parent at home. But, after both kids were in school for a couple of years, things changed. My wife and I were gone during the day, and Fozzie started to miss out on all the daytime attention.

Now we are all home. All day. Every day. And though we miss work and school, and friends, and grandparents, and being around people in general, Fozzie couldn’t be happier. He moves from kid to kid, from parent to parent, expecting belly rubs and hearty head pats. Oh, he says with that look in his eye,  if you wouldn’t mind spending a little extra time on the spot just above my tail, that would be great. And we oblige. 

Fozzie is eating more food because all this attention takes effort and energy–not to mention the long mid-day walks with everyone. And actually, these walks are wonderful. Not only are we getting more exercise, but all this walking has opened up a new opportunity for conversations with our teenagers. They don’t always join us, but when they do, they tell us about friendships, and hopes for the summer, and struggles at school, and why they don’t like what we have planned for dinner. 

So, thank you, Fozzie, for giving us a chance to connect in ways we haven’t for a while. We really don’t want to be stuck at home for much longer, but since, right now we really don’t have a choice, it’s so much better to be here with you.

March 21, 2020: Ghost Town Run

I’m a fan of dystopian novels. I get drawn into the “what if” premises conjured by our most imaginative authors. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Neil Shusterman’s Scythe.  They all warn of what might become of us, if we are not careful.

A few years ago, I ran the End of the Road Half Marathon. I was required to wear a headlamp, as the course wound through an abandoned stretch of the Pennsylvania turnpike–including long stretches of pitch-black tunnels.  I ran that race while listening to a Stephen King novel; it was an eerie experience: trees busting through asphalt, fallen concrete, untended growth threatening to swallow the entrance to each tunnel. Once inside, my headlamp illuminated the rainbow of graffiti that lined the entire belly of the tunnel.

I finished the race and stood shoulder to shoulder with other finishers, eating bananas, sipping water. I drove home, content to leave that faux post-apocalyptic world behind.

This morning, I almost turned on the television to check the latest numbers–how many new cases? New deaths? But, I resisted, put on my running shoes, met my Saturday morning running partner, and we set out on our weekly 7-mile jog. Part of our run takes us through gravel roads and dirt paths, but we always end by cutting through campus and downtown. There’s typically a lot to see: families in line for breakfast, groups of students laughing, dog walkers, frisbee-throwers, and often, the early chattering around an upcoming sporting event.

But this morning, campus and downtown felt just like the dirt trails and gravel roads. You could have parked a motorhome along college avenue. No one was in line for breakfast, business doors were closed and locked, their insides as dark as the tunnels I ran through during my half marathon. Instead of signage announcing sales and store hours, quickly scribbled notes explained their current status: Closed. It was a new kind of quiet I’ve never witnessed in my college hometown.

It’s my hope that later this spring, or maybe this summer, we will all be back outside with our frisbees and too-loud voices, trying to find that elusive parking spot along College avenue.

March 20, 2020: Air Hugs

Grandparents live for hugging their grandchildren. Telling them to keep their distance is like telling an infant not to cry. It defies all logic and reason. Still, that’s where we are. Pre-Coronavirus, my teenagers still welcomed hugs from their grandparents. They went out to eat with them each Friday and occasionally spent the night at their place. Grammy & Pappy’s B&B, they joke. 

But we are keeping our distance now. Connecting through facetime, texts and videos is not the same. We are giving air hugs. We are saying I love you