Monday, April 27, 2020

New Habits and Activities

This time at home has lead to the development of some new habits and have introduced new things into our lives - some bad, some good.

As a family, we stay up later and sleep in. The first couple of weeks when it was all new and we didn't really have a feel for how long it might last, we were especially bad, not really paying attention to the time and really messing up our schedules as a whole. It is hard to argue why not one more episode of the show or one more chapter in the book or one more game, we literally have nowhere to be and no specific time to be there. I started seeing it impacting us, so I made the decision that we had to get better at it. Certainly bedtimes didn't need to align with normal but we needed to be reasonable. We successfully shifted and are getting to bed at more reasonable times and getting up to start the day earlier in the day. We also enforce more regular schedule during the week and allow a little flexibility on the weekend. This has helped us return to more normal eating schedule and with both sleeping and eating back on a more normal schedule, everyone generally feels better and has a better attitude too. It will still be tough when we have to be up and out the door at a specific time again but with a more normal schedule it will be a little easier to shift back to that then it would have been.

As a family, we have shifted from team workouts/group workouts to more independent workouts and activities. It's not that we are more or less active or burning more or less calories, we are simply doing it differently. I used to do group exercise and swimming workouts with an occasional lunchtime or evening walk to clear the head, now that those classes are cancelled and the gym is closed, I rely on walking for my daily activity. I have steadily increased the distance so as to stay ahead of my step goal in my otherwise stay at home lifestyle that we have had to transition to. I have successfully walked at least 30 minutes every day for the past 44 days. It has been tough on days that it was rainy or snowy but I watched for the breaks and even dealt with the light sprinkle of rain to get to 30 minutes at least once. It is noticeable too; when I was out walking on Saturday, two different people that were hanging out in their driveways commented on my regular walking. Strange thing is that the time of day I walk can vary greatly so the fact that they noticed surprised me. I have also used these walks to observe the world around me and captured many pictures; yesterday it was fun playing with taking pictures using the puddles.
My husband has been sticking with his running routine but doesn't have the bike/treadmill option on the cold or wet days like he used to. He has switched to running virtual races, as his race schedule for the spring and summer has slowly been cancelled or converted to virtual races. My daughter does a daily work out and often times fits in a short run too. My son, in addition to keeping up with throwing and hitting for baseball, has done several runs and has put more miles on his bicycle than he has in years.

We are cooking and baking more. The cookie jar is almost never empty. There is fresh made bread in the house every weekend. We have found ways to create the tastes of our favorite dining out meals at home. We have tried many new recipes - although it seems they are mostly desserts or at least sweets.
My daughter has Home Ec (they call it family and consumer sciences now though) this quarter - so far, there has only been one hands on assignment - make an egg dish. She chose a souffle - it was good and she really did learn things - separating eggs, why we fold in egg whites, why we cover custard with wax paper, why a souffle will rise and come out of the oven fluffy and deflate within a short window following. Even with that, we are still trying to support local and try to order in at least once a week from a local restaurant and get beer from the local brewery.

We are binge watching series and catching up on movies. On some shows, we have to wait for a new episode to come out and on others we have a few seasons to go. I have started watching new series on HGTV and Food Network, just for a little variety. Some shows we watch as a family, some we watch in smaller groups, some we watch on our own - we use our family room, our media room, our computers and the iPad to provide the flexibility. It helps us as we look to find the right balance of together and alone time - since we all are here pretty much all of the time.

We are reading more. I have been reading from the stack of book sale books that I have near my bedside. My daughter has been reading a couple of different YA series and has even been trying her hand at writing in the style of some of those books.

The kids are playing more. Together and apart. My daughter is spending more time on the swingset. She has always loved it but it is a way to be outside and change up the scenery. They have been playing games / challenges together. They set up a course the other day with dominoes, strings, weights and more. They sat at the top of the stairs and tried to toss a ping pong ball into a cup at the bottom of the stairs.

I am trying to continue the clean-up/purge journey I began when I lost my job. We went through the backroom in the basement and organized and got rid of and sold things that we no longer needed or wouldn't use again. We have gone through the kids clothes to pull out the things that don't fit (or don't wear) and have been trying to sell those. I have gone through some of my files (there are always more and I can only do so much at one time). I used this stay at home to organize the freezers and inventory the food we have on hand so that I could focus on what we needed at the store and ensuring we used things up. I am trying to work through my stack of magazines that have arrived monthly over the years and I simply never had the time to read them. I read them, pull out the page or two that has something that I want to try or look into and off it goes.

We finally have time to tackle home projects and it gives us something to plan and to do. I have painted doors and frames, I have painted (portions) of the playset in the backyard (limited by paint not time). My husband cleaned up and cleaned out the garage. Moved things to mark the change in season and make outdoor activities more accessible.

I have changed the way that I shop (but I will go back at least in some ways). I really like Target's drive up service. I think I will use that for more things even after this stay at home order. If I know I need a few things, it really is easier to order them and pick them up than to park and run into the store. I went for detergent and fabric softener yesterday. The whole trip - drive time and order pick up time was 10 minutes. Since I live 5 minutes away, it essentially took no time to get my order. I am convinced that the 'let us know you are coming' gives them perspective on how close you are when you push the button. They almost always are walking out the door with my stuff as I shift my car from drive to park. I love that the app / their spots are connected and it automatically lets them know I am there. I'm generally not a fan of grocery pick up service - although, I might be more of a fan when they return to allowing you to pay at pick up. I get frustrated that I can't simply maintain and add to my list as the week passes - I have to process a payment each time I make an update. I can start my cart a week out when I reserve the timeslot but I don't always know a week out what we will be low on or be craving or otherwise need when I do pick up. I also struggle to find the magic way to search sometimes. I have gotten better at managing the substitutions so that I get what I want...but that also means that I do without on some things because I ask for no sub even though I might sub if I was in store. I don't like that sales are fewer and/or that sale items are bought out all the time. I like to be able to shop the sales and stock up, so I don't have to buy during non-sales times.

What new activities or habits are you developing? What shows are you watching?

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Observations from StayAtHome

As I woke up this morning, I was reflecting on this time we have had at home over the past five weeks. It's only officially been four weeks since we learned of the true StayAtHome order (and still a few days short of it being four weeks its been in effect) but it was five weeks ago that things started to close. First to close for us was the schools, then restaurants for dine-in, then gyms, then non-essential businesses and so on.

On one hand, I feel isolated with no where to go and miss time spent with people (outside of those that I live with). I miss going to the kids' sports and school events. I enjoy watching them do the things that they love and the chance to connect with friends that I only see at those events (who has time in their schedule to see them otherwise). I miss being able to go to the gym and visit with people as I walk on the track or swim in the pool or take a class with friends. Sure, I am getting out and walking each day but even though I am getting in my activity and decompressing in the process just like I would at the Y, it is not the same as it lacks that social element. (Actually, I am pretty proud that I have found the opportunity every day for the past 35 days to get out for at least a 30 minute walk. Considering the rain and snow, I had to make an effort to find the right time to get out.) I miss getting together with friends for hanging out or game night, I miss going out for dinner or trivia, I miss having plans.

I know that the kids are also feeling it too, although I would say it feels like it is impacting my son more than my daughter. He has reached the point of bored where he went for a 7 mile bike ride last weekend. No destination, just a ride. Yesterday, it was snowing and he wanted to get outside for a bit. He wasn't sure what to do but settled on getting in some swings of the bat, hitting the ball off the tee into the net. This actually surprises me a bit because I would have always said my daughter is more social than my son - I think though now that I reflect on it, he has always been very dedicated to sports and spends a lot of time on a sports field and even when he hangs with friends there is usually some type of sport involved. It isn't that he isn't social, its just that he does more group social activity than one on one. My daughter is all about spending time with friends and although she does a lot of that through sports too, her and her friends can spend hours just spending time together.
I don't even get my normal weekly get away to the store (one constant that I can always count on regardless of the schedule is getting to the store to buy food), as I am almost exclusively shopping online for curbside pick up of my groceries. As I have shared, I am an in person shopper - in part to connect with others and in part because I like to explore and consider my choices - so this shopping online is not natural for me. I also find it is not easy to explore products online - you can't exactly walk down the aisle and see all your options. I have found that some stores do more abbreviating in their names making searching challenging even. I am very appreciative of those stores that have apps and I can scan barcodes of the products I have at home, then I don't have to figure out how to locate the item online. I am still rotating through stores based on what time slots I can get. Normally, I am going out about every 10 days for groceries and every other day it seems to Target for a pick up of odds and ends. This next week is an odd one as I have two grocery pick ups scheduled. The one store has a sale on 2L of soda and the other has the beer that my husband enjoys and we are out of. I haven't yet filled out my orders but anticipate that the first one will be a really light order, since I just picked up groceries last week and have been buying for two weeks at a time. I will likely make the second one be my next 'regular' pick up and fill it out with milk, bread and eggs.

On the other hand though, having no plans, no place to be has been kind of nice. There is a certain leisure to being able to get up in the morning and take care of a few chores and then to simply sit down with a coffee and a book or movie or my puzzle. It is nice to be able to have time to bake each week - I have used the same bread recipe each week but it is a little different each week (better in my opinion).
It is nice to be able to find time for a 30 minute walk each day - without having to try to squeeze it in between things or before it gets too dark. In fact, everyone is finding time to get out and be active - whether going for a walk, a run, a bike ride or simply playing in the yard. It is nice to sit down as a family each day and enjoy our meals at a normal time (we usually eat together, it just is squeezed in or after all our things) and to spend our evenings hanging out watching Jeopardy!, a TV series or a movie. Everyone has developed a new routine. We are staying up later and sleeping in. We are keeping our meals mixed up to avoid boredom and still finding a chance each week to do pick up from a local restaurant (and occasionally from Chik-fil-A because who can resist those sandwiches).

This time home has certainly made me appreciate time at home. Normally, it's only on that random Saturday where games got called due to rain that we legitimately have a completely unplanned day. I like doses. I suppose right now, as we all have our new routines, that it feels a little less unplanned but certainly is unrushed. The kids have flexibility on when to do their schoolwork most of the time, the exceptions being when there is a class online or a quiz that has to be done in a certain timeframe. Most of their work has a weekly rather than a daily due date.

We learned this week that the governor hopes to begin to open things up on May 1. There is officially a light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, the opening will be gradual and will not be 'full' but it is a move in the direction of returning to normal. I am hopeful that all of us will remember this time and will find ways to keep some unplanned/unrushed time in our schedules and will appreciate the little things that we had taken for granted.

How are things in your part of the world?

Friday, April 10, 2020

As the Week Winds Down

It has been a good week. Following the productive weekend, I feel like we accomplished some good things this week. I think in part it may have been helped by the updating of the models for COVID19. I don't know where you all live but here in Ohio we were significantly under the model and the updates lowered the expected peaks significantly and brought the peak in a few days. I am starting to believe (not just hope) that we will have a return to normal following the current stay at home order expiration.
Of course, Ohio weather has been typically weird weather. We have had some gorgeous days, where we could get outside in short sleeves and enjoy the sights of spring. We had a couple of tornadoes touch down within a few miles of our house. We had that gorgeous super moon, of course it was partially obstructed but we got some cool pictures when it wasn't obstructed. We had flurries and sleet yesterday and then this morning, we woke to a covering of snow.

I have learned, when we are home we bake. We have always been bakers but in 'normal' schedule time we are generally limited in frequency and often I do most of it. During the break, my son has been doing a good amount of the baking. I had to add flour, butter and eggs to my next order to make sure that we can continue to bake. We have made 2 batches of biscotti, 3 batches of cookies, a batch of macarons (trying all-purpose flour in lieu of almond flour), a batch of beignets and two batches of bread. The kids would like to give another try to an alternate recipe that uses all-purpose flour for macarons.

We also cook. Again, not that we don't do a lot of cooking when we are not on a stay at home order but we seem to be on the go enough that we have a lot of quick fix meals rather than longer prep meals. Over the past couple of weeks, we have made homemade macaroni and cheese and a childhood favorite chicken in gravy over biscuits (and they were homemade biscuits). We have also tried knock off versions of restaurant favorite dishes. Homemade pizza has been a staple of our weekly menu.

Tonight, we celebrate our 21st Anniversary. Normally, we would have planned a dinner out as a couple or with the family. Or, if the timing worked out, we might have even planned a getaway as a couple or a family (Niagara Falls area is one of our favorite getaways). We are getting carry-out pizza from a local place and a growler of beer from the local craft brewery. Supporting local and celebrating us.

I definitely miss people. As much as I am a homebody, I also love being with people and being social. I want to host a game night or sit with friends watching kids sports and visiting or go to trivia with friends or just visit around a bonfire. During this time, it is nice to catch up with friends on the phone or via chat - but it is not the same as in person interactions. I find great joy in crossing paths with others when I am out for a walk. Sure, I cross the street or walk on the edge of the road to allow appropriate space but just waving to the walkers, the runners and the cars that drive by gives me that sense of connection with others. It was nice to visit at a distance with the owners at the craft brewery as I picked up the growler - hearing about their dog and his peculiarities.

The other night, I woke up in the middle of the night. I was thinking about what I had to do the next day and became a little disheartened that we really have gotten to the point where the next day is the same as the last and the next. Even with looking forward to our anniversary and Easter, there still isn't much different. We still don't have 'plans' or get to see family and friends. I am excited for the Easter dinner that I will make and the little bit I have pulled together for the kid's baskets, yet without being able to share it with family, it seems less than it should be. Knowing that this social distancing and stay at home order is really having an impact is the shining light that continues to give me hope and helps me to keep moving forward.

How are you holding up?

Monday, April 6, 2020

A New Week

Today is the first day of spring break for the kids. With my son being on the high school baseball team, it's been a while since we did something more than a day-trip or stay-cation for spring break. Even though we would only get away one day, we generally filled our time with other fun activities - hanging out with friends, mother-daughter pedicures, laser tag with friends, mini-golf and go-carts, sleepovers, swimming and ice cream. This year we simply are home. I have to say, it feels a little weird.

It's not like spring break is the only unusual thing going on though. One positive of this whole experience is increased family time. I am seeing it at my house and in the neighborhood. This weekend we took a family bike ride, just over 6 miles round trip from home to lunch and back again. We picked up carryout from a local favorite and biked back to the school to use the picnic tables to enjoy our lunch before biking home. We have always loved family bike rides (okay, who am I kidding, my husband and I love them and the kids come along because they have to and sometimes with a bit of whine as we plan for it) but finding time for them lately with two very active children (and parents) has been a challenge. Normally we do closer to 20 or 25 miles round trip but the restaurants we use as destinations on the journey are sit down places, that although I assume are doing carry-out wouldn't be as conducive to finding a picnic table or eating outside. It was nice to get in a bike ride locally and spend some active time together as a family. As we were out biking, I saw a lot of families walking together, biking together, doing yard work together and playing ball in their yards. It really was a nice sight to see.

This weekend we also enjoyed a family movie night in. We are definitely a movie family and have even included destinations like the dine-in theater as part of one of our staycation adventures. We watched Onward on Friday night on Disney+. It wasn't a movie that we had talked about going to see or were anxiously awaiting, in fact, even when we suggested it, my daughter wasn't really interested in watching it but we all did and discovered it was a good movie and everyone enjoyed it.

We also tackled a few projects around the house this weekend. We are entering the eleventh season with our Ultrabuilt playset this year and the kids (my daughter much more so than my son) still enjoy it. In the early years, I was very consistent in making sure that we gave it a fresh coat of paint each spring or at least every other spring to help protect it from the sun and rain. More recently, we have been a lot more busy and it has fallen to every three (or at least that is how long we think it was) years. This was not the best idea as we found a couple of boards that had not maintained the seal created by the paint (or maybe I missed a spot during the last one?) and had a bit of rot within those boards (or was it carpenter ants or something similar?). We made the repairs that were needed and then I used the paint we had on hand to paint the main slide platform and adjacent rails. We will need more paint so I can seal the rest but the store we bought it at doesn't carry that brand anymore and we tried but couldn't figure out how to do an online order for a paint blend - we could get the base gallon but there was no where to enter the color or see/select the color from samples. The rest will just have to wait until we can get back into the stores. We also had a water issue on the frame for our back door. We put in french doors several years ago and it looks like the flashing above the frame wasn't properly overlapped and so we have had a slow trickle of water in around the frame. This caused some of the wood to rot. We used some caulk to address the issue with the flashing and then tackled the frame. We dug out the bad part and filled it with wood filler to rebuild the space, sanded it and will paint it. Again, we don't have the paint we need, so in the short term we will use what we have from the front porch and will have to repaint later when we can select the color we need at the store.

I have found that I have fallen into a steady routine. I know that I am cleaning things more often trying to reduce risk. Each morning, I get up and feed the cats. If I sleep longer than they like, they make sure I am up by climbing up on my bed and sitting on my stomach to cry about eating. Then, I open up the blinds on the first floor to maximize the sunlight we are getting inside. Then, I start by cleaning up the kitchen - put away clean dishes, address any that were soaking from the previous night, take out trash and recycles, and then I wipe down all of the counters. To be fair, I had wiped down the counters and cleaned up after dinner too but I want to make sure that we are starting each day fresh. I then wipe down the counters, the faucet and the toilet in the main floor bathroom. It is the first place we go when we walk in the door to wash up from being outside the house - whether just out for a walk or coming in from the store - so I want to make sure that nothing was left behind on a surface in there. Then, I wipe the inside and outside door handles for all three entry doors and the button on the garage door opener. Then I swap the towels in the kitchen and half bath and add them to the washer to be cleaned with the next load. Then, I will typically work a bit on our puzzle, check e-mail and Facebook, have breakfast, maybe watch a show or movie, check out job postings and hopefully apply to one or two viable options. I typically will go for a walk in the afternoon but adjust based on weather - so far, I have found a way to get in at least a 30 minute walk each of the days that have passed since social distancing began.

We found out last week that school closures have been extended to May 1st and then that the Stay At Home order has also been extended to May 1st. I am glad that they didn't go as far out as some other states; I have heard June 10th for some state(s). I am hopeful and pray that we will be able to start to return to normal come May 1st. I know it may be a gradual return but a start to return is at least a beginning and something to look forward to.

Interestingly, I counted and May 1st represents 40 days of social distancing. I counted because I saw a blurb on Facebook about the number 40 and the significance. It referenced among other things, the 40 days of the great flood, the 40 days of Lent and so on. Of course I left to verify something and couldn't find the post when I went back into Facebook and I can't remember what friend had shared it. My husband found a similar one but it had less of the connections. One of the things it referenced (and one of the things I left to verify) was that even the word quarantine comes from the Italian word meaning 40 days (from Wikipedia: The word quarantine comes from quarantena, meaning "forty days", used in the 14th-15th-century Venetian language and designating the period that all ships were required to be isolated before passengers and crew could go ashore during the Black Death plague epidemic).

This week, I was able to schedule a grocery pick up, so I should be able to stay out of the stores this week but likely will do my own shopping next week. In part because it is so hard to get a time and in part because I still find shopping for myself easier but also a little riskier than I want - we learned this weekend that someone that works at our grocery tested positive. We are on about a 9 - 10 day schedule for groceries at this point. I am buying two weeks worth of bread and milk products each time so that we can stretch the visits out and have partial coverage if they are out of stock. The one thing that is harder to stretch is produce. We just make sure that we get our fruits and veggies fresh when we first shop and then we can move to frozen or canned later in the time between grocery trips. When we have a Friday evening without plans, we like to stop by the store and pick up a fresh baguette to enjoy as a snack. Not wanting to go to the store for one item, this weekend I made bread. I have made bread before but it has been a while. It turned out good and was a nice accompaniment to our dinner on Saturday as well. I will definitely plan to add flour to my shopping list so that I can make more.

How have you been doing? What adaptations have you made? How long are things 'closed' in your area?

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The New Husband by D.J. Palmer

A complimentary advanced readers copy was provided to me.
I have always loved how a book can transport you to another place, another time...can completely immerse you in the storyline to the point that you are there alongside the characters and living and breathing their joys, their sadness, their fears. During a time like we are living in, the ability to escape is a wonderful opportunity that awaits in books. I recently completed reading The New Husband by D.J. Palmer (aka Daniel Palmer, son of Michael Palmer) and it did not disappoint, it had me fully engrossed and wanting to keep reading (to borrow a word I saw describing another book - unputdownable).

The New Husband is a riveting thriller about the lies we tell ourselves from D. J. Palmer, the author of Saving Meghan.

Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you know them.

Nina Garrity learned that the hard way after discovering that her missing husband, Glen, had been leading a double life with another woman. But Glen's gone―presumably drowned while fishing on his boat―so she can't confront him about the affair or any of his other misdeeds. A year and a half after the accident, Nina considers herself a widow, even though the police never found a body. Following a chance encounter with Simon Fitch, a teacher from her daughter Maggie's middle school, Nina finds love again and has hopes of putting her shattered life back together.

Simon, a widower still grieving the suicide of his first wife, has found his dream girl in Nina. His charm and affections help break through to a heart hardened by betrayal. Nina's teenage son, Connor, embraces Simon as the father he wishes his dad could have been, but Maggie sees a far darker side to this new man in their lives. Even Nina’s good friends wonder if Simon is supremely devoted―or dangerously possessive.

But Nina is committed, not only to her soon-to-be new husband but also to resuming her former career as a social worker. Before she can move forward, however, Nina must first clear her conscience that she's not making another terrible choice in a man. In doing so, she will uncover the shocking truth: the greatest danger to her, and her children, are the lies people tell themselves.

Wow! That really is my first response to this story. The first couple of chapters were a little slow, as he was setting the scene and I wasn't sure where we were going, but once it got going, I didn't want to stop. I needed to know what really was going on - how did Simon seem to know so much, why did he seem to be so controlling yet not really, how was he always there at just the right points, what was Maggie seeing and why wasn't her mom and brother seeing the same things, who was telling the truth. And the twists, the turns, the! (there's that word again)

I liked the story-telling method he used of having multiple characters share the story from their lens, allowing the reader to get different point of views around the same events and allowing you to draw your own conclusions. The story was so realistic and plausible, the thrill is so real and told in a way that really pulls you in to the story and the lives of the characters.

I definitely recommend this fast-paced, chilling read from DJ Palmer. Definitely a book that will have you so engrossed, you may be able to forget (temporarily) what's going on around you. The New Husband is scheduled for release in hardback on 4/14 but looks like you can get the Kindle version now.

You can learn more about DJ Palmer and his books on his website. And, since we all have a little more time now, if you love a thriller, be sure to check out other books by DJ Palmer (and Daniel Palmer) and Michael Palmer. I have not been disappointed by any of them that I have read.

As I thought back on the story, I actually found myself reflecting on the other books written by Daniel Palmer and those written by Michael Palmer. Michael Palmer wrote a number of medical thrillers and as I read them, I would always wonder how did he come up with these ideas. Concepts that were so well written and told that you knew that they could be true but didn't really want to believe that they could be true. Yet, here we are living the real life version of a medical thriller and as in the books, I feel like we don't know the whole story yet and we just keep reading, hoping that we will learn more and find the answer that will resolve this and allow us to breath a collective sigh of relief and return to (a new) normal.

No compensation was received for this review. All opinions expressed are my own or that of my family. A complimentary review copy was provided to me.