Day 6 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

I dodged serious, maybe even life threatening, injury today from a banana. Come on in for the rest of the story and a Sock Offensive update and more.

Saturday, March 21, 2020Live to Blog from the Dog House

I dodged serious, probably life threatening, injury today from a banana. No, it wasn’t like the slipping-on-a- banana-peel-thing you’d see in a movie or on TV. (Has anyone ever really slipped on a banana peel like that? If you know someone who has, please let me know. I’ve always thought it was just a clownish pratfall.)

I’m not sure which of these was the culprit, but I’m sure it was one of them.

My run in with a banana was nothing like that. It was an airborne banana. Well, nearly airborne. Okay, it didn’t quite fly but it could have. And it might have if I hadn’t immediately apologized for the supposedly tasteless joke I made. Of course, I could have said to the banana thrower, “Geez, some people just can’t take a joke,” but I’m sure that would have really required me to actually dodge a flying banana.

In fact, the concept of a “tasteless joke” is really in the eye of the beholder. You be the judge.

It all started early this morning when I volunteered to dodge the coronavirus to pick up a few groceries at the store. I left with Clemencia’s shopping list in hand. Remarkably, I found almost everything on the list at Aldi and Shopper’s – except toilet paper of course. We don’t actually need any but, hey, since I was out shopping I may as well see if there is any, right? Only being prudent. As an aside, I was really impressed with how decently people treated one another today. Everyone kept an appropriate “social distance.” People were polite and gracious – except for one moment at Aldi when one pallet of toilet paper magically appeared. It was all gone in 2.578 seconds.

Upon returning home and carrying all of the groceries up four flights of stairs (with the help of our building’s elevator), Clemencia undertook the task of putting away the groceries while I returned to my car to retrieve my coffee mug. On the way back upstairs, I had a great idea for a little joke to play on her. (Now, for a little bit of context. Once or twice each day we take our temperature as a way of monitoring for early indications of COVID-19. I usually take mine when I first get up in the morning and again early in the evening.)

I returned with my mug, walked into the kitchen, and our conversation went, more or less, like this:

  • Me (with a solemn, slightly fearful, expression on my face): “I didn’t want to tell you this until I had been able to pick up these groceries and make sure we were well stocked. I took my temperature this morning and it wasn’t normal.”
  • Clemencia (with a look of horror on her face): “What? What do you mean? How high was it?”
  • Me: “Well, it, uh, it was a little low – 98.5.” (Followed by a really big grin on my face.)

Thank God she was unpacking the bananas at that moment and not the cans of beans. Still, as soon as she raised the banana, I immediately apologized and avoided the near certainty of banana puree on my face.

Now, really, you be the judge. I thought that was a terribly clever joke. Obviously, Clemencia did not. In fact, she was sure it was in poor taste. (The bananas, however, were quite tasty. We each enjoyed one at lunch.)

Speaking of bad taste, a friend mentioned to me that her nephew told her of a new name for the coronavirus which may be going around. The name is informed by the risk it poses to older people of a certain generation. The name is “The Boomer Remover.” Okay, it is easier to say and, yes, it even sounds kind of funny, but…I…just…don’t…like it. On this one, I agree with Clemencia.

Me…thinning on top, fuzzy on the bottom. But not fungus.

Sock Offensive Update: I’m still wearing Bert (left sock) and Ernie (right sock) each day. It is now 5 days since I started wearing the same pair of socks daily. Not much has changed except I think the socks are beginning to look a little bit like me: thin on top and fuzzy at the bottom. Is that some kind of fungus? Maybe they are picking up some of my DNA?

Quaker Meeting on Zoom: Our Quaker meeting is having Meeting for Worship by Zoom tomorrow. It is a very good public health move in the age of COVID-19. Kudos to us for doing this! However, it could be a bit odd because we are “unprogrammed” Quakers. “Unprogrammed” doesn’t mean we don’t have a plan, though sometimes it does take us forever to make a plan. It means we don’t have a pastor or priest, or a liturgy, or music, or preaching, or the usual things that go with Protestant or Catholic worship. Unprogrammed Quakers (also known as Friends) have been meeting in “waiting worship” (which looks and sounds a lot like silent meditation) for nearly 400 years. Mostly, the only sound heard in a Meeting for Worship is when a member of the congregation is moved by the Spirit to rise and speak. (Well, not the only sound – sometimes there is gentle snoring from a Friend deep in waiting worship or the rumbling of a hungry tummy as noon approaches.) When we meet in our 200+ year old Meetinghouse, it is not uncommon to look around and see people across the room with heads bowed listening for the still, small voice of God. Sometimes no one speaks for the hour. Other times there may be many messages. But Meeting for Worship on Zoom…hmmm…we’ll be able see each other very up close and personal. I’m wondering how that will go. I’ll let you know.

It is the weekend and you may be making plans for next week already. If so, join us for the Virtual BYON Coffee Break/Happy Hour on Thursday, March 25th at 5:00 PM Eastern. Connection information on Zoom is below.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands and remember, please, the seriousness of this coronavirus outbreak. One week ago (March 14) there were 2,800 cases of coronavirus in the U.S. Today (March 24, as of 4:43 PM Eastern) there are 24,148 cases. This is 2,000 more than when I last checked at 1:43 PM and nearly 9 times higher than it was one week ago. Analysis of the growth of the virus in Wuhan, China indicated the number of cases would likely double every 6 days. If that were still true, we’d only be at about 6,000 today. The growth rate here in the U.S. is far exceeding that expectation. It is truly exponential. Today alone the U.S. has moved up two positions – from 6th to 4th – on the list of 167 countries with the virus. Only China, Italy, and Spain have more cases than us. This blog is intended only as a diversion, not a distraction. All of us need to remain engaged, mindful, and intent on doing everything we can to avoid spreading the virus.

Day 5 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Come on in, it’s Friday! We’ve got some warm baked oatmeal, an update on the Sock Offensive, an invitation to meet up on Zoom, and a suggestion on how we can be good to one another in stressful times.

Friday, March 20, 2020 – Live to Blog from the Couch

TGIF! I mean, really, what a crazy week! The weekend is here and it is time to relax with a delicious breakfast (snack, lunch, dinner, late night snack, etc.) of baked oatmeal.

Nothing warms the soul like oatmeal and baked oatmeal gives it that little something special. (I sound like a cooking show host, eh? However, this is the only thing I can really bake from scratch. Well, except springele.) The recipe I used was given to me by the staff of Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat center outside of Philadelphia. I was attending a retreat there and found myself quite drawn to the oatmeal. VERY drawn to it. By the third day, I was found sitting in the corner of the dining room, hunched over the morning’s pan of fresh baked oatmeal, and hissing “My Preciousssss!” at anyone who came close. I just had to get that recipe! Fortunately, the Pendle Hill staff were quite gracious about sharing it with me. Of course, it might just have been to get me to agree to leave after I had chained myself to the oven. I’ll never know for sure…since I’ve been banned for life from Pendle Hill. Seems an odd thing for gentle-soul, peace-loving Quakers, don’t you think?

Tom’s Baked Oatmeal based on a recipe from Pendle Hill Conference Center in Media, PA

But, again, I am digressing. Let’s begin with a picture of the finished product from yesterday’s batch. I recommend you use either an 8×8 or 9×9 inch baking pan. It can be either metal or a silicon as shown here. I prefer the silicon for durability. However, you will probably have to put it on a baking sheet before it goes into the oven as the oatmeal concoction is heavy and the silicon pan is not very rigid. For this recipe you’ll need TWO pans. Don’t worry, you can freeze one for next week…or tomorrow…or dinner tonight. 🙂

It takes about 15 minutes to mix up the oatmeal concoction, which is just long enough to pre-heat your oven to the cooking temperature of 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, thoroughly stir together these ingredients:

  • 3 cups milk (I use lactose free skim milk and you can also use almond, rice, or soy milk)
  • 1 – 23 oz. jar of applesauce (I use unsweetened without cinnamon)
  • 2 oz. oil (I use canola oil)
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla (You know, the bigger spoon. I prefer vanilla extract rather than the artificial flavored vanilla)
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1 cup craisins or raisins (For convenience, I buy the 6 oz. bags of craisins at the grocery store and dump the whole thing in…well…not the bag too…you know what I mean.)
  • 2 Tbsp baking powder (Again, the bigger spoon)
  • 3/4 tsp nutmeg (That’s the smaller spoon)
  • 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon (Bigger spoon)
  • 1/2 Tbsp salt (Bigger spoon again)
  • 1 cup brown sugar (I have also used the “half & half” blend of Splenda and brown sugar for slightly fewer calories)

Once you’ve stirred up this very liquid concoction, it is time to add the oatmeal. You’ll need 10 cups of old fashioned oatmeal or rolled oats. (You can use the quick oaks – the stuff that has been pulverized into oblivion for “quick” cooking – but don’t invite me to eat it. You know I’ve got a thing about “quick” oatmeal.) Typically, I will put five slightly rounded cups of oatmeal into the liquid concoction and then stir it up well before adding the final five cups.

Note: This recipe does not require any toilet paper so you don’t have to keep stocking up.

Oatmeal Fact followed by Oatmeal Opinion: “Quick” oatmeal takes 2 minutes to cook in a microwave while real oatmeal (old fashioned rolled oats) takes 3 minutes. This means it is only 60 seconds between absolutely pathetic mush and the utterly delightful and delicious Food of the Gods. (Not that the microwave should ever be used to make oatmeal.)

Now that the mix is ready, distribute it equally between the pans. I’m not obsessive/compulsive or anything like that, but, just to be thorough, and exact, to the ounce, and sometimes the kilogram, I use a food scale to measure out equal portions between the two pans. Now it is ready to bake!

By this time your oven should be at 350 degrees. Place the pans on the middle shelf and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The last 10 minutes are the most critical…and dangerous. As the aroma of baking oatmeal rises it will fill your senses and you are at risk of losing all self control. Everything in you will scream, “I want that oatmeal and I want it NOW!” but resist the urge. Let it finish its mystical transformation and become all it can be for you. You won’t regret it. It is worth the wait.

Okay, that’s it. Enjoy! Let me know what you think.

Sock Offensive Update: I’m still wearing the same pair of socks – Bert (on the left) and Ernie (on the right). All is going as planned but laundry day is coming up. I may need to throw in some perfectly clean socks so Clemencia doesn’t get suspicious.

Really, TGIF. It has been a tough week for all of us. I’ve had fun writing these blogs and I hope they have been a brief but nice diversion for you too. I also hope they have inspired you to connect or reconnect with others. Yesterday Clemencia and I hosted what now appears to be our first weekly Virtual Coffee Break/Happy Hour. I have 100 seats in my Zoom account. Ten people showed up and that number exceeded my expectations by 10. If you’d like to join us next week, Thursday, March 26th (which also happens to be Clemencia’s birthday) come on by. The connection information is below my signature.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, and remember to leave the last item on the shelf because someone else may need it more than you.


Day 4 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Day 4 of COVID-19 Sheltering In Place. An update on the Sock Offensive and a magical gift. Come on in!

Thursday, March 19, 2020 – Live to blog from my kitchen table

Today’s blog is inspired by my friend Ned White, who has beaten me in every game of pool I’ve ever played with him. Not that it bothers me, though. Ned’s real claims to fame are that he is an author, crossword constructor (watch for his next one in the NY Times), traveler, cook, and husband to one of the most creative and decent of all persons in the world, Carla White. For a long time Ned wrote Journeys Over a Hot Stove, a travel, cooking, and occasionally opinion, blog for the Bangor Daily News in Maine. Be sure to follow the link to the blog’s archive and some wonderful recipes.

My friend Jeff Logan (Calgary, AB) is a humorist and artist. Maybe in another blog I’ll tell the whole story of how this image came to be. It doesn’t have anything to do with my love of oatmeal but my spiritual and religious practice of Quakerism. Still, it was a great place to use the picture. (Hint: Check out the Quaker Oats guy carefully.)

I’m writing from our kitchen today because I had to whip up another batch of my baked oatmeal. Approximately every two weeks I bake two square nine-inch pans of oatmeal. Each pan produces eight rectangles of oatmeal and I have one rectangle per day for breakfast (358 calories). I love oatmeal and always have. I think oatmeal is the perfect food but Clemencia disagrees. She has a strong belief in beans and rice as the perfect food. She argues that when they are eaten together they provide just the right balance of protein, nutrients, and, you know, healthy stuff. As a scientist, she has logic and facts on her side but that doesn’t matter. I have irrationality, personal preference, and pure stubbornness on mine. So when it came time to stock up for this extended stay in our home, what did we buy? Well…let’s see…it seems we have more beans and rice on hand than oatmeal.

Nonetheless, I’m still completely dedicated to oatmeal and my belief in it. Hey, I just remembered, I actually wrote a piece years ago about my love of and faith in oatmeal. I submitted it to National Public Radio when the “This I Believe” series was revived. I hoped it would get selected for broadcast. Let me see if I can find it…(clatter, bang, shuffle, shuffle, slam, honk-honk, thud)…here it is!

From Sometime in 2006: Addicted to the Magic of Oatmeal

I love oatmeal: plain (with a little a salt to bring out the flavor); not so plain (with a touch of vanilla and cinnamon); exotic (with walnuts, apples, craisins, lots of cinnamon, more than a touch of vanilla, and freshly ground nutmeg). In fact, I eat the exotic oatmeal everyday for breakfast. I love oatmeal made in the traditional manner on the stove top and I love it baked. By the way, I’ve got some great oatmeal recipes. Let me know if you want to give them a try.

Just to be clear, if I’m ever invited to have oatmeal at your house, be advised that I have at least three oatmeal limitations. First, I’m not a fan of microwaveable faux oatmeal. It contains so many chemicals that I always worry about a universe-ending explosion when cooking it. Second, my oatmeal has to be made using the “old fashioned” rolled oats, not the ground-to-a-pulp “quick” oats that have no substance, taste, or reason for existence. Third, I won’t eat oatmeal without salt. The salt (which is always listed as an optional ingredient on the box) is what makes the flavor “pop.” Warning: most restaurants and hotels with the complimentary breakfast buffets don’t put salt in their oatmeal. Such an inhumane action is probably not worthy of a boycott or class action lawsuit, but do be aware that you’ll need to salt your own oatmeal. However, it should be a criminal offense when they (and you know who you are!) try to pass off the faux oatmeal as “homemade” or “freshly made.”

Shortly after moving to the East Coast, I wrote of my passion for oatmeal in a piece that I submitted to National Public Radio’sThis I Believe” project. I now believe they didn’t care much for it because it was kindly rejected in that soft-spoken NPR way by someone with one of those delightfully inimitable NPR-type names, like Dharma Chung-Nunberg. Nonetheless, I liked the piece and I’m going to publish it here anyway. (Ha, take THAT, Dharma!) 

I believe in the magic of oatmeal. My palate prefers the old-fashioned, whole grained oatmeal, but the magic of oatmeal transcends its form.

As a child, a steaming bowl of oatmeal, generously trimmed with farm-fresh cream and mounds of sugar, seemed to warm the kitchen of our Iowa farmhouse. On frigid February mornings the oil-burning stove at the end of the kitchen strained against the toe-numbing cold. Yet the oatmeal warmed me inside-out and seemed to mystically radiate throughout the drafty house. On those mornings of school bus windows frosted-over for the entire ride into town, I still remained warm and satisfied until the noon bell signaled my daily race with my best friend Mark down the steps to the basement lunchroom.

As a young man and new father I introduced my baby boy to oatmeal’s magic. Having wrestled him into his high chair and locked him into place, I’d begin the morning breakfast routine. He’d strain against the unyielding high chair and vocalize his hunger. I’d mix his oatmeal with just enough water of just the right temperature. As the first spoonful of the oat concoction reached his lips he’d begin to emit a low “mmmm” sound. He would eat and coo, and I’d whisper to him of his goodness and strength and my love for him. For the next several minutes we were connected, father and son, by the warmth and satisfaction of oatmeal. These early bonding moments have been built upon through the years as he grew and became a man and I, well, became just an older man.

Today, for the first time in my life, I live far from both the farmhouse and the son. Preparing to move from Des Moines to Washington last December I gave away nearly every food item in my kitchen. Except my near new box of oatmeal. Upon arrival I unpacked it and shelved it in a cabinet where I couldn’t miss it. The following morning it became my first meal in my new home.

Middle age demands I eat oatmeal more for its physical benefits today and, sadly, trim it less generously now, using limited amounts of brown sugar and skim milk. As the morning’s first spoonful triggers my taste-buds, it also triggers my memory. It takes me back to winter mornings in which I remained warm despite the bitter cold. Even more it warms me with the memory of being a dad. It transports me back to a series of wonderful mornings when my son and I became a part of each other through the magic of oatmeal. I can close my eyes and recall the sounds, sights, smells, and smiles of those moments. When I open them I realize it is only a memory and, even more, realize it won’t happen again.

Or will it?  Who knows…in the latter stages of my life I may be the one who coos as my son lovingly feeds me my oatmeal. By then, cream and sugar really shouldn’t be a factor in my longevity…so be generous, my son.

Uh oh. I just realized my baked oatmeal recipe will have to wait until tomorrow because this blog is getting too long. My apologies to Ned and all.

Two quick things in closing…and yes, I will include the recipe tomorrow:

First, Sock Offensive news. There really isn’t anything new. Three days straight I have worn the same pair of socks and Clemencia has not noticed. I shower, get dressed, make hot water for tea and coffee, prepare my oatmeal, and, then, when she gets into the shower, I put on Bert (my left sock) and Ernie (right sock). It just seemed right to give them names since I’m spending so much time with them.

Second, really, there is magic in oatmeal. Friends of ours, a husband and wife, were diagnosed with cancers at the same time. They also discovered that oatmeal was one of the few things they could eat during chemo treatments. I started making them baked oatmeal and they fell in love with it. It not only nourished their bodies but their spirits. It was also great comfort food. Happily, their cancers are in remission now. The oatmeal probably didn’t heal them, but I hope the love it conveyed helped.

If I could make baked oatmeal for you during this time when we all need nourishment of spirit and comfort, I would. I can’t so I hope you will try the recipe and will feel the love I’m sending you. If you do, pass the recipe and love on.

One last thing…we had our first Virtual BYOB Coffee Break/Happy Hour today. Ten people showed up from California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, Ontario, and Washington State. We talked, we laughed, we made new friends, and we broke the tension over COVID-19 for a little while. We’re doing it again next week, Thursday, March 26 at 5:00 PM. However, I’m changing the name from “BYOB” to “BYON” – “Bring Your Own Nose” because in these times, everyone needs to be wearing a silly clown nose just to evoke smiles from others. Today we shared the most memorable complement we’ve ever received. Next week our conversation starter will be “With the knowledge you have now, what would you have done differently?” The connection information is below my signature. Hope you can join us!

See you tomorrow…with the recipe. In the meantime, stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, and think about someone you know who needs the magic of oatmeal and your love.


Day 3 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Join me for Day 3 of my COVID-19 sheltering-in-place journey. I’m coming to you live to blog from my recliner today. See you there!

March 18, 2020 – Live to Blog from My Recliner

Very early today I talked to a friend by phone…very early, sometime around 5:00 AM. The call went something like this:

  • Friend: “Tom?”
  • Me: “Yeah…what do you want? Are you okay? Do you know what time it is?”
  • Friend: “No, I don’t…hey, what time is it anyway?”
  • Me: “Never mind. You seem okay so what do you want?”
  • Friend: “I don’t know. I’m just…well, I’m a little confused. What day is this?”
  • Me: “What DAY is it? Am I ‘Time and Temperature’ now? What’s going on?”
  • Friend: “No, really, what day is it?”
  • Me: “It’s Wednesday, March 18th.”
  • Friend: “Ohhhhhhh…”
  • Me: “What do you mean, ‘Ohhhhhhh…’? What’s going on?”
  • Friend: “It’s just that…well…I mean…this is the first time in 30 years that I’ve been awake and sober before noon on the day after St. Paddy’s day. I didn’t realize what it was like…”
  • Me: “Ugh!” (Click)

Since I was up early, I decided to take Dolly and Madison (the Girls) on their first walk of the day. We were out early enough that we, thankfully, did not run into anybody. Today I noticed something quite different: the sound of silence. Not Simon & Garfunkle but real quiet. Quiet is very rare where we live. We live almost exactly half-way between downtown Baltimore and downtown Washington, DC, – a distance of 22 miles each way – about a mile off Interstate 95. We are in the approach/takeoff pattern for BWI airport and the flight path for helicopters carrying people between DC to Fort Meade. Typically I hear trucks and commuters on I-95 and commercial jets and helicopters flying over head. Today, I heard mostly silence and when I listened carefully, I could hear birds singing. It almost made me glad for having to shelter in place.

Dolly and me giving a warm social distance greeting to one of our neighbors.

It is Day 3 of this blog and Day 2 of my Sock Offensive. Clemencia did not see me put yesterday’s socks back on this morning. It was pretty easy, actually. I just waited until she was in the shower and – TA DA! – I got them on. Victory! YES!

After work today I took the Girls out for another walk. It was quite nice outside though a little cool. We had a happy experience and even ran into some neighbors whom we greeted appropriately.

Fun Fact: I have eaten baked oatmeal nearly every morning for breakfast for nearly 10 years.

According to Me

Actually, I’m nearly out of baked oatmeal and it is time to make some more. I’ll probably do it tomorrow…if I think of it. Also, if I think of it, I’ll post my baked oatmeal recipe. I think you’ll like it.

My good friend and colleague, Forrest Alton, president of 1000 Feathers, has always impressed me with his clear-headed, pragmatic thinking. A couple of days ago, just as offices and stores were beginning to shut down and move employees to remote work, he posted this blog, We Get to Work from Home…Now What? Take a few minutes to check it out. I loved his suggestions and I think you will as well.

Finally, I got a response to yesterday’s blog from a long-time friend that snapped me back to our new reality. She told me that members of her extended family had contracted coronavirus. Shortly after that I heard from a client who has an employee with the virus. Then I heard from a third friend and colleague that a neighbor had contracted it too. These reports were not all from within a “cluster” of the virus, such as Washington State or New York City. They were from three very different and distant parts of the country. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would know someone who had the virus or was close to someone who had it. If the projections are accurate, we will all know someone who has contracted COVID-19…soon. It isn’t too early for us to be thinking about how we will respond with empathy and love, and how we can still provide support but from a distance.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, and keep washing your hands. Physically avoid everyone and still find a way to be connected to your brothers and sisters on this journey with you. We’re all in this together, together we are stronger, and together we’ll get through it.


Day 2 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

The cool thing about sheltering in place is that you don’t have to change clothes…for days! But choices have consequences!

Sheltering in place can be a very lonely experience, especially for those who already live alone. To be greater by doing good today, take a moment to reach out to someone (by phone, email, video conference) whom you know is sheltering alone.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020 – Live to Blog from My Living Room

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! True confession: I didn’t wear any green today. Green has never been a good color for me. With my complexion it tends to make me look pretty sickly. Except when my face is red but, then, I look like a deranged Christmas elf. Though I am greenless today, I am sending “thoughts and prayers” to those in mourning for the loss of this year’s holiday to COVID-19.

The cool thing about sheltering in place is that you don’t have to change clothes…for days! I told my spouse, Clemencia, that I was going for a new record for continuously wearing the same clothes each day. She smiled sweetly at me and said, “Of course, mi amor.” She disappeared briefly and came back with my jacket, a facemask, a small bottle of hand sanitizer, and said, “Good luck out there, mi amor. See you in two weeks…I hope.” So, I changed my clothes…but not my socks! Ha!

We have two miniature schnauzers (Dolly and Madison) who actually are elderly. As you can see, they LOVE sheltering in place. By social contract they are entitled to at least three walks a day. Today, after work (yes, I do try to keep work hours at home), Clemencia and I took “The Girls” (as we affectionately call them) for their afternoon constitutional. We thought it would be a good time to go out to avoid people. We were wrong.

We ran into a bunch of friendly people…which would be nice under most circumstances, except we are trying to avoid people. Isn’t that the point of sheltering in place and social separation? What is it about the term “pandemic” that some people just don’t understand?!? One friend came directly across the street toward me and was going to come within the appropriate social distancing limit (six to 10 feet). I had to stop her so I said, in a very Midwestern polite way, “Hey, sorry, we can talk but we just need to talk from a distance.” She stopped, looked at me, and for a moment I thought she was going to start screeching at me like Donald Sutherland at the end of the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. (You know, that scene where the audience realizes he’s been snatched and all hope is gone. Be sure to click the link and check out the clip – it is about 50 seconds in length.) Happily, she didn’t do a Donald Sutherland on me but I did one her…just for fun. But I don’t think she saw the movie or got the reference so I’m pretty sure we’re not friends anymore.

Speaking of people getting too close, in the tiny town in rural Iowa where I grew up there was a man who was notorious for talking too close, too loud, and too fast in a very high pitched voice (kind of like Donald Sutherland’s screech). For years I never had any idea what he was saying to me when he would come up to me, actually get in my face, and screech, “HITOMMYHOWSTOMMY.” If he had been a step or two away I might have had a chance to read his lips. However, he was so close, I couldn’t even see his lips. His tonsils did look pretty healthy though.

Before I close, two recommendations for the sake of sanity. First, my friends and colleagues at the Tamarack Institute in Ontario, Canada have put out a really great resource for learning or refreshing skills for working remotely. Please check out Guidelines for Working Remotely. Second, to keep your sense of humor fresh, check out 50 Coronavirus Jokes That Should Help You Get Through Quarantine.

Do not be deceived, my friends. I know how serious the coronavirus and COVID-19 outbreak really is. In the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci of NIH, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.” Nobody knows this as well as Clemencia, my incredibly tolerant spouse. Her super hero identity is actually Dr. Clemencia M. Vargas, PhD, DDS, etc., etc. She is an epidemiologist and was a fellow with the Epidemic Intelligence Service (Class of 94). She retired from the University of Maryland last October but she and I have been following this thing very closely since news first broke in early January. She cannot “turn off” her inner epidemiologist and I’m glad. If I’m ever tempted to make too much light of it, she brings me back to reality. I hope this blog lightens your day, but never for one moment believe that I am making light of a very serious situation and none of us should. This is only a momentary diversion for me and, hopefully, for you.

Remember, stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, and, still, find ways to virtually reach out to others to stay connected and to share your concern, compassion, and love. In this way we continue to be greater by doing good.


Day 1 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Those who know me well know that I think when I write and I write in order to think. I’m also a social person and I need to stay in touch with people even as I shelter-in-place during the COVID-19 outbreak. So it seemed logical that I write about the experience. For the next several days of our collective confinement, I’m going to try to write a daily blog. Follow along if you like. If not, that’s okay. I’m mostly doing this for my own sanity and well-being.

Social Separation, though necessary in a pandemic, highlights inequities. Let’s remember to be kind, compassionate, and fair. Do you REALLY need all that toilet paper and hand sanitizer in your cart?

Monday, March 16, 2020 – Day 1

Those who know me well know that I think when I write and I write in order to think. I’m also a social person and I need to stay in touch with people even as I shelter-in-place during the COVID-19 outbreak. So it seemed logical that I write about the experience. For the next several days of our collective confinement, I’m going to try to write a daily blog. Follow along if you like. If not, that’s okay. I’m mostly doing this for my own sanity and well-being.

I got home late last night (Sunday) after working for several days in Jackson, Mississippi. Originally, I was supposed to make the trip by air but that changed three days before my departure date. Instead I rented a car and drove the two days down and the two days back. I have two conditions that put me in the highest risk category for contracting COVID-19. First, I’m an old coot (though I dare you to tell my mind that when it still sees a younger man in the mirror each morning). In reality, since I’ll be 66 years old, I’m technically in the senior citizen category, what some would call “elderly.” Yuck! That word has so many negative connotations! Second, I also have hyper-tension. And some people just thought I was hyper!

This trip reminded me of one that started on September 11, 2001. I was living in Iowa, owned a consulting business, and was traveling the U.S. as a speaker and trainer. On the morning of 9/11 I was at a gym working out and watching the morning news. I watched the planes crash into the World Trade Center and, at first, I thought I was watching a new movie trailer. By noon that day, I was to be on the road to speak at a college in Northwest Iowa. From there I was to drive to Aurora, Colorado to lead a three day curriculum training. Not hearing any news from the college and unable to reach anyone due to the shock and confusion of the day, I started the drive to Sioux City. I arrived in the midst of a memorial service for the victims of the attacks. I met briefly with a small group of students where we threw out the intended topic and simply talked about the events of the day. The next day I left for Denver.

The trip to Denver was Twilight Zone, or some would say Black Mirror, weird. I remember seeing very few cars or trucks on Interstates 80 and 25. When I’d stop for gas, food, or bathroom, there were few people and nobody was talking. We all just stared at the television that was on in every location.

Driving back from Jackson wasn’t quite like that but it was still a different experience. The hotels were not busy. The people I saw were quieter and kept their distance. And like 9/11, wherever the television was on, people were watching it intently. One thing that struck me as odd was the music playing at a Wendy’s where I picked up lunch on the way back home. It was Christian gospel music. I’m not opposed to gospel music but it just seemed odd to hear it in a Wendy’s.

Today I did some last minute shopping at Aldi, one of our favorite grocery stores. I was able to get most the supplies on Clemencia’s emergency supply list: oranges, chocolate, bananas, chocolate, orange juice, chocolate, rubber gloves, chocolate, cookies, tortilla chips, and chocolate. I was not able to find ground beef, chicken thighs, or toilet paper. I get the ground beef and the chicken thighs…but toilet paper? Actually there was still Kleenex on the shelves. Doesn’t anyone realize that Kleenex tissues can be used as toilet paper?

COVID-19 Humor: A little boy asked his mom, “Mommy, how long are we going to have to be hiding from this virus?” His mom replied, “I don’t really know, sweetheart. For now, just eat your toilet paper and get ready for bed.”

Last night Clemencia and I decided to watch Contagion again. We had seen it when it came out in 2011. It has a star-studded cast and it is a compelling movie, especially right now. When it came out, we decided to see it because it tells the story of how the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Clemencia had been an EIS fellow (Class of 94).

I really liked the movie the first time and I liked it even more this time because I found myself paying much closer attention. Contagion is the story of a type of novel coronavirus that breaks out in Asia and spreads quickly around the globe. In the movie, the virus spreads very rapidly, like COVID-19, however, it is more quickly fatal to the general population than COVID-19.

Did you know…that SARS-CoV-2 is the scientific name of the virus that causes the disease COVID-19?

BBC, March 17, 2020

As I was looking up the movie, I learned it is being streamed a lot these days and, frankly, I think that is a good thing. I think it is an important film to watch right now because it explains why we need to take the COVID-19 so seriously, how EIS does its job, how things should happen, and what can happen when things go terribly wrong. The movie is eerily similar to what we are living through right now. For this reason I won’t tell you it isn’t scary; but I will say it is the kind of good scary we need in this moment to make sure we are doing everything we can to keep safe.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, and keep washing your hands!

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