This plastic bag is F’s ticket back to in-person learning five days a week.

Each little vial represents a weekly COVID-19 saliva test; our district intends to allow kids in grades 6-12 to return to school full-time before the end of this month, provided they are screened this way.

The road back to school in Elmhurst, Illinois, is coated with spit.

In a pandemic, being a good parent "isn't really an option"

When you’re already deeply insecure about the job you’re doing as a parent – pandemic or no pandemic – it doesn’t help to see friends on social media who seem to go to great lengths to show you how shiny-perfect they and their kids are doing. “Muting” and “unfollowing,” rather than unfriending, come in handy. I’ve done more of that since the whole COVID-19 thing hit.

In between moments of railing about Ted Cruz, writer Dan Sinker makes me feel a wee bit better when he reminds the rest of us deeply flawed parents that we’re doing the best we can:

Every parent wants to be a good parent. And every parent, every day, fails at that because, right now, being a good parent is literally impossible. A fine parent? Maybe. An OK one? Possibly. But a good one? We’re eleven months into a pandemic that sent all our children home, laid waste to jobs, killed a half-million people in this country, and sickened many millions more. Politicians like Ted Cruz ensured it would hurt as much as possible by fighting against public health measures and relief efforts that would have made a difference. So no: a good parent isn’t really an option. We’re all just barely getting by.

Not that I disagree with him about Ted Cruz; it’s just that (a) I don’t want to spend my Lenten time fuming about anybody, let alone Ted Cruz; and (b) that’s not my takeaway from all this.

(Hat tip for this link and quote, by the way, goes to the wonderful Austin Kleon, who blogs even further and far more eloquently today about being a “good enough parent.”)

My takeaway: Let’s go easy on ourselves, parents. And let the shiny-perfect families be shiny-perfect in muted, unfollowed limbo.

“Frannie, you don’t have to wear your mask in the car.”

“I know. But it keeps me warm.”

#8degreesofwinter

Here’s a point in this article that isn’t made enough: “The United States currently has among the highest rates of child poverty in the developed world, a trend exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Next health stop: bariatric medicine

I am morbidly obese. And on Monday, I have my first appointment with a bariatric doctor.

This is a long time coming. Too long. And I don’t even care that much anymore about the appearance and clothes-fitting parts of this. Between being particularly susceptible to COVID-19 illness and generally being more conscious with age of my mortality, it was time to take a step beyond half-assed commitments to everything from Weight Watchers to intermittent fasting.

I’m not looking into weight-management surgery; I want to explore nonsurgical options. I found that despite the horror show of colonoscopy prep last summer, the clear-liquid diet actually provided some gut relief and left me feeling physically better. Not sure whether a liquid diet is an option with the clinic I’m visiting, though.

Lately, I’ve been drinking a green tea kefir smoothie in the mornings, shaken in a Blender Bottle, that keeps me going until the early afternoon:

  • 1 cup plain lowfat kefir
  • ½ tsp matcha green tea
  • ½ to 1 cup Naked juice smoothie (any flavor; I like Mango Madness or Berry Blast)
  • 2 tsp Benefiber (per my urogynecologist)
  • Optional: 1 packet stevia

That and water (or VitaminWater Zero) keep me sated and energized till I find myself craving something like chips or cookies or whatever after my 2 p.m. meeting. Trying to be better with healthier options.

It probably doesn’t help that we eat dinner pretty late. Granted, I don’t eat nearly as much at the dinner table as I used to (rarely seconds, and I’m more adamant about a simple salad at the outset), but I have slightly more of a sweet tooth afterward. And eating only 2 to 3 hours before bedtime probably isn’t a good idea.

My pelvic floor dysfunction diagnosis last summer, and subsequent physical therapy in the fall, got me much more conscious about my food intake and overall health. I’m much more aware of links between my abdominal pain and my bowel and bladder activity, as well as the importance of gut health. I feel like I’m on the verge of something.

I’m not completely free of my abdominal pain, but I know what causes it, and how to relieve it through mild exercise. Now if I can only be free of my chronic lower back pain.

I look forward to talking with the doctor about all this Monday.

I love my husband –and even like him – but somehow this blog headline just spoke to me: “If Your Spouse Is Annoying the Shit Out of You During Quarantine, You Are Not Alone.”

This just in: I've found a good use for Facebook

I hate Facebook with every fiber of my being.

But I also hate the Bears, ice storms, and coronavirus. I’m stuck with their existence and have to come to terms with them, too.

I have thought numerous times about pulling the plug and deleting my Facebook account. The anti-Facebook crowd that drives this blogging platform I use would say it’s the only way to go. But there are people who are dear to me on Facebook (and its sister platform, Instagram), and I don’t see them removing themselves anytime soon.

Over the past couple of years, I have distanced myself from Facebook, posting sporadically at best and lurking occasionally. It did me a lot of good to break my addiction to the site; it fed a compulsion to compare my paltry lives to that of others, reminded me that there’s too many stupid people out there, stoked my desire for the attention of “likes,” and stole too much precious time.

In recent months, I’ve tiptoed back into the fray, only posting maybe once or twice a week, if that. When I feel myself growing anxious about something I posted (i.e., being bothered by no “likes” or being annoyed by an obnoxious comment), either I delete whatever comment annoyed me or delete the post entirely.

These days, I’ve found an excellent reason to use Facebook. There are numerous groups devoted to rallying snail mail enthusiasts to send cards and notes to people who need good cheer: sick kids, anxious or otherwise troubled kids, lonely or ill seniors, others who could use a kind or encouraging word. As I’ve been charging into a snail mail habit that I hope to develop throughout the year, this is a perfect use of an otherwise insidious social media platform.

The only pitfall here, besides the fact that I’m pulled back into the Zuckerberg vortex of online traffic, is that I’m now buying greeting cards and postcards in bulk. But it’s worth it if it means sending a stranger a little bit of kindness. And I’m enjoying it.

Even Facebook can be redeemed. Somewhat.

My cousin Raymond died today of Covid-19. If you are so inclined, please pray for the repose of his soul and consolation for those he left behind, especially his 83-year-old mother, my aunt. And prayers that this insidious virus will be defeated. Thank you.

Trading one set of anxieties for another

Been disinclined to blog much lately. I post sporadically on Twitter and, to a lesser degree, on Facebook and Instagram.

In recent weeks, I’ve tended to direct my energy outside work and family to following a Twitter list I created with political feeds. I called it my “Doomscrolling” list. I came to my senses this week and deleted the list, leaving my other Twitter lists focusing on faith, sports, and video gaming.

This is the third Doomscrolling list I’ve deleted on my Twitter account. I created this last one as the last weeks of the presidential campaign heated up. I even clung to it during my private retreat a couple of weeks ago, a few days after the election.

I’ve been steeped in anxiety and anger for months now, alternating my attention between the pandemic and politics; sometimes the two areas would overlap. Sometimes my thoughts about faith would in turn overlap with these other areas. But more often than not, the pandemic and politics would suffocate my attention to faith.

I’m long past the point where I’ve burned out on politics. (At this point, I pray to be secure enough in the knowledge that God has got this, and that the transition crisis will be resolved.) But I remain anxious – and am perhaps more so than ever – about the spread of the coronavirus. This, too, needs to be entrusted to God, but not without action on our parts: We will certainly continue to be masked and sanitized and close to home as much as possible. That said, it’s easier to weave faith into our pandemic life; I find myself praying a lot for people, particularly those who have lost loved ones to the virus or are otherwise in the thick of this latest wave of infections. Even on Twitter, I pray along a lot more as I come across requests for prayer and other needs.

But I have a long way to go in keeping my anxieties in check, persisting in prayer, and trusting in God.

One of the purchases from my first visit to an honest-to-God, brick-and-mortar Catholic bookstore in months. Eager to dive in this weekend.

We almost lost Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO to COVID-19.

NPR declares that the house dress (i.e., caftan, muu-muu) is back. As someone who alternates these days between yoga pants and inexpensive skirts for the sake of comfort, I couldn’t be happier.

The home office goes full-time

My company decided not to renew its lease on the suburban site where I’ve worked for the past 5 years. So, I am officially now working from home full-time.

The decision not to renew the least didn’t surprise any of us; more people based at that office had been working from home, anyway, and our footprint there had been shrinking. Those of us who remained had assumed we’d just be relocated to a smaller space.

One or two folks are requesting to be relocated to the Chicago office, but that office was largely full before the pandemic. But we’re told that space might open up should many workers based there decide to keep working from home. (The company shut down all its offices in mid-March and is now saying offices won’t reopen till early next year.)

Frankly, I’m fine with this. I miss the camaraderie of the office, and I miss my colleagues, though we connect daily via phone, email, and regular GoToMeeting gatherings. But with the COVID-19 situation, I’d rather hunker down. And I’m enjoying reworking my home office now that this is going to be my full-time workspace. I’m moving my crafting and stationery supplies (including my typewriter) up to the bedroom desk area, which I need to clear out. There’s lots of boxes of stuff there that need to go to Goodwill. And I don’t craft much these days, so a lot of those supplies may go, too.

Anyway, C said I need to think about ways to upgrade the home office. Moving out the craft/stationery stuff to the bedroom desk area will help make room for another bookcase, and I need another bulletin board. I’m keeping all my Catholic books in the home office, as I still spend a lot of time there to read, pray, and use my personal laptop for streaming video (religious and otherwise) and writing.

So, the home office is becoming much more of an office. But it will likely remain my favorite room in the house.

Glad I don’t work from home for the Springfield district.

Made a convenience store stop during the virtual #PokemonGOFest2020. This is probably as close to a summer road trip as we’re getting this year. 😐

The Spousal Unit, on anti-maskers and the far right: “Darwinism isn’t fast enough for me.”

I get that logistics can be an issue with the large-scale COVID-19 testing that MLB teams have to do, but it still feels weird to read about it when I was able to be tested and get results in a couple of hours before my medical procedure a few weeks ago.

Went to our favorite neighborhood breakfast diner for the first time in months; it just reopened today as part of our state’s Phase 4 of reopening businesses.

If not for the social distancing need, I would have hugged the staff upon arrival.

Weekend routine (mid-pandemic edition)

My weekends have fallen into a routine that is neither perfect nor exciting, but it’s comfortable. Much of my off time ends up in the home office, where my personal laptop actually fits into the same dock I use for the work laptop.

It’s probably not a great idea to spend my relaxation time in the same place where I slog through work. But the home office is still my personal space, with a futon sofa and most of my books and arts/crafts materials stashed there. The dogs love the space. Frannie comes in with her gaming and talks Animal Crossing and Pokemon strategy. And I can stream Korean baseball and other video on the big screens. It’s become my happy place, and it helps make work tolerable on rough weekdays.

A typical weekend goes something like this.

Saturday morning: Having biscuits and other breakfast food that C brings home from Chick-fil-A. Then listening multiple times to “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” and maybe other NPR programs either on terrestrial radio or, more likely, the TuneIn Radio app.

Saturday afternoon

** Catching up on Korean baseball, usually with Jason Benetti doing play-by-play, off the ESPN site. I don’t really keep up with the KBO at a detailed level, but I like how the games and the baseball chatter keep me pleasant company while I read or write. Like right now, as I write this. Even when MLB starts up again, I like the idea of having these games on whenever I like.
** Surrounding myself with books, which I may or may not read at length.
** Streaming other video. Sometimes Twitch feeds of Anthony Bourdain shows, Animal Crossing play, or even Bob Ross programs. Other times, YouTube with Catholic videos, Stephen Colbert reruns, or Animal Planet shows; I’ve become fond of “The Vet Life” lately.
** Writing email, snail mail, and/or blog posts. Maybe posting to Facebook (which I’ve done more – weekends only – than I have in a long time, which still isn’t a whole lot).
** Lying down to relax the chronic pain in my lower back (and shoulders and neck).
** Sifting through the piles of printouts and books in the office and bedroom, and filling up the recycling bin.
** Sometimes heading to our parish for confession and 5 p.m. vigil Mass.

Saturday evenings: Dinner, maybe a round of Cards Against Humanity (Family Edition), or maybe a fire with s’mores in the backyard.

Sunday morning: Attending early Mass (if I haven’t gone to the Saturday vigil Mass), then reading/praying through the “Celebration of the Word” liturgy with F when I get home. (F eventually will accompany me to Mass, but not right now.) After that, breakfast – either pancakes at home or hitting a local diner, with the Sunday papers in tow.

Sunday afternoon: Either a Sunday drive for all of us, or a jaunt through a forest preserve for F and C and the big dog while I stay home to relax my back. (See Saturday afternoon activities.)

Sunday evenings: Same as Saturday evenings, plus possibly some catching up with editing work after everyone else goes to bed.

It’s not thrilling or exotic, to be sure, but it works for me. And it’s not like we’re going anywhere this summer, so this is probably my weekend blueprint for a while.

Since we aren’t traveling much this summer, I decided to try a little container gardening to spruce up the deck—despite my track record of failure with plants.

Got some Italian parsley, basil, geraniums, and some kind of blue and purple flowering plant that Frannie picked but I had never heard of. Also, a hanging basket of purple petunias, as well as lavender and catnip.

And a pink flamingo that I’ve named Bob.

So, my hospital requires a COVID-19 test before surgeries and other procedures like the colonoscopy scheduled for me tomorrow. Found this out Saturday, so I scheduled testing for this morning at the hospital’s drive-up facility.

It wasn’t as horrifying as I anticipated; the nasal swab wasn’t quite long enough to scrape the surface of my brain, but even with the 10 seconds it took to swab, it was still uncomfortable.

In any event, I tested negative for COVID-19. Never have I been so relieved to charge ahead with extended intestinal purgation.

Celebrating the Word on our own

Looks like Magnificat has ended its free “Celebration of the Word” PDF distribution to help families pray along with the Liturgy of the Word on Sundays. I can understand why: More dioceses are allowing public celebration of Mass again, and it’s understandable to encourage Catholics to return to Sunday Mass. Many of those same dioceses (including ours), however, haven’t reimposed the Sunday obligation, given that plenty of people remain wary of collective worship for fear of COVID-19 infection.

As I mentioned last weekend, I’m starting to return to Sunday Mass at our parish; however, with no Sunday obligation for now and all the COVID-19 complications, I had resolved to keep F home for now and set aside time for us to go through the Celebration of the Word together.

The end of the Celebration PDF distribution complicates that plan, of course. So, I went ahead and created a Celebration of the Word document template, based on the basic Magnificat-created PDF structure, and added this Sunday’s readings and several prayers to align with the liturgy (but not replicate all of it word-for-word, as much of the Mass liturgy requires a priest). Included are the Apostles’ Creed, an Act of Spiritual Communion, and the Hail Mary and prayer to St. Michael the Archangel at the end. F needs to learn the Apostles Creed and the St. Michael prayer anyway, so it seemed a good way to introduce her to those.

Meanwhile, I’m registered for tomorrow’s 7 a.m. Mass. (Registration is intended to help the parish ensure manageable, socially distanced attendance.) Not my favorite time to attend, but I’m still looking forward to it. Then, Lord willing, I’ll come home and F and I will have our own Celebration and connect with God together. Pray for us.

Good morning.