Coping, Cooking, and Missing My Kid

We’ve started our spring yard clean-up. It’s taking forever.

Jack’s workday begins at 5:00 am, so he’s home by mid-afternoon while I still have a good hour or so work. Every day, he pokes his head into my “office” and says hi, then goes outside to “do yard work,” which is code for “hanging out with the neighbors.” I can see Jack through the front windows. There’s rarely much actual work happening. Instead, I hear the loud conversations he carries on across the yards with the neighbors. They keep an appropriate social-distance and yell back and forth to one another. Jack will be out there for hours, with all of the necessary tools close at hand; the lawnmower, the leaf blower, work gloves, etc. Still, other than my corner memory garden, no yard projects seemingly ever reach completion.

I can’t really complain. We have friendly, good neighbors. And everyone has to find a way to cope with staying at home. Jack has found his. Work a little. Chat a lot. Do it all again the next day. I mean really … what else have we got to do?

Me? I’m walking. Every day around lunchtime, I go outside and head toward the nearby walking path. My neighbor-friend joins me and for thirty minutes we walk, share work stories, talk about the good books we’re reading, or ponder the complexities of life before we go back home to finish the workday. This is what gets me through these days. Sometimes I walk after dinner as well, earbuds in with an audiobook streaming from the Audible app on my phone. It helps me breathe and minimizes the sense that the walls are closing in.

Now I need something to spark my interest in cooking again. Actually, it’s not the actual cooking that bothers me. I just haven’t planned meals very well lately, and without a plan, cooking feels like such a challenge! One of my weekend goals is to spend time sifting through recipes and deciding on the week’s dinners. Also, I had an Amazon gift card burning a hole in my pocket (reward for participating in my company’s wellness program,) so I ordered an InstaPot. I’ve heard great things, so I’m hoping this will bring some life back to our meals. InstaPots not being considered an essential product though, I’ve got a couple of weeks to wait until it shows up on my doorstep.

Another weekend goal is to see my youngest. I’ve been extra-specially missing her this week. Our oldest son, Jaeger has stopped by a few times to pick up his mail that still comes to our address. He just moved in with his girlfriend last weekend (YAY!) so maybe he’ll officially file a change of address soon! Middle son, Ryker is living here, so I’ve been able to stay well connected with my boys. But I haven’t seen Chesney in person in … over a month? Six weeks? Feels like forever. We text a lot, call sometimes, and FaceTime now and then. I still miss her. She sent me a great picture this week though. Her transition to farm girl is coming along well!

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We’re going to try to connect this weekend, halfway between here and there. Farm Boy’s chores and the weather might dictate whether we manage to pull this off. But if all goes well, I found a park that looks good for us to have a nice social-distance picnic or a leisurely stroll.

Distance Visiting

We haven’t been able to see Jack’s mom in person since early March. She’s been in an assisted living facility since late last fall. Just before Halloween, she’d fallen at home and laid all alone on her laundry room floor for several hours, waiting for someone to realize she needed help.

I hate that this happened. And it wasn’t even the first time. This time it was a broken hip. After surgery and recuperating in a transitional care unit, Mom-in-Law and the family agreed that a senior living situation might be best. She took to her new digs easily, made some friends during her daily visits to the dining room, and all-in-all seemed to be doing much better than she had been at home. She was smiling again. She had a new enthusiasm because she had things to talk about when we visited. We all felt some peace of mind that had been lacking for a long time.

As the Coronavirus crept into the U.S., precautions were put in place at the facility. First, Jack was questioned upon entering the building a few days after our return from Mexico. Upon admitting we had been out of the country within the past fourteen days, he was told we could not come back for two weeks. (Luckily we had squeezed in one visit the day after our return from vacation before things got really serious.) Before our fourteen days were up though, the building was closed off to all visitors. And not long after that, residents were no longer allowed to leave their apartments.

We call Mom frequently, and she insists she’s fine. She says she’s not bored out of her mind and the Game Show Network keeps her entertained. She has a favorite caregiver who she mentions frequently, and that gives me some comfort. But we’ve been missing her.

Seeing the occasional story of others visiting their elderly loved ones at a window, we thought we’d try something similar. Mom’s apartment is on the backside of the building. She’s on the main level if you walk to her place through the front entrance. But the property slopes downward to the back of the building. On that side, her apartment is two floors up since the lower-level memory care apartments sit below at the ground level. However, there’s a little parking lot just beyond the back of the building which offered some promise. We made a plan with Mom, telling her we’d call when we arrived on Saturday and she could come to the window and see us while we talked on the phone. Son Ryker came along, and so did Lucy Pie. Grandma loves Lucy Pie!

The visit went well, even though it didn’t go exactly as planned. When we pulled in to the lot, Jack called and told Mom to go to the window. She said, “Okay. Just a minute.” And then she hung up.

Mom appeared in the window, without her phone, and she waved at us. We waved back. She waved again. Jack held up his phone and put it to his ear, trying to signal to her to get her phone. She waved again. “Just call her again,” I suggested. So he did.

We could tell the moment Mom heard her phone ring. She raised one finger at us as if to say, “Hold on!” And she ambled away from the window, returning shortly after she’d answered the phone. “You were supposed to stay on the line and keep the phone with you, Mom.” Jack said. “Oh,” she replied amiably. Jack put his phone on speaker and we all chatted with her for a while. A few geese were nearby, honking nervously at Lucy. Lucy pulled on the leash that Ryker held tightly and rumbled back at the geese. Mom thought this was quite funny.

Before we’d left home, I’d found an old box of sidewalk chalk in the garage and tossed it into the truck. As we chatted with Mom, I took it out and drew a few simple pictures on the asphalt, hoping she could see them. I guess it wasn’t obvious. She asked Jack what I was doing. He told her I was drawing for her. She laughed but was appreciative.

Watching us from the window required Mom to stand with her walker. She tired out after about fifteen minutes, so we said goodbye. After hanging up, Jack helped me put the finishing touches on the drawings, and before we left, we heard someone shouting from above. We looked way up to the top corner of the building where a window was open and two employees were waving and calling down to us. “Thank you! Thank you!” they said. “You guys are awesome! Can we take your picture for our FaceBook page?”

We proudly posed behind our artwork and allowed our pictures to be taken.

Those two employees made me feel so good! I realized that our efforts for Mom might brighten the day for a few others. Maybe I should get some more chalk and make this a regular thing!

Why Am I So Hungry?

My sister texted me yesterday, just checking in to see how I’m doing. She told me that her sister-in-law’s husband, a doctor in the Chicago area has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Sister-in-law is a nurse and has been quarantined due to exposure. Her husband is pretty ill, but the family hopes he’ll be okay. He’s generally healthy, my sister said but is almost sixty-five years-old so, there’s reason to worry. Already, it begins to hit close to home.

Dire news aside, my sister really just wanted to chat. She said that she spent her weekend crocheting, crafting, cooking and listening to old Randy Travis gospel music.

Sidebar. I just have to add that the previous sentence probably does not paint an accurate picture of my sister who can also rock a pair of jeggings, down a few beers, and go shake her booty to a good rock band! She’s nothing if not eclectic. In a good way! 🙂

The more domestic side of my sister spent the weekend enjoying a slower pace, appreciating, as she said, the diminished self-absorption, and self-indulgence. She’s been cooking a lot and loves having her boys home for family dinners. 

Me too. I’m relishing a sense of calm for the time being. I’ve been planning meals and spending more time in the kitchen making home-cooked meals. We’re not spending needless money on take-out and we’re eating healthier. But the downside is that since I’ve been home, I feel like I’m hungry all the time! Why is that? I could call it stress-eating except as I said, I’m not stressed. So right now this is probably the one thing I miss about leaving the house to go to work. On going-to-the-office days, I plan and bring my food to work. I only pack relatively healthy stuff because once I’m out the door, what I’ve packed is what I get. There’s no room for mindless snacking … unless my cubicle neighbor, Paul decides he’s hungry for cookie and buys an entire box as he is wont to do, eats one, and leaves the rest in the break room. And even then, I can often just say no and walk on by. But not so much at home. Clearly, I’ve got some habits to work on.

So as my self-control was spiraling… On Sunday afternoon, I was tidying up the kitchen and putting a few things in the dishwasher when I noticed the bananas were overripe. “I should make banana bread,” I thought. Yes, I’m afraid to step on the scale, so why not make a cake that pretends to be bread? Good idea!

But really, I’ve been making better use of what’s around the house and didn’t want those bananas to go to waste. There are already more frozen bananas in the freezer than I know what to do with. So baking ensued.

I usually use a banana bread recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook that I received as a shower gift before our wedding thirty-ish years ago. But my bread always comes out with a big section of goo in the middle. (Chesney says the goo is the best part, but it’s just a little too raw for my liking.) If I leave the bread in the oven long enough bake away the goo, the outer part gets too done.

I have countless cookbooks on my baker’s rack, including my mom’s old Betty Crocker cookbook, copyright 1961. It’s a book that’s been well used, and after Mom died, I wanted it mainly because it’s filled with notes in her handwriting. I decided to see what this book had to say about banana bread.

The old cookbook offered a basic “white nut bread” recipe that could be modified to make other types of bread. (Although, who ruins their baked goods with nuts? Not me.) This recipe called for more flour than my usual one, two tablespoons of shortening instead of a lot more butter, one egg and some milk instead of two eggs, and way more baking powder than I’ve ever used while baking.

But the end result was good! Different, but tasty. There was still a little bit albeit acceptable amount of goo in the center. The bread was lighter in color, and less cake-like than my usual bread, but it had good banana flavor and got a big thumbs-up from both Jack and son, Ryker.

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Thankfully the bread won’t be around long. I know I can count on the guys to make it disappear quickly. Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear the ice cream calling my name…