Day 12 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Friday, March 27, 2020 Live to Blog from My Recliner

Tom goofed. He thought he had his Day 11 blog set up to post at 8:00 AM yesterday. Instead, it was set up to post at 8:00 PM. When the bonehead found the mistake, he posted it immediately at 7:31 PM. However, if you didn’t notice, don’t worry about it. You didn’t miss anything. I’m Winthrop Dijkstra-Baum and this has been a public service announcement.

Dang it, Winthrop! Just be quiet and stay out of my blog. That, of course, was Winthrop Dijkstra-Baurm, my public radio alter ego. He is a pretty entitled guy, for sure. Please, just ignore him, especially if he begins to ask you to donate to his pledge drive.

Have you noticed, less than two weeks into the sheltering-in-place phenomenon, how days seem to be blending together? Come to think of it, the week and weekend seem to be merging as well. Something else may be merging. I’ve worn Bert (left) and Ernie (right) long enough that they are becoming a part of me. Well, not really a part of me but I’m wondering if they have absorbed enough of my DNA to start cloning me…or somebody…or something!

Earlier this week I told you the story about hiding them on the deck at night and fearing Clemencia could hear them chatting with one another. Chatting may not be the most accurate description. They don’t exactly talk…they mumble. I’m not paranoid but I can’t help wondering what they are mumbling about. I wear shoes that are extra wide so it can’t be that they are cramped. I always give them a premium spot on the deck. I keep the birds and squirrels and laundry away from them. However, I’m feeling just a bit suspicious of the mumbling.

Actually, if Bert and Ernie are getting a bit ripe, I can’t know it.

True story. Years ago I lost all sense of smell and taste. Eventually I ended up going to a neurologist. The doctor spent about 30 minutes giving me an exam that involved taking a whiff of (supposedly) really nasty smelling things. The fragrances were kept in little glass tubes which he kept in a box tucked away in a cabinet. Who knew anybody actually manufactured those things!

One by one he’d hold a tube up to my nose and say, “Breathe deeply.” So I’d breath in. He’d ask, “Smell anything?” I’d say, “Nope” and he’d say, “Huh!,” occasionally punctuated with “Hmmm, interesting.” After I had smelled nearly every tube in the box he said, “Okay. here’s the deal. You have anosmia.” Now there’s a diagnosis that begs the question I asked, “What’s anosmia?”

Okay, wait for it. Bear in mind this was a specialist and his hourly rate was probably more than my weekly income at the time. No, I said wait for it. He had just given me one of the most unusual exams I’ve ever taken and the only thing he said for 30 minutes was “Huh!” and “Hmm, interesting.” No, wait for it, I said. He just made his pronouncement of my diagnosis with the utmost clarity and authority. His answer to my question, “What’s anosmia?”:

“It means you can’t smell anything.”

Brilliant Neurologist Who Shall Remain Nameless

I so wanted to go all Lewis Black on him, “WHAT?…WHY?…WHO?…WHAT AM I DOING HERE AND WHY…HOW MUCH…NO, WHY DO I HAVE TO GIVE YOU MY WEEK’S SALARY JUST SO YOU CAN TELL ME WHAT I ALREADY KNOW???” Of course, that was my inner Lewis Black having that particular rant. Outwardly I said, “Oh, that’s interesting. How come?”

That’s when he explained to me that some time (he couldn’t say when) and some how (he couldn’t tell me how), I had had a virus that messed with the cells in my brain that control my sense of smell and taste. (No, stop it…that’s not nice, Winthrop…it was not the coroNOSEvirus!)

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THEY MESSED WITH CELLS IN MY BRAIN? AND YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHEN OR HOW OR WHY? HOW DO I KNOW THAT WON’T HAPPEN AGAIN? AAARRRGGGHHH! screamed my inner Lewis Black.

To the doctor I said, “Thank you. What happens next? Is there a cure?”

“Nope.” the doctor explained.“In most cases, in about a year or so, you will begin to regain 70 to 80 percent, maybe more, of your sense of smell and taste. In some cases, though, it doesn’t come back all.” “Oh!” he said with a chuckle, “You know the funniest thing? Some things that always smelled and tasted bad to you before, may smell and taste good when your senses come back. Other things that always smelled and tasted good before, may smell and taste bad in the future. Isn’t that interesting?”

“INTERESTING?!? SERIOUSLY, INTERESTING?!? NO, THAT’S DEFINITELY IS NOT INTERESTING. IT’S WEIRD, SCARY, AND IRRITATING BUT DEFINITELY NOT INTERESTING TO BE STUCK WITH THIS FOR NEXT YEAR AND MAYBE THE REST OF MY LIFE! DUDE, I LOVE PIZZA, APPLE PIE, BREAD PUDDING, THE SMELL OF LILACS, AND LOTS OF OTHER THINGS AND NOW I CAN’T ENJOY THEM!” That was, of course, my inner Lewis Black again.

So I said, “Thank you doctor. Now, where may I pay my week’s salary to you?

Truly, there are things far worse than losing one’s sense of smell and taste. Mine did come back to, oh, about 75% or so. I’ve never gone back to the doctor to have him measure it precisely and I never will. It is what it is.

One of the worst things we can experience is happening right now as the Coronavirus continues its march across the country and world. Today, in the United States, the number of confirmed cases went over 100,000. In fact, as I write this posting the number is 104,007. Okay, the doubters and real fake news followers will say, “Well, these numbers could be inflated by all the testing we are doing.” Nope! In fact, testing has never been at the level it should be and it still is not today. Without the testing we cannot find all the case that are really out there. What amazes me is that there are still people who think this might not really be as serious as it is. Earlier today I received an email from a friend who is an immunologist at a major research university medical school. She sent me this eight minute video, What this Chart Actually Means for COVID-19. It is a clear, concise, and even entertaining video that explains what it means to “flatten the curve” of the virus and why this is important. Please share it. Share it with everyone you know who is still living in the fake news and false belief that this isn’t. The video explains why in my home state of Iowa (a flyover state in the middle of the country where at least one of our nation’s leaders assures is doing just fine) that the number of confirmed number of Coronavirus cases went from 147 two days ago on March 25 to 235 today. I know, that’s not New York. But when you understand exponential growth, which the video explains, you’ll understand how Iowa, and everywhere else in the country, is only a few days and a few doubters from becoming New York very soon. Please, watch the it, share it, and keep sharing it until more people understand.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, and remember to watch the video and share it.

Tom

Day 11 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

March 26, 2020 live to Blog with Egg on My Face

Oh, man, I really stuck my foot in my mouth today. Really, I was trying to be nice and make conversation while we stood in line – yes, six feet apart. But I think I just got it so very, very wrong.

Early this morning I had to go the bank and try to pick up some items at our local Aldi grocery store. I was thrilled to discover when I arrived at Aldi that Thursdays (today) and Tuesdays were reserved for senior citizens and pregnant women only from 8:30 AM to 9:30 AM. I’ve never been more excited to be an old guy. I joined the line – keeping a social distance of six feet from the two people ahead of me. The first person appeared to be an older woman about my age. The second in line appeared to be a very pregnant young woman. We chatted together while waiting for the doors to be opened. At one point the young woman, seeking confirmation about the hour, said to us, “So it’s okay for pregnant mom’s to shop at 8:30 AM too?” The older woman assured her it was.

A few more minutes of general chatting followed. Then I looked at the young woman, smiled, and asked cheerfully, “When is your baby due?” The young woman gave me a puzzled look, with a side order of glare, and said somewhat indignantly, “I don’t know.”

I paused. No, it was not a pregnant pause…just a pause. At times like this, when I’m caught off guard, realize I’ve made a social faux pas, and have no clue what to say, I usually default to some idiotic, blathering. Today I was true to form. I responded cheerfully, “Well, uh,…I’m, uh…sure the doctor will tell you before the baby is born” and followed it with an embarrassed grin. She did not smile.

At just that moment an elderly woman, moving slowly with the aid of a cane, appeared out of nowhere from behind the young woman. “Ohhhhhh….nooooooo,” my Best Intentioned Self silently scolded my Idiot Self. Then, the automatic doors opened and I did everything I could to avoid the young woman and her elderly companion during the rest of my visit to Aldi. For added measure of I caution, I spoke to no other living soul the entire time I was in the store.

Sock Offensive update: I really wish I had washed Bert (left) and Ernie (right) before putting both feet in my mouth today. Sigh.

Participants in today Coffee Break/Happy Hour

BYON Virtual Coffee Break/Happy Hour: At our second virtual coffee break and happy hour today we had many of the same folks who joined us last week. Two couldn’t make it but we gained another Canadian. With the group’s permission I captured a photo of the screen to share with you here. One helped us celebrate Clemencia’s birthday with a fun hat. (Thanks FP!) At the moment this screen shot was taken, the group was singing happy birthday to her. (Thanks group!)

We’ll be meeting again next Thursday, April 2 at 5:00 PM. Be sure to bring your own nose, hat, or anything else that lifts your spirits. Our conversation starter is an activity. Prior to the gathering, visit the Public Radio Name Generator and get your own public radio name. Then come to the meeting prepared to share it and use it throughout the meeting. See below for our BYON Coffee Break/Happy Hour connection information and try to join us.

Using Zoom has become a way of life for many people in the time of COVID-19, including Clemencia and me. We use Zoom throughout the day to stay connected to clients, to students, and to conduct training and classes. Today, though, we used it to stay connected to our family members. We invited our children to a Zoom birthday party for Clemencia at noon. Everyone made it on time and we had a fun visit but…overshadowing it was the reality of the pandemic. Our daughter lives in Brooklyn and we worry about her as the cases of the Coronavirus, and the body count, climb to unbelievable levels. To pass the time and be of service, she is making face masks for people who need it most. Our son is a social worker who still has to go out into the field but without the benefit of any protective wear. Our daughter-in-law is dealing with the stress of long hours working remotely as an essential IT security specialist working to protect a major hospital system from regular hacking attempts. Our godson is doing his doctoral research in Spain. He and his partner are living in a town about the size of Baltimore that has over 54 deaths from COVID-19. Even as we laugh together and celebrate the life of someone we love so much, we also feel on the verge of tears for worry. This is life in the time of COVID-19.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, and remember to let yourself both laugh and cry, even at the same time, when needed.

Tom

Day 10 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

March 25, 2020 – Live to Blog from the Kitchen

Hello, I’m Winthrop Dijkstra-Baum and this is the news.

Actually, that’s just my Public Radio alter-ego who decided to horn in on my blogging today. I had too much fun today on a couple of Zoom meetings. Actually, so did the other participants. I think we are all beginning to crack just a little bit under the pressure of COVID-19 stress. The fun, though, was my fault…I must confess.

Here’s what happened. For the multitude of my readers outside the United States, all two of you, we have National Public Radio (NPR) here, which is a terrific source of award-winning news reporting, classy classical music, jazzy jazz music, and wonderful programming that includes variety and game shows and radio documentaries. Think American style BBC or CBC. I’m actually an NPR junkie.

Funny thing about NPR. It is known for having top-notch reporters, journalists, and anchors with some of the most lovely yet interesting and fun to hear and say names you could ever imagine. The names of some of the real NPR personalities which lilt off the tongue include, David Folkenflik, Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Alexi Horowitz-Ghazi, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, and Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. You may also have observed from these there is quite a fondness for hyphenated names. By comparison to these, my name is terribly unexciting. Can you imagine me saying, “For NPR in Laurel, Maryland, this is Tom Klaus.” You can just imagine the sound of digital buttons being pushed to switch stations, right? Now you understand why my Public Radio name shall forever be Winthrop Dijkstra-Baum (but don’t call me Winnie).

I got my name from the Public Radio Name Generator. At the start of two Zoom video meetings today I shared the link to the generator with the participants. We each looked up our Public Radio name, changed our Zoom names to it, and went by our new names throughout the consultation. What a fun way to do a video conference! So, who was on the air with me?

  • Thema Meyers-del Barco
  • Hadassah Nakamura-Ibdah
  • Ajaya Murphy-Mori
  • Ivan Ajram-Ofili
  • Liu Zaykaothao-Ahmad
  • There was Augusto and Coco whose last names I can’t find in the Zoom chat anymore and one other whose name I can’t find at all.
  • We even had a toddler stop by a Zoom meeting who got christened Juan Rossi-Diallo by his mom.
  • And, of course, I’m Winthrop Dijkstra-Baum, reporting live from Laurel, Maryland, for NPR.

The name generator doesn’t always work for everyone though, especially those who already have beautiful interesting names. Clemencia has tried the generator but her name is unique enough that nothing sounds more public radio-like than her real name: Clemencia Maria Vargas.

Here’s my best tip of the day: At your next Zoom video meeting invite everyone to generate their own Public Radio name and use it as their own for the duration. It will change your meeting!

Today I baked a birthday cake for Clemencia. That’s it. No fires. No messes. No burnt socks. It actually came out really great. Well, except, it wasn’t a cake…it was birthday brownies. She has a bit of a thing for chocolate.

Don’t forget…tomorrow is the BYON (Bring Your Own Nose) Coffee Break/Happy Hour at 5:00 PM Eastern. The Zoom connection information is below my signature.

I was at the computer about 12 hours today so my world revolved around a monitor, a keyboard, and an endless mug of coffee. Working 12 hours a day is tougher than it used to be but I’m grateful to be keeping busy. It’s tough for me to be confined to home. However, I’m mindful that sheltering-in-place is much tougher for many others. Others may be trying to work and manage children home from school. Many are home, out of work, and wondering how they will simply feed their children next week without any income. Many simply do not have a home in which to shelter-in-place. This time could become one of anger, animosity, turmoil, and destruction if we let it. Or, it could become a time of caring, compassion, sharing, and grace if we choose it. I hope we, as fully human beings, will be wise enough to choose this better way.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, and remember to give a lot more grace than grief to others during this tough time we share.

Tom

Day 8 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Monday, March 23, 2020 – Live to Blog from Under a Blanket

Why, you wonder, am I under a blanket? No, I’m not sick. I’m COLD. We had an unnaturally warm winter – I even went golfing in February a couple of times. Now it is Spring, it is supposed to be warmer, and it was cold and rainy all day. For the first time in about three weeks, we turned the furnace back on today.

Did anyone else notice that last week seemed rather surreal and disorienting? My son said it quite well yesterday: “It seems we are living in a really, really bad B-horror movie.”

Yes, I agree, and, yet, I’m not sure any horror movie has ever been as bad as Plan 9 From Outer Space. Be sure to click on the link and watch the trailer if you have never seen it. It was directed by Ed Wood, Jr., a movie director so terrible that he even got his own biopic in which he was played by Johnny Depp. (In my biopic I want to be played by Matt Damon, whom I am convinced is going to be my doppelganger when he is turns 66.) Seriously, the 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards names Ed Wood, Jr. as the Worst Director of All Time.

To understand how he earned this distinction, all you have to do is watch Plan 9 From Outer Space. But, wait, save time. Just the watch the trailer at the link above. If you do watch the movie, though, here some things to watch for:

  • The black paint on the pilot’s “steering wheels” of their airliner comes off on their hands.
  • The tomb that every ghoulish character emerges from is so small that it really isn’t possible for even a single body to be placed it…plus, it looks like it was made out of plywood.
  • Look for the strings suspending the flying saucers in the movie – you don’t actually have look that hard.
  • The famous horror film star Bela Lugosi (who is forever etched in our memories as Count Dracula from the 1931 film), is in the movie, although, he really wasn’t because it was mostly filmed after he had died. A taller, younger, blond actor played his character through most of the film (which you can see even in the trailer).
Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula

Say what?!? Yep. Here’s how that happened. I’ll give you the first part of the story and then I’ll let Wikipedia bring it home. Lugosi’s success in Dracula, both on the stage and in the movie, was so extraordinary that it forever type cast him. Overall, life was not good to Lugosi in his last years. He was living nearly in poverty and had developed a drug habit. Ed Wood, Jr. found him and offered him work in some of his films. At one point Lugosi sought treatment for his drug addiction. I’ll let Wikipedia give you the rest of story:

During an impromptu interview upon his exit from the treatment center in 1955, Lugosi stated that he was about to go to work on a new Ed Wood film, The Ghoul Goes West. This was one of several projects proposed by Wood, including The Phantom Ghoul and Dr. Acula. With Lugosi in his Dracula cape, Wood shot impromptu test footage, with no storyline in mind, in front of Tor Johnson‘s home, a suburban graveyard, and in front of Lugosi’s apartment building on Carlton Way. This footage ended up in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), which was mostly filmed after Lugosi died. Wood hired Tom Mason, his wife’s chiropractor, to double for Lugosi in additional shots. Mason was noticeably taller and thinner than Lugosi, and had the lower half of his face covered with his cape in every shot, as Lugosi sometimes did in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Under Ed Wood and Final Projectshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bela_Lugosi

Really, if you have never seen Plan 9 From Outer Space, you just gotta see it. It has no real plot but is so unbelievably bad you just can’t stop watching. Let yourself laugh out loud. It may be the only time you’ll ever laugh at a “horror” movie.

Sock Offensive update: Bert (left) and Ernie (right) have now been on my feet for seven days, except for when I take them off for bed. Then, I sneak them out to the deck where they spend the night so they do not become obvious to Clemencia. So far, so good. And no neighbors have complained…yet.

BYON Coffee Break/Happy Hour Thursday, March 26th, 5:00 PM Eastern. Join us if you can. If you’d like to meet up with us, check out the connection information below.

You know, though, I really do think my son has it about right. It does seem like we are living through a bad B-movie right now. Over the past week I’ve been reaching for the remote and punching the buttons to try to turn it off, but it isn’t going away. This week, as I’ve come to realize that it is not a movie at all, I’m shaking myself out of my shock and stupor, hitching up my big boy pants, and trying to figure out what the new normal is and will be in the future.

In this past week Clemencia and I have rediscovered the importance of being connected with people and, even more, helping them make connections with others. That’s what this blog has been doing, slowly but surely. It is gaining more followers and readers. I’m not sure why, because it really is an exercise in maintaining my own sanity and perspective. Still, I’m grateful, glad, and humbled. Our BYON Coffee Break/Happy Hour made connections among nearly a dozen people from across North America, all of whom were meeting each other for the first time. We attended a Quaker Meeting for Worship that had 17 people connected by Zoom early Sunday morning. I learned today that there were 45 Zoom screens, some with multiple people on them, connected at the 11:00 AM Meeting for Worship that followed. We’ve shared virtual meals with each of our children, one of whom is in NYC dealing with everything happening up there. Clemencia, who has been teaching conversational Spanish to active older adults and others at the local library and local community college, invited her students to join Zoom classes last week. Today she had her first three classes. But wait, that’s not all. She will actually have five, maybe even six classes, with nearly 70 people. That is one and a half times more than she had in her on campus classes a month ago. What we realized today is that we have not only connected with about a 100 different people during the past week, but we’ve also facilitated connections among them. For this reason, it has been a good week.

For a number of years I have made a point of trying to teach each of my clients this axiom: It is all about relationships. It is always about relationships. The process of building relationships is our most important work. I believe this with all my heart. I also believe this moment in time is the most important moment I have ever known to be in relationship with others. We will make it through this bad B-movie known as COVID-19, but only if we stay connected to one another – even if it is only a virtual connection.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, and keep washing your hands, and remember to stay connected.

Tom

Day 7 – Stories of COVID-19 and Sheltering-In-Place

Sunday, March 22, 2020 – Live to Blog from Quaker Meeting

This morning, at 9:00 AM, Clemencia and I joined about 16 other members and attenders of Sandy Spring Friends Meeting (SSFM) for Meeting for Worship via Zoom. Yesterday I mentioned this was going to happen and I promised a report on it today. It was a great experience and we are both glad we were there. If you visit the SSFM website you’ll find a link to information on how to join Meeting for Worship via Zoom…in case you are curious.

Meetinghouse at Sandy Spring, Maryland

Sandy Spring Friends Meeting is located in Sandy Spring, Maryland. We have three Meetings for Worship per week – 9:00 AM and 11:00 AM on Sunday and on Thursday evening. All three of these have moved to Zoom for now.

One of the coolest things on our campus is a huge Tulip Tree (lireodendron). In the photo, you can see it peeking out behind the Meetinghouse on the left side. However, to really appreciate the size of the tree, you need to see it in comparison to something else…like me!

A Notable Tulip Tree in the graveyard at Sandy Spring Friends Meeting behind the Meetinghouse. I’m that speck of a person at the right of trunk at the very bottom.

About eight years ago Clemencia took a picture of me beside the tree. I’m that little speck of a person standing right at the base of the tree waving my hand. If you don’t see me well, I get it. But you can take Clemencia’s word on it that it’s me (wearing an Iowa Hawkeye shirt, by the way). Since that time the tree has continued to grow and I’ve continued to shrink. It is my understanding, from people who know much more about these things than I do, that the tulip tree you see here is one of the oldest and tallest in Maryland. One friend at Sandy Spring Meeting told me it is 2nd or 3rd largest (or was that oldest?) tulip tree in the state. One fact I do know for sure is that it has a circumference of 250 feet and is distinguished as a “Notable Tulip Tree” by the Montgomery County Department of Planning. However you size it up, it is a spectacular tree and worth seeing the next time you drive through Sandy Spring, Maryland.

Quakers (also commonly known as Friends) have been in Maryland since 1658, but the first record of Quakers in Sandy Spring appears in 1753. Today Sandy Spring Friends Meeting has several hundred members and attenders and it is likely one of the largest unprogrammed Quaker meetings in the U.S. The Meetinghouse was built in 1817. To the best of my knowledge, Friends have been gathering for Meeting for Worship in this simple, beautiful Meetinghouse every week since then. Until today.

Today’s Zoom Meeting for Worship (MfW) included 17 people. That number is low for a typical 9:00 AM MfW but it was a good group for a first Zoom MfW. Mike Bucci (not the pro wrestler but the retired teacher), a Ffriend with whom I have served on Ministry & Counsel committee, served as the clerk for today’s MfW. As clerk he started the MfW and closed the Meeting. Two Friends living in Italy heard about our Zoom meeting and joined us for worship. From them we also received first hand accounts of the difficulty of life in Italy with COVID-19. The 9:00 AM MfW is known as a quiet meeting, which means there are usually not many people who feel led to speak. Today there were only three.

Clemencia and I were glad we attended the Zoom MfW this morning. It was tempting to immediately get busy with the myriad things we are trying to get done but we decided pause and participate. It was a break we needed. Silence in an unprogrammed Quaker meeting is not really quiet. Even on Zoom there are some external noises – a purring cat on an attender’s lap, the Zoom operator making coffee in the background believing his microphone was muted, etc. But that is not the noise I’m talking about. It is the internal sound of the heart, mind, and spirit that you can only hear in the midst of sustained silence. The sound of that silence is amplified when you are listening with others, whether it is in the Meetinghouse or on Zoom.

For me, today’s silence was particularly noisy. I found myself deeply pondering this question: How do I balance my commitment to the greater good of our society (community) with the need to be prudent about my own health and keep “social distance” to help stop the spread of the virus? A clear answer is yet to emerge for me. I appreciate that Sandy Spring Friends Meeting is offering these Zoom Meetings for Worship. Because my brilliant epidemiologist spouse saw what was coming weeks ago, we had been practicing “social distancing” before it actually became a thing. Zoom lets us reconnect to our spiritual community as well as our friends.

Sock Offensive Update: Bert (left) and Ernie (right) attended Meeting for Worship today. Nobody seemed to notice but the cat looked at me suspiciously. Of course, cats look at everybody suspiciously so maybe I’m just projecting.

Remember, Clemencia and I are hosting another BYON Coffee Break/Happy Hour on Thursday, March 26th at 5:00 PM Eastern. The Zoom connection can be found below my signature. If you join us this week you might even get to meet my friend Mike Bucci, who is far more interesting than the pro wrestler of the same name.

Stay safe, be well, keep calm, keep washing your hands, and remember to take time away from the chaos of COVID-19 to listen to the noise of silence. Don’t worry. For the near future you can count on the chaos still being there when you’ve finished listening.

Tom

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

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

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.

Tom

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

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.

Tom

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

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.

Tom

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

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.

Tom