There are few things that seem normal about life under the coronavirus shelter-in-place conditions, so even the mundane task of mowing the lawn helps provide a sense of normalcy. The "normal" state of our front yard these days is weedy, unfortunately, so this manicure was long overdue. Photo by Glenn.

Flattening the curve

April 29, 2020: We’ve been at this shelter-in-place and social distancing thing for six weeks now, and while we had hoped that life under COVID-19 would become more tolerable by now, it appears that we are still weeks away from realizing anything that resembles normal. While it may be true that plans are afoot to gradually reopen our economy, that is simply not soon enough for many who have been out of work since mid-March and may still be waiting for their first federal stimulus checks. We are fortunately not in that desperate situation, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t coming down with a bit of cabin fever as the weather warms up and our thoughts turn to a desire for travel, or at least an escape from the daily coronavirus task force briefings on cable TV and the ever present question: when does this get better?

The store shelves remain mostly devoid of toilet paper, but the folks at Raley's have dredged up a box or two from the warehouse. It's not the cheapest brand, but it's there if you need it. Limit one per customer. Photo by Glenn.

We were actually able to score a container of disinfectant this time. Not a name brand, but who cases as long as it kills bacteria. Photo by Glenn.

Among the many changes in our shopping routine, the checkstands at Raley's now feature plastic shields to separate grocery workers from the public. This was done prior to the store requiring face masks of all customers. Photo by Glenn.

Roni shows off her COVID-19 face mask that she ordered online from a person in our town who is making them. Personal protective equipment, or PPE, has become a cottage industry. Photo by Glenn.

At first people were told to not congregate in public places, and when that didn't work officials began closing the places down. This is the playground at Vintage Park in Oakley. Photo by Glenn.

Now that we have been able to find chicken at the grocery store again, Roni finally has some time to play with the Ninja Foodi XL she got for her birthday. We've been enjoying lots of tasty meals lately despite our shelter-in-place orders. Photo by Glenn.

The oven still works, too. Roni made this delicious berry pie to help satisfy our cravings for sugary and starchy comfort foods. Photo by Glenn.

Just add a little whipped cream and serve! It was almost like a restaurant bakery pie, only much better. Photo by Glenn.

Okay, so not all our recipes are as exciting as berry pie. Glenn has found that some grated cheese and jalapeños make the perfect combination for a quick quesadilla lunch or snack. Photo by Glenn.

Here's another one of Roni's many cooking adventures this month. These are stuffed portabella mushrooms. Photo by Glenn.

Local businesses are hurting during the coronavirus pandemic, so we didn't feel at all bad about wrecking our diets to support our favorite Oakley bakery, Giant Donuts. Photo by Glenn.

It is sometimes easy to forget during this pandemic that life goes on and seasons change as they have since the dawn of time. Currently we are in spring, which means the weeds in our front lawn won't wait. Roni takes advantage of a sunny Thursday afternoon to fire up the lawnmower and tame the jungle. Photo by Glenn.

There's a new kid in town, and it's this male peacock. We don't know where he came from or who introduced him to our neighborhood, but he's already become a fixture. Photo by Roni.

Ah yes, he's already flirting with the ladies. She doesn't seem to be especially interested. Photo by Roni.

Phoenix and Phyre check out their new scratching post that we ordered off Amazon. They loved the old one to death. This one is cooler, however, because it comes with some fluffy orange birdlike things. Photo by Glenn.

Look what happens when the humans become bored. They start dressing up their pets in silly costumes. We discovered these old Halloween costumes stored in a cabinet and thought we'd try them on for fun. Phe doesn't seem particularly amused. Photo by Glenn.

I'll do anything to look cute, so long as you don't dress me up like my brother! Photo by Glenn.

It certainly hasn’t gotten better at our local grocery stores, where first people were banned from bringing their own reusable cloth bags from home in favor of heavy plastic sacks that we once were told were evil and needed to be outlawed. Now we are being informed that we won’t be allowed in the store at all without a face mask or other protective covering. This was before our county mandated the practice this month of requiring face masks be worn in public — something apparently that still not everyone is complying with, even as we are told it is for our own health and safety. Or maybe it is for the health and safety of those we come into contact with, as we all could be COVID-19 carriers and not even know it.

Ben has seen his role at Grocery Outlet change amid the pandemic. He now finds himself serving as a front door screener, making sure that customers have their masks with them before allowing them into the store, and sending away those who fail to comply. He’s had to deal with reactions ranging from incredulity to outright hostility, a thankless task for someone whose job has been deemed essential and is on the front lines each day in a place that exposes him — and by extension, us — to the dangers of a potentially deadly virus. As he says, people who don’t comply with the mask ordinance have no defense; “They know the rules.”

For the rest of us, it’s a little trickier. Roni didn’t hesitate when she first heard that some stores were instituting the face mask policy. She had already assembled one for Ben to use for work at his store, mainly because it helped put his customers at ease in the event he needed to cough or clear his throat for reasons totally unrelated to virus symptoms. Then once she had Ben taken care of, Roni ordered face masks for the rest of us. Finding masks in the store has been nearly impossible because of high demand, but by now many people have stepped in to fill the void, manufacturing them from home, some with no objective other than to keep their neighbors and health care workers safe from harm.

Our cloth masks were made by a woman here in Oakley, who sent them out quickly for a very nominal charge. Roni has used hers a few times already for her occasional trips to the office and the grocery store, although Glenn has yet to try his on. A scofflaw at heart, he has done his best to avoid outings where the mask would be required, including moving his evening walks to later at night when there are no other pedestrians on the streets. Ben understands, given that he finds working with a mask on for any length of time uncomfortable.

But it looks like the mask requirements are here to stay for a few months. Gov. Gavin Newsom has been reluctant to reopen the state because the number of new COVID-19 cases is still climbing and there is no vaccine in sight. Until we “flatten the curve” and see a sustained decline, any circumstances that allow people to shop at malls, attend concerts and sporting events, or dine at restaurants will require the wearing of personal protective equipment, or PPEs.

But will that beat having to stay cooped up in our homes all summer? Probably for a while. We’ll find out, going forward.

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E'LL SPARE YOU the details of our investing challenges this month, but with the stock markets showing remarkable strength despite all that has occurred with the nation’s economy since February, some analysts think we’ve seen the bottom and it will be off to the races with new market highs later in the year. But there are many signs — at least to folks like us, who don’t get paid the big bucks to figure out such things — that the situation on Main Street is far less healthy than that of Wall Street.

A case in point is that many of the businesses in our community have been shut down or operating with skeleton crews since March. You can’t get a haircut — at least not a professional one — from any of our favorite hair stylists. Restaurants we used to patronize remain shuttered if they aren’t otherwise delivering their fare via DoorDash or GrubHub. A few of these businesses will never come back, even with federal stimulus cash. We went out to buy doughnuts one Sunday just to support the shop, and Roni learned then that the store would be cutting back its schedule until further notice. We have yet to find out what happens when people start missing rent or mortgage payments because they have been out of work and their companies aren’t hiring them back.

Whether it is a related development or not, we don’t know, but our neighbors to the north put their house up for sale this week. These would be the neighbors with the annoying dogs and chickens who moved in at the end of 2017, so we won’t be too sad to see the barnyard go, although we will wait anxiously to see who next moves into that house — they are asking $465,000 and the chicken coop is one of the features included with the property, unfortunately, so if you want to buy it and save us from the fate of more poultry in our side yard, we’ll gladly help you dismantle the thing. Fingers crossed the new owners won’t see a need to be suburban farmers. Fingers crossed! (Maybe we should buy the place…)

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N OTHER NOTABLE news involving animals, our cat Katy Purry celebrated her 10th birthday on April 14. Well, we assume she celebrated it in her own way, although we at least acknowledged it by telling her happy birthday. She didn’t tell us what she wanted as a gift, but we have a hunch it might involve social distancing of herself from a certain orange-and-white tabby cat named Phoenix, who loves to harass her at just about every turn. We think he views it as a game, loving to get a reaction out of his stepsister. It is definitely no game to Katy, who has taken a few not-so-playful swipes at Phe.

The other day, we saw Phe squinting and rubbing at his left eye. Closer inspection revealed that it was red and nasty looking, and he had obviously been rubbing at it — a spot on his eyelid where he’d likely caught a claw from someone. But as neither of the other two cats has come forward to confess, we assume he pushed someone a little too far. The kitty code of silence prevails in our home. It appears the wounded eye is healing, so maybe we can avoid a trip to the vet.

All of our cats tend to be picky eaters, but when they recently began turning up their noses at the Purina Beyond dry food they usually devour, we started to wonder what might be wrong. It was the chicken flavor, too, the one they usually love the best. Roni grew more suspicious when she compared the new bag of food to a sample from the old one and noticed a remarkable difference — the new pellets were a different color, quite a bit greener. Had we bought a bad bag? Worse, we’d picked up three bags on our last trip to the grocery store, stocking up just in case supplies ran low and we weren’t able to find more for the cats.

We decided the food couldn’t possibly be bad, that it was still fresh, and that the cats would just have to get used to this new formula. She fed it to them for a few more days, hoping that hunger would eventually win out and they would eat. But no dice. Finally, in desperation, Roni decided the animals couldn’t all be wrong and the food must be bad. She investigated the old and new bags, checking the labels and seeing nothing unusual. Then she called in our residential expert — Ben — and asked him to look at the food. Ben spotted something right away: “This is DOG food.”

Yes, somehow we had managed to pick up three bags of Purina Beyond Simply 9 DOG food from the Raley’s shelf where normally the cat food resides. And of course the two products look exactly the same — other than that obscure “DOG FOOD” printed on the label. As much as we think Phyre sometimes eats like a dog, he certainly doesn’t eat dog food, nor do the other cats, so now we are left with trying to figure out what to do with all this dog food we probably can’t return, since the stores aren’t taking back any food right now, health concerns and all. If you know a hungry dog in need, we’ve got three bags we’d love for you to take off our hands!

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E'VE POSTED PHOTOS over the months of the two female peacocks who occasionally wander the neighborhood and visit our porch and those of all the neighbors. Nobody knows where those two came from, but they began showing up about 11 years ago after BNSF widened its railroad that runs past our back fence. We always assumed that the construction work, which included cutting into a hillside a couple of blocks from where we live, may have disrupted the birds’ habitat.

Their presence in the neighborhood has been something of a conversation piece, and they have appeared to be content with strolling through the yards and doing whatever it is that a couple of wayward pea fowl do all day. That is, until they were joined recently by the hot young studly male…

Yes, the peacock pair are now a peacock trio. The male bird showed up about a month ago and has been parading around with the ladies. But even when we can’t see him, we always know he is around because he announces his presence with a one-note call that echoes through the neighborhood, day and night. We don’t think he showed up on his own, but that someone must have introduced him as a potential companion for the ladies. Bless their hearts. We wonder how long it will be until peacock chicks start making an appearance — and when that happens, it’s all over.  

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EEPING IN TOUCH with friends and family has been a challenge for everyone during these times when close contact is discouraged or forbidden. That goes for our family, as well. Ben is very disappointed that he hasn’t been able to hang out with his friends like usual, and in a few cases those friends haven’t been available to chat with online either. Now, with the extension of shelter-in-place rules through the end of May, he is facing the prospect of a lonely birthday with no one to celebrate with — except for us, of course.

May is a busy birthday month in our family, so Glenn’s sister and mom are asking the same question as Ben: will they be able to celebrate in the company of loved ones? We don’t know the answer yet, obviously, but if all else fails we might have to resort to another video conference call like the one we did on Easter Sunday.

It was Jennifer’s idea to bring us together for an hour on Zoom. We’d used Apple Facetime chats in the past, but they proved a bit more awkward with several people crowding together in front of small phone screens. Zoom enabled each of us to have our own connection via our own computer or mobile device. We spent most of our hour attempting to figure out how to use Zoom, and playing with the virtual backgrounds the app allows users to display. We may have been in our bedrooms and living rooms, but our backdrops featured gorgeous landscapes, exotic locales, and at least a few dinosaurs and space aliens. Fun times.

Well, we’ll do our best to keep our chins and spirits up as we forge ahead into another month of life under COVID-19. Until next time, be safe and keep hoping our nation can #FlattenTheCurve so we can get back to some semblance of normal by summer.


Glenn, Roni and Ben