Category Archives: Covid-19 help

A Shelter-In-Place Life

It has been difficult for me to be creative during these last few weeks. My mind travels to Maslow’s Hierarchy, and I seem to be stuck at “Safety” with a heavy dose of “Love and Belonging.” I’m nowhere near “Esteem” or “Self-Actualization.”

There have been so many changes recently that I feel like I fell asleep and woke up in an alternative universe—a place void of toilet paper and ground beef. A place where we are finally doing something about global warming, not because of a conscious effort, but because there is nowhere to drive.

I was away for a few days right at the beginning of March. By the time I returned home, the COVID-19 crisis was taking off. I went to Walmart to get some necessary supplies and was shocked to find that many of the shelves were completely bare. Yes, there was no toilet paper or paper towels, but other items were also missing…. rice, beans, flour, yeast, instant potatoes, peanut butter, the list went on. As a kid, I remember my mom going to the store early so she could get a big frozen turkey for Thanksgiving, but I have no memory of dealing with such food shortages. It felt very surreal. I bought what I could, and I was grateful for what I found.

Back at home, I used my knowledge of chemistry to concoct a surface disinfectant, and my understanding of microbiology to institute some cleaning procedures, such as sanitizing our eating surfaces both before and after a meal. I also made sure that we were using our foaming soap dispensers instead of the regular ones, as the foamers use much less soap. It seems that liquid hand soap is also in short supply. Since I couldn’t get TP locally, I went online to find that the regular packs were sold out. In desperation, I bought a case of cheap hotel stuff. Three days later, Amazon emailed me and informed me that I canceled the order…I did not. I told Julie to save our daily newspapers, just in case, and I got a quick lesson on how to fluff newsprint from Tom. He was raised in Poland during a time where TP was a luxury item for many.

My kids have always had free reign when it comes to food, and my William can quickly eat an entire broasted chicken in one sitting. I sat the family down and told them to snack only when they were genuinely hungry. Items like pasta needed to be reserved for meals.

I returned to a store and found two, one pound tubes of 70% lean hamburger. In the past, I felt that the frozen tubes of hamburger were suspect, and I would only buy the freshly ground very lean stuff. I thought that I struck gold with my “tube” find, and I plotted how I could use a single tube to feed my family of 5 adults, stretching 2 pounds of ground beef for two meals.

As all of this was going on, I watched the stock market crash. Investments are my primary source of retirement income, and to watch 30 years of sacrifice evaporate was soul-crushing. My financial advisor suggested that I use alternative sources of income… I told him that I didn’t have alternative sources. I re-framed my thinking, noting that many were in much worse financial straights and that I should be grateful that I had enough money to buy groceries, no matter how limited they were.

Our church canceled in-house services but went online. We gathered in our family room as I cast the service from my Macbook to the family room TV. At communion time, we each ate a Ritz cracker; it was the most “unleavened” item that we had. It was surreal to have the service in one corner of the TV and a comments thread running along the other side of the screen. However, it felt good to be part of a broader community.

During the early days of this crisis, we had to gather our adult children. One day I drove a 13 hour round trip to Ohio to get Grace. I spent most of the next day packing up my son, Will’s dorm room. On another day, we picked up our Kathryn from OHare. She, along with 7000 other Peace Corps volunteers, had been evacuated. She had spent eight months in Africa teaching Physics and Computer Science in Mozambique.

I set up temporary study stations so my two youngest could continue with their college classes online. Kathryn placed herself in “self-quarantine” to make sure that she wasn’t incubating anything from her 20-hour flight from Africa to Dulles in Washington DC.

A few days later, Governor Pritzker issued a shelter-in-place order, and Illinois shut down. I went to the Jewel to see if I could get some more food, and I was surprised to see the number of patrons whose carts were filled mostly with booze of various types. I guess they were going to party hardy in isolation.

Like many, I tried to connect with others via Zoom, and I have been making a lot more Facetime and phone calls. Julie continues to work, even though we have all begged her to see patients only online. She says that some clients don’t have that ability, so now she is seeing about ½ of her clients online and the rest in her office. I have tried to take on more of the household roles to ease her burden.

I’m surprised at how stressed I am doing simple tasks, like making dinner. Normally, I can do such things blindfolded. However, I think that I am using most of my psychological resources to get through the day. This is why making dinner seems like such a big deal, and why I don’t want to practice the guitar, organize my closets, or take creative photos. By the end of the day, I’m done.

I’m calling my oldest daughter more (she lives in another city). She is dealing with her stress. I’m also contacting people who I love and care about on a more regular basis. During the first week of shelter-in-place, the only contact that I had with my friend Tom was via the iPhone. During this second week, we carefully planned some get-togethers that were consistent with the new rules of the land. I met him in his backyard, and at an appropriate distance. I have known Tom for the last five years, but it seems like we have known each other for a lifetime. During life before COVID, we saw each other almost every day, and I think we were both missing that contact. Have you ever had a friend like that? I feel fortunate that I do.

I’m finding that I’m more sensitive as of late. Things hurt my feelings more, and when my kids or wife say something negative about me (even when joking), it cuts deep. I’m trying hard to make sure that we have our basic needs met, and negative remarks about my efforts hurt. I’m trying to process these feelings internally, and I’m making a strong effort to “walk away” when I want to bark back.

Two of my “at home” kids have been extraordinarily helpful—one, less so. I’m trying to focus my energy on all of the great help the first two are doing for the family, and I’m trying to be grateful that the third child is home and safe with us. It would be easy to snap at #3, but it would serve no purpose, and so I find myself praying a lot and walking away. I am making a strong effort to be grateful that my family is mostly together. Things could be so much worse.

Every day is presenting new challenges in this alternative universe called the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most, I’m doing my best. I’m so aware that people are essential, stuff is not. I’m feeling grateful that as of this writing, we are all in reasonably good health. I’m thankful that I had a cup of coffee this morning, and some peanut butter to put on my breakfast banana. I’m also grateful that I am in a warm and secure home. I’m am so happy to love and to be loved.

Priorities have shifted, what seemed so important a few weeks ago appears trivial at this time.

One day at a time.

Julie “seeing patients” from our sunroom.
I put this sign on our front door.
Grace attending an on-line class.
Filling our time with a card game.
I’m going on a lot of walks.
Empty shelves at the grocer.
The kids and Mercury the cat doing a little kitchen floor socializing.
A simple meal of home-baked challah and cream of chicken soup.

Our Covid-19 House Rules

Dear readers, last week I started to write a new post. However, its contents seem trivial based on the Coronavirus pandemic. I’ll finish and post it at some future date.

The pandemic has caused a significant change of all global societies, and just about everyone on the planet has been impacted. On a more personal level, there have been a number of documented cases where I live, and I assume that those numbers will rise when testing becomes more available.

My wife and I became empty-nesters this year, but that has all changed. Our two college-age kids are now home and will complete the final weeks of their semesters on-line. Another daughter will be returning from Africa next week. She worked very hard to have the privilege of serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, and now her dreams have been dashed by this viral outbreak.

Of course, it is wonderful to have our children back at home, but their influx also presents problems. When my kids were growing up they often heard me say, “There are no emergencies for those who are prepared.” This rule also applies to social situations, in our case going from a 2 person to a 5 person household.

Yesterday we had a house meeting to talk about shoring up some of our family expectations. The focus was on acting reasonably and respectfully. I thought I would list some of the points here, as you may find them a nidus to stimulate a family discussion at your home.


House Rules, Covid-19 Edition

1. Our house needs to stay as clean and organized as reasonable. We deserve to have a pleasant place to live in.
2. We have some food supplies, but we need to use them wisely. We need to waste less and reprioritize what we eat. The box of pasta that was formally used as a cheap snack has now become a family meal.
3. We need to live life as normally as possible. {Two of our kids are still in college and we have explored places in the house where they can continue their on-line college experience in peace.}
4. We need to practice “standard precautions” when it comes to general hygiene, safety, and health. {The term “standard precautions” is a hospital term relating to safety and sanitary procedures.}
5. We need to support each other.
6. We need to love each other.
7. We need to be kind to each other.
8. We need to practice the above behaviors to others beyond our family. The world is tense, we don’t need to make it tenser by our rude or entitled behaviors.
9. We need to pitch in and cooperate. All of us need to work together to keep our home running as smoothly as possible. There is no room for a prima donna.
10. We need to keep abreast of the real facts about our current crisis.
11. We MUST avoid buying into rumors, conjecture, bad science, click bate, and crisis mongerers. Theory or conjecture are not facts and can have negative consequences.
12. If we have fears or concerns we need to share them and allow others to comfort and support us.
13. We need to realize that tomorrow is another day. Our city, state, country, and world have gone through worse times and we have survived.
14. Together we are stronger, we need to always remember that. Be kind and helpful to everyone.


Dear reader, during this time I send you my warmest thoughts and most positive energy.

Dr. Mike

My neighborhood streets are empty.
No traffic on a normally busy street.
A popular breakfast joint is closed and dark.