A Mind in Chaos

It snuck up on us, didn’t it?

This Covid 19 virus! For Mr. Penfire and me, the preoccupation since about Christmas was up the street…at our daughter’s house, where our son-in-law was undergoing medical tests…and, ultimately, some very serious surgery at the end of February…and there were four young children who needed to be driven to school, and swim lessons, and basketball practices and games, and art lessons, and birthday parties…and the requisite pre-birthday party shopping trips. (Lots of kids means lots of busyness.)

In between all this,  Mr. Penfire and I, when we were out doing our own shopping—in a rushed and haphazard manner—shook our heads in bewilderment at the empty shelves in the bottled water and toilet paper aisles. I definitely rolled my eyes at the handwritten sign in the pharmacy: “Masks sold out!” (What are people panicking about?)

Then, gradually,  we became aware of the dangerous rumblings—like thunder in the distance. On a Monday morning, the clerk at Whole Foods told us, as we were checking out, that the shelves had been complete emptied of canned goods over the weekend. Still nonchalant, still clueless about what was to come, we dismissed this report as a temporary case of collective overreaction. But rumors flying and news beginning to sound worrisome, we decided to step up our game.

We drove to the store early one weekday morning and found grim looking fellow shoppers and long lines. We filled our cart. Once home, I called my daughter, and went back to the store with her.

Now other shoppers were rushing up and down aisles, grabbing groceries with desperate abandon. There were no large boxes rolled oats left. I snagged three of the small ones! Hey, only one 18-pack of pastured eggs here. Better take it, even though I have one at home. I put a five-pound bag of all-purpose flour in the cart. Don’t these people buying bread and cookies realize they can bake their own? In the checkout line…which snaked to the back of the store…my daughter saw the flour and suggested I go back and get another. But, lo, I returned to aisle three and the shelf full of flour had been emptied.

Meanwhile, our younger daughter, who’s single and lives alone, shopped in her neighborhood and brought a carload of staples—everything from toilet paper to pasta.

Has it really been only a week?

Mr. Penfire and I are luckier than most “elderly” couples. (Yes, we cannot escape that label despite the fact that we do not consider ourselves old.) We are definitely not isolated and alone.

Because our daughter and her family live right up the street, and we are treating our two houses as one household. We’ve established a bit of a routine. We walk up in the mornings and collect our two- and-a-half-year-old grandson…bring him home, let him play, feed him lunch, take him for a long walk, and return him to his mother in time for his afternoon nap.

This way his three older sisters can have the house quiet for the schoolwork that arrives, via the internet, daily. The home schooling operation got off to a pretty rough start. But seems to be falling into a more manageable routine. Thanks in large part to my daughter’s  emergency run to Best Buy (curbside pickup only) for the purchase of two new iPads … which were parachuted into the open window of the back seat by a store employee. You can’t have three little girls completing iPad assignments simultaneously unless you have three iPads.

For the hours that our grandson is NOT with us, the situation feels not unlike being housebound during a blizzard. Except that there is no snow. Or a hurricane…but fortunately, we do have heat and electricity!

A disaster… or an opportunity?

Is this a pending disaster, or a weird and unprecedented kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? Both, of course. On the one hand, we could die. But on the other, this is a great chance to tackle all those projects I promised myself I would do “some day”…”when I have time.”

This list includes (but is not limited to): organizing thousands of pictures accumulated over the decades (boxes of photographs, countless of iPhoto images); tackling the jumbled closets here in our tiny “new” house, which are bursting with everything I believed we needed (or else could not bear to throw or give away) when we emptied out our spacious “old” house back in New England; establishing, once and for all, a housekeeping routine that actually works; finishing the embroidery project I started back before my older daughter (now the mother of four) was born; figuring out what to do with my father’s collection of vintage and collectible golf clubs that stand, wrapped in brown paper, like sentinels in my “office.”

Then there is the challenge of working my way through all the books I have purchased faster than I could possibly read them. (A lifelong friend, also an avid reader, has assured me I won’t live long enough!)  And taking the time to read all of Shakespeare’s plays (and maybe the Bible); and listen to all (yes, all) the great operas while reading the librettos, so I actually know what’s happening.

Plus, I’d like to try as many as possible of all the recipes I’ve clipped and stashed in three ring binders over the years. (A different lifelong friend, also an avid cook, has assured me I won’t live long enough to do this, either.)

Finally and at last, establishing an at home exercise routine (maybe with one of those Pilates videos I bought years ago.)

And most important: finish all the extensive research I need to do so I can write my next book.

What have I achieved so far?

Well, I’ve…

• Logged onto iPhoto and moved a good number of pictures into desktop folders.

• Logged onto a fabulous YouTube series—out-of-work actors collaborating (each from his or her remote/home location) to present the plays of Shakespeare in chronological order.

• Arranged our collection of pill bottles and over the counter medicines on a lazy Susan in the hall closet.

• Cleaned two bathrooms… very thoroughly.

• Baked three kinds of scones, a batch of Mahmoul (traditional Arabic date and shortbread cookies), and, just last night, some cheddar cheese biscuits (ony a half batch; after all, there are only two of us here).

• Started reading at least five different books (rejected four, continuing with one).

But, oh, the distractions!

There have been many distractions. First and foremost, it’s the clutter, mostly created by the eight very large cushions I dragged inside from our pseudo-patio back before the thunder in the distance became a full-fledged, life-threatening storm.

Yes, it was a couple of months ago, at least. I had gone outside to uncover the outdoor furniture—my favorite reading spot—only to discover that an unwelcome visitor had taken advantage of the warm dry nest offered by this cozy location  and left behind an unsavory gift. I brought the cushions inside, unzipped and removed the Sunbrella covers, which were quickly machine-washed and air-dried. But the cushions themselves were in danger of falling apart; baked by the sun (the heat no doubt intensified by waterproof covers) their paper-thin wrappings had crumbled. So I acquired a couple of yards of lightweight linen (from the “75% Off!” bin at the fabric store), thinking it would be a simple matter to wrap the cushions and secure the seams with quickly hand stitched seams. How long can a simple sewing  project take? Well, I’ve found out. Apparently, it can take forever!

And that’s okay. Because if I’ve learned one thing on my way to becoming an old lady, it’s that nothing is really that important.


No. I take that back! One thing is that important. Very important. Staying connected and looking out for the people we love. All the tasks and ideas and wishes on all the “to do” lists I’ve ever made mean nothing compared to the health and the safety of my children, my grandchildren, my family, my friends.

Therefore, I decided to sit down today and write this message for all to read: Please take care of yourself. Stay home. Stay safe. Go out for walks. But steer clear of others. And wash your hands!