Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Chocolate Cake Dilemma ~ Solved

A friend recommended a chocolate cake mix that would cost us only 8 g sugar per piece. I saved it until now to celebrate Robert's successful surgery. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Substitution Dilemmas

The Chocolate Cake Dilemma

Because folks, including us, do not venture into grocery stores as often as usual during coronavirus confinement, they sometimes have to substitute one ingredient for another in recipes. We’ve had fun experimenting with new options. Our newspaper is full of substitution ideas. Try pizza seasoning on spaghetti. Use spinach instead of escarole.
This is not our problem. Our problem is a fixation on chocolate cake. A fly on our wall would hear Monday night after dinner: “I’m in the mood for chocolate cake.” A grasshopper on our wall Tuesday would hear the longing in our voices: “Wouldn’t a piece of chocolate cake be wonderful?” An ant on our wall Wednesday would hear us whine: “We want chocolate cake!”

I have a gluten-free chocolate cake mix in the pantry. If I bake it, the two of us will eat every chocolatey crumb in short order. If we had dinner guests to help us eat this cake, I would bake it. We cannot have guests now. Neither of us wants that much sugar at any time, but especially now when we are super-conscious of keeping our immune systems strong.

A recipe for Trail Mix Cookies catches my eye as a high-fiber, high-protein, low-sugar treat containing chocolate. I baked these cookies tonight. My, they’re tasty. Alas, they cannot substitute for chocolate cake.

Who wants to be our first dinner guests when this confinement is finished? There’ll be chocolate cake!

The Library Book Dilemma

I’ll just come right out and say it: An e-book is no substitute for a paper book. Call me old-fashioned, I don’t care. I am really having trouble with our libraries being closed.

When sheltering-at-home began in early March, I was slow to realize libraries would close. My rude awakening came when I went to return an Edwidge Danticat at the drive-up slot, only to find it duct-taped shut. I felt shocked and sad. But I knew that the book I wanted to read next would be available online, so I downloaded it. After working on the computer four or five hours a day, my eyes are tired, but I adjust my schedule to fit in a little casual e-reading some afternoons.

Evening relaxation, for me, however, needs to be a non-screen activity. I began pulling paper reading out of my magazine basket. How fun to re-read articles. I even found a few crossword puzzles I had somehow overlooked when the magazines were new. What I really craved though was a novel. With libraries closed, I turned to my own bookshelves. Lo and behold, I found a large paperback volume of Short Novels of the Masters, so I read a few. Henry James, Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy—great to read the masters. When I got to one novella that turned out to be in a time of plague, I put that volume back on the shelf and pulled out The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which was just as delightful this time around. Now I’m loving rereading Jan Karon’s first Mitford novel. Perfect for curling up in bed.

Happy as I am to be part of an interesting book club, and glad as I was that my library had an e-license for our recent book, it came with frustrations. How do you go back and bookmark what you want to discuss with your friends? Apparently, as I e-read our next book, I’ll have to take paper notes as I go along. Our group has also chosen its next-next book, and one of our members had two copies, so she lent me one. She put it in a plastic bag on her front stoop. I rang the bell. She in her living room and I on her front sidewalk got to chat through our masks. So that in-person visit was a balm for these lonely times. I let her book sit for the recommended five days. And now, I have an actual book to hold in my hands and treasure like a … well, treasure.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Coronavirus Irony and Humor

Day 58 of sheltering in place, and thankfully, so far, so good health-wise.

Miscellaneous Ironies

Right before the pandemic hit, I splurged buying a twin sweater set. The catalog called it cashmere-like. I wanted warm, long sleeves for winter travel to the nursing home, but cool sleeveless shell for inside Mom's always-toasty nursing home. My mom's facility has not allowed visitors since March 10. Bet I won’t wear that twinset till next winter.

We’ve been without a dining room light all winter. Finally ordered new fixture. Robert picked it up at store in case store goes out of business before COVID-19 is over. Now the boxes sit in the corner of the dining room until we can allow a workman to come into our house.

Often on my morning walk my jeans feel loose. I have to keep pulling them back up to my waist. Hoping I might be losing a few pounds, I hop on the bathroom scale, which dashes my hope. Apparently, I have just worn these jeans so many days in a row, they have stretched out. Haha.


We all seem to need an extra dose of laughter now. Unfortunately, between tragedy and uncertainty, the news is grim. Facebook friends have instinctively presented the most wonderful funnies during this pandemic. Some that tickle me are:

Video of a drone walking the dog of a quarantined man.
In 30 days we’ll know what color everyone’s hair really is.
I'm mapping out my next vacation tour. The graphic is a floor plan of house.
Now I know how pets feel to be cooped up. I just barked at a squirrel.
Every evening I change from my day pajamas to my night pajamas.
Actually, it’s only quarantine if it comes from the Quarantine region of France. Otherwise, it’s just Sparkling Isolation.

I hope the jokes keep coming but they certainly seem to have slowed. I'm thankful for John Krasinski's Some Good News YouTube web series, which is both uplifting and funny. Click here to see my favorite episode so far. As our second stay-at-home month drags on, humor is refreshing.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Decisions, Delays, and Distance

Day 36 of sheltering at home due to global pandemic. So far, so good, health-wise.


In the past month I have driven my car a grand total of 19 miles. Life is simpler now with only about one outing a week. Even so, we do face new and different kinds of decisions during this confinement. When to risk going to the grocery store, for example. Do we have enough food that we can skip the store this week? When our county had only a handful of confirmed coronavirus cases, we took precautions, but we went out without any real fear. Now that our county nears 2,000 cases with more than 65 deaths, real fear seems wise, and we decide not to go out, even taking precautions.

Two weeks ago, we wore masks and gloves to buy groceries during early-morning seniors-only shopping hours. Items we could leave in our garage for three days, we did. We brought perishables in and washed them with soap and water before refrigerating them. Last week, same drill, except we left stuff in the garage for five days, because the recommendation had changed. This week, we’re not going out at all. I rummage in the pantry for dried beans and in the freezer for chicken and green beans. Meal planning will stretch me a bit, maybe take more time to figure out new dishes to make with older items, but I’m game.

Another decision was about masks. Just as the let-it-rest rule changed from three days to five days, the no-mask to yes-mask rule changed. Deciding to wear a mask was easy for me, even during the weeks of no-mask advice. Why would healthcare workers and allergy/asthma sufferers have worn masks for years if they were completely ineffective? The no-mask recommendation seemed unfounded to me from the start. Because of a broad range of allergies that sometimes compromise my breathing, I have a couple cloth masks to wear in high-allergy season and on airplanes. I’ve gotten weird looks for years; I don’t care. I like to breathe. And during the weeks when only people with coronavirus symptoms were advised to wear masks, I got some weird looks. No matter. I felt at least a little more protected. My husband opted for a mask several weeks ago, also before the official advice changed, and he also felt a little more protected.

It’s difficult to decide what recommendations to believe anymore. Can my mail be infected? When will businesses reopen? What happens to your body after you recover from COVID-19? Many theories float by. New information comes. Advice changes. The fact is, no one knows for sure. We are all doing the best we can.


Thankfully, we can get along without fresh produce, timely haircuts, and teeth cleaning. But both my husband and I have some medical issues whose fix-it appointments have been bumped into the twilight zone. His doctor told him it could be months until elective procedures would be possible again. As understandable as new medical priorities are, that is most discouraging for people in pain.


Physical distancing does not necessarily mean social distancing, we happily discover. Easter came and went with some sadness over no egg hunts in the yard with nieces in nephews, no traditional Easter meal with seldom-seen family, no He-is-risen hugs at church. I can’t deny feeling lonely on Easter. But in recent weeks I have had delightful hey-we’re-all-in-this-together phone connections with old friends. Surprising my technoweenie self, I have video-chatted with friends over previously unfamiliar computer apps or platforms or whatever they’re called. My writers group has amazingly productive conference-call meetings, and my beloved former book group is resurrecting via Zoom.

I admit that in one sense (the olfactory one) I am grateful for physical distancing. To help keep our immune systems strong, I feed my husband and me copious amounts of fresh garlic. We may now be unfit for human company, or at least we may engender more weird looks. Haha. 

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Paper Towels ~ What's New Is Old Is New Again

It was 1987. Our company president tapped a security code and the heavy door whooshed open. He stepped inside our new mainframe computer room and we followed. Beaming, he explained what all the floor-to-ceiling, gleaming gray and silver boxes could do. So excited was he that as he talked, he kept popping up on his toes. We were duly impressed. Every customer, every transaction, and even demographics—sortable, retrievable, useable. Truly a new world.

In 1989, I took my 95-year-old grandmother to visit my brother and his kids, her great-grandchildren. When we arrived, my 3-year-old niece was engaged in an educational game at an IBM personal computer, clunky by today’s standards, but way smaller than my company’s mainframe. As she looked up at the big square screen, my niece’s chin was about even with the keyboard, which put her little fingers about even with her eyes. Grandma and I were amazed by what she could already learn and do on this magic box. Programs, games, computation available in homes with just a few keystrokes. Personal computers—yet another new world.

Certain she would say computers, I asked Grandma, “What do you think is the greatest invention of all time?” Without hesitation, she replied, “Paper towels.” Perplexed, I asked why. When she explained that for most decades in her lifetime, every spill or splash, every baby burp, every spot of mud had to be wiped with cloth towels, which then had to be laundered, I began to understand. Also, even after washing machines arrived in most homes, many people dried things on clotheslines. Doing laundry was not the snap it is today. I could see how the invention of paper towels, new in Grandma’s lifetime, was life-changing.

Projecting to my own messes, I noted that if the spill was coffee or tea or spaghetti sauce or chocolate, the laundering process involved the additional step of stain removal. And how many cloth towels would you have to own to avoid doing laundry every day or two? Lots. So although I hadn’t personally experienced decades of labor-intensive laundering, I got Grandma’s appreciation for paper towels and napkins. I used lots of them. And I especially enjoyed the years when paper towels came printed with cute, colorful designs like flowers, butterflies, and French cafĂ© tables.

Fast-forward to the 2000s when the age of disposability got cut short by environmental concerns. To produce paper towels and napkins, forests are destroyed! I may not be a tree hugger, but I do love nature and do not want to kill or waste it. A few years after my adult nieces began setting a green example, I changed my habits. Unlike them, I still kept paper towels and napkins in my house. But I used them sparingly. My immune system can’t handle the strong chemicals needed to get out tomato and chocolate stains, so I wanted paper towels and napkins for cooking and eating spaghetti dinners and chocolate desserts. Still, I was very pleased with how long—months, usually—a roll of paper towels lasted in our house. Also, cloth napkins cover more of one’s lap and feel softer on the lips than paper. A win-win.

Fast-forward once again to COVID-19. What are the first items to fly off grocery store shelves as anxious citizens prepare for the pandemic? Paper products. Perplexed again, it took me weeks to realize that since we so diligently wash our hands now after doing just about anything, reusing possibly virus-infected cloth towels is dangerous. Even after bumping weekly hand-towel laundering to every other day, I concede the point. Paper towels were on our grocery list when we ventured out to Walmart for 7 a.m. senior shopping time. I hadn’t purchased an 8-pack of paper towel rolls in years. It felt odd to be back in a paper-towel era. Ripping off a paper towel each time I dry my hands is new enough, it feels wasteful and so eco-unfriendly, I feel guilty. And wow, how quickly we go through them!

I look forward to a time when we can relax about invisible virus enemies, and what was new, then old, then new, will become old again.