The longest month

Any 31-day month has potential to be long. Usually, a variety of activities and places contributes to the sense of length. I’ve experienced long Januaries, a long July, a long August. February can seem painfully long due to weather and the late-winter blahs. You’d think March would often be a long month, since spring break falls somewhere in the middle, and sometimes I travel during it, so that there are new and different experiences, along with the quotidian.

But I think this particular March has been the longest month ever. We had some normal life and teaching. Then there was spring break that gradually went from normal life to prepping for pandemic. And for the past two weeks, the news keeps getting worse and worse, even as nothing much happens in my daily life, and mild illness has (once again) slowed down time.

I’m feeling better today, though still rather inclined to stare out the window at signs of spring (buds on the apple tree; grape hyacinth leaves pushing up) instead of actually doing my work. I’ve graded a few papers, sent a few e-mails. I’m hoping that tomorrow I’ll be close enough to normal that I’ll stick to the work schedule I mapped out a couple of weeks ago, when we were still in the prep stages.

The CNN story titled “Woman says goodbye to her mother on FaceTime before she died thanks to a nurse” makes me think that even in these times, English professors need to keep doing our work. The story itself makes clear that, thanks to a nurse, a woman was able to say goodbye to her mother, using FaceTime—not that the nurse is hastening patients’ death. Word order, people. In English, it matters!

Pilling the cat

One thing that continues as ever is medicating cats. Glendower is very good about pills, as he is about most things: I just walk right up to him with the pill gun, use it to nudge his mouth open, depress the plunger and down the hatch it goes. No fuss at all.

Then there’s Basement Cat.

Basement Cat has chosen this week to have a resurgence of his intermittent gastric trouble. Since he’s been treated before, and since he is a Very Bad Cat at the vet, she opted to dispense meds based on my phoned-in report of his symptoms. He gets 4 days of an anti-nausea pill and a month of daily steroids.

Fortunately, we still have a supply of venison kibble, which all our cats seem to think is kitty crack, so this is going fairly well. Here’s how it works: I put one piece of venison kibble in the rubber tip of the pill gun, and let Basement Cat extract it and eat it, thus associating the pill gun with treats. Then there’s a stage in which I pretend Basement Cat is Glendower and try to avoid the inevitable, after which I wrap a towel around Basement Cat so he can’t push my hand away, back him into my lap and hold him firmly between my legs and one arm, force his mouth open and depress the plunger, hoping that he isn’t going to wrench his head away at the last millisecond and send the pill under the stove. Then he gets a few more pieces of venison kibble.

He’s perking up after just a couple of days of this. Going to the vet for meds was probably the highlight of my week. I went out! In the car! I saw another person! True, she was wearing a mask and came outside just long enough to pop the bag of pills into the open window of my car.

When Basement Cat gets better, I really must remember to do the treat-from-pill gun maneuver on a regular basis, so he doesn’t forget the pleasant associations.

Private medievalist

With the cancellation of the Medieval Congress at Leeds, I’m 0 for 3 on the conferences I hoped to attend this year.

First-world problems, yes. I hope all my posts to do with the virus* remain of this type, I truly do. I’m mainly disappointed that I don’t get to see my friends, or travel in the UK. Sir John was going to come this year. We were going to climb around old castles together, and have a swell time. I’m sure we’ll have a swell time at home, too, but we’d been looking forward to this trip for awhile. I suppose the castles will still be there next year. In the meantime, I’m shut in the house with my favorite person and three cats, so no complaints there, and e-mail, Skype, and the phone still work for getting in touch with people. For me, conferences are about social events and travel. Even in this first-world situation, it’s not as if I’m a junior person who was counting on conferences to help make significant progress on a book. And I’m sure not the hospitality industry losing all their bookings.

Where has the last week gone? Mainly checking CNN’s live updates, blowing my nose, coughing, writing up assignments for my students and sending reassuring e-mails, cleaning, trying to nap, advising Sir John about online shopping: local grocery stores are delivering, but there’s a lot of “we’re out of this, what about X substitute?” that we have to negotiate.

As the introvert’s introvert, I actually am looking forward to settling down to reading and working on my own schedule, without commuting. The only reason I’m not already doing this is that I’m ill with something, and whether it’s just a cold or Something Else, I don’t want to aggravate it. This is not the time to Carry On, and get sicker. So I rest a lot, though sleep is iffy because of symptoms (this is totally normal for me with a cold), and say “oh swyve it” to a lot of things, and figure that the obsessive news-checking is part of trying to take in the scale of the crisis. I keep wondering how I could have been in denial for so long, but I’ve seen posts from doctors admitting they were, too, so it’s not just me.

I worry about my dad in his assisted-living facility, but there is nothing I can do about that. Apply Stoic principles, and accept whatever happens. I can’t bring myself to get in touch with my brothers. My Brother Less Reasonable at least has a grasp of statistics and scientific principles, but he is also a Negative Nicholas and I don’t want to hear his version of how bad everything is going to get, even if he’s right. My Brother More Reasonable** will undoubtedly have some kind of crackpot theory that might be amusing if I could keep sufficiently detached to just say to myself, “Wow, yeah, there he goes again,” but I’m not sure I could do that. So I just don’t. They haven’t called or e-mailed me, either, so we’re even, I guess.

* “the virus” used to be HIV. It seems so weird to have it be something else, and something whose generic (“the coronavirus”) is something I associate with shelter cats. A few weeks ago, I was joking with Sir John that our cats had done their best to ensure that we’d have some antibodies when COVID-19 hit the States: bats, cats, one letter difference. Right? Um.

** The More and Less Reasonable descriptors refer only to how easy I find it to negotiate my father’s care with them, not to their belief systems or ways of interacting with the world.


The closures and cancellations keep coming. My dentist, my gym, the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo.

The last makes it even stupider that I stayed up so late, last week, reading the program and thinking about what sessions to go to. But I suspect that at some level I understood that this might happen, and was clinging to normality for a little bit longer. Queen of Denial! This was not the year to have been so efficient about registering and booking a hotel. Sometimes procrastination is not a bad thing!

I feel more cast adrift than I did yesterday, even though in practical terms, little has changed. I’m still staying home for 2-3 weeks, no matter what; I’m not on the K’zoo program this year, so I already didn’t need to write a paper, was just going to go to see friends and attend whatever struck my fancy. Maybe by mid-May I’ll be able to take some other sort of vacation.

But the gym was a near-daily anchor in my life, and I liked to think of it being there whether I was in it or not. The conference is a yearly anchor; I’ve been there every year since I was in grad school, over 30 years now. It’s what I do, in May. It gives me a punch of research-energy going into the summer. It’s very strange to have gone in less than a week from having two conferences on the horizon to none. And, yes, first-world problems, etc., keeping the vulnerable safe, I know. But if you’re reading this, you’re quite likely an academic of some stripe and know what I mean, or can imagine, even if your conference is at a different time of year.

Spring break in the time of coronavirus

Around the middle of last week, it occurred to me that I usually post daily through spring break. I thought about doing a sort of Cliff’s notes version for the first few days, but, TBH, I was sort of paralyzed by the news, even as I tried to avoid the most flamboyant sources. It was a bit like preparing for a hurricane, where you know it’s coming but life just continues as usual, around the nailing of windows and stashing of supplies, until the rain and wind actually hit.

As of today, Sir John has sniffles and a low fever. I think I have spring allergies, because I feel the way I always do around this time of year (that is, some respiratory stuff, no fever, don’t feel particularly ill), and the trees I see from my study window are in bud. We are isolating ourselves. We’re well stocked and this is an area where it shouldn’t be a problem to have things delivered if we need to order online.

This week is “extended break,” to allow faculty to prepare to teach online for at least a couple of weeks. Maybe longer. Because of my commute and Midwestern winter weather, I generally have a couple of days’ worth of online ideas up my sleeve, but I’m going to have to think about the second week, and the further future. Although I think it would be fun to learn about some of the fancy stuff it’s possible to do online, it’s probably better to keep it simple. I don’t know what my students’ tech is like, and considering how much difficulty I sometimes run into with stuff I use regularly in the smart classrooms on campus, I can imagine the hassles with 25+ of us trying to do something unfamiliar to at least a few people. So today I plan to revise my syllabus, and think about what I can reasonably put into place.

Here’s the Cliff’s notes for last week. Already it seems unbelievable that we did some of these things:

Saturday, 3/7: gym, Spanish conversation group, some work with a manuscript facsimile.

Sunday, 3/8: read 1960s YA novel in the bathtub, after some gardening.

Monday, 3/9: Stock market tanked (round one). Cooked a lot. Mammogram. Watched stage one of Paris-Nice.

Tuesday, 3/10: Stock market bounced upward. Watched stage two of Paris-Nice and went out with friends. Stayed up too late reading program for K’zoo. E-mails from LRU hinted at coming changes.

Wednesday, 3/11: tried to sleep in but Basement Cat was having none of that. Went out with different friends for the afternoon. Watched stage three of Paris-Nice. Started watching Avenue 5, which we find hilarious (big fans of Hugh Laurie in this house). LRU announced plans to extend break, teach online after that.

Thursday, 3/12: A conference Abroad was cancelled. It was one I was really looking forward to, and before it I was going to get to see a manuscript in another bit of Abroad. I made a store run; store was well stocked and had more shoppers than I expected for mid-afternoon, mid-week. We went to a concert that was (a) the last for this group, whose home is in a state that had already banned gatherings of over 100 people, and (b) the last for this venue, because the next day the university where it is located banned large gatherings, and sometime in the next few days the state did the same. I’m not sure exactly when; in all the excitement, I kinda lost track.

Friday, 3/13: Went for a walk with a friend, who said local schools had closed; she thought it was premature. Afternoon: the state announced school closings. We re-listed our house. Our timing is so bad it should be comical, but I’m not really appreciating the joke. I thought spring break would be the perfect time: fairly early in the spring market, and I’d organized myself to have no grading last week, so I could spend time on tidying up all the stuff that silted up while we were off-market last fall. I did some garden work while the weather was nice. We watched two stages of Paris-Nice. Either today or Thursday (I get confused because of watching stages a day late, and doubling up on Friday), the race organizers announced that the race would finish a day early.

Saturday, 3/14: I made strawberry-rhubarb pie, and cleaned the refrigerator. More cycling.

Sunday, 3/15: lots of e-mail with students. I went to the gym, for what will be the last time for a few weeks, cleaning all machines obsessively. Made plans to work to a schedule Monday. Watched the last stage of Paris-Nice; disappointed that Alaphilippe didn’t pull off the attack he made, but pleased with Quintana’s stage win.

Monday, 3/16: since I had trouble falling asleep last night (general anxiety, financial, virus, blah blah) I got up later than I’d planned, then Sir John got up (temporarily) earlier than usual and announced that he wasn’t feeling well. He’s back in bed, which is no doubt the best place for him, and I’m trying to concentrate. One of the people I was worrying about last night, whose home is in Bergamo, reports today that he and his elderly father are feeling better after a couple of weeks of fever and aches. So that’s a bright spot!

Pi Day and the refrigerator

Although I don’t consciously track the arrival of Pi Day, somewhere in early March I always seem to start feeling the urge to bake a pie. Earlier this week, I defrosted homemade rhubarb compote and a bag of strawberries, and having realized that today is Pi Day, after breakfast I got them out, along with other ingredients, so I could get started. I also had the thought that while it was baking, I would write this post and schedule it to appear at 1:59, haha clever right?

That was before I discovered that the strawberries had leaked.

Pie-baking was postponed while I cleaned the refrigerator. Well, the half of it that was under the strawberries. I meant to clean the fridge soon, anyway. Maybe tomorrow. Or next week.

Once the pink sticky was removed, I had to restore shelving and drawers to the refrigerator. I assure you, the refrigerator has been cleaned on other occasions, and I don’t remember this part of the process being so awful. It ultimately took two Ph.D.s to get the drawers sliding reasonably smoothly under the appropriate shelves.

Then I made the pie. Crust: whiz in food processor 1 cup rice flour, 1 cup potato starch, 1 t xanthan gum, 1 t salt, 2 t sugar. Cut in 7/8 of a stick of dairy-free margarine. Add one egg and about 5 T of cold water. Roll out carefully. The egg made it less crumbly than last time, but it still fell apart a bit.

While the pie baked, I ate lunch. As it cooled, I cleaned the shelves above the strawberry spill.

After I ate a large slab of pie, I cleaned the shelves in the door of the refrigerator.

Now the refrigerator is clean! Yay! Plus there’s strawberry-rhubarb pie!

And the whole day is shot, but what the heck. I have a Pi Day story.