To Quarantine or Not to Quarantine

Do we really need these drastic measures?

Why is this even a question??? I was never more grateful than when Governor Newsom declared statewide quarantine throughout California last Thursday. Why? Because coronavirus is here, and we know how it’s going to go, unless we take aggressive and collaborative action immediately.

Spread good ideas, not germs.

Why should I follow these strict self-quarantine guidelines?

Here’s the math and science behind the need to start social distancing right away, and why our leaders and law enforcement shouldn’t have to force us to comply. Because it’s okay to be smart.

How exponential growth works to spread a virus pandemic

What about going outside? What about parks? What about SPRING?

Still dithering? I get it. A week ago that was me. Can I take my kids to a park (click to see a report from CNN on this topic)? If we’re at the park, can they go on a play structure? What about the beach? Should I be cleaning every high-touch surface in my house? Every day? Every hour? Is it okay for my 72-year old mother to be going out? Trust me, better minds than ours are thinking about all this. In the age of information, it’s easy to imagine that each one of us has all the answers. But the truth is, we ARE a herd. We each have different roles to play. Our scientists are doing their jobs. Our grocery store clerks are doing their jobs. If we don’t do our jobs and circle up, we will lose those we care about.

What’s the worst that could happen?

Here’s what the Italians have to say about that.

Now that the six-county San Francisco Bay Area shelter-in-place order has been extended statewide, I don’t have to make every decision by myself. Rather than making me feel like my freedom is restricted (my freedom IS restricted, by me – I am choosing to comply with these orders), I feel relieved and reassured. Not just because I don’t have to think about every little panic that rolls its way through the internet. But because we are working together. Scientists, lawmakers, administrators, retailers and everyday citizens are all working together to get through this pandemic as safely as we can.

And working together is how humans do things best.

I’m Being Stalked by the Paperboy

Alley A, by Heath Cajandig

Alley A, by Heath Cajandig

Note: At the beginning of 2012, I made one New Year’s Resolution—to walk or run first thing every morning, for the rest of my life. In this one, fear has a way of getting in the way.

I don’t think anything of it when I run past an attractive woman in her twenties on the hilltop loop, early in the pre-dawn. Especially on weekdays, there’s a select few of us out and about at that time.

But I immediately notice the car crouched on the corner, engine running and lights dim. What is it waiting for? Just after I run past, the car slowly crunches forward, heading the opposite way around the loop, toward a point at which it will meet the runner I’d just passed. I head down a side street with a crawl between my shoulder blades, like the feeling you get watching a movie when the camera shows the back of the main character’s head and the soundtrack goes silent. When the lights from the creeping car finally disappear around the corner, I speed forward to a footpath that cuts through the neighborhood via a steep flight of stairs, and drop down to another street.

But there’s only one way off the hill, so eventually the car comes slowly rolling down behind me. I turn my head slyly to the left, to keep it in my peripheral vision without appearing as if I’m looking. What happened to the young woman? Should I be worried about what’s in the trunk of that car? And then I hear the strangely amplified sound of a card being dealt, followed by a thunk. Fffft-thunk! Wheels crunching forward. Fffft-thunk!—the sound of rolled newspapers hitting pavement.

I’d seen the Paperboy’s car before on my runs, but never stopped like it had been at the top of the hill this morning. I make the penultimate turn toward my house, and so does he, right behind me. We leapfrog down the hill, me jogging ahead slowly as he makes his careful throws onto people’s walkways, him rolling past as I slow for my walking breaks. I hesitate before the final turn to my house, not wanting to show him where I live. But he stalls too, so I’m forced to walk straight past the turn. Midway down the block, I pause to tie my shoelaces, waiting for him to pass me so I can double back to my street, and safety.

My mind is no longer on my writing, my music, or the day I’m beginning. I cannot appreciate the lightening sky behind silhouetted trees, or an erratic, twitting bat. I register them only as distractions to my survival. I’m now entirely focused on the danger that threatens my endeavor. I’m just over three years into this commitment to walk every day for the rest of my life. Now all that is threatened.

My mind quickly begins to spin an enumerated list of the things I can do to keep myself safe on my early morning walks. Wear contacts so he can’t shove my glasses into the bridge of my nose, or worse, blind me by knocking them away. Carry my cell phone instead of the featherweight MP3 player next time. Set my speed dial to the local sheriff’s office. Change my route every day. Leave a note for my husband describing my course, so he knows where to begin looking when I don’t return.

Tell someone I think I’m being stalked. Call the newspaper company to lodge a complaint, or at least find out Paperboy’s name. Since I don’t even know what newspaper he delivers, this scheme involves sneaking back along his route to pick up one of his papers. I reject this option as too dangerous.

I consider the orange safety vest I wear for my husband’s peace of mind, and weigh the risks of being hit by early morning commuters against the advantage of ninja black, being able to fade into the background if it comes down to a chase. I retrace my regular route in my mind, marking familiar houses. Dredging my brain for the names of half-forgotten acquaintances, I imagine myself running up to a door and pounding, trying to get a light, any light, to go on inside, or standing in the street and shouting a neighbor’s name over and over again.

The next time I walk, a thousand voices walk with me: the things people say.

  • Words of caution about date rape from the dorm advisor in the late eighties, addressing a mandatory audience consisting solely of first-year women: “Rape is not a sexual act, it is an act of power. Most women know their rapists. It can happen to anyone. Trust your instincts…”
  • Murmured attempts to wrest transformation from rape through courage alone, as young women stand next to painted chalk outlines on campus, telling their stories to a shadowy circle of candles at a Take Back the Night march: “I know they say to fight back, but I was too scared. I was too scared…”
  • Solicitous inquiries from relatives, casting blame in advance: “Aren’t you afraid, living in the Mission?”
  • Casual speculation about the fate of unnamed young women: “If you wanna know what I think, she was asking for it. How else could something like that happen? She must have wanted it…”
  • Men joking: “That was the best Indian restaurant in all of Berkeley, until they shut it down. And you know what the owner ended up getting busted for? Turns out he was importing his relatives as sex slaves and keeping them above the restaurant—can you believe that?!”

I have left my music at home this morning, so that I will be forewarned by the thump of newspapers. I cannot outrun the voices, so I fall into a loose walk and let a remembered silence travel through my body with my slowing heartbeat. One ear on the present, I cast backward in time to another walk in the dark, long ago in China.

To be continued…

In the Bag

A Nutritional Update From the Beleaguered Kitchen

Breakfast, anyone?

Breakfast, anyone? © amomnextdoor, 2013

This year I committed to completing one nutritional cleanse per season, to reset my eating habits, live longer, look better, yada yada yada. I started with the Whole Living Detox Action plan, since they conveniently publish one every January. Instead of following the plan for just three weeks, however, I have been following it since. Loosely speaking.

The detox consists of a sudden elimination of our favorite toxins: processed food, added sugar, caffeine, dairy, wheat, meat, and alcohol. Even eggs and soy are off the list in the beginning. The idea is to add food categories back in gradually, noticing how they make you feel. During the elimination weeks, you incidentally learn a healthy, alternative way of eating.

All this is great, but I’ve got two kids under the age of six. And a Husband who’s gone more often than he’s home. Plus, I’m not one of those dark-haired, beautifully curvy women who grew up watching and learning from my Nonna in the kitchen. Sure, I can follow a recipe and burn the popcorn with the best of them, but a total transformation of the way I shop, cook and eat? That’s a lot of work!

I’ll post more later on how I got started, but here’s a little tip that’s helping me keep it going.  We did get the juicer out of the garage and dust it off and squeeze it onto the counter, because if there’s one thing Whole Living does well, it’s photograph enticing recipes for freshly juiced fruits and veggies, droplets of condensation stroking their way sensuously down the side of a tall glass and everything. I just had to try some of those juices! NO WAY did I parent on juice only for breakfast, as recommended in Week One of the cleanse. But with the simple addition of my very own Pease Porridge Hot, I was good to go until lunch–no need to snack on those horrible goldfish crackers or rubbery string cheese any longer!

Pease Porridge Hot

Serves 3-4

I make a big batch of this oatmeal a few times a week and keep it in the fridge. One recipe will last 3-4 days for one person; double the recipe if others in your family enjoy it too. When I’m ready for a quick breakfast, I slice a fresh banana over ½ cup of the oatmeal (or toss in a handful of raspberries or blueberries), add a splash of almond milk, and heat it up in the microwave. The fruit gets soft and warm and mushy—voila! Pease Porridge Hot, as my son likes to call it.

  • 2 c. almond milk or soy milk (or non-dairy milk of choice)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 c. steel-cut oats
  • 1 T. butter substitute—I like Earth Balance (optional)
  • 2 t. cinnamon (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  1. Heat almond milk and water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Meanwhile, in a dry skillet, toast the oats over medium heat until they smell nutty.
  3. Add butter substitute to oats and stir to melt.
  4. When almond milk comes to a boil, add oats and cinnamon if desired.
  5. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until oats are softened and most of the liquid is absorbed.

Juicing can feel like more work than it’s worth, so over time, I’ve come up with an easy way to make keep the juice ingredients on hand and ready to go when I need a few liquid calories.

  1. On a ziploc bag, I write the ingredients for the juice with a permanent marker.
  2. When I’m cleaning up the kitchen, or prepping food for the kids, I chop and add the ingredients to the bag and keep it in the fridge. For example, if I’m slicing celery sticks, cucumber and pear for a kiddie snack, I’ll chop a little extra and put it into the juice bag. Add some ginger, and I’m all set to make a glass of Cucumber-Pear Juice in the morning!

That’s it: four months of more-or-less vegan eating, and that’s all I’ve got. But that one glass of green juice sure does slide down good!

Motherhood: The Vacuum Cleaner Diet

or, A Diet Better Nutrition for Busy Parents

Photo by Rich Pompetti

What would you grab first? (Photo by Rich Pompetti)

Okay, I’m not about to tell you that housecleaning will get you in the best shape ever. I’m the mom whose vacuum cleaner sits stoicly in the corner of the pantry, waiting in vain to rescue our Pergo from its filmy scrud. My kitchen floor boasts layers of archaeologic proportions. I try not to sweep until everything is nice and crusty: sodden gloms of noodles and dirt gross me out, especially when I have to actually bend over to remove them by hand from the broom bristles. But inevitably, a stowaway disk of flattened food will stick to the bottom of my shoe—or worse, my bare heel—depositing smashed peas and streaks of ketchup all over the house, where they will slyly collect cat hair and dust until someone more industrious than me finally swipes them up with a rag.

The filthy underside of this mom gig I have...© 2013, amomnextdoor

The filthy underside of this mom gig I have…
© 2013, amomnextdoor

Continue reading

Scenes From Singapore

Singapore Parliament House @ the Heart of the City

Singapore Parliament House @ the Heart of the City (Photo credit: williamcho)

Singapore was a very difficult place for me to be. No doubt a huge part of that was being so far from my family. I loved the people I met and worked with, saw and tasted many beautiful and interesting things, but after about eight days away from my children, my body started to fall apart.

Last year it was my children’s bodies that deteriorated. I came home from ten days in Singapore to a daughter with a staph infection on  top of hand, foot & mouth disease, and a son with a burst eardrum. This year a bug bite attempted to attack my entire leg before the excellent medical care in Singapore intervened with a timely shot in the butt.

It was an incredible privilege to be invited across the world to teach a writing camp to young Singaporean writers. The kids were eager, adventurous and welcoming. My colleagues were industrious and intrepid about trying completely new ways of thinking about teaching kids to write.

These consummate hosts went to great pains to introduce me to the incredible sights and especially the exquisite cuisine of Singapore.  Although the relentless urbanity, devoted consumerism and polished presentation of this particular city were not to my taste overall, I did find a great many experiences to treasure during my two visits there. Continue reading

Together and Apart

Photo by U. S. Fish & Wildlife Services Headquarters

Photo by U. S. Fish & Wildlife Services Headquarters

New Readers: At the beginning of 2012, the author made a personal commitment to her health, her writing and her sanity: to walk first thing every morning, every day for the rest of her life. Sometimes it’s hard to wake up early enough.

I remember the feeling of being completely together with my children. Elbows sharp yet unknown inside of me, revealed when I finally held her on the outside of my belly, and recognized their shape with the intimacy of those last four crowded months. The feeling of a child hiccupping underneath my pubic bone, a steady, happy and reassuring tic. Hands fluttering, fluttering below my belly button, again so familiar to me after birth, in the way she held her hands curled up under her chin to sleep for the first three months of her life. His kicking and flailing familiar to me too, the way he can’t quite get enough space even now, wanting to be right next to me with his spiky knees and clawing hands.

Continue reading

On Senior Porn and Going Grey

Photo by Miss Leatherchrissy

Photo by Miss Leatherchrissy

Warning: This piece contains explicit and direct material about the human body.

Why aren’t there any porn sites featuring aging people? Well, there are actually more than you’d think, all of them decades more unrealistic than their younger counterparts. I’m only forty, and already can tell you that the comfort of any given sexual position or activity is its most aphrodisiac property. I’m not truly interested in senior sex, but I do wish the daily onslaught of media images included at least the occasional unclothed octogenarian. It would give me some advance warning about what to expect from my own body as I get older. Some people have finally figured out that puberty shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to teenagers—that it might be a good idea to give young people a heads up about what to expect. Books have been written with shiny blue covers and technical language, to be shared awkwardly at the appropriate time. But where is my guidebook for peri-menopause? For perpetually sore knees? For going grey? The books may be out there, but who’s going to read them to me? Continue reading

Lao-tzu Was Never a Mother


The Question:

Photo by Louise Docker

Photo by Louise Docker

Do you have the patience to wait

til your mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving

till the right action arises by itself?

–Tao te Ching, Lao-tzu

   trans. by Stephen Mitchell

The Answer:

No, not usually. It seems especially difficult when Five has half the contents of the spice cupboard spread all over the counter, making his sanctioned mini-mixture for an individual tuna melt (the rest of us will eat the standard version, thanks). Actually a mom-approved activity, given that we’re trying to  reconnect after he threw his pencil at me during the homework session and I’m trying to feed my family sometime in the vicinity of six p.m. All of this is fine. Mud settling, water clearing.

Then Two walks into the room, after a long, suspicious silence. Her shirt is half off, twisted around and caught on one arm. Her bottom is completely bare, because in her hands is an open diaper cradling extremely round poop that cooperatively rolls onto the kitchen floor as she holds it up for me to “sThee?” Sometimes it just gets a little muddy around here.

My Questions:

How will my mud ever settle with little feet tromping incessantly through my riverbed? Watch this! Oooh, look what I found under this rock! Do it again!

And did Lao-tzu have children? If so, did he raise them himself? Or have wives, concubines and female servants do it for him?

Photo obtained from Google images. Please notify me of any copyright infringement.

Just One Thing

Sometimes, by changing just one thing, you can change everything.

I’ve learned by now that there’s only one thread in all the tangle. Find a loose end and pull, and I feel the tug snarl through every part of my life. Or sometimes, with a little grace, a tiny part of the knot slips free forever. These epiphanies feel like relief, and usually make me cry.

I’m finally wise enough to consider the Gordian complications when I make my New Year’s Resolutions. I have two children under the age of six and stay home to take care of them while my Husband runs a couple of fairly new businesses. I have only the emotional space to change one thing at a time, really, so I have to pick the thing that counts. Continue reading

Rage, or the Distress Call of the Modern Mother

I write to remember what I know. Recently a mom in my Mother’s Club posted a distress call on our online chat board. After watching her two young children all week and through most of the weekend, she became inexplicably enraged at her husband, innocently returning from his relaxing three-hour Sunday workout. She abashedly described herself as screaming, name-calling, slamming things around and basically engaging in an entirely unprovoked adult temper tantrum.

Boy, did reading her post take me back to the days! The last one was about two weeks ago, in fact. Her question to us was: What to do? But I think the more important question is: Why? Continue reading