Safe and Sane

This week I’m taking a brief break from the usual fare and writing something a bit different. Many, if not most, of us have been “sheltering in place” for quite some time now, so I thought I’d share some of the things my wife and I have been doing to keep busy and at least somewhat sane. As of Monday our shelter-in-place will be modified somewhat, giving all of us who live in San Mateo County a bit more freedom, but we will still be expected to stay at home as much as we can, so hopefully reading about my experiences will spark some ideas that can perhaps help with your own situation.

For the past several years my wife and I have been working from home, so when the shelter-in-place order first came down our life didn’t change all that much. The biggest change for us has been not being able to visit with friends. We periodically get in touch with them via Zoom, but as you likely all know a video chat is no substitute for getting together in person. Fortunately I expect that we’ll soon be able to get together again in small groups, as long as we take proper precautions. I know that will help my own mental state quite a bit.

The other major effect that the shelter-in-place had on my wife and I was the elimination of our ability to travel. One of the great things about working independently is the fact that, depending upon what kind of work one does, you may be able to travel while continuing to work. Over the years that I’ve been writing this blog I’ve actually written from, or at least posted from, a wide variety of places, including from Hawaii and from Europe. This has enabled my wife and I not only to take vacations, but to make needed trips to help with family and friends. Zoom chats are definitely no substitute for being able to travel to see one’s parents or one’s kids in person, although they certainly are better than nothing. When we are once again free to move about the country I plan to take a driving trip or two, if only to see family members. Someday we plan to get back to flying, but not for a while — and only if driving is not an option.

Other than those two things, the rest of what we used to do outside the home we either still do, or we’ve developed adequate substitutes for. I of course still walk all over Redwood City, San Carlos, and parts of North Fair Oaks to do research for this blog. My wife and I continue to drive for Meals on Wheels, since that is an essential and much-needed function. And we of course go out to shop, primarily for groceries.

Prior to the shelter-in-place we used to buy groceries much more frequently, to the point where we (well, mostly my wife) shopped almost daily for that day’s dinner. That has certainly changed: we’re now only shopping once every two weeks. We go to Sigona’s Farmer’s Market (on Middlefield Road, across from Costco) for all of our produce, along with some of our other items: they have a great selection of dairy, bread, and wine, and they have fish and pasta, too. Their produce is excellent, and we feel very safe shopping there.

As for meat, we are getting pretty much all of that from Gambrel & Co., Redwood City’s downtown “craft butchery” (they’re located on Main Street in the Sequoia Hotel building). You have to order your items online, and they are no longer handling same-day orders, but they offer pickup and delivery with a one-day turnaround, so with just a small amount of planning you can obtain a variety of high-quality meats with no stress, and no worrying about shutdowns at large meat packing plants. We elect to pick up our orders, since the process is extremely simple and safe, and because it gives us another excuse to get out of the house.

For everything else we’re shopping at Dehoff’s Key Market, at the corner of Upton Street and Roosevelt Avenue. They seem to be doing an excellent job of keeping everyone safe, from visibly cleaning your cart when you are done with it, to making the aisles one-way, to limiting the number of customers in the store at one time. We liked this store even before the shelter-in-place, and are even happier with them now.

As you could probably tell if you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, my wife and I enjoyed eating out from time-to-time. That of course came to an end with the shelter-in-place, although with some modifications it appears that we’ll once again have the option to dine in restaurants again within some number of weeks. However, we have found that getting restaurant food for takeout is a fairly acceptable substitute, and so we’ve made it a point to pick up a nice meal about once a week. I’ve previously written about our excellent experiences with Nam Vietnamese Brasserie, and can highly recommend them. Vesta, of course, is always a favorite, serving what is by far the best pizza (and some of the best side dishes) in town. We’ve long been fans of Johnston’s Saltbox (in San Carlos, on the corner of Laurel Street and Saint Francis Way), and we’ve had meals from them on multiple occasions (they’re providing tonight’s dinner, in fact). Johnston’s Saltbox, incidentally, is one of those restaurants that is selling more than just prepared meals: take a good look at the “Saltbox Provisions” section of their menu (which changes daily) if you are in need of bacon, flour, eggs, or even face masks, sanitizer, or disposable gloves. Finally, all of the aforementioned restaurants serve lunch and/or dinner; if you are a fan of a nice coffee-shop breakfast, allow me to suggest My Breakfast House, on Laurel Street just south of Brittan Avenue in San Carlos. They do excellent breakfast and lunch dishes, all available for easy pickup.

There are many other restaurants out there serving meals for takeout and delivery, from McDonald’s to Mountain Mike’s all the way up to Selby’s at the very high end. While it isn’t quite the same thing as dining in a restaurant, if you find you need a break from cooking, your favorite restaurants are likely hoping for your business. And one tip: while you can have food delivered from many of the area’s restaurants, my wife and I have found that ordering for pickup is easy and in many cases substantially cheaper.

My wife and I had already started reorganizing our attic before the shelter-in-place was enacted, but while sheltering we have taken our organizing to a new level. I initially began by spending some time cleaning out my “workshop” (which is really just a corner of my garage). Next, I spent some time organizing my small wine collection, labeling everything to make it easy to find. After that, I began a project that I’ve long been putting off: scanning roughly 2,000 35-mm slides from my wife’s father and grandfather. I have a flatbed scanner in my office that can handle slides (and negatives), but only four at a time — so this is going to be an ongoing project. But it’s something that needs to be done. Afterwards we’ll be able to share digital copies of some priceless family photos (and many not-so-priceless ones) with all of my wife’s siblings.

And then there is our nighttime project, which we do while watching something on TV that doesn’t require our full attention:

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In case it isn’t immediately apparent, those are LEGOs. I was a big LEGO fan growing up, and I still am. When my own children were growing they loved to play with LEGO too (I wonder how that happened?) and so we ended up with a lot of sets. As is the case with things like these, over time the pieces all got mixed together and the boxes were lost — although we did manage to keep the assembly manuals. When we cleaned out our attic we came across several boxes containing many thousands of LEGO pieces of various sizes and shapes, and we decided that now was probably as good a time as any to sort them out once and for all. And it indeed turned out to be a good time, since most of the flat surfaces and much of the furniture in our living room is covered with cups and plastic bins containing sorted LEGO pieces; if anyone was able to come and visit us, they’d have nowhere to sit…

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The real challenge with this project — beyond finding containers, it seems! — is in deciding how to group the pieces together. When I was growing up there were very few custom pieces. Most of what one played with were the standard “2×4” and half-sized “2×2” bricks, along with some other standard shapes. More modern sets, however, use a wide variety of wheels, gears, hinges, and set-specific custom pieces, nearly all made from that same LEGO plastic. We’re still sorting, and still coming up with new categories (and, sometimes, funny names for them). Once we have everything sorted out, we’ll bring all of the pieces together for some of our kid’s favorite sets, which we’ll then bag and send to them. The rest of the pieces we’ll box up and keep here so that the grandkids will have something to play with when they can once again visit.

Lest you think that my wife and I have become hermits, we are also spending a great deal of time outdoors. Funnily enough, even though we work on our own schedules and thus don’t have to stick to standard work days, we mostly do. I post this blog on Fridays at 5 p.m., which marks the end of my work week. I then treat the weekend much as I did when I regularly commuted to my office, doing a lot of the home maintenance and other home projects that always seem to accumulate. My wife and I are fortunate in that we live in a single-family home in Redwood City’s Eagle Hill neighborhood: we have both front and back yards that we can play with. Some time ago we did a major re-do of our backyard, but one project that has been waiting for me is a raised planter bed that will become topped with wood-framed chicken-wire walls, doors, and a ceiling. Basically, something like this:

Vegetable cabinet

The idea is to make a deer-proof (and squirrel-proof) enclosure in which we can grow edibles, such as tomatoes, lettuces, and the like. I’ve been meaning to start this project for some time, and over the last two weekends I finally got to it:

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As you can see I have yet to do the upper section (with the screen doors and walls), but my wife was eager to get planting so she went ahead and filled the base with good soil, put in three tomatoes and a handful of other plants, and started installing the drip irrigation lines. I’m building this project in steps because I had a bunch of old pieces of redwood that I was able to use for what you see so far. For the upper portion I’ll have to go to the lumberyard, something I’ve been avoiding up until now. I almost managed to build this using just stuff I had around the yard, but it turned out that I didn’t have the screws I needed to fasten everything together (and, as it turned out, we needed some parts to repair some pipes I broke while digging holes for the posts). Fortunately, Hassett Hardware in Woodside Plaza had everything we needed, and they, too, seem to be doing a good job of helping their customers feel safe. So safe, in fact, that my wife ended up making a couple of trips back there on her own to buy the soil she needed (they have a really nice garden section) and to get the chicken wire I’ll soon need. All I need now is to buy a couple of redwood 4×4’s, and I should be able to finish this project up. While it won’t provide enough food to keep us from going to Sigona’s, anything we manage to grow here should be a nice addition to our food supply — and maintaining it will be a fun activity that will help fill a bit more of our at-home time.

Thanks to our generally good weather, we’re actually spending a fair amount of time outdoors, which seems to help our mental state. I occasionally take my laptop out there to get work done, and we often seem to be doing our Zoom calls from our yard as well. Or, I just sit and read a book. On occasion, we also sit on our front porch, where we have a bench; it has become a nice place to sit and watch the world go by. These days, with so many people walking by on our sidewalks or riding by in the streets, there is always someone to wave at and say “Hi” to.

Life these days can be challenging, and for many of us it is pretty depressing. But I’ve found that by maintaining a routine, keeping busy, and getting outside for a lot of sunshine and fresh air, the shelter-in-place is not so hard to take. I’m still looking forward to being able to visit with friends and family, and to travel again, but for now we’ve managed to put together a way of life that is keeping us both safe and sane.

9 thoughts on “Safe and Sane

  1. Funny coincidence—I just pulled out my kids’ Legos and started sorting them for my grandson to play with. He didn’t care about my categories and just started building amazing creations (he’s 3.5) so I gave up and watched. Legos are still one of the best toys ever.

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