COVID-19: The first 6 months
There are times in my life when I haven’t kept track of memories and thoughts and experiences. I don’t want COVID-19 to be one of them. This blog will sum up the first six months of the COVID experience for us, quarantined safely at home, March through September of 2020.
I hope this blog finds you safe and well, wherever in the world you are right now.
It started simply enough — a request to pack up some essentials from our desks at work and to work from home. “It won’t be too long,” we thought. A coworker even sent out modified song lyrics for “My Corona!” and we all had a laugh about it.
And me being me I decided to stock up on some extra food (for the record, NOT TOILET PAPER). I’m not really sure what was going through my head (it’s not like the power was going to go off — it was March!). But the news hit about a nursing home just a few miles from our Kirkland home with a massive outbreak and I thought it would be best to plan ahead instead of getting caught unprepared.
So I rushed to the store and stocked up on all the shelf-stable soups and crackers and granola bars and things of the like and grabbed some extra meat for the freezer.
I even had the chance for one last outing with my friend Sydney — we did a morning painting class together. Now that I think of it, it was the last time I did an activity in public without a mask covering the lower half of my face. When I look back to photos of football games or pumpkin patches or shopping malls my heart is a little sad for those simpler times that were.
Suddenly your husband and your cat are also your coworkers and meal mates for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had to negotiate meeting space since we were both working from home. Astrix and I spend most of our time in the upstairs office these days and Sergio works from the counter in our kitchen. Since our new sit/stand desk has arrived I imagine there will be more competition for the office space — and in fact, I don’t remember if I just ended up there because I have more meetings where I need quiet or if Sergio just gave up at some point. That being said I’ve taken meetings from our couch, our recliner, my piano, the kitchen, the dining room table, our front porch and, once with the video off and myself muted, my bed when I felt awful.
At the beginning the routine was very, very basic. Workdays (M-Th for me, M-F for Sergio), a Friday run to the grocery store, occasional trips to the pharmacy, and, as the weather improved in April and May, some walks around the neighborhood. Surely it will get better soon, we thought, and we’ll be back to normal.
But it hasn’t, really, and neither have we.
C’mon, you don’t think we’ve make it far into a quarantine post without some food shots, did you? We’re used to eating two meals a day at work so it’s been an adjustment to cooking three times a day. We’ve (primarily me — I’m the supply chain manager for most things in our house) gotten much better at meal planning and try to have leftovers available for lunch, but it’s been many years since we’ve had to meal plan like this. We also have various dietary preferences and restrictions so sometimes we have to get pretty creative!
We’ve probably tried 40 or so new recipes thus far — some great, some duds. If you, like us, are a little short on food ideas these days, here are some of our favorites that we’ve discovered recently:
- Crispy Walleye With Pickled Fennel (we can’t get walleye here so we use tilapia)
- Austrian and German potato salads (I prefer Austrian; Sergio prefers German) — and just remember, it’s NOTHING like American potato salad (which is a good thing).
- Chicken Cacciatore — This is a low FODMAP version so I can eat it!
- Garlic Pull-Apart Knots — GET IN MY MOUTH!
- Salmon with Tomatillo Salsa — Fresh tomatillos are my new favorite vegetable.
- Pork Bahn Mi Burger — We made them slider size for maximum cuteness.
- Lemon Chicken and Rice — Easy to triple and just cook in a big pot.
I’m the one with the big sweet tooth in this family, so I also wanted to highlight a few dessert favorites. Unfortunately I’m on a super-restricted diet right now (see below for that whole saga) so looking at these recipes is making me a little sad that I’m missing out on all of the desserts:
- Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova — ZOMG
- Frozen Margarita Pie(pictured above) — Alcohol-free, BTW. Also dairy-free!
- Glazed Tropical Fruit Pie — Not my jam, but I do things for love ❤
- And, thankfully, I found two delicious FODMAP-free desserts — delicious Lemon Bars — you wouldn’t know they are gluten- and dairy-free — and Mini Chocolate Flourless Tortes — gluten-free and dairy-free if you use lactose-free butter!
And a lot of our produce has come from our garden! I have done a little bit of gardening (mainly planting flowers on our front porch) but Sergio is the farmer in the family and he has planted and harvested so many things (including our first tomatillos ever and a few huge bowls of blueberries). It really was a bumper crop of tomatoes this year — a long growing season that wasn’t too hot.
Honestly we haven’t done much takeout or dined out much at all. At first this was because nothing was open, and then when things opened we had a pretty good system happening here. We haven’t gone out to dine because it just doesn’t feel worth the risk since we are in a bubble with my parents. Thankfully Sergio and I both love to cook so at least that has been a highlight of this pandemic!
As I thought about my hopes for this time, it was, most importantly, to survive, to protect mental and physical health as much as I could.
One thing I’m very proud of during this pandemic has been my commitment to physical fitness, not as a way to lose or maintain weight (I don’t have a scale but based on how my pants fit I’d guess I’ve gained 5–10 pounds) but to keep my mind as clear as possible. In six months I’ve yet to miss a day of exercise. Even if I feel terrible — and there have been some of those days — I have committed fifteen minutes for yoga, for a walk, or for a dance video. Given that we are cooped up in the house so much, a little bit of activity has made all the difference and has kept me more stable than I thought.
This spring I decided to enroll in an online certification class to be a certified rebounder instructor, and with that and my barre experience I launched free online workouts on my YouTube channel! I used to teach barre at The Company so I thought I’d just stream my workouts so my class participants could join. I don’t think many of them are still with me, but I’ve found friends who love barre and other people, some of who are actually strangers, who have joined! I’m still teaching weekly — Mondays at 5pm PDT (soon to be PST).
Barre With Sarah has allowed me to practice teaching to the point that I’m much, much more confident, and I’ve poured my creativity into my workouts (I love a good theme, y’all!). If you are new to barre, I have a whole series of beginner workouts; if you like short workouts, my Friday challenges are generally 4–15 minutes; if you like to really challenge yourself, I have advanced workouts too! I even have a handful of rebounding workouts that are fun and knee-friendly! Some weeks there are only a few people who join, but if I can help others through this challenging time, I’m up for it!
I also did a 30-day yoga challenge, something I’ve wanted to do for some time but I haven’t stuck to because I don’t like yoga. Well, it’s not that I don’t like yoga, but I find that some of it is a little too mind-body-spirit for me. Then I discovered Julia Marie’s yoga workouts — she has a few 30-day challenges to choose from — and it challenged my body and my mind.
I’ve also done more dance workouts and a few week ago stumbled upon BollyX. It’s fair to say I’m 100% addicted — and something about dancing that lets you let your assumptions and thoughts go and helps me stay present. Exercise is my meditation, no matter how hard Sergio wants me to actually meditate (not happening).
Given that there is so much in the world to be anxious about I feel like my anxiety has been somewhat under control? I’m not sure because in the last month or so I have been slightly more agitated and stressed, which could be a sign of feeling stuck and normal pandemic angst or could be the early signs that my medication needs another adjustment. I’ve found a new CBT-based workbook and I’m using it as a way to examine where I am currently in my anxiety journey and to keep it front-of-mind in this challenging time.
The bigger problem has been some undiagnosed health issues that have persisted since mid-July. I caught what I thought was a pretty nasty case of food poisoning but started to feel better within a day or two. Yet the malaise just didn’t pass — whatever I ate my digestive tract was upset. After going around and around with my (now former) primary care physician and testing for the things I was pretty sure I didn’t have (like E. Coli or salmonella) I finally found a great gastroenterologist that I’ve been working with ever since.
The leading theory is that I likely had a parasitic infection (giardia seems most likely) and while the initial infection has cleared the impact remains. I have known for several years now that I have IBS and sometimes bacterial or parasitic infections can cause a very prolonged, very painful aftermath (days, weeks, or months).
Even though I finished a two-week course of very, very expensive and fancy antibiotics designed for just this I’ve not really healed. I hope to have a clearer course of action when I meet with my doctor again (hopefully this week!) but it would likely start with a colonoscopy to check for — and, ideally, eliminate — more serious issues, like colon cancer. And because the gut and the brain are connected I will also follow up with my psychiatrist to see if adjusting my medication can be helpful.
It’s been rather distressing to go through so many peaks and valleys — to feel rather normal one day and to be in a lot of pain or discomfort the next. I’m frustrated because I’m on a very restrictive diet (low-fiber, low-residue) that allows me to eat things like meat and white carbs (and almost no fruits or vegetables!). When you feel like you’re doing all of the things right but nothing is changing? Damn, that’s frustrating.
I hope to have more answers in the very near future — so perhaps it will deserve a blog of its own. Stay tuned!
But in fact it is the little things that keep us going day-to-day — about finding joy in small moments. As someone who loves to travel and explore and challenge herself, it felt like so many things were just falling away. If I put on the rosy-colored glasses, I can see all of habits that we have that carry us through!
Chocolate is key for our survival. In the Rico-Carr household we have a chocolate drawer and we keep it stocked with a variety of delicious chocolates. We’ve lately started sampling different chocolates from Bar and Cocoa and it’s been fun to expand beyond Theo.
Puzzles are normally a winter activity in this household but in this six-month stretch I’ve done 39 of them! Pomegranate Puzzles are a new favorite as they carry these beautiful Charley Harper puzzles (top two) which I adore! Puzzles soothe me when I’m anxious — I love the colors and the feel of the pieces under my fingers. They’re also a fun activity as we watch all of Seinfeld and a whole host of documentaries (Sergio and I cannot agree on much else).
Reading has also been a key part of this pandemic — it’s something that normally takes place on planes, but I’ve had lots of time to read my favorites, including a read in the bath most nights as a wind-down ritual.
I’ve worked hard to expand my reading this year. I’m still carrying on (but slowly) my Read the World Challenge that I set out for myself last year (in fact, I just finished a book on Bulgaria!), but I’ve been reading several books about social and racial justice, as well as including more fiction from non-white and non-Western authors. I’m so close to hitting my annual reading goal of 100 books (I’m at 98!) and I still have two and a half months to go. It might be a record year!
I don’t have a good photo for this but I’ve been working away very, very hard at learning German on DuoLingo. For those of you playing along I started DuoLingo several years ago to learn basic Spanish; I’ve also completed the French course. I started the German course a bit more than a year ago after a long break in preparation to our visit to Bavaria last year. To make a long story short, German, until recently, has been absolutely kicking my butt.
It’s hard! I have been investing some more time into it recently and I’m improving — but whenever I get a chance to talk to a native speaker (usually at work) it’s a massive reality check. We were just reminiscing about our trip last year and how much fun we had — so we hope to book another European road trip post-COVID when it’s safe to do so. If that’s not a shot of motivation to keep me going I’m not sure what is!
I’ve also had more time to play the piano and, thanks to easy online ordering, I’ve found some fantastic music, including my most recent addition of the Downton Abbey soundtrack adapted to piano. I’m a little behind on recording the requests that y’all made (so if you made one, I’m sorry — I’m working on it!). I’ve also learned that many of my neighbors like hearing the piano so if the weather is warm enough I play with the window open.
I’ve also dabbled a few other little hobbies. My favorite was this massive paint-by-numbers painting that I finished early in quarantine. We each have a new one to work on this winter — we are working to think of things that we can look forward to doing on long winter afternoons and nights! I pick up a crossword from time-to-time, and my mega Lego Falcon is ready for assembly this winter!
Sergio has also kept busy — lots of yoga and indoor cycling, gardening, woodworking and building and fixing things around the house, reading and podcasts, and, of course, his ukulele!
There have been some very sad times in quarantine as well. We have been cut off from all family with the exception of our bubble with my parents and my younger brother (all of whom live in the Seattle area, near us). But we are completely cut off from Sergio’s family (they all live in Mexico, and crossing the border is dicey at best, impossible at worst) and from my extended family.
This would be hard under normal circumstances, but it was extra hard when, this spring, Sergio’s grandma and my grandma died within a day of each other (unrelated to COVID). Both of them lived long and rich lives, something that came into even greater focus for me as I looked through family photos (I bought a new scanner to help digitize all of our old family photos). But because of COVID there can be no funeral mass or memorial service or anything. We’re stuck in suspended animation, like they haven’t really died, even though I know they have. There is no way to come together and share stories, to cry, to laugh, and, at least in my family’s case, to eat a lot of food.
And that doesn’t even touch upon everything that is happening in the broader world, from George Floyd’s senseless murder to the continued police violence against Black and POCs in this country. There is rampant unemployment, eviction, and homelessness as this pandemic drags on into its seventh month, and given that our national government has completely bungled the response, who knows when we will be able to move towards something closer to normal. And, in the West, the recent wildfires have been devastating, choking us with smoke and leaving thousands of people without their homes. Truly, when you need it to rain, it won’t pour.
And all of this is taking place right before the American presidential election at a time when it feels like this country is ripping apart at the seams. Without community and connection it feels hard to process what is happening and hard to find common ground. Instead, it feels like everything, from healthcare to masks to the economy, is contested and fought over. The responses of some of my own family members and acquaintances has caused me to loosen or cut ties with them entirely.
When people show you who they really are, believe them. It is one thing to grapple with what is happening right now, to say you are confused, to try to understand, and to care about those other than yourself. I’m confused. I continue to learn as I see the ways where I am wrong or prejudiced against others. I need to improve not just for myself but to be a better coworker, friend, and neighbor. There are issues that I have rethought this year and changed my perspectives on; one clear example is drug policy. I have been dead-set against any sort of legalization, but as I learn more about it I have had a big shift in my mindset that I am not fully comfortable with. To learn and to change is not weak — it is a sign of thoughtfulness and strength.
Instead so many of us settle into our positions, unwilling or unable to hear something different.
In times like this we must change. What grinds my gears about sayings such as “Make America Great Again!” is that we forget that this country wasn’t all that great for many of us (the non-white and non-men among us, really). The only way we get through this together is we learn and move forward — or, as we’ve discussed in our household, move to Canada (or Germany).
But in the meantime, please vote, my fellow American citizens.
Even in times of challenge there are many silly moments that we’ve had in our first six months at home. I feel thankful to have such a loving and kind partner in Sergio — we can truly laugh and develop even more inside jokes with one another. It hasn’t been easy at all times, but I believe quarantine has strengthened our marriage. It’s a good thing we take photos as we go a bit stir crazy and embrace it!
Thankfully, even though the recovery has been slow and we are stuck in our current re-opening phase for the foreseeable future, there have been some returns to a more normal life!
In May we had our first actual gathering with my parents for Mother’s Day! Sergio made home-smoked ribs and we set up on the deck with my parents at a table for two to help maintain some social distance.
I’ve completely given up most of my normal errands (it’s hard to believe it but I haven’t even been to Target!) and some of the things that I really love, like my monthly pedicure. But in June I went back for my first haircut and color, and in a few weeks I’m going full-on copper! Jackie has her own room with a door that closes and she’s very big on safety. I don’t feel myself these days since I’m always working from home in yoga pants, so having nice hair has lifted my spirits!
We have stayed at home and given up all of our travel (Mexico, Hawai’i, a European trip to Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary, all the work trips, visiting family, all the trips I hadn’t purchased but I had thought about, etc.) but thanks to the generosity and kindness of our friends Yvette and Jeremy we spent a weekend in their cabin near Leavenworth.
We spent most of our time in the cabin just relaxing but we did venture into town, trying to keep our distance from some of the non-mask wearers. We did a socially-distant cider tasting and also stopped by a farm stand.
I’m very thankful for our time away, even though it has been so short. I found myself noticing so many small things during our travels that I would have missed before. And so I’m trying to lean into the excitement for what we have instead of just sadness for what we don’t.
My Little Sister Ashly and I have slowly resumed hanging out, mostly at my house (though we did take a socially-distanced trip to the zoo). But the biggest news there is that she is just a month shy of turning 16(!) and I’m helping her learn to drive. She’s doing a fantastic job! She’s a very thoughtful and attentive person and that translates into her driving. Evidently all of my cueing work for barre has paid off as a driver’s education instructor because she told me I give her really good cues so she can prepare in time. She’s a sophomore in high school and it’s all virtual, so we get to talk about how that is going and indulge in our shared love of Criminal Minds (she loves Spencer Reid and I’m Derek Morgan’s #1 fangirl).
My parents celebrated their 50th(!) wedding anniversary on September 12th! While we had initially planned on having a big party for them it just wasn’t possible this year, so my brother and I planned for a celebratory dinner at our house. It turned out really well, I thought! I hope that Sergio and I are fortunate enough to share 50 years together (we’re at 8, 3 of them married).
September 12th is also Dad and Sergio’s birthday (which we celebrated a few days earlier) as well as our 3rd wedding anniversary (which we didn’t really celebrate this year). It’s a big day and I’m looking forward to some bigger celebrations next year! And as fall continues (a big birthday season in our family) I know we can have small celebrations in our little bubble to mark all of the important milestones — at least until a vaccine is ready.
We don’t really know what is next for us. We do see some folks starting to travel but we aren’t ready to accept that risk, especially as a second spike is predicted this winter alongside the normal cold and flu season (and we want to stay connected to my parents, which we couldn’t do if we traveled). We had planned to visit the Olympic Peninsula for Sergio’s birthday but the wildfire smoke made that an exercise in futility. My biggest focus right now is getting my health back to a more sustainable place… and to keep surviving this pandemic.
Writing this blog was actually an exercise in gratitude. Because at the end of all of this, what do I want to remember? I want to remember all of the little moments that we had when life had to slow down — the extra hours with our old cat, the jokes, the meals shared, the views over the valley.
Be safe, be well. And for goodness sakes, keep your distance and wear a mask!