Boo! A 17th-century German plague doctor costume. How'd you like to see something like that coming at you?
Introductory note: My apologies for goofing with “The Whole Being Dead Thing,” a song from Beetlejuice the Musical. But it works nicely as a title for this blog.
Now, down to business.
When the COVID-19 virus first arrived on the scene, my grandson Aidan, who is wickedly funny, thought maybe we should adopt plague masks (see image above) just to freak everyone out. As it turns out, we don’t need anything extra to freak us out. We’ve got enough as it is, thank you very much.
However, we do all need to have a mask of some sort.
Recently, the Governor of New Jersey, the state in which I happen to live, decreed that we must wear masks when we go any place where there are more than a few people. This requirement isn’t so much for our own safety, but rather for the safety of those around us. Our sneezes and coughs can be deadly, and we most likely don’t even know it. I’m not joking. I’m serious. We need to be aware that we might be virus carriers, even if we do not have symptoms.
Anyway, all of the above left me with a huge problem. I don’t happen to own a mask!
Since they were hard to come by last month, I realized that I would need to make one.
I do own a sewing machine. It once belonged to my mother. Now it hangs out in my dining room. Once upon a time it was considered to be portable. Please understand that back in the 1950s or 1960s portability meant it was enclosed in a case and had a handle. And that means it's possible to lift it but may not actually be lifted without first building yourself up. That thing is heavy as lead
Mom’s machine used to work. I have sewn a few things on it. Then one day it just up and died. It was the motor’s way of saying, “Enough already. That other lady knew how to sew. You can’t even refill the bobbin properly. I’m outta here.”
That was when a horrible reality hit me. In light of my sewing machine’s demise, I needed to take up needle and thread and make my mask by hand, something Maggie Blaine Smith, my 1860s heroine, would do.
But even though I created her, I am not Maggie. I’m actually more like her daughter, Frankie, whose sewing skills (along with all her other domestic talents) are absolutely hair-raising.
“Alas,” I sighed, “from whence will my help come?”
Then I remembered that I was quoting Psalm 121. So I did as it said.
I looked to the hills.
And the hills said, “Whaddaya looking at us for? Do we look like we can sew?”
So I looked to my mom’s old sewing cabinet, instead.
Mom has been gone for fifteen years now. But somehow, I heard her whisper, “Look in the sewing cabinet, dear. You’ll find what you need.”
And lo and behold, there they were: two ancient packages containing one pocket each. You see, back in the day, when men put a hole in their trouser pockets from carrying car keys and wallets, women would take the old pocket out and put a new one in. These days, men just carry on and pray for the best.
But now my help had come in the form of Smith’s Pocket’s. Check out that price, folks. You just can’t find a good pocket anymore for 49 cents.
I opened one package and held the pocket up to my face. It fit. Okay. Truthfully, it would fit if it had a a bit of cutting. And a bit of more cutting. And sewing by hand. And sewing some more because it still wasn’t right. And cutting up an old t-shirt to make ties. And having to rip out and reposition the ties after I had sewn them on once already.
But eventually I had something workable.
The only problem? I looked as if I was out to rob a bank.
Okay. So, not happy with that.
It fogged up my glasses. I knew I could not shop for groceries with foggy lenses nor could I shop without glasses. Maybe what I need to do is install a nose piece made from an unbent paper clip with the ends turned in so I won’t stab myself in the eye. I have yet to do this.
Fortunately, my sister has a friend who loves to sew, and he sent a bunch of fabric masks to her. Diane was kind enough to mail one to me. This time the problem was not aesthetics or design. Those things are perfect. It has kissy lips all over it, too, which is cheeky and fun. But those ribbon ties! They refused to stay tied. Fortunately, Diane also sent Velcro as an alternative way of securing the ties. So I put on the Velcro and the mask worked for shopping.
Now I have two functioning masks. One is really cool and the other looks like Jesse James wore it. I plan to get the third one tweaked and usable, too.
I hope your own “The Whole Wearing a Mask Thing” life is working well for you. Meanwhile, stay safe, keep others safe from anything you might be carrying, and remember to be kind.
Do you need reading material? Well, I’ve got it for you – six full-length novels, two novellas, and two short stories.
You see, one of the things I noticed about the COVID-19 crisis is that people have discovered my first novel, Saint Maggie on the subscription program Kindle Unlimited.
My goal when I write is to offer up the power of hope, stubborn love, open ears (and sometimes closed mouths), and positive action through my characters. By setting the Saint Maggie series in mid-1800s USA, my characters find themselves walking through issues that still are echoing around us today.
I want two things for you, my lovely readers, especially during this pandemic. I want to give you a form of escape. But moreover, I want you to understand that this is not the first time that people have found themselves in the midst of a massive crisis. This has happened in the past and will happen in the future. What matters is not the crisis itself, but how human beings respond to it. And I believe that realistic hope, love, and faith are the best ways for us to respond. Kindness and acceptance, rather than anger and polarization, are the keys.
In light of the above, I made a choice to make the Saint Maggie series and my lonely little contemporary romance, Heart Soul & Rock’n’Roll, as affordable as possible during this time. Alas, I cannot lower the price of my paperbacks. If I did, it would cost more to ship them than to buy them!
That said, I have lowered the books' prices on Kindle. I won’t get much of a royalty – somewhere between 35 and 70 cents per download, depending upon whether the purchase is a full-length novel or a shorter book. But we’re all in this together, I want to do what I can, and what I can do is write books with engaging characters and stories.
So until the crisis is over Saint Maggie, Walk by Faith, A Time to Heal, Seeing the Elephant, and A Good Community, as well as Heart Soul & Rock’n’Roll are available for $1.99 each; The Enlistment, The Great Central Fair, The Dundee Cake, and The Christmas Eve Visitor, are all priced at $0.99.
Also, if you’re willing to wait a bit, I have started doing promotional events. Certain books will be free on Kindle for five days at a time. I have already done this with Saint Maggie, and the promotion got the book into more hands. Now, starting April 10 (today) through April 15, Walk by Faith, will be free on Kindle. And I plan to list a new freebie every three to four weeks.
Of course, if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, my books have always been free there.
The first half of Walk by Faith details why and how Maggie, Eli, and their extended family move from Blaineton, NJ to Eli’s hometown of Gettysburg, PA. But there's a problem with that. It is 1863. Of course, we all know what happened in Gettysburg in July, but my characters do not. Eli thinks everyone will be safe in his old family home. However, the town, which lies in Union territory, is soon invaded by Confederate forces. The story moves between Chester Carson and Eli’s experience covering the war as field news correspondents, and the experience Maggie and the family are having in Gettysburg.
Below is an excerpt, Maggie’s journal entry on the second day of the battle. You’ll see how she struggles to understand the new reality into which she has been thrust, the needs of her family and the wounded men in her house, and her changing perceptions of Confederate soldiers.
If you’re interested, please download the book for free between today through April 15:
Meanwhile, I’ll be back on Monday with my personal adventure with face masks!
Until then, be safe, stay home, and love one another.
Image from https://pixabay.com/photos/shopping-cart-shopping-supermarket-1275480/
When I left off on Friday, I was fantasizing that I was on a Disney World ride and was about to enter my local supermarket, after patiently standing in a socially distanced line of senior citizens.
But the Disney World ride allusion quickly blew up.
Once inside the store, the ride abruptly morphed into a reality TV show called “Pandemic Pantry.” The premise is simple. A group of shoppers are set loose in a store to buy staples. The rules? 1) they must stay at least 6 feet away from one another; 2) they cannot touch any of the items unless they intend to buy them; 3) they cannot over-buy (in other words, they can’t hoard), and 4) choice of item and pricing will be limited. Your goal? Find what you need (or something vaguely resembling what you need) and get the heck out of there as quickly as possible.
Ready? Set? Let’s play!
Challenge #1: “The Social Distance Dash.” Here’s the challenge: Try to stay 6 feet away from other shoppers in narrow aisles. I quickly discovered that it was impossible – especially when another person stops to contemplate choices (such as they are). The trick is a strategy called, “hold your breath, duck, mutter ‘excuse me,’ and sprint past.” Long name for a really scary moment. You might have several of them during the course of the game.
Challenge #2: “Lovely To Look At. Would Be Delightful Hold. But Don’t You Dare Touch It, Sucker, Unless You’re Gonna Buy It.” Here the prudent shopper is asked to do the impossible: try to read a label without touching the item. If you need to check the item’s ingredients – which by the way are always on the back and in tiny print – you’ll need to possess moves that even a lifelong yogi would aspire to. Confession time: I slipped up once or twice and picked up an item I did not buy. The Game Masters subtracted points from my score. However, they did give me credit because I was wearing gloves.
Challenge #3: “Stock Up, But Don’t Hoard.” The goal is shop so you’ll have enough food and supplies to last 1-2 weeks, thereby limiting your social contact in places like… well, like supermarkets. Purchasing two of one item is permissible. However, purchasing three or more is hoarding, which will be noted at check out. At that time, the extra items either will be taken away or the cashier will glare at you. I stuck to the rules here, although the cashier did glare at me. I think she was just tired. I mean, the woman was working every day with people who potentially could give her a nasty virus. So, kudos to her for showing up. God bless her! And I mean that from the bottom of my heart. God bless all the cashiers and other workers in our supermarkets.
Challenge #4: “Read The Grand Total and Try Not to Weep.” This definitely presents a difficult choice: food or money? Usually I do not buy very much and am accustomed to making several quick shopping trips a week. I also like to look for the best buys. But the Pandemic Pantry Show makes it nearly impossible to do those things. So, my question became, “Do I really want or need this item? Can I go without it? Can I substitute something else for it?” Eventually I quit ruminating, and bought what was available, price be damned. I had a pretty hefty bill at the end and took an equally hefty breath. But I did manage to leave the game without shedding a tear.
I have had fun writing about the "Pandemic Pantry" reality TV game show. Now let’s take a moment to get serious.
Do try to wear a mask when you go out. This is not so much to protect you from others, but to protect them from anything you might have. Practice social distancing as much as possible while in the store. Thankfully, many stores have marked off spots where you can stand while waiting to pay or to look at items. Be considerate of others. This isn’t all about you.
Trying not to touch items, especially if you aren’t wearing gloves, is a good idea. Also, when you’re out of the store and have been wearing gloves, please dispose of them properly in the trash. Do NOT throw them on the ground. As my mother used to say, “you weren’t raised in a barn.”
Shop for what you need. Try not to panic. Try not to hoard out of fear.
Also, I am lucky because I was able to pay a larger than normal bill at the grocery store last week. But there had been a time when that would have been an unthinkable reach for me. Please remember this: the financial resources of many people were stretched even before the virus hit. The current situation has made things only worse for them. So, what was a mild “yikes” experience for me, might mean going completely without for them. If you can, find a way to donate to agencies that help feed people in need.
And please remember something that we hear so often these days: we’re all in this together. Let’s be helpful, considerate, and patient with one another.
Stay safe, my friends!
I had many good intentions of getting at least two blog posts done this week. Did I do it? No.
It’s not because I’ve been sick. I’m well, in case you’re wondering. And I’m washing my hands so much that they look like they belong to one of the zombies on The Walking Dead.
What happened was that I’ve been busy. Most of my time has been spent helping to get our church get functionally online. This has been a lot more involved than anticipated. However, we’re surfing the transition pretty well. These days I spend more of my time updating information on our website and Facebook page. I also lead an online Bible study and a morning prayer group, both weekly. If you want to see how the people of First United Methodist Church of Somerville, NJ are handling the situation, feel free to visit us at http://www.fumcsomervillenj.org/
Another thing taking up a lot of my time is cleaning. The old “I don’t have time to vacuum” excuse is hard to justify when you’re sitting in said house day and night. Suffice it to say, my dwelling no longer resembles a haunted house or something a tornado left behind.
The downside is that my vacuum cleaner decided to attack me. It says it was an accident, but I’m not sure I believe it. It’s an old upright model. I was pulling on the hose attachment to get under some piece of furniture that only Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson could move, and I guess the vacuum didn’t like it because it toppled over, crashing onto my left forearm. Now I’m sporting a giant, swollen bruise on it. I feel sooo pretty! It’s a good thing we’re social distancing. Also, I now know why I hate vacuums and vacuuming. My dogs were right.
I’m also cooking more these days. And surprise, surprise! I’m realizing that I’m a better cook than thought. Under normal circumstances, I visit Dan for a few days each week and we either go out to eat or he makes dinner. Of course, that will not happen for the duration, especially since I don’t want to give Dan anything I might have come in contact with.
Now I’m making three squares a day, seven days a week all on my own, with special attention to keeping within my WW points. That said, I’m eating well and not starving. And – get this – I am shedding pounds during our current period of social distancing. As for the dreaded COVID 15-pound gain - ha! I laugh at you.
Getting the food to do all that cooking is a requirement, so of course I visit my local supermarket. This week, I decided that, since I’m now an oldster, I’d shop with all the other old people from 7:00-8:00 a.m. And this certainly hits my list as my latest adventure. Grocery shopping as an adventure. Who knew?
When I arrived at the store, I found an organized line of people, all standing anywhere from 6-10 feet away from each other and waiting to get in. So I hopped in line, too. The whole thing was organized just like a ride at Disney World. Every time three or six people came out of the store, three or six people got to go in. As I stood there, a very weird thing happened: my brain started shouting, ‘Yay! I’m going on a ride!” I was as excited to go food shopping as I normally would be to get on Space Mountain.
And this made me unreasonably happy. (I swear I’m not right in the head.) In fact, as I drew closer to the guy guarding the door and to some amazingly good rock playing on the store’s PA system, I couldn’t help but bounce along to the tune a little.
However, once I got inside, my Disney World ride abruptly morphed into a semi-post-apocalyptic TV game show. And that will be the topic of Monday’s blog post. It will be up. I promise. It has been written and is in the queue.
Until then, I’ll stop the joshing. Here are some serious survival suggestions.
1) Stay safe.
2) Don’t be overwhelmed by fear.
3) Maintain a sense of humor.
4) Be kind, generous, and compassionate.
5) Remember all those who are on the “front lines” – the military, first responders, medical personnel, supermarket employees, delivery people, and many more.
Finally, as Bill and Ted would say, “Be excellent to each other.”
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder