Plan C


Way back in my first year of blogging, I explored the theme of dystopian fiction and how I would be absolutely useless in any end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario. (“Eating Bambi”) Not much as changed since then. I still can’t make candles.

But all around me, perfectly sane people I have known for years are quietly acquiring survivalist skills. They are baking their own bread, smoking and curing meats, increasing the numbers of chickens they keep, enlarging their gardens, learning how to can things, learning how to make their own cheese and butter, becoming beekeepers, turning to herbal remedies, setting up ad hoc, non-monetary trading partnerships with neighbors (eggs for salad greens, chicken meat for apples, strawberries for wine . . .), but otherwise prepping for self-sufficiency.

And then there’s me. Still gagging at the thought of eating one of my extraneous roosters. Not a single survival skill in my repertoire, unless there is some dire need for crocheted stuffed animals out there that I am not aware of.

Something must be done about this.

Yesterday, while cleaning out the kitchen cabinets, I made a discovery which then led to an idea and an opportunity to prove my mettle. I bought this sometime in 2017 out of curiosity – what exactly does Mr. Inzersdorfer consider to be corned beef? As a Reuben-loving Milwaukee-an, this was not an idle question. I didn’t follow through on the inquiry, though, and so this can has spent the last three years collecting dust in the far back corner of the cabinet.


I looked at the expiration date and told myself, “So what? A true survivor-type wouldn’t be put off by this. I’m a descendant of the Donner Party for chrissake! That should give me some genetic/genealogical advantage when it comes swallowing gross things. I’m going to open this up and eat it!”


I took a deep breath and delicately opened up the can. I pondered the color and daintily used a fork to explore the consistency of the meat. I leaned over and smelled it. I raised the fork and allowed a mote-sized portion to make brief contact with my tongue . . .


It looked like cat food. It smelled like cat food. It tasted like what I assume cat food tastes like. I fed the rest to the dog.

Apparently, the Donner gene did not get passed on to me. I need a new plan. What tradable commodity could I produce with my particular skill set and resources (consisting of thousands of books and 37 years’ worth of teaching materials) . . . .?


Aaaahh, Silence. (Sigh.)


Saturday was the first day of Easter vacation, and the school having been closed for three weeks already, I wasn’t expecting it to feel any different. But then something miraculous happened. My cell phone went quiet. Instead of the now usual 150 emails/text messages/calls per day, there were only 2 or 3 of each. By mid-morning I was inspecting my cell to make sure it was still working. Soon thereafter, I realized that this was the way things would normally be during a vacation. The silence became energizing. It occurred to me I could finally get started on one of my Corona Break projects and I went right out and picked the biggest one.

I’d been wanting to deep clean and reorganize the kitchen for months. With so much time on my hands, I could set about it in a slow, methodical and scientific way. I would start by making a survey of the contents of all the cabinets and rank them according to the frequency with which I used them. I would then score the various cabinets based on certain criteria (visibility of contents, easily reached, requires bending over or crouching, requires stretching or standing on a chair). I would then use these results to re-allocate the contents to the most appropriate and efficient storage space.

Of course, certain contents barely register on the frequency of use scale, and these would be moved out of the kitchen entirely to one of three alternate storage sites – in order of their distance from the kitchen (from closest to farthest) these were: the hall cabinet, the basement storeroom, or the garbage cans. I would use mathematical calculations and expiration dates to determine which alternate location was best suited for each item, with the kitchen-to-storage-space distance standing in inverse proportion to its chances of being needed.

The one hitch to this plan was the state of the basement storeroom which could only be described as a disaster zone. It would have to be ordered and cleaned first. And to make room for more kitchen stuff, some of its contents would have to be moved to the shelves in the even filthier heating oil tank room. To make these decisions I would have to consider such factors as material, sensitivity to humidity and frigid temperatures, flammability, and value. (That last one was added because this room represents the easiest way to break into our locked house. We haven’t done anything about it because my husband forgets his keys a lot.) While deciding, I would also have to take into consideration all the crap that we had “temporarily” stowed in the wine cellar and the basement hallway nine months ago . . .

So, this was going to be a huge project. I figured it would take me about a week to accomplish.

Here was the state of things by the end of Day One:



Day Three of Sozialschmarotzing


For some reason, I thought being unemployed would mean being . . . less employed.

Yesterday I . . .

    • made coffee, listened to Rachel
    • fed the chickens and goats
    • sent emails out to all my students
    • teleconferenced with the (former) team
    • continued to communicate through various mediums with my (former) team
    • wrote a long blog post, started catching up on reading
    • talked to my sister / got an American family update
    • decided to focus my time on promoting peace and happiness in my family Corona coop
    • crocheted penguin wings

Today I . . .

    • made coffee, listened to Rachel
    • fed the chickens and goats
    • received/responded to emails and text messages from my (former) team
    • teleconferenced with the (former) team
    • hatched a plan
    • called husband to lay groundwork for some father/daughter, father /refugee son mediations
    • went shopping
    • walked the dog three times
    • filled out my application form for unemployment benefits
    • gave some tough love therapy to my re-traumatized refugee son
    • cooked dinner
    • mediated
    • watered one of my (dead) houseplants
    • downloaded and set up a new teleconferencing system for communicating with my (former) team
    • wrote back and forth with another unemployed (former) colleague, asked her where the “un” in “unemployed” is
    • wrote this blog post


Queen for a Day


According to the clock on my notebook, I am now exactly 11 hours into my new life as a welfare queen. So far it hasn’t been too bad. I spent the first 8 of them sleeping (“Typical!”), one of them drinking coffee and listening to Rachel Maddow – who, I must say, no longer relaxes me – and two of them following the WhatsApp escapades of my (former) colleagues while starting to tie up the loose ends of my 37 year teaching career.

(Speaking of which, does anyone out there need a couple thousand of  . . . whatever these things are called in English?)



As far as my former workplace is concerned, there is really nothing for me to do now but sit back in my new throne and watch from a distance how things play out in the school. Meanwhile I have lots to learn about the ins and outs of my new employment status. For instance, can you use food stamps to buy Coca Cola and chocolate? Am I going to get retrained for some new career? And if so, is basket weaving an option? How many job offers can I turn down before I risk losing my monthly handout? Am I allowed to take up golf? Will my blog posts become rambling, half-finished scribblings that reflect my structure-less days? I’m starting to think this sozialschmarotzing might be more complicated than it looks.


My team members are somewhat in a state of denial in terms of what is happening right now. The two left standing haven’t quite realized that they are basically on their own, while the three of us that have been (supposedly) temporarily laid off are all secretly evaluating our current situations and options and wondering if it is time to just move on. We all fall on different places in the spectrum of possible outcomes:

I hold out some hope that the fourth option will happen, but I confess I am closest to the third point right now. As if to confirm this feeling, two emails just came in since I began writing this paragraph (!): two more families announcing that they are taking their kids out of the school. Along with the six that are graduating this year, we are now up to a loss of 12 kids and I expect we will be hearing about at least 3 more by the end of today.


What has been fascinating to watch is the contrast between my husband’s school and my own. At the risk of him getting a big head, I have to say that he’s been Master Class in crisis management. The school closings were announced on a Wednesday evening and by Friday, his school had an entire learning platform up and running, all the teachers had been brought on board and all the students got training in how to use it. Monday morning, they all got up, checked their schedules and started teaching/attending virtual classes from home. Several times a week, my husband video conferences in the evening with a set of his teachers to share experiences with the platform or to plan some new creative project for the students. I listen to these group discussions from the next room and marvel at the laughter, the competence, the clarity, the solidarity, the productive and reassuring tone of the conversations.

I’ve had a tiny bit of those things in my conference calls with the team, but mostly we have just been reeling from crisis to crisis and helplessly watching the parents’ organization crumble in the chaos and conflict.

(Oh! By the way . . . I just realized the date . . . “Happy April Fool’s Day!”)

When the dust and ash settle somewhere down the road, I wonder how various parents and team members will feel about the decisions they made in panic. I find myself looking back at certain moments and thinking “What I should have said is . . . (XYZ)!” But, in general, I’m not sure I had any power to influence developments. Also, even as a kid, I never liked the rollercoaster. Knowing now that someday soon I might be able to get off of this one is not entirely a bad feeling. Luckily, I have had some experience in losing jobs – and even in losing jobs due to an international crisis. 9/11 cost me my course at a Marketing college when I couldn’t get back in time for start of the academic year. The end of my Business English teaching was not entirely unrelated to the 2008 Meltdown. And now Covid-19 is killing my Hummingbird.

But maybe, just maybe, some small group of dedicated families will find a way to resurrect it. And maybe, just maybe, I will be able to contribute a little to its inception and new design.



Devil Cat is Disrespecting the Stay-in-Basket / Social Distancing Policy


Question: Have you noticed a change in your pets since the Stay at Home policy began? I ask because my four-legged cohabitants are displaying unusual behaviors. Dog Four runs much farther away than usual on our daily walks. She has also gotten much more aggressive (and successful) in hunting out moles and voles and other disgusting things to eat and then throw up later somewhere in the house. Conversely, the chickens are running right up to us, in between and around our feet, as if begging “Pick me up! Pick me up!” They have also suddenly gone to war with the ducks. The goats are cool.

And then there is Devil Cat. Whenever I am at the laptop, he usually makes two or three attempts to get in my face before resigning himself to the basket. Now it is ten times or more before we eventually reach a compromise:

When cats and chickens want to be nearer to you and dogs want to be farther away – well then something is upside-down in the world.

I suspect they are all jockeying for a better position in the “Who will be eaten first?” list. Dog Four is feeling pretty safe. The chickens? Not so much. But how does this theory explain the cat’s behavior? Name me one civilization in the history of the world that eats/ate cats?

It’s a mystery.

Unneedful Things


I had this whole list.

All the projects I was going to get to during the Social Distancing weeks. It even included an exercise plan. But, instead, for a person who was technically going to be fired along with her entire team because “they have nothing to do”, the past two weeks have been the most work-intensive ones in all of our years at the school.

First, we all became IT specialists on the fly and out of necessity. Teleconferencing began almost immediately with various constellations of team members and parents. The team spent hours and hours on the phone, trying to keep the school alive, while parents bickered and raised old grievances among them. “Really? Is this all necessary? Can’t it wait?” I thought to myself. It quickly became clear that the crisis in the school had existed long before the virus arrived. Corona just let it all come bubbling to the surface.

Meanwhile the team was trying to figure out how to set up learning platforms for the kids and creating a schedule for who will man the empty school on which days – as ordered by Ministry of Education.

Meanwhile, hundreds of emails were flying to and fro, most of them requiring attention.

Meanwhile, new WhatsApp groups were popping up like mushrooms, setting my cell constantly a-dinging.

Meanwhile, the website I used to post all of my assignments for the school kids came crashing down, adding an extra dose of stress that I seriously did not need.


Meanwhile, I began noticing again and again how the comfortingly familiar – the taken-for-granted stuff – can suddenly get hinky and . . . eerie. Take this, for example – I go daily to the MSNBC website for updates, but one day this week, the big red banner at the top for breaking news looked like this:

I spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to decode “Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE”. Was it some kind of secret code? Hackers? A Russian bot? Subliminal messaging? A warning? I confess it unnerved me a bit. It was creepy.

I need my normal things in life to remain normal.

I have been finding excuses to go to the neighborhood store every other day. I’ve discovered that seeing the fully stocked shelves puts my mind at ease. I then buy things I don’t need to justify my visit there. Yesterday, I really did need a particular thing though. The husband was making spaghetti carbonara and we realized we didn’t have enough noodles. I zipped down to the store and . . . they didn’t have any. “OMG! THEY DON’T HAVE SPAGHETTI!!” I thought. Now let me add that there were about 15 other types of pasta in plentiful amounts, but . . . “OMG! NO SPAGHETTI!!” Creepy!

And then there was the stranger. He walked past the house and then stopped to ask which direction he should go to get to a certain wine tavern in a nearby village. It was a situation I have had a thousand times, living in a resort area and right on one of the major hiking paths. But this time it was weird. “Where did this tourist find a room when all the hotels are closed?” I asked myself. “And why is he heading toward a closed restaurant?” Creepy.

And then there is the constant low-grade anxiety. “Do I have it?” one thinks by every tiny ache or pain. I mentally run through the litany of virus symptoms on a regular basis. If I cough, I think “Was that a dry cough?” And then I go sanitize my hands and try to tune my body out. I tell myself that we are all suffering from activeimaginationitus. It’s creepy.

I used to have a rhythm. There were workdays and there were free days. Now, every day, I have about an hour for my morning rituals before the emails and text messages and WhatsApp messages and the conference calls start coming in. And even that hour is disorienting. A week ago it was sunny T-shirt weather. Three days ago I was woken up by a frigging earthquake (!!) Yesterday, I woke up to a white wintery world covered in new fallen snow. Mother Nature is now sending me disorienting messages too. I raised my hands toward the sky and, looking up, I asked her “Really? Is this all necessary? Can’t it wait? It`s creepy!”

These are all unneedful things.

So, what makes all this bearable? The fact that Corona isolation causes creativity.

There has been a veritable explosion of it everywhere I look. My backward, alternative school has gone high-tech in the space of a week. The gym teachers in my husband’s school started posting funny “Sports at Home” videos and within 24 hours the students started spontaneously contributing videos of their own. My team and I had a WhatsApp cocktail party, sending one another pictures of our gin and tonics while chatting. A creative writing group of parents found a way to meet online and created a wonderful collection of “Life under Corona” pieces along with new, deeper connections among the participants. I’ve just been invited to join an online needlepoint circle who will collectively make blankets for a homeless shelter. Yoga teachers have found a way to keep their classes going through live streaming. My daughter had her first piano lesson by Skype. Musicians are finding ways to collaborate from balconies and basements to make completely new forms of music. As I write this, my other daughter is upstairs taking part in an open mic session with a group of jazz singers. And in the offline outdoor world, long-time laconic neighbors are meeting and talking (from a safe distance) for the first time.

It’s all communicative. It’s all collaborative. It’s all free. It’s all needed.


I try to be wary of romanticizing a pandemic. But there are things happening that I hope we will be able to take with us into the post-Corona world. As much as I crave normalcy – I would love to see a new normal emerge. A new school rising out of the ashes of the one being burned down now. An economic system with longer-term thinking and contingency plans. A new consciousness that a health care system based on profit and with gaping holes impoverishes and endangers everyone. A realization that we had become isolated long before this sickness began to spread. And when that isolation became a physical reality, we discovered that reaching out to others was the only way to return to sanity.