Social responsibility

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I was actually planning to venture out today and do some chores and errands. I had gotten used to a two week cycle for doing the laundry, for one. Since the boy and I have been staying home, that has been reduced drastically. No pressing need to do it right now, really. I wanted to try and go to the local grocery as well. It’s been three weeks since I ventured out there.

I finally found a good window to do the laundry Thursday evening between the morning showers and the rain that was forecast for the evening, I only need to walk a hundred steps or less to get to the laundry room, but it was a source of anxiety for me. It’s a keycard entry structure but it’s accessible to the 400 or so units in the area. I came in wearing my mask and my gloves, I didn’t use the communal trays and instead, I put my laundry bag in a plastic garbage bag I brought and let it rest there as I unloaded. Was I being overly cautious? Even before corona virus became real to us, I always made it a practice to load and unload my laundry between the wash, the dryer and hauling them back home straight into the totes I carry. Those trays thane been touched by other people’s dirty clothes!

That done, I had to decide whether or not I will venture to the corner and do some grocery shopping. I will postpone that to Saturday.

My grocery delivery has stepped up and has been keeping me stocked for the most part. I really don’t have any reason to venture out, but there are certain staples that are now available only in store and not online. And there are meat selections that are better bought after actual viewing and inspection,

The last time I was at the local grocery, they had instituted entry controls and social distancing while waiting in line. Thankfully, they had someone controlling the crowd — not that there were that many people around, but it helped. It meant spending some time just waiting for my turn to go in, but I appreciated the effort of the store to enforce social distancing. I imagine that with the recent mandate from the Governor, we will now be required to wear face covering to enter. Again, I am relieved.

Social distancing

You’d think I live in a relatively corona free area, but the way the virus has spread, I don’t think there is any place that can claim to be corona free in New York anymore.

I take comfort in the thought that it seems that despite the continuing high numbers, our statistics appear to show that whatever steps we are taking, they are working and stemming the rise of infections. There are still at least 400 people dying per day, but steadily declining from a high of 799 just 2 weeks ago. People who are going into the hospitals on a daily basis are still well over 2000, but there are also more people leaving and surviving the virus. While we await mass testing and the all important vaccine which is at least a year and a half away, life seems to have started to slow down. But the danger is far from over — the virus is still very much present. New York continues to be the epicenter in the US. New York City, of which Queens, where I live, is one of the five boroughs, is still the hardest hit.

Despite the alarming numbers of the recent weeks, a lot of my neighbors still seem oblivious to the perils of exposing themselves and others to the dangers of infection. The reality of it is, you cannot really control what others do, but can only make sure you do your part. I’ve been social distancing and trying to minimize having to go out as much as I can, not just for my personal safety, but more importantly, for my son’s.

I know of people living in my community who have tested positive for the virus (worked for an essential service that required the testing), gotten sick as confirmed by his own wife, and gotten better — lucky guy! But I have also seen the same person going around without any effort to self quarantine (14 days required, per the experts), nor even try to put on some form of face covering, whether while hanging out at their stoop or walking their dog.

I get it that their stoop is literally “their home”, but the air outside their door is public domain. They may have survived the onslaught of Covid19, but there are several senior citizens living in our community, and even a pregnant neighbor. I’d be alarmed, but the pregnant neighbor doesn’t seem to mind — and again, I can only do so much for myself. What they do is their own choice.

The indifference just seems so irresponsible in light of the suffering of others beyond my otherwise quiet neighborhood. Families here are generally not hard hit — we live in a relatively economically stable cluster of a good mix of socio-economic backgrounds, gravitating towards the middle class. The school zone is one of those sought after, which tended to bump up real estate value. Although we are not totally untouched, you won’t see any food pantries in this side of town. We do have two schools in the vicinity distributing food for the children and anyone who is hungry, but you will not find the non-profit groups trooping to our side of the borough to distribute relief goods. But that is a situation that is so real in areas not too far from where we are.

And yet the fact that we are still being asked to shelter in place for the next 4 weeks means that the health threat has not disappeared. Where there are many who have managed to battle the disease like a bout of flu, there are still hundreds fighting for their lives.

So I don’t apologize for feeling a sense of indignation when I see people walking around, nonchalantly ignoring the mandate for face covering, I want to tell them to remember the frontline workers who are battling the disease. How people are risking their lives to help those fighting for theirs. How other people are hungry because the economy has ground to a halt to keep the disease from spreading. I feel gravely offended that my lucky neighbor survived the disease but is NOT quarantining, I feel a sense of pity for the ignorance of those who think we are all positive for the virus already anyway, so why bother trying to stem the spread of the infection. Translated: I can walk my dog or go about my day without a face cover.

True, wearing a mask will not effectively stem the spread of the disease, and neither will it protect you. But in some measure, it is a form of social courtesy that we all need to be conscious of because of the gravity of the situation.

And if we are one of those who are fortunate to survive this disease, we have a social responsibility NOT to spread the infection. Stay home.

Making the Stay at home situation work

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It’s the 6th weekend since we started this shelter in place / stay at home / but not a lockdown (because the Governor doesn’t like to call it that) new normal for New York City. Again, I’m not complaining, but of course, I long for what we had before March.

I don’t even want to think of going back to that, because I know that the reality of it is, this whole situation will change how we move forward, even after we are allowed to go back to a semblance of normalcy. I don’t know how soon or how far off that is — except that it won’t happen before May 15. Our state authorities have said as much. The way that New York City has suffered through the pandemic, it will be harder and a longer journey for us to try and reopen the city as we knew it.

Not that I’ve gotten used to this new way of doing things — but I think I’ve managed to adapt myself to this new way of living. It’s not just about adjusting to the “home office” situation, but more importantly, I’ve had to make some adjustments as part of trying to stay healthy and avoiding getting exposed to germs.

I washed my hands as much as I could — and the first two weeks, I developed a rash on the back of my left hand. It wasn’t anything alarming or painful, but it was uncomfortable and started to itch. Fortunately, I had my ointments from previous dermatological conditions. In a week, my hand was back to normal.

You just have to be conscious of how you do things, more so when you’re outside.

I live in a second floor unit with a common doorway with my first floor neighbor. We are in a u-shaped courtyard. It’s a residential community with minimal foot traffic, and my laundry and garbage bins are just a stone’s throw away from my doorstep. Still, I’ve tried to avoid going out as much as I can by doing things at home differently.

(1) Entryway essentials

– A Box of disposable gloves: so that it’s within easy reach for when I have chores to do outside.

– A trash bin with a disposable trash bag for discarded gloves and mail.

– A pair of scissors to open the mail or deliveries with

When I go outside to pick up the mail or a delivery, I open everything just inside my door instead of bringing everything up. That way, I can dispose of the wrappers or fold away the boxes right there for disposal.

(2) Develop the habit of sorting even your regular trash. I normally threw all the garbage in my huge 13-gallon garbage bin in the kitchen, but I have now reserved this for “wet” garbage. Paper and other “dry” garbage goes into regular or smaller trash bins. I can consolidate these later into a bigger bag, or tie together. Even when I cook, I consciously put away the wrappers with the dry garbage, and I collect the vegetable and fruit peels and containers separately. This will prevent the garbage bin from filling up and minimizing the trips to the garbage bin.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to others who have regular garbage pick up, or who live in buildings where there is a garbage chute. But speaking from experience, consciously disposing of garbage at a time when you don’t want to be taking too many trips outside your door has helped me keep things in order.

(3) Set regular office hours. If you’re one of those who have had to start working from home like me, it’s very important that you delineate your office hours — and be disciplined enough to observe them.

Begin your work day as if you were working in the office. I think I’ve gotten down to a manageable level of “busy” by pacing myself better now. The office closure didn’t really mean a slow down for our office, so I have had to adapt to the work-from-home routine and make a lot of adjustments beyond the smaller laptop screen, and only one screen instead of the two I had back in the office. Some days have been truly exhausting.

– Observe a lunch hour. This is important whether or not you grab a bite. The thing is to observe an actual break, get up from your desk, and pause. Literally.

Aim to finish your tasks for the day and send out the last e-mail the same time you would normally be walking out of the office. One thing that working from home robs us of is the urge to stop and get up to leave when we were actually in the office. We have buses and trains to catch, actual travel time to hurdle before getting home, and we need to be mindful of this even when we are in the “comfort of our own home”. Otherwise, you will find yourself working longer hours and exhausting yourself needlessly.

If you use audio alerts for email and meetings reminders, turn them on and off according to your office hours. My phone emits a sound when I receive an email in my work mailbox — I turn that off. My boss has her own text ringtone and I figure that it was urgent enough for her to reach me after office hours, she will text. So to the rest of my colleagues, there’s tomorrow. This last habit has helped me to keep myself focused on family and home when my office hours end. It has given me the chance to breathe and recharge.

– Shut down or log off your work system at the end of your work day. My personal and work email are both on my phone, but I’ve tried to make it a habit not to look at work emails after I’ve logged out of the network and turned my laptop off. All it takes is the discipline to literally watch the clock.

(4) Find a hobby or passion that you can pursue/continue even within the confines of home. For the first part of my stay-at-home journey, I focused on my art journal. I paused for a week or so, and I’m ready to continue. I’ve started sewing again, but it’s been in stops and starts because I am often too tired to do this at the end of the workday.

Not surprisingly, a lot of my colleagues at work who know I do jewelry were presuming that I’ve had more time to pick up my beads and pliers. The truth of it is, save for that one attempt at crocheting a necklace of glass crystals, the only other time I picked up my tools was earlier this week to restring a favorite necklace of gorgeous pink agate. I am going to try to do something about that in the at least 4 weeks more of this.

It can work if you choose to make it work. It doesn’t have to drive you crazy. When it does, you should find a way to get over the stress of being in this new normal.

I’ve started to cook and even bake. But that’s another blog post. I hope that sharing these things that have made this current way of life easier or more livable will help someone out there. We will get through this — we just need to hang in there and do our part.

Picking up my tools again

Pantry Planning

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I used to plan our meals on a week to week basis, and the weekends every other. As it dawned on me that going out would be more and more difficult, and how my grocery delivery service started falling short on the items I wanted to get but ended up not getting, I took stock of my pantry and made a plan.

It helps that I live in a two person household. It’s really just me and my almost 16-year-old son. He is a very picky eater, but though his repertoire is not that diverse, he does eat a man size portion of most things. (Like a 10-12oz steak)

Here are some learnings from the almost 5 weeks we have been staying home here in New York. It’s made me more conscious of the food I prepare and shop for, and at the same time, made me more particular about my food choices. I think I’ve learned to look at food shopping in a different way since the prospect of having difficulty getting what I need became a persistent thought.

These are really very simple, common sense steps I’ve kept in mind to keep myself well-stocked — but not to the point of hoarding — and more importantly, calm and sane through the seemingly crazy time most others are going through.

(1) Take stock of what you currently have, then make a list of perishable and non-perishable items you usually use to help you plan. After one month of staying home and going through the stress of shopping locally at my usual grocery outlets and online sources, I think things have somehow settled down a bit from the initial panic. I have notice, though, that there is still quite a list of items that are no longer available for online delivery. We cannot think in terms of regular shopping cycles. I have found myself shopping with a timeline of shopping again in three weeks.

Staples like cereal and milk should be top of mind. Keep in mind how much your household consumes in three weeks. Be it in terms of staples or food in general — rice, bread, snacks — make that three week grocery list. Separate the perishable and the non-perishable.

(2) Explore substitutes and alternatives to fresh/perishable items such as milk. My son usually does 2% milk — I do non-fat. He doesn’t like the ultra high pasteurized milk that doesn’t need refrigeration until opened, so that limits my options for him greatly. For myself, though, I’ve bought a small can of powdered milk (nothing like the original but we make do!), and have switched to my favorite non-dairy creamer. Pasta is always a reliable go-to. If your family is heavy on spaghetti sauce, then make sure you have the ingredients as well.

My son normally consumes a 25 lb bag of rice in around two months. While I would normally wait until I am down to around a quarter of a sack, I now have an extra bag. This proved wise because my normal source, Walmart online, now runs out of the rice — something that had never happened before. It was reassuring that the item became available again after the panic buying ensued, but I’ve noticed that of late, it has not been available.

If you are heavy on bread, keeping an extra box of pancake mix wouldn’t hurt, and you might want to learn how to bake some yourself. Angelo and I are still all agog over some cheese bread we discovered during one of our dinners out, and I am going to try baking some in the next day or two. And this one required a special kind of flour!

(3) Identify your family’s preferred canned goods and stockable staples. Mac & Cheese is always a winner, and I think I kind of overdid the stocking up on that one, but at least I know that I have leeway in consuming it, even if things begin to go back to some semblance of normalcy. It’s shelf life makes it a good choice for kids meals.

I think I got my little guy worried when I asked him to choose his preferred canned good item. He used to love this Campbell Spaghetti O’s, and when I had him try that with and without meatballs, we settled on it although it was no longer as good as he used to remember. Still, it’s a back up.

(4) Choose the produce you need to refrigerate based on the real estate it will occupy in your fridge. My fresh produce now runs two weeks and even more when it came to items that could be kept in the freezer for extended periods of time. I have a regular refrigerator so I can’t really stock up for any longer than that. I tried to be more mindful of the fruits and vegetables I bought so that I didn’t waste space. I also tried to make the dairy products I bought more efficient by trying to use them in more than one way.

If you are used to buying in bulk, separate the servings into freezer storage bags that you can freeze on top of each other. The original packaging might end up too bulky, taking up more space than necessary, if you store it as is.

(5) Make a meal plan. I’m really a very spontaneous cook. In fact, I leave it up to my son to decide what he wants for dinner – as long as I have what I need to make that specific dish in my fridge. With the work from home situation, I’ve thought of easy to prepare lunches like this to-die-for Vegetarian Chili recipe that sustained me for more than a week of this hearty Three bean Treat. (Something I will write about later.). The meal planning also helped me to make sure that my pantry has the ingredients I need, and at the same time, made me use my ingredients efficiently.

Vegetarian chili

For example, I have sour cream and shredded cheese for the chili, but also bought flour tortillas so I can use the same two ingredients for quesadillas.

Now is the time to be creative, more so when you don’t have the luxury of hopping in your car when you realize there’s something you need that you don’t have in your pantry.

There’s a lot that we cannot control given all that’s happening around us. If we can sit back and know that our family will not want for food and we are able to sustain the supply to make this happen, that’s one big load off our shoulders.

I’m saddened to think of those who are experiencing hardship right now and who are struggling economically. I’ve always said I can always subsist on rationed meals, but I don’t think and cannot imagine that for my son. I imagine what a big worry that is for those who have two or more children, and those feeling the economic crunch of being displaced in the workforce. I am blessed.

There are so many things that lay heavily on me no matter how much busier things have gotten since the corona virus took over our lives. But that’s another post. Let’s start with the pantry, and hopefully, we’ll all be better New Yorkers and people in general, after all this is over.

Home for a month now

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AWeek 4, a birthday via video chat, and working from home like it was just any other day. But it isn’t any other day.

It’s been a month since I last sat at my desk in the office. I’ve managed to make working from home “work”. I’ve secured enough food for my son and I even if we didn’t go out for three to four weeks. And I am almost relieved that the daily briefings have become briefer and less dire sounding. There is hope.

Working from home

The work from home situation: Week 4. I’d be lying if I say that I am all settled with working from home. I still wake up on a set schedule, just an hour or so later. I get ready and log on to the network with coffee mug in hand between 8:30-9am, which is right about the same time that I actually walk into my building back when I was at the office. I try to stop around noon to grab a bite. And at around 5pm, I start getting ready with my daily wrap up — something necessitated by the fact that I can no longer hand the boss her next day packet with her prereads and briefing materials. I usually hit “send” on that by, or just after, 6pm. So in essence, my daily schedule hasn’t changed. It’s still a long day, but I do it in the comfort of my home, and I am no longer dressing up and commuting to Manhattan.

The meetings have not really abated, so I still spend a huge chunk of my day trying to set her calendar straight, or organizing meetings for and on the boss’s behalf. With such an intense atmosphere at the moment, I have tried not to overload the calendar and give her and me time to pause and breathe. There is, after all, only so much that the body and soul can take.

And we are besieged from various fronts, both professional and personal. I am personally just grateful that I have a lot on my plate, instead of nothing. Many people, like the cafeteria and catering staff who were employees of our contractor, must be falling in line in the job centers and unemployment lines to get assistance. I am blessed to still have a paycheck coming in.

Hunkering down with a plan. I don’t like to liken the current situation to the apocalyptic scenarios that many of our movies have brought to the screen, but it does make me worry. Enough that I haven’t really been sleeping well. I try not to worry about my son and I, or the family back in Manila.

But I do.

I used to plan our meals on a week to week basis, and the weekends every other. As it dawned on me that going out would be more and more difficult, and how my grocery delivery service started falling short on the items I wanted to get but ended up not getting, I took stock of my pantry and made a plan.

Hoard, I do not. I am truly baffled why there was such a mad dash for toilet paper, and why every other aisle gets restocked and stays stocked, except the toilet paper aisle. Well, at the start, the bread aisle was a sorry sight. But the bakeries churn out enough to make sure that everyone gets their bread. But really now — toilet paper? Even before the mad dash, I have always had a healthy supply of paper goods, but only because I have found it more economical to buy in bulk, since I have them delivered to my home. Other than a huge pack of paper towels and toilet paper say, every 2 months or even longer, I don’t really consume that much. Again, there’s only my son and I. So you can get my allocation. The local grocery is now implementing a two-pack maximum for purchases.

I have been thinking of purchasing some the next go around, because I saw a feature story about someone providing it as “gratuity” for service providers like delivery people. But for my own personal use, we are covered at home. Literally and figuratively.

I have taken to putting in a small container of hand sanitizer with my tip. I also try to put in a note of thanks. These days, the customary tip of 10-15% just doesn’t feel like it’s enough, but I can only do so much.

I don’t want to get used to this because it is anything BUT normal. I try to look forward and get ready for the day when we will be slowly getting back to what we were before this invisible enemy crept up from behind us and took us over. There is hope. There is ALWAYS hope.

So in the meantime, I’m gearing up for week 5. Stay home, everyone.

Happy tummy, happy memories

What is it about food and the memories they evoke? I don’t know about you, but my elephant of a memory tends to connect occasions I celebrate with food or the places where I went to remember them by.

I remember “firsts” and count their “anniversaries” with the restaurants I went to and the food I ordered. Happy tummy, happy memories, indeed.

I happily remember the last meal I enjoyed with my family when I left Manila last July. A hearty meal at Corazon over at the East Wing of Shangrila Plaza mall. It was a family luncheon of gourmet Filipino food before I hopped on the plane taking me back home to New York.

Family meal last year at Corazon Restaurant in Shangrila Plaza
CIUDED REAL: Lechon Kawali with Laing by Corazon

I can cook but can’t really indulge in Filipino food here in the big apple, primarily because most Filipino dishes are best enjoyed with rice, a staple I gave up more than 2 decades ago. Then there’s the fact that it’s just myself and my not so little guy anymore — so that’s two people eating viands for a family of 4, and that’s if my super picky dining partner here will even dig into the likes of “Laing” (pictured above) or “sisig” (below). But when I’m in Manila, there’s no dieting for me!

Family meal last year at Corazon Restaurant in Shangrila Plaza
PACO: Pork Sisig, sautéed with onions, chili’s and secret spices

I look back to first meetings or being reunited with friends over brunch.. and while I remember the place we had originally wanted to visit then turned out to have closed already, we landed somewhere else where I had one of the best ever French toasts I’ve had.

My memories of that place and the food and that occasion so many years ago, bring me back to happy thoughts and feelings. The type that having a French toast breakfast brings me back to.

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So to celebrate one of those happy memories this week, I did one of my favorite versions of a crispy French toast I picked up many years ago at one of the hotels I had visited with family. Not exactly the same version I was remembering, but it brought me back to the happy place I am grateful for.

Simple enough.. dip the bread in beaten egg slightly thinned with milk, then coat the slice in Frosted Flakes that have been crushed to smaller pieces. (I like crushing the cereal by hand while in their original plastic container, when the cereal bag has probably a cup or so left.). Toast on a nonstick skillet in butter. No healthy detours — butter or it won’t be French toast!

I like my French toast with some sliced strawberry or banana, slathered with syrup, then bathed with heavy cream. Even just writing that makes me smile — more so when I go back to the memories they bring me.

I am grateful. Those memories come with wave after wave of happy thoughts. And I find myself comforted knowing that I have made some good choices that have brought me to this happy place I am in today. I haven’t always agreed with the choices the universe made for me, but this one steadied me and made me a wiser and better person. French toast at this time of the year will always be a reminder to me of how I have been lucky in many respects. There were a lot of things that worked out and which proved me right, time and again. I am a stronger, better and happier person now, thanks to a bit of French toast one chilly morning years ago.