Shopping in Person During the Pandemic

Yesterday afternoon the day after Memorial Day, I ventured out to shop in person for only the second time in over two months. The crowd at the garden center plus the lack of social distancing and masks the first time made me cautious about doing it again.

So before I even got out of the car, I counted the number of other cars – fewer than ten – in the parking lot of the closest Ace Hardware. I pulled my mask up over my nose and spritzed my hands with the hand sanitizer Jess made from a few odds and ends she found in our hall cabinet early in the pandemic.

Once I was inside, an employee I recognized from previous visits greeted me and asked, “Need some help?” She wore a mask and a small sign on her shirt pocket that said in red Six Feet.

When I acknowledged that I did need help, she proceeded to guide me around the store where there were fewer than ten people including patrons and employees the whole time I was there.

She helped me find caulk for the front window of my house that I put plastic on last fall and a different kind of caulk to reseal the flashing on the roof. She handed the tubes to me instead of having me touch them.

She helped me find garden hose and a nozzle that’s easier for people with arthritis in their hands than the kind that you have to keep holding down to make them work. She put the hose and nozzle in my cart

She left on my own to go into the garden center to search for begonias, but checked me out again later after I’d passed through the line with six feet intervals marked off on the floor. The cashier stations had plastic panels to separate shoppers from cashiers. I paid by credit card. And soon I’d loaded my bags and plants in the back of the car, got in and spritzed my hands before I started the car.

I was on my way out before I spotted the display of discounted Memorial Day planters I hadn’t noticed when I came in because I was too busy counting cars. My hope that Ace would still have some was the reason I’d gone there in the first place, so I parked, chose three planters, paid for them, and again was on my way.

I did turn into the parking lot to a grocery store at the corner, but once I counted the thirtieth car, I said, “No way I’m going in there,” and left. My lessons for today, as the lock down restrictions lift and you venture out to shop, be smart and be careful.

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Mother’s Day Update from Juliet

Hi, Everybody!

Just wanted to touch base with you all today.

In the last week or so, I’ve followed this advice somebody gave on the opinion page of the K. C. Star as a way to fight the anxiety and depression of living through a pandemic: “Find something that brings you joy, and give yourself over to it.”

So I’ve gotten back into my writing and I’m really enjoying it though my plans on researching the weather for April 1901 for my book went sideways for a while because a couple of my favorite resources – the Kansas City Star archives and the Kansas City Library – said, “Oh we’re shut down right now so we can redo everything. It will be great when we come back.” Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . I need to know that stuff now. But I found another resource, so now I know generally at least what the weather was like on Easter in Kansas City a hundred and twenty years ago.

As you might be able to tell from the photo, my hair has gotten pretty shaggy. But I do have an appointment with my stylist the first Friday in June. And maybe until then I can trim up my bangs with my manicure scissors like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone does from time to time.

And really, we’re doing pretty well staying at home. Oh sure, I miss seeing my Game Night friends in person and going to the show at Cinemark. I really like to grocery shop in person instead of hiring someone to do it second hand. I’d rather exercise with my friends at the center instead of doing it at home through a Facebook Live link. Still, even though we wear masks, have to stay six feet from our neighbors, and can’t pet their doggies, we can walk about the neighborhood pretty much as usual.

But best of all, Jess is on paid leave from her job so she’s sheltering in place with me here in our little blue house. I can’t tell you how grateful I am not to be doing this thing alone. Plus, Jess has gone really far in making this a wonderful Mother’s Day for me. She cleaned the house! She baked peanut butter cookies! She gave me a pretty new top and fun jammies. She’s fixing breakfast for dinner tonight. We hug each other whenever we like.

How are you all doing?

Best, Juliet

Tantrum on Time in the Age of COVID-19

I gather from assorted newscasts that lots of people have lots of time on their hands as they shelter in place. So they’re bored and they take to drink or binge watch The Good Place on Netflix or obsessively play Sudoku and Solitaire on their smart phones. Well, personally, we don’t have all that much spare time at our house.

Take online grocery shopping, for instance. Our service proudly keeps a tab on how many hours our shoppers have saved us, according to them. These savings average about an hour per shopper per trip. But the time-saving bit is pretty much a crock. Here’s why I say that.

Now, I’m systematic about grocery shopping and always make a list on a notepad I keep in the kitchen. I’ll add a dozen eggs after my daughter has made an omelet for breakfast for dinner and a bunch of bananas when I’m down to one. And just before I head off to the store, something I haven’t done myself in more than a month, I quickly check the vegetable, fruit, and cheese drawers in the fridge to see what I’m short on, ditto the pantry and freezer. I confer with my daughter about anything she might need. So overall, I hardly notice the time it takes to create a grocery list.

But the thing about online shopping is that you have to transfer your list to the shopping app and that takes time because you have to say what replacements you’ll accept for an item they don’t have or if they should skip it altogether something like a specific brand of Neufchatel cheese for which you will accept no substitute because you’ve tried them and they’re just a little slimy. Yucko on the toast. And thanks so much, but nonfat cheese is even slimier. Double yucko on the toast. (If you’ve read any of my previous pieces on shopping, you know how picky I get when I shop.) My daughter usually handles putting the groceries on the app and texting back and forth with our shopper in the store, but I stay close by so she can ask me about the Neufchatel or whatever.

And another thing about time and online shopping . . . When your shopper is actually in the store and shopping, you have to go through the list again, explaining by text why you won’t accept a substitute for the hand soap you use because you have sensitive skin. (FYI: All those 20-second hand washes, even with my preferred soap, have wrinkled the backs of my hands and made them shiny too, so my skin looks like some kind of weird baklava.)

Also, I know the stores we order from better than most of the shoppers, so they get lost sometimes and need to text for directions for items like tortillas that I would go right to if I were shopping in person. So overall we spend as much time online at the store, or maybe more as we would if we were actually in the store and shopping. Plus, I miss the retail therapy and the pleasure of smelling the peaches to see if they’re really ripe.

And once the shoppers deliver my stuff, I have to process the perishables by spraying the packages of frozen foods with disinfectant, for instance, before I hustle them into the house and into the freezer or in the case of produce like apples and clementines giving them a bath in soapy water. This takes time, too.

But really the time required is beside the point and neither the shoppers’ fault nor the service’s either. It’s the pandemic and that insidious virus. And thanks to those shoppers going out into danger in my stead, I feel fairly safe from it. And I am better off than if I were out shopping on my own. So again, thanks is due to those who help me.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to go play Solitaire Go on my iPhone for thirty, forty minutes, maybe an hour . . .

Popcorn!

Friends, do you find yourself missing popcorn now that movie theaters have gone dark? Pine no more. Using this very simple recipe from Mark Bittman’s Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, you can have this fragrant treat whenever you like.

You’ll need a brown paper lunch bag (the kind you’re not sending your kids or grandkids to school with right now), vegetable oil (I prefer canola) and popcorn. Bittman says it should be fresh. Mine wasn’t, but it still worked, just not so much popped as it did when it was fresh. Also Bittman says you need salt. At our house, we watch our salt intake with great care and prefer to add it sparingly after the popcorn has popped.

Okay, put 2 teaspoons of oil in the bag and add a quarter cup of popcorn. Fold the bag over twice and crimp firmly. Shake the bag to mix the corn with the oil.

Put the bag in the microwave. (Tip: I put the bag on a paper towel to keep the glass carousel from getting greasy.) Our current microwave has a popcorn setting that works to perfection. If yours doesn’t, set it on high and pop the corn for two minutes to three minutes depending on the power of your microwave. With our old microwave, closer to two minutes was best because you really don’t want to burn your popcorn. (Tip from Bittman: stop the microwave when the pops are four seconds apart.) Take the bag out promptly and empty it into a bowl. Bittman makes some suggestions for what you might add besides salt. We’re cheese freaks at our house, so we sometimes put Parmesan on our popcorn. But mostly we eat it plain with a little salt.

Enjoy!