Saturday, January 15, 2022

Greetings from Quarantine

COVID got us. Sort of. Because I think it will feel good to write it all out, here's how it has gone so far:

Wednesday night, after her Zoom ballet class, Petunia said her throat felt scratchy. I said it was probably allergies and we'd see how she felt in the morning. The ballet class had been moved online after the school had three COVID cases in other classes the week before. Smart move from the ballet school.

Thursday morning, Petunia's throat was still scratchy. We checked her temperature. It was normal. We did a rapid test. It was negative. I told her my throat was scratchy, too, so it was probably just allergies and we sent her off to school. Pumpkin, who'd received her booster shot Wednesday afternoon, also headed off to school, hoping for no side effects during the day. She later reported feeling achy during the day, and she went to bed early. As you'll see below, she didn't get as much attention from me as I would have liked Thursday night because I was dealing with Petunia's exposure.

Thursday around lunch time, I got an email from a contact tracer for the district. Petunia was a "close contact in a masked setting" for a covid case. Date of exposure, last Friday. I texted Petunia and told her not to go to her after school activity and to come home instead. I tried to determine from the instructions in the letter from the contact tracer whether or not I needed to take Petunia for an official test somewhere. I called the school to update Petunia's vaccination status with them but got voice mail. After I picked up Pumpkin from her school, I decided that Petunia should get a test and we drove down to the school district's testing site.

It took us an hour to get the test, and it was the same test I had at home. It came back negative. Twenty minutes later, I got an email confirming that no official testing was required because Petunia is fully vaccinated. 

We figured we'd dodged this particular exposure, ordered in for dinner, and went about our evening. Except that by bed time Petunia's throat was now hurting. We told her she might have to stay home from school on Friday because maybe she'd picked up some other bug. I went to bed early because I was feeling tired - but I'd had a long work day, starting with a call with my new boss at 7:30 a.m. (new boss is in the UK), and without a real lunch break. 

Still, to be safe I told Mr. Snarky he should sleep on the sofa, in case my scratchy throat was something other than allergies/asthma. I got out the extra air filter I have from the time that my air filter died during fire season and I desperately needed something but all the brand name filters were back ordered for weeks so I ordered some random Chinese brand off of Amazon. I put the spare air filter in Petunia's room and turned it on low. Then I went to sleep.

At 3 a.m., Petunia came into my room, upset. Her throat really hurt. I put my hand on her forehead and she was very hot. So I went and got my mask and put it on and got her mask and told her to put it on. I checked her temperature - 101.5. I got another rapid test out and started that. I wrestled with the stupid safety seal on the new bottle of liquid Tylenol I'd bought (Petunia won't swallow pills yet) and then struggled to peel back the label to find out the dosage. I gave her the Tylenol and then we waited for the test results. They were still negative. I put her back to bed, turning her air filter to high. I went to the living room and turned our main air filter to high. I cracked a couple of windows and turned the heat on to get air moving. Then I went back to bed.

I set my alarm for 7:30. When it went off, I knew I wouldn't be working at least for the morning. I was exhausted. So I logged on, canceled all my meetings, notified the people who needed to know, and called the school to tell them Petunia wouldn't be coming. Just as I was heading back to bed, Petunia came out. So I opened all the windows, gave her breakfast, and told her to stay in her room and wear a mask if she came out. Then I crashed back into bed and didn't wake up until 11 a.m.

I was thinking maybe I'd work in the afternoon, so I showered, ate something, mixed up the dough for pizza for dinner, and sat outside in the sun for a bit. And then I realized that no, I needed to lie down and went back to bed. When I next came out at about 3 p.m., Petunia was on the sofa with a mask on and looking miserable. Mr. Snarky had gotten her lunch but was back on work calls. (He apparently had a really frustrating work day, but I didn't hear about it until dinner time.) I checked her temperature again - 102. She said the adult liquid Tylenol burned her throat so I looked for any children's stuff we had. I found ibuprofen and gave her that. I got her set up to watch Netflix on my laptop and sent her back to her room. I went back to my room and read/wished I could sleep more.

Around 4:30 p.m., I came out and worked out a plan with Mr. Snarky, both of us masked and standing far apart. He went to pick up Pumpkin. Petunia and I did another rapid test and then I made dinner. We'd eat dinner outside by our fire pit, spaced apart. My test came back negative. Petunia's gave a very faint positive line.

Our first proof covid was in our house. This is after letting it sit for a couple of hours. After 15 minutes the line was so faint that it doesn't really show in the picture. But it was there.

Pumpkin decided not to join us and ate her dinner in her room. Petunia joined us for dinner but then went inside to call her friends and find out about homework. The reason she hates missing school - and wanted to go on Thursday despite the scratchy throat - is that not all of her teachers put good instructions in their online tool but they still expect things to be turned in on time, and so if you miss school you have to call someone to find out what to do and then rush to get it done in the evening. No amount of me telling her I will fix it for her and get her more time to finish things if needed helps. She doesn't want to turn things in late.

Mr. Snarky and I sat by the fire until it got too cold for me, even with my blanket. We came in and I disappeared back into the bedroom so that Mr. Snarky and Pumpkin could do something fun on Friday night. I think they played Mario Kart.  I read and went to bed early again.

I woke up this morning feeling fine. Petunia still has a sore throat but no fever. Mr. Snarky and Pumpkin still feel fine. We're still isolating in our rooms. I wish I had room for a chair in here. I am tired of sitting in bed! Petunia is happily playing Roblox in her room. Mr. Snarky and I are trying to figure out our testing strategy. We have six tests left. I have six more on their way, two of which say they are arriving tonight.  We can afford to buy more so I will. So I guess since we are "test rich" we will test Petunia and me at some point today and if I'm still negative maybe I will be allowed out of my room. I think it will depend a bit on what Petunia's test shows, since she is using the bathroom in here and I'm doing most of the care for her right now, so presumably if she's still infectious I could still be getting exposed. We're all wearing our KF94s, though, so maybe it would be OK. 

So that's where we're at. From what Petunia tells me, she was probably exposed for several class periods for several days to several people who were COVID positive and wearing surgical masks at best. I also learned that she was taking her mask off, holding her breath, and drinking water throughout the day. I told her it would be better to go outside to drink water but she says she is in the back of the class and doesn't want to walk through the class and disrupt everyone. So I told her she should only drink during passing periods. She is incredulous at this idea, even when Mr. Snarky and I explained that when we were kids we didn't have water bottles and our only option was to drink from the water fountain during passing period. So I send a hearty "eff you" to the "health influencers" and their bogus info about how much water we need to drink. I'll have to get more insistent on the water thing when she goes back to school and explain how just holding her breath isn't really keeping her safe.

But was the exposure at school? It is hard to say. It is a little odd that my throat was scratchy and I was fatigued on Friday. Was Petunia shedding virus earlier in the week and I got exposed from her? Did we both get exposed somewhere? There was that unmasked lady who stood next to us at Barnes and Noble last weekend. My theory is that anyone willing to ignore the big "masks required" signs right now is probably also unvaccinated. Did I pick it up while grocery shopping and then expose Petunia and am testing negative now because my infectious period was earlier? There's no way to know!

I really wish I'd kept Petunia home on Thursday. I wish the school had a set up that didn't make kids feel like they are falling behind if they stay home for a day or two. I wish I could convince my kids that it won't matter much in the grand scheme of things if they flub a test or miss an assignment right now. I wish I'd found a way to get Pumpkin her booster last weekend instead of Wednesday afternoon.  I wish Petunia and I didn't have allergies and asthma so that we'd have known the scratchy throat was something to worry about and not just our immune systems usual shenanigans. But none of those things are true so oh well. I emailed the parents of Petunia's friends that she eats lunch with (the only prolonged period of masks off during the day) and told them their daughters had been exposed.  My advice to anyone else with kids going to school right now: Don't shrug off a sore or scratchy throat.

We've canceled all of our plans for the weekend and will order our groceries for delivery instead of going to the store.

On the bright side, if this is the worse of our COVID experience, we're getting off really lucky. I felt worse yesterday than I did after my booster but nowhere near as bad as I did after my second shot. Petunia seems to be on the mend already. Hooray for vaccines!

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Some Weekend Reading and Some Books I Read

We're through our first week back at school and so far we're all healthy (knocks furiously on wood). My kids report that a few kids were out in each class and that a lot of kids and teachers have upgraded their masks. My kids are still wearing their KF94s. I don't think it is reasonable to think they could keep a fit-tested, sealed N95/KN95 on for an entire day - they have to take the mask off for water breaks, eating lunch, etc. So, even if we "upgraded" to an N95 I don't think we'd actually get more protection. My reading is that a KF94 is roughly equivalent to a non-fit tested N95 (here's an article with a little more detail) and I just find the KF94s more comfortable and easier to put on and off.

We've had cold temperatures (leading to this unintentionally hilarious article in my local paper about our long string of sub-70 degree days) but sunny skies, so lunch has been outdoors.

Petunia also went back to her ballet class this week, but we got an email at the end of the week saying class would be on Zoom next week. The school had three kids report COVID cases (none in my daughter's class) and decided it would be better to go back to Zoom for a week or two. I am feeling really happy that Santa brought Petunia a home barre this Christmas....

I am going to mostly stay out of the raging online argument about whether schools should go back online for a few weeks, except to say that if the choice was between online school and what I'm reading about in NYC, I'd pick online in a heartbeat. That is of course easy for me to say as someone who works from home and has kids old enough to mostly handle online school on their own. 

My only comment - and strongly held opinion - is that if we, as a society, want to be sure schools stay open, we should provide all teachers and students with high quality masks, make sure schools have good air filters and ventilation, give families a way to let their kids do school remote or asynchronously if they suspect exposure, and most importantly take steps to bring down community transmission rates. It is nonsensical to me that the only thing we're talking about closing is schools. 

If you want to prioritize kids staying in school, you actually have to prioritize kids staying in school not just yell at teachers online.

I'm pretty lucky in that my district put air filters in all school rooms early on and our climate is such that doors and windows can be left open without turning everyone into icicles. We have a mask mandate and staff are required to be vaccinated. The district's attempt to mandate vaccines for students 16 and older is tied up in court, but they continue to push for vaccination and they are running clinics at the high schools to try to make it easy to get shots. They also offer free tests at school for students (and apparently any parents who want a test) once a week.

And now that boosters are authorized for 12 and up, we'll be getting Pumpkin boosted (Petunia will have to wait until late March since she only got vaccinated in October). We have an appointment for Wednesday after school. 

But our case rates continue to go up here so I still think we'll be lucky to get through January without getting COVID.

In other news...

Derek Lowe wrote up a pharma chemist's take on paxlovid manufacturing. As he and others had pointed out earlier on Twitter, the availability of the starting materials is likely to be a big factor in how quickly the drug can be manufactured, and these days those starting materials are probably made outside of the US, overwhelmingly in China. 

It is easy to lose faith in our fellow Americans right now, but this tweet was a good reminder that the overwhelming majority are OK. The problem is just that the 25% who aren't are so loud and obnoxious:

Chrysler says it is going to be an all-electric brand by 2028. Does this mean we'll get an electric minivan? A lot of us really want an electric minivan.

And my original plan for this post was to write a short update and then talk about books I liked in 2021, so let's end with some books I liked.

I didn't read as much as I would have liked because I'm having a really hard time with anything that makes me tense (or, as most people would call it "the plot"). But here are some I read and liked:

Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata. This is a translation from Japanese. It is about a woman who doesn't really fit into society's expectations for her.

Wilding, by Isabella Tree. This is a book about a British land owner's decision to "rewild" their estate. I found it fascinating.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors, by Kawai Strong Washburn. I struggled a bit with parts of this one because there are definitely people making some bad decisions (one of the biggest triggers of tenseness for me...) but it is a beautiful book about a Hawaiian family with one extraordinary member and how that both helps and hurts the family.

Sourdough, by Robin Sloan. A fun novel about a sourdough starter that changes a woman's life. 

I have found that sci-fi novels don't trigger that same "I can't handle a plot" reaction in me, so towards the end of the year, I started Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu. I really liked it and am still thinking about it. I'll probably read the next book in the trilogy soon.

I also have a couple of books I read aloud with Petunia that I can recommend:

Weird Kid, by Greg van Eekhout. I have enjoyed all of his middle grade books and this one was no exception. It is about a kid who is actually an alien and his struggles to find his place in life.

Here in the Real World, by Sara Pennypacker. Petunia and I both really loved this story of two kids on the edges who make themselves a sanctuary in an abandoned lot.

Finally, I've been reading poems before bed some nights and I really like that. A book of poems I read this year that I loved was Goldenrod, by Maggie Smith (of Good Bones fame).

And that's all I have today. I think it is time I get started on my to do list for the weekend. First up - take down the Christmas tree!

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Monday, January 03, 2022

Some Goals for 2022

I had today off work. My company always gives us New Year's Eve and New Year's Day off, and since New Year's Day was a Saturday they gave us January 3 off. It was nice. I couldn't sleep in - the kids had to go to school today and I needed to be up to upload the home covid test results. In some ways it was nice not to sleep in and instead to get the full day to myself (my husband was working).

I didn't do anything spectacular with my day: I took care of some chores and I started on my end of year accounting. It felt good to check those things off my to do list. I also took a long walk on the beach. We take a beach walk as a family every New Year's day but I also like to try to get a solo walk sometime early in the year. Walking on the beach unknots my shoulders and helps me think things through. It is a good time to think about my goals for the coming year.

I posted on Twitter last night about looking up last year's goals, thinking I'd done pretty well on them, and then realizing they were actually the goals from 2020. I didn't really make any goals for 2021 - I think the unspoken goal was just to get me and my family through the year safely. I did that and honestly that is a lot given all that 2021 asked of me. 

Still, I'm ready to think about some goals again. My goals for 2022 are heavily influenced by the last quarter of 2021, when I started to try to act on the realization I had when we got back from our summer vacation that my work life was out of whack and that was spilling over into all other aspects of my life so that everything was seriously out of whack. I was just trying to get through my work days and weeks on the promise of something better sometime - maybe on the weekend, but those were full of chores so maybe in retirement?

Here's what I wrote in my journal one night not long after we got home:

Can I learn to stop wishing away the days and years that are my life?

Can I unlearn the impulse - indeed, need - to plan for that better thing just around the corner, that better time just over the horizon?

Can I treasure what I have now?

Can I stop reaching for what is next and just be here now?

Life is here now.

So, my overarching goal for 2022 is to learn to live the mantra I used on vacation, when I started to worry about things I could not control... Be here now.

This will not be a one year project. The first step is to get back to doing work I enjoy and don't just endure. That is hopefully underway. I have some other specific ideas for how to work towards spending more time here now, which I've broken into four areas:

Health - Body

- Get fit and strong again, so that I can enjoy the activities that make me feel most present. Also, the right kind of exercise is a really good way for me to "get out of my head" and worry less. 

Health - Mind

- Take the half-assed meditation practice I've got and make it something real.

- More reading and creating, less scrolling.


- Finish untangling the mess ("Untangle the mess" was one of my 2020 goals, which I made zero progress on in 2020 but did actual start making progress on in the second half of 2021).


- Re-engage in politics. I was not very active in 2021 - I could say that too many other things were competing for my time, and that is sort of true. But it is also true that I just ran out of steam and gave in to doomscrolling far too often. I feel better when I'm doing something about the problems I see. When I don't do anything, I waste too much time and energy worrying. Better to pick some specific action (e.g., write 5 postcards or letters every week) and do that. I'm not sure what my specific actions will be yet, but I'm working on that.

- Keep greening my life. As I mentioned in my last post, we've electrified the big things and have solar panels. I think the concrete thing I'd like to do here is try to replace some car trips with trolley trips. 

That's my plan for 2022. I fully expect the pandemic and/or other current events to throw some monkey wrenches into the works but even if the specific plans end up derailed I hope I can keep the overall goal in mind. I don't want to wish away these years, no matter how hard some of the days are.