Thursday, February 7, 2008

Chapter 5A

NOTE: After editing this is one of the longest chapters in the book thus far. For ease of posting it here for review and critique I am breaking it up into two parts. I've gotten some great feedback thus far from people emailing me directly, but please feel free to leave your suggestions down in the comments section. You can leave it "anonymous" if you prefer.


Careful scrutiny - if you can wade through all the background noise of the mainstream media outlets - reveals that cities that quickly instituted strict mitigation strategies are doing better than those that did not. And, of those that did institute mitigation strategies, those with higher compliance rates are doing the best. Scott and Sissy are pleased to see that their state and county appear to be quite serious about the mitigation strategies. This surprises them somewhat as they hadn’t had a great feeling about this before the pandemic started, but the current state government is showing that it is quite willing to be ruthless as needed.

The message begins to sound long and hard, follow the suggested mitigation measures. If you do not, you put the rest of us at risk. If you put us at risk, you will be considered a threat and treated accordingly by all legal avenues available. And in some cases, vigilantes act to "control" those families who refuse or act unable to control themselves. Law enforcement, already stretched too thin by absenteeism, is unable to address all of these incidents and they become so common that they begin to rarely make it into the news except as afterthoughts. Also, the reality of "if you loot, we shoot" begins to sink in. This goes hand in glove with Florida statutes outlining the liberal use of deadly force under certain conditions.

During this initial first couple of weeks, Sissy and her family continue to try and maintain a certain amount of normalcy. They continue to homeschool their children. Scott continues to work, though its not like his previous schedule of leaving at daylight and returning after dark. They still continue with their normal cooking and cleaning schedule. But things aren’t as normal as they at first appear. Scott is reinforcing doors and windows. The kids aren’t allowed in the front yard and their parents monitor all of their contacts. Sissy is frantically reorganizing all of their supplies. All of their choices now revolve around keeping their family secure and infection free.

They make a conscious decision to use their resources as wisely as possible. They use all of the fresh foods that are in the refrigerator that they can’t quickly preserve in some manner. They go through all the remaining stuff in the freezer and if it can be canned in mason jars, that’s what they do. They also convert all their sticks of real butter into ghee that does not require refrigeration. As their refrigerator and freezer empty, they refill it with drinkables and bottles of water.

After everything that can be processed for preserving is set aside, Sissy inventories what remains in their refrigerator and freezer. The inventory reveals in the refrigerator they have an almost full gallon of milk (15 of the 16 cups that make up a gallon), one quart of orange juice, a variety pack of sandwich meats, half of a 2-liter bottle of 7Up soda pop, a half bottle of Bloody Mary Mix, some flank steak that you hadn’t put into the freezer yet, two loaves of sandwich bread, 1 package of hamburger buns, the tail end of a small can of pineapple juice, a large tub of margarine, lots of miscellaneous, opened condiments, several blocks of cheese as well as a couple bags of shredded cheddar cheese, most of a pie, two and a half packages of sliced bacon, half a container of sour cream, some fresh salad fixings, two green bell peppers, a small bag of onions, and a small bunch of celery.

In the freezer there is some frozen bread dough, a quart of vanilla ice cream, a 4 lb pork roast, a 2 lbs. Boneless chuck roast, several pounds of chicken pieces, two frozen pizzas, about two pounds of shrimp, a medium sized beef brisket, a bag of corn on the cob, a couple of pounds of ground beef, a pound of ground pork sausage, a large bag of frozen hashbrowns, and a bag of frozen chicken nuggets.

On the counters and not counted in the other preps are a small bunch of bananas and a bag of mixed apples. There is a large box of Twinkies that was a panic buy at SAMs because Scott thought they would last forever and a partial bag of chips or other snack food such as Cheez-its or pretzels. There is an unopened can of Coca-cola that Sissy had bought at a convenience store while she was out prep shopping but which rolled under the car seat and was forgotten; until it was found everything was being inventoried in the bug out bags that were in the car trunk. And there are several bags of potatoes that Sissy bought on sale on her last crazy prep run.

Everyone knows in advance what the next day’s menu is going to be as Sissy posts it on the refrigerator door. This takes the guess work out of the daily chores. Doing this also means the family utilitizes all of their supplies in an economically efficient manner, getting the most out of every item possible.

One of the tools Sissy uses to evaluate how things are going food wise, besides her family’s meal time comments, is her entries into their family journal. Their first day’s worth of SIP meals appear like this:

I mashed enough of the bananas to make breakfast with then hid the rest of them so that they weren’t a temptation for snacking. I’ll use them to full advantage over the next couple of days. I made sure everyone knew that the 7 Up is for cooking and not drinking and had to close my ears to the groans. This is important so I put duct tape on the lid as a reminder. I took the flank steak out of the refrigerator and set it to marinating for dinner in a gallon ziploc bag. About mid morning I also took the pork roast out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator so it will be thawed and be ready to set to marinating tomorrow morning.

Breakfast: 7 Up Banana Bread; beverage(s) of choice - such as coffee or tea - except don’t use the gallon of fresh milk. Everyone gets a small glass of OJ for breakfast and that finishes off the quart of orange juice.

Lunch: Sandwiches made from one loaf of bread and the variety pack of sandwich meat; most of the chips that you had leftover from before SIP. The kids can have a small glass of milk with breakfast (that uses up 3 of your 15 cups).

Dinner: Fresh salad topped with whatever dressing(s) is open in the refrigerator; Lemon-Lime Flank Steak; white rice; black eyed peas; dessert is the remainder of the leftover pie.

I made sure to sanitize the gallon ziploc bag I used for the flank steak. I want to re-use it tomorrow to marinate the pork roast in. I put another two liter of water in the freezer into space freed up when the flank steak and pork roast were removed.

The social and academic activities that Sissy and the children are normally heavily involved in are no longer available to them. Even if they wanted to, mitigation protocols in place have cancelled gatherings involving children such as sports leagues and club meetings as well as all school and school-sponsored events. This is rigidly enforced by law enforcement. At first it is a big struggle for the whole family; especially for James and Johnnie whose schedule normally included lots of sports and other outdoor activities. But as reality sets in their attitudes smooth out. Scott and Sissy, however, are under no illusion that there is not a certain price to pay for SIP with five children of differing ages and personalities.

The oldest two, Rose and James, are mature for their age and very responsible at home. They are highschoolers. Part of Rose’s outburst at Scott’s announcement is due to this being her senior year of highschool and she has shed more than a few tears over the loss of what was planned to be an incredible year. No graduation activities, no prom, no walking across stage to thunderous applause, no bows in the last drama presentation she would have been able to be in with a group she had been involved with since middle school. Rose is also dual enrolled at a local community college. Luckily the classes are already an online type course so she continues on as best she can. She really misses church too, where she is heavily involved in student leadership. Of the five kids, she is also the most aware of just how bad things could get and she is very scared. For now she is just trying to get by and stay afloat mentally and emotionally and show that she is more support of her parents’ decision that she initially appeared.

The next child down, James, is a sophomore in highschool. Somehow or other the idea of security has stuck in his mind and he is showing evidence of some strain. He won't let his sisters out of his sight and has taken to sleeping on the floor in Sarah and Bekah’s bedroom. Scott and Sissy finally find out that he heard a news report of a family whose house was broken into and .... the story was quite graphic and has had a lasting impact on James. Scott and Sissy struggle with trying to alleviate his fears, but they cannot in all honesty tell him everything is just fine and dandy in the world. Or lie to him and tell him that the news broadcasts are false or exaggerated and that he can just ignore them. Scott does his best by getting James to help out around the yard and by playing some rough and tumble sports with him in the backyard; anything to help him work off some of his anxiety and to get him talking.

So far the youngest three are managing better than Sissy expected. Sarah is the middle-schooler. She is normally more dramatic so her easy acceptance of the situation is probably temporary. But so far, as long as people in the family are willing to listen to her talk and pay attention to her then she appears content with the changes in her routine.

Bekah is in the third grade and is normally easy-going though she can have a temper. But she is also a people-pleaser. Scott thinks her behavior is driven more by seeing her parents worry than any real understanding of what is going on. She is making art projects and giving them to anyone that seems to need extra attention. She is giving lots of hugs and wants to sit in Scott’s lap more. Its pretty obvious she is feeling the tension even if she doesn’t fully comprehend the reasons causing it.

Both of the girls worry for their friends. But at their ages corresponding via email isn’t always reliable. All the kids, including the older two, add something at the end of the Grace at dinnertime, usually mentioning a friend or family they feel might be in need. It’s sweet and heartbreaking at the same time. But Scott and Sissy don’t suggest stopping because this is at least one way to help them express their feelings.

Johnnie is the toddler and "all boy." He is also the baby and has gotten spoiled. He pretty much follows the older four kids around all the time trying to imitate nearly everything they do. His energy level can be trying, so everyone in the house has to take turns being his "keeper." He thinks he is being punished when he is told they can’t go to the park or to any of the classes he is used to participating in like pee-wee sports or preschool at church. Its frustrating for him because he doesn’t understand and frustrating for Scott and Sissy as they try and redirect him to more positive thoughts than he must be a "bad boy." They keep as much outdoor/backyard time into their schedule as possible to help all the kids with the tension. Sissy isn’t sure how much good it does, but it keeps them from moping inside the house.

Scott and Sissy bought lots of books – some new, some used – to help the kids fill the hours that they aren’t doing schoolwork or chores. That was a good move, and it is working well. There are also lots of puzzles, board games, craft supplies, and sports equipment to be used during leisure time. They recorded lots of history, science, and travel shows for the kids as well. Sissy downloaded lots of old movies off the Internet and lots of audio books and burned everything to disc. She doesn’t normally like to assign the kids "busy work" with their lessons, but right now it helps the kids focus on something besides what they can’t control and the unfairness of it all.

Day 9
(shared by Cottontop)

We are settling into a routine, not much of one, but a routine. During The day we clean. Hubby goes out to the garage while we clean, do laundry if needed, weed, and garden. My lavender plants are ready to be harvested, and the St. John's Wart is in full bloom. Beautiful yellow flowers. I harvest some mint for my tea. The chocolate mint I planted didn't make it. Don't know what happened. Garden, overall looks good. We just need some rain.
After lunch, Hubby takes a nap (more out of boredom), and the girls and I sit at the table to attempt studies. If we're too distracted, we'll craft. It's good quiet time. We've been sitting on the patio in the evenings.
Our next door neighbor told Hubby two days ago that he's going to have to shoot his horses and alpaca's. He won't be able to feed them, and his feed supply won't last much longer. He's concerned too, dogs that have been let loose will prey upon his animals. He asked Hubby to help him drag them off in the woods with the tractors. He relucantly he said he would. I later said that I was uneasy about him being to close to the neighbor. He said not to worry, and smiled.
Yesterday morning, we woke to the sound of gunshot. baby girl jumped in bed with us, pulled the blankets over her head, and said "What's that?!" I just told her it's o.k. and kissed her cheek. I found the oldest on the couch with tears. She had been in our neighbors 4-H club last year, and worked with the Alpaca, showing one at the fair last year. She won her first 4-H awards with the Alpacas. We listen to the gunshot, and his wife screaming. It was a difficult morning. Hubby helped him drag those poor animals off to the woods later on.
I haven't heard from my friend since she called me 9 days ago. I'm very worried for their safety. I haven't heard from my mother for as long. I'm so sick with worry for family and friends. Most did not have supplies, and were attempting to leave to be with relatives. The phone hasn't rung in 4 days. Kind of eerie though. I'm doing all right. I think we're all all right for now. It's still early.

So far the Internet is still up, though there are times when it is slow even with a high-speed connection. The people on dial up are worse off. Websites go down more often and some junctions have to be re-routed because of staff absenteeism and parts breaking down. The government is requesting that websites that use a lot of bandwidth for graphics and sound to either temporarily shut down or somehow minimize their usage so that traffic doesn’t bring the entire Internet crashing down. YouTube, Xanga, and MySpace are some of the worst hit by these new rules. People can still blog and post, but their sites have been stripped down to mere skeletons. This hits teenagers and some young adults worst, especially those who spent most of their free time on the Net. Now with schools closed, groups gatherings cancelled, phone lines unreliable, and curfews this age group is having pretty severe socializing withdrawals. They are beginning to make lots of noise about their discontent and Scott and Sissy aren’t the only parents whose wits and patience are being stretched thin.

To make matters even more difficult, some donkey's rear-end created a really bad computer virus out ... cutely called "the cure for H5N1." People are scared enough and desperate enough that they aren't paying the attention they should to opening strange attachments. People who have kept their computer virus protection up ... just like those who have prepped ... have a much easier time of it. This virus is also affecting the mainframes and networks in nonresidential sectors. With IT departments of companies already over burdened with connectivity and security issues, or nonexistent due to job shuffling and absenteeism, many businesses are finding it necessary to return to paper forms and manual calculations rather than rely as they previously had on computer technology. This problem also affects utility companies and their suppliers, magnifying an already growing problem.

Scott has to this point continued going out into the community to address maintenance issues and collect rent from their tenants. Many of the tenants are already falling behind on their rent and it isn't even a month into the pandemic. Scott and Sissy shake their heads and wonder what to do. Looking at their business continuity plans, they decide that it will be necessary for them to cut back to emergency-only repairs. Those emergencies will be prioritized. "Emergencies" created because kids broke something or clogged up the toilet will be put on the bottom of the list ... tenants have been repeatedly warned that they are responsible for their children's and their guest's behavior and actions in their Leases. But to remind everyone yet again, a memo is quickly distributed to every rental unit. Several of the tenants are not happy with the enforcement of rules and threaten to take them to court. Scott merely distributes information on notification for non-payment of rent as it is covered in Florida statutes. He also points out that the laws allow for emergencies and if they feel like their unit is unlivable, they can move out after submitting their reasons in writing and getting the court to release them from the Lease. Some of the tenants try only to find out that without security deposits and reference checks, no one will rent them another apartment and the courts aren’t hearing very many civil cases.

It’s not only the risk of infection driving the change in how Scott and Sissy handle the business-related maintenance issues. The cost of fuel is getting outrageous. It is now in excess of five dollars a gallon in their area. In parts of California the cost of gas has risen to over $8 a gallon and is going higher quickly. Reflecting this, municipal mass transit routes around the country have been drastically curtailed and many gas stations are closing.

Luckily for most people in the USA, the virus hits during a relatively pleasant time of year. No one has to swelter in 100+ degree weather, and no one is freezing ... yet anyway. Countries located in the other hemisphere are not doing as well. There are already complete news black outs in some parts of the world. All anyone can do is sit and wonder what is happening in those places. News fatigue is becoming common ... how many deaths can they report with a straight face? It’s like vultures circling the city.

As a result, a lot of people are turning off the TV and turning on the radio and Internet to get their news. Those still watching TV are doing so to zone out, escape ... or in some cases to do school. There are several public television stations around the country broadcasting lectures and assignments for the children in their viewing areas. Universities that have TV stations are doing likewise ... both for their students as well as for local public school children. In the evenings, after the educational shows are over, these stations are running informational loops on things like recognizing pandemic flu symptoms, home health care, local care facilities that are still accepting patients, how to purify water, etc.

Information IS available if you take the time to look. Blogs, forums and internet communities like those on Yahoo are proving to be more and more of a lifeline for those that need help and information, or who are just desperate to communicate.

Posters come together to share home health care tips, recipes, basic survival skills. In community specific groups, adults with no children offer to collect needed items for a family with children ... sometimes for no charge but often in exchange for some item that they themselves need like a car part or something similar. Freecycle groups and Craig’s List are inundated with posts nearly to the point of collapsing those websites. While many of these groups are completely altruistic, there are also the foxes amongst the hens that take advantage of the situation. If people weren't wary before, they become so now. There is even some humor to be found, though a dark humor, as exhibited by a no name poster to one of the survival forums who said, "My first days were spent digging around in this massive wall of boxes I thought I had packed with an intelligent plan in mind; wondering how the heck does that work and what was I thinking when I ordered this at 2 am in the morning." All of this is going on and the pandemic is barely a month old.

1 comment:

rosarychaplet said...

MySpace. Wow! I'm enjoying ee-reading your stories again. Thank you.