Jane Brody’s Guide to Life in Lockdown
Jane Brody’s Guide to Life in Lockdown
Fear not, dear reader. I’m not about to tell you how much fun I’m having sheltering under the umbrella of Covid limitations, wondering whether the next unmasked person who passes too close to me on the street or in a store will transmit a deadly virus. But I hope to offer some useful survival tips and help you realize that however distressed you may feel, you are neither abnormal nor alone.
I know I’m far luckier than many millions of others in my city and beyond, but that doesn’t render me immune to periodic feelings of despair that I must work hard to overcome. Other than age (I turn 79 May 19) and an unwillingness to totally avoid grocery stores, I have no underlying conditions that would put me at especially high risk of illness and death from Covid-19. Among the advantages I do not take for granted, I have a job and a decent income; a comfortable home with no rent or mortgage; a dog that connects me with other humans three times a day; and a stash of nonperishable foods that friends and family have long joked could sustain an army for a year.
And so far, those friends and extended family have remained alive and well. Once a week, I have a stoop chat with my local son, daughter-in-law and grandsons to stay connected in person.
But these benefits do not erase the relative sameness of every day that forces me to check my phone to know whether it’s Thursday or Sunday. They don’t compensate for feelings of emptiness without prospects in the coming months of fun with friends and family, or the loneliness of having to depend on solo activities like radio, television, books, The New Yorker and this newspaper for enlightenment, distraction and culture. I often find it hard to concentrate, having abandoned several televised series and read the same paragraphs over and over.
And, of course, the resulting distress is increased exponentially by the seemingly endless tragic losses of life and livelihood I read and hear about and feel so helpless to prevent.
That said, like all of you, I’ve been forced to create a new, life-affirming normal and a routine that is reasonably fulfilling most days and occasionally even joyful. Like the Sunday afternoon my friend and I watched, in our separate homes, the PBS rebroadcast of the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Akhnaten” during which we texted comments to one another, something we could not have done in the Met or during the HD transmission in a movie theater.
As with life before Covid, routines can help foster and maintain feelings of normalcy and fulfillment. My alarm still goes off at 5:30 every morning, giving me time to enjoy a cup of coffee, set up my breakfast, check the day’s headlines, make the bed and do 40 minutes of back exercises before I extract my dog, Max, from his crate and take him to off-leash time in the park (his life hasn’t changed!).
I remain devoted to daily exercise for myself as well. Unable now to swim every morning at the Y, I alternate between a 45-minute walk and a bike ride before I shower, don casual-Friday clothes and have a full breakfast. With so few cars on the road, there’s never been a safer time to cycle on New York streets if the local park is overcrowded with erratic walkers, runners and cyclists, many of whom spurn masks.
Duly masked, I nearly hit a pedestrian I couldn’t see through my fogged cycling glasses, then remembered a trick from my snorkeling days: rub the lenses with dishwashing liquid, rinse well and dry with a paper towel. Works like a charm while walking as well.
Even though I’ve sewn more than a dozen quilts, I flunked mask-making 101. Every attempt either hurt my ears, overheated my face, or both, so I’ve ordered five commercial masks and meanwhile use a medical exam mask or dust mask on the street and both when I shop.
Many people admit to struggling with food issues now that virus-related stress and working at home disrupt regular meal times and permit frequent trips to the cupboard and fridge. Although one neighbor with no snack machine or no-no’s in his house said he’d lost 10 pounds since his office closed, tales of unwelcome added weight are more common.
Knowing I’d be tempted to turn to food (or drink) to boost my virus-induced deflation, I made a pledge to myself mid-March: Weigh in every morning and keep within a two-pound range, but with a daily treat — a few graham crackers or quarter-cup of light ice cream — to avoid feeling deprived. When my weight began to creep up in mid-April, I revived a former habit of brushing and flossing my teeth after supper to control late-night snacking.
I still enjoy cooking, but with only myself to feed and long-neglected chores and house cleaning claiming my spare time, I’ve simplified meal prep. Every week I roast batches of vegetables — baby carrots, brussels sprouts, mini-peppers, asparagus, cauliflower, etc. — to use in various meals.
Breakfasts alternate between sliced banana and peanut butter; a bowl of spinach, diced roasted veggies and a third of a can of soup heated for three minutes in the microwave, or Cheerios with walnuts, raisins, banana and fat-free milk. And coffee, of course, with a graham cracker.
For light, fast yet nourishing lunches, I rely on a supply of hummus, Wheat Thins, grape tomatoes, Greek yogurt, cantaloupe and blueberries. I stop working around 5:30 to have an early dinner with Max, who gets his evening walk during the 7 p.m. shout-out to thank essential workers. I stocked up on frozen fish fillets, veggie burgers and sea scallops, as well as low-fat chicken sausages, canned tuna, black beans and chickpeas, combining them in various ways to make a salad or supper plate.
Lest I forget I can cook, I made a big pot of spicy turkey-cabbage soup and froze individual servings. I roasted cubes of butternut squash with diced onion on one tray and on another tray, a can of chickpeas with curry, then combined the two for a delicious supper with a salad. For simple no-cook meals, I made a black bean salad.
After a couple of sleepless nights, I’ve learned to avoid reading about the pandemic and watching disturbing programs like the PBS special “Climate Change — The Facts” before bed.
And I’m always on the lookout for ways to enrich the spirit. This spring has sprung a superabundance of magnificent blooms on every block, and each day I stop to admire the woodland poppies and ferns emerging in my little front yard. It’s as if nature just knew we needed some help to get through this challenge.
Making Healthy Choices During the Pandemic
Join us on Mondays for a new online event series from Well, hosted by Tara Parker-Pope. In this inaugural event, Monday, May 4 at 1 p.m. Eastern time, Tara will speak with Jane Brody about healthy living in uncertain times. We’ll be sharing tips and tricks for a better life at home, discussing our personal experiences and taking your questions along the way. Stop by and say hello. Click here to R.S.V.P. and get the link to join the event.