No ironing required

I did something on Saturday that I did often before COVID-19, but haven’t done at all since: I ironed my shirts.

I haven’t found a shirt for sale in the US in 20 years that didn’t swear its fabric requires no ironing. Yet they all look at least slightly rumpled fresh from the dryer. I prefer to look crisp. So I iron.

I sort of enjoy ironing, for much the same reason I sort of enjoy washing dishes. There’s a quiet meditativeness to these simple, menial tasks.

When I’m out in the world, when I spend my days in the office, I like to look good. I dress a little nicer than the situation requires. I take care in choosing my clothes, and I take good care of the clothes I choose.

I’ve felt differently about it while I’ve worked from home. In my videoconference meetings, people see me only from about the chest up. When I’m not in meetings, the only people who see me are my family on their way to the kitchen. I don’t see the point in wearing clothes I’ll have to iron.

All summer I wore untucked polos and shorts. Now that it’s getting cold, I’ve been buying rugby shirts and crewneck sweaters to wear with jeans.

However, about ten shirts still needed to be ironed from before the pandemic. And a half-dozen more shirts needed to be ironed from date nights with my wife. It felt like old times on Saturday when I broke out the ironing board and my good German iron.

Old times aren’t coming back. We can’t predict yet how things will be different in the post-pandemic world, but different they will be. But when this is all over, I hope I’ll need to wear my nice, crisp, button-down shirts again.


Being out in the world as much as we safely can before cold weather prevents it

Sunday might have been the last warm (upper 70s) day of the year. So Margaret and I went out in the evening for dinner and drinks, to places where we could sit outside. Forgive my regrettable selfie skills, but here we are wrapping up our night with a delicious lowland scotch at a Scottish restaurant on the downtown avenue where all the hip kids go.

I’m sure we’ll have a few nights in October where we can do the same, as long as we dress for chilly weather.

We need to make a point of being out in the world, and of seeing people we care about, as much as we safely can before cold weather prevents it. In Indiana, except for wintertime activities like sledding or snowball fights, we stay inside from sometime in November through sometime in March. That’s four to five months of isolation.

With that in mind, I bought a propane fire pit for our deck. It was advertised as putting out 50,000 BTUs. That sure sounded impressive! I hoped it would make our deck hospitable until it gets truly cold here. We’ve used it a couple of evenings now, inviting extended family to talk and laugh with us.

Unfortunately, the fire pit is warm within only a few feet, and only across your face and torso. After the sun set the other night, temperatures fell into the upper 50s — and we all went in for jackets and blankets. If we keep bundling up and we have a mild autumn, the fire pit could let us use the deck through about the end of October. I guess that’s better than nothing.

Margaret and I have made it clear to the kids who still live with us: no spending time inside with friends, and no going into places where people don’t wear masks (e.g., restaurants). We’ve talked about how we might be able to see our friends and family during the cold months, but so far none of us has come up with any bright ideas.

This is going to be a long winter. We’ll need to show each other extra grace and kindness.


Good grass, man

Another unexpected benefit of working from home through the pandemic is that I can dash outside between meetings and move the sprinkler.

Our front yard has had large bare patches since before I moved in. I tried to fix it a couple years ago, but I did it too late in the spring and the summer heat killed my wee grass.

This year I waited until the first of September. I took a couple days off for the job. I attacked the bare spots with my electric cultivator. Then I put down 18 bags of compost, piling it into the bare spots and raking about half-inch layer through the rest of the yard. Then I laid in the grass seed. I was able to buy a mix created specially for the climate here, resistant to drought and hardy against cold winters. Then came the watering, every day. It continues and will into October.

I relandscaped my last house, and I had to get up early to start the watering and continue it in the evening when I got home. Thanks to COVID-19, I just blend it into the workday. When a meeting ends, I move the sprinkler.

Isn’t my new grass cute?


It was a good summer

Despite the challenges of living with a global pandemic, I’ve had a very good summer.

I love summer. I love spring a little bit more — it’s not as hot, and trees and flowers jumping to life brings me joy. But summer is a close second. Yet most years I feel like the summer passes me by without me enjoying it as much as I wanted.

Schwinn Collegiate

Not this summer. I got to ride my bike a lot! I’ve loved to ride my bike since I was a boy. Dad bought me my first bike, a well-used Schwinn, when I was seven. I was unathletic, clumsy. But I took to riding that bike like I was born to do it. I’ve loved to ride ever since. Career and family make it hard to find time for the bike. But this summer, working from home has let me take plenty of lunchtime rides. It’s been terrific.

I also got to take some of my meetings on the deck in the sunshine. On the hottest days I opened the deck umbrella to get a little shade. Sure, I can hear the trucks on I-65, which is about 600 feet away. I look forward to the day we don’t live near the highway anymore. Other than that, it was lovely to get that change of scenery in my workday whenever I wanted it.

On the deck

Early in the pandemic we allowed no contact with friends and family. We were all in on helping to flatten the curve. But when we could see that the pandemic wasn’t going away, we knew we couldn’t keep up full quarantine for the long haul. For our mental health, we would need to see our friends and family.

Repairing and restaining our unsightly deck had been on our list for this year even before the pandemic. But during the pandemic, the restored deck has allowed us to have friends and, especially, family over. We’ve had some lovely times out there, mosquito bites notwithstanding.

I’m always a little sad on Labor Day because it means summer is ending. Cooler weather will soon be here and summertime activities like bike rides and deck evenings will become less frequent and then end. As this summer fades away, however, for once in my adult life I feel like I made the most of it. I hope that sustains me through the winter. The cold and the pandemic will make it so much harder to be out in the world.

COVID-19, Faith

Attending to spiritual needs during the pandemic

I haven’t been to church since the first of March. That Sunday, Hoosiers were just starting to get sick from the coronavirus. We sent messages to all of our members discouraging them from hugging and even shaking hands. We didn’t pass the communion plates but rather asked people to come to the front to take the emblems, which elders handed them while wearing disposable gloves.

West Park Christian Church

The following week the state shut down, and so did we.

You may recall that we hired a pastor early in 2019 but by autumn it was clear we weren’t a mutual fit and he moved on. The elders, including me, had been sharing preaching duties with several guest preachers. Just before we shut down one of those guest preachers expressed interest in preaching for us every week until we found our new permanent pastor. We took him up on it.

We tried to offer worship and connection for our members. Our interim preacher recorded his weekly sermons on video and sent them to me for posting on Facebook. They went live every Sunday morning at 9 am. It wasn’t the same as worshiping in person, but many of our members appreciated the effort very much. We also began to have Zoom gatherings for our members, but they were poorly attended. Many of our members couldn’t make the technology work.

The city and state began to reopen in May. Curiously, they allowed churches to congregate well before they allowed any other large gatherings. We elders were not of one mind about how to proceed. A couple elders wanted to resume Sunday services right away so we could be in Christian community and take care of each other’s spiritual needs. I was staunch: reopening was irresponsible. To resume in-person services could result in our members becoming sick — and, given that many of our members are in high-risk categories, possibly even dying. The elders favoring reopening reasoned that our members should decide to opt in or out based on their own conscience and willingness to tolerate risk. There were good and valid points on both sides, but these difficult discussions were hard on the eldership.

We stayed closed for several weeks, reopening the first Sunday in July. But I and one other elder have not attended. We remain unwilling to place our families at risk.

Additionally, serious family stress has taken my attention almost fully away from West Park Christian Church. Except for the elders’ meetings over Zoom every couple weeks, I have neither time nor energy for the eldership.

Being an elder is not meant to be primarily an administrative role. Elders are meant to be involved with the congregation as shepherds. That was challenging enough for me before the pandemic because I live 30 minutes away from West Park, which is really a neighborhood church. It is impossible now.

I don’t know why it’s not been clear to me before, but it’s clear to me now: West Park’s elders really need to live in or near the neighborhood. Maybe the situation at West Park has evolved to this and I’m just now catching on. I don’t live in the neighborhood. I don’t believe I’m called to live in the neighborhood. I don’t want to live in the neighborhood.

Since lockdown Margaret and I have been watching the online services of North Point Church in Georgia together every Sunday morning. We both love the teaching of their pastor, Andy Stanley. He brings such a fresh perspective, always well reasoned from the Bible. We’ve benefited greatly from his sermons during these months.

But we both know we want to be in community with Christians again. We miss it greatly. But it’s not clear to us that we will return to West Park. We feel like our lives are leading us in a new direction, yet to be determined.


Winter’s a comin’

In the spring, I thought that lockdown might flatten the pandemic curve (remember that phrase?) enough that life could return to normal in the summer. I was willing, eager even, to press pause on seeing family and especially friends — to just stay home — for the greater good. But now it’s clear that we’re in this for months longer yet, easily through the winter and possibly even longer.

I’m mighty introverted and love spending time alone, but even I need some human contact. I feel it deeply — I’m not getting enough, even though I live with my wife and some of our children and thus have company whenever I want it. To be whole and healthy, I need to see family that doesn’t live here, and I need to see my friends. Videoconferencing hasn’t been a good enough substitute.

Obviously, risk of COVID increases the more you interact with people outside your household. My wife and I have read a number of articles about it, articles that were as agenda-free as we could find. The consensus is that when you spend time with people outside your household, the lowest-risk way to do it is outside, where whatever people around you breathe out dissipates into the air. Distancing of at least six feet, or masks when that’s not possible, further reduces the risk.

Indiana businesses are open again with a few restrictions (though in at least one county bars remain closed). This appears to have signaled a return to normal for many Hoosiers. I see people spending time in each others’ homes, riding in each others’ cars, and having meals inside restaurants. It saddens me to see it, as this behavior only spreads the virus.

My wife and I are still playing it conservatively — from our observation, much more conservatively than most. But we have loosened up some. Isolation has been hard on us and has contributed to our low moods. Right now, we do see our friends and extended family outside. We are beginning to travel together in limited fashion to places where we spend most of our time outside. We choose to take on what we believe is a small amount of COVID risk to get the mental health benefits of human interaction and being in the world.

We’re getting as much of it in now as we can, because this window will close when winter weather arrives. Indiana winters are cold and snowy, sharply limiting outdoor activity. I never look forward to winter, but I dread this coming winter more than any other in my life because it will mean intense isolation.

We’ve had occasional picnics in a Zionsville park and invited children, siblings, and parents who live in central Indiana. We’re having another on Sunday. We’ve taken dinner to my mom’s a couple times, and eaten it with her on her patio. A couple weeks ago my team at work had a socially distanced picnic together. And I’m starting to see friends a little, always outside, with reasonable distancing. On Tuesday I saw my brother and a mutual colleague for the first time since February. We met at a restaurant with a great whiskey selection, and sipped a couple bourbons on the patio while we caught up. It was wonderful.

Yesterday I took the afternoon off and drove to southern Indiana to meet my younger son, Garrett, at a state park. His mom moved way out into the country with her husband after he retired, and that’s where Garrett lives when he’s not away at college. The state park is about 20 minutes from his home. I don’t remember exactly the last time I saw Garrett, but it was before the pandemic and might have been a long ago as January. I’ve not gone this long without seeing him since he was born. We went for a long hike, and talked. It slaked a deep thirst.

My wife and I have also booked an Airbnb apartment in downtown Louisville for an upcoming weekend. Since we married, we’ve made a point of taking a long weekend away every three months. With all the hard stuff we’ve lived through, these trips help us remember that we love each other and enjoy each other’s company very much. Our last trip was in January. We need to get away. We chose an Airbnb apartment rather than a hotel because we think there’s some risk advantage to a single unit over a room in a large building. We were also able to learn about the owner’s cleaning practices in detail, and they satisfy us. While there, we hope to walk through downtown Louisville photographing its architecture and enjoying meals outside at restaurants. But if it rains all weekend we will buy groceries, make our own meals, and watch Netflix together. If this weekend trip is like all the others we’ve taken, we’ll return renewed in our relationship.

One of our sons moved out a few weeks ago. It brought us no joy as he’s on an unsustainable life path that will go badly for him. It’s been deeply stressful for all of us who live here. He is also estranged from the mother of his child. After he moved out we reached out to the mother, who has since been generous in bringing our granddaughter for visits. We were thrilled when the mother offered to make the visits to be regular, weekly if we can swing it, to build strong bonds.

Already bad weather has backed us into a corner, and we’ve allowed them into our home. We have reasonable assurance that the mother is managing pandemic risk as well as she can, and she has the same reasonable assurance from us. But in the end you never can really know and every person you add to your bubble only increases your risk. And again, winter is coming; the cold and snow will sharply limit our ability to see our granddaughter outside. We’ve judged that the better thing is for us to have time with our granddaughter, so we invite her and her mother in. We hope we’re right.

Holliday Road Bridge

Finally, I’m getting outside for walks and bike rides as much as I can. It’s a solitary activity and so I’m at no COVID risk. But the exercise is good for my body, mind, and spirit in these hard times. I figure I have about six more weeks on the bike before temperatures are too chilly for me to ride without special gear — it’s amazing how cold your hands, ears, and face get on the bike below about 60 degrees. I don’t enjoy wearing cold-weather gear on the bike, but this year it will be worth me investing in some so I can ride for as long as I can.

Walking will be easy enough and not unpleasant until the temps drop below zero Fahrenheit. Then I’ll break out my heaviest coat, a Korean War-era wool-lined Army trench that has blocked every cold I’ve thrown at it for the 35 years I’ve owned it. But walk I will, all winter. I’m making that commitment now. It will help me get through the long, lonely winter.