The First Day of School and the Unclaimed Tooth.

Monday was our first day of school. Except that it wasn’t actually our first day of school because Friday was our first day of school. But we started school with a field trip day, as one does, therefore making Monday the first day we sat down with textbooks.

So we’ll go with Monday.

As with every beginning of semester, there was confusion over who was responsible for what.

As well as general forgetfulness about how to do things correctly.

But we’re getting things worked out, and fourth graders are remembering how to be diligent and neat. Maybe. By the end of the school year.

But first.

Before we could get to any of that actual school stuff, I stumbled out of bed, a little before 8 and after Chris left for work (because why homeschool if you’re going to set an alarm), and as I was brushing my teeth, I was vacantly staring at a small white object next to my sink.

I had no idea what it was, but my sluggish mind was slightly confused and curious.

So I rinsed my toothbrush and then looked closer.

The white object was a tooth. Left for me(?) on a piece of memo paper.

As a First Day of School gift?

Well that’s special.

Who left me such a precious gift?

Ali’s lost all of her teeth…and Noah didn’t have any loose teeth that I had been made aware of. He’s in that in-between tooth drought where he lost the first eight but the rest haven’t begun their descent from his mouth yet.

I guess he pulled a tooth in the middle of the night and gave it to Chris?

Nothing else accounted for a tooth by my sink.

But it still seemed slightly disturbing.

So when I went downstairs and greeted my children on their first day of school, I led out with, “Who lost a tooth last night?”

“Not me.”

“I don’t have any teeth left to lose.”

Wait.

So you’re saying that no one lost a tooth last night?

In a slightly more creeped out tone I asked, “Then why is there a tooth on my bathroom counter?!”

“What?”

“Why would there be a tooth on your counter?”

Breakfast could wait.

I needed to understand this before my stomach could digest food.


I sent Chris a picture of his children’s faces when I read them this text.

Still. This has to be Chris’ fault. He’s the keeper of all their teeth…and various other family body parts.

I mean…I love a good mystery, but only when it can be solved. And I wasn’t quite willing to do DNA testing on this tooth to properly credit its owner. So if one of you can come claim this tooth or explain its origins post-haste, I would greatly appreciate it.

But after we got over the horror movie soundtrack playing in our minds about the teeth that were definitely stalking us, it was time to actually start school.

Noah is in fourth grade this year, which means it’s time for a repeat of our Alabama History project. When Ali was in fourth grade (which is the typical year to teach state history in Alabama), I decided I didn’t want to use the textbook that hasn’t been changed since I was in school (and was frightfully dull and not exactly two-sided), but instead I wanted to walk through the history of our state chronologically through weekly field trips. And in so doing, let her take pictures, write reports, read books and biographies that fleshed out our trip, and create her own Alabama History book that ended up being quite thick and thorough.

It was a great success and we all learned – and retained – much. Noah, however, mostly remembers that Ali was gifted with a camera for this project, and he said he’s been waiting four years to get his own.

Needless to say, he was thrilled when he received such a device last week.

I reworked my timeline spreadsheet for a new year, deleting our least favorite field trips and adding some new ones, and we took our first field trip last Friday – to Natural Bridge Park in Natural Bridge, Alabama (population 37.)

Although it’s more geologically extraordinary than historically so, it’s a great example of overhang caves that early people groups used for shelter.


And it just so happens to be in The Free State of Winston, also known as Winston County, which is the only county in Alabama to be a “Union County” during the Civil War, and so it seceded from Alabama when Alabama seceded from the Union. The county was also a safe harbor for draft dodgers and the anti-confederate residents of Alabama. So all kinds of history! And a good excuse to get outside.

Noah began writing his report on his first field trip (and captions for his first photos) on his first day of school – the first entry in his future Alabama History book.

But what the kids were most excited about was a First Day of School present from their dad and granddad – Chris had been to visit his parents over the weekend, and in an effort to curb the coin shortage and thrill his grandkids, his dad gave Chris all his coins to give to the children – which we made them split completely evenly with each other (penny for you, penny for me, nickel for you, nickel for me…), and then count and roll it before they could use any of it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

But they’ll really be surprised when they get to the bottom of that bucket and find the tooth that I planted for them there.

2020 Needs A Dance Break.

“I don’t remember SENDING that to you…”

“You didn’t. I found it when I opened my computer, since you sent it to AJ and I get all your texts.”

Just another normal conversation between a teenager and a parent, I’m sure. It’s the one that Ali and I had after I told her that I really loved her dance video and could I please share it.

It was a dance video I didn’t even know existed, and when I just happened across it, it made me smile. And who doesn’t need a smile right now.

But before I could share it, I had to get all of the talent’s permission to post.

Ali said yes, but she also predicted – correctly – that Noah was an absolute unequivocal NO.

“You have to take me COMPLETELY OUT of the video first!”

Me: “No! You are excellent!”

Ali: “And I can’t do that!! I deleted all the original videos.”

So I let it drop. There’s really no use in attempting to change Noah’s mind once you’ve put a decision in his hands.

But that night at bedtime, while we were doing our nightly battle in Wart War III (He’s got four nasty man-sized warts, and our doctor-prescribed a battle routine that includes ten minutes of soaking, then scrubbing, dabbing with flammable substances, and wrapping for the night), he really wanted to watch a Bad Lip Reading Video to pass the time.

“I mean…I’ll be glad to watch YouTube with you….if only you’ll let me post your dance video.”

He got an introspective look on his face and said, “I have been thinking about that…and I am willing to let you post it. In exchange for helping me fold my next two loads of laundry. And watching Bad Lip Reading with me.”

DONE.

Since the most diva-like participant’s publishing rights had been won, I asked the last two stars, AJ and Tessa, who were most amenable, agreeing immediately. No laundry royalties required.

So I’ll be over here folding Noah’s shorts while he stares off into space and pretends to be folding with me, and you can enjoy this Dance Break from 2020.

Directed by AJ, Produced by Ali, Choreographed individually, and with outdoors and social distancing guidelines (mostly) adhered to.

The COVID Diaries Part One: The Lockdown Months.

We’ve now been in this new state of reality for circa 150 days.

Remember when we thought it would be two weeks? How we reassured ourselves it wouldn’t affect the fall?? How your husband planned to celebrate all the holidays we missed (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Easter, birthdays, etc.) with a big cookout on the 4th of July???

{moment of silence and/or sobs and/or maniacal slightly-demented laughter}

The scenery of The COVID World has changed quite a bit over the months – we’re not in the “don’t leave the house” strict quarantine we were in for the first 30 days. It’s still a weird You-Can-Leave-The-House-But-You-Will-Be-Judged-Based-On-Its-Worthiness time, but it’s even weirder to think back on those early days.

I’ve spent some time trying to recall that first month (I’ve apparently already blocked it), using pictures from my phone and reading my diary to help. Those days before I even owned a mask because I wasn’t leaving the house. Back when I didn’t go inside of any type of retail establishment for 51 days (that’s what antsy “essential working” spouses and grocery delivery are for), and didn’t have Starbucks for 60 days.

Because for me, that month was pretty much the strangest thing that’s ever happened in my life. For my kids, they’re just kinda cool with it like this is something that happens every now and then. I sincerely HOPE that in 30 years they look back on this year and say “that was the strangest thing that’s ever happened in my life”, too, and not “oh yeah – that was the first year of The Quarantine Decades.”

But to help them with their recollections, and to document The Weirdest Thing in My Life, here’s what went down in our quarantine.

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Remember in the beginning, when everyone’s main priority was entertaining and encouraging their neighbors? We all put drawings on the doors, hid scavenger hunt pictures in the windows and yards, and CHALK ART.

It was the rage.

There was this one particular look of stained glass (helped with painter’s tape) that EVERYONE was doing. Which of course we could only know because of Facebook.

We turned ours into a robot, then made a tree with a snake. Because why not. It’s not like there was any other way to connect with humans (except the dreaded Zoom – shiver) – this was before you even felt comfortable when a neighbor was walking by your house on the other side of the street.

So Chalk Art it was.

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But somehow on our neighborhood walks, I always found scary things like this broken piece of positivity,
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oh – and if Evil Tree Nymphs are a thing, I met one.
IMG_3965I still have nightmares about him.

Puzzles had their Best Month Ever. We (okay mostly I) did several, and I even made some from my local photos to make it more fun. Who knew you had so much time for puzzles when you didn’t leave the house?

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Meanwhile, I was spending too much time shopping online for clothes I had no purpose for, and Hautelook was trying to sell me activewear that basically sums up the crap-show that 2020 is.IMG_4785

Because if 2020 were a piece of clothing, it would DEFINITELY be a Sleeveless Sport Romper.

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One of the biggest blessings of 2020 was the fact that at the very beginning of the year, we began construction on a new back porch – covered and screened – and it was finishing up right when lockdown started.

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Of all the years to need more OUTDOOR living space, this was the one that it mattered.

We spent many lazy Saturday mornings reading, drinking coffee together, and doing what quarantine does best – nothing at all.IMG_4738IMG_4749

The best THING we accomplished in quarantine was severely cleaning out our basement.

We aren’t hoarders, I mean, we’re NOT – we just don’t always take time to throw things away – several things, OK – LOTS of things, especially big things. For years we’ve talked about renting a dumpster and getting rid of things all at once, but spending a weekend throwing stuff out just isn’t our jam.

So I told Chris that if we don’t do it now, when we’re stuck at home anyway, we will literally never do it.

He agreed. And the next week, he had us a giant dumpster delivered and ready to go.

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We filled. That. Thing. Up.

30 cubic yards of freedom in 5 introverted weekends.

And it felt so good.

It took five weekends of hard labor, such as going through college notes and middle school diaries and finding my cast from when I broke my arm in seventh grade – but dang it we threw some crap out.

It’s not like I was ever going to need that 17 year old test sheet for Tax Accounting ever again, but it did sting a bit to throw out all that hard work.

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The softball trophies all got trashed,IMG_4938

As did all my employee awards from my pre-kid career.IMG_5004

But I kept the diaries. I need my grandkids to ask me what a “catalog” was.

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I did find two very useful items hidden in the basement, though probably woefully expired.
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Week Five was the week I finally got desperate enough to paint.

I don’t dislike painting, but the prep is exhausting. And my office / guest room has been the ugliest baby poop beige for the 13 years that we’ve lived in our house, and I’ve always wanted it to be a more relaxing space. And when better to create more relaxing spaces than in Week Five of COVID Lockdowns?

Even Noah got in on the fun.IMG_4413

Here’s the before and after:IMG_4473

SO MUCH HAPPIER SPACE.

Then I painted the front door…and a bathroom…and I got so mad at the world one day that I pressure washed the sidewalk while barefoot with our overpowered hose. And left my mark while I did it.
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The kids and I did a bunch of experiments and activities – some of which were not as successful as others.

Baking Soda + Vinegar + Food Coloring Painting is not as pretty as Pinterest advertises.

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Sorry kids. No one ever said Quarantine would be fun.

The extreme satisfaction of water beads, however, somewhat made up for failed baking soda experiments.76DAD0E3-6AAD-4FAF-A8C3-3116CAA57A2E

I was introduced to a new treat by my friend Nikki that got me through the first few weeks – Dalgona Coffee. IMG_4524

I’m a bit tired of it now, but man was it a needed something special. It’s a weird creation, but well worth the research if you’ve never heard of it.

(Quick interruption to this long monologue for a recipe: blend 2 tbsp of Instant Coffee and 2 tbsp of sugar with 2 tbsp of boiling water until it becomes a very thick foam that looks unsettlingly like peanut butter. Then you dole it out onto a little bit of half and half or creamer or milk, and slightly mix it up as you drink it.)

It’s bizarrely good – and also bizarre.

I tried to use lockdown to teach Ali how to like coffee, but no matter how sweet I made it, she was involuntarily forced to stick out her tongue and say “eeeueegh” with each sip.IMG_4862

Speaking of bizarre. I think those first few birthday parades will be something that we all remember as “can you believe we did that, and furthermore that some city governments tried to tell us that even birthday parades with windows rolled up were unsafe?”

For those sadly unlucky children who had their birthdays in the deepest deep of lockdowns, we made birthday bunting,

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Found the most rocking “Happy Birthday” on Spotify, and cheered them on from the safety of our cars. Car Horns are having THE BEST YEAR EVER.

I’m sorry, Unlucky Lockdown Children. You get a Double Portion of Birthday in 2021.IMG_3941

Easter 2020 was an unforgettable one: Easter baskets on Saturday (SACRILEGE!), church via livestream (LAZINESS!). On the porch (HERESY!). With Buddy the Snake joining in (Snakes are part of the Easter Prequel, so it works). IMG_4135

Noah did enjoy getting to join the praise team, though. Chris only wishes he was hipster enough to pull off a toboggan/ukulele/pajama pants combo. 

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In their Easter Baskets, for which I shopped via Amazon and grocery delivery (thank you, Shipt, for bringing me all those jelly beans), we tried to get the kids things that would occupy them. These building straws were a huge hit, until I got extraordinarily tired of them in my living room and the kids weren’t willing to give up their bedroom floor space for their own construction projects. Upside: permanent re-usable straws for multiple generations.
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On my first time back to actual running out-of-doors, I got splatter-pooped by a bird.

Again, yup. That about sums it up. 60971698164__AF61570D-54C2-4496-B162-7E7F7EBF9A32 2

Early on in our cluelessness, I remember even feeling guilty walking around our neighborhood.

All the parks were closed.

All walking areas were off limits, except your own neighborhood. Chris took this quite literally, and sometimes disappeared for hours on foot, because if you go on foot, it was okay, right?

Thank goodness “outside” eventually became all of our safe space just before I lost my mind.

On one of our earliest ventures to a park – one of the first to open back up – we saw FIVE families of baby geese and ducks. 
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After being in strict quarantine, it was an extreme happy place.

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This was another one of our early outings, where Noah could blessedly get out some pent-up energy – poor kid. Nine year old boys should not be kept indoors. 25857A6D-9893-4643-A65E-06D1D5418F85

The kids taught themselves how to do a lot of computing. Noah started by making his own business cards (super duper applicable during a lockdown and all)
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Ali learned how to use Excel for things like list-making (because the girl appreciates a to-do list), and then she taught herself and Noah how to “use” Excel for more creative pursuits. Spreadsheets are so 2019.



Solitaire became a favorite game for man and beast,
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And I shopped for bras to wear in an at-home life – enough of a bra that I wouldn’t be embarrassed if a neighbor stopped to talk at a 6 foot distance, but not so much bra that I felt constricted. I found a section called “comfort bras” on Hautelook. But I immediately realized that their idea of comfort is not the same as my idea of comfort.

 

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We finished school still during the stay at home order, and also on a puzzlingly freezing May day, but we couldn’t break tradition. We went to the clock tower anyway for our annual family meeting. We made it quick, and tried to stay out of sight.

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Thankfully, no errant COVID strains were hanging out there.
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And somehow we actually didn’t forget to take our comparison photos for beginning of school / end of school, though admittedly they were a few days late.

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Look at those first day of school kids. So young. So innocent. So clueless as to how they’d finish the school year – with raggedly-long hair and overwhelming missing of their friends that was only treatable by the horrible beast that is Zoom.

My literal first indoor store experience was 51 days in, to PetCo for Buddy. Because one can only hoard frozen mice for so long.

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On my first run in the woods, I found a family of four baby armadillos. I was lonely enough that I stalked the said armadillos. One walked up to my shoes and apparently thought I was his mommy. We needed each other, ‘Dillo and me.

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Then he taught me where the idea for Shrek Ears originated.

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Finally, as our state began to change to the next stage of The COVID Experience, I couldn’t help but gasp at Alabama’s COVID marketing team. Because if “Safer Apart” is the goal, I want a new goal-setter.

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TO BE CONTINUED…

Break to the Future.

It’s 1985. Doc Brown has just arrived back from the future, steps out of his DeLorean, and tells me, “Great Scott! Whatever you do, DO NOT go to 2020!”

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Why not, Doc?

“There’s a global pandemic! The world gets shut down, you won’t go into a store for 53 days, you’ll have 3 trips cancelled, you’ll forget how to talk to people or put on makeup. And when you do put on makeup, you’ll immediately smear it all on the inside of your face mask and ask yourself why you put on makeup.

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…But then, after much discussion and changes of plans and months of uncertainty, you and your husband will go to a remote beach to celebrate your 19th anniversary, taking a much-needed break from the four walls of your house.

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…You’ll share a long, deserted beach with nearly no one except for the crabs and the birds and the creepy driftwood.

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…But while you’re sitting at a restaurant for the first time in in 61 days (61 days without eating out!! Can you imagine??) (outdoor seating only, of course), you’ll get a call from your mom that your son fell off his cousin’s hoverboard and broke his wrist! But don’t worry – there will be VIDEO PHONES by then, so it’ll be like you’re in the ER with him but actually you’ll be in your condo at the beach. I’m telling you. The future is crazy!!”

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Okay, Doc. Um. Well, the hoverboard part makes sense anyway.

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So yeah.

Noah gave us an extra special anniversary gift.

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Thankfully, it hurt so little that he was confused at the fact that it was, indeed, broken.

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You see, two weeks ago, we had given his cousin Andi a Hawaiian Shaved Ice machine for her birthday. Which Noah definitely wanted for himself. But then he saw Andi on her hoverboard, another birthday present, and he fell deeply in love. Watching Andi flippantly and expertly drive that two-wheeled contraption around like she was controlling it with her mind, all while casually eating a shaved ice…

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well, it was a taste of the future.

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And Noah wanted the future.

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Noah had asked Chris and I if he could buy one with his money. We were both slow to answer, not sure of  how safe hoverboards were these days.

Chris told Noah that he would think about it while we were gone on our trip.

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So when Gramamma took Ali and Noah to visit at their cousin’s house on mine and Chris’ first full day of quiet beaches and solitude, Noah of course had to try out this device for himself.

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It did not go as well as he’d planned.

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You see, he ran into a flower pot.

 

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Which caused him to fall backwards and catch himself on his wrist. Which actually did not hurt that bad…as long as he kept ice on it. And didn’t move it. Oh and it had a nice swelling and bump to it that very much reminded me of my 7th grade wrist-breaking incident.

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I was texting with Adolfo, our Pediatrist friend, who consulted last time Noah needed to go to the ER, to find out if he thought it needed x-rays. Noah said it barely hurt. Could it (possibly-please-there’s-a-pandemic-going-on) just be sprained?

Adolfo answered. “He probably does need x-rays, but I’ll be glad to go get him from your mom take him in real quick.”

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Um, what? Aren’t you like, a busy doctor?

“I got off early today. It’s really no problem.”

Okay. We’ll take it.


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What followed on our end was several hours of tense waiting… updates… consent for care over the phone… insurance information texted… finding out that it was truly good and broken… and wondering.

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Wondering if we would need to come home.

Because if he needed surgery on his broken arm the next day, we really should pack up, cancel our trip, and drive the 5 hours home to be there with our kid.

But if he was just fixable by a quick set-and-cast, well, the kid was in no pain and was clearly going to love being King of Gramammas with his cast propped up for the rest of the weekend, so obviously us coming home would just be a disappointment and cramp his style.

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So we waited. And finally, we heard the news. All he needed was a minor sedation, a yank to get the bone back in place, a quick wrap in a cast, and he was done. He would be back at Gramammas before we could have gotten home anyway.

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All was well.

Noah became The Injury King.

Adolfo was already The Doctor King.

And we, well – we got to stay on our much-needed vacation from reality.

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p.s. – he totally signed his own cast.

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p.p.s. – And he also let Buddy the Snake sign it.

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p.p.p.s. – But he never wants a hoverboard, and has already ordered himself a Hawaiian Shaved Ice machine instead.

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If Not In Quarantine, Then When?

It has become my theme statement.

It applies to all things.

…If I can’t sit in my front yard and read for two hours without feeling a shred of guilt during quarantine, then when?

…If I can’t clean out my office closet, paint my office (no more poop beige!), the front door, and the bathroom during quarantine, then when?

…If I can’t eat ice cream every night during quarantine, then when?

…If we don’t order a construction dumpster and thoroughly clean out our basement and garage during quarantine, then when?

…If I can’t let the kids make an insane amount of mess with some crazy idea during quarantine, then when? (When I was making a grocery order and asked Noah if he needed anything and he said “Baking Soda and Vinegar so I can make explosions!!” – sure kid. If not in quarantine, then when?)

So when, as I was cleaning out that horrible mess of a closet, I found an old bag of water beads that we’d bought for a school experiment a few years back, it made total sense to go ahead and expand about 10,000 of them, take pictures of them, and then throw them on the children.

Because if not in Quarantine, then when?

Yeah. That was seriously fun. And I was only the photographer – it had to have been more delightful for Chris, the water bead dumper.

I mean for the children. The most fun for the children.

But pictures.

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My friend Kristin had told me a couple of weeks ago that I should do a water bead photoshoot because they’re just so darn photogenic.

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She wasn’t wrong. 
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There’s something in the way they hold the light that is mesmerizing.

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They also hold reflections of each other nicely, but that’s harder to catch on camera.

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After we finished ogling them and holding them and sticking our hands in them and feeling comforted by not giving the water beads ANY social distance, we decided it was time to let them live Their Best Life.

Chris had just gotten home from work, and was completely amenable to the idea of pelting the children with 10,000 squishy balls of water.

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I mean really, isn’t that what everybody feels like doing after a long day at work?

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And then the jumping bean fun began.

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And now all I can think about is… if that was 10,000 water beads, and 100,000 water beads only cost $22 on Amazon, if not in quarantine, then when?

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Trust Nothing But Numbers. And Maybe Don’t Trust Numbers.

Before I begin, let me say that Coronavirus is a very serious situation. We as a family are doing all we can to socially distance and shelter in place, and my heart has been broken for friends whose relatives have passed away. This post is about numbers and projections and objectively analyzing them, and about not allowing anxiety and horror to rule our hearts. It is not about minimizing the human impact of Coronavirus. 

I’m a data nerd. I am not even the most novice expert about what the coronavirus is capable of, but I do know how to analyze data. As such, I’ve been looking at all sorts of charts and graphs and anonymized aggregates and models and projections (I’ll list some of my favorites at the bottom of the post), and using them to create and keep my own spreadsheets of “just the numbers, please.” Because oftentimes, the numbers paint a different picture than the headlines.

Last Wednesday, in the UAB press conference, Dr Jeanne Marazzo, Director of Infectious Disease, referenced a projection model created by The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at University of Washington Medicine that gives a state-by-state, day-by-day projected hospitalization count, ventilator count, and death count. She stated that she was watching the model, but that it didn’t properly reflect our state’s situation, as the model hadn’t taken into account our social distancing measures. She stated that it was currently more like a worst-case scenario model if none of us did anything to prevent the spread.

At the time she referenced it and I looked at it for the first time, the model was astounding. It was saying that we would have 5,515 deaths in Alabama, and need more than 32,000 hospital beds on the peak day, when we only have 5,743 available. Also, the ranges were bizarre. Can you really predict that we will need 32,422 hospital beds when your range of uncertainty is 2,262 – 78,614? And can you really say the worst day for deaths will be a count of 341 when your range is 8 – 847 deaths for that day?

Previous ModelThis is a screenshot from those predictions as they were last week. The horizontal lavender line is the number of hospital beds available to COVID patients in Alabama. The dashed lavender bell curve was their estimate of how many beds would be needed, and the shaded lavender are was their range of uncertainty.

This past Saturday, an article was published at al.com referencing this model, with a headline stating Alabama was projected to have the highest death rate in the nation, and contained other dire conclusions from the projections. It did state that these were possibilities and not certainties, but the article was terrifying, and was shared at least half a dozen times in my Facebook feed, alongside much anxiety and fear.

But also by Saturday, the model in question was even more incredible (and by that I mean completely not credible), as they hadn’t replaced their projected data with real data since April 1, which meant that you could see and compare the projections against actual facts now. And they were insanely off-base. A few of those comparisons:

For Saturday, April 4: Actual Hospitalizations in Alabama: 212. Projected hospitalizations in Alabama: between 4,503 – 12,255. Our actual hospitalizations were only 4% of their low range number, and 1.7% of their high range number.

For Saturday, April 4: Projected ventilators needed – 724 – 2,168. We don’t know how many people are actually on ventilators in Alabama, but as we only had 212 hospitalized on Saturday, it was clearly significantly less than their low-range number.

For Saturday, April 4: Actual total deaths (including ones not confirmed by ADPH): 45. Projected deaths: 112. “Only” overstated by 249%.

If the model is off by that gross of an overstatement, it can only be logical to conclude that the peak numbers were also grossly overstated, and therefore should not be used to project what Alabama is going to look like in two weeks when we hit peak virus load.

I was frustrated about an article getting published based on a study that had already proven itself to be extraordinarily overstated, and concerned that it would increase the load of anxiety on already overloaded people. On Sunday I discussed my findings with a couple of friends to make sure I wasn’t looking at the data wrong, and one of those friends, who is a former journalist, encouraged me to email the article’s author with my analysis, which is not something I would normally do. So I did, laying out my reasons for drawing the conclusion that the model couldn’t be trusted.

Within an hour, he replied graciously, thanking me for writing, agreeing that the model had serious issues, and stating that he was looking into writing a follow-up post.

Monday morning, the model and its crazy projections were updated. They replaced the projections with real numbers up through Sunday, and as expected, changing those data points changed the entire skew of the graph, and therefore the entire picture for the state.

For Alabama, they dropped their hospitalization projections by 93%, (that’s right – they now project only needing 7% of the beds that they projected last week(!!), and therefore projecting that we will get nowhere near our number of maximum beds), they dropped their ventilator projections by 93%, and their death projections by 87%. Instead of 5,515 projected total deaths in Alabama (with a range of 849 – 9,624), they now predict a total number of deaths to be 923 – with a range of 378 – 1,996 – so even their max number is now less than half of their previous projection.

Current Model

This is a screenshot from the updated model. Notice the number of hospital beds available (horizontal lavender line), which of course did not change, is well above their estimate of how many would be needed. 

Part of the reason this changed is because they took into account everything that WE are doing for social distancing. This is good news. Part of it is that projections are just projections. They are not solid truth.

I downloaded the new raw data and compared it to their previous raw data that I grabbed last week, and they drastically dropped their numbers for many states (though there were a few they drastically raised them for), but Alabama was one of their top two most drastic decreases.

As he said he would, the author of the al.com article wrote a follow-up article Monday morning based on the new numbers, and put a disclaimer and link at the top of his prior article (as well as some updates he made to the prior article.) But his new article has not and will not be shared nearly as many times as the original, since it isn’t shocking news.

So I wrote this post to say this:

  • Conversations are worthwhile. I was surprised and happy that this journalist took the time to read my email, consider it, and email me back. And even more happy that he wrote a follow-up article repainting the situation of our state.
  • If there’s an article with good news, share it! His first post, the dire one, has 40,200 shares. His second, the good news post, has 1,900 shares. Let’s reward our journalists by sharing their good news and not just terrifying news.
  • Click through on any data points mentioned by any article. Raw data can be very enlightening.
  • Don’t allow projections to control your emotions or outlook. If a projection can drop by 93% in four days, it probably doesn’t mean much.
  • But don’t feel bad if you’ve been scared out of your wits by a projection – I certainly had a mini panic attack a few weeks ago after reading the Imperial College of London’s projections – projections that also got questioned and downgraded.
  • This is not to say that Coronavirus isn’t serious – it absolutely is. I am completely on board with all of the social distancing we are doing – my car’s tank of gas is currently 20 days old and counting. However, I believe that allowing panic, anxiety, and horror to consume us is also not healthy. We can do everything we need to do to minimize this virus’ impact AND have some peace of mind. We don’t know what this virus will do. No one does, really. But we can do our part, so many of us are doing our part, and it is helping tremendously.
  • Be encouraged – there are new tests, new discoveries, and medications being frantically tested and found to help.
  • And again, share encouraging news. Overwhelm the scary news. We all need encouragement and light right now. Let’s share it.

My favorite data analysis tools:

For raw data:

Alabama:

Good news – what we’re doing is working:

April 10 Update: Since I wrote this, there have been three more updates to the model referenced, and all of them have consistently decreased the projections of hospitalizations and deaths in Alabama. What was a projection on April 1 of 32,422 beds needed at peak has now decreased to 829. That is merely 2.5% of the former projection. The total death count for Alabama was projected at 5,515 last week, but today the projection is down to 431, a 92% decrease. Although I still don’t put stock in the projections themselves, their dramatic and consistent decreases are good news. This virus is absolutely a catastrophe for those affected by it, but the number of people affected has been drastically diminished. Social distancing is working. And the worst case scenario is not going to occur in Alabama.

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The 55 Stages of COVID Grief.

1. When you first hear of other countries’ lockdowns.

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2. Reading the new rules that apply to you. Every day.

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3. What you think of the rules when you first hear them.

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4. Arguing with the new rules.

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5. Realizing the rules are happening with or without you.

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6. When you find out you’re non-essential.

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7. When you realize you’re actually essential.

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8. Resolution that this is us.

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9. Determination.

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10. Doing what needs to be done.

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11. Denial.

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12. Every day, every news story.

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13. Surely there’s something we can do to fix it.

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14. Worst case scenarioing to make yourself feel better.

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15. Remembering relaxation is actually what you always wanted.

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16. Attempting to enjoy the relaxation.

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17. Reading too many articles.

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18. Trying to sort out what’s true.

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19. Thinking you had it all sorted out.

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20. Realizing you definitely didn’t.

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21. Having a news hangover.

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22. Realizing that every day has 24 hours that you will spend in your house.

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23. Accepting it.

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24. Realizing you will see no one but your spouse for the next 13 months.

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25. Renewing your physical touch consent agreement with your spouse.

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26. Accidentally seeing news.

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27. Perfecting laziness.

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28. Regretting laziness.

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29. Finding yourself talking to the inanimate objects in your house, and giving them new personalities.

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30. Realizing you have to go to the grocery store.

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31. Wondering if you can ask your doctor for a three-month coma.

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32. On your 153rd text to your best friend before 10am on Monday.

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33. Remembering what it was like to go to a restaurant.

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34. Telling yourself it will get better.

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35. Losing all sense of time, space, purpose.

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36. Crafting the grief away.

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37. Trying to figure out what you miss the most.

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38. Describing your complex feelings to your family.

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39. Bargaining.

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40. Depression.

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41. Acceptance.

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42. Rebellion.
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43. Being informative on Facebook.

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44. Not actually replying to informative friends.

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45. Being Judgy McJudgerson on Facebook.

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46. Not actually replying to judgmental friends.

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47. Being whiny on Facebook.

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48. Not actually replying to whiny friends.

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49. When you forget for just a minute…then remember.

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50. When your former life no longer exists.

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51. When your spouse arrives home from work.

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52. Forgetting completely how to people.

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53. Your daily undoing.

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54. When this is all over, how we wish we could greet every stranger we see on the street.

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55. How we will actually greet people for the rest of our quirkaparanoid lives.

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A Social Distancing Fail of the Most Fascinating Variety.

Spring has sprung here in Birmingham. Flowers are blooming and trees are filled with pinks and whites and greens. It makes me wistful when we walk around our neighborhood, as seeing the trees around us makes me remember all the trees I can’t see right now at the Botanical Gardens, and Aldridge Gardens, and pretty much everywhere else.

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I mean, we only get like three weeks of Spring in Alabama and then BAM it’s 95 degrees. We don’t have Spring to Spare on Quarantine.

But here we are.

And we are determined to make the most of it.

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(Some more than others.)

(Noah, who normally begs me to take him out every single day to do fun things, is ironically absolutely THRIVING in Quarantine. He gleefully told Chris on our nightly walk, “I LOVE QUARANTINE!!!” then followed it up with “If we didn’t have quarantine, then Mo Willems wouldn’t have started his Lunch Doodles series. And if he hadn’t started Lunch Doodles, then I wouldn’t have become an author!!”)

(Because yes, Noah wrote and illustrated his first book Tuesday. And didn’t sleep Tuesday night because his mind was so abuzz with ideas for the sequel. He’s also built cities out of cardboard boxes, drawn endless pictures, read many books, and in general has proven himself as not an extrovert or an introvert, but clearly a quaranvert.)

(There are even “Coming Soon” posters tacked throughout our house.)

noah's book coming soon poster IMG_3868Anyway.

We’re making the best of it.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have moments of anxiety or frustration or NEEDING JUST A MOMENT TO ONE’S SELF. But I haven’t, as yet, resorted to THE SITUATION found yesterday by one of Ali’s friends, as she was walking through her backyard.

Her parents sent me a picture and I was so amazed that I had to go see it, and photograph it, for myself.

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****TRIGGER WARNING****

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****THERE WILL BE SNAKES****

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****BUT REALLY AWESOME SNAKES DOING AWESOME SNAKEY THINGS****

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****THAT WILL MAKE YOU THANKFUL FOR SOME SNAKES****

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****SO PUT ON YOUR BIG BOY UNDERWEAR (or big girl panties but I find men are more squeamish than women in general)****

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****AND LOOK AT THIS AMAZING NATURE OCCURRENCE. ****

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You ready now?

It was a King Snake and a Copperhead, not at all practicing social distancing.

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And furthermore, the King Snake was EATING THE COPPERHEAD.

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I have not once considered eating my children or any other humans, so I’m going to go ahead and consider that a win.

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But getting to photograph this amazing exchange of nature made my day, my week, my quarantine. And when I do feel the urge to eat someone, I’ll remember how happy these snakes made me (and my hostess.)

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And this is your reminder that King Snakes are better protection than your Golden Retriever. Thank your King Snakes, y’all.

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p.s. If you want to see how big the Copperhead started out, here was the picture my friend sent me as the King Snake started his meal:

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Tasty, no?

Homeschooling Tips for the Quarantined.

I’ve had some readers ask me to write a tips post on homeschooling for those of you who very suddenly found yourselves involuntarily in such a situation, thanks to COVID-19, who is apparently homeschooling’s hardest lobbyist. There are a ton of resources already floating around about that, though, so I’m not going to retread a lot of ground. However, I do have 10ish years worth of homeschooling posts peppered into my blog, but seeing as how I have 2,355 blog posts, I get how it might be hard to find the ones that are helpful RIGHT NOW. So first I’m going to start off with a couple quick notes, then I’m just going to give you a link index of some posts that you might find helpful.

Tips for RIGHT NOW:

  • Don’t panic about cramming in a bunch of education right now. It’s a weird time. We’re all distracted. Focus is nearly impossible. You can’t possibly be expected to accomplish a perfect school day. Relax. Enjoy the forced break. Do fun stuff. Be creative. Don’t worry about getting in every subject.
  • Use the resources being provided by wonderful people for this crisis. Our favorite is Mo Willem’s daily lunch doodles.
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    His voice is so lovely and soothing and his doodles are so fun. We have been looking forward to doodling with Mo every day. James Spann also did a live Science/Weather show today, and it is available to rewatch – it was excellent and I highly recommend it for when you need an hour for the kids to watch something educational while you get stuff done – and it totally counts for science for one day – maybe two.
    Feel free to list the resources you’ve found in the comments!
  • iPad education is awesome. Khan Academy is fantastic for Math and Grammar, and totally free. There are many games for math, spelling, reading, grammar, and more. Kids learn exceptionally well via fun, so why not have some fun.

Links to old posts that might inspire you:
(Disclaimer: These posts are only if you NEED things to do. Do not feel pressure to do ANY of these things. I just told you to relax, remember??)

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215 Read Aloud Books

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  • Playing store is a fun and engaging way to teach math, commerce, bargaining, price gouging, toilet paper shortages and more.

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  • This is old, but here is my first and  second list of iPad educational apps. There are probably lots of better learning apps now, but it’s a start.
  • Here are a few fun ways I encouraged writing letters when my little ones didn’t like to do so, including making a secret code for them to solve, or teaching them how to use invisible ink (with white crayons and watercolor paint.)IMG_0297.jpg
  • Here’s another fun Geography project – tracing the map, then quizzing everyone on what states they’ve visited and making a legend. This would be a fun thing to do to keep in contact with family members right now too – get your kids to call their grandparents, ask them what states they’ve visited, and start a conversation about those trips.IMG_2515.jpg
  • Speaking of Geography, this is the post behind my most watched YouTube video of all time, and it’s not just because of all of my personal re-watches because I love hearing Baby Ali pronounce the states (okay maybe half the watches are mine.) But this is a great time to learn all the states – so why not?

(Okay I had to stop and watch it again. It almost made me want another baby.)

That should be enough to keep you busy EVEN THOUGH I started out this post telling you to CHILL OUT and relax. So you do you. And don’t feel any pressure. Let’s all take a deep breath in, and a deep breath out. Except not in the direction of another person.

(And feel free to ask any questions in the comments.)

 

Grasping for Objectivity in Probiotic Social Distancing.

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I’ve spent half the week trying to understand the coronavirus. All of the conflicting reports and graphs have just confused me and forced me to keep digging to find some objectivity in all the mess of opinions and prophecies and, of course, legit funny memes. After words left me boggled, I finally went to my most trusted friend, numbers. I googled some numbers for myself, connected the dots, and now am starting to grasp the whats, the whys, and the ifs. To understand both the “it’s not a big deal” and the “it’s a big deal” and the “why all of us playing our part matters.”

Disclaimer: I am no expert, I could be wrong, but I share my thoughts because it’s the chain of logic that finally helped me understand what was happening, and I thought it might help someone else as well. (Also I needed to unload my brain.)

First: Stay Calm. This isn’t the end of the world. Do Not Panic.

The population of Hubei, the province in China where all this started, where they didn’t even know they had a new disease for nearly two months (details: they are now saying Patient Zero contracted around mid-November, Chinese officials told WHO they had dozens of cases of unknown pneumonia on December 31, they identified it was a new virus on January 7, and didn’t quarantine the city until January 24)….the population is 58.5 MILLION.

Of that 58.5 million, 67,790 people have gotten the coronavirus as of today. That’s 0.1% of the population of the most caught off guard people group.

Once that 58.5 million started following strict social distancing guidelines, their rate of spread fell dramatically.

So in that way, these numbers make it seem like not a big deal. And it isn’t – as long as we don’t get it all at once. Note that they QUIT getting it AFTER they social distanced. Meaning that social distancing is the only way to slow/prevent the exponential growth the virus has if left to its own devices.

Second: Pay Attention. It is a big deal.

Italy is at the moment the example of the worst case scenario. The numbers are why.

Four Fridays ago: 21 cases of coronavirus.

Three Fridays ago: 1,128 cases – a multiplication of 53.7 times more cases.

Last Friday: 4,636 cases – a multiplication of 4.1 times more cases.

This Friday: 17,660 cases – a multiplication of 3.8 times more cases. Or, in three weeks, a multiplication of 841 times more cases.

This is a serious issue because their medical infrastructure cannot handle this, and their death rate is higher because they simply cannot treat everyone. The doctors are having to make horrific decisions of who gets treatment and who dies for lack of treatment.

The exponential power and especially speed of this virus is dangerous if left unchecked. Yes, it’s not dangerous to everyone, and it’s still a small percentage of the population, BUT when numbers are increasing at that rate of multipliers, it takes mere weeks to be a severely dangerous situation.

Third: Have Hope. We can be proactive and prevent the worst case.

If we socially distance now, before we know if we have it and how many people have it, we prevent the multiplier.

*** We are not sheltering in place out of fear, but out of prevention. ***

The best case scenario is that, in a couple months, all the people who said this virus is a political sham are laughing in our face and saying “See? I told you so.”

Fourth: Don’t Be Selfish. It’s not about you.

Yes, the virus can be very mild – so mild that you don’t know you have it. Yes, the death rate for younger people is drastically low.

But all lives are valuable. ALL lives. And if we, as “younger” people, can get it and not even know we have it, then we have the potential of spreading it to someone that is older or that has secondary health problems without even knowing we did it. That makes younger, healthy people not just a null value in this equation – it makes them a weapon.

If you cannot be motivated to practice social distancing for yourself, practice social distancing for your grandmother. For your elderly neighbor. For your friend with diabetes. For your uncle with heart disease. For my grandmother. For that stranger’s grandmother. Because every life has value.

If we preventatively limit our social interactions (not necessarily our leaving home – just minimizing our close proximity as many people as we practically can), then we prevent the exponential growth, and we prevent being a part of the cause of suffering of others.

So. Am I going to my friend’s 45th birthday dinner, consisting of a small group of friends? Yes. Am I going out to eat randomly just so I don’t have to cook? Probably not, but I might send Chris to the drive-thru. Am I going to keep running and hiking? Yes, because there aren’t large groups of people involved in that. Am I going to church, or sporting events, or to hang out at the mall or the movies? Nope. That can wait.

Those are my personal decisions, and certainly not black and white guidelines. Everyone needs to weigh their personal situations and make informed decisions.

Numbers both alleviated my fear and inspired me to do a large amount of social distancing to keep the numbers low. But it’s not out of fear. It’s more like eating yogurt. It’s a Probiotic.