How I spent my COVID-19 vacation Margo Ashmore

Before the virus, I’d been officing from home for many years as the publisher of the Northeaster newspaper and coordinator of the Minneapolis & Saint Paul Home Tour. There are fewer distractions here. Tour planning was well underway, with about two-thirds of the basics well in hand, anticipating printing the promotional guide about March 25. By March 15 it was obvious the tour should be canceled. So I set that shutdown in motion. People understood and some expressed relief.

Meanwhile, the March 25 Northeaster was assembled, printed and delivered. Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, of which I am a board member, issued a “stay stafe” statement I helped draft. We partially triaged what our committees should be working on.

My newspaper staff, freelancers and the neighborhood look for my leadership, I’d better show some. Readers saw the result and can judge for themselves. I started running models of how long we can last, and watched or listened to a lot of major media, taking notes. I watched press conferences in their entirety.

Between that constant pounding of information and the misfiring noises my boiler was making, sleep was short and hyper-vigilant. The phrase from Big Bang Theory, “Sheldon Cooper’s descent into madness” came to mind.

On March 25, the boiler/water heater quit. March 26, my birthday, I celebrated making new decisions by warming water on the stove, washing my hair in the sink. It would be about a week until new mechanicals could be installed.

Space heaters snapping, the oven wafting wonderfully with the smell of my chicken and vegetables dinner for the next few days, I tried my routine of clearing the desk of small tasks, making lists, stopping to write emails and switching chairs whenever the cat demanded to lounge on the one that I’d warmed up for her.

I observed my usual ad sales emailing/calling routine for the April 8 edition.

Press associations and various vendors offered webinars on functioning during the crisis. Home improvement industry trade groups offered webinars and chats, gleaning information about unintended consequences that might inform future webinars or their lobbying for recovery packages.

“Can’t we all just agree that we’re all not going to be as effective?” one participant asked, during a discussion of managing daytime home schooling. “Have you been getting up at 4:00 in the morning to work, then be with the kids, and then work again into the night? That’s not sustainable for long.”

Daily, I got out briefly for trips to the office for necessary transactions like courtesy newspaper deliveries (and grocery) and the bank deposit. The weather was warm enough March 27, I changed the planter outside the office door over to the fake tulips. One night I socially-distanced “bumped” into a neighbor a couple blocks over. My walk revealed a street I hadn’t noticed before, with beautiful Victorian houses freshly painted in historic colors.

“Love in the time of cholera!” my best friend exclaimed. “I bolted up from a sound sleep with that in my head,” she crowed, connecting by phone as we often do, for more than an hour. She enjoys the crosswords I save from the Sunday papers. I eventually dropped a couple New York Times puzzles outside her door, with potatoes and lettuce to last until she could go to the discount produce store when it’s not so busy. She has many health concerns and had been through a week of undefined illness.

Saturday, March 28 I learned to host Zoom, introducing my 93-year-old father to the platform. Even though he and I are both highly unlikely to have COVID-19, my brother who lives in the same house still works every day in an essential factory, so I’m not going up there to rural Wisconsin. I then called a friend who would be Zoom-meeting with a client later that week, and we explored the platform even more.

Emails dropped off precipitously this past weekend, even from my inner circle. Perhaps we’re all cocooning, processing food into dinners for the week, reorganizing our junk drawers and setting aside household donations for when it’s safe again. The process of warming up the house after the heaters are off all night slowed my mental acuity and made me thirsty. But perhaps a new sane rhythm was starting to set in.

April 1, a new water heater with recirculating pump gave this house hot water within 20 seconds for the first time in at least 35 years. The same day, I got the good advice on switching from wireless to Ethernet for internet. Apparently the number of nearby wireless networks was confusing and slowing down my otherwise very fast service. When the last webinar of the day was done, I indulged in a shower, then watched the relentless crisis heavy evening news and went to bed early.

April 2, the new boiler came on line. Still hyper-vigilant, I arose at 3:30 a.m. April 3, determined to narrow down where the disconcerting “thuunnk” sound in my house was coming from… a radiator in the hallway warming up. Another demon explained if not vanquished. Strength comes from odd places, but I’ll take the small victories.