Saturday, November 28, 2020

On My Book Shelf: November

One of the longest-lasting effects of the COVID has been exhaustion. I've found myself able to do basic daily tasks (work, hygiene, pets, light housework/cooking), but I'm pretty tired by the afternoon, to the point that walking around seems daunting. It can be very frustrating since I want to use my whole day. Even then, there are days that I can barely drag myself from my bed to the computer to teach online. COVID has been a roller coaster of effects, one that I'd like to finish at any time.

Reading requires little movement, and if I fall asleep with a book in my hand...I wake up with two cats and a dog snuggled on top of me. Reading has certainly been the perfect recuperating activity because I feel like I'm doing something. And since my pile of unread books has dwindled in the past few months, I had to buy more! If you have any suggestions, I'm totally open to them. There are never too many books on the shelf...

by Paula Byne

A lovely read, one that I actually selected because I'm in the middle of writing some Jane Austen fanfiction. I like how the author teases out Austen's writing elements and connects them to her daily life. Everything from crosses, shawls, lace, and miniature paintings are examined, and it's actually quite a thick book. By giving such context, it helps me to find more meaning in my own writing. If you've not read this and you are a Jane Austen fan, I definitely think you should!

by Catalina de Erauso 
Translation/Forewords by Michele and Gabriel Septo, Marjorie Garber

This story has everything. Catalina de Erauso, a 16th-century nun, decided that she was done with life in the convent. She chopped up her habit to make pants and a shirt, cut her hair, and lived the rest of her life as a man. This book is a translation of her adventures in The New World, with the foreword explaining the time period. Since I'm not as familiar with 16-17th century life, it was all new to me!

There is a problem with reading a translation of a book from Spanish to English; the English language does not encompass gender in the same way. There were many times that Catalina changed how she gendered herself, which feels more fluid in Spanish. I may go back and read the untranslated version to better understand that context. Regardless, Catalina stabs a lot of people and leads an exciting life.

by Esmeralda Santiago

I've recently enjoyed diving into books that explore the Latinx experience. While I am not Puerto Rican, I enjoy learning about the vast experiences of others. Being Latinx is not a monolith; each life is just a snapshot, all valid and worth study. In this book, I love the way Esmeralda dives into the details of each moment, from the juiciness of fruit in her yard to the dirt on the playground after she fights other children. Many things she has seen are 

by Dan Wickline, Phillip Sevy

Let me start by saying that the art in this book was beautiful. I have an image here from the inside, one that's just too pretty not to include. The storyline is Scifi/a touch of horror, with the main character developing a special power. I'm not a fan of traditional superhero books, so imagine my surprise when I fall in love with this series. There are a few graphic panels, but it does not take away from the plot (just a warning if you're buying for someone). I have the next one in the series ordered and on its way!

written by Kyle Starks, illustrated by Gabo

This book was super fun to read. Another graphic novel was added to my collection! And as I was researching, I discovered that the writer also does Rick and Morty, an animated series I enjoy! A dog that fights zombies is always going to be a bestseller. I'm patiently waiting for the next book in the series...and possibly training my beagle to hunt the undead. We'll see if that particular skill comes in handy one day!


Friday, November 27, 2020

Friday, November 20, 2020

Dishing Out Grief and Lentils

This will probably not come as a surprise to any of my readers, but part of the reason I've been reading so much lately is that I joined a book club this fall. It forces me to read books outside of my normal list, as well as gives me a due date. Before the pandemic, this group met at the bar and everyone discussed the merits of such literature over cocktails. Unfortunately (actually fortunately in this case!), we are confined to the online space. 

Tembi Locke's From Scratch was wonderful in so many ways. She discussed her time abroad studying art history as a black woman in Europe, her romance and eventual marriage to Saro, the adoption of their daughter, and his cancer. We start in the middle of the story when she is fully gripped by mourning, suffering in grief after he died. She makes trips to Italy to feel closer to him and show their daughter the world of her father. It is beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. But there was one thing in particular that drew me to this book...

The food! Always food. Every chapter is filled with dishes that wrap around the story like a hug. While I appreciated every word, it was the recipes at the back that caught my interest, especially dilanti con lenticchie, which is pasta with lentils. She comments that it was the first dish her mother in law made for her when she visited, and her husband Saro revealed that lentils in Italy "Are fortune, and they are fate."

Yet it was Tembi's words that struck me as most profound: "But they are also a mourning food. Lentils bring the full human experience to the table. Lenticchie were the food this family turned to for comfort and sustenance when life gave you something irreparable."

When I read that about this dish, I knew I had to make it. I'm still feeling the effects of COVID, so the more strenuous tasks knock me out early. I bought all the food two days before, chopped everything throughout the day, and put a chair in the kitchen to sit down when I became tired. It was necessary labor for me, my first meal I've cooked in over a month.

I am in mourning now, mourning the loss of hundreds of thousands of Americans, many of them elderly, poor, and black or brown. I am mourning the loss of every event, every plan I made for 2020. And finally, I am mourning the part of myself that changed when I tested positive for COVID, the fear when my health declined suddenly, and every day that I feel my body is not my own. I hope that I am not irreparable, but that remains to be seen by time.

And while the mourning continues, I loved the food. I topped it off with pecorino and a side of freshly made bread from the bakery nearby. There was wine and gelato later, once I made room in my stomach. To be honest, I couldn't smell it, and my taste buds found it bland, but my fiance said it was delicious and I think I'll take his word for it!

I'm not sure if I learned a specific lesson from this book, or if it was just what I needed at this exact moment. In any case, the food did offer comfort. There's quite a bit leftover too, so I don't have to cook again for a few days. There are little victories here, one day at a time. 


Sunday, November 15, 2020

Update on my COVID Recovery

 With the historic election now over (yay!), I finally have a moment to breath and write. I will eventually write a post about my thoughts, (which are totally happy right now) but for now I will give an update about my health. Many of my family and friends are curious to see how I'm doing. Since my last post I realized that not many people have been sharing an in-depth look at how they responded to the illness, something that is sorely needed, as cases here in Michigan have skyrocketed past 6,000 this week. 

It has been a roller coaster here. I returned to work after 15 days of illness with the lingering, long term symptoms that I have worried about since the beginning. This was no flu bug; I'm fighting through a few different things that are still ongoing and impacting my life. Going on week four here, let me tell you about it...

Lingering Effects of COVID

1. Taste and Smell Still Affected

Both senses were completely wiped out when I was very sick. I didn't smell burning toast, couldn't taste a single thing. I was miserable, probably because those two senses are an amazing connection to the world. Now I'm able to taste REALLY strong tastes. My diet currently consists of pickles, roasted garlic, and swiss cheese. I can get a very light, almost nonexistent taste of tangy and bitter. My sense of smell is doing a little better, as I can now detect really strong scents if I am close. I have no idea how much longer this will last. Luckily social distancing is still in place, because I probably reek of these foods...

2. Exhaustion Most of the Time

As I write this post, I am very, very tired. It is hard to find a time when I'm not ready to take a nap. There's never a moment when I couldn't lean over and fall asleep. I've gotten better at sleeping while sitting up, as if that's a possibility! Without energy I find I can barely do the everyday things that keep my life normal, like laundry, dishes, and feeding the pets. Beyond that I'm nearly useless (besides this writing, which I force myself to do!). I'm typically an "endless energy" sort of person, so the lack of productivity is causing some anxiety symptoms. Please see #6 when I talk about how this has emotionally affected me!

3. COVID Brain/Cognitive Effects

I've heard people call it "Covid Brain," which is a weird way to say that there are cognitive changes, and not for the better. I'm having trouble following complex conversations, and often lose my train of thought. My spelling is atrocious; my fingers don't seem to connect properly with the keyboard. Luckily, in the world of autocorrect and digital saving, this will not be obvious. I am very, very upset about this and I hope this is one of the first things to go back to normal! Sometimes I just feel so out of it, like I haven't slept in a month. 

4. Gastro Issues

It's weird to share information about my bowel movements with my adoring fans (ha), but here it is. At first the diarrhea was constant; it does not occur as often, but I still find myself with stomach pains sometimes. It is not linked to specific foods as it will change from day to day despite my diet. Perhaps my least favorite moment COVID was needing to hold onto something in the bathroom as I couldn't leave, but also HEY! I almost passed out. Good times.

5. Pain in Chest

Here's the weird thing; technically the pain is in my chest, but more specifically in my lungs. If I breath too deep, laugh, or overexert myself, there is pain. Sometimes it is dull, like when I take a deep breath. Movement can be difficult, especially while taking the stairs. Did you know that my life requires a ton of movement, between working in several school buildings, having pets, and just generally needing to use the bathroom? (See #4). 

I feel sharp pains around my lungs too. I'm told this is a sign of lung damage. Just GREAT.

6. Low Blood Oxygen at Times

I'm told this is also another side effect. We have a pulse oximeter at home, which measures the level of oxygen in your blood. On a normal day, my level is 97-98%, even with exercise and trying to hold my breath. Since I had COVID, it is lower, averaging 95-96% on average. While there could be some fault with the pulse ox, I do notice that I feel dizzy or out of it when it goes lower. It happens at random, seated or standing, with activity or not. It make me nervous about everyday activities like teaching or driving. While it has not fallen lower in the past week (not as scary low as when we almost went to the hospital), I'm anxious about always being at risk.

7. The Emotional Toll

This is not often discussed in relation to COVID, but I need to make a note of this. The first few days of my illness were bad, but bearable. The psychological toll of possibly infecting a large swath of people was terrible. I waited every day for some news, rejoicing every time a test result from my coworkers came back negative. COVID crept into my body and used me as a weapon, and I envisioned them feeling as terrible as I did, or worse. The thought that I could infect and kill my fiance passed my mind as well. That put me in a really difficult place. We distanced as best we could at home, adding to my isolation as we had to stay apart. 

The day I discovered that I didn't infect anyone (as far as we know), I was beyond happy. I actually cried after hearing the last coworker was negative. Perhaps I stayed far enough away on the right days? Maybe I didn't have a high dose of the virus? A host of guardian angels intervened? I didn't care just so long as they were all safe from me.

On top of feeling like I might be an unsuspecting murderer, the effects of a long illness have taken their toll. I am frustrated that I can't climb stairs or walk quickly, can't walk my dog or go to the grocery store normally. My crafting, one of the amazing things in my life, has certainly fallen behind. My house needs a deep cleaning, one that neither my fiance nor I can really do right now, as he is picking up my slack. It took a whole bunch of people (My fiance, his parents, my family) just to get us fed and okay for the weeks we were quarantined. Me, silly me, disrupted an entire system of people. I think I would feel guilt if I wasn't just so tired.

In Conclusion

My school district FINALLY decided to go out of the hybrid model and go remote, as there were thousands of new cases each day in the state of Michigan. About 500 people in my school district were sick or quarantined, many of them I know personally. Some have needed to go to the hospital too.

I am still recovering. I was told by a nurse hired by the Oakland County Health Department that I needed to report to school teaching 10 DAYS AFTER MY SYMPTOMS STARTED. She commented about how she knew medical staff who had COVID and still had to work. I wanted to say that if I were paid like a doctor, maybe I'd consider that. Instead, I wondered how many other teachers and staff were talked into going back to school before their symptoms had fully resolved.

They also did not identify my case as one transmitted within the school district. Considering that I was in a building with hundreds of students, and many quarantined/sick people, it seems that it is the likely place of a transmission. Since they could not track the exact person I came in contact with who gave me COVID, they decided I must have contracted the virus during my 30-minute grocery run (there was no indication of an outbreak at that location). Not having the truth about your illness out publicly is painful.

If I could go back, I would not have continued to teach. Yes, while sick with COVID, I taught on camera, held conferences virtually, and did my best to keep up. I did it for my kids, to show them that I would be here for them even if I was sick. They were also very worried; I received emails from former students too who said they would be praying for me. When I walked into my buildings after 15 days I still wasn't quite ready, but I knew it wouldn't be long since the cases were rising again. My building was only open for 4 weeks in total. I nearly passed out once, and was completely exhausted for the one week that I did teach in person. 

ALSO, and this deserves a completely separate post, black and brown communities continue to be disproportionately affected by this virus, and I have yet to hear official information about this from most school districts. It is worth noting that I am the only Latina woman that I know of in the district, and I was one of the first to get sick. We need to do better to help these communities in any way possible.

This week we had a day in Michigan with 8,516 new cases and 118 deaths due to COVID. Hospitals are so full they're leaving people in lobbies and storage closets. I am disgusted by the disregard for human life by many, many people who make decisions right now.


On My Bookshelf: December

December has been a really rough month. Between what happened in Oxford (not far from where I live...) and just the general pandemic issues,...