Smile Politely

Dispatches from isolation: May 8th

This  column offers a glimpse into how people in C-U are working and spending their time during this stay-at-home order. You can read previous installments here. Have questions, or want to suggest a person for this series? Email us at

How are you spending your days in isolation?


7:30 a.m.

After hitting the snooze button a few too many times, my spouse and I rise and head downstairs to begin feeding and watering our motley crew of rescue cats. This process has become increasingly complex as our two 20-year-olds continue to face health challenges. Spouse is the designated chef de feline cuisine and prepares a combination of wet cat food, turkey baby food, and appetite/digestion-enhancing powder. I monitor consumption while he makes coffee and heads up to his office where he has been working remotely for the past five weeks or so. One advantage of our recent stay-at-homing is being able to spend more time with them. Orange tabby Maya reports to her birdwatching station (see top image) and I camp out in the living room to check e-mail and social media. 

9:30 a.m.

True confession time. Somewhere towards the bottom of the Twitter rabbit hole, I fell asleep. I haven’t been sleeping well these days, so naps have become a thing, and I’m trying not to beat myself up over it. My work and sleep schedules weren’t conventional or consistent before COVID-19, and recent waves of instability and anxiety haven’t helped. I grab more coffee and reposition myself in a purposefully hard chair at the kitchen table and work at bit more on a few projects (personal website and blog revamp, Smile Politely interviews to confirm) and decide that I need to get some air. 

A slice of banana bread on an orange plate and a green coffee mug are on a tiled outdoor table. Photo by Debra Domal.

Photo by Debra Domal

10:30 a.m.

Head to the backyard with a slice of banana bread and coffee. While I have yet to jump on the bread baking bandwagon, I have leaned in hard to homemade baked goods. After discovering the NYTimes banana bread recipe, I might as well throw all other recipes out. This particular loaf fell a bit, but still tastes so good thanks to the cinnamon and my personal addition of nutmeg.

A close up of an garden. Green chives with bulbs on the tips are pictured. Photo by Debra Domal.

Photo by Debra Domal 

It feels colder and windier than I had expected so I nix the idea of working outside and enjoy my treats along with some much needed Vitamin D. Before heading in I check out my herb beds. The chives are growing like crazy and for some reason the cilantro seems to be coming back, as is the lemon thyme. Guess I won’t need to order those. We typically wait till after Mother’s Day to plant and, after hearing about a possible freeze warning, we’ll be sticking to it again this year. 

11 a.m.

Head upstairs to bring spouse a slice of said bread. He’s tired. It’s been a long week. While working at home has its up sides, he’s an inherently social creature and misses his co-workers. His current officemate is not really offering much on the motivation front so I’m hoping this treat will help. 

An orange and white cat is in repose on a gray cat bed. Photo by Debra Domal.

Photo by Debra Domal

And in case you were wondering, I knitted that baby blue blanket. It uses the seed stitch. Knitting is a huge stress reliever for me. Cat blankets are the perfect project because there isn’t too much counting or pattern-following involved. It’s just pure zen, mistakes and all. I’m making quite a dent in the stash of yarn I’ve been collecting.

A light wood colored crafting table is in front of a window with curtains. The walls are bright blue. On the desk is a tracing light box, two drawings of a microphone, and some books. Photo by Debra Domal.

Photo by Debra Domal

11:15 a.m.

The cold air energized me and I’m ready to dig into a new project. Pre-shutdown, my Fridays were split between SP writing/editing in the morning. and working at Art Coop until close. This was a good balance for me. Quiet creative time, balanced by hours spent working closely with people and getting inspired by the things they were making. I miss the store and all of its thoughtfully chosen wares. I miss the regular customers. And, I miss my co-workers.

As we began to hear rumblings of the impending shutdown, I started buying books and supplies to help fill the inevitable downtime. So today I find myself shopping in my own closet for inspiration. I’ve been working mostly with pencil, and focusing on shading. Shading requires time, patience and an easy hand. Practicing these skills now seems more important than ever. 

1:30 p.m.

Meet spouse in the kitchen for lunch. We mix up something with leftovers from yesterday’s homemade fajitas. Something I’d never attempted before. There’s been a lot of that lately. Maybe I’m just trying to win small battles in a time when so much is out of my control. He clicks on the news and I watch for a few minutes until I just can’t anymore.

Folded and bundled newspaper are pictured in the trunk of a car. Photo by Debra Domal.

Photo by Debra Domal

3:30 p.m.

One of my recent coping skills has been decluttering. I’m an inherent homebody and I have worked at home for a while now. But so much inside time has left me wanting to exert control where I can. Whether to change the energy, or to “make use of this time” (whatever that means), I’ve been boxing and bagging up like crazy, even when there is nowhere to take those boxes and bags yet. 

During a recent Hulu marathon, I correctly folded and tied up the newspapers in the garage. I called the Champaign County Humane Society to see if they were still currently accepting newspaper donations, and they were. So I packed the trunk, donned my mask, and drove over. The trip over, which is short and extremely familiar, seemed eerie, and the sight of so many empty streets made me miss my turn. I arrived and headed straight to the wrong entrance. A kind volunteer, donning both a mask and gloves, thanked me and said not to worry. He mentioned that they really need newspaper. So if you have any, start folding and bring it over. It’s a small thing that will make a big difference. 

A yellow yoga mat is on a mid-toned wood floor. On the mat are various yoga tools, including blocks and pillows. Photo by Debra Domal.

Photo by Debra Domal

4 p.m.

Arrive home feeling more anxious than I had expected. My spouse has been our designated shutdown shopper. He’s been getting more stir crazy than I have. Being out in this new world brings up a lot of feelings. I changed clothes and decided to do something I haven’t in a long time. I grabbed my mat and headed down to the new yoga space in our basement. I haven’t taught a yoga class since mid-March. And TBH, I haven’t spent much time on the mat since. Maybe I was afraid it would be too much of a reminder of what I missed: The joy of leading others in a practice; the sense of community and purpose. But today, I needed to find a way to deal with my monkey mind. I set up for a gentle/restorative practice, the kind I so enjoy offering my students. Now it was time to give that to myself, to get back into my practice and into my body. There was stiffness. And sadness. But there was also relief and even some peace. 

On a kitchen counter is a stand mixer, a cutting board with a head of cauliflower, and a container of pesto. The wall in the background is bright blue. Photo by Debra Domal.

Photo by Debra Domal

5 p.m

I clean up and start to prepare dinner. We are not typically gluten-free, but I had been curious about cauliflower gnocchi and decided to give it a shot. I’ve been making a ton of pesto with evolving varieties of greens. We both crave it. It’s become our comfort food. Hopefully the cauliflower substitution will offset the homemade chewy chocolate chip cookies I made. I’ve learned to only bake off three at a time to ensure some semblance of portion control. 

Three large chocolate chip cookies are on a baking sheet lined with a Silpat liner. Photo by Debra Domal.

Photo by Debra Domal

7 p.m.

After dinner I have a glass of wine and sit down at a puzzle that our cats seem to be taking pieces from. We watch some DVR’d episodes of The Daily Social Distancing Show with Trevor Noah and then move onto the Parks and Rec Reunion Special. We both tear up as the cast breaks into “Bye, Bye Little Sebastian.”  

Top image by Debra Domal

Arts Editor

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