We came to Roanoke to work for a friend and escape the long, slow end of winter in Vermont. It’s our retirement plan. We know we are never going to really retire but if we can work and travel we’re okay with that. For now. Until we get really old. But maybe by then I’ll be selling more books.
We hit the road on March 7th, the day after my birthday. Co-workers were scheduled to cover for me at my part-time job at a gym near the Mount Snow Ski Resort. We have a great team of women my age who all work part-time in semi-retirement.
We got to Roanoke on March 9th. On the 11th I heard the news the gym and the pool shut down due to the coronavirus. As of April 20th I am still waiting for my 1st unemployment payment. I finally heard I’d been approved for benefits but when I went to the Vermont claimant portal to file my claim there was a message in very small type at the top of a long blank white page that said, “The service is unavailable.”
I’m also waiting for our $1200 stimulus payments. Every time I go to the government website Get My Payment I get this message: “We can’t determine your eligibility.”
In the meantime Rich’s debit card that is tied to our joint bank account has been hacked and we received a notice regarding two suspicious charges from Chipotle in Santa Monica, California totaling $110. Rich called the bank’s fraud hotline and the woman he spoke to was helpful and told him a new card would be sent within two to three days. This morning Fedex delivered the new card but when I checked our account I saw the charges were still deducted from our balance and I had an email with five more charges from Chipotle in Santa Monica. They totaled $300. Rich called our bank’s hotline again. The man who answered confirmed our case number, told us the money would be returned to our account in 1-2 ‘business’ days and the new charges that came after the claim would not be deducted from our account.
In the meantime we are well stocked with food and booze. It wasn’t this way at the beginning. When we arrived in Roanoke on March 8th there were no nationwide shutdowns. The original plan was to be in Virginia for two to three weeks depending on how long it would take to strip the wallpaper and paint the rooms. There had been talk of removing the wall to wall carpeting and putting down a hardwood floor in the living room which might add another week or two to our stay before we left for Florida.
Neither our friend nor we had any idea what we were about to walk into. The last time he was in Roanoke was two years ago. Since then an old friend was living here, rent free. When I sent him some photos he said the place looked like a superfund site.
At first we were overwhelmed. The tenant hadn’t made plans to leave although she’d known for quite some time we were coming. We spent the first night in a nearby hotel that was mostly empty except for the highway workers in the room next door who had set-up a grill and a cooler full of beers outside their door.
“Why did they have to put us next to each other?” Rich asked. They ended up being quiet and went to bed early. Rich watched TV and I read articles in the New York Times on how to stock your pantry for the pandemic, toilet paper hoarding, and possible stay at home restrictions.
We decided we were here and we could do this so we went back to the apartment and I started cleaning while Rich got to work. The owner had asked the tenant to get the master bedroom ready for us. That didn’t happen.
I found some clean sheets but washed them anyway. I threw away trash, picked up Q-tips that I found on the floors of every room and never got an answer as to why they were there. I vacuumed and dusted and sterilized as best I could. There were plenty of cleaning supplies – Clorox, Mr. Clean, Windex. Almost all full. Clearly they hadn’t been used for possibly two years now.
During the first week the bedroom was adequate. Since then Rich has painted the room sage green and I did a deeper cleaning and redecorated with what was available. It now looks like this:
But I still had the challenge of how to stockpile food when the kitchen was a disaster, the fridge was a mess, and I had no idea what I had to work with as the cupboards and pantry were in a state of chaos.
By the time we visited the grocery store the toilet paper aisle was empty and still is. My daughter Michelle in Missoula has sent toilet paper. Michelle is also out of work and making masks. She recently sent ours along with a couple more roles so a month later I’m still getting my T.P. from Montana.
Once I got the kitchen clean but not quite functioning I stocked up with Ready to Cook items like chicken cordon bleu stuffed with asparagus, marinated boneless pork chops, boxes of rice and pasta, fresh veggies, and cans of Progresso soup. I tried to keep things simple as I still hadn’t tackled the chaotic cupboards with the shelves that were covered with flour dust, rice, and other crumbs. They weren’t ready for stockpiling.
We did have two nice dinners together. I did the cooking and cleaning but was getting irritated with our roommate’s housekeeping instructions from the ratty old chair in the living room.
By Saturday we knew it might be dicey to go out to dinner but we were exhausted and there were no guidelines or restrictions yet so we went to a local Italian restaurant where a few days earlier we met a friend of our friend from Florida for lunch and discovered the restaurant had live Jazz on Saturdays so that night we sat at the bar, ordered a few rounds of drinks, had the most delicious mussels, listened to some good music, and met a friendly local who Rich hoped to play golf with. At this point we thought we would come here every Saturday night.
On Sunday we made coffee and english muffins with peanut butter that we ate in the bedroom where we stayed for the rest of the day, reading and napping with the door closed. We were exhausted. We didn’t want to engage in conversation. The next day, after a long week, our roommate left without a ‘thank you for cleaning my mess’ or a goodbye.
I was finally able to really start cleaning. I washed all the cupboards inside and out, rearranged things, took inventory, cleaned the fridge, threw away sticky cruddy old tupperware, old boxes of expired food, sticky slimy bottles of olive oil and vinegars.
The kitchen did have some nice things. I think our friend’s Mom liked to cook. I found a lot of interesting cookbooks in a box beneath a desk in the guest room. The only thing we were missing was a frying pan. We bought one at the grocery store and spent $150 dollars on food.
The covers are back on the sofa cushions and we’ve covered it all with a clean sheet. The ratty chair is in a corner right now. We need to find a place to dump it but Rich has made friends with some local contractors building a spec house in the neighborhood and they’ve said we can use their dumpster. We have been cooking some great meals here and sometimes we eat fireside. Rich has painted the living room walls gray.
We are trying to avoid frequent trips to the supermarket. We get creative with leftovers. Here’s some of what we’re cooking in the days of the pandemic:
In the meantime the kitchen is up next. Rich is stripping wallpaper, getting ready to paint. It looks like we’re back to Stage One but our married life together has been lived in houses that are fixer uppers. I can manage this.
So what are you cooking these days?