What to Do During a Shelter-in-Place Order (SIPO)

By Dr. Peaches Henry

After we finish working from home, are done with homeschooling each day, or have been sheltering in place, what do we do with ourselves and our families?  The SIPO has reminded me that humans are social creatures.  Friends have told me that they miss their colleagues at work.    Students are missing their classmates and teachers.  Families are wondering how they replace Boy Scouts, dance class, soccer, baseball, youth church, performance groups, debate team, History Fair, Science Fair, etc.  Adults no longer have book clubs, yoga class, gym workouts, volunteer groups, social clubs, church meetings, and more. We have gone from days and evenings filled with social activities to social distancing. 

During the SIPO, it is crucial that we remember this:  Social distancing should not mean social isolation.  Everyone should feel she belongs to someone.  It is up to each of us to make sure that we reach out and take care of each other.  I’ve been mulling over how we can take care of each other during this enforced down time and came up with some ideas.  These are not the only (or even the best) ideas.  They are merely my ideas for how to survive the SIPO with peace, patience, camaraderie, and love.


You know those airplane safety instructions that tell you to “put your own oxygen mask on before you help others?”  The same rule applies during the SIPO.  Take care of yourself first.  This is the time to pamper yourself.  You will be taking care of others, especially those of us who are in the sandwich generation, so you need to be healthy.  Sandwich generation?  That’s those folks who are simultaneously raising children and caring for parents.  Here we go.

  1. Write a blog.  That’s what this is.  According to my son, if you email it, it’s just an email.  For it to be a blog, you have to post it on a site.  That’s why I am posting it via ActLocallyWaco.
  2. Now is the time to get social media literate.  Join Facebook and send out friend requests and accept friend requests.  My 67-year-old aunt sent me a friend request last week.  I accepted with alacrity.  Twitter is a great place to put in your two-cents worth on all manner of issues, and now you have the time to do it.  Also, learn video conferencing platforms like Zoom.  Even if we can’t touch each other, we need to see each other.  Make-up isn’t necessary, but you might consider combing your hair before joining a meeting.
  3. When you go on a grocery run, grab a bunch of flowers to brighten up your house.  You’re going to be there a while.
  4. Do your own mani-pedi.  As much as I would like it to be so, a mani-pedi is not an essential function. For the foreseeable future, we are not heading to the salon or the barbershop.  If you are really brave, cut your own hair or have your partner do it.  Or you can let your hair grow uncut for as long as the SIPO lasts (men can let their beards grow too like superstitious baseball players do).  Come on; it’s a pandemic.  We’re already living dangerously.
  5. Take a bubble bath.  First, put the dog out and tell your children (and partner) they can only bother you if doing so involves fire or bleeding that won’t stop.  For bleeding, tell them to try a tourniquet before knocking on the bathroom door (remember to lock it).
  6. Organize your old photos (paper ones not virtual ones).  If you don’t have actual photos, download the FreePrints app and print photos from your phone.  They will arrive in your mailbox within a week.
  7. Stream a television series from your childhood.  Mission Impossible is still an incredible show—much more intelligent, intriguing, and suspenseful than the Tom Cruise film versions.  Gunsmoke, Law and Order, and The Simpsons tie for the longest running television series (20 years).  That’s a lot of binging time.
  8. Check in with friends and family to let them know how you are doing.  Call a friend and have a long talk.  Call an empty-nester (though the SIPO may have reversed his status).
  9. Make a summer playlist, because summer will come.  For that matter, make a Christmas playlist.  I made a Motown playlist.  It was like choosing between your children—Marvin Gaye or Smokey Robinson.
  10. Take advantage of the library’s pandemic curbside service.  I consider it an absolute luxury to order the books I want and then drive by the library to have them delivered to me curbside.  Add some chocolate cake, and I’m in heaven!
  11. Read a book and then watch the film adaptation of it.  If you enjoy historical fiction, Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about Thomas Cromwell is a nice long read.  In the words of an NPR reporter, the volumes are doorstops.  For a scholar of nineteenth-century literature, that’s a compliment.  PBS’s Masterpiece Theater has adapted the first and second books, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, into a series.  The third novel, The Mirror and the Light, is newly released.  I snagged a copy from the library before the SIPO (Thank you, NPR!); I’m rationing it to myself (you would be surprised how quickly 754 pages can go).  The best mystery I have read is Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver who based the novel on a 1952 murder case in which he was the defense attorney.  The book was a lucky find in a dusty Manhattan bookshop where the owner was surly, the books dusty and arranged in no particular order, and no one bothered you for hours.  The 1959 film version was directed by Otto Preminger and stars Jimmy Stewart.  Fun fact:  The actor who played the judge in the film, Joseph Nye Welch, was actually the lawyer who famously confronted Joseph McCarthy during one of the senator’s communist activities subcommittee meetings, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”  Another fun fact:  Duke Ellington composed the music for the film. Play with your pets, preferably a puppy.  They have an infinite capacity for joy.  It will rub off on you.
  12. Pack your emergency go-bag for a different type of disaster and place it near an exit.  A friend convinced me to pack mine.  It’s a surprisingly reassuring task to accomplish.
  13. Take the Census.  For each person (baby, child, teenager, young adult, adult, senior) who goes uncounted, McLennan County will lose thousands of dollars per person per year for the next 10 years!  The Census supports: voting access, income security, medicare/Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), & Headstart.  Go to 2020census.gov.  The deadline to take it has been extended.

Your Family

The SIPO has you sequestered at home with your family.  Now that you are homeschooling your children, you have new-found respect for teachers, right?  One friend of mine had to video her son practicing his music homework and then post it via an app.  She said that figuring out how to post that assignment nearly drove her to drink.  Even children who had flown the nest are back at home living in their childhood bedrooms.  And let’s not talk about what it’s like for both you and your partner to be working from home.  At the end of the day, all family members could just retreat to their corners and huddle with their phones.  However, we can use this moment to connect meaningfully with our families, deepen our relationships with our partners, redefine our relationships with our college-aged children (they are adults now), learn together, and just have a good time.

  1. Have at least one meal a day with the whole family.  Play the phone game during dinner (rules below).  While you are playing the phone game, talk to each other.  Set a topic for discussion.  Start with something interesting and fun:  What music are you listening to these days?  Rules:  All phones go in a basket in the center of the table within everybody’s reach.  Each person gets 5 dimes, nickels, or quarters (you decide what you want the stakes to be).  Throughout the meal, each time a person reaches for his phone, he must toss a coin in the basket.  Whoever has the most coins left at the end of dinner wins. This is a light-hearted way to keep the family away from phones during meals. 
  2. Put a jigsaw puzzle together as a family.  Remember those?  Don’t have any at home?  Drug Emporium has some delightful animal puzzles.  The Dollar Stores have a variety of puzzles.  Dash in and out quickly.
  3. Play a boardgame.  Now you have enough time to play a never-ending Monopoly game.  Zathura forces players to collaborate to win—great for squabbling siblings.  You only have to know your colors and numbers to play Uno.
  4. Use Zoom to get together with your family.  There are other video conferencing platforms; use the one that works for you.  My family had a Zoom birthday party for my nephew who was turning 30.  My son and I made cookies for him and mailed them to him.  The whole family attended a Zoom meeting to wish him well and watch him open his cards and presents.  He loved it and we were all “there” on his milestone birthday.
  5. Call extended family members to check on them.  Your great-aunt would love to hear from you.
  6. Have each family member write a letter to herself to be opened on New Year’s Day 2021.  Setting a later date will be hard for young ones to conceive.  Seal them and put them in a special canister.  Craft idea:  Decorate a shoe box or oatmeal canister to use to place the letters in.  There; I’ve included crafts.  Personal note:  crafts make me anxious.  Since this is the twenty-first century, each family member could create a video addressed to himself and save it to the Cloud for later viewing.
  7. Have each family member make a top-ten favorite movies list (one each for best sports film, drama, mystery, buddy cop movie, western, animal movie, animated/children’s movie, horror flick, science-fiction film, comedy).  Share the list with each other; a great conversation will ensue.
  8. Create a family book club.  As a family, read a book and then watch the film of the book.  Then discuss both.  The Call of the Wild comes to mind—short enough for everyone to get through, exciting enough to hold everyone’s attention, and easily understood by all.  This is a great book to read to young ones who can’t read yet.  You can get a free full-text copy of The Call of the Wild and other books at www.Gutenberg.org.
  9. Teach your teenager to caramelize onions.  Learning to do so will teach him patience and provide him with a skill to impress a date when he’s in his twenties.
  10. Organize your recipe box.  Identify family recipes and write an explanation about who gave you the recipe, when it is made, and why it’s a favorite.  In my family, I make bacon and cheese quick bread only for Christmas morning breakfast and dressing quiche the day after Thanksgiving.  Use the family recipes to plan a week of meals.  Get each family member to help prep the meals.  Chopping vegetables in the correct portions can teach fractions.  Why is a fourth of a cup smaller than a third of a cup?
  11. Make and send greeting cards for people who have lost loved ones.  People are dying from COVID-19 and other ailments.  All are unable to funeralize their loved ones with cherished rituals.  A note from someone acknowledging their loss can help ease their grief.

Your Community

We miss our friends, church members, work colleagues, yoga class, team members, club members, our children’s teachers, the daycare staff, the lady at the gas station, the department secretary, the custodians, and so many others.  Again, social distancing should not mean social isolation.  We can reach out to our community to let them know we are thinking of them.  We can also perform real acts of support for each other.

  1. Write an old-fashioned letter to friends, relatives, seniors and isolated individuals.  At first, they will be puzzled (what is this thing in my mailbox that’s not a bill?); then they will be delighted.  Don’t want to write a letter; send a postcard.  Not into snail mail.  Pay twenty bucks and send a digital JacquieDawson.com card.
  2. Make homemade greeting cards.  Use anything to make them—magazines, coloring book pages, canned good wrappings, pretty recipe cards.  Mail them to church members on the shut-in list, a local nursing home, or assisted living facility.
  3. Check on your neighbors.  If you are young, let elderly neighbors know that you will pick up items from the grocery or pharmacy for them.  Have a chat outside your house.  I chatted with a widow down the street from me; she stood in her yard, I stood on the street. 
  4. Take a walk in your neighborhood.  You will meet neighbors you never knew you had—at six feet apart.  Everyone will be out walking to alleviate cabin fever, and everyone will greet you with gusto and a smile.  They will be happy to see someone besides their family members.
  5. Write a thank-you note to essential workers (a grocery store stocker, clerk, pharmacist, nurse, doctor, respiratory therapist, prison guard).  Put them in a large envelop and mail them to a local hospital (identify them on the outside as thank-you notes).  Give one to the cashier when you check out at Walmart, HEB, or Aldi’s.
  6. Food pantries across the county are seeing much greater numbers of people needing help.  The next time you make a grocery run, pick up extra groceries and drop them off at a food pantry or center for the homeless.  Frequented needed items:  canned meat, canned fruit, bottled water, condiments, pasta, peanut butter, toilet paper, and toiletries (I collect miniature toiletries from hotels to donate.). 
  7. Much needed items at homeless shelters, domestic abuse centers, pantries, and charities are feminine hygiene products.  Many girls get feminine hygiene products from school nurses; with schools closed, there is a real need.  Compounding the problem is the fact that women and girls are embarrassed to ask for these products. 
  8. Since we are sheltering in place, it might be easier to make a monetary donation.  There are numerous places in Waco that you can donate to online:  Shepherd’s Heart, Carver Park Pantry, Caritas, the Salvation Army, Paulanne’s Pantry and many others. 
  9. Did I say TAKE THE CENSUS?  For each person (baby, child, teenager, young adult, adult, senior) who goes uncounted, McLennan County will lose thousands of dollars per person per year for the next 10 years!  The Census supports: voting access, income security, medicare/Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), & Headstart.  Go to 2020census.gov.  The deadline to take it has been extended.

Each day of the coronavirus pandemic confirms what poet John Donne wrote nearly 400 years ago: “No man is an island entire of itself / every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”  Let us remember Donne’s words and embrace this opportunity to care for one another.

Peaches Henry is an English professor at McLennan Community College.  She is currently teaching online and sheltering in place with her eight-month old black Labrador puppy and her son who has returned home from law school.

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1 Comment

  1. Sandra Massington on April 13, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    Dr. Henry

    Great advice on taking care of ourselves, our families and our community. Appreciated the advice on each of the subjects. Bubble baths and buying flowers for ourselves are so easy to do but I will be the first to admit that I cannot remember the last time that I did either one but I will put them both on my “to do list” and I promise myself that I will do it very soon. I have Zoomed for meetings and never thought about Zooming to stay in touch with friends and family. Zooming is simple and I will start encouraging my family to take 15 to 30 minutes per week out of our lives to keep in touch. When the pandemic is over our families may very well be closer than ever. And as far as the community goes we just have to look around the neighborhood and we will quickly see someways that we can give back.


    Sandra Massington

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