Rice and beans, day 185

 This is the week I discovered my 2020 breaking point: air. Breathable air.

Wear a mask every time I set foot outside my apartment? Fine. Avoid public transportation and confine myself to places I can walk to in an hour or so? Fine. Keep shopping trips to a minimum? Fine. Read only ebooks because the library is closed?* Fine. Give up museums, and theaters, and restaurants? Fine.

Stay inside with the windows completely closed because the air is trying to kill you? 2020 is the worst year ever. 

It all started with an unusual lightening storm on a Sunday morning about a month ago. I sat on the balcony with my first cup of coffee and watched the storm. I was struck by the lack of rain--only a bit of light drizzle--but I didn't think of the danger inherent in lightening with no rain in a state with a Mediterranean climate that had a completely dry February. Not until a couple of days later, when I first heard about the fires. Hundreds of them.

The air quality has been dicey ever since, but the last two weeks have been especially bad, as the winds have failed us. Good for fire containment, bad for air quality. 

On Wednesday, we didn't really get day at all. Here is what our sky looked like at 9 AM.

[A photo of San Francisco, looking south-east, with a rust-colored sky.]

It got much darker during the day. At 10 in the morning, it felt like 10 at night, or later, and at its lightest, it felt like twilight. During meetings, my eyes kept straying out the window, and when I wasn't on a call, I bounced from Slack to the sky to email to the sky to Box to the sky. 

The Apocalypse lasted only a day, although we've barely seen the sun since Tuesday. Ironically, the air quality was worse in the days following than it was when the sky looked its eeriest. I can't remember the last time I've left the apartment, and even with our air filter running, on the worst days I can taste ash. 

This might be psychosomatic, as I'm susceptible to suggestion, but it's still unnerving.

So in this context, at bit disappointed in myself for not handling this better, here is what I am thankful for right now.

1. Work. It's a rock of normalcy in a crazy world, and I have amazing coworkers as companions on the journey. 

2. Youngest Kid's high school. We found out in August that Youngest Kid got into a small charter school, and because our chances of getting into our preferred public school seemed slim at that point (98 kids in the wait pool), we decided to make the leap. We felt the charter school was better prepared for distance learning for now, and hybrid learning for when that time comes. So far, we've been pleased.

3. Microsoft Jigsaw. I like to do puzzles, but I'm a bit bored with the ones we have. I have resisted digital puzzles because in general, I have enough electronic time, but I caved with the extra time inside, and I'm enjoying it so far. I'm a bit worried about repetitive stress on my right hand, so I need to place limits once the air returns to normal.

4. Everwood. This is my current binge-watch. The small town feel reminds me of Vermont, and I enjoy spending time in a world without a pandemic. 

5. Virtual church. I know I've mentioned this one before, but I continue to be grateful for opportunities to attend services and connect in smaller groups. Generally, it takes 2-3 years to settle into a new place, and I'm grateful that even though the pandemic came halfway through that period for us, relationships are deepening in spite of not being able to gather in person.

6. Purple Air. My manager introduced me to this site, and we've been checking it constantly this past month to see how bad the air is. Under 50, and we have total freedom. Between 50 and 100, we run errands but avoid longer walks. Over 100, I stay inside. Although Writer Man did make a run to the CVS for milk and eggs the other day. 

7. Tight-sealing windows and doors. This apartment has many windows, but surprisingly little smoke gets into the apartment as long as we keep them sealed. 

8. Our air filter. A coworker had recommended this to me in November of 2018, when I was working from Vermont while winterizing our empty house and Writer Man sent me pictures of him and Youngest Kid wearing N95 masks inside our previous apartment. But the situation then seemed unusual, so we held off buying a filter. This time around, I placed the Amazon order shortly after we learned of the wildfires, and it's been very helpful in keeping our inside air clean. On the days with the worst air quality, I wish we had two, but most days it works well to rotate it throughout the house.

9. My second monitor. I worked without it from March until July, when I was finally allowed back into my office for 15 minutes to grab a few things. (RIP succulent but hurrah for pests not finding my snack cache.) The thing dominates the end of the dining room table, and I typically put it away on Friday night so we get a break from its hulking presence over the weekend, but it is so nice to have it back during my workdays.  

[A photo of the length of a dining room table, with a laptop and a huge Apple monitor on the far end.]

10. Humor. A local TV station shared this image on its social media feeds, and it made me laugh while also giving coworkers and I a way to more clearly communicate what we saw at various points on Wednesday.  

[A drawing labeled WHAT DOES  YOUR CORNER OF THE BAY AREA LOOK LIKE? that has six squares labeled like paint chips: Apocalypse Amber, Uh-Oh Umber, Tragic Ecru, Cataclysmic Brown, Forlorn Rust, and Modern Dark Age. It is signed "Fiore for KQED.org."]

* The SF public library system began rolling out outdoor pick-up service on August 1, and on September 1 it was supposed to arrive at a branch near us (although not our closest branch). Unfortunately, the program is paused until the air improves enough for it to be safe to be outside, so I haven't had a chance to try it yet.


  1. Hi! Glad to see you here again; I always love reading your posts. I bought an air purifier back in May, but last month its red light came on (which, it turns out, is a bad sign), and I sent it back--under warranty--for repair/replacement. While I was told the turn-around time was 2-4 weeks, I really hope it comes soon. Our air quality isn't nearly as bad as yours, and I don't think it will get that bad, even with the current fire situation. Still, I'd like the air purifier back. Glad you have one to help you battle the smoky conditions.

  2. You are here! Yea! In our house I am thinking air filters would work best in rooms without vaulted ceilings. I may have to take a look at Everwood for future entertainment. I attended a couple of church Zoom meetings today. Your pretty dining table looks as long as our big table.
    Yuck for tasting ash! Even though the air quality is hazardous here, I haven't tasted ash, nor do I want to have that experience. Hoping this coming week is better for all of us.

  3. What a week! Glad you have your monitor and snacks. Gotta have coronasnax! Pretty, shiny table!


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