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COVID-19 downtime

When the pandemic arrived, lockdowns and stay-at-home orders created a whole new way of life for families coping with increased downtime and social isolation.

As people did their part to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing and sheltering in place, those who were lucky enough to escape the health or economic ravages of the disease still experienced boredom, anxiety, even depression.

People used technology to connect via their devices. Others found space for creativity, tackling new projects or completing those long forgotten. Some turned to the kitchen to explore their culinary sides. Still others used the time to learn something new or learn more about themselves.

It was all about finding silver linings.

We talked to several Rogue Valley residents who met the challenge of isolation in creative and productive ways. Going stir crazy was not an option.

John Stadelman of Ashland did some window-box gardening to fill his time. But his pandemic project has been organizing his mother’s lifelong collection of family photographs — some 3,000 of them — that had been stuffed into boxes, books, envelopes and folders.

“I’m scanning them all digitally and then organizing them by year,” he said. “The idea is eventually to cram them into one of those digital frames that cycle through the pics automatically.

“As you may guess, the pandemic will long be over before I have completed this Sisyphean task. Nonetheless, it keeps me off the streets.”

Clive Rosengren of Medford said he has never been accused of being a social butterfly, so staying at home has not been a great burden. He did miss going to the movies and stopping by Subway for a sandwich, however.

“When the restrictions were put in place, I was in the midst of my fifth Eddie Collins book,” he said. Rosengren, a former Hollywood actor, has written a series of novels about an out-of-work actor who becomes a detective.

“With all the time on one’s hands, one should be able to churn out the rest of the book in record time. But the sameness of every day produced some lethargy.”

He said the book is now with the publisher, and he is blessed with over 1,000 movies and shelves of books to pass the time.

Susan Sullivan of Ashland found good uses for her newfound time: gardening and getting to know her neighbors better.

“I’ve had plenty of time to give needed attention to my garden, and it’s never been better,” she said. “An added benefit is it’s a big stress reducer to be outside talking to my plants — and to the birds.”

One of the neighbors she got to know better shared basil, tomato and red pepper plants from her own garden. “She also gave me some great gardening tips and inspired me to take time to tend my garden almost daily,” she said.

This year Sullivan added more flowers and new varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers.

“The favorite thing I added are my fruit trees, which include apple, prune and fuyu persimmon.” She’s also watched some YouTube videos on how to prune her raspberries and blueberries. Both her parents were casual gardeners. “That may have been the seed planted for my current passion.”

Graham Lewis of Phoenix spent the first several weeks of the pandemic going through seven years of photos on CDs and DVDs, transferring most to external hard drives, processing many, and sending some to friends.

“This was a fun exercise,” he said, “looking back to 2010 when I got my first digital camera.”

Other activities have included lots of yard work, new shelves in the garage, discarding accumulated “stuff,” sleeping without an alarm, afternoon naps, and an average of 20 miles a day riding his bike. “I’ve memorized all the bumps on the Greenway between Medford and Ashland,” he said.

His silver lining? Losing weight, lowering his blood pressure, and getting to know more of the neighbors.

Martin Majkut of Talent said several good things happened during the pandemic that otherwise would not have.

The Rogue Valley Symphony music director started recording online tutorials on various aspects of a conductor’s study.

“I call these ‘What Goes Through the Conductor’s Head.’ I made four chapters and may resume the project at some point,” he said.

The pandemic also forced him to think outside the box in terms of how to deliver music to people during times when they can’t congregate.

“The RVS is preparing a series of streaming experiences for the fall,” he said. He said they found themselves moving away from the traditional concert format to develop something that works better online.

On the personal side, he was able to enjoy spring like he hadn’t since his teenage years.

“I cherished the opportunity to witness the gradual process of trees and plants coming back to life. Every little flower was an event. I noticed things in my neighborhood I normally only glanced over.”

He said being able to spend two full months at home with his fiancée, Chelsea, was also a wonderful gift.

Molly Tinsley of Ashland, who used to teach writing workshops through SOU’s continuing education program, was back at it during the pandemic, but in a different venue.

“While my husband, Ed, likes to bask in the fact that he continues to do his favorite thing, which is to train his horse, I got talked into teaching a crash course in creative writing via Zoom,” she said. “It’s been a real kick to coach writers again and watch their progress. I plan to run another cycle in September.”

Missing her own writing, she wrote a short story from the pandemic, but it hasn’t been easy. “It’s been a struggle in the middle of the compounding chaos to come up with an inspiration that doesn’t seem frivolous.”

Jane Hogan of Ashland was faced with more than the pandemic. On March 12, her 15-year-old son Luke, who has cerebral palsy, came down with a fever, then a sore throat and cough. It eventually was diagnosed as aspiration pneumonia. It took many weeks of 24/7 care for the symptoms to subside. Finally, in June, a chest x-ray revealed his lungs were back normal.

“Having my daughter return home from college after living independently brought its own set of challenges for us,” she said. “I was not able to work for a month and have not been able to return to my previous workload.”

She said one of the silver linings was watching OSF’s performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” online.

“We deeply miss OSF,” she said. “We were able to see many of Luke’s castmates from the production of ‘Hairspray’ performing in ‘Midsummer.’ That would have been impossible without the virus.”

Harley King of Ashland said that because he’s relatively high risk, he and wife Gretchen stay at home — except for occasional grocery runs — and worry about the country “falling into autocracy.”

“Since marching in the streets is not wise for us, we are doing what we can to support Democratic candidates,” he said. “We are donating about 10 times more than we ever have before. If we don’t turn this government around, emigration will look much more appealing.”

Neal Smith of Jacksonville has used downtime to take care of a long-procrastinated task: developing an estate plan.

“Jo and I have been talking about this for years and finally tackled the project,” he said. “Last week we signed the paperwork at our lawyer’s office.”

He said it feels great to know things are taken care of.

“And we won’t be leaving a mess behind if we both get run over by a speeding bus.”

Susan Alston, who lives in the countryside between Medford and Ashland, said the pandemic provided time to undertake a long-overdue home project.

“Doug and I have a small rustic studio apartment in the loft of our barn that badly needed a cleaning and redo,” she said.

Besides general clean-up and painting, they created something new for the apartment.

“What I’m most proud of is that we built a narrow, counter-height table with two stools to fit near the kitchenette. I mixed nine different shades of stain to match the wooden counter of the kitchenette. It looks great.”

They worked at a leisurely pace, so the project took quite some time.

“It kept us occupied and sane,” she said. “Now we are thinking of putting a new tile floor in a bathroom. I mean, really, how hard could it be?”

For many Rogue Valley residents, finding ways to utilize the down time during the pandemic was simply a matter of applying an old adage in the face of adversity: make lemonade out of lemons.

You can reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Susan Sullivan of Ashland has enjoyed the solace of tending her garden during the pandemic, adding new plants and spending more time outside. Jim Flint photo.
John Stadelman and his mom, Martha, both of Ashland, share a laugh over an old photo. Stadelman has been organizing his mother's lifelong collection for preservation in a digital photo frame. Jim Flint photo.