Cats, Casseroles, Coping: Mary Franitza, 4-26-2020

Sunday, April 26, 2020
Robin and Mary Franitza

Department of Education's Mary Franitza (r) with her sister Robin working on their dance moves

Education and Applied Psychology in a Time of COVID-19

Collaborative efforts to combat boredom or find new ways of passing time together has been a challenge in its own right. Last week it was an effort to make a stop-go LEGO animation video for my students, and this week was a hopeful attempt to train our cats to play games. Here’s a collection of attempts to not be bored in the Fritz family home (a three-part adventure).

Casseroles: They’re complicated
As an aspiring vegetarian who seldom eats meat living in a home with a fellow almost vegetarian and two meat eaters, a lot of the food we have communally made has a meat and nonmeat option. As things go in Wisconsin, the weather has been chilly, damp, and gray, so we have been reliant on the warm comfort foods. My sister and I decided to tag team Shepherd’s Pie. While this is a recipe I have made or eaten countless times, making it a collaborative effort was perhaps not our wisest move. We made two pans, one bean-based (if you’re going to try this at home, I advise against is because the texture of bean and mashed potato are so similar… try vegetarian crumble, lentils, or just do all veggies) and the other meat-based. My sister so kindly fried up the veggies and the meat/beans and I made the mashed potatoes. The key component on which we did not consult: garlic. Hear me out, I’m a big fan of garlic, used to think there was no such thing as “too much garlic” especially when you’re dealing with potatoes. But, to our vampire-preventing surprise, there was too much garlic. I managed to finish the last bits of it for lunch yesterday, but I think I my Midwestern pride was tarnished a bit on Monday….

Zoom, FaceTime, all the videos
The carpet in the room where I’m current spending this pandemic: white. The wine bottle I spilled all over whilst video chatting with a series of friends in one night: red, deep red. I’ve never so frantically scrubbed a floor at two in the morning, and I’ve been an overnight nanny and summer camp professional for most of my working years…. But the speed with which I darted to the cleaning cabinet whilst my family slept in our tight-quartered home where noise travel is abundant, is a marvel. Generally, the stain is gone, and I have yet to admit to the homeowners about the subtle pink hue that has been added to the floor—that’s a challenge for a non-pandemic moment.

Apart from the casualty of a subpar bottle of wine, the collaborative evenings of bopping between video chats have served their purpose to keep families and friends together. Someone fell victim to quarantine bang cutting, another seems to have developed a stress fracture from running too often, and some others are sewing more masks than they know where to take them. The luck of having friends straddling many time zones leaves me with a revolving door of social appointments, and it’s almost like my very own cocktail hour as I make the rounds.

Cat Training… Cat-tac-toe?
So, I downloaded Tik Tok. To be honest, it happened prior to the social shut down, but not by much. It has been a wonderful social platform to see how others are coping with COVID-19. One of the new things is training cats by stacking toilet paper to see how high they can jump, placing several objects to check their stealth, and putting treats down on a tic-tac-toe board for them to play with. Living in a house with two cats, I figured we could try it. Unfortunately, neither of the cats enjoy treats and the only food they look forward to is the small portion of wet food they get at dinner time. For the sake of the game, we froze bits of wet food and placed them on a game board.

Our cats get very excited when they smell dinner food, so we had to cover the board with a microwave food cover and attempt to get them to take turns. It did not work well, as they got really confused; perhaps the refereeing style was one that needs to be practiced. We ended up having them play against each other because you can’t give treats to one and not the other, but they soon gave up rather than trying to compete against one another. Here's the time-lapse video evidence. I think Dodger and Socrates are getting tired of having the whole family home; their sunshine naps are often interrupted by new enrichment practices I find for them. Alas, their next task will be toilet paper jumping; the family has started placing bets.

Just Dance
To note: the temperature of my town in Wisconsin has not surpassed 50 degrees in over two weeks and rain is everywhere always (welcome to spring, I suppose). Outdoor exercise is quite limited.

So, we don’t own a Wii—my sister Robin only *just*acquired a PS4—so we’ve taken to YouTube for inventive workouts and activities. As of late, that has been taking prerecorded screen captures of Just Dance songs and dominating the living room with bad dance moves and loud collections of classic pop. We spent hours doing so on Saturday and even got my dad to play along (let’s be mindful he’s 64) as we danced along to Shakira (the rug burn on my knee doesn’t lie). Growing up with an older sister, she always seemed to be the anchor in choreographed dances, lifting her baby sister, of seven years difference into the air, but as I have several inches on her and we’re both fully grown adults, determining who plays who in a duet has led to a lot of interpretative adaptations of the provided choreography.

The severity of COVID-19 is still pretty pervasive even with creative attempts to combat boredom. Living in Wisconsin, our projections are to live through the worst of it at the end of May, a full month after most states will have started their decline. While these projections will now be compounded by some states opening and protests occurring, it’s still pretty real that my state is barely getting started. As I live in the shadows of Milwaukee, the most impacted city of Wisconsin, the reality of opening businesses and a mobile populous is pretty daunting for the community where I live and our already limited medical facilities. We try to keep it lighthearted in the Fritz family household, but some days are hard, and I recognize the extreme privilege I have to be bored at home. Stay safe, wash your hands, and remember to check your privilege.

Mary Franitza is a first year MA/PhD student in the Department of Education. She started her quarantine with a frantic two-day road trip from Santa Barbara to a small coastal corner of Wisconsin. Mary is spending her time social distancing with her adult family members, two parents (sixty-four), and sister (thirty) and her just as adult cats, Dodger (soon to be ten) and Socrates (probably thirteen). Whilst at home, Mary is still responsible for work with high school seniors at Santa Barbara High School and tending to her course load and research. Mary is approaching quarantine with a critical feminist lens as she watches the pandemic unfold in her hometown.