How to: split an order of bulk food

I got word that a regional restaurant supply company had pivoted to serving residential homes, with next-day, free shipping. The catch? Well, catches? A $250 minimum order, and many of the items are in restaurant-size amounts. I could use some cheese — but did I need a wheel of Brie? (Sadly I had to admit to myself the answer is no.)

Motivated to avoid the grocery store (for the germs, the lines, and the lack of staples) I asked four local families if they’d want to go in on an order. We totally made this work for us, and I wanted to write down the things we figured out — and maybe this will be helpful to others who want to consider it but hadn’t gotten to this level of commune living yet. 😀

I set up a shared Google spreadsheet where people could add items they’d like to buy, and how much of that item they’d like. That way other families could go back to the list and add themselves to get some of that item.

The spreadsheet had columns for our family names, and rows for each item.

Over the course of about 5 days, we all found time to look through the restaurant delivery website to add items and look at what others had added. One important little point was the suggestion to have a deadline, so we’d all know when we needed to have this done by. In these strange times, it felt good to make the expectations clear so we knew how to participate well and decide if we could find the time.

Another clutch move was to use a spreadsheet, because it meant we could divvy up the amounts easily, and everyone knew how much they’d owe.

So, once everyone had added all the items they were interested in, I looked at what items were “individual” – meaning they aren’t a bulk item, like a 5lb bag of flour. I color-coded those as grey. Any individual item is easy to order, because we just get the number people signed up for.

Slightly more difficult is the big-ass bulk stuff. 10 lbs of olives is a lot of olives. Those of us who decided to go in on the olives looked at how many pounds we’d be willing to get, and we agreed to the poundage you see in the screenshot.

So what about the bulk items that people wanted that didn’t get enough takers to feasibly buy? I messaged the people who had signed up for the items, and asked if they wanted to buy it all themselves. In some cases, like with the 10 lb bag of gluten-free granola, the answer was yes. With other items, like the box of 600 tortillas, the answer was no and I color-coded the item as blue and moved it to the bottom of the spreadsheet.

There were also items that people had added that had become unavailable. These were color-coded red and moved to the bottom of the spreadsheet.

By Tuesday (our self-imposed deadline), everyone was ready. I looked at the sheet for any items that could be mistakes, or where there was a lot of interest. We used a big ol’ group email thread for most of the communication, except where I messaged each family contact individually to ask individual questions. I felt reasonably confident that we were ready to put in the order.

It was time to use the website to put in the order. In the screenshot above, you’ll see in column A there is just an x. That was my way of keeping track of which items I had ordered — I wanted a way to double check, because I was ordering so many different things. I felt nervous when I was done and ready to check out, because I hadn’t had anyone check my work. I hadn’t talked face-to-face with anyone. I went over the online shopping cart twice. I was afraid I’d accidentally order 50 lbs of sawdust or something. The total of our group purchase was just of $1,000.

We made a plan to split up the bulk food. This would be a bit of a logistical bear in The Before Times: pouring and measuring lentils, shaking out shredded cheese into bags, counting and recounting egg cartons. The pandemic twist was that the floor was lava. Just kidding — but it felt like we couldn’t adequately account for all the ways that tiny little virusy bits could show up on the order, or possibly be in or on each of us.

Tangent: what is the technical name for “tiny little virusy bit”? I just looked it up. It’s “virion”.

Have I mentioned that everyone involved were absolute champs about this? Everyone looked at what they’d ordered, and scrounged up containers to put their incoming bulk items into. There was a beer growler for olive oil, Mason jars aplenty, washed takeout containers, and a lot of Ziploc bags. Many folks pre-labeled their containers with their names. They brought big bins/Ikea totes/boxes to hold everything. They brought kitchen scales, peel-and-stick labels, and funnels.

Behold, my mighty organizational powers.

In a move that is both smart and covid-coping, I printed out a sheet for each family and highlightered the items they should receive. Once everything was in their box, I used the sheet to tick each highlighted row to make sure they got everything on their list.

This was the first time I’d needed a highlighter since grad school. If I were to do this again, I would have only printed the column with that family’ numbers rather than all family numbers, which would have been easier to follow.

Hot tip: spreadsheet programs have the slick ‘print selected cells’ choice to just print what you want, rather than changing the whole sheet to print what you want.

I envisioned it as more of mountain.

The shipment arrived around noon. We started at 12:30pm, and were wholly done by 4pm. It was 40º outside, so I didn’t worry about getting cold foods dealt with fast. If we did this in, say, July, it would be a different story.

Out in the garage, one family representative at a time came with gloves and masks on, and did some splitting of the dry goods. It was nice to see them in person, but we stayed at least 6′ away when we talked about the logistics, and mostly spent the time apart.

I broke my rotary cutter ruler, but that didn’t stop me from using to measure this cheese.
If you’re thinking “cheese quilt”, you win.

I set up a card table in the garage for splitting the dry goods and individual items. I cleaned my kitchen counter and did all of the ‘wet’ foods (cheese, olives, more cheese, olive oil). I wore a mask and gloves. The gloves were great because I could wash my hands between foods, or any time it felt like I needed to, without chapping my hands.

It’s a giant, gorgeous wheel of Brie.

I joked to everyone in the email thread that this was all just a very convoluted, complicated plan to fulfill my fantasy of purchasing a wheel of Brie. But uuum, it also ticked that particular item on my bucket list. Look at this two pound beaut! You can see how big it is relative to its 10-pound cheddar cousin.

I had cut off off a fifth of the cheddar for a family that had gathered everything else and was ready to take it home. I came back to it and hack-wiggled my knife through it until it was evenly divided. Turns out, the takeout containers from my favorite Vietnamese restaurant perfectly fit two pounds of cheddar!

Hot tip: wash out and reuse single use plastics that can be reused, like a takeout or cream cheese container. It’s a handy way to store bulk food, and it’s not like most of those containers are being recycled anyway.

In the end, I discovered that despite having marked x next to the line item, I somehow did not order milk. I would double check better next time by counting the number of items in my shopping cart against my spreadsheet and have a second set of eyes look at the order. I would also have alphabetized the list of foods to make it easier to find them as I needed to check each item multiple times as I went.

I can say that having never done this before, working with five families, this was totally doable. It took some cat-herding energy, some logistics and planning energy, and some physical effort. I can imagine how this work could be divided up, though I found it doable to take on the bulk of the word myself. (Yesss, pun achieved.)

The knife sunk into the 10 lb cheddar block was too fun not to take a photo of, but after this I stopped taking photos because I didn’t want to keep rewashing my hands.

That month took a thousand years

Aw, wasn’t it cute when I resurrected my blog, back when things felt novel and changing and all I needed was ‘we can do it’ energy?

My family is all doing really well, all things considered. We’re incredibly privileged and lucky, which means J’s job is stable, we have fantastic school-from-home support, which I’m able to support because I’m not working and we have access to supplies like groceries and even a raised bed kit from a local company. I’m a little surprised to find that I feel gratitude for these things every day. I feel grateful for noticing this gratitude.

The other things I am grateful for is the TV show Steven Universe. We started watching the show a few months ago, and we’re finding it a huge comfort because we’re able to laugh, we’re able to think about hard things (that aren’t our hard things). It’s like Star Trek TNG in that sense. The episodes we watched last night (we’re at the end of season 1) adeptly addresses a lot of the feelings and uncertainty we’re experiencing right now. In the episode, the adults are trying to figure out how to respond to a vague, invisible, real, imminent threat. (Just like now!) The adults pretend like everything is fine when they’re around Steven (who is a child). Very realistically, Steven notices that they’re acting weird, and pieces together that something is wrong. He confronts his guardians, asking them for the truth. I can imagine how good it would feel as a child viewer to see this, because this kind of obfuscation totally happens all the time, and it feels empowering to see Steven address it. What happens next is a soothing balm for the adult viewers, because Steven’s response to the scary truth is to say “We’ve been scared before, right? None of us know what’s going to happen, but… that’s okay. We can figure things out – together.” You have no idea how good it felt to hear that sentiment. You have to know the show to understand how beautifully balanced this show is. The whimsy and goofy is there, but so is the serious and realistic — especially realistic are the emotions and motivations people have.

That week took a hundred years

It wasn’t a bad week — plenty of smiles happened, though maybe fewer laughs than usual — but it felt like a lot longer than a week.

A couple of my parent friends agreed it felt like how time worked when we had a newborn. We’re aware of more moments in the day, so the day feels longer. Also we’re no longer living our own lives: I feel a loss of self, as if I’m “being subsumed by a greater need”, as one friend said.

What happens if we extrapolate from this? Will the next few weeks become one smeary memory of the same banal life motions (cook, eat, sleep, laundry, shelter in place) that are but a haze when we look back, even a few years from now? Will it feel incrementally better when we see how slowly the pandemic spreads because of the actions we’re all taking? Will we reach a point of having enough people recovered who can work to keep our infrastructure functional — obviously an analogy to not needing to carry a diaper bag.

Homeschooling day 2: the ‘How To Adult’ elective

Since 80’s home all the time, and structure and taking care of ourselves is part of what keeps brain weasels away, I added some new choices to what she can do during her school day.

Options include

  • Learning laundry
  • Dishwashers: where do all those things go?
  • How to make a quiche crust*

We’ll get to vacuuming, dusting and maybe even cleaning the windows!

*I bought a LOT of eggs, cream, bacon and frozen spinach.

Day 1

80 is jazzed at the novelty of homeschooling, and organized a schedule that follows her school schedule. I don’t know that it’s the most practical schedule, but I’ll take the child-directed one first.

The day started with music and shop. For music, she played the piano. We have a keyboard that has a tutorial mode where the keys light up and the accompaniment waits for you. Uh, it’s ideal.

Next was shop. 80’s school has shop once a week, and it’s her favorite. She had made a loom a few weeks ago, so she worked on the blanket while we listened to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

80 has a tutor for extra help, so they met over video chat. The tutor set up her computer so she could stand in front of her whiteboard, and they did some math and writing together. I messaged with friends (it’s delightful that now that everyone is distant, geographically distant friends feel somehow closer).

80’s school organized a Google Hangout readaloud with one of the teachers. They emailed us details, including rules of engagement:

  1. You must mute yourself right away when you join the “meeting”.
  1. You can only unmute yourself if you’re “called on” (you have raised your hand and the teacher has said your name)
  2. If you unmute yourself out of turn, we will, unfortunately, have to check you out of the session. You can try again next time. 

This seems completely reasonable for a group of 40 people, many of whom haven’t been in a videochat with more than one before. I’m sure many adults are learning the same lesson this week.

The kids were excited to see each other, it really does seem to have a positive effect, just to see their classmates and teachers. They had some technical difficulties, which is absolutely expected – I’m reminded of this meme:

We truly are all stick-footin’ it now, in general.

We are leftover pizza for lunch (I made sourdough crust pizza last night!) and now 80 is mowing through the worksheets her teachers sent home.

It is only occurring to me now that I rarely see my kid when she’s medicated – she’s usually at school for it (and she takes a break on weekends). She is in a quiet, undistracted environment now, and it’s working. At least for day one ?

Pi day

It’s Pi Day (because it’s 3.14 … March fourteenth, get it?). My favorite part of this is that the mathematician/YouTuber Vi Hart has a funny series about how tau compares to pi. My kiddo enjoyed her videos starting in about kindergarten, and ever since.

Here’s her original video about pi.

And NINE YEARS LATER, Vi Hart has kept making Pi Day videos, including today’s featuring … coronavirus, of course.

Pi Day 2020 (feat. coronavirus)

Homeschooling in the time of COVID

I live in the Boston area, and my kiddo’s school is pausing as of Monday because there have been confirmed COVID-19 cases in the area. I’m going to share what I find that help me keep my kid from climbing the walls.

The Last Week Tonight episode about coronavirus is funny and angering and cathartic. My favorite part was learning that a) there’s a coronavirus-educating song popping off in Vietnam and b) there’s a dance for it. (Context: youths use the app TikTok to create dance routines for just about anything, and this is no exception.)

Day 1: learn the coronavirus dance

Vanquishing boredom

When I was a teenager, there was a slip of newspaper taped to the fridge at my parent’s house. It was a quote: “Being bored is an insult to oneself.”

I took it to heart, probably because I didn’t want to be seen as unintelligent, and it uses the word ‘oneself’ which sounds fancy and snobby and it worked! In college I took photography classes, and realized that even in the most boring situations I could examine the the world and find something to frame up through my imaginary camera lens.

being bored is an insult to oneself

Yesterday, my kiddo stayed home with me all day, while I worked. At one point early in the afternoon she said she was bored. I’d just read a fantastic novel, one that made me feel adventurous, and curious, and like I can be a great parent and an interesting and interested adult. I remembered the main character saying something better suited to a smaller kiddo. I found the quote and shared with 80:

“That’s right,’ she told the girls. ‘You are bored. And I’m going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it’s boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it’s on you to make life interesting, the better off you’ll be.”

~ Maria Semple, Where’d You Go, Bernadette

I think this may become an even more important habit/pattern/skill, to be able to find contentment and interest in the world, without using a screen.

On being a not-boss

This whole tech world thing is totally crazy. I look forward to telling grandchildren about how I was part of the second dotcom wave. My job has been morphing into management (except NOT, except kind of). I do hiring stuff (we’re trying to find technical people right now, so having the qualities of a librarian, plus the computer knowledge of a developer, plus the writing skills of a … writer), I videochat with my teammates to see how they’re doing and encourage them to take on more of the things they’re interested in (the hope is that if each person does some management stuff they’re good at, we’ll cover it all and won’t need one person doing shit management work), and I take care of some of the shit management work. Except it’s not shit. Actually, someone once said “a good manager is the person who holds the shit umbrella, so that their team can get work done”. It’s not quite like that, since we don’t have a bureaucracy for me to be slashing red tape. It’s more like being a single point of contact with other teams, if someone doesn’t know who to go to. I have historical knowledge (not specifics, but in general of how to do things better next time. So, like a historian.) I’m also getting better at pointing out when people are fucking up. It’s really hard for me, because I am conflict-adverse, and I’m totally chicken about giving negative feedback. I’m learning that with good, smart people giving negative feedback means they think “Thanks! I wouldn’t have figured that out so fast. I’m going to work on that.”

I wrote this today, verbatim, in a catch-up email to a group of friends from library grad school. I realized it’s worth sharing, as it sums up a lot of hard-to-express thoughts I’ve had as the GitHub ship heads farther into space.

One post a year: got my eyes lasered

Last year I told you about my experience moving to San Francisco. In a similar vein, I figured I could update my blog to describe the experience of having elective corrective eye surgery. It’s not that my life isn’t interesting, but I do so much writing at GitHub that I don’t have the same itch to blog about knitting or babies. Granted, I don’t think I’d be as good a writer if I hadn’t spent all that time navel-gazing here, but let’s get onto the EYE LAZERS.

I did a BUNCH of research before doing it, and found that not many people get the surgery I had (PRK, as opposed to LASIK), so it’s also a public service announcement.

Hilarious, right? This is me, right after the surgery. I have on clear eye protectors so nothing bumps my eyes, and then dark sports shades for light sensitivity. I get to sleep with the clear eye protectors for the next few nights. This also fixes the problem of my reoccurring sleep-racketball problem.

So, the burning question is: what was it like to have lasers resurface my corneas? The answer is: not much. I was super nervous coming in, even though I had learned all about what was going to be happening. Awesomely, the first thing that happens is they gave me Ativan, an anti-anxiety drug. They prepped my face (hairnet, iodine around my eyes, numbing drops in my eyes), then set me down in a chair and put headphones on me. I thought “this is crap pop music, how dare they assume I’m going to enjoy this?” but a minute or two later, it was sounding allllll riiiiiiight. I really knew the Ativan kicked in when some noodly jazz came on and I didn’t even care.

A doctor examined my eyes, and used what I’m sure wasn’t a Sharpie (but like a medical-grade cousin) to mark dots on each of my eyes. This had the excellent benefit of proving the numbing drops (and Ativan) had worked, and I was neither bothered by nor could feel my eyes being Sharpied.

When it was my turn to get lasereyed, I laid down on a padded bench, and the doctor added more numbing drops. She went through the steps of the procedure, taping up and down my eyelashes, putting the Clockwork Orange eye opener on. This was actually a relief to have. The doctor was instructing me to keep looking at the light, but it’s hard to look at a blinding white light, and my eyes were definitely squinty. Now I didn’t have to fight to keep them open. I’d worried this would be something that would feel uncomfortable, or make me feel tiny claustrophobia, but it turned out to be a highlight.

The next step was for the doctor to put a chemical on my eye that would loosen the top layer of corneal cells, then brush them away. This sounds gross. I’m pretty sure it is. But there was this satisfying feeling when, after my vision got super blurry from the cells coming up, when the doctor was brushing them aside. It was like when you brush a couple of inches of powdery snow off your car windshield with your wiper blades. This is probably the Ativan kicking in my brain’s natural reaction to anything, which is to find the silver lining.

Next up was the actual lasering. There were red lights to the sides, and a green light in the middle. The green light shone directly onto my, which made my whole vision fill with pixelated red-and-green DJ visuals. The pixels moved around a little. I could smell something (they’d warned me that there might be a “vapor”) but it wasn’t a bad smell. The actual lasering took about 10 seconds, didn’t hurt or feel weird at all. I wished I had some dubstep to go with the view, though.

The last step was to put a clear, thin contact over my now-resurfaced eye. My lids were released, untaped, and it was over.

That was it. The second eye was exactly the same process.

I got up, and although things were blurry, they were less blurry than when I came in (with glasses off). They checked my eyes, gave me the above-pictured cool shades, and sent me home in an Uber.

I was to spend the next two hours with my eyes shut. No problem. The rest of the day I spend dutifully putting in three kinds of eye drops. I felt good enough to go to 80’s parent-teacher conference this evening at preschool, and to go get groceries (on foot).

From here, we’ll see how the next three days are. Apparently, Thursday is going to suck a little, Friday might suck a lot, and Saturday will be kind of like Thursday. (Where “suck” means “the feeling of chopping onions”.

Here’s my eye, about 5 hours after the surgery.