Week 16: science will help us down from this treacherous plateau

I listened to smart people today and remembered how calming it is to depend upon them instead of politicians or cable news.

One scientist outlined the biology of COVID-19, how the particle binds to receptors and invades cells.

Another explained immunity and how long it lasts; how antibodies and killer T cells work; what are cytokine storms and multi-organ failure.

They presented data on case numbers, mortality rates, symptoms, various testing options.

The last speaker brought it all together. He talked about the experience gained by health care workers in the last three months; which treatments look promising; how over 100 vaccines are under study–some will work, some will work better together, some will be dangerous; why clinical trials are so vital.

This doctor also talked about Remdesivir (hopeful in some cases), hydroxychloroquinone (proven ineffective), and plasma donations from past patients (a way we could help each other while we wait for a vaccine). He shared a personal account from a nurse about to be intubated who recovered after plasma donation. How she felt her body fighting.

These three told a comprehensive story. They had no ulterior motives, no egos, no economy to save, no election coming up. They are single-mindedly focused on beating this virus and helping us understand it.

The path beyond this pandemic will be long. We are worried and scared and bored and sick of hiding at home, but we are not even close to the end. We will still all lose a loved one. All of us. I’m sorry to make you look that one in the eye, but statistically it cannot be denied. But believe that there are smart people working on this. They are not on a task force. They are not on television. They are quietly determined to save us.

Now I can sleep.


PS: As promised, here is my weekly numbers update. The number of new cases in US held steady this week. Next week, they could go up or down. The official number of US cases surpassed 1.2 million today.

I’ll keep you posted. Stay safe.

new cases as of may 5 2020

Week 15: still 2020

There were only 187,814 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in this last week, our 15th week of fighting this beast, the week we reached a million Americans confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus.

Please excuse my use of the word “only” as there were 218,593 new cases last week, and this week there was a decrease. We might be over the hump. Or maybe the states opening prematurely will cause another spike and blow all the gains made by our diligent efforts to isolate. We’ll see on May 5 (and May 12…).

If you can stand it, for the sake of all of our beloved grandmothers, do your part and let your hair grow another month or two. Stay safe.

april 28 15th tuesday

When we are gone

Rock number three out from the sun, affectionately called “Earth” by humans, will still teem with beauty when we are gone.

Birds will still soar and sing. Fish will still shimmer as they artfully dart in schools. Grass will still sway in the wind that still blows, while chlorophyll converts carbon dioxide to oxygen. But without us, who will notice the fresh air teeming with that oxygen, and sigh, eyes closed, at that sweet smell of cut grass in the summer? Who will walk barefoot on the grass?

The sun will still rise rosy, all wrapped in misty pinks or shocking yellows, somehow different each day. She’ll still set in her torrential glow. But who will understand that the world is spinning, and that the life-giving sun does not revolve around Earth, but Earth around her? The moon will still hang fat on the horizon calling us to visit, pulling on our waters and missing our moods. The stars will hold their spots the same as when we wondered at them when we were kids. But who will gaze up?

The oceans will still crash a myriad of dancing water molecules on waiting sand. Sea gulls will still hover and flirt with the surf. The sand will still feel cool in the mornings and warm in the sun. But what children will dig in the sand, leap squealing over those waves, and carry one hundred splashing shovels of water one at a time to a hole in the sand?

So many species call this rock their home too. So many we displaced. This world will carry on in our absence. But when we are gone, who will notice all this beauty?

2020 hindsight

2020 hindsight

If you are the town crier in your circle of family and friends, the one who watches all the news and has a fully-informed and horrified view of the COVID-19 pandemic, do not read this. Instead, just give this to the naysayer in your life. You know, that person who scoffs at you for asking them to wash their hands, that Baby Boomer who won’t change their life just because of some virus, that oblivious Gen Xer, all of our precious Children of Millennials, or whoever you know who is convinced and annoyed by your perceived overreaction. Let me talk to them. I have a math lesson for them on this day, the Ides of March 2020, the day the number of worldwide cases of COVID-19 outside China has surpassed the number of cases inside China.

In our normal lives we have little to no experience with exponential growth. Our puppies, our hair, our bank accounts, and our waistlines all grow rather linearly–at a somewhat constant slope. Remember slope from high school math? Change in y over change in x? When x is time, a slope is a rate like speed–miles per hour, dollars per hour, words per minute. For the spread of a virus, if the number of diagnosed cases per day is constant, the number of new cases per a given amount of time would allow simple prediction of the number of expected cases at any given future date.

The spread of COVID-19 is not occurring at a constant linear rate. The growth in the number of cases of COVID-19 in the United States of America is more accurately modeled as a power function.

Only 5 days ago there were 1000 confirmed cases in the US.

Today, as we approach the 9-week mark since the first confirmed case in our country, there are about 3200 cases in the US.

Based on a simple mathematical model on Excel using numbers from coronaviruslivestats.com, where x = number of days since the first confirmed US case, the number of cases on a given day in the future can be approximated as 5E-17 x^11.032. Hence, the US may reach

30,000 cases by the end of March,

and half a million (500,000) cases by April 23, 2020.

Half a million. This is a relentless rate. Unstoppable. And likely (terrifyingly) underestimated, as many of us who have or will contract the virus will not be tested or tallied in the total.

I give you these numbers so you don’t have to wait for your 2020 hindsight. I hope you do all in your power to change the mathematical function, to slow the spread of this disease. Simple things you can do. Wash your hands. Stay home. Don’t put another human at risk. Think of everyone and yourself.

Do everything in your power to prove me wrong. Let’s get to five weeks from now and point at Laura and laugh at her ridiculous prediction. Please.

If you are not yet sufficiently afraid, I give you one more number. At the current rate of spread if we change nothing and insist on living our own way, ALL OF US, every American, may contract the virus within 26 weeks of the first noted case in January 2020.

All of us.

The 26-week mark is in mid-July 2020.

Lay low.

ides of march 2020




Bake 6: Queen of Sheba

Bake 6: Queen of Sheba

Drawn by the title and all the chocolate in the ingredients list, I tackled Queen of Sheba last weekend with the help of an assistant I’ll call older sibling, OS for short. My OS is only 11 months older. She is strong willed and competent, opinionated and loving, unafraid to answer tough questions at a political rally from strangers from Boston, from young men who fear billionaires in the long line, or from a foreign media interviewer with a microphone. My OS will hold up a sign and dance, all while watching the TV monitor to see whether we’ll be on the telly. Beside her, I stand mute, 11 months younger, uncomfortable and not quite thrilled to be there in the first place. All of this, yet my OS cannot separate an egg.

From my dependable sidekick persona, adults called me shy as a child. They did not whisper it to each other behind my back. They bent down and looked me right in the eye and accused me: “You’re shy.” I scoffed (on the inside) to this label. Adults were large, sometimes inebriated, seemingly confident, often ignorant.  I had a lot of opinions. I wisely chose not to share them.

As a professor, some students find me intimidating. Scary. “Stand off ish.” When I taught high school, my advanced placement chemistry students asked me to look away while they asked and I answered their questions. Apparently my direct gaze is intense. Looking out from the inside of my intelligent strong woman persona, I am empathetic to all who feel threatened by me. I am 60 inches tall. I am confident. I am not afraid. Like the stories of the Queen of Sheba. Apparently I have learned much from mirroring my OS. Except I can separate an egg.

Back to the bake: Queen of Sheba. “An exotic and mysterious woman of power” per a Google search. When declaring oneself in charge, a female may jokingly refer to herself as the Queen of Sheba. The title may strike fear in the heart of the masses. This is never my intent. But women like Elizabeth and Rachel and Kamala and Amy and Sue and Christa and Judy and Lea and Kate and Meg and Ann and Allie (and more) remind us not to apologize for our strength.

Back to the bake, Laura!

When I learned OS could not separate an egg, I felt bad for her. Sorry for her. Baffled by her. How did she come this far in life? How does she survive? I intentionally tried to avoid further offense or any appearance of shaming her lack of skills by offering to show her how to do it. I just did it. And by watching me separate three eggs in a row, now she at least knows it is a physical possibility. My new insight and embarrassment amid her defensive stance (“I am not a baker!”) led me to walk to the other room and let her have peace and privacy without pressure while she spread the melted chocolate for the decorative shards. How was I to know that she would paint the melted chocolate paper thin instead of merely spreading it? How was I to know she didn’t understand? As with my students, I am not a mind reader–if you don’t express confusion or request help, none will come. You will be considered competent until you prove otherwise.

When I indicated it was too thin, OS blamed me for not supervising.

Can. Not. Win.

Should. Not. Try.

The Queen of Sheba cake recipe is on page 278 of THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF. I melted chocolate in a double boiler.

I mixed the butter and sugar and added the egg yolks one at a time. In a separate bowl I beat the egg whites.


The melted chocolate and butter/sugar and beaten egg whites and sifted flour were folded and gently combined before they got plopped into the pan to bake.


I should have used a smaller diameter pan. QofS came out thin.

OS did a great job massing the ingredients on my kitchen balance until the chocolate chip confusion. Somehow “we” lost 75 g of chocolate chips. I asked her to weigh out 100 g and 75 g of chips and supplied bowls. OS remembers doing so (confused) and then combining them in the same bowl. (why?) She never asked for clarification. When I asked where the 75 g were she pointed to the bowl of 100 g I was melting on the stove. I grabbed handfuls of semi-melted chips to take out 75 g and there were definitely not 175 g of chocolate in there. They vaporized. I continued to make the frosting.


I left OS in charge of melting the new batch of 75 g chips for the decorative shards. I should’ve known she needed help, even when she didn’t ask for it. I should’ve known she had never before spread melted chocolate on parchment paper to solidify. I should’ve known because of all the confusion and anxiety in the kitchen, but I chose to step away and let her just do it her way. I forgot she once made butter by whipping cream by hand. I thought of the incredible spread of food she puts out at holidays. I remembered her confidence and power. I let her independently paint the 75 g of melted chocolate paper-thin over an area three times that expected. (Since volume = LxWxH and area = LxW, when area is tripled, thickness (H) suffers inversely. OS taught math for three decades. She saw the huge sheet of parchment I laid out for her and assumed L and W were fixed by it.) And I should have not reacted at all when I saw it. I should not have been surprised when she implied it was my fault for not supervising because she is “not a baker!” And I forgot to document with a picture.

Sigh. I love that woman so much.

We broke the chocolate wafers into triangles with a pizza wheel and placed them vertically in the frosting, sprinkled powdered sugar and cocoa on top, and the Queen of Sheba came out beautiful and delicious.


If you are ever brave enough to bake with me, come on over. Otherwise, maybe just look at the pictures.