Smile Politely

Dispatches from isolation: April 18th

This new column offers a glimpse into how people in C-U are working and spending their time during this stay-at-home order. You can read previous installments here. Have questions, or want to suggest a person for this series? Email us at [email protected].

How are you spending your days in isolation?


With the weather getting warmer it’s getting harder and harder to stay focused on work. Luckily, it was a Saturday and I wasn’t going to be inundated with Zoom calls or worrying about everything I needed to catch up on. I had been sick the last couple of days, but was finally feeling better. Don’t worry, not COVID. It was going to be a relatively normal day despite everything, though the word ‘normal’ seems foreign to me now.

5:10 a.m.

Three dogs lay on a bed with a red plaid blanket on top. One older dog looks into the camera while the other two are curled at the bottom of the bed. Photo by Taidghin O'Brien.

Photo by Taidghin O’Brien.

My husband Rey gets up to go milk the goats out at Prairie Fruits Farm

At this time of year, I would typically relish the ability to sleep in and cuddle with the kids (our three dogs). It’s one of my last free Saturdays before I have to get up with him to go work for BlueMoon Farm at Urbana’s Market at the Square. I lay in bed reading the news while the kids curl up in the void on my left. Daisy will not rest, she just stares at me. She doesn’t like the machine in my hand. Sometimes I don’t either. Our windows are open and the sights and sounds of dawn begin to flow into the bedroom. We get up.

5:41 a.m.

A bird's eye view of three dogs sitting on a blue dog bed in a hallway. They are looking up at the camera. A person's feet and calves are visible. Photo by Taidghin O'Brien.

Photo by Taidghin O’Brien.

The kids are overcome with excitement. Based on the commotion you would think I’d poured them the coffee I just made instead of water. I did not. Breakfast time is typically 6 a.m. but I cave and give them what they so desperately desire. Maybe I’ll be “favorite daddy” today. They have really enjoyed having both of us home all of the time. I do wonder what they are going to do when we have to go back to work every day. I envision a month of revenge peeing, shredded toilet paper, and pouting. Lots of pouting.

5:54 a.m.

A dozen eggs, a containter of fresh chevre, broccoli, onion, and garlic are laid out on a wood cutting board. Photo by Taidghin O'Brien.

Photo by Taidghin O’Brien.

There is something so wonderful about the versatility of a frittata, especially at a time like this when you might have to use up some random ingredients in your fridge and just “make it work.” As an aside, I would pay good money to hear Tim Gunn provide commentary on the news of the day. NPR is on in the background. Back to the frittata.

I bought everything at Common Ground Food Co-op with most of the ingredients coming from local farms — eggs from Allison Centennial, chevre from Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, and cream from Kilgus Farmstead.

I tried something new and roasted the broccoli, garlic, and onion before adding it to the frittata. I wanted everything nice and crisp before adding it to the egg, chevre, and cream mixture in an attempt to avoid a soggy frittata. No one wants a soggy frittata. That sounds like something Ina Garten would say. Speaking of Ina, if you haven’t checked out her Instagram account in isolation you really should — it’s not as hysterical as Leslie Jordan’s — but it’s damn good.

The frittata turned out fabulously, despite having a very cratered top when I pulled it out of the oven. If it’s delicious, who cares.

6:40 a.m.

A front yard with green grass and a brick pathway from the sidewalk to the house (not pictured). A dog sits in the grass and sniffs it. Photo by Taidghin O'Brien.

Photo by Taidghin O’Brien.

Our next-door neighbor has a ton of wild ginger and lily of the valley in her backyard that she has offered to us time and time again, so when it is light enough out I head over to her yard and dig some up. I like working in the yard first thing in the morning. It’s eerily quiet, even more so with people staying home, and the sun slices through the trees and shimmers off the light frost covering the ground. It’s magical the way the morning’s serenity seems to vibrate with the anticipation of the day’s endless possibilities.

7:24 a.m.

The downside to frost: My toes and fingers are freezing and so I take a break for some hot coffee. I let the kids out again. I sit at the bar in the kitchen and start writing down a task list for the day as NPR washes over me. Ever the fan of lists, I’ve found them even more important in isolation, though I’ve learned long ago that you should love a list but be willing to let it go. Staying somewhat flexible while adhering to a self-imposed semi-structure has been my answer to the problems I see isolation posing. It’s how I walk the line between a complete lack of motivation and the anxiety that accompanies a sense that I’m never doing enough.

7:40 a.m.

Seedlings in starter trays are on a table near a window. There are a lot of tiny green sprouts coming out of the trays. Photo by Taidghin O'Brien.

Photo by Taidghin O’Brien.

I head to the basement to check on the seedlings in our DIY germination and grow area and water them. This year we’ve already outgrown our little setup and have had to move trays upstairs to the dining room which has been converted into a laundry folding area and grow station. We still have more to plant, too. Most of our starts are flowering annuals and perennials for the garden. While we do have some vegetables that we’ll be direct seeding, we typically buy our vegetable plants from local farms in an effort to support them early in the season. This will be especially important this year given the decrease in wholesale demand and the changes that farmers markets will be making in order to open on time.

8:22 a.m.

An area of a garden that is being weeded and planted. A crate with things to be planted is on the left, an orange bucket of soil is on the right. Photo by Taidghin O'Brien.

Photo by Taidghin O’Brien.

I putter around the house for a bit. Do the dishes, read some more news, play with the kids, survey the destruction of the marauding Urbana Bunny Gang, take a shower — the usual. I dress and go out to plant the lily of the valley in the shade garden. It’s going to be a beautiful day.

9:10 a.m.

Rey returns from the farm and we chat for a little bit about our plans for the day. We had anticipated nice weather which means we’ll be spending the entire day working in the garden in some form or another. This is one thing that hasn’t changed for us. If it’s a relatively nice weekend, you will find us outside working in the garden or on some kind of project by ourselves, the dogs laying in the sun. Our garden is our true home, and luckily our landlord has loved what we’ve done to it so we’ve earned a level of carte-blanche that is both wonderful and expensive.

10:04 a.m.

While chatting and scrolling I notice that the Grand Prairie Friends has posted the online store for their Annual Native Plant Sale. While you can’t order until Monday at 8 a.m., I scroll through the options and finalize my list. Both Rey and I suffer from some strange disease where we are completely unable to control our spending when it involves plants. “Well let’s just get eight more salvia plants. I love them and I’m sure we can put them somewhere.” This is a common occurrence. This list will save me on Monday (from myself).

11:00 a.m.

A black laptop computer sits on a table outside. There is a Zoom call on the screen. Photo by Taidghin O'Brien.

Photo by Taidghin O’Brien.

We hop on a quick Zoom call with the founders of Neighbors Helping Neighbors Champaign-Urbana to chat about how Rey and I can support their work and help them expand their services. Neighbors Helping Neighbors C-U is a local mutual aid network whose goals are to get resources and/or assistance to people who need them by connecting them with other people in their vicinity who are able to offer assistance, as safely as possible. We’re both really excited to be able to help with their efforts.

11:45 a.m.

Gardening commences. The front and side yard have a pretty serious bishop’s weed infestation that we’ve been trying to tackle over the last few years. This year I’m hoping to pull enough of it out that the wild ginger I plant in its stead will out-compete it. I have no idea if this will work, but I’ve got a dream. Actually, my true fantasy is that bunnies would enjoy eating it and my work would be much easier. Go bunnies, nibble to your little heart’s delight. Alas, instead they like eating all of our shrubs. !$%# bunnies.

Rey starts his work with the inaugural yard mowing of 2020. He then mows our neighbor’s yard and rakes the leaves out of her front gardens and shreds them, returning the mulch to her flower beds. After that, he begins removing the sod from the easement where we plan on continuing a garden that we started last year. Removing the sod from the soil is time-consuming, but worth it. After bishop’s weed removal and wild ginger planting, I begin shredding bags of leaves we had saved in the garage and spreading the mulch around the front garden. Using leaves as mulch is a great way to return nutrients to your soil, plus it’s free.

4:05 p.m.

A man lays in the grass. Next to him is an old dog who looks out over the yard. The man has one hand on the dog, and holds a beer in the other.  Photo by Rey Dalitto.

Photo by Rey Dalitto.

We take a break and relax in the front yard with Lulu. She surveys her kingdom.

4:45 p.m.

I take a little time and paint the mask and friend of ours made for us. I made Rey’s into a bear nose. Mine is a giraffe — my spirit animal.

5:10 p.m.

A yellow face mask with a griaffe snout painted on it sits on a dark outdoor table. Photo by Taidghin O'Brien.

Photo by Taidghin O’Brien.

As our day begins to wind down, I mask up and head over to Common Ground to pick up things for dinner. Typically we would be popping over to the Co-op every day. Now we try and limit our trips to 1-2 times a week. We’re only a few blocks away and so walking over there is a habitual task, but we’re really trying to limit our trips.

Rey suggested grilling brats for dinner. I grab Italian sausage from Kilgus Farmstead, buns from Central Illinois Bakehouse, and some kraut. When I get home I start prepping everything while listening to Georgia’s new album, Seeking Thrills. I start the grill.

5:45 p.m.

A cutting board in a kitchen holds a package of Kilgus Farmstead Italian sausage, some bread, kraut, and several other condiments. There is a large bread knife on the counter, and a knife block behind it. Photo by Taidghin O'Brien.

Photo by Taidghin O’Brien.
Two brats topped with kraut, red onions, and other condiments are served on a white plate. The plate sits on a dark outdoor table. Photo by Taidghin O'Brien.

Photo by Taidghin O’Brien.

We grill, eat, and discuss the community garden we are planning in the back part of our yard. Our neighbors behind us usually have a vegetable garden behind their garage too, but this year they don’t they’ll have time and have asked us if we want to garden it. We jump at the opportunity and plan on using the extra space to grow vegetables and herbs for the community. Rey has already made raised beds and we’ve mapped out everything we’ll be growing. He’s also been doing extensive research on companion planting and we’ve consciously planned everything accordingly.

6:15 p.m.

A man sitting outdoors looks into the camera. In his lap is an old dog, wrapped in blankets. There is a fire in a large wood-fired grill. Photo by Taidghin O'Brien.

Photo by Taidghin O’Brien.

We add some more wood to the fire and sit out with the kids. Lulu is 14 and quite frail, so Rey wraps her in a blanket and curls her up on his lap to keep her warm. It’s a beautiful but brisk evening. This is our paradise.

7:27 p.m.

We head inside, get ready for bed, invite the dogs into the bed and watch Airplane!. The humor in that movie is genius and timeless.

9:20 p.m.

We drift off to sleep, the kids at the foot of the bed.

(Hyde) Taidghin O’Brien is the Marketing & Communications Manager at The Land Connection. He is an avid local food lover, artist in hibernation, and co-daddy to three of the cutest dogs in Urbana: Lulu, Lucas, and Daisy. Together with his husband, Rey Dalitto, he works to change people’s views on local foods, small farms, cooking, and community, all while gardening their house to within an inch of its life.

Top image by Taidghin O’Brien.

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