Bacon on the Bookshelf

Savory picks for the free range reader

Life in the Time of Corona: Stocking Up on Optimism


Neighbor Gift in the Time of Corona, designed by Mary Jo Shankle

I asked my friend and neighbor Mary Jo Shankle to send a few photos for today’s post. “OK now that I am finished sheltering in place (meaning 45 minutes soaking in the tub with a double pour) I will look,” she texted back. I can’t wait for you to see them.   

Today, Mary Jo answers a few questions for Bacon as we all try to figure out the new normal. She also answers some for her husband Steve, an anesthesiologist. I hope that works out okay for them.

Hi Mary Jo! Thank you for being part of the Bacon Corona project today!

Steve and Mary Jo Shankle

Are you worried about the coronavirus? How worried?

I would say I am at about DEFCON 4 right now….”Increased intelligence watch and strengthened security measures.” While we have been OOT all this past week Steve has been on daily conference calls with St. Thomas leadership and is holding his cards very close to his chest (even with me) as he should. But he did laugh when I said ‘could be worse… could be zombies.”

Did anything Steve learned in medical school prepare him/you/us for this? 

Hmmm…plenty of  sleep and a positive attitude are vital. I think Steve would say ‘work the problem.’ 

You all have a son and daughter who are successfully launched into the world, in business and grad school. What if anything can we learn from our 20-somethings at this moment in time? 

Our kids are on the cusp of Millenial and Gen Z; our daughter is 26 in April and our son just turned 24 last week. Daughter is in northern Wales and fairly isolated even though she is at an international university. As a card carrying member of the school of Science and Reason, her attitude is pretty much “Keep Calm and Carry On. and oh, wash your hands…that too. And while you are at it, draw me another pint…”  Her dad and I are not thrilled with her being 4000 miles away during all this madness but we agree she is probably safer staying put. Her concerns are for the elderly who have no one to look out for them. 

Our son is here in Nashville, now working remotely although not (yet) practicing social distancing. (??!!!) In a conversation today he said the coronavirus is definitely a topic on the minds of his group but they are not yet overly concerned (#youngandimpervious?). I think the reality will hit them all soon. He did offer up that he feels it is not healthy nor helpful to see all this scrolling constantly across their screens. They all need to go out and play some kickball or better yet, volunteer in our tornado hit community, which some of them have. This pandemic is definitely cramping that demographic’s social lives, and he added that while he understands the cancellation of all sports, it is really a bummer (#marchsadness). I think he and the roomies and the girlfriends have resorted to watching Parks and Recreation reruns and maybe even Say Yes to the Dress (a sure sign it is endtimes). All facetiousness aside, we know and he knows this will surely prove a defining chapter in their young lives.

What can we learn from our dogs right now? From our yoga practice or otherwise? From the garden at Sewanee?

My dogs are NOT social distancing, never have! It is business as usual with them…LET US OUT!!  LET US IN!! etc, etc. ad nauseam. In addition to that ever present and oh so fulfilling activity, this past week I have relished the great therapeutic value of repetitive (and seemingly) mindless activity. Daily yoga practice and spring cleaning/weeding of the garden up at Shankri-la I embraced full tilt. Long hikes in deserted wood also helped immensely. Breathed deeply and was thankful we could! Steve would reiterate what he has always known… porch time is the best time. Also while deep belly laughing with friends as we did a lot this past week can be a much needed tonic, sometimes even more so can solitude and silence.

Will you change your daily or weekly routines?

Most definitely. I will be exercising remotely… no going to my gym or yoga studio which makes me incredibly sad. But thankfully my fabulous yoga studio, NuPower, is going to begin offering online classes and my trainer will be leading clients via Zoom (gotta figure that stuff out). I imagine I will also take over grocery shopping for Steve’s parents. We want to support our local economy so as someone suggested, we will probably buy some gift certificates from local restaurants. In regards to hubby’s new normal, who knows what brave new world it will be. 

Presuming that we might all be spending more time at home, how do you think you’ll use that time?

Watch out, I am going full on Marie Kondo mode. Closets, I’ll be coming at you like a spidermonkey. Sorry kids if I repurpose all those crappy clay bowls you made in elementary school. Gonna repurpose them right into the rubbish bin (did I say that out loud?).

If you watch more TV, which shows will you watch? 

Something with levity for sure.  Maybe rewatch Schitt’s Creek. Looking for suggestions, friends!  

What shows (including documentaries) have you watched in the last year or so that you would highly recommend?

Schitt’s Creek. Ozark. Saturdays in the South (very interesting documentary on the SEC network). Ken Burns’ Country Music. And we love Nova and American Experience. 

I have thoroughly thoroughly thoroughly enjoyed watching “Dickinson” about Emily Dickinson. Haley Seinfeld plays the lead and it’s sort of a ash up between historical fiction and modern teen angst. Jane Krakowsky is brilliant as her mother and John Mulany plays Thoreau in one episode, and is hilarious. I am also eagerly awaiting the return of “Victoria” on PBS.

What are you reading right now?

The Decameron and the Book of Revelations, ha. Actually, just finished Uncommon Type (get well soon, T. Hanks!) and enjoyed it very much. Now eying a nonfiction on Versailles and thumbing through a book of poetry, both of which I picked up at Sewanee bookstore. And the current Sewanee Review. Okay, not really the last one, I’m just putting on airs. I have subscribed since 1986 however, points for that?

Also this, which a good friend recommended

 Steve is reading Angels and Demons just because he found he had downloaded it to his iPad twenty years ago. Again, get well soon T. Hanks/ Robert Langdon.

What have you read in the last year or so that you would highly recommend?

Mary Jo: The Overstory, Fates and Furies.  And as ever, Delta Wedding

Jennifer: Please see Mary Jo’s prior Bacon post on Delta Wedding here!

What essential supply are you stocked up on?

Vodka. Steve says TP. I’m all, “REALLY??  can’t you do your business at work, kimosabe?!”

May I come to your house for toilet tissue if we run out?

Sure Elaine, I can spare a square. Steve says he will trade for alcohol.

What essential supply are you not stocked up on? Where would you go to get it? 

I think we are pretty well set. Shelves at the Monteagle Piggly Wiggly were full, just saying. Currently trying to stock up on pragmatism, optimism, and faith.

What is your advice for friends trying to stay mentally healthy in this trying time?

It seems everyone is an expert now just because they have read something on THE Facebook or the Interwebz. I am weary of hearing the phrase “They say…”.  Who the heck is this omnipresence and revered “they”? We are in unfamiliar territory and there seems to be no conventional wisdom. I had a wise Shakespeare professor whose mandate was if we read one piece of criticism, we must read at least three. That is prudent… browse the smorgasbord but practice some discretion in what you ingest, people! And think twice before regurgitating it back out. 

My advice is limit your social media and virulent (see what I did there) group text threads. Commiserate, yes, but do not stoke the fires of hysteria or participate in rumor mongering. Don’t forget about the tornado victims in our community. Check on your elderly neighbors. Get some fresh air and some perspective. Steve says go to the CDC and WHO websites. 

Not to sound flippant  and forgive the cliche, but this too shall pass.     

*      *      *

Photos and captions from last week at their home on the Mountain…all from Mary Jo…

Beauty amid untidiness. Hyacinths in all their unbridled vanity and confidence shaming the the autumn ferns and oh so tired Dusty Miller to either put out or get out (pssst…don’t tell the vainglorious bulbs that they will be gone come April or May).


Second week of March was early to spot the spring ephemerals but a discerning eye can find them along the leaf litter and moss. (PS and full disclosure: yeah, as familiar as these are the other wildflowers are to me by sight, I had to google them for the names)
Family: Ranunculaceae – Buttercup family Genus Common Name: Anemone.


BTW, Heptica comes in blue also. Yassssss, fly yo’ freak flag!


Trilliums peeking out. I have always maintained that looking down is as important as looking up or out.


This is true griege. So much better in real life than in your tall white skinny new build in…
(wow, too harsh?)


The object of our hike…Buggy Top Cave in the Carter Natural Area. Super easy… 2 miles in, 2 miles out. Was a Monday, did not see another soul.


Wild and tenacious geranium


I know this is blurry and while I am not sure what is budding out, I am fairly confident Dr. Seuss had something to do with it….


A lot of weeds = a lot of therapeutical activity. And a bright spot there…thank you Miss Primrose!


Time to put back out the squirrel, I mean, BIRD feeders…


16 and 18 year old Texans understanding why their mother (my sorority sister) and I loved our time on the Mountain so much. The eldest is going to Univ of Richmond in the fall (God willing and the covid don’t rise) and little sister, an excellent tennis player, is considering/being recruited by the Sewanee tennis team.


And finally – from the salad days at Sewanee.

*       *       *

Brief update from my own house: husband at home and daughter at Emory are both about the same, no better, no worse. Daughter made the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.


  1. Love this and you two gals. Lights in our community.

  2. Mary Jo Shankle is a Nashville treasure. Her humorous ways are always uplifting. Fun read!

  3. Jennifer, you are my favorite read these days. Thanks for posting. I pray you avoid the virus surrounding you!

  4. FYI, no more TP on the mountain!

  5. Love everything about this. Thanks for a great perspective this morning. Jennifer, thanks for the family update too. Hope everyone turns the corner soon.

  6. Fun post in the time of corona, Mary Jo! Jennifer, I hope hubs and daughter turn the corner soon.

  7. We recommend Babylon Berlin. We like it in German with (hard-to-read) English subtitles so that we can hear the dialogue in the real voices of the actors.

  8. Love this post. Love seeing sewanee wildflowers. I have blood root growing in my backyard here. Stay safe.

  9. AHHHH!!! so much wit and wisdom from MJ this morning! Love it. and some very big words (vainglorious, ahem!) and all kinds of English major allusions. Outstanding! Thank you Jen for the wonderful post and hoping for quick recovery in your household. xo

  10. MJ, I can “hear” your voice in reading these words of wit!!! Thank you –and that taffeta dress–the bomb!! Thank you and of course, miss you

    • The Shower Curtain Dress, as it was aptly and affectionately known, was a loaner from the sorority sister I mentioned in the post! Annnnnd it is still in my closet today…

  11. Just what I needed this morning! Thank you Mary Jo and Jennifer. The Puryears are especially in my prayers at this moment when I have a lot of time to devote to that activity.

  12. What a hilarious and uplifting post! John and I were bellylaughing at breakfast. Thanks for the much needed levity and beautiful pictures.

  13. Well done, Mary Josephine. 🙂

  14. Fabulous as always, that Mary Jo and that Jennifer!

  15. Absolutely love this post!!

  16. MJ & J
    Outstanding Post!!

  17. Thank you for my smiles today! I’m indulging in (mostly) uplifting and humorous news these days, and this had both in spades.

  18. Another of my favorite guest columnists! Yay, Mary Jo Shankle! Thank you, MJ and Jennifer, for providing me some high-quality entertainment and diversion today!

  19. Thank you for this refreshing and uplifting read!
    I began reading “The Overstory” this morning and… wow. Loving it.

    • I am horribly embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read it yet. I’ve read a lot ABOUT it. I’ve heard my book club discuss it. But heavens I just need to read it at this point!! Xoxo

  20. * Jennifer, I just now read your earlier posts and was not aware of what you have been dealing with. I hope your husband and daughter recover more each day.
    This blanket of uncertainty covering us is awful. You’re doing an amazing job showing grace under pressure while keeping others grounded.
    Big hugs and thank you!

    • Thank you so much for the encouragement, Karen. I remember learning the phrase “grace under pressure” (Hemingway?) in high school, and aspiring to it then. Big virtual hugs to you too. Xoxo

  21. Mary Jo I have read and re-read this post! Thank you for sharing your wit, and like Louise I hear your voice too.
    Jennifer, I really hope your patients are over the virus soon! You are a rock!

  22. LOVE this…you are such a wit MJ!! Off the wall but does your pig happen to have Golden Eagle Syrup popcorn? I can only find it at mother’s in AL. Pretty sure that everyone should stock up during these uncertain times!

    • Stacy, I don’t even know what that is. is it syrup? is it popcorn? is it raptor food? bahaha. I will look next time I am on the mountain.

    • Hey, Stacy! So I don’t even know what that is. Is it syrup? Is it popcorn? Raptor food?? I will look for it next time I am on the mountain.

      • D-All of the above! Golden Eagle Syrup is the syrup that many Alabamians used on pancakes, biscuits. According to my friend whose family founded the syrup in AL, it can only be purchased in Alabama. In the summer they released their popcorn coated in the syrup and it is fabulous but sells out immediately. When you mentioned Piggly Wiggly I thought perhaps there was a chance that it could be found in your neck of the woods. If you find it, grab ya some! Jennifer Puryear, Thank you for your postings…I am now addicted and noting any and all recommendations!

  23. So good girls! Thanks for the lift! Xo

  24. OH Mary JO! Perfect! I needed this real world perspective from you today!

  25. Mary Jo, I love this so much! You are a fabulous writer—the corona doyenne!

  26. one last thing, y’all…how could I forget to recommend “Turn” and “Derry Girls”??? Brilliant binging, both!

  27. Laughing aloud and loving the gorgeous photos – J and MJ, thank you for this warmth amidst the gray!

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