Our last day in the PRC office was March 13th, so we are in our 10th week of working from home. It’s been a busy time, and we’ve all found different ways to adjust and be productive from our homes. Here’s what some of us have been up to.
I don’t have an office in my home, so I’ve had to create one – my bookshelf is currently functioning as a standing desk. Much of my day-to-day work is the same during this time. I’m still writing and editing blog posts, writing our e-newsletters, working to get our new website up and running, and helping Kyle and Emily Spreiser respond to people across the country who have questions about their retirement benefits.
When I am not working, I have been doing a lot of cooking and baking. I got a 25-pound bag of flour at Costco and have been putting that to good use. My dad sent me a pizza stone and a rolling pin, so I made my own dough one weekend and experimented with different toppings. He also sent me a candy thermometer and a marmalade recipe, so I now have what feels like a lifetime supply of grapefruit marmalade. I’ve made a few different kinds of bread, and I even tried to make fresh pasta! It tasted good, but definitely would have been easier if I had a pasta machine.
Going back to the days of dial-up AOL service in the 1990s, I’ve always had a desk and a computer at home so the transition to teleworking wasn’t too difficult for me. I drive to the PRC office once or twice a week to handle administrative matters for the office and respond to phone calls (people continue to need help with their pension problems). My activities (like paying rent and bills) fall under ‘essential business activities’ as defined by the DC government’s stay-at-home order and as such I am allowed to go into the office for this purpose.
It is quite jarring to see almost no traffic or people on my journey to the office at the height of rush hour. When I am not working, I have been going on a lot of walks, downloading old puzzle games or trivia games, and checking out old tv shows I’ve missed over the years. My mother sent me a care package which included a six- pound bag of gummy bears so when the quarantine is over, my dentist will need to send her a commission, or at least a thank you letter.
My life sort of resembles the 1960s TV show Gilligan’s Island. At the beginning of March, I flew to Connecticut for what I thought would be a three-day “tour” to see my parents, but because of Covid-19 I’m now stranded and quarantined on the “island.” Of course, rather than being in the tropics with Maryann and Ginger and Mr. Howell, I’m holed up with my 92-year-old mom, my 96-year-old dad and a few aides in the house I grew up in – the longest I’ve been here since I was 20-years-old. But I’m not complaining. I get to spend time amazing quality time with my wonderful aged parents while working 8-10 hours a day in a small make-shift office I set up in their dining room, occasionally being interrupted when my hard-of hearing mom screams “Do you want lunch? What? What did you say?” This usually happens just as I’m on a phone call with staffers on Capitol Hill! But even with these interruptions, I’ve been quite productive.
We are thrilled that provisions to protect and restore retirees’ pensions have been included in the HEROES Act, which is about to be voted on by the House of Representatives, and we will be working with retirees around the country to ensure its passage in the Senate. I’m also working with colleagues to try to stop a Department of Labor rule, which will effectively deep-six important retirement disclosures, and on our new Emergency initiative to Protect Women’s Economic Security in the Time of COVID-19.
Oh, sorry, I have to go…my mom is calling me.
Every year the Pension Rights Center hosts a national training conference for the attorneys of the six federally funded pension counseling projects. It normally takes place in-person here in Washington D.C. and the project attorneys fly in. This year, that isn’t possible. So, we are moving forward with the conference but pivoting to a remote format using a combination of different technologies (think conference calls, webinar platforms, and Zoom video chat). There has been a lot of back end logistics work, but I am pleased to say that we are still going to be offering a full conference schedule and am proud of how our team has adapted to some pretty big changes in circumstances.
And I’m continuing to work with the rest of PRC’s dedicated staff to respond to new legal challenges as they arise via phone and e-mail. I am also looking forward to co-presenting a webinar on dividing retirement benefits at divorce for the ABA Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence on June 2.
Outside of work, I am planning to try my hand at DIY furniture upholstery with a kit I bought from an independent, woman-owned business in Austin to upholster my own mid-century modern bench using mudcloth. And I have started doing watercolor paintings and making empanadas. I am also rewatching all of Cheers and am also enjoying the new season of Kim’s Convenience – both are charming and lighthearted.
The bright side of working from home has been the gorgeous spring we have had with many flowering trees and shrubs in my neighborhood. I enjoy walks on the street and occasionally meet a friend or a new neighbor- but at a distance. When the weather is decent I can eat lunch on the deck.
The downside of working from home is that I don’t have all my files and records with me. I must look up information that would be easily accessible in the office. It’s rather like reinventing the wheel, and just as slow.
Like everyone else I am looking forward to a safe end to this crisis. In the meantime I will enjoy the extra e-mails from my bored grandchildren and the family ZOOM meetings.
The pandemic has changed my life less than that of other PRC staff members since I mostly teleworked before we were ordered to shelter in place. There is just a lot more handwashing, also more e-mails and conference calls. Every morning we all share our plans for the day and then have check-in conference calls every other day.
This has been an incredibly busy time for us since several of our top priority legislative issues are under serious consideration on Capitol Hill. At the same time, we are working to stop a range of proposed regulatory measures that would cutback important protections.
Helping us untiringly on our many projects are our wonderful consultants, Norman Stein, Bill Bortz, Terry Deneen, David Brandolph, and Debbie Chalfie. We also remain in contact with our resident artist and long-time administrative assistant Victoria Kanios who recently shared a terrific recipe for Julia Child’s French Onion Soup.
The high points of my non-workdays are sunset walks. At that time, almost everyone is home eating dinner or watching the news, so the streets are deserted. I carry a mask but don’t need it. When I see someone, it’s easy to swerve six feet to avoid them — a bit like a square dance.