Mike Krainak shows off his latest loaf.
Mike Krainak, contributing visual arts editor, adds fresh-baked banana bread to his culinary chops..

 It’s said that nothing unites a country and its people more than a common enemy. With Covid-19, a novel virus at that, we have it in spades. Only this time, the war hasn’t united nations against one another—unless labeling it the “China virus” is prelude. It’s created a pandemic that threatens the entire planet. Daily, weekly and now monthly, we are reminded that we are all in this togethe

 True enough. And though we all have roles to play, they aren’t exactly created equal. We are all at risk here in Omaha, as the curve of virus infections and fatalities in Nebraska hasn’t quite flattened. But those of us sequestered at home are more fortunate than those on the front lines keeping us as healthy, safe and fortified as humanly possible.

 Yet, self-containment and stay at home recommendations, short of a mandate, come with their own complications, especially if caused by layoffs, job losses and small business closures. Unemployment insurance, even a one-time $1200 payout, might help pay the rent and keep us in our homes, but dude, we are still at home for the duration, and those four walls are closing in.

 We are creatures of habit, but that was okay pre-virus because among our options was leaving home, when we wanted, where we wanted and with whom we wanted to hook up. Now, we are living in a bubble instead of a comfort zone, and slowly but surely, the grooves that used to shape “the days of our lives” are turning into ruts of repetition. Think “Groundhog Day.”

This is particularly true for Reader’s “artful dodgers,” that group of arts writers who attended exhibit openings each month in a variety of venues covering the diversity of Metro’s emerging and established artists. It’s truly been a group effort as writers looked forward to covering their beats in an effort to cast a net over the dozen or two of shows that opened month after month. Besides, it got us out of the house even in the best of times.

 Now, hopefully like most everyone else, when not self-contained at home, the artful dodgers don their masks and risk more than anonymity at the grocery, clinic and pharmacy, thankful to all who care and sustain us, mostly grateful just to get out the front door and outdoors.

 Sure, while sequestered one can enjoy and even write about the visual arts that exhibit regionally online, and we do. And one can always Zoom in on neighbors, extended family and friends when the faces and lives we share at home become all too familiar. Let alone annoying. But the truth is, social media and digital art have real limits. One needs more than virtual reality to sustain oneself…in a crisis, how do we cope creatively in a way that truly engages us? We are only just beginning to find out…

 Like most everybody, the Reader visual arts writers, Kent Behrens, Janet Farber, Jonathan Orozco, Hugo Zamorano, Elmer Ellefson, and yours truly are doing our best to dodge a bullet every time we venture forth into what used to be familiar territory but is now the “great unknown”. Spouse Janet and I sport homemade masks and know how to keep six feet from family, friend and stranger, and at the end of the day, our hands look as if we’d been in a pool all day or reek of disinfectant.

 Downtown and the Old Market, where we downsized five years ago, now look like a ghost town, except for dog walkers, strollers, construction workers, weekend revelers weather permitting and the ever present homeless of all ages. We cannot resist handing out dollar bills to the latter at every opportunity though we realize it’s like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.

 But to a person, every “thank you” and “God bless you” is real and a reminder that more than ever we all live in the present. Still, despite checks to homeless shelters every holiday, why do we then judge or second-guess a simple act of kindness made in the moment? A humble expression of gratitude seems like a fair exchange, but it mostly reminds us real contributions and sacrifices are being made by workers and volunteers at those same shelters.

 We are the lucky ones then, artful dodgers safely ensconced in our homes of choice, each in our own way doing the best to make ends meet, following the news and measuring what we see, hear and read from the media we trust the most…most of all, what we hear that makes the most sense is: “If you want to flatten the curve and hasten the all clear when American can re-open for business and pleasure, then stay the hell in place.”

 In other words, if you can’t be part of the solution (therapy, cure or vaccine), then don’t be part of the problem. Don’t spread the damn contagion. Stay put or we all kaput! Not making light of current events. Trying to keep a perspective or at least a distance in the midst of all that threatens hidden outside or inside and on various screens with their mixed messages of advice, half-truths, rumors and lies. And find a coping method amidst all the sturm und drang.

 Coping is a must if for no other reason to stave off cabin fever, which reaches a peak when you find yourself socially distancing at home as well. Anything to carve out a space, to occupy time, maybe even recreate one’s self. One can only binge-watch so much TV or text, tweet, email, and FaceTime and zoom. You might think writing about art would be enough to fill our days, but it’s not. A boy needs a hobby.

 As for me, it appears my hobby of choice is baking. I’ve always done some, and Janet and I share the cooking chores pretty religiously, but baking is a weekly passion. Daily, I spend a third of my waking hours online, reading, researching, organizing, scheduling, writing, editing and posting on behalf of Metro arts and for the artful dodgers and Reader. It keeps me engaged and focused, if more that a bit blurry-eyed, as anyone who spends that much blue screen time can appreciate.

 And personally, it’s an honor and a pleasure. I’m proud of how the Reader covers the visual arts in the Metro, knowing that we need to do more on behalf of its diversity and inclusivity. I’m in awe of the latter as nearly every month or so, a new venue or artist shares the spotlight with a plethora of post-emerging and established ones who deserve all of our attention and something more than their 15 minutes. And I truly appreciate all the Readers’ arts writers the past decade who have done their part to make that happen while enriching all our lives. Art, now more than ever.

 But if art is the cake, then baking is the frosting, so to speak. Aside from the above, baking keeps the daily rituals and grooves from becoming a rut. Along with reading, exercising, watching great films and discovering new TV series or reconnecting with old ones, currently anything detective/mystery, I.e. Kurt Wallander, Baptiste, baking savory and sweet is more than a distraction. It’s hands-on, time well spent.

 The product of choice is mostly a loaf of something whether banana, Irish Soda (traditional), ginger, corn, zucchini, even meat. I search for exotic recipes but never met one I couldn’t mess with and almost never make anything the same way twice…and yet, each of the above nearly always taste like the one before.

When they all begin to look, weigh and even taste alike, I know I’ve gone overboard with the whole wheat and oat bran thing I mix with the flour, as well as the walnuts, raisins, orange rind, yogurt, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar and ginger I bake in nearly everything sweet. French pastry it ain’t, but the results are healthier than store bought–“Taste great! More filling!” Our townhome smells wonderful for days. I can credit growing up with my mom’s classic bran muffins and ginger cookies as influential and a moving experience.

 Recipes are a bit like lesson plans and architectural designs. Great to have, but they should free you rather than freeze you. Attack and adjust. Create in the moment. Isn’t that what artists always say when pressed? “The work took on a life of itself.” Isn’t that where we are today? Living in the present in uncharted waters, hoping that a rising tide of goodwill and better news will float all boats.








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