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

How are you spending your days in isolation?


5:15 a.m.

Stirrings from the little pup…. a nudge here and there (and a lick on the face) indicating to us that it is time to get up and serve breakfast.

7 a.m.

Two vertical images next to each other. On the left, a tiny, scraggly looking puppy stands on a gray yoga mat and gray towel. There are dumbbell weights and pilates equipment behind the mat. On the right, a photo of an iPad screen with a video call. A woman and her dog are pictured on the screen. Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.

Zoom Pilates with the most amazing instructor, Noel Chase of Ascend Pilates. Working with Noel has simply changed my life. As a person who struggles with chronic back issues, Noel has helped to strengthen my body and I truly believe that I am a bit taller because of years of lessons with her! I cannot urge everyone enough to work with her — her sincerity, her knowledge of the body and her positive energy is truly inspiring.

8 a.m.

A long, wood dining table is pictured with two breakfast settings. On each plate are toast slices and scrambled eggs. A French press and two coffee cups, as well as two cups of fruit are also on the table. On a seat at the table is an old beagle that looks into the camera. Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.

Breakfast… for the last 2 months, I have been cooking up a storm like many of us. I definitely am my mother’s daughter, a woman who loves good eggs. We are enjoying Townside Acres’ (Arthur, IL) eggs that we are able to have delivered from Triple S, with Japanese garlic chives and portobello mushrooms, and a side of milk bread from Lisa Akins, too! So delicious!

9 a.m.

Two vertical images next to each other. Both are photos of the Japan House gardens. Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.

A rare visit to Japan House. I have an amazing staff — Michael Darin, Lisa Akins and Diana Liao — who have been checking up on the House throughout the months of being closed. Though we all long to be back and sharing Japanese arts and culture, we have figured out new ways to connect with our audiences, though we recognize that it is not the same. We very much so look forward to the day in which we can safely return and celebrate over a bowl of tea. 

The gardens are so incredibly lush with all of the rain. I spotted a couple sitting in the machiai in the tea garden enjoying the setting. It was a quiet moment that made me smile. 

10 a.m.

Two vertical images next to each other. On the left, the sidewalk up to a house from the position of the doorway. There are two shopping bags with groceries on the step. On the left, Kimiko Gunji is pictured in her kitchen with one of the grocery bags on her counter. She is holding a bag of oranges and looks into the camera. Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.

Grocery delivery. We have everything delivered. I haven’t been to a grocery store for over two months. I also impose this mandate on my mother, Kimiko Gunji. Thus, I order her groceries and deliver them to her weekly. I am very proud of her and how she is managing through this time. She initiated Zoom tea classes which typically over 20 students attend and also a Zoom tea series that take place on Saturdays. She is making Japanese sweets weekly and sharing them with her tea students to enjoy as we practice tea. 


Two vertical images next to each other. On the left, a countertop with various small dishes to assemble ramen, including two bowls with noodles, and smaller bowls with egg, corn, and greens. On the right, a dining table with two bowls of assembled ramen. An old beagle sits on a chair in front of the assembled bowls, and a small white puppy sits across the table on a bench, looking into the camera. Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud. Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.

Instant ramen. I am a super-fan of ramen. I have found ways to take a simple instant ramen package and make it into something more than a salty broth! Today, I added corn, Japanese greens, fish cakes, spicy ground turkey, hard-boiled egg, green onions and ginger. Don’t suffer through another sub-par bowl of instant ramen… gather ingredients and make the bowl as colorful and delicious as possible!

5 p.m.

Two vertical images next to each other. On the left, a photo of farmer Bob Brackett standing behind tables at his farmstand. In front of him on the tables are boxes filled with bags of produce, individually packaged for each person. On the right, the produce from the farm stand are laid out on a kitchen counter. Pictured are lettuces, asparagus, apples, and Asian chives. Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.

Vegetable pickup. I absolutely love Tuesdays for this reason. Mr. Bob Brackett’s mystery bag of veggies is always so delightful to receive. He sends a lovely email in the morning documenting his week’s farm activity and tells all what to expect (or not to expect) today. The girls (our dogs), Bob (my husband), and I make it an excuse to take a longer walk than our daily usual to see Mr. Brackett. With all of the rain and the transition between spring to summer, we were loaded up on salad greens which are so fresh and absolutely delicious. Generally, whatever I find, I end up using for the meal that evening — asparagus it is!

7 p.m.

Two vertical images next to each other. On the left, a screenshot of a FaceTime call with the author's sister. Picture are a woman and two children. On the right, a photograph of a laptop screen of a Zoom video chat, with four different feeds on the screen. Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.

Online chatting with friends and family. I talk to many people regularly as a check-up on their well-being. I miss my sister and her family dearly, but it is great to see Mika and TJ each day.  Somedays Mika reads me a story, TJ often tries to control the device, and at a minimum we share what we will be eating that evening. I just sent Mika that Illini t-shirt! She is representing!

Tonight, we were able to chat with college and high school friends, both near and far. It is always as if time has never passed in between conversations. So many laughs and frivolities… 

8 p.m.

Two vertical images next to each other. On the left, a dinner plate on a dining room table. On the plate are salmon and asparagus. There is a glass of red wine. An old beagle sits on a chair in front of the place setting, and looks in to the camera. On the right is a photo of a television screen playing ESPN's Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.

Dinner ended up being a miso marinated salmon with a side of Brackett asparagus. We watched the final episode of The Last Dance, and I couldn’t help but weep. I am a die-hard basketball fan (mostly Illini basketball), but was a huge Bulls fan when Michael [Jordan] was still playing. Living in Chicago at the time of the last three championships was thrilling. To relive them through this series was just what we needed. 

9:45 p.m.

Two dogs are curled up and asleep on a bed with a dark blue quilt. Between the dogs is a book called Photo by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.

Bedtime. Each night I read a Zen practice from The Art of Simple Living, by Shunmyo  Masuno. This lovely book has helped keep our minds focused and settled. Last night’s statement read, “Instead of worrying, get moving….” Zen Monk Masuno gives us insight as to how to reflect upon these statements, “… be honest: do you plant the seeds of your own anxiety? It’s a waste of time to get lost in a labyrinth of your own making. Instead, direct your energies to the reality you’re facing and take one step at a time…”

Powerful words to try to implement in our lives.

Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud is a longtime member of the C-U community. Her father attended the University of Illinois in the 50s and never left. Jennifer has been a part of the University of Illinois since 1999 and has been the Director of Japan House for the past 9 years. She lives with her husband, Bob, and her two little dogs, Beatrix (beagle) and Thelma (puppy!).

Top image by Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud.