I'm not much of a writer anymore, but here we go with a journal.
|I'm a 62 63-year-old widow living in Madison, Wisconsin, with two adult kids who here go by Kid A and Kid B.|
|The US population is 332,279,753. As far as I can tell, I'm number 332,279,752 in line to get a covid vaccine, and that's fine. (Condolences to that one 62-year-old chick behind me.)
We're having all kinds of trouble here in Wisconsin with the vaccine roll-out. The teachers' union doesn't want in-person classes until all teachers are vaccinated, and other essential workers are next in line. But even the people already eligible, especially people over 65, can't get appointments or have their appointments cancelled. Some older folks are spending almost as much time on hold as laid-off workers trying to apply for unemployment insurance. It's just sad that all these programs, including the Payment Protection Program as well, have so many people clamoring for them that they're completely overwhelmed.
This hasn't got much to do with me personally. I'll get the vaccination when I'm eligible, but am not in a hurry. I'm retired and don't do much socializing anyway. When I leave my own house and yard, it's mostly for outdoor recreation or go to the grocery or kitty supply store. Other retail shopping is online (seeds from Seed Savers and handmade napkins from Etsy currently on order!). I feel bad about not shopping more at small, local non-food shops, but don't spend that much money in the best of times, and just about never have money for things like restaurants.
I'm pretty sure I had covid a few months back anyway. Kid B works with some jackass who thinks the whole thing is a joke and is always working with his facemask down. Kid B has a pretty high threshold for frustration, but has made it clear he has no use for this person, who also keeps trying to pick fights with everyone about politics. Both of us got mildly sick, hopefully enough to lend a bit of immunity.
I do hope vaccinations are more available in June, because Kid A may come back home then on his way out west. He's in Austin, TX now, but plans to go back out to the west coast for another summer/fall of fighting wildfires. Not that Wisconsin is exactly on the way from Texas to Oregon, but I'm hoping he'll stop by anyway.
|I've been getting down to business about learning how to cook.
In the past, I've had so many problems with finding recipes, but not being able to make them work. Or trying some kind of food item on the infrequent occasion that I get to a restaurant, and then trying to get home and copy it, and failing miserably. It's time to fix this mess, and no better time for it than during this vast and boring pandemic.
Cilantro has always been a puzzle to me. When someone else puts it into food, it's fantastic. When I try putting it into a recipe, it tastes like soap. Even a frozen pizza with cilantro on it would taste great, but anything I tried to use it on would taste like shampoo on toast. I was wondering if it was some kind of a curse. It turns out most people enjoy cilantro, but scientists have figured out that a small percent of us get the taste of soap from cilantro. It's in our DNA.
But there's a way to deal with this: by chopping, mooshing, bashing, blending, smooshing, overcooking, and generally just torturing the hell out of cilantro. It works! Not a dominatrix fantasy at all, just food science.
Mostly, though, I just can't pay money anymore for stuff like prepared pasta sauce, salsa, salad dressing, etc. I got lazy for a while because of coming home late from work and hungry, but now that I'm retired, there's no more excuse. Saving money is pretty important right now.
But the real blessing is in the learning.
Example: I had my first tostada a couple years ago, at the airport while waiting for a connecting flight back home, after saying goodbye to my dad. It was some kind of chain restaurant in an airport, nothing fancy, But I'd never had a tostada before, and it was delicious. Well, after I got home I tried to replicate it, and it came out disgusting. I used all the same ingredients, but it just did not work.
Turns out that to make a tostada, you need to toast the tortilla. Apparently that's why the call it a tostada. (DOH!) That made all the difference. Food science!
So now I'm on a roll. No more growing lemongrass and tomatillos in the garden, only to have them go to waste because of having no idea how to cook them. No more spending extra money for pre-made spaghetti sauce. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to make wine.
We does what we cans.
|Heading into a second week of frigid temperatures, and I'm feeling a little claustrophobic. The only time I got outside today was shoveling the most recent snow. It's been below zero a lot of the time, just sneaking up to a few degrees above zero in the middle of the day.
Between the pandemic and the weather, I don't know when I've spent so much time in the house. Not since the kids were at the infant/toddler stage. So many places are still closed or curbside only, and when the streets and sidewalks are covered with ice anyway, it's hard to know what to do except say "Aw, chuck it!" until the whole situation improves this spring. I'm relatively unaffected, but even so I'm just so ready for the whole stupid pandemic to go away. And it can take February on its way out.
The frigid weather thing that really drives me crazy isn't the snow or the below-zero temps, it's all the static electricity. Just wearing clothes makes sparks on my skin. And the fleecier the fabric, the more static. I can't even pet the cats without small doses of electrocution on both ends. Especially the ears. (Theirs, not mine.) Pet a cat in this weather and it's like their ears have miniature Roman candles shooting out the tips.
It's a long winter, but I'm betting things will be much improved by April and May. Our elders used to claim situations that suck build character. We could use some of that right now. I hope they were right.
Fathertymme's recent post "Three Score and Ten + Day 167" got me thinking about how we package and put away our memories. I'm getting old and have experienced a lot of things. He was talking about how hard it would be to put 2020 into a box, and oh holy smokes yeah, that's so very true. But he also got me thinking about how memory is the least equal of places.
What if we could put every year of our life into a box? Honestly, we remember very little. And the things I remember best are probably those memories I'm most actively trying to avoid. It's impossible to Kon-mari life. Memories are more likely to haunt than to spark joy. But we do end up stacking those memories in boxes, year by year, age by age. We have some power to arrange.
There would be one locked box for life before five, and sides that obscured 99% of what's inside. The little tiny bit visible would be precious.
Each elementary school year would come in a flat box, sparse but sparkly. Reading Cricket in Times Square! My neighbor Julie skipping into my third grade class and helping me understand how to play the game and give teachers what they want! Learning violin! Alexander Lindsay Junior Museum!
The boxes between ages twelve and seventeen would look sort of like broken pizza boxes with nothing left but oily cardboard and disgusting bits of burnt crust.
Age nineteen through twenties boxes would be wet and not able to keep their sides squared. Something yeasty brewing in there.
Around the age of thirty, the years started packaging themselves in proper file boxes. While I remember little about my own childhood and have never known much of anything about my parents' marriage, I could write an encyclopedia about my own marriage and children.
The year my husband died would be one of those tidy file boxes with an elephant sitting on it and crushing it to smithereens.
Since then, the boxes have been less about me and more about themselves. 2013 may have been a box full of meaningless trinkets, and 2018 was full of grievances. But if maturity has given me anything, it's been the ability to look at the box from outside, rather than feeling trapped in it with no way to get out.
I'm afraid 2020 is a box that will sit precariously on all our shelves, mine included. It's shaped all wrong and looks unrealistically heavy, like something that might someday throw itself down on our future heads.
|Dang. I thought this was going to be perfect.
I've been wanting to keep a couple rabbits for some time. I've always liked rabbits.
I had a penny,
A bright new penny,
I took my penny
To the market square.
I wanted a rabbit,
A little brown rabbit,
And I looked for a rabbit
(First stanza of Market Square by A.A. Milne, also the story of my life.)
My recently-moved next-door neighbor had a pretty white rabbit named Bun-bun. (You let your toddler name your pets, you don't get blinding originality.) Mr. Bun-bun lived in a pen adjacent to their garage with a tiny old doghouse their chihuahua was too spoiled to ever use. Mom and daughter and chihuahua went back and forth a between their Madison home next door to me and their hometown up north. The rabbit had been a country pet, but whoever was taking care of him couldn't do it anymore, so they brought him down here to become a furry urban gentleman. I didn't even realize he was over there until he appeared in my driveway one day, nibbling away at a Brussels sprout plant. I was just about to go get a camera to make a lost pet post on Facebook, when the neighbor showed up, apologizing.
After that, Mr. BunBun and I became great friends. The neighbor let me bring him left-overs from my garden vegetables, and take care of him from time to time when they were away with her family. It was awesome. Besides, rabbit poop is compost to die for! But then BunBun died one day -- rabbits tend to go from healthy to flat-line without much warning -- and then the neighbors moved back up north for good.
So now I want rabbits. I'm going to adopt two of them. Their names will be Kerfuffle and Covfefe. I almost adopted a pair of dwarf rabbits right away, but wasn't quite ready to come up with a hutch, and didn't feel I yet had the bunny-smarts to be confident about leaving them outside all winter.
Last week, a person on Nextdoor with the unlikely name Amber Whitehouse posted that she was looking for someone to foster her pair of rabbits for three months, and I jumped up ME-ME-MEEEE! We had it all planned out, but then she backed out at the last minute. I only found out yesterday. Super disappointed.
But now I'm in it for sure. I will get my rabbits! As soon as the property tax gets paid, I'm going to start pricing hutches, and keep an eye on the local rescue websites. When the time is right, the bunnies will come.
|One beauty part about retiring is that I no longer have to deal with a lot of people. I also have some choice about which people I choose to deal with, which definitely wasn't the case when I was employed in retail. Yet even with that incredible advantage, that Get Out Of Jail Free card, people problems won't go away. And it seems to me that easy access to online chatter is a big part of the problem.
Dealing with other people has never been easy for me. Now it just keeps getting weirder and weirder. And it isn't just me saying so. With jobs, schools, community meetings, and all kinds of other stuff going online, all of us have had some adjusting to do. This thing was already coming at us like a drunken bull, but this last year so much human interaction has moved online. Hard to say whether it's changing our social skills or just plain ruining them. (Note: I don't mean this site. People here are much more likely to get to know each other than users of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Nextdoor, etc.)
I find myself in conversations that go something like:
ObviousStater: "The sky is blue."
CounterpointNerd: "That's a misrepresentation that many people fall for. Scientifically, the evidence shows sky color lies in a spectrum between lavender to medium turquoise. Here are links to five article that prove this."
EverythingIsFunnyGuy: "only if it's not cloudy LOL then its white accept if your on venus then its yellow lol SNORT"
HatesEverybodyGuy: "Youre all a bunch of *@^*!&ing idiots who obviously don't realize it's night more often than daytime meaning the sky is black. You should all *%&&(@+# yourselves and go kill yourselves while you're at it!Retards!"
CounterpointNerd: "It's clearly impossible for it to be night more than half the time. Next time do some research, Neanderthal."
… By which time ObviousStater (who may or may not be me) has slunk away and disabled notifications.
Under ordinary circumstances, I'd just ignore the whole mess. But right now all my volunteer work is cancelled, no shows are showing, eating out and most shopping are locked down, classes and activities are gone, the gym is closed, traveling and visiting are verboten, and you can't even go for a hike without having to dodge off the path if you want to follow social distancing protocols. I haven't even gotten my teeth cleaned by my lovely dental hygienist Sandy in almost a year. (Next month, Sandy, next month!)
I did find one new volunteer gardening job this summer, but it involves trying to work with people. People I've mostly met only online.
Cindy has been taking care of a modest planting of flowers around the Dixon Greenway sign for years, and hadn't been able to keep up with it lately. She advertised on Nextdoor for someone to please take over the project. I said I'd be happy to.
We agreed to meet at the park, which is two blocks from my house, at 6:00. At 5:57 I was getting ready to put on my contacts, grab my mask, and bike to the park, when the phone rang. It was Cindy, asking why I was late. I apologized profusely, even though I wasn't actually late. Skipped the contacts, skipped the mask because I can't wear it with glasses because it fogs them up and anyway we were going to be spaciously outside, and got down to the Greenway asap.
After berating me for being late and not having a mask, and me apologizing some more, Cindy filled me in about the garden. She wanted to hand the project over to me, even though she'd already given it to Megan, who had the paperwork, and Megan was probably going to be all upset and jealous, but Megan was too young and not committed and . . . . . .
"Whoa whoa whoa!" exclaimed my brain, "How is there so much drama involved with this simple little garden?"
But I nodded along with this whole spiel, because Cindy said she wanted to be done with the project, and Megan had never really been active with it.
For the next month, I spent half an hour per day weeding, which since it had been so neglected was the only way to get out all the reed canary grass and other weeds. I'd dig up a square foot of soil and it'd take five minutes just to extract all the grass rhizomes. Then on to the next foot. Then watering. Because it had been weed-choked for a couple years, it needed more plants, so I added some perennials divided from my own yard, and worked with the leader of a wildflower project nearby to get some seedlings they weren't using. The city dropped off some bark mulch, which I spread. All fine and dandy, exactly the kind of cooperative, work-at-your-own-pace volunteer job I was looking for.
But Cindy didn't actually want to give up control. She made appointments to meet me twice, but never showed up to either of them. Yet she kept bitching online about how she didn't like where I'd put various plants. After agreeing I should go ahead and accept the extra wildflowers from the other project, she turned around and told me not to plant most of them because she didn't like them after all. Meanwhile the mysterious Megan, who never showed up to any meetings and I have still never met, had all the paperwork. I contacted her online a bunch of times, giving her my address, offering to go to her place (wherever that is) to pick the papers up, but apparently all I've managed to do is make her feel guilty. I still don't have the paperwork, which means whatever resources and expectations the city has for such projects are still a mystery to me. And I have no idea what Cindy will want to do next year.
The beauty part about retiring was supposed to be that I wouldn't have to deal with this kind of nonsense anymore. I'm really good at getting things done, at working fast and saving money, but terrible at these kinds of people problems.
|Winter is here. Everything outside is white and slippery. I still go out there every day, to run, to fill bird feeders, to go to the store, to bring in the last crops from the garden, etc. But much less outdoors until outdoors stops acting like a big, grouchy snowball.
I've just discovered that if I take the branch clippers out an shove aside the snow, I can use them to hack off a whole kale plant at the stem bottom. Bring it inside and stick it upside-down in the largest bowl available till most of the ice melts off, then rinse it, cut the leaves off, let them dry off a bit more, and save them in a plastic bag in the fridge. I'd never harvested anything but Brussels sprouts out from under the snow before, and thought a leaf crop would end up a sloppy, ruined mess. But as long as you don't cut leaves off the stalk until they've thawed out, they stay perky and fresh. The best kale I've ever grown, actually.
Still, winter means a lot more time indoors. I wonder about people who live in Wisconsin and paint all their rooms trendy shades of white. (Research box: This year these shades include Cloud, Chantilly, Swiss Coffee, and Strong White.) Everything is a white outside here half the year anyway. Why have neutral colors indoors? The people need color!
My bedroom is jade green, the living room is blue. The dining room is amber-shellaced wood. The kitchen is deep purple with gilt lettering. The back room is a baffling patchwork-wallpaper made of old children's books and quilting fabric and discontinued calendar pages, with lavendar trim with glitter sprinkled in, and big south- and east-facing windows. Kid A's room (now the memory room, with him off in Texas) is gray with white trim, with old pictures on the wall so it feels like a flashback. The utility room has a print of Miro's Singing Fish my dad gave me and pink, yellow, lavendar, and lime green trim against white (I don't totally hate white) walls. The bathroom a graded aqua from a deep bottom to a frothy-light top that makes you feel like you're under water. And everywhere plants plants plants, toys, art, washi tape, fixtures that resemble mythical creatures, things to read, cats, cat toys, and absolutely no curtains.
I'm sure when I die the kids will have to paint everything white before they can sell the house, but hey, at least I won't have died of depression.
|I walked to the grocery store for the first time of the year. Grocery shopping always gets a lot more complicated for me in the winter, and this year more than ever.
Most of the year I'm able to bike and pack the groceries in baskets attached to the back, plus stray stuff in a backpack if necessary. But at some point the snow comes and doesn't want to go away, possibly until March or later.
Before I lived in Wisconsin, I used to think cities plowed the snow off their streets after a storm. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. I also used to think home and business owners removed the snow from their sidewalks and driveways. Hee hee hee.
What actually happens is the city sends a plow through the streets that mostly just runs over the snow and compacts it into a couple inches of ice, then spreads a little sand in a few random spots. This stuff gradually melts in the sun, over the course of weeks or months, but not much happens as long as the sky is overcast and/or the temps stay below twenty degrees. Car exhaust burns it off the busy streets, but I can't very well bike down the middle of those. Some people do bike all year, but I'm too chicken to swerve around on black ice. I've gone down on black ice in front of a car before, and that's not an experience I want to repeat. Plus I'm sixty-three, so falling on hard surfaces isn't great and is getting less great all the time.
So around this time every year, I grab the granny cart and walk the mile or so down to Woodman's. On the way there I can carry the granny cart over the unshoveled sidewalks and bumps of ice at the intersections, but on the way back I'm too loaded down to lift it over, so I just walk in the street. It's a busy enough street that a lot of ice is melted off, but I don't want to get hit by a car, so it's a lot of pulling the cart aside into snowdrifts when there's oncoming traffic.
This year everything's even more complicated. First because of social distancing on the sidewalk. Very few people here wear a mask outdoors. I don't either. It's not required, and it's not like there are big crowds walking around in winter, but there are a few people.
Second, I'm stuck with stores that are within walking distance there and back, because I'd just as soon stay away from the buses until the covid thing is over. Most years I can walk the nine miles to Trader Joe's and take the bus back, but hauling groceries another nine miles back home does not sound like my idea of fun, plus it would take a huge chunk out of the day.
And third, all the groceries have to go back in the shopping cart and rolled out into the parking lot to pack into the granny cart, because Woodman's still doesn't allow reusable grocery bags, even in the self-check lanes. Because they think somehow germs will waft off my shopping bags? It seems like if I were germy enough to have sick shopping bags, they'd be more likely to get sick from me than from a bag they don't even have to touch. But rules are rules, and I feel compelled to obey even stupid ones.
I keep having to remind myself that this whole covid mess will be over soon. The first vaccinations are here already for front-line healthcare workers, who if you ask me should also be getting a Nobel prize and Time persons of the year and, I don't know, all the lottery money or something.
Probably no vaccine for me anytime soon, though, as I'm in the lowest priority group.
|I wrote about half of a story last week, but I don't see how I'm ever going to finish it.
The same thing happens to me most of the time when I try to write stories: the idea and characters and world are there, plus about half a plot, but the end just never seems to work out right. In my defense, about 90% of the published fiction I've read goes the same way, and you can double that for speculative fiction.
I "remember" the first story I ever "wrote." Quotey things because I don't actually remember hardly any of it, and it never got written down.
It was eighth grade science class, and the assignment was to read a science fiction book -- any science fiction book -- and give a five-minute oral book report. This should have been a slam-dunk for me because I used to read plenty of books, and a healthy percentage of them were science fiction or fantasy. In fact, it sounded so easy that I wasn't in any hurry about it. My dad took me down to the Pleasant Hill library over the weekend, and I got a book out of the young adult section that had an interesting blurb and a really cool cover.
But it turned out to have way more sex in it than I was expecting. Way, way more sex. Which would have been a very happy thing, except for having to stand up in front of my eighth grade science class with an oral book report. I wouldn't be able to give even a basic plot summary without sex coming into it.
Since there was no way in hell that was going to happen, I brought in the book, showed everybody the pretty cover, and spontaneously made up a story. Fictionalized fiction. I was up there rambling for four minutes or so, spewing fascinating world-building details, plot twists and bull. But then I noticed the teacher glancing up at the clock. My five minutes were almost up, and I'd barely even gotten started. I panicked and tossed an apocalyptic war into the mix.
"And then they all died."
At least it made everybody laugh.
But often enough my written stories have flailed around just as much trying to come to an end. It's so much more fun to start a story, to build a world, to throw another bone into the soup of a plot, than to bring the whole thing to a satisfying conclusion.
|The walls of Kid A's bedroom are all painted now, though I got hella sick doing the roller part of it. Now it's on to cutting and painting the wood trim, then replacing switch plates and spraypainting the register cover. Kid A himself is off fighting wildfires out west, but I expect him back at least for the holidays. His long-term plan has been to move to Austin, but after spending the summer out west, he may have changed his mind about that. Whenever he shows up, I hope he likes flat gray walls and semi-gloss white trim. It's also the cat room and the memory room, so colorful accents will be coming along after all the serious painting is done.
The color is a darkish gray, but they call it "Evening Serenade." Paint color names tend to be more evocative of moods than of actual colors. Without knowing "Evening Serenade" was gray, I'd assume a deep blue or a jazzy violet. If I named colors they'd be more like Old Margarine, Smashed Pumpkin Innards, and Don't Eat That Meat!
I'm about 75% sure I've got covid, but so far nothing serious, just uncomfortable. I've been going about my normal activities, except staying away from all people 100% of the time, which gets a little tricky. They say I shouldn't go get tested unless my symptoms get worse, which is fine by me, since getting tested would involve a moderate bike ride and waiting around in the cold for who knows how long. Wisconsin is a hot spot right now, so a lot of people are getting tested here.