After a week that involved a colonoscopy and the horror of a president aiding and abetting destruction in the nation’s capital, what could I possibly write about? In anticipation of my medical procedure, a friend encouraged me to write a humor piece about that, but now that it’s over, humor fails me, as does finding anything funny about the rampage in Washington DC.
Time to look ahead, not back, I said, then turned to the Chinese Zodiac for help. Suddenly, everything made sense: 2020 was the Year of the Rat. We don’t need the Zodiac guide to understand rats. Think bubonic plaque.
The new year won’t start in some countries until February 12, and it won’t start here until January 20. With one big rat gone, what might we expect from 2021? The Ox.
This is good news. Oxen, the real ones, are hard workers and they have a calm temperament. They’re accustomed to team work.
Zodiac oxen “are strong, reliable, fair and conscientious, inspiring confidence in others. They are also patient, methodical and can be trusted. “They are honest and earnest. They are low key and never look for praise or to be the center of attention. Rarely losing [their] temper, they think logically and make great leaders.” Having an honest nature, oxen are known for diligence, dependability, strength and determination.”
And although our next president was not born an Ox, here’s hoping he’s enough like those who plow our fields and those who were born in an ox year to bring their qualities to his new job.
In my last blog, I reported on assorted “gifts” received during the first twelve days of Christmas. Since then, twelve more days have passed. Still no partridge in a pear tree, but much more to report.
On day thirteen, I awoke with a scratchy throat, diagnosed my illness as Covid-19 and positioned my fingers to dial 9-1-1. I then remembered that I possessed a miracle cure: a four- or five-year old bottle of Bisolvon Linctus Adulto. After using it for five years I looked up the words. Linctus means medicine in syrup form and Bisolvon–not sold in the United States–is for chest congestion and coughs. I bought these at a Portuguese pharmacy, where the pharmacists and I spoke Portuspanglese before they arrived at the proper diagnosis and prescription.
These patient souls, who in this tiny town in Eastern Portugal likely hadn’t seen a customer in months, gave me their full attention and sent me back to our hotel with this large bottle of liquid and some tablets. The next day my cold fled. I know doctors look down upon using old medicine, but I will be crushed when I run out of this miracle drug.
Day fourteen I felt fine.
Day fifteen, I rooted through drawers of card-making supplies and found enough odds and ends to assemble a variety of different sized cards. After creating several mock-ups I chose the one with the green tree and a very large, red bird. Later, recipient in Texas emailed: “Thanks for your lovely card with the giant Cardinal, I don’t believe any other bird will challenge his ownership [of the tree].” Then to compensate in case he’d hurt mine and the bird’s feelings he added, “We loved it.”
Day sixteen, after attaching my art to the cards, I realized I would have to write a message. By hand. But I no longer write in a way that resembles human handwriting. I can’t even decipher my grocery lists.
After mailing out cards in which my illegible penmanship could lead recipients to fear they’d received ransom notes or other threats, I invested in a resource to help me out. Now I can practice and be ready to write something they can read next December.
Day seventeen I celebrated the discovery of sugar. It came in the form of a mystery package loaded with candies, Rice Krispie-marshmallow bars, frosted cookies, and many other treats. The same evening, a neighbor brought over her special baklava, “layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened and held together with syrup, frosting or honey.” The excitement of receiving so many sweet, surprise gifts was only slightly offset by the sugar high that followed.
Day eighteen I made oatmeal cookies, gave a dozen to a neighbor, and received a gift of expensive red wine in return.
Day nineteen I sat and watched the birds scramble for seeds and suet at our backyard feeders while I downed oatmeal cookies and some of the sugary treats.
Day twenty we went on a walk that took us through a local sports park. The day was sunny and warm(ish) and each of the park’s many baseball fields was filled with peewee players, laughing, shouting and having fun. At that moment, I realized I hadn’t witnessed a group of people having fun since March. It felt so…so…so normal.
Day twenty-one I picked up two mysteries from my library (you order ahead, set a pickup time and they hand you a sack through a window) plus a surprise bag of five books they chose for me based on the genre I specified. This month, I’m in the mood for mysteries, and as of day twenty-three I had nine.
Day twenty-two, a neighbor whose oven wasn’t working asked to borrow ours to bake, for us, the Christmas cardamom bread she’s been making since the nineteen seventies. It brought whole new meaning to “you bake-it” products.
On day twenty-three, we visited a popular garden store known for its festive decorations. The pandemic had led to cut backs in their displays, but it was still fun to see colors besides gray.
It’s day twenty-four and we’ve bought our groceries for tomorrow, and baked a cake filled with pears, apples, an orange, a lemon and nuts.
The most challenging year of our lives is coming to an end and we are grateful to have our health, food and a roof over our heads, aware that many cannot say the same.
Time to appreciate this season of reflection and gratitude.
This year, especially, most of us will not be blessed with twelve imaginative Christmas gifts the likes of geese laying, maids milking, and golden rings under our trees.
Reporting on my first twelve days of December, I can say that in a few cases the presents I’ve received thus far required careful thought to come to an appreciation of them, but given the last nine months of near quarantine plus election wars, many of them represent a real treat.
On day one I received a lovely handmade Christmas card.
Day two marks the fourth consecutive week of a Zoom happy hour with special friends.
Day three brought messages from realtors asking us to move out so their clients could settle in for the holidays.
I have overseas clients, for whom your house would be perfect.
One sent us a card. “Our Search For A Home Led Us To Your Door. All I can say is “Keep out!”
One of the realtor letter writers stands out. It was chatty and completely self-referential, as if selling our house was the last thing on the writer’s mind. She’s a regular correspondent, and this letter was an homage to gratitude and the specific things for which she was grateful. Hmmm. We’re taking this as a subliminal message that we would have her gratitude if we’d just move out.
The fourth day caused a wee panic when we received an email from our chiropractor that an employee at her clinic had tested positive for the virus. We were never at her clinic when the employee was there and now ten days have passed; knowing that we’re not infected was a better gift than any hens-a-laying or pipers piping.
Day five’s gift was experienced as a series of five identical voice mail messages, each from a different phone number, including—I’m not making this up—one from the county’s 911 emergency services line, to remind me of some problem with a Microsoft product I don’t own. The positive message here is that we never had to talk to these scammers.
Day six, which involved a trip to Costco, lead to the purchase of new AA batteries so my six mantle candles all glimmer at once.
Day seven meant a more exciting trip, this time to Ace Hardware, which is located in a horsey neighborhood and sells such useful items as saddles, bits, bridles, and organic hay. I love browsing through the aisles packed with so many foreign goods.
Days eight and nine involved eating a slow-cooker recipe for moussaka which I really botched (my husband described its appearance as something that belonged in Fido’s bowl), preceded by my sending a completed draft of my manuscript to two freelance editors. A friend sent hers to the same two editors months ahead of me. She didn’t consider the results she received a Christmas gift. I’m not expecting mine until January. Since we won’t be vaccinated until summer, I’ll have plenty of time to re-write the entire novel.
Day ten. A friend in Greece and one in Holland reported they were living under pandemic restrictions as we were. Greece requires residents to report to someone whenever they intend to go to the grocery store. Because our lives here depend on frequent grocery store runs (we’ve been to five different ones in the past week), I’m grateful no one asked us for that extra step.
Day eleven. The Supreme Court will not hear the election case promoted by the wacko Texas attorney general, a gift almost as good as not getting the virus.
Day twelve. We await the ringing of the doorbell announcing the arrival of the after-market vacuum cleaner hose.
There are still twelve more days left before Christmas, plenty of time for the partridge in a pear tree to arrive.
I last posted a blog August 16, which I expected would be the end of a series begun in March about life during a pandemic.
Since then, I’ve been working on my novel, the latest version of which went this week to a freelance editor. I’ve returned to blogging to find almost nothing has changed, except the ferocity of the virus.
In March, I started to note items missing from store shelves. The first clues were the signs on the entrances to grocery stores and Costco. “No toilet paper in stock” and “Limit one package per person.” Following that I took photos of missing cans of beans on supermarket shelves. I didn’t make the connection at the time, but I should have. Hoarding TP while also hoarding beans? Makes sense.
For a time, stores allotted flour in small quantities. Now flour and beans are abundant. It may be that the bean hoarders of the past, like me, still have a few dozen cans on reserve.
But what is now missing, and I’m not telling you this so you can hoard, because you can’t; it’s too late. Try explaining to a large, orange cat named Gordon that his favoritepates in the Fancy Feast brand are sold out. Not in just one store. In three. The teensy shelf signs, appropriate for the three ounce cans, read, “Sorry for the inconvenience. We’ll restock this item as soon as it’s available.” Believe me, for a beast who eats ten ounces of cat food a day, a promise to deliver his breakfast, lunch and dinner only after it becomes available will not satisfy. His favorite food, which we discourage, is fresh bunny from the backyard, but those aren’t as plentiful this time of year. He must rely on canned food for most meals.
On our most recent visit to the grocery store, I noted there were no gaps on the dog food shelves, which suggest there’s more going on than simple supply problems. A canine conspiracy perhaps?
We are slowly introducing Gordon to new flavors still available on supermarket shelves. For him, quantity, not quality is what counts.
It takes anywhere from eighteen to two hundred fifty-four days to break a habit, say the experts, though depending on how entrenched the habit, it could take longer.
More than ten weeks have passed since we’ve been stuck in phases one and two of our state’s virus response, but some old habits linger. I have not completely absorbed the rules of the new normal.
We do fine with friends. Our patio is a safe zone and we’ve had a few individuals and small groups here to dine. But those huggy greetings we were used to? Long gone. The walk through my house to reach the patio? Take the outside path, please. Now we mask up, pace off the distance between us, and enjoy a glass of protective bleach together. No. that’s wrong. I was riffing on the suggestion of our president that perhaps drinking bleach would kill the virus.
My friends know the rules, but with strangers that’s not always the case. Last week, my husband and I drove to a nearby city looking for a medical equipment supplier. We got lost. My phone refused to help. I did what I normally do when lost: ask another human for directions. I shouted to a maskless man walking across a parking lot; he rushed over to our car. I panicked. Wait. I have to find my mask. Who told you to come up to the car window? Oh, that’s right, I did. After carefully studying his phone map, the Good Samaritan sent us on a wild goose chase. Not only were we still lost, but possibly exposed to the virus.
While continuing to cruise around in despair over not knowing where we were or where we were headed, I asked someone else for directions. Not only did this guy — also determined to be helpful — stick his unmasked face into the car, but he took hold of my phone with all ten fingers.
In the end, his directions were accurate and we found the business we’d been seeking. It was closed. One failed mission that increased our chances of being exposed to the virus.
Since we’ve been told that nine or ten days after exposure, we’ll know whether we’ve been infected, in situations like this, I count the days up to ten, and think, We’re good if we can survive until a week from Saturday.
Despite a few incidents of forgetting, I’ve made big changes in my behavior. A neighbor offered me dahlias from her yard and we met in the middle of the street, both wearing masks. My husband and I walked out of a shoe store because the mask-wearing clerk was talking annoyingly loud and we weren’t sure how many layers of protection stood between his mouth and ours.
A bizarre consequence of our semi-quarantined life occurs whenever I open a new book which, inevitably, has a scene involving people moving about in restaurants, theaters, on sidewalks, in planes, and I cringe. Then I remember that the book takes place in a fantasy world, where people are going here and there in groups like we used to.
Perhaps if I were younger, I’d feel differently. Seniors are not only at greater risk of dying from the virus, we’re also victims of virus-related scams. A friend of my husband’s emailed him a notice announcing that the federal government was sending $750 a week to all seniors to stay home during the pandemic. Of course it was a scam. I don’t know anyone my age who’s not staying home. And we’re already getting a federal subsidy. It’s called Social Security.
Today I read that Europe’s opening to tourists (not Americans; we’re banned) has led to large increases in cases. We’ll not have tamed this pandemic until we have vaccines, two per person, and many arms vaccinated. By the time we join a crowd for anything, we’ll have broken the habit of wanting to be anywhere near strangers.
When no other photo comes to mind, insert “cat contemplates disturbing news updates.”
My most recent post, the last of three blogs written in an attempt to add humor to lives quarantined for two months, appeared on May 12. By mid-May, I’d stopped laughing. It’s mid-July now, and little has changed beyond more coronavirus cases and a suspicion that we might be semi-quarantined a year from now.
I have spent my time well and not-so-well. In the “well” category, I’ve walked most every day, created some interesting meals, kept in Zoom contact with a few friends and my long-time writers’ critique group, and taken four Zoom-delivered classes. I’ve finished the first draft of my novel. In the current phase, I read, add, delete, read again, regret having deleted something, and rewrite or move on.
The “not-s0-well” category has been more troubling, that is, until I read an article by Brian X. Chen, originally published in the New York Times, titled, “How to snap out of your ‘doomscrolling’ habit.” Doomscrolling, now considered “internet lingo,” describes “the experience of sinking into emotional quicksand while bingeing on doom-and-gloom news.” Brian has my number.
And doom-and-gloom news is as prolific as the rabbits reproducing in my neighborhood. An icon on my computer dock, with the dangerous name, News, invites me to catch up on the latest via Politico, PBS, HuffPost, CNN, The Hill, and more. Reading these for breakfast, lunch, and dinner determines my mood for different segments of the day.
I’m thankful that I am not alone and that the writer turned to medical experts to help those of us addicted to “digital candy.” Treat it like a food diet, one doctor says, and don’t take that second helping. Or decide you don’t want to live your life as a hamster. This could help with not only the news diet, but the diet diet, because hamsters eat seeds, fruits and only the occasional burrowing insects. The experts also confirmed what I already knew: scrolling can increase anxiety, anger and depression. I have anxiety without scrolling and I don’t need to make the situation worse.
The experts recommended meditating, making a schedule, connecting with people we care about. I’ll add “no midday chocolate bars” to this list. I appreciated the advice of Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World: think about people who have helped you in the past and express positive wishes toward them. (If not in person, then silently.)
The former surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, recommended spending time each day to make a connection to a friend. This reminds me of phone calls I received a week ago from two friends I haven’t seen in years. Not emails, not texts, but phone calls. I can’t remember the last time my phone rang and it wasn’t an IRS agent threatening to send the sheriff to arrest us or someone assuring me my Microsoft product was seriously flawed and I needed to share my credit card number for it to be repaired. Neither of the legitimate calls I received began as attempts to make connections. One woman asked if I had messaged her asking for the number of her bank account, and the other inquired about the death of a mutual friend. Both calls lasted well beyond my answers and left me smiling. (And please let me know if you receive a message from me asking about your bank account.)
Before I started writing this, I checked News and two other news websites. It’s going to be tough to stop feeding out of the troughs of new virus case numbers, presidential idiocies, feelings of shame about my country’s failures to corral the spread, and predictions of stay-at-home measures extending well into the future for the over-sixty crowd. But I am determined — reminds me of January 2 and my weight-loss resolutions.
Dr. Murthy has inspired me to go through my computer address book and start contacting people I haven’t spoken to since last year. And from the writer and the resource people he interviewed, I’ve decided to spend more time dreaming up blog posts than agonizing over which countries with sane leaders might accept me for the next few years.
Two months into semi-quarantine, and it’s impossible to ignore the changes around us. Including my hair color.
Recently, I stopped fondling the broccoli at my grocery store and took a moment to look at the people around me. Everyone was wearing a mask. If anyone had asked us in February to predict this change, we would have shaken our heads and hurried to escape from the person asking the question.
Another change is the number of outdoor exercisers, especially since temperatures have been warming. In my neighborhood, people who used to exercise at work or in a gym are pounding the pavement; hurling balls and frisbees across playfields, primarily, to force their dogs to move; and kicking soccer balls against baseball backstops.
Given our state’s plan for a measured reopening, which calls for seniors to stay home until the last phase (the plan’s last phase, not seniors’ last phase), I have come to revere the creators of Zoom. For many groups of people, those who work in offices and those who have retired from jobs in offices, life has become less cloistered thanks to videoconferencing.
Like everyone, I’m missing our spending time face-to-face with friends. Still, thanks to Zoom, the mere fact that life can become virtually semi-normal at this time is a boon.
Before quarantining, my husband and I took a class called “chair yoga.” It’s like regular yoga, except that we can grab hold of the chair, whenever our tree pose starts to resemble a birch in a windstorm. Now we take chair yoga from the same instructor via Zoom.
Then there are the board meetings via Zoom. Business-like and professional, I’ve noted only one person sipping wine. And the two writing classes I’ve taken. Both so good I plan to sign up for a longer course this summer. Even the book group at my library, which hasn’t met for several months, will soon re-Zoom.
My writers’ critique group is a stunning example of the benefits of meeting on-line. When we met in person, we ate together, discussed the food, and interrupted the meeting to go to the kitchen for seconds, offer dessert or pass the wine. Our critiques are much stronger now that we can still eat and Zoom, but different meals in different places.
Then there’s my fun Zoom gathering with long-time friends. It’s more casual than all the others, as in the question someone asked at our last session. “Roberta, are you wearing your bathrobe?”
This bit of news is not something that occurred to me, but I read an article in The New Yorker about videoconferencing “changing the dating game for the better.” Apparently, singles are having serious conversations and getting to know each other before sleeping together.
Nine years after retirement, I’m still compulsive about completing projects. Part of my attraction to videoconferencing is that now, I can engage in multiple projects, including the second draft of my novel, and never have to spend hours sitting in traffic or waiting for a bus. And I can keep in touch with many people along the way. I believe videoconferencing will be essential if we seniors are to have any kind of social life over the next few months.
The one service I can’t get on Zoom is one that involves changing my hair color. My last appointment was in February. Tentatively, my next one is June 2, and if the salon is open, my appointment will not be virtual.
Unlike many friends, we haven’t yet felt the pull to clean out closets, the garage, or bookshelves — all of which need attention — during this period of semi-quarantine. But recently, shelves of canned and dried foods — piled, stacked, and stuffed into the pantry — got my husband’s attention. His exercise in culling led to many difficult questions.
Why do we have two containers of powdered sugars, one of baker’s sugar, one of turbinado sugar, one of brown sugar, one of raw sugar, and one bag, and one box of granulated sugar?
What drove us to collect short-grain white rice, long-grain brown rice, regular black rice, glutinous black rice, red rice, and basmati rice? Other questions that arose in the process of cleaning out cupboards were more esoteric. How do you judge the shelf life of unopened catsup, salad dressing, and exotic vinegars if you can’t find any “Use by…” information on their containers?
In today’s local paper, I found the answers from a Washington Post article titled, “How long are condiments supposed to last in pantry/fridge?” The writer followed the recommendations of various university extension services in compiling a list. Here are a few examples of items I chose because they matched those breeding in my fridge: chutney (unopened), one year, (opened and refrigerated) 1-2 months; hoisin, 18-24 months, 3-6 months; and barbecue sauce, two years, 6-12 months.
The best news for me is that vinegar can last indefinitely. This means I don’t have to throw away my white balsamic, red wine, rice, black fig, apple cider, dark chocolate balsamic, white vinegar, and fig balsamic vinegars any time soon. After giving the official line, the writer admitted that these rules could be difficult to enforce. She must know that most people can find food lying around at the back of the cupboard that is ten years older than their children. The key is if a food item has a blue-green tint and/or stinks, it’s time to kiss it goodbye, metaphorically speaking.
I enjoyed the appearance of the peas, also the taste.
Among my husband’s other finds were black-eyed peas and two kits of ingredients to make okonomiyaki, which Wikipedia describes as “a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients in a wheat-flour-based batter.”
During this period, when going to the grocery store can be dangerous, we eat whatever we find in our kitchen. I have no idea why a bag of black-eyed peas (really beans) has been lurking undetected in the pantry for years. But I managed to locate a couple of recipes, we dug out our rarely-used pressure cooker and created a tasty stew. I would even buy the pea/beans again.
Japanese pancake from kit
If there were pull dates on the okonomiyaki kits, I wouldn’t know because I don’t read Japanese. However, there were pictures and directions inside. “Hello people of the world! Everyone can enjoy an “Okonomiyaki Party” at home.” Given the coronavirus restrictions, we enjoyed a party for two. The kit consisted of wheat flour, yam flour, crunchy “tempura crisps,” and seaweed flakes. To this we were to add cabbage and pork. I’d eaten the pancakes before in Japan, and they were delicious. These results didn’t live up to my memories. Still, we used up one of the kits. One package gone, and I know someone who might like the other one, leaving more room in the pantry for rices and vinegars in the future.
To wear or not to wear a mask? Like to be or not to be, that is the question. Our president is unwilling to commit. It is up to us to decide.
As I’ve said before, trips to the grocery store, especially to ones with narrow or crowded aisles, make me nervous. Which is why I choose to wear a mask to shop. My husband and I searched on Amazon and found a five-pack of masks that would provide reasonable protection. After placing our order, we received the bad news. Delivery will occur by May 18.
We plan to go shopping long before that date and need our masks now. I’ve seen the easy-to-make masks that only require fabric and pony tail holders. But I’m not yet desperate enough to cut up a table cloth to make my first one. And with no pony tail I’ve haven’t laid in a supply of holders.
Monday morning I ventured out with a facsimile of a mask. Admittedly it would have looked more appropriate for a stagecoach holdup then a shopping trip to Whole Foods.
We were encouraged yesterday when Mr. I-save-everything-because-someday-I might-need-it found two money belts in his chest of drawers left over from a trip to Europe… in 1969. If you held one up to your face, it covered both nose and mouth and had zip-up pockets for adding extra layers of cloth. The tricky part came when trying to attach it with a strap normally used to wrap around your waist. It seemed like a good idea, but unless you walked around with both hands pushing the money belt into your face, it didn’t offer much protection.
A third option didn’t make it to the starting gate. It’s a hand-me-down from my father-in-law, protection appropriately worn during the London Blitz. And we only have one of these. We’d be fighting in the produce aisles over who got to wear it.
Today we’re closer to a solution: a real dust mask which only requires the replacement of decades-old elastic bands for a more snug fit.
We hope in the future for a better supply of masks manufactured in the twenty-first century.
It’s been a hundred fifty-one days since restaurants and various sources of entertainment began closing and I’ve become a cranky shut-in. All right. It’s only been two weeks, but it feels like many more.
The highlight and the most fearsome aspect of the day or week is the trip to the grocery store, because you never know who else might be there and what they’re carrying besides a boatload of toilet paper. Someone told me that at one Costco in the area, off-duty police are working to prevent TP wars in the aisles.
I read today that many of us have turned to Cheez-Its, Doritos, peanut butter-filled pretzels and Cadbury eggs in response to boredom and anxiety over spending so much time with our families (I meant being stuck indoors).
My husband’s and my current diet is a combination of 1) uber-healthy, which consists of a little protein and many fresh vegetables, literally so many that they spill over the edge of the plate onto the floor where the cat refuses to lick them up, accompanied by 2) many homemade treats where sugar is a key ingredient.
We’re trying to cut back on grocery store visits. Meanwhile, I keep looking for a safe time to go. Last week we went on Saturday morning and that was too crowded; so this week we went on Friday morning and that was too crowded, especially in the produce section. In the store where we regularly shop I’ve not noticed empty shelves where Cadbury eggs were once laid, but I have had to fight for the last broccoli floret.
still a few cans of red beans left
Stores are cutting their hours to give them time to stock toilet paper and canned beans. I believe the popularity of the latter might acccount for such TP anxiety. The photo here shows the shelves of a store that didn’t start stocking early enough.
Other than shopping, my other entertainment involves the daily arrival of jokes that have had time to travel from one end of the world to the other and back. Everyone, I’ve memorized the one about Donald Trump and Greta Thunberg. And I think I’m ready to act out the old scene from “Cheers” with subtitles in English and (I think) Chinese. This is not to say that there’s not room for some new ones.
I still haven’t had much of an urge to clean house, but I have checked cupboards for duplicates. That’s when I discovered I’d apparently been hoarding ginger tea and ginger/turmeric tea. What an amazing collection! It was too large to get all the boxes in a photograph.
I decided I’d better drink it, if for no reason than that I’d have space on the shelves for popcorn and other treats. First, I had to find out what this heady combo was good for. As it turns out the answer is it’s good for everything, from possibly increasing one’s lifespan to working as an anti-inflammatory, to boosting brain repair and preventing Alzheimer’s. And no matter how long the social distancing lasts, it will be another hundred and fifty one days before I’ll have to buy more.