398th July, Year Of Our Lord, 2097, in the Year of the Plague
How are you?
Are you well?
It’s still feeling strangely like a cross between the longest weekend ever… and childhood summer “vacations” (where we still had daily calisthenics, times-tables, chores, and encyclopedia “research” papers to write for our parents), but here we are. Still social. Still distant. Still friends. We hope you’re finding space for silence, time for talking, and the ways and means to do that which you must. We wish you peace.
Another Monday morning… Lather, rinse, repeat. We work, we cook, we read, we sort our far-too-numerous possessions (ETA: some people rearrange furniture. Constantly), and then we work some more. We sleep, we wake, watch some sort of entertainment and wander around our small corner of paradise. We are grateful that we have a roof over our heads, but …well, most of us are very sick indeed of the shape of said roof, and the color of the shingles…
Ah, confinement. It would be easy to say that it’s making people crazy, but it’s not… it’s privileged people encountering the word “no,” some of them for the very first time, apparently. This is less “going crazy” than poorly handled rage. If it were actual “stir-craziness,” wouldn’t all of us confined be infected with it? So far, you’ve limited your toileting to actual toilets, haven’t you? Yep, we figured. In this society, we constantly blame on mental illness people wholly unable to deal with the reality of no: “No, I don’t want to date you. No, I don’t need to hear from you. No, I don’t owe you time, money, or attention. No, you can’t come in here without a mask.” Hearing “no” is hard – but most of us learned to deal with that around the two-year mark without shooting anyone, road-raging with our shopping carts, or widdling on the floor in public. It’s an annoying part of life when kids tantrum, but it’s …unnerving to discover that so many of our fellow humans are only masquerading as adults, and are really ginormous, ill-tempered children. With apologies to actual children.
Owing to the fact that we know we won’t be hosting guests here for the foreseeable future, we’ve dismantled our cozy little guestroom. We even gave away the bed to a family who needed one, and have repurposed the larger room as our new office. Extra benefits include it being both larger and cooler than our previous office, both absolutely necessary as we continue to share office space during what is obviously the longest summer in recorded history. Work has taken off. T has been privileged to be a part of the reading jury for the NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature – an international children’s literary award which was going to necessitate a trip to Nebraska – and is finishing the novel which is going to come out next fall (the one out THIS November is also done, yay!). D has been juggling clients – one of them having delayed their project by over a year – and trying to wrap up myriad small contracts so that he has time for a larger one, where he’s the primary technical architect for the installation of a manufacturing execution system. That project may take several years, if it gets approval, so fingers remain crossed.
We had so many plums on our plum tree that it broke two branches, necessitating a lot of running around and propping things up – and rapidly trying to deal with a good eighty pounds of plums. Next year we’re going to thin it a bit better – the poor tree just can’t handle that kind of weight. The garden as a whole has been both a joy and an annoyance… well, rather, the gopher has been an annoyance. It has eaten, by today’s count, two whole tomato plants, two cucumber plants, and three flowering bushes. We’ll draw a veil over the holes in the lawn… people rhapsodize about how lovely it is to see more turkey, coyote, and mountain lions about, and how with the decline of human traffic we see the return of nature, but this is one return we could have done without. Nonetheless, we are butterfly, bee, and bird central with our various flowers, and we’re growing tons of herbs and root veg.
A lot of the hotter weather crops are REALLY slow this year, as nighttime temperatures were really variable through May and June. While elsewhere it’s been sweltering, in our little pocket of micro-climate, we are having foggy mornings and sometimes days that don’t heat up until about 4pm. – which means we still have verrrry hard peaches, though they look beautifully ripe. It’s quite a bit more humid than we remember from previous years as well! Unfortunately, none of that makes our melons and squash grow faster. Oh, well.
We’re still singing – D has continued his Zoom voice lessons (probably serenading everyone in the neighborhood, because summertime = open windows), and T occasionally threatens to join in. Our community choir here continues to figure out how to maintain a choral presence in the communities and navigate social distancing at the same time. The last week in May, we concluded recording for a virtual choir concert – and while it’s been a steep learning curve becoming accustomed to the technology involved, we’re hopeful it will release soon. It’s hard to imagine the winter season without music, so we… don’t. That’s seemed to be working for us so far. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, and all of that.
This week someone commented that life is a series of things falling apart, and coming together. That seems… accurate. Regardless of the many things we have believed that we can count on, there has always been an element of risk, and the opportunity for abrupt failures. Many people just now are discovering this – and some feel that they’ll never survive this falling apart. But here’s a secret: we already have. It’s done. The past is gone. The sinkhole has opened and we are at the bottom, and now… now we are going to sit in the ashes of the disaster for a bit (until people properly begin to understand the whole mask thing, perhaps?) and know that we cannot fix it. At all.
And then…? Then, things will come together.
This isn’t meant to be magical thinking, or some kind of faith-in-magic trick. Obviously, there’s no timetable on this, no way to pinpoint the date when we stop thrashing against this frustrating reality, and re-emerge into “regular” life. This is the reality: ambiguity. There’s no cure, no fix, no answer, so the disaster sits here, and we sit, being reminded that wholeness and safety has less to do with us than we previously believed. So, the exercise becomes thinking about how we’ll remember these moments five or ten years from now. “Remember when we set up the tent in the backyard? Remember when you painted the rocks with positive words and left them by people’s mailboxes on your walks?” Remember how we learned to sew a lot better, sewing masks for strangers?
Remember how we all kept going?
‘Tis the Fifty-Seventh of May in the Year of Our Lord 2020, in this, our Plague Year.
How are you?
Are you well?
T was pleased to be reminded of this wonderful quote. By this far into the plague, all of us are showing cracks, occasionally verbally giving way to fear or anger or hiding in the bathtub for extended periods. We’re seeing our older generation slip away, and too much is changing, too fast. If you’ve been veering down into the dumps and back up again, we hope you can get outside – over and over, that’s what’s been a saving grace for us. Even though we’re forecast rain for the next few days, we’re grateful that it’ll be warm-ish and we can still put on a hat and breathe in the air.
How have you been holding up this week? We’ve been introduced to the wonderful world of Odd Products; this week we have toilet cleaner subbed from our grocery order that is… minty. Er… mint feels deeply anti-bathroom for us, but y’know what? Whatever. We make do. We also make do with entertainingly named brands of toilet rolls we’ve never even heard of… Forest Green? Well, it does come from trees which might have been green once…
We remain grateful that things, while occasionally frustrating or challenging, aren’t at all bad at our house. We’re healthy. We are working (occasionally losing what day it is, but remembering when we’re pinged and running late to yet another Zoom meeting). We can pay the rent. Sure, the goods are odd, but the odds are good that we’re going to be okay. Yet, it’s disconcerting when people invite us over or beg to come over, or even just show up to drop things off – and it’s hard to gently say, “Yeah, well… we’d better not come out for a walk,” when we’d love to, but it’s all a process — of acknowledging this unavoidable change, grieving the loss of the “regular” we knew, and trying to get with the program of figuring out how we live now.
We hope you are able to read – some friends aren’t – and some of us can only read nonfiction as we assemble facts into our brains to help us stay centered. We discovered the free Hoopla app with free audio, ebooks, magazines, and apparently films and video games. Along with our Overdrive account – both apps work with our local library – we’ve got plenty of electronic books, anyway.
We hope you’re able to both work, and rest. Fact: the more normalized this current state of living becomes, the more we as human beings tend to expect from ourselves. As a society, we’re so obsessed with (capitalism) output and production that we rarely realize that we can choose rest. Some of us have been working all along, and some of us are being recalled to work in the next few weeks, but as you can, for as long as you can, don’t neglect sitting outside on a blanket, doing nothing. Even if your entire family relies on you, don’t neglect lying down for twenty minutes – you have to put on your own oxygen mask before you help another. Prioritize joy, peace, and rest. Set boundaries. Say no. Remember to watch for your body’s stress signals, drink more water, and rest. If your breath is rank and your children are wilding and the house is a disaster and your hair’s on end, breathe and remind yourself that everyone is alive, the house is standing, thus, you are safe. You are a roaring success.
Cut yourself some slack. Breathe.
You are loved; you are so truly loved.
How are you?
Are you well?
Do you, like we do, sometimes run out of words? Even in silence, we’re here – we’re doing fine. May we hope that you are, too?
Wow, it was forty-one days, actually – and no, this is not how long it rained this Spring, but how long it had been since T had left the house/neighborhood/been in a car. The evidence of this was spate of endless cleaning, wherein the car was wiped down in the garage, and apparently the baseboards needed sanitizing. Once it was determined that the paint was coming off, it seemed expedient for one to leave the house, lest individual hairs also come under this extreme scrutiny. (This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last that some of us have removed paint. It is what it is, the house is CLEAN, all right?) (Send help.)
Still, there comes a time when even those of us being über-careful with germ avoidance must leave the house, and where better than to the neighborhood year-round Farmer’s Market? God bless those people who drove the three or four hours up from Santa Cruz, Fresno, Watsonville or environs to provide strawberries, blueberries, lettuce, and more. Just behind the Post Office – a mere four blocks from us – we found bakers and bee-keepers – and a woman with terrifyingly sized quail and goose eggs – fresh oranges, onions and greens of all kinds. We were out of the house for all of about twenty-five minutes, but it still just enlivened a gorgeous, sunny day. If you can, please support your local farmer’s market. The food they’re producing, especially if we can put some of it up and preserve it, will serve us in good stead come the end of the summer.
Back home, the weekend’s fun task was to muck out the fountain. Hrafen, Morrigan, and Bran have, somewhere, come across a large store of baguettes and stale white bread. We’re thinking that the big park across the street, which hosts a great many large Canada geese in the fall, has a dedicated few folk who think bread is good for gulls, and the crows, being considerate neighbors, bully the gulls, swoop in and steal it… and then, because it is stale, they dunk it in the fountain, and hold it there until it softens enough to eat. Granted, they also dunk in the odd lizard, vole, or other rodent, then proceed to tear out their entrails, but the bread, believe it or not, is the worst culprit for clogging up the fountain, because the crows have the attention span of toddlers and occasionally just abandon the bread and wander away, thus making our arrival at the fountain to turn it on for our enjoyment… disturbing. The peanut shells, odd almonds, and bits of ephemera (buttons?) aren’t so bad, it’s the decomposing, over which we’ll draw a veil… After a lot of work the bottom of the fountain is visible and the water is clear, and the crows are… nonplussed. We’re hoping they give carbs a break for a month or so.
As happens every year when the weather warms, our interest in cooked food wanes, and we simply want salad and fruit. Of course, these days our food choices are… definitely weirder than normal. We couldn’t find lettuce until we went to the farmer’s market – while other areas are unable to find rice or pasta, produce here has been wiped out pretty quickly. D’s had enough trouble getting dairy milk that he’s started experimenting – though T has very decided opinions on hemp milk, and is crossing that off of the family list of Adventurous Plantmilks To Try In Tea. Bleh. Since we’ve made our own soymilk in the past, we decided to just get a soymilk maker and just make it official. (Happily, it can make oatmilk as well, or nutmilks, or whatnot, if the proper ingredients can be found.) This is a less expensive and easier option for us. Now, if only we could somehow make our four strawberry plants and apricot tree go faster! (And before you ask, yes, we’re rooting the bottom of the lettuce that we finally did find, to plant in the garden. And celery too, which is growing nicely.)
We hope you have a tiny garden – ours, and our wee strawberries, continue to be a joy. The row-marker radishes are all standing tall, the melons and cukes are starting to think about reaching their nearest plant neighbor and strangling them (yard bullies: they’re kind of a theme), and the kale is a sturdy half inch high. The rest of our very slow flower order has arrived as well, and we are loving the newly growing dianthus (think carnations), and more California natives that look like scrubby wildflowers one sees at the beach, varieties of poppies, and other tough, ground-covering flowers that are good for low water gardens and don’t mind getting stepped on occasionally. And they will be stepped on – if it’s not the crows, it’s the other wildlife which has decided it needs to stay in our garden. We haven’t yet seen the skunk this year, but we suspect we’ll play host to even more raccoons and other night wanderers as they revel in our quieter world.
Some of you who don’t like to comment publicly on posts email and say that we sound happy and cheerful. We’re glad that comes through – the garden and the crows do make us happy, as well as spending time in the same space – but as with everyone, there are moments of struggle as well. It’s been difficult to figure out how to “do” death, when the normal gears cannot mesh and drag us through the familiar, with family, church, casseroles and caskets. It’s hard to figure out how much solitude is too much (watch for paint removal; that’s a clue), and how to reverse the inevitable slide into “meh” moods. Many of us are far too busy, and are finding that working from home means overwork, and not giving ourselves or our children enough breaks and away-from-screens time. This is undeniably tough – so, give yourself the gift of a break, a walk, a water fight, a puddle stomp. Give yourself the gift of downloading a birding app, and trying to identify the songs, and do something to lift up someone else. Cards and letters and painting rocks or drawing the day of the week on the driveway with chalk – whatever will bring a smile to a wider, equally glum and conflicted world. The heart you cheer may just be your own.
Be well. Remember what is yours and cannot be taken. Remember to open your hands and share (from an acceptable distance) what you can.
Remember you are loved.
During this time of everyone staying at home, we decided to do some gardening. Well, no – we’d already decided, but now seemed an ideal time, so we ordered 7 cubic yards of compost, and some plants to arrive a few days later.
We knew 7 cubic yards was a lot of compost, but it actually went fairly easily. It was cool enough to need to wear warm clothes while shoveling, which made a huge difference. There are 5 cubic feet in a wheelbarrow and 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard. So, figure about 40 wheelbarrows had to make their way somewhere.
We basically wanted to bring the earth back up to being level, either with the sidewalk or with the top of the planters. The previous tenants didn’t really do much with things, so we’ve been adding fertilizer and compost and really trying to improve the soil as much as possible.
It has been 13 years since we’ve done any serious gardening, and even then, it was probably way back in 2002 or so that we were really able to garden at home (we’d been gardening at B & L’s). Here, it’s convenient to get out there first thing for 20 minutes, or to get out there over lunch to thin some fruit, rather than having to make a huge production of Visiting The Garden.
The challenging part was managing to get about 15 wheelbarrows tipped into the raised beds. There’s a metal nose on them, which needs to be wiggled into place on the lip of the bed, and then the whole barrow has to be lifted through 90 degrees and dumped.
We’re deciding what to put where, and how much space to leave between things. We’re trying to read the labels and give things the space they need. It is hard to resist Annie’s, though, particularly when there are such gaps in our garden. On the other hand, we seem to have planted quite a few seeds, and they are growing apace. Soon we shall be inundated, we hope.
We have planted morning glories all around the fence and at the base of the tree at the sidewalk. We’ve more to plant (these were sprouted inside), and then a whole bunch of other vining things (birdhouse gourds, cantaloupe, cucumbers), etc. For a first year’s garden, we don’t expect it to be perfect, but we really are looking forward to what comes up!
-D & T
How are you? We hope you are well.
It is interesting to observe how we function in a slower world. We watch the rain, and genially complain that we would put a few more seeds in the ground, but as it stands, that time is not now, so we make do, hoarding egg cartons and watching the slender sprouts within lean toward the muted light. We make do.
Meanwhile, we’ve both somehow gotten involved in the question of what is going to happen with our choir and the last two concerts of the season. We find this choir’s solution utterly lovely – and here’s to those of us wanting to be closer than we are to friends and family far away.
“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”
– C. S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948)
How are you?
What are you doing these days?
In between poring over the paper, we are planting seeds and pulling weeds, painting, singing and (badly) sewing. Cooking. Cycling. Making wind chime #5. There has to be something to do other than camping out on the internet, worrying… Not that it’s easy, of course; these are, as the poet said, “the times that try [our] souls.” But, we’re grateful for the numerous online things to do, from Quarantine Crafts to virtual adventures to virtual evensongs to virtual sing-alongs. We’re grateful that we like each other, and that (when it quits raining) we can go out and enjoy the first moments of Springtime.
“Courage did not come from the need to survive, or from a brute indifference inherited from someone else, but from a driving need for love which no obstacle in this world or the next world will break.”
~ Gabriel Garcia Márquez, from Love in the Time of Cholera
We generally leave the TV on when we’re reading or cooking or what have you, with the TV playing … pictures from our Flickr. As a consequence, I end up examining photos and really really wishing I knew more, back then. For example, this photo. It’s a manually-done HDR, which means I mixed 3 images together to get it.
I looked at that going by and I thought, “I wonder what that would look like if I reworked it?” So I pulled the raw images, reset all of the settings in Canon, rendered out 3 tiffs, ran Photomatix, and here we go.
Now, is it better? In some ways, and in some ways not. I suspect that I don’t really know what I’m doing with Photomatix any more, and this is the version with all of the advanced features, so … we’ll see. On the other hand, the phone does a better job maybe. And on yet another hand, I now know how easy it is to go back and adjust, and I have all the raw materials, so … if they’re particularly egregious, maybe I’ll fix them.
Happy New Year!
Our Christmas choral season is over for Mission Peak Chamber Singers. For us, that meant 2 hours of singing on Friday night, 3 hours on Saturday night, 1 on Sunday morning, and 2 on Sunday night. 8 hours of singing this weekend. It was a blast, despite the rain and wind, awkward microphone malfunctions, travel time, and exhaustion.
We’ve continued to enjoy the harvest, with the pomegranates and persimmons having ripened and been harvested. One citrus has turned out to be a grafted tree with at least 4 different fruit, including a white grapefruit, maybe a lime, and a satsuma.
Unfortunately, the squirrels and crows did manage to get to a few before we could harvest them, so I had no choice in sharing with them. Everybody else can go to the grocery store, though – this is the first time in my life I have a persimmon tree and I’m pretty much going to eat them all myself. I’m sure my blood sugar will hate me, but if it helps add a few pounds I will not complain at all.
I brought them in, polished them up (they have their own wax), and left them for nearly a month. Next time I’ll trim the sepals when I first harvest them, because they’re quite stiff and make it harder to remove the stem end without rupturing the soft fruit. I may prune back the Granny Smith, as it shades the persimmon (and because who in their right mind plants a Granny Smith?).
Pomegranates also came ripe, so I took the opportunity to prune back the bush that should be a tree (it helped me get to the fruit on the inside of the shrub, as well). Quite a few split, and there were a few dozen tiny ones. We harvested them all, removed the arils from the split ones, and found that the tiny ones are just as mature and flavorful as the big ones! I might strap the individual stems together to try to make it function more as a tree and to stop obstructing the pathway. What ought to happen is for it to be pruned back to a single tree, I would guess, but that’s going a bit far for me.
Earlier in the year, when I’d encounter a hollowed out one, or one that was gnawed by the rodents (squirrels), I’d pick and discard it. So, when harvest came, I wasn’t expecting anything like this hollow one – I’d gotten rid of the ones I could identify weeks and weeks ago. This was one of the reasons I got out the pole saw: the fruit was fabulously dark red, and I expected it to be perfectly ripe.
Next will come the white grapefruit (maybe this weekend), and then the orange and tangerine. And then it’s time to do research on how these trees should be pruned and when, and to finish planning and planting the flowers for next year.
…and other truths of how we drive.
If you haven’t discovered the work of Ottawa cartoonist John Atkinson, you’re in for a treat. Happy weekend!