Monday, August 17, 2020

World Turned Upside Down: Wake Up and Smell the Toothpaste


Pandemic sister selfie

This is my morning routine: I wake up, get out of bed, stumble to the bathroom, sniff my toothpaste, ask Google to play the news while I brush my teeth ...

Yes, in another of those I-never-thought-I'd-be-doing-this moments, taking the cap off my toothpaste and inhaling deeply has become a part of the first moments of every day, and appreciating the heady aroma of Sensodyne Extra-Whitening is always followed by a single thought--"Oh, thank God. I still have my sense of smell."

Life in a pandemic means that self-assessment for symptoms is never-ending. Is that tickle in my throat a seasonal allergy or Covid? Am I feeling tuckered out because I just helped a Boy move ten gazillion boxes into his new digs or because that guy who walked way too close to me in the grocery story yesterday should have worn his mask UP OVER HIS NOSE?

(I apologize for the all-caps last phrase, but geeminy. If you have on a mask but are still expelling your aerosols through that enormous uncovered honker, I will not give you an wink of responsible solidarity but will mutter curses at you under my breath. Sheesh.)

Anyway, I have never appreciated smells more, because loss of smell and taste seem to be the most definitive of the Covid symptoms. Fever? Not good, but could be a lot of things. Sore throat? Ditto, and dittos also to runny nose, gastrointestinal symptoms, and nearly all the additional multitude of Very Bad (Or Perfectly Fine) Signs. The exceptions are the absence of taste or smell. If you notice these you should hie thee to the closest testing station.

The upside of having these two distinguishing symptoms is that I am really, really appreciating those senses these days. It's ironic, honestly, that they were often the senses I most wanted to damp down. If you've ever had a rotten potato in the spud bin, you know what I'm talking about. Now? Hey, that mushy potato smells TERRIBLE!  Yay! And the skunks who live on the hill seem to have visited a neighbor's dog! Hooray!

The Boy who was moving will now be at home in the city that is home to Much Younger Sister and practically within spittin' distance of the home of Much Older Sister. MOS welcomed Boy to their neck of the woods by bringing over the most most wonderful breakfast last week on unpacking day. 

We sat outside in lawn chairs, well-distanced, and balanced our plates on our laps as we removed our masks to dig in to breakfast casserole, the most decadent coffeecake ever concocted, and steaming cups of coffee. In the Before days I would have appreciated the food and the company but on that day? Every bite tantalized my nose before it went into my mouth, then the sweet-salty-savory-bitter reminded me that I was alive and well.

And truly, isn't this a gift during an awful time? The reassurance that we're still among the uninfected is savory and delicious and we are able to hold our breath and take a quick selfie with ones we love before we social distance again. 

Even with the skunks and rotten potatoes, I'll take it with gratitude.

Monday, July 27, 2020

World Turned Upside Down: Other Upside Down Things

Well, huh. So that's how one month without blogging goes by during a pandemic. It's a combination of whoosh, and slogginess, and what month is it anyway?

After four months we're settling into our pandemic habits. It is often not pretty, as those of us who are wearing our masks religiously cannot understand the resistance to this practice and sometimes regularly tend toward self-righteousness. (As St. Anthony Fauci famously said, "Now is the time to selflessly care for each other," and WHY ARE YOU NOT DOING THIS?")

It is enjoying knitting a wonderful project (oooh, so pretty!) and sadly postponing visits to my elderly dad and Baby Wonderful. It's safe but sacrificial friendship via Zoom then watching a freshman class and their germs from all over the nation move in literally across the street.

In other words, it's optimism with a constant, unremitting undertone of frustration and dread.

One of my projects to keep my mind off that undertone has been my sourdough. As of this morning it is still alive, more elderly than any sourdough I've been able to baby along in the past. Although I have not named it (my hat is off to those who christened Bread Pitt, Emilio Yeastevez, and Jane Dough) I've been able to produce some pretty tasty baked goods.

It had reached the point a few weeks ago when Husband saw a couple of yummy loaves on the cooling rack and sighed.

"More bread?" he made the mistake of saying in a manner I interpreted as being weary. (He denies this. We have been in the same house a lot lately.)

I flounced off with a mutter about how SOME husbands would be PLEASED to have fresh bread on the table and that maybe some APPRECIATION for the industriousness involved and blah blah blah. (Yes, I'm adorable.)

After reconsideration, I realized that there are other things that can be made from sourdough starter so the next discard day I turned the Yeaster Bunnie (Hey! I think I just named it!) into some cinnamon rolls. They looked and smelled delicious but the last thing the three people now under our roof need are a full dozen cinnamon rolls.

One of my friend-iest friends has been especially wonderful about letting me be all shrieky about masks and the lack thereof, so I offered her a couple of the warm rolls. She lives way across town, on the other side of the river and railroad tracks, but Boy#3 and I were headed for the Big City so we would drop them off on our way out of town.

My hands were full of knitting and masks so Three carried the little container of rolls to the car and we headed out. As we pulled into Friend's driveway, I asked him where he had put it. His eyes widened.

"It was on the top of the car so you could grab it as you got in," he told me. "Didn't you see it?"

I immediately called Husband to check the driveway. No, it wasn't there, so we headed back across town for replacements. With that container of rolls safely in  hand we made the turnaround and kept our eyes peeled for the original black container. One block, two, eight, and still no rolls.

We were over the railroad tracks and just moving onto the bridge when Three suddenly hit the brakes. There, in the middle of the right lane, was a small black plastic container. I jumped out and rescued it. Even though they'd been sitting upside down in the middle of the road for 20 minutes, the rolls were fine--warm and soft.

We gave Friend the replacement rolls, but for the next couple of days I had a roadkill roll with my morning coffee. They were delicious, and I grinned to think of their grand adventure.

It is, I think, a parable for the days we're living.

This is absolutely, completely, and emphatically not the way I would have chosen to live 2020. We were speeding down the road not realizing we were on top of the car until we slid off upside down into the middle of the lane.

But it is entirely possible that when we come through this, as we must and we will, we will have so much more appreciation for our lives and our loves and the many, many things we had taken for granted.

It will be delicious.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

World Turned Upside Down: Let's Get Serious

This is the first, and I hope the last, blog photo you will ever see that I take of myself in a hospital bathroom.

I snapped it several weeks ago to send to Husband and our kids, with the accompanying text "Needless to say, I'm a mess and may deplete the hospital's mask supply."

I had just sent a loved one off to a complicated surgery, and that can lead to tears on the inside of glasses lens. I was worried about the surgery; I was worried about that surgery taking place in the middle of a pandemic; I was worried I wasn't up to the task of being the advocate for this loved one.

Spoiler alert: The loved one came through surgery magnificently, and is now being pampered in recovery.

It turns out that if you are going to require extended hospitalization during a pandemic, this was the exact right moment to schedule that surgery. Just one week earlier the no-visitors policy had been lifted at the giant Big City medical complex but only for one advocate/visitor per patient, and masks were required. The miles of corridors I walked toward the ICU and recovery room were mostly empty, so social distancing was easy.

As a person with at least four entries into the let's-kill-Grandma lottery (pulmonary embolisms/clotting disorder, age, weight, blood type) I have been scrupulous in my social distancing and mask wearing and seeing those choices endorsed by the medical folks were a great comfort. I never felt as if I had to check myself for symptoms of a deadly virus.

But at the end of the week's hospitalization we stopped at Target for extra home-care bandages.

People, it was horrendous. The store was crowded, social distancing was virtually non-existent, and masks were worn by perhaps one in ten shoppers. I scurried to the pharmacy and grabbed one other purchase then checked out.

How could I feel so safe in a place designed for sick people, and so threatened in a place designed for people who are well?

The answer, of course, comes down to a single fact. In one of these locations (the hospital) staff and visitors are doing their best to keep everyone safe and healthy, and in the other (the store) people apparently don't care about this. In one everyone was paying attention to CDC recommendations and science, and in the other...well, not so much.

Yesterday, in the face of our state's ever-rising infection numbers, our governor mandated that everyone should be masked in public places. Not in our homes, not in our cars, but any time we're likely to be in contact with the aerosol exhalations of someone we don't live with. This is the very lowest bar we have to step over in slowing the pandemic--we're not being asked to once again close ourselves in our homes for months on end (although I continue to think "I need a tattoo" is a terrible reason for going out).

It is a way to tell people around us "I care for you, and I don't want you to get sick and die, so I will wear a mask to protect you from me." 

And still, my Facebook feed is packed with people who are literally frothing at the mouth with their uncontrolled rage at being asked to wear a mask. For a variety of reasons they have decided to disbelieve the most up-to-date science

I do not understand this. 

Because it's uncomfortable? So is a ventilator. Because it doesn't keep you from Covid? No, but it keeps us from sharing our sneeze-slobber, and sneeze-slobber is the surest way to pass the virus along. Because you aren't feeling sick? Allow me to introduce you to the folks who have covid but no symptoms, because as many as half of the people who are potential Typhoid Covid Marys have no symptoms at all. Don't have a mask? If you live in my zip code and don't have a mask, let me know. I will give you one. Because it is a symbol of government tyranny and YOU ARE FREEEE??? I...have no words, but if I did, the words would include the descriptors "inexplicable" and possibly "uncaring."

And now I will get into the toe-stepping-on portion of today's lecture. My fellow Christians, the ones who are pro-life but refuse to wear masks? You do see the irony, right? That your asymptomatic Covid could kill actual post-birth human beings? You understand that you are telling me, with my increased chances of dying from this disease, that in spite of your holy hugs and declarations of devotion you don't care enough to wear a mask to decrease the chances I will die a horrible, painful, death by suffocation? 

I was already a mask wearer, but during that week at the hospital I wore masks all the time. I cried in them (and man, are they uncomfortable when they're all snotty inside), I laughed in them, I slept in them, I talked to my dear one non-stop through them. Because if there was a single thing I could do to prolong someone else's life or my own, I wanted to do it. I was frantically worried about my loved one, but I did not have the additional worry that someone was sneezing pandemic death my way, or the way of any of the patients.

Think about that. And wear a mask.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Dear Baby Wonderful: Grandma's Here!

Dear Baby Wonderful,

When I sat down at the computer this morning I wasn't sure if I remembered how to blog. It's been so long since the last post--May was a month of stories that weren't mine to share, which is an occupational hazard for family bloggers. You might notice that this is the first post to lead with your beautiful face in almost three months.

The world you joined has been, quite frankly, a mess during that quarter of a year. Everyone has been socially distanced and societally outraged, economically shattered and politically appalled.

You, my dear one, have been pretty much the best thing in the world and you were six hours away. But the initial wave of pandemic was subsiding a couple weeks ago when your dad called me.

"I don't know if you'd be interested, but our parental leave will run out two weeks before Baby Wonderful's spot in day care opens up. Any chance you'd like to come over for a week and be a nanny?"

 Remember that gif I posted a couple decades months ago? Yeah. Pretty much that.

I have to admit that I was a little nervous about being the grown-up in the room for a full week with you. I mean, it's been a long time since I held a baby that I didn't return to its proper owners within a few minutes. We've been FaceTiming with you almost every day since you were born, but you have a shocking tendency to be bored with your grandparents' faces within a few seconds. I know! It seems impossible that we wouldn't be riveting conversationalists, and yet...

As it turns out, some things have changed.

Stuffed toys and board books are so pre-pandemic as gifts to be pulled out of the tote bag on arrival. Note the bee-themed mask in your photo today--a colorful AND practical house gift. (Also totally a photo prop since the internet misled Grandma and she severely underestimated the pumpkin-sized noggin you inherited from your paternal grandparents' sides of the family. It almost pulled your sweet little ears completely off but you were a good sport for the five seconds it took to snap the picture.)

 Also mind-boggling are the strides that have been made in baby gear during the past few decades. Somewhere I have a picture of your father in his umbrella stroller. Umbrella strollers are essentially a sling of fabric between two cane-shaped rods that are attached to a cheap set of wheels, and your dad was slumped in that thing like a half-raised batch of bread dough. Your stroller, on the other hand, had dual sun blockers, a five-point harness system, and solid state ignition. (Okay, it didn't have solid state ignition. Or at least I didn't use that feature.) Ditto on the advances for the swing, and we won't even mention your fancy bassinet that not only rocks you to sleep, it also senses if you get squirmy in the night and ROCKS YOU BACK TO SLEEP. I'm not kidding when I say it has a back-up camera so that your parents can check on you from any room in the house.

But some things haven't changed.

You, like your father and uncles, are a chatty baby. The best part of each day was the moment in the morning when I came out of the guest room to find you in your spot next to the breakfast table, and said "Why good morning, Baby Wonderful!" Your grin took over your whole body, and you wiggled and laughed. Often you would wind up to tell me something, pursing your lips and gazing at me intently before saying something unutterably wise. At least I assume it was wise; you gave it great depth.

You, like your father and uncles, are easily roused from naps. That was an easy fix, though, because once you drifted off to sleep on my shoulder I had the luxury of just holding you until you woke up, even if that meant we dozed in the recliner for hours. Nothing is more soporific than the presence of a sleeping baby, and I would like to apologize to your parents for ruining your bed-napping forever.

I spent a full week kissing your neck, watching you knot and unknot your hands as if casting baby magic, and making you put up with my irresistible urge to patty-cake your feet together.

And I discovered something I had known instinctively but had never experienced.

I found I could forgive you pretty much anything. I laughed when you barfed on me within seconds of my arrival and didn't mind that I smelled like baby spit-up, except for brief moments immediately  after showering, for the next five days. Or there was the day I was changing your dirty diaper when you decided it would be appropriate to deposit the second stage of that intestinal evacuation directly into my palm. With any other kid I would have had to amputate my hand but with you, again, I laughed.

You see, there is something deep and primeval about the bond of kinship. With rare exceptions my interest in babies has been minimal for the past 27 years. I loved your father and uncles instinctively, totally, rawly, with a bond nearly visible in its intensity. No other baby had ignited that same fierce emotion when I held them and I was afraid it might be gone forever.

But then there was you, my Baby Wonderful.

I can't wait to kiss your neck again.

Much love,


Thursday, May 7, 2020

World Turned Upside Down: On the Up Side

Mah Bay-bee!
Husband has the kind of job and profession that mean the stay-at-home orders have had little effect on his day-to-day work habits. He still goes to the office every morning, because foot traffic in a self-employed CPA's office is usually by invitation only. He maintains social distancing and wears a mask so even in my shrieky germ-phobic state of constant panic that causes me to never answer the doorbell, I'm not worried he'll bring the pandemic home with him.

But our New Normal has caused one slight bit of friction: Every day when he comes home from tilting at the tax monsters and slaying the PPP loan requirements, he asks the same question he has asked daily for 36+ years: "So, how was your day today? What did you do?"

In the Old Normal I'd have plenty to talk about. I worked, and I had meetings, and I met with friends for lunch or coffee, and I free-lanced, and I...well, you get the picture. Now I stay at home. Period.

For the first few weeks of lockdown  when he asked me how my day was, and what I did, I stared at him as if I were posing for an I-don't-know-the-answer meme. People, no more!

(Please read the following as if you were Tom Hanks dancing around a fire in Castaway.)

I have made sourdough! 

As a farm girl I have known how to make bread since I was old enough to stand on a stool next to my mother and knead a piece of dough. But despite multiple tries I have never before successfully cultivated my own leavening using only the yeasty particles floating around in the air.

It's a process that is not so much difficult as finicky, requiring persistence and and a certain amount of waste. In other words, it's much like parenting, and for most of my adult life I was spending all my parenting energy trying to keep four boys from throwing rocks at the cars stopped at the stop sign next to our house. (True story.)

Now, though, with all of those rock-throwers staying at their own homes in four different states, I decided I had the time and bandwidth try starting a starter once more.

Friends, raising children to adulthood was a piece of cake compared to the neediness that is a piece of sourdough bread. I had to add a half cup of flour and a cup of lukewarm water every day to a jar of flour paste I kept in the oven with the light on for the precise degree of warmth. Then the instructions called for the half cup of flour and cup of lukewarm water to be stirred into the sullen glop twice a day for several days, long enough that I was quite certain I had somehow ruined the mixture and would be throwing it out. Only the mutters of "feeeeed me" I heard when I opened the oven door kept me going.

But apparently those were the sourdough equivalence of the teenage years because one day I peered in the oven to find that the mixture had matured! It was bubbly, yeasty-smelling, glorious sourdough starter!

In the week since the starter became an actual living presence in my refrigerator I have made crackers with the goop you normally throw away at feeding time:
Yummy, basil-y deliciousness
Then I made pizza dough and topped it with homemade pizza sauce, the final ham left over from Easter (don't clutch your pearls; it had been in the freezer), and fresh pineapple from the produce share program.
You are not wrong that this dough appears to have risen beyond my expectations. It was the deepest deep dish ever, with the crust depth outpacing the toppings by a ratio of about 10:1.

But that was to make up for the only true failure I've had with this recipe, which would be the bread. It looks okay, doesn't it?

That will teach you to judge a bread by its photo, because it was approximately two inches high. I mis-read the instructions and seriously underkneaded the dough, which resulted in such a soft loaf it couldn't rise up and only rose sideways.

And frankly, that could be a description of me after this many days of baking. I'm getting softer and softer, and beginning to rise sideways. But what did I do today? Now when Husband asks that I don't even have to answer.

I just shove something sourdough in his mouth.

Monday, April 27, 2020

World Turned Upside Down: My! What Big Ears You Have!

The original title I had planned for this post was "What I Did During the Pandemic." It would be useful, I thought, to remember what occupied my time during these days of sudden stay-apart. No meetings, no coffee with friends, no work schedule...what in the world did I do?

Well, as we all have discovered, it is quite possible to have meetings, coffee with friends, and work schedule even as we observe the social distancing guidelines. Hello, Zoom! My calendar has proceeded to fill up with appointments that do not require me to comb the back of my hair or worry about a pedicure.

But there also is time for other activities that have fallen off the priorities list for years. One of those activities is puttering around in the yard.

When we moved to Small Town three decades ago, a friend who lived here gave us outstanding real estate advice. "You'll find all kinds of houses, and there's a house there you're going to love," he told us. "Just be aware that there's a slum on every block." We weren't exactly sure what he meant until we began looking in earnest and discovered he was right--the pristine lawn of a a gorgeous Victorian could exist cheek-by-jowl with a lawn overflowing with car carcasses on blocks.

The House on the Corner was somewhere between those two extremes: certainly not pristine, but we did try to keep the cars off the lawn, at least until the Boys were in high school. At that point we had seven cars for six people and every inch of curb space was occupied when everyone was home. The lawn was showing the effects of being on the corner of two drainage streets that spilled across the corner in heavy rains, so nothing was growing except weeds.

We had become the slum on our block.

But then the tide began to turn as the nest emptied and the fledglings took their cars with them. With the help of our genius landscaping guy we've started to push back, one year building up the corner landscaping to divert the floods, last year improving the soil and re-sodding the back yard. The front yard is next on the list, but this year it's still been a riot of dandelions and chickweed.

"But this year I have time to spend in the yard every day!" I crowed to Husband. "I'm going to get rid of all those weeds without getting within six feet of anyone! Plus, it's too early for mosquitoes so I won't even need to use the Off."

That last statement is known as foreshadowing.

Last Thursday, after a refreshing rain the previous night, I happily spent the morning stooped over a dandelion digger, filling a full-sized garbage can with the leafy results. I was tired but happy as I looked at the lawn, still raggedy but less appalling than before.

That's when I came back into the house and looked at my bare forearms and shins.

They were covered with tiny blood spots--what I had thought were harmless clouds of gnats were actually swarms of tiny biting flies, and they had jumped on me like, well, like flies on poop.

Within hours I was a seething mass of itch. Originally I was determined to not scratch, but the gods laughed. Every place that had been touched turned into a hot, torturous welt. My already-substantial ears swelled until they were solid masses, as hard and plastic as Mr. Potato Head's. (Today's illustration is frighteningly true to life, except that I was wearing a shirt, and my mustache hasn't quite reached that stage. Yet.)

It's been three days now since I lost half of my total blood capacity to the gnats. I've learned that while itch creams and Benadryl claim to be effective, cold washcloths are the only remedy that even approach relief. Time also helps; after three days, I'm still covered with welts but I am hopeful I will not actually go insane from the itch.

I may go out and work on the weeds again in a couple of days, but I will be slathered with bug repellent and wearing long sleeves and jeans.

My ears may not be able to survive a beautiful lawn.

Monday, April 20, 2020

World Turned Upside Down: It's About to Get Ugly

I feel as if this post needs to come with some trigger alerts.

Did you ever see a pair of scissors on the edge of the bathroom vanity when you were four years old and think "I wonder how sharp these scissors are? Would they cut hair?" then a few minutes later see the horrified look on your mother's face as she realizes you no longer have a pixie cut, but a demented frankencut that would ruin the family portrait that year?

Did you ever think to yourself "My bangs are really getting on my nerves but the rest of my hair seems to be okay. I'll just trim off a little," then hear your hairdresser say "Don't ever, ever, ever do that again. Ever."?

Did you ever think "How hard could it be to cut boy hair? Let's see, four boys times $15 per cut would save me...Holy cow! $60 a month! I'm rich!" and then have to put up with actual tears when you made them go back to school for the first time?

It will shock you not at all to know that I am the person in all of those scenarios, so if you've had similar experiences it will also shock you not at all to know that in the fifth week of the pandemic beauty parlor shut-down my hair hit the tipping point of driving me crazy. That coincided with finding our old Wahl Homecut system in the sewing room last week, as well as a pack of my mother-in-law's bobby pins that for some unknown reason I had kept when we cleaned out her apartment.

And in spite of my past history with do-it-myself haircuts, that seemed like an omen, because this morning I looked in the mirror and saw this:

Whoops. That was where the trigger alert should have been. Even the Singing Butler's umbrella-holding maid behind me seems to be overcome by...shock? Horror?  My hair, which is thin and fine, is normally cut much shorter and product-ed into a semblance of normal style. But in my defense, because my hair is thin and fine and I'm not seeing anyone except Husband, my hair style technique has become "Don't look into mirrors." Also in my defense, this was post-workout and pre-shower.

I've trained for this moment for years, though, by watching countless Facebook videos of women cutting their own hair and then looking at themselves with appalled eyes. Also, I actually owned, and used, a FlowBee.

I always knew I'd regret selling it at a garage sale for $2, but since none of the Boys had let me near their heads with it for at least a decade, I thought the shelf space could have been put to better use. The packrat in me is grinning smugly and saying "Told ya so."

So this morning I decided I'd had enough of the situation on the top of my head, and set to work with the shears and fancy comb out of the clipper set. I wet down my hair with the spray bottle that lives next to the ironing board, then bobby-pinned back the middle section and started around my face, making the tiny diagonal cuts the pros use in YouTube videos. Obviously those barbers don't have two bum shoulders each, though, because by the time I'd finished with the bangs and ear areas, my technique had changed drastically. Here's the new technique:

1. Use hand mirror to check the back of my head.
2. Grab a medium-sized handful of hair.

It was much easier than all that fiddly-fiddly snippy-snippy stuff. And do you know what? Not only do I not have to look at it, no one on any of the half-dozen Zoom meetings I have every week is seeing me from behind.

Here's the "after," in which I'm giving thanks that even though my hair is thin and fine it also has some natural curl, and Tresemme Flawless Curls mousse is a miracle product. Also, I've shifted photo studios to the downstairs bathroom where the light is better.

It feels much better and the umbrella-holding maid isn't saying a word.