i haven’t stopped. since march 2020 when my son – at the beginning of the pandemic – in an effort to help me feel connected to him and my daughter – suggested we have a shared text with photos taken in our day. a picture-of-the-day. and every day, not-failing, i have sent one since. i am in absolute delight when they now share a photograph on this thread; i know busy-ness and work and life have picked back up some time ago and picture-of-the-day is no longer on their radar. but, because i am a mom – and i know moms everywhere can relate – it’s still on mine. i look for something that somehow represents my day, every single day.
i have to say – this has been a good thing, this intention to seek and snap the picture-of-the-day. i take lots of photos, so some days this is easy. but there are others when my photo is of mashed potatoes or chicken soup or the accuweather tornado watch or glasses of wine at the end of the day. some days are just life. normal, regular, not supersized, life.
the trillium placed itself in front of the fallen log, clearly, on purpose. ready for its photo shoot, its bud profile at this stage resembling a mighty tulip, the toadshade waited for someone to come along and take its picture. and there i was.
that very day i ended up using a graceful fern in our backyard as my picture-of-the-day. the composition was just a little better, the curve of the fern beautiful. but the trillium knew it would end up featured. i had whispered thank you to it after my baker’s dozen shoot. it stood proudly as we hiked away, knowing.
paying attention – to the littlest details of a day – requires intention. i know i could get lost in the other details of our life, the more pressing, the more complex, the minutiae and nuances of moment-to-moment adulting.
but one text from my son changed that and offered me a continuing reminder to find something – any thing – big or little, positive or disconcerting, dreamy or a little bit scary – that was a real piece of my day. it also offered me a chance to physically let them know i was – at that very moment of sending – thinking of them.
i know there are days – i don’t want to think about how many – that my grown children look at their phones and – in unison from 1400 miles apart – roll their eyes as my picture-of-the-day drops in.
four of us. there were four of us at costco with masks on. me and three costco associates.
yet, we personally know more people – right now – who have covid, who just got over covid, who were just diagnosed with covid, who are in the hospital with covid – than at any other time during the pandemic.
yes. it is a royal pain to wear a mask. yes. they are completely optional. yes. you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. but every time – which is daily – we hear about someone else “testing positive” it serves as the impetus to – again – put on our masks before heading into the grocery store, into costco, into the home repair store, into crate and barrel, into the ace.
maybe we are overly conservative. we wonder this aloud. as artists, we have taken many chances, we have risked much, including financial stability. these choices – as artists – have not rendered us the label “conservative”. our political views are not conservative. our leaning toward simpler living is not run-of-the-mill conservative. “granola” maybe, but not “conservative”.
but the whole mask thing has us pondering over and over and over. in truth, we are trying to recognize the interconnectivity of everyone – what we do affects you, what you do affects us. we are trying to – in community – be cautious, be responsible. and we are trying not to test positive.
weeks – maybe even a couple months – ago we railed against it all. for one day we literally went into every store maskless. it was liberating. we could breathe easily, we could smile at other people. we wandered, our faces exposed, reveling in what-used-to-be. we exchanged glances at each other, an “ahhh”, rebels out and about.
later we heard that an entire family we knew was covid-positive. they were very ill and it had already lasted at least a week. we sheepishly donned our masks the next time out.
with all the home tests, we know that “the numbers” are not actually significant these days. there are many, many more people who have covid (or have had covid) than the government is aware of. it’s not like john or jane doe picks up the phone and calls the cdc when their home test is positive. we scarcely know the reality anymore.
we missed the phil vassar concert – twice now – because of this. we still haven’t dined out in our own town in two and a half years. you can still count the number of times we have dined out – period – on two hands over the entire course of this pandemic. we measured our risk those times and the benefit outweighed them. they were opportunities to be with our children, our family or ones very dear to us. when phil was playing a very crowded people-sandwiched-with-people summerfest last saturday, we were playing phil vassar on our deck, sipping wine, singing along in the waning light. granola.
yes, it’s completely optional to wear masks. and yes, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to; you are free – well, unless, of course, that includes things that the “apolitical” (ahem!) supreme court is now overturning or wishing to overturn, in which case your freedoms are limited and anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, anti-contraception, anti-equality, anti-environment-protection, pro-gun-carry, pro-christian-only-public-prayer, pro-gerrymandering rulings will rule over you, should their push-against be successful. kinda makes masks child-play.
it gives me pause for thought as i think about all the people who have been giant and loud anti-maskers. are these all the same people? (yes, that’s rhetorical.)
the other day in costco i was walking down an aisle. coming the other way was a young woman, a worker, also in a mask. our eyes met. our eyebrows raised up a little. tiny lines appeared at our temples. and we exchanged a little granola love. i swear i could see a rainbow appear out of nowhere, peace signs floating, unicorns singing lyrics, something about “liberating strife”.
i took off my mask after i exited. and i breathed in the air of the land of the free and the home of the brave, the sweet land of liberty. from someone’s car radio system i could hear aretha spelling out “r-e-s-p-e-c-t….just a little bit…”
my sister texted her dear friend was in the hospital, with covid, on oxygen.
i tucked my mask into my purse, to use the next time.
though unable to sprint away, the turtle knows when to withdraw. the beautiful wizened face peeks out from under the shell and i don’t want to scare it, though it is likely i already have. the black iris stripe, always parallel to the horizon, the water’s surface, highlights its beautiful eyes, yellow-green peering at me. the marks on its shell tell tales we won’t know. we don’t pick it up or move it; there is no road danger for this turtle as we are in the woods and, by the trail it has left in the grasses, it seems to have a deliberate destination.
these years seem turtling years. pulling in, sheltering from the outside, moving slowly, slowly. in light of all that has transpired through the last couple years, i have not minded turtling. it is renewing strength, re-prioritizing, revitalizing humor, stoking up energy. the pandemic has forced this inwardness; this place has been our shell, reassuring, comforting. even with all the zeal i have for adventure, i love being home. there will be a different time. time will pass and seasons will change and the river keeps flowing. nothing is static. my eyes focus on the horizon.
the turtle paused in its trekking as i took its picture. it looked out from under its own fortress-home and whispered smart-turtle-wisdoms, grinning at me, “just keep going. wherever you go, there you are. you carry home with you. keep your eyes on the horizon. slow, slow.”
care packages would arrive often from my sweet momma. a big box that, inevitably, my poppo had turned inside out so my momma could pack it up with anything and everything she could think of. macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles, m&m’s, twizzlers, stickers, pa pads, andes candies, newspaper and magazine articles she read and wanted to share, coupons. the list was long and always included a new tea or two.
she was clever about packing these packages, taking the tea bags out of the boxes – to take up less room – and putting them in glad bags. but she would enclose the label from the box and sometimes, she’d enclose some other smidgen or two.
the other day, in a tea mood, while searching for the perfect tea, i came across one of these smidgens. a side of a celestial seasonings box, a harriet beecher stowe quote, perfect timing. my momma’s care package did it again. a source of comfort, of reassurance, of love, unexpectedly, in the course of a day i needed it. “…never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”
our lives – in actual comparison to what else is happening in the world – seem ridiculously easy. we have had our challenges and setbacks, but i wince when i think about complaining in the middle of watching news coverage of the atrocities of ukraine or climate crisis real-time in lands of glaciers or the amazon rainforest or the overall covid pandemic decimation or the fight to maintain absolute LGBTQ+ freedoms or womens’ ability to choose what is right for them and their bodies or the continued discrimination of black lives or the economic hardship that is befalling vast numbers of people in our own country. i trust that harriet beecher stowe, a woman before her time, would shudder at ALL of this.
it would seem – even upon simply reading headlines – that this country is in retrograde. we are slipping backwards and it horrifies me. each day i read of people-with-agenda designing ways, strategizing, lobbying, legislating, to usurp the freedom of others just trying to live their lives. i wonder how these people – some with screaming loud and obnoxious voices, some with haughty, righteous, quiet intentions, some with silently evil thoughts – sleep at night. how they live with their own warped view of equality, their own bizarre view of peace, their clear disdain for the basic tenets of life, of loving one another. they become more and more powerful as we watch and i think of the work of harriet beecher stowe and i think of my sweet momma’s approach to life. retrograde, indeed.
referencing harriet’s arguably most powerful book, “uncle tom’s cabin”, it was written“the goal of the book was to educate northerners on the realistic horrors of the things that were happening in the south. the other purpose was to try to make people in the south feel more empathetic towards the people they were forcing into slavery.”
to educate. to make people feel more empathetic. the value of truth-telling, stifling deadly misinformation. the necessity of looking – really looking – at oneself. the compassion that empathy brings to the soul. these make all the difference. to bring kindness – always and under every circumstance. to not stick your head in the ground and avoid the tough stuff. to speak up, to speak out. to hold on, even in the hardest moments. to never give up. to hope. to believe. the tide will turn.
i looked up and whispered “thank you, momma” when i found the tea-box-cardboard quote. i didn’t hear anything back at that very moment, but i knew she was listening, perhaps, though, with half an ear. i suspect she was busy. there’s much to be done. my sweet momma and harriet were likely having a spot of tea.
we were on another planet. we had clearly stepped off the one that was home and we were catapulted into another. we were at the mall.
now, we never go to the mall. so there is that. but we had something to return – which we could have shipped – but the mall in milwaukee was a destination for a cold saturday afternoon and we decided to drive up.
we took all backroads, naturally. went through neighborhoods and farmland. stayed out west going north until it was time to turn east. then hit all the congestion.
the parking lot was full; it was astonishing. we drove around a bit and found a space. littlebabyscion makes that easier. we pulled in, put our coats and gloves back on, grabbed our packages and got out. there was a car in the lane waiting for another spot. the windows were down and we heard, “they have MASKS on!” as we got out. the derisive voice said nothing else. we looked at each other and rolled our eyes, continuing what would be our launch into a different solar system.
we walked into the mall.
there were a zillion people there. and you could pretty much count the ones with masks on with your two hands. we were the anomaly. clearly, a different galaxy. one where there was no pandemic, there were no people still at risk, no variants of the disease, no questions about how to be safe.
we hadn’t looked for the outside entrance to the store we needed – that might have saved us some staring – but we thought it might be fun to walk through the mall to the department store. we truly haven’t been in a mall in years. there are a couple outdoor malls we have enjoyed, but nothing really in the hey-let’s-go-to-the-mall of days gone by.
we were the bright-green-with-dark-green-ovals-purple-underside-wavy-leaves of the rattlesnake plant. perfectly harmless, a graceful air purifier, but with a name attached that makes others wary. we were mask-wearers and, let-me-tell-you, people did not refrain from reacting.
we walked directly to the returns desk – where, incidentally, they had masks on – and took care of business. we meandered just a little. i mean, it’s nordstrom’s and i don’t know anyone who doesn’t like, say, that shoe department. then we left and took quick scoots into pottery barn and williams sonoma. there were far fewer people in those shops and we stood at the cutlery, studying it and simultaneously pointing to the one we would pick, if we were picking silverware at this very moment. we laughed to discover it was the same pattern and perused the olive oils and flake salt as we walked out.
it wasn’t far from there to the exterior door. there were many stores we hadn’t even seen, a whole second floor of potential shopping. our hour or so seemed enough. we felt like fish out of water. uncomfortable. like a beautiful plant with great benefits assigned a bad name – “rattlesnake”.
“liberals!” floated from hanging over our heads back into the milky way as we walked outside to the car.
outside the window – just this very second – we can hear the sound of a sweet bird singing its little heart out. mostly quiet out there all winter, except for the sound of the crows chasing the neighborhood hawk, the chirping gives me hope. sans-chirping seemed like a long time, extended – stretch—-ed out like 1960s turkish taffy or 1970s laffy taffy – by this never-ending pandemic and its concerns and restrictions. but today chirped and my heart lifts.
when we first moved to wisconsin we rented a little house. the kitchen was yellow-yellow, which was probably a good thing, as we moved from florida to wisconsin in the dead of winter and i struggled with some giant homesickness (and probably not-just-a-little seasonal affective disorder, unnamed at the time). the bathroom had no shower, just a tub, so we installed a rubber hose on the tub spout and rigged up a shower with zipties. the living room was tiny, especially with a big black lab ranging over the hundred pound mark. the basement was suuuch a basement. and, though it was in a sweet neighborhood, i felt lost.
but each morning, as that first wisconsin spring approached – in its crawling-not-even-baby-steps-kind-of-way – i could hear the birds in the bushes just out the bedroom window, in the very corner of the yard, right by the chain link fence. and those birds brought me back to the birdsounds of my growing-up. and that all reassured me. because sometimes change is hard.
we only spent one winter, one spring and a bit of summer in that house before we moved here – to this house – and i learned the birds of this lakefront neighborhood.
and then today.
this bird, singing outside on a grey morning, may be singing itself to clarity. the lake is changing. the skies at dawn and at dusk are changing, stripes of color. the moon sweeps across the sky. there is a little more sun a little earlier in the day and a little later in the evening. a day here or there that is a tiny bit warmer.
maybe this bird is feeling a little less lost and a little more promise.
i was about ten. and i was helping my dad clean out the gutters. we were up on the roof of our house on long island. and i was feeling on top of the world. that is, until, i wasn’t.
this could easily become a commercial for leaf-filter-gutter-guards, but that wasn’t a thing back then. instead, we were up there using little trowels and our hands to scoop and toss, scoop and toss. until i wasn’t.
i wanted to stop…but my body kept going. i hit the ground hard and broke my cheekbone. my sweet momma was not-so-pleased with my dad’s allowing-me-to-fall-off-the-roof, but it wasn’t his fault. if you lean forward over a gutter too far, gravity takes over. and that’s the story.
last night, i was awake most of the night. around 2:30 or so, david got us bananas to munch on and we started chatting. valentine’s day was his birthday and he turned 61, which he said feels very different than 60. “i don’t have a problem with the tens,” he said. “it’s the ones. it’s once you are solidly in the decade that it’s different.”
we talked about the differences between 51 and 61, of which, i must say, there are many. you want your body to stop changing (read: aging), but it keeps going and going and going. after much laughter and poking fun, we decided we were fortunate and shouldn’t complain.
the snowboard expert who was sharing the commentator role with the nbc peacock host was telling a story during the olympics. i don’t remember the story because i was too busy writing down his comment, which felt like it could generalize to so.much.in.life. “i wanted to stop but my body kept going.” we watch amazing athletes who have taken their whole lives mastering their sport to prepare for moments-in-time-competing, on top of their game, winning, and, in other moments-in-time having to deal with the stumbling of a body that didn’t quite cooperate on that particular day at that particular time.
i had two normal wrists before. and then, that one particular time. i wanted to stop – on my snowboard on the side of the skihill so as not to plow into the little girl crossing my path on skis – but my body kept going. simple as that. tried to stop. couldn’t stop. got closer and closer to her as she traversed on her tiny skis. and fell. two broken wrists. it’s been two years now. another one of those things david and i talked about in the wee hours. time. how it flies. it just keeps going, no matter what we want.
we went to the grocery store. we both wore masks. there is a global pandemic. still. as we walked toward the paper towels along the aisle that’s perpendicular to theirs, an unmasked naked-faced man came the other way. he started staring from a distance away. and frowning. at my mask. and then, direct eye contact. staring. i stared back. it was awkward. two people out-and-out staring as they approached in the grocery store sale aisle. normally, i would drop my gaze and look elsewhere, but this time i just held it. he passed by within inches of me, still staring. the aggression in the grocery store is titanic. such a waste of energy. such a waste of staring. i wonder if he wanted to stop. it was creepy.
we got home from the store and brought in the first of the bags. dogga bounced up and down at the door, greeting us. “on the rug,” we pointed. he tried – very, very hard – to sit down on the rug and wait to be invited to go outside. but he just couldn’t. we knew he wanted to. he wants to please us. but he just couldn’t. his little body – running at 78rpm-as-opposed-to-33 and downshifting to a lower gear to amp it up – just couldn’t stop. his delight was obvious. we were home. he was happy. he wanted to go out. jump. bounce. jump. bounce.
he skidded across the deck, long paw prints in the snow. luckily, when he came to the end, it was merely a foot or so off the ground. ka-thump.
he stood up and off he ran. he is clearly closer to 51 than 61.
i read the reviews. i always read the reviews. before purchasing. before booking. before going. before clicking.
this one said, “and the first thing we made was potato chips! because we could!” it made up my mind – that would be the first thing we’d make too. homemade potato chips. goodness! we were jazzed.
the new mandoline was a little bit of an investment for sparing people who already own cutting boards and knives. i kept the tab open on my laptop for about a week, pondering, for we do not buy in haste here. but in the middle of the indecision – and still, the middle of this pandemic – in lieu of restaurants, pubs, bistros – eateries of any kind – we felt we could justify it. plus it was on sale. plus it had a zillion reviews raving about how it changed the lives of the people who purchased it. plus, potato chips!
the slicing was a dream! it took little to no time to have thin slices of three large potatoes. tossed in olive oil (maybe avocado oil would be good too) with a bit of sea salt, we laid them out on the old cookie sheet. (note to self: buy new insulated cookie sheets) the recipe gave a raaaaange of temperatures in the oven so we went with almost the highest. and… bake!
having to turn each individual potato slice over to bake the other side was a tad bit tedious. i cannot imagine the lays people doing that with their baked-chips. we quickly realized that we needed fewer chips-to-be on the sheet in order for them to self-actualize. that would mean three potatoes of potential chips would take a few rounds in the oven. nevertheless, we persevered, knowing that this was an experiment and experiments are supposed to be, er, experimental.
they may not have looked like the homemade chips at red robin, but they did not require driving anywhere or concerning ourselves with a restaurant’s ventilation system. they were browned and crunchy and just sea-salty enough. even the ones that were not-quite-there were devoured. we figure we will try it again. and we can try sweet potato chips too.
a couple suggestions and, now, i owe her. they make all the difference. she, in some amazingly intuitive way, knows how to lift dinners, no matter the plate, to splendid.
leaves of spinach quietly waiting in a bowl for ladles of homemade chicken soup. and then, shredded – not grated – parmesan dresses it off. if soup can be called glorious, this fits the adjective.
in this time of pandemic – this never-ending-we’ve-never-done-this-before-therefore-we-all-need-some-grace-two-years – we are cooking to maintain sanity. and i have to agree with elsa (whose auto-biography “shocking life” i now want to read) that “eating well gives a spectacular joy to life.” though these two years have not been lavish in expensive foods for us, they have been rich in the experience of cooking and dining together on meals we have mutually prepared.
we love to cook together. and, lucky for me, david loves to chop. i can line up a festival of ingredients to be prepped and he, the mighty sous chef, takes them on willingly and, really, with a little bit of glee. that makes my cooking a wee bit like one of those shows where all the ingredients are in tiny and big bowls, measured and ready. we don’t have swanky pots and pans, but we have an abundance of zeal and, let me tell you, when we are hungry we are daaang focused.
if we feel we can do nothing else – no indoor restaurants, no pubs, no gatherings, no potlucks – then we can invest in cooking for each other or for ourselves. we can honor good food, plain or fancy-schmancy, placed in bowls or on plates, plain or fancy-schmancy, and time taken to savor and be grateful for being fortunate enough to sit at a table and eat.
if you are wondering which type of heater is warmer – the standing-propane or the pyramid-propane – we would have to answer specific to one experience where we were surrounded by both. though i don’t believe the standing-propane was functioning 100%, the pyramid-propane on our end of the table seemed much warmer. nevertheless, we would likely purchase the more highly-rated standing propane. i guess. visually, this pyramid is kind of like watching a fireplace, so there is that to consider as well.
the windchill dropped to about 17 degrees in the courtyard, yet, there we sat, with big blankets and glasses of wine, between the two heaters. we weren’t the only al fresco table in the outdoor space of this restaurant just north of chicago. another table of patrons was also doing the safe-thing and had gathered outside to dine together post-holiday.
we were there with our son and that in itself kept me warm. it was time to celebrate and we had bags of gifts for him to open. i cannot tell you – though i suspect i needn’t try as this is a universal feeling – what it felt like to hug him when he walked through the back door to join us. it had been kind of a long while and i was kind of giddy. wine and soup and good food, even dessert, and hours later we parted. glenn – the maître d’ – held his hand over his heart on our way out; i did the same. these times. “strange times call for strange measures,” i texted a friend. we three laughed together at the-table-in-the-snow-shoveled-courtyard about how indeed strange. and i was inordinately grateful.
these strange times continue and continue, it seems. here we are – rapidly approaching two years of this pandemic affecting our behaviors, our actions, our plans, our health, our travel, our work, our safety and security, our relationships, our out-and-aboutness-in-the-world. we have been vaccinated and vaccinated and boosted. we have worn masks – better and better and better ones – everywhere, even when barely anyone else has. we have distanced and isolated and avoided crowds. we have gone through a lot of hand sanitizer.
as the new variant explodes around the world, we watch various stories play out. the tennis player – a gigantic role model – who refuses to get vaccinated, expects to play in the international arena, receives an exemption from a locale but not from the country of australia – has a hissy fit. i suppose i wonder why he, a breather-of-breath-in-and-out-the-same-way-you-or-i-breathe, feels he is above doing what-is-best-for-the-world. for that matter, i wonder why anyone feels that way. truly. a moot point at this juncture. it is two years – years – now.
in the meanwhile, we do the best we can. we are missing a lot. we know that. there is a precious great-nephew i have not yet met. there are indoor/in-the-car/in-restaurants/at-our-home/at-their-homes/up-close-and-personal moments we are not sharing with others we love, with others who make our personal world what it is. most of our spare time has been outside or alone. we wonder how and when this will change.
i write “better” on our flying wish paper, crumple it up, uncrumple the crumpled, shape it into a cylinder and light it. the wish for “better” flies off to come true, tiny bits of ash floating.