You Thought the Winter of ’21 Was Bad?

Yes, it was, and I acknowledge the pain and suffering so many people have endured (and are still dealing with, without water or power). I will chronicle our relatively mild inconvenience in a future post, but I am reminded of the winter that will remain the worst of my life: 1974.

We were living in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. In the fall of 1973, my then-husband was offered a job in Washington, D.C.,  where we had met and were married, and we were delighted to return to be returning to the D.C. area. But I was pregnant with our second child, due in November, so they allowed him to wait until the new year to begin the new job. The plan was for me to stay in Ohio until he found a house in the Virginia suburbs.

So I was alone in an old, drafty, dusty duplex in the middle of a Northern Ohio winter with a newborn and a preschooler with bronchitis (who eventually developed, and still has, at 50, asthma). In order to go on the simplest errand–the pharmacy, a doctor’s appointment or the grocery store–I had to bundle the older girl like the Michelin man and wrap the baby in multiple layers, trundle them out to the car in the (detached, of course) garage and wrangle them into car seats.

My parents lived fairly nearby, and I’m sure neighbors helped out,  but my memory is mostly of being up at night with the baby and running the shower to ease the older girl’s coughing. Those were long nights.

When husband found a house, I began the process of packing up and arranging movers. He flew home once and rented a van to take plants and other precious items. However…. during the gas crisis of 1973-74, there were restrictions on gas purchases. At this time you could only buy gas according to your license plate–even numbers of even days and so forth. I don’t even know how he made the trip from Ohio to Virginia. I had other things to worry about.

The moment that still sticks most durably in my memory was when the movers were trying to get the washer and dryer from the basement and the washer needed to be drained. I sat in the middle of the living room floor, paralyzed. I felt like I couldn’t go on another moment.

But of course I did.

We had arranged for me to fly with the kids to Pittsburgh and stay with my in-laws while the movers took our goods to the new house, and then fly to D.C. when the house was somewhat set up. I remember nothing about the flights, how I got to the Cleveland airport, or how it was flying with a baby in my arms and a preschooler by the hand. I’m sure there were moments of great kindness from strangers.

The baby was allergic to disposable diapers and could not be left wet. The doctor had told me to use cloth diapers with no plastic pants and change her every time she was wet. I absolutely had to use disposables when we traveled, but at my in-laws house we laid her down with a bare bottom and a light bulb nearby, as the doctor had advised.

We ultimately settled in our new home (which I had never laid eyes on until I arrived with the kids) and lived there for eight years, until we moved to Texas. It was a wonderful neighborhood with good Fairfax County schools–the elementary school was a half-mile walk away–and it was worth the turmoil to get there.

Oh, but the journey was one of the toughest of my life.

Google street view of that house today. We paid a bit over $60K for it. The current market value is probably in the $700s–five bedrooms, three full baths, 1/4 acre lot, commuting distance to Washington, nice Fairfax Co. neighborhood–and those tall white oak trees–woods behind the house with neighbors on the other side, and kids to play with in the woods.

Hangin’ on by Loose Ends

Like just about everyone else right now, I’m trying to hang onto sanity while we wait out this pandemic. Now we’re doubly locked in by an ice storm, sub-freezing temperatures and a forecast for much colder temps and more precipitation.

Last week I was especially anxious and feeling at loose ends–even before the change in the weather. In fact, I sat on the patio and played with the dog just a few days ago, when it was 75F.

My anxiety stems not just from the lockdowns but also the stresses of responsibility: a 14-year-old who is a challenge to her old granny; a husband with Parkinson’s with multiple other health issues*. A dog. A pool, yard, trees, house, all of which require attention.

We have decided to try to downsize, so every day I check Zillow and contact our Realtor if I see something worthwhile. He showed us a house under construction the other day, and I thought, “Wow, I’ve never lived in a new house; this might be nice.” We drove over in a chilly rain that was turning to ice by the time we headed home. It took some imagination to visualize the finished product, but it doesn’t take any imagination to see a floor plan that just doesn’t work. The garage entrance took you through a closet-sized laundry room directly into the kitchen, which was tiny, like a New York City apartment tiny. An island with sink and dishwasher was placed so that a person working at the sink would be looking right into the living room. There was so little cupboard space I don’t know where we would put all our dishes, pans and serving pieces. One bedroom faced the street. The master bedroom was right off the living room, meaning a person watching TV will disturb someone already trying to sleep. The backyard ended at the sheer face of a cutaway hillside. The front door was approached along a narrow channel between stone walls. All this for $199 a square foot! The feng shui was terrible! The Realtor picked up on the fact that the house didn’t “sing” for me. Fortunately, he’s a great guy, patient and understanding. He knows this may be the last house we ever buy and we need to love it.

One anxiety reducer is Zumba. I find Tanju Koc on YouTube and after 30 minutes of keeping up with him–he’s cute and I can follow the steps–I feel sort of normal. I’d like to go to the gym and swim, but that will have to wait.

I was supposed to go to a retreat farther out into the Hill Country this weekend but it was cancelled because too few people signed up. Now that temps will be in the single digits, and the retreat would involve going outside among different spaces to sleep, eat and shower, I am so glad not to be out there, even though it has been, for five years, my favorite retreat ever–women quilting, knitting, sewing, stitching, felting and creative crafts I’m not familiar with, plus great company and somebody else cooking for three days.

Not being able to get out to shop, I made a Valentine for my husband while he went to a doctor’s appointment. I started when he left and finished as he walked in the door!

Front with ice-bent shrubbery (find the dog)

 

Inside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* In the middle of writing this piece, I had to stop and take him to the ER. He’s getting daily antibiotic shots, and was supposed to go to the nearby urgent care clinic this weekend, but it was closed. The ER nurse showed me how to give the injections for the rest of the weekend, so I can add “nurse” to my skill set.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Hope wherever you are you are safe and warm.

Some ice storm pics:

 

What do you wish you could still do?

When I turned on the TV on a few Sundays ago, figure skating happened to pop up. I was mesmerized by the incredible beauty, freedom, grace and pure joy of the performance. It was Gracie Gold’s free-skate using music from Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.” When my husband came into the room I played it back for him. It was the most beautiful–even perfect–figure skating performance I can remember ever seeing.*

 

More than anything else I could do when I was young, the thing I miss most is ice skating. In Northern Ohio in the late 1950s and early ’60s we had maybe six weeks of good skating weather, after Christmas into February. (I doubt if, with climate change, there is anything like that now.) I had my own figure skates and there was a nearby pond, called Lais’ Pond, which everyone called “Lacy’s Pond.” My parents let me skate on school nights (I was a good student and the season was short), and someone had always built a fire; boys played crack-the-whip and we girls practiced our figure-eights.

My church fellowship group had skating parties on the town reservoir or the smooth ice above the dam on the Huron River, in nearby Monroeville. I loved flying across the vast spaces of the reservoir. Natural ice, in case you’ve never skated on it, is quite bumpy and rippled from wind and water movement. There are no Zambonis on natural ice!

After I had children we skated at rinks in the Cleveland area and, after we moved to suburban Washington, D.C., in Fairfax County rinks. Indoor rinks with smooth ice were nice, but skating in an oval with too many other people could not match gliding across the dammed river or the reservoir.

The last time I was on ice skates was in 1982, when a neighbor had a birthday party at Northcross Mall, in Austin. I was so wobbly even then I realized my skating days were probably over.

In 2007, I was in Arlington, Virginia, on business. I had a free afternoon and got on the Metro to go wander around the National Mall for a little while. (Having lived in both D.C. and Virginia, I knew my way around well enough to take off by myself.) The National Gallery sculpture garden had a rink set up, with skates for rent. Hmm, I thought. “Should I give it a try?” Then: “I left the hotel without telling anyone where I was going. If I were to fall, hit my head and knock myself out, they would have no idea who I was or how I got there other than emergency info on my phone. They certainly wouldn’t know I was staying at a hotel in Crystal City.”

Yes or no?

There was a sweet little café overlooking the rink, so I had a glass of wine and watched the skaters instead.

I still dream of flying across the ice on two thin blades. I never had aspirations for competition, no triple axels or double Salchow or death spirals for me. Just the freedom of pumping your legs and gliding across ice at top speed.

What do you wish to do that you could do when you were young, and are no longer able?

 

*After watching Gracie Gold on YouTube, I learned that the Firebird performance was in 2016, and she subsequently suffered from depression and an eating disorder, having to climb her way back into skating, which makes her even more inspiring than that young Firebird.

I’m Dreaming…

It snowed New Year’s Eve, just the right kind of snow: fat, fluffy flakes falling gently, accumulating only on rooftops and mailboxes and lawns, because the ground was still warm and the roads didn’t get slick. At first the dog was mesmerized, standing at the back door looking out. When we went out he stepped into the yard rather gingerly, and when we came in he insisted on going out the front door to check the front yard. In the evening, he and the granddaughter played in it. Since it’s been three years since we had snow, it’s no wonder everyone is rather fascinated (as long as we’re not snowed in).

Granddaughter’s tracks in the back yard.

Now it’s a bright, fresh new year (we hope!). My wish, like everyone else’s, is that vaccines are widely and properly distributed, SOON, and that once we’re inoculated from this horrible virus, we can again visit with friends, see our loved ones, go to actual church, theaters, galleries, and do all those things we’ve taken for granted. I know it will be some time before we reach anything like “normal,” if ever. We are forever changed by this once-in-a-century experience that our grandchildren will tell their grandchildren about: “I remember the Great Pandemic of ’20!”

Looking ahead, my personal goals are to better manage life with a spouse with Parkinson’s, and raising a teenage granddaughter. To be more patient with them and with myself. To put love above all else, which is harder than it sounds when you’re exhausted and frustrated.

I am an incorrigible new year’s resolution-maker, and I’m pretty good about keeping them, so here they are for 2021:

  • To manage my days, my workload in a way that doesn’t exhaust me. Cut corners, accept disorder (better than I do), and especially lighten my load when I can. I usually cook a hot dinner six nights a week (Sunday is McDo, as my neighbor calls “on your own.”) Double-batching, a frozen meal now and then, even (horrors!) takeout. (I don’t like takeout because it costs more and is less healthful. Plus, unless you have delivery–even more cost–it’s as much trouble to pick it up than it is to fix a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, an easy go-to meal.)
  • As mentioned above, be more patient and loving with my family.
  • Make more effort to stay in touch with friends and family. Local friends, family far away, old friends–I miss regular contact. I generally don’t like talking on the phone, and maybe video chatting would work better for me. I’m going to ask people to call me, too. As I tell my sister in Florida, phone lines work both ways! I will continue sending out my postcards and might even write actual letters now and then. I’m grateful for Facebook because it helps me stay in touch with former co-workers, family overseas and others I might otherwise lose contact with.

I wish everyone a happy, healthy, prosperous and better-than-2020 New Year! Contact me if you’d like to be a phone pal, email chum, Facebook friend or just a friend!

A new day, January 2, 2021

 

 

Beautiful Useless Things

These days I’ve been pondering death a little more than usual. I think everyone is. Even though I don’t personally know anyone who has died of COVID, my heart breaks for all those lives cut short and the grief of those they have left behind to miss them.

In the book “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” the concept of döstädning is explained. Here is an excerpt from the linked review:

No, it’s not as morbid as it sounds. It’s actually quite practical.

Once you reach the end of middle age (or sooner if you feel like it, or later if you’re late to the exercise), you get rid of all the stuff you’ve accumulated that you don’t need anymore — so that no one else has to do it for you after you pass. That’s according to Margareta Magnusson, author of the book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Make Your Loved Ones’ Lives Easier and Your Own Life More Pleasant.”

“Visit [your] storage areas and start pulling out what’s there,” she writes in the book. “Who do you think will take care of all that when you are no longer here?”

Plus, you’ll be able to better enjoy your life when you have less mess and clutter to deal with.

“Life will become more pleasant and comfortable if we get rid of some of the abundance,” Magnusson writes. “Mess is an unnecessary source of irritation.”

In Swedish, the exercise is döstädning — a combination of the word “dö” (which means death) and “standing” (which means cleaning), she explains in the book.

“Death cleaning is not about dusting or mopping up; it is about a permanent form of organization that makes your everyday life run more smoothly,” she explains. And you may even find the process itself enjoyable, she adds. “It is a delight to go through things and remember their worth.”

If I live out my genetic life expectancy (based on my maternal forebears, I could live well into my 90s), I may be fortunate to have a couple of more decades. But as I look around our house, I sometimes wonder: what will happen to everything? The everyday dishes, pots and pans, furniture, appliances, clothes, books and the like–useful, even desirable items–can be sold or donated. But what about all the tchotchkes, knickknacks, artwork, jewelry, and all the other stuff I’ve acquired over my life?

Henry David Thoreau said “people do not own possessions, the possessions own them.” I often think about that when objects need to be repaired or stored, especially when I consider cleaning out the garage. The last time we moved, nearly four years ago, we did what I thought was a massive purge, but here we are again with more stuff than we have space for.

I enjoy shopping in thrift stores, and I have items I bought simply because they are beautiful, not because I have any need for them. Here’s an embroidered tablecloth:

I paid $10 for it. The handwork is beautiful, on crisp linen. I have never used it.

I have four silk robes, only one of which I wear with any frequency. One hangs on a wall. I have at least four shawls, two I knitted myself; several dozen scarves, again some I knitted, some that were gifts.

 

This peacock robe hangs on our bathroom wall.

Some of the other silk robes and shawls.

And the art! Where to begin? When Gary and I married we merged a pretty nice collection of artworks we both personally love, and we have added a fair number of pieces since then. Will anyone love it as we do?

I found this 5’x5′ piece at World Market when we were redecorating our bedroom, and it matches perfectly. We had to ask a neighbor to get it home for us in his van because it wouldn’t fit in either car.

 

We bought this pitcher at the Laguna Gloria art festival soon after we were married and moved into our Austin condo.

Florentine triptych bought from an Austin artist.

I made the white sculpture on the top, entitled “Flame,” in art school. It’s been broken and repaired more times than I can remember.

Shelves of goodies, including a portion of my kaleidoscope collection (the rest are in a box in the garage).

This is just a small sampling of our beautiful useless things. Except they do “spark joy,” as Marie Kondo would have it. I guess one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to gradually sort through seldom-used–or useless–items that I don’t love enough to hang onto, and donate them back whence they came, ask my kids if they want them, or, most likely, return them to the closet or garage shelf until we move again. I used to joke that we should move every five years, or pretend to. It’s been only three-and-a-half….

My “Uneventful” Week, Firemen and All

You know how once in a while you’ll look at your calendar and see a few blank squares and go (silently) yippee!–a few days to catch up, read, watch TV, or whatever is your favorite way to fill uncommitted time?

Even in the pandemic, with all the staying at home, I still have weeks that are filled with doctor appointments, errands (pharmacy, library) and taking the granddaughter to her one daily in-person class.

But last Thursday there were those blank squares (except for the school thing). This is how those days went:

First thing, I noticed the deer had eaten the flowers off the cyclamen I just planted. We’re in drought and the deer must really be hungry to eat flowers.

I now cover them at night and the flowers are coming back.

While we were getting ready to leave for school, a bird got in the house. We opened doors and windows and it soon found its way out, but I was cleaning up droppings in odd places for a few days. (This has happened before and they are drawn to the high clerestory windows, which is the worst place to be trapped. I’m glad this one got out quickly.)

I dropped the child off, picked up a prescription at the drive-through, and by the time I got home there was a flurry of messages and texts regarding her returning to school after Thanksgiving break. I quickly arranged to go in for a conference with her, the counselor and the school psychologist to work out a plan. Afterwards she had her favorite treat, Starbucks, including a snowman cookie. Then she began ordering clothes online, her first priority (rather than finishing up all her online work, because she’ll have different teachers).

Friday was grocery shopping, which is anything but routine. Between the pandemic and our bright, shiny new (huge) store, even getting there at 8 a.m. I found myself dizzy and disoriented wending my way through the unfamiliar and overstimulating space. I got a small-ish turkey for our small Thanksgiving–us plus one neighbor, a widow who would otherwise be alone. (We’ve agreed, sadly, with out-of-town family to avoid risk this year.)

Saturday was my husband’s birthday, and granddaughter wanted to bake a lemon cake. Naturally she found a complicated three-layer job–I would have done a loaf, sheet or Bundt. She zested and juiced the lemons and did the measuring while I ran my ancient (harvest gold!) Sunbeam mixer. Once it was in the oven I needed to deal with an awful smell in the garage. It smelled like burned (or burning) rubber, but we couldn’t figure out where it was coming from–no smoke or flames.

So I called 911 and asked for the fire department to check it out. The truck with flashing lights (but no siren, thank you) got the neighbors’ attention. The squad was wonderful. One used a heat sensor to try to find hot spots. They went around the breakers, the outlets, outside by the AC and pool pump, and into the garage attic! Finally, they pulled out the refrigerator and determined the smell was coming from the back of it. The motor wasn’t running too hot but they recommended turning it off. It was immediately unplugged. I thanked the firemen and dealt with moving everything into the house, while also keeping an eye on the cake’s progress.

Naturally, the fridge had Thanksgiving items in it, including the turkey, beer and wine (that’s why it’s known as a “beer fridge”), bottles of water I fill and keep for emergencies, and the like. The inside refrigerator is now crammed full. (The old one is 21 years old and not worth repairing so we’ll live without it for now.) After making the cake icing and cleaning up, I was exhausted but too wired to nap.

We had a nice birthday dinner (salmon, asparagus, baked potato and the lemon cake.) I went to bed early.

Sunday really was uneventful. I walked the dog, did Zoom church, read, napped. No school this week. Today I made this little ornament. I’m going to get different colored yarn and make them for small gifts (teachers, neighbors). They are super-easy to make. Instructions are here.

This is not knitted. It’s basically a type of macramé. The pompom needs a little more trimming.

Why Math? A Modest Proposal

One nasty aspect of this terrible pandemic is the struggle with online learning. The eighth-grader in our house is one of those struggling, and because of local Covid cases and her asthma, she is unwilling to return to in-person school.

The biggest struggle is with math. I can relate because I had similar problems at about the same grade level, but at least I was in school, face-to-face with teachers and others who helped. (Although my eighth-grade math teacher was a misogynist and thought girls weren’t good at math, but that was the 1950s.)

I don’t get it either.

I am 75 years old and never in my life have I needed to be able to solve anything like the problem above. Nor have I ever needed to find the area of a triangle or a circle. A rectangle, yes, if you’re measuring for wallpaper, but that’s about it. Given her similar skills and inclinations (art, English and theater) I’m guessing the same is true for her.

So this is my Modest Proposal:

In seventh grade, test kids for math aptitude. In eighth, track them thus: those who show skills for engineering, science, medicine or as math teachers learn geometry, calculus, trigonometry and whatever other -metries there are.

The arty kids, the sporty kids, the ones who can be successful without learning how to plot an angle on a graph (like me), learn what I call useful math: basic arithmetic, simple accounting, financial planning, budgeting, yes, even how to find the area of a wall to see how much paint to buy. Problem solving, puzzles and calendar/clock math are also useful. That’s how I got math credits to graduate from college–a course in programming in Basic (I could program a quadratic equation but had no idea what it was) and a summer course that was all about Venn diagrams and problem solving. It was actually fun, and I got an A, thanks to a brilliant young grad student brought in at the last minute when the scheduled professor died.

This two track systems seems so obvious to me that I don’t understand why educators haven’t figured it out as well. My therapist says doing hard math helps with brain development. But so do reading music, learning a play script or balancing a checking account.

I wish educators would wise up and try this. It would save tears and grief across the land: my small contribution to child-raising. Let’s start a movement!

Friday Thankful: Thursday Circus

Yesterday was an even crazier day than last Thursday, which I thought was quite crazy enough, thank you.

I had been trying to get my shaggy Covid hair cut all week, and when I tried online sign-in the wait was too long (because of an appointment with the roof guy), so I put it off again. The pool guy came early, so I was glad I missed the haircut, because the roofers (stay with me here) had damaged the vacuum connection when they dropped the tarp onto the pool. The pool guy ordered the part and I ran down to the pool store–so grateful it’s only a couple of minutes away even with the continuing road work blocking some of my route (are you still with me?). So when the roof guy came at 10 I was able to give him the $34 bill for the pool part, which he said they would, of course, cover. We did a walkaround for the remaining repairs.

Then granddaughter came to me with a very sick hairless rat (have I mentioned the pet rats? I don’t think so.) She was so bereft I called around to find a vet who treated rats, fortunately nearby. Made an appointment for 2:45, forgetting we had a 3 o’clock video appointment with husband’s neurologist. Then I realized we could do video anywhere, so he would just trundle along to the vet so we could catch the call in the parking lot if necessary.

Took granddaughter to her midday in-person elective. Came home for lunch and fed the dog. Picked her up and did a quick Walmart stop for a prescription and a few items. When we got home Eros (the rat) was much worse and he soon died in her hands. Called and canceled the vet appointment (saving $50; the rat had cost $25). Between then and the doc video call guess what we did? Dug a hole in the backyard and had a little rat funeral, Eros joining Milo and whatever the other guinea pig’s name was.

After the seemingly endless video call (Parkinsons makes everything move in slow motion), granddaughter and I went across town to the pet store, where she picked out two more rats to join the living Winnie (not hairless this time; I think the genetically modified hairless rats have poor immune systems. Eros was only about three months old). Phaeton and Silas* are now happily (and, I hope, healthily) in their little rat home in her room. Oh, and we got 100 superworms for the dragon (words I never in my life imagined writing).

Let’s play find the rat! I can find two of the three….

Picked up comfort food for her, came home, had a glass of wine and fixed tuna casserole (comfort food for us). Walked the dog. Watched the debate until I couldn’t watch any more. Read a little, “In Praise of Difficult Women” (I think I am a difficult woman).

Slept like an innocent child.

That, my friends, is where the gratitude comes in. After that insane day, even with trying to juggle two nearly simultaneous appointments, I never stressed out.

Must be the CBD oil. Whatever it is, I’m grateful. I got a haircut this morning.** And it’s raining. The rain barrels are nearly empty.

What are you grateful for today?

* I have no idea where she gets these names.

** No pics. A new haircut needs to settle in.

 

Roofs, Roads and Other Obstacles

The past couple of months have felt like a slog up a mountain, dragging a boulder behind me. Or sailing stormy seas in a leaky boat with an unruly crew. Fighting my way through a forest of brambles. Pick your favorite metaphor for struggle.

A recent New Yorker article explored in great detail the perils and shortcomings of online schooling. The upshot, after a great deal of data analysis, was that kids are better off in school.

Our eighth-grader has been doing mostly online school for these first 12 weeks, and it hasn’t gone well. Her best work is in her one in-person class, theater. I’ve been trying to persuade her to go back to in-person school, but she has been resistant, partly with justification because her asthma can be aggravated by wearing a mask all day.

Given her recent progress reports, the school psychologist, who has been working with her since last school year, attempted to talk her into returning to school. I felt somewhat vindicated when even she failed.

But I think the child got the message, while I realized that if she’s going to succeed I need to be more proactive, supervising, sitting in, providing incentives and consequences–all that parenting stuff, which is tough for a grandparent.

I often say that the job of parenting a grandchild requires the ability to be two contradictory things simultaneously–loving, indulgent grandparent and stern disciplinarian parent.

New rules, plans, schedules, organizing tools and so forth are in place. The trick now will be follow-through, but it’s too important to allow failure. She says she wants to return to school after the winter break (presuming no Covid cases at school), so we just have to hold on for a couple of more months.

In the meantime, the challenges of a husband with Parkinsons, the usual household care, including yard, trees, pool–all those possessions that own us (thanks, Thoreau, who said “We are owned by our possessions”).

After the big hail storm May 27, we got our new roof yesterday. The same day, major road work was being done around our neighborhood. So at dawn I heard workers setting up outside my window, then men with pitchforks on the roof, and air compressors and hammering all day long. The road work closed off one end of our street, making all my trips in and out slow and convoluted, dodging massive trucks and paving machines. It was such an insane day of disruption I had to laugh, and in way I’m glad we got it all over with at once, including the trauma of a possible confrontation with the kid.

So today I got up at 5:30 a.m. ready to take on this new phase, optimistic that the new regime and routine will work.

Grateful for our beautiful home with its new roof (and having insurance!), and looking forward to getting back to my reading, needlework, doggie play, plus a driveway coffee tomorrow with a few friends.

Laurie Graves of “Notes from the Hinterland” writes weekly gratitude posts. I haven’t been so regular, and I’m going to try to keep my blog more up to date, and especially with gratitude.

Much to be grateful for.

 

 

Bored? Me?

Since the pandemic set in, several publications have addressed the issue of boredom. I can understand that maybe if you’re stuck in a tiny New York City apartment with few options, yes, it could get boring.

I have not been bored for one minute since the lock-downs began. For one thing, we’re not really trapped inside: we have a big backyard with a nice pool, several nearby parks and trails, and opportunities for road trips to other outdoor activities. Errands such as grocery shopping and picking up prescriptions, masked, as early in the day as possible, also get me out of the house. We have Zoom church, video doctor appointments, so there is no lack of contact with the outside world.

The only times I have ever been bored in my adult life were if I ever got stuck in a situation without anything to read or to do. I keep a bag by the back door with reading and knitting in case I have to make an ER trip, having been stuck previously with a dead phone and nothing to do for four hours.

So, what’s keeping me occupied during the pandemic?

Let’s see, a household with a husband with Parkinsons, a 13-year-old granddaughter and a dog. The man and child are fairly self-sufficient, but there are doctor appointments, meds to manage and unpredictable interruptions*. The dog needs to be fed, walked, belly-rubbed and have tennis balls tossed. I do all the grocery shopping, most of the errands, most of the routine cleanup (we do have weekly pool service and a cleaning lady every two weeks), and most of the cooking. Lately the meals have been pretty simple–burgers, tacos, chicken, pasta, which is why I think the granddaughter has started cooking a tasty dinner one or two days a week. I take her to school for her theater elective at midday, come home for lunch and pick her up again; the rest of her schooling is on-line for now. I do monitor her schooling and intend to add some enrichment learning this week.

When the tasks and chores are done, this is how I use my “free” time:

  • Exercise. This time of year it’s swimming. In the cooler weather it’s walking and going to the gym (where I can swim in the winter), and I walk the dog unless it’s just too hot (with highs near 100F lately).
  • Puzzles and games: On the dining table is a seemingly impossible jigsaw puzzle that may outlast the pandemic. (We have completed three others.) Our local newspaper publishes a weekly puzzle book with mazes, jumbles and crossword puzzles.
  • Art: some painting, but mostly my favorite, postcards. I’ve been working on some computer-generated designs, using my own photography, as well as original art in collage, water color and other media. I’m almost ready for a fall postcard mail swap.

My latest postcard, “Fall is in the Air,” with Junior pasted into the autumnal image. (Collage, with stamp by Nat Uhing.)

  • Knitting and other needlework. I completed so much knitting over the summer I decided to try to finish a needlework project started about 10 years ago. It may take another 10 years but I’m making progress!

Lilacs bloomed around my birthday in Ohio. I miss them in Texas. This was originally going to cover a purse. See how dog-eared the instruction sheet is!

  • Most of all, my favorite default mode: reading. Daily periodicals (the local paper and the online New York Times); weekly (The New Yorker); and a delicious pile of books. I’ve even read some fiction, which is rare for me: a chick-lit piece about older women in Tuscany (almost like going to Italy); a novel about South Africa during apartheid and the Soweto rebellions; “Longitude,” about the search for how to determine longitude, thus saving ships and sailors; the Mary Trump book about her uncle (he’s even worse than I thought); and I continue to re-read “Waterlog,” which is maybe my favorite all-time book. I just started “The Soul of an Octopus,” which is a delight. I think science and nature and memoir are my favorite genres of reading. Prompted by last Sunday’s sermon, I printed out Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” about which whole dissertations could be (and probably have been) written. I’m also going to listen to Alec Guinness reading them (on YouTube).
  • Writing: I have a novel, or novella, or something, in my head that I need to get down. So far all I’ve written is the premise, but I have the opening chapter in my head and need to lay out an outline, then start a draft. I have never tackled a novel, but I’ve written several novels’ worth of words in my career so I’ll give it a try.
  • If all else fails, there’s always TV. We have full cable, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. It takes so long to scroll through the menus to decide what to watch that I often give up and read. Husband has been watching “Outlander” (which I would call “Outlandish”). We dip in and out of “The Good Place,” and enjoyed Ricky Gervais‘ “Extras” and “After Life.” (Gervais is an acquired taste, but love his humor.) Lots of movies. Most recent, “The Current War,” about Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Nicola Tesla. Poor Tesla got lost in history.

Hope y’all are staying healthy and busy. This difficult and historic time will end. I tell my granddaughter that she is living history. When she’s old she can tell her grandchildren (if she’s lucky enough to have any) about the pandemic of ’20, as well as the other history that’s being made this year.

* At least three while writing this post.

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