What Day it Was

Today is the 15th of April, which in more normal years is the day that federal income taxes are due in the United States, but owing to the chaos of the pandemic the deadline has been pushed back a month. Last year, they pushed it back six months. This year, tax preparers were promised the deadline was firm. And it was, until it wasn’t.

And no matter who said it, taxes and death are still inevitable.

I’ve got nothing specific to say today, which creates an abstractly hairy problem for me, since I am more practiced in the Art of Not Writing than I am in the Art of Writing. Not Writing was something I started doing in earnest in the mid-1980s, and gave up for stretches of time, and resumed in 2013, 2014, 2019 and 2020, but am trying to avoid now.

Shall I list my pandemic accomplishments for you?

One is, I have at this point surrendered to household dust and muddy dog footprints.
Another is, my cat is now a complete attention hog.
Three: my hair is really, really long and I pretty much hate it, but maybe not enough to do anything about it.
4: We exacted a repair on a long broken vacuum cleaner brush head. Replacement parts cannot be found (by anyone, including you, no matter how good you think your monopoly-search-engine-that-is-now-a-verb search engine skills are) online unless I am willing to pay $30 to a Guy on Ebay for two small pieces of special plastic and just eat it if the parts don’t actually fit. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to be doing any more vacuuming than I was doing before. This repair is temporary, because there was a spinning part and some plastic involved, and the friction of the jammed thing that was supposed to spin but couldn’t actually melted the plastic. So when the melted piece fails, it goes back to being a vacuum cleaner without a sucky rotating brush head thingy.
Five): I dropped my iron, the one that hadn’t been dropped yet, and a chunk of plastic broke out of it, as another reminder to me and you and everyone else that plastic is bad and we have entirely too much of it in our lives. Also, possibly that ironing is terrible. Unless it isn’t.

Rowenta iron with a plastic bit busted out of it, shown in its natural habitat: among sewing tools


6- [redacted for boringness]
SEVEN, I am keeping track of the days and/but learning little from it. Most years, as spring gets underway, I start feeling abstract dread around the middle of March, and count down the days until the 13th of April, which is the anniversary of my mother’s death. This year, being the second of our pandemic, I was so over-focused on what day it was I failed to remember what day it was, and I only remembered when my brother texted me about it late in the evening. I went on to have hospital nightmares. Or one, long, hospital nightmare. One in which I was there with a lot of dogs, all vizslas, and they got away from me (of course), into the hospital, and I had to try to find them and catch them. And in my search I came upon every hospital room I have in my memory, including some recent ones where I visited sick people, some old ones, like where I saw my father in the ICU, and the corridor where I spoke to my mother before her first brain surgery, and also a room where Home Alone 2 is on the TV, where we spent a late 1990s Xmas eve in the pediatric ER, the rooms where I recovered after foot surgery, and all with those curtains and the LED-paneled equipment, and the pale-colored, forgettable walls, and also dream vizslas under all the beds and drinking from the toilets and galloping the halls and getting tangled in the mops in the janitors’ closets.

  1. I have a list of titles for future posts; if I were feeling accomplished, I might call these things essays. I mean, “blog” is really sort of –you know– kind of an unappealing, little made-up word, a cutesy clip of a portmanteau, and I’m not ready to like it. No, not even after a dozen years. Maybe I’ll stick with “post.” Anyway, good for me for dipping into the list of topics a couple of times so far, but this time everything on it is either not ready yet (looking at you, “Pandemic Quilt Number Two”), or rather mundane (ahem, look alive, “The Quest for Clear Ice”), or just not enough of an idea to get me going (yeah, get your shit together, “Pencils”).
Vizslas, leashed

Nine. In addition to watercolors, I have remembered how much I love to cut things out and glue them to paper. And, in a stroke of improbable luck, I found a stack of labelled boxes in my basement that contain the loosely organized papers I was using to make collages before I had kids. These boxes survived seven moves, some short and others across the country, over thirty years, their contents preserved where other more valuable boxes (thinking of some high end audio speakers and all my cookbooks) vanished. Yesterday, I spent two hours in the morning and perhaps eight more interrupted hours in the afternoon and evening cutting out letters and numbers and gluing them down and making a satisfying mess.

Last Friday, the Good

Woman in mask at vaccination center

Last Friday, April 2nd, in the Second Year of Our Pandemic, 2021, was Good Friday, and also a good day.

The night before, of course, I had a stressful dream about how my friend Allison and I narrowly escaped the flood, freed the refugee children from her attic (but abandoned the elderly people), and tried to organize everyone into two large rowboats. I woke up when Allison climbed into the boat I was supposed to row, pushing her half of the crowd of children out into the floodwaters without an adult or a second oar.

I got up early to make my Today is watercolor.

I am very excited by painting with watercolors right now, and have nearly used up an old block of watercolor paper that I received as a gift when I was in junior high school. I am even using the backs.

Then it was time to do the pet feeding dance. Schwartz and Eggi are easy these days (although Eggi is on a bit of a diet because bitches have hormone cycles and boy, does she). Captain had a sour tummy in the morning so I was pressed to add something delicious. Fellow was away for the weekend at a dog show.

cat sitting on yoga mat
Schwartz has his own mat

Then I had pilates with the cat.

Then we had a riding lesson which was very amazing (I mean, riding horses is very amazing. Prehistoric people probably would have eaten all the horses if they hadn’t figured out how to use them as engines, and together we went on to invade almost the whole earth, and then about a hundred years ago we quit on the horses and switched to gas-powered internal combustion and heyo, I guess, sorry about the greenhouse gasses to the whole earth and all its inhabitants).

Then I came home and changed out of my riding clothes and printed out an appointment ticket I found lurking in my email and headed to The Bronx.

One thing about living in Bedhead Hills is that it is 1977 here, so in order to get to places like North Dreadful, where it is 1957, or New York City, where it is 2021, you must also time travel. I do not know precisely why, but going backwards in time is easier around here, and you can do it in your car, but going forwards in time usually requires taking a train. Otherwise, the length of your journey can vary from an hour, to many hours.

I took the precaution of listening to a fully dramatized Hamlet in the car, so there were ghosts and a mad scene and the clang of swords on the Hutch.

I should probably say that New York’s Governor for Life Andrew Cuomo announced that people over 50 without pre-existing conditions were eligible for the coronavirus vaccine in the state in mid-March, but at first I wasn’t able to find an appointment for a shot within two hundred miles. Eventually, I took an appointment that was about a hundred miles away, and then, checking and refreshing the Am I Eligible page on the website at odd hours of the day and night, was able to improve my arrangement, finding something both sooner and closer. And despite the fact that people I know all over Westchester County have been able to get appointments at local pharmacies or at the mass vaccine event being held in White Plains in the convention center, the best I could do was a senior center in The Bronx.

When I arrived in The Bronx, I found myself in the car dealerships/car repair/window tinting/tires neighborhood, where the streets are wide but crowded with rows of double-parked cars, so a driver must proceed like Alice, at the beginning of her adventures in Wonderland, where she follows the rabbit (who is late) down the hole and begins to fall, very slowly, and for a long time. I passed the best parking spot and had to tootle around the block looking for another.

It was then so easy to find a parking spot I walked away thinking that it might not be a legal space to park, but if my car was getting towed, so were several other even larger cars. And owing to the length of the trip, and the time travel, and the meander past the weaving cars requiring new tires and window tinting, I was on the verge of running late myself. It was easy to see where the entrance was, with Stand Here circles on the sidewalk, two ambulances, and a police officer. As I approached the entrance, a very man came from the other direction, striding and swaggering in such a way that even the molecules of air moved out of his way, and as he got closer, his legs got longer, his stride lengthened, and he got even taller, or maybe I got shorter, or maybe both, and, but, so that when we reached the policeman at the same time, I was practically invisible and the much larger man went first.

As the large man stepped to the doors, I was confronted by a surprised NYPD officer, who hadn’t seen me approach, and demanded my ID and appointment ticket. My Westchester friends have relayed tales of going early to their appointments, but in The Bronx there are large signs out front making clear that you cannot be early; you must be within 30 minutes of your appointment.

I followed the enormous man into the building and startled another screener, who let the man go but gave me a stern but muffled lecture about keeping my ticket handy. A man stopped me and took my temperature, and gestured that I was to proceed onwards. I followed the arrows on the floor. A woman with a clipboard said something I did not understand, so I wandered forward and sat in an empty folding chair. A woman at a desk with a computer asked me for something so I produced the ticket. She didn’t want it. She wanted my ID, and she kept it on the desk in front of her while she furiously typed.

Then a National Guard solider in a desert-camo uniform and cap, crisply creased pants tucked neatly into pristine tan boots appeared with a small plastic tray. A nurse in navy scrubs took two syringes, and two cards from the tray, one for me and one for the next person.

The nurse told me to take off my sweatshirt, which I did, and she reached for my right arm. I asked if we couldn’t use my left arm. She asked me which arm I wanted. I said left. She reached out and grabbed the deltoid on my left shoulder, pinching it hard, and told me to relax the muscle, which I attempted to do and no sooner had I made that attempt there was already a needle in my arm and it was done. It didn’t hurt at all.

She slapped a bandaid on me and was gone in a flash

The woman with my ID completed her furious typing and examination of the object of interest. She placed a sticker on me with the time I was free to leave written on it, and with my license gave me a sticker and the precious white card with the details of my Pfizer shot. A sticker. I got a sticker.

I rose with my winter coat bundled in my arms and went to find my way to the waiting chairs, following more arrows and stickers on the painted concrete floor. There, a woman in a traffic safety vest with a lanyard and ID badge wandered through the grid of chairs, singing volubly. She held a gigantic bottle of spray sanitizer, which she applied to chairs after people left.

“You can sit anywhere,” she said, with the same sing-song cadence to every person who emerged.

An older man circled the chair in front of me, and was encouraged by Safety Vest to have a seat anywhere. He sat. They must have exchanged other words, but I was a little lost in my own head. The ceiling was very high, with frosted glass panels set into a frame, so the enormous room was filled with natural light. I wondered what the enormous room of the senior center was normally used for; table tennis? Safety Vest told the man in from of me, “Jesus is my boss.”

He replied, but I couldn’t hear him, and she said, “I’ve been singing and dancing my way through my whole career in New York.”

When it was my time to leave, Safety Vest came to me, looked at the time on my sticker, and said, “If you feel ok, you can go.”

I looked her directly in the eye and burst into tears. I had to explain that I was fine, just emotional. A year ago, we didn’t know how long the pandemic would be, and vaccines were something people talked about as something hopeful, something possible, but a big if. I’ve felt so much worry about when the vaccine would be available to us, and so frustrated with trying to find an appointment, that here I was, crying tears of relief. “We’ve had a lot of that today,” she said, and went back to singing.

I exited just behind the every tall man I entered behind. His great strides slicing through the air had gotten him his vaccine only a moment before I got mine. On my way back to my car, I saw a big pile of poo in the grass, and I do not think it was from a dog.

On the drive home, Hamlet was captured by pirates.

Today in March

March of 2021 was very, very long, but perhaps not as long as March of 2020, which has had, as of this writing, 395 days in it.

I did not miss a day of recording the date and the coronavirus data in March. March 1 is not pictured here because I am still working on it and when it’s done it will get its own blog post. I still regret not starting this activity sooner, but my current thought is that I should have started way before March of 2020. I should have started in March of 2011.

I thought it was the 16th two days in a row, which was weird, and avoidable, and a pretty good demonstration of why I do it at all. I had a lot of headaches in March. I had hot-dog puppet fingers one day and drew them and someone I know wants that drawing as a tattoo.

Isn’t it weird that the 31st of March is a day? Seems like it could give a day or two to February, in fairness.

Sugaring

I dreamed last night that Jimmy Fallon invited me to come on the Tonight Show to tell all of America how I’ve been spending the pandemic. I got all dressed up and had my hair done and sat in a chair for television makeup and they sent me to wait in the green room which turned out to be a lavish Hell-themed basement night club like the one in the TV show, Lucifer. The bartender was my friend J. W., and he was happy to see me and served me a fancy blue cocktail and spent a lot of energy cleaning up after me. I had no purse and therefore no way to tip him, but it was so awkward failing to tip a person I’ve known about twenty years that when it was my turn to walk out and talk to Jimmy in front of a live studio audience I was distracted and slightly agitated and therefore hilarious.

Absolutely no one on camera in the dream was wearing a mask, and absolutely everyone backstage and in the audience was. In my dreams, the pandemic is still raging, and I am participating in the making of “everything is okay” propaganda.

Anyway, so, ok, this one time, a couple of summers ago, when it was hot, I made everyone come with me to the feed store in Connecticut to buy a water trough for the dogs to splash around in. Some water dogs love a plastic kiddie pool, and, but, so, I decided to pop for a galvanized livestock trough, being less of a plastic eyesore. While we were at the feed store we oohed and ahhhhed over fancy chicks and buckets and our son’s girlfriend, the Actual Scientist, found the little metal things that you hammer into maple trees to get sap. It certainly wasn’t sugaring season then, but, yeah, sure, we have maple trees, and, wow, what a great idea, so we bought those, too. And when we got them home, we threw them into that particular drawer in the kitchen with the new batteries, the possibly-dead batteries, the random lengths of twine, zip-ties, the measuring tapes, the third worst pair of scissors in the house, and several kinds of tape (masking, packing, duct). Henceforward, the little bag of metal things for hammering into maple trees were forgotten for several years. 

I found them when we were looking for batteries. In fact, it was just in time to use them.

It was a maple.

Of course, we do have maples. Somewhere in our few acres of wooded wetland, definitely some maples. I mean, some of the trees are oaks (they have acorns), some of the trees are beeches (they are smooth and keep their dead leaves all winter) and, heck, also, I can identify the black birches (a different kind of smooth-ish bark), and, yes, when they have leaves, I know maples (just like the Canadian flag). During a brief but memorable outdoor ed program I did in elementary school (we went spelunking, and rappelling, and learned the major differences in the common trees of Missouri), I learned to tell a maple from an oak based on leaves. Of course, now we have apps for this, don’t we. 

But here we were in late winter and I noticed that someone else in the neighborhood had hung buckets on their maple trees so I realized we could, too. This is one of the recommended ways of knowing when to tap your maples: see if your neighbors are tapping theirs. Ok. So, but, how would we know which of the dozens of trees in our woods were maples?

The Bacon Provider went for tools. My oldest son and his girlfriend, the Actual Scientist, looked up pictures and descriptions of bark. I puttered around the kitchen hoping no one would expect me to be the judge. Some trees were identified. A drill was produced. We had an assortment of buckets, two enormous and three small, and one we borrowed.

Trees were tapped. Buckets hung. We awaited the dripping of sap.

One tree began producing sap immediately. The others did not. We wondered if we’d picked the wrong trees. Some of us had more anxiety about this than I did. I insisted that my oldest son and his girlfriend, the Actual Scientist, probably knew which trees were maples. Certainly they had a better idea which trees were maples than we did. And randomly choosing other trees was not going to improve our odds. Within another day the sap was running from all the trees. They were, in fact, all maples.

It takes many enormous buckets of maple tree sap to boil down to a few tiny bottles of maple syrup, but we had everything we needed. We have an outdoor burner and a huge brewing kettle. You have to boil the saps for hours and hours; we had to go get more propane. The Bacon Provider used various filtering techniques, including using the nylon brew bag we use for beer making as a filter.  You also need a large thermometer (another bit of home brewing equipment),  and an accurate barometer

Our beer brewing kettle, used here to boil down maple sap for syrup.

Sugaring weather happens when the nights are cold and the days are sunny. The sap ran for a number of days. Our syrup has a mild maple flavor, with a hint of vanilla. We had breakfast for dinner to celebrate. Maple syrup from your own trees is improbable. And weirdly easy.

Sourdough waffles with homemade maple syrup

The syrup we made from the first few days ended up boiling down to a light amber; in subsequent days it ended up darker. Yesterday, which was probably the last day of the run, the Bacon Provider was juggling a full day of work calls and supervising the boil. He could have waited, but he didn’t. When I got home from dog classes, the house smelled of burned maple syrup. The Bacon Provider was so sad and frustrated about the burned batch. He did manage to salvage the pot. 

Today he got his first COVID vaccine, so he’s forgotten about the disappointment of burning the last pot of syrup. We will wait a whole year for the next sugaring season. Meanwhile, he can go back to another of his hobbies: making perfectly clear ice.

You might be surprised at how hard it is to make clear ice.

Death of a Pig

(Apologies to E.B. White, and my mother, who considered his to be a perfect essay)

I spent several minutes this morning with a disemboweled stuffed pig and I feel I might account for this stretch of time, though I threw away the pig, and I was only mildly inconvenienced, and things might never have gone the other way round. Only thanks to technology, and the video I made, at 10:30 a.m., can I recall the minutes sharply. This certainty afflicts me with a sense of personal responsibility; if I were not so distracted I could have saved the stuffed pig.

The scheme of buying a stuffed pig online, from Wag dot com in December of 2014, and giving it to Captain on Christmas morning, was an impulse, following the success of their online marketing.  It was a transaction enacted by many households with perfect fidelity to the original script. The murder of the stuffed pig, being premeditated, is perhaps only remarkable in its delay. Captain’s vigorous attempts no match for the tough toy, lasting years and years, but the quick and skillful destruction came from the teeth and jaws of the much younger Fellow, and the strewn stuffing and disemboweled pig met an unceremonial ending in the trash. 

In the baffling sameness of days during this pandemic, today might have been yesterday or the day before. Fellow visited the basket of stuffed toys that sits on top of his kennel. He began to play with it, with Eggi looking on. The Bacon Provider, who never stops working now and certainly never did before, gravely tapped away at his laptop keyboard, answering a final email before his next call. Otherwise the kitchen was quiet. I looked over out of presentiment. Stuffing surrounded the busy young dog. Eggi, wholly innocent at this point, made eye-contact with me. The loss we felt was not the loss of a toy but the loss of tidy room. She stood and took the pig-shaped pelt from Fellow with a quick, low, bitchy growl, and set to work rending it herself.  But I am getting ahead of my story and shall have to go back.

From July of 2013 to April of 2017, I happily bought all of my dog and cat food from Wag dot com. What a convenience to have the drudgery of regular monthly errand replaced by a UPS delivery.  When Wag dot com was acquired by Amazon, the pet food specialty site was shut down, and absorbed into the soulless, impossible-to-search morass of the world’s largest online retailer. Surely this is the sort of anti-competitive behavior America has laws against? Oh well, the country had its hands full, utterly avoiding being ready for several of the main challenges we face today. I switched to Chewy.com and did not mourn the loss of another online retailer. 

It was in early December, 2014, when I bought a large Tuffy Polly Pig Plush Dog Toy, without understanding quite how large it was. It was quite large. You can’t always tell with online shopping. The dog it was intended for was Captain, and he enjoyed it, and was unable to open it and pull out the stuffing, which was a thing he did back then. In the years since, other dogs visited and played with it, and the pig endured. We got a puppy, who preferred smaller stuffed toys, and grew up. We got another puppy, and he is a large boy of almost two and a half years now. He plays with everything.

Fellow has my riding gloves

Is there a sock that came off with your muddy boots on the floor in the back hall? Fellow will bring it to you. Or, he will sneak it to his bed and chew it gently, eventually tucking it into the folds of the dog bed to save for later. Is there a stick in the yard, between the sizes of postcard and fencerail? Fellow will take that in his mouth and trot around the yard, clacking it in his jaws, or plowing up the turf and swinging it mightily and dangerously, with no regard for his or others’ safety. Is there a small, forgotten, cat-nip filled stuffed mouse in a basket of neglected cat toys? Fellow will have a romping good time with it, until you take it away on the grounds that he might swallow it. Fellow has a large basket of appropriate dog toys, too, and will on occasion, play with these, choosing one for himself after a studied selection process whereby he picks and rejects other stuffed squirrels and novelty plush sandwiches until he finds, at last, the one he was looking for. 

There is a blur in time now, as you may know, and our pets all love how much we are all staying home. Frankly, I might have forgotten the pig had not Fellow recently been picking it and shaking it and leaping about the kitchen with it. It seemed intact the last time I chucked it back in the toy bin at the momentary burst of tidying I do at the end of each day. Was it actually torn, or weakened in the seams? 

Fellow was silently pulling out the stuffing and going in for more. Stuffing expands as it is removed, and this plush pig had been made taut and hard as a drum it was so well-stuffed and sturdy. The fabric of its exterior, once penetrated, surrendered completely to the plucking teeth of the dog. Fellow surrounded himself with the extricated filling.

In the next moment, Eggi asserted herself and took it, settling nearby to rip and chewy and  involve her teeth in the texture of the fabric. 

I knelt, taking the pig from her without scolding. Though I didn’t see either dog eat any of it, it isn’t safe to let this continue. Eggi seemed disappointed, but Fellow had a mild look, expressive of the deep pleasure of toy-having and toy-killing, and no more hurt by my taking it from Eggi as he was in surrendering it to her. 

I carried the pig to the trash and went back for the stuffing. Two armloads. 

It is Thursday, my blog posting day, so the news of the death of this pig can travel faster and farther than in generations past. In my email, I was able to track down the stuffed toy, where and when obtained, and order another, to be delivered with our next shipment of kibble and cat litter from Chewy. 

The pig is so easily replaced it will be as if it never left. 

The Mixtape That You Made

When I get in my car and stick the charger cable into my phone, connecting the technologically outdated ten year old car with the state of the art Apple iPhone, the one thing I can count on is that if a connection is made, what will play is the song 1989, by the band Clem Snide. The opening line is, “Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1989.”

This is a song I can play all of, in my head, without hearing, just by encountering part of a phrase like “I guess it’s not that funny, but I’ll say it anyway,” or “the joke is that the stereo just ate the mixtape that you made.” And if I could figure out how to delete it from my state of the art iPhone I could remove it, and make some other song the one that gets picked first all the time. 

Because of the pandemic, the Bacon Provider has gone from traveling regularly for work to traveling never for work, and so I see him in person, on weekdays, in the middle of the day, making coffee or tea in the kitchen, and this is the new normal. And you know what I found out? He gets Johnny Cash songs stuck in his head, as well as the Cure, and now, thanks to my shout-singing that one Clem Snide song, 1989.

Plays automatically in my brain. As I recall, an excellent selection for driving too fast.

How are you marking your pandemic anniversary?

We are making maple syrup. 

At this point we were pretty sure this was a maple tree.

I had my last meal in a restaurant March 9, 2020. It was lunch. In retrospect, I wish I had had a glass of wine. At least I had dessert. 

I had my last acupuncture appointment December 13, 2019. I frickin love acupuncture and when twenty minutes of solitary deep breathing in that tiny, warm, dark, windowless room with twenty-one slender needles stuck in my limbs while I lie listening to new age whale-song music seems like less of bad idea, I’ll be back on that jam. Like butter on hot toast.

I had my last haircut in a salon November 18, 2019. The stylist ignored me and spoke to the other stylists while he worked, and dried my hair in the particular kind of long, smooth, loose waves that I would love to know how to do myself but cannot seem to master. Today my hair is so long it gets caught in jacket zippers and chair backs. It is so heavy it works its way out of ponytails. It is entirely too long, just like the pandemic itself. I might wake up tomorrow and cut it all off myself.

From my brother

The thing about mixtapes, though, if you ever gave me a mixtape, I probably still have it. I even have a few mixtapes that you didn’t give me, but you left them in the Bacon Provider’s car when he took you to the Snow Bowl that time you went skiing with him, or you popped into my boombox while we drank Mooseheads out of my dorm fridge and I never gave it back.

Ten years ago this month I started to have an inkling that our time in Seattle might be ending, after 18 years, and I set about giving away piles of old toys and thirty-one cartons of books and a small mountain of obsolete technology garbage. I follow some people on Twitter who are really into old tech, and I regularly admire the their efforts to restore the crap that used to take up room on the shelves in my basement. But when it came to the cassettes, it was another story.

From my other brother

The handwriting from my friend K on the copy she made me of the then-rare Nilsson’s The Point or her annotations on Lou Reed’s New York, or my other friend K who made me a tape of several Elvis Costellos and a greatest hits of the summer of 1982, or the splendidly varied mixes created by my brother C stopped me. They weren’t especially large, or numerous, and they were made for me.

The label is in my handwriting to disguise the fact that this mixtape wasn’t mine.

My favorite mixtape as I recall was one that lived in the Bacon Provider’s college wheels for as long as he had that car, and it had to be rescued when we traded in the Mazda. It was a Maxell, C90, the kind that played and played, and while it had two Bob Marley albums crammed onto it, it also had some Sugar Hill Gang and ended with a fragment of a song that I can’t quite remember. If we can find four working AA batteries we might be able to play this tape on one of the only pieces of obsolete technology the Bacon Provider saved. 

Does it work? Dunno. We’re looking for batteries.

Today in February

This was the longest February of my life. I ordered four too many jars of dijon mustard from Fresh Direct because someone else keeps putting the groceries away while I keep trying to replace what I could not find. I am sorry to say I had to decline eight or eleventy-seven and a third invitations to Zoom events, because I knew I’d forget to join anyway. I stared for many hours blank-eyed into the void of space between me and the pantry, scrounging together dozens of meals with listless resentment. I stood barefoot and amazed by the hundreds of snowstorms that rolled through Bedhead Hills this February, and the dogs enjoyed most of the thousand mile marches on snowshoes through our speck of woods. There were ten thousand and one migraines for me, and a hundred thousand interminable Tuesdays, and of course I was ever so busy ignoring eight hundred fifty three thousand spam phone calls, deleting a million and six unwanted emails, vacuuming up twelve million thirty two thousand five hundred of those dead orange ladybugs, and I do not exaggerate about making ninety-nine million attempts to check the New York State covid-19 vaccine portal all resulting in no appointments available, unless you are willing to travel 400 miles for one, life-saving shot, and then do it again a few weeks later.

Oh, and the other thing is I kept up with the daily coronavirus data, and made one of these every day.

Lemme know if you need some dijon mustard.

The Next 50 Books I Read: March 2020 to February 2021

March 2020

  • No Visible Bruises, by Rachel Louise Snyder
  • The Night Watchman, the first book I read by Louise Erdrich, whose work is so engaging for me that I went on to read 12 more this year
  • Out, by Natsuo Kirino

April 2020

  • Lost Children Archive, by Valeria Luiselli
  • The third part of the Wolf Hall trilogy, Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light, the ending of which was spoiled for me by an interview with the author I heard on public radio a number of years ago

May 2020

  • Network Effect, by Martha Wells
  • The City We Became, by NK Jemisin, the most right now book I read this year

June 2020

  • Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Midnight in Chernobyl, by Adam Higginbotham
  • The Daughters of Erietown, by Connie Schultz
  • Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City, by Kate Winkler Dawson
  • Elmet, by Fiona Mosley

July 2020

  • The Dinosaur Artist, by Paige Williams
  • Meet Me in the Future, by Kameron Hurley
  • Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • Becoming Duchess Goldblatt, by Anonymous
  • Shame Pudding, a wonderful graphic memoir by Danny Noble
  • Murder in Little Egypt, by Darcy O’Brien

August 2020

  • Falling Free, by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
  • Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey
  • Inge’s War: A German Woman’s Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival Under Hitler, by Svenja O’Donnell

September 2020

  • Safe Passage by Ida Cook
  • Seducing and Killing Nazis: Hannie, Truus and Freddie: Dutch Resistance Heroines of WWII, by Sophie Poldermans
  • The Painted Drum, by Louise Erdrich
  • A Way of Life, Like Any Other, by Darcy O’Brien

October 2020

  • The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, by Louise Erdrich
  • Bunny, by Mona Awad
  • My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • The Round House, by Louise Erdrich

November 2020

  • The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste
  • LaRose, by Louise Erdrich
  • Archivist Wasp, by Nicole Kornher-Stace

December 2020

  • Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich
  • Severance, by Ling Ma
  • The Master Butcher’s Singing Club, by Louise Erdrich

January 2021

  • The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett
  • The Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich
  • Shocking Life, The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli, a very entertaining gift from my brother Andy

February 2021

  • V. E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
  • My Life in France, by Julia Child
  • The Birch Bark House, by Louise Erdrich
  • Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons
  • Shadow Tag, by Louise Erdrich 
  • Paddle to the Sea, by Holling Clancy Holling
  • Four Souls, by Louise Erdrich
  • Tracks, by Louise Erdrich
  •  Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernadine Evaristo
  • The Game of Silence, by Louise Erdrich

Dog Doo

Vizsla in the kitchen, seen through the chairs

The house is quiet and the dogs are put away for the night. Fellow woofs gently and whines, twitching and paddling in his sleep, gently rattling the bars of his kennel, and then is quiet again. I am finished deleting emails, ignoring spam phone calls, and looking at TikToks until my phone runs out of juice.

It snowed again last Friday, and some more on Saturday, and so by Sunday when I was putting on my snowshoes to walk the dogs in the woods, it was somehow a little bit fresh and exciting again. Even the Bacon Provider set aside the barometer/altimeter iPhone app he works on on weekends to come with us.

His snow boots were with mine in the back hall. His snowshoes were on a shelf in the garage. He found a hat he could use in the closet, but where were his gloves? Didn’t he use them to dig out his car on Saturday? He grabbed a pair of insulated work gloves instead.

And we jollied Captain into coming along.

The original layer of deep snow is now several weeks old, and I am glad I checked the backyard for poo before it fell. I have done my best to dig up the dog shit in the yard as it has been produced, but there are three of them, and they eat two meals a day, and hot poo sinks in snow and the snow re-freezes overnight, and then you have to chip it out again. It’s nasty. It’s necessary. It’s part of owning dogs.

If you are thinking of getting yourself a pandemic puppy, go forth with the knowledge that your dog may bring unconditional love to your life, should get you to go outside more often, and comes with drool, barking, and probably more poo than you bargained for. A dog trainer I knew many years ago used to say, “Barking is one of the functions of a dog;” it is something I think about almost every day. Pooping is another of the functions of a dog. Also, you will regularly examine your dog’s poo, and find out how they’re doing, and also that they’ve been eating cat turds, or toilet paper rolls, or sticks.

As we dug out the snow by the gate so we could leave the yard, I told the Bacon Provider that going into the woods with two dogs off leash was harder than going into the woods with three dogs off leash, because three is a pack, and the old one will stay with you, and the other ones will keep checking in; but when there are just two dogs, they go off together and make bad choices (barking at the neighbors, chasing deer). Of course, I was full of shit.

All three of my dogs return on recall (which is why it is ok to take them out of the fenced yard and into our woods). But, they are not perfect and neither am I. So I headed into the woods, and right away I had to redirect Fellow who was headed in the wrong direction, and by the time I got to the bottom of the hill, Eggi and Fellow had run past me and the Bacon Provider pointed out that Captain was not with us. Almost without stopping or turning around (you have to make a small circle in snowshoes! If you try to turn on the spot you will almost certainly fall over), I declared with all the wisdom of the dog expert of the house that the dog would follow if the Bacon Provider would stop looking back to see if he was coming. And again, though this is usually true, it was, in this case, not true.

With continued encouragement, Captain did eventually catch up to us, and we did manage a couple of laps of the snowshoeing trail I’ve been maintaining. We did a bit of exploring of the part of the woods that is normally the wettest and thus the least explorable. Under the snow the ice had melted, so we were walking over frozen mud and open water. This is the part of the woods where the skunk cabbage grows; last year it came up in March.

When we got back up the hill to the gate, we found the reason Captain had gone back to the yard: he needed to poop, and had wanted to get back into the yard to do his business.

Now in the past I would have finished by saying something along the lines that we can all relate to Captain’s predicament, because who doesn’t prefer pooping at home? But these days, who goes anywhere?

So, instead I will end with include pictures I took when I was brushing their teeth.

Winter Weather

In the car on the way to dog agility class late Monday afternoon, Fellow was snuffling and chuffing, pressing his nose onto the car window in the way-back. I asked him what he was doing. He didn’t answer. I guess he wishes he could smell things as we pass by. I had heard some news about another storm rolling in, but it hadn’t started by the time we left for class and I didn’t give it much thought. What I did think about was windshield wipers on the inside of the car windows, for dog slobber and nose prints.

The light came on my dashboard saying I needed wiper fluid.

After class, we left as we always do, one owner at a time, minimizing the dangerous chaos of leashed dogs on the stairs, and each of us took turns finding out that the flight of stairs which had been dry when we arrived was now perfectly coated in a very fine layer of almost invisible ice. We dropped our leashes and let the dogs figure it out on their own. The heedless dogs innocently continued down a few steps, slipped, stumbled and fell down the rest of the way, landing surprised but unhurt.  Then we owners made our way down, sideways, clinging to the rail and trying to keep our footing. Of the people, only the instructor actually fell, slipping on the last step before the landing.

Freezing rain is a betrayal. It flies in the face of reason. Here we are, the supposed big-brained, ass-kicking hominid, with a solid grasp of the freezing temperature of water. Freezing rain is a slap in the face of my understanding of when it should snow and when it shouldn’t. It was more than cold enough to snow, and it was raining. I don’t mind driving in snow. I object strongly to driving in freeing rain.

It was 29F and the raindrops were fine, like drizzle, but not gentle like mist. Sprayed. Or blasted. It wasn’t so much as falling as enclosing the early evening in a thick cloak of trouble. Everywhere the pavement  was a slippery beyond slick.

Out on the freeway, everyone was keeping to themselves, going slower than usual, resisting the urge to take the empty left lane. My windshield wipers smeared the rain in two neat, persistent arcs. Keeping the roads salted and plowed is a responsibility local and state government takes seriously in New York, and the drive was reassuringly quiet and straightforward all the way home. Once there, I rolled the garbage cans out for pickup the next morning, and found in a single step that my own driveway was too slick to walk on.

The next day the sun came out and the temperature climbed steadily, hitting 48F in the afternoon. I went to town to try to get some windshield wiper fluid, but went home empty-handed because everyone had beaten me to it.

Captain enjoying a nap on a winter afternoon

We have so much snow on the ground from that big storm a few weeks ago, and two additional significant snowfalls since, that a weirdly warm day clears the pavement and changes the texture of the packed snow without melting it away. I went out in the back yard with the dogs after dark as everything commenced re-freezing. My snowshoeing path along the fence line was hard and uneven and difficult to walk on; the untrodden snow was passable, though soft and wet and noisy to traverse in boots.

Tuesday night

Overnight, the temperatures dropped and the snow froze again. Another storm was expected Thursday. Meanwhile, on Twitter, some of my Texas friends complained of their abnormally cold, snowy disaster. Others, without power or heat or water simply disappeared from the timeline.

Thursday morning the sky was gray but bright–a sky that warned of snow. Snow began to fall in Bedhead Hills about 10 am.

When you live someplace that regularly gets snow, you make arrangements in the fall for someone to come plow the snow off your driveway or acquire the tools for doing it yourself. You chat with friends about the dangers of icicles, the best kind of dog-safe snow-melt and snow shovels. You develop habits like keeping pasta and bacon and eggs and frozen peas on hand so you can make spaghetti carbonara the way you like it and without any notice. You know that your town salted the roads before the storm, and will have the roads cleared of snow as soon as they can. You try to have your furnace serviced once a year. You make plans but you don’t apologize when you have to cancel appointments because of the weather.

Multitasking Fellow watching the bird feeder and having a bone at the same time

I changed from my pajamas into long underwear and snowpants and put on my insulated boots. I wrestled both of the younger dogs into their parkas and tossed my snowshoes out onto the back steps. Fellow barked at me while I monkeyed with the straps.

I opened the gate and the dogs rushed out and down the hill into our woods. They followed the trail for a bit and then plunged into the brush, taking great leaps through the snow. When they disappeared, I called them back, and they came eagerly. I gave them each a small dog treat from my pocket, and sent them off again.

About a month ago, Eggi found a dead snake in the woods. Back then, winter was predicted to be wet but relatively warm, and therefore snowless. She showed me today that she found the snake again, under the snow. Dogs are not wrong: the woods are better than the highway; you can smell more.

Then, Eggi alerted me to the presence of a man, walking alone on the road at the edge of our property. I yelled at her to come, but it was hard to convince her to return to me, and harder still when Fellow chose to back her up and join in the barking. The man stopped walking, probably alarmed by the dogs or the volume and tone of my yelling, and then Fellow turned towards me. My shouts of praise and encouragement brought him all the way in. I gave him more of the dog treats in my pocket and made a big fuss over him. Then I called Eggi again and she gave up her scolding of the stranger.

Eggi and her nose

As the afternoon unfolds, the snow continues to fall. The dogs begin lobbying for an early dinner.