Pandemic Quilt for March 1, 2021

and, so, like, at some point in February, I was doing my daily “Today is” thing and had the impulse to make the daily data into a quilt.

Here’s what I had in mind: like, you know, where it says “Today is” and then the date, and then the usual data (new U.S. cases, number of dead, number of people vaccinated). I pulled out a bunch of black fabric and a bunch of white fabric and started playing with making letters (which I had never tried), but without planning, or measuring, or consulting advice online, or any other things that might have sucked the fun out of it (or made it better). By the time I had made the words, “Today is Monday,” I was aware that I was not going to be able to lay out the words in lines that would make sense.

So I thought I would also have some room for skulls, which was good.

Anyway, when March 1 rolled around, as we knew it would, pandemic or no, I publicly shared the thought it might take me a few days to finish.

I assume I was being sarcastic.

I finished piecing what I thought of as the quilt top on March 16. It was too large to measure in my sewing room. And it was only vaguely rectangular.

Does a quilt have to be a perfect rectangle? No. Could I have tried harder to make it a perfect rectangle? Yes.

I was a fan of Vine, and I enjoy TikTok. No doubt I will enjoy the next short-form video social media platform, too.

Then I started on the back, for which I had in mind a large skull surrounded by coronaviruses. I did not plan it well, and do not recommend working according to the method that my progress photos, below indicate.

The back of the quilt took up so much of that green fabric (I had many yards of it in my stash), that I had to cut up a pair of unfinished pajamas that I had started to make from it. Every time I start to sew clothing for myself I become so convinced it will be a failure that I never even finish. So cutting up the unfinished pajamas was a typical end for a project of mine.

There are a lot of reasons not to make quilts that are too large. Keeping the top of a small quilt flat is simpler. Small quilts weigh less, and so are easier to move, to measure, and to quilt. Small quilts can be laid out and basted on the floor of a small sewing room. I know; I know. There may be more reasons I don’t even know. My ability to fail to demonstrate my understanding of this lesson is noteworthy. I had to piece together batting to have enough.

I quilted with the green side up because quilting with white thread on a white fabric background is harder to see mistakes. I have a Sweet Sixteen machine for quilting, and I love it. I finished quilting May 4. For the binding I used scraps.

I finished burying thread ends and hand-stitching the binding just after midnight last night, and waited to wash it until this morning. I used five color-catching sheets because if the green fabric ran onto the white during the first washing, I wouldn’t have found that funny at all.

The finished size of the quilt is 87.5” by 102.5” by 83.5” by 97.25.” It’s a quadrilateral. It weighs 8 lbs., 10 oz. It is so big that to take a picture of it, I had to take it outside, lay it in the grass, and set up our tallest ladder.

Shot

Twenty-four hours from now, I pass the invisible deadline after which I can be considered fully vaccinated from the coronavirus. I haven’t chosen my superhero name yet, and I’m wondering if a chambray cape would be too much with jeans.

When I made my appointments for the shots, it was in such high demand that if you didn’t fill out the web forms quickly enough, the appointment slots would disappear before your eyes. Now the shot is pretty easy to come by in New York, and I know it isn’t this way everywhere. We need everyone who can get vaccinated to get vaccinated.

Almost everyone I’ve spoken to about it has that one uncle or sister or co-worker who is being a butthead about getting the vaccine. As the rare American who hasn’t the task of selling the reasonable risks of this new inoculation, I don’t have to internalize the frustration of coexisting with science deniers.

Captain says he gets shots all the time and they’re no big deal.

The day of my second vaccine was very much like the day of the first, with pilates and a horseback riding lesson, back to back.

The second time around I was much less nervous about arriving at the senior center in the Bronx and finding parking but out of habit threw on the navigon. (This is what the Bacon Provider calls it: the navigon. I always thought that “navigon” was the generic term for the category of navigational device or navigation software. I mean, he would know. I just went to look it up and discovered that it was an actual German company that made navigation devices and got bought out by a larger, U.S. competitor, who of course shut it down. He was being funny, and I didn’t know it until now. I like the word “navigon” and think we should use it to mean whatever navigation technology we use, be it software on our phones or the crummy, built-in stuff in the dashboard of a modern car.)

Because I don’t really go anyplace anymore, it is thrilling and nauseating to hit the road for someplace new. I got on the highway headed south. Traffic was moving at a good clip, and I was listening to a book by Muriel Spark and keeping pace with the other traffic. I had a passing thought about the lack of a plan for dinner.

I did not see the object that hit my windshield, but I did see that it was flung from the tires of a dump truck slightly ahead of me and one lane over. I flinched, naturally, and heard it hit with a sharp crunch. I paused the girls of the Brodie set and let my eyes adjust to see the crack. Isn’t it funny that you can’t listen and look at the same time?

I do not know if I had been on any other errand if I would have been annoyed by the ruinous crack on my windshield, but I was not annoyed. Maybe it was knowing that a new windshield was the one thing that car insurance actually covers with no deductible. Or maybe it was knowing that the windshield gave its life so that I didn’t get my face shattered by a rock. And anyway, I was getting a coronavirus vaccine.

The Senior Center in the Bronx was guarded by a new but similar pair of NYPD and National Guard soldiers. All they wanted to see was the little paper card from last time. I was directed to a chair and as soon as I sat, a nurse in navy scrubs leapt to his feet from the chair across from me. There was no time for chatting or a vaccine selfie. The fifteen minute wait after getting the shot was the only thing about it that seemed to take any time at all. The woman with the enormous bottle of sanitizer who could not stop singing was still there, although she had at last stopped singing.

We grilled lamb skewers for dinner, and made greek salad and pita bread.

I felt a little bit achy the next day; most people I know felt pretty crummy after the second shot, with aches and a fever. I never ran a fever, but I did have some surprising intestinal track issues (which I had thought was a coincidence after the first shot). It took about a week for that to seem normal again.

They came and replaced my windshield on my driveway.

Now that my little vaccine dance card is all filled out, I’ve propped it on my desk in the center spot I save for the MVP of very important papers. Today I was asked to upload a copy of it for the first time. The Westminster Kennel Club dog show, which is in about five weeks, is asking exhibitors to either be tested for coronavirus just before the event, or submit proof of vaccination. The show is closed to both spectators and vendors this year. It is being held in June instead of February, and at the Lyndhurst Estate, in Tarrytown, instead of Madison Square Garden. Fellow qualified to enter, with several major wins, including a Best in Specialty Show last November. He has been going to shows with his professional handler during the pandemic, and it will be the first time I’ve seen him in the show ring in well over a year.

Today in April

April had thirty days in it, this year, which is the second year of our Pandemic, but this week alone it was Friday at least three times. This is why I am posting on Friday, instead of Thursday.

TikTok is great and you should waste time there instead of Facebook.

Shoutout to the 29th, which is painted on a piece of newspaper and is absolutely my favorite of the month. Also, bravo to the coronavirus vaccine effort, which has now produced 101,407,318 fully vaccinated Americans.

Garbage Day

They say it’s Earth Day today. It’s chilly and a bit cloudy in the corner of Earth I call Bedhead Hills. The weather forecast called for a severe thunderstorm yesterday around 3 pm, and it arrived punctually at 2:45 pm, with a rumble of thunder, a blast of wind, and rain, ending the streak of unseasonably warm and mild spring weather. I like the weather in New York, because you get a bit of everything.

I do not recall observing Earth Day when I was a kid; we had Arbor Day, though, and I know this because there was a Charlie Brown animated special about it. I don’t think I ever got to plant any trees. I found plants frustrating when I was a kid because of their tendency to die in my care. For a while, I had a cactus that I kept outside my bedroom window on a tiny, hot, brick ledge. You could see it from the street. The cactus was green on the bottom and bright orange-pink on top. I watered it irregularly, which seemed to suit it fine. But it didn’t last. 

My mother had a real way with plants, and kept a window full of African violets in the kitchen in the 70s. There was a bottle of Miracle-Gro under the kitchen sink that she put in the violets’ water. I watched these ministrations with awe, as if these were plant-growing skills I could never myself attain. When she remodeled the kitchen a second time in the 80s, she switched to a collection of cacti which also did well in her care. Once she knocked a grapefruit-sized barrel cactus off the counter when she was getting ready to water it, and used her lightning-fast baseball skills to swoop in with her left hand and catch it before thinking. Of course it landed needles down.

There were new sponges, and Comet (for scrubbing the sink), Fantastik, and dish soap, and a switch for the garbage disposal under the sink. The thing that took up the most room under there was the brown plastic garbage pail, which was just the right size for a paper grocery bag to stand up in it. Today, paper grocery bags in the U.S. have handles; when I was a kid, they did not have handles. The kitchen garbage can was for the stuff that did not go down the garbage disposal in the sink. My. mother had strict rules about the garbage disposal (you had to run the water; you had to check for spoons), and what could go down the garbage disposal (chicken bones?!), and what could not (corncobs).

When the trash was full, someone (rarely me) would carry the weeping paper bag to the galvanized steel garbage cans with banged-up, ill-fitting lids that sat in our driveway. We also saved things for recycling, and I knew of no other families who collected empty glass bottles or washed steel cans, removed the labels, opened both ends, and flattened them. 

Every few months we would load the recycling into the car and drive up a road that took you to the big bins where recyclables were collected, and we got to sort and throw in the bottles and cans. As embarrassing and hard to explain as it was that we collected months’ worth of empty soup cans in our garage, it was thrilling to toss the empty bottles in the glorious anticipation and certain fulfillment of hearing them break. Just writing this makes me want to go do it.

My children grew up in Seattle, where we had three large, wheeled bins in the alley behind our house: one for garbage, one for recycling, and one for yard and food waste. All were collected by a municipal service, weekly for garbage and probably every-other weekly for the rest. Because our bins lived in the alley, there was little sense of ever missing garbage day. Sometimes we had to go gather our bins because of the chaos of the aftermath of collection.

We had a big recycling bin in the kitchen, which the kids raided for materials for making things. On a trip to Alaska, one of my kids discovered he couldn’t recycle his empty bottles, and wanted to carry our recyclables back home in his suitcase. He was probably 10 or 11 at the time, but I can still see him doing this.

When we lived in New York City, where every day is garbage day, and there are no alleys, we experienced both the weirdness of taking our garbage to the basement in the elevator of a small residential building and the magical commotion of sliding the bags into a labelled chute  in the utility room of a high-rise. And the intense peculiarity of witnessing a screaming argument between an interloper and the regular person who picked through the recycling of our building looking for the bottles and cans that could be redeemed for 5¢ each.   

I buy many different kinds of plastic garbage bags for my house, including special sizes for different cans, and small ones on a tidy roll for picking up dog poo, and it feels shameful to admit that I buy them to throw them out. But that’s what everyone buys garbage bags for. Anyway, Americans make a lot of garbage, sure (the EPA estimates that each American typically makes about 6 pounds of trash per day), and use a lot of water (100 gallons per day per person), but the 20 metric tons of CO2 per American per year might be the biggest of our problems. The catastrophic global climate change of human activity we usually call global warming isn’t stoppable or reversible at this point.

Even though we are now in the second year of our global pandemic, known mostly as coronavirus, or, familiarly, as the ‘rona, there are bigger threats to humanity because they threaten our planet’s ability to sustain life.

I spent part of the afternoon of this Earth Day in the yard with the dogs. They never know what day it is, and continue to love the fact that everyone is home all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful to have them.

From left to right, Eggi, Captain, and Fellow

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.