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.

I couldn’t help but hear

What I saw: a layer of wet snow on the ground this morning. 

What I did beforehand: woke up early from a dream in which Beyoncé was complaining that she didn’t want her children to wear saddle shoes because it would make them look like “black hillbillies.” I asked her how she got her costumes to fit so well. I didn’t argue with her about the saddle shoes. Or ask about “black hillbillies.”


What I wore: the pink gown with the opening in the front.

Who went with me: three women who booked their mammogram appointments together every year.


How I got a referral: from the Lady Parts Doctor, who told me she thinks everything is fine, nothing has changed, the lights are on and people are going to work and people really oughtta stop freaking out about the election. “The hate crimes will stop when the economy recovers,” she told me. “When people have money they’re happy,” she continued. “This is why socialism doesn’t work.”
I didn’t mention Sweden.

Why I saw this show: I was on time. Early, even.

Where I sat: in the waiting room, where I heard one of the receptionists discussing medical insurance providers with a patient, and referring to one of the offerings as “Obamacare.”

Things that were sad: the sound system. The pictures of flowers. 


Things that were funny: when the third sister went to get her mammogram, the two remaining sisters lowered their voices and continued to talk about their legal and accounting issues. Everything they said was perfectly audible to me, though most of it didn’t really make sense. 
“You should talk to Little Carmine,” said one sister. “You need a corporate accountant….And, not Brian! He’s fresh out of school. He’s a little pecker-head.” 
“I’m writing 30 checks a week, and he wants two thousand. …And he says, ‘Whatever.’
‘It’s not whatever!’ I said. He said, ‘Well, we’ll find out.’
“I’m going to Florida February 1st for fiddy days. I gotta be able to write checks. …but, you know what?  Life don’t work that way.”

Things that were not funny: I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard anyone called a “little pecker-head” before. Maybe I’ve been missing out.

Something I ate: cereal when I got home.

What it is: is it eavesdropping if it’s so loud you can’t not hear it?

Who should come up with an emoji for mammograms: you.


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What I saw on the way home: fine rain falling that would wash away the snow before the morning was over.

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I had a dream

What I did: I dreamed I was in Vietnam.

What I did beforehand: bedtime has been tricky since the election. I try to get comfortable, clear my head and close my eyes and drift off. I have an old shoulder injury that’s been bothering me, and it inspires me to worry about my kids, what environmental protections a climate-change-denying, pro-business, anti-regulation congress and senate can destroy, how our Supreme Court changes with one or two new members bent on the reproductive enslavement of poor American women, and then, what about all my friends who are immigrants? Not to mention the white supremacists and our broken electoral college. Who can sleep?

But last night I somehow set it all aside and found a ten minute window free of anxiety, and just as I was drifting off to sleep I could hear my old dog Cherry, locked in the kitchen, but standing by the door whining.


What I wore: a politically opinionated t-shirt, TomboyX flannel pajama pants, and my wedding ring that doesn’t come off.

In the dream, I had a khaki uniform, with pockets everywhere including on my pant legs and my boots fasted with chromed latches like on my mother’s old pair of 1960s black Rossignol ski boots.

Who went with me: my cat, Schwartz, who takes up half the bed when the Bacon Provider is out of town.


How I remember my dreams: they say you should keep a dream journal by your bedside and write them down as soon as you wake up. Anything on my nightstand ends up being a drink coaster. Sometimes, I tweet my dreams. 


Why I saw this show: see “What I did beforehand,” above.

Where I slept: because of my permanently messed-up shoulder, I sleep on my right side, and mine is the right side of the bed


Things that were sad: I dreamed I was in Vietnam, in the early 1970s, towards the end of the war. Caravans of U.S. military trucks were taking soldiers and civilians and whatever anyone could carry down the bomb-rutted roads and out of the city. I don’t know what city I was in. There were people everywhere– women with groups of tired children, a very old man with an empty dog leash– all walking around and looking like they didn’t know where to go. 

Things that were funny: my job was to set up the children’s libraries the United States was planning to leave behind, as a gift to the people of Vietnam.  

Things that were not funny: the books, housed in a crumbling warehouse that might have been a bad-guy hideout for the 1960s Batman TV show, were carefully stored in clean cardboard cartons, their colorful glossy covers like new, their pages fresh and straight. And every single book in every single box, in every one of the hundreds and thousands of cartons, stacked row upon row was in English.


Something I ate: last night for dinner we made a spicy carrot soup from a new cookbook, called “Zuppe,” which means “soups” in Italian.


What it is: my friend C. thinks this dream is about being frustrated.

Who should remember their dreams: people who want to forget the real world


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What I saw when I woke up: I got a text quite early, from 19. He was offering to walk the dogs and feed them, but pointed out that Cherry had had accidents all over the kitchen in the night. It was my turn to clean them up.

Cherry is 14

Dream House

We finished moving in on a Friday, spent one exhausted, dreamless night amongst the unopened boxes. The next day we went back to the house we’d been renting to clean it. On Sunday we moved our horses to a new barn. On Monday, the Bacon Provider left on a business trip.
After that I groped along in the fog of opening boxes, walking the dogs, finding a grocery store, and opening more boxes. I found the general store in town and bought toilet brushes, picture hooks, a plunger, and birdseed for the feeder.
In my desire to pack well, with children’s books in boxes with other children’s books, kitchen gadgets packed with kitchen gadgets, purses with purses, as I wished, I didn’t do a good job of labeling, and some boxes still had writing on them from previous moves. So despite my efforts to be able to unpack in an organized fashion, it’s been really haphazard. I’m opening boxes labeled with names my children no longer call themselves, or no label at all.

I dreamed strange dreams. I dreamed they added ultimate Frisbee as an Olympic sport and the refs wore jetpacks, and my oldest son had to teach them the rules. Then I dreamed he invented drone refs, and had a PhD in sports psychology, but gave it up to be an arborist.

Mrs. Gardenwinkle took good care of this house but there are a few little things to fix, in between setting up electricity and fuel oil and propane and garbage service. The doorbell isn’t working. There is a thing, a piece of hardware that holds a shutter open, shaped like an “S,” that I didn’t know the name of, so I spent an afternoon finding the name of the thing, measuring the thing, and ordering a new one of those things. It’s called a shutter dog. One is missing from one of the shutters on the window outside my bedroom. When the wind blows the shutter closes, and it, too, startled me in the night. I dreamed and dreamed.

I woke around 4:50 a.m. each day all the next week, wondering where I was, and unable to figure it out quickly enough so I could go back to sleep. I made the habit of watching the sun rise from the big window in my new bedroom, the one with the ivy lattice wallpaper.
Our house in Seattle, which was largely perfect, had English ivy growing around the foundation on two sides (having been killed completely by peeing dogs on the third side). Dealing with that ivy was probably my most rage-inducing chore; it wanted to climb the house or work its way under the siding, and I spend many hours picking it off the house with my fingers. It was full of dead leaves and spiders and sometimes litter, and tangledy, and took most of an afternoon to trim it back, at least four times a year. So my official position is that I am against English Ivy, as a principle. But in my new house in Bedhead Hills there is English ivy on the wallpaper in my bedroom, and it reminds me of my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who had ivy in her yard and on her needlepointed pillows. So, though I am looking forward to replacing it, I am enjoying it while it’s still here, that ivy wallpaper. It’s like being someone’s guest someplace, to wake up surrounded by someone else’s distinct taste. And it makes me think of my grandma.
That next weekend the Bacon Provider was back in town, and I woke up in the middle of the night to see a man standing on the windowsill of my bedroom. It was my husband, banging on the ceiling. I used strong language. He said we had squirrels.

The next morning, we went out to see, and we certainly had something; something made holes in the siding above our bedroom. Those holes were not there when I saw the house in mid-September, or went through the property with the inspector in late-September, or did a walk-through with the real estate agents the day before closing, in mid-October. Those were new holes. Those holes hadn’t been there earlier in the week when I walked the dogs around the house. I called a company specializing in handling wildlife pest management. They sent a guy over on Monday. He said, “You don’t got Squirrels. You gots woodpeckers.”
He went on to explain that he could put a gel in the holes and if we left it there for six weeks the woodpeckers would not come back. “It don’t hurt the woodpeckers. It scares them,” he said. “But they might go to another spot. They might make holes in your whole house.”
He told me to get rid of Mrs. Gardenwinkle’s bird feeder. And that today’s visit would be $300.
I stood and watched him climb a ladder, and spread “woodpecker gel” in all the holes. Then he answered his phone and talked for a while, his head hard on the left, trapping the phone between his ear and his shoulder.

Later when I did some online research, I read that the woodpecker gel is bad for the birds, because it gets stuck on their feathers and makes it hard for them to keep warm. Various woodpecker-repelling strategies include a plastic owl (which they become accustomed to after a couple of days) and lengths of loose, shiny tape that move and flicker in the wind. And I was encouraged to feed the woodpeckers; they aren’t going anywhere anyway.

The Bacon Provider felt that the woodpeckers provided a service to us, performing their own, more thorough inspection and revealing a couple of rotten pieces of siding. I made the case that I have a pressing need for my own owl, which can live in a special box we put on the roof, and hunt in our woods. I believe that my owl, semi-tame but mostly wild, will keep the woodpeckers off the house, and the nightmares away as well.

Three Trolls

I’m gonna start by talking about what I mean by “troll.” Sure, the word has its origins in Scandinavian folklore, and I can recommend a book. Real, old school trolls that turn into stone in daylight are much better than today’s trolls. You wanna tell me what you think trolling means, go make your own blog post, or comment. Whatever. I think I might have an inner troll, and she’s hectoring me already.
The term “troll” comes from the fairly recent past, but those early days of the Internet, that feel like now, but it really wasn’t, because then the Internet was, you know, just for porn, sparsely populated by the denizens of the specific-interest message-board; from those boards it sprang, this term. It means “A deliberately provocative message board user.”
Specifically, for me, more simply, it is a person who tries to make other people mad.
Though my older brother and I are close now, I am pretty certain that he was my first troll. I do remember we played well together, but I also remember that as soon as he started elementary school (and I didn’t), I was rejected for bigger, smarter, faster-running school friends. Friends who could catch and throw. Friends who were cool. I was also rejected for being a cry-baby. In my family, teasing was constant. It was an expression of love, perhaps, but here is my evidence: I gave my brother a concussion when I hit him over the head with my shiny new baton, driven to the deed by rage from teasing. And then. Having been punished and won the damned thing back from my parents, I did it again.
My second troll was the M-boy, who lived near my grandparents, in our neighborhood. On a good day, I was terrified to walk to school alone, and the M-boy made it so I was even more terrified to walk home. How long did I endure the bullying? I can’t say. I don’t remember anything that he said, but I do remember a bird’s nest being found and thrown at me. In the infinite wisdom of the late 60s/ early 70s, the solution to this bully was to keep him after school an extra 15 minutes every day so the rest of the kids could get a head start running home. I guess I wasn’t his only target.
When the M- boy died in an accident at his home, just a few years later, I took delivery on the twin feelings of relief that this bully would never bother me gain, and of guilt for not being sad about someone who was really, actually now dead.
I have resisted writing about my third troll, because, just as I struggle with my latest troll, who occasionally plagues me on Twitter, I worry that writing about it will give the troll exactly what she was looking for.
My third troll (so named for the purposes of this essay) and I were friends in high school. We had the same first name and a similar last name. We’d started in 9th grade we were in the same crop of new kids brought in at 9th grade. We hung out. Talked on the phone. Passed notes in French class. I spent the night at her house a couple of times. We rode her parent’s tandem bike in her neighborhood and got chased by a giant, angry poodle. I watched her cat Daisy steal a whole piece of fried chicken off the dinner table and was impressed. I’d never seen a cat steal a whole piece of fried chicken off the dinner table before.
At my highschool, there were many privileges afforded to seniors: a special lounge, a special parking lot, senior prefecture, electing a Mary and a Joseph to pose in the tableau at the highlight of the school Christmas Pageant. On Halloween, seniors got to wear costumes and no one else in the school had this right.

Glee Club, Halloween, 1980. Only seniors could wear costumes 

I don’t remember what I wore, though I may have spent four years planning it. What I do remember was that my same-named friend came as me on Halloween.
It wasn’t a complicated costume. She wore socks that matched her turtleneck, and a tiny side ponytail in the front of her hair, with matching ribbons. You could say I was a walking target, dressing like that every day.
I used part of my precious free period to use a pay phone and call my mother. She was even home. I was upset. I was always upset about something, but I didn’t usually call my mom. She told me, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
I hung up, resolved to be cool about the fact that I felt mocked. In retrospect, I would describe the feeling as being trolled.
To the face of my same-name friend, I laughed. Maybe my eyes didn’t laugh, but I did.
Years later I dreamed I was having a swimming party at the house I grew up in. Everyone I had ever known was there: my cousins, my friends from college, my favorite TV actors. My same-name friend showed up with a machine gun and sprayed the place with bullets, shooting everyone.  It seemed real.

What I Dreamed Last Night #1

Maybe it wasn’t last night (it was this morning), but I dreamed the relentlessly ringing alarm of the phone of my husband, the Relentless Troubleshooter, was actually a notification from his truck tires that the warrantee was almost used up.  Whether the warrantee of those truck tires is used up is not something I know, you understand, and does not appear on the Official-List-of-Things-I-Am-Responsible-For. 
I want to tell you, though, about the dream I had about my friend, F___. Mind you, her name is not really F___, but for the purposes of this telling it will have to do.
Two nights ago I dreamed about my friend F___. She was back living with The Badgers, and The Badger Daughter was her roommateThe Badger Daughter roommate was a nurse for a Jug Band. She wore one of those dusky blue, old fashioned nurses’ uniforms to work, complete with a tiny starched white hat pinned to the top of her hair. One night the Jug Band was opening for David Bowie, and my friend F___ was invited along. 

Now in this dream, it was not 1960s David Bowie, nor was it 1970s David Bowie, nor was it 1980s David Bowie. It was more like 2030s David Bowie: very old, very frail, and very wrinkled and spotty. Yet he retained his switched
on zeal. My friend F___ and David Bowie struck up a conversation backstage, and it turned out that they shared a love of polka music, card games, and puns. They could not resist each other, and spent the night together. The startling revelation that my friend was pregnant with David Bowie’s baby woke me up.
Let’s get this straight: a magical entity did not put the baby there, David Bowie and my friend F___ did it together. Babies are created by a biological process which requires no intervention by magical entities. You might have learned about it in health class in 5th grade.  I know this to be true, even in a wacky dream world where a Jug Band has a nurse.

A Letter to my Dad

17 August 2002

Ddddddddddddear Dad,
In the first dream, you were trying to call me on the phone,
No, in fact, you did call on the phone, and I answered.  But you didn‘t know you were dead.  So I talked to you for a while and you never got a clue.  I told you I was fine and you seemed glad.  I am fine, by the way.
The other night I dreamed about you again.  This time you were around, and you still didn’t know you were dead, even though you’ve been dead now for more than four years.  You were solid, three-dimensional and all, but starting to fade and become transparent.  You had on brown corduroy pleated slacks and a plaid shirt and a woven belt and loafers.  You might have been tan. 
Why do I dream that you don’t know you’re dead?  Did you fool yourself so well in life that it has spilled over into your afterlife?  Isn’t this the only afterlife you’re getting?
24 August 2002
Dear Dad,
You are still dead.  Today I got a lot of scratches on my arms from pulling scotch broom, wild roses and blackberries.  I used a tool that I think is like a pick axe and I nearly broke it.  The tool is old and the handle loose and now cracked.  I thought of you because I was using the tool incorrectly and you liked to yell at us for using tools incorrectly even though you really were not a handy guy. Now that you are dead, you don’t have to be handy.
2 September 2002
Dear Dad,
Andy wrote a poem the other day and mailed it to me.  He thinks you died not knowing my phone number and since we’re unlisted you’d have to call Mom to get it.  You’d have to promise her a check.  I also think that if you called her she would pretend she didn’t know you were dead.  Here is my poem:
Dear Dad,
If you call Mom for my number, she’ll pretend she doesn’t know you are dead.  She hopes that way she’ll see some money out of you, somehow.
And she doesn’t want to have to be the person who breaks the bad news to you. 
You might have to call Mom at work.  She has the same number as ever.  Do you  know it?
If you call me, what will the caller-id say?
Love, Mag
P.S. If you call Mom and John answers, he will know just what to do, because he’s the kind of guy who has dealt with stuff like that before.
When I walk down stairs and the house is quiet, I hear my joints popping and snapping like yours did. 

Things I find in my Basement #5

I dreamed once that I bought a lottery ticket on a Wednesday.  My winning number was shared with two other people, and together we split $12 million.  As a former math teacher, I well understand how much I can expect to win from buying lottery tickets.  I don’t remember ever buying one, but I think maybe I did once or twice. On Wednesdays.