Captain’s Log, Stardate 74542.5

Earth, The Solar System, Orion Arm, The Milky Way, Virgo Cluster

It has been, in Earth time, 12 years, 4 months, 3 weeks and 5 days since I joined this post. I regret the long gap since my last report.

The humans maintain a primitive airlock between their food preparation area and the exterior of their domicile.

On behalf of the United Federation of Planets, my team and I are observing Earth in anticipation of their eligibility for membership. We await the humans’ development of faster-than-light space travel travel, and, of course, also, quite a bit of progress on the rights of human individuals and global peace. 

Earth is in the throes of a global pandemic, with over 100.5 million recorded cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) worldwide, and at least 2.1 million deaths as of this writing. The virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), is an airborne virus, the spread of which is easily preventable by social distancing, quarantining, and mask-wearing. Unfortunately, warring Earth factions, primitive thinking on the part of leaders, and unruly citizens have refused to make the changes necessary to contain the spread. Vaccines have been developed, and the humans are tentatively attempting to distribute them. As of this writing, none of my human companions have contracted the disease yet.

In order not to violate Starfleet General Order 1, or SGO1, also known as the prime directive, I have be required to maintain my silence about preventing and treating COVID-19. The mystifying adherence to the principles of capitalism have meant that vaccines have not been produced in sufficient quantity and unfairly distributed. 

Eggi and I participate in typical human religious rituals. Here, we thank the Cabbage Gods.

I continue to work with a small crew, including Grand Champion Suzu and Shannon’s Egészégedre, who serves as my first officer, and chief security officer. There is also my science officer, known here as Schwartz. My previous coworkers, Cherry, Wheatie, and Pluto, who established first contact, stardate 46112.5,  no longer serve in this mission. Wheatie departed early in my tour, and Cherry on stardate 71338.5. Within the next Earth year after Cherry ended her tour of duty, I was joined by my very able first officer, known as Eggi, and about an earth year after that, by Ensign Fellow. 

My crew, making scientific observations

Fellow is currently on an away mission; our Earth hosts have detected that Eggi is entering a reproductive cycle and have separated them. Eggi has lobbied repeatedly to increase the size of our research team, and feels that 8 new members could be put to work after only a year of training. Though I agree with her, my reproductive equipment was altered a decade ago, so I am unable to help her in this project.  

Typically, we busy ourselves with a variety of projects, including daily patrols of the surrounding area, which we carry out on foot, walking in a group, tethered to one of our human hosts. Rations are delivered twice a day, and while adequate nutritionally-speaking, some crew members feel that our hosts feed themselves better than they do us.

Another religious ritual: the Adoration of the Brussel Sprout

While we await humanitarian and scientific progress, we have been conducting long-term studies of plant and animal life on earth, paying particular attention to the dwindling numbers of wild songbirds, and noting with some concern the thriving populations of squirrels (the introduced species Sciurus carolinensis), several species of rats, deer (Odocoileus virginianus), skunks (Mephitis mephitis), and raccoons (Procyon lotor). Ensign Fellow has shown the initiative to embark on his own research regarding moles (Scalopus aquaticus).

I am proud to serve Starfleet

My team has engaged in ongoing debate about the consequences of strictly adhering to SGO1; Eggi feels that now viral mutations are spreading in the area where we are stationed, and we risk losing our hosts. We also note that global warming continues unabated, so the projections our climatologists made a century ago about Earth’s future have proven to be correct.

In closing, I regret to inform Starfleet that I am beginning to experience degenerative symptoms consistent with my age, and will soon be nearing the end of my useful service here. If suitable transport back to headquarters or a Federation planet cannot be arranged, Eggi will take command of the team as my successor when the time comes.

He Loves the Lockdown

The one person in my life who is completely in favor of the pandemic is my cat, Schwartz.

Black cat enjoying a marble tile floor

I feed him twice a day, at the same time as the dogs, but if he finds someone up late getting a snack, or up early to talk to someone on the other side of the world, he asks for an extra breakfast. The Bacon Provider is working long days, from home.

When I get up, I feed the dogs first, and lock them in their kennels. Schwartz’s breakfast is a tiny scoop of cat kibble and a spoonful of the raw chicken medley I buy for the dogs. He finishes most of it, and if he leaves so much as a single crumb, Eggi gets it.

Cat complaining

I do pilates via Zoom three times a week, at 9:30 am. In the first few weeks, he’d visit me during the session, and leave. Then he started demanding to be petted during the session. After that he got overstimulated or impatient and bit me a couple of times. So I got a big bag of the cat treats he likes, and started throwing them around the room to divert him. Now Schwartz howls loudly and insistently every day at about 9:15 am, just in case it’s a pilates day.

He stays the whole session.

On the days I don’t have pilates, he goes to the room and has a nap just in case. He doesn’t want to miss out.

He is turning 16 in April, so he’s not an especially active cat anymore. If he isn’t waiting for pilates, he likes to nap on his special windowsill, or under the piano bench, on a chair in the living room, or in my bed.

Schwartz yowls if his water bowl is empty. He yowls if the dogs’ water bowl is empty. He yowls if his water bowl is almost empty. He yowls if the water bowl might someday be empty, or should be changed or shouldn’t be changed.

He also shouts about his litterbox needing attention, and screams if he wants to go hunting in the basement, and meows if he experiences symptoms of ennui.

Dog beds are actually extra large cat beds

When he produces a hairball, everyone has a chance to see it and admire it, because no one has anyplace to go.

Schwartz voices no opinion about anything in politics. He is probably an egoist anarchist with revolutionary tendencies, committing acts of sabotage (pooping outside the litterbox, pissing on piles of dirty laundry) and violent insurrection (biting me while I’m exercising).

When he leaves a turd on the floor next to the litterbox and I’m not the first to find it, there is an entertaining moment of excited dogs running around and people yelling.

Dinner is promptly at 6 pm. Schwartz starts complaining for dinner at 4 pm.

After dinner, there is TV to watch or a fight to pick with a dog.

At bedtime, Schwartz remembers that he is probably a dog, and joins us in the bathroom when the dogs get their teeth brushed.

Three dogs and one cat sit in the bathroom, waiting

The cat visits me while I’m sleeping, walking the entire length of my body and curling up in the pillows or next to me, or stretching out on top of me, with his paws on my face. He takes up as much room as my husband.

He hopes everything stays just like this, forever.

Black cat looking out the window

Broken In The Move

It was one of those country farmhouse mornings where the chores I’d been doing half-assed caught up with me. There have been houseflies buzzing around, and I’ve been after them with a vacuum cleaner when they land on the windowsill, but you can’t get them all and you can’t even swat them out of the air with the hose when you lose patience trying to suck them up. That morning the trash was filled with wriggling maggots when I opened it, and, yes, I did scream.  Maybe it was just like 5 or 6 maggots, but the one I crushed with my fingers when I lifted the liner out of the can? That’s the last maggot I ever hope to touch. Certainly the last maggot I ever hope to squish. So while the dogs were out doing their business and the water was on for my tea, I took the trashcan out to the yard to rinse it with the hose.
After hosing out the can and trying to think about anything but maggots (at which point I could think of nothing but maggots), I did a little watering. And thought about maggots. I hate growing vegetables and especially dislike weeding and watering, so I do the watering only in the event of an emergency. Sometimes the emergency is noticing that something is dying, like The Graduate’s jalapeño plants that he transplanted from our over-planted garden plot. The poor jalapeños are not doing well in their pots, and are always thirsty and sad.
Anyway, I was also baking bread that morning, the sourdough having spent the night in the fridge. I’ve done enough loaves now that I no longer need the book or the recipe at all. I have been having good results doing the dough the afternoon before, shaping it before I go to bed and having it accomplish the final rise overnight in the fridge. It’s a small, compact, gooey dough mass that goes in the oven, but then it rises in the oven, and gets the big holes I’ve been working for. I’m fussy about the oven settings now, too, preheating to 505F, baking in my biggest heavy enamel pan with the lid on for 5 minutes (because this is supposed to create a humid environment), lowering it to 475F for another 15 minutes, removing the lids then and finishing at 470F for 25-30 minutes. Maybe I’m fussing too much with the temperature adjustments. I will keep experimenting.
While the bread baked, I fed the dogs, and stopped thinking about maggots. The kitchen warmed up and I noticed it was quiet and this meant the AC was off.  Did the circuit breaker blow again? What the hell? I went down into the basement and there discovered that the circuit breaker was fine, actually. I guess I turned off the AC last night before I went to bed; which made sense.
Down in this basement are the boxes of Xmas stuff and out-of-season sporting gear and empty suitcases and dusty exercise equipment and boxes of books and boxes of CDs that were stored in the basement of our Seattle house. I had forgotten the maggots, and headed back up the stairs to turn the AC back on and wait for the oven to beep, but there was a chair down there and the sight of it stopped me on the stairs. The chair in the basement is dark, and wood, and used to have a woven cane back. It came from my mother’s house, when she died and we split up her things and took them to our homes, my brothers and stepfather and I. The chair in the basement had been in my middle child’s room in Seattle and certainly spent more time having things like shiny capes for dress-ups and sand-filled dragons from the Pike Place Market and sparkle gel pens without their caps and empty salt-water taffy wrappers piled on it than it did having a kid sit quietly in it and do homework. The chair in the basement’s legs are strong and intact, but its back is now broken. The chair was broken in the move.

Broken in the move

I set its value at like $200, and made a claim to the company that provided the insurance for our move. I do not recall if they paid for it in full. Since the chair sits idly in the basement it’s obvious I don’t need the chair. The chair would not be mine if my mother were not dead. The chair would not be broken if we had not moved. The chair could probably be fixed, but certainly would cost more to fix than it was worth. It needs to stay in the basement, out of everyday view. It’s mildly upsetting to see it. I neither want to fix it nor throw it away. Chairs like this are why we need basements.
Later, it became the hottest day of summer so far. I stepped outside and the heat hit me from all sides, stronger than normal, wetter than expected. It was the kind of roasting heat that seems impossible, unreal, temporary, like how hot it is when you first get in a car that’s been parked in the sun, only more damp. It was heat that seemed manipulated for optimal cooking conditions, so the bread will achieve a perfect crust. It was applied heat, not of us but on us. It was heat less like what happened in today’s weather and more like the arrival of a temporary, oppressive condition, but something that was being done to us, by a large, powerful, unnatural force, so great that it could obliterate me and the porch and the kitchen and the house with the swipe of a big, impatient hand, ready to throw us away and start over.
I stood on the porch marveling at the heat. When was the rain going to come? I could see no clouds at all from where I stood. The day before, we had been threatened by thunder all afternoon, but when it came down to it all the rain we got amounted to a few, brief, noisy, celebrated drops–drops that I found disappointing in their small number.
And then I heard the slightest “pip!” and the layer of sky above me up to the height of the roof and a bit beyond was alive with birds, mostly swallows, their unusual tail points briefly visible as they darted and rose through the air. It was a number of birds more than I could count, and though I couldn’t even see what they were eating, they must have been eating a lot of it. Then they all rested for a few seconds on the roof, and went at it again.
I went inside.
On the shady side of the house the roof was liberally peppered with resting swallows and the old dog Cherry stood at the bank of windows up at the top of stairs, her tags jingling with excitement, her ears pricked, her tip-toed stance lively and shifting with the slightest movement of the birds outside. There were so many of them, blue with rust-colored chests, and those funny little u-shaped tails, with two points. They seemed to do a lot of resting, and then a lot of flying about, diving and dashing into the air. Cherry whined just a bit, under her breath, like she was whispering a secret to me, knowing as a good hunting dog does that being quiet would prolong her delight in watching. Schwartz joined her, his uncanny cat sense telling him when there’s something good to do. But he hung back, having been scolded all summer by the loud squeaks of titmice. He had learned to stay where he could see and watch but not alarm the performers.


They saw the swallows on the roof

Road Trip

We left Seattle last Friday afternoon, before the movers were done.  My husband and youngest son stayed behind to supervise and fly out in the morning.  We made it to Spokane in time for a late dinner. The next night we were in Billings, Montana, and the night after that Mitchell, South Dakota.  We stopped for the night in Joliet, Illinois and last of all, Jamestown, New York.

We followed a few rules:
1. Don’t drive more than five hours per driver per day if you’re going for more than a couple of days. Otherwise you will get too tired.  Sleep 8 hours or more at night, without setting alarms or having early wake-up pressures.
2. Get a really engaging audio book, a long one. Unabridged. The good ones are read by the author or someone super talented. We listened to Catch-22, read by Jay O. Sanders. There was a problem with the packaging, so there was glue on many of the disks, which caused skipping, but it almost didn’t matter.  We listened to both of the last two Harry Potter books on long car trips when the kids were younger, and they always made the miles fly by.
3. Eat the best food you can find. Be flexible. Our best meal was at The Pub in Jamestown, New York. It was full of locals watching the Yankees demolish the Indians on TV. We felt conspicuous walking in, but sat down anyway. Our waitress suggested the chicken salad, which was home-made and better than any chicken salad I’ve ever had. Really. 
4. Call ahead to hotels and be honest about how many pets you have and be clear about how big your trailer is. They will help you figure out parking, and they will charge you the minimum pet charge. Staff will also admire your knuckle-headed dogs even when they spazz out in the lobby, and you will sleep better knowing that your knuckle-headed dog who is barking in his sleep is at least not giving you away. 

5. Whenever possible, pets should ride in crates. Schwartz pooped in his within Seattle city limits, before we even made it to the freeway. We cleaned it out and he still screamed for a better part of the first day, but after a dip in the hotel room sink and a night of exploring the hotel room while everyone else slept, he was ready to go the next day. He now goes in his kennel without any trouble at all and only meows en route if we meow at him first. His appetite was off for a few days, but we made sure he had access to plenty of food and water at night and he arrived in the best shape of any of us. 
6. One of my biggest fears was that the dogs would wake up in the night and poop in the hotel room. We had limited ability to walk the dogs at all, and their potty breaks were brief and often alongside a busy street. After a day or two, they were both making one large poop morning and night after only the briefest of walks.  We tried not to leave the dogs in hotel rooms while we ate dinner, in many cases because it was forbidden.  They barked at people in restaurant parking lots, which was never good, but in five nights of hotels, we had no accidents.