Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Pandemic Playlist

These days old songs rise to the top of my consciousness, unbidden. Music has always factored heavily into my life, as a soundtrack, as a comfort, and as a statement of the times.

Here's what I'm listening to these days. 

1. Life During Wartime -- Talking Heads

2.  Too Much Time On My Hands -- Styx

3.  Keep Yourself Alive -- Queen

4. Nothing but Flowers -- Talking Heads

5. Nobody Told Me (there'd be days like these) -- John Lennon

6. The Best of Times -- Styx

7. It's The End of The World As We Know It -- REM

Got any end of the world favorites? Might be time to dust 'em off and put 'em on whatever you're using to hear music these days. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Two More Raised Beds

This last weekend we installed two more large raised beds in the vegetable garden, which is great news on the food-growing front. We knew we were running against time in trying to get to Lowe's before things got really bad out there, virus-wise. One of our strategies was actually not to go first thing in the morning, as a lot of people have been doing, but instead going a half-hour before closing time.

At 9:30 pm, the home improvement store is an interesting place. Lacking the usual hustle and bustle of daytime hours, you have the aisles to yourselves. And strangely, the music changes, too, to dance mixes -- guess the kids on night shift get to pick the store's P.A. music. This leaves open the wonderful possibilities of mini-dance parties in the lighting or hardware aisles (done it; the lighting aisle is the most fun).

 But of course we're not (only) there to dance, we're also there to get building supplies and seeds.Our food growing capacity has never been more important to us, especially if we want to stay the hell out of the produce section at the store. We're hoping that maybe by May, we'll be coming into enough peas, broccoli, cilantro and lettuce in our back pasture to keep our menus varied enough that there won't be Black Friday-style fights over fresh produce between Big Ag and I as we stay in lockdown together.

That's actually a joke; there is no one else I'd rather be in quarantine with. You can certainly tell the strength of a marriage during difficult times with lots of togetherness. We might bicker like crazy driving around Portland on a plain old Saturday afternoon, but when we're both stuck at home and faced with each others' company 24/7, we actually do really well. 

I have scheduled two virtual cocktail hours with friends, and that's been fun. FaceTime has never been more needed!

Hope your isolation has been easy and your quarantinis are being served cold with plenty of olives. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Projects and pursuits

Scored some new insulators BC (before Covid). Had plenty of time to put them up AL (After Lockdown).

I don't know if any of you feel this way, but I have good days and bad days right now. Yesterday, for example, I was depressed. These times are difficult in a way that closely resembles grief, and I do seem to bounce between denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance, sometimes on a minute by minute basis. Kudos to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross for nailing that process all those years ago. It happens with the death of anything, from a loved one to a job to, in our case right now, an entire way of life. 

I felt this way after my dad died, so I know there's an adjustment period where the New Reality sinks down into all the levels of my consciousness, but since none of us has any idea how long this is all going to go on, the uncertainty is challenging as well.

But then I have other days when I wake up, am still aware of the situation, but feel good about my little world, even if I don't feel the same about the world-at-large in general right now.

Mother Nature apologized for last weekend's snow by sending us warm, sunny days this week. Big Ag is working from home -- although I am having a bit of trouble getting him to not "run into the office for just one thing" and then staying there all afternoon long, pretending it's still business as usual. He's doing better lately, but again, it's an adjustment for us all.

Our escape day to the coast. Seven mile hike. 

These beautiful yellow lilies are blooming all over Oregon, anyplace near water.

Social Distancing, en extremis. 

We took off one day last week and went hiking, up to Cascade Head trail on the coast. It was a wonderful day, filled with very few people, and a whole lot of nature. What an antidote for an anxious soul. Nice to know that those things will all still be with us, no matter what this COVID crisis brings. 

New rhubarb coming in bigly. 

With spring also comes planting and growing, and so we've been busy planting seeds and even picked up a few transplants for immediate planting. I figure the sooner we can have food in the garden for ourselves, the less we have to visit the supermarket, which lately has been filled with worried, anxious people (including myself). So the usual pleasure I'd get from shopping for the week's groceries is no more, for the time being. These days you just want to get in, get out and get the hell home. 

CA Olallieberries seem comfortable here.

We planted four kinds of blueberries; we'll see what we like.

Before things got bad, I was doing some landscaping work, and so have some lovely new daphne plants, some forsythia, candytuft and other ornamental beauties, which should be blooming later in the year. Maybe I'll post of pics of those soon. Got to remember the importance of what soothes the eyes as well as the stomach.

Hope you and yours are well in the midst of this new reality. Remember, if you are an introverted gardener and food grower, you have literally been preparing for this for years.

 You've got this. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

This ain't no party

Things get weird quickly sometimes, don't they?  Most of us now find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic we never even considered when we were toasting the New Year in just a few months ago.

Here in Oregon, the Governor decided to close all the schools in the state for the rest of the month at about the exact same time the White House officially called the pandemic a national emergency. 

And just like that, people started hitting the stores (even more than they had already been) and throwing items into their cart like it was the end of the world. I should know. I went out to do my weekly shopping today and, unfortunately, ran into panicked hordes of families buying five of anything they could get their hands on.

There was one woman running down the aisle with four giant packages of toilet paper and, I kid you not, at least 10 gallons of ice cream. Priorities. When I was at the feed store I watched a guy almost get wrestled to the ground after attempting to steal the cashier's large bottle of hand sanitizer, which she had sitting next to the register. It's probably a bad idea to try and steal anything from a rural tack and feed store, where at least 50 percent of the staff and shoppers are open carrying. But I guess panic beats reason these days.

On the way home, it snowed. And the freak March snow was by far the most normal part of the day.

So I guess, as the COVID cases in our area increase every day, the time has arrived to hunker down and be at home a LOT more. Other than the supermarket, almost everything is closed now anyway, so I'm not sure where we'd go even if we wanted to. I'm thankful we have a great state parks system and miles of coastline where one can walk without running into a soul -- we'll definitely be doing a fair amount of that in the next month or two. 

Big Ag and I went out to a really nice restaurant last weekend, fully aware that it was probably the last time we'd be doing that for awhile. 

Thankfully, we're on two acres, and so at least we have the advantage of being able to step outside, walk around the property, and breath deeply. I feel bad for the urbanites all over the world who maybe, if they are lucky, have a balcony to stand on to get some fresh air, but not much else if they're being advised not to go out in the city. 

For us, it's almost time to start planting the vegetable garden, so seed germination, planting and weeding will be a welcome distraction from everything that's going on in the big, outside world.

These little tomatoes would rather not go outside right now. 

And The Met has decided to stream operas all this week online! Monday it will be "Carmen," and I think Wednesday is "La Boheme." So while you might have to look to find it, there will even be plenty of culture available, with nice people trying to make good TV and internet programming available to those cocooning in place.

I expect I'll be here at the blog a bit more often, as a lot of the outside world has closed off a bit. My plan is to do some writing, some planting, and of course, enjoy things like "Carmen" and some good library books while I wait this whole thing out (the actual physical library system in Oregon is closed indefinitely, but thankfully the Overdrive online portal remains open for now for our Kindles and other tablets/readers). 

Stay healthy out there, friends. I'll share some pictures of the garden this weekend once the snow has melted. And take it easy on the ice cream -- you can buy 10 gallons at a time, but where in heaven's name are you going to store it? (answer: in your belly.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Prepping for COVID?

There's an old saying: Stay one step ahead of the crowd, and people will call you a genius. Two steps ahead, and they'll call you a crackpot.

I've been in crackpot range for a long time now, and I've gotten used to it. My kids like to tell their friends that I grew a lot of their food and made a lot of things from scratch "before it was, like, cool to do that." (To finally achieve coolness in my kids' eyes is perhaps the greatest achievement of my 50s.) 

And now, I've probably re-entered the crackpot crowd. I've started stocking up on a few things for COVID, just in case.

First of all, let's talk reality: The COVID virus is going to be no worse than a really bad flu season, for most. For age groups like mine, it's about 98 percent non-fatal. But non-fatal doesn't mean easy. The virus spreads very easily among people, and can knock you on your ass for awhile. 

So in my mind, it's good to be prepared, in case the hospitals are overwhelmed and businesses are closed for awhile, as they have been in cities in Asia and Europe where COVID has been found.

So how to best stock up for a period of semi-quarantining? I ran two scenarios before deciding what to buy -- in one scenario, we are healthy, and in the other, one or both of us is sick, but not sick enough to need hospitalization. 

For the healthy scenario, I spent about a week noting what things we used each and every day. For a lot of stuff, I just have been picking up an extra bag/bottle/package of whatever I'm buying, to set aside and store. Easy. I made sure we have a lot of food on hand that we like (we will have champagne, wine and craft beers with dinner because that's how we roll in disaster).

But honestly, I did also buy a few things we'll only use in a real emergency, like canned veggies and chicken, Spam, bagged beans and rice. We're lucky to have fresh eggs available, and hopefully summer garden vegetables to supplement what we're eating, plus a good assortment of spices to experiment with and make meals more varied. But if the runs on the supermarkets look anything like they did in Italy this week, you may want to make sure you have enough to eat, from stuff you love to stuff you'll tolerate. And in case of nutritional holes, I also made sure we have good multi-vitamins on hand -- enough to last a few months.

There's also our pets. I would guess the most expensive items I bought this week, other than medicine, was a healthy backstock of dog food, cat food, chicken feed, and cat litter. But if you're trying to stay out of the madding crowd, you're as likely to need pet food as you are human food so it makes sense to take care of your pets and livestock while you're stocking up. 

The next area I looked at was paper goods -- things like toilet paper, obviously, but also paper eating and drinking utensils (I figure if one of us is sick we may want the infected person to eat off single-use plates, bowls and cups for sanitary reasons). Next, I picked up hygiene items, like Lysol, liquid bleach and wipes. And trash bags, aluminum foil, wax paper and other household goods we use all the time.

And finally, medications. I thought about what I like to have around when I get sick, so we now have extra Nyquil, Mucinex, ibuprofen, and Gatorade. And I always keep a course or two of antibiotics stowed away in case of antibiotic-treatable infections or issues. (Again, this is to avoid going to a potentially COVID-overcrowded hospital unless absolutely necessary). 

So what about masks? I'm not sure of the efficacy of masks, but again, better safe than sorry, especially if one of us gets sick and must care for the other. So yes, we have N95 respirator masks on hand, and gloves. But if you want some, get them now, because they are already in short supply at the local home improvement stores. There are more crackpots out there than you realize.

Normally, I'd say the biggest enemy of being semi-quarantined would be boredom. But with cable TV and the internet, that won't be as bad as it might have been for people trying to avoid the Spanish Flu in the early 1900s. And at least since we're in a more rural area it's probably safe to step out in the yard for some fresh air and sunshine. And maybe start learning Italian or Spanish via computer when I'm not beating Big Ag at Scrabble. (Gano de neuvo, SeƱor.)

You know, really, it's probably not so much the end of the world for the vast majority of us, but it may be a weird and significant bump in the road of 2020. So start up your crockpots, crackpots. Things may get very interesting from here on in.  

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Are we getting exercise wrong?

One of the pleasures of home ownership, to me, is the work involved in keeping up with a place. That's because I'm one of those people who really does enjoy gardening, painting, fixing things, and (sometimes) even taking a hula hoe to the weeds. There's a primitive satisfaction in a simple job, done well, somehow more so if it involves manual labor rather than something I'd use my brain for.

What I enjoy the most is the same thing I enjoy after a vigorous hike or workout: the pleasant tiredness at the day's end that comes from exertion. It's probably the endorphins. I've been painting ceilings again this week and my shoulders are, frankly, feeling it. But roller painting a ceiling is a great upper body workout, and any ladder work you do, whether with a paintbrush or hammer in hand is, in my opinion, a better workout than Pilates or even yoga for improving balance and working smaller muscle groups we don't normally use in our regular life of standing, sitting and walking.

Even housework is a good workout, if we're honest, although it can certainly become tedious if you don't ever vary your routine or schedule. But if you move furniture to vacuum, stretch to high places when you dust, or put some serious oomph behind your mop, you're building or maintaining muscle mass, flexibility and strength. I despise having to clean behind the toilet but it does get me bending and flexing in some interesting positions, which in the end is probably good for me.

Yet in modern society, the stuff I just described is the work that healthy, middle-class Americans are most likely to hire out, given the chance. Several of my friends will religiously go to the gym or to yoga class, but have a gardener come in to look after the yard, a housekeeper who comes in on Fridays and does all the housework, and a full-service, $35 car wash they like to use every time their car gets dirty. Some of them are even on fixed incomes, and are pinching pennies to pay for their water aerobics class and their car washes (and complaining about it)! 

And it's not so much distaste that makes them opt for bouncing around on an exercise ball instead of running a Swiffer over the floor -- it's that it's never occurred to them to pick up the mantle of housework or gardener themselves. At some point, they just got out of the habit of doing things themselves, and never went back. But if you need exercise, you're healthy and pain-free and there just happens to be a floor mop in the laundry room, well...just sayin'. Take the opportunity where it finds you. 

 The way I look at it, doing these things myself pays me exactly three times. First, it saves me the price of the class or fitness center I'd be attending for my exercise. Second, I get to keep for myself whatever money I'd be paying the occasional "staff" to clean my house or prune my shrubs. And last but not least, it pays the priceless dividends of good health, flexibility and strength, which are worth more than any amount of money, in my opinion.  

And lest you think I'm being preachy, when Big Ag and I were both working, we had both biweekly lawn care and housekeeping; with nice people who came in to do what we didn't have time to do ourselves. But now that I'm retired, I intend to do manual labor as long as I'm able, in the hope that the pushing, pulling, bending, lifting, and kneeling that it takes to clean a house and tend to a yard will keep me fitter than just going to a gym. I still love yoga (more honestly, I hate the stretching but love the result of being more flexible) but I can do it at home as part of my day's tasks now. I have another friend who does the same with four other friends, so it can even be a home-based social activity...and free of charge, of course. 

When I can't do the household chores anymore, I hope I will relinquish things gracefully, and if that means going out to a senior's water aerobics class while someone else cleans around the back of the toilet, so be it. But for now, I'm all about the free workout I get from doing manual labor -- the under-appreciated set of tasks I used to pay a bunch of under-appreciated people to do.  

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

A lot of rain

We had eight inches of rain in January (and another inch so far this month) It was not quite one for the record books, but definitely on the wetter side of what we've come to expect here. I haven't lived here long enough that I really know what "normal" is, so I pretty much just take what comes and live it like it is normal. 

All I can really compare it to is where we came from, where there were more than a few years when we received eight inches of Like, for an entire YEAR. Being out in the country and on a well, I will say too much water is definitely better than not enough. We even had snow for a couple of days, which was heavenly to wake up to.

Big Ag and I were talking last night and joking about how sometimes we'd stop during those years in CA and say, "Hey, do you hear that? It's raining outside!" We'd literally stop doing everything, just for a moment, in order to hear that wonderful sound of rain on the roof and the water splashing against the windows and running down the downspouts. We'd go outside and smell the petrichor (wonderful word for a wonderful smell) as the water soaked into the parched ground. 

We stopped marveling at the rain about a month after moving here. Snow will get our attention though, as will bright sunshine during winter. But the other day it was raining so hard it sounded like someone was throwing buckets at the window, I kid you not. Precipitation is a whole new experience here. At least in between the rain we got a few sunny days and a little snowfall.

We had a few days of this

followed by this
and this
and this. Not much growing going on.

So what does one do when faced with almost a month of rainy days? 

1. You can organize all your shelves and closets. I don't have any pics of them, but believe me, every one of my closets is awesomely organized now, with a place for everything and everything in its place. In summer I'll be outside gardening and they'll revert back to the chaos-driven portals of hell they usually are, but for now....neat as a pin.

2.  You can refinish second-hand furniture you bought to fill in spaces where you had nothing, and then become angry that methylene chloride is no longer legal, since it was the only really effective furniture stripper ever invented. This two day project took me about two weeks because of having to use ineffective furniture strippers on the 99 coats of paint which adorned this sofa table. But to see that gorgeous wood top revived and re-stained was worth it. 

3.  You and your spouse can head to IKEA and load your cart up with Swedish knick-knacks with unpronounceable names! (Note: we did not actually purchase the Sagstua, just layed down on it awhile since we were tired. Plus how many Sagstuas does one really need anyway?) 

IKEA. Where else can you buy a storage bin, wood cutting board and charcuterie plate, table trestle legs plus pillowcases all in one stop? 

3. You can watch the Puppy Bowl with your quite disinterested pup. Then your husband can watch the Superbowl with his quite disinterested wife. 

In a way I guess I've traded the hot summers (when I'd try and stay inside) for cold winters when I do the same. The difference, to me, is that I can always bundle up, throw on a jacket with a hood, and head outdoors when I get cabin fever-ish. When it's hot -- like, over 100 degrees --  there's literally no way of dressing that will make stepping outside a pleasant thing. So I think I'm in the right place.

I do wonder when exactly spring is going to show up, though. I'm starting to see bud swell on the fruit trees, my roses have sprouted small leaves, and the daffodils are almost ready to open. 

Even paradise is a mystery sometimes. Albeit a wet one. 

Almost daffodil time.