Writer’s Block?

Amigo keeps asking me if I’ve blogged recently. It’s not that there’s nothing going on; it’s more like there’s too much going on. Focusing in on one topic seems overwhelming.

George Floyd. The protests he inspired; the riots and vandals that tagged along.

Buttercup. Our sweet bunny, about 14 years old (ancient!), passed on last week. I still expect her to meet me at the bottom of the stairs every morning when I get up.

Covid19. Again. Still. Pandemic hasn’t let up, despite its being relegated to smaller status in the evening news stories.

School. Work from home. How it’s different, both better and not so good.

The ever present garden! Some of the peas haven’t come up; there are blank spots in the lettuce patch. I blame the chipmunk who has taken up residence under one of the boards in the raised bed. Dang pest.

Sports. Amigo and I really, really miss sports. Baseball now, football in the fall – we’re left at loose ends.

Local protests vs. nearby cities vs. larger cities – compare, contrast, consider.

Barbershop chorus! They keep rehearsing in Zoom, but their two biggest fundraisers for the year have been cancelled. What does the future hold?

Meanwhile, I’m watching the world spinning around me and wondering when it will slow down and maybe even stop.

Where to go next? Too many directions, too many important topics in our lives, here at the O.K. Chorale.

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Memorial Day Memories

When we moved into our home 22 years ago, we gained a front row seat on our new home town’s Memorial Day parade. The parade marched past the end of our block on its way to the nearby cemetery.

We developed our routines, one of which was Amigo riding his recumbent three wheeler to the end of the block and sitting in its comfortable seat, standing only when the honor guards walked by.

There were special years, like the time that the only teenagers awake at 10:00 AM were La Petite and her friends in the band. Then there was the year that La Petite slept in and her friends all looked over at us, wondering where she was. We got small finger waves from a piccolo player, among others. I hope the director didn’t notice!

Speaking of band, there was the year that Amigo cheered as his high school band marched by, catching the attention of the director, who was also his Music Appreciation teacher. She ran over to the side of the road and hugged him!

The same director and Amigo’s high school band missed the local Memorial Day parade in favor of marching in Washington, D.C. one year. The high school sent their orchestra instead – “marching” on the flatbed trailer of a semi-truck.

One year I volunteered to shuttle some of the local Democrats from the end of the parade (not far from our home) back to their cars at the beginning. I ended up “marching” along with the unit for the last bit, and then gave the college Democrats a ride back – to my own college alma mater.

There were somber moments, too. Last year the fire department had a huge unit marching in their dress uniforms, looking straight ahead, giving tribute to one of their own who had been shot in the line of duty only two weeks earlier. Neighboring departments worked shifts so that any firefighter who wanted to march could do so. The department got a standing ovation along the entire parade route from start to finish.

And that’s what Memorial Day is all about: the bands, the floats, the people, all playing and marching and walking in honor of those who gave their lives, the ultimate sacrifice. Covid19 took that event off the calendar this year; next year, we’ll appreciate it even more.

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The Garden Begins – again

Around 2008, I wrote about the Recession Garden trend. I’d been gardening a long time before it became trendy, so my backyard just looked the same as it always did.

Now the Covid19 pandemic is inspiring people to dig up their lawns and plant vegetables or place large containers full of potting soil and tomato plants on their apartment balconies. I heard from at least two seed catalogs that they were running low on basics (like tomatoes) and encouraging their regular customers to order ASAP.

Frankly, I bought seeds in advance. That’s my routine. When it’s time to start my seedlings in February or March, I have what I need. Despite that time being super busy for teachers, I know I’ll be able to take breaks from grading and planning and get my hands dirty.

This year was one of the best for starting plants from seed. My tomatoes needed supports (chopsticks!) before the soil was ready and the weather was ready to transplant them into the garden plot. Were the plants growing well because the sun was strong? I didn’t use grow lights – or the small greenhouse covers from IKEA, either. Did the seedlings do well because I took care of them? It’s hard to neglect these seedlings when they sat next to my “quarantine office” in the corner of the main room.

Whatever the reason, I’m planting outside now. I’m not planting a garden because of the pandemic or the economic results from the spread of Covid19. I’m planting because it’s what I do. I’m looking forward to the results – the fresh tomatoes, beans, peas, spinach, lettuce – all of the above.

Readers, I know many of you are kindred spirits in the gardening way. Has your garden changed this season? If so, how? Let us know.

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No More Bad News, Please.

Amigo’s been struggling. His favorite week of the year, the adult camp where he sees his closest friends, has officially been cancelled. His barbershop chorus doesn’t know if they’ll be able to rehearse live, much less sing the National Anthem for the minor league baseball team – if baseball is even going to happen at that level.

One of the chorus members passed away last week. In the pre-Covid world, the guys would have sung “Nearer My God to Thee” or “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at the ceremony. At this time, there will be a small family gathering, but no formal funeral.

Camp was officially called off last night. Barbershop live rehearsals were put on indefinite hold as of today. And then, when Amigo logged in to his Zoom voice lesson, he heard the news first hand from the director: the division contest in October will not go on. This on top of all the rest is heartbreaking.

Did I forget anything? Oh, the pet rabbit is struggling, and she’s getting worse by the day. I can’t tell if it’s old-bunny arthritis in this awful wet weather or if she’s losing control of her legs and should be…let’s not talk about it any more.

Amigo and I pulled together to cope. We invested in a local drive-thru place and indulged in ice cream. He had an Arctic Blast (like a Dairy Queen blizzard) with cookie dough in it. I had a hot fudge sundae. We did without the plastic spoons and used our own at home. Even in the darkest of times, we’ll make it easy being green. Amigo reminded me that it was okay to “drown our sorrows” as long as we remembered moderation in all things.

If only the world of Coronavirus would hand us moderation, too.

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To Meat or Not to Meat

Let’s see: shortages. Toilet Paper, hand sanitizer, hand soap, cleaning supplies, and now – meat.

Trouble in the form of Covid19 at meat packing plants hit the world as we knew it, and suddenly people weren’t sure whether to hoard meat or to avoid it. I saw a bunker full of bacon – bacon! – because it carried the Smithfield name.

We felt fortunate yet again. We own two chest freezers: one small, one medium sized. When there’s a sale on meat, we buy extra. Our small freezer is full to the brim at the moment. The medium has some space in it because that’s where I store the vegetables from the farm markets and the backyard garden. At this time of year there isn’t much there aside from the last of the green beans and several containers of soup broth.

Well, that’s not entirely true of the second freezer. That freezer has a corner I call my Prepper Stockpile. I have extra butter sticks, grated cheese, and a few other staples that go on sale often and freeze well. Loaves of bread sometimes, but at the moment I’ve used those up. Hint Brownberry bread, with its doubled plastic wrapping, freezes and thaws very well. Buy it on sale.

Our neighborhood meat market always has their sale items on a sandwich board outside the entrance. Lately, their sign has stated simply, Yes, we’re Open and We Have Meat. I know where to go when my freezer gets low.

Then again, we could turn vegetarian. I made black bean tacos tonight to rave reviews. Readers, are you eating less meat with the news out of the meat packing plants?

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Outside in the Pandemic Era

Amigo may have his first sunburn of the season. He hung out on the patio swing most of the day, listening to podcasts and audio books and enjoying the breeze. It’s good for him; he doesn’t get out much. Well, none of us get out much, unless it’s the grocery store or the pharmacy.

We’re fortunate to live in a community where it’s possible to enjoy the outdoors and still maintain social distance. We have a backyard – not to be taken for granted, We have neighbors! Neighbors who are willing to wave and say hi and chat while maintaining social distance, which no one should take for granted.

I took advantage of the weather this weekend to dig out a lot of the “walking” green onions. I originally planted them in the hopes of growing a natural border around the garden. The onions would discourage the small (and larger) furry creatures, or so I hoped, eliminating the need for a fence. Ha. Ha. Ha. No such thing. Now I have the standard chicken wire fence, lined with BIG Onions. Last summer I dug up a batch that were SO BIG that they blocked the sun in the way of my tomatoes.

What does a prepper-sort of gardener do with excess onions? Make a soup broth, of course! I used slow cookers to do it Friday, and once again today I filled two crock pots with vegetable scraps (and one with beef bones and beef fat, too). Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain – a perfect time to bring up the pressure canner and store these broths for a, well, another rainy day.

I continue to be surprised at the empty shelves in seemingly random parts of the grocery store. Yesterday it was in the candy aisle. Petunia wanted chocolate chips, and she specified the gold standard: Nestle’s semi-sweet chips. The entire shelf was empty. We did find a good quality brand of true semi-sweet chips, and she was satisfied. But why the empty shelf? And why were the M&M’s vacant? And who, I mean who, hid the last package of tonic behind the ginger ale?!? The joke is on that person, because we found it and bought it.

How does that relate to enjoying the outdoors in these pandemic days? Well, a gin and tonic will ease my acid reflux as I enjoy the backyard and maybe, just maybe, enjoy the breeze.

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Reopen? Already?

I’m hearing hints of major cabin fever in several states. People are tired of staying at home, tired of wearing masks in public, and tired of standing 6 feet apart. But is that enough to cancel the Safer at Home order?

I’m embarrassed by the protesters in my own state carrying signs saying “I want a haircut!” These signs just scream Privilege and Wealth. Frankly, Amigo and Chuck are both overdue for haircuts, but we’re not going to complain. I want our favorite stylists to stay safe at home, too.

And the people who marched into Michigan’s capitol with guns? They weren’t protesting; they were threatening. Would they really shoot? I don’t want to know. But in a case like this, the intimidation was out of line. Way, way out of line.

Call your lawmakers, state and federal. Write to your lawmakers, too. I send postcards with prepared address labels. It’s quick, it’s easy, and I can state my case in a paragraph. Guns? No, thank you. I have no need to threaten my lawmakers. After all, I vote.

The strongest argument against reopening venues for crowds and reopening businesses that require close proximity is this headline: Second Record Day of Covid-19 Cases in Wisconsin. This is the wrong time to put more people close to each other and more people at risk of becoming ill with the virus. Cabin fever? We can handle it until the corona virus caseload goes down. It’s Safer at Home, indeed.

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Pandemic TV: The Drinking Game

Dark humor it may be, but smiles are worthwhile sometimes. Chuck and I have been watching the news together and noticing the repetition in the writing. We used to watch Fixer Upper together and with every “Y’all” take a sip from the wine glass. Now it’s the news.

This time of crisis. These desperate times. These difficult times. These challenging times.

I’ve left out a few (you can add them in the comments), but you get the idea, I’m sure. What could the anchors say in place of these descriptors?

How about: Coronavirus Times; Covid World; 2020 Viral Era; The Pandemic Era (Era could replace Times in any one of the above). The Year With No Sports (sob); The Stay at Home Months; When Social Distancing was the Norm – I’m sure you could add a few.

In all seriousness, we don’t drink our way through the news broadcasts, mainly because we watch together at noon. Chuck goes to work shortly after the midday news, and I’m back at my desk in the corner of the living room teaching online. It does make us smile, however, to pretend to take a sip. And these days, smiles are all too hard to come by.

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Shortages in a time of Pandemic

The first was a toilet paper shortage. We laughed, we joked, but the toilet tissue aisles at the stores were empty.

I checked the Dollar Store. I checked the Office Supply store. I looked at the pharmacy. Fortunately, we weren’t out of TP. We had some left; I was just planning ahead. But why toilet paper? Why did people hoard toilet paper?

The most popular theory is that buying the Charmin gives people a sense of control in the era of uncertainty.

Two weeks ago, we found a huge void on the shelves of (are you ready for this?) sliced cheese. Not just any sliced cheese, but the kind we call IWS – Individually Wrapped Slices. Despite the additional packaging, even the Compostermom likes to keep the IWS cheese around for making grilled cheese sandwiches.

Last weekend the cheese shelves were still nearly empty. We picked up a small package of an organic off brand (yes, there is such a thing as organic and off brand) because Petunia needed some, and that was the only choice. Cheese? Come on, people, this is Wisconsin! There will always be cheese. No need to hoard.

Well, they hoarded toilet tissue right here in the Paper Valley itself, so I shouldn’t be surprised.

The next shortage in our stores was near the dairy aisle, but not from the dairy farms. Orange Juice. OJ. In fact, anything OJ related, like Sunny Delight, was gone or nearly so. What the heck? Did Florida lose a crop? What on earth happened here? So I googled it.

The information I found sort of followed with the TP stretch. According to business sources, people were chugging orange juice and other citrus juices to beef up their immune systems, in the hope that said immune systems would be able to fight off the evil Corona Virus.

Well, I admit, I do increase our vitamin C intake as flu season comes in. But never, ever, have I emptied the store shelves of orange juices.

Maybe I should. Hey, Chuck, did you check the frozen concentrate section?

Readers, what have you hoarded in this Time of Crisis?

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BYOB in the Time of Corona

I’m one of the original Bring Your Own Bag shoppers. When the kids were young and we were struggling to make ends meet, I bought the family’s bread from a day-old Wonder Bread store. That was my first experience bringing my own cloth bag, and it prevented many plastic shopping bags from entering my home and my garbage.

Fast forward a few years to Earth Day, 2009, when our local Sears wouldn’t let me use my Chico bag when I bought a garden shears. Not cool, Sears, especially on Earth Day. Especially when I walked through the mall to Target and got a new, free cloth bag at the Target checkout! Not cool, Sears. Not cool at all.

A few years ago, a friendly young cashier at a department store noticed my own bag and commented, “Going green this year?” This year? I refrained from telling her I’d been bringing my own bags since before she was born. (O.K. Boomer wasn’t a thing yet, but I’m sure she would have thought it.)

But now we are in the age of Pandemic 2020. The novel Corona virus is new enough that people aren’t entirely sure how it might pass from person to person. Some shoppers come home and wipe down their entire purchase with disinfectant wipes. Grocers wipe down carts between every use. And bags? Because the cloth bags may harbor germs, especially Covid 19, stores around me have been reluctant to allow customers to bring their own bags.

Our favorite supermarkets have started asking customers to bag their own purchase if we bring our own bags. The gas station convenience store is doing the same. And really? I don’t mind a bit. Chuck has a few years of grocery store work in his past, and he can bag our groceries like a pro. I don’t mind bagging my muffins or eggs or milk from the Kwik Trip, either.

Knowing the risks inspired me to wash my reusable bags more often, and that can only be good. When the farmers’ markets come back (if they come back? don’t even suggest it), I’m sure I’ll be able to balance my need to reuse bags with the vendors’ needs to be safe.

Maybe I could start a new line of bags with matching face masks. Cool, huh?

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