Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Seed Order

 It's always a bright moment in my Maine winter, the day I place the order for the seeds from Fedco that will become next year's garden. Usually I prefer to wait until mid-January, when winter is deepest and seems like it will never end, to give me that pinpoint of hope, but I'm told waiting might result in not getting the seeds I want this year, and I do want the varieties I've chosen for good reasons. 

I only have so much space, so every year I am torn between my favorites & trying something new. Here are this year's choices:

Sun Golds - These will always be on my list. They are just The Best: best flavor, most fruit, both earliest & latest tomatoes, and utterly reliable. They are a cherry variety; otherwise I'd be tempted to just fill the garden with them. 

Garden Peaches - Also an early tomato; in Maine the growing season is fairly short, so I've learned not to waste it on 90-day germinators, no matter how amazing they sound. These are yellow, 2-inch tomatoes, very flavorful & pretty in salsa. 

Oregon Spring - New to me this year, and said to be a hedge against a cool summer. 

Pruden's Purple - I think I had these in the garden several years ago, so not entirely new. They are a full size tomato - a whole pound per fruit - with a mere 72-day germination. We shall see whether that rings true. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The House Smells Amazing: How to Roast Garlic


Roast garlic is milder and sweeter than raw garlic, with a nutty flavor and none of the burn. It's ever so easy to do! You don't need a garlic roaster, but if you have one you can cook & serve in the same dish. 

Roast Garlic

You'll need:
A head of garlic
A teaspoon of water
A tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
A tiny pinch salt

Aluminum foil or a garlic roaster

If using foil, lay flat a square large enough to completely wrap around the garlic head. Bend up the sides to make a bowl shape.

Remove as much of the paper skin as you can without taking apart the head

Cut off the tips - not the root end! - of the cloves

Put a teaspoon of water in the roaster (or foil bowl.)

Place the head root end down in the water.

Drizzle oil over head. Sprinkle the tiny bit of salt. 

Place in cold oven; turn up to 400°. Roast for 45 minutes

Remove from oven. Scoop soft cloves out with tip of knife to spread on bread, or use in dressings or sauces. 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Sugar Cookies for Christmas

I'm not much a baker. I do love sweets but honestly the world conspires to put cakes and brownies in my path; I don't need to go to all the effort of baking them. Anyway who has time for stuff like that? But I'm a potter, and the pandemic has fucked with my livelihood most truly - all my holiday events have been cancelled. The lemonade from those lemons? This year I have the time.
I have fond memories of making sugar cookies with my sister, as a child. Here's the thing about most sugar cookies: they exist to be beautiful. For the fun of decorating them, for the pleasure in admiring their icing. As a general rule they taste...fine. 

If you are using buttercream frosting, they are a vehicle for getting that to your mouth in the prettiest way possible. If you are using royal icing, well, that hasn't got an amazing flavor usually, either. 

In my usual fashion, I am leaping right in with alterations before I have even tried the standard way, because I want to make cookies that taste great and look amazing. I really want the experience of decorating them - that's the fun of it - but that's not a satisfying experience if the cookies are only ok. 

2 things are wrong with sugar cookies: too dry, and insipid flavor. I added a little more butter, and some almond extract which also serves to add some moisture. They taste like those almond horseshoes that fancy-schmancy bakeries sometimes have. 

Almond Sugar Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups flour (plus a little for the rolling board)
1 teaspoon baking powder

You'll need a rolling pin, a smooth surface to roll on, some parchment paper, some cooking spray, and a cookie sheet.

Cut the butter into 1/2 inch slices & put in a bowl with sugar. Mash together with a mixing spoon or potato masher until well combined. Add egg, vanilla, and almond extract. Blend together well. A stand mixer is super helpful at this point. Add the baking powder to the flour & stir it in. Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and mix thoroughly. 

Divide the dough in half.
Spread a very little flour on your rolling surface, and roll out one of the halves of your dough to a quarter inch thick. Flip it frequently while rolling. Place the rolled sheet of dough on a piece of parchment paper. 
Do the same for the other half. 
With a sheet of parchment paper between them, put your rolled sheets of dough in the refrigerator to chill for 1/2 an hour. Preheat the oven to 375° f. 

After the dough has chilled, bring it out and cut your cookie shapes from it. Spray some cooking spray onto the cookie sheet & place the cut shapes onto the cookie sheet. 
Bake for about 12-14 minutes. Cool on rack. Tops will be pale, bottoms will be lightly browned. Makes about 20 3-inch cookies. 

The cookies are only half the battle! Here is the recipe for Better Royal Icing. 

Better Royal Icing
6 tablespoon pasteurized egg whites (The eggs you get at the grocery store are already pasteurized, or you can get a carton of just egg white.)
4 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Paste food coloring. 

This will make a lot, so you can make several colors, and have some of each at the runnier flood consistency & some at piping consistency. Once it's mixed, separate into smaller bowls & make your colors. The ones you plan to "flood" just need to be thin enough that they will smooth out, so you will add egg white to those a tiny bit - like a 1/4 teaspoon - at a time, until it flows off the mixing spoon. 

I'm not gonna try to teach you how to flood cookies or pipe decoration; I am an absolute amateur at this & you'd be better off to watch videos from My Little Bakery or Sweet Amb's.  

Here are some of my steps in the process: 

The piping was actually the hard part! The trees came out pretty much
as I envisioned; the little churches, not so much. 

Last step: cake paint. Might skip this step next time. Also, gotta work on those little churches. 
Those are kinda janky. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

My First Pie!

2020: a year like none other. If this were a normal year I would be preparing to host my family right now: cleaning, moving furniture around, chopping vegetables. It's not a normal year, and we decided to atomize our Thanksgiving this year: each household celebrating separately. Normally I make the hearty foods, my sister & brother-in-law bring the salad, and my sister-in-law makes pies. 

Well, I'm skipping salad; I love it but Doug has no interest, and it's really only good the first day, so there would be a ton of waste. It's not like I could freeze it! We're having a turkey (it's 12.5 lbs, and it actually a bit comical to look at; it's like a miniature), stuffing, potatoes, brussels sprouts...and pumpkin pie. 

I've never made a pie of any kind before. People keep telling me it's easy, but then there are all these confusing things like, you have to bake it 3 different ways? But it just didn't seem like Thanksgiving without it, so I decided to give pie a chance. 

I decided store-bought crust would have to do, because pastry is notoriously tricky to get right. I bought a box of pre-rolled rounds. That actually turned out to be the troublesome part - I didn't know it would shrink! So after I had partially baked the crust I noticed it was now too small for the pan & tried to slap on some patches. Good thing this pie will not be entering any beauty contests! 

Here'd the filling recipe, from my sister-in-law, the reigning queen of pies in our family: 

Aces High Farm Pumpkin Pie Filling
1 can (1 lb.) pumpkin (One Pie is best, from just up the road in Fairfield, Maine)
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ginger 
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 c. evaporated milk or light cream

Preheat oven to 425F. Prepare pastry. Beat eggs slightly, then beat in  remaining ingredients. Pour into crust. Bake 15 minutes. *Then, reduce heat to 350F and bake 45 minutes more or until a toothpick inserted into the filling comes out clean. Serve each slice with a dollop of whipped cream on top if desired.

Important notes:

*It's a good idea after the first 15 minutes of baking to cover the
 pie crust with strips of aluminum foil to prevent burning.

So, it's out! Boy is this an ugly pie. Smells good, though! I'll report back tomorrow on the important bit: how it tastes. 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Oven's Mouth, Boothbay, Maine, October 2020

We are blessed to live in Maine during these Covid times, where there are lots of things to do outdoors, and for free. The Oven's Mouth Preserve in Boothbay is one such thing. I wish this video could be scratch & sniff! The piney woods, the briny rivers; you can just feel the tension leaving your body at the scent. 

My favorite thing about Oven's Mouth, though, is the incredible teal color of the water of the Back & Cross rivers. 


Sunday, September 27, 2020

An Embarrassment of Spuds

 When you think fall in Maine, you might think of apple picking. (And you wouldn't be wrong! It is a fun fall activity and fresh-fresh-fresh apples are just incredible.) Another fall harvest is just as plentiful, though. The French name translates to "apples of the earth:" potatoes.

There are no pick-your-own potato farms that I know of, it being a messier and less picturesque activity, but farm stands are full of native potatoes, and in the grocery store the prices can't be beat. 

How to take advantage of all this bounty, when the two of us can only eat so many potatoes? (Especially when the apples are beckoning, as well!) In the past when I have tried to freeze stews or soups that contain potatoes, the results have been...not great. The potato chunks have a weird spongy texture. Trying to freeze raw potatoes has not gone any better - those were somehow both grainy and mushy. 

I knew I must be doing something wrong, because frozen french fries and hash browns are a thing. I can't flash-freeze, but I can blanche, which, it turns out, is the secret to home freezing potatoes. Here's how:

Cut the potatoes into wedges. It doesn't have to be exactly this size and shape, but you don't want your chunks too small, because you don't want them to get too thoroughly cooked before freezing. 

Put a big pot of water on the stove on high. Set a timer for 2 minutes. 

While waiting for the water to boil, fill a bigger pot with cold water & ice cubes. This is the ice bath to stop the potatoes from continuing to cook after you drain them. 

Once the water on the stove boils, put in the potatoes and start the timer. 

When the timer goes off, drain hte potatoes in a colander and put them immediately into the ice bath. Leave them in the ice bath for a few minutes, them scoop them back into the colander with a slotted spoon. Let them drain completely, then divide them into freezer bags and pop them into the freezer. 

Frozen potatoes will stay good for about a year - not that I need to worry about that, I expect we will eat these sometime in the bleak midwinter. That's the point of buying lots while they are cheap - then you save on shopping when you have less money. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

This Much I Can Do


There's so much awful in the world that we are powerless to help, it feels good to do one thing - even a tiny thing - to make things better. Or, more accurately, to help mitigate how bad they can get. 

In the past I've been spotty about my annual flu vaccination. For most of my adult life I haven't had health insurance, so this is a relatively new habit for me; I think I am *finally* associating the turning of the leaves with "get a flu shot," in addition to "bring in the hose," "get sandbags for the truck," and "put away the hammock." 

This year, of course, it's doubly important: the overlap of the coronavirus pandemic with the normal flu season is likely to be a bitch. The symptoms are very similar, and the last thing our healthcare system needs is twice as many coughing people running out to get tested, and the last thing anybody needs is to get both viruses at once. 

More than 200,000 Americans are dead. There is nothing we can do for them, and honestly there is very little we as individuals can do to prevent the next 200,000 deaths. (The government could do a LOT, but they probably won't, not before January, anyway.) But this is one thing - one tiny thing - that could save lives. 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Sunday, September 6, 2020

You Can Pickle Anything!


It wasn't a great year for gardening - too dry - but the trusty Sun Golds did come through in a big way. They are extra-sweet cherry tomatoes that produce continuously from early August right up until frost. 

I recently learned that you can pickle pretty much any vegetable. (Probably other stuff, too but ew.) I decided to give it a try. These are refrigerator pickles - I didn't get in the whole boil-the-jars-like-our-ancestors-did stuff. 

Pickled Sun Gold Tomatoes 

About 20 Sun Gold or other sweet variety cherry tomatoes
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon tarragon
2 cloves garlic, peeled

Fill Mason jar with cherry tomatoes. Fill jar with a 1/2 inch to an inch of space. Mix vinegar, sugar, tarragon and salt in a saucepan; bring to light boil. Boil for 1 minute. Let cool about 10 minutes; pour over tomatoes. Push garlic cloves under the surface of the vinegar. Screw on lid & let sit in refrigerator for a week before using. 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Bike Acadia!

Somehow I grew up in Maine without knowing about the Acadia Carriage Trails. I love biking so this was

an oversight of some significance! My husband mentioned them to me on our way home from a visit Downeast. I looked into it and it turns out they are a well-known hiking and especially biking destination. They are on the National Register if Historic Places, having been built by John Rockefeller in conjunction with the National Park Service, in the early to mid 20th century. 57 miles of packed crushed gravel roads wind between the ponds and mountains.

Acadia is not a compact park. It consists of several separate areas, and even the main area is an irregular lobed shape that winds in and out of the settled areas of Mount Desert Island. The town of Otter Creek is completely surrounded by parkland, for example. We entered the park at the Hull Cove Visitors Center. 

We took the Witch Hole Pond Loop, and the Eagle Lake Loop on purpose...and the Paradise Hill Loop by accident. I don't know which of the ponds was Witch Hole! But they were all beautiful. 

My bike (on the left) is at least 25 years old. I bought it used in 1994 for $200 - it seemed like an extravagant amount at the time but has earned its cost many times over. Doug's bike is also secondhand. One of the reasons I love biking is, you don't need fancy gear or special shoes or dedicated clothes. Any bike, any shoes, (almost) any clothes, and you are in business. 
We saw these two turtles basking together. They are Painted Turtles - the larger on about as big as those get, in Maine, the small one the smallest I've ever seen in the wild. 

When we found ourselves at the Duck Brook Bridge we declared ourselves officially lost. This was a little alarming - you can get pretty lost in 57 miles of road, and it was getting late in the day. Luckily there was a map kiosk at the bridge, that showed us where we went wrong. 
There's still so much of Acadia to see! Next time I will print a map, though. :)

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Maine is...


Maine is rivers, and mountains. Maine is ocean and lakes, farmland, apple orchards, fishing boats, blueberry barrens. Maine is small cities with cute little shops and restaurants. I love that I can find it all right here, without leaving the state, because it's a terrible time to travel. 

In fact, it's a terrible time for America, and my heart goes out to those in harder-hit areas. I feel deeply lucky to have a governor who listens to the science & bases policy on that advice. As a result, Maine has very few cases of Covid, despite being a summer destination - we aren't called Vacationland for nothing. Our businesses are mostly open, our schools will have in-person classes - at least a couple days a week. Science works, and leaders should have the humility to listen to people who know more than them. 

This is the bridge from the town of Lubec to Campobello Island, Canada. I can't cross that bridge, with or without passport, because the US government has handled the coronavirus pandemic so badly that there is a travel ban against Americans in most western countries, including Canada. Why has it been so much worse in the US than other countries? See the above paragraph. Science works, and leaders should have the humility to listen to scientists. 
We won't be able to truly beat back the virus until we have new leadership. 
Vote for Biden. He's our only hope. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Upper Falls at The Cataracts, Andover, Maine


My favorite Maine hikes are always chasing waterfalls. Today I went with the always-fun Bionic Yowie, We've been friends since high school (and that is a loooong time ago!) but only recently started hiking together. 
There are two trailheads close together on East B Hill Road in Andover. We did Dunn Falls a couple of weeks ago; today was The Cataracts Trail. The Cataracts is the easier of the two. 
It was a perfect day for hiking, sunny but not too warm. I almost wished it had been warmer, though, because this trails includes several swimming holes. 
All in all a beautiful trail on a beautiful day. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Snow's Falls, West Paris, Maine

 As beautiful as this is, it isn't even, like,  a hiking destination; this is just a rest area in West Paris, Maine. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Covid Times: Good Days and Bad

Yesterday was a bad day. One of the pottery studios I teach at - both of which are shut down due to the pandemic, obviously - has closed its doors. This is the first concrete thing to happen within my immediate circle that makes it clear that things are not going back to the way they were before. I suppose I have been cherishing a forlorn hope that we will all hunker down - maybe until summer? - and eventually the virus will be over, and then we can go back to our lives, almost like we just hit pause.

Every now & then it hits me that we will never return to the before-times. Everything is different now, and nobody knows what will be on the other side of this. Four months of turbo-boosted unemployment sounds great until you remember there's a very good chance there still won't be work at the end of it.

I have time to do some home improvements now, but I am not - I am putting every spare penny into savings, because I don't know when I will be able to earn income again.

The title of the post is "Good Days and Bad" but I am not having very many good days right now. I guess the good days are the hoped-for ones, whatever they might look like, when all this is over.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Days of Covid - This is my job now

I stopped writing for a stretch, because it was all the same. Nothing has changed now, except maybe my mind.

This is my job now. I get up, I do a "workout" - in quotes because all it is is pedaling the Fitdesk while I read my emails & the news. I search for good news about the pandemic but it seems it is always bad: that malaria drug isn't panning out. Covid-19 can reappear in people who have recovered. Nowhere near enough tests available and some of those that are, are bogus.

Now I am bummed out, so if the weather isn't awful I take a walk. This is safe in my neighborhood - I almost never see anyone else; if I do it's easy to keep a good 20 feet away.

When I get home, I work on some little home-improvement project. I am trying to do only those things  for which I already have the materials, to avoid a trip out into the world - I take lockdown pretty seriously! So, I paint baseboards, I hung a towel loop, I spackle some damaged drywall.

I also clean a lot.

After lunch I work on Duolingo - I have been trying to learn Spanish for years, and I am finally making some progress! - or I read a book. I call my mother every day, and sometimes other friends, but all in all I am astonished how easily I have adapted to not seeing with anyone but Doug. I've always been an introvert, so maybe I shouldn't be surprised...I'm actually a little worried that, like bras and what I now call "hard pants," it will be difficult to return to wearing my public face every day.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Covid Times

Some notes on how things are different now. I just want to get these down, so I remember, when - if- things go back to normal. In addition to all non-essential businesses being shuttered, and all schools closed for the rest of the school year:
  • The governor has decreed that no one shall ride in a vehicle with a person not in their immediate household
  • All large stores, like supermarkets and big box stores, have a sign at the front saying there shall be no more than 100 people in the store at one time. How we are supposed to know how many people are already in the store, I don't know.
  • At the grocery store, there are taped-off spaces leading up to the registers, to keep people spaced 6 feet apart. 
  • Everyone who can sew is making protective masks, to help prevent the spread of the virus
  • Through most of the panic buying is over, the toilet paper aisle is still pretty sparse, and you can't get hand sanitizer. 
  • All professional sports are cancelled. 
  • Beaches, public parks, playgrounds, and trails are closed. 
  • Gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited.
  • We wash our hands many times a day, especially if we have been out of the house. We wear rubber gloves if we have to go out in public, then we wash with the gloves on before we take them off; then we wash out hands again. 
  • Weirdly, almost all spam phone calls have ceased. 
  • There are field hospitals in Central Park. There are 18-wheelers parked at New York Hospitals to take away the dead. 
I don't know how long we will be in the corona times. Governor Mill obviously thinks it will be at least until the end of this month, because her executive order extends that long. I don't know if things will ever go back to the way they were in the before times. I still remember the last conversation I had with students, at the end of the last class I taught - I had no idea it would be the last, no idea. 

The Days of Covid-19, 20

I went to somewhere other than the grocery store, for the first time in three weeks. I went to Lowes and bought supplies to do some small repairs around the house. Yesterday I began patching some cat-damaged walls; I'll finish those today. I already replaced a missing strike plate on a bedroom door. I have two broken light switches that I hope to get to today - with any luck I won't get electrocuted.

So, it took about three weeks for me to get past the weird zombie feeling of this confinement; three weeks to get my mind around the idea that normal life is not going to resume any time soon, and start planning what I want to use this time for.

I spend part of the day yesterday trying to help my mom figure out what she needs to do to receive the economic impact check included in the CARES act. At this time yesterday, the IRS was saying that people on Social Security or disability had to file a tax return - but they couldn't mail out a tax return, or accept a tax return with zero dollars of income electronically. This seemed crazy to me, not least because I only found out about it by accident - how are seniors supposed to navigate this, when they are not supposed to be leaving their homes? I verified that it was true with a friend who is a tax preparer, then set out finding someone who had a printer who could mail my mom a form.

All that turned out to be unnecessary, as, in response to a letter from 41 Democratic senators, treasury secretary Mnuchin changed that rule. (I have to wonder - why would anyone have put a rule like that in the first place? ) As of last night, Social Security recipients will automatically receive the CARES act money.

Oh, and: ¿Dónde está el baño? Necesito un taxi! Mi maleta esta en el hotel. I'm getting better every day!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Days of Covid, 18

Two things to report today: I got my OK from the state for unemployment. It's not much! It wouldn't be enough no matter how frugal I was if not for the CARES act boost it will get. I mean, I get why: in normal times you don't want people feeling as comfortable not working as they are working, because there are, presumable, jobs they could get if they try - but it's very easy to not get a job if you don't really want one.
Anyway it doesn't matter, because this isn't normal times.

I also re-started DuoLingo. About five years ago I got my first & only smartphone. I got it so I could take use a credit card reader at art fairs, but as we all know, they can do a great deal more than that. One of the apps I got was DuoLingo. I've been pecking away at learning Spanish for years, not, honestly, making much progress - I know a lot of words, I can repeat back phrases, but I could never have a conversation. DuoLingo was great but my cellphone isn't! Being an artist, I do not have a bunch of money lying around for stuff like that, so I got a $70 Android, which serves its intended purpose well, but only has room for a couple of apps. DuoLingo was not one that I absolutely needed, so I deleted it and forgot about it. I have re-discovered it, for laptop. I should have known they would have a website! Will it stick this time? It's hard to say.

In virus news:
More than 30,000 people are expected to die from coronavirus in the US next month alone.

Before this is over we all will have lost someone we care about. I fear for my mother, her cousin, and my godmother, all ladies in their 80s, all with underlying health conditions. They are self-isolating but nobody can isolate perfectly. I fear for my husband, as men are harder hit than women, and he's never been an attention-to-detail guy, so things like "Wash your hands frequently" and "Don't touch your face unless you just washed your hands" don't make much of an impression on him. He tries! I think he's got some ADHD going on. I don't really fear for me, or maybe I just don't think about it as much.

Days of Covid, 17: Some Days I'm All...

It alternates, though imperfectly. Some days I'm all in to do everything that needs doing: make pots, cook well, clean the studio! Pedal 10 miles before breakfast!

Yesterday was not one of those days. Yesterday I did manage to do my grocery shopping, but after that was all put away (dipped everything in plastic into soapy water with a splash of bleach; wiped down everything else with same) I just plopped into a chair and stayed there. I wasn't tired, exactly, but I was exhausted. If that makes any sense.

Today is one of the former, thankfully. The latter are not good days.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Covid days 15: One thing and then another thing and then another thing

That is how I structure my days: just do a thing. Then do another thing. Then another. No task has any more urgency than any other, for the duration. In this way I prevent myself from becoming a twitter zombie, desperately scrolling for some new piece of information (or, some new piece that isn't just more awfulness) or something that will make it make sense.

Today I am cleaning & organizing my studio. I keep seeing friends who are not artists posting "Think of all the amazing art that will come out of this period!" Yeahno.

I can't speak for everyone, but let me stomp a mudhole in the idea that hard times create better art. Artists, like everyone else, work better when they are safe, secure, and well-fed. I'm sure there are exceptions, but no more than for any other profession. We don't think scientists make more valuable discoveries if they are poor. We don't think money managers see market conditions more clearly when they are hungry. Artists are no different.

Some of this thinking is because many of us have home studios, and since we can't go anywhere else, we are probably making lots of stuff. That's not entirely untrue, but A) You need materials to make art, and art supply houses are not considered essential businesses and more importantly B) It's hard to be creative when your world is threatened. A couple of artist friends told me that just today they finally felt the cloud of fear and stress lifting enough to begin to create again. Maybe due to the passage of time, but I suspect just as much due to the passage of the relief bill - and a relief it is (even with its flaws), because if the economy collapses, the last thing people are going to spend on is art.

Which brings me full circle. The best way to save the economy is to defeat the virus. The best way to defeat the virus is to stay the fuck home.

In other news, I just read that the CDC is going to be updating its guidelines to state that people should wear masks in public spaces, after previously saying that masks wouldn't help. That was never logical to me: if a danger is inhaling droplets from someone's cough, a mask helps. If a danger is touching your face after touching an infected surface, a mask helps! If not a mask, then a scarf over your face. This is me, ready to go to the grocery store:

Friday, March 27, 2020

Covid Days, 14

Yesterday the US for the first time had the highest number of reported cases on Covid-19 of any country in the world. It is highly likely, of course, that China is lying, but in a way so is the US: we have had so little testing relative to the size of our population that the virus could easily be 10x as widespread as positive results indicate. You can't have a positive result if you never get tested.

I want to believe that this will be over by, say, mid-May. (I can't trick even my most optimistic self into believing it could be earlier than that.) I so so want to believe that, and maybe it could be, if people could perfectly isolate; but A) People aren't perfectly isolating - some states they aren't isolating at all!  and B) even if everyone were willing, it isn't possible. Doctors and nurses, for the most obvious example, must continue to go to work. Lots of less obvious cases, too: my brother works for a firm that prints the forms that hospitals use to write prescriptions and order supplies. They have to keep on going to work, too.

Only half my fear comes from the virus itself; the other is the ineptitude of the response. The president seems to be using access to resources to respond to the pandemic as a way to punish states that didn't vote for him, or whose governors have been critical of him. Just yesterday he claimed they didn't actually need 30000 ventilators in New York, which is utterly absurd. What possible benefit would come of lying about it? News out of New York is bad; they are already triage-ing who gets a ventilator. And the president of the United States is playing vindictive games about it.

If we had a competent president, this would have been nipped in the bud back in January, when they could have selectively isolated anyone who came in contact with an infected person. Now that isn't possible - there are just too many people infected. Now we all have to isolate. All because trump wanted to hide the numbers, thinking they would hurt his re-election chances. If there is any justice in the world the numbers now will DOOM his re-election chances.

But anyway. I'm not really here to be political, or anymore than I can help. I am journaling to help me keep my sense of time, and to help me make sense, in my own mind, of this strange, surreal experience.

For most of my life I had a great faith in the institutional memory of the government of the United States. It was not even a matter of who, at any one moment, was in charge. There have been presidents I admired, presidents I agreed with, mostly, and others that I didn't, but I always believed that any president would utilize the machinery of government - the expertise, the resources - to protect the country in a crisis. That this is no longer true - that this president is blatantly using the crisis to punish people who have criticized him - is frankly terrifying. It's like we don't have a leader.

That is where my fear mostly comes from. I don't know if we can recover from this in my lifetime without leadership. Try to imagine ANY recent president: Obama, Bush II, Clinton, Bush I, on down, behaving like this. Ronald Reagan, whom I despised at the time, would have worked with all his might to minimize loss of life. Bush One, who I also didn't like, would have handled this like a statesman and Comforter-in-Chief. Until the trump presidency such childish vindictiveness from the White House was unimaginable.

I fear for my country. I fear for the people I love who are more medically vulnerable. I see no leadership coming to help us, and no way out of this.

Whoops, guess I got political again. Oh well.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Days of Covid, 13

I am starting to adjust, I think; I don't run out of steam at noon or one now. When I can't concentrate enough to make stuff, I clean. Here is a thing I hope I remember when the world starts turning again: even when I spend all day cleaning, the house is still not as clean as I have it in my head that it should be. No wonder I couldn't get there when I still had classes to teach.

My May order canceled - no surprise there. They can't buy pots they have no way to sell.

It's Thursday! A new episode of Star Trek: Picard tonight! Funny but that's a big deal, now, something I look forward to.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Days of Covid, 12

We went to the arboretum today. It is still so chilly & muddy we figured that no one would be there, unlike the rail trail, which is paved, & likely to be crowded. Well, relatively crowded. Crowded enough that we might occasionally be within 6 feet of someone.

Not the Arboretum, though - we guessed correctly. It was very muddy, with little rills of snowmelt over the path in places. It was just nice to see something that is not the inside of the house for a little while. It was chilly, though, and we didn't stay long.

When we returned to the entrance, there were a group of maybe 3 families - five adults, 7 kids - in the sculpture park there, playing, climbing on things, rough housing. While I have some sympathy - it must be hard to just stay home with littles for weeks - this is not social distancing. This is dangerous Please, people! Doctors & nurses are risking their lives to save people, the least you could do is not risk becoming one of the people they have to try to save.

I got a lot of housecleaning done today. Housecleaning is a thing I often can make myself do even when I am too overwhelmed to do more productive things. My productive day lasted until about 4:30 today.

For the third day in a row we were promised that a relief bill was imminent, and for the third day none materialized. The obstacle today was three Republican senators objecting to the $600/week add-on for unemployment benefits. They fear it will make people want to be laid off. I'd point out the stupidity here (firstly, workers can't *decide* to be laid off. Employers decide that) but I'm tired.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Days of Covid, 10

Every day I start out fine. I have my coffee, I get stuff done...until about mid-afternoon, when I basically dissolve in a puddle of anxiety or rage. Today it's rage! I am enraged because Congress can not get this basic bill passed: they have to tack on all kinds of shit ($500,000,000,000.00 for Mnuchin to do whatever he wants with - no oversight, no accountability!) Supposedly they all - Dems and Republicans - agree on sending out relief checks, so fucking PASS THE PART THEY AGREE ON. Quit trying to shoehorn in all this other crap, deal with that in separate bills.

You can't tell people they can't work for weeks (or months!) and then not do anything to help them.

I did our grocery shopping this morning. I wore a bandanna over my nose & mouth, and rubber gloves. I felt like an idiot...but I didn't take them off. I know they tell us masks & scarves don't keep you from getting corona, but it did keep my from touching my face the whole time I was out in the world.

Any trip into the world that needs to be done, I do instead of my husband, because the virus is much more deadly for men than women, and Doug is a smoker. Of course if I got it he'd probably get sick too; but I don't know how we can isolate any more than we already are.

Tomorrow a trip to Portland to pick up clay. I ordered & paid by phone & they will just leave it outside for me: a no-contact transaction.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Covid Days, 8

I got through to my credit card company this morning. They told me I don't have to make my next due payment, but that interest would continue to accrue. Rat bastards. Not that it matters for me - mine is in a no-interest program, one of those balance transfer deal where you pay 3% upfront, then pay no interest for some pre-determined period of time. But for most people, that would ultimately mean paying more, because then you'd pay interest on the interest.

Like I said, rat bastards. They even find a way to take advantage of a global crisis to make more money.

My mortgage company has also put out a statement suggesting they might do payment deferrals, also - whaddaya want to bet they will also continue to accrue interest? Not that it matters, if th offer is on the table i have no choice but to take it.

This morning I broke down crying for the first time, out of fear for our future. I worked so hard to get us to this point! I was having a great year, before the virus said "HA!"

Friday, March 20, 2020

Covid Days, 7

I talked to human beings in person today, who aren't even my husband! First time in a week. We stayed a good 12 feet apart - I was just baby sitting the Hallowell Clay Works studio so students could pick up their tools & other items, so they can make stuff at home during our shutdown.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin tweeted today that the filing deadline for taxes has been pushed back to July 15th. That's good - and it's frankly the very least they could do - but it's good news for another reason, too: it's a sign that people with, presumably, all the information, think we will be able ot get taxes done by July! Maybe the outbreak has a foreseeable end.

Or, idk, maybe I am grasping at straws. Whatever, if it looks like hope I'll take it.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Days of Covid, 6

I thought the hiatus from classes would be like an extended snow day: might as well get comfy! Read more, clean some things that need cleaning, enjoy some enforced inactivity. It really doesn't feel like that; the anxiety is almost incapacitating, but there is next to nothing I can do to avoid the trouble we are headed straight for, and I don't know how long it will go on or how bad it will get.

Despite my best efforts to stay optimistic, I am having a hard time believing we will be able to go back to work in 15 days. I fear we are in this for months. It's useless to follow that thought but I am helpless not to.

I felt better when the relief package passed but now it is seeming hopelessly complicated & the information on it is incomplete or contradictory. It's based on 2019, so if you haven't filed your 2019 taxes as of you get nothing? Nobody knows. And it's mid-March, millions and millions will not have filed their 2019 taxes yet!

My credit card company says "Contact us if you've been affected by Covid-19!" but then the function on their website crashes, and nobody answers the phone. I filed for unemployment but who knows when they will be able to talk to me. The things that are supposed to help, so far have not been helpful. I know there are good reasons for this - well, one very good reason, and that is that everyone needs help right now. But the credit card company, for example - they could have just suspended payments for 60 days, no penalties, no interest. They could have taken that worry off people's shoulders, without piling on one more call to hold on for hours, one more decision of someone else's to wait on. Don't tell me they couldn't afford it: it costs something to staff those call lines, too.

I see individuals & small businesses stepping up. I will try to focus on that.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Days of Covid, 5

I took a walk on the rail trial today. There were people out, families with young children. We stayed far apart! It was good to get out, to pull my eyes - if not my mind - away from the news sites.

When I got home I discovered that the Senate passed what they are calling a stimulus package, which will help a lot, though I won't be doing any extra spending: it's less money than the amount I am losing by not working during the crisis. Still, for 2 months we won't have to worry about losing our house, so that is definitely a load off my mind. Will the crisis be over by the end of May? I hope so but the more I read, the more I doubt it.

I filled out an online form to collect unemployment. I kind of don't think I qualify, as my classes only amounted to 15 hours a week, I think I read somewhere a long time ago that you have to be coming off a full-time job to collect unemployment; but I don't know, so I applied. The office must be crazy busy, so who knows when they will get back to me.

I called an elderly friend - my godmother, actually - to see if she needed anything. Her health is frail, so I figured it would be safer for me to shop for her, but she is all set. I will call her again in a couple of days, and I call my mother a few times a day. I know they are staying safe at home but I worry about isolation.

I also created an Upworthy profile, to do proofreading or copy editing as piecework. It's not launched yet, as I am having a hard time writing an good description of my skills, and I keep thinking, why would anyone choose me for this? I think I could do it well but my education & experience are not specific to that. I'll tweak it a bit more tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Days of Covid, 4


Got some work done in the studio today - might as well put this time to good use.

I tried to apply for unemployment, too. I don't know what the requirements are, so I don't know if I will qualify, but the website kept crashing, so I couldn't get through. I will try again at like 2 am, when fewer people will be using the system.

I am somewhat less freaked out than yesterday, although a lot of the news is not great - Treasury Secretary Mnuchin reportedly told senators that we could see 20% unemployment as a result of Covid-19.

There is talk, though, of stimulus checks being sent out soon. I guess they are just arguing about how much and to whom - the most recent report I read was a thousand dollar check to every adult who makes less than 85,000 dollars a year. If this lasts a month  (maybe even two, if we are ridiculously frugal) we could squeak by on that. We're artists, we are accustomed to living on little. Anyway that is a some weight off my mind.

Still sheltering in place. I had to talk my mom out of going out to lunch with her friends today. Why is anyone still doing that?!? They are all in the high risk group, just GO HOME. STAY HOME! I call her two or three times a day because it must be very hard being alone all the time.

Days of Covid, 3

Today was...not great. It started pretty good! I cleaned in the morning - just basic stuff, not the deep cleaning I've been promising myself I'd use all this extra time for - I made bread, roasted a chicken, spent some time reading a book in a sunny window: the very picture of quarantine contentment. Then I made a bad mistake: I decided I could go ahead & not be productive for a day, so I didn't go into the studio. Instead I spent the latter part of the day reading the news, trying to gather information about the crisis.

That was my mistake.

Yesterday in a press conference, the president just casually said that this might last until JULY OR AUGUST. He didn't mention any plans to help people who simply can't not work for FOUR MONTHS. It left me feeling like we're on our own out here. I don't know how I will pay my mortgage & utilities if my classes & sales events are cancelled for four months.

For the first time I am feeling like everything will not be ok.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Days of Covid, 2

Both of the studios I teach at have suspended classes for 2 weeks. The Universities have told student not to return from spring break. Businesses are still open but advice is basically to shelter in place.

I went to the grocery store today to get cat food & litter, and also a half-gallon of milk to freeze, so I won't have to go again for a long while. We have enough of everything else. I bought a loaf of bread yesterday, and the shelves were full; today there was no bread. No toilet paper or hand sanitizer, either, but that is to be expected at this point. Doug's medical marijuana provider was giving out little spritz bottles of sanitizer, so we have some; I feel silly doing it but I sprayed down the cart before shopping. Inside the store, there are sanitizer wipes; I took one and used it to wipe every item before putting it in the cart.

The thing is, if these measures work, I will look back on this and it will seem absurd; but maybe it will have been measures like this that prevent thousands of deaths.

I have clay, I have glaze. I will make stuff during our recess. I keep reading about people defying advice and going out to bars and restaurants - I hope most people are smarter than that. I'd make a joke about natural selection, but it really isn't funny, and it's mostly not themselves these dumbasses are going to get killed.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Love in the Days of Covid-19

Day 1: March 13, 2020  - the day of the lighbulb moment
A funny thing happened on the way to the social distancing. As recently as Wednesday, coronavirus and its associated illness was, to me, a very upsetting and worrisome thing that was likely to happen to some other unfortunate people, pretty far away. I didn't consciously think that; if you'd asked me I would have said that of course I was worried, of course I was being vigilant about washing my hands. I wasn't shaking hands anymore, I was trying (and often failing) to stop touching my face. Those are just basic responsible behaviors in the time of Covid-19.

If I dug a little deeper, though, I probably thought that someone else would handle it, someone whose job it was to understand such things. A very Smart Person would know how to keep us safe. Very Smart People kept us safe from Ebola and H1N1 and Avian Flu. Every summer we are threatened with Triple-E, passed by mosquitoes, and every year the disease is outsmarted by these clever folk.

I didn't think I had to actually change anything; surely I didn't have to rearrange my life. The Very Smart People would handle it! My faith in the Very Smart people was strong even as late as Wednesday.

Then I started reading facebook posts from a friend in Italy. The situation there kept getting worse and worse! The government suggested they avoid large gatherings, and then all non-essential public places were shut down! Only grocers and pharmacies could remain open. It sounded crazy and it happened so fast!

I still thought, Well, that's terrible for Italy! But really believed that having their example, the Very Smart People here would now know what to do to keep it away from us.

Many people I have talked to about this have what could be described as a lightbulb moment. I had sort of a lightbulb few hours. Friday morning I was all wash-your-hands-&-live-your-life. The idea that I might have to make uncomfortable changes...well, it hadn't even occurred to me that it might happen. By Friday evening all that had changed. I realized social distancing means everyone - not just kids at universities in corona-hotbed states.

Social distancing means me. It means postponing the pottery tour. It means persuading the studios I teach at to suspend classes. It's gonna suck & I'm gonna have to figure out how to live on no money for a couple of weeks. It's gonna get real uncomfortable, but I have to do it.

So do you. If you haven't had your lightbulb moment, let me push you in that direction. The Very Smart People aren't going to be able to make this pass by barely noticed, like Swine Flu. The Very Smart People are saying, Stay away from other people - that's the only way to save lives.

So I'm gonna do it, and so should you.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Snowshoeing on the Libby Hill Trail With Lori Watts

A little video my friend made of our adventure on Libby Hill Trail, my first time on snowshoes! You can subscribe to my friend Cheryl's (trail name Bionic Yowie) YouTube channel and get a preview of many, many trails in Maine & New Hampshire.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

First Time on Snowshoes!

I grew up in Maine, but until yesterday I had never snowshoe'd. I never skied growing up either; I guess my parents weren't big on winter sports. I put on snowshoes for the first time yesterday, and now I see what I was missing!

It was only 19° yesterday, so I dressed carefully: tights & leggings under my jeans, a long-sleeved shirt under a thick wool sweater; hat-scarf-gloves; and a down jacket. Double socks and good boots. Between that and the exertion, I was not even a little cold on the trail. 
Yowie (foreground) and me

My high-school best friend, trail name Bionic Yowie, is a committed hiker, and she wouldn't let a little winter stop her. Lucky for me she has extra equipment! She dug up poles & shoes, and an extra pack ( I had one but didn't know I'd need it), a fleece, and made sure we both had water. Yowie is training to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, so she is in the habit of very thorough preparation! Me, I brought...the chapstick.

Our trail was the Libby Hills Forest Trail in Poland (that would be Poland, Maine) , home of many nice hiking trails. Yowie helped me get the shoes on (the hardest part, tbh) and off we went! It was easier than I thought: I would put the effort level at Shoveling Fluffy Snow. I got winded and a little sweaty, but nothing I couldn't deal with just by stopping to rest & drinking some water, and I'm not especially athletic. 

Here's me grinning like a fool! A happy fool tho

The trail through snow-covered woods, over a brook, and up & down a ridge, was incredibly beautiful, and silent in the way the winter woods sometimes are; not much moving, and the snow muffles sound anyway. The trickle of the stream under thin ice was musical. There is a lot to be stressed about, in the world; a snowy woods is a good place to be free of it, for a spell.