THE HOBBYIST

Another pandemic winter looming. Last winter was tough, because I wasn’t prepared to be locked in. Nobody was. So I vowed this year would be different. I need a hobby!

I spent one desperate afternoon looking for one. Here are the things I researched and the reasons why I rejected them:

  • Knitting and crocheting. My daughters both do that. One of them is at the “expert” level. She can knit or crochet Christmas stockings, sweaters, gorgeous throws for the sofa, and my God, she even crocheted little pumpkins for her daughter’s daycare (socially distanced) Halloween party. So why learn this? Gilding the lily.
  • Puzzles. I have a kitten.
  • Wood burning. That consideration lasted only a split-second. I thought of the west coast wildfires, and didn’t want to be responsible for midwest wildfires.
  • Felting. But the description mentioned that there would definitely be what they euphemistically termed “a learning curve.” No way.
  • Building kits. What would I build? Would this require math skills and/or precision use of an Exacto knife? Dangerous and also way above my ability level. I know myself.
  • Macrame. Oh, my God. I would be lost in the 70’s forever.
  • Beading. See “kitten,” above.
  • Painting kits. I would LOVE to do that! To paint silk scarves, make wrapping paper, and wall art. Then I realized that I live in a beautiful apartment with pristine floors and counters. Paint drips and splatters would be frowned upon.

I did find a kit I will try. It was on the Crafts for the Little Ones area of my Amazon app. I got a dozen sheets of stamped beeswax and twelve accompanying wicks. All I have to do is roll them up, and voila, CANDLES! This will kill a good twenty minutes!

The quest continues.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on THE HOBBYIST

GETTING BY

The pandemic surges on. Although I see people on the streets, and my Instagram feed is full of scenes of folks enjoying socially distanced meals at outdoor restaurants, many of us remain inside, still warding off the virus at all costs. Safe at home.

I don’t like to go into stores, so I shop online. This is not something to take lightly. Here’s the thing: if you are actually IN the store, you don’t have to know very much. You walk up to the produce section, and you see, for instance, grapes. They are in bags. You see a bag that looks promising, you reach into said bag and try a grape. Is is sweet? Seedless? Ok, then. You put that bag of grapes into your cart.

I, on the other hand, am sitting on my sofa. I put the word grapes into the grocery store search bar, and a nice photo of a cluster of grapes appears. I click “add to cart.” But then a screen pops up that asks me how many grapes do I want? A quarter pound? A half pound? Two pounds? I try to envision what a quarter pound of grapes looks like, because  grapes can’t possibly weigh very much. Confused, I decide to choose the quarter pound. When I pick up my curbside groceries and unpack them, I have a sum total of thirty five grapes.

So, the next time I shop, I remember this. I am ordering tilapia, and I am not going to be duped! When I add the fish to my cart and that little box pops up, I boldly click two pounds. Ha! I won’t be fooled again! How much tilapia did I get, you ask?

Too much tilapia.

I have wrestled with this for months. I thought I was getting a fair supply of Tylenol, and the tiny bottle in my grocery bag had a mere thirty pills. That little Bota Box of Cabernet I ordered, just for a nice Sunday pasta dinner for the two of us? It turned out to be one of those party boxes. We have been having Cabernet now for about two weeks. It is getting a little vinegary for my taste, but my husband soldiers on.

It’s a skill. It takes practice. By the time the pandemic is over, I will be able to tell you how many fluid ounces constitute just enough laundry detergent to do a reasonable amount of loads, and how much to order if you work in a prison laundry.

I will be able to advise you that you should just order the small jar of pickles, and that it is better to tell the store exactly how many apples you want, rather than estimating how many pounds of them you can actually consume in a week.

But here is my most valuable advice:

Learn what items are sold separately, and which ones come in packages of two or more.

Because I ordered one box of “lunch size” Fritos for my husband. It was from Costco, but still. At curbside, the box did look sort of big, but I didn’t worry too much until I got home to discover that my husband would be having

FIVE DOZEN BAGS OF FRITOS.

A word to the wise is sufficient.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on GETTING BY

TO ANYONE WHO HAS EVER WRITTEN A BOOK

Dear Author of every book,

I would like to thank you. Do you have even an inkling of what you are responsible for?

You are the one who removes us entirely from our own bodies. We enter the souls of your characters. We want the best for them. Yet sometimes we hate them so much that we would like to call you on the phone, the one who invented them, and shout at you with frustration. Why are these people so horrible? Why did you make them so evil? But then we realize that hating somebody on the page is preferable to despising a real person. We have to remind ourselves that those villains are not real. Even if they are based on actual villains. But they help us forget the actual villains, if only for awhile.

You make us hungry sometimes. For scones, hot thick soup on a wintry day. For toast, with crumbs left behind in the sheets. You make us wish we had a green thumb or liked to hike. You remind us to lock the doors. You sometimes make us wish for sex or even simple romance. . We look at our own partners and wonder “How on earth did I end up with them?”

Sometimes, when we are so very lucky, you transport us altogether, and we forget who we are, where we are, if we had breakfast, lunch or dinner, and if we need to go to the bathroom. Your characters whisper, shout, sing, or simply talk to us in language our souls can understand.

You make us mourn when the book is finished. Or sometimes, you make us laugh so hard that it is a relief that the book is over so we can catch our breath. You give us hope, dash those hopes sometimes, but you never leave us without a lasting impression.

Some of you do this better than others. Some of you have the sort of genius that the rest of us envy and wish we had. Some of you are so brilliant that your words will speak to people who have not even been born. Your work lives perhaps even after you yourself have died.

Some of you are not great. Maybe you aren’t even good. But you invent a story that is so compelling that your ability to tell it well can be overlooked in the simple thrill of following the threads of your plot until the surprising or twisted ending. We can forgive you for your lack of brilliance stringing words together, because you came up with a damn good story.

But those of you who can tell a story as well as thread it with the brilliance of your words–you are the masters, and we are all thankful that you exist, that you write, and that you enhance our lives with every word.

Times are very uncertain right now. You know who is saving us? It’s those magnanimous writers who share their souls with us and keep us sane, enlightened, hopeful, heartbroken, happy, scared out of our wits–all that and more. We are grateful.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on TO ANYONE WHO HAS EVER WRITTEN A BOOK

FLOATING

Another week has passed. My thoughts are many and varied

  • I want to buy all of the items that are advertised on Instagram
  • I watched the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma and immediately got off Facebook, but now I will never again know what every single person around the world had for lunch
  • I read an article before I left Facebook that said there are only three areas you need to wash daily, and so you don’t need to take so many showers. You know two of them. But who would have guessed that FEET was the third thing?
  • I feel sorry for the catalog people who continue to try to convince all of us who have worn nothing but leggings, sweats and pjs for months that we need to buy blazers
  • Today I put on some makeup and was stunned at how good I looked
  • This was a relief, since I thought I had aged ten years since the pandemic, when it was merely the absence of foundation and eyeliner
  • Every single person who lives in a studio apartment and has stayed there during the pandemic deserves some sort of huge award
  • Graham crackers are vastly improved with butter spread thickly upon them
  • I think Dr. Fauci sounded much more manly before he had that node removed from his vocal chords
  • My husband and I are definitely running out of things to talk about
  • I have fruit flies and so I guess I have to give up bananas
  • My husband still hates omelets
  • Pretty soon we will all run out of shows to watch on tv and will be forced to learn how to play Pinochle
  • Getting groceries online is a great way to reduce coronavirus risk, but this week I got a spaghetti squash a big bag of kale. This was a complete surprise. I wonder what the person who received my extra large bottle of Ibuprofen and the six pack of White Claw is thinking right now
  • Businesses who have had a tough time because of the Corona virus: movie theaters. Businesses that have boomed: all the Tractor Supply and Farm and Fleet stores
  • They won’t let me have a chicken in this apartment complex
  • I wish Judy Woodruff would broadcast the PBS Newshour from her kitchen instead of her study

Stay safe out there.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on FLOATING

MID NIGHT

The pandemic keeps us up at night.

When it affects me, I try to sort my thoughts into constructive sequences. I think about all the others out there who are probably awake, and I take comfort in the fact that I am not alone.

Yet I am alone. We are all alone in this. Perspective helps us when we remind ourselves that we haven’t lived through WWII and never experienced The Holocaust. The Great Depression was what our parents or grandparents knew. Most of us escaped polio. I myself escaped/survived two serious cancers, one of which required three surgeries to rebuild my face. Perspective and privilege. I have the privilege to wait out this pandemic in comfort.

Perspective is hard to come by, though, at three in the morning.

So I think about the two children in the photo above, and though I haven’t seen them in months, and may not see them for months more, they are part of me; and I am so thankful that in these days of technology, I can have face to face (almost) conversations with them often, and I can write them stories and record myself reading those stories to them.

I think about them racing down the halls of our apartment building, throwing their stuffed animals to see which one can throw farther. I think of them shouting off the balcony, and riding the elevator down to the club room to get hot chocolate out of the machine. And I laugh to myself remembering the time Birdie pushed the emergency button and two fire trucks arrived in full regalia.

They will be back. They will be older. It might not be so fun to run down the halls. But they will be back. Families will reunite. Turkeys will be roasted. Presents will be opened. It may not be in 2021, but it will happen again for all of us.

In the meantime, in the darkness, I think of those two faces as I finally drift off to sleep.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on MID NIGHT

BEHIND ALL THE WINDOWS

We are all still in. Maybe not all of us all of the time, but most of us most of the time. How many of you are sighing right now? Looking out your window into the evening darkness, wondering what all the other people are doing? Let’s talk about stuff you might do out there in COVID land tonight. Not OUT out there. You know what I mean.

What are you cooking? Bread is so yesterday. Nutrition is the one constant that we all rely on to sustain us through this. That and masks. I don’t make masks. I have bought hundreds of them, it seems like, but most of them fog my glasses. This is a digression from the topic sentence. Ahem. So. What am I making?

My partner, who  I am married to, but “partner” sounds so current–is getting tired of pasta. I cannot understand how any human can get tired of pasta. As a result, I am looking for other things to have for dinner, and I found the best recipe for Welsh Rarebit ever. Since fresh tomatoes are so plentiful right now, this recipe goes so well with them on what Ina Garten would call “good toast.” If we ate bacon, I would put that on the toast first, then the tomato slices, then the rarebit. But it is just fine without the bacon.

Serve it with what Ina would also identify as “good salad greens.” Now, in my case, since I am ordering my groceries online, I take whatever greens I can get, good or otherwise. Furthermore, since I don’t excel at salad dressing, sometimes I skip the whole salad idea and move on to frozen peas.

So. Here is this recipe, and you can send me hundreds of emails using the contact form on this blog to thank me.

WELSH RAREBIT

2 T butter, they say unsalted, but really, I am not Ina–use any kind

2 T flour

1 t Dijon mustard, and yes, the Poupon

1 t Worcestershire sauce (spelling that took three tries)

1/2 t salt–Ina would just throw some in, and it would be Kosher salt

1/2 t freshly ground “good” pepper–my pepper is just average, to be honest

1/2 porter beer–my husband hates porter beer, so I just use beer

3/4 cup heavy cream and DON’T USE HALF AND HALF OR MILK HERE

6 oz. or 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar, and yes, Ina, good cheddar. Here I just have my husband grate a small mountain of cheddar and use it all

2 drops (come on–3 won’t kill you) of hot sauce

Toasted rye bread or any kind of GOOD bread you like. But I can tell you that Wonder Bread does not cut it in this recipe

 

Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium heat. This is so confusing if you just moved and got a new electric stove. These stoves are SO DAMN HOT. So be careful not to get it ramped up too high, or you will burn everything. Gradually stir in the flour, and I mean GRADUALLY, or it will clump all up and make you so nervous. Cook the flour paste for some seconds so that the raw taste goes away. Ina says to do this, so I do, but actually I have no idea how long it takes for flour/butter to not taste raw, because I DON’T TASTE IT.

Now. Gradually stir in the beer. Let that sort of thicken around. Gradually add the cream, and bring to a simmer until the entire sauce is thick. Add the mustard and the W sauce, which I am not going to spell AGAIN. And the hot sauce. And the pepper. Cook for a while, until you think it is time to add the cheese. Add that gradually as well, and stir until it melts. Sometimes I add in a Sargento cheese stick or two as well, for the whole thoroughly cheesy, melty experience.

This stuff will be very thick. So thick that you might be worried that you went overboard. You didn’t.

Butter the toast, put on the tomatoes, and ladle the rarebit over that. Dish up the peas along side, unless, of course, you are a salad maven.

We have wine with this, but of course it’s Bota Box. Ina would have Cabernet or something.

Try this. It will make your evening at home. Afterwards, look out your window and gloat.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on BEHIND ALL THE WINDOWS

HOLED UP

Despite the fact that bars are crowded, students are going back to campus, and Governors are opening states up like crazy, the virus is still out there. It never went away, actually. A lot of people think it is now ok to go out there and “act normally.” These people are, in my opinion, foolish.

So, we remain very low profile. We are old, and we want to stay alive.

I have done very little except read. And as a service, here is a list of books that I think you will like.

  • The Lager Queen of Minnesota, by J. Ryan Stradal. You will learn all about beer, but this is also a terrific story about family.
  • Saints for All Occasions, by J. Courtney Sullivan. I loved this book and this writing so much.
  • The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett. Family. A house. Why is the house so important?
  • Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub. Can you go wrong with any of her books? Nope.
  • His Bloody Project, by Graeme Macrae Burnett. A Man Booker Prize winner. Not my usual read, but compelling.
  • Separation Anxiety, by Laura Zigman. She wears her dog. Need I say more?
  • You’ve Been Volunteered, by Laurie Gelman. Very fun and diverting. Just like her other book about being a parent, Class Mom.
  • Gown, by Jennifer Robinson. A wonderful novel about the women who made Queen Elizabeth’s wedding gown. Nostalgia at its best.
  • The Rules Do Not Apply, by Ariel Levy. An unforgettable memoir.
  • The Guest Book, by Sarah Blake. I love family sagas. This one is just so good. I wish I could write a book like this.
  • Defending Jacob, by William Landay. The book is so much better than the series, although both were “edge of your seat.”
  • Limelight, by Amy Poeppel. Fun.

Stay in. Stay safe.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on HOLED UP

UP AND DOWN

 

The days. The nights. The news. It’s all bad. Some days are worse. How can we be living in this nightmare? No matter how many cute masks I buy, no matter how sunny it is outside, the truth sometimes manages to knock me right down.

Four years ago, none of us could imagine what would transpire. Few of us were politics junkies. Nobody worried about getting too close to another person in a check-out line. How did things go upside down so fast?

I stay sane. I stay home. We watch a lot of television, so much that we are running out of shows. Mealtime is the most exciting part of the day. My apartment is clean, all of the time, because Swiffing is now a daily activity, something to pass the time.

Then, I go out to pick up my curbside groceries, and I see people walking in clusters, chatting and laughing, not a mask in sight. Parking lots at the shopping areas are full. People are going to salons and getting pedicures, while my feet get gnarlier by the day. Who are these carefree people? How are they managing to avoid being scared to death?

We live near University of Dayton. The students are coming back. I bet they are bringing COVID right along with them. I wonder how the shops near campus feel-they are happy for the renewed business, but afraid of their customers?

And then I think about the election, the Post Office, and the disaster that trying to sort out who will be the next POTUS-will that take months to figure out? How will we know if this election is legitimate?

Too much. So I go for a walk, pet the kitten, and make macaroni and cheese for dinner. Salvation may be measured in carbohydrates.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on UP AND DOWN

THE ENUMERATOR

If I had to describe my husband, Charlie, in one word, it would be gregarious.

He can walk into a room full of strangers, stay one hour, and come home and tell me that

  • One woman there had shingles last year and still has the scars across her shoulders from them.
  • Another person has a grandson who lives in Alaska and actually likes the taste of blubber.
  • There was a young girl there passing around hors d’oeuvres who majored in English at Oberlin, has a dog named Grover, and her mother was actually Miss Illinois.

These are just a few examples. My husband has never met a stranger. This is why I think the United States Government has made a huge mistake in hiring Charlie to go door to door asking people who have not yet filled out the census to do so “with him.”

Because Charlie is going to be paid by the hour. A large stipend per hour. And this is where the Government is going to be in trouble. Because in addition to all of the Census information that Charlie will gather, he will also find out

  • Every single individual’s favorite color.
  • If they have ever been to Florida.
  • Do they like their coffee black, or with cream?
  • Does wearing a mask fog up their glasses?
  • Are they dog or cat people?
  • What are they having for dinner?
  • Have they ever seen a bald eagle in real life?

He will track his mileage, he can’t work over 40 hours a week, and he has to observe all the proper pandemic safety procedures. But none of the trainers at the Census Bureau realize that when they send Charlie out there, they will be getting so much more than they bargained for.

Charlie has already bought a stapler and three boxes of staples. Because all of the reports he sends in will have addendums.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on THE ENUMERATOR