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Everything Else is Extra

For the past 20 years, we’ve been attending the Women’s Prison Book Project fundraising breakfast on Valentine’s Day weekend. And donating books while enjoying pancakes. This year things moved online with a brunch & learn event. It wasn’t the same, of course, but there were some great speakers and that same feeling of community. Donate money or books, if you can. And watch this short documentary, No Way Out: COVID-19 behind bars in Texas. And read this: Is Prison Necessary? Ruth Wilson Gilmore Might Change Your Mind.

Many years ago, my divorce was finalized on Valentine’s Day. Most of the time I forget about that. I do find it funny my ex-husband went on to marry a lovely woman whose birthday happens to be on Valentine’s Day. At this point, they’ve been together much longer than we ever were. And I am glad to call them both friends.

Five good things:

As usual, I am single on this strange holiday. But that’s for the best in a pandemic during an extended polar vortex. Last night I had a hankering to rewatch Killing Eve. And found myself listening to the playlist this morning from the band Unloved. Apt. I was treated to my kind of valentine from The Allusionist podcast. Tonight I’ll watch the latest episode of American Gods (this season has been better than the last) and the pilot episode of The Luminaries.

Olive looking regal while bathing in the sun

Time Isn’t Holding Us

It’s already February. Next month, we’ll have lived in pandemic limbo for one full year. My son’s paternal grandparents and aunt received their first dose of the vaccine in Washington state recently. Last week, my Dad and his wife received their first dose of the vaccine. But overall the national rollout has been too slow, especially with the new COVID variants on the loose. Realistically, we’ve likely got another year to go before we reach the new normal. When it is time to be among other humans, it will be an awkward re-adjustment for me. And for others who have been hunkered down at home, taking COVID seriously. This piece in The Atlantic — The Pandemic Has Erased Entire Categories of Friendship — only fueled my longing for contact with others, particularly the acquaintances I used to encounter at live music shows.

In tangentially related vaccine news, one of my favorite podcasts released an episode about a topic that hits close to home. I come from a highly neurodivergent family (myself included). My son was diagnosed with autism at the peak of this mass hysteria. At the time, other parents accused me of causing my son’s autism because he’d had his routine childhood vaccinations. Despite being thoroughly debunked, the anti-science anti-vaccine movement continues on. Listen to this episode. The special guest is reporter/writer Eric Garcia, who is autistic. He also has a book coming out called “We’re Not Broken.” I’ve pre-ordered my copy from Moon Palace Books (support independent booksellers).

Now for a list of five good things heavy on the nostalgia (good and bad):

Bonus: Between winter and the pandemic, it’s hard to get my son to go anywhere. Not there is really anywhere to go. We have groceries delivered and get curbside pickup or takeout from restaurants occasionally. When I do leave, I mainly just go on walks. Last weekend I lured my son out of the house for the first time in weeks. For an outdoor adventure, in search of Zug Zug the caveman (photo below). Still no word on the location of his partner, Zarah.

Zug Zug the Caveman

Tying a Knot in the Rope

What a difference a week (or so) can make. As of Monday, we had heat in our home again. And not just heat, but heat delivered via modern equipment. Our old boiler was the building’s original, complete with coal chute. This week started off with a huge improvement over the last two weeks. And today? 45 has left the building. We have a new, more presidential President. Along with our first Vice President who is a woman, African-American, and Asian-American. A great day of firsts.

On this day in 2009, I waited in line outside, in the cold, to get into the Riverview Theater. The energy was off the charts as a packed house watched Obama and Biden be sworn in. Such different circumstances today, in the midst of a pandemic. I watched today’s inauguration alone, at home, on my laptop. Though I was thrilled to see firefighter Andrea Hall leading the Pledge Of Allegiance, spoken and in sign language. Not only did they have measures in place for an accessible inauguration, the Biden-Harris Administration has a “plan for full participation and equality for people with disabilities.” And the Whitehouse commits to WCAG 2.1 AA compliance and accepting comments from the community on how to improve accessibility. A nice change of pace from the outgoing president, who outright mocked people with disabilities. That doesn’t mean our work is done. It isn’t time to sit back and relax. We still need to hold our politicians accountable and ensure that they follow through to do right by the people in this country. Prioritize the pandemic and economic relief, and work to undo the damage that has been done over the past four years. But for today? I am content to unclench my jaw and breathe a sigh of relief.

Watching the inauguration with Olive the cat
My sweet boys, the feline one and the human one
Olive, judging

Life Moves Pretty Fast

Last Sunday I was worried about returning to work (from home) after an extended holiday break. But so much has happened since. Tuesday I was anxious about the election in Georgia. Wednesday I was horrified by insurrectionists storming our country’s Capitol. Since Thursday my problems were closer to home. We called the fire department because there was a burning rubber smell coming from the basement. We couldn’t identify the source. The firefighters called in the gas company. That crew came out and red-tagged all four of the 100-year-old boilers as unsafe and shut off the gas (just to the boilers, we still have cooking gas and hot water). Heat is a pretty critical component to survival in a Minnesotan winter. We’re getting by with space heaters for now. So many strange men have been in and out of our basement, and some inside our home itself, to measure carbon monoxide levels. Now I’m concerned about our risk of COVID-19 exposure (with a new, more contagious strain to boot). Additional strangers will be in and out of here next week and the week after. The asbestos abatement team followed by the crews installing the new boilers and the chimney liners and then city inspectors to sign off on all of it.

One year ago today I was exploring Portugal. Now we’re living through a global pandemic and unprecedented domestic political turmoil. Our household had been fairly insulated from the pandemic until now. But surviving in place has become more difficult, temporarily. At least the weather is relatively mild for this time of year. The boiler expense is going to be a huge hit but I should be able to finance it through the gas company. More debt. I just hope we don’t become infected from all these new points of contact in and out of the building. And the slow rollout of vaccines has been disheartening.

File under unexpectedly hopeful, Arnold Schwarzenegger has pleasantly surprised me again. First, when he called for Americans to stay home during the covid crisis. And now, in a video denouncing last week’s attack on the Capitol:

Schwarzenegger’s video today, however schmaltzy and hokey in style, was a real reminder to the fatuous callow right that Nazis and nazism are not just death-metal icons or gamer fantasies. They really did exist, with America-first cheerleaders such as Joseph Kennedy and Charles Lindbergh encouraging their fellow citizens to look the other way. And he also showed us that the immigrant experience can bring wisdom.

As fast as things seem to be moving, I’d like to fast forward to a time where Biden and Harris are already in office, everyone is vaccinated, and our household has heat again.

An amaryllis flower bulb showing signs of life

Surviving in Place

This afternoon saw an interesting confluence of events. First, I read an article that provided some clarity about my childhood, a fresh perspective on some of my adult relationships, and a better idea about my mental health needs moving forward. I highly recommend this article:

We’ve Got Depression All Wrong. It’s Trying to Save Us.
New theories recognize depression as part of a biological survival strategy.

While I was still digesting that, I received an email from my therapist. I had been seeing her for about five years. Then she had her second child at the beginning of 2020. The pandemic started before her maternity leave ended. We only managed a couple of telehealth sessions last year and they didn’t go very well, technologically. Now she’s leaving that clinic to start her own practice, but won’t be accepting health insurance. I’ve been meaning to seek out a new therapist for a while now but my work schedule makes it challenging. While I prefer working from home, both for my day job and my teaching gig, I do miss the quiet privacy of the therapist’s office with that wonderful white noise machine running just outside the door. Even if I lived alone, I’d still prefer the therapist’s office. There’s something so beneficial about face-to-face time in that private bubble. Some day we’ll be able to go back (though it’s going to be a while yet). Back to the Psychology Today article. A line in it mentioned a woman who, as a child, endured abuse by a parent by surviving in place. That hit me hard. I had no one to rescue me from what I endured. One parent dished it out while the other was completely absent/conflict-avoidant. Especially after my brother died. Looking back, I spent a lot of time numb. Dissociating and sleeping. Until making a break for it the day I turned 18. I disappeared into the city and spent many hypervigilant years looking over my shoulder. Therapy helped me learn how to be kinder to myself and to be proud of all I managed to achieve despite my circumstances rather than beating myself up over what I didn’t do.

Switching gears, Hayao Miyazaki is 80 years old today. He is responsible for some of my all-time favorite films. The ones I return to over and over again. And have shared with my son, who has the same affection for them. In a 2002 interview with Roger Ebert, they discussed the frenetic pacing of American animation, overloaded with noise and action. And the desire to quiet things down.

He clapped his hands three or four times. “The time in between my clapping is ma. If you just have non-stop action with no breathing space at all, it’s just busyness, But if you take a moment, then the tension building in the film can grow into a wider dimension. If you just have constant tension at 80 degrees all the time you just get numb.”

Speaking of Miyazaki, it was through him that I introduced my son to the French gentleman thief and master of disguise, Lupin, in the classic The Castle of Cagliostro. There have been many other Lupin iterations out there, but that’s been my favorite. Though this Friday there may be a new contender on Netflix, with the new live-action adaptation starring Omar Sy. I’m excited and hope my kid will watch it with me, despite the subtitles.

In other news, there has been a huge increase in violent crimes all around us. Sometimes at night. Recently, our snow removal crew was robbed at gunpoint while shoveling nearby. But also in broad daylight, according to the Citizen app (which I try not to look at too often). It makes me anxious about my regular neighborhood walks. But how much of it should I truly be worried about and how much of it is artificial? Just a mile or two away there have been documented ops to intentionally scare residents (longer youtube version) to call for more police.

Olive appreciates some sunshine
The trees in front of our home catching some sunshine
Blue skies with puffy white clouds are my favorite

Bounce, Don’t Break

That chapter has closed. 2020 is over and done with but not before bringing us all to our knees, repeatedly. There is cause to be hopeful in 2021 but just as many reasons to be wary and vigilant. Locally, the Minneapolis Police murdered another black man then terrorized his family afterward. And progress has been made in the battle against covid. We have effective vaccines but, as many had feared, there aren’t systems in place in the US to roll them out effectively. Some of it is incompetence but also outright sabotage. Nothing surprises me at this point. And just one little kick in the kidneys on the way out, we found out that MF Doom died.

But today is all about bringing positivity into this new year. So how about five good things?

  • This morning I freshened up my kid’s pink hair color. Apparently, he’s not alone.

    How Pink Hair Came to Define the Aesthetic of COVID-19
    “Very often, pink is thought to have a calming effect.”

  • My son turned 21 back in September but hasn’t been interested in drinking alcohol, which is fine (I waited until I was 36). I was surprised when he mentioned he’d be interested in trying some champagne on NYE so I made sure to have a better quality example on hand. But he didn’t like it, as I predicted.
  • I came to Taskmaster a little late to the game. But I have since watched every episode of all ten series of this amazingly magical show! My son is often irritated by how much I laugh because of it. Hey kid, laughter is the best medicine and all that. I’m still figuring out how I can watch the New Year’s Special. And I’m very much looking forward to series 11. The lineup was announced last month. The showrunners have been fantastic about casting groups of people who complement one another well.
  • There is one man out there who I am simpatico with and that man is Jason Mantzoukas. We like all of the same things! This episode of The Watch podcast was an absolute delight. The Movies, Music, and TV That Helped Us Through 2020, With Jason Mantzoukas
  • Being home so much, I’ve had ample time to come up with interior decorating ideas and home improvements that I cannot implement on my own. Like a white subway tile backsplash for the wall behind the stove and the perfect ceiling fan for the living room to replace the ugly boob light fixture there. I may not be able to do these things now, but I’ll sure be ready to go when the time comes.

While I’ll be relieved to have Biden and Harris in the White House later this month, it’s going to take some massive efforts to undo the damage done by the current administration. I’m lucky that my son is as cautious and realistic as I am. We’re committed to hunkering down at home for the foreseeable future. We’re lucky we can maintain this holding pattern. Partially due to resilience, but largely due to the privilege afforded to me by being employed in tech and being able to work remotely. A lifetime of trauma trained me to be a loner. I don’t do resolutions anymore, but one of my intentions for 2020 was to spend more time trying to connect with other people. Oh, the irony! The pandemic put me right back in my comfort zone with loads of solo time. When it is safe to be around others again I’ll be even more awkward than I was in the before times.

After breakfast, I touched up my son's hair color on this New Year's DAy
Frozen after walking back from Brasa
On the couch with a large cat snoring in my ear

Enjoy Every Sandwich

It’s strange that the end of the year is approaching but I feel less harried and stressed than I usually would. In a typical year, there are holiday parties to get to and/or to host. Gifts to procure (though we’ve been tapering off on that for a while now), family and friends to visit. It is still an extraordinarily busy time of year at work, for both my day job and part-time teaching gig. But I only have two more classes to teach and then I have a break until the new year. I don’t miss the hectic commuting or figuring out how and when to squeeze in some meals throughout the day. Honestly, life is much less complicated for us now and I am embracing that. More good things for the gratitude list:

  • Vaccines are on the way for COVID-19 (and already being rolled out in the UK) and the science is improving daily. We know so much more now than we did in the early days. This Science VS mini-episode is worth a listen: “Tons of new science means fresh answers on a few things that really freaked us out at the start of the pandemic: coronavirus on surfaces; ibuprofen and Covid-19; and getting Covid twice.”
  • Grapefruit spoons have been a game-changer.
  • Recently I got a bit busy and sad and skipped my daily walks two days in a row. Remedied that today and confirmed that yes, going for solo walks greatly improves my mental and physical well-being!
  • I’ve been enjoying winter fruits that begin with the letter P — pomegranate and persimmons — and look forward to pomelo season.
  • As we are here all the time now, everything in our home is suffering from greater wear and tear, including my house slippers. So I ponied up for some Glerups. I’m glad I did. They are comfortable and known for their excellent, ethical business practices.
  • Also in the realm of comfort, I found soft underthings I like and gave myself permission to replace all the old stuff I had that was uncomfortable. And realized my son was probably overdue. He doesn’t think to ask for such things but admitted his boxers were falling apart. Doh. Ordered him many new pairs, along with lounge pants. We should be set for some time now.

Lastly, I’m grateful that my son and I adapted to this new normal so easily. I saw this NY Times piece.

Pandemic-Proof Your Habits — Too many people are still longing for their old routines. Get some new ones instead.

That hasn’t been an issue here. We are creatures of habit but we quickly pivoted and established new routines that would serve us well. My son is thriving. He was Homecoming King his senior year of high school (I was chuffed) and now he’s going to be President of his college’s anime club! They’ve been meeting online. Some of those friendships were still fairly new before the pandemic began and I worried they would fizzle out but he has done the work to maintain them and I am so proud and relieved.

My fine feathered geese friends
Simple but delicious breakfast. Labneh with honey and walnuts and sliced fuyu persimmons.
New favorite slippers from Glerups in petrol blue

Tender Souls in Tough Places

The pandemic is worsening, as experts had predicted. Because many people are, predictably, behaving in counterproductive ways. Thanksgiving is this coming week. Everyone should be staying put in their own homes this year. But nope. Holiday air travel is surging right along with coronavirus cases. It’s pretty bleak. Many states, including ours, have been tightening restrictions. Minnesota’s went into effect Friday night. These restrictions make no difference in our lives but the fact that so many folks are bristling about them shows how we’ve gotten to this point. Once again, I will try to focus on factors within my control. We will continue to shelter in place. We haven’t eaten inside a restaurant since March. We don’t go into other households or allow others into our home. We have groceries and supplies delivered. And we will focus on ways to stay as healthy and happy as possible under these circumstances.

Time for Five Good Things:

File under random but satisfying news. For weeks I had been trying to figure out where I bought our favorite masks. We’ve tried so many. Some were nice enough but didn’t hold up after a few washings. Others were just plain uncomfortable. After some digging, I finally figured out where I’d purchased our best ones. By far, the best masks (with nose wire) came from Wayre. Posting that here and bookmarking it for future reference. I do believe we will be wearing masks in public, for the long haul. And this behavior needs to be normalized for the greater good.


The Will of the Public

Too many Americans are selfish and science-averse. Many with the means to stay home are refusing to do so and unnecessarily putting themselves and others at greater risk. Especially causing harm to those who have no choice but to work in public-facing positions. It’s so obvious we need strict closures combined with economic support.

This Coronavirus Surge Does Not Have to Be So Horrific:

If Americans want to get the current surge under control through this long, dark winter, they need to skip indoor gatherings, including for the holidays. They need to avoid nonessential travel. They must wear face masks in all public places. They all need to practice social distancing. They need to quarantine when they think they’ve been exposed to the virus and isolate if they get a positive test result, even if no symptoms emerge.

Vaccines are coming. We just need to hunker down a little while longer to save lives. But we could have prevented so much suffering if we’d had effective government leadership from the get-go.

But I can only continue taking care of what’s in my control. Our household is in better shape than many. I am still able to work from home while my adult son takes his college classes online. For months we have been resigned to celebrating the holidays at home with just the two of us. We’re doing a mix of homemade foods and vegan meal kit (from Purple Carrot) for Thanksgiving. My son is baking his usual vegan turkey cookies. We may drop some treats off on front porches and stoops for friends and family from a safe distance. I’ve noticed some advertisers are being more responsible than others. King Arthur put out a handy guide to downsizing pies for a scaled-back Thanksgiving. While other companies are promoting travel for the holidays. Just, no. It’s so irresponsible. I’m hoping we can bring this all under better control in the new year under the Biden-Harris administration.

Bonus: In unanticipated distractions, I found myself binge-watching all of Ted Lasso recently. And I loved it. I didn’t expect it to be so touching. And it promotes ideas of personal accountability and radical honesty. I hope subsequent seasons can live up to this one.

stranded Eagle kite
So bundled up
first icicles of the season

It’s the Hope That Kills You

Today is veteran’s day. I understand how young people from underserved populations, without support networks, choose to serve. And how overlooked they often are, even after serving. For example, Honoring the service of Native Americans:

This week, the National Native American Veterans Memorial opens on the grounds of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, honoring a long tradition of service by Native American men and women. American Indians have served in every major U.S. military conflict since the Revolutionary War, often at one of the highest rates per capita of any ethnic group.

While I have remained staunchly anti-war throughout my lifetime, I understand having limited options. Relevant tweet:

On this #VeteransDay I want to give a shout out to @leftflankvets who raise awareness about the atrocities of war and how we need to divest from the military-industrial complex FOR our vets.

All vets and Americans should be guaranteed housing, food, and a living wage.

A secular amen to that. On to other news, Saturday was a big day, with Biden being declared President-Elect and Harris our Vice President-Elect. Historic. Also unprecedented? The unwillingness of the current administration to concede or participate in a transition process. During a pandemic. None of this is surprising but continues to be disappointing. The good news? Biden-Harris are already getting to work and have pulled together a COVID-19 advisory board. The bad news? One of those experts, Minnesotan Dr. Michael Osterholm, declared that COVID Hell is coming. And I believe him. Also alarming, this piece in the Atlantic about how America’s Next Authoritarian Will Be Much More Competent. I’m afraid they’re on to something.

Self, wearing a t-shirt with the words I'm Speaking printed on the front