Monday, March 30, 2020

Perspective and Peeps in the time of Pandemic (In the Category of Want What You Have)

Tragic news. Coronavirus has halted the production of Easter Peeps®, the sugar-covered marshmallow cavities-in-waiting that adorn Easter baskets and trendy dinner party table centerpieces that obstruct line-of-sight conversations.
Is this a waste or a proper use of bunny-shaped Peeps? (Photo Source)
Depending on your perspective, this news is either a prayer answered or the Devil's work. In my experience, no sugary treat causes greater debate among us sweet-tooth inclined than the eternally resurrected spring candy question: Peeps — Crap or Crave-able? (Unless it's maybe Chocolate and Mint — Ambrosia or Trash?)

As coronavirus spreads, our world diminishes, and all the places, people and opportunities we once took for granted are made precious by their absence now. It makes me sad even though I was not going to buy any Peeps in the first place.

Don't misunderstand me; I am team Peeps all the way. Their stretchy sweet (cloying, really) presence in my childhood Easter basket is a happy, distant memory. Emphasis on the word distant. The Easter Bunny who packed my baskets would take the yellow or pink Peeps out of their large cardboard sleeve, break down the long rows of chicks (you couldn't buy three-packs back then; such nonsense did not exist), and arrange them around the basket intermingled with hand-dyed hard-boiled Easter eggs, jellybeans, foil-wrapped chocolate eggs and a hollow chocolate bunny. The plastic "grass" that lined the basket inevitably became stuck in the gooey marshmallow spot, a sort of oozing wound where the Peeps had been pulled apart. Eating the Peeps required pulling the grass off, which created marshmallow-covered strands of Easter basket grass, which stuck to my hands until I managed to spread it to the carpets of every room in the house before we had even left for church.

I hate that children might be deprived of that happy memory in their own lives.

While the article regarding the cessation of Peep hatching concludes that the Just Born Candy Company feels pretty confident that they have a sufficient stock of Easter Peeps, I cannot help but wonder if this news will trigger a panic-buying spree causing cardboard sleeves of Peeps in all sizes to disappear from store shelves, the next toilet paper of our age.

Stay At Home order or rational and healthy fear of catching COVID-19 keeping you out of the stores? No worries. The Just Born Candy Company ships from their on-line store. I confess, the chocolate pudding Bunny Peeps tempt me.

Wash your hands. Prevent the spread of sticky Easter basket grass.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Interesting Times — Blogging My Way Through the Pandemic

(In the category of Be Where You Are.)

I get it now, why the ancients cursed their adversaries with, "May you live in interesting times."

Times are a little too interesting these days, if you ask me. Not in the usual way of interesting, the "hey let's go check out this new___" type of interesting. (Insert favorite new thing to check out. For me it would be a new restaurant or a new movie or a new art installation or a new winery or microbrewery...)

No, it's "will I ever be able to buy toilet paper again" interesting, and "will all my friends in the food and beverage service sector survive the complete closure of their entire industry" interesting.

It's "will all my friends in healthcare — God bless them, and I have a fair few  — stay safe" interesting, and "will my family, my friends or my co-workers get sick" interesting.

Will I or my husband get sick?

Will any of us die?

I could go down a dark rabbit hole of apocalyptic hellscape hand-wringing, screw myself into a state of panic so severe I cripple myself, and obsess over the minute-by-minute news reporting about the mushroom cloud of increased cases, deaths, and the utter collapse of a once robust global economy.

So could you. As it turns out, that is easy to do in a pandemic. Who knew?

Let's not.

Let's look for the silver lining instead. Let's make metaphorical lemonade from the giant lemon known as the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 (because three years under Comrade Cheeto's corrupt and inept leadership has not been interesting enough).

Instead, let's start blogging again!

Let's ask ourselves: What would the great humor columnists of our (well, my) generation write if they had been cursed to live in interesting times? (Think Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry.) They would take the mundane tedium of Shelter In Place and transform it into hilarity accessible to all on some level or another.

(As paid writers, they would also be used to working from home every day, alone in their study, typing their essays or conducting phone meetings with editors. The isolation would be normal for them. They could still go out to check out a new movie or restaurant, or whatever.)

I lack their perspective and their success. I am not Erma Bombeck (may she rest in peace). I am not Dave Barry (may he live forever). I'm just a writer who wishes I was either of them or their bastard love child.

I live in the paradoxical world where I now have to use 100% of my own toilet paper having no idea of when I can restock. Details such as this never mattered to me before. I feel for my coffee-drinking co-workers also working from home for the foreseeable. Our company provides coffee for free. What they are now saving in gasoline without the commute, they are probably making up for having to finance their own coffee habits. For a few of them, this is significant. I bring my own green tea, so no changes here on the caffeine front.

On the other hand, my employer is progressive enough to send us home to work and do whatever is needed to help slow the spread of COVID-19, and in all honesty, I am grateful for this opportunity to experience the "writer's life" of staying at home all day working from my new writer's desk (that took me 3.5 hours to build, and I only cried twice).

I am an extrovert by nature, and all this "me" time is a new challenge to work through and learn from.

Seems like the perfect time to start blogging again. We should all be journaling our thoughts during this period of history that we happen to have been cursed enough to experience in real time. It's not every day you get to live in interesting times.

I hope it all goes back to boring soon. In the meantime, I need to login for my Zoom Friday Happy Hour that one of my friends organized...should be fun. I'll let you know how it goes in my next post. This is the New Normal, we go.

Stay home. Wash your hands. Meet you back here at a safe social distance soon.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Farmville IRL: The Final Game

I always wanted to plant a vegetable garden when I became a grown-up. My parents planted a garden every spring in the backyard at our house in Virginia Beach. Baby boomers both, Victory Gardens had been a thing in their childhood, a way to feed the family when rations were scarce that they had learned from their parents. My mother’s father, my Daddy Mac, planted acres of vegetables and fruits – asparagus and sugar snaps came in first, in time for Easter dinners that Grandmother would prepare for the family. Strawberries arrived next; Grandmother jammed those.

When we returned to Maryland for our annual, two-week, summer visit with my grandparents, tomatoes and cukes would be ready to pick, along with summer squash, green beans, and shelling peas (hardier than their sugary cousins in the hotter summer months). Blueberries, cherries, and blackberries – my favorite – hung ready for the picking. Sis and I ate as much as we harvested. Grandmother thumped cantaloupe on the vine, selecting the next morning’s breakfast. Corn usually tassled in time for us to pick several paper grocery bags of Silver Queen to take back home at the end of our visit, along with a Farmer’s Market worth of fresh tomatoes and squash (Mom’s favorites), and a dozen pints of strawberry jam.

I have wonderful memories of everything I ate that was harvested from that garden.

I attempted my first in-ground vegetable garden while I was still in grad school in the early 1990’s. (I had been gardening in pots on the patio with mixed success.) My Daddy Mac bought me a cultivator and showed me how to use it when he and my Grandmother visited. “You have to cultivate,” he demonstrated with short chopping motions of the long-handled, narrow digging blade. The plot I had selected for my salad patch lacked two essentials for success, though, good soil and ready access to a water source. That garden yielded nothing, but I held on to the cultivator.

Fast forward to 2009 when I opened my Facebook account. I also played my first game of Farmville. I liked the premise of the game, and I quickly planted a virtual garden that, now that I reflect on it, greatly resembled the garden my Daddy Mac used to plant. This garden thrived, and before long, the bounty of my virtual fields had allowed me to afford a fairy princess castle, which was guarded by frolicking doggies, strolling kitties, and a collection of Chinese ornaments that adorned the grounds of my guest pagoda. I played steadily for about ten months, amassing more virtual crap than I had free storage to house. Then I walked away. What a time suck! And I couldn’t eat any of it...

(I feel a bit guilty about all the virtual pets I quit feeding.)

My success in Farmville, and my more settled status as a home owner, emboldened me to try my hand once more at an in-ground vegetable garden, which I planted in the spring of 2010. I borrowed a friend’s tiller, augmented my already fertile loam with high-test garden soil, and planted two rows of tomatoes in several varieties. To my astonishment, the garden thrived. I weighed the yield each time I brought in a basket load of vine-ripened tomatoes, and the number hit the high 100’s before the first frost killed it all that October. I sauced and froze a winter’s worth of tomatoes. It was glorious.
This one was delicious.

Then, reality set in.

Farmville doesn’t address two critical realities about farming, and neither did my first season as a home gardener. The first is weather. Farmville doesn’t have droughts, hail, or late May frosts. The plant-to-harvest cycle in the virtual world is pretty straight-forward: you plant, you wait the allotted amount of time, and then you harvest, clicking with satisfaction on each square, or deploying the tractor (as any successful farmer does) and harvesting four contiguous fields with a single click. Miraculously, my first season, the weather didn’t mess with my IRL garden either.

The second reality, unaddressed by Farmville, is critters: varmints, rodents, mammals, and birds, slugs and stink bugs. The virtuality of Farmville has none of these creatures. Neither does a home garden—the first season – word takes time to get out on the critter telegraph, but one season appears to be sufficient.

My second season, the garden yield went down. Half of my hot house tomato plants failed to thrive in the unseasonably cool spring, and the local rabbits discovered the row of sugar snap seedlings before much growth could occur. I persisted, and eventually, I harvested enough tomatoes to sauce and freeze another winter’s worth (my spaghetti with fresh sauce is a signature dish).

My third season, the stink bugs hit. They bite the ripe tomatoes just once, but the result doesn’t look delicious. Stink bug bites turn the fruit a dark, diseased color, like bruises from an abuser, that extends to the tomato's core. Lovely slices of fresh tomato are not possible when stink bugs have infested your garden.

Farmville never tells you that.

In 2016, I had to rearrange the salad patch layout to account for the fact that my trees have gotten taller, shading the original garden plot. Maple, pine, dogwood, and crab apple trees do not appeal to stink bugs as a food source, so they thrive. Later that year, some developer broke ground on a new neighborhood of town houses in the field across the street that once sheltered deer, ground hogs, and bunnies. As a result, the critters have moved into the field behind my house.

They found my vegetable garden.

The Critters Did This to the Squash and Cukes
The Pot at the Bottom Once Had a Tomato Plant Larger Than the Pot at the Top 
I don’t mind feeding critters if the cost is a bag of bird seed and five minutes of my time. My salad patch exacts so much more from me, in both time and dollars, and as with Farmville, I don’t get to eat any of it.

It’s okay, though, in two more seasons, the trees will have thrown shade across my entire yard. I’m going back to pots on the patio.

Game over.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Make America Great Again (In the Category of Mean What You Say)

WARNING: This post contains frequent use of the F-word and other expletives. Many other expletives.

CAVEAT: If you voted for Trump, but the state you live in went blue, this post is not about you because your vote didn’t count. If you recant, your crimes against your nation will be expunged after the successful completion of 100 hours of community service feeding hungry people, building homes for the homeless, or walking the doggies at the ASPCA.


I’m angry, and I can’t bottle it up anymore. My fury at the way the GOP let a complete imbecile and a hostile foreign country take over the highest office in our land is too great for me to contain. Now that the first Russian spy has been uncloaked (and rest assured, there are others), I feel the need for a full-blown tantrum. I’ve been holding back, because I think I should be more mature and handle adversity with aplomb.

Fuck that shit.

For me, the hardest part to swallow is the knowledge that ignorant white supremacists posing as patriotic citizens foisted this dangerous sociopath on my once-great nation. (You want to Make America Great Again? Get this fucking criminal and his Russian cronies out of the White House.) People who don’t read, who think Fox News is actually news, who believe their pale and pasty skin color entitles them to special privileges – elected a man who gives zero fucks about them or anyone other than himself. (And yes, I know I’m pale and pasty…it’s nothing to brag about. And, I read.) They believed his lies, wore his ugly, red, Made-in-China hat, and went to the polls to show the world just how ignorant and hateful a large swath of America still is. Owning that so many of my fellow Americans actually feel entitled to be racist, xenophobic, misogynistic bullies has been the most painful part for me. I had thought we were better as a people. I was wrong.

These fuckers even have the nerve to wave the American flag, as if they put a Russian spy in the White House out of some sort of patriotism. Turning one’s country over to a hostile foreign power in a bloodless coup is treason, not patriotism. Did they really believe Trump would bring back their jobs? Jobs they lost overseas to the same companies making those ugly fucking red hats? How gullible are they to believe that a man who bankrupted his own company six times has any clue how to run a country? What kind of cowards are these so-called Americans to discriminate against fellow human beings with so much less than they have, fleeing their own country to avoid death? Make America Hate Again. That’s what Comrade Cheeto meant to say.

Now before anyone gets on my case about “You have to respect the man because of the office,” let me tell you right now: Oh. Hell. No. The bastard thinks he can grab a woman’s crotch whenever he feels like it. I will never ever respect that. That isn’t “locker room talk,” it’s rape talk. DON’T EVER FUCKING NORMALIZE THAT, PEOPLE, AND DON’T EVER EXPECT ME TO.

To add to my ire, I expect our national situation to get worse before it gets better. Rumor has it our intelligence communities won’t give Comrade Cheeto classified briefings any more, because they know the bastard has been compromised by the Kremlin. I can only imagine what sort of disgusting things the Russians have filmed Comrade Cheeto doing or saying, and I have no interest in visualizing them, but I have no trouble believing that Donny is being blackmailed by Putin for something he really (really) did that was very (very) creepy and immoral. When Putin no longer sees a value in Donny as his puppet, he’ll leak the truth. It’s what the Russians do, their modus operandi, if you will. Our national sense of humiliation will be hard to endure, but at least we’ll be able to impeach the piece of shit now sitting in office.

Meanwhile, Trump supporters are falling out into two new categories, the not-quite-so-moronic “Oh crap what have I done, this man is a psychopath!” supporters (who will be given full pardons when they recant), and the truly ignorant and dangerous white trash Nazi thugs who now revel in the hate-filled rhetoric and actions taken and endorsed by our Hater In Chief. These cockroaches, now that they have revealed their presence in our society, need to be driven back into their filth-filled caves. Their message of divisiveness and discrimination must be eradicated from America once and for all. That would definitely make America great again.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Stargazing (In the Category of Want What You Have)

You guys! You guys! You guys! (You can tell I'm a military brat because I said it three times.) I saw a shooting star!

I made a wish.

You can probably guess what it was.

I've star-gazed my entire life. As a child, awake when I was supposed to be asleep, in the backseat of the family VW sedan (white, with red vinyl interior), the moon and I locked eyes, and she followed me home.

I know the stars in my backyard, or at least I thought I did. But then I got in the hot tub tonight, to soak my bones and cry.

You can probably guess why.

Finally, the clouds moved out, and the stars! The stars! No moon tonight, but the stars! 

Thing is, this is my first winter with a hot tub. Until this year, my stargazing  had been confined to spring, summer and fall — firefly nights spent with friends under a black, velvet canvas of a sky. Until tonight, I never had a chance to fully gaze at the winter sky. It's glorious! The Pleiades transect the sky from east to west just above my roof line. I love the Seven Sisters. They replenish my soul.

Mars rose late tonight. Orion's belt followed. As I gazed at the Pleiades, I saw it! You guys! A shooting star! 

I sit outside for all the popular meteor showers: the Persieds, the Leonids. I envy my stargazing companions as they point and exclaim, "I saw one! Did you see that?"

My answer is usually, "no."

 Tonight, all alone in my swirling cauldron of relaxation, one streaked out of the cluster of the Seven Sisters, heading west and south. I reveled in all two seconds of its glory.

I wept with joy.

I made a wish.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Hidden History (In the Category of Say What You Mean)

I wanted to be an astronaut when I was little girl. I have always loved the stars, and the idea of floating among them enthralled me. My dad quickly dashed my ambitions when I shared them, though. "You have to have 20/20 vision, Flea." (Dad called me Flea, the abbreviated version of his nickname for me, Mini Flea. I am not sure why he called me that.)  "You could work for NASA, though."

Two years later, fifth grade math class demonstrated to me and everyone else that I didn't have the computational skills to be a NASA engineer either. (Fractions were my downfall, which, now that I think about it, is probably why I adore prime numbers.) An avid reader from an early age, I discovered Robert Heinlein, Issac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke and immersed myself in books that took me to the moon and beyond. Growing up and as an adult, I watched every space shuttle launch and landing, even the horrible ones that made me cry for days. I still follow the arc of the International Space Station across the sky whenever it circles my way. (That Russia now holds the keys to our only space transportation makes me sad, but at the same time, I'm glad humans are still getting up there. We learn so much when we look upward, away from ourselves, and at the wider cosmos.)

I've been to NASA Langley at Langley AFB in Hampton, Virginia. I grew up in that area, and Dad, who had been in the Navy, took Sis and I to see the museum they have about the early space program years. I went a second time on a school field trip. I've been to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum multiple times. Heck, I watch The Right Stuff once a year. Maybe my memory fails me, but not once in all my years of obsessing about America's space program do I recall any mention of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, or Dorothy Vaughan. Now that I know their names, I am irked that I did not learn them in a history class at sometime in my substantial education.

I know why I never studied them in school. They were women. They were black. The white men who wrote the text books were particular about who got credit for what, so white men got all the credit. I could climb my soapbox and vent my aggravation about this fact, but I won't today. It would be off-topic.

This evening, I did some fact-checking on the details presented in the excellent movie about these women, Hidden Figures, which I saw earlier today. The parts that impressed me most about Katherine, Mary and Dorothy are, by and large, true. They were brilliant human computers assigned to duties in NASA that made the Mercury, Apollo, and shuttle programs successful. They should have been in my high school history books. I realize (like The Right Stuff) it's a movie, not documentary, but their contributions didn't deserve to be hidden by history, and I am glad they are finally getting the attention they have earned.

Go see Hidden Figures if you can. Take your daughters and your sons. Everyone should know the names of these incredible women.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Used to a View (In the Category of Be Where You Are)

When we bought the house in 2003, the large Bradford Pear tree that dominated the backyard didn’t mean much to me. It was a Bradford Pear, ubiquitous, non-native – it suited the purposes of birds and squirrels – and our cats. It obscured our view of the neighbors across the storm-water-runoff field and their view of us. The tree’s dual sections blossomed all over with lovely white flowers in early spring. Glossy green leaves offered shade in the summer, and a blaze of red and orange autumn colors followed. Ours, unlike some varieties, would bear small greenish-gray fruit that starlings harvested in the fall. The tree became a backdrop for long, daylight-filled weekends spent on the back deck watching birds and reading books. Fireflies flickered in its bole on hot nights. Even defoliated, as the deciduous tree was in the winter, its width filled the view, offering us an illusion of privacy rarely experienced in suburbia.

I have no photos of the Bradford Pear tree in its heyday, a testament to how I undervalued the tree. Springs when early frost killed half the flower buds, it was beautiful. In the seasons where time and temperature better-aligned, the mass of snowy white flowers was breathtaking. After the petals dropped, the blanket of white gave the yard the appearance of freshly fallen snow, briefly. Bright green leaves would unfurl rapidly in the next few days, providing a solid wall between us and the world, for so long as the growing season lasted.

Then, one spring, only half of the usual number of leaves unfurled. The once-dense canopy had bald patches. Glimpses of the townhouse row across the field could be seen, especially when the near-constant mountain breeze ruffled the branches in the usual, prevailing direction. Having taken a semester of plant biology as an undergrad, I understood the implications for the tree. Leaves, you see, have a greater purpose beyond creating shade and privacy.

Grade school biology teaches us how the leaves of deciduous trees (think, ‘pretty in autumn’) use sunshine, water, and carbon dioxide to produce sugars (carbohydrates) and oxygen. The tree stores the sugars in its roots to be used as a food source during the dormant winter period and releases oxygen as a by-product (think ‘tree fart’). Only at the college level do you hear the phrase “tree fart” and learn that a large tree requires the efforts of nearly all its leaves, over the course of the growing season, to photosynthesize and store enough sugars to survive the dormant period. Failure to store enough “food” weakens the tree, making it less likely to produce viable leaves the next growing season. A vicious cycle ensues.

The following spring, only half of the tree had leaves. The year after, only a third. The tree put out no leaves the following year, and three years later, one of the two now-dead-tree sections fell into the backyard. It fell sometime in the morning. We didn’t see it, so we don’t know if it made a sound, being at work as we were. A friend recommended a tree cleanup service, and that weekend, in short order, half of the tree was gone. The view we were used to had changed.

We left the rest of the dead tree in place for several reasons: 1) Woodpecker bait (it worked); 2) Insurance will only pay to clean up a tree that falls; prophylactic removal is out-of-pocket; 3) If we let it fall on its own, it might crash down on a section of the back fence, thus allowing us to make an insurance claim and use the money to replace the broken fence with a gate that offered direct access to the back field, a convenience that would simplify cat-herding. Years passed…

The crab apple tree still blooms,but in April 2015,the dead tree was quite dead,
The funny thing about having an expired tree in your yard is realizing that it only looks forlorn for a portion of the year. From Thanksgiving until Easter, a dead Bradford Pear looks exactly like a dormant Bradford Pear. Only when the sap begins to flow again does one notice a lack of activity on the branches of a dead tree. I let the wild pokeweed hedge grow as tall as it wanted to, creating a perfect green barrier between our yard and everyone else’s. Birds and squirrels continued to use the tree as a highway and apartment building.

We knew it was only a matter of time, but even dead, the tree seemed so permanent. The view became familiar again. Kittens learned to climb the limbs, to the ire of squirrels and birds. They grew into cats (fluffy tanks, really) too heavy for the brittle, dead branches to support their weight. The pokeweed hedge returned each year. I let it. The squirrels and birds didn’t mind.

Returning home from a brisket run (I travel for brisket…a girl has her standards, and the local stuff is close, but no cigar) we discovered that gravity had, again, worked. We didn’t see it, so we don’t know if it made a sound, being away from home as we were.

In falling, the tree damaged almost nothing, not the section of fence we thought might make a nice gate, not the blue Weber grill in the middle of the yard, not the deck, which had been affected, though lightly, by the tumbling of the first tree section. Not the roof, not the new hot tub, none of it. An old crab-apple tree took the brunt of the tree’s fall, and had bounced back, unscathed. The only damage I can ascertain is to the two-pronged shepherd’s hook that now has only one prong. I cannot find the other one, only the evidence that it sheared away from the metal base.

Gravity won.

I warned the person who hauled away the wood -- they might encounter a metal hook when they chop or burn the Bradford Pear tree. Dead for years, the tree was pre-seasoned and ready to burn, and they came with a chainsaw and strength of will. In a few hours, the rest of the tree was gone. All that remained was the jagged stump crowned by the fail point where persistent and prevailing winds outmatched rotting wood and a wide-open view, new to me and more exposed than what I had been accustomed to.

January 2016

December 2016
I’m making plans to extend the rhododendron hedge next spring. Evergreen, three more bushes will line out the fence, and we’ll have better privacy from the field that already offers so much of that. The flowers will be lovely in spring, too, like the Bradford Pear once was. Eventually, we’ll get used to the view.
The new view.