Cleaning the Garage

This is from a message I sent to my friend Santwana:

Being “disconnected” has been interesting. When Wilson – our cat – died, I completely lost interest in Facebook in particular. It was like I suddenly didn’t like pizza, though I never liked FB that much… Anyway, for whatever reason, grief just triggered this aversion to scrolling through random posts. When I transferred the account to the iPad when the “email/social media” computer went down, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to resist checking it whenever there was a pause in the action (sometimes wrongly interpreted as boredom). But this has not been the case so far.

Lately, the main thing that has occupied me has been cleaning the garage. It’s the thing I itch to do the second I get up in the morning. On top of the regular spring cleaning that would normally take part of a day, I’ve been reorganizing things so that the space works better. I am looking in every box, every corner and dealing with every misplaced bolt. I make progress every day and end up spending much more time on it than I ever plan because I just get lost in how to store something tricky like the bag to the lawnmower, which is rarely used but used. Answer? Strap it to the ceiling with bungee cords and some eye screws.

… When I am staring at a bunch of lampshade frames that I’m going to make something with (more lampshades?) “someday” and wonder how the heck to store them, the last thing on my mind is checking my email. It feels great. I think that there is also something psychologically beneficial to doing something that has visible results. It’s a place to retreat when you’re not sure you’re making a difference elsewhere or worse, when you feel powerless to make a difference.

Last night I gave Brian a haircut in the garage. Then he brought out some drinks and we had a cocktail there. It might have seemed like an odd thing to do given that we have a yard, a deck, a nice porch… But there is something about being in a garage – especially a spiffed up garage – that I just love. And I figured that with the pandemic, we might as well mix it up and expand our living space.

Do I sound like a nut going on about my garage? …

Indeed I have figured out some creative garage storage solutions. For the moment I’ll share this one. Where do you keep the whiskey?

As I mentioned to Santwana, I am looking in every box and in one of them I found a set of kitchen canisters. I bought them at an estate sale years ago but couldn’t make them work in my kitchen with its limited counter space. While pretty, in the wrong space they feel like clutter. When an attempt to sell them on Craig’s List failed, I stored them in the garage. Eventually I would find someone who needs them, right? Or maybe they would become the next hot thing and I would be rich? Doubtful. So I was either going to use them or give them away. But now with everything shut down because of Covid-19, taking the set to Goodwill is not an option. It’s common to see free stuff waiting to be claimed in the boulevards we pass on our daily walks. Maybe I could do something like that? So I unpacked them and when I did I found this note taped to the top of one of the bundles: “Open with care. There is a smaller canister packed inside the larger one.”

“Open with care. There is a smaller canister packed inside the larger one.”

Of course this note was intended for somebody else. But now here I am reading it as if a stranger had written it for my benefit. It got me thinking about the notes we leave for our future selves.

Well, I must talk about “the garage project” a lot. Let me explain.

Yesterday was a yard day where I was trying to clean things up and get some basil planted. Actually, I was trying to get several other things planted too, but I only got to the basil. In any case, on my way into the house to get a bite, I found a package on the step.

Hmm, What’s this? For me?
A gift? Hmm, late birthday gift? Early Christmas? Random surprise from Brian? Ginger? Mom?
Florence! What on earth could this be?
A flask!

Notice in the background in the picture above there is a basket with a couple of books in it. My sister Amy was recently cleaning out some stuff and sent this along with a macrame plant holder that she thought I could use. And not that long ago there was a postcard from my sister Ginger. It’s a picture of Joyce Niebuhr striking a pose in front of an Iowa cornfield, leaning back with her face in the sun. She’s wearing a strapless, knee-length silky purple cocktail dress and long white gloves. There is a short necklace. A dot of an earring. What I imagine to be matching heels are obscured by turf. Did they sink into the ground? Her hair is up. Blonde. One hand loosely rests on the hip that faces the camera, while the other is elegantly outstretched holding three dog leashes that are attached to pigs. The caption reads: “Iowa Poodles”. “Enjoy your day!”, my sister writes.

With so much Zooming and various digital connecting going on, I wonder if “these times” call for more surprise gifts and handwritten notes. A simple phone call out of the blue and – yes – even the pop-over guest.

A little while back my friend Mary Jane stopped by unannounced. Anyone driving a Model T can do whatever they like. But it was actually a detectable slowness of things that emboldened my friend to break the convention of making plans, calling ahead. She says that she never wants to make plans again, an intriguing idea. I want to explore this but some neighbors have wandered out for a look at the car and Mary Jane must field questions. I am impressed. Passed down from her father, she has lived with this machine for her entire life and can talk shop with the best of them. We sat on the front lawn and visited until she had to leave in time to make it back to White Bear Lake before dark. A threat of rain made things even more exciting. It made me want to jump in the car with my friend, but of course I didn’t do that. Not even with a mask would I do that at this point. But for a moment, things were normal. Better than normal in that there was space for an impromptu visit and more room for perfect timing.

Back to the flask, an unusual gift, right? For some context here, I was telling Florence about wanting to put a flask of booze in one of those canisters. While it seemed hard to explain why this had its appeal without sounding like I had a drinking problem, she got it.

Du Nord Distillery
Let’s not waste any time!
For emergencies and pop-over guests.

In other canister news, a few days ago I noticed a trail of ants marching toward the sugar canister. Being that there hasn’t been any sugar in there for years, I concluded that the ants must have read the label and naturally had to check it out. But Brian and my friend Craig (Yes, he too had to hear about the garage!) insist that ants can’t read and that instead they’re smelling residue sugar. When you see how badly the coffee canister is stained, I can see their point. We had a discussion about deterring the ants, including making the container unsafe for food by placing a mothball in it. A salted moat was also discussed. Lucky for me, the next day there were no ants. So my theory has not changed. The ants saw a sign for sugar, went to check it out and left after a thorough investigation turned up nothing. It would be crazy for the ants to press on with their invasion, right? Fingers crossed that they stay away!

There are more boxes to open. More bolts to sort. But it’s coming along between QuOTeD Podcast episodes, a short story and the garden. Most days I make progress. It requires a certain amount of unstructured time and staring into space for answers. It requires a slowness that I quite enjoy.

Turkey in the Yard

The turkey that has been traveling from yard to yard has been making the news in the neighborhood. She takes dust baths in a spot just off of the sidewalk in our backyard, making a rather large indentation that I had first blamed on the squirrels. On Monday, I heard two hounds (thankfully on leashes) make a ruckus. When I looked out the porch window, I saw the hen booking it down the street. Nevertheless, she has since returned for her bath, a snack from Maryann’s raised garden (naughty bird!) and a drink from the various birdbath’s that dot the lawns. I am grateful for the uplifting entertainment. In addition to the wild turkey watch, I’ve been taking pictures for my amusement. Just yesterday at dusk and with rain threatening, the tulips in the boulevard caught my attention. I’m also working on the next QuOTeD Podcast episode. I am hoping that all of the parts will click into place next week, but that can be a somewhat unpredictable thing. It started out being about apologies, but I think it is ultimately taking me elsewhere.

Hyacinth
Plum tree
Spent wild sunflowers with tulips and hyacinth in the background.
Tulips on Roblyn Avenue.
Tulips
Red tulips
Turkey taking a dust bath.
Turkey in the backyard
Last year’s chives with a turkey in the background
Dried sedum from last year

Starting Seedlings Late

For the second time since the world changed, on Tuesday my neighbors gathered in a big circle where households stood at least six feet apart.

That’s Brian by the tree with his U of M lunchbox. He came home from work to a party in the street.

That’s when I learned that Ralph who lives three doors down from us had just planted a few seedlings the previous day. I think of Ralph as someone who knows what he’s doing because he has made his own wine from the grapes in his yard, he can tap a maple tree and he has an impressive vermiculuture system in his basement that makes my worm buckets look like Legos compared to the real estate he manages. So when he mentioned that he had just started a few tomato seeds, it eased my mind. It’s true that I planted my seedlings late compared to what I might have normally done, but maybe it’s not the end of the world? Ralph laughed at the notion that I would see him as any kind of an authority on the subject. But that’s not the point.

Seedlings with plastic cover and blue and red spectrum light.

For five days I joked – No sprouts! – to which Brian would answer, It might take a while. And then just like that there was broccoli. This was quickly followed by zucchini that displaced a disk of potting soil before making its appearance amid a struggle to cast off its hull.

Broccoli according to the chart. Now that the picture is bigger, I can see that the plant could be in better focus as opposed to the water droplets.
In answer to my mother’s question: What is hope?

It was two Christmases ago when Brian’s sister gave me the seed growing kit that is producing these amazing results. It came with a tray in which to plant the seeds, a clear plastic cover with a “patented three-way vent” (i.e., a hole at the top of the cover plus three pieces of plastic that are sitting on the buffet), a heating pad and a blue and red spectrum light. But that following spring we produced a podcast series for the Minnesota Fringe Festival. The project soaked up every last drop of spare time and so I decided not to have a garden that year. I would use the kit another time.

Broccoli.

I am not exactly going “stir crazy”, a word a neighbor used as we waved from across the street where she was kicking a ball around the yard with her two young boys. I’m behind on reading. I am behind on phone calls. Housework. This is my life. It would be a good time to straighten up the garage, right? But, in some ways nothing has changed. I’m working on the next episode of the QuOTeD podcast, while thinking that I should be vacuuming instead.

I don’t need more things to do.

And yet I might actually break out the puzzle that has never been opened.

And yet Brian and I just finished watching the entire three seasons of Slings & Arrows on the Acorn network that is free during the shelter-in-place/safer-at-home order.

And yet I have a mask sewing project on my dining room table.

And yet I was delighted to have this fancy kit with its light that cycles on and off automatically, delighted by making an afternoon of poking holes in the soil with a skewer and planting seeds that came with the kit and grateful to be free of deciding what to plant, delighted to mist them with water every day, delighted to finally report to Brian – We have sprouts! – and delighted to march him over to the window so that he can inspect the plants for himself, delighted by the involuntary sound we make – a sort of gasp – at the sight of something truly amazing.

Seedlings and last year’s geraniums by the window.

When we head out for the second walk for the day, we notice the soccer ball and Nerf darts from across the street are in the road on our side. Brian walks the ball back to its home, kicking it along, careful not to touch anything with his hands. The darts are trickier. I give him a stretchy glove from my pocket.

Don’t touch your face.

Don’t touch your face.

Brian wonders how seeds know when to sprout. Warmth! I say. Warmth and light. Plus the right conditions. Soil. Moisture. But who knows? Maybe the Earth’s magnetic fields have something to do with it. Maybe there are forces at work that are yet to be understood.

We once bought some plants from a guy who had this big greenhouse in his backyard. He told us to wait to plant the basil until the lilacs bloomed. That’s when you’ll know that it’s warm enough for basil. I like to imagine that plants might take similar cues. Maybe the lilacs are waiting for the tulips to make their appearance. And maybe the tulips came because a flock of geese told them that the rabbits needed something to eat. And maybe the stars told the geese that it was time to head for Canada.

Mainly, I’m just amazed that a beet knows that it’s a beet and not a turnip, for example. Chromosomes. DNA. Intelligence…

So far I’ve mismeasured my first four masks. I try to remember how my mother showed me how to straighten up the sides of a piece of fabric. I curse the rotary cutter. It is dull. I turn the blade around and it’s working better. I might be able to finish the project before I have to get a new blade at the fabric store – now declared essential – where I will pick up my purchases at the curb. Then I’ll bring them home, remove the packaging, wipe things off and let everything sit on the porch for a couple of days before bringing anything into the house. My dad told me that they are doing this with the mail, packages, groceries, etc. So, now we do it because my parents know what they are doing.

I know how to thread a sewing machine because I took a home-economics class in the seventh grade. I made four placemats and matching napkins for my mother. As part of a purge a while back, she returned the set to me. Brian was just using one of those napkins the other day at lunch… lunch together in the middle of the week at the house… I don’t think my sewing has improved much since learning a few basics when I was a kid. But I learned enough to attempt a mask with some confidence, measuring snafus notwithstanding.

My mother is the sewer, not me. Growing up there were Halloween costumes. There were Barbie doll clothes and felt Sesame Street puppets. These were sold at the church bazaar… at the rummage sale in my grandmother’s garage too? There were the pants that were outgrown and then extended with a ruffle at the ankle. There were plush dolls and Christmas decorations for the cousins. There were the red and black checkered seat covers for Ginger’s first car, a classic black Beetle that I loved. There were also two or three different prom dresses for my sister, a blue one, a creme-colored one with a pattern of flowers on puffy sleeves, a maroon dress? Or was that for the bridesmaids? For Tracy it was mainly clothes for work at the insurance company. Skirts and dresses. I can see her trying them on midstream so that my mom can check the sizing… the hem. Then sometime after retiring from the hospital – I think – my mom started making quilts in earnest.

Wedding quilts. Baby quilts. Lap quilts. Table coverings. Placemats.

We are back to placemats, only this time my mother is making them and giving them to me.

So, when I joined my parents to visit my sister Amy in Idaho, I brought along some old Crown Royal bags that Brian had collected over the years. For the next several weeks in Boise where time was slowed down by circumstances, my mom coached me through making a quilt with these old bags. It was going to be a Christmas gift for Brian. I would stay up late trying to cut fabric and sew pieces together that would pass my mother’s inspection… windmills where the points met perfectly in the middle. Of course, my mother did a lot of the sewing too – Most of it? – else it’s doubtful that there would have been anything to wrap.

There were tears. There was wine. Laughing. And lots of impressions of Tim Gunn from Project Runway.

“Quilters! You have five minutes!”

Quilters! Butt the seams!”

“Quilters! We are out of wine!”

That fall there was Scrabble, rummy, a Vegetarian Thanksgiving – Craig drove down for that – and the only season of Dancing with the Stars that I had ever watched.

It has been a while since my mother made a dress for anyone. And a sore leg that is aggravated by too much time at the machine has stalled her quilting projects. But she is sewing some masks to give to her daughter who lives down the street and to her son-in-law who has been doing the grocery shopping for everyone. Charles is basically a hero.

My mom is giving me sewing tips over the phone. She tells me to watch Jenny Doan’s video on how to make a face mask.

This in itself is a hopeful thing to me.

Doing what we can.

Helping as we can

Taking care of each other as we can.

In the meantime, we are told that the national stockpile of emergency supplies does not belong to The People.

Quilters! We are out of time.

How To Give a Cat a Pill

Reflections on a post Covid-19 World

We didn’t want to traumatize our cat, Wilson, by dragging her to the veterinarian again. We were just there. She seemed comfortable enough. Mostly, she seemed like her kitten self. But weight loss became concerning. So Brian consulted with someone who said there was a chance that she had a treatable condition. For example, cats her age can often have thyroid problems. It turns out that she does. The condition might be masking other issues. But for now, we are treating this and we’ll see what a follow-up appointment reveals.

Initially, I had imagined prying open her mouth, placing a pill as deep as possible and then clamping her mouth shut again until she swallowed. Brian had to do something like this with his previous cat, Pashnick. Both of these cats, by the way, are named after baseball players. This is Brian’s doing. In the case of Wilson, her name has given people the impression that she is a boy. “He… I’m sorry, she…” says the vet.

When I first met Wilson, I assumed that Brian named her after the volley ball in the Tom Hanks movie Castaway. That’s when he told me about Lewis Robert “Hack” Wilson. He was an American Major League Baseball player in the 1920’s and ’30s. Our cat was named after this guy because not long after Brian had rescued her from the animal shelter, she developed kennel cough. So back to the shelter she went until she recovered.

My little cat is often herding me to the purniture where she likes to be brushed while she monitors traffic, takes note of the squirrels, dogs, birds and other beasts.

I love that cat. My little bird. Chicken. Rabbit. Goat. Tiny horse. Sister. Always my girl.

Well, I was relieved to hear that forcing meds down Wilson’s throat wasn’t going to become part of our daily life. The medicine comes in different forms. There are pills, which can be hidden in “pill pockets”, there is a powder that is mixed in water and there is a gel that can be applied to the ears, though it is not as effective. We started with the pill.

As for the pill pockets, pink tablets a little bigger than a cooked lentil are pressed into a cat treat that has the consistency of cookie dough. At the vet, they had two flavors, peanut butter and chicken. I chose peanut butter but the receptionist – after I asked for a second opinion – steered me toward the chicken. She’s a cat… of course, of course… This is probably a good example of why I am not – or at least do not consider myself to be – a very good gift giver. Last year for Christmas I gave Brian a drawing of Sasquatch getting a haircut. I had to explain it to him, which is never good.

So I head home with the chicken flavored cookie dough. I’m on foot and get there by way of University Avenue, which is beyond my house. It was a nice day and I needed the sun. I needed the exercise. Mainly I wanted to slow things down with a private rebellion against an expected pace of life. We often don’t walk because it’s not efficient. So we get fat and then spend money on a gym membership. Well, little did I know that it wouldn’t be long after this that taking a simple walk would be loaded with the sub-context of our “new reality”. Is that what we’re calling it? What are we calling it?

Wilson takes the pill. I’m relieved that she’s going to make this easy. She sticks to the schedule, which is impressive given that she – as far as I know – does not tell time and does not have an appreciation for what’s at stake. The vet calls and I give him the report. My pride is obvious. But after a while, I have to start “repackaging” the pills because she has figured out how to eat around them. I tell her that she’s naughty, but she doesn’t care. A dog would have cared. She’ll eat that thing when she feels like it, which is more like once every day and a half versus twice a day. Still, it’s something. So, at first, I think I should just take what I can get. But then the intervals between “cooperating” continue to stretch. I worry. We should try something else. What if she does like peanut butter after all?

There is something about being focused on my little cat that helps me tune out the nonsense about Easter being the deadline for normal. Brian tells me about the moron – the Lieutenant Governor of Texas – who floats the idea that old people should be ready to die for the cause. Brian is outraged. Outraged. I want to record him for a podcast that doesn’t exist. The show would be called Two People & a Cat. Unlike QuOTeD, it would be casual, just the two of us checking in with updates and comments about what comes into this house, whether it be the newspaper or an infuriating Facebook post, a call or the common cold… or so we hope… He declines, but I’m sure that he is expressing something that needs to be said. These bastards should be ashamed. Not politely corrected or politically handled, but called out and shut down with the strong arm of shame. Why add to the noise? That’s probably what he’s thinking and he would be right, I suppose. So, I ask Brian if the cat pooped today. It’s a good sign when she does. She did and this is something to celebrate even though the turds are smaller than usual.

And just like that our world gets too small for idiots.

I just want my little cat to take her medicine. It seems to be helping. The vomiting has mostly stopped. I want her to gain weight. The vet said it would take a while. I want her to feel good and it seems like she mostly does. She’s old, but she still bosses me. She herds me from the kitchen where I am chopping onions to her perch by the window upstairs. There she expects to be brushed with much attention being paid to her tiny chin. This will mean I’ll have to wash my hands again.

I’m so tired of washing my hands! Were it pre-Covid-19, my condition would be diagnosable. But I am determined that I will not get sick, so I wash my hands all day like a crazy person. Get the mail. Wash my hands. Read the paper. Wash my hands. Wave to the neighbor across the street. Wash my hands.

Wilson moves me from my comfy chair where I am drinking a cup of coffee and reading the paper to the couch because she wants to sit there… together. In the office now, she interrupts me mid-sentence to remind me that it’s time for a break, time to get up from my desk and stretch my legs. Her timing can be terrible, but I cannot say no to those big bright green eyes that I miss and fret about the second she’s acting like she’s under the weather. Besides, she is right to suggest that we take time to enjoy the simple things… such as massaging the legs of a tabby. Maybe she had a premonition and she was trying to prepare me for what was to come.

Even though she is frail, she is still easy to purr. Even though she is old, she’s finding new routines and is learning new tricks, like spitting pills back into her dish. Hanging out with Brian and me in the evening is new. Wilson has taken to snoozing on the ottoman between our feet or stretched out next to us on the couch so that I can rub her chest and kiss the top of her head. These days we have to be careful to be a lot more gentle when giving Wilson “the treatment”. On the other hand, it has been a while since the three of us have piled on the bed the way we sometimes would at the end of the day before dinner. Brian would say, “Are you happy? Everybody is together just like you like it.” And I would say, “I love it when everybody is together.” And Wilson would purr.

Sleeping on the afghan that my sister made is also new. Until recently Wilson would normally sleep overnight in the basement on the blue office chair. This is a chair that she and Brian will fight over when they are not fighting over the prime real estate in the sun room. Brian doesn’t have the heart to give a sleeping cat the boot. But the second she leaves, he will slip into the sunny spot on the guestroom bed where he’ll read for hours. Eventually, Wilson will find a sliver next to him. There is no room for me there. With Brian home now – because of the thing – it’s funny to see them negotiate routines like a newly retired couple that isn’t used to stretches of concentrated togetherness. I’m surprised they don’t fight over the remote, but they mostly enjoy the same programs. They both miss baseball, that’s for sure.

There’s always the 24-hour news cycle that we mostly avoid.

Notice that the guy who is suggesting that we fuel the economy with cadavers isn’t living paycheck to paycheck. He’s not going to work when he’s sick because he doesn’t have paid time off or health insurance. He’s not trying to figure out how to make the rent. Nor is he keeping anyone alive, which used to be the distinction of medical professionals but now we know better. He’s not bagging your groceries or doing a double-shift at a cereal factory or disinfecting your office so that you don’t get sick. He’s not risking his life for anything let alone the noble duty of selling you a roll of toilet paper. While this guy is by no means immune to Covid-19, nor is he on the front lines of it. In a sense, he is a chicken hawk. He says get back to work. Bok! Bok! Get back to the morning rush hour. Bok! Bok! Back to polluting at the normal lucrative levels. Bok! Bok! Back to buying stuff because you are bored. Bok! Bok! Back to over-scheduled tots. Bok! Bok! Overtime. Bok! Bok! Lunch at your desk. Bok! Bok! Back to a pace that makes enough money to subsidize private airplanes. Bok! Bok! And no more heroism for lowlifes! Bok! Bok! Remember! You’re just the janitor. Bok! Bok! You’re just some hump stocking shelves at a chain. And once the specter of wiping our ass with a page from the Sear’s catalogue has finally lifted, there will be no more bonuses for you. So don’t get any big ideas. We will get back to normal.

I have no solutions. I don’t know what to do about the massive unemployment and the businesses that are not going to survive this crisis. But I do know that when someone thinks nothing of publicly suggesting that the only way through this problem is to ask the most vulnerable of us to die for the Dow, you have to wonder what is said in private. What slippery slope had ever emboldened this kind of brazenness? Could it be that we had passively agreed to the idea that sacrificing the poor or the environment for our portfolios was just the way it worked and is to be grieved no more than the rabbit falling prey to the fox? “What is there to do?”, we ask. But now that grandma is being dragged to the alter of Wall Street, could it be time to start asking questions about the Frankenstein of a system that we have created that cannot be paused and that requires a steady dose of bailouts just to keep it lumbering along?

Maybe we could start with this.

Why is normal normal? Why is normal fragile? Do we even like normal?

Then…

How can we shape the new normal? Someone will. The Lieutenant Governor of Texas with his broken moral compass will be there. Congress and there corporate sponsors will be there. Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow will be there every night preaching about what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s possible. Will you be there? How do you be there? How are we supposed to show up?

Just keep asking questions.

Should “normal” be the goal? What would it mean to actually value the real – I can see it, touch it, understand it – work of the economy? What can we do to make sure that anyone who needs medical help can get it – in the first place – without being financially ruined? Why not continue to live with the drastic reduction in traffic and its associated stress, noise, pollution and – I am assuming – accidents. Did we not just prove (again) that working from home works? Who decides the pace of our lives? And in conjunction with these things, would a reexamination of a global economy help prepare us for the next virus, be it an actual virus or something that mimics one, a peak oil tremor, for example? Might our renewed appreciation for our connections to each other be carried forward? Could it be that the singular enemy of a virus is like the imagined alien invasion that brings humanity together for the common good? What are we capable of doing? What do we want to do?

What do we want to do?

The system’s weaknesses are in full display. And the predicament in which we find ourselves – that place where there is pain in every answer for our problems – should be a wake-up call. We should be asking ourselves a lot of questions.

For example…

Is there a better way to organize ourselves? While it can be hard – and even threatening – to imagine a more resilient economic system, we can still imagine aliens. We can see that the solar system is vast and there is much yet to be discovered. Is there life out there? Maybe. Lets send a robot light years away to learn something. But try to imagine a different economic system? Try to re-imagine something we totally made up in the first place? People get antsy. Why is that?

A while back, the vet suggested these teeth cleaners for cats. Wilson has great teeth, but because we were adding wet food to her diet, the vet suggested that we mix in some of these things with her dry food. Well, Wilson really likes them. When I was a kid, we had a dog that used to pick out the buttered pieces of popcorn. It’s like that. Well, because she’s been having various issues – excessive barfing being one of them – Brian stopped giving her those things. But, I found a new use for them.

Desperate to get her to take her medicine on a more regular schedule, I came up with this idea. I cut one of those teeth cleaners she likes so much in half. Then I used the “cookie dough” to attach a pill in the middle. So far she has taken six out of six of them on time. I have my fingers crossed that this good behavior will continue.

The truth is, my cat is at the end of her life. Time is precious. Is it reasonable to hope for another good year? Two? We would be lucky. This winter when it seemed like we should be bracing ourselves, I was hoping for another season. I wanted her to have another chance to enjoy the spring when we can open the windows.

She’s doing her job. She’s making the best of it. She’s taking her medicine.

Now if only we can figure out a way to take our own medicine.

I can hear Wilson at her dish and I assume that she is eating her “treat” as she has been doing. But when I check I find a half-chewed tablet in the bowl.

Six out of seven.

I have a talk with her, but she doesn’t care. A dog would. I “repackage” the pill and hope for the best. I’ll take what I can get.

I wash my hands.

Again.

It’s a nice day.

So, I open a window.

Making modified “pill pockets” for my cat.
Cut the teeth cleaner / dry cat food in half by gently sawing with a serrated knife.
Avoid touching the pills.
Greenies Pill Pockets has a dog on the package, but Wilson doesn’t mind.
Pick up a pill with the “cookie dough” / pill pocket goo. Then join with one of the teeth cleaner halves.
Half teeth cleaner, half pill pocket goo, and a pill in the middle.
Make a few ahead of time and store in something to keep it from drying out.

Coffee

I want to remember everything.

If only I had brought a camera.

I have other things to do. For example, today I had wanted to prepare some QuOTeD Podcast episodes for KFAI Radio. I’ll need to remove some cuss words, export it in the right format – what was that again? I’ll have to look it up – then burn a CD, which requires doing some work on the old laptop, the one computer with the CD burner. Brian wants to buy a CD drive for the new laptop, but I am resisting that idea. I want to exhaust my other options. I imagine this annoys him.

I have emails to write. Replies. Good stuff but put off for this reason or that. Do not think me neglectful. Certainly not ungrateful. Just a little stuck. I’ve miscalculated something. I’ll get it back. Just give me a minute.

But for the moment, I just want to remember something.

952-373-1669

This is a telephone number on a red-on-white corrugated plastic sign that is zip-tied to a telephone pole on Vandalia Avenue across the street from the paper recycling plant.

$4 Cash for Diabetic Test Strips

Correction: Ca$h for Diabetic Test Strips

I doubt you would find this sign in Deep Haven, but maybe there are desperate people in the upscale ‘burbs too. I wonder what kind of scam this is. I wonder if it’s legal. Had I come prepared, I could have snapped a picture and sent it to someone in charge. My state legislator?

Up the road, walking past a high-security storage facility, I see maintenance workers. A lane of traffic is closed. Please let the sidewalk be open! I do not want to cross a wide four lanes of traffic without a light in a crisscross of motorists in a race to get to the exit ramp, railroad tracks and semi-trucks that are going in and out of the recycling plant. As I get closer, I can see that the walk is open. But staying the course means going through the cloud of steam or smoke or whatever that is coming from what appears to be asphalt. Can you repair potholes in February? If so, I hope this crew has seen the frontage road just a block away. It’s a good route to the YMCA from my house but – wow! – you could lose a wheel over there.

The north side of University Avenue is warm and sunny, whereas standing on my porch this morning you would have thought it was too cold to brave it. My cheeks burn and my nose is runny, but it feels good. It was good to have left the house. And I was pleased to have thought to take this route as opposed to the usual ones in the opposite direction toward the river. Once you get into the business district or the stretches over the bridge and such that are maintained by the City (or is it the County? Whatever it is, well done!) the sidewalks are more reliably ice-free. It’s a crapshoot in the residential areas. They can be so bad that I have come home angry enough to threaten writing letters of complaint. To whom? The paper? My city councilperson? The offending neighbor? That would be bold. As bold as the person who wrote in perfectly uniform caps in the snow, S-H-O-V-E-L-?

There are no less than four identical lawn signs planted in the snow in front of the Subway.

Dinner tonight!
2 6-inch sandwich
2 bags of chips
2 21-ounce drinks
$14.99

Actually, I can see this sign in an upscale suburb, though it probably comes without the trash.

There is a lot of trash on this stretch. It’s the reason why I’d rather escape the cold city in the spring as opposed to the wintertime. On the sidewalk just outside of Menrard’s, an empty plastic cup is rolling in the breeze, mostly going around in circles, handicapped by its tapered sides. I should pick it up, but I don’t because there is more, too much to carry. On a warmer day, maybe I’ll come over with a grabber and a bag. But today? Not today. I could write a letter! Couldn’t this be a job? A purpose? Somewhere along the way I come across some day-old throw-up. It’s orange. Probably a drunk, I think. I’m grateful that I can’t smell it, that I am not at the fairgrounds on a hot summer day. I’m on some kind of deer trail for alcoholics here, which might explain the market for diabetic test strips.

Nevertheless, this side of the street is still sunny. And when spring comes, the fancy medians that were put in when the light rail was built will burst with foliage. For a second you might think that you were in the heart of Edina where the tree-lined sidewalks are dotted with huge pots of geraniums and petunias that smell like grape Kool-Aid powder, velvet crimson snapdragons and sweet potato vine. Here the shop windows glisten and the public trashcans are used and maintained.

At the northwest corner of Fairview and University, right next to the light rail station, there is a huge – huge – sculpture of a rooster that is made out of salvaged parts. I recognize a keg that has been cut in half lengthwise. A fender. A part of a front car door that had one of those triangular vents on the windows. You don’t see those anymore. A round taillight. That was an eye, appropriately amber. There were other parts. But I have forgotten them or never could have told you what they were. I wanted to remember everything, but even as I stood there studying this creature, I knew that I would forget. Unlike the sign – the one about the diabetic strips – I did not want to take a picture of the rooster, which would have been more worthy of the attention. I suppose a snapshot could have helped me remember the parts – like the way a layering of what appeared to be tiles from an old tin ceiling – created the effect of feathers on the animal’s neck. I could have shown you an unidentifiable white piece on the bottom of which was a warning: This is not a step! But it could not have captured how I felt standing there in the sun underneath the bird. So why bother? Sometimes it feels good to do something that actually requires your presence, to do something that cannot be captured in pixels. It matters that I’m here. The bird is standing on a structure that has been tagged with graffiti and it looks like some of the bricks have been damaged. A plastic bag dances at its feet, lest great art make you forget where you are.

I almost miss the front entrance of the YMCA because when Brian and I come in the evenings, we park in the back. But I can see Snelling Avenue up ahead and Snelling is too far. So I pause to look to see where I am and there I am at the door of the place. I have little hope that coffee is still available at this hour. But I check in and go straight to the back to the lounge and am delighted to see people there with paper cups of so-so coffee. It’s hot. It’s fine. I take a high-top and do something I’ve never done, take my coffee at the Y and pretend that I am at a hotel on vacation, waiting for Brian to come down from the room before we head out to explore.

From here I can see the aquatics room on the other side of a glass wall. Old men are in the vortex pool walking in circles. A woman in a bathing suit that I like for its modesty wheels away a cart full of foam dumbbells and other water activity stuff. I get the impression that a class just got over. I can’t help but hear the conversation next to me, two friends catching up. It seems that everyone is pregnant. We’re not getting any younger! You’ve got that right, lady! You’ve got that right. An old guy rolls in with a walker. A plastic grocery bag hangs from one of the handles. He stops a staff person. He complains about the riffraff that he had to pass on his way into the place. They come in here and take up all of these tables! They don’t even have memberships! The staff person says something to mollify him. She’ll mention it to her supervisor. He seems like a crank. But before I can reach for my coat to dodge him completely, he catches my eye. Hello! Of course, I must answer. But I can’t just answer. I must undo what I had been thinking.

He invites himself to sit with me. What else was there to say? I don’t like these tall tables. I glance around at the empty regular tables in the room. But we don’t know each other well enough for a joke. So, I let it go as he fusses. I’m too short for these things!

I had been thinking a lot about isolation and loneliness and now it seems that I have conjured up this guy who is going to show me a version of something I have been imagining.

Evidently, you can just walk into a place, the Y or a coffee shop or wherever, and invite yourself to join a stranger. But in reality, I’m not so sure that I like this. I was happy to sit there with my thoughts, watching the old men go around and around and catching a word here and there. And now I have to make conversation. Answer random questions. I’m not too put out. Don’t get me wrong. I essentially made this happen, didn’t I?

His walker is plastered with bumper stickers. Semper Fi! I’ve watched enough NCIS to know that this is a military thing, Latin for “always faithful”, according to Wikipedia. There’s a baseball hat. Pins. The works. This guy wants you to know that he was a Marine and will always be one. I should ask him about it. But he beats me to an icebreaker. Where you from? This has never been an easy answer for me, because just like this guy, my dad had a career in the military. What does that mean? In the second grade I went to three different schools. That’s what that means. Where you were born – in my case, at a now decommissioned Air Force base in Michigan – might not mean much. However, in my case, there are relatives there. At least there is that. There is the house on Main Street in Harrisville Michigan that will always be my grandmother’s house, regardless of who holds the title. So, you can see why I would stick with the simple answer. I live here. This is when he tells me that he is from Saint Paul. All my life. Saint Paulites are weirdly proud people.

When Rex learns that I was a military dependent, he asks me questions that a civilian wouldn’t ask exactly as he does. Where did he retire out of? Ellsworth, Air Force Base in Rapid City. Is that where you graduated from high school? Yes. So no, not a Saint Paulite born and bred like him. But I live here nonetheless. What do you do? Or are you a housewife. Are you married? I was married 39 years ago. I thought you were going to say, “I was married 39 times.” We laugh. Finally, a joke.

So, this is how it’s done. Invite yourself to sit down. When you say your name, imagine how James Bond would do it then offer a fist bump. Don’t worry. Unless the person you’re talking to is a lump, they will respond appropriately. Yep. That’s me. Doing fist bumps at the Y. If you have a package of cookies, pull those out. Maybe you have some stashed in a plastic grocery bag, a permanent fixture on that walker of yours. Want any? No thank you, I’m good. They’re sugarless. I realize, here now as I type, that I missed an opportunity. Never refuse a cookie. Never. Then you might mention what brings you there. Rex is considering becoming a member and he’s there for a tour. Except he’s not on a tour. He’s talking to me. He announces that so far he’s not impressed. Of course, I heard about the riffraff out on the steps already. I don’t ask about it because I can imagine him saying something vaguely racist (and loud) that he would not consider to be offensive so much as factual. It’s just hard to know what’s going to come out of his mouth. Instead I become an ambassador for the Y. I extol the virtues of the vortex pool where we can see those old men exercising. There’s a sauna and a hot tub. It’s really nice in the winter.

Rex is eighty-three. He served in the Korean War. He doesn’t drink or smoke. This last point is what I would classify as an “announcement.” I’m pretty sure that everyone resorts to them on occasion. It’s that thing that you tell a stranger within five minutes of meeting. It’s that thing that you cannot resist working into a conversation. It’s that story that your spouse knows by heart, but is too sweet to stop you from telling it again. But it’s not that Rex wants me to know that he doesn’t drink. He wants me to know that he quit drinking 39 years ago. He quit after losing his family and business because of alcoholism, though he never uses that word. Rex says he has too much time on his hands, which is why he is here. He walks a lot because he “wants to stay sharp” even though he feels useless. We share complaints about icy sidewalks. Arby’s doesn’t shovel their walks. Maybe he should write a letter. At some point he is “retrieved” by someone whom I suspect works at the retirement home where he lives. Fist bumps all around. They leave and, now free, I put on my coat to head back home.

The guy pushing a shopping cart across the parking lot of the Goodwill looks like he’s on a mission. He’s coming toward me, toward the sidewalk, as if he is just going to keep going, keep going with that cart well past the boundaries of the store. It might be tricky to get past a mound of snow and whatever structural barrier there is (I did not pause to examine this). It occurs to me that I should help, right? Snap out of it! You’re not going to help someone make off with a shopping cart! So, I walk. Without looking back, I walk.

The pothole crew has moved on to another street.

By “secure” I imagine that the storage place means that it is a building without windows.

A crew is up in some kind of mechanical lift melting ice off of the gutters of Vandalia Tower. What is that thing? I note the words on the equipment, clearly marked a rental. I will look it up when I get home. But I have forgotten.

I try to commit that phone number to memory.

952-373-1669

I want to dial it. It must be a scam. Maybe I’ll write a letter. But to whom should I send it? What could they possibly do?

Remember this. Remember that. All the way home, remember this, remember that.

I am afraid that I will forget.

DIY Plant Stand for a Rescue Case

We were going to a show. So, after he came home from work, it wasn’t surprising to see Brian parking on the street in front of the house instead of in the garage. But something was up. He unlocks the front door. Then back to the car. What’s he doing? He probably stopped for groceries. I should help bring them in, but I don’t feel like it. I am a terrible wife.

Then I see it. He finally brought it home after weeks of preparing me for the possibility. There was this plant that Brian adopted after it had been abandoned during the most recent reorganization at work. It wasn’t doing so well. It used to be by a window, but because of the construction now it isn’t and now it’s sadly in decline. It needs sun. Brian is fine. Don’t worry about him. He can get up and take a walk. He assured me of this. But that plant! It’s just stuck there in this artificial light. Maybe he’ll bring it home. He never does.

…until he does. Another branch shriveled? Did too many needles fall? Did they pile up on January and refuse to be casually brushed aside? And now Charlie Brown over there is unloading this thing that is cramped in the back of his car, because while a grown man could sit relatively comfortably in the back of a Prius, this giant plant with its sprawling limbs is too big.

I’m always trying to stop things from coming into the house. I enjoy a good estate sale and am always imagining my own. When homes are disassembled and stripped of life, a whimsical collection of birds taken out of context and arranged on rented banquet tables, or a certain type of glass or enough pencils to last a hundred years can seem more like a window into the mind of a crazy person than anything beautiful or useful. It’s hard to win this battle – keeping our heads above the stuff – when you’re fighting against someone who has bonded with a tree. But I honestly cannot imagine where we are going to put this thing. A spare corner eases my mind and I was just beginning the enjoy the fruits of my labor. But what are the options? I fear the plant is going to bring the room’s energy down, like so many of those plants we saw in the photos of those houses for sale when we were in the market. Searching real estate sites, Brian and I used to laugh about how sometimes we weren’t really looking at a house so much as we were looking at people’s stuff. Sometimes, there might be a pet in the picture. A pet! Like I’m going to get a free dog if I buy this house? If the idea is to give me the impression that this is a good place for a family, why not stick grandma in there too? In any case, I wanted a fern. There is an empty pot on top of the built-in bookshelf that awaits its arrival. But this? This is too much. Too much.

The next day, Saturday, we spent some time rummaging for something that could elevate the new plant. A column, probably out of a church, from Architectural Antiques was not an option at north of eight hundred dollars. At one furniture store where we did not expect to find anything except for maybe an idea, a salesperson offered us mimosas. Furniture is art. Light fixtures and lamps are art. Rugs. Art. It makes sense that we would causally wander the gallery with our cocktails enjoying the “movement” of a particularly sleek sectional, knowing that it would never fit into our living room. I really just wanted to look at junk, parts with which to do something. I say this as if I were handy, as if I know how to weld stuff, as if I had the tools to make uniform cuts to make uniform slabs of wood. This is a dream. But we can dream. I still like to scrounge and imagine what could be done, if only…. if only.

We fail to find anything. We run out of ideas about where to look. I had just been to the Goodwill. I doubt there’s anything there. I’m kind of tired, but I want to “party on”, as I like to say to Brian whenever I’m feeling restless. I suggest we go to The Lab, a brewery near our house. There you can pour your own beer and pay for it by the ounce, which is perfect because I just want a taste.

As we walk into the place, a pair of queens are running a game of Bingo. A woman, part of a foursome at the next table, tells me that it’s free to play. She must have been disappointed when I did not leap up to fetch a card and a plastic cup full of Bingo chips. At one point between games, the queens start to lip sync, each taking her turn. People are holding up bills. The second act is racy. After a high kick it isn’t long before she sheds the 50’s-ish sheer red polka-dotted dress that sparkles to expose a bodysuit that looks as if it had been splattered with paint. The crowd howls. She does the splits. The cheering defies the time of day, a lazy afternoon, though it is different from the canned excitement of daytime television, which I loathe. Shouldn’t we be at a night club? A man on the other side of the room from where we are sitting is waving money. But he fails to get the dancer’s attention because there’s apparently too much money to track. I am mildly stressed by this, worried that the man feels rejected and wondering if Marilyn Monroe will ever get her five dollars. The dancer approaches the foursome next to us. They are eating up this odd mix of Bingo and bachelor party where at one point, the dancer pretends to spit into her hand and briefly simulates something that I will not directly say here, but it suffices to say that it made a grown man blush in front of his friends who were roaring with laughter.

And just like that it’s back to B-12 followed by whatever joke, story, fact or memory is triggered by the number. The dirtier the better. Of course, some numbers are obvious.

Someone comes around with a free sample of some kind of “super food” that has been juiced, some kind of berry. I didn’t catch the name of it, though it was repeated a couple of times. It’s an antioxidant. What else is there to know? It’s good for you. This particular sample has been mixed with alcohol. Try it! Later I will be mad for a few minutes thinking of the ridiculousness of it, but not as mad as I was about the show we saw the night that Brian brought that plant home and the utterly pretentious discussion that followed it.

The friendly – possibly drunk by now – free-bingo-cards! woman who had first spoken to us when we arrived leans over to me with a comment every now and then. She points out the entertainment value in watching people walk through the door to find the place in stitches, helpless against a Barbara Streisand perm, clear stilettos, and a pink rectangle-of-a dress that can barely cover a snatch. She’s right! Just look at those faces. Some unsuspecting dude walks in and confusion shifts to surprise and then delight. “Web cam!” I said. I could watch that all day.

That evening at the YMCA, Brian and I are talking as we walk the track, dodging teens who are playing basketball. I had regretted that we frittered away the day looking for a lousy plant stand that probably doesn’t exist. I am certain that he would have preferred to stay home to read. But he says that life isn’t supposed to be efficient. It’s probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.

When we get home from the gym, Brian goes upstairs to start a new book. I grab the iPad and do a search for DIY plant stands. I tried something with the idea of getting a sense of how high the plant should be, what kind of footprint would work, etc. You know, a test. It turns out that I liked my prototype better than I would have expected.

Here’s the big plant that Brian brought home. It’s supported by the feet of a tomato cage that are tucked under the rim of the pot.
I found some things that fit perfectly on each tomato cage ring. Bottom: floor. Next Up: Flat basket. Then: An aluminum platter with roses. I also tried a cutting board here and that worked too. Next: Clear glass bowl with a candle and a few rocks inside. Above that is hardware cloth (that still needs to be hemmed or treated to address the rough edges) and a plate. Top: Plant.
The aluminum tray is at a good height to put a drink, assuming there is a chair nearby.
Looking down. The pot isn’t actually sitting on the plate below it. It is suspended above it.

I wish the pictures did this justice. It’s pretty sweet and didn’t cost anything on the current budget. I just used stuff I had around the place. If I stick with this idea, I’ll reinforce the connections between the tomato cage rings and legs with some lashing. Maybe I’ll paint it. Maybe I won’t. I’ll cover the bottom ring that rests on the floor with something to make it easier to slide without scratching the floor. I was thinking of using some old socks that have been cut into loops. (I could probably write a post titled “100 things to do with socks that have been cut up into loops.” Of course, first on the list would be to make a potholder using one of those potholder looms you might have had when you were a kid.)

Or maybe I will start over. Maybe this is a prototype. I’ve seen plant stands and little tables framed with copper pipes. I do have a saw and some sandpaper… stain to use up…

It’s a good thing that efficiency is overrated.

Fancy Oatmeal

When family was recently visiting, I noticed that my dad was including prunes in his diet. I’ve always associated them with digestive health, but apparently they’re more versatile than that. This article also links them to bone and heart health. I can enjoy a prune out of the bag just fine, but eating a recommended amount can be a chore (somewhere I read 5-8 prunes, while the site just referenced recommends  2 ounces). If only the date bars we used to get at the May Day Cafe in Minneapolis could be considered breakfast. They’re ridiculously good. Somewhat inspired by this, I came up with another version of my “fancy oatmeal”.  While this is cooking, you will think that someone is baking cookies.  If you are like me and like to eat breakfast for dinner, this works for that. It’s also a decent choice when you’re feeling tempted by junk food. It can satisfy some of those cravings.

Oatmeal with prunes
Author: 
Cuisine: Breakfast
 
Ingredients
  • ½ c oatmeal (not instant)
  • 1 c water
  • ⅛ tsp ginger, ground
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon, ground
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 6 prunes, chopped
  • Milk
  • Walnuts, chopped
  • Maple syrup
Instructions
  1. In a large microwavable cereal bowl, combine oatmeal and water.
  2. Microwave for 2 minutes.
  3. Stir in ginger, cinnamon (I just eyeball the spices), vanilla and prunes.
  4. Let the above stand covered for a few minutes.
  5. Stir in a splash of milk and microwave for another minute or two.
  6. Top with walnuts and drizzle with maple syrup.
  7. If you are microwave adverse, this could be made on the stove just as easily.

 

She gave me a funny look but I did not wilt

Once I vacuum the plaster dust off of the top of the window frame, I can put away the ladder. It has been in the office-guestroom for a number of days and sits behind me right now in front of the new curtains. I was determined to get the rod level – something I failed to do when I put curtains in our bedroom – and with Brian’s help and remembering some tips from my dad, I managed to do it this time. Brian doesn’t like curtains of any kind, referring to them as “cloth”. Yet he’s the one who picked out the rod. I love this. I love those finials that look like Christmas ornaments woven with muted gold strands. I like knowing that this is what he chose. We were going for brass but were told that Millennials aren’t buying it, so it can be hard to find unless you go online. It’s something I’d rather not do. For some reason I was stuck on the idea that the curtain rods throughout the house – actually not too many at this point – should have the same finish. So much for that.

Last night during a break in the World Series, Brian came up to help me add a third bracket to address a barely perceptible sway in the rod. It’s at these points in a project just as I’m about to do one more little thing that may or may not be necessary when I worry that I’ll screw it up. Every time I drill a hole I think, yep. This is where it all goes to hell.

I love the curtains and wish that Brian did too. But as much as he is trying not to ruin it for me, I know that he’s just being a good guy, a good guy who will to take me to the store. Fifty stores! It’s unfair to ask him to use his good eye for “cloth” but he knows me. I’m a shopper with little stamina and nothing to warn you when I’m about to run out of gas at which point I might cry, collapse or threaten to pass out. And without help, the chances are good that I’ll leave empty handed because an annoying song has driven me out of the store. So while Brian would rather replace Mick Mulvaney than cover the house with cloth, he does not leave me stranded and will share an opinion that can get me off the dime. There is also the judicious use of the veto power. A room darkening panel is going to make him groan, but it was the only thing in that soft gray tweed that I liked. Besides, we could use the added insulation. I mention this, thinking that he will be impressed. But I have failed. He will never be a curtain guy.

As we stood there in the store looking at the displays, I regretted that we did not get a double curtain rod so that I could put a sheer behind the curtain. I know. More cloth. We both know that we can go through the rigmarole to exchange the thing, but I’m anxious to be done. (Imagine me singing “I just want to be done” to the melody of “It had to be you”.) Still, it seems unfortunate. I should have made a better plan. Then I got an idea.

When I told the salesperson that I was going to put the sheers on the same rod as the curtain, she gave me a look. On the verge of wilting, I remember something my mother says. “It’s your house. Do what you want.” I tell the woman that I don’t care if the sheers will create a gap when you close the curtains. If total darkness is the goal, you could pinch them shut. But honestly, a column of light between the dreaded “room darkening” panels might be kind of cool. She is not convinced but doesn’t try to talk me out of it. Why would she care? She’s just happy to be looking at curtains with us, well past the point of helpfulness. She’s sixty-nine years old and would rather shop than work. Her words. But until she pays off her credit cards, her husband says that she has to have a job. What does sixty-nine look like? Not that. She probably gets this all of the time. “You look great! I never would have guessed your age!” I want to say something equally unoriginal. “What’s your secret?” But here’s my real question. “How much credit card debt do you have?” The words will not come out of my mouth and for this I count myself lucky.

The sheer curtains overlap by two grommets behind the drapes. This keeps the pieces connected for opening and closing.

Well my idea wasn’t that crazy. It works fine and I would argue that putting the sheers on the same rod with the main curtain makes for a clean and simple look. Plus, when you use a double rod, you have to use pocket sheers as opposed to the ones with the grommets, which are easier to open and close. The other thing I ended up doing that played against convention was to offset the center supporting bracket. This accommodated the width of the off-the-rack panels so that fewer would be needed. Imagine two panels on one side and one on the other instead of two on each. I was stuck on symmetrical, but once I realized that this was just another application of the “rule of thirds” whereas in framing a picture – let’s say in a video – offsetting the subject will be more pleasing to the eye than perfectly centering it. I know that this is not radical. But in breaking these inconsequential rules for which I deserve no prize (or in this case, adopting a different set of rules to follow), I am aware of how little deviation is needed to make you feel like a rebel. What about the rules of substance? If a stranger with a part time job at Bed Bath & Beyond is going to tell me “that’s not done” when it comes to window treatments, who’s going to wield the stick when I really try to live my life?

Take the walker. He wasn’t “the walker” but just one of a number of people who have dropped out of the day-to-day grind to… well… walk. This particular walker was making loads of money at some kind of financial job until he quit to walk across the country to raise awareness about a cause – economic justice? the climate? the war? – something like that. I wouldn’t have known about the walker had it not been for co-workers who found him to be a self-riotous imbecile who had evidently never roofed houses in California in July. Otherwise, he would have known to cling to a job he loathed because an air conditioned office is nothing to take for granted. I’m pretty sure that had my co-workers had the chance, they would have been happy to pummel the walker silly with a stick. The ungrateful bastard would have deserved it.

Right now the panels hang to the side, leaving the full width of the window lights visible underneath the sheers. If Brian were here, he would certainly push all of “the cloth” to the sides so that the window was completely exposed. And he could. That’s the beauty of it.

This was a tricky picture to take. These curtains will easily open up to expose the entire window.

The cat is passed out on the floor next to me. For the moment she has given up on herding me into the next room where a choice of brushes sits on top of her purrniture.

Brush the cat.

Move laundry.

Get the vacuum cleaner.

Put away the ladder.

Lunch.

Glorious lunch.

Put the schefflera that is taking up the counter space in the bathroom back into the office.

Cut tape for a new podcast episode.

What about a red kitchen?

It was last…

Spring?

We ended up in one of those enclosed booths at The Local where I can usually count on a decent veggie burger. The Irish pubs seem to have this down, whereas even in the year 2019 a lot of bars practically tell the mostly vegetarians to f-off. Within earshot in this rather tight space – I can imagine a row of private offices with glass panes and mahogany in what used to be a bank, though I know nothing of the building’s history – sitting next to us are two young couples. They have been house hunting.

“What did you think of the ‘sauna house’, Stu?”

When we were looking, Brian and I named the houses too. There was the “pinhead house” in Northeast. This was named for the realtor who reduced the price by a dollar every day so that it would appear at the top of a list that was filtered according to our criteria and emailed to us daily. Except there was no way to say “not the pinhead house!” I was fooled by it every time. Upon seeing the notice in my inbox there would be a surge of hope where a new listing promised to free us from the dipshit who lived downstairs at the Powderhorn duplex where we lived. It was a promise only to be crushed by the realization that it was this same house where the staircase led to a tiny landing. There you had a choice of three bedroom doors that would have touched had they swung the other way – outward instead of in. This was the house that had the lone toilet in the middle of an unfinished basement. Anyone else might have seen the potential in this plumbing demonstration. I just wondered about peeing in open spaces.

“I didn’t like it as much as the ‘mirror house’. It has a better yard.”

I commend you for knowing that you want a yard. I didn’t know that I wanted one until we ended up with one. Brian knew. But I didn’t, though it was me who probably wanted one more. We live in Minnesota. I wanted a double-car garage. That’s what I knew.

Our food arrives. Next to us the man with the tie is talking about the process of making an offer. I suspect he is a realtor-friend.

There was the “green house” that we named for its touted energy efficiency. It was a “builder’s house” remodeled from the studs, which is to say that to get around the cost of new construction permits and associated hassles, the original house was demolished except for a few sticks. So it was essentially a new house, not common in the middle of the city. When we lost that bid, I cried. I was certain that it was our house and that it was supposed to be me snuggled up with a book in that tree-house of a bedroom with columns of cypress outside the windows in three directions. The realtor said that we would find a better house. I didn’t believe him. That would have been summer. In October standing in the yard of a house on Hague Avenue – the “Hague house” – somebody suggested that we take a break. By this time we had seen that house no less than three times, as it was quite beautiful but somehow not for us.

“I can really see us entertaining in the ‘granny house’.” The blonde at the next table fingers a goblet of white wine. It’s too early in the day to drink, but as we did twelve years ago, they have their rituals.

On House Hunters and other such television shows, “a place to entertain” is important. Dining rooms and “open concepts” conjure up grand dinner parties. Buyers can see themselves flipping hamburgers for their friends in the backyard. Indeed, “a place to have dinner parties” was on our list. But do people really “entertain” as much as television would suggest? What of this loneliness epidemic?

The kitchen in the “Hague house” was remolded to sell the house. Granite countertops. Stainless steel appliances. A huge island. It could have made an entertainer out of a hermit. But where was the bedroom furniture supposed to go? When the solution seemed to be that we would need to use a separate bedroom as a closet, even the newly refinished oak floors could not mask the limitations of the space.

The blonde wants a white kitchen. I wonder how much of this comes from something that captured her in childhood versus being the influence of HGTV where it’s uncommon to see any remodel that isn’t “white and bright” à la Hillary Farr. She and her counterpart Joanna Gaines mainly stick to white and tasteful grays with pops of color that know their place. I love what they do. But they push trends – just look at the lighting fixtures on those shows – and trends can crush an individual. It can make it tricky to know yourself. Take the blonde. What if her soul really wants a red kitchen?

A Train Full of Optimists

I’m hiding.

The Democratic debates are on the television downstairs. Brian and his Tuesday night baseball buddy are talking back to the candidates who cannot hear them.

“You tell ’em Bernie!”

In 2012 I was in a bar with a ragtag group of organizers. The day before we were to get shovels in the ground, we learned that the Minnesota Department of Transportation was putting the kibosh on the community garden that we had been planning over the previous year. Up to that point, we had been working with City officials who were thrilled to see a neglected patch of land be cleaned up and put to good use. Between monthly meetings, we had scoped out possible locations. We tested the soil. We staked plots. We mulched paths. We brought in compost. We drafted gardener contracts. We advertised. We held a lottery. It might not seem like much, but it was a lot of work to get our initial thirty families that would be eager to grow their own tomatoes.

Then here come the MnDOT lawyers. It turns out the that the City did not have jurisdiction over the right-of-way between Cleveland and Prior Avenue, just north of Gilbert in Saint Paul. This is the frontage road to Interstate 94. And unlike the forward thinking City officials, MnDOT could only think of getting sued. News of their objections took the air out of me. Fortunately my co-organizers had a different response.

Tanner’s approach was simply to accept that getting the garden operational just might take more time than we had planned. His approach was patience. Steadiness. And Jeff said that we would just shame MnDOT into doing the right thing. He was confident about this. He had no doubt that we would have a garden because the objections to it were obviously ridiculous. Watching these two guys was a good lesson for someone who was apt to concede victory to the bureaucrats. I felt pretty hopeless.

It’s how the Democratic debates make me feel. Defeated well before the final buzzer.

When I see that Senator Amy Klobuchar appears to have consulted a stylist – upping her game from her last debate with a new do and better make-up – I want to be happy for her. She looks great. I want to sympathize. I would not survive the kind of scrutiny a candidate has to endure, especially – I’m sorry, but it’s true – a woman. I want to be at peace in a Joseph Campbell kind of way and be in awe of it all, grateful to anyone who would offer themselves for a job like that. Instead, my stomach churns, stirred by a faint recognition of manipulation.

I wasn’t going to last the night with Brian and Fran in the living room flipping between the debate and the ballgame.

Across the street about a block down from my house there is a lawn sign, “2020 – Any Functioning Adult.” On Facebook this gets 80 zillion “likes”. I was amused at first too. But it’s not so funny when I realize that this is the language of the utterly defeated. It’s 2003 all over again. We were punished by George W. Bush. So at the anti-war marches that preceded the invasion of Iraq, among the homemade protest signs you could find “2004 – Anybody but Bush” written on scraps of cardboard with black Sharpies. During that same election year where Senator John Kerry was the Democratic nominee, there was a website called “John Kerry is a douche bag, but I’m voting for him anyway.” (By the way, don’t try to find it. I landed on a site that looked Chinese and quite spammy.) Well, we saw where that kind of big dreaming got us.

Downstairs Brian is going on about the Supreme Court.

When Senator Elizabeth Warren was in town, Tanner the garden organizer went to see her. At least that is what I gathered from a Facebook post where he is standing next to the candidate in front of a huge flag. The big smile on his face makes me feel like so much is possible. Thank goodness our future does not depend on my limitations. In the meantime, Sue is working for Senator Bernie Sanders (That sounds pretentious. He’s just Bernie. Right?) at the State Fair. When Brian and I stopped by to say hello to her, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party booth felt like home and not home, like revisiting the house of my childhood where strangers now live. We met Sue and her family on the the 2004 Minnesota for Kucinich Campaign and I had once spent a lot of time in that booth for the campaign and later as a member of the DFL Progressive Caucus of which I was a founding member. Sue and her husband Greg are still at it. They still believe. Somehow, they still think that showing up matters.

Patient. Steady.

Brian is now swearing at the television.

I wish I was the sort that could carry the day with unshakeable optimism. Somehow I get myself to the train. I’m a good worker bee. I have a spin on the ball. I’m focused. I care. I do good work. I have something to contribute. But apparently it is not a belief that the Bernie Sanders and the Elizabeth Warrens will not be crushed by the talking heads on CNN that are openly pushing for what they would call a moderate Democrat and what I would call a Republican candidate. Five seconds of watching David Axelrod pat us all on the head and warn Democrats not to nominate anyone who can be “framed as a socialist” puts me back at the table at that bar feeling doomed. Except this time I am hiding. This time I am alone with no one to tell me to put my head down and work, to be patient.

Brian is laughing. It sounds like Bernie is letting someone have it.

When Klobuchar scolds the Liberals for giving the Republicans (the ones who are actually running for the Republican nomination) their talking points when they explain how to pay for a health care system that does not treat Senators like royalty and the poor without dignity – she is essentially saying that she is a Republican. Sanders is right. Grow up. It’s going to cost money to ensure that everyone has access to good health care. There will be a tax. Those with the resources to pay more will pay more. Those with less will pay less. A tax will replace premiums. More money will go toward actual health care. Less will go into the pockets of executives. Boo hoo.

“The more this man talks, the less I like him. He’s really an ass hole.” Who is this, Brian? I don’t want to know. I feel agitated and shut the door.

Frankly, it’s embarrassing to admit that I feel depressed when I hear the Republican-Democrats tell me why we cannot have health care for every American. Klobuchar flatly said that universal health care is not possible. She called Medicare-for-all a pipe dream. A pipe dream! I wonder if she’s taking the George Lakoff “strict parent” approach. She might as well have been wagging her finger.

“If it’s worth having, it’s worth paying for. So buck up! Don’t be cheap, you shithead!” How’s that for strict parent?

“She’s in favor of it as long as it doesn’t cost rich people money.” I know this rant well but Brian cannot resist giving me another rendition of it when he comes upstairs. It makes me wonder. What else can’t be done because it costs rich people money? Are the Republican-Democrats conceding bank regulations? What about global warming? What mitigation efforts are no-starters? If Republican-Democrats refuse to do anything that will cost rich people money, forget about affordable pharmaceuticals. Forget about election reform. Forget about anything that will actually make a difference. In the 2016 election Sanders wanted to talk about economic justice while Hillary Clinton wanted to stick to social issues. It’s a tell. Be suspicious of anyone who changes the subject away from the hard conversations about “who will pay for it” to who gets what right. It’s like when Senator Kamala Harris changed the subject to women’s reproductive rights in the middle of a debate about why Americans are loosing their homes because of a dysfunctional health care system. It is so not the point.

My biggest fear is that the Democrats are going to be stupid. Well-meaning people are going to watch too much CNN or MSNBC or whatever and they are going to wrongly conclude that what they really want is not “electable.” Despite what they can see – wild grassroots support for the “extreme left”, as the talking heads would put it – they’ll give us another Hillary Clinton.

And they will lose.

Again.

Because calling what the majority of Americans desperately want a “pipe dream” is another kind of talking point.

Who will they blame this time? Ralph Nader? Those damn Bernie supporters who never got over a sham of an endorsement process? The Russians? The youth who will not be indoctrinated? Anyone who says no thanks to a candidate who can’t even imagine – imagine! – a just health care system in the richest nation in the world let alone ask Jeff Bezos to chip in for it? By the way, he along with a couple of other billionaires are getting into the insurance business.

Brian and Fran are now openly laughing. It could be the playoffs. But it’s probably something Senator Cory Booker said. (Note: It turns out that it was former Vice President Joe Biden. It could have been anyone.)

Somehow we got the garden established. Thanks to a timely article in the newspaper, it went as Jeff said it would. The Department was basically shamed into doing the right thing.

Perhaps our politicians can be shamed into doing the right thing too…

…holding a corrupt and dangerous President accountable… Are there any Republican-Republicans who are sober enough to put aside a hold-power-at-all-cost strategy to understand the gravity of the situation and then take the appropriate action?

…treating health care as a human right… even if it means costing rich people money.

The last time I checked, the garden had around 100 plots. It looks like they built a second shed.

I wish I could be confident about this. I wish I could say that universal health care is a certainty because the objections to it are obviously ridiculous. But until I am there, I will be happy to get on a train full of optimists.