Category Archives: Life in our house

Two cats sleeping

Two People & Two Cats?

Wilson is gone.

That’s a hard thing to say.

I miss that little cat.

She was so good.

Such a good cat.

She was the reason why this blog is called Two People & a Cat, even though she wasn’t mentioned as much as you would expect a headliner to be. Now it would be more accurate to call it Two People & Two Cats.

Sometime in July, Brian started to look into getting another cat. I couldn’t quite picture it. So, it’s a bit strange to have two of them in the house. Two kittens. Wild animals… in the house. Here the brothers are joining Brian’s work meeting.

Brian is wrapped in an afghan because it is cold! It probably doesn’t help that we are missing an exterior door right now. It’s in the garage where I am going to paint it. It was so cold that last night I made a fire, not knowing how much supervising of cats would be necessary. They seemed to respect it. Michael parked in front of it for a good portion of the night.

Bert, on the other hand, preferred to stay warm by snuggling on Brian’s chest while he watched television.

Here he is with his eyes open. He just woke up from a nap.

When Wilson first died, I couldn’t get over how empty my arms felt. I must have hugged that little girl a lot. Indeed, I couldn’t walk by her without saying hello. And she did so in return. We were often finding each other throughout the day. I could always count on her to tell me to get up from my desk and stretch. For a while after she died, I couldn’t get to sleep without hugging a blanket. Actually, it wasn’t a blanket. It was one of my night shirts that I would squish up and put by her for comfort when she wasn’t feeling well. I probably didn’t wash that thing for a month and when I finally did, it was an accident.

Now my arms aren’t so empty. Both of these sweet peas can snuggle. They don’t mind being held, though like any cat they will let you know when they want down. Wiggle! Wiggle! They are quick to purr. They are super soft, especially Bert.

I still miss Wilson.

Talking to people who have also lost pets, I realize that one can be plagued with this question. Did she know that I loved her? Brian has no doubt about this. I probably don’t either. But once her heart stopped beating, I wanted another chance to make sure. I would have liked to have gone with her, wherever she went. I didn’t want her to be alone.

Michael and Bert are not allowed in our bedroom or office because they – meaning Bert – cannot resist climbing the curtains, which are new. Because they have doors, these rooms have become staging areas for furniture and plants that we are trying to save from being shredded. In theory, these cats will settle down as they get a little bit older. But for now, it is a treat to get inside these forbidden rooms (or a conquest depending on whether they politely asked to come in or barged in, taking their post underneath the bed). I’ll be on my way to do something – anything – taking a load of laundry to the basement and Michael will breach the bedroom door. Now instead of doing the thing I was doing, I’m waiting for Michael to come within reach so I can put him out. He purrs the entire time.

Again, another cat telling me to chill.

I have stuff to do, cat! Winter is coming and we still don’t have a door!

Any chance you can play?

The sound of bedroom doors constantly (it seems) opening and closing is new in our house.

Open.

Close.

Open.

Close.

The routines are different. Habits. Preferences. Wilson spent almost no time in the kitchen, which she treated as a pass through. As I said, she was so good. These guys? They treat it like a lounge.

But my arms aren’t so empty anymore.

They are good players. With us. With each other. All by themselves. Michael loves to play with toy mice, especially if you put one on the end of a fishing pole (out of service at the moment as some untangling is needed). Bert is more of a string man. He focuses on the string instead of the mouse and he can entertain himself with a hair thing for a long time. He is also the one who discovered “the sheet”, which they both enjoy. I was putting away some fabric scraps and he saw me folding this red sheet. Somehow he let me know that he wanted it. He sat on it and I started to pull him around. He went nuts running up it and diving into the hammock end of it where I was holding two corners (somewhat scary actually). After scoping it out for quite a while, Michael jumped on board. Now they will sit on the sheet and look at me.

At one point in the middle of our grief, Brian brought out Wilson’s adoption papers. Has she been exposed to other animals? Yes. Cats and Dogs. Children? Yes. What is her favorite toy? Unknown. She was estimated to be a year and a half at the time.

Can I have a ride, please?

So I put down whatever it was that I was doing and give Bert a ride on the sheet. Michael will show up in another minute or so. This will eventually devolve into wrestling with each cat on the opposite side of a sheet wall and me worried that someone is going to get hurt.

We are still getting to know these guys (Brian calls them “the boys”) and they are getting to know us.

I hope that they find us and these accommodations to their liking.

Wilson had a lot of favorite toys, including the mouse on the fishing pole that Michael now loves so much. When we were back at the duplex in Powderhorn Park, I used to use it to lure her out of the linen closet where she used to sit on towels while I washed my face and brushed my teeth to get ready for bed. The green feather. Toilet paper grabbed from underneath the bathroom door. It was apparently endless. Foam balls that Brian would bounce against the basement stairs. Being rolled around in the purniture. Feet under sheets. Anything dangling down in front of the cubby hole where she lay in wait. The rake / back scratcher. The gorillia / puppet / back scratcher. A bottle cap / back scratcher.

There were other things that I am forgetting.

I do not want to forget.

Quilt haning on curtain rod

Use Everything

When you open every box, you might be shocked by what you find, how much you find. We have – as Brian likes to say – an embarrassment of riches.

In most any of the de-cluttering books I’ve come across, there is this idea of releasing the things that you do not use so that someone else can enjoy them and so that – if you are inclined to take this perspective – the object itself can enjoy a better life too. This is supposed to make it easier to let go of attachments and to a great extent it works for me.

It isn’t often that I regret letting something go. But the one thing that comes to mind whenever I consider this question is a desktop rotary telephone. I bought it over twenty years ago only to realize that it had a mid-1960’s round wall plug that would not work with a modern telephone jack, at least not in the United States. By “modern”, of course, I mean modern for the time, the so called modular jack or Western jack, a name that comes from the Western Electric Company that first used it for telephone wiring. It directly preceded the explosion of mobile devices that would have happily pummeled landlines into obsolescence were it not for nostalgia and the joy of tactile things: Against the weight of a spring, pointing and dragging the dial around to the finger stop. That clicking beneath a cover of hard plastic – the coil winding up might remind you of zipping a tent shut – and the sound made as the finger wheel returns home, the “uncoiling”, could be mistaken for gurgling – faint though it may be – emanating from a swampy ditch. Are those frogs? A bird I do not recognize? Of course, if you know this sound, it is simply dialing.

There I am in my grandmother’s telephone chair in the corner of the dining room wishing that I had someone to call.

There is also the shape and weight of the receiver, hopefully pleasing, otherwise what’s the point? Dial tones. The sound of brass gongs as they are struck in rapid succession by the clapper ball. No, the ubiquitous smart phone could not efficiently snuff out this delightful gadget completely, but it did in effect stunt the evolution of things hardwired. Just try to purchase a brand new telephone, one that plugs into the wall, that isn’t junk. It is for this reason, the lack of faith that anything better will ever be made, that Brian could not resist purchasing a phone at a garage sale two years ago. The keypad is in the handset, making me think that it must be something from the 90’s. We have yet to plug it in. But there it is, just in case.

Well, thank goodness for my dad who did the dad thing and fixed this otherwise useless vintage telephone from the ’60s. On the upside are all of the tangible things previously mentioned plus a really long cord. The downside, I suppose, was the color. Beige. No fun there. There was also a crack in the housing. It wasn’t big or especially offensive, but noticeable nonetheless. But damn it was sturdy. Sturdy with a good ring. With the exception of these minor aesthetical preferences (black or red would have been groovy!), I loved that phone. So why did I take it to the Goodwill some years ago?

When I met Brian, he too had a number of rotary telephones, including the black one that sits in our living room. We couldn’t possibly use all of them, so in a gesture of sympathy for his own attachments that I might have imagined and in trying to stick with the self-imposed rule that everything must have its place or it must go, I decided to give up my old phone. After all, there was the color and that crack. Of course that’s when I realized that the phones we did keep had their own problems. For example, a poorly fitting connection on the phone in the bedroom means that I need to be careful to ensure the cord doesn’t pop out of the receiver in the middle of a conversation. Then there is the short cord, relative to the one I gave up, that makes this more likely. Faded colors. Brittle cords. Permanently foggy plastic finger wheels that are supposed to be clear.

I miss my old telephone, the one my dad fixed. But missing it hasn’t deterred me from taking a cold look at the other stuff in my environment and – if it seems like the right thing to do – letting it go.

I recently hung some random Barbie doll clothes in the tree in our boulevard. I really made a nice display of it, pinning them on a hanger with paperclips. After a few days of no takers, I was about to declare this a failed gift. But one morning while I was reading the newspaper on the porch, two women walking their dogs stopped and took note. “Can we take these?” they seemed to ask. “Yes. Take them!” I pleaded without speaking a word. “Read the sign! Free! Free!” I look back down at the paper. I’m afraid that if they sense me watching they might fly away like nervous birds.

Finally.

Hurray!

One less thing stuffed in the corners of my garage, but instead out there enjoying a better life mingling with other beloved doll clothes in the bedroom of an eight year old.

Why not imagine something good?

Of course this only encouraged me. So, next I hung a Word Find puzzle book in the tree. Brian gave this to me, along with other magazines and amusements years ago when I was recovering from a health issue. Or it might have been a Christmas stocking stuffer. He really goes over the top every year. Indeed I am spoiled thanks to the stocking that I acquired the Christmas I visited my brother’s family in Virginia. To include me in the festivities, they made a stocking with my name glued in silver glitter on the fat white cuff. Well it’s huge. I mean really big. And Brian fills this up every year. There are usually a lot of practical things like a toothbrush and dental floss, my favorite moisturizer and razor blades. Then there is candy, possibly a stuffed animal and magazines about gardening, writing and mid-century furniture. And, as I said, there could have been this puzzle book. An embarrassment of riches indeed.

Well days pass with no takers. And when it rained, I forgot to bring the puzzle book inside as I promised myself I would do. It’s under a canopy of leaves. Maybe it’s okay? Then one day, a Somali girl who lives down the street appeared. She was riding her bike up and down the sidewalk that marked what we imagined to be an agreed upon boundary where no streets would be crossed. Every time she passed, she smiled and waved at Brian and me who were sitting on our enclosed porch. Not a little wave. She waved big. Smiled big too, as if she imagined herself to be Miss America at the center of the Macy’s Day Parade. After her tenth pass or so, I yelled out the window. “Do you see the book?” “A book?” “In the tree! You can have it, if you like!” She needed some help figuring out how to release it from the binder that was tied to the string that permanently hangs from the tree. So, Brian went out to give her a hand. The pages were dry but a little wavy from having been wet. “It’s fine.” Brian said. But I worried that the girl’s mother would wonder why we were giving our garbage to children. I can only hope that the brand new and newly sharpened pencil with its fancy foam grip that I included with the book might have made up for any of its defects.

Soon after that, the girl disappeared only to return with two of her siblings. The youngest, a boy who looked to be three or four, knocked on the door. He was not a shy kid, as his knock was big. While his two sisters looked on from the sidewalk, he handed Brian a note. “My sister wanted me to give this to you,” he said. It was a thank you note and an introduction.

Of course now I am keeping my eye open for more presents to hang in the tree.

Then there are the things that are inexplicably hard to give away. For example, take these plain white aluminum curtain rods. We can’t use them. And that is the new rule I’ve declared since taking on the task of tidying up the garage. Use everything. This year we are going to use everything: Random garden tools, some that I cannot even name (the monster claw thingy turns our to be a hoe and cultivator combo); recreational equipment, including the ice skates from my childhood, a huffy bike that weighs a hundred pounds more than the bike that replaced it, and foam noodles that haven’t seen a lake in half a decade; and enough car care products to open a shop. Use it this year or let it go. And I am keeping track! “I used some burlap!” I report this to Brian as if it were the most exciting news of our lives – and these days – it just might be.

As for the curtain rods, it is not so much that I imagined they would ever be used for curtains, save some that might be used to convert the garage into a stage at some point (Note: I once saw the best play I had ever seen in someone’s garage on the hottest day on record.). Nevertheless, there was a nagging potential that I could not quite name. So, there they sat destined to be listed on FreeCycle along with a metal bed frame that has lived in the rafters of the garage ever since we moved into the house twelve years ago. But not today. Not today.

Thank goodness, not today. Or the magazine rack that I made with some of these old curtain rods would never have been conceived.

Magazine rack made from a white aluminum curtain rod and curtain rod clip rings. I also tried using cafe curtain rings, which worked but not as well, and binders looped through a standard keychain ring.

It just so happens, that in addition to the rods I had these rings with clips on them that I had found while “sorting bolts.” No doubt these were purchased years ago for some project that was either abandoned or where a better solution for whatever it was that I was trying to do had presented itself. Frankly, I don’t remember. I just know that as a pile of magazines a mile high stared me in the face, organizing maven Marie Kondo came to mind, specifically her idea that you should be able to see what you have. Stacks of things are the enemy of a tidy place. But there is no magazine rack big enough for the pace at which this stuff comes into the house. Combine all of this with having seen someone on HGTV hang a rug from a curtain rod and the idea for this magazine rack flashed through my mind. I would not be able to rest until I could see whether it was a good idea or a bad one.

I love it!

More than having the materials to make it, what matters here is having touched those materials a number of times in the course of organizing my things. I spent a lot of time contemplating what to do with these damn curtain rods. Logic would have said out with them! My own preferences for a space that isn’t burdened by visual noise would have pushed me to get rid of them. But my mind couldn’t stop noodling with the possibility that these things presented.

So they sat.

Maybe I’ll give them away tomorrow.

But not today.

Not today.

To touch everything that you own in a household that has accumulated things over years is mentally exhausting. Embarrassing, even. But it is necessary. How will you ever really know what you have? I am paralyzed and depressed by clutter. Who would not tuck in the messiness of life as if everything can be fit into a uniform box that only needs to be wrapped with the perfectly sized sheet of Christmas paper and a dab of scotch tape? But what can be imagined in a perfectly sterile environment?

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.

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.

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.