my year in cities and towns, 2020

picture of my bed taken from the foot of it, featuring a comfy looking comforter and some groovy looking pillowcases.

Well this post is pretty simple this year. I stayed at my dad’s house on December 30th last year, woke up and drove to Randolph and have not slept anywhere besides my own bed since then. I haven’t gotten on an airplane since late 2019. I’ve only left the state four times and that was just to go hiking or walking with Jim. Am not thrilled about most of this, but mostly resigned to continuing to try to do the right thing and see what I can do to help other people’s 2021 not be as much of a shit show as 2020 was for so many.

Past years: 2019 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 2007, 2006, 2005.

thanks again

a picture of all the gadgets that are on the wall above a hospital bed.
It’s a little weird how COVID summer really felt like a departure from… life, but COVID winter is shaping up to look a lot like normal winter since I’m just inside working on projects. But I’ve had some news that I figured I’d share because it feels weird to NOT tell people I was in the ER last week. However, I am fine or mostly fine. The past few weeks have been a slog. I had a tooth giving me trouble, got a crown, that didn’t help, got a root canal, everything in there still feels weird but at least I can chew. Was a few weeks where I couldn’t, or only on one side.

So, I very much enjoyed chewing on my solo Thanksgiving meal (thanks Woodstock Senior Center, and my pal Marian who drove it over here) and went to bed feeling pretty okay about the world. But then was awakened early (8!) Friday morning with the kind of rough abdomen pain that says “If this doesn’t go away pretty soon, I need to head to the ER.” Fortunately I live across the street from the ER so this is not difficult. Also I’m in Vermont and COVID numbers are (were) low here so I didn’t have ER concerns. Long story short, the gallstone that I knew I had decided to make itself known, probably as the result of me eating a lot of unusual-for-me-these-days foods (pie! donut! mashed up sweet potatoes!). And it settled down on its own eventually–painkillers made the eventually be less awful–and I was sent home at 2 with low-fat diet exhortations and an appointment for last week. Everyone in the ER was super nice. Follow-up appointment went well and long-story-short gallbadder needs to come out at SOME point but probably not right now. It’s pretty low-key surgery, healing time isn’t bad. And I can get back to more or less my regular diet right now, which didn’t include any fried foods anyhow, not lately. It’s been a week, so far things are okay.

I told the surgeon that even though I felt confident in the hospital’s COVID protocols, I’d rather wait. She said this was reasonable. If it turns out I made a bad choice and I need it out sooner, I’m always going to be across the street anyhow. As people who know me know, I manage a pretty heavy anxiety load during the best of times. So, one of the reasons I haven’t mentioned this sooner is I really need to not hear people’s bad news stories–about hospitals, about teeth, about COVID, about gallbladders, about anything right now–something which always seemed to happen when I’d talk about my mom’s cancer or other various health issues. I know it’s a big ask, but I figured maybe I was better off making the ask then just sitting at home and worrying on my own.

My imperfect foods

close up of a tray of roasted veggies in oranges and reds and beiges

Still lumping along here. I tried an internet-person thing and here is my story about it. You may have seen internet ads for places that will mail food to you. Instagram is FULL of them and while my food situation is fine and stable–supermarket is uninteresting but generally safe, farm stand is a little spendy but has great produce and nice people–I do miss the serendipity of going new places and finding/trying new things. So I got one of those ugly-box type things. I had a coupon. There was a trial offer. I figured I didn’t have much to lose.

I selected from a list of meats and fruits/vegetables and waited for my delivery date. That date came and went. I called Fedex. The company has their own drivers in high-population areas, the rest of us get Fedex. The lady on the phone told me that my package (which was a day late, and had left the warehouse two days earlier) was “spoiled.” The nice internet company made the appropriate “Oh we’re so sorry!” noises and refunded my order and gave me a $10 credit. I still had a coupon.

I tried again two weeks later, no meat this time. The package was a day late, but it arrived! And it was in kind of mixed condition. The inside of the box, which had contained an ice pack, was moist and a little warm. This was not a problem for most of what I got (root veggies, celery, corn, avocados, garlic) but my apples looked a little ragged and they may have been a little bit frozen originally. The red peppers looked tired. And, granted, these foods were supposed to be imperfect, but they were mostly supposed to be blemished and weird-sized, not inedible. So I dropped the company a note, said things were mostly okay but that my order had been late again and some of the food was damaged. They were apologetic, and refunded my entire order. I still had a coupon. I made some nice roasted veggies which were delicious and I ate three entirely perfect avocados. I do not think I have had three perfect avocados in a row in my LIFE.

Another two weeks later, I decided to try again. Another order, less dentable food, still no meat. Let’s see what happens. This time I got an email from the company that said due to “recent events” (huh? which ones?) my order was late because of staffing in the food-packing part of the whole business. I got another email that same week saying that they’d be raising their delivery charge 33% and their minimum order amount “in my area” 50%. I got a tracking number from them that said my package hadn’t left their warehouse, right up until the time the box showed up at my house a day late. It was tipped against the side of my house with all the fruits and veggies in a little pile on one side. This time I’d gotten a few canned items, just to try that option out, and the cans had destroyed two of my apples. I sent a note explaining this and saying this was a nice experiment but I’d be cancelling my account. They refunded my order for a third time (I suspect they may not have a way to do partial refunds). I still have a coupon, if I ever decide to go back. I also have some big boxes and packing material that need to go to the transfer station, as well as a few gel freezer packs that are not entirely recycleable; the company suggests emptying the gel into the trash (?) and recycling the bag. Bleh.

So, hey, stuff happens. Clearly they aren’t really ready to serve my area. And, if I am being honest, I have a lot of good, if somewhat predictable, food options here, ones that are lower on the food chain and I can get into my house without accompanying gel packs or tons of extra packing material. I got to try out a weird service basically for free. And I do still think about those three perfect avocados.

one perfect avocado, cut in half

on committees

tweet saying "I'm a librarian and I'm not currently on any committees. AMA."

This Pandamnit holding pattern can seem a little like a time loop some days so I guess I wasn’t surprised that it’s September. I just had a very nice birthday (as good as could be expected) and am circling back to a list I was going to make one of these days, when that was maybe a month ago. I looked at this tweet that Tasha made and thought HOW. And the answer is “Hey that is someone with better boundaries than me, maybe.” Because it’s a challenge, right? I am a little underemployed. I am a helper-type person. There is always work to be done. I can do some of it. But, as I learned maybe in March, if you’re giving fractional time to a ton of little organizations, when things get tough and you’re asked to give a little more, that can quickly snowball.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere (thought it was here but it was not) about the Discardia model, of trying to only have 5-6 “buckets” of stuff in your life. For many people work and family are two of those buckets and then you can have one for hobbies, one for civics, whatever. I go back and forth between feeling like I have too many and then too few. So, I decided to make a list of “buckets” that aren’t my usual work and family buckets.

  • VT Humanities Council Finance Committee (I am good with numbers)
  • VT Humanities Council Membership and Governance Committee (helping get a more diverse board)
  • VT Humanities Council Technology and Access Committee (who better than me?)
  • 251 Club Board (obvs.)
  • Vermont Library Association Technology Person (a natural fit!)
  • Vermont Library Association Diversity and Inclusion Committee (of course)
  • VT State Library Committee on Mailing List Etiquette (don’t laugh!)
  • VT Mutual Aid Society Qualifying Authority for Print Disabled Access at the Internet Archive (helpful!)
  • American Library Association VT Chapter Councilor (someone had to)
  • Town of Randolph Conservation Commission (I do the website)
  • Town of Randolph Board of Civil Authority (comes with my JP role)
  • Town of Randolph Board of Abatement (likewise)
  • Learned League Official Rules Committee
  • Learned League Official Rules Committee Leadership
  • Learned League League Naming Committee (for choosing new League names)
  • Wikipedia Library resource application approver

Most of these are pretty low-engagement commitments. A meeting a a month, maybe some homework in-between. Some of them are more busy generally–the Archive work is a mini-job–and some get busy at certain times. During election times, there’s at least one whole day of poll work and a few meetings. And right before Humanities Council board meetings all the committees try to meet and touch base. I’m pretty sensitive to “This meeting could have been an email” situations and I’m lucky not to get into them too often.

All this is to say, I haven’t felt isolated, even as my in-person contacts are few and far between (and masked and distanced). At the same time, I just now finally sewed those three buttons back on my duvet cover, a project I’d been meaning to work on since March (Three buttons! It took 15 minutes!). So part of my “prepping for the colder months” is going to be trying to carve out some time for the Keep Jessamyn’s Nonsense Running Smoothly Committee and the Think about Vacuuming Once in a While Committee and the Make More Food From Scratch Working Group. Which nominally means I should probably pick a few other things to remove from that list. But let’s be honest, I probably won’t. Happy Fake Labor Day, dont’ work too hard.

still here

photograph looking down into a sink filled with socks-and-underwear type laundry with a mask on top

So until Massachusetts gets its COVID numbers more under control, I am likely not going there for the summer, though I’m making noises like “Maybe later…” I might take a fly-by quarantined trip down there. I haven’t been in Vermont for a summer since 2011 I think? And I use the term summer loosely since it’s 50 and cloudy outside and not that much warmer inside. Ronni has done her usual thing of turning the furnace off which seemed like a fine idea when it was 85 outside, less fine now, but I have socks, and one sweater that I didn’t put away.

I’ve been pleasantly busy. Less trivia, a little more leaving the house. Have seen two sets of local friends for distant no-mask interactions and that’s been the fuel that’s been firing my furnace lately. Still not quite up to laundry at the laundromat, even though I suspect it’s fine. I’ve been making some signs telling people that masks are required, even though the governor won’t make them mandatory for people in public. My regular dog walking partner is back at work which means sometimes I have to find ways of getting my own exercise and not just being a passive walk-along, though I’ve enjoyed that greatly. As Vermont shifts to kinda opening up some more, I’m mostly not ready to shift along with it, though I’d love a good cheeseburger and should probably get one.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my parents lately, both because I am kind of happy to not have to be managing older relatives (though I miss them) and also because they had fundamentally opposing ways of interacting with the larger world. My father was a stay-at-home and work on your home kind of guy. This meant he had a lovely home but also the fail mode of that was becoming a bit of a hermit having mostly internet interactions and developing theories about the world that didn’t stand up to actual-world scrutiny. My mother hurled herself into civics work and volunteerism and town… stuff. She knew a lot of people and they knew her which was deeply satisfying but also kinda tiring/aggravating. The fail mode was that when she didn’t have energy for that, all those social interactions didn’t pivot to a new normal. Some did and some did not.

I find myself with a little of each, mindful that I am a different person from my parents in many ways, but also trying to not replicate downsides of choices they made from different points in their lives. It’s easy to stay at home when you can (mostly) work from home and have a lot of Strong Opinions™ about things that other people are doing. It’s harder to be involved with imperfect systems and do your best to try to make them better. And yet… in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and incredible reactive and visible police violence, thinking about broken systems and broken stairs has been on my mind a lot lately. It’s past time to fix the police. It’s past time to acknowledge the reality of structural racism in America, and in Vermont. It’s worth being incredibly picky about how you align with broken systems, and think about which ones are really even worth saving.

A month of food

A dutch baby (kind of like a pancake) on a nice plate with a knife and fork

So except for a single slice of pizza, I haven’t eaten anything I didn’t make at home for a month. I’m a decent cook and have a decent pantry. But more to the point, I have a huge tolerance for eating the same thing over and over again. This means batch cooking, even for one, mostly works. But even my usual go-tos got kind of boring, so I’ve been branching out into occasional internet recipes. Here’s some of what I made, though you’ll notice this is as much about getting food as eating it.

  • Healthy Banana Bread – for whatever reason many of the recipes I wind up with are on these super-healthy food blogs where everything else is some kind of kale paste or date smoothie. This bread was good, and improved with some extra coconut. We’ve been able to get flour pretty easily at the local farm stand and I had some gross bananas that needed to give up their space in the freezer.
  • Vegetarian Matzo Ball Soup – the matzoh ball part of this was too foofy (made the recipe off the box) but I wound up with extra eggs (thanks to a lady from facebook who was delivering them) so figured I’d try to make the soup as well. I have saffron, this wound up good.
  • Golden Milk Chia Seed Pudding – sometimes you just want to use some foods up. I have had chia seeds sitting around since forever and I don’t even remember why I got them. This was… okay. I like turmeric as a flavor but it just didn’t turn into anything I’d eat again. Thumbs up texture though.
  • Overnight Oats – there are a million recipes for this and I was fine going off on my own, just wanted to make sure I had the right ratio. I have a large box of of internet-purchased self-stable soy milk that this was good for.
  • Dutch baby (pictured) – these are a great breakfast go-to because you can build them easily into sweet or savory. This one is a turkey sausage and parmesan baby.
  • Sweet Potato, Red Lentil, and Peanut Stew – This was the surprise favorite. A really neat combination of flavors and it’s good over rice or quinoa or basically anything.
  • Cheesey cornbread – this was just mix the box of stuff with some extra cheese. But it’s funny because I ordered the cornbread in the mail. It got delivered to Ronni by mistake. She thought it was for her (somehow) and I had to wrest it from her.
  • Never fail scalloped potatoes – I had won a mandoline at trivia and never tried it. Then I bought five pounds of potatoes from a local farmer (well I bought 25 but gave 20 to the food bank) and needed a PLAN. These were simple and tasted great and froze easily.
  • Late addition: I made this recipe three times, not sure how I forgot it: Chewy Molasses Cookies

We’ve been really lucky in Orange County, COVID hasn’t been overwhelming, and people are great at staying the fuck home. The supermarket, farm stands, farmers and people-with-chickens have created a nice food ecosystem, and we have enough people with enough to be able to help out the people who don’t have enough. Early on I bought some stuff online (soy milk, cornbread, almonds, apricots, too many fritos) and my last cheese delivery came at the beginning of March. So while I really really miss cheeseburgers with friends and porch beers with friends and thai food with friends and the Wayside with Jim, it’s not the food that I’ve been missing. And the food helps me not miss the other stuff quite as much.

two months missed

flowers bending towards a sunlit window

So I’d been kind of waiting until I had a positive “Hey I’m feeling better!” update. I had my head down, doing my thing, being basically okay but a little crabby at having felt kinda lousy since August. And two things happened.

1. COVID-19
2. The medicine my doc gave me for GERD (or something analogous) which I was sure was doing nothing, suddenly started working.

Number one sucks, incredibly, for so many. And yet number two means I’ve been without random scary mystery pains for nearly a month now and, wow, it’s really helped my outlook. I’m not any more out of work than I was before, and I’m possibly a little more employed (MetaFilter has yet to hire a new staffer so I’m filling in a few shifts a week). I’m not any more anxious than I was before, or, rather, I have an actual thing to hang my anxiety on. So since I am no stranger to this feeling, I can help other people who are having a harder time. Drop-In Time is, of course, cancelled, but I’ve been assisting people with tech stuff over email and keeping Ronni’s technology running.

Being concerned for her health has made me even more conscious of my own, so I’m minimizing trips where I’ll be in contact with others, though I do some socially-distant dog walking with a friend most days (I know this isn’t perfect, I am not perfect). Jim’s been busting his ass doing things for his department, now scattered to the wind, and my sister has been still having to go to work. She’s like my dad was, a good person in a crisis, even though it’s been hard for her.

I’ll be honest, I was hoping to be done hunkering by now, not gearing up for an extended hunker. However, I like my place, I am okay being alone, I don’t mind eating the same thing every day, I like to be able to be doing the right thing just by mostly staying out of things.