bird return

red breasted nuthatch sitting on a suet cage with suet in it

It’s been a weird downside to this pandamnit time that my house–usually set up well for feeding and observing birds–had seen a huge drop off of bird visitors for no reason I was totally sure of. Could have been the ladder leaning up against the side of the house, leading to more squirrel activity (I could watch squirrels climb ladders all day). Could have been a nearby predator. Could have been that my feeders were ganky. Or maybe it was more neighbors being home and setting up their own feeders. Who knows? But this winter there just wasn’t a lot of bird activity here, though definitely lots elsewhere. So little that I didn’t even participate in Feederwatch this year because it was too depressing. But as the buds on the trees have turned into leaves, and I got some new feeders and cleaned the old ones, there’s been a little bit more feathered activity going on outside. I counted seven species one day–red breasted nuthatch (pictured), white breasted nuthatch, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, chickadee, tufted titmouse, mourning doves–a high water mark for 2021. I’m fortunate to live above the bears, so I can keep the feeders out even as they come out of the woods and terrorize the local garbage cans.

Jim and I are both counting down the days til we’re fully vaccinated, they’re in the single digits. I don’t expect my life will change terribly much when I’ve hit that date except my life will have a lot more Jim in it. And I’ll start there.

I sleep well in March

A color photo of a metal disc which is on top of fire hydrants so you can find them in the snow. It's painted a shiny red and is contrasted against the blue of the sky
I’ve never understood it, but I sleep well in March. Something about winter being over, the weather still being cold, the days getting longer, my allergies not quite kicking in just yet. This March, a weird March, is no different. Even though I’ve still got a pretty elaborate sleep hygiene ritual, it reliably works this month and I haven’t had an “up til 4 am” sleep fail in a while.

This may be partly because my teeth have mostly stopped hurting, my gallbladder hasn’t been heard from, and I’ve walked 62 miles this month. Just circles around and around the neighborhood mostly. Sometimes with friends and sometimes just me and my thoughts and my camera. This picture is one of those things that live on the top of fire hydrants so you can find them in the snow. And the snow only really exists in little shadow areas right now, so I went out for a walk in my sneakers today, the first time since… I don’t know when. Which is good because my hiking boots are starting to really show the wear. I haven’t been treating them any differently, but I’ve been wearing them a LOT more and, surprise surprise, that matters!

Today was the “Hey 50+ year old people, get your vaccination appointment!” day. So I did. Fortunately, bad web interfaces don’t faze me much but oy! I made a mini-tweet thread about it this morning (yep, I got up early) and I don’t have much more to say except I’m sad for all of us that this is the path to safety and it’s worse than it needs to be. My year hasn’t been terrible, it could have been much better. Many peoples’ were worse. Mine has mostly been literally and figuratively walking around in little circles, getting some sunshine, and waiting for brighter and better days.

cheerful not happy

photo of a wallk of snow with the sun peeking out from behind it with some wispy clouds being lit by the sun.

Really trying to at least get an update a month in here, but the news is still basically “No real news.” Kate got vaccinated. Ronni got her first shot. I’ve been going on walks every day that I’m not at home working all day (so out and about maybe six days a week, not bad). Sleep’s been okay. Teeth have been less okay. Gallbladder has been okay so far and I’ve been pretty happy to be able to postpone surgery until a time that is more convenient. My Scrabble game is okay. Jim’s been doing well. I’ve found a bunch of new YouTube stuff–Taskmaster and No More Jockeys–to give me some teevee to watch when I’ve got some extra time in the day. I found my sweaters that I somehow thought I’d gotten rid of. I’ll worry about my memory after there’s some herd immunity.

I read elsewhere about someone discussing how they’ve been coping with all of this. Someone told them they seemed happy all the time. They responded that while they were far from happy–happiness can be elusive during times of great upheaval and restriction and trouble–they were able to mostly be cheerful, put on a decent face when interacting with other people. I’ve been working on the same thing. Obviously I’ve got folks in my life to whom I can just say “This aspect of this whole thing sucks!” However, in a general sense, my public face is mostly not the “This sucks!” face. Now that I’ve thought about the differences between happy and cheerful, and how they can each appear externally, I feel better about saying “Not bad, and you?” to people who ask me how I’m doing, without feeling like I am lying or faking it.

I’ve got nothing but time to think about this stuff when I’m not purposefully hurling myself into time-consuming hobbies like creating a navigation box for State Libraries or Stadium Organists on Wikipedia. Looking forward to warmer weather when it’s easier to walk in the woods and hug some trees, and later months when it’s easier to walk to other houses, hug some friends.

wraps ups II

image of the same plant as in the post from a year ago, looking a little more raggedy but still doing okay

This wrap up is a lot different from last years, but this plant is still chugging along, kind of, as am I. Here are my year-end lists in total.

  • libraries visited – shorter than usual
  • books read – not as long as you’d think
  • places stayed – bit of a bummer here, I don’t think I’ve spent a year only sleeping in one place… in my entire life. When I dream, I dream about going places.
  • other events — i.e. timeline of big events in 2020 that I remembered, longer than you’d think!

2021 has come in nice and snowy and Vermont remains a place I am very pleased to have landed in the late 90s. I’ve got a lot of winter hobbies that can basically double as COVID hobbies–cooking, Wikipedia, keeping all these plants alive, writing letters–and about as much work as I want. Wishing the same for everyone else: may you have hobbies you like and enough time to do them, may you have as much work as you want, may you sleep at night and dream of better days.

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

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.