Living in the Age of Covid-19: Preserving Late Summer Harvest

We have had another week of hot temperatures, around 90 f requiring our air conditioner to be on so I can sleep well at night. It feels like an end-of-summer hot, with the lawns drying, the leaves on the trees loosing their robust green color of earlier summer, and the sounds of the birds and insects changing. Sometimes the only bird call is an occasional caw of a crow diverting my attention from the cicada high humming in the background. When I start complaining about the heat, our daughter who is working from our home to escape the Covid-19 and intense summer heat of southern Texas starts to give me a detailed description of what ‘hot’ really is – like the fat just under her skin starting to boil. Next week is suppose to be in the 70’s with nights in the 50′. I am ready for the cooler weather of late summer/early autumn. I think we will make some soups.

I have been going to 2-3 farm markets a week, coming home with bags of fresh produce. Yesterday I bought 10 lbs. of beets and we processed them into pickled beets. Today we are going back for more. I went to the farmers’ market downtown last Friday with a list of foods we needed to make pickles and salsa. As I was finishing up and eager to get away from people milling around me, I remembered that this farmer had said he would have beets that day. I looked down the tables and saw them at the end. I hurriedly pick up two bunches, paid and was on my way. The next day Sharon started cleaning them to put in the pressure cooker and became confused by some of the characteristics – like the smell of onions from the tough greens and the white in the center of the cut ends. We discovered I had bought radishes, big radishes.

Luckily I didn’t buy 10 lbs. and Sharon used some to make okroshka, a very delicious cold Russian soup with cucumbers, radishes, potatoes. She ate it when she was living in Kyrgyzstan and has been working to perfect the recipe. I had it when I visited her there and I think she has replicated it well. That used a little of the radish. I was making sweet pickle relish for canning so she decided to make a radish relish substituting radish for cucumbers and including shredded carrots and onions. It is so beautiful in the jars, but we haven’t tried it yet. Best of all, this “beet” purchase gave us a hearty laugh.

We are feeling joy and embracing the decadence of having lots of locally grown fruit in the house. Blueberries are at the very end of their season but oh how great it has been. I started buying two quarts at a time, the next week I asked for three quarts and the farmer explained that a five pound box is a better deal. Sold! The next week I bought a 10 lb. box and went back an hour later with the empty box and bought another. I froze some, made a couple of pies and a cobbler, and we ate them on cereal and in bowls with creamer. Oh, and we ate them by the handful – all day long. I am still buying them but only one quart at a time because they go bad because it is at the end of their season. But that is okay because the peaches started coming three or four weeks ago so every day we have peaches with our blueberries. Now pears are just starting to ripen so we are having blueberries, peaches and pears for our supper treat.

We are having great fun preserving the produce we have been buying at various farmers’ markets. Sharon chose to take her portion to the kitchen in the basement instead of putting them in boxes and stacking them in the corner of the garage. I totally understand the joy and satisfaction she experiences every time she comes out of her bedroom and sees them. They will be headed for Texas as soon as she sees evidence that the Covid-19 virus is under control enough to feel safe to return.

Thus far we have canned (from left to right) her radish relish, sweet pickle relish, sour cherries, dilly green beans, pickled beets, corn relish, salsa, and in the back ketchup and blackberry jam. This week-end we are going to can tomatoes and make another batch of salsa. I think we may also can some peaches for her – or I will put our excess ones in the freezer before I go to get more from our favorite fruit farmers on Tuesday.

It has been many years since I have done this much canning and it feels so perfect as an anecdote for the times we are experiencing. I am learning a lot from my daughter who is a free spirit when working with foods – and we work really well together so the job seems to be completed in about half the time. It is nice to find a silver lining in the midst of the pandemic, and having Sharon here with us to enjoy Michigan’s bountiful harvest is one that I am going to embrace without guilt.

Living in the Age of Covid-19: Coping

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These are normally my two places to rest, rejuvenate, start my day and end my day – my favorite chair in my reading room or my purple porch swing on the front porch. These are safe places. But life has changed in so many ways and I am feeling the impact. Research has found that people can only stay in a crisis mode for about 6 weeks before the seek a resolution, a way to cope. Sometimes we find adaptive ways to cope and other times it seems like the only options are maladaptive. We try to move back to our old ways of coping, but sometimes our world had changed so drastically that we can’t find our way back to what was.

I continue to try to identify and name how I am reacting to the pandemic, the Trump presidency, increased focus on racial injustices, and the impact of global warming. Mostly I have settled into exhaustion with brief breakthroughs of peace and joy when concentrating on sewing quilt tops and canning the wonderful fresh produce that Michigan summers provide. Frequently I have felt tears at the back of my eyes that leads me to believe that I am mourning our losses.

So many of us are in this boat – each having loss many things that are very dear. My greatest loss seems to be a sense of safety – I feel the threat of the corona virus, the extreme damages Trump has wrought on what our country stands for (even with all of our faults and blemishes), and the looming threat of global warming. And my heart aches for the hundreds of thousands of people who have loss loved ones or have loss their health due to the virus. And I feel rage that the pandemic and its consequences are a thousand times worse than they should be here in the U.S. because of the incompetence, denial of reality, and narcissism of our president. And then it makes me angry that I hate someone as much as I hate that man and all the people who support him. Lord, have mercy on me.

It helped to write the previous paragraph, a little, but I’ve expressed similar thought before. But there are other things I need to write, I want to express, but something gets in the way, blocks the path from soul to brain to fingers. Maybe they are thoughts that are either half baked or seem too inconsequential within the magnitude, the enormity of what we as a country and a world are experiencing. I want to put to words the minor frustrations that I am experiencing from the crisis we are experiencing.

This past week we went camping on Lake Huron, the Great Lake that is the border on the eastern side of the lower peninsula. I had been looking forward to this get-away with a couple who is similarly terrified of the virus. I wanted to run away from everything just for a little while. But it didn’t work because there was always that nagging fear in the back of my brain that maybe it was a mistake even though we encountered just a handful of other people. I found that I longed to be home piecing my quilt top and by Thursday I really wanted to just pack up and go home. As we were driving home today, Friday, I decided I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to turn around and go somewhere for another week. My take-away is that I can’t escape any of it, no matter where I go.

I am also irritated at how cautious I am whenever I leave my “clean” space. Every time I leave the house I am continually calculating how safe my movement is, who I am coming in contact with, and how to avoid being close to people – especially people who don’t have masks on. (And then I have to deal with my rage at people who refuse to wear a mask because it infringes on their personal freedom – damn them all to hell. Oh Lord, have mercy on me again.)

This same cautiousness happens when I bring things into the house. I can’t seem to separate rational caution from irrational. When we returned home I had to unpack a lot of the food from our camper before I could fix some supper. As I took things from the carrying boxes, I felt the impulse to disinfect them – and to wash my hands yet again. And I wonder if I’m being overly cautious, irrationally cautious. Sometimes I am and then sometimes I slip back into old ways and I fear that I let some virus in. Damn, it is exhausting.

Most of all I’m trying to make sense of my reaction to the pandemic (and my reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement that will have to wait until another post). The pandemic hasn’t affected my economics but it has my social relationships. The pandemic hasn’t impacted on my health but it has on my movement within my community. I haven’t lost a job but I have loss my sense of direction. I have loss my safety because I believe I have about a 40% chance of dying if I am infected. I don’t want my husband, family and friends to experience the pain of my death. I don’t want to lose my husband, and I don’t want all the people who love him to experience the pain of his death. I am afraid – but within my fear and grief are times of joy and happiness. I’ll share some of those next post.

Quiet Moments

_DSC0018-2The Lens-Artist Photo Challenge this week is to illustrate how we find a quiet moment as we are staying home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I had to give this some thought because with just two people in our home my days are very quiet. I don’t need quiet, as in the lack of noise; what I need is quiet in the sense of gentle colors and order. What makes for a quiet moment is a focus on where I am in the moment while blocking out all thoughts of chaos, death, sickness, meanness, killing, corruption, hate, and destruction.

_DSC0039I have been mostly staying home and not in the mood for photography. My friend, Julie, and I used to go on weekly photo shoots down dirt road within a 50 mile radius of where we live – until she moved 120 miles away. My heart aches from missing these hours of being quiet and apart, together with a good friend. I miss making time to see, really see what is before me and explore the simple, looking for how to capture its greatest beauty.

_DSC0029I have been going through old photography files, sometimes just to remember, sometimes to find pleasure in photos I love, and occasionally to find the perfect photo for a post. Sometimes I even clean out photos that I am confident I will never use and tag the keepers so I can find them again. This activity brings me pleasure when I need order within our social disorder.

_DSC0021These photos were taken at an Audubon Sanctuary on a foggy August morning in 2018. As I meandered my way through the file I knew these were the perfect photos to illustrate what I need in my quiet moments during these times of fear and rage.

_DSC0040I hope you will join me as I walk the wildflower-edged paths once again, looking for beauty during our quiet moments. I promise not to make any noise to distract you from whatever you are focused on. And I’ll save my words about change and social injustice for another post.

Please take good care of yourself and practice appropriate safety measure when you are in contact with others.

Living in the Age of Covid-19: Control

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View from my sewing corner.

My social calendar is blank, although we have found some low-risk ways of occasionally being with one or two other people. The surest way that I have found to be with people at a distance is to work in my front flower garden. A good number of people walk in our neighborhood and most people say hi and the people we know best stop to chat – but they don’t get too close because they really don’t want to work with me. Even when I tell them there are enough weeds for everyone.

My garden seems really happy right now, probably because I have showered it with attention this year. Because of stay-at-home and social distancing I can’t be somewhere else or can’t have friends over for cards or dinner. As with every spring, the first order of business in my garden was going after the weeds, thinking it would also count as exercise because I can’t go to the gym. As I weeded I remembered that some daylilies needed dividing because they haven’t bloomed much in the past couple of years. Then I realized that the veronica should be moved because the dwarf lilac is starting to encroach on it. And the 12-year-old gold falsecypress was getting too big for the garden even though I did some major pruning in the past two years. Jim took that out along with the flowering almond that no longer had many redeeming qualities, and two ground cover evergreens that were looking their age. That last sentence fragment doesn’t sound very gracious – given that I am also looking my age. Out back by the poppies, Jim took out a beautiful “Limelight” hydrangea that I planted in the wrong place but too long ago to make it possible to transplant it – at least without a backhoe. This year we are really enjoying the poppies and new bird bath that aren’t hidden by the hydrangea.

These are the physical things we have been doing in the garden, along with planting some new perennials. Twelve years ago I started with a blank slate, planting some evergreens and small flowering shrubs to give some structure (the ones we are now removing). Then I started filling in with some perennials from the house we left and from several trips to the garden center. My goal was to get some things growing and fill in the distance between with mulch. It was a long, slow process and I don’t do well with waiting a year or five to see results.

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A new canvas – April 2008

 

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My 2018 garden in early July

But my garden did grow and mature. It survived a few years without much care as I struggled to get control of fibromyalgia that overtook my life. Jim kept the weeds under control, mostly, and one year for Mother’s Day my daughter and three granddaughters came to weed because neither Jim nor I had enough energy to tend to it. In the last few years I have been fighting some very invasive weeds, mostly doing garden crisis control, although I visited some garden centers and would pick up a plant or two of interest to put someplace that was a little bare. Ya, I liked the buying more than the planting and tending.

This year has been different. I actually have enjoyed the process of gardening as much as the excitement of waiting to see how it will look. I bought and planted several new perennials where I think they will accent existing plants. I am contemplating how to best fill in the spots where shrubs were removed and how new planting will improve the overall structure. The fun part is that I feel my 12-year-old garden moving into a new phase in its lifecycle and maybe this change is reflecting a new change in me. Maybe.

I have been quilting and gardening in an attempt to exert some control, to make things work, to create beauty in a world that feels dangerous and on the edge of being out of control. I have been getting pleasure from fixing the plantings in my garden and putting small pieces of fabric together so they make something better than each individual plant/fabric piece, so they work together better.

What I really want is to have an impact on our social problems. What I really want is to be able to control the spread of misinformation, of lies, of wrong-headed beliefs. I want to control what other people are doing (or not doing) that is increasing the deadly spread of the virus that our national leader is denying. I want to get inside the brains of racists and white supremacists and wipe out all the garbage they have in there – and re-order the firing of neurons so they don’t create and spew out hate and injustice.

And on my darkest days I stoop to thinking of really evil things to do to people who refuse to listen and learn from science, who won’t read widely and critically so they can make informed decisions instead of acting on blind instinct. I want bad things to happen to people who put their self-interests ahead of the common good of society. Dear God, am I asking too much of humanity?

This week I am in a dark mood; I feel depressed and have to force myself to do things that normally give me pleasure. It has taken me so long to finish this post that the poppies are in their last day of blooming. Last week I felt that life was about as wonderful as it could get. My world (my bubble inside an insane world) was full of beauty and kindness and graciousness. I have been experiencing these mood swings for some time now and suspect there is a correlation with the amount of political news I listen to or what crisis is being reported. Given that I feel a responsibility to knowing what is happening in the US and around the world, this will be the price I have to pay.

But I have been feeling a difference in how I garden and quilt and maybe even how I respond to the news I listen to and the people I interact with. I am observing a slight shift in how I do my work of living in an imperfect world. In my garden I am feeling more tolerant of the time it takes for plants to mature and taking more interest in creating happy combinations of flowers and foliage. My flowers may be allowed to grow as their DNA instructs them to grow without having to bend to my rules and control (no worry about my giving up complete control, though).

Maybe I’m giving up my wrong-headed belief that I have a responsibility to make the world right. Maybe I’ll try doing what I can to improve our society, but when I can’t do anything I will focus on making beauty in my little corner of the world.

Living in the Age of COVID- 19: Delicate Colors

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I haven’t left my home to photograph since I returned to Michigan from our winter home in Florida. Even in Florida the only outing with camera after the middle of March was into the western edge of the Everglades, to Everglade City and Chokoloskee . There is a disconnect in my psyche. I love taking photos during the northern spring, when nature is sprouting soft greens, the tulips and daffodils are blooming (deer ate my tulips again this year, but not until after they had bloomed for a day or two.) There are flowering fruit trees around the neighborhood so there is no reason for not taking the camera out. But I don’t.

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Instead I’m wandering through my photo files, looking for “delicate colors” for this week’s Lens-Artist challenge. What a perfect prompt because I need delicate as I watch news of the covid hot-spots across the country, see parts of the country open up and people flock to close places without masks, and ache with hurt and am enraged along with all the protesters over the latest deaths of Afro-Americans at the hands of police. What in the hell is going on when people don’t recognize that their racism is not okay? What in the hell is going on that people aren’t willing to sacrifice a drink in a bar for the well-being of others? What in the hell is going on when the president of the U.S. is too macho and too insensitive to wear a mask? What in the hell is going on when meat packing companies (and Amazon) put profits above human lives? What in the hell is going on when governments are hiding the number of nursing home and prison deaths instead of providing adequate help? What in the hell is going on when the president of the U.S. tweets damaging and inciting lies (with absolutely no factual basis) about a TV personality he is having an ongoing feud with and there are no consequences for him?

I should say “sorry” for my rant, but that felt so good – you can see why I need delicate colors in my life. Life is just f***ing crazy in 2020. Take another deep breath, Pat. And another.

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Jim and I are making our moments of joy even as I feel battered by the social chaos. Yesterday we picked up a take-out from one of our favorite place to eat, the Cascade Manor House. Normally they only host private dinner events and wonderful public buffets on special days but are now providing take-out dinners on Thursdays. Last night they served honey roasted ham, glazed carrots, and their special corn casserole. We parked in their upper lot, between the golf course and the skating pond in the Cascades park. No, we don’t eat out of styrofoam boxes with plastic forks. I take real plates and silverware. Next week they are serving up turkey and dressing. Maybe I’ll take a quilt and sit on the lawn for our picnic. Or take folding chairs and sit in the gazebo. Maybe I’ll even grab a couple of cloth napkins as I pack for our outing.

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Have you found ways to bring joy and gentle to your lives?