We Have Friends Coming for Dinner

There was a lot of activity at the bird feeders on Sunday, as the snow fell gently all day. It was a beautiful day and each of us spent some time at the dining room table watching our guests squabble, flutter, and sometimes partake of the seeds provided for them. It was a buffet with sunflower seeds, mixed bird seed, and suet cake available for their feasting delight. But still they squabbled and fluttered their wings to keep others at a distance. Normally we have guest who are better behaved when at the table.

Indoor dining at our home for this year’s U.S. Thanksgiving celebration will be much smaller and hopefully with less territorial fighting. I jest because I am confident we will find joy in being together around our table, the three of us – Jim, our daughter who is living with us during the pandemic, and me. The three of us agreed not to have guests this year as the virus cases and deaths are increasing rapidly across our country and here in Michigan. In our brains and guts we felt that even a small risk of having another safety-conscious couple for dinner was too big a risk. It seems we have opted for safety over the joy of sharing the indoor space of our home and table with people we love and care about. Everyone is making this risk/benefit analysis.

My quiet moments of contemplation recently have centered around the question of whether I am being too cautious, letting the experts on TV increase my fear to an unnecessary level. I have always been a big-picture thinker, able to take multiple viewpoints and analyze them down to the bottom-line truth (at least for me). This has been a hard topic for me because it pits taking care of our household members against hurting family and friends by refusing their invitations or our traditional gatherings. The end thought of my contemplations was that each one of the more than 12.5 million people in the U.S. that have been confirmed to have the virus plus the possible millions who developed symptoms without getting tested happened because of contact with another human being. That is how this virus spreads. The best way to avoid being a part of that statistic is to not have unnecessary contact with people.

We are all feeling the impact of this pandemic year (stacked on top of political, environmental, racial, and economic stresses) as we grapple with isolation fatigue. However, when we think of the totality of a lifetime, all the gatherings we have experienced in the past and all the gatherings we can look forward to in the future (if we keep ourselves safe and alive) I think we can find the strength and courage to do what we need to do for the next few months.

I find I am drawing my strength from remembering those times when we were missing family members because of travel or illness. It was sad but we made the best of it. I am drawing my courage from remembering those wonderful gatherings, big gatherings, where there was laughter and joy, children giggling and running around (and parents yelling “slow down”) and people speaking different languages. I can hear the echoes of those gatherings within my home as I prepare for our small gathering that will be full of joy and thankfulness that no one in our family has died from the virus. I will also be holding all of you who have lost a loved one in my heart, knowing that my heartbeat can carry comfort to others.

Now and Then

One month ago the tree in our side yard looked like this. A few leaves had fallen but there were still some leaves that were fading their green. This morning when I got up a little after 7:00 for our weekly run to the grocery I found…

And the tree in our side yard looks like this…

Between “then & now” seems like such a short time but so much has changed, at least outside of our home. Inside we continue to hunker down in place, not seeing other people and only going out for essential reasons.

I know I have the right to go out and do as I please – I have a right to be maskless, but I also know I can make choices. Because I have a choice I have control over so much more of what happens in my life than relying just on fate. Making choices involves thinking about the options, reading and listening to experts so I know what the potential consequences are of each option, and thinking about the consequences for the people I love most and for society at large. I also know that situations change and I can reconsider my choices as I receive new information.

I haven’t been listening to much of the political commentary on TV because of political and Covid fatigue but I did happen to click on Rachael Maddow the other night to hear this segment on Rachael’s lockdown because of coming in contact with someone who was positive and her experience of caring for her infected wife who she is living apart from because of their exposure; and her experience of their fear that Susan was going to die. I love Jim and my children more than I can communicate. Thank you, Rachael, for putting my choices in those terms. Please listen to her honest and difficult description of her life right now and her plea to all of us.

The Lens-Artist Challenge for this week is “Now and Then.” It inspired me to spend a few minutes outside taking some photographs this morning, but also has me thinking about how life has changed between then and now. It also gives me hope that now won’t be forever – now will move into something different. I no longer think about Mondays or Thursdays or Sundays. Most important, wedged between all the yesterdays and next-days, are my todays. Today I am going to live my life with contentment and satisfaction. I will focus on picking up my yesterday socks from my reading room floor, make the bed, have another cup of coffee and a small dish of apple crisp, dry the clothes in the washing machine, work on sewn Christmas presents for friends and family, and make some stir fry for supper.

How will you choose to spend your today?

Lens-Artist Challenge #119 -My Hideaway

I have been missing my weekly early morning outings out in the country with no destination and no agenda. Just photography gear in the back seat and friend Julie along for companionship. Two women, both very comfortable with silence, communing together with whatever we saw on the horizon or along the road. Long lengths of quite time just being with the sounds, smells and sights that are experienced away from the human world.

I knew what I enjoyed about it but I don’t think I totally understood the significance that this solitary time in nature had for my very being. I seemed to know it was important but not just how important until I no longer thought it possible to find after some changes and losses. The pandemic continued, social issues peaked in importance, politics became crazier and my craving became more intense. Jim and I went out several times but I wasn’t able to get in touch with what I needed because overshadowing the outings was someone waiting for me, maybe getting impatient, maybe thinking I had spent enough time. He would deny it but these thoughts were still impacting my focus on what I was (or wasn’t) seeing.

On a sunny day last week I decided to go to the Hidden Lake Gardens by myself. This garden has lots of walking trails through woods and meadows and around kettle lakes but there is also a driving trail with lots of pull-offs through the acres of hills and woodlands. This trip felt much safer for a women who is alone than going down dirt roads. I wish it weren’t so but I believe I need to be ever vigilant about where I am and the potential threats. I learned this very young with no actual conversation taking place.

I started this outing with a plan taking into consideration my safety and time needed and side trip for a piece of fabric for a quilt. As I drove I felt the tension of getting to where I wanted to be, thinking about what I wanted to capture on my memory card for future posts. I thought about how I could use my trip to this garden as a post for the current Lens-Artist Photo Challenge #119: Hideaway. I thought about how I wanted to stop at the Liberty Mill Pond along the road south from our home because it looked so interesting the last few times we had driven past. And I felt the tension in my neck and the pressure around my temples. I felt the sadness in the back of my eyes. This isn’t what I needed nor wanted.

Liberty Mill Pond

Then I reached the pond just as the sun was coming over the trees that edged the pond. People fish this pond so there is a little pull-off created by people stopping, not county officials making it. The air was still really cool but there was no wind. Heavy frost covered the swamp grasses on the near edge where the sun hadn’t hit and there was a mist rising from the warmer waters. The water was perfectly smooth except for the lily pads and mist that broke the reflections of the surrounding trees in full fall color. The sun made diamonds of the melting frost on all the grasses and leaves.

See the guardrail and the rainbow? See the mist?

I would never think a hideaway could be somewhere in plain sight. I wasn’t hiding from the drivers who slowed their cars for my car parked on the edge and the old woman taking pictures. But they weren’t a worry for me and neither was the coronavirus, or the election in three weeks. I was focused on the world of nature in the very process of creation and recreation. I seemed to be in an effortless, easy being in the presence of my Creator to whom I belong, as much as the natural world belongs to the one who created the blueprints. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt. It is just what I need.

How wonderful to find my hideaway in a place that I can take with me, can recreate anywhere I am. How wonderful to have a platform for sharing my experience and having an archive for future visits when my brain gets foggy and I forget where I need to be and why. Thank you for being with me and I look forward to reading about the ways you find distance between yourself and those things that seem a bit toxic.

Please stay safe, and wear your mask in public places so others stay safe. Please don’t shoot yourself in the foot by making mask wearing a matter of style, masculinity, or personal freedom. See it as a responsibility we are all willing to take on for the greater good of society.

Staying Afloat – Kinda

We are staying afloat, kinda, as we attempt to stay safe while maintaining relationships with friends and family. Yesterday was a blaa day – grey skies, rain all afternoon, cold. Today is forcasted to be the same but with 2 minutes and 43 seconds less daylight. This time of year the daily loss of daylight is about the same over two or three months and adds up quickly. I don’t do well with less daylight, especially when the daylight is filtered through dark clouds.

But I am keeping my commitment to identify something each day that brought joy. It was difficult finding a bright point of joy yesterday – in fact I don’t remember how I filled most of the day. Funny how there can be a time of joy nestled in a grey, curl-up-in-a-blanket kind of day. There was a joyful period when I felt nurtured by an activity that by design will nurture one of my children.

I am making a throw size quilt for each of my adult children (and a spouse) for Christmas and yesterday I cut the extra backing and batting of the quilt I’m making for our son. It is so exciting to clean up the quilt that is now ready for the binding – the very last step of completion. I nurtured this quilt into existence, using a pattern for inspiration but designing the quilt around the idea in my head of what Mike would like, laying the pieces out and changing them until every piece fit within the whole I was working towards. And then sewing them together and watching in amazement as they came together almost perfectly – then taking out the offending pieces and replacing them with the perfect ones. Yes, it was a labor of love and joy – with a peak of joy when I cut off that extraneous fabric and could see what it would look like finished. But it isn’t quite finished so today I will start sewing on the binding. Will that be my experience of joy today?

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.