adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 9: kimchi

Kimchi is an essential food that has been much on my mind during the WorldWide Quarantine of the past couple weeks, because my supply is (well, was) running low. So I will tell you about kimchi. Maybe I’ve already said much of this before, here in this space, but too bad.  I’m in quarantine.

I don’t eat kimchi every single day of the week. But it’s very rare that I don’t have kimchi in the fridge, and when life gets complicated it’s an important source of comfort. So we’ve been eating quite a lot of kimchi lately.

A few times a year, I (like many Koreans who live here in the Milwaukee area) drive down to the huge H Mart in Niles, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago.  It’s the closest proper Korean grocery source, and it’s easily worth the 90-minute drive. I stock up on Korean supplies — big bags of sesame seeds and red pepper powders, various smelly pastes and oils, correct noodles made of wheat and rice and sweet potatoes, dried seaweeds, cases of Nongshim ramen, properly skinned mung beans, roasted barley for tea, rice cakes, specially sliced meats, salted fishes, fresh things I can’t find anywhere else like sesame leaves and soy bean sprouts (with the big yellow heads) and enormous persimmons  — and I gift myself some pre-made banchan (side dishes) and a giant jar of someone-else-made-it kimchi.

But most of the time I make my cabbage kimchi myself, if I can find the right ingredients, and of good enough quality. These days, there’s sea stuff in store-made kimchi and in the recipes Americans are making. I don’t know if it’s actually true, but my mom told me many years ago that this is because Seoul-style and southern-style kimchi is predominant here. She prefers the kimchi of her youth, and the kimchi her mom made, way-northern-style from the mountains.  I do too. No shrimp, no fish sauce.  Vegan by default, only we don’t call it that. We just call it kimchi.

In Korea when I was a kid, my grandma made kimchi in the fall when the cabbage harvest came in. It was old school. She made a massive amount of kimchi and buried clay pots of it in the back yard. It was one of the great fun mysteries of my childhood, wandering into the back yard with grandma, watching her kneel down and pull a big hunk of kimchi out of the ground. In the spring, the last dregs of kimchi would film over with some gossamer white stuff. She would just pull that off with her hand, and the kimchi underneath it was fine.

I expressed concern once – only once.  She and mom dismissed my worries with a thud. Grandma snapped, “It’s just medicine.” Mom laughed and added, “It’s just penicillin, it won’t hurt you, it’s good for you.”

When I went to Oberlin College, mom sent me with a single-serving rice pot and some rice in my luggage, and a kimchi recipe in my heart.  I was so f#*ing clueless that I did not understand how incredibly ethnic this was. My mom always told me I was “American not Korean.” But she was wrong, and anyway I know what she really meant was “be as white as you can, because that’s how you will survive here.”

But there’s no escaping our ethnic origins, the look of our eyes and faces, especially in these xenophobic times, and even for half-breeds like me.  I’m American and Korean.

Anyway so yeah, rice pot. I made kimchi at Oberlin, in the shared kitchen of my dorm, and I stored a good-size jar of it in my little dorm room fridge. My roommate was a white girl from Georgia and she was completely grossed out by the stink of it. I was undaunted and unapologetic. She ate white bread, I ate kimchi and rice.

My first attempts at kimchi went wrong a lot of little ways, but honestly, even bad kimchi is pretty good. I entered the kimchi desert for a time in my 30’s when I was working a lot, and stopped making any for years. When I tried again after Jesse was born, I really blew a few batches.  I called mom in frustration.  “I keep messing up my kimchi. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

The tone of her voice spoke of scorn and disappointment. “How can you mess up kimchi? It’s the easiest thing to make!”

I asked her anew for her recipe, only we would never call it that. If I had asked for “a recipe” she would have mocked me. There’s just making kimchi. Remind me how you do it, mom.

Let me share her recipe with you:

Use good Napa cabbage, not too much green stuff. Salt it and cover it with some water.

(How much salt, mom? Enough. Taste the water with your hand, it should taste salty.)

Cover it and let it sit on the counter until it’s done.

(How do you know it’s done, mom? You just know. Feel the cabbage and it should feel right.)

 Wash it really well, because otherwise your kimchi will be too salty.  

Make the spice for it. Red pepper flake, garlic, sugar to make it minty, green onions. You can grate a carrot if you want.

(How much of anything, mom? Depends. Taste it with your hand. Make it taste good is all.)

Use your hands to mix it all together, and then pack a big jar with it, nice and tight.  Swirl some water in the mixing bowl and pour that over the kimchi for some extra juice.

Put the lid on loose and leave it on the counter.

(Mom, how do I know when it’s done and ready to go in the fridge? You’ll know.)

That is still how I make kimchi. My only innovation is that I often grate a piece of daikon instead of a carrot.  Here’s the batch I made yesterday.

IMG_4859.JPG

The packed jar will sit on the counter on a towel.  I will just know when it’s done. It will come alive, and the jar will explode gently, leaving that towel red with juices.

IMG_4862.JPG

My old, running-out kimchi is in the smaller jar:

IMG_4863.JPG

We’re set for a little while.

Kimchi isn’t a vaccine against any illness, but it is definitely good for you. And for me, each bite is a reminder that thousands of years of Korean culture and cuisine will likely outlast COVID-19.

 

 

adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 8: wasting time

I’ve always disliked those “fun surveys” that circulate on Facebook. “Let’s have some fun! Answer the following 40 questions about yourself!” First street, places you’ve been, where you met your partner, kids’ names, pet names, on and on.

By the time normal people are done answering and publishing the survey, they’ve given the hacker who first unleashed the survey a mighty tool in figuring out their passwords and the answers to typical “verify this is you” questions. (Not normal people use passwords like “password1234” and “P1ssword” and “jQ48*4#9Jw;eskhcnx”.)

But one survey caught my eye yesterday.  “WITHOUT prompting… ask your child these questions and write EXACTLY what they say.”

I don’t know why it drew me in. The demand for rigorous reporting? I imagined a really bad teacher in a self-help class, shrieking these words at me. I found myself circling back to the “survey” in the evening, as I lay in bed wasting time and preparing emotionally for the “time for bed” storm. I started calling out the questions, and like zombies, my family leaned in – Anthony pottering about the house doing whatever he was doing, Nick fussing with the dogs and fidgeting on the bed next to me, and Jesse yelling answers from her own bedroom at the other end of the hall.

That girl. I don’t even know how she heard me asking the questions at first.  I was muttering them. How does she hear me whisper from 50 feet away, through bending hallways and half-closed doors, and know precisely what I’m saying? She could probably record my heart rate.  Of all the challenges she has going for her, can’t we trade in some of her unbelievable hearing for a little emotional resilience or impulse control? And at the same time, offer me some minimal privacy in conversations? Just a small swap of skill sets is all I’m asking.

I’m off topic.  Right. So I threw the questions out, and the three children answered.  This is how it went.

1. What is something I say a lot?

Anthony, rooting around in his closet: Good morning Nicholas I love you.

It seemed a little premature for sarcasm, but okay.

Nick: Time to boil the oil.

WTF Nick.  I have never said anything like that.  What does it even mean? It sounded wrong. He shrugged at me. Anthony offered assistance. “I think he means, time to lance the boil.”

Ah.  Yes.

Jesse, yelling from her bedroom: GO TO BED. EAT YOUR FOOD. WHY ARE YOU SO SELFISH.

Zoinks. Teenager.

2. What makes me happy?

Anthony, wandering into the bathroom carrying something: When someone else makes dinner.

Jesse:  I dunno, nothing.

Nick. When Jesse eats food or does not yell at you.

I think all three of them nailed it.

3. What makes me sad?

Anthony, wandering out of the bathroom and heading toward the bedroom door with a nervous laugh: This is a tricky one.

Nick: Jesse not eating and Jesse yelling.

He’s so binary and practical. I love that about Nick, but it seems a little simple, doesn’t it? The opposite of what makes me happy isn’t necessarily what makes me sad.  Or is it? Is he my little buddha? Am I about to have an epiphany??

Give me a second… no.

Jesse: Me.  Seeing dad slap a bunch of sour cream all over the place.

I’m deeply disturbed by the first part of Jesse’s answer, but that’s a huge topic and must be set aside.  I can explain the second part of Jesse’s answer.  Anthony thought this would be funny: empty a gone-bad container of sour cream into one hand over the sink, and then CLAP the other hand down as hard as he can.  Everyone else thought it was funny.  I saw the sour cream shrapnel and did not think it was funny.

4.  How tall am I?

Nick: two feet.

Anthony, bending over to pick something up off the floor: five feet.

Jesse: five feet something.

5.  What’s my favorite thing to do?

Nick: Being a lazy bum.

Anthony, leaning over the bed to pet a dog and move the blankets around aimlessly: home improvement projects.

Jesse: Drink.

Ooooh… Oh.  Shade. Kids throwing shade. But at least, not giving away password secrets.

6.  What’s my favorite food?

Anthony, lying on the bed with the dogs and Nick: That gross dessert.

What does that even mean? He could not describe it, name it, or identify any ingredients. He mumbled about it being something Korean. Then Nick weighed in.

Nick: Spam? What dad said.

And then the two of them went off about me loving fried spam, and shit on a shingle. And yes, I do love these things but they are not my favorite food. My girl came to my rescue with truth.

Jesse: kimchi.

7.  What is my favorite drink?

Jesse, without even a moment for reflection: Alcohol.

Oops.

Anthony, starting to roll around with nervous energy on the bed: I would have to say basil bourbon smash.

Nick, in a rush of words and feeling sorry for me: I would also have to say alcohol, I’m sorry.

Don’t be sorry. Mommy drinks. I am keenly aware that alcoholism runs in both sides of my family, and I do try to keep tabs on it. But especially in times like this, a drink every night is helping me turn down the volume on everything. The only thing that surprises me a little is that the kids are so aware of it. 95% of the time, I wait until after they go to bed to have a drink. Huh.

8.  If I could go anywhere, where would it be?

Anthony, now jumping up off the bed and headed back into the hallway: away from here.

Hey! Okay, probably. But still…

Nick: To your mama.

Aw, yes, that much is true.  That is truly true.  I had to cancel my trip to California and I miss my mama so much.

Jesse: Hawaii or away from me.

Sigh.  Jesse’s morose teenage angst was starting to get to me by this point.  I had to control my impulse to start wheedling “waaa waaaa waaaaah.”

9.  Do you think you could live without me?

Jesse: Maybe.

Anthony, dancing in circles around the bedroom: [breaks into song, with the refrain from Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive.”]

(This is infinitely better than the time he told me, “without you, I am but a dung beetle without its dung.”)

Nick: Well, if it’s a miserable life then yes.

10.  How do I annoy you?

Jesse (impersonating me):  EAT YOUR FOOD.

Anthony, digging in his closet again and pulling something out: Don’t put your clothes away, or your jacket away when you come in the door. Or anything else.

Nick, struggling to think of anything at all: When you yell at Jesse I get mad, but not annoyed.

Oooh, thanks for the clarity, little boy. I will continue working on it.

11.  What is my favorite TV show?

Anthony, snickering as he kneels on the floor to get his face right next to a dog’s face:  MASH.

Nick: Dragonball Z.

Jesse: Dragonball.

WTF WTF WTF. No no no no no. Complete garbage. For the win! No password help for a hacker there.

12.  What is my favorite music to listen to?

Anthony, who’s back up and into the bathroom: Fleetwood Mac.

Nick: The sounds of our house.

Jess: Ultra instinct [the theme music for when Goku, the anime star of Dragonball stuff, powers up to some insane level]

I think they must have been tuning out by now, because these were not real answers. No. But I carried on relentlessly with the survey.

13. What is my job?

Nick: to do chores.

Sigh. Yeah.

Anthony, flossing his teeth: Financial and property management, and Human Resources.

Jesse:  I don’t know. To put up with four kids and be the only grownup.

14.  How old am I?

Jesse: 45.

Nick: 79.

Anthony, wandering out of our bathroom and into the other bathroom: Boomer.

15.  What’s my favorite color?

Anthony, now back in the room and in his closet again: Orange.

Nick: Orange.

Jesse: Orange.

Really? I didn’t know orange was my favorite color.  I will need to ponder this. Sometimes the ones we love know stuff about us that we don’t realize.

16.  How much do you love me?

Anthony, finally settling onto the bed with the rest of us, and I can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic or embarrassed but I know he means it: To the moon and back forever until the sunshine never shines anymore.

Nick: Secret.

Jesse:  Um, I dunno… like 10 out of 10.

Totally worth the 20 minutes to do the survey.

#GrumpyGratitude

adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 7: social distancing for the win

Wisconsin is officially closed for business! Well, mostly. I over”heard” a group of people on Facebook slightly panicking about Home Depot closing, but I don’t think it will.  It’s essential.  Ace, my local hardware store, will likely stay open too — though I don’t know how essential it is, since it doesn’t carry toasters.

Do you know, I’ve survived now for what, a week? Without a toaster. I’m more resilient than I thought.

My shrink says I’m better prepared for this lockdown than many of my parent peers, because Jesse has essentially been homebound for a couple years and I’m already deeply embedded in her education. He pointed out that other parents may be more anxious about being home full-time with their kids and having to make some schooling happen, but I’m used to it and already have the skills and flexibility to make this work.  I was startled by this proposition.  I thought I was more like a raw nerve waiting to die.

I’m considering implementing social distancing rules at home.  It would finally get everyone out of our bed at night, and I wouldn’t have to sit at meals with the feral, sloppy maniacs masquerading as my spawn. I’m making cinnamon rolls right now. When they’re done, I can toss one to each kid from 6 feet off.  Oops, sorry I nailed you in the head. Enjoy.

Social distancing is a wonderful thing for someone like me, because I hate people. Generally speaking, you know.  I love many people and I care, la la la, but more universally speaking, people suck and many days I get tired of all the trivial human contact as I make my way through a day. Currently there is very little contact, and even less need for me to behave in socially acceptable ways, and I’m loving it. When I walk a dog, I don’t get stuck in polite chatter with neighbors I barely know so that our dogs can sniff each others’ butts and say hello. Now we just nod heads at each other and walk on. What a relief. Anthony, Nick and I went on a jog yesterday. When we passed people, it was perfectly okay for me to swerve in avoidance, turn my head away, and refuse to make eye contact – whereas a few weeks ago, the same behavior would have been frowned on.

I hope some of this sticks, even after the quarantining ends.

 

adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 6: I’m a stocker, not a hoarder

I confess: I haven’t bought toilet paper in several months. I have long maintained an apocalyptic supply of toilet paper and butt wipes and sanitary pads, because one must never, ever run out of these things. 30 years of habitual stocking — NOT HOARDING — is finally paying off.

I keep some spare items in each bathroom.

IMG_4828IMG_4826IMG_4825

There is also a mini-motherlode in one bathroom closet. It’s in the kids’ bathroom, which is why the shelf surface looks kind of gross and dirty.  Because my kids are gross and dirty, and I’ve run out of energy for keeping up.

IMG_4829

And then I have a secret overflow stock, whose location I shall not disclose, just in case you’re planning to come over and raid me.  Heh heh heh heh.

I’m not quite at a point where I would typically restock toilet paper.  I don’t like to fall below 20 rolls in the house. Sometimes I overstock and Anthony asks me to stop buying toilet paper for a while. We were there a few months ago.  I’m hoping we can hold out until the TP-hoarding mania ends.

This habit of stocking essentials began many years ago when I first became a lawyer.  I worked 6 or 7 days a week and long hours, so there was little time for shopping; plus I hate shopping. So twice a year, Anthony and I would drive over to the nearest Target and Stock Up. That deserves capitalization because we would walk every single aisle and spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on everything you can imagine for daily life — paper products, deodorant, basic medical supplies and meds, batteries, pens and pencils, shampoos and soaps, toothpaste and toothbrushes and mouthwash, underwear, socks, lotions, kitchen and laundry supplies, household cleaning supplies, sponges, razors, Oster kitchen machines. You name it. We would stuff the back of our little Honda Civic hatchback and drive home with the rear bumper dragging on the pavement from the load.

The up side of extreme stocking is that you don’t really run out of anything basic.  The down side is best observed through a simple anecdote: I overstocked on Anthony’s deodorant sticks so badly that we literally went 10 years — TEN YEARS — without having to buy any. By the time he got to his last stick, we had moved at least six times and to five different states, packing our deodorant inventory to come along with us each time.

I became brutally aware of the importance of steady toilet paper supplies in my senior year of college.  Anthony shared an apartment with two guys, and they ran out of toilet paper for a few days.  No one would buy more – each of them either was too lazy or was holding out. Anthony played the long game by coming over to my apartment for his daily dumps.

One afternoon Anthony and I were standing in the kitchen of their place, hanging out aimlessly like college seniors do in their down time. One of the fellows came out of the bathroom, eyed us with a smile and a satisfied sigh, and announced, “Good thing it was a clean one today.”

Hey old friend, if you’re reading this:  you know who you are.

Dear reader, may your toilet paper never run out.  And if it does, here’s wishing you a clean one. Meanwhile, my family can carry on with our high-fiber diet, because I’m a stocker, not a hoarder.

#GrumpyGratitude

 

adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 5: beach toys

Not even COVID-19 and our corporate welfare state can take everything away from the little people like me. Lake Michigan remains.

Over the weekend we took the kids up to Kohler Andrae state park, on the lake’s shores.  Although Anthony and I are ex-pats here in Wisconsin, our kids are born-and-bred Wisconsinites. And because we spend much time on its shores, Lake Michigan runs through their childhood like a big soft Nature Mother, a place of safety and peace and deep memory. It’s a perfect space to escape to, in this time of uncertainty and anxiety.

The problem is making the escape. When Jesse’s tics blow in the car, or when Nick gets noisy, well… I’ll say it plainly: sometimes I lose my shit. Anthony offered a solution. “Just put on your earbuds and listen to loud music while I drive. Just commit to it.”

I love this man so much.

It worked. On the 45-minute drive up, I listened to Audioslave, a real throwback for me. I bobbed my head to the pounding and ignored everything. I was, oh… 80% pulled together when Anthony pulled into the parking lot next to the dunes.

It was a strange day on the lake. Chilly and cloudy, some lake effects snow flurries, and then sunny and fresh. It was an ordinary day too for us.  There was some mild bickering and meanness, and wet shoes, and whining, and sadness and abandonment, and making up, and bare feet and pretending the water is so HOT, and chasing the dog and being silly. There were trees and dunes and sticks and stones aplenty, untouched by any humans that we could discern, so we didn’t worry about sanitizer and soap. There were things to throw in the water (huge drift wood is a favorite), sand to dig fingers and toes into, tiny and big icicles to observe and fiddle with, a distant horizon and vast skies to ponder. There were crazy little ducks flying south, low along the lake, wings flapping so fast it looked like a silent scream and made us laugh and laugh.

There were my children and my husband, the loves of my life — the things that matter most of all — present with me, each of us anchoring the others in a play for resilience. I thought of all the families around the world, hunkering down together, and I felt my heart squeeze every so lightly.

IMG_4809IMG_4805IMG_4804IMG_4798IMG_4794IMG_4802

It was good to escape from the grinding weight of news and fear about coronavirus and politics and the economy and social distancing, to run into the wide open arms of Lake Michigan.  It was good to be reminded that Mother Earth is so vast, so much stronger than the coronoavirus, Donald Trump, the stock market, and humanity.  We need only open our eyes to her, and she’ll give us all the beach toys we need, without a factory or coin in sight.

adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 4: existential questions

Should I be social distancing from my dogs by using a leash that’s at least 6 feet long?
Does this mean I can stop picking up their poopies when we go for walks?

Why are people stocking up on ground beef? What are they doing with it?

Was it really necessary for Nick to walk into the bathroom where I was taking a dump, present me with his laptop, and ask me questions about small pox on the Oregon Trail?

What is the mountain range between the Black and Caspian Seas?

Will I be a better person if I can name all the parts of the vascular system of a plant?

Pasta and rice are gone from the grocery shelves, even when most everything else is fully stocked, even canned goods.  After decades of surviving Atkins, Paleo, Keto and other low-carb diets, have people discovered that carbo-loading is a protective factor against COVID-19?

How long can I survive without a toaster? Will I inevitably end up on a low-carb diet without toast?

Not so long ago this afternoon, I interrupted Jesse and Nick in a fight and lectured her about her hostility and she was not receptive and we yelled at each other.  So I sent her to her room.  Not 5 minutes later, Everest trotted downstairs feeling smug and well pleased with herself.  She also looked (unexpectedly) like this.

IMG_4785

IMG_4784

Jesse trotted down a few seconds later, also feeling smug and well-pleased, perhaps in light of the heavy giggling she was hearing from Nick and me.  We all apologized to each other, she accepted my embrace, and for a few moments at least, all will be well.

Is there a way for all conflicts, ever in the history of humanity from this day forward, to end this way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 3: good things

I woke up this morning to news from my friend Nancy that her mom Evelyn, who is in hospice, is having trouble dying.  Evelyn is ready. She is a woman of faith and looks forward to seeing long-lost family and friends.  She has suffered a great deal in the time I’ve known her. She has had a long, long road to this place, and her death is inevitable, but it is arriving slowly and exhaustingly.

So I find myself in the strange brain space of wishing death on someone whom I love, even as I join humanity in a vast, world-wide effort to save millions of lives.

Life is strange and cruel and beautiful, if living and dying are both good things.

Jesse and I visited Evelyn to say goodbye, two or three weeks ago. I asked Jesse to write her a note. This led to some strong emotions and a lot of cursing at me.

Jesse has been struggling for a long, long time now. Most of the time, she’s trapped in a cage built by OCD and Tourette/coprolalia and depression and anxiety and anorexia and profound loneliness. She’s barely functional. From within this miserable cage, she presents me with a mask of sarcasm, bitter rage, and volatility.  But somewhere locked away, my sweet baby girl — a child of empathy and social justice and selflessness – still IS. Sometimes I ask her to open the cage door and step out, to come back to us. I’m not even sure what I mean when I say it.

After Jesse calmed down over my ask for Evelyn, she sat on the floor with a piece of paper and wrote this, for hand delivery on our visit:

Dear Evelyn,

I hope you’re comfortable and surrounded by love. Every time I enter this house I feel a warm presence from you.  It always makes me smile inside, it always makes everyone smile inside.  And this presence is engraved in my mind and in many others. And I know I for one will never forget that presence, which is you.  I’ll miss you.

With love, from Jesse

Jesse brought me the note and asked me quietly, “Is this okay for me to give to her?” I bit back tears, pushed out of my eyes by my full heart. She was actually saying goodbye, directly, bluntly — a facet of her usually disruptive disinhibition, displayed in its full glory.

The truth is, what we call her disorders are also part of what makes her the connected and fundamentally decent human being she is. She is one whole thing, all mixed up together in a cruel and strange and beautiful jumble. It’s a good thing, depending on the day.

A couple weeks ago I was supposed to fly out to California by myself to visit my mom.  She’s 87 years old and pretty healthy for that age, but I know there’s only so much time left before she’s gone. As the COVID-19 news broke and broke, I agonized over whether to go. On the one hand, I desperately need extended respite from the daily grind of meeting Jesse’s intense needs; and I miss my mom and just want to see her. On the other hand… I could carry coronavirus to mom and kill her; I could end up being stuck in quarantine in California for a month and then Anthony would be completely overwhelmed here.

Eventually Anthony laid it out clearly for me. The risk of me taking the disease to mom was small; but the risk of a terrible outcome if I did so was very high, given her age.  So, nontrivial risk. I cancelled my trip in a tumble of mixed feelings.

The next day, mom asked to go to the hospital, because she wasn’t feeling right. She ended up hospitalized for more than a week, with fluid in a lung and around her heart. They did some draining procedures and my brothers did all the things that family does until the hospital closed it doors to all visitors. So my mom spent the last few days of her hospital stay alone, unvisited, unobserved by anyone but hospital staff.

And here I sit, in the strange brain space of feeling grateful that I chose not to be with my mom when she really could have used my help and support. My decision not to fly to California was a good thing.

Nick’s therapist reminded me recently that, if we look around with eyes open, there’s much to see that’s good. It’s not all bad news. We don’t even have to look for silver linings. Even as we hide in place, research is racing forward to find a vaccine and life-saving treatments for COVID-19. All around the world, humans are making choices that are uncomfortable and inconvenient personally, to help save strangers’ lives. Medical professionals continue to show up to work, potentially putting their own lives at risk in the service of other lives. Here in my local community, folks are helping each other in little and big ways, stepping past fear and anxiety.

Yes, people suck and are doing stupid, selfish, greedy things. But also, there are good things. I will try to keep looking for those too.

 

adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 2: toaster death

Today I woke up lazily and checked the clock. 8 am. Perfect. The house was already warm, thanks to our timed thermostat. I walked into the bathroom and flipped on the light, peed and flushed the toilet, brushed my teeth with my trusty sonicare and placed it carefully on the charger, and used my special pokey hairbrush to brush my hair and scratch my scalp. Awake.

I changed into yoga pants and a sweatshirt and trotted downstairs. Anthony had already taken the dogs out and boiled water in the kettle. I made coffee while Anthony gathered Nick’s breakfast – microwaved sausages, Weatabix, strawberry yogurt. I pulled milk out of the fridge for my coffee. Nick had been awake since 6:00 and was entangled in the PS4. Jesse was still fast asleep under a vast pile of blankets. Anthony and I checked emails and the news on our iPhones.

Time for breakfast. I pulled sliced bread out of the freezer and put two slices in the toaster.  I pushed down the lever. It wouldn’t click on. I pushed it again. And again. And again and again and again in an exponential acceleration. I paused. I tried extremely slow pushing and then explosive pushing. Nothing. I shook the toaster. I held it up and stared inside it. I looked over at Anthony in despair.

A tide of grumbling panic rose in me as I marched the toaster out to the garbage can. The apocalypse is truly here! My toaster is broken! Technology is crumbling before our very eyes!

I want toast.

My thoughts raced.  Where will I find a toaster? Are shops still open? Can I justify going out for a toaster? How important is toast? Is a toaster an essential item that Amazon will still deliver to me? Can I fry my bread instead? What if our gas stops working, because the apocalypse? Is our propane tank full so I can use the camp stove? Does broiling work to make toast?

I decided toast matters to me.  I decided to go to our local Ace. Anthony said it would be fine, because they’ll be on a skeleton staff and it’s early and I don’t have to touch anyone. I ran out to the car and turned on the engine, and then I had my first smart thought.  I opened google maps on my phone and found the Ace; I gave them a call before I pulled out of the driveway.

“Do you sell toasters?”

“No ma’am, we don’t carry toasters.”

My heart quailed as I choked out the words, “thank you,” and hung up.

More than four decades ago, my dad taught me that an Ace hardware will have literally everything you might ever need, when he took me to our local Stockton Ace to buy… a toaster.  I passed this lesson on to Anthony three decades ago when I took him to our local 17th Street Ace in Washington, D.C., to buy… a toaster.

If my local Ace doesn’t even carry toasters, maybe the apocalypse has been with us for longer than I knew.

I walked back into the house, dejected.  Anthony was starting to make a sandwich to pack. I mumbled that he could use my frozen bread slices, which were laying abandoned on the counter.  Being an amiable, helpful sort, he replied that there was plenty of other, not-frozen bread available. He looked at me with kind, smiling (and possibly mocking) eyes as he pointed to it.  I sighed sadly. “No, you should use these.  Because I can’t make toast.”

I took a breath. If humans could turn the entire North American continent into the hardcore capitalist dream that is the United States today, despite a expansionary frontier mortality rate of 90% (at least, that’s what Nick tells me based on his recent 4th grade Oregon Trail unit, though he also explained that the number might be lower depending on who’s talking), then surely I can adapt to an absence of toast.

I scanned the kitchen. I saw my last packet of Nongshim Shin Ramyun. With a sinking but grateful heart, I decided to eat it for breakfast.Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 10.02.14 AM.png

I ran water into the saucepan from the sink, fired up the gas range, and got the noodles ready in less than 10 minutes. As I waited, I stared out the kitchen window into the back yard, where buds are forming on the trees and crocuses are already up and songbirds are very busy hunting food.  Everything seemed fine.

The scent of the boiling soup reminded me of Korea, where in my early childhood my brothers and I survived measles, mumps, chickenpox, and my grandma’s pit toilet; where grandma recovered from polio with only a little bit of paralysis and my family survived Japanese occupation and two wars. I realize that my people were the lucky ones, not just the strong ones.  So many people did not make it.

The noodles were salty and hot, and I savored every bite as I kept the apocalypse at bay in my heart.

 

 

 

 

adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 1: day two post-school closing

Oh it’s on.  Everything is closing, worldwide.  It’s heartwarming, really, how several billion human beings are shuttering things so that fewer people will die of the novel coronavirus.  It’s a sign of caring, community, connection.

It’s almost enough to give me hope for humanity, except that I keep reading the news. Toilet paper hoarding and big corporate bailouts.  Somehow it feels like the same trend of greedy behavior, just for different types of asses.

My kids are home full-time now until their schools open up again. I have breathed my way past panic over the last few days. I went and picked up their interim schoolwork today and shuffled into the house with it.  They swarmed me, excited and energized to be getting back to academics. They raced off with their school materials and I didn’t hear a peep for an hour.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

No. That is not what happened.

Today, it’s a fortnite marathon, for real, while I work on a 1500-piece jigsaw puzzle. I even forgot to feed Nick lunch. But that’s okay, he’s got extra and he was happy until he realized he was super hungry, and even that admission only came after I pointed out we had forgotten to eat lunch.  The fortnite thing has been good. My kids have been playing together happily for hours. It’s as surreal as this whole shut-the-world-down-for-a-bit thing.  I don’t intend to interrupt, other than to send Jesse out of the room for a bit occasionally, when her tics get to be too much.

Lots of folks in my orbit are getting very intense about the “school away from school” thing — strict sleep and wake and daytime schedules and workloads, no electronics until after school would normally let out, keeping up with academics, and so on.  I’m not judging. That’s obviously what you need if that’s what you need. But I am in a different group of parents who are thinking, “nah.”

I don’t want my kids to experience home as school.  School is a place where my children experience almost non-stop stress and anxiety and social confusion; a place where kids are mean to each other, sometimes even on purpose, and teachers don’t have time to look kids in the eyes and connect one-on-one, and kids are unjustly called out for misconceived wrongs; and there is lining up and waiting for Godot, and shuffling in silent lines from one room to another, and then eating in a cafeteria where the noise level constitutes a 15-minute scream, except when it’s silent lunch and then the kids are mute seething prisoners; and there is the rot of having to sit silent and still, moment after moment, and then not getting to go outside for recess because weather; but then when you can go outside for just 15 or 20 minutes, the lunch ladies at recess make you sit down for 5 minutes because you went where there is mud, oh my god, 5 minutes on the blacktop for you naughty boy!

No. I do not want my sacred home associated with any of that.  Right now especially, I want my home to be a space of safety and radical acceptance and anxiety reduction, a place where I will smother my babies with cloying love and spoil them with treats and encourage them to go get muddy out back and feast my eyeballs on all their young, glorious beauty — because as we are being reminded right now, life is short and fragile, and whether my son fully grasps fractions in two months, instead of one, is just completely irrelevant to me. So we are sleeping in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going completely belly up. I’ll give the kids access to their schoolwork and encourage them to do it, but I’m not going to push or create any stress about it if I can help it.  I think they’ll want to get it over with every morning – maybe half an hour? – so that we can get on with fun, but then again, maybe they won’t. It’ll be fine, whichever way it goes.

Also I labeled journals, one each for Nick, Jesse and me.

IMG_4776.JPG

Option one: use these journals to track our rectal temperatures daily.

Option two: Aimless ruminations. This seems better.

I’ve slated us for three dailies.  One, what’s one thing I’m going to do for someone else today, and why? Two, what are five things I’m thankful for? Three, what will I practice today so I can be happier and easier to get along with?

I also told the kids they need to do a chore, read a bit, and get outside every day.  That’s right, I’m bringing down the hammer:  A CHORE.  Every day. One. Entire. Chore.

I give us maybe 20% probability of sticking to all of this every day.  We haven’t started yet, of course, because I’m a lazy bum and a terrible mom. But I can dream.

In the meantime, having nothing to do is good for the creative juices.  It’s the only explanation I have for this crown, which Jesse made out of a glue gun and some craft sticks we had lying around.

IMG_4779.JPG

month together is a long time, when everywhere is closed except the great outdoors.  I anticipate a lot of tantrums and screaming, arguments, boredom, fortnite, iPads, naps, sugar, and generalized being together too much syndrome (GBTTMS, it’s new in the latest edition of the DSM in case you missed it). But I hope, somewhere in the midst of the mess, my kids and I will find some deep connection during these weeks when we will unexpectedly have no real worries, apart from sickness and death.

 

31 days of grumpy gratitude: coda

A kindly friend recently made me join a 6-week fitness challenge through our gym.

I say “made me” with some reservations.  I know I shouldn’t call her pushy, aggressive, insistent, and overwhelming, because she’s a girl.  And yet in fact she was all those things — but in a good way.  I said no at first, at least 10 times; she just kept asking, in her up-beat and good-natured way.  So eventually I said yes.  I’m happy to be doing the challenge, except when I’m not.

Last week was the first full week of the challenge and I went to the gym a lot, and I worked out a lot, and I even took a tennis class, and I wear this “MyZone” belt that tucks a heart monitor right up against my sternum and records my level of effort based on heart rate. I know MyZone is wrong, because whenever I work very hard it tells me I’m in the “yellow” effort zone when I know I’m in “red.”  So very red.  I asked my personal trainer to fix it for me, because MyZone heart rate zones can only be changed through the gym you joined (fascists).  He basically told me…. um, nah, I think the zones are right for you.  He seems to think that unless I keel over and swoon, I don’t belong in red.

I should have been super grumpy when he pushed back.  People around me who obviously weren’t working as hard as me — they just didn’t look like they were suffering as much as me — had their MyZones reporting them in the red zone, or even worse they were in the yellow zone while I was still only green.  So I should have been pushy and insistent and whiny and made him change my zone ranges.

Instead, I let it go because this thought came unbidden into my feeble mind:  he must have a lot of confidence in me, to think I can work this hard and just keep going. That’s kind of nice.

This is what happens when a person busies herself with gratitude and positive thinking.  It’s not right.

* * * * *

By the way, the best thing about wearing a MyZone heart monitor belt is setting your resting heart rate.  Strap it on; take a nap.  Best workout I’ve logged in the past 10 days.

* * * * *

By last Friday, I was exhausted, some of my muscles hurt to the touch, and I was dehydrated.  It was also the first sunny day in a really long time, and the world was glittering bright. Jesse asked if we could go to Barnes & Noble to spend a gift card she had gotten for Christmas, and that seemed like a fun thing to do.  Off we went.

The first display I took note of when we entered the store was this:

IMG_4566

Very little can make me grumpy like a display of books about “mind, body, spirit.” Plus look at what they put right under the sign. Tim McGraw. he will teach me to TRAIN and TRAIN and OWN.  With grit.  Yeah, when I think of “mind body spirit,” TIM is who I think of first.

I circled the display like a dog sniffing a well-used mailbox post.  Look at this crap.IMG_4563

“Things No One Else Can Teach Us.” Hey, let me sell you a book in which I teach you about the things no one can teach you.  Heh heh heh. “The British Art of Comfort”? More like, the British Art of Passive Aggressive.  “An Introduction to Sacred Sounds.” That made me snicker, because I’m a toddler trapped in an adult body so I thought, “my butt makes sacred sounds.”

IMG_4564

Mindfulness.  Now is the Way.  Embrace Your Weird. Aromatherapy.  Feng Shui.

IMG_4565Younger Next Year. Gratitude.  Daring Greatly.  Codependency. Dash Diet. On and on the display went, book after book of contradictory advice from gurus selling their guru-ness one copy at a time — do more, do less, diet, don’t diet, seek power, release power, be grateful for what you have, strive for more, accept where you are, make big changes, be rich, be poor, stay young, grow old.

None of this made any sense.  I continued my sniffing circuit and a subversive truth about the display became apparent. Whoever put it together… has a crush on the eff-bomb.

IMG_4568

IMG_4569

I shook my head and a thought came unbidden into my mind: I’m thankful that the person who laid these books our is jackass enough to make fun of the whole self-help scene. What a relief.

I finally freed myself and wandered off to the manga section to find Jesse. Next we needed to find a make-up DIY book.  I don’t wear makeup so I don’t know how to use 47 different smears and colored sticks and powders to shape-shift my face. A staff member led us to the “self help” section of the book store.

Jesse was ahead of me.  As she approached the correct aisle, she started to snicker.  “Mom, look.” Here is what she had found on display.

IMG_4572

And this.

IMG_4573

And this.

IMG_4577

And this.

IMG_4574

This was not a self-help section after all.  We had instead been taken to the “Trigger Jesse’s Tourettic Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” section of Barnes & Noble.

Worry not.  Sometimes triggers are so over the top that they become untriggers. And indeed, dear reader, that is what happened. Instead of exploding into pornographic, foul-mouthed bird song, Jesse just laughed and laughed.

Frankly, I think she felt less alone. I whispered a quiet thanks to the universe.

We ended our circuit in the teen section, at which we found this display.

IMG_4581

Sigh.  I grew weary of all the gratuitous cursing.  Me.  What’s with all the asterisks? What, the asterisk makes a mystery of full-frontal displays of potty mouth? What, a person of Modest Mouth will think the tome on the bottom is about getting vaccinated together?

It was around this time that the dehydration, the sunny day, the glittering bright world, and all these stupid cursing books caught up with me, and the migraine hit.  It began its assault by removing useable vision from my right eye and replacing it with sparkly flashing auroras and gray space. My left eye was slightly better; I retained some forward vision in it.  Then the nausea and dizziness and disorientation hit. I had no choice but to act like a really creepy person, dropping my sunglasses on to block the flourescent lighting, and panting and muttering breathlessly to Jesse with my eyes half shut. “Honey I’m sorry but we have to get home now I need to get into a dark place quickly so let’s just go check out and I need to get us home before I fall apart even more can you please stop browsing and come with me seriously put that down put that down I don’t want to look at it don’t make me smell that please help me we have to get out of here.”

Had we been delayed by another 10 minutes, I probably wouldn’t have been able to drive home.  But we made it, I drank a massive cup of water, and I crawled into bed.  An hour or so later, I came to briefly and realized Nick’s end of school was approaching, so I called Anthony.  Huzzah! He was able to retrieve Nick from school.

I cowered in bed for most of the afternoon and evening, with sunglasses on like some crazy ass Hollywood dame until the sun set.  Meanwhile, Anthony made dinner, took care of the kids and dogs, and covered for me completely.

Some time in the evening, our 60-pound poodle Everest struck the next blow.  I don’t know the exact sequence of events, because migraine, but before she was done she had vomited in several places, shat diarrhea in Jesse’s room and the living room and the basement, trod on her own shit, and wreaked havoc throughout the house.

Anthony had to clean it all.  I lay in bed, helpless with slow recovery from a migraine, head throbbing and spinning, guts quivering, brain not working right, just suffering and feeling guilty that I couldn’t help.

At some point, Anthony came upstairs and said to me quietly, “Everest shat everywhere in the basement, like… Everywhere.  I think we should just pull up the carpet.”

I stared at Anthony from under the covers.  Thoughts came unbidden into my feeble mind.

I’m grateful that I had a migraine today of all days, so that I’m not the one having to clean up all this shit.

I’m grateful that this migraine seems to have taken away my sense of smell.

I’m grateful Everest decided to poo and vomit in Jesse’s room, not mine.

I’m grateful that we’re going to pull up the carpet in the basement, because it is old and nasty and I’ve been wanting to do it for at least two years.  The last few times we had doggy poo disasters in the basement, Anthony was content to have me shampoo it all up.  I’m thankful Anthony finally realizes that losing the wall-to-wall is a better option.

I’m grateful that I don’t have to shampoo the carpet to get the poo out ever again, because when you pour out the waste water from shampooing up dog poo… Oh, it’s ugly.  My eyes are watering right now, just thinking about it.

And so last Friday night I lay in bed, miserable and broken, and thought all these grateful things.

This is what happens when a person busies herself with gratitude and positive thinking.  It’s not right.