Non-Toxic Love Challenge: Six Feet of Self-Control

My neighbor across the fence has held backyard gatherings two weekends in a row. First, with just four people, but Sunday, about ten, standing close together, tossing a ball back and forth, mingling.

I felt the bile rising in me, so I raced to finish planting my new trees and get inside. Five Thuja Green Giants, promised to be very vast growing, positioned to block the blazingly bright backyard floodlights he keeps on all night, every night, glaring directly into my living room. That’s odd, because my house is on a little hill, a bit higher up than his. It seems almost intentional, how those lights invade our evenings. Couldn’t they be adjusted to point down into his yard a bit more?

Monday, I put on a double-layered mask made from a t-shirt and ventured out for what I hope will be my last trip to the grocery store for several weeks. I didn’t get up in time to get there right when it opened, and it was uncomfortably crowded in the afternoon. A young man of what appeared to be about college age was striding around the store, no mask, no cart, seemingly uninterested in buying anything, just in making sure he breathed an unmasked breath in every aisle.

The bagger at checkout had a mask on, positioned below, not over, his nose.

As I was leaving, I passed a tall young woman, no mask, followed by a masked someone who appeared to be her mother. The young women laughed as she entered the store, “See? He’s not wearing one!” I held my breath and scurried past her with my overloaded cart, out to the car.

As I packed my groceries into the back seat of the Subaru, a man got out of a car one parking spot away, wearing a mask below, not over, his nose.

If there is one thing I learned from my long and challenging relationship with my late husband Mike, it is that I cannot control another person’s behavior. Noncompliance was Mike’s modus operandi, and “don’t tell me what to do” his motto and his battle cry.

Were these mask malfunctions intentional, or just misinformed? Were the backyard parties acts of defiant noncompliance, or just ignorance? Why do I care, when I can’t control any of it?

I’m disappointed in myself for pointing out to the nose exposers that the masks don’t do anyone any good if they don’t cover the nose. I’m irritated that I spent energy being  pissed off at my neighbor. There were older people there at his party, possibly parents or other relatives. I worry about them. I worry about everyone who was there. But they chose to gather, and there’s nothing I can do about that. The floodlights and the gatherings are enough for me to know that asking for accommodation would be fruitless.

I have a front patio now, and it is a very pleasant place to sit on summer evenings, so I’ve learned to pivot. We’ve altered our summer evening routine for few summers already now. I put a lot of work into that front patio garden, and it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds by design. I can work on my vegetable garden and enjoy the back deck in the early morning on the weekends, before his parties and his backyard construction project involving a loud Bobcat baby bulldozer and what appears to be a makeshift concrete mixer resume (a firepit? another patio? whatever it is it will be across the fence in the farthest corner of my yard, but I’m sure I’ll find a way to be annoyed by it anyway.)

I try to take comfort in pastoral reassurances that arrive via email or Facebook live on Sunday mornings that staying home and staying in counts as doing something. It counts as an expression of love and concern for my fellow citizens, even when they’ve made it painfully obvious they aren’t concerned about me.

I’m learning to step aside. Somewhere long ago, I read that turning away from aggression dissipates its power. Declining a fight is sometimes the most effective form of self defense, it seemed to say. If someone in the store won’t stay six feet back, I’ll go around the other way, or let them go ahead of me in the checkout line.

There are things I can control, and things I can’t. The image above has a caption, but I can’t seem to resize it properly to show the words that say, “some fruits are always in season.”

My Thuja Green Giants are evergreens. When they grow taller, I have a feeling they’ll nourish my inner orchard of patience, self-control, love and peace.

My your garden be filled with always-in-season fruit. Looking toward summer, I remain,

Your counting-to-six-and-taking-the-long-way-around-the-grocery-store-and-the-neighborhood,


Image by bknis from Pixabay

The Isolation Age: Cliché Edition

All things considered, I’d rather be a cliché than a meme. People tire of clichés – they know them when they see them, dismiss them, and move on. But memes keep getting reborn – right when you thought they have run their course, someone posts a new gif or tweet with a yet another take on the embarrassing typo or the spectacularly ignorant statement or the dance move that went horribly wrong, and the hapless victim suffers all over again.

By now I think we’re all pretty sick of references to Groundhog Day and how no one can remember what day of the week it is. But I’m not tired of stories of people organizing to help those in need, or of talented people using their creativity to entertain us online while we hunker down and pray this appalling affliction will abate.

I also appreciate binge-watching suggestions. Because after gratefully putting in my 8 hours at the laptop, then hauling my fat ass reluctantly to the basement to march and punch and squat and LIFT! in response to the coaching of the least-annoying trainer I can find on YouTube (“you’re moving! that’s a win!”), I’m not quite up to reading the “compleat” works of Shakespeare or writing my next book. Collapsing into my cheap plum-fake-velvet-mid-century-ish looking chair across from the TV in my “boudoir” is about all I can manage.

And that’s how I discovered that the story of my obsession with the Bulgarian has gone beyond “hey, turns out falling for your contractor is kind of a thing” through “hmm, maybe there’s something to that Jungian idea of synchronicity” to “oh, for Christ sake not again!” In my latest binge series, Sex Education, I find yet another example of a smart, professional, not-particularly-self-aware woman-of-a-certain-age getting all hot for handyman. In three of four instances of what I now have no choice but to refer to as this cliché (my case, along with Kate Reddy from the book How Hard Can It Be and Dr. Jean Milburn from Sex Education), the object of the lady’s desire is a kind, capable, patient man of quiet wisdom, who speaks English with an Eastern (Bulgarian, Polish) or Northern European (Swedish) accent. In two of these cases (me and Dr. Jean) the accented amour is able to seamlessly code-switch between his native language when addressing family or talking on the phone, and English, when addressing the lady signing the checks.

It gets worse (spoiler alert!) In Sex Education, the handy hunk Jakob, portrayed very fetchingly by a Swedish actor named Mikael Persbrandt, is copiously adorned with tattoos (the Bulgarian had one anyone could see, and reported he had several more elsewhere that I never saw, nor never will see). Jean, whose revolving bedroom door and casual cruelty to men she uses and throws away puts her in no position to judge, reads Jakob as a lothario who goes around seducing and then forgetting his clients.

And then it turns out Jakob is a widower who spent years taking care of his sick wife before she died.

As did Phil, the target of Grace Hanson’s lust on Grace and Frankie.

As did I, with Mike – although my 20 month’s time as Mike’s caregiver was shorter, I think, than either of those two fictional men’s time caring for their fictional wives.

Just what the hell is the universe trying to tell me, here, if anything? Does the universe really communicate in clichés? I suppose it’s possible, given the thickness of the skulls its messages have to penetrate, most of the time.

I believe in the power of stories, even those with clichéd plotlines. To me, clichés hint at aspects of shared human experience that our minds and our hearts need to hear, repeatedly, like affirmations. I’m not sure what all these hot handymen add up to, but so far, here’s what I get out of these stories: hope.

People survive hardship, heartbreak, betrayal and loss, and still have the guts and the strength to give love another go, if they’re lucky enough to have the opportunity. It will be a long time until anyone comes out from behind their mask to find a new love. In the meantime I’ll take what binge-watching offers me and try to stay focused on gratitude for waking up each morning, breathing without assistance, and for having a roof over my head and food in the pantry.

With additional gratitude for stories that present men with complex emotional lives who appreciate smart women with layers of their own, I remain,

Your hoping to survive long enough to settle Angelic Daughter in a happy independent life and experience the love of a few good men a few more times,


n.b. I’ve updated my 27 Things page with two new lists.

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

When the Eye Cream’s Gone: or, Skin Care for the Apocalypse

I looked at the little blob of cream swirled on the tip of my ring finger and thought, what the hell am I doing? Will anyone really care about crow’s feet when the food runs out?

I ration squares of toilet paper and use cloth napkins instead of paper towels, but I still sit down at my vanity (ah, vanity) to ‘gently apply cream under and around the eyes morning and night.’ I smear “micro-sculpting cream” over my face. It holds its own on my cheeks and forehead, but it is fighting a losing battle on my neck and décolleté. 

A few nights ago I started to laugh in the middle of my skin care routine. It seemed like a better choice than crying, at the time. The cold truth is, no one was coming to admire my complexion before all this. Certainly no one is coming now. No one will ever come, not before my skin products cease to have any anti-aging effect.

I will die alone. Because I damn well better have made arrangements for Angelic Daughter to be cared for by trustworthy, loving and younger people before that day arrives.

When I asked Mike how and where he wanted to go, to tell me if he wanted me and our daughter to be with him when he died, or if he wanted to be by himself at that moment, he said, “It doesn’t matter. Everyone dies alone.” He was right. Even if you go “peacefully in your sleep, surrounded by loving family,” you still do the actual dying alone.

Before Angelic Daughter was born, I wrote an elaborate “birth plan,” that all the different doctors at the teaching hospital where I gave birth to her pointedly ignored.

Now I think about writing a death plan. Not the usual estate and trust stuff – that’s all done – but information for whoever would come to care for Angelic Daughter if I’m carted off to the hospital and don’t come back. Will they respect the plan? Will they protect her, and let her be her own Angelic self?

Within the past few weeks, people over on the other side of town have used Facebook groups to ask for recommendations about in-ground pool installation, dog groomers who make house calls, and interior designers.

I guess that’s the same kind of magical thinking that has me applying eye cream and moisturizer every night. But none of these things will seem vital when we’re tilling the back yard and laying traps to catch rabbits for supper.

The meat processing and poultry plants are closed or closing, because their workers are sick. What happens when delivery people, truckers, grocery store workers, and God forbid, even more doctors and nurses get sick, and some of them die and others require long convalescence and rehab?

Did the pool lady and the dog-grooming seeker and the person looking at fabric swatches for the new couch give any thought to what happens when they need the yard to plant crops and they have to burn the couch for firewood? What will they do when the landscaper and house cleaner and the grocery deliveries stop coming? What happens when a storm knocks out the power, and most of the repair workers are sick?

I look at the chicken run in my backyard, currently serving as a compost enclosure, and think, “I should rent that out in exchange for compost and a share of the eggs.” Hello, barter economy!

I make note of how much sun each part of the yard gets per day, and mentally mark possible locations for additional raised beds. I think about learning to preserve, pickle and can things – and then decide I’ll take my chances with blanching and freezing – for as long as the electricity and the freezer hold out. In a pinch, the laundry room would make a good root cellar – it stays cold in there.

I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of that old sewing machine, although now, I’d prefer the one Grammie had, operated with a foot treadle.  I’ve got some firewood and an iron pot that will cook something in the fireplace – a stew, or the leftover chowder I froze.

Each day I anxiously inspect my vegetable beds for any evidence the seeds I planted have eluded the birds, and germinated. I’ve seen two, maybe three snow peas emerging. I’ll give the beets, spinach and lettuce another week before I replant – must have been the snow Friday. Sun yesterday and today should help, but I wonder whether my battery -powered, dull-bladed little chain saw can cut the trees that screen the window by my desk, to give the veggies more sun.

Planning on expanding domestic agriculture, I remain,

Your fatalistic, resigned but resourceful,


Image by Annalise Batista from Pixabay