The Isolation Age: Masked Ingenuity

There had to be a way to remove that drawer. I WOULD NOT GIVE UP.

My brother the scientist mailed me two high quality masks, one for me and one for Angelic Daughter, back in March. Two regular surgical style masks, and two sealed in plastic coverings, that supposedly block pathogens on the inhale, as well as the exhale. Their labels say they expired in 2015, but hey, under the circumstances, who cares?

At first I was afraid of the mask police. I didn’t want to wear those very recognizable blue/green surgical masks, because I was afraid of being berated in public by someone who thought I should have donated the mask to medical workers. I felt guilty. Why should I have a mask to wear when doctors and nurses are DYING because they don’t have them?

But these weren’t the N95 masks that are supposed to protect medical workers in addition to patients. They were just ordinary medical masks, and after a few weeks I noticed everyone was wearing them and no one was giving anyone crap about them.

I started with the regular surgical mask, with an added t-shirt made mask on top, tied with bows (adorable!) tightly around my head, sealing the underlying surgical mask closer to my face.

Those masks are supposed to be disposed of after one  use, but I hung mine up after each wearing, to air out and (I hoped) rid itself of any nasties it picked up while I was out grocery shopping. But that flimsy thing had reached its limit, so I was going to break into that allegedy anti-viral mask.

I had tossed the envelope into the big bottom file drawer of the desk with the hutch that I splurged on, knowing the moment I saw it online that the green of it would match the willow green of my Bulgarian built kitchen cabinets. I just crammed it in the back, behind the files, and left it there, for a rainy day, when the mask police might back off and the ordinary mask wore out.

And then that envelope slipped behind the back of the drawer, and I couldn’t reach it.

DAMMIT!

OK, there HAS to be a way to remove these drawers. I WILL NOT GIVE  UP. Rubbery thingees on the side of the rails that the drawers run in and out on – ok, that must be something. Press down. YES! That seems to get one side past the rail stop thingee that keeps the drawer from falling out of the desk.

But WTF? It didn’t work on the other side.

I jury-rigged a number of tools that I thought would help me drag that envelope back up out of the void behind the drawer, most involving coat hangers and duct tape, but none of them worked.

DAMMIT!

OK, think, Annie. There HAS to be a way to remove that drawer. Back to rubbery bendy things in the rails that support the drawers.

AHA! One goes up, but the other goes DOWN! Oh, you diabolical bastards! You WILL NOT DEFEAT ME! I figgered it out! Press down on one side, up on the other, and VOILA! The drawer lock stop thingee is defeated – the drawer pulls out far enough for me to see behind it and reach my tiny child-sized hands back in there to grab the envelope and retrieve those high quality masks. HA! DID IT! MOMMY WINS AGAIN!

I wanted those masks because I had to go to the garden center to get the plants my scientist brother, my sister-in-law, Angelic Daughter and I traditionally plant on my parent’s graves on Memorial Day Weekend, and the fuchsia basket for Mike’s grave. And I was damned if I was going to go to a garden center on the Friday before Memorial Day when there was a good chance of encountering someone without a mask, or wearing a mask that didn’t cover their noses.

I got the geraniums and the sweet alyssum and some kind of blue impatiens that aren’t the right kind of bluey-purpley flower we usually get, but it was crowded and Angelic Daughter was waiting patiently in the car, so I had to get out of there.  We headed out to plant on Friday afternoon, on behalf of ourselves and my brothers and me on my parent’s grave. Angelic Daughter carefully placed the flag for Dad,

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and on the way  home, we hung a fuchsia like this by Mike’s grave:

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gravestone

I didn’t cry this time, like I usually do. That came today, and I’ll inflict my writing about it on you tomorrow. Until then, I remain,

Your never-give-up, no-retreat-baby-no-surrender (hey I’ll add that to my bouncy playlist stat, how could I forget that one?), looking forward to mask free shopping someday,

Ridiculouswoman.

Image by DoomSlayer from Pixabay

Let Me Entertain You

I like the blogs I like because they give me something: good writing, a laugh, or a glimpse of an engaging personality.  I like some of them because they make me “feel the feels,” as some in the writing community seem fond of saying.

I’m getting that “what have I done for you lately” feeling about this blog again. Unless I’m sure the writing is good enough, and the feeling of the feels will be carthartic enough, I’m going to pause the whinging about loneliness and isolation. No one wants to hear that crap from a woman who is safely sheltered with a roof over her head, a job, a full fridge and the company of an Angelic Daughter. Instead I’m determined to try to give you something, at least one of those things I listed, with every post.

After my Cryin’ Songs, I promised you a more upbeat playlist. So here’s Ridiculouswoman’s Bungee Chair Bouncing Playlist intended to provide a boost of energy and even silliness when 2 p.m. rolls around and you just want to fall off your bouncy bungee cord desk chair and take a nap, but you still have two hours of work to do. If the link doesn’t work I think you can just search for it by name. The embed code doesn’t seem to be working or I’m just not a good enough coder to make it work, but whatever. You’ll find the playlist if you want it.

I also updated 27 Things with 27 observations about things that changed because of , well, because of all this, that I don’t expect to change back after. And I believe in an after – there was some very preliminary, but hopeful, news this week, and I’m choosing to stay on the “look for the silver lining” side of things.

Suggestions for additional songs for the playlist are welcome. I’d love to hear from you about the music that keeps you going.

Until then, I remain,

Your bungee-chair-bouncing, foxes-in-the-backyard-watching, gleefully-overhearing-Angelic-Daughter-reading (I knew if she got bored enough she’d finally realize that there is always a friend in a book!), and very, very grateful,

Ridiculouswoman

The Isolation Age: Jackpot Edition

There are days where things just go right.  Days of success and hope, little triumphs, unexpected discoveries, and gentle joy.

Saturday, charged the battery and assembled my new cordless electric mower (easy, just had to attach the handle), read the manual, and shaved the lawn. The battery made it all around my third of an acre, with power to spare. Good workout, too, pushing and pivoting the thing. Walked the machine back into the garage, and spent a good ten minutes deciding how I’d store the battery until next time. Then I retired to the deck to admire my work:

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Somewhere deep in the night of Mother’s Day morning, I woke up with the cold certainty that I couldn’t remember where I put the mower key. It’s a safety device, and I can’t start the mower without it.  In all my fussing over the battery, I forgot what I did with the key.

Between preparing the computer for online church Sunday morning and ransacking the garage, I confirmed that the key was no place I thought I had put it, or anywhere I might rationally have put it.

Gone.

DAAAAAAAMMMMIIIIIIIIIT! ONE MOWING AND YOU LOSE THE KEY? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU, ANNIE? HOW COULD YOU DO SOMETHING MONUMENTALLY STUUUUUPPPIIIIDDD!!!! (scream, stomp, howl, etc.)

After emptying my tool bag and rearranging my drill carrier bag and sorting through three plastic storage boxes of wrenches, screwdrivers and consolidated “random fastener crap,” I ended my tantrum and resolved to be an adult about it. I’d just call for a replacement.

Called the number in the manual early this morning. The recorded message asked for my patience due to the current situation and told me to call back in three business days. Then it hung up on me.

DAAAAAAAMMMMMMMIIIIIIT!

OK get a grip, Annie. I am stupid lucky enough to have a job, which requires clocking in and performing 8 hours of good honest work, which I am happy and grateful to do. But I knew I would never settle down until I found that key, and I was still SURE that it was in the garage somewhere.  So, during one of my two permitted 15 minute breaks, I backed the car out of the garage, took one more pass through my newly organized random fastener crap basket, and my plastic box of more wrenches than my child-sized hands will ever be strong enough to wield, to no avail.

Admitting defeat and humbly resolved to wait for three business days, I walked out to pull the car back into the garage. On the way, I glanced at the mower, sitting there, all cobalt blue and keyless.

And I saw a glimmer of yellow plastic on the floor underneath it.

I swear I rolled that mower back and forth twenty times on Sunday, but now, today, there it was, peeking out from under it – the KEY! FOUND IT!!

Gleeful and relieved, I put the key on my keychain and went back to the computer to participate in the morning video meetup.

Just as it was ending, a red fox trotted by the window, stopped, and looked right at me.  I turned the laptop to point the webcam at him to show my colleagues. He plunked himself down under the same tree the rabbits live (lived?) under, and took a long nap. When he emerged, he took some time for a good scratch, and with very little concern about my vocal “encouragement” to depart, trotted slowly off.

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I finished work, logged off on time, and headed downstairs for my low impact YouTube cardio exercise session, with the cheerful and oddly motivating English guy.  The routine includes a few rounds of uppercuts and straight punches that allow my imagination to supply a full-on catharsis. I get sweaty and happy and invigorated, and I feel good.

On a quick pre-workout stop to replenish the under-sink cabinet in the basement bathroom with the cheap TP that is so flimsy it actually stays stocked on the grocery shelf above the “no limit” sign, I find … DISINFECTANT WIPES. A new, unopened cylinder of disinfectant wipes.

JACKPOT!!!!! I had forgotten about them – had no idea they were there! They are now hidden where Angelic Daughter, who loves nothing more than to be helpful, won’t find them and use them all up in a day (I hope.)

What a bizarre but amazing age we live in, when a roll of chemical-soaked cloths could bring such a feeling of elation.

And a red fox can look you in right in the face, settle in for a nap, and take his own sweet, nonchalant time scratching, before skipping slowly away.

Hoping you’ll find your own forgotten stash of something once mundane but now precious, I remain,

Your lawn-mowing, aerobicizing, imaginary-punch-throwing and merrily-doorknob disinfecting,

Ridiculouswoman

 

 

Who Are You and What Have You Done with Anne?

Awright, pity party’s over. Nothing to see here. Move along. Weepy Wanda has received her walkin’ papers.

Resilience is all around me today, and I’m grateful to have a house on a large lot with too-long grass dotted with dandelions. A single lavender tulip has suddenly appeared in the front garden, joining widely spaced double daffodils and hyacinth:
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The ferns and hostas I transplanted from Mom’s house twenty years ago have gone from zero to 8 inches in a day, it seems. The fuchsia I brought inside last fall has miraculously survived, hanging on a hook above the breezeway radiator. I just hung it outside. Hope it’s not too soon, but fresh air does us all good.

I seem to be receiving a bit of free spring clean-up, thanks to the neighbor’s landscapers, who are diligently blowing leaves out from under my dogwoods onto the lawn next door. They’re in my driveway, so they’re not confused about where the property line lies. Maybe just concerned about the wind?

Angelic Daughter had a good sleep-in this morning and I had time to bake a yeastless bread for online communion today, a first for me and our church. Next time I’ll add some herbs or other flavoring, but it’s not really about how the bread tastes (which it didn’t taste like much, but felt nourishing, anyway.)

As soon as the masks are dry we’ll head out to pick up the new electric lawn mower. I supposed it will take a while to charge up, and longer to learn how to use it, but I’m going to give it a go.

Next week I hope to post a more upbeat playlist, one that keeps me bouncing on the bungee chair when I power through the last two hours of my workday, and I hope will do the same for you, too.

The sugar-snap peas are sprouting, and even starting to extend tendrils toward their pea fence. Tiny lettuce leaves and chard are coming, even in the problematic bed where nothing but self-seeded cilantro seemed to grow for the past few years. I know it’s probably too late, but I’m trying to start some tomatoes. It will be weird shopping for herbs at the garden center wearing a mask, but I’ll get used to it.

This is a long road, and instead of whinging “oh, the places I can’t go,” I’ll opt for the wisdom of Dorothy Gale:

The punchline we all know is coming is at about 1:02 – ““If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with…”

These blooms are actually from my front yard, but same dif:wp-1588515053499.jpg

Wishing you a sunny Sunday, the endurance to adapt, and a way to find your heart’s desire in your own backyard, I remain,

Your well-rested, starting-over-again-each-morning, masked-mower-to-be,

Ridiculouswoman

Milestones or Millstones?

We met April 27, 1990. Thirty years.

We married May 2, 1992. Twenty-eight years.

He died August 24, 2016. Three and three quarter years.

Angelic Daughter remembers every significant date, and reminds me of them. But observing these dates does nothing for me now. Mike’s gone. The past is past.

The first widow year was filled with rituals. All the firsts without him. I never looked better. I glowed in the back of the limo on the way to the opera. I stopped the pastor in his tracks, shocked him with my my red fit-and-flare dress and dewy, ivory skin on Christmas Eve. Maybe he was thinking, “isn’t it a bit soon to look that good?”

The second year was ghastly – filled with bleakness, and “what the hell do I do now?” and far too much booze.

The third year, little glimmers of hope. Maybe I can have a full life again. Maybe there is a kind of freedom in this. Maybe there could be another man. I got a good job and a sense of emergence, a feeling of metamorphosis, into another phase of life.

Now, three-quarters through the third year, contraction. Everything has imploded, for everyone. My only role now is survivor, planner, bequeather – get her sorted, make arrangements, develop a back up plan, prepare. Stay home, gain weight, lose hope.

The ruby crowned kinglet came to the yard last week. Seventeen years ago, when Dad died, that bird came right into the flowering plum tree just outside the kitchen window, and flirted with me energetically as I rinsed the dishes. A very curious, very nosy little bird. I hadn’t seen him since then.

This time, he was more elusive, flitting branch to branch, from the crabtree to the cedar, not as close as before. But still, he was there, for two days. Where the hell have you been?

Just passing through.

It was windy, twenty-eight years ago. My hair wasn’t as perfect under the headband and veil as it was when I rehearsed it. The ceremony was short. The restaurant lost my bouquet, or my mother purloined it, so when it finally came to the toss, I used a makeshift bunch of tulips the waitstaff pulled together.

Ten years later, Angelic Daughter watched the reception DVD (the church didn’t allow recording during the ceremony) so many times that it jammed in the old DVD player. I think I recycled that machine with the wedding DVD in it. I don’t have another copy. That’s a relief. She wore out the honeymoon swimming with dolphins video, too. Another relief. The hotel staff seemed dispirited, forlorn – and no one swims with dolphins anymore.

Our wedding was on derby day. His family was annoyed. They liked to place bets. This year, the derby was cancelled.

Mike chose the ring, but I paid for it. I paid for the honeymoon, too. Yay me. Empowered. Deep inside, the fat girl felt devalued and desperate. I loved Mike. But I thought, did I really have to buy a husband?

I’m tired of marking these anniversary dates. They hurt now. They remind me of failures, compromises and defeats. Mike and I were often out of balance, out of synch. Nothing went according to plan. Twenty three years of mutual simmering resentment and his explosive rage, followed by cancer, reconciliation and a too short good bye.

Fuck. Happy fucking anniversary.

I did love you, Mike. I don’t understand why you chose to hurt me as much and as often as you did, but I know I didn’t do a good enough job of forgiving you.

We planted grass in the tiny backyard of the city town home I bought for us in ’93. You called me downstairs to see it sprouting. The rain came, a deluge, and you stood there in the basement, water rising around your ankles toward the outlets, looking up through the sliding doors at the stormy sky, saying “cool!” while I panicked about electrocution and plotted my revenge against the builder who left us with a patio drain sticking up too high, and ground pitched toward the house.

Mike planted grass his final spring, on the lawn below the new deck, meticulously digging out dandelions and gently depositing grass seed along about a six foot line, before exhaustion took over. The grass he planted spread, fighting off weeds for a few additional square feet each spring.

But the dandelions are back, and I like them. The rabbits eat them and they subside when the hot weather comes anyway.

I ordered a new battery powered lawn mower today. Seems stupid to pay someone to do it, when they never listen to what I say and I don’t really care how it looks, anyway. I’ll finally get to do it my way.

For whatever that’s worth. Or however long that lasts.

The Isolation Age: Cryin’ Songs Playlist

We never socialized much, Mike and I, and when social opportunities arose they were almost always relevant to just one or the other of us, but not to both. Mike had his interests I and had mine, so when something came up, we went solo and the one not going stayed happily home with Angelic Daughter.

I enjoyed my own company just fine for all those years before I met Mike, but I had lots to do – I lived in the city and I could fall out the door and go take an improv workshop, or perform in an improv show or children’s theater, or sing in a chorus.  I met Mike when I wasn’t really looking, not desperately, anyway.

This present aloneness, even though I’m not all by myself, feels very different. Watching Angelic Daughter lean in toward the webcam with her arms outspread to give her Uncle a virtual hug during their first Zoom talk, and the sense that every trip to the grocery store is life-threatening, or when my responses to prompts in Teams chats, intended to boost WFH spirits, get no reaction – these things, silly or profound, make this isolation feel a lot more… isolated.

When, toward the end of the work day, the music on my classical music station turns too loud or atonal for my tastes, I turn to Spotify to find music that will get me through to clock-off time.

I wasn’t intentionally looking for a good cry when this change-the-music habit began – I was actually looking for something more upbeat. I found plenty of great oldies to bounce to in my bungie-cord office chair while I finished my last written piece for the day. But for some reason, a lot of the songs that turned up on the artist-based “radio” stations I chose were ballads that turned on the waterworks. Maybe they reminded me of long-lost youth, or the intense emotions of long-lost youth. Or they made me think of my Dad, or of Mike, or past, unrequited loves.

But mostly, something about these songs drills right through to the core of the isolation and I find myself staring at a future where going solo is a permanent condition. Because by the time the masks come off, if I’m still around, I’m pretty sure any chance I might have had to find love again will have passed, for good.

These songs remind me that a few years from now, when I sing along, I’ll still be singing alone.

The lantern in the photo above was one of the very few material things Mike brought with him into our marriage. Angelic Daughter and I light a candle within it during our evening “music time,” when we sit together in the dark, sometimes with music, but often without, until she has repeated “Dad can’t come back, it doesn’t work that way” enough times to bring herself to internalize that truth. She says it over and over again, until she feels sad, and until she has heard me reassure her many times that Dad’s love is always with her, and that while I’m not Dad, and I’m not as fun as Dad, and I don’t cook like Dad did, tonight, I’m still here.

Recently, when Angelic Daughter has sensed that I’m sad, or cabin fever has dented my patience and I have gotten upset with her, she somehow, from the mysterious place within her where her extraordinary emotional intelligence resides, knows how I hate myself for my lapse of emotional control, and she says, “don’t worry Mom. If you need anything, I’m right here for ya.”

Who needs a playlist to have a good cry when you have that? But I’ll share my playlist of cryin’ songs anyway. I think you click on my face there to play it, or open your Spotify app and search for the playlist by name, “Ridiculouswoman’s Cryin’ Songs.” I don’t know what will happen in this link if I revise the list, and I can’t do anything about ads that might play, but you get the idea, anyway. Hope you’ve got enough Kleenex in the house.

In the meantime, singing solo at home (because Angelic Daughter likes to sing solo, too) and looking for the tissues, I remain,

Your grateful-for-some-sun-this-morning-and-thinking-about-throwing-in-some-cookies-and-cannoli-with-our-Friday-pizza-and-wings-delivery order,

Ridiculouswoman

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,

Ridiculouswoman

Image by bknis from Pixabay