Of Covid & Valentines

Brighten your corner with a card or note

Why Wait For Valentine’s Day?

I was recently invited to send Valentine’s Day cards to people who might not get any. I love that idea and decided to start making some. After all, the grandkids aren’t the only ones who like to mess around with craft supplies, right? Fortunately we are very well supplied with colored pencils and there’s even a couple of boxes of blank cards on nice card stock with matching envelopes. I feel far more creative in the garden than in drawing, but hey, valentines are hardly about great artistry or astonishing creativity. Hearts and flowers, right? I drew a bunch of hearts, added a few flowers and started coloring them in. I’ve been doing one or two a day and finding it almost meditative. It’s actually a bit like using a coloring book, simple and soothing and surprisingly satisfying.

Soothing is good, because there’s still so much going on that staying serene is taking every trick and tool I’ve got. Local covid rates continue to climb and clinics are so short staffed, they’re basically telling people to stay home and assume you’ve got it if you get symptoms. When our home tests were negative, we learned that most of them don’t pick up omicron well. Again the professional advice was so isolate, hydrate and take over-the-counter analgesics as needed. My daughter and I had similar symptoms; headache, sore throat, muscle aches, little fever bursts, sniffles. So did several neighbors and we all decided to assume that we had covid and stay home. As symptoms came on, I made several batches of soup and that carried us through the days when napping was more important than meal making. Happily those days were few and we’re all on the mend from whatever it was. Actually, I’m thinking we really did catch the virus because of two things: for the past week, I’ve had no appetite, which is pretty unusual, and it hasn’t come back yet. Even more unheard of, the idea of eating anything sweet has been and still is repugnant. That, like so much else that’s going on, is simply unprecedented!

All Kinds Of Service

Yesterday, our annual community MLK event was presented as an online offering with some amazing speeches, especially a heartfelt and rousing one on service from Doctor Karen A. Johnson, the first Director of Washington State’s recently formed Office of Equity. What a powerhouse of a woman, so smart, so warm, and so genuine. If you get a chance to hear her speak, definitely do. WOW! Afterward we got an online walking tour of the Bainbridge Island Museum Of Art, which is currently featuring some powerful and very moving exhibits. BIMA focuses on local and regional artists, many of national stature, and the staff also puts on a stellar array of online panels and programs with an equity emphasis. Listening and watching, I was thinking about the way that art has become such an active and interactive medium with strong influences way beyond the shelter of academia. Our local wonder woman, Akuyea Karen Vargas, just won a Governor’s Luminary Award for decades of work with underserved youth, often using art as a tool for self expression, and as deep, healing therapy for wounded hearts and spirits.

Several of the artists in yesterday’s presentation mentioned that they consider their art as equity work and as a gift to the beloved community. Many of the keynote speakers noted that, for activists, MLK day is a day ON, not a day off, a time to honor MLK’s legacy in action as well as words. As Dr. King said, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” Sometimes the idea of service may seem intimidating, but really, service comes in all shapes and sizes. Though we are still in quarantine, I was able to pass along a big bag of warm hat and scarves and mitts made by the Senior center knitting group, to be offered along with warm meals and hot drinks to homeless people. We’ve been piling them up for two year, as local agencies weren’t accepting in-kind contributions, so there will be a lot of warmer heads and hands today, covid or no covid.

Little Gifts, Big Impact

If knitted hats can be considered a gift of service, I suppose even Valentine’s Day cards might be as well. In fact, I know they can, because during the earlier pandemic lockdown time, writing notes and cards to shut-in elders clearly made a big difference to their feelings of isolation and anxiety. Sometime if I couldn’t think of anything new or clever to say, I’d cut out jokes or pictures of beautiful gardens from magazines and paste them into a card with a few words, like, “Wish we could be walking in this lovely garden” or “This joke is so bad it made me snort tea through my nose.” You know, uplifting thoughts.

As the lethargy of our mystery illness slowly ebbs, I’m realizing that having a week absolutely off was something I’d really like to try again when I didn’t feel like napping all day. I’ve never been big on vacations, and at this stage of life, my home, my garden, my family and my community supply pretty much everything I want. However, I do have a tendency to jump in and do what seems to need doing and sometimes that means I’m putting more on my plate than I can actually handle. Maybe it’s time to see that my plate isn’t as large as it used to be? Maybe it’s time to slow down a bit and make space for someone else to jump in? Maybe only doing a little is plenty now? I’ve been remembering a dear Quaker neighbor from my childhood: I loved to visit her, because she was always calm and welcoming and actually listened. When I would pour out my fears and concerns about the world (this was during the civil rights movement, when the evening news was horrifying), she would often say, “None of us can solve everything, but we can all brighten our corner.” Amen, sister!


Posted in Care & Feeding, Crafting With Children, Health & Wellbeing, Social Justice, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Covid & Community

Simple & speedy chicken soup, good for what ails ya

The Beautiful Community

For the past few months, I’ve been helping to plan an annual community event celebrating the social justice legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For the past few years, this event’s been growing and gaining strength as national events spurred more awareness and action. This time, as covid19 cases exponentially grew, our event plan changed weekly, from a community march (always popular and moving) and many in-person activities to an all-on-line format. I’m sure the result will be rich and well worth watching, but it obviously can’t have the impact as marching and singing and listening to amazing talks and music and poetry with people of all ages does.

I always love that this annual march is less against than for: For human rights. For social and economic justice. For the health and wellbeing of our planet. For universal health care. For reproductive freedom. For free public education. For freedom of religion. For freedom of speech. On and on, of course, and things we want FOR the Beautiful Community, FOR the most wholesome, healthy, free and just life we can create together. Some people have been saying they feel like The Movement has died. I don’t see that. During the previous regime, people were incensed and aroused by the constant barrage of Bad News and there truly was something to be horrified by pretty much every single day and that clearly got people galvanized into actions galore. There’s still plenty of bad news, but now there’s also good news. There’s good news as lost ground is retaken and good news as positive steps forward are slowly being made despite so much pushback and resistance.

Nurturing The Beautiful Community

Locally, I love seeing the Beautiful Community MLK talked about in action. Though the pandemic has made it more difficult for us to gather in person, social justice work has gone online and is more organized and focused than ever. Students are organizing everywhere and using today’s tools with awesome ease and competence. Grandparent are rising up and regaining our activist chops, and groups such as thirdact.org are helping us oldies (as in people over 60) support democracy and work for environmental reforms.

A lot is happening, locally, nationally, internationally, and though a LOT more needs to happen, it’s important to keep our focus on the positive track. Respair, right? As I’ve been reading through various MLK speeches, a few great quotes are still resonating with me and hopefully with you too. Which ones sing out to you?

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.”

“Before any other action we take, we must remember to move forward with love.”

We’re supposed to wait five days before testing…

Emergency Soup

On a less cheery note, I was accidentally exposed to covid19 on Friday. As soon as I found out, I aired out the house, washed everything down, showered, and started the countdown to symptom time. Once the initial shock wore off, though, I was surprised not to be more freaked out about it. It seems inevitable that most or basically all of us will get it at some point. Maybe that will actually help us develop the elusive herd immunity? However it plays out, I’m deeply grateful for the vaccines that are making this extremely contagious virus less damaging, especially for us oldies (now I’m 70 I’m definitely practicing my elder persona). Now that I’m isolating again, I’m very grateful to live in a Beautiful Community where help is just a phone call or text away. I only wish everyone had such support, and could find and afford home tests (they’re almost impossible to find around here now).

Though I still felt fine this morning, around noon, wham. Uh oh.
As those cold-like, flu-like, not-very-comfortable covid19 symptoms proliferated, I started making emergency chicken soup, a proven comfort food for my family all my life. Luckily I had some cooked chicken on hand, chicken broth in the freezer, and garlic and greens from the garden to give it extra punch. This soup took me all of 10 minutes to prep and as it simmered, I kept leaning over to breathe in the steam. Apparently that’s what makes chicken soup so good for flu fighting, so if you’re vegetarian, any favorite hot soup should do the trick.

Simple & Speedy Chicken Soup

1 tablespoon olive or avocado oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon minced rosemary
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1-1/2 cups chopped peppers
2 cups chopped red cabbage
4 cups sliced kale
1 cup chopped broccoli
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon fresh thyme sprigs

In a soup pot, heat oil, onion and garlic over medium heat. After 3 minutes, add rosemary, salt, celery, carrot and peppers, cover pan and let braise while you chop the greens (and reds). Add cabbage, kale, broccoli, chicken and broth, cover pan and bring to a simmer. Simmer on low for at least 20 minutes. Serve hot, garnished with thyme. Serves 4.

Onward, right?

Posted in Care & Feeding, Health & Wellbeing, Recipes, Social Justice, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Out With The Old (Especially Condiments)

Under the snow, the winter greens still flourish

Making Room For Respair

For most folks, New Year’s is all about fresh starts, at least nominally. I recently heard a cute quip: “New Years Resolutions go in one year and out the other.” All too true, so I try to get the jump on things by spending the first few days of each year making clean starts. I often spend New Year’s Day washing curtains and cleaning the windows so they sparkle when (if) the sun comes out. This year, I’ve been washing not just the curtains but all the extra window coverings necessitated by the prolonged sub-freezing days and nights, and rejoicing in the renewed light that fills our little home once again.

As for those resolutions, personally I find it best to work up to large shifts of habit or consciousness by starting with something small and manageable. One favorite new year’s task is to investigate the contents of the post-holiday refrigerator. Since my family is still in quarantine, mealtime census has been low and I’ve been labeling everything with the date it was made or opened to avoid finding interesting molds in those mysterious back-of-the-fridge containers. I started the task with the freezer and found an astonishing number of bagged bits of bread. I always think a slightly stale loaf end could be useful as crumbs or in stuffing, but I only make stuffing once or twice a year, and there are only so many dishes improved by crumbs. Out they went to feed the hungry birds and squirrels, all very appreciative of the unexpected bounty.

My Geezer Freezer

When my kids were growing up, our freezer was famously known as The Freezer Of Death because a cascade of nameless, sketchily lodged packages rained down on the incautious. When I was a kid, our freezer held many packages labeled ‘needs work’, remnants of less than successful meals. Now I’ve got a geezer freezer, the kind fond grandparents develop when grandkids are frequent dinner guests. My initial excavation disclosed an astonishing variety of half-empty ice cream containers, as my grandkids adore mixing unusual kinds of ice cream into cold “soup.” Anything with frost crystals got the toss, including two boxes of dubious fruit bars left over from summer, which freed up lots of space for holiday leftovers (all labeled and dated, of course!).

Frozen Assets

Another motherlode involved many pounds of beautiful butter. I always buy nice butter when it’s on sale. Don’t you? Doesn’t everybody? Good butter certainly comes in handy when there are onions to caramelize and cookies to bake, right? I also buy lovely tea on sale, which is why I have several dozen boxes of (mostly) different kinds on my tea shelf. Surely that’s normal? There are also a number of half-used packets of pepperoni for pizza—those little bags get lost so easily! Any that smelled a bit off got binned and the rest were united, labeled and dated(!) and put in a better spot on the freezer door (plus we made sourdough pizza for dinner, yum!). After this massive clearing out, what’s left is obvious and easy to find, and only actual assets are left of the previous random jumble.

Next, I did the vegetable bins, which get cleaned out fairly regularly so are not too daunting. In fact, it’s a pleasure to see them full of crisp greens from my little pea patch, harvested under the snow. We’ve been enjoying them in stir fries and soups and today we found that we quite like finely shredded kale and chicory on pizza. After washing each shelf and replacing whatever made the cut, I took on The Door, home to innumerable condiments. It’s so easy to fall for a special zowie flavoring, perhaps something you enjoyed at a restaurant or friend’s house, and decide to stock up and make something similar at home. You do, and it’s good, but really not something you want to eat very often so the little bottle of whatever sauce goes in the fridge. Right? Admitting that the remainder was never going to be used helped empty out the main clutter, exposing many bottles of vinegars made last summer. I had intended to give them to friends for holiday gifts, but with covid19 cases exploding here, there haven’t been any fun little get-togethers. Still, vinegar keeps well, so the plum and nectarine vanilla and cardamom pear vinegars can wait until when it’s safe to gather again.

A New Old Word

As I cleaned, I found myself saying a new word over and over. A friend sent me a note about it, saying he’d read an article in the Guardian about this long-forgotten word that deserves great attention in these troubled times. Apparently coined in 1425 and seldom if ever used since, the work is “respair” and is defined as the renewal of hope after a time of despair. Indeed, it is the perfect word for our time, when renewal of hope is vital to our wellbeing, to our daily balance, to our very sanity. It’s a noun and a verb, so we can respair, as in discover new hope, and we can experience respair, as in the refreshed feelings that hope awakens in our spirits. May the New Year be one of respair for us all and for our precious planet!

Clean fridge, great pizza!

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Helping Hummingbirds (And People)
 Make It Through The Big Chill

Hummers are beautiful but feisty birds

Cold And Snowy Holidays

While we were expecting to have low key holidays, another unprecedented weather event made them almost nonexistent. I can’t remember such a string of below-freezing days, let alone nights in the teens, with icy North winds making them feel even colder. It feels especially dire when we recall June’s soaring heat dome event. Going from a high of 106 to a low of 15 degrees makes me worry for my plants, let alone the local wildlife. Where I grew up in Massachusetts, such differences were common, so homes were built to handle all kinds of weather. Here in the Maritime Pacific Northwest, older homes tend to lack insulation, making extreme temperatures uncomfortable and even unsafe. Local emergency warming stations are open day and night now and shelters have been packed as volunteers are scouting the streets to make sure homeless people aren’t left out in the cold.

Hospitals are also busier than usual as yet another covid19 wave is cresting. My home community has seen the fewest cases in the county but in recent weeks, we’ve been leading the pack, with fully vaccinated people of all ages getting breakthrough covid. ERs are also jammed, as I happen to know, having spent many hours in one last week. Lately I’ve been having episodes of chest pressure, a feeling of fullness even after many hours without eating, accompanied by a sense of impending doom. When the funky feeling occurred again, my daughter urged me to call 911 and I ended up in the ER. After a zillion tests to rule out heart issues, and every test came back normal, I refused to spend the night there and went home. During it all, I became deeply sure that I’ve been having anxiety attacks. The medics disagreed, insisting that there has to be a specific trigger for a panic attack. Since I’d been calmly cooking salmon this time, nobody was convinced by my self-diagnosis, but the more I named it out loud, the more I realized the truth of it.

Pressure Is Pain

I get why the medics ran me through all the hoops. Say “chest pressure” and they hear “chest pain” and respond like you’re having a heart attack, which might well be the case. Heart attacks in women can present in all sorts of ways, but rarely look like the male version (which is of course the classic example). However, as I’m learning, anxiety episodes also come in many forms and not all are textbook-obvious. When I really started looking at my recent behavior, I realized that I’ve been self-soothing obsessively, knitting every minute I could spare from doing crossword puzzles and re-reading favorite comfort books (sometimes getting through more than one a day, the dark side of being a fast reader).

Now that I’m paying attention, I notice that I really, really don’t like not knowing what’s coming and I really dislike not being in control. There have definitely been a lot of events falling into both categories in recent years. Hmm. Almost the minute I recognized that I was making myself crazy, something released and a remarkable feeling of peace and spacious freedom blossomed within me. It’s been a week and I’m still riding that high, despite the crazy cold weather and holiday cancellations galore. Today, the neighborhood kids are playing in the snow and their cheerful happiness is infectious in a GOOD way (right?).

Sledding down the street at 10 degrees

About Those Hummingbirds

Last year, my grandkids gave me a lovely glass hummingbird feeder, which was so popular that I got a few more plainer feeders to give more birds a chance at the nectar. During the summer, there are plenty of flowers and insects for the hummers and I don’t put up the feeders until the garden slows down. This year, a pineapple sage bloomed its heart out right up until the Big Chill arrived. Hummingbirds love those tubular red flowers and that and my many fuchsias kept the crowd happy, but overnight the world changed and now the birds are really hungry. To keep them well fed, I’m rotating feeders every few hours so the frozen ones thaw out before they get swapped out again. I start putting them out at dawn (which is well before sunup) and in minutes the little birds are buzzing in for breakfast.

Sadly, hummingbirds are very territorial and really do not share well. I keep moving the feeders farther apart to try to stop one big male from hogging the whole feast. My Russian neighbor also feeds them and the smarter birds zip back and forth from her porch to mine, with the big male in hot pursuit. It seems ridiculous for these busy little birds to waste so much precious energy fending off other hungry critters when there’s enough for everyone to be well fed. Apparently animal nature and human nature have a lot in common… By night, five or six hummers retire to a bushy screen of Mexican orange (Choisya ternata) that blends into a big evergreen clematis on my other neighbor’s trellised porch. It’s charming to hear them chirping away at dusk, when they tuck themselves into the evergreen foliage for the night. Apparently the territorial issues don’t arise over sleeping quarters as they do over food?

Feeder Filling

Once we start feeding birds, we have to keep it up, as they’ve come to depend on human help in winter. When filling feeders, always use the classic Audubon-approved recipe. Never use alternative forms of sweeteners, none of which are good for birds (and some of which are outright harmful). Never add red dye, which can be harmful; the feeder’s bright color is attraction enough. Always wash the feeders between fillings so they don’t get moldy, and let them dry before putting them back outside so nobody’s feet get frozen to the perches.

Classic Hummingbird Nectar

4 cups warm water
1 cup cane sugar

Mix well to dissolve sugar and fill feeders immediately. Refrigerate mix for up to three days or make a fresh batch each time you fill your feeders.

Posted in Birds In The Garden, Care & Feeding, Health & Wellbeing, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living | Tagged , | 8 Comments