Friday, April 24, 2020

Rub a Dubdub, I Live in the Tub

I Live in the Tub Now

Snow fell overnight
Stifling Spring’s first words,
So eagerly anticipated this year.
          Though aren’t they always?

No matter.

This bag of bones lets lose
Within the fluid caress of a warm tub.
          Water, fire, salt, 
                 smoke, heat, paper

And all this…drifts away.

Rising with the 
                 sweetly 
                       scented 
                            steam.

April is National Poetry month.  In honor of that designation I am sharing this piece that I wrote the first week of the month.  Snow seems rather far gone from a day like today.  It has been 65-70 degrees this week sending me barefoot into the garden yesterday.  Just a couple weeks ago it was a markedly different situation.  Montana's spring is so dynamic.
The snow that inspired the poem. Also:  I rehung the Christmas lights on the porch. They make me happy. As it happens, I think we’ve gotten as much snow this Spring as we did during the actual Christmas season so that’s been a bonus. Christmas lights make me happy, but add in some snow and I’m overjoyed. So pretty. 
Plus—and I can only speak for myself—I am a little lost in time.  Sometimes it seems to be whipping past so rapidly that it is surreal.  Other times, by the end of the day, the morning feels so long ago it must have surely been yesterday.  It is quite the phenomenon—makes me think of the song “Time,” by Elephant Revival—and the gym, as I already mentioned.  Time is a fluid, like my bath water embrace.
My friend, Chelsey, dropped off some paper hearts to decorate our windows. Matt and I created these together. The one on the right is a sun with rays in the blue sky, though quite abstract. They’re quite a cheerful addition. 
April will soon be over.  I’ve been “at home” for six weeks today.  The grape hyacinths are blooming.  Ginger prowls the garden once again.  Easter came and went quietly.  Matt’s brothers and my dad all got a year older.  Next month is my birthday…and most folks who know me are also familiar with how much I love to celebrate the whole month long.  It is tricky contemplating a month out from now.  So much has changed in the past month.  Who knows what the next will bring?!
Matt photobombing the full moon. 
Montana is starting phase one of “re-opening” this Saturday since we’re coping, as a state.  Our hospitalization rates are low, our infection rates are low.  I hope our baby steps go well, one phase to the next.  Concerts and gatherings over 50 people aren’t on the table for a long while yet though, as part of phase three.
Our fierce door guard. 
On a personal level, I hope to feel ready to be with people again soon.  I can’t imagine being comfortable going to a big concert, say, or to one of our tie-dye craft shows right now.  Shoulder to shoulder with the masses.  That’s possibly the thing that bums me out the most about how the pandemic has changed me. I loathe how this virus has made me feel about other humans, like they’re all potential bombs ready to go off.  To be watched and/or handled cautiously.  That isn’t my style.  I’m usually the opposite of a germaphobe.
I colored for hours one Saturday.  With cats bookending me the whole while. I’ve also been writing, sewing, and making shrinkeedinks. 
I want to get back there…and I know I will, to a great extent.  Nevertheless I also have to wonder…will I ever mindlessly shove my hand into a communal bag of chips at a potluck ever again?  I can remember the last person I hugged, not realizing at the time it would be the last for long while.  It was David Cleaves**.  He came over for a game of backyard bocce the week that the excrement hit the air conditioning on our local scene.  I wonder who the first will be…
I’ll take this opportunity to say that the Facebook group “Sewing with Cats” is one of the best things on FB.  I rarely post, but love the content. These are my people.  
Sometimes I still cannot believe this is my life.  That this is our life.  I like that this bath poem captures my personal response to chaos on a global level.  It is intimate, but framed within the context of the greater history we’re living through.  For some reason this pleases me.
The light we’re using now formerly decorated Matt’s childhood home. They’re the old-school big bulbs.  Those always make me think of my dad. 
It turns out that probably my most relied upon stress-uncertainty-sadness-boredom reducer throughout these past six weeks has been regularly taking the world’s hottest, longest baths.
Ginger still thinks this is the best thing to ever happen.
I crank up the hot water heater to the point where it starts warning of scalding danger—that’s critical.  It makes my tub into a pretty satisfactory approximation of a hot tub or hot spring.  After letting the water heater gear up for a few hours I light a few candles and some incense, maybe toss in some Epsom salts, and then I set up my kitchen stool as a side table with:
  • A book
  • A pitcher of water and plastic glass
  • A portable speaker
  • My iPod (for audiobooks)
  • The phoneputer (for music, largely)
  • A hand towel for dabbing my sweaty face and drying my hands when needed
  • The tea pot and cup (optional, depending on the time of day)
  • A beer (optional, depending on the time of day)
Wee bloomers spotted on one of our walks. They’re probably all of three inches tall. 
I rediscovered the bliss of baths last year.  It came about because I was gifted a bath bomb for Christmas 2018.  I put it with the Goodwill donations in the garage with the assumption that “I am not a bath person.”  Then I got to thinking about how much I dig hot springs and tubs, swimming, and water, in general, and thought... maybe I was a bath person and just didn’t know it.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d taken one…probably in my school days, still at home.
A Spring sunset. Not pictured:  the backyard campfire. 
And…it turns out that I am totally a bath person.

In my ordinary life I take a bath about once a week, never more than that.  It is typically part of my Monday morning since that’s the day I work 1-9pm at the library and so have the morning to myself at home.  These days it is more like three or four times a week.  It’s just like the Curry Feasts.  An increase in frequency was highly desirable, given the state of things.
Johnny has decided she loves this tri-tunnel. Naturally now Ginger, the most scardy Alpha cat ever, has now become fixated on it, too. Turf wars and startling catrocket launches on the regular. 
I can forget about the world and get lost in my stories.  I read an entire 197-page Newbery Award book in one go last week, cover to cover.  I read most of Stephen King’s The Stand in there, too.  I can refill my heartcup with hope and joy through song.  Clinton Fearon is my favorite bathtime jam, or the desert blues meditation album my mom gave me.  I draft poems, letters, and blog post ideas in my head.  I’ve even had a couple video chats with my sisters from the tub, when they happened to catch me there…which is bound to happen when around 6-10 hours a week are spent soaking.
My sisters. Sarah has been teaching in Barrow, AK the past two years. She was able to come home to Montana earlier than expected. She completed a 14-day quarantine at my grandparent’s farm. “I haven’t had a drop to drink during this whole quarantine.”  Lisa’s life has been altered the longest of our family as she lives in the Seattle area, which was hard hit early on in the American experience of the pandemic. “Snacks are the first thing to go.”
I can also make the bath my office, in a limited capacity.  I’ve fielded emails and taken in several pre-recorded webinars and online sessions (in which all I have to do is listen) from the tub.  Between webinars with cats-on-my-lap and those while soaking-in-the-tub….I don’t know how I am ever going to be able to tolerate such formats in my office at the library ever again.  The at-home version is so much more enjoyable.  Hands down.
Matt and I went down to the river last weekend to skip stones and watch birds. 
I’m actually going into the library for work today, the first time in six weeks.  I have a few books to mail off to student/faculty who need them for these last couple weeks of the semester.  I am also going to bring home a disgustingly large stack of magazines to barcode and add to our system.   This, I now realize, will mean that I’ve “gone out” a shocking three days this week.  For TP and tampons on Monday, to donate blood on Tuesday, and to the library for work today.   Wow.  Look at me go.  That’s more than in the past month combined****.

Maybe I’ll celebrate with a nice long soak today.
Ginger and me at the front window desk. It’s a good thing for her that I have to work using my phone most of the time. She’s kinda hogging the laptop space. 
**Excluding Matt, of course.  We’re so grateful that we enjoy each other so deeply and that our relationship abounds with common interests and hobbies.  We've been having a really good time together, despite restrictions.  I can’t imagine anyone else I’d prefer as my sole regular contact with a physical person.  Matt, I should mention, still has other folks at work to engage with, but he's it for me!

**** I still go outside plenty.  I just don’t go into buildings much anymore.  We have an awesome yard, front and back.  We cycle and walk—though we tend to avoid the trails around our house since they're pretty heavily trafficked. We drove 45 minutes out into the country to watch birds at a seasonal lake last weekend. I still get out plenty…just, you know, not where people are.
I’ve always been glad to live in Montana. All the more so right now. 



Saturday, April 11, 2020

Incredible Curry Feasts


I find it surprising that my favorite, most frequently replied upon cookbook isn’t a vegan one or even a vegetarian one. Instead is an absolute gem by the name of 660 Curries: The Gateway to Indian Cooking. While it leans heavy on vegetables and legumes, it is fully omnivorous—from beef to eggplant—and also fully fan-foo-goo-tastic. Seriously!  It’s an incredible collection of recipes, plus bonus history and culture notes. Every single dish we’ve tried (and that’s saying something!) has been “good” at worst and “phenomenal-and-mouthwatering-I-must-have-seconds” at best. Indian cuisine is so varied and diverse by region and packs so much flavor. It is also highly adaptable—and cheap. I love it.

In my last post I mentioned that we are eating extra, super duper dank these days. We almost always eat a home-cooked dinner even during more ordinary times, but often enough it has to get squeezed in before we head off to a concert or game night or brewery meet-up. Oh, not so(!) now that COVID-19 has freed up our schedules. Now we have all the time in the world to eat like royalty.
Carrots and Peas with a Roasted Chile-Spice Blend, Cayenne-spiked Cauliflower with an Onion-Tomato Sauce, Buttery Rice with Spinach and Onion, and ”Beef” with Bell Peppers, Onions, and Mushrooms 
(Or at least our version of royalty. Perhaps most people’s don’t involve so much rice or beans. This is probably like the time I told the waiter at Dennys that I wanted double hashbrowns but “fancied” up with some sautéed spinach and mushrooms. Bek’s uncle was openly amused and said putting spinach on something was not his idea of fancy. My dad agreed. But, I digress.)

For the past month we’ve had a weekly Curry Feast.  [A Curry Feast, defined: three or more separate Indian dishes served at one meal so each plate is a mini buffet of flavors and textures.]. Usually we only feast once a month, maybe. Now it is our weekly jam. Yum.

I have to credit our friend Alex with coining the term Curry Feast. Every now and then we pull off a Feast with him and his family—and, boy, it is epic. It is a belly-busting Curry Feast extravaganza. Both of our households own the 660 Curries book. It is a superb time with swell folks centered around great food.  Plus, the food math is really simple:  if we each make three things then that is six!  Super Feast!
Bolly Cauli, Brown Lentils with Chunky Onion and Chilies, and Buttery Rice with Spinach and Onion 
…  Perhaps the rising frequency of our Curry Feasts these days is about more than just having extra free time in the evening though. I was wondering yesterday, as I soaked in the tub, whether it might be a subconscious attempt to add some routine to my bizarrely fluid and oh so similar days. In my ordinary life Monday is my Late Night Working At The Library. Tuesday is Bowling Night. Wednesday is Workday Wednesday around the house and garden. Friday is Pizza Night. The weekend is Travel and Adventure Time.  Concert Nights supersede basically any of those.

Except now it is Tuesday is Wii Bowling Night. Thursday is Curry Feast night. Friday is still Pizza Night and the weekend is now Matt Doesn’t Have to Work So We Get to Hang All Day Now Time. Workday Wednesday is whenever the heck we feel like it.  Concert Night comes via live feeds, catch as we can.
Chunky Potatoes with Garlic and Peanuts, Carrots and Peas with a Roasted Chile-Spice Blend, Buttery Rice with Spinach and Onion, and ”Beef” with Bell Peppers, Onions, and Mushrooms
In any case, I can’t recommend the cookbook enough. I didn’t know diddly squat about the range and breadth of Indian cuisine before we checked it out from our public library all those years ago. (And after checking it out like five times in a row we finally just bought a used copy for our own.)  I’ve learned a whole lot, both in technique and ingredients. Mustard seed pops like popcorn and there is a subtle but notable difference between yellow mustard seed and black mustard seed. We now consider cumin seed to be in “essential “ingredient, right along with salt and pepper. [Pro tip: cumin seed can often be found in the Mexican/ethnic section at the supermarket.]

There are loads of recipes that don’t require any hard to obtain or exotic ingredients, but there are lots of recipes that do, too. I love the variety.  I am, as I write this, eagerly awaiting a shipment of fresh curry leaves, ordered online. I didn’t even know curry was anything but a powder when I first picked up this book. The fresh curry leaf is lovely though, sort of citrusy and maybe a little nutty…
Mangalorean “Chicken” Curry with Tamarind and Coconut Milk,  Cauliflower and Potatoes in a Spiced Tomato Sauce,  Buttery Rice with Spinach and Onion
We have probably eaten 30+ of the various vegetable curries—which are all conveniently alphabetized by the main ingredient: cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, mushrooms, potatoes, squash, etc. More recently we’ve been tackling some of the chicken and beef recipes from the meat section, substituting homemade seitan. We also regularly include the various rice dishes – my favorite is called Buttery Rice with Spinach and Onions, though the Nutty Rice is a close second. Then there are the flatbreads such as naan, but also less familiar versions like the crepe thin Flaky Griddle-cooked Bread made from chickpea flour, for example.
It is a solid little book. Also, if I do say so myself, the Feast concept is pretty solid, too. I mean, I know Indian isn’t for everyone, but I am pretty sure that an Italian Feast or a Japanese Feast or a Swedish Feast tradition would be equally awesome to a person who was into that cuisine or culture.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Bits and Pieces of Now

Yesterday Matt, my mom, and I were supposed to fly to the east coast. My stepsister was getting married in DC. We were going to celebrate with her and take in museums and monuments in the city before setting off to Shenandoah National Park.
As recently as March 12th, we still thought maybe Matt and I would be able to make it happen, though in retrospect that was foolishly optimistic yearning. We could see the writing on the wall and were in denial. My eldest sister lives in Seattle and, as the situation rapidly escalated there, she called on the last day of February urging us to buy some extra food and supplies. Matt works for our county health department where they’d been starting to prep and stockpile supplies going back to January.  I largely ignore the news and had my head, admittedly, in the sand.  Italy was a sucker punch for me that sealed the deal.  Not only was DC off the table, but the excrement was hitting the air conditioning, to borrow a phrase from my beloved Kurt Vonnegut.
It is almost embarrassing to have to admit how much I was apparently clinging to my “it couldn’t happen here/to me” mindset.  It makes me feel dumb, but it’s the truth.
Was that really just three weeks ago? When we canceled the trip and battened down the hatches?!  It seems so much longer, as if each day has stretched. Or as if the planet’s spin has slowed, drawing out the days.  Time truly is such a relative thing. I really came to appreciate that when I started going to the gym. One minute of squats is nothing, but you should hear me moan about one minute of burpees.
The wedding has been postponed, along with, well, just about everything else in life.
I’m making the most if it, as I do.  That isn’t to say that I’m not anxious or worried. It’s hard not to be. I just try to focus on other things. More productive things. Things more directly under my control.  Plus, while I certainly miss concerts and dinner parties and all the rest of my usual hustle-and-bustle, it wouldn’t be completely honest if I didn’t acknowledge that I’m enjoying the unscheduled, steady quietude of my current home based experience, too.
We planted the garden with the early crops. I finally finished the curtains for our bedroom. I read a lot. Matt and I play a lot of games—board games, old school Nintendo, and darts, mostly. We have even carried on with our Tuesday night bowling tradition thanks to the Wii. We’ve been eating some incredible food, taking extra time on it. My family has been delightfully adept at engaging each other through remote, technological means. My cousins even created an online game room so folks can play Whist—with our family-style house rules. I had my first ever video chat with my dad. There have been a few nights spent around the backyard firepit. I’ve played my guitar until my fingers ache. The cats love our total lack of weekend and evening departures. They think this is the best thing that ever happened, I suspect.
There’s plenty to do. I’ve certainly said that I have too many interests and not enough time in the past. And here we are. The time has come. Plus, it’s important to remember how blessed we really are. We’re both still getting paid. We have an emergency savings account. We have full cupboards. We’re healthy. We have so much that enables this household to work, even if it doesn’t feel as easy or normal as accustomed.
We’re settling into this new, relatively temporary pattern of living.
Matt has been picking up a spot of overtime— he reports this is the first time that has ever happened in his life. It’s obviously a busy and stressful time for all those involved in healthcare, even those behind the scenes, like Matt. He works in the purchasing department and it has been a tricky time making sure all the needed supplies are available.
[Sidebar:  I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for medical professionals, nurses especially. This is all the more so in the current climate. Blessings of health and strength upon all the doctors, nurses, techs, therapists, etc. of the world!]
As for me, the library—the whole campus—is closed, more or less. It’s a sad-looking ghost town. Students are still learning and professors are still teaching, it’s just all online now. Initially I was still going to the library, but was directed to work remotely starting March 12th. I felt quite clumsy at it for the first week, but I have settled into it there, as well. I am still able to help students obtain e-books and digital copies of articles. I’ve been compiling statistics and updating policies and manuals. I discovered that listening to webinars and other online training is significantly more enjoyable with a snuggly warm cat on my lap. I set up a little desk under the picture window and like it so much—the light is great and so is the birdwatching—that I might leave it when I return back to work. It’s a lovely space to make art and write postcards, too. Working from home is not the same in just about every sense, but it will do. I am going to be an expert at all of the tricks and shortcuts on my phone by the end of this thing. I do all of my telecommuting from our teeny tiny iPhone since we don’t have regular home internet.  I’m learning so much.  Boy!  Aren’t we all?!?