5-21-2020 Dance Like a Chicken Day

 May 14-20, 2020
Well, we seem to have gotten through the Canadian cold front. It was below freezing some nights this past week. Spring seems back on track- it was gorgeous out today. Kat noticed I’d been at the computer too long (OMG there were over 2 dz. holidays for tomorrow!) and dragged me out for a walk, bless her! The leaves that were just budding last week are now greening up the canopy.  The garden is looking very “about to do something”- I think there’s another type of jonquil coming, the lilac bushes are coming along, the bleeding hearts are clumping, the leaves of the lily of the valley are escaping, but as for flowers, most of what we had has passed. We have one lone and lovely tulip. On the other hand, the quince bush is blooming enough to compensate for nothing anywhere else! And, lest I forget, I have flats of pansies to transplant that Willow got me for Mother’s Day! (It’s a tradition!)  The quince is dramatically brilliant. I also spotted some tiny first yarrow out on the walk today. And I have harvested the first chives, which I put on our loaded potatoes last week!
Rather than editing last week’s introductory paragraph (having put off finishing the letter day-by-day), I will simply say that this week the weather has been warm and gorgeous! The quince is beginning to fade, but on the other hand the narcissus and lily of the valley opened, the bleeding hearts are going nuts, the lilacs are forming blossoms, we have dandelions (of which I am very fond, although they haven’t the prestige of planted flowers), and the trees continue to leaf out.
 The cats adapting to summer protocol. John put up the screen door last week, which complicates their going in and out when the inner (solid) door is closed. At least they haven’t started climbing the screen when they want to come in. That’s the nice way to think of it- the more believable way is that they are clawing the screen, because that sound gets our attention. The bottom panel has a covering of hardware cloth over the screen because of that.
Gretel is getting spring fever and has trashed Kat’s room, so she’s had to spend the past week cleaning it. (You know the bit where a tidying turns into “turn out all the drawers and sort them, change and wash all the bedding, curtains, etc.)  We have started to call Kat and let her know when Zoloft goes out, so that Kat can open her door and Gretel can start investigating the rest of the house without being attacked. (We still have no idea what Zoloft has against Gretel.)
We seem to be getting to the end of Zoloft’s mats. When spring comes she sheds her inner fluff,  not the guard hairs, so they mat when we can’t get her to hold still enough for us to comb them out. In theory we should brush her every day all year, but neither I nor Zoloft has the patience for that! Kat and I have started making a felt ball of the fluff. I expect it will be a cat toy at some point.
 As with Kat’s room, projects arise unintentionally, The other day I was looking (in vain) for Swiss cheese for a sandwich and ended up cleaning the top shelf of the refrigerator. Mother taught me the trick of doing one bin or shelf (or so) a week, so that the whole thing is cleaned every month, but you don’t have to spend a day doing it. I reiterate my feeling that refrigerators should not be so deep. I wish I could get one that only allowed jars, Tupperware, and such to get three deep at most. What’s farther back gets lost until cleaning. I hate finding “mysteries in plastic” in the back of the refrigerator!
Tuesday Kat and I went to the recycling center. Usually Willow has done the errands, but this time she was too tired, and they’d loaded the trash in my car, so I went out. Hours are shortened lately, and we got there just before it closed at 4:30. I had, in fact, decided not to bother putting out the computer chair that had become so wobbly I was getting back aches from trying to brace myself, so that the crew could go home. Then the car wouldn’t start. I called Gary, because it’s his car he loaned me until the one he’s found for me was ready. He came, but couldn’t get it to work, and since he already had a car he was delivering on the flatbed, he arranged to pick it up the next day.
My hero Gary Laplant just brought over my “new” car. It’s silver, but apparently technically it’s “Jade” something. If a policeman were doing an accident report, or if I was telling AAA which car to look for, we’d call it Silver. I think the only way to see the green in it would be to paint a bit with car paint called silver, and you might then be able to see a difference. Apparently, although I didn’t need it, it’s “loaded”. Heat and AC, which I do want, disc and tape players, Sun roof, power windows (I don’t think they make crank windows anymore), power doors, power locks, wood grained detailing, a DVD player for the back seat! I just want a car that will hold what I need, pull a trailer, and go. I guess I do like 4 wheel drive, but Gary warns me that this one requires the tire pressure to be balanced every three weeks, that’s why the previous owners got rid of it. I don’t think I have had a car with so little rust in decades! It’s pretty, although I really can’t tell it from my previous cars. Some color would have been nice. Why are silver, black, and white so popular these days? Sadly, the town offices are closed already for the long weekend, so I can’t get it registered until Tuesday, but I now have a car again (and will be able to take Kat to the dentist).
 I’ve spent the morning calling many various emergency dentists in NH. Kat has a toothache. Sadly, it’s not the one that ached Monday; that one split down the middle, and half fell out, and it stopped hurting (as much?). Now another one is putting her in more pain than over the counter analgesics can handle, and I promised I’d take her to an emergency dental place. The governor says they can open again, with precautions. (Like waiting outside rather than in a waiting room. I expect they already disinfected everything a lot, and are just more careful about it now.)  Despite saying “walk-in”, it seems she needs an appointment, and they’re scheduling a week out. I am hoping Dr. Roy, our old dentist, will be willing to call in an antibiotic prescription, if I can get in touch with him. They’d rather not do anything while there’s active infection anyway, and it might help with the pain. Shakespere said that “there was never a philosopher who suffered a toothache patiently”, and he’s so right! They make it hard to think.
That was in Much Ado About Nothing, which I saw again last week. Kat found a version from Shakespere in the Park that was done in modern clothes. It showed once again Shakespeare’s genius for writing something that’s relatable in any century, although I still feel that Claudio and Hero are both brainless and rather deserve each other. My favorite bit was when Hero takes off her veil at the end and he realizes that she isn’t dead and his happy, before they kiss, she gives him a good hard slap for having believed she was unfaithful! I liked that! In discussing it afterwards, we think a spin off of the next generation (Beatrix and Benedick’s intelligent kids, and Claudio and Hero’s brainless ones) would be a lot of fun. I can see it in a Commedia del Arte style with the clever servants helping the idiot young lovers, or a Shakespearean version.  Personally, I’d have both Claudio and Hero both having taken lovers because I just can’t see a romance based on looks and charm lasting very long.
Willow, Kat and I are waiting for Tufts Dental to open again so we can get back to getting our teeth worked on. Once Willow’s caught up we’ll probably start John, although I’m not looking forward to it.
Lord! I hate the woodchuck function that changes whatever you write to what it guesses you meant! ( hence woodchuck rather than word check) Sometimes I don’t even catch them, but it feels like I spend far too much time backspacing to correct their guess back to what I meant, and wrote!
 Kat’s panniers we ordered for her birthday arrived yesterday. Panniers, for those not into historical underwear, are the “side bucket” versions of hoop skirts that hold your skirt out at the hips, but not back and front. She’s wearing a flowered hat because the 20th of May is Eliza Dolittle Day. I celebrated by re-watching My Fair Lady. We pretty much agreed that while it may have suggested that she had more independent spirit than many other women, she was still quite afflicted by the culture. It’s fairly painful to watch even the gentle Col. Pickering  treating her as though she wasn’t worthy of respect (only chivalry- which IMO is more for the men’s egos than the ladies), much less how the servants and Higgins treated her. Mrs. Pierce at least recognized that she was a person by the end of the show, but the servants clearly thought all the work that counted was their masters. I suppose a servant gets his prestige reflected from his employer.  It also bugged me that Rex Harrison simply spoke like a man of his class- and dropped his Rs, which seemed rather hypocritical since he was bugging Eliza to speak correctly. Come to think of it, Karpathy, who was making his living interpreting accents, had a strong accent, which makes me wonder. I always figured he’d tagged her as Hungarian because having had the same coach, they sounded the same,… but they didn’t.
Had I thought of it, I might have made jam tarts- referenced in one scene, but I was making Quiche and strawberry rhubarb pie. I will plead guilty to continuing stress baking. I made some devil’s food cakes- always good to have a bit of chocolate cake about the house that time of the month.  I got in the mood for beignets last week. The yeast didn’t seem to be responding, and I found I had 3 partial jars, and decided to “do science” and test them all. Sadly, the result was 3 sets of proofed yeast. I made the best in to beignets, made the next best into donuts, and the last into bread, and the one that had been disappointing, I added some extra yeast to it and made cinnamon rolls. I should have thrown it out- they never rose and I had to toss them after I’d cooked them- wasting all the other ingredients. The bread was a bit disappointing too- I used the flour from the 50 pound bag, and it didn’t rise well, and had an odd texture. I finally pulled the bag out and read it- it’s whole wheat pastry flour. That explains the low gluten and darker color. Sadly while setting things in the warming oven I discovered a sourdough sponge, which I’d forgotten. While it was clearly active and bubbling, when I added flour and made it into a loaf (again, using the flour from the big bag), it also didn’t rise well. I need to try another with bread flour. I am now wondering about the other brand of WW pastry flour- I’ll have to be careful to always label the canisters I put them in.
  (I remember how cross mother was when she grabbed a jar of “flour” from the pantry to make her gravy, to discover, when she tasted it- or noticed it wasn’t thickening- that she’d grabbed the powdered sugar. It had never occurred to me that someone wouldn’t immediately spot the difference in texture between flour and powdered sugar so I didn’t label them.) I have since learned to label almost everything.
The doughnuts were pretty good, not as good as Mrs. Keyes at the lake when I was a teen, so I need to keep working on them. The problem is, how many doughnuts can one eat? I figure a couple dozen a year? I need a crowd to feed them to if I want to get the practice in. (Another odd thought, in the Wizard of Oz, did you ever notice that Auntie Em is putting chicks under a hen, and then 120 seconds later she’s delivering “crullers, just fried”. Oh really? A donut or cruller takes about 30 seconds per side- Not counting washing hands between handling livestock and food.) Maybe they were already fried, but then why would she have said ‘just fried’. Someone was probably idealizing farm life.
The best part was that I took the bit of dough from which I cut the last three and tossed it into the fat (scraps are good for checking to see if the fat is hot enough) and it folded and ripped and I think came out looking like a rat. So I took a picture and ate it.
We are now in full swing (finally) on the CTCW planning. We have decided to do the conference online this year. As we agreed that people don’t really want to sit in front of their computers for 12 hours straight (although I think as long as there are rest breaks, many do), so this year we are doing one panel and one workshop (I’m hoping we’ll add another workshop as well) Monday through Thursday, then full days on Friday and Saturday- however only one track. I think the problem is that being “virtual” means that we need to have a “literal” volunteer at the computer doing the recording and other tech stuff for each class. No leave a recorder, and go off somewhere else. Maryalyce has also left the lunch and dinner breaks for socializing, although we are going to have a second Zoom subscription for a “hospitality”/ chat area. Given that when Jane and I started it, we wanted to have a huge number of classes (109 the first year, with about 20 panels) taking it down to 22 breaks my heart. Maybe we can sneak a few more in- if we can figure out how to get techs to sit there and make it happen. That’s the hard part.
I have been trying to get my sleep schedule back to daylight and and stop writing the letter when it hits midnight, but stuff happens during the day and it keeps getting delayed again. Sorry. LAST Thursday, when I went out the narcissus that had been just green stalks the day before opened! I looked around the corner, and the bleeding hearts are coming in! I’m psyched (also saw more violets and a dandelion)!  It was warm enough to leave the door open most of the day, until the thunderstorm started. Willow gets weather warnings, and there was one for tornadoes! But I think that’s just because it was severe thunderstorms. I don’t think tornadoes like going up and down hills. I actually listened to a couple of Nova’s from the beginning of the century, one was on getting the Mars Rover ready to go, and the other was on tornados- it really reminded me of Twister. Those guys are nuts!
This letter is not written sequentially, and if it’s confusing, I apologize. I want to amuse and to stay in contact.
I haven’t gotten around to talking about what I’ve been reading and watching during the last couple of months. I’ve been binge watching MASH while working in the kitchen. Sadly, I’m near the end of season 4 and our library doesn’t have season 5- Manchester does, but they aren’t sharing until things loosen up some. (Later edit, maybe someone else is also binge watching because they have them now- I just need to pick them up. Probably not until after the long weekend!)
I listened to an interview with an expert on pandemics, and he explained what I think should be obvious to anyone who’s paying attention, that what we have now is not going to change much right away. He said (and I expect) that it’s going to be like this for a year, maybe two. The masks, social distancing, lockdown etc. are how to bring the new cases, and the percentage of them that are lethal, down to a range we designate as “acceptable”. There are a lot of folks out there saying that it’s acceptable to them for more people to die. They don’t seem to get that “herd immunity” is what happens when enough of the population has already had the disease that it’s hard for the virus to find anyone who’s not immune. At this point we aren’t sure that having it confers immunity and if so, how long it lasts. Current guesses are that between 3-5% of the country have had the virus in the last couple of months. If we maintained at this rate, we could get to the 70% of immunity (IF it lasts, which we don’t know yet), in a couple of years (a lot faster if the idiots keep demonstrating and opening states too soon)! Without a vaccine, or good treatment, we couldn’t safely open up again to levels where there could be school, sports events, public transportation, etc., and even then it would still be risky for the not yet immune. So we should not be looking at how to get through the next month, but how to adapt so that we can live out with a safe level of social distancing for several years. People who’s work is on computers, no problem. Schools can probably work out some sort of distance learning. People who work outside will have more freedom. We’ve already seen that folks like mechanics, septic pumpers, plumbers, electricians, etc. will continue- probably with masks and social distancing. We need to develop ways of making child care safe enough so that parents can work. I’m thinking a lot of hand washing. But we need to be making LONG term plans, and I think that’s one thing this administration is resisting even looking at. (Frankly, Trump is focused on November)
Last I heard unemployment was at around a third of the country, which means two-thirds are “essential”- the health care providers, food providers, infrastructure providers. Admittedly, maybe one of the thirds is people who are telecommuting, and only the last third is essential. But whether you are or not, you still need to pay for your food, home, utilities, meds etc. We should be coming up with ways for more people to work from home or more places of work to be made safe. One thing I hear a lot is that cutting the number of customers down to safe levels will make most restaurants non-viable. I really dislike the way all the emergency supports are being funneled to the top, to companies that don’t need it as much. Oh well. Another interesting thing that expert said was that the people who recover and have immunity are going to be very ‘in demand’ as workers. That should be interesting as employers bid for their services!
When I’ve watched all of whatever MASH season I have at home, I watch Babylon 5, which we have. I also watched Firefly. We borrowed Castle in the Sky, a lovely Ghibli film we only have on VHS. Sometimes I hear some of the movies John watches- mostly adventures and B science fiction films.
I finished reading the two “Supernatural Speakeasy” mysteries (in New Orleans), the  seven “Country Cottage” mysteries, and twenty-three “Murder in the Mix” ones (they come with recipes- that’s where I got the devils food cake recipe I’ve been making). They are pretty formulaic, but fun. A few more books in other series I read have come out- I read The Ghost and the Christmas Spirit, and The Ghost and the Silver Scream, from the “Haunting Danielle”  series. They reminded me how much better her writing was than the drek I’ve been reading.The formula is pretty standardly some girl who’s psychic (and hiding it) falls in love with someone in law enforcement (which is how she can use her talents to help solve murders). In the last Danielle book four or six people died within about a week in her house, thus bringing the total of bodies found there up well into the double digits.
In that series she is not involved with a detective, just friends with the local police chief, but really, I’d be suspicious of that number of murders in the same place! The most recent book in Witches of the Midwest, To Love a Witch, was nice, but I hate the way that the authors seem to lose interest when the couples get engaged or married. As if that’s all there was worth reading! After the Haunting Danielle (and maybe before considering how unbelievable the story was) the Witches of the Midwest series is my favorite, I really love the characters.  I found another Harper Harlow book: Ghostly Charms– I do like her friend Zander, and hope his romance gets more attention, although gay romance is probably not what her demographic wants to read. I’m currently in Wicked Decisions, an Ivy Morgan book. Lily Harper Hart has good plots and good characters, but I have to admit that I’m getting a bit tired of the formula.
Last month I remembered that I was part way through Rules of Magick, the prequel to Practical Magic, about “the aunts” when they were young. It was good, although I still feel the movie was better, which is rare. Somehow I decided to go back and re-read Going Postal, (maybe as I worry about Trump’s attack on the Post Office?) and am now rereading making money. There’s a relaxed aspect to re-reading, you can fold it around other books you’re reading for the first time when you want the comfort of knowing what’s coming and just enjoying a wonderful turn of phrase.
I read a bizarre cookbook called Old Fashioned Recipe’s like grandma used to make. I don’t think either of my grandmothers was that fond of pumpkin! They had seven pumpkin soups, pumpkin  breads, pumpkin cake, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cookies…. And while I’m not surprised a grandmother might make trifle, I was surprised by the Thai curry with mushrooms. (Maybe an English Grandmother?) Willow made some “trifle” the other night. I’d made a batch of cupcakes and there was still some batter, so I put it in a six inch cake pan. It was so cute I cut it across the middle and made some mocha frosting for it. Sadly, having cut it, the whole thing broke into a dozen or so pieces. Frankly, putting it into a bowl with whipped cream made more sense than attempting to try to slice it. It was still delicious devils food cake, and I’d call the frosting a success, but at least I learned from the British Bake-off not to chuck it, as it could still be judged on flavor.
The kids are fairly tolerant, they let me share tidbits of information from Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present by Frank Snowden. I find it fascinating, and yes, studying old diseases does give insight into our current situation, especially as the focus of this book is how the epidemics changed various aspects of society. I can only read about an hour or so at a time, The discussion of Humoral medicine was rather dry, but the overview of the Bubonic Plague was rather good. I hadn’t read much about the 19th century pandemic. The stuff on Smallpox was horrific. I can only hope that there isn’t any viable smallpox left in a lab anywhere.  The general run of diseases- Yellow fever, Dysentery, Typhus, and Cholera were all as awful as we don’t like to imagine. Since I like medical history books, I’d read about them before, but the social perspective includes how the very disgusting aspects of them framed the response of those who had the disease and treated it. (See, I’m being good and not sharing details. The kids have been training me about what’s not polite conversation.) Tuberculosis underwent a major transformation (not, it occurs to me, unlike that of what a witch was, when the church needed it to be something different, and then feminists did). During the Romantic early 19th century, it was the disease of the intelligent, spiritual and creative, then they discovered that it came from germs and suddenly it was the disease of poor Irish and Italian immigrants and a sign of social failing. Sadly, there is a LOT of victim blaming both in disease and poverty, and it’s still going on. Doctors do understand that often disease is a result of poverty, and poverty is often the result of intentional victimization of the workers by the rich. It’s very depressing. There were huge improvements once they realized that simply having sewers and clean water was going to prevent a lot of disease. (HOW often do employers need to see new studies that show that it’s more economical to treat your workers well, pay them so they can be fed and house fairly and stay healthy? Then they discovered antibiotics and what Snowden calls The Age of Hubris began. They figured if they could eliminate Smallpox, they could use DDT and eliminate Malaria, they could eliminate polio… but sadly, diseases are alive if not sentient, and they can adapt. I also am pretty sure that we handicap ourselves. I’m now reading the HIV/AIDS epidemic which is hard as I remember acquaintances dying- not as many as are dying this time around, but I now understand better what they were going through then. Frankly, I skipped ahead to the emerging diseases: Mersa, Ebola, SARS, … I find it even more frustrating to see how this administration screwed the pooch after having those recent experiences to show them what was needed!  I get that it’s hard to invest in protective equipment, maintain it, and replace it when it hasn’t been used. (Why is it easier when it’s bombs?) There are SO many aspects of this pandemic that make it difficult to track- the large number of carriers who are asymptomatic, the fairly long incubation period. But it takes a leadership who knows nothing and wants to know nothing except what makes him ‘look good’ to the people he admires (strongmen and rich men) to ignore so much so long. The book came out in 2019 so Covid-19 wasn’t here yet. I am afraid that the fight against AIDS was handicapped by what a wonderful weapon it was in the hands of the church to vilify gay men. I am waiting to see who gets scapegoated this time around.  I can highly recommend the book, if you are interested in the subject and don’t mind information heavy content. I love this stuff and it’s still taken me a month to get through it.
I noticed that the “Very Short Introduction” series of books had one on Pandemics, and picked that up. I was very disappointed in the section on Y Pestis, as I know it so well, but when they got to Smallpox, he covered the destruction of the Indigenous Americans in more detail than I’d known existed! Very impressive! I’m only two chapters into that one. I picked up another brief history of Pandemics, but haven’t started it yet; I have started the Price we Pay: what Broke American Health Care, and how to Fix it. It’s another of the sort of book I love, about medicine written by a doctor with his perspectives on how to help our system. From all the books I’ve read, the only hope we have is to get profit out of medicine. Did you know that there’s a law requiring pricing transparency in funerals because people going through loss of a loved one are not in good emotional and mental shape? How much more so should we require pricing transparency in medicine? But the name of the game is maximizing profits, and that’s not consistent with healing people I don’t expect any surprises other than ’trivia’- more of the same. SSDD.
What other amusing anecdotes do I have for you? During a video visit, Gretel, Kat’s cat, and her therapist’s cat heard each other in the background and had their own ‘conversation’ during that session. They (the humans) thought that was pretty funny.
When Willow went out this week she got two more flagpoles and brackets so we now have four flags up. We should be able to fit about four more across the front of the house. Right now we have The Earth flag, Coexist, the gay flag, and the asexual flag, with a few more we can get the US flag back up, and the Trans and bisexual and straight/gay ally flag. It’s very festive!
Here’s the recipe for Raspberry Scones we really like:

Preheat oven to 400º.

Sift together:

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a bit more as needed
1/4 cup  granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (from 1 medium lemon)
1/2 teaspoon fine salt

Cut in:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into 1/2-inch cubes and then chilled
Moisten with:
3/4 cup  heavy cream.      knead, careful not to overwork, roll out about 8×24”
Have:
1 cup frozen raspberries, kept in the freezer until ready to use!
Spread the frozen raspberries over 2 thirds of the dough, fold the dough over half the berries, and again to create 2 red layers, gently roll the dough into a 1” thick square.  Cut this into square quarters, then cut those into triangles (I found it worked better as quarters in triangles.)  Freeze the dough for 5 minutes.
Brush with  1 Tb. cream, sprinkle with 1 Tb. sugar. Bake on parchment- make sure pieces are at least an inch apart for 20 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before eating.
Tchipakkan
“Virtuti melius fortunae creditur” – It’s better to trust in courage than luck.
   Holidays for the rest of the month. This week’s selection of holidays is very bossy!

F 15 Pizza Party Day, Chocolate Chip Day, Straw Hat Day, Families Day, Bring someone Flowers Day

S 16 Barbecue Day, Mimosa Day, Sea Monkey Day, Day of Light, Fiddle Day, Learn to Swim Day
S 17 Cherry Cobbler Day, Rural Life Sunday, Day vs Gay/Bi/Transphobia, Ride a Unicycle Day 
M 18 Cheese Souffle Day, Museum Day, Visit your Relatives Day, Buy a Musical Instrument Day
T 19 Devil’s Food Cake Day, Scooter Day, Boys Club Day, Celebrate your Elected Officials Day
W20 Quiche Lorraine Day, Juice Slush Day, Eliza Doolittle Day, Bee Day, Pick Strawberries Day,
T 21 Strawberries and Cream Day, Day for Cultural Diversity, Eat More Fruits and Veggies Day
F 22 Vanilla Pudding Day, Road Trip Day, World Goth Day, Wig Out Day,  Don’t Fry Day (New moon)
S 23 Taffy Day, Best Friend-in-law Day, Turtle Day®, Lucky Penny Day, World Jazz Day
S 24 Asparagus, Escargot, Yucatan Shrimp, Tiara Day, Brother’s Day, Scavenger Hunt Day
M 25 Memorial Day/ Hamburger Day, Wine Day, Nerd/Geek Pride Day/ Towel Day, Tap Dance Day
T 26 Blueberry Cheesecake Day, Cherry Dessert Day, Chardonnay Day, Redhead Day
W 27 Italian Beef Day, Grape Popsicle Day, Otter Day, Cellotape Day, Gray Day
T 28 Brisket Day, Slugs Return from Capistrano Day
F 29 Biscuit Day, Coq au Vin Day, Put a Pillow on your Fridge Day, Heat Awareness Day

S 30 Mint Julep Day, Traditional Memorial Day, Creativity Day, Water a Flower Day

S 31 Macaroon Day, What you think on Grows Day, Smile Day, Parrot Day,