Caterpillar of the Apocalypse!

Woolly Bear Caterpillar with fallen cedar bits as a comparison. The little guy doesn’t look impressive in the photo (and its russet middle doesn’t show well). That’s a ruse….

Must be dead, I thought when I found it on the driveway. Even at noon, the 21F/-6C temperature was much too cold for caterpillars.

After lunch, I prepared to go back to work. The woolly-bully was closer to the car. If I squinted, its tiny feet seemed to be moving! Slllooowwwwly, though. It’s also curling a little in on itself, as woolly bears do when threatened.

When I came home at sunset, it was motionless as I took the photo. I had no doubt it was still alive. I didn’t want to accidentally squish it under the tires or scrape it up with a shovel of snow, so I tried to flip it onto an oak leaf. It “stuck” because its amazing grippy feet were clinging to the tiny grooves in the cement. Gently, I rolled it onto a leaf and put it in the flowerbed.  

Today it was gone.

A charming custom in Eastern and Midwestern USA is to look for woolly bears (“woolly-bullies” where I grew up) in the autumn. The length of its black bands was said to predict the length and severity of winter. If that were the case, what apocalypse is foretold by it hightailing in the dead of winter?!?

Nostalgic

Every year, I buy myself a Christmas present that’s frivolous or nostalgic. This year, it was both.

I was in an office supply store, of all places, when I spotted a suitcase-style record player bearing the Victrola stamp. I hadn’t seen portable record players in years, not even in antique stores. This particular model (The Journey) boasted Bluetooth, headphone, and RCA options.

The manager said that the store was sold out – as were others whose inventory she checked. The floor model was a “dummy” with no working motor. Such a shame! I had Baby Brother’s hand-me-over record player, but it wasn’t working out for me. It had no built-in speakers, sounded tinny when I hooked it to the receiver, and was too wide to fit in the bookcase.

Long story short: I searched online for new-fangled Victrola players with the right features and good reviews. The best-priced was an American flag version, which made me even more nostalgic. One of my older cousins had a record player with a Spirit of ’76 sticker and other Bicentennial decorations.

As soon as it arrived, I sent it on a “shakedown cruise” with trumpets: a couple of albums by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, followed by The Jonah Jones Quartet’s Swingin’ ‘Round the World. My stars, it sounds good! Vinyl records may pop and crackle – especially the ones from the ’40s and ’50s! – but they have a full-bodied sound that I missed.**

** For readers wondering about my record collection, suffice to say that it’s mostly inherited from my paternal grandfather, plus garage-sale finds and “Do you want this?” from friends.

The Worst Tradition

I like the look of wrapped presents. I know there are people who eschew it for giftbags – lazybones, they are! My aunt Delphine, who is has a wonderful eye for flower arrangements, created some of the most beautiful wrappings I’ve ever seen. When I was seven or so, she taught me how to curl ribbon. (Like the skill of swirling a stack of cocktail napkins without using a highball glass, it’s been strangely useful.)

Over the years, I developed a good eye for judging how much paper to use. I can create a “box” with heavy paper and sharp folds. Crafting tags and flowers out of scraps of paper and ribbon is my specialty.

Please don’t think I’m bragging.

I HATE wrapping gifts. Although the results are lovely, it’s tedious work. When our family’s Christmas gatherings were bigger, it took HOURS.

Somehow during my college years, my father created a tradition of me being his personal wrapping helper. And by “helper,” I mean that I do it myself. At first he used to quietly lead me to the gift-hiding place for the gifts he bought my mother. He would hold the ribbon down with one finger as I tied it and filled out the tags. Somehow it morphed into him lying in wait until I bring in my bags and take off my coat – at which point he directs me to the basement hidey-hole.

One year, he surprised me with presents already wrapped. A group of teenagers were raising money by gift-wrapping at a popular mall. But malls have gone the way of the dodo and Covid-19 has destroyed any group fund-raisers.

Back to the Old Ways it is!

School is coming back!

The governor of Michigan has decided that schools can open up in 2021. I am so glad.

I was at The Young Human Factory past midnight two days this past week. Each day, I read and responded to more than 125 emails. Virtual meet-ups? Did them. Long phone calls? Yes. Making videos of everything from grammar lessons to “How to Do Today’s Work”? Heck, yeah!

And then my poor students had to do the work, which was bad, and read the directions, which was… worser. (Actual vocabulary of middle-schooler.)

My favorite conversation this week occurred when I received a desperate plea from one of the Brainiacs (the contentious members of the Middle School Mafia). He was encountering problems doing a grammar practice.

Brainiac: [Detailed explanation of the problem.] I can’t figure this out.

Me: You did not read #3 on my instructions today. Therefore, you have failed your first reading comprehension assignment of the day! Ha ha!

Brainiac: Oh poop.

In school, this Brainiac would have been in the honors class with other Brainiacs, who would tease and laugh. The back-and-forth conversation of class is the most fun, especially when peers help each other learn by repeating what I just finished saying. (Fun fact: A teacher can say “Read the directions” forty times, but when a student says “Read the directions” the first time, the other students hear it.)

I look forward to hearing “Oh, poop” in person.

Wet Squirrels

I tried unsuccessfully to get a photo of the squirrels today. Torrential rain started before dawn and returned throughout the morning. In the early afternoon, a break in the clouds passed overhead.

Squirrels came onto the deck to feed on fallen maple buds. Their fur was fluffed because of the chill but rainwater clumped it together. Their sodden faces seemed more rat-like than usual and their bellies sported spikes of fur. They looked like a punk band after a rough night.

Unfortunately, they were more skittish than usual, so I didn’t dare move closer to the windows.

Panic in Detroit, or Every Breath You Take

I have always read the biggest newspapers in the area: The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press. The following is a screenshot of today’s opinion.

The headline certainly reflects the piece.

At first glance, it seemed the headline writer had gone full sensationalist. Reading further – because how can one not? – I saw the headline matched the tone. I want to tell Mr. Stern, “Take a moment, relax, and just breathe.”

But that would be advocating homicide.

Seriously, the entire thing reads like poor satire. The columnist worries “because the person in front of me in the grocery line is wearing a mask below his nose — expelling a cloud of radioactive COVID dust that I cannot escape, short of dropping $50 on the conveyor belt and trying to outrun the security guard.”

I think my elderly parents have a much better attitude about Covid-19. They socially distance, limit interactions, wear a mask, wash their hands thoroughly, and pay attention to health habits: regular sleep, regular exercise, and vitamin supplements. If they avoid people with bad hygiene – including mask-wearing etiquette.

They want to live, yet they don’t succumb to feelings of despair and… well, whatever sentiment pervades that column!

‘Tis the Season

I finished shopping more than a week ago and the last gift arrived by mail. (Hooray for used book stores!)

My youngest sibling, our parents, and I exchange gifts. They’re usually practical or, as my mother says, “Consumable.” They give us the pleasure of taking turns opening wrapped packages in the company of the giver.

Baby Bro and I got in the habit of buying each other a childlike gift in addition to a regular one. Tree ornaments have been my go-to choice; e.g. Curious George ornaments in memory of his beloved childhood pal. He buys me the oddest things, from a frosted souvenir glass of the sort that were popular when we were tots to a children’s book of verse containing “The Owl and the Pussycat.”

It occurred to me many years ago – even before I settled into La Casa de Tontería that I really didn’t want anything for my birthday or Christmas. I mostly want people to be with me or, if that’s imposdible, to think of me.

The Covid-19 pandemic – which closed my school yet again – has intensified that sentiment. Presents aren’t as important as people.

Imagine my confusion when I received an unordered package. In it were two funnels and a silicone mold. Then my friend M’e the Fashionista texted “Happy Marmalade Day!” That fictitious holiday is her excuse to spontaneously buy something and send it to a friend. What she sent was an icecube tray that makes huge diamond-shaped iceballs. It’s ridiculous and unpractical, but it’s in the freezer now.

Thanksgiving

I’m thankful for truck drivers who drive at a steady pace on the interstate highways, so strings of cars can follow in their tracks through the sloppy snow. I am also thankful for road-graders. But most of all, I am thankful that I survived a white-knuckled drive through a snowstorm and arrived safely at my destination.

Morning in my childhood home.

The whitish area at the top of the shot is ice forming. The darker area is slush. You can see trails through the slush where ducks meandered eastward.

Hold the Congratulations

This is about politics, so feel free to skip.

Shortly after the election, friends from other countries began congratulating me on my new president. I had to explain that no, the media declaration doesn’t count. It’s official in December, after each state’s governor signs and sends its Certificate of Ascertainment to the US Archivist and the Electoral College electors meet.

December 14. That’s when.

Then some asked (scoffed, frankly), “You don’t feel there were problems with the election, do you?”

Of course, I don’t feel that. I live in Michigan. I know that.

In 2016, Green Party nominee Jill Stein demanded a recount in the Michigan. Ultimately, a court order halted the expensive recount, but not before turning up massive irregularities in Wayne County. Specifically, Detroit precincts tabulated more ballots than the number of actual voters. Why? Human error.

Human error was also responsible for Biden being reported as the winner in Antrim County in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan. (Fun facts: It’s home of beautiful Torch Lake and Hayo-Went-Ha, the oldest American summer camp that sits on its original site.)

Then, of course, there’s the completely sloppy way the voter registration is handled, not to mention groups actively opposing any sort of voter identification at the polls. My Mexican relatives were stunned that their system is more fraud-proof than ours. I told them about receiving an unsolicited form for an absentee ballot during the initial Covid-19 shutdown. The Secretary of State’s office sent to the last known address of each registered voter. As someone who moved four times in three years and currently maintains two mailing addresses, I’d rather restrict absentee ballots to direct requests.

To anyone who has read this far and is curious about how our system differs from your own, here is a good overview: Who formally declares the winner of the US presidential election?