April Update: Factory Edition

Yes, I’m still alive. (In answer to Nann’s query.) However, everything around me seems as if it’s in a suspended state of animation. And on fire.

The latest coronavirus “pause” has been extended. “Pause” means The Young Human Factory, located in a county-wide hotspot, is closed to all but staff and a few choice young humans who need extra quality-control.

The Great Lakes State is in the throes of a surge (along with our neighbour Ontario). The official response is maddening. The state requested more vaccine doses; request denied. But good news: the US Department of Education (DOE) waived the use of test scores in teacher evaluations. Surely the students will be safely home for another week.

No. The DOE denied the state request to waive spring tests. Thus, the Factory is closed to students – except for mandatory test days.

I am already running around like a headless chicken. This latest is just “the sugar on the frosting,” as a sweet French-speaking lady put it.  

Late-breaking news… %&*$&#!!!

Today is Sunday. Churches have just opened again for normal operations, so I was gung-ho to attend and going through my last-minute check.

Stockings without a rip? Check.

Mask secure? Check.

Ringer turned off? Check… wait a minute. What is this notification from work?

I scanned it: “Please check your emails…. face to face pause… increase in Covid cases….”

GAH!! The Young Human Factory is closing again!!

We’ve been through a lot, particularly those who have been quarantined more than once already. Yes, more than once. The quarantines are based on contact tracing, which is like a game of Six Degrees of Separation, but less fun and no Kevin Bacon whatsoever.)

After all the restrictions, all the care the kids have been taking, the assigned seating at three separate lunches and two separate cafeterias, not to mention their teachers getting vaccinated* – my students will be freaking out and furious tomorrow.

Heck, I’m freaking out and furious TODAY. I just hope by waiting until after lunch, I won’t have as much competition for the printers and copiers. (Then again, making packets for nine days of absence is a lot of printing and copying!)

*****

*The first shot was on a “snow day,” when inclement weather cancelled classes. It was kind of cool to see all the administrators, teachers, and support staff who braved the trek.

Minimalism Progress Report: Week 5

BE MY GUEST!

I just started the fifth week of the 12-week class Uncluttered, run by American minimalist Josh Becker. It’s the wardrobe clean-out week. I figured I could skip it after the autumnal closet-cleaning.

Looking again, I found scarves and a thermo-insulated gloves that other people could use. I also tossed a beautiful blue-and-pink sweater. It’s comfortable, warm, and matched other articles of clothing. I have worn it weekly since December, but keeping it presentable is too much work. Every single time I wore it, let alone washed it,  loops of yarn came loose and had to be pulled to the reverse side with a crochet needle. 

It’s interesting to see photos of other people’s homes and swap stories. Many people thought all Americans live in big houses, until a “shutgun house” owner and a NYC resident posted photos.  I will say this: we like big living rooms even in small homes. 

An Englishwoman explained what “two-up-two-down” means. When we compared our respective square footage, we weren’t surprised that mine is bigger – but not by much.  Our proportions differ greatly. My kitchen is luxuriously spacious; her two bedrooms are larger than my three (one of which is technically a nursery).  

When I posted “after” photos of the guestroom (above), everyone commented on the black-white-and-red color scheme. Evidently, oxblood is unusually bold. 

 A funny aside:  The more we minimize our belongings, the more we rationalize purchasing more.

Our instructor and our peers reminded to hold off on buying anything – organizers, paint, etc. – until we finish the course.  The impulse was certainly running through in our group, like a bargain-hunting phantom. 

I’m glad I committed to another year of Mindful Buying. Temptation was trying to talk me into  purchasing a really nice belt to replace the cheap ones I threw out. I already have a nice belt. Just not a REALLY nice belt!

I fell in with a good crowd…

My parents tried their best to keep me and my siblings from the Bad Crowd, but no one warned me about the good crowd. I am now three weeks into a class on Minimalism, signed up for a 5K in April, and sorta-kinda tagging along with my Year of No Spending (YNS) buddies.

While the Bad Crowd keeps terrible hours and spends their waking moments drunkenly stealing from their lovers, the Good Crowd goes to bed promptly because Tomorrow is a Big Day.

The latter is also sore and every morning uses an insufferably minty toothpaste because YNS has a use-it-up policy. According to my peers, eventually I will see the fruits of these difficult days. I will be healthier, happier, and have gleaming floors.

The Bad Crowd hopes I like prison.

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!