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.

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!

July 2020 Progress Report

Mindful Spending: Despite the triumphant feeling of paying off the mortgage, the month ended with a “dog ate my homework” moment when I realized I shredded July’s  purchase list and receipts instead of June’s.

However, I know the biggest lapse in Mindful Spending: about $40 for costume jewelry. Perhaps it displays a terrible shallowness, but I successfully combatted the Shutdown Funk by forcing myself to dress up every morning. Call it “Slob Prevention,” if you will, or “Getting Dolled Up,” in the lingo of my grandmothers. By any name, it helped – and revealed the sorry state of my jewelry box. (Some people have Sock Gremlins taking one of a pair; I have an Earring Gremlin.) Continue reading

The Sound of Sile… What is that NOISE?

I have to laugh at a couple city-dwelling friends who found out that, with traffic reduced, they can hear NATURE. Usually it’s birdsong, which can be very loud before dawn and at dusk. (I sympathize with the folks near the Detroit Zoo who hear peacocks! Oh, they’re loud and they sound like a child yelling for help. Who wants to wake up to that?)

Because of shifting animal demographics, people living in less-populated areas can be startled by new sounds. An acquaintance discovered that foxes’ calls during the mating season sound like someone is being murdered by a yappy dog. He described it as “SCREEEEAAAAMMMM. Woof-woof. SHREEEIIIIK. Yodel. Woof-woof.”

An early-rising jogger friend-of-a-friend heard a deer screech: “Freaked me right the F out the first time I heard it.” I think he lives in a region with small red deer. Whitetail make a kind of grunting noise that is distinctive but not stress-inducing.

A few days ago, one of the Middle School Mafia decided to incite a disturbance by howling in the backyard. All the dogs in the neighborhood joined in and couldn’t be quieted for a good thirty minutes. Everyone had a laugh except the nightshift neighbors.

As the lockdown lifts, I hope people keep an interest in the sounds of nature.

Spring Unfurls

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The maple buds began unfurling Saturday morning and reached this stage by midday.

On Saturday, for the first time since the shutdown, I had visitors. A former student and her husband bought a house that has a “blank canvas” landscape. Having daffodils to spare, I dug some up (plus chives, the incongruous grape hyacinth* and yellow crocuses).

I was expecting her in the afternoon. I was NOT expecting her mother nor her sister, both of whom became my dear friends during a school trip to Madrid and Paris.

It was a delightful ambush!

For their part, the youngest girl was surprised to find I lived in that house. She said, “My friends and I used to drive past here on the way to their house, and I always thought it was the cutest little house.”  Sometime post-shutdown, she wants a tour.

Because they are a family of green thumbs, the talk was lively and bounced from topic to topic.** The garden is a work very much in progress, so it was fun to have other eyes notice things both good (radish sprouts) and bad (glass and cement patches left by the shed construction crew).


*aka muscari – thank you, Brenda, for the information.

** At one point, there was a disagreement over how to handle snakes one finds in the garden. One of the girls pulled out her phone to show me a photographic proof that, yes, she knew the correct way to hold a garter snake.

The Perils of Working from Home

C20EE642-1804-47FD-9790-6A30F674150CHow do I report a workplace accident?

That’s the remains of the 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup.

Given my klutziness, I’m surprised it lasted so long. It was one of my few new purchases when I moved into my second apartment (prior to that, M’e the Fashionista supplied a plethora of utensils and cookware). It survived tumbles into steel sinks and linoleum floors, but a stone countertop takes no prisoners.

Cleaning up the mess: wow! I swept, vacuumed, and ran wet paper napkins over various surfaces to pick up the fine, sharp particles. Somehow, none of the flying shards hit me, although they traveled even as far as the livingroom.

A less tangible hazard of Working from Home (WFH) has been Parkinson’s Law, the business adage that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. At the beginning of the shutdown, I ended every day – often in the wee hours of the morning – exhausted.

It wasn’t surprising in March, considering the sheer volume of mandates, updates, and queries that arrived in those early weeks. Continue reading

The Volunteer

When I first moved into La Casa de Tontería (aka The House of Nonsense), my parents gave me bulbs from their own garden in the north. Most didn’t make it.

Squirrels dug up and ate some. The bearded iris couldn’t thrive in different soil. My beautiful milk-chocolate tulips grew scraggly and dwindled to one, which disappeared under the transplanted hostas.

The dahlias were a horror story. I wintered them inside as usual, but when I tried to replant them, they were mushy and crawling with white, half-worm, half-millipede things.

And then there are the grape hyacinths. They grew along the wall just outside the front door of my childhood home. Every spring their purple crowns would rise through the blah landscape and their long, narrow leaves curled like ribbon.

They didn’t die off after the move to La Casa de Tontería, but they turned cranky like a relative who refuses to be satisfied with any accommodations. Put them in a garden: meh. Transplant them to a pot: fine, if we must.

I let them go and planted other things, only to discover they love the lawn.

The jerks.

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ADDENDUM: A former student came to get some of my over-multiplying daffodils and chives. I offered her it and she accepted.

The New Neighbor

Since the destruction of the birdfeeder, I made a seedpile for the critters and gave up restocking. The usual critters came: grackles and cardinals and silent, stately mourning doves.

Then I spotted something that looked like a field mouse!  A squirrel chased it off during a ruckus with another. When it returned, I recognized it as a chipmunk. I tried several times to capture it on film, but the twitchy little thing kept bobbing its head up and down.

The best I could do was a hastily zoomed-in shot of his profile, complete with seed-stuffed cheeks:

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I kept a close eye on it because, unlike big squirrels, chipmunks have the mouselike ability to exploit tiny openings into human spaces. When we shared an apartment, M’e the Fashionista lost an entire sleeper sofa because the storage area was invaded by chipmunks. They managed not only to disembowel it – stuffing EVERYWHERE –  but filled every nook and cranny with acorns.

Luckily for me, Chip-chip-chipper lives somewhere beyond the fence. He came through while I was sweeping the deck and froze. He stayed frozen while I eyeballed him and snapped a better photo.
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Then I looked away, giving him the opportunity to unfreeze and run away through the hydrangea and under the fence.